Friday, February 22, 2013

No PAWS for thought

(OK, so I've still got loads of catching up to do, from as long ago as the summer of 2011, but this had to be written up for Nightshift so it might as well go up now...)


Beware the Ides of, er, February – Ides being the solo side project of Alanna McCardle, taking time out from playing with the awesomely named Joanna Gruesome. She deals in desperation and desolation magnified by electric guitar and echo, her vocals floating lightly to the surface.

The setlist is a symphony for the emotionally bruised and beaten, but the final song finds her picking herself off the floor and fighting back, a rallying defiance towards which you can’t help but respond positively. A reminder that Ides aren’t always ominous, then – and in this instance the future looks bright. You have been warned.

On this evidence Virals, the band spearheaded by former Lovvers man Shaun Hencher, are not so much caught between a rock and a hard place as between hard rock and another place entirely – one where the Ramones and Cheap Trick rule the roost. The incongruity of their irony-free rock ‘n’ roll on the bill is all the more startling given their presence at the headliners’ request.

Despite the perfect sound set-up, they’re not blistering. The feeling persists, though, that an appreciative audience may well exist, complete with leather waistcoats and receding hairlines – just not here, tonight.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Grungy three-piece with a fondness for tie-dye hailing from somewhere in the vicinity of a geographical and cultural outpost called Aberdeen, powered by a frenzied superhuman drummer and fronted by someone sporting a plaid shirt and a dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards blonde mop. OK, so I’m stretching the truth somewhat – the trio who make up Fat Cat signings PAWS may be Scottish but aren’t actually from Aberdeen – but their opening gambit ‘Tulip’ even borrows the double snare rap from ‘Drain You’.

Not that they haven’t got more than enough to recommend them without comparisons to Kurt and co, mind – especially as they seem to have adopted an admirably rigorous selection policy of All Killer No Filler with respect to their occasionally lightweight debut LP Cokefloat! so as to be able to showcase enough solid new material to suggest a follow-up is imminent.

Since PAWS were last in Oxford, at the Port Mahon in October as partof Gathering, singer/guitarist Phillip Taylor has acquired an on-stage tuner, but this hardly results in much dead air and down time. On the contrary, PAWS remain incorrigible speed freaks. Not only do short, punchy songs like ‘Jellyfish’ and ‘Bloodline’ whizz by, but they also rattle through ‘Sore Tummy’ – arguably Cokefloat!’s stand-out track – with such incredible alacrity that you wonder whether the last train back to Glasgow is about to leave.

Perhaps inevitably for a punk band, much of what motivates PAWS is anger and disaffection. That hasn’t stopped them from dedicating one new song to Edinburgh buddies Meursault, though, while Cokefloat!’s opener ‘Caroline 1956’ is a touchingly clumsy tribute to Taylor’s late mother which he delivers from behind a protective veil of hair.

Even for increasingly experienced arsonists like PAWS, the typical Oxford midweek gig crowd proves to be soggy, sparse kindling. But by the time ‘Poor Old Christopher Robin’ puts in an appearance, a flicker has become a flame and we can step out into the freezing night with our cockles well and truly warmed.

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