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They Might Be Giants, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

When asked if I wanted to cover this performance, the teenaged me mentally shouted Yes! Of course! Hits like 'Don’t Lets Start', 'Istanbul', 'Whistling In The Dark' and 'Particle Man' flitted through my mind in quick succession. So, clearly, they entered my scene in 1990 with Flood. They entered the Queen’s Hall scene with 'The Communists Have The Music'. They also entered the scene playing to a sold out crowd, many of which were sporting t-shirts through the TMBG ages and stages.  A group of TMBG Super Presidents were flocking to the stage in front of us. As was expected, the band played several numbers from their latest album, I Like Fun. 'Let’s Get This Over With' was a crowd favourite.

The chat from the band was excellent. They clearly enjoy performing together. This trip they were accompanied by Curt Ramm on trumpet, whose talent ‘is contagious.’ Their joy extends to involving the audience in their chat and observations from their travels of the tour so far. One was faced with the confusing vision of pastries served upon a stone for his birthday during his stay in Edinburgh. Ah yes. The ubiquitous slate and how handily it dumps all your food onto the floor if not held perfectly parallel to the ground. Physics. I’m sure they understand that.

John Linnell talked about his walk through passport control and how usually one can be expected to be met with a seriously unhappy, unsmiling person.  Instead, when he said he was travelling with his band They Might Be Giants, the guy behind the glass started singing lines from 'Birdhouse In Your Soul'.

John Flansburgh, the other founder and writer, mentioned the “sweet life of the 1%,” referring to the people sitting high up in the balcony. There was mention of their having left a country going through difficult times to tour in a country where everything was peaceful and sorted. Long pause …

At one point Flansburgh orchestrated the band and the audience, gesticulating towards which part of the ensemble was to make a noise. I wouldn’t say we made beautiful music, however it was interesting.

During intermission, I took in the crowd and was pleased to see different ages representin’. There were parents with their teen to 20-something year old children, a group of youngsters that had stumbled upon the band through their own curiosity, the mid-lifers (ehem, my crew I think) and beyond. During the intermission, very confusingly, 'Walk This Way' with Run DMC and Aerosmith played on the large screen to a completely different soundtrack. Just another thing to add to the quirkiness of the performance.

I was hanging out next to the stage, close to where Linnell’s accordion lived, with Main Squeeze stickered onto it. I thought that rather hilarious. What I did not find hilarious where the two tall dudes standing in front of me, tipping their heads towards each other every 10 seconds to talk. Please be mindful of the shorties behind you that want to fully enjoy the experience and not have to peep around your heads whilst you talk about what? That cool thing that was done on the guitar? What you had for breakfast? The state of the country? That can wait.

They were called back to the stage for two additional encores, both planned for but hey, these guys are great on the showmanship. The set ended with 'Fingertips' and the audience playing along.

Something to watch out for: the band will be releasing an animation to go along with 'The Communists Have the Music' this week. We were encouraged to share this on all of our social media channels.

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Since Yesterday, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

En route to the Leith Theatre I was caught up in a downpour. Never before have I looked in envy upon someone wrapped up head to toe in what looked like a wet banana. Why am I telling you this? Because it's my excuse for showing up ridiculously late to the Since Yesterday event, an event that ended up being something a little bit unexpected.

Unfortunately, I only caught the last two songs of The Van T’s act. What I did see however, was a band that gelled well, rocked well and thanked well (expressed extreme thanks for being involved in the event several times.) I have not followed the progress of The Van T’s but will be sure to keep them on my radar.

As I waited for Sacred Paws to gather themselves upon the stage, I had a look around the venue. It has only been a few months since I last attended an event there, that being Hidden Door. The large bar area was opened up to the public – I’m sure this was not on offer to us previously. Tonight’s entertainment was brought to us as part of the Light On The Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside. Thought I’d support that – so I participated by having a Gin and Tonic.

What can I say about Sacred Paws? Singer/guitarist Rachel Aggs is so completely likeable, you can’t help but smile throughout the set. She welcomed us in with her smile and I thought how rare it is to be addressed with such enthusiasm. Hers was the kind of stage banter that makes you feel like she’s talking to a small group of mates. Easy. Open. Silly and fun. Shoeless dancing, shimmying, hopping, the girl gets into it and looking around me, I could see more than just the usual head bopping going on. Halfway through the set, Aggs and drummer/vocals Eilidh Rogers treated us to their original band of two. It was so clear we were getting down with their post-punk poppin' indie attitude. Sacred Paws should be seen in the flesh – as much as I enjoy their music through my headphones on a crowded bus, experiencing their live show is a joy.

