ReviewsMoon Duo: 16.11.12, w/ Emma Thompson
Zulu Winter: 8.05.12
Blood Red Shoes: 1.05.12
The War on Drugs: 01.03.12
St Vincent: 11.11.11
Connan Mockasin: 17.05.11
Frankie and the Heartstrings: 27.04.11
Dan Sartain: 26.04.11
British Sea Power: 2011
Louisiana, Bristol | 8 May 2012
As Geordie indie popsters Shields leave the stage having played out a charming warm-up set filled with melodies that fellow north-east natives Field Music would be proud of, whispers begin to circulate that tonight’s main draw only formed last year, and that this marks merely their second headline slot outside the capital.
It would appear the stakes are high; yet as Zulu Winter begin to play out tracks from their forthcoming debut LP Language, the clamour among those assembled gradually melts and we are absorbed into a vortex of ethereal musical landscapes. Slow-burning opener ‘Key to my heart’ dispels any suggestion that the performance might in any way seem embryonic – its moderate tempo and luscious refrain lulls us in and gently pulls us towards the aptly immersive ‘We Should Be Swimming’. It’s a highly assured performance epitomised by frontman Will Daunt, whose piercing looks, obligatory hair-tousling and fey movements make for a captivating spectacle that is matched only by his voice, which is perhaps the true highlight of the show.
While the opening bars of current single ‘Silver Tongue’ are met with healthy cheers from the crowd, the much-repeated line of ‘You are silver tongued’ gives the impression that the band has simply caught wind of an idiom and written a song around it. Yet the vocal delivery is such that this lyrical sluggishness is instantly forgivable – Daunt’s voice shimmering and gliding effortlessly through elegant falsetto phrases. At points, the vocal dexterity is akin to that of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe; at others, it’s without comparison.
For the most part, the set is draped in a certain airiness: the stand-out ‘Let’s move back to front’ combining cowbell-infused tribal pop rhythms, befitting of the band’s name, with languorous, clean, reverb-rich guitar strokes and warm synths. The cumulative effect is that of a soothing balm: something that is to be enjoyed immensely but which doesn’t leave you ravenous. Notably, there’s no hint of an encore and no requests from the crowd. As the spaciousness of Zulu Winter’s sound best exemplifies – sometimes less is indeed more.
Pointing at buildings and comparing them to others, we smoked cheap cigarettes and looked out over the city’s lock. It had rained almost inconsolably en route, but now, somewhat inevitably, it had tempered. It was mild: a soothing lilac glow cast a tint over the cobbles, lampposts, treetops and roofs. Town was quiet but the day hadn’t receded quite yet.
A Canadian goose flapped a clumsy flap, bracing itself mid-flight for its meeting with the choppy water. A skid ensued and a faint swash of sound dissipated almost immediately. The ripples moved gracefully, spreading and blurring, leaving a channel of calm where the bird’s feet had skimmed the surface. Inhaling my last I disgarded my cigarette and surveyed the floor for the remnants of yours.
I’d been here before and it didn’t feel new. The stairs weren’t even but I tried not to let my brain linger on what had been. Chiming metallic instruments tingled like tabasco on the tongue. I’d felt that too.
The floor hummed and induced a fuzz about our feet and people began to dance, shoulders dipping, heads locked stage-ward. An infectious perfection, hard to pin down – aren’t all the best things? A smattering of oriental charm, captured in four or so notes, a sluggish groove, gold sequins, a mix of sexes and ages and dress codes, waistlines and piercings, dental records and cousins, insteps and birthmarks and likenesses, sarcasm and metabolisms. Friends, foes, the stoic, the bereaved. The ugly and the optimist, the naive and the cliché and the dreamer – tonight we dared not. Friends were all. And so to the clock, the stairs and Tuesday we turned, with cotton that might never fit, but that’s another tale.
It’s been four years since Brighton duo Blood Red Shoes emerged from a pool of samey, angular guitar bands and grabbed the attention of the music press with their Pixies-come-Kills-inspired indie rock debut Box of Secrets. Since then, plenty of their contemporaries have come and gone, and although being around for four years is no great achievement in itself, it nevertheless suggests that the two piece are still producing stuff that’s either worth hearing or, at the very least, remains marketable.
Within minutes of taking to the stage, it’s clear that the former applies; opener It’s Getting Boring By The Sea retains all its poppy charm and freshness, the lovely Laura-Mary Carter’s swooping vocal leaving sections of the crowd swooning as her dulcet East Sussex inflections drop from scudding guitar lines like blood from a sword. From there the night takes a steadily upward trajectory with a set list that finds a successful balance between the old and new: the instantly memorable guitar notes of Light It Up build triumphantly to its bilious, shout-along chorus, while latest single Cold brings a grander, more stately aura to the night, with Carter’s seductive vocal rising and falling amidst crunchy though spacious interplay between guitar and drum.
