and other highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe
One Man Lord Of The Rings
Just as in his previous hit show One Man Star Wars, Ross throws himself unflinchingly into the performance swiftly adopting character after character. Just as with One Man Star Wars or perhaps even more so this time, a degree of familiarity with the films seems important. As Ross launches himself energetically into portraying a crowd of battle-hungry Orcs or a seething Ring Wraith on the hunt for a Hobbit it really does help to have a good recollection of the films. Lovers of the books will not be disappointed with a fair few comic asides thrown into the mix to tickle their geekdom. Key sequences are recreated with deft (and slightly daft) accuracy as Ross rips slickly through memorable scenes blow-byblow. He fills the stage as he twists, spins, rolls, leaps and dives his way through the cast list and his vocal abilities get a great workout through a selection of notable character impressions and hundreds of sound effects. Of particular note of course is Charles Ross’s Gollum which even manages to put his Yoda impression in the shade. One Man Lord Of The Rings is an accomplished and devoted rendition, a tightly hewn homage and a right proper fangasm for those in the know.
was @ E4 Udderbelly
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Anna + Katy
Simon Brodkin: Still Not Himself
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
When Simon Brodkin nips off to become a different character he’ll change costume, alter his hair slightly, maybe put on a hat, glasses, a bit of make-up perhaps – not really changing a great deal, no prosthetics or anything… but more often than not he comes back on stage completely unrecognisable. You could actually introduce him as his characters to people out in the real world and they wouldn’t even consider that it was the same bloke. Although Brodkin’s doctor character may perhaps be an exception. Brodkin is a very skilled and precise performer, his characters all have firm solid foundations; their own little ticks, mannerisms and modes of speech are perfectly styled and suited to each role. His interactions with the audience throughout the show are clever and fun but never intrusive. Particularly in the case of Lee Nelson, who remains my favourite of his characters (with footballer Jason Bent a close second). You might expect the chavvy baseball capped rogue to be a bit intimidating when interacting with the audience but Brodkin fills Nelson with so much love and fascination for other people that the despicable character becomes benign and enormously charming. This isn’t just a good comedy performance, this is a great acting performance. Simon Brodkin is definitely one of the very best character comedians working today.
Yes it’s Magda the housekeeper off of ‘Lead Balloon’ and Ianto’s sister out of Torchwood, as a double act… (previously known as Penny Spubs) ... and its all quite exciting really. They’ve got a great range of excellent characters, some of which are relatively standard sketch show fare whilst other characters are just very silly indeed. Brilliant moments of bizarre visual humour littered their show; I could probably watch their peculiar South Africans for hours and still be giggling away at their extraneously long limbs. In fact, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do something slightly tiresome but easy to communicate like suggest they’re like a female Vic ‘n’ Bob. The combination of Anna Crilly’s deceptive seriousness and Katy Wix whose eyes seem to be permanently exuding mischief works brilliantly. They are both exceedingly talented performers, very adept at characterisation and both with excellent vocal abilities. There is so much potential, the silliness just requires a little more refinement and then this pairing will be huge.
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood
was @ Gilded Balloon
Aren’t puppets great!! They break down social boundaries and crush inhibitions in a moment. Some kind of internal safety mechanism just switches off and suddenly the least likely person in the audience to heckle is jabbering away at a sock like it’s an old friend. In this year’s show the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre take us on a whistle-stop tour through the fabulous world of films. If you’ve ever seen one of their popular YouTube videos you’ll already know that they do a fine line in TV and movie pastiche, often fuelled by digression, misunderstandings and malapropisms – with a tasty sprinkling of fanboy references to top it off. A certain degree of geekery is evident in the socks’ movie knowledge and they are ready and willing to analyse the reactions of the crowd based on those that do or do not laugh at certain references. Whilst these are not the most sophisticated comedy puppets around, this is a whole lot more than just a couple of Scottish socks. Plus some of the costume changes are phenomenal!! Reassuringly puerile, full of laughs and packed with punnery.
Randy’s Postcards from Purgatory
was @ Underbelly
Randy is pretty awesome, but forget Randy for a moment let’s talk about Heath McIvor; the guy with his hand up Randy’s arse. McIvor is really bloody good at having his hand up thing’s arses and he can do loads of other things with his other hand at the same time!! There were times when I just wanted there to be a mirror at the back of the stage so I could see how McIvor was doing it, he’s such a great puppeteer that it really is easy to forget that there is someone beneath the desk, and he didn’t even reveal himself to take a bow! What a tease. There are plenty of laughs, lots of silliness and brilliant artistry on show here. Randy is an excellent and very likeable character, simply structured visually but fleshed out to the full by McIvor’s immense puppetry skills and devilish humour. You can also catch Heath McIvor at work in Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams.
Tommy and the Weeks: Wonderbang
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
There are some insanely brilliant ideas in this hour, sketches that start off being slightly random and then grow into increasingly bizarre scenarios. Their tongues are firmly in their cheeks throughout whilst also never allowing themselves to stray into selfabsorbed territory despite their slightly deconstructed approach. The show maintains a strong pace without ever sinking, sparks of genius litter the writing with some of the skits and sequences dazzling with sheer brilliance. Strong concepts are nurtured and tangentially grow to such an extent that they become mind wrenchingly obscure… but in a very good way. Tommy and the Weeks have a strong reputation and it is totally justified. It’s no wonder they keep coming back to the Fringe for more and it’s no wonder people keep coming back to see more of them.
Selected highlights from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Edinburgh Comedy Festival...
Sarah Millican – Typical Woman
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
There is a certain dichotomy in Millican’s material (although it has mellowed somewhat) in that much of her material carries a strong feminist perspective and focuses strongly on gender politics whilst still allowing in the occasional rape gag. What’s funny is funny, but I’ve always felt that she lets some of her better material down by including the cruder shock value stuff. The audience clearly know what they want though and there is a clear sense in the room that the agenda for the day is ‘let’s have a go at men.’ Millican holds the room with a strong confidence these days and has plenty of great well constructed material which is why in just a few short years she has quickly risen to be one of the UK’s leading female comedians. As if sex has anything to do with it!
Brian Gittins: Roadside Café Owner
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Richard Herring – Hitler Moustache
was @ Underbelly
Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere in the dark dank corners of the internet, or even in the Guardian; Richard Herring is not a racist. They say that no publicity is bad publicity. ‘They’ have been known to talk a lot of bollocks from time to time but that particular phrase is often true and Richard Herring’s 2009 show, in his 25th year at the Fringe, is a case in point. In case you somehow don’t already know, Herring has recently taken to sporting a toothbrush moustache in a quest to reclaim it for comedy… He hopes he doesn’t get misunderstood. Herring loves to test the water, although where most of us might dip a toe in, he goes straight in with his big size nines. There is method to his madness however, and he has a clear agenda this year. Whilst this may not be Richard Herring’s funniest show, it is bold and brave and brilliant. He argues with himself repeatedly, examining and interrogating himself over his own behaviour and thought processes. Why did I do that? Am I a racist? If I think like that does that make me as bad as them? Hitler Moustache is such a strong show, impassioned, emotive and clever. One of the shows that this year’s Fringe will be remembered for.
This really shouldn’t work, but it does. Brian Gittins is a great addition to the world of character comedy. He is an awkward chap, brimming with eagerness and self-belief but massively lacking in material. David Earl however, the man who inhabits Brian Gittins, has plenty of daftness up his sleeve and an obvious talent. Gittins does have a few jokes, but they’re not going to get other comedians quaking in their boots just yet, regardless of what his customers or supportive wife Cheryl might have to say. There is plenty of interaction with the audience and Gittins ventures into the crowd as far as his microphone cable will allow. The interaction and audience participation never strays too far into the realms of being intimidating or intrusive but you can surely expect a nervous energy in the room as he teeters on the edge of picking on people. Any encroachment into people’s personal space or comfort is relatively excusable as the Gittins character is just there to have fun and entertain people, he may be a little misguided in his approach but he’s entirely well meaning. Little chuckles slip through quite a lot during the act and at times it can be hard to tell who’s laughing; the character or the comic, but it doesn’t seem out of place and it’s all part of the fun of it.
Rhod Gilbert And The Cat That Looked Like Nicholas Lyndhurst
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Rhod Gilbert is a coiled spring, a simmering pot, a balloon filled to optimum tension. In fact he could be regarded as a bit of a risk, but only to himself. If he carries on like this he’s gonna do himself a mischief, maybe even pop a vein! Following on from last year’s award winning show he’s equally if not more frustrated. His on-stage persona has evolved into a self-contradicting timid yet rabid beast, he’s fit to burst with all the antagonising commotion that’s clogging up his mental state. While he may take issue with comparisons being made to Basil Fawlty, they are very fair comparisons to make. He is a tumultuous whirlwind of agonising annoyance and its pretty much all of his own making. Whether he likes it or not, he’s embodying the quirks of a true British comedy icon, and he is doing it very well. The show sees Gilbert gradually build to virtual eruption as he tells of his troublesome year though the video at the end, despite making a pleasant conclusion, dampens what could have been a fantastic closing crescendo. Rhod Gilbert returned to Edinburgh and totally justified his award winning status. His performance is assured, fiery and very funny.
