Monday, 26 March 2012

Los Campesinos! + Tall Ships; Thekla, Bristol 21/03

Wednesday night at Bristol’s Thekla gets underway early and Tall Ships perform in a way that would be commendable for a headlining band. It’s rare to see a support band captivate the audience so fully, but completely understandable. The gently harmonised vocals are a contrast to the fast, sharp guitars; a powerful combination, strengthened by the vast crescendos overlaid with solid, lyrical melodies. ‘Vessels’ is a set highlight and a fitting track for the venue, not only in title (for those unaware, Thekla is a boat). The misleadingly slow and delicate opening melts into a thrumming drumbeat, filling the air and we all join in the chanting, “the vessel, that carried you and me, now sits at the bottom, the bottom of the sea…”

The boat was busy enough for Tall Ships, but waiting for Los Campesinos! it somehow manages to get even cosier; the balcony area looks fit to burst and down on the floor it’s already uncomfortably warm. That’s not a surprise. It’s a sold-out homecoming gig, as LC! are fond of reminding us they’re local (and definitely not Welsh).
Rocking back and forth to the beat, the entire band seems to be perfectly content with the newer songs. Coming after a few shaky first gigs with the new material, this is a positive sign. After the aching beauty of ‘To Tundra’, Gareth solemnly intones that quality is guaranteed from here on in, as “all the songs left have been featured on BBC3 programmes”. This is said with a wry smile, he’s fully aware that most people here are going to know the words to whatever they choose to play. With that, they launch into the infamous “beer song”. The days of bratty shouting and atonal glockenspiel are certainly long behind them, but the anticipation of the gradually building guitar on ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, comes only partly from nostalgia. It’s a testament to the band’s understanding of what they mean to their audience that they don’t leave this one out......

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Xiu Xiu Bristol Fleece - 12th March '12

The first support band, Crash and the Bandicoots, shuffle onto a stage filled with fairy lights and paper lanterns. They're enjoyable and confident, using audio clips to introduce their songs (in much the same way as Fight Like Apes). The clapping, fairy lights and "ooh ahh"-ing looks on paper a bit twee, but that's not the case at all and they're a fun, interesting band to see. Up next are Trumpets Of Death; unlike their predecessors they don't stop between songs, each echoing note melding into the next. It's an impressive show, including some incredible saxophone playing, the only flaw being that they lack the immediacy of the other bands. Of course, the real trouble with supporting a band like tonight's headliners is that they are who we're all really here to see.

There's no talking between tracks tonight (as is usual with Xiu Xiu), but the band all seem perfectly content with the silence. Stewart speaks only twice - thanking the support bands at the start, and then thanking us in an equally hushed tone. His speaking voice is at odds with the raw power of his singing; he dodges between howls on 'This Too Shall Pass Away' (the only track they play from 'Dear God I Hate Myself'), and the beautiful, heart-breaking melody of 'Fabulous Muscles'. Silence falls almost completely for this track. The drummer, Marc Riordan, makes his way to the front of the stage to stand silently next to Stewart, hands clasped with a solemn expression, looking for all the world like someone in mourning. The crowd is unexpectedly small, especially for a band that's travelled so far to get here, but those that have come seem to be dedicated fans. There's a smatter of impolite talking over the start of a few tracks but that soon settles down as the songs develop. The set-list is clever and well thought out, the sublime refrain of 'Suha', "I hate my husband, I hate my children...when will I be going home?" is right at home next to the melodic "la la la"-ing on 'Joey's Song', one of the tracks from the new album 'Always'.

There's definitely something religious about the dedication of Xiu Xiu's listeners, and in the fairly small number of people here, there doesn't seem to be even close to a "type" of fan. If you just can't understand what makes people fall in love with this band, then seeing them live is probably the best way to appreciate the magnetism they undoubtedly have. I've seen Xiu Xiu casually dismissed in reviews on grounds of 'weirdness'. And yes, there can be some surprising and unusual moments in their music, but you soon come to realise there's nothing random about those crashing cymbals, or interjections of noise. It's all been crafted delicately together to form a powerful undercurrent; an unstoppable barrage of melodies that suck you in, wrenching at your gut, and all the while Stewart's lyrics, bizarre and startling at each turn, weave and float on top. They finish tonight's set with the magnificent 'I Love The Valley OH!', probably the closest thing they've got to a "hit single". As Stewart and the crowd roar out the infamous "OH!" of the title, I realize that (and it's completely clich├ęd) there's no easy way to put into words how a band like Xiu Xiu can make you feel. With those infamously unflinching lyrics, agonizingly catchy guitar riffs and drums that thump like a heartbeat, they were never going to be everyone's cup of tea, but that doesn't stop them being the most brilliant, surprising, and unforgettable band of the last ten years.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

Mike Hadreas’ first album as Perfume Genius was ten short songs of pain, whispered out in his trademark delicate voice and recorded in his mum’s house without any particular intention to be released, it’s intimate in a way that can be almost difficult to hear at times. Hadreas himself is a shy, almost damaged seeming character, singing of awful things with a smile and a shaking voice, over a gentle piano. ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ does not show much deviation from this effective formula, even using a couple of re-recorded demos from before ‘Learning’, the beautiful piano arpeggios and hushed vocals remain.

Hadreas’ words seem to be precisely shaped from an almost exquisite hurt, but they’re never complicated, no overwrought metaphors or vivid descriptions, instead, his words almost tumble out, and seem obvious once they’re said – the sign of a true lyrical talent. The second track, ‘Normal Song’ opens with an uncomplicated line that somehow manages to communicate a whole lot more; “hold my hand, I am afraid” he asks plaintively. It’s not all doom and gloom though; often what makes these songs seem so upsetting is the glimmer of hope they describe. For example, on ‘Dark Parts’ (written as a present for his mum) he promises “I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart”. This album also shows a little more instrumental variety than ‘Learning’; a dark bass riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Twin Peaks soundtrack opens ‘Floating Spit’, and the gentle pounding drums on ‘Dark Parts’ add a sense of urgency, when things could otherwise have felt a little too heavy. It closes with ‘Sister Song’, the Perfume Genius version of an arena-filling anthem – a reverberating guitar picks out a melody that sounds patriotic in some strange way, with typically revealing yet mysterious lyrics, and a sense of anticipation.

Bands like Snow Patrol and singers like Adele are often lauded for the ability their songs have to induce emotion (…and how well their songs go with sad montages on the TV). But true heartbreak, true grief – almost at the point where it seems cathartic, wretched and destructive – is to be found in this album.....

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