Autobahn Live @ The Lexington, London

Autobahn  @ The Lexington, Pentonville Road, London
Thursday 16th November, 2017

Autobahn are making a name for themselves in the current wave of post-punk revivalists with their increasingly experimental studio work and dynamic live performances. Their chosen moniker suggests a desire to identify themselves with the generation of weirdos and outsiders that thought Kraftwerk were the coolest band in the world; a generation that produced post-punk heavyweights The Fall, Durutti Column and Joy Division. Today they are a generation vindicated. In the music press Kraftwerk are being lauded as more influential than the Beatles and at gigs up and down the country that Unknown Pleasures t-shirt is omnipresent. In this new landscape then, does touting yourself as a post-punk band look somewhat like siding with the winners?

They draw a respectable crowd for a Thursday night. The string of EPs released and debut album thus far have seen the band perhaps play things too safely, refusing to stray too far from the tried and tested formula of their influences. That being said, they have evidently forged enough of an identity for themselves to get people out to this gig. The predominance of new material early on is a bold and welcome choice, and elicits murmurs of appreciation from those in the room.

This would seem to be a crucial juncture for the band, where they decide either to continue in the shadow of their predecessors, or to start forging their own identity. The evidence of the newly released second album, The Moral Crossing is encouraging and would suggest that they have started taking influence from further afield. Particularly noticeable is the influence of post-rock outfits like Trans-Am and Tortoise. Irregular time signatures and erratic drum patterns form the backbone of the new material tonight, and imbue older tracks with a new energy. The post-punk affectations are still there but underneath there is a real desire to experiment and break new ground.

Synths play a greater part in almost every song than before, and are a welcome expansion of the band’s sound. Going beyond the confines of guitar, bass, drums and vocals opens up new avenues of experimentation for the band and gives them greater scope for doing something that is original and fresh. The more they stray from the post-punk formula, the more the crowd warms up and engages with the music on stage.

The original post-punk bands were so great and are still proving influential today because they were brave enough to forge their own musical identity. If Autobahn continue on this experimental bent and are able to keep on growing in confidence, their own influence could be felt for years to come.

Lonely the Brave & Mallory Knox, UEA Norwich, 22nd March

Mallory KnoxTen years on from its mid-2000s heyday here are two bands still flying the flag for guitar and skinny jeans indie rock. These two acts, as well as sharing the feeling of being indie bands out of their time, are also both touring to support new material; an EP and an album that make the case for indie rock in 2017.

Technically the support act, Lonely the Brave take to the stage in front of an already packed audience. Opener ‘Black Mire’ gets them singing along. They follow it up with another single, ‘Dust and Bones’, steadily finding their groove.

Lead singer David Jakes, initially quiet between songs, soon settles down and starts joking with the crowd, putting thoughts that this is only the support band to rest.

It would’ve been nice to hear some tracks from new EP ‘Diamond Days‘, but they’re only playing a short set and it seems reasonable that they should stick to playing the hits. They close out their performance with ‘The Blue, The Green‘, leaving the crowd suitably warmed up.

Now for the headline act, Mallory Knox share a great deal of musical DNA with their tourmates, both of them veterans of the Cambridge indie scene, but as soon as they plough right on into ‘Giving It Up‘ it immediately feels like they’re taking things up a notch. Harder and heavier, their decision to open with material from the new album, ‘Wired‘, pays dividends. Blitzing through the first few numbers, the band trade solos, clearly enjoying the freedom of the live setting.

The new material immediately feels more urgent, thunderous backbeats underpin brasher, simpler riffs, taking cues from the garage-rock revival bands that have aged far better than their indie rock contemporaries. Title-track ‘Wired‘ is a particular highlight, slowing the pace slightly and sounding far heavier in the room than on the record.

