Sidney Gish and Alien Tango – The Lexington – June 17th 2019

Life is strange. Nine months ago I was writing in anticipation of a small Murcian festival (here). My night in Beniajan was a spectacularly drunken affair. It’s no wonder that I only previewed the five euro event. I was far too embarrassed to say anything in the immediate aftermath. Pacing things badly, I had to be shepherded home by a kind taxi driver on the desperate advice of Sarah who was co-ordinating things from back in the UK. I had stopped making sense to her, babbling in a beautiful hobo language only recognised by yours truly.

I have hazy memories of finding a bed in a courtyard before that taxi ride. Helpful angels had guided me to this oasis where I could rest my head and doze. I might have even paid  good money to desperate beggars for such luxury. I woke on a bench a few hours later by some large, plastic waste bins, overflowing with detritus. Amazingly, all was in tact and nothing stolen from my pockets. I left my cash card in the taxi but that’s a story for another day.

Before my unfortunate wipe-out, I remember getting bitten to death by mosquitos in a disused railway siding that was doubling up as a festival space. And I remember thinking that Alien Tango were the best live band I had ever seen. It’s this knowledge and context that leads me to the Lexington, less than a ten minutes stroll from my new London house, to see the Spanish glam-psych act supporting the young American lo-fi looper, Sidney Gish.

Alien Tango are an oddity; a beautiful, alternative and flamboyant one that can’t sit still for more than seconds. If ADHD was a musical form, it would probably sound like this. There are three of them on stage tonight. Alien Tango is essentially Alberto Garcia Roca and he stands on the left of the stage whilst another guy plays guitar on the right. In between them are a set of electronics and a chap who sits on a chair cross-legged. 

This chap who sits doesn’t do a great deal throughout the set aside from the briefest of interludes when he stands, presses a keyboard button and dances enthusiastically. For the rest of the set, he’s like Andrew Fearn from Sleaford Mods but taken to another level. Looking nonchalant and bored, he reads his phone and swigs from a can of beer. He scoffs away at a packet of crisps and gets hand-delivered a bowl of green grapes that he turns down for a plate of red grapes. It’s a funny, visual addition not that it’s needed with what else that’s going on on-stage.

“We normally play as a full band”, says Alberto, confirming that my memory from seeing them in Murcia wasn’t completely shot. “But the others are all in prison now”, he jokingly adds.

Musically, I’m reminded of many things as this set progresses. It chops and changes tempo like the best of The Cardiacs; in places, it’s the bizarre funk of Of Montreal and in other places children’s nursery rhyme. It’s Bolan, Bowie and a little bit prog. 

Alberto moves around the stage imitating a scrawny court jester. At one point, he takes a nap on an amp; he tries to swallow his mic as his voice ranges from Freddie Mercury to guttural, metal howl. 

I love it – perhaps not quite as much as I did in Beniajan but those were special circumstances. 

 

Sidney Gish is the main reason I’m here. I sent her a cheeky E-mail to ask if I could be added to her list and got a lovely affirmative reply. I’d only heard a few of her tunes but that was enough to know that I’d enjoy. 

What an added bonus it is to see a friendly Leicester face in attendance as well. John Helps, founder of Handmade festival, Great Central magazine and involved in all sorts of other endeavours, is Sidney’s tour manager for this European jaunt. They’re driving around in a car. I imagine a kind of modern day ‘Green Card’ which is no doubt wildly inaccurate. 

Sidney crouches alone on the stage tuning her guitar. Her long reddish Sissy Spacek hair and general demeanour mark her out as a lo-fi geek. She plays music that might immediately be popped into any coming-of-age indie cinema quirky classic. Fans at the front of the room mouth along to every one of her literate lyrics; it’s clever, well-composed stuff.

So naturally does she lay down her loops that you can almost blink and miss it. But the songs build as layer gets added to layer, crunchy drum beats added to jazz chord progressions. My hearing isn’t what it once was but it sounds very much like these songs have quirky food related titles; ‘Filled with steak and cannot dance’ is followed by ‘I eat snails now’. Towards the set end, we get ‘Sugar pills’ for good measure. 

There are moments of casual hilarity when a crowd member observes that she knows a college acquaintance of Sidney’s.  Sidney plays her anthem of teenage rebellion and angst, ‘Homecoming Serf’ as a sort of tribute. ‘Sin Triangle’ gets one of the biggest receptions of the night and it’s easy to see why.

