PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS: live review

PIGSX7 AT THE BULLINGDON, OXFORD, APRIL 10, 2019
One of the most anticipated Oxford gigs of the year, surely. The Bullingdon is sold out, the vibe is super charged and the fact that the support act gets a bigger crowd than many headliners here tells you that something is very definitely in the air.
And the support is? A duo. Mesange. Violin plus guitar drones and loops. Intriguing mix. Ethereal Myrkur meets wannabe Boris. Stage presence … less convincing. But the music, yes. Violin takes the lead and soars. Fresh. An ambient, gothic contrast to what’s to come.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs kick off like it’s a King of Cowards run-through: GNT first, The Shockmaster second, and by doing that, the gig is already won. Shockmaster was one of THE riffs of last year, definitely one of my favourites, and to get this slow-moving bruiser in your face is a proper highlight. And do they tweak the riff, adding a bit of time-shifting drag on the back end? Wrong-footing bastards. Nice.
At this point, Matt Baty breaks out of his slow-moving zen intensity to admit that at this stage of a gig, he usually starts complaining about being too hot or having too much smoke on stage or whatever else is bugging his moanself. Not tonight, though. “There’s air-con up here – fucking brilliant! Top marks Bullingdon. And there was Scott Walker on the PA before the gig. SCOTT WALKER. Again, top marks Bullingdon. You’ll get a 5-star* review from us on TripAdvisor.”
We get a new song, ‘co-written with Jay Z and Beyonce’ – which packs a huge hooky riff – before something old (Sweet Relief) and a pair of KoC staples (The Gloamer and Cake of Light) take us home. Crowd is bouncing. Band has one more for us.

You’ll get your money’s worth, it’s 10 minutes long. It’s a fucking workout.”
It can only be A66, right?
And so it is, a full-pelt space-rock burn-up to the end and a ringing earworm for the rest of the week. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs: the People’s Champions. Over and out.
*later downgraded to 4 stars because, “It’s bloody hot up here.”
A couple of Pigsx7 album reviews this way

DESERT STORM and DRORE: live review

DESERT STORM with DRORE at The Bullingdon, Oxford, February 1, 2019 (oh, and Conjurer headlined)

Is it the Deuchars IPA? The Guinness? The proximity of Conjurer?

Is it balls. The reason why Desert Storm turn out yet another magnificent support set is because Desert Storm just fucking are. How do they do it? Every time they take the stage you end up having the best half hour, so in some ways there’s little point reviewing the gig – go read any previous one. But that’s not fair, because we’ve got a duty to be in the moment to share the good stuff in this world, and this is definitely the Good Stuff. And we’ll get to it in a minute, because first, there’s the small matter of brute filth to get through: Drore.

As the band themselves put it on bandcamp, Drore is Drore. No-one can argue with that. What you want is what you get, and what you want is their uber growling scuzz-toned aggro all over your face. Job. Done. With pulverisers like Happy Accident and Skinjob loaded in the arsenal, the only losers are those who don’t get here early enough.

After that, what do Desert Storm do? Same as always: make you do your body-rocking swing thing through the Divine Power of Grooving Metal Riffs. The fact that the band feed off their creations as much as we do just adds to the vibe, like this kind of rock is not just a way of life but the very essence of life. Journeys End, Too Far Gone and The Brawl are among the Sentinels album airings, though there’s no room for the massive Convulsion tonight. Instead, the last two tracks are pulled from two Sentinels predecessors: we get Queen Reefer’s stupendous swing and thrash headcharge, and a closing Enslaved in the Icy Tundra, a track so confident that it drops a brief Clutch-funk break before remembering how metal it is.

Not much else to say really, is there? Desert Storm deal a proper metallic hit – again – and you WILL be rocking like a bastard to Sentinels at home the next day. Again.

Other Desert Storm and Drore wordage:

Almost forgot: Conjurer headlined. Who? Nah, not for me. Not that OTT scream thing. Maybe check Nightshift in March for a write-up.

Desert Storm and Drore

Desert Storm and Drore: no regrets

KING CRIMSON 2018: live review

IN THE COURT OF KING CRIMSON: AN OBSERVATION
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, All Hallows’ Eve, 2018

The jaw drop is a tired enough cliché, but I swear it happened tonight.

These words aren’t a review. They’re a reminder, a rough sketch … an attempt to give some form to a memory of seeing King Crimson for the first time. This was an all-timer of a show. And the nature of the sketch is to pare the experience down to a subjective essence, a couple of Moments, which is a wild disservice to the rest of the show but that’s how it has to be. I mean, this is King Crimson. Who am I to sit here and pretend to know what I’m talking about?

