Invidious Comparisons, Next Levels, and Turning It Down From Eleven

Invidious Comparisons, Next Levels, and Turning It Down From Eleven:

Bombay Bicycle Club, Rae Morris, Flyte at Glasgow 02 Academy, 3rd March versus Kid Canaveral, Randolph’s Leap, Death Cats at the Cool Cat Club, Beat Generator Live! Dundee, 8th March.

Two gigs in a single week – am I mad? Have I taken this Festival Dad thing way too far, and forgotten that parental responsibilities extend beyond providing the educational opportunities offered by rock and roll events?

Fear not, gentle reader. The memory of the sleep deprivation brought on by driving back from Glasgow after the 02 gig, with a full day’s work the next day, is enough to persuade me this won’t be a regular occurrence. It actually felt like I had a hangover, when I hadn’t had a drop to drink. And, if you’re under the age of 35, trust me – middle-aged hangovers are worse than when you’re a youngster. They just are.

At least the second gig had the sense to be on a Saturday night, so a decent lie in was possible the next day. And as I lay there on a lazy(ish) Sunday morning, I got to thinking about the two gigs. Obviously, with one being at the Glasgow 02, featuring one of the indie bands of the moment, Bombay Bicycle Club (BBC), and the other being in a sweaty Dundee joint a fraction of the size with far less well known bands, comparisons would seem invidious.

But are they? What was each experience, as an experience of a rock and roll, er, experience, like? Were there any advantages the smaller gig held over the bigger one?

Well. Part of the answer depends where you’re coming from, of course. Daughter and Heiress had been listening to BBC for a couple of years; had most, if not all, of their albums; and placed them only just below another of her Clubs, Two Door Cinema, in her personal musical pantheon. Whereas yours truly had undergone a crash course lasting, oh, a week or so, and, frankly, hadn’t totally felt the love yet.

Whereas, in the case of the Dundee gig, both of us had had roughly the same exposure to the two main bands, Randolph’s Leap and Kid Canaveral, having been to a previous gig with them at the same venue about a year ago, and listened a few times to one of the former’s CDs, bought at the self same event.

But let’s start at the beginning in both cases. Being the opening act is, frankly, a thankless task (and yes, I’ve been there, boy, have I been there): the audience is either taking on ballast at the bar, waiting to meet people, or simply physically not there; the sound guy is still twiddling with things; in culinary terms, you’re not even the starter, you’re an amuse bouche in a distracted restaurant at the table next to the toilets. Plus side, of course, is that you might well still be playing in front of a far bigger audience than you could muster for yourself, so pucker up and play.

DeathCats!!!, the openers at Dundee, were a three piece from Glasgow who made pretty good use of the opportunity. There was a pleasing punk edge to the rock that came blasting out from the get go; the lead singer/guitarist had some charisma, even if his inter-song announcements were a bit hard to follow; and they did what all opening acts are meant to do: got up, did their thing, then got off fast.

Post gig reports suggest that said lead singer had been, er, experimenting extensively with lager before coming on, which would explain the incoherence between songs. Didn’t appear to affect the songs themselves, though, which were pretty decently crafted for their type. There was something missing, though, and it was probably just the extra musical subtlety more instrumentation would add: even another guitar, or better still a bit of keyboard? I know a mean harmonica player for hire.

Opening the batting in Glasgow were a band called Flyte, a guitars/drums/bass/synth combo from, er, somewhere in England, whose single, We Are the Rain, recently got the nod in the Guardian as ‘whimsical and melodic.’ Online info is scanty (if looking for them in Facebook, type in ‘Flyteband,’ otherwise you get some American bozos doing a cover of I Kissed a Girl) but their lead singer reminded me of none other than the youngest of the three Galloway boys I used to play football with as a teenager, key difference being he didn’t storm off stage in a strop because someone had booted the ball too hard at him when he was in goal.

Anyway, that’s probably not important right now. Flyte were young, charming, and possessed of that synthy, chimey sound that is currently quite hot courtesy of Metronomy, as the Guardian pointed out. They even threw in more major chords per song than is usual with an indie band, particularly on said single (for the musically uninitiated: major chords = upbeat, poppy, songs; preponderance of minor chords even in the chorus = indie/gothic/dark etc).

Whatever his goalkeeping abilities might be, the lead singer did well to win over what might have been a surly or even just indifferent Glasgow crowd, given his accent. Telling them he and the guys would be hanging out at the back of the gig after their set did, I’m sure, help boost the band’s following. In a venue the size of the 02, it seemed an old-fashioned kind of touch.

What was not to like? Very little – and I could certainly see them in a year or so stealing up on the rails past the likes of Metronomy to scoop all sorts of awards for that kind of synthy, chimey, indie pop thing. And yet there was something just not quite right. They seemed … well, just a bit underpowered really, like a 1.4 model when really you’re looking for the 1.8 GTi. The guitars, especially, just didn’t seem to be coming at you the way DeathCats!!! did in Dundee. I mean, when DeathCats!!! were playing, you could feel the music through the soles of your shoes – generally a sign that things are turned up, if not to eleven, at least to an appropriate level for the playing of rock and roll.

