Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Newcastle Student Union Basement, 19.04.10

In the suitably dingy basement of the Newcastle Uni Student’s Union, support for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club comes from Dark Horses*, who play a bewildering form of gloom-rock and come complete with their very own goth-Bez, except with less dancing and a steel chain instead of a tambourine. Then, the perpetually pissed-off Black Rebel Motorcycle Club take to the stage. Opening with a few off their lackluster new album ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’, the show only really begins when a barrage of singles shock the crowd into life, with ‘Love Burns’ and ‘Berlin’ unleashing a wave of lager over a circle of fist-pumping fans. The contrast between these older and much stronger songs and the disappointing new material sums up the night, signaling a band in decline.

Save for an extended acoustic version of ‘Sympathetic Noose’ and a couple of others from their career-best third album ‘Howl’, material comes largely from BRMC’s bulging arsenal of heavy, four-to-the-floor, feedback-laden and riff-driven rock. This all makes for a pretty good time, particularly during ‘Spread Your Love’, a song which encapsulates the spirit of BRMC in it’s fuzz-bass, stomping drums and electrifying harmonica. Before this, ‘Weapon of Choice’ and ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘n’ Roll’ buoy the energetic crowd and allow for sweaty heads to meet leather jackets in sticky matrimony. But the cracks start to appear once BRMC ignore the material off their debut and ‘Howl’, bringing out a number of patchy songs from their other, inferior, albums.

There’s a clear difference between the songs BRMC wrote 10 years ago and the songs they’re writing now- it’s just the difference comes in the crowd’s stunted reaction to them, not in the actual songs themselves. Some of the band’s songs all too often regurgitate the template they followed on their debut, devoid of anything new at all, painfully clear during the nine-minute dirge of ‘Generation-X’ from ‘Baby 81’. BRMC have never been a particularly original band and the garage-rock revival we saw at the turn of the millennium has always worn its influences on its heavily-tattooed sleeve, but BRMC’s new songs reveal a severe lack of ideas: classics aside, they are fast becoming garage-rock dinosaurs, desperately needing to evolve.


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Big in 2010..... (3 months late)


With a quaint and unusual sound that combines grand choruses with neat finger-picking and string arrangements, Stornoway deserve a place in your heart. Their debut album comes out next year but they’ve already released two singles, the spirited and stand-out song ‘Unfaithful’ and ‘Zorbing’ (which they performed on Jools Holland in 2009), a song about rolling down a massive hill in a see-through plastic ball. The song isn’t as good as that sounds, but it still makes a case for Stornoway to join Mumford and Sons in the great UK folk-rock revival. Also take a look at Oxford’s Jonquil ( for a slightly weirder take on the folk-rock template.


Post War Years mix strong rhythms and off-kilter drums with synths on top of three different vocalists, creating indie but punk-ish rock in roughly the same vein as Foals. They released their promising debut album ‘The Greats and the Happenings’ in summer 2009 and have been prodding at the peripheries of widespread recognition ever since. Go find the album on Spotify now.


Occupying Stuart Murdoch during Belle & Sebastian’s recent hiatus, God Help the Girl is a film and music project that features 9 different vocalists, ranging from the lead singer of The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon, to a few unknown female singers. Murdoch has orchestrated a superb collaboration between these artists, the album (released last year) follows the romantic tribulations of a quirky single woman who needs all the help she can get in finding love. Evoking 60’s girl-band pop and classic 80’s indie, the record is both retro and a breath of fresh air. Expect the album to gain much more attention with the release of the accompanying film, by the same name, in late 2010.


Supposedly Noughtie’s second coolest rock star (after Sir Jack White), Julian Casablancas’ favourite band, Beach House have been around a while but are expected to be everyone’s favourite band by the end of 2010. Slow, lilting dreamy songs are what the American Mid-Atlantic duo do and they do them well, fronted by Victoria Legrand, who has sung with mainstream indie newbies Grizzly Bear. Their third album, Teen Dream, comes out on January 25th.


