Finally the Friction Tour rolls in to Bristol. The wait is all but over but before the evenings main draw, there are three other bands to contend with. The Thekla has a crazy curfew of 10pm due to their Saturday evening club night. Considering doors were half six, shoehorning four bands in seems like a pretty tall order. Humanfly take to the stage just fifteen minutes after doors which unfortunately for them means that the modest audience is still adjusting to their surroundings. The band deals in sludgy adrenaline injected stoner riffs mixed sparingly with vocals that range from deep death metal growls to Iron Monkey esque yelps. 25 minutes isn’t long to get your point across and it’s even harder when the audience is so small but given the circumstances, Humanfly were pretty impressive this evening.
Maybeshewill sounded exactly as I thought they would tonight, I’m still trying to figure out whether this is a good thing or not. For me they seem to perfectly sum up Explosions type post-rock with all of the relevent boxes neatly ticked. Upon initial listens I was pretty excited by their sound but the more I listened the more I suspected that there was something amiss. Not that I could possibly level any kind of criticism at the band, although the boy band posturing and graceful hair flicks did catch me off guard a little. There is something that keeps me liking Maybeshewill but stops me loving them, I just can’t quite put my finger on what that thing is. Seeing them live only cemented my indecisiveness.
The Ocean were up next. Second time seeing them, the last time when they supported Dillinger Escape Plan. I couldn’t remember too much about them but after a couple of minutes it all came flooding back. The Ocean have everything they need to be an arena metal act; expensive looking gear, elaborate CD packaging, eye-catching light shows, not to mention all the moves. What they lack though is substance to back up all of that style. Not only that but they sounded pretty awful too, for all of his rigorous endeavours the singer may as well have not been anywhere near the stage. Even when the band weren’t at full throttle during the token singing parts, he was barely audible. Things improved slightly towards the end of the set but I remain unimpressed.
I reckon I must have seen ET9 around 7 or 8 times back when they were last active, on not one of those occasions did I leave the venue feeling anything less than blown away by what I had witnessed. I feel a strong connection with the band having witnessed them progress both in terms of their recorded material and also as a live band. To get the chance to see them again almost a decade later is both exciting and unnerving in equal measures. Some things are best left in the past, all of those memories could easily be crushed with a dodgy, poorly judged re-union. My nerves were appeased somewhat by the new song Tide Of Ambition which was a scathing return to form and easily sits alongside past glories. Part of me was hoping that they would open with Grind & Click but when Off Kilter exploded from the Theklas tiny stage I couldn’t help but shed a grin. A grin born of pure elation with a hint of relief, ET9 all of a sudden seem like the most essential band in the world again. Back 10 years ago I was watching an incredible band struggling to get the exposure that they deserved, now I am watching a triumphant second coming and these songs have grown in to the classics that I always knew they would. Even songs from debut album Lo-Def(inition) Dischord sounded absolutely phenomenal, I have never heard Withered sound so colossal. True, Karl and the boys don’t necessarily move like they used to but shit, they sound exactly like they used to. My only complaint is the brevity of the set, fifty minutes simply wasn’t long enough and surely on the back of this a headline tour is imminent? Tide Of Ambition was the only new song to get a stroll out but live, it was a set highlight. They conclude with I Nagual Eye, and leave the stage to rapturous applause from a modest but floored crowed. When I reflect back on why this was such a good gig, it comes down to the fact that the band looked like they were enjoying themselves like I’ve never seen before. I think that Karl spoke more tonight than he did during all of the times I saw them combined, it really seems like the band are as excited to be playing for the fans as the fans are to be seeing the band. the new EP is a cracker too, will try to get a review up sometime soon. If you are unfamiliar with ET9 and like a bit of metal, I would highly recommend you check out the digital best of (of sorts) Inside, Embers Glow which is available for FREE HERE.
Josh T Pearson cuts a lonely figure on the Anson Rooms far from modest stage, it’s an early indicator of what will turn out to be an evening of contradictions for the bearded cult hero. Best known as lead singer and guitarist of legendary Texan band Lift To Experience whose only release Texas Jerusalem Crossroads has to go down as not only a great concept album but one of the best albums of the last decade. Having spent nearly ten years below the radar, Pearson recently released the harrowing yet brilliant solo album Last Of The Country Gentlemen.
