The Lemon Twigs @ Hare & Hounds, BM

“These words, these words, mean nothing to my soul”

They’re from Long Island, NY and they have waists that must make shopping for trousers extremely difficult. I remember seeing Jimmy Pages slacks in the V&A museum and thinking the same thing. Perhaps one day Brian D’Addario’s stripey flares will be hanging in a rock n’roll hall of fame somewhere in New York attracting glances from fans all over the world. In the future when seasoned fans have listened to their debut album ‘Do Hollywood’ time and time again, and new converts have heard ‘These Words’ so many times growing up that it’s ingrained in their DNA. Because, believe me, this album will last the test of time. And, just like Biann and Mike grew up listening to musical legends from across the decades, future musicians will look to them for inspiration.

What is it that makes them so great? Marty! we have to go back to the future to answer that one… get ready for some strained musical analysis from a complete layman. Ready? 1…2….3….4…. I think, non-standard time signatures play a big part in creating their sound. Or at least the transitions between tempos, the fast about-turns and graceful retardation into something completely different – the very stylistic pulse that makes it so bloody hard to dance to for more than a minute before realizing you missed a beat. I think you need music running through your veins to pull off these arrangements. Acrobatic song writing that never once stumbles and face plants the mat. It’s this, foremost, that elevates a song above just a catchy riff and a harmonious melody.

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Between songs the siblings trade passive aggressive remarks. They sometimes sound a bit like the ninja turtles arguing over a slice of pizza – ‘Hey Mikey! You’ve already had two slices..what’s the next song again?’
I would say they were in need of a few extra slices of pizza, but I too was an undernourished lad at that age (17 and 19) with atrophied arms and straws for legs. A very desirable body type for people wanting to wear vintage t-shirts and have hair like an extra from Austin Powers. I would’ve fitted right in with The Lemon Twigs.

What else makes them great? Bear with me on this one… something about them is off-kilter, alien almost, and you know what that means. It means you can’t wait to see what they’ll do next. It’s like they’ve burst out of Jim Henson’s workshop and onto the stage and if you look away you just might miss that miracle.
The duos youth and physicality really pumps you up during the set – Mike was literally kicking the roof and letting the plaster fall around him. When you get that kind of display it becomes your duty to follow suit (by slightly speeding up your wiggle)

Go and see The Lemon Twigs now, before they leave you behind…

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PILE @ The Sunflower Lounge

Birmingham, THE MIDLANDS. Halloween 2016. The four-piece, indie rock band from Boston, Massachusetts they call Pile is about to invade my ear and jangle my hearing gear with their soft-to-loud brand of guitar music.

Instead of going into too much detail about the gig, I thought I’d review their latest album offering You’re Better Than This (2015) in my own highly descriptive yet ignorant fashion. Once again, this exercise will probably do more for me as a therapeutic splurge of words – than it will benefit anyone actually wanting to learn about PILE. Nevertheless, please read on… donate your time to me. “Be my victim”

I will spare a few lines for the venue, The Sunflower Lounge (a short walk from New Street station) as this was my first time through the doors and I immediately felt at home. This was a den for music lovers and social pariahs like me. Nobody talked too loudly or disrespected my personal space. There was minimal fraternizing. 60’s garage rock oozed from the PA a few decibels too loud and Brooklyn Lager spewed from a tap at just £4 a pint (which may seem steep but consider this, they sell cans of the stuff for £5 at places like Byron bloody burger and that’s not even half a pint).
The verdict: a poky little dive that turns out to be a tardis for music lovers, provided they can get down the stairs. No wheelchair warriors at this gig. And I mean that as a criticism of the venue not a dig at the disabled.

On to the album!

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The World is Your Motel

I have no idea how to review music. Having said that, about 2/3 of the way through this track I lose the ability to think in anything but a neanderthal fugue, which is a blessing for the over-thinker. Analysis is redundant. A different, slumberous drive is being awoken by the roar of vocals and the butchering chug of guitars cleaving my brain in twain. That and it sounds a bit like the Pixies. Before I was like a patient etherised upon a table, now I am twitching in time to Pile.

