Sunday, 18 March 2018


02 Academy, Brixton, London, Fri 9th March

It’s another axiom of Lucid Frenzy that a great band can combine apparent contradictions. At the Drive-In for example, were a full-on hardcore punk band who managed to pack in the most left-field manoeuvrers. They were like a switchblade knife that was simultaneously a corkscrew.

And I did sometimes wonder if what made them burn so bright also made them burn half as long, with their releasing just three albums then quitting at their peak. As if contrapedal forces finally reasserted themselves, they split into the proggy, jazzy Mars Volta and the “cleaner, more accessible” Sparta. And the two were never as good apart.

So will the reunited band manage to reassemble, like that movie scene where the split parts of the amulet recombine to reignite the magic? Or, would they just be, to quote an old lyric, “dancing on the corpse’s ashes” of their grand reputation? They’re clear still at the top of the crowd’s heart, spurring many singalongs. But initially, it veers towards the second option.

Much of what permitted ATDI to perform their magic trick was the twin guitars - the switchblade edge of Jim Ward combining with the corkscrewing of Omar Rodriguez. (Who’s cited Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp and John McLaughlin as his influences.) At the Drive-In are still driving, still full of force. But those twin guitars merely make a wall of noise to underline the vocals. it’s switchblade at the expense of corkscrew. Despite the fact that it’s Ward who’s absent from the reunion. (Seemingly dropping out at the last minute, and replaced by Keely Davis, also ex-Sparta.)

I had given up all hope and started to figure I should just settle for what I was getting, when relatively suddenly they managed to click back in. What had been pure frontal assault gains depth and breadth, and songs take on strange and unexpected elements. Even the ones you know well.

They strike up noise between tracks, meaning the next number erupts from it as if a sculpture arose from a single stroke. And, something I previously witnessed from seeing their re-reformation incarnation Antemasque, in the midst of well-known tracks such as ’Enfilade’ they introduce long, slower and much more hypnotic sections – influenced more by soul and reggae than hardcore punk. They’d stretch for long enough to leave you almost forgetting the original number, before breaking back into it. The original ADI didn’t tend to pull such switches , and were more given to superimpose each element over one another. Which perhaps that gives them an extra novel effect.

The encore, perhaps predictable but still a welcome choice...

Cafe Oto, Dalston, London, Sat 11th March

The legendary trance/ drone/ impro outfit Vibracathedral are celebrating their Twentieth anniversary. Somehow I have only succeed in seeing them once before, in a short set at the Colour Out of Space festival. So, even though I was only up in London the previous day, tonight I’m back.

Some music you need to search a little before you find a way to listen to it. As if your head’s a radio, you need to tilt it to the right angle for you to tune in. But VBO are almost the opposite. As the five members bang, strum and pluck away, barely ever looking at one another and seemingly just off on their own thing, the surprising thing is how perfectly it all fits together. It’s not head-scratching music, it’s heart-lifting.

This may be partially down to the magic unifying power of the held drone. Provided in the opening section rather wonderfully by someone simply tra-la-laing. At times you feel like they’re packing a rhythm section a more conventional band would burn their A+R contact list for, even when their ‘drummer’ is merely hitting cymbals placed on the floor.

Perhaps there can be no bigger praise than saying how much it reminded me of Terry Riley. Not just the raga influence. Or the metronomic pieces, playing what often sounds like snatches from riffs or melodies, or the ‘holy groove’ sonic shimmer. Or even the sense of the eternal present, where the music somehow shifts into something else entirely without you noticing until they’ve done it.

More because it has Riley’s spirit, his combination of wig-out exuberance with transcendentalism. Plus, many years before punk, he brought a DIY approach to music which these guys are still channelling. There’s black boxes which get twiddled from time to time. But instruments include the aforesaid cymbals, a rather battered violin whose bow looks almost fully frayed, and a toy piano. It conveys the sense that this joyous sound stems chiefly from a state of mind, as if once in the zone they could cheerily play for hours if given the chance.

The only downside… And it should be acknowledged it must be hardest of all to mix an impro set, when you can’t be sure what you’ll need to capture. But the sound quality was often patchy, sometimes harsh and abrasive in a way which might even match a noise outfit but not these sound carriers. However, these problems were mostly confined to the earlier part of the set.