Colin Hoult’s Carnival of Monsters
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Despite the afternoon time slot the audience were quickly immersed into a slightly off kilter world of darkness and uncertainty. Aided by his supporting cast Hoult had many tricks up his sleeve and many games to play with his gathered guests. Hoult has a brilliant facial dexterity; so casually blank one moment and then contorted and ridiculous the next. His keen ability to transform himself from one character to the next is only slightly scuppered by his height. Particular note should go to one cheeky little scene with a stooge in the audience that was pulled off with aplomb and had me chuckling for some time after. Carnival of Monsters saw Colin Hoult riding on the crest of a wave. He’s created a great, fun and memorable show that’s clever and punchy and surprising and it’s sure to get him a lot more TV work.
Idiots of Ants: This is War
Idiots of Ants are on blinding form with a blistering barrage of brilliant sketches. They set their stall out right from the start signalling that this isn’t going to be just an average sketch show. It’s tight, it’s slick, it’s supercharged and it’s really bloody funny. The sketches are lively, fun and clever with a strong pace that never falters. Cheeky ideas and some pretty good thinking outside the box elevate a few of the skits to pure gold standard. The guys are all fully committed, giving acutely measured performances throughout and working off each other tremendously well. They have a certain fervour for playfully toying with the audience and their mischief keeps the whole room alive, involved and full of energy. Idiots of Ants are a quality assured, very dependable sketch group that will not disappoint. Every sketch in this show is a winner. Surely their own TV series beckons.
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Jonny Sweet: Mostly About Arthur
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Is that a stage name? Surely it couldn’t have turned out so perfect. For he is sweet, very sweet indeed, but he is also slightly unhinged. The show title claims that this is ‘Mostly About Arthur’ but while all the talk might be about Arthur the show is all about Jonny. Jonny is very proud of his late older brother Arthur, obsessively proud. His pride and subsequent sense of loss has driven him to distraction and like a grieving X Factor contestant he’s turning the mourning into something productive, fulfilling and beautiful; his own TV career. This is also a show about marketing, about climbing ladders, faintly inspirational stuff laced with dark misguidedness. It’s a show about ‘blurbists’ and the art of ‘blurbing’ with Jonny Sweet’s vocal delivery lending a great passion and reverence to the art of the blurb reading. Jonny is disturbingly keen, sweaty and invasive but still remains entirely loveable and excusable for all his misconceptions and indiscretions. He’s incredibly huggable but unless you’re brave you’d probably want to towel him down a bit first.
Edward Aczel - Explains All The World’s Problems... and Then Solves Them
was @ Underbelly
I honestly don’t know how he gets away with it! I’m not sure anyone else could do what he does and make it work. It’s sublime. It’s awful. It’s brilliant! He’s got quite a buzz around him now, he’s got a bit of a name for himself as an inspirationally shambolic anti-comic. He’s drawing bigger audiences, he’s in a bigger room… and how does he respond? He holds a raffle. He’s progressed in other ways too. He’s got some jokes. At least a page and a half of them this year, certainly more than you could write on one hand. Edward Aczel is indescribably amazing and refreshing. The atmosphere in the room during his gig flits between exhilarating tension and happily uncertain interaction. His approach to stand-up seems fearless with a format that could go so wrong so very quickly if the crowd turns, but it never does. There is no hostility bubbling away, even when Aczel really starts to test the audience’s patience he is received with hysterical awkwardness and a whimpered call for a jigsaw. Aczel deconstructs stand-up, the comic/audience relationship, even the few jokes that he has get treated in textbook fashion. This is what happens when someone goes to a standup comedy class and then decides to subvert everything he’s been taught. He must be doing pretty much everything they taught him not to do. It’s so wrong but it feels so right.
Barry & Stuart: Powered by Demons
was @ Underbelly
Barry and Stuart must get through loads of white shirts because that much blood can’t wash out easily. Their reputation precedes them and they never disappoint. They’ve carved out their own devilish brand of magic beautifully over the years and they continue to maintain their degraded yet sophisticated style. Barry and Stuart’s tricks mostly stem from traditional magical forms and set-ups but are often laced in their trademark style with blood, gore and the dark arts. Their sense of humour, just like their approach to magic, is a little bit twisted but always satisfying. It’s a good solid show with plenty of laughs, plenty of magic and something that I presume can only be described as speed hypnosis. Some of the magic is just plain silly, some of it is disgusting but all of it will leave you guessing, laughing heartily and thoroughly entertained.
Chris Cox: Mind Over Patter
was @ Pleasance Dome
There is probably enough patter in Chris Cox’s act to fill a show twice the length, the whole presentation is delivered at such a fast unrelenting pace that at times it can be hard to keep up with him. The fact that his surname sounds very much like the word ‘cocks’ has not escaped him and he certainly doesn’t shirk from taking advantage of any opportunities that provides, so expect plenty of that. Also expect some pretty impressive mindreading predict type magic. Most of the tricks are spellbinding and completely elude any comprehension of how he’s getting stuff right. In a style of magic that is almost entirely inhabited by serious, smart looking gentlemen with mysterious eyes it’s a great relief to see mind reading stuff done by someone with a bit of cheek and plenty of bubble. Plus his constant use of multimedia gives his presentation an extra lift making it the most energetic hour you’ll ever spend with a mind reader who can’t read minds.
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Seb Cardinal and Dustin Demri-Burns (formerly of Fat Tongue) are a class act. They’ve got approaches and ideas that set them apart from most other sketch groups. Subtle nuances elevate the show beyond its first impression of straight forward stupidity and fill the sketches with pathos and empathy and other kinds of lovely sensitive, mature sounding words.
Russell Kane’s Fakespeare: The Tragickal Saveings Of King Nigel
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
Now here’s a tasty little gem. It’s no wonder that his last blank verse ‘Fakespeare’ show (The Lamentable Tragedie of Yate’s Wine Lodge) ended up on the main stage at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, surely this one will follow an equally if not more successful path. Your noble players are Russell Kane as King Nigel (looking remarkably different without his Lego hairdo) and Sadie Hasler ably assisting him as his mistress the pouting air-head Donna. They tell the woeful tale of a selfish Essex banker as he contemplates ending it all. The script is cleverly manufactured and stuffed to bursting with contemporary jokes and references while the application of iambic pentameter is intelligently and amusingly done without getting too bogged down in the structure of the style. Where Kane has truly gone to work and had plenty of fun is with the many similes littered throughout the play. It’s so full of similes it’s like a big simile filled thing.
The thing about Cardinal Burns is that they are just so loveable, even when strutting about the room as greasy prowling lotharios the sheer energy and commitment they put into their characters makes even the unpleasant ones adorable. Cardinal Burns are brilliant character actors bringing refreshingly natural and committed performances to a form of comedy that way too often gets drowned in amplified ham. On top of their strong acting their flair and passion for accents and silly voices remains unfettered and what’s more they’ve even gone a bit musical this year. Cardinal Burns mix the mundane with the obscure, the conventional with the silly and wrap it all up with refined delivery and wellhoned staging. One of the best sketch groups I’ve ever seen.
was @ Underbelly
Paul Zerdin: Sponge Fest
At Home With Holly
was @ Holly’s House
This is one of those ‘only at the Fringe’ experiences, one of those things that are very enjoyable and well worth talking about but incredibly hard to explain. The concept in itself is enormously enticing; Holly Burn shuns the normality of putting on a show in a venue and instead chooses to invite punters into her Edinburgh flat to experience something quite unique. It’s a deliberately slapdash affair, Holly’s abode is littered with nonsensical cardboard cut-outs with scrawled labelling applied as though their obvious shape was not enough. Just when you’re beginning to feel that the format of performing to a bunch of strangers in a cramped flat is perfectly normal, Holly and her assistant pull a few rather perky rabbits out of their metaphorical hat eventually concluding with one of the most bizarre finales you’re ever likely to find at the Fringe or anywhere for that matter. Raw meats, fireworks, a heavily populated shower cubicle and a kidnapping.
