Oh geez where do I start? Well if you read my previous post you’ll now be aware of my We Are Scientists obsession. I’ve been waiting 2 and a half years to see them live again. Well I went along to an In-Store performance back in June (did I write about that, I don’t think I did?) but it’s been 2 and a half years since I saw them properly live. They have been touring all over the States and Europe and then they finally came over to the UK. I booked my tickets for these gigs about 4 months ago so the anticipation has been building for some time. Added to that my internet-based We Are Scientists friends in America and Europe had been blogging / tweeting / facebooking and discussion-forum-posting about their experiences, giving tantalising glimpses into the songs from the newest album (Barbara, available in all good record shops and online!) and meetings with Keith, Chris and their new touring drummer Danny Allen. Not to mention much swooning and mopping of brows over Aaron Pfenning from support act Rewards. So finally I got on the train and headed London-wards for the first leg of my very own EuroWAStravaganza*.
We Are Scientists, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 21st November 2010
I have only ever been to gigs in Glasgow and Dundee, so although I lived in London for a year and have visited numerous times the whole gig-going experience there was new to me. First impressions – Londoners get there early! In Glasgow I am used to people drifting in right up until the main act comes on, usually after 9pm or closer to 10pm. We arrived at the Empire and it was absolutely packed! So my aim of getting there and securing a spot on the barrier / near the front were dashed. Second impressions – I have never seen so many white people all together in London. It was a bit unnerving, like I was back in Dundee…. Anyway we wheedled our way as far to the front as possible but had to stop about 4/5 rows back cos people were starting to give us evils. Rewards had been the first support band but he must have started about 4pm cos we totally missed him. I didn’t think we were that late, but the 2nd support act were well underway when we arrived.
Not too long a wait and We Are Scientists took to the stage. I must have had the biggest grin on my face when Keith and Chris walked on. The grin faded slightly when I realised that I could only just about see Keith’s head from where I was standing, I could only see Chris if I stood on tip-toes and craned my neck. I couldn’t see Danny at all. Londoners are tall. And the guy in front of me had incredibly bouffant hair that totally blocked my view. Oh well, I’d just have to look at Keith the whole time. Tragedy.
Unfortunately there were some sound problems at the beginning. In fact throughout I think – Keith’s vocals were really quiet for the first couple of songs and his guitar fluctuated and sounded all wrong and disjointed on and off all through the show. It took me while to recognise the songs when they started which is unusual, normally all it takes is the first note or chord and I’m away. So that was a bit weird, but it wasn’t that bad and got a bit better as they went on.
It was great hearing the songs from Barbara in all their full-on glory, I’ve only heard them recorded or acoustic before. They played quite a lot of the new stuff, but the crowd around me didn’t seem to be into it. I was singing my heart out to every line and they started talking among themselves. Cheeky kids. It was clear that some people hadn’t heard any WAS material since With Love & Squalor 4 years ago, so when Nobody Move or It’s A Hit were played they went crazy with pushing and shoving and throwing beer all over the place. We ended up sliding sideways a bit to avoid being completely crushed. My view got even worse but I didn’t fear for my life. We ended up near some girls who were dancing and singing to all the songs, even the new ones so I felt a bit better.
Then I heard an intro that I didn’t recognise. Was it the dodgy sound system? Were they doing a cover? No, wait, that sounds like..no it can’t be…it is, it’s PITTSBURGH!!!! I could not believe it. Pittsburgh is a slowish track from Barbara that I really like. It has this spine-tingling opening and although the lyrics are essentially about sex the music and the arrangement are just beautiful. They’s played it acoustically at the In-Store and I was just captivated by Keith’s voice au naturalle (cos they had some problem with equipment he wasn’t using a mic or amp) so I have loved it ever since but the word on the street (well, the internet) was that they played it in these kind of shows rarely, if ever, so I wasn’t expecting it. But they did and it was awesome and I was a happy bunny.
I was also glad they played Central AC, I wasn’t expecting that either. It’s the last track from Babs and not a single either, and to be honest when I listened to it on the album I couldn’t really get into it for ages, but once I understood the lyrics (thanks Adrian!) it clicked with me (not the actual lyrics, it’s about getting drunk and not knowing what you did the night before. Not all of their songs are ambiguous and open to interpretation…) and it worked really well live, had a nice energy and I was very smug for being the only one near me to sing along to all the lines. Spot the uber-fan!
It is part and parcel of a WAS gig to get some audience interaction and banter between the guys and there was a bit of that going on but again due to the sound problems I couldn’t make out a lot of what they were saying.
There was a short 2-song encore and then it was over.
