Friday, February 15, 2008

Smoke and mirrors


Open any music publication or click on any music website in January and it's likely you will have encountered a list of 2008's Most Likely To. By the end of February, Oxford will have played host to three of the most hotly-tipped in the space of less than a month. Black Kids determinedly refused to teach a sold-out Jericho Tavern's boyfriend how to dance with you at the tail end of January, Vampire Weekend will be showing off their NYC take on Afrobeat at a sold-out Zodiac on 23rd February (and probably including 'Oxford Comma' in their set) and tonight Glasvegas are - you guessed it - playing a sell-out gig at the Jericho Tavern.

But first - after I've been cornered by the bright-eyed girl who's harvesting email addresses but who clearly knows nothing more about the headliners than that "they're going to be the Next Big Thing", despite the fact that I've been trying to radiate a "I'll make my mind up once I've seen them, thankyouverymuch" aura - it's International Jetsetters. Either they were a member light when I first saw them, supporting Sons & Daughters in November, or vocalist Fi McCall was yet to join. As you might expect from a fivesome of whom more have performed with the reformed Jesus & Mary Chain than haven't, hazy narcotic pop is their stock-in-trade. 'Inside Out' is the stand-out track, reminiscent of Six By Seven at their zippiest and most direct, but after that my attention begins to wander and I find myself pondering when Frank Gallagher found the time to learn the bass.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm quite glad that The Half Rabbits don't live up to the excruciating zaniness their name implies, but they could at least crack a smile. Frontman Michael Weatherburn in particular only lets his poker face slip when breaking into a violent new riff. Perhaps it's because they're on camera tonight, being filmed for their first appearance on MTV. Pitched somewhat awkwardly between Muse and Interpol both in terms of their music and their on-stage demeanour (Exhibit A: 'Man Down'), I struggle to see what's induced Jetplane Landing to include them on not one but two Smalltown America compilations. Aside from the moderately explosive crowd favourite 'This Changes Everything', it's all a bit polite and pedestrian.

And so to the second band Alan McGee's seen third on the bill at King Tut's in Glasgow and gone stark raving mad about (no prizes for guessing the first). Just in case you need me to rehearse what the fuss is all about: 50s doo-wop songs lathered in reverb and feedback and performed by a band who look like The Clash if they'd been styled by James Dean. By rights, it SHOULD be absolutely fucking brilliant. But - tonight, at least - it just isn't.

The set doesn't get off to a particularly auspicious start. The band are making their grand entrance through the crowd as the intro music plays when the fug of dry ice sets off the smoke alarm. Even when they do make it onto the stage and start playing, still shrouded in dry ice and bathed in red light, there's a nervous tension in the air. 'Flowers And Football Tops' and splendid new single 'It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry' go a long way to dispelling it, only for the bass amp to blow immediately afterwards and the dark clouds to return. An edgy James Allan tries to rescue the situation by playing an unheard-before solo track, but 'The Ice Cream Van' is a lame duck and we're treated to the unedifying spectacle of a slim Ricky Gervais snapping at the sound man.

'Geraldine' and in particular debut release 'Daddy's Gone' stage a recovery, but their take on The Ronettes' 'Be My Baby', enjoyable though it is, not only turns out to bring a short encoreless set to a premature end but is also a rather clumsily heavy-handed and unnecessary underlining of what they're doing with their own material: namely, teasing out the timeless pop songs which underlie the guitar scree on The Jesus & Mary Chain's Psychocandy.

Yes, the Next Big Thing, as is so often the case, is actually steeped deep in tradition - Elvis, Phil Spector, Johnny Cash. McGee has claimed on the Guardian's music blog that 'It's My Own Cheating Heart...' is "an utterly unique proposition and totally soulful" - but, speaking as a huge fan of The Raveonettes and bristling with indignation as a result, that's simply not true. Take a listen to pretty much anything from their three full-length albums (Chain Gang Of Love, Pretty In Black and Lust Lust Lust) and tell me that Glasvegas are doing anything much different, let alone much better.

Of course, that I'm left disappointed is probably inevitable. After all, Glasvegas have only released two singles and still need time to grow - time that's being denied them as more and more expectation and hype is heaped upon them. And perhaps it would have been worth remembering that just because Alan McGee says something's amazing doesn't necessarily make it so. Legend has it that the spiralling recording costs of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless brought Creation to its knees, but what eventually killed it off was some bloody awful signings on the part of its founder.

Let's not overstate things here, though - Glasvegas are far from awful, and in time I suspect I'll be won over. But tonight I can't help but feel I should have stuck to my original plan and gone to see Bletchley no-wavers Action Beat and their four drummers instead...

Link: Del's review of the Barfly gig, before Camden burned down


Ian said...

I'm surprised at my level of distaste for the video you linked (given I at least theoretically approve of the Raveonettes, despite never actually hearing an album), but to quote a much better Scottish band:

The music was crap
The claise was crap
The hair was crap
No saving grace

Del said...

I can certainly see where you're coming from. Sounds like they had a bit of a mare, whereas the night I saw them went perfectly, and the support was so dire, Glasvegas couldn't help but sound great compared to them.

I think the hype is suffocating, and they've been quite smart by releasing the singles in very small quantities. I agree that it's nothing new though, really. 'Daddy's Gone' is refreshing in the current musical climate, as it feels completely different.

I still can't quite make up my mind. Everyone's so keen to jump on the next big thing, that new bands get a backlash after a single release. The irony is that I can't see them being truly huge simply because they're a bit too interesting and different. You have to be nice, pretty and bland to really cross into the mainstream at the moment.

Ben said...

But doesn't releasing the singles in small quantities not ratchet the hype up further by making them exclusive and hard-to-find?

You're absolutely right about the backlash, though. It's unfair, really, to judge them on a single performance, and they aren't the ones responsible for creating this huge buzz around themselves - but it's just impossible to forget all that weight of expectation and watch them as though you've never read or heard anything about them. If I'd gone with no expectations, would I have enjoyed them more? Yes, is the simple answer.

Like you, I can't see them being huge, but judging by the crowd they drew they've certainly got cross-demographic appeal (to use odious marketing-speak)...