Vanity Project Extra Live

Gig Reviews

Monday, June 19, 2006

Wills & The Willing + The Counterfeits - Messclean @ The Frog On The Front, Portsmouth.16/06/06.

The Counterfeits are in the middle of a long trek taking in such delights as The Frog before they head back to their native south-west home; tonight they give a good account of themselves to a small but vocal audience who clearly appreciate the effort and the quality of the songs. Best described as a power trio, the urge is to say they sound a little like The Jam jostling for stage space with Nirvana before The Who nip up with some power chords. These boys clearly have a love for their history as they slip in some blues to the mix and some impressive slide guitar but manage to keep it sounding modern and urgent; indeed they demonstrate an abundance of energy both in performance and in the tunes themselves which come across as heavy yet melodic and full of decent hooks. Well worth making the effort to see if they hit these parts again or you see them advertised for a pub near you, especially if you like good, guitar heavy tunes.

I like the look of Wills & The Willing before they even get on the stage, equipment squashed onto the small stage, big screen erected at the back and god knows where all the band are going to fit on the stage...but you just get that feeling as they come on that you are going to witness something good. In fairness, I knew nothing about them before the gig (my internet search for just Will & The Wiling proved fruitless...that S makes all the difference on Wills!) so I had no idea what to expect. Wolfie on the door of the Frog had informed me they were top notch in soundcheck and that I was in for a treat and they didn't disappoint. The band is fronted by Ian Willis, who comes across as a Cockney wide boy with a voice that he could have nicked from Ian Dury himself; he lets rip with a flow of gritty words best described as street poetry as he talks/raps/sings us around some fantastic stories; to counteract his gruff approach you get the more angelic voice of co-vocalist Gerri Cunningham who floats in and out of the songs as needed and gives a nice balance both vocally and visually. Musically the sound is impressive, a mix of rock n roll, funk and damn fine tunes from a talented band who all have various links to the music business in one form or another; over there is Jason Knight who used to be in Reef and behind the guitar is Jesse Wood, son of Ronnie Wood, so they know their stuff and they do it in some style too. Behind them runs video footage including a surreal piece that seems to be Ian Wills tarted up in a wedding dress and sitting on a sofa next to a chap who looks suspiciously like that Reg Hollis bloke from The Bill (was that his name? I have some distant recollection but I don't watch too much TV!) but it all adds to the fun and the general charisma that oozes from the stage. Of course, as I'm standing there taking it in I do think to myself, what the hell are they playing here for? It's a small crowd and with only two out of town bands on what is essentially a local band night, it gives the feeling of being at something special, one of those gigs that you will be able to look back on and think, I saw them down The Frog, because mark my words, Wills & The Willing are a special band and they fully deserve to be selling out at least The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth if not bigger venues. While the music is good and funky there is no escaping that the star of the show is Ian Wills, his down to earth attitude and poetic words are mesmerizing and he gives off the air of being someone who has been there, done it and probably ended up down the Police station because he did so, but has lived to tell the tale which just adds to the earthiness of this project and makes you want to listen. Easily the best band to have played The Frog this year, shame on you if you didn't come down to investigate, just don't do it again. If you see Wills & The Willing on the gig list, get in there down the front and have a good old knees up and make sure you listen to the words because you won't find anyone who can tell a story like Ian Wills can.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Mescalitas + Star Collector + The Good Time Charlies + The Family + Alex Creesh - Messclean @ The Frog On The Front, Portsmouth. 09/06/06.

Not sure what Alex Creesh is doing on the busy bill tonight, but his acoustic mellowness is lost on a lively crowd looking to party and most of his set is carried away on a wave of chatter before hitting my ears so we'll move on quickly to The Family who sound like the early Rolling Stones playing The Beatles. If Oasis had leaned towards the Stones rather than the Fab Four they would probably have sounded like this, indie blues with that Gallagher swagger and some decent tunes that are raw with a good beat. On a personal level it does little for me as it sounds like too many other bands but there is no doubt that they are good at what they do and they go down well with the slightly drunker elements in the crowd who enjoy a good singalong and dancing session.

