Karma to Burn – live@Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, July 2013

No-frills power-trio Karma to Burn bring guitar-bass-drums fury to the Bullingdon. Or do they?

As we know, Karma to Burn are all about the expected. End-to-end riffs, no vocals, no experimentation, no frills. They do not deviate, they do not change: certainty is their currency and you pretty much know what’s coming up – an hour or so of shit-kicking, dust-and-gasoline guitar hooks ground out by three grizzled road-dogs bonded by a volatile history of bad drugs, bad attitudes and band break-ups. Seeing the reunited Will Mecum-Rob Oswald-Rich Mullins line-up nail the Audioscope headline slot a couple of years ago was a proper treat, and now they’re back to give us more.

But before West Virginia headlines, Oxford must support. That honour falls to local heroes Desert Storm who charge the Bully with infectious, Clutch-inspired rhythm ‘n groove and supreme confidence. Immense.

Karma to Burn take to the stage almost without anyone noticing. And as the first notes crunch forth tonight, something’s not quite right.

Who’s the drummer?

And where is the bassist?

First question first. By not following Karma’s personnel moves last year, I missed the fact that drummer Rob Oswald left not just the band but music itself, sick of the lies and compromises at the business end of the music business. He got out.

As for the bass space … it remains a void. Rich Mullins never shows. Nothing is mentioned.

So for a band who trade in certainties and absolutes, this is an unsettling start. Does Will Mecum (guitar) plus a drummer (Evan Devine) count as a Karma to Burn experience?

Sonically, yes. As soon as those amps push Mecum’s Karma-sized riffs out, the doubts diminish and grins emerge. This music isn’t sophisticated, it’s as stripped down as you can get – there aren’t even any solos – and yet, live and loud in a small venue, it unleashes a very primal urge to just ROCK OUT. The Bullingdon back room does exactly that, whirling into a mosh as the wordless tracks blast past. Job done. And with job done, Mecum and Devine swiftly depart.

Whether this two-piece format is Karma to Burn’s future is something we don’t know yet. Losing Oswald’s unkempt wildman intensity is one thing but if Mullins’s genial cool is AWOL too … that’s a hefty personality deficit for a band who are pretty minimal to begin with. Tonight they pull it off – I think. Let’s see what happens.

Julian Cope. Spectacular guitar-heavy rock’n’roll excess

Kevin WoodThis review was first published on BBC Oxford on 16 February 2006, two days after Julian Cope’s concert in Oxford.

 

 

 

It’s February the 14th and there’s a lot of love bouncing around upstairs in the Zodiac…

…but that’s not just because it’s Valentines Day, no no no. It’s because the Arch Drude, Julian Cope, is onstage.

His last Zodiac appearance was a solo affair where, armed with a lurid green semi acoustic guitar, effects pedals and a hefty beard, he plundered his vast back catalogue to mesmerising effect. Now, 18 months later and with last year’s Citizen Cain’d/Dark Orgasm double whammy in the can, he is ready to ROCK. We know this for a fact because Doggen – guitarist extraordinaire and tonight masked by Joker-style face paint – is up there with a six-stringed axe to grind, while Mister E is ready to pound his kit.

The opening shots of White B**** Comes Good and She’s Got a Ring on her Finger tell us exactly what to expect – a night of Copean garage/psyche rifferama. Double Vegetation, Highway to the Sun, World War Pigs, Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line and Sunspots are all given extra beef by Doggen’s unrestrained guitar cookery, as are a pair of tunes from Teardrops archives. There’s even an airing for Brain Donor’s unrefined thuggery… Get Off My Pretty Face indeed. Everyone’s happy.

Threading it all together is Cope’s between-song banter, as unhinged and high value as ever. Never one to use two words when twenty will do, the self-styled rock ‘n’ roll shaman riffs on the trivial and the bizarre, from his fingerless studded gloves to a disastrous séance with Al Jourgensen’s wife via lost maps to the underworld. And who else would bother to swap his bass for another one that’s exactly the same, just because he loved the absurdity of it?

After dropping the pace with Autogeddon’s epic s.t.a.r.c.a.r., Doggen and Mister E depart to leave the frontman wielding his mellotron and electric guitar to max effect on a clutch of Fried/Peggy Suicide/Jehovahkill/20 Mothers faves. Then the band regroup for the last stretch, finally finishing off with Hell is Wicked and Reynard the Fox. It’s here, right at the end, where the mood of the gig changes from feelgood rockout to slightly macabre spectacle as Cope gets deeper into raging poet mode before cutting his chest with the mic stand. Though not out of character – he revived it in last year’s tour – it’s still unnerving. Necessary? Like Iggy Pop’s famously sliding kecks, probably not. Then again, with his current ‘cliché is reality’ trip, who knows what’s going on…

Lashings of rock, lashings of charisma, 100% Cope – another great gig. See you next time.