Keiji Haino @ Cafe OTO



  The warm-up on Day One in Keiji Haino's two-day stint at Dalston's OTO cafe was assigned to Heather Leigh. Pretty creative sonically, she chanted in a nostalgic, part renaissance-part temptress mermaid voice, which unfortunately divided us. Love her, or hate her? Totally love her; as long as she doesn't sing...
 Keiji then took over with his guitar authoritatevaly  (and with him it's the only way).
 The kind announcer let us know beforehand that we were not to expect a word to be sang throughout the evening (and better not take any pics with flash, hence the suitable to the occasion abstract expressionism).
 Indeed, he solely spoke through cinematic serenity and violent breakouts, evocative silences and animalistic attacks. A pretty wide spectrum between studied peace and uninhibited paranoia, aptly accompanied by Steve Nobles' edgy percussion - and it's presumably not that easy to mentally synch with the veteran noise master.

To put it quite simply, Keiji knows when to start and when to stop. One of his biggest assets? Not to overindulge his obsessions. Cause, no matter how unpredictable and imaginative his improvisation, there is a point where it gets tiring (isn't that always the problem with his fellow Japanese impro-guru Damo Suzuki?).
Right on that golden line, he stopped. And he silently walked out.
Respect is the word.

Review and photography by Danai Molocha, aka rockets4solitude.

Singing, songwriting and performing @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Ben Howard 24/02/12 In his second packed, sold out gig at the Empire, Mr Howard reigned with his successful debut Every Kingdom; a group of songs that annoy me with their radio-friendly catchiness - as did the people that massively sang along "ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh", the instantly recognisable intro to The Wolves. However, Howie, I can't deny that as a songwriter you have an authenticity that defies current success-obsessed trends.
Accompanied by a fine pair of musicians (especially that lady on the left, that alternated cello, percussion and, if I remember correctly, also the bass), Howard sonically sucked his audience in and gave my working night a not-bad-really melodic backdrop (mainly when he wasn't playing "the hits"). I'm surely still not a fan - but Keep Your Head Up, Ben. A lot of other people deservingly are.
St. Vincent 27/02/12 Her past with The Polyphonic Spree kind of appauls me, her stint with Sufjan Stevens I find quite interesting, though.
As a songwriter in her own right, I gave Annie Erin Clark, aka St. Vincent, a chance through her debut Marry Me (2007) - and I found it too soft, in a cultured kind of way.
My attention, peculiarly, turned back to her when in total ignorance I heard The Year of the Tiger (from her recent third album Strange Mercy) on American radio and I was instantly drawn. I can finally say I like one of her songs, since the pile of acclaimed contemporary (in particular) musicians who I persist on not getting into is going, worryingly, up and up (and up, see above).
Seeing her on stage (back at the Empire, four years after her previous performance with The National), I have to admit I didn't like any more than that one song which, by the way, she performed beautifully. Nevertheless, I got to appreciate her idiosyncratic... spree and, close to the end, she and her band even turned into some kind of hellraisers (for their standards); I can't turn my back on that guitar. A breakout which ended with Clark breathing heavily on the mike - a fine moment that helps me forget those other moments, like Save Me From What I Want, which have the exact same "cultured" softness that kills me softly (and not in a good way).
If you're a St. Vincent fan, yes, you would've loved being there. Just don't expect this writer to say anything that wild.

Pieces of the Empire (i.e. the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire)

M83 16/02/12 Unfortunately, on that sold out gig, I was too busy to keep my eyes on stage long enough to come up with a deserving full-scale review; but the furtive glimpses I did give, convinced me that Monsieur Anthony Gonzalez and his lot know how to give a live (not to mention a light) show. Surrounded by alternating otherworldly artificial constellations, the band gave hit songs like Midnight City, from their latest release Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, new beat and energy. Synthpop that was lively and sophisticated, strengthened in an ambience of modern nostalgia.
Lightening Seeds, James Walsh 18/02/12 The headliners  Ligthtening Seeds, a '90s pop outfit I didn't like back then and certainly now I was bored to see, I won't comment on.
...Except, maybe, for the fact that it was a seated gig, due possibly to the lack of a respectful number of fans.
And that, judging from the average age of their fanbase, you'd think we were celebrating a '70s band.

