Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Friends of Ken / Last Man Down / Kid got Caught @ The Sugarmill 5th AQpril 2009

Review by Dave Harrison

Photo by Leo Mazzocchio

Sunday night is not necessarily a night for music some might say- instead, it is perhaps more a time for families to be together, dogs to be petted and Morse to be watched. Clearly, the young crowd gathered outside the Sugarmill tonight had not been told this though, a buzz filling the air outside the popular Stoke Venue for the return of popular local band Friends of Ken, after a lengthy absence.

The first support of the night came from Kid Got Caught and their powerpop sensibilities. Coming across as a perhaps slightly more thrash punk version of Fall out Boy, KGC played a reasonable set that featured songs with some interesting pace changes and flourishes, along with some potentially anthemic choruses. However, what held them back was a lack of personality within the music itself, as there was nothing to distinguish them from anyone else within the powerpop scene. Indeed, they didn’t help themselves by adopting American accents for the vocals and the two guitarists Joe and Broomy didn’t play off each other well enough to keep interest in the melody of the songs. Adding to this a general lack of tightness in the playing, Kid got Caught became an under whelming first support in need of a bit of direction and time to find their own personal sound instead of aping their obvious influences. However, worthy of note was their cover of a Johnny Cash song, which was quite unexpectedly turned into a screamo-thrash extravaganza to much hilarity, whether this was intentional or not. Which Johnny Cash song it was however, is still up for some debate.

Next up were Last Man Down, wowing the audience with their incredibly tight and well played radio-friendly rock. Consisting of Brothers Alex and Ash, on Bass and Drums respectively, and flanked by guitarists Mike and Matt, their on-stage sound was admirably close to their recorded material, complemented by an energetic and friendly stage presence. Between songs, Lead vocalist Alex chatted with the audience, urging them to dance and have a good time, with a select group doing just that. It makes a nice change that this style of music has become friendlier in recent times- a couple of years ago, it would have been circle pits, now its handclaps and hip shakes and this mentality is reflected well in Last Man Down’s sound. With clean melodies and good harmonising from the entire band, they were clearly having a great time playing the music they love, their 25 minute set well received by the audience, which incorporated an almost worryingly accurate cover of Miranda Cosgrove’s ‘About You Now’. Their final song, Extraordinary Kid summed up their sound well, with the whole band lending their vocals to the track, along with some strong guitar work and good rhythm changes building the song up well to a final thundering chorus. If I had to level any complaints at Last Man Down, it would be that they are almost too tight- a little bit more grit and ferocity to their live sound could add a lot more to their performance. Saying that, Last Man Down are a talented young bunch and are on the verge of breaking through and becoming huge.

When Friends of Ken took to the stage, they were greeted with huge cheers from the modest sized audience- for a band that have been around the Stoke area for 10 years now, they still manage to draw a fairly large and diverse crowd, from the young’uns that queued up before opening to a few groups of older clientele. Starting their set with fan favourite Backwards, Friends of Ken were clearly in good spirits, following on from their charity gig last weekend at the Corner Cupboard where singer Big’un had lost his voice through over-energetic shouting. Voice fully intact, FoK attacked their songs with much ferocity and passion, which became infectious to the crowd who couldn’t help but bob along and tap their feet, rapturously applauding after every song. Friends of Ken were also on top form for their on-stage banter between with Big’un and the rest of the band who between them attempted to weave a conspiracy theory about Dave Grohl killing off Kurt Cobain as well as inventing the internet at the same time, much to the audience’s obvious pleasure. They raced through their 10 song set in what seemed like only a matter of minutes even with all the banter, showing how well they managed to capture and keep the audiences attention from start to finish even when playing new material that was unknown to the audience. Friends of Ken’s sound is by no means revolutionary; indeed, it could even be seen as a bit old fashioned nowadays in the wake of the more punchy and sonically tidy bands (which incidentally Last Man Down epitomise) but through strong song writing and a real flair for performance on-stage, Friends of Ken are still a band worth paying attention to today. With an album coming out later this year, perhaps Friends of Ken will gain the publicity and fan base they clearly deserve from their years of playing and honing their punk rock shtick.


Kid Got Caught

Last man Down

Friends of Ken

Saturday, 4 April 2009

bleached WAil / The Control / Little Comets @ The Sugarmill 2nd April 2009

Review by Danny Hill

Photo by Simon Bamford

With the hour having recently sprung forward, the light nights drawing in and the inevitable buttery scent of summer in the balmy air, The Sugarmill quickly reached its capacity, not long after the doors were opened. The queue outside crammed with fresh-looking young things, bubbling with excitement. Gig-goers seem, to me, to get younger with every passing summer.

Enthusiasm was to be expected. Tonight’s entertainment would not only include two of Stoke’s finest young bands, but another new band from ‘oop Toon’ that’s already had more than their fair share of praise over recent months, not to mention an album deal with Columbia, putting them firmly alongside such established chart acts like The Ting Tings and Glasvegas. Did I mention their ever-growing celebrity fan base includes Radio 1’s Huw Stevens and Zane Lowe? Good friends to have.

So, tonight, three bands in very good company with one another, it would seem. You lucky, lucky kids.

