Saturday, 22 January 2011

Live - 'This Is London' CD Launch - The World's End, Finsbury Park, London 22/1/11

A nice evening in the company of a charming American woman aside, 2011 has been relatively quiet so far. Too quiet. And after a few missed chances thanks to inopportune public transport times (so what's new, then?), all of a sudden, two excellent-looking gigs come up on the same night in the same area of town. Oh, and both have the entrance fee of absolutely free. Typical, right? In the end, I plump for this show, and after getting lost in the streets of Finsbury Park (it's not an experience I'd recommend), I eventually make it to the World's End pub, ready for the first duty of 2011.

I'm thrown straight into the fray as soon as I step inside - my tardiness and willingness to explore the local area mean that I'm late arriving for the start of The Dilenquents' (69%) set. And a fairly good set it is too. I'd read on the event page for this show that The Dilenquents bill themselves as a 'reaction to modern day music' with an 'aggresive (sic) horror Punk sound
', and who hope they can 'horrify/enlighten you'. Well, they dismally failed in the latter two points, as I wasn't scared or particularly enlightened in the slightest, and the usage of the word 'horror' in relation to their music is misleading - it's plain depressing, more than anything. However, an odd contradiction arises in their songs - whilst they try so hard to load them down with doom, gloom and quasi-Black Sabbath moody guitar licks and breaks, occasionally an outrageously catchy chorus or riff will burst free and ingrain itself in your ear canal. And it's these flashes of brilliance that mean that, despite all the mean stuff I've said, I'm intrigued to hear more from the Bedfordshire four-piece. They strike me as a band perhaps trying too hard to be edgy and to get up in people's faces, but their horror-punk schtick comes across more Twilight meets a particularly depressing episode of Eastenders than Last House on the Left, no matter what they themselves would want you to believe. Thing is, though, if they threw off the shackles and just went for it, there's enough here to tell me that they have the potential to really make the impact they desperately want to.

In fact
, an apt demonstration of how to play to the top of your strengths without giving a stuff about an image for yourself is unveiled next up, as Inter-City Crazy Train (87%) unleash their set of punky ska fun. Fun being the operative word, as it's exactly that and more from start to finish, with bodies being persuaded to start skanking and moving for the first time this evening. The swing in mood is dramatic, with infectious off-beats and warm, summery melodies powering their high-energy set forward at a relentless pace. Frontman Gordy Cullum shouts his lines with a nice mix of raw power and soul, and is a livewire, bouncing presence throughout, flanked on his right by guitarist 'Mexican' Ed Dickinson, who augments Gordy's skanking riffs and vocal lines with neat licks and yelped backing vocals. The songs themselves are perfectly weighted and well-crafted; any unnecessary flab has been trimmed to enable the scalpel-sharp hooks (and there's plenty of those in almost every song) to shine. Gordy also takes a pause from singing every so often to interject blasts of trumpet into the skanking fun, but he's trumped in the additional instrument stakes by Ed, who first whips out a harmonica at opportune moments before tossing his Gretsch guitar to one side mid-set and plugging in a ukulele to raise the levels of skanking to new heights. These bursts of additional instrumentation add another string to their bow, but to be honest, the bow itself is so well-crafted and fun that these asides are just cherries on the top of a rather delicious cake of tight, high-energy two-tone ska. Raucous covers of the reggae classic 'The Harder They Come' and The Clash's 'White Riot' and the singalong antics of 'Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em' wrap up their set in style - great fun, and definitely one to watch for the future.

