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Alex Henry Foster at St Luke’s, Glasgow

 

 

Alex Henry Foster supports The Pineapple Thief with a short, 30-minute set which represents his return to touring after lockdown. Alex Henry Foster was in the middle of a tour supporting …Trail of the Dead when lock-down arrived in 2020 and thankfully, he has lost none of the stage presence or enthusiasm for live performance in the hiatus. Foster has a captivating delivery in the almost spoken-word passages within his songs. He gesticulates and growls like a pulpit-chewing priest. His emotions reflect the music which soars and pulses taking the audience on the musical-equivalent of a cinematic, emotional journey through some grand natural landscape.

 

Alex Henry Foster and his band The Long Shadows perform in post-rock orchestra-like style. As well as guitars, the band has two drum kits, keyboards and an occasional clarinet accompaniment arrayed behind Foster who nods and gestures to them from behind a music stand. They open with guitars being bowed in ‘Ouverture’ and ‘Slow Pace of the Winds’. Both of these songs are unreleased as yet. These serve as a starter before the main course which is a twenty-minute version of ‘The Hunter (By the Seaside Window)’.

 

Foster prefers a longer song format for its ability to wrap the audience in the sonic environment that the band creates. It creates the space for an immersive experience which offers more chance to create connection. Here, this long song has the feel of a tale of loss told around a warm fire on a winter’s evening. With its pulsing rhythm, it has a dreamy quality punctuated with passages of raw emotion. The song evokes nature as a sublime power beyond human control. It is reminiscent of the ocean which can ripple quietly or pound mercilessly.

 

Foster’s vocal delivery is often melancholic but not depressing. The guitars strum and screech. The drums roll and pound. The effect is enveloping and entrancing. There is no doubt about the atmosphere built by this performance which ends as a soft exhalation. Foster has communed with the audience, and they respond with rousing applause.

 

There is good news at the end of the gig as Foster tells a delighted audience that he and the band are back in on tour in the UK and Europe in Summer, 2022 but this time as headliners. This will give them the chance to play more of these longer songs and to sequence a playlist for a full set.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nubiyan Twist at Oval Space (Live Review)

 

 

Time is a funny thing. Too far in one direction, a thing is lost to it, obscured by what came before it. Too much too soon, a thing gets lost in it, but where’s the sweet spot? The fine balance, like a knife with a full tang evenly weighted between handle and blade, is like an artist with great timing; they cut through the noise. It’s a razors edge.

 

Nubiyan Twist returned to London, after a two-year involuntary hiatus, last Friday to celebrate the release of their latest album, Freedom Fables, which came out in February. Blending the familiar sounds of jazz, hip-hop, afrobeat, latin, soul, reggae and dance music, this powerful and genre defying 10-piece (plus guest singer) will give you a run for your money. There is one catch though, so will the supporting acts with fewer members.

 

Py Jaen, a five-piece, and Colectiva, a nine-piece, equally blew the audience away for a whole two and a half hours before Nubiyan Twist, with their unique music, too much too soon. The bands, which both sounded like cover bands of the headliner, stole the impact the headliner would’ve had, had they been on sooner or, at the very least, had varying support acts. Speaking of, ‘it’s so good to be back after two years’ is the new ‘LONDON, HOW YA’LL DOING?!’, it’s getting old, fast. Switch it up. Introduce the band perhaps?

 

Sorry, listen, the band’s got ‘brass’ (literally three, seemingly identical, sax players on at the same time), their transitions are seamless and it’s a cohesive well-rehearsed troupe. On a less crowded night, with different support acts, and an audience that wasn’t so pissed up and overly shove-y by the time they took the stage, it would be a more than agreeable experience. I left after two songs. Oval Space is a great venue, Nubiyan Twist and their support acts are all great acts but in this case the timing was just off.

