Friday, 25 May 2012

UK - Under The Bridge, Chelsea, London, 24th May 2012

A sweltering afternoon in London greeted us two merry gigsters as we stepped off the train at Euston station. The obligatory visit to Fopp, our CD emporium of choice (disappointing, no tempting back catalogues at silly prices this time round) was followed by a pint and a meal in a nearby hostelry, and later another pint and a much delayed meeting with PD, head honcho of a rather fine prog group on Facebook. It's always good to actually meet Facebook "friends", as the much-maligned social networking behemoth really serves its purpose when web links become real people.

I'm digressing again aren't I? Under The Bridge is a small club underneath Stamford Bridge football ground, home of newly-crowned European champions, Chelsea FC. Stamford Bridge, situated on the Fulham Road is in one of the swankiest areas of London and is an incongruous place for a football ground, which are usually in more prosaic working class areas. An example of the smell of loot in the locale was an anonymous looking modern lo-rise apartment block nearby, advertising flats for rent from £850 per week!

The club has a capacity of around 300 to 400, and seems a strange choice for what is billed as UK's farewell UK performance, as tickets on the Night After Night 2012 world tour sold out in no time at all. They could probably have filled a venue three or four times the size with ease.

Tonight Eddie Jobson (muso cool, signature round shades, keyboards, electric violins) and John Wetton (monstrous bass and vocals) are more than ably assisted by Gary Husband on drums, who amazingly had only had a day's rehearsal beforehand, having replaced Terry Bozzio for the European leg of the tour. Gary was a human whirlwind who propelled the songs along with the energy of man half his his age. Lastly, but by no means least, come on down the unassuming but effortlessly brilliant Alex Machacek on guitar. Expecting anyone to play the lead lines laid down by the technically astounding Allan Holdsworth in the original line up is a big ask, but this poses the goateed Austrian no problem. Mind you when someone like John McLaughlin is quoted on Machacek's website as saying "Alex Machacek's music starts where other music ends" you know you're probably in for a treat. Holdsworth's strangely detached, almost illogical but perfect solo from second number (and my favourite UK tune) In the Dead Of Night is handled with a skill that conclusively illustrates McLauglin's accolade.

Playing a good selection of songs from UK's small but perfectly formed back catalogue, John Wetton's voice was in fine fettle, hitting the high notes with ease, something that a lot of his contemporaries struggle with after the cumulative affects of age and living the rock'n'roll lifestyle have taken their toll.

There was a frankly risible rumour that a certain Robert Fripp might turn up to play some Crimson songs with his long-lost bass player, rumours fuelled by teasing but ambiguous entries on Fripp's diary website. I wasn't holding my breath as I reckon we have seen the last of Fripp in a band setting, the curmudgeonly maestro preferring a life of gentle English eccentricity as a 21st century squire in mythical Bredonborough with The Minx, and who can blame him?

My scepticism was confirmed when Jobson related the tale of how UK were formed. Wetton had phoned him up asking if he was interested in forming a band with him, Bill Bruford and Fripp, and Jobson's response was "Why would I want to do that"? Not long after Fripp broke up King Crimson and the rest as they say, is history. If Fripp was there Jobson's comment would have sent him scurrying away to his country house like Didier Drogba after a fat pay cheque.

Two Crimson tunes were covered though, the first a storming version of Starless, and the second a surprising but effective solo acoustic version of Book Of Saturday from Wetton.

The band were on stage for just under two hours including the encores, and the time mostly flew by. The only time it dragged for me was during Jobson's solo spot where he proved that ten minutes of screeching effect laden fiddle playing was....well, a bit pointless really. The band could have played at least one more song in the that time, but hey, it's a minor gripe. Jobson was also the emotional focus of the evening, especially when he thanked the punters in the reserved seats at the front for flying in from as far afield as Indonesia and Tokyo! He welled up when telling us that his 90-year-old dad was in the audience, watching his son play live for the first time in 30 years. I hope the old boy remembered to turn his hearing aid off!

Right, I've got a thick head, so I'm off to lounge about in the sun-drenched grounds of Burwood Towers..."Smythe, fetch the Pimms and the ice bucket"...

Setlist:
Alaska
In The Dead Of Night
By The Light Of The Day
Presto Vivace And Reprise
Thirty Years
Starless
Carrying No Cross
Keyboard and Violin solo spot
Book Of Saturday
Danger Money
Nevermore
Encore:
Caesar's Palace Blues
The Only Thing She Needs
Rendezvous 6:02

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

TU - TU

For those that don't know, Pat Mastelotto & Trey Gunn were the rhythm section in the last working King Crimson line up. They got together in a loft studio in 2002 during time out from rehearsing Crimson's Power To Believe and improvised the music that ended up being released as "TU" the following year. This CD had been unavailable since then until being reissued last year.

Ambient washes precede a crashing drum intro from the redoubtable Pat Mastelotto on opener Untamed Chicken and Trey Gunn proceeds to add cacophonous Warr guitar to the mix as the beats pound along. A thoroughly unhinged intro to an album that is definitely not for the lover of conventional song structure.



Gunn extracts noises from his instrument that resemble a muezzin put through a mangler on Absinthe & a Cracker (hear above) lending it a very mysterious feel indeed, before laying on us a more conventional Crimson-style solo from the Thrak school. Crimson fans will by now know what to expect having no doubt dipped their collective toes into the hit-and-miss improv world of the ProjeKcts. Like those works this is entirely improvised, sometimes enhanced by vocal samples as on the highly unsettling The NOOSE, where Crimsoid nightmares channel Damo Suzuki in a state of mental collapse for nearly seven minutes. This is the kind of thing that my better half will any second refer to as "a right bloody racket" if any of this filters through to the other end of house, and she would be right, no question. However, sometimes I quite enjoy "a right bloody racket" but I have to be in a suitably wilful and perverse mood to properly appreciate it.

