31 October 2007

Super Furry Animals/Jim Noir/The Adam Hussain Show - Carling Academy Oxford - October 26, 2007 (Greg.)

2 Aban - Year 1386

The Furries were back in town last Friday night--so of course we had to go. It's been a couple of years since we caught them last. They're touring to support the Hey Venus! record and stopped at the Carling Academy.

This time we ate at the Red Star noodle bar opposite the venue. The grub was good, but unfortunately, due to the bench seating, you sometimes end up next to annoying berks. That didn't spoil the meal, however, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, (sorta) healthy, cheap-ish dinner. After that, we queued up outside the Academy to score our tickets. It was the same procedure as last time, only it took longer this time because there were two shows on and nobody knew which queue to join. The Furries show was in the downstairs bit, which has been renovated quite heavily. We hadn't seen it since the refurbishment, so it would be a surprise to see what had been done. I walked in...and my first impression was that it looks a lot like the student union at Brookes now. A cavernous space with a soundboard in the centre and the bars off to the sides. There's also a lounge area in the back of the room with another bar.

We were hoping to catch Jim Noir, as he played a solid set supporting Shack last year. The Carling site mentioned that he would be onstage at 7:30. We were there at about 7:40 and he was already playing--in fact, it appeared he was nearly done with his bit. He was, so we only watched him perform the last few tunes. Going by what we saw, the new album seems to be a bit more 'rock', with less of the Beatles-y flourishes--but retaining some of the nice harmonies. His back-up band have been cut back to just a four-piece, too--I'd swear the drummer is the guy from The Boo Radleys, but I could be wrong. I surmised that the whole show had been moved up, at least Jim Noir's slot had been. The other support act, The Adam Hussain Show, must've gone on right at 6:30 p.m., so we completely missed him. Hussain is a member of the Goldie Lookin' Chain collective and he would make an appearance following the Furries' main set.

We made our way toward the middle of the floor, a bit off to the right. The roadies broke down Jim Noir's gear and set up SFA's. Soon enough, the floor began to fill up and we were surrounded. The tallest bloke in the place (it seemed like) walked up and stood in front of us - so we moved to our left and found another pretty good spot. Finally, the lights dimmed and the sounds of Baby Ate My Eightball (from the new album, Hey Venus!) flowed out through the speakers. The boys walked out, the crowd roared and away they went. Pixie couldn't see much and began to get frustrated and a bit claustro, so we moved to the back of the crowd, near the lounge. The main set was a mixture of tunes off "Hey Venus!" and back catalogue (touching on Radiator, Guerilla, R.O.T.W., Phantom Power and Love Kraft). A fast-paced Do Or Die (from "Guerilla) early on was a surprise, as was a rocked-out Golden Retriever ("Phantom Power") and She's Got Spies (from "Radiator"). The new album got plenty of stage time midway through, with Into The Night, Show Your Hand & Battersea Odyssey all getting the live treatment. The band seemed to be in good spirits and Gruff Rhys was doing his trademark near-indecipherable between-song banter. Eventually, they cranked out Receptacle For The Respectable and announced they were taking a break. A couple of guys strolled onstage wearing Superman capes. I thought they were roadies come to check the gear, but it turned out to be Adam Hussain and an accomplice. They rapped out a tune about drinking (the chorus went something like: "I like drinking all night long/I like drinking right until the dawn..") and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

The headliners were soon back on stage and the second set started with Slow Life, followed by a couple of 'oldies' from the first full-length, Fuzzy Logic, God! Show Me Magic and If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You--it was nice to hear them digging that far back into their past. (Drawing) Rings Around The World was played soon after (it had to be, dinnit?), with a lovely Hello Sunshine up next. I nearly thought they were going to finish without The Man Don't Give A Fuck--but no, they launched into it just before the end. It wasn't the 20-minute epic version from a couple of years ago, but it was good enough for my money. The show came to a close with a sorta low-key Keep The Cosmic Trigger Happy--while Huw Bunford was holding up a board with "SFA Says Thank You Oxford" spelled out in electrical tape. A roadie walked on with another board saying "The End". The applause grew quiet only after more crew started breaking the equipment and drumkit down--then we all knew there wouldn't be any encores. We left quickly, to beat most of the crowd out of the doors and walked back into town to get the bus home. As always, a chance to see SFA live makes for a great time, despite all of the hassles. I would recommend catching them on this tour--especially as it may be some of the last times they'll be playing the "Fuzzy Logic" stuff. 'Till next time...

(I grabbed this set-list from a Last.fm member. It's from the Rock City, Nottingham gig from a few nights before the Oxford show. The line-up is probably slightly different--but it's similar enough for you to get a good idea of the Oxford sets)

Baby Ate My Eightball
Golden Retriever
Do Or Die
She's Got Spies
The Gateway Song
Northern Lights
Battersea Odyssey
Down A Different River
Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon
Ymaelodi Â'r Ymylon
The Gift That Keeps Giving
Juxtapozed With U
Show Your Hand
Receptacle For The Respectable
Slow Life
(Drawing) Rings Around the World
Neo Consumer
God! Show Me Magic
If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You
Hello Sunshine
The Man Don't Give a Fuck
Keep the Cosmic Trigger Happy

22 October 2007

Ed Harcourt/The Veils - Carling Academy Oxford - October 20, 2007 (Greg.)

