Posts Tagged ‘Brighton’

Brighton Beat: Thurston Moore and friends live

January 27, 2013

Thurston Moore at Green Door Store

Thurston Moore, the Green Door Store Brighton, 26th January 2013. Photo by Melita Dennett

 It’s not every day you get to see an old friend play an improvised musical face-off with an alt-rock legend, and it’s even more gratifying when said friend- Brighton drummer extraordinaire Andy Pyne, AKA Puffinboy, Foolproof Projects, and one-third of Medicine and Duty- more than holds his own against said legend, guitar hero to a (Daydream) generation, Thurston Moore.

I, by the way, hate the term ‘alt-rock’ as much as you do, but it’s a fair bet that whatever college radio jock or Spin magazine subeditor came up with the term, he (gotta be he) immediately defined it as “you know, stuff like Sonic Youth.” Moore’s former (?) band pretty much embodied that whole early nineties alternative music crossover; their pals Nirvana may have been more iconic, but they were too narrow, too specifically grunge where SY seemed to encompass and represent the whole diaspora of weird-ass music that was starting to filter through into the mainstream. Their story even sums up the whole era in microcosm: smart-ass post-punkers turned early ’80s NYC No Wave brats, gradually tuning their noise over the course of a half-dozen albums until they reached their decade-straddling imperial peak- the hugely influential 1988 double Daydream Nation, major label debut Goo and opinion-dividing, glam-pop-grunge classic / sellout Dirty (which I love)- then arguably moving gradually back towards their experimental improv roots over the course of the eight albums that followed (2006’s rock-recapitulating Rather Ripped perhaps excepted), not to mention the more consciously avant-garde side releases on their own SYR label.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while Thurston Moore is a genuine icon and big deal rock star, it’s also no surprise to see him mingling so easily with the sellout crowd at this still intimate club matinee show; joining in with the improv event spirit of no barriers between performer and audience, no expectations, open minds and open boundaries. Because this is where Thurston came from and where, really, his heart and musical soul have always remained. He doesn’t exactly blend in- his tall, gangly frame is immediately recognisable and he hasn’t aged much in the 20 years since he was a regular fixture on MTV’s 120 Minutes– just a bit more pouchy- but he’s quiet, casual, approachable, and genuinely interested in the day’s supporting performers.

This is of course a benefit show to raise funds for this year’s Colour Out of Space festival. This important annual event, since 2006 Brighton’s more low-key, more artistically and experimentally oriented answer to Birmingham’s Supersonic, or an indoor, condensed forerunner of the mighty Supernormal, was sorely missed last year when it lost out on funding. So embodying the DIY ethos it celebrates, Colour Out of Space is Doing It itself, and will return in November, thanks to the support of artists like Thurston (who performed at the 2008 event) and everybody here.

Occult Hand are presumably named for the game played by a group of American newspaper journalists to see who could sneak the phrase “it was as if an occult hand…” into the most unlikely reports between 1965 and 2004. Dressed in natty hooded robes with a groovy cultish backprint, Isa Brooks and Henry Holmes crouched on the floor manipulating found sounds- eerie wails, what sounded like a demonic voice conjured in a seance- over the Kenneth Anger-esque film of some kind of Satanic ritual being projected behind them. It was an appropriate and evocative scene to walk in on, leaving the afternoon sunshine behind and passing through the black curtain into the Green Door Store’s dank and stonewalled back room.

In complete contrast, Lizzy Carey’s “Bag Lady Pot Pourri” was a warmly engaging performance based around at least two random elements; one being a bag of items bought from the closing down sale at the Hove charity shop Lizzy was a volunteer at (“fill a bag for a fiver” being the clearout offer), and the other a plastic pint glass of sticks she’d shake up to select which item would be pulled from the bag and made to contribute in some way. The result was an entertainingly chaotic cacophony: while the DJ span the 7″ singles she’d procured in the background, Lizzy played recorded interviews she’d conducted with her fellow charity shop staff, then over this read excerpts from tattered paperbacks, “played” a sheeps skull and a toy Thomas the Tank Engine, pressed old talking book cassettes into service, wrapped herself in a silk headscarf and a snake-buckle belt, and made imaginative use of a Connect 4 game.

Next up were the vocal duo Here Hare Here. Theres was a truly astonishing Dadaist sound performance using only mouths and diaphragms; ullulating, grunting, whimpering, screaming, chanting, humming, muttering, howling glossolia, the one random intelligible phrase “No Raymond, I’m a pearl diver” making me think of the similar fragment “not now Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,” from Alan Moore’s D.R. and Quinch comic strip. Visceral and cathartic, what was surprising was how unpretentious this short performance seemed; stood facing us straight on, the pair were focussed and disciplined but unrestrained, metaphorically naked in their raw self-expression.

