The Who, Odyssey Arena – Belfast, 10th June 2013

The once ‘Oorible ‘Oo might now be the bromantic twosome of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, both of whom are now pushing 70, rather than the brash, in-fighting four piece of their 1960s and 70s prime but no-one told the crowd given the volume and number of fights that occur and the veterans’ experience comes through in the end, like a late goal from Ryan Giggs, underlining how much arena rock has become an old man’s game.

Visiting Belfast for the first time in 46 years (with my Uncle attendant both then in the Ulster Hall for a matinee show and tonight at the Odyssey) the Who stage a multi-media run through of 1973 existentialist rock opera and arguably last artistic triumph, Quadrophenia, supplemented with a hits laden finale.

The Who have resurrected Quadrophenia before but Roger Daltrey has taken the musical director’s helm on this tour and rounded out the already expanded ten man band with a brass section avoiding the tape based sounds of yore and embellishes the album with a collection of cold war new clips, newsreel of riots, youth culture iconography and 21st century disharmony which gives the old tale of teenage paranoia, isolation and social change a chance to stay relevant beyond the baby boomers that constitute the majority of tonight’s audience.

Both fallen members of the band make appearances in that strange way that old rockers have been reappearing (see Freddie Mercury at the Olympics ceremony) via video. Moon takes his gap-toothed vocal on Bellboy while current drummer, Zak Starkey jams with the Ox in an extended solo break as the climax to 5:15. Somehow it works, avoiding the cringing crassness of that Tupac hologram as the crowd ladle the videos with affection.

As for Quadrophenia itself the 90 minute record stretches to 110 minutes tonight with Townshend stretching out on Drowned – the only real moment of self-indulgence in an otherwise typically energetic show. The horn section of J. Greg Miller and Reggie Grisham really adds punch and Simon Townshend’s lead playing allows Pete (his elder brother) to let loose on the windmilling and pick flinging theatrics. Highlights include the aforementioned 5:15, one of the few standalone tracks from the record and The Real Me, I’m One and the Punk and the Godfather. Vocally, where Pete croaks in some sort of ill-advised Shepherd’s Bush bluesman style, Roger roars delivering Love Reign O’er Me with the gusto of a much younger man.

As the night wears on Roger’s shirt buttons magically come undone ‘til we end the hits section facing a tanned, open shirted old boy – give that man a fringed suede jacket, someone – delivering the unimpeachable classics of Who Are You, Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard and Won’t Get Fooled Again.

The show comes to a conclusion not without riotous feedback and whitened knuckles but with the heart warming ode to the Two’s modern friendship; Tea and Theatre, the quiet acoustic strum from 2006’s Endless Wire. That ending reminds you that you’re in 2013; however, the sheer amount of drink taken by the aging Mods of Belfast would have you believe otherwise as they roar back their approval like they never aged a day. 1963 to 2013 is one a hell of a wait but The Who prove that they are worth it even 46 years on.

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Mount Salem

How good are this lot? Very.

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Iron Tongue, “The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown” Neurot Recordings

Iron Tongue Cover

Catching up here, my review of Iron Tongue’s torn and frayed new album is over on SonicShocks now.

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Zolle, “Zolle” Supernatural Cat

Zolle Album Cover

Zolle’s self titled disc is a ten tonne arse shaker of dirty riffs and elephantine beats. Zolle is another release from the Ufomammut crowd via their Supernatural Cat label that’s run in conjunction with the Malleus Rock Art Lab – the provider of psychedelic visuals for countless gigs and albums – and features Marcello of Morkobot on six string duties and Stefano pummeling defenceless drums into submission.

Broadly speaking this is stoner rock, the kind that previous genre leaders Queens of the Stone Age have seemingly evolved beyond but that countless metalheads still crave. It could also be termed space rock but not the dreamy cosmic kind. Oh no, this is the full on, balls to the wall sort – more like the soundtrack to the battering of the Millennium Falcon with a hydrospanner. It’s unkempt blue collar instrumental heavy rock for impoverished spice smugglers not bridge of the Enterprise intellectuals.

