After a bit of a slow start to the year gig-wise, into February and all of a sudden there is a short spell of a number of gigs. Time constraints and other distractions have meant I've struggled to finish full reviews, so here is a roundup of the gigs I attended during February.
In many respects, the first two shows I saw in the month couldn't really be any more different, never mind the two that followed them.
First was a Saturday night in inner East London. I'd not been to the Troxy before, which turned out to be a gloriously restored Art Deco theatre, complete with friendly staff and a clean venue (complete with plush carpets and inexpensive booze). Sound is a bit of a challenge in there, though – at the back under the balcony the sound is distinctly muffled, but in the lower area in front of the stage, it sounded nice and clear.
As for the bands: support act Woman's Hour were inoffensive, dreary indie that seemed to have little life, little to hook me in and get me interested, something a distinct lack of presence onstage really did not help. Presence is not something Anna Calvi lacks, that's for sure. From the startling, anthemic thunder of Suzanne and I, she had an audience absolutely transfixed, but amongst the moments of rocking power, there was also an extraordinary sense of intimacy fostered by Calvi, despite the size of the venue. She'd drop the volume to a whisper, close into her mic, and you could hear a pin drop. Otherwise, there is no questioning that she is a virtuoso guitarist, and that she has fantastic songs to boot, even finding time to roll out a few covers (Springsteen's Fire first, then Frankie Laine's Jezabel to close – but I wonder whether she is ever break through to be a big star. There is no doubt that she has the talent to do so, it's just maybe that she isn't what the mainstream is looking for. Their loss if so…
Two days after the sultry delights that, the Monday night saw me in Kentish Town for, judging on the buzz around the headliners at the moment, the big gig of the week. Sucks to be the support acts, though – with a co-headliner set-up, three additional support acts meant that doors opened at 1700. So there wasn't a chance of me catching any of the supports at all, and indeed I only got there just after Cradle of Filth had begun, at 2000. Sadly for me, I hear the supports were pretty good, too – shame the overdone bill meant I couldn't see them.
Remarkably, I've never seen Cradle of Filth live. Their days as tabloid bogeymen long gone, they've continued to plough a furrow as the elder statesmen of British Black Metal, and it's perhaps a little unfair that they sometimes get such short shrift within the "scene". Yeah, they might err on the side of cheesy-as-hell at points (*cough* Nymphetamine *cough*), but for the most part they are blistering, snapping through a hour-plus set that touches on newer material and more importantly digs deep into their past, including marvellous blasts through The Principle of Evil Made Flesh and a final rip through Her Ghost In The Fog. The only drawback, really, was how quiet they seemed to be.
Something was that made all the more obvious by the way that Behemoth were so much louder. And better. Better doesn't actually do them justice – they were so fucking good that they frankly blew Cradle of Filth off the stage. Especially considering their recent problems – their anti-Christian beliefs have seen them up before the Polish Supreme Court, not to mention vocalist Nergal's battle with Leukaemia in recent years. The latter was only referenced once, after the searing opening few tracks, with Nergal proclaiming "It feels great to be ALIVE, London!". On this evidence, it was pretty fucking great to be alive and watching Behemoth live, too. For over an hour they provided a relentless assault, covering much of the extraordinary new album The Satanist and a good mix of old material, too, with not a moment wasted and not a single dull or duff moment. Over the years their sound has fluctuated between black metal and death metal, before settling on a hybrid of the two, and on the new album they have got the balance pretty much spot on – and live the sound has an unbelievable depth, underpinned by Inferno's scorching drumwork, while the guitarists provide riffs that whip out of the mix like angry snakes. Possibly the stand-out moment from such a great show, though, was the epic closer O Father O Satan O Son!, that by the end had our jaws on the floor. The best extreme metal band in action today, no question.
Later in the week it was on to Camden, for a Thursday night Monster Magnet show. I never managed to see them in their prime, in the late-90s, and not being especially familiar with their newer material I perhaps should have known I was taking something of a risk with this show, and sadly so it proved. This was a wildly self-indulgent show that rambled and soloed for far too long, concentrating on newer material, frankly only finally rewarding a seriously patient crowd with a crushing pairing of Dopes To Infinity and Spacelord at the death. In the meantime, songs meandered for ages (I recall that I timed the first two songs at around twenty minutes between them), with lots of noodling and little to actually interest me, and from where we were in the crowd it was impossible to decipher any of Dave Wyndorf's ramblings between songs. For the first time in some considerable time, I did consider leaving the gig early, but as noted my patience was eventually rewarded at least a little. Too little. too late, really, though.
O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, W12
The final show of the month was much better. This was, judging on the packed out venue, the gig to be at that week, and was an impressive night (at least once support act Glass Animals, who I recall absolutely nothing about once they'd finished, were done). St. Vincent, on the other hand, was enthralling. Last album Strange Mercy was my entry point, and I was captivated by the angular, catchy songs contained within that really didn't sound like anything else at the time, and the teasers up to this point suggested that the new self-titled release was going to be a huge leap forward. Live, so it proved.
The internet oversharing themes of recent single (and one of a few highlights across the lengthy set) Digital Witness seemed to be an overriding theme for the night. Firstly there was a disembodied voice asking the crowd "to refrain from digitally capturing the night on phones or cameras" (something, for once, broadly adhered to), then there were the odd interludes where Annie Clark suggested to the crowd how alike we were…by reciting random facts. Which to me, seemed like someone had been scouring public facebook posts of either attendees or London people, and that there were probably a few people squirming uncomfortably at certain facts…
But the other overriding feeling from the evening was that her new album seems to see her on the cusp of mainstream success. The spiky, difficult edges of her sound haven't really gone away, but the poppy, danceable edge has been pushed to the fore and the result was a set of wildly entertaining songs, going from the groovy and catchier-than-the-plague opener of Rattlesnake, to the Knife-esque weirdness of Bring Me Your Loves, to the gorgeous, sensuous I Prefer Your Love – never mind the singles. By the close of the lengthy, near two-hour set, it was fairly obvious that Annie Clark is on the cusp of much greater things.