Category Archives: gigs

Crystal Antlers, Times New Viking, Dupec @ Sneaky Pete’s, 18 May

Live review for The Skinny

Crystal Antlers

The unifying theme of this gig was always going to be volume – as in, lots of it. But Edinburgh band Dupec (****) refuse to be blown off the stage by their raucous American successors tonight. The trio pour their all into this their most high profile show to date, crashing every cymbal and straining every sinew of songs that are by turns intricately melodic and searingly intense.

After a rather random visual interlude by an American ‘video jockey’, Ohio punks Times New Viking (***) stumble into vision with their shambolic racket, taking some time to hit their stride; their short, sharp opening songs melting into an unwieldy gloop that leaves the audience uncertain where to clap. But this simple guitar-drums-keys trio finally shift into a wilfully discordant gear, and the reticent onlookers gradually become slightly more animate.

No chance of indifference in the face of Crystal Antlers (****). Led by grizzly frontman Jonny Bell, the Californian sextet inject a not unwelcome shot of trippy psychedelica into proceedings. Bolstered by incessant organ and latin percussion, it’s an overwhelming spectacle, but they reign it all in with robust blues riffs on Andrew and A Thousand Eyes. There’s a lasting buzz in our ears, but this was well worth the damage.

Dupec support We Were Promised Jetpacks at Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on 9 June.


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Live review: David Byrne, Glasgow Concert Hall, 31 March

David Byrne at Glasgow Concert Hall

[A very poor photograph from my balcony seat]

When David Byrne sings “This ain’t no Mudd Clubb, or CBGB” in Life During Wartime tonight, the lyric has never seemed so true. The formal, seated auditorium of Glasgow Concert Hall is the antithesis of the dirty Lower East Side punk clubs in which Byrne began his musical career.

But punk was never Byrne’s style anyway, and as soon as his ambitions grew too wide-ranging he left the scene behind, moving on to experiments with African rhythms and found sounds with studio boffin Brian Eno. And it’s this 30-year mutual admiration that forms the crux of this tour: Byrne is focussing solely on the three Talking Heads albums he made with Eno, their groundbreaking 1981 LP My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and last year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – ignoring “the massive gap in between”, as he puts it.

So no matter how many times they shout it, the audience will not get to hear Psycho Killer. But they do manage to remind the Dumbarton-born Byrne of his Scottish connections with greetings of “Welcome home David”, and, when he’s jabbering on about Bush of Ghosts, stopping him short with “What’s yer point Davie?”, which the silver-haired icon greets with a wry smile, as if reminded of the blunt Scottish humour he left behind all those years ago. At one point he even raises the lights and picks out some extended family members.

But Byrne was never going to bow down to the brash, Glaswegian gig-going mentality. On this tour he has enlisted three modern ballet dancers, who perform behind him throughout most of a loose yet imaginatively staged two-hour set. This non-musical element is the talking point of the night, and although there are early whispers of derision, it all begins to click when we see that they’re really just having fun with it, whirling like windmills, gliding over the stage in office chairs and even leapfrogging over Byrne’s shoulders.

After a respectful early reaction, there is a burst of dancing in the aisles when Byrne and his superb band blaze through the complex grooves of Crosseyed and Painless. Despite Bush of Ghosts tracks like Help Me Somebody getting a rousing reception and the new material given an interesting treatment, it’s inevitably the Talking Heads songs that inspire that frenzied, I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this excitement among the fans. It’s spine-tingling to watch Byrne perform Heaven, Take Me To The River and Burning Down the House. Were it not for the change in hair colour, it really could be Stop Making Sense again, as he jogs on the spot in his white flannel suit.

There were high expectations for this concert, but the performative imagination and youthful energy shown by a middle aged rock legend sailed beyond anyone’s preconceptions. Byrne has come a long way from CBGB’s, and his artistic journey shows no sign of ending.


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Crystal Stilts @ Sneaky Pete’s, 22 Feb

Gig review for The Skinny

Crystal Stilts @ Sneaky Pete's

Crystal Stilts are all about intensity. And in a space as small as Sneaky Pete’s (imagine your living room, minus furniture, plus 100 indie misfits), the intensity of their music – a murky blend of ’60s psych and ’80s shoegaze – is turned up to eleven. Whereas their acclaimed debut album Alight of Night has moments of clarity and restraint, in live mode the Brooklyn five-piece cram every second of every track full of lumbering bass, stabbing guitar, trippy organ and rushed drumming, while Brad Hargett somehow makes his unintelligible vocals waft and echo around the tiny room. Like The Doors, Joy Division or the Mary Chain, this is the kind of brooding, stormy musical terrain where you don’t so much listen for the chorus (there ain’t one) as feel the electricity in the performance. Although the set is punctuated by jokes about the dry ice machine, Crystal Stilts build the atmosphere ominously, before cracking it asunder with aptly-named set-closer Departure.

