Monthly Archives: March 2011

Live Review The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- KCSU 03/03/11

Live review of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at KCSU London 03/03/11, Originally published on The Line Of Best Fit

“Just Gimme Indie Rock!”: four simple, yet life changing words. Lou Barlow’s prophetic scream is 20 years old this year, the age when one no longer visits home from university and has the first experience of unpaid electricity bills. Second year into a new life, when deadlines are jumping off points for further negotiations and a Yellow Card is gold dust. Didn’t it grow up fast!

I’m proud of indie rock for getting here; it’s had a difficult upbringing. First it had to survive grunge and britpop, then the dad-rock wars, when many a once great band fell (Verve). During the first great Travis-led-acoustic-yawn, little Jimmy-indie-rock had to masquerade as Placebo just to find a blanket and weak broth. Puberty is difficult in most cases, but for our hero it was a torrid time: Skinny jeans were electroclashing with glow sticks for years, before a draw was called. Then it was time for the second-great-Mumford-led-accoustic-yawn. Now, twenty years old, rejuvenated as a pimple and grease free hipster, “Just Gimme Indie Rock” is back on top, this time with hair neatly cropped, and without the slacker attitude. Heading the wave is The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

For this Brooklyn quartet tonight at a sold out Kings College Student Union feels like a home coming celebration. Having recorded their forthcoming album Belong in London with Alan Moulder and Flood, and played the city’s toilet circuit relentlessly, they have an army of friends, fans and ‘Gentle Sons’, with vocalist Kip Berman eager to thank everyone he can. As this is their last UK date before heading back to tour the US, tonight is an appreciated gift to showcase new material helped by some special UK based guests.

Swervedriving us in to 1991 is opening support, The History Of Apple Pie an incredibly young band to be playing a date like this, but seemingly with fuzzy lo-fi built in to their DNA. On stage they are straight from a hazy dream, where Kevin Shields is on each side of the stage, shredding in to a sonic wall while a Young Marble Giants vocal drifts from centre stage.  They’re exactly the kind of band you want to miniaturise and take to ATP, so you can unpack them in your chalet to chaperone your own personal Haribo and glitterball comedown.

Louis Jones’ Spectrals are the transfer rumour in the preseason lull of early March. Outside is still cold and dark, but in here the dingy student venue is suddenly a holiday house on Malibu Beach, bathed in sunshine melodies. Jones’ songs have come direct from Phil Spector’s mind, had he gone to the desert to hide from his own craziness with only a pedal steel guitar and a bottle of sunny delight for company. ‘Peppermint’ and ‘7th Date’ are perfect dusty laid back countrified Merry Melodies and new song ‘Get It In’ has encapsulates the mid 60’s with a space age excitement and swooning tremolo. Spectrals live are finally living up to Jones’ obvious talent, and with an imminent debut album summer can rightfully be theirs.

In life it’s the fine details which mark out quality, be that a decent CD inlay with lyrics and good thank you list to geek over, or a well-aged sack cloth cheese with a robust Merlot. With bands it’s stage presence, and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have that before they’re even seen. The Bass and Guitars are set up at the front of the stage, facing back, in their stage positions: not at the back- looks amateurish, no roadies handing them over-too cocky, and no walking on with them-has anyone done that since the Beatles anyway? These strings are there, waiting organically, as if the expectant stage was tailored just for tonight.

Once in position, the venue is filled with surging fuzz laden guitars and major chords hooked around melodies just on the right side of twee. ‘Come Saturday’ and ‘This is Love is Fucking Right’ come across like indie classics which in a parallel universe would soundtrack an uber-hipster version of Friends, while ‘Stay Alive’ beautifully anthemic and could easily be House of Love at their very best. The songs from their eponymous debut are a perfect homage to their early 90’s shoegazey influence and are great for the predominantly older crowd, but it’s the new tracks from Belong which truly ignite this show.

