Posts Tagged ‘Dukes Of Stratosphear’

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Two Suns

Bat For Lashes and Lewis & Clarke at The Mod Club in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThe most beautiful day of the year so far turned into one of the foulest just in time for the early-evening start of Bat For Lashes’ Saturday night date at the Mod Club, the first for this leg of their North American tour in support of their much-heralded new album Two Suns. A more ambitious writer might try to draw some parallel between the dramatic weather shift and the themes of duality that run through the new record – I’ll just blame a high pressure system surrounded by low pressure systems and get on with it.

Rather surprisingly, support for this tour was Pennsylvanians Lewis & Clarke – surprising because they were also support the last time Bat For Lashes came to town in October 2007, and you don’t often see acts getting taken out as support twice. And their last time out couldn’t have been the most pleasant for the band either, since my recollections were the duo, as they were playing as at the time, had a poor time of trying to be heard over the chatty and inattentive audience (those of us up front notwithstanding). I also remarked at the time that maybe a full band would have had been more successful at getting peoples’ attention. Apparently bandleader Lou Rogal took my advice because the Lewis & Clarke that showed up this time was five members deep, including a drummer and string section. They delivered a set of four (maybe five) songs over 35 minutes, all of the slow and thoughtful chamber-folk variety, and while unquestionably pretty, it was all quite same-y. But at least this time, the audience was much more receptive – or at least polite. Lewis & Clarke will release a new EP Light Time on May 12.

Also rejigged significantly from last time was Bat For Lashes, the band. Whereas the troupe that visited in 2007 was a drummer-less all-female multi-instrumentalist quartet, this one had more defined musical roles and was slightly more co-ed, with Ben Christophers on keys, New Young Pony Club’s Sarah Jones on drums and the divine Charlotte Hatherley on pretty much everything. Oh, and also Natasha Khan – she whose voice, vision and songs ARE Bat For Lashes.

And as beguiling as she is on record, she’s equally charismatic on stage. She set the bar high for the show by leading with Two Suns opener “Glass”, the finest showcase for her soaring vocals, but didn’t let things lag a bit through the 70-minute set. Splitting material fairly evenly between Suns and Fur & Gold, Khan crafted a spellbinding performance that despite the rich visual presentation, didn’t rely on theatrics to rivet – rich with atmosphere and mystery, the songs were more than enough. It’s hard to pick highlights from a show really had no let-downs, but Fur singles “Prescilla” and “What’s A Girl To Do” naturally got the biggest response and single “Daniel” even got aired twice – early on, reimagined in skeletal, autoharp-led form and as the encore closer as “(Big) Daniel” (so noted on the set list), complete with the huge synths of the album version and deliciously Cure-ish guitars. Grand finale, indeed.

It’s impossible to overstate how much the new band configuration has improved their live show, which was hardly wanting in the first place. In particular, the drums, thundering and tribal, gave things a vitality that really took things to another level and Hatherley’s versatility was also put to good use, as she switched off between guitar, bass, keys, accordion and percussion in addition to providing backing vocals. For lack of a better way of putting it, Bat For Lashes v2 are just much more powerful. Though I did miss seeing the rain stick/staff of power from last time.

As for Khan, it’s remarkable how effortlessly she manages to indulge her more out-there creative impulses – her musical world is inhabited by wizards, knights and creatures of fantasy – while seeming utterly grounded, friendly and without airs. With a penchant for costumes and with stage decorations consisting of all manner of dime-store kitsch like Virgin Mary statues and ladies legs table lamps, she obviously doesn’t take things all that seriously but there’s no whiff of irony to be found, either. She makes wolf howls in her songs, for goodness sake, but also cracks jokes and at one point, looked up to see who was calling to her when an audience member yelled, “Natasha!”. Utterly charming.

Though you might think the eccentric nature of Bat For Lashes would be sufficient to consign them to cult band status – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but the fact that this show was not only sold out but with people desperately looking for tickets seems to imply that they’re bound for bigger things. But even so, even if within a year you’re seeing Bat For Lashes in venues holding thousands, I have a feeling that if you holler “Natasha!” during a quiet moment between songs, she’ll still look up and go, “yes?”.

There are feature pieces on Bat For Lashes at CMJ and The Boston Phoenix.