If Here Hare Here were like Yoko Ono meeting Kurt Schwitters at an outdoor screening of Withnail & I, then the trio of Karen Constance, Duncan Harrison and Dylan Nyoukis were like a banned episode of The Goon Show written during one of Spike Milligan’s infamous nervous breakdowns. It’s not such a frivolous comparison; the 1950s radio programme was hugely influential and ahead of its time in its experimental use of cut-ups, surrealism and crazy sound effects, which included pioneering work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Constance, Harrison and Nyoukis may have dropped the gags, but their set of sound collages included some amusing low-key physical theatre alongside the squeals, wails, grunts and tape manipulation.

I can’t comment on Lauren Naylor’s spoken word set as I didn’t catch enough of it, and I was disappointed that the veteran modernist poet Tom Raworth was a no-show- despite being listed on the initial event bill, he was apparently in Europe at the time. Brighton resident Raworth appeared alongside Moore at a sold-out show at London’s Cafe Oto last year, and I was hoping to have another chance to catch him here, but no such luck.

On then, to Pyne and Moore’s entirely spontaneous, improvised set. I can entirely believe that the first contact the duo had was an onstage handshake, before Andy passed Thurston a drumstick with which to percussively play his battered Fender Jazzmaster, the trademark screwdriver jammed beneath the strings. Cutting an unassuming figure with a grey woollen jumper still on over his shirt, Pyne began with a fast fluttering cascade of cymbals and hi-hat for Moore to warm up over, using an iron file to dance over the pick-ups. But before too long the pair had shifted dynamically into hard, droning avant-rock mode, resembling nothing so much as a primitivist, bassless Jimi Hendrix Experience; like the great Mitch Mitchell, Pyne was busy but tight, a mathematical squid behind the traps. His constant abstract expressionist splashes of percussive sound never concealed his ability to always be right behind the beat. Pausing only to- eventually- remove the jumper, he drove the set constantly forward as Moore hammered and wailed, his guitar technique at times disconcertingly phallic, but reminding us all that this was the guy we’d all first copped our avant-garde noise licks from in 1980s Snub TV bedroom mirror epiphany.

I certainly hope someone recorded this one-off, half-hour performance (varied and thrilling as it was, it didn’t need to go on longer), as it was a masterclass in improvised Rhythm and Noise (R&N?) jamming. Kudos to Andy Pyne for being in no way cowed by having to go head to head with Moore, and neither overplaying nor holding nervously back. And kudos to Thurston Moore for coming down to do the show, and for burning on all cylinders where it counted. His solo tour, including dates with cult folk guitarist MichaelChapman, continues around the UK through early February.


Brighton Beat: Hamilton Yarns live

January 19, 2013

Hamilton Yarns seemed an unlikely choice of guest band at Synthesise Me, but their performance last night was both spellbinding and entirely appropriate. Bathed in the soft glow and turning colours of S.M.s trademark projections- courtesy, as always, of the Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow- the Yarns conjured up a womb-dream ambience in their packed corner of the Hotel Pellirocco bar, as insulated from the background chatter at the other end of the room as from the snowbound seafront outside.

Stripped down to their core trio, Hamilton Yarns adapted their usual acoustic, experimental-pastoral, lo-fi kraut-folk to a form more suited to Synthesise Me’s electronic music theme, and went down as well with the regular crowd of open-minded electronica buffs as with the boho girls sat cross-legged on the floor sketching the band as they played. Iain, Joss and Alistair presided over a Bagpuss antique shop of analogue synthesisers and battery-powered organs, plus autoharp, trumpet, bass guitar and Joss’s sparingly-used snare-and-cymbal drum set-up. From this coven emerged lullabies for lost spacemen, hints of early Tangerine Dream style ambience but scaled down to Farmers’ Market level, denuded of pomp and grandiosity to reveal a more satisfying and subtle pathos and poignancy instead.

Strange burbles from the ether suggested 1950s Bakelite wireless sci-fi serials, the village moon project constructed from a shed. And finally, most unlikely of all, the first- to my knowledge- Hamilton Yarns cover version; a minimalist take on Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’, delivered with all the emotionally-repressed passive aggression of a red-faced municipal library pants-fumbler, incapable of eye contact but still in need of a love and affection he just can’t find among his collection of musty matchboxes and dead field mice.

Mention too must be made of Jason Williams’ extraordinary DJ set, incorporating the use of a 1970s spectrum shifter with a supposed pedigree of past owners taking in ELP and dubious pre-Numan punk-synth pioneers Rikki and the Last Days of Earth, as well as a shot glass ingeniously substituting for the centre spindle of an ex jukebox 45. One hopes for more in this vein from all concerned.