Paul Zerdin is the best ventriloquist I have ever seen. Let’s just ignore the minimal range of competition for a moment and focus on that venerable statement. Paul Zerdin is the best ventriloquist I have ever seen. Admittedly it is a rather sidelined artistry that has for many years been out of public perception or populist appreciation… And no I could not readily name a contemporary challenger to Zerdin’s crown but he is jaw-droppingly talented, brilliantly astute in the application of his skills and just really chuffing bloody good at what he does. The laughs come thick and fast, unrelenting humour that hardly gave me a moment to sip my pint. Tame gags, predictable gags, end of the pier style gags and then inspired and completely unpredictable gags. Zerdin is tremendously skilled and superbly competent at keeping the crowd entertained and enthralled. I laughed and laughed and laughed and was thoroughly impressed throughout.
Tim Key – The Slutcracker
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
more Fringe Binge reviews online @ thenationalstudent.co.uk/fringebinge
This was an excellent show, the energy in the room was always alive, right from the very first moment Key entered the room and he kept us alert throughout. The room was littered with props and curiosities, even a cake. Their role was not apparent at first, but the randomly scattered objects came in very handy later in a brilliant way. Tim Key took the Edinburgh Comedy Award this year for Best Show and with a full series of We Need Answers currently in production for BBC4, Key is going to be a deservedly busy man now. The reason for this success is of course that he is very talented. He has a brilliant comedic sense and is an absolute master of subtlety. His apparently timid facial dexterity is his trademark and it’s a thing of beauty. Whether it be the twitch of an eye or a slight curl at the edge of his mouth Key is able to communicate so much by apparently doing so little. It is consistently marvellous. Special note should also go to his cunning employment of visual aids and music, the video segments within the show are hilarious because of and regardless of the fact that they are totally pointless… they are also beautifully manufactured.
William Andrews: Nitwit
was @ Pleasance Dome
William Andrews (of Will & Greg) carries off quite a feat in this hour. It’s not easy doing sketch comedy solo but Andrews pulls off the task brilliantly and offers up a well conceived, slick performance. The absurdity of his approach is clear to see throughout the show, for a start he’s taped a microphone to his head. Every skit is enhanced by the presence of a small boxed video screen in the centre of the stage. Whether he’s interacting directly with the images on screen or they are simply there to add colour or subtitles to the scene; each and every moment is gilded with its presence. It’s delightfully nonsensical stuff with consistently clever set-ups and a surprising amount of pathos… He’s even ably assisted at one point by a disembodied Anna Crilly. I’m a big fan of Will Andrews. You get great ideas brilliantly delivered. This year you also get one of the unlikeliest but most satisfying finales one man with a hair dryer could ever produce.
Mark Thomas: The Manifesto
was @ The Stand
It’s a simple premise but an excellent one. Mark Thomas wants policies, and he’s gone on tour collecting them, then once he’s got them he’s going to try and make those policies happen. In his usual style Thomas recounts a number of recent policy related adventures with photo and video evidence on hand and before long we’re all suitably amused and outraged in equal measure at the political offences and comedy antics put before us. Mark Thomas’ Manifesto is not only a great antidote to our current times but also a brilliant record of them. Thomas’s tour of this show and the policies voted forth by audiences track the mood of the nation and reflect the headlines of the year; suspicion of supermarkets, Banker’s bonuses, ID cards, the NHS, gay rights, MP’s expenses, the Daily Mail, the BNP, Afghanistan, elections… There is a policy to satiate every irritated palate. There’s a healthy dose of deserved silliness too with one particular highlight being the new campaign to have Windsor renamed Lower Slough and even the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square gets commandeered for one campaign by the ever resourceful Mark Thomas. Mark’s adventures and continuing work is, as ever, impassioned, enthralling and hilarious and he’s at his best when he gets the public involved and embraces all the random influences that brings.
Daniel Kitson – We Are Gathered Here
Daniel Kitson’s rejection of comedy career path norms coupled with his undeniable talent has gained him a relatively unique position where a ticket to see Kitson is very highly sought after. There are no poster campaigns, no flyerers, no bus shelter or taxi advertisements. There is really no need to advertise at all other than to just add it to the Fringe brochure… Kitson will sellout, probably before anyone else has even got close. He could fill bigger venues if he wanted to, but he doesn’t… and that’s fine, as long as you get in quick, otherwise it’s bloody frustrating. Kitson is rather fond of announcing that he’s a ’maverick’. From anyone else this would feel reckless and indulgent, but Kitson carries the statement with charm and a certain amount of truth. He’s often keen to point out how he differs from the norm, and how a ‘lesser comic’ would tackle the situation. These methods of deconstruction are part trademark and part fuck you to the trademark. It’s very rare to see audacity and complacency so fitting in a man, normally such self-assurance and belligerent self-aggrandizement would be irritating and telling of cockishness, but with Kitson you can’t help but just agree with the man, because he’s right. Kitson is a rich delicacy.
was @ The Stand
was @ The Hotel
Ginger & Black: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Harold
was @ Pleasance Courtyard
This was my first Ginger and Black experience, and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. For a start there was much less music than I’d thought but then that’s probably because Eri Jackson (Ginger) has a broken wrist and is therefore regrettably cast in finger restraining plaster. Daniel Taylor (The one without a broken wrist) does not have a broken wrist, but he did have a fork in his head, though I’m pretty sure that was deliberate. So here we get to the second thing I wasn’t expecting from Ginger and Black; their peculiar approach. All the ingredients you will be familiar with from the deadpan delivery to the bizarre imagery but Ginger and Black have created their own very original blend. Such is the success of their off-kilter mix of shady weirdness and slipping between and out of characters that I began to wonder whether the broken wrist was actually part of the act and not a real broken wrist. But it is a real broken wrist, I think. They’re an intriguing double act. Shared disdain is mixed with an indefinable sexual tension, the delivery wanders between reluctant deadpan and suppressed energy. The flickering nature of their presentation sustains a sense of uncertainty in the room; the audience doesn’t know quite what will happen next and at times it feels like Ginger and Black don’t either. The intentionally overzealous performances dotted through the show mean that in those gorgeous moments when Jackson and Taylor truly show their skills in subtlety those moments sparkle like diamonds.
From staff sitting in cupboards for no particular purpose to the chefs in the basement throwing food at the walls; nothing is how it should be in The Hotel. On top of the surprises hidden in every room, nook and cranny The Hotel boasts a very impressive cast list full of loads of Fringe comedy favourites, Mark Watson as director and it’s produced by the mysterious comedy entity only known as The Invisible Dot. It’s an unavoidably interactive experience as you roam the building. Free will is allowed and encouraged but occasionally dissuaded. As the audience files into The Hotel, staff members apply themselves smilingly to the task of separating obvious groups… You’re on your own with this one! Whilst there may be a plot of sorts, it’s more a structure than anything else and nothing that occurs is particularly scripted or planned and all manner of things can happen. On the occasion of my hotel visit a few of us were treated to a special exclusive extra when real police officers unwittingly got involved and a cast member nearly got arrested! As for how I fared during the hour… Well I didn’t get arrested either but I temporarily lost a shoe, I was measured, shouted at, interrogated, blown upon, put in a speed date, threatened, blamed, accused, shushed at and put to work… Oh and I left with milky smelling hands. It takes a little while to warm up to but The Hotel offers an amusingly eccentric experience and the more you put in, the more you get out of it. Future branches of The Hotel are promised in London and Brighton.
