TWOAG Part Two – Sufjan Stevens

“So how was the gig?”
“I don’t know”
“What, you mean you didn’t go?”
“No, I just don’t know what to make of it. I’m confused”
“But it was three days ago!”

Such is the problem with trying to review a Sufjan Stevens gig these days. Years ago, it was easy. You’d just say “It was lovely. He’s this really sweet bloke who plays beautiful acoustic guitar and tells little stories about the songs and it was a great evening.”. Now, six years on, he’s up there with 11 other people, all dressed in neon, with strobes, visuals, balloons, costume changes that Lady Gaga would think was overkill, and confusing, multi-layered electronic orchestral numbers that go on for about 20 bloody minutes1.

Which makes writing this a right royal pain in the arse. There’s so much to say I don’t know where to start. The songs? They go on for ages. The dancing? Charmingly inept. The costumes? Mad. The intra-song soliloquies? Madder. How this show could well be a reflection of an artist’s descent into a parlous mental state, and how he is using the enormous stage of the Royal Festival Hall to exorcise his demons, along with ten clearly hugely talented musicians, bringing to life his vision of the impending End Of The World as much as the impending End Of Sufjan Steven’s Sanity (or his “love song to the Apocalypse”)?


Sufjan’s personal problems have been fairly well documented in recent months. There is always a danger with artists that you can read too much of their personal life into a new artistic direction, but in Sufjan’s case? Man, he has troubles. Whatever was the cause of his issues, he clearly is still working through them, and is doing it onstage, in full, brightly coloured view. As he points out himself, The Age Of Adz is one big solipsistic statement, all “I” and his obsessions with his confusion and the end of the world. Compared to the older material, which was fuelled with beautifully judged and delicate evocations of love, desire, religion and the invention of the Ferris wheel, and you can safely say that it’s lacking. Frankly, hearing him sing “I’m not fucking around” or “Boy, we can do much more together” a hundred times just starts to wear thin.

So anyway, to the gig. Starting off with a version of “Seven Swans” that starts off gentle but soon turns into pure U2 bombast, the view seems slightly odd. There’s angels on the stage, and people dressed in neon, and an organist, but everything seems kind of…fuzzy. Then an unseen (from the balcony) screen lifts and it is as though the scales have fallen from our eyes, and the full neon bedazzlement commences. Each band member is dressed head-to-toe in neon, there’s stuff all round the stage, big lights, and a huge video screen. Oh, and strobes. Lots of strobes. Then comes “Too Much”, kicking off the night’s main set, all taken from his last two records, which feels far more alive than on record. Yes, I know that sounds like a daft thing to say, but I was deeply concerned that such esoteric material, which isn’t exactly warm and lovely on record, might just be a step too far live, even for someone as extravagantly talented as our man Sufjan.

Mad x2

This isn’t to knock the new material. I haven’t been a massive fan of either All Delighted People or Adz, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. In some cases, such as “Age Of Adz” or “Vesuvius”, they work superbly. The former featured a wonderful coda, with the words “It’s only that I still love you deeply\It’s all the love I got” reverberating around the huge space of the Royal Festival Hall, bringing a tear to our collective eye. The latter saw the deployment of the screen again, upon which flames were projected, rising higher and higher through the song until the band nearly vanished under the lava. The whole Bootsy Collins vibe appealed greatly, too.

Helps too that the sound is magnificent. I can’t remember a gig where there’s more than ten people on stage yet you can still pick out each and every instrument clearly. The visuals veered between the stunning – the dancing ones starting during “Too Much”, then reappearing, cut up and distorted during “Impossible Soul”; the geometric patterns; the screen behind which the band started the gig and made us worry our eyes were going funny – and the amateurish. In particular, I can’t say I’m a fan of Royal Robertson’s work, and though Sufjan made an impassioned plea, the evening failed to win me over to his charms. Let’s chalk this down to one damaged soul seeking another, shall we?

But “Impossible Soul” just went on, and on, and on. Yes, there was much dancing and rejoicing and balloons and the whole “Let’s All Party Because We Are Free! Oh And We’re All Going To Die” thing. Is it really worth hearing all 25 minutes when he could have played “John Wayne Gacy Jr”, “…Predatory Wasp of the Palisades…”, “That Dress Looks Nice On You”, “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!” and still had time for one of his baffling but entertaining chats with the crowd?

Sufjan Gives You Wings

For me, no. Whilst the evening was hugely entertaining, a ridiculous, baffling and extraordinary event, the best part was the encore. The band returning to a hastily cleared stage, still covered with the detritus of the climax, in jeans and t-shirts, and playing three songs from “Illinois”. During the second, “Casimir Pulaski Day”, the crowd ever so gently start singing along. For those songs, written at the peak of his powers, show us what he can be, how he can craft hugely ambitious songs that tell a tale other than his pain, with music that charts something other than the confusion in his soul, and speak to all of us, uniting us.

He’s a unique talent alright. For all its faults, this was a stunning evening, quite unlike pretty much anything I’ve ever seen before. Whilst there was more than a sniff of Rock Opera2 about the night, we were thoroughly amused, bemused, exasperated, and above all, entertained. And, it’s made me reassess The Age Of Adz and give it a few more listens, and I’m liking it a bit more. It’s still nowhere near his States albums, or Seven Swans, but at least now I can see where he’s coming from with it. Plus, listening to it reminds me of a truly mad bit of entertainment.

Mad, I tell you. But fun. My brain is still hurting.

And TWOAG? The Week Of American Greats. Keep up.

1 Prompting my friend S to comment that she very nearly threw herself off the balcony.

2 Thanks Mrs L&L!

MP3: I Walked by Sufjan Stevens

Note: Photos taken by PaulineLouise on Songkick.

Buy “The Age Of Adz”

Mogwai and The Twilight Sad Live

A man of my rapidly advancing years will, on his fourth consecutive night out (following on from, in order, Laura Veirs, football, stupid beer drinking), find himself feeling somewhat jaded. What better way of keeping awake than going to watch two of the finest purveyors of awfully loud Scottish post-indie-rock, Mogwai and The Twilight Sad? A more appropriate pairing of main act and support it would be harder to find; The Twilight Sad can safely be called “Mogwai Meets The Proclaimers”1, and have namechecked Mogwai in interviews and CD sleeves as not only a major influence, but as being friends, valued mentors, and general allround good buddies. Mogwai, in turn, seem to have been refreshed these last couple of years by having some younger bucks around.

