Monday 25 January 2010

Them Crooked Vultures - Edinburgh Corn Exchange 15 December 2009

Article originally published on Is This Music?, and is therefore their copyrighted material:

I can’t imagine Josh Homme was too popular with the Corn Exchange staff, who are more at home doing wedding receptions and corporate events, when he told the sold out crowd they were welcome to climb on peoples’ shoulders, drink heavily and crowd surf.

Probably even less popular when he handed his half-necked bottle of vodka into the crowd for them to pass around.

But this “we’re going to do it anyway” motto is one that Them Crooked Vultures (photo by Trixta Photography) seem to subscribe to strongly. It’s clear that the band are playing the music they want to play. Clearly written in jams, it seems very little thought has been put into mundane nuances like catchiness, commerciality and accessibility. Instead the band favour concepts like ‘edge’, ‘balls’, and how fun the song is to play.

The three piece are the very definition of a hard rock supergroup, made up of Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal, on lead vocals and guitar, Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, playing the drums, and John Paul Jones, of Led Zeppelin, playing the bass; three household names in the world of rock music.

That effectively gives them license to do whatever they want (and apparently encourage the crowd to do the same), and what they’ve decided they want to do it play riff-driven tunes with lots of heavy guitars, noisy bass parts and keyboard parts.

While the songs often flirt with some brilliant riffs, they seem to go off on sonic adventures and lose focus. Most of their tunes probably go on too long to be radio friendly as well. However, you can’t fault the band on their variety. While at times they play White Stripes-style dirty blues, at other times they experiment with high doses of psychedelia, and then they fall into some alternative metal and come out of it dripping with distortion and feedback.

It will be surprising to some to learn that Josh Homme is the only one of the gang who is on microphone duty. Not even Dave Grohl, who is completely confident in front of the microphone in his own band, interacted with the audience at all. He just hid behind his long hair and massive drums, just like the Nirvana days, and supplied the occasional harmony.

John Paul Jones’ contribution was indeed significant. Playing some electric piano, as well as riff bass and stretching the instrument to play sub-bass, the elder statesmen of the trio held his own against the young bucks. Although there is really no excuse good enough to get away with coming on stage with a 12 string bass.

The fourth corner of the square is Alain Johannes, who is joining the trio for the tour. A virtuoso guitar player, the band even gave him a chance to perform some solo blues guitar. As he slid and jammed all over the fretboard, Johannes held the crowd in the palm of his hand, and he’s just the session player.

Overall, as rule-breaking as they may act, Them Crooked Vultures are not re-writing the book of rock, but the audience went there to see three of their heroes rock hard, and that’s what they got.
Myke Hall

Friday 22 January 2010

Franz Nicolay and Mark Eitzel - Cabaret Voltaire Edinburgh 4 Nov 2009

In an interview with Stereokill, Franz Nicolay(pictured) is quoted as saying, "I think musicians had two business models for thousands of years: the Troubadour, where you had to travel from town to town and sing for your supper, or the Patron, where you courted the favour and worked at the pleasure of the idle rich."

It’s clear from his performance, if not directly from his music, that Franz Nicolay really is a man from another time. On stage he's more of a cabaret performer than a musician (appropriate considering the venue title). Between songs, he tells stories from his travels and makes jokes, smiling broadly from behind his Mario Bros moustache and his black suit and hat.

Franz’ voice is as rich as the red wine he drinks straight from the bottle, and has the air of professional vocal training. He plays some songs on the guitar, and others on the banjo, both of which he can handle with ease. Fans of The Hold Steady will know there are few instruments Franz hasn't mastered. His style can be applied to rock, folk, even ragtime tunes, but most often he employs it for stirring, inspirational ballads.

Through the content of his lyrics, it’s clear Franz has not only a fistful of life experience and a worldly view on life, but also a cultured taste. Though he appears to be a man of the past, he also seems to be able to predict the trends of the future; one of his songs references 'Nick and Nora'. It’s not clear whether that's a reference to the 1934 book The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, one of the six films, the TV series or the radio show that the novel spun off, the 1991 Broadway musical based on the same characters, or the novel 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' that was inspired by the characters. Whichever it was, the characters have recently been seen on cinema screens in the 2008 adaptation of 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist'. So has Hollis Mason, subject of Franz's song 'The Ballad of Hollis Wadsworth Mason Junior' and narrator of the 1986 classic Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen and the 2009 film adaptation. For a man who seems to be from the past, he certainly does seem to see into the future.

