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Top Gigs of 2014: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Tuesday, 23rd December 2014 at 11:00 am
 

2014, 2014, tsk tsk tsk. When it came to live shows, you put in some tense situations where I couldn’t understand the lead singer in his normal speaking voice (Glasvegas at DC’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel in February), feared for my life because the heat was proving a bit too much (Slow Club at Sheffield Great Gatsby in May), got grossed out by other punters’ grinding (Glass Animals at DC’s U Street Music Hall in July), and needed to take a train to another town and back, all in one evening (Fatherson at Edinburgh Potterow in October). But it was in good fun, as you were always entertaining. Here are my top 5 live experiences this year:

5. The Dig at Black Cat Backstage (4th December 2014) – watching a band you’ve come to know and love evolve over time, and who just keep getting better and better, is probably one of the greatest blessings given to a music editor. The Dig, who I saw support Editors 4 years ago, are one of those bands. December gigs are hard to pull off in Washington – people are lazy to come out once the weather turns cold – but they came out in droves for this show Thursday night the first week in December for the New Yorkers. They’re ready for their close-up, folks.

Reminisce through TGTF’s back catalogue on the Dig through this link.

4. Glass Animals at Glasgow CCA (17th October 2014) – after you’ve seen a band many times, the gigs all start to blur together, especially you’re seeing them when they’ve only got their one debut album to promote. Glass Animals shows are always interesting, if only to view the wildlife on display in the audience, but the Oxford band were in fine form even on the last UK date on their tour in October. I was expecting them to be completely beat, after returning the week before from a whirlwind North American campaign and subsisting on far too little sleep. Perhaps it was the party atmosphere in Glasgow on a Friday night, the CCA stuffed to the gills with punters, that turned this gig up to 11? Vibes, man. Vibes.

Glass Animals have been a favourite at TGTF since last year, and you can read all of our coverage on them here.

Glass Animals at Glasgow CCA

3. Fenech-Soler at Brooklyn Glasslands (5th April 2014) – good things come to those who wait. Or so the saying goes. Even though I had to trek up to New York for this one, Fenech-Soler was definitely worth it for me to finally hear songs from both their debut album in 2010 and 2013’s ‘Rituals’. I haven’t danced that hard in ages. (Meeting Ben and Ross Duffy and getting to chat with them for this interview was definitely a personal highlight of 2014 as well.) I waited 4 long years to see electro-pop band Fenech-Soler to do a proper show in the States, and since I saw them at this show (at a venue that sadly will no longer exist in 2015, sob), they’ve done a couple tours in our country, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Our pretty comprehensive archive on Fenech-Soler here at TGTF is this way.

2. Maximo Park at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel (20th May 2014) – like Fenech-Soler, Maximo Park was a band I had missed seeing, and for even longer (beyond 6 years). It had nothing to do with them never coming to DC; I was either not here when they’d come or the show I’d had tickets to see them at had been cancelled. If you’ve never seen Paul Smith and co. perform, wow, you need to do yourself a favour and rectify that ASAP. I came to appreciate their latest album ‘Too Much Information’ much more after seeing it performed. Also, you always know the band you’ve come to see play is pulling out all the stops when the set list spills out over 2 pages. I’m looking forward to the next time they return to Washington. And to those asking, yes, Paul Smith really does give those reinforced trousers a workout.

Check out our writings on TGTF on the Geordie band here.

1. Royal Blood at DC9 (20th July 2014) – this gig can be best summed up with one word: PHWOAR. Perhaps my only prior experience with Mike Thatcher and Ben Kerr – Thursday at SXSW 2014, playing Lammo’s BBC Introducing night – didn’t sit well in my head because there is always too much background noise from other acts in Austin to really concentrate and appreciate on just one. At their first, and I might add rammed, headline show in DC, eyes and ears all glued on them with good reason. As those who waited for them to play at the John Peel stage at Glasto this year know, this duo from Brighton pack a massive punch in their successful effort to bring hard rock back. Best new British guitar band? Forget it. Best new British guitar duo’s where it’s at.

