- Stag & Dagger – first time seeing the band in ages and first time hearing songs from Helter Seltzer
- Manchester – my birthday, first proper headline gig of the new album tour
- King Tuts – well that was King Tuts, what else can I say, plus added DJ set after-party
- Berlin – finally I got to see a We Are Scientists show with my dear friend Kerstin
It’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts on how to approach this one. Partly because I have been busy with normal life stuff, partly because I didn’t want to write a negative piece but had been struggling with a kind of negative mindset aftermath since the gig. I knew this had little or nothing to do with the show or the band itself, so wanted to figure it all out before writing.
I bought the ticket for this gig back in about March, not long after I saw Mystery Jets the last time. That was such an immense gig that I was full of enthusiasm for the band’s return and their new album Curve of the Earth. I have listened to the album a fair bit since its release, but in recent months I have found myself listening to new and different genres of music. I can feel a potential blog post about that brewing away inside me, so I won’t go into all that just now. I still love the record but found it difficult to build up any anticipation in advance of the gig. It didn’t help that it came less than a week after I travelled to Berlin to see a certain other favourite band (no blog post about that for various reasons but I had a thoroughly good time) so I was still in that post-holiday post-gig high combined with post-holiday post-gig low that it was all over. It was also in Edinburgh, which meant packing my bag once again and heading off, with the usual preparation regarding the kids that that involves.
I actually had a good couple of hours in Edinburgh the afternoon before the gig. I couldn’t remember ever going up Arthur’s Seat (although I may have been dragged up there as a child, my parents were big into hillwalking) so I decided to take a hike. Despite it being busier than Sauchiehall Street, it was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours and cleared my head before heading to the gig.
After a quick return to the hotel (the very funky Hub by Premier Inn on East Market St) for a shower and a bite to eat, I set out. I had never been to the Liquid Room before, so I took a bit of a tourist trail up the Royal Mile.
I was there fairly early but the first support was already on. In fact by the time I checked my coat, went to the bathroom and got a drink, they were pretty much done. I didn’t really catch their name, it sounded like The Hoohas. I didn’t hear enough to form any proper impression. I had decided to take a position on the balcony rather than down the front, so had a good view of the stage but wasn’t right in the mix of things. The position suited my mood.
The 2nd support quickly came on, they were The Big Moon and I was looking forward to seeing them after hearing a fair bit about them. I liked them. They were energetic, kind of low-fi indie pop with tight playing, nice harmonies and catchy melodies. They really got me in the mood for the Jets and I started to relax into the vibe.
Ugh, I still have mixed feelings about the Jets’ set. I’m sure some of this is to do with my mood on the day, also to do with some other stuff I’m working through at the moment which sometimes leaves me in a bit of a funk, but I reluctantly have to admit it is also to do with the set itself. It was a good show, they were all on good form, they played well etc etc but I didn’t get on with the setlist at all. They played the obligatory old hits. Fine. They also played 2 songs from an EP that they released just a week or so ago. I had listened once, while at work so the songs didn’t really stick with me. A few enthusiastic fans greeted them with vigour, but the rest of the crowd was a bit confused. I suspect most people are still getting familiar with the album, never mind adding in a new EP. They played several songs from Curve, but neither of my favourites that absolutely rocked last time – Taken By The Tide or Blood Red Balloon. Saying that, the crowd were receptive enough to the slower album songs that they did play, so maybe the flat feeling I was experiencing was my own construction. I still can’t look back on this gig objectively.
New(ish) bassist Jack got the crowd doing a nice call-and-response thing during Bombay Blue and there was spontaneous arm-waving during a Will-lead song that I can’t remember now.
They finished on Flakes, which is always a crowd-pleaser. I went away with a mixed feeling but overall glad I had been there.
There were a lot of people waiting outside, but not previously having the best of luck with meeting the band after gigs, I decided to wait for a limited time only. It then transpired that most of the people hadn’t come from the gig, but were waiting to go into the club night in the venue. Only a handful of people were actually waiting for the Jets. I stood around a bit, replying to messages etc then Jack emerged. In true rock-star style, he gathered up a posse of waiting bright young things and headed off into the night. I decided to call it a day and walked back to my hotel. No sooner had I arrived, got a cup of tea and into my pjs than I saw a tweet from the band giving the location of the “after-party”. Oh well. Tea and jammies were far more appealing at that point.
