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Jarv Is, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

 

For one reason or another (most likely cost) I failed to see Pulp live when they were on the go. Nor did I see Jarvis Cocker's collaboration with Chilly Gonzalez here in Edinburgh at the Festival a couple of years ago. His Jarv Is show, therefore, seemed the ideal chance to redress the balance, helped in no small part by knowing Leith Theatre would afford me the option of a seat.

Having read Luke Haines' Bad Vibes memoir at the start of the week Jarvis has been a regular feature of the days running up to this show, being mentioned in the book a number of times as he is (overall it's a good read too) so it's felt a bit like a refresher course in where he's come from to reach the point that Jarv Is occupies in his career.

Extinction Rebellion had been invited along to set up shop outside the venue and in the foyer and the need for action on global warming and reaction against the forces preventing meaningful change taking place was definitely the theme of the night.

Jarvis was on top form, the consummate entertainer, let down only at the point where he apologised for himself and his band being English, thereby indulging the myth that that's an issue for supporters of independence in Scotland (plenty of non-Scots are fans of the idea).  

Nowhere else in the city tonight would you have been regaled with quotes from Debussy, Dorothy Parker, John Lee Hooker and one or two other diverse sources in between the songs and on-stage gyrations. The near-capacity crowd lapped up every moment of it and joyfully sang & clapped along, particularly at the times when the disco ball was in use and in the choruses of current single 'Must I Evolve?'

90% of tonight's material was new but there was a Relaxed Muscle track included (a musical endeavour of Cocker's which until now had passed me by) and a Pulp track I didn't recognise & so can only assume it was pre-His & Her's.

The three song encore was over too soon for all concerned but we'd seen a band & frontman perform at their peak so no one would be leaving disappointed.

The support tonight came from Glasgow quintet Our Lady Of The Sea. Much like Jarvis's nationalism mis-step they referenced the fallacy that people in the East have an antipathy to those from Scotland's West mid-way through an introduction, a tiresome habit, long since become unamusing. Their online presence is seemingly non-existent so no link here unfortunately. Musically they were a bit pedestrian but with nonsense lyrics more suited to a far more psychedelic sound than they're currently pursuing.  

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Sharon Van Etten, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

Photos: Gaelle Beri (@gaelleberi)

En route to tonight's show, a production brought to us by the Edinburgh International Festival, I popped along to the Edinburgh Book Festival, pushing my way through the Edinburgh Fringe.  It is all happening in Edinburgh. After purchasing a trio of books (Lost Property by Laura Beatty for him, Heartland by Sarah Smarsh for me, a book of mermaid stickers for her) I took a slow bus across town to my favourite Edinburgh venue: Leith Theatre.

This time I was ushered in with kindness and not the usual ‘Uh, sorry, you’re not on the list, let me contact three other people to confirm you’re not a chancer.’  I was even given a direct email to the Press Photo officer. Amazing.

I arrived mid-set to hear opening act Heather Woods Broderick singing and playing keyboard. There was a little chat from Heather. She had wished she’d gone to art school here. (Dear reader, so did I, but I went somewhere else so it all worked out in the end). It also worked out in the end for Heather, quite clearly, as she has found different outlets for her creativity, right down to designing her band’s merchandise, which I admired after the show.

The group's set ended with Heather singing a heartfelt, room filling 'I Accept The Invitation.' It was actually quite moving. I’m sure we were all feeling glad that she had done.

Sharon Van Etten and crew kicked off their set with 'Jupiter 4', bathed in purple light with the added flare brought by a flashing red bulb. SVE was wearing a black and gold top with black jeans. She did a lot of air punching to the strong beats, like how you do when you’re really getting into a song. She did it with feeling. We all felt that. 

It was at this point that I realised the usual drafty and cold Leith Theatre had all of her radiators turned up to Blazing Inferno – it was actually boiling in there.  I’d also noticed a slight tarting up of the place as the walls were covered in long curtains. I love this venue for its shabby and at the same time majestic look.  Like a woman in her 80s wearing big jewellery – she looks like she’s having an interesting life. You can’t help but wonder about her story.

‘Come Back Kid’ was met with enthusiasm possibly due to its familiarity brought by radio play. The theatre was packed at this point, filled mostly with men in the middle age, long haired twenty somethings, women of my mother’s age. I love these acts that draw in a varied crowd.

I noticed a girl in the row in front of me, four people to the left, furiously taking notes on a tiny notepad. Ah. One of me. She looked much cooler than I and I had to assume that she did not buy a mermaid sticker book for herself before arriving to review the gig.

