Hell Is For Heroes
@ The Leadmill
Hell Is For Heroes have played in Sheffield a few times. The first time I saw them they were supporting Hundred Reasons at the Leadmill and I thought they were pretty good. Also supporting that night were Errortype: 11 who make up 3/4 of the first band tonight, Instruction. Their songs are quite mellow but don’t really get the crowd moving. They come across as somewhat arrogant and repetitive. They are a typical support band; they cannot distract the audience from the main act for long. Their music is original but not very interesting.
Next, Violent Delight play. Having already done four shows in Sheffield they are building up a fan base; it seems that quite a few of the audience are here to see them rather than the headliners. They play their “Nu-Metal” and the majority of the crowd go crazy. For the song “Jump”, being at the very front of the crowd is amazing, everyone is singing and jumping in time. They provoke extreme reactions; you’ll either love or hate them. Hell is for Heroes play a set which is perhaps a little mixed. Some songs, such as singles “You Drove Me To It” and “I Can Climb Mountains” are played perfectly and sound wonderful. However, other songs which are less well-known sound a bit lost. It’s fair to say that Hell Is For Heroes will be huge; they have their live set nailed but their stage presence needs a little more development.
Midus Blue / ETO / Elston Majeska
@ Sheffield vs... At The Grapes
The bass player kicked off Elston Majeska’s set by pressing a button on a black box, triggering a collection of outer-space sound effects over a sampled beat. The trio came in over the backing track and played a bouncy tune that sounded like a hoedown on Jupiter. The pre-fabricated backing tracks were a feature of every song in the set. Sometimes the band would stop playing to allow a sampled voice to say his piece, or to make room for a pre-recorded keyboard breakdown.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’d have liked to see a keyboard player onstage rather than the black box. The band played some nice tunes but a musician who could respond to the rest of the group would have served them better.
Liverpool-based quintet ETO has a live keyboard player who provided a mix of tight licks and spacey, moody atmospherics (one audience member called them “cinematic”). ETO also has a killer hand-percussionist. His speedy, groovy conga work tied the songs together and pushed forward the funky locomotive of the band. I liked the fast, smooth singing, particularly the two-and three-part harmonies, but the rapping sounded thin and tended to dissipate, rather than increase a song’s energy. ETO play a haunting sort of funk. For all their pimp-strut bravado, the best songs were built on a base of delicate, moody desolation.
If you live in Sheffield, you should catch a Midus Blue show. Over super-tight drumming playful, funky basslines, chill guitar and DJ scratches, a male and female vocalist rap and sing. He mostly raps and she mostly sings, but he can sing a bit and her raps sound great. He also plays harmonica, which sounds awesome.
The set was a laid-back mix of hip-hop, reggae, drum and bass and a little bit of ragga. The band chatted with the audience between songs, and at one point the male vocalist talked briefly about Bush, Blair and Iraq. He paused and, overcome with frustration, he bellowed a couple of incoherent wookie-roars. Then he smiled sheepishly and started the next song. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Tommy Binks / Alexis Callan
@ Trippett’s Wine Bar
What it is about this area that makes it spew out such fine songwriters, from Dave Berry to Richard Hawley, god only knows. Something about this post-industrial wasteland seems to do things to do a man, which gives them almost superhuman powers with an acoustic guitar.
One of the latest in this very long line is Tommy Binks, from just over the border in Rotherham. Looking somewhat like a less barking version of Craig Nicholls, this is a fella who can somehow infuse his songs with something that borders on full-on punk attitude.
Strumming away, occasionally switching pedals for an electro-acoustic rock-out, Binks mightily straddles the world of bluesy acousticness and the New Rock Revolution. It’s this cross-genre appeal that could be a trump card in Binks’s musical career.
Alexis Callan has a remarkable voice, and is a mighty fine pianist and guitarist. Her jazz-tinged songs were a joy tonight, and her cover of ‘Blue Moon’ seemed perfect amid the candles and wine bar ambience. It’s a difficult thing to follow and Binks, and Callan did a great job.
Apologies to the acts we missed tonight due to this Sandman’s hectic schedule. The two we saw, however, were about as good as they come, and bode well for future acoustic nights planned at Trippett’s.
