WINNEBAGO DEAL – live@The Cellar, January 18th 2014

It’s a bit of an Oxford spesh tonight as Winnebago Deal break their mini exile for a Cellar blast with Desert Storm in heavy support. Tickets are door-only and demand is high so we’ve got a pretty full house from the off, and there’s a definite buzz in the thickening Cellar air. Everyone’s up for this.

Here’s how it starts:

8.00pm Cellar doors open

8.10 first band starts

8.21 first mosh breakout

Yep, it’s one of THOSE nights – fast and physical, and that’s no surprise when Act 1 is Flack Blag, a Black Flag covers band featuring the Winnebago Bens. Blag and their two vocalists rip through Flag classics like Rise Above, Six Pack, Thirsty and Miserable, Depression and Slip It In without break or breath, finally shutting the set down with a mighty My War.

As they dismantle their kit, Melvins spill out from the between-bands PA to plant fat riffs back in our heads and that’s EXACTLY the right prep for Act 2: Desert Storm. Cue mighty rockin’ and bellowin’ and more rockin’ – the Storm know how to intoxicate the punters with a good-time brew, and tonight they do it by the keg load.

Armed with stacks of riffs and breaks and tempo changes, all threaded by a taut-but-just-loose-enough elastic groove that swings in all the right places, there’s no denying there’s a massive Clutch vibe coming off this crew – and that is meant in every way as a compliment. Pantera have been described as groove metal but, great as they were, to me they seemed a bit rigid for that tag. A bit too PRECISE. Tonight, however, that tag fits. Clutch fans, latter-period Corrosion of Conformity fans, get out there and support this band when they next have a stage.

Where Desert Storm had Melvins, Winnebago Deal have Huey Lewis and the News. Yes, Huey and his current affairs buddies waft across the Cellar while the band handover is made, as if we’re being slipped a sly sweet melody to counteract the evil anti-melody that awaits.

Winnebago Deal: heroes to many, gods to some, and a mighty kick in the head to everyone  who crashes their scuzzy orbit. I’m no diehard Deal-er but I do remember seeing them at the Wheatsheaf a few years back and the live version of the band obliterated the CD version – louder, faster, more brutal, more everything and tonight, it’s the same. They have not mellowed. AT ALL.

Tonight is nothing less than a total shitstorm.

You want grooves and breaks? Go anywhere but here because WD’s punk thrash ‘n roll offers no remorse, only assault. Seriously. The Line Up, Takin’ Care of Business, Manhunt, George Dickel and the Karma to Burn-esque instrumental Dead Gone all get played I think but really, it’s pointless trying to recognise tracks because it’s too loud to hear anything.

Better instead to soak up the screech and the fury, the flailing limbs and low-clearance surfing and enjoy it (yes) for what it really is – a spectacle. When Winnebago Deal are in town, you get battered.

By music.

End of.

Arbouretum: live@Port Mahon, Oxford, August 2013

Baltimore rockers Arbouretum follow their Green Man Festival date with a mini tour that takes in a mini venue: Oxford’s Port Mahon. Standing room only, surely.

 

Please, no encore. Don’t make this go on any longer. Make it stop.

And stop, they do. No encore. Arbouretum get it, and we can get out. RELIEF.

Which is not quite what we were expecting ahead of a gig that, let’s be honest, is a bloody exciting prospect. Listed on the posters as ‘the smallest gig of Arbouretum’s UK tour’, this has to be the rock event of the month bar none. Not even Eels and Nick Oliveri, who are both playing Oxford tonight (sadly not together), can top this one. My mate Si drove all the way over from Cardiff having seen Arbouretum 24 hours earlier in Bristol, declaring it one of the best gigs he’d ever been to. Cardiff-Bristol-Cardiff-Oxford-Cardiff in a day and a half is a pretty conclusive testimonial.

But back to tonight: history is written. Why?

HOTTEST GIG EVER.

Stupid-hot, it is. Pouring sweat and light-headed flakiness all round. The bassist does well to keep his eyes open and stay upright, and the only way to get through this high humidity hell-hole is not to move. At all.