Because tonight, we got schooled. Big time.

First, some rapido scene setting: St David’s Hall Cardiff the venue, seated front right in the Fripp area. No cameras and no viddying during the performance say the signs and Fripp’s own genteel west-country announcement before the show: “Let’s be in the moment.” Two-part show with a mid-point interval. Three-drummer line-up across the front of the stage. Left to right we’ve got Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison: the Front Line, the statement. Behind them, left to right, are Mel Collins, Tony Levin, Bill Rieflin, Jakko Jakszyk and Robert Fripp. Voluminous three-part drum solo starts the night and says We Are Here and So Are You. Even the total ace that is Live in Chicago 2017 doesn’t capture the volume of the percussive sorcery we’re privy to right now, even though it would definitely have been there. No recording can, it’s the live effect, simple as that. Surround-sound seeing-is-believing-is-amplifying. Tracks played? Can’t recall the sequence. Many familiar (Easy Money, Indiscipline, In the Court of the Crimson King, Epitaph, Cirkus and more), many not. Part I was excellent. But Part II made the first half feel like a warm-up, even though it was nothing like. Here are a couple of moment-ous whys.

A Moment pt I: DISCIPLINE

It’s an intricate, spidery track, as we know. But to see eight people, three of them drummers, pin-pointing Discipline’s intense rhythm workout in the flesh is almost beyond belief. The whole thing’s a piece of work, but the ending? Shit me. Fripp and Jakszyk match each other’s every note on a fraught adrenalin run AND THEN land that sudden-stop ending together, exactly, inhumanly precisely … sucks your breath out. Staggering.

A Moment pt II: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN

Schizoid might be their best-known track but familiarity never diminishes its power because it’s too damned fiery a composition with an All-Time Heavy riff – and live, it’s even more feral-orchestral. You’ve got eight people pulling on its limbs: tension. Schizoid is the last track of the night and it’s a gift. Like Starless before it (another Moment), you see the band loosening just enough to visibly enjoy the home run after two-plus hours of focused performance. Jakszyk rocks out to Gavin Harrison’s 21st Century drum solo, as does Tony Levin. Fripp may even have a little more upturn on his mouth corners. But if you think they’ve loosened their hold on what really matters – The Performance – and are about to coast home, wrong wrong no no no. Right now, 21st Century Schizoid Man feels like the most dramatic crescendo ever played. You sit there, rapt and leaning forward, when – or because? – a thought pops up:

‘Are they going to make it?’

Because the pace, dexterity and interplay is frightening … someone’s wheel is gonna wobble, surely. Isn’t it?

No. Not an option. Not on this stage. Schizoid, and especially this version of it, exposes King Crimson music for what it really is: a monster. The heaviest, most fearless rock of all time.

This collective shows what guitar-based band music really can be. Cacophonous and overstimulating, delicate and beautiful, free flowing and swinging, precise and intense, tribal and rhythmical, it’s rock with its full potential realised. In this moment, you do think that most other bands, even the ones you love the most, are under performers. Are they? Or does the octet of mild-mannered suits up there on the St David’s Hall stage really operate on a more rarefied level?

Go and see. For a show that’s no-props and music only, you get a spectacle. Phenomenon as revelation.

I hope never to forget it.

King Crimson, Cardiff, October 31, 2018

It’s OK to take pictures … Tony Levin has his camera out

RITUAL UNION 2018: review

KIRAN LEONARD, GNOD, GHOSTPOET, WARMDUSCHER, BOY AZOOGA AND GAZ COOMBES among the bands at Oxford’s Ritual Union festival, October 20, 2018

Ritual Union returns for its second year and you probably know the drill by now – four stages of bands on Cowley Road and some in-stores at Truck Store. Bo Ningen destroyed the place last year. Is anyone gonna carry their fearsome torch this time around?

Everyone has their own path through a multi-stage multi-band bill like this, and our path starts at Gnod Central: use the Salford collective as an immovable anchor point and work back, up and around the rest of the schedules.

Ritual Union 2018

Right then, where to start? Being familiar with the tastily grooving Loner Boogie (but nothing else) from Boy Azooga, we might as well head to the Bullingdon for a 1.30-ish kick off with Cardiff’s homegrown. But while getting wristbanded for Ritual Union admission, the doors are leaking a very un-riffy waft. Into the venue itself and it’s full-volume Boy bland. Needs salt – lots of it, and quick. The place is packed to the back though, so they must have got something right somewhere, and that somewhere is evidenced on the next track. Introduced as a new one, it packs the rock salt and jams on a thick, just-dirty-enough riff and yes, ’tis good. And so they go, a likeable young bunch who no doubt finish off with a massive Boner Loogie, but I’ll never know because even that highly tempting proposition isn’t quite enough to sacrifice Ghosts in the Photographs to the Timetable Gods. Time for a polite Azooga exit and a swift dash up to The Library for the last 10 minutes of the Oxford band’s set.