Milburn / Earshot
@ The Boardwalk
Local, live music dead on its arse? Not, if a rammed Boardwalk means anything. There are a few young Sheffield bands who are pulling phenomenal crowds considering their age and general lack of experience.
The Moon are one, Gypzy are on the same path and Milburn are another.
The crowd itself is bi-generational; two parts school mates to one-part parents and elder siblings. The only drawback being that these aren’t necessarily regular gig-goers but are here for one band only.
Earshot made the least impression on the night, which was a shame because they were attempting something less Stone-Island British than the preceding band. More American influenced - at best like a poppier Husker Du, at worst Nickelback.
Enter Milburn and bring on the pandemonium. Savouring the local hero’s welcome they work the crowd like pro’s. The bass-playing singer has the knack of communicating easily with the punters - not surprisingly since he probably shares classrooms with most of them daily.
A good half of the set are covers, although we hear this is down to the fact that the band haven’t written much of their own material yet. Their own stuff when they play shows some promise, commercially pop-orientated but the band already have a degree of tightness which bodes well. Apparently there were some a+r floating around on the night. Let’s hope they avoid being molded into the next Busted. They’re better than that - or could be.
NME GIG with The Datsuns / Polyphonic Spree / Interpol / The Thrills
@ Sheffield University
Here we go again. A week or so before Bush's 'State of The Nation' speech and the NME tour rolls round again with a showcase of what's going on between its august pages. The NME seems to have lost its way recently, the demise of its weekly rivals and the rise of Kerrang! combined with the regular tidal shift towards processed pop has left the inky in the uncomfortable position of trying to be all things to all people. Trying to appeal to an audience comprising of popkids, nu-metalkids, electronicakids (?) and all points west seems to have left them overstretched. Tonight they settle on something everyone can enjoy, a bit conservative perhaps but a compendium of the vertebrae fusingly obscure won’t have the touts circling the venue like student eating sharks as they do tonight.
Firstly The Thrills deliver sunkissed shimmery pop. Warm, harmonies ache of The Birds, The Kinks and the harmonica adds a dash of Dylan at his most loving. “Santa Cruz” (You’re Not That Far) means that with a tad of imagination we’re whisked away from the sticky-floored Students Union and sunning ourselves in LA. The Thrills aren’t as fashionably cool, racy or sweaty as some of their “New Rock Revolution” colleagues. But shimmery chords, memorable melodies, Mickey Mouse jumpers and soft Dublin accents certainly makes them uber-charming. Together with The Spree they are the foundations of a new genre. We’ll call it BBQ music. Long summer days, hazy happiness yet - as we Brits like it - still a bit raw in the middle.
Interpol ring all sorts of 80s bells - fortunately not the shoulder pad and Kylie kind (nob off you revisionists, she was a blight and a nuisance until she started modelling pants) but of the higher echelons of indie cool. There’s hints in the basslines of Echo & The Bunnymen and Joy Division coupled with the propulsive guitar sounds that New York bands have always specialised in. The angular and saturnine bass player reduces our normally dignified and marure snapper to an adolescent hormonal mess.
Without a doubt the most surreal, “I should be taking the piss but it’s actually quite good” award has to go to the incredible Polyphonic Spree. Their cult-like appearance and ruthlessly euphoric presence makes past singles such as “Soldier Girl” come alive. All we ever needed was a bit of orchestral rock, grinning Texans with an hallucinogenic show to make one of the most amazing shows of our lifetime.They love us and we love them. It’s a beautiful relationship that could last a while. And the eclectic twists of tonights tour shows that 2003 could be very exciting indeed.
The Datsuns remind us of the scene from Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston sinks to his knees realising that he has, all along, been on planet earth. Rock, in its AC/DC incarnation, has been round for a long, long time but for much of the last couple of decades has been slinking round, gollum-like, in dark sweaty bars, denim fraying and paunch hanging. Why now? Is Kate Moss’ slender frame encased in a Motorhead cut-off T enough to embue the most basic of all musical forms with credibilty? The short answer would have to be yes - The Datsuns slay the Foundry by reinventing the wheel as, well, a wheel. It rocks, it’s all it does, it’s all it needs to do. Spinal Tap for the mobile phone generation.
A good night then. Next month we’ll be plagiarising some Lester Bangs and claiming it as a new style of our own and providing you all enjopy it, what’s wrong with that? (Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)
Jack Tractor & Laura Benn
@ Loud & Live, The Grapes
Five girls on stage. Check. More black leather than Northern Upholstery. Check. Wilfully amateurish sub-Ramones garage punk. Check. Oh god, GG Action are back!
