MY VITRIOL, WILT and CO.UK
July, London Highbury Garage
One of these three bands are going to strike it big in the next year with their infectious guitar abusing and chronically addictive tunes. And that band is not going to be Co.uk, who must have the ugliest and most irritating name in the history of rock. Basically, the band play tired, repetitive punk rock, with chunky chords and even chunkier choruses. And it sucks really, even in the live arena where you'd expect them to be at their most effective. Who exactly are supposed to buy the dated, knowingly average records that Co.uk will release? Even the highlight of the set, 'Sick Of You' sounded like slightly strained pub rock. Imagine Symposium stripped of their vitality and best tunes, and you pretty much have Co.uk in a nutshell. Horrible, isn't it? That's what some people might call the future of rock.
I can't see Wilt succeeding either, even with the industry muscle of Mushroom behind them. Their music is actually quite enjoyable; an efficient blend of noisy pop and tidy riffs, but it's all been done before. Hundreds and hundreds of times. Okay, so some members of the band are trying to improve upon the failure of their previous incarnation in Kerbdog, but playing music half-way between their old thrash-pop sound and more radio-friendly material is going to leave them severely compromised. They might as well go the full hog and play stadium rock if they want to be stars. Still, songs like 'Radio Disco' are quite lovely nuggets of sonic melody and Wilt seem to be genuinely nice people, and I suppose it would be a pleasant surprise to see them in the charts. But I doubt it.
Hype has surrounded My Vitriol from day one, but based on this performance it is easy to see why. Firstly, they look perfect with their tight t-shirts and cool haircuts. Secondly, they 'do' the live experience the way the fans like it; all moody poses during the quiet bits, before going all animated when the guitars crank up. Most importantly however, they keep the crowd transfixed with their fantastic songs. Their image may give the audience something to focus on, but it's the rocket-fuelled energy of songs like 'Always Your Way' that actually control the crowd. Som may let his hair flop over his face, but it's the soaring chorus and squalled guitars of 'Cemented Shoes' that make us go ballistic. Scratch away the veneer of hype, and you'll discover that My Vitriol are one of the tightest, most abrasive new rock bands out there. And that's something to cherish.
MINDWIRE and HOTEL LOUNGE
July, Guildford Star
A packed out Star proved that the live music scene in Guildford isn't quite dead yet. Hotel Lounge probably kept the proverbial pacemaker beating steadily with their choice of epic, swooning rock. Okay, their influences were too obvious, but if Muse can make a career out of it there's nothing stopping this band. Some of the songs were a bit bloated and could have done with a bit of trimming, but I was generally kept fairly entertained and they're considerably better than last year's rather rough demos would lead us to believe. Hotel Lounge are quite good, that's about all I can say.
I've always loved Mindwire and their sweaty, summertime rock, and this gig marked a return to the live arena after almost a year away. I think the band have realised that the fashion-conscious music industry is never going to accept them, but they appear happy just playing to local punters in their hometown. Mindwire have been playing roughly the same set for the past couple of years, but have moved away from their previous grunge sound to something much more mellow, reminiscent more of the Lemonheads. They still rock, but in a more vibey, chilled out style. And I thought they were great. And so did everyone else. That's got to be a good thing.
GUILDFORD LIVE 2000 FESTIVAL
July, Guildford Stoke Park
In the past, I've pretty much ignored the Guildford festival, despite it being a mere ten minutes walk from my house, simply because there have not been enough quality bands to justify the asking price. This year, with the weekend being divided up into separate musical styles, things were a bit different. The Friday 'Rock Day' actually offered a fairly good line-up, although with Culture Club and Van Morrison headlining the other days, not everything is quite right yet. The organisers are getting there though, and big respect to them because on a very small budget they've developed Guildford into Britainís fifth biggest festival, some achievement. Anyway, on with the music...
Cay have had a bit of a rough ride of late, having being dropped by their label and then losing two founder members of the band, and when they took to the main stage in torrential rain in front of a couple of hundred punters at most, their subdued mood can hardly have been lifted. I did get the impression that the band were rather going through the motions, and they lacked the explosive energy that characterised last year's gigs, but their set was still a short, sharp reminder of how brilliant they are. All the tracks from 'Nature Creates Freaks' were lean and mean, and for the first time I found myself enjoying new single 'Ressurexit'. The new members of the band fitted in well too, and hopefully this isn't going to be the last we'll hear of Cay. They deserve so much more, and their must be labels out there who agree.