I wasn’t entirely sure what the rest of the night would unveil. Even after reading the info on The Edinburgh International Festival website, I think you would be hard pressed to predict how it was to fit together. The event was created to ‘celebrate the music of women-fronted Scottish bands and the new generation of musicians who are challenging the gender balance.’

The house band comprised of girls on keyboard, drums, guitars, bass and sometimes cello. They handled the quick changing genres with impressive dexterity. The Twinsets with Rachel and Gaye Bell were up first, looking relaxed and happy to take the stage. 'Walking On The Sand', written by their father, brought many smiles to the crowd. The Ettes followed and what a force! They introduced one of their songs by explaining that they wrote the song age 17 in a bedsit in Leith and here they were, performing it at the international festival.

Lungleg’s Jane McKeown belted out a mighty fine 'Kung Fu On The Internet'. Most of the acts were pretty quick, with only one or two songs to make their mini sets. I filed this one under ‘check her out when I get home’ as this was new to me. Having grown up in deepest darkest Nebraska, much of this hour was a revelation.

As the night progressed, I whirled around and took in the crowd behind me. This was one of those rare opportunities where I could have brought along my 18 year old daughter (if I had one), and my mother (if she weren’t in the States). Something for everyone? Seldom does a music event cater to such a variety of people. This made it even more exciting – the knowledge that celebrating women in the Scottish music scene had brought out people that might not usually venture into the venue or out for a night of tunes. It was apparent that many were having mental jaunts down memory lane and it was touching to see how affected many were by what was happening on stage.

Strawberry Switchblade were the final act in the string of female talent. By their second song they were warmed up and feisty. They had the crowd La la-ing along to 'Since Yesterday'. Again, the crowd were happily singing along and hey, if this was your first experience of them then what a great little introduction.

Bossy Love finished off the night with attitude and a black jumpsuit – a staple in many a performer’s wardrobe this season.  

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Mogwai, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

The music strand of the International Festival continues at the Leith Theatre with a blast of post-rock from Mogwai with support from Rev Magnetic.

Rev Magnetic are a project of Mogwai collaborator, Luke Sutherland. They have a similar use of dynamics to Mogwai in their songs often beginning quietly and building to a wall of distorted sound. The vocals are sometimes quiet and clear and sometimes processed to produce a robotic sound. The performance is notable for these contrasts of loud and soft, clear and distorted, simple and processed. A notable stage presence is Audrey Bizouerne who brings energy to the stage with a clear high vocal and a gusto to her bass playing that makes it seem like a lead guitar at times. The vocal arrangements are quite complex but when they work they produce an almost grand, choral sound. There is probably a lot of development to come from this band as they clarify that sound but it will be one worth following.

Mogwai follow and are greeted with great enthusiasm by the Leith crowd. Their stage set uses long coloured light boxes either side of a central gap which can sometimes appear like an abyss and sometimes like the gaps in parting clouds letting in the light. This abstract light show accentuates the moods of their music but never becomes too proscriptive in its interpretation.

The opening is the soft chiming of ‘Heard About You Last Night’ which acts like a call for the attention of the audience and then develops into a blissful dream of the previous night’s action with the occasional black regret of episodes best, but not, forgotten. The set continues with a mix of tunes but the early part is heavily from their most recent (non-soundtrack) album ‘Every Country’s Sun’ which they are just finishing touring. ‘Party In The Dark’ is an up-tempo celebration where the use of echo creates reverberations like the voices of a thousand strong choir. Other numbers have an even more ethereal effect with ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’ feeling at times like a grand deep ocean exploration submerged under a kilometre of water with the muffled, echoing of notes bouncing off caves and rift walls on the sea-floor.

 

A Mogwai gig is an opportunity to be enveloped in their sound starting quietly but often building to huge, trouser-flapping volumes. Theirs is music to stimulate the imagination. It’s like being a 12-year-old kid who has the gates of Jurassic Park opened for them and told to go play with the animals. Mogwai often have limited edition prints available at their concerts and, for this one, the picture of Godzilla breathing down fire on Edinburgh Castle seemed a perfect starting point for many of the imaginings that this gig brings to mind. The sound is often majestic but somehow never takes itself too seriously.