Yet the performance is as impressive visually as it is sonically – stark strobe lighting shifts with every beat, throwing brilliant focus to the chiselled cheekbones of the nautically-clad songstress, whose red nail-varnished fingers two-step their way up and down the fretboard with graceful ease. It’s moments like this that bring a sense of awe to this ecclesiastical venue.
What is perhaps most endearing about the boy-girl twosome, however, is the way they’ve remained true to their aesthetic and stuck to what they’re good at. There are no affectations or unnecessary accoutrements, no fawning over elaborate pedal combinations or sample tracks to pad out the sound. Instead, just refreshing hooks that ring out over a well-woven fabric of teasing distortion and infectious rhythms. Four years on and three albums in, the sanguine duo still have their fans cheering, heads rolling and feet scuffling. Long may it last.
As published in Crack magazine: http://crackmagazine.net//article/683/blood-red-shoes/
Before we get into the meat and bones of tonight’s show, there’s a trio of points to get out of the way – the bread and butter, let’s say. Firstly, ‘The War on Drugs’ is a standout and highly memorable name for a band. Secondly, low-fi notable, Kurt Vile, who released one of the albums of 2011 in Smoke Ring For My Halo, is a former member. And thirdly, but by no means any less significant, Vile’s former cohorts also released last year a record of supreme craftsmanship. Its name: Slave Ambient.
As the Philadelphia four piece take to the stage in somewhat modest fashion, an odd musky smell, reminiscent of old foisty paperbacks, hangs in the air. Perhaps it’s testament to the seemingly smarter-than-your-average crowd that has assembled: there’s a spate of spectacles and bald heads across the room, and the fact that the venue isn’t crowded out with young Kens and Barbies perhaps tells you something about the band we’re here to see. This is music which is cerebral, contemplative and evocative.
In spite of Slave Ambient’s critical success, it’s the acoustic jangles of Buenos Aires Beach from 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues which gets things underway with a smattering of modern-day Americana. A fitting opener, delicious lines like ‘So let’s speak of the past / In the future perfect tense / Of places we will go’ give the crowd plenty to chew on.
Yet it’s not long before we’re served our next course of goodness, as frontman Adam Granduciel slings his Fender over his shoulder and ploughs into the Springsteen-esque assault that is Baby Missiles, the extended harmonica solo drifting, like the smoke from a trans-American steam train, into every nook, cranny, crack and crevice aboard the Thekla vessel.
Where the band really excel, however, is in their capacity to forge songs of a melancholic flavour, that are somehow imbued with a sense of optimism, defiance and resolution. Swirling synths, repetitive drum phrases and lugubrious guitars saturated in reverb convene at the more accessible verges of krautrock – a reflective place which invariably pulls you towards thoughts abandon: the chances missed, the chances blown, the regrets… well, regretted. Yet the double-time skip of the drumbeats, garnished with the occasional splash of cymbals, combine with Granduciel’s ability to pick out warm notes to serve up a sound which is at once ruminative, dreamlike and strangely reassuring. A kind of ambrosia.
Across an extended set which clocks in at over an hour and a half, it’s the delectably languorous album companions Best Night and Brothers that rightly enjoy the biggest receptions of the night, while Arms Like Boulders showcases a more acerbic side to Granduciel’s penmanship: with gnarled delivery, vivid imagery of shoulders like cliffs, and storytelling lines of driving up Route 101, the song could easily have been torn straight from a musty old Dylan songbook (something the crowd wouldn’t be dissatisfied with, we’re sure).
High-octane it was perhaps never going to be; engrossing it certainly was. So are The War on Drugs as good live as their name is original? For our money, they’re better, and among the best we’ve seen so far this year.
As featured in Crack magazine: http://crackmagazine.net//article/601/the-war-on-drugs/
The rain took a break, so
We went out to explore
Events beyond our defence.
On the other side of the garden
Where the unflattering wasteland lies,
The diggers had left their mark on the ground:
Cavities dug deeper than trenches;
Their lining revealing a tranche of dereliction and decay.
Bricks and mortar, bricks and stone;
Bricks and broken pottery,
Bricks and broken bone.
It looked a bombsite
As it had done since the War.
And the nettles it once nurtured
Had been ripped out and skipped:
Weeds weeded out for development’s sake,
Not a glimpse of doting green.
Standing on the garden wall now
Looking into the depths of the hole
A tiny patch of earth seems to be swimming –
Quivering, at least – like the velcro fuzz
Coating the surface of an old TV screen.
I sharpened my gaze.
The faint sign of futile life became starker,
More defined. The clamour of webbed feet
Sinking beneath the soil; the scramble to move
Encumbering still further the frantic creature.
The incumbent toad,
Marooned in a manmade hole.