Tag Archives: The Garage

The Posies @ The Garage, 19/10/18

The Garage is my kind of venue for a rock show. A well-proportioned room, no seating and a stage only a step or two up from the audience. It’s small, sweaty and intimate – not ideal for anything other than loud rock gigs, but great for those.

Fortunately, that’s what the Posies had in mind. Always a tougher proposition live than on record, they came out in purposeful mood, smashing into Dream All Day with a full arsenal of scissor kicks and windmills. The mix was loud but pretty well balanced. If the vocals were occasionally a little on the quiet side, it was no big. It was a rock show, after all, and thanks to a good relationship between guitars and drums, the music had all the physical impact you’d hope for.

Next up was Dear 23‘s Any Other Way. The recording of that song is gorgeous, with rich reverb and a lovely depth to the guitar sound. On Friday, the band attacked it hard, giving it a feral edge. Ken Stringfellow even broke into Grohl-style screams. Not subtle, but very effective. Please Return It, one of my very favourite Posies songs, was excellent too, but I was a little sad they didn’t pair it with Throwaway as they did when I saw them two years ago at the 100 Club. The sequencing of those two on Amazing Disgrace was perfect, and Throwaway was a surprise non-inclusion in the set. Perhaps Jon Auer’s just a little tired of singing it.

A brace of songs from Frosting on the Beater – Definite Door and Love Letter Boxes – went down very well with the crowd, who were mostly long-time fans, and showed the band’s ability to be heavy and fluid at the same time. Both songs feature surprise rhythmic changes in their choruses, and the rhythm section handled both with aplomb.

An excellent version of Auer’s World slowed the tempo and sonic assault, and was followed up by possibly the highlight of the night. Jon and Ken explained how they came to work on Dear 23 with producer John Leckie – veteran producer of XTC and Magazine albums and then at a career highpoint with the success of the Stone Roses’ debut – and then dedicated an unamplified version of You Avoid Parties to Leckie, who was standing in the audience a few feet away from us. It raised the hair on my arms.

The contrast between that naked performance of what is a pretty stark song and Auer’s So Caroline (a highlight from the brilliant Blood/Candy) only made the latter sound more celebratory, although one of the guys (I can’t remember whether it was Jon or Ken) undercut it by joking they’d detected a collective wince every time they sang “close enough to remain“.

Next was a surprise. Mike Musburger, who was authoritative and powerful behind the kit all night, was replaced by Posies fan Lawrence Salisbury for a version of Going, Going, Gone from the Reality Bites soundtrack. Salisbury had backed the band’s reissue campaign on PledgeMusic and his reward was to be a Posie for a song. He did a pretty great job of handling all the changes in dynamic and the big fills at the end of the choruses and was obviously having a blast doing it. The audience was noisily appreciative of his efforts.

Support act Anna Wolf then joined the band on stage to guest on two Blood/Candy highlights: Licenses to Hide and The Glitter Prize. I’m a big fan of both songs and was pleased to hear them, but while, Wolf’s presence did add an extra something to the vocals, her rather theatrical singing voice didn’t blend all that well with Jon’s and Ken’s, and was sometimes a little distracting.

Everybody is a Fucking Liar (from Amazing Disgrace) and two more from Frosting on the Beater, Flavor of the Month and the deathless Solar Sister, brought the great set to a strong end; the latter two were particularly strong, and, for those paying attention, ensured that the encore would end only one way.

The band came back quickly and ground out a fuss-free version of Song #1, a twisty-turny track from Amazing Disgrace that itself would have made a good set closer. Another highlight followed: the band’s wonderful cover of Chris Bell’s shattered, shattering I Am the Cosmos, possibly the best song Bell ever wrote (and that’s saying something). Few singers could inhabit that song and do the intensity of its emotions justice, and Auer is one of them. He and Stringfellow are still ludicrously underrated as singers.

They then played a frantic, lightning-speed version of Grant Hart from Amazing Disgrace, the band’s tribute to the late Hüsker Dü drummer and singer. The tempo, while impressive and fitting for a song about a legend of hardcore, was possibly too brisk for its own good; the band made such a racket that the vocals, for the only time that night, became indistinct. Anyone not familiar with the song would have struggled to identify it amid the white noise.

Not to worry, though. Burn & Shine finished things very strongly. Auer’s pysch-grunge epic is a perfect set closer, and manages to encapsulate so much of what was great about the Posies in the 1990s: the muscularity of the drumming, the intensity of the guitars, the indelible melodies, the peerless harmony singing and, when the occasion warranted, the scabrous lead guitar playing of Auer. By the end of the song, his guitar had no strings left on it and Musburger’s cymbals had taken a hell of a beating. My eardrums, too.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned Dave Fox’s suit. He had quite the suit. I wish I had a picture.

