Speakers Push Air

Narc June 2012: Live Reviews

Dexys / New Order
Whitley Bay Playhouse, May 7th / Newcastle Academy, May 8th

Two consecutive nights, two eighties legends, both with something to prove. New Order have lost a bass player, while Dexys – or at least Kevin Rowland, which is the same thing – have lost almost everything along the way.

© Tracy Hyman

New Order start with a short burst of Elegia –  every gig should, to be honest –  and from thereon in they don’t put a foot wrong (if you ignore Bernard’s typically grumpy manner when it comes to the odd tech problem). I’ve seen New Order a LOT of times, and this may be the first where I didn’t need my memory of just how great the songs are to get through some shonky moments. If I just wrote out the setlist you’d have a fair idea how great a gig this was – Temptation, Bizarre Love Triangle, 586, Love Vigilantes, 1963, and on and on and on. Of course, the elephant (or mammoth, to be honest) in this room is The Lack of Hooky. And do you know what? Let him carry on acting the sulky, petulant child, because Tom Chapman is a more than adequate replacement (even if he did try a little *too* hard to prove it at times) and if it means the band have a future, then that’s all good.  The crowd went batshit and I found myself wondering how many of the 40 somethings had indulged in a cheeky half, before going home to the babysitter. The excellent visuals actually managed to make the Academy look pretty for once, and they went out on a storming, breakbeat-coda version of Blue Monday. No Joy Division encore, but we coped.

If the New Order gig was great, the Dexys gig was life-changing. I’ve waited nearly 30 years to see this band live and I suspect I wasn’t the only one. Which explains why the surge of warmth and goodwill that greeted Rowland’s arrival on stage was so heartfelt, so intense. You really could feel the love, and for a man like Rowland, who has spent his entire career with his heart on his sleeve, that’s fitting.

The band – some ex-Dexys (Pete Williams especially, providing a perfect straight man to Rowland), some new recruits from bands like The Ruts and The Rockingbirds – were pretty much perfect (trombone problems aside), providing a darkly funky, utterly simpatico backing to Rowland’s songs – full of doubt and anger and love and regret. The first part of the gig was the unreleased new album, One Day I Will Soar, in its entirety, which is one way of testing audience patience. As with past tours, it was a performance of genuine theatricality, with dialogue, video screens and some genuinely funny moments, although a fair few people – who’d presumably come for Come On Eileen – looked a little bemused. By the encore – utterly spellbinding takes on Old, Come On Eileen and This Is What She’s Like (perhaps the greatest love song ever written)– everyone was on their feet and the tiny theatre fair hummed with a blend of joy and relief. This is a comeback to cherish.


Bob Log III – Newcastle Cluny, May 20th

A man in a black satin jumpsuit with his name spelled out in sequins on the back, wearing what looks like a jet fighter pilot’s helmet with a phone stuck on the front like a proboscis from a Cronenberg movie is having a band meeting. Since he IS the band, it involves him turning his back on the crowd and muttering, referring himself in the 3rd person, and taking swigs from the numerous whiskies the crowd have bought him. Welcome to a Bob Log III gig. There’s really nothing else like it.

Armed with just a battered guitar, a kick drum and drum machine and a sense of his own innate raw sexuality, Bob Log III has rammed the Cluny. The boys want to be him, the girls want to.. well, let’s not go there. By the end, he’s got three girls on his knee enjoying the way it bumps when he drums. But underneath the warped showmanship, Bob is the real deal – an amazing blues slide guitarist who plays like a demon even when he’s working the crowd like a proper Tucson huckster. You’ll laugh, stamp your feet and wonder if he really does have a monkey paw for a left hand.


Imelda May – Gateshead Sage, April 30th

Much as Imelda May must be glad to have moved up from the rockabilly circuit, playing endless weekenders in rain-lashed, out of season holiday camps, success comes at a price. In this case, the price is playing The Sage to a crowd largely made up of “dinner and a show” couples who nod politely, clap in all the right places and not much else.  The Sage is a fantastic venue for some sorts of gigs, but this isn’t really one of them.

That said, May – heavily pregnant but still in a tight leopardskin frock and killer heels like the rockabilly trooper she is – knows better than most how to work a crowd and things did pick up. The secret of May’s success – aside from her truly amazing voice, from a low growl to a piercing high note – is that she mixes it up: aside from the rockabilly twang you’d expect, you get smoky torch songs a la Julie London, a hint of country, the odd dash of tiki-hour voodoo and a charming version of Baby I Love you – May perched on a double bass next to a bassist on ukulele, a truly lovely moment. And it takes cojones to tackle Howling Wolf’s Spoonful but she pulled it off. I’d still rather see her tearing it up in a small club, but this will do for now.


I had quite a few live reviews this month that didn’t make it into Narc, but I’m hoping will appear on sister site http://www.kyeo.tv at some point:

Th’Legendary Shack Shakers / Burning Condors
The Cluny, April 27th

Burning Condors come out swinging and have all the right garage / ‘billy credentials (including a manic frontman channelling equal parts Nick Cave and Bill Nighy) but fell short on actual songs so that even their brief set felt overlong.

No such problems with Th’Legendary Shack Shakers, who remind me every time I see them that they may well be the finest rock’n’roll band in the world. With a real live Colonel for a frontman (it’s a Kentucky thing) and a frantic blend of hillbilly, punk, country, blues and polka they’ve branded ‘agridustrial’, LSS knock the breath out of you the moment they take the stage and before long, the Colonel (JD Wilkes to his mum) is a back-flipping, crowd-taunting, harmonica-abusing, eye-swivelling maniac. And this was him on relatively sedate form. The band were as relentless as always (including the new boy guitarist who seems to have slotted in easily) and it didn’t take long for a bare-chested psychobilly wrecking pit to form.  There really is nothing like a Shack Shakers gig – if you’ve never seen them you really should (and since they seem to have a real affinity for Newcastle, I’m sure they’ll be back soon).


The Tea Pad Presents Black Twig Pickers / Bob Stork & The Heaton Playboys
Morden Tower, April 24th

Bob Stork & The Heaton Playboys

Rob Heron of the Tea Pad doesn’t do things by halves, as his various ventures across the city have proved. Faced with providing a support for Virginia’s Black Twig Pickers, he decided to form a Cajun band, and I’m damned if he didn’t pull it off. For all the false starts and giggling, a band with this many great local musicians in it isn’t ever going to really fuck it up, and so it proved: they threw themselves into it with style, slightly iffy French vocals and a fine washboard solo from Mr Neil Hopper.

Bluegrass has become something of a novelty lately – I blame Hayseed Dixie – but there’s nothing quirky about Black Twig Pickers. This music is in their blood, and it’s the beautiful but often quite austere real deal – mountain music full of God and loss and fear and whiskey. Polite, understated, keen to explain what they were playing, and why, the Pickers huddled together and used their simple blend of fiddles, guitars, washboards and ‘high lonesome sound’ voices to totally transfix the tiny audience. It’s pretty rare to see ‘fiddlesticks’ (where someone beats out a rhythm on a fiddle’s neck with sticks while it’s being played) but it’s a wonderful thing. You got the feeling they could have played all night – probably do back home – and nobody would have got remotely bored.


The Distraction Records 10th Birthday All Dayer – The Star & Shadow, April 21st

By the time we got to the Star & Shadow for the Distraction Records 10th birthday party, the place was packed (with so many beards on display my girlfriend felt she was letting the side down).  Richard Dawson was keeping it fantastically weird on the decks and the expectations for the last 3 acts were high. Sad to say, then, that Mushi Mushi were a massive disappointment. A promising start – filthy sounding beats and analogue squiggles – was abandoned in favour of the kind of messy eclecticism you find in the last beer tent at Glastonbury on a Monday morning, a kind of anaemically funky mess.

Necro Deathmort

Praise be then for Necro Deathmort. Two men, one guitar, a pile of gadgets and an almighty noise. Legendary Tyneside soundman Ian had stuffed two extra bassbins at the back of the venue and the building nearly took off. The duo’s blend of doom metal riffs and dark dubsteppy beats inevitably leads to comparisons with Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh, Jesu, Pale Rider etc) but it’s a comparison to be proud of. A whole room of bearded guys (and unbearded girls) doing the dubstep headnod while Necro’s guitarist threw none-more-metal shapes on stage was a helluva sight.

I’ve raved about Warm Digits before but not without justification. Tonight they were better than ever, the newer material perhaps even funkier than before, the pair of them seeming to love every minute of it despite having to keep so many musical plates spinning at once. If you like your beats motorik, your synth sounds warm and fuzzy and plenty of cowbell, you need some Warm Digits in your life. With 6Music all over them lately and some pretty impressive support slots, I think their time is coming.

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Well, sadly we’re also disappointed with your review. Not because you didn’t like us – that’s your opinion and fair enough. But you failed to point out that when mushi mushi played they went down well on the night despite your opinion, anaemic messy funk seems to have its fans whether you like it or not. Also you failed to cover several other bands/acts (dressed in wires, fret, summer night air, templehof) who played on the day which is also a shame.

As a band we really enjoyed playing and being part of the distraction tenth anniversary – which we had especially reformed for. Although we may reform again if someone does offer us a spot in a beer tent inGlastonbury on a Monday morning. Sounds tempting.

Comment by mm

Sorry you’re disappointed but I think you need to step back a bit: how ludicrous would it be to review a band based on audience reaction? To make a stupid comparison, JLS doubtless get an amazing reception – should I review that if I saw them, even if I thought it was dross? That’s not how it works. I also couldn’t review the backstory, you reforming to play – I’m there to give my opinion of the music, and that’s all. It was a fantastic night, and I wish I’d been there to review the other bands you mentioned but circumstances worked against that (although with a scant 200 words allotted it wouldn’t have been space to do anyone much credit). It was a brilliant day, Distraction is a fantastic label and I’m glad you enjoyed being part of it. I’m sorry I didn’t like the band, but that’s how it goes. It’s just my opinion, which doesn’t count for much really anyway.


Comment by stagger lee

thanks for replying lee.

Agreed, it would be ludicrous to review a band on audience reaction. Not the point we were trying to make really. Your review obviously comes over very negatively as far as mushi mushi goes, anyone reading it may be given the impression in comparison to the other bands in the review we had failed to make any impact on the night . Which wasn’t the case (thus the mention of crowd reaction). Just pointing out our performance and contribution to the night was much more positive than your article makes out.

Yes it was a great night.


Comment by mm

I guess we’re not going to agree about this. It was written to a very low word count and – believe it or not – I’d rather be positive about a band I like than negative about one I didn’t. So i used my words to big up the other bands. Again, sorry if it seems overly negative but.. well, I would say “that’s my job” but it’s not like I get paid for it. Take a look at the rest of the reviews on the blog and you’ll see that I’m not someone who goes out of my way to slag people off…

Comment by stagger lee

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