You can’t download a show. It’s no understatement to say that the internet changed almost everything. Today, imagining a world without Wi-Fi is tantamount to imagining a world without cars – we probably could just about manage, but everything would take an awful lot longer. Certainly, the way we discover, listen to and even create music has changed beyond all recognition from when I first started exploring it back in the early nineties – with one very important exception: The live performance. Nothing quite replaces the sensation of standing in small dark rooms while large men make tremendous amounts of noise. Certainly not the footage captured on phones and watched through YouTube or a patchy live stream. Which is where my new, regular monthly column comes in – a celebration of live music. How jolly convenient.
So let’s start from the top. Hello. I’m Simon, and I am a gig junkie. I am able to feed and nurture my raging addiction on a very regular basis, because I live and work in London (that’s the big one in the UK, not the one in Ontario) and have managed to blunder through to my forties without having accumulated any awkward responsibilities that would limit my free time in the evenings. Like children. My gig-going average has been above once per week for many, many years, and I usually squeeze in a couple of festivals a year too. Since the start of 2015, when I finally got around to starting a complete record, I’ve seen more than 500 different bands play somewhere around 900 sets. Just to be clear, I don’t count myself as having “seen” a band unless I watch at least three songs of their set. It’s been busy, but a tremendous amount of fun. Wherever possible, I prefer my first substantive exposure to a band to be watching them on one of the many and various stages across the city, and I’ve made some truly glorious discoveries by simply turning up as doors open. But we can talk more about that some other time.
We have lots to talk about. As I type, my intention is to enthuse about some of the cooler shows I’ve seen in the last month, look forward to shows in the near future and also talk a bit more broadly about getting the most out the live music experience, both as a punter and a performer, as we go along. I hope that sounds like fun. Naturally, these columns will all be rather London-centric, but I have a couple of excursions further afield in the diary for later in the year, and I hope to show that London is one of the best places on the planet to be a gig junkie.
What on earth is a disco loadout anyway?
Before we fully get into it, I suppose it is worth just answering that question. In brief, “disco loadout” is slang for the practice of a venue running a show, but slapping a 10pm curfew on the event, herding the punters straight out of the building and re-opening as a nightclub by 11pm – leaving bands to attempt to carry their gear out through this second batch of late night revellers. Simple, really. It’s a practice I’ve become more at peace within my advancing years. As a youngling, I’d be looking to dance until the wee smalls, whereas now the thing I most look forward to after the bands have finished is a nice sit-down. It happens to us all. Again, maybe we can talk more about the relative merits of the disco loadout in the future. But, for now, I just like saying the phrase out loud. Try it.
Gig of the Month – Dead Cross, Camden Underworld
The gods must be smiling on me. For my inaugural column, I’ve been presented with a true “only in London” moment. Having played the Download festival on Sunday afternoon, virtually the moment they came off stage, the announcement was made that Dead Cross would be playing a surprise show at the Camden Underworld the very next night. Holy shit.
Just for the avoidance of doubt, Dead Cross are fronted by Mike Patton, who is my all-time, number one, no questions asked, no holds barred musical hero. Having watched him perform with pretty much all of his major projects over the last 20 years or so, the Underworld is the smallest venue he has played in the city by a quite considerable margin. Oh yeah, and Dead Cross’ drummer is Dave Lombardo. You should look out for him, I think he’s going places. Mashing my credit card numbers into my laptop within seconds of seeing the announcement, my spot was secured, and the 500 capacity room was fully sold out in a little over two hours. Sometimes, a raging social media addiction pays off.
It’s also typical of Patton to arrange an awkward, leftfield support for his shows. The first Faith No More reunion show at Brixton was opened by relentless charmers Selfish Cunt and big band Flat Earth Society opened for Fantomas, just to grab a couple of examples off the top of my head. Tonight, proceedings are opened by local duo Necro Deathmort. Taking up their positions behind banks of gizmos, they push out pulsing electronica that seems to be characterized by long builds with a precious little payoff at the end of them. The crowd reaction seems more polite than enthusiastic, and I can’t really say it draws me in. So I withdraw to take on fluids and nicotine before the main event.
