Friday, November 28, 2008

Baby Dee / Paul Curreri / Black Carrot @ The Glee Club, Thursday 27th November 2008

Other worldly. That's the best way to describe tonight's gig. And, I have to say, it's a world I'd much rather live in. It might scare the bejesus out of me at times but it is, at its heart, really a much saner place than the one most of us inhabit right now n'est ce pas? Oh...R.I.P Woolies by the way. As the place that got me started on my musical journey some time back in 1977 (with a 99p Hot Hits tape featuring the tunes of the day covered by various session musicians...hey, give me a break...99p was a lot of money to a 7 year old) I shed, mentally at least, a tear when the death knell was finally tolled. Where this leaves Zavvi (who, I believe, get most of their stock through Woolies distribution arm) only remains to be seen. Anyway, back to the altogether nicer business of the music and, first up, Black Carrot. Tapping into influences as diverse (and downright brilliant) as Robert Wyatt, Captain Beefheart and (in my tattered head at least) X-ray Spex (the horns...listen to the horns) they are the very soundtrack to your nightmares. Lead Carrot, Stewart, in particular has the kind of vocal delivery that could terrify young children (and maybe a few grown ups too) into soiling themselves. This is a very good thing. As I often blab on about, the beauty of music, in all its crazy mixed up diversity, is that it can create such incredible emotions. It takes you places you didn't know existed and Black Carrot make excellent tour guides in a world filled with insane jazz bands, surreal landscapes and lashings of Pilsner Urquell. Go investigate and send me a postcard...carrot shaped naturally.

Next Paul Curreri, whose name I was familar with but, as with so many artists (so much good stuff, so little time...sigh...), I just hadn't got round to checking out. There's a hell of a lot of singer songwriters out there but, from the very first strum, Paul established that special link with the audience that marked him out as something different. It could be the beard (I'm a sucker for beards)but vocally tonight he reminded me a little of a younger (and less grizzled) Seasick Steve (just check out The Wasp...can't you just see Steve playing this?). Like SS he's got that sort of delivery that makes you think singing and playing music is as natural as breathing to him. Even if you only has a passing interest in the newly resurgent Americana or Folk scenes, Paul's an essential listen (I can heartily recommend the bluesy new album The Velvet Rut as an excellent starting point too).

Finally, the lady herself, Baby Dee. Readers of a certain age may well be expecting a quick burst of Let Me Be Your Fantasy here, but this is an altogether different kind of Baby Dee. There can't be too many transgender harp players out there. This alone makes Baby Dee unique. But her playing, vocal delivery, material and warm, self depreciating personality are every bit as special. Hailing from Ohio (hello out there the Bobby Dazzler) she has an operatic quality to her voice that wavers from frail old lady to feisty sea dog. If all this sounds a little extraordinary - it is. I'm in awe of anyone who can play the harp (the guitar looks tricky to me but the many strings has that thing got?), but Dee plucks, whacks and teases something quite magical from hers. Coming onstage in a pair of well worn DM's, quickly discarded to reveal black stockened feet, and with a shock of red hair piled on her head, Dee's an arresting and truly unique artist. Many of the songs concern change, lost (or unrequited love) Not quite sure where the third of these themes comes from but I'm not one for overanalysis. A lot of it is intense, heartbreaking stuff. As a fan of Anthony & The Johnsons and, of course, Marc Almond, I was quite at home with all this. Many people won't be. It's their loss. Tonight was a pure harp set but check out her Myspace page and you'll hear a lot more of the piano material - equally engaging but there's something about the purity of the harp that really suits Dee's style. All in all an extraordinary, and quite beautiful, evening.

Before I go a quick mention for Coventry's Tin Angel Records, to whom all three artists are 'signed'. Any label that releases such a range of unique material deserves investigation and - more importantly - support. Go give 'em some love.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A-Skillz...true happiness is just a beat away.