Live: The Warlocks, Engine Room, Brighton

August 31, 2008

So here we are again. Listening to a single chord, stretched out to encompass a million possibilities: filtered through circuits and electronic gates, treated, distorted, echoing, abused, spinning off into an almost infinite series of sounds within sounds, suggestions, associations, layers and angles, as though sound were light, passing through a hall of funhouse mirrors on its cyclical journey around this hot and dingy basement club. How can such deliberate simplicity and repetition never grow old or stale? To those of us doomed to worship forever in the temple of droning, harmonic noise it retains a hypnotic power and freshness, mystically reborn each time and causing other, more complex and melodic styles of music to seem almost facetious and unsatisfactorily ephemeral by comparison. The Warlocks’ churning psychedelia moves slowly uphill, bearing its own crucifix towards Calvary, and we follow dancing behind.

Tonight’s show nearly didn’t happen. ‘Technical failure’ pushed the door times back from 7.30 to 9, meaning supporting sets from Esben and the Witch and The Kool-Aid Electric Company were cancelled altogether, and clusters of pale-faced club rats watched an impressively flaming sun setting orange and egg-like over the beach, before being allowed back into their natural habitat. Some trouble with monitors, apparently, although that may have been the least of it. There was no way the 10.30 curfew could be extended either, as heroic promoters ‘Put It On’ found themselves stuck between a rock night and a hard place (forgive me…).

However, in the event The Warlocks rose to the challenge to deliver an incandescent set that fully justified our long wait. A short-haired Bobby Hecksher seemed in surprisingly ebullient spirits, while Amazonian bassist Jana Risher proved both solid rhythmic anchor and pleasing visual foil, literally giving Bobby a cowboy-booted kick up the arse on more than one occasion. Regular guitarists Ryan and JC were joined by a mysterious fourth axeman, hunched in hat and scarves and impressive classical tattoos stage left, and sadly only a single drummer, though whether the Engine Room’s cramped stage could have accommodated any more musicians is debatable. But when they played a well-received brace of Phoenix era numbers mid-set, including ‘Shake the Dope out,’ ‘Hurricane Heart Attack’ and ‘The Dope’s No Good,’ I missed the duelling beats and pounding cross-rhythms of the two-drummer line-up from that era.

Ultimately though it hardly mattered, any more than the abscence of The Warlocks usually overwhelming fog of dry ice did. It was great to hear the darker and denser songs from last year’s excellent Heavy Deavy Skull Lover album being given a live workout, and the band even managed an encore, Bobby strutting the boards sans guitar and thrusting his mic into the protesting, overloaded amps as effects pedals were sorely abused all round and the other Bob, behind his kit, did his best to drum for two. The Warlocks finished on a high; the hill climbed, their cross erected. Now- how do we get back down?

Live: Nisennenmondai, the Freebutt, Brighton

August 4, 2008

My new discovery: though certainly not an unknown band judging from the chatter buzzing around the net when I tried to google them, Nisennenmondai are an outfit I’d never heard of until last night, and who still remain amazingly underexposed considering just how jaw-droppingly good they were. Three skinny Japanese girls playing infectious, noisy, kraut-metal-disco-post rock; but more in a moment. First, a word or two on the more than worthy support acts.

Bad Orb opened the evening: Sarah from Jettatura stood behind a mad scientist’s lab table of gadgets and devices, tape players, little toy keyboards and mixers, gradually building up one long sonic piece layer by layer that sounded like the soundtrack to the creepiest of horror films, or actually the noises from beyond conjured up at your last acid-assisted ouija board session. Whispering, chattering voices gnawed at the periphery of our consciousness, unintelligible but certainly unfriendly I’d guess, while bleak winds blew across vast desert plains and a cosmic drone shifted in pitch and tone throughout. Musically, it was extremely impressive; as a performance, less so, feeling more like an art installation than any kind of interactive musical experience. But that’s the nature of a night like this, I guess. Was it a one-off? If so, I’m certainly glad I caught it.

Little Creature was next, another experimental solo turn and one that I had mixed feelings about. As this kind of thing goes, it wasn’t bad, but I think now I’ve seen enough contemporary avant-garde music of this nature to start to be a little more discerning about it. Yes, we’re here to be open-minded and encourage experimentation for its own sake, but there are certain paths that we really only need to go up so many times, certain experiments that have already been carried out and the results duly noted. Just because the sound made is never going to be commercially popular doesn’t neccesarily make it avant-garde and original: it often just means that its an unpleasant, unmelodic noise.

It’s wrong of me in a way to heap all this on Little Creature, as in a way he wasn’t bad, but these were the thoughts running through my head as I watched his set. Loop pedals, for instance, have grown old quickly: only a couple of years ago, they seemed to open up all kinds of exciting possibilities in the hands and feet of someone like Alexander Tucker, but now they just seem lazy and gimmicky when every noodling guitar boy has got one so that he can jam with himself to his heart’s content. Watching Clive Henry playing skronking sax into a variety of effects pedals and manipulating the resulting electronic noise, I confess to a certain sense of ‘So what?’ These are electronic devices mass produced for manipulating sound; that’s what they do. But where is the soul? And what’s it all meant to mean?

