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Ty Segall, The Boilershop, Newcastle

 

The first time you see someone perform live in their own right isn't always the best show you'll ever get from them but, in the case of Ty Segall and his Freedom Band bassist Mikal Cronin, those instances for me will be hard to top. Tonight's show is nevertheless one I've greatly anticipated, not least due to the good reports I've had about The Boilershop as a venue. 

Given the time of year and the number of windows the venue sports on its western wall there's little need for electric light in the body of the hall during the opening performance by local band Them Things or that by travelling support Mike Donovan. Thus the atmosphere's much like that at a festival and the goings on on stage provide just a backing track for a lot of people's conversations and drinking, ourselves included. Them Things therefore made little impression on me although the singer's white jacket stood out & Mike Donovan made plenty of noise for a one man outfit but I didn't feel inspired to then check out his work once back home.

Crewing for themselves meant that Ty Segall & the band wasted no time in getting into position and letting loose, with the minimum of chat (no need to appeal to stage divers this time round, although given UK Health & Safety that was probably never likely anyway). Ty turned 31 today so 'Happy Birthday' was duly sung to him a few times by the crowd & that was obviously appreciated.

Mikal Cronin seemed to be suffering from a cold to some degree & Charlie Mootheart (occupying the drum stool) looked like he'd caught too much sun but all five players kept it tight throughout, at one point even managing to inspire a circle pit at the front of the stage. 'Everyone's A Winner' received no special placing in the setlist, being run through round about three songs in or so. Maybe they're getting bored of it already but it still went down well with the crowd, meeting as it does the maxim of making cover versions your own.

Longer, and maybe closer to the band's heart, was their version of The Groundhogs' 'Cherry Red'. This bears no great difference from the original (or the one delivered by The Monkeywrench for that matter) but the younger members of the audience likely haven't seen such a number played authentically live before so there's a benefit in that.

Fault though was impossible to find with the show, despite 'She' not featuring in the set (I'd been looking forward to that riff), and the location proved itself to be as good as had been reported once the sun set. A performance fully up to scratch and, whilst not topping that of two years ago that has to be viewed in the light of an unmatchable experience I reckon so, as he supposedly plans to dial down on touring for a while after the current run of dates, this was an experience to savour as it could be a while before he's back (a tour which would hopefully feature a Scottish date). He's definitely had better t-shirt designs in the past though as the two tonight were weak. Even just the cliche of the album cover would have been better.  

Further images from the show here

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The Magic Numbers, Empire Music Hall, Belfast

 

Pic by Ruairi Conlon

We’re in sunny Belfast for The Magic Numbers in the beautifully appointed Empire Music Hall. Early comers get a sweetly harmonious appetiser in the form of Morrissey And Marshall. The London-based Dubliners have a simple set up, with two guitars and the duo's voices front and centre. They’re a fine complement to the headline act. Amid a punishing touring schedule, the pair have no backup equipment with them and when Greg Marshall breaks a string, he excuses himself from the stage to make a quick repair leaving Darren Morrissey to carry the song. He rejoins, to applause, at the perfect moment to add a lead flourish to the song in progress. Although they’re from Dublin, they sound like they’re from the North West of England. When they sing together, it’s like John Lennon sharing a stage with Cast’s John Power. Any fans of ‘60s and ‘70s folk and rock acts will enjoy them. There are noticeable overtones of The Beatles and The Small Faces as well as American acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Simon & Garfunkel.

After the shortest of intervals Ren Harvieu appears onstage without fanfare. So sudden is her appearance that there are double takes as her ululating voice rings out, accompanying a backing track. Her effortless, classically influenced voice is entrancing. Romeo Stodart from the main act then joins her with a warm sounding guitar. There’s a feeling of cabaret and old school musical theatre to her performance. Her short set is made up of songs with the connecting theme of “accepting yourself even when your brain tells you you’re useless”. It’s definitely something I can relate to, even if the music is not what I would otherwise listen to.

The Stodart and Gannon siblings take the stage and beckon the scattered crowd nearer to the front. I mainly know the band from their first album and have to own up to not following their career all the closely, despite meeting them in a Dublin hotel in 2006. What is most surprising is Michele’s performance with the bass on the new material. If Caitlin Moran were auditioning for a Dee Dee Ramone biopic, she could do worse than imitating the Stodart sister.

Meanwhile, the Stodart brother gets to work on ‘Love’s A Game’, working the audience and getting them to sing backing vocals. They open ‘Forever Lost’ like it’s an Iron Maiden tune; Michele raising her bass aloft with her foot on the monitor like Dave Murray. They play at a higher tempo than the studio version, matching their newer, more muscular material. Angela Gannon doubles up on guitar and keyboard duties while brother Sean, on drums, looks like he has been there and done it musically. You would imagine him being equally comfortable playing in AC/DC as he would be in this band.