After a frankly astonishing pizza at Franco Manca (the best pizza in London, fact and pizza fans), we wandered through the streets of Brixton to the Academy. I’ve fond memories of this place, with a personal gigging history going back 20 years (see? I don’t say “rapidly advancing years” as an idle threat). QOTSA, The Pixies reformation gig, the Elbow concert when we all – band included – realised this was the last time you’d easily be able to see them in a venue this size. Oh, happy memories.

Scottish Flyer

Long-term readers of this blog – all one of them (including me) – will recall me seeing The Twilight Sad a couple of years back and being mightily impressed. As well as deafened. So I was as happy to come and see them as Mogwai; probably a little more. Would they pay back this confidence? Damn, yes.

Because on this second time of seeing them, I’ve decided that they are one of those bands you just have to see live. Not so much because the songs work better live than on record; they don’t, not really. What makes them special is singer James Graham. Now I have a pretty low tolerance for the woe-is-me frontman, or spoilt-kid histrionics, but James is the kind of singer you just have to watch. Whether he’s staring up at the roof, jittering around the stage Ian Curtis-style, or shouting passionately, if soundlessly, off-mic, you feel that you can’t take your eyes off him. What’s more, he’s clearly nervous as hell. On one between-song section, he tries thanking Mogwai for letting them tour together, and nearly cracks, muttering “Calm down, calm down”. About half the women in the sizable crowd go “Ahh, sweet!”. Bet he wasn’t expecting that.

The songs themselves have also been tightened up. Last time, the wall of sound was overpowering and ended up drowning the songs. This time, guitarist Andy McFarlane has toned back the noise (a bit) and thanks to this newfound delicacy, they shine through. And thanks to this, you could hear James’s singing more clearly, and even (shock horror!) pick up some words. It’s all about the words. Few bands in recent years have written such finely honed elegies to broken teenage years. Songs like “Last Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy” nail that horrendous unloved feeling. Live, they are clearly some kind of catharsis for James, what with the yelling and all.

“I Became A Prostitute” (yeah, I know), swiftly followed by “Last Summer….” are noisy and hugely impressive, the former’s early Cocteaus churning, twisting guitar cutting through the squalls of sound, and the latter’s early explosion contrasting with the almost-gently sung lyrics. “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” starts with James singing solo until another explosion. This time, however, I was standing there thinking “Gosh, that guitar probably isn’t loud enough”. Bet that’s never happened at a Twilight Sad gig before. Closing with “And She Would Darken The Memory”, with its rabbit death lyrics, the band left the stage to a huge cheer. You can’t imagine that anyone here to see Mogwai could do anything other than love The Twilight Sad as well. Let’s hope so.

Mogwai released their first album in 1997. 1997! That’s pretty much a lifetime for some of the people here tonight. Accusations that they haven’t moved on much in those years fall wide of the mark when you listen to, say, Come On Die Young back to back with this year’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. They could be made by totally different bands. Sure, not quite as big a difference as Ok Computer to The King Of Limbs, but I know which record I’d rather listen to2. They’ve risen far above being the Scottish Slint that they were in the ‘90’s to something more interesting, and more listenable. They rely far less on that quiet quiet LOUD dynamic, focussing instead on Krautrock-influenced grooves and, you know, tunes. Now this has its drawbacks as well as its benefits live. An early airing of “San Pedro” is slower than on record and as a result, loses that irresistible impetus of the original. It just didn’t have that stunning brutality of a juggernaut driving off a cliff. “Rano Pano”, by contrast, was simply awesome. A single riff, repeated on three guitars, with varying levels of dirty fucked-up noise, looping through octaves to the climax, works so much better live that you wonder what happened in the studio to rob the song of its undoubted power. If you ever wanted to hear Black Sabbath covering Tortoise, it’s “Rano Pano” live.

Other tracks off Hardcore worked pretty well too. Opener “White Noise” built gradually, layer upon layer of texture slowly whilst the impressive visuals showed a vector-space sphere slowly coalescing before, inevitably drifting apart. I can imagine that was what Greg Egan’s dreams look like. “How to be a Werewolf”, a more gentle-than-usual Mogwai number, again used stunning visuals to give us something to look at (no offence, lads, but you’re not exactly visually enthralling); this time, a lovely video of James Bowthorpe3 cycling round fjords.

This whole music-as-movement metaphor struck me repeatedly throughout the set; how Mogwai’s music is near-perfect driving music, songs that drift into your head, gelling together your neurons as you speed through any given landscape. Like the video during “Friend Of The Night”, in which a camera seemed to fly through the architectural plans of an impossible building, Mogwai’s music propels you to places of rare beauty. “You’re Lionel Richie” featured a video of the traffic intersection off the cover of Hardcore, speeding up and slowing down as various dusk to dawn cycles passed over. Lovely.

Earlier songs come off well too; Young Team’s “Christmas Steps” made a welcome, bass-heavy appearance; as for the closing pair of “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Batcat” took anyone who thought Mogwai might be getting too melodic and threw them down the stairs, before picking them up, dusting them off, then giving them a kicking. Some lads next to me started a moshpit, before both a bouncer and Stuart Braithwaite himself came over to tell them to pack it in. Kids these days, eh? It was during the quiet middle section of “Mogwai Fear Satan” that the band turned to one another and started grinning, knowing the forces of hell (or rather, very, very loud guitars) were about to be unleashed. Lovely to see a band still enjoying their work after 14 long years.

But there’s a flaw to Mogwai’s music. Not a fatal flaw, as such, but after nearly two hours you start to miss the human connection that Twilight Sad are so good at building. That’s the difference between the two – the emotional touch. Even if you can’t hear largely what is being sung, you are left with no doubts that James is giving his all and probably using the stage as a theatre for catharsis. Mogwai, on the other hand, are lacking that bond. The music they make is frequently stunning, but doesn’t leave you feeling like you have seen something extraordinary.

When it comes down to it, the image that stuck with me on the ride home was of James Graham yelling at the distant ceiling. That, and traffic endlessly moving through a North American dusk. Both great bands, and great images, but I’d choose Twilight Sad over Mogwai any day. Still, both are great. Go see.

Oh, and a hello to the lovely teenagers who I’d last met at Godspeed. London really is a small place.