It WAS a good gig, I DID have a good time and I’m glad I went, so maybe it was just that it wasn’t quite as good as the previous one, maybe the setlist just didn’t do it for me, I don’t even know myself.
We’ve been waiting aaaaaaaaaaages for something from the Mystery Jets, it’s been 4 years since their last record and to be honest I had been fearing the worst thinking the next announcement would be about a break-up. But hip hip hooray out of the blue we get an announcement about an album and a smattering of tour dates.
I was then a bit apprehensive about what the new offering would be, the Mystery Jets have taken a very different tone and feel with each album and I just hoped that they wouldn’t decide to go down the electronic route (ewwwww). But once I got hold of the album “Curve of the Earth” – available in all good record shops etc etc I was extremely pleased to find that it a) was hardly electronic at all, and b) was really good. Sometimes it takes a while to appreciate a new album, especially from a familiar band and with a new sound, but from first listen I knew I was going to like it. It was another new-ish direction, but it was a road that made sense for the Mystery Jets. It is less poppy, more mature with a broader, deeper texture than previous records. After listening a few times I really got the sense of it being a kind of concept album, there are strong coherent themes that run though the whole record and after a while I found it difficult to listen to 1 song in isolation, it made much more sense as a whole, as a complete story.
I snapped up a ticket to the Glasgow gig, a bit disappointed that they were playing one of the smaller venues in Glasgow – the Art School – but was looking forward to it with great anticipation. In order to make the gig I had to call in emergency babysitting favours and drive around 200 miles, which just shows how determined I was to be there.
I’ve been to the Art School before, but a few years ago and in the smaller hall. At least we were in the larger hall this time, but it still felt too small for them. I got there early, but unfortunately there was a delay letting us in, so we had to wait in a very cold entranceway for what seemed like ages, and I had already checked in my coat before I found out. I did however catch a glimpse of William and Kapil wandering round. We eventually got in and I made a beeline for the front, determined to be down at the barrier. Actually I ran to the bathroom and the bar first (diet coke, I was driving) and was pleased to see that the whole venue had been kitted out to be fully accessible. Lifts to each floor and an accessible bathroom (and gender neutral bathroom). I know that venue access is important to the band, but I had never seen anywhere in Glasgow with facilities like the Art School. They support the Attitude is Everything campaign – as should you.
Support came from Declan McKenna. I hadn’t heard of him before, but he came out all confidence and with a band with 2 girls in it, so I was interested. He was young. He looked REALLY young. Like my cousin has a (teenage) kid who wouldn’t look out of place next to him. But the Mystery Jets were REALLY young when they started out, and almost everyone I see on a stage these days is younger than me, so I just need to get used to that. He was good. Well, the band were good, if he’s a solo act I’m glad he put together a band rather than using a computer backing. He’s definitely one to watch.
Much as I love the Mystery Jets, I’ve seen them a few times now and there have been good times and bad times. Luckily this was a good time. They were on top form, probably it was as good a show as the very first time I saw them back in the QMU. The set was heavy on the new record, there was a nice couple of more acoustic numbers in the middle (argh, I knew I should have written this nearer the time – Bombay Blue and Bubblegum? It may not have been, sorry, bad fan moment), a rockier section with my favourite Taken by the Tide. My other favourite Blood Red Balloon sounded amazing as well. There were the usual hits from yesteryear and surprise! Dennis, which went down with us oldies.
Since Kai left the band they have been working with new bassist Jack Flanagan, who I hadn’t really seen much of, but who seems to have been fully integrated. He actually spoke to the crowd much more than the other 3, perhaps they are pleased to have someone to take on that role. He’s one of those instantly likeable, without being arrogant or annoying, kind of blokes, and gave the show a nice lift.
