Monday, 21 September 2009

Guided By Voices

There seems to be a fair bit of excitement (read, slight hysteria) building up around these forthcoming Pavement shows on the internet at the moment. It's fair enough I suppose, I enjoy most of their stuff myself and I'd probably go and see them given the chance, but I found myself thinking about who else I'd like to see reform and realised that I'd much much rather see Guided By Voices (with Tobin Sprout, of course) then I'd ever want to see Pavement. It's unlikely to happen, though Robert Pollard has never ruled it out, but one can dream.

Then I got to thinking that there's probably still a lot of people who've never heard GBV before, and so I decided to try to put together a little Guided By Voices 101. It's not easy, for a start they did a lot of records (how many other bands have a top 100 songs, dedicated solely to them?) and the first thing a lot of people find out with GBV is that even on the best of their records there can be a fair bit of filler. That said most of their records are over 20 songs long and there are a lot of them, so even if only half of the songs on every album are great that's still be a pretty big hit ratio, lucky it turns out to be more than that. All I'm trying to get over from that sentence really is that it can be hard for the uninitiated to know where to start with the band; it's like dipping your hand into a newly opened box of Cadbury's Roses having never had any before. Everyone tells you they are lovely, but you end up getting a chocolate one for your first try. It'd be enough to put you off for life.

I could do a whole potted history of the band, but it would take up too much space, I'd miss things, I'd get things wrong, so I'm keeping it simple. The bands website will tell you all you need to know anyway. It includes mp3's, setlists and chords too (if you are musically inclined in that way). It's here

So I thought I'd try and help along by making a spotify playlist of some of their best stuff. It's a thankless task in all honesty. Being a band with so many songs, there's always going to be disagreement on what deserves inclusion and what doesn't. There's also stuff that isn't on Spotify, like 'Bee Thousand'. In fact go and find a copy of 'Gold Star For Robot Boy' off that record now, and hear the strength of things that couldn't be included. There's more too.

If you want to buy GBV records though, the best place to start is definitely 'Human Amusements At Hourly Rates'. It's a collection put together by Robert Pollard himself. There's not really a bad song out of the 32, so it's well worth a listen. It's on Spotify too, which probably makes things easier. As are a whole bunch of other albums.

Or if you want a DVD then 'Guided By Voices, The Electrifying Conclusion' is for you. Capturing them at their last ever show, all 4 hours of it.

Anyway I've written more than I'd planned to so without further ado, here's the playlist link

P.s if you like the whole spotify playlist thing, then check out indiefy, they do this kind of thing, but better.

Friday, 18 September 2009

It's the End Of The Road as we know it.

That my friends is an exceptionally terrible 'pun' of a title, isn't it? Sadly I couldn't think of anything better. If you haven't guessed yet the title is referring to the festival of the same name, one I visited last weekend and if you'll permit me a blog entry of self-indulgence I'll tell you all about it (there may even be some pictures, albeit poor ones).

So anyway, we get to the festival at around 12 in the afternoon on the Friday and I'm immediately struck by the beauty of the place. It's very impressive. There are woods (lit up in parts by fairy lights at night) which contain a piano and a library tree; it's got shelves on it and books to read if you feel the need to chill out. There's a light up disco floor in there as well, and some games. Elsewhere there's peacocks wondering round, oh and peahens, and even a baby peacock (peachick?) I wasn't sure I'd ever see one of them.

Anyway needless to say it's idyllic, even the main stage (the garden stage) is set in lovely surroundings. It is a garden stage after all. Anyway I could ramble about the settings for ages, the main things about the festival are these, it's a small capacity, it's in beautiful surroundings and it's got some great, great food stalls. Oh yeah, and bands of course.

So, yeah, bands.

Friday I start with Ohbijou, they're in the big top stage (it's a marquee) and they're a pretty good way to start, nice and soft and pretty. I catch a bit of Mumford and Sons after that, not much, but enough to hear some startling harmonies, it's really very touching.

