Friday, July 25, 2008

Closely Observed Pre-Trains

The Autumn Store Presents A Pre-Indietracks Special: The Smittens/The Zebras/Red Pony Clock, The Sunflower Lounge, off Queensway, Birmingham, Tuesday July 22 2008, 9.30pm.

Just get into the venue in time as Red Pony Clock start limbering up, a Tijuana-based octet who sound like a mix between Calexico and all-out chaos. Their van exploded on the way to the venue, but they seem in surprisingly good spirits about it, perhaps because on the plus-side it means you're not short of things to talk about between songs. You know those pictures that look like random dots but if you stare at them for long enough all of a sudden this brilliant 3-D image pops up before your eyes and makes sense of it all? Red Pony Clock are the sonic equivalent, as their seemingly ramshackle material develops into something clever, organic and fun to fully reward the patient, open-minded listener. There's still not enough dancing going on for the band's liking, though, until The Smittens' drummer Holly shows how it's done, leaping around like a frisky kitten ricocheting from furniture, to hugely engaging effect.

The Zebras aren't from South Yorkshire, they're from Rotherham - Rotherham, in Australia, that is, although Northern English influences like The Smiths and The Wedding Present would seem evident in a band with a much more immediate, accessible appeal to an indie crowd than Red Pony Clock. The Zebras are more than the sum of their influences, however, with songs that swoop and soar and stir, destined to go down well with Weddoes fans at this weekend's Indietracks, we feel. Their stage banter needs some work, however, maybe they need to emerge unscathed from a tour vehicle inferno to put some fire in their bellies?

With things running later than planned, your harassed hack needs to make a Last Train to Larksville exit halfway through the headline set from Burlington, Vermont's The Smittens, but what we see/hear is confident, breezy and tuneful, and fully in line with all the good things we've heard about/from them, and we'll look out for them next time they're jingling their jangle back on these shores.

All in all, another fine evening of high-quality indie gathering courtesy of those friendly folk from The Autumn Store!

All three bands featured will be playing at Indietracks this weekend (July 26-27, festival fact fans) in deepest Derbyshire.

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