Thursday, 25 March 2010

Live review: RBRBR EP launch

RBRBR

The GRV, Edinburgh
Saturday 20 March 2010


This may be the launch show for RBRBR’s shiny new Bobby Masicks EP, but it doubles as a handy opportunity to catch some of Scotland's finest electro-indie acts live.

Dead Boy Robotics are up first, and if you're a regular reader you'll need no introduction to this Edinburgh duo. The interplay between the live instruments, vocal harmonies and backing tracks is well orchestrated, the disparate sounds coming together in unexpected ways - each song like the surprising outcome of a successful experiment.

The use of the floor toms during synchronised rhythm breaks adds a welcome bit of showmanship to an otherwise low-key stage presence. A little more energy in the delivery wouldn't go amiss, but DBR still show the inventiveness for which they're becoming known, and much is expected of their EP, due out in May.

Any Color BlackThings get off to a promising start for Glaswegian 'house rock' two-piece Any Color Black, with strong vocals and rock-star poses suggesting a more upbeat set to come. Mixing live guitars with laptop beats, the bells and whistles serve to disguise more conventionally-structured songs, bringing to mind polished 90’s electro-poppers Garbage and their ilk.

Perhaps it’s the mix tonight, but the disparate strands don’t mesh as you might hope, with the guitars often sounding more like an afterthought than an integral cog. The crowd too don’t seem as engaged, with chatter audible in the quieter moments. All the pieces are in place and the performance is competent, but somehow it never quite gels. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what is missing, but there's something about this performance that sadly fails to satisfy.

RBRBROn then to the headliners and the reason for tonight’s get-together. RBRBR have been plying their trade for a few years now, and have used that time to conjure up their own madcap world. With cardboard cut-outs of demented animals from their EP artwork decorating the stage, and band members adorned variously in fairy lights, fighter-pilot uniforms and ninja outfits, it's a strange and intriguing place.

The benefit of the first live drummer of the evening is immediately felt as the band bounce into EP opener ‘Maff’. The full band helps the whole performance feel more organic than what has come before, which is not to say that there aren’t lashings of electronic beats and unfeasibly deep bass tones pumping through the speakers. This is amply demonstrated in final number ‘Masick’s Groove’, a dance-a-long beast of a tune.

With this EP launch RBRBR show that they can match their recorded talents in person. Mission accomplished.

Words: Craig Dickson

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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Live review: Errors

Errors

Thursday 25 February
Grand Ole Opry, Glasgow


There's something very refreshing about being in a Glasgow venue where you still get more than six quid change from a tenner for two drinks.

The Grand Ole Opry might be a bit of a weird setting - neon-ringed cowboys gaze down at the crowd and the walls are painted with the wide blue skies of the plains, cactii and cowboy boots - but you can't argue it's not value for money. Plus it has a very decent sound system and a big wide stage perfect for loading up as many gadgets as Errors can manage between them.

ErrorsFirst up are the mindbending Moon Unit (kind of the band live version of Nackt Insecten) and the poptastic Copy Haho - a strange contrast to each other and both offering a side to what Errors are about; some parts expansive exploration and other parts tightly-reined pop.

Tonight is all about new album Come Down With Me, and dropping things like 'Toes' and 'Salut France' early in the set keeps the audience happy and dancing but frees the band up to showcase more of album number two as they go along.

It's all welcomed warmly, to the apparent surprise of the band's Stephen Livingstone, who still has a good line in endearingly awkward banter. He spouts his thanks to the crowd for coming out on "such a bogging night" and promises to warm us up. Easy now.

The band are more comfortable when they're just getting down to it and their new material gives them plenty to play with. Trademark glasses and Davy Crockett hats are lost in the fray as they absorb themselves in the tunes.

Fingers fly over keyboards, laptops and fretboards, and at one point Livingstone, hands otherwise occupied, even uses his teeth on some pedal or other. (How that affects the sound isn't abundantly clear but let's be honest, it looks cool.) They even throw in some extreme cowbelling (on top of an amp with a guitar jack) for good measure.

Under the warm glow of the neon cowboys, Errors shine. They've delivered the perfect shot of anticipation to the album's release - not to mention good value for money.

Words: Elaine Liddle
Photos: Tomas Hermoso


Come Down With Me is out now on Rock Action records.

