Friday, January 4, 2019

The Burning Hell - Sunflower Lounge - Dec 13, 2015

Starting as the truly duet show that was advertised Mathias and his partner, Ariel, treated us to "love songs" fresh from their Don't Believe the Hyperreal album. With Mathias on acoustic and Ariel on clarinet, both lending their complementary voices, it was instantly engaging even only having heard the new songs once the night before. Following these they did break out some classic Burning Hell tunes, eschewing a set list and instead taking requests from the intimate and engaged audience. This brought a variety of songs to the stage but with a catalog like his it's hard to go wrong. Old World was played, and Amateur Rapper in finale. I hadn't shouted out during the first call but now was my chance as in the small room we cheered them back for a one song encore - "Florida!" Sure enough they complied with "possibly the first Burning Hell song" and had us sing love along. Beautiful.

Reel Big Fish, Less than Jake - Academy Birmingham - Nov 11, 2018

Suburban Legends tongue-in-cheekily introduced themselves as "The Opening Band" but in reality it seems like a role they were built to play. And that's not a knock on them but an endorsement of the kind of energy and instant likeability that they exude, enough to win over new converts in the span of a set, or even a song. They played slick punk rock with a trumpeter and tromboner running around in synchronisation for much of the set, including a mock sword fight with their instruments. The entire band got in on some of the choreography which was so cheesy it was actually rather entertaining. The surprisingly mustachioed lead singer sang clearly and was confident yet humble in his banter. Doing exactly what they were meant to do they went from being "who's this?" as we walked in the door to "well those guys were fun! Who's next?" by the end of it.

Zebrahead were another of those bands that I surely saw by happenstance opening for someone like Goldfinger back in the day. Judging by the lack of familiarity with the set it must have just been in passing. With their duo of emo singer and kinda spit-rapper, they had a unique dynamic but didn't really impress me. No dance moves. They did have a couple guys dressed as beer bottles on stage just to drink and have drinking contests with crowd members but I wouldn't say it added anything to the set. I think I walked out of it at Slam Dunk in the summer but this time around that wasn't an option. It wasn't terrible it just didn't really speak to me.

Up next were Reel Big Fish, as I guess it's a co-headlining tour where they swap closing roles. Consummate professionals after all these years, (decades would be more appropriate) they played a fun, polished set of hits and cover-hits spanning their catalogue. From the most recent 2012 release we had Everyone Else is an Asshole and then they also dug back into classics like their famous Brown-Eyed Girl cover. Speaking of, of course they did their own tunes too like Sellout, after their now ritual round of playing choruses of other people's 90's hits first - this time Smashmouth's All Star and Semisonic's Closing Time. Later during their tune that tables similar topics of being dumb but not a dweeb, Beer, they also managed to integrate Offspring's Self Esteem seamlessly. Good fun was She Has a Girlfriend Now, although really just about everything they do is fun. And after all this time if you're not having fun then what's the point? After nearly selling out the Academy it proves that there's still an appetite for ska or at least having a laugh and a skank at a show. To be honest, it probably wasn't all that different from the half-set I saw at Slam Dunk this summer or the Fireball tour from last year but if it works then tinker but don't change it!

Again I expected to know more of the Less than Jake tunes than I ended up (almost none) but it didn't really matter because they are that good and know how to put on a show. Being the night-of-the-morning-after for me I wasn't keen to mosh around and so stayed to the outside, but just skiring the edge of the shenanigans. The frontman did a few stupid things, presumably to entertain himself as much as us at this point in his career, like turning up the house lights to call a female security guard from the upper deck down to the stage (she did not oblige), attempting to vape (although he called it something much more vulgar) from someone's pen in the crowd, and even calling out a massive dude from the crowd to come on stage and proceed to just kill it by being an amazing hypeman. A bit of showmanship, a bit of interaction, a lot of solid punk rock, all added up to a good time had by all.