Frontman Mikey Chapman’s polished crowdsmanship keeps the set moving with great momentum – there’s never a moment of dead air. The band plucks tracks from across the whole breadth of their discography, with old favourites like ‘Wake Up‘ and ‘Shout at the Moon‘ standing alongside fresher cuts, ‘California‘ and ‘Lucky Me‘ and, despite the new album being a mere fortnight old, the new material elicits the greatest audience response.

They close the set with Saviour, another track from the new LP, descending into storms of guitar and drums before exiting the stage to universal applause. The chant of “one more song” reaches fever pitch before the band return for a one-two punch of ‘Lighthouse‘ and ‘Better Off Without You‘. The new single rounds off the night nicely; this is a band with confidence in their work. Packing the set list with new material is risky, but done with this much enthusiasm it’s hard not to be convinced.

IDLES, Colchester Arts Centre, Live Review

IDLESIDLES, Colchester Arts Centre, 9th March

Sincerity is once again the currency of UK punk; politics has displaced posturing in this new wave of young, English bands spearheaded by the likes of ‘Sleaford Mods’, ‘Fat White Family’ and now, Bristol‘s own ‘IDLES‘.

First full-length effort ‘Brutalism‘, out March 10th, fulfils much of the promise of their earlier material. Post-punk in the original sense, the songs brim with righteous indignation and savage, barked vocals, underpinned by a throbbing rhythm section and crushing riffs – this isn’t the same old three chord stuff; these guys can play.

The venue seems appropriate, now an arts centre, once a church. Lead singer Joe Talbot sermonises on what outrages him about today’s Britain (rather a long list), giving no quarter to government ministers and celebrity chefs alike. You get the impression that he’s saying all this with a wry smile, and there is certainly a strong sense of the absurd running through his lyrics. But don’t mistake this flippancy for insincerity; it’s funny, but it’s not a joke.

This is a band who still have a very strong idea of where they come from. All have been familiar faces in the Bristol indie scene for years now, grafting to get gigs and put records out. ‘Exeter’, Talbot’s heartfelt paean to his hometown, opines how “nothing ever happens” there and, after five years languishing in relative obscurity in the South-West prior to the release of this new album, you can forgive him for thinking that. But now, riding the wave of their breakout record, all those feelings of being trapped and frustrated are let loose and the songs are all the better for it.

Best title of the night goes to ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ (a sort of panic attack upon viewing great art), a song about the line between high and low art, a line the band themselves seem content to straddle.

New single ‘Mother’ is the standout number, bitterness and resentment turned anthemic. Belting out lyrics about overworked mothers and book-shy tories you are utterly convinced by their sincerity. This isn’t punk as window dressing, this is the real deal.

They’re only onstage for about an hour but that seems plenty – being so outraged about everything seems exhausting and they never slow down for a minute. Not ones to bother with the artifice of an encore, they instead come down and join the crowd – a class move and utterly in character.

With the level of airplay and exposure the band are getting at the minute it surely won’t be long before they reach the wider audience they deserve. This is punk that is accomplished, funny and political for all the right reasons and it deserves to be heard live.

The Blue Aeroplanes – Norwich Arts Centre, Live Review

The Blue AeroplanesThe Blue Aeroplanes @ Norwich Arts Centre, 27th January, 2017

The fact that veteran art-rockers The Blue Aeroplanes can still pack out a mid-sized venue, such as the Norwich Arts Centre, is a testament to their enduring cult appeal. Cutting their teeth on the Bristol “art” circuit of the early 1980s, before coming of age with critically acclaimed albums, Swagger and Beatsongs, the band has undergone almost constant line up changes, always led by mercurial frontman, Gerard Langley.

Aligning themselves with the art scene from the outset suggests that their music is something to be appreciated rather than enjoyed and what may have seemed endearingly precocious when the band were in their twenties is now in danger of lapsing into pretension. What prevents this is the self awareness and good humour with which they conduct themselves: this may be art, but it isn’t high art.