Trakthor is the suitably robotic meat-cleaving opening track that cues up oodles of syncopated riffing and concise but action packed song structures. The unrelenting blasts of heavy metal continue until the song titled in homage to the genre and, of course, punned with the Italian for manure: Heavy Letam with its rotating guitar stabs and Doctor Who synths courtesy of Ufomammut’s Urlo and Roberto Rizzo of Quasiviri/Runi who also return to contribute to the woozy finale and wonderfully titled Moongitruce.

It all sounds like the result of a night spend ingesting the Arrakis spice from Dune and committing the stomping, heavy breathing instrumental effect to tape. It’s heavy but not leaden – the tracks rarely stray above three minutes in length and there are few fripperies (including guitar solos), instead drums and guitar rub against each other in a hedonistic brew of headbanging reverie.

If the Millennium Falcon had an ‘I Hate Disco’ bumper sticker and if Chewie and Han spent their time cruising the galaxy for good times rather than helping with the Rebellion, Zolle would be on the tape deck. Zolle is an album to get loaded to and forget about doing the ‘right’ thing, well for at least 27 minutes and then you hit play again.

First published: RoomThirteen

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At the Drive-In, ‘Relationship of Command (Reissue)’, Grand Royal

Relationship of Command CoverIt is the year 2000, when Britney Spears and N*SYNC ruled the charts and nu-metal was at its apogee, dominating rock album and ticket sales and the ill-equipped indie rock press where crying out for an alternative (Radiohead were going jazz and Britpop was dead and smelling funny) – yet another saviour was required. At the Drive-In were the incendiary five piece post-hardcore group from El Paso groomed for that role and Relationship of Command duly arrived to critical acclaim. The all skinny, some afro’d, constituents of At the Drive-In were unlikely heroes of student discos in an instant with kids screaming, “Send transmission from the one armed scissor. Cut away, cut away!”

Let’s not entirely define them by what they weren’t though i.e. inarticulate rap-metal bruisers, ATD-I were loud, frenetic, tense and out of the ordinary; witness Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s ornate hyper-speed lyrical pronouncements: “intravenously polite it was the walkie-talkie that had knocked the pins down…prepare to indent, a coma that read – floating in a soundproof costume.” The album itself was a chart ready proposition helmed by nu-metal production lynchpin Ross Robinson who fired all the needles into the red. Like Nevermind before it Relationship of Command was a polished rock beast but unlike Nirvana, ATD-I didn’t sell ten million copies and produce a follow-up they broke up in acrimony instead leading to the conventional post-hardcore of Sparta and the sometimes transcendent, sometimes trash Mars Volta.

But what of the tunes? From the off Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s spidery guitar is welded close to the high tensile backing of Jim Ward’s guitar and the bass and drums of Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar. Arcarsenal rumbles with bass and piano backing and Cedric roaring, “beware!” Pattern Against User paves the way for that left field but hooky as hell floor-filler One Armed Scissor; all stop-start verses and blasting chorus and Cedric dueting with his own “get away, get away” backing and that irresistible ‘doo-doo’ ad-lib. The record offers brief respite from the maelstrom with the clinking electronic opening of Sleepwalk Capsules before the band regain their adrenal resources.

Relationship of Command doesn’t feature lots of variation across its twelve (and now thirteen via a bonus) tracks – the songs are generally about all out attack, albeit a skewed asymmetric one. Invalid Litter Dept, Mannequin Republic and Quarantined opt for more space and melody amid the strained riffing and more scream along lyrics: “Dancing on the corpses ashes” and “They call it a wasteland, baby”. So much of this record is euphoric, highly quotable, sing-along fare not that the spoken intro to Enfilade immediately supports that statement but the handclaps and rolling bassline do. Wrinkly punk godfather Iggy Pop appears on Rolodex Propaganda, a mish-mash of a song notable for its other voice more than anything else. Cosmonaut feels like an album ending song, such is its apocalyptic urgency but it gives way to the melancholic sway of piano led Non Zero Possibility. Actual closer, Catacombs boasts a metallic riff interrupted by slashing chords and staccato rhythm but doesn’t quite reach the heights of that heart-stopping first side of Relationship of Command.