I knew that some of my internet WAS-friends were in the audience so I went on the lookout for them to see if we could meet in real life, and I wanted to see if they were up for waiting to see if Keith & Chris were going to come out and say hello, as they often do after gigs. I spotted a couple of people and as we were chatting and introducing ourselves etc a security guard came over and told us the band were having some kind of knees-up (ok he didn’t say that but am I not allowed one Cockney reference?) with their girlfriends and celebrity mates and it was unlikely they’d be out before midnight. As it was only about 10.45pm we decided we weren’t that dedicated and headed for the tube. It was nice to chat to Tracy and Joanne in real life, and they were telling me about their marathon EuroWAStravaganza with involved taking in about 7 shows (is that right?) and driving home each night after them. Now that is 2 uber-fans right there. You thought I was bad with 2 shows… Unfortunately Glasgow wasn’t on their list so we parted company hoping to meet on the next tour.
Oh and on the way back to Kavita’s I saw this:
Missed Rewards and only saw a couple of songs from Goldheart Assembly but they seemed to be quite good.
I didn’t buy anything, I just wanted to get the hell out of the crowd and get some fresh (ok fresh-ish, it was London after all) air. Figured I’d get the chance in Glasgow.
We Are Scientists, Glasgow ABC, 25th November 2010
Yay, part 2 of my EuroWAStravaganza was back in Glasgow. So my main aim was to get there as early as possible. I had even thought about heading into town in the afternoon to see if I could catch the guys on the way in ( I had pressies for them ) but I was thwarted by sick small child who was off nursery, so as soon as parent no. 2 arrived back home I headed out.
The ABC isn’t my favourite venue. They always have gigs really early cos they do club nights after. So I was afraid that I’d miss Rewards again. Didn’t help that the bus driver was an idiot so I ended up getting off and walking (ok I admit I actually ran) the last bit. Got in and could hear that Rewards were already on but there was barely anyone on the floor, they were all at the bar or on the seats at the side. I tried to get a barrier spot but Keith’s side was mobbed with kids so I went over to Chris’ side which was also full along the barrier but I got a spot just behind another short person to try to ensure a good view.
So finally I get to see the fabled Aaron Pfenning, the man who has made girls swoon over in every town he has visited. Well I didn’t get a very good look cos he spent the whole set over on the other side of the stage. Maybe he thought that the Keith fan-girls were more likely to give him a better reception. Lets face it Keith is the biggest Aaron fan-girl.
Well Aaron certainly makes love to that guitar, he was thrusting and grinding all over it, and his songs are all slow atmospheric numbers so you can imagine… His singing voice is also deep and husky so I can see the appeal. But it was a pity that the audience weren’t into it, there was hardly anyone paying attention and no-one clapped or cheered. Me and a few girls on the barrier tried to get some enthusiasm going but we were only a few pitiful voices. His music is quite different to WAS so maybe people just weren’t into it as much, it is kind of music you would probably appreciate better if stoned. But I enjoyed it ( I was definitely not stoned, I didn’t even go and get a drink cos I was so eager to book my place down the front). Afterwards he started speaking to some people down the front then he had to clear off his own kit, so it was a bit of an undignified ending.
I was also looking forward to the second support act after what I’d seen of them in London. They were really quite good. The kind of band that if I had gone along to King Tuts of an evening to see what was on and they were it I would have been really pleased. Their songs weren’t particularly different or unusual but they played with a lot of heart and soul and energy and made an effort to connect with the audience. I was thoroughly entertained watching their drummer who stood up to play a lot of the time, played with furry beaters half the time and was occasionally joined by one of the other band members to bash away at extra bits of kit. I’m always interested in watching drummers (having played a bit when I was at school) but these guys were excellent.
By the time they had finished the hall had filled up more, and they really set the mood that got everyone geared up for WAS.
We Are Scientists
The roadies had moved the mics so I was pretty much in front of Chris, just a bit to the left. Short girl stayed in front of me so I had a good view over to Keith and Danny as well. Sorted.
I was still in gig mode and on a bit of a high from London so as soon as they started I was singing, dancing and waving my arms in the air. It took a while for those around me to catch up but they did before too long. Except this one girl beside me who seemed to be really uncomfortable and just stood there looking awkward, not singing or moving or anything. She had probably been dragged along by a friend and for a while I felt sorry for her, but then I didn’t want her to spoil my mood so I just carried on and tried not to bash her with my elbow.
Well the sound this time was perfect. It was only now that I realised how poor it had been in London when I hear the first song and Keith’s vocals were as clear as a bell and the balance between the guitars and drums was just perfect. I actually couldn’t believe how clear Keith sounded, whatever the sound guys did it made him sound like he was standing right in front of us as he was at the In-Store, un-electrified. Round of applause for the ABC sound peeps.
I’m not going to describe each song, that’ll get tedious (non-WAS fans you have done well if you have even got this far) but I’ll say they didn’t play Pittsburgh again, but did play Break It Up this time, so it was good to hear that as we didn’t get it in London.