Errors


Errors

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Live review: Unicorn Kid

Unicorn Kid
[Photo: Jane Barlow]

Tuesday 16 February
King Tut's, Glasgow

"I threw up twice in my mouth" pants Oli Sabin, AKA Unicorn Kid as he lumbers upstairs following an intense hour-long rave-a-thon; his neon facepaint now fading with the sweat.

Given the sheer effort he puts in tonight - jumping, headbanging and riling up this mashed-up mass of hyperactive fellow teenagers - it's surprising he even makes it to the end, narrowly managing to avoid keeling over or spontaneously combusting under the infamously molten hot King Tut's lights.

The 14+ crowd are putty in his hands from the off - it only takes the slightest glimpse of his now customary lion hat to send this caffeine-riddled crowd into school disco chaos. But the Kid really goes all out to keep up with them, barely standing still long enough to catch his breath, sip some water or, indeed, swallow his own spew.

Regardless of whether you love or hate this kind of thing it doesn't take long to realize why ridiculously intricate, 8-bit dance epics like 'Lion Hat' and 'Wee Monsters', hammered together with Sabin's unwavering enthusiasm and ability to be his own hype-man, keeps these kids on their toes.

Ultimately, tonight's brightly coloured assault offers a perfect excuse to dance, chant and batter glow-sticks in the air like a nutter - and the kids think so too.

Words: Ryan Drever

Unicorn Kid - Lion Hat

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Saturday, 20 February 2010

Live review: Bronto Skylift

Bronto Skylift

Wednesday 17 February 2010
Nice'n'Sleazy, Glasgow


Spoiling the end of a story is a bad thing right? Like if you’re about to watch a film and some ‘friend’ says, "It’s amazing when the giant octopus kills the mega shark." It makes you want to kick them a little bit.

Well if the same rule applies to a gig review then I’m about to do a bad thing.

Bronto SkyliftBronto Skylift finish their midweek noisefest at Sleazy's by taking things down jazz street and picking up a trumpeter on the way.

Their drummer replaces his usual machine gun snare hits with clever flicks of the wrist and light cymbal taps, giving their final song a completely different sound while retaining the power and emotion of the rest of the set.

And somehow it avoids being gimmicky. If anything it shows that the band are a little more diverse than their reputation would have you believe; they can totally jam.

The rest of the set is tight and loud with the band displaying their Lightning Bolt credentials to full effect, sandblasting away at a wall of sound that has the crowd eager for more. Yet on tracks like 'Lioness' and 'Wolf' a real pop element is audible through the decibels: Lightning Bolt’s jolly little brother, if you will.

As a band they’re definitely a little self indulgent, with thrashing guitars and outrageously heavy drumming that’s not to everyone’s taste. But there’s melody and groove at the heart of their songs, and a passion in their delivery that would put most bands to shame.

I leave the gig totally sure that they’re my favourite double act around at the moment (followed closely by Jay Z and Alicia Keys of course).

Words: Aimi Gold
Photos: Martyn Tramaine


Bronto Skylift play The 13th Note, Glasgow on the 19 Feb and Classic Grand, Glasgow on 24 Feb.

Bronto Skylift

Bronto Skylift

Bronto Skylift

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Monday, 1 February 2010

Live review: The Lava Experiments

The Lava Experiments

Friday 29 January
The 13th Note, Glasgow


“Has everyone got that Friday feeling?” A cry that usually accompanies some upbeat guitar pop. But tonight at the launch of The Lava Experiments’ new EP the focus is instead on three bands who put a new spin on shoegaze.

Glider open with a pounding drum, droning chords and Katherine MacLeod’s sweet voice. The effect is not at all unpleasant – soothing, almost. They follow this with a song that replaces the pounding with a more understated beat and a haunting vocal which sets it apart. The song ends on some jazzy, uptempo flute before drums crescendo to fill the Note’s basement.

Glider

While Glider’s music is heavy, it never descends into muddy or maudlin. You hear Sonic Youth at their most melodic, you hear My Bloody Valentine, although it does mean that the shorter songs take you aback. A sweet cover of Low’s 'Sunflowers' catches the ear and 'Star and Chain' carries on the theme, wringing guitars through some kind of effects pedal before the world comes crashing in. There is beauty in these downtempto pieces, but the band’s strength lies in those moments when frontman Colin Hamilton strums at his guitar so hard you’d think the strings – and his fingers – might break.

Laki Mera are tonight’s unknown quantity, mixing heady electronica with gorgeous pop star vocals from singer/synth queen Laura Donnelly. Their set mixes instrumental portions like the all-night bass beats in some sleazy underground club and dark, whispered passages that hint of unspeakable things. If Saint Etienne was Satan, perhaps.

