Friday, 29 October 2010

Bad Religion - The Dissent of Man

You want a study in longevity, and how to keep sounding fresh and vital as the years, and even decades, roll by? Look no further than Hollywood's finest, Bad Religion. Their career is the very definition of rollercoaster, and how to fight back from adversity to produce one brilliant record after another, time and again.

It would be impossible to fully give their varied and storied history justice in this review, celebrating as they are 30 years as a band this year - I'll leave that to a future article. It's an incredible achievement that the band have even lasted this long, let alone still featuring four of the very original members from their earliest days. And, far from simply touring old classics in a half-baked nostalgic look back at past years, they continue to push on, fiercely rolling back the years to keep producing records as vital as their earlier output - indeed, the album I herald as their best ever is not any of their earlier, late-'80s work, as great as they are, but 2004's blistering 'The Empire Strikes First'. It, along with 2002's excellent 'The Process of Belief' and 2007's pounding 'New Maps of Hell', showcases the best characteristics of new millennium-era BR - all the energy and clusterbomb fury of those early releases, but honed, refined and tuned with additional shredding solos and hooky riffs, and the trademark 'oozin' ahhs' backing vocals infusing the fury with soaring melodies. And now, as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations that also saw them release a free-to-download live album earlier this year, BR proudly unveil the latest addition to their mighty back catalogue - 'The Dissent of Man'

Let me state right off the bat, first impressions of this record were not good. I had heard rumours that it wasn't very strong, so I dug up the tracks and gave them a listen - and I could see people's points. It felt...flat. I wouldn't say boring - the assault is still as brutally powerful as ever - but it definitely lacked something. Tracks seem to pass by without muster, and nothing jumped out at me. Indeed, some of the riffs sounded cobbled together and forced, lacking the natural flow that is such a trademark of BR's sound. Even singer Greg Graffin's lyrics lacked the usual intelligent bite to them, and were in danger in some places of falling into cliche. Indeed, of the 15 tracks on the album, it took me until track 9, 'Someone to Believe', for a song to grab me by the collar and yank me in. I was genuinely about to write off this record as the moment where BR's age had finally caught up to them, where they had finally run out of steam and plain out of ideas, after 30 years of defying all known laws of bands and rolling back the years, this would be the moment where I finally say it was time for them to hang up the guitars and call it quits.

But then, something happened. I gave it another listen, and something began to click. Something intangible. Yes, opener 'The Day The Earth Stalled' still passed by without really a second glance. But then 'Only Rain' burst into action, and suddenly it began to make sense. Suddenly, more tracks began to leap out at me and snatch my attention, such as the sizzling lead-off single 'Resist Stance', even send shivers up my spine at some moments. It's fortunate that I didn't review this album based on first impressions, as they can be deceptive - this album is certainly a grower. I was wrong to doubt them - the grizzled old dogs of punk have done it again, pushed themselves that bit more to create something that stands alone on it's own merits as part of their repertoire.

Having said that, I will still go as far as saying this is probably their weakest record of the last decade. The main problem is consistency, and pacing - they seem to stack the majority of the mid-paced, introspective numbers right at the end of the disc, which totally kills the balance of the album - it explodes into life at the start, but peters out with a bit of a shrug at the end. Even some of the faster songs can't seem to decide on a tone - melancholy or angry? Wistful or fiercely determined? It's inevitable to a degree that they will take more and more nostalgic looks back as they go on, and 30 years into their career is as good a time as any to do so I suppose, but it comes at a cost on some songs - 'Wrong Way Kids' (or 'Keeds' if Graffin is to be believed) gets caught in this particular limbo, and looses it's impact as a result, and 'Ad Hominum' winds up coming across as an inferior remix of '21st Century Digital Boy'. It's when they focus on one particular mood that their best tracks rise - 'Won't Somebody' and 'Turn Your Back' are the picks of the more mid-tempo, melancholic tunes in this regard.

