KING’S X: live

KING’S X @ BRISTOL BIERKELLER, 12/6/2017

JE-RRY, JE-RRY, JE-RRY, JE-RRY…

Before a note is even struck, a chant goes out to the drummer. Jerry Gaskill points to his heart and checks that’s what everyone meant, thanks the crowd for asking and gives the OK that yes, he’s healthy now – and with that, we are ON: Groove Machine and The World Around Me. The applause after those two tracks is so encore-rapturous that you’d swear it was the last track of the last gig of a stadium sellout tour, not the start of a small gig in a small room. There’s a tidal wave of UK love pushing forth and it’s Pinnick Tabor Gaskill getting swamped

because fuuuuuuuck!!!! It’s King’s X, in person, RIGHT THERE just a few feet away. Why the exaltation? Pure magic in a three-piece, as any fan with their own tale will tell you. In my record collection, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska sits between the Badlands debut and Testament’s Practice What You Preach… class of 1989. At some point that year, the 15/16-year-old me bought Badlands, King’s X and Testament – in that order – with Out of the Silent Planet very much not far behind, so Nebraska ’89 is where the path to the Bierkeller started: 28 years of King’s X and now, finally, a live X-perience. No wonder we’ve got the feelgood jitters, this is a borderline mythical event. Three hours earlier, doing a non-native’s scope for the gig’s location, The World Around Me snuck out from behind closed ‘keller doors.

Soundcheck. OMG. Dug Pinnick, Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill are IN there.

But because I didn’t see them, I still didn’t know for sure if they were real.

Back to the gig, they look real enough, but it’s only when they don’t disappear in a puff of Tex dust after those first two songs that the convincing is complete. Pillow, Flies and Blue Skies, A Box, Black Flag, Lost in Germany, Cigarettes, Pray and a hard-rocking Looking for Love are among the King’s X/Dogman/Ear Candy-heavy setlist, with Vegetable‘s taut funk shapes stretching to a long-form Moonlight jam. Dug opts out of some choruses because he’s too old and can’t sing that high anymore (his words, not mine), handing vocal duties to the punters making up the Unofficial Bierkeller King’s X Choir, but he’s still got it. Just not going for the young Doug’s gospel gymnastics of the early days.

Two-thirds of the way through and a minor fret flashes by: we’ve had nothing from the first three albums. Should we be worried? Are they now the band’s Stairway?

No. Righteous Gretchen double-up Summerland and Over My Head swell the joint, while KXprog stopstarter We Were Born to be Loved is the only track from Faith, Hope, Love – didn’t see that one coming, would have bet on It’s Love – and it’s unexpectedness turns it into a real highlight with an even more prolonged false-ender than on the record.

The encore? Dogman – beyond words, obvs – and Goldilox, which is part Dug-crowd a cappella, part full-band. Sweet. And Ty Tabor gets a last-minute mention because that guy was fucking flawless throughout, a real master. The solos in Flies and Blue Skies and Cigarettes were all-time Gig Moments.

So, it is done – King’s X have been seen and I make no apologies for the bias in this review, it’s been a long time coming. Heavy soul with free-flowing uplift, just like the records, and needed now more than ever. Get there if you can, keep spreading the word.

Little bit more Pinnick here, after Radiohead

JIZZY PEARL / LOVE/HATE: LIVE

JIZZY PEARL / LOVE/HATE @THE BULLINGDON, OXFORD, 01/04/2017

“It’s the last night of the tour, we’re celebrating 25 years of Wasted in America and yes, I have just stepped out of a fucking time machine…

Jizzy Pearl, a trim and very-much-alive star from LA’s post-glam pre-grunge early 90s, owns a voice that, along with bassist Skid’s artwork and drugs-booze-blackout lyrics, marked Love/Hate out as one of the bands of the time, and those first two albums are scuffed gems to this day. Much like our very own Wildhearts, Love/Hate were too colourful, shambolic and decadent to compete with the rising Seattle star, and that meant they were doomed to be botched by bad timing (and in-band fuck ups, of course). 1992 was Nevermindasupernova. Love/Hate looked like they were having fun. And they were from LA. It could never really last, and it didn’t, but the records really do.

Love/Hate sleeve

LA ’92: Wasted

 

Now it’s April Fools’ Day 2017, the Budweiser cross of cans has graced the stage and we’re straight in to Wasted in America (the album) with Wasted in America (the track). Spit and Miss America follow, and it’s shaping up to be a straight runthrough of the record – ’tis an anniversary after all. Cream to Yucca Man to Happy Hour next?

