Speakers Push Air

Narc In March Pt 2: Live Reviews
March 2, 2012, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Gigs!, Narc | Tags: , , , , ,

Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns

While the bloggers tie themselves up in knots about Lana Del Rey’s ‘authenticity’, here comes Meschiya Lake – her own special creation. Probably born in the ‘wrong’ state in the ‘wrong’ decade, maybe even the ‘wrong’ colour to be playing this music, but that’s her on stage, making a strong case for gig of the year already.

Dreadful Drunken Photo Courtesy Of Me

Sticking to the classic New Orleans line-up of trombone, trumpet, sousaphone, guitar and drop dead cool drummer, Lake takes the base elements of old time blues and jazz and turns it into something really special by adding massive charisma, an incredible voice and a fantastic rapport with her band (her time in the circus obviously taught her a lot about stagecraft).  Alongside the band was a champion Lindy Hop duo, who managed to really get the best out of the local swing dance crowd.

Dreadful Drunken Photo Courtesy Of Me

Drawing heavily on  New Orleans tunes even the casual listener might recognise, from slow blues to snappy jazz to second line standards like Just A Closer Walk With Thee, Lake and her Little Big Horns managed to make the Cluny2 feel like a Bourbon St jazz club for a couple of magical hours. 5/5

The Jumpin’ Hot Club, The Cluny2, Newcastle February 9th 


Thee Spivs / Night Owls / Nervous Twitch

Both openers tonight (each from Leeds) were just a little ‘wrong’ somehow – Nervous Twitch’s pretty straight garage revivalism didn’t really gel, and Night Owls seemed unable to decide if they were a muscular R&B band, belligerent punk or somewhere in between.

Praise be, then, for Thee Spivs. Too many bands harking back to the late 70s get stuck on the ugly, lumpen version of punk. But this lot – a stylish and charming trio of Hackney-dwelling ne’er-do-wells – get it just right: the sharp, snappy, melodic end of things that has more in common with The Jam or The Chords than it does Peter & The Test Tube Babies. It’s punk through the eyes of Billy Childish, although Thee Spivs largely avoid garage clichés.

There’s nothing wrong with being retro if the songs are this good, and from the off Thee Spivs totally nailed it. Ba-ba-ba choruses, amphetamine riffs, bratty lyrics about perennially punk subjects, estuary vowels, two minute songs coming thick and fast with the minimum of fucking about. The Trash Shack crowd loved it, and if it really was the last Trash Shack night (say it ain’t so), it was a fantastic way to end. 4/5

The Trash Shack @ Central Bar, Gateshead February 17th


Laura Viers

Sometimes the way some people armed with pieces of wood and string can conjure up something so beautiful, so transporting still amazes me. Tonight Laura Viers – tiny and bookish and utterly beguiling – is flanked by a guitarist who comes off as an amiable stoner until his playing knocks you out and a peppy keyboard / fiddle player with the voice of an angel. Between the three of them they create something very special.

More Bad Pics From Me

Viers loosely fits into the country / folk songwriter vein, but there’s something in her music which just shimmers. Simple melodies married to lyrics with a strong sense of place and nature, delivered by a sweet, often childlike voice. Tonight we get songs from across her eight albums, including a couple taken from her recent Tumble Bee release, kids’ folk songs performed with real joy. (A bubble machine was the sole remnant of a lunchtime matinee show for kids that featured costumes and face paint and a cover of Nirvana’s Sliver). Between songs, Viers chatted excitedly about everything from the origins of the songs to The Sage’s laundry facilities, comfortable and friendly and full of love for what she’s doing, and that love shows through in her music. 4/5

The Sage, Gateshead, February 2th


Floating Palaces featuring Robyn Hitchcock, Howe Gelb, KT Tunstall, Martin & Eliza Carthy and Krystle Warren

You know when you throw a dinner party and you think it would be a lot of fun to invite some people who don’t know each other but are bound to get on and make for a fantastic night? But it just doesn’t work? The laughter forced, the pauses pregnant? Welcome to Floating Palaces.

This sort of event (artists collaborating on each others’ songs en masse or in small groups) can sometimes work wonderfully but tonight was flat, charmless and plain awkward in places. Robyn Hitchcock still seems to think stringing together 6th form non sequiturs makes him Syd Barrett’s natural heir and his songs just irritated. Folk legend Martin Carthy seems uncomfortable and grumpy, daughter Eliza tries hard but never really gets going. Krystle Warren – a last minute replacement for Abigail Washburn, who really dodged a bullet – has a great voice and no songs to speak of. Howe Gelb was painfully underused and looked a little lost. A true genius, he was far too inventive and irreverent for a night of folk dirges and bland balladry. To my great surprise, KT Tunstall came off best, her personality and warmth standing out.

When a line-up of this calibre can’t even wring some joy out of I Want You Back or The Weight, the whole project is in trouble, and I got the feeling everyone involved knew it. 1/5

The Sage, Gateshead, February 6th

© Narc Magazine 2012

February Narc
January 26, 2012, 7:35 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous, Narc | Tags: , , , , , ,

February’s revamped Narc has hit the shops and venues and ting. Obviously not any shops I can get to (our local shop is a strictly cat food, bin bags and penny sweets kind of deal) so I’ve yet to see my pieces. But anyway, here’s what I submitted (the edited version may be different, I’ve no idea! )…

Quite a busy month for me..

1) Bridie Jackson Live Review

Bridie Jackson & The Arbour – The Sage 2, January 12th 2012
From the moment Bridie Jackson arrived on stage you knew it was going to be a special evening. A capacity home crowd helped, but it was more about the atmosphere Jackson creates, working up magic from seemingly simple elements.

thanks to Stolen Orange for the pic

The haunting first song, We Talked Again (also the opener on the Bitter Lullabies album) was electrifying, just Bridie’s rich, clear vocals over a delicate, spine-tingling bell plate pattern, harmonies and a pulsing cello. The impact was astonishing and from thereon in, she had us.

Instruments came and went, and what was essentially folk music managed to take in flamenco, blues, gospel and much more, but the night was ultimately all about the voices: the wonderfully arranged chorus around her, of course, but primarily Jackson’s voice itself. A thing of rare depth and power and control, equally affecting as a murmur or a full throated roar. After the main set ended with Jackson showered in rose petals and bouquets – which did bring a little grit to my eye – she closed with a couple of solo acoustic songs, one witty and charming, the other sadder and more reflective,  and 500-odd people left the Sage entirely spellbound.


2) Meschiya Lake Interview

Whereas most interviews tend be with some lads who met at college and are “really looking forward to recording our first album”, very occasionally you get to interview someone like Meschiya Lake, an extensively tattooed former circus performer who fetched up in a pre-Katrina New Orleans and reinvented herself as a jazz singer. Ahead of her two dates in the north east, we caught up with her at home in New Orleans.

Lake took a very indirect route to the music she makes now, having grown up surrounded by country and taking in punk and hardcore along the way. “I didn’t really listen to jazz in those days, but I do remember giving my mother a Billie Holiday record one year for Christmas, and listening to it more than she did. New Orleans is most definitely the reason I am so blessed to do what I do today. It first started with a couple of 1930s blues around a campfire on Chartres St and I threw myself in head first from there”.

Although getting started wasn’t always easy (there were some “lean years, food stamp years, but at least I was doing what I loved”), she’s gone from busking and selling home-made CDs to fronting her own band – The Little Big Horns – in a few short years, and is winning increasing acclaim in New Orleans and beyond. Of the city’s music scene she says “most of the musicians were extremely supportive.  I remember the Jazz Vipers and the Palmetto Bug Stompers asking me to sit in back when I didn’t even know what a key signature was, let alone what key I sang in. Their kindness and openness is really where I got my start.”

Her debut album Lucky Devil, a beguiling, swinging, sexy mixture of jazz standards and originals, showcases her incredible voice and totally sympatico band and demonstrates how deep her love for this music goes. Lake mentions some fellow travellers we should look out for, such Tuba Skinny and The Royal Roses, but to UK ears the most familiar comparison might be CW Stoneking. These musicians aren’t engaged in pastiche or homage; it’s a living, breathing love affair with the music and the city.

“It’s always been a beautiful, vibrant place, full of contrast and extremes, and people here are very proud of the uncanny uniqueness of this place and its art forms.”  says  Lake, explaining “it was more necessary than ever after Katrina. When the government and insurance companies turned their backs on the people of New Orleans after the storm, the people formed organizations to help each other… Music was a very big part of it. It’s the sound of people’s heartbeats and unbeatable souls.  It’s how people celebrate life, and release sorrows when life bares its teeth. It was more necessary than ever after the storm. I think as a result, it’s enjoying an even bigger renaissance now.”

Music as good as Lake’s will always find a way of getting heard, but the fact that her emergence has coincided with a renaissance both in this style of jazz and its related scenes has definitely helped. Lake says she’s discovered “an audience for this kind of music all over the world, even before I knew about the vast and ever expanding lindy hop scene. Several times, after a performance, people have come up to me and expressed how they didn’t even know that they liked this type of music, simply because they’ve never been exposed to it. It’s joyous, and infectious.  It takes, often times, very sombre subject matter, and executes it in a very happy, colourful way. People hear this music, and see how much fun people are having dancing to it, and can’t help but want to learn it for themselves.  The dance is the physical interpretation of the music. It’s how this music looks. We are taking a certain musical form and improvising to it, just like the dancers are doing with movement.” To illustrate the point, Lake is bringing two champion Lindy Hoppers on the tour.

As for her circus past, “I keep some skills I learned in the circus with me, but don’t ask me to eat glass ever again!  It’s alright by my insides, but I’ve had dental work since then, and can’t put my pearlies through the things I did when I was younger. Although now that you mention it, I may be ‘lighting up the night’ where allowed on this tour!”

Meanwhile, although a hernia-beset brass section has delayed things, album number two is taking shape. “I’m shooting for recording in March – after we return from our UK tour, and after the craziness of Mardi Gras. It will have mostly the same feel, originals alongside classics, but more arrangements, and some surprises! I may even throw in an original 60’s R&B/Motown tune. We’ll see!  Look for it round September!”

Meschiya Lake brings her horns, her dancers and her wonderful tattoos to Saltburn Community Theatre (Feb 8th) and Jumpin’ Hot Club at Newcastle Cluny 2 (Feb 9th).


3) Singles Reviews

Something about the first pile of singles of the year makes you hope for something really fresh, which is why Allo Darling’s Capricornia gets things off to such a dismal start. If you really want to sound like The Popguns in 2012 you better have great songs. Allo Darling don’t, so we’re left with a dated, jangling mediocrity. Cupid by Rocketeer seemed more promising but never really moves beyond an unremarkable plod and what had potential as a scathing commentary on sex and relationships turns out to be someone confusing vocabulary with poetry.

Things pick up considerably with some local heroes: Mausi are a lovably shiny electro-indie-pop outfit who on wonderful – really, really wonderful! – new single Sol manage to sound a bit like The Notwist and are therefore indisputably excellent. All of a sudden, summer doesn’t seem so far off. Styles Make FightsAll The Things Ive Done Wrong isn’t reinventing any pop punk wheels but it’s a cracking tune, while We Are Knuckledragger’s Mr Son Of A Bitch is a blistering 2 minutes of hardcore with fire in its belly and some impressively larynx shredding vocals. I’ve no idea what they’re upset about but I suspect they mean it. Keeping it gnarly, Blacklisters remind me of Mclusky (a very good thing) and new single Trickfuck is warped as fuck (also a very good thing).

