Category Archives: Live Reviews

Latitude Festival – Day Three

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Latitude 2008’s final day begins for many in the company of Joanna Newsom, scheduled to play at Somerset House in the evening but appearing as a special guest at midday on the Obelisk Arena. Though she is without her regular touring band and orchestra she delivers more than an hour of sensational, sprawling and delicate harp-led alt-folk, perfect pixie princess that she is. Time stands still along with the gawping, spellbound audience during the fifteen minutes of Ys standout ‘Emily’, and Newsom takes advantage of her captivated audience by road-testing three new songs – interestingly all of them piano-based. Then a bizarre episode occurs – she completely dries up midway through ‘Sawdust & Diamonds’, repeatedly forgetting whole sections of the (admittedly complex and abundant) lyrics. It is – she says, a little distraught – the first time this has ever happened, and despite audience prompting she appears absolutely incapable of finishing the song. The applause she receives is nonetheless rapturous – and what’s more, it is totally deserved, she is wonderful whatever.

For the rest of the day those who saw her revel in eulogising in front of those that didn’t. With the unenviable task of trying to follow that – the solid but unfortunately un-pixie-like indie rockers The Twilight Sad and Fields. The former manage to win a few friends who never knew they existed, whist the latter group precipitate a move towards the food stalls with a whole ream of new songs. When they finally play one we know – ‘Song for the Fields’’ – the backing track breaks down, which is why you probably shouldn’t play to a backing track.

The Great British Public generally get a bad rap – particularly when it comes to musical taste – but they don’t do themselves any favours at all. Those Dancing Days are charming and beautiful in the Uncut Tent, effortlessly delivering a string of brilliant pop numbers – why are the Swedes so good at it? – and are met with a mostly mute crowd, who prefer instead to knock a big balloon around for the entirety. Noah and the Whale follow, their cowboy-folk seeming contrived and unnatural in comparison – and frankly I find them a pretty irritating bunch to watch – yet they enjoy slightly maniacal ovations. That is the power of Radio One airplay, then, and how it utterly dictates audience response. The balloon pops – serves them right.

Meanwhile back on the Obelisk the rumoured Arctic Monkeys surprise set never materialises, but Foals – fresh from a fist fight with Johnny Rotten “and his meathead friends” – provoke one of the biggest reactions of the weekend (certainly the most crowd surfers), huddling tiredly together in the middle of the stage then throwing themselves around to the sound of their own melodic, electronic indie. Each song stands alone – unlike the slightly monotonous feel of their record – all of them inventive and excellent. Seeing them live makes you realise the depressing, often self-imposed, limitations of most current young British bands.

Unfortunately sound problems occur throughout Okkervil River, and a lot of the audience are simply holding down a spot for the following Blondie appearance. Try as he might, frontman Will Sheff can’t quite get wheels moving, with a stop-start rhythm to the whole set. They are a tremendous band though, and they show more than glimpses – but it leaves me fairly unsatisfied, with a desire to see them again.

I suppose you can’t really expect much more from a side project, and the fact that they are penultimate act of the Obelisk is testament to Nick Cave’s bursting musical brain, but Grinderman really do define Hit and Miss. At least they end on a good one (as it starts to rain hard) – ‘No Pussy Blues’ evoking a unique audience reaction of laughter and head-banging. And then the rain continues all through Interpol, the closing act of the festival. The sound is suitably epic and crisp, but I am just not sure that they have the catalogue of tunes or enough presence to fill this slot. I certainly enjoy it, but it is noticeable that they lose the attention of pretty much every floating voter at the back, and their light show is embarrassingly poor in comparison to Sigur Ros’ the previous night. I tell you what though – ‘Evil’ sounds bloody brilliant.

Incidentally I am writing this outside of the confines of Suffolk’s Henham Park, the festival is – as I write – well and truly over. I’ve not unpacked yet though, and nor have I showered. Just so you know…
Words: Jackhausen

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Latitude Festival – Day Two

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The musical line-up for the Saturday is a little jumbled, a touch bland, and far less Buzz Band-heavy than the days that sandwich it. For this reason I find myself bouncing around the (mainly mudless) site, willing something to grab me by the tent poles. Alas, nothing much really does (don’t worry, read on, I promise there is a happy ending to this one).
 
Magistrates, appearing early-doors in the Uncut Arena, are four Essex lookers with an XL record deal and a hatful of effortlessly catchy tunes. In the white-funk pop stakes it is a step or two up from Jamiroquai, and Usher (his real name apparently, falsetto vocals) has a legion of young girls fawning by the end.
 
