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Live Review: Saint Etienne with Volta Bureau at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 25th October 2012

 
By on Monday, 29th October 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

While Martin was able to catch ’90s dance icons Saint Etienne at both Split and Deer Shed festivals in the lovely North East this past summer, us Americans aren’t as lucky. We were, however, very lucky to have the trio stop in Washington on their current American tour, and it turned out to be quite a night!

The opening band for the evening was homegrown dance band Volta Bureau, starring Outputmessage‘s Bernard Farley on vocals and electronics, U Hall co-owner and legendary DJ Will Eastman on guitars and electronics and Micah Vellian (that’s a stage name, if you were wondering) on bass. Having seen Farley support Ladyhawke last month at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, I expected and we received soulful lyrics delivered with thudding house and techno beats. They’ve put out two well-received singles, ‘Hope’ and ‘Alley Cat’, and live, they didn’t disappoint, bringing a great, energetic dance vibe to really warm up the crowd before the main event. I was a little surprised to see they didn’t have a live drummer, but to be honest, you don’t miss it, because there are so many things going on onstage with their huge array of synths, sequencers and turntables.

I was pleased as punch to see days before on U Hall’s Twitter that the Saint Etienne gig was close to be selling out. Considering it was a Thursday night show and this is DC, that’s quite a feat indeed. I also wondered what kind of crowd Saint Etienne would attract; I knew the majority of punters would be male (that was correct) but I guess I wasn’t expecting as many people older than I am. I guess you could say the majority of early arrivals were blokes who had been reared on Saint Etienne in the ’90s, and younger folks who have a good sense for dance music arrived later. I was taken aback by the number of people getting totally pissed and being loud and obnoxious, but I suppose this is part and parcel when you’ve got an eager audience, one that Sarah Cracknall was quick to point out and commend early on in their set. And along with that, she stated emphatically that we were “one of the top three best audiences they’d ever had”. It’s great news to my ears that DC’s stoic reputation is cracking!

While the set began with songs from earlier on their career (‘Lose That Girl’ from 1991’s ‘Interlude’, ‘Like a Motorway’ from 1994’s ‘Tiger Bay’), the band’s focus turned quickly to newer songs from this year’s ‘Words and Music by Saint Etienne’ on Heavenly Recordings. The electropop ‘DJ’ and the Goldfrapp-y single ‘Tonight’ would both feel at home on Radio1, no doubt about it. The album proves that the band has seamlessly changed their style just slightly but enough to fit the 21st century.

This is not to say that old favourites were left out. Not at all. The chill vibe of ‘Spring’ and the disco beats of ‘Sylvie’, the words mouthed by a good portion of people near the front, sounded phenomenal. Though Cracknall was self-deprecating about her age, if I look that good and can pull of a feather boa when I’m in my forties, I’d consider myself well off: she dazzled in a form-fitting, short sparkly dress and heeled boots, and her voice, though maybe less strong, was still wonderful. Age also wasn’t a factor to the very excited people to the left of me, who kept shouting how beautiful she was and one bloke even managed to kiss her hand.

When the groove of ‘Nothing Can Stop Us Now’ started up, at first I was a little worried. Was this the end? After the crowd shouted “I’ve never felt so good! I’ve never felt so strong!” back at her, Cracknall and her winsome smile thanked everyone and she, along with the reticent Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, and left the stage. They returned with ‘I Got Your Music’, explained by Cracknall as being about the old style of mixtapes you’d make for your friends and lovers. This was quickly followed by the Eurodance hit ‘He’s on the Phone’, with lots of audience participation during the “someday!” parts. They thanked everyone again, and off the stage they went. Again.

Then the unthinkable happened. Saint Etienne came out for a second encore. Somehow, I knew they weren’t finished after the first encore. They hadn’t played ‘You’re in a Bad Way’ yet. While I realise some people were antsy and wanted to get the hell out of the venue, as a result, you missed a great second encore (and I even managed to finally make it to the front). See, it does pay to wait around a little more after gigs…wait a moment longer, and you might just be rewarded.

