MARK LANEGAN LIVE + 2017 MOMENTS

DECEMBER REWIND: MARK LANEGAN BAND PLAYS OXFORD, PLUS A 2017 REWIND

Gargoyle. When you see Mark Lanegan stand dead still on stage, face lived-in and unbreaking, you wonder if the name of the album is a knowing, unmoving nod to his stage self.

Then you cast the thought off. Lanegan does not come across as a guy who does send-up, not in public at least. Gargoyles survive centuries though, and Lanegan’s voice has the same survivor’s trait, but the man himself …. at times he looks like he might not get much beyond another day. He only moves from and to the mic when he has to get a drink, and does it slowly with a limp. Every time he moves, he grimaces. Definitely not the imposing moody bruiser you’ve imagined – no, he looks like a veteran fighter in semi-retirement, taking the stage with reluctance. To anyone who hasn’t seen him in person before – me – it’s a bit of a shock. Puts you at unease.

Is Lanegan’s voice diminished? No. Not a bit. It’s exactly what you know from the records – rich, lived-in, strong with weary edge, and he doesn’t falter or miss all night. Death’s Head Tattoo and Gravedigger give us an early rush before Shelley Brien takes co-vocals on Hit the City‘s highway cool. Nocturne pulls out those Euro-driven post-punk synth-pop stops, pulsing like Simple Minds’ Theme for Great Cities, and it’s these tracks, the ones that drive you through metropolitan nightscapes, that work the best. Riot in My House showcases Jeff Fielder’s liquid solos, and that guy is stellar, totally immersed in the songs – he’s into it, bodily into it, with creeper-hop moves and dapper hat that are more acid jazz moonlighter than rock supremo. Class act, as is the whole band. Methamphetamine Blues closes the set with clank ‘n’ growl, then the encore gets stripped to guitar and voice only. Brien joins for a closing Bombed.

It’s a great gig, but an odd-funny one too (and we’re not even going near support act Joe Cardamone’s Holy War filmwank). You could say that Lanegan’s voice doesn’t fit the higher energy rock that he now does, yet it totally works. You could also say that he doesn’t fit the trad rock set-up on stage and you’d be right. And you would put cash on “Mark will be out in 15 minutes to sign any merchandise you have, he’d love to meet you” not being the last words of the set, but they are. A meet and greet with Mark Lanegan? Get the fork outta here.

But sure enough, he appears walking slowly with a cane, joined by Shelley, and they take their seats at the merch stand. They sign stuff, they shake everyone’s hands, it’s a cool thing to see. Would they sign my ticket, please? Of course they would. Happy new year, guys.

LANEGAN TICKET

MOMENTS OF THE YEAR

We’re already drowning in end-of-year lists, but I’ll add a drop’s worth anyway. What’s the criteria? Music moments 2017 – pretty much new, a little of the old, simple as that. The big 2017 reviews shame us into seeing how far off the pulse we non-music-biz mortals really are, but they give us plenty of stuff to check as well: a last grab at being remotely current.

They also make us wonder what everyone sees in LCD Soundsystem. 

Again.

NOTHING IS DEFINITIVE. Let’s go.

KXM – Scatterbrain
Rapid-fire prog-pyro technics launch the second KXM album. So, who KXM again? Dug Pinnick (King’s X) + George Lynch (Lynch Mob/Dokken) + Ray Luzier (Korn). Many of Pinnick’s projects overlap his mother band’s sound, but KXM does push a bit further out because Lynch has a tone all his own, and Ray Luzier lays down some pristine metallic double-kick action, yet the bedrock of it all are those big stop-starter funk-heavy grooves. Check Panic Attack for an epic Lynchian solo over heavy-Beatles harmony. If you’re looking to fall back in love with guitar heroes and musos who serve the song, submit to KXM’s hard-rock mastery.

King’s X live in Bristol
Might as well get straight on to the other 2017 Pinnick high: King’s X live, in the UK. After a life-time’s fandom, seeing them for the first time was odds-on to be Gig of the Year, and it was. It still is. This is what it felt like. King’s X, we salute you.

Buzz and Dale
First it was Crystal Fairy who crunched our worlds with revitalised riffage, then Melvins took us on A Walk with Love and Death double header, with Death possibly the best Melvins album since Freak Puke and one that draws on Stag‘s vintage lurch without ever doing a retread. Dale Crover put a solo record out, too – haven’t heard it, one for next year, surely.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Chanced upon these raucous fuckbags back in January and pounced on one-track EP The Wizard and the Seven Swines. One of the best listens of the year. Debut album Feed the Rats landed in 2017, and though more hinged, it’s still a righteous slab of sludgy noisy drawn-out psyche.

Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Any Robert Plant record is a big deal, no matter how it turns out. Carry Fire isn’t the global psychedelic melt that we might expect from the Sensational Space Shifters – more wistful Welsh valley than charging Mali burn – and its restrained mood is at odds with Plant’s life-affirming interviews, so what gives? Once The May Queen has skipped past, side A keeps it slow and you’re straining for a kick, but after that – Carving Up The World Again onwards – it hits the Plant mark. Bones of Saints echoes Mighty Rearranger, Carry Fire conjures bazaars and street heat while Keep it Hid tiptoes a Space Shifter electronica shimmy. Given time, the slower tracks grow, but best of all is Heaven Sent at the record’s end – heavy, slow-droning surf, one of Plant’s darkest. Majesterial stuff as always, just a bit more hidden. Slow-releasing heat.

Dead Cross – Dead Cross
Old Kids on the Block? Yeah, but the joy of hearing Patton THIS animated and Lombardo THAT ferocious in a 28-minute ultrablast is hard to top.

Ministry – Rio Grande Blood
Jizzy Pearl played Wasted in America at the Bullingdon in 2017. Of course, it launched a Love/Hate listening phase, and that somehow led to a Ministry revival as well – you know what it’s like. Must have been a bands-of-92 thing. Anyway, Ministry. Don’t know how long you stuck with them, but I stopped buying after Houses of the Mole, not for any great reason other than the stacks of other new bands and sounds to grab hold of. Suddenly you’ve got a four-album Ministry deficit and the guitarist has died. Shit. What happens when you then get stuck in to Rio Grande Blood? It blows your head. Senor Peligro is ferocious, aggressive, surely one of the hardest tracks they’ve ever done. Cue immediate Ministry gap fill, and if you can stomach a bit of gross-out reading while you do the same, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen is it (get it on Kindle). Frank, funny and disgusting, it’s an unbelievable tale (literally, in the Robert Plant anecdote Led Zeppelin in 1983, really???) where you can’t help but be charmed by Alien J. Lotta self deprecation, whole lotta self abuse, some horrible fucking stories. Get past the first few pages and you won’t stop.

Prince – Around the World in a Day
The Prince education continues, and this album … well, Tamborine and America. How hard is the funk on those tracks? ’nuff said. Staggering.

Chris Cornell 

We all know the story. We all know it doesn’t sit right, either. Going beyond Soundgarden, Carry On and Songbook have kept Cornell’s flame flickering this year, and the more you listen, the deeper that talent  and loss – goes.

Myrkur – Mareridt
Already referenced here as a winter soundtrack, Mareridt covers many more bases than Myrkur’s debut album M. It is less metal – much less – but more diverse, more coherent and more euphoric in an icy, nightmare folk kinda way. Ghosts of black metal. #2 in Metal Hammer’s 2017 review.

Wire live in Oxford
Chairs missing. Doors opening. (non) review right here.

Paradise Lost – Medusa
20 years after last picking up a Paradise Lost album (One Second), Medusa became an impulse buy. Don’t know why. Must have been the subliminal dark arts of the reviews and interviews, and it’s still too new to know well, but it’s got a mature, heavy crunch. Slow-moving and resolute, Medusa is grounded – exactly what we need in fast, unstable times. Just goth enough, feels like a stayer. Let’s see.

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Mary Anne Hobbs and Stuart Maconie are all over Kamasi Washington on 6 Music, as are many others, but if you’re open to The Jazz yet rarely snagged, Washington’s triple disc debut The Epic would be way too much. Maybe he knows this. Maybe this is why he put out Harmony of Difference, a 32-minute 6-tracker (at EP price, bargainheads) that uses counterpoint theory – not something I know about, but Harmony is a rich, fullsome listen that might even beat a path to The Epic… one day.

What else for 2017?

Drore

Mastodon!!! But Emperor of Sand tops the Metal Hammer poll, so go read a proper write up over there instead.

Other 2017 stuff not yet managed: king crimson live in chicago QOTSA – big|brave  motorpsycho hannah peel godflesh  mogwai nine inch nails gy!be – the bug vs earth and so on anon anon anon…

HAPPY NEW YEAR, see you in 2018!

WIRE: live – a non-review

NOVEMBER REWIND: WIRE DO A NUMBER ON OXFORD BULLY. MOSLEY FALLS.

You know when you get an album that grabs you so much on first listen that you’re reduced to a state of stationary captivation, rooted speaker-side by some sort of slow motion epiphany? Like you’ve been shown a new way, something big and beyond your shrinked mind?

Wire just laid all that on yours truly the day after their Oxford gig at the Bullingdon, a gig that’s not being reviewed here. Why no review?

Being someone who knows close to shit-all about the band, beyond a couple of albums and their widely-reported creds, any review would be dubious, under-informed cack. Real fake. So, instead of beating out a few words about what the gig is or was, better to look at what it did.

WIRE. Who first heard the name through Elastica’s Connection plagia-rism? Got my hand up for that one. Did nothing about it until a few years ago though, when Pink Flag popped up at the right time and revealed its spiky outer-punk brilliance. Special, a Proper Band, so I thought it’d be a good idea to pick up the albums in chronological order and hear the band unfold the way they actually did. This would be my Wire Listening Project. From what I’d read, they were apt to shift things pretty swiftly, and Chairs Missing confirmed it. Should be an interesting journey: 154, next stop.

