The Fall- Live review

Mark. E. Smith once described Brighton as “so middle class they put pebbles on the beach so they don’t get sand between their toes. Shit pubs. Shit atmosphere.” Returning to his favourite city, The Fall singer was in fine form as he angrily stumbled through an hour of monosyllabic ramblings and aggressive shouting to a dedicated Concorde 2 crowd that consisted mainly of older fans and the odd splattering of millennial, keen to discover “the greatest band in the world” for the very first time.

Of the 66 musicians who have come and gone over the band’s four decades of existence, more than a third lasted less than 12 months. Smith is a divisive character but that is what makes him such an alluring and disturbing stage presence. Entering the fray halfway through set opener ‘Mister Rode’, it’s no exaggeration to say that you could barely distinguish a word he was saying all night. But would ardent fans expect anything less?

“Repetition in the music and we’re never gonna lose it,” Smith sings on 1978 B-side ‘Repetition’ in what remains a manifesto for the Salford native. Never moving away from their motorik lifeblood, the four other band mates immaculately delivered the tense rhythmic and abrasive guitar-driven sound to perfection throughout the entire gig. Even managing to do so with the added burden of Smith incessantly attempting to fiddle and alternate with the controls on their guitar amps and mics.

Earlier in the night, marrying Kate Bush theatrics with a hybrid of heavy metal/punk and face melting riffs, Japanese rockers Bo Ningen left the audience captivated during their support slot. The long hair and robes invites you to believe they’re a classic psych band, only to leave you spellbound when the first sonic wave hits. They may not be the most thrilling on record, however, they never fail to blow people away when watching a live performance. This is no more exemplified than in set closer ‘Daikaiseia’ a track which carries on for a good 16 minutes after it is seemingly finished. When it finally does reach its climax, Taigen Kawabe is stood atop her amp having what looks akin to an epileptic fit. Meanwhile, Kohhei Matsuda is formulating indescribable tones with the end of a guitar lead and Yuki Tsujii is waving his instrument around his head, coming perilously close to knocking out the percussion king Monchan Monna. It’s the world’s most elongated, mesmerising and downright ridiculous set closer. But it’s brilliant.

Over the years, I’ve been told that I’d love The Fall by more people than there are previous members of the band. But it wasn’t until last November that I finally took the plunge and invested a considerable amount of time immersing myself in their back catalogue. Fast forward a few months and the likes of Hex Education Hour and This Nation’s Saving Grace are ranked among my favourite records. However, Smith being the man he is, decided to not play a single song from the first 15 years of the band’s existence; arguably the most prolific and critically-acclaimed period. Numerous promoters have endeavoured – and failed miserably – to get him to play nostalgia-friendly sets, but he doesn’t play by the rule book.

Nevertheless, with the now added bonus of a double drummer, the band was as tight as could possibly be. Highlights included the enthralling ‘Dedication Not Medication’ and the gripping Quit iPhone- a song which soundtracks Smith’s latest annoyance and was ironically greeted by a collection of the said devises being lifted into the air to film the show.

Penultimate track ‘Brillo Filo’ then perfectly exemplified the cult status of The Fall. With Smith deciding to have one of his unnecessary twiddles with the Korg synthesizer, he threw his mic out into the crowd. This subsequently passed the attention of the room onto one Fall devotee, who proceeded to sing, word for word, the ‘unknown’ song in full. This three-minute period of relatively distinguishable singing proved to be the most coherent of the entire gig.

The live experience of The Fall is a strange one. They have somehow evolved to the point where their major drawback is also, paradoxically, their major pull. During the course of the evening, I was half-transfixed on the wrecking ball that is Mark. E. Smith and half immersed in the throbbing motorik post-punk coming from the band. My point being, I was never bored, and really enjoyed the entire spectacle. And when all is said and done, that is what art is, in essence, isn’t it? Taking inspiration from a creative work and applying your own experience to it. In some cases, the results may bear no resemblance to the initial conception, but it still evokes an appreciative emotion inside.

As he stormed offstage following set closer ‘Bury’, you got the impression that Smith would much rather have been in his hometown. His loyal audience were glad he was in Brighton.