I mentioned before how BR are never a band to stand still, and will keep trying to push their trademark sound to new levels, and while all the hallmarks - Brooks Wackerman's powerhouse drumming, the crushing three-guitar assault augmented with Brian Baker's howling leads, the 'oozing ahh's' backing vocals, and Graffin's gruff and emotionally charged lead vocal delivery -
are still present and correct, they do attempt to cram other influences and approaches into the smelting pot, with hit and miss results. The most obvious experimentation is the vaguely folksy 'Cyanide', complete with a neat slide solo from Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's guitarist Mike Campbell, which comes across as a slowed-down version of 'The Quickening' from TESF. The aforementioned 'Someone to Believe' gives a heavy tip of the hat to The Ramones with it's 'Beat on the Brat'-mimicking lead-off riff and buzzsaw guitar attack, and the also previously mentioned '...Stance' opens on a searing solo lead, and rides on the back of this epic riff for most of the song.

People will try to point to this album's weaknesses and suggest it is a sign that the band are finally starting to edge into decline after years of defying the odds. Indeed, I thought this myself on first listen. But though this record isn't quite as strong as it's most recent predecessors, it still wipes the floor with most of their late-90s output, and is a worthy addition to their canon. So what if they fancy looking back a bit more nowadays - after 30 years in the game, most of that time spent at the very top of their powers, they've earned the right to, and they still manage it a lot better than other much younger bands than they. Dismiss them at your peril - on the evidence of this, there's still a helluva lot of life in the old dogs yet.

Album Details
Label: Epitaph Records
Release Date: 28th September 2010
Rating: 7/10
Standout Tracks: 'Only Rain', 'The Resist Stance', 'Someone to Believe'.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Live: The Submission and others (All-Dayer) - The Railway Pub, Walmer, 23/10/10

Standing on the platform of a freezing cold Walmer station in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, waiting for the train that would take me homeward bound to Swanley, I found myself (amongst swearing under my breath at the fact my train was delayed, and perhaps yawning) reflecting on the previous 24 hours that had gone before it. Just down the road from the station I was sat at was The Railway Pub, and at this hour of the morning, only some broken glass on the pavement outside and some tatty posters in the windows gave any clue at what had come before it. It had seen me experience a gig like no other, one I had to travel nearly 60 miles just to get to, a fair distance for any gig, let alone one by local bands in a tiny pub in a small coastal town, but one that was a pretty hefty rollercoaster of music, beer, and great fun from its relatively slow start to its blistering finale. And now that I'm back home and back to normal levels of sleep and energy (just about), it's time for me to recount, in as much detail as I can, that hectic Saturday afternoon and evening.

It's pretty safe to say that the day hardly got underway in glorious fashion - in fact, if you had no prior idea of the quality of some of the bands following, you'd be well within your rights to have walked through the front doors, seen the first band playing on the first stage (what I'll call from now on the Bar Stage), and have turned round and walked straight back out the door again to stay in for the evening with The X Factor. I'm not joking - opening band Dr Goon (2/10) were so atrocious they had to be seen to be believed. Not seen for too long, mind - just long enough to realise that listening to them play was on a par with sticking a cordless drill in one ear and a screwdriver in the other. Their main problem (amongst the myriad of others) was that they looked like they had never even seen each other before, let alone played together. Lesson 1 for up-and-coming bands, kids - make sure you are relatively tight as a unit before you even think of looking for gigs. As much as I poked fun at the early iterations of My Third Leg for their technical sloppiness, at least they could hold a tune together. The Total Goons were so shockingly sloppy it sounded at times like each member was playing a completely different song - each very badly. Matters were hardly helped by a singer who looked utterly comatose, and a keyboard player who had got lost at a trad jazz gig and never found his way back home. The only reason they managed two scores was the fact that their guitarist and drummer at least looked into it, although the one shred of talent in the entire band was firmly with the guitarist - imagine Clem Burke after a particularly ham-fisted frontal lobotomy and you have Collection of Dribbling Goons' drummer. Which leads me nicely onto Lesson 2 for up-and-coming bands: if you are borrowing someone else's equipment, avoid breaking it, as the drummer did when he managed to somehow split the skin of the bass drum with the pedal. And then Lesson 3 - don't then use this pause in play to advertise a show you're playing on the very same day not very far away from there. This is perhaps one of the biggest faux pas you can commit, particularly when one of the chief organisers of the show you're currently playing (and owner of the piece of equipment you've just broken) happens to be standing right next to you. Fortunately, Mr Rich Harris kept his rebuke short and to the point (a barked 'fuck off') and the Travelling Band of Blithering Goons were allowed to leave with all of their members still in one piece. What made the incident particularly hilarious was how farcically awful they had performed - it made you wonder how on Earth they managed to get two gigs at all, let alone on the same day. Answers on a postcard please - for now, I'm calling bribery.

