Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gauge best : Indietracks Saturday review


If Truck is the coming together of the under the radar indie kid hordes to enjoy themselves at the expense of actual music fans rather than massive conglomerations, then Indietracks is a micro-meeting of the same, a sixth of Truck's capacity but even more geared towards friendliness and community. It really does transcend all that easy point scoring about 'twee' and references to cardigans, especially with a lineup such as this and the knowledge that you'll rarely find a set of people in festival-land this year, by which we mean the organisers as much if not more than the bands and crowd, more willing to just enjoy themselves without a thought as to how it might come across. We went on the Sunday last year, enthused about it to many and this year were ready for the whole experience.

The stylistic dichotomy is summed up by the first band on in the tram shed turned main arena, Cardiff's Silence At Sea. On the one hand, they're an easygoing indie-folk outfit prone to deceptively simple and dark campfire strumalongs and Laura Janes' high, clear girly vocals. On the other hand, guitarist G is dressed as some sort of panda/Teletubby hybrid and sports a guitar with 'CAT POWER' emblazoned on in green paint (actually, maybe it's supposed to be a cat, yeah), the percussionist has at her disposal among other things a typewriter and a radio alarm clock player, and the bassist is Pagan Wanderer Lu, as previously often featured on STN. A more than merely diverting start to the weekend, and a portent of much offbeat excellence to come.

On the other side of the coin, opening (slightly late, but never mind) the freshly minted for 2008 outdoor stage on the back of a flat bed truck - that sounds familiar - Liverpool presents us with Town Bike, two men and two singing women in monogrammed bowling shirts who have a theme song, a way with banter and an endless supply of two and a half minute ubercatchy punk-pop bubblegum fuzzbombs like Helen Love without the shades and synth. Once upon a time they'd have put out a 7" which Steve Lamacq would have played for six weeks straight on the Evening Session and you'd never have heard from them again. Now, aided by the weather, they're attracting quite the interest in their songs about Dougie from McFly, swearing and the lack of good boyfriend material. Once established, that they unveil their masterstroke - a cover of B*Witched's C'Est La Vie set to the tune of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Just to our right, the project co-ordinator of Smalltown America records is in hysterics. It's their drummer's last gig, and they commemorate the moment by arseing up the start of their last song twice. This will become a theme.

From here that the strains of a mock Farfisa draw us towards the Church Stage, a fully kitted out replica of a Victorian church for the railway workers and their families. It's here we find Still Corners, who work up a dreampop sound based around a distant female vocal against swirling organ sounds that recall early Electrelane or a budget Broadcast. Bad planning means we don't see a lot of their set, but we're keen to hear more. Back outside Slow Down Tallahassee take on the heat, now reduced to a trio and with a fine debut album The Beautiful Light under their belts. Maybe it's just to their self-admitted drink-centric build-up, though, but it's not really clicking here where it should, as instruments misbehave and the set seems one-paced, overdominated by the drum machine ahead of the off-harmonies, culminating in a rendition of the album title track that hangs on for dear life before completely collapsing to a standstill and an embarrassed stage departure some way short of its usual finish. Despite it all, they still come across as flick-knife pop, a Strawberry Switchblade of the Noughties, their recorded output suggests.

Time, then, for some intelligent lyrically driven songwriterly entertainment. Australasia does this sort of thing really well - the Go-Betweens, the Flying Nun back catalogue, the Lucksmiths - and Darren Hanlon continues the great tradition with some thoughtful, melancholic explorations of the human condition and in between songs entertaining banter about fish horror in Norway and arcade game addiction. Back in the shed Shrag have not only been taken round the country by the Cribs - and there's a band whose words belie their actions, so often do they go on about K Records and Comet Gain - but seem to be being anointed as a new Huggy Bear. They're much less scrappy and politicised than that band but still energetic, splenetic and thoroughly entertaining in a very wrong way, Helen all over the stage as her bandmates produce buzzing artrock like XX Teens being hauled down to earth by Kenickie. Does 'the new Help She Can't Swim' sound like faint praise? It'll have to do, because they're going to build a similar underground following.

One of the great selling points of Indietracks is that there is an actual stage on a steam train - everyone loads on board and a singer takes on their acoustic guitar or keyboard and plays unamplified for a rapt intimate audience punctuated by whistling and sudden jerks. The Smittens' never knowingly unenthusiastic leader Colin Clary, who had previously commented favourably on our T-shirt choice while passing outside the church, takes those of us boarding with him on a particularly magical mystery tour, as being the last train set of the day the driver decides he might as well continue for as long as he wants, which turns out to be a 50 minute set of requests, personal favourites and attempts at songs he has no hope of completing on his own.

