Call me Russ L

Over three months of Out-And-About in one go: It’s the hugenormousive catch-up digest

Posted in Books, Modern Living, Music, Stage, Well, it passes the time by Russ L on 31 October, 2008

Ye Gods. I haven’t told y’all about any of the out-and-about things I’ve been up to since mid-July. That’s over a quarter of a year ago.

I couldn’t make my mind up how to go about it, that was part of the problem. Another catch-up post (in which I briefly mention what I’ve done, so that it’s documented and thus actually happened) seemed like the obvious thing to do, but there have been a few things over the last couple of months that seemed to need a full post on their own. Inspiration struck after a lot of umming arring: why not both? Lovely stuff. Most things will get mentioned in a perfunctory fashion in this post. The odd few things that seem to require more words (this isn’t necessarily related to how good they were) will get a post of their own afterwards.

So… one Saturday towards the end of July (I forget the precise date, but it was definitely before all of the rest of the things in this post. 26th, probably, but I make no promises) saw the latest Chess-meet between myself and James ex-Trucker, at The Briar Rose. I managed to win another game! I also lost another two. That puts the running total at something in the region of 381-2-1 in his favour, but I will even the score one day.

Kings Heath’s loveable Hare & Hounds was the venue for the night of Friday the 1st of August (oh my God. How long ago that was…), with a Capsule-promoted Japanese double-bill taking place. The night was spoiled to some extent by a pillock acting like a pillock, but both of the bands were ace. Nissenenmondai made for a great instrumental collision between Can, Battles and Lightning Bolt. Acid Mothers Temple’s set (such of it as I saw – they went on for ages. For a change I’m not bothered about late runnings, though: I think I got my fill of them) was in a lot more of a straightforward 70s rock veign than I was expecting, but there were still plenty of (old) Pink Floyd styled freakout bits. The openers came away with the honours of the night, if you ask me, but both bands were very good.

The 20th of August saw a day-trip to Aberystwyth. Note well, all of you non-regular travellers to Wales – it seems to be the custom in fair Cymru for certain trains to separate, with some carriages going in one direction and some in another. Yes, this had the predictable consequences on us. Yes, it was entirely my fault.

That aside (well, not just ‘aside’. It was funny), we had an absolutely lovely day. Aberystwyth, for some reason, had a great number more Hassidic Jews wandering around than you’d expect (and I’m not making that up). We bought a sheep and a penguin.

Birmingham Opera Company’s ‘Idomeneo’ on the 22nd was good beyond belief, but deserves a post of its own. We’ll come back to this. (EDIT: Yes, here).

Friday the 29th was occasion for seeing Clutch at The Barfly (which you now enter via the old Sanctuary entrance, fact-fans). Beset by unfortunate but unavoidable delays, Clutch were already on by the time we got in there. Ah well.

I can’t really mention any more than I have already that I find Clutch to be The Best Rock Band Going At The Moment. Bluesy and boozy yet still with untold energy and actual fantastic songs, and most of all grooooove. They’re about the only band who can jam as much as they do and still remain interesting to me. There wasn’t any harmonica at this gig (for some reason) and there were some omissions from the setlist (I know this will always be the case for a band with as many albums as Clutch, but still: no ‘Cypress Grove’. Booooo), but highlights like “Escape From The Prison Planet”, “Electric Worry” and “Promoter (Of Earthbound Causes)” were high indeed.

(Other accounts can be read here, here and here. Not sure about the setlist in the last one, though: I’m pretty sure they played “I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth” at some point in there. It was ages ago, of course; I could easily be wrong).

For the 30th, then, I caught a train over to Leamington Leam, to be picked up for the drive to REM’s Twickenham concert (this sort of feels like one that should get a post of its own, but I don’t really have all that much to say about it) by the incomparably wonderful Matt’n’Chel. They’d had an absolutely mad weekend and deserve salutes for even being awake, never mind travelling darn sarf for a gig. Twickenham Stadium is an impressive sight when you get in there, although you do get a hell of a lot of low-flying planes heading towards Heathrow.

We arrived in time for the half of “Sao Paulo”, Guillemots’ last song. A shame, since it was sounding absolutely fantastic with added percussion jam and such, but there we are. Such things can’t be helped. Editors were the piggies-in-the-middle. The sound wasn’t so great, sadly, and their already echo-y (ta Matt) atmospheric indie rock was made even more echo-y by the sound and less atmospheric by the bright blue sky and periodic aeroplanes. Still very good, though, with choons from first album working really well.

REM were, unsurprisingly, great fun (setlist here). They sounded a touch (only a touch) more rocky-sounding live than one might have expected, and a fair few of their more well known songs were excluded (most obviously no “Everybody Hurts”, but also no “Stand”, no “Star 69” etc. They have an even huger back catalogue than Clutch, though, so no-one can really complain), but did play a fair bit from my fave album “Document” (“Disturbance At The Heron House”, “Exhuming McCarthy” and of course “The One I Love”. No “Finest Worksong”, though) and even “Country Feedback”. Stipey (as he’s known to his friends), meanwhile, made for an endearing frontman. My only complaint would be that the hurrah-ah for Obam-ah stuff all got a bit Leni Riefenstahl at times. I’ve no problem with bands talking about things that are important to them, but pictures of politicians displayed on the big screens can begin to feel like a bit too much…

(There are reviews of this here, here, here, here, here, and no doubt a bunch of other places but I’m bored of looking now).

The End-Of-August Weekend O’Gigs culminated with the last day of the Moseley Folk Festival, on Sunday the 31st. This is another one that’ll need a post of its own, though, so I’ll come back to that. (EDIT: Heeeere y’go).

Gomez, lord love ‘em, decided to mark the tenth anniversary of their first album (“Bring It On”) by doing a tour in which they played the entire thing in its entirety every night. On one hand, it seemed a lot like pointless nostalgia and smug self-reference. On the other hand, it is a good record and I’d never seen them before. I ended up going to The Academy (bah) on Wednesday the 3rd of September.

There’s not a lot to say about this one: it went pretty much as one might expect. The sound was very rough to begin with but cleared up after the first few songs, “Tijuana Lady” sounded gorgeous, and “Rye’s Wagon” was epic. An encore featured a few more recent songs and a new one, and… Well, it was good stuff. I’m still not sure what the purpose of the exercise was, but it was good stuff.

(Another write-up here).

Life was a Cabaret (old chum) at The Rep on Friday the 5th. Blimey, Wayne Sleep isn’t half a funny looking little troll-thing (and thus very well-suited to the role of the MC in this, of course). Samantha Barks was just-about-passable as Sally Bowles, and (to my surprise) the production didn’t shy away from facing up to the Nazi themes throughout the play, often quite graphically. I enjoyed it.

(Reviews here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and probably elsewhere).

Birmingham’s annual weekend o’free stuff took place between Friday the 12th and Sunday the 14th. The best bit was unquestionably Stan’s Café’s Of All The People In All The World (AKA The Rice Show). That’s something that deserves another post on its own, though (EDIT: here). We went to a whole tonne of things outside of that, so I’ll just mention the best bits: the Hair exhibition at the art gallery (not part of Artsfest as such, but lots of fun. Anything where you can try on wigs will always be fun); the lights projected onto the wall of the council house on Friday night; Treefrog Theatre’s “Paradise Mislaid”, in which Satan challenges God to a game of Monopoly for the future of creation; MDCC Theatre’s Shakespeare quiz and short-form version of his history plays; the sheer number of helium balloons that one could see making their break for freedom on the Saturday afternoon/evening; the ‘Classical Fantasia’ performance with the CBSO, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Opera Company (far less Proms-ish than last year, and I’d hazard not quite as good, but it was a wonderful thing to hear our King Idomeneo from a few weeks before singing “La donna è mobile”. They were never going to top the fireworks from the previous year, I suppose); the preview reading of the beginning of “The Bad One” (we’ll come back to that in a bit); and Birmingham Library Theatre Company’s “Advice To Iraqi Women”, an oddly unnerving performance demonstrating (I reckon) the contradictions in a safety-first health-conscious society that sends it’s citizens halfway across the world to die in wars.

