The Chameleons were once described as “The best band you’ve never heard of” and never was a truer word spoken. Every experience I’ve had watching Mark Burgess (singer, guitarist, songwriter) has been a bit, well, strange. I first encountered him playing in the back of The Castle Hotel at a funeral wake. I’ve since seen him play in Matt & Phreds (the legendary Manchester jazz club), The Moon Under Water (the legendary Manchester, umm..Wetherspoons..), Retro Bar (the night we were under siege by the crazy Russian and Glaswegian football hooligans) and finally last night in Sub61 (a weird club off Deansgate – a sort of cross between dingy indie club and scally strip joint).
Typical of a Burgess gig, I didn’t find out about it until the morning of the show (he has about 5 websites – none of which are regularly updates, performs under various names and you never really know what to expect). We turned up at 8pm after finally finding the venue, handed over our £10 to get in (eek!) and got a beer (£1.50 a pint. Get in!). There was one support band, The 66, who, while technically talented and very tight sounding, were completely devoid of originality and I found them totally uninspiring. Imagine Ian Brown singing for The Music, having only ever listened to Kasabian. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. Rent-a-lad crowds with daft haircuts and Fred Perry jackets. *yawn*.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mark Burgess/Chameleons Vox/The Chameleons took to the stage. Now reunited with drummer John Lever, and with a full band backing him, this is as close to the original Chameleons show as we’re ever going to get. Burgess was suffering with a bad throat and could hardly sing. This changed things somewhat. Instead of stripping things down a bit and playing a subdued set, he seemed to want to embrace the gritty sound and scream every note as loud as possible. While this made for a show that was full of energy and punk influenced enthusiasm, I personally felt that by taking this approach they lost a lot of what appealed to me in the first place; the harmonic complexity and time shifts that made them stand out from their peers. Last night, the atmosphere was more ‘some old band who were almost famous’ than ‘one of the greatest bands from Manchester who deserved to be a lot bigger than they were.’
This was a dire shame, as every other time I’ve seen Chameleons Vox he/they have really stood out as being phenomenally talented, and what I love about Mark Burgess is his ability to take old songs and change them into something different, which is perfectly demonstrated in his solo show and the acoustic Strip album. I will go and see him again, and I still love The Chemeleons. For now though, I think Burgess should stick to his solo acoustic set, and leave the louder sound to recorded material.
Air Cav have been gigging around Manchester (and beyond) for years. I was in fact at their very first gig in a dirty sweaty Zumeba (R.I.P) ‘back in the day’, when a typical Friday night was watching Loose Canon at the ‘Gardens and the hot new things in Manchester were Polytechnic and Jim Noir. Those were the days. Remember Pie Match?
This is how I felt last night. Watching Air Cav belt out some cracking new songs, as well as some old classics such as the stomper A Call To Arms (still, even now, one of my favourite tracks to come out of a new Manchester band for years) filled me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The crowd were different, the venue was different but hearing those songs transported me back to 2005. Remembering this gig, that gig, this party, that night. Those were good, fun, carefree times and I had the time of my life. Air Cav probably sum up that era in Manchester’s DIY scene more than any other band, for me.
That is not to say that they are somehow ‘indie dinosaurs’. Far, far from it. With an album in the making next year and a development of their sound into something entirely on another level (I can just imagine a Polyphonic Spree style choir backing them one day) Air Cav have well and truly battered the wall down between the part-time and the professional. I’ve been saying it for years and it still holds true. One day, they’ll be bloody huge. And deservedly so.
At the moment, we like our loud bands. Chucking off the twee as fuck image and embracing noise. Spiritualized® didn’t let us down in that respect. 2 drummers, an orchestra, full gospel choir and live band, all cranked up to 11 in Manchester’s Apollo. We had pretty good seats in the stalls and by the end of the night I thought my ears might actually explode.
