Saturday, January 31, 2009

Heloise & the Savoir Faire / Hitchcock / The Riptides / 10 Guitars @ The Rainbow, Friday 30th January 2009

Give me a 'K'...give me an 'a'...give me a 'mikaze!' Yes it's Mikaze! time again and this week Matthew was an utter electropop 80's rock glam disco bucket of stuff...and things...and all that.

Kicking off we had 10 Guitars - a man who only seemed to have 1 guitar, but hey, who's counting? He did feature the lovely Carlo on funky drums though, who more than made up for the missing 9 guitars. Anyway, if you're gonna do '80's electropop you've got to put your heart and soul into it and Mr 10 Guitars certainly did...right down to that funky shoe shuffly thing that Tiffany (ask yer Granny) used to do in Malls. Musically he's like Jean Michelle Jarre on acid...and Absinthe. I don't know why but I wanted him to be wearing gold spandex, but then I'm a little odd. Being the lovely chap that he no doubt is he's put a couple of his best tracks on his My Space page, the pick of which is Well Fit Stripper - Thomas Dolby meets Cameo. Awesomely good. Word up.

Next 100,000,000, I jest, it's The Riptides. I think they'd probably like to have 100,000,000 guitars though, given the 80's stadiumrock-tastic vibe of their music. Think 'Don't You Forget About Me' era Simple Minds, a little 'Love Like Blood' era Killing Joke and 'Love is a Wonderful Colour' era The Icicle Works - it almost made me feel young again. Of course all this 80's stuff is as hip and trendy as...hmmm...what is hip and trendy these days? Shaving your pubic hair into some form of corporate logo? Supergluing jelly beans to your eyelashes? Beats me. Answers on a postcard please. But, whatever the reason for the resurgence of big, ambitious and catchy pop like The Riptides I couldn't be happier. As with 10 Guitars I wanted outfits again. maybe those gold lame suits that ABC used to wear? Or, at the very least, Miami Vice suits with the sleeves rolled up. Now you're talking. Second time I've seen this band and second time I've gone away impressed.

Third up, well, what do we have here? Ah ha, a band who clearly understand the full 360 degree nature of performance (or, as Mr Bowie put it, Sound + Vision). It's Hitchcock. Anyone who invokes the name of Sir Alf had better be up to the job. Lucky for them, they are. Shades of early Adam Ant and Gary Numan melded (yes, melded) to more recent technotronica (yes, I know, I'm probably making all this shit up again). What lifts the whole thing up a notch or 10 though is lead singer Matt Droog who, to my fading eyes at least, bears an uncanny resemblance to a goth Iggy Pop. Twisting about, throwing shapes, staring out the was a masterclass in how to really perform. In fact, like their namesake, they are truly masters of their art. Dark, twisted yet utterly addictive. Check out some snippets of their forthcoming album and spread the word.

Finally, and on a remarkably strong bill they had something to live up to, Heloise & The Savoir Faire! All the way from Noo Yawk! On a serious note, Kamikaze are pulling some impressively cool names right now, putting the Carling02whateveritscalledthisweek to shame. SHAME! Do you hear me! Ha! (next week they have La Roux you know. La 'blinking' Roux!). But, back to the lovely sexbomb that is Heloise and the equally sexy Savoir Faire. More disco soul than Beth Ditto in a Scissor Sisters sandwich they're the ear meltingly brilliant sound of Studio 54 for 2009. Heloise has a voice that could give the pope a stiffy...I'm getting slighty firm myself just writing about it. Live she's flanked by two lovely dancers too, who camped and glammed it up in fine style (that performance thing again you see), making the whole gig like a slightly naughty 80's pop video. Heaven! Like the Sisters' first album every track's a belter, sexy, squelchy electrodisco love juice, with a butt shaking groove that would give Chic a run for their money. Hell, I can't do it all justice, go listen and don't come back until you own at least one pair of gold hotpants.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oliver! @ The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, Saturday 24th January 2009

