Thursday, July 31, 2008

Knee deep at Indietracks : Sunday review


After arriving back on site to the sight of perhaps the world's worst parked car and weather that wasn't letting up much from heatwave status - the hottest of the year it transpired, as yet again a day's worth of predicted sharp showers and possible thunderstorms completely failed to materialise, which was good as long as the gradual beetroot pigmentation process didn't prove too distracting - Sunday started with The Colliding Lemons, an all female five-piece (how many others are there? We could only think of The Organ) who make a sound like a cleaned up take on what the average punter thinks C86 is actually like. Give them a couple of years and let's see where they take it.

In trying to remind ourselves after the long weekend (and a bit) of what some of these early bands sound like we're resorting to Myspace memory jogs, but in the case of Brontosaurus Chorus it's proving to be little use. See, what on record is slightly shabby janglepop grows virtual horns onstage. There's plenty to go at, certainly. They have a trumpet player on one side of the stage and a three piece string section, one of the violinists doubling up on squeezebox, on the other. They bring a mate on to sing lead vocals on one song, which lasts less than a minute. The male bass player is wearing a dress. What when recorded is Tullycraft/early Camera Obscura summery pop develops an edge and becomes more than just passing interest. A swelling audience is richly deserved.

Reputedly after part of the equipment went missing overnight, there's a more than two hour delay to proceedings getting underway outdoors, which leads to the scheduled main and outdoor times being completely revamped at least twice and a lot of scurrying around double checking the new time sheets. As well as the unexpected bonus of removing at least two tricky stage clashes, it means a late main stage promotion for Leicester's Shop Assistants-fronted-by-Baader Meinhof-studying-Bilinda Butcher The Mai 68s, where the standup drummer behind two-piece and the waves of sound coming from Jon's guitar pedals get to thrive in front of a more than decent audience. Is this the best of the four times we've now seen them? Probably, keeping it just about together (and unlike the last time we saw them not having everything break, including the mike stand), even though Julie, despite/because of having to trade her usual sophisticated wine glass for a plastic beaker, ends up on the floor.

We don't get to see the full set, though, because there's some STN favourites to catch up with. Tempting as it is to think the whole festival is hairclips and melodicas central, Stuart and his team really do see indiepop as a communal experience beyond other people's ideas of what is and should not be here and are open to all sorts of variations on the guitar theme. Hence, who should this be striding into the church from outside in choral introduction led by a man with a ukelele but A Classic Education. We've written enough on here in the past about their post-Arcade Fire brooding grandiosity, but despite often overwhelming the PA enough of their grandiose ambitions come across to make their potential already approach fulfilment. There's the self-believing intensity of a Modest Mouse and the expansive choral intrigue of current British Sea Power in there to fit the lyrical intrigues, and although the church doesn't fill up for a disappointingly long time word seems to get around that there's something really special in this enthrallingly elating, pounding set. Trust us, it's only upwards from here.

After which sumptuous course, KateGoes comes as something of a sharp sorbet. The Brummie collective are known for playing every gig to a theme, and today it's KateGoes To The Stone Age, the five of them dressed in caveman gear and opening with three songs loosely around the theme. It's no more baffling than their actual songs, which take Kate Nash-on-dexedrine piano pop to Early Learning Centre extremes, all without a scintilla of self-awareness. Halfway through a man sporting a giveaway Misty's Big Adventure T-shirt hands out balloons to all onlookers, and within seconds it's turned into a very low budget Flaming Lips show. None of it makes any sense outside this world. That's probably the point.