1 Wouldn’t say this to their faces though, as they’d probably kick my head in.

2 Contrarian Alert! Contrarian Alert!

3 Who cycled round the world, mad bastard that he is.

MP3: Cold Days From The Birdhouse by The Twilight Sad

MP3: San Pedro by Mogwai

Amazon’s Mogwai Store

Amazon’s Twilight Sad Store

Laura Veirs Live

Going to see an artist live that’s got a hefty back catalogue – you know, four or five highly acclaimed albums which are, as far as these things are worth these days, sort of commercially successful, and with a rabid, loving fanbase that sells out a thousand seater venue in the blink of an eye – live, when you’ve only heard a couple of said albums, even if one of those albums falls comfortably into your End Of Year List and has sent you off to your acoustic to bash out cover versions cackhandedly, torturing the neighbourhood cats and dogs, can be a proposition even more daunting than trawling through a ridiculously obtuse and longwinded and just out-and-out daft sentence like this one just here.

In short, and I can do “in short”, just not now: How can you sit there, enjoying everything, when you’ve only heard about 1/6th of the material played, when all around you are slavering, drooling fans, and outside are more slavering, drooling fans who’d take your right arm off like that for a momentary chance to watch their beloved perform live?

You stop being neurotic, I guess, and sit down, shut up, and enjoy the show.

Which is easy when you’re watching Laura Veirs. And even more easily when you are in the gorgeous Union Chapel, now safely ensconced as My Favourite Venue In The World Ever!, even more so than the marvellous Bush Hall or the summer outside stage at Rote Fabrik in Zürich. Look, you’ve got to love a place where they’ve got home-cooked food in the church hall next door. The venue totally suits the music tonight, with Laura’s intricate acoustic finger-picking style and warm, clear voice reverberating round the Chapel.

Laura’s songs of love and the woe love brings aren’t the kind to immediately grab you by the balls and force you to listen. Instead, they insinuate themselves on repeated listens, and before you realise it you’ve got “Sun Is King” whistling around your head at inopportune moments. Which, of course, makes for an interesting live show if you’ve only heard a couple of records. But contrary to expectations, the set list tonight consists of everything off July Flame, with a few other bits and bobs – like “Spelunking” and the closing “Ether Sings”, plus the obligatory covers thrown in for good measure. Which makes a new-found fan like myself. Though I can imagine there are some corners of the internet aflame with indignation as I type this, thanks to this newie-heavy setlist.

I Can See Your Setlist

Though, frankly, hearing her and her hugely talented sidekicks Tim Young and Alex Guy (who also doubled as one of the two support acts, more on which later) sing “Happy Birthday” would be a pleasure, which is lucky, as they sang it for Alex about halfway in, followed by an acapella version of a song titled “The Old Cow Is Dead”. That’s juxtaposition for you. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Following Alex Guy’s violin looping extravaganza, and a very nice chicken curry in the bar, on came Sam Amidon. Now, I’ve not heard of this fella before, but he’s a young fellow who’s worked with Nico Muhly and Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurðsson. Instead of taking the Bonnie “Prince” Billy and M Ward authenticity route by trying to make his songs sound old, he goes the whole hog by singing old songs. Very old songs. Some of these date back to the (US) Civil War1, all muskets and smoke and sons saying goodbye to their mother and father and beautiful sister. I was shocked that he didn’t play “Wayfaring Stranger”, but I guess that would be too obvious. Sam’s all about digging up lost gems and playing them gently and gracefully, with a fine voice, even amongst the scat-jazz section. A confident player too; you can just imagine him pitching up in your front room and singing these songs whilst chatting away. I bought his CD too, which is something I’ve not done in a while.

Back to Laura. Starting off with “Carol Kaye”, she seems slighty hesitant and, to be frank, her voice doesn’t always get the right notes at the right time. But no matter. A wonderful “Sun Is King” snaps her into life, beautiful harmonies on the lines “Did you see the ice in his eyes?/Did you see the dagger caught in his smile?” giving the song that transcendent beauty. This is where she really excels. Those little hooks, little lines, like the ascending chords underneath the lines “And my stampeding buffalo/Stops in her tracks and watches the snow”, or the “You’re halfway down to New Orleans” bit at the end of “I Can See Your Tracks”, catch your breath and drag you into her world, enraptured by the natural world and the intricacies of the human heart.

She’s clearly trying hard to entertain us too. At one point, her and Tim give a demonstration of how the 6-5-4 “Song Of Songs” chord progression (look it up) is responsible for everything from “Don’t You Want Me” to “Into The Groove”, with “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” in between. A discussion of the band’s tour troubles in France amuses and revolts in equal measure. And as the night goes on, Laura gets into her stride, gaining confidence, nailing those ambitious notes and generally making a damn good show. The band provide subtle backing, with Tim’s electric guitar filling out the fingerpicked lines by Laura, and Alex doubling up on violin and an old synth, with all three making some beautiful harmonies. The sprinkling of earlier songs get a big reception, but not as much as a resplendent “I Can See Your Tracks”, ending in a huge round of applause and cheers.

So, a good night. For all my worries that I wouldn’t know most of what was played, the opposite happened, and though that might annoy some diehard fans, it made for a wonderfully pleasant evening. Great support, too. Mark another one up for the Union Chapel.

Oh, and on the note of playing songs badly. I noticed that on the merchandise stand, they were selling the “July Flame Songbook”, featuring tabs, chords and lyrics for all the songs off July Flame, all for £5. What an absolute steal. I can imagine that, if you’re on a major, the whole Publishing thing would come and banjax this kind of deal, but you know what, artists: If you’re an indie, do a songbook for each of your albums and sell it at your gigs – I’d happily pay a fiver for most albums by M Ward, or Sufjan Stevens (!), or Cotton Jones, or, well, you get the idea.

MP3: Wedding Dress by Sam Amidon

MP3: I Can See Your Tracks by Laura Veirs

1 A quick historical note for any Americans reading. We had one first, you know, and it was bloody and harsh and started us down the road to turning our monarchy into the powerless figureheads they are now.

Amazon’s Laura Veirs Store

Buy Sam Amidon’s “All Is Well” (CD/MP3)

We Hate It When Our Bands Become Successful – Arcade Fire at the O2

God, I hate corporate venues. I hate Ticketmaster, and I hate the way fans of bands get screwed every time their band plays somewhere like the O2. Why? Because you get forced into trying to buy tickets in some horrendous BUY NOW LIMITED SALE frenzy, hopefully clicking “retry” as the web page times out, until you finally manage to get a pair of tickets somewhere up in the roof. This is pre-sale, mind, even before the full release. The event sells out quickly. Then, of course, a few days before showtime, “a limited additional number of tickets” goes on sale. And natch, these are nicer seats, closer to the stage and everything. All because the venue tried flogging the tickets to their corporate snollygosters, who, funnily enough, aren’t particularly interested in seeing a bunch of hairies from Montreal play hurdy-gurdies in 3/4 time.