Radio X Xposure festival- Live review

In an age of online media and instant gratification, discovering a new artist for the first time at a gig has become a rarity. Nevertheless, Radio X’s new music guru John Kennedy has attempted to do exactly that for the last few years. The DJ’s annual showcase involves a packed day of relatively unknown, handpicked bands he feels are on the cusp of greatness that the crowd may just be discovering. Omeara – a recently opened venue owned by Mumford & Sons member Ben Lovett – played host to the festival.

Taking to the stage at 3pm, Dead Pretties were in no way effected by the relative calmness and sobriety of the early arriving audience. “I’m living outside my mind,” cried frontman Jacob Salter in ‘Social Experiment’, the band’s only release to date. He wasn’t lying as he bounced around the stage with an aggressive and sinister streak – even knocking a pint out of one innocent bystander’s hand with his guitar. Baring all the hallmarks of all your classic extroverted frontmen, his band may well be at the vanguard of a new garage rock movement that possess mainstream appeal.

With a highly-rated album of material to fall back on, Scarlet Rascal were one of the day’s highlights. The krautrock tinged post -punk of the Bristol four piece explodes into life when placed into a live environment. Opener ‘Pearl’, is one of the standouts, with the deep bassline providing the framework for the swirling sonic wave of distortion to take hold. The elongated album and set closer ‘Last Day’ is perhaps the band’s finest effort though. Clocking in at over six minutes, the bass guitar and drums initially glide along at an unassuming pace as Luke Brookes attempts to muster the strength to ignite some vocal delivery. At the same time, delicate strumming patterns arrive at irregular intervals leaving the crowd in an unnerving state, craving for an intense crescendo. This assuredly comes in the form of a final three minutes of piercing textures in a song that could only ever act as a climax to a gig.

Anglo -Swedish group Francobollo were next up and displayed an excitable innocence with a variety of tracks that left you just as perplexed by the end as you were at the start of what genre the band belonged to. Rasping vocals and a fiery rhythm section make the four-piece an engrossing spectacle with potential to grow.

Displaying facets from the likes of Grizzly Bear and Summer Camp, Wovoka Gentle’s trippy -folk hybrid claimed the title of most left -field performance of the day. Positioned in a triangular -shaped instrumental island, the three members were consistently alternating positions, as new instrumentation was introduced seemingly every minute. Ranging from delicate harmonies under the banner of twee folk to spoken word over synthetic soundscapes, the environment for the London band’s music wasn’t ideally suited to a guitar heavy festival such as this. However, they give off the impression that with a proper sound check and a more attentive audience, the London band have the ability to put on a tantalising spectacle.

“This is the calm before the storm,” enthused John Kennedy, as he introduced the day’s most memorable band, Idles. With a support slot on The Maccabees’ final ever show booked in, the Bristol group’s brand of noisey post-punk is an enticing and at the same time threatening spectacle to behold. Self-described as a “nosebleed for the ears”, the politically charged lyrics of Joe Talbot are a welcome antidote to the heaps of throwaway records clogging up today’s musical landscape. With the frontman’s menacing stare and guitarist Mark Bowen’s relentless stage presence, the entire venue was in awe and fear in equal measure.

With far more reverb and falsettos but no less intense, Throws’ quirky live show was a welcome addition to the now booze -infused night. Orchestrated by Sam Ganders, he faces off with fellow frontman Mike Lindsay as the pair tussle for superiority in their alluring compositions. The results range from glam -rock to ice -cold synthetics all under the banner of intelligent, well -written pop.

The infectious enthusiasm of headliners Spring King was then the perfect recipe to round off an intense day of new music. The Mancunian’s have positioned themselves somewhere inbetween the realms of post-punk and garage-rock, flanked by a multitude of catchy four -part vocal choruses; a potent combination which lends itself to this type of jovial situation. The quartet’s songwriting chief Tarek Musa orchestrates proceeding from the drum kit, with his three loyal bandmates helping to bring their seemingly never ending stream of singles to life. Although the majority of the set stemmed from the debut LP Tell Me if You Like To, the set highlight comes in the form of They’re Coming After You – a track brought from an early EP release. “How many of you had heard of us before tonight?” asked the humble Musa, to which a ceaseless applause greeted the beaming singer. Spring King are now in a position in which they can begin to dine on one of rock’s higher tables.

