Archive for March, 2009

Noah and the Whale - Shepherds Bush Empire, 6 March, 2009

March 8th, 2009

Noah and the WhaleThis particular friday night I had a choice between 2 bands - one a new favourite (Noah and the Whale) and one an old favourite (My Drug Hell). As the title suggests, for better or worse I did actually manage to make my mind up 2 days before the event. It only took me 3 months - and there was reason for that too. You see, NATW (Noah and the Whale) recently released a pretty impressive debut album, but the exit of the amazing Laura Marling, and their growing cult status (especially with the younger generation) made me double take on whether they’d be worth seeing live. When compared with the dreamy (but less known) power pop of My Drug Hell, it was a tough decision.

This is not to say that I devalue My Drug Hell in anyway, their music will always have a certain charm to me, and I still wish to see them live (its just a pity they dont get out that much). If you dont know who they are, go check them out. They’ll grow on you.

Anyway. Having taken my seat, I was handed a programme. Odd, I thought, but none-the-less read it to discover this was going to be an interesting tableaux of Music and Short Films, presented by Future Shorts called ‘Club Silencio’, in homage to David Lynch, and the parody didnt end there - the presenter, was named Red Velvet (rather than blue), a phone kept ringing, conversations got weirder, and juxtaposition of shots just got more and more Lynch-ian. I enjoyed the shorts, and liked the idea, tho many people standing below got more and more impatient as the show progressed.

Finally, NATW made their way out, seamlessly segueing in from a backing video playing behind them, which was quite clever. It was clear quite quickly that these guys were quite dynamic and love their music, which was like chalk and cheese compared to the last show I saw (Ray Lamontagne) which left me wanting. I know these guys are often referred to as Twee pop (probably because of their quite saccharin pop tunes, and young audience - tho I prefer the term anti-folk), but they really played hard. This became more apparent as they played what must have been the majority of the new album. From my vantage point the audience seemed abit confused about the new music, and cheered loudly when something they new started. This was not suprising, as the new material was quite a departure from the old - the old was at times cynical and melancholic, the new was quite dark and tormented, and definately a break up album. This is not a bad thing at all, as it clearly shows off new depths of their songwriting capabilities, but it will be interesting to see how it goes down with the fans wanting something more bouncy.

From the sound engineer in me, I enjoyed the violin sound very much, it was warm and fitted perfectly with the other instruments - completely unlike the strangled cat that often appears when a violin takes the stage in a band. Each instrument was both well defined and contributed well to the overall sound. They’ve obviously got a good soundie!

I’m looking forward to their new album, and seeing them again in June! Heres a few tracks to whet your whistle:

Noah and the Whale - Blue Skies are Calling.mp3

Noah and the Whale - Mary.mp3

Noah and the Whale - Hold My Hand As Im Lowered.mp3

Noah and the Whale - First Day of Spring.mp3

EDIT: If you’d like to see some video from the night, try Winstons Zen blog entry.

Priscilla Ahn - Barbican, 16 February, 2009

March 8th, 2009

Priscilla Ahn Priscilla Ahn opened for Ray Lamontagne, and is obviously a emerging artist. I enjoyed her set, even though her loop machine was abit glitchy. Her songs were quirky, and her pure voice at times was reminiscent of Hope Sandoval, the ex-singer of Mazzy Star.

I was really excited to hear Ray after hearing Priscilla’s solid set, but I have to say, I think I actually enjoyed Priscilla more that night. She certainly made more of an effort with the audience, even coming out the front to meet and greet any curious fans out there. I probably should have had the courage to go up to her and tell her I enjoyed her set… Maybe next time!

heres her opening track:

Priscilla Ahn - Dream.mp3

Ray Lamontagne - Barbican, 16 February, 2009

March 8th, 2009

Ray Lamontagne

Its no secret that I like the honesty and simplicity of folk, but I have never really been a fan of Ray Lamontagne, despite the repeated testamony of a few of my friends to his genius. Never the less, I gave his latest album, ‘Gossip In The Grain’ another spin recently, as I knew he was touring through London and tickets were still available. Whether it was my mood at the time, or perhaps my friends were right, I could finally see some of the diamonds in the rough that they were talking about. I could hear the potential that he might have on stage, and so I booked 2 of the last few tickets available for his 2nd night at the Barbican.

Ray came on stage with his band, and suprisingly stood well to the right - as if making a point that he was part of the band, rather than the soloist. As a band, they sounded very tight and disciplined - it was quite clear that that each of the players was a master of their own instrument. Unfortunately, the more I listened to the show, the less convinced I was of them as a total ensemble. Its hard to put a finger on, but it honestly felt like they were going through the motions, and the music lacked the vibrancy and energy you’d expect of people who love what they do.

Dont get me wrong -the music itself good, and well put together, just the execution was lacking. I got the feeling that Sony obviously discovered Ray as a new, talented songwriter, signed him, and ‘invented’ something marketable for the folk/country niche, then put a band behind him. I’m sure this is common practice, but it seemed abit too contrived in this case. For the few tracks the band was off stage, it was evident that Ray was a solo artist to be reckoned with - he lit up and shone - with only his voice and acoustic guitar.

This probably wasnt helped by the peculiar lighting choice of fading to black between each song, and the fact that Ray seemed extremely shy (or disinterested), and reluctant to engage with the audience. As you’d expect this left most people in the auditorium feeling abit detached from the performance (Apparently the night before, people even started yelling out ‘Talk to us ray!’). As such, the most we got from Ray was 3 or 4 words after his final encore - ‘See you next time’ or something.

I’m sure many avid Ray fans will disagree strongly with my view, but all I have to compare with is the many wonderful performances I saw last year, and unfortunately, this one didnt measure up. I hope Ray tours again, by himself - I’d definately pay to see that!

heres a few samples :

Ray Lamontagne - I Still Care For You.mp3

Ray Lamontagne - Home.mp3

Ray Lamontagne - Burn.mp3

Ray Lamontagne - Jolene.mp3

Simian Mobile Disco - Koko, 12 February, 2009

March 1st, 2009

Simian Mobile Disco, 2009-02-12, photo by me. :)

I was glad when the curtains finally went up for this Simian Mobile Disco gig, not so much in anticipation, but relief, as I’d previously panicked after reading on some uninformed internet booking site that this might be a DJ set. This, clearly wasn’t - massive pillars of lighting towered around the centre stage, where their unique circular rig was set up. I always marvel at all the wonderful gear electro artists have on stage, and their mastery as they dance around it all, waving their handles about twiddling nobs and sliders, and seeing Simian in action as truly glorious. Watching the 2 of them moving around, tweaking settings, adding layers of sound - it felt like living, breathing music, far from the automated feeling you often get from some electronic outfits.

This was their only non-dj set gig in london for quite a while, and looks like remain that way for the near future, and it looked like most of their London fans agreed that tonight was The Night to see them. Koko was full, and heaving with people, and I haven’t seen people bounce around so enthusiastically since The Presets gig I went to last year.

This was a most enjoyable gig for me, and helped renew my faith in electro after a fairly subdued Underworld gig that I went to at Brixton Academy last year. (I didnt review/record it, because they recorded the show themselves, available in FLAC, no less!) Underworld are the godfathers of progressive electro, and seeing them live was, at least to me, paying homage to that. Simian on the other hand, are fresh faced, vibrant, and very much riding the wave of modern electro. The Old and the New… Its all good…

No samples, (as how do you split an hour long mashup of tracks?) but you can find it in full as FLAC if you know where to look…