 Mr. Fish

Just as I get up off the operating table, Mr. Fish lulls me back to my senseless sleep. I don’t dream. If I listen carefully I can hear a bed-time story with a fishy tale between sluggish guitar chords and mumbled phrases.
The chorus is like the movement from one stage of sleep to another – a more fitful and broken rest. The kind of sleep you wake up from way more tired than when you went to bed. Finally, as the song draws to an end, I remember it is just a dream. I wake up cold and sweating praising my lucky stars that I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel and kill that innocent child.

Tin Foil Hat

Hats off to you Tin Woodman, you lacked a heart but you sure made up for it by devouring the hearts of your enemies. And that’s exactly what this track makes me think. If you’re dead inside maybe the remedy you need is a syringe full of Pile. We live in a world where wearing a tin foil hat could be considered a fashion statement, we must endure these dark times and what better way to endure than soak in an acid bath of expertly off-key vocals and a guitar that sounds like a mourning wail at an elephants graveyard.

Hot Breath

Before I summon the words to describe the imagery and emotions that Hot Breath inspires in me I want to say Rick Maguire is a singer I like. He’s not the singer I’d choose in a supergroup of my own fucked-up-Frankenstein’s-imagination (that would be Jim Morrison) but he’d definitely be invited to a Live Aid type event.
Hot Breath has more of a conga line through death row feel to it. A Seventh Seal dirge of death. Skipping to the gallows. In other words, the guitars build and decay but never lose that stride to something evil…

That will do for now. discover the rest of the album for yourself you lazy bastard. I must sleep for another 40 years and regain the mana I’ve expended on this hot mess of music writing.

Mac Demarco @ The Institute

Photo by @Tvermar off Twitter

Photo by @Tvermar off Twitter

Warning: the following review contains ill-informed, conspiratorial hokum

I’m pro Demarco. There’s no questioning that. I’ve been been pro Demarco since I stumbled upon ‘Rock and Roll Nightclub’ and thought ~ who is this strange, cross-dressing man with a seductive (fetishised?) voice. The kind of delivery that you can imagine in a Lynchian underground club scene with dim, red lighting and lots of cigarette smoke. It was his first album, but it left a mark, and I wanted to find out more. Fortunately, Mac Demarco 2 was already out at the time, so I was able to wallow in the tunes that really made him goodespecially Cooking Up Something Good, which he played last night and which almost brought me out of my first-solo-gig-experience stupor (more on this later).

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I started watching all the videos, building the Demarco legend in my mind, even taking on board some of his goofy mannerisms. Then the Mac Demarco Safe For Work Session arrived and my adoration was cemented. He was the cool. I was a devoted Demarco disciple from that day forward, spreading the new messiah’s name far and wide.

So, completely Cockersless, I marched upon Digbeth with a determined stride to see my idol. But, wait a minute, who the fuck are all these other Macolites? I thought to myself while eating a Mother Clucker burger nextdoor to the institute…who are they, and what do they want with my Mac? There was a complete sense of disassociation with this crowd – a righteous indignation that they should feel worthy of liking him. Sure, they looked cool in their haircuts and their denim, and their stupid youthful faces. But, it’s what’s inside that counts. And inside me was a deepening desire to rewatch the Not Safe For Work session I already mentioned and retreat to a world where Mac was on TV. The TV that shined only for me.

Going to a gig on your own is a lonely expedition. Sure, I’ve wandered around on my own at festivals, but always safe in the knowledge that my friends aren’t far away, and the carnivalesque nature of music festivals brings out the pack animal in everyone*.
I wanted to find a spot where I could see the stage, rest my drink/lean if I wanted to and not be jostled by the lava of unwanted human contact. Once I’d found a spot to the left of the stage with a pillar blocking too much over-crowding and a shelf for my drinks, I was very reluctant to move. Like a badly treated cat that’s just been re-homed and won’t come out from under the sofa, I stuck to my spot like my very safety depended on it.