I’m probably in entirely the wrong place, I guess, if I want things to mean something. What a quaint, old-fashioned question! But it’s the saxophone’s fault. When Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler and John Coltrane and the other pioneers of free jazz first started playing this kind of noisy, atonal, freeform skronk back in the 60s, it meant something alright. These were musicians whose instincts naturally turned to melody and beauty, who had striven all their lives to represent the ecstasy of living, loving, and the profound sadness of these things too. They turned from that to noise because they felt they were backed into a corner; it was an extreme protest against the treatment of black men and women in a white world, a historical acknowledgement of solidarity with the Black Panthers and the urgency of the civil rights movement. It was shocking, and it was meant to be: it was the only way to express the pain and frustration of their situation, even if it meant destroying the very thing- beauty, melody, rhythm- that they loved the most.

And now here we are, and that musical heritage is just a meaningless toy in the hands of priviledged white boys, making harsh, non-committal, masturbatory noise to each other and desperately avoiding communicating anything resembling meaning or emotion.

But, having got that of my chest, there was much I enjoyed about Little Creature’s set. Particularly when he turned to a deconstructed guitar, laid on the stage on its back, which he ‘played’ by touching it lightly with a spinning cymbal. Also the music box- like player piano strips which evoked a childlike innocence amid the noise. But there I go, looking for meaning and significance again. Ignore me.

Vitamin B12 are often a hit-or-miss proposition for precisely the reasons mentioned above, but tonight they were triumphant. With three members onstage and another four (I think) scattered around the room, which was plunged into darkness apart from a selection of intermittently flashing coloured lights which dictated the performance of the individual musicians. That is, they each improvised in time to the flashing of a different light, with instruments ranging from electric guitar, flute and some kind of woodwind instrument to electronic devices including one that triggered huge booming beats like the pounding of a slaver’s drum. The result was a total sensory experience, the audience immersed in a mesh of white noise assaulting you from all angles. You’d never know what gentle, mild-mannered chaps they are from this Throbbing Gristle-worthy performance. P-Orridge would be proud!

So, back to Nisennenmondai. As I said, they were a revelation. Despite some initial teething problems, and a bass drum determined to vibrate its way across the stage and into the audience, this youthful trio managed to lock together quite spectacularly on three lengthy pieces that compelled you to shake your ass throughout even as you marvelled at the beauty of their deceptively simple arrangements. I haven’t been able to find out their individual names, but the drummer was definitely the star; a blur of swinging pony tail and flailing sticks, maintaining a solid disco pulse as in the main she restricted herself to kick and ride, hitting snare and toms only when absolutely neccesary, and so locking into that almost-sexual pattern of tension and release that distinguishes all the best dance music. The bass was restricted to the most minimal of punk-funk figures, laying down a repetitive, Pigbag-like groove, while the guitarist almost seemed to be playing high school metal riffs, utilising the ubiquitous loop pedal but only in a functional way, not allowing it to dominate any more than the wah-wah, distortion or any of the rest of her admirably basic FX set-up.

All clad in matching white linen sleeveless dresses over black leggings, Nisennenmondai (the name means either ‘two thousand years of trouble’, which I prefer, or ‘Year 2000 problem,’ relating to the Millennium Bug of yore, which is more likely), recall the irresistible post-kraut grooves of a more guitar-led Holy Fuck, or perhaps Battles if they weren’t a bunch of irritating prog-rock musos. There’s a Japanese lineage too, going back to The Boredoms and Keiji Haino, but they’re equally akin to Neu! or Can, or for that matter some kind of power trio heavy metal take on Chic. But I’m grasping at straws now. If you like post-rock that you can dance to, that can take you to the same places the best raves did back in the nineties, that’s sexy and psychedelic and doesn’t smell of chess clubs and chin-stroking nerds with pocket calculators- go see Nisennenmondai. Before they explode.

Live: Cud, The Barfly, Brighton

March 16, 2008

I was all ready to write a review that was full of pathos and dry, dark, Didion-esque humour. I had my opening line set up: “this is where the indie bands go when they die.” It was going to be a tragic if affectionate portrait of a middle-aged, second division rock act reeling around in their twilight years, a piece full of telling details and unsparing prose. But I can’t do that. Because it wouldn’t be honest. Because last night was just too good, too free and unburdened, too much like old-fashioned, light-hearted, unqualified FUN.

At the same time, there’s no point in pretending that I went for any other reason than nostalgia. Cud were an important band in my youth; between the ages of 16 and 22 I saw them dozens of times, and I have hundreds of stories and memories attached to them and their songs. I was in the right time and place for them; they formed at Leeds University in 1985, when I was 14 in nearby Halifax, and for the first few years of their existence they were a massive northern cult, only gradually filtering through to the bemused London media.

