Thursday, 30 August 2012

Aiming Toward The Sky - Grandaddy at The Ritz, Manchester

Although darlings of the music press, starting the gig with three songs from 'Sumday' - perceived by many critics as their weakest album - could be seen as a statement of intent: What do critics know eh? El Camino's In The West, Now It's On, and "Yeah" Is What We Had are up there with anything else in the Grandaddy Catalogue. Following these up with a b-side (Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer) showed this was going to be a masterclass in reforming for the right reasons.

Playing to a sell out crowd at the Ritz, what we got was something akin to a fan's dream set - album tracks, b-sides and a cover version (their blistering cover of Pavement's "Here", which originally appeared on the AM180 7" single). Naturally, they play a fair chunk of 'The Sophtware Slump' - an album that quite possibly outdoes OK Computer  with it's vision of machines living in a decaying future, but this is almost equalled by the number of 'Sumday' tracks. Of course, there's always going to be something else that they could/should have played, and an alternative setlist could be made by focussing on 'Under The Western Freeway' (2 songs played tonight) and their overlooked swansong 'Just Like the Fambly Cat' (clearly overlooked by the band too, as they didn't play any songs from this).

Although originally lumped in as being another Americana band, there's still something wonderfully unique about the Grandaddy sound - analogue keyboards sit (un)comfortably alongside the guitars, crunching chords are left floating mid air, motorik riffs underpin melodies to die for. Or, to reference one of their album sleeves, "sad strings, chunk chunk guitar, quiet vocal, end ahhhs, piano"; they do uplifting melancholy so much better than most bands.  And AM180 still has the most ridiculous hook in any song ever.

Ending the main set with where it all started for me, with the wonderful Laughing Stock (I can't remember what Piccadilly Records said about this single at the time, but it was enough for me to take a punt and buy it without hearing it), they return for two encores - The aforementioned Here and, finally, the nine-minute song that needs no chorus, He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot.

Here's the setlist (should you need it)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Keep Calm and Green Man 2012

A Green Man Festival 2012 review

Right, so I've just got back from this year's Greenman Festival and have washed off the mud from my legs. Here's what it was like....

Despite to torrential rain throughout Thursday night and most of Friday and briefly on Saturday morning and Sunday morning, the weather was pretty good. Seriously. The sun came out a lot, it got too hot at times and you could sit around and enjoy the music...as long as you could find somewhere dry to sit. I've been to festivals where the conditions have been much worse than this.

Anyway, here's some of the quite/very/exceptionally good stuff I caught...

So hip it hurts, Toy played an excellent set of Krautgothrock on the Far Out stage. Hopefully being flavour of the month with the hipsters won't result in a backlash and they can become as successful as anyone melding the sound of the Horrors with early Stereolab can ever be - like all the great bands, they make two chords go a long way and it has to be said, they are infinitely better than Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong ever were.

Friday's rain stopped in time for the return of Dexys who, despite the futile shouts for Geno (this isn't some "I love the 80s" return) performed the most remarkable set of the weekend - the nearest a gig has ever come to nearly making me cry for a long time. Rewriting some of the lyrics to old songs and setting them alongside the highlights of the new album, this was more a play set to music than a gig, revolving around the mental rehabilitation of Kevin and his ability/inability to fall in love, with vocals shared by Kevin (the male lead) with Pete Williams (his best friend/father) and Madeleine Hyland (the love interest).

The Junior Boys were probably just glad to play in a tent and not outside in the torrential rain as they did last time they played at the festival. They did good.

A couple of hours before Mogwai's headlining set on Friday I had the good fortune to meet Stuart and Barry from the band in the Rough Trade shop, so I quickly went and bought the San Pedro 7" and got them to sign it like the fanboy I am. Anyway, the band did exactly what you would want from them on a festival headline slot, with songs from last year's awesome Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will sitting comfortably alongside everything else in the set with the exception of the peerless Mogwai Fear Satan, whose thunder made the valley shake. It's just a shame it wasn't raining at this point as this is probably some of the best music you can set to stormy weather.

What was missing from the festival was Post Modernism, Lover's Rock, a middle aged white man rapping and oblique lyrical references to Immanuel Kant. Fortunately, Scritti Politti were on hand to set that right. I'd always understood that Green Gartside had a real aversion to playing live, but he showed himself to be a brilliant front man - witty, charming and self effacing. Yes, a lot of people were waiting for them to play the "hits" (they obliged), but the later material is equally strong, with the one NEW new song (which he hasn't finished writing yet) being one of the highlights of the gig.

Van Morrison was 'headlining' the Mountain Stage on the Saturday night. The funny thing was, he was on at 7:15pm, with 2 bands on after him. Anyway, whatever the reasons behind this decision his music is ideal for a sunny Saturday evening rather than late at night. Not that I saw any of his set, but it sounded great from back at the tent.

Field Music played their usual quality set of mini symphonies in 7/8 time. I've raved about them in a previous blog, so I won't say any more here.

tUnE-yArDs were another highlight, mainly to see quite how Merrill Garbus can transform the multi layered vocals/instruments/effects of her albums into the live setting. And the answer is via a live band, probably a Loop Station, her charisma and a lovely orange dress. It was quite brilliant and one of those true festival Sunday-feel-good sets. Mind you, it does you no harm when people get this view of your band on stage...

Other bands worth a mention include Alt-J, Jonathan Richman, King Charles, Ghostpoet and Dark Dark Dark and that guy dressed as a spaceman with his own mini-stage.

So, yeah, it was alright really.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Julian Cope's Copendium

Well this is a surprise. Not that Mr Cope has another book out, but that the "standard" edition of this book is out now rather than the scheduled release date of November. A deluxe signed version containing 3 CDs was released earlier this year and, costing over £100, I decided to wait for this more affordable version, which still feels pretty deluxe to me - in its hardback embossed, fake snakeskin cover.

So, after two autobiographies, two 'samplers' (covering rocks Kraut and Jap) and two books on the megaliths of Britain and Europe, comes Copendium. Subtitled "An Expedition into the Rock'n'Roll Underworld" this is, as with his other books and at almost 700 pages, what the terms 'weighty' and 'tome' were designed for.

I've not read the book yet (I only got it today), but I have read some of the chapters that appear in the book, as it has all appeared at some time on the Head Heritage website (so, if you're not interested in owning a book, it's all there for you to read for free). These aren't necessarily album reviews, they're more like essays on different artists using an album (or albums) as the central theme of the writing.

At a glance it's clear that this book - covering music from the outer reaches of rock over the last 60 years - is written with the same sense of drive and passion that has made his previous books such compelling reading, which means it's going to cost me a fortune; Krautrocksampler acted as a buyers guide during the mid-90s, Japrocksampler introduced me to the delights of the Flower Travellin' Band and Speed, Glue and Shinki. No doubt I will soon be tracking down albums by (*turns to random pages in the book*) Battiato, Factrix, Simply Saucer and Vibracathedral Orchestra.

Not that it's a complete exercise in obscurism though, so don't be frightened off - there's still space to write about James Brown, Comets On Fire, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Van Halen.

The comments by David Peace on the back state that this book "is unlike anything you have read before", which means that if you are interested in books or exploring music then this is essential reading. I'll let you know how I get on...