The Zodiac, Oxford
24th March 2007
Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are the impossibly pert pop punk pixie Maja Ivarsson, lead singer of Helsingborg’s The Sounds. Surrounded by your four not-bad-looking-either male bandmates, you’re actually quite happy to be crammed up next to your devoted audience downstairs at the Zodiac; your jaunty synth rock is designed to get under your listeners’ skin, and you’re also quite partial to getting closer to your audience by way of the odd crowd surf. (You’re tiny so nobody’s likely to drop you.) Oxford may be a world away from the New York scenes among which your recent, second album Dying To Tell This To You fits perfectly, but your appeal is pretty international.
Your music mostly has just the right blend of commercial and cool to have attracted celebrity fans like Dave Grohl and Bam Margera (whose wedding reception you recently played at); Tony the Beat is probably the best so far – addictive, catchy and more sophisticated than the rawness of most of your first album, Living in America. The more anthemic Song with a Mission, Painted by Numbers and Queen of Apology come close behind though. Despite demanding the audience’s attention, you’re kind enough to leave guitarist Felix and keyboardist Jesper to do some sweaty electric drumming at the end of Ego.
Comparisons to Blondie are inevitable but flattering, and you might concede that your band is not the most original there has ever been, but who cares? Your magnetic yet dangerous demeanour is such that nobody’s likely to argue with you. Your voice is at times as vulnerable and delicate as that of The Cardigans’ Nina Persson, but you’re leather to Nina’s wool. You’re having fun belting out some great tunes, and the Zodiac is transfixed.
On the evidence of tonight, I think you’d be quite chuffed to be Maja Ivarsson.
From Nightshift, May 2007
The Zodiac, Oxford
22nd January 2007
Cardiff lo-fi trio The Victorian English Gentlemens Club (deliberately lacking an apostrophe) revel – and excel – in unconventionality. Emma, Louise and Adam’s art punk is a quirky, shouty affair, with disjointed melodies and rhythms crashing into angular and edgy guitars. Their scant respect for songwriting conventions is often confused and confusing – like in the wonderfully titled My Son Spells Backwards – but works far better in the impossbily catchy Amateur Man and Ban the Gin. Veering from Devo to The Young Knives and back again, it might not – deliberately – hold together all of the time, but it’s always interesting.
While TVEGC suit the intimacy of downstairs at the Zodiac quite well, it’s far too small for The Noisettes. Singer and bassist Shingai – for whom ‘charismatic’ seems far too weak a description – is literally climbing up the walls, such is her energy. Headline touring to promote their debut album What’s the Time Mr Wolf and fresh from supporting Muse – in whose arena venues their sound was subdued and strangely lost – The Noisettes are bursting with tunes and styles, as if they’re trying to cover all bases with the first album before polishing one direction. Shingai’s versatility covers everything from soul to hard rock via operatic screeching, while the other two look like refugees from Camel and are quite happy to noodle away on their own, weaving in and out of Shingai’s bass and voice. They’re adept enough to sometimes do away with the bass guitar without losing volume or depth, too.
The blues-rock fusion is often a bit jumbled but it’s all very frenetic and fun; Don’t Give Up is an exalting rally cry, while Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit) is a multi hook-laden anthem. However, the real star isn’t the music but Shingai; forget Beth Ditto, this is the current coolest woman in rock.
From Nightshift, March 2007
Photo: © Kirmie
New Theatre, Oxford
3rd September 2007
We all know what Erasure sound like, don’t we? Even though the arrangements and even instrumentation may change (they recorded album of acoustic/country and western versions of some of their old songs last year), an Erasure song is still unmistakable – not least due to Andy Bell’s distinctive voice. He could sing the Chinese national anthem and make it sound like a torch song of loss and redemption.
There was a point in the mid 90s where they became very unfashionable – and songs from that era are noticeably absent tonight. But the hardcore support (now far more the age for Radio 2 than Radio 1) meant they reached a point where they could afford to put out whatever music they wanted without having to rely on commercial success – which meant they stuck around long enough to benefit from the 2000s synthpop resurgence.
On this tour, in support of their new album, Light at the End of the World, out are Andy’s flamboyant leotards and feathers, but in are glittery camouflage gear and Jackson Pollock-inspired suits. A sense of humour pervades – Andy prances, struts, joins the backing singers in cheesy arm movements and even introduces a lamb puppet called Mint Sauce to ‘help’ him sing. The costume change interval is accompanied by a pages-from-Ceefax ambient track and a stream-of-consciousness monologue from screens on the stage, encouraging us to wave our hands like we’re on drugs – among other random thoughts.
So what about the new stuff? Well, surrounded by the soaring catchiness of songs like Chorus and the anthemic Love to Hate You, it doesn’t fare too badly. Breathe – the only track from 2005’s Nightbird here – is easily the best thing since their heyday, but recent single Sunday Girl isn’t too bad either. Nothing exciting enough to draw in many new fans – but certainly enough to keep the existing ones happy.
From Nightshift, October 2007