New song ‘Runaways’ has, wait for it, three part harmonies. No surprise there, but it has a dark undercurrent and insistent bass line that brings to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. Mac are a big influence on the new album and even a solo song from Romeo Stodart sounds like Peter Green. ‘Shot In The Dark’ sees Romeo ripping through a couple of solos and squealing feedback during an extended jam. Subsequently, and very old fashionedly, they play a slow set. Romeo plays his Peter Green-esque solo tune before ‘Sing Me A Rebel Song’, during which Angela admonishes an obtrusively noisy group of audience members at the bar. They close out the main set with another Fleetwood Mac extended jam on ‘Sweet Divide’. One phoney baloney encore break later, and they are back with the crowd pleaser ‘Mornings Eleven’. The whole room is singing along, and soon it’s foot on the monitor time again for a stonking version of ‘Love Me Like You’. Those last two songs and ‘Forever Lost’ are bonafide pop classics and the new songs are satisfyingly groovy. Things are looking good for The Magic Numbers.

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Vantastival 2018 - Sunday Review

 

It’s another scorcher today; highly unusual for a Bank Holiday. After a number of technical problems, the Firestone stage is back in action with a group of fresh faced youngsters called The Skins. They compensate for their shortened set by lashing through a series of high octane, pop rock songs. They're the type of band who would play at the party in an American high school movie; not that there is anything wrong with that. A cover of The Raconteurs ‘Steady As She Goes’ fits the mood perfectly. Even more extraordinary than the weather is the call for an encore at two in the afternoon. It is the first time I have seen a band allowed to continue, outside of a headline slot, at a festival. Presumably the fact that they patiently handled the tech delays before their set is a significant factor.

Callous Crows on the main stage are a guitar and drums duo, heavily influenced by Nirvana. The quiet/loud song structures and harsh Cobain-esque screaming are unmistakable. There's some good interplay between the pair on stage but they sound unfinished and the screams become fainter over the course of the set. Their last song, a previous single called ‘Hurts So Good’, shows what they are capable of. We'll count that as a work in progress.

Next up on the main stage is a band we are very familiar with, our Blogtober headliners Makings. The early evening heat is building up in the main tent. The band have a guest onstage in the shape of Macon, Georgia’s Cairon420, who features on their new single ‘Blackhole’. As well as adding his hip hop touch to that song, he remains with the band for their whole set, which is drawn entirely from their forthcoming second album. There's a greater emphasis on the electronic side of their hybrid sound this time round. Everyone is dancing onstage as they perform. The new single follows ‘Algorithm’, with Cairon raising cheers from the audience. Adding him to the band takes their sound to another level. I’ve seen Makings dozens of times in the last four years and this is their best performance yet. The combination of Cairon’s Deep South delivery and Rick Burn’s falsetto gives the music a whole new dimension. This band continue to impress.

It appears we missed a colour fight while watching Makings. There's a large contingent outside covered in pink, orange and yellow powder. Back under cover, there's a change of pace and tone on the main stage when Varo come on. A trio of two fiddles and a bouzouki /mandolin, the French/Italian group play a stripped down acoustic set of traditional tunes. After the thumping bass of Makings that carried across the field, many outside assume that the music has stopped. The Dublin based instrumentalists put me in mind of Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny from Planxty.

I haven't seen Exiles before but I have heard an EP from a couple of years back and even though the songs didn't grab me at the time, their ‘80s sound and livery linger in my memory banks. Tapping the same vein as The Night Flight Orchestra, they play soulful, retro rock influenced by the likes of Hall and Oates, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. I am dubious about them replicating that sound when I first see them but when they don their shades and Miami Vice shirts, my fears are allayed. Synth player, Darragh O’Connor, doubling up with a Starsky And Hutch themed guitar helps in that department too. As soon as they start playing, it sounds like incidental music from the Michael Mann show. They have the details down pat. The vocal harmonies are spot-on ‘80s pastiche. Even the dreaded gated snare sounds fitting in the context of Exiles’ tunes. It's not what I would usually listen to but, because it's what I grew up with, it sounds great on a Sunday evening as the punishing sunshine starts to abate. They create a fantastic vibe. There's an impromptu dance-off in front of the stage and the lead singer, Jack O’Flaherty, joins in. Exiles have tapped in to something unexpectedly great.

As the sun finally sets on Vantastival, it's Thumper’s turn on the Woodland stage. I've seen these a number of times in Dublin but this is the first time I'll be sober for it. There's a comical opening as they are running late and we watch them soundcheck for 15 minutes. Then they all leave the stage and come back on, accompanied by a musical and lighting intro, shouting “Hello Vantastival!” It's a ludicrous beginning, so it's lucky that they are one of Dublin's most dynamic live acts. The two drummers and three guitars all contribute to the bombast. They are as melodic and catchy as they are raucous and noisy. It's a rocktastic end to the festival and a fitting send off to Vantastival 2018. The weather has helped but this is still a wonderfully friendly and eclectic gathering. The standard of the music is consistently high. Vantastival sets the high water mark for music at Irish festivals, and puts a lot of the more heavily promoted competition to shame. See you next year.