They all looked like they were having a good time, which always makes for a more entertaining show. It was a longer set than I ever remember them playing before, it was the last stop on their tour and they seemed to want to make the most of it. Blaine’s vocals were stronger and richer than I remembered, but still had that beautiful vulnerable quality on the likes of Flakes. William had always taken secondary vocals but he has a larger presence on this latest album and it translated well to the live stage. Maybe they’ve both been off taking singing lessons these past 4 years, or maybe it’s maturity and experience but Williams’s singing seems to have improved measurably. There’s a descending run on the chorus of Midnight’s Mirror which was just sublime. And his guitar technique remains as insane as ever.
I sang along, danced along, cheered and got a face full of William’s jacket when he jumped down to the barrier. One of those gigs that you never want to end. Sadly it did. I bought a cool “baseball shirt” (long-sleeved t-shirt) and returned to the cold Glasgow streets. Some people were waiting by the tour bus, and I thought about it for a second, until the cold air hit my lungs and the rain started to fall and I remembered previous occasions waiting outside for a LOOOONG time for them to never emerge so I decided to call it a night.
I’ve heard them get a fair bit of radio play with the new stuff, so hopefully I’ll see them again before another 4 years pass.
Ugh, it’s been too long.
So in an increasingly old-fashioned kind of way, Mystery Jets have a newsletter. Ok, it’s an email one, rather than the old style printed sheets you used to get when you joined a band’s fan club. But still. They put one out a few months ago with news about their fourth album and a pre-album tour. It was described as an intimate series of gigs, getting them back face-to-face with their fans. Tickets were released to subscribers first, then any remaining ones would go on general release. The only Scottish date was Edinburgh (I’m hoping they save Glasgow for the full post-album tour) but I couldn’t resist and had to snap up a couple of tickets. I even persuaded T to come with me and we decided to make a mini-break of it (small person went to her grandparents for a holiday) . Going to Edinburgh is almost like going on holiday anyway, and with a gig thrown in too it would be all the better.
We arrived to find Edinburgh was basking in the same sunshine that most of the country had enjoyed for the previous week. We checked in to our hotel (the cheap but functional Travelodge) and took a walk up Calton Hill then through Princes Street Gardens. A quick freshen up at the hotel, dinner at the Mussel Inn (yum!) then we headed over to the gig venue.
I’ve never been to a gig in Edinburgh before, and had never even heard of the Electric Circus. However we found it no problem. It was indeed a small intimate venue, pretty much just a bar with a tiny stage and small dance floor type area. I didn’t know who the support was, and although I was keen to get down the front I didn’t want to be standing right in their faces if they were crap. Also, after walking around Edinburgh all afternoon I was glad of a seat. We settled near the bar with a wee drink and kept an eye on movements in front of the stage.
The support were The Peace. Or maybe just Peace. Not sure. Here’s their website anyway. They were ok. T really liked them, I think I’ll need a few more listens, but I’d definitely give them further consideration. A bit melancholic, but melodic and with some nice hooks.
After them I decided the time had come to make a push for the front. Thankfully I didn’t have to actually push anyone, most people drifted away back to the bar so I was able to take up a position at the side of the stage. The stage was so tiny that the guitar rack and various bits of kit were set up between the stage and the bar. There was a flimsy rope cordoning it off, and the crew and bar staff used that way as a thoroughfare, so we just moved right up in front of the rope and let them all go behind us. I could almost reach out and touch the rack of guitars. I was REALLY tempted, but there were a couple of roadies hovering by and the last thing I wanted was to be chucked out at that point. If it had been Keith Murray’s telecaster I totally would have. That would have been worth it, but then that Telecaster is legendary. There was also a Tele in the rack, and I tried to remember whose it was. I thought William was more of a Gibson guy? Anyway that amused me for some of the lengthy wait.
One of the roadies also taped a setlist to the kit. I tried to sneak a peek. Then decided I didn’t want to know. Then decided I did. I swithered for a while, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me. Ooh we were in for a treat! The anticipation started to build.
Finally they came on stage. Well, Blaine, William and Kapil came on with 2 guys I didn’t know. Then I remembered Kai had done some solo stuff and maybe had a baby? Not sure if I remembered that right, but maybe that explained his absence. The other guy was there to play the lap steel among other things. Nice. Blaine was even wearing an authentically country-style shirt a la Rich Hall. As usual William and Kapil were wearing terrible patterned shirts. The other guys looked normal, which actually made them look abnormal on stage.
