Bear Hands


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.

Creep
The National Anthem
15 Step
There There. (The Boney King Of Nowhere)
All I Need
Nude
2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)
The Gloaming. (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold.)
Climbing Up The Walls
Street Spirit [Fade Out]
Reckoner
Karma Police
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Just
Idioteque
Exit Music (For A Film)
Bodysnatchers
You And Whose Army?
Lucky
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)

When I moved to Newcastle from the little village I lived in before I expected a new world of musical possibilities, gigs every night and a general involvement in something bigger than going out to a show once a month or less. Turns out I was just a little naive. Because it seems as though, despite the big Carling Academy and a few other great music venues, no bands seem to come here.

Future of the Left were due to play here last month, but cancelled, and then when I found out that Bear Hands and Hockey, two brilliant new American acts were going on a UK tour (with Passion Pit, who I like a lot less and so will spite by not mentioning them. Except for now.), I was disappointed (read: severely pissed off) to find out they weren’t coming anywhere near the North-East. What is it that makes Newcastle an undesirable city to come to? (No nasty jokes please)

Ah well, if you get the chance and they come near you, I urge you to go and see the two afore-mentioned bands, I’ve blogged about Bear Hands before, their post-punk buildups leading to huge choruses are just wonderful, and Hockey have been described as a synth version of The Strokes, something I totally agree with. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them. But I might have to hate you if you do see them.

Bear Hands – Bad Blood
Hockey – Too Fake

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