Rating: 4/5

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Gimme Shelter @ The Caves, 29 Nov

Broken Records

Last year – if my memory serves me – the Gimme Shelter night at the Bongo Club consisted of three bands: Foxface, Broken Records and Frightened Rabbit. Not a bad wee showcase of Scottish music, but last night’s mini-festival at The Caves was a huge step forward.

The cream of emerging alternative music north of the border turned out in force for a seven-hour, two stage shindig. It being a Saturday night, I was not really there with my reviewer’s cap on, so I can’t give any of the bands a fair or full critique.

We turned up rather late, and then had to wait a long time for the first band – Wake the President – to ready themselves. They boasted fine pop songs and the kind of woolly jerseys your grannie used to knit, but failed to really command the room.

Venturing upstairs to the Lounge Stage was like walking into a comfy pub somewhere ‘up north’. The music was of the acoustic folk variety and the lucky ones who found seats were blissfully slumped, while the rest of us crammed around the bar.

After a pitiful attempt at a charity music quiz, it was back downstairs to catch De Rosa, the first genuinely impressive act of the evening. Their earnest indie has definite echoes of Aereogramme – without the searing guitar riffs.

The beer flowed and time passed, and before we knew it Broken Records were on stage. The main attraction for most of the punters, they roused the rabble expertly with their rollicking Balkanized indie. Last song Slow Parade was a fitting finale.

If we’d stayed we could have enjoyed a DJ set from Steve Mason and another from FOUND, but the promise of a kebab proved too strong to resist, and off we went into the Arctic-cold night.

So out of 15 acts we saw, er, three. Still, kudos to the organizers – again.

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TV on the Radio @ ABC, Glasgow, 16 Nov

TV on the Radio @ ABC

I went to a cracking gig on Sunday night. TV on the Radio have been producing some of the most forward-thinking, ballsy indie rock of the past five years. True, their new album is decidedly ‘poppy’ (by their standards) but this was still a superb performance – and not even the fool near me shouting ‘Fray Bentos!’ at select moments could detract from it. Here’s my review for The Skinny:

Rating: ****

It’s a testament to the full-blooded intensity of their music that a line of fans snakes along the street outside the ABC to watch TV on the Radio, an under-publicized, experimental rock band from the other side of the Atlantic. Mention their name and you’ll probably receive a blank look from Joe Public, but the paid-up aficionados here tonight react to every rasping word from Tunde Adebimpe’s mouth, every reverberated thrash from Dave Sitek’s guitar and every frenetic rhythm. It doesn’t matter that they open with a pair of their early, lesser known tracks: this is vital, important, electrifying; and when the truly feral Wolf Like Me rears its head four songs in it’s a moment to be savoured. New songs from Dear Science dominate the set, and while Red Dress and Dancing Choose find the pogo-ing Adebimpe at his strained best, the epic Halfway Home is a glaring omission. Still, this is a minor complaint from a major gig.

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Fleet Foxes @ ABC, Glasgow, 8 Nov

Shiona Walker

Rating: ****

With their self-titled debut album already jostling for position at the peak of many an end-of-year poll, Fleet Foxes are here to confirm what everyone in the ABC suspects: they are not merely blogosphere darlings but one of the greatest American bands to emerge in a long, long time. Appropriately, singer Robin Pecknold looks like he’s been kept in storage since 1968 – lank hair, cardigan, awkward but endearing – and he is the star of this hugely talented band, his pristine voice the summit of their extraordinary baroque harmonies. They open with ideal opener ‘Sun it Rises’ before dipping into the Sun Giant EP. But it’s the ethereal, pastoral folk-rock of the album that commands our attention: ‘White Winter Hymnal’ instigates a polite singalong, while ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ and Pecknold’s a cappella vocals on ‘Oliver James’ are magical. Many of the fans must have been expecting to walk home through “the quivering forest”. Instead they were jolted from their reverie by the drunken denizens of Sauchiehall Street.