SVE begins, “You guys had a lot going on today and you still wanted to come here. Thanks!” She then went on to explain how it was their tour manager’s birthday and how they chanced upon Mimi’s Bakehouse to buy him a cake. 

She then introduced the next song as a song about her family. “It’s my least favourite song,” – we laugh – “but my mother loves it. It’s about my family but it’s also about an asshole.” We laugh some more. The band launches into 'Don’t Do It.'

O.R. (Other Reviewer) is now writing furiously in her little notepad. Oh shit. What is she catching that I missed. I try to stay focused.

Heather and SVE sing a glorious duet “All I Can.” Their voices fill the theatre and it is a wonderful sound. Heather is putting on another great performance.  Her stamina for performing two sets, back to back, is something to be admired.

After singing 'Hands' SVE thanks the standing crowd for standing. She said it was awkward singing that song to a sitting crowd. And then….and then…she explains how her life was changed when she heard this next song. The '80s and '90s in America were confusing. SVE is a Jersey girl, having lived a short stint in Tennessee before moving back to New Jersey. She then sings 'Sunshine on Leith' and I think the roof is going to pop off the venue, so big is the reaction from the audience. There is much singing along. You can be as cynical as you like, but if you were there, I think that you couldn’t help but me moved by the atmosphere in that room. 

“I wish I could play for you all night long, but we don’t have that many songs.”

After a few more numbers, SVE and crew close out the show with an encore to the sounds of enthusiastic cheering from the audience. It has been a while since I’ve seen a crowd so connected to the performer. Her quirky American humour throughout, her chat with the audience, her powerful voice, and the engaged performance created a fantastic event. Good show, SVE, good show.

As I left, I saw O.R. put away her tiny notebook full of observations. I had been hoping she’d brought a sticker book (unicorns or llamas would have sufficed), but I guess we can’t all be lucky enough to be packing mermaid stickers to a gig.

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Joan As Policewoman - Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin

It’s the first night of Joan As Policewoman’s Irish tour.  In the gentile surroundings of Dublin’s historic Liberty Hall various cups of tea are scattered about between a baby grand, a Fender Twin amp and a mysterious, vintage style preamp on the stage of the Public Sector Union’s headquarters.  Joan Wasser has been performing as Joan As Policewoman since 2004 and released seven albums.  Tonight we are promised an anthology of her solo work in a resolutely solo presentation. 

She takes the stage in shoulder pads and glitter to open with ‘To Be Lonely’ and ‘Wonderful’ at the piano.  In this environment, her every breath rings around the theatre.  After ‘Warning Bell’, there is an awkward silence as Wasser checks the tuning on her telecaster and stretches her fingers into guitar picking shape.  She sips her tea and plaintively croons an ululating sigh. 

She dedicates a song to Elliott Smith which seems to satisfy the hipsters in the audience.  You can actually feel their smugness bloom in the darkness.  Beside me a cross legged, barefoot man in shorts complains about the quality of the craft cider.  Between songs, the forced laughter of the arthouse greets every mumbled utterance from the stage.  

I’m starting to miss the band and feel a little restless in my chair when Wasser introduces the mysterious box.  It’s a Roland Rhythm Ranger (1973).  Between the Roland and her loop pedal the sound fills out and the gig picks up some momentum.  The fuller arrangement feels more satisfying but the whole show has started to feel like a joke that I’m not in on.  The identikit singer-songwriter arrangements are generic and, though the control she exerts over her voice is admirable, there is nothing to grab on to.  It ends up like listening to the audiobook adaptation of a teenage emo kids diary. 

Eventually every precious, self-conscious note begins to grate and I know I’ll have to leave before I start to hate her recorded works too.  She plays a cover of Damon Albarn’s ‘Out Of Time’ and Prince’s ‘Kiss’ but they are indistinguishable from the general melange.  We leave, unimpressed, but we appear to be in a minority as the reaction between songs suggests that there are a lot of satisfied customers here tonight.

 

 

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Metz, 9294, London

 

From behind metal barriers and the hulking/towering mass of a security guard I'm watching the sound engineer from the 'safety' of backstage at 9294. He's grinding his face into the palms of his hands as his mind recoils in horror at the sights before him and thoughts he must have. I guess mainly whether the sound system will be giving out before or after being pushed to or beyond its very limits, and what if anything he'll be able to do to solve this worst case scenario before the crowd turns ugly. Below him a sweaty mass of undulating rockers flail and tear themselves apart like a demented human accordion as  'Mess Of Wires' blasts through the stacked speakers on either side of the stage, may the rest in peace(s). Hayden (Percussion) smashes on a garbage can lid that's been repurposed as a cymbal while Alex (Guitar/Vocals) and Chris (Bass) hammer out notes a-la-Scott Pilgrim.