Not from Cafe Oto but in full flight…

Cafe Oto, Dalston, London, Sat 17th March

God is My Copilot are a DIY punk band from Nineties New York, mostly associated with queercore, sometimes described as “Raincoats meet Black Flag”, and whose mission statement is ”co-opting rock, the language of sexism, to address gender identity.” They’re yet another legendary band who have somehow previously passed me by.

If hippie bands would smoke and punks snort something before their set, GodCo would seem to have jabbed their mitts in some mains electricity. Their sound’s agitated and angsty with trebly, scratchy guitar more skating over the surface of songs than leading them. Tracks don’t push ahead so much as proceed in spasmodic jerks, often pulling abrupt tempo shifts on you.

Their songs aren’t the righteous rallying cries most associate with punk, they’re simultaneously more immediate and more obtuse, shot through with sardonic humour. Like they less want to reach out and fix the world, and more plan to draw you into their messy web of personal relations. “I want a dress with no blood on it”, went the words to one number.

It’s an odd mixture of exhilarating and frustrating, ramshackle to the point of uneven. In fact, for a band with songs and a set-list, it had many of the ups and downs of an impro outfit. In fact, Vibracathedral Orchestra were more consistent despite being an impro band! The singer (who in police parlance I now know to be called Normandy Sherwood) frequently wandered over to a box of tricks of some kind, but I was no clearer by the end what it was supposed to be doing. 

That somewhat odd photo the venue used for the gig, with the top of the guitarist’s head just poking in (reproduced above), does fit the occasion. They seemed to come off the rails a couple of times, the drummer (who plays a more active role than in a regular punk band) picking them up again.

But then this is the type of music where that can just be part of the point. They seemed to somewhat divide the audience. Not what you expect from a cult punk band reformed and returning to London, serving tracks up with practised ease, but more in the spirit of the day. Back then, to please everyone was seen as the same thing as pleasing no-one.

They close with a Devo-like deconstruction of ’Totally Wired’. It turns out you can simplify a Fall guitar line, who knew? Whether that was a special tribute to the recently departed Mark E Smith or a regular feature of their set, I’ve no idea.

Couldn’t find any current footage so here’s some back-in-the day stuff. Guitarist Craig Flanagin looks to be the only member in common ‘tween then and now…

Saturday, 10 March 2018


After posting a playlist of longer tracks, I foolishly promised to compile a companion piece of shorter snappier numbers. Much to my own surprise, I then went and did it.

The original plan was to keep everything to single length, which I decided was the four minute mark. A few did end up creeping past that, but nothing beyond five minutes. Well, apart from the one that does. Anyway, this is what I came up with. Ah-wun-too-free-four...

The Small Faces : Song Of A Baker
The Blues Magoos : Tobacco Road
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band : I Love You, You Big Dummy
Fairport Convention : The Bonny Black Hare
Nick Drake : Black Eyed Dog
Low : Dragonfly
New Order : ICB
Wire : Indirect Enquiries
The Jesus + Mary Chain : On The Wall
At The Drive-In : Metronome Arthritis
The Magnetic Fields : When My Boy Walks Down The Street
Melt-Banana : Cat And The Blood
The Fall : Mother-Sister! (Peel Session)
Long Fin Killie : The Heads Of Dead Surfers
Stiff Little Fingers : You Can't Say Crap On The Radio
Gang Of Four : Outside The Trains Don't Run On Time
Fucked Up : Invisible Leader
Miss Black America : Miss Black America

”Just like a doll
”I'm one feet tall
”But dolls can't see anyway
”I’m like the clock
”On the wall” 

Saturday, 3 March 2018


The Hope, Brighton, Sat 24th Feb

Carlton Melton hail from a geodesic dome out in the wilds of Northern California, from where they create “meditative soundtracks freed from the constraints of traditional song composition”. An all-instrumental trio, they commence with slow, intricate, lines built up by threading together two lead guitars which become thoroughly transformative to listen to. (Slightly reminiscent of the recent Thurston Moore show.) The second guitarist shortly takes to the drums, and things kick off into a full-on noise-fest. It was music which first pulled you in, then sent you right out there.

