Call me Russ L

Wolverhampton – that’s where it’s all happening

Posted in Books, Music, Stage by Russ L on 2 February, 2012

No, really. I’ve been to four events so far this year, and after this one they all took place in Wolfyhampton.

I made my bi-annual (that’s the “once every two years” one and not the “twice per year” one, isn’t it? I get confused) January trip to see Henry Rollins’ latest spoken word doo-dar on the 19th, at the Wulfrun Hall. All very funny and interesting, as ever, although I do think that this one was the least of three times I’ve seen him doing it. There seemed to be a touch more meanspiritedness than usual this time around, albeit nothing beyond the “aren’t people who say or do this thing that I dislike so styoooopid” that you get from 99% of all comedians (also: mocking people for buying cheap food presumably has fewer class-based implications in America than it does here, but it still does tend to reflexively put my back right up). Minor quibbles, anyway: I like his punk version of “Wicker’s World”. This time we heard tales of snake hunting and rat dinners in India, not being allowed to go anywhere on his own in North Korea, scaring the life out of Dennis Hopper etc.

I saw that Clutch were supporting The Current Version Of Thin Lizzy at The Civic Hall on the 27th, and in a fit of spontaneous general enthusiasm I bought a ticket. Qualms were subsequently had. Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott – it’s not proper, is it?

Triggerfinger were on first, anyway: a Dutch three-piece made up of a singer/guitarist who looks like he needs to be strapped down during a full moon, a bassist who looks as though he should be saying things like “I’m a big conshert promoter, shee”, and a drummer who was having a lovely old time hitting things with a huge smile on his face. Blues-rock with 80s-metal-style licks, which I moderately enjoyed in spite of it all being very much your typical type of thing. Either I’m getting soft in my old age or the drummer’s enthusiasm was contagious.

Clutch were on then, and I love Clutch. I do think they’re absolutely ace – with this they became the first foreign band that I’ve ever seen a double-figure number of times. I recently described them to someone else as “Intelligent hard rock… mostly just RRRRRRROCK but with some bluesy bits, some southern boogie bits, and some funny-time-signature bits. Punkier on the early stuff (that they rarely play nowadays), too. Often clever/amusing lyrics”, and whilst that may not exactly equate to coherent English it’s probably the best I’m going to be able to do right now. I was pleased to see that a lot of people seemed to know them and be pleased to see them at the start of the set and even more by the end, and of course “Cypress Grove” is always The Most Fun. Well, apart from “Escape From The Prison Planet”, obviously, but they didn’t play that. (Those two videos therelinked aren’t from this gig, clearly, but here’s a poorer-quality one of “Electric Worry” that was).

The Current Version of Thin Lizzy were… very tribute-band-y. You got moments of the multi-guitar magic of old, but mostly it just didn’t feel right. I don’t like to think of myself as an Ad Hominising Ad Hominista, more bothered about who they are than what they play, but I do think that there is more to music than just a mechanistic recreation of a series of notes. Other opinions are available, as your man on the radio says.

I went to The Arena Theatre on the 31st, and found myself goshdarnit shocked to note that they’d changed the seating since the last time I was there (I think. I found myself there pretty regularly at one point, but it’s been ages since then. I’m now wondering whether or not my initial memories were inaccurate).

Such (important, really) matters aside, this was for Blackeyed Theatre performing Steven Berkoff’s stage version of “The Trial” by Franz Kafka – a very stylised setting that in the first five minutes gave me the feeling that it was really going to get on my nerves, but I soon settled into and enjoyed. We had a set made of open wooden frames that functioned well in representing more-or-less anything (doors, windows, furniture, corridors, picture frames, you name it), and five actors (here – I’ve seen stills of it being performed with more), playing a load of parts each. Those not doing anything specific at any point formed a sort of sidewards Greek chorus, singing and doing sound effects. That was really effective.

