Thursday, 5 November 2009

4 Or 5 Magicians: Dan Goes To Shows Part 1

To mark the start of 4 Or Magicians' album tour, we present the first in an occasional series - Dan Goes To Shows - half blog, half review, all Ormsby.

October 3rd : The Hornblower Brothers / Aaron King / Curly Hair @ Prince Albert, Brighton

Curly Hair are friends of mine, in fact, they played their first ever show in my living room at my housewarming party on January 3rd of this year. Then a two piece, Jess on vocals and glockenspiel, and Ben on vocals and guitar, kind of reminiscent of a slightly more earnest Moldy Peaches, Jess was so nervous her hands were shaking too much to play the glockenspiel properly! Since then they have come a very long way. They have added drummer Michael, recorded and self-released a highly promising EP, 'Ivy League', recorded live sessions for Marc Riley and Jon Kennedy, and are main tour support to Malcolm Middleton this month. Not bad for a first year in action! Every time I see them play they get better, and this show continues that trend. The confidence issues of January seem a distant memory as they roll out jaunty melodic pop gem after jaunty melodic pop gem with an assured tone. Definitely one to look out for in 2010.

Aaron King is another friend of mine, he in fact was at one point very close to playing a show with 4 or 5 Magicians on keyboard a couple of years back, but pulled out at the last minute as we hadn't really rehearsed enough for it to be a sensible thing to do! He's been playing his songs around town for a couple of years, with various different guys in his band (bit like us I suppose!) and he's another one that has been getting better and better with every show I have seen, and this one, like Curly Hair, was also the best yet I have seen. The band he has in place right now is also, I think, the best lineup he has had, and he keeps on churning out really strong, melodic, jazzy, piano driven pop songs. Could well work out nicely for him in 2010, and if not, he could make a fortune playing hotel lobbies!

The Hornblower Brothers are not friends of mine. But that's not to say I don't think we'd get on. They have a refreshingly laissez-faire stage presence, and their endearingly shambolic set ends in of the most bizarre scenes I have ever witnessed. There had already been a stage invasion by a heap of their friends, dancing around to 'Android With A Heart', the bouncy lead track from their debut EP 'Adventures In National Geographic', which in itself created a somewhat chaotic scene, but halfway through the song, singer / guitarist stage right leans over to singer / guitarist stage centre, and says something calmly in his ear, both having stopped playing to do this. The rest of the band shortly follow suit halfway through a verse, and the room breaks out in a confused murmur. The singer then announces that he wants the crowd to sing along with them in the final chorus, and proceeds to try and teach them a long series of lines that they are never going to remember. Their set in a nutshell, I'm not sure whether to gleefully amazed at their incredible nonchalance, or simply bemused by their lack of professionalism, but either way, it certainly ends up being a show to remember, and there are a string of infectious melodies and hooks sewn into their polite but cheeky, cardigan wearing, twee-pop.

October 5th : Wild Beasts / Blue Roses @ The Hanbury Club

Around two years ago, an unremarkable promo CD dropped through my letter box, 'I Am Leaving', the debut single by a northen singer/songwriter called Laura Groves. I gave it a spin, and this stunning voice chirped out at me like a nightingale. Not hearing anything of her for a while, I assumed she had been swallowed up by the sea of singing Lauras taking over the UK, until May this year, when, ironically, another singing Laura, the wonderful Laura Hocking (now performing under the nom de plume Lola and The Clic) took me along to see an act called Blue Roses at the Great Escape festival. When she started singing, it clicked that this was Laura Groves, and she was absolutely stunning - the voice, the instrumentation, the arrangements... everything! I immediately tracked down the eponymous debut album, and was hooked - quite possibly my favourite of the year. Live it really shines, her voice free to do whatever seems right in the moment, flying off this way and that - it is unlikely Groves could expel a bum note if she tried. From the beautiful, sprawling 'Greatest Thoughts', through the playful jig of 'I Am Leaving', to the pulsating thump of 'Rebecca', this is a sensational set, in the perfect setting of the ornately decorated, domed, high ceilinged Hanbury Club, the sound ringing out round the venue, amplifying the stunned silence of the transfixed crowd. Kate Bush comparisons are easy to make, but Groves exists in a time not held back by recording and production conventions as Bush perhaps was in the 80s, and possessing a virtually unrivalled level of natural talent, she seems suitably grounded to really go from strength to strength and produce a second album worthy of classic status, as the all too short selection of her wonderful songs she chooses to showcase on this particular night demonstrates.