Yes, in a shocking development I've actually ventured away from The Rainbow (and gigs), for a week or so, trading it all in for a bit of a 'cockerny' knees up and no mistake, gawd blimey, leave it ahhht etc etc. I don't follow many of the talent shows on TV but I did get sucked in to I'd Do Anything, the programme that hunted out a Nancy (cue many 'humourous' opportunities for show host Graham Norton) for the latest in a lucrative line of West End revivals. The winner was a lovely lady from Blackpool called Jodie who I'd taken a shine to in the very first episode. Hurrah! The other 'star' of the show is Rowan Atkinson, seemingly in his first stage role for 20 odd years or so. As a bit of a Blackadder fan this seemed too good an opportunity to miss. If you've seen the 1960's film version you'll know all the tunes and the cast and crew (really impressive sets) of this production do a grand job of bringing it all to life. Rowan brings a fair helping of both Mr Bean and Blackadder to the role. At one point he plays with what looks like Mr Bean's teddy (he does that Bean-ish face too) before throwing it into the fire. The way he pronounces the word 'bob' a couple of times is also clearly a reference to the Blackadder episode in which he falls in love with a girl dressed as a boy. Nice touches if you get it, not too distracting if you don't. It's an incredibly physical performance...he really is rubber limbed...and he has a surprisingly strong singing voice. Jodie belted out all of her tunes too, which is just what the character calls for...'As Long As He Needs Me' and 'Ooom Pah Pah', you can't really do 'em any other way can you? It's remarkable to think that it's her first big role. If you're in London and can get a ticket I can heartily recommend's one of the best West End shows I've seen...don't drink at the theatre bar though...£14 for two plastic beakers of red 'wine'. Clearly the dudes running the operation have taken the song 'You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two' literally....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ugly Duckling / Jim Screech / Unfriendly Neighbours @ The Rainbow (selecta), Wednesday 14th January 2009

Wave your hands in the air, like you just don’t care…yo, yo, yo…check it out ya mofos…yes, tonight I went all urban, street, fly - call it what you will. I don’t make it to many hip hop nights, which is a shame, 'cos most of the ones I've heaved my aging carcass to have been pretty 'rad'. Okay. I’ll drop the vernacular now and get on with the serious business of the 'r' to the 'e' to the 'v' to the 'i' to the 'e' to the 'w'…oh good grief.

Anyway, first up rising stars of the Birmingham rap scene, Unfriendly Neighbours! Actually I’m sure they’d make lovely neighbours as they both seemed like thoroughly likeable chaps. Watching ‘em I was reminded of just how hard it must be to do the rap thing. The fact that they made it look effortless must be down to some serious practice. Of course, to me at least, the joy of rap is lyrics that mean something (which is why the rise and rise of 50 Cent amazes me), UN had some crackers. Loved the one about being a kid growing up….even though it did point out that one of them was born in 1987. I have underwear older than that. Kelis' Milkshake inspired 'Famous' was another set highlight. Rap's got a long history of taking other stuff and giving it a new spin and UN have got this skill nailed. Kudos to the White Stripe’s beatboxer too. Niiiiice. Check out their Myspace for a few tracks or hunt 'em down for a copy of their Starvin Artist Movement mixtape and show some love.

After UN well and truly got the party started next up was, king of dubstep, bashment and loads of other words that I don’t fully understand - Jim Screech. Brilliant reggae ska fusion here (I guess that's the bashment bit?) and full on, 187mph clear as a bell lyrical spitting. Is he the only rapper to namecheck Nietzsche (do you know how many times it took me to spell that?). Could be. I'd not heard of Screech before...which is criminal really and points (once again) to what's both good and bad about the music biz in 2K + 9. There are so many great artists out there but tracking 'em down is all a bit it and miss. I guess, as the music press dies a slow death, that's where blogs come in (athough if the future of music relies on this blog I guess we're all buggered). As a bit of a reggae fan I got Screech 100%. Recent single Wood For The Trees was just lush...nice laid back bassy beats and rapid fire meaningful lyrics. People who don't like reggae should be beaten to death with a copy of Jimmy Cliff's 'The Harder They Come' soundtrack (vinyl, naturally). Harsh but fair. Stick on the Scandelous Jim Screech Mix and if you don't start tapping your feet you are medically dead.