Already hyped to pieces by the NME and the other usual suspects, The Drums are officially ‘the next big thing’. But don’t take every lazy music journalist’s word for it, listen to their Beach Boys surf pop via the cool of New York City at their myspace and decide for yourself.


Channeling the post-punk dance of New Order, combining dancefloor synths and beats with anthemic choruses, Manchester trio Delphic are tipped to continue the dance-rock revival the Klaxons started in 2007- just don’t mention ‘nu-rave’. Debut album ‘Acolyte’ is out now.

MGMT: 'Congratulations'

‘Congratulations’ sees MGMT delve further into the experimental far-out psychedelica that their first album hinted at, a move which will polarize fans, leaving some championing the new sound and others weeping the ‘do-do-do-do-do-do’ refrain of ‘Kids’ into their tie-dyed headbands come festival season. Frustrated with the disproportionate success of ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ from their debut, MGMT have shunned the ‘single’, taking inspiration from the prog-rock albums of the 1970’s, creating a body of work to listen to as a whole.

The album opens with the infectious, surf-pop inspired ‘It’s Working’, followed by ‘Song For Dan Treacy’, which bounces with nervous energy into ‘Someone’s Missing’, a song so unmistakably MGMT that you can almost smell the free-love drenched ponchos through the speakers. The psych-pop vibe continues with the kaleidoscopic ‘Flash Delirium’ and lyrically baffling ‘I Found A Whistle’. 5 songs in and so far, so not-too-weird- it’s only in the second half of the album, during the adventurous and supremely satisfying 12-minute ‘Siberian Breaks’ that the band really start to flex their psychedelic muscles, melding about 4 different songs into one massive cosmic journey. Channeling The Flaming Lips, the song weaves between melodies and tempos and, crucially for a 12-minute song, never falls back on bloated instrumentals to fill up the time.

‘Brian Eno’s punk-pop bass-line and simple chorus of, well, ‘Brian Eno’, is about as brilliant a song about a multi-talented music producer you’ll ever hear. Unnecessary instrumental ‘Lady Dada’s Nightmare’ misfires as an atmospheric, experimental almost-album-closer, but doesn’t upset the flow of the album, which MGMT have clearly spent a lot of time obsessing over. Things mellow out for ‘Congratulations’, closing an album that for what it lacks in hit singles, makes up for in impressive ideas and depth. MGMT will probably lose a lot of fans as a result of the shortage of single material, but they should be respected for bringing the focus back onto the ‘album’ in an era of cherry-picking songs for 79p a pop. Appropriately, the album ends with applause.

Tetur, The Cluny, Newcastle, 13.10.09

Walking through the audience onto the stage of The Cluny in Newcastle, baby-faced Teitur Lassen smiles nervously and picks up his guitar. Teitur is probably the Faroe Island’s biggest pop star, and armed with his 3rd English-language album, The Singer, released last year, the ‘angel of the North’ is looking to establish a fanbase in the UK. Teitur and his band are squeezed onto the teeny stage, surrounded by equipment- I never see the bassist, his face hidden behind an impressive tower of amps throughout the set. He writes sweet and melodic songs about girls; girls from his childhood, girls that hitchhike and even girls he doesn’t know. The fact that English is not Teitur’s mother tongue means that his lyrics have a lack of pretence about them, often simple and charming. Don’t Want You To Wake Up, the first song, showcases his youthful voice and melodic guitar work, which quickly catch the attention of the audience, made up of students and arty-Geordies. Whilst playing he looks very relaxed, the only sign of exertion coming in a single bead of sweat that falls from his forehead during Josephine. Louis Louis (not Louie Louie) continues Teitur’s inoffensive blend of personal lyrics and a strong melody. These songs are all perfectly nice, but a couple of the songs stray dangerously close to John Mayer/James Morrison territory and could get Teitur lumped into the turgid landfill of bed-wetting singer-songwriters that make Jo Whiley excited. However, when Teitur tells us to ‘just imagine an American highway’, Hitchhiker changes the pace of the set. The bluesy riff contrasts with his innocent vocals and a few intermittent blasts of aggressive distorted guitar give the song a pleasing dark edge. Hopefully Teitur will continue down this more experimental road which, coupled with the charm and sincerity of his other songs, will set him apart from his contemporaries.