They opened with the new song, “Someone Purer”. I had only listened to it once or twice before, but it is instantly captivating. I have still only heard it maybe 3 times but often find it swirling around my head. It is beautiful and the thing that struck me most about it is how well it suits Blaine’s voice. Blaine has really matured, he looks older, and actually looks like he has grown into himself and is more comfortable in his skin now. He looked good and sounded great. His voice has also matured and although it still has an edge of frailty and softness, it now has a depth that comes from age and experience. I had to remind myself he’s only about 25.
They played a few songs from the forthcoming album, I’m afraid I can’t remember the names. I was going to take a picture of the setlist, but it was too dark and I was still slightly scared of the roadies. However 1 roadie in particular seemed to also be a very enthusiastic fan. He was jumping about, singing along, playing air guitar, air drums and waving his hands in the air. I think he would have quite liked to have been down at the front of the stage. He was enjoying himself so much that at one point he forgot to do a guitar change for William. Either William was used to it, or he was embracing the whole back-to-basics ethos, but he just climbed down and got the guitar himself. Again, I resisted the urge to reach out…
Also at the business side of the stage was William’s current girlfriend. She sings on one of the songs, and spent the rest of the show alongside Enthusiastic Roadie cheering and clapping. William spent most of the show glancing over at her and grinning at her. It was both sweet and somewhat sickening. I wondered how my life and hers differed that she got to be 19 and a successful singer in her own right, and not only on stage with a moderately-famous indie band, but also dating one of them. When I was 19 I was a mess. But I digress…
One of the new songs (Greatest Hits?) is a proper Americana country hoe-down, full on lap steel guitar etc etc. I really liked it, the kids in the crowd were singing and jumping along, for a first outing the song got a great reception. Girlfriend remarked to Enthusiastic Roadie that they should definitely release it as a single. Enthusiastic Roadie declared that it would never happen. I’m afraid I think he might be right, while it is a stomper of a tune it is probably too “out there” for mainstream radio etc. But it was awesome live, I hope they keep it in the set regardless. The duet with Girlfriend was a nice ballad.
As well as some of the new songs they played plenty old favourites. Two Doors Down, Young Love, Elizabeth etc were obvious crowd pleasers, but I was glad to see both Melt and Flakes played, the latter was the overall show closer. But I was even more excited to hear “Bunhouse” as the main set closer, pre-encore. It is one of my favourite Jets songs, and I had never heard it live before. It was one of those songs that I had just kind of assumed they didn’t play live. But it was luscious. Blaines’s quiet quivering lyrics on the verses, contrasted with huge guitar and drums crescendos on the “chorus” parts. Referring to Mystery Jets songs as “verse” and “chorus” doesn’t usually work, but if you know the song you’ll know what I mean. They had re-worked the arrangement of it and it was a glorious tour-de-force of a song. I had one of those moments where I fell even more in love with the band that before. And whilst Kapil was out of my line of sight for most of the show, he was literally jumping on his drums during Bunhouse creating quite a spectacle.
Once again I was highly entertained and somewhat terrified by William’s guitar technique. I’ve mentioned it here before, but it has to be said again – that man is insane! He never uses a pick, just batters away at the stings with his bare fingers. He strums, picks, flicks, swipes, bends you name it he does it to those strings. He produces a beautiful sound, but by god he works hard at it. His hand was literally a blur at one point. I was fascinated and not a little scared. I half expected to be covered in blood by the end of it. Those fingers must be calloused to buggery.
Above all I was pleased that the band were back on form. I’m still not sure what happened last time I saw them, but something wasn’t right. All my fears were certainly swept aside as soon as they started playing, there was a real buzz and chemistry between them, even with the two new guys. The set lasted about an hour, I’m sure we all could have stood more, but the venue had a 10pm curfew so it had to end. Happily it ended on the mass arms-in-the-air sing-a-long extravaganza that is Flakes. I joined in, along with Girlfriend and Enthusiastic Roadie, and left with a grin on my face that lasted quite some time. I can’t wait to hear the full new album and here’s hoping I’ll see them again for a “proper” tour soon.