The Arkells, Joel Hagan and the Family - Hare & Hounds - Nov 28, 2018

The Arkells
It felt like a warm-up tour for these guys who are playing hockey arenas across their homeland in the new year. By no means is this a bad thing, especially considering this was a few hundred person capacity room at the Hare and Hounds (for a tenner.) They seemed to play a lot of the new stuff which makes sense if you wanna polish it up, but completely omitting the debut, even in encore, seemed like an oversight for those there from the start. Michigan Left was the oldest track from their catalogue all night. Max does have the showman vibe yet still manages to have a few awkward moments within, not necessarily terrible but a little distracting in telling random stories or trying to hush shrieking Canadian female fans. "Represent our country respectfully." He also tried to win us over based on geography with a call for our best English accents on Leather Jacket (uh, English people don't have English "accents") and not pronouncing the city of Birmingham properly doesn't help. Using a bunch of other modern tricks, Max went into the crowd early to sing a song while stood on a stool (say that 5 times fast!) at the back, and the whole band returned later for an "acoustic" (though more like unplugged since they were still electric instruments) version of Book Club that was an unscripted request while the drummer tended to a broken snare with duct tape. There was, of course, some clap- and sing-alongs, as their brand of stadium rock is wont to have, and the crowd happily obliged on these. Now a staple of Foo Fighters shows, the boys asked for anyone who played guitar to stick up their hands. It wasn't exactly a stampede to get on stage but one woman did put her hand up and once she told them she didn't need their stinking guitar picks - she used her fingers - she played the part rather well, literally and figuratively. People's Champ was alright and a sign of where they have gone as a band with the chant-along accessibility and polished soar. They played a solid hour and some before faking the encore "we don't have anywhere to go" and bringing most of opener, Hagen and the Family, back onstage, minus Wonder Woman. They did a fan-voted cover "Theresa May stole it from Abba and we're stealing it back!" (I will put on record that I voted for Whitney.) The rendition was a bit of a hot mess, with Hagan forgetting some of the lyrics and everyone else trying to share mics, but it seemed joyous. After booting those guys back out I thought we might get John Lennon, alas it wasn't meant to be and I don't even recall at the moment the closer that took them minutes past curfew.

Joel Hagan and The Family

This was the only time I've ever queued at the Hare and Hounds at all, let alone down the stairs, out the door, and into the street. There must have been some anticipation for the openers, Joel Hagan and the Family, despite it not even being a fully sold out gig. The glitter on the faces of a large smattering of people stood in front of me was explained when this five-piece, all-male band took the stage with a bedazzled, glam rock singer plus a couple of female backup singers and dancers that were distractingly placed right at the front and ran around fake fawning and performing terribly choreographed dances. The crowd, old/young/male/female alike, ate it up and cheered and clapped along but my black heart remained stoic to this bashing over the head. The music was as you are imagining - upbeat, keyboard-heavy, with obvious electric guitar and bass solos. Joel did have a strong singing voice even if he dressed and spoke like a posh pirate. not too far off Johnny Depp who I channelled Keith Richards, but this seemed exactly like I wrote it - an homage to an homage.

The Burning Hell - Sunflower Lounge - Nov 29, 2018

The Burning Hell played a short but thoroughly enjoyable set at the Sunflower, although I tend to feel that way about many of the bands that I cherish, especially in great venues. As only a three piece, Mathias on guitar, of course, with Ariel drumming, bass-clarineting, and singing too naturally, plus Darryn Brown on bass and mandolin. It's the songwriting that sets this bands apart however, so although it was pared down the bright side is it gave more room to the stories in the lyrics. Mathias chatted a little with the crowd, primarily urging us to give generously to Parkinson's UK for whom the evening was a fundraiser. He did reveal that he'd received many requests for the evening and despite lots of them having fallen out of their repertoire they did their best to oblige. Opening with The Stranger from 2016's Public Library, with its excellent plot twist, they also did The Things People Make, Part 2 by request, which went down well. An interesting choice was the extended story of Barbarians, even with the passage of time being sped along by Kom unwinding his first string to strum it signifying as much. It also medleyed in some Rage Against the Machine before merging directly into a cover of Dolly Parton's 9-5. To exhibit that Mathias still has it he spit Amateur Rapper with the hilarious "whip out my diction" line. Ariel also got to give us a vocal performance too by singing a solo song and then a duet with Mathias in their also-requested finale of Baby closer, Everything Will Probably Be Okay. An encore would have been nice as there's always more songs to choose from but I believe the full room was happy with all that they did get.