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Dead Cross don’t mess about. Hurtling through a setlist that represents the entirety of their recorded output to date with the bare minimum of fuss or banter. Patton energizes the pit early on with a cheeky crowd-surf, but with the average age of the crowd definitely over 35, it never gets particularly intense in there. Their sound may be loose, caustic and high-velocity, but with such a fearsome collection of experience onstage, the performance is as tight as it gets – to the point where there aren’t even audible count-ins before the songs. Mind-blowing.
Of course, getting to see your idols perform in such close proximity will always generate some cherished memories, and the night will live long in my anecdote collection. Not least the fact that when they file out for an encore, Dave starts beating out a particularly distinctive tom pattern. Dum-dum-dum…. anticipation and incredulity fill the room, which completely erupts as the band play the intro to “Raining Blood”. Holy shit. But, in a masterful piece of trolling, the intro is all we get. Rather than going into the verse, the band makes a handbrake turn into the chorus of “Epic”, before shifting gears one last time into a full rendition of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to close out the night. Magical and mischievous, which is Patton to a tee.
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The Best of the Rest – A Perfect Circle, Brixton Academy
Editor’s note: the review below for A Perfect Circle’s London show was written prior to the rape allegations leveled against frontman Maynard James Keenan. Until this matter is resolved, Heavy Blog believes the accuser (as we’ve always done in the past) and won’t be covering Keenan or his diverse projects. However, out of respect for our writers, their work and the venue which hosted them, we’ve decided to run the below text anyway.
In a normal month, the first UK shows for A Perfect Circle in fourteen years would have comfortably walked away with the gig of the month slot, but here we are. Despite a rather lukewarm response to new album Eat The Elephant, Brixton Academy is full to (and probably beyond) capacity for the first of two dates in the venue. As has been the case since at least the last time APC visited the UK, for all of Maynard’s various performances, there is a strict ban on any form of camera. This effectively translates into a ban on phone use in the auditorium. This has its pluses and its minuses, but I think we’ll save that discussion for another, quieter, time.
But, whilst we may not have any documentary evidence to prove it, APC deliver one of the best shows I’ve seen in this prestigious venue. Most importantly, the sound is unbelievably clear and crisp. Opening with the downbeat “Eat The Elephant”, it feels like Maynard is singing directly into our ears, making the show feel considerably more intimate. But they also bring a carefully considered physical stage set, with video screens both wrapped around the three risers on stage (for Maynard, the drums and guitars/keys respectively) and integrated into the lighting rig above them. It’s certainly the biggest spectacle I’ve seen in this space since Tool played here back in 2007, which is probably no coincidence.
The set is weighted in favour of the latest album, and there are a couple of curveballs thrown into the mix – not least the inclusion of a clutch of tracks from eMOTIVe – the covers of “Imagine” and “Peace Love and Understanding” and, most frustratingly, the significantly inferior version of “Pet”, “Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm of the War Drum”. As they say, you can’t have everything, especially if you were hoping to hear “Judith”, but they hit enough of their greatest hits for nobody to feel short-changed. We also already know that we’re not going to have to wait an age to see them again, as there is a date booked for Wembley Arena in December, their biggest UK show to date. The Arena is usually a bit too large for my tastes, but for A Perfect Circle, exceptions may have to be made.
The Rest of the Rest
Naturally, I’ve been to a lot more than two shows this month, so let’s just quickly barrel through some other highlights and points of interest:
Although it actually fell at the very end of May, I caught Heart of a Coward‘s first show with new vocalist Kaan Tasan at a sold-out Boston Music Room. Kaan obviously brings a slightly different tone and timbre than Jamie, but “different” does not mean “worse”. Given that Heart of a Coward have been gradually edging in a more melodic direction as they have matured, the new material is likely to play to Kaan’s strengths, and he still does justice to the old material. Their promising set was also underpinned by solid supports from Harbinger and From Sorrow To Serenity, two of the brighter hopes stomping around the UK metal underground right now.