Just minutes ago Alex was pacing back and forth psyching himself up backstage for his set, now he's belting out the gospel, "alright were not stopping let's fucking go!" he wails into the mic as song three of the power set, 'Get Off', picks up the tempo. The notes thrash out at us in a throttling and unrelenting cacophonous battering, "I see it coming true, I see it coming unglued" rings in my ears. Not only is it hot AF (everyone has been reduced to a mess of bodily fluids) in this windowless warehouse conversion but Metz have just come to the end of a string of shows throughout the UK. The crowd has come to yet another end of a work week. It's Friday we're all shattered but Metz and the audience alike have dug deep in some sort of weird suicide pact for one final showdown, we're all going out guns blazing. What we're experiencing can only be properly describe in biblical terms but as I've never read the bible I'm going to be doing some serious paraphrasing. Picture Metz as the final line drawn in the sand between us (humanity) and the barbarian hordes (everyone not in here but also in here at the same time), the battle waging is in front of us, in us, all around us and for our very SOOOOOOOULS. Wave after wave of sounds come crashing raining down deafening blows exorcising our demons (hearing) with each blast, salvation is ours at last. The fire and fighting spirit inside of Metz is giving the audience one helluva run for their money, it's a fight they don't plan on coming back from, it's all or none.

There's a lot of competition in the music business here in the UK and admittedly around the world. Bands tour, a lot, and sometimes when they get to you they're likely out of steam and running on fumes. Their cut-loose antics like crowd surfing come off more as a gimmick they've locked themselves into from past days of glory. I remember the first time I saw Crows at Birthdays years ago I was in fear for my very life. Most recently when I saw them play again at the O2 after a lengthy UK tour the show felt like an old man easing into a warm bath, harmless. A queue had formed by the stage where old and young alike took turns clambering up and 'stage diving' if you could even call it that. It looked more like kids waiting to use the slide on a playground. Metz have been around since 2008 and live were like Balboa in Rocky, unpredictable south paws with their gloves full of rocks each blow just as dangerous as the last.

People might say they've seen a show like Metz, "they're just Canada's answer to the Oh Sees" but they're wrong I've seen both live. Don't get me wrong, I'm an O.S.'s fan and they bring it for sure but their shows are always huge and sold out. Arriving early I've never been able to get much closer than halfway to the stage; they've also got 2 drummers. You can go see Metz and feel like you're in a giant human accordion when they play as the crowd lurches forwards and backwards with a way bigger sound. At any moment you can feel the tension in the air that someone will flip a switch and the mass will turn into a cannibalistic orgy and gosh darnit you just can't put a price on that! The feeling at their show is electric, both you and the band are in a euphoric state of indestructability. The gang comes back to the stage for an encore and belch out 'Acetate':

"She's barely breathing/I'm wading through puddles on the floor/We're all moving backwards/Even dead men float"

Yup, that just about sums it up. I give Alex a hug after the show and instantly regret it as I peel myself off a layer of mucus clinging to his entire body. "Gross, but that's what I'm talking about" I say, he clocks my accent, "thanks man" he smiles, "much appreciated". Feeling's mutual my dudes. 

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The B-52s, Hammersmith Apollo, London

If you fancy seeing the biggest and best display of vintage Hawaiian shirts your best bet is a B-52s gig, and you're still on time as they're halfway through their Farewell Tour.

I got to see them for the first (and last) time on Sunday at the Apollo in Hammersmith, and I must say that show became one of the highlights of my life, I'm sure it'll be the background image of the ending credits when I die.

We had stalls (standing) tickets but we knew the front was going to be a seated area, so we assumed there'd be a few rows of seats, then space for the people standing and then the balcony for more seating. I was pretty disappointed when I saw the entire crowd was sitting and the area for the standing ticket holders was just the corridors behind and around the seats.

Anyway, we bought merchandise and rushed down the corridor on the left side, getting as close as we were allowed to the stage. I didn't even buy a drink, there was no way I was going to miss even a tiny bit of the show for going to take a leak.

After a short wait, the band appeared on the stage and every single soul in there who could use their legs stood up on them.

