Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Gig - Naked On The Vague/Grass Widow/Wetdog, The Lexington, 10.10.10

Ah, 10/10/10, the mystical calendar alignment has come around. And whether you believe in such paganistic (or, if following Holy News, Druidistic?) superstitions or not, you have to admit that the beautiful weather we had was something far removed from the normal scheme of things. I spent the day lounging around the Selkirk in Tooting, where I ate (ho-hum) roast, drank numerous pints of Guinness and Samsbrooks Wandle, talked about incontinence crystals and the rabid sexuality of retirement homes, and watched two dogs give each other blow jobs. There was definitely something in the air...

And so it was that I rumbled down to the Lexington to subject my sun and suds soaked body to some sonic delights, courtesy of Upset The Rhythm. There was a strong female presence over all three bands, and what heightened the night's excitement was the divergent nature with which each band attacked their sound.

First up were local upstarts and Captured Tracks alumni Wetdog, who have been carving a niche in the London scene for a couple years now. I had yet to dip my toes in the Wetdog-verse, and my first taste was one of quiet admiration. Starting with a sparse composition - simple drums, repetitive bass, swathed in synth - I was a little interested, a little nonplussed. I was leaning towards the negative, however - the demeanour was a little naff, especially that of Sarah on the keyboards - all chewing gum, distant stare and disaffected airs and graces always shit me. But after this track has ended, she trades the ivory for the sticks, and the three piece settle into their preferred line formation, breaking into the DIY post punk algorithms that they are known for. I got a distinct vibe of Talk Normal or Micachu and the Shapes in the punchy arc of their songs, particularly in the likes of 'Lower Leg' and 'Fist Face' and Rivka's boxy makeshift guitar, whilst the syncopated rhythm section tied down a sound not far removed from the brilliant and sadly missed Life Without Buildings. Bassist Billy's occasional giggles in some of the call and response moments, along with some slight banter throughout, marching on the spot, and the liberal use of chanted vocals and small staccato yelps of 'Wymmin's Final', also alluded to a bright dorkiness beneath the chic. All in all, Wetdog left the stage having shown that their punk rock style is decidedly tongue in cheek, magnetic and a lot of fun.

Without much ado San Fransiscans Grass Widow take the stage and launch into 'Shadow', one of the first cuts off their stellar Kill Rock Stars LP of this year, Past Time, and the crowd swells. I know Ive been lambasted in the past about my harsh criticisms of the glut of noisy/poppy/surfy/60s...y/Shangri Las-Raincoats influenced girl groups, and the sheer number of uninspired releases that keep coming out this year under the guise of 'new', 'amazing' and 'cool' doesnt look like shifting my perspective anytime soon. However, this trio have stated from the outset that they do not adhere to these notions - indeed, they want to cast aside the commonly ascribed gender readings when it comes to all girl bands and just be seen as a proper rock outfit, wanting to be recognised as fine musicians in their own right. This is how it should always be, Im 100% with them there. But what also sets them aside (and aloft) from their genre compatriots is that they have more than one bow to their string, their songwriting and compositions are thoughtful and inspired, and they are strong musicians. Sudden aggressive tempo changes invigorates tracks like 'When Strangers Come' and Tuesday', evoking Sleater-Kinney-lite snarls before emerging once again in a shimmering light, all incandescent and crystalline; guitars meander woozily just to sharply focus in the final third; the off-kilter rhythm section alluding to something darker and less stable lurks in the recesses of these essentially sunny songs. Plus, rather than revelling in the lo fi sound that so many others latch onto with grim vigour, Grass Widow aspire to drive their vocals to the forefront over cleanly cut sounds, highlighting the fact that their spirited harmonies are amazing. Nico has been oft-mentioned, and its not far wrong, but I also think it does them a disservice - the three voices are instruments themselves, heightening the aural tapestry being woven. Whilst Past Time has been getting mixed reviews (which I don't understand - at the very least you can see the influences on their sleeve being skewed into something else, rather than rehashed and hipsterfied...), live Grass Widow showcase an act that elevates them to the top of the heap - great musical interplay and vocal registry, charmed banter (the off-putting notion of playing on the 'wrong side of the stage'; a missed guitar lead opens up for a one second 'drum solo') and genuine affection for the sounds they create. The beginnings of a class act.

Headlining tonight are Sydney, Australia's Naked On The Vague. Signed by cultish labels Siltbreeze and Sacred Bones, the four piece have been building a reputation of dark, dissonant, synth fuelled punk since their Blood Pressure Sessions of 2008, and strengthened by this year's Heaps of Nothing LP - hence the sudden shift in audience, as most hype-chasers have headed for the exits. They are missing out. Seeing them live for the first time, it is clear that they have evolved from their down and dirty duo roots into a stronger, albeit still disturbing, collective. Vocalist Lucy Cliche hunkers over her keyboard, her voice droning on, with the once pronounced desolation of Matthew P Hopkins' basslines replaced by no wave riche squelching guitar - this is not forgiving stuff. Steeped in the Silver Apples/Throbbing Gristle era of early 80s down the rabbithole black pop, these songs coalesce into a physical beast, curling around you, its inky tentacles caressing your limbs. The way in which Hopkins hunkers over his guitar, his trenchcoat disguising his frame, and then the lecherous drawl he delivers when he's spitting out scraps of lyrics, you know that this music is the basest of post punk, a dirge like experience that has you crawling through blue-filtered barren landscapes not so much punctuated but saturated with aberrant industrial sound. By the time that they finished and the lights came up, they had left their impression firmly etched on the remaining punters - that if the world goes to hell in a handbasket, and we are to live in a subterranean underworld fuelled by technological bondage, desecration and filth, Naked On The Vague will provide the national anthem.

A fitting end to a bizarre numerological anomaly, methinks.

Wetdog - Wymmin's Final

Grass Widow - Fried Egg

Naked On The Vague - Making Enemies

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