MINOR VICTORIES: live review

OXFORD O2, 13/12/2016


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.

TESTAMENT: live review


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?


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.



REWIND OCTOBER: Killing Joke@Oxford O2, Oct 30th 2015

A gig-heavy Rewind, this one. Godspeed You! Black Emperor did an artful deconstruction job on everyone at the Warwick Arts Centre the other week, and Liverpool doom trio Coltsblood bulldozed the Wheatsheaf with Undersmile-slow riffs and blastbeat breaks. Godspeed you can read about over here, but Coltsblood? Musically very cool and hefty, but the growlscreamgrowlscream vocal thing … man, it wore me down and brought on a major Doom Burnout. One to come back to another day, methinks.

No such burnout on Friday though when Killing Joke – new album Pylon just one week young – took the O2 stage with an old-new one-two: The Wait and Autonomous Zone, and while it takes a little while for the crowd to warm, mostly coz of the sadistic air-con blasting a cold force-ten in our faces down stage front left, it ain’t long before there’s a ring of slamming jumping bods lapping it up. Killing Joke will always invoke some kind of movement –  there’s just something in that fluid, swirling, awkward rhythm-force that sets their sound far apart from other rock bands and pokes at people’s mania, especially the early stuff. Fall of Because, with its Ferguson-propelled death dance and Coleman’s first cut-loose vocal of the night, STILL feels like madness being conjured.

Highlights? With such vintage on show it’s too subjective a question to answer … depends where and when you entered KJ’s world/they entered yours, but Money Is Not Our God, Eighties, Wardance, Requiem, Asteroooooiiiiid (yesssss), Communion (doubleyesssss) and an encoring Pandemonium are all in there, among others. Other than those, it’s another Pylon newie I am the Virus – future classic, surely – preceded by a pulverising Exorcism that stand out for me, but for anthemic goth pop writ  l a r g e  you cannot top the monster-big Love Like Blood. 

So, plenty of gigs in October (and that’s without getting to see Hawkwind). What else was there?

Well, after last Rewind asked are-Maiden-prog?, who turned up in Prog Rock magazine but Steve Harris, having a big ol’ chat about Genesis, Tull and General Prog love. ‘nuff sed.

David Bowie announced a new single and album. Officially, this is Too Exciting to Write About.

And Audioscope announced their line-up for the all-day bash at the Bully on November 21st. Part Chimp, Guapo, Dave Heumann AND LOADS MORE will stride that small stage, just as we like it.

til next time!


OXFORD O2, 22 May 2015

This is awkward.

On stage, Dearly Beloved. In front of them, NOTHING. Beyond the nothing, at the back of the room, punters. Must be a bad smell coming off that band coz it’s a big gap and it feels like a void, yet it doesn’t deter DB from hitting it like headliners. Maybe they’re used to big spaces. They are from Canada.

The problem here isn’t the music (and there’s no repulso whiff either, thank feck). It’s age. See those whip-thin 19-year-olds ready to Destroy the Void with kinetic energy and mass kickass? Exactly. Not bloody here, are they? This is a Swervedriver gig, which means that when Dearly Beloved look out from that stage, they see history: the early middle agers. Poor bastards.

But if they’re gutted they don’t show it, impressing with short multi-riff tracks, stacks of gear shifts and upfront bass that’s warmthickwarm with Royal Blood yet flanked by guitars for a proper desert-punk attack. Listening to their Enduro album, recorded down at the Joshua Tree with Dave Catching and a walk-on from no less a maestro than Chris Goss, they do not disappoint on CD either.

With Swervedriver, you know exactly what you’re gonna get: tunes and melodies roughened just enough by pedal-action, volume and distortion. Simple enough, innit? Not much looks to have changed since they were on this very stage in 2008 except that they’ve now got a new record out, Mick Quinn from Supergrass is standing in on bass patrol and everyone here is seven years balder/fatter/greyer or, at the very least, just seven years older. Adam Franklin still looks to me like he should be in Clutch, but the local rag has a different band in mind.

I picked up the Oxford Mail today,” says the soft-spoken frontmanfella. “It had a Swervedriver feature that we did.”

[slight pause]

“They printed a picture of the Thurston Moore Band.”

Nice. Still, no-one here’s in any doubt about who Swervedriver are and for a sizeable few it’s a chance to live it up like 1995. Me, I’m just after a few of those glory-day faves at High Volume – not diehard enough to be chasing the new album, but a chance to hear Raise/Mezcal gems live and loud? Shityeah, and when For Seeking Heat, Deep Seat and Rave Down land pretty early it’s clear we’ve got a crowd-pleaser ahead. Son of Mustang Ford spikes the pace and Franklin still looks right at home coaxing mini storms from that frayed Jazzmaster, so much so that you just start to wonder and hope … maybe they’ll cut loose with a full-squall never-ender? Will they? But it’s a distant hope because tonight’s not the time. Tonight’s about the tunes, and on that front the best is definitely saved til last with a brace of Mezcal highs – locomotive surf-psyche beaster Last Train to Satansville (their greatest 6 minutes 45, no?), and the woozily muscular Duel to finish. THIS is why you come and see Swervedriver live: a Mezcal Head finale and muted hearing for the walk home. Mission accomplished.