Headliners Wild Beasts are also very impressive, if in a totally different way. I'd met bass player / vocalist Tom totally at random in a kitchen in Leeds in April while on tour, and had a nice conversation with him, but had never actually got round to listening to them, as from what I'd read about them, they appeared to be a band who I'd appreciate more as a live act than recording artists. To this day I still haven't knowingly heard any recorded material by them, but the live show was spot on - brilliantly executed, and mesmerising from start to finish. I'm not entirely sure comparisons to anything or anyone would be justified or even necessary, but their highly original mix of booming tribal beats, spooky synths, jerky guitars, and split falsetto and tenor vocals was a hugely satisfying live experience, quite unlike anything I had witnessed before. Not something I can ever imagine listening to in the car or in my bedroom, but I hope our paths cross again in a live setting before too long!

October 7th : Fiery Furnaces / Pete Um / Esben and The Witch @ Audio, Brighton

Esben and The Witch are the buzz band in Brighton at the moment, they seem have been supporting everyone for the last year, but somehow I have ended up not getting to see them despite meaning to for a while. Like Wild Beasts, they were a band I had deliberately avoided listening to on record in anticipation of their live show, but this time, I was almost expecting to be disappointed, for them to be a kind of uber-pretentious, posturing, avant-garde pastiche. If I was indeed thinking this, I was very wrong. The hype it seems, is justified, and while their live set may not be fully there just yet - there are better songs to be written, and slightly weaker songs to be phased out for sure - there is plenty to get excited about during a highly original and intelligent half hour of music, and there is a definite x-factor about singer Rachel, an effortlessly enthralling performer. Another band with a bright 2010 ahead of them.

Middle act Pete Um is somewhat of a curiosity, "we met him in Cambridge and asked him along to play with us here. He's pretty nuts, huh?", insists Fiery Furnaces bass player Jason Loewenstein when I corner him later on. Treading an incredibly thin line between clever and amusing, and obnoxious and annoying, Um slurs his way through a flurry of breathlessly short tales of woe, accompanied by his trusty iPod. The lyrics contain the odd witty rhyme, or chortle-inducing image, but for the most part the crowd is left shaking their head, at what essentially appears to everyone to be a rambling madman in a wooly hat. Definitely more "Um" than "Ah!".

The Fiery Furnaces are a band who are renouned for pushing boundaries, conceptual performances, and generally being completely unpredictable. So I suppose in a way Pete Um was a natural choice of support, someone who was sure to polarise opinion, even deliberately antagonise some members of the crowd. And in the past, The FFs have been known to show up and play an incoherent, scattergun 45 minute stream of insanity with more bleeps than Beadle's About. Tonight though, the band are lined up in the classic rock and roll formation of guitar, bass, drums, and vocal. And it is brilliant. Matt Friedburger provides the riffs and hooks on guitar, while the marvellous rhythm section of ex-Sebadoh members Jason Lowenstein (bass) and Bob D'Amico (drums) keep things ticking along, and Matt's sister Eleanor is given free reign to strut around the stage bobbing her head to the beat and delivering an almost constant string of tongue twisting lines. For a band who can at times be so obtuse and overcomplicated, this is a welcome reminder that they simply possess a collection of superb tunes. Even 'Chris Michaels', the epic, almost symphonic centrepiece of their immensely difficult sophomore album 'Blueberry Boat', is stripped back to its basic elements, and it works so, so well. One of the best bands of the decade for sure. Just a shame Jason went to bed instead of meeting me and Sam for a drink in the pub after like he said he would. Boooo! I was going to ask him to record our second album - we had scheduled to record an EP together in summer 2008 but the dates didn't end up working out. Watch this space I guess!

Still to come -
9th : Johnny Foreigner / Tellison / Japanese Voyeurs @ Audio
12th : Stagecoach / Man Ray Sky / Duke Raoul @ Hectors House
18th : Themselves / Devil Man / Robert Stillman @ Freebutt
19th : Le Band Extraordinaire @ Hanbury Club

27th : Japandroids / William @ White Heat
29th : Johnny Foreigner / Super Tennis @ New Slang
30th : Everyone To The Anderson / Kid Pang / Crooked Mountain, Crooked Sea @ Hectors House

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