February 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The motley fanbase of Brit Award winner Ben Howard.
August 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I wrote a mammoth review of Milk Music, the Washington State “high art” rockers, for NME magazine this week, and it got featured on the cover! Which is lovely.
April 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Then I collated all the content on Storify.
Coachella festival will take place again this weekend, April 20-22.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This review appeared in the March 3, 2012 issue of NME magazine.
Find out more about the Bruise Cruise here.
“He can’t do that in my bar!” yells a wily security guard in a white tuxedo. We’re at Senor Frogs, a waterfront bar in the Bahamas, and there’s a kid totally losing his shit to Fucked Up, stagediving into the raised arms of 30 moshers, and bouncing along the ceiling. “Get him out, get him out!” says the panicked restauranteur, his establishment’s usual clientele of middle aged couples sipping foot-long Slippery Nipples to the soundtrack of the ‘Macarena’ apparently having not prepared him for a set of shirt-free hardcore punk and the chaos it leaves in its wake. But then, just as Mr. Stagedive looks like he’s going to make an exit through the back door, three huge Americans in black security T-shirts wade through into the crowd and grab him by the collar. One of them leans in to talk to White Tux. “It’s okay, he can stay,” he says. “We deal with this all the time.”
Welcome to the Bruise Cruise, where security are more likely to save your neck than steal your drugs. Now in its second year, the festival sails from Miami to the Bahamas on a rock and roll binge in February, mixing 500 heavily tattooed ‘bruisers’ with 2000 regular passengers aboard the 70-tonne vessel.
For three days, the likes of Thee Oh Sees, Fucked Up and Ty Segall play shows in neon conference rooms with names like Xanadu and Shangri La. On Friday evening, Karen O is casually props up the bar in a dressing gown. On the Serenity spa deck on Saturday, nervous bloggers sit chatting in a jacuzzi with King Khan. At the security briefing, Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer hands out toothpicks while alarms rage above. It’s safe to say the rest of the Imagination’s holidaymakers don’t know what’s hit them.
One thing organisers – booking agent Michelle Cable and Jonas Stein, formally of Be Your Own Pet, now of Turbo Fruits – have down is the line up. Detroit’s The Dirtbombs kick things off as the Miami coastline shrinks over the horizon, taking phone signals with it. We’re on cruise time now. The ship pitches violently and bruisers stumble around the dance floor, half drunk, half dancing, through the crazed garage funk of ‘Underdog’.
“The great thing about being drunk all the time is you never get seasick!” says security guard Steve. This is a suspension of logic that lasts for 72 hours.
Thee Oh Sees’ set pits two drummers against each other, bassist Petey Dammit pumping his inked neck with alarming stamina, John Dwyer purring and shredding at his guitar, blue eyes bulging madly. Downstairs, there’s fine dining, Indonesian waiters bopping to Flo Rida as they serve up three courses.
By 2 a.m., as regular cruisers stumble out of onboard nightclub Illusions or chain-smoke at poker tables, everyone with a wristband makes their way to Xanadu for New Orleans bounce artist Vockah Redu, who mounts the tiny stage with two dancers dressed in skintight gold lamé and proceeds to unleash rhymes until the mic goes dead.
Next morning, all 850-feet of the Imagination docks at Nassau. Reckless cruisers stop at the waterside booth that sells weed and rents scooters – a dangerous combination – while others stumble over to the beach where King Khan is explaining why he owns a necklace made of human teeth.
Tonight’s festivities take place at the aforementioned Senor Frogs. The hot ticket is The Togas, a garage covers band made up of Ty Segall, Philip Strange Boys, Shannon from Shannon and the Clams and Lance Wille of Reigning Sound, who emerge completely wasted and wearing actual Togas to rattle through tracks by the Kinks, the Temptations and The Undertones. Half hour later, during The Soft Pack’s set, Ty Segall gets trapped between his friends in a booth and is sick all over himself. Then he stands up and does it again.
