Willy Mason – Live at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, Saturday 26th March

[This review is brought to you by Dave, one of my friends from college who manages to get out a lot more than I do, because he is a richer man than I. Enjoy! You can find him here.]

Recording his debut album, Where The Humans Eat, Willy Mason followed one rule. Intent on replicating the raw and spontaneous feel of live performance, each song was recorded in less than three takes. The music lives and breathes, the imperfections arguably the highlights of the record. As Mason’s weary vocals and slightly de-tuned guitar crackle through the speakers, we cannot question his authenticity.

Eight years since that album’s release, Willy Mason’s ethos has not changed. Taking to the stage at the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, the set up is refreshingly straightforward. Performing with his Gretsch semi-acoustic guitar throughout, he retunes halfway through songs and stops frequently to share jokes with the audience.

Supported by his backing band of ‘old friends,’ Mason also offers indications of where his sound might be heading next. Although his solo performances are undeniably the highlights of the evening, his band make interesting contributions to newer material. Most notably, Restless Fugitive has been completely transformed from the song that appeared during the last UK tour. Younger brother, Sam Mason, now provides a hypnotic beat, while layers of feedback and broken guitar carry the melody. These brief flashes of experimentation recur throughout the show, teasing the forthcoming new album.

While heavily relying on unfamiliar material, Mason avoids accusations of self indulgence. Few other performers could engage their audience with such humility; although performing to a sizable crowd, he could easily be addressing a room of close friends. Humbly introducing each song, he appears genuinely touched by the overwhelmingly positive response. Most performers strive for such intimacy, but for Willy Mason it seems effortless.

Broken Records – Live at Club Fandango, Wednesday 21st March

Again, I'm sorry for the poor image quality, only had my phone camera with me, I'll have to remember to bring my camera with me in the future!

Sorry to say, but I’m pretty awful, as I only managed to turn up at the end of the last song of Seasfires set. I know. Bad stuff. And I also may have been a little bit tipsy, but that doesn’t make any of the following less biased. I had a great time! It was a wonderful gig and Broken Records are simply sublime live, and luckily I managed to get a front row spot, right in the middle. Now aside from all the tuning that Jamie Sutherland had to do (pictured) due to his “new guitar” everything ran smoothly.

They opened with Springsteen a new song of there’s which I hadn’t heard before, and which was actually pretty good. Looks like I’m going to be getting excited about their next album! A couple of personal favourites from the gig were A Darkness Rises Up and Nearly Home. We did call out for Out on the Water but alas, as we heard from Rory Sutherland, the violinist, at the end, Jamie “probably can’t remember it”. Oh well.

There was a fairly large crowd, although not tightly packed so everyone could enjoy it, and enjoy it they did. It was a great set, and a great selection of their songs. In A Darkness Rises Up the sound just smashed through you as all of the band get going and it really is a great feeling that they’re able to give you due to their 6-piece line-up. I think they’re now on their way back to (or are already back in) Scotland now. But if you ever get a chance to see them live, do it. Great band, really tight, wonderful gig!

Dems – Live at The Old Blue Last, Thursday 15th March

[Sorry for the poor image quality, only had my phone camera with me!]

Well, I only really made it to this gig for Dems at The Old Blue Last, because I honestly do not enjoy that sort of music, put out by Bad Life. Sorry! But Dems have caught my eye, and, listening to their recorded stuff, I felt they weren’t as, um… bassy and techno. Luckily for the most part their set was awesome. With only a couple of minor mishaps I shall mention now.

First off, I didn’t like the lighting. I could tell what they were going for, with the moody blue, but to be honset I just wanted to see them play and unfortunately for the most part it looked like this:

However, I was more than willing to look over this fact seeing as I enjoy their music. Then another thing hit me, I couldn’t hear past the ‘bass drum’ (they use a drum pad) and every time it hit I couldn’t hear anything else. Maybe they just need to pull it down a bit, because what I listen to their music for are the vocals and other lines.