Like their contemporaries Pulp, Cud combined an art school love of the camp and the kitsch with a self-deprecating sense of humour, style, drama, showmanship and a huge romantic streak, along with bellowing post-punk pop tunes that fused half-inched Radio 2 melodies to caustic slabs of juddering guitar noise and an increasing dose of funk.

I’m not going to try to make a case here for Cud as overlooked sonic innovators, or to try to argue for their place in the history books alongside the musical greats. I know full well that you had to be there. But if you were, they were great. Never the paradigms of dull, sexless, under-achieving indie rock they were often held up as (blame the name: there were plenty of other, more worthy candidates for that honour), Cud were always an exhilirating live act with a brilliant frontman in Carl Puttnam, a singer with a voice to rival Tom Jones and a lyrical wit and dexterity that would have done Wilde proud, as revealed in lines like “I was a teenage stamp collector, I’d lie on my back and you’d stamp on my face.” Ned’s Atomic Dustbin never had song titles like ‘An Epicurean’s Answer.’

 Tom Jones and Oscar Wilde- Carl’s physical presence and dress sense was also somewhere between the two, while musically Cud pioneered the indie-dance crossover at least as effectively as the Roses or the Mondays, but in their own unique fashion. And, as last night proved, they simply had an embarrassing wealth of brilliant songs.

As for me, well, unashamedly digging out a period t-shirt (Senseless Things ‘Pop Kid’ logo), and combining it with the ripped black jeans, black baseball boots and leather jacket I’ve pretty much been wearing for the past 20 years, I looked as though I’d gone out in 1989 without a change of clothes and hadn’t been home since. Even my hair is back to its teenage length, though somewhat greyer, and the Barfly had Olde English cider on draught. I can’t remember the last time I encountered Olde English in a bar; it was probably around the same time I last encountered Cud. If you’re going to relive your youth though there’s no point in half measures, or half pints, come to that. 

The support act, bizzarely, were an Eat tribute band. Eat, you will recall, were sort of a second generation Stourbridge band, a Wonder Stuff manque, but with somewhat more hard rock bluster, and have been duly consigned to the margins and footnotes of rock history. Why would anybody… aah, okay, it’s the original singer from Eat, Ange, backed by two younger guys on bass and acoustic guitar, and a drum machine, playing some of his old tunes. Which is fair enough, I suppose. They’re called Doolittle, a name which, to anyone of an age to remember Eat and Cud, must automatically trigger Proustian associations with the seminal and indeed generation-defining 1989 Pixies album of that title. It’s a loaded and in some ways inspired choice.

I must admit that I never really bothered much with Eat at the time (though my student band did record a demo using their amplifiers), but I seem to remember that Ange was generally regarded as a motormouth rock god in waiting, whose arrogance was almost justified by his talent. He was a good-looking chap too, who posed naked on one of their record sleeves I think. Now somewhat humbler, but with a trace of the old swagger, he looks… craggy, but still with an impressive mane of curly hair. He’s in fine voice and on last night’s showing has written some excellent songs, particularly the penultimate ‘Tombstone.’ Maybe I should have paid more attention when it mattered… but I said I wasn’t going to do pathos. Let me just say that Doolittle are well worth seeing if you fancy some brooding, low-key folk rock, and leave it at that.

As for Cud, it’s like they’ve never been away. Alright, so guitarist Mike Dunphy, now a deputy headmaster, has opted out of the reunion shows, but his place is ably filled by the youthful Felix Frey, sporting a splendid black beard that makes him resemble a young Warren Ellis of Bad Seeds/Dirty Three/Grinderman infamy. Drummer Steve Goodwin, now to be found playing alongside Felix in Lazerboy, may be flecked with grey and noticably pained and breathless during some of the more powerhouse drum parts he once executed so recklessly, and bassist, cartoonist and recently, childrens’ comic editor William Potter does seem to be turning into Melvin Hayes. But Carl Puttnam- singer, frontman, father of two and AWOL Oddbins employee- is resplendent in leather kecks, a tight, ruff-fronted purple shirt, shades and a handlebar moustache framing his magnificent collection of chins. And his voice? Well, as he demonstrates on ‘Vocally Speaking,’ with its ironic refrain, “I’m as limited as my vocal range,” those famously powerful and expressive lungs have plenty of life in them yet. Besides, being older suits Cud; it was always the joke that Carl was this speccy, geeky and rather portly fellow playing the part of a rock n’ roll love god. Now that he’s balding and middle-aged it works even better. It never seemed quite right that he was young.

Significantly, the rapturously-received set concentrates on songs from their first two albums, i.e. the good ones: When in Rome Kill Me and Leggy Mambo. There’s only a reluctant airing for their biggest hit, ‘Rich and Strange’ from airbrushed major label debut Asquarius, and nothing at all from the fatally compromised fourth album, Showbiz. 