They opened strongly with 'Private Idaho'. Fred Schneider in a striped colourful shirt, Kate Pierson with rainbow flared cuffs and Cindy Wilson (with the biggest hair) rocking an iridescent extraterrestrial suit; all dressed to celebrate Pride.

The crowd (mostly double my age) became young and crazy straight away. I don't think I've ever seen such happy faces with no free food around.

Everybody went nuts at 'Channel Z', atomic lasers falling from the sky (where's my umbrella?). People who were standing around the back kept trying to make it closer to the stage but someone from security was there each time to catch them, I gave up about trying too. And talking about security and staff from the venue, I'd never seen them enjoy a gig they're working at that much.

The song that united everybody the most was probably 'Roam', the band seemed so cheerful during the performance too. 'Dance This Mess Around' was also a blast, at that point I was way too excited and needed to get closer to the stage, but more and more security staff kept showing up.

After performing 'Love Shack', the band left the stage to get ready for the encore.

And then, following one of the best setlists ever, the best encore of all times: 'Planet Claire', '606-0842' and of course, 'Rock Lobster'. I totally lost it at the last one and rushed to the very front to join all the 'Rock Lobster' fans. There were people with 'Rock Lobster' t-shirts, a lobster plushie and a bunch of people with lobster fairy lights around their bodies (how did I not think of that!?).

I am still amazed at the energy and stage presence of the B-52's at their age (Schneider turned 68 a few days ago!), their voices hadn't changed at all either. If you were thinking about going to see them in this last tour, fucking go for it!

Thank you B-52's!

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Boy Harsher, Workman’s Club, Dublin

It’s a hot and muggy June night in Dublin and the Workman’s is close to capacity for Boy Harshers first Irish show.  The sweat is heavy in the air of the darkened venue and the condensation is dripping from the much needed glasses of cooling beer.   Its a late start for a midweek show but the turnout is remarkable.  Even for support act, Gross Net, the main room is tightly packed.   It’s the first I’ve heard of Philip Quinns solo project but he was a good choice for this show.  The Girls Names guitarist plays a series of atmospheric instrumentals that could be mistaken for Boy Harsher’s own work.

Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller take the stage without ceremony and the drones begin.   With Muller whispering into a walkie talkie and Matthews doing her Alison Moyet-in-an-echo-chamber thing, there’s a distinctly German vibe from the Massachusetts outfit.  There’s no between song banter or audience interaction but the pair seem to be enjoying themselves in an ubercool, stand-offish way.   The whoops and holler that greet ‘Yr Body Is Nothing’ seem at odds with the detached aesthetic until Matthews starts jumping around. Mullers head bobs in time with the beat as the crowd screams and latecomers push their way to the unadorned stage.

After four songs, we finally hear from the band. But Matthews chat is lost to the excited din of the crowd.  I step outside to cool down a little and take in the sunset. When I re-enter my glasses immediately fog up in the thick, moist atmosphere as Boy Harsher turn the tempo up.  At this point we’re a long way from the arthouse. This set is more at home at 3am on a festival stage.  The sparse, moody textures of Careful are eschewed in this milieu for an industrial tinged, electro crusade.  Their minimalist techno comes off like like the poppier end of the noise scene.  Outside the studio environment, where the music is about textures andsoundscapes, Boy Harsher have a new life on stage.  The beats are heavy, thebass is relentless and, though the vibe is arty, the feel is of a party band. But it’s a party for the cool kids who don’t want to be seen to try too hard.

Boy Harsher’s stage presence is strong. It appears that the music is being generated by their bodies through an effort of will rather than by instruments.  It’s the type of performance that would benefit from a spectacular light show.  They make a token but striking gesture of acknowledgement towards this when Matthews shines a handheld array of green spots on Muller.  She swings its beam over the audience and the mirrorballs in the venue feel their first light of the evening.

It’s short, barely 45 minutes, but not a moment has been wasted and the cries for an encore begin immediately when the duo exit the stage.  There’s little doubt that they’ll do more songs. The crowd has not moved. Everyone is afraid of missing another killer tune.  ‘The Look You Gave (Jerry)’ is one of the more intense songs from Careful but it seems tame compared to what has preceded it, though you’d never guess from the reaction of the now-devoted fans.  As a recent convert to Boy Harsher, I went in to the show with expectations of a decent gig.  The band not only exceeded those expectations, they stomped all over them and gave us more than we had any reason to suspect.

 

 

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