The Hold Steady @ The Electric Ballroom

6th March 2020

After a long stressful days work there can be nothing quite like the freedom and escapism of a rock and roll show. Tonight gave the latter in abundance as the best bar band of all time came to town for a party which would go on all weekend long. This was night 1 of a 3 night residency in the capital.

But up first was Meggie Brown, an intriguing collective from London. Meggie herself, clad all in black with a jumper and a suit jacket mist have been sweltering under her indoor shades. Band leader led her troupe a merry, jolly and seemingly pointed angles to the crossroads where Madness meets The Fall.

Maggie Brown

Their outfits were just plain odd with an Indie Suggs, Fast-food chef hats and even a cowboy/mariachi clad member. Songs were full of expletives and prompted hand clap bridges were left to die on deaf hands. Overall an overly large ineffective collective which have potential to be better than they currently are.

One band who are their best version of themselves every night, The Hold Steady unassumingly shuffled into the spotlights. Their no frills costumes is what you imagine they wear when not on stage, enhancing their everyman appeal (one man excepted).

The Hold Steady

It’s been a long while since the Hold Steady and I last met. The vocal drawler and band leader Craig Finn may have lost some hair, but thankfully he’s lost none of his stage presence. Often found slamming his guitar in a three way harmonic line or equally with arms wide preaching to his ‘London family’. His low and spoken vocal delivery is so connective that you feel he’s only talking to you. Moustachioed Piano maestro Franz was also back after going AWOL too.

Defiantly different, The Hold Steady do not compromise. Whether that’s their extraordinary verbose storytelling, the tough riffing, piano key tinkling or merely the inhabiting off the soul of Rock and Roll without needing to show off about it. Their brand of melodic rock is dripping with self-crafted mythology, Springsteen after 10 pints wobbling, openness and quite a lot of getting high. They exist on the outside looking in at their lesser contemporaries, being just where they want to be.

The set was a real joy as they took us back down memory lane for a career spanning collection of highlight tracks. Leaning heavily on Boys and Girls in America was always going to go down well, especially Chips Ahoy!, Hot Soft Light and Massive Nights! Equally as good were those longer drawn out ambles of Separation Sunday which featured heavily late in the set, such as Hornets! Hornets! and the epic Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night.

The crowd were all really good natured, respectful but also could get boisterous when baited with some rock and rollin’ riffs. Plenty of wooaahooos, strong clap fills and howling the soundbite lyrics, meant they were kept very busy throughout.

It was a truly honed performance of some fantastic rock and roll rambleshackler’s. Everyone swayed out of the venue with one night ticked off. Most of those I spoke to were either coming back tomorrow…or wishing they were!

Albums of 2019: 10 – 1

Its Top 10 time…

10) Danko Jones – A Rock Supreme

Genre: Hard Rock | Label: Bad Taste Records

Quick Fire Summary: Mainstay of these pages and favourite kicks off the top 10 with yet another album packed with bravado, riffs. There is definite pop focus this time out as chorus’s take centre stage. It’s groovy, it’s funky, it hits hard and most of all it’s Danko. Nobody does the Fists Up High rock smash better!

Top Track: Burn In Hell – Machine gun power chords and a damn tasty riff kick starts the rapid fire lyrical onslaught before the thumping chorus opens the throttle and drives straight down to hell…mind the cowbell though lads!

Watch: Burn In Hell

9) Rival Sons – Feral Roots

Genre: Blues/Rock | Label: Atlantic

Quick Fire Summary: Classy blues based hard rock from the now veterans of the retro scene. Not bowing to the popular riff/drum combo trend, Rival Sons have crafted a fully realised set of magnificent melodies, soulfully smooth vocals, colourful atmospheres, fuzzy feeling production, and surprising heaviness. This is the blues done big and with true homage to the greats.

Top Track: Too Bad – Showcasing their more delicate soulful side, this outstanding slow burner has plenty of raspy vocals, dizzying fuzziness, raging guitar prowess all tied up with a unifying hard hitting riff.

Watch: Too Bad

8) Marvel – Guilty Pleasures

Genre: Hard Rock | Label: So Recordings

Quick Fire Summary: Norway’s Marvel are intent in having a good time behind their superhero masks. Rollicking rock and roll done with perilous energy and expert precision this sublime ‘covers’ collection which has transformed the originals into high octane rockers will keep you bouncing off the walls till the neighbours come knockin’.

