Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
MY CAT IS AN ALIEN
Café Oto, London, November 24 2011
So, what exactly is “psychedelia”? Is it (a) any music which is designed to alter the mind, either with or without the assistance of hallucinogenic substances, and take the listener on a trip into stratospheres henceforth unknown? Or is it (b) wearing a flowery shirt, purple velvet flares and suede boots and having your hair cut like Brian Jones? If your answer is the former, then the chances are My Cat Is An Alien will hover in your orbit. If it’s the latter, you’ll hate them. To further clarify my point: what is “progressive music”? Is it (a) any music which attempts to experiment, do something original or creative, and take bold sonic steps beyond the ‘norm’, or is it (b) a bunch of blokes, sometimes accompanied by the obligatory hippychick vocalist, going widdly-widdly in an attempt to rehash the glory days of Yes, ELP and Gentle Giant? Again, if yours is the second choice, then you might as well stop reading now.
That’s not to say that the music they make is unbelievably original or brand new, but somewhere between the downtuned nebular voids of Saucerful-era Floyd and ‘In Search Of Space’ era Hawkwind’s sonic attacks, the Butthole Surfers or MBV’s pioneering ‘arsequakes’, the utter chaos of ID Company or John & Yoko, Nurse With Wound’s anarcho-surrealism, the minimalism of Sonic Youth (whose label they are signed to) and the whooshing sound continents of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the brothers Maurizio and Roberto Opalio have found their own world, a playful tinkering bedroom of sound: hence the use of toy light sabres, instamatic cameras and all manner of primitive battery-powered ephemera as an integral part of their stagecraft.
Occasionally they also bring out acoustic guitars and trample on the free-folk territory of Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Voice Of The Seven Woods or Spires That In The Sunset Rise, with obvious tips to the atonal outsider strums of Skip Spence, Simon Finn and The Shaggs, but not tonight. Regardless of what mood they’re in, though, MCIA sound at all times like themselves - two brothers from downtown Torino who grew up collecting unusual music and in the end decided to start making it themselves, for no other reason than sheer enjoyment (which is evident on their faces tonight), on their own terms, releasing a quite amazingly varied, not to say prolific, series of limited edition albums in a variety of elaborate packages over the course of the last decade.
So why is this in Happening? Whilst they may be, with the possible exception of Psychic TV, Current 93 or Dharma Sun Collective, the most outré, extreme or uncompromising band ever to grace these pages, they play, quite clearly, with the attack of all great psychedelic rock n roll bands, guitars thrust and held aloft under strobe lighting and back projections, shapes thrown, hair and leather jackets flailing, and drums battered senseless. And besides, somebody has to not only remind people that the word “psych” is still occasionally suffixed by the word “edelic”, and write about avant-garde artists without stooping to the kind of po-faced erudition-flaunting so typical of other publications - and if that task falls to me, then so be it.
Vocally, we’re in the realm of wordless, swooping space whispers and wails - they could be in English, Italian, or an invented language, but to try and decipher it would be to solve the mystery, which would defeat the object. Guitars scrape, bass thumps and pounds in full, doom-laden chords, and cymbals are used as plectrums: if you’re wondering what separates such “art” from people merely arsing about, just trust me when I say that while there may be no immediately discernible melody (save for the manifold ones you can hear squalling in your own head), there’s definitely a structure, and it tells a story. The difference is no-one, not even the brothers themselves, knows quite where it will end.
The makers of licensing laws do, though, which means that sadly, just as it gets going, it’s all over. Never have 75 minutes passed quite so fleetingly, or been appreciated by so few: the warehouse-like environs of Oto are half-full tonight. I guess even within avant-garde progressive circles there are denominators….That, of course, is also true of our own scene, but some are still adventurous enough to entertain the idea of sheer unadulterated soundscapes for the sake of cosmic exploration alone, and while not all voyagers will be present for the duration of the journey, the terrain will be fascinating.
Darius Drewe Shimon
Monday, 28 November 2011
Friday, 25 November 2011
Thursday, 24 November 2011
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Things That Shine & Glow
CD / Download
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Yours Until The Bitter End
CD/ Digital Download / Colored Vinyl
Onto the fifth album of The Bloody Hollies career and they still mean it as they ever did. Here is a band whose rock doesn’t fit into any easy categorisation: not garage, not punk, not alternative, and yet somehow all these things still. The AC/DC-style bluster of opener ‘So Grey So Green’ sets out the stall of what to expect, and pretty soon you find you have rifled through the rails, looked in the boxes under the table and come away pleasantly exhausted from all the rock presented to you. Remember when Jack stopped Stripe-ing and became a Raconteur? If you went ‘great career choice!’ then you’re probably a classic rock lover and will love the songs and passion displayed within. Singer Wesley Doyle even resembles his Whiteness vocally, which always helps.
