Gig Review: The JB Conspiracy @ The Waterfront [09/11/2017]

The JB Conspiracy play This Machine in full to celebrate 10 years since its release, at The Waterfront in Norwich.

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 of 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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gig Review: The Sinking Teeth @ The Old Blue Last [26/10/2017]

The Sinking Teeth bring raw post-punk straight from Melbourne, with support from Darko, The Burnt Tapes and Miami Nice.

Review by Sarah. Photos… also by Sarah. Prepare yourself for some truly terrible photos.

After a long week, sometimes small rooms full of big noises are exactly what you need. I’m just about coming to terms with the dark October nights and I’ve said a fond farewell to beer garden season. Shoreditch still looks colourful on a Thursday night, and the glowing lights of The Old Blue Last are like beacon of hope on this chilly evening.

I hadn’t heard of Miami Nice before this show, and I’m thoroughly impressed the second they hit stage. It’s certainly far better than I had expected from a band opening a free show organised at short notice; they’re fantastic. Once I discover that these locals have previously been in bands like Young Conservatives and Grand Central it’s less of a surprise, and everyone I speak to sounds equally impressed. The singer has a raw, stony quality and he belts out words with a huge weight of force and emotion behind them, sounding like his voice could crack at any moment. The band has some fantastic bluesier melodies in the backing, particularly on some of their later songs.

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I’m not going to lie: I’m a tad obsessed with The Burnt Tapes at the moment. Alterations has had so much play on my iPod recently that I think it’s permanently etched on my eardrums. Their signature gritty lead-vocal swaps between Pan and Phil give them a unique edge, showcased early in the set on Ghosts. It might be one of the weaker moments on their EP, but has some strong shout-along potential live. Similarly, Oh Marie has an enormous regret-fuelled chorus that grabs your heart and squeezes hard.

Throughout the night, all the bands are drowned in the classic blue lights of The Old Blue last, and at no point is it more fitting than for The Burnt Tapes. They’re the masters of sad punk, transforming some deeply depressing themes into songs you want to dance to. Phil introduces a song by saying, “This is a sad one…” Normally that might be a bad thing, but I’m immediately filled with excitement knowing they’re about to play Things Get Weird. The chorus is so visceral that you can nearly feel the broken teeth in your mouth as you sing along. Continue reading “Gig Review: The Sinking Teeth @ The Old Blue Last [26/10/2017]”

Gig Review: Punkle Fester [14/10/2017]

Southampton’s skate-punk extravaganza slayed. Featuring Darko, Fair Dos, PMX, Almeida, Grand Collapse and excessive caffeine consumption.

Review by Sarah Williams. Photos by Alia Thomas, video by Rob Piper.

When I first saw the line-up announcement for Punkle Fester, it was an immediate no-brain decision to go. Featuring the likes of Darko, Fair Dos, PMX and Almeida at the top of a bill of thirteen acts, it is conceivably the best UK skate-punk shred-fest I have ever encountered. The bar for this gig is set extremely high; clearly worth the four hour trip to The Talking Heads in Southampton.

We have Lee Warren and local Southampton skate-punks Captain Trips to thank for this monstrously good line-up, and they’re in good spirits when I rock up at Saturday lunchtime. Portsmouth trio The SLM kick things off, turning out silly fast punk reminiscent of The Ergs. They throw some nice metallic guitar licks into the mix, coming across a bit like a drunken NOFX practicing for a Slayer covers set. Or Slayer practicing for NOFX covers set, I can’t decide.

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Their songs cover a range of important topics, with titles like Bitten By A Zombie, Turtle Shark and Here Come The Raptors. Vocalist/guitarist Rob clearly enjoys introducing the songs with rockstar-style flair, although the rest of the band keep ribbing him to keep within their allotted set time. Their new song Paradox Maradox adds a bit of depth to their set with some more earnest singing. They finish off with a cracking song about zombie sharks and a shout along of ‘sword, sword, sword!’ from the small but enthusiastic audience.

