Saturday, