Savaged Expectations


Either I haven’t been paying as close attention as I use to or there just haven’t been that many new British bands riding waves of hype over to the United States. Maybe since nobody reads the NME anymore bands don’t reach critical mass outside their home towns these days. The UK’s Savages are an exception. Their single Flying To Berlin from last year deservedly got a lot of attention as it received appropriate comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees. The band reportedly were no slouches live either, so it was with some excitement that I attended their Seattle debut last night at Neumos. The band’s debut album Silence Yourself isn’t due until next month but that didn’t stop Seattle anglophiles from crowding into Neumos on a Tuesday night.

Savages have style. They’ve got cool clothes and hair cuts. You can tell they take themselves seriously. It’s eyecatching to see a band that dress and look their sound on stage. The music was stylistically cool too, but unfortunately it did not go much beyond style. I have been a Savages fan since hearing last year’s Flying To Berlin 7-inch and still consider myself one, but I doubt Tuesday night’s performance did much to convince someone who wasn’t already a fan that this band is truly great. Up to this point I had heard three Savages songs and liked them all. The problem was those three songs and maybe one or two others were all that stood out. The rest of them were muddled, uninspired and kind of boring. Not having heard the full album yet, it may have been a case of a bad night or poor sound at Neumo’s (which would not be the first time at this venue). Bass player Ayse Hassan seemed to be the heart of the band. Her riffs dominated the sound and seemed to be what the songs were built around. Sometimes singer Jehnny Beth stood out with her energetic and intense delivery, but most of the time her singing was monotonous and devoid of any melody or hooks. The same could be said for guitarist Gemma Thompson. Her playing seemed uninspired and tentative and was often overpowered by the rhythm section.

There were a handful of songs that soared though and they saved them for the end of the set. Both songs from last year’s single (Husbands and Flying to Berlin) stood out. The guitars took on a Gang of Four funk to them and Beth had a melody that she could really deliver. The band seemed to come alive with additional swagger when they played their stronger songs, so maybe it’s just a matter of building up a catalog of good songs. I just was hoping that there would have been more of those moments from this band that has gotten so many glowing reviews for their live shows. I left underwhelmed, but still a fan, just one with lowered expectations for the album.

video: Savages – Shut Up (from Silence Yourself. Out on Matador on May 7)

I wasn’t sure about opener No Bra. She walked on stage took her shirt off and performed her set topless. Undoubtedly, she did it to get our attention, but it was actually distracting. After I stopped wondering why she took her shirt off, and would I be as distracted if a guy took his shirt off, and does she do this for all her performances, and does she like being on stage half naked, and does she take her shirt off just to prove she has no bra, etc. I decided that I kind of dug her monotone delivery over laptop beats. Not enough to buy one of her records though.  She closed with Munchausen that reminded me of LCD Soundsystem’s Losing My Edge with its theme of I’m cooler than you one-upmanship.

Something Neu

Lower Dens & No Joy at Neumo’s, Seattle | 6 July 2012

It wasn’t hot in Neumo’s Friday night, but if it had been Lower Dens could have cooled it off with their Hyberborean hypnotic mix of ethereal and motorik. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t a fan of the Baltimore band’s first album Twin Hand Movement. It was too uneven to really make an impact, but second album Nootropics is a different story. It isn’t vastly different from their first. Same atmosphere, but they’ve increased their German (and Bowie in Germany) tendencies digesting them to the point where they aren’t always obvious.  This is a band clearly firing on all cylinders: Melodic bass lines, amazing understated guitar and steady 4/4 rhythms gluing everything together.

They played in front of  a screen displaying blurry hallucinogenic imagery which added to the atmosphere created by the music. Androgynous singer Jana Hunter stood behind her keyboard rig, sometimes picking up a guitar but mostly entrancing everyone with her haunting Siouxie-like vocals. The band seemed to stretch everything out and make it more palpable. Many of the version of the songs were more muscular and the material from Twin Hand Movement really benefited from it, but even the Nootropics songs took on a more solid state. The pulsing beats of Brains and Lion In Winter Pt. 2 were easy highlights. The lazy guitar lead of Alphabet Song and the wonderful bass line of A Dog’s Dick were invigorating and the breezy Nova Anthem rejuvenated everyone.

