Sunday, 21 December 2014

Kasabian/ The Maccabees, First Direct Arena, 21.11.2014

(Originally published on Counterfeit Magazine, available here)

It’s a truth universally known in the world of support acts that opening a gig with new material is a massive no-no. The Maccabees must have confidence in spades: despite a thin and widely indifferent audience, they open one of their first gigs in two years by tearing through a track that is indebted to every one of their albums all at once – the emotion of Given To The Wild, the exuberance of Colour It In and the wild guitar work of Wall of Arms. Looking suitably pleased to be back on stage, the likes of ‘Feel To Follow’ and ‘Precious Time’ sound remarkably fresh for their time away, with Orlando Weeks dedicating ‘First Love’ to the recently closed Cockpit, a fitting tribute for a band who have always worn their heart on their sleeve. Welcome back boys – we’ve missed you.

Whilst the ladies toilet queue reassures us that there are some women in tonight’s crowd, the sea of Liam Gallagher haircuts and Fred Perry polos assures us that we are indeed at a ‘dad lad’-heavy Kasabian gig. The atmosphere feels like a cross between a football match and a pantomime as spotlights illuminate their two frontmen, taking a slowed down version of ‘Bumblebee’ and pushing it gradually to its inevitable release. As soon as that beat drops, all of the evening’s scepticism evaporates: the flush of pink is visually stunning as it reflects on the sea of pints thrust aloft, worshipping at the altar of big, bold British rock.

Testosterone is flung to the wall as they romp through ‘Shoot The Runner’ and ‘Underdog’ to near hysteria before bringing on a skeleton-costumed mini orchestra for a fantastic rendition of ‘Where Did All The Love Go’. As the strong day-glo imagery projects bizarre wording and random phrases (‘trackie’ ‘commit no nuisance’,‘skeggy’), an oddly retro punk ethos tints proceedings, a definite two-fingers in the air atmosphere. Well, if punk was arena-sized, platinum selling and constantly banging on about ‘aving it’, that is.

As always, the strength of tonight’s gig is in the kinship of Kasabian’s duel frontmen. Serge Pizzorno, all flailing limbs, maracas and a sewn-on fox’s tail, is the perfect partner for Tom Meighan’s straighter shtick and surprisingly powerful voice. They look to each other regularly, drinking in the screams of audience and cavorting their way through the deranged funhouse that is ‘eez-eh’, arguably one of the most memorable songs of the year.

Amongst all the bravado, however, are a collection of British anthems that never say die. Kasabian are not a band usually associated with diversity, but here, tonight, they prove that they can do ballads (‘Goodbye Kiss’), pop choruses (‘Bow’) and even 80s discotheque (‘Treat’) with startlingly ease. As the foot stamping threatens to break the balcony during ‘Vlad The Impaler’ and ‘Fire’, this could well have been a Greatest Hits concert. If this is indeed an Empire, consider Tom ‘n’ Serge your new Director Generals.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

10 Questions with... Wolf Alice

It's been a long time since I fell in love having encountered them at a festival, but London's Wolf Alice were that treat back at Beacons 2013, an intoxicating mix of punk spirit, 90's-tastic delivery, and a genuine passion for what they are doing. In the past six weeks alone, they've been announced as the opening act for Alt-J's 02 Arena date, selected for Government export funding and released a free download of a 'Storms', a song that only serves to further exacerbate the desire for their debut record. But just who are Wolf Alice? After a few false starts and a lost set of questions, we caught up with lead singer Ellie Rowsell for a quick chat about festivals, living the dream and teenage angst...

Hi Ellie. With December fast approaching, it's been a pretty cracking year for you and your band, especially in terms of public perception and reviews, what has been your biggest pinch-yourself moment thus far?
For me it was when we went to America and played South by South West. I'd never been to America and it was like stepping into a movie! So to be invited there for "work" was a dream come true. Our shows were all really fun and people seemed to really enjoy themselves so it was a big success too.

You've built up a following through EPs before you release a full length album; do you think this is important for new bands?
It's a good idea for some artists but not necessarily for others. It gives you time to develop, get studio experience and build a fan-base, but it also adds pressure on your debut as you've been waiting so long to do it.

You signed to the Dirty Hit label earlier in the year, why did you decide to go with them?
They're a small label at the moment so we knew they would have lots of time for us; they give us a lot of creative freedom and their enthusiasm for music was very apparent.

You're named after an Angela Carter story; have any other writers had influence on your work? What inspires you lyrically?
Yes, I find it incredibly inspiring in terms of writing lyrics to read a lot of books and watch a lot of films. It means I can write lyrics about other people and experiences other than my own when I don't want to write or think about myself.

I caught your sets this summer at Leeds Festival and 2000 Trees, how did these shows go for you? Do you prefer northern or southern crowds?
2000 Trees was a really nice surprise for us. The crowd were amazing and we had a really good time. Leeds was a dream come true and lived up to all our expectations. Sorry to be boring but I like northern and southern crowds and haven't noticed much difference.

