Monthly Archives: March 2015

Colt 45, Royal Park Leeds, 11/3/2015

This is going to be a lengthy post, largely because it’s effectively three blogs rolled into one. Two of the blogs I should have written last year but due to other constraints I didn’t. However the time has come to talk about two of the best gigs I’ve ever been to (and another one that’s up there), two of the best records I’ve heard for a long time and a band who – if there was any justice in the world – should be massive.

It began in January 2014 with an impulse buy. I read a positive review of a record by a band called Blitz Kids, liked the stuff I checked out then saw they were playing Leeds Cockpit and decided I’d go along. In one of those little moments that one’s life hinges upon, when the night came I had to dash for the train and literally got on just as it was arriving. Had I missed it I would have made Blitz Kids but not the support band who were literally coming on stage as I arrived. That band was Colt 45.

Obviously I go to a lot of gigs and – contrary to the impression I sometimes give – I’m not that easily impressed. I may nod along and applaud but it’s very rare that a band has me absolutely transfixed. But Colt 45 put me in mind of Jon Landau’s famous reaction on seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time. I can honestly say that I’ve never been confronted by such power and urgency that I saw on the Cockpit stage that night. Not only was the band’s sound terrific but they ripped from song to song and each one sounded great. As soon as the show finished (Blitz Kids incidentally were well worth the ticket but didn’t come close to the support band) I snapped up a copy of their CD.

That CD was Coughing Up Confessions which was already slightly out of date in terms of the band’s set and more pop punk orientated than their subsequent release. Like most independently recorded CDs it’s a bit ragged in places but judged on its own merits there are songs any band would be proud of, from the rage of Everyone Will Let You Down to the more introspective I’m Drowning, Not Waving. However there were two songs that raised Colt 45 far above the opposition, one on each half of the record. Those two songs were Happiness Is A Dying Art and Chasing Yesterday.

Happiness Is A Dying Art is the song where Colt 45 decisively find their style; the verse opening with vocals barked out almost like gunfire before the chorus enters in a sudden blast of melody. Chasing Yesterday, the song whose first line gives the album its title, follows the same blueprint but also introduces another Colt 45 hallmark in its refrain, `You will make it through this and you’ll make it out of here.` In itself this is nothing grandstanding, indeed almost cliche but read on …

So who are Colt 45? The line up consists of Neil Harper (guitar, vocals), Gareth Jenkins (bass) and Adam Lewis (drums). One description which they seem quite fond of is of them as, `a trio of pissed off punks from Cumbria`. They give a long list of influences of their facebook page of which the better known ones are The Replacements, Manic Street Preachers and The Gaslight Anthem. Unlike a lot of bands they don’t broadcast themselves as anything exceptional. In terms of their sound; the odd chorus harmony aside they’re a straightforward riff – verse – chorus – repeat act. While very much a group effort the ace in the pack is frontman Neil Harper; he has a distinctive gravelly voice somewhere between Rod Stewart and Roger Daltrey and is the architect of the guitar runs that mark their best songs.

Having been blown away at the Cockpit and with the debut album a constant on my Ipod the next thing was to try and catch them again live. An opportunity presented itself in March 14 when they played Gullivers in Manchester (shout out here for my friends Larry and Jamie who allowed me the use of their spare room – still much appreciated). This was a slightly more low key gig supporting ska band The Hostiles; not an obvious match but it seemed to go well. To be fair this show didn’t amaze me the way the Cockpit show did, partly because the element of surprise wasn’t there and the acoustics weren’t as strong. However it was still impressive stuff.

In July 14 the band released their second album The Tide Is Turning which – and I’ll stick my neck out here – may be the best record of the decade so far. Am I exaggerating? Maybe, maybe not.

The opening trilogy is worth the money by itself; the enigmatic call to arms of Salt Water and the more straightforward first single, OK. Then comes the three and half minute blast of brilliance that is I Thought I Knew Best. There’s no substitute for hearing it but this song has everything a great song should have including mystery, almost every time I listen to it there are nuances I haven’t picked up on before. There is nothing about ITIKB that could be done differently for me. It’s a fantastic song.

The remaining eight songs on The Tide Is Turning are also killers. From small town tales such as 595 and Found My Home to slower numbers The Simple Things Are Working and I Remember When The Rain came down there’s no filler here; the weaker tracks would be standouts in most normal circumstances.

Where Colt 45 rise above the pack for me is howthey sidestep the petulance and fantasy that  characterises a lot of pop punk bands, even the better ones. They don’t write songs about sleeping in bed all day and lying awake at night thinking about girls, instead they talk about getting out there and making something of yourself. For Colt 45 life doesn’t suck because you can’t party as often as you like, it’s cruel because the odds are often stacked against you. Put simply most bands hesitate to punch a brick wall because they might injure their knuckles, Colt 45’s music is the sound of having to bleed sometime.