It's not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that anybody could look good following on from the pile of foul-smelling shite that had opened proceedings, but having said that, I genuinely quite liked Shattered Resolutions (6.5/10). They flitted from drop-C tuned metal-y, sometimes stoner-y fuzz rock to something a bit more faster paced, but whilst certainly not reinventing the wheel, they at least showcased a bit of flash and imagination. Of particular note is how the two guitarists, Aaron Dixon and James Revell, deliberately manufactured two different sounds from their respective guitars, which when combined together created an interesting mix, using it to try and expand the songs sonically. They traded solos nicely too, and when you throw in Tyler French's yelped vocals and the fairly dynamic rhythm section of Robby Levesley on bass and James Nesbitt (no, not the James Nesbitt) on drums, you have a group that have promise. They could've scored higher had their set had the energy and confidence their music deserved, but they are a young band, and have time on their side to iron these creases out.

Sadly, one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing pulled a complete no-show - The Moo Woos. In fact, a no nothing - not a phonecall, not an answering of a phone call, no appearance at all. Very frustrating, as it puts a big black mark next to their name, which their music doesn't deserve, and I'm sure they would've thrived in the intimate setting and atmosphere of the venue, but hey, their loss I suppose.

So we move straight back into the backroom stage where Shattered Resolutions had performed, and we find The Plan's Andrew Keech (complete with trademark flat-cap) and Ben Gower, but instead of their partners in crime in The Plan, instead they are backed up today by a myriad of different instruments and members. Time to welcome to proceedings Captain Bastard and the Scallywags (7.5/10), a band with not only a spectacular name, but a spectacular array of weapons in their sonic arsenal - alongside the traditional guitar/bass/drums triumvirate, we introduce an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, an accordion, and a penny whistle, just for good measure. I was told beforehand to expect folk-punk fun to rival Calico Street Riots, with perhaps some added Guinness and pirate shenanigans, and that's a fairly accurate description. They deviated from the standard, fast-paced folk-punk template at times though, and this refreshing change of pace enabled them to make better use of the wide variety of instruments at their disposal - the mandolin in particular, played with great aplomb by Jordan Harris, was particularly prominent, and pennywhistlist (is that even a word?!) Kayla Harlow lead off one song in fine solo fashion. Just like Calico, all of their songs are infused with the bouncing energy and sense of unabashed fun that makes the genre great. Two things largely let them down - firstly, Keech's vocals were suffering due to illness and were largely reduced to a series of barks and croaks, and secondly, the band are still a work-in-progress in terms of gelling as a unit - one song had to be abandoned and the drumming fell out in several other parts. But, as I was quick to remind Keech afterwards, they are a new band, having only played 2 shows before this, and particularly with this many instruments in the mix, it would take a little more time for things to start clicking completely smoothly. For now, they are a band easing into life on the circuit, and I look forward to seeing them progress, as there is a lot of potential laying in wait.

Next up on the Bar Stage were, from a personal perspective, the biggest surprises of the day - A Boy Named Girl (8/10). I'd seen them a couple of times beforehand, and both times had never really 'got' them, and I really don't know why. Maybe I had an in-built indifference and cynicism for the largely bland, generic pap that passes for modern pop-punk nowadays which clouded my judgement of them before, but on this particular evening, I went into their set with an open mind, and I was hooked from first outrageously catchy note to last. Y'see, this is how modern pop-punk should sound - yes, there's floppy fringes, yes, there's half-tempo breakdowns, but they are interwoven into tunes packed with hooks and properly shimmering choruses, and a sound that avoids being hackneyed and cliched, and a stage presence that sidesteps plastic posturing and concentrates wholly on having a damn good time, which is exactly what the crowd that gathers to watch them do have. The theme of being tight as a unit has run constantly throughout this review, and I have to come back to it, because that's one of ABNG's biggest strengths - good pop-punk has to be razor-sharp in it's delivery, and that's something the five-piece pull off brilliantly. Great job, and I'll happily admit to being wrong about them before.

