Words: Tom Bell, Matt Hogarth, Dave Tate, Christopher Carr, Debra Williams, Christopher Hughes, Jonny Winship, Stuart Miles O’Hara, Evan Moynihan, Cath Bore, Sue Bennett.
Main Image: John Carpenter by Keith Ainsworth
We aren’t half spoilt when it comes to live music round here, especially if you like your gigs epic in scale and cathartic for the soul. As we reached the year’s curtain call, LIVERPOOL MUSIC WEEK strode up to the plate for its 12th edition to bring us a heady week-and-a-bit of shows to sate all but the pickiest of tastes. Our look back at all that LMW 2016 had to offer starts off in the opulent setting of The Dome at Grand Central Hall, and finishes up in the up-and-coming north docks area for a locally sourced and rollicking Closing Party.
GoGo Penguin by Glyn Akroyd
Look, performance and presentation are as worth championing as anything, but, jeez, there’s a lot of that about on Liverpool Music Week’s opening night. Hell forbid that everyone noodles away earnestly, but save us, too, from constant demands to like something (which is often nothing) right now. Give us a slow burn, a proper feed occasionally and no snacking, and less of the graphic, more concealment – and not as a ruse. Give us WARPAINT.
This is patiently, effortlessly pressed home in the also pleasingly out-of-time Dome at Grand Central Hall on Renshaw Street, in which the quartet are tonight sealed. Nothing outside of them seems to be allowed into their world – OK, except ALL WE ARE, who seem on a good frequency at the mo and are so assured in their mechanising of thumping drums and voices combined into chords that they make complete sense as support.
Swaddled by an opening Bees, you’re now vibrating to Warpaint rather than overhearing – maybe why their records take often circuitous routes to your affections. You’re sucked into the warren of corridors of Keep It Healthy, vortices of guitar tunnelling down from the clearing of the mid-song breakdown. They don’t just say they’ve “got you in the undertow”, you feel it; you are there.
Such aural chicanery restates the initial point across the EQs. Firstly, because the rhythm section of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa is the best around. Second, the harmonising of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman is the toppermost. Number three, the latter pair’s spiral-stair riffs, and, four, the patience for that slow burn.
And now for something completely different. With a body of work spanning multiple genres and decades, JOHN CARPENTER has long established himself as a unique, if somewhat cult, voice within the annals of cinema history. Despite having been bestowed with the title of Master Of Horror for his collection of classic films such as Halloween and The Thing, Carpenter has, throughout his career, been able to turn his hand to the action, thriller and adventure genres with equally effective results. Alongside his accolades as a director, Carpenter has also garnered plaudits as the composer to the soundtracks for most of his films. His instantly recognisable brand of crystalline, synth-driven soundscapes has become inseparable from the aesthetic of his movies, and with the release of his first album of original music (2015’s Lost Themes), Carpenter has shown himself an equally capable composer outside of his soundtrack work.
Now performing his compositions live for the first time in his 40-plus-year career, tonight’s show stands out in that the venue for the performance could not be any more perfect. The supposedly haunted Liverpool Olympia, in all of its decaying splendour, looks like it has been plucked straight from a Carpenter movie and the crowd inside are already in good spirits. From the opening chunky guitar riff of the Escape From New York theme they are positively ecstatic, each new theme greeted with a whoop from the audience as they see their favourite characters projected onto the screen behind the band. A condensed version of each film is played out and serves to remind us to just how many classic cinema moments Carpenter has been responsible for. Being able to relive the experience of watching Halloween for the first time from behind the sofa in the presence of the man responsible for so many sleepless nights is a magical experience that borders on the cathartic.
Joined by his own son on second keyboards, Carpenter’s band perform amped-up version of each film’s soundtrack with an energy that translates them into the live realm perfectly. Drawing from the same palette of glassy arpeggios and foreboding synths, Carpenter showcases his ability to tell a story or paint a surreal world just as vivid as those his movies inhabit through his soundscapes alone. As an artist, Carpenter hasn’t always had the praise he’s deserved. Thankfully, tonight, his fanbase are able to provide him with more than enough.
Fast forward a couple of nights and fans of all ages are gathered at Arts Club in hope of catching a glimpse of the enigmatic, Neil Young-lovin’, Fender-playin’ tinnitus merchants DINOSAUR JR. Album after album, tour after tour, J Mascis and co. have barely let up since their 1985 debut, an ever-speeding juggernaut who continue to crush short-lived acts with their gargantuan sound.
Dinosaur Jr. by Mike Sheerin
But first it’s time to support our local freak scene and who better to front it than SHEER ATTACK, a band who truly deserve their name. Lead singer Russ is the perfect combo of Rollins and Ozzy, a truly electric performer who seems to ricochet off every wall he can, his frenetic pinballing soundtracked by his band’s brutal metal/hardcore crossover. Evidence, if you needed it, that you should always get down for the support act.