Corporate gigs suck ass. Give me a “stand where you like” ticket, sold by someone reasonably nice, in a lovely venue like Bush Hall or Union Chapel any time of day. Maybe it’s good that I generally like bands that not all that many other people like, I suppose. Not for the band, of course – they probably want to sell tens of thousands of tickets somewhere like the O2, at £30+ a pop. Pays the rent, dunnit?

Moaning aside, I’d heard good things about the O2 Arena, previously known as the Horrendous White Elephant Situated On A Heavily Polluted Ex-Gasworks In A Not Very Nice Part Of London. The missus had even been there a few times and enjoyed it. And I can see it from my desk. And you know what, it’s….ok….ish.

Here to see those fine purveyors of anthemic Canadian rabble-rousing millennial angst uplifting doom merchants Arcade Fire, ably supported by hippy-dippy Pan impersonator, and all round horn-dog Devendra Banhart. At least, all the women I know hope he’s a horn-dog. Apparently he’s quite the attractive fellow. I can’t judge, frankly, as I can’t think of him without seeing this picture in my head:

Hello, Laydeez

Whatever floats your boat, I suppose, ladies.

In any case, would our Dev be able to fill out the cavernous interior of the O2 with his quirky freak-folk? No idea. None whatsoever. You see, by the time we got there, hunger reigned and by the time food had been eaten, he’d buggered off. Mind you, from our seats up in the Gods, I’d doubt we’d have been able to see if he was in a frock, a smock, or a diving costume. I hate arenas.

Arcade Fire have been touted as one of the few bands in recent decades to make the jump from Indie Stardom to genuine Arena fillers. And they’ve done so, as the charming Win Butler points out late in the show, without having had a hit record1. Arcade Fire have become BIG. Which, as you’d probably guessed from the title of this post, has its irksome qualities. Like having to traipse out to this big bloody tent. Whilst it is indeed a stunning place, the venue hasn’t seemed to work out that about a third of the crowd (at least) can’t see anything of the band, and the smallish video screen behind the band doesn’t help all that much. Come on O2, shell out on some proper screens either side of the stage so we can see the band.

After the dour Neon Bible, hopes were high for this year’s follow-up The Suburbs, which have been slightly dashed, as the record is overlong and hasn’t quite shrugged off that oppressive meh-ness of Neon Bible. Opener “Ready To Start” is fine, all that you’d expect from 2010 vintage Arcade Fire, and follow-up “Keep The Car Running” (featuring an imaginative video of a car driving along a highway) certainly has that propulsion and drive that have catapulted them to this level of stardom, but the sound is claggy, with little space for any delicacy or intricacy. That doesn’t matter so much when “Laika” is played. The first of the Funeral songs, you are reminded of why you – and anyone else with any sense – loved that album. Astonishing isn’t quite the right word. The hairs on my arms stood to attention, and looking down, we could see the standing hordes going mental to the clattering drums, frenetic violins and the nearly screamed vocals. You don’t often get huge crowds singing along to lines like “Our mother should have just named you Laika”.

Then we’re back down to earth with the U2-a-go-go “No Cars Go”, with “Haiti” following it, lacking the space that made it such a compelling song on Funeral. You know, folks, sometimes you need to be quiet to make the loudest noise. The next newie features Régine Chassagne dancing around with those twirly ribbony things (I have no idea what they are called). What’s next, a mime? Being stuck inside an invisible box? “Rococo” (their Smog tribute) is ok, “My Body Is A Cage” is doomy apocalyptic dullness personified, and “The Suburbs” was frankly a touch dull. “Crown Of Love” isn’t much cheerier than “My Body Is A Cage”, but demonstrates how their early restlessness – you know, that sudden tempo change – turn a reasonable album track into something far more interesting; a trick their last two albums seem to have forgotten. When, on listening to either Neon Bible or The Suburbs, have you been surprised?

And this problem gets thrown into sharp relief again with the “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)/Rebellion (Lies)” medley (segue). Like “Laika”, it’s stunning. Both songs are driven onward by crazy drumming; there’s a ridiculous amount of energy emanating from the band. Mad percussionist bloke runs around the stage like a hyperactive kid that’s been fed too many sweets. And the sound is better, the bass thumping out during “Power Out”, and the poor glockenspiel gets hugely, amusingly abused. The band seem to just enjoy playing the older stuff far more, and even from the dizzy heights of the upper tier it looks like they are having a dangerous amount of fun, whereas some of the newer songs appear to be something of a chore. For example, “Month Of May” just peters out at the end, as though the band themselves couldn’t think of anything better to do2.

As you’d expect, the end comes with “Wake Up”, finishing the night off marvellously. Peaks and troughs then, but in the end, it seemed like everyone was happy. As we traipsed out with the other 17,000 people, I made a comment to the missus about how it’d been all downhill since “Funeral”. She looked out over the massed crowds and just said “Some downhill”.

I’d love to meet the band and ask them – “How do you feel knowing that everything you do now is compared to your first record? And that you know that you’ll never better it, or even come close?”. And I’d expect the same response that the journalist got from Joseph Heller, who when asked, “Why haven’t you written as good as Catch 22?”, simply replied “Who has?”. Truth is, Funeral was a once in a decade record; utterly entrancing, bringing you into a hugely emotional world, as capable as bringing tears to your eyes as making you jump around, hug everyone in sight, and go a little bit mental3.

So maybe I shouldn’t complain. They seem like a lovely bunch; a bit earnest, maybe, but fundamentally decent, and genuinely try to make a difference4. They’ve tried lots of interesting ways to release and promote their records and work damn hard to treat their fans with respect. They throw an enviable amount of energy into their live performances and notwithstanding the venue and some of the material, it was a good night out. Shouldn’t that be enough?

1 Though their albums have sold well over a million copies worldwide, which is pretty good going.

2 Funnily enough, I’ve picked up comments here and there that this song is not exactly a fan favourite.

3 Even as I type this, listening to “Power Out”, tears are welling up and my heart is thumping. Not many records can do that.