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Highlights and lowlights from our summer of music festival action
Five years in, Dot to Dot is an event that no local music-lover should miss. On the surface 2009s line-up lacks the big-hitting draws of last years expanded shindig, but the acts on offer are as sweltering hot as the summer heat. A maniacal figure cavorts around the Rig stage, spewing twisted utterances: part-preacher, part Mark E Smith, creating a visual spectacle for Human Hair’s frantic post-punk, alt-rock onslaught all quirky rhythms and explosive, dense walls of guitar noise. A darkly frantic start to the day. Dog Is Dead’s exuberant and chirpy take on indie is a smile-inducing burst of joy. Taking the quirkiness of early-James and the afro-beat influenced style of Vampire Weekend, they may be nothing out of the ordinary, but a hint of upbeat jazz in the guise of spiraling lines of sax gives them a definite edge. Despite looking scared witless, they put in a competent and energetic performance. A packed Nottingham Trent SU is won over by Pains of Being Pure of Heart’s heart-warming distortion – a twee Sonic Youth, with Jesus and Mary Chain ambitions, POBPOH are a finely rounded classic-indie gift package. I Heart Hiroshima’s heady mix of dark rock riffs and angular post-punk rhythms might have got a more frantic response if simply standing still in the heat wasn’t such a chore. Drummer and vocalist Susie Patton owns the place, bashing the kit with wild abandon, running a commentary throughout, goading the crowd and bullying guitarist Cameron Hawes into changing the set. Or maybe it happened differently, the amount
of sweat in my eyes and ears means I could be wrong. What has happened to Maps? 12 months ago they were a multi-instrument electro-shoegaze juggernaut laying waste to a huge crowd at Truck Festival and now three members stand playing run-of-the-mill techno that has lost all the life and depth that made the band’s sound so exciting. With all the will in the world to change styles and find new audiences James Chapman has achieved nothing more than a massive step backwards into the mundane. The Soft Pack are no longer called the Muslims! I liked the fact they were called the Muslims, but I guess it got some people’s backs up and either the band or label wussed out. Luckily there’s nothing wussy about their stripped down and no-nonsense sound taking cues from the likes of the Stooges, the Modern Lovers and Television filtered through 80s alt and punk. The conviction and energy in their performance is the essence of punk rock. Four-piece Mumford & Sons are mesmerisingly wonderful. An unorthodox set-up including double-bass, electric banjo, keyboards and a front-man who plays a bass-drum with his foot is enough alone to draw attention even without the exceptional vocal harmonies. There’s nothing unique about their take on Americana but boundless talent can often overshadow such points – which in this case it does. A stunned Rock City crowd after picking their jaws off the floor, give them one of the best receptions all day. So Patrick Wolf is no longer a folk-pixie, but
Son of Dave is a Bowie-inspired New Romantic peddling a slightly heavier (well it has some guitars) take on 80s electro-pop. The girls love him, maybe the screaming hindered my enjoyment but it’s all a little Duran Duran, but not as good. 65DaysofStatic are the sound of the machines winning the war with the humans. A post-rock, techno-metal blitzkrieg on the senses that make the Prodigy look like Cascada. Electronic beats cascade, blips and glitches collapse over a relentless wall of guitar noise over the foundation of live drums with drummer putting in a true power-house performance. After a set-closing so powerful the earth may well have stopped spinning, with ringing in everyone’s ears one crowd member states ‘fuck me, I think they might have killed all my senses’ – enough said really! You really don’t see something like Son of Dave everyday. His Hunter S. Thompson as cynicalold-bluesman persona brings a perplexed, and bizarrely small, crowd curiously to the stage. Dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown he bangs through as set of blues-inspired ditties built on percussion, human beat-boxing, harmonica and vocals all looped brilliantly. He constantly re-adjusts the sound equipment, berates the sound man and makes quips at the crowd, he’s like that crazy, homeless man every town seems to have, if only that man was a pure showman and massively-talented musician. The party ensues with the Son handing out crisps and party poppers to the audience and ends with him shooting confetti over the crowd. “We had a party right?” he questions. Maybe! But I’m not usually this confused, intrigued and thoroughly entertained at the end of parties. Future of the Left beat everyone’s collective ass. The colossal punk-riffage, and dark-humour is perfectly at home in the crowded, sweaty basement venue, the Rig. Each track whips the place into a frenzy of strangely friendly violence – the girl punching me in the stomach genuinely seems to want to be my friend. The half-hour set time is not enough of their brilliance but probably just enough for the poor bodies and ears of those down the front. Cursive are legends to those in the indie-know and a band that after 13-years of peddling amazing music should be headlining the mainroom at Rock City and not crammed into the dirty-little Rig playing to a few hundred devotees and curious onlookers. Banging through a set that brilliantly highlights their ability to bridge the gap between hardcore, indie and Americana. Fans are not disappointed as they play tunes spanning their astounding back catalogue. Front-man Tim Kosher gives it his all and ends the set on a ledge high in the roof of the venue. Fittingly for a band that have never hit the heights that they should have, on this occasion no matter how they try following Future of the Left everything else just seems a little weak. Much else happened at Dot to Dot going into the early hours but your guess is as good as mine. by Chris Marks
The Soft Pack
Dot to Dot
Nottingham May 29
In many ways Indietracks 2009 feels bigger – it has a fence, bag searches and many more commercial food outlets fighting it out for my hard-earned cash, but it still has that warming atmosphere of a community of like-minded people getting together to appreciate their love of twee indie. In the Friday night dusk ex-Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall is pulling some sultry, downbeat shapes. Her sound is more sophisticated and accomplished but nothing about her new tunes or performance screams to be noticed as little more than run-of-the-mill. New York female trio Au Revoir Simone take the classic sounds of synth-pop making an intrinsically layered, ethereal and uplifting sound. The performance is impressive, mistakes are made which only makes the live creation of their inch-perfect pop-ditties more endearing. The dreamy melodies, captivating synth-lines and disco beats are simply wonderful. Why mediocre versions of this by the likes of La Roux and Little Boots tops the charts while Au Revoir Simone play to devotees at a Railway museum is a mystery! Downdime get things off to a noisy Saturday start with their line in big, psychedelic indie-rock drawing on the classic 80s purveyors of big-sound like My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. They have a few good tracks but each on has three almost carbon copy sound-a-likes which make the great tracks annoyingly forgettable. Big noise, abundant repetition and a singer who can’t help but sound like Brian Molko means this Leeds lot come close but get no cigar. I like animal ears, I like shambolic multi-instrument indie-explosions and that’s why Little My rock my lovely stripy socks off! Made up of members of various Cardiff bands the stage is full of people, instruments and JOY! After a twee-tastic rendition of the Grandstand theme each an every song from this multi-instrument indie-pop menagerie is a joyous explosion of harmonies, catchy riffs and more percussion than necessary. Whether it’s the singing in the crowd with a mega-phone, playing the monitors and speakers as percussion instruments are the animal costumes there’s not a second that goes by without something great happening.
Butterley, Derbyshire July 24, 25, 26
Tender Trap are the sum of their past-parts and are therefore on of the most wonderful and fullyformed bands in indie-pop. Today’s set proves this with ease. The Specific Heats are on fire in the church. They play their garage-pop with pure energy, all snotty attitude awash with sixties surf-pop vibes. This is the classic image of teenage abandon, fun and rebellion playing it with vigour and sweating under the immense summer heat. Enduring the heat in the church for a prolonged period may not be the best idea, unless, that is, you are watching The Lovely Eggs. For starters how could you not love a band called The Lovely Eggs, and that’s before they start their Mouldy Peaches meets snotty punk kookiness. Rarely does entertainment this silly rock so hard. Syd Barrett-esque lyrical quirks are met with mis-timed percussion and bursts of pure punk noise. The in between song banter is eccentric, bizarre and funny rounding off one of the most perplexing and smile-inducing sets of the weekend. Cats on Fire are benefiting from better sound in the Indoor Stage, what is this new soundman doing that stops the bands sounding like they are playing through mud? It is not just the improved audio that makes this one of the most convincing performances on show. This is solid and sophisticated indie. Groomed, polished and utterly charming they force a joyous explosion of dancing. An impressive cover of White Town’s ‘Your Woman’ has the locals (and everyone else) nodding with approval. Camera Obscura are definitely one of the weekends big draws, and play a set full of poise and confidence that proves why they are one of the scene’s top bands. The set is inch-perfect but in many ways lacks some of the humour and shambolic nature that makes for some of Indietracks most memorable moments. Regardless ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken’ is probably the anthem of the weekend. Emmy The Great manages to keep the attention of those present despite being a decidedly downbeat end to the evening. Her vocals and lyrical odes to life are mesmerising and lull me into a overwhelming sense of wellbeing. This is essential folk music for the modern indie fan. Zipper are a pop-punk joy to behold. Speaking the universal language of three-chords and pure energy, Zipper may be speaking in a language I don’t understand but they certain communicate with me. They seem to be having fun, and this merriment spreads amongst the annoyingly small crowd. There’s little more special than seeing indie-folk hero MJ Hibbett on a crammed and moving steam train. Not so much a gig but more like a meeting of friends, brought together by Hibbett’s humourous, heart-felt and apt musings on his world. The heat is almost unbearable but the quality of the songs on display makes a little discomfort a worthwhile sacrifice. Nick Garrie is long-due some public recognition but the drop in temperature and drizzling constant rain is not doing him any favours. His beautiful, psychedelic baroque-pop is movingly grandiose and his new material deserves for him to make a comeback. The Smittens’ ‘fuzzy-wuzzy DIY pop explosion’ is tighter and much more accomplished than last year at this very festival. They had previously won me over with their slightly shambolic, yet enormously catchy tunes but today’s set proves the sheer quality of this nuggets of golden sunshine pop. ‘Half My Heart’ is a magical ode to summer love, with sweet harmonies and infectious chorus. The Smittens are one of the best pop bands on the planet, period. Art Brut seem like a strange booking on a weekend over-flowing with all that is twee, Eddie a bit of a kick in the teeth. Jaz Coleman and crew are just hitting their stride when the set is brought to an end, well before the power of their post-punk, pre-industrial apocalyptic rock has enough time to truly impact. Mastodon are one of the few bands to turn the noise ‘physical’, at times the bass pounding through my bones. A relatively small crowd witness the sheer intensity of the Atlanta veterans prog-metal assault, which is flawlessly played and heavy as lead. Mastodon prove that sometimes self-indulgence in rock is a good thing. So Machine Head throw a paddy and drop out of the festival because the nasty organisers put Limp Bizkit above them on the bill! People then get excited about the ‘Special Guests’ on said bill. Who could it be? Oh wait, it’s Machine Head who were already on the bill, so they are hardly ‘special’ or ‘guests’, I’m calling trade descriptions regarding false advertising. Their set is fine but the ridiculousness makes it hard to take it seriously so I leave after one song for a beverage. Limp Bizkit really aren’t as bad as I want them to be! Their rap-metal stylee packs a fair bit of punch and Wes Borland is a damn fine axeman..it’s just that Fred Durst is just such a tool. He illustrates just how contemptible he is prancing around like the big I AM with nothing to say and pretty much no talent in doing it. He is the meat-head, violent, sexist, school-bully who never grew-up. Durst makes Limp Bizkit the most mindless, pointless and dumb band of the weekend. Nine Inch Nails don’t like to make life easy for Argos has a little (joking) dig at the weekend being to ‘twee’ before admitting they actually belong here after all. They have beefed-up their sound since I last saw them in 2004, giving their tunes more punk-bite. The rest is still 100% Art Brut, 100% show – perfectly choreographed anarchy, madness made to look like it isn’t rehearsed when it is. They play the set everyone has hoped for including many tracks of their brilliant debut including ‘Good Weekend’, ‘My Little Brother’, ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ and the excellent ode to first love ‘Emily Kane’. For ‘Modern Art’ Argos changes the topic of adulation to DC Comics, reciting a tale of his trip to the DC Comics office from the middle of the crowd during the songs middle section as the band improvise noise from the stage. The set is definitely the most purely exciting one of the weekend, which is only ruined by the bands tour manager violently manhandling and threatening photographers shooting the band despite the ‘no photography restrictions’ policy. An encore kicks off with that ACDC riff before blasting into ‘hit’ ‘Formed a Band’. Has any band ever made pop more perfect than Teenage Fanclub? Their live sound is so perfectly formed with the lushest harmonies and most engaging hooks. The sheer beauty and optimism of the music almost makes me forget the rain. Wonderful new tracks from their forthcoming ninth studio is littered amongst classics from their back catalogue including an outing for the debut single ‘Everything Flows’….hopefully this new album will put the Fannies in their rightful position to be recognised as one of Britain’s greatest and most enduring guitar acts.