 

‘Coolverine’ follows with a stately intent and then there is the attacking discord of ‘Old Poisons’. The closing numbers are some favourites from earlier albums. Their version of ‘Remurdered’ is the epitome of the wandering slow-build of volume in Mogwai’s music to a climax in a grand layering of musical textures. The numbers build to a prog-rock length with the final encore of ‘My Father My King’ which could have scored the Mongol Horde thundering in their tens of thousands across the Steppe. A gig that in more than one way was a blast.

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NEU! Reekie! At The Edinburgh International Festival : The Pastels, Leith Theatre

Neu! Reekie! curate the second of their two nights at Leith Theatre. The themes tonight seem to be the ‘DIY or die’ ethic and also playfulness. In opening, compere Kevin Williamson explains that the showing of an Adam West-era ‘Batman’ TV episode instead of their usual avant garde animations or films was a conscious ‘fuck it’ to the reviewers that always comment on these.

After Batman, the opening artist, Molly Nilsson, quietly walks on stage and sets her backing recording running which she will sing over. Her music is a lo-fi synth-pop which akin to the over-produced ‘80s without over-stepping into pomposity. The sounds have a self-consciously vintage feel so this does not feel like merely apeing a style. She achieves this although the echoing drum machine, the dramatic tempo changes and the simple synthesiser chords often have a power ballad feel. Her clear, dark and moody vocals blend with the music as she sings in an innocent way about social problems in ‘Money Never Dreams’ or ‘Let’s Talk About Privileges’.

The political theme continues next with the spoken word element of the evening, Linton Kwesi Johnson. Kwesi Johnson is the father of dub poetry, which is a lyrical chanting to a reggae rhythm. Unlike his records, tonight he performs without any music. He is a small, well-dressed man with suit and tie and trilby hat, whose burring baritone rolls out his patois words to the rhythm. He delivers his poems in a deliberate, serious manner that fits their political content.

We get a series of poems from the ‘70s and early ‘80s which aim to show that his was the rebel generation as they defied the idea that the minority are powerless. He contradicts the idea that the Caribbean community in the UK wanted to remain separate and celebrates that they have achieved integration. The most powerful of all his pieces, ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ was part of a successful campaign to challenge the courts’ application of an outdated law (the so-called Sus Law). He talks through the social context of each piece as the black community seek to integrate into the UK. The fight for the investigation of racist murders at Newcross in an extract of ‘The Newcross Massacre’. The struggle against policing tactics such as Operation Swamp in ‘Di Great Insoreckshan’.

Without explicitly saying so, he provides a living example of the power of community to successfully challenge institutional behaviour through a self-created protest movement. He receives an attentive hush from the audience throughout the performance, which breaks into a the cheering ovation at the end.

Next on stage are The Vaselines, a Scottish five-piece band fronted by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee. They are an indie-pop, Glasgow band known for a lo-fi sound and sexually suggestive lyrics. The band had a short initial life at the end of the ‘80s and broke up after one album that was then cited by Kurt Cobain as a strong influence. Their independent credentials were further burnished by the fact that they did not seek to capitalise on this fame upon re-forming in 2008.

They open with ‘High Tide Low Tide’ an upbeat, rock and roll tune which they sing with a lusty enthusiasm and then remind the audience where they do not come from with ‘I Hate the ‘80s’. The simple ringing guitars and unprocessed sound match this rejection of the decade of leg-warmers and yuppies.

Kelly and McKee had a reputation for sharp dialogue between songs as befits an exchange from former lovers. They do not disappoint in this as when McKee asks her monitor to be adjusted, ‘Could I have a bit less of Eugene?’ and he replies, ‘You’ve had all of me’ to which she quips straight back, ‘It wasn’t very much’ and they both laugh.

The highlight of the set was their version of a song that Nirvana famously covered, ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’. The melacholic vocals of Kelly contrast with McKee’s light but forceful voice to create a strangely nostalgic protest. Other songs exhibit more of the playful side of their banter such as the brief and bright ‘Molly's’ Lips’ and ‘Exit The Vaselines’, which is, of course, not the final song of the set.

Their songs cover love, sex and death with an innocent, melodic vocals but they are clearly a rock band as Kelly’s final act of playing his guitar over the back of his head seeks to emphasise. A delicious sweet and sour.

Last up are The Pastels, who appear as six-piece using wind instruments to good effect in creating their dreamy indie-pop. The relaxed nature of the band is immediately apparent as Stephen Pastel (lead vocals) is ready to begin but then realises that his guitar is not plugged in so we have a few embarrassed seconds of  equipment fumbling. They open with a dreamy instrumental that sets a misty atmosphere. The songs are full of pretty melodies such as ‘Check My Heart’ and allusions using the weather, ‘Summer Rain’.