This said, I do not regret going. They started off with House, which, if you read here often, will now is a song a quite like, and they did it justice. As they settled in their songs did seem to improve, and some of the b-side to their new single, Inner Owas a personal highlight for me, as they stripped back the bass sounds and had a more interesting drum beat going on.

Overall, I think they are on their way up. This gig showed that they have what it takes to make it, with a few minor tweaks. But that’s just my opinion, and hey, if you’re into the whole massive drum beats, and enjoy most of Bad Life’s releases then I’m sure you’d have had a blast!

Sharon Van Etten – Cargo, Shoreditch 01 March 2012

[This review is brought to you by Dave, one of my friends from college who manages to get out a lot more than I do, because he is a richer man than I. Enjoy!]

Somewhere during Sharon Van Etten’s performance of ‘Joke or Lie,’ the closing track from potential magnum opus, ‘Tramp,’ all sense of coherence is lost. The song disappears beneath soaring harmonies, her guitarist violently striking instrument with a violin bow, the entire venue intermittently rumbling from trains passing overhead. The unwitting audience experience a moment of transcendence, stunned to silence.

Such moments are unexpected, her stage presence often disarming. She jokes with the crowd between songs, sharing stories from the road. Her backing band clearly have a strong relationship, multi-instrumentalist Heather Woods Broderick teased all through the evening. The intimate venue, tucked along an anonymous side street in East London, allows for this relaxed atmosphere.

Yet, these moments of transcendence recur throughout the performance, from Broderick’s layered harmonies, introducing ‘Don’t Do It,’ to the whirling feedback that drives ‘Serpents.’ The band performs with a hypnotic intensity, Van Etten’s voice, often weary and affected, perfectly carrying the weight of her melodies and lyricism.

The show achieves this strangest balance, drifting seamlessly between jovial delight and passionate intensity. No doubt, the small venue somewhat facilitates this idiosyncrasy. However, with ‘Tramp’ receiving significant acclaim, we are unlikely to witness Sharon Van Etten perform in such an environment again. We are only grateful for this final opportunity.

Foals – Live at Southampton Guildhall (Supported by Crystal Fighters and Trophy Wife)

First off, I’d just like to say that I really did have a good time at this gig, partly due to the fact I was with friends I hadn’t seen for a while and partly because I like the bands music. In terms of this review I hope you read it in this light, so whatever I say is purely going to be on performance quality and of course there’s going to be a bit of bias due to my appreciation of the bands on show already.

The show started with Trophy wife, a three piece of vocals/guitar player, a synth player and a drummer. One of the greatest bits about this band was their drummer. Although not entirely conventional, with no bass drum that I could see (instead this was replaced by pads) he was the most entertaining to watch, and seemed to really get into the music. The singer was a little weak but apparently it was only their ninth gig and this wasn’t helped by a poor sound guy. So poor in fact that at one point there was obvious feedback.

Crystal Fighters were very good. Their music may not be to everyone’s taste but in terms of enjoying music at a gig they were great to watch and got a good vibe out of the audience. However, the first of their band did come on topless. Fortunately there was little moshing except for on the last song, which leads me to my main criticism of, not Foals themselves, but their audience.

It seemed like that as soon as Yannis (the lead singer/songwriter from Foals) walked onto the stage the audience just started moshing, and this seemed to continue until the very end of the gig, with a very slight pause for a couple of songs. While I do enjoy a good mosh, this did seem a little inappropriate for the sort of music that was being played, and I felt it took away from the overall appreciation of the band and did get quite tiring (and painful) after a couple of songs. While this was going on Yannis was jumping round the stage, onto beams and speakers alike which made it entertaining. In terms of music quality they were very tight and knew what they were doing all the time. One of the highlights for me was the fact that they started with ‘Blue Blood’ (which I was expecting) and also their final song ‘Two Steps Twice’ went down a blast. They really do know how to play gigs, and I can’t really fault their playing, or performance much, although I was their mainly to enjoy myself. This is just a sideline to help people decide whether it’s worth the money, and/or trip, and it definitely is, although probably only for indiekids (which the place was teeming with, unsurprisingly) and real fans of the band.