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Vantastival 2018 - Saturday Review

 

We’ve arrived by the banks of the Boyne in perfect tent pitching weather. The skies are cloudy. There’s a pleasant breeze. But it’s still very warm. Now in its ninth year, Vantastival is the unofficial start of summer festival season in Ireland. The June bank holiday wouldn’t be the same without it. Featuring a fully home-grown line-up and independently run (with sponsorship from some big brands), it’s established itself as the true home of quality independent music in the country.

With the tent up, food is the first priority and it’s great to find Lala Poutine set up here. The Canadian dish is hard to find in Ireland, so it is a genuine treat to dig in to the many variations of chips and curds. King Kong Club contest winners Where’s Luke kick things off on the Firestone stage with some accessible but earnest rock. Amid the rough hewn planks of the Woodland stage, Kilkenny’s The Southern Fold blend bluegrass and southern rock to great effect. The lead singer’s ZZ Top beard matches his gruff bluesy voice. They have a sweet, soothing sound accentuated by the male/female duo on vocals. It’s only when the pair duet on a cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ that I realise I’ve seen them before.

The sun eventually emerges and soaks the Boyne Valley in baking heat so we skedaddle to the shade of the Woodland again. The festival’s recycling drive is being ably assisted by a troupe of children in hi-vis vests walking around with plastic bags and encouraging the grown-ups to finish their beer so they can take the empty cans. MG favourites Nix Moon played a storming set here last night, if the videos on Facebook are anything to go by. They’ll have won a few more fans in the run up to the release of their debut album. The band are still here and looking remarkably fresh as Sun Mashene hit the stage. The five piece play some loud rock with noticeable influences of ‘90s Manchester guitar pop and undertones of shoegaze.

Back in the Firestone tent, Navan’s Chinese Newspaper are immediately the most impressive act of the day so far. A four piece guitar band who have mastered all the tropes of rock 'n' roll, their songs are packed with ideas and creative play. They are by turns light and tuneful, then crushingly heavy. In his shorts and funky shades, the lead singer is the spit of a young Olga from The Toy Dolls. It’s quite fitting too, as both bands have a similar magpie approach to music, even if they don’t sound alike. The drummer may resemble a hipster Trump but he has the chops to get away with it. He switches from funky to double-bass-pedal insanity with the twirl of a stick. Chinese Newspaper’s energetic and original music draws in an enthusiastic and eclectic festival crowd. They sound like the finished product already. If they can transfer that industry and inventiveness to the studio, they’ll do well.

Elephant take to the main stage. There’s a Future Islands vibe from the music. Front man Shane Clarke sings in a falsetto to a guitar he wears “Beatles high”. He and the guitar are engaged in a duet, and the band fill out the sound to main stage proportions. This band, that he refers to as “the next stage in the evolution of the group: Elephant 2.0”, are unobtrusive but essential to the big sound. It’s simultaneously familiar and different: very much in the vein of Future Islands so.

And that’s the end of a very hot summer’s day outside Drogheda. Tomorrow, we have Exiles, Thumper and our old friends, Makings to look forward to. Goodnight!

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Car Seat Headrest, Camden Roundhouse, London

On a May evening at the Camden Roundhouse, Car Seat Headrest a.k.a. Will Toledo, everyone’s favourite overwrought, lower-case tweeting indie-darling, walks onstage with six other musicians - significant because it’s a far cry from a few years ago when he was playing all the instruments himself and uploading his albums to Bandcamp. Signing to Matador in 2016 has significantly beefed up Toledo’s sound (predominantly because his albums are no longer recorded on a Macbook), and along with that - his live performances. The set starts with a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Waves of Fear’, droning notes building to a crescendo before the band launch into quite possibly the best gig opener since, er, ‘Fill in the Blank’ - Twin Fantasy’s ‘Bodys’.