Laki Mera

And they’re not above the odd spot of guitar too, whether warped into a five-minute piece of thrashy live electronica or played acoustically, in set closer 'Reverberation'. Angelic vocals and understated keyboards make the contrast with what has gone before incredible – a range so breathtaking it’s like a mix CD in minor key.

The Lava ExperimentsOnce the clutter of synths is removed, the stage looks almost empty for the three Lava Experiments. But they needn’t rely on much hardware to make some of the most beautiful and powerful noise to have ever graced the Note: guitar, bass, some samples and a drum kit battered to a membrane. Frontman Fraser Rowan doesn’t say much, but what he does almost doesn’t matter – his voice is another instrument to be bent to his will in the creation of his atmospheric soundscapes, echoing like a scream in a haunted crypt among the clatter of drums and guitars.

'Piecing Memories Together' is of course the reason we are here. The set pivots around its understated, haunting melody, and as the song builds itself into a powerful, desolate frenzy I swear my heart actually hurts. By the end of their allotted half hour, the audience are as emotionally battered as that snare.

Words and photos: Lisa-Marie Ferla

The Lava Experiments

The Lava Experiments' 'Piecing Memories Together' EP - featuring remixes by Dan le Sac, Pumajaw and Betamax Warriors - is available now.

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Monday, 25 January 2010

Live review: Versus

Versus

Thursday 21 January
The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh


On-stage hook-ups can have spectacularly varied results. From The Last Waltz to Band Aid to all those carefully brokered festival duets masquerading as spontaneous 'happenings', there have been good, bad and painful examples. But in its short stint Edinburgh’s Versus night has got the concept just about right: thoughtful curation, proper rehearsals, mutual respect and minimum ego.

eagleowlBut tonight in a busy Voodoo Rooms ballroom we aren't plunged head first into a multi-band spectacle, oh no. Instead the artists perform separate mini-sets as a gentle introduction to the daring experimentation to follow. And it doesn’t come much gentler than eagleowl. With the darkened room almost at capacity, it takes a few moments before most attendees notice that the gig is underway, with the Edinburgh band’s brooding post-folk (c.f. every article ever written about them) making a quiet, undramatic entrance. But Bart Owl (pictured, right) gradually pulls focus stage-ward with his transatlantic vocals and understated but purposeful guitar strumming, backed by Clarissa Cheong on double bass.

Oates FieldAlan Oates of Come in Tokyo makes his solo debut as Oates Field (left) next - although he starts this maiden gig unceremoniously, crouched down at the side of the stage where he tinkers with a tattered synth and loop pedals. It all comes together when he steps up and stomps out a rhythm out on the bass drum, adding direction to his ragged folk rock. A seasoned live musician with seemingly scant concern for the occasion, it feels as if you’ve walked in on a private rehearsal in his living room.

There’s no red carpet in sight for tonight’s headliners, Bafta winners Found (below), but they follow Oates without a hint of grand pretentions, dutifully adding their electro-fringed, funk-flecked fare to the night’s rarefied menu.

Versus

The Wee RogueAfter only one initial song they vacate the spotlight for the evening’s first special guest, The Wee Rogue (right). Reminding this writer of Mr Tumnus for a weird moment, the skinny, goatee'd Jamie O’Connor then locates himself nearer 60s America than Narnia with his finger-picked guitar and far-sighted delivery of a single “love song”.

A cover of eagleowl’s 'MF' delivered with relish by Oates Field follows, before Found return with a longer exposition of their assured folktronica. Ziggy Campbell pronounces his sabre-sharp lyrics with evident pleasure, while Kev Sim and Tommy Perman forge a torrent of drenched static, zinging FX and chugging bass. For a trio they emit a surprisingly complex, utterly composed sound.

DebutantThere’s an unintentional interval before special guest number two, which Oates fills with a spot of improv comedy, and it’s to Phillip Quirie’s credit that he manages to shrug off Oates' playful jibes about his spaghetti junction of pedals and hooded jumper as he sets up his gear. Once he gets going, Meursault member Quirie, here tonight as Debutant (left), quickly draws the room deep into his shimmering, stormy realm. It’s his second effort, 'Thirst', that emerges as a highlight, not just from his brief set but the whole evening.