Played mid set, ‘Heart in your Heartbreak’ is 100 per-cent indie disco anthem: turbulent distortion, floating keyboards and pirouetting harmonies. It’s the song The Strokes should have come back with. ‘Belong’ still has the distortion of The Pains… but tonight’s version has enormo-dome potential, with Siamese Dream era Smashing Pumpkins coursing through it. ‘Say No To Love’ could be straight from a 1995 Wannadies record, filled with jangly riffs to compliment Berman’s understated vocals. Considering the majority of the crowd saw all this first time around there is no feeling of parody, instead there’s a sense of returning to a time when people spent their money on guitars and wrote songs about broken hearts.

For the encore we’re reminded of why The Pains… have gained the following they have. ‘Everything With You’ and ‘Hey Paul’ summarise all the guitar greats with ‘Velocity Girl’ drums and Ride’s guitars all delivered with drive that can only be delivered with a band knowing they’re on the ascendance. Upon their return later in the year, The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart are sure to be playing major venues, so to have one final opportunity to see them in these fairly intimate setting was a privilege. The audience were gripped and the band, obviously thankful, was there straight away to speak to fans. There is a definite bond with London, and London can lay claim to helping birth a mature and invigorated Indie Rock.

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Mirrors – “Lights and Offerings” Album Review

Review of Mirrors debut album Lights and Offerings. Originally published on The Line Of Best Fit.

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NME Awards Tour- Crystal Castles, Magnetic Man, Everything Everything 19-02-11

LIVE REVIEW- NME  Tour Brixton Academy 2011

Originally Published on The Line Of Best Fit

Roll up roll as the circus comes to town.  The annual NME tour never fails to amuse with its put-a-pin-in-a-page random selection of wannabe stars.  I personally like to play the “who’s cool and who’s the fool” game. Whose MP3s will be deleted in five years time against the band it’s okay to name drop when talking about the good ‘ole days. Previous contestants have been The Killers Vs The Futureheads, Coldplay Vs  Campag  Velocet, and my personal favourite Heavy Stereo Vs Fluffy.

This year the line-up appears to be obeying its own cliché by opening with the latest hype machine but this is a good thing as it gives a prime opportunity to look for badges on the merchandise stall instead. On further inspection one sees a quality unseen on previous tours: each of tonight’s bands have built their own momentum and could fill the epic Brixton Academy in their own right. None of them need this tour, and all have their avid followers, but tonight isn’t about market exposure. It’s a celebration of where music is in February 2011; an opportunity for ground breakers to prove their wares.

Tonight Matthew, I will be a historical record.

There is a festival atmosphere for Everything Everything, a definite euphoria in the crowd which the band embrace as they enter to a trance-like build up,  before breaking into the carnival frenzy of ‘Qwerty Finger’ moves seamlessly into the tribal rave of ‘Schoolin’’. There’s a post-punk disjointedness to them – dressed in matching grey boiler suits embodying the spirit of Devo, yet the soulful vocals of Jonathon Higgs adds a human touch.  ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ reveals the deep groove that permeates through their set as if Prince was backstage giving a motivational speech. Set closer ‘Photoshop Handsome’ is pure hand in the air rave, 4/4 bass pounds and snare build ups, with teasing guitars whispering dodgy deals in your ears over hypnotic vocals.  Brixton is left in awe: imagine if Marvin Gaye joined Underworld to play Scritti Politti covers in a Sheffield warehouse. Yes that good.

The Academy is made for Dubstep: the height, incline and the little nooks and crannies give the ideal space for sub-bass rumbles and low oscillating wobbles to reverberate. The prodigal son returns to its SW9 home with Magnetic Man, the Dubstep super-group of Skream, Benga and Artwork, and one thing is certain – it will be loud. Immediately Brixton, is compressed by the weight of the bass and juddered back by the consuming pressure. By the time we’ve regained composure, and our ears have worked out what to do, they’re firing a scatter gun live mix of ‘Fire’ from behind a wall of Macbooks, wires and scary magic boxes. I like to imagine they have a big red flashing “Do Not Press” button for the sub-woofer bass wobble, which is just too tempting to ignore.  Like a highly trained bomber command they discharge their rhythms and peaks to military precision.