Though this was a pattern they’d repeat throughout the set, it remained involving and unpredictable. The only drawback being, while the twin-guitar parts were very much ensemble playing, the rockier sections did lend themselves to guitar solo heroics. However, in this context they do appear as more of an organic growth. Guitar solos in the midst of songs always feel like when the adverts break into a film you’re watching.

Psychic Lemon are a psychedelic band hailing from Cambridge. (Though they prefer the label “krautfunk.”) Prior to psychedelia there’d been garage rock, music hard and regular in shape. There’s a reason after all why the most celebrated compilation of that era was called ’Nuggets’. And part of the joy of psychedelia is the collision of that solid object with it’s morphing, shapeless forms. That classic movie staple of the cop, or some other straight and rational thinker, succumbing to a trip is essentially what happened to the music.

But with the greater use of effects available to music today, even in a live setting, Psychic Lemon can effectively make the two things happen at once. They were more song-based than most of the other acts, yet that structure never seemed to constrain them. The guitar and drums could stretch out in all sorts of strange directions, leaving the bass to keep the sound grounded.

The upside of such a crowded night, courtesy of the good folks at Drone Rock records, was the plethora of acts. Which came with a perhaps inveitable downside, this Saturday night gig effectively started sometime during Thursday. So, alas I missed half the set of opening act Sleeping Creatures. Again with twin guitars, though this time without bass, they managed to combine the seemingly contradictory virtues of the sonic assualt of heavy riffing with post-rock’s freedom to move around. It seems they’re a local outfit, so hopefully I’ll catch a full set soon.

I was, if I’m honest, less taken by the other three acts. Melt Dunes were the best of them, particularly when they let their swirling keyboards take to the fore – like a fairground carousel which had discovered Surrealism. Stereolicia involved guitar improvisations over a near-drone loop, which was somewhat New Agey. And while the beauty of psychedelia is in it’s unhinged abandon, Gnob were most definitely hinged. Their far out stage costumes were nifty, but mere fancy dress.

Yer real actual gig footage of Carlton Melton...

...and not so from Psychic Lemon (well, you can’t have everything)...

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Falmer, Brighton, Sun 11th Feb

While I might listen to a variety of styles in music, ask me about eras and I can be quite rigid. In art in general, I’m only really interested in the primitive and the modern, regarding the rest as mere in-filling. My interest usually shades in somewhere around Romanticism. The Renaissance was just a whole load of hype.

So it was pretty much by chance I first heard Renaissance composer, Thomas Tallis, via an art installation at a previous Brighton Festival. And, finding every rule comes with exceptions, I went along to the Sunday night of this Tallis festival.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I did feel like something of a no-nothing novice. If I had a seat within the venue, it was still like being an outsider with my nose pressed up against the glass. And so, while I enjoyed the event, I’ve only two observations. Tallis’ compositions are choral and hearing music composed only of multiple human voices has a strangely unearthly quality. The human voice, the first ever instrument, should surely be a natural sound for us. Yet when you hear this many voices at work it’s anything but.

It’s also music that’s virtually impossible to listen to in terms of individual lines. There are just so many voices you need to just take in the combination, the same way you’d watch a murmuration of starlings.

The Brunswick, Hove, Sat 10th Feb

Space Ritual are Nik Turner’s variant of the band which must absolutely not be called Hawkwind while on British shores. A few years ago, I was telling you that in the great Hawkwind schism I aligned more with the heretical Turnerite sect than the Brock orthodoxy.

Alas, things have turned. Now seventy-seven, you would no longer be expecting Turner to roller-skate around the stage. But perhaps inevitably through time he’s pretty much lost his singing voice. Through some quirk of the human larynx he can still honk his horn as ever, meaning there was some effectiveness to the instrumental sections. I am really not sure I want to point this out, Turner being so strongly associated with music I’ve loved since by early teens. I still have vivid memories of my first Inner City Unit gig, shortly after leaving home. But facts, I suppose, are facts.

And as Brock long ago made the decision to be the director of music rather than the frontman, that makes his Hawkwind – the Hawkwind who are called Hawkwind – the live version to go for.