Saint Etienne has always been one of those bands that I’d hear being interviewed by Stuart Maconie on Radio2 and never once did I ever think they’d come close enough to DC for me to see them gig. Check another box of that “bands I need to see” list. While I do whinge a lot when I see tours in the UK, I do relish the fact that here in Washington sometimes I have the chance to see bands in tiny, tiny clubs. This night with Saint Etienne was pretty much perfect.

After the cut: Saint Etienne’s set list.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8k5y3d-RCA[/youtube]

Saint Etienne Set List:
Lose That Girl
Like a Motorway
Who Do You Think You Are (Candlewick Green cover)
Burnt Out Car
Popular
Spring
Haunted Jukebox
When I was Seventeen
A Good Thing
Sylvie
Tonight
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young cover)
DJ
Nothing Can Stop Us Now
//
I’ve Got Your Music
He’s on the Phone
//
You’re in a Bad Way

 

Split Festival 2012: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 1st October 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Missed Martin’s field report of the Saturday of Split Festival? You’re in luck; read it here.

Where Saturday at Split Festival 2012 was noisy in the main tent and more subtle in the other, the situation is roughly reversed on Sunday. Field Music turn in a lithe, precise set on the main stage. Since this writer has, more by coincidence than anything else, seen them four times this year so far, I can safely say that they are better every time, and have never played the same set twice. A hometown gig is always a bit more special, and the crowd are duly appreciative.

Saint Etienne’s comeback continues apace – Sarah Cracknell looks glorious, her sparkly mini-dress picked out by a central spotlight, and she sounds just as good. In a set heavy with material from this year’s ‘Words and Music’, the synth-pop sound is just as present and correct as in years gone by. The volume and tempo is gently increased as we proceed, Cracknell elegantly gyrating, flourishing a feather boa. Close your eyes, and new songs like ‘When I Was Seventeen’ can make you believe it’s 1992 again; Neil Young has never sounded as warmly glorious as when they cover ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’.

A guilty candy-floss pleasure compared to the gristle of Future of the Left, whose noisy Welsh surrealist punk deafens everyone in the small tent. Andy Falkous, drenched in sweat, screams out such deadpan masterpieces such as ‘Sheena was a T-shirt Salesman’ and ‘Failed Olympic Bid’. The humour perhaps isn’t immediately apparent, but the skit climax, “if Margaret Thatcher was alive I’d ask her what her favourite film was” surely clinches the deal.

What’s the point in running a festival if you can’t headline it yourselves? After last year’s absence, The Futureheads are back with what is essentially a greatest hits set. They kick off with the superb ‘Beeswing’ from this year’s a capella album ‘Rant’; four-part harmonised vocals have always been an essential part of the ‘heads sound, but this song, shorn of any instrumentation, demonstrates just how accurate and heartfelt they can be with just four voices.

But it’s not long before the electric guitars come out, and the band rattle through the best bits of their back catalogue, climaxing with a majestic ‘Hounds of Love’. The audience are enraptured throughout, as well they might be: this event is more than just another show, it’s a celebration of Sunderland, its people and its music. And on the evidence of Split 2012, Sunderland is in very rude health indeed.

 

Preview: Split Festival 2012

 
By on Thursday, 20th September 2012 at 3:00 pm
 

The tent is packed away. The wellies have been demuddied and chucked in the back of a cupboard, not to be seen until next year. By September all the big summer music festivals have been and gone in a haze of traffic jams, mud, and the occasional transcendental musical performance. But for the music fan that wants more, there are a few notable events still yet to come – of which Split Festival in Sunderland is one. A modestly-sized, two-day, outdoor-but-under-cover shindig just outside the city centre, Split has a great local feel to it, showcasing a superb blend of North-East talent and national acts.