What we did get were solid gold Cud classics like ‘Only a Prawn in Whitby,’ ‘Strange Kind of Love,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ ‘Purple Love Balloon,’ ‘Now!’, ‘Hey Boots,’ ‘You’re the Boss,’ ‘Love in a Hollow Tree,’ ‘Wobbly Jelly,’ ‘Eau Water,’ and ‘Not Exactly D.L.E.R.C.’ My only criticism is that they didn’t play for another hour, and it’s a testament to their songwriting riches that  so many other favourites went unaired: wither ‘Slack Time,’ ‘Push and Shove,’ ‘Hey! Wire’ and many others?

They encored with their Mission Impossible styled version of Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the Past’ and, of course, traditional set closer ‘I’ve Had It With Blondes.’ If I was doing pathos, I would describe this song’s refrain of “things get worse when you get old” as poignant. But I’m not. And it isn’t. So I won’t. Because, on last night’s evidence, they don’t.

Not at all.           

Medicine and Duty- Flags and Cannons

March 15, 2008


This Brighton-based improvised music trio, made up of guitarist/bassist/keyboardists Matt Colegate and Jack Cooper, along with drummer Andy Pyne, evolved from the acclaimed Raised By Wolves and are part of a collective of forward-thinking, experimental acts that also includes Burning Idiot Noise and Puffinboy. Medicine and Duty, however, is arguably the most far-out and unhinged of all of them, operating in a wide-ranging sphere that puts them alongside such cosmic fellow travellers as Sunburned Hand of the Man, Merzbow, Lightning Bolt and Boredoms, and in the tradition of illustrious antecedents from Sun-Ra and Ornette Coleman to Can and Faust to This Heat and James Chance and the Contortions. It’s far-reaching shit.

Cannons and Flags opens with the startling, foghorn warning signal of ‘Going Down With the Ship,’ an urgent piece of no wave skronk built upon an insistent, one-note guitar drone spiked with virulent Teenage Jesus scrape shards of high-pitched unpleasant surgical noise. Barely audible beatific vocal harmonies attempt to sooth our terror as the pummelling drums kick in and we feel ourselves lurching towards the unfathomable depths of the vast dark universal ocean, where Cthulhu doubtless waits.

 ‘A Better Place for Now’ recalls Holy Fuck in the way the untutored analog electronics and primitive guitar klang gradually revolve around the stuttering drums until a heavy, hypnotic, killer kraut dancefloor groove emerges. Urgent calls for prayer in some lost ancient language begin ‘Distinguished Gentlemen Be Aware’ -a language that is nevertheless disturbingly familiar on some subconscious, atavistic level. From electronic squiggles, free form tribal drum rolls and percussive tapping it grows increasingly disturbed and frenetic, never settling, always in motion and up in the air, simulating the jangled effect of several days’ sleep deprivation.

‘Mechanical Surgery Solutions’ is the sound of some hideous industrial machine or Kafka-esque torture device, the needle cutting intricate patterns deep into the victim’s body. Yet it’s an oasis of sinister calm after the preceding number, generating dread white English dub sonics almost in the manner of Cabaret Voltaire. Gradually the rhythms coalesce into something more assertive and menacing, and then it’s time for ‘The Tour Guide,’ in which a diatribe in what I now recognise as the ancient language of Mu (or is it some obscure Lemurian dialect?), is rhythmically chanted in the manner of turn-of-the-millennium art rockers Life Without Buildings. Guitars and drums interject and weave around this fascinating vocal discourse on the flora, fauna, history and architectural magnificence of the lost continent.

The chants and wails grow ever more ecstatic on the title track, a frenzy of orgiastic drumming and wild, Dionysian celebration that is nevertheless continually undercut by subdued, melancholy piano chords. It’s as though even in the hour of their greatest triumph, the people of Mu are still tragically aware of their imminent demise, along with that of their entire culture. Which of course is just as it would have been with a race of people so advanced that they occupied several different time streams simultaneously, and in both directions.

Indeed, ‘Last of the Lives’ begins with a sombre and spartan memorial tattoo for those brave Lemurian warriors prepared to go down with their country. Electronic noise stabs are arranged around appropriately seasick guitar wails, and as the music grows ever more hectic, impassioned and uncontrolled a hypnotic voice tells of the unimaginable courage and suffering of those hundreds of men, women and hermaphrodites who all died with their third eyes open.

‘Mars Battalion March’ is a spiky, sparse and brief interlude of quirky reflection before ‘Life Like Life Support’ once again evokes Holy Fuck with pummelling drums and repetitive electronic whistles and belches that may be a last ditch attempt from a dying civilisation to communicate with our alien brethren from beyond the stars. The results though are scrambled and overloaded- joyous to listen to, but as we know, historically tragic. This song uses the metaphor of the competing stimuli of a man with several hearts beating in different rhythms simultaneously, while hooked up to an erratic life support machine, to convey the intensity and chaos of those final, desperate days of Mu.

