Adam and Joe

As a little surprise for my dear ladyfriend, Cat, we took a four-day jaunt up to Scotland’s unfairly beautiful capital for the bank holiday weekend. Whilst we fitted in the usual tourist trips, seeing as most of my favourite music of the moment is coming out of the city, I crowbarred in a little music here and there, and what follows is a small account of the kind of aural treats we encountered in various forms.

Our first night ended with a (belated, due to poor, poor map reading skills on my part) trip to The Wee Red Bar for the Unpop club night. As an indie-pop night, we knew what to expect, but the main reason for my insistence on attending was down to the fact that none other than Pat Nevin, ex-Chelsea player, commentator extraordinaire and “indiepop conoisseur” (as the flyers proclaimed) was the DJ all night. Quite apart from his self-evident good taste, Nevin was a very nice man indeed, even asking our opinion of what to play later. Cat asked for this:

Camera Obscura – Honey In The Sun (YSI)

Of course, no trip to a new city would be complete without a scouring of the local record shops, and in the process I picked up a couple of delights. From the rightfully acclaimed Avalanche Records in Grassmarket I finally picked up Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and from a “rare records” emporium on the Royal Mile, I was given a John Lee Hooker collection by Cat after she watched me hanker over it for too long.

Pavement – Cut Your Hair (YSI)
John Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (YSI)

Whilst planning the trip, I’d frantically tried to find a gig worth heading to whilst we were in the city, but hadn’t found a suitable choice. Luckily, Matthew at Song, By Toad had me covered and posted about the Grassmarket festival, a three-day “micro festival” I suppose, free to enter, with craft stalls, food and, most importantly, live music. Taking Matthew’s advice/cowing to his threats (you can see this in the comments of the linked page above), we headed down on Sunday to catch Edinburgh School for the Deaf. Despite never wowing me beforehand, their particular fuzzy, punky tones were perfect for the sunny day and drew a great reaction out of the pretty sedate crowd (including one well-dressed drunkard who insisted on dancing directly in front of the stage throughout. Later, he was arrested). Unfortunately, we’d got there a little late and for no apparent reason, the plug was pulled after a couple of tracks. After a nifty pint, we headed back to the stage for The Second Hand Marching Band, who somehow managed to cram an uncountable number of musicians and bulky instruments onto the small stage to perform an uplifting set of brassy singalong numbers that swelled the crowd steadily throughout. We had to shoot off shortly afterwards, but the Grassmarket Festival has, in my limited experience anyway, set a precedent that could, and should be followed. Tiny events like this would be relatively easy to organise in an area with a good enough music scene, and with the cooperation of local small businesses, it’s a perfect way to draw attention to an area’s music or location that might otherwise be ignored.

Edinburgh School for the Deaf – 11 Kinds of Loneliness (YSI)
The Second Hand Marching Band – We Walk In The Room (YSI)

Of course, it all had to end sometime, and on the train home, Cat managed to infect my brain with this apposite number:

Adam Buxton – Holiday Blues (YSI)

Let me just end this little account with a message to anyone who lives in Edinburgh. I envy you. And Because I envy you, I hate you. So lock your doors, because I might want to steal your house and live in it myself sometime, and you’d better not get in the way of my doing that. Bye!

I said I’d never go back, but after seeing Radiohead on the lineup, my girlfriend and I just had to head to Reading just one more time, and I have to say, despite the overt commercial interests, hordes of idiots and general irritating atmosphere, it was a bloody good day. We started at the Festival Republic stage with Bear Hands, who continued my own personal tradition of seeing bloody good opening acts. With the drum and bass volume pushed up high, the band’s shambolic songs were imbued with a sense of power and urgency, and worked really very well. The singer looked either terrified or quite bored, and they didn’t play my two favourite songs, but “Golden” and “Vietnam” were excellent, and translated very well to the live experience.

Noah and the Whale win the dubious honour of most underwhelming performance of the day. Their sound seemed dwarfed by the Main Stage they found themselves on, and their new material, live at least, sounded a little too close to the Snow Patrol soft rock style for my liking. Luckily, we had The xx next. Lining up together at the front of the stage, the dark-clad teens found themselves faced with a bigger crowd than any other in the Festival Republic stage (at least until bloody La Roux came on later) and truly lived up to the hype (Machine). I’ve read somewhere that the band chose their distinctive, empty sound partially because they could play it exactly the same live as on record, and that is certainly true. Songs like “Crystalised” and “Basic Space” drew large cheers and already sound like future singalong hits, and the whole set was very cohesive. As well as being generally brilliant, they also win the award for best marketing effort -huge boxes of T Shirts, cardboard X’s and stickers were handed out, and it seemed like everyone was wearing them for the rest of the day (including Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend during their set).