An encore of Jackson Browne’s ‘Somebody’s Baby’ sounds wonderful under Sidney’s grasp. She re-records some loops here (“We make our own clicks in America”) aiming for perfection and you get an insight into just how difficult this layering of sound can prove to get right. It follows an earlier quite glorious cover of the Talking Heads. She has a style that breathes extra life into these old tunes.

It’s been an enjoyable night – and one that, unlike in Murcia, I’m able to make my way home from unaided.

 

 

Buke and Gase, Naomi Alderman and Polygrains – The Lexington – March 5th 2019

I missed my Monday gig. A friend was meeting the Home Office to talk post-Brexit business and we caught up for a few drinks in Soho. I’m resisting the urge to review the drag Karaoke we ended up at.

AirBNB could have been a disaster this week. I got the dreaded ‘host has cancelled’ message just hours before I should have checked in. Fortunately, another place was available. It’s cheap and functional with a bed that has a mattress in which you can feel the coiled iron springs poke at you after every twist and turn. This creaky bed of nails offers little chance of rest.

So, I choose to stay here for the minimum of hours and source a Tuesday night gig. American duo, Buke and Gase come recommended by a great PR company and endorsed by The National. After a lengthy hiatus, they’ve just returned with new album ‘Scholars’. I have a quick gander whilst multi-tasking at work. There’s enough within to hold my interest. 

“What sort of music is that?’, shouts a punter about a third of the way into their set at the rather ace Lexington venue. 

Ha, I was thinking that whilst playing”, says Arone, one half of this male/female duo. “It’s an awfully interesting hoedown”, she kind of concludes. 

The punter isn’t alone in feeling the genre confusion; proud not to be pigeonholed, Buke and Gase play around with conventional sound, time signatures and musical practice to come up with something entirely off the spectrum. It’s prog, it’s math-rock, it’s abstact folk and obscure Electronica. It’s Tom Waits if put through a Daffy Duck filter. All told, a very complex, modern racket. 

It perhaps helps the overall artistic pursuit that little of this sound is created on traditional instruments. Indeed, Buke and Gase are the names of instruments designed by Aron and Arone. They might (or might not) have been retired now and given way to an Arx, a ‪device that allows them to trigger percussive sounds, change effects on their instruments, and control vocal harmonies all with the punch of an arcade button. Whatever, the whole effect is otherworldly and yet organic.‬

Before taking to the stage, Arone introduces us to Naomi Alderman, author of many works but here tonight to read extracts from her novel, The Power. It’s an enticing ten minute interlude. As Naomi recites a tale of graphic sexual abuse culminating in heroic justice, Arone layers a vocal swirl over the top. As tension builds in the storytelling so does Arone’s vocal flourish. Many decide to buy the book based upon this introduction. ‬

Polygrains is the support for tonight. ‬Vasilis Moschas is Polygrains. He stands, moustached and unassuming behind his array of beat-making tools. When he sings, his vocal is mostly gentle. He might be singing about very important things but it gets lost amidst the beeps. “I hope you enjoy this as much as I do“, says Vasilis. I’m not sure we do. But, this is electronica not without merit. It would go down well on Sonar’s Red Bull stage where oddness such as this is encouraged.

 

“There’s too much shit going on“, jokes Aron from Buke and Gase early in their set. And that’s a pretty fair insight into how this gig leaves your average punter feeling. I like the art that’s on offer here but might need to spend more time familiarising to truly appreciate. It’s a soundtrack to your most chaotic of dreams.

I sleep well on the well-worn mattress, the coiled springs waking me before the inevitable nightmares. 

 

Death By Unga Bunga

It was a Spring day I think. Though it might not have been. 

It could have been an Autumn day. All I know is that the drive was a sunny one; not sticky and hot like we might expect in the summer months. The air was fresh and bright, all sorts of beautiful. 

We drove across the high road from Leicester to Rutland with not a care in the world. At least it felt like that for a short while. I’m sure if we had stopped to think about our lot we might have crumbled.

I put on a CD that I knew very little about. It was back in the days when the PR agency used to send me new albums in the post. This one hadn’t arrived with much of a fanfare. Still, we listened and loved. 

