Live Review: COWTOWN at Soup Kitchen in Manchester 26 July 2019

Chances are you’ve noticed the heat has been rising these past couple of weeks. Constant sweaty brow, fashionable armpit patches and singed forearm hair have been this month’s go-to looks for most. They even let us wear shorts in the office the other day (can you imagine?)

It’s Friday night in Manchester and thankfully, whilst the sun has still got its hat on, it’s at least dropped the temperature a bit to make doing anything other than breathing manageable. It’s something we’re grateful for, given we’re down in the basement of Soup Kitchen in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for the return of COWTOWN.

Ahead of them, TONSILS from Belgium were a pleasant set-up for what was to come. We managed to squeeze into the room to catch their last moments, the quintet tucking into ‘Around’ from their last EP. As it started to spit outside, it felt nice to have their lo-fi pop wash over us in the cool basement, the song building from great twinkling pop beginnings to a loud, grin-inducing crescendo.

Well-oiled would be a good descriptor for COWTOWN. Staples of the DIY scene in Leeds and with a number of records under their collective belts over the past decade, they’ve never been ones to disappoint, particularly in a live setting. Heavy on the DEVO vibes, no complaints.

Personal favourite ‘Ski School’ comes out early, a hot piece from their 2013 record ‘Dudes vs. Bad Dudes’ that sounds joyous. It’s from the same record that we get the spiky, kraut-y ‘Monotone Face’, notable for the brilliant robotic monotone voice adopted by Hilary on the synth.

David does an excellent Rick Moranis…” We’re told following an onstage chat about Ghosbusters. Whilst we’d have to take guitarist Nash’s word for it, there’s no denying the chops of the drummer, cooking up a rock hard backing behind Nash and Hilary, holding an intense stare-off with the latter during the build of ‘Castleman’, whilst Nash channels his inner John Dwyer, his guitar squeaking and howling.

Having dished out thanks for everyone behind the show and the “extremely polite audience”, COWTOWN get heads nodding and feet moving on the poppy ‘Emojicore’, closer from their last album ‘Paranormal Romance’. It’s fitting that DEVO played immediately after the last note, given the synth-heavy nod from the trio to their American forefathers.

Following thunder and lightning and hot hot heat throughout the week, this felt like a necessary palate cleanser for the mind. We’d have this every week if possible.

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Live Review: Bloc Party at Castlefield Bowl 5 July 2019

So here we are – Just shy of fifteen years on from the release of ‘Silent Alarm’ – The debut album from British indie rockers Bloc Party. A seminal piece of work, as guitarist Russell Lissack said recently in an interview, it highlighted how “out of step” they were with similar bands at the time, rubbing shoulders with the likes of refreshing post-punk influenced Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads rather than some of the landfill on offer.

Friday night saw Bloc Party open up the Manchester ‘Sounds Of The City’ Festival, filling up the 8000+ capacity Castlefield Bowl for a sold out performance of their thrilling debut in full. Unsurprisingly, the Castlefield Bowl was very much rammed early doors, with little breathing room in the pavilion, a good proportion of the audience tanked up for Friday night frivolities (a number of whom would unfortunately end up embarrassing themselves, hurling bottles, cups and cans into the crowd throughout).

In what would end up being a genius move from Bloc Party, rather than coming out with the expected opening of ‘Like Eating Glass’, they flipped the album on its head, starting the show instead on the gentle, sparse ‘Compliments’, which felt strange initially (though made it perfect for getting back from the bar through the sea of people), but in hindsight worked tremendously – the slow start soon building to a gigantic conclusion some 50+ minutes later.

Luno’ came out of the gate rock hard, the first real heavy hitter of the evening and sounding loud and frantic, the crowd warming up and getting into the swing of things. Arms are soon aloft and people are being hoisted onto shoulders for the heart-swelling ‘So Here We Are’. “Manchester, you look so beautiful.” Says frontman Kele Okereke in its final moments, later jokingly pointing out the punters that have gathered in nearby flats, calling them out for watching the show for nowt.

The opening march of ’Price Of Gasoline’ transports us back to 2005, working away in a fast-food chain in the West Midlands, devouring ’Silent Alarm’ on a regular basis (along with the likes of ‘Who Killed…… The Zutons?’ and ‘Lullabies To Paralyze’). Thankfully things have improved somewhat, evidenced via the picturesque scene unfolding in Castlefield, as a train passed overhead and the sun continued to beam. The anthemic ‘This Modern Love’ had the sun-soaked crowd high on life, every word called back in joyous fashion, the song culminating with a confetti cannon exploding across the sky.