Not quite. Somewhere during side 1, we get spun off the wasted trail with a couple of blackouts – Tumbleweed and Fuel to Run – before skidding back to the main deal for Cream and Yucca Man. Good move, mixing it like that. Makes the in-its-entirety album thing feel more alive, gig-like and less predictable, and it means that we get aces like Mary Jane, Why Do You Think They Call It Dope? and Let’s Rumble’s sleaze-o Spinning Wheel cut in to the Wasted plot. Serve up a little Blackout in the Red Room after WiA’s closing Evil Twin and we’ve been privy to the full album topped up by Love/Hate’s best others. Jizzy’s voice is, somehow, still a forceful top-ender at 59 years (59!!!) and he seems genuinely moved by tonight’s word-perfect crowd. Well, we love the record, simple as that.

For the encore, JP gives us a choice: either the first side of Rush’s 2112 OR Straightjacket…

(clue: Canada lose)

You never really know with these anniversary/whole album gigs whether they’re gonna work or not, but this one came from the right place a real feelgood celebration of a rekkid of youth, the stuff that’s burned waaaaay down inside…you can’t undo that. It’s in there for life. And when a band decides to uncork that genie, they gotta do it with a record that’s got the tunes, and Wasted in America has no wobbles in that department. If the title track is all you can salvage from a hazy quarter-century recall, dig out the deeper cuts and you’ll see that the album rocks harder than its lead track. Need pointers? Yucca Man, the disorienting Happy Hour and Jizzy-showcase Tranquilizer are a three-way sure shot.

Blackout, Wasted and Rumble albums on replay since the gig. Love/Hate earworms non-stop buzzing

buzzin’ like a bumble bee, TRANQUI-LI-ZER

OHHMS: live

OHHMS / MAMMOTH WEED WIZARD BASTARD / DRORE @ THE CELLAR, OXFORD, 13/02/2017

What a bonus. Turn up at the Cellar for the OHHMS/Mammoth double-header and find that Drore are on the bill as well, making it a triple ugly. NICE. Except that Drore are not nice, not at all. Staggering out from Undersmile’s RIP with scabby song titles like Skinjob and Fukbags, Drore are ruff, scuzzy, sludgy grrrowly FILFF, and unlike Taz and Olly’s so-slo Undersmile, this lot play the mid and fast field with stacks of gear shifts and double-kick beatdowns. Always noisy and never melodic, there’s a thick grunge whiff but not in the Seattle sense … nah, this is grunge the Godflesh way, pissed out of toxic wastepipes and topped off by pained hell-o shriekage from Taz and Crippled Black bassist Tom Greenway. No doubt about it, Drore create a world all their obnoxious own and it’s a proper ugly thrill. No wonder they bagged a few Terrorizer column inches last year.

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard made it into some end-of-year album lists in 2016 so this gig was always gonna be a chance to catch what they’re all about, but their static doom reps somehow underwhelm a bit tonight, ‘specially after Drore’s violent discharge.

No such underwhelm for Canterbury’s OHHMS though, a band who seem stupendously fully formed given that they’ve only put out two EPs, but if you came here expecting oceanic transcendence a la Bloom (massive) and Cold (even massiver) then you/we are out of luck because that version of OHHMS is not in the building. A mere half hour of stage time means it’s New Stuff Only tonight, and they hit it hard. With tracks like The World upping the pace and packing in some aggressive Pelican-ese riffs, we might have a bolshier, denser OHHMS heading our way … let’s see what The Fool brings in March, eh? The only thing lacking tonight is TIME: not enough. And for a band like OHHMS, that just ain’t right.

*update: just read that one of the gig highlights – drummer Stephen Frame – is Drore no more. Ach! News is over on the Drore bacefook page

 

MINOR VICTORIES: live

OXFORD O2, 13/12/2016

Stuart Braithwaite. STUART BLOODY BRAITHWAITE.

If Mogwai are anywhere near being one of your all-time top bands, you’re not gonna miss a chance to see the owner of THAT guitar sound – one of the biggest and unassumingly most influential in the whole rock landscape – doing his stuff a mere few feet away, are you?

No. And this explains why Minor Victories at Oxford’s O2 – on the small stage upstairs – became a last-minute must-see (thanks Nightshift for the tip) in the last month of the year. With band members from Slowdive, Editors and the Twilight Sad in the band and on stage tonight, there’s plenty of pedigree kicking about.