(There are probably five squillion things about this across the internets, so I’ll just link my mother’s account of our weekend).

Netherton Victoriana Day on Saturday the 20th was a bit crap (just not enough there, really), but we did get a chance while we were over there to pop into Ma Pardoes/The Old Swan, which was great.

The Approximately Infinite Universe tour bumped down into The Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on Tuesday the 23rd: a series of collaborations between Finnish and American musical artistes which varied in quality but made for a good evening overall. Kemialliset Ystävät & Axolotl were on first, doing a sort of Pram-esque dreamscape sort of thing that occasionally threatened (just threatened) at funkiness. There was also some drone of the kind I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard a thousand times before. Es and Fursaxa did a really enjoyable thing that could be described as something akin to ritualistic psych-folk. ‘Dream Triangle’ played drone of the kind I’m absolutely sure we’ve all heard a thousand times before. Islaja, Blevin Blectum and Samara Lubelski seemed like the b(l)est of the lot, albiet by far the most song-based. Islaja really does have a very affecting voice, complemented well by the driving wobbly bass that kept surfacing. We had to leave before they’d finished (what with the time having been what the time was and would later have gone on to have been), but they definitely got my ‘ensemble of the night’ honours.

Wednesday the 24th saw me (just me. A gig on my own; usually so common, of late so rare) heading to Digbeth’s Barfly. Punk-funk types Mirror! Mirror! are a band I always think I probably could like but then actually end up thinking are just OK-ish. Rolo Tomassi, meanwhile, were and are awesometacular. Choppy-changy assortments of guitar and keyboards and screaming and clean vox are made to feel both random and unpredictable and perfectly cohesive and right, all at the same time. They’re (yet) another band I’ve written about too many times to have anything to add now, but they’re bloody ace.

(There’s a Brum Live review here).

A trip to The Rep Door on Friday the 26th, for Women And Theatre’s The Bad One. A look at the dangers of repressing emotion and creativity staged in a fairytale gothic setting, the script didn’t exactly shake out a massive number of new or original observations but was very nicely executed. Janice Connolly (better know to me as ‘Holy Mary from Phoenix Nights’) was wonderful, just about (only just) managing to keep the excess of broad comedy on the right side of annoying by dint of strong performance, while Susie Riddell gave a good turn as Jackie (this was most strongly disputed by one of our party), effectively altering her mannerisms to suit the arc of the plot. Good but not great, I’d call it overall.

(Some others liked it, some others didn’t, some others did).

Coldrice! On Saturday the 27th of September, this one was. I’m not quite sure how much I’m meant to say or not: this was the first time I’ve ever been to one of their semi-secret invite-only gigs, at a location I’m absolutely certain I can’t mention (if you’re interested in future ones then you can get yourself on the path to attending with the information I’ve already provided). We absolutely loved it, though – a great atmosphere and some great bands. The Solomons started affairs off and absolutely rocked: a two-piece (guitar/vox and drums) playing a sort of blues-rock (Led Zep writ large at times) with the odd grungey bit. Some fun riffs combined with a really effective sense of dynamics, as well as the singer having an interesting voice (unquestionably American-aping, but interesting. I won’t mention the former thing, though, ‘cos apparently they don’t like it. Nope. Won’t mention it at all). Band of the night were fellow locals-playing-American, Black Mekon. I’ve already mentioned my like for them elsewhere, what with their high energy rock’n’roll and such. It almost feels like I’m damning them with feint praise (since so many bands can be described thusly) but they were genuinely energetic, genuinely rocking and to reasonably authentically rolling. Also: masks. The Jam Messengers (AKA Rob K & Uncle Blucher) were on last, the leastmost band of the night in terms of music (although amazing considering that they were a two-piece consisting of one guy singing and one guy playing guitar, singing the backing vocals and pedalling the hi-hat and the kick-drum) but a massive, massive, massive amount of fun. They could easily have been irritatingly wacky, but your man’s peace-and-love-and-sex spreading preacherman vibe was hugely entertaining. Also: they were spitting images of Prince & Dave Gorman.

