- 7 Inches ; All Ages ; Another Nickel ; Anywhere Else ; Aphid Hair ; Arthur ; Asleep on the Compost Heap ; Bachelor ; BangtheBore ; Beard ; Beyond The Implode (R.I.P.?) ; Birds ; Blues ; Boogie ; Bull ; Dancing ; Darnielle ; DCB ; Destination:Out ; Did Not Chart ; Diskant ; Dreaming ; Dusted ; Egg City ; Fog ; Flux ; Freq ; Garagepunk ; Garage Hangover ; Get Bent ; Gramophone ; Grant ; Gunslinger ; Honey Is Funny ; Hopper ; Jonathan ; KBD ; K-Punk ; Kulkarni ; Last Days (R.I.P.) ; Lexicon Devil ; LPCoverLover ; Mutant Sounds ; Nick Thunk :( ; Norman ; Oddbox ; Peel (John) ; Peel (Richard) ; Plan B (R.I.P) ; PSF ; Quietus ; Raven Sings ; Science ; Still Single ; Teleport City ; Terminal Escape ; Those Geese ; Ubu ; Upset ; WFMU ; XRRF.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
End Of The Road: SATURDAY
Fleeing some heinous MOR emo gak on the main stage early in the day and retreating into the woods in search of respite, the true beauty of End Of The Road is revealed to me for the first time as I stumble into a clearing and see before me a small, wooden, construction rather akin to a garden shed with the front wall removed and a small stage added. It contains an upright piano, a rug, and mock-up of a Victorian living room has been created on the back wall. Within this curious construction I recognise esteemed magazine editor Everett True, aka The Legend!. He is singing impassioned, desperately sad ballads with piano accompaniment to an audience of five curious passers-by and a toddler waving the remains of an ice cream.
Previous Legend! Performances I have witnessed have been delirious celebrations of non-musical, exhibitionistic chaos, and I have never before realised what a fine singing voice Mr. True possesses. His sombre tones hang heavy in the air, his songs simple and dignified enough to provoke silence and hidden tears from a drunken lynch mob. Amazing.
Head still spinning from this surreal encounter, it’s back to the circus tent to catch new Rough Trade signings My Brightest Diamond, who comprise a striking looking Canadian(?) lady and her two-man backing band. Her songs aren’t too bad, although rather too overwrought for my tastes. Y’know, Kate Bush sort of stuff. She’s got a great dramatic style on the guitar though, and there is much radical power-trio rocking out to enjoy, rather akin to PJ Harvey circa ‘Dry’. Yeah! After the set, I am enthusiastically informed that her album is “far more orchestral, less guitar”. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
My Brightest Diamond
Surprisingly, I’ve never seen Darren Hayman play live before, despite the best part of a decade’s love/hate relationship with the work of his band Hefner. So I can’t really comment re: whether he has always been this good on stage, but good he is, house(or tent?)-rockingly good in fact. Having drifted through a period of questionable lo-fi electronic messing about during and after the demise of Hefner, Darren is back on guitar here leading a five piece band incorporating fiddle and banjo, belting out such solo career highlights as ‘Gabriel At The Airport’ and ‘Porn Shoes’ with a boisterous brevity well befitting the three-sheets-to-the-wind urban folk spirit that Hayman’s best moments have always grasped at, complete with some startlingly red hot instrumental showdowns, perhaps reflections of Hayman and his bandmates’ new bluegrass side-project.
Whilst Hefner’s relentless pursuit of the grimmer aspects of 20-something relationship angst might have led us all down some pretty unsavoury avenues from time to time, few would deny Hayman’s status as a truly kick-ass songwriter, and witnessing him gradually ditching the hard-drinkin’, self-hatin’, girlfriend-cussin’ approach of old in favour of some defiantly 30-something Kinks-esque character studies in suburban boredom is, well, a pretty satisfying process, all things considered. Much the sort of thing that may prompt patronising broadsheet journos to harp on about “maturing”, “discovering a wider vision” etc, by way of deeming Hayman newly suitable for consideration by their ever-so-sensible readership. Mercifully though, the lusty enthusiasm kicked up by band and audience alike for an encore of ‘Hello Kitten’ and ‘Pull Yourself Together’ puts the kibosh on THAT line of thinking.