It was Alsager’s finest, Bleached Wail, that kicked off proceedings, starting as they meant to go on with a boisterous rendition of ‘Ten Man Grin,’ a pulsating riff with its syncopated rhythms, personifying the lads’ musical ideology. The trio: Gus (vocals and lead-guitar), Floody (bass) and Nick (drums) display a great deal of passion and interaction with their crowd, which translates well, as a swarm of young bodies flood the front of the stage, a mass of heads and limbs being tossed around like so many rag dolls. And from the chanting and general camaraderie, Bleached Wail have obviously established themselves a very respectable following already.

Which is most probably a result of their recent tour schedule alongside US outfit Cage The Elephant - a band providing quite popular on Radio 1‘s playlists. Both Edith Bowman and Peaches Geldof are said to be fans of Bleached Wail, after witnessing one of their support slots last year. The future certainly seems bright for the three of them.

The band, visibly exhausted after their first thunderous number, then went on to perform the Ska-influenced ‘Bounty Hunter,’ the vigorous and anthemic ‘This Man’s Life’ and a new song - and probably their best of the set - ‘He’ll Do Anything,’ a searing melodic thumper of a tune with a resonating chorus line. The lads - clearly with more energy reserves than British Gas - then went on to perform another popular song with their fans ‘Stolen Thunder’ ( but perhaps a minute too long due to its repetitiveness) ’Hot on his Heels’ threw the place into a cacophonic frenzy, with gig-goers screaming for more. ‘Zoo Town’ was their encore, another powerful stomper disparaging the leafy suburbia of Alsager - Bleached Wail’s town of birth.

Saying that, I suppose the sleepy idyll of a town like Alsager would be vastly incongruous against Wail’s searing, powerful musical creed. Funny really. I wonder what the neighbours would think?

A tough act to follow. But The Control - typically of them - weren’t phased in the slightest and threw down the gauntlet immediately; front-man Joe inviting followers to outdo fans of the previous band’s levels of noise. ‘A bit of friendly band rivalry,‘ as he put it. Fans had been chanting for the group’s influential song ’Playground Punks’ since their arrival to the stage. ’Later,’ Joe coolly replied, before the band burst into a medley of their growing collection of quite brilliant songs, opening with ‘I Have Faif‘.

This is the third time I’ve caught The Control since their convulsive arrival on the scene almost a year ago, and the lads - Joe, John, Rich and Mikie - get better every time. Whereas before The Control were simply about a few lads with a small collection of breathtakingly good songs, now there’s a real sense of orchestration with the way they hold the set together, taking listeners on a journey, bringing their senses up and easing them down gently; with less hurried, more melodic songs like ‘Chewing Gum’ and ‘Jackpothead’ there is a genuine sense of a passage been made. Signs that maybe it’s time for that elusive first album. It won’t be long for these guys. With the resounding chorus ‘She said, never again, never again’ of ‘Suzie Equals Fagz,’ the lads were done for the evening, to great applause and harried calls for more.

The Control also showcased one of their latest songs into their set; a song so early in its production that it doesn’t yet hold a title. However, it’s the song’s subject matter that led Joe to issue a warning to its controversial aspects perform it had been performed.

Now, I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not the brightest. When I was scouring the internet for information on tonight’s band - Little Comets - I assumed I was dealing with a bunch of local lads from our neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme. It wasn’t until I heard the ‘Shearer! Shearer!’ chants of their dedicated followers - the flogging of their latest football team’s messiah - that I put the two and two together.

Ah, I thought. Thaa-at Newcastle. Un faux-pas?

Little Comets, formerly Freerunner, wear unconventionality as a comfortable suit. They have a self-confessed disdain for ‘normal’ stages and the ‘toilet circuit’ as they put it and prefer lecture halls, trams, trains and shopping centres to strut their stuff to sometimes unwitting audiences. As I say, certainly an unorthodox approach, but it’s one that’s curried a lot of favour in the industry. The first thing that stands out tonight is the washing-line running across the length of the stage, and suspended from it on pieces of string are a tambourine, a maracas and what can only be described - from my vantage point - as a saucepan. All will soon become clear.

Little Comets begin with ‘Adultery,’ a sharp little funky guitar riff with tighter vocals from singer Robbie. Incidentally, Robbie’s brother Micky handles lead duties as Matt deals with bass and Mark bangs the drums. The band put me in the mind of The Wombats, especially when the uplifting ‘Joanna’ is performed, its insistent bassline complemented beautifully by a jangly, Bloc Party-esque guitar-loop. ‘Her Black Eyes’ - a song relating to domestic violence - lowers the tone a little, the band offering their audience insight of a lyrical ability which slots nicely alongside their obvious performance capacities.

‘Tearful eyes play a part in this story. No black eyes to agree with this story. A victim of broken love, where tension and silence can merge into violence.’
Little Comet’s single, recently released by Lucky Number, was next. ‘Friday Don’t Need It’ is the song that personifies their musical approach. It’s cheerful and exuberant, an infectious chorus line with lyrics suggesting that its writer/s like to occasionally smile at life. A well-read bunch of lads, they cite their influences not as past bands but literary pioneers such as Ernest Hemmingway and Roald Dahl, both writers having produced a high degree of satirical work of their own. The song also provided Little Comets the opportunity to rattle their saucepans and tambourines, much to the pleasing of the crowd. They finished their set, and the evening, with a scorching rendition of ‘This One’s For Dancing,’ with its contagious ‘woo-hoo’ refrain, set to park an indelible sonic print on my subconscious for days to come. Damn northerners.