Aaaaaaaaaaah. Downstairs, small room, thick air, thirty-odd people and a bass buzz vibrating your vitals. Feels like home, musically speaking. Ghosts in the Photographs do instrumental post rock, the kind of thing that’s not wildly different from other instrumental post rock but, because you’ve got a leaning for instrumental post rock, you get a kick out of hearing more instrumental post rock. Explosions in the Sky delicacy leavened by bass-force 5ive, if that’s not too shallow a summary. Judging by the spoken sample fading out at the end, I’m guessing the track was their 18-minute Dyslexorcist, but it is a guess. One to explore.

Any band who did a session for Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music last week has to be worth a look, so the next stop is the larger-than-life Warmduscher. Post-punkish angles, sharp endings, shitloads of gothabilly reverb and odd tales that don’t sound remotely serious, relayed by a guy in a sports jacket, shades and a cowboy hat. You gotta love it: party Warm. And with Fat White Family bloodlines running through the band, there’s no doubt a fair amount of muck as well.

Compelling in a very different way is Kiran Leonard who clips some wired, wiry discord that scores pretty high on the awkward-ometer. Spiky jangle jerk and twitch. Leonard’s voice is an acquired taste of often fast yelps that hit and miss while he battles the guitar like he’s plugged into it himself. You have to watch. Great band too, especially the drummer. If Tim Buckley grew up with the New York alt rock underground and hired a Ryley Walker rhythm section, would this be something like? Much to check with Kiran Leonard, and whatever falls out of his albums, it won’t be dull.

Right then, the big one. After all this talk of angles, twitch and flinch, good as it is, you’re ready for a proper fix from the promised land of amplification, riffs, industrial intoxication and body-beating catharsis. You gneed Gnod.

Anything like the oversized Unkle Frank Says Turn It Down would be a welcome flooring, right? But we don’t get it, nor anything close to it. Anyone hoping for Chapel Perilous Gnod or Just Say No…Gnod is not gonna get their fix because tonight’s incarnation of the Salford noisemakers is Heavy Electronic Ambient Gnod – two guys, electronics, subterranean drones and pulses, and a fuzzed-out film backdrop. Art Installation Gnod. Riiiiight. What does it all mean? Let’s open up and wait for the transcendent hit, the doom-shaker resonance, the seismic epiphany

nothing. Boring as fuck. To stand and watch 30 minutes of Nothing Happens – not even a building hypnotic swell – is a mega switch-off, and that time is flushed forever. Hilariously, when they end the set they forget they’ve been scheduled for 45 minutes not 30 so they crank it back up for another 15. Sure, we could leave, but in for a penny in for a pound … of false optimism. Bit gutted, really. Those recent albums make a majestic racket and the prospect of Gnod noise done live was reason #1 for getting the gig ticket.

Anyway, it’s nothing a G&D coffee stop can’t fix and we’re onto just two more bands from the slicker end of the day. Ghostpoet pulls out a goody, his downbeat noir beefed nicely by the live band, and Ghostpoet himself being more animated than expected. Many Moods at Midnight opens the set and a keyboard-heavy Freakshow shuts it, but the penultimate heavy-hitting Immigrant Boogie is what it’s all about. Amped, man. Sol-id. Not ghostly.

Closing the day is Gaz Coombes, and the star quality is obvious. His voice is in top shape, as are the band and backing singers who flesh out his solo gems like Walk the Walk’s delicious falsetto funk and the addictive moto-pulser Deep Pockets. Guitarist Nick Fowler spreads enough grit to rough it up in the right places, and it’s a job well done by a class act. Hats off to the hatted one.

QOTSA + IGGY POP: live review

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE ALL-DAYER AT FINSBURY PARK, JUNE 30 2018. IGGY POP SECOND IN COMMAND

It’s a heatwave, it’s a scorching Saturday aft and there are complaints-worthy queues for the bars in Finsbury Park. Do you file in with a human snake for an hour to get yourself a sip o’ the shite stuff?

Or do you make sure you miss not one second of Iggy Pop?