Thing is, the project got derailed before 154 was ever reached, because Wire came to town and played such a shit-kicking set (to my novice ears) that leaving the gig without snaffling audio merch was just not an option. 

On stage, Colin Newman cuts a quiet, almost delicate shape up front. His guitar is anything but. ThickerbiggerwarmerHEAVIER than expected, it’s voluminous – like Neil Young on Le Noise, but machined to a straighter edge. No idea what the tracks were, though a post-gig lyric search meant that two standouts turned out to be Over Theirs, which finished off the main set under feedback tides, and an encore-defining Stealth of a Stork. Massive, vital. Wire made an impact.

At the merch stand, Send Ultimate and Read & Burn 3 found a new home, and it was Send Ultimate’s double-discer that whipped the froth in the first paragraph. That first play revealed a tough-sounding album, not industrial but industrial hard, magnetic, of itself and no-one else, and it’s just the start of what’s gonna be a long burrow into Wire world. Such is the potency of a gig when you’re ripe for accelerated conversion and didn’t even know it.

GONE 

AC/DC’s Malcolm Young slipped away this month, but it was Chuck Mosley whose loss was perhaps the bigger shock. No doubt you played something in tribute … here, having not played Introduce Yourself for years, Chinese Arithmetic leapt out brash and fully fresh. And from the Cement days, you gotta give Piledriver a go. Riffs: sharp but loose.

’til next time!

Wire CDs: Send Ultimate

Wire: just press send

 

AUDIOSCOPE 13: a partial review

12 bands in 12 hours from 12pm til 12am. That’s Audioscope 13, the annual Oxford all-day gig that raises money for Shelter by coaxing music fans out on a cold November night. How? With some shit-hot knowns, unknowns and soon-to-be knowns, that’s how. In its 13-event history, the late-night closing spot has been grabbed by the likes of Wire, Six by Seven, Damo Suzuki and Karma to Burn while countless bands have done the day shifts.

Unfortunately, the day shifts are beyond my grasp this year so let’s dive in unfashionably late to the Jericho Tavern and see what happens. All bands are new to me, in sound if not in name.

First, the news. Turns out that Thought Forms had to cancel due to illness. Now I’ve never heard them but their flyer bio (‘… Sonic Youth playing doom’) is the best of the lot and would surely win a prize if i) there was one ii) they turned up. Neither was the case but even if that bio is only half right, Thought Forms sound compulsory. Then again, you can’t believe all you read in promo bios – see Pet Moon later.

Eat Lights Become Lights are rhythmic nirvana for kosmiche heads. Two drummers – one sitting, one standing – hammer a relentless loco-motion that’s ultra repetitive, very Neu! and very nearly trancelike, shot through with bass, samples, drones and no vocals. At their best when Neil Rudd’s circular melodies build up to spacerock wah wah blowouts, this stuff really works live. Rave music for rock fans? Very possibly.

After the unpretentious, anonymous potency of ELBL, Pet Moon are an immediate contrast. Synth-heavy hook-heavy pop with R&B vox and fringe distractions (hair, not music) mean this band look way out of place on this bill at this hour. The dark-ish electro/Numan current is enough to divert at first but those currents fade fast when we’re hit with a mawkish pile of BALLS. Followed by another one. All benefits of the doubt evaporate and everything starts to irritate – the skinny jeans, the rolled-up t-shirt sleeves, the fringes, the Pop Idol frontman, the white vest …. no. Just. No. I leave them to it.

After the pretentious impotency of Pet Moon, Esben and the Witch are a total volte-face whose gothic tales transmogrify into huge post-rock walls of sound. I don’t know their albums and I don’t doubt their songs are more nuanced on record, but right now the Witch is a beast. ‘nuffsaid.

Closing the day and the event are Califone, the evening’s veterans. They’re late. Turns out that a guitar has gone missing – lost or stolen, we’re not sure yet – and that means ‘… it’s gonna be hard to play some of the songs. Has anyone seen a guitar?’ the singer asks.

‘It’s in a soft cover with Fender on it. The guitar is red-’

‘Is that it?’

A lone voice from the crowd. He points to a spot 5 feet behind the bassist. In that spot is a soft guitar case, solid in form, propped against some hardware. Bassist picks it up. Turns it, slowly – the word Fender appears. Opens the bag.

Yes. It is.

Califone then put their collective doofus to one side and turn in a 45-minute set that flits from piercing noise shards to dusty Americana, slide grooves, low-key acoustics and timeless classic rock with not even a bat of an eye’s lid. They cover a tonne of ground in their shortened stint but, sadly, not enough to make use of the red Fender. It stays in the corner, untouched.

And that’s the end of Audioscope 13 at the Tavern – a brilliant night of reps, vests and guitar thefts where a three-piece Witch nabs top plaudits.

See Audioscope reviews for 2014 and 2015, and Audioscope’s Music for a Good Home 3 CD