Category Archives: live reviews

Hidden Orchestra, Origami Biro & Poppy Ackroyd at Union Chapel

The Union Chapel is the perfect venue for tonight. Despite the fact it can hold 600 or so, the chapel, due to its layout, always feels intimate. Add to that the hot chocolate, tastefully placed candles, wooden roof and its acoustics and you have one of London’s finest venues. Certainly a huge improvement from Scala, where Hidden Orchestra played this time last year.

Poppy Ackroyd beging the evenings show geared with a Nord electric piano, sequencer and visuals from Lumen. Poppy’s emotive modern classical style is accessible and warm and the balance between her elegant performance and sepia tinged projections make the performance an engaging spectacle. The music, however, never strays too far from the recordings, due to the presence of backing tracks, the violin sounds nasal and cold, meaning the recording lacks the intimate characteristics of last year’s Escapement. We are told that her show on the 20th December at Cafe Oto will be live piano and violin and closer to the the original aesthetic of the recordings, rather than a reenactment of the album. In spite of this, Poppy’s music is always a delight to hear, and encouraging that the title track of new album, Feathers, hold up well against Glass Sea and Rain from Escapement.

Origami Biro stand out tonight for using their own visuals, made with a camera on stage focused on film prints. Their music straddles a point between experimental, drone and post rock, with the use of looped sounds of scrunching plastic and clattering beads hinting at beats, while the music folds together and unwraps to understated moments of bliss. The guitar jumps between chords that are ambiently bowed and slowly strung out, much like Farewell Poetry, whilst the double bass glissandos between notes creating an expressive and powerful sound.

Up until now the visuals have been a pleasant addition to the music, but not much beyond a visual support. As Hidden Orchestra take the stage this seems to continue, but with the screen supported by 12 drum skins that are also projected upon. Throughout the first song the back wall of the chapel quietly lights up with perfectly mapped visuals enhancing the venue’s design. As the set progressed these visuals only improve with Lumen effortlessly lighting up the chapel’s most subtle elements. During Strange the rose window is replicated and kaleidoscopically circles around itself. Hidden Orchestra have always put focus on the visual aspect of their live show, and given the music, this seems wise to add a transformative dimension to their euphoric music. In the past, however, this has never quite met the peaks of the music and not added to their immersive sound. Tonight is different, though, and the audio and visual experiences are perfectly married, each complementing the other.

As for the music, the band feel full of an energy that has been missing over the last year or so, whether this is from the setting, the visuals or the sound is unclear, but in comparison to their last gigs here in London, at Canary Wharf Jazz Festival and Scala, the music shines through in a way that was lost earlier in the year. Whilst on record Joe Acheson is the key mover, live it has always been about Tim Lane and Jamie Graham. Tim’s rigid technique plays perfectly off Jamie’s more loose style, with the duo combining brushes, sticks and beaters and controlling the dynamics of themselves, as well as the band, so well to create a thrilling backdrop of percussion. Long time collaborator Phil Cardwell joins the band for most of the set, while Floex makes an appearance for Hushed, Hidden Orchestra’s remix of Clarinet Factory’s Five Steps and on Dust, where Tomáš Dvořák (aka Floex) replicates Joe’s more laid back playing, taking tonight’s performances away from the sound of the recorded versions, and towards a live identity of its own. The band play a set full of gems, from Spoken to Flight, and end on Strange, only to return for an encore of Antiphon, the energy is consistent and there is never a low point. It’s refreshing to hear a band play this well and interact with their surrounding, both visually and architecturally, as effective as this.

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Casual Sex at Sebright Arms

Glaswegians Casual Sex stop off at the Sebright Arms to promote their new double A side, A Perfect Storm / Pissing Neon. The band hit the stage without supports, which seems to affect the size of the crowd, but the band don’t let this slow them down.