On one hand it’s nothing madly original. Stereophonics wrote about small town life on Word Gets Around, the debut never they never managed to top but that album was riddled with filler. On the Born To Run album Springsteen breathed similar lyrical fire to Colt 45 (breaking out while you can) and, it should be added, found his true greatness writing about those who got left behind. Colt 45 are following in an old tradition and it will be interesting to see where they go next; I’ll make a few suggestions in a bit.

Which takes me on to their first headline tour and a chance to see them at the Royal Park pub in Leeds. It was my third time but the first in almost a year and also the first when they weren’t the support act. I didn’t really need a reminder of how fantastic the band are live but I got one. Inevitably I Thought I Knew Best was the highlight but there was also a fine version of Shit Happens from Coughing Up Confessions; their punkiest song featuring call and response between Neil and Gareth. During the show the latter frequently strode out into the audience with his bass. They finished with a surprise cover of I Drove All Night; one of the first records I ever bought and still a favourite today; this was Roy Orbison’s wall of sound inspired version but I also love Cyndi Lauper’s more skeletal reading. However it didn’t feel like a cover, Colt 45 made it their own and brought a new dimension to it doing so.

So to finish. On the one hand for Colt 45 anything seems to be possible. Neil’s voice is so versatile that the band could easily expand stylistically without sacrificing anything of their sound, particularly if the right producer gets behind them. Will they follow the Born To Run of The Tide Is Turning with a Darkness On The Edge Of Town? On the other hand I have to be realistic. In Leeds they were playing to a few people in the upstairs room of an out of town pub. Hopefully at the very least they’ll keep making music and I’ll get to see them a few more times.

Finally, this has been a frustrating blog to write because words can’t really describe how passionate I am and how passionate YOU should be about this band. Words are wonderful things but with Colt 45 all you really need is the music.

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The War On Drugs, 02 Academy Leeds, 26/2/2015

So three gigs across as many nights, each very different to the one that went before. Ironically the last gig along was actually the first set of tickets I bought. If I’d known Ryan Adams was going to return with a superb new album and play the night before I might not have bothered this show – and missed a treat as a result.

It’s a sign of how fragmented music has become these days that a band so acclaimed (their third album Lost In The Dream received ecstatic reviews and topped many end of year critics polls) and who can fill a fair sized venue like the Leeds O2 are relatively unknown.

For those who aren’t familiar with the band, The War On Drugs offer extended length tracks featuring glorious soundscapes and complex arrangements. At one level their music grabs you immediately but on another it is strangely hard to get into, with each listen revealing new mysteries. It’s fair to say that they are a band you have to take time to get into and time is a luxury that’s in short supply for many of us.

During the show what impressed me most of all was how closely the band were able to reproduce their studio sound on stage without sacrificing any of the live atmosphere. Frontman Adam Granduciel was the key figure but the performance was very much a band effort. The result allowed the audience to lose themselves in the beguiling sound. There was also a place for audience interaction; Granduciel appears to be one of rock’s good guys and a contrast to the pricklier artist (even allowing for the camera incident) I’d seen on the same stage just twenty four hours before.

One thing I’m finding increasingly with the blogging is that it’s hard to write about gigs without recourse to adjectives that are either obvious or bordering on the pretentious. I suppose the limitus test of any gig is whether it was worth the price of admission and how inclined you are to go again. For War On Drugs the answers are `yes` and `very much so`. In the meantime I hope I find time to give their unique music the hearing it deserves.

Ryan Adams, 02 Academy Leeds, 25.2.2015

Many years ago (okay 2001) there was an album called Gold by Ryan Adams which attracted some rave reviews. There were some very good reasons for this; the album was sixteen tracks long without a dud in sight and some truly brilliant songs within the sprawl. Amazingly it was Ryan Adams’ second album in as many years following on from the almost equally acclaimed Heartbreaker. For many people Ryan Adams, similarity of name to a Canadian soft rock icon nonwithstanding, marked a return to the days when the Beatles and Bob Dylan (the most frequent comparison) were pumping out near perfect records twice yearly. There were rumours that Ryan Adams was producing whole albums in his downtime that were being shelved solely because the record company couldn’t keep up.

Unfortunately Ryan Adams couldn’t quite sustain the momentum. Demolition, a compilation of offcuts, had its moments but didn’t do justice to the hype. He found himself at loggerheads with his record company when it rejected his proposed new record, Love Is Hell, for being too depressing. Rock and Roll, a straight up rock album produced as a sarcastic response, alienated some critics and fans. Love Is Hell itself, eventually released over two EPs and finally as a full album, proved a worthy follow up to Gold but also marked the end of his imperial phase. This was 2004.

