Monday, May 02, 2005

Bad Timing

I do love you The Windmill, I really do - but if you're going to locate your music venue a good 10 minutes walk from Brixton station, it would be really helpful if you managed to finish your gigs in time to catch the last train. On Friday, I bit the bullet and left the Major Matt Mason USA gig early, but I steadfastly stayed to the end of the Broken Family Band set on Saturday and left myself a lengthy journey home on two night buses.

The Mason gig was a bit of a mixed bag - I was both horrified and amused to see the return of the strange vertically challenged performance poet I once saw play with Hot Chip at the Spitz club (the line-up that left Alexis Taylor in an exceptionally grumpy mood, as Hot Chip took to the stage over an hour late). His screechy rhymes are bearable for about 10 minutes and, mercifully, that was about the length of his set. I then remember a band who had some pleasant harmonies, but some very dull arrangements and a girl group (who I think were called Pantsuit), who included the drummer from Schwervon! amongst their number and played a sharp, punchy set of endearing girl pop.

Matt Mason himself played an engaging solo set, full of dry humour and laconic vocalising. I was not familiar with his songs - but given the reliance on his delivery and lyrics, they were the kind of songs that, given attentive listening, reap immediate rewards. One song saw Mason sing from the perspective of a dog and was quite brilliant - a kind of slowed-down, drawling skiffle song. Later, he brought some of the members of Pantsuit on stage for a couple of numbers, but the pace remained as hazily listless as ever. An enjoyable set - but it was sadly at this point that I had to depart.

The Saturday line-up was more consistent. The opening set from The Morning People (fronted by Sam Inglis, who used to run the singer-songwriter night at The Boat Race in Cambridge, and still runs it at its new home The Man On The Moon) was wonderful. These were inspired, humorous and sharp indie-pop songs given a twist of Americana by virtue of some lovely slide and lead guitar. They also had a keyboard player who favoured the high-register, plonky one-finger keyboard lines that are infectious as hell. There were just so many fantastic songs here - a song arguing, quite convincingly, that even the achievements of minor celebrities should be recognised. Strange metaphors were in abundance, most notably on the delightful 'Rocking Horse Shit'. 'Older Women' provided a light-hearted, if probably sincere, paen to the virtues of the, erm, older woman. It certainly made me chuckle, even if it did rather steal the thunder from Chris Trigg's equaly splendid 'Older Girls', as yet unheard except by a select few. 'Guilty Pleasures' provided exactly the kind of thrill its title implied it might. This is the sort of band that deserves to be heard by more people - but will no doubt sadly remain playing a small clutch of gigs in pub backrooms. Check out their website and be sure to catch them next time they make it to a venue near you.

After that, we had the acoustic singer-songwriter Elephant Micah, who closely resembled Joel Gibb from the Hidden Cameras, but sadly lacked Joel's gift for an insistent melody. In fact, even Joel's less subtle modes of provocation would have been welcome here, as the set was so calm and meandering it proved all too easy to ignore.

Next up were Abesentee, clearly strong favourites of The Broken Family Band, as they had already filled the support slot at The 100 Club a few months ago. Nothing had changed much in their set - the two most striking elements of their act, being the girl with the peculiar retro fashion sense (huge bug glasses and cowboy hat), and the tiny frontman with an unnervingly deep voice (sounding not unlike Smog's Bill Callahan). They sounded pleasant, but only occasionally enervated enough to be truly striking, and I was unable to distinguish the words, which may have acted against them. Still, there's plenty of promise and it would seem more than likely that I might catch them again some time soon.

As for BFB, this probably won't rank among their best gigs. It wasn't as drunken and riotuous as the first of their three gigs at The Windmill that I've seen, and it certainly didn't have the hometown thrill of their Strawberry Fair performances. In fact, despite Steve Adams' apparent drunkenness, they still used the occasion as an opportunity to showcase new material, most of which seemed to start with a slow drawl and suddenly accelerate into a brisk country-punk hoedown. This harmonisation of the two most distinct elements of their sound may provide them with the refashioning of the established formula that they really need, and I thought that there was plenty of promise in songs like 'You're Like A Woman' and 'The Booze and The Drugs', even if lyrically, they seemed to be mining an already familiar seam. Talking of mining, in leaving early, John Kell was unlucky to miss a fantastically raucous interpretation of Leonard Cohen's 'Diamonds In The Mine' which proved to be the highlight of the gig for me. They then played a couple of songs that may have been new, or may have been very old (I still haven't got round to picking up a copy of 'The King Will Build A Disco') and a strangely subdued encore of 'Devil In The Details' and the beautiful 'John Belushi' (clearly now a firm fan favourite judging by the number of people singing along). They ended with 'In Yer Bedroom' and I left, hoping to just catch the last train, but actually missing it by a matter of seconds. Ho hum.

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