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.


Anne said...

Nice review, the kind that really makes me wish I'd been there!

Chris said...

Thanks Anne, it would've been nice if you could have been. Nothing like a big dose of Pop for livening up the winter (or autumn, as it still seems to be in London).

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