Stevie Wonder returned to Birmingham for the second time in just over month (his first European tour in lord-knows how long, but his second Birmingham gig within it) and we had the pleasure of being there (after a second visit to “Of All The People In All the World”. I will be coming back to that in a subsequent post, I promise. [EDIT: As above, here]). He was more or less exactly as you’d expect Stevie Wonder to be, which is – needless to say – very good. Also: he’s still blind. There was a slight touch of too much soloing at times (oh hey lets introduce the band and let them all have a go at it in the usual boring-as-motherfork fashion), some outright bizarre things going on here and there (getting the promoter onstage for an applause at the end), but mostly really good. There were obviously highlights a-plenty, perhaps predictably including “Signed Sealed Delivered”, “Superstition”, an amazing rendition of “Higher Ground”, and why y’know I actually like “I Just Called To Say I Love You”.

(Most of the reviews that I can find online relate to his other Birmingham gig a month before, but there is this and this).

My first ever trip to The Glee Club took place on Wednesday the 8th, to see Mark Steel (why do I always get such a strong urge to add an ‘E’ onto the end of his surname?). For me, this will forever be remembered as the night my beau was described as ‘The Most Pedantic Woman In The Midlands’ by a famous comedian. Nothing else I could say would even come close to living up to that. Steel-y boy was very funny, anyway; this show discussed how a 40-something goes about squaring up his leftiness with everything else going on in life, and was very clever as well as being hugely and warmly humorous.

(There’s a review here).

The lefty-comedian jamboree continued on Tuesday the 14th, with Mark Thomas at Adrian Boult Hall (as part of The Birmingham Book Festival), although this wasn’t a stand-up comedy set as such. Still hugely funny, he talked about his new book and read bits out before answering questions. Hilariously, Coca-Cola (y’know, the multi-squillion-billion-unit-of-currency-makers) seem to think that he’s “picking on” them. The real world continues to lampoon itself far more effectively than any satire ever could.

It was to Birmingham Symphony Hall on Wednesday the 15th, for another genuine legend in the form of Stephen Stills. I’m only really familiar with odd bits of his 30+ year cannon and so a lot of what he played was far less familiar to me than (it seemed to be) with the vast majority of the audience, but naturally I enjoyed it no less. It was a game of two halves (Oh, Greavsie. Silly Tory), with the first half (acoustic with occasional band accompaniment) sounding fantastic and achieving particular heights during “Treetop Flyer” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”. His age did seem to be catching up with his voice at a few points, but literally (and happily) only at a few points. The electric/rockier latter half (after an interval) had long spells of what were little-more than strings of standard pub-rock/blues-rock clichés, but certainly still had its moments. The closing “For What It’s Worth” was great, as was the encore of “Love The One You’re With” (its quite bizarre lyrics aside). Definite enjoyment.

(Another account here).

The Roots Manuva gig at the ever-sickening Academy 2 was the place to be (or just the place we were, possibly) on Friday the 17th, even though the venue does get my vote for worst gig room going (even worse than the main Academy room). Good lord was it hot in there, even if we did end up moving to another part of the room where it was even hotter and there was even less space halfway through. Sigh. I was surprised to find that Rodney didn’t have a band this time (he has both of the previous times of seen him), instead going for the DJ + sidefolks approach. This has to be the leastmost Roots Manuva gig I’ve yet been too, but he it was still reasonable grooving fun. “Witness (1 Hope)” absolutely tore the place apart, naturally. It always does. His weed-addled between-song speeches about buying “two trainers” (pairs or individual shoes? I suppose we’ll never know) were as endearing as ever.

