Author Archive for quitepeculiar

Damn You, Conor O’Brien

Album review: Villagers – Becoming a Jackal

I first heard his album at a friend’s temporary space, I think.  Maybe it was another artist, but I’m pretty sure it was him.  Friend in question is a real music journalist, as opposed to yours truly, who is but a mere dabbler in writing about the work of others.

Something about Villagers I didn’t like.  I felt almost offended by him, I didn’t know why.  He just seemed so earnest, it was annoying.

Said music journalist friend sent me this link to a YouTube video of Villagers–aka Dubliner Conor O’Brien–performing on Later… with Jools Holland. I was still annoyed with the young Irishman, and his poppy folksiness that seemed to fill me with ire.

So why am I listening to his entire album, Becoming a Jackal, on NPR?  Am I trying to make myself even more fired up?  Or am I giving Villagers a second opportunity to impress a jaded American?  Or maybe I was just feeling really bitchy all those other times?

Well, listening to the album now, I’ve figured out my problem with O’Brien.  Yes, he seems earnest.  He seems impossibly earnest, and impossibly sincere.  O’Brien puts himself out there, offering up his emotions raw to the table.  He doesn’t hold up any lyrical façades to hide behind, nor does he seem to create any personas.  He just makes music that ardently tugs at the stitches you’ve sewn up in your own heart.

Listening to the title track of Becoming a Jackal, O’Brien repeatedly cries, “I’m selling you my fears.”  I want to slap him for being so heart-wrenchingly genuine.  There are a number of lines weighed with emotions that challenge you in how unabashed they are.  It’s lovely, intimate music, if you can bear the aches Becoming a Jackal may inadvertently cause in the chest area.

This isn’t the sort of music to casually listen to unless you have no strings to tug, or perhaps after quite a few listens when you might be desensitised.  Villagers will challenge your heart through an audio assault cleverly guised as folk-rock.  Don’t be afraid of the onslaught.  Perhaps every now and then we need our armour to be pierced, and Conor O’Brien does so beautifully through his own dedication in conveying a spectrum of emotions in a way that makes it not seem as bad.

The jerk.

- quitepeculiar

‘And This is My Lovely Friend Amanda’: The Tallest Man on Earth & Alessi’s Ark 15 March 2010, Bush Hall

This was my first show at Bush Hall, and had I not been walking with someone who knew where we were going, I probably would have walked past the entrance. Past innumerable hair shops (and a really good pub) on Uxbridge Road was the modest doorway into Bush Hall.

We got in and weaved through a portion of the crowd that filled up Bush Hall, a spacious yet intimate room with lovely Rococo ceiling detail. It got quite warm in the hall, given the full audience and the apparent lack of ventilation.

Alessi’s Ark started her performance with her friend on backing guitar. Alessi Laurent-Marke gave a lovely performance, despite the ceaseless chatter among the audience–mostly towards the back–which I thought was a bit unfortunate. The music of Alessi’s Ark is very darling, filled with a shy and earnest charm. She’s opening for Laura Marling on at least a couple shows next month in the UK, so if you haven’t had a chance to do so, and you like your indie folk feminine with a heavy dose of wide-eyed wonder, you may enjoy her.

Because I was having difficulty seeing Alessi perform during her act, in-between acts the suggestion was put forth to move up closer, since I’m such a shorty. Bush Hall is very flat. There was a balcony/mezzanine area towards the back of the hall, but already my companion and I were in the thick of the hot crowd, so the only way forward was to move forward, which we did until the crowd didn’t seem to allow us to go any further. There was seriously a gigantic beanstalk next to where I was standing, and I was utterly paranoid he was going to somehow wind up standing in front of me, but luckily, this was not so.

Kristian Matsson sauntered onto the stage, giving a sort of suspicious pirate glare at the crowd as he swigged from his bottle of beer. It was quite an entrance that seemed to have a lot more bravado than when I had seen him in Orlando last year opening for John Vanderslice. I think it was quite amusing.

So, the performance was quite lively and fantastic, punctuated by moments when Matsson would talk to the crowd. At one point, a man in the crowd shouted ‘I love you!’ to the performer. Everything stopped, and you can see Matsson’s face twist into this serious, stern facade as he slowly approached the microphone and asked, ‘What?’ It was comical, but what was interesting about these moments is that you never really knew if Matsson was joking with the crowd, or if he really acted this peculiar way, or if this is him being The Tallest Man on Earth.

I’ve been asked by friends unfamiliar with Kristian Matsson, so I will say no, he is not really very tall. I don’t think he reaches up to 6 ft, but his performances–the way he moves so kinetically to the point where at times he seems to nearly be trying to shake out of his skin–are very big.

Because the staff at Bush Hall did not make me check my camera at the door, I was able to take a few shots of The Tallest Man on Earth. I didn’t take very many, as I normally only like taking a very small handful of photos at an event, because I don’t wish to bother other people around me with the clicking of a camera, and also I because I came to a show to enjoy the performance. A few photos, then I’m done. The performance from The Tallest Man on Earth was definitely interesting and enjoyable, and he will be coming back to London on the 9th of June, and during the performance at Bush Hall, he said, ‘You know what? Next time, I’m gonna bring the banjo! Yeah.’

