Jason & Dan

    If you saw my post the other day complaining about typography, you might have been confused. I went to see Jason & The Scorchers last Friday. They were playing in a co-headline tour with the Kentucky Headhunters and Dan Baird & Homemade Sin.

    On the night we saw them, the order they took the stage was: Headhunters, Scorchers, Homemade Sin.

    That was completely the wrong order, at least for the audience at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on that night. The energy and connection of the Scorchers meant that the peak for the whole event came as they finished their set — in the middle of the evening.

    No doubt you think I just think that because I’m a fan of the Scorchers, and not particularly of Dan Baird. And there is some truth to that. But I watched the last twenty minutes or so from off to one side — OK, I was standing at the bar — so I had a good view of the front of the crowd; and it was clear that they weren’t as excited, as into it, as involved, as they had been an hour before.

    No matter, it was still a great night, and I’m sure some people were happy that the running order was that way round. What drove me to post that picture, though, was the distraction that backdrop caused me. I couldn’t really appreciate the music for staring at it.

    In case it’s not obvious to you, take a look at the ampersand, and tell me how there’s any possible way it can make sense in that orientation.

    Not the Nails I'm Looking For

    I got an email from Songkick about a forthcoming gig in Camden by Nails.

    You’ll recall, being the avid reader of this blog that you are, that a while ago — OK, six years ago — I wrote about a great song called ’88 Lines About 44 Women’ by a band called The Nails. I know nothing else by them, but the idea of seeing that song live in a tiny basement club is pretty cool.

    But I had my suspicions. Especially when the first comment on the Songkick page was all about how it was the loudest gig they’d ever been at. Clicked through to the band’s page, played the video there, and it was immediately obvious that the hardcore band Nails are not indie/new wave/whatever band The Nails.

    Just goes to show the difference a definite article can make. Nails sound pretty good, but I don’t think I’ll be going.

    Stiff Little Memories

    I’ve just had two slightly odd experiences while researching Stiff Little Fingers.

    SLF were the first band I ever saw live, and they had a major effect on my life — which is why I was researching them: I’m writing a longer piece about the effect they had on me.

    So as I was reading the Wikipedia article about them, I became somewhat confused. Because it says they split up in 1983, and reformed in 1987. Now the breakup I’d forgotten about, but it seems right. However, I saw them on the tour in 87. I saw them two days in a row. I had tickets for the Brixton Academy gig, which I think was on a Saturday, and then when Time Out came out that week there was a small advert in the back (I’ve no idea how I came to see it), which said:

    Tin Soldiers
    Belfast’s finest. Shhh: a secret gig!

    Or something very like that. It was on the Friday night at the Mean Fiddler. Which I don’t think I had ever been to at that time, and which was a bastard long way from Tooting. But I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see SLF in a small club.

    What I mainly remember was that the Academy gig the next night was a bit of a letdown after the intensity of seeing them at the Mean Fiddler.

    But anyway, the point of all of this is that as far as I remember things, this all was — or was billed as — their farewell tour. That’s why the t-shirt (which I still have) says “Game Over.”

    Now obviously they’re around again, and I’ve seen them since, and bought albums they’ve released since. But my memory says they broke up in 87 (or it could have been 88, but I think not (though actually March 88 if this setlist site is to be believed)), and then reformed later. But Wikipedia and All Music both say I’m wrong.

    I don’t know. Who would you trust?

    Actually probably not me. I’m becoming more convinced as I look at that setlist site, that I must have seen them several times at the Academy, after moving to London in 87, and the supposed farewell tour must have been later. In which case the Mean Fiddler was a bastard long way from Walthamstow, but that’s still true.

    The second odd experience was that I clicked onto the Wikipedia talk page to see whether the history was disputed at all. It isn’t, but around five sections in there’s a section entitled “the?”, in which someone asks whether they were ever referred to as “the Stiff Little Fingers.”

    And back in 2007 some guy called “Devilgate” answered firmly in the negative.

    Ticket Captcha Fail

    Just tried and failed to book Dylan tickets. Three nights at the London Palladium in April. I got an email from Songkick telling me about it yesterday, and jumped straight on it.

    To learn that tickets didn’t go on sale till 10:00 today. At which time I was going to be traveling to King’s Cross to get a train to Edinburgh, which is a wee bit inconvenient.

    As it happened by just after ten I was at KX, and buying my lunch for the journey. But of course at that time I had forgotten about the tickets. By the time I remembered it was 12:44. The Palladium only holds just over 2000, so there wasn’t much hope.

    But I wasn’t helped by Ticketmaster’s ludicrous captcha overkill. Seemed like every time I moved from one page to another I had to click an “I am not a robot” checkbox and then select all the pictures containing street signs, or pickup trucks, or storefronts, from an array of tiny shitty pictures. Pickup trucks and storefronts? We barely have the former in this country, and we don’t use the latter term. And sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s in the pictures. I was doing this on a phone, after all.

    I wonder how serious their problem with automated ticket-buying bots is. I guess it must be an issue, given that the whole business of an inflated resale markets and touts at venues still exists.

    Anyway, all gone in London, but you may have a chance elsewhere.

    Hardcore Knows the Score

    For the last two months or so, it seems, I've been listening almost exclusively to a single album.[^fn1] That album is David Comes to Life by a Toronto hardcore band called Fucked Up.

    That’s hardcore in the punk sense, not rap, or anything else. All genres have a “hardcore” subgenre, it seems. I’m sure that somewhere there’s hardcore pop.

    Anyway, this album causes me to put together three words that I never thought I’d see in the same sentence, never mind describing the same thing: punk rock opera.

    I know, I know, rock operas are the bloated detritus of prog rock, and part of what we fought the punk wars against. Though truth be told, I’ve always been quite fond of Tommy. But in a sense it was always something that was going to happen eventually. When a genre or a medium has been around for a while, people will try to take it further than it has gone before, and that’s no bad thing.