by Chris Marks
themselves! Instead of leaving their last UK performance with a bang, they opted for more of a wet squelch. Instead of the hard-hitting ‘classics’ set of their recent tour the mere hour long set is littered with slow and beautiful instrumentals and downbeat tunes that, while fan-friendly and expertly executed, is pure fan-boy fodder and not servicing those their for the big tunes everyone knows. Reznor looks annoyed and doesn’t appear to want to perform. This is by no means a fitting tribute to one of the most inventive, revolutionary and incendiary live acts in rock history. Metallica, however, understand that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! The metal giants know how to push the buttons – from their classic intro music ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ the tension rises, to the opening chords of ‘Blackened’ and on into ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Fuel’, ‘Of Wolf and Man’ and ‘Fade to Black’ here is a band that are now, arguably, at the best they have ever been. After the feuding, therapy, alcoholism et al Metallica are now on top form and the set is relentlessly brilliant from start to finish. Every track is crushingly heavy and enthralling, this is metal at its finest and no one present is arguing this is the best metal band of all time. An unexpected outing for ‘Dyer’s Eve’ played for the first time ever on UK soil is a special moment played at breakneck speed and a great example of the flawless musicianship on show. A homage to Knebworth veterans Queen with ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ and two colossal tracks ‘Hit the Lights’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’ from the band’s debut Kill Em All puts and epic full stop on Knebworth greatest ever headline set (yes you heard me correctly the GREATEST).
The ease with which we have entered the Knebworth site and are able to move around at our leisure is a revelation for a rock festival, at which you often feel like part of a herd of cattle. Sonisphere is the new daddy of metal festivals in the UK, the best organisation with one hell of a line-up. Anthrax put on a flawless display of thrash metal madness. John Bush back in the Anthrax-fold is full of life, enthusiasm and energy. ‘Caught in a Mosh’ and ‘Antisocial’ prove that they really should be higher up the bill and a whole field full of people go mental to Public Enemy cover ‘Bring The Noise’ before a mind-blowing finale of ‘Indians’ After watching The Used I feel used, abused and a little annoyed. Oceansize don’t get booked for a lot of festivals! This is a perplexing fact as they are simply one of the best and inventive post-hardcore acts on the circuit. Manically shifting time signatures are penetrated by massive riffs – Oceansize make progressive and inventive rock music without being so pretentious as to lose their hard rocking edge. Although hindered by time constraints there is enough time for the band to make a significant impact with possibly the most atmospheric sounds of the weekend. Rollo Tomassi release an aural blitzkrieg to a half
Knebworth August 1 and 2
loving it, half bemused crowd. Rather than playing with musical convention here is a band who shatter them and make new forms sticking the pieces together with their own spit. Fucked Up are pure punk rock, nothing more, nothing less. They whip up a frenzy. Front man Pink Eyes sets fire to his own chest hair, unleashes his guttural howl over the three chord assault and ends the set pushing his way through every section of the crowd. This is hardcore as it should, brutal but with enough intelegence not to be pointless. Thunder are as wet as the afternoon’s weather. This is their last ever gig, which begs the question why their cliché-filled soft-rock ballardry has lasted so long. But fair play to them, anyone who can make a career out of peddling such unadulterated and lifeless mediocrity deserves at least a little respect. The Wildhearts are flagging a little (this being a set starting after midnight) but still provide some straight-up hard rock action. 45 minutes is not enough time as Ginger and co are only just hitting their stride when it is all called to a halt – talk about being short-changed! Killing Joke have been shown some serious disrespect. For a band that the word ‘legends’ definitely applies a mere half-hour set in the late morning is
by David Stone
With the addition of Sonisphere to this year’s festival line-up and them stealing many metal big-hitters, Download’s title as the ‘best metal festival’ looked to be coming under some serious fire. Screamo-hipsters the Blackout are on the main stage pumping their generic posthardcore mediocrity to an excitable crowd. A bizarre nu-metal medley taking in snippets of covers from Korn, Limp Bizkit and Faith No More is obviously intended as a tribute as to the bigger of the days bands but comes across as a cheap and slightly insulting gimmick. A Day to Remember drop clichés like bombs over Baghdad – thick and fast. Blending everything generic they can muster from hardcore and metal, their by-numbers approach is lacking any dynamism and depth. Coming on stage to the 2001 theme is so clichéd it could be a joke, but apparently it’s not which makes it nothing more than a bad joke. After expecting some sort of sound-clash, aural onslaught the Jap-metallers Dir En Grey’s pillaging of expected metal sounds is a bit of a let down. Front-man Kyo bounds round stage like a possessed ape - screaming, yelping and singing his lungs out…the vocals are diverse, but everything else is lost in the mix. It’s so easy to hate Limp Bizkit, the rap-metal buffoons should be one of the lowlights, but
Donington Park June 12, 13, 14
somehow they appear to kicking ass on the main stage. Wes Borland’s juggernaut riffs are the main draw. Fred Dirst is strangely likeable and has the crowd in the palm of his hand. It’s all pretty simple stuff - big riffs, pounding beats and dumb-ass lyrics easy to chant along to – it’s party music for the angry. Tracks like ‘Rollin’ and the cover of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ that thrust them into the big time are simple metal-party tunes that get the place ‘pumping’ (and other such party clichés). Korn’s chugging nu-metal has aged really badly, and the bar seems like a much more exciting prospect. Enough of the pretenders, it’s time for Faith No More. Front-man Mike Patton, dressed in a sleazy red suit, slowly stumbles on stage propping himself up with a walking cane and holding his back poking fun at the fact the band are getting on a bit. Even after expecting the unexpected no one is prepared for a smoochy cover of Peaches and Herb’s sickly sweet soul tune ‘Reunited’ as the opening number, with the band then blasting straight into ‘The Real Thing’ – the anticipation is rising, waiting for them to crank it up a notch. As the riff to ‘From Out of Nowhere’ kicks inthe excitement boils over….that’s it! Faith No More are back and are once again proving that they are the daddies. The set is awesome and awe-inspiring, PatHannah Morris
The Prodigy ton’s voice is out of this world and the band are probably at their tightest ever. Colossal tunes like ‘Ashes to Ashes’, the pure metal madness of ‘Surprise You’re Dead’, rapmetal standard ‘Epic’ and the inclusion of an uber-fast ‘Introduce Yourself’ make this one of Download’s greatest, and most eclectic, ever headline sets. They even get the rock hoards grooving to a cover of Lady GaGa’s ‘Poker Face’ and swaying to their better-than-theoriginal cover of the Commodores’ ‘Easy’. The perfect set is closed with the amazing blast of ‘We Care A Lot’ leaving the crowd stunned and gasping for more. FNM came, saw and conquered Donington. Five Finger Death Punch are as violent as the name suggests, but not nearly as comical. Machismo oozes from these meathead metallers decked out in matching band-branded American Football tops. Brutal metal riffs and anger-fuelled shouts make for a dynamic if relentlessly extreme barrage of sound. Proving their jock-metal credentials they openly encourage the gathered throng to ‘hurt each other’ and separate the ‘men from the boys’, obviously thinking it is both big and clever to encourage violence and stand 50 feet away on the safety of the stage. The Computers are dapper chaps. Sporting an all-white teddy-boy look the Dorset boys are blasting out some maximum rock n roll on the Myspace Bedroom Jam stage. Like Rocket From the Crypt filtered through a modern hardcore sieve, they rock with pure energy. The