The band’s post punk ethics go beyond the music, which sounds almost like rerecorded Postcard Records sessions (even their label’s name is a reference to an inscription on Orange Juice’s 1980 45, Falling and Laughing, or from a Vic Godard lyric, depending on how you want to look at it). Sam Smith’s chatter, charisma and dance moves are perfected to a tee and complimented by the hodge podge nature of the rest of the band. Guitarist, Ed Wood is like a polite Frankie Boyle, Bassist Peter Masson looks like he’s just washed up on a beach and drummer Chris McCrory seems to be making an appearance from a day job in TOY. In true style the music pulls similarly far flung influences, from punk to disco to pop to dub and never taking itself too seriously, epitmoised by Smith’s tongue in cheek guitar tapping solo.

The set is relatively quick as they rip through the AA, National Unity, Soft School and tracks from The Bastard Beat, but with enough time for an encore of Stroh 80. Especially given the band’s hype, its a shame not to see more people here, but judging by tonight’s performance their audience will only grow.

The Twilight Sad + Errors at Boston Music Rooms

Errors play a brief set to open for The Twilight Sad and are an extremely well chosen support. They share similarities in terms of density of their material and through, in recent years for The Twilight Sad, their use of synths in a guitar dominated post rock field. Errors, however, have a slightly more Krautrock side to them, and tonight, similarly to The Twilight Sad, is an opportunity to test new material from their upcoming album. After opening with Magna Carta, which packs its punch the band try two new songs, one, which is poppier than previous material, and one which is sparsely darker before closing the set with Pleasure Palaces. Errors sound unique and their three-man band make much more noise than most five-man outfits. Not an easy band to follow, unless you are The Twilight Sad that is.

After two sold out shows performing Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, an acoustic matinee at Northampton Square Bandstand and a Drowned In Sound night at The Lexington, The Twilight Sad triumphantly return to London to play their fifth show in a year at Boston Music Rooms. The gig is part of a four date mini tour in anticipation of Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, which is released via FatCat on the 27th October. The tour is relatively low key and an audience tester for new material, which doesn’t stop the show selling out far ahead of the date.

The set is compromised of six new tracks alongside as many from their back catalogue and opens with the double hitter of the first two singles, There’s A Girl In The Corner and Last January. Despite only being online for a number of weeks the tracks are lapped up and welcomed with as open arms as debut album anthem, That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy. The remaining tracks off the new album hit just as heavily, the dense title track matched by the high volume wouldn’t sound out of place at a My Bloody Valentine gig, Leave The House taking a nod to No One Can Ever Know with its hauntingly spacey synth and the instantly anthemic I Could Give You All That.

James Graham consistently battles the two sides of his character, switching seamlessly between singing delicately and remorsefully to staggeringly powerful and impulsive, looking almost possessed as his eyes roll back into his head. James’ performance and delivery makes him a captivating front man with huge amounts of passion.

What is always impressive about The Twilight Sad is their ability to make such consistently powerful songs that don’t tire considering their relatively constrained palette. Andy MacFarlane almost exclusively employs an overdriven, reverb drenched guitar sound where the chords are bent in and out of tune with his tremolo arm, Mark Devine’s drum parts usually pound different takes on a similar beat as well as the eerie synth sounds and simple bass lines from Craig Orzel Structurally the songs are a balancing act between the soft and the heavy, and you can normally anticipate the change in feel. The band’s true talent is through utilising these trademarks, which work so well live, to make their own sound which they can sculpt, and doing so with such strong song writing. The band could have played for twice as long without boring the audience.

The band, and James in particular, are visibly touched by the reception they generate, particularly for the fifth time this year. Maybe after a string of dates playing Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters back-to-back, playing new material has re-energised the band, and seeing the crowd as enthusiastic as they are to the tracks from the new album is encouraging for fans and band alike. The band have not lost pace, vigour or sight of their goals and it shows. Let’s hope this is translated as effectively to Nobody Wants To Be Here.