4 For every ticket they sell on tour, £1/$1/€1 goes to the charity Partners In Health. Good stuff.

MP3: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

MP3: Neighborhood #2 (Laika) by The Arcade Fire

MP3: Keep The Car Running by Arcade Fire

Visit Amazon’s Arcade Fire store here, and if you don’t buy Funeral, you are insane.


“Hey, were you at the Broken Social Scene gig last night? My boyfriend says he saw you there”

Oh dear. Please don’t say that you saw me yelling at anyone.

“Oh, did he say that for any particular reason?”

“No, just that you were there.”

Phew. Despite being one of the biggest cities in Europe, London is still fundamentally a small place. Go and see a certain type of band – your Nationals and your Elbows, your Bonnie Prince Billys and your Devendra Banharts – and you’ll start seeing a few familiar faces. It’s quite a nice thing really, knowing that there’s a big bunch of people with a similar taste in thoughtful indie-rock with a bit of alt-country/folk/soul/disco1 thrown in for good measure.

Spoon fall happily into that crowd. They’ve been around for donkeys years, long enough for singer and guitarist of Wye Oak Jenn Wasner to say that they were her favourite band when she was fifteen. Fifteen! How old are you, love? Being around for fifteen or so years makes that kind of statement kind of funny; especially from a personal perspective, given that they’ve been a highly touted indie-rock band for most of that time and I’ve completely ignored them until this year.

What got me interested was the buzz/hype/gossip/shamelessly overblown PR guff (delete as appropriate) about their new CD, Transference. Who were this mystery band, I wondered to myself? Curiosity piqued, I gave it a go, and quite enjoyed it. Sure, it’s hardly the most adventurous record (they ain’t Tortoise), but the precision and purity of their music was intriguing, and they seemed to delight in unsettling you by stopping their songs very sudd. A visit to a live show beckoned.

Sing! Guitar!

Better still, after getting the tickets the support act was confirmed as being Wye Oak. They are a band I’ve been fond of since I first started this blog and came across their first record If Children…. Since then, they’ve released a second CD (which I don’t have) and have been recording a third. Comes as a bit of a surprise then that the band don’t play any of the well-known material off their debut, which is a shame, as some of it (the title track, “Obituary” and “Warning” in particular) is excellent. Still, the new stuff sounds great, mixing Throwing Muses with a bit of dark country. And they are a musically great pair; Jenn playing some mean guitar, and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack somehow playing drums and keyboards simultaneously. Great trick, that. Charming folks too. Not quite in Tortoise/James Blackshaw Horrendously Good Support Act territory then, but good enough.

Drum! Keyboard!

Spoon themselves have the demeanour of a band that have been doing this for a loooong time. That utter confidence of just wandering onto stage and playing your songs and knowing that you’re going to rock. Helps too that their music doesn’t have a massive amount of embellishment on record, feeling like someone’s got them into a studio and recorded them live. What you see is what you get with Spoon – a Krautrock style drumbeat, mostly unchanged throughout the song; a bassline, sometimes with a touch of disco thrown in; guitar riffs that sit on top of this solid rhythm section foundation and muck about for a bit; obtuse lyrics; and songs that stop sudde.

Yes, I Know It's A Funny Angle

And on the whole this works pretty well. The songs don’t have the emotional edge that separate The National and Elbow from their peers; I doubt somehow that they would want that, anyway. The band are enviably tight, with little slack or flab. Noticeably their newer material seems sharper, more in-focus than their older songs, though whether that’s just me, I’m not sure. But the problem is that they don’t seem any more alive than they are on record. Yes, it’s fun to watch songs like “Is Love Forever?” and “Got Nuffin”, in all their tense joy, come to a sudden halt, but after a while the thrill starts to pall. Later on, a horn section comes on to parp away on a few songs, like “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” (or “Cherry Balm” as the set list has it), which at least adds a bit of variety to the drums/bass/guitar/keyboard sound.


There are, of course, highlights. “Who Makes Your Money” was surprisingly good; one of the songs that impressed more live than on record. “Cherry Bomb” is definitely enlivened by the parping, and “No-One Gets Me But You”‘s disco bassline (really) worked beautifully well.

A cover of Wolf Parade’s “Modern World” highlights their problem. On record, Wolf Parade’s original has a near-deranged air, the sound of a band on the edge of a nervous breakdown. You’re compelled to listen because you suspect, possibly correctly, that it’s all about to go horribly wrong. But Spoon’s version is precise, clear, and loses that dangerous feel.


I suppose there’s two types of bands you see live. The ones which are magical, that transcend their recorded output to produce something more vital, more thrilling, more alive (sorry) than captured in the billions of bytes of an MP3 file or CD. These one fundamentally change the relationship you have with them, forging a strong bond that keeps you going back to their records, re-evaluating them, and bringing you back for more (for me, in recent years, Tortoise, Sufjan Stevens, American Music Club, Mew and others have done this).

Then there are the ones that come on stage and play their songs, and their songs are perfectly pleasant, and they are played excellently, and the live experience gives you a little insight into the band’s inner lives, but they aren’t those strange mystical, transcendent events. And sad to say, this is where Spoon fell with me. “Expertly boring” said a friend of mine, and he’s hit the nail on the head. Don’t get me wrong; they’re a good band, and “Transference” is great, but live, they’re nothing that special. Or maybe I was just suffering from Gig Overload. Who knows?2

1 You’ll see.

2 And writing gig reviews two weeks after the event may not help either.

MP3: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb by Spoon

Spoon’s Amazon Store

Swans Live – Koko, London

Nothing, but nothing can prepare you for standing at the front at a Swans gig. Being locked inside a blast furnace might help, or standing on the rim of an exploding volcano could do it, to some extent, but there is nothing to compare with the experience of the thundering, rampaging NOISE that this band of malevolent geniuses produce.

What’s more, it’s not just that noise that dumb kids produce with a big amp and some pedals. No, sir, this is carefully calibrated, thumping, driving noise, created by a bassist and drummer in perfect, horrendous harmony, ably built upon by two guitars, Thor the Percussionist, and a man whose craggy visage would have made the late Johnny Cash look like a L’Oreal model. In those dark, grim Westerns of Sam Peckinpah, Swans would be perfectly cast as the bunch of miscreants riding ominously into a small, vulnerable town, and you would know that what would come next would be bloodshed, and who the perpetrators would be.

