It probably seems rather perverse to think that someone who spends every evening of the week either listening to CDs or live bands and reviewing them should choose to go and watch live music on a ‘night off.’ ot that there’s anything wrong with a busman’s holiday. Besides, because music writing isn’t my day job but something I do primarily for the love of it (ok, and because I get music sent to me for free, and to go to gigs without having to pay, which is rather like being paid, and almost as good given that I’d spend my pay on the music and gigs I review), it’s not really so strange, and it’s nice to go out and do something I enjoy sometimes without having to make notes, remember it all and pass cogent critical judgement the next day. Then again, I often end up reviewing gigs I’ve attended on a ‘night off’, either for posterity, out of habit, or the belief the band deserve a spot of coverage.
At the front end of December, I took the night off to see Superchunk and Girls Against Boys play a double header at Leeds Brudenell. While I’ve never really been bothered about Superchunk, Girls Against Boys have been one of those bands I’ve immersed myself in and frequently returned to through the years since I first picked up Cruise Yourself on a recommendation in 1994. The first and only time I’d previously caught them live was in 2002, at King Tuts in Glasgow, touring their last album You Can’t Fight W hat You Can’t See. The only think I really remember about their performance was that it was ace. But how would they look over a decade on?
They certainly didn’t disappoint. Kicking off with ‘Tucked In’ the dual bass assault and rolling drums were dense and beefy, and Scott McCloud’s drawling vocal is as cool as ever. A large portion of the set is culled from their 1993 debut long-player Venus Luxure No 1 Baby, a thumping scuzz-out of a beast that lurches and groans through a succession of seedy underbellies. ‘Learned It’ and ‘Rockets Are Red’ were particularly strong, although ‘In Like Flynn’ was supremely kick-ass too. The middle of the set is given to three tracks from the new ‘Ghost List’ EP, while ‘Cash Machine’ and ‘thekindamzkyoulike’ neatly represent House of Girls vs Boys and pack punch and sleaze in spades. And of course, ‘Kill the Sexplayer’. Yes. Just fucking yes.
Superchunk were fun enough, their melodic grunge-pop clearly adored by a large number of ardent fans. Even if they weren’t a shade nerdy for my tastes, my lack of familiarity with the material coupled with the fact they were on after one of my fave bands would have always put them in second place on the night.
Girls Against Boys at the Brudenell, Leeds: Yes
In contrast, the end of December, and my last live outing of the year, was at Fibbers in York, with half a dozen local acts performing to raise funds for charity – the victims of the Philippines typhoon, to be precise. Not that the standard of music on display had even a whiff of ‘local’ about it: the first two acoustic acts, Nathan Luke and Zak Ford were very different yet equally compelling (even if I wasn’t so keen on Ford’s tendency to flutter off into falsetto birdsong) before Dan Lucas, aka GT Turbo led an expanded Boss Caine collective on stage for a dose of beautifully crafted Americana. They were joined at the end of their set by a handful of other York ‘faces’, including former Seahorse Chris Helme and members of his backing band for a moving rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’.
This segued into Helme’s own ‘full band’ set. His last album, The Rookery may have been rather so-so, by turns pedestrian and indulgent, but live there’s a lot more spark. The last two acts on the bill are bands I’ve seen a fair few times before, and I’ll freely state that it’s because I’m a fan of their music. …And the Hangnails are but two in number but make some serious noise. Martyn Fillingam’s big, crunching guitar is complimented by superlative and insanely energetic drumming. Power trios are so last year, and these guys piss all over the bulk of power duos around too. It helps, of course, that they’ve got some cracking tunes.
Another band with some crack is We Could Be Astronauts, who I’ve raved about at every opportunity from their first performance back in 2010. The set kicks off at full throttle with a high-octane cover of Nirvana’s ‘Breed’, and they don’t let up for some time. These guys play hard and it’s no wonder front man Rob Hughes has to guzzle beer by the gallon if only to keep hydrated. They road test a couple of new songs in between selected highlights from their eponymous debut and wrap the night up with ‘War Pigs’. Rock on.
That all the artists loaded up the merch stall and agreed to put any money taken from sales into the collection alongside the cash raised from ticket sales, plus whatever went into the buckets made it an even greater gesture that showed this was anything but about self-promotion – and that in itself justified my decision to write about it.
Chris Helme & joins Boss Caine
…And the Hangnails: awesome, and then some
This meant that the two nights off I had in what proved to be a particularly hectic month on the live music review front ended up being more than worthy of sharing.
I often find myself faced with people bemoaning the decline in the quality of music around nowadays, and sure, if you only go by what’s offered by the mainstream, the choice is abysmal. But take the trouble to delve deeper, and there are limitless treasures to be found. 2013 was a great year for music, both new acts and returning older ones. I have no reason to believe 2014 will be any less spectacular.