Whereas Flyte seemed, well, like I say, the family saloon rather than the sports version. Now, it might be they wanted it that way: or that the sound guy was still twiddling with levels – certainly, at one point, the lead singer was asking for the bass to be turned up. A more cynical explanation might be that the main act(s) weren’t so keen on the newbies getting to turn it up to eleven. Who knows? Inter-band relationships on  tour are, I very much suspect, multi-layered, complex organisms, depending on such delicate issues as relative fame, how close the support act might be in musical style, level of drug-induced paranoia amongst key personnel, etc, etc.

Not that I’m suggesting any of that here. All I am saying is that no such volume level problems appeared to affect the second support act in Glasgow. Rae Morris is beautiful, and also a beautiful singer. Backed by a good band, what was missing here wasn’t a lack of decent amplification – being BBC’s former backing singer clearly has its advantages – but that the songs were, to be honest, not that memorable. She sounded like an excellent voice in search of a songwriter. Still probably one to watch, though.

Back in Dundee, the relationship between Randolph’s Leap, the second band on, and Kid Canaveral, the closing act, was less defined than support and main attraction, although Adam Ross did ask KC’s permission to do an encore, of which more later (the response being a cheery F*ck Off! followed by Aye, go on then). This was more by way of a professional courtesy, though, to avoid eating into KC’s time.

Leap are basically built around the words and – by extension – personality of Ross, who describes himself in one song as ‘at best endearingly shambolic,’ but although the set had its shambolic moments (Adam, man, what are you doing changing capo mid song?) I defy anyone not to like Randolph’s Leap. I mean, mid-song-capo-change-fluffing moments aside, they are musically a force to be reckoned with, and the lyrics are funny, self-deprecating, but at the same time sharply observed. Of course, I am biased towards bands with decent words behind the noise being a writer and all, but if you haven’t done so already, check them out.

Onstage, one got the impression that Leap are – at the very least literally – too big for a venue like this: with two guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, violin, and two-person brass section, they were struggling for room, especially when, at the end of their well-received set, they exited into what appeared to be some kind of broom cupboard while the audience shouted for more. Thanks goodness the crowd were so keen: it looked like the Black Hole of Calcutta in there, and if the response had been lukewarm, we could have had a health and safety incident on our hands.

I wish I could tip Leap for the top, but their brand of brass and electric augmented, lyrically quirky folk is probably too damn quirky to catch the ear of the A & R men. But then, I guess, nobody could have predicted the success of Mumford and Sons. Or, closer to home, the Proclaimers.

I don’t have much to say about Kid Canaveral, except that they were excellent again. They’re a solid indie rock band, who should be progressing to the next level. In the meantime, as an experience, seeing a band of their quality in a small venue was a fine one, and you even got to buy merch from the lead guitarist before they came on – something you wouldn’t get from a headline band at the next level, you can be sure. My only cavil was the levels between lead and rhythm guitar – Kate, you need to get your lead singer sorted there! – but it was consistently strong stuff.

And so to the final act in Glasgow. What is it with Club in indie band names at the moment? Bombay Bicycle Club. Two Door Cinema Club. Tokyo Police Club. Indian Cavalry Club. Okay, so the last of these is an Indian restaurant. Actually, Bombay Bicycle Club, as well as being a band, manage to purvey pakoras and tikka masala on Edinburgh’s Brougham Street, but you get the gist.

BBC were clearly the main attraction at the 02, and they didn’t disappoint. From the opening bars of Overdone to the final encore, Carry Me, the band were in fine form. Particular favourites were Shuffle and Always Like This.

I promised Daughter and Heiress I wouldn’t make the comparison with the Foals gig I reviewed recently, and such a comparison really would be invidious, given that Foals produced The Best Rock Gig Ever. However, BBC were really, really good, and the advantage of the bigger venue – apart from the obvious one of better acoustics and sound system – was the potential for extra elements like the intriguing animations projected onto a backcloth behind the band, as well as the conventional light show.

So. As an experience, which one? Both. The Dundee gig had the advantage of you being up close and personal with the bands, and if Beat Generator! Live isn’t exactly a Las Vegas lounge bar, look what playing Vegas did to Elvis. I kind of like the idea you can buy the t shirt off the lead guitarist.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for Bombay Bicycle Club appearing in a mystical swirl of dry ice, and disappearing off the same way, rather than into a broom cupboard; that too is what rock and roll is all about. And either of them is preferable to the next level but one up, the stadium rock show.

Final thoughts? My ideal line up between the two would be Randolph’s Leap, Kid Canaveral, and Bombay Bicycle Club, at the 02. But only if the sound guy was under strict instructions to turn it up to eleven for all of them.


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