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The Allegory of the Gig – Featuring Black Country New Road (Opus Prime)

 

 

 

Last night we had the opportunity to tune in and stream BC,NR's set out of London's Southbank Centre. The 7 piece played to a live and global audience in a sparsely lit, and even sparser filled, theater. The audience which I assumed were a few lucky friends and family (and maybe they were) soon surprise us. Standing up we learn they're paired with wireless mics joining BC,NR's chorus of voices fleshing out the end of Track X, the 6th in the set much like the doo doo doos in Lou Reed's Take a Walk on the Wild Side. Flagged by 3 screens juxtaposed with seemingly non-relevant Americana imagery while projections spill out and over the walls draping the theater in muted light and moving imagery. The hour long set oscillates out and over the Southbank, across the Thames, through London and broadcasts itself out over the ether and onto our screens. A memorable and delightful evening in.

It's very difficult, for me, to sum up BC,NR (you can't just call a group 'post-punk' like the promotional blurb, everything made in the last 30 years is in fact that). It's not the first time I've seen them play and still I feel like they're a group better heard than described. I was caught off guard, pleasantly, at Rockaway Beach 2020 (billed as the first, and unbeknownst to us all, the last festival of the year). BC,NR is an eclectic group of talented musicians that seemingly take no discernible cues from one another when playing culminating in a sea of rogue waves that still manage break upon the shores, that is their audience, in pitch perfect unison.

Although they may look young don't let their appearances fool you, their talent and music is no fluke and lurks Mariana deep. Mark's Theme which open's their set with contemporary sax and keys soon teases in the rest of the instrumentals. Ironically enough this leads to the second track of the night, Instrumentals. These arrangements remind me of 77 year old farther of Etho-Jazz Mulatu Astatke's Etho-Jazz album Ethiopiques which is a favorite of mine and probably why I enjoyed it so much. It's a feverish collection of sounds that seemingly on the surface clash through frantic keys and percussion reined in and woven together seamlessly by brass and bass forming a rich tapestry of sounds. Each of their songs keeps you on your toes and perhaps even slightly off-balanced, like a man with crooked teeth laughing and smiling with his mouth wide open, to borrow a line from Murakami.

The set continues in this manner of musical Jenga full of tension and suspense. I find myself rocking my head back and forth as their performance spills out to and over me from my giant screen through noise canceling headphones alone in my flat with a chilled glass to hand of neat 13 year old scotch, which I refill at my leisure without any small talk distracting me from the music. Isaac Woods (Guitar/Vocals), a young Cillian Murphy doppelganger, is an old soul whose singing style is as melodic as it is unpredictable, truly a dark poet. Although lyrics for track 4's Science Fair are a seemingly the base of an unconventional love song one can't help to wonder if elements like burning, bubbles and methane gas go deeper than that. The intensity in his performance, and the band as a whole, goes from a gripped lot of strained neck cables bulging while shouting out “black country new road!” (don't you love when they use the title of the movie in the movie?) to hushed and lulling tones of “losing myself in the light of the tv” as I too was in the process of doing so rounding the bend into track 5, Sunglasses, one of my favourites in their set thus far.

As I let the music wash over me throughout their set I reach Opus which is, and remains, my favourite part of the show and album. It's a song whose icy fingers claw their way up your clammy back forcing you up and out into the light splashed shadowy alleys of Djemma el Fna Square chasing you relentlessly up and down between the open air night market stalls before slamming you full force into a row of duplicitous looking vendors. The tempo dips a bit just before the 2 minute mark, the equivalent to taking a sharp bend into dark and trash strewn alley, a break in the chase. Looking over your shoulder you're afforded a respite, you've lost them, only to discover the track is 8 minutes long and you're far from out the other end. And in fact, just under a minute later, your veins are pumping battery acid as the song takes off again, on and off and on and off in sprints. Perhaps the most haunting visions are of the sax-ual overtones which chase after me like insidious apparitions. The crown jewel of the set. The performance finishes up with with track 8 and 9, Bread Song and Basketball Shoes respectively of which the audience/chorus chimes in again, the house lights come on and the set concludes a bit abruptly just shy of an hour. Was it worth it, was it even a gig?

