Mavis's Dream Three

 

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City Slang Festival, London South Bank Centre

It’s quite easy to imagine the Festival Hall isn’t quite as cavernous as you might think. But only if you’re in the first fifteen rows or so, before the towering balconies above you start to dwarf the stage. It’s all very seventies too—angular corners, odd looking boxes for the posh folks, seats with limited legroom and just the wrong sort of velour covering that makes you permanently itch. This is the seat of the establishment, where you go to hear difficult pieces of classical music and opera recitals. Only tonight the hall’s been appropriated by the City Slang label, most famed for… well, you decide, ‘cos apart from a Hole album there’s nothing else in Mavis’s extensive collection that’s been released by them. But it’s their 10th birthday anyway, so any excuse for a party.

Friday night, then, we get Wheat, Built To Spill and the Flaming Lips in that order. Now the traffic in London that day was very bad and Mavis couldn’t park and had to stick her Micra on Westminster Bridge and hope...so only got to see the last couple of songs of Wheat. And very good they were too, blending their angsty alt.country with more conventional rock dynamics to win over a somewhat restless and uninvolved crowd. Built To Spill, on the other hand, looked as if they were about to indulge us in math rock at any given moment but pulled back from the brink and gave a convincing show of their tunesmanship. Now Mavis was sitting next to a guy who could only be described as unreconstructed heavy metal—poodle hair, tasselled leather jacket, goth girlfriend, the works—and when they launched into a cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s Mr Crowley much index– and little-finger pointing ensued, followed by whelps of ROCK AND ROLL MOTHERFUCKER etc etc etc. And while we can report it was not quite as heavy metal as that, BtS do do a nice line in 70s style harmony guitar breaks.

The Lips too do their own brand of cover version, only this time it’s a fairly wan version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow which sees Wayne Coyne trying to get the audience (definitely an audience. One doesn’t have crowds at the Royal Festival Hall) to join in a singalong. Except, does anyone know the words much beyond the third line? In the meantime, a mosh pit—of sorts—has materialised in front of the stage, necessitating the first eight rows or so to be standing. And the Lips proceed to play the same set they pretty much have done for the last year or so. Same visuals, same songs. Three blokes on stage, drummer only visible on the large video screen at the back. So quite a lot is taped then, we discover very early on. Now Coyne bangs his gong most convincingly, and the video for Waiting For A Superman is great, but the whole thing lacks a certain spontaneity. Once it’s over, it’s over, no encores, nothing. A good show, hand puppets and all, but somewhat emotionless.

Saturday night takes us a little further up the road to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a three-way country tie between Freakwater (two girls, a dodgy looking bassist and a bloke with a pointy moustache on pedal steel), Calexico (four guys, plus assorted hangers-on) and Lambchop (ten or so, plus string section). And what a night. Freakwater soothe with their subtle yet caustic blend of continues opposite barbed traditional country, the two women soaring and playing off each other to maximum effect. Calexico meanwhile follow by appropriating the Lips’s trick of a video screen, only this time they show selected scenes from classic head Western El Topo, which proceeds to do everybody’s head in while they regale us with a superb Arizonan version of the sort of music you can find in any Leone movie. Moody and mean, then. But then they bring out the Mariachi band and the party really starts. See them. Buy their album. It was really that sublime. Which leaves Lambchop with the not so easy task of having to follow. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to faze mainman Kurt Wagner as he sits on a box with an acoustic guitar and, at several points, grins in an Aw Shucks manner as if he really can’t believe that all these people have paid to see his hobby band. But they have, and quite deservedly Lambchop spread their wings to show just how well they do their unique blend of soul country. The strings appear (oddly, arranged by a school friend of Mavis who happens to be sitting quite by chance behind us) and the extra dimension is added. Lambchop are at the top of their form, and it appears have much more yet to do. Watch them soar.


Monkey Wah-Wah / Vacuity Basement / Projectile Frank

Swindon Victoria 9/7/00

 

And so it all kicks off rather pleasurably. The back room of the Vic is packed even for the first band, and all seems well with the world. Monkey Wah-Wah are on as we arrive—just the two, one lad called Russell who is clearly there for The Rock (of which more later), and a sidekick who looks moderately bored. Yet they kick out a pleasantly strained brand of alt.country, which, despite occasional jumps into discordancy, is reminiscent of a more angsty American Music Club. When Russell launches into a noise freak-out in the final song, it is of course incongruous, but no-one really cares too much because he looks like he’s having so much fun. Sidekick guitarist just stands there though. I’m Nothing and Forever In Your Sights (perhaps not the title, but anyway…) stand out the most.

So then, on to Vacuity Basement, who seem most keen to tell us that they are not in fact called Security Basement, which has echoes of Security Blanket, or Crispy Ambulance. Anyway, there’s three of them, and beforehand the drummer tells Mavis he’s playing with both this lot and Projectile Frank, has never played with either of them before, and is bricking it. But James (who is setting up a record label - see link at the end of the article), drummer blokey and pierced other guitarist quickly empty the room of about 50% of its occupants with a bloody fantastic blend of pure white noise. James uses two screwdrivers on his guitar. A violin bow. A bottle neck. Beaded bracelets. A drumstick. Plus God knows what else, and it’s great. A huge, screaming racket which the landlord comes in to have a look at, and runs within twenty seconds. Who cares if no-one followed anyone else’s cues, if the whole thing was made up on the spot. It ends eventually with James packing up his guitar, getting an odd noise from the end of the lead, fiddles about with the noise with his effects pedal, and walking off, followed swiftly by the other guitarist, leaving us with a surprised looking drummer to do a quick solo. Ace. Fantastic. Superb. Enough hyperbole yet?

Which leaves us with Projectile Frank. The bass amp has “Take A New Art Stance” stencilled on it. Equally, the bass player has “I (heart) Yuppies” marked onto his guitar strap. And he’s wearing one of those stiff-collared sailors jackets, and white trews with prisoner arrows daubed on. So we’re thinking Punk, maybe a bit of the Manics. But what we get is threadbare soft rock with none of the panache of punk or the tunes of, well, anyone. They admit to start with that they’re going to be “a little bit shite” but sadly that doesn’t cover the half of it. The singer is clearly in love with himself but has trouble getting more than two notes together in tune. A three chord punk jam with a couple of lines of vocals kicks things off but goes on way too long even taking into account technical difficulties (note: Punk may have only had three chords, but at least songs finished after three minutes to move onto another set of three). There’s a wimpy ballad. A few other totally unremarkable songs, badly executed. Oddly though, the kids love it, for this lot are the main draw and the room is once again packed. Mavis doesn’t like slagging new bands, and has probably pissed a few people off with this. I’d like to be positive, and it’s good to see bands in Swindon with original material and not doing covers, but Projectile Frank need to practice more and get some better songs. Sorry.

James’s record label and details of his compilation of Swindon bands can be found at http://homepages.go.com/~eidola/main.htm, along with rather fine photos of this gig and details of others to come.

 
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