2005 arguably saw overkill with three albums, one a double set. While there were some great songs buried among the sprawl the overall impression was quantity over quality and the casual fan found it impossible to keep up. That year Ryan Adams turned 30. The superstardom promised by Gold hadn’t materialised and probably he never wanted it. The decade ahead would prove less fertile with bouts of ill health caused by Meniere’s disease. There was a steady stream of albums, some of which (Easy Tiger, Ashes and Fire) hinted at a partial return to form – it’s fair to say that none of his records were actively bad but all dwelt in the shadow of Gold.

Last year he released Ryan Adams. At first there was little to suggest to me that this would be much different to what came before – until I heard the record and realised that in one respect talk of this being the best record since Gold wasn’t true. Ryan Adams was at least as good and arguably the record of his life; he’s certainly never risen higher than the opening blast of Gimme Something Good, the slow burning Kim and – best of all – the almost impossibly haunting Shadows which falls almost midway through the album and forms its centrepiece. Ryan Adams the album had me dusting off that old copy of Gold and rifling through the catalogue to see what I’d missed. When he announced a show in Leeds I decided to check it out.

The show itself consisted of five songs from Ryan Adams (surprisingly few for such a recent work) and three apiece from Heartbreaker and Gold, the rest being picked from across the lesser albums. There was also an improvised song, Concierge, made up on the spot after a mishearing of an audience request. Given that the resulting song would have made a more than passable album filler it’s no probably wonder that he produces records so quickly. Inevitably it was the better known songs that stood out, particularly the aforementioned Shadows and La Cienega Just Smiled which is my favourite cut from Gold.

In the queue ticket holders were asked by stewards not to use flash photography at the request of the artist. Further signs repeating this request were pasted across the venue. When Ryan Adams came on stage it was obvious that a fair few in the crowd either hadn’t heard the instruction and felt it didn’t apply to them. The man himself promptly repeated the request, explaining that it was due to a side effect of Meniere’s disease. Needless to say there was one audience member who still ignored the request prompting an understandable but extraordinary outburst (`that guy there who keeps flashing me, fuck him, I asked you nicely`). The result was slightly startled applause and I suspect that it will be the thing many who attended the gig remember. He was joking about it by the end – the songs immediately after were played with a stony lack of interaction – but artists have walked off stage for less. It will be interesting to hear if this was a recurring incident at every gig.

There was lower level aggro later when I overheard somebody (correctly) ordering those talking loudly during some of the quieter numbers to be silent. I must admit that I left musing on the relationship between performer and audience. Tickets weren’t cheap and one could argue that the ticket buyer (note this does not necessarily mean fan) was consumer and customer and thus entitled to their money’s worth. However I’ve long been of the opinion that people who insist on taking photos/ filming short snatches and talking during songs don’t really care about music. Would I have felt short changed if further flash photos had caused RA to walk off? Dissappointed maybe but not with the artist.

To be fair to everybody concerned Ryan Adams’ audience has always been slightly split between alt rock and singer/ songwriter fans and perhaps such artists suffer when they have to take their work out on the road and face the resulting melting pot. It may take Ryan Adams another thirteen years to produce his next masterpiece (although let’s hope not) but as somebody who follows his own muse without fear of the consequences he’s an artist music fans need to keep faith with.

Nothing But Thieves/ Darlia – The Wardrobe Leeds 24.2.2015

This particular gig began a trilogy of gigs for me on successive nights in Leeds (I’m a bit late with the write ups). The two that follow are by relatively established artists but this one was about chasing that fabled thing they call the future of rock.

It’s a well worn routine now. At the start of each year the media publish lists of their `hopes` for the twelve months ahead and the readers scurry to check out those who seem most likely to appeal to them. In 2015 it might well be that there is too much media and too many bands competing for not enough column inches. Certainly I find it hard to keep up these days.

Nothing But Thieves were the band I set out to see even if they were only the support act (a local band called Vitamin opened the show) having read about them in Q recently and enjoyed some of their stuff on youtube, particularly the haunting Graveyard Whistling. They appear to have quite a bit going for them, not least a singer who can actually sing and songs that might actually take a few listens to fully appreciate (remember when music used to grow on you – too few people do these days).

I hadn’t heard of Darlia until I bought the tickets which proves my earlier point about too many bands. It was obvious straight away that pairing with them with Nothing But Thieves was a clever move. While Nothing But Thieves take their lead from the more progressive elements of indie and pop punk Darlia’s sound falls firmly in the twin traditions of glam and grunge – BUT both bands speak a similar language. It’s clear that Darlia have picked up a frenzied following; I didn’t go in the moshpit myself but I was tempted.

There’s nothing madly original about Darlia but I suspect they’re not trying to be. This is rock music as a God somewhere intended, played loud and willing to raise two fingers if necessary. More to the point Darlia have some fine songs hiding behind the fuzz and attitude.

So for me; another night and another gig in search of the band who might change the world or who, at least, might change my life. Nothing But Thieves and Darlia aren’t there yet but for either band I’d say that a lot is possible.