You know the answer, and when Iggy skip-runs out, shirtless from the off, to I Wanna Be Your Dog, it’s confirmed. Screw lager, here is the Miracle of Pop. He’s lost speed, he limps badly and his muscle tone is much melted, but seeing him still giving it everything after a long life of feral performances and time-defying physicality is a life-affirming spectacle. And it is a pleasant shock to see him fired up like this in the lowering sun. The Post Pop Depression Live at the Albert Hall DVD – another captivating performance (is there any other?) – looked like it might have been a last-of-its-kind statement from Pop, the start of a move towards slightly more refined – or, at least, less physical – performances, but no. It’s like he can’t help himself. The momentarily mature Pop that peeped through PPD has been ditched for a return to the Stooges wild.

Gimme Danger is next up, and then: “If you saw somebody hitchiking … near Swindon … would you pick ’em up?” Cue The Passenger, then Lust for Life. He’s put the big-crowd guns out early, so what happens next? This is where it gets interesting, this is what it means to pull a great mass-appeal set out of your pants. Skull Ring. I’m Sick of You. TV Eye, Search and Destroy, Some Weird Sin, Mass Production …. who would have thought Mass Production on a day like this? It always sounds 10 times longer than it actually is, and crowd chatter does rise as it goes on, but you cannot ignore this crawling Idiot-grotesque factory dirge dragging the beauty out of a hot summer afterglow. But then, knowing he has to bring everyone back with the last track, he lets the Jean Genie out. Pop doesn’t mention Bowie, but surely everyone thinks Bowie, and while we do it’s Pop the Survivor who twists his body through a track that links them forever.

As far as tracklists for support slots go, it’s pretty hard to beat. As far as performances from still-got-it legends go … same. He looks strong – almost broken, but in the same gasp, nowhere near, with voice to match. We’ll never work it out, the guy’s still a phenomenon who you’ve got to watch as much as listen to. Pop time is show time. Again.

Queens of the Stone Age … are on ridiculous form. There’s no point teasing it out, they just are. Finsbury Park 2018 will surely be known as one of those gigs in a band’s lifetime where the cosmic forces got all their arses in line, and those who made it were lucky enough to witness something more than a bit special. It felt like they played for hours but finished in minutes. If I Had a Tail, Lost Art of Keeping a Secret and Feet Don’t Fail Me Now are early starters, and it’s clear the band are in a fearsome groove – pacy, heavy, clear and jammed with musicianship: a consummate rock gig and they never stop working it. Little Sister and Sick Sick Sick hit hard and lift high, but then again so does everything, the one exception being Make It Wit Chu’s seductive breather ahead of a SFTD one-two.

Songs for the Deaf shuts the main set down. The encore is a 10-minute Song for the Dead, shit ye not. THAT’S how to finish off Finsbury – a hard rock orgy for 45,000. Do it all over again? If only we could. QOTSA albums on permanent replay ever since. Untouchable.

Queens of the Stone Age do Finsbury

QOTSA do Finsbury

KARMA TO BURN: live review

KARMA TO BURN with DESERT STORM at The Cellar, Oxford, June 27 2018.

This is a billing you really don’t wanna miss. Oxford wrecking merchants Desert Storm hook up with hard rock legends Karma to Burn in the none-more-suitable confines of the Cellar.

So. Desert Storm. Drunk-en shambollock. No, hang on – that’s Uncle Will, buffering across the stage mid-set to ruffle everyone’s hair. What we really mean is, DESERT FUCKING STORM: another titanic chunk of metallic heft that pummels and grooves in all the right places, same as it ever did. Journey’s End is the opener, just as it is for new album Sentinels, and it’s a forceful declaration, launching a set that draws heavily on Sentinels and rightly bloody so because it’s a heavyweight beast. Too Far Gone, The Brawl and Gearhead are, if memory serves, among the other new tracks thrown in with old familiars, but it’s the textured maturity of Kingdom of Horns that really leaps out, as it does on the album. What more to say? Another awe-tastic Desert Storm offensive.

Karma to Burn next, straight outta West Virginia-ish. Will they conquer too?

Yes. And no.

Karma to Burn logo

The yes is for other people. Cellar crowd rocks out to Forty Four, Thirteen, Eight, Twenty One and whatever the hell else got played. Cellar Loves Karma.

The NO? That’s mine, and it doesn’t feel great to say it. There’s a ton of love for the band from here got the albums on heavy rotation ahead of the gig, finally wrapped up a long-unfinished lost-classic style review of their debut, and am definitely over the karaoke Karma experience of 2013. This one feels RIGHT, especially with Desert Storm upfront. Anticipation is high again.