If you're unfamiliar with Plato's allegory of the cave here's the nickle tour. You think something is reality, you're then shown what reality actually is (it's blinding like BC,NR live), then you're chucked back into non-reality with a bunch of people that have never seen it and don't believe or care about anything you have might have to say about it (think a shadow puppet show, like BC,NR streamed). I've seen BC,NR live, does a stream do it justice? Short answer, no. You're conventional gig has a couple of support acts and a headliner on a good night this takes up the better part of 3 hours. Not only do you see your faves live, up close and personally with DNA spraying everywhere if you get in early enough, you also get to feel the music blast through you. The gig streamed over YouTube in low-quality, there didn't seem to be any camera blocking and the sound was hollow. I watched on an upper mid-range 4K set up, not on my phone or laptop, and was thoroughly disappointed/At a tenner a pop I would've rather come home with the bottom of my shoes sticky from the Shack. I couldn't choose better quality and it looked like a bad copy of a VHS tape, that's been copied twice before (see screenshots via our gram). The Pros? I could replay it (but why bother after that description?) and I could use the voucher from the ticket sale to get 10% off the new album which I personally highly recommend. The Cons, if I'd paid I'd feel ripped off by the gimmicky normcore of it all. The sound, picture quality and choreography on reels and stories across all socials comes off slicker than this did. It's a poor substitute for the real thing, like rations. Personally I'd save my squids (not a typo) and either buy the album or wait to see them live with a few other great up and comers. Hopefully, we won't have to wait too much longer, if we do however, Southbank should up their game.

 

 

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Tycho, Printworks, London

 

Fun fact, on Thursday I learned that you don't have to be asleep to be part of a nightmare. In a word my experience leading up to and at the actual Tycho gig was awful. Keep reading if you’d like to learn why or stop reading and go listen to something good and have a snack. I personally recommend a lightly salted and buttered popcorn accompanied by last year’s release and collab by Karen O and Danger Mouse titled Lux Prima

The night began hydroplaning towards the Printworks to catch Poolside and Tycho over a terrain that could give the moon’s cratered surface a run for its money. London’s glassed streets resembling more a lens with petroleum jelly smeared over it rather than a driving surface, compounded its dangers as the night and fog filled my visor. Sound dicey? Child’s play compared to being nearly run off the road, twice, by the same driving school car. The worst was yet to come though.

I'd heard of both Poolside and Tycho but neither name held my attention long enough to give them each a proper listen. Recently however I was at Death's door (see White Flower article, and live!) and combing through my inbox. I decided to follow a link from a promoter and listen to Tycho's new album, Simulcast, which made an impression so I sought out catching them live. Upon arrival at the Printworks I'm told I can't park in the car park because that's not what it's used for. I'm then sent to media accreditation where I'm delayed for 20 minutes because they can't find my accreditation and can't use a radio properly to call for assistance. I'm then sent to the guestlist desk where they find my name and send me weaving through four lanes of metal barriers, through a metal detector and finally a pat-down/bag inspection. Hurdles cleared (or so I thought) I shed my wet riding gear, pack it into my bag and head to stage level.

I'm stopped just before mounting the stairs. 'You can't go up there, that bag is too big'. 'Fine' I say, it's a compression bag which I squeeze with mighty hands to the size of a deflated basketball, 'small enough for ya?' I ask. The guard nods but points to our helmets now. Although the Printworks don’t have a helmet policy, or a locker that will fit them, I’m told they must go in. For a fiver. With no liability on their behalf if anything happens to them. For those of you that don’t know a helmet is a life saving device, I argue, and if it’s dropped or hit it’s effectively useless. I'm not comfortable with negotiating it into an ill-fitting receptacle. The guard stands firm saying, I kid you not, I could rob the entire venue if I have this on my person. Furthermore, he asks, 'what if you had a store, would you let someone in holding that thing?!' 'Would I let someone not wearing a helmet into my store after passing through a metal detector and getting thoroughly frisked and searched?' I ask, 'yes'. Security: 'now I know you're lying'. Immune to reason or logic we spend another 15 minutes arguing in circles until I'm brought to management which gladly take the helmet into a locked office I can see, 'my Dad had a helmet and dropped it, he had to buy a new one, I totally get where you're coming from' says probably the first reasonable human being I’ve met at the Printworks that night. It might be worth noting that I’ve never had this issue at any other London venue. Get your shit together Printworks.

