Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taking a rain check: Summer Sundae Saturday review


Notwithstanding last year's boiling points Summer Sundae has a history of dampness, and the year after a boilingly hot three days all week the weather forecasts had predicted that Saturday would be the wet day of the three. Having got away with only periods of overcast cloud on Friday, sure enough the heavens duly opened early in the morning. Playing first inside the spacious and, yes, dry Hall Maybeshewill must never have known they were so popular. It's certainly not the thing for all the family to bond over, unless the family is particularly experimental. They've done their British post-rock homework see, melding the build and release of Mogwai with the glitch come-ons of 65daysofstatic and the odd judicious film dialogue sample (ah, Peter Finch in Network, good to hear you again), and just when you think you've got them figured out they drop in some prog-metal riffage. When exactly did Leicester become the hallmark of forward thinking post-rock?

Not wishing to risk pneumonia for the cause of watching people for whom Britpop never ended, we kind of hang around out of guitar's way for a bit because we're keen to be in the Rising tent to see how Project Notion come across live. Our thinking is that while in their nascent state as a live band you'd be forgiven for thinking they hadn't got it all worked out yet. Only, they very much have, and on reflection this seems to pose a bit of a quandary. Having received an email from them too late for inclusion in the Fringe fanzine, we know they describe themselves as "jazz fusion and folk". They aren't really, and having now heard their live sound we can only think it's the fact they want to retain a folk influence that's holding their recordings back a bit. From our perspective, imagine if a former trip-hop vocalist who only listened to jazz-rock kidnapped This Town Needs Guns and you'd be approaching what they do. There's a lot of dual guitar tapping that actually works, an assured, tight rhythm section lifting things at every juncture and up front in Tori Maries the possessor of a voice of fine clarity. You do tend to think that if they came from, say, Oxford, where this sort of thing holds sway post-Youthmovies, they'd be gaining wider attention already, as there's certainly promise and potential aplenty if they want to take it on from here.

Tired Irie have long been one of the critical darlings of the county, largely helped by the time in which they've arrived as even their programme write-up acknowledges Foals comparisons. They're less Afro-math than that feted band, though, not to mention less ponderous about some of their build-ups and altogether more electronic, verging into OMD territory in places but buzzing with energy, awkward tempo changes and sheer danceability. They're not quite there yet, and the suspicion remains that their older material is better, but watch this space.

The rain has eased off! Just in time for a Leicester call from the rolling thunder revue of Danny And The Champions of The World. Compared to Truck there's not quite the numbers, only managing thirteen on stage this time, but there's some of the personnel, including Romeo Stodart (whose first appearance with the Magic Numbers here three years ago stopped a day's torrential rain - can we have him on standby every year?), Indigo Moss, Robin and Joe Bennett, Y and, somewhat unsportingly, the Truck monster being brought to someone else's festival. There's still that communal hootenanny, though, with the still facepainted Wilson leading the extended folk-country jams with just as much life as on Steventon home ground, and the growing audience repay them in spades with singalongs and many children pointing in wonder at the vibraslap-toting monster.

Never underestimate the popularity of ska at Summer Sundae. Usually relied upon to pack out a field/tent, the Leicester Ska/Jazz Ensemble have done just that to the Musician tent, meaning we're forced to beat a retreat. Still, there are worse places to be than watching another of Leicester's crop of hip young critically acclaimed things inside the Hall. We first saw Kyte towards the end of 2006 third on a three band bill in front of twelve people, and they sounded a bit like Hope Of The States. Now they're among Sonic Cathedral's bright post-shoegazing lights and being compared to Sigur Ros, which they don't quite manage but their floating glissando guitars and swooping, ethereal atmosphere building, enlivened by singer Nick thrashing away at a second drumkit on occasion. They're also one of the few bands who can use a glockenspiel in one of those aquamarine carry cases without making everyone dive for the 'twee' epithet. Outside, with the weather still merely cloudy, Dengue Fever bring the Cambodian pop party, not to mention the guitarist's tremendous beard. Maybe losing their instruments in transit compromised their apparently raucous live reputation in Los Angeles, but on this basis Jefferson Airplane had a far more pernicious influence on Khmer-language music than anyone suspected.