According to the words of a wise, sage old prophet (erm, Paul Smith), the next band up were on the verge of really going places in the scene, before disappearing into the wilderness without trace way back in 2003. And now they've broken cover again out of nowhere for tonight's show. Nine years is a long time in this business, but on tonight's evidence, it doesn't seem to have affected Jakal (78%)
one bit - in fact, if Paul's rave reaction to them is anything to go by, they've only gotten better. As for me, someone who was oblivious to their existence first time around? The first impressions are very, very good. Like a fair few bands doing the rounds, their schtick is rooted firmly in a heavy, ska-punk type hybrid. Multiple vocalists? Check. Skanked verses and powerhouse choruses? Check. T-Alan style muscular riffs and sometimes rapped vocal lines? Check. The standard procedure then, although I won't accuse them of following the trend, as there's a chance that they invented the trend in the first damn place. And besides, it's a very entertaining trend when done well, as the aforementioned T-Alan and Random Hand have demonstrated. Jakal aren't quite at that stage yet, but they're not far off, I'll tell you. The trouble is with this type of music is that, as I've mentioned before, it's easy to fall into the trap of just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, with the result being a clunky, grinding mess as songs lurch from one genre-checkbox to another, and Jakal do occasionally skirt with this trap - for example, some songs overstay their welcome, and some vocal lines get unnecessarily raucous. It's almost as if the band themselves don't have faith in the songs in their original form, and in their attempts to beef them up, they just end up over-egging the pudding. However, none of these additional bits of flab are deal-breakers, and I still enjoyed their set - female co-vocalist Tali is gunning for Laila K's crown as the most all-action frontwoman on the circuit, and she damn near succeeds, jumping, dancing and belting out vocal lines with wild abandon all set long, and she is the focal point of the performance in amongst the army of guitars and dub-echo. So, the occasional flirt with disaster doesn't stop Jakal from being a success; here's hope they stick around and fulfill their early promise after the previous false starts.

Sadly, it's time for me to make the dash across town for the last trains home from Victoria, so I miss The Sterilizers, but I've already see enough to make the trip to North London very much worthwhile. A great evenings entertainment, all for the entry price of free - I'd say that's value for money, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Live: Nell Bryden - The Borderline, Soho 5/1/11

A disclaimer - if you're here for sweaty, loud and fast punk rock carnage, then you've turned up at the wrong place.

It's probably ironic that my first show of 2011 is the first non-punk rock gig I've been to in actually a few years, and it shows - it takes a while for me to get the idea out of my head that, no, there probably won't be circle pits and flying pints kicking off when the music starts. Probably the weirdest thing of all, however, is whom I'm actually seeing tonight - namely, a female singer-songwriter with a big acoustic guitar.

No, I've not gone completely doolally. I know what kind of maudlin, MOR images are springing into your mind, but happily, tonight's main attraction is none of the above at all. I've made no secret of my admiration for Ms Bryden before on this blog - I may well have said that her album What Does It Take? was for a long time my favourite record of 2009, before being pipped at the post by a certain punk band from Deal. So I'm understandably excited to, after several missed opportunities, get to see in action one of my favourite artists from outside of the sphere of punk tonight in the relatively intimate surroundings of the Borderline.

First up though, is a bloke with an acoustic guitar singing earnest ballads - Roddy Hart (5.5/10).

Oh dear oh dear, corduroy tedium awaits.

However, another surprise - I find myself actually not hating it. Yes, the Springsteen-esque acoustic pop nuggets tick every single cliche box in the acoustic singer-songwriter book, from hackneyed titles to cloying, melancholic vocal lines, but they're charming and inoffensive enough most of the time for me to actually quite enjoy them. They're honed and polished, and delivered in a tidy, mildly soulful manner, and some guitar lines actually make it into the 'I might go and download that' category in my mental filing cabinet. However, this lack of originality means that the songs suffer from being easily forgettable, so much so that I'm struggling to remember any details of any of them - in fact, the only thing that springs to mind is that Hart's vocal delivery ends up coming off like Davey Havok from AFI trying to cover Springsteen, and if that's not one of the most bizarre comparisons I've ever made, I don't quite know what is. Impossible to dislike then, but also difficult to like with any degree of passion, if you wanted to sum up Roddy Hart in a pithy nutshell, although what I will say is that I can see people who are more into this stuff than I am absolutely lapping this up.