With two songs left in their set I catch Poolside. I don't mind because their performance was lacklustre and reeked of an identity crisis. Was it a tween movie soundtrack manifesting itself before me in human form? Was it elevator music? The last song, a new one, was a schizophrenic combination of a '90s zoot suit meets ska train wreck. They went off stage without an encore to the merciful relief of the crowd.

If you hate listening to music, Tycho is the band for you. Harsh, maybe? Unintentionally so however, which is more than I can say for their performance. Tycho is perfect for music’s underachievers; if you don’t like sifting through records with your fingertips lost in the sounds and smells of LPs and 45s you’ve found your musical match! Getting lost down the digital rabbit hole of music’s streaming algorithm not for you? Problem over, Tycho to the rescue. Hearing a tune and popping open Sound Hound to find out more about a song that’s made an impression on you or just even taking a friend’s music suggestion too much hassle? Forget listening to music, Tycho’s on deck and they’re the group for you! You don’t have to get anything and there’s no overthinking it either. It’s just there, like a toilet brush, useful probably but you’re unsure of how it got there or even came to be. Scott Hansen, by night known as Tycho, is a polished and tanned middle aged time traveling Ken doll standing in front of a band, giant projections of landscapes and behind a crescent of six keyboards producing musical sounds. He’s from the future where society’s risen above spontaneity, improvisation and creative music as a whole because they’ve already unlocked the Universe's mysteries. Spoiler alert we blow up. Are they good? Are they bad? I don't know, but I do know is they're just there standing in front of me moving like some sort of animatronic Pirates of the Caribbean or something. Who’d waste 30 quid on such a thing you might be asking yourselves? Good question: let me tell you.

I’m trapped in a sea of fans which are either grunting through burbbling throats that bubble and gurgle up guttural, "tycho, Tycho, TYCHO!" while clenched teeth and tongues twist unnaturally inside their mouths. The scene is more tourettes than cheers of enthusiasm. The sporadic and unpredictable echoes of "Tycho" shouted by fanatics come across as a demented by product of listening to the music instead of enjoying it, an illness like a side effect or nervous tick; a compulsion. I’m at the front and outside of the women, swaying with eyes closed as they’re relentlessly groped and sucked upon by their partners to these horrid beats, everyone is a minimum of 5’11 and taller. The dudes as you’d imagine are the type taking blurred out selfies and are ‘experiencing’ the gig via their phone screens. Nice one, music bro(s).

By song three I was ready to leave but by song six when Hannah Cottrell, aka Saint Sinner came onto the stage blasting us with peace signs, juvenile lyrics and her trout neck tattoo I was ready to PEACE-OUT, and so I did. No small feat mind you, the fanatics would not let me pass, to exit I had to shove, contort and yell at followers just to leave; you'd’ve had an easier time leaving the Church of Scientology. Unfortunately, I could not depart without reprieve, by the exit I got skull fucked one last time. A pair of erotic sentries were facing each other in frozen embrace with at least half a metre between them. Their eyes were closed, mouths open and tongues extended and touching all while remaining completely still. I was as frozen with horror as I was intrigue. Pretty much the grossest thing I’d seen all week, next to Tycho’s performance. I stormed out thinking about just how awkward AF and unsettling an experience I’d had all the way through. Have you ever seen parents kissing their kids on the mouth? Yeah, like that.     

I picked up my helmet but not before being accosted by the merch table dude, "Hey mate, you look cold, why not buy a hoody?" I looked at him puzzled, "I’ve walked out halfway through the gig because I couldn’t stand being there any longer and you think I want to commemorate this experience by buy a hoody as a lasting memory?" Perplexed he broke eye contact and I broke outta there.

Leaving was the best part of the experience. It had stopped raining, no crowd and no more Tycho. Don’t get me wrong, put it on in the background, it’s equal to white noise and equally as unobtrusive. The music holds the same weight as a dream and longevity of memory. It’s a corporate gig with generic applications that’re as safe as they are inoffensive, unimaginative and mechanical. This is why we don’t let robots make music, just saying. Can’t say the same about the audience. Fortunately, for you, it was the last show of the tour, so no need to look up dates or ignore my advice and put yourself through a gruelling experience, Musos' got you.