Finally, all the way from LA, Ugly Duckling. Full on from the start, throwing a single mic between the two of them they kept up the flow without missing a beat, setting the tone of the whole show. It’s impossible to watch them for very long without doing the whole hands in the air thing...middle age be damned. It’s all just soooo infectious. Turntablist Young Einstein was beatastic, rappers Dizzy and Andy kept the crowd hyped from start to finish and the whole thing just felt like the coolest party in the world. If you like J5 (who doesn't?), DJ Yoda, Soul, Disco or just the feel of the sun on the back of your neck, the sand between your toes and a large brandy n'coke, Ugly Duckling are (last hip hop reference here...I promise) the bomb. Check out their new album Audacity (out this week), then work your way back through the last 12 years or so of material (FYI Samba is a classic)

A great, friendly crowd, a decent turnout and oodles of energy...hip hop hooray.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ugly Duckling are on the 'bill' (geddit...oh alright)

Doing anything Wednesday night? Well cancel it and head down to The Rainbow for a rare UK show from hip hop legends Ugly Duckling. Oh yes. Fans of De La Soul, J5 or sampledelic, beat heavy, soultastic (no, even I'm confusing myself today) hippity hoppity will love it. They're in town to promote new album Audacity (out on Toosday)...I've had a spin myself and it's darn fine...and deserve a big, big motherbothering Birmingham welcome. Riiiiiiiiiight on (see, who said I wasn't down with the kids?).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Voluntary Butler Scheme / The Lights / LP45 / Beneva @ The Rainbow, Friday January 9th 2009

The first week back at work after Christmas is always a funny time. Given that, on Tuesday, I discovered that I’m one of 250 people in my company that faces possible redundancy in the next 30 days or so perhaps ‘funny’ isn’t the right word. However, as my old friend Doc Delete puts it on his site, there are a lot of people worse off than any of us. Happily I’ve never been one for over consumerism, however this ‘downturn’ will certainly force others to take a long, hard look at life and perhaps they’ll be all the happier for it. I didn’t really learn much at school but, the one thing I picked up from my economics A level was that the economy is a living thing. It can’t be ‘controlled’, for every boom there WILL be a bust. It’s like the changing of the seasons. You have the first shoots of growth in the spring, the glorious boom of summer, a chance to gather in the harvest in the autumn then everything dies down in winter. The more glorious the summer (and the last 15 years or so have been extraordinary) the more of a shock the winter will be. It’s simple, billy basics economics…but sadly many, many people (including our beloved leaders) seem to have missed that lesson. Maybe they were round the back of the bike sheds having a crafty roll up?

Anyway, I’m wittering on again. If you’ve been sensible over the last few years you should be alright and yes, there are more important things than two weeks in the sun or the latest Crackberry. I was reminded of this by the first band of the night, Beneva. Billed as harmonic pop (and they are), they’re sunshine for the ears, a big warm musical hug on a freezing cold January night. In the grand tradition of English pop (from the Kinks via Madness right through to Dodgy) they write tunes about life, love and…er…stalkers, all performed with lovely plinky plonky piano that cheers you up with the very first first plink. Tonight’s gig was played in tribute to one of their biggest fans who died on Monday, aged just 31. This announcement by the band (midway through the set)…and indeed most of their songs…reminds you of the simple pleasures of life that we all perhaps take for granted. I found their entire set a treat from beginning and can heartily recommend a listen.

Next up LP45. Woah. These chaps can play. It's a curious mix...jazz, rock, classical, easy listening, Jeff Buckley, Muse, Robert Wyatt...but it works really, really...I'll say it again...really well. Lead LP, Simon, has that Buckley tinge to his voice that I just love. I enjoyed his between song banter too. So many bands forget to enjoy themselves. LP45 seemed to be loving it up there as much as I was loving it in the audience. Every single member of the group had mastered the subtleties of their instruments, which was nice to see (it's the notes you don't play as well as the ones you do...) and, I have to say, they have that magic ingredient X that could well see them making it. Awesomely good with a capital A. Check out Next Door (live) on their My Space page and feel that funk, jazz, rock, soul thang! Yum.

Third on the bill The Lights, purveyors of fine proper grown up pop. Lady B said they reminded her a little of Deacon Blue, leading Light, Liz, certainly has that same kind of powerful, emotive voice. I liked the rockier stuff myself, in particular The Score (which I think is coming out as a single soon). You've gotta love a track that starts with a whoo hoo who hoo. Top marks to Liz for her dress tonight too. 50's tastic.