The roaring trade the venue is doing in ear-plug sales kind of points to the direction this is going in, but before Dinosaur Jr.’s instruments are even plugged in our ears are tested by the deafening roars and wolf whistles that greet the Massachusetts trio as they come on stage. Not ones for unnecessary conversation, the group bowl headfirst into the assault, the sound penetrating our brains with a solid spear of white noise. The decibel meter flashes into the triple digits.
Never one known for the strength of his voice, Mascis mutters song after song from his fixed position on the stage. At times, the only movement you can see from him is in one of his arms and the fingers on the other hand. But, we’re not here for Freddie Mercury levels of stage strutting – it’s the incendiary guitarwork we want, and Mascis doesn’t disappoint as he effortlessly unleashes sounds with a flick of a string and the tap of a pedal. It’s easy to see why they’re viewed in some circles as iconic, yet… the ear-bleeding noise and lack of interaction does get a bit tiresome. Maybe the odd bit of chat wouldn’t go amiss?
The following night we’re present to witness that the strong yet delicate approach of Louisa Roach is still centre stage of SHE DREW THE GUN, the addition of a full band having not overwhelmed but enhanced it. Tonight, 11 months and a Glastonbury performance, a Billy Bragg recommendation, a trip to South Korea and a UK tour later, they reach an even higher level – a heavier, grungier sound developed through extensive guitar riffs and reverb on tracks such as their spooky new Hallowe’en waltz with its metal-heavy ending, Louisa soloing, head down and nodding.
However, before we reach the grunge, the eclectic trio of MAMATUNG provide an unexpected delight. The three young women play a variety of instruments, including the autoharp and melodica, and harmonise beautifully. They’re folky with a world-music edge; earthy, pagan beats over ethereal, sometimes other-worldly, vocals. There’s a Wicker Man-like intensity and build-up of apprehension in the pagan drumming – well in keeping with the night before Hallowe’en.
SDTG’s superb set includes the intensely moving Since You Were Not Mine and If You Could See, and a groovy Sugababes/Jefferson Airplane mashup of Overload. The “angry songs about the way things are” are also in evidence – Louisa’s sweet voice, like honey flowing over the razor’s edge of her sharp lyrics, combining to deliver a knockout, sneering, sarcastic punch to all those who are part of the problem rather than the solution – with Poem and Pit Pony. She ‘raps’ between songs – a “microphone sniper” calling-out the world’s ills and those who perpetuate them, bringing huge cheers and applause from the enthusiastic, packed room.
Anticipation is high a few days later in Arts Club for yet more plentiful musical festivities, showing that the stamina of the crowd is far from flagging. Tonight’s one and only support act is a band that are a stylistic far cry from the musical direction of headliners GOGO PENGUIN, yet somehow they complement the bill perfectly. DELIAH are, in short, phenomenal. They deliver a minimal but well-composed set full of weighty, tight drum breaks, tasty guitar lines and bass counter-melodies. They can legitimately do neo-soul: no gimmicks, no clichéd disco-esque cheapness, just raw, gritty beats and melodies with powerful, lush vocals drizzled on top.
Before long, GoGo Penguin’s trio of contemporary jazzmasters are striding through a rich set of frenetic, breakneck beats and complex melodies – and the audience are transfixed. Not only is this incredible music to listen to but the playing is at the level of the virtuoso. Drummer Rob Turner offers a mesmerising display of both blistering technique and beautiful layers of texture, while bassist Nick Blacka and pianist Chris Illingworth put forward both a wealth of expressive outbursts and refined, tight melodies.
Plenty of diverse cuts from the Penguins’ three albums are peppered throughout the set, such as newer tracks All Res and Unspeakable World as well as older tracks One Percent, Garden Dog Barbeque and Fanfares. The trio give everything they have and seem to disappear into their instruments when they play. Every pair of eyes in the room is focused intently on the emotional, visual and audible trip.
There are few venues in Liverpool as suited to host the last of LMW’s showcase events as Leaf’s upstairs space. Despite the high ceiling there’s a real intimacy about the place, with candles, sombre blue lighting and draped velvet curtains behind the stage making it feel like we’ve been invited to something special.
John Carpenter by Keith Ainsworth
Liverpool’s own TOM LOW provides support, and his three-piece band open with the charmingly innocent Telephone. Quirky guitar hooks and three-way harmonies perfectly set the theme for his dreamy yet uplifting performance.