The backwards build of the album created an untouchable four song run up to the end of the set, kicking off on the massive single that was ‘Banquet’ (“Plenty more where that came from!” – Kele) and bleeding into the incredible ‘Positive Tension’, the lead up to the 8000 strong shout of “So fucking useless” leaving a lasting, unforgettable memory.

Riff-heavy ‘Helicopter’ precedes the intense finale of ‘Like Eating Glass’, both choruses passionately yelled back to the four on stage. “And that is that!” Shouts Kele on the final note, whipping off the guitar and joining his bandmates as they disappear off stage.

Who knew a Friday night in Manchester could be so fun?” Asks Okereke as the band return for an encore, knocking out second album favourite ‘Hunting For Witches’ and early singles ’Two More Years’ and ’Little Thoughts’. The crowd come unglued on ‘The Prayer’ and ‘Flux’, the latter feeling euphoric in its heart-racing, pulsating crescendo.
“We hope you’ve enjoyed your trip down memory lane.” Shouts Okereke, not long before sending us home on ‘Ratchet’ – An ‘Intimacy’-esque dance-a-thon from ‘The Nextwave Sessions’.

Whilst there was some initial skepticism before the evening (in part due to the absence of key players Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes), such thoughts were soon put to bed once Bloc Party got going and fond memories came flooding back to that angsty masterpiece they cooked up in 2005. Magic.

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Live Review: Flat Worms at YES in Manchester 25 June 2019

Big day for Tim Hellman this week. Having announced a new double LP as part of Californian face-melters Oh Sees (aptly titled ‘Face Stabber’ – via the unearthing of the 21 minute saga that is ‘Henchlock’), he spent Tuesday evening in Manchester with his bit on the side, Flat Worms.

Whilst Flat Worms have yet to reach the dizzying heights of a 20+ minute psych jam-a-thon, the Los Angeles based trio are just as raucous and ear-splitting as the long running Oh Sees, opening up their show at YES in fuzzy fashion, with feedback ringing out as they bashed through opener ‘The Aughts’. Barefoot Tim sang backing into a microphone raised high above his head, joined by drummer Justin Sullivan, thunderous in his hammering, and vocalist Will Ivy, aiming his guitar high toward the ceiling on the solo.

The night before they were over the way in Salford, in session for BBC Radio 6 Music with Marc Riley, playing four new ones in the process, all from a forthcoming record in the making to be recorded later this year with Steve Albini and put out on Ty Segall’s label GOD? A number of new ones got an airing Tuesday night too, with ‘Condo Colony’ and ‘Market Forces’ notably flying the Flat Worms flag in ticking boxes for being LOUD and FUZZY.

Whilst the weather remained gloomy outside, Flat Worms looked swell in the Pink Room of YES. Ivy extended his gratitude to the staff for painting the room the colour of their first LP and it’s from their late 2017 self-titled debut where the hits came quick and fast. ‘Question’ saw arms throughout the crowd raised and the chorus hollered back as Ivy deadpans “What do I do with that?” ‘Motorbike’ and ‘Pearl’ rumbled along in noisy fashion, the opening riff on the latter getting whoops from the crowd. ‘Pearl’ in particular sounded delectable, the guitar squealing and howling as Sullivan and Hellman frantically worked out a ripper of a sped up ending.

Thanks to all of you for being out on a Tuesday.” Said Ivy in the middle of it all, the crowd well into everything on offer and just as grateful for a visit from our American friends. Their latest release ‘Into The Iris’ had everyone moving their feet, from the pummelling ‘Surreal New Year’ to the super cool bass heavy ‘Scattered Palms…’. ‘Shouting At The Wall’ comes into life via an extended, slowed down intro, before firing off at full speed, Justin mouthing along the words whilst banging away throughout the chorus. It’s the title track that got the pints raised high in the air, its chorus called back with much gusto before it reached its frantic close.

Gone for all of 30 seconds, Flat Worms thankfully came back out to much applause, launching into a new one in typical breakneck fashion, before the lengthy, brilliant ‘Red Hot Sand’. The crunchiest of build ups had anticipation rising, before that mega riff rang out and dancing shoes were put to good use. A lad in front mimicked said riff to his unimpressed girlfriend, whilst a lass to my left air-drummed along with Sullivan, the trio up front bringing the evening to a wild, deafening and triumphant close.

