- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Pavement released their final album, the much underrated Terror Twilight, back in 1999. They’ve reformed a couple of times and played the occasional show yet I’ve never seen them live, well at least not all of them at the same time.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks a few times and tonight, in the intimate surroundings of Hyde Park Book Club, I’ll get to see none other than, Spiral Stairs.
If that wasn’t exciting enough, tonight’s support acts promise to be pretty special too. The night kicking off with a set from Leeds based indie songsmiths Cruel World followed by some frazzled rock from York-based four-piece, Bull.
“Picture yourself in a bar on your own” sings James Smith as Cruel World open with the brooding ‘Stranger’. The opening lines half recalling ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ but replacing the “river” and “tangerine trees” with some dingy dive bar.
The quality of the songwriting is evident from the start. Fresh yet somehow familiar; It’s only the second time I’ve heard a lot of these songs but they’re already starting to sound like reliable old friends.
At times it’s like hearing hit songs from some alternate universe; from the unapologetically huge pop of ‘Boxer’ to the early-Fleetwood Mac of ‘World of Evil’. In a time when some artists might shy away from a big chorus, Cruel World are embracing the classics.
“Why don’t we all just guess what we’re gonna play next” jokes Smith as there’s some momentary confusion around the setlist. Guitarist/vocalist Harry Ridgway replying, “We’re not a good enough band to do that”. An absence of psychic powers aside, Cruel World is a band you need to hear.
Bull haven’t played a note yet but they’ve already got a broken guitar strap. “We’re going strapless” says vocalist/guitarist Tom Beer as he rests his foot on the monitor and his guitar on his knee. Seconds in and part of the drummers kit is tumbling over. Bull take it all in their stride. Bad omens? Nah, it’s all part of the fun.
The band play fantastically frantic indie-rock, each song teetering on the edge. Derailment mere seconds away. An insanely fun and impressively energetic performance that finds sweet harmonies colliding head-on with sporadic, Frank Black-worthy outbursts. There’s even an unexpected tin whistle solo. A lot of fun!
There’s something a little bit surreal about seeing Scott Kannberg aka Spiral Stairs in the basement of Hyde Park Book Club. This is, after all, the same man whose band I used to listen to as a teenager. The guitarist from one of the most influential indie bands of all time.
I’ll confess that while I’m a huge Pavement fan I haven’t been keeping up with his solo output. We Wanna Be Hyp-no-tized was released earlier this year, so now feels like as good a time as any to catch up.
“Do you wanna be hypnotised?” Kannberg asks us before the band launch into the propulsive, invigorating indie-rock of ‘Hyp-No-Tized’. An exhilarating call-to-arms and the ideal cure for those rainy, Monday night blues. Kannberg stalking the stage, the band on fire from the very start.
Song-after-song shows me what I’ve been missing out on. ‘The Fool’ proves to be an early highlight. An emotional, euphoric and melodic heart-swell of a song that finds Kannberg repeatedly asserting, “I’m alive”. As The Cars would say, I guess it’s just what I needed.
The band were in Paris only this morning, taking the tour across Europe. “It’s great being in a band” says Kannberg before adding “and you all want to do this…well, your parents do”. Then, in a genuinely thrilling moment, they burst into Pavement’s incendiary ‘Two States’.
He even manages to sneak a few lines from the Mekons ‘Where Were You?’ into the song. I get some extra music geek points when Kannberg asks if anyone spotted the Mekons reference and I excitedly shout out the name of the song. Life. Well. Spent.
We get some songs from Kannberg’s other band, The Preston School of Industry, with a beautiful and apt ‘Caught in the Rain’ and a mesmerising ‘Whalebones’. The songs are new to me but I can tell they’re going to get played a lot from now on.
‘Borderline’, from the new album, has an almost classic rock feel to it and is dedicated to Bruce Springsteen. Kannberg jokingly telling the drummer, “If Bruce’s drummer f#cked up like that he’d probably get a dock in pay”.
We get a cover of Roxy Music’s ‘Flesh & Blood’, a riotous ‘Truth Drug’ by Nick Lowe (introduced as a “B-side from back in 1970 something”) and a couple more songs by you-know-who. ‘Painted Soldiers’ sounds great but it’s ‘Kennel District’ that really gets to me. Those harmonies. That melody. Magical.
Sure, I haven’t seen Pavement live but seeing Spiral Stairs in a tiny basement venue in Hyde Park has just about made my year.