Despite appearing without his backing band of indie all-stars, Major General, the coup de grĂ¢ce of an excellent solo set was his performance of the hard rocking Jeff Penalty, a song about the now-grown-up punk scenester’s relationship with the Dead Kennedy's front man. Franz performed the song with enthusiasm, slaughtering his guitar strings and stomping his foot resoundingly on the hard wooden floor, lost in the energy of the song until about two thirds of the way through, where he embarrassingly filled a quieter bit by explaining "this is the part where there's usually a guitar solo".

There are some stark contrasts between Franz Nicolay and his touring partner, Mark Eitzel. While the San Francisco man, formerly lead singer of American Music Club, also sports a Fedora, a suit and facial hair, their music and performance style differ greatly. Franz bubbles over with positivity, showmanship, and an entertainer's spirit. Mark Eitzel is a different breed. His is a self-deprecating dark humour, and his stories, he contends, intriguing as they may be, are situations were he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's almost too shy for the stage, but it would be such a shame if he didn't get up there and tell his crazy stories and sing his beautiful tunes.

Mark is an old fashioned crooner. With just a piano accompaniment, his rich, deep, somewhat throaty voice glowed like hot embers. Mark reminds us of how powerful music could still be long before rock and roll existed, and how a great singer and some piano are sometimes all you need for a moving performance.

Some of his most memorable pieces included his rendition of the classic 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco', which his style took to a dark, regretful place, and the song The Blood on My Hands, during which he was joined on stage by Franz Nicolay for accordion and backing vocals.
Myke Hall

Thursday 14 January 2010

Nine Black Alps and Sucioperro - Electric Circus Edinburgh 28 Oct 2009

Sucioperro have brought intelligence to a genre that demands nothing but passion. The guitar and drums have been carefully formulated to compliment each other very well. The guitar itself is usually highly distorted, but also makes use of muting and bright picking parts in order to provide a wide variety of sounds to Sucioperro's range of tunes, meaning their sound can stretch between uplifting power rock ('Don't Change (What You Can't Understand)') to grunge-metal ('Dirty Dirty Sick Sick'). Sometimes the use of guitar goes a step further to a level of some serious creativity; there are some very interesting sliding and harmonic sounds in 'Liquids,' for example.

The bass is strong throughout, playing root notes when required, and playing more playful riffs that parry the movements of guitar and drums when there is room to. The drums are consistently tight and snappy. The vocals do sometimes suffer from ‘Transatlantic Syndrome’, that is, a Scotsman trying to sing in the American accent of the band he's inspired by, but this is not true of every track.

On stage, the Ayr trio have no problem executing complex songs without breaking a sweat, and are watchable without being cocky.

The other comment to make about Sucioperro is their colour co-ordination. All in black and red, with armbands and crosses, matching the drum kit too. There were no such stylistic concerns when Nine Black Alps (pictured) took to the stage.

Nine Black Alps’ first album was hailed by grunge fans for picking up where Nirvana left off. Screamed vocals, angry lyrics with dark metaphors, and chromatic overdriven major chords typified their songs, and a dishevelled, brand-free dress sense and unkempt hair characterized their image. Since then, they have expanded their sound, taking lessons from post-Seattle sound bands like The Vines and Bush.

Now on their third album, the four-piece haven't gained much in the way of commercial success. But their performance has the heart of a band playing what they love, and there is still enough of an audience there to keep them going, which is all any musician really needs.

The two guitars match each other, countering each other's heavy riffs and elevating the song, instead of just copying one another. The drums have the right amount of violence to keep the audience rocking out; while still being controlled enough contribute to the architecture of the whole tune, rather than just the foundations.

The band gave an exuberant performance with an unstoppable spirit, really feeling every chord they struck and I look forward to the next time they’re in town.
Myke Hall