There’s a reason the rooms get bigger whenever Flat Worms return – these boys are the real deal. Get in whilst the getting’s good!

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Live Review: Viagra Boys at Phase One in Liverpool 22 May 2019

How did you spend your Wednesday evening? At the tail end of last month we found ourselves in Liverpool, bypassing the various old man pubs blasting out karaoke in favour of venturing up Seel Street for our first visit to Phase One. Mingling amongst youngsters with spider-webbed elbows to fully fledged adults with their bald bonces completely tattooed, we all came together as one to see ‘Sweden’s worst kept secret’ – Viagra Boys.

Having sold out of copies of their debut full-length a few times over and with a seemingly never-ending touring cycle, Stockholm’s Viagra Boys have been making quite the name for themselves as of late. They struck gold in 2018 with the release of their anthemic ode to leisure activities using various different types of balls of all shapes and sizes and have become known for an unmissable live show. Late last year they told us all about European tour frivolities, including frontman Sebastian Murphy becoming overly familiar with an elderly French woman. They’ve got an £85 tracksuit at the merch. These cats aren’t messing about.

Unsurprisingly, Wednesday evening found Phase One rammed – the venue having already been upgraded due to tickets selling like hot cakes. First up though – Squid. Jangling guitar and cornet shivers started things off for this Southern quintet as the rest of the band were setting up, drummer/vocalist Ollie Judge stood up, swigging a Carlsberg and occasionally smashing alternate cymbals with a solo drumstick. The tambourine of Arthur Ledbetter crashed as guitarist/vocalist Louis Borlase came in on a hushed vocal, in contrast to that of Judge.

From slow build beginnings one minute to frantic pace the next, a few songs in and Judge is howling “Red wire, blue wire” as they fly along at pace, cowbell and tambourine being hammered as the speed quickened. The drummer was up on his feet as it slowed, tongue jutting out, arms going like Ian Curtis-lite, staring into the back wall. Big single ‘Houseplants’ has more bods up front moving, their set culminating in Squid going full pelt, Judge’s microphone fucked and tangled upside down as he hammered away at the kit, yelling and screaming.

Viagra Boys arrived on stage to ‘Best In Show’ and its excitable Americana commentary of a champion hound, but its all warped and repeats over itself, skipping again and again as they took in the applause. Early single ‘Research Chemicals’ opens it up, vocalist Murphy singing of sweating out the sheets and getting nosebleeds in the shower, joining the guitarist in keeping his shades firmly on. When Murphy whips the shirt off, a mini cheer goes up as the front middle pulsates (the crowd, not Sebastian, though his heavily inked belly does rumble and protrude at will).

Check it out…” He announced, holding up his “sponsored” beverage – fresh chicken water, shrimp juice – a bottle of Russian Standard vodka, crudely labelled ‘VIAGRA BOYS’. The crowd is alive for album favourites ‘Slow Learner’ and ‘Frogstrap‘, the front becoming a proper party as the former builds and builds, the saxophone howling.

Latest single ‘Just Like You’ had the crowd on every word, Sebastian giving off an air of the bloke at the pub chatting shite, whose eye you’re trying to avoid. It’s hard to look away from the heavily tatted vocalist, with each song a new journey for him to embark on – storytelling without a shirt on. Even when he’s not on vocal duties (the hard as nails instrumental ‘Amphetanarchy’), Murphy is spitting beer out, rubbing it onto his chest, stalking the stage during the middle section and muttering ‘It’s good for me’ before feedback roars and it kicks back in, the pit fully opening up.

I’m already in great shape…” Suggests Murphy, rubbing his belly like a basketball, and teasing their giant single ‘Sports’. Unsurprisingly, the infectious ‘Sports’ has bodies flying above the crowd, the first chorus generating a huge response. Towards its gibberish, chaotic conclusion, Murphy melts into the crowd like the lad from Robocop drenched in toxic waste. Later on during the raucous ‘Shrimp Shack‘, a punter interrupts the dance-a-thon and climbs on stage, attempting to soak in the adulation. Murphy has none of it, pushing him back into the sea of people, brushing off the interaction via shooting beer from the bottle straight into his gob. All in a day’s work.