Later I catch David Thomas Broughton, he's been brilliant the last couple of times I've seen him, but that's been in small venues where he's able to move around the audience playing tunes on whatever is avaliable, or sticking his microphone into his shirt and looking like a scarecrow. This time he's on a big stage and I'm worried if it will work. For the most part it does, his voice is excellent and the backing band are great. It's just sad it's not quite so intimate. There's a nice moment when he brings out some children to play with him, only to (mildly) appear to berate them a bit later for playing too long.

After that I see Shearwater and I'm completely underwhelmed, followed by Dirty Projectors who've been pretty hyped this year, but who again fall sadly flat for me. Maybe I'm just not in the mood? The headliners of the day are Explosions In The Sky, I hear them from the woods and they sound very good, but I'm happy where I am. I later catch Herman Dune, who are quite good, but I'm tired by now and it's tentwards rather quickly.

Saturday dawns and I'm up bright and early because for some reason it's really bloody hot. I rush off to the main stage to catch a bit of The Leisure Society who are quite good. There's a nice cover of 'Something' by The Beatles to end their set. I always think it's a Beatles song I really don't like, but for some reason it sounds great.

Following that there's Darren Hayman. He's terrific. He's got a full band with him (including Nik from Moustache of Insanity, I believe). There's Secondary Modern Stuff, and some Hefner B'sides. There's witty banter, rock shapes pulled by Darren and great tunes. Darren is running a battle with a wasp who insists on flying near his mouth everytime he sings, but he wins. It's a really fantastic set. I turn to my side at one point to find M.J Hibbett, who is clearly enjoying it. He tells me he's never seen Hayman before, which is almost unthinkable! Also surely Hayman should be on later than 2nd on the main stage, a fact he eludes to himself. I think he says something about indie hasbeens. Anyway, the set is great, and Darren mentions he's playing a 'secret' set later on at 1am.

After him there's The Low Anthem who I don't really click with, followed by The Broken Family Band who I just don't get. I liked the first album (and I've admittedly none of the others) but they don't play much off it, and the set leaves me a bit cold to be honest. Shame. After I catch Dent May and his Magnificent Ukelele, who sounds pretty good and Malcolm Middleton who is really quite boring. Another disappointment.

Bit of a gap and then I catch Alela Diane. She's good, very good. She reminds me of Kate Rusby a bit, a fair bit like Beth Orton in the vocal. She has her Dad playing in the band, which I like, and a pretty insane looking bassist who I can't stop watching. Following her are Okkervil River. I've heard a few of their songs on record and always had them down as semi-boring alt country, so my hopes aren't that high, but I've heard good things about them live, so I go along.

I'm glad I did, they're amazing. Suprisingly they play like a stadium rock band, and really know how to work a crowd. I love all of it. It's sometimes hard for me to totally enjoy a gig when I don't know most of the songs, but it doesn't matter this time, a sure sign of something special. Fleet Foxes are the headliner, but we just can't be bothered; it's a good thing. Apparently they aren't as good as expected and also, apparently, the main stage security stops letting people in to see them as it's too busy! Told you it was a small festival. Instead we wander round for a bit only to be stopped by the arresting sounds of what sounds like Nick Cave coming from a big top. It's not, it's Josh T Pearson. He used to be in Lift To Experience, he's a last minute addition, and he's a revelation. He stands on stage like some backwoods preacher in a black cowboy hat and seems to be completely unaware of the crowd, staring at the canopy full of stars at the top of the marquee like it's the heavens and he almost certainly appears to be undergoing a religious experience. It's the most otherwordly thing I've seen in a long time. Tremendous.

After that I rush to the 'Tipi Tent' to see Hayman and am hugely disappointed. It's 'L' shaped, so there's a sort of funnel which means that there's only a few people at the front of the tent who can see, whilst everyone one stands around talking loudly. It's not helped that there's only one entrance (of which it appears to be one in one out) or that everyone who comes in is caught in a bottleneck and seems intent on pushing through to the front. There's a keep clear sign on the floor, but it's ignored. It's a shame really because the bit I heard of the set was nice. Wu Tang Clan was played and the Greedy Ugly People. The latter replete with Darren climbing on something (I couldn't see what) to conduct the crowd from on high through the coda.