Between bands, Rich Mayor (frontman of Captain Trips) plays a quick acoustic set in the lavishly decorated front bar, adding some lovely atmosphere to the smoking terrace. He plays Give Me A Shout from his solo album Decade, which gives his voice a chance to shine without the force of a full band behind him. He’s got a unique sound that’s warm but rough around the edges, and a talent for a catchy songwriting.

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The Bitter-Town Hounds bring a lot of hair and energy to the mix, introducing a welcome metal edge to the day. They make good use of on-stage space, playing off each other’s energy. Their drummer can’t run around but he looks like he wants to, hurling a lot of passion and energy into his kit. The vocalist has the perfect confident rock delivery and the bass really stands out, partly because of the great sound in The Talking Heads. The highlight of their set is an unexpected but deeply enjoyable cover of Suicidal Tendencies’ Cyco Vision. More of that, please. Continue reading “Gig Review: Punkle Fester [14/10/2017]”

Gig Review: Lightyear’s 20 Year Anniversary Tour [21/10/2017]

Ska-punk legends Lightyear make their triumphant return to London stages in a whirlwind of friends, fun and nostalgia.

Review by Sarah. Photos by Piano Slug/Luke.

Tonight is an incredibly special night for many ska-punk fans across the South East. We’ve been talking about this gig for months. Ever since “mildly successful 90’s ska-punk band” Lightyear announced that they would be returning for good, the anticipation has been building for London’s 20 year anniversary reunion show.

As tradition dictates, I begin the evening in the Wetherspoons round the corner from The Garage. Within a minute I start bumping into far-flung mates who’ve all united for the excitement of a Lightyear revival. Everyone’s discussing which ‘last ever Lightyear gig’ they attended; most of us having seen two or three ‘final’ tours from the band. Some of us made it to 2015’s Slam Dunk sets, but almost all of us were at the 2012 gig at Islington Academy. Having formed in 1997, Lightyear released two albums before breaking up, playing their first ‘last ever show’ on 26th September 2003. Since then they’ve done at least four ‘last ever’ gigs/tours in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2015. It’s my firm belief that Lightyear will never really get sick of giving all of us a good time, and it’s heartening to see that they’re reforming ‘permanently’. My only concern is whether the gig will live up to our lofty expectations.

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Local boys, Eat The Evidence are a good wake-up band for the early doors crowd. They take all the worst elements of ska-punk and and somehow make them fun. In my mate’s words, just as they’re setting up on stage, “He’s about to rap, isn’t he? Oh god.” The sighting of an accordion in a ska band is also an immediate red flag, but it turns out to be jumpy, bouncy fun, with things looking up later in the set when the accordion gets switched out for a guitar and a ukelele.

Eat The Evidence apparently approached Lightyear after one of their ‘last ever gigs’ and made them promise to book them as support if they ever reformed. When the new tour was announced they made sure to call that favour in. Never before have I seen a band so excited to be playing a show – their singer is literally buzzing, decked out in an old Call of the Weasel Clan-era t-shirt and blabbering about how they’d even all bought tickets for the gig before they were booked. It’s endearing. Continue reading “Gig Review: Lightyear’s 20 Year Anniversary Tour [21/10/2017]”

Gig Review: Grand Collapse, Spoilers and Casual Nausea [19/10/2017]

The masters of UK thrashcore keep a midweek crowd on their toes at The Smokehouse in Ipswich.

Review by Sarah Williams. Photos by Richard Talbot.

It’s a grey, overcast Thursday in October. You’ve been chained to desk for eight hours, battered with spreadsheets, deadlines and inane office chatter. Your eyes sting from the air conditioning, strip lighting and screen glare. The phone rings incessantly and you’re hoping your boss hasn’t noticed you muttering ‘wanker’ every time you hang up on someone.

At the end of days like these, The Smokehouse in Ipswich is the light at the end of the tunnel. The endorphin rush you achieve at these shows is worth every second of your mid-week wage-slave drudgery. Tonight is especially exciting: Grand Collapse have travelled all the way from South Wales to jolt us back into reality with an insanely fast barrage of thrash mastery. Joining them are Spoilers, undoubtedly one of the most consistently great punk bands in the UK, plus local shouty legends Casual Nausea. Uncomfortable Beach Party Promotions have pulled another banger out of the bag.