Photos: Bat For Lashes, Lewis & Clarke @ The Mod Club – April 25, 2009
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “Glass” (live)
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “I’m On Fire”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Petrified Forest”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Before It Breaks You”
Stream: Lewis & Clarke / Light Time
Video: Bat For Lashes – “Daniel”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Whats A Girl To Do”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Prescilla”
MySpace: Bat For Lashes
MySpace: Lewis & Clarke

Interview talks to Lily Allen, who has a newish video. Kinda regret not seeing her last week, enjoying her new one It’s Not Me, It’s You more than I’d expected. Hope her vague promises to retire are false.

Video: Lily Allen – “Not Fair”

Daytrotter has posted a session they recorded with Glasvegas during SxSW.

The first track from Stuart Murdoch’s God Help The Girl – I’m not sure whether to call it a band, project, play, or what – is now up for grabs and shock, it sounds a LOT like Belle & Sebastian. Which is to say it sounds wonderful. The album is out June 23.

MP3: God Help The Girl – “Come Monday Night”

The Sunday Mail has a 60-second interview with Camera Obscura. They’re at Lee’s Palace on June 27.

Channel M has a video session with My Latest Novel, whose second album Death & Entrances is out May 18.

PJ Harvey and John Parish discuss A Woman A Man Walked By with Pitchfork.

Drowned In Sound gets Adam Franklin to comment on the whole phenomenon/idea of “shoegaze”. Short version, he doesn’t think much of it but it’s an entertaining read. Franklin is supporting The Church on their Summer North American tour, which has a stop at the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 11 but so far hasn’t extended to include a Toronto date.

MP3: Adam Franklin – “Autumn Leaf”

Fans of XTC psych-pop alter-egos The Dukes Of Stratosphear should check out these two podcasts wherein Andy Partridge reminisces with producer John Leckie about the recording of 25 O’Clock and Psionic Psunspot, both of which were reissued in deluxe form last week.

MP3: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – “My Love Explode”
MP3: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – “Braniac’s Daughter”

Channel M has a video interview with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

A double-shot of Leonard Cohen docs for you – courtesy of the National Film Board, the 1965 documentary Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen and over at Pitchfork, the 2009 live concert film Leonard Cohen: Live In London. And apropos of nothing, whilst digging around IMDB I found that Lenny guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice in 1986 playing a villain named Francois Zolan. I didn’t think it possible, but I think Cohen just got that much more awesome in my eyes. He plays Copps Coliseum on May 19.

Video: Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen
Video: Leonard Cohen Live In London

Seattle-based power-popper Telekinesis will be at the Horseshoe on June 10 in support of his/their excellent self-titled debut.

MP3: Telekinesis – “Coast Of Carolina”
MP3: Telekinesis – “I Saw Lightning”
Video: Telekinesis – “Tokyo”

Brooklyn’s Obits will bring their debut long-player I Blame You to Lee’s Palace on July 23, tickets $12.

MP3: Obits – “Pine On”

Eagles Of Death Metal are at the Kool Haus on August 2, tickets $27.50.

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Farewell To The Fairground

White Lies, Friendly Fires, The Soft Pack at Lee's Palace in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangEven without the “NME Presents” endorsement attached to the tour, I suspect the White Lies/Friendly Fires/Soft Pack show at Lee’s Palace on Tuesday would have been a sell-out. All three acts came with their own built-in buzz, so in fact the venerable British publication may have been counting themselves lucky to be associated with the tour rather than the other way around.

Sole non-Brits on the bill, The Soft Pack – formerly known as The Muslims – were tasked with kicking things off. The San Diego quartet got to play to a not-especially full house, evidence that all the North American buzz that they’ve been generating since last Fall didn’t necessarily translate to the Anglophile demographic. And though I’d been hearing about them for months, this was my first time actually hearing them and I can’t say I was tremendously impressed. They certainly had a good sound – the ingredients of their surf-garage pop aesthetic sufficiently familiar but their particular recipe still reasonably fresh – but none of the songs particularly jumped out as being remarkable and their performance was pretty staid.

But most things would probably come across staid when held up against middle act, St Alban’s Friendly Fires. I wasn’t especially won over by their self-titled debut but I now realize that sitting and listening to it in the comfort of home is really the wrong environment for it. The proper setting is in a club, in front of the stage, as their dual drummer/percussionists make a glorious, rhythmic racket, the guitarist freaks and flails and singer/keyboardist Ed Macfarlane dances and shakes his hips non-stop despite the fact that, let’s be honest, he really doesn’t have any. It’s a good thing. I’ve heard them described as indie, pop, dance and various combinations thereof, and sure they all apply to some degree, but watching them go, I’d just put them down as disco and go. No, there were no glitter balls and the fashions were pretty tame, but the spirit of the unbridled, unending party? That was real. And while it did end after 40 minutes, it did so with an audience invasion and a speaker climb and mass percussive instrument abuse. The sort of thing you’d hate for any band to have to follow.

