Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Keep on Truckin'


Green Man may have been "my third and final festival of the summer" - but, as things turned out, it wasn't my final festival of the year.

The organisers of local shindig (boutique festival if you must) Truck, flush with the success of this year's event - rearranged for September after the site was flooded under several feet of water on the weekend in July it was scheduled to take place - decided to put together two other indoor mini-festivals to brighten up the late autumn. The second, headlined by Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies and ex-Delgado Emma Pollock, took place in High Wycombe earlier this month, but I made it to the first, back at the tail end of November, in a venue which makes (*spit*) the Academy look good...

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Exhausted after the brisk walk up Headington Hill and trying to find my bearings, I end up strolling in through what turns out to be the Students Union's back entrance without being questioned. Presumably my flushed appearance makes me pass for an out-of-breath roadie busy lugging heavy equipment to and from the vans. I've already bought a ticket, but less scrupulous punters may well have taken advantage of the laxness and deprived the organisers of the extra revenue.

My arrival coincides with the very end of Stornoway's set. Far too much conversation (well, rambling) and not enough action for my liking, but the fact that Truck like them enough to put out their new EP On The Rocks early in 2008 and that their idea of a politically engaged song is one about the conservation of fish stocks ('The Good Fish Guide') suggests something interesting may be afoot.

The action switches to the main stage (we'll be shuttling from one side of the room to the other all night), and The People's Revolutionary Choir. Clearly not short of self-belief (frontman Lal Townsend in particular), the sextet are a bit like Verve before they added the The, when they were more a storm in heaven than a storm in a teacup. Personally speaking, most of the right boxes are ticked - heavy Spiritualized influence (one song is called 'Painkiller Blues', while another seems to filch the chorus from 'I Think I'm In Love'), early demos produced by The Jesus & Mary Chain's Jim Reid and Ben Lurie, recent support slot on tour with The Brian Jonestown Massacre - but unfortunately there's precious little going on that could be described as "revolutionary", and too often the songs are laborious or clodhopping Definitely Maybe cast-offs (see singles 'The Breeze That Blows' and 'Do You Feel Like I Do' respectively).

Witches, by contrast, certainly couldn't be accused of being derivative. Tipped by locals as the best band waiting to break out of Oxford, on first exposure they're a baffling proposition (and a long, long way from the black metal band you might expect from the name) - an odd combination of thin vocals, slightly overwhelming power chords and drumming, and Calexico-style marachi trumpet fronted by Dave Griffiths, who looks like a young Holly Johnson and may just be the poshest man in rock. Towards the end, though, it starts to make a little more sense, and I'm inclined to look out for them again.

No such lukewarm response to Blood Red Shoes. Arguably the hardest working band in Britain, Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell are very much the finely honed machine with a formidable arsenal of spiky and direct singles that sound like Nirvana songs reinterpreted by the fem-punk outfits beloved by Kurt Cobain - 'It's Getting Boring By The Sea' and 'You Bring Me Down' (to be re-released in February) kick us off, with 'I Wish I Was Someone Better' putting in an appearance mid-set.

It may not be quite as electric a show as at the Barfly in Cardiff at the beginning of the year - probably partly because the venue's too capacious, the duo are too far apart on stage and Carter's suffering from flu, accidentally pouring a drink into her eye at one point - but the way the inordinately affable Ansell manages to perform his vocal duties while thrashing seven shades of shite out of his drumkit is in itself a remarkable thing to witness. The album's now due in April, and it can't come soon enough.

Time for more local heroes. As residents of Steventon, the village in which the Truck festival proper takes place each year, Goldrush are only too happy to be on tonight's bill. But despite the room being at its fullest for a set heavy on material from latest LP The Heart Is The Place, it's not quite the triumph that might have been hoped for. Their epic countrified indie is competent enough, but songs like 'Goodbye Cruel World' are let down by the vocals, and the feeling remains that Americans like Wilco, Grandaddy and My Morning Jacket do this kind of thing much better.

Which leaves headliners The Warlocks. They're tourmates of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and devotees of The Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3. They take us back to the same place as The People's Revolutionary Choir with familiar singles 'Hurricane' and 'Shake The Dope Out', though some of the material from latest album Heavy Deavy Skull Lover suggests a stoned drift in the direction of Dead Meadow's territory. And they have two drummers. All right up my street - on paper.

And yet somehow Bobby Hecksher's crew contrive to make what could potentially be thrilling, transcendental and atmospheric sound flat, listless and jaded. Once you've appreciated the spectacle and admired the impressive timing, even the pair of drummers is dull because they play exactly the same lines for every song, never once doing anything independently and creatively (unlike, say, The Melvins). By the time they finish, it's long gone midnight and there are only a handful of people left. One, who looks like Dec, is utterly mashed, gurning and swaying around in a world of his own, having a whale of a time - and therein lies the problem. Unlike almost all of their influences and contemporary allies, The Warlocks are a druggy band who are only interesting if you're in a chemically altered state of mind; if you're not, they're soporifically dull.

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