Having started as a side project, Jon Spencer’s Heavy Trash seems to have overtaken his Blues Explosion as the main focus of attention. In the four years since the last Blues Explosion release, Spencer and his musical partner Matt Verta-Ray have put out two albums as a duo. Last night at the Bodega, they were joined on stage by the three members of their Danish support band,PowerSolo.
Effectively playing a double set, PowerSolo were the heroes of the night. As the support act, they worked hard to win us over. During the final number, the band’s gangly, goofy front man Kim Kix leapt off the stage, and began to prowl the front ranks of the crowd. Dangling the neck of his guitar well below waist height, he pressed it into service as a kind of musical Geiger counter: provocatively probing his victims, and registering his reactions to hilarious effect.
Both acts specialised in roughed-up versions of Fifties rockabilly, as filtered through Sixties garage rock, Seventies punk rock, Eighties psychobilly and Nineties alt-rock. Shut your eyes, and you could hear echoes of everyone from the forefathers of rock and roll – Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent – through to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the Count Five, The Stooges, Doctor Feelgood, The Ramones, The Stray Cats, The Cramps and points beyond.
In place of PowerSolo’s more playful approach, Heavy Trash offered a more studied pastiche. His vocals drenched in reverb to the point of incomprehensibility, Spencer in particular seemed locked into character: expertly channelling the spirits of Presley and Vincent, but leaving you wondering how much he had retained of himself, beyond his obvious love of the genre.
Perhaps this was the only sticking point in an otherwise superbly delivered show. For all their raw physicality, and for all their fine musicianship, Heavy Trash never quite connected on an emotional level. They might have stirred our hips, but did they touch our souls?
In a fairer world, Kevin Ayers would enjoy the widespread acclaim of a Martyn or a Reed. Had tragedy struck, we would reverently file him next to Barrett and Drake. Instead, Ayers has carved out his own singular, defiantly low-key niche, seemingly destined to remain under the popular radar.
For the uninitiated, this four-disc set offers an expertly chosen overview of the Ayers glory years. The earliest material combines post-psychedelic pastoralism with veiled menace, flitting between nostalgic whimsy and radical experimentation. As the early Seventies progress, the songwriting deepens and matures, its easy tunefulness concealing rich seams of romantic idealism and wry cynicism.
By the mid-Seventies, stardom began to beckon. Unimpressed by its false promises, and temperamentally ill-suited to the rigours of self-promotion, Ayers slowly retreated. Overlooked by all but the committed few, there are still shining nuggets to be mined from the patchier later work, as ably demonstrated here.
A previously unreleased and quite magnificent 1973 concert performance completes the package, showcasing the cult hero at the height of his powers.
Down at the Bodega, 53 minute sets (including encore) are nothing to complain about. Over at the Rescue Rooms, they’re just about acceptable. But at a sold-out Rock City, where over two thousand punters had shelled out £15 per ticket, you couldn’t help feeling a little short-changed.
Then again, when you’ve only got a 35 minute debut album to your name, there’s little to be gained in pointless padding. Ting Tings songs are mostly short and sharp, and on the whole they’re best kept that way. And with pre-recorded backing tracks inevitably playing a large part in the duo’s instrumentation, there wasn’t exactly much scope for spontaneous jamming.
However – and this is very much to the band’s credit – the performance never felt overly constrained by the technology. Stepping confidently into the Deborah Harry/Kim Wilde tradition of Great Pop Blondes, singer and guitarist Katie White maintained a cool, commanding, effortlessly sexy presence: strutting her stuff, but preserving her mystique. Jules De Martino provided solid, unflashy accompaniment on the drum kit, switching to keyboards whenever it was required.
Almost inevitably, the three hit singles – a chugging Great DJ, a funky Shut Up And Let Me Go and a frenzied, climactic That’s Not My Name – proved to be the biggest highlights. Although most of the album tracks were well received, chatter from the only-here-for-the-hits brigade did threaten to drown out the more subdued Traffic Lights.