I may have spent a few years back there purposefully ignoring Hayman and Hefner, but hey, it seems now I’M a grisly mid-20s screw up, and…. suddenly I’m thinking that the whole ugly business makes perfect sense, and this show only confirms my suspicion. It feels good to have this man and his killer tunes and nasty, desperate, hilarious words back in my life.
Mp3 > Darren Hayman – Gabriel At The Airport
Sweden’s Frida Hyvonen presents an... interesting.. presence on stage. In lengthy gaps between songs, she takes time out to curse the crappy piano she has been assigned to play for us on, to tell odd, pointless anecdotes about Cormac McCarthy books and wanting to punch pregnant friends, to parade around the stage absent-mindedly posing for photographers, and, most enjoyably, to kick the crap out of the wooden penguins that have been lurking in the corner of the stage for the festival’s duration. Surprisingly, such behaviour comes across not as ostentatious, but as guileless and funny, treading a thin line between being entirely unself-conscious and being, well, MASSIVELY self-conscious. It’s hard to really get an angle on which side of this line Frida Hyvonen falls, but either way, she seems intent on doing as she pleases, regardless of mere on-lookers and their expectations.
The strange, fragmented energy of Frida’s persona is reflected in her songs, which stack up lyrical non-sequiturs with a perplexing dream logic and a fierce emotional intelligence, crow-barring the results into musical settings evenly divided between ‘icy’ and ‘jaunty’. Hyvonen’s eccentricities appear to lack any pre-planned theatrically, instead seeming as natural as breathing, and it’s hard not to get caught up in these puzzles of intriguing imagery and stiff, thudding piano chords.
Asking a friend what she made of all that, the concise verdict is “Tori Amos”. It’s a fair cop I suppose. The tyranny of global music crit comparison-law claims another victim. What can I say? I likes her songs.
Mp3 > Frida Hyvonen – The Modern
The ‘Local’ tent at End Of The Road (so-called who the hell knows why, as I doubt many gracing the stage are native to the middle of the Dorset countryside) is a wedding reception-sized marquee hidden in the darkened woods adjacent to the main stage, which plays host throughout the day and evening to open mic hopefuls, folkies of all descriptions and so on. It’s really rather lovely, and turns out to be home to one of the most unexpectedly moving moments of the whole weekend. Well several of them actually, but we'll do this one first;
So it is this tent that we find ourselves randomly wandering into next, for a sit down and to escape the cold as night falls. It seems we’re not the only ones with this idea as the place is absolutely packed out with people huddled in groups, chatting, sipping hot cider. Looking up briefly, we can see a small, pale woman with an incredibly sad look in her eye walk on stage and stand expectantly in front of the microphone. Consulting the festival programme, we reckon she’s probably Liz Green.
Liz Green starts clapping her hands and singing, quietly. It sounds like some kind of a-cappella gospel round kinda singing. Some people stop to listen, some people keep on chatting. Her voice catches in her throat, and her singing grinds to a halt. She kind of half-laughs, half-cries and admits that she’s “..absolutely shitting herself”, and steps back as if to leave the stage. The crowd make encouraging sounds, some general hushing is done, more people start listening, and the tent is silent. So Liz Green starts again, and some people clap along. For her second song, she picks up a guitar, and it’s very, very quiet. She admits she’s having “technical difficulties, by which I mean I forgot to plug it in..”, and everybody laughs.
So things get underway, and it soon becomes clear that Liz Green is brilliant. I mean, really brilliant. She sings in a voice that resembles a Northern English Karen Dalton. I could clumsily elaborate, but nuff said to anyone who’s spent quality time with Karen Dalton’s first record. It’s… it’s one of THOSE voices, y’know? Accompanied by tough, efficient finger-picking that foregoes the flourishes of British folk tradition in favour of sticking hard to the rhythmic lessons of Mississippi and Chicago, Liz Green’s songs are simple, beautiful, resigned blues that recall Holly Golightly or Billy Childish’s Chatham Singers, respectfully adapting the universality of black American blues to British climes, imbuing elemental tales of loves lost, grey lives, chances missed and time spent alone with humour and quiet dignity more poignant than any amount of thunderous emotional exhibitionism.