The final day arrives and I think I'm most excited about this one. The first person I see is T.Model Ford. T.Model is an 88 (though some sources differ) year old blues man from Greenville Mississippi. He has a walking stick and needs to be helped onto stage by his drummer, I'm worried he's too frail to play. He's not. He's brilliant, his eyes twinkle as he announces that he's "T-Model Ford't the ladies man" before proceeding to make eyes at every women photographer and audience member. Besides that his music is pure blues and I feel honored to see him. He's great not because his music is 'authentic' but just because it's so good.

Following him is Sweden's Tallest Man On Earth. No that's not a circus act. He's not actually very tall but he is damned good. Sounding like a cross between M.Ward and Bob Dylan he plays a great set to a big crowd, all his songs catchy and delightful in equal measure. He has a new album out this year apparently, I'm looking forward to it. The first two acts have been so good I'm already thinking they can't be topped but I didn't count on Bob Log III.

Bob Log is mad. He comes on stage in suit and space helmet, and ends up in a skin hugging gold number. He plays incredible guitar whilst banging drums with his feet (like some odd one man band), sings about wanting people to shit on his leg or put their boob in his scotch, and is just a very funny and consummate showman. That sounds crap in the description but I can assure you it isn't. It's just the most amazing performance.

Following him is Dan Sartain. Dan Sartain is pure 50's rockabilly action. He's got vintage amps and a vintage mic and a massive quiff. Oh and cheekbones you could cut your fingers on. In fact he looks a wee bit like a young Johnny Cash. He's full of delirious energy too, although he looks slightly unwell. This could be the reason his set is cut short by a disappointing 15 minutes, but the other 30 are some of the weekend's best.

I miss Magnolia Electric Company and only catch a bit of Steve Earle, which is sad but there's eating to be done. Eventually Neko Case comes on. I love her new album but not some of her other stuff, so I'm not sure how this one will go. I needn't worry, the new songs are really rocky live, and the older stuff is beautiful. It's helped that she has a full band and that her other female vocalist is a bit of a live wire. There's fine banter too, which more or less involves Neko taking the piss out of oncoming headliners The Hold Steady for much of the set. They have Louis Vitton bags apparently.

Finally the aforementioned Hold Steady come on. I've been really looking forward to this, I like they're music and they are supposed to be great live. Except, for some reason, they aren't. The band are great, but Craig Finn leaves me a bit cold. It's not the vocal delivery really (i know from records that he's a bit of a mumbler) it's more the dancing like a dad at a disco stage moves. Or pointing at the crowd and mouthing stuff. I can't quite explain, it feels like someone has made a list of 'rock moves' but not explained how to use them properly. The sound is fairly disappointing too. It's a great, great shame because the festival ends on a slightly flat note.

Despite that it has been huge fun though, some great performances, and I've come away with another list of favourite new bands. The atmosphere was wonderful (on a lovely with Indietracks I think), the food, ale and general facilities were all awesome, and even the weather held out. If they keep the low capacity (and the organisers seem adamant that they will) then I for one will be making the long trek down to Dorset again next year.

*the photo of David Thomas Broughton is by a user called Rollinstone on the End Of The Road forum.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Slow news day

xHmm, a bit slow with this I guess but seeing as we are over three quarters of the way through the year now (more or less) I thought I'd do a bit of a retrospective and list what I think are my albums of the year so far.

Well I thought I'd do that, but then I realised that it would be a boring way to end the week and writing a list is never as fun as I think it's going to be so I did something else instead. I've picked favourite songs from favourite albums of the year and put them into a spotify playlist.

I know that there's probably things I've missed and there's definitely albums I couldn't use due to them not being on spotify (The Pains, Grizzly Bear) but hopefully you'll enjoy listening to the little thing I've put together. Oh yes, also I've not really paid attention to tracklisting here so don't know how it runs in terms of listening, hopefully it'll be ok.

Linkage HERE.

Sorry about the short post today, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.