Following on from the success of 2011, which saw the Drums and the Charlatans headline a rich and varied bill, 2012 promises to be even bigger, better and brasher. The pièce de resistance, perhaps curators Futureheads’ greatest coup ever, is the appearance of Public Image Limited in their headline slot on the Main Stage on Saturday night. Johnny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols outfit reformed in 2009, and in May released ‘This Is PiL,’ their first album of new material in 20 years. Expect a razor-sharp band featuring guitar virtuoso and Fagin lookalike Lu Edmonds, and coruscating bar-room banter and plenty of brandy-swigging from Lydon himself (pictured right at Primavera Sound 2011). As the last PiL date before their American tour in the autumn, this is simply a no-brainer. One to savour.

Elsewhere on the bill we find a double dose of West Yorkshire noise in the form of Pulled Apart by Horses and That Fucking Tank, postmodern chanteuse Kyla La Grange, the dreamy pop of St. Etienne, and finally our hosts The Futureheads wrapping things up on Sunday night on the Main Stage. If the ears finally succumb to noise, there’s a fine tent of folk at the Tunstall Hill Tent on the Saturday (Kathryn Williams, King Creosote, followed by The Unthanks to close out the night), which turns noisy again on the Sunday with headliners Future of the Left. Last year saw a food tent with international delicacies galore, and a wide selections of real ales to dig into, both of which make a welcome reappearance this time around. Split is a great way to wrap up to a fine season of festivals, and with tickets a veritable steal at £40 for the weekend and day tickets for £25 for either Saturday or Sunday also available, it’s bound to be Rotten.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2012 Review (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 1st August 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

If required to choose three bands to invite to the apocryphal desert island for a night’s entertainment, one would be hard pressed to come up with a bill more satisfying than Moody Gowns, Janice Graham Band and Dutch Uncles. It is with a heavy heart, then, that I report that that superb line-up is exactly what I missed on Friday night at this year’s Deer Shed festival. Due to a combination of not being able to cut work early, having to perform a new tent’s virgin erection, and putting a little one to sleep in the big outdoors for the first time, the fantasy triumvirate was heard somewhat faintly from distance, and then only with the wavering consent of a fickle breeze.

When the dewy arena was finally breached, Saint Etienne were halfway through their headline set. Sadly, what sounded like a 120dB piledriver interrupted several songs, clearly deafening Sarah Cracknell and dampening what should have been a pillowy ride of joyous gossamer pop. However, no sooner had the main stage shut for the night, then a motley crew of folky songsters took up residence at the back of the ale tent, and kept everyone dancing in a happy, beery fug for until the wee small hours. Local brewers Daleside had come up with a signature Deer Shed ale; a fine drop which by rights required several tastings to reveal its true complexity of flavour. Fuelled by this and several sets of quality Celtic-tinged folk, the tent was still buzzing as TGTF meandered tentwards way past bedtime.

A quick word about the camping areas: in comparison to more populous events, Deer Shed has more camping space than campers, meaning that pretty much everyone gets to rent their own decent plot of prime grassy real estate for the weekend. I saw no cramped camping, except for those groups who chose to pitch together of free will. There were just about enough portaloos, and they were kept clean all weekend; no into-the-pit-of-Hades bravery required. Most campers were respectful of the need for quiet in the family camping, except for one group of morons who insisted on playing terrible songs on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar in the early hours of Sunday morning. Note to them: we’re here to hear professional, world-class musicians. Nobody wants to hear your sad, honking version of ‘Sonnet’ at 1am, you antisocial pricks. Family camping is for families, which implies children and parents getting some much-needed sleep. Children without their parents, like yourselves, should pitch up in regular camping, where your behaviour might be slightly more tolerated. /rant.

Saturday morning dawned with blazing sunshine, the like of which hadn’t been seen all year, adding to the discernibly special atmosphere which would develop over the course of the weekend. Dominated by a vintage Ferris wheel, and looking even better in the sunshine as it had in the dusk the previous night, the arena is simply one large field with facilities dotted around the edge, and the eponymous deer shed up in one corner, behind the main stage. Such is the compact nature of the site, one is never more than 5 minutes’ walk away from any particular attraction, making long drags from one band to another a thing of the past. A stroke of scheduling genius means that as soon as a performance finishes on the main stage, another starts in the tent directly opposite, making for a pretty much continuous flow of music. Ace.