Nine Dart Finish were the middle openers (we missed the bottom bill band) and did a hearty job of rocking us. Three down-to-earth Birmingham blokes who were happy to be playing for us as they admitted they'd be playing in their gardens anyhow, oddly saying "naked" in unison. Mind you. they did take full advantage of the slot given them, playing at least a dozen songs rooted in rock, pop and punk without too much individualisation.

Metric - Institute 2 - Nov 17, 2018

For some reason I expected this to be upstairs in the big room at the Institute, perhaps because it had sold out so far in advance. That said, I prefer a smaller gig most times so was excited to see them in this intimate setting, having only caught them from the other main stage at Riot Fest, Toronto a few years back, that I can recall. Expecting the room to go nuts on Emily's appearance it was a polite, if subdued reaction. Speaking of her appearance, she had a blonde bob and a semi-revealing belly top on which comes into play later. Even after a few tracks the audience didn't seem to be giving them much to work off, although the setlist of primarily new stuff off the top could be at least partially to blame. Em even called it out herself in asking if we were with her and saying we were kind of just staring at them expectantly (besides this one tall dude who kept taking his ball cap off and repeatedly doffing it at her, even after she acknowledged it, to the point of her saying "yes, I see you.") Early in the set was Youth Without Youth which was alright and new tunes like Risk and Love You Back. I quite like the new album so I wasn't complaining, especially with personal highlight Dressed to Suppress. Thankfully they forgot about the bomb that was Pagans in Vegas and nearly skipped it completely (though I wouldn't have minded The Shade.) Jimmy was in fine form, taking a few solos but nothing outlandish. After Now or Never Now there was time for a little monologue from the leading lady. Things were said about being a professional, at which point she turned around, pointed at her bare lower back and joked about getting "Professionalism" tattooed across it. However, that wasn't the weirdest bit as she just kinda kept going and rambling about how when she wrote Gimme Sympathy she was about the same as now "but probably tripping and a little meaner" or something to that effect. Then she began espousing about how a concert is meant to be an escape from the real world but broke that whole vibe by complaining about the real world politics.. "and I can't even imagine what you guys must be feeling, with the future of your country and all" she rambled, at this point to audible grumbling and groans from the crowd. She took the point and got on with the song finally. Whether that diatribe woke us up or the likeability of the songs in the latter half perked up that much I can't be certain, but things definitely flowed much better. Hell, after Sick Muse not too long later, I thought they could easily walk out on a high, albeit early. However they stayed and I was glad they did with Monster Hospital and then Em grabbing a guitar for Gold, Guns, Girls though Jimmy stole the show with his work on that particular one. Coming fast and furious for the encore they did the obligatory Dark Saturday on an actual Saturday night, followed by Combat Baby that was probably the precipice for me but still jammed Dead Disco too. As a finale, with the crowd properly fired up and shouting for more, she introduced Help, I'm Alive and they tore it down to close out. Coming at this show as a cherry picking casual fan who really liked the most recent release I could have been happy by dropping all but the new tunes from the early part of the set but down the stretch and the encore they showed the power of what has gotten them to where they are, and some staying power to boot.

The opener from Vienna, whose name escape me, had some earnest singer songwriter tunes though his personality was better than his music overall. He personally handed out free download links to some B sides but I can't say I'm going to load them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Slam Dunk Festival Midlands - May 28, 2018

Templeton Pek
These three gents told the tale of the tough go they have had after their manager ran off with all their money and yet they are still at it. The only band on the lineup properly from Brum - rehearsing in the Jewellery Quarter no less - they did a decent job of representing to a sparse, early-afternoon crowd out in the open air. Playing straight ahead punk rock they were solid.

Only managed to catch the last song Never Change, the group had a couple youthful singers bringing out the energy their pop punk. Keep it up!

As December Falls
Out on one of the up and coming small stages, this female-fronted five piece stayed on the rock side of punk and did an alright job of it, without breaking much new ground. The guitarist with the dazzling white axe on backing vocals stood out as doing a better than average job.