Frankly though, he's gone into battle tonight woefully under-equipped - he could've had a stage show featuring pyrotechnics, burlesque dancers and a chimpanzee playing bongos, and he still wouldn't have upstaged tonight's headliner. From the very moment Nell Bryden (10/10) hits the stage and kickstarts the action with her backing band of cohorts, she has the crowd in the palm of her 1947 Gibson guitar-toting hand, and boy, does she know it. The amount of energy, heart and soul she loads into her performance is quite astonishing - her vocal delivery is overflowing with sassy charisma from the get-go, and she dances, struts and jives around the stage with a confident swagger and a constant grin. Her stunning voice is given full reign here, and she takes advantage, damn near bringing the house down at times with her staggeringly powerful high end wails as the pace quickens. Conversely, she's equally at home when the tempo slows, adding delicate and gorgeous vocal lines to the mid-tempo numbers. Comparisons with Freddie Mercury sound completely ridiculous at first, but as the show goes on, they make perfect sense - just like that famous rock frontman, she's a born performer with charisma by the bucketload, and a wonderful spontaneity born out of a passion and unbridled love of music. When you couple this with guitarist Leon Rossiter's ice-cold, bluesy guitar lines, bassist Andy McConkey's bobbing grooves and drummer Leo Sutherland's fast 'n' loose skiffle beats, the result is an absolute joy to watch.

All of this means that the songs, highly polished and intricately woven on record, are stripped down and given a firm kick up the arse, with the more high-tempo songs benefiting the most from this. 'Late Night Call' and 'What Does It Take' become rousing stomp-a-longs, 'Where The Pavement Ends' just manages to retain it's sense of drama despite being beaten to within an inch of it's life, and star single 'Second Time Around' is even more outrageously catchy and danceable than normal. The slower tracks, such as 'Goodbye' and 'Only Life I Know' also benefit from a stripped-down approach, mainly serving to emphasise the gorgeous emotion at their core, particularly so on the former, a personal favourite of mine. She takes the brave decision to load the middle of the set largely with new tracks, but to be honest, if you've got a tonne of new material to preview, then the middle of the set is the best place to do it, leaving the familiar anthems to the sharp end of the show. The newies display promise and a good progression, with the two highlights being the beautiful 'Sirens', a plea for hope in post 9/11 America, and 'Soundtrack', an old-fashioned, energetic and hooky roots-rocker.

In between songs she is a warm and incredibly friendly presence, and it's sometimes hard to believe that someone with such a confident, gunslinger stage persona can be so humble and down-to-earth when the music stops. She displays a ready sense of humour, poking fun at both dissident crowd members and her own band, and is completely free of any ego at all, which means that the barrier between performer and audience is casually tossed aside. It even continues after the show is over; she is quick to come out front and make time to talk to fans, and has a great, Joe Strummer-esque gift of zoning in on one person or group and making them feel truly appreciated and at ease in conversation. I wound up having a great conversation with her about punk music (and also discovering that she's a closet Ramones and Green Day fan in the bargain), and I kid you not, I could easily have been talking to a mate. I know this sort of thing is largely a given at the underground punk gigs I'm used to, but to meet an internationally well-known artist with such talent and popularity, yet so free of pretension or ego, is truly refreshing.

I was beginning to wonder whether I was going soft, with all these awardings of 10s all over the place in recent reviews. However, I've thought long and hard, and there's no reason why I can't give top marks for this performance - it was awesome from start to finish, and when it's all being delivered with such charisma, warmth and soul from an artist who is just as much a great person as she is a confident, assured performer, you've got the makings of a truly brilliant show which will live in the memory long after the evening is over and the dust has settled. This may not have been a punk rock show, but I absolutely bloody loved it all the same.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Headliner's Setlist:
  1. Late Night Call
  2. Tonight
  3. Where The Pavement Ends
  4. Glory To The Day (Helen's Requiem)
  5. What Does It Take
  6. Lost In His Eyes
  7. Mercy On Me
  8. Soundtrack
  9. Fingerprints
  10. Goodbye
  11. Only Life I Know
  12. Second Time Around
  13. Sirens
  14. (Encore) Not Like Loving You