All of TGTF’s coverage on Royal Blood is right this way.

After the cut: the full list of all the gigs, in reverse chronological order, that I’ve been to in 2014. The runner-up gigs are also marked.
Continue reading Top Gigs of 2014: Editor’s Picks

 

Live Gig Video: Maximo Park perform ‘Give, Get, Take’ in Newcastle Bridge Tavern

 
By on Tuesday, 21st October 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

The latest promo from Geordie stalwarts Maximo Park is for ‘Give, Get, Take’, the opening track from their current album ‘Too Much Information’, released in February.

As noted by the Maximo devoted, their last video for ‘Midnight on the Hill’ didn’t feature the band at all, so this performance video in a space well loved by and truly important to the North East band is a nice change. Somehow, I felt I’d been there before, so I asked the band on Twitter if my gut feeling had any merit. (It did; turns out the venue is the famed Bridge Tavern in Newcastle, just a stone’s throw away from the main railway station in town where our Martin took me the first time I visited Newcastle last year.) Watch the video below the Twitter embed.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No0tgjeShd8[/youtube]

 

Live Review: Maximo Park with Eternal Summers at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, Washington DC – 20th May 2014

 
By on Thursday, 22nd May 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

It is the year of 2014. So that means Newcastle’s Maximo Park have been around for 14 years. FOURTEEN years. I can’t stress this enough. In a music industry climate that sees bands petering out and calling it quits after as little as 2 years in their failed quests to ‘make it’ in this business, the band who started out in Newcastle – Paul Smith, Duncan Lloyd, Archis Tiku, Lukas Wooller and Tom English – find themselves, probably feeling somewhat strangely, at the top of the UK indie band longevity stakes.

Even if you’re not a Maximo fan, you have to admire their relative endurance in what has become increasingly a trying profession. Having put out five well-received albums (their debut ‘A Certain Trigger’ was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Prize) and having played to thousands upon thousands of fans across the globe gives them the right to feel proud and perhaps even cocky of their accomplishments. But I think the humility of frontman Smith at the end of the night summed up what these well-mannered Englishmen are all about: he thanked, sincerely, everyone who came to their show at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel in DC Tuesday night for “spending their hard earned money to come see us play”. Maximo Park may have their place assured in rock history but divas they are not. Further, you can read my interview with drummer Tom English here, what a down to earth guy.

The opening act for the night were relative locals to the area, Eternal Summers from Roanoke, Virginia, who were the support act for the Geordies’ current American campaign. Research has revealed this band also deserve kudos for their staying power too; their third LP ‘The Drop Beneath’ was released in March on Kanine Records, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn indie label famous for also putting out releases by Grizzly Bear and Surfer Blood. They describe themselves as “a power trio”, which is a description hard to argue you with if you see their live show. ‘Gouge’, a fast-paced driven number off their latest album, shows off singer/guitarist and former Washingtonian Nicole Yun’s angelic vocals. I hesitate to call their music twee, but I can’t help but draw comparisons to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who oddly were scheduled to headline at the same venue the next night. I didn’t know much about them going into the show but I was impressed by all three band members’ playing: Yun’s shredding on her guitar, bassist Jonathan Woods’ grooves and drummer Daniel Cundiff’s preferred crossover-handed, rapid-fire style playing.

I’ve had three prior opportunities to see Maximo Park in the last 6 years, but I wasn’t going to let opportunity #4 pass me by. Now that they have five albums’ worth of material to draw from, they have quite a lot of material to pick through when choosing those to highlight in their set list, as drummer Tom English discussed with me when I interviewed him post-gig. (That interview is coming soon here on TGTF.) While this tour is in support of latest album ‘Too Much Information’ released in February, naturally there were certain numbers that they couldn’t go without playing unless they wanted a riot. The set began with the opener of ‘Too Much Information’, ‘Give, Get, Take’, and from that point on, I became mesmerised by frontman Paul Smith’s performance. I think it was inevitable.