It has been a long, long time since I used to listen to the aptly named Guttermouth on my discman in high school and I’ve done a lot of growing up since then. The singer of this band has not. Well, besides judging by the look of him, in which case he has aged significantly. This may be why he’s the only (barely) standing original member unless the others have somehow taken an age-defying elixir. Appearances aside, there was more quote-unquote "banter" in this set than actual music - and definitely more laughter than intelligible lyrics from the ringleader. Before even singing a note he was going around the crowd and taking the piss out of everyone and everything that he saw. Then once the band kicked in this commentating just continued, as he’d mumble some of the lyrics and then either break off into titters on his own, pointing at anything walking by or trying to have an interaction mid-song. It got old fast. It was borderline funny from time to time but mostly just inane, and besides, this was a concert not an amateur comedy night. On top of that, they didn’t come prepared and so were inefficiently choosing songs on the go, either out of the air or from crowd suggestions. This meant we didn’t get much - Destroying the World and Slam were some slurred highlights, if you can call them that. At one point the singer declared they’d sing Lucky the Donkey twice in a row. And after 4 minutes of its juvenile and crass lyrics it ended and there was some silence. They looked at the drummer who was looking back at them expectantly for direction when they said “Lucky.” He responded with “I thought you were kidding...” and when they assured him they were indeed going to waste another few minutes of this half-hour set on it, he went ahead. Maybe my opinion was further soured by being singled out soon after this for standing near the front with my hands in my pockets. “What - this isn’t forwarding your liberal agenda?!” the singer jabbed at me before essentially telling my to lighten up. “We just sang about my mother fucking a donkey!” he continued, to which I retorted “Yeah, twice” and walked out. (Or at least wished that I’d been that quick.) Don’t meet your quote-unquote heroes, kids.

The Audition
I’ve never been an Audition fan but decided I'd give them a check. They were playing some slick rock, fronted by a very earnest, long-haired singer. Apparently they’ve been away for awhile and at least the front man was very happy to have the opportunity to strut in front of a few hundred people, sometimes pandering to us but seeming to be keeping the good times going. Can’t say I’m converted but it wasn’t bad.

Four Years Strong
Four beards strong were Four Years Strong. With a couple of different singers they played good guitar rock, at times reminding me of Rise Against. Later in the day two of the members played a separate acoustic set of which I caught a couple tunes which goes to show I was well enough impressed. The acoustic were from their recent acoustic release aptly titled something like “Some of you will like this, some of you won’t.”

Save Ferris
A group that I’ve been aware of forever, likely because of the obvious Ferris Bueller reference, but have never caught or properly listened to. This was my chance and it started with all the right elements - a punk rock band with a proper ska section and a mature female lead who gave us something to look at. The tunes were fine, not super high-energy ska but some middle of the road stuff, and the crowd liked it well enough. It was the singer though that started to grate on me with her over-the-top flaunting of her sexuality, giving it more of a burlesque feel than a punk rock show. I don’t like to think of myself as a prude but after the third costume change, which came across more like a strip tease each time, and gratuitous ass-shaking I couldn’t take it anymore and left.

Joining this set partway through there was a woman playing acoustically by herself before trading off to a male who started another song before all six of the band members came back in. The final song, Misery, seemed like it had the structure for greatness with the opening solitary guitar but the singer spoiled it by barely singing at all and leaving it on the late afternoon crowd to carry it. As a not-yet fan I’d have been more won over if he’d actually pulled it off instead of shirking it off.

Capdown had the odd juxtaposition of screamo and ska. It was exactly what I was expecting though. Judging by the crowd that these guys have built up over the apparently many, many years it was what the crowd wanted too. Utilising the trumpet to add the brass element from time to time, the singer would usually be screaming if not playing it. They weren’t bad but again I was listless and strayed before they finished.

Twin Atlantic
Here are my notes “standard rock group. sounded alright”

Only catching the end of their set it was what you’d expect from the youth at a punk rock festival and gives hope for the future.

I’m sure I’ve caught these guys in decades past opening for the likes of Goldfinger and yet never got much into their catalog. This day they were pretty silly - first coming out with two guys dressed as beer bottles who mostly just drank, danced and then had a weak chugging contest. The music was throwaway so when they started “celebrating” the royal wedding by bringing out Meghan and Harry for surely some other immature gag I hightailed it.