The garage pop felt right. It wasn’t a long album. We didn’t stop it when it started to repeat. By the second listen, we could sing along to the catchy choruses – and felt no inhibitions when doing so. If the car had been one that had a retractable roof, we would have let the breeze blow through our hair as we sang.

That was my introduction to Death By Unga Bunga. Norwegian power pop at its best. Pineapple Pizza the unlikely CD.

I had a chance to see them live in London. This was as part of a Scandinavian showcase. I was working down there and the Lexington was one of my favourite venues. Beer options were good; pricey but this was London. I suspect it was winter then; at least I remember that it was pretty much dark when I left the office and I wouldn’t  have been prone to working late. 

I hadn’t seen the late E-mail advising me of early start times. And by the time that I arrived at the venue, Death By Unga Bunga had already finished their set. I hung around to watch the other bands. In truth, they can’t have made much of an impression because I can’t even recall their names now. 

I did get to see Death By Unga Bunga eventually. On the surface, they were unlikely additions to the Nozstock festival line-up two years ago. In afternoon sunshine, they looked horrifically dishevelled; a scruffiness cultivated as a result of an early flight from Norway. 

But my eFestivals review of their set was positive  “By the end of their whirlwind set they’ve got all onside so much that the whole band in unison can play their guitars behind their heads with ridiculous rock postures. It’s surely what it’s all about.”

I’m alerted to the fact that Death By Unga Bunga are supporting Ash on their October tour. If I was back in England, I might have tried to take in a show at Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, Norwich, Huddersfield or London. Sadly though, I’m not. 

I’ll just have to dig into my memories more. 

 

 

 

 

 

Diet Cig, Saltwater Sun & INHEAVEN – London Lexington January 14th 2016

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that, on those days when I work in London, I’ll choose to take in a gig in that fine city rather than getting a train straight home. It means that I don’t get home until the early hours but, invariably, being tired at work the next day is a price that I’m willing to pay. 

So, last Thursday I was down in London. I got the chance to go and see a stellar trio of bands as part of the Five Day Forecast mini festival, a week of shows put on by The Line Of Best Fit at the Lexington. TLOBF gaze into their crystal balls and predict what’ll be grabbing our attention in 2016. 

I signed up mostly because I was intrigued by the headline act, Diet Cig. This was part of the New York slop-pop duo’s first venture to the UK and, in truth, Noah and Alex didn’t disappoint. This was a whistlestop whizz through their fuzz-laden tunes that have been creating such a buzz. It lasted no more than half an hour and each song was over before it began.

 Alex breathlessly bounces around the stage; she climb onto speaker and drum stacks as she unleashes thrashy chords and trashy (but fabulous) lyrics. I’m sure that we’ve all seen doom-laden posers offers similar postures before but Alex contrasts with their strut; for this is a joy-laden, breeze of energetic happiness. London is urged to dance; it’s a step too far for some of the cool kids in the front but, if they’d turned around, they would have seen a healthily full Lexington getting washed up in the infectious enthusiasm bounding from the stage. Brilliant.

 

It’s almost embarrassing to admit it but I’d never before been to the Lexington. What a fabulous live music venue it is. The downstairs bar serves up an impressive range of American beer and whisky. With staff that seem genuinely happy to serve you (by no means a given in London), it’s a place where the lone gig-goer immediately feels welcome. I settled on a draft pint of Big Wave Golden Ale, brewed by the Hawaiian company, Kona and went upstairs to watch the two bands on before Diet Cig. 

Saltwater Sun had something. They appeared slightly nervous about the experience but really shouldn’t have been. Perhaps the broken string on an earlier BBC Introducing session (they made reference to this) still haunted them but they took a little while to get going. My notes suggest that there was a Cardigans influence going on here but, in truth, they probably weren’t alive at the Nina Persson peak. There were rock shapes thrown and enough tunes within this set to show why more on the ball bloggers than I have these down in their ones to watch list in 2016.

 

 

 

The same was true for INHEAVEN. Very true in fact. Much has been made that this is a band giving us another slice of shoegaze but I didn’t entirely see that. Yes, they made a trembling, expansive noise but there were tunes here doused with classic Americana splurge. They looked the business on stage and it’s no surprise to see that festival bookers are getting themselves in a frenzy after their standout show the following night at Eurosonic.

 

So, all told a fab night of wonderful new bands. All of them different; all of them with that magic spark that makes you smile. On the evidence presented, 2016 could well be a belter.