Do not cling to me…
There was much angst, and both hands went through a process of ringing. Would I, or would I not, go to either or both of Carina Round‘s gigs in the West Midlands on the 10th or 11th of December? Once upon a time the answer would have been an unreserved yes for both, but things change. Would I be happier with my memories? Would I be better off going to see M.I.A. and Gogol Bordello on those nights?
Compromise was reached when I found out that the Gogol Bordello gig had sold out: I’d go to see M.I.A. at The Custard Factory’s Rojac Building on the Monday, and then attend Carina’s gig at The Little Civic on the Tuesday. Perfick.
I arrived at The Custard Factory at just after half eight on the Monday night, though, only to find no sign of life at The Rojac. As such, I left. I wasn’t going to hang around in the cold to find out what was gwaaning. I’m assuming that the gig must have had late runnings/club night times, in which case it’s no loss as I’d have had to have left far before the end anyway. The thought now occurs that maybe Rojac has a different entrance to that used at Supersonic (maybe round the back), but that doesn’t seem likely. I couldn’t hear any music coming from the inside, anyway.
All this is easy enough to imagine in the cold late of day, but there and then the most likely explanation seemed to be that I’d been my usual scatty self and got the two days mixed up. I hurried off to the Bar Academy to see if anything could be salvaged. Blessedly, I hadn’t got myself all confuzzleded and it was indeed ‘Birmingham’ night. I decided that I would step into the Carina gig, after all.
I began to doubt my wisdom of this almost immediately after getting into the upstairs gigroom at The Bar Academy. Fresh from the freezing cold outside, one walked into a cloud of unpleasantly moist heat. Ye Gods, it felt like the inside of a mammal (that’s not a metaphor that could be applied consistently. Academy venues are clearly more insectoid than mammalian. I’m specifically thinking of dung beetles. Still, I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to quote Groucho Marx – “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”). My ongoing Academy drinks boycott (I’m not paying that much for that quality in places I don’t even like to begin with, I’m just not) prevented me from having a refreshing beverage, too. Bah, Academy.
Now, you see, I’m not a band-merchandise t-shirt sort of person. I’m not really a t-shirt sort of person at all, but I’m particularly not a band t-shirt sort of person (“And why do they all wear clothes with writing on?”). I have a few from many years ago that I sometimes wear under real clothes for extra warmth, but because of this I don’t (beyond overall colour) tend to pay much attention to the design when selecting one. In the heat, I realised I could unbutton my shirt since I had a t-shirt on underneath. I did so, only to see it was a “The First Blood Mystery” era Carina Round t-shirt. Oh dear me. A Carina T-shirt at a Carina gig. How much of a crawler must I have looked?
The Little Civic gig the following day was a bit less complicated. I just went to Wolverhampton, and then went to the venue.
Right, music. I missed Tom Bellamy’s opening set in Brum, but I wasn’t particularly enamoured with him the first time I saw him so it’s no great loss. Dan Whitehouse opened in Wolves. I was present when he supported Carina at The Flapper in January 2006 and really enjoyed him. This was little different. He’s just, I suppose, your basic acoustic singer-songwriter, but has some interesting songs and a voice with power enough to stop a charging rhino. I wasn’t at all keen on his shirt, though. That’s something that really needs sorting out.
I think I could like Lupen Crook And The Murderbirds, I’m just not sure I actually did. I missed the beginning of their set in Brum and they seemed to cut it short early themselves in Wolves (they didn’t appear at all pleased with the state of the monitors), and while I certainly enjoyed some of their folk-punk-indie-bitsofallsorts songs (standouts were the one that was something about a Magpie, and that one that to my strange ol’ ears sounded a bit like “My Old Man’s A Dustman”) and digged the fun added-percussion… there was something missing. I couldn’t put my finger on what but something led me to lean towards disinterest. Curse the intangibles.
Carina, then. I am so very happy to be able to say that my faith in her has been restored. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if the following gubbins is disjointed and confused – there are lots of things I want to say about this and am finding it difficult to link them all together coherently.
She’s back, it seems, in a number of different ways. First of all back home and seeming to love the fact (“It’s like falling back to earth off a twelve-storey building” she quipped with a smile). One could possibly use the fact that she started the Birmingham gig with a slight trace of American in her accent – only for it to melt away over the course of the night – as a metaphor for a few different things, but that’d be silly. Never stopped me before, of course. She was also clearly having fun and lots of it, working without a setlist and just playing what she felt like at the time. This stands in massive contrast to the (obvious in retrospect) slightly forced nature of the last couple of times I saw her
She was on her own apart from a few one-off collaborations, and I’d never seen her without a band before. The interesting thing about this was that the third album stuff quite often sounded a lot better done acoustically – I’m not overly enamoured by “Stolen Car” or “Come To You” on record, but here they really worked. “Down Slow” was bolstered in Wolverhampton by the chap who played drums on the record… doing beatbox. Contrary to what you might already be thinking, this worked really well.
For the first time in ages, we got significant amounts of first album stuff. In Wolverhampton SHE ACTUALLY PLAYED “RIBBONS”. Oh yes. It’s been many a-year since I last heard that live, and truly it was heartbreaking. “How I See It” in Birmingham was bolstered by backing vocals from one Chrissy Van Dyke as it was at an encore at The Flapper some years ago and sounded beautiful, and both nights saw a performance of “Let It Fall” that scorched the earth for miles around. From the second album, “Paris” was as lovely as it always is and a “Motel 74” really suited the more countrified feel is got from the acousticicicity. Two new songs were aired – “Backseat” in Birmingham only (with backing vocals from CVD and two others), which was absolutely divine and distantly akin to a Jeff Buckley indie-hymn type of thing, and “Thief In The Sky” at both. This worked best on the second night, with the (commonplace of late) ‘sample a bit of yourself and loop it’ trick used to build up a very interesting texture.
Her new mantra of “If it’s shit, it’s your fault” also deserves mention. That’s the spirit.
I enjoyed these no end: two Live Set Of The Year Candidates on two consecutive days and – more importantly – my faith has been restored. I am indescribably happy that her (comparatively) fallow period seems to have been primarily down to Interscope (we’ll leave aside “What did she expect?’ thoughts here while we’re in the spirit of celebration), and that she’s back on track to having her music again be The Greatest Thing In The World Ever. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present.