Who would headline a Wolf Alice curated festival?
Miley Cyrus fronting Deftones …

You all grew up in London and even found out that you were at the same Horrors gig aged 14 before you'd met each other; how do you feel about all ages gigs? Do you think there should be more all age gigs/festivals for young people to get into music?
Joff actually grew up on a farm in Cornwall! But, yes, when I was growing up I went to lots of all ages concerts and it upsets me that it's not such a huge thing anymore. I know some concerts are 14+ but to have shows curated specifically for underage kids was incredibly exciting; and drew people to music who would maybe not bother go to a normal gig, and therefore give them an experience they might otherwise not have had.

As a female fronted band, you're often lumped into regressive 'women in rock' round ups; what do you make of this sort of thing? Do you think feminism in music is as big an issue as people make out?
Some people put more effort in to talking about the role of women in music than they actually do writing and playing good music, and I don't think that's a good look, but feminism in music is an important issue. As for the women in rock round-ups, I don't mind them as long as they don't call us girl rock.

'She' is pretty much teen angst encapsulated in a 3 minute rock record – how do you describe your teen years? What advice would you give to teenagers struggling with growing pains?
I found my experience as being a teenager very emotional, and that's why up until now most of my lyrics were about that period in my life - very internal, personal and introspective, which is fun to put into poetry or lyrics and helps in some way to release and understand what you are feeling. So I guess I'd say channel your growing pains into something creative, because your brain is thinking about some of its craziest stuff that deserves to be heard!

Imagine if Wolf Alice were a person. What would be your bio on a dating website?
Wolf Alice enjoys holding hands and long walks on the beach. Also enjoys lager and marathons of the Simpsons.

Download 'Storms' for free from Wolf Alice's soundcloud on the link below.

Monday, 17 November 2014

LIVE: Jamie T, Leeds Academy, 8.11.2014

Fighting my way through a sea of greased back hair and oversized denim, I can see that tonight’s sold-out show is going to be a rowdy one. Five years away has done nothing to dim the popularity of one Jamie Treays - the average age of the audience suggests more than a few have been lured in my the success of his impressive new record Carry On The Grudge, probably only in their pre-teens when he was snarling his way through Wimbledon first time around. However, tonight is about more than the music - it’s a saturday night, and the need to party is palpable.

When Slaves arrive, I wonder for a second if I'm about to be treated to some Dapper Laughs stand up. However, from the first careering crash of their stand-up-drum and guitar combo, it's pretty obvious that they're more madcap than misogyny. Their austere pie'n' mash, halloweeny helter-skelter punk is occasionally heavy-handed, but drummer Isaac Holman's best Sex Pistols impression is oddly watchable, sinister yet likeably cartoonish. Take 'Where's Your Car Debbie', which is apparently a 'laaavely' song about protecting a girl from a Sasquatch. As you were. Much like Gallows before them, there's no denying that their formidable stage presence will offer them something of a cult-like celebrity, with inevitable fame and a spot on the NME Cool List to boot. Ones to watch, without a doubt.

As Jamie T himself shuffles on stage in a beat-up kagoule and a baseball cap, the place erupts in a
way that really shouldn't suit a man of his initial appearance, but is altogether justified as he roars through new album opener, 'Limits Lie'. It appears a few audience members have reached their own limits - reviewing takes a back seat as I avoid the bunch of coked-up lads trying to grope passing girl's bums, try not to look at the bloke with his hands down his girlfriends tights and lean as far away from possible from a drunk girl who promptly spills her WKD cocktail concoction down my back. Luckily, my drenched back evaporates quickly with the heat in the room - old classics Salvador and 368 sound incredible, while new favourite ‘Don’t You Find’ is hollered back with an intensity normally reserved for ‘If You Got The Money’ or ‘Sticks N Stones’.

At the helm of the fracas, Jamie looks as if he's enjoying himself. He speaks very little compared to his last tour back in 2009, perhaps a sign of his increasing social anxiety or perhaps just because he is overawed at the reception he is getting after so long away. It's obvious that he has grown older in the same way his music has - more cautious, less inclined to throw out the punchlines so easily. The setlist is understandably heavy with new material, but it blends well, the album artwork backdrop falling halfway through ‘The Man’s Machine’ to signal the change of pace. New material and old sounds faultless, every spat lyric echoed back in earnest by the crowd.

Despite the rabble rousing, a quiet interlude of 'Emily's Heart' and new slowy ‘Love Is Only A
Heartbeat Away' get the hushed respect so often lacking at gigs like this, a devoted singalong with pints aloft. It’s become painfully clear that this is not a refined audience - people are openly racking up lines, indulging in drunken foreplay that would be better confined to a bedroom, swaying with their eyes closed in a chemical-induced fact, in a bizarre twist of fate, every single Jamie T character, good and ugly, is played out here for all to see. Sheila's 'clean young mess’ is being held up by Top Banana Martha near the sounddesk, Boozy Susie is perched on the shoulders of Smack Jack The Crackerman...even Jamie's fucked-up alter ego, Peter, is flicking his ash and staring menacingly at the bloke in fronts girlfriend. It's like a fan convention has broken out in the middle of leeds, a twisted fairytale songbook of social observation brought to life. Perhaps this depraved rave is exactly what our reluctant star has been waiting for. Far from the most comforting of environments, but then, Jamie T never was famed for his sweetness and light. Welcome back to the dark side lad, we've missed you.