Comanechi, Skinny Girl Diet, Victor Talking Machine @ The Lexington

Boisterous acrobatics


After Comanechi's blustering opening at Gossip's recent Empire gig, I decided to follow them to their next, headlining adventure. A winning move, as I was to find out. 
Skinny Girl Diet
First things first: Skinny Girl Diet are one freaking amazing band! Delilah, Ursula and Amelia are from London and they play mean guitar, bass and drums, alongside a very becoming decadent and crude vocal cacophony. Unique inner force and brashness translated to noise, with casual punk immediacy and a refreshing lack of pretentiousness. After Eyes and Douchebag (which you can find at their Soundcloud page), they debuted a new song (Insomnia, if I'm not mistaken, but I was too busy to take notes you know...).
I, for one, am looking forward to their next gig - and when they finally come up with a proper CD (I'll settle for a CD-R) I'm grabbing it!
Victor Talking Machine, on the other hand, were a pretty standard and mostly boring indie rock band (especially compared to such loud-voiced competition), which I was making an effort to concentrate on. The moment their guitars started to get interesting, they added these faux-sensitive boy vocals - not my thing...
Victor Talking Machine
But Comanechi, I was sure they wouldn't let me down.
Wild Ms Matsuura screamed and cavorted maniacally from the start to the very end, on stage or wandering about the bar. The band has just taken on a new drummer, a pretty boy very much concerned with his hair. A disappointment, from that particular perspective - both Akiko ‘Keex ‘ Matsuura (despite sporting a stylish, seductive attire) and Simon Petrovitch happily crash their looks on stage.
...But, what do you know, the drummer started rocking nuts the moment his newbie ass touched the stool; so we forgive him (dude, stop worrying so much about your fringe between songs!). In all fairness, he did great work.
As for the usual suspect duo, they also debuted a new song, adding to their first loud and proud collection Crime of Love. Mesmerizing Fingers, Death Of You, My Pussy, freaking wicked songs!
I don't always lend a sympathetic ear to female rock vocalists - with the exception of Lydia, Patti, PJ, Kim and a limited few others. They have this thing...
They unknowingly give out a baffling weakness that blemishes their sense of music power. Instead of matching the inner strength with the force of their music, they seem to struggle to retain themselves from drowning - as they apparently crumble under the weight of their music; but they still try to convince us otherwise.
Well, that's not the case with these girls. At last, the bad ass chicks are back in town.

Review and photography by Danai Molocha

Marc Almond @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Time-defying melodrama and Birthday aura


Watching Marc Almond sing Sandboy at soundcheck, I already get goose-bumps. I turn to the younger crowd working with me, do they feel the same?
They hate it, apparently.
 Relaxed, casual and smiley, the pre-show Almond seems sweet and accessible. He laughs with the handful of people that have entered the show early and clap at his efforts for good sound.
Last time I saw him on stage, a few years ago, it was on his first live show after a life-threatening motorbike accident. He looked weak still and seriously moved (how could he not be?). His almost broken singing image, after months of feeling he`d never again come up on stage and do what he loves most, has haunted me for years. I can't imagine how it had haunted him.
This Marc though, today on his 55th birthday, is a different man. Motorbike hell and comma horrors behind, Almond seems happy and ready to party. He consumes the stage with his seven-piece - three girls on horns, two on the backing vocals, his faithful keyboardist among others and a sea of romantic stars glittering in the backdrop.
"Hell yeah!", he cheers with the crowd.
From dancefloor king to master of pop melodrama, Almond manifests a lavish theatricality. There`s a lot of jolly B-day rhythms here: The Northern Soul medley, Jacky, What, Hot Love, Tainted Love (they don't always sound jolly, but they are!). A beautiful Waifs And Strays and a Happy Birthday sing-a-long. But it's, again, the lovelorn, tortured melodies like Sandboy that grab and twist me.
I'm genuinely happy to see him back in full form. And I'm genuinely happy to get lost in a splash of confetti, near the end of the show. But I, personally, thrive in sonic misery.
 Marc, your aura...