I’d been ‘warned’ by many friends over the years that resistance to Smith’s charms was futile, that his charisma would pull me in like hypnosis. (Just writing this now reminds me of a conversation I had with Martin when I was in England earlier this month, about how confident, charismatic frontmen can make or a break a band. Clearly, years ago Maximo Park made the absolutely right decision in hiring Smith.) And yes, as a friend had pointed out, he’s practically a human Gumby, his body contorting to whatever the group’s music is suggesting or going entirely airborne. Alex Kapranos, try as you might, but you’re still rooted to the ground by your guitar. The dancefloor ready ‘Brain Cells’ is a great example of this: the more angular, bouncy, dancey rhythm caused him to do the Robot better than Peter Crouch. In between the songs, he played the self-deprecating and, at times, comical, always fedora-wearing emcee for the night. One particularly hilarious moment was when he headed for my side of the stage in a middle of a song and paused for a moment to give a look of consternation at a disinterested boyfriend who was reading his phone during the show. Smith also has this face that just exudes pure glee. That’s the kind of frontman I like: someone who actually looks like he’s having a good time along with the rest of us. Being humble helps too!

I’m sure the Maximo fans are wondering, “what did they play?” A whole lot. So many songs that the set list spilled onto a second page. Nearly every single song on the new album was played, but plenty of old favourites got an airing as well. Older crowd favourites ‘Our Velocity’ and encore closer ‘Going Missing’ unsurprisingly caused raucous scenes, but relatively newer ones such as ‘The National Health’ and ‘Hips and Lips’ provided additional kicks in the arse and felt right at home alongside them. For sure, ‘Leave This Island’ and ‘Midnight on the Hill’ from the new album were also definite highlights of the night, showing the band’s command at writing wistful yet totally engaging and memorable rock songs. There’s a reason why people still know all the words to the songs on ‘A Certain Trigger’. They’re excellent songwriters. While they may be quite a bit older than many of their indie counterparts, Maximo Park is showing everyone how it’s done.

After the cut: Maximo Park’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Maximo Park with Eternal Summers at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, Washington DC – 20th May 2014

 

Interview: Tom English of Maximo Park

 
By on Thursday, 22nd May 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo by new TGTF friend Francis D

Tuesday night, indie rock legends of the North East Maximo Park held court in front of a DC crowd eager to see them play in our city since their last visit almost 2 years ago. After their blinding set that left their fans cheering for more, I had the opportunity to be sat on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel’s stage next to Maximo’s drummer Tom English to chat with him about their current North American campaign to promote their most recent release, the ‘Too Much Information’ LP, the making of that album and what’s up ahead next for the band.

This was the first time they’d played this venue in Northeast Washington, so I asked Tom how he felt the show went that night. “It was excellent. Very good atmosphere. I don’t know if you came to the last show…” I inform him that sadly, I wasn’t able to, though Cheryl substituted for me on the night they played the U Street Music Hall in September 2012. “I think we improved from the last show [here], I remember thinking we could have done better last time. I think we had quite a few technical difficulties, I can’t remember what, but it was quite a hectic night in 2012. So yeah, it felt good tonight.”

By the time I’ve caught up with Tom for this interview, Maximo Park have been in the States for a week, and the DC date is gig #6 of nine on this side of the pond. He shares with me their rather circuitous travel plan in getting to our city: “yesterday was quite a long travel day. We flew via Atlanta. We didn’t have a date in the South. So it was nice that we went through an airport in the South.” Tom says they’ve never played in Atlanta (“never, one day!”), so you know the drill, Atlanta. Sort this out for their next tour.