In comparison, The Crocketts were a shambolic blend of kareoke japes, seventies rock and dumb punk. Their foul sense of humour and simplistic music was fun for about fifteen minutes, but I tired of them very quickly. They were generally unfocused and sloppy, and had an obvious lack of quality material. Basically, Cay wiped the floor with them. On the other hand, Terrorvision proved once again that sweaty rock and crowd-pleasing entertainment can be combined to devastating results. I wouldn't touch 'Bradford's finest' on record, but there's no denying their status as the ultimate festival band. They're funny and they rock; what could be better? Tony is a great frontman and it's surprising just how many Terrorvision songs you know. 'Alice, What's The Matter?' was my favourite on the night, with it's dark, gritty riffs and sing-a-long chorus. The band also have enough charm and stage presence to make even brand new songs feel like old favourites. Don't laugh, but Terrorvision may have pulled off the set of the festival.
The Live Club stage, which showcased local talent, was a bit of a disappointment in that much of the line-up consisted of anonymous pub bands that no-one had ever heard of. It would have been nicer if the organisers had included more of the exciting young talent from the Aldershot WEC scene, rather than tired old rockers who are destined to play The Star for the rest of their lives. Still, I did catch two bands who have improved immensely since the last time I saw them. Winner are snottier, faster and tighter than before, and their set was as fine a blast of punk rock goodness as I have ever witnessed. The fake American accents have got to go, but this is a band on a full-throttle tip who should go far in punk circles. The first time I saw Angel I thought they were little more that Nirvana clones, but they've taken that criticism on board and evolved their sound into something edging towards their own. The grunge element is still there, but they've added strong shots of hardcore rage and nu-metal riffage into the mixture. For the first time, they sounded genuine and Angel are going to be another local band to keep your eyed peeled for. They've got a single out later this year apparently.
The headliners of the festival were, um...a bit different from the norm. On the second stage, Rolf Harris played up to the role of Aussie family entertainer, and was a lot of fun. He played a mixture of cover versions, Australian classics and his own material, finishing the set with a rousing 'Two Little Boys'. Hard-warming stuff from a lovely bloke. By the time Motorhead took to the main stage, the festival must have been full to capacity because Stoke Park appeared to be a flood of mullets and cut-off denim jackets. Motorhead are awful, and I could only tolerate about half an hour of their breakneck metal. It appears they've built a whole career around rehashing 'Ace of Spades'. And extensive drum solos are never a good thing. Overall, the festival was much better than I expected, and despite being soaked to the bone for the entire evening I had a lot of fun. Diversity doesn't always guarantee quality, but if you want a few laughs as well as some cool sounds, consider the Guildford festival next year.
SLEATER-KINNEY and MARY TIMONY
July, Brighton Pavillion Theatre
Mary Timony is a strange lady. She is obviously musically adept, playing keyboards, guitar and violin during a fairly lengthy set, and her quirky personality made her a likeable frontperson. However, with only a drumkit for accompaniment, Mary Timony's songs sounded sparse, and needed at least a bass guitar to flesh out the sound. As well as this, she had a frustrating habit of making potentially pleasant songs sound as bad as possible. Her choice in keyboard sound was particularly poor, making the songs rattle rather than flow. The fuzzed up guitars were much better, and formed the best part of her set. Too often though, listening to Mary Timony was a case of endurance rather than pleasure.
