Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sound Of Confusion

SPECTRUM - Birmingham Hare & Hounds

Spacemen 3 founder Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember is currently undertaking a tour of the UK. I've yet to find any reviews of the other gigs, but I'd be interested to hear how the rest of the tour is going. I'd like to think that the shambolic mess I witnessed on Friday night was a one-off but I fear that may not be the case. The first question that enters my mind as Sonic wanders onto the stage is "Does he ever age?"; his hair is shorter than I remember but he looks more like a gawky teenager than ever. I then start to wonder whether the show will ever start, as it's almost 11pm and he has already spent an inordinate amount of time setting up his keyboards.

After what seems like an eternity of dithering, we are finally treated to a set made up almost entirely of Spacemen 3 songs, or cover versions that used to feature in the Spacemen live set, such as "When Tomorrow Hits" and "Transparent Radiation". The only "new" song is "How You Satisfy Me", which is possibly Sonic's best post-Spacemen effort, but even that is 17 years old. From a nostalgic viewpoint, it's great to hear these songs played live, "Transparent Radiation" in particular, as Spacemen 3 were a permanent fixture on my turntable during my student days. But it's also apparent that Sonic relies too heavily on his old material, and he should maybe take some time out to write new songs. It's obvious why, in the post-Spacemen wars, Spiritualized are more popular. Jason Pierce may include one or two Spacemen songs in his live set but he could never be accused of living off past glories and has produced a large amount of quality material of his own since his infamous break-up with Sonic Boom during the recording of "Recurring".

I would have been prepared to forgive the unbalanced setlist, and probably even been excited to hear all those Spacemen 3 songs, if Sonic had noticed that there was a crowd there to see him, rather than just treating the gig like a rehearsal. He has become obsessed with quality control in a way that Kevin Shields could only dream of, and is constantly wandering around the stage tweaking the equipment. Perhaps the most irritating thing he does is to address the soundman over the microphone mid-song whenever he wants the bass turned up or down. This is not something I expect from someone who has been performing for over 20 years. The rest of band look embarrassed by his onstage behaviour.

As the set progresses, the gaps between the songs become longer than the songs themselves. Half the crowd have left already and Sonic has lost the attention of the ones who remain; they are now just chatting amongst themselves, uncertain whether he is actually going to play another song. After "Revolution", I decide to call it a night rather than risk missing the last bus. I don't like leaving a gig before the end but in this case Sonic was doing nothing to convince me I should stay. Maybe he played for another hour after I left and included some new songs, but I'm guessing that by this stage he was almost out of time anyway. I hate to sound so negative about someone I once admired, but this could easily have been a very enjoyable gig if Sonic had been more relaxed about the finer points of the sound and had just let things happen naturally. I guess Sonic no longer knows or cares what Jason is doing, but maybe he needs to watch a Spiritualized gig to see how it should be done.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

An Oblique View Of An Irrationally Happy Time


"The Wetherbeat Scene" is a 36-track compilation released by 555 Recordings, formerly of Leeds, now based in Flagstaff, Arizona. It documents the small scene that developed in the Yorkshire town of Wetherby, leading eventually to the founding of 555. I was initially attracted to this release because it features some early tracks by Hood, although it's difficult to reconcile the chaotic, Pavement-like racket with the atmospherics that Hood have released in the last few years. (They are one of the few bands where I actually think their later music is better.) If you're familiar with Hood's early releases such as "Cabled Linear Traction" or the singles compiled on "Structured Disasters" then you should have some idea of what to expect, but the tracks featured here are more shambolic still and I think it's safe to assume that most of them were recorded in somebody's bedroom.

As you'd expect with a 555 compilation, there are a number of Boyracer tracks, including a hilarious take on Run DMC's "It's Tricky", which appears as the final, unlisted track on the CD. I always find Boyracer enjoyable, but I'm not sure if I really need any more of their songs. I already own something in the region of 200 Boyracer tracks and I'd probably struggle to identify at least half of them if they were played to me blind. One day I'll find time to sit down and listen to their entire back catalogue properly.