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Metronomy @ Cabaret Voltaire, 29 Oct


(Image: Markus Thorsen)


Metronomy belong to that new breed of band: the band who love synthesizers; who make music with the party in mind; who do remixes; who probably started as one teenager in his bedroom geeking about with loops on a computer. The danger with such bands is that, so often, they don’t cut it live: even the most inspired knob-twiddling can fall flat as a performance. But, in a Cabaret Voltaire so filled with scenesters it resembles a promo for Skins, Metronomy manage to recreate the wonky, over-egged electro-pop flavour of their second album Nights Out – mostly. Without a drummer, they rely heavily on programmed beats and sequencers, and some of the album’s most sublime touches – such as the door hinge effect on ‘Heartbreaker’ or the guttural synth of ‘A Thing For Me’ – are lacking. But a mixture of tight basslines, chest-mounted push-button lights, (very) amateur choreography and actual songs (yep, ones with verses and choruses) justify their status as one of the most hyped of ‘new bands’.

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Connect 2008: roving report

Mud, glorious mud at the Oyster Stage

On top of the ‘live’ blogging I was doing for The Skinny while in the muddy environs of Inverary last weekend, I’ve also cooked up another series of rehashed mini gig reviews for the magazine. This covers pretty much everything I saw, with the exception of The Roots, who were so disappointing in the acoustically shite Unknown Pleasures Tent that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.


Plonked behind eight synthesizers, black-clad and distant, like a state-sanctioned pop group of the former Soviet Union, Ladytron are definitely no festival band. Rocking their Eastern Bloc, disco-in-a-tower-block style for all its worth, they are pretty unemphatic in this open-air arena, but Seventeen and set-closer Everything You Touch remind us that they have produced some of the best electro-pop since the Human League.

Manic Street Preachers

There have been those, myself included, who wrote off the Manics as Britpop dinosaurs. How wrong we were, because Bradfield, Wire and Moore rollick triumphantly through their back catalogue, plucking out fan favourites such as Motorcycle Emptiness, Of Walking Abortion, Everything Must Go, You Love Us and tailor-made final song, A Design For Life. Covering Rihanna might smack of ageing desperation, but they’re still a superior live band.


With divided loyalties between Kasabian and Mercury Rev, I can only attest to the first half of the former’s Friday headlining set. They could have ended with a cover of the Postman Pat theme for all I know. But early on it’s business as usual: big, swaggering indie hits like Processed Beats and L.S.F, an impressive lightshow, and the newly long-haired Meighan’s hilarious rock-God complex.

Mercury RevMercury Rev

Having enjoyed the Kasabian spectacle for 40 minutes, it is a sense of musical duty that makes me head over to catch the remainder of alt-rock veterans Mercury Rev. Swirling clouds of dry ice may conceal them, but the music is clear, direct, and loud. Their take on Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, with layers of intense guitar and crescendo, is immense, and they save Goddess On A Highway for a rousing encore.

Late of the Pier

Late of the Pier live up to their name, with their set delayed an hour as they’re moved up to replace the cancelled Joan As Policewoman. An early afternoon in a muddy field is not the best context in which to enjoy their schizoid, experimental pop, but the musicianship and free-range clattering of this freshly-hatched quartet are still mightily impressive. They’d sound phenomenal in a claustrophobic wee club.

Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires arrive hot on the heels of their self-titled debut album, and they match the hype with a sprightly set of punk-funk. Singer Ed Macfarlane is the main source of entertainment: dancing crazily in skin-tight clothes, a maniacal glare in his eyes, firing off plumes of confetti in all directions. Their music is anything but original, but it still injects some firey fun into a damp Connect.

SpiritualizedJ Spaceman

Spiritualized are one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend. We know Jason Pierce’s death-cheating tale, and it’s extra-special to have him, with full electric band, back on stage. They offer no connection to the audience though, facing each other like a studio band, and the set doesn’t nearly delve deep enough into their back catalogue. Just as well the few classics we do hear, like Come Together, are awe-inspiring.


If one band was made for the live setting, that band is Grinderman. On record, Nick Cave’s side-project comes across like cod-badass; it’s only when confronted with his spitting, lanky, wildly gesticulating frame at close quarters, along with his destructive, bearded side-kick Warren Ellis, that you get it. They run riot, dragging us all along with them on the road to oblivion – and huge fun.


One band on the Your Sound Bandstand I am determined to see is Errors. The touted Glaswegians combine esoteric electro with crunchy post rock, and they play a blinding second-top billing set on Saturday night, to a sizeable segment of Scotland’s music-loving fraternity. Salut France and Toes are great, but, as was the case at their Triptych gig, it’s Mr Milk that stands out.

