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.

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.

Killing Joke – Kevin Wood reviews the band’s triumphant Zodiac gig

Kevin WoodRemember that gig? I don’t I wasn’t there! Even zodiac is not what it used to be anymore. This review was originally published on BBC Oxford website on 4 May 2006. That’s precisely 7 years ago minus a day to date! Kevin, I think you have some gig review cathing up to do!

 

 

Towards the end of the support band’s set, a man in a black jacket brushes past and slips through the swelling crowd towards the side of the stage. No big deal, right? After all, we’re in the Zodiac, it’s gig night and the place is awash with black T-shirts, silhouettes and shadows – there’d be something wrong if it wasn’t. But this geezer is different… he’s wearing a hat. The kind of hat favoured by a certain frontman of a certain gang-of-four who just happen to be playing in this very room within the hour.

Shine a light. It’s Jaz Coleman. And I nearly spilled my Guinness on him.

Most people seem oblivious to the singer’s presence, but one or two aren’t and scuttle off to say hello/get something signed… good old Mr Coleman, that nice friendly bloke from Killing Joke. He’s mellowed, hasn’t he?

Except he hasn’t, no. Not at all. When stage time arrives, it’s a very different Jaz Coleman who emerges. This one – the showman, the shaman, whatever you see fit – sports a faded black boiler suit, streaks of black face paint and the thousand-yard stare of a possessed MC in a circus of crazies. What happened in the last hour? Where did mild Mr Coleman go? Well, never mind all that – it’s time for a gathering, a celebration of life in the shadow of the apocalypse, and Killing Joke are the soundtrack. The Eastern-tinged intro ushers in Communion’s elephantine Kashmir Zep stomp – a stupendous start – before Wardance, Primitive, Total Invasion and Requiem intensify the Zodiac heat.

And yet, despite the wealth of old classics, this performance is more than a mere trek through nostalgia country (anyone holding out for Love Like Blood can head home) because Killing Joke have just dropped a beast of a record on our laps. Dense, uncompromising and vital, Hosannas from the Basements of Hell taps into the original KJ ethos but updates it completely. Gratitude, the first of three songs from the new album, is HUGE – a slow, crawling dirge weighed down by an obese bassline worthy of Godflesh at their most bloated. Bloodsports provides comparatively accessible relief until Hosannas from the Basements of Hell launches a 3-song thrashalong that starts Motorhead-fast and then cranks it up into the realms of fevered dementia. The crowd is off on one, Jaz has been off on one all night, and this is exactly what Killing Joke live are all about – a little bit of chaos, madness and sweat between friends. Unperturbed by it all are guitarist Geordie and bassist Raven, a wizened duo whose physical calm is in direct contrast to the noise they unleash. In direct contrast to them – and let’s face it, he has no choice – is new Joke recruit Benny Calvert, pounding out frantic tribal thrash rhythms on his kit. The unsung hero of the gig? Very very possibly.

Majestic – another stab of urgent paranoia from the new album – is the last of the Hosanna tracks, leaving the band to blast home with high-energy faves like Whiteout, The Wait, Pssyche and Unspeakable, proving beyond all doubt that impending middle age means nothing to Killing Joke. They hit it hard right to the end, closing with a swaggering Pandemonium. It’s a triumphant gig – let’s hope it’s not another 20 years before they return.