Archive for July, 2011

A Sun That Never Sets – Scenes From a Long Weekend in Germany

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , on July 29, 2011 by Noise Road

Noise Road reviewed the Neurosis gig in Hamburg here.

The Reeperbahn is the home of Hamburg’s bars, clubs and music venues.  It is also the city’s red light district.  The locals like to party where other locals do business.  On Saturday night, there is a line of professionals from the subway to the red light entrance.  The following morning, a young family walked the same street looking for a place to eat.

My hostel stood directly behind a strip club.  I checked into the hostel and set out for supplies from the local grocery store.  I returned with an armful of bread and schwein and yoghurt.  As I passed the strip club, the barker invited me inside.  Really?  I’m going to walk into a seedy strip club with my ham sandwich and yoghurt?

A transvestite club appeared to be across the road from the hostel.  I decided it was wise to not get close enough for confirmation.

On the Sunday night, I walked to the Neurosis show at the end of a length of closed strip clubs.  I guess having strange genitals thrust in your face isn’t part of most people’s Sunday night wind down.

Koln

The Glasgow Fair gifted this Glaswegian resident a long weekend in Germany.  Neurosis did not schedule a Scottish date, but a Sunday night gig in Hamburg lined up with the long weekend.

Once upon a time direct flights linked Glasgow to Hamburg.  No more.  The cheapest way to Hamburg was a flight down to Koln and a train back up to Hamburg.

After crashing overnight in Koln, I walked the town in search of contact lens solution and toothpaste.  My contacts were glued to my eyeballs and my teeth were slowly rotting.  Slowly we rot.

A massive cathedral dominates Koln.  The rest of town seems like a miniature model in the shadow of the cathedral.

Linking Koln to Bonn stands a bridge full, from end to end, with inscribed padlocks.  Apparently people show their commitment to each other by locking a shared padlock to this bridge.  While it seems cheesy, the sheer scale is impressive.

Someone has posted the phrase “what a society where the symbol of love is a padlock” over the padlocks.  Yeah, its kinda funny – but why anonymously and cowardly sh!t all over a nice thing?

A walk along the river, a coffee and a wurst and we were on a train to Hamburg.

Hamburg

Germany shuts down on Sundays.  An amateur triathlon passed by the closed shops.  Impressively all ages and levels of fitness attempted the gruelling event…  and then immediately after crossing the finishing line most of the participants drank beer.  Not water.  Not sports drink.  Beer.  The Germans are our kind of people.

The quiet Sunday also afforded the opportunity to discover a WWII U-Boat.  I am a submarine geek.  I have earnt a crust for 7 out of the last 10 years designing for submarines and rescue submersibles.  I’ve gone to sea in an Australian submarine.  I’ve boarded active rescue submersibles in the UK and Sweden.  I’ve boarded retired submarines in the US, France and now Germany.  Kerouac would detest me and these machines of hate.

Amen Ra, Ufomamautt and Neurosis

A crowd of big beards and black t-shirts greeted me outside of the Gruenspan venue, at the end of the infamous Grosse Freiheit.  The venue is an interesting mix of exposed brick, roman columns and solid sound.  In fact as we waited outisde we clearly heard every note of the Neurosis sound check.  I heard Given to the Rising twice for the evening.

Amen Ra

I found Amen Ra’s stage presence confusing.  The vocalist turned his back to the audience for the entire set.  You don’t need to be all rock star with the crowd.  You don’t even have to look at them.   However a vocalist with his back to crowd gives the impression that you are going out of your way to ignore the paying punters.

Despite confusing stage presence, Amen Ra are a good fit for Neurosis.  Post-metal, post-hardcore…  Amen Ra are post something.  The set consisted of mid-pace chugging with Converge-y rhythmic barks over the top.  The repetitive chugg is hypnotic.  The odd tempo change or a few bars of melodic vocal brings you back to this body in a club at the end of a road of strip clubs.

Ufomamautt

Neither of the openers were advertised on the bills that I saw for the show.  So it was a very pleasant surprise to see the much hyped Ufomamautt.  I had heard nothing but good things from my fellow campers at Roadburn.

Ufomamautt are from the Al Cisneros school of wishing that Sabbath riffs went on for 20 minutes.

The repetition builds a vibe of colossal fuzzy riffs.    Add to that a level of dissonance through both guitar and electronics and you have yourself an entertaining set.

But its time to go to church.  Its time for Neurosis.

