Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Interview

The fizzy sunburst lo-fi garage rock of their 2011 debut album was a show staple as its 2013 successor has been since it landed. Songs like unearthed gems from a Wes Anderson soundtrack, revelling in the sonic detail of nuggets from a golden age of 60’s rock, proggy folky wig-outs built around Ruban Nielson’s guitar and voice, both familiar yet quite unlike anything in particular, now pulled into sharper focus with Nielson’s production.

I was lucky enough to get to sit down with the man himself for a chat in Dublin, on the afternoon of their debut Irish gig.

I was however foolish enough to believe that Ruban knew what timezone he was in. He told me twice that they were due onstage at 10pm, so I showed up at 9.45pm and missed most of their set. Gutted!!!… the band did however play a 5 song encore, including Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam and a Jay Reatard tune. Nielson and his two merry men, having doused the crowd with tequila, exuded pure joy and enthusiasm, commendable considering the shithole of a venue (THEIR IS NO STAGE!!!) that the unscrupulous promoters disrespect both bands and punters with.

…anyway before I digress further in diatribe, you can listen to that chig wag with Ruban Neilson aka Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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Matthew E. White: Interview

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Southern gentleman of soul Matthew E. White was in Dublin recently for what was to be a tremendous gig in Whelans, in support of his debut album, the magnificent Big Inner. I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with him in his Dublin hotel, the day before the gig, as he battled through a heavy flu. Professional trooper that he is the gig went ahead and those who were present will forever remember the funked up musical magic that he and his band conjured on the night.

Listen to the interview here.

Deap Vally: Whelans, Dublin Aug 27th 2012

 

Having just released their debut single Gonna Make My Own Money on Ark Recordings which recently merged with Irish label Rubyworks, Deap Vally brought their dirty blues to Whelans in Dublin on Monday night, as part of the Rubyworks 10th birthday celebrations. They may have been the opening act on the night, playing an away game, with all Dublin bands apart from them, but frankly they were the only band I had come to see.

The Californian duo had been generating a lot of excitement even without any substantial output. I know I was blown away when I first heard the howling soulful vocals, buzz saw guitars and pounding beat of that single. But could they really be as good live, and could the rest of the songs live up?

Yes, yes and more. The main difference between Deap Vally live and on record is how cool and effortless this shit seems to them , that and the fact that they are doing it in front of you, barefoot in bikini tops and hot-pants, whipping up a furious Rock n Roll sex storm.

Their set of all originals stuck to the scuzzy blues rock template, but each element excelled in delivery. Lyndsey Troy wails like Tina Turner and Robert Plant and her primal guitar riffs stick to your ears like tar, while Julie Edwards thumps out rhythms in wild Bonhamesque flurries. Crowd interaction and a mid-set technical issue were handled with ease via brassy American charm.

It’s only Rock n Roll, but very few do it this well. Expect great things.

We recorded a chat with Julie Edwards from Deap Vally before the show. Listen here.

Body & Soul Festival 2012: Review

As an avid festival goer I was impressed hearing Body & Soul director Avril Stanley speak to us on the radio show about the inspiration behind and ethos at the heart of her festival creation. Until then my experience of what Body & Soul do had been limited to their area at Electric Picnic, for the previous two years I had been Glastonbury bound while others marveled at the delights of the stand alone Body & Soul Festival in Ballinlough Castle Co. Westmeath.

Spirits and expectations were high as we made our way across the midlands on Friday evening. The rain had abated by the time we arrived on site, allowing us time to set up a reasonably dry camp and we were bopping through the woods like kiddy school kids by nightfall. The €25 Friday night add-on option made a three night weekender affordable and the late night woodland revelry was the perfect showcase of what we could expect for the rest of the festival.

Django Django and myself prior to their Mainstage gig at Body & Soul 2012

By Saturday afternoon it was clear that the persistent rain was no match for the festival-wide ebullient spirit. Cathal Ely and Reid brought the Upstage to life and across at the mainstage The Herbaliser worked the crowd with their tightly wound brass laden funk. Django Django made their second Irish festival appearance and now with their universally plauded debut album familiar to all, the psychedelic popsters charmed the partisan crowd with ease.

Most people, myself included made their way back to the campsite before dark to dress for the masquerade ball beneath the stars. The festival wide fancy dress party was lovingly embraced by all and the night was blessed with enthusiasm and colour. I caught most of Villagers bold set of mainly new material, and although the sound did not project as well as it might have had, the band pulled off the near impossible task of maintaining the attention of a festival crowd with previously unheard tunes.

