Friday, 30 October 2009

Portugal. The Man @ The Shakespeare 30/10/09

When a band stick a full-stop in the middle of their name you can perhaps expect a little pretence. Which is why Portugal. The Man are such a compelling act, given their understated sound that takes in elements of funk, soul and blues and manages to feel nostalgic, yet fresh and altogether rather likeable. However, it seems that in a live setting, the same part of their collective soul that chose the moniker takes over.

With the microphone facing stage right, front man John Gourley doesn’t make eye contact with the assembled crowd once throughout the entire show, and for the most part keeps his hat on and hood up so that his face is obscured. It’s clear that he’d rather his band’s music did the talking. And the talking they want to do is evidently of the ambling storytelling variety, in a set that is full of improvised jams, extended passages and even takes in short, apparently almost incidental covers.

Ordinarily, this deviation from the sound of a band’s recorded output would be encouraged, but the pomp on display just doesn’t seem to suit the humble confines of the Shakespeare’s upstairs function room, and much of the crowd seem subdued. The problem lies in our expectations. Having heard the band master the three minute pop song on latest album The Satanic Satanist it seems a shame when they choose to play anything but live. Even ‘People Say’ from that album is given a great deal of embellishment which all but doubles its length.

This really isn’t to say that they put in a bad performance by any means, they are incredibly polished, and they certainly impress in their understanding of one another to deliver such creative flourishes. But despite the intimacy of the setting, the show never feels truly intimate due to their lack of connection with the realm beyond the stage.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mimas / Shapes @ The Red House 13/10/09

A free gig. Awesome. Particularly when the bands playing are of the calibre of Danish ‘death indie’ peddlers Mimas and Birmingham spazzcore trio Shapes. And there are free pastries provided in honour of our Scandinavian visitors. Even better no?

Opening the night however, we are first treated to a set by Halifax four-piece Wot Gorilla? who seamlessly mix the unashamed technical flare of Fall of Troy with the accessible math (honestly, not an oxymoron) of Minus the Bear. Considering that this was apparently their first show, their tight performance is very impressive indeed. Ones to watch.

As Mimas take to the stage overheard is a discussion of exactly what to expect ‘They sound very Danish’ is the verdict of one punter, and its hard to deny the truth of the statement. There is a certain foreign nature to their lush sounds rich in texture, serene brass interludes and bizarre lyrics (is he saying ‘Armpits‘? Wha…?!). Yet despite their otherness, one can certainly appreciate their beauty and passion in a live setting. They fill the now-packed venue with waves of sound that cause all heads in the room to bob, caught in the current. Microphone issues halfway in leave them unphased, opting to share for their harmonies and joyous gang yells and it is a great shame to see them leave the stage, having enthralled and charmed throughout.

In contrast, Shapes offer up an altogether more unapologetically raucous experience, with their twisting and turning guitar parts, unfathomable time signatures and duel yelped vocals that continually sound like a slanging match. The beauty lies in the juxtaposition of this noisy attack, swinging from the angular to the psychedelic and back again, with the two previous bands. Despite the clash of sounds, they somehow complement each other. The crowd has no issues getting their heads round the abrupt shift and there are smiles all round at the banter based around their exposed small frames (a ‘Mr Puniverse contest’) and Mimas’ return to the land of ‘Carlsberg, bacon and Peter Schmeichel’.

Beyond the usual dedications to one another their seems to be a genuine camaraderie between the bands on the bill that lends a truly warm atmosphere to the evening, a sense that this could be one of the best free parties you’ve been invited to in a while.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More

“Oh man is a giddy thing” pronounces Marcus Mumford on the opening title track of this, his hotly tipped band’s first full length, and indeed his wistful remark sets the tone for the entire release. His vocal delivery, often frail, sometimes fierce, ever-emotive, steers their ship through the maelstrom of a young man’s anxieties and hopes in an album that moves from stark ‘urban folk‘ to bluegrass and even blues rock territory in its musical mood swings.

Mumford truly wears his heart on his sleeve through the likes of ‘White Blank Page’, begging questions of himself, “Can you lie next to her and give her your heart, as well as your body? / Can you lie next to her and confess your love, as well as your folly?’”, taking the tone of one made wise beyond his years by the torment of his romantic soul. Their appeal lies in the coupling of this apparent world-weariness, and the accomplished musicianship of elder statesmen, with an energy and confusion that never allows us to forget their youth. The latter element perhaps most evident in the inarticulate angst of the ‘I really fucked things up this time’ refrain of lead single, ‘Little Lion Man’.

It is with relish that their apparent frustration is unleashed on ‘Dustbowl Dance’ where Mumford genuinely sounds angry, and the band hit full bluster behind him, creating a period of noise that is unexpected, and yet a gleeful release from the melancholy that threatens to prevail.

“Love will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free” is another line from that opening track, and yet it seems Mumford and Sons are able to create beauty despite having only experienced that which leaves them exhausted and sore. It will be interesting to see how they will enchant us if ever they do find true bliss.

4 out of 5