The Anson Rooms is a soulless shoebox of a venue and to add to this, the majority of the crowd have no clue as to who Josh T Pearson is, let alone the musical importance as to what they are witnessing. These elements combined result in something akin to a near religious experience marred by the inane and uninterested conversations of impatient Drive-By Truckers fans who have very little clue as to the significance of what they are witnessing. Understandable of course; as a support act there is a huge contrast between Pearsons haunting acoustic laments and the headliners country-rock anthems. And there is no blame apportioned to the unsuspecting crowd, it’s just a simple case of wrong place, wrong time.
Speaking of contrasts, the most striking aspect of Pearsons performance this evening was that between the top and bottom three strings of his acoustic guitar. His playing is masterful, creating deafening feedback whilst his little finger delicately picks out the most intricate of melodies. With only 45 minutes to play, the set list was sadly limited. Kicking off with Sweetheart I aint your Christ and concluding with Sorry with A song, it was far from an easy listening experience. He did an admirable job of filling the venue with sound but came unstuck during the all important quiet moments, which is why I think that he would be far better suited to a smaller venue housing a dedicated audience. regardless of all of this, Pearson stopped me in my tracks with a performance that not only upstaged the headliners but soared far above the uninterested portions of the crowd.
I went to see Kyuss last night. I may have been far too inebriated to be able to give a coherent or informative account of the ins and outs of the gig but I do remember enough to know that they were awesome. I know I didn’t really see Kyuss but Kyuss Lives is a pretty stupid name, I saw two-thirds of Kyuss playing a full set of Kyuss songs which is more than I would ever have expected to see in my lifetime. Apart from being loud and heavy, they played most of my favourite songs, and in doing so they essentially lived up to all of my expectations. It doesn’t get much better than opening with Gardenia, but they also played One Inch Man, Hurricane, El Rodeo and I’m pretty sure that Asteroid was in there somewhere too. John Garcia may well be using this tour to promote his new solo album but you’d never have known, from what I can remember he said fuck all between songs and didn’t shoehorn any unfamiliar material in to the set either, awkward silences averted.
The opening band Burden were also pretty good, that’s a picture of their guitarist up there. They hail from Germany and it was clear instantly as to why they were chosen to support. Their sludgy doom riffs and howled vocals indicate that these guys worship the band they are lucky enough to be opening up for. They were a little heavier though I would say, it’s probably fair to say that they also own a Down album or two. Check out their video for Done With Denial below:
Saw Glassjaw last night, pretty big deal considering that the last time I saw them was the 7/7/7 show in Brixton. Interestingly, that set began in much the same way as this one, but I’ll come to that shortly.
Napalm Death were up first, an odd choice of support but it transpires that Daryl requested them personally. Needless to say they slayed, a 25+ year career has done nothing to dampen their intensity, speed, nor ferocity. From my perspective, I ticked a box. I like Napalm Death in as much as I enjoy their music and respect what they do, but I’m not going to pretend to know all of their songs, nor will I bitch and moan about what they did or didn’t play. I guess from a neutral perspective, they were tight as fuck, loud as fuck and heavy as fuck! Scum was the obvious highlight, but I have always wanted to witness You Suffer live, of course I only realised that I had done once it was over. It might not have been their audience tonight but the brummie vets did a serious number on this weird-ass venue.
