SONS & DAUGHTERS / THE VICTORIAN ENGLISH GENTLEMENS CLUB / INTERNATIONAL JETSETTERS, 7TH NOVEMBER 2007, OXFORD ZODIAC*
Bloody students. There's little so likely to excite my curmudgeonly ire these days as that particular species. They're responsible for the early start to tonight's gig which scuppers my best intentions to get immersed in the local Oxford scene quickly - as it is, I only catch the tail end of the first support band's set.
International Jetsetters are aptly named, it turns out, what with guitarist / vocalist Mark Crozer and ex-Ride drummer Loz Colbert having recently seen the globe as part of the resurrected Jesus & Mary Chain line-up. Given that shoegaze is very definitely flavour of the month round these 'ere parts at the moment, they couldn't have picked a much better time to introduce themselves to my ears.
Even that doesn't quite guarantee them a favourable reception, though. What I hear is a bit polite, perhaps even rather banal, much like the material on their MySpace site - fuzzed-up pop that's more the polish of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club than the spit of the Mary Chain. But no doubt they'll get another chance to impress before long, and I'm open to persuasion.
Pass up or miss so many chances to see one of Cardiff's most recent exports in what is nominally their hometown that I've lost count, and what happens? They turn up, unexpectedly, on someone else's bill. In Oxford. As well as flying in the face of grammar, The Victorian English Gentlemens Club - like the latest band to break out of the Welsh capital, Los Campesinos! - are musical mavericks, every song a curveball, though by contrast they sport the scars of the city's love affair with the lurching basslines and scabrous guitar of Shellac rather more obviously.
Guitarist / vocalist Adam Taylor's sailor's shirt suggests the discovery of a child's dressing-up box, as do the sparkling dresses modelled by bassist Louise Mason and drummer Emma Danan. But the box marked "Tunes" seemingly remains elusive, and despite witnessing a commendable display of elbow grease, tub-thumping, bell-beating and semi-strangulated choral yelping, I'm not really won over - not even by the bizarre punk-skiffle of trademark song 'Ban The Gin'.
It's safe to say that last time I saw Sons & Daughters (or "Sons & Dauters", as the front of tonight's venue proclaims in big red letters - did they run out or are they economising, or something?), at Glastonbury two years ago the circumstances weren't exactly conducive to their dark-hearted art: they were hidden away in the gloom of the John Peel Tent when outside, in hot sunshine and under blue skies (the Friday's biblical downpour a distant memory), and in front of a huge Pyramid Stage crowd, Brian Wilson was kicking off one of the best sets I've ever seen. But this is more like it - or should be, at least.
Associates of Arab Strap and championed by Franz Ferdinand and The Delgados, the Glaswegians couldn't possibly feel aggrieved at a lack of support in their hometown, but here in the heart of England they're greeted by restrained if warm applause and between-song silences that an unnerved Scott Paterson tries to fill. Perhaps it's the city, or perhaps it's the new material from their second full-length album This Gift, due out in January, which appears to signify (if only subtly) a simultaneous sanding-down of the rambunctious punkabilly of their past and branching out into poppier territory. Thus the sneering twitch of new single 'Gilt Complex' is counterbalanced by two songs that are cinematic in inspiration if not in sound: 'The Nest' takes Ken Loach's 'Cathy Come Home' as its starting point, while 'Darling' flutters its eyelashes coyly in the direction of 60s girl groups as well as the 1965 Julie Christie film of the same name, its fingernails impeccably manicured rather than bitten ragged.
Whether it's a reflection of the quality of the new material only time will tell, but whereas 'Rebel With The Ghost' and 'House In My Head' pass by without making much lasting impression, hearing the likes of 'Taste The Last Girl', 'Medicine' ("This one's about suicide. Yay!") and 'Dance Me In' again is enough to convince me to revisit last album The Repulsion Box. Even then, though, the two best songs of the night are bone-rattling debut single 'Johnny Cash' from first EP Love The Cup, which morphs improbably into 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' halfway through, and 'The War On Love Song', their collaboration with Scottish writer A L Kennedy for the 'Ballad Of The Book' musical / literary crossover project co-ordinated by Sons & Daughters bassist Ailidh Lennon's husband, Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble, for which Adele Bethel stalks the stage in as menacing a fashion as someone wearing Kylie-style gold hotpants possibly can.
By 10.20pm, and without an encore, it's all over, the club night for which the gaggle of swaying, braying toerags dressed as golfers are outside queueing having prematurely curtailed the evening's entertainment. Bloody students.
* Sadly, the Academy was just as I'd feared from my experiences in Birmingham: characterless, soulless, poor bar service and even worse beer. There's just too much going on there to boycott it all together, unfortunately, but I'll be doing my best to patronise other venues around the city in preference, while the old name will stick here, at least.