Monday 26 November 2018

Monday's Long Song

A full-blown, bonafide classic for you today. I know very little by the Temptations, but Papa Was A Rollin' Stone is simply an incredible piece of music. The story behind the song is fascinating as it led to the group and their producer (and the song's co-writer) Norman Whitfield falling out with the latter being fired as a result. As the Wikipedia entry puts it:
"Friction arose during the recording of Papa Was a Rollin' Stone for a number of reasons. The Temptations did not like the fact that Whitfield's instrumentation had been getting more emphasis than their vocals on their songs at the time, and that they had to press Whitfield to get him to produce ballads for the group. Norman Whitfield forced Dennis Edwards to re-record his parts dozens of times until he finally got the angered, bitter grumble he desired out of the usually fiery-toned Edwards. Whitfield's treatment of the group eventually led to his dismissal as their producer."
A single edit was made but that merely took the song down to seven minutes, still twice as long any radio station would play, yet it topped the US Billboard chart and won the band their final Grammy. Even at the full 12 minutes, it sounds too short to me. Imagine where it could have gone if it didn't fade out.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #10

Support: Lady Bird, Willie J. Healey
Tramshed, Cardiff - 22 November 2018


Dear Isaac and Laurie

I just want to start by being positive. I and MrsRobster have been Slaves fans for a few years now. MrsRobster in particular picked up on you quite early, your debut mini-album 'Sugar Coated Bitter Truth' being the soundtrack to her daily commute for a while. We first saw you almost exactly 3 years ago when you came to Cardiff, whereupon she made the comment that you "seem like nice lads you'd go for a drink with."

We've continued to enjoy your music ever since, even the second album ('Take Control') that a lot of people didn't like very much, and the new one that is a bit short. When we saw you were coming back to Cardiff we didn't think twice, even though it would mean three gigs in a week, which at our age (well, MY age) is quite hard work. A good night was a dead cert. Or so we thought.

The thing is, something's changed. It turned out not to be a good night at all. In fact, for us, it was possibly the least fun we've ever had at any gig we've attended together. It was the most intimidating show we've ever attended with the rudest, most obnoxious and aggressive audience we've ever had the misfortune to be a part of. Now, I'm no wimp. I've been to going to gigs for 30 years and taken in more shows than I could ever hope to remember. I'm guessing in the region of 200-250 over the years? Maybe more. I've been a part of some hefty crowds and some seriously rough mosh pits. Even during the lad and ladette culture of the Britpop years, where pissed-up wankers became part and parcel of the gig experience, I've never felt like walking out due to the menacing nature of an audience. Yet at your show in Cardiff last Thursday night, I so nearly gave up halfway through.

It was rather ominous from the beginning. We arrived shortly after your opening act, Willie J. Healey, had come on, and we immediately felt that this show was different. It didn't feel, well, kind of, normal. It's hard to explain, you know? But there just seemed to be a weird vibe there. It might have been the extremely loud chatter that pervaded the air throughout the entire night, the sort of incessant noise you get from people who have little to no interest in anything that was going on. Yes, you always get chatter during the support bands, but this was different; louder, like you get in a busy pub on a Saturday night. Like people were out for a piss up with their lairy mates. That kind of noise. It continued throughout Lady Bird's set to the point where I really couldn't make out what the guy was singing about. I couldn't hear a single word. My hearing? OK, not like it used to be, but I don't generally have any problems. So I'd like to say something positive about the support acts you're so keen for fans to hear as per your recent so-called "Twitter storm", but alas it would be unfair for me to comment until I actually can hear them for real.

Things took another strange turn in the changeover before you came on. It was during this time we were treated to your sound crew's awesome record collection. S Club 7, the Spice Girls, Whigfield, Robbie Williams - you name it, we endured it. It's Raining Men, Freed From Desire - blimey, it sounded like a drunken hen night and stag do in Ibiza all in one. And it felt like it too, as the effects of the beer and coke (not the type you could buy at the bar) began to take effect. The shirts came off, the fists pumped the air and the plastic glasses started flying - and you hadn't even come onstage yet. MrsRobster and I looked at each other, both wondering if we'd got the date wrong. "This is fucking weird," she said. Sorry, shouted!