Ok these are extremely late. I have been meaning to write them up for ages but with one thing and another I never quite got round to it. But in only a few short days time I’ll be heading off to London for part 1 of my EuroWAStravaganza so I thought I’d better get cracking with these first.
OK that may need some explanation – WAStravaganza was a term Abby Williamson used to describe her and her friends’ road trip down the west coast of the States to see several We Are Scientist shows. We Are Scientists → WAS → WAStravaganza. So now We Are Scientists are on the European leg of their tour, it has become EuroWAStravaganza. See?
You can expect a lot more comment on We Are Scientists in the next few weeks, I’m surprised at how little I have written about them on here so far, but all going well that will change. Watch this space…..
But for now I am going to tell you about 3 other gigs I have been to (fairly) recently.
First up – I Am Arrows, King Tuts, 19th September (see I told you I was mega-late)
I Am Arrows is essentially Andy Burrows who used to be the drummer in Razorlight. Now I was never really a fan of Razorlight, but I came to hear about Andy through his work with We Are Scientists (woops, there they are again!). He recorded the drums for their latest album (Barbara – go listen!) and in various publicity /facebook / twitter etc his solo stuff was mentioned so I thought I’d check it out. It was nothing like I expected, it was neither Razorlight-y nor WAS-y but it was good. I don’t like catogorising, but it is kind of acoustic, sometimes folky, sometimes bluesy, some soulful, some cheerful songs with beautiful melodies and great rhythms and overall it is just good. I’m not very good at describing music and I don’t want to compare him to anyone else in case you love that person and then are disappointed or hate them and are put off. Anyway when I found out he was coming to Glasgow I had to go and see what he was like live.
Again the live show was nothing like I expected, but it was nice to be surprised. The acoustic-y stuff had been zooped up with electric guitars and amps and it was a lot louder that I anticipated, but again it just seemed to work. It was still the same songs, and Andy himself sang lead while rocking out with an acoustic guitar but he had a full on electrified band behind him. It gave the show a great energy and got everyone singing along and dancing along if they didn’t know the words. King Tuts usually has a good vibe, and that night was no exception despite a lot of the audience not being that familiar with the band.
Some good banter from Andy, who seems to be a really nice guy, an impromptu jam of “Hey Mona” (blast from the past!) and a cover of Tears for Fears (definitely not Scottish) made for a thoroughly enjoyable night out.
Support – 2 bands, neither of which I can remember the names of right now and I can’t be bothered to look up cos it’s late and I’ve still got 2 more shows to write about. 1 was good and the other was not, that’s all I remember. I might dig out the details and add later.
Merch – I got a t-shirt with I Am Arrow’s Sun Comes Up Again album art on the front which is pretty cool. Bonus points for having shirts in ladies sizes 🙂
Next – KT Tunstall, Barrowlands, 23rd October
I love KT Tunstall. Some people think she is really bland and boring and only does soppy love ballads, but she isn’t and she doesn’t! She is cool and rocks and does loads of interesting songs and I love her so there!
Her latest album is a bit of a departure from her previous two and she got some stick for it, but I prefer artists to try new things rather than churn out the same old predictable stuff again and again. Although the production is different, it reminds me a lot of her Acoustic Extravaganza album (or was it an LP? not sure what difference it makes in the download age…) which I really liked.
I have seen her live once before a couple of years ago at the Glasgow Academy (then the Carling Academy, now the O2 Academy I think? Although O2 have the ABC now. Are they taking over all venues?) and she was excellent live, so I really wanted to see her again. However this time was the Barrowlands. I know the Barrowlands has a great history etc etc but I don’t particularly like it. So I approached with trepidation.
We positioned ourselves at the side of the hall so my pregnant cousin-in-law wouldn’t get crushed but we had a pretty good view (until a group of, I don’t know, some kind of traditional Jewish guys came in complete with hats – WTF?). KT was awesome, the new songs sounded great, she did all the old hits and chatted to the crowd quite a bit. She did a cool solo version of Other Side of the World and the usual pedal-recording thing with Black Horse, but had to re-start cos the audience were clapping too quickly and it ended up in her words, “like a rap”. Ok she may have put a sweary word in there but I don’t want to write that here.