There wasn’t a lot on for quite a while, so we headed to the Alternative tent for a while and saw some comedy. We saw four stand up sets – Kojo (misogynistic, brash and not very good), Jeremy Hardy (good, but perhaps a little old for most of the Reading crowd), Adam Bloom (good and rather odd) and Brendon Burns (absolutely hilarious, offensive and wonderful). But the real reason we headed there in the first place was for Adam Buxton and his BUG show. An hour (I think) of music videos and shorts interjected by the amazing Mr. Buxton, we were treated to some incredible work by lesser-known directors, as well as Adam’s own brilliant efforts. Two of the standouts were Pes’ “Western Spaghetti”, an animation of making a spaghetti recipe using no food (watch it and you’ll understand) and the video to Wiley’s “Cash In My Pocket”.

Next up were Vampire Weekend, who pulled out a set of their trademark summery Afro-Indie and got the whole crowd dancing to hits like “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” as well as playing newer songs like “White Sky”. Yeah Yeah Yeahs bounded on afterwards and were easily my nicest surprise of the day. I do like their singles, but based on Show Your Bones I didn’t think they had much in their locker beyond that. Well, happily, I was proved wrong, with a set spanning all three albums, and an incredible performance by Karen O. She truly is that rarest of things, a real life rockstar. Bounding around, with a strange shrimp-like costume (with detachable headdress and armbands no less), yelping, encouraging the crowd and generally having a bloody good time of it, she took the set to a new level and I was left enthralled. The penultimate band of the day was Bloc Party. My first impression wasn’t of their music, but Kele Okoroke’s Trent Reznor-like transformation into muscliness. But past that shocking revelation, Bloc Party’s third main stage set in three years was very much more of the same, which is never a bad thing. Despite not particularly liking the second album and having not listened to the third at all, they always put on a good show, and songs like Positive Tension and Flux are just excellent anyway.

Right, for the next section I’ll try not gush, but I’m still excited a day later so bear with me. By 9.30 we’d secured a good place at the Main Stage, and stood waiting for the mighty Radiohead to make their entrance. Their technical set up was incredible, a series of what were essentially huge fluorescent lights that could change colour and create effects. For instance, when Thom sang ‘it should be raining’ during “The Gloaming”, it simulated rain, and during “Nude” it looked as though there were floating candles above the band. Eschewing the normal screen images simply of the band playing, each screen was split into six sections which showed oddly-angled images of all the band members playing. I won’t go through every song (as tempted as I am) but highlights included a rare airing, and even rarer opening, with “Creep”, the brilliance of “15 Step”, explosive renditions of “Just” and “2+2=5”, falling in love with “Lucky” all over again, the entire crowd falling silent during “Karma Police”, the sheer incredible scope of “Paranoid Android” and Thom quickly covering Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” before going into “Everything In Its Right Place”. Every band member looked pleased to be there, Thom pulled out some incredible dance moves and it was everything I could ever have wished for for my first ever Radiohead show, I simply can’t state quite how much I loved it, and how good Radiohead are. Anyway, enough of that, here’s the full setlist and some songs. Now excuse me while I go lie down.

The National Anthem
15 Step
There There. (The Boney King Of Nowhere)
All I Need
2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)
The Gloaming. (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold.)
Climbing Up The Walls
Street Spirit [Fade Out]
Karma Police
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Exit Music (For A Film)
You And Whose Army?
These Are My Twisted Words
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Paranoid Android
Maps – Everything In Its Right Place

Bear Hands – Golden (YSI)
Noah And The Whale – Rocks and Daggers (YSI)
The xx – Basic Space (YSI)
Adam & Joe – Ratatouille (YSI)
Vampire Weekend -Mansard Roof (YSI)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Hysteric (YSI)
Bloc Party – Positive Tension (YSI)
Radiohead – 2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.) (YSI)

Now I know there’s a massive, and now seemingly tradition hatred of the NME, but I will still pick it up and read it when the cover takes me. I know it’s sensationalist, mercurial and frankly just badly written at times, but they’ve been the New Musical Express for this many years for a reason. They can spot some good new music.

My newest finding through NME has been the fantastic Bear Hands. Hailing (somewhat unsurprisingly) from New York, they have a slow burning post-punk style that seems to always build to an intensely catchy, almost pop, chorus. Lead singer Dylan Rau has something of a more fashionable Nathan Willett style about him, which I’m pretty sure can only be a good thing. I’ve only got three songs, but I’m looking out for more (hint hint) and I’m convinced I’m going to like anything they produce, at least as long as it stays in the same vein.

So hooray for the NME, they do actually produce something worthwhile on occasions, and good for them too.

Bear Hands – Long Lean Queen

PS. Just because I think it’s bloody brilliant, here’s the amazing Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish (check out their BBC 6 Music show, podcasts on iTunes) making their own version of “Fitter Happier” by Radiohead

Adam and Joe – Shitter Crappier