But then again, what if all of this is completely wrong? on ‘Theories Demolished,’ guitars, keys and drums all lock into a primal ur-kraut groove as the eloquent lyrics urgently refute all of my pat interpretations, ironically using the formal court language of High Lemiurian to devastating effect- a way of speaking, of course, that was expressly evolved in order to observe the intricate protocol of a decadent empire, so full of ambiguity, allusion, double-meaning and now-impenetrable subtleties that the speaker is never definitely committed to one opinion or point of view.

 ‘Baby Please’ is a temporal anomaly- stray bass notes escaping from a Joy Division rehearsal circa 1978, in a disused mill complex still haunted by the vicious ghosts of dismembered Victorian schoolchildren. And suddenly we’re in howling, churning hardcore territory, beyond the valley of At The Drive-In. Whatever it is, she ain’t doing it.

The last track, ‘Whale Hunting’ is an epic finale. Great titanium-hulled longships set sail across uncharted oceans in pursuit of fabled magnificent beasts, each one the size and temprament of a modest post-war housing development. Here we have all the pathos and drama of that life or death struggle, driven by the martial drums of the whaling ships’ oarsmen and the haunting but deafening cries of the whales that the Lemurians hunted into extinction with laser harpoons and sonar nets, all of which are represented sonically on this song. Is it a metaphor for the state of music in 2008, sinking beneath the waves of corporate indifference yet paradoxically illuminated by the very technological innovations that threaten to destroy it? Probably not. But it’s worth considering.       

Flags and Cannons is a Foolproof Project-

Live: Dead Meadow, the Freebutt, Brighton

March 10, 2008

Interstellar Hurricane. Silver Ray. Sister Machine.

Like an Overdrive.

Okay, so I don’t own any Dead Meadow records. Okay, so maybe I’m kind of guessing at the titles of the songs they played. It was something like that, anyway. I mean, it was that kind of thing. Like some kind of seared tuna mindmelt of all your favourite classic psychedelic hard rock moments- except actually nothing like them, either. Which is the ultimate paradox of the whole stoner rock phenomenon- and yeah, I think The Meadow, as we like to call them here, fit into that category- that while on the surface they seem to be nothing but revivalists, and actually strive real hard to give that impression, in fact the band that you think they sound like really only ever existed in your head.

So, on Saturday night Dead Meadow combined the heavy mystic sludge of Black Sabbath with the pulverising rhythmic swing of early Can. Something that could never have happened back in the day, but which now seems not just inevitable but essential. Drawing on hard rock, psychedelia, kraut, folk and metal in roughly that order, this is not music to work out your aggression to, but music to lose yourself in. This is heavy meditation.

 Mostly churning and slow, but occasionally stepping up a gear to a thrillingly mid-paced high, Dead meadow deal in rock as ritual, a pagan, molten summoning of spirits. It’s an evocation of the underworld, concerned less with sonic innovation, or even with songs as such, than with recreating the eternal moment, like ancient druids hauling us ass-first into their sacred groove.

It’s an increasingly valid function for rock to perform, and when it works, as on this occasion, it’s like opening a communal doorway into some primal, gnostic heartland. It’s the kind of thing that gets you talking about the rock musician as shaman, and the totemic significance of the power trio as representative of the magical power of three, the Celtic and Egyptian tradition of grouping divinities into triads- like birth, life and death- that long predates the Christian trinity.

 ‘This is like a sweat lodge!’ comments guitarist Jason Simon. ‘Sweat that shit out!’ Yeah, it’s hot, but it’s not just that. It’s all in the rhythms, the interplay between the instruments creating a complex cross-hatching of sounds, interwoven beneath the ecstatic, obliterating surface drone, the feedback OM… the hypnotic, repetitive fuzz mantra.

Jason’s guitar does little more than add texture, eschewing the lengthy, masturbatory solos that plague this type of music in favour of a wall of sound fed through banks of wah, echo and delay, and giving Steve Kille’s bass and Stephen McCarthy’s drums the chance to lock together and really move. The emphasis is on the rhythm section throughout, and McCarthy’s drumming especially is both exciting and exacting; there’s a deceptive simplicity and precision to his playing which always serves the greater cause, never giving in to the flashy, splashy, chaotic showmanship of the Keith Moon school which I’ve personally always found boring and unnecessary. 

A note too, on Jason’s vocals, which have often been criticised as sounding weak on record. I don’t know about that, but live they were perfectly suited to the form, communicating emotionally while remaining low in the mix, never dominating but simply functioning as another instrument- again, serving the greater cause.

Support came from The Bowlide Awkwardstra, who played a set of powerful, noisy improv that recalled my first experience of seeing Sunburned Hand of the Man, some years ago now- a dark invocation of primal forces, replete with wordless chanting, grunts and howls, powered by driving, circular drumming. Electric guitar and bass flanked a shifting array of brass, woodwind, percussion, electronic effects and whistles and bells, mainly played by John Cassavetes lookalike Dan Spicer.