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Live Review: Oh Sees at QMU in Glasgow 19 May 2019

The revitalising tonic that is Oh Sees! Last weekend we were up in Glasgow, sampling their haggis, neeps and tatties and embarking on the infamous ‘Sub Crawl’. Sunday night could’ve (and should’ve) been a write off, had it not been for Messrs Dwyer, Hellman, Rincon and Quattrone.

Walking up to the QMU, it soon dawned on me that those expensive ear plugs I’d brought all the way from Manchester were back at the hostel. The question amongst our group was – will it really be that loud? Prettiest Eyes confirmed that it would most certainly be loud.

Like a condensed Oh Sees (just the one drummer?!), the Castle Face Records favourites were deafening from afar. On our arrival, we were instantly drawn to their cowboy hat wearing bassist Marcos Rodriguez, giving it some with his stage theatrics, shirt wide open and sporting a crocodile smile. Keyboard player/knob twitcher Paco Casanova was the other side of the stage, table rammed with kit – one looking like a VHS player – trying to match that of John Dwyer, his hair flying back and forth as his fingers worked their magic. The pair were sandwiching vocalist and drummer Pachy Garcia, nailing it behind the kit. It’s understandable that Dwyer is a big fan – Their very kraut-y extended, repetitive workouts sounded great, the last two being a couple of screamers.

Three off, five on, Oh Sees had a slightly slower turnaround than usual (we’re used to everything being set up almost instantly) but were still incredibly quick, the arrival of Dwyer greeted with a big cheer.
…Pleasure to be back here in Scotland.” He announced prior to the guitar squeals and howls of opener ‘Plastic Plant’, the 2016 favourite setting the theme of the evening – Rapid-fire mind-expanders coming in quick and hot, sending the crowd batty. Within minutes, bodies streamed over the rail and one found themselves sweating almost immediately (someone in our party had to leave at one stage as his back was drenched…)

It must be said that bassist Tim Hellman looked great – sporting a big ‘tache and tiny shorts like a camp counsellor, walking the stage barefoot. New keys player Tomas Dolas is the opposite, standing at the back, head down with his hair covering his face like he’s in a doom band. He’s all sunshine and rainbows on ‘The Dream’ however, head up and playing a tambourine as the bodies down the front appeared like a sea, bodies crashing into each other like waves as Dwyer barked and wooped above them. ‘The Dream’ is mammoth in length and the double drumming throughout is incredibly hypnotic. JPD turned his back to the crowd at one stage, dabbling in synth sounds and button pushing, bringing the band down to a whisper before the ear-splitting, breakneck return of its final moments. Tim quite rightly towelled himself off at the end of it as Dwyer called out “Cheers Glasgow!

The opening riff of ‘Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster’ was teased into being, a roar going up from the crowd each time it stopped, before they’re all jumping as one for the fuzz-tacular classic. A thunderous sounding ‘Withered Hand’ followed sharpish, whilst ‘Animated Violence’ shook the walls and chattered the teeth, it being so loud and crushing. The latter was incredibly good, a highlight amongst it all being Quattrone’s stick flying up in the air and him whipping out another and playing on before it could even touch the ground. Following the brutality of this, EVERYONE towelled dry.

In hindsight, there were a few favourites missing throughout the evening, but no shits were given by anyone in attendance on the night. Full-pelt was the name of the game, with super-swell hits one after the other in ‘I Come From The Mountain’, ‘Sentient Oona’, ‘Jettisoned’ and ‘Web’, with an in-between serving of ‘Sticky Hulks’ allowing one to catch their breath. ‘The Static God’ may have been song of the night, not just down to it being an incredible spectacle throughout its 5+ minutes, but also with the realisation that the hangover was kicked and the drunkenness had returned.

Encrypted Bounce’ put everything to bed, a culmination of everything that had come before, similar to ‘The Dream’ and its huge mid-section of double drumming delights and rhythm section hypnosis. JPD divvied up his time between facing the crowd and having his back turned, guitar twiddling and playing synth during the pure jam middle. He’s then squat down, guitar squealing as everyone carried on the incredible backing to the unfolding brilliance he laid out, before bringing everything up and thrashing out their final moments.

The idea of an encore lived long past Oh Sees finishing. Even with the lights on and a non-Oh Sees soundtrack blasting out of the PA, the masses upfront rapidly shouted out for “one more tune”, refusing to come to grips with the idea that their heroes had finished. Such is the grasp of Oh Sees – chasing the Californian dragon, each hit better than the last. C’est la vie.

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