So...the government just needs to find the odd £100billion to dig us all out of the shit then eh? Maybe the banks could sort 'em out? Oh. Good point. Hmmmm...well, in the absence of any kinda future at least we still have our tunes and, like some kind of musical saviours, A-Skillz and Krafty Kuts are just about to release the perfect track for our deeply troubled times - Happiness. Kickin' off with a 1930's style jazz dude and some darn funky horns, before unleashing all manner of breakbeat madness, we're reminded that 'money won't bring happiness'. How true. It does, in the words of Quentin Crisp, buy a better class of misery, but we'll gloss over that. From start to finish the whole track's as catchy as man flu, but oh so much more fun. I'd just love to see ol' Gordon Brown step up to the mic next time he's going to do one of his fascinating speeches and, instead, just bring on a huge beatbox and play this track. It's 3minutes and 29seconds of pure meaty beaty medicine for a sick nation and I prescribe an extra large dose to all concerned...especially you...yes you...the one with the Primark jumper on. What were you thinking dear?

As an added bonus there's two other tracks, Got The Rhythm and the BeardyMan Bonus, both of which bring the sound of the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr James Brown, screaming into the 21st Century. For the uninitiated, Beardy Man is the beatboxers beatboxer. A true master of the mouth and, by all accounts, a lovely - if slighty eccentric - chap. Despite being in his hometown of Brighton for the last two Great Escapes I've missed his live show, so this will have to do until next year. Third time lucky perhaps? Of the two Beardy tracks, the BeardyMan Bonus (an improv based on Beardy Man conquering the universe through 'the power of stupid noises') is the best. Just check out the beatboxing section towards the end of the track. How the funk does so much come out of one little orifice?

Happiness is out on the 8th December on Finger Lickin Records, but you lucky peeps can check it out at A-Skillz' MySpace thingamajig right now. Happier now? Good.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Monotonix / Mirror! Mirror! / The Black & Reds @ The Rainbow, Wednesday 12th November 2008

This is what makes life worth living you know. Fuck the credit crunch, global warming, work, bills, the shitty weather, war, disaster...tearing a hole in your favourite pair of jeans...nah...fuck all that...for just a few short, beautiful hours gigs like this make you forget all the crap. It began with the Black & Reds. Featuring Ash 'Black' (drummer with the frankly awesome High Society) and Greg 'Red' (who I believe plays in a band called Dizzy Lizzy) they dished out a good half dozen of the dirtiest hot rock classics I've heard in ages. Ash is scrap that...he is the best drummer I have ever seen in 20 years of going to gigs (sorry Budgie). At one point he tucked one his drumsticks under his arm so he could smooth back his hair but still managed to make it sound like he was playing with two sticks. That's not possible. Has he sold his soul to the Devil? Is Ash the new Robert Johnson? And get this. He plays STANDING UP. Whilst singing. And still looking like the coolest fucker on the planet. Greg's the perfect partner too, teasing one perfect rock riff from his guitar after another. In fact I can't imagine a better partnership. AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Screaming Jay's all in there and it's...just...fucking...brilliant.

Next up, Mirror! Mirror! Obviously a totally different style, but still bringing that sense of energy that changes a humble gig into an event. Gang of Four meets The Foals (with a bit of PiL thrown in for good measure) they're an twitchy ball of musical magic. Dancey, funky...simply the sound of now. It seems like they're recording soon too. I'd put a fiver on them being all over what's left of the music press by this time next year.

Right. Now this is when things got a bit messy. It's not often that I 'lose' myself in the moment but, for the whole of Monotonix's 25 odd minute set I was somewhere else. Call it a higher plain. Off my face. High on life. Whatever. Not since seeing Selfish Cunt a few years back has a set been so full of 'what the fuck's going to happen next' moments. For the uninitiated amongst you, Monotonix is a garage rock band from Tel Aviv. That's Tel Aviv in Israel. I'm not too familiar with the Tel Aviv music scene but I'm guessing that Monotonix aren't your typical local band. I don't really want to describe the set. It's like describing sex. You're better off doing it, rather than reading about it. But, for the sake of getting something down for posterity, it featured beer, cider, water...whatever fluids were handy really...being sprayed all over the band...who set up in the middle of the floor...not the stage...the floor. The lead singer spent most of the set being carried around by some of the crowd (me included) whilst playing drums...which were also being carried around by other members of the crowd. I got a snog (well a kiss...or maybe he was just trying to headbutt me...not sure) off the lead singer. At one point the drummer was buried under a piece of red carpet, then brought back from the dead. And whilst all of this mayhem was going on they even managed to play music (think Gogol Bordello meets Fucked Up). Darn fine it was too. Like I say, you can't do it justice. Suffice to say it was simply one of the most spectacular gigs of all time. Anyone got any jobs going in Tel Aviv?