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Sarah Meth & Okay Kaya, SET, London

 

It’s pouring rain outside and so I’m not feeling particularly motivated to leave the flat, not only that but I do not want to be standing around in wet sneakers all night. I’ve gotta write a review for a gig and I’m already hearing my editor's voice in my head, ‘be more critical’, on the plus side I recognize the voice and it’s only one voice, count your blessings where you can gettem. Of course, he’s right. My work comes off fanboyish more often than not. Hard to blame me though when London’s music scene is steeped in talent. Tonight, though, I’m feeling like I’m in the right mindset to be more critical. I’ve had a shitty day with my stomach still in knots, my veins are rife with criticism coursing through them. I arrive at SET soaked having not even listened to the two artists I’m meant to review; the makings of this article will be a spray of friendly fire I think to myself. 

Sarah Meth takes to the stage, 15 minutes late, fury swells inside me. She doesn’t look concerned and this free spirit attitude carries onto her guitar which sounds (is) out of tune. She’s missing stringed notes when she plays and a general unconcerned vibe is in the air. I imagine the set I’ll be watching will come from a child that’s been hugged too often and told by overly encouraging and enthusiastic parents that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. So this, the fruit of their labour, is happening to me. I am, in fact, mistaken.  

Sarah starts off with her set ‘What Does It Mean’ demonstrating her strength as a lyricist;: 

"But the night reveals my body but he can’t handle my mind", followed strongly by a second as yet to be released single ‘Blue’ with equally vivid lyrics:  

"We cry cause the system ain’t right, the sirens don’t sleep tonight."   

Sarah’s voice radiates unwavering. Light and airy at times it floats towards the highs but is equally confident when plunging to the depths of moody and morose bluesy bass. It works, it all works. No drums, no problem, sparse audience, still okay. Much later after her performance on my way home I stream her single which drips production values and instruments not apparent in her stripped-down set but both experiences are equally as absorbing as they are rewarding. Her lyrics are sobering and leave you feeling having lived their story like an implanted memory. With deja-vu comes a strong feeling of empathy engrossing the audience as Sarah sings her final tune solo on stage. The hold on us is strong but is finally shattered when a single coin falls from somewhere coming at us like a freight train screeching through the joint. I snap back to reality only realizing then I haven’t taken a single picture.  

By now I can no longer see the stage from the midpoint in the room it’s gotten so crowded. Relocating to the front of stage I’m greeted by Okay Kaya and her Trumpeter. She’s avoiding eye contact with the audience and fishing around her guitar case for her guitar strap. She’s now facing us recharging her confidence, she removes her jumper in true striptease fashion. The confidence melts away just as soon as it’s appeared as she’s strapping on her guitar and facing the crowd but it’s disarming and endearing. She audibly breathes heavily into her microphone wide eyed as if to joke that this is an intimidating experience for her, but I’m not sure it’s an act. Nervous stream of consciousness is pretty much littered throughout her set and I feel for her. Being on stage or even outgoing true enough are traits often associated with confidence but from my (own personal) experience are easily associated with being nervous as well.  I feel for her, I think she’s courageous. ‘So, these are some nice curtains’ she comments asking what the curtains are like at Hoxton Hall where she’ll be playing in May. Kaya, like Sarah, plays hushed set both vocally and instrumentally and also like Sarah is a strong lyricist. I want to keep hearing her lyrics which are as outrageous as they are transmundane (LOOK THEM UP, or better yet listen to her music many times).  She constructs her song lyrics like the children that wouldn’t use the instructions that came with their Lego, appropriating the pieces to manifest their imagination into physical being. Kaya’s grasp on vocabulary as a second language speaker is intrinsic; a tool repurposing her insides and outsides around her. It’s magical. I wish I could say more but I’ve maxed out my ‘Cerebral Per Diem’ – Kaya 

