Tag Archives: The Zodiac

The Sounds

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 Noisettes and The Victorian English Gentlemens Club

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

White Rose Movement

The Zodiac, Oxford
27th November 2006

The Joy Division comparisons are inevitable: the Nazi era name; the nervy, haunted front man; the edgy and angular bass-heavy repetition. Luckily, White Rose Movement do offer far more than a mere tribute act, and other influences are evident: New Order and Duran Duran for the synth-guitar blend, early Spandau Ballet, even Nine Inch Nails for the industrial thudding.

There’s an undeniable energy and a compelling anger in the room tonight, from bassist Owen Dyke’s viciously frugging peroxide fringe to keyboard player Taxxi’s ice-cold pouting. Singer Finn Vine is captivating; he yelps histrionically yet sings rather unintelligibly, so any message in the lyrics will require reference to their debut album Kick produced by man-of-the-moment Paul Epworth (The Rakes, Futureheads, Bloc Party etc). Finn also breaks the aloof act by chatting to the crowd, saying they’re happy to be in Oxford – it’s their spiritual home (full of posh and clever people, you see).

Girls in the Back and Love is a Number are barnstorming – mysterious, catchy and hook-laden. However, some songs are melodically quite dull – often closer to a series of slogans than the traditional verse-chorus formula. Nothing emulates Love is a Number, though they do try: Alsatian and London’s Mine are hummable.

I really want to like them more than I do: for me, they just don’t have enough stand-out songs yet, and I can’t help thinking that The Faint currently cover the same electro indie post-punk dance ground more effectively and memorably. They could be so much more – they’ve got the sound, the looks, the style, the attitude, the backstory (all members but Taxxi grew up together in a commune in Norfolk). Now all they need is more good material and a distinct sound of their own. They’re on their way though, and if they keep it up, they should be brilliant by album number 3.


From Nightshift, January 2007

The Lightning Seeds

The Zodiac, Oxford
5th June 2006

It’s World Cup time again, and what a wonderful opportunity to release yet another Lightning Seeds greatest hits compilation. Since we last heard from him, sole Lightning Seed Ian Broudie has been producing The Zutons (amongst others) and released his first album under his own name two years ago, but he’s now back on the road to promote the newest compilation, showcase the album’s two new songs and celebrate the greatest football song ever, Three Lions.

Broudie is backed by a four piece band so youthful that they can hardly have been born when Pure was released in 1989, let alone when Broudie was achieving musical immortality (but no chart success) in Liverpool’s Big in Japan with Holly Johnson and Bill Drummond in the late 70s and producing the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen in the early 80s.

All the hits are present except What If?, Broudie’s sparkle belying his 47 years. Most of the tunes are ingrained in the nation’s consciousness, not least from countless uses on adverts or as backing tracks, as Life of Riley – after Broudie’s son Riley – famously was for Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month competition in the late 90s. The live performance lacks the records’ production sheen, but their guitars and keyboard still blend beautifully, especially in the swirly You Showed Me and bittersweet Sugar Coated Iceberg.

Broudie is the acceptable face of timeless, sweet yet deep pop – his Scouse voice and dour looks contrast with the memorable and catchy tunes that it’s ok for middle-aged men to like (as the demographic of the crowd tonight clearly testifies). You can find the same sort of ethic in bands like the Divine Comedy, but nobody has done the psychedelic synthpop thing in the last twenty years quite as well as the Lightning Seeds.


From Nightshift, July 2006


The Zodiac, Oxford
8th September 2006

Surprisingly, the Nizlopi live experience isn’t just rehashings of the Westlife Christmas single-thrashing JCB Song all night. Leamington Spa’s Luke Concannon (main vocals, guitar and occasionally a bodhran hand drum) and John Parker (double bass, rather loud beatbox and occasional guitar and vocals) make far more of a noise than you’d think; their multi-personnel recorded sound is rather impressively rendered on stage by just the two of them as an enthusiastic, meandering funk/soul/folk/skiffle amalgamation.

I should laud Nizlopi for their originality, passion, musicality, rapport and interaction with the audience, social awareness etc. But I just can’t. I’ve never been so irritated a band so accomplished and so loved by their crowd. I just can’t help feeling that they’re more suited to a pitch at Tottenham Court Road tube station.

Both their lyrics and musical style come across as an awkward combination of earnestness and lightheartedness, and it doesn’t really work for me. The anti-Blair/Brown/Bush/BNP politics of the chirpy Part of You is Gay sound like a naïve mixture of the brave and contrived. There’s no doubt that they mean well – they use recycled card and organic cotton for their CDs and t-shirts, and champion their home-town independent label FDM Records – but, combined with their cod hiphop and embarrassing rapping (like on ExtraOrdinary), it all smacks of trying too hard to bend genres and be different. It’s a shame, as those are also the main things they have going for them.