More of this later though ‘coz before Arbouretum take the tiny stage, we have two local bands on the bill – Coma Wall and Listing Ships.

Coma Wall are the unplugged alter ego of the doom-laden Undersmile. They lay funereal Alice in Chains-esque harmonies (Sap/Jar of Flies) over sparse, almost-rustic acoustics and drag it all out at an Earth-paced crawl. A melancholic start for sure.

Listing Ships, by contrast, are all over the place. I mean that in a very precise, right-side-of-muso way – their instrumental math/post rock fusion is krautrock propulsive, bringing to mind Explosions in the Sky jamming on Battles or early-Foals. Or summat. Exhilarating stuff.

We wait for Arbouretum and feel the Ships-generated exhilaration slowly turn to perspiration. Equipment problems delay the headliner’s start and there’s a hint of agitation in the thickening air. Arbouretum look distracted, a bit tense. It’s getting hotter. Finally they start. They get it wrong, it’s a balls-up. They stop.

‘Well, we’ve never done that before,’ says frontman Dave Heumann. ‘You are witnessing a first.’

This error and frank admission somehow breaks the onstage tension and frees them, finally, to do what they came here to do – mesmerise us with their amplified Americana, fluid heaviness and out-there escapism. Arbouretum’s music belongs somewhere earthy and mystical, somewhere without boundaries. It rolls and surges. It’s unhurried but it still rocks. For some reason I start to imagine them playing in a bedouin tent.

But they’re not in a tent. They’re in an airless sweatbox which, by the time the set nears its end, is slowly forcing people out the door before the band call time on their set

Arbouretum still win though. They’re a class act, no doubt about it. We saw that, even if we were too beaten to fully reward it. Bristol next time?

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.

Mogwai returns to rock roots at Brooks Uni gig

Kevin WoodAnother one of Kevin’s reviews. 2006 must’ve been pretty good on Oxford music scene. The review was first published on BBC Oxford website on 3 April 2006.

 

 

 

Emerging slowly from clouds of dry ice, Stuart Braithwaite holds his arms aloft and leers at the audience, milking every liquid ounce of adoration pouring out of the capacity Brookes crowd. Leather clad and tattooed to the hilt, he leans into the mic and prepares to flex his power-metal pipes… silence is observed, then shattered, by a siren-like scream:

“Good evening OXFOORRRRRRRRRRRD!!!”

Of course, it’s nothing like that. This is Mogwai, not Motley Crue, and there’ll be none of that moronic rock star excess thank you very much, even if it is April 1st. What there WILL be, if all goes to plan, is a succession of lush instrumentals that swing from delicate to devastating and back again, delivered by a bunch of unassuming Glaswegians wearing jeans, T-shirts and woolly jumpers.

And go to plan it most certainly does. Opening with Auto Rock – a gig-starter if ever there was one – from new album Mr Beast, Mogwai ease effortlessly into their cinematic rock groove and turn in the kind of flawless performance you’d expect. Drawing heavily on the new record – Friend of the Night, Travel is Dangerous and Acid Food are among the newies aired – the band flirt only occasionally with their early stuff, and of all the back-catalogue encounters, it’s Hunted by a Freak that gets the biggest crowd response – no surprise, given its appearance on the FilmFour TV ad last year. So far, so good, so sublime… but maybe, just maybe, there’s a little something missing. Yes, everything is intense and delicate in all the right places, and the venue is awash with surging, hypnotic rhythms, but shouldn’t a gig – especially from a band this good – have a bit of something else? Something you can’t get from the CD? In other words, how do a band of instrumentalists create a proper live moment?

Simple. Turn it up.

Which is exactly what happened (or seemed to happen) for We’re No Here and Glasgow Mega-Snake, the two heaviest tracks from Mr Beast and the last two of the set. Did it make a difference? Oh yeah. Mogwai were now unleashing a bona fide rumble from the boots up, and a treble-heavy feedback squall from the ears down. The encore – a full-length My Father, My King, no less – carried it on further, assaulting the Students Union for another 20 minutes in a vicious, yet majestic, finale. Clearly, they still have a grip on the abrasive noisemeister within – just as well they still know when to cut it loose.