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.

Monday, 3 November 2014

REVIEW: Taylor Swift, '1989'

‘I got that red lip classic thing that you like… I got that good girl thing and a tight little skirt’… Taylor Swift knows exactly how she looks to the wider world. Serial dater, lyrical dirty-laundry airer and yet somehow the doe-eyed innocent, the perfect american dream. A good country girl who pines after her beloved, watches the cheerleaders jealously and counts the teardrops on her guitar. Confined to the realms of the family-friendly, destined to be sidelined while the less wholesome girls do their thing.

In one fell swoop, Taylor Swift killed the prom queen. ‘Shake It Off’ was a mission statement with handclaps, an f-you to naysayers that could only have been made more obvious if it had donned hot pants and twerked in the viewers face…oh wait. Attacking her complainers with good grace and humour, she began to show signs of life behind the glossy blue eyes, creating music to match her new-found feminist attitude. 

It should come as no surprise then, that 1989 is an album with similar directness. While ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ and ‘Dear John’ were thinly veiled ‘up yours’ to ex boyfriends, the tales of love, loss and lust displayed here are far less embittered and much more observational for it. It’s not much of a stretch to guess who ‘Style’ might be about, but it doesn’t really matter - far more exciting than a One Direction tryst is the future-pop niche Swift carves out, icy verses blending into a fist-pumper of a chorus that lodges itself deep into the cerebral cortex. Similarly satisfying is ‘I Know Places’, sure the result of Swift’s new found BFF-ness with Lorde, so darkly delicious and almost RnB like is the melody. 

In fact, it comes from a place of kindness when we notice that much of the record is rooted in the better moments of it’s pop forefathers, or more, accurately, foremothers. 1989 is a pinterest board of female influences, inherently feminist in that it celebrates the best efforts of much of pop's most interesting women. Wildest Dreams is the song that Robyn and Lana Del Rey never wrote, the epitome of the gap in the market that Taylor should occupy. The lyric ‘He’s so tall and handsome as hell/ he’s so bad but he does it so well’ is simple, but captures the essence of the breathless Tumblr love that Swift sings so succinctly. ‘Out Of The Woods’ underwhelmed initially, but in the context of a record, it has something of Kylie’s ‘All The Lovers’ about it, whilst ‘I Wish You Would’ could have been lifted directly from the studio sessions for Haim album number two. 

However, it’s only truly great pop stars who can save the best till last. 'New Romantics' is that song. Revisiting Swift’s penchant for a scarlet letter, this is nearest Swift has ever come to a song that could make it onto the ‘Girls’ soundtrack, drawling the lyrics with the cool-girl care of a someone who is having far too much fun. ‘The rumours are terrible and cruel/ but honey most of them are true’ she teases, staring directly in the eye of anybody who might attempt to slut-shame her into submission. Swifty doesn’t want to play Romeo and Juliet anymore - she wants to be a millennial girl, and more power to her. 

Whether you’re approaching adulthood or feeling re-energised after a break-up, this is an album to file alongside ‘Beyonce.’ The sexual politics might not be there with the same force, but the liberation of a girl discovering who she wants to be sure is. Embrace it or fear it, there’s no way you’ll be able to avoid ‘this. sick. beat.'

Saturday, 1 November 2014

REVIEW: Real Estate, Brudenell Social Club, 25.10.2014

It’s a rare and beautiful treat when you arrive to watch a support band, only to realise that there are the band whose songs you’ve been trying to place for the past 6 months. Canadian quintet Alvvays is that band, whose self-titled debut has surely permeated every media office and 6music playlist of the past few months to lodge itself in one’s brain so readily.

Lead singer Molly Rankin is a teen idol in waiting, sounding both gloriously bored and upbeat as she sings, a fascinating mix. With a sound so low-fi that you’d half expect the entire cast of Freaks & Geeks to shuffle in underage, this is the sound of long summer montages in coming-of-age movies. If this is normcore, we’ll take it.

Most bands spend hours curating their set lists, meticulously mapping out a path of tracks that represent the ebb and flow of their back catalogue. Not New Jersey’s Real Estate. Brandishing a mug full of chopped-up slips of paper, bassist Alex Bleeker invites the coquettish audience to choose the set, which, as misfortune would have it, turns out to borrow very little from their opulent latest album, ‘Atlas’. Leaning instead towards the extended shoegaze-lacquered jams that made their name in the first place, it’s a dream come true for the hardcore constituency in the front row.

To say that a live band sounds exactly like they do on record is normally to do them a disservice. In Real Estate’s case, it’s a testament to their sunny demeanour, good grace with the night’s technical issues and the near-telepathic relationship within their rhythm section.  Like most American bands, they are gushing with love for the Brudenell, thanking the crowd repeatedly between song. Whilst the stop-start nature of the evening might not work for most, by the time ‘The Bend’ rings out it’s perfect ‘Champagne Supernova’-aping outro, it’s enough to make you forget the howling Yorkshire gale and dream yourself to the seashore. 

Check out Real Estate's album 'Atlas' on iTunes here
Check out Alvvays album 'Alvvays' on iTunes here