Luke’s soulful and versatile voice has been compared to Tracy Chapman’s; however, his refusal to stick to one note for more than a microsecond remind me more of Craig David, albeit sitting far less comfortably with the accompaniment than Craig’s voice does.

I do want to like them; everyone else here tonight certainly loves them. Perhaps, in time, they’ll settle into a groove and iron out the awkwardness.


From Nightshift, October 2006

Kula Shaker

The Zodiac, Oxford
18th May 2006

Yes, that Kula Shaker. Hey, wait, come back! The ever-dapper and evergreen Crispian Mills and co have long divided opinion since Grateful When You’re Dead ten years ago, but haven’t troubled anyone’s consciousness much since their split three years later. Now they’re back with a tour, an iTunes- and vinyl-only EP and plans for an album.

So, how much has changed? Is the bass player still called Alonza? Yes, but he’s balder; only Jay Darlington, now part of the Oasis touring band, is missing, replaced by Henry Broadbent on the requisite Hammond organ.

Are they still into Indian mysticism and spirituality? It seems so, along with a myriad of other 60s/psychedelic influences. Of the new stuff, Diktator of the Free World has a political edge (and the chorus “I’m a dik, I’m a dik, I’m a diktator…”), and Revenge of the King has Crispian’s distinct talking vocals and the same type of abstract lyrics and sitar-like guitar sound as the stuff on their John Leckie-produced debut album, K.

Have all their fans deserted them? The sold-out Zodiac crowd would say no; they can still sing along with the Sanskrit lyrics of Tattva and Govinda. Their music remains stuck anytime between the 60s and now so Arctic Monkeys et al need not worry about their fans deserting them for Kula Shaker’s new fresh 2006 sound. The genial Crispian seems delighted with the turnout, chatting between songs and repeatedly thanking the crowd for coming.

Really, though, if you liked K but were a bit disappointed by Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts you’ll welcome the return to form, and if you didn’t care in the first place you won’t care now. Kula Shaker still have the same interests and philosophy and convey them in the same way; they still have a distinct style and something to say.


From Nightshift, June 2006

Idiot Pilot and The Seal Cub Clubbing Club

The Zodiac, Oxford
6th February 2006

Tongue-twistingly monikered, The Seal Cub Clubbing Club bring both the frustration and complexity of their name to their music. The five-piece from The Wirral are refreshingly imaginative, if a little baffling the first time you hear them. Singer Nik Glover isn’t afraid to be unconventional, and his yelping and falsetto is sometimes startling. Their strange amalgamation of Pavement, Talking Heads, prog, punk and pub-rock is at times non-sequitur, but this makes it both interesting and challenging to listen to.

Idiot Pilot also veer from one style to another and back many times within the same track, but in a rather more conspicuous way. The duo from Bellingham, Washington, are two distinct parts of the same whole: Michael Harris commandeers plinky, bleepy synths and glitchy, frenetic drum machine rhythms with his soaring, impassioned (and sometimes over-the-top) vocals, while Daniel Anderson punctuates proceedings with his screeching voice and serrated guitar crunches. The result is like taking the verse and chorus parts of Linkin Park songs and polarising them as much as possible. The effect of this juxtaposition is at times a little disjointed but works well, especially in Spark Plug, the heaviest track Jesus Jones never did.

The power of the performance is, however, slightly tarnished by the execution. Arrogance which must make their recorded output sound passionate and exciting just comes across tonight as annoying; a fair amount of confidence is necessary, but some of the duo’s behaviour tonight – aggressively complaining about the sound system and so on – is of the type that can alienate an audience. Downstairs at the Zodiac might be small fry for a band whose debut album, Strange We Should Meet Here, is out on Reprise, but this isn’t the best way to win new fans. It’s a shame, because Idiot Pilot are otherwise quite impressive.


From Nightshift, March 2006

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly

The Zodiac, Oxford
15th October 2006

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (full stops preferred) is 20-year-old Sam Duckworth, whose 3-year touring machine rumbles into Oxford again tonight, following the release of his debut album, “The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager”.