I didn't actually watch directly the next act, the Disclosure Project (6/10), so take this rating as being based on what I heard whilst having a break from the music with a beer in the bar as they performed in the backroom. All I saw directly of them was their soundcheck, which told me that they were a expansive and technical three-piece. What I heard from them in the background after that proved that pretty much right, but also told me that they somehow had a knack of making even epic rock songs by the likes of Foo Fighters and 30 Seconds to Mars sound...well, kinda boring. I don't know why, they just didn't grip me. Let's put it this way - I was waiting for them to drag me away from the bar and into the backroom to watch them, but they never managed it. Every song of theirs seemed to drag it's heels somehow, and they came across as being a bit MOR for my liking. Still, I will give them credit for being musically tight and technically very sound, with a decent depth.

Hang on, I'm feeling a bit of de ja vu coming on here...or should that be Dave Ja Vu, to be precise? Yes, for the second time in as many days, it was time for me to check out up-and-coming ska-punkers My Third Leg (8/10),
Gravesend's chief representatives at the show, and the penultimate band up on the Bar Stage. Having seen them only the night before I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from them, and so it proved, as they turned in what was not only a step up from their performance in Central London, but the best performance I've seen from them so far in their burgeoning career. Bizarrely enough, despite the malfunctioning drumkit (still hungover from the brutalising it got earlier on in the day), drummer Paul Smith produced his most consistent tub-thumbing performance yet, with no obvious cock-ups - I can barely believe I'm writing this! - and the rest of the band also played to the top of their strengths. Frontman Will Woodrow was all-action, a powerful mix of crashing guitar leads and strong singing, and he was ably back up by his cohorts - additional guitarist Mike Smith was a highly rhythmic sidekick in the six-string antics, and bassist Dave Ja Vu was all beaming smiles and rippling, anchorweight basslines. Their standards were all wheeled out and given a battering - the joyous singalong of '3470 Miles', the skankpit-baiting 'Going for a Drive', and the moody 'Time Travel', and the rest from their Fift E.P., all present and correct and all sounding excellent in such a setting. A nice injection of ska-styled energy into an evening that was swiftly building towards an entertaining crescendo.

I had another break after this one to get another pint or so in and to conserve energy before the finale, so I missed IRIS's set, only hearing glimpses in the background - nowhere near enough to give them an accurate rating. The odd snatches I did hear did sounded heavy, technical and pretty creative in parts, so one to watch out for for the future perhaps.

In all fairness though, anticipation was by now building with all the speed of a runaway freight train for the arrival onto the Bar Stage of the local heroes to finish off the evening in spectacular style. And so, at around 10pm in the evening, The Submission (9.5/10) arrived on the Bar Stage, briefly tuned up, and blasted headlong into action, with a furious and spectacular medley of 'Reggae Rock Rebels', 'Stay in Action' and their rendition of the unofficial rock 'n' roll national anthem, 'Johnny Be Good.' And so began a rollercoaster journey through The Submission's personal vision of punk rock -
rip-snorting energy, raucous singalongs, buzzsaw guitar riffs, hooks aplenty, and pure, uplifting power. Frontman Richard Harris was as always the absolute heart and soul of the performance, channelling the spirits of Joe Strummer, Jake Burns, Tim Armstrong and other legendary punk frontmen into his ballistic, gung-ho delivery, bellowing his vocals, headspinning, jumping around and thrashing the life out of his guitar like it was his last night on Earth - just like every Submission performance, then. That's not to say they are a one-man operation - in fact, bassist Sadie Williams acted as the calm counterpoint, quietly grooving and locking the operation down with rock solid and neat bass work, and stayed cool and collected despite the chaos erupting around her. A lot of kudoes has to go to stand-in drummer for the evening Bernie Watts, who despite less than a handful of rehearsals with the group, slotted in with no problems at all, and was a reliable and steady hand behind the kit. Sadly, guitarist Phil Morgan was reduced to errant bystander for most of the set, as a stray beer glass caused terminal damage to his amp very early on, but in true Submission fashion, a little hiccup like this wasn't allowed to get in the way of the chaos.

It's a measure of their quality as songwriters that their original songs, such as the stomping 'No Motivation' or the blistering 'No Tomorrow', merged seamlessly into the setlist alongside the gamut of covers they rolled out. Tonight the covers list included the traditional brace of Rancid tunes ('Radio' and 'Roots Radicals'), as well as their 100mph rendition of the classic Clash anthem 'White Riot', a frenzied rev-up (if it ever needed revving up in the first place) of Green Day's 'Maria', and further run throughs of 'Longview', 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' (which pushed the dancing and moshing to almost chaotic levels), blink-182's 'All The Small Things', the '80s pop hit 'Spin Me Right Round' and the Stiff Little Fingers' 'Barbed Wire Love' - all of them delivered with exactly the same hammerhead precision and relentless energy as their originals.