screamed vocals detract from the quality of the punk-rock on show (does no one fancy singing today?) but overall The Computers are a band to watch. Down are pure METAL, they are the spirit of rock n roll expressed with pure, joyous aggression. Phil Anselmo proves his metallegend status engaging the crowd and providing vocals that are both powerfully angry and melodic. Down’s southern metal grooves are refreshingly tuneful and dynamic. Pendulum might just be the greatest rock n roll swindle of all time! A mediocre drum and bass outfit start wearing black and add some mediocre rock riffs to their sound and somehow the rock world is duped into believing they are credible. Thousands of people are dancing to exactly, and I mean exactly, the kind of piss-poor soulless dance that fills the kind of clubs most metal-fans hate. All their songs sound the same. The irony is giving me a headache! They are an energetic bunch, I suppose that’s something. Chris Cornell’s set is made up largely of tracks by grunge-legends Soundgarden and Audioslave. Having played with such distinguished players throughout his career, his current band of merry men run the risk of seeming like little more than a tribute act, but play almost perfect renditions of the classic tunes. Cornell himself is on fine form, bursting with energy and showing exactly why he has one of rocks most powerful voices. An extended version of the colossal ‘Spoonman’ is and the mass and rousing sing-along to ‘Black Hole Sun’ are both classic Download moments from an artist who has earned the title of ‘legend’. The Prodigy have just kicked off with ‘World’s on Fire’ and resistance is futile – they are the band of the people and everyone is here to dance (whether they know this fact or not). The Essex rock-ravers even have a group of six-foot tall bikers in full biker gear boogying down and expressing their love. The sound is relentless, the bass is so heavy my internal organs are shaking this is total immersion music. The set shows how solid the Prodge’s career has been taking in classics such as ‘Their Law’, ‘Voodoo People’, ‘Breathe’ and ‘Firestarter’ – tunes that are ingrained in the national psyche, topped off by tunes from the massive new LP. ‘Run Like the Wolves’ may be one of the heaviest rock tunes all weekend. As the encore ends with ‘Out of Space’ no one is in any doubt that the Prodigy own this and every stage they step onto, they transcend rock, dance, pop and every other genre. When it comes to the live arena they are the dons.
Faith No More
by Michael Mather
The Legion are pretty impressive with the attempted complexity of their US collegerockisms, and the musicianship is fairly accomplished. Their front-man has somehow got above his station, and has convinced himself of his own genius – true his lyrics are poetic and interesting, but his faux Connor Oberst vocal-stylings pitched higher than anything else in the mix, and his tuneless and badly-played guitar solos make the set a little cringe-worthy. Blk Jks are the dark heart of African rock, with an inventive take on the traditional sounds of their homeland pegging them to ethereal art-rock. Like TV on the Radio dabbling in South African kwaito music. Live they are perfectly formed and totally mesmerising. Manchester’s Kid British put on a good show, and seem to know what it takes to get feet tapping – namely a blend of the most obviously catchy elements of ska, pop and hip hop. There’s nothing new, inventive or even clever about the Manc scamps but they doknow how to have a good time! Which in the summer sunshine is pretty much all you can ask for. If you want musical mediocrity Mystery Jets are the safest bet you can make. Bland and unchallenging their music is exactly like eating fast food – you can consume it but it has no value what so ever. Expecting a downbeat and austere performance from múm the wonderfully lively set unfolding here is both spine-tingingly beautiful and boundlessly energetic. Such a myriad of ideas should not form such a glorious whole but in the hands of mum this is perfect pop – energetic, experimental and accessible. The band are exceptionally modest considering their talents and seem a little overwhelmed by the joyous response – not everyone ‘gets it’ and some people leave but for those who do we understand this is what live pop music is all about. 2-tone ‘legends’ The Beat are off to a slow start, the whole thing seems a bit subdued and is lacking that expected punch. When the band do hit their stride it’s easy to see why along with the Specials et al. were the must see live acts in the early 80s. This is classic British pop music assimilating all the styles of our multi-cultural world to forge sparkling pop gems. Ranking Roger and Ranking Junior present the old and new face of the band and new tunes through some modern Jamaican sounds in to the mix. But it is the old classics like ‘Tears of a Clown’, ‘Too Nice to Talk Too’ and an encore of ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ and reduces the room to one big, sweaty, skanking mess. Her Name is Calla are on far to early – the cinematic scope of their post-rock adventures in sound deserves a night time slot with a much bigger audience. The expanded six-piece line-up massage mind, body and soul with some of the most intricate and immaculately performed music
Demontfort Hall August 14, 15, 16
There’s a certain air of nostalgia surrounding St Etienne as the chin-stroking intellectual’s pop act of choice with their retro pop aesthetic and downbeat merging of
Woodpigeon’s delicately arranged chamber-folk is very nice and soothing (not the best thing for a Sunday hangover) but is lacking the excitement I crave. It is lovely to drift off into a state of half asleep contentment in the dark of the indoor stage. Devon Sproule is perfect in the sunshine. Charismatic and charming Sproule takes us through her take on the classic American song-book – a plugged-in blend of blues, folk and country. The mildly bonkers mannerisms, and charisma, displayed is all totally natural making Sproule an engaging and enjoyable performer. Bringing country music successfully to the centre of Leicester is no mean feat but it is one Sproule achieves effortlessly. Summer Sundae 2009 can be split into three parts: pre-Monotonix, Monotonix and post-Monotonix. Before the Israeli garagerock band take to the stage everyone is having a NICE time, but the weekend needs that thing to make it legendary. Then three acid-casualty rejects from the 118 adverts dressed in just their pants, begin their at the front of the stage surrounding by an intrigued crowd. What follows is an hour of pure rock n roll madness, – a garage rock band playing in amongst the crowd everywhere in and outside the venue, crowd-surfing (in bins, on bass drums and free of such objects), crowd-drumming, balcony-jumps, twisted humour, crushing riffs, and creating general mayhem. Monotonix are unfashionable, uncool and totally unhinged. They are not big, they are possibly not clever but they are 100% total rock and roll! Those that witness the set are blown away and every one else knows all about it with in minutes of the distortion dying out – live rock music was invented for Monotonix. Micachu and the Shapes have so many ideas it’s obvious that they haven’t quite worked out how to make them all work together. They look bemused by the previous bands set (that’s Monotonix) and seem a little unnerved by the whole affair. The DIY-pop is certainly inventive and is never content to stick to tried and tested formulas, but in general the inventiveness is lost is a mish-mash of collapsing and conflicting ideas. Having the potential to offer so much more this is the most disappointing set of the weekend. Easy Star All Stars play dub reggae versions of tunes by popular bands. Tunes from their recent Beatles cover LP are perfect summer fun as people sing and pop in knowing recognition. But it is a dub-tastic version of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ that makes for a truly special festival moment – few bands are better at what they do than the Easy Star All Stars. If there’s one act that’s one everybody’s ‘Must See’ list Bon Iver is most definitely it. A sea of bodies gather in intense expectation and Justin Vernon and co deliver what was expected. Perfectly realised live renditions of tracks from his critically-acclaimed opus For Emma, Forever Ago get the best response, while the more experimental edge of the Blood Bank material shows that Bon Iver are less predictable than other alt-folkers of their ilk.