Keith and Chris looked like they were having a really good time. Keith was incredibly bouncy, and was dancing all over the place so much that he often had to rush back to his mic to sing a line. He was letting rip on his guitar ( I love that telecaster) as I have never seen him do before – man, he can really play that thing! He was improvising and riffing and playing around with the hooks and melodies and solos it was amazing, I was open-mouthed most of the time in awe. When Keith is on top form it rubs off on the other two and they were getting into it as well, I guess with Keith being singer and lead guitarist his mood must set the tone. Well he was in brilliant form that night and Chris and Danny weren’t far behind. Chris did a couple of wee improvised bits too and launched into his own solo in response to Keith’s. This all got the crowd going too and the energy just flowed from the stage to the audience and back again, I have never been to a gig like it. I was squealing with delight.
And boy, were we treated to some top quality We Are Scientists banter. Again, I’m not going to try and recount it all cos it probably won’t come across well but they talked about everything from the tipple of choice for the modern rock star – “Fanta and grain alcohol” apparently, the Glaswegian penchant for Buckfast (Chris had done his homework!), how to get your groove on and Chris’ bathing habits, among others. It was hilarious and classic Keith and Chris and I was in a very happy place.
Ok, what else to say? Aaron Pfenning from Rewards came on to do Textbook again and there was a surge of bodies as Keith came down into the audience, but I seemed to have drifted off to the left and he didn’t come down that far.
The encore was longer this time which was good cos no-one wanted it to end. Keith kept saying how Glasgow was the best crowd and this was the best gig of the tour. Usually I’d be sceptical that he says that all the time, but he didn’t say it in London. I like to think he was telling the truth…
So afterwards I had to wait outside to see if they were going to come out this time. I hadn’t put my coat in, thankfully cos there was a massive queue and it took ages to get everyone out, but I slipped out quickly after a trip to the merch stall. (I wanted a red sword logo t-shirt, but they had sold out of ladies sizes so I got a tour t-shirt instead. I’m not sure I like it, the image is a little disturbing,..) As I was waiting, tech geek that I am, I immediately went on Twitter on my phone to tell my WAS-friends how amazing it had been, when I saw a familiar figure in a bad red hat coming skulking out the venue and heading round the waiting fans, towards the bus. I gave a double-take but I was pretty sure it was Keith. He obviously didn’t want to be seen, hence the skulking and hat-wearing, but I had to say something, so I said, “nice hat!” and smiled at him. He looked up and laughed and smiled but carried on to the bus. I was just about to tweet my near-Scientist experience when Aaron and Chris came out. Chris got a bit mobbed so I spoke to Aaron first and told him that everyone had been urging me to see his set and h0w glad I was that I had made it. He seemed surprised that people had been saying that and quite touched that I made the effort just for him. He was really nice, and told me not to feel weird for clapping and cheering when no-one else was.
Chris was still busy signing things and getting photos etc so I held back waiting for a better opportunity. I saw Danny loitering beside the bus and went over to him. He was so lovely and just began chatting about random stuff like he knew me. I began to wonder if he had mistaken me for someone else, but I think he is just a genuinely nice guy who has a really easy manner and way with people. So we talked a bit about touring, how the different shows have different feels, the weather (it was blooming freezing), the attention the other 2 guys get, festivals, being in a group of Americans on Thanksgiving and wet wipes. Yes wet wipes. Apparently Danny had never heard of wet wipes, so just as I was explaining about using them for babies, Chris came and joined us and of course Chris knew what there were. How rock ‘n’ roll – wet wipes.
Anyway I wished Chris a Happy Thanksgiving and gave him my present, which was a book. I know Chris and Keith are both into literature, so I thought the perfect present would be an anthology of new writing from the Glasgow University creative writing dept. My friend did a Masters there a couple of years ago and their work got published and some of it is really good. Chris was really interested and asked me who my friend was and made sure I pointed her poetry out. (Sara Bryce are you reading this?) He thanked me about six times and promised to check it out. I reminded him I had come to the In-Store with my then-11 month old daughter, and he remembered me and we talked a bit about how babies like music, especially strong beats. He then had to rush off, but was really apologetic for having to leave and thanked me again for the book and promised again to check it out. He is such a nice guy!
I got my ticket signed by Danny and Chris,
And got my photo taken with Chris. Thanks to the girl who offered to take it!
Chris had said that Keith was still inside, but I said I thought I’d seen him go into the bus, so there followed much confusion about who was where. Everyone was really cold so Aaron and Danny decided to go back to their hotel bar, Chris went looking for Keith but never re-emerged, so we decided to call it a night and head off before we froze solid.
And that was the end of my EuroWAStravaganza.
*WAStravaganza is a term created by Abby Williamson for her and her friends’ road trip down the Western US to see several We Are Scientists shows. We Are Scientists →WAS → WAStravaganza. So the European leg of the tour became EuroWAStravaganza. It makes sense to us…..