23 Demeter - Year 86 p.s.U

Pixie and I weren't sure we were going to go to this show and were still undecided on Saturday morning. We finally gave in and bought on-line tickets, clobbered some bus fare together and headed into town.

We had planned to get some chow at the spankin' new Wagamama restaurant in Oxford, but the queue waiting outside and the full tables inside convinced us to move on. The wait at the Noodle Bar in Gloucester Green was 15 to 20 minutes just to be seated, so we made our way to the Cowley Road. Once more, it was the ol' standby Subway and we wolfed down our sandwiches, then we checked in at the Hobgoblin pub for a pre-show drink. The rugby crowd had descended on every available pub, so we gave up trying to get to the bar and order after about five minutes of standing in one spot.

The exterior of the Zodiac (sorry, the Carling Academy Oxford) has two marquee boards above the entrances with the evening's billings. They've certainly spiffed up the lobby--it's all new and shiny--but I kinda miss the run-down look, it seemed to have some character. After getting our tickets (I had to present my debit card, as the tickets were booked in Pixie's name, not mine), we had our hands stamped and a bloke at the top of the steps scanned our tickets with some sort of device that looked like a shop scanner. We then entered the "Zodiac Room", that's what the upper floor is called now. It's a lot smaller now, what with the old bar area walled off and a huge soundboard sat in the centre of the back of the room.

The Veils, an Anglo-Kiwi band, had the support slot this time around and they filed on-stage to the applause of the early attendees. They played a set of originals and one cover (a taut version of Bruce Springsteen's State Trooper). The core of the band is a trio, but they're joined by a drummer and a keyboardist for this tour. I quite liked their sound, but despite the new light show and sound system in the room, I still found the mix really muddy (some things don't seem to change, I suppose)--especially when they cranked up the guitars. Mr. Harcourt himself joined them for a tune and then after a couple more, the roadies were taking their gear away. I'll have to check out some of their studio stuff for the subtleties.

After everything was set up for the headliners--Ed walked onstage and played a solo piano tune, the band joining him when he had finished. He was in town to promote his recently released "best of" record, Until Tomorrow Then, so he had styled the concert to reflect that. All the hits & just the hits. He's travelling with a smaller band this time, with just a guitarist, double-bass player and drummer--no trumpet or violin (the violin courtesy of his wife Gita last time around). He's also slightly changed some of the arrangements, as on Hanging With The Wrong Crowd. They worked on some of the tunes, a bit less so on others (A Visit From The Dead Dog really missed the middle-eight trumpet solo). The highlights were an extended I've Become Misguided, where Ed used one of those loop boxes to create a mini-symphony of voices and instruments that he played, layering a banjo riff, trombone squawks, tambourine shakes, the phrase "I've become misguided" and his screams, into a foundation that the band joined in on and Beneath The Heart Of Darkness, the full album version with the heavy jam in the middle. They rocked out with spirited abandon and seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were also nice versions of Born In The 70s and Apple Of My Eye included in the set. The final tune of the night (the second number of the encore) was an all-out jam of He's Building A Swamp. A couple of The Veils' ran out onstage, dressed in Native American headgear and created a polyrhythm with Ed (pounding on a floor tom) and Harcourt's drummer. In a bit of a Flaming Lips-ish move, the girl from The Veils walked onstage dressed as a rabbit (with a slightly sinister face), whom Ed introduced as a "Ninja Bunny".

Harcourt seemed to be in a good mood for most of the night, joking about wanting to know the rugby score (he didn't) and thanking us all for being at the show. When he broke out his Jimmy Page-stylee double-neck guitar, he said "This is my favourite moment, when I get to play The Beast". The only tense moment I noticed was when a string broke on his acoustic guitar and no tech showed up for some time to change it...when the guy finally appeared, he gestured at the guitar rather gruffly. Ah well, that's show business. I couldn't score a set-list this time--others had asked the stage-hands before I did. Pixie and I left the venue and headed for the bus stop. We'll be back again in a few days for the Super Furry Animals gig this Friday.

08 October 2007

Summer Was Gone...And The Heat Died Down....

16 Asvina - Year 1929

October, already! Summers get shorter and shorter, it seems. Cheers to the Bear for pinch-hitting here while we were away. Hopefully the man will make more appearances soon.