But this far into the tour, watching their countrymen bring the house down every night before they took the stage, White Lies must have been used to it. Now as I intimated in my review of their UK chart-topping debut To Lose My Life, White Lies require a certain amount of buy-in on the part of the listener. Kind of like how horror films require you to suspend disbelief, to accept that monsters exist and that their potential victims really are that stupid, White Lies need you to believe their angst is real, and that there’s genuine weight behind their vague pronouncements of profundity. Manage that, and for the most part I have, and they’re reasonably enjoyable. Behind the stark lighting, all-black outfits and Harry McVeigh’s dramatic baritone – decidedly scratchy-sounding by this point in the tour – are some truly catchy pop songs that will have you singing along, even if you feel kind of guilty about it. Get into it enough and you won’t even question the rather contrived posing and self-seriousness (it’s amusing seeing McVeigh’s baby face trying to look intense) – at least it’s entirely in character. Like Friendly Fires (and Cut Off Your Hands the night before, White Lies seemed to put stock in the notion of leaving the audience wanting more, keeping things at a very compact 40 minutes and eschewing the encore. Of course with only ten songs in their repertoire they couldn’t have gone on much longer even if they’d wanted, but closing out the night when they did and getting folks out on the streets before midnight with a solid night of tunes under their belt? Nothing wrong with that.

Chart also has a review of the show while Exclaim and The Herald Bulletin have interviews and Shockhound a video interview with White Lies.

Photos: White Lies, Friendly Fires, The Soft Pack @ Lee’s Palace – March 31, 2009
MP3: White Lies – “Death”
MP3: White Lies – “Death” (Crystal Castles remix)
MP3: Friendly Fires – “Jump In The Pool”
MP3: Friendly Fires – “Paris” (Aeroplane Remix)
MP3: The Soft Pack – “Nightlife”
Video: White Lies – “Farewell To The Fairground”
Video: White Lies – “Death”
Video: White Lies – “Unfinished Business”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Skeleton Boy”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Paris”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Jump In The Pool”
Video: Friendly Fires – “On Board”
Video: The Soft Pack – “Extinction”
MySpace: White Lies
MySpace: Friendly Fires

The Toronto Sun and Metro interview Glasvegas, in town for an early and sold-out show at the Mod Club tonight.

Clash talks Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite. They’re at the Phoenix on May 4.

Doves talk to The Quietus and The Irish Independent about their forthcoming album Kingdom Of Rust, out on Tuesday and streaming at the band’s MySpace right now. They play the Kool Haus on June 1.

Stream: Doves / Kingdom Of Rust

Clash and Perth Now interview Elbow. They accompany Coldplay to the Rogers Centre on July 30.

Denver Westword, The Detroit Free Press and Singing Lamb have conversations with Los Campesinos.

Matablog has details on the closest thing we’ll see to a new Belle & Sebastian record any time soon – the soundtrack to Stuart Murdoch’s God Help The Girl, which was originally supposed to be a film but there’s no mention of that aspect in the release. Take that as you will. The album is out June 23 but you can get the first MP3 for free by singing up to their mailing list on the project’s website.

Idolator reports that Charlotte Hatherley’s Cinnabar City now has a US label in Minty Fresh and have got a track from said record to hold you over until the vague Summer release date gets more specific.

Bat For Lashes, whom Hatherley is now a part of, gives an interview to The Irish Independent. They’re at the Mod Club on April 25.

In the mid-80s, XTC created ’60s psychedelic pop alter-ego in The Dukes Of Stratosphear wherein they got their Barrett on and released an EP and album that were henceforth spoken of in hushed, reverential tones by those lucky enough to have heard them. Which will now soon be everyone, potentially. Both releases, the 25 O’Clock EP, which has been padded out with goodies to album length, and Psionic Psunspot, which was already album length but is now super-size, will be out in deluxe reissue packaging come April 21.

MP3: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – “My Love Explode”
MP3: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – “Braniac’s Daughter”