The Polyphonic Spree
@ The Leadmill
Being rather old, and somewhat set in my ways, I missed half of the Polyphonic Spree’s set, foolishly believing that no venue would put a headline on before 9.30. This turned out to be a Very Bad Thing, because, as almost everybody who was there will vouch, watching the Spree is like being on the very best happy drugs ever: you stand there grinning like a maniac and feeling like your heart is going to explode with joy, and you just want them to carry on playing all night. Part of it’s the music, which we’ll come to in a moment, but part of it is something more basic still. There’s something enormously affecting about watching a bunch of people having fun doing something they love to do, and when that bunch of people is so large (the Spree number about 25, I’d guess), and is so palpably, unashamedly enjoying itself, it’s a wonderful thing to behold. Factor in the audience reaction (this happiness stuff is dangerously infectious) and you have a recipe for one of the best live shows you’re likely to see this side of the Chinese State Circus. The detractors who mutter that there’s something Stepford Wife-ish about them, that they come across like a religious cult, betray their own tight-arsed narrow-mindedness. Matching white robes notwithstanding, I never saw a group who came across more as a collection of individuals: just check out the backing singers and their fabulous random dance moves (the longhaired guy who plays air flute is my favourite).
Relax, detractors. If pretending that you’re having a really bad time wrenching dripping chunks of misery out of your soul will always be popular among tedious whiteboy rock bands of a certain age and mindset, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole universe of sound and emotion out there to explore.
And what a universe. I lost count of the number of instruments on stage. Some of them I didn’t even recognise, but we can safely say that they included guitar, bass, two drummers, two keyboards, trumpet, trombone, French horn, flute, harp and theremin. The songs are pure unadulterated pop: uplifting, searing melodies with intricate vocal and instrumental arrangements contributing layer upon layer of harmonic complexity. If at times the sound is a little too reminiscent of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, for the most part the Polyphonic Spree follow a path entirely of their own making. At their best (no idea about titles, but the one that goes “I love my soldier girl” and the one that goes “You gotta be good / You gotta be strong / You gotta be two thousand places at once”) they sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, in the process making such diverse - and perfectly OK - acts as the High Llamas, the Divine Comedy and Bongwater look like relative amateurs.
The music industry is a malevolent octopus, but it knows how to make a fast buck from anything, however far outside the remit of fashion and convention it may fall. The Polyphonic Spree are the kind of product that will sell itself virtually by word of mouth - almost everybody who goes to one of their shows will come away gibbering with evangelical excitement. Juxtapose these two facts, and the upshot is that by this time next year - if not before - they will be playing the Octagon at twenty quid a pop in support of their heavily-promoted and overproduced new album on Very Large Record Label, Inc. as the inevitable effects of larger venues and a gruelling tour schedule kick in, will they still communicate the same joy, the same sense of this being what it’s all about? I’d like to think so, and there’s plenty about them to inspire faith, but the cynic in me remains unconvinced. Whatever, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.
Lubas / The Invisible Jets
@ The Deep End
Now, we all like our experimental music, don’t we? But while it’s all very intellectual and credible to listen to strangled distortion or discordant bleeping on some recently-invented keyboard, now and again it’s good to hear a nice, good-natured, jangly guitar band.
The Invisible Jets (Jonathan from Lubas’s other band) are one of those bands that will never break the mould of musical boundaries, but are a damn fine live band to watch. Ranging from sensitive to jolly, they sometimes sound like Crowded House. Which isn’t that bad really. A very professional and enjoyable band.
The same goes for local five-piece Lubas. With their arsenal of incredibly well crafted songs, they’ve been getting something of a name for themselves outside the city, and garnering airplay on Nottingham’s Trent FM. And checking them out tonight it’s easy to see why.
As the band name suggests, the band seems pretty much a vehicle for vocalist Kerry Lubas, although the rest of the band manfully and impressively play their way to an impending Sleeperbloke future.
As front-people go, Kerry is impressive: good-looking, a beautiful voice and good stage presence. The songs are soulful, and melodic numbers, with Kerry harmonising with guitarist and backing vocalist Jonathan.
The only real criticism, beyond the slightly generic nature of the band’s guitar-based soul-searching (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), is the fact that the set was perhaps a tad too long to hold interest. That aside, tonight proved that Lubas are band that will definitely be ones to watch on the local circuit, if not elsewhere.