We were in Shropshire for a week and it turned out to be a really nice break away from home. We rented a cottage in Ironbridge, one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Age in Britain. The views are pretty spectacular and the cottage, built onto a steep hillside, was quite cozy, with a nice comfy sofa for me to kick back and read on. The village gets it's name from the intricate bridge that spans the River Severn--the first of it's kind in the world, at least that's what the local museums claim. We visited several of them during the week, the most interesting to us being the working Victorian-era village at Blists Hill. There wasn't much on the day we were there, as the weather was a bit drab, but seeing the staff in costume and even using as much of the speech of the time was a hoot. There were a couple of school field-trips going on and we had a chuckle when a group were visting the cottage of a stern farmer. He informed them they they would've finished school at age 11 and would've been working in the mine at age 12, child labour laws being lax at the time. The kids looked horrified when this was relayed to them--no doubt I would have, too, at that age.

Since most of the museums are clustered around Ironbridge, we decided to check out most of them. The Museum Of Iron at Coalbrookdale and the Tile Museum at Jackfield each had their fascinating aspects, though personally I liked the Tile Museum more--some truly beautiful designs and colours are displayed. It's even more amazing to consider how much the countryside has recovered since the heyday of the various ironworks and coal pits. There are artists renditions of the industry at the time and some parts of Shropshire must have seemed like living near a small volcano at times. Add to that the dreadful cholera epidemics and there doesn't seem to have been much benefit to the working classes, except a steady pay packet.

We ventured out to Shrewsbury one day, to visit the Abbey and do a bit of shopping. On the way, we stopped at the Roman ruins at Wroxeter. It's just foundation stones and part of a wall of the town's basilica now--but it made for a nice detour and the coloured drawings on the information plaques around the site give you some perspective on the actual size of the town and buildings contained within. Pixie and I visited the Abbey, but I got a bit vertiginous inside and stepped outside for some air--then gamely stepped back inside for a quick tour around. The architecture of cathedrals does spell-bind me and I enjoy looking at the stained-glass windows. Crossing the English Bridge, we wandered through the Wyle Cop district and around the High Street. I was looking for a funky, indie record street, preferably with cheap prog-rock LPs for sale, but failed to find one. I ended up giving money to the ubiquitous HMV and Virgin shops--oh well, I picked up some good stuff (a Richard Hawley disc, the Neil Young Live At Fillmore East 1970 'performance series' disc, The Move's self-titled album (the 2-disc re-issue) and a few other gems). We couldn't decide on a cafe to eat lunch in and settled for Subway (mmmm...meatball & cheese sub). After milling around the shopping district some more, we decided to pick up some local bottles of beer for Pixie's parents (a gift for taking care of the dog for a week, you see) and headed back to the cottage for the day.

On the way home, we stopped at Ludlow Castle for couple of hours. There's a couple of cool shops along the High Street. I found a Thoth Tarot deck at a shop called Kaboodle, so I picked it up, as I've been meaning to buy one for some time. The castle itself is quite well-preserved, at least the stonework and you can climb to the top of a lot of the towers, if you want. Unfortunately, the day we visited was a bit overcast--but it did little to dampen the majestic views in the area. We returned to our humble home late Friday afternoon--collected the dog, then settled back into our usual routine.

Yep, back to work and that--still hoping to win the lottery one of these years. I've got lots of tunes to check out and I've recently finished both "Confessions Of A Crap Artist" and "The Dice Man". Those have been returned to the library and I've taken out Black Swan Green, David Mitchell's follow-up to "Cloud Atlas", which I'm reading at the moment. I also grabbed Donovan's autobiography, The Hurdy-Gurdy Man and another Philip K. Dick book, Dr. Bloodmoney.

Island/Universal have just released a special edition of The Orb's seminal U.F.Orb album (first released in 1992). It's a 2-disc'er, like the "Ultraworld" 15th anniversary edition released last year. The first CD is a re-mastered version of the original record. It's possible that because I had the sound turned up a bit more than usual when I listened to it, that the mix does sound much better with this version. A few synth lines and sound effects jumped out at me that I hadn't noticed before (and I've heard this album quite a bit in the past 8 or 9 years). The second disc features demo versions and a couple of rare mixes, including a version of Assassin, a non-album single released after "U.F.Orb" had been out for a little while. The demos for O.O.B.E. and Towers Of Dub seem quite different from the finished album takes and make for interesting listening. A nice booklet accompanies the CDs, giving a mini-history of The Orb and an overview of the creation of "U.F.Orb" and what happened following it's release (including the oft-told story of LX Paterson and Thrash playing chess on Top Of The Pops, while their 40-minute single version of Blue Room played). Needless to say that the re-issue has been on high rotation in the disc-player the past couple of weeks.

I picked up a load of cheap vinyl at Avid Records a couple of weeks ago. They're having a 'stock clearance' sale, as they're finally shutting their doors for good at the end of December. It's a 15-for-£10 sale and sure, there's a lot of tat--but I found a few good'uns..among them, a copy of Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn, Jon Anderson's Olias Of Sunhillow and Camel's The Snow Goose. I ended up with 20 altogether, for £15--not a bad haul. I plan to go back at least one more time before the doors shut for good.