Once she hits her stride, Liz Green seems perfectly comfortable on stage too, seeing through problems with low volume, fireworks and bursts of feedback from the band sound-checking on the main stage with laughs and great, self-effacing ad-libs, fingers scarcely missing a note. A pal comes on stage to accompany her with finger-clicking and a bit of rudimentary accordion, then a few more friends come on to do some harmony vocals. For her final number, the self-explanatory “Goodbye Booze”, a guy hops on stage with some big placards outlining the lyrics, and the whole tent roars along to the ‘all-together-now’ chorus, before cheering up a storm and being rewarded with a few more runs through. Liz’ pals give her big hugs, and that’s that… just a beautiful, brave, triumphant performance that brings a tear to the eye.
A bit of subsequent internet research suggests that Liz Green is actually far from a stranger to playing to big audiences, having recorded a session for BBC Radio 6 and won some kind of talent contest that saw her open one of the big stages at Glastonbury this year! It’s a cheering thought to reflect that whoever was in charge of that contest actually picked someone with real talent, and it’s amusing to think of all the dull career-conscious rock bands scowling as humble Liz beat them to the prize. Would it be too much to hope that somebody quietly making undeniably beautiful, heartfelt music all on their own might actually get some success? Here’s hoping. Her debut single is out soon.
Mp3 > Liz Green – Midnight Blues
Now, those frequenting music websites, forums and the like in the past year or so, may have noticed a fellow called David Thomas Broughton has been picking up a considerable cult following. I listened to a few tracks by him a while back, and was fairly non-plussed as to his appeal. So what’s the deal, I enquire of a few trust-worthy sorts who have enthusiastically recommended I catch him at this festival. It’s hard to explain, they tell me, but for christ’s sake DON’T MISS HIM. So I don’t. And now I pass the same advice on to you, readers, should David Thomas Broughton ever stage an appearance within travelling distance of where you live. Seriously, this guy is something else.
I know before I even start that words won’t really convey the qualities of his live performance any more than studio recordings do, but nonetheless we must try, so here goes; David Thomas Broughton essentially uses loop pedals to build up repetitive webs of melodic acoustic guitar picking and other stock avant-folky sounds, over which he sings meandering songs comprised of odd, symbolist zen koans in a high, affected and purposeful voice, somewhat akin to Tim Buckley or Scott Walker. So far, so what you’re probably thinking, but, but… how can I put this? What immediately sets David Thomas Broughton apart is that he is HILARIOUS; members of the audience are doubled up with hysterics almost as soon as he starts singing, and it’s a very peculiar feeling that leaves me uneasy at first. DTB’s delivery obviously betrays a very serious and sad emotional intent, and, I mean, are we supposed to be laughing here? Are we actually being really cruel to this guy as he sings his sorrows? And yet, and yet, how can we help it when every stumble he takes, every pause to stare into space, every exaggerated hand gesture is just… so fucking ridiculously funny?
As the set goes on, as DTB strides and poses like a tranquilised rock idol, as he loops a rhythm track of his own startled coughing, as he slowly removes hi,s jacket with the solemnity of a bishop preparing for mass, as he staggers into the centre of the seated crowd trailing cables to do battle with a feedbacking practice amp, all the whle with a look of stony determination, it becomes clear that comic intent is definitely intended. Broughton moves with the charisma and clumsy grace of a classic physical comedian, and raises odd, unnameable feelings within spectators by vestige of that rare virtue: the ability to recognise that the funniest jokes are deadly serious, and that the most serious things in the world are funny, and to reflect this in his art at all times.
Admittedly, there are moments of are deathless self-indulgence within Broughton’s lengthy, ostensibly aimless set, as his reliance on looping technology sees him absent-mindedly wandering the stage and beyond, contemplating which object to make a funny noise on next as a single guitar figure drones away. But there are other moments – MANY other moments - which simultaneously manifest more kinds of spell-binding genius than could ever be named within my mere music crit vocabulary.