This re-issue follows the pattern of the years following the band’s break-up: underwhelming, cursory backward glances at their legacy; see the tense and, to some, disappointing reunion shows last year, in that there’s only a demo of Catacombs as an addition rather than the wallet shredding multi-format, rarities and artwork of other bloated re-releases in recent years. That approach just serves to underline how great this album still is, there’s no fat just taut impassioned rock and roll and we always need that not just to save us from an overbearing, conservative mainstream from time to time.

First published RoomThirteen

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Endless Boogie + Xaviers, Corsica Studios, 22nd April 2013

Poster for Endless Boogie live

So it was gnarled blues rockers Endless Boogie most recently for the excellent ech(((o)))es and dust people. Read what went down over on their website here.

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The Black Angels “Indigo Meadow” Blue Horizon

Indigo Meadow Cover

Austin psyche revivalists The Black Angels have returned with their fourth LP, Indigo Meadow, in slightly amended form. The band are down to a four piece of Stephanie, Christian, Kyle and Alex and the record sleeve exhanges the geometric trip of their past records for a swirly Fillmore concert poster layout. Despite these tweaks in presentation, the core sound of The Angels persists; there’s plenty of fuzzed up guitar and bass, 12 string jangle, sci-fi keys, bass drum beats and Christian Bland’s nonchalant vocals and yeah, the year is still approximately 1966.

The Byrds, The Velvets and Nuggets-style hooligan rock are such noticeable influences on the band’s song-writing that, by this stage, it’s not worth dwelling on their genealogy. What is striking is how the band seem to be reprising themselves on Indigo Meadow. There’s something of the law of diminishing returns about this record – the need for the field to sit fallow for a while to regenerate. Holland, whilst being worthy of inclusion, sounds immediately familiar, while Evil Things is basically a grumpier Haunting at 1300 McKinley. Elsewhere Don’t Play With Guns comes off as glib and tossed off and The Day is a wafer thin proposition.

In the plus column, Love Me Forever is saturated in gooey keyboards absorbing the circular twang of the verse guitar riff, letting it seep out for a fuzzy run in the chorus behind Bland’s deadpan delivery. Broken Soldier revisits the Vietnamese backdrops of their debut album Passover; all stomping menace and thousand yard stares, “it’s hard to kill when you don’t know whose side your on.” Later on, there’s Syd Barrett style whimsy on I See Colors (Chromaesthesia) lead by Alex Maas’s rainbow organ and backwards tape effects and brooding menace on closer Black Isn’t Black. However, four songs isn’t a lot to be getting on with on a 13 track record.

At the moment The Black Angels feel a bit like a wrinkled balloon – there’s the nostalgia and good time recollections from the bright colour and initial usage but also a sigh as you watch it lose its vim, fall to the floor and collect bits of fluff; but you still don’t feel ready to pop it. There’s enough on Indigo Meadow to suggest there will be more to come from The Black Angels but they need to find some of their past vitality to avoid becoming mere re-enactors.

First published on Roomthirteen

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Oneida, Corsica Studios, 15th March 2013

ONEIDA gig poster

First live review for the good people at ech(((o)))es and dust – an incident packed event of bonhomie from US veterans Oneida in Elephant and Castle. Have a read here.

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Limb, “Gift of the Sun” New Heavy Sounds

Gift of the Sun cover

Steeped in malevolent, decaying doom and proto-metal sounds the debut release from London sludge merchants Limb is, in no uncertain terms, a beast of a record. The three short tracks on Gift of the Sun manage to conjure up plenty of heavy touchstones – Electric Wizard, Crowbar – while forging their own grizzled identity.

Set to walloping low-end and plenty of grinding distortion the band don’t forget the value of a tune and the opening title track packs plenty of riffs and a surprising show of dynamics for what is essentially a band that deal in the heaviest of metal. Vocalist Rob Hoey has the throat to match the hulking rhythms conjured by the trio of instrumentalists ranging from a bellow to scream on Quiet Earth before a fiery swansong on monolithic Dead Voice a track that invites low and slow headbanging as it slowly seeps into your skin blackening the pores.

First published on Roomthirteen

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