Apart from Hood and Boyracer, I hadn't actually heard of any of the other bands on the CD and I suspect most of them never went on to record anything else. The most prolific band on the CD, with 10 songs, is Baby Doll Lounge, whose members later formed Boyracer. Their music is typical light-hearted late-'80s indiepop, and if their song titles are anything to go by, they were influenced by The Wedding Present. You can easily imagine titles like "You Don't Have To Say Yes" or "Why Should I Communicate With You?" appearing on an early Wedding Present release, and just in case we haven't got the message already, they also have a song called "I Stood Next To David Gedge In Jumbo Records". However, their cover of Primal Scream's "Velocity Girl" seems unnecessary, as it is barely distinguishable, to my ears at least, from the original. Other bands on the CD include The Liddles, The Harbour Pilots and The Paisley Springtime. I can tell you very little about any of these bands, and Google only comes back with, respectively, a medical disorder, maritime job vacancies and some curtain material.

The CD comes with a 40-page book. Well, to call it a book might be a little generous. It has a nice glossy cover, but the inside resembles a cheaply-photocopied fanzine. Not that I'm knocking cheaply-photocopied fanzines; I've contributed to a few in my time and the presentation of this one fits perfectly with the music on the CD and the era it is documenting. It harks back to a simpler time, before the internet, when music was traded on cassette and interest in new bands was generated by word of mouth. The booklet features a few interviews with people who were involved with the bands (many of whom were still attending Wetherby High School when they recorded the songs included on the CD) as well as reproductions of gig flyers and, best of all, photos of fresh-faced youths with floppy fringes and paisley shirts:

That, in case you're wondering, is an early shot of Richard and Chris Adams of Hood. I find that picture particularly touching, because when I was at school in the late '80s, everyone I knew looked like that.

"The Wetherbeat Scene" is limited to 200 copies, so as soon as I heard about it, I ordered one directly from 555's website. I later found out that there are some copies for sale in the UK, so if you want one then it might be better to try Norman Records first before ordering it from the US. I'm not sure if paying for it in dollars cost me any more, but it did mean I had to wait an extra week for it to arrive. Having said that, if you do buy it from the label, you get a nice handwritten note from 555/Boyracer founder Stewart Anderson:

Although much of the music included is rather amateur in both style and recording quality, it has a certain endearing nature and, combined with the book, it makes a great historical artefact. Fans of Sarah Records and the like, or modern-day tweecore such as The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, will certainly enjoy the youthful enthusiasm found here.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Mojo Man From Mars

LUX INTERIOR 1946 - 2009

Whilst browsing the headlines over breakfast yesterday morning, I came across the sad news that Erick Lee Purkhiser, a.k.a. Lux Interior, has died at the age of 62. As frontman of The Cramps since the mid-1970s, he has been responsible for some of the sleaziest music in my collection and was famed for his intense live performances. The Cramps are also one of the few bands I can think of who have stuck to the same musical style for over 30 years. Now you may think that shows a lack of ambition, but you know what you're getting with a Cramps record and they never disappoint. Their music was a blend of primal rock 'n' roll and surf guitar, infused with a perverse sense of humour. The lyrics generally focused on trashy 1950s Americana and horror movies, and this fascination with the weirder aspects of life spilled over into other areas of their career. The band famously played a free concert for the inmates of Napa State Mental Hospital, and also appeared in a Halloween special of "Beverly Hills 90210". Lux Interior allegedly took his stage name from a car advert.

Apart from his great stage presence, my lasting memory of Lux Interior will be of a stylish dresser, particularly in his latter years when he wasn't made up like a zombie. I hope when I'm in my sixties I can carry off the kind of vintage suits that he wore.

For those of you who, like me, sadly never got to see them live, sit back and enjoy "Thee Most Exalted Potentate Of Love":