Meanwhile in the tea and shade tent Darren Hayman's 'solo' set with sundry Wave Pictures is cut short after a triumphant The Sad Witch as The Smittens have started early. Colin Clary and four colleagues are just about perfect for these climes, all male/female harmony vocals, pop hooks and permanently sunny disposition. Maybe this is the sort of surface cutesiness most shy away from, but right here right now it works. In some ways The Rosie Taylor Project back in the tramshed aren't that much different in terms of the harmony-aided aura they give off of soundtracking a summer's day in a meadow at times, but stylistically there's more intricacies going on, the folk-plucked guitar, melancholic turns and romantic notions backing up the promise shown by their mini-album This City Draws Maps. The guitarist is also sporting tremendous turnups.

Now the outdoor crowds are starting to stand up and mount up, in time for a tremendous set by the ever resourceful The Wave Pictures, wry of lyric, Richman of arrangement and starting with the fairly obscure considering I Shall Be A Ditch-Digger. For a band who often seem to give over a louche air on record they're a tight outfit, but not so rigid that they can't let loose with the odd spare but technically adept solo every now and again, David Tattersall enjoying a good compact Neil Young pitch-bending solo when the occasion demands. Spiritual cousin Hayman joins in on the last two songs - they fit four in after Tattersall has speculated that they might have time for one more - and the mantle of "Britain's biggest small band", still emblazoned on Hayman/Hefner clutch bags on sale at the merch stand, could well have found its natural new home.

The noise now coming out of the refreshment tent is of a cheap keyboard nature and is being wielded by one half of Internet Forever, for this occasion known as Laura Wolf And The Bitches. Usually Wolf and the aforementioned on here Heartbeeps, for this occasion she has two backing singers. One is Joe, who we know a little bit. The other is Gareth, of whom more later. On concluding their two song set one or the other of these recommends we all adjourn to Esiotrot, a Brighton septet featuring a two man horn section who rather than use them to go supersonic stay within a staying just together sonic spectrum the Wave Pictures would admire. There's a good deal of Hefner and Pastels about them, but the overall impression is of Neutral Milk Hotel reduced to a back bedroom without Jeff Mangum's books.

Talking of sonic spectrums, The Manhattan Love Suicides have little truck with carefully crafted melodies, preferring to blast their way to fuzz, distortion and feedback nirvana in a typical sub-twenty minute set (their album has 27 tracks), Caroline's vocals only sweetening the deal insofar as it makes them sound like Psychocandy interpreted by the Darling Buds. Even their soundcheck hits you right in the chest. Meanwhile there's a right mess of tweecore going on outside, as local heroes The Deirdres are, not to put too fine a point on it, going for it in front of a willing crowd. A typhoon of excitable shouting, criss-crossing things that are almost melodies, innumerable percussion instruments, much gear swapping and the odd piece of Bearsuit-esque pop genius - they wangled their way onto the Antiques Roadshow and then wrote a song about it - it's impossible to convey in print what makes this mess of indiepop so infectiously likeable. There's signs of a proper cult growing here. It might be unwise to get in their way.

Cult status of a minor sort has long been granted to Pete Dale and Milky Wimpshake's three chord Buzzcockian punk-pop, going on the raptorous reception to every two minute song of lust and devotion. It all merges into one eventually, though, and having missed a tent set by Little My, most of whom are here as members of Silence At Sea already, we're left with Sarah Records alumni St Christopher outside doing even simpler pop melodies to even less effect. Where's the anti-glamour in this? Ah, The Bobby McGees are on in a packed out church. Jimmy has been sighted many times over the weekend - in fairness, he's fairly difficult to miss - and, well, he's wearing a full jester's outfit. Of course he is. The usual ukelele love songs, laments and high quality swearing follow as we are reduced to watching through a window.