 

 

I Hope that You Get What You Want – Woodbine

Some folks adore going to gigs. I’ve never exactly been one of them, and over the last six or seven years the number I go to has dwindled considerably, but I’ve seen a good few bands play in my time. I still see friends’ bands play regularly – indeed I still play shows myself, backing other people or, very occasionally, on my own – but by and large I don’t see too many club gigs any more, stadium/arena gigs have never appealed, and with my medication regime to maintain and the fear of being isolated too far from proper medical care in case of a cardiac emergency, I’m unlikely ever to go to a real festival again.

But in my peak gig-going years, from around 1998 to 2004, I saw a decent number of shows. Probably eight or ten a year for six or seven years (not counting gigs my friends’ bands played), plus festivals. I soon came to develop a fondness for certain venues. My friends all seemed to like the Brixton Academy and the Astoria on Charing Cross Road. I didn’t dig Brixton at all really (too big, and with a sloping floor, which was fine if you wanted to stand at the back, but pretty hazardous if you were jumping around). I liked more intimate venues. I liked to be able to see the band up close. My favourite small venue for rock shows was the Garage on Holloway Road, just a five-minute walk from my other favourite venue, the Union Chapel (which is just wonderful for sit-and-listen shows). There is, I should point out, nothing particularly special about the Garage as a building. It’s just a smallish room with a lowish ceiling, but a low stage and no big separation between band and crowd, which is how I like it. Large-room shows have always seemed too impersonal to me compared to that.

In, I would guess, early 2000 I went to the Garage one weekday evening to see Cinerama supported by Woodbine (it is, I should point out, possible that I’m conflating two different gigs, but I think I saw those two there on the same bill). The friend I went with was a regular John Peel listener at the time, and kept much more abreast of contemporary indie than I did. He played me Woodbine’s first album (a band signed to Domino and featuring a former member of Cornershop). I found it interesting and it fit with a developing fondness I had for lo-fi music (indie that really spoke of its indieness by being obviously low-budget and rough around the edges). So I was up for going to see them live, supporting a band who at the time I hadn’t heard and knew only a couple of things about: they’d recorded with Steve Albini, and their singer and songwriter David Gedge had been in the Wedding Present, who were some kind of big deal in the eighties. Me and my friend were, I guess, by some measure the youngest there. Woodbine hadn’t really drawn their own crowd, and the Cinerama audience skewed towards Gedge’s own age, which was a good decade older than we were.

So Woodbine had a hell of a job making themselves heard. They remain the quietest band I’ve ever heard on stage. It didn’t help that they were drunk (their drummer was really drunk) and I doubt they’d have been particularly together even if they’d have been sober. Essentially they weren’t a band suited to a club gig. Not particularly skilled or confident as performing musicians, insisting on playing as quietly as possible, then getting hammered before going on – these are not the ingredients of onstage greatness. Frankly, it was a bit of a trainwreck. As a support act at the Union Chapel down the road, it might have worked, just about. But at the Garage, in front of a crowd who were enjoying a pint or two and having a chat before their old indie hero came on, not a hope.

This was a wake-up call of sorts: being lo-fi and pure and real and putting your emphasis on songs rather than fancy arrangements and showmanship and instrumental prowess was all very well. Avoiding rock-show clichés was unarguably a good thing, too. But it was obvious to me even then that Woodbine were making something essentially pretty easy look hard. I saw them upstairs at the Garage later that year, they were much more together and it was a much better show. I talked to Susan Dillane afterwards and she seemed mildly embarrassed about the Cinerama show, so maybe it was a bit of a turning point for them too.

For all their weaknesses live, their first, self-titled, album (I haven’t heard the second and so far only other Woodbine record) remains an appealingly wonky listen. It’s a vibe record – the songs come and go without seeming to leave much of an imprint on you, but together they create a hazy narcoleptic mood which is quite specific to them; I’ve never heard another record that feels like it’s coming from quite the same place as this. The songs’ sleepiness is accentuated by the weird mix, by Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema from Royal Trux, which places the (frequently mumbled) vocals about as far back as is workable and then saturates them in reverb. Occasionally, out of the murk, will leap a guitar part (as on Neskwik) or a manually-ridden delay (as on Mound of Venus).

This willingness to be surprising, to be untidy, is integral to the feel of the record. The same arrangements, recorded to hard disk and mixed in a DAW, with all the possibilities they provide for editing, compression, equalisation and automation, and the songs wouldn’t feel the same at all. Woodbine are undoubtedly a minor act, all but forgotten. But if you’re curious about (and I can’t believe I’m going to use this word) slowcore, late-nineties indie or lo-fi music from the analogue era, Woodbine is a record worth hearing. It should really be listened to as a whole, but if you want to just track down a few songs, Mound of Venus, Neskwik, I Hope That You Get What You Want or Tricity Tiara* will do you.

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*Readers from outside Britain should note that this is a Tricity Tiara. Anyone who’s ever rented a flat in Britain will be familiar with them.