So yeah, they may get the banjo over at the Tabernacle in June, but we got to meet, in a way, Matsson’s ‘lovely friend Amanda,’ a young woman who did a duet with him on stage, which was quite a treat unless you were a young woman in the audience (or man, for that matter, like the guy who yelled out earlier) who was smitten with The Tallest Man on Earth. Heartbreak rippled through the crowd, as Matsson and Lovely Friend Amanda squeezed close to a lone microphone, or at least so it went in my imagination. Still, it was quite a performance, with a stunning final song that may be from his new album, which is something definitely to be excited about.

- quitepeculiar

Frightened Rabbit at Camden’s Koko (aka Will the Bar Staff Please Stop Giving These People Next To Me Alcohol?)

I went to go see Frightened Rabbit at Koko in Camden Town, and I was quite excited. However, this excitement was a bit dampened as the night wore on, and I shall explain in this little tale I shall tell.

First, may I say how puzzling it was to be forced to check my camera at the coat check and pay £2 to do so when I later saw loads of people running around and clicking away with their little pocket cams?

This was my first visit to Koko, and the interior of the space is lovely. Originally opened as the Camden Theatre and subject to a number of name changes since, the space has featured such famous names as Charlie Chaplin, The Sex Pistols and Madonna. It was a lovely space, but I was told by two separate people to get there early and to get a good spot in order to ensure I could see the stage. After paying over £4 for a lager (that I subsequently nursed through the two opening bands), I had a look around and plotted. After going to one part of the club only to find that the intended perch was roped off, I retreated back near the main bar area and planted myself against the railing with a good view of the stage, although a bit far, so I couldn’t see the finer details of things, which is just as well.

The first opening band was from Iceland, and I can’t remember their name, which again may be just as well. They began to play, and they were quite enthusiastic but… something seemed a bit amiss to me. It wasn’t their bassoon player, which is an instrument one doesn’t see very often at shows. After the fourth or fifth song, I realised: These guys remind me of Dave Matthews Band. Seriously, it was that type of earnest-but-really-bland music that seemed really out of place.

Upon this realisation, I started amusing myself in counting how many plaid shirts/dresses I could find in the audience. Because of where I was, I had a good view of everyone in the pit before the stage, as well as in the layer of Koko that was the entrance level. The highest number I got was 14.

The next opening band, Airship, was a bit better, thankfully. They were all right, despite looking a bit too hip. The music was actually pretty good, but the boys at the instruments all looked slightly a bit too pretty, like they all were variations of the typical skinny indie boy one could find in a number of metropolitan areas. Still, that being said, their set was pretty good.

During their set, the couple next to me were beginning to progress into hooliganism, with periodic heckles and drunken hoots. After the Airship set, especially during the long setting-up process for Frightened Rabbit’s sound check, the two were beginning to be a bit unruly. And god, that woman’s laugh was easily in the Top 20 Most Annoying Laughs in London. She sounded like she had some high-pitched evil anime laugh going on. “Oh-ho-ho-ho!”

Right, so Frightened Rabbit came on, amid cheers and hoots and shouts and whistles. If you want set lists, I’m not the person for you, because I wasn’t taking notes, and I was periodically distracted by wishing physical harm upon the couple next to me. Actually, it turned out I wasn’t the only one, because after about three songs I think an irate man gave the both of them a bit of a talking-to, and the next thing I knew, they left the spot next to me for some other place far away.

I will tell you that Frightened Rabbit seem to be a band to see in a more intimate setting. Before moving to London, I had found out that they were playing at The Social in Orlando, an area probably a third the size of Koko, and that just seems right. They produce a type of intimate, heart-yanking music that is just difficult to expand into a large performance. At one point in the evening, Scott Hutchison, the lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, attempted to sing to the audience without the aid of a microphone or amp for his guitar, and despite the shushings from the audience, he was sadly inaudible, and he eventually said, “Aw, fuck it,” and went back to the mic.

Someone else on Last.fm commented that the show was disappointing, but I don’t think I was disappointed with Frightened Rabbit’s performance. I just think a number of factors aggravated what was otherwise a good show. Some of them were very personal for me, such as having to surrender my camera, dealing with the couple that was next to me for a good while and the fact I’m a cheap bastard who will complain about £4 lager. But there were other things, like the sound quality wasn’t very clear for any of the bands playing that night. And did anyone else see those women to the side of the stage? Were they Frightened Rabbit groupies? Frightened Rabbit has groupies? Frightened Rabbit has somewhat skeezy groupies?

Hmm.

All in all, though it wasn’t an ideal show, it was still a good show. Although they didn’t play one or two of my favourite songs of theirs, I still gasped in excitement a few times upon hearing the opening notes to other songs, such as “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” off their new album,The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, or “The Twist” off The Midnight Organ Fight. So, in the end, I was fairly satisfied at the end of the night as I stood in the queue to pick up my verboten camera and my coat and picked up a copy of The Winter of Mixed Drinks.

It was cold as I waited for the 29 at Mornington Crescent Station to whisk me off through the earlier part of a late night. Once Unknown Pleasures finished on my iPod, I set it to play Sing The Greys to get an extra Frightened Rabbit fix for the evening.

Frightened Rabbit

- quitepeculiar