Monday, 13 October 2008

The Quarter After/ Asteroid #4 @ Off With The Octopus, Fat Cats Café Bar, Hanley. October 11th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photos by Darren Washington
(click pics to enlarge)

Off With The Octopus, an event that has been sporadically occurring over the course of the last few months, was first brought to my attention on the night of its creation. London- based Tall Stories and local lads The Black Apples and Alpha 9 all played this event and were witnessed and reviewed by Steve Dean (25/4/08). Since then, however, the event has grown steadily in popularity, and last night’s event would be its fifth (I think), with another scheduled for November 28th. The event is the brainchild of Alpha 9’s Leon Jones and Phill Bettany, who also spin the wheels at these events, playing an array of ‘60s psychedelic underground music, with a slice of contemporary music (predominantly indie bands) in there too. I had a few words with Phill before the event.

“Basically, its been something I’ve wanted to do for a long while. I think there is a place for this sort of thing; everyone loves some part of the ‘60s, even if it’s just The Stones or The Beatles. It came about when Jamie Griffin of The Black Apples asked me to DJ at a gig they had at Fat Cats. I saw this as an opportunity to make a start on some ideas I had in mind. So, in April, what should have been a Black Apples gig eventually became the beginning of the Octopus club - the night was heaving and was a huge success! Our aim is to reinvent the atmosphere of legendary clubs from London like the UFO and The Marquee, etc.”

Set in Fat Cat’s basement room with its seedily-lit ambience and relaxed, intimate atmosphere (150-people capacity) the event usually begins at 9 p.m. and finishes at 3 a.m., with a few bands starting at around 10ish. Smart/casual is the club’s moderately relaxed dress code. The age-group last night seemed somewhere between spotty adolescent to middle-aged hipster. The main selling point of the place, for me, however - especially during today’s financially crippling credit crunch - is that the admission price is absolutely nothing. A big fat zero. And when you consider the quality of bands that the Octopus attract, with Leon and Phill’s multitude of contacts across the world, that’s quite something.

Speaking of bands, last night there were two of ‘em. Good ones, too. Both American and both borrowing more than a vested interest in ‘60s-pop psychedelia. First up were Los Angleles’ The Quarter After. Now, I have a confession to make: The Quarter After, similarly to their countrymen The Brian Jonestown Massacre, have more than a few members to their team. About eighteen, I think. I usually check my facts via the band’s MySpace page when writing up. I won’t be doing that again. Last night there were five members: brothers Campanella, Robert and Dominic handling vocals and guitars, with David Koenig on bass and Nelson Bragg on the drums. I think. Speaking of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Robert Campanella is one of their members, off and on, as well as being a producer and engineer. Busy guy. Anton Newcombe, lead-singer of TBJTM, was enlisted in the recording of The Quarter After’s eponymous debut album, not so long ago. Their sound is distinctly ‘60s, with jangly Byrds-inspired guitars and bass loops. 'Know Me When I’m Gone' brings The Stone Roses early recordings flooding back to mind, with its droning harmonies and fuzzy, distorted guitar refrains. 'One Trip Later' follows the same vein, offering little diversity from the last, but what’s impressive listening to The Quarter After is their ability to “jam out” mid-song, and return to its core sometime later. As a result of this, most songs are over seven or eight minutes long. 'She Revolves' is more up-tempo and more Byrds than anything else. 'Too Much To Think About', an epic nine-minuter, brings George Harrison’s 'If I Needed Someone' to mind, with its warped guitar loops, eclectic rhythms and repetitive (yet appealing, pleasing) melody.

The Asteroid #4 are a group of lads from Philadelphia and, more simply for me, have six members to their team, all huddled closely together on The Fat Cat‘s tiny stage: Scott Vitt handles vocals and guitar, Eric is the lead-guitarist, Damien handles bass, Adam bangs the drums and Aislinn plays the keys. If any of you have heard Alfa 9 play and if The Asteroid #4 spoke with Stoke-on-Trent accents it would be incredibly difficult to tell them apart: it’s the dreamy, space-rock anthems they provide, leaving pleasantly indelible stains over the subconscious days after your ears have held witness to them. The echoey, distant vocals of 'Into The Meadow' and superb jangly guitar loops and overlaying feedback-driven patterns are enough to send the listener into a daze, imagining summer days in sunflower-filled fields, perhaps. The song 'Outside' has a more folkier feel about it, but the band’s psychedelic stamp remains all over it. The Asteroid #4, unlike The Quarter After before them (and perhaps a result of the time they’ve spent together) offer more diversity from song to song, even though both bands reside in the same genre of music influences. 'Flowers Of Ours' has a certain oomph to its approach, more Brit-pop than Psychedelia, with heavy doses of reverb and distortion mixing gracefully with Vitt’s soothing vocals. Shades of early REM are evident with 'I Look Around', and the infectious and atmospheric 'Ask Me About Pittsburgh' demands to be heard in order to be believed.

The Asteroid #4 have been together for 10 years now and have recently released their fifth studio album, 'These Flowers of Ours: A Treasury of Witchcraft & Devilry.'

If these guys are around again, make sure you don’t miss ‘em. But, on the strength of their songs, I have the feeling the next time they visit the country we certainly won’t be so fortunate to see them for free. Just my opinion.

The Quarter After
Asteroid #4

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