Top Track: Burning Love – Yes, Elvis owned this tune. But dang this makeover is a fun, fantastic slab of scrappy, enigmatic, galloping rock and roll.

Watch: Keep Pushin’

7) Spielbergs – This Is Not The End

Genre: Indie Rock | Label: By The Time It Gets Dark

Quick Fire Summary: A debut album from a last throw of the dice band which has come up with sixes. An enigmatic combination of tight piercing guitar licks, bombarding waves of layered noise and soaring vocal hooks all amid a deliberately Lo-Fi underdog production. Moreover it rocks hard and fast with barely controllable energy.

Top Track: We Are All Going To Die – A sprawling epic of indie which channels the supersized Trail Of Dead ethic, the utter chaos of Dananananaykroyd with the catchiness of Weezer. The closing minute crescendo of guitar onslaught is as good a moment as any in 2019!

6) Gygax – High Fantasy

Genre: Hard Rock | Label: Mascot Records

Quick Fire Summary: Time to dust off those 16 sided die ready for your next games night soundtrack. A D&D themed band who channels Thin Lizzy and Power Metal through a glorious melodic rock and roll guitar workout. Could be considered niche (?), if it wasn’t for it being so damn catchy!

Top Track: Hide Mind – A riff straight from Thin Lizzy’s trick bag and a galloping verse from the Iron Maiden vault which bludgeons you to oblivion’s with its incessant multi-melody muscle.

Listen: Hide Mind

5) Dinosaur Pile-Up – Celebrity Mansions

Genre: Rock| Label: Parlophone

Quick Fire Summary: Stepping up to a Major Label has clearly been taken in the Dino P-Up stride. The best sounding of their catalogue, it melts grunge and 00’s alt rock and throws plenty of pop and even heavier thrashes for good measure. A super fun and exuberant album of anthems that makes you want to rock out, or sing your heart out.

Top Track: Pouring Gasoline – All out punk attack dominates this hard rocking firecracker. The thumping riff has a dangerous ‘break stuff’ effect which will surely be a moshtastic addition to their live set.

Watch: Back Foot

4) The New Roses – Nothing But Wild

Genre: Hard Rock| Label: Napalm Records

Quick Fire Summary: Relatively under the radar, these German rockers have shout up from underdogs to title contenders with this album. It’s wall to wall packed with huge anthems which plough through huge riffs with a punky rebellion and don’t give a s**t mentality. Vocals are A-Class and just as dangerous. It’s hard to describe just how damn catchy these tracks are. Channeling Gun’s and Roses ambition with radio friendly 80’s hair metal they have created arguably the best Bon Jovi album for 20 years.

Top Track: Down By The River – Bright major chords and a sublime chorus line evoke that spirit of days gone by when nights were long, drinks flowed free and friendships were forged. It’s a huge nostalgia trip from start to finish and is begging for a Hollywood montage storyline. Stadium sized and a gigantic chorus, this is arguably the radio rock song of the decade!!!

Watch: Down By The River

3) Bokassa – Crimson Riders

Genre: Stoner/Punk/Rock/Metal | Label: Kings Of StonerPunk Records

Quick Fire Summary: Bokassa we’re onto something with their Stoner Punk outlook. Plucked from relative obscurity they have been beeping loud on every rock fans radar after being hand picked by Metallica to support their tour. For good reason too. They play fast and fuzzy, slow and crushing. Instead of lollop, they bound through stoner riffing and cap it all off with a gruff, but clean powerhouse vocal. One for the heavys…get ready to bang your head!

Top Track: Charmed & Extremely Treacherous – About as good a descriptive song title as there has ever been. It’s a breakneck speedway of an unrelenting riff fest. Sweetened with plenty of poppy wooaaahs and a danger zone call to arms chorus.