From here on in the 'versus' clause comes into full effect, with eagleowl, Found and Oates Field massing on stage as a kind of shambling supergroup, their mission to find new perspectives in each other's songs. For the most part they achieve this; each musician eyeing one other intently, studying the shifts and pauses and showing the kind of cohesion that must have required real preparation. The sedate pace of the eagleowl material benefits from Found’s box of digital tricks, and they consciously alternate between styles, from three-minute crescendos to American radio rock to segments of unrestrained jamming.

Ziggy CampbellBut with so many cooks crowding over the broth pot, at times it does go off the boil. There are at least two songs which fall flat, prompting the less attentive in the audience to restart their (no doubt essential) conversations.

Despite the downturn, the last song of the night, a version of eagleowl’s normally undulating 'Blanket' (but this time driven by a thumping beat straight from the subwoofer of your local boy racer) builds and builds to a magnificent climax, as if to reaffirm that, despite the risks involved, the pay-off on offer with such boundary-pushing is undoubtedly worthwhile.

Whoever they choose for the next Versus will have high standards to uphold.

Words: Nick Mitchell
Photos: Julia Stryj

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Monday, 18 January 2010

Live review: Trampoline

Wee Red Bar

The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh
Saturday 16 January

Tonight, the Wee Red feels more like a sit-down session than a gig. Lounged-out upholstery speckles the venue and scores of incoming punters are making best use of the situation by parking their posteriors and slurping slowly on cheap ale. Perhaps it’s an indictment of the Edinburgh music scene’s languid start to 2010, but the lethargy that permeates Trampoline’s first outing of the year is almost tangible.

Thomas WesternSome sympathy, then, must be lent to Thomas Western. The uphill battle of stirring the sleepy masses is challenging enough. To do it armed with just an acoustic guitar and a frail, threadbare voice borders on lunacy. Yet Western is nothing if not persistent and he gets to work belting out polished, folksy matter like a bull-headed street preacher oblivious to his surroundings.

The trouble with such brittle laments is that they’re the perfect accompaniment for idle chit-chat. And as the Derby-born songwriter coos through a set of muted reflection the escalating hum of conversation drowns out his tender tones. Such gentle purring will always find a home in Edinburgh’s troubadour-hugging bosom, but Western’s downtrodden songsmithery and reticent mannerisms lack the sufficient hypnosis to engage attention, never mind clear the cobwebs of the post-festive period malaise.

Over the WallFortunately, Over the Wall are on hand to shake off the slumber. Bleeding positivity, the Glasgow duo of Ben Hillman and Gav Prentice launch into an ebullient indie pop spectacle that resuscitates the comatosed crowd. Squeezing out hyperactive, synth-spangled romps like they’ve sniffed an ounce of aural laxative, the spectrum of keys, brass and guitar played at breakneck speed is an irresistible kickstart that finally lifts the Wee Red to its feet.

This shot of adrenaline is underpinned by a craft that belies the pairing’s delinquent playfulness. Cornerstoned by generous slivers of melody layered over complex rhythms, the band’s meticulous arrangements make a mockery of their self-effacing claims. Closing number 'Thurso' is a prime example of this embellished guile: slow paced and preening, it takes shape as a trumpeting crescendo that has palms clapping, feet stomping and hearts racing. It's all to the beat of a band, undoubtedly, on the rise.

How To SwimWith ear-canals fully lubricated, an air of expectancy greets the arrival of headliners How to Swim. Jostling for space on the Wee Red’s not-inconsiderable floor, the nine-sided ensemble din like no-one else. A plunder of brass, string and percussion detonates as an avant-garde trill; below this wall of instrumentation lies Ink Wilson’s unmistakable crow, desperate to orchestrate cohesion amidst the chaos.

It’s an exhilarating trip that spoons myriad styles into one brilliant, bubbling pot. Trouble is, there’s just too many cooks stirring in too many ingredients. There’s no doubting the quality of the compositions – each is an intelligent slab of voluptuous art-pop - but the sheer scope feels disorientating and overwhelming. By constantly showcasing the entire suite of instruments, the set becomes a dishevelled sprawl that loses focus and, sadly, becomes ineffectual. For sure, How to Swim have created an impenetrable sonic shield, but tonight they could benefit from letting a few people in.

As the final notes fade from stage to be replaced by the sound of bombastic applause, one thing is achingly clear: In the space of just three hours, Edinburgh’s live music scene has finally kicked into gear.

Words: Billy Hamilton
Photos: Su Anderson

Over The Wall

Over The Wall

How To Swim

How To Swim

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