Expectations? Pop-ish electro-tinged rock – iced cool atmos, verse-chorus Rock Action accessibility, nothing fierce, a background role for the ‘gwai guy … an essence rather than a force. The reality? All of the above but louder and less restrained in all the right places. Give Up the Ghost opens up with arena-baiting stomp and a toughened half riff that gives a teasing glimpse of Braithwaite in action, and what follows is a set of surging, widescreen orchestrations with moto-Stereolab pulsations and the UNKLE Psyence heavyweight drum break (Breaking My Light), all topped by Rachel Goswell’s overfloater vocals. ’tis rich and spacious and fulsome – a proper group effort, definitely not the look of a band who made an album without being in the same room.

And what of the guitarist’s proposed delegation to Background Lurker? Not even close. Sure, this band ain’t Mogwai monolithic but where there’s space, where there’s soar and uplift and tumult, there’s S.B.Uncut, swaying and tussling and just about taming that wild guitar energy EXACTLY as you’d hoped, but didn’t really have the nerve to expect. If Boris (Attention Please version) indulged in a little Sigur Ros or Pumpkins’ Adore, you might get something a bit like Minor Victories live – oversized alt-pop roughed up at the edges by volume – and for anyone with Mogwai love in their bones, this gig makes for a pretty special moment-o.

GREENLEAF: live

GREENLEAF / DESERT STORM: OXFORD CELLAR, 29/11/2016

We got one more for ya,” says vocalist Arvid Jonsson, and when that one-more becomes the mid-paced galactic burner With Eyes Wide Open, the best has been saved til last. The band are Greenleaf and-

No, me neither. Zero intel on these guys, ‘cept that they’re Swedish, they’ve toured with Clutch and most of the band are in fact Dozer, so with those kinda post-Man’s Ruin credentials, who wouldn’t hunker down in the Cellar on a f-f-f-freezin November night for the promise of toasty riffage? Especially when you’ve got girder-like support from Oxford Irn Bru-isers, Desert Storm.

Last time I saw Desert Storm was 2014 in this venue with Winnebago Deal, and they rocked it good-time. Tonight? They rock it good-time. With this lot, you just know you’re gonna get a great show, and the fact that two of Indica Blues have pitched up for a live earful shows that Desert Storm have got pulling power – there’s just summat about their riffs and sneaky little 5/4s that pulls you in and keeps you there. The C-word gets bandied about as a reference (already mentioned, go check) and that’s fair enough, but with Matt Ryan’s rough-neck roarin’ and a hefty bit of growl in the guitars, DS have definitely got a metallic High on Fire/Down thing going. Being woefully behind with their albums – to be sorted, promise – the track names passed me by (except for a colossal Convulsion, wherever that’s from), but it’s a sign of the band’s class that not knowing never matters: Desert Storm WILL get you going, and they will deliver the Rock. Guaran-fucking-teed.

After that, Greenleaf have a little bit of work to do. Frontman Jonsson is a singer – a good one – rather than a shouter, but his voice seems a tad thin after what’s just been and so we’ve got a slight pressure drop after the Storm. No worries, though. Favouring up-tempos and 60s vibes (we get the Doors twice – an impromptu Break on Through when Tommi Holappa goes string-busting, and Five to One later on), Greenleaf heat the joint with Cream-y blues and wah action til that spacious mini epic, With Eyes Wide Open, nails the set’s end with a spacey high, Swedish stoner style. Solid stuff, one to keep tabs on. 

 

TESTAMENT: live

TESTAMENT @ OXFORD O2 ACADEMY, 19/6/2016

Track one: OVER. THE WALL. Foolhardily suicidal, or a Buster Gonad-sized show of ballsiness?

Buster G all the way, thrashers. When you’ve survived as much and as long as Testament have, there’s no danger of an old-skule anthem – a GENRE anthem, no less – blowing your load too early because you know you’ve got a tankload of classics to unearth, and that’s exactly what they do for the next hour and a half: lay a thrash masterclass on us with a line-up that almost defies the eyes. Chuck Billy front, Steve DiGiorgio bass, Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson guitar pyro and, possibly the highest of highlights, machinist Gene Hoglan on drums… shit-yesss. Can’t claim familiarity with all or even most of his credentials but his un(s)toppable human-industrial assault on Strapping Young Lad’s City has blown my mind for nearly 20 years now, so the chance to see the SYL/Dark Angel/Death backbone ain’t one to miss. And here he is, with Testament in a not-packed O2, and their opening shot is Over the Wall. Does it get much better?