Monotonix of the week and end with the most visceral and amazing multi-drumming, wall-of-noise possible. Yunioshi are not nearly as good as they think they are! A flyer handed out namedrops the Flaming Lips and Beck and thus promises some truly inventive pop music. What we get is a mish-mash of obviously ideas that don’t in way gell, with the catchy parts of the tune buried under the weight of the band ideas and out of time drumming. Close but no cigar… Future of the Left seem a little lost in the half-empty expanse of the Rising tent. Their brutally punk rock blasts require a sweaty-club with a low ceiling and limited space to move. Not matter how exciting these songs are they do appear to be having the effect of a drop water in the ocean – not really making an significant impact. Leaving the Future of the Left set early to catch the mind-blowing finale of 65DaysofStatic who are a band who never fail to astound no matter how many times I see them. No music performed this weekend has the depth and visceral impact of the post-rock behemoths neuroncrushing cascades of sound. indie, dance and pop. Today’s performance proves to be not as exciting as promised, which other than a few outstanding pop gems is nothing more than pleasant background music. The Charlatans are a contradictory band, for all their stone-cold indie classics they have an abundance of pure filler. Playing the big hits like ‘The Only One I Know’ and ‘North Country Boy’ they are one of the best indie bands around but other more psychedelic ramblings drag a little making them of questionable headline potential. Live they still hold their own and are tighter than ever, but even the inclusion of some obscure early tunes isn’t enough to elevate this performance to any more than mediocre. Maybeshewill are totally anti-climatic and the music equivalent of a ‘cock tease’. They build up the excitement with building noise before letting it all fall flat before the climax we were hoping for! This is post rock music minus the exciting bits, hardcore without the power and it is lacking any oomph. Great musicianship can’t help a set that ultimately leaves me frustrated and unsatisfied.
by Chris Marks
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Drawing the major festival season to a close, far from being the seen of spontaneous rioting the youthful attendees at times make 2009’s shindig more like a post-GCSE youth club outing than a dirty rock festival. A general air of good vibes make this one of the most enjoyable Leeds Festivals in recent years even if the gods of wind and rain did conspire to put a almighty dampener on the affair. Metric deserve so much more than their early slot. Emily Haines and co’s dark, seductive punk-tinged electro indie really should be on the main stage. Haines is on fine, energetic form leading the band through the dark complexities of the newest material and rousing renditions of ‘classics’ ‘Dead Disco’ and the majestic ‘Monster Hospital’. Described by one excitable teen as ‘shrederific’ comedy thrash-metallers Municipal Waste certainly pack a riff-tastic punch. Balls to the floor, speed metal that’s not big, or clever but beats the living shit out everyone present. With songs about ‘terror sharks’ and ‘headbangers ripping their own face off’ what’s not to love? The world needs Snuff to be playing live – simples! Few bands embody ‘fun’ in such a grin-inducing explosion of silliness. In case anyone was in any doubt their covers of Booker T & the MG’s ‘Soul Limbo’ (or the Test Cricket theme tune, sports fans) and the theme to ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads’ confirm this. ‘Nick Northern’ is still one of the best punk tunes of the 90s. Of all the bands on this weekend, no band unifies like the Prodigy – no matter what music people are into everyone wants to see the Prodge do their thing! This is apparent in the manic crush – as people surge forwards, vast swathes of people try to leave causing the kind of crush that can so easily result in injury (in fact rumour has it one girl got her nose broken). Obviously the techno-rock giants are incredible, but the whole thing is marred by crowd trouble and mediocre sound leaving a cloud of disappointment hanging over the whole set. Tonight is the night for below-par performances. The Arctic Monkeys really do look like they’d rather be somewhere else, performing with all the life of a crypt. The set is audacious covering most of their new album, and taking in very little of their ‘classic’ material. The Homme-heavy influence of the new material has seeped through to the older material
Bramham Park, Leeds August 28, 29, 30
as the Monkey’s complete their metamorphosis from urban indie-scamps to bona-fide rock stars – the verve and vigourous excitement of their early days may be gone but the breadth of material on show highlights a band destined to enjoy longevity. The XX manage to enthral without hardly moving at all. The sheer intensity of their dreamy-pop means the show takes place in the listener’s minds. A perfect amalgamation of the darker, more ethereal end of 80s pop music (a summation of the 4AD label of the era) the XX are the sound of another dimension seeping into ours. The Joy Formidable’ s joyous quiet-loud racket is perfect festival fodder. The tracks from their stunning debut EP translate perfectly into the live setting and proves the bands alt-rock plundering credentials offer one of the best indie sounds around. An explosive ending full of heavy-bass, clattering beats and surging distortion ends a great and memorable set. Brand New are enjoying some stealth success – when did they get so big? Or more importantly, why? Their predictable angsty radio-friendly rock unit-shifters offer nothing more than aching-heart, moaned, mediocrity. Vampire Weekend are so incessantly summery that their set even brings the sun out. Their afrobeat indie is perfect for an afternoon sing and dance along and they get the most joyous reaction all weekend. The new material indicates there is more greatness to come but for the moment it is ‘A Punk’ that gets thousands bopping like lunatics, whilst others look on bemused. Vampire Weekend excite and confuse in equal measure with their own niche of accessible but intellectual and challenging fusion indie. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s can’t fail to be cool, but there’s something amiss in the atmosphere of this early evening slot. Karen O is still a mesmeric performer that owns the stage, it just feels like something is missing. ‘Date With The Night’ is the perfect set ender and points to pure energy of the bands early days. Playing their gloomy anthems here for the past three years Bloc Party run the risk of boring regular attendees with the same old, same old. But their set, complimented by the new direction of the piano-house-tastic single ‘One More Chance’
Bloc Party and past dance-track action ‘Mercury’ and ‘Flux’, is perfectly played and proves they will continue to hold their own in the rock big leagues. But there is only one one band who can take the ‘band of the weekend’ title. “And now for the old guys at the end”, quips Thom Yorke before Radiohead unleash an audio/visual extravaganza the likes of which Leeds has never seen. The term legends is more than fitting as the Oxford-boys play through a set that while almost totally omitting the ‘classics’ displays the nearflawless nature of their diverse output. A band totally comfortable with playing such occasions they seem to be enjoying themselves as much as we are. While it is the prog-indie majesty of ‘Paranoid Android’ and a blast of the brilliant ‘Just’ that get the best response, it is the more experimental sounds found since 2000’s Kid A that really show just how incredible this band are. As the set ends with ‘Everything in its right place’ it is apparent that everyone present has just witnessed history with one of Leeds Festival’s greatest ever sets. The Virgins are reet hip! Which is a conundrum, when all they offer is one-dimensional repetition and a hit at a danceable, funky sound that never really takes off. They look cool but their music and performance today is lifeless and as dull as dish water. The Horrors have done the unthinkable – instead of disappearing into hipster obscurity they have returned with one of the year’s best LPs. The new shoegaze-inspired material somehow fits perfectly with the Birthday Party-esque manicness of their early efforts. A truly visceral live band, The Horrors are uncompromising with their onslaught. An opening cover of Joy Division’s ‘No Love Lost’ is a fitting tribute and a great festival moment. Label-mate Jack Penate’s set is a hit and miss affair. Whist being favourites with the crowd the adrenaline-filled cockney faux-ska of his early tracks sounds messy, sludgy and unconvincing. It is the more accomplished tunes off his brilliantly soulful new album that Penate’s talent becomes apparent. ‘Tonight’s Today’ and ‘Be The One’ deserve to be recognised a modern classics and sound magnificent. Diving into the audience during an ecstatic ‘Let’s All Die’ Penate is greeted by the kinda of fanatical response his new music deserves. Ladies and Gentlemen I am floating in space! The Big Pink are sending my neurons on a thrill-ride of epic power and sheer beauty. The band don’t seem to be all that into it, and there’s a feeling that they could give so much more but regardless the quality of the swathes of shoegaze-noise and subtle electronics are enough to show they are a band deserving of the buzz surrounding them. Bombay Bicycle Club are a riotously great indie band, much better than some of the predictable dirge frequenting some of the big stages. ‘Always Like This’ is one of the tunes of the weekend, and a highlight of a fine and energetic set. Black Lips are old school garage rock. They play with enough vigour and verve to make this tried and tested formula seem fresh and exciting. In true rock n roll fashion the set ends with the stage, band and equipment almost giving way to a 300person strong invasion of the stage. While thousands of people make the mistake of watching the Kings of Bland (sorry Leon) on the main stage it is left to an insultingly small gathering to watch metal-trailblazers Faith No More rip up the NME stage. After a bizarre rendition of the Midnight Cowboy theme, ‘From Out of Nowhere’ truly announces FNM’s arrival to kick our collective ass. The classics like ‘Epic’ and ‘Midlife Crisis’ sound better than ever, and coming from FNM bursts of the EastEnders theme seem playful rather than stupid. Mike Patton displays why he is a true, one-off performer making each tune his own and owning everyone and everything in the tent. Faith No More still fuel the rock fire as one of the greatest acts to ever grace a stage and tonight the prove this with aplomb.
