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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Help save the old Edinburgh Odeon cinema

Odeon cinema, Edinburgh

Since it closed down around five years ago, the old Odeon cinema on Clerk Street, Edinburgh has been subject to various rumours of regeneration and redevelopment, some good, some bad. But the latest plan is to gut the interior, demolish the historic auditorium and create yet another ’boutique hotel’ on the site.

This proposal has been backed by Edinburgh Council in an example of money triumphing over good sense, and now the last barrier to the loss of an architectural treasure is Historic Scotland, who have the final say.

When I was a first year student living just down the road I was a regular visitor to the Odeon. I remember watching big movies like Gangs of New York, The Matrix (one of the sequels) and Die Another Day on the massive screen. OK, not the finest cinematic gems, but when the place was packed on a Friday night (which it usually was), there was a definite sense of occasion.

So I urge anyone who also remembers the Odeon, or anyone who is fed up with blatant profiteering masquerading as ‘urban redevelopment’, to sign this online petition.

And you can stay up-to-date with the campaign at this Facebook group.

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Crystal Antlers – Tentacles

Album review for The Skinny

Crystal Antlers - Tentacles

In the endlessly cyclical history of popular music, psychedelic rock has mostly been left to gather dust in record shops. There have been isolated attempts to revive the genre from bands like Comets on Fire and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but nothing like a concerted revival. Crystal Antlers could well be the band to trigger it. Continuing where their acclaimed EP left off, Tentacles is a blistering onslaught of splashy organ, tangential guitar solos and Jonny Bell’s howling vocals. Despite their adoption of late-60s modes, the latest ‘crystal’-prefixed band do more than perform CPR on a half-dead musical corpse. Andrew, for instance, begins on a Van Morrison-style blues refrain before plunging into a double-speed punk frenzy, while Memorized is a pained, exhilarating track that encroaches on the far-out territory of the Mars Volta. Unlike their indulgent forebears, Crystal Antlers refract psychedelic rock through the prism of punk, adding plenty of soul in the process.

Rating: 4/5

Crystal Antlers play Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh on 18 May and Stereo, Glasgow on 19 May.

Stay tuned for an interview with Crystal Antlers frontman Jonny Bell next week.

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Interview: RBRBR

Feature for The Skinny‘s Mill supplement

RBRBR

XTC, REM, MGMT… and now RBRBR. The world’s latest musical acronym is an Edinburgh electro outfit who refuse to take themselves too seriously, as drummer Paul reveals when I ask what it stands for: “This week, it stands for Robbing Banks Regularly Boosts Revenue, last week it stood for Raging Bull Receives Bad Rash.”

The five-piece have been touring Scotland’s highways and byways for three years, and Paul has enjoyed the ride. “On the whole it’s been a lot of fun and we’ve been getting a good response,” he says. “Visually our live show is a bit different, because we dress up a bit silly and we’re clearly having fun. There’s been a couple of times where we thought we were going to get lynched for that, but it always ends up fine.”

Their MySpace site betrays an interest in the French electro of Ed Banger acts Justice and DJ Mehdi, but Paul says that’s only one facet of their inspiration: “Everything from Captain Beefheart to MF Doom to Bonnie Prince Billy is an influence. The cool thing about so much of the French electro scene is that it’s not overly serious. There’s a silliness to it, and it’s fun, but it’s still great music – and that’s definitely something that we try and bring in to our sound.”

One band at the forefront of the electro/rock crossover is Metronomy, who chose RBRBR as support for their Edinburgh show. “The Metronomy gig was great”, Paul says, “definitely a highlight, and it marked the start of a busy period for us. We did a Radio 1 session with Vic Galloway in November, a Fresh Air FM session in December, we played The Mill in Edinburgh and we’re sorting out a tour for spring.”

With an EP also due for the summer, RBRBR might also stand for Rapidly Building Respect By Rocking. Just a thought.

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Interview: The Little Kicks

Feature for The Mill magazine:

The Little Kicks

If Ladbrokes were to offer odds on the next unsigned Scottish band to ‘make it’, one of the favourites would surely be the Little Kicks. The Aberdeen quartet have steadily built their reputation over the past few years, playing to packed tents at the T in the Park and Connect festivals and supporting bands of the calibre of Editors, Glasvegas and Maximo Park.

Having already achieved a certain degree of success, I asked lead singer Steven Milne whether he thought the bookies could be paying out (metaphorically at least) anytime soon. “Maybe, hopefully, but who knows,” he says. “We’re a pretty mainstream act but we’re under no illusions that EMI will start banging on our door, we just play music we enjoy and enjoy playing it live. And I guess it depends on what people judge as success. If we play gigs out of town and put together a CD and people come to shows and buy it – I’ll feel like we are achieving something.”