Fucked Up close Saturday, and Damien ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham, who so far has played Bruise Cruise’s genial compere, goes into Fucked Up mode. Tearing his T-shirt to shreds, he wades into the circle pit, climbs on the bar, and hangs from the rafters like an enormous monkey. NME catches up with him afterwards. “I was really apprehensive about coming,” he reveals. “I’m not a big fan of the outdoors and I don’t like beaches. But I am having the time of my life! I have drunk the tropical punch. I have completely bought into the cruising lifestyle. I can’t wait to come on another one.”
It’s cold on Sunday and everyone feels like shit. We huddle in a conference room below deck where Pink Eyes – now suited – does his Paddy McGuinness routine as compere of The Dating Game. It’s like Take Me Out, except contestants get condoms and vibrators instead of a holiday because they’re on one of those. Afterwards, TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone soothes some aching heads with an intimate acoustic set.
Later on there’s a dance party with Mr. Quintron, but most people are spent after King Khan’s killer set, which sees honking brass flank the semi-naked form of Khan with his necklace of human teeth, feather headdress and catalogue of garage soul that has everyone dancing like loons. By the time the Imagination pulls into Miami port on Monday morning, all anyone can talk about is coming back to do it all over again next year.
January 18, 2012 § 1 Comment
January 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
November 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Published in the Nov. 19 issue of NME Magazine.
“My face is drawn on with this number 2 pencil,” sings St. Vincent’s Annie Clark in the final song of her set, ‘Your lips are red’, as she steps in front of the microphone and teeters on the edge of the stage at New York’s Webster Hall. A soundman rushes to roll out cable. Clark sways for a moment in the strobelight, then flips over onto the ready arms of the audience who carry her, one leg raised, out into the crowd.
It was a moment of release from Clark’s usual poise and comes hard earned. St. Vincent’s twisted pop songs expose the madness that goes on behind a mask drawn on in pencil – from failing at motherhood in ‘Cruel’ to lying to keep the peace in ‘Cheerleader’ and ‘Surgeon’. Her characters stress about inadequacy. As she tells Webster Hall, the video for ‘Cruel’ shows Clark being kidnapped by a motherless family who bury her alive after they realise she can’t cook, clean or care for them properly.
If cleaning is a problem, Clark makes up for it in control: both creative control and the kind of self-control she exudes onstage. Though tonight her chilly demeanor could also be nerves. There is a moment before ‘Save me from what I want’ where the spotlight dances across Clark’s face as she takes in the packed 1400-capacity venue and her mouth makes a small ‘o’. David Byrne, with whom she is collaborating on an as-yet-undisclosed new project, watches from the wings. Cameras follow Clark everywhere, streaming the performance live for MTV in a mark of mainstream acceptance if ever there was one.
Creative control has served Clark well on three solo albums since she stopped touring with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens last decade. But it wasn’t until this year’s ‘Strange Mercy’, an album that stretches ideas about identity and anxiety over woodwind arrangements and nifty angular riffs, that she started attracting the attention she deserves.
At Webster Hall, Clark plays puppets with her audience. She warms with a story about drinking tequila and running through a cemetery on Halloween before launching into ‘Neutered Fruit’, then squashes a heckler who says she can’t shred with the words: “What is this, a live twitter feed?” A growling cover of The Pop Group ‘She’s beyond good and evil’ speaks for itself.
Tonight it’s all in the eyes, wide and unblinking, until the sudden stage dive. But don’t be fooled: Clark’s studied femininity is a ruse for something much, much bolder.
October 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Published in the Oct. 15 issue of NME Magazine.
Considering people were genuinely offering to sell the proverbial kidney to get hold of a ticket, those at the second of Radiohead’s two Roseland Ballroom dates didn’t half make a racket. “It’s alright,” said Thom Yorke towards the end of the set, “You can talk, I don’t care.”
New York had been talking, all week. First there was a weirdly muted Saturday Night Live television performance, then an hour-long special of the Colbert Report two nights later. During an awkward interview with the band political satirist Steven Colbert asked, “Why do we like you?”
“We haven’t got a clue,” said Yorke, like he meant it.
The scramble for tickets proved Radiohead can still cause a fuss. People wanted to be seen at the Roseland, and the victorious 3500 obviously felt entitled to natter. Jack Black and Danger Mouse swilled drinks on the balcony. Beneath, punters slammed past each other to get closer to the stage. A queue snaked around the building and the NYPD eyeballed everyone for signs of trouble. Pale-faced teenagers wandered, holding placards begging for tickets.