I particularly liked the performances of Nadia Morgan (very sensual, and I hope I don’t sound too male-gaze-y in that but it does seem like the best way to describe things. It really fit well with the strange ciphers that the female characters of “The Trial” present, anyway) and Derek Elwood (switching forth between camp and stentorian on a sixpence), and I’d recommend the whole thing if you don’t hold that strange view (that many appear to, for some reason) that Kafka must be an extremely sombre business. This was the last immediately local performance, but it’s off and around the country up until the end of March.


Two gigs and a spoken word doo-dar

Posted in Music, Stage by Russ L on 24 January, 2010

It came to pass, then, that my two-thousand-and-ten gig campaign was to start with Rolo Tomassi at The Flapper on Wednesday the 20th of Jan. Word circulated that some of the tour was sold out and threats of yet more heavy snow a-threatened themselves, but neither of these things turned out to be the case. Population/Precipitation: for the former it was very busy but not quite sold out, whereas regarding the latter… well, in retrospect I don’t know why I paid even the least bit of mind to snowthreats. I don’t usually heed weather forecasts (given that they’re as often wrong as they are right) and I always find it hard to see why anyone else does either, but this time I fell for it and was genuinely expecting snow to fall fulsomely. I’m not sure precisely why I did this, although I suspect that – one way or another – “dumbass” is probably the word that we’re looking for here.

Putting aside the extremely exciting stuff about snow and/or my expectations of it, The Flapper is still The Flapper. I’ve always thought that the downstairs room is a fantastic place for gigs, but then again I’ve also always thought that the toilets there should probably have a “WARNING: EXTREMELY MANKY” sign displayed with great prominence. It no longer feels to me like the centre of everything popular-musical in Brum in way that it used to back in the day, but maybe it still does to others.

A feeling of horror descended upon getting into the gig: the audience were all so young, with their lopsided fringes and their being thin and their music television and their world wide web etc etc. Oh well. I don’t think I caught it off them. I still seem to be more-or-less the same age I was a few days ago. Slightly older, if anything.

Soni Quella (a name I find hard to think without a ridiculous Dolmio advert styled Italian stereotype accent, widda da Soni Quella anda da pasta anda da bolanaysi) were on first. They kept reminding me of Mr Bungle in a funny sort of way (nowhere near as surreal as all that, but in the way they veered from funk bits to screamy and growly bits), although their overall approach seemed more akin to a Glassjaw. The thought occurs that this should all add up to something like early-mid period FNM, but they didn’t sound in the least bit like that. There are probably far more obvious references than these but I am simply not far enough down with the young’uns to know them. I liked bits of their set. I would say that they were not without their charms.

Shapes were on in the middle and played a time-changing metalcore/mathsrock type of lark. I can’t pretend that I have a lot to say about them. Again, I liked bits. Probably fewer bits. More often the instrumental bits.

Rolo Tomassi, then, apparently suffering a touch from being halfway through a tour in the cold weather (not that it showed in their performance). If you don’t know them they’d probably be best described as a series of screams and daggadaggas and bleeps that have been cut up and rearranged in a random order that still seems to make sense (having sad that – did their new songs they played seem to be a bit more straightforward? Maybe, on first listen). What I was happy to note (and I have sort of half-thought this the last couple of times I’ve seen them) was that their quieter bits are a lot more convincingly spooky/ethereal live than they are on record. It does definitely seem to add an extra dimension to them. Lovely stuff, all told.

(More accounts of this gig here and here).

The original idea for Friday the 22nd was to go and see Baroness at The Hare Und Hund, but that one actually sold out. No matter, though, as I already had a B-plan in mind: the first gig of a new promotional outfit calling themselves I Love Noise Pop (TheirSpace proudly displays an image stating that “We’ve been introduced by Tom Robinson”, and I can’t quite put my finger on precisely why I find that combination of words so very funny). It matters not that when I first heard of this and thought “Ooh, Kategoes – they’re one of those bands I’ve been intending to see for a while” I was actually thinking of Miss Halliwell. That isn’t in the least bit important.