by James Thornhill
An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump With instrument changes after almost every song the all girl band have a slight air of a minimalist Sonic Youth with more than a nod towards The Jesus and Mary Chain. With intense pounding drums and Patti Smith style vocals the band start the weekend off well. KASMs From the moment singer Rachael Callaghan enters the stage its clear where most of the crowds attention will lie for the next half hour. Seemingly unable to stand for more than a couple of seconds in the same place Callaghan leads the garage post-punk group with astonishing stage presence. With more flying kicks than a Jackie Chan movie it’s clear to see why the photographers are following her every leap and thrashing, energetic move. Coming across like a more intense and less pop, British version of Be Your Own Pet it’s clear to see why this band have been winning over audiences everywhere they have played this summer. Violent dancing and stage antics aside the band set the mark really high for the rest of the weekend. Definitely a band to keep an eye on. The Chapman Family As soon as the Teeside four piece start it’s clear they have a lot of fans in the crowd. Bursting into their own brand of dark paranoia fueled indie, post rock the band provide a tight set full of passion. As the set develops the sense of restrained aggression and anger in the bands sound gets so strong it seems something will have to give. Unlike a lot of recent performances this one didn’t culminate in guitar smashing but felt like it was headed towards it. All in, an impressive performance to remember. Good Shoes After what seems like a bit of time out the band are back to their best. With most of the front row hanging of every word coming from singer Rhys Jones it’s clear their time out the spotlight hasn’t done them any harm. As the set develops a great mixture of old and new material is aired giving the crowd plenty to sing along to and divulge. Like many bands at Offset they try to crowd surf but the slightly over cautious security soon put a stop to that. The set was perfectly delivered with no signs of their time away doing them any harm at all. Bring on their November tour! Pulled Apart By Horses With a large number of gigs under their wings this summer Pulled Apart By Horses are an explosive addition to any line up. With massively contagious heavy riffs and underlying disco elements they are a band that’s hard not to love. Climbing all over the rigging the band kept venue security on their feet and saw the guitarist playing on the top of the speakers as the singer wrestled with the crowd. As with a lot of their gigs this one ended in them all being topless. So, great guitar lines check, great stage presence check, Rock and Roll antics check… what more could a crowd want? As Pulled Apart By Horses leave the stage all the crowd wanted was more of the same.
Bombay Bicycle Club Despite playing well and playing most of their début album it seems they lack both the energetic stage presence and the crowd interaction to keep up with previous bands of the day. Granted any band would have a hard time matching the energy of Pulled Apart By horses. Plenty of the front row were singing along with them but at the end of the day they didn’t really seem to be able to compete with the energy or stage antics of some of the earlier bands and this stopped their fairly run-of-the-mill set from being a highlight. The Futureheads Between every song the shouted requests come thick and fast. As tight and accurate as any touring band I have ever seen The Futureheads, simply put - get it right, all the time. From the sped up ‘Beginning of the Twist’ to the enduring classic cover ‘Hounds of Love’ the audience love every minute of it. Plucking material from all three albums the set went down really well and was a strong contender for performance of the weekend. The Slits As the most anticipated band of the weekend arrive on stage the gathered crowd are clearly ready for them. The majority of the Slits set comes from their 1979 classic album Cut with a sprinkling of newer material and a few tracks from their new album. Far from being an old band that don’t have anything more to offer, their set seems fresh and just as good as any other bands at Offset. Singer Ari Up at times seems humbled by the crowds responses. When given the choice between a “Jamaican dancehall’ number or a “punk song” the crowd choose the punk song for Ari to tell them that wasn’t a very punk choice. They then played the dancehall number. Towards the end of the set she invited four members of the crowd up onstage to sing and dance with her, this soon turned into a full stage invasion with about 20 people onstage with the band. After security removed them this happened again, and again. As time was called on the headliners it was clear they, and the crowd, had a great time. With a new album on the horizon it looks like The Slits are back to stay. Kap Bambino The award for most manic performance at Offset goes to Kap Bambino hands down. The two piece from Bordeaux are similar in sound to Crystal Castles, only more complex and turned up to eleven. From the first few seconds of their show its clear the singer/DJ duo are more than your average electro group. Strutting across the large indoor stage Caroline Martial makes it clear from the outset that she intends to make this a memorable performance for every person crammed into the tent (and all the people spilling out of it). Thrashing herself across the stage for well over half an hour the show includes aggressive dancing, emptying a beer over her head, and dance moves that can best be described as looking like a violent exorcism. At one point the crowd were whipped up into such a frenzy one of the barriers bends and collapses leading security to
KASMs walk a new barrier part across the stage to the front. Grabbing the opportunity for more mayhem Martial climbed onto this barrier piece and attempts to get the security to dance with her…. A distinctive break from the music typifying the weekend Kap Bambino definitely leave you feeling like you have witnessed something special, completely unhinged but special. Metronomy Last year Metronomy played Offset in a small tent, much to small for the assembled crowd. This year they were set to be in another small tent but due to worries about the size of the crowd they were due to play to they were moved to the main stage. The polar opposite of Kap Bambino’s electro sounds Metronomy provide a calculated and layered more minimalist sound reminisant of Kraftwerk. With a back catalogue of instrumental tracks alongside more recent songs with lyrics the band are able to mix their sets up and keep things flowing well. When cries for ‘Heartbreaker’ from the crowd are finally met with the track the crowd mutate into a jumping sea of one, making it clear the move to the main stage was a good idea. Judging from the size of the crowd trying to work out how to get back into London because of missing the last tube at the entrance to the festival its clear people didn’t mind waiting for the late start. Die! Die! Die! Injecting a high dose of punk energy to the second day the New Zealand three piece Die! Die! Die! make a strong impact on the main stage. Merging the gap between bands like Sonic Youth and Black Flag with a hint of At The Drive-In the band give a raw and engaging performance that is much talked about over the rest of the day. After all the securities attempts to stop artists going into the crowd on this first day there was a distinct anticipation in the air surrounding what singer Andrew Wilson would do, being well known for getting in the crowd and generally causing chaos. He doesn’t disappoint, towards the end of the set he jumps the barrier and runs around the crowd for a bit then sets up a microphone at the barrier for the rest of the song. An impressive set of distinctive modern punk-rock. A Certain Ratio With less bands of yesteryear than last year’s festival A Certain Ratio are definitely one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend. Forming towards the end of 78’ the band emerged on the back end of punk as part of the now legendary Factory music stable under the guidance of the late Tony Wilson. Fast forward to now with New Order seemingly on the way out A Certain Ratio are one of a few bands from that age who still do it well. With a set ranging most of their career they certainly don’t look set to stop any time soon. The XX Not by any means the most active band of the weekend (quite the opposite) their sound is more suited to late nights or early morning sunrises than seven in the evening. That said there blissful music could make even the most hardened metal lover stand still and take notice. Stood in a line between two black boxes with shining X’s the bands appearance, all in black and barely moving may seem a little manufactured but their music makes up for it. Definitely a change of pace from the majority of the weekend, The XX’s haunting indie pop will certainly see them going places towards the end of the year, expect big things from them. Throats One of the few bands on the hardcore stage I had time to see, Throats were definitely worth watching, one of the most brutal and loud bands of the weekend they had the crowd moshing in seconds. Good old fashioned hardcore at its best. Much faster, louder and with a much more confrontational sound than most of the bands on offer they may not be my usual cup of tea but I can certainly see why they have such a strong fan base within the British hardcore scene. Dananananaykroyd! Anyone who wasn’t sure what to expect from the Glaswegian sextet were in for a surprise. Musically they fit somewhere between post-hardcore and the heavier side of math rock. As far as stage presence goes they have more in common with hardcore bands. There isn’t much about this band that can be described as standard. For a start they have two drummers, one whom shares vocal duties with Calum Gunn the main singer. They have somehow managed to take the energy of an intense hardcore band, the danceable elements of math rock and added some slightly camp likeability in for good measure. At one point Gunn asks the crowd to split down the middle and then ask if they have heard of “the wall of death”. As a few hardcore kids get set to charge into each other he announces it’s macho rubbish and then gets the crowd involved in a ‘wall of hugs’ before hugging every single person on the front row. While the rest of the band pour their all into the performance the band’s second singer sits on the side of the main stage fence watching him crowd surf with a big grin. An incredible live band who managed to work the crowd into a frenzy of dancing and smiling. Clinic In another change of pace this four piece come on stage dressed in their trademark surgeons outfits complete with white facemasks. As they rip through their set full of old tracks and new they perform with a precision to match their outfits. Not the most chatty band of the weekend they seem more interested in the music than the crowd, not to say they are aloof, they just don’t spend their time jumping into the crowd. The Horrors After a lengthy wait due to serious generator problems the much hyped headliners arrive on stage to the crowds’ joy. With one of the most hyped albums of the year it was set to be a good end to the weekend. However sound problems persisted and after continual attempts to get things working the band ended up leaving the stage after about half an hour of the set. A bitter end to a great weekend.
by Ollie Millington
Hainault Forest September 5 and 6