The UFC card at the NIA on Saturday the 18th unquestionably deserves a post of its own. Unquestionably. (EDIT: here we are).

The book festival rolled on, and Carol Ann Duffy graced Adrian Boult Hall on Tuesday the 21st. I love Carol Ann Duffy, writing as she does lines that are often witty, and always extremely clever but never obscure. This evening consisted just of readings, with no chance for audience questions or anything. There seemed to be quite a few poems from “The World’s Wife” (I have read that, but years ago), as well as a sequence from Rapture (which I absolutely adore. It didn’t include “Give” from that volume, though, my joint-absolute-favourite of hers alongside “Deportation”). I can’t say she has a great voice for reading, sadly, but you acclimatise.

An afternoon off work was booked for Thursday the 23rd, to go and see Tony Benn at The Grand in Wolverhampton (‘orrible theatre, but never mind). I don’t believe in heroes, but if I did then good ol’ ‘Tone would be one. Bless him, the man is a legend. He’s fairly deaf these days (there was something akin to donkey chaos when you combine this with the fact that questions from the audience were coming from both the balcony and the floor but with neither of the theatre-employees carrying the microphone knowing who should go next), but every bit as sharp-witted, passionately humane and committed as ever. An example to us all. I really, really enjoyed this afternoon. His phrase about democracy taking power away from the market place and into the polling station/away from the wallet and into the ballot was brilliant.

Capsule struck again on Friday the 24th, this time at The Hare & Hounds. Bilge Pump opened, sounding not quite as funky as I seem to recall them from the first time I saw them but still pretty good. They were something akin (in broad terms) to Gang Of Four adding funk and stadium rock parts. This is, of course, a likeable thing. Beestung Lips seem to be everyone’s favourite band nowadays, and as far as gestalt decisions go I don’t think that’s a bad one. They’re like a high-speed Jesus Lizard drooling the amphetamine back out of their mouths, or maybe a something someone doing something possibly to someone else or something. Half of the fun is deflecting the bodies flying around the dancefloor away from yourself, obviously.
I had to leave halfway through big-time touring American headliners Oxes, but they were OK with their math(s)-post-rock instrumental doodling lark (yes, that’s right: mathS). I’d been led to believe beforehand that they’re use of boxes was more exciting than as a little platform to get on and off the stage with, but there we are. I approve of having a nice little rug on stage when you play. I approve of this most strongly.

I got quite excited when I heard that Gabrielle was supporting Al Green at The NIA on the 28th, with thoughts of hi-larious “ghost/toast” lyrics to laugh at. It was then pointed out to me that I was getting her confused with Des’Ree. Oh well. Gabrielle turned out to be as bland as you’d expect.

The Reverend Al Green looked a lot more sprightly than I remember him being the last time I saw him, although still every bit as Cosbyesque. I’m getting to know what an Al Green gig consists of by now: highlights as ever included “Let’s Get Married”, “Let’s Stay Together”, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, “Tired Of Being Alone”, lots of roses handed out to lucky ladies, a selection of little bits of other peoples’ songs he loves, and of course the closing “Love And Happiness” with the horn riffs that work so well live. Familiarity does not breed, contempt, of course (and nor does a lack of “Take Me To The River”) – this was magnificent a life-affirmingly joyful. Probably the second best time I’ve seen him: better than last time, but not as good as that first one at Symphony Hall.

(More reports here and here).

That brings us to the end of October, which seems like a perfectly sensible place to stop being as we’re at the end of October. Henceforth I’ll try to keep up to date.

Maybe.

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