Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chickfactor: For the Love of Pop!, Part 1: The Pastels, The Aislers Set, Would-Be-Goods and Amor de Dias at Bush Hall, London, 17th November

Saturday didn’t exactly go as planned. It was a long time since S. and I had been in London, so, rather like last time, we tried to fit too much in. This wasn’t helped by a misunderstanding about which Rough Trade to meet Chris at (in his defence I think he did say he was going to Covent Garden; in mine that shop is not there any more), or a replacement bus service for the tube which took nearly an hour and a half to get Brogues to Portobello Road. Where, before he arrived, I overheard an American say to a companion, ‘My mother bought a pet shop here, and turned it into an art gallery. She sold it to Brian Eno.’ That seemed a good Portobello Road moment. A rather frustrating day made the Bush Hall seem all the more welcoming, and I agreed with what Gaylord Fields said during his introduction to Amor de Dias, when he described the relief of turning from the busy Uxbridge Road, ‘with all its... people’, and entering the calm of Bush Hall with its friendly like-minded souls and its beautiful music hall interior. The band continued that effect, reproducing the calm reverie of their Street of the Love of Days album, just the two of them, Alasdair Clientele and Lupe Pipas, sitting down, with almost-matching Spanish guitars. Alasdair’s playing was frighteningly proficient – flamenco-esque finger picking, fluid as you like. They suffered a bit from loud chatterers at the back of the hall, which seemed to annoy Alasdair: ‘Shut it,’ he said, in an exaggerated East End voice. ‘No, please don’t,’ Lupe hastened to say, not wanting to dictate the audience’s behaviour. They didn’t shut it, and it felt a little as though the... people had intruded. There was a guest spot from Pam Berry, singing a sad song about dwindling affection, that was a treat.

The Would-Be-Goods fared better against the chatter, having drums, and went down well. They were new to me, except for a bit of pre-gig listening to their Eventyr album, and I couldn’t quite get over the impression of a second-tier Heavenly, a point brought home immediately after the set, when the DJ played ‘Cool Guitar Boy’ – in acknowledgement, presumably, of their guitarist Peter Momtchiloff, who was so amazing in Heavenly. He was good in the Would-Be-Goods too, and it was a thrill to see him, immaculately turned out in a red wild west shirt and bootlace tie. It seemed as though Jessica Griffin’s lyrical concerns might stretch beyond the Heavenly palette, though – one song was introduced as being a conflation of fairy tales, for instance. More listening needed, I think. In person, they generated such goodwill and bonhomie. Not least through the drummer, in pigtails and with a ‘W’ made of plastic horse shoes around her neck, smiling the whole time and adding zestful backing vocals.

[Going through this piece prior to posting, a week and a few more spins of Eventyr later, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the paragraph above. It is starting to seem very good indeed, and ‘Temporary Best Friend’ – which they played – a solid gold pop classic. Much more listening definitely needed.]

The Aislers Set were downright incredible. All Californian sunshine, thought Chris, compared to a certain depressive quality on record. There is a kind of sullen distance to them, which you can certainly get over (it took me a while at the time – it was Alistair Fitchett’s raving on Tangents and elsewhere that made me make the effort, I think). Then again, by ‘sullen distance’ maybe I mean ‘attitude’, maybe I mean they’re not marketing themselves. Whatever, that distance evaporates in their presence, literally and sonically. Amy looks tiny behind her huge 12-string guitar, hair short-ish but long and curly enough to mostly obscure her eyes, and she has a fast, nervous, slightly geeky way of talking. There were more of them than I’d expected – five, six? Including a trumpet player. And a happy looking bassist, who would rush to the assistance of Lupe’s fallen guitar during Pipas’ set on the following day. The band tore into their catalogue with vicious abandon, almost galvanizing an audience not in the first flush of youth into a mosh pit. Songs? ‘Emotional Levy’, ‘Catherine Says’, ‘The Red Door’, the one the guitarist sings about walking lost in the city... Actually, that’s a recurring theme, the one I mean is ‘The Lonely Side of Town’. The sudden shifts in rhythm carried a weight and a punch I’d never heard in them before, the drummer was whip-cracking sharp. It was a blast, a real triumph, I haven’t enjoyed a band that much in ages. The crowd was rapt, too, which helped.