Dead Meadow. The moment begins again.



Live: Eamon Hamilton, the Hand in Hand, Brighton

February 16, 2008

There are secret gigs, and then there are secret gigs. I mean, there are those shows when a big name band plays a slightly too small venue to try out new material or create a buzz, and everyone is alerted by text message earlier in the day, and the press all know and there’s a huge guest list and a gaggle of hardcore fans congregating around the doors in the afternoon desperate to get in- and then there is Eamon Hamilton, erstwhile British Seapower member and frontman of Rough Trade recording artistes Brakes, playing a solo acoustic set at my local. A show announced that same day solely via a handwritten sheet of paper stuck on the pub door. That nobody seems to have read.

Brakes are a popular, hip and very credible indie band, with two critically-acclaimed LPs under their belts. They have toured Europe and America, where they are particularly well-loved, and in their hometown of Brighton they’ve previously headlined the 1150-capacity Corn Exchange. The Hand in Hand struggles to hold 50 people. It is a small cosy room attached to the Kemptown micro-brewery, usually haunted by ruddy-faced men in late middle age who have little truck with the vagaries of fashion or the arty whims of esoteric pop groups. But presumably tonight the regulars have been usurped by an influx of youthful and enthusiastic Brakes fans, keen to hear Eamon perform stripped-down versions of all their favourite numbers? Erm, no. Like I said, this was a secret gig. He really hasn’t told anybody. And it’s pretty much the usual crowd.

The note said from 7, so I got there at 8.30, thinking it’ll probably be full, I probably won’t get in, but it’s not far to go home again and- oh, okay, there’s about a dozen people here as usual. Three or four nattily-dressed youngsters at the bar, getting in the way and laughing loudly at each other, but otherwise just the usual old soaks with their dogs and balding blokes in fleeces talking about cars and taxes. No buzz. No sign of any live music being planned. I nurse my pint of Old Trout for an hour (the Dragon’s Blood was off), reading the local free paper from cover to cover, watching the backs of the guys stood in front of me, wondering if maybe I misread the notice and it’s all happening somewhere else, or on another night. Someone knocks a glass of wine off the table, pushing past to get to the toilet. It’s filling up, anyway.  

 Then about 9.30 a beer crate is placed in the far corner and Eamon climbs on top of it, clutching a battered acoustic guitar. I stand up and move forward. Well, by a couple of feet. He’s completely unamplified, not even a microphone, and the regulars are doing their best to ignore this unwanted interruption of their evening. This is less a British Seapower-style situationist performance in an unusual location, and more a Brakes song brought to life- as in, ‘won’t you shut the fuck up, I’m just trying to watch the band.’  

So Eamon is singing ‘Ring a Ding Ding,’ possibly, but it’s hard to tell as I’m stuck behind this grey-haired scouser holding forth to his cronies about how his ex-wife is getting fuck all money from him, she’s getting a fiver a week and that’s all, she can try living on that and see how she likes it. Eamon is delivering the homesick country blues of ‘NY Pie,’ but the ex-wife has gone to university you see, she thinks she’s better than him now, she says she hasn’t got a boyfriend but he knows she’s seeing this fucking hippy, some long-haired twat- ‘Porcupine or Pineapple,’ Eamon wonders, in the manner of a skinny, English Black Francis, but his daughter’s gone to university now as well and she’s just as bad as her mum, she keeps ringing him up and giving it all this, she’s fucking 17, thinks she fucking knows it all, she’s got no use for him now, he says to her, who’s been telling you things, who’s been putting ideas into your head? And on the other side of me, sat at the bar, a bearded young groover is telling his girl yah, I rilly wanna go to ATP this year, but I don’t know, the line-up just doesn’t do it for me- Eamon airs a new song, possibly entitled ‘Consumer Producer Chicken Egg,’ in the same tradition of directness and brevity as Brakes classics ‘Cheney,’ ‘Comma Comma Comma Full Stop’ and ‘Pick Up the Phone,’ which are also performed tonight. “These kids, they all think that’s great music- that’s a fucking university education for you, innit? I don’t fucking understand it, it’s just weird. It’s not music. It’s like speaking another fucking language, innit?”

Afterwards Eamon is at the bar, meeting his public. “I usually play with a band called Brakes,” he’s saying. “No, B-R-A-K-E-S…” So are they all your own songs, this bloke wants to know, have you ever tried selling your songs to other people? I know it’s all just hype, but at the end of the day they need a good song, don’t they?

They do. “Put Phil Collins on!” someone shouts desperately as soon as Eamon finishes, with the genuine Brakes hit single ‘All Night Disco Party.’ The bar staff oblige. Eamon’s solo tour continues throughout the month- see for details.