Next up – via Phil Jupitus reciting A Christmas Carol in the Literary Tent – is White Lies, looking surprisingly comfortable on the huge stage of the Obelisk for such a young band. Though it is not really surprising at all, is it? This is the group tipped to be “this generation’s U2” (backhanded compliment or what?), with a huge amount of money behind them and an epic record company scrum in their recent past. They sound and look assured – of course – bold and grand, their Joy Division-ish bleak anthems seeming to satisfy the large and curious crowd assembled. It doesn’t really get me going, I’m afraid, but I’m pretty sure they couldn’t give a damn.
 
Bishi is a proper pop star – glam and eccentric and a bit other-wordly. Opening with an interpretation of an old British folk song played on her modified sitar, she melds West and East, effectively a musical representation of multi-cultural Britain. Thus I am behind her from the start, willing her to shake it up a bit, break from the shackles of a claustrophobc and cloying Music and Film Tent, wake up the man who has passed out at the front in a pool of his own (purple and watery) vomit. She is good. I like her. But all her songs sound the same. I leave before she ends. I feel a bit guilty.
 
Poor old Soko. It is the French chanteuse’s first experience of a British festival, and the first heavy downpour of the weekend arrives just as her softly-spoken set begins. Unfortunately she is on at the Sunrise where the audience enjoy full rain protection, but the performers do not. Cowering in her leather jacket, behind a small statue of a cat, she still charms her crowd, apologising for her guitar playing, blushing at her English, leading musicians she has only just met through her little song bubbles. They are fragile, angry, and very pretty.
 
As evening draws in, big, big crowds come out for sets from some big-hitters. The Coral weave acoustically through their back-catalogue, predictably provoking a mass-jig with Dreaming Of You (how many times must they have played that song? – they grin and bear it). Characteristically, though, they still manage to throw a curve-ball, ending the set on an untitled song they’ve just written. Try as I might I just don’t really get the appeal of Seasick Steve. To me it sound like a rehash of blues we have heard a hundred times before, although what that man can do with a piece of string tied to a block of wood (his own invention) is quite incredible. The Guillemots sound majestic on Made Up Love Song #43 – an underrated classic to my mind – and do a great deal of jumping up and down. Unfortunately they also do a lot of musical jumping as well, changing tack ever few seconds, before the audience has had time to get into the original groove. Commendations to them for their abundance of ideas, but I do wish they would try to lengthen their attention span a little, and really nail each one. Elbow get a lot of hands in the air, and are very sincere as the sun begins to set. But I am still waiting for a proper excitement fix, one of those transcendent moments, where you get swept up and flown away.
 
Joyfully, Sigur Ros provide it – and more – silencing any who doubted their headline credentials. It is one of those essential, unrepeatable festival sets, with a relentless stream of breathtaking, memorable moments and a rich and varied visual show. A white-suited brass band just pass through during one number. The lights are like lightening. It snows. Confetti is shot at my face towards the end, and my heart jumps up with it. They are glorious, and sky high, and it matters not a jot that the words they sing are made up because we all know everything together. It is such a joy to see a band like Sigur Ros connect to those previously unconverted, to them at the back not fluent in Hopelandic. After the encore, when the audience lights fade up, the band and their array of colourfully dressed support artists return and bow. It is a lovely touch, and they seem a little overwhelmed at the hugely deserved applause.

Words: Jackhausen

Latitude Festival – Day One

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Following the sweat and tetchy ticket swiping of Liverpool St Station, and the nauseating coach meander towards the site, the stroll into the Latitude arena is overdue and overly exciting. The term ‘arena’ – of course – has connotations of corporate, concrete and thinning grass festival sites that revel these summers in their mass appeal and ubiquitity, but Latitude is a breath of fresh air (quite literally) with uniquely picturesque surroundings, snugly situating itself around proper sturdy forestry and water.

 

Deep within the woods Broken Records bring the festival curtain up – as far as Beat Happening is concerned – beneath the colourful drapes of the Sunrise stage. With bracken as a backdrop and fern underfoot they fully enjoy their status as ‘buzz band’, their apt earthy, alternative rock watched by a swollen early afternoon crowd. The shame is that only two of their songs live up to their undoubted potential, whereas the remainder pass-by, sounding far too much like Athlete for comfort (for us forest-dwellers, at least). Of those two – admittedly fully formed and fantastic – noteworthy numbers, ‘If Eilert Lovborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This’ is the absolute standout, a Decemberists-ish, Picaresque-esque poetical romp with strings and horn and accordion to boot.

