Saturday, March 07, 2009

Gig Review Ketchup - Emote Icons

The Walkmen, Barfly, Birmingham, Wednesday February 18 2009, 9.30pm.
Popfest All-Dayer, The Macbeth, Hoxton Street, London, Saturday February 28 2009 4pm.
Future Islands, The Old Blue Last, Great Eastern Street, London, Sunday March 1 2009, 10pm.

Sometimes a great and memorable gig is all about the peripheral details - the company; the ambience; the chance encounters and the general craic. The Walkmen's gig at Barfly was not like that at all. A nightmare journey (packed train, only seat available saw your puce-faced peacemaker caught in a ruckus between a reeking drunk and two wannabe gangstas), a heaving crowd and under-resourced, apparently under-trained bar staff made for one of our less comfortable gigging experiences for some months. So it's good to report that The Walkmen were in good enough form to make you realise why you bother.

Their fondness for vintage musical equipment is well recorded, but it's Hamilton Leithauser's voice that's the truly distinctive instrument at their disposal. No-one can hold a roared note quite like the grizzled frontman, and the band play with the confidence of knowing their latest record (You&Me) has defied all expectations and proved every bit as essential and revelatory as their earlier triumphs. Hamilton's academical background clearly didn't include local British accents though, as his improvised Brummie micktake sounded like Dick Van Dyke at his most hackneyed. Though we'll concede 'One more song, then we'll skedaddle' was a great closing line.

The lead singer of Baltimore's Future Islands has a similar impassioned angst-ridden drawl as The Walkmen vocalist, but it's allied to a frothy synth-and-bass backdrop to create a surreal vibe like the musical equivalent of 'Twin Peaks'. At the end of a long, great day which included a football match, catching up with friends and attendant beers, maybe it was our tired, emotional state that left us seduced by their woozy late-night ruminations, but later inspection of 'Wave Like Home' reveals gems like 'Beach Foam' and 'Old Friend' would resonate vividly on even the gloomiest of evenings.

The previous day we'd been round the corner celebrating all things bright and shiny-eyed at the Popfest All-Dayer. This allowed us to reacquaint ourselves with Sweden's Liechtenstein, who have trimmed down to a three-piece since last year's Autumn Store gig and delightful singer Renee's gained a blonde rinse and a Mo-dettes t-shirt into the bargain. Electrelane's harmonies are pleasingly grafted to an early 80s bed-sit pop feel to diverting effect, we recommend you buy their new Everything's For Sale ep now and start salivating for the debut album due later this year.

The Scandinavian presence didn't end there, with Action Biker proving the other revelation on the night, a pretty young lady in a beautiful dress cooing conversational melodies to pre-recorded music that would have strong appeal to fans of Saint-Etienne. Suppose it could be glibly dismissed as 'laptop karaoke' but she had the presence and charm, not to mention voice and hooks, to coax something magical and entrancing from the simple set-up.

Elsewhere on the bill The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut offered barbed topical popcult anthems in the mould of Half Man Half Biscuit; Town Bike delivered a lively but surprisingly melodic set that would appeal to fans of HMHB and Helen Love; The Loves brought a harder, druggier feel to proceedings with some driving rock songs and no popfest is complete without a spirited, entertaining set from the marvellous Smittens. Only Help Stamp Out Loneliness failed to ignite our passions, but this emptiness may have had more to do with our hunger at this point than the band's lacking - with no food on the premises even the most inimitable indiefans need refuelling and as hard as we tried, sustenance by Guinness alone didn't quite see us through to the end of the night.

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