As part of Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival season on the South Bank, I went to see Alcest perform all of Kodama (supported by Emma Ruth Rundle) in the prestigious surroundings of Queen Elizabeth Hall. More a recital than a gig, everyone sat in neat rows, and polite silence, to watch the bands. A very pleasant, if slightly bizarre, experience – but certainly no more bizarre than the folks attempting to windmill headbang in a seated position during some of the heavier sections.
Karma To Burn played a surprisingly intimate show at the Black Heart – surprisingly, I’d never caught them before, and started strong with their no-nonsense instrumental riffery. However, a combination of perpetual technical issues, guitarist William clearly being impaired through drink and the hot, airless room meant that the set gradually deteriorated. With minimal stage banter, we were left waiting for at least five minutes before a rather lacklustre rendition of “Twenty” closed out the night, and I kinda wish I’d left early. Disappointing, but let’s just hope it was a bad night for them. Openers Desert Storm, too, kick out an impressively thick heavy-Clutch sound, but need to write more songs that really make the most of it. I’ll be keeping an eye on them.
Finally, current rising favourites Conjurer played a one-off set with a collection of bands I was unfamiliar with at The Lexington. I prefer to do minimal research into bands before I see them, so I head to the show with no idea what to expect. Jangly indie-pop was certainly not high on the list. With both the preceding bands sounding much more at home in the pages of NME than Metal Hammer, I was curious to see what the enthusiastic crowd would make of Conjurer’s gargantuan, sludge-dripping riffs. Opening with the most caustic song in their repertoire, “Retch”, the change of pace is immediate and dramatic – and the room goes berserk. Maybe this crowd is more open-minded than I gave them credit for, or maybe Conjurer’s live show is so arresting that people can’t help but get swept along with it for forty minutes. Probably a bit of both. I have two more Conjurer shows in the diary in the next couple of months – a slot at Tech Fest, and opening for the mighty Frontierer in August – and I’m going to take every opportunity I can to watch them flatten small venues while I still have the chance. You should too.
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My diary for the next month is dominated by Tech Fest. As you will have probably guessed if you read my primer to the festival last week, I bloody love Tech Fest, so I’m going to have an awful lot to say about that. The festival weekend itself is bookended by London shows from Voyager (supported by personal favourites of mine Sumer) and The Hirsch Effekt. As well as playing the festival, Employed to Serve will be returning to London at the end of the month to play their devastating latest album The Warmth of a Dying Sun in full. That’s going to be a crash helmet and knee-pads affair. I’m also looking forward to seeing rap-metal supergroup Powerflo, but probably for the wrong reasons, as well as dance-rock herberts Seething Akira, prog weirdos Poly-Math and hardcore stompers Palm Reader for the right ones. Further afield, I’m already getting tingly with anticipation for August shows from Plini (supported by the amazing Toska and the live debut of Disperse guitarist Jakub Zyteki‘s solo project) and that Frontierer show.
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Just to close out this first column with some kind of final, general point about live music, I’m just going to take a moment to stress the importance of protecting your hearing when watching bands. There seems to be a curious machismo in some quarters around pointedly not wearing earplugs, just as there is around not wearing sunscreen, and it is unspeakably foolish. I have worn ear plugs to shows religiously for well over fifteen years, and I am pleased to report that my hearing has remained largely intact – although I’m now starting to think that it’s time to make the jump into a getting a custom-moulded pair made, as I’m certainly not getting any younger. But, be that as it may, provided you don’t rely on those awful foam things that well-meaning venues will now hand out over the bar, a good set of off-the-shelf plugs will protect your ears and not break the bank if you happen to mislay them and allow you to carry on enjoying metal at loud volumes well past the point that you’re really old enough to know better. Hell, if you’ve forgotten your regular plugs, those foam ones will do for one night, anything is better than nothing. Oh, and your iPhone earbuds don’t count, either. No, not even “noise canceling” ones.
Just think, next time you’re laying in bed listening to the sound of your tinnitus ringing after watching a show without plugs, you are literally listening to the sound of your hearing deteriorating. It’s a one-way street, for some people it can be longer than others, but it’s still only going in that one direction, and its destination is hearing that sound all day, every day, with no respite, no matter what you do. Forever. Wear earplugs next time. Sleep tight.