Monday, April 21, 2008

This be the verso


What, me, at a gig at the Jericho Tavern, with not a Glaswegian artist in sight, with my reputation?

Anyway, what can I tell you about the evening's openers BITCHES? Next to nothing, as it happens - my usual crutch the internet has proven useless, and in any case the foursome aren't exactly ideally named for the inquisitive googler. So, with nothing to go on but their three song performance, I can only say that Bitches' brew is unfortunately akin to a dog's dinner, thanks in no small part to the over-enthusiastic synth assault. Perhaps it's a sign of age, but watching the percussionist hunched over smashing out a beat on a mic'd-up metal dustbin, I can't help but fear for his back - maybe their set is so short on doctor's orders? (An aside: they should team up with locals Witches for a split single, if only for comic effect.)

By contrast, I'm already familiar with Deguello, having encountered them two years ago when they came to Cardiff under the wing of Winnebago Deal. On that occasion, bassist Rusty Needles lambasted the crowd for being "lame", but tonight the shoe's on the other foot, the trio seeming to have lost their way somewhat since then.

Stretching to straddle a musical divide, though often admirable and occasionally inspired, can often be perilous, and that's the problem here. Two-thirds of the band seem to want to be in Melvins, and the other member - guitarist The Earwig, preoccupied with playing a miniature bell and then some tape-recorded vocals into her pick-ups - pulls in the direction of the trippier, freeform material of Sonic Youth's early career. The result is an uneasy and not very convincing amalgam - a neither/nor, rather than a best of both worlds.

Two-thirds of headliners Future Of The Left - whom I've repeatedly missed seeing in their native Cardiff - WERE actually in a different band. All you need to know about Mclusky is encapsulated in the fact that they once released a one-minute-long blast of head-drilling noise called 'Joy' as a single and then included it on an album called My Pain And Sadness Is More Sad And Painful Than Yours. Fond of the same eardrum-scouring guitar sound and caustically black wit as Steve Albini's Shellac (one of their final B-sides was christened 'Dave, Stop Killing Prostitutes'), they were very much the anti-Stereophonics.

If Andy Falkous and Jack Egglestone's new outfit Future Of The Left - completed by former Jarcrew man Kelson Mathias - don't quite match up to their former incarnation, then it's not for want of trying. Aggression and bleak humour still skip along merrily hand-in-hand in Falco's world; debut album Curses kicks off with a track called 'The Lord Hates A Coward', and also features the single 'adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood' and diplomatic fence-sitter 'Fuck The Countryside Alliance'.

What's new are the keyboards, which means that some songs are - shock horror! - guitar-free zones. It's bemusing to think that the odd long-time Mclusky fan has been decidedly less than gruntled by this new development, given that Mathias's bass remains reassuringly bone-rattlingly heavy. If the pitbull that is their music occasionally gets close to licking your cheek, it's never far from clamping its slavering jaws around your head and puncturing it like a cheap balloon.

For a band no doubt used to crowds going bezerk, they do a good job of hiding any disappointment at the by-now familiarly reserved Oxford reception with which they're confronted, pondering why the restaurant over the road undersells itself as the Standard Tandoori when the fayre merits the description "fine" ("Is the It's OK Chinese just down the road?"), and urging us to visit the merchandise stall to keep Egglestone's "beard trimmed and eyes hopeful" and roadie/tech Mitch in snazzy blue trousers. When the tempestuous and lengthy set-closer is brought to an end by Falkous and Mathias gradually dismantling Egglestone's kit while he plays, it's clear that most people don't need much persuading to part with their cash.

Leaving the Jericho Tavern after Malcolm Middleton's gig last month, I noted how it somehow felt appropriate that it had been pissing it down before the gig but had stopped afterwards. This time I've barely got ten yards down the road before I have to sidestep an enormous pile of beige and orange vomit. Somehow appropriate, again.

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