Moving away from the lyrical structure and focusing just on the sounds firstly, no percussion for either set and no effects, I didn’t miss either. It wasn’t exactly an acoustic set but some genre defiant beast. It was stripped down and raw, it felt real, it felt believable and approachable inclining the audience to experience both. It was, as stated previously, a very intimate performance. Preferring this to large venues there’s no better way to connect with the artist and their work. Everything about the sound was soft. Two amps, two musicians and the most hushed trumpet I’ve ever heard from five feet away. I could hear the strings being plucked instead of the sounds they produced, I heard the keys pressed and the exhales of breath from the trumpeter. The tones were all warm, gooey and soothing more lullaby than a song. This really stood out during Ka Meg a tune she sang in her mother tongue, If you’re unaware, as I was, Kaya is Norwegian. The Norwegian inflection in her voice slaps in songs like Psyche Ward and Ka Meg. Nagging connections between her and Nico really tugged at me, closing my eyes I was hearing echoes of 'Chelsea Girls' especially during 'Ka Meg' 

In the end both artists, their musical style, their lyrics, were a mix of reflexive narrations swaddled quietly in a poetic narrative. I left in a really good mood, much better than the one I’d walked in with. I’ve been listening to a lot of loud psychedelic tunes lately and live shows in particular so it was nice to break and switch it up by being drawn into a performance instead of being pushed back by what was coming off the stage. Both Sarah and Kaya have shows coming up in the next few months, dig a little and get yourself out there. 

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White Flowers, MOTH Club, London

Generally, by rule of thumb, flowers say it all. They’re often thought of as the brighteners of even the dreariest of times, be it soggy London days or failing health right up until the ultimate capstone, funerals.

Death be damned however I’m still poorly and propped up by pillows layered in bed sores that’re maturing nicely. I’m all Netflixed out but recuperating from some undiagnosed and possibly life-threatening illness, it’s the perfect time to catch up on music and emails. Fortunately for me these aren’t mutually exclusive. Ruthlessly I reap my inbox. As emails blur together one after another are culled until I come across White Flowers (@WhiteFlowersssss) outta Preston. I’m kicking myself for not seeing this message sooner because I’m instantly hooked.

I’m not sure if I’m floating through a fever dream or a cloud at this point but this dreamy noir duo is the UK's best kept secret, for the time being. Like breadcrumbs strewn upon a windy day their music leads me one way never fully letting me settle before committing to a change in tack; my musical bearings might be slightly skewed but this, however, doesn’t detract from the divine yet comforting unpredictability piping through my headphones. These layers spliced into their music add next level aural textures, seemingly they’ve pulled it off with an ease that’s as completely disarming as it is sophisticated and technically profound. I’ve greedily absorbed both tracks 'Night Drive' and 'Porta' before realizing there’s nothing left to consume or be consumed by.

Months pass, illness (just barely) overcome, and I’ve got no joy when it comes to tour dates or new tracks. I’m left relentlessly messaging promoters to no avail when suddenly two dates are seemingly announced out of nowhere. One you’ve missed at the MOTH this past Friday, the next you’ve still got a chance to snag. Just before 10pm Katie Drew and Joey Cobb ascend onto a shadowy lit stage making their debut. The lighting scheme changes for the first time this evening, a different tone is struck. It’s obviously orchestrated but I relish these theatrics. A dulling of our visual senses in favour of sound. Deepening tones shrouded in the new and mysterious ambiance envelops us as much as it does their music. The onlookers compelled draw nearer. They’re the third act of the night in a line-up of duos but it’s the first time I’ve heard applause by way of disruption rather than chatter from the audience. We’re not really left a choice, the velvety tones expand around us sucking up the air in the room, it’s any wonder how Katie’s voice and keys find their way weaving through Joey’s strings both manage their grip on us without faltering. It’s a performance as solid as they come. I’m not left disappointed and neither is anyone else.

Although their set withers away White Flowers won’t be wilting any time soon. Although their moody tones are dark and brooding, they’ll brighten any room or stage they’re situated near. Next Show is March 4th at Rough Trade East, if you’re in London stop by and waft in a breath of the freshest music out this year thus far.  

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