Saturday, 20 November 2010

Johnny Foreigner and Stagecoach split EP - Tru Punx/ Not Even Giles Would Say We'll Be Ok 7" Love In

The EP opens with a new Johnny Foreigner track, “Tru Punx” and it returns to the dirtier aspect of their sound, combining it successfully with their talent for melody. Guitars and shouty vocals declare, “I’ve been thinking about killing myself”, not the most likely hook to get crowds shouting but then Johnny Foreigner never have done things conventionally.

The second track, ‘Not Even Giles Would Say We’ll Be Ok’ starts off with a rather nice melodic vocal harmony, and for a second you might be expecting some kind of soppy Americanised love song, which is fair enough for about ten seconds (the lyrics “I’ll be carving out two names on the oak tree, one’s yours, one’s mine” helps with this misconception)…until the drums and guitar kick in and the distinctive funky/rock sound of Stagecoach becomes a little less ambiguous. The EP is a fair split between the two bands and after a new song each, they go about covering each other.

Johnny Foreigner go first with ‘Good Luck With Yr 45’. They always have been a very flexible sounding band, dodging between the typical guitar/vocals/drum sound (having said that though, Johnny Foreigner manage to make even that sound very un-typical and attention grabbing) and the gentler side of their capabilities – such as on this track, and plaintive love songs are something they do very well. Using their voices in a way that is unusual even for them, they layer up the sound into a heart breaking electro barbershop, the “baa umm baa umm” backing fades in and out, swelling with the emotive vocals.
Stagecoach cover ‘Salt, Pepper & Spinderella” one of Johnny Foreigner’s darker, more electronic based tracks and they contrast their two different vocal styles effectively. The sparser arrangement pushes the lyrics to the front, Johnny Foreigner’s words are often hidden behind guitars, accents or harmony but like this they can be heard in full honesty and elegance, the line ‘we like to watch the fights break out and end in grief from these cheap plastic seats’ seems more of a confession, rather than a proud assertion, as it did in the original.

Both bands are currently in the process of touring the UK, and if this EP is anything to go by those gigs are going to be a real event.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Xiu Xiu and Former Ghosts at Bristol Arnolfini

Freddy Ruppert, main member and creative drive of Former Ghosts, stands slightly to the left of the stage in front of his Mac with Jamie Stewart, core member of Xiu Xiu, on his right. Freddy Ruppert has talked about how he performs music live in a very different way to a conventional 'indie rock band', using a computer and a synthesizer rather than the more traditional set-up.

Before they begin playing, Freddy Ruppert asks the crowd to join him in singing 'Happy Birthday' to a friend of his, obligingly we all sing and once we've finished, with a very slight pause they begin playing. The fairly cheerful atmosphere immediately disappears. Ruppert bangs a floor tom with such aggression it's a wonder he doesn't snap the drumsticks. On record, his vocals are integrated into the synthesized world he creates, but live they rise above the music and add another level to the performance. Stewart teases some phenomenal noises out of his guitar (using a drumstick at one point) and even when his guitar strap comes un-strapped, he kneels to the floor playing on furiously.

Jamie Stewart goes off midway through the set leaving Freddy Ruppert standing alone behind his computer. Between tracks, The Auditorium is silent apart from Ruppert's laboured breaths and the occasional curse; it's a slightly tense atmosphere, but more one of anticipation than awkwardness. (I assumed it was the strain of playing such deeply personal music live, but it later became clear that he was having some major technical difficulties.) As the introduction to 'Us and Now' echoes out, Ruppert leans forward to begin dancing and the music cuts out. Remaining silent with a deep frown on his face he furiously tries to sort things out, which leads to some engaging with the audience. He smiles almost coquettishly and murmurs "Maybe I should stay more still in the future?" and the atmosphere begins to feel a little more relaxed.

The newer tracks (from their incredible latest album 'New Love') in particular 'Taurean Nature' and 'New Orleans', sound brilliant live. The older ones like 'Hello Again' and "Flowers' sound fresher and less claustrophobic than on record. Declaring that Xiu Xiu are up next, looking sweaty and a little drained he begins the last song. Telling tales, as they do, of utter heartbreak, Former Ghosts leave the audience feeling empty, especially without the music, to soften the brutal honesty of Freddy Ruppert's lyrics, which are still raw in our minds.

Xiu Xiu are a little more comfortable with the expectant silence, Angela Seo and Jamie Stewart exchange whispers and some sort of pre-gig clapping game (?) before launching themselves into their music. After the gig I spoke to someone who had not really heard any Xiu Xiu before, who said they felt it was 'a little too death-metal and emo for me'. A surprising statement, sure Xiu Xiu have a guitar and scream a bit, but there is so much depth to their music.

'I Love The Valley OH!' a personal favourite track of mine, seems ten times louder than anything that has come before and Jamie Stewart's screams are torn from his mouth. The pink Nintendo DS on which much of their latest album 'Dear God I Hate Myself' was composed and played, is brought out for some of their more recent songs such as 'Apple For A Brain', and 'Chocolate Makes You Happy' is given an added menace as Stewart hisses out the lyrics. Angela Seo uses a variety of percussion and different whistles, some of which make some really quite interesting noises. Behind them words flicker up on a screen, 'END' in particular is a favourite, as well as scenes from an old vampire film. The mood is slightly sinister and a very different sort of melancholy to Former Ghosts'. 'Boy Soprano' and 'Sad Pony Guerilla Girl, some of their older songs build upon this.

Xiu Xiu perform in the truest sense of the word, they are in control of the emotions of everyone in that room and they are doing what they want with them. As they finish the crowd applauds, tentatively hoping for an encore but they leave us, despite it being a cliche, wanting much more. They've caused controversy and polarise opinions but there is not doubt, at least in my mind, they are a superb band with something to say, saying it in the very best way possible.