Unfortunately the Barrowlands lived up to my poor expectations, people around us at the side seemed think it was ok to talk loudly all through the show, particularly during the new songs that they evidently didn’t know or care about hearing. After she did Black Horse about half of them left to go to the loo/bar etc, as if that was all they came to hear. There was the usual contingent of drunk obnoxious guys who must just go to every gig there and drink themselves stupid and cause fights. But despite all that we still had a good night, and KT as usual put on an excellent show.
Support – we got there too late to really hear them I think. Didn’t really pay attention, can’t remember who it was.
Merch – lots of tiger themed stuff as per her album title, I wasn’t sure I could pull off going around with a half KT / half tiger head on my chest, so I opted for a red and black striped tour t-shirt with dates on the back. Again, points for having ladies sizes (but then I’d expect that from a female artiste) but extra bonus points for selling tea towels! Yes, you can buy a KT Tunstall tea towel. I didn’t though, would be weird drying dishes on KT Tunstall’s face.
And last but not least Mystery Jets, ABC, 30th October
Hmm what can I say about the Mystery Jets? I bought tickets to this gig as soon as they went on sale cos I had such fun the last time I saw them, but I didn’t get round to buying the latest album until much later, then I was so obsessed with KT Tunstall’s album that I didn’t start listening to Serotonin until really close to the gig. At first I wasn’t sure about the new material, it was a lot more mainstream then their previous two albums, altogether more conventional. What I like about the Jets is their quirkiness, that their personalities come through in their music, that they have personalities. Their earlier stuff was full of weird stories, characters, unconventional structures, rhythms and arrangements. It took me a while to get into it, but once I got it I was an avid fan. I’ve got to be honest I was a little disappointed that Serotonin lacked those characteristics.
However at the gig we managed to get right up front at the barrier and when they came on and started playing Alice Springs it all just clicked with me. I saw the new songs in a new light live, a far better light. I don’t know if that was how they were always intended to be heard, or whether seeing them being performed and the additional expression that goes with that made a difference, but it was so much better than I had expected.
We were over at William’s side, and I could have happily just watched him all night. He looked like he was having such a good time, quite often looking into the crowd and smiling at people or laughing at us singing and dancing along. Something has to be said about his guitar technique. It is crazy. He doesn’t use a pick or plectrum, he just strums and batters away with his fingers all the time. I have no idea how he manages not to rip them to shreds. It is a sight to behold.
Last time I saw them playing Blaine was the one to watch, he had a whole percussion set near him, as well as his guitar and keys and would enthusiastically shake rattle and roll throughout each song, almost falling off his stool with the vigorousness of his accompaniment. This time however he was more restrained. I’m not sure if it was just more in keeping with the tone of the new material, or maybe he wasn’t feeling quite so energetic this time. They played a really short set, about 45 mins, with no encore so maybe he wasn’t feeling too good. So he stuck to singing and guitar / keys I think but delivered the goods with that. They played Melt which was beautiful and Flakes, apparently at the request of someone in the audience, and that was one of the highlights for me too. I was really hoping they’d do Dreaming of Another World but they didn’t. After being a bit ambivalent about the new songs I ended up wanted to hear more of them.
Afterwards we tried some stalking to see if we could meet the band but failed miserably. William emerged briefly and I approached him hoping to say hello, but he was chatting to someone else and I was too polite to interrupt, then he darted off. Kai came out later and went for some food, and some other girls followed him but I wasn’t really interested in talking to him (truth be told I couldn’t even remember his name at the time, I had to look it up after). We waited at the door for about 90 mins, told the bouncer we were waiting for them, even tried Tweeting them but to no avail. It was the night before Halloween so there was some theme party club night happening at the same venue after the gig, and there was a ghostbusters car parked outside blasting out the theme music, so at least we had some entertainment while we waited.
Support – again we only saw the end of the set, can’t remember the name but they weren’t very good.
Merch – I got a tour t-shirt with the album art on the front, but no ladies sizes, I had to get a small man’s! Better than last time when I had to get a junior size. Come on Mystery Jets, get it together, we need ladies size t-shirts!
Phew, ok that is that. So they are not really reviews as such, I only go to see bands I like, so I don’t write critiques, just my thoughts on my experiences. Hope you found it vaguely interesting.