The Island Bar, then – I’m really not sure whether I like the place or not. I did the first time I went, but on this occasion I wasn’t as sure. It certainly tries very, very hard: posters for gigs that happened elsewhere, indoor paving slabs upstairs, theatrical barstaff that keep you waiting while they club a block of ice like a seal cub/the effeminate foster child they never liked anyway etc etc etc. If I were to compare The Island Bar to another pub, it would definitely be the one that appeared in that James Bond film where he posed as an annoying student to foil the baddies.

What I definitely don’t like is the way that at both this and the one previous gig I’d been to there (I’m further told that it’s a regular occurrence in general), the quieter bands (KateGoes for the first half of their set, in this case) have to battle against the voluminous buzz of public house conversation. There’s a downstairs room to talk in, of course, but everyone here seems to want to swap their red hot horseracing tips in the gig room during the gig. Loudly. Perhaps it’s not really that bad and some acoustic quirk of the building (those slabs, maybe) ensures that the chat-volume is held very well and seems worse than it is. Or perhaps the folks who frequently attend gigs here are a bunch of insufferable cunts. One of the two, my sweethearts, one of the two.

I got there way too early, anyway, having stupidly believed the promise of early runnings and a half-ten finish that the flyer boasted (this turned out to be what we in the lying trade refer to as “a complete and total bloody lie”, but I really should’ve known better and seen that coming so it’s my own fault. “Dumbass” is once again the word for which we might be searching). All wasn’t too bad as The Infamous Ken Parallax turned up after a while, and it was nice to see him again.

I liked KateGoes, who were (perhaps surprisingly) on first. They played a doggedly straightforward-rhythm plonk-of-the-keyboard-on-the-beat pop that occasionally bursts into something a bit like Polly Styrene’s Tourette’s fits that were kept hidden from the public. Standard rock guitar/bass/drums/keys instrumentation was mixed with the glockenspiels/tiny string-linked cymbals of a school music lesson. The studied quirkyness of it all so could easily be really bloody irritating but somehow isn’t, and instead comes across as likeable. Or the bits of it I could hear over the crowd did, at the very least. I wished I’d seen them back in the days when they did themed gigs.

I didn’t think a great deal of next three bands on. I had listened to all three on MySpace beforehand, and although I couldn’t remember which was which it turned out to be unimportant – they all sounded very different to me live than anything I thought I’d heard (I haven’t done a post-gig second comparison since). Anarchist Cookbook were suffering from lots of technical difficulties but sounded like your modern emo/post hardcore/teen-angst-rock, apart from one song that was all Nine Inch Nails and such; Eat Y’Self Pretty sounded like a chart indie thing with Editors-ish chiming guitar, apart from one song built around a big dubby bassline; Sonic Delays (whose set I had to leave halfway through, so it could have all changed later) sounded like the melodic end of Nirvana, apart (again) from one song that was a lot more shoegazey. None of ‘em really worked for me, but I probably liked Sonic Delays the most out of the three. Rolo Tomassi definitely took my band of the week award, with KateGoes in second place a fair distance in front of everyone else.

(More talk of the gig here). (EDIT: And, a long long time later, here as well).

To The Wulfrun in Bulberhampton on Saturday the 23rd, to hear your man Hank Rollins rabbit on for a bit. This is the second one of his spoken word thingybobs I’ve been to and I’d massively recommend them – they’re a mix of comedy, political commentary and Wot I Done On My Holidays. Informative and extremely funny. This time he spoke of (amongst other things) playing a white supremacist in “Sons Of Anarchy,” acting as a judge on RuPaul’s drag performer talent programme, delivering a commencement speech to American university graduates, and as ever his world travels (focussing this time particularly on Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, India and China). In-joke for anyone else who’s seen him on this tour – the “HELLO!” taxi driver bit absolutely slayed me.

(And, of course, this. I don’t get the reference any more than I did two years ago. I just like it).

That’s been the entertainment from the last few days, anyway. Bits of it were great.