How would The Pastels follow that? Why, with ‘Charlie’s Theme’, of course. Which worked rather well – a blissed-out come down from a raging high. Stephen announced that their album is now due for release in March, ‘Pastels time... I’m not saying which year’. But they’ve said on Twitter that it’s done, mixed, mastered and has a catalogue number, so unless they decide that 2013’s an unlucky number, it can’t possibly be any longer than that, surely? Katrina seemed to like the acoustics, ‘I can hear everything,’ she said, approvingly. Alison is fairly obviously pregnant, and the future must be bright, you would have thought, for a child formed to this soundtrack. To ‘Secret Music’, ‘Flightpaths to Each Other’, ‘Thru Your Heart’ and ‘Fragile Gang’. There was a new, quite fast Katrina song, ‘Come to the Dance’. ‘Baby Honey’ got its now-traditional set closing outing, Stephen sliding a can of Red Stripe all over the fretboard for maximum rock ’n’ roll. And for an encore – this was wonderful – ‘Comin’ Through’, specially requested by Gail Chickfactor; and then its partner-piece, ‘Over My Shoulder’, slowed and, again, blissful. It’s great to see The Pastels, so long intent on pursuing their own voyage out from the starting point of ’80s indiepop (a sound they’re largely responsible for, of course), check back in with such grace. Roll on March.

Photos, as before, from Chris S.’s Chickfactor 20 set. None of The Aislers Set, curiously, but there are some great videos of their set (and many others’) on anorakhighst’s YouTube channel, as Tweeted / Facebook-ed by Chickfactor themselves over the last week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chickfactor: For the Love of Pop!, Part 2: Tender Trap, Pipas, The Real Tuesday Weld, Bridget St John and Jim Ruiz Set at The Lexington, London, 18th November

Isn’t Ten Songs About Girls a great record? Unapologetically un-damaged, and plugged in to Talulah Gosh’s rattle and clatter, with all the control and melody of Heavenly. They were starting to hint at this sort of thing with previous album Dansette Dansette, and I wrote at the time how relieved I was, as a late starter at the Amelia Fletcher appreciation game, that with ‘Counting the Hours’ something amazing had happened while I was listening, rather than back in the ’80s or ’90s when I wasn’t. Not that it was the only good song on the record, but... it just does something to me. Goose bumps, a rush, happy tears – Pop, in other words. And as if it wasn’t enough to hear Amelia sing live for the first time on Sunday, Tender Trap’s first song was ‘Counting the Hours’. She in a spangly white dress with black concentric circles, hair short and black, like in every photo ever. ‘That’s exactly my fashion sense,’ said S., approvingly, referring to student indie discos of old where she would have wanted to look as tastefully glam as possible while still being able to jump around. No high heels or any of that nonsense. Amelia jumped, sang, played occasional tambourine, and gave us affable anecdotes about the secret to tidy rooms and the provenance of the Ten Songs About Girls cover photo (both Chickfactor-related – Gail tidies rooms by stuffing their contents in cupboards, apparently, and the girl on the sleeve is Tallulah, Pam’s daughter – ‘with two ‘l’s, so she can’t have been named after us, must have been The Go-Betweens’). The band charged through a set drawn mostly from the new album, and it was just perfect. The sound was tougher than on record, and the one outing from the 6 Billion People album (isn’t is terrifying that it’s now 7 billion?), ‘Talking Backwards’, fitted in nicely. But it couldn’t match the tender solace of ‘Love is Hard Enough’, the gleeful revenge of ‘Leaving Christmas Day’, or the raucous chant of ‘Broken Doll’. They’re a different band now, such assurance, such fun, every melody hits home. And was there ever a better writer of melodies?