Merchandise – The Lexington, London – 2nd November 2016

Merchandise were initially a standard three-piece punk band but have evolved into something completely different. However, the lo-fi, DIY era of the group still lingers in the back of frontman Carson Cox’s mind, “This all feels too adult to us. You’re all too polite and it’s very early,” he joked to the sold out London crowd on Wednesday evening. The Florida band are one of the most interesting groups in music and their vast catalogue of genre defining compositions all exhibit this perfectly when placed into a gig setting. From the early home recorded EPs Children of Desire and Totale Nite, to the unashamedly pop After The End, as well as the recent sample heavy LP A Corpse Wired for Sound, the four-piece’s live spectacle covers each of the varying corners of their back catalogue in a seamless display of intense musicianship.

Cox’s urbane demeanour and natural interaction with the audience coexists perfectly with the phenomenal axe-wielding ability of David Vassalotti. Even the distraction of a broken string turned into a spectacle, with Cox acoustically crooning his way through an old country cover as Vassalotti rapidly sorted out his instrument. They both then jointly struck the final chord to conclude the unplanned interlude to onlookers’ visible delight.

The sporadic rhythmic pulses of ‘Crystal Cage’ sets off a gig which features masses of hazy bass reverberations and layers of effect laden guitar. All this forming the backdrop to Cox’s stunning lyrics, “Patience left you in the ocean/Reason left you out at sea/I’m through with begging for approval/Now I’m asking to be free,” he sings on ‘Green Lady’. The profound chord sequence on this song is given a renewed life and allowed to be fully appreciated when placed into a performance situation. The same can be said for ‘True Monument’s intense riff, ‘Time’s delicate bass line, ‘Flower of Sex’s aggressive throbbing core and ‘Anxiety’s Door’s Smiths-esque shredding. The various facets of each of their compositions are either removed or heightened when played live and it’s a testament to the US-based band that they possess the knowledge and capacity to know when to sanction each.

One glaring admission from the set list though was the stupendous ‘Become What You Are’, but the sheer excellence of the Tampa Bay residents’ vast sonic output makes up for this. Whilst it seems to be a regular occurrence for bands to state that they’re moving in a ‘new direction’ only for them to sound identical to their former selves, Merchandise are in a mesmerising state of natural indecision. This leads to you questioning each idea you have about them with every new release. “I think there’s a new space that we are approaching in our personal and artistic lives – that is really cool,” stated Cox in a recent interview. They’re a band that continue to astonish in the studio and on stage.

Preoccupations – The Haunt – 9th November 2016

Every dark event requires a like-minded soundtrack and on a day in which the geopolitical landscape was shaken to its core, Preoccupations’ brand of morbid, fear-inducing post-punk proved to be the perfect accompaniment to the lingering sense of dread following the US election. Inaudible screeching rang out from the speakers as the four-piece entered the stage, “Let’s raise a glass to the death of the United States of America,” said frontman Matthew Flegal, before the band burst into the militaristic rhythmic crescendo that is ‘Anxiety’. The track gave onlookers a reason to forget the day’s news; ironically having the opposite effect to its title.

I’ve been lucky enough to catch Preoccupations twice in the past 18 months (both during the Viet Cong days) and neither of those gigs came close to replicating this one. It appears the band had a self-reflection period during the rebrand and decided to place more of an emphasis on the overall spectacle of their live shows. Back then, they still sounded great but Flegal’s persistent comedic interactions didn’t work well with the bleak output they were attempting to portray. It was hard to immerse yourself into their dystopian compositions if, five minutes before, he had joked about a Big Mac he had consumed earlier in the evening. For this show, he barely uttered a word, allowing the listener to the appreciate the dark soundscapes in isolation. Furthermore, the light show has also received a makeover with each member flagged by a row of retina-bending visuals, resulting in four prominent silhouettes on stage, bringing further validity to the experience.

They may have ditched the aesthetics of the Viet Cong-era but they still retain a fierce loyalty to the tracks on that record, with the setlist borrowing from the two albums in equal measure. The guitar riffs and technical drum patterns from the likes of ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Continental Shelf’ coexisted seamlessly with the jagged bass and warped synth that are prominent in songs such as ‘Stimulation’ and ‘Degraded’. Drummer Mike Wallace’s rhythmic style is the key facet that sets Preoccupations apart from their contemporaries though. His ability to amalgamate electronic reverberations with normal drum patterns in productions like ‘March of Progress’ and ‘Memory’ is a unique element that comes across perfectly in a live environment. Other than ‘Death’ (more on that track later), ‘Memory’ has evolved into the lifeblood of the band’s show. Initially a standard industrial number, it comes to life with a notorious synth line before you’re coerced into a Power, Corruption & Lies-esque stomper for the final six minutes.