Why is the barrier in Rising almost completely populated by squealing eighteen year old girls? Ah, that'll be the T4 influence. Well, kind of, as since winning their MobileAct Unsigned competition in December Envy And Other Sins seem to have dropped straight back off the radar. They've brought their full array of lamps and a stuffed pheasant as stage decoration, but there's something less charming than when we saw them at the festival launch party in March (supported by Johnny Foreigner, who having played an event previewing bands supposedly playing over this weekend have sodded off to Japan instead), not quite the Hoosiers-esque indie-for-people-who-don't-actually-know-what-indie-is-any-more reputation might suggest but not quite pulling off the Kinksian melodicism that set suggested. In the hall, meanwhile, are a band who will never ever appear on T4, Zombie-Zombie, the French duo who specialise in reimagining John Carpenter film soundtracks to an appropriately darkened hall. Etienne Jaumet operates what looks like a small telephone exchange while Cosmic Neman (whose somewhat unlikely on the face of it other band is Herman Dune) is sitting on his drums while playing them. Their interpretation of a Krautrock car chase theme gets a fair number of people dancing down the front.

Camera Obscura will always gets people dancing, and their set is as swooningly likeable as it was at Truck, with the addition of another new song, French Navy's northern soul joined by Swans' Spectorish Postcard in what otherwise is pretty much the same set. At least they have their own instruments this time, and Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken sounds accordingly show-stopping. The rain restarts the moment they finish, which is telling.

With Friday being for getting one's bearings and Sunday for preparing to return to reality, the middle day of a three day festival is when everyone goes mad with face paints and costuming, and SSW clientele outdid themselves this year. The smurf returned, and Tracyanne Campbell made special mention of him, and a Mr Incredible and a lion also showed up as did someone who probably wasn't aiming for but could easily have passed off as Mr Monopoly, but full kudos to the group of people who between them managed the entire primary cast of The Wizard Of Oz.

A combination of tipping it down and a full tent screw up our chances of seeing Frightened Rabbit, but it does mean we're able to share in the trad-folk majesty of Mercury nominees Rachel Unthank & the Winterset. While it has the air of recontextualising the classical past, there's something of the here and now about them too, the spare set-up of grand piano, cello and violin, plus accompaniment from "the ancient Northumbrian instrument, the high heels", emphasising Rachel and Becky Unthank's spectral harmonising against which you can hear a pin drop. Charismatic, indulging in plenty of banter between songs, they take this sound out of Waterson:Carthy territory and get it across to such an audience as this with the likes of a gorgeous cover of Robert Wyatt's Sea Song. Plus, clog dancing. Outside the rain's got heavier if anything, literally driving people back towards cover, which means the reformed and up for it Dodgy have their work cut out. Yes, they have the gall to still do Staying Out For The Summer, although it does - ha! - coincide with a slight let-up in the weather.

Following the success of John Cooper Clarke last year a slot has been saved in the Hall might well become a regular spoken word set, and booked for the purpose is Henry Rollins, whose 75 minute set is very much the punk raconteur, starting with anecdotes from his rock career and seamlessly blending into impassioned and ultimately polemical spiel, concluding on a message of forming a community to take on the world, everyone hanging on every word. Well, every word that doesn't clash with something else, which in our case is Dawn Landes in Rising. Landes may be endearingly gauche but her songs pack a Feist-like straight ahead punch to match her lilting vocal ability, with the aid of the Noisettes' Jamie Morrison on typically full-bodied percussion. Roisin Murphy's live set-up is somewhat more complex - two men behind a console plus drum kit and an occasional guitarist aside, the stage is wide open for Murphy and her two backing singers-dancers to, well, sing and dance while Murphy changes pretty much after every song into a newly constructed costume. We have the same problem with Murphy that we had with Moloko, namely that they're always nearly there but not quite, and so her current stab at electro-disco proves in this arena. She's clearly a consummate show-woman, though, which in this condition is all you want.

And in this condition, we're soaked and don't fancy seeing Tom Baxter, Natty or headliner Macy Gray (by all accounts a fine show including covers of Creep and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?) so we go home. We'll make it up with a full Sunday.

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