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This is Casual Nausea’s first Ipswich show this year, plus their first local jaunt with new bass player Matt Kemp. As Spoilers put it later on, Casual Nausea are both, “The hardest sounding band and the loveliest bunch of people.” There is a palpable warmth and love in the room, with many of the local punks getting down early to catch the whole set. I have to fight my way to the front and through to the bar, it’s packed already.

The Smokehouse hasn’t got a stage to speak of, just an area behind the PA where the drumkit and the musicians typically reside. Throughout the evening the acts disregard the little barricade of monitors, with singer/shouter Simon being the first to get out into the crowd, trailing a long mic-lead. His antics get the rowdy dancing started down the front, setting the scene for a chaotic evening of elbows and shout-alongs. Continue reading “Gig Review: Grand Collapse, Spoilers and Casual Nausea [19/10/2017]”

Gig Review: Might As Well Fest III (07/10/2017)

An exciting London charity all-dayer featuring Kamikaze Girls, Almedia, Eat Defeat, The Burnt Tapes, Sombulance and more.

Photo credit: Awesome pics courtesy of Roberto Gasparro @ LivePix.

Now in its third year, Might As Well Fest is socially-responsible all dayer split across two tiny London venues: The Macbeth in Hoxton and the infamous Old Blue Last in Shoreditch. If the cracking line-up isn’t enough to coax people down, the promoters are also using the forces of music for good, raising money for two worthy causes: CALM and SANDS.

When I hurriedly stumble into The Macbeth at 3.20pm, I’m concerned that I’m late but turns out that I needn’t have worried: they’ve had some troubles of their own. Don Blake and Sweet Little Machine have pulled out last minute, and You Know The Drill’s van has broken down outside Birmingham. As a result, they’ve had to shift timings, drum kits, amps and expectations. The change in the set times is actually a positive: the opening bands will now have a bigger crowd and the heel-draggers like me, who couldn’t make it earlier, won’t be missing out. Nonetheless, I’m reminded that we ought to be extremely thankful to anyone with the resilience to put on DIY shows!

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A handful of early-birds assemble to watch Thirteen, a Scottish group who’ve joined the bill at the last minute. They play old school punk with a rock ‘n’ roll flavour, which is good, but slightly out-of-sorts with the rest of the line-up, which is a combination of fast-punk and pop-punk. It’s good pub-punk and not a bad way to kick things off for the day.

As I reviewed their EP recently, I have been very excited to catch Our Lives In Cinema live. This is only their 8th gig and their freshness shows: they look a little awkward on stage at the beginning of the set, settling in after two songs.

They open with Cut and Run – an awesome throwback to a lot of energetic early noughties punk. You can hear a strong Jeff Rosenstock influence in Mark Bartlett’s frantic, emotional singing which is conveyed better live. Bartlett has a unique style of performance: he packs as many words into a bar as possible while shaking around the stage. Currently it looks a little awkward, but with more practice I expect it to become an integral part of their act. Otherwise, they’ve got a good, solid rhythm section, strong drumming and great backing vocals. They close on their most anthemic song, I Got This, leaving the audience happy. Once they’ve got a few more shows under their belt, I look forward to seeing a much more confident and comfortable band.

Lay It On The Line are up next at The Macbeth. They’re the most hardcore band of the day. It’s a brutal and disordered performance, with frontman Mike spending much of show writhing, crouched or lying on the stage while screaming bloody murder. He gives the impression of a man on the edge of breakdown extremely well. It’s all held together with some warmer guitar backing, adding a more melodic edge to their otherwise extreme sound.