Glassjaw are fucking cool, I’m sold on them, and always have been. If you read this site regularly, you will already know that. I buy in to the whole enigmatic, carrot on a stick thing they have going, I get excited at every little bit of second-hand news that they drip-feed to the internet, and I certainly get excited at the prospect of seeing them live. Just like back in 2007, I can’t help but feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as that ominous drum loop is repeated over and over whilst the band amble about on stage, seemingly oblivious or unperturbed by the chaos that You Think You’re John Fucking Lennon is about to unleash. Without warning the band explode, as do the crowd. Of course, Tip Your Bartender follows immediately and then Mu Empire as a matter of course. It’s an unbelievable, if not predictable start to the set. In fact, it’s not until 10 or 11 songs in that the band play a song that wouldn’t be worthy of an encore for any other act. Before we even get to that point though, the set highlight Stars has barely stopped resonating through my eardrums. Daryl is on top form this evening, playing the role of engaging frontman to such an extent that you would be forgiven for thinking that you had attended a Head Automatica show rather than a GJ one. Of course the glorious noise emanating from the stage tells a different story than Daryls’ dancing might. The 14 song set is made up almost entirely of Worship And Tribute and Our Color Green cuts (plus El Mark), unfortunately the only EYEWTKAS cut to feature is the furious set closer Siberian Kiss, to which of course the crowd respond cordially. Then comes the kicker. By way of encore the band re-emerge to play their new Coloring Book EP in its entirety, front to back. A novel idea, maybe, and one that represents value for money. But in reality, after a furiously satisfying set of some of their more aggressive numbers, it was an idea that kind of backfired. Mainly because the more honest member of tonight’s audience would more than likely not have heard any of the 6 song encore, but also because the bands newer material is so different to that of their older stuff. I’m glad that I was familiar with their new stuff, I’m also glad that I am obsessive enough to have checked the setlists from all of their recent shows. Ultimately, this cushioned the blow of a climax that can only be described as a fizzing out. Having been starved of the likes of Pretty Lush and Piano, it is hard not to appreciate the crowds disinterest at Daytona White, no matter how pretty a song it is.
Amazing show though. Daryl was on serious form, gesticulating wide-eyed in to the crowd and yanking the mic away from his lungs as he hit the higher registers. The band was tight and the sound, on the mark. The set list as with any gig, a minor bone of contention. Of course, to top it all off, I walked away with my copy of The Coloring Book EP.
One of the albums I am looking forward to most this year is the new Grouper, it’s titled A I A and drops this month as either a double album or double album release. Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill was an incredible record and judging by the new track Alien Observer, A I A is set to follow in its footsteps. On top of all this good news, Grouper have been added to the Animal Collective curated ATP next month in Minehead. Check out the track over at P*******K.
Daniel Martin Moore strolled out this evening to an awkwardly muted response from the small gathering of those that had arrived early. His brand of folk, country and gospel provided perfect ambience whilst waiting for the evenings main event. Moore is softly spoken and gives off the impression that he once graduated early from the school of classic American singer/songwriters but has yet to fulfil his potential. His sound is sophisticated, accomplished and professional, his albums perfect coffee table fodder and his amiable persona suited perfectly to support slots in venues as dramatic and grand as this stunning structure.
Sam Beam seems to be a renewed man, last time I saw Iron & Wine was shortly after The Shepherds Dog came out, that night the bearded frontman awkwardly mumbled thank-yous between songs in the most humble of fashion, avoiding eye contact with the crowd and letting the songs do the talking. Tonight could not have been more different, Beam was jovial, talkative and surprisingly, pretty funny. This new-found confidence was not only noticeable in the between song banter but in the music as well, they played for just under two hours and I can honestly say without hesitation or reservation that Iron & Wine blew me away tonight. I always thought that you know what your getting with an Iron & Wine show, going back again to that last show I saw, the songs were recreated almost identically live as they appeared on record. It was almost as though there was a glass ceiling in terms of how good Iron & Wine could get in a live environment and they always seemed to find themselves pressed up against it. For this reason I expected nothing more than a flawless performance this evening, but what I actually got was something far more exciting. Instead of recreating the songs, Beam has completely deconstructed them and started again from scratch, rendering classic songs almost unrecognisable until the first verse, even some of the melodies have been altered slightly. Those in attendance tonight witnessed Iron and Wine at their most experimental and at their loudest, flirting with weird electronica, Rock & Roll and even post-rock. The highlight for me came midway through the set by way of Lions Mane, the very first Iron and Wine song I ever heard and one which I never expected to hear live, of course it was fucked with and featured pulsing sax and clarinet in place of the finger picked guitar of the album version but just hearing the words sung live was something very special indeed. New songs sat perfectly next to older ones, Tree By The River and Me & Lazarus both slotted in perfectly alongside Boy With A Coin and House By The Sea. The new album opener Walking Far From Home rounded things off, for me this particular track has to go down as one of Beams strongest to date and was recreated perfectly tonight. An encore of Naked As We Came was stripped back but left relatively intact, maybe by way of apology to those in the audience that may have been bewildered or disappointed by what preceded. I expected to be entertained this evening, I expected to hear my favourite songs and I expected to go away completely satisfied, what I didn’t expect was to be picking my jaw up from off of the floor.
