Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This thing is on: Summer Sundae Saturday review

Despite reviewing the Displacements not two days previously at the festival warm-up show, where we relatively unfairly accused them of being just another View, it's only just occurred to us on seeing half their set again who they actually remind us of - nobody so much as Honeycrack, the post-Wildhearts Chris Evans-admired harmony-laden power pop outfit who had a couple of top 40 singles in 1996. All the same there's something very modern attitudinal Indie about them, and maybe a little of the new bracketing we're calling New Mod, which we'll expand on when we've thought of more than two other bands in its style. One certainly isn't The Falling Leaves, who sound more like a cross between Thirteen Senses and the Electric Soft Parade in their hitmaking days and bugger all like the "tremelo-gazed guitar...and an acid house backbeat" promised in the programme. In a surprisingly early Musician Stage set for her North American profile, Canadian Jill Barber's sumptuously crafted country folk is reminiscent of Lucinda Williams crossed with Martha Wainwright.

What this spectacularly warm afternoon, a rarity for a Summer Sundae Saturday, really needs is something to dance to and get people going for a festival second day, and pompadoured teens Kitty, Daisy & Lewis have it in spades. Starting with Kitty and Daisy acapella, what follows is half an hour of skilled multi-instrumentation, songs both standards and what sounds like standards and most of all songs both performed and inherently containing bagfuls of rockabilly, rhythm & blues, early rock'n'roll, supercharged C&W and swing energy. Daisy's beatbox solo in Blue Moon Of Kentucky seems completely out of place but superbly so (as, actually, does seeing her at the bar a bit later on. It's alright, she's 18.) With the Queens Of Noize jiving away front of stage left and both Stodarts from the Magic Numbers visible at the back of the stage cheering on it's just what the day needed and a lot of people visibly concur.

Wonders of a very different kind, and much less hoedownable, are going on indoors through Jeremy Warmsley, who opens solo with an acoustic slight reworking of 5 Verses. Bereft of the electronic trickery that permeates most of the best moments on The Art Of Fiction, the quality of the songwriting shines through, as does the often non-linear construction that's always marked Warmsley's work out for us. Segueing I Believe In The Way You Move into Dirty Blue Jeans would be good enough to end most people's festival sets, but Warmsley then immediately takes it back down with a piano duet alongside Tom Rogerson on I Knew Her Face Was A Lie. The highlight of the whole set might have been at the end, though, with Crane Flies, the third of the new songs played (one of which sounds like Hefner, which there's absolutely nothing wrong with, we hasten to add) which is mostly based around the same sort of delicate but intricate piano-led part but swoops and builds majestically and already sounds like a song to build the under construction second album around, doing his reputation round these parts as one of this country's very best no harm at all.

See, this is scheduling - the intimate storytellers outside, the dance bands outside in the sunshine. All-star 'skazz' fusionists Jazz Jamaica recognise that most of the original rocksteady pioneers turned standards into ska/reggae big band floorfillers, with extended takes on The Liquidator and the James Bond theme before bringing on veteran lover's rock vocalist Myrna Hague for the latter part of the set, including a My Boy Lollipop that got most of the field moving. Inside, a very different type of guest vocal performance was going on - Cud's Carl Puttnam had been called away as his wife gave birth on Saturday morning but his bandmates ploughed on in his absence, pulling a number of blokes and a couple of women (plus a child) out of the audience to fill in with the aid of lyric sheets. A litany of amateur night dancing, Puttnam impressions of various levels and a general camerarderie followed, the show very much triumphing over its actual vocal quality.

zZz didn't get going for quite a while as far as we could tell and when they did it was hard to tell, or at least hard to see what they did that Suicide haven't. Maps also had some technical issues to start with and never seemed to quite get going, which was a shame as we were hoping this would be the set which would tip our ambivalence towards James Chapman's Mercury-nominated album one way or the other yet didn't manage either in the end, the electro washed nu-shoegaze never quite clicking and coming over quite Curve-like, or to be more exact shades of Joy Zipper and M83. One band that do come across better in this setting than records suggest are Wild Beasts, clearly of a post-punk revival bent but taking the limber, fractured funk of Orange Juice and their Postcard Records bretheren and adding touches of soul and avant-jazz rhythms and, most pertinently, Hayden Thorpe's extraordinary vocal style, akin to Billy Mackenzie in the process of his voice breaking. Former single Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (right) gets people properly moving.