Inevitably since an Englishman is involved in the conversation, talk shifts to the weather. During the band’s set, frontman Paul Smith told the audience that they had gone out to see the Lincoln Memorial and the weather was just about perfect for their visit. So I ask Tom if he’s enjoying the temporary warmth we’re experiencing in a very strange Washington spring that seems unable to make up its mind if it wants to be hot or not. “The weather’s been amazing! I think you’re having a heat wave, though it sounds like there is a heat wave back at home as well. But it’s a hotter heat wave here…When we were over in Portland last week, it was 33 degrees…what is that in Fahrenheit, 100 degrees? Yeah, well, we weren’t quite prepared and a few of us had to buy some shorts last minute.” (33 degrees C is about 91.5 degrees F, for those of you who really wanted to know.)

The making of their fifth ‘Too Much Information’ album, or at least the initial stages, involved another band we’ve also written about here quite a bit on TGTF: Peter and David Brewis, aka the geniuses behind Field Music. Recording of the LP began in the brothers’ studio in Sunderland, and Tom had nothing but compliments to pay them. “It was funny. We had worked with them before a long time ago. In fact, I used to play in their band before we all got signed, I’d played with them. But obviously they have grown in stature as artists, especially as recording artists.

“Over that time, we’d been signed and released albums as well, but we’ve always admired what they do, so we’re quite in awe of them these days, even though we’re old friends. When we made the arrangement to work with them, it was really exciting! And yeah, at first I was sort of nervous. But once we got in the studio, we realised that it was as per usual, like old mates chatting, and getting on with the work we were doing with them. The business of the recording, it was really laidback, fun. Things really flowed and we worked really quickly. And I mean, it was almost too easy!”

Tom laughs thinking back on the experience with the Brewises but looks upon it as an important moment for the band’s evolution, for which he believes their mates deserve a lot of credit for. “It was just so relaxed. And we just really enjoyed it, because we’ve always worked with professional producers in proper hired studios and quite expensive studios sometimes, and I think doing that was really a professional stepping stone for us, because it basically gave us the confidence to self-produce because we know they’ve (the Brewis brothers) been doing it all the time. They’re very uncompromising, they wouldn’t work with a producer even if they were asked to, whereas we’ve always relied on producers before now. But we’ve picked up a lot of equipment and know-how along the way while our own studio was being finished in Newcastle and so we finished the first four or five songs with Peter and David, and then we just carried on in our own place, and I guess we have them to thank for that, that we eventually, finally got around to self-producing an album and not relying on anyone else.”

I ask Tom if working without the restrictions of a an outside producer was freeing or did it actually induce more anxiety from the pressure of trying to produce something of equal or greater quality as they had in the past with outside producers. “Suddenly, we weren’t on anyone else’s clock, you know? And you can do things one thing at a time. When you work with a producer, the way it is, you have 10 or so songs and you go in, ready, and that’s it. The clock ticks, and you’ve got to get them down, one track a day. Three tracks a week, or whatever the budget demands. If you’re in your own place, you can work at your own pace, write one song, record it, stop. Write another. You don’t have to have everything prepared in a batch.”

He went on to explain just how exciting that was to them, to have this new and better way of recording. “So that meant we could experiment more, the set-up changed, all the positions of the mikes or equipment we were using. It was very liberating, both artistically and technically as well. It sounds a bit nerdy, but it opens things up because you can do what you like in your own time. You can make mistakes and you’re not all, ‘oh, we’re paying these guys by the hour, we just wasted a whole week!’ That kind of thing happens. So, yeah, this was great.”

I wondered how it felt to the band to play the new songs directly next to Maximo classics from the past, especially now that they have amassed a pretty big back catalogue from where they can choose their set lists from. I particularly enjoyed seeing the audience in Washington react positively to the new material, just as they did to the songs they know by heart. Tom says where they are right now has translated to a better live experience for the fans. “It’s great, it’s really satisfying [playing the new songs], it’s a good time, we’ve been touring this album since February, what is that, like 4 months? So it feels like the new ones are up to speed with [those], so much so that we’re comfortable playing them like the old ones, so we’re not having to concentrate as much. Because when you first start introducing new songs to the set, it’s really tiring to play a new song, and then you play an old song and it’s dead easy, because you’re not concentrating so hard. Now it’s kind of the same level, so the whole show improves. And people seem to really dig it. I think there is a lot more variety in the set now, because our sound has changed quite a lot, but it’s very nice to know it can all work together.”