The Good Time Charlies ooze quality tonight, no bullshit, just good quality rock n roll that's as tight as an emo ladyboys jeans. The Charlies have somehow managed to get to their 4th album so tonight sees them airing new material alongside some old classics and its chunky riff after riff of good time tunes with Brother Nish conducting affairs centre stage with his flying bass and rock god poses while to his right Craig is the epitome of cool knocking out sexy riffs while fellow guitarist Steve does battle with a limp mic stand and provides classic one liners. Up the back is Andy, who quite frankly scares the shit out of me, a more solid drummer you'll never find and a menacing look that many would kill for. Combined they make classic rock n roll that draws on many influences, a hint of punk, a whiff of the sixties with those tasty vocal melodies that come over as a souped-up Beach Boys, some Turbonegro deathpunk, a few pop hooks and you have hard hitting songs that drip with sing-a-long choruses. Tonight they are sounding tight and full of burning energy, the old and new songs go down a storm and even headliners The Mescalitas are down the front getting down to the rock n roll groove; the good thing about the Charlies is that even though you know they are following a well worn rock n roll path, they still come out sounding like The Charlies rather than a mix of their influences which is no mean feat and tonight shows they are still a valuable asset to the Pompey scene...long live the Charlies and Rock N Roll.

Canadians Star Collector are over for some UK dates and are friends of The Charlies hence their appearance tonight. They are a slightly more polished band in terms of sound taking their cue from that very British power pop kind of sound that nods towards the like of The Who with big songs, big melodies and big power riffs. Indeed, live they are a cracking band full of energy and they seem genuinely pleased that we should be giving them our attention on this hot evening and it kind of endears you to them and I'm more than happy to stand and watch them run through a catchy set. In personal terms it's all a bit nice and shiny for me, I like my rock n roll with a rough edge, a hint of danger and something to really get your teeth into; Star Collector are very good at what they do, there is no doubt about that, if you want big shiny power rock/pop then look no further, you'll lap them and their big tunes up but for me they just lack that dirty element.

Finally we arrive at the much hyped part of the night, The Mescalitas and their little rock n roll circus. Three high-heeled clad ladies with enough attitude to take on the whole of Guildhall Walk in one go and a drunken rabble already worshipping the very ground they walk are they any good? Well, there's no doubt they look good, Gem Jones up there dark eyes smoldering and a pout that could kill at 100 yards strapped into a guitar and letting rip with an impressive voice while ice cool Mel melts hearts with those throbbing bass lines and Gabi Woo over there on the drums has one of those don't mess with me faces; musically they sound pretty decent knocking out fizzing indie garage rock, not as hard as The Good Time Charlies or as polished as Star Collector, but somewhere inbetween...perhaps if The Charlies were female and had added some Shangri-Las into the mix. It would be easy to say they've arrived on the scene on the back of bands like Baby Shambles but they are better than that and while I can think of a good number of bands playing decent rock n roll that are far better in the tune department and probably won't get the exposure that The Mescalitas are going to get eventually, I hold out hope that they will turn into a pretty decent band. At the moment I'm in two minds, I love the tunes on the website and parts of the gig I loved but you get the feeling that all that rock n roll nonsense that overshadows certain bands could happen here which would be a shame as the seeds are there and it depends which way they turn. I feel I need to see them again which is a good sign, there certainly is a good amount of energy flowing around the band and most people seemed impressed by the performance and I'll be keeping an eye on them to se how the sounds develop in the future and let's face it, you can't beat a bit of sexy high-heeled rock n roll as Zodiac Mindwarp and The Love Reaction proclaimed once upon a time in 'High Heel Heaven'!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Halls Of Hecate - Frog On The Front, Portsmouth. 06/06/06.

A satanic seaside special to celebrate the 06/06/06, hosted by those nice dark souls over at Night Of Pan who for a while ran some fetish club nights here in Pompey before upping sticks for London. For this special night they are back with a gig/disco type thing that brings a few old faces out to play, though the fetish element is sadly lacking tonight!

There are three bands to enjoy tonight, the first being $10 Hookers who look like cheap little sluts and rough as hell, but in fairness, it is Dev and Matt from tonight's headliners Little London with friend Brian on bass, dressed in drag for a short and sweet set of raw rock n roll cover versions. They look and sound under rehearsed and no doubt they probably are as they probably got pissed instead. At times it descends into laughter, cheap sexual jokes and just plain old chaos. But it is fun and Matt sat up the back there with his bunches, bashing away on his drums looks surprisingly attractive dressed as a lady which can't be said of Dev whose nipples keep falling out and the deadpan Brian who is a comic genius. They try to end with a version of the Divinyls' 'I Touch Myself' though they fail to reach a climax as it all falls apart in spectacular fashion. Instead we are left with Brian treating us to a bass solo version of 'The Theme From M.A.S.H.', short and sweet, messy and chaotic just like sex with a $10 hooker.