Sleeping with Sirens
SwS were the best set of the day to this point - a sentiment overheard as the lights came up that I could wholly agree with. They just were tight when needing to be, played really well musically and made it enjoyable so that the crowd got into it with a big circle pit. At times sounding like Coheed and Cambria, I was very impressed and will keep my eyes open for another shot.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
After a day that had been marked by decent-to-disappointing, Frank was a breath of fresh air - no, a true shot in the arm to get the evening portion going. Dressed like a tool in his massive leopard fur I thought he was going to be an absolute lad, and yet the things that he said and the way that he lead the set were anything but. He commanded us from start to finish but did so in a way that endeared us to him. Whether he was stood atop the crowd singing, moshing with the mic, or running out into the centre of us to direct first the biggest mosh pit (not quite around the sound booth cuz that was WAY at the back) we ran lengths for him. Well, at lease until the first dickass stopped moshing and started trying to take a selfie and then the circle pit chaos turned into touch-the-singer chaos to which he shouted my favourite quote of the night “Stop touching me fuken head; I’m not a leprechaun!” His music with The Rattlesnakes is some loud rock that isn’t extraordinary in any certain way but the energy that they bring to the set really is. The guitarist also took a turn standing on the crowd and playing a solo. Frank dedicated one song to the women and invited only them to crowd surf if they wanted to, especially if they’d ever wanted to but were too nervous and he promised that the men would treat them with respect “not because they could be your mother, sister, niece or cousin but because they are your equal.” I don’t think I stopped putting women up for the full song. On another he spoke of mental health. Overall it was a solid set where not only did we have the biggest circle pit but also the most circle pits. You try not having fun with thousands of like-minded people all running in tight circles around each other with reckless abandon.

Trash Boat
I'd caught these guys opening for Seaway a year or two back and if anything they’ve gotten even better. Only got to see one tune at the end of their set this time around but it was a very good one. This back Signature Brew stage seemed to be doing the trick by churning out these young punks.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Goldfinger but it had been awhile and in this interim an apparent rift has left Feldman standing alone with a mix'n'match backing band from the old punk world. Bass now covered by a guy from MXPX, while guitar is from Story of the Year, and apparently the drummer from Atreyu learned the entire set in a day and a half for this gig. I decided to get over my feelings of betrayal to Darryn Pfeiffer and the rest and enjoy myself. They actually played a new song, Million Miles, early in the set and it went over well but also included plenty of “classic” GF, even having the brass from Reel Big Fish. “Those guys played my wedding twenty years ago!..I’m old!” recalled Feldman. Of course they did Superman so everyone could skank to their fave Tony Hawk jam, Wake Up - a song that helped me go veg, and he even played the first half of Fuck Ted Nugent solo as a lead up to an obvious and almost obligatory “Fuck Donald Trump.” Not planning to stay through to the end, there I was hearing the opening of 99 Red Balloons anyhow. Good fun all around even with the replacement cast - including a German speaker who sang the classic Nina verse on the finale.

Taking Back Sunday
In leading up to this fest I’d really been digging back into TBS yet the unexpected full set from Goldfinger plus the massive hike from one end of the NEC to the other only allowed me to catch two and a half songs. On the bright side one of those was in my top two requests - Cute without the E (Cut from the Team). The finale was not my other request but their hit from their next album chronologically. It was pretty good too. And I tell ya, they were really solid and I would have enjoyed the set I’m sure but you can’t win all the clashes.

Reel Big Fish
Somebody said Reel Big Fish had to be the most entertaining band going and I say, they do not disappoint. Not only is there the music, but the comedic banter, and the combination of both in the hilarious lyrics such as on Everyone Else is an Asshole. Naturally this was a newer tune but they knew to pull back I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend, and their classic cover of the classic tune Brown Eyed Girl. They’d joked earlier asking why there were so many of us there in the crowd. “You do know Jimmy Eat World are playing in the arena just over there? Good Charlotte are playing The Anthem right now, probably” at which point the brass section filed out to go watch. Jokes aside I did nip out early as I’d seen them play last year and a few times before that, but had never seen the two aforementioned bands.