The Pastels weave a spell with their music. Theirs is an intimate sound of friends  taking an evening walk under the sodium lights of the city’s suburbs. The set builds this mood finally meandering to a more exotic place with a psychedelic rendering of ‘Baby Honey’ in a lively tempo set against a pulsing drone. A dreamy pop experience.

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Hidden Door At The Edinburgh International Festival : The Jesus And Mary Chain, Leith Theatre

 

The Light On The Shore strand of The Edinburgh International Festival continues with a night of music curated by Hidden Door who are a driving force behind the resurrection of the Leith Theatre from council storage site to arts venue.

Their show tonight features three Scottish bands. The first up are Spinning Coin who play as a four piece with lead vocal duties swapping between the falsetto of Sean Armstrong and the baritone of Jack Mellin. Their short songs have a lo-fi, jangling-guitar sound and show some influence from The Pastels. The numbers which work best in this set are less slacker and more rock-protest, such as a ‘Powerful’. However, they miss a unifying element to bring together the set which, with the very different feel of the lead vocalists, feels a little schizophrenic.  

Next up, with the theatre near to full, are Honeyblood. The drum and guitar duo have changed the style of their live performance since the early stages of the tour of their second (and most recent) album Babes Never Die. The guitar of Stina Tweeddale has more bass and distortion than previously and so the songs have a much rockier feel. Stina’s vocals also have a deeper, stronger quality to match the guitar sound. They open with ‘Justine, Misery Queen’ and continue with songs about having strength and power to face haters, cheats and critics. The new sound matches this theme of empowerment and is maybe clearest in the difference between their earlier diatribe against ‘Super Rat’ which remains a great singalong of insults and ‘Babes Never Die’ which comes over as a story of overcoming betrayal. Honeyblood drive on with Cat Myers keeping a strong rhythm and on ‘Killer Bangs’ she seems to be appropriately pounding the cymbals like she is trying to drive them into the stage floor. The set finishes with a roaring version of ‘Ready For The Magic’ which features a cheeky bridge where Tweeddale holds a sustained note while Myers necks her bottle of beer. That’s swagger.

Finally, we reach the main act, The Jesus And Mary Chain who set up as a five piece of three guitars, drummer and Jim Reid in front of an array of lights pointing out at the audience. This combined with the downlighting of the stage mean that for most of the gig the band members are hidden or vague shadows with only Reid a clear silhouette for the crowd. One welcome feature of this set-up is that from deep in the audience it is possible to see the stage without obstruction from hundreds of camera screens. It also means the audience focus is on the sound not the band’s movements on stage.

The band open with ‘Amputation’ from the most recent album, Damage And Joy and immediately, their signature rock and roll sound with heavy guitar distortion is clear. This is not a band that should feel like it is a limb cut-off from rock music. As the gig develops, they set out to show this is not the case. The indie classic ‘Head On’ is followed by ‘Blues From A Gun’ which shows the ability to give a blues tilt while ‘Between Planets’ has a danceable, almost pop feel. The basic three chord tunes and the large number of excellent hooks keep appearing and the audience are all in motion. The band use dynamic range to good effect in ‘Some Candy Talking’ where the soft, slow vocals are contrasted with an ear-bursting guitar break. The planned set ends with a rave-like ‘Reverence’ and the floor is bouncing.

The variation continues into the encores which begin with the loping classic ‘Just Like Honey’ and end six tunes later with a raucous chant-along of ‘I Hate Rock And Roll’. This final sentiment is one that this whole gig screams is a monstrous disingenuity but then, the Reid brothers would probably just grin, shrug and walk off to the applause.

Further photographs from the gig can be viewed here.

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NEU! Reekie! At The Edinburgh International Festival : Michael Rother, Leith Theatre

The Light On The Shore strand of the Edinburgh International Festival continues with the first of two nights curated by the increasingly well-known Neu! Reekie! arts collective. For a number of years, Edinburgh-based Neu! Reekie! have been curating evenings of spoken word, film and music focussing on Scottish and avant garde performers.

Tonight’s show features four performances with short films bridging the change-overs. Each performer is introduced by the Neu! Reekie! duo of Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson with Williamson being excited enough to try out his Leith-tinged German in honour of the appearance his favourite, Michael Rother whose band name Neu provided inspiration for half of the collective’s name.