It was a show of few surprises. King Of Limbs got a substantial airing, Jonny Greenwood thrashing his way through ‘Little By Little’, Yorke grinning as he tested some teeth-rattling bass before ‘Feral’ and dancing maniacally with three maracas in ‘Lotus Flower’. If the album was controversial on its release, its live incarnation will silence critics. Only ‘Codex’ failed to translate, brass-less and lost on the noisy crowd.
‘The National Anthem’ and ‘Myxomatosis’ were both fresh and mean as ever. ‘Like Spinning Plates’ was a highlight, and seemed unplanned, Yorke dismissing Portishead drummer and Radiohead addition Clive Deamer with the words, “Stick around, Clive,” before hammering out its refrain on the piano.
A rusty snippet of ‘True Love Waits’ was hastily abandoned for the pounding ‘Everything In Its Right Place’. ‘The Daily Mail’, ‘Staircase’ and ‘Supercollider’ made up a trio of unreleased tracks, the latter in the second of two encores. ‘Nude’ polished off the two-hour set.
Radiohead have secured a new, younger fan base over the course of the last two albums, exonerating them from endless calls to play ‘Creep’ and ‘Paranoid Android’ from the old guard. But if their Roseland shows are anything to go by, they may need to work hard to keep the attention of their new fans in future.
October 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Published in the Oct. 8 issue of NME Magazine.
There were moments when it seemed San Francisco’s Girls might not make it. So much ink has been spilled over frontman Christopher Owens’ extraordinary life story – he grew up in a religious cult and is open about his ongoing opiate abuse – that it is easy to come to their live shows with preconceptions about his tortured genius or excuses for sometimes rambling, shambolic performances.
Not any more. Over two packed nights at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, Girls played from a stage strewn with flowers, crammed with wires and the addition of three lively gospel singers.
The speedy Beach Boys guitars of new track ‘Honey Bunny’ had the audience singing the refrain, “They don’t like my bony body, they don’t like my dirty hair,” right from the start of the show. Owens was playful, hooking his leg over the fret of his guitar in ‘Laura’ and dancing to ‘Heartbreaker’.
‘Love Like A River’, showed off some of the more experimental sides of new album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which expands on the band’s retro-obsessions with big 70s breakdowns and lots of instrumental detours around deceptively simply tunes. The song could have been written for a diva, but with Owens’s wounded, slightly strained vocal in the midst of huge gospel textures it came off bruised and beautiful.
More blissful, frazzled guitars returned for the night’s highlight, ‘Vomit’, which turned between prog-guitar solos, jangly Hammond organ and the powerful lungs of backing singer Makeda Francisco.
Even ‘Die’, which sounds more like something Jack White might write, was casually executed, guitar solos echoing between Owens and guitarist Evan Weiss while his brother Darren Weiss tore up splash cymbals from behind. A circle pit opened up at the front and Owens and Evan Weiss seemed surprised at the reaction as they watched the mayhem unfold with barely a smile between them.
The smile came later, at the end of a 90-minute set, when Owens left the stage after the first of two encores. It wasn’t a big elated grin, but the irrepressible smirk of a man who knows that things are definitely looking up.
September 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Warm Up sessions have thrown open the gates of the museum for parties every Saturday for the last 14 summers. A mere $15 grants access to the museum and an impressively eclectic roster of artists who play on a makeshift stage under the stars to hoards of cultured ravers. This summer saw sets from Four Tet, Joakim, Gang Gang Dance and Simian Mobile Disco, among others.
Hurricane Irene put a bit of a damper on proceedings towards the end of last month, so Saturday’s bill was partly rescheduled from the missed date on 27th August. Not all the acts billed to play on the 27th were still around for it– NguzuNguzu and Sun Araw had already decamped back home to L.A. – but Brooklyn’s Physical Therapy, Ohio’s Teengirl Fantasy and New York natives Tanlines were present. Kenny Dope of Dopewax and Odd Future’s Syd Tha Kyd filled out the bill between bands.
Read the review at Virgin.com.