“What kind of apples, could make a pie this sweet?”, Broughton croons repeatedly, arching his back and perilously waving the neck of a guitar against the roof of the tent, lost on a sea of love. “You fool!” he answers himself, crouching as he switches instantly to a reproachful anger, “Can’t you see it’s the sugar??”
Well maybe you had to be there. True originality may be little more than a fading rumour in today’s oversaturated artistic landscape, but, well, ladies and gentlemen - David Thomas Broughton.
Mp3 > David Thomas Broughton - Ambiguity
Back to the Local tent, and if you scroll back up to my thoughts re: Liz Green and the adaption of blues into a British context, those observations apply doubly to one of my favourite new groups of the year, South London’s own Congregation. Probably most of the same adjectives too, so I’ll try not to repeat myself.
Benjamin Prosser is a shit-hot rhythm/slide guitarist, playing consummate electric blues and boogie that raises the spirits of Bukka White and John Lee Hooker, recalling just how propulsive, spine-chilling and flat-out awesome this sound was before the late-‘60s generation drove it headfirst into formalised, shrieking self-parody. Victoria Yeulet sings sweet, subtle and impossible to ignore, with the commanding authority of an Irma Thomas or a Bessie Smith. A bass drum thump and Victoria’s leg bells bring the mama-heartbeat. Basically, Congregation jam together some of the best elements of some of the best fucking music ever made, and bring it straight back to us in 2007, ragged and powerful in a way that never goes out of fashion. In a profound sense, it does the trick.
I still don’t have any Mp3s by Congregation, but check out the tunes on their Myspace, and try to tell me this is not some seriously fine stuff.
A remarkable change of pace next in the Local tent, as party-ready anti-folk fanboy kids throng to the front, and Zombie Zombie, Neman Herman Dune’s ‘other’ band start to set up. ZZ are a startling different prospect from either Herman Dune or anything else or the End Of The Road bill. Firstly, we’ve got Neman on hyperactive motorik drums, yelping wordless exhortations into a distorted/echoed mic and generally rocking the crowd, in the spirit of Brian Chippendale. Then we’ve got a dude in a hoodie and beer bottle glasses looking like he raised in a dank basement being forcefed Devo and The Residents. He is leaping back and forth like a man possessed behind a precarious, towering rig of analogue synth equipment, jerry-rigged casios, a theremin and a rack-mounted space echo unit that threatens to topple into the front row at any moment. Behind them, David Herman Dune adds to proceedings, coaxing shrieking feedback tones from his Gibson Thunderbird-shaped electric ukulele. Yes, it’s undead krautrock party-time as frothing at the mouth gallic lo-fi apostles drag Goblin, Neu!, John Carpenter, Ash-Ra Tempel, Kraftwerk and all your other fave analogue synth abusers from their graves and force them into a ghoulish St Vitus frug to the rhythms of a dayglo 21st century hipster disco party. It’s obvious, it’s dumb, it’s ill-considered and in it’s reckless application of necromantic science it shows little concern for the safety of anyone, but…. it utterly rules! I mean, obviously! Look at ‘em go! I bet you wish you’d thought to start this band first; given current cultural obsessions, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve conquered the world, or at least the sections of it that go to art college and wear orange, by this time next year.
Exhausted but too buzzing to go to sleep after a day so overloaded with oddball musical wonder, there little left to do after filing out into the darkened woods except stagger my way back across to the circus tent, where headliners British Sea Power are concluding what I assume must have been their set.
I don’t hear a note of music, but I do see a thick haze a smoke and flashing lights, Macbeth-like forest of moving greenery, a twelve foot high black bear stalking the stage, a small army of Knight Errant trying to subdue it with halberds and flowing banners, a solid wall of feedback, men sacrificing electric guitars with mic stands, possibly some maurading robots too, I’m not sure… Christ these guys get four times as ridiculous every time I see them, and I think I actually preferred them back when they were an austere, serious sort of band. But I mean, the smoke, the fighting, the bear… what’s there to do but applaud?
Now it really IS time for bed…