There was so much other stuff going on at Deer Shed, it hardly seems appropriate to call it a music festival: festival with music sounds more accurate. However, this is a music site, so the bands will be reviewed properly. Please note: the nature of attending a festival with kids means that their needs come first; sometimes one has to skip a much-anticipated performance if a little one needs to be fed, changed, or put to bed. If an act is missing from this review, assume that they were missed out of necessity rather than choice. That being said, there was so much on offer, one never felt short-changed. First up, Washington Irving wake everyone up with their Scottish guitar-folk – think bedmates of Admiral Fallow, or moments of Travis on a good day with flutes and big harmony moments. A mellow, widescreen set: the sound of setting sail from Tobermory under an autumn sunrise.

A quick, 1-minute nip to the In The Dock tent, and it’s Woodenbox. These guys boast a mini horn section, just the ticket to jazz up their funkily-loping, ska-jumping sound (the band themselves call it Mariachi-folk). Kicking off with the darkly immense, New Orleans-jazz-infused ‘Everyone Has Their Price’, the tent was bouncing, straight off the bat. Several pieces off their EP ‘The Vanishing Act’ later, it was clear just what a powerful act Woodenbox are. Just two performances in, and the ‘New Band Of The Festival’ award already has a strong nomination.

Via an (un)holy combination of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition and Mumford’s Ben Lovett’s Communion label, we have Treetop Flyers. Whilst they are perfectly fine entertainment in a laid-on-a-sunny-blanket-with-a-pint-of-cider way, one cannot help but think they’re simply a mashup Southern Gothic tribute band – there’s Crosby, Stills and Nash in plain earshot, and indeed plenty of Young in Reid Morrison’s voice. Utterly competent stuff, and possibly the next best thing to seeing Young in person. But when you’ve been exposed to the visceral, feedbacked intensity of a guitar-breaking performance by Young himself, utterly competent doesn’t quite cut it any more.

Laki Mera are in an entirely different league of originality – their sound is both electronic and organic, vintage synths vying with acoustic instruments and the silky tones of Laura Donnelly (pictured above and at top). Comparisons can be made (Massive Attack, Cocteau Twins, Bonobo); however the band have a sound entirely their own: each piece is crafted into a proper song, and it’s simply gorgeous to listen to. Donnelly herself is an excellent frontwoman, shaking her long hair with abandon, and emoting into the middle of next week. Chilled and powerful at the same time, Laki Mera are yet more evidence of the exciting music pouring out of Scotland at the moment.

Beth Jeans Houghton took the main stage attired in a natty purple leotard, tights fresh with mud from the previous day’s show, and proceeded to romp through most of this year’s ‘Yours Truly, Cellophane Noise’ released on Mute Records. Such singular material needs no introduction – indeed, no explanation is possible – suffice to say the performance was polished, if a little aloof. Perhaps familiarity has dulled Houghton’s enthusiasm for the songs, or the band are a little gigged-out, having been treading the boards for months on end now. It seems a reasonable guess that her character being as it is, BJH is far happier exploring new avenues and trying out novel material than playing the same set over and over. Such are the trials of pop stars.

Ah, Field Music. How on Earth such subtle, cerebral, detail-heavy, music can be delivered in such an exciting, danceable manner really is one of the small miracles of modern times. The band stick to the format of this spring’s ‘Plumb’ launch gigs, the opening movement of which introduces today’s set. A handful of favourites close it (‘Just Like Everyone Else’ is truly sublime live, a companion mood piece to The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’). Sandwiched are a few favourites from albums gone by – ‘In Context’ jerks its way into the audience’s feet, the whole performance is warmly received, and judging by post-festival Facebook comments, Field Music deliver the set of the weekend. Weighing up the combination of perfect musicianship, strong, unique, material, and the Brewis brothers’ own easygoing manner, it’s difficult to disagree.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Martin’s experience at Deer Shed Festival, which will post tomorrow.

 
 
 

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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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