Neurosis

After tens of thousands of years of practice, rituals are ingrained into us.  We need to feel part of something bigger.  There has to be more than the buffalo chase.  There has to be more than the cog in the corporate machine.

Seventeen years of catholic rituals left me without a spiritual experience.  There are no gods.  There is no God.

However I believe there is worth in being taken out  of your small world.

Sometimes running along the Clyde at 11pm with the same slowed down Sabbath riff looped in my headphones for the hundredth-and-thirty-second time, I drop out of the world for a minute.   I return in a sweaty mess, but stresses of the day are lessened.  The mind is emptier.

Some black metal bands talk of their shows as rituals.  Wolves in the Throne Room look to use repetition of blastbeats and tremolo picking to induce a trance-like vibe.  I enjoy the last Wolves of the Throne Room record, but I am yet to trance out at either of their shows that I’ve caught.

However, I have enjoyed the ritual side of gigs before.  The vibrations and sheer volume of bass at a Sunn 0))) show cause time to stop or to skip.  Half an hour in turns to an hour in, then you are snapped out of it by a bearded dude spilling beer on you.  Sorry, man.  No worries, mate.

Neurosis in Hamburg is the most rewarding ritual that I have attended.  Read Noise Road’s review here.


Neurosis @ Hamburg, Germany – 17 July 2011

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , on July 26, 2011 by Noise Road

My camera in one hand and a phone to take notes in the other, I prepared to detail the Neurosis show…  but as soon as Scott Kelly launched into the first word of the night “Rise!!!!!” of Locust Star, I shoved my phone and my camera back into my pockets.  To study the details too close, is to cheat yourself of the Neurosis experience.  It is more than the sum of its parts.

This ain’t religion and it ain’t spiritual.  But it is a more worthwhile ritual than I found in 17 years of catholic masses.

Each show, Neurosis relive the energies that created the music.  Their eyes burn with intensity.  They ain’t messing around here, playing that same tired riff again.

After the third song of the set, Scott Kelly was frustrated to be taken out of the experience by a bum cable on his guitar.  They didn’t raise the lights to find the problem.  That would break the mood.  They actually lowered the lights while fellow guitarist, Steve Von Till, inspected Kelly’s maze of pedals. Kelly just paced stage-right like a wounded lion.

Later, Von Till’s mic came loose as he bashed his head into it.  Rather than break from the song, he threw the whole stand away and continued to sing into his amp, until a frantic roadie replaced the mic.

Neurosis are a single entity.  In particular, guitarists/vocalists Von Till and Kelly seem made for each other – whether countering or in unison, their guitars and voices always compliment.

Added to the vocal mix are keyboardist Noah Landis’ backing vocals and bass player Dave Edwardson’s demonic displays.  Edwardson sounds like those records religious nuts warned your parents about back in the eighties.  His vocals are Von Till or Kelly at half speed, or even played backwards.  Kill your parents.  Kill yourself.  Just kill someone.

Landis is one of the more effective keyboardist in rock.  Neurosis is full of electronic soundscapes melding into the riffs, but Landis also contributes to the set with melodies and auxiliary percussion strikes.  Edwardson lurks with his bass in the dark until his evilness is required on the mic, whilst drummer Roeder pounds away tribal rhythms from a minimalist kit.

However, the band members’ individual parts are not the focus.  The members seek to create an atmosphere or an energy.

Tracks from Through Silver in Blood bookmarked the night – from Scott Kelly’s roar of “Rise!” to Von Till/Kelly on duelling floor toms matching Roeder’s tribal beat of the title track.

Neurosis sampled widely from a catalogue dating back almost a quarter of a century.  However, like the individual members are not the focus, neither are the songs.  It all has to add to the atmosphere in the room…  Still when those keyboard soundscapes eased into the sparse notes of Belief, there wasn’t a happier man in the room.  Belief is high in my rotation at work as I “try to stand clear of the scent of dogs

Water is Not Enough, At the End of the Road and the title track from the latest album, Given to the Rising, show that Neurosis’ power is undiminished.  Those songs weigh heavy with experience and insight.  A 21-year-old could never bring the weight to a set that Neurosis do.  Only the worthy elders of our tribe are fit to conduct the ritual.

We still promise the teeth” insists the closer of the evening.

Neurosis still promise the teeth.

ZU @ Glasgow Jazz Festival – 01 July 2011

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2011 by Noise Road

Jazz.

When I read Jack Kerouac’s vivid prose of be-bop frenzies in crowded beatnik bars, I want to know about jazz.