And that’s precisely the problem. Magnetic Man are just too clinical. Yes, their somewhat commercial sounding album has been given edginess in the live arena, but the live show seems too formulaic.  Higgs from Everything Everything joins them on vocals for ‘Getting Nowhere’ a metronomic soul ballad, and then they restart the bass and the wobbles for a bit before showcasing their album again. So it repeats and you pretty much know what to expect, it’s a clean cut Dubstep for the masses. It’s nothing too offensive, a bit of filth thrown in here and there, because that’s what they’re meant to do, but essentially tame. Alarmingly, the best received tracks were the least Dubsteppy. ‘I Need Air’ is more Paul Van Dyke than Zed Bias but the Academy laps it up, swaying in unison to the 4/4 Beat. Set closer ‘Perfect Stranger’ could be any 1993 Rave anthem. Although loud, it’s a sedate performance, heavy where it needs to be, yet still not confident with itself.

There’s a slight wave of fear as an announcement goes out that Alice Glass has broken her ankle and doctors have told her to cancel the show. “But she said, Fuck You,” we’re told, before a gastric roar comes from the crowd and Crystal Castles hobble on stage under darkness and smoke.

Glass and Ethan Kath are like Dr Who’s Weeping Angels, only alive when not seen, so a relentless strobe light acts as a life support, a 3D flick book defying the senses. Anything Magnetic Man called loud is instantly made a mockery of, as a Gabba speed pile driver, which could have been ‘Fainting Spells’ or equally Satan’s primal scream, annihilates our organs. We can’t see or hear anything. We just know the earth is disintegrating beneath us. As we regain our composure ‘Baptism’ is pummelling Brixton and Glass is ignoring any doctor’s orders; clamouring over monitors, swinging from microphone stands and piling into the crowd for ‘Courtship Dating’. The walking crutch has long been discarded as Glass throws herself to the ground for a moment’s respite.

A Crystal Castles show is always a disturbing and uncomfortable affair; one doesn’t know whether be all, “Calm down dear, it’s only a pop show,” or join their gang and cave in to peer pressure. For Brixton though, there’s been no such dilemma. There’s a gaggle of overly made-up, 14 year old, high heeled girls going crazy and screaming, just as there’s a middle aged man punching the air and crying as ‘Alice Practice’ crumbles the Academy around him. For a band as chaotic as Crystal Castles this adulation is miraculous. No one could have second guessed that taking the angst of Atari Teenage Riot, the chaos of Bong Ra, and channelling it through a Lo-Fi bedroom synthesiser could evoke such mass hysteria.

So it continues. ‘Celestica’ is a mass serotonin inducing frenzy and you could imagine sound tracking the orgy in Patrick Sukind’s book ‘Perfume’. As Crystal Castles propel themselves through ‘Empathy’ and ‘Reckless’ the hordes in front of the stage continue to spasm and gyrate while Glass pogoes and clamours, holding sermon standing on the front barrier, and sacrificing herself to throng which claws relentlessly at her. Ending the main set with ‘Not in Love’ is a true summer of love moment with everyone’s hands in the air and a wave of ecstasy carrying everyone along. They come back for an encore, but by this point there are wounded soldiers and only the bravest have survived.

It feels as though we’ve witnessed a rebirth of dance music, a genesis of electronica.   Being part of a night where it’s a band like Crystal Castles that brings everyone together is empowering. Commanding a venue of this stature is no mean feat, and a synthesiser and a microphone achieve it where three super producers failed.

With Everything Everything and Crystal Castles this tour has redeemed itself for years of impasse and the palpable.  The organisers may have been brave with the line-up, but not as much as Glass and Kath, who are unforgiving as ever, undiluted and an absolute summary of today’s music.


David Newbury



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