Reven by Sarah Williams.
When The JB Conspiracy announced that would be touring to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of This Machine I nearly fell off my chair.
Have I seriously been listening to This Machine for 10 whole years? God knows how many times I’ve played it. It was on constant repeat through most of 2008-10 for me and I regularly revisit it. I can honestly say that it is one of my favourite albums of all time, and certainly one of the only releases from 10 years ago that I still feel is every bit as relevant now as it was then.
The record has a timeless quality that has enabled it to surpass many of the other albums of it’s time. Although they’re a ska punk band, it’s an awful lot more than that. The instrumentation is second to none; there’s a huge amount of intelligence and love that’s gone into all of the parts, especially the sterling horn section. They keep a dancing pace throughout the record that’s impossible to resist. This eight-piece from London have been going for an awfully long time and they’re still just as lively as ever.
Before the show I run into Bobble (of Faintest Idea fame) and ask him how the tour is going so far, as he’s playing trombone with The JB. “I get to play This Machine every single night!” he says, “Every night! This is the best thing ever!”
I amble into The Waterfront in Norwich just as Jim Higgs is starting his set. He’s got a roster of heartfelt pop songs, which he accompanies with some springy acoustic guitar. He’s got a delightfully smooth voice to go with it, and throws a Dido cover into a set filled with appealing original tunes.
Local three-piece Other Half are up next. When I picked up their album earlier this year it quickly jumped up the list of my favourite recent releases, so I’ve been quite excited to see them live again. It’s angsty, atmospheric indie-punk with a brilliant blend of male and female vocals, very much on par with bands like Hard Girls.
Disaster strikes at the end of the first song when Cal’s guitar string breaks, starting off a quite hilarious series of quips and tales of awkwardness. “Mr Soundman,” Cal asks, “Can I turn up the distortion on my guitar to hide all the mistakes?” He asks bassist, Sophie, to fill in on the talking while he tunes up. She he looks discomforted by this prospect, but she goes on to tell us a story of how bad her day has gone, which has the entire audience in stitches. Their stage presence is delightfully awkward and works perfectly with their moody, introspective sound. The highlight of their set is Misery Movement, the title track from their album, which I recommend you all check out.
Tree House Fire are on tour with The JB Conspiracy, and you can tell they’re super-comfortable and played in. It’s by far the tightest I have ever seen them; their show is slick and proffesional. They incorporate a lot of samples and backing-tracks with synthetic horns into their dub-reggae performance, throwing in the odd rave-horn for good measure. They’ve clearly put a lot of work and planning into their set and it really pays off. The vocal is incredibly smooth, and the mood is incredibly sunny for a wet November evening.
The audience is a little sparse and static for the beginning of the night, but it really starts to heat up during Tree House Fire. My only slight criticism would be that the set might be a little too honed for a Wednesday night attic show in Norwich. They deserve to be getting out on tour with a band like The Bennies or playing to huge warmed-up festival audiences; they would excel in front of a giant party crowd.
As The JB Conspiracy are preparing to hit the stage, the audience seems to significantly grow. This Machine is a somewhat legendary album in the ska punk scene, and there’s clearly a lot of excitement about getting to hear it played in full. As they build into the opening bars of the title track everything kicks off – a maul of 30-something ska punks ready to party like they’re 20-something ska punks. Everyone’s singing along and punching the air for every chorus, mimicking the brass sections and throwing elbows and boots around the keep up with the bouncy upstrokes.
They run through the album in order, apart from a few protracted bars of Drop Your Anchor thrown in to confuse us at the beginning of The Manhattan Project. There are songs like that and The Patriot that I don’t think I’ve ever heard them play live before – it’s unbelievably exciting. It’s during The Patriot (a slower number) that there’s the irresistable call for a human pyramid, which the band later congratulate us on. The whole set is a showcase for some of the best brass playing in the DIY scene; they’ve got all the skill and clever composition of a big brass band, but political sensibilities to transform it into a riot that would appeal to any punk fan.
Singer and guitarist, Lank, doesn’t say a great deal, but he gets an huge laugh for saying, “Please everybody check out our Myspace page.” He also gives us a few snippets of background on the band: how the song Superhero was inspired by some internet bullshit and how the band were already playing when they were in school in 1999. He briefly mentions their previous ‘90’s ska-punk incarnation, Duff Muffin, inspiring a huge cheer from the audience, before disappointingly having to warn everyone that they’re not actually going to play any Duff Muffin songs. However, for the encore, they do treat us to a 90’s ska punk tune in the form of Less Than Jake’s Scott Farcas Takes It On The Chin. They close out the show with The Escape from their second album, The Storm. The final highlight of the evening comes in their exit music for leaving the stage – the jangly key sample used on the secret track at the end of This Machine – a really beautiful touch.
It’s been a brilliant, exciting evening. I want to say it’s been nostalgic because we’ve been celebrating a 10 year old album, but This Machine has never felt old to me. Even tonight, The JB Conspiracy feel just as alive and vibrant as they did 10 years ago.
It’s not too late to catch the end of the This Machine tour – this week The JB Conspiracy play Plymouth tonight and Bristol tomorrow culminating in a London show on November 17th. You can also pick up This Machine on vinyl for the first time ever, in a lovely shiny blue.