Young Knives

Young Knives are a head-scratching lot. One minute you’re enthralled by the wacky Britpop revivalism of Terra Firma, the next you’re tuning out, put off by the very same-ness of their guitar-bass-drums formula. They do their best to cheer the sodden Sunday early-comers with some witty asides, but it’s impossible to really let yourself forget the conditions with such ironic fare.


If anyone can dispel the rainclouds – or help us forget them at least – it’s Santi White, the effervescent urban diva behind Santogold. Although a delayed arrival means they only play half a dozen songs, White, in a shiny blue jumpsuit, gets the plastic ponchos in the crowd moving with Lights Out, You’ll Find A Way and The Creator.


It is more a lack of options than any fanboy enthusiasm that draws me to the Oyster Stage for Elbow, and this flat set of sleepy indie only embeds my prejudice. The bluesy single Grounds For Divorce does redeem matters slightly, but their uninspiring attempts at emotive, lighters-in-the-air ‘moments’ fail utterly in this early evening slot.

The Gutter TwinsGreg Dulli and Mark Lanegan

In the general hubbub of Connect, it’s easy to overlook two of modern American rock’s true greats. With little fanfare, The Gutter Twins, fronted by Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, take to the stage before a sparse crowd. But instant respect is granted to the ever-morose Lanegan, who growls through the songs on autopilot, backed by the loudest, heaviest band of the weekend.

Sigur Rós

The dusk mist hanging in the pine forest on the hill behind the Oyster Stage provides the ideal backdrop in which to enjoy the mystical splendour of Sigur Rós. They open with the sublime Sven-G-Englar, and even reveal a sense of humour when a brass section marches on stage in See You Jimmy hats. The rest of their extensive set is rarely less than spellbinding, and they even trash their drumkit on exiting.

Franz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand

During their only festival appearance of the summer, Franz Ferdinand play a set that acts as a reminder of their sophisto-pop appeal and reveals the musical direction in which they’re headed. Hits like Michael, Do You Want To and Take Me Out rev up the masses, but another half-dozen new songs get an airing, the majority of which boast a fuller, synth-ier and funkier sound than we’ve been accustomed to.

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Digitalism @ Liquid Room, 23 Aug

Digitalism are (l-r) Isi Tüfekçi and Jence Moelle

Rating: 4/5

9pm is really too early for an act like Digitalism to take the stage. The German duo are like the Chemical Brothers without the indie pretensions, or Daft Punk without the space-age sheen, and their high-octane electro-clash is tailored more to post-midnight revelry than the evening gig protocol. But this complaint is evidently lost on the Edinburgh crowd, who display all the loose-limbed energy of a chemically fuelled late-night knees-up. Digitalism – the pairing of wiry button pusher Jence Moelle and big, burly cymbal hitter Isi Tüfekçi – raise energy levels with the first bleep of ‘Zdarlight’, and maintain it through ‘Idealistic’, with required “Come on Edinboro” rabble-rousing, before saving the biggest surge of Balearic-style euphoria for set-closer ‘Pogo’. It’s all anything but subtle: booming beats, heavy distortion and unremitting strobe, and most of the horde emerge from the venue sweat-soaked and grinning. It’s now only 10.15pm, and the rest of the night can only be a comedown.

The sweat-soaked horde
Isi Tüfekçi plays to the locals with a See You Jimmy hat

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Santogold @ Liquid Room, 19 Aug


Before they play a note, you just know what Glasgow’s Fangs (***) will sound like. Look-at-me hair + New Romantic fashion + luminous make-up + studied nonchalance = filthy, arty electro-punk, with lashings of synth. It would be easy to label them 21st-century-Blondie wannabes, or singer ‘The Queen’ a Karen O sound-a-like, but Fangs have got just enough bite to put paid to such cynicism.

Brooklyn-based Santi White – Santogold (****) to us – is another easy target for the cynics, who question whether the former A&R rep is anything more than a carefully marketed, cross-genre musical magpie. Tonight she proves she is much more than even that; she’s a consummate performer. Flanked by two identical fem-bot dancers who spontaneously break into movement at choreographed moments, the flat-capped, bling-eared White bounces through You’ll Find A Way and L.E.S. Artisites before the capacity crowd can swallow their first drink. The non-singles do sap momentum, so she pulls a few punters up on stage for a dance-off, and rounds off the set with the big, brash, and only slightly annoying The Creator. Even if you harbour doubts about the music, you’ve gotta love her enthusiasm.

Gig review for The Skinny

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