There was also just enough time for a mid-set interlude to finally unveil the surprise 'guest' band, Meat Whiplash, whom were in reality The Submission but with sadly departing landlord Stu and wife Wanda guesting on vocals and drums, respectively. As a way to bow out, guest-starring with the headline act at your own farewell gig is a pretty stylish way to go, and Stu celebrated the occasion by rolling back the years and giving as good as he got on covers of Department S's 'Is Vic There?', the Dead Kennadys' 'Holiday in Cambodia', and The Jam's 'That's Entertainment'. Wanda gave the drumkit a sound battering for a few numbers before allowing Bernie to re-take the hot seat and instead gave additional vocal support up front, and the Whiplash's brief set closed with a madcap run through Electric Six's 'Gay Bar', before they departed to allow The Submission to wrap things up in style, firstly with the aforementioned 'Should I Stay...' and 'Longview' covers before drawing the mayhem to a close with 'It Won't Stop', as defiant a statement as any to end what could possibly be their last showing at this particular venue. The only things that stops me giving them a maximum score was the issues with Phil's guitar, and the fact that the set sort of never really regained the early momentum after Meat Whiplash's cameo appearance, although neither of which can really be attested to the band, and they were still my personal favourite band of the entire day by some way - that's not to be disrespectful to the other bands, some of whom were excellent (okay, not Dr Goon), but that's more a measure of just how much I enjoy watching The Submission play - they are, to my mind, a live experience like no other.

So, here comes the part where I try and condense down everything into a handful of easily digestible sentence nuggets to summarise the entire review. Not easy, but I'll give it a go anyway: as a gig, it was sometimes inconsistent, although fortunately gradually improved to a spectacular zenith at the conclusion after a dreadful start, but as an experience, it was a fantastic day and evening which will last in the memory for a long time - long after I had departed Walmer on the first train back home, and long after I've even finished writing this very review. Congratulations to everybody involved in setting up and organising this great show, and I'd like to wish Stu and Wanda all the best in their new pursuits - if this is to be the last time rock 'n' roll comes to The Railway Pub in this fashion, then it's safe to say it went out in style.

Overall Review 9/10

Sunday, 24 October 2010

My Third Leg - The Fift E.P.

As I type now, my voice is largely destroyed, and I'm exhausted due to a combination of lack of sleep and huge amount of manic dancing and singing. All of this, plus an 100-mile plus round trip to the Kent Coast and back, plus a rather large hole in my wallet, was all very much worthwhile, however, as it meant I got to experience the madness that was The Railway Pub's send-off all-day show in all it's blisteringly loud, beer-spilling, raucous and hella fun glory. I will get down to reviewing this show once I've recovered a little more, but for now, I fancy having a look at an EP by one of the bands that starred at the show in question - ascending ska-punkers My Third Leg.

Funnily enough, I've been seeing rather a lot of MTL over the last few days (stop sniggering at the back) - how does two shows in as many days go? And during that time I've really had a chance to see how far the band have come in a relatively short space of time, and how much potential is still laying in wait. It's fair to say - and the band themselves even admit this to a degree - that in their early iterations, there was a relative lack of structure, and the feeling was that the band were often stuck on as the shits 'n' giggles first acts at most LSP gigs in and around Gravesend - well, wouldn't you do the same if you ran a promotions company organising punk and ska gigs, and handily happened to be in a ska-punk band yourself? But my point being here was that it was easy to not take them all that seriously, a bit of a laugh, mucking around, regularly swapping instruments, etc etc. But as I mentioned in my review of their Comedy Pub show, they've quietly gone about knuckling down to work on their craft, gelling more as a unit, and honing their songwriting and technical skill, and all this has resulted in them starting to become a band to be really taken seriously as a force - all seemingly whilst I wasn't looking. All this progress business has resulted in them recording and releasing their first E.P. of material, selling at shows and on their recently set-up merch store (I told you they were going up in the world) for the princely sum of 50p (hence the title, see?), and having procured a copy for myself on Friday, it's time to give it a spin.

