Saturday, 27 April 2013

Juffage's Sonic Cauldron @ Left Bank Leeds, 26/04/13


Juffage’s usual live show always has the feel of a controlled experiment with his madcap and erratic one-man multitasking approach to setting up the complex looping of various instruments, cooking up a rich, dense musical brew.
However, this special one-off show is his most ambitious work to date, as he replaces the stew-pot of your regular gig venue with his immense ‘sonic cauldron’: the former church at Left Bank is converted into a surround sound arena, with numerous speakers, amplifiers and boomboxes places on all sides of the audience. With him being joined by some helping hands, from such sources as Sky Larkin and Vessels no less, this results in a weird and wonderful sonic experience like no other.
This is aided by the fact that the main man himself, aka Jeff T. Smith, has managed to put together a line-up of leftfield and progressive acts that make the best use of Left Bank as a performance space. This is clear from the opening strains played out by Ten, an ambient ensemble whose control and poise is phenomenal as they fill the room with their mournful, haunting and ultimately beautiful soundscapes. Those who have made it down early are truly rewarded by their fine emotional ebbs and flows.
More have gathered by the time bass virtuoso Steve Lawson takes to the stage, initially alone, yet soon joined by saxophonist Andy Williamson who begins, quite unexpectedly, at the back of the church, before encircling the crowd and eventually joining Steve at a raised platform just above him. The duo create uniquely loop-layered compositions with high levels of improvisation. Lawson’s bass set-up is as complex as the music itself, with an array of effects the likes of which few bassists would ever care to fathom, but which allow his 6-stringed instrument to sound like any other he wishes, ranging from as you’d expect, to distorted blues guitar, to synthesiser tones in an instant. While the babble from the bar does at times reverberate around the hall, Lawson’s innovative approach, coupled with Williamson’s passionately played sax, proves totally captivating for those gathered close.
Thankfully the audience grant These Men’s polite request for the necessary hush to break into their a capella ditties. Their harmonies are pitch perfect, their quaint storytelling is charming, and their manners are impeccable. Having last seen them through the fog of a hangover in a cafĂ© on a Sunday morning, I didn’t think there would be a better setting for this most unusual of acts, but it turns out I was wrong. The acoustics suit them perfectly and they seem even better without having the task of soothing a sore head.
Juffage and his borrowed cohorts take to the stage with a word of explanation: tonight’s set will comprise of entirely original compositions written with the show in mind and the plethora of speakers are being governed by a specially designed computer programme that ensures that the experience will be entirely different depending on where you stand around the room. This of course makes it difficult to objectively characterise a performance that will be, in the band’s own words, totally subjective and unique to each individual. However, following the encouragement to move around proves most rewarding: in one spot the guitars and vocals shine through the mix, in another a few minutes later the electronic instrumentation takes centre stage. Not everyone makes this decisive break with gig etiquette however, being far too polite to consider shuffling past others, but tonight is all about the sonic journey, rather than an occasion where you might require a view of the action.
In any case, no matter where you stand, the experiment of the ‘cauldron’ is a success. The sound is dense, yet not without clarity and focus. And despite the relative lack of exciting chaos that have come to be synonymous with a Juffage show, the extra musicians allow for the songs to be played as originally intended, with all of their nuances left intact as Jeff is no longer limited by his own physical capabilities.
While this show is much more about music and sounds than the man, it is a shame that this is the only time we will see the maverick performer this year. As his sole live project of 2013 it has proven to be a worthy one though, and has certainly whetted the appetite to see what he will come up with next time around.
Check out Juffage @
And check out the awesome work being done at Left Bank @
Photos: John Toolan via Music to Wash Up To – Visit HERE

Monday, 22 April 2013

And So I Watch You From Afar - Manchester Academy 3, 20/04/13


You know those shows that come along every once in a while where you really feel like you’re witnessing something special?
You get the feeling that every night on the current tour by Northern Ireland’s finest post-math-dance-rock merchants And So I Watch You From Afar has been that way. On the back of their most polished and accomplished work to date, All Hail Bright Futures,  they pack out the smallest of the Manchester Academy venues on the last night of a stretch originally scheduled for November but cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Judging by the way everyone filters in early, they’ve been biding their time ever since the news broke.
First up though, Londoners Antlered Man have the task of warming up a crowd already nearing boiling point and are thankfully more than up to it. Drafted in for the remainder of these dates at the last minute owing to Gallops’ absence (which we now, unfortunately, know the reason for), their blend of obnoxious jagged noise, stoner grooves and weird nuances (penny whistles, megaphones, singing in character?!) they prove the perfect curveball to kick off proceedings for a largely unsuspecting crowd. Their sound is refreshingly pushing against trend, unlike anything else on the scene at the moment – think a mix between the frenetic, psychotic nature of Future of the Left and System of a Down segueing into the sort of grooves Kyuss would be proud of.
We’ve just about managed to get our head around what we’ve just observed before the tinkling guitars of recent album-opener ‘Eunoia’ shimmer from the PA and the four Belfast boys take to the stage. From here they launch into ‘Big Thinks Do Remarkable’ and it’s clear that energy and enthusiasm are in abundance, and immediately spreading around the room. The huge grin across the face of guitarist Rory Friers is replicated wherever you look and the euphoria is both palpable and clearly humbling to those onstage. By the time they slam into the groove of ‘Ambulance!’, what appears to be the happiest pit in the world opens up and will remain in full swing for the rest of the evening. “This song’s about only doing things that make you happy”, Friers tells us before old favourite ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate’, although he seems to be preaching to the converted on this occasion.
While other instrumental rock bands tend to work on the formula of slowly building to intense emotional peaks, with the occasional out and out banger thrown in for good measure, ASIWYFA have set themselves apart by favouring the latter. On paper, this relative lack of light and shade should be to their detriment, but both on record and in a live setting they have perfected the art of structuring a set of material and are somehow able to sustain their high throughout. The encore gives us chance to catch our breath as they revel in the moment, apparently reluctant to start closer ‘The Voiceless’ as it would signal the end of this run of dates. Its glittering crescendo leaves few keen to head home themselves, and we can only hope they make good on their promise to be back sooner rather than later.

Check out Antlered Man @

Check out And So I Watch You From Afar @

Review originally published @