The short films are an interesting mix with one notable early one providing a nearly wordless and uncertain story featuring a Ninja thief, spider-torturing scientists and an incompetent killer chicken. As a stimulation to the imagination for the evening, it was an excellent primer.

The first act are The Honey Farm, a hip-hop trio formed in East Lothian who criticise the misogynistic and violent strains of some rap by parodying them. ‘L.A.D.S.’ makes clear the mockery, as the act portray young men out on the town boasting about their genitalia and quipping “I’m cheeky like a Nando’s”. The danger in their act is that in parody, they can appear to be just in love with sexism and violence as those they seek to mock. The fine line that they have to tread is how far they spell that out to the audience and here they straddled it enough to be uncomfortable watching for this old male. The group show some early nerves but with pace, rhythm and wit demonstrate that there will probably be much more to come.

The next act are The Fire Engines and this is their last ever gig. The post-punk outfit formed in 1980 and lasted a year. They burned brightly and briefly but have had a significant influence on the scene in Scotland. They reformed in 2004 playing only a handful of gigs including a 21st anniversary celebration of the film of Trainspotting at this same venue.

Lead singer, Davy Henderson, wanders on in a silver foil anorak like a marathon runner just finished his race, until you realise that he has just got a t-shirt and his pink boxer shorts underneath. He opens with a cheery, sarcastic “Hello teenage of Leith” and spends the rest of the performance demonstrating that he is definitely not out of puff!

The Fire Engines play up to their name which comes from the psychedelic rock group, The 13th Floor Elevators. The rhythm section provides a steady, simple beat on top of which Henderson jams distortedly and discordantly. An excellent example is ‘Get Up And Use Me’ with its insistent, repetitious guitar chords and wild distortions. It is a perfect example of skronk.

After four songs of bouncing discord which see Henderson often on his knees wrestling with his guitar, he finishes the first half of their set with a childishly huge grin and grasping his whammy bar, he wiggles it recommending “Everyone should get one.”

The Fire Engines get a rest and on prowls Lydia Lunch, a poet who made her first impression in the anti-commercial, No Wave movement in ‘70s New York. She walks slowly and silently along the front edge of the stage obviously staring into the audience’s eyes before placing her notes on a lectern beside two microphones. She performs in a confrontational and committed style. Her voice can be strident or soft and the second microphone, which has an echo effect, is used to create a distant perspective from the punchy sentiments that she expresses.

Her message is a hard but positive one to embrace life’s challenges and conflicting appetites and all. She throws herself fully into the paced delivery of each story and her final one on the inevitable approach of death chimes perfectly with her opening cry to get on and live an involved life. The performance is deliberately discomfiting and several times, she challenges those talking at the back of the theatre with the apt “What are you hiding from?”

The stage is reset and the Fire Engines appear for their last set. Russell Burn, the drummer, appears in a loud party shirt, Davy Henderson has removed his silver foil as if cooked through and now sports a dark blue, woolly, ear-flap hat to set off against his boxer shorts. The band are joined by Malcolm Ross (guitar) originally from the Fire Engines contemporaries, TV Art and Josef K (and others). They play four more songs of which ‘Dischord’ is the most magnificent piece of honest, descriptive titling which ends after a blur of notes and distortion to a beat perfect finish. The crowd roar their approval and the band are called out for a final bow.

Tonight’s eclectic line-up is completed with the appearance of Michael Rother, a pioneering figure in music having set up Neu and Harmonia and played in Kraftwerk. He plays a selection of all his previous works with his band, particularly by Hans Lampe on drums.

The hypnotic lock-rhythms with Rother’s heavily processed guitar produce an ambience for dancing, after a little coaxing. Having initially stated that he would not speak much in the gig and that the audience should let the music move them, Rother asks “Do Scottish people dance?” and then, he gives them permission. After that, an audience that seemed almost stupefied in awe of this legend seem to shake themselves and the floor starts to sway and groove. The final numbers see the whole audience bobbing and bouncing in individual musical dreams. Rother plays with speed up and slow down of tunes as he originally did in the ‘70s, though this can be fine-tuned now with the array of processors on his desk. The end is greeted with great cheers and cries of more and Rother seems surprised and delighted to return for two encores.

The Neu! Reekie! comperes come out clearly brimming with justified pride. The acts may not all be new but then Neu! instead seems to mean the edge of art. The artists tonight, new and old, played their role superbly in challenging and provoking.

Further images from the gig can be viewed here.

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