Unlike the stereotypical unsigned band of mates in it for the adulation of the local pub scene, the Kicks have higher ambitions, and maintain a strong work ethic: “We love playing so we used to say yes to everything but lately we’ve been stricter and turned a lot of things down – sometimes with gritted teeth. I write about three songs a week but sometimes don’t finish those songs quickly. Lately I’ve been taking ideas in earlier and we’re racking them up faster than ever.”

The Little Kicks make – in their own words –”tight, melodic, pop-indie-disco songs that are predominantly about love, life and loss”, although when I put it to Milne that the songs already sound like the finished articles, he’s surprised by this reaction: “Funny you should say that as until recently we have never been satisfied with our recordings. I have a constant cold so I often have a nightmare with vocals. We put a lot of pressure on each other to play well on the takes – sometimes too much pressure and you need to take a break before tensions get high. It’s good to be like that though – it means you all care.”

But creative tensions are unlikely to cause this tight-knit group any problems. Milne sums up their motivation simply: “The day we stop enjoying it is when we stop, and I think that’s a long time away.”

With a debut album and single planned for 2009, now’s the time to place your bets.

The Little Kicks play Limbo @ The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh on 26 March and the ABC2, Glasgow on 27 May

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Chimes & Bells – Into Pieces of Wood

EP review for The Line of Best Fit

Chimes & Bells - Into Pieces of Wood

In these hyper-connected times we’re living in, it’s rare for a band to emerge from seemingly nowhere, with no biographical baggage, no superficial hype and no expectation – and yet utterly astound you with their music. This much I know about Chimes & Bells: they’re a Danish quartet, and their debut EP Into Pieces of Wood marks them out as the best new band I’ve heard this year.

It may be that Scandinavians are more adept at sidestepping the public parade of the music business, or it may just be that Chimes & Bells are still undiscovered. At the time of writing they had a mere ten listeners on Last.FM, there were only a few, non-descript photos on their MySpace, and on Google the band itself is buried beneath an impenetrable layer of tacky e-commerce sites for wind chimes and door bells.

So that leaves the music and the music alone. Not to discourage anyone from the start, but it’s unremittingly slow, brooding and bleak; the four tracks that constitute this EP all last more than five minutes, and are all dirge-like in quality. But there’s an allure to Chimes & Bells; a ghostly glint that illuminates the darkness of their sound world, best captured in a line they borrow from Leonard Cohen on opener ‘Stand Still’: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

They follow this with the title track ‘Into Pieces of Wood’, and with its dragging, clanging, adagio-paced guitar track, it’s what Mogwai and Death in Vegas would sound like if they had ever collaborated. ‘Golden Sweater’ meanwhile is a haunting amalgam of lazy cello, Velvet Underground drone, and the keynote feature of their sound: vocal harmonies that don’t quite square up, leaving a phantom echo hanging in the air. The tone changes on ‘You Shall Not Pass’, with its line “I will plaster you to the floor.” Thus it could quite conceivably be the tale of a brutish doorman’s aggression, were it not for the song itself, which is like an especially downbeat Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Despite everything I’ve said, this isn’t a depressing record. Instead it possesses the kind of grim beauty and far-flung ambition that surpasses all the half-baked hype in the world. For now, Chimes & Bells are a mirage, both in reputation and style. Enjoy the mystique while you can.

Rating: 85%

Since writing this piece I’ve been informed that Chimes & Bells are on the verge of signing with Bella Union, the label that hosts Fleet Foxes and Andrew Bird in the UK. So expect to hear more of them in months to come.

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Frightened Rabbit – Liver! Lung! FR!

Live album review for The Skinny

Frightened Rabbit - Liver! Lung! FR!

Liver! Lung! FR! is an intermediary fan-pleaser in which Frightened Rabbit serve up a no-nonsense semi-acoustic live set, rigidly following the track-listing of The Skinny’s album of 2008, The Midnight Organ Fight.

So you might rightly question the worth of such an endeavour; most live albums usually wheel out an unexpected cover after all. Irrelevant, because this is a band already renowned for their near-transcendent shows, playing a superlative album to a room of real fans at Glasgow’s intimate Captain’s Rest. Ask yourself, do you really need that self-conscious Pavement cover?

Still not convinced? Well, there are a couple of ‘bonus features’: Glasgow troubadour Ross Clark “pulls a mandolin from his arse” to guest on Old Old Fashioned, while Twilight Sad singer and bezzie mate James Graham scales the vocal heights of Keep Yourself Warm. Shut your eyes and you’re there, tapping your toe at the front. This may be a fan-pleaser, but only deaf hermits aren’t fans by now.

Rating: 4/5

Released on 30 Mar via Fat Cat records

Frightened Rabbit play Captain’s Rest, Glasgow on 31 Mar and The Bowery, Edinburgh on 3 Apr.

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