A fun night out – but also rather a short one.
Two years on from the breakup of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, former leader Euros Childs continues to plough his gently idiosyncratic furrow. Seemingly impervious to the normal aging process, his demeanour remains cheerfully relaxed, and his solo material continues to blend whimsical pastoralism with understated tunefulness.
The Dodos have been steadily gathering critical acclaim since the release of their remarkable second album Visiter. Their music is both brutally primitive and impossibly complex, with drummer Logan Kroeber the undisputed star of the show.
In place of a standard kit, Kroeber pounded out his dizzyingly syncopated rhythms on a semi-circular set of four drums, balancing his breakneck tempo with an extraordinary lightness of touch, and displaying a technical accomplishment which frankly beggared belief.
Over to the left, a seated, floppy-fringed Meric Long added plaintive indie-boy vocals, sometimes using two microphones to build looping effects. His equally unique guitar style combined bottleneck blues and oblique thrash, providing a mesmerising counterpoint to Kroeber’s ceaseless energy.
Meanwhile, Joe Heaner drifted on and off the stage, alternating between an industrial-sized glockenspiel, an ancient miniature organ, a giant cymbal and a vast, ugly-looking metal bucket.
Veering between rapturous applause and stunned silence, the uncommonly attentive audience lapped up every note.
For anyone impatient to hear more from all-star folk band Bellowhead, the past few days have been a rare treat. Following Thursday’s Playhouse appearance by Benji Kirkpatrick and Paul Sartin as part of Faustus, last night saw the Maze play host to Bellowhead’s key founder members: singer and violinist Jon Boden, backed by John Spiers on melodeon and concertina.
Where Faustus focus on finely balanced three-way counterpoints, Spiers and Boden take a more straight-up traditional approach, with Spiers providing a solid, unflashy backdrop to his partner’s resonant vocals and amazing fiddle playing.
Clocking in at over two and a half hours, the duo’s marathon set showcased many numbers from their fifth album Vagabond. As befits its title, these were songs of rebels, wastrels, pirates, beggars… and even a certain Mr. Hood, whose conception and birth in the “good green-wood” provided the subject matter for a fine epic ballad.
Amongst the many splendid jigs, the irresistible Sloe Gin – as recently popularised by Bellowhead and The Imagined Village – made a welcome appearance.
The evening finished with a surprise non-traditional choice from the Tom Waits songbook: a lilting, yearning Innocent When You Dream, which had the crowd softly singing along, almost to themselves.
Boasting a collective pedigree that stretches from Norma Waterson to Seth Lakeman, and from Paul Weller to Bellowhead, Faustus could almost be described as a folk supergroup. Kicking off an exceptionally promising new folk season at the Playhouse, they worked hard to warm up the initially subdued audience, scattered over three rows in the stark studio space above Cast.
The three band members – Paul Sartin on violin and occasional oboe, Saul Rose on an array of melodeons, and Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar and bouzouki – radiated a relaxed, good-natured rapport, interspersing their music with droll asides and a dry banter which sometimes bordered on the surreal.
This easy demeanour masked a remarkable level of dexterity and craftsmanship. On dizzying jig medleys such as Next Stop Grimsby / The Three Rascals / Aunt Crisps, the players perched their intoxicatingly cheery melodic refrains on top of complex rhythms and constantly shifting counterpoints.
While the jigs were largely self-penned, the songs were all traditional: excavated from a variety of archives and songbooks, and given fresh, sturdy new arrangements. A broadly nautical theme ran through many of them. The Green Willow Tree told the story of a heroic but doomed cabin boy, betrayed by his captain and dispatched to a watery grave, while The Old Miser recounted the fate of an amorous sailor, sold for transportation by his sweetheart’s jealous father. On The New Deserter, a ballad made popular by Fairport Convention, the familiar lyric was given a haunting and effective new melody.