 Review by Danai Molocha

The Brian Jonestown Massacre @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Got my eye on you


 I had been waiting for this.
After Anton Newcombe's idiosyncratic charisma was explicitly demonstrated in 2004 documentary Dig! I had been curious as hell to observe that tempestuous talent first hand.
As founder and only permanent member of BJM's ongoing music drama, Newcombe takes center stage only metaphorically. On the Empire stage he sits on the right side, quietly calling the shots; though he unashamedly spills out an authoritative "get it together" on the mic, when he sees the band lose their course during a song. Just in case you didn`t already know what the BJM/Newcombe dynamics were all about...
Other than that, all members take their turn to shine, like tambourine player and BJM mainstay Joel Gion, plus a couple of vocalists/guitarists

who cover the actual distance of the center stage. It's so rare to see such a strong (and strong-headed) talent step aside for the music - and it goes way further than Newcombe's placement on stage. It`s in the BJM pictures, it`s in the band playing tightly beginning to end, with absolutely no super-looks, no super-egos and no super-attitude to distract us; and you know for a fact that there`s at least one big, wacky ego in the works here. It doesn't matter what people say about his eccentricities and old drugged hell, or the countless member changes. Anton Newcombe and the band know how to humbly stand against the music, utilizing all temperament and weird dynamics towards putting a great show. It has never been more obvious.
Waking Up To Hand Grenades, Viholliseni Maalla, The Clouds Are Lies, Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe. New record Aufheben has it all.
From Dig! (notorious as it was for its` unjust and inaccurate portrayal of Newcombe) I had gotten the impression that he was standing in the spotlight as the lead wacko experimentalist. Maybe that was then and this is now. Things have changed. The only straight line here is the music. Good music.
 And the best part? A long, filling show without an encore. They gave us their passions, and time and they disappeared. I love this band.

Review by Danai Molocha (photography by BJM web archive).

Gossip, Comanechi @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Fans in love


  It’s scary to see Gossip’s Beth Ditto in the cover (or cover-story) of so many mainstream magazines, all at once, following the release of their fifth studio album A Joyful Noise...Especially when that is accompanied by a series of increasingly stylized videos, and comments about their most accessible disco pop record to date. 
On top of it all, tonight Ditto appears on stage looking ever so elegant, a proper lady in her white print dress. You could ask: Will one of the bands (and frontwomen, in particular) that came into prominence breaking boundaries start compromising for the benefit of Mac make-up and Chanel dresses?
Before we answer that, all eyes on Comanechi. Noisy, feisty, often almost schizophrenic, that fucking Akiko ‘Keex ‘ Matsuura runs for best front woman we’ve seen in a while, personifying to the max Comanechi’s wild punk acrobatics (live also on the 19th of July at The Lexington).
Back to the main act... In all fairness they were punk crazy, gender-free, stylish disco lovers to begin with. And Ditto was never short of impressive (bad or beautiful) outfits. From the moment the rhythm starts to fill the pretty packed Empire, one thing you can’t doubt is their gift. There’s something about Gossip and the rhythm. You get the sense that these guys may in many ways have been underprivileged, but nothing can get in the way between them and the beat. The audience senses it and bounces up and down, a little more or little less since the very start, the dance ecstasy peaking somewhere between Standing In The Way of Control and Heavy Cross (at the encore). Pop Goes The World, Perfect World, a party of street-smart dance gems. All of security’s efforts can't stop those kids from crowd-surfing (phew…!).
I don’t know if it’s just the dress that makes me look at the otherwise lively Ditto as a bit more “proper”, compared to the last time I saw her (over three years ago); but still she doesn't sell herself short.
 One of Gossip’s best features are, hands down, Brace Paine's mean guitar lines, and he delivers in perfect devotion. But it took this gig for me to notice that heir keyboards are pretty wicked too (especially when he's on them - can't help it, I'm a fan).
A short break serves Ditto to change into her good old negligee, the kind of "outfit" that has made Gossip's past shows so eye-catching. Should I be satisfied she finally went back to familiar territory? She could very well be conscious of nearly disappointing her public, the one that waits for that shock-steady extrovert they can live vicariously through. I catch myself wondering how much of it is still product of personal freedom and spontaneity…
But she runs through the crowd getting us all hot and high, and there’s not a soul in the Empire looking disinterested (apart from that punk barman). Restless Ditto ends up in Level 1's VIP section, saying hello to the Raincoats, teasing freaking Perez Hilton and paying tribute to the late Whitney Houston with an a capella I Will Always Love You (why Beth, why????).
Good old Ditto...
Suddenly, Fleetwood Mac blast from the speakers, seamlessly binding live and recorded music with the all-time classic The Chain - I hate their famous geeky pop harmonies, but talk about a mean bassline!!
 The room lights are back on, but Ditto is still hovering in the box seats in a seemingly ever-lasting, ever-cool-and-casual party.
 I’m still dancing.
Maybe that answers all the questions.

Review by Danai Molocha (with miscellaneous photography borrowed from the web...)