The final song of the set In the End Is the Beginning ends in a wimper on the record, but this version took the band out in a squall. It went on for at least the twelve minutes that it gets on Nootropics. The band couldn’t quite decide when to end it. Guitarist Will Adams set his guitar feeding back into his amp and walked off stage and then Hunter followed leaving the rhythm section left to motor on. I assumed they would leave one by one, but Hunter came back out, to not play but just check things out, and then Adams came back out to turn his guitar off, and then they all left the stage again leaving drummer to wrap things up. It was quite the post-modern encore, deconstructing the seemingly senseless ritual inside of a single mind-bending song.  They could have called it a night and I think everyone expected them to because the audience didn’t really try, they just kind of milled around unsure if it was over. It wasn’t, they returned for a halfhearted two minute song and then disappeared. I still left impressed, but I would have been more impressed if they hadn’t done an encore. They had nothing left to prove.

mp3: Lower Dens – Brains (from Nootropics)

Listen to all of Nootropics on Spotify.

Canadian band No Joy opened. Having a weak spot for shoegaze I have liked their records, but not loved them. Live they sound nothing like any of their records. No shoegaze here, more like Dinosaur Jr and Husker Du. It was a powerful sound, but they seemed even less sure of themselves than they do on record. Everything sounded the same with the drums overwhelming everything. I though seeing them live would cement my liking them, but it only lead to more uncertainty.

Stream: No Joy – Junior (from the Negaverse EP on Mexican Summer)

Frankie Rose: The Next Generation

Frankie Rose & Dive at Neumo’s, Seattle | 25 April 2012

Many of the reviews of Frankie Rose‘s second album Interstellar have  been about how it was a huge leap from her lo-fi roots. Previously when I saw Frankie Rose a few years ago at SXSW just prior to her releasing her debut album Frankie Rose and the Outs, she was mostly still feedback and distortion. Live she may still have been reveling in reverb, but on record she had already begun to shed a lot of her Shit Storm-Vivian Girls-Crystal Stilts past. On Interstellar she continues on that same trajectory, employing the services of dance producer Le Chev to push her even further into new realms. Interstellar is steeped in 80’s Cure records and current day Swedish pop which itself is heavily influenced by those same Cure records.

Wednesday night at Neumo’s Frankie appeared wearing a black puffy pirate shirt that could have been borrowed from one of Prince‘s  Purple Rain entourage. She brought with her a solid band who had no problem recreating the icy sounding pop from Interstellar and slightly transforming the songs from her first album into shimmering celestial bodies similar to their Interstellar brethren. She seemed much more at ease as the frontperson compared to when I saw her a few years ago, talking about inane things like the rain and threatening a Sister of Mercy cover between songs, but doing it in a very likeable way. She’s an expressive singer, you can tell that she believes in her songs and delivers them with an excitement and intensity that is engaging to watch. She had  a bunch of reverb on her vocals, but I don’t think it was there to hide anything, just to make her voice sound bigger which it did quite well. Her encore of Pair of Wings may have been my favorite song of the night. Songs like Know Me  and Had We Had It are the ones that grabbed my attention from listening to the record at home, but Pair of Wings which was written by her former Shit Storm band mate  Wu Li Leung, transcended  those 80’s Cure records and delved into Abba-esque stratospheres and left me with an entirely new perspective on her already stellar Interstellar.

stream: Frankie Rose – Pair of Wings (from Interstellar on Slumberland Records)

Dive who are fronted by Beach Fossils guitarist, Kurt Cobain doppleganger and oversized sweater wearing Cole Smith are on tour with Frankie Rose serving as designated openers. On record so far, Dive sound very similar to Beach Fossils, but live they veer more towards instrumental guitar jams that remind me a little of Mogwai. Smith sings, but it wasn’t the focus. Live, Dive are all about the guitars. The twin attack was good for a few songs, but it seemed like every song went for the same trick which after a few songs, wasn’t so much of surprise. They’ve got something good to build on and I’ve liked their  singles to date. It will be interesting to see if their album due in June on Captured Tracks can sustain the excitement generated from their initial singles.

Stream: Dive – Geist
(from upcoming 7-inch on Captured Tracks)

Three Girl Rhumba

Wire at Neumo’s, Seattle | 13 April 2011

Wire have been covered to death (note to bands: we don’t need another cover of Outdoor Miner), blatantly stolen from, lauded with praise, reinvented themselves more than once, and possibly possess the secret to the rock and roll fountain of youth.  Pushing 60, what more could they possibly do at this point? Most bands at this stage, if they are ever lucky enough to reach it, would be most likely trampling over their legacy making sub-par records as some lame an excuse to tour, or just blatantly cashing on nostalgia prone fans touring without anything new to show off.  Wire were always more than two standard deviations from the mean. Too arty for the punks and too standoffish for the mainstream and too cool for everyone else. Their legacy speaks for itself and they eschewed it for many years refusing to play the old stuff and hiring a cover band the Ex-Lion Tamers to open for them to do the old stuff.