CAT’S EYES themselves enter to the nostalgically sad Twin Peaks theme – first, the three backing singers meander through the crowd to take their positions on the stage, then guitarist, bassist and tonight’s stand-in drummer Dave, Faris Badwan and, finally, Rachel Zeffira. Upon reaching her mic, Zeffira wastes no time in unleashing the devastating soprano voice she has become known for, the crowd instantly falling under her spell. We’ve been excited to see how their ornate chamber-pop studio sound translates to a live setting for a while now, and answers come in the form of brilliantly captive performances of Face In The Crowd, Drag, and Standoff. Badwan’s vocals often croon throughout them in the style of Nick Cave, the lyrical maturity that has come since his early Horrors days now abundant.
Cat’s Eyes can brilliantly alternate between mournful ballads of lost love and some up-tempo nightmare-pop, with the resultant sound being something that haunts the space between Arcade Fire and Ladytron. Zeffira’s voice is similar to that of Helen Marnie, inspired as they both are by sixties yé-yé and the French chanson. A well-placed cover of The Beatles’ spooky Because only furthers the feeling that we’ve been privy to something original, unpredictable, unforgettable.
Amber Arcades by Chloé Santoriello
DIY BREAKING OUT SHOWS
Away from the bright lights of the established headliners, LMW 2016 provided us with a run of shows in Arts Club’s Loft featuring a clutch of acts who we can be sure will be bill-topping names in the future. Jonny Winship, Evan Moynihan, Cath Bore and Matt Hogarth were our scouts for the series of more intimate gigs – here’s who impressed them…
A sporadic stream of Harley Quinns, shoddy sugar skulls and half-arsed zombies are chugging their way down Seel Street as we arrive at the venue on the Breaking Out series’ opening Halloween weekend. Inside, BATHYMETRY are already mid-flow within their own stream of scuzzy, mix-and-match grunge rock. Their sound twists and flows over the audience, and is well received by this early-bird crowd.
Playing for the first time as a live band, the new, reimagined project from AGP follow. Bar the odd hitch and mistiming, they produce an intricate sonic wall of punchy shoegaze rock. The powerful and delicate FERAL LOVE are next to add their own dynamic to the support for tonight. Drawing the biggest crowd of the night, they enthral and enchant with thick electronic tones and Adéle Emmas’ soaring and commanding vocals. They deliver an impressive set, and leave as if it was their own headline show.
By the time the Heavenly headliners AMBER ARCADES take to the stage, the room has thinned a little and the noise levels from the bar area behind us are heightened. Nevertheless, the band effortlessly sail through their set; fuzzy organs, gentle jangly guitars and Annelotte de Graaf’s soft, deft croon float over the crowd. Come With Me and Fading Lines act as the most rousing parts of the their set. Harmonies are carried and delivered with a heavenly grace; the essence and style of their brilliant EP Fading Lines is reciprocated, but something is missing. They fail to snare the attention of the room, as people chatter, shuffle awkwardly or politely look on. Their sedating, dreamy pop is lost on this crowd.
When LET’S EAT GRANDMA take the stage in Arts Club’s Loft, I can’t help but wonder how often the duo get mistaken for sisters. Dressed in matching outfits and with the same long wavy locks, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingsworth look strikingly similar. They seem like best friends and the beginning of their set doesn’t do anything to dispel that notion. They clap out a ‘Patty Cake’-style rhythm over the drone of a synth before drifting into Deep Six Textbook.
Many of the songs on Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album I, Gemini are built on the foundation of a keyboard or synth loop. From there, they layer guitar, mandolin, xylophone, saxophone, recorders, and drums to create a haunting atmosphere. Their performance is eccentric and unconventional. They aren’t virtuosos, but that’s not the point. Their primitive approach to a lot of these instruments is what defines their sound and that’s not a bad thing; think Meg White or Patrick Carney.
One thing they have mastered is the way they weave their vocals together. Often, they overlap two distinct lyrics or echo one another before coming together to emphasise a certain line. The result is powerful.
These young women are willing to venture wherever the music takes them, and they play what comes naturally and sing about what they know. It’s psychedelic pop mixed with folklore, fairytales and teen angst – and it’s uniquely their own.
The Breaking Out strand of Liverpool Music Week works particularly well for the high-quality local talent who get to open for the bigger, touring acts, and one band who could be in the latter category soon enough are TRUDY & THE ROMANCE. The eager puppies bound onto the stage to kick of the third night of the DIY series, and it would be the obvious thing to describe them as odd, but they are exactly that and it’s no bad thing. Pulling in from 1950s doo-wop and rockabilly classics, with the ghost of Gene Vincent and big wonderful smiles, they’re a curious joy. Tonight we get the now familiar Baby I’m Blue and All My Love, as well as new song Doghouse.
Headliners THE BIG MOON are a delight tonight. They play a new song, bass player Celia Archer acknowledging with humour that they could cock it up big time “and none of you lot would notice”. That, as well as recent releases Silent Movie Susie and Cupid, plus debut single Sucker, stand up well alongside a live favourite, a lingering interpretation of Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger.