 

In fact the accordion, and its like – the ukelele, the melodica, the glockenspiel – are sprayed across the site, with tweeness the style du jour. Slow Club, an instantly adorable, poppy, sloppy, clappy brother-sister combo from Yorkshire – also on at the Sunrise – exemplify the trend. Their lyrics are playful and pre-pubescent, their stage banter culminating with the word ‘knobhead’. Despite this childish front, frontwoman Becky (a bonnie blonde) still has a marriage proposal chucked at her from the throng. She accepts immediately, then nonchalantly presses on with her set, claiming the hearts of many more.

 

Onto the main arena site, then, and Micah P Hinson in the Uncut Arena. The bright lights and big tops, away from the dark of the undergrowth, promise much, but Micah delivers little. He is boring and bizarrely dressed (golf cap, comedy tie). I check my phone for text messages three times in his first four numbers. Not a good sign. Thankfully Bearsuit just next door on the BBC Introducing … Lake Stage revive the brief spirit flag with balloons, blue capes and their repertoire of sex noises.

 

Everything (bar the smaller, hidden woodland stages) is on top of each other at Latitude, so that you might be watching a Hanif Kureishi Q&A in the Music and Film Arena, but subconsciously absorbing the assorted basslines of Death Cab For Cutie. This atmosphere is presumably what leads Carol Ann Duffy to proclaim Latitude “a million times better than Glastonbury” at the start of her Poetry Tent appearance, but is also the reason why half of her audience sack her off at the first distant sound of British Sea Power.
Instead of watching the mighty BSP, I witness Emmy the Great play a frustratingly curtailed set, to an unjustly small crowd. She is breathtaking nonetheless, as the sun begins to set behind the Sunrise, weaving poignant and witty references to Leonard Cohen and MIA into her exceptional little songs. It is, she tells us, the first anniversary of her band’s first gig. They are all quite brilliant. Catch her – if you’ve not already – before she explodes.

There is obviously more than music at Latitude. It is their tagline, after all. Many of the acts are dire, but a handful make it all worthwhile. I sit through some dreadful stuff in the Poetry Tent to catch a whirlwind 20 minutes from the appropriately named Excentral Tempest (aka Kate Tempest). Her lyrical wordplay is simply unbelievable, her hip hop style (she labels herself an acapella MC) a revelatory shock to the reclining poetry patrons. With the right musical backing she would be the greatest British rapper of all time, though the fact she is unaccompanied makes her all more spell-binding.
Headlining, of course, are Franz Ferdinand. They do what exactly what you would expect, and its great. Anything off the first album sounds superb, anything off the second, slightly disappointing (but nonetheless danceable). The long-awaiting third album, of which we get quite a few tasters this evening, is synth-heavy and snappy. The rain does little to detract.

The talk of the tents, as Friday draws to a close, is the 900-person strong conga-line that emerged from the Comedy Tent earlier in the afternoon, taking over the main site. Apparently it was entirely self-generated and unexpected. I refuse to believe that spontaneous-congaing is even possible. If it is – God help us all.

 

Words: Jackhausen

Club Beat Happening @ Metro, London 29/05/08

The Invisible begin with the beat from Can’s Hallelujah, lolloping elephantine funk originating in a castle in Cologne yet still permutating a sealed in freshness. Their brand of psychedelia has lived through the clean edged plastic eighties, airbrushed and chorus peddled, before being cidered up in the festival crust of the early nineties grebo to emerge in 2008 like Talk Talk recast as a funk band. Continue reading

The Great Escape Festival @ Various venues, Brighton, 15 – 17/05/08

So, it’s that time again, when Brighton undergoes an overnight metamorphosis from chilled-out, laid-back seaside town, to a frantic hub of activity, with 150 gigs crammed into a three-day programme, and the intrepid Beat Happening embarked on the treacherous mission to report back on the cream of 2008’s musical offerings. Dubbed by some (us) as ‘South by South West, but with shit weather’, the festival is a showcase of the newest acts across the entire globe to be getting us journo types into a fuss. Continue reading

Sierra Cassady @ ICA

Two women, pale wraiths in caked make-up and dimly lit, are stitched together in a bulbous, tandem Vtorian dress. They stand on stage and sing; looking broken and doll-like; shuffling in synchronicity; sounding celestial. In the next room, behind a high-speed shutter door, three identical triplets serve black champagne in three (almost) identical black chambers, as light-emitting profiterole speakers flicker. Continue reading

Born Ruffians @ Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen 27/05/08

Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen is something of a figurative canary-in-the-mineshaft for hotly-tipped young bands, the last low-key stop on the line before they go on to better places (the past few months have seen the likes of Vampire Weekend and The Ting Tings entertain 300 or so lucky souls), and tonight’s show is surely no exception. After all, with their exposure on Skins and single ‘Hummingbird’ being used for a recent Orange advert, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Born Ruffians’ profile go stellar. Continue reading