Are you a Rumble Strips fan who was at this festival? Did you think it'd be hilarious to chuck half a pint of lager over your mate and never mind that other bloke standing behind him? You are? Fuck off and die.

Moving to the other side of the stage, we note again, as we did when we saw them support the Maccabees, how good old fashioned non-stop touring has helped The Rumble Strips build a huge fervent fanbase. That they sound not dissimilar to a well known Brummie mod-soul outfit of yore is well documented, right down to the newly wallet-less Charlie Waller's soul-punk lung-filling exhortations, but it's not all they can pull off, reflective at times of the energy of original rock'n'roll and new single Girls And Boys In Love based on a very new wave piano hook. It's not building great monuments to newness, but it'll more than do in the current climate.

Martha Wainwright, returning after family problems forced a late cancellation last year, isn't carving a new furrow either, but then she barely needs to. Performing solo acoustically and endearingly bantering with overexcited fans between songs she still manages to project her songs of bitter experience and experienced bitterness to the back of the hall, her powerful voice laced with both sweetness and salty tastes, the raw emotion at its core drawing pretty much everyone in. Outside just afterwards, a very different kind of chanteuse, and while Sophie Ellis-Bextor's announcement, it's fair to say, split the advance audience it's visible that what starts out as a well-refreshed crowd going for it regardless is, if not totally won over, then certainly a lot less cynical then they previously were. For the band's local radio roadshow trappings (a pre-recorded doubletracked vocal raised eyebrows, although Sophie was clearly singing live) she's a proper performer, who's been doing this elegantly for years and still finds time to remark on how having a fish and chip stand in her line of vision is putting her off.

That fairly unexpected triumph unfortunately means that the partly overlapping Low never really get more than half a hall full, and most of those not in the mood to cater for their famed minimalist slowcore. Their loss, frankly, as the beguiling, emotional pull of the songs bears the strain of picking out what's happening. The bleakness of Drums And Guns takes more of a lead role than the distorted, serrated edge that's crept into their last couple of albums. (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace is a triumph that instantly quietens even the people at the back, while, while Alan Sparhawk screaming into his guitar pickup at the end of Pissing fair chilled the blood. Inevitably some of the intimacy that makes their approach work best was lost in this situation, but it wasn't for the want of trying. By the time they finished Simple Kid was still in his headlining spot in the Rising tent, and he's taking his Beckish hip hop/60s pop through a laptop meld literally, projecting images from it onto the back screen, whether it be the words to Ballad Of Elton John, the actual software loop display of Truck On or, impressively, a visual aid to his rendition of The Average Man to the tune of Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

Guy Garvey, doing today's main stage announcements, pay tribute to Tony Wilson by telling of the time they met which inevitably ended Wilson calling his fawning "bollocks", introduces main stage headliners the Magic Numbers, but we're off to see the indoor headliners instead, because laidback harmony-laden summer anthems are all well and good, but there's one of the best live bands in the world on indoors. That'll be !!!, quite possibly the last band still flying the flag for New York disco-punk-funk and doing it in the quickest and most effective way possible - much percussion (four at once at stages), scratchy guitar, floor-burrowing bass and an unstoppable ringmaster. Nic Offer is all over the place, manaically convulsing and flailing around the stage, performing frankly lewd movements at the lip of the stage, flinging the mike about while keeping the songs together with his not quite singing, joined for half the set by almost as lively soul-voiced female foil Shannon Funchess. Just as they're enjoying themselves sweatily up there, so is everybody downstairs, a searing mass of dancing, moshing, generally completely out of it and of the moment bodies, eventually leading Offer to admit "I like you guys!" Many times better than their recorded output, packed as full as humanly possible with kinetic energy and unstoppable beats with barely a pause in between, certainly nothing you'd call a let-up, the only real complaint was the lack of an encore or Me And Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard or Hello? Is This Thing On? from previous album Louden Up Now, !!! live is an incredible experience, maybe even living up to the programme's "finest live band on the planet" second hand quote. A lot of people, ourselves included, must have feeling horribly sore the next morning. And even then the day had one surprise left - back out in the open air not only were The Magic Numbers still on, but they were rockabillying up with Kitty Daisy & Lewis for their last song, flanked by the enormous inflatable/model versions of their Pete Fowler cartoon likenesses.

And the Sunday had to follow all that.


Ben said...

Damn - didn't want to read about how good Low were...

!!! were brilliant at Glasto - and on at a perfect time and place: 10.30pm on the Saturday night in the Glade.

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