Speaking of variety, I point out that ‘Too Much Information’ itself is quite a variety of songs. In November 2013, the first song from the album Maximo Park released to the wild from the then upcoming release, ‘Brain Cells’, seemed to indicate a sonic shift of the group’s sound toward dance. I describe how I was initially shocked at this change in direction, but Tom quickly dismisses this as a sudden change, saying that electronic influences had been hanging around in the background for some time. “I dunno, I think maybe the beginnings of it was on the last album. We worked with a kind of dance producer on the track ‘Hips or Lips’, with a producer named Amir Amor. He’s now in a really successful pop group in the UK (Rudimental). They’re really dancey with jungle beats. We started to use programmed beats and some more sequenced synth-types sound.

“Again, it’s kind of derived from the equipment we use. And we’ve always had an appreciation for it: we’ve been on Warp Records and we’ve listened to a lot of electronic music over the years. It’s just creeped in, and as you get older, you get more confidence to try new things out. So from your point of you, yeah, it seemed like a bit of a shock, but for us, it wasn’t such a great leap because it’s a musical language we’ve been conversant in, but not actually expressed publicly until now. And I guess we’ll continue to do that, it’s been going down really well.” He admits, “it does have its limitations. It’s harder to do live with the same dynamic. Rock songs work because it ties you down to certain tempos, and it has been a challenge to incorporate it (dance) into our style but we’ll see where it leads us.”

This summer, some of their highest profile appearances include festival turns at Germany’s Rock am Ring, T in the Park in Scotland (“we might get on telly in the UK for that”) and Split Festival in Sunderland, as well as a show in London’s Hyde Park with the Libertines and Spiritualized (“should be interesting”). But the most exciting item to Tom in the Maximo date book in the coming warmer months is “some crazy event” in Seoul, Korea, where they’ve never been. “Complete first for us. Have no idea what to expect. We’ve been out to Bangkok and Beijing before, so that was cool…It tends to be quite weird because not everyone can afford to come to the festivals there…I guess it would be some fairly snazzy, touristic event. I don’t know. Maybe not?” He says this with a hopeful smile. “Guess we’ll see when we get there! Going to new countries is always fascinating.”

I am curious how it feels to have people reacting to their music, especially if their first language is not English. The fans are singing the lyrics back them, while the band themselves are aware they might not fully understand the meaning of the songs. “It is amazing how many people speak English [all over the world]. But at the same time, we connect with people on a more musical or physical level.” So whether they’re playing in Santiago (a location name checked in new song ‘I Recognise the Night’) or on the other side of the world in Seoul as they will be this summer, the most important things to Tom and the rest of Maximo Park are how the crowd is responding to their energy and that their fans are having fun. And that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it?

After I’d stopped recording, we chatted a little while longer and I learned two very interesting things: 1) like me, Tom is a Liverpool supporter (yes!) and 2) the night I went to see David Brewis’ solo project School of Language at Manchester Deaf Institute last month, Tom was there too in the audience, with two other Maximo members in tow. That’s mental!

Many thanks to Tom for chatting with me. Big thank yous also go out to Jesse and Brian for helping arrange this interview.

 

Video of the Moment #1488: Maximo Park

 
By on Thursday, 3rd April 2014 at 6:00 pm
 

For Record Store Day on the 19th of April, Maximo Park will be releasing a limited edition 7″ vinyl, as well as a digital version, for new single ‘Midnight on the Hill’. To be honest, it’s a lot catchier than much of ‘Too Much Information’, their latest album, and there’s a lovely wistfulness to the song too. Check out the forthcoming single in the video below.