    And when you get right down to it, it’s all about storytelling, and who can complain about that?

    So I was pointed in the direction of this album by a post on Mike Sizemore’s blog. Sizemore is a scriptwriter; I probably started reading his blog when someone like Warren Ellis pointed me at a teaser or “sizzle” video he and some other people made for a prospective science fiction series.

    Anyway, he posted a link to the video for the second track off the album, ‘Queen of Hearts’, and spoke very highly of it, as you’ll have seen if you followed the link. If you haven’t, you should. Go on, I’ll wait. I watched it a couple of times, and though, “That’s OK, interesting premise, I wish I could make out the words.”

    And then I forget about it for a while.

    But one day something made me go back. I listened again. I downloaded the album. I fell in… not love, exactly, but fascination.

    North American hardcore bands have a certain vocal style, which is certainly not to everyone’s taste. In that way, I realised, it’s not unlike actual opera. Sure, the vocal stylings are about as far apart as possible; but they are both very stylised. And my biggest two problems with opera are that it’s hard to make the words out (even when they’re singing in english), and that I don’t really like the vocal stylings.

    Not to everyone’s taste, as I said.

    Luckily, operas tend to have surtitles; and albums have lyric sheets. The lyrics for David Comes to Life are available on the web, as you might expect.

    Anyway, I’m writing about this now because I haven’t got round to doing so before, but especially because I’ve just got back from seeing Fucked Up live. They were playing at a Shoreditch venue called XOYO in a “co-headliner” with a band called OFF!.

    I tweeted a lot about it, and among other things, I expressed a degree of concern as to what it would be like going to a hardcore gig:

    Going to see Fucked Up and OFF! tonight. Not sure what to expect. Haven't been to a hardcore-type gig since... Napalm Death in 88 or so?Thu Aug 25 07:59:44 via Echofon

    Hmm. Not seen a hardcore gig since Napalm Death? That may well be true, but they’re British (and technically grindcore, according to Wikipedia). I began to wonder whether I’d ever seen a US (or Canadian) hardcore band live. The only one I could think of were Hüsker Dü, whom I saw in Edinburgh in – oh, 84 or 85.

    I feel sure there must have been others, and yet the only such band that I was really, really a fan of was the Dead Kennedys, and if they ever played the UK it happened either without me knowing about it, or they only played far away from where I was, or both.

    I needn’t have worried, though. The venue was just the right size, and comfortably packed. The crowd were gentle and lovely. The moshpit was pretty wild, but I turned 47 yesterday, which is officially way past too old for the moshpit, and I was well able to stay clear of it.

    And it was a totally brilliant night. The first band, Cerebral Ballzy, were on when I arrived, so I heard three or four of their songs. They sounded pretty good, and more to the point, the sound in the room was excellent. Clear, and powerful, without being so loud as to be overwhelming.

    OFF! were classic hardcore, in that if you didn’t like a song there’d be another along in way less than three minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    And Fucked Up just ruled. I was thinking before they came on that I would leave happy as long as they played ‘Queen of Hearts’ And they duly opened with it! They then proceeded to play edited highlights from David Comes to Life, interspersed with a few other tracks. There was stage-diving, crowd-surfing, the singer diving topless into the audience and walking almost to the back of the venue while still singing (and using a wired mike, with a very long cable).

    Anyway, if you’ve read to the end of this rambling thing, you should go and listen to some things. Here’s the ‘Queen of Hearts’ video, and it’s the first time I’ve ever embedded a video. Let’s hope it works. Note that this version has the kids in the video singing on it, which is not how it is on the album, but is very cool nonetheless.

    And the second video from the album, ‘The Other Shoe’, which they also did tonight.


    On Monday I took my son to the Barbican to see The Magnetic Fields. It was his first proper gig. And an experience quite unlike most gigs I've been to before.

    For a start it was entirely seated, and I’ve not been to one of those in a long time - and not just the audience, the band too. Secondly, it was in the Barbican Centre. We’ve been there a few times in the last few months for classical concerts and a dance performance, but it’s a strange venue for rock ‘n’ roll.

    But then, rock ‘n’ roll isn’t exactly what The Magnetic Fields play.

    Their 69 Love Songs is, as I was tweeting recently, one of the finest albums ever. It’s from 1999, it turns out, but I’ve only known it for a year or two. The first half of Monday’s show contained a good number of songs from it, and also some from the recent Distortion.

    The highlight for my boy wasn’t even a Magnetic Fields song at all, but rather one by The Gothic Archies, one of their several alter egos. It also featured the only instance in the evening of singing along with the band; and that was just him, quietly singing ‘Shipwrecked’.

    We were right up at the back of the balcony, but despite the distance and low volume, we could still hear everything perfectly. Well, except when they spoke between songs. The vocal mix wasn’t really designed for making that kind of thing audible at the back.

    In fact Merritt’s vocals were at their best during the final song, when he took the mike off the stand and walked about. That got him closer to the mike, which suits his croonerish voice.

    So they sent us off into the night with a fabulous ‘Papa was a Rodeo’.

    Live Jello show

    Yeah, I know, that sounds like something kinky. But I just got this from the Academy mailing list (that's "O2 Academy Brixton and O2 Academy Islington"; the former used to be called the Brixton Academy):

    O2 Academy Islington: Tue 8 Sep: Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. A longtime leader in the punk and alternative rock scenes, Jello Biafra is back in the recording studio and in the live arena.

    Which is surprising and interesting and stuff. I never saw the Dead Kennedys when they were around; as far as I know they never came to Britain. Certainly not to Scotland.

    Apparently Jello (or Eric, I now know) is 50. I feel old.