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Eric Peterson: hornthrower

One look at Chuck’s permasmiling face says it all: no, it doesn’t get much better, and his virtuoso mic stand air-guitaring tells you that he’s having a ball up there (though he still looks like he could twist your head off one-handed). As for Skolnick and Peterson… effortless displays of musicality and velocity.

Tracks played? Take your pick from any number of goldies from a lifetime in the thrash premiership…. The New Order, Dog Faced Gods, Practice What You Preach, Disciples of the Watch, Rise Up and More Than Meets the Eye span it all, while the mosh-mental Into the Pit – ‘written about the crazy motherfuckers when we started, and now it’s for YOU crazy motherfuckers’ – does no wrong. D.N.R. is, with Hogan propelling it, fearsome.

Formation of Damnation seals the night off, and if Chuck is distracted by mic issues then no-one on this side of the stage is. Formation is as rampant as everything else tonight and a colossal reminder not just of how special Testament are, but of how relevant they remain. Tonight’s gig has a real family feel about it, and at the head of it all is a class-act combo of passion, precision and bullshit-free speed metal.

Welcome back, Testament.

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ADAM ANT: live

ADAM ANT @ OXFORD NEW THEATRE, 8/6/2016

Are we excited about this?

Oh yeah. Just a bit a lot. Heyday pop revivals aren’t the kind of gigs I go to but you’ll have to forgive the undercurrent of gush in this review because this is the exception: it’s ADAM ANT, and the New Theatre feels like a stage set for the return of a lost hero.

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Making History

Which, in many ways, it is. For many of us here tonight, Adam and the Ants weren’t just a pop band from back in the day. Adam and the Ants were/are Pop Love #1, the very first and first loves aren’t forgotten, are they? That stuff runs deep, and the reason why those albums from 1981 and 1982 remain in your life while others don’t is because every time you played them again, even after years of exploring and branching off and out into all kinds of music, you still loved the sounds that broke through the tape hiss.

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Remains of the day. KOTWF tape RIP

And in some ways, those A&TA albums sound even better and oddball eccentric on return. With more music and knowledge packing your ears and creaking your shelves (files? clouds?), Adam and the Ants aren’t just TOTP idols like they were when you were seven or eight. They’re post-punk, digging Bowie and Roxy and Iggy but flashfunflamboyant and rhythm-heavy with tough guitars and 50s surf and Western spaghetti and storytelling bravado… not the usual chart-topper mix, is it?

Now it’s 8 June 2016. Last week was the 40th anniversary of the Lesser Free Trade Hall gigs in Manchester by the Sex Pistols, a band who supported a pre-Ants Adam in Bazooka Joe, and it’s just gone 35 years since the Bazooka departer set Kings of the Wild Frontier loose. Adam Ant plays it in full.

So the show starts with the main item, straight in without announcement to Dog Eat Dog and on through to Human Beings without banter, deviation or improv. You’ve got the tracks, what else do you need to know? That the two-drummer line-up does the record’s Burundi rhythms justice? That Ant’s voice is ON and in top nick, and so is he, belying his 63 years with ease? 

True and staggeringly true. And if the guitar overdrive sometimed flattens the subtleties of the Ants’ original, it means his band are more than suited to the Dirk tracks that dominate the second half and to me, this is where the gig starts to feel like a proper gig. Not because Kings ain’t ace – it is – but because after that, we don’t know exactly what’s coming. Even Ant himself looks more relaxed post-Kings as he leads the band into Beat My Guest. And Christian D’or. And .. fuck it, I’m just gonna reel off as many tracks as I can remember in no particular order so that you know exactly what kind of a set he’s pulling off these days: Stand and Deliver. Cartrouble, Xerox, Never Trust a Man (With Egg on his Face), Vive le Rock, Press Darlings, Fall-In, Prince Charming, Desperate But Not Serious, Goody Two Shoes, Red Scab, Marc Bolan’s Get it On. How’s that for a bunch of killer tunes after an album of killer tunes? Vive Le Rock surprises – forgotten how ridiculously catchy it is – while Press Darlings has possibly the best stickwork of the night, which might be a controversial claim given that we’ve just had KOTWF in full but with those drums and that riff, the track takes on a Killing Joke air. Never noticed that before. 

The night ends with the ever-sleazy Physical (You’re So), a reminder of Adam Ant’s legacy, post-punk credentials and alt-rock influence. Still a showman, still a maverick and still carrying a misfit aura, the joy and affection pulsing out for the band and their leader is proof that we are all Ant’s people. Wherever next for the Wild Nobility?

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Oxford, penultimate date