Wire are still outliers, they’ve acquired a grudging comfort with their past but continue to forge ahead with uncompromising records that may not live up to their first trilogy, but they easily equal their second incarnation and at times come close to Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. Still prickly about fully giving into nostalgia, Wire plucked from all points of their lengthy catalog last Wednesday night at Neumo’s. The focus was obviously on the present but they tripped us back to Pink Flag, 154, A Bell Is a Cup  and the Ideal Copy. Granted we didn’t get any ‘hits’ with the exception of Kidney Bingos and Map Ref. 41 N 93 W, which I never in a million years expected to hear. Kidney Bingos was every bit as sublime as I could have expected with Bruce Gilbert’s strained vocals at the end being a highlight. It still was a pleasure to hear songs like Drill, 106 Beats That and Pink Flag.

As Colin Newman, Bruce Gilbert and Robert Grey set up their equipment, they looked like they could have been from a symphony orchestra instead of a punk rock band. Well dressed and looking professional the band looked all business.  The audience didn’t look like they were there for the symphony, but there was a more seasoned air to it than most audiences at Neumo’s. Once they hit the stage, though the spring came back into everyone’s step. The set list mixed all three era’s of Wire together nicely.  On record, each era has it’s distinctive sound, yet live the songs took on a more uniform fell.  The new stuff fit nicely with the old and vice versa. Of the new songs, I’m partial to Gilbert’s eerie deep voice and his Please Take and Bad Worn Thing were great. Newman switched between three guitars seeming to prefer his mint green Airline the most.  Drummer Robert Grey was hidden behind Newman’s amps but his precise drumming made him a presence nonetheless. They also had a second guitarist taking the mysteriously departed Bruce Gilbert’s place. He was noticeably younger but held his own and had an Air Line guitar of his own. Nary a word was uttered by the band except for a thank you, but we didn’t need it. It was elder statesman putting on a show and the music was the event. Wire knew that the older (and probably jaded crowd) didn’t need any BS interrupting a perfectly good show.

mp3: Wire – Please Take (from Red Barked Tree)


Back In Denim

Girls at Neumo’s, Seattle | 17 November 2009

“We’re back, back in denim”,  Girls (SF) front guy Christopher Owens told the audience at Neumo’s after being asked how he like Seattle.  He was referring to the fact that they were here earlier this year at the Capitol Hill Block Party, but he was also referencing Lawrence Hayward’s post Felt band Denim.  Listening to Girls’ debut Album I had this inkling that they were Felt and Denim fans.  A lot of the guitars have a spindly feel to them that reminds me of late period Felt, but really it was just a hunch.  American bands liking felt is nothing new, the Tyde come to immediate mind and a couple songs on the new Pants Yell! have a similar thing going on.  I digress, back to Girls’ Felt affectation. On hearing Owens utter the title to Lawrence’s first post-Felt album was pretty much all I needed to confirm my suspicions.

Don’t get the wrong idea.  It’s not all Felt, Denim (and Go-Kart Mozart) with Girls, the album has this watery, twangy, rockabilly sound to it that gives me this hallucination of Roy Orbison and Duane Eddy playing Santo & Johnny’s Sleepwalking in some underwater dive bar. The album also has the huge shoegaze bliss-out of Morning Light and the obvious Beach Boys/Jan & Dean reference in their song Big Bad Mean Motherfucker, and don’t forget Owens singing sounds a little like Elvis Costello.  I’m into all of the above and have been loving this record for past few months, but the overall aesthetic of the record has this Felt/Denim feel to it that seems to transcend all the other influences that color the album.

I am certainly not alone in liking the record.  Girls seem to get tons of glowing reviews for their album, but live they don’t seem to light people up.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve read anywhere that said Girls are amazing live.  I can’t really say that they were amazing, but they were really good.  Most of their songs don’t really make you want to dance, they’re mellow dark affairs that revel in the kind of atmosphere they can create and live that is what they did.  Songs like Solitude and Ghost Mouth were prime of examples of that gloomy outlook set to ethereal atmospherics.  The heart of their set cranked up the energy level a noticeable amount with the trio of songs Lust for Life, Hellhole Ratrace and Morning Light getting everybody going.  Owens seemed to be feeling it too, at times crouching down with his guitar in an almost Chuck Berry pose during some of the big guitar parts.  I especially liked how the noise freak-out they did at the end of Hellhole Ratrace overlapped seamlessly with the shoegaze miasma of Morning Light.  The rest of the set, the band settled back into a few more moody, but no less compelling songs.  For an encore Owens came back out with his acoustic guitar, donned a gold trimmed baseball hat from someone in the audience and did few songs solo, one of which he called Broken Dreams Club which you can download from Living Ears along with a few other acoustic songs they did for radio station KDHX.