Make My Grave In The Shape Of A Heart lurches along in nervous trauma, Pat & Trey showing that as King Crimson's rhythm section they must have frightened even Fripp at times. Luckily more structure is present in the darkly ambient tones of Terry's Breath and this reissue features a video montage of that piece, which is as impressionistic as you would imagine. The track falls apart at the end into quiet buzzings and snippings before melding into the next aural threat, the splendidly titled Snap, Crackle, Moo complete with odd bovine noises wrenched from one of Trey's instruments over a slow cyclic Neu-like back beat on bass and tom-toms, assuming the Germans had been at the absinthe, with or without the cracker.

Pat gets to play what sound like hand tom-toms on Hotel Fandango which in comparison to what has gone before is remarkably calming, waves of touch guitar washing over the relatively conventional rhythm. Of course, the thing disintegrates into belching wah-bass and sundry lurching about, as these two are not here to entertain, this is art, or possibly artifice, who knows? Mystery Die...Die...Die with its rock solid bass track and "drunken hand percussion" cries out for Fripp to cover it in noisy dissonant chords, you can almost feel it.

The album ends with five shorter tracks, the first three focusing on the duo's rhythm work without much embellishment and while interesting are largely unessential. Dakota and Coda To Dakota end the album back in calmer ambient territory, being reminiscent of Eno in places.

"Pat's studio footage" consists of four short snippets of the euphemistically named "loft studio", really a load of techy equipment in the spare room of someone's flat. It's not worth watching twice.

Not a CD I'll being going back to a lot, even as a big fan of all things Crimsoid, but I certainly have a higher opinion of it that my esteemed DPRP colleague! With a bit of judicious editing this may have borne more plays, but at nearly an hour long it overstays its welcome a tad. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but Pat and Trey are not going to compromise. One for the fans only I'd say.


Tracklist:

01. Untamed Chicken (5:13)
02. Absinthe And A Cracker (5:39)
03. The NOOOSE (7:20)
04. XTCU2 (2:16)
05. Make My Grave In The Shape Of A Heart (4:14)
06. Terry's Breath (6:02)
07. Snap, Crackle, Moo (3:02)
08. Hotel Fandango (6:13)
09. Misery Die...Die...Die (4:57)
10. Orlando In Bloom (2:25)
11. Pony (1:45)
12. Jamoohra (2:52)
13. Dakota (3:10)
14. Coda To Dakota (2:12)
Enhanced CD:
01. Terry's Breath video montage
02-05. Pat's studio footage 

Line up:

Trey Gunn - Bass, touch and fretless guitars
Pat Mastelotto - Electric and acoustic drums/samples

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Tea Club - General Winter's Secret Museum

Another trawl through my pile of unreviewed CDs reminded me that General Winter's Secret Museum by The Tea Club has been played so much that it has got promoted to the "heavy rotate" pile, and as such I've neglected to sit down and shower it with a deluge of adjectives, for which omission I can only apologise to the band. Listen to it here, and read on...

Formed in Deptford, New Jersey in 2003 by brothers Dan and Patrick McGowan, the band had released a number of EPs (which I must check out) prior to this, their first album proper in 2008. It is indeed quite amazing that The Tea Club number only three members, Patrick on guitars, bass and vocals, Dan on guitars and vocals, and drummer Kyle Minnick, for the expansive sound on the album would indicate a far larger ensemble.

As they are a trio with progressive inclinations, inevitable comparisons are to be made with prog behemoths Rush and modern pop-proggers Muse. There are snatches of the influence of both those bands for sure, but they also have a strong current of US punk and new wave running through them, enhanced by producer Tim "Rumblefish" Gilles who has worked with all sorts of noiseniks, from Sepultura to Rage Against The Machine. Amongst the punky influences are Husker Dü and indeed all things Bob Mould, and the prog credentials are upped with odd time signatures and tunings and an obvious helping of King Crimson and The Mars Volta. In fact on my current favourite track The Clincher all this and more gets thrown into the mincer...;).

The songwriting is of the highest calibre and the intent of the band is shown in the opener Werewolves, a tale of dissatisfaction which stomps over the neatly manicured lawns of suburbia with the gay abandon of a hormone crazed youth fuelled by too many food additives, before seeking redemption in a becalmed middle section replete with gorgeous harmonies and a soaring burst of glissando guitar.

A feature of the band are the dual lead vocals and close harmonies of Dan and Patrick which lend the vocals a higher level of intensity than that which one voice would be able to achieve. On Will'O'The Wisp the harmonies are perfect for the slower-paced alt-rock balladry served up. On songs like these I am put in mind of an edgier Pineapple Thief, and fans of that band and of any of the other numerous influences mentioned should love this album. It is a sum of its parts rather than an attempt to replicate the sounds of 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago come to that. The Tea Club have fashioned a piece of music that I have not grown tired of despite repeated plays and I would imagine that I'll still be giving it a spin or two for many years to come.

If you've got the streaming link going and you've read this far, you really ought to buy it, doncha think?

For those of you lucky enough to live in North West USA the band are playing a few dates in May with Beardfish. I'd love to see them, and you should if you can!

Tracklist:
1.Werewolves
2.Cool Smack
3.Big Al
4.Castle Builder
5.Purple Chukz
6.The Clincher
7.Will O The Wisp
8.The Moon
9.Ice Clock

Line up:
Like I said! 

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