As many of you must know, this was part of the Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space reissue tour. Jason Pearce played the entire album, from start to finish with a level of passion and (oddly restrained, in the only way he can) epic energy that most bands can only dream of. A pioneer or minimalist psych-rock, this was a celebration of a groundbreaking and seminal record, but also a demonstration by Pearce of how it should be done. An open letter to the new wave of ‘shoegaze’ revival bands (The Horrors, even?) stating that no matter how hard they try, nothing they do will come close to …Floating In Space.
There was no support band, no encore, no ‘banter’ with the audience and for the entire show, Pearce never moved from his chair at the side of the stage. Rude? Professional? In the zone? Probably all three. But then again, I don’t think I’d actually want him to do the usual ‘entertainment’ routine of telling jokes and chatting to the crowd. This wasn’t an entertainment show, or An Evening with Jason Pearce. It was purely a showcase of a brilliant work of art. The minimalist ideology permeates through the artwork (see above), through to the music itself, right into the stage performance. Even his outfit of plain white tshirt and trousers. Who could really ask for more than that?
Friend Rock has previously described Serpentine Pad as “The loudest thing we’ve ever fucking heard”. I mean that, of course, in a good way. They’re loud, yes, but put that aside for a second and you’ll find they have a depth and harmonic quality to them that really shines through. Serpentine Pad are a gang of very talented musicians, and are probably the most prolific band since Ryan Adams’ pop-punk project Pinkheart Revolution. With one self produced album already out, countless demos and another album on the way, this is a band that really have the momentum to become a driving force in Manchester’s exploding DIY post-punk scene.
And..now to the main attraction, San Francisco’s Sleepy Sun. Part Jefferson Airplane, part Black Angels, Part Brian Jonestown Massacre, part Mazzy Star, this is a band very obviously proud of where they’re from. In fact, it would be impossible for this band to be from anywhere but SF. With dreamy licks, droning reverb and a singer so involved in the music it looked like she was, at times, about to have a fit, Sleepy Sun would not look out of place on stage at Woodstock. Having said that, there were none of the stereotypical ‘psychedelic’ images that you might expect from such a band. These guys are the real deal. Newly signed to ATP Records, the future looks bright for them.
Oh, and the singer is a lovely girl called Rachel. We shared a cigarette (American Spirits…what else?) and it is a moment the sad little fanboy in me will treasure for a while to come…
Julian Plenti is the alter-ego of Interpol guitarist, singer and songwriter Paul Banks. Equipped with a full band (including a magnificent cellist) and a new record hot off the press in Julian Plenti…Is Skyscraper, this was the second date of a short european tour. With an album barely pushing the half hour mark and only one other UK date under his belt (plus the fact that he was never going to play an Interpol tune – which I agree with) this was always going to be a short and sweet show, and I was prepared for this. It didn’t matter though, Julian Plenti has, err…plenty…of talent, and an album without a single duff tune. What makes it is the cello. I have no idea how the cellist is able to play that amazing riff in Unwind so perfectly without setting fire to his hands, but by gosh it’s good. Exceptionally good.
My friend, Mr. Urban Tea Party and I had been looking forward to this show for months, and I must confess as good as they were I was still left a bit cold. For starters, it was quiet. Really quiet. I’m not sure if this was a technical issue, a deliberate decision or just down to a crappy sound engineer, but it was nowhere near loud enough. We were stood right near the front speakers and hardly had to raise our voices to speak. Secondly, the crowd (what crowd there was anyway – the gig was bumped down to Academy 4 from Academy 2, presumably due to lack of ticket sales) had that typical Manchester complex of being unimpressed. Most people were just stood with their arms folded. Such a shame.
Perhaps I was in too much of an energetic mood from the glühwein before the show and ready to ‘ave it, perhaps the audience were boring. Perhaps it was because it was a Wednesday and most people have proper jobs (thankfully, I’m not a slave to the punch in-punch out 9-5 life quite yet). Probably a combination of the lot.
All in all, Julian Plenti was magnificent and I really respect Mr. Banks for not selling this record on the back of being ‘the guy from Interpol’ but starting from scratch. The gig itself was just let down by other factors beyond his control.
PS – Apologies for the crappy mobile phone shot. Blame Matador Records for being harder to get in touch with than the head of MI6.