Car Seat Headrest recently released a re-recorded version of Twin Fantasy, the album Toledo “Didn’t know how to finish” first time around when he uploaded it back in 2011. The previous version was a multifaceted, bedroom heartbreak record, but in re-recording it, that sweet Matador money has unsurprisingly made for a stronger, more urgent modern classic. New versions of tracks are mostly exactly the same, perhaps with a couple of lyrical references updated (on ‘Cute Thing’ - “I want a voice like Dan Bejar” is now “I want a voice like Frank Ocean’s” [fine] and “I want a stage presence like John Entwistle” is now “I want a stage presence like James Brown” [weird choice]). After ‘Bodys’ the band start bashing out the big ones from the two preceding albums, Teens of Style and Teens of Denial - ‘Fill In the Blanks’, ‘Hippie Powers’, ‘Drugs With Friends’ - it’s almost a greatest hits set, testament to the sheer volume of chorus-heavy bangers in Toledo’s back catalogue. As ‘Cute Thing’ comes to a barnstorming end, the band immediately launch into a Talking Heads cover (a CSH live staple) - Remain in Light’s ‘Crosseyed and Painless’. Skittering guitar and bass loop over backbeat drums, and Toledo bounces around the stage, eyes closed and singing to the ceiling.

Talking Heads is followed by pints-in-the-air singalong, ‘Drunk Drivers’ (complete with cowbell and maracas courtesy of support band Naked Giants) and closing with latest single, ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’. The band stalk off to thunderous applause before coming back 5 minutes later for an encore of some of Twin Fantasy’s quieter numbers, before following with twelve minute epic, ‘Beach Life in Death’, a song written seven years previous. In the past Toledo has referred to ‘Beach Life’, which is obviously one of the more personal songs (from a man whose stock-in-trade is personal songs) as the “albatross around his neck” (the song’s title is also a reference to The Ancient Mariner). By re-recording the album, in his new persona as one of his generation’s most adored alternative songwriters, perhaps Toledo has managed to slough off the albatross from his neck. He certainly can hold a crowd down. 

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Bearded Theory - Day Three

 

So, having survived the ordeal of the lightning, I rise like Odysseus into baking sunshine for the last day of Bearded Theory. The drainage here is excellent. You’d hardly know it had even rained. In fact, my neighbour slept through it, the bastard! Donning slightly damp boots, we head to the arena to recharge, both literally and figuratively. After dropping my battery pack at the recharge station and getting a bacon roll from Duck Burgers, I’m feeling almost normal again. The festival site could use better signage but credit where it’s due, its day three and I have yet to queue for a toilet or find one that was dirty or smelly. It sounds like a small thing but it’s quite an achievement, well done Bearded Theory.

Sheafs invite the early risers to step a little closer. The band have just arrived from Sheffield and look noticeably fresher than the assembled throng. The stage is lined with vintage portable TVs and signs reading “This is not a protest” as the rock quintet launch into ‘You’re So Fickle’. Front man Lawrence climbs down into the pit to greet the front row during ‘My Pollution’. He already looks like a rock star with his floppy hair, open shirt and white half moon tambourine. He even scales the barrier to get amongst the crowd and whip them up during ‘I Wanna Show You What I Mean’. Good stuff!

There’s a lot of dadrock on the main stage this afternoon and nothing worth writing home about so I head over to the Showcase stage where a very pleasant group of milquetoast youngsters are playing inoffensive indie. A poorly chosen cover of ‘Love Is All Around’ thins out the crowd as people start walking away shaking their heads.

But next up are Cohesion. The long hair, tattoos, and black face paint suggest a metal band. They are more accessible than their appearance indicates. The guitars are ‘90s grunge, and the melodic vocals are positioned somewhere between Ricky Warwick and Disturbed. Nonetheless, the tunes are good, the rhythms tight, and the rock is hard. They aren’t afraid to groove either. Even the unfashionable guitar solos sound good. Cohesion may be on the poppier end of the metal spectrum, but they are exactly what this Sunday afternoon needs.

After bravely hiding away from another thunderstorm, I expect to have missed most of Jake Bugg but his set has sensibly been held back until the storm passes. I’ve managed to miss him at a handful of other festivals, so I’m delighted to finally get to see him live. I haven’t heard the new album yet apart from the surprisingly good duet with Noah Cyrus. Backed with a three piece band, he sounds uncannily like Lee Mavers when he sings, but his speaking voice could hardly be more different. The set leans heavily on his early material, with the new tunes scattered between the likes of ‘Taste It’ and ‘Slumville Sunrise’. The recent songs stand out; a bit grandiose and overblown. The country aspect of the music is more pronounced live than it is on record, as is Bugg’s ability to shred on his guitar. He even throws in a Richie Havens cover. The weather has necessitated a truncated set, but what has been lost in quantity is made up for by the quality of the songs. A 40 minute greatest hits set; it would be greedy to ask for more than that.

And that’s that for Bearded Theory 2018. The music was great. The weather was crap but that can’t be helped. Catton Hall makes for a great venue, and the food & drink stalls were many and varied. There is room for improvement in some minor aspects and the organisers are very open to suggestions from festival-goers.  For a festival on this scale to retain their independent approach and BYOB policy is, increasingly, a rarity. In the absence of Glastonbury this year, Bearded Theory was a fine alternative.

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