However, I’ve found it a hard genre to break into with any depth.  My jazz knowledge is limited to a handful of 70’s fusion bands, like Mahavishnu Orchestra, and a couple of records from the big names – Miles Davis/Charlie Parker/John Coltrane.

Invisible Oranges recent series on the links between metal and jazz is helping.  Aesop Dekker’s excellent recommendations on anything from jazz to black metal is also easing my toes into the deep end.  

Still, part of me can’t help but associate jazz with dudes like that in the clip below.  Jaaaazz.

If you just watched that clip, apologies for subjecting you to Puff Daddy.  That man is abhorrent.

I caught several shows as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, but I would not class many of those acts as jazz.  Noise to funk to soul – I caught pretty much everything apart from jazz.

The Friday evening of the jazz festival turned especially weird.  What I thought would be an early night, ended drinking with a Mexican tourist at a fruit market, while an actor from a sci-fi comedy series spun funk records.

I walked across town back to the flat.  As I got out from the centre city lights the blue haze on the horizon showed that daylight was not far away.  It was still before 3am.  The last of the day light only left as we were walking out of the ZU show at 11pm.  Glasgow is really far north, dude.

The evening began as the train dropped me at Easterhouse.  At the top of the station stairs, a Mexican dude asked me if I knew the direction to the ZU gig.  There was no discernible centre of Easterhouse, so we searched for the venue together.  Easterhouse appears to be one of the more colourful suburbs, full of Glasgow’s infamous characters.  You live here long enough and you get to the enjoy the crazies you met on an almost daily basis.  Its like living in a hard-boiled detective novel.

The Platform venue is a theatre attached to the town’s community centre.  It was a far cry from the dive bars of ZU’s previous UK tours.   A 5-minute call from the lobby bar informed us that the show was about to start.  We passed a library on the way to the theatre door.

After the gig, I followed my new Mexican friend to another jazz festival event back in Glasgow’s centre.  The festival beautifully transformed the former fruit market into a cabaret atmosphere.  We entered to a funk band moving the dance floor.  The following act was even less jazz.  Craig Charles, the actor who played Lister in the BBC sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf, performed  a soul/funk DJ set.  Weird.

Carcass appearing on Red Dwarf with “DJ” Craig Charles:

Craig Charles introducing old school Napalm:

Wounded Knee

Earlier, Scottish one-man act, Wounded Knee, opened the evening with a set of looped vocals.  This wasn’t some acapella choir – there were no lyrics or songs in the 20-minute piece.

I have seen a few of these type of shows – everything from Tuvan throat singers at Womadelaide to Mike Patton solo shows.  This was similar to Patton but nowhere near as abrasive.  If you sit through Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice on a regular basis, you’re a hardier man than I.  I once witnessed devoted Patton fans with their hands in their ears at his solo show.  That dude was a provocateur.

Wounded Knee was a far more gentle performance.  It took a while for me to get into it, as he initially dealt in sparse rhythmic noises looped over each other… but when he started developing layers of melodies, it became quite interesting.

ZU

Nothing but vocals in the first act, and then no vocals at all in ZU’s set.  In fact the band didn’t even say “hello” or “thanks”.  It was a pretty poor attendance of around 50 people for a show that was barely advertised.  Still, a vocal thanks would have been appreciated.  Although perhaps disappointed by the crowd, their energy on stage did not show it.

ZU boarded to a rumbling hum from the amps. The hum did not relent for the set.  Jarring electronics, fuzzy basses lines, endless drum fills and wailing saxophone relentlessly challenged the audience.  Just three dudes saturated the air with noise.

Occasionally the noise abated to the base layer hum.  Here the rhythm was carried by the saxophonist just tapping his valves without blowing.

The bass glued the performance together with low-end, sludgy rock.   Bass lead riffs locked into the drums.  Occassionally the sax locked in as well, but it was never long before the sax started wailing in mix of genuine notes and noisy screeches.  Soon the drums wandered off into erratic rolls.  Only the bass could eventually lure the other two wailers back to the basic riff of the track.

ZU delivered a challenging set.  I don’t think a saxophone and the odd drum break make you jazz.  However, whilst I failed to learn anything about jazz during the festival, maybe some jazzhead’s eyes were opened to the world of noise.  And hopefully he/she enjoyed the set as much as I did.


Everybody Hates a Tourist: Part II

Posted in Travel on July 5, 2011 by Noise Road

or

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Southampton

In the incredibly self-indulgent first part of this post, we looked at what it meant to NOT be a tourist in a foreign country.  