Be that as it may, a pleasant little surprise came in the form of one-man support band James Walsh, instantly recognisable as the voice of Starsailor. Having crossed paths with the band in the past, being nothing close to a fan, I had come to the conclusion that these characteristically moppy alternative tunes - the usual ones, Four To The Floor, Silence Is Easy, Alcoholic - work rather fine on stage.
I have to comment on that night's gig, if only for the rarity of a lonely support act earning the enthusiastic applause of a typically unruly audience; thanks to Walsh's emotive - if, still, incorrigeably moppy...- delivery which, whether you like it or not (the voice), it has the ability to mean something. "You're all being incredibly respectful. I appreciate the attention", he commented.
And I really appreciate the fact that, on such a quiet, poppy night, you didn't let me get bored witless.

The Black Keys, Band of Skulls @ Alexandra Palace

Howlin' blues


Two bands with common blues garage roots got together up Ally Pally for a torrential three-in-a-row - and I was unlucky enough to attend only once.
I first crossed paths with both of them on the big screen:
The Black Keys I fell for the moment When The Lights Go Out charged with unabashed electricity yet another burning scene in Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan.
Band of Skulls I had only read about before, but their particular contribution in Twilight: New Moon put me off reaching out to the rest of their songs.
Black Snake Moan is a provocative account of Memphis' everyday sexual frustrations (to put it shortly) and it's packed with crotch-tingling tunes. Twilight, on the other hand, is frustrating altogether, but has often shoved me into researching the alternative melodic doings of Grizzly Bear, Death Cab For Cutie or Vampire Weekend, who I otherwise wouldn't give the light of day (Iron and Wine, in contrast, I continue to ban from earshot...).
Often finding the electric blues less edgy than I would hope (let's say that John Campbell doesn't quite do it for me), I spotted in the Keys a fresh, sexually charged rock context that fascinated me. And, warmed up by the Band of Skulls, I saw in last night's performance more substance, character and validation of my faith in them that I would expect.
To begin with, English trio of Skulls - with apt and cool bassist Emma Richardson, who I hadn't even paid attention to before - rocked it out with tunes beyond XFM sensation The Devil Takes Care of His Own, or Bruises (I love the burning Death By Diamonds and Pearls). It was the less commercially successful songs that were actually worth the attention - and the band modestly abstained from playing Twilight's Friends. My job now is to definitely look into them a bit more.
As for The Black Keys... Opener Howlin' For You got us all jumping and spilling beer over our cameras - a signal in disguise to make memories by living, instead of recording the moment.
Thunder drums by Patrick Carney, (un)traditionally sexy vocals by Dan Auerbach and excellent extra accompaniment at the back - but the duo did equally brilliantly when left on its' own. I still have to think of a bad moment, but Little Black Submarines (from their latest El Camino) was definitely a highlight. Their Twilight: Eclipse contribution Chop and Change was also there, as was their XFM hit Lonely Boy. But luckily, in this case, I had already built great faith in and history with the band to satisfyingly enjoy trends. With the second hit, in particular, they celebrated El Camino's gold status in the UK, a kind of success I'm afraid will eventually alter and suppress their psychotic blues energy. I can't also tell whether their no-beards-and-long-hair-attached, a-la-Kings-of-Leon evolution will from now on go hand-in-hand with their acquired celebrity status.
For the time being, they remain in pristine, authentic rock condition. They didn't grace us with the above-mentioned Black Snake Moan favourite, but while the lights were on they were top notch (the lights, the band, the whole lot).
On our way out the thickening snow provided a magical cinematic scenery.
What a gig. What a band!

Review and photography by Danai Molocha, aka rockets4solitude