Kolkarma have travelled down from London to make their live debut and take to the stage with youthful energy and a sack full of guitar solos and metal riffs. Their Myspace page lists bands such as SOAD, Tool, Opeth and Deftones as an influence and that's pretty much the kind of area they are working in; classic metal that is hard hitting, forever changing direction and certainly not afraid to stick in a number of screaming guitar solos. The material they play is solid and energetic but lacking in personality at the moment as is their stage manner, but they are decent musicians and I am confident that they will mould new tunes that start to sound like Kolkarma rather than a number of other bands ploughing a similar furrow.

With a weekend stint at the Isle Of Wight festival looming, tonight is an opportunity for Little London to cut loose and enjoy themselves. Veterans of NOP events, they look at home on the stage, unfazed by the rather gothic crowd; in true LL style they grab us by the balls, squeeze hard and make us all a little moist with their potent rock n roll. You should all know the score by now as I've reviewed them often enough...low slung, dirty, balls out rock n roll. Nice and easy, no fuss, straight in there, do the job and get back to the Jack Daniels. In terms of LL gigs it's a little messy, I've seen them hit harder, I've heard them clearer and I've seen Dev less drunk (& more drunk!) but they never fail to impress. As individuals they are top notch performers, Tom slapping away on his bass while Matt delivers perfect shots on the drums. Fuller, who cannot ever die apparently, whips out crunching riffs while frontman Dev just looks pretty for the ladies and does legs apart rock star poses while wearing cowboy hats and singing about JD, coke and Love Reactions. Great band to end the night on and looks like others have realised too as they destroyed the IOW festival and those nice Nokia people have asked them to play at the Reading Festival...result. Check them out if you are round that way come August.

With DJs Hell & Khem rounding off the night with lovely dark and heavy sounds we are treated to one last performance that is more in line with NOP events; a semi-clad lady covered in paint jumps up on the bar, climbs across tables cuts her clothes off with a knife and proceeds to dance around with not much on and engages in a bit of girl on girl action while being whipped and spanked. It's what we expect from a NOP event and is treated as normal behaviour as we watch, laugh and hope we don't get attacked with the sharp looking knife. A fine end to the evening & a pleasure to have the Night Of Pan people back in Portsmouth for a night of dark delights.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Trash Money + Buswell + Lee Cooper & The Outsiders - Messclean @ The Frog On The Front, Portsmouth. 02/06/06.

Another sauna at Messclean as the heat draws in and the sun belts down; just the three bands to entertain us tonight and all is not well in the sound department as some big rumbling sound randomly attacks Lee Cooper & The Outsiders that gradually frustrates the band more and more, but fair play to them, they battle through but they strike me as the type of band that really need a big perfect sound to capture their true essence. Musically they stray between country twang and dark Nick Cave inspired folk rock and it's a shame that the violin can't be heard more tonight along with the female backing vocals as they would really add something to the mix. I suppose we are talking good old fashioned singer/songwriter material here except backed by a full band, so lyrically the songs have depth and are backed up by well crafted, melodic tunes. They will probably put it down as one to forget, but the quality still shone through.

Swindon based Buswell are an absolute delight, a melodic surprise that deal in epic hooks with sweeps of fiddle and keyboards playing upon the acoustic driven riffs of the frontman who possesses one of those strong but sensitive voices. Buswell have that ability to take big pop sounding melodies but turn them into something with more depth and they really have no interest in jumping on the latest bandwagon or being the hippest band out there; more a case of letting the quality shine through, the keyboards twinkle and the fiddle weave a cheery path through an acoustic sunset that basks in warmth and lush melodies. When done wrong this type of material is dull as ditchwater but when put in the hands of such an infectiously happy and friendly band it comes alive and their energy and joy in the music is clear to anyone in the venue. I admit, when I saw them take to the stage I wasn't expecting to really enjoy it but result to Buswell, they scooped me up with their fine songs and won me over. I look forward to the next time they hit Portsmouth, don't leave it too long chaps.