So that was how the three-day London Chickfactor event finished up. Walking past us, WFMU DJ Gaylord Fields, who had been such a great compère and DJ over the two nights, stopped and thanked S. for dancing. What a nice man! The dancing – also great – was brought on by Tender Trap latterly, but also by the surprise (to us) of the evening, The Real Tuesday Weld. We’d been a bit glummed-out by Bridget St John, who seemed sincere and was in good voice, but sang about holes in hearts in one song, and exploding hearts in another, and appeared to be attempting to end suffering and terrorism by doing so. Which is laudable, I guess, and even quite sweet, but it was too serious to take seriously. Weary of this unmediated authenticity, we were a little suspicious as the next band set up, a woman in a long red dress (good, provisionally, but could be used to go to the opera) with a violin (could go either way); and man in a red pork pie hat (good) and shades (neutral) with a clarinet (just how classical are they going to be?). Stage right a man with curly hair and some odd brooch thing, in a suit jacket with smart jeans, manning the keyboards and laptop. In front of the laptop, a rubber wolf (hold it...). They began with a slow keyboard drone-driven instrumental, beautiful and artificial, barely structured, and I didn’t want it to stop in case their actual songs were serious and dull. But they weren’t, they were stupid, gleeful, witty, elegant – and they swung like ’30s jazz. And the duet! The man on the right (I should call him Stephen) growled in character as the wolf from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as the woman with the dress (I should call her... Geraldine McEwan? Surely not) got scared, but in a cool, collected way. She had a really amazing voice, of the kind that doesn’t often grace indie pop, powerful yet relaxed, as supple as the bopping clarinet which was also anomalous in this context, but all of it was so gleeful and so fun, we loved them. Afterwards Chris went up to offer Stephen awestruck congratulations on the performance, and he said we could touch the wolf if we liked. ‘It’s not real’ I said, on discovering that it was bendy. ‘Of course it’s not real’ scoffed Stephen in contemptuous disbelief. ‘I told him it was stuffed,’ explained Chris. It was only a foot and a half long, I’m so gullible sometimes.

The other two bands we saw on Sunday were good too – the Jim Ruiz Set, also new to me, were more in the underachieving indie vein, and, as Brogues had indicated, bossa-nova tinged with a nod or two to Edwyn Collins. Also country-tinged, I thought. They were at their best on the lighter-sounding songs, one of which – what was the title? – was named so that no one could forget Jim Ruiz’s birthday. Another he said he’d written to try and get as morose as Stephin Merritt. There was instrument swapping, nice male / female harmonies (sometimes with added laughter), and chiming Rickenbacker solos, sometimes discordant, it wasn’t clear how deliberately. They left a warm glow. As did Pipas, of course. I do love Pipas. They’re one of the rare bands who will always leave me feeling better after listening. They are never less than sweetly good natured, and often touch ludicrous pop heights in the course of their short songs and albums. ‘Windswept Room’ from Sorry Love is my favourite – ‘Piccadilly hound, I miss you when you’re around’. No idea what that means or why it sounds so fond when it should be acerbic, but it turns the song on a dime. They didn’t play that, but they did do ‘Rock And / Or Roll’, and the one that goes ‘One two three four five six seven / Hope some time before eleven’, and Lupe somehow contrived to forget the words in the first half of that couplet (‘One two...’ [puzzled look] ‘...six seven’). There were also problems with her Spanish guitar, which made no noise at all to begin with, and, when she’d asked in vain if anyone present had a 9 volt bettery, proposed carrying on anyway, which would clearly not have worked. ‘That’s what I love about Lupe,’ said Mark, dressed incredibly sweetly in an Amor de Dias T-shirt. The guitar then fell over, twice, when Lupe had gone back to playing bass (hope it was OK). So it wasn’t the smoothest of sets (‘the awkward ballet of Pipas’, was Mark’s description), but it was still great, still them. Leaving a nostalgia for 2006, much as The Aislers Set did on Saturday, for 2002. It’s brilliant to be celebrating these bands, of course, and the whole Chickfactor anniversary occasion is to do with looking back, but still... It’s weird, nostalgia for a time so recent. Like that Belle & Sebastian line about ‘Another TV “I Love 1999”’ from 2003. Who will love 2012, in another four or six years? Whatever else is going on, these gigs will be a reason.

Part One to follow. Photos by Chris S., the rest of them are on Flickr.

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