Phantom Band at Oslo, October 1st

“London… our beloved capital!” Rick Anthony gibes. On the surface the band seem to be indifferent to playing, whether it’s here or just in general. They don’t look pleased or proud to be here, just indifferent. Rick does say thank you to the audience for turning up, and that they are grateful to be here. It does sound genuine, and even actually slightly humble. This is, after all, one of the charms of The Phantom Band. However hard they are trying, they manage to pull it off effortlessly. The songs seem to slip out of them, almost by mistake. You know it can’t be as painless as they make it out to be though, nobody can make music this good this easily, can they?

This is really a band who have put in years of effort, whose last album was quite probably their best yet, no mean feat given its competitors, Checkmate Salvage and the mysteriously under-performing follow up (as Rick is keen to point out), The Wants. The set draws mostly from Checkmate Salvage and Strange Friend, opening with energetic The Wind That Cried The World followed by the ridiculously heavy Doom Patrol. The new material holds its own against the old, and is lapped up just as rigorously by the crowd (who are, of course, mostly stagnant, as always in London). Women of Ghent, For you and Clapshot are highlights, with Mr Natural and A Glamour providing the only two additions from The Wants. The setlist does miss the quieter moments, Islands, No Shoes Blues or Atacama would all have made welcome moments of relief and Crocodile feels more like a set opener than the encore closer, the climax leaving you wanting more rather than drained and satisfied. There isn’t a weak song in the set though, and their back catalogue is such that you’d always feel some tracks were left out.

Iain Stewart’s drumming is on top form, switching from disjointed percussive accompaniments to simple, hefty and powerful beats with ease. Duncan Marquiss’ guitar playing also comes to life through fiddling with pedals, playing crushing Rage Against The Machine style riffs and even a few solos thrown in. Both Andy Wake on keyboards and Greg Sinclair feel slightly outside of the core four made of Iain, Rick, Duncan and Gerry Hart on bass. Andy because he is hidden in the dark behind a speaker stack, and Greg because he is behind Gerry, lacks the charisma of the other members, and goes mostly inaudible throughout the gig. The sound does let the band down, not just in the case of Greg’s guitar, but the first half of the gig sounds dry, lacking in a sonic glue to match the band’s onstage chemistry and the bass also sounds inconsistent and at times flappy. The band take these problems in their stride and don’t really seem to bothered by it all, and why should they, the problems don’t detract much from the gig, which feels like a band on the top of their game.

Support came in the form of singer songwriter, Jack Cheshire. His material lacked the band that back him on record, but this is accented by the soundman. As Jack starts the set there is no guitar, which is intermittent throughout and sounds cold and screechy. As the audience starts to fill up Jack is missing intimacy leaving his harmonically jazz inspired songs sounding distant rather than interesting. Even a cover of The Killing Moon by Echo and The Bunnymen  can’t save. It’s a shame, because on a good day in the right venue Jack would have been really nice.

Lau & The Elysian Quartet – The Bell That Never Rang

The pairing of contemporary Scottish folk group, Lau, and contemporary string quartet, The Elysian Quartet is a truly inspired commission from the Celtic Connections Festival. Premiered at the festival in Glasgow in February, and brought to London for the New Music Biennial in July.

The free performance in July consisted of a performance of the work followed by a short Q&A with the band discussing the work and finally, much to the audience’s enjoyment, the piece was performed again. This not only allowed latecomers to experience the beauty of the work, but also the seats left inevitable empty by a free but ticketed event to be filled. The idea of playing something more than once brings cringe inducing thoughts of Jay-Z and Kanye West playing Niggas In Paris six times back to back as an encore, but the piece was welcomed back with a rapturous applause by those who had just sat through it.