NB: Respect due to Wag from Beestung Lips for playing some cracking tunes in between sets and to Kamikaze's Carlo and George for having the balls to put this gig on (oh...and Greg too for the tip off).

Neon Neon / Yo Majesty @ The Glee Club, Monday 10th November 2008

Another gig at The Glee Club. And another cracker (well, it is nearly Christmas after all). First up a band I wrote about some time ago and have been aching to see (yes, aching) ever since...Yo Majesty! Fronted by Shunda K and Jwl. B and produced by Hardfeelings they're the freshest thing in female rap since Salt got her thang goin' on with Pepa. Openly lesbian, their lyrics are often (knuckle) deeply sexual. Kryptonite Pussy anyone? Oh go on then, I'll have a mouthful. It sure makes a refreshing change from much of the dull, dull, dull 'bitches and bling' male dominated rap scene so beloved of hoodies with those shitty mobile phones who sit on the top decks of buses all day long going round and round. Stuff Maths, French and about teaching frickin' musical appreciation in schools eh? Anyway, back to the good stuff. Yo Majesty are one of the most exciting live rap acts I've ever seen (and have probably ever existed). Anyone who can get me screaming 'Fuck That Shit' at the top of my voice in a packed Glee Club on a dank Monday night deserves my undying devotion. Crunk, electro, booty shaking bass and loads of effing and jeffing all delivered at the speed of light with a large slab of sass...hmmmm yes. In a word...majestic.

Next up, and rapidly becoming my favourite Welshman, Gruff Rhys' latest project, Neon Neon. Basing an entire album (loosely) on the life and times of disgraced motor manufacturer John De Lorean (you know, the man behind the iconic Back to The Future car) might not seem like the most obvious career move. But, remarkably, Gruff and partner Boom Bip, have turned in one of 2008's finest albums. It's 80's pop gold, delivered in Gruff's beautifully laid back vocal. There's more though. Cate Le Bon (nothing to do with Simon), Shunda K and...oh yes...HAR MAR SUPERSTAR are also in on the act. Oh sweet lord I have died and gone to heaven. Between them they delivered the entire album against a backdrop of Tron style 80's graphics. It made me feel 10 all over again. If you've not heard any Neon Neon cop a load of their MySpace tracks. Start with I Told Her On Alderaan and then try Raquel...the seemingly true story of De Lorean's fling with Miss Welch. Why this album lost out at The Mercury awards I'll never know. Still, just like Mr De Lorean's motor car, true genius often takes a few years to be fully appreciated eh?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dr Dog / Wye Oak @ The Glee Club, Monday 3rd November 2008

Into 'The Studio' at The Glee Club for this one. It's an intimate little venue with no stage, just a patch of floor at the front of the room. I rather like it though. It's like being in the band without having to do all the singing/playing and living in motels stuff. Anyway...first up 'quiet/loud, then quite quiet then really loud and bangy again', merchants Wye Oak all the way from Maryland (where the cookies come from...possibly). They're a two piece with vocalist Jenn providing nicely floaty vocals and drummer Andy beating the bejesus out of his drum kit. I like the quiet/loud thing. They kinda reminded me a little of Two Gallants...drawing you along in a mind drift of contemplation then smashing you round the head with a blizzard of noise. Listen to their track Please Concrete and you'll hear what I mean.

Headliners, Dr Dog, are no strangers to the odd blizzard of noise themselves...albeit it a more psych/rock kind of noise. Like The Beatles, The Byrds or The Band (other bands beginning with B are available from all good retailers)? Well, hell, you'll love Dr Dog. Masters of the three part harmony they've been around for a few years now but really seem to be hitting their stride on new album 'Fate'. 'Hang On' in particular is just lovely. Dr John meets The Beach Boys - it's a bit boogie woogie, a bit slide guitar, a bit rock, a bit country, a bit gospel...and those harmonies. Oh yes. I'm getting moist. Live, they're a formidable prospect. One of the lead vocalists...Taxi he seems to be called...bopped around like a man possessed. But the whole band did the biz. Love the bearded bass player...they sound like he looks...and he looks like they sound. They only played two dates in the UK so we were lucky to get them here in Birmingham and, whilst the venue wasn't massive, I think they won over every single one of us. You should've heard the 'appaws' (applause...paws..appaws? oh please yerselves).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cats all folks.

