Tag Archives: 2008

The Subways

Carling Academy, Oxford
2nd October 2008

I wasn’t really expecting to like The Subways. The Welwyn Garden City trio’s first album, Young for Eternity, was released in 2005 and completely passed me by in a flurry of mid-2000s post-punk garage rock and bands with plural names all starting with “The”. Since then however, singer and guitarist Billy Lunn and bassist Charlotte Cooper have split up, Billy’s had nodules on his vocal chords and they’ve recorded a second album in LA with Butch Vig. All these things have influenced the result, this year’s All or Nothing, a record which has made me regret my ignorance a little.

Tonight’s set neatly highlights the contrast between the first and second albums. The audience favourite Oh Yeah, epic With You and 60s-esque dollop of Ash-like nostalgia Mary are generally more lyrically naïve, whereas the latter album’s Kalifornia and new single Shake! Shake! demonstrate some social awareness; introspection is everywhere, especially on Always Tomorrow, I Won’t Let You Down and the more acoustic Strawberry Blonde. Butch Vig’s production has resulted – or maybe coincided – with a heavier sound; free download single Girls and Boys is the heaviest they get tonight, though they never sacrifice a tune for noise.

There’s no lack of energy; Billy obviously thinks he’d be too hot if he wore a top, which lends him a slightly dodgy Iggy Pop vibe, and Charlotte’s hairdo takes quite a thrashing. Charlotte and Billy obviously still share a certain synergy; their voices complement each other quite sweetly and they look to be still at ease with each other professionally, which is quite heartening in the resentment- and anger-filled world of rock.

They finish with Rock & Roll Queen, a three-year-old song which must be their best known, by virtue of its (and the band’s) best-known appearance – in this year’s Guy Ritchie film, Rocknrolla. It’s anthemic and catchy – and ticks all the popularity boxes while not really being structurally, musically or lyrically their best hour. Their extended performance of it allows Billy the opportunity to crowd surf and orchestrate a deafening screaming competion between both halves of the audience, which goes on for ages and leaves everyone on a high.


From Nightshift, November 2008


Blenheim Palace
29th June 2008

The Winchell Riots
I only catch two songs, which is a shame, as I like what I hear. Being rather early in the day, the arena isn’t very full, but they fill it with their epic, reverb rock sound. I don’t hear enough to really be able to tell, my initial impressions are that they sound like what Keane would sound like if they were any good. 

Little Fish
Who’d have thought a bloke and a girl could make so much noise? Especially a girl as tiny as “Juju”. Every inch the rock n’ roller in her white skinny jeans and red braces, she’s an instrument in herself – her voice creates everything and her guitar follows. I don’t think PJ Harvey or Suzi Quatro are unfair comparisons. The repertoire is varied, from blues to rock via soul, with a lot of bravery, pain, anger and compassion thrown in. Occasionally it gets a bit frighteningly yelpy, but it’s mostly challenging and intriguing.

A Silent Film
How annoying – a local band I haven’t bothered seeing before because I didn’t think they’d be this good. Epic, layered, reverby, synthy, earnest – their sound is great. Their songs sound good, but I have no idea how commercial they are – I’m just enjoying the interesting sound they’re making. Not heard anything as inventive yet accessible as this in quite a while. And their cover of Born Slippy is amazing.

The Dykeenies
Pretty standard teen pop/rock/indie, as far as I can tell. Very popular with the “youth” who have appeared out of nowhere (and are surely too young to be here). I’m reliably informed that they’re a cross between Fall Out Boy and Busted; I wouldn’t know – I wasn’t born in the 90s. Quite tight, tuneful and catchy though.

Black Kids
I think I’m being won over by the Black Kids’ catchiness. The sheer poppiness irritated me at first, but the influences have been showing through – rock, disco, early 80s pop-funk, even Motown. They’re still not the tightest band live I’ve ever seen, but tunes like recent single Hurricane Jane whip the crowd up anyway, so they’re doing something right.

Lightspeed Champion
Look, it’s the bloke who used to be in Test Icicles and he’s wearing a furry hat! He’s got a female drummer! And a violin player! So automatically cool, obviously. It’s all a quite jolly singer-songwriter-with-wry-observations-about-life type of affair, but not twee, despite excursions towards 60s surf rock (which win me over with the quirky chord changes). He seems like a nice guy, and it’s all quite appealing.

Estelle is on the sassier end of cool. She’s brought a huge band with her, but this grandiosity is dampened the moment she starts chatting to the audience (apparently, men are getting on her nerves so much that she’s written a song about it). She toasts and raps as well as sings, and it’s not an R&B borefest – there’s even some reggae and grime in there (but not, alas, any Kanye). She puts her heart into it, and it’s quite a refreshing change to the rest of today’s lineup.

Young Knives
Oh no! They don’t sound so quirky anymore. Except when they play their older stuff. But the stage presence is still eccentric, so they’ve not deserted us completely, despite Henry’s declaration that Hot Summer made them multimillionaires… The Beatles-like harmonies and guitar interplay are still in evidence, too, and Turn Tail is lovely. The crowd are somewhat distracted during their set by a giant red WKD beach ball, though.

The Streets
Your reviewer doesn’t like The Streets. No amount of lazy, soul-destroying, endlessly repetitive basslines smothered by Mike Skinner’s arrogant, posturing, rambling, uninspired, self-aggrandising, boorish boasting – conspicuously devoid of any rhyme, rhythm or anything else interesting whatsoever – would persuade her otherwise. And so it transpires.

The Futureheads
Hold onto your heartrate, it’s the Futureheads! Never knowingly laid back, their marriage of frenetic punkery and beautiful harmonies would be charming if that description didn’t seem a bit too odd to apply to them. The ever-popular Skip to the End requires synchronised crowd jumping, the mere sight of which exhausts me into taking my leave…


From Nightshift, August 2008

Alphabeat and Palladium

Carling Academy, Oxford
28th January 2008

If the words “Danish” and “pop” automatically make you think of Aqua, Junior Senior or Whigfield and sigh, fear not! Alphabeat are far less one-dimensional.

Poppy and jaunty yet more heartfelt than flippant, they flirt with Motown and soul, but not in any dodgy Toploader way; 10,000 Nights of Thunder reminds me of the Supremes despite Anders and Stine’s boy/girl vocal swooning, and What is Happening is a slower but still perfectly Radio 2-esque slice of pop-soul harmony. The single Fascination was Radio 1 playlisted, but there is better; they’re still innocent, kooky and Europoppy enough to get away with the lovely Boyfriend and its lyrics about holding hands, parents not wanting to know and whatnot.

Alphabeat are so infectiously upbeat that it’s difficult not to be charmed by them.

Palladium, on the other hand, are rather irritating. The fact that their best song (High 5) sounds like sixth formers trying to play a medley of Van Halen’s Jump and that Orson song raises alarm bells immediately.

The official line of them meeting on the session musician circuit and discovering a mutual love of Toto and Hall & Oates sounds very suspicious; the whole thing gives the distinct impression of being manufactured, especially considering their woeful, presumably Virgin-dictated look. I resent having had a childhood being told that particular acts were unfashionable only for them to resurface 20 years later via embarrassing, exploitative and frankly offensively cynical plagiarism with the sole purpose of lining record executives’ pockets. It’s the glam rock 50s revival all over again.

So it might not even be all Palladium’s fault, despite the posturing; their guitar/keyboard noodling (especially on the very AOR White Lady) shows they can play quite well. But for all the harmony and structure, they just can’t muster up memorable songs – which defeats the object, surely?


From Nightshift, March 2008