Pete Doherty, 02 Academy Leeds, 23.03.09

Pete Doherty has changed his name. Gone is his self-proclaimed ‘evil twin’, who gave crack to cats and sprayed blood at journalists, replaced by the more reflective and poetic ‘Peter’ Doherty. The letter ‘r’ has emerged in time for the release of his long-awaited solo album, Grace/Wastelands, and has signaled a new sense of maturity and seriousness in his work. Yet it wasn’t ‘Peter’ that the crowd chanted for at the recently opened 02 Leeds Academy, it was the ‘Pete’ of old that the crowd wanted.

To satisfy the ‘Pete’ lovers in the audience, Doherty, starting out alone, opened with two Libertines songs. First, the early B-Side ‘The Delaney’ followed by ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. The crowd, singing enthusiastically and enjoying the opportunity to reminisce his former glories, lapped them up. Both songs, however, were dispatched quickly and with little fuss. It was almost as though the singer was keen to get the formalities of playing Libertines songs over and done with in order to start playing his new songs as soon as possible.

Arcadie, the opener from the new album, was the chance for ‘Peter’ to shine, accompanied by indie-royalty Graham Coxon and half of Babyshambles. Doherty seemed much more relaxed once joined by his bandmates, spraying the crowd with Guinness and encouraging them to clap along to the songs jaunty tune. ‘Last Of The English Roses’ was even more of a revelation, its infectious dub-beat filling the room while Doherty sang about an old childhood sweetheart. The presence of Coxon clearly has a positive effect on Doherty, inspiring him to sing and play with conviction, determined to prove himself as one Britain’s best singer/songwriters.

The set dipped during ‘1939 Returning’ and ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’, the next two songs from Grace/Wastelands. These songs highlight the hit and miss nature of Doherty’s solo album. However, the best parts of the album were even more brilliant on stage, given extra depth by the two violinists’ that joined the band and also by Coxon’s amazing guitar playing that added some raw aggression to Doherty’s tales of heartbreak and addiction. ‘Palace of Bone’, with its swaggering rhythm and random guitar screeches, gave the crowd an excuse to get moving after the dip in pace.

Being a fan of Doherty’s can be infuriatingly frustrating because of his tendency to act like the divvy he sings about in ‘What A Waster’, and often the appeal of Doherty is hard to see through all the tabloid headlines and farcical stories about his personal life. But it is because of his ability to write a song that sounds fresh and exciting every time you hear it that he first gained attention, albeit with the help of his fellow Libertines, and it is when he plays these songs that it becomes clear why he is revered by so many. Those in the audience who were unfamiliar with the new solo-work, of which there were notably a few, were rewarded for their perseverance when Doherty brought out some more of this older material, mixing both Libertines and Babyshambles songs.

‘Killamangiro’, one of Babyshambles’ first hits, inspired a mass sing-along amongst the crowd and ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ kept up this momentum. Clearly chuffed with the crowd’s reaction, Doherty sprayed more of his Guinness upon those at the front and thanked them for coming out for a second time.

The real highlight of the set came in ‘Time For Heroes’, still the best song Doherty has ever written. The opening chords sparked frenzy amongst those in the audience and each lyric was sung back at Doherty, who was by now clearly enjoying himself. With this, the band left the stage and returned to play two more songs, the impressive B-Side ‘Through The Looking Glass’ and routine set-closer ‘Fuck Forever’. The crowd, aware that this was their last chance to kick the shit out of each other, screamed along with Doherty to the very last bit of guitar feedback.

There’s no doubt that Doherty is eager to show his talent to those that dismiss him as the car-crash that he tends to be portrayed as in the tabloids. Performances like this show what a versatile musician he is, with the ability to write lilting acoustic ballads as well as far more intense sounding songs, which makes watching him play endlessly engrossing. With Doherty now able to satisfy both the Pete and the Peter inside him, it may be that we see less of the infamous Pete Doherty and more of the Peter Doherty that deserves to be famous.