Actually, didn't you play in Ibiza this year? Someone told me you did. I think you found a new audience out there and they all turned up to the Tramshed. Interestingly, your choice of intro music - Vengabus by Vengaboys - was the exact same song Shame came onstage to last week in Bristol. Now, there was an excellent, respectful and not intimidating in the slightest crowd. There were more of them, too. And Idles the month before. Like your audiences used to be. No lairish behaviour, no fighting. In fact, in three decades of gig-going I've only ever seen two fights at shows, and one of them was between band members on stage. As you noted yourselves, in the past two years you've had no fights at your gigs. Yet on this single occasion there were two. What you didn't notice (that we did) were the near-misses, the incidents that nearly escalated into violence. But for some good peacekeepers around them, there might well have been even more kicking off.

We stuck it out to the end, but only just. We didn't enjoy your set as we should have. You sounded good, played well and put a good mix of songs in the set. But there was too much shit going on around us and I felt myself getting more and more frustrated and more and more angry. The place was toxic, filled with belligerant, obnoxious wankers intent on throwing their weight around and fuck everybody else, and that gets to me. Sorry, but it does. If I want to be around people like that, I'd go watch Cardiff City, not go to a gig. MrsRobster kept me calm because she's a better person than me. A better person than pretty much everyone at the Tramshed by far, in fact. And you - well, you deserve better than these so-called "fans".

I'm sorry to say this, but while we'll continue to listen to your music, we probably won't be back to see you live. Not for a while, at least. I know it's not your fault, you can't really choose your fans, but if your gigs are going to be infested with morons like we suffered at the Tramshed, then I think we may have to think twice, or even three times, the next time you come around our way. A real shame, because we'd probably still go for that drink with you.

Love, respect and best wishes for the future,

Thursday 22 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #9

Courtney Barnett
Support: Laura Jean
Great Hall, Cardiff University - 18 November 2018

I don't like the Great Hall, and neither does MrsRobster. It's probably the second-worst venue in Cardiff after the Motorpoint Arena. I usually have to think twice before booking tickets to see someone there as it's often a disappointing and frustrating experience. But I couldn't resist the lure of Courtney Barnett, one of the finest young singer-songwriters in the world right now and my favourite Australian after a certain Mr Cave.

First on though was Laura Jean, a fellow Aussie whose debut album 'Devotion' has picked up a fair number of plaudits. It seems she usually plays with a band, but tonight she was completely solo, only a keyboard, an i-Pad and a sax for company. She played songs from aforementioned album but at no point did she make me want to investigate her further. It was all very one-dimensional, very melancholic and, sorry to say it, really rather dull.

Maybe a full band line-up would have made it more interesting, and maybe a smaller, better venue would also have helped, but as it is, Laura Jean's set prompted MrsRobster to quip: "At least that lot we saw the other night (she means the bloody awful HMLTD) entertained me. I've looked at my watch three times already."

Since her brilliant song Avant Gardener brought Courtney Barnett to prominence over here, she's gone from strtength-to-strength. She's now put out two superb albums, her latest 'Tell Me How You Really Feel' is one of my most listened to records of 2018. She's also polished up her live performances. The addition of a second guitarist/keyboard player fleshes out her sound somewhat, and her setlist has been refined. She can pile on the crowdpleasers (Nameless Faceless, Elevator Operator, and the wonderful Depreston) while also throwing in a few lesser-known early gems like History Eraser and Anonymous Club as well as a new song.