But that moment when KTB’s Will Mecum wandered through the DS stage, warning bells rang because he looked pretty hammered already. Not fall-over gone, but wavering down the slow-focus end of beered/whatevered. What that means, when Karma to Burn take the stage, is that those mountain ‘spired riffs are crunched and amped and sound right enough, and Eric Cutter and a hulking Evan Devine give it plenty, but it just doesn’t look right – because the guy on guitar lets the riffs do the work without working the riffs. Instead of some attack and right-now presence from THE Karma originator and (let’s be honest) focal point, we got a slow drawling geezer who wasn’t bad but was on muscle-memory auto. It was a distraction and I couldn’t shake it. Funny how, when the music’s all there is – and that is literally true of this band – it ends up not being just about the music. You gotta show up, you gotta PLAY. Like it means something.

So, it wound up feeling like another karaoke job. Twice a bit burned, now. Any more? Better instead to savour clips like this from just a couple of years ago or recall a more vital show you’ve got lodged in the vault of memories (Audioscope 2011 for me: amps stacked higher than the stage was wide, full force rocking in your facials. Much more like it.)

ROBERT PLANT: live review

ROBERT PLANT AND THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS
Bath Festival Finale Weekend, Bath Spa, May 27 2018

This gig feels like a massive, swollen-ball bonus in the music lottery. After last year’s tour date prices shot out of reach just a few hours after going on sale, it seemed that Robert Plant would be hard to catch on the road, but a few 2018 festival dates means the Bath Festival Finale Weekend drops us in an oddly cozy outdoor setting with Bath Spa as a 360-degree backdrop. It’s welcoming and inviting, packed with roots and history.

A bit like the music we’re about to hear, right?

Link Wray’s 1958 strut Rumble is the walk-on track and our headliners kick things off with signature Zep II blueser, The Lemon Song. Didn’t see that one coming, but you know the Space Shifters’ score by now – whatever feels right IS right, and their gigs are never less than immersive. You jump in for the ride and see where it goes, knowing roughly – but not exactly – where you might end up. After The Lemon Song and Turn It Up, that ride takes in Carry Fire, Lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar, Led Zeppelins I-II-III-IV and Dreamland with just one other stop – Nashville/Clarksdale for Please Read the Letter. Introduced with an Alison Krauss anecdote and an impish “written by two geniuses” quip, it’s big and full-some, but Gallows Pole is the first gig moment, a gallop that drops all downtempo parts and pelts it from the off, fired by Seth Lakeman’s fiddle. After that, Carry Fire’s entrancing trip is widescreen heavy, and again Lakeman is central.

A brace of less-riffsome Zep tracks – Going to California and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You – give Skin a chance to pick ‘n’ psyche, Little Maggie brings worldly beats, and the main set wraps with Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die). On the Dreamland record, it’s dusty, urgent, trancey. Here, it’s a toughed-up rock ‘n’ roller pushed by shuffling Radar Love drum patterns, and it’s stuff like this that make the Space Shifters a proper live experience. You don’t get the same old shit. They play with a Right Now vibe, locked in music’s moment whether it’s rock and roll, Touareg blues, Bristolian beats, misty mountain folk, Nashville/Appalachia or Zep perennials, or any mix they see fit to run with.

And Plant? His voice is bang on, as it has been since the first days of Strange Sensation in 2002. Of all the people from rock and pop’s first wave of mega bands, he, surely, is the one doing things with the most class, and though he’ll be leaving his 60s in a couple of months, he doesn’t look like he’s gonna wobble. No way.

If the encore brings the one dead cert in a Space Shifters gig – Whole Lotta Love – then the other near-cert is that it won’t follow the previous tour’s version, and it doesn’t. Out goes the slow desert intro. In comes the underplayed crunch of Bring It On Home ahead of THAT riff. Segue or what? Lakeman owns the theramin/ritti slot and all is well until the climactic home run gets cut short when half the band stop early. “I think that’s it,” says Plant of the ragged end. “Looks like we’ve fucking finished.”

Does anyone care? Not out here, not a bit, and though it’s not the trippiest or out-there of Shape Shifter sets, nor is it too obvious a crowd-pleaser. As ever, Plant and the Sensational ones keep finding extra gears to cover more miles in music’s adventures.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters tour t shirt 2018

Who else?

The set list went something like this:

The Lemon Song
Turn It Up
Rainbow
The May Queen
Please Read the Letter
Going to California
Gallows Pole
Carry Fire
Little Maggie
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
Funny in my Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die)
***
Bring it on Home/Whole Lotta Love