Opening proceedings at a stupidly early start time, Cold Pumas’ brand of krautrock-tinged post-punk had the crowd alternating their heads from side-to-side in subconscious appreciation throughout. With the singer/drummer placed strategically in the middle along with his bass player/rhythmic partner in crime, the pair rarely escaped from their devoted motorik framework. This gave the guitar pair on either side a licence to explore the elongated soundscapes with a variety of spiky riffs, heavy chords and effect laden psychs. Although the four-piece threatened to show glimpses of their melodic underbelly with ‘The Shaping of the Dream’ and ‘Rayon Gris’, the lion’s share of the set was made up of the pounding, motorik repetition they’ve become known for.

Preoccupations finalised the night with their aforementioned magnum opus ‘Death’ in suitably disturbing fashion. The track clocks in at just over 11 minutes on record and that figure is increased further when performed live. Forever lingering on the precipice of chaos, it threatens to come off the rails before jolting you back into position for a final five momentous minutes. The overriding theme of the self-titled LP is an aching sense of fear, sprinkled with violent imagery and Flegal’s disconsolate wordplay. This encapsulated how the depressed crowd was feeling on Wednesday and it perfectly soundtracked the gloom-filled day.

Matthew & Me – Rialto Theatre – 15th November 2016

In a lyric that could double up as a mantra for the band, Matthew Board cried “Give me strength and time, there’s something in it,” during the track ‘Silver’. Indeed, patience is a virtue and after honing their craft for more than half a decade, Matthew & Me recently signed a deal with Beatnik records which culminated in their first major EP Startpoint. The two-piece (which increases to four for live shows) are currently in the midst of a small UK tour to support the release and the antiquated Rialto Theatre was a suitable location for the band’s immense brand of alternative pop.

Based in the bohemian town of Totnes, the art school graduates have inflexibly stuck to a path of music creation which has seen them evolve into a fiercely epic live band. In a testament to the musicianship of the songwriting pair, each subtle nuance and rich layer of their judiciously crafted productions is carefully retained in a gig setting. Ranging from delicate love songs to vast ethereal productions, the Brighton audience were visibly hooked in isolated contemplation as the band’s immersive soundscapes demanded deeper examination.

‘Joy’ has served as something of a coming of age track for the group and it took spectators on an explorative journey on Wednesday. Initially guiding you into mystique surroundings, the next seven minutes soar into a cathartic release of rich ambition that manages to retain a personal edge. Meanwhile, ‘Figure’’s arpeggiated backdrop marries perfectly with its hazy electronics and tenacious rhythmic core.

‘Kitsune’ is perhaps their heaviest arrangement. Beginning life in an assuming state it quickly converts itself in a thunderous exhibition of the band’s sonic credentials which features a gargantuan climax. Whilst the majority of the set was made up of Starpoint material, earlier single ‘Patterns’ also made an appearance and is another visceral expanse that evokes inward emotions. The aforementioned ‘Silver’ is performed in a similar vein; creating an entrancing ambience in the room.

“Musically we’re just developing our own sound and it’s quite important to remind ourselves that there isn’t actually any reason to apply a timeframe to making a body of work, especially if you want the end result to be something that will endure,” the band said in a recent interview with Brightonsfinest. The dynamic arrangements seen at the Rialto substantiate this claim and Matthew & Me are now in an exciting position of deciding what direction to take their melodically soaring instrumentation for the first album.

Roosevelt – Night & Day Cafe, Manchester

In the city where acid house was formed, a proponent of its younger Balearic brother took to the stage. Roosevelt’s self-titled debut album never quite captured the magic of his first EP Elliot, nevertheless, I was still intrigued to see how the German performer was going to transfer his productions into a live setting. The result was a positive one. Marius Lauber is already an established DJ throughout Europe and he was able to use his thorough knowledge of production software and naturally gifted vocal range, coupled with his eerily tight rhythm section, to create a night of catchy pop hooks and vibrant instrumentals.