Metric @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Synthetica's lost kitten


 Emily Haines is one talented chick, no doubt. And I’ve long spotted Metric as modern pop’s most intriguingly melodic bands, able to consistently feed their audience with cool, enticing records. 
The first time I saw them live, after the release of 2005's  Live It Out, didn’t quite sweep me off my pop feet (though I wouldn't necessarily have anything negative to say either). This time round, however, found them in much better form; and with much better material, having added a few pretty descent records to their catalog since. Their brand new release Synthetica was blatantly the focus, with a wicked eponymous track, alongside Lost Kitten, Artificial Nocturne, Speed The Collapse and other good ones; though they skipped on (the rather unremarkable) Wanderlust, their collaboration with rock's notorious giant Lou Reed. Older picks included killer Dead Disco, Gold Guns Girls, Help I'm Alive and Monster Hospital.
Haines also makes for an interesting performer - not going to extreme ends, but rocking with style. She does, however, make me wonder about her pretty-girl inhibitions, for which she's more or less become the focus of this review. A lot of the time her voice rings like that of a vulnerable sex kitten, unnecessarily girly and fragile, especially for her rocking strengths; which makes me wonder if, despite her character, she eventually gets trapped in her own image. A pity since, when she decides to get sinister (like in Dead Disco) she nails it. There are plenty of pretty-girly vocals out there that sound wild - Glass Candy's Ida No, for one. When Haines wants to, she can sound wild; and beautifully mature, as proven by her version of Gimme Sympathy live on Jools Holland.
Lou Reed is, apparently, a fan, which is no small thing. Metric do have the know-how, the energy and fucking good pop songs to put up a memorable gig. If that’s the vocals that naturally come out of their lead singer, well, they wouldn’t be my first choice; but, in the end, they hardly diminish their shows' - and their records'- quality.

Review by Danai Molocha (photography fished from the web)

Van Morrison @ Hammersmith Apollo

Van, you're the man


 The tickets were really expensive - the £30 ones went real quick; so I was left with the next "cheap" option of £45-60  (I definitely wouldn't consider paying £100 plus). And all that, for a blues selection that possibly wouldn't move me.
 I would've much preferred a focus on the dreamlike Astral Weeks, or Moondance. No matter my love for these albums, the videos I had seen of him "playing the blues", well past his prime, hadn't convinced me to spend that kind of money.
But... it's still Van. I had to see him live at least once in my life.
Luckily, the £30 ticket (for a £45 seat) that eventually someone sold me at the door was more than worth it.
It's not the setlist that counts; it's not even the fact that, in good luck once more, that night I caught him on great form. You see, he's famously grumpy, if you didn't already know; and he admitted as much on stage ("With these men around me - nodding at his band - who wouldn't be grumpy?").
 But even on a grumpy night, I can't imagine that voice not moving mountains. It breathes with depth and truth and quality, and the rest, doesn't really matter.
He opened with the classic Baby, Please Don't Go and, via Route 66, he moved on to a couple of my beloved Astral Weeks extracts (like Ballerina). But even though I didn't have the pleasure of listening to my favourite title track, or Moondance for that matter, there wasn't a moment I didn't feel blessed by his presence.
Over an hour later he wrapped things up with a marathon version of Gloria that set our seats on fire and got the people dancing. But, as it turned out, I could've easily gotten by without an all-time hit. Van's voice is the essence, and the weight of his talent and presence sweeps all resistance away. To hell with the old man grumpiness. Here lies true treasure!

Review and concert pic by Danai Molocha.

Robert Cray @ Shepherd's Bush Empire



I passionately love the blues, but I wasn't immediately hooked on Robert Cray's rather polished sound. A blues veteran for over 35 years and several times Grammy Award winner, friend and collaborator of Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker, he nevertheless failed to channel me a sense of charisma at his opening Bluesfest show.
To be more specific, what failed to move me was his vocals (with no help from the tunes that accompanied them). Pretty generic and similar to plenty a version of hit-making blues singers, who just don't seem to burn inside. If they do, well, they simply don't speak to me.
What unfailingly won me over, eventually, in Cray's performance was his guitar-playing. This is what he's most known for, anyway, and with good reason. The chords shook under his fingers, in a small selection of original, heartfelt, syncopated masterpieces. Not all songs were that captivating, but the ones that were were absolute winners.
 His latest studio album This Time (2009) was his first in four years. Since I didn't know a lot about Cray before this performance, I started from there and went backwards on his catalog, trying to discover those moments that captured my soul. I haven't managed to find most of them still, continuously stumbling upon his more digestible and neat hit-makers. But one thing is for sure. I'm gonna keep on trying.

Review (but no photography) by Danai Molocha