And of course, there is Michael Gira himself. A man of absolute and utter belief in his mission to tell us, each of us, individually if need be, that we are the cursed and damned children of an unforgiving and intemperate God. There is precious little redemption, or even much hope, in his music; instead, he uses the words of a firebrand preacher, and the close to “Sex God Sex” spells this out in no uncertain terms. As the squall abates, he yells, in a booming rancorous baritone, “JESUS CHRIST! SAY HIS NAME! JESUS! COME DOWN! COME DOWN NOW!”.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of things here a little. For, as a live experience, Swans make sure you know you are about to face something unique. First off, the set times posted showed the band coming on at 10; a good hour later than any band I’ve seen in London for many years. Second off, the choice of James Blackshaw was possibly a demonstration that Gira’s not merely interested in pummelling us with big fucking boulders of noise; he’s also a record label boss with some uncommonly good bands on the roster (such as Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family).

Seeing James Blackshaw live, up close, can be described in one, simple word: incredible. If you have not seen him yet, do. Do it soon, before he decides to pack it in, as playing such gorgeous songs in front of an audience who seem more interested in gabbling away. Look, you fuckers, this guys is one of the most talented musicians doing the rounds in London, enjoy seeing him, and shut the fuck up for a moment.

A Very, Very Talented Man

Support out of the way, it was a short wait before Thor came ambling on the stage and starting doing something. That something was to kick off some kind of drone machine, part airraid siren, part foghorn, at near-deafening volume. He then buggered off, only for the winner of Mr Craggy Face 2010 to wander on about five minutes later, muck about with his lap steel, adding a whole new layer of deafening noise, then bugger off as well. Thor buggers back on again and starts bashing his tubular bells.

Do. Not. Mess.

So there we are, standing there, trying to resist the temptation to put our fingers in our ears. A few long minutes later and the band saunter back on, and start a thumping, driving one-chord riff that mutated into “No Words/No Thoughts”. The man Gira acts as a kind of conductor to the band, guiding them forward to higher levels of torture. At the end, we try and clap and cheer, but these cheers seemed strangely quiet. Maybe because we were all deaf by this point.

A couple of older tracks followed, notably “Sex God Sex” (the most Swans title ever), featuring the aforementioned Screaming About Jesus bit. Then came the song that, to me, demonstrates exactly why the return of Swans is something to be celebrated.

Stop Doing That

“Jim”, on the album, is a slow-burning, dreadful (in the old sense of the word) waltz. Live, it builds from being loud, and ominous, to hugely loud and deeply disturbing. Watching the band slowly add more and more – in particular Norman Westberg, who taps out time between chords on his guitar – is thrilling, and quite worrying. Every few bars it seems as though another layer of sound is built on top of an already dangerously overloaded behemoth. The effect is stunning. At the song’s climax, the band suddenly strip away much of the sound, leaving a ruined husk of a song remaining. Utterly electrifying.

Other highlights included oldie “I Crawled” – like the other old tracks, slightly prettier than their original incarnations, and a version of “Eden Prison” which, although quieter for the first half than on record, more than made up for it during its destructive second half.

Cheer Up Mate, It May Never Happen

By the end, the volume was such that most of the people who’d been crowding to the front during the first few songs had sought out the relative safety of the rear. They were missing out. Swans are best experienced up front; that was you can truly experience the band’s dynamic – bassist Chris Pravdica and drummer Phil Puleo in their own private world, driving each other on; Thor manically bashing the life out of assorted tubular bells, drums, cymbals, a dulcimer and some kind of home made thing; Norman Westberg and lap steel player Christoph Hahn staring out at the crowd with utter contempt and no small portion of malevolence, indifferent to the squall; and centre-stage, Gira himself, driving the whole affair like a damned preacher at the fiery gates of Hell. Some songs even featured a pair of startled trombonists who, frankly, struggled to make themselves heard over the din.

Run Run Run

One encore, and they were gone. Much of the band departed with no wave at all, but Gira and Thor stayed for a moment; Thor grinning, Gira looking as though he knew a job had been well done. A job of making us feel as uncomfortable as possible. They were majestic. To have taken the core of their sound from the eighties and update it so successfully, to make Swans vital and urgent and damn well unmissable, is a remarkable achievement.

See them now, see them from the front, and have a story to tell the grandchildren when they play you something unlistenable in years to come. Then you can tell them: “You find this noisy? That’s nothing. I saw Swans live”.

Did I say they were loud?

Swans – ‘Eden Prison’ by theQuietus

Buy “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” (CD/MP3)

Totally Wire-d

Music, in case you hadn’t read the memo, is as much about tribalism as anything else. Some music – like gospel, Welsh close-harmony singing – brings people together. Others, such as the massed choirs of football fans, or genres like Emo and Oi, are as much about separating a group of people from their peers. The reunions of The Pixies and Pavement brought a tribe of people together that had been busy getting on in life as middle managers and thrust them back to their sweaty, confused adolescence and made them rejoice in their lost youth; and unambigous pleasure in these brittle days.

So where does that leave a band like Wire? A band who, in the late seventies, did as much to change modern music as anyone you could care to mention? A band who took punk and twisted it, adding odd little tunes and a bloodyminded cleverness that’s been the template for middle-class rebellion ever since? A band who showed the way out of the straitjacket of three-chord thrashes and anger and guided everyone, however unwillingly, toward post-punk? In a half-empty Garage, that’s where.

I've Forgotten The Words!

The tribe here is balding, greying, and largely a-paunched. I feel young, which is a rare experience for me these days. And this is a band that’s setting up their own rig. Whether this is part of their infamous curmudgeonness or the aged’s way of never spending a penny1 when it can be avoided, but you must wonder if they think to themselves “Shit, I never thought I’d still be doing this after 34 years. Still, at least the crowd aren’t spitting at us these days”. Only because if we tried we’d run the risk of losing our dentures.

And the band are on marvellously belligerent mood. Aside from a number of disparaging comments about our “Mojo” (the night being sponsored by Mojo magazine, who quite frankly would have run a mile from this lot back in the late ’70’s, clutching their Rush albums), the general atmosphere is that the band started out being sarcastic fuckers, and they aren’t going to stop now they’ve grown up a bit. Or a lot. Frankly, it’s refreshing. So many of our heroes have reformed and are gushing with pleasure at the whole affair that there is a certain amount of joy to be had when a band comes along that looks like they’d rather take us up the nearest alley, do unspeakably nasty things to us then give us a good shoeing.

Two Page Setlist

The crowd are more than happy to heckle. On introducing their rather young and hirsute replacement guitarist, Matt, someone yells “He’s nicked all your hair!”. The rest of the band pretend to ignore this. Requests are met with shakes of the head and the occasional sarcastic comment, ending in “These requests? It’s just general British blokes shouting. “OI OI OI””. After opening with a new song, the response from the crowd is positive, and met with “Your reward is another new song”. Charmed, I’m sure.

Of course there’s a huge amount of pantomine to this. You can tell they are loving being up there, and the fact that their set features a healthy number of tracks from their initial triumvate of records shows that. This is, of course, the band that took a covers band as support on a tour in the 80’s, so they wouldn’t have to play any of their old material themselves. You don’t see Oasis doing that (not that you’d notice, but hey ho). Age certainly hasn’t calmed the early tracks either; they tear through “106 Beats That” and “12XU” like they were at the 100 Club; only the sight of Graham Lewis wearing glasses with those stringy bits brings you back to the present.

Crowd-pleasing came in the form of “Kidney Bingos”, prompting something of a singalong, but didn’t extend to “Outdoor Miner” (boo!), despite a number of increasingly desperate pleas. “Map Ref. 41N 93W” does feature, thankfully, and we should be thankful there’s some old songs thrown in amongst the new material.

Getting Too Old For This

Live staple “Drill” was a well-drilled (sorry) motorik chug, “German Shepherds” was another well-chosed gem from their most tuneful period, and “One Of Us” showed they’ve lost nothing of their anger in their newer songs; like the other new tracks on display tonight, they definitely hark back to their 70’s period rather than to the mid-80’s records like “A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck”. Which is a shame for me, since that’s the era that I most like. Yes, I know that’s not the common wisdom, but what do I care?

Four encores later, off went the Wire tribe into the night, warmed through to their core with the shared memory of singing that immortal chorus to “Kidney Bingos”, “Money spines, paper lung\Kidney bingos organ fun”. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This lot don’t need new tricks; the old ones still blow the young kids away. Just a shame there weren’t more of them here to see how it’s properly done.

1 Stop sniggering at the back.

MP3: Kidney Bingos by Wire

MP3: Map Ref. 41N 93W by Wire

MP3: Outdoor Miner by Wire

Buy “Chairs Missing: Remastered” (CD)

Buy “154: Remastered” (CD/MP3)

Buy “A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck” (CD)

Imperialous – Metric at Shepherds Bush Empire

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that the real brains behind Broken Social Scene isn’t Kevin Drew and the beardy one, but Leslie Feist and Emily Haines. Just check the evidence. Before they came along, BSS were a couple of guys bumming around Toronto. Next thing, they hook up (not in that way1) with these talented ladies, and some other folks, and the next thing any of us know they’ve produced the shiny disk of utter fabiousness that is “You Forgot It In People“. Then Feist and Emily go back to their day jobs bands, only sporadically helping out, and the result? “Broken Social Scene” and “Forgiveness Rock Record“. Come on, you know as well as I do that either record isn’t fit to lick YFIIP’s white leather thigh boots.

What, you want more evidence? Ok, go and see either of them live. Trust me, that’s no hardship. Feist is a fantastic musician, utterly in control of her music, and a fine performer to boot. And on last night’s performance at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Emily’s up there with her.

Haring through pretty much all of “Fantasies”, plus some older stuff thrown in (which I, dear reader, haven’t got a clue what the track names are), Emily and co demonstrate that they aren’t just another bunch of indie-rock chancers. The glistening shininess of their last record is all present and correct – amazing, given the ability of the sound man to not realise there’s a woman on stage with a microphone that we might want to hear singing. That, and the fact that Jimmy Shaw looks like my mate Idriss after a crash diet. The two Sleeperblokes are damn good at the whole drumming and bassing bit, too.

The songs, well, you know, they are pretty damn fine songs, so hearing them live was always going to be a pleasure. The loonie ending to opener “Twilight Galaxy” certainly made us wake up. “Sick Muse” was frantic, “Gimme Sympathy” was power-pop heaven, and “Collect Call” utterly lovely.

It’s all about Emily though. Emily spends her time away from the keyboards bouncing, pointing at the balcony grinning, bouncing some more, gurning, posing, then doing little shy coquettish smiles. She’s quite the character. There aren’t that many frontwomen (or frontmen, for that matter) with her kind of charisma. She’s the kind of singer you just can’t keep your eyes off, wondering what she’s going to get up to next. She’s dancing like a crazy robot! She’s headbanging at the keyboards! She’s flirting with the bassist! She’s posing for photos! During “Help I’m Alive” she leaned back and pumped her fist in the air like a ballerina on PCP.

Of course, the fact that she can safely be said to be easy on the eye helps. With the kind of angular, slightly gawky beauty that she shares with Feist, there’s not a moment where some lovelorn indieboy (or indiegirl) isn’t lifting up their cameraphones like antennas to heaven, hoping to catch that one shot to safely see them through their long nights at sea. This was, as you’d expect, somewhat irritating, but in life you have to take the rough with the smooth.

And it has to be said, she seems to be really enjoying herself up there; and in fairness, the rest of the band did too. Jimmy Shaw had a massive grin on his face the entire time. At the end of the gig, Emily put out a heartfelt plea about wanting to make things different (maybe they should help out The Pop Cop), the main gist of which was how they loved being on an indie label. Well, we love it too; seeing a band winning awards (oh, ok, some Juno awards) without major label backing is wonderful.

Metric area band I’d love to see hit the bigtime. They’ve got energy, great songs, and a frontwoman who could charm the toughest of crowds. Like Mew, this lot should be supporting U2 or Coldplay or Muse or someone on some enormous stadium tour. Ending with “Stadium Love”, of course.

MP3: Stadium Love by Metric

MP3: Gold Guns Girls (Acoustic) by Metric (Courtesy of the marvellous Tsururadio)

1 Though they have, you know. I’m sure you don’t need me to spread gossip.

Amazon’s Metric Page

Live – Joanna Newsom, Royal Festival Hall

Joanna newsom is a genius. There, I said it. The G word. A proper, certified, unambiguous genius. There is no-one, but no-one out there (except perhaps Sufjan Stevens) who writes music so perplexing, so full of unexpected twists and turns, with lyrics so poetic and mysterious. She’s something of an enigma. After all, she’s also certifiably beautiful, graceful, whimsical, and more than a little bonkers. Comparisons with Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell are easy to make, but only tell about a hundreth of the story. This woman is once-in-a-decade special, and always a massive pleasure to watch live.

What’s even more pleasurable is, having seen her play only her second London show, back in 2004, developing into such a stunning artist. First time, in the Conway Hall, she was shy and self-effacing, just her and her harp. Now, she’s bantering with band and audience alike, demanding that we ask questions of the band whilst she tunes her harp (standout question – “What’s your opinion of the pedestrianisation of Norwich High Street”; this met with huge applause from the crowd and an exasperated “We’re sitting ducks up here!” from the drummer Neal). Her music has developed exponentially too; from the relative simplicity of “The Milk-Eyed Mender” through the stunning “Ys”, to this year’s baffling, astounding, and undoubtedly soon-to-reach-modern-classic-status-once-we’ve-all-listened-to-it-100-times “Have One On Me”.

Given that the new one has 18 tracks, some of which are about an hour long, it’s no shock that tonight’s set is taken mainly from it. This does pose something of a problem, in that this is an album that clearly needs about a year of solid listening to make sense, but this isn’t stopping our old Joanna. The easier tracks, like, er, “Easy” and “Good Intentions Paving Company” (if that’s not song title of the year I want to know what is) are more easily digestible, and met with rapturous applause. Some of the tougher songs still get the crowd going, but you can tell that we’re all still a bit confused.


Earlier songs are given a tasteful wash and brush up. “The Book Of Right-On” maintains its air of tentative flirtatiousness, with the band adding beautiful touches here and there. And “Inflammatory Writ” has become much more delicate, and a far better song as a result; I’d love to have that on another “Ys Street Band” EP. The work she has done with the band has worked wonders for the show; she is blazingly confident, and with good reason.

Sadly, there’s no space for easy-going crowd favourites “Emily” or “Bridges And Balloons” (as if a nine-minute long song, and one about bleedin’ Narnia, can be classified as “easy-going”), both of which were yelled out by crowd members as the band returned for the single encore. “Excellent choices”, Joanna replied, “But we kind of have our own plan”. Spoken without a hint of apology, there’s a determination in the subtones of her voice that show you exactly what a fiercly ambitious and hugely intelligent musician she is.

For she truly is a special talent. How the hell does she memorise all these songs, let alone remember the lyrics? Whilst I know I’ve gone on about Mew or Russian Circles in the past, but Joanna really is in a different league in the challenging yet accessible music stakes. She even got a London crowd – normally filled with morons yapping to each other about a scarf they had seen in a boutique in Hoxton – to shut up. Now that’s genius.

MP3: Kingfisher by Joanna Newsom

(Note: MP3 originally posted on Drag City website)

Buy “Have One on Me” (CD/MP3)

Note: Apologies for the somewhat slapdash post. Normal over-verbose service will be resumed once Real Life buggers off to its hole.

Squalor Victoria and Albert

The National are the American Elbow (or, for the Americans amongst you, Elbow are the English The National1). Purveyors of heartfelt, grandiose music, with a touch of prog in amongst the melancholy. And then there’s the history of both bands; both struggled for years before slowly, painstakingly building a loyal and suprisingly large fan base; both bands elevate themselves above the fray by releasing increasingly confident, ambitious albums whilst never turning away from what made them special in the first place.

The National’s core sound – guitars just on the edge of distortion, military drums, Matt Berninger’s charismatic baritone vocals – suits the Albert Hall, which normally struggles with rock bands. Although opener “Mistaken for Strangers” sounded a bit claggy, things soon righted themselves. With a healthy mix of mostly rapturously received new songs, and even more rapturously received older numbers, the band deftly worked their way through an enviably strong set.

This was one of those gigs where you could see the band playing their new material with an attitude of utter confidence. Mostly bands plying their great fabby shiny new release do so with a slight air of embarrassment; not this lot. “Afraid Of Everyone” was tumultuous, “Conversation 16” left everyone wondering if he really is singing “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains”2, and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, reeled out as an encore, was a touch rough around the edges, but judging from the audience reaction is fast becoming a fan favourite before the record has even been released.

Older songs – hailing from Alligator and Boxer – remind us just what a band we’re dealing with here. “Slow Show” was marvellous; a slow burning wonder. “Squalor Victoria” is all drums and thunder. “Mr November” sees Matt Berninger go for an extended walkabout through the crowd like a more lovable, and somewhat more drunken Bono. And “Apartment Story” was a delicate, touching paean to a generation that wouldn’t, or didn’t understand how to, protest against the Bush administration: “Stay inside ’til somebody finds us\Do whatever the TV tells us\Stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz”.

But the standout track tonight was “Blood Buzz Ohio”, one of their best songs, old or new. I’ve no idea what it’s about, but the lovely rhythm of the chorus – “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe\I never thought about love when I thought about home” – carries you along, no matter what the meaning of the song is. The backing from the two-man horn section is just perfect too. Stupid grin on face time.

This is one of the magical things about The National. When the songs make sense, they drill into your brain and refuse to leave thanks to their marvellous lyricism (“Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults”) and the stunning musicality of the Dessner brothers, and in particular the astonishing drumming of Bryan Devendorf. He even got his own moment in the spotlight at the start of “Squalor Victoria”, where he looked like drumming like that is the easiest thing on earth. And even when they don’t quite make sense, the music pulls you along, capturing you until you’ve unlocked the secrets of what on earth he’s on about.

Like Elbow, The National aren’t so much a feel good band, as a feel good about feeling bad band. Last year, Elbow played their largest London show yet; this was The National’s largest show in London. It seems like the world might finally be waking up to what a special group this is, in the way that it did to Elbow in 2008; whether “High Violet” will be the breakthrough record it could so easily be, only time will tell. They’d certainly deserve it.

High Violet is out Monday

MP3: Afraid of Everyone by The National

(Track removed as apparently the Web Sheriff has been doing the rounds again. Bad Web Sheriff! Bad!)

1 Speaking of which, on my way to work this morning, feeling avuncular after doing my democratic duty, I saw a lady on the Tube listening to Elbow. I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say “Listen to this”, before passing over my pre-release “High Violet”. She’d like it. Mind you, it’s not really the done thing, no matter what all those warm and fuzzy ads tell you.

2 He is, you know.