While my favourite track from her new album Need A Little Time was an undoubted personal highlight, two of the biggest standouts were cover versions. Firstly, Laura Jean and her sax joined Courtney onstage to duet on a lovely version of Streets Of Your Town by everyone's go-to Australian band The Go-Betweens. But topping that was the first song of the encore. Courtney appeared alone to play Gillian Welch's Everything Is Free, a comment on the raw deal musicians get from the online communities. Originally written about Napster, the song has recently been adopted by numerous artists to protest against the paltry returns they receive from streaming companies like Spotify and Tidal. Courtney's plaintive solo take was spine-tingling and served to prove that her rise is completely justified. One minute she's playing squally extended Neil Young-esque guitar jams, the next she can bring a rather noisy crowd to a complete hush.

The Great Hall is a rubbish place to see bands (if you can see at all - it has one of the worst views from the floor), but occasionally someone makes you pleased to be there. Courtney Barnett has something that sets her apart from her peers, that's for sure. Expect her rise to continue unabated.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #8

Support: HMLTD, Fontaines D.C.
SWX, Bristol - 15 November 2018

Back so soon at SWX? Well Shame have made one of the albums of the year and one of the best debuts of the decade. They also have a reputation for being rather tasty in the live setting so I reckon it would've been foolish to pass up this opportunity to catch them so close to home. What I've noticed about Bristol in relation to Cardiff is the audiences there arrive early. Like the Idles show a few weeks back, the place was already heaving when we arrived halfway through the opening set.

Fontaines D.C. are from Northern Ireland and play a brand of punk that has great pedigree in those parts, though this lot are more Stiff Little Fingers than Undertones, angrier, grittier and more than a little agitated. There's certainly more than a little bit of The Fall in them too and they comfortably fit into the scene being carved by the likes of Shame, Idles and the like with the the songs to match. I'd look out for Fontaines D.C. if I were you.

For an entirely different reason, I'd also advise you look out for London's HMLTD. If the description 'electro-art-punk' doesn't scare the bejayzus out of you then it really should. I could write paragraphs about this lot, but they are not worthy of my time or effort. I'll just say how annoyed I am that the half hour I spent watching them cannot ever be reclaimed. A horrific experience I just want to forget about. Look out for them - and avoid like the plague, for your own sake.
("I found them entertaining, it was like musical theatre." - MrsRobster.)

So thank heavens for Shame. That reputation they have that I mentioned above? It's justified. My word, how good are Shame live?! Their brilliant debut album 'Songs Of Praise' has been quite rightly heralded as a highlight of 2018, and it has plenty to recommend it. But it's clearly the live setting where they belong, the energy exuded onstage was electrifying. A crowd-surfing singer, an acrobatic bass player, and some of the best lead guitar sounds you'll hear in a long time.

There may be some who will denounce bands like Shame as being derivative of the original punk era. Well, that may be true to some extent, and I don't think they'd totally deny it, but to this generation, bands like Shame are simply expressing what they feel. There is no attempt here to be the new Clash or anything quite so crass, but there are more than a few parallels with 1976 in 2018. The times may share similar tensions, but the bands of each era are certainly doing very different things. No one was writing songs like Concrete, Lampoon and The Lick in 1976, and you'll be hard pressed to find many who do it quite so well as Shame in 2018. Live, they are given a new lease of life, and the biggest, sweatiest and wildest mosh pit I've seen in years (even better than the Idles one) is testament to the pull this band has.

There were a couple of new songs in the set and only time will tell if they hold up as well as the songs we're now familiar with, but having witnessed the sensation that is Shame with my own eyes at last, I'm confident they're in it for the long haul, and that is an exciting prospect whether you're an old punk, a new punk or someone who hates electro-art-punk.

DIY magazine recently wrote of Shame: "This is not just hype, this is the real fucking deal!" I'll happily agree with that sentiment on this evidence.

Monday 12 November 2018

Monday's Long Song

I never knew much about His Name Is Alive other than they were signed to 4AD. Their albums covers kind of gave that away. I came across Wish I Had A Wishing Ring on some compilation CD that came with a magazine. It was the standout track on the thing.