Featuring a few familiar faces from the city’s scene, including a Big Eye and a couple of Velodromes, GG Action are the Sheffield girl supergroup you really wouldn’t want to meet in dark alley. They’re kind of like one of those scary all-girl motorcycle gangs you read about in 50s pulp fiction, only with a Yorkshire slant and a predilection for dry cider.Tearing through a set of deliberately sleazy punk numbers, including their own anthem ‘Dirty Girl’, the band are a whirlwind of guitar noise and sexual banter. A theme runs throughout the songs, that of obtaining boys and what they’re going to do to them when they get them.
For the final number, singer/guitarist Penny, who is perhaps best known for being the shouty one in Velodrome 2000, turns into a full blown sleaze-rock dominatrix, hanging by the chains I’d never noticed before sprouting from the Grapes’ ceiling, and generally scaring the bejesus out of every male in the house.
In fact this last song shows GG Action can be pretty damn good when they put their minds to it. That’s missing the point, though. They strive to be shoddy and are just having a hell of a lot of fun. And tonight so are the audience. The campaign for more PVC-clad garage punk girl gangs starts here.
@ The Leadmill
Does anybody want an arm-wrestle?” asks Ed Harcourt, pushing his long dark hair away from his pasty, unkempt face.
“You”, he points out to an eager punter, “come up here”. Duly obliging, the young man takes to the stage, only to be beaten two handed by the struggling star to cries of ‘cheat’ from the crowd. “That wasn’t cheating, that was quick thinking” he reasons.
I can’t quite figure out Ed Harcourt tonight. On one hand, he appears to relish the attention of the crowd - arm wrestling one fan, chatting to another between songs and even inviting one up to play his piano - but on the other he appears to withdraw from the limelight like a shy schoolboy, hiding his face behind his hair, asking the audience to “call me a cunt, I deserve the punishment” and challenging a heckler to “come up and punch me”.
On the front of his piano is a sticker exclaiming “I hate life,” yet facing him as he plays is a note saying “every time you masturbate god kills a kitten”. This sums Ed Harcourt up perfectly - he is dark, brooding and mysterious, with a sense of humour and an eye for a good time. Confused? You will be.
After dark, wallowing opener ‘Heart of Darkness’, the claustrophobic driving piano of ‘God Protect Your Soul’, and new album track ‘Ghost Writer’, I thought I had Ed Harcourt worked out - but then he took a funny turn, and launched into ‘Birds Will Sing’, which sounds something like an orgy between the Coral and Calexico, with a hundred flamenco dancers and a raging bull thrown in for good measure. Then, alas, it’s time for a tribute - with ‘Apple of my eye’ he stumbles across a blues / jazz Ryan Adams, complete with double bass and trumpets.
To be quite honest, I just don’t know how Ed Harcourt made it in the music industry- he has no distinctive style and more personalities than the Brit Awards. All I’ll say is thank God someone out there took a risk on him. Ed Harcourt. He’s great, though I’m not quite sure who he is.
Blue Scandal / Ormondroyd
@ The Deep End
Ormondroyd have had their demo played on John Peel, you know, and they’re very keen to tell us all. The band have the right to be proud though, not just due to the grey bearded one playing their tunes, but for their rather keen ear for a tune.
They’re a band who wear their influences on their sleeves, their set being a whistle stop tour of the likes of Ride, The Wedding Present, Radiohead and Belle and Sebastian. They manage to rise above mere imitation, however, even though singer Ollie does sound uncannily like Thom Yorke a good deal of the time.
Generally the songs are atmospheric and rather lovely, bar their more comedic closing song ‘She Said Bo’, an ode to ex girlfriends who turn to the dark side of UK Garage. Nice to see Old Peel still knows what he’s talking about.
Blue Scandal get full marks for enthusiasm, their singer throwing himself quite literally into proceedings with some freaky dancing, and some good musicianship all round.
Their sound is music at the safer end of indie / rock, however, with little to hook the listener in. But you do get the idea that they’re the kind of band that will continue to hone their sound and songwriting as they gather confidence.