I was supposed to see Robyn at the Academy tonight; but apparently the gods had other ideas. Around mid-morning I received an email notification that the Swedish pop princess was ill and that the show had been cancelled. Whilst understandably gutted, I was determined to see somebody and two hours later I had managed to score a couple of tickets to Darwin Deezs sold out gig at the Uni.
The Anson Rooms is by far my least favourite venue in Bristol, apart from the musty stench of education and the fact that it’s a soulless cuboid, it reminds me of how long it has been since I was a student. Quite rightly there were students in spades this evening and with Darwin Deez music having featured rather prominently throughout the 3rd series of The Inbetweeners the average age of this evening’s crowd was shrunk further still. So much so in fact, that I considered cutting my losses and going home when I spied the queue outside the venue.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs took to the stage as main support (alongside a couple of go-go dancers) wearing a headdress that bridged the gap between The Village and The Village People rather seamlessly. The UK producer was a blur of boundless energy that saw him flit between laptop and live vocals as his genre hopping beats filled the venue admirably.
Darwin Deez were one of the highlights of last years Green Man festival, their blend of between song dance routines and jangly indie pop was a breath of fresh air and provided welcome respite from the folky theme of the rest of the line-up. Unfortunately tonight, they sound both muddy and tired. The cleanliness of the guitar sound is one of the bands biggest assets but the venue suffocated any breeziness that the album or open aired appearance may have afforded them. Deez himself was off-key too, the dancing was not only muted but seemed out-of-place and gimmicky. A general lack of energy and enthusiasm along with the absence of any real between song banter dominated a totally lacklustre performance that even set highlights ‘Radar Detector’ and ‘Constellations’ could not redeem. Perhaps they could do with a break, this is the second time that they have played Bristol in the last six months which reeks of opportunism and the realisation that they are a one-hit wonder without the hit. Their festival slot was enhanced by a break in the bad weather at Green Man and unfortunately tonight they failed miserably to make the transition from the band I saw then, to a fully-fledged headline act. The slightly high-pitched rapturous response from the crowd begged to differ but rather cynically, it seems that Deez is perfectly astute in choosing his target audience wisely. A very disappointing show that in no way whatsoever made up for the disappointment of where I should have been.
No Warning Shot must be pretty stoked this evening, judging by their metallic riffs and shouty vocals there are probably few active bands in the world right now that they would rather be opening for. The mix of course for an opening band wasn’t great but I was given a copy of their 2006 album and it has to be said, NWS are a decent band. It would be good to see them spread their wings a bit and concentrate less on ticking ‘hardcore’ boxes but all things considered, a decent result.
As the evening progressed and tensions began to build, I started to get the feeling that tonight was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Seeing not one but two of the most influential and well respected purveyors of the hardcore movement sharing a stage and not only that, but in the Fleece, an old school no-holds barred club show. Madball are in their element on the tiny stage and it shows, clearly enjoying the lack of security and intimate surroundings they sound fucking awesome. The professionalism and experience shone through as they tore through a mixture of classics such as down Down By Law mixed in with a few from their latest album Empire. Madball nailed their set with such might and ferocity that I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room left more than a little concerned for the headliners.
Any doubts were soon blown away, if Madball are veterans then SOIA are their more experienced older cousins. They have been going now for close to a quarter century and one of the key reasons for this is that they never shy away from hooks. On record this eye for melody enables them to bridge the gap between hardcore and punk. Sticking to the formula and never compromising either element has earned them a loyal crossover fanbase. Live however, the emphasis is placed well and truly on the pace and fury, there is no mistaking tonight that SOIA are a hardcore band. Madball had the better sound but I put this down to my positioning in relation to the stage, relocating from the prime spot of just in front of the sound desk to the less desirable bar area stage left. Regardless of this SOIA delivered a bruising mix of more recent cuts from their last two albums and anthems from some of the greatest hardcore albums ever released. Standouts included Machete, Scratch the Surface and set closer Us Vs Them. My favourite SOIA album has always been Yours Truly, controversial maybe but I was quietly pleased when they broke out America mid-set. A rowdy rendition of Sham 69s Borstal Breakout summed up what can only be described as an ‘I was there’ kind of an evening.