Hope I Die Before I Get Old - The Problem of the Ageing Rock Star (06.03.09)

The behaviour of rock stars is never predictable. And the behaviour of ageing rock stars is even less predictable. In the past month we’ve seen Bono and The Edge from U2 reveal details of a Spider-Man musical featuring their own music and lyrics, while both Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper have decided to start advertising for insurance companies. Is this what we want from our once edgy and controversial idols? Granted, that the only thing edgy about the Edge is his name, but Iggy Pop selling insurance? Iggy Pop is a man who made his name vomiting, injecting heroin and rolling around in glass on stage, representing the immortality of youth, now urging us to protect our future in case we get crushed by a bus.

The ageing rock star has become a typical feature of modern culture, clinging onto their fame with only past glories to support them and deluded in their attempts for further success. It is inevitable that the ripe, young rock stars we have today will one day pass their sell-by-date and soon become part of the ‘ageing rock star’ contingent, doomed to embarrass themselves and tarnish their past work, unless of course they die before this can happen. We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that in the not-too-distant future we could be seeing Amy Winehouse telling us how to spend our pensions- in the world of the ageing rock star, it seems anything, apart from credibility, is possible.

The failure of our Pop’s and our Cooper’s to retain their integrity while being able to ride public transport for free highlights the harsh truth- what to do now that the fans that made them famous could now, perhaps, be six feet under, leaving them with a whole new generation of fans to win over. Obviously the smart thing to do would be to stop releasing records and call it a day, content with the work that they’ve done, or better still, reject money-grabbing advertising campaigns in attempts for publicity. But the common-sense approach never seems to come easily to our rock stars. Countless numbers of them have succumbed to the pressures of trying to remain relevant and have only embarrassed themselves. By refusing to accept their sagging skin, increasing waists and receding hairlines with grace and dignity, our ageing rock stars are making a mistake in trying to fool their audience that they are still the same thing that they were 20 years ago, which they are quite clearly not. Rod Stewart, who continues to pout and gyrate his hips at 64, exemplifies this. I hope I don’t come across as ageist, as I am all for people continuing to do what they enjoy, regardless of age, but in the case of Rod, perhaps its time he swapped the leopard-print pants for some comfy elasticised long-johns and started to enjoy the benefits of old age.

But rock doesn’t have to be just a young guns game. However, only when an ageing rock star admits that they are ageing, and not a ‘young gun’ anymore, will they be treated seriously. These rare self-confessed ‘ageing-rockers’, who have defied the stereotype, include Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. By accepting that they are growing old, these artists have evolved with the times, conscious of the fact that in order to avoid the rock and roll knife you must remain relevant to each new generation, no matter how old you are. These artists, somehow, have achieved this, which only goes to further prove their genius. The Rolling Stones too, although far from accepting their age, are not wholly embarrassing on account of the fact that they haven’t seemed to have changed at all since the 60s, and most people are genuinely shocked and impressed by the fact that they are still breathing, let alone on performing stage.

Unfortunately, the only way our rock stars can realistically guarantee an ever lasting, un-tainted musical legacy is to die. Although probably the least appealing of options, the proof is in the pudding: only the very brave critics badmouth the likes of Buckley, Curtis, Cobain or Hendrix. These artists are remembered in rock history for the thing that they should be remembered for- the great music that they left behind. This is because, for good or for bad, the artists didn’t live long enough to taint their musical legacy. Who can say that if Kurt Cobain weren’t alive today he wouldn’t be advertising cereal, or that Ian Curtis wouldn’t be doing duets with Alexandra Burke? It is a hard decision to make as to which I’d prefer, the artist alive and well but with no musical integrity, or tragically dead but with their music safe from the threat of being tarnished. But this is not the point. The point is what the ageing rock stars we have today and the ones we will have in the future should do to avoid the label of an ex-rocker. For the answer to this, ask Bruce, Bob, or David. Just don’t ask Iggy, unless you want to talk about insurance.