The moments of slide guitar and Hammond organ are welcome they hover into earshot, and frankly I would have preferred more of them for add some flavour to my meat. By the way, have I mentioned this album rocks? Hard rock is music for sweaty gig venues, and is hard to keep fresh across a whole album. Yet they give it a damn good stab anyway and succeed mostly, reminding me along the way of The Oblivians (RIP) and The Eviltones (stars of tomorrow). They also treat us all to a country blues ditty with closer 'John Wayne Brown', a brave yet assured move. More please chaps, you have the talents and the chops. Also worthy of mention is the real Shindig! moment that comes at the end of ‘Dead Letter’, when the guitar fireworks finish exploding and the low-key ending of Love’s ‘7 & 7 Is’ is recreated. Thanks for that moment guys, it shows your warmth within your seriously wild rocking.
London six-piece The Valkarys have only just come onto our radar after a few years of playing shows, and they are brilliant! Psychedelic beat music that takes from The Bunnymen as much as The Elevators.
THE HALL OF MIRRORS
Once of Portsmouth but recently relocated to The Smoke, The Hall Of Mirrrors are a classic Shindig!-style band. Mixing classic psychedelic-pop sounds with orchestral flourishes and layers of guitar, the magazine said “You could say they resemble a doped-up Saint Etienne on ‘Love Obscure’, Galaxie 500 on ‘Round and Round’ and Nico-period Velvets on ‘Silver Stream’”.
New weird band alert! Locals to this part of London but musically its coming partly from the mid-60s west coast - plenty of echo, great lyrics, strange rhythms...you need to see and hear to properly appreciate! So get down early doors so you don’t miss.
Then resident DJ PHIL ISTINE and guest ANDY EDWARDS (Harvest, Cardiff) will spin your world via ’60s/’70s dancefloor psychedelia, garage, beat, and general rock’n’roll wondermints!
@ The Drop, below The Three Crowns, 175 Stoke Newington High Street London N16 0LH
8pm-4am, £6 entry. Buses: many. Train: Stoke Newington (from Liverpool St)
Monday, 21 November 2011
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Monday, 14 November 2011
Friday, 11 November 2011
Thursday, 10 November 2011
All Strapped Up
Death Pop LP / ITunes download
At last I finally get to hear the primal outpourings of London’s threesome fuzz heroes The Vinyl Stitches, four years after I first saw them. I’m happy to report that you’re gonna have a real good time kicking back with this black slab on the stereo. It kicks off with a guttural instro guitar workout that Link Wray would’ve been proud to call his own. Then the title track introduces mainman Claude Pelletier’s deep voice, and man he sounds pissed off! These songs don’t hang around: they come with a message of hate. Some woman (women?) have definitely got his goat, and now he’s kicking back. The formula here is pretty straight-forward (some may say repetitive) but this sort of rock’n’roll sneers ‘primitive, yeah that’s how we live’. The guitar sound captured here is fabulous, a good guitar band always sound better with the right fuzz tones. The chugging soars majestically above the rhythm bashing, heading into riff heaven on every track..
“Do you feel the ache in my bones”? Ask Pelletier on ‘I Know Why’, and of course I think ‘yes I do! You sound like the most pissed off man to ever emerge from the garage!’ Side one is rounded off with Back From The Grave classic ‘Can’t Tame Me’ by The Benders. It’s done with enough healthy disrespect for the original for the band to call it their own song almost. The second side is more of the same, a highlight being ‘Nothing To Lose’, a song sounding even more heavy than it's compadres (and I didn’t think that was possible here). The whole caboodle finishes with a low-down punk version of early Doors number ‘Been Down So Long’ - and it just encapsulates everything that is so-wrong-its-right with the Stitches. This album is over far too soon: I’m immediately left wanting more grade-A desperate rock’n’roll. Let’s hope album number two comes along soon! In the meantime garage-punk fans all over the world will lap this album up, and deservedly so.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
229 The Venue, London, Saturday 23 October 2011
Bugger me, I made it. I knew they wouldn’t be on at 10 prompt. Granted, the Standells had started well early the previous year, but that was in the bigger of this venue’s two rooms. Tonight, Tom Newman, Pete Cook and the rest of West London’s greatest veteran psychedelic collective are in the considerably smaller ‘psych room’ so that Rob Bailey’s ensuing Crossfire allnighter will follow directly on from them, and in organisational terms, it works perfectly.
Yet somehow, whilst their first reunion show at the Lexington earlier this year had been an absolute blinder, there’s something about the overall atmosphere tonight that doesn’t quite come off. OK, sure, the vocal reverb/chorus pedal effect that is so essential to most of their 1968 album is either missing or just extremely inaudible, and that might have a lot to do with it. It also sure as hell doesn’t help that the audience tonight seem disinterested by comparison (maybe precisely because it isn’t the first reunion show anymore) and that the sound quality in the venue is passable at best.
It isn’t as if the band isn’t on form either. If anything, the intermittent five months of rehearsal, during which most performers learn to ‘wear’ their songs like a second skin, have gelled and tightened the band into a unit, with younger members Jim ‘son of Tom’ Newman and Charlie Salvidge (Toy) now fully worked in and functioning as part of a 60-fingered machine. There are less fluffs and misrememberings than at the previous show: the harmonies are perfectly in tune, and they all seem to be able to hear each other. On the other hand, though, there are longer gaps and more meanderings in between tunes, Newman’s introductions are barely audible to us (again, not his fault) and the whole affair seems somehow quite - how best to put it- laboured by comparison. And conversations with several fellow attendees of my acquaintance would seem to confirm it isn’t only me that thinks this.
