Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Bowling for Soup @ The Sugarmill 11th April 2011

Review by James Drakeford

Photo by Martin Kaluza

Forget starting at the beginning, I’m going to get right into this one and jump straight to the main course because after all, Bowling For Soup are not your straight forward start-to-finish kind of band. After 17 years we have all grown to expect the big hits, the witty playful banter, and lots of sing-along songs and all round good laughs along the way.

So what happens if you take two members from the band away, replace their instruments with two simplistic acoustic guitars, and stick them in a sold out Sugar Mill with soft lights, a few pictures, adjustable chairs, a table and even a rug? The answer’s simple; you get everything you would expect from BFS and more. The set up makes it feel as though Jaret Reddick and Erik Chandler are playing an intimate gig in your very own living room, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel.

As though to test the crowds singing voices they kick off with ‘Almost’ before tearing their way through an extensive 11-album back catalogue ranging with everything from new single ‘S-S-S-Saturday’ through to a lighters-in-the-air acoustic rendition of ‘Belgium’. Even more impressing, Jaret was quick to challenge the audience from the off to pick songs for them with nothing more than a couple of music sheets for any track they may be a little rusty. Given the volume of their back catalogue, this brave effort was very commendable.

Having a two and a half hour set with no set list shackling them, they were able to open up and have some fun. It wouldn’t be a Bowling For Soup show without the stories, the banter, or the interaction with the crowd and it wasn’t long before we had all three. The duo was joined on stage by two girls from out of the crowd to act as Jaret’s kazoo assistant, and a tambourine player who they described as ‘jumping around like a Hari Krishna’. They went on to explain that earlier in the day they got lost in the ‘mall’ which was instantly met with shouts of ‘shopping centre’ from the teasing crowd. Song requests were coming in thick and fast throughout, and at one point Erik playfully asked a fan requesting Weezer to let him do his job, before telling him ‘I don’t come to where you work and tell you the fries are done’. All-round banter.

Successful bands can often be cursed by a big hit, and I wondered whether Bowling For Soup suffered this burden or if they still enjoyed playing the songs such as ‘1985’ and ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’. Just before Jaret left the States for the UK tour he told me that “We never get fed up of playing the hits, because the audience’s reaction to that no matter where we play in the world is always amazing. I don’t know how I could ever get sick of it.” The one song that they did ‘put on vacation for a few years’ was ‘Emily’ and that they claim they got a lot of s*** for not playing it when they’re in the UK. So it was nice to see that they have brought that one back out of the woodwork.

A few covers were thrown into the mix with a bit of Bon Jovi, and they were re-joined on the stage for crude song DVB by Linus of Hollywood who had earlier entertained the crowd with a set in which he got the crowd to chose a famous actress before re-naming one of his songs to be about a ‘Keira Knightley Poster’ complete with a funny impersonation. But it was the big hits which really stole the night. Punk Rock 101, Ohio (Come back to Texas), and High School Never Ends induced screams from the crowd before rounding the show off with Girl All The Bad Guys Want and 1985. The crowd reaction and the look on Jaret’s face said it all. Erik claimed earlier on in the night “We’re Stoked to be in Stoke” and I think it’s fair to say, so was everyone else.

At least we have their new album ‘Fishin For Woo’s’ out on April 26 to keep us entertained until we get the whole band back to the UK for a full tour later this year in October.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Gospel According to John @ The Sugarmill April 8th 2011

Review by Sian Eardley

Maybe you shoot yourself in the foot when you look up bands on their MySpace sites, prior to gigs, (though you do have to get a feel for what they’re about), because when this gives you a false idea of what to expect, it’s pretty disappointing, and that’s what pretty much what happened here… Imagining a happy-clappy with clever musical arrangements from these young, fresh-faced hopefuls from Stoke is what we got when they arranged themselves in production line fashion on stage, eagerly poised with their instrumental weapons. The lights came on, and everything was O.K....then the music kicked in and well... it wasn’t what’s sold online.....

Don’t get me wrong, they have the best intentions, and you can see they’re trying to achieve something different; going for a ‘Get Cape Wear Cape Fly’ vibe with the addition of a brass section, and you can identify their inspirations from Kate Nash, with their lyrical listing dialectics. And even then, their vocals aren’t even that good.

‘Chess’, which is what I was hoping would be the highlight of their show, really showed their naivety, they have a long way to go, but with the best of encouragement, and lots of practicing in dad’s garage, they could achieve a more accomplished feel-good indie sound. As the set went on, the more unsure of the band I became. I first enjoyed the sax and trumpet additions, but then it became all too pretentious, and just a throw-in to try and sound cool. They were abusing what could be a beautiful creation. I was just hoping for an ending crescendo that never came.

