Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Sunday wasting: Summer Sundae 2006 Sunday review

See all the useable pictures we took before our battery ran out two songs into Belle & Sebastian

So how should a Sunday of live music start? Norwegian William Hut is our first port of call, and while his torch song balladry with cellist, like a solo Kings Of Convenience, goes some way towards easing us in something louder and more abrasive would do a better job. Hence we pop indoors for New Cassettes, who seem to be locating the exact mid-point between the new wave revival and New Rock Revolution but have promise that may come to fruition on record, before we get to scratch an itch from last year, when we kicked ourselves upon only catching the last song of Redcarsgofaster's Rising set. It impressed so many, it seems, that they are the recipients of this year's local band promotion to the main stage and got a recommendation from Whiskas the previous day, having previously stuck them on a Dance To The Radio compilation. The comparison to ¡Forward Russia!'s post-everything assault isn't that far wide of the mark, throwing in elements of Bloc Party's wired indie disco and Sonic Youth's controlled noisemaking plus several crates of Red Bull's worth of energy. But for the drizzle, the resultant sparse turnout and the inevitable huge stage/newish band issue they would have stormed it, but we're definitely going to have to try and see them properly in a smaller venue as there's something going on there.

How good they are at this sort of thing is demonstrated by Token Of My Affection's use of much the same audible influences but with much less conviction elsewhere, while on the Musician stage Ego Armalade's Britpop revivalism wasn't washing. Thank goodness, then, for the sheer off-beam madness/genius of Misterlee. It's impossible to describe them without reaching for the Waits/Beefheart textbook, to which we'll add the offbeam moments of Dawn Of The Replicants, and the engaging between songs Lee Allatson does sound a lot like Paul Vickers at times, albeit Vickers was never playing drums with a heavily treated mike with one hand while operating an effects box with the other at the time. The steady stream of people leaving, many with what-the-fuck-is-that? writ large across their faces, suggest that this isn't something that'll take off immediately, but those willing to make the effort are rewarded in eclectic spades.

All of a sudden, every second person you see on the site is a girl who looks not far past school leaving age with a low-cut fringe, kohl-rimmed eyes, a neckerchief or scarf and high fashion top. It can only mean the Long Blondes are in town, even if it occurs to us that bassist Reenie carries that look off much better than Kate Jackson. Yeah, referring to a female-fronted alternative band in terms of style rather than music, very original of us. Trouble is, we're finding it hard to go any further than 'OK' when describing their set - they did what they do, it came across well, there were plenty there for them, that's about it.

So we went offsite for lunch at this point, deciding that if we were back ten minutes before we'd beat the rush for Camera Obscura. So we pitch up at about that time, and there's eight people between us and the entrance to the packed Rising tent. Ah. In fact we do somehow make it almost up to the interior when they take to the stage and the natural flow means we get in for their third song, which we hear is better than Stuart Murdoch or Stevie Jackson ever managed, but such is the crush even at the egress that we can't actually move our limbs for five songs, pressed up against some girl's back with someone else somehow managing to stand on both sets of somehow now untied shoelaces. We suspect the secret's got out about them. In fact they hadn't had the most comfortable of rides either, existing on two hours' sleep with their gear stuck in Copenhagen and everything borrowed from a local music shop. Tracyanne Campbell felt the need to apologise in advance of pretty much every song but she shouldn't have, such is the confidence they're evidently running on and of course the sheer greatness of their songs and of Campbell's voice. We really need to see them again in comfortable surroundings, but they must have charmed many and convinced others of their wonderfulness.

Damp and drizzly is not ideal weather for Jose Gonzalez, especially on his own on a large stage for most of the set and even when not only accompanied by a bongo player. In the end it works through simplicity and knowing what to do when alone on a big stage - keep going with barely a break between songs, play with nimble subtlety to draw the crowds in nevertheless, save the covers for last, this time Smalltown Boy, Hand On Your Heart and Teardrop. It would probably have worked better indoors but it works. Certainly his sound mix is better than Dan Michaelson of Absentee gets in Rising, his distinctive baritone virtually inaudible for the first few songs of their set which could spell disaster for a band so focused on both his horizontally laidback delivery and the sharpness of their lyrics. Luckily they have the lo-fi pop melodicism on spec and when the mix is sorted out they emerge as a band of ease and individuality.

When the singer's monitor breaks down during the first song of a festival set, most bands would apologetically get as many people on stage as possible to fiddle with it for what seems like far too long. Fyfe Dangerfield and Guillemots, who are not most bands, choose the moment to improvise a furiously paced song about his equipment not working that nobody quite realises is improvised until it's finished. What transpires is one of those festival sets that, while aware that not everyone's going to get it, if you're up to speed on what to expect it'll blow you away, as indeed is pretty much what happens as in their singular style they switch effortlessly between wide angle near-AOR, avant-jazz, Dexys mod-pop, guitar experimentation, rock improvisation and Talk Talk-esque orchestral scale magnificence, often in the spell of one song. So MC Lord Magrao makes his guitar sound like seagulls in peril when not taking to the typewriter, Aristazabal Hawkes plays with a winning smile and an elegance somehow borne of trying to pin this whole mess down, Greig Stewart tries to drive it on while making very odd faces and wearing a kaftan, two blokes in suits play an array of brass instruments, and in the middle is the now clean shaven Fyfe in his big wooden chair behind a bank of keyboards from which all sorts of melodies and noises emerge. Highlights, understandably, are many, but Trains To Brazil and "our wedding song" Made Up Love Song #43 get huge singalongs while Who Left The Lights Off Baby enables Magrao to get his drill out early and features a superb random honking solo from a saxophonist who's made a flying leap onto the pallet Dangerfield's equipment is on. Sao Paolo is as footloose and sprawling as ever, and those who are willing to go with it are handsomely rewarded.