Unlike Tenacious D, you need to be shoulder deep in the mucky muck (much like a vet birthing a calf).  You need to share the worries of the locals in order to determine what a town is really like.  See what you think about a town’s little eccentricities when you have to cling to a sh!tty job just to prevent deportation.

After the most care-free 6 months of my life spent travelling the world, I came to hate Southampton.

In World War II, Nazi Blitzes flattened the strategic naval target of Southampton.  Like many British towns, it was quickly hobbled back together… for a population that needed housing… by a government bankrupted by the war effort.  The result is a grey, uninspiring skyline.

In summer, the Southampton skies regularly rained on me to and from work.  I quickly learnt that no matter the weather when you left the flat, you always needed a jacket.  I bought my first ever umbrella… in the middle of summer.

In winter, I never saw daylight.  The sun failed to rise by the time I completed the sad stumble to work.  After a half-@rsed, low arc on the horizon, the sun had long since disappeared by the time I escaped the gaffer in the evening.  It left you wondering as to why the sun even bothered?  Why did I even bother?  I was living in the movie, 30 Days of Night… except that all those pale kids in town were not vampires.  They were just English.

But…  I did not really care about any of these downers.  Sure, the lack of daylight was a difficult adjustment, but you celebrate the differences.  What is the point of travelling if you want it just like home?…  But then again, what is the point of living in a foreign country if all you see is the office of a job that you hate, and the inside of a flat where you can’t even swing a cat?  Not even a small cat.  And believed me, I tried.  I find it is still the quickest and cheapest way to dry little Felix.

I set the controls for the heart of November 5th.  Worst comes to worst, I could save enough money to quit by then…  But more importantly, the Dillinger Escape Plan play up in London on the 5th.  The next day, I’m following Dillinger to Leeds for the Damnation Festival.  No deadlines or undue pressure can make Noise Road miss that weekend.

However, salvation came a few days earlier.

Salvation, thy name be Dillinger

I had given up on Southampton, when the Dillinger Escape Plan launched an assault on the University.  After 6 months entrenched in Southampton, this was my first gig here.  Before the job turned toxic 9 weeks previous, I regularly travelled from Southampton to London for shows.  Before the money ran out, I even travelled from Southampton to France and Germany for gigs.  However, this was my debut gigging experience in So’ton.

In the line for the show, I talked with strangers about the most recent Dillinger album, past gigs, the support act and European festivals.  I had new friends.

I drank tepid Fosters from a can while the openers, the Ocean, soared from the stage.  I was happy for the first time in weeks.

Dillinger brought their mix of manic energy and musical craftsmanship.  Arm in arm with a punter, I sang along to the choruses of Gold Teeth on a Bum and Chinese Whispers.  I rushed the mic for Sunshine the Werewolf….   Steam filled the room as body heat met the cool late Autumn air in the hallway.

Who cares if your job is sh!t?  Who cares if things have not quite gone to plan?  You just caught an amazing show on the other side of the planet.  We have struggled but we are still here.  We are managing to make the Noise Road dream possible.  I walked back to my flat sweaty, cold and happy.

The situation did not progress any further until the following Dillinger weekend in London and Leeds.  I trained into London on Guy Fawkes Day.  Dating back to the gunpowder plot, November 5th is a traditional day of fireworks in the UK.

As I walked from the hostel in Camden to the show at the Electric Ballroom, fireworks exploded all around.  It was a surreal experience.  London’s burning.

I drank more than usual and beelined straight to the pit.  The night started in a blur of fireworks on the streets of Camden and ended surrounded by hundreds pushing me towards Puciato’s mic.

The next morning, I woke at first light to travel to Leeds for another awesome show.  Read review here.

After the Leeds weekend, I re-entered the real world via a slow train to Southampton.  The sh!t wasn’t over.  I still needed to build up some funds.  Work was still going to be cr@p… but no more would the b@st@rds interfere with the adventures of Noise Road.  Unknown to them, that company is now merely sponsoring Noise Road.

This new defiance needed a symbol.  It needed a protest beard.  A big, untrimmed, unkempt, ugly motherfecker of a beard.

As the number of days without a shave grew, I could see the contempt in the eyes of my very prim and proper boss (an ex Air Force Officer).  It angered the managers and foreman who already thought that I was lazy.  He is so lazy that he doesn’t even shave anymore.

Protest beard.

Protest beards and gigs and travels.  Noise Road is back!