Archer bigs up singer Juliette Jackson throughout the show for trooping through this, the first night of the tour, with a cold. “I’m going to do a dance for you now,” Jackson announces halfway through, and proceeds to do a wobbly Walks Like An Egyptian shuffle. This is appropriate, because there is something The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs about Jackson, the girl next door way out of everyone’s reach.
For DIY’s final Breaking Out gig of Liverpool Music Week 2016, we’re looking for a grand hurrah of a send-off, so who better to kick off proceedings than Arts Club’s arch rivals QUEEN ZEE & THE SASSTONES? Their previous sets here have resulted in time spent in A&E, and their return to the stage proves no less compromising. The set that follows proves anarchic as ever, with a face full of feedback, room-shattering drums and the acid tongue of Queen Zee – in bra and skirt – providing an electric set. No piece of equipment is safe as cymbals cascade and mics are slammed. Their appearance may be brief, but it sets the bar high for tonight.
Volumes raised, it’s up to INDIGO MOON to take the challenge of following on from Queen Zee. Their decadent rock is lavish and rich in tone but it’s lead singer Ashley Colley who really steals the show. A storm of swirling hair and bellowing vocals, she holds the audience in the palm of her hand as she relinquishes control to her primeval instincts.
It’s with a pang of sadness that we notice the room empty a little for headlining Brightonians ABBATOIR BLUES, whose rough ‘n’ ready rock has caught the ear this year. As if to prove themselves to the people who have stayed, the quartet unfurl a barrage of harsh, shoegazey guitars that prove perfect backing for the guttural incoherent slurs of vocalist George Boorman. With audience interaction kept to a minimum and the set short and sharp, this is a treat for those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Invisible Wind Factory, North Shore Troubadour and Meraki
It’s the last night of a run which has championed everything from pop to jazz to soundtrack pioneers and the end is very near. Forever looking forward to Liverpool’s future, Music Week have decided this year to look to the newest area of cultural innovation for the setting of the fabled LMW Closing Party, the north docklands.
With such a choice of local talent on offer across the venues, we take up shelter first of all in Bido Lito!’s own Spiritual Bunker based at brand-new venue Meraki, with the brilliant SHIPBUILDERS opening proceedings. They’re better than ever tonight too, showing that they’ve managed to progress from the familiar indie format into something more interesting and much more diverse. Combining classic Scouse melody with some Spaghetti Western cinema stylings, they help us forget the weather outside with a show that makes us feel all warm inside.
Not wanting to miss anything, we rush over to quaint venue North Shore Troubadour to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic and suave DANYE. Their slick hair matches their effortless playing as a complement to the minimalist psychedelic pop that they play. There’s no need to venture outside for our next act either, as the wonderful AZUSENA is just getting started in North Shore Troubadour’s main room. The Wirral-via-New York singer is perhaps one of the most exciting Merseyside artists around, so with live appearances few and far between, we think it best to catch her before she’s carted off to much larger stages. There’s something quite captivating about the whole thing: merely a guitar, a keyboard and one tremendous voice, they manage to hypnotise the audience with their beautifully sparse and barren torch songs. No gimmicks or strategy are needed, just well-written songs and the expanse for Azusena’s creamy voice to unfold.
Back in Meraki, Norwegian trio I SEE RIVERS bring a glacial feel to the stark room, which manages to stay heaving all night. Delicious harmonies and winsome tones cut through to the bone, bringing an air of The Staves, or even Sea Of Bees, to the party. SANKOFA succeed in bringing some beauty out of Meraki’s dark and damp corners later on too, all bluesy incantations and sleazy garage style, and it’s one in-one out for BONNACONS OF DOOM’s groundshaking set in the venue an hour or so later.
Some of the promising acts split between the various venues tonight would do well to take a closer look at this rise of one of the city’s greatest success stories. CLINIC are a beacon of everything that’s great about Liverpool: creatively pioneering, talented but most importantly, downright fucking strange. Despite the band having been around for almost two decades, not only have they managed to keep moving forward but, due to their iconic surgical suits, they’ve also failed to age. They get straight to business tonight with medical efficiency, providing the audience with quite the show, See Saw in particular sounding timeless and well-rounded in IWF’s cavernous main room.
The Closing Party is an amazing feat, one that is a fitting end to Liverpool Music Week’s storming run, but it isn’t half a marathon. Tonight alone offers up enough amazing musicians from a variety of genres to power most festival bills. But even this isn’t enough for us gig-hungry rhythm slaves; we just can’t let final act of the night STRANGE COLLECTIVE slope off without tearing through their infectious party psych hit Super Touchy.
When can we do it all over again?