Last up, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, a name I've been hearing a lot of good stuff about recently...and I can see why. Like the other bands on tonight's bill they've got a pop heart and soul, this time with a late 60's flavour...kind of the Go Team meets Sesame Street meets John Lennon. And if that isn't an intriguing combination then I don't know what is. The lyrics are a delight. Listen to Trading Things In on their My Space page..."just like coffee and tea I need you regularly"...wise words. And how about FFffoolish. See what I mean about the 60's vibe? It's bubblegum with a hint of hash. The spirit of The Byrds is alive and well and living Stourbridge. Who'd a thunk it eh? You know those 'who's gonna be the next big thing in music' polls that they have every year? I have a feeling The Voluntary Butler Scheme should've been on 'em. Hell, they were even played on Soccer AM this morning. Premier league.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

La Roux-hoo!

Never one to miss out on the old bandwagon, ladies and gentleman I give you one of 2009's great hopes...La Roux! I've been checking out a load of the bands being bigged up this year and La Roux's the first one that, for me at least, really stands out straight away. It's 80's heaven all over again. Bits of Kate Bush, Fuzzbox and Blancmange on current single Quicksand - and a video (tropical birds, sunsets, ladies in lycra stroking themselves and a bit of animal morphing) that would give Rio era Duran Duran a run for their money. Hubba hubba. She's a touring all over the shop this month and next too, including a visit to Birmingham's very own 444 Club at La Rainbow (actually it's just The Rainbow, but I'm getting all French innit) on the 6th February. No excuses. Be there or look very silly when everyone's wearing La Roux t-shirts and headbands in 12 months time. She's just been announced as Lily Allen's support later in the year too, so fame, fortune and the adoration of a million teenage boys and girls...and boys that do girls that do boys etc is guaranteed. Hurrah for the god of all things pop!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Grrrrrr

And lo...another year has copped it. Normally I come up with some random vaguely musical star gazing for the year ahead. Checking back at my last lot I was fairly safe with my predictions...the saddest of which came true on December 24th with the end of the store formerly know as Virgin, Zavvi. With Zavvi going, HMV will be the last man standing on the High Street when it comes to a national music retailer. The recent end of Pinnacle (who distributed for loads of indie labels) and EUK (part of Woolies...who supplied WH Smiths and Zavvi...amongst others) signalled another nail in the physical selling of music coffin thingy. It's a real shame, not just for the thousands of people who've lost their jobs, but for all the future generations of music fans who won't know the delights of rifling through racks of records or CD's, chatting to the dude behind the counter who knows everything there is to know about Captain Beefheart, saving up for that special purchase, rushing home and playing it for the first time...(cue sepia tinged film featuring kids in clogs and jolly coal miners covered in dust returning home from t'pit and sticking the latest Steely Dan release on their wind up gramophone)...ahhhh...happy days. Now we can just click and nick everything we want for free. You wait and see where that gets us...endless bland product. Tired, cynical rehashes of classic songs purely designed to get people who don't usually buy or support music in any way, shape or form to part with their 79p (or however much it costs these days) on i-tunes. It's Pandora's Box I tells ye...

So, this is a kind of call to arms. Nick music by all means. Everyone does it. But make sure you buy the odd thing too and get out to see some gigs. I'll try to remember to point out some highlights but the Birmingham Gig Guide (see link to the side of this rubbish) does a damn fine job. Support your local record shop as well. There aren't many left...but here in Birmingham I can heartily recommend Swordfish on Temple Street and Tempest Records (just off Corporation Street...near the Square Peg).

If there's one thing that 2008 taught us it's to expect the unexpected. Any sane person could see some kind of economic fuck fest looming but very few expected it to be quite so severe. What's also pretty clear is that the shit is only just starting to hit the fan. So, just a couple of predictions for now then. The newly reformed Specials will rerelease Ghost Town (or maybe Peter Kay will cover it). It's the perfect summary of what's going to happen to most town centres. I also predict a rise in protest songs, punk and all things grrrrrr too. Anger, so sang butter botherer Mr Lydon, is an energy. Aside from Gallows (gawd bless 'em), Fucked Up and one or two others there's not been much grrrrrr in 'mainstream' music for a while. I think some kind of crunk/grime/punk/speed garage hybrid will rise up from the streets...people will start squats again in the millions of empty homes across the country...anarchic websites will spring up uniting the people and the whole country will start to resemble a scene from Bladerunner. Still, Happy New Year and all that!