Back on terra firma girl trio (although usually a four piece) Liechtenstein, a band who for some reason we've gone until just now thinking were French but turn out to be from Gothenburg, slightly underwhelm compared to their recorded form, their meatier form of Shop Assistants jangle not quite getting over. Meanwhile Rob Jones is The Voluntary Butler Scheme, taking to an increasingly overwarm church with an array of instruments laid out before him. Word has been spreading of his talents - on donning a ukelele and a mouth brace for his kazoo in preparation for The Eiffel Tower And The BT Tower he wryly comments on how he had to present this set-up to artfully styled yet suddenly confused indie kids awaiting Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, who he supported on tour recently - and his set impresses with its command of the loop pedal to build rhythmic backing over which he plays keyboard and sings of dislocation, making such melodic witchcraft look like the minimum of fuss.

If there was one band that hitherto unknowing hordes were to go away from Saturday wanting to know more about it looked set to be Red Pony Clock. The San Diego collective number eight here, a sprawling collective who make this joyous uplifting music because they feel we need the uplift too. Exuding positivity like a Polyphonic Spree melted down to its constituent parts and with a fine array of instruments chiefly involving mariachi brass and Association-recalling ambition. With the baking sun just starting to head over the yard arm if not exactly set yet, there's actual dancing going on and everyone seems to feel the benefit.

The accompaniment to burning our tongue on the site cafe tea, hotly touted Norwich teenagers The Kabeedies have found the midpoint between Bearsuit and the Maccabees. We've been somewhat quickly dismissive of their recorded work for whatever reason, but maybe we're just very impetuously wrong. Then, like most attendees we file back into the main stage arena for the righteously brazen Northern Soul-pop socialist Dexys stylings of scene veterans Comet Gain, but when they take to the stage we get the feeling there's something missing today. Namely, all but one member, bassist Jon Slade left to hold the fort while ringers from Shrag and Liechtenstein take up the other instruments and assorted randoms are dragged on to replace David Feck and Rachel Evans, not least a dark shaded punter, member of public red wristband as giveaway, reading the lyrics to You Can Hide Your Love Forever off a sheet of A4. The whole thing comes to a messy conclusion within twenty minutes. By the following morning, someone has added to a display of one of their 12"s with a sign reading 'FEATURING MEMBERS OF COMET GAIN'. Darren Hayman would never slack like that, having even brought his dog to the festival, so a little thing like performing in a church that is now preposterously and possibly illegally sauna-like due to overcrowding won't faze him. As such we have to dart around and catch what we can from outside, which is an ending of Painting & Kissing and Good Fruit that provokes the expected mass singalong. Punk TV, closing the outdoor stage not touched in any way by the forecast storms, are described in the programme as "the most-talked-about independent band of 2007 in Russia", surely the finest example of the law of diminishing returns. What they actually are are another attempt to fuse melodic indie rock with electronic patterns, fortunately more Her Space Holiday than Jesus Jones.

And to close day one of a scorching, scintillating day, the reason for all the middle aged men with day wristbands becomes clear, even if the request on a wall mounted sign prohibiting photos goes unheeded. Having been on C86 itself The Wedding Present have more right than most to feel their influence has touched many playing this weekend, and any thought that relocating to LA might have softened David Gedge up a little is dimmed by his having worked with Steve Albini on new album El Rey and evaporated the moment he and the current set of bandmates kick in with Flying Saucer and the first three or four rows turn into that most untwee of occupations, the forming of a moshpit. Over the course of 75 minutes comes ample proof that Gedge, caked in sweat virtually from the off, has been doing this long enough to know what the public want - a handful of songs from the new album, a few old ones largely forgotten by the populace (Love Slave, I'm Not Always So Stupid), the occasional surprise - Cinerama's Wow revived in fine style - and what passes in Weddoes world as hits - there's a riotous run through You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends, Brassneck virtually brings the place down and breaks Gedge's guitar, and a closing couplet of Dalliance and Dare really finished everyone off. And to think that was only half the story.


FireEscape said...

Er, the Flying Nun back catalogue is NZ not Australian...

Simon said...

Oh. Yeah. I knew writing it that late at night there'd be a mistake. Not to worry, I'll add an 'as' and hope nobody else noticed.

Ben said...

Silence At Sea are good, aren't they? Members of the Little My collective. And guitarist Gareth is a very nice chap, too - brought a free demo CD of theirs to a Los Campesinos! gig for me last year.

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