Spiritualized opened with a wall of feedback and with zero crowd interaction still impressed this by now casual fan with their contrarily uplifting downbeat gospel rock, the title track of their Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space 1997 masterpiece being a particular highlight. Lee Fields & The Expressions may have been unknown to many before last weekend but the golden voiced dapper soul master and his red hot band were the perfect choice to close the mainstage at 2am. This was just one example of the thought put into the festival lineup and in particular the running order.

The joyous sound of The West Cork Ukulele Orchestra wafted across the festival site at 11am on Sunday morning. By 1pm Tieranniesaur brought both the sunshine and their irresistible DIY disco funk to the Mainstage. Hollie Cook, (daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook) may have also been unknown to many but her natural stage presence and tropical pop/ reggae good-time vibes soon had the capacity afternoon crowd in the palm of her hand. I was busy interviewing Miss Cook while Kormac’s Big Band worked the  mainstage crowd to festival fever pitch. St. Vincent who until now had I had paid little heed to, dived into the crowd early in her set, her PJ Harvey meets Bjork vibe definitely a winner.

From here it was a dash and grab between the Upstage for New Jackson and Emika and then back to the Mainstage for Little Dragon. What I heard of the latter was hampered by dodgy sound and technical problems, although some who caught the entire set say Little Dragon remained a highlight. With the ubiquitous single Midnight City and its accompanying album Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, M83 seem to have come into their own in the past twelve months. Previous live reviews had suggested that the band were at the top of their game, but even expectations fell short of the majestic aural spectacle that reigned on Sunday night. The French kings of cool must surely have been equally impressed by the rapturous response from their Irish audience.

Danish electro rockers WhoMadeWho pummeled the now ecstatic crowd into blissful submission with flair and finesse. Donal Dineen closed the show on the Mainstage before most made their way back to the Upstage for a loved up boogie festival finale John Talabot DJ set. After three days and nights of dancing and partying we rounded off our weekend at 4am Monday morning in a steaming hot tub in the woodland paradise. Walking back to my tent at 6am while others partied on, my body and soul now aglow, I recalled having a similar feeling after my first Glastonbury experience. Body & Soul = Festival magic.

The War On Drugs: Interview

We caught up with Adam & Dave from The War On Drugs just before their sold out Whelans gig in Dublin. They were pretty excited to be finally playing in the venue. They were also hoping Mike Scott was gonna jam with them that night. It never happened. Scott was in attendance though and as I stood beside him watching the band from our upstairs vantage point, it occurred to me that it didn’t matter that he had declined their invitation, what mattered was that he was there to witness and thereby honour the work of a new generation.

Lykke Li: Tripod Dublin

Standing in line at Tripod on Saturday night, surrounded by a bevy of young beauties, high heeled and dolled up in glad rags and warpaint I was reminded that Lykke Li is making her mark on the mainstream. This was not the usual muso gig-going crowd. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Did it affect the atmosphere at the gig? Yes I believe so. Am I an overly possessive music snob? Probably.

The stage was draped in swathes of black satin and smoke and strobe lights set the scene. Lykke Li and her band emerged from the dazzling fog, opening with Jerome from her recent Wounded Rhymes album. Typical of much of this album, with a darkness looming large; the tone was set. The crowd’s clapping and cheers for the subsequent tracks from her debut Youth Novels were notably louder. Already it felt like something was amiss.

Though never actually appearing uncomfortable on stage, Li was not a natural performer and only ever really let go when she banged away at the floor tom and crash cymbal to her side for Dance Dance Dance. Her live sound is richly layered and as well executed as her records, augmented by two drummers. But with so many down tempo songs in tonight’s set, and a lukewarm reaction from the crowd, the gig never really took off. A possible solution to presenting the slower material might have been to use them to build up to the faster more danceable tracks like Get Some, which appeared mid-set and was therefore underwhelming.

Leaving the venue (always a nightmare and surely a major fire hazard in Tripod) I could not shake the feeling that this had been just a mediocre gig, lacking much of the magic that her albums sparkle with. I bumped into her band later in Anseo on Camden Street. Enjoying a few well earned post gig pints they shared none of my feelings on the atmosphere in Tripod. Maybe I was alone in thinking that the performance landed somewhat off target, or maybe Lykke Li has her sights set elsewhere.

