Mavis's Dream Four







...and you will know us by the trail of dead

Bristol Fleece, 4/12/00

We, the writers of Mavis's Dream, have a guilty secret to reveal, o Reader. You remember, if you were paying attention, that in Dream Three Mavis reviewed Madonna by the above-mentioned band? You know, the review went like this:

How the hell do you summarise and pigeon hole this album in less than about 600 words? Try this: loud intellectual Americans make punk rock album to die for. Jump about, around, wherever.

Yeah, that one. Anyway, being in a weeny bit of a rush to get Dream Three out to our international distribution racketeers (ahem) we lied. We inferred we’d heard THE ENTIRE ALBUM when in fact we did, I’m afraid, fib a little. Just a tiny, teeny, miniscule little fibette, just so that we filled up a tiny amount more space. What we did was listen to just the first few tracks...well, OK, the first three...oh what the hell, let’s come clean here, thirty seconds of the first track. We then went along with the consensus of what all our mates thought about it, ie it was fab. Both Mavis and Mandi bought a copy, and both of them thoroughly failed to listen to it. Thus each of them was convinced that the other had indeed listened to it, and thought it was great. Sadly, this only came to light after the gig in question. So in actual fact your Mavis's Dream team arrived with high expectations of a loud rock and roll event with tunes and variety.

What we got instead was a loud one-dimensional racket with no real dynamic at all. Yes, there was the obligatory post-grunge quiet bit / loud bit / quiet bit / loud bit thing going on, but name me a band that doesn’t use that nowadays. Yes, the singer and the bassist leapt around a lot, and the drummer had a habit of getting up from his stool, meandering to the front and making looooong pronouncements on touring, the nature of things, and ...Trail Of Dead merchandise. Singer bloke knocks his guitar out of tune every song, and trashes at least one. Drummer (when he bothers) hits the skins so hard it feels like there’s cannon blasts coming from the PA. Be warned, it is announced before they even start, this is gonna be a loud show. But loudness does not compensate for a fundamental lack of ideas which results in a show that starts to grate after about six songs. Each song, mind, is almost the same—loud bit, quiet weird bit, loud bit again. BANG BANG BANG go the drums and you know the kids are gonna bounce about again for a few minutes. You begin to wonder if “punk” bands do this deliberately to give the crowd and themselves a bit of a rest in between times. Fair play though, ...Trail of Dead are good at what they do. But by far the most interesting thing about the entire show is that they never let the noise die down for a second. There is not a moment of silence. Even between songs, there is vicious feedback which pounds and bombards as if there’s a distinct fear that applause may well be beyond the audience’s grasp. That’s as maybe, but Sonic Youth did much the same thing fifteen years ago. Green Day with a degree in political philosophy, then.

...of Arrowe Hill support, it clearly being a night for bands whose titles begin with three dots. Infinitely preferable to ...Trail Of Dead, even though Ian’s crew confess to having a bad night and the crowd response is less than minimal. Nice psychedelic trouser songs, though. Mavis's Dream will now make a contract with you, The Reader. We promise to listen to all the CDs we review fourteen times over before we set keyboard to screen, or credit card to box office. Yeah right.

The Damned

Bristol Fleece, 23/10/00

All punk bands should do the following:

  1. Play only fast songs.
  2. Do decent impressions of Johnny Rotten
  3. Get annoyed when there isn’t enough light on the guitarist, and move stage lights using a guitar neck to ensure there is.
  4. Play for 45 minutes only, and then sod off.
  5. Make as many references to novelty hits and TV theme tunes done by the guitarist as possible, making him reply that he may be a wanker, but he’s a fucking rich wanker.
  6. Not get pissed off when stuff gets chucked at them.
  7. Not bring up your common-law wife to the stage to talk about Sid Vicious dying on her, but it’s OK now ‘cos she’s got Captain Sensible.
  8. Look as cool as Dave Vanian did tonight.
  9. Include at least one cover version, which was obviously THE HIT, but fuck it up so awfully that you wish they’d never bothered.
  10. So, The Damned. 6/9. Failed on 1, 4 and 6. Fair do’s. But we can’t really forgive 4, ‘cos they played for way too long and bored us silly.


The Wire Sessions Live

Queen Elizabeth Hall, The South Bank Centre, Friday 13th October.

Morton Subotnick, Mego All Stars: Pita + General Magic + Fennesz, Radio Boy.

Heralded – at least by The Wire – as Morton Subotnick’s first UK appearance, things kick off right on time, actually a little early by my watch, but when you’re trying to cram six acts in on one night you’ve got to move fast. Matt Herbert (aka, Radio Boy) kicked things off. He walked on stage wearing a bright orange Devo-style boiler suit and holding a can of coke and clipping the ring pull before opening it, whilst all the while sampling the sound which he then processed into a huge block-rocking-techno-electronic cacophony before boiling a kettle and sampling the sound of the water which thundered from the PA with the weight of a tsunami. However Mr Herbert had more in store next, but not before stripping the orange boiler suit off to reveal a blue boiler suit underneath. He created another storming piece utilising only a typewriter and a delay. Then came the more traditional instrumentation (Mavis’s note: traditional, James? Are you sure?) of a can of spray paint which he sampled both shaking and spraying on himself before finally closing an amazing, breathtaking set with a simple ballad, locking a sample of his voice in his keyboard so he could play chords built from his own voice, singing a few short verses about love before exiting stage left. Fantastic.

Next, things got a little confusing. Anyway next up was a one nameless unbilled guy and his Apple Mac. Which although good, lacked the interest of Radio Boy’s set. It can really only be described as R2D2 having an interstellar meltdown. Next up were three people all with Macs and again was more computer-generated noise only this time it was haunting, graceful, violent, contradictory, even paradoxical. The images on the screen flashed between so many things it was almost impossible to unscramble them into something meaningful. Nonetheless the set had a kind of lost Blade Runner effect which was, if nothing else, magical. On then came two more guys again with Macs; however this set lacked anything the others might have had. They might just as well have sat on stage playing video games—they looked bored. The “fuzz” never took off; it just went round in a way that reminded me of punk, in the sense that it went loud bit, quiet bit again and again and again.

But thankfully things picked up again when Austrian guitarist turned hard-drive-master Christian Fennesz took the stage. Opening, yes, an Apple Mac. However this time things seemed more composed, more energetic, more interesting - as Fennesz used an entire constellation of samples of guitars, pianos, even mixerboard feedback to create a huge unrelenting attack of graceful swirling pulses interposed with chunks of technicoloured noise.

Finally Morton Subotnick took the stage, to show everyone how a Mac should be used. Over the past 40 years Subotnick has been a prime mover of electronic music. He has notably worked with the legendary John Cage, amongst others. As well as producing the first all-electronic composition for a major record label – 1967’s Silver Apples – he lectures at both MIT and The California Institute for the Arts. Not only this but in the 1960’s he also worked on the development of the Buchla synthesizer. More recently he has enjoyed a surge of interest in his work, bringing him to the SBC. His set begins slowly as though he had all the time in the world and building carefully upwards he conducts the slight beeps and sparse sounds into a huge blasting free-jazz-like soundscape. In one hand he wiggled a mouse back and forth whilst with the other making delicate adjustments on a small mixing board. Fragments of sounds built up; a female voice, a piano, electronic bass, static. Yet never did this white haired man with a trim beard fail to keep things moving. His set was both spacious and complete, even perhaps violent, but mostly poetic. JW-M