What jumps out straight away is the crispness of the production and sound quality, which is a very high quality for a DIY recording - credit must be given to the producer, none other than The Submission's Rich Harris, who is rightly thanked in the sleeve notes. His biggest asset from a production and mixing standpoint appears to be his ability to keep all instruments balanced - even when all instruments are at full volume and intensity, the mix does well to avoid being muddy and clogged, and the vocals are nice and clear, something that characterises The Submission's own self-produced work. This high-quality production helps the songs themselves to shine through, and guess what? That's exactly what they do.

Some of the songs on the EP date back from the very first days of the band, but have been mercilessly honed, trimmed and refined into the catchy and addictive nuggets of ska-punk we are treated to on this disc. Two such songs combine to form a nice one-two opening salvo - 'Going for a Drive' and '3470 Miles', both of which are growing to become signature anthems for the group, and rightly so, as both of them encapsulate the best aspects of the band's sound - Will Woodrow's easily recognisable vocal delivery, the trading between quiet/loud and slow/fast sections, Will and Mike Smith's choppy guitar lines, Dave Ja Vu's fantastic, bubbling basslines, and drummer Paul Smith's primal skin-battering. Another MTL standard, Random Inspiration, bookends the disc, giving the record a strong start and a strong finish - something I always like to hear on records, and something that many much bigger bands seem to completely forget about.

However, don't think for a second that they've put their most recognisable songs at each end of the disc and padded out the middle with some random filler they had lying around the rehearsal room - far from it. If you can look beyond the rather embarrassing (and pretty funny) story told in the lyrics, 'Balls Deep' is a real gem, showcasing a slight Britpop feel to the skanking mayhem. 'Yes Please' is catchy as hell, and the furious end section is tailor-made to be bellowed along with at the more drunken gigs they play, and 'Time Travel' is quite possibly the best song they've written so far overall. It's actually quite a dour song, but they use this downbeat tone to their advantage - some delicate, echoey guitar lines flit in and out, Will's vocals are mournful and wistful without becoming mawkish and dreary, and though it does speed up at parts, it doesn't go completely balls-out at any stage, instead emphasising the slow-burning atmosphere of the lyrics.

This issue of restraint is probably my main criticism of other parts of the record - there is a feeling that they try to cram too much into certain songs. 'Random Inspiration' is the worst offender, as it seems to drag it's heels near the end, and ends up being about a minute too long, which dilutes the energy and punch of the song. I mean, I know bassist Dave Ja Vu's good, but do we need to hear his little bass solo another few times than we already do in the song? Personally, I reckon the final instrumental section would be better served in another song altogether, and trim this one down to keep it more succinct. This is the only song where it's really noticeable, and otherwise the mixing of different tempos and dynamics works very well, and is a core part of their sound, so I suppose all I'm saying is be careful of that problem rearing it's head again when writing new songs in the future. Perhaps Paul's drum work is still a bit slack, but considering how it was before, it's best to be grateful that he's made it this far.

In fact, any more criticism is needless nit-picking, because I really can't find anything else to moan about. What we have here is six strong songs that form a nice blueprint of My Third Leg's sound as of right now, but also where they could go from here, and perhaps that's the most exciting part - there's still a sense that there's more ascending to come from the band, as they continue to tighten up as a unit and gig relentlessly, and this E.P. is a good snapshot of where they are right now, and what to expect for the future.

Rating: 7.5/10
Standout Tracks: 'Going for a Drive', '3470 Miles', 'Time Travel'

Friday, 22 October 2010

Live: My Third Leg/Four Letter Cure - The Comedy Pub, Piccadilly Circus 22/10/10

It's been nearly 10 long months since I last checked out a local scene gig, which is an inexcusably long amount of time. Now that I'm safely out the other side of A-levels, coursework and exams in roughly one piece, and now looking forward to a gap year of doing precisely nothing except work and twiddle my thumbs a bit, I can turn my attention back to the scene, and tonight at a tiny subterranean bar tucked in the shadows of the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus, I decided to get a minor glimpse of what I'd been missing. At least, initially that was the plan.