There are better songs on the latest King Creosote album than John Taylor’s Month Away but you can see why this is the single – it’s a radio-friendly near-anthem, which is no mean trick for heavily accented accordion folk. Also aiming for the anthemic is Missed You At The Show’s Pretty Riddle, which I flat out hated but I suspect its epic indie gesturing will find an audience. Much better is Days by The Drums, more infectious Anglophile indie out of Brooklyn.

Talk about saving the best till last: Year Of The Tiger is the latest Chinese New Year-themed single from the untouchably brilliant Fucked Up, and it’s 15 minutes of beautiful, ambitious, utterly unique hardcore that stands my arm hairs on end and makes me think 2012 might be a great one after all.


4) Josh Rouse Live Review

Josh Rouse / Matt Stalker’s Fables – Sage 2, 22nd January 2012
It’s the second time in ten days I’ve seen Matt Stalkers Fables and I’m afraid I still can’t think of anything positive to say about their polite, accomplished folk-pop. Creeping Mumfordism…

Unfortunately and surprisingly, Josh Rouse didn’t fare much better. Judging by the reaction he got from a packed Sage 2, I’m probably on my own with this but it was a pretty dispiriting affair. His recent immersion in Spanish music seems to have omitted all the passion and melancholy and left his recent material sounding equal parts ‘cruise ship Girl From Ipanema shuffle’ and ‘2nd rate Me & Julio Paul Simon-isms’. Rouse himself is a strangely stiff, uncharismatic performer, so much so that even his older, stronger songs (1972, for example) actually suffer from seeing him play them live. I’m struggling for positives: I’ll concede that opener Hots Full Of Love had an Orbison-esque charm, and To The Clock at least tried to be innovative, even if its unusual structure wasn’t married to a particularly memorable song.

His Spanish backing duo were far more impressive, especially the guy on banjo, guitar and percussion who managed to invest some real feeling in his playing. Otherwise, a flat and unengaging evening all round. Seriously, if you want to listen to an American musician who really ‘gets’ Spanish guitar music, go straight to Jonathan Richman and cross your fingers that Rouse remembers what he’s (quite) good at next time out.


5) Bridgit Hayden Preview

Tempo Tempo presents:
Bridget Hayden (ex-Vibracathedral Orchestra) @ Star & Shadow Cinema, Friday 10 February, 2012. 8pm, £5

If your idea of the blues is closer to the music of Bill Orcutt or Carla Bozulich or even Swans, rather than the Jools Holland sanctioned likes of Seasick Steve, then Bridget Hayden – formerly of the much missed drone / noise outfit Vibracathedral Orchestra and a sometime member of The Telescopes – may be just what you need.

With a début album (A Siren Blares In An Indifferent Ocean) out on Kraak and picking up a lot of acclaim (not least from the Arch Drude himself, Julian Cope), Hayden’s self-described “fucked up blues” might be the perfect complement to a bleak, melancholy February. Performing solo using just her voice, guitar and effects, Hayden manages to bring to mind everyone from Glenn Branca to the early, sparse Polly Harvey, but still sound totally original. With support from Jazzfinger and Obey, this is one hell of a bill.


6) Field Music Album Review

Field Music – Plumb (Memphis Industries)
You have to admire Field Music’s fearless ambition and singular vision. Sadly, as so often in the past, ambition and vision can lead to prog, and that’s what we’re dealing with here. Inventive and restless and accomplished, sure, but still prog. At its best, Plumb brings to mind late-80s XTC, at its worst Camel (man, those guitars can sound ugly). One track’s even a ringer for Eclipse by Pink Floyd. I’d still rather listen to this than any number of plodding landfill indie bands, but the Brewis brothers do appear to have made The Lamb Lies Down On Teesside and that’s just a bit worrying.

© Narc Magazine, Feb 2012