Yes, you can forget the X Factor, US Election, Strictly Come Dancing other competition. The one that's got the whole world talking reached its dizzying climax just moments ago when Lady Baron folded up little bits of paper and shoved 'em down the side of the sofa (we couldn't find a hat). Yes, it's the Catskills double album and frisbee competition thingy results doo dah! The winners were, in no particular order...Holly, Irena and The Bobby Dazzler. Congratulations to all concerned and a big thank you to the 26,567 other people who entered. I was delighted to see that over 10% of my readership took the time to enter. It makes this blogging business worthwhile.

Coming soon...your chance to win an Aston Martin (hint hint to the good folk at Aston Martin) and bag yourself a date (and possibly a dose of the clap) with Russell Brand!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Allies / Mr Derry / The Jaayz @ The Rainbow, Friday 31st October 2008

Woooooh spooky. Yes, it's Halloween once more. A night when the undead rise up and walk the earth, dripping bodily fluids, a-wailing and a-screeching. But enough about Broad Street, we were once more at The Rainbow for Kamikaze's 444 Club Halloween Special. First up, and nothing like the undead, the lovely Jaayz, who had even gone to the trouble of carving their own pumpkin. The only band on the bill that I'd not seen before, they have a Killers-ish edge top some of their tracks (check out Rewind on their MySpace) and a nice indie pop feel - the sort of band that would've release hand decorated 7 inch singles back in the day. They must also be the only band in the world to have written a track inspired by Duncan Goodhew (who seemingly chastised the lead singer for splashing about in a pool). They succeeded in chilling me out and cheering me up after a truly hellish week (hmmm...hellish week...Halloween...maybe there's some truth in all this hobgoblin business), so full marks and a bucket of bat wings all round.

Next up and fist me sideways...actually don't do would sting...yes, it's Mr Derry! I love Mr Derry. Lead Derry, Joni, has a wicked (oh dear god...I've turned into Normski) blues voice and is capable of belting out tracks without losing any of the emotion or subtleness that marks out a truly great vocalist. They even succeeded in making that Kings of Leon track (the one about the Bucket) sound good (I'm not a big fan of the KoL...and they, I am sure, probably don't have pictures of me on the wall of their trailer either). Check out Mr Derry's debut single 'Goodnight' and you can see (well, hear) why they're attracting plenty of good press. It seems that they've just won the Jack Daniels Unsigned Award thingy too. Quite right. Tonight the blokes in the band even went to the trouble of dressing up in full Ghostbusters uniforms (complete with homemade ectoplasm collecting backpacks). It's indicative of the kind of effort they put into their performance and they genuinely seemed to be loving it up there. If there were any record labels left I'd urge them to sign Mr Derry right now. As there aren't, you'll just have to go and see 'em live instead. Or start one of your own...I'm sure the banks would love to lend you a couple of quid...after all they've got the odd trillion sloshing around now.

Last, but by no means least, a band who you can't see live ever again. Cos they've split up. Yes, boo hoo...The Allies are no more. This is a real shame. Yes, they've clearly been influenced by other bands (The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys spring to mind), but they always put their own touch on stuff and played their hearts out. The Celtic twist on No Love Lost marked them out as something different too and I'd have loved to see a little more of their Irish roots (I'm assuming they have Irish roots) in their music. That's all history now, but last night was a triumph for them. The place was packed, it seemed like most of the audience knew every word and it felt like a show by a band with a dozen albums behind them. Why the split? Search me. I hope they regroup, maybe change direction a little, take some time out, rediscover what they clearly love about performing and come back. I don't know why, but I have the feeling that this isn't the last we'll see of The Allies (in one form or another). Whooohahahahahah(that's me doing a spooky Halloween laugh...yes, I do need to get out more).
PS: Yes, that is the worst photo to ever appear on this blog. I blame Satan and all his little devil friends.