Lau have seamlessly integrated a forward thinking string quartet into their bed of traditional folk, no doubt helped by leader Emma Smith’s proximity to the genre through playing with Fence members James Yorkston and Seamus Fogarty. The string quartet are processed live, bringing an element of individuality to each performance, but this is far from the focus of the piece and certainly not the priority of the strings. In fact, the strings very much take on the focus of the music, from providing delicate chords built up on harmonics, to emotive glissandi, interconnected melodies and driving melodies.

The work falls into three parts, the outer of which focus on the more complex quartet juxtaposed against the central part devoted to the more traditional folk arrangement for the trio. The simple melodies that make up the central section are powerful in their simplicity. By no means, however, are the outer parts any less powerful and the arrangement, playing and interaction between the two groups is never less than stunning.

The 18 minute piece can be purchased for a measly 79p here. Easily the best 79p you’ll spend today.

Kid Canaveral Randolph’s Leap, Synthaesthete at The Lexington – 9th March

Only five days after Seamus Fogarty’s fantastic gig at Servant’s Quarters, London is graced with another two Lost Map bands. In fact, 2014 is shaping up to be quite an eventful year for Lost Map/Fence artists down where the devil lives. Tail end of 2013 saw James Yorkston’s annual Christmas gig at union chapel, followed by Pictish trail playing the same venue, the Green Man Warm up supporting Darren Hayman at the Lexington. Rozi plain supported the previous night. May 18th brings the label showcase to Bethnal green with the fuzzy new signing, Tuff Love, along with Lost Map debut-ers Monoganon and founder Johnny ‘Pictish Trail’ Lynch. As for ex-fencers, Francois & The Atlas Mountains are playing Hoxton Bar & Grill on the 26th March and Withered Hand played the Lexington in January. It wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve not even covered half of it.

Anyway, Seamus Fogarty was going to be my first review, but that never happened. It was, as you’d expect, delicate, funny and weird. Lost Map have just re-issued God Damn You Mountain and it’s a gem. Tender songs with weird electronics and sampled spoken word. It’s mental. Disc two, including remixes by Seamus, Pictish Trail and Geese is a nice bonus. Buy CD or bonus disc as a postcard here.

Will I ever start talking about Sunday’s gig? Well, after enjoying beers in the sun I fell asleep through the first support. Sorry Synthaesthete.

Randolph’s leap, I must admit, I have never given too much time for, although I did get their postcard single ahead of this gig. I like going to things with little to no expectations, it’s easy to be completely taken in and blown away, or not to be disappointed if its shit. This definitely fell in the former category. Hilarious lyrics, melodic tunes, pleasant guitar playing, amusing stage presence. A few songs of finger-picking and Adam (very slightly) picks up the pace, as things are ‘getting a bit twee’. A few songs in and Adam whips out five songs off the new album. Weatherman’s chorus has the audience in laughter, and Isle of Love and Hermit continue the trend. The album is on sale tonight, a month before its release date (Lost Maps’ second proper). I go to get money and am typically in the queue behind the last prick to get the album (two copies at that – unbelievably selfish). Only on Monday do I realise Adam wasn’t joking when he apologised for the other 7 members of the band not making it from Dundee last minute. They might have been great with, but Adam’s presence and charm certainly means they aren’t missed.

I hate to say it, but I think the gig peaked too soon. This was also my first time seeing Kid Canaveral. I’ve skirted round them many times. I love them on paper, a bunch of randomly thrown together odd-balls playing hook-y guitar music who are very much involved in the scene north of the wall. I do like their songs (although the auto-tune at 0:52 on new single Who Would Want To Be Loved, the single being launched tonight, is cringe-inducing, maybe goes hand in hand with the sickly heart shaped pink vinyl), but live they are not particularly enthralling. If I was drunk and in Scotland I think things would be different and this would have been a lot of fun. The unfortunate reality is it’s a Sunday with wildly odd range of people in the crowd. Some definite older Fencers, who seem more at home with a man and his guitar, and a younger group. The typically stagnant London crowd seems to tread more on Kate and Rose’s side of energy, rather than David’s, which is what the gig needs.