What exactly, then, is the problem? I mean, all the requisite ingredients are there. Legendary band? Check. Most of original lineup? Check. New material a bit more gothy and metally than one would expect from a group of such lineage, but still enjoyable, promising and with its heart in the right place? Check. Swirling mist and swathes of long grey hair? Present and correct. Killer 1968 vintage tunes? Well, obviously. My Clown, A Bird Lived, Friendly Man, the eternal proto-prog jam epic Dandelion Seeds, You Missed It All….every single one a definitive stone psych classic, and they wouldn’t have reformed to such an audience in the first place if they weren’t aware of that. Yet somehow, July miss the mark. I’m going to play the wild card and state that if everyone wasn’t continuously talking over them, and I could actually see them (seriously, the sightlines in here have never been great, but tonight they seem even worse) without having to squeeze myself to the front-left-hand-side of the stage, I might have been able to immerse myself in the atmosphere. But so many of us didn’t, and tonight felt as if the band struggled admirably against the odds but still ended up sounding as if they were playing a gig somewhere else down the road while 200 or so of us stood here, some attempting to harken and the rest quite clearly preoccupied by fringe concerns.
No-one should be put off seeing July play by this review- - I certainly haven’t been. No-one should be put off coming to Crossfire either: it’s still undoubtedly one of the best of, if not the very best, of London’s manifold and numerous nights. But sometimes, things just don’t get started, and spend the rest of the night cruising in second gear, and tonight July were indeed stuck in this rut. As Tom Newman says when I tell him this later, every gig is different. Sometimes they just don’t happen, and other times, just as inexplicably, they do, and they’re unbelievable. They were outstanding back in the Spring, and they will no doubt be outstanding again soon. I am also very much looking forward to the new album. After all, if the New York Dolls, Leaf Hound and the likes can pull it off, so can they.
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON
Royal Festival Hall, Saturday October 23 2011
So this is it then. The very last time. The man whose music appeals to more generations than most people would ever even meet and converse with in a lifetime- sadly, now, after a life of hellraising and being the archetypal wild country boy, forced into retirement by encroaching Alzheimer’s. I suppose, though, that 75 is quite a good age in rock’n’roll, or country, or easy listening. Sadly this also happens to be the very first time I’ve ever seen him, but from the evidence on offer tonight, it doesn’t seem like tonight is any different from what others have seen before. Except, of course, a little more emotional.
It’s a short set but in no way are the audience short-changed, and in that time, the only man who can claim to have worked with Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and John Wayne in one career provides us with ample reminders of just why he is so revered. And for a man struck down by a debilitating disease, his smooth vocals and fleet-fingered guitar playing, which launches into overdrive during opener Gentle On My Mind and never lets up, seem as sharp as ever. In fact, the matter of his health is only ever raised once (“I’m getting’ to be forgettin’”) and is only apparent when asking his beautiful daughter Ashley (keyboards and banjo) what key a song is in, or when repeatedly mentioning how he managed to amuse Wayne during the shooting of True Grit with his Donald Duck impressions.
It’s also important to remember that while he may be known primarily for interpreting the songs of others such as Jimmy Webb (By The Time I Get To Phoenix, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and the evergreen Wichita Lineman) Allen Toussaint (Southern Nights) and Larry Weiss (Rhinestone Cowboy), and all of those are performed with style and gusto tonight, he occasionally writes his own tunes too: both Your Amazing Grace and A Better Place, from his latest and final album Ghost On The Canvas, the Paul-Westerberg-penned title track of which is also played, demonstrating his overlooked skills in that department.
And while the chills run, naturally, down my spine and everyone else’s during Lineman- that arrangement, those strings, that guitar solo, those lyrics, the very picture painted- it’s A Better Place that ends the evening on an unbelievably poignant note, as he remarks “the world’s been good to me”, but ruminates that after four marriages, eight kids (three of which are onstage tonight) and innumerable records sold worldwide, there might still be somewhere else to go where one engenders a little less suffering and a little more serenity, and that he’ll get there sooner rather than later. There are extra seats around the rear of the stage at the RFH tonight, and as the eternal Rhinestone Cowboy takes his bow for the last time, in the UK at any rate, no single one in the house is left unoccupied, the entire audience (in which I spotted friends from across the diverse range of musical subcultures) rising in simultaneous admiration of a man who quite literally did it all and more.
Befittingly, the mood is definitely one of celebration: if there has indeed been a load of compromisin’ on the road to his horizon, Campbell got there eventually on his own terms, helping to co-invent or at least popularise a whole new subgenre – ‘countrypolitan’ - along the way, one which filled my own childhood with distant promises of a strange, adult world called America. What the genre will be like without him is a more worrying prospect, but all things must pass, and I’m honoured to say I was here tonight to witness it.
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON