Thursday, February 26, 2004

Constantines/Yourcodenameis:Milo – Joseph’s Well, Leeds/Metro, London, 24-25 February

The Constantines are a Toronto, Can-based all-male quintet airing their Shine A Light album on Sub Pop. Support came from Yourcodenameis:Milo, a Newcastle, UK-based quintet recently signed to Polydor and with a mini-album produced by the venerable Steve Albini, due out in May. In Leeds, only the latter were liked. A day later, I caught only the former.

The former make an elusive post-grunge sound that peaks and troughs and whose rugged riffery/choppy stabs are augmented by basic keyboard lines and dubby drums. The Guardian’s reviewer compared vocalist Bryan Webb with Springsteen, others the general sound to Fugazi; our Leeds reviewer would know more about that… They are mostly very earnest, Webb generally getting more intense as the show goes on and his lyrics further elude clarity. But every now and then they will offer up a drum break or a bit of drama/showmanship, like the whole band holding aloft their hands, or the bassist coming down from his perch to duet with the guitarist, keyboardist swapping places with Webb, or, as on the encore, drummer handing out tambourines and maracas to grateful punters. All of which points to the redemptive power of their sincere rock sound, they hope. Shine A Light itself seems to illustrate best what the ‘Stantines do in incorporating multiple contrasting passages to each song; but sometimes you want the noisy bits to be more intense to highlight the restrained moments even more. Other highlights were Young Lions and that encore, an extended take on Reed’s Temporary Thing.

Ten minutes after I had made it down Metro’s multiple staircases our Leeds reviewer would have been walking out of the Constantines’ show. This is a clumsy, indeed impossible attempt at contextual synchronity: “Yourcodenameis:Milo crank out a three-pronged guitar assault reminiscent of At The Drive In at their best. The use of three guitarists may seem a little excessive but underpinned by thumping drums and rhythmic bass and complemented by distorted vocals they help produce an intensity of sound that propels the songs along and provokes a positive reaction from a small but enthusiastic crowd. The two rhythm guitarists occasionally duplicate each other’s playing but when they go off in different directions they produce an angular, dynamic sound which could help lift Milo above the lumpen mass of guitar bands that are currently swamping the UK. This could be their year.”

Shout to Stickboy in Leeds

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Friday, February 20, 2004

Brits, Brats and Bass

The sight of Jamie Cullum chewing his fat with Pharrell Neptune NERD turned me right off the Brit Awards on Wednesday, but I did catch some of C4’s NME Brats (or rather the Carling awards) – the big night out for another section of the music industry and actually filmed three weeks ago. Certainly the stars and the liggers were all very chuffed to be there and get filmed, if the faces of gross satisfaction were anything to go by.

David Walliams and Matt Lucas came on to present an award in the guise of Andy and Lou. I want that one. Yer I know. Etc. Certainly their catchphrases have caught on at watercooler and playground, and even Thom Yorke had to smile at the repetitive stupidity. It really did remind us that their characters, the show itself and these awards were true manifestations of Little Britain – a land of who-you-know-not-what-you-know sometimes painfully jokey insularity. American acts livened things up – Jack ‘n Meg receiving their gong, Melissa Auf der Maur presenting to Josh Homme, the latter then doing a cool acoustic take on No-one Knows and then some more trademark rock-metal with his other band. Yet Scissor Sisters’ performance sounded like a camper Stones. Australians Jet also appalled, also referencing Mick and Keef. Dearth of imagination. Yet bands like these are all over NME, which recently has attuned itself into the blank generation by redesigning (garish colours, lots of value-added) and running no features over 200 words. Elsewhere, Dizzee, NZ x-XFM jock Zane Lowe and US perv-act Har Mar got gongs. In NME world, all was as expected.

Indie darlings Franz Ferdinand did a turn, impressing with an energised version of their Take Me out. Modern-day Gavrilo Princeps had their eyes on the cretinous Jet so these Scottish art-school 1982 freaks were safe. However, if they are going to mine that post-punk, post-disco white boy dance genre they will need to get a better bassist. That genre depends on a good four-string riffer for the choppy guitar licks to hang onto, but all we had here was a plodding Clayton-esque rumble. No, hang on it’s a mimic of Tina Weymouth’s Psychokiller dirge innit?

What musik is in my head at the moment? Well there’s new d&b boy Baron’s The Way it Was on Virus, a paean to the tech-step mechanical darkness of an imagined time - somewhere in the mid-90s. Lightening up the wait for the night bus, it starts off with those typical scary synths, inserts NRA man Charlton Heston’s ‘from my cold dead hands’ defiant prejudice and then builds into mad oscillation like a Ford Escort being revved up to fuck for leisurewear youth in an otherwise-empty car park in Northampton. It’s actually bereft of the chronic paranoia of the Ed Rush era but grooves along powerfully. Just a pity that the opening doom-mongering wasn’t repeated. The overall nod to nostalgia is mere calculated surface (the title, the label), but still inspires reverie of the time when that sound was king, devouring it on pirate but having no-one to go to raves with. I do remember a moment of perfect synaesthesia, in Amsterdam high as a kite and totally locked into one particular tune’s doom chords and monotonous two-step syncopation. I wanted to connect this joyful terror with my mate, but he was outside puking his guts out. Music for lonely men with self-inflicted problems, mid-90s-style.

I’ve also just bought a jump-up remake of LFO so that should see me through tonight.


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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

'Mildly interesting from start to end' - Evening Standard


George Gershwin Alone, Preview Showing
Duchess Theatre
Catherine Street
***Theatreland*** – central London


Cheap tix were offered via email at my big media organisation paymasters, so we decided to join the old-aged coach parties and American tourists at a preview showing of the life and work of the early 20th century classic/jazz composer. The format and set were all very simple, to allow actor-pianist/Gershwin fanatic Hershey Felder to wax lyrical about the man in monologue and play his tunes with some aplomb. He played all the classics such as Porgy & Bess, Swanee, Rhapsody In Blue and Summertime – making it clear that the son of Russian émigré Moshe Gershiwitz with a little help from his brother was responsible for some of the previous century’s most enduring songs.

Of interest and novelty to me were a few aspects. One was the already encroaching crass commerciality of popular music even by 1930. Playing his standards on radio, he would have to spew all over them with talk of ‘chewing gum laxative’. Another was the damning verdict from highbrow American classical quarters as the composer pursued an unapologetically ‘popist’ agenda – Gershwin never really handled this rejection and went to Hollywood to be a jobbing soundtrack artist. A third element was the in-built racism of the establishment against this new jazz music – Henry Ford used his power to denounce Gershwin and the genre for being a Jewish creation (lucky the racist earth-destroyer didn’t credit the African-Americans). None of these got the better of Gershwin more than the ‘headache’ he had suffered since childhood (it turned out to be a tumour).

After the main set there was what could be called a ‘breakout’ session (I got that term of the conference ‘guys’ in the office next to me). Felder got the crowd and then certain individuals to join in song, then finished on a virtuoso Summertime. I was no doubt joined by others in officially pronouncing the show ‘Lovely Stuff’.

Nevertheless, most West End productions are far worse than this intimate production, peddling big names and small ideas in a desperate attempt to make fast cash. We told you so in issue 4:
www.cinestatic.com/whorecull/issue4/gelignite.html
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