Playing to a packed crowd in the city’s trendy Northern Quarter, Roosevelt’s amassed a following made up of fans that have migrated from alternative corners of the musical landscape. This was reflected in the assortment of stances seen in the audience. Certain people were choosing to stand face on to the band, whereas others were dancing in groups, sometimes not even looking at the stage; as if it were a club night. It was a peculiar environment but one that felt natural.

Northern crowds tend to have less inhibitions than their southern counterparts when it comes to gigs and this proved to be the case on Sunday night. “The last time I played in Manchester was down the road from here to ten people,” he said in his usual humble way, as he gleamed out to a floor that was becoming reminiscent of 1980s Chicago. ‘Wait Up’ is a track with a particular nod back to the heydey of disco, whilst ‘Night Moves’ carries similar aspects only with a more funky exterior. The same can be said for ‘Hold on’ with its delicious guitar riff. ‘Colours’, meanwhile, gains one of the biggest reactions of the night and it’s no surprise considering it could have been taken off the recent New Order record or any former factory release, for that matter.

Drenching rich synth soundscapes with upbeat chords and beautiful melodies , Roosevelt has mastered the tropical pop genre both live and on record. At his best he sounds like an amalgamation of Hot Chip in bed with Washed Out, and although he may sometimes slightly venture towards the dreaded EDM territory, he’s doesn’t linger for too long – ‘Fever’ being a prime example of this. The revellers were even treated to a cover of the Womack & Womack classic ‘Teardrops’ for the encore, in which the (up until that point) muted bass player got involved with some magnificent falsetto harmonies. It was a fitting end to the sun-drenched party which juxtaposed itself against the soaked cobbled streets outside. The weekend had ended, but at least the end was fun.

Laura Mvula – Electric Brixton, London

Shows in the capital tend to carry a reserved atmosphere in comparison to the rest of the UK. This comes as no surprise when you consider the vast amounts of disposable income present in London, which leads to hordes of gig goers with no emotional investment in the performer’s back catalogue. Laura Mvula’s Electric Brixton gig perfectly exemplified this. However, the Birmingham-born songstress still managed to gently warm up the reluctant crowd from the Baltic conditions outside whilst simultaneously making the keytar look respectable.

The last time she performed in London at Somerset House her manager informed her mid-set that the show had sold out. This lead to a sudden outpouring of emotion from the frontwoman; a poignant moment for those in attendance. Whilst this gig didn’t sell its entire allocation, the room felt full to the brim in anticipation of the neo-soul multi-instrumentalist. In today’s convoluted musical landscape, Mvula is one of those rare artists that brings fresh ideas and a completely original sound. Borrowing from a variety of genres and with an instantly recognisable voice and style, it’s a testament to her overall sonic and aesthetic output that she doesn’t fall into any particular musical scene; evident in the vast range of demographics and ages in the audience.

After being pipped to the 2013 Mercury Prize by James Blake with her debut album Sing to the Moon, she’s further enhanced her reputation with recent LP The Dreaming Room. The set borrowed equally from both of these records and as the five-piece band initiated proceedings, Mvula’s voice rang out from the PA, only she was nowhere to be seen on stage. Three minutes later she appeared just in time for the opening notes of ‘Overcome’ to rapturous applause. A great deal has been made of her training in classical composition and that has allowed her to amalgamate elements from a variety of areas such as jazz, soul and funk and turn them into genuine pieces of work that feel completely natural.

However, her voice is what binds together the tracks and focal points came from the likes of ‘Bread’- a stripped back number in which she managed to compel an extended outro singalong of “Lay the breadcrumb down” out of the hesitant Tuesday evening audience. Her crowd interaction in between songs was another highlight and a major contrast from the intense musicianship. Choosing to go off on elongated stories about television appearances, flirtations with UK royalty and anecdotes about her family, she has a fall back option in after dinner speaking if the music career fails to work out.

Ending with a stupendous cover of the Nina Simone classic ‘See Line Women’ and recent single ‘Phenomenal Women’, the fact she chose to leave out the soon-to-be John Lewis Christmas single ‘Ready or Not’ exhibits her single mindedness. She appears forthright and decisive with how she wants her career to pan out. And whilst she’s won’t become a conveyor belt of hit singles, she’s managed to carve a niche out for herself with alluring, melancholic productions that resonate deep. She’ll be around for a long time.