Category Archives: Live

Van Susans- 100 Club, July 22, 2011

With the feel of a working man’s club straight from Only Fools and Horses, the 100 Club fails to live up to its legendary status. It should have a wonky snooker table and a fuzzy wood effect TV high in the corner, permanently tuned in to the darts, or Corrie for the ladies. But legendary it is and the home of punk and jazz still has the kudos to impress-it’s still the venue to play.

Hosting an EP launch there is a bold step, and statement of Van Susans intent. They expect to be returning to the 100 Club for nostalgic fan-club only gigs after playing to huge crowds the world over; Wembley yeah we’ll have that. They are bold, and with tonight’s performance their confidence is not misplaced.

Echoing a lone piper, a single guitarist comes on stage and starts frantic wah-wah shredding in front of an already huge and appreciative fanbase, rapturous as the remaining five members come on stage. It’s a bit showy, but whacks of professionalism. The Van Susans opener, ‘Bricks not Sticks or Straw’ is a folky college rock take on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a catchy barnstorming track which kicks their melodic song writing straight to the fore.

As they continue it’s clear there’s a strong Waterboys and classic Celtic rock element to their music. There’s a feel of an early 90’s flouncy shirt and waistcoat to their songs, but with a gritty urbanism of a folk Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ mainstream moments can be heard on ‘Old Flames’ which panders towards, fellow New Jersey folk-punks, The Gaslight Anthem.

The South London six-piece can certainly bring folk into the stadium in a way Mumford and Sons would shun. They continue with the acoustic railroad of ‘Get Up Get out’ a track akin to Del Amitri jamming with Incubus with Olly’s infectious voice sweeping through the dancing crowd. Bizarrely they break for a guitar and fiddle duet, which although good and shows they can play fast just sounds like a cliché’d Riverdance novelty pleaser.

Melodic rock is a genre which often sounds tired and but with the lead track to the We Could Be Scenery EP- ‘Cha Cha Bang’ The Van Susans have given it a youthful vigour and a new hope. It’s incredibly catchy chorus and handclaps propels them to the arena anthems of the Levellers during their ‘One Way’ peak. The sell-out crowd, who have been rousing and dancing throughout, have been rewarded for showing early faith in The Van Susans.

At the end of their set the six piece join together of a bow at the front of the stage in unashamed rock pretentions which are fully deserved. The Van Susans have crafted the unique party atmosphere of The Commitments hell bent on kicking through the doors of Americana, which along with Frank Turner signals a revival of great British songs for the common man. Their brand of stadium Celtic folk is a brave move for a modern band, especially in one so young, but they pull it off with melodic aplomb. Tonight will surely be a milestone to a greater career.


Filed under Live

No Age play The Bear– ICA, London 03/04/11

Originally published on The Line Of Best Fit

Sunday nights are meant for an early bath, fresh pyjamas and a glass of warm milk before bed, with a worn out record of Peter and the Wolf crackling comfortingly in the background. After being tucked in by mammy and daddy you have dreams of sugar plum fairies and candy coated rainbows. This Disney utopia could only be beaten with a story about an orphaned bear to pull at the heart strings and make one feel fuzzy and warm. Luckily childhood fantasies are brought to life thanks to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Upset the Rhythm who, on this Sunday night, are showing us a film about an orphaned bear.

Fantasies, when realised, are always perverted though, and tonight is a true reflection of Sunday night: one where you haven’t done your homework and have P.E. first thing in the morning, edgy, sleepless and slightly uncomfortable.  This anxiety comes thanks no Californian noise oiks No Age, who are here for a very special, one off, performance; a live soundtrack to Jean-Jaques Annaud’s 1988 film The Bear. Set in late nineteenth century British Columbia, The Bear follows a bear cub, harrowingly orphaned at the start of the film, and encounters wild cats, hunters and another bear. It covers traditional themes of loss, adversity, friendship and honour which have been transposed on to nature and emotionally manipulated by Randy Randall’s and Dean Allen Spunt’s musical score.

This dual media interpretation has only previously been performed in Los Angeles and New York and allows No Age to take their experimental Shoegazing hardcore into the realms of traditional cinema and silent movies. However this is no honky-tonk piano and slapstick, it’s emotionally charged experimental gadgetry akin to Philip Glass. Neither is it a traditional No Age gig; Randall is seated with a guitar and armoury of effects, and Spunt stares hypnotically at a screen surrounded by sequencers, magic boxes and things that go bleep in the night.