Firstly, finding the damn place was a mission in itself, what with it being part of about 5 venues in the same street named 'The Comedy (blank)'. But having stumbled through pretty much all the variations of said venue title, I finally found the mystical set of stairs to ascend to the tiny basement bar which would form the setting for tonight's show. When I got there, I discovered that only one member of Four Letter Cure had actually showed up - I was told they were planning on calling quits after 2 more gigs anyway, so maybe they decided to speed the process up a bit? I dunno. I'm not gonna speculate further, and I'd be interested to hear from people about how the situation lies. Thankfully, all constituent parts of My Third Leg were there, plus what could be called a half-decent little entourage for them. Also, it's worth noting that I was being facetious earlier - there was a third band scheduled for this evening, but I saw nothing in their sound check or tunes to persuade me to stick around for their set. In fact, if anything, the sound check put me right off them - old good-time rock 'n' roll with watered-down rock, no roll, a desperate lack of a good time and a guitarist who had a bad case of head firmly stuck up own arse, with all the other members having to settle with mild case of face I want to punch hard. And keyboards that just shat on all the other instruments. I've heard bands with full horn sections not sound as messy as this, seriously. Oh, and buggering off after you've done your asinine and stupidly smug soundcheck and only arriving back at your own bloody show when it's your time to go on is only going to further people's impressions that you think you're bigger than you are and are therefore complete pretentious twats. Right, that's the surplus bile dispensed with, on with the two (or rather one and a half, ish) other good bands here tonight.

Four Letter Cure (5/10) - or more like Two Letter UnSure considering as only frontman Hassan Afenah was present, along with two acoustic guitars (one rather cheap and battered) and his sidekick Asher on extra guitar and vocal duties - were on first, and it's rather hard to be harsh to them, considering the circumstances. If I tell you that they were practicing their set when I arrived, that'll tell you the level of preparation they were afforded, and considering it all, they did pretty well. What they lacked in tightness and accuracy, they made up for in easy humour, and when the stars did align and the two guitars and sets of vocals matched together relatively seamlessly, there was definitely promise on show. It might be an easy comparison to make, but a Torn Out vibe emanated from them, and Hassan's gravelly and soulful voice worked surprisingly well out of a harsh electric context, and their set showed a nice talent for reworking powerful punk songs into campfire acoustic singalongs - oh, and they earn additional kudos for nearly pulling off a great cover of Rise Against's 'Like The Angel', complete with an aborted attempt on the solo.

To give the next part of the review some context, my first local scene show was the epic all-day event in August 2009. That day, a band named the Constant G's graced the outside stage, and found themselves in a similar situation that Four Letter Cure found themselves in tonight - hastily re-organising their lineup and set in liu of members bailing out at the last minute. Their set was therefore pretty shambolic, but in keeping with the spirit of the day, it was still fun and full of energy. This hastily cobbled together lineup eventually formed the basis for the band we see before us tonight, My Third Leg (7.5/10). Maybe it's because of the not great first impression I got, and I might be being overly harsh on them, but I did view them for a while as a handy band to open every LSP show assembled - a nifty and fun little band to open every LSP show, but still, not a band I took entirely seriously. But in the time I've been away from the scene, they've really began to go places and, if you'll pardon the phrase, get their shit together. They've recorded an EP of material, been touring hard and working on their stage craft, and with a full album and possibly bigger venues and full-length tours on the horizon, M3L are ready to start really making a name for themselves in the scene - and smash any lingering and unwarranted cynicism I had about them through the bar windows and out into the street. In the end they did just that, and in some style too, with a set that mixed everything that was always good about them - plenty of skanking riffs and an eye for fun - with improved dexterity, confidence and precision. Singer and lead guitarist Will Woodrow has really grown into his frontman duties - he now has a unique character to his voice and I was impressed with how he flitted from delicate lead lines to high-intensity strumming with ease. Probably the biggest improvement of all is how the band now gel as a unit - transitions from time signatures and styles flow a little more now, where before they felt forced and a bit strained, and part of that credit has to go to the rhythm section of bassist Dave Ja Vu and drummer Paul Smith. Sure, Paul still arses up the odd fill, but he is now a technically solid drummer, and he and Dave create a foundation for Will and skank-tastic rhythm guitarist Mike Smith to lock into. And let's face it, it probably wouldn't feel right if Paul didn't arse at least one thing up.

So to sum up, a very enjoyable and fun evening, and a slice of humble pie is in the microwave as we speak. Now time to knuckle down for what should hopefully, fingers crossed and touch wood, be an epic in the making down in Deal tomorrow. See you there!