His Name Is Alive was essentially Warren Defever (great name) from Michigan plus an ever revolving line-up of singers and musicians. He pestered 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell for four years, bombarding him with tapes of music, before eventually being signed in 1989. They became one of the label's most popular acts. I Wish I Had A Wishing Ring, a brilliant blast of blues-fuelled squall, is sung by Louvetta Pippen (another great name) and appeared on their fifth album 'Ft. Lake' in 1998. Despite weighing in at more than 6 minutes, it was radically edited for the album, the original recording stretching to a whopping 17 minutes. And it is that version I present today.

Monday 5 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #7

Public Service Broadcasting
Support: Perfect Body
Riverside Theatre, Newport - 28 October 2018

Can you believe it's been a whole year since we last caught Public Service Broadcasting? In that time, they've taken their tales of Welsh coal mining around the world and back agin, picking up even more plaudits than I reckon even they thought possible. Now back in the land where their wonderful album 'Every Valley' was originally recorded as a way of bidding it farewell, a show in our hometown was too good to resist. This time, MrsRobster and I introduced TheMadster and TheEmster to the live splendour of PSB for the first time.

This was our first visit to the Riverside Theatre, despite having passed it countless times. It sits on the bank of the river Usk slap bang in the city centre. It's a small space as far as theatres go, but ideal for a show like this one. Sadly, still a little too big for support band Perfect Body from Cardiff. It was clear what they were trying to do - despite probably none of them being born when Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive released their debut albums, they sounded like all three. There were three problems really: firstly, this really was the wrong venue for them, being much more suited to somewhere like Clwb Ifor Bach or The Globe. Secondly, their look. They didn't really have one, a real ragbag of styles. MrsRobster reckoned the drummer looked like Professor Brian Cox, one guitarist resembled Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the other guitarist like Paul Weller (circa early-Jam) and the keyboardist like a young Morticia Adams. Harsh maybe, but I take her point.

Thirdly, this wasn't their audience. Despite a number of middle-aged ex-shoegazers being in attendance, they couldn't really be appreciated by the majority, many of whom probably wouldn't know what shoegazing was, and no doubt tune into Jools Holland religiously every week. Add to all that the sound mix not quite working to their advantage and you have to concede that sadly, Perfect Body didn't win many over. A shame. I'd like to see them in a better place to make a sounder judgement, especially as they have been very hotly-tipped round these parts.

As for the PSB boys - well I can't really add anything I haven't already told you before. This was, after all, the third time we've seen them during the 'Every Valley' period (the sixth in total) and they were, as always, exceptional. They did do a couple of songs we've not seen them do before, including the new Titanic-themed single White Star Liner. The funky brass section and dancing spacemen were present and correct, and the films were breathtaking as always. My personal highlight was - not for the first time - All Out, with scenes of the miners' strike and the police brutality that accompanied it being soundtracked by loud, aggressive, angry guitars.

TheMadster enjoyed it as I thought she would (the pics here, by the way, are hers). TheEmster? Well he's more of an EDM fan, still in mourning over the passing of his hero Avicii. However, he genuinely enjoyed the experience, the allure of PSB's unique live shows taking hold of him. Maybe there's a proper music fan in there somewhere, but perhaps - for now at least - I'll hold back on asking if he wants to come and see Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs with me next spring...

Thursday 1 November 2018

A song for... November

It's getting colder, darker and generally more depressing. November isn't my favourite month, although it can be lovely during the few hours of sunshine we might be lucky to get in the middle of the day. So here's something bright to take us into the penultimate month of 2018. I know nothing about The String Cheese Incident, but I'm guessing one or two regular readers may well be familiar with them. A cursory glance at Wiki tells me they hail from Colorado and have been releasing music for more than 20 years. Today's track is taken from their 2005 album 'One Step Closer'.