We wanted to see Jamie T after that, but took one look at the queue snaking out of the Rising tent and decided that our pop barometer needed levelling back out with a revisit to the world of The Boy Least Likely To. Back in March we saw them at the Leicester Charlotte in front of about 100 people. Now they've drawn a three quarter full audience to a 2,200 venue. We'd be inclined to turn all protective and indie at this stage were we not of the opinion that their country-twee-disco needs to be experienced by this many people. Jof, as playful and self-deprecating as ever, seems genuinely surprised by the turnout, which spurs him and the band on to one of the most gleeful performances of this or any other Summer Sundae as the audience really get into it. Endless touring has made them even tighter, although Jof still gets the giggles mid-song, with the cover of George Michael's Faith working particularly well. As Be Gentle With Me sets the dancefloor going we wonder just what more they can do to get more people to notice.

Stephen Fretwell is the curious choice for second on the bill, a few songs taken in underlining his position as a meaningful if not particularly inspiring acoustic singer-songwriter, but we have bigger fish to fry. Or we would if the Buzzcocks wasn't so packed out we later learn extra security had to be put on the doors. As a consequence we miss the first fifteen minutes and still don't immediately get in, finding eventually that they've taken route one to winning a big audience over - play the crowd favourites, or songs that sound like the crowd favourites and are fast enough that hopefully few will notice - at blistering volume without a break. Interestingly many are reticent to get involved until Ever Fallen In Love, the last song before the encore, and while the flat out pace was impressive from a band who've been doing this on and off, if mostly off, for thirty years there was a heart missing to the set that meant it didn't quite ascend the heights it could have done. Between them and the Sunday headliners we managed to sneak in to another jampacked Rising stage occasion for the top band on their bill Larrikin Love, who to us have always been the good side of, groo, 'urchin rock' but in the three songs we saw did steer a bit too close to the ska-punk evil from their Thamesbeat Pogues roots. You can at least see why so many people get so worked up about them live, but we'll hang on for the album before making a final decision.

"You call this the Leicester Bowl, right? Well, this is a song for all you Leicester bowlers." No idea what Stuart Murdoch was on about, but as Belle & Sebastian have recently played the 17,000+ capacity Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic behind them a 6,000 capacity festival with a four piece string section should be a piece of piss. It was. Indeed, it might well have been the highlight of the festival right at the end. It helps that Murdoch has blossomed from the retiring frontman of legend into as effervescent a singer as they come in the same way his band have emerged from their own reputation of audience testing quietness to, if not a seven piece rock machine, then certainly a band with no trouble filling this sort of space. Starting with Expectations from Tigermilk they cherry pick from across their career, if not anything from If You're Feeling Sinister for some reason, picking out some genuine surprises, not least Electronic Renaissance, which turns into a dance-off between Murdoch and a melodica-touting Stevie Jackson, who seems at times to be trying to upstage his bandmate. It's Murdoch's presence that drives them on, picking a girl out of the front to dance with during Jonathan David before making worryingly lecherous remarks about her after she'd been packed off and declaring that Lord Anthony "should not be attempted without the application of mascara" and getting another girl to apply it for him while singing before stealing a cigarette from someone else and critiquing a third person's scarf ("you're a bit old for the scouts, aren't you? Does your skip know you're drinking Carlsberg?") More than anything else, it turns a packed out field into a dance party as The Blues Are Still Blue follows She's Losing It followed by The Wrong Girl and so on. Seemingly not having properly planned an encore, Stuart challenges a surprised looking Stevie to render the songs from the shows to fill time, which Jackson matches with a full supper club effort at Luck Be A Lady Tonight before a corking finale of Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie, a Boy With The Arab Strap that gets nearly everyone moving and Sleep The Clock Around to finish. So yet again, despite our early misgivings about the bill, the weather the space available and just about everything else, Summer Sundae, its setting and its organisers triumph again.

Never did find the cabaret tent, mind.


Ben said...

Wish I'd paid a bit closer attention to Guillemots now. Can't agree about The Long Blondes, mind - I'm utterly smitten.

Anonymous said...

Pity you mentioned the dreaded yet somewhat non existant Thamesbeat, the reviews have been a good read.

Simon said...

Yes, sorry about that, but as a blog that early on featured a piece about The Brit Pack we thrive on useless scene titles that mean nothing even to those in them.

Ben: thought you'd comment on that, but we've always suspected somehow that we should like the Long Blondes more than we do, and while it was a good set we couldn't actually think of much to write about it.

The Daily Growl said...

The cabaret tent was in the 'marketplace' area up the back. I saw it but never ventured inside...

Anyway, good reviews, and quick off the mark too!

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