 

Album Review: Maximo Park – Too Much Information

 
By on Wednesday, 29th January 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Maximo Park Too Much Information coverIn the autumn of 2010, I reviewed Paul Smith’s solo album ‘Margins’ for This is Fake DIY. At the time, I questioned if him doing solo work was a sign Maximo Park were on shaky ground. 2012 brought us ‘The National Health’, which for some reason failed to move me like their earlier albums, including its predecessor, 2009’s ‘Quicken the Heart’. It made me wonder what they might do next. For fifth album ‘Too Much Information’, they collaborated with The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and their North East buddies David and Peter Brewis of Field Music, and these influences probably explain some of the risks they’ve taken on this effort that they might otherwise not have tried.

When first teaser ‘Brain Cells’ premiered in November 2013, I thought bemusedly to myself, “no way. Maximo has gone dance?!? Seriously? Have I died and gone to heaven?” The song is light on its feet and will readily appeal to both indie and dance kids the way the first Delphic album did. Maybe Maximo decided it was about bloody time they’d released something that felt more at home on their label Warp Records, known for championing and supporting pioneering electronic artists. That said, it’s with some disappointment that upon listening to ‘Too Much Information’, you learn that it’s not a dance album at all. Even more disappointing, while the first four tracks are stellar, along with a track later in the album, most of what follows plods along with nowhere the same excellence.

Let’s talked about the plusses first. ‘Leave This Island’, another track revealed ahead of the album release, is a beauteous number and showcases the band’s storytelling strengths through Smith’s dreamy vocals on top of wondrously understated synths. I know it’s early in the year, but I can sense this thoughtful, quasi-romantic offer to run away to something better is probably going to rank up there as one of my favourite tracks of 2014. It’s that good. The wonderful ‘Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry’ reads like a love letter to Manchester, name-checking the legendary Palace Hotel and one of its main thoroughfares, Princess Street, such that anyone who has spent enough time in the city like yours truly will feel warmth in their hearts. The guitars even sound Smiths-era Johnny Marr-like. But the song’s purpose feels more like Smith is imploring the named Lydia that life isn’t as bad as it seems and “the ink” (tattooing) is used as a metaphor for changing something in your life permanently, though Lydia doesn’t want it to dry, therefore she doesn’t want things to become final.

Then the album goes downhill from here. ‘My Bloody Mind’, compared to the brilliance of ‘Leave This Island’ and ‘Lydia…’, sounds like their raucous nephew from the start. While there are some admirable chord changes, and Smith tries to save the song in the melodic bridge, you still want to lock him in the cellar. ‘I Recognise the Light’ references towns the band has probably toured in (Mexico City, Santiago?) and just sounds strange, not going anywhere. ‘Drinking Martinis’ makes you think they thought they better try to record a louder guitar track to make up for the less loud tracks on the album. It’s pretty unspectacular.

‘Is It True’ tries to continue on the same road as ‘Brain Cells’ with Depeche Mode-esque driving synths, but how can I take a song with the lines “now I’m lying in bed with you / listening to your favourite tune” sung in a sleepy way seriously? Maybe I’m expecting too much. ‘Her Name is Audre’, near the end, sounds classic Maximo Park (think ‘Our Velocity’) and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know this will be the song that everyone will be dancing to like a crazy person this summer at festivals. It’s great to get to the end of an album and be on such a high, but then to end with ‘Where We’re Going’, which sounds atmospheric and epic for sure, but it sounds like it should be on a Disney soundtrack, not a Maximo Park album.

‘Too Much Information’ seems to suffer from split personality disorder: while there are some really great tracks on here that will be around for the ages, there are some real head-scratching moments when you’re baffled and ask yourself, “what they were thinking?”

6/10

‘Too Much Information’, the fifth album from Geordies Maximo Park, is out Monday the 3rd of February on Daylighting Records. Catch the band on tour in the UK in March.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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