Watch: Charmed & Extremely Treacherous

2) Moon Tooth – Crux

Genre: Progressive Metal | Label: Moon Tooth

Quick Fire Summary: On Crux, Moon Tooth have pushed the boundaries and entry barriers of prog metal into new more accessible and inventive spheres. They take instrumentation seriously and the interwoven guitar riff centric methods craft carcophanies of melodic exuberance. It’s got bags of tempo tricks, mathy tilts, hard rocking headbangers, super technical fretwork, manic trash outs and emotive atmospheric vocals. It’s a wild ride of unexpected turns which flirts with darkness and light, beauty and the beast. Undoubtably creative and captivating at every spin.

Top Track: Awe At All Angles – The most out the box winner metal single of the year. It’s complex, exhilarating, off kilter, riff heavy, incessantly melodic and impossibly catchy. All that’s amazing about the band in 4 minutes of genre bashing fisticuffs.

Watch: Awe At All Angles

1) Royal Republic – Club Majesty

Genre: Rock | Label: Arising Empire

Quick Fire Summary: Sweden’s answer to tongue in cheek rock and roll out a new glamorous spin on their latest LP. Retaining cohesive angular punchy guitars, absurd lyrics and sense of humour whilst adding a playfully camp disco vibe that’s damn fun(ky). More pop results, which is a clear step up of their vocal game. A truly fun and euphoric party record which would fill and neon light-up dance floor across the world. In a year of political gloom, Royal Republic have brought the swagger and the sequins! I’ll finish on a lyrical except which sums up perfectly “You rock harder, We shine brighter. You go faster, we go high… and you can’t fight the disco”!

Top Track: Anna-Leigh – Flashdance back to the 80’s on this most dramatic departure from RR core sound. It still manages to perfectly skew their subtly great riffs into a pop-centric lusty party tune. When the chorus exploded with colour and synths (?!), you cant help but move your feet. Just blame it on the boogie!

Watch: Anna-Leigh

That’s all for 2019. Well done to you if you got this far! A new decade awaits. Bring on the 20’s, after all it is much easier to say than the 10’s.

Hayseed Dixie @ The Garage

15th March 2019

It was party and singalong night in Islington this evening as the bluegrass cover legends returned for their almost annual outing to the London stage.

Before though we had to endure ‘Just Tom & Pete’ whose original tracks were tongue in cheek and little more than a few bedroom penned ditties. Comedy relies on timing and delivery, unfortunately this set had little of either. To make matters worse the song craft was basic and bland, only saved by the bias towards covers, including the spice girls.

Hayseed Dixies arrival was greeted with rapturous adoration as their rock acolytes readied their vocal chords for a workout. It proved such that their set was a fantastic highlights reel of banjo based classic rockgrass hits. Clearly stage confident, their comedy banter was on point all night with beer fuelled quips and set pieces which showed their experience of soundtracking a great party night.

I’ll be honest band go so far to say the Banjo is clearly an underrated instrument. Associated with roots and country acts, when played at almost 100sps (strums per second) it gave each song a unique groove, which inherently made your body bob and sway.

Fast and furious was also the ‘lead’ guitarist Hippy Joe Hymas’ motto as he exhilarated the crowd with his showboating virtuoso antic on his…….MANDOLIN! It was truly fantastic to watch as this little crazy demon of whirling hair and sweat attacked this tiny instrument with flare and fury.

The set list was rammed with covers all withtheir unique spin, either slowed, sped or spiced it was different enough to be a Hayseed Dixie song, but familiar enough for everyone to sing along. Even the cheesy ballads raised a smile and many beer ‘glasses’. Even the odd original song sounded pretty good, ‘I’m keeping your poop’ being the best of the bunch.

Overall these guys know their audience, carry their instruments with pride and by gosh they can throw one hell of a rockin’ party, is not definitely NOT Dead!

So in January I made a resolution to try catch up on my gig reviews which has been woefully sidelined by life, the universe, and everything else other than this site.

Now I’d like to think I held true to this personal promise by posting 13 reviews dating back over 3 years. Whilst it’s true that I am not formally up to date with the present, but virtue of going to 9 (!) gigs this year, I’d say that from the moment the resolution was made, I’m certainly caught up.

In 2019 I vow to continue in order to finish what was started to make it back to present day, and with 4 posts in various states of draft, I can say January should be a fruitful month.

It has been a particularly good year for new music in my world, so please stick around for the annual best of list which will be also coming soon…