Fast forward about an hour of time usually spent talking to friends and the support act came on.

What can I say about the support act, well it was better than looking at an empty stage, and I’d say he put the meaning in + Special Guests. He was a kind of 80s brand MTV cabaret act you might find amusing at a house party (with friends) and sure enough the crowd were lapping him up like a dog laps up his own vomit.
I’m exaggerating, it did raise a smile, but I had no idea who he was. No introduction and no self promotion. He was just the fluffer for the main act.

Fast forward about an hour of time usually spent waiting at the bar to get a few pints in before the main event. Except I was rooted to the spot. Without a wingman to save my chosen spot I wasn’t moving for love nor money. I felt like if I left my post I’d be endangering my sense of well-being beyond the point of redemption. I was like Charlie Sheen in Platoon courageously defending his foxhole from the enemy while all around him the Viet Cong happily went to the bar and ordered Becks Vier… the Vier Cong. I felt like Captain Willard sent on an errand to cut off the head of Mac Demarco and brandish it to the stonewashed crowd.
I felt like getting a drink but my legs weren’t budging. My brain had control of them and I knew it.

By the time Mac came on my legs were a bit stiff from all the stationary swagger I’d been putting them through. I showed my appreciation by doing a careful tip-toe and head raise. After introducing the band (including a new guitarist from Kings of Leon**), he went straight into ‘Another One’. Then I think he did ‘Let Her Go’ which is always a good one. It was nice to see them in the flesh but I wasn’t bowled off my beleaguered feet.
By this stage I happened to notice another solo gigger, I said gigger, who looked a little awkward, a little like someone who needed refuge in a fox hole. Someone who also didn’t belong in the mosh pit/beer shower that the Institute had transformed into to.
I let her stew in the midst of it and made doubly sure she didn’t get my spot through some trickery. I know her kind, comes with intrinsic knowledge of crowd avoidance tactics. I know because she is me. But she’s is in the lava, I’m in the watchtower.
I’m almost exultant in my advantage until I notice she has a fresh pint of beer and I’m just getting more and more thirsty.

Mac plays ‘Cooking Up Something Good’ and I have to admit it hasn’t lost any of it’s charm. That easy beat, no hang ups, don’t give a fuck style they dubbed ‘Slacker rock’. The new guitarist adds something here, maybe it was more intricate or just cleaner finger picking. I don’t know what the other guy sounded like live, but it seemed to me this guitarist was making his stamp on the band in his own hairy way.
Anyway, together they have the kind of sound that goes down like a cold beer on a hot day. Refreshing! Intoxicating! Inhibition-stifling beer. Oh how I miss you cold beer.

Mac starts a good few of his songs by making a kind of muted beat on the strings, the technical term for this is Strumming. Being such a huge fan I thought I’d be able to tell what song he was about to play, but I didn’t. This time it was Viceroy. Another classic off Mac Demarco 2

Something Mac is heralded for is his onstage ‘goofing off’ otherwise known as ‘banter’ in the great British isles. There was some convincing evidence of this on the night, but I couldn’t hear it due to the absolute c**ts who had ambushed me from behind. I think one of them was chanting “Sky Blue Army” at the top of his lungs, while another was so infatuated with Mac that he was just making a kind of orgasmic whooping sound. It was low and mewing like the disturbing noises insane people make in their sleep when their dreaming of decapitation. Let Mac do the noises. He’s a professional.
I could tell Mac was deserving of his reputation (even if I couldn’t decipher much of what he was saying) I blame myself, I really do…and to prove he deserves it…and to break me out of my deep existential reverie he performed a very goofy stage dive in the middle of ‘Together’. Then he was devoured by the baboons until just his shoe was left.
Thank you for your sacrifice Mac, I know that dive was for me and not for them.

It took a while to get my legs working [you did your job brain, we made it, but let it go now. Don’t make me push the reboot button] I stiffly made my way to the exit, and as the night air touched my parched tongue I felt free again. I glanced ahead of me and saw a slightly awkward girl walking on her own. It was the lady in the lava.
I hesitated behind her for a moment. I considered our separate existences and our sad, lonely walk home. How we were just two humans that didn’t have any friends and so had to walk a different path to everyone else. What did I do, dear reader?

I overtook her, and sprinted all the way to the train station. I’d had enough self-realization for one day ~ fuck you very much.

*I wanted to use the word carnivalesque to describe Rock and Roll Nightclub but it didn’t really fit, subconsciously my brain must have set up a challenge to use it elsewhere in the rambling discourse I call a review.
**This has not been fact checked

The Wave Pictures @ H&H, Birmingham

Sunday the 15th of February. @cockerss and I are going to our second gig of the year, the first was a likeable Scotsman who goes by the name King Creosote, it was a good set of folky tunes with a couple of stand-out moments; the accordion bit, the whistling bit, and the bit where he sang Are You Dancing (may not be actual song name). He did the old “if Warwick Uni is in Cov, is Coventry Uni in Warwick” gag as performers seem to be obliged when they play Warwick Arts Centre. It was nice. It was sit down, tap your feet good. And there was a complete prick sat on the row behind us who wouldn’t shut his stupid mouth the whole time. I wanted to kill him. I may or not have have been tooled up. (I didn’t actually want to kill him, but I may or may not have been armed). OK…
But that night we were going to see The Wave Pictures. I was excited. I only really get excited when I win horse races or find something rare and unusual in a charity shop or when I’m arguing with cockers about something mundane and I know I have the upper hand. I was excited and I’d drunk four cans of lager before the train journey to New Street. This was going to be fun.
I met cockers at the station and we got cash and I hailed a taxi to take us to The Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath. £12 dribbled from my hand into the greedy palm of Mr Drive. So far so good.
I dragged cockers to the excellently named Big Johns so I could eat a tasty burger before the gig and soak up a bit of that lager. It wasn’t a tasty burger. But it was cheap and it is becoming part of the H&H experience. Call it tradition or just a compulsion to eat shit food purely because I like the name of the place. cockers watched me eat the burger and thanked Cher’s Ghost that she was a vegetarian.
We looted a charity bookshop on the way to Big Johns. Don’t leave literature on the doorstep when we’re in town. I pocketed some shit novel that I’ll never read and will join the rest of the hard-labored insulation that lines the walls of my frankly grim bedroom. cockers palmed one called The Art of Chivalry and left it in Big Johns for the benefit of all and sundry. We had already made Birmingham a better place to live in.
My belly is slightly annoyed at me for filling it with lager and shit food. We head to the venue, we’re still excited, cockers says something about bigbellybins. I check she’s still taking her medication. She is, it’s fine.
There is still time for a pint downstairs. It takes us about 3 minutes to drink them. We get another pint each and go upstairs to the music room, the music area, the place where they play the music.
So far we haven’t freaked any one out, but surely it’s just a matter of time. Turns out we aren’t the only freaks there, an old couple, maybe late fifties/early sixties, takes first prize for ‘jeez, who let them out in public’ simply by being very odd. The man has taken his miserable wife to the gig against her will, She doesn’t even like music. He LOVES music. One of them had fun that night, and one has probably never had fun.
cockers can’t help but engage them in The Art of Conversation. I have a suspicion that she’s only talking to them to gauge how mental they are. The man reminds me a bit of Jim Broadbent if Jim Broadbent had post-traumatic stress disorder from gunning down his family. But I knew this guy would enjoy the killing.
I kept my distance.
The first act came on. A good indie support act by the name of Midnight Bonfires. We had to check the name with Killer Jim. We like him now.
The singer has an interesting vocal style, kind of does that thing where your voice breaks but it sounds okay and really his voice broke all over the place, hard left, break right, CHICANE. It sounded good though, in case I failed to get that point across. Another thing about the singer is that he had the same hair style as cockers – well he didn’t but I’d just finished my 6th pint of the day and even though it wan’t funny or accurate in any way I was going to find it funny despite all those things. Because I’m a dickhead.
The band finished their set and we bought another pint.
We did a bit of a twitter. Someone cockers is in The Mutual Art of Following is at the gig. We don’t really know what they look like. Is it that tall guy in the middle. The one looking at his phone. Or is it that guy that just passed by. Or is it the bald guy being a dick to the girl he’s with? We don’t know.
I’m very excited now. It’s palpable.
David Tattersall gets on the stage.
Then the band join him. The Wave Pictures are ready and the bassist has the most immense shirt I’ve ever witnessed.

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I can’t stop thinking how to get my hands on a shirt like that. I’m captivated by it. The music starts and I barely notice. That shirt!

I do notice. It’s impossible not to be grabbed by the fret work of David Tattersall. The inventive poetry of his lyrics. Very playful and full of childlike glee. And that’s just how I feel as I sip the dregs of my pint. cockers has taken to finishing off my pints now. That’s just not leg before wicket.

They introduce a song called I could Hear the Telephone and I let out an infantile whoop. No one else whoops so David has to laugh and comments “well, it looks like somebody already bought the new record”. The blood pumps in my ears. I have to say something. “Soundcloud actually.” I squeeze out of my lips. He laughs. It was a good thing to say.

They start to play the song and I’m dancing now and thinking if David thinks I’m a cheap bastard. I wonder if I should wait for the sweet heavenly guitar licks to die down and assure him that I paid for City of Forgiveness, their last album, on iTunes. I decide that no one gives a shit and went to the bar.

When I return they do a cover of Sinister Purpose by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It is pelvic thrustingly, absurdly good for the ears and whatever else ails you. I thank Oden that my left ear, which had been blocked with wax, was now being penetrated by the full wave lengths of the song At Dusk You Took Down the Blinds – a much slower and moodier work of art. (song of the week? maybe.)

They do another Creedence cover to end the set. By this time I’m dancing like I’m at Woodstock and the drugs are kicking in. I notice there’s a girl dancing at the front who is nearly as snake hipped as me.

The song keeps on going. The solo never ending. I think they did three songs for the encore. It was now something like 11.30pm and there was no way I could stomach any more alcohol. The band left the stage. I wanted to talk to David but we had a train to catch even though in the back of my head I knew we were too late. There was a bit  of a conversation with Killer Jim B about how good the gig was. And how The Wave Pictures were the only reason he stopped killing.
We get a taxi to the station via the cashpoint. An impoverished gentleman has £3 of my hard-earned wage. The taxi waits while I check if there are any trains still running. Of course there isn’t. We’re fucked.
How much is it going to cost us to get back to Leamington and Coventry? Did I read a book on The Art of Bartering? Will this post ever end?

The taxi man told us it would be £60 and cockers looked like she might faint. we paid upfront and were on our way home, wishing that we had some booze for the journey. In the end it cost £80 for the full journey. By the meter it would have been £85. Perhaps I did know how to barter after all.

And cockers held in a wee the WHOLE WAY HOME.

Belle and Sebastian @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham 10th May (sans Cockers)

After draining a couple of stubbies down my throat. Munching a beef pattie. And getting a TV style makeover from @cockerss 11 year old daughter, Bean. I was primed and ready for my boy date with none other than Mark Sanders off Twitter.

We started off with a short canal side pub-crawl, where we discussed all manner of things from a battle of the regional bands to ultra-marathons to what it would be like to be paralytic on the floor of a party boat that went by blasting Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long surrounded by an assortment of costumed freaks leering over you and jeering at you to party ‘all night long’ when all you wanted to do was die peacefully. We even jotted down some notes for a hard hitting sci-fi novel where the world was governed by a highly intelligent computer based on statistical analysis (which seemed an awful lot like the plot to Terminator 2 on closer inspection).