It’s unusual to see bands with two standalone singers (Casual Nausea’s the only one I can think of), but it really works. Mike and Alice and equally adept at screaming and conveying a lot of anger and emotion. It’s hard to make out the lyrics but their explanations of the songs are both surprising and entertaining – one song’s dedicated to fans of the Marquis de Sade (of which they assume there are none in the room), another is about a head teacher who was killed by a rent boy after he failed to pay up…  It’s fascinating to know what inspires people’s song writing sometimes. They pull out a fantastic cover of Rotting Out’s Positive Views and end the set in a wail of feedback.

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Recap are up next, and they are fantastic. That’s the least you can expect from Dave House and Mark Pavey’s latest project – a reincarnation of Pacer and follow-up to The Steal. They jokingly say it’s only their second show, but they’re anything but new to the game. Continue reading “Gig Review: Might As Well Fest III (07/10/2017)”

Gig Review: Wotsit Called Fest – Saturday (30/09/2017)

Part Two: The main day at Hastings’ premier DIY punk fest, featuring performances from The Restarts, Riggots, Pizzatramp, Millie Manders, The Fuckin’ Glorious, The Barracks, Natterers, The Crash Mats, The Dead Anyways and Cheap Dates.

Photo credit: Massive thanks to Sara-Louise Bowrey from Festival Flyer (Cheap Dates – Barracks) and Mark Richards (The Fuckin’ Glorious – The Restarts) for bringing this to life with their tremendous images.

Check out my review of Part One: Wotsit Called Fest – Friday for the full story!

After scoffing lunch on the beach I’m back at The Palace and ready to start another rollicking day of DIY fun.

Although Saturday’s gig doesn’t start until the respectable time of 3.30pm, bedraggled punks gradually stumble into the bar from 2pm onwards. The drink of choice this morning is the espresso martini: both the beginning and the end of the hangover.

It feels like The Palace has been designed specifically for Wotsit Called Fest. Toxic Wotsit’s logo, colour-scheme and matching cocktail (the Toxic Avenger – held responsible for many of Saturday’s haggard faces) are all a fierce nuclear-waste green, coincidentally the colour of The Palace’s tiny back-room. The sound is reasonably good, but otherwise the room is rough, ready and clearly not designed for bands; the walls are adorned with giant mirrors and oil painting of dignitaries riding horses. It all adds to the DIY punk feel.

Cheap Dates at Wotsite Called Fest 2017

Local skiffle-punks Cheap Dates are a fitting opening act: coaxing us gently back into the land of the living with some varied covers. They’re a quartet with a mandolin, washboard and an acoustic guitar, plus a bass constructed from a bit of rope tied to a plastic crate. They all sing, and occasional cameos from a kazoo and a melodica add to the fun. By far the highlight of their set is a version of All Saints’ Never Ever – now that’s what I call a cover.

The Dead Anyways at Wostsit Called Fest 2017

Up next is The Dead Anyways, who provide smiling, self-deprecating punk in a typically British style. They’re one of my favourite bands of the day; they may not be the liveliest or most hardcore act to take the stage, but they have an instant melodic appeal that aligns perfectly with my taste. Combining earnest songwriting, foot-tapping rhythms and a gritty vocal, they’ll appeal to fans of Southport, Spoilers and Bear Trade. They plod between songs with understated humour and an affable stage-presence, aided by the appearance of the guitarist’s two young daughters. The kids give us a giggle and a photo opportunity, both leaning head-in-hands at the side of the stage, evidently dissatisfied by the lack of Peppa Pig covers. They’re the only two disappointed customers in the room.

The Crash Mats at Wotsit Called fest 2017

Following The Dead Anyways is the band most likely to cover the Peppa Pig theme tune: The Crash Mats. They don’t, but instead they throw in a delightful version of the Chucklevision theme that makes me grin like a lunatic. The grizzly three-piece play cracking sausage rock ‘n’ roll straight out of Oldham, with short, snappy ska segments. Their songs cover a variety of profound topics, including wrestling, meat pies and Neighbours, mainly taken from their new album 69 Peruvian Panpipe Classics. My favourite tune is Soppy Love Song, which works even better live than on the album: beginning with slow parody ballad before all hell breaks loose at the end. Continue reading “Gig Review: Wotsit Called Fest – Saturday (30/09/2017)”