Speakers Push Air

Narc May 2012: Live Reviews

AV Festival Presents Stephen Stapleton: Sleep – 23rd March, Newcastle Centre For Life

How do you review a performance where the whole point is that you fall asleep? And how, in any case, can you take something as private and vulnerable as sleep and make it a communal enterprise?

Picture 100 surprisingly varied people on airbeds in a dimly lit corner of Newcastle’s Centre For Life late at night, some drinking and chatting, some settling down under the complementary blanket. Loops of Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast and Sailing By set a sleepy mood, but an avant garde pyjama party vibe prevails.

At midnight, Nurse With Wound’s Stephen Stapleton triggers a warm electronic pulse, our constant sonic companion for the next few hours. As people slowly begin to drift off to sleep, Stapleton begins to drop in more sounds – drones, chattering voices, unsettling effects. He seems adept at keeping us in the shallows of consciousness, sounds shaping our dreams and never letting us fully succumb to deep slumber, a whole room in a collective hypnagogic state. I woke often, finding the warm pulse still looping, more disturbing elements drifting in and out. Around 5am I realised Stapleton had gone, leaving us with just that simple pulse and a sense of having been involved in something really very special. Much more than a gig, this was a genuinely involving, strangely emotional shared experience.


The Slackers / New Town Kings – Trillians, April 16th

I’d be wondering where all the crusties and dreads were in Newcastle. Turns out they were all in Trillians waiting for The Slackers to come on.

But before them, it’s New Town Kings, the kind of festival-friendly Two Tone band that’s begging to be seen in a field on a sunny day, but even crammed onto a tiny Trillians stage, the 9-piece still rocked it. Pumping brass, great vocals and that “the country’s fucked so let’s have a singalong about it” approach to politics that’s inspiring without being worthy. Marvellous.

For my money, The Slackers are the best ska / rocksteady band in the world. Perhaps because more than most, they remember that ska music is black music, that it comes from jazz and rhythm & blues, not just The Specials. Lots of bands remember the skank and forget the soul. The Slackers – these days a sextet of lovable misfits with thick Noo Yoik accents and ‘interesting’ facial hair – tear through a non-stop set of their best songs – Every Day Is Sunday, Manuel, Face In The Crowd, Married Girl – and some choice covers (The Box Tops, The Misfits, Toots). They goof around and have an easy rapport between themselves and with the crowd that comes from 20 years on the road. The crowd go batshit, the band play out of their skins and this might be gig of the year (till next time, anyway… )


Los Campesinos! – 29rd March, Newcastle Academy 2

I don’t much care for most ‘indie’ bands these days but I bloody love Los Campesinos! Any attempt at critical distance for this rammed show was lost about 30 seconds into opener By Your Hand. By the time they played Death To Los Campesinos! I was bellowing along and utterly indifferent to how damned YOUNG everybody else was.

Touring their recent (excellent) Hello Sadness album, and with a lot of line-up changes since I saw them last, LC! are now a more intense, moody proposition than before, some of the bratty, sugar rush urgency of their early singles being replaced by a darker sound that draws you in more than it yells in your face. Gareth meanwhile is a frontman who just can’t help giving it his all in every song, till he’s worryingly red in the face and looks genuinely troubled. Dependably witty between songs, utterly committed during, it’s the sheer emotional force of his performance that makes the band so fucking special. To be honest, any band with You! Me! Dancing! in their setlist is onto a winner, but the whole gig was all kinds of fantastic.


The Time is Out of Joint: Forest Swords, The Caretaker, Pye Corner Audio – March 24th, Star & Shadow Cinema

It was a stroke of genius for the curators of the AV Festival to get three such essential artists (each with their own take on what we probably have to call ‘hauntology’) into a packed Star & Shadow on the night the clocks went forward.

Pye Corner Audio is probably the least well known but his was the set I enjoyed most. He shares some influences with the Ghost Box scene but manages to produce music that is more organic and less in hock to library music tropes than the likes of Belbury Poly, and when he does drop in some beats they’re actually danceable, where often this sort of stuff can sound anaemic.

There have been rumours about The Caretaker’s well-being and this really did seem like a performance by someone pretty near the end of their tether. Bookended by a drunken karaoke take on Lady In Red, he largely abandoned his beautiful haunted ballroom style in favour of a searing blast of noise which, in conjunction with a series of almost confessional home movies, came across like a howl of self-loathing and regret. Or maybe I was just drunk.

Over-running schedules meant I only saw around 20 minutes of Forest Swords performance, but it was amazing. Working with field recordings (and films) made within Gateshead’s demolished Trinity Square, he worked up some gorgeously eerie soundscapes, adding beats and slide guitar sparingly and making it very hard to go and take that taxi…

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