And on to Trash Money who are nothing like the two previous bands and decide to set us on fire with good old glam trash rock n roll. Fucking brilliant is all I should need to say, the guitars splay into a thousand little stars with every riff, the drums are trashy just as they should be for a band with the word Trash in their name and is that a feint with of an electro undercurrent coming from somewhere? I believe so and it's giving a nice pumping feeling to the tunes and we'd better not forget the down below this review somewhere is one I did for The Beautiful South where I said those two chaps who sing for them are the oddest couple I've seen, but Trash Money have beaten it! Splashing across the front of the stage is one skinny hyperactive Hanoi Rocks t-shirt wearing punk ball of energy that spits forth as if possessed by the very spirit of punk while behind him roams a much larger chap clad in ill fitting jacket and jeans who looks like he's wandered out of a student union and into the wrong pub; he spends the gig prowling the back of the stage adding the odd vocal and every now and then moves to the front to do some split throat roaring before placing his hand back into his jacket pocket and heading back to the back of the stage. It's really quite unnerving and it really shouldn't work but it's a fantastic racket as you would expect from someone who labels themselves Trash Money. Tonight they became one of my new favourite bands, filthy rock n roll the way it should be, not packaged in any way, just pure undiluted trash and it feels good.
If only I had realised at the time,that the guitarist Molly, whom I was having a very pleasant drunken natter with after the gig was the same Molly who had fronted a fine band called LK a few years back (search out the album Graceless on Island Records, quite brilliant) I would have wet myself, it just didn't click until reading the names on the website! So Molly, an honour to have spoken to you and Trash Money I salute your raw, filthy rock n roll, as I said at the start of the review, fucking brilliant and I look forward to next time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Beautiful South + Aberfeldy - Guildhall Portsmouth. 28/05/06.

Another day of doing local crew work and sometimes you kind of think you are not that bothered about seeing a particular band and The Beautiful South fall into that category. I'll admit I've tapped my foot to the odd tune on the TV or radio but beyond that it's not really my kind of thing, so I was planning to come back quite late and just catch the last few numbers before getting back to the job of clearing all the gear away when I noticed the stage running times pinned up and saw the name Aberfeldy as support band. A-ha, I thought to myself, I recognise that name from an EP I reviewed for VP quite a while back, I'll have to come back and check them out. The EP in question was a 4 track 7" put out by Mute/Rough Trade that contained some old Primal Scream/Josef K stuff along with the rather fine track Vegetarian Restaurant by Aberfeldy and I'm sure glad I picked that single up because it would have been a travesty to miss their fine set.

Aberfeldy are a fine looking bunch from Edinburgh made up of the handsome Riley Briggs on vocals/guitars, rock n roll drummer Murray Briggs, Ken McIntosh over on bass, the lovely Sarah McFadyen playing her fiddle/keyboards while doing backing vocals and the equally lovely Ruth Barrie who moves between keyboards either side of the stage and also does angelic backing vocals. They've got the perfect sound for the start of summer, bright melodies, the threeway vocal harmonies...they positively shimmer and sparkle up on the Guildhall stage. Aberfeldy have a big pop heart, with a nod to all things that are jangly, spangly and indie by way of some sexily squelching keyboard action and not forgetting that lovely fiddle that weaves it's way into the mix...must be the time of year for fiddles and violins, I've seen about 4 bands use them in the last couple of weeks; they also allow themselves to hit a heavier groove (I have it on good authority that a couple of these chaps used to cover the mighty Turbonegro in a past life!) but it's always done with one eye on those delightful melodies that drip like honey from the flowering buds of Aberfeldy. They must have some honey jars stored back home that they keep all their melodies in and when they arrive back they just dip their hands in and pull out another. It was well worth coming back early to catch them and despite the fact that I'd only heard Vegetarian Restaurant before tonight they made me feel right at home and each song had something to grab onto that drew you in and bounced you along on the crest of a wave with them; they seemed to go down well with the BS crowd who appreciated the fine tunes and I would heartily recommend them to anyone with a love of real indie music, lush melodies and fine lyrics.

So, because of Aberfeldy I'm now here to watch The Beautiful South and while much of it isn't the kind of stuff I'd rush out to buy, one can't help but enjoy the bouncey tunes and fine wordplay of Paul Heaton. In fact, you couldn't get anything that looked more out of place than the twin vocalists of Heaton and Dave Hemingway who, in all honesty, looks like he'd rather be anywhere else than on stage, hidden as he is behind a cap and shades with minimal audience contact. Heaton, meanwhile is born for the stage, camping it up with dance moves and interacting with the audience. Of course, we must not forget Alison Wheeler who provides all the upfront female vocals in great style and a fine band including a full brass ensemble who really add to the sound. Although out to promote a new album there is no shortage of well known hits in the set list and it's hard not to enjoy the likes of Song For Whoever, Old Red Eyes, A little Time, One Last Lovesong, Perfect Ten & Keep It All In; most of the set is crowd pleasing and there's plenty of dancing and singing along going on and the newer material sits well in amongst the standards. One can't get away from the lyrical side of the band though, without Heaton's acerbic wit and life observations the band wouldn't be half as interesting; but tonight I've seen the band in a new light and while I wouldn't say I'm a fan I certainly appreciate them more than I did previously and I was happy that they played Perfect Ten, the only song they've done that I've really loved!