I admired that all members got a chance to have a go at lead vocals, which was different to seem but at the point when they guy on the boards started to erratically spazz, being all too alike Ross from Friends ‘rocking out’ in the 80’s, I knew this was my time to leave, and I very rarely cut a gig short. But, with a very mundane, below par, and below average performance, my ears had-had all they could take. There was no spark, and no connection to their music at all, and this is crucial to any band’s life force. They’re definitely a work in progress, and I’d like to see them when they’re more well rounded and polished. We will keep you updated on how these guys get on…

Friday, 8 April 2011

Japanese Voyeurs / Troops of Mafeking / The Midnight Lycan Party @ The Sugarmill 6th April 2011

Review by Matthew Tilt

Seeing The Midnight Lycan Party open tonight with a mere seven tracks is a massive injustice to their genre bending ways. Even with Paul suffering from food poisoning and Lee feeling less than 100% both push themselves to the limit, their vocals complimenting each other to create the dark and brooding atmosphere while Matt creates the varied drum patterns behind them. Playing Howl, Down by the River, Eye of a Gun and Chapters of Carrie Black from their recent E.P., and, in a testament to their writing skills, they blast out three new tracks including a hardcore whirlwind the shape of Horses, all of which makes their set a brilliant watch for the few that are here this early.

More people have moved their way in for the QOTSA/We Are Scientists indie pop of Troops of Mafeking who have plenty of energy but fail to grab the audience with their cynically written, made to dance tunes. It’s not that their bad, but they lack the atmosphere of the bands sandwiching them and the crowd make it clear that, apart from the odd wriggle, they don’t plan on really moving for anyone tonight.

When I say anyone, I mean anyone, because not even Japanese Voyeurs raise the mood. Sure they get a lot more cheers when they hit the stage, and each song is met more rapturous applause but for the majority everyone stands still, blankly staring at the band. It’s a shame because while the Voyeurs might not be the most original band on the planet, with most of their neo-grunge tracks blending into the next, they play well and deserve a more receptive crowd. Romily’s marmite vocals sound great in a live setting while the rest band rock hard enough to make you honestly think its 1992 again, but the atmosphere is lost during to the air of “meh” (God I love tweenie speak) that fills the venue.

It’s a shame because the band have waited since February to come back, after Romily lost her voice before the original date and what could have been so good has ended as an average night thanks to the apathetic crowd.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Kid British / The Wildfires @ The Underground 2nd April 2011

Review by James Drakeford

Image courtesy of Kid British

Kid British have already played most of the big venues in Stoke. The Mancunian band have sold out the Sugar Mill twice, played both Staffordshire and Keele University Student Union bars, and they were also in town for Love Music Hate Racism festival at Britannia Stadium back in 2009. It’s no surprise that band member Simeon McLean described Stoke as one of their ‘hot spots’ before telling me “we love Stoke, it’s mint.”

This time the lads were up at the Underground. First thing that stood out was the swarms of yellow wristbands (for those of you that don’t know, and to save you from a potential minefield in the future, these are wristbands for under-18’s).

I began to witness the positives of a young crowd instantly. The eager teens were full of beans and created a good atmosphere as they had piled into the venue well before the first act Blunder Bus Benefit was up. By the time Blunder Bus Benefit plodded along steadily through their brand of generic indie it was the perfect time to head to the bar. It was here where positive point #2 comes into play; no queue! Winning.

Local band The Wildfires were up next, and they got the crowd moving. Crowd pleasers ‘Away With You’ and ‘My Place’ had an afternoon in the sun at a summer festival feel to it, and I would happily bask in the sun sipping on a Pimms and Lemonade watching them should they ever succeed in that. In the build up to Kid British we had hits from 2-Tone, Motown, and The Jam. If you mix all three together it would give you a good indicator of what we were about to hear. By the time we heard the opening line ‘I need a job that’s part time’ the crowd had already descended into a mosh pit.

Since last attending a Kid British show in 2010 the boys have been busy in the recording studio. Back in February they teased us with some new material by releasing a free EP called Northern Stories, whilst also completing their self titled full debut album. This added extra excitement to the gig. Not only would we be hearing new tracks such as ‘Social Network’ and ‘Bailiff’ in full for the first time, but we would be seeing new songs from the EP live which we have had two months to grow on us and sing along to.

Their free to download track ‘Northern Quarter’ was the first up out of their new additions. It’s fair to say it was well received, and I’m pretty sure that all the fans have been listening to this one well in advance. Onto the new album, the reggae beats to the catchy story about bailiffs turning up at singer Adio Marchant’s door, was impossible not to move your feet to.

As well as the new stuff, we were treated to a bit of modern day madness with a full band version of hit single ‘Our House is Dadless’. Instead of sampling Suggs’ and co. the live instruments definitely gave a more unique feel than the recorded version of this social commentary.

Throughout the set it became apparent that the Underground is the kind of environment that Kid British like to find themselves in. With little to no barrier between them and the fans they were able to interact with the crowd, shake their hands, and even take pictures with their cameras for them mid-song. The band finished on ‘Elizabeth’, but nobody was ready for the night to end just yet, and the expected encore swiftly followed. Summer-anthem ‘Sunny Days’ was next up before the band ended the Saturday night (or perhaps, started it?) with ‘Let’s have a Party’ before leaving stage with crowd still in full song.

After opening with a song about wanting to work a ‘Part Time Job’, it was quite fitting that the first song on the speakers after the set finished was Lady Sovereign’s 9-5. Before that song had finished though, The Underground was empty again, and everyone had gone home happy.