The bands latest effort “Welcome, Stranger!” doesn’t stray far from the tried and tested formula of jangly guitars and deadpan, wordplay-loaded lyrics but, as their first album of new material in six years, represents something of a resurgence for the group and a welcome return to form.

The new material heavily peppers the set list on the night and is as warmly received as the older hits by the fans in the room, much to the visible delight of Langley, who seems to be relishing the chance to showcase his still deft lyricism. Of these new tracks Elvis Festival is a particular highlight; a study of the unflappable confidence of Elvis impersonators, whom Langley seems to channeling during the number.

In an age of anniversary tours celebrating bygone successes it’s refreshing to see a veteran band so focused on what comes next, rather than what came before. I suspect that to slow down and reflect on their past as so many of their contemporaries have done would bore them; this is a band moving forward, even now.

Having a high energy, low inhibition dancer as part of the band and onstage at live shows seems decidedly cliché in a post-Bez world, but Wojtek Dmochowski‘s possessed, talismanic grooving actually predates that of his Mancunian counterpart by a number of years. Tonight he is on fine form, still hurtling and flailing with as reckless an abandon as ever. It’s less visual art and more dad dancing, and that’s ok; it lends a much needed lightness to proceedings, softening Langley’s art-rock edge.

Biggest hit Jacket Hangs stands up as well as ever and elicits the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening. They’ve showed off so much brand new material that it’s difficult to begrudge them luxuriating in some nostalgia – they’ve earned it.

The Blue Aeroplanes have always only held cult appeal and their latest album will do nothing to change that. But for the audience in the little venue in Norwich and up and down the country their singular brand of lyrical, literary rock remains a genuine joy.

Kula Shaker University of Norwich – Live Review

Kula Shaker @ University of Norwich, 5th December 2016

Kula Shaker are touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their classic album ‘K’, released in 1996. Whenever bands start to look back on their career there is always the worry that they have become curators of their own legacy rather than a creative force in their own right, and that was the worry I had walking into the same venue in Norwich where they had played twenty years before.

This is not to say that the band is now solely concerned with their past: in February they released ‘K 2.0’, very much in the same raga rock vein as their earlier album and intended as a companion piece. They say the new record came about by reflecting back on ‘K’, and on the progress they have made since, reimagining old songs from a more mature perspective. That was also what the band would need to do on stage, to justify touring a twenty-year-old album.

Looking at the faces in the packed room it seemed likely that many of the same fans that had been in attendance the last time, were here again. Not having experienced ‘K’ the first time around I didn’t share the same nostalgia of many in the room, meaning that for me the gig would have to stand on its own merits.

After an opening cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band charmingly repurposed as Kula Shaker’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, lead singer Crispian Mills put my initial concerns to rest, wryly wheeling a record player on stage and announcing that they were here to play ‘K’ in full. The band soon got on to the matter in hand and blitzed through the first few tracks, infecting the whole room with their youthful energy, albeit with the assuredness of a band that has been honing their craft for the past two decades. Mill’s virtuosity was in full evidence, toying with these familiar songs, not content to give the fans what they could get simply from listening the record.

Aside from playing through the album, the set list was peppered with offcuts and B-sides, with Under the Hammer – a song about the hardships of a young band struggling to get any gigs – being a particular highlight. New songs 33 Crows and Infinite more than stood up to the older material and it was very encouraging to see that they haven’t lost their touch for penning their particular brand of psych-pop tunes.

All members of the band were clearly enjoying themselves, the familiar songs providing a solid base for experimenting. Playing through the second side of the album, trading solos on 303 and Start All Over, they galvanized the positivity in the room for biggest hit Hush – anthemic and catchy this got the entire room chanting along, caught up in the moment.

By the encore I had been thoroughly convinced by a band that, far from looking backwards, wanted to propel their classic material into the present. Their willingness to experiment made the album feel less like a museum piece and more like an ongoing musical project, and as they left the stage, I was cheering just as loudly as the fans who had experienced Kula Shaker twenty years before.