Then it was time to move our feet in a coordinated effort towards the Symphony Hall. We called it ‘walking’.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t remember the Belle & Sebastian gig on Sunday. I’m not saying that my keen journalistic mind was paralyzed by a hangover and one too many ales pre-gig…
But I will say that my memory for detail was diminished. Significantly
Let’s start with what I do know. It was at the Symphony Hall. Which took a long time to look even remotely full. The squirrel-fluffing support act, Lower Dens, played to a static half-filled room (still a lot of people). To me they looked very far away, I think I was experiencing tunnel vision… their music seemed distant too as my attention floated from the Mx lead singer to @etranger swaying in his seat. He was not swaying to the music. Yet.Lower-Dens-604-604x400-1
Neither of us were too enthusiastic about Lower Dens. I was getting a late eighties, church reverb style pop from the act and it was combating the effect of the Ubu. The singers voice was nice, but it was sending me down a rabbit hole that I didn’t want to go down.

Belle & Sebastian came on and got a very warm reception from the now heaving crowd (can a crowd be heaving and static at the same time?) it was like Birmingham was welcoming a home-grown act. There was pride intermingled with the excitement.
And @etranger and I were now intermingled in our appreciation of the music. All loyalty to my regular gigging buddy @cockerss had been washed aside in a more forbidden, edgy kind of fun. (ahem)
Now, I don’t remember exactly what was played or what was said. There was mention of Birmingham’s canals and churches – Stuart Murdoch was definitely overselling the appeal of post-industrial town regeneration, even to the extent of showing a black and white public information film about urban renewal (or whatever) that went on for longer than it took to build the whole of England. Or longer than all the shitty canals of England. Take your pick.
I was on stand-by for a canal/anal joke from Marks the moment we set eyes on the Grand Birmingham Canal. But I was sadly disappointed.

Using a far superior gig review from @brumnotes as reference, I will now report what I can remember about the songs. Nobody’s Empire – err, yeah, that was good. Sounded like the good old B&S that I had got to know since hearing I’m a Cuckoo on Radio 2 at Uni. The only way I can describe B&S music is like a shaft of light through the curtains ever so slightly brightening the interior of a dingy room with a sleepy dog in it. (ahem ahem). Or, a shaft of light where the sun doesn’t shine – possible future album title.
Perfect Couples err, yeah, I don’t really remember. I’ll fill this bit with a generic description of the energy and intimacy of the performance. WAIT A MINUTE. I do remember, because this was Stevie Jackson’s time to shine, and right or wrong he really reminded me of Talking Heads or maybe Jonathan Richman. There was a cheeky charm that disarmed the crowd.
Dog on Wheels – my favorite song of the whole night. And second only to Lazy-line Painter Jane in terms of favourite song by B&S, which sadly didn’t get played.
Boy with the Arab Strap – biggest ear worm of the set.
We Rule the School – marked a sadder more wistful turn to the set. Get Me Away From Here – we actually got up off our butts to dance to this. Or it could’ve been a completely different song that got us swaying to the music. Perhaps Marks can fill in this minor detail. We weren’t the only ones to start dancing at this point. B&S had succeeded at getting a very healthy proportion of the crowd jigging away like it wasn’t a Sunday at all, but one of the more popular nights like Friday or Saturday.

Well, I’ll stop attempting to remember information that is quite clearly beyond my reach while I’m ahead. Ahead may be an exaggeration. Let’s just say while I still have some credib….while I still can.

Traditional fuck up with the trains meant that I had to run from Moor st to New Street – filling my asthma battered lungs with Birmingham’s post-industrial smog.

Sun 15th Feb at The Hare & Hounds (Birmingham)

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The Wave Pictures are a band that’s been around since 1998, they have a supremo guitarist and singer called David Tattersall who writes inspired lyrics along the lines of:

he’s thirty five years young with a sloppy toothpaste tongue
and he chuckles at the speckles of his blood
amongst the freckles on his neck
his marriage is wrecked admittedly
but surely there are still reasons to sing
good reasons to sing
his throat pours
of course he is still an innocent
he doesn’t save his time he spends it
he is still an innocent
so he stands and there he sings
with the condensation rising all around him from the sink
his wife ran off and left him but he’s happy as hell this morning
with his father in the mirror and his song, singing

And that’s just for starters. His fingers do the real talking on the albums, frolicking along the fretboard like Mark Knopfler’s digits dream about.