Good Charlotte
I cheated and checked the set lists from the previous days of the festival to try and come up with my attack plan for splitting Good Charlotte and Jimmy Eat World, who were playing at exactly the same time in two rather different places. In the end I had to pass up a couple JEW bangers to just get a taste of GC. I think it was worth it to see Benji and the boys burst on stage to confetti cannons and pyro blasts for The Anthem. I was halfway back of the arena in order to duck out the side door but I liked what I saw, though probably would have tired of it before they reached Boys and Girls 90 minutes later. I heard he jabbered through a lot of the set anyhow. So off I went.

Jimmy Eat World
This band got a lot of backlash back in the day, I assume simply because they were super popular and this was high school. Because really they’re a good rock band that know how to write a song. Much less pomp and circumstance than GC, they used their instruments to entertain. To be honest, I knew only about half the songs while I may have heard the rest in passing but it didn’t so much matter. The other guitarist took the reigns for Blister and did a swell job of it. Futures was excellent and I had forgotten just how nifty that riff on Sweetness is. Even without checking set lists I could have told you The Middle would shut it all down and I ran to the train-replacement-bus floating on nostalgia.

The Streets - Academy Birmingham - Apr 19, 2018

The Streets

The build-up on this one was immense. After announcing the end of The Streets some six years ago Mike Skinner decided to dust off the mic and do a short string of gigs, promising to bring the party with "all the old shit." Opinion varies on whether this is a cash grab or a valid calim that he really missed the road but does it really matter? Tix went in a flash and were selling for five times on the resale market (Yeah, in excess of £200 a piece. And plenty of stories of overpriced tix ending up being fake. Fucking scam artists and scalpers make me sick..) Having signed up to all the lists and alerts a miracle happened a couple weeks before the show as a new block were released from the actual retailer for face value - jumped all over that. The Streets return in Skinner’s hometown? I do think so.

With electricity in the air all day online and in the city, the venue was actually a bit oppressive - there were a lot of lads and football chants and jostling before the lights were even lowered. The opener was pretty mediocre - hip hop sets can really be bad when it’s just a guy who can’t even spit his own raps live - however when the main event came on things took a massive turn towards stellar. Right away Mike was right out at the edge of the stage, soaking it up and the crowd surged towards him to catch a spot of his charisma. On looks alone there’s not much to say, a little lad with sweat pants and a football tee but he’s written some hits and perhaps more importantly has produced some true bangers. The full live backing band filled the room with energy and as promised, he played the hits, and showcased some friends along the way. He didn’t exactly take the lad mentality out of the room, even starting up some opposing football chants but he also was a showman. He kept asking crowd surfers how the waves were and promising to take a ride soon. In the crowd itself I think the entire Academy floor was a mosh. I started near the front on the left and at one point was almost to the back at the right, and hopped my way everywhere in between. Things were surprisingly friendly as everyone was just so bloody excited for these songs. We barked along to the lyrics and pumped our fists. It was honestly a bit berserk at times and I felt proud of my adopted town of Brum to represent so well.

Near the end Mike detailed his plan to us a dozen times or more - we were gonna split down the middle, he’d run to the back and then surf back up to the stage. A few hardcore fans tried to make way for him early but everyone else was doing their thing and kept crushing it back in. About the same happened when he finally hit the floor, the narrow passage opened for about four tenths of a second as he started down the middle and then everyone realised they could touch a piece and pushed in toward him. About 2/3 of the way to the back he gave up and motioned to put him up. Thousands of people collectively held aloft their hometown hero until they collapsed on themselves as the excitement tipped a massive wave of the crowd over; M.S. on top. Dusting themselves off Mike finally got back onto the stage with a bit of a “what the fuck is wrong with you guys?!” in the best way look. The encore was basically insanity as there were guests, rapid fire beats, singalongs and a massive outpouring of love. More than I actually could have hoped for. Walking back across the pagoda subway drenched in sweat - some of it my own - under the Radisson Blue, past new Snobs, and around New Street station it made me truly proud to be a Brummie.