You know what we were saying up there about Britain's new biggest small band? Well, a small part of us always hopes that eventually Gordon McIntyre will receive the credit he's long overdue. ballboy inspire a small but devoted following, due in no small part to John Peel's support, through McIntyre's unerring way of mapping out human love and frailty and treating all imposters just the same. He starts with Public Park, a low-key start instantly cranked up with I've Got Pictures Of You In Your Underwear, and from there it's plain sailing. Avant Garde Music gets people dancing, I Don't Have Time To Stand Here With You Fighting About The Size Of My Dick gets them wondering about how a song about a failed bank robbery can be so heartbreaking. It's a wonder in itself that the songs - Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go When They Do Not Come To Me, I Lost You But I Found Country Music - are at the very least the equal of their titles, and that forthcoming album I Worked On The Ships offers up more thought provoking wonders, not least Songs For Kylie, about a songwriter offering his broken hearted songs for pop purposes knowing they'll be rejected. McIntyre, as gifted a between song raconteur, mentions at one point that he always gets asked why his band aren't big and why Coldplay are, to which he reasons that you get what you're dealt in life and he'd be happy playing events like this. As he closes with a gorgeous Leave The Earth Behind You And Take A Walk Into The Sunshine and then a less so but just as great Donald In The Bushes With A Bag Of Glue, you can't help feeling that while he's doing his oeuvre down it's all to the good that he can still play to us like this.

The main stage headliners can't start until the twenty minutes overrunning outdoor stage has finally finished, although rumour has it that at least one key member of the headliners is insisting on watching ballboy to completion anyway. And you can well believe it, as almost exactly two years after we were first stunned on first hearing their demos, we finally get to see Los Campesinos! live. Is it everything we hoped? Well, of course it is, but then it is for Gareth too, as the Wedding Present T-shirt sporting frontman, who over time has turned into the sort of frontman who can look louche, irked and boundlessly energetic simultaneously, takes a couple of occasions to heap praise on the festival's organisation and clientele, some of the bands who he saw and the very idea of it all. Admitting that their first festival headliner means having to play every song they know, the hour long set features no real surprises but exhibits a band who while tight still evidently enjoy themselves every time they step on stage. Then, after a fakeout of Pavement's Box Elder, the uncoiling post-rock buildup crystallises into the You! Me! Dancing! riff and the place virtually explodes in joy, the Cardiff contingent saluting the Twisted By Design namecheck and everyone losing their collective cool - not easy in these conditions - on every chorus.

There's a little moment during the first violin break in the following set closer Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks, which culminates in Gareth, Aleks, Tom and Neil all up on the barrier, where Gareth looks up at the lights with a beatific smile across his face. He knows, as do we all, that this will be one - possibly even the one - to tell everyone about when they get back to reality. The location, the bands, the clientele, the organisation, the whole essence of Indietracks has seen an increase in publicity and numbers from last year and ridden it out spectacularly. It may not be the coolest to the Vice subscribers, but who cares when there's something uniquely special about Indietracks already.


Anonymous said...

Comprehensive stuff as usual Simon, my highlights were probably Ballboy, Shrag, Darren Hayman in the (swelteringly hot) church and Greg Webster on the (even hotter) train. But i enjoyed both the headliners and Manhatten Love Suicides and Pocketbooks were really good. In fact despite moments that were just too twee to take (Bobby McGees) and some shambolic performances (Slow Down Tallahassee / Strawberry Story), I’m not sure I saw a bad band all weekend.

But the scheduled bands were only really half the entertainment, it was good to wander round and find people playing in tents and train platforms and most of the performers were really friendly and happy to stop and chat. Gareth Los Campesinos was a really nice guy and seemed really genuinely excited about not just being at but playing the festival. He was watching Ballboy right to the end as we followed him down the hill but Los Campesinos were great as ever and the moment when the noise fades and the melody kicks in at the start of “You, Me Dancing” has got to be the highlight of the summer.

A perfect festival.


Anonymous said...

RE: Kate Goes: man with a "Giveaway" mistys big adventure Tshirt..... I'll have you know that Tshirt cost me ten quid!!! cheeky monkey!!

I'm going to be putting my films from the indietracks weekend on youtube. if you want to see them my username is :-


Simon said...

As in "that he was wearing a Misty's T-shirt was a giveaway as to his intentions". Yeah, I know.