Twin Shadow: Crawdaddy, Dublin

Released late last year Twin Shadow’s album Forget went straight to the top of many best of year lists, effortlessly earning its place. The debut from Dominican Republic born, Florida raised and Brooklyn reborn George Lewis Jr revealed itself as an instant success in slow-release chillwave Anglo pop. Softly sung bittersweet nostalgia, a magpie ear for 80’s pop hooks, wonky vintage synths and drum machines colluded in a work of haunted beauty. Musically and vocally Lewis was unafraid to revel in unashamed homage to heroes, but…and here is the crux: there was always far more going on than in the output of similarly inclined but lesser endowed contemporaries.

Reproducing the sonic detail of the record may never have been on the cards, at least not for an artist playing Crawdaddy, with a capacity of 300, but reports that a full band were in tow did keep the bar raised and the excitement simmering. On the day it looked like I was going to interview Lewis before the show, however this never materialised as the PR channels that needed to be navigated were under the care of small minded traffic controllers. (End of rant)

I got to the venue just after 9. Support act Solar Bears were on stage and Lewis was chatting to fans at the bar, unaffectedly. I furnished myself with a brandy and ginger, had a wander around the Tripod compound, found my friends, had a quick smoke  and then headed back into Crawdaddy just as Twin Shadow took to the stage. Lewis immediately acknowledged the warm vibe of the Dublin crowd by thanking them for the best reception on the tour so far.

Shooting Holes was a our introduction to the Twin Shadow live sound. Harder and looser than on record, the immediate groove now augmented by live drums. Flanked by his bandmates, Lewis displayed a rare presence of ease for such a young gun. He lead the band on his telecaster and cut a Prince-like figure breaking into solos and rocking out with extended jams on almost every track. This was what we had come for. Tonight’s short set included everything on the album and by the time the band had returned for an encore to the triumphant Ole Ole Ole from the ever excitable crowd it was clear that the 2000 people at London’s Shepherds Bush tomorrow night would be witnessing the same star ascending, now shining all the brighter.

Janelle Monáe: Live in Dublin

On a night when Santa would have been forgiven for a no show, Janelle Monáe and her ‘touring party’ arrived in Dublin for her first headline Irish gig. Our appetites were well whetted by her two performances at Electric Picnic earlier this year. Tonight’s gig started later than expected but understandably so given the logistical nightmare such severe weather brings. Her dapper band, suited and booted in their trademark tuxedos were first on stage, followed by her top hatted MC. To the sound of The ArchAndroid album opener Suite II Overture, Monáe was heralded onto the stage like the star that she is. However what emerged were three hooded and cloaked figures, like zombie nuns, who with their backs to the crowd, came alive as the urgency of Dance Or Die kicked in. But where was that voice coming from? And then..behold! Ms Janelle Monáe cast off her disguise and was finally revealed, six feet in front of us and five feet tall. Of course this playful tease was just that, as by now her stage entrance has been well documented. But I for one bought into the fantasy and so was still enthralled, for knowledge of a fantasy does not deplete its power.

Dance Or Die segued into Faster, and Faster into Locked Inside just as they do on record but live the effect was mesmerizing, almost disorientating, like a flurry of punches from a feather weight boxer. Monáe’s is a multi media assualt. At any one time there were up to ten people on stage, either dancing or playing, usually both, including ‘the funkiest horn section in Metropolis.’ But Monáe commands the attention on stage, like a pint sized female James Brown. Accompanied only by guitar, her rendition of the Charlie Chaplin standard ‘Smile’ displayed her powerful vocals to awe inspiring effect. This cover version and Sincerely Jane from 2008‘s Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase), that directly followed, were the only deviations from her current album showcase. The knock out combination of Cold War and Tightrope closed the show as balloons descended on the dancing grinning masses. Her MC then informed us that it was Janelle’s birthday and as the crowd sang to her, a real, unaffected joy appeared to light up her cherubic face. As an encore, Come Alive successfully pulled off the feat of following her massive hit single and tonight, trumping it. She even returned once again to send us home reeling to the gentle soulful sound of Oh, Maker.

The artistry and sheer star quality of Monáe cannot be overstated and her energy and enthusiasm are infectious. However even with the extra celebration tonight, she still only engaged with the crowd on her level. In fact when she climbed from the stage and into the crowd, 1200 adoring fans crouched down low for her. A wonderfully bizarre site in a near capacity Tripod tonight. Outside the venue a limo and driver awaited to whisk Janelle Monáe away. Given the stellar pop fantasy that had we just witnessed, a sleigh and reindeer would not have been out of place.

JM tears it up on Letterman