As the film starts ethereal noises emerge from the men sat underneath the screen and one is a bit confused as to what to look at. Should one watch the film or be muso and pay attention to what the band are doing, but the quality of the piece being performed means our senses are able to pay attention to both.  The sound track being created before us is directly linked with the emotion of the images rather than the visuals directly. This means there is a slight delay between what is seen and heard. It’s not like Peter and the Wolf where every time a bear or a hunter appears we hear the same tune, nor is like a cartoon where if a character is running, or is sad, the music sounds like it. Instead if there is drama such as a chase the score builds to reflect the tension, but doesn’t stop when the chase is over. Rather it lingers and fades away slowly, as ones heart beat slowly returns to normal and adrenalin fades.

Linking the soundtrack into the emotion rather than what’s on screen is an effective tool and enhances the artistry. Of course sometimes our feelings do need to be shoved in a certain direction; during the moments of high drama, Spunt moves on to drums and we experience the No Age we are familiar with. Other times the score is fairly happy and uplifting such as when the bear finds his friend.  But such obvious interpretation is understandable as music does accompany emotions in such ways. With this linked detachment the soundtrack can be a piece in its own right as it uses the film as inspiration and isn’t a step by step narrative of what’s happening.

The problem with the experience was not with No Age’s sequenced loops or fuzz-laden echoes, but with the inclusion of the original film sound track. The roars of bears, sounds of the woodland and muffled voices of hunters were still audible and distracted from No Age’s score and reminded one that this is merely cinema rather than a full sensory experience.  The film certainly pulls at the heart strings, and No Age has given them an extra hard yank, and I couldn’t image seeing the film without the score.  It feels personal to them and is something they will rarely divulge, and it comes sounds like a piece of work they need to make to reflect a calmer somewhat serine No Age which they wouldn’t want to normally admit to.

Leave a comment

Filed under Live

Crystal Stilts – Cargo, London 30/03/11

Originally published on The Line of Best Fit

Tonight is a time challenge. We have had to pass through different zones (1 and 2) to end up in Cargo(ship)’s  Ocean zone, and  there are many hipster obstacles in our way. One false step and we could be locked into fashionista purgatory until we’re set free. After cunningly weaving through the crowds, Macbooks and cans of San Miguel, we pass through the arch in to the next zone: Aztec, and like any jungle it’s uncomfortably sweltering and confined like virgin mahogany huddled together against the loggers. When we eventually find a gap in the canopy it’s as though the dome is before us, with musical gold and silver awaiting, and we’re expectant for the fans to start.

As the Crystal Stilts air rush enters, the canopy is confronted with an archetypal group of American outsiders, as is lifted from any Brat Pack film. There’s the good looking one (Keyboard), the nerd (vocals), the straight guy (Bass), the cowboy (guitar), and the meat head (drums of course), and this 80’s tinge seems to be at the essence of Crystal Stilts. Their records sound like they were recorded in 1985 while Jesus and Mary Chain laid down ‘Just Like Honey’ in the next room after a life time of listening to Suicide. However , this joyous interpretation is merely ephemeral, for what Crystal Stilts produce is more than just a reason to make up the numbers at Indie Tracks, rather they invigorate a dark bar-room recess of Lynchian indiepop: A world of snakeskin shoes and smeared lipstick.

They open with the first track from the new record, In Love with Oblivion,’ Sycamore Tree’ with its railroad bass line and snare repetition straight form Johnny Cash. It’s builds with a dark garage vibrato guitar and droning Hammond before Brad Hargett’s vocals drift in like Ian Curtis whispering from down a hole. It’s the sound of a dusty bar at 2am in the Midwest form a cult pulp B-movie. As the set moves on it’s evident that Crystal Stilts have a view of Americana through cracked sunglasses like The Walkmen on downers, and far away from the mid 80’s DIY sheen.

Despite initially looking nerdy and uncomfortable on stage it’s soon apparent that Hargett is actually Napoleon Dynamite with the spirit of Jim Morrison. He can meander between standing aimlessly, to detached hypnotic preaching. There’s also a 60’s psychedelia to tonight, with lava lamp lights and a looping drum and Hammond mantra encompass you like tokens in the dome. The peace and love free spirit is exemplified as a wasted French girl invades the stage and stumblingly wafts her arms around like the Age of Aquarius has arrived, just like you see in those old hippy documentaries on BBC4. Unfortunately this involves kicking beer over Kyle Forester’s keyboard wires nearly jeopardising the rest of the show. But that’s the danger of this level of inspiration.

Tracks like ‘Promethues at Large’, ‘Invisible City and ‘Crippled Croon’ all show a desire to be more than just indiepop rehashes. Like Slumbland label mates The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, they are taking a core DIY Lo-Fi base and transporting in to other genres. In the case of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart it’s to the stadium, but for Crystal Stilts it’s firmly in dusty late night Americana. They’re focussed on the specific images and American iconography of the past, so one could say they’re in a time warp. But I would happily do the time warp again because they were pretty (crystal) amazing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Live