Fewer things to see and do in the West Midlands: August 2008

Posted in Combat Sports, LOTTSADITWM, Modern Living, Music, Stage, Well, it passes the time by Russ L on 1 August, 2008

There will be no largestyle LOTTSADITWM post for August, and it isn’t entirely the result of my uselessness. It’s August, and so less seems to be happening. You’re not meant to be going to events, you should be playing outside. Damnit. You.

This, then, is just a few things in this county that struck me as being worthy of particular note.

~ Tonight (1st of August) will see the Capsule gal dem put on Japanese psych-noise collective Acid Mothers Temple at The Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath. They played there really not too long ago, and although I wasn’t able to make it to that one pretty much everyone who went seems to say it was an amazing gig.

~ I’d suggest you head on over to the Villa Ground on the evening of Saturday the 2nd, for AMMA. No-head-shots-on-the-ground MMA, from a promotion who always run things well and match their fighters up excellently. I’m particularly looking forward to longtime favourite of this blog Danny Korbely defending his featherweight title against Gareth Pilot. That should definitely be a good ‘un.

~ Rolo Tomassi appear to be playing at something called Summer Slam (yeah, that’s the association my mind made too) at Wolverhampton Civic on the 9th. The rest of the bill looks like a load of cack for the most part, but it’s probably worth noting somewhere at the back of your mind.

~ Hank Rollins, lord love ‘im, will be bringing his ‘Provoked’ spoken word tour to The Glee Club on the 10th. I saw it in January and it’s both funny and interesting.

~ Birmingham Opera Company are going back to their context-sliding ways and occupying The Sherborne Building (formerly a rubber factory) in Ladywood for performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo on various dates between the 12th and the 23rd.

~ It seems that there is a festival of quilts taking place at the NEC between the 14th and 17th. I know it’s too hot now but you’ll want them come winter.

~ Clutch are of course The Best Rock Band Currently Going (as I’ve said far too many times for it to still count for anything) and they’re playing at The Barfly on Friday the 29th for all you lucky people.

~ The Moseley Folk Festival is running over three days this year (the 29th to the 30th) and it’s always lovely. I’m only going to be able to make it to the Sunday, alas, but there’s plenty lined up.

~ In closing, I’ll remind you of this important fact: life is a cabaret, old chum. Come and join the cabaret.

Rollins Rollins Rollins, keep them wagons Rollins

Posted in Stage by Russ L on 31 January, 2008

And so to The Wulfrun Hall on Monday the 28th, for Henry Rollins‘ “Provoked” spoken-word doo-dah. I have seen The Rollins Band before, so this time I wasn’t surprised that he was shorter in real life.

I suppose the first thing to note is that the temporary chairs they use for the floor of The Wulfrun and The Civic just aren’t big enough (not attached together as they are, at least). I’ve sat in them before, but only ever at the end of a row where you can turn to the side a bit and get more space. In this instance I was in the middle, with a somewhat large lady on the one side of me. There wasn’t very much space. There wasn’t very much space at all.

Hank, anyway, insists that he’s not a lecturer and not a stand-up comedian. Initially I was nonplussed by that (stand-up comedy was definitely what I’d previously seen his ‘spoken word’ stuff as being, from the bit I’d seen on the telly), but it began to make more sense as time went on. He was hilariously funny most of the way through, of course, but not all of his stories were told with the purpose of humour. He was just telling his tales.

I get the feeling that precisely which stories he relays might vary from gig to gig, but here we heard an assortment of stuff that included his recent trips to Pakistan (he – a Westerner – was in the country when Bhutto was assassinated. Craziness), Syria and Lebanon, the first time he saw Van Halen (continuing onto the first time he met Diamond Dave Lee Roth, and the first time that The Rollins Band played in an arena), him singing for the reformed version of The Ruts, and loads more. Three hours worth, all together. All worth hearing, of course, but a touch painful in terms of sitting there.

Especially in tiny squished-up chairs.

Still: very amusing, occasionally informative, and definitely worth me having gone.

Edit: Also, this.