The Pavilion Theatre is a really cool venue in that it's very wide, so that wherever you are in the room you're always reasonably close to the band. It was nice to see Sleater-Kinney in an intimate venue because the only previous time I'd seen them was at last year's Reading festival, where they looked a bit lost up on the main stage. Even better, the band put on a typically fantastic performance that made the hour set blitz by. Sometimes it's frustrating when a band insist on playing tracks from their latest album, but when that latest album is 'All Hands on the Bad One', the finest material Sleater-Kinney have released to date, the experience is a very different one. Ten of the album's thirteen tracks were played, and the exhilarating passion that fuelled '#1 Must Have' finally convinced me as to the record's best track. Elsewhere, it was the energetic punk tracks that were most appreciated by an active audience, such as a full-throttle 'Turn It On' and an extended version of 'Dig Me Out' as a suitably raucous climax to proceedings. Personally, I'm equally charmed by the band's slower songs; the brooding 'Start Together' was magnificent, and the heavily harmonised 'Get Up' was given an added live edge. I think the only disappointment of the evening was the failure to play 'Burn, Don't Freeze', but the show proved once again that Sleater-Kinney are one of the underground's brightest stars.
CARETAKER, MONKEY BOY and THE OEDIPUS
August, London Highbury Upstairs @ Garage
One of the great aspects about gigs is their unpredictability; who, for example, would have expected Horsham's softly-spoken post-rock outfit The Oedipus to upstage the much hyped confrontation between emotive lo-fi types Caretaker and oddball garage noiseniks Monkey Boy? Well, that's just what a sweating Highbury audience witnessed. The Oedipus appeared almost shy to take to the stage, but what they lacked in presence they made up with some remarkably innovative and exciting examples of post-rock. Too many bands use the veneer of post-rock to disguise the fact that they are actually quite dull, but The Oedipus are definitely something quite different. They have songs which can switch with ease between the serene and savage, and the sound created is dense enough to completely engross the listener. The band also remember the importance of being able to rock and the addition of vocals to several of the songs gives a slight twist of pop to proceedings. In all, a startling reminder of how devastating post-rock can sometimes be.
Playing to unexpectant provincial audiences, Monkey Boy can be a crazy live experience, blending together garage punk and jazz with confusing stop-start song structures. In front of a knowing London audience however, they lacked that element of surprise that makes them so confoundingly enjoyable elsewhere. The set still managed to be both intense and humorous, and Crawford from Rothko is a more than ample replacement for the departed Disco Stu, but something was definitely lacking. I'd still love to see the band play in Aldershot and get a few Monkey Boy virgins confused though. If there really was a musical duel between the two headliners, it would be the abrasive noise-rock of Caretaker that came up trumps. Early on in the set the band battled with poor sound quality, but songs like 'Routine' still sounded furiously accomplished. By the end of the evening, Caretaker must have completely won over the audience, with brutally powerful versions of tracks from the '(Pause)' EP as well as some suitably atmospheric instrumentals and the odd new song thrown in for good measure. Someone out there has got to start taking notice.
FOURTH QUARTET, REYNOLDS and SAN LORENZO
August, Guildford Star
In small doses, San Lorenzo could be the greatest band ever to combine angsty emo and raucous post-rock. For the first couple of tracks the calculated guitar abuse, furious drumming and contrasting girl-boy vocals left a significant impact. It was disappointing therefore, that San Lorenzo then seemed to run out of ideas, furrowing familiar territory rather than developing their set. They've stumbled upon an exciting sound, but continually recycling it is not enough. Fuelling their songs with more emotion and hooks could transform San Lorenzo into something much better.
I had seen Reynolds before but had largely forgotten what they sounded like. I was given a superbly brutal reminder as the slimmed-down trio performed one of the tightest, fiercest and most dense sets I've ever seen. I've no idea how to describe it, but I guess it's everything San Lorenzo should have been, a huge sonic-emo noise bursting with hardcore passion. The tiny Star stage only added to the intensity of the performance. Reynolds sound like all your favourite American bands, whilst still retaining their own identity. Long may they seriously rock the underground.
A difficult act to follow, but Fourth Quartet proved themselves to be the ultimate comedown. The band had no need to be slightly embarrassed at the fact they weren't as noisy as the other bands on the bill because it is the delicate beauty of songs like 'Less Of Me' that make them so special. As someone once said, the true brilliance of Fourth Quartet lies in what they don't play; the transient guitar lines, the heartfelt pauses, the failure to divulge into climatic feedback. Even the moderately harder direction of new material like 'A Blank Document' subdues the audience into silence rather than battering them with noise. A rare treasure.
Issue 6 Summer 2000 © Tim Bragger