People Under the Stairs
@ The Tuesday Club
From tonight’s performance it’s clear that People Under the Stairs are subscribers to the stripped down, no frills format of their genre. Unlike the six strong Jurassic 5 or Roots Manuva, who recently saw fit to tour with a small string section, Double K and Thes One have opted to embrace hip-hop at its most basic level: two MCs, one DJ.
The night’s set is dominated by the relaxed raps over simple beats formula of the People’s 2000 album Question in the Form of an Answer, a formula that sees no argument from the energetic Tuesday Club crowd. The rapping itself is technically faultless: between the two, and when the DJ periodically joins the fun three, rappers rhymes overlap as seamlessly as the records being played behind them.
As they move about the small stage, dominating it more than most five piece bands could ever wish to, a rhyme will be dropped mid-line for it to be picked up elsewhere and carried on with no hesitation, a scaled down game of verbal ‘it’.
Unlike the ‘vocal jousting’ that seems to develop out of pairings such as Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav where the role and voice of both is clear after half a song, P U T S rap as one, in one style and, in all but a literal sense, in one voice. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on you. They may not be the most confrontational or dynamic live hip-hop band in the world but they can offer you something many would see as of far greater importance. Fun.
For younger readers, Space were a bunch of crazy Scousers who scored a string of mad-as-tits but amiable anthems such as ‘Female of the Species’ and ‘Avenging Angels’. However, once the Britpop bubble had burst, there was little market for a perky band of scallies singing in cod-Mexican accents.
Against all odds they’re back to try and persuade the kids they’re still a viable proposition in 2002. Missing troubled guitarist Jamie Murphy, the band eschew all but four of their former glories, choosing instead to introduce the crowd to their new material. Much darker than their jovial predecessors, the new batch of songs see a more serious mood, with titles like ‘Zombies’ and ‘Perverts’. “This one’s about suicide,” says singer Tommy Scott at one point.
Now, there’s always been slightly sinister overtones to even the most chucklesome of Space’s songs, but the band performing serious songs about suicide is akin to Nick Cave suddenly taking on a happy hardcore direction.
Musically the band have changed little, keeping the same, slightly cheesy keyboard-heavy sound. While this worked with the old light-hearted approach it but now just sounds wrong.
The new material is not strong enough to propel Space back into the top 20, and the audience shuffle boredly between the hits played tonight. All is forgiven, however, as they launch into a brilliant encore of ‘You and Me vs The World,’ a song that reminds us how good they can be, and how the Space of today are just a shadow of their lovable cracked genius of old.
Michael Eden / The Charm Offensive
There was some interesting local support for ex-Warp signee Max Tundra at the Barfly, in the shape of The Charm Offensive and Michael Eden.
The Charm Offensive have, perhaps, the most ironic name of any band around at the moment. Prowling the stage like a bargain basement Liam Gallagher, the singer fails to realise that smoking a fag on stage and using the word “fuck” doesn’t really make you particularly cool. In the main not too inspiring, although some of the tracks played towards the end were actually really good. Could be watchable if they learnt to be less moody.
From sulky indie rock to the sublime: Michael Eden started his set perched precariously above the bar singing into a radio-mic, before taking to the stage for what is a pretty unique show. Looking like Sheffield’s version of Spike from Buffy, and sounding like a fallen choirboy, Michael plays sparse guitar, set against a backdrop of subtle loops and multimedia projections.
The main focus of the singer-songwriter is, of course, his voice, which soars through the higher octaves, emoting dark lyrics about such cheery themes as lost love and mental illness. The show is nothing if not theatrical, one track seeing Michael wander into the crowd singing into a telephone. Pretentious? Maybe. But Michael Eden has a startling talent and that rare thing in the local gig scene; an original live show.
He declares on stage that this will be the last gig that sounds like this for a quite a while, and his forthcoming stuff will be entirely different. Sandman awaits it with interest.
Bocca/ One Small Life
@ The Grapes
One Small Life may be more aptly title One More Time after lead Ferguson forgets the lyrics to their latest musical offering twice and has to have a hiatus and a second bite of the pie to allow his halting memory to flood back. There’s more than a casual resemblance to Crowded House’s whimsical storytelling style on display, particularly because the band are performing a stripped-down acoustic set. The crowd seem happy to just sit back and absorb the mellow vibes and applaud beatifically to the amiable serenade. Stand out tracks in this cushy affair include the rousing ‘All Time Favourite Star’ and feel-good ‘Factor 8’.
After a forebodingly listless opening attempt, Leicester based Bocca get their prog rock juices a-flowing. Complemented by their haunting visuals they set about stirring the crowd’s primal instincts with a brooding set. Evocative violin play flits ethereally over the hypnotic bassline creating a vulnerable yet primal soundscape, as their lead overdubs his vocals with the help of a second mic. A cross between the progressive expansiveness of Elbow and the epic pop savvy of the Doves, the set grows in stature as does the band’s mesmeric effect over the rapt audience who applaud loudly as the closing track reaches it’s sweeping crescendo.
Fudge / Perfectly Justified?
@ The Deep End
It’s a big old place, The Deep End, and fair play to the bands for packing it out on a Thursday night. There’s plenty of music in Hillsborough so it’s a shame that the tram which stops so conveniently outside the ‘End’s front door isn’t used more often by gig goers from other parts of town.
The two bands on show tonight exemplified what’s good and bad about the occasionally masochistic act of going to see local live music.
On a big, wide stage, Perfectly Justified? appeared dwarfed. Guitar bloke on the left could have been playing solo as the rest of the band clustered together for comfort on the right. Apparently they’ve got a cracking demo floating around but on the night the band struggled to get across what they were doing. A Doors’ cover perked them up halfway through the set and a couple of their later songs sounded interesting but the overall impression was of a band unable to make the stage their own.
It didn’t help that the singer, whose voice was fine, kept wandering off stage to let the guitarist take over, giving the impression of a karaoke singer not pissed enough to let himself go. He does look a lot like Lee Bowyer though.
Fudge are obviously older and wiser. Marching on stage in Oxfam suits much credit must go to singer and drummer for keeping the theme by wearing suits that actually were the colour of proper (Cornish) fudge. They play a healthy, if highly derivative, pop that reminded us of a more muscular Bluetones and being suckers for backing vocals sandman had a merry old time. A couple of cheesy covers, the theme from ‘Minder’ and ‘Be My Baby,’ complete with hysterical girls dragged from the audience, made the point that the crowd is there to be entertained. Further plus points for the singing drummer with the Byrds haircut and a fine selection of sideburns amongst the band.
Rachel Stamp / Any Given Day / Girls On Top
This Monday night gig is pretty sparsely attended as openers Any Given Day take the stage, never mind though, they seem to have brought their own fan base with them from darkest Rugby.
This solid ‘punk and roll’ quintet blast straight into a non-stop set of three minute power punk anthems led by enigmatic banshee vocalist, Libby Redfern, who manages to inject enough venomous expletives into every song to make any other lyrical content irrelevant; however, just as everyone seems to be getting the hang of things, it’s over, as the band bow out with a breakneck speed rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ A thirty minute full on assault gig. A band to watch.
So to Girls On Top, a bit of a conundrum of styles and taste. At first the four-piece are more in the trad-metal vein of Girlschool, then pump it up a bit a la L7 until, shock horror, they turn into Madness for a cockney knees-up!?! The rest is a confusion of different rock styles and theatrics, which never quite hit the mark, though ‘Barbie is a Smackhead’ comes close. A better stucture might help clarify things a little; but the final number’s birth scene, doctor’s masks and bloody baby paraded through the crowd like the FA Cup, bemuses a few punters and leaves them wondering what its all about. Could be The Tubes did it better.
Which leaves headliners Rachel Stamp. The real problem is that the audience is no bigger than when AGD arrived, which is a shame, as the band kick ass from the start. As is quite proper during the 25th anniversary of the demise of late great glam king Marc Bolan, the ‘Stamp open with the Bolan penned ‘Calling All Destroyer’s’, then proceed to thrill the crowd with their own glam-metal-sleaze greatest hits package. David Ryder-Prangley goes through the whole gamut of whipered seduction and full throttle vocals, backed mercilessly by the twisting guitar riffs of Will Crewdson; the addition of keyboard/vocalist Shaheena Dax has given the band a fuller, meatier live sound. A larger crowd may have pulled out a better performance, but Rachel Stamp still managed to send the mob home happy.
The Polyphonic Spree
People Under the Stairs