Sam and his guitar are joined by cornet and drums, and a laptop kicks in with basslines, strings and beats; words like “nu-folk” and “folktronica” have been used to attempt to describe the overall effect. To me, though, the lyrics stand out ahead of any instrumentation. Sam covers personal experiences (like his love-hate relationship with his hometown, Southend, in “Lighthouse Keeper”) and issues he feels strongly about; “Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly” decries the corporate exploitation of poor workers, and “Glass Houses” introduces Sam’s affiliation with the Love Music Hate Racism campaign. The music isn’t dull in comparison, though; the instruments weave and layer, the melodies are catchy and the rhythms diverse. “Call Me Ishmael” (apparently written after a party in Headington) is all funky and syncopated, while “I-Spy” starts like “Wonderwall” but ends up as a respectably modern folk-emo hybrid.

Sam’s songwriting comes across as genuine and honest; the Fair Trade merchandise suggests his political/protest songs aren’t just for effect. He neglects to mention that he’s now on a major label (Atlantic) but does dedicate a song to BSM Records, who put his stuff out 3 years ago “when nobody else cared”. He’s an engaging character; he thanks the audience for selling out the gig, and mentions his Oxford friends and thanks them for their support, saying that’s more important to him than record sales. He does have limitations – he doesn’t have enough songs for an encore, so invites the support acts Keith and Darts on stage to cover “Abracadabra” – but all the ingredients are there him to develop into a well-loved, established act of importance to both impressionable teenagers and the music industry.


From Nightshift, November 2006

Melanie C

The Zodiac, Oxford
2nd May 2005

The most successful and critically-acclaimed former Spice Girl, Melanie Chisholm sold 3 million copies of her first solo album, Northern Star, but was dumped by Virgin after the comparatively poor showing of 2003’s Reason. With true Girl Power, she self-financed the recent Beautiful Intentions. The Zodiac is a relatively lowly venue for the female with the most British number one co-writing credits.

There is no doubt that Melanie can sing. Her voice is immediately recognisable; from the opening number, the title track of the new album, it is clear she can work the microphone. She’s got all the poses – you can tell she was a dancer – and enunciates everything with feeling. The new stuff seems to have very personal and opinionated lyrics; she attacks Pop Idol-type programmes in recent single Next Best Superstar (bitter experience?) and presumably Virgin in next single Better Alone.

The slower Here & Now demonstrates her versatility; she could add her vocals to anything from rock to soul, though at times she lacks the rawness to complement that of her 5-piece band.

It seems as though she has finally found the sound and style to suit her with this album, but the material may just not be strong enough to sustain success in today’s market. She is obviously talented, but just can’t fit herself in: too cheery for rock fans, too rocky for pop fans, and with too much past for those unwilling to forgive her for the Spice Girls.

She is very bubbly and friendly when she talks to the crowd, which somewhat ruins the sexy and sensual persona she takes on during the songs. However, it is clear she has matured. Her past life may forever condemn her to a career of middling success; one hopes she can find the tunes to bring her what she deserves.


From Nightshift, June 2005

The Mission

The Zodiac, Oxford
8th September 2005

The Mission were formed by Wayne Hussey and the now-departed Craig Adams after leaving Sisters of Mercy in 1986; however, unlike the Sisters, they are still around, existing without impinging much on the public consciousness, though still much beloved by the sort who wear old Fields of the Nephilim tour t-shirts. As such, I’m expecting an 80s-style doom-laden dirge with impenetrable amounts of reverb and uninspired new material.

Today, however, new single Breathe Me In has today hit number one in the German alternative charts – not bad for a worldwide limited release of 3000. It appears that Wayne and co aren’t quite relics yet.

The driving rock of Beyond The Pale and Evangeline, with its Big Country tumbling drums, isn’t that interesting – even when the latter segues into Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme. The jangly guitar of Sea of Love resembles The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary, and Hymn (for America) is almost heavy metal.

The Mission appreciate their support; after playing an old B-side, which singer/guitarist Wayne says only real fans will know, they launch into the more recognisable, commercial stuff, like Butterfly on a Wheel, heaped with reverb but stirring rather than melodramatic.

The Mission’s most successful – and most typical – tracks are the anthemic ones; Deliverance, Severina and Wasteland are impassioned, with rousing lyrics (“brother, sister, give me, give me deliverance…”), repetitive guitar riffs, driving basslines and more drums than cymbals. The second encore closes with the remixed version of Tower of Strength – their finest Temple of Love moment, complete with Ofra Haza-like wailing. The guitars layer over the dancey backing track and build to an epic crescendo… and then Wayne walks off and it’s all over.

The Mission are lot more accessible than the image or the legend has led me to expect. I can happily report that, here at least, all is well in Gothland.


From Nightshift, October 2005