Something that may also be of interest to those who think I’m off my rocker with the Felt and Denim references, the French website MagicRPM has a three part conversation between Girls’ Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White with Lawrence of Felt/Denim/Go-Kart Mozart. Dig Lawrence’s baseball cap with tinted blue visor.

mp3: Girls – Lust for Life (not the Iggy Pop song from Album, buy it here)

mp3: Girls – Broken Dreams Club (from KDHX session)


Boat Fell

It’s not really a review, but if you head on over to my Flickr page there are some photos from last night’s BOAT record release show at Neumos with longer than normal captions.  Think of it as the new style review.  In case you can’t be arsed to click over, just know it was a blast: giant cardboard art, shakers, confetti, Jeff Fell masks and songs from one of the best bands in Seattle.  ‘Nuff said.

Gothic Horrors

The Horrors at Neumo’s, Seattle | 6 September 2009

Horrors not Whores

The fact that it’s nearly a month before Halloween didn’t seem to deter the hard core goths from making a night of it at the Horrors‘s gig last night. There was lots of white face paint, fake blood, black tights with rips, a few wild whigs and even a guy with some weird mannequin like mask and a head wrap. Based on the press photos for the Horrors I was guessing that the band would be made up in their finest goth, but thankfully they dressed a bit down for the occasion. So the white makeup was missing from their faces, but they definitely brought along their dark moody attitudes. Singer Faris Badwan draped a trench coat over his tall lanky frame and hung on the mic stand like a young Ian McCulloch, and guitarist Joshua Von Grimm (obviously not their real names) looked very dark period Cure with his big hair and boots. It’s kind of amazing how UK bands have this knack for plucking from the past to conjure the ghosts of bands from the 80’s that should have been huge. In the Horrors’s case they’ve done their homework and have built their sound on some impeccable cornerstones. If you remember Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, the Sound or the Chameleons then you know exactly where the Horrors are coming from. Bands get knocked a lot for being derivative, but when you derive from such unknown greats, then you tend to get cut a little slack.

The band all but ignored their first album Strange House and concentrated on the much superior new one Primary Colours.  Badwan we easily the center of attention with his imposing figure and moody visage, he paced the stage like a wolf circling prey, looking part Joey Ramone part Alice Cooper. He’s got a deep foreboding baritone that is reminiscent of Mark Burgess of the Chameleons or Chris Reed of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and a sense for the dramatic.  At the big moments of a song he would cast up his arms to the air like a wizard conjuring a spell, making songs like Three Decades, Who Can Say and their cover of Suicide’s Ghost Rider seem even bigger than they already are.  The rest of the band were dressed in the obligatory black and kept with the program of looking dour, while at the same time rocking out. Bands like the Horrors suffer a lot of licks for being a bit too contrived, but if this gig is the norm, these guys don’t need the posturing because they’ve got the chops to deliver.  Badwan’s voice was amazing and the rhythm section added a nimbleness to the songs that doesn’t come across on the record.  If you’re looking to relive a few moments of the 80’s glory days or if you missed them and wonder what they were all about, go see the Horrors.  They’re like a history lesson of 80’s atmospheric, goth post punk bands. If you’re looking for super tight pair of skinny black trousers, they can probably point you in the right direction for acquiring a pair of those as well.

mp3: Horrors – Who Can Say (from Primary Colours, buy from XL/Beggars)

A bit of background, in case you were wondering…

mp3: Suicide – Ghost Rider (from Suicide)

mp3: Chameleons – Don’t Fall (from Script of the Bridge)

mp3: Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Regenerate (from The Singles 82-87)

mp3: The Sound – The Fire (from From the Lions Mouth)

mp3: Echo & The Bunnymen – All That Jazz (from Crocodiles)

Horrors Setlist

Here are the rest of the North American tour dates:
10 October – Turf Club, St. Paul
11 October – Double Door, Chicago
12 October – Magic Stick, Detroit
14 October – Lee’s Palace, Toronto
15 October – Petit Campus, Montreal
16 October – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
18 October – Teatro Estudio Cavaret, Guadalajara
19 October – Jose Cuervo Salon, Mexico City