As it is, some work needs to be done to set Blue Scandal above quite a few other bands on the scene, but, as a rather nice Idlewild cover showed, there is hope for them.
Martin Grech / Mew
@ The Leadmill
Martin Grech was always going to have a his work cut out gaining his credibility back after being branded the guy on the Lexus advert (even the CD cover announces ‘as heard on the Lexus advert’ – hmmm cool…) The ‘Lexus song’ was the only material of Grech’s I was familiar with so I was keen to see what this 20 year old with a great voice was capable of. I’d been told that the spectre of Radiohead rested firmly on Grech’s shoulders, a comparison often aimed at guys with good vocal ranges singing melancholic rock, a criticism initially leveled at Muse. So what was Martin Grech: a second rate Radiohead or the next Muse? After much faffing about on stage the band start up, and I’m instantly taken by how active Grech is, rolling his eyes and jumping about while playing some complex stuff. First impressions are not of Radiohead, but of Muse and Filter - industrially tinged rock with Nu-metal sensibilities and an ear for the overblown. The band are tight and amass a real riff-orgy, a surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything so full on instead of something a bit more Radiofriendly, a bit more… well… Lexus.
However, soon this starts to drag, I can’t remember a single song… apart from the Lexus one (which they started to play then Martin threw a tantrum and hurled his guitar at the wall… it’s not our fault that it’s the best known song you play!) Martin’s eye rolling seems a bit showy and the band takes ages in between songs. You see my stamina was eaten away by Mew: a dull Mercury Rev, y’know high vocals and orchestral arrangements - lush and imaginative when Mercury Rev do it, a bit tedious and melodically flat when Mew try it. Martin Grech is one to watch - at 20 his song writing can only get better, and in five years we may hear something quite special but, for the moment, I’ll stick with Muse and that band with the high vocals and electro obscurist yearnings ‘Radio… something or other.’
Southpaw / Thee Deadtime Philharmonic
@ Sheffield vs... At The Grapes
A mixed bag tonight. The first band, Southpaw, brought their large entourage to see a set of not-anything-near-surprising left - handed rock. The prosaic glamness, dancing, leaping and other stadium filler affectations did nothing to add spice to a performance that never really altered its pace. It was an alright set of songs that were played to a large number of friends who all disappeared before the other bands took to the stage.
Luckily, they were replaced gradually by a thoroughly nice bunch of people who got to enjoy a novel line up by the name of Thee Deadtime Philharmonic.
Bringing their transit van up from South Derbyshire I reckon they must have gone through a wide range of tapes, as their set was a diverse one. The sleazy easy-going opener had the frontman, Wayne, strutting on the stage and during the second he took the strutting into the crowd. After that he rejoined Oggy (bass), Nean (guitar) and Leon (Drums) and took up his axe. There was a sensation of everyone relaxing and the set won over a few people with their lamentations on local life in the ex-mining villages. Their best stuff was the punkier garage songs with the rhythms and ignoble jerkiness of “This is Deadtime” standing out. As for that novel line up you may ask? Well, have you ever seen that episode where Doctor Who goes to Glastonbury, buys a hat and a tie-dye t-shirt and ends up on the island of shirts - off kinky pirates?
Ravenscar / After The Silence
@ The Boardwalk
The Boardwalk hosted a night of impossibly young local bands, with many of their equally fresh-faced friends packing out the smoky club. Just how are these people getting served?
The Shine were more dull than dazzling. Attempting an epic Manchester-esque sound, the all-male three piece were probably imagining lavish string arrangements in their heads. Tonight Matthew, the lead singer was going to be Noel Gallagher and the similarity was disconcerting. The guitarist looked especially uncomfortable performing, but did cope with the loss of a string.
In today’s youth cultural soundscape of punk influence bands (cf. The Strokes, The Datsuns, White Stipes), The Shine seemed imitators of a musical genre now past.
With their co-ordinated black outfits, After The Silence were the evening’s highlight. They did smooth bits; they did crunchy bits, quiet bits, and loud bits. Three guitarists looked excessive at first, but the multi-layered sound and use of FX pedal proved otherwise. Lead singer Rob Burrows has smouldering good looks which could rival that of indie pin-up Kelly Jones, whilst his vocals were more emotive than those of the Welsh “rocker”. The only (constructive) criticism is that they kept turning around. I couldn’t see their pretty faces. Their EP “No-one’s Looking Out For You” is available now and well worth investigation.
The night ended with Ravenscar, a bunch of lads who probably sit at the back of lessons to piss about. The band had successfully encouraged the largest section of audience to come, including friends / parents / classmates / teachers.
Well deserving of an A* for enthusiasm, their musical style would perhaps get a lower grade. Open shirts, strutting, shredding… is it the seventies again or a parody? None of those on offer could be described as bad, but more time maturing in parent’s garages will be beneficial.
@ The Tuesday Club
The Tuesday Club has kicked off 2003 with a series of characteristically strong line ups, affirming time and again how lucky we are to be at this University. Lineups don't get much stronger than the Godfather of 'liquid' or as some might say, 'intelligent', drum and bass, LTJ Bukem. It was Bukem's first appearance in Sheffield since his last set at the Tuesday Club over three years ago and was thus the first chance many people, including myself, had got to see him. Variety isn't necessarily the word that springs to mind when talking about drum and bass but this gave regulars a chance to experience something genuinely different. Bukem and his Progression Sessions crew brought us a night that didn't necessarily get the crowd jumping up but did bring them a more, dare I say, pro-gressive sound and as a result was interesting. From the MC to the tunes themselves it was a more downbeat and subtle affair that required more thought than the usual night. Anything dubbed as progressive has the potential to disappear up its own arse and I feel there is a fine line for DJs to tread between pleasing themselves and pleasing the crowd. Given the fad he had a full two hours to show us his own distinctive sound and by the end of it the crowd were scream-ing out for more, Bukem got it just about right. In a genre where specific line-ups can seem a little irrelevant, with similar stuff being touted by a large proportion of DJs it was nice to experience something a little different. See you in another three years?
@ The Drum & Bass Arena
I'm really rather fond of Drum & Bass Arena. Though it's moved around more venues than most nights (I think the Salvation Army Citadel is one of the few places it hasn't set up shop in yet), it almost always delivers a top notch mix of quality name DJ's, an up-for-it crowd and good vibes. With rumours abounding that this was to be the last ever D&B Arena to be held in Sheffield (say it ain't so!) and the fact that the line-up was rather tasty, this should have been one hell of a night out. Certainly the bassheads were up for it. Personally I think Andy C could fart in a bag and I WILL dig it. The man's a god. So it should have rocked, but it never really kicked off properly. Why? Because security on the night was so unacceptably tight that I just could not relax and enjoy myself (and I'm not the only one who bitched about it afterwards). It started with the queue, which took an eternity to slowly wind its way in to the Republic. This was because everyone was tapped down, pockets emptied out and generally treated like something the cat dragged in.
Now I know that Drum 'n Bass has a image for violence (undeserved, I think) but this just took the piss. I'm a clubber, not a criminal and when you've paid top-dollar for a mid-week night out you should be treated accordingly. Though everyone in there seemed to me like a fairly friendly bunch, the bouncers were not so much firm but fair as just plain firm. On each of the three occasions that I went to the toilets I saw some poor sod being searched - poo at your peril! Whether all this nonsense was because 1Xtra were doing a live broadcast, or because Republic's (always fairly tight) security were just having a bad hair day I don't know. The crowd, meanwhile, were a nice mix of students, locals and a fair few who'd made the effort and traveled from further afield And they were up for some serious dancing. And my! The DJ's and MC's rocked it. Both the upstairs bar and the main dance floor offered much of a sameness in the music styles, but the night is called Drum and Bass Arena and does exactly what it says on the tin. Sadly Krust turned up very late and so only played a few tunes. In fact so short was his appearance that I missed him. And then Andy C was on. I don't actually think it's possible to have a good Drum 'n Bass night on without playing Bodyrock (Andy C & Shimon's beast of a tune, released last year on RAM). And he did indeed rock it, making the crowd go wild. And then security finally pissed me off just once too often and we couldn't be both-ered anymore. We went home early. When overzealous security make me walk out off an event that should otherwise have been one hell of a night to remember, there's some-thing wrong. I really hope this is not the last we hear from Drum and Bass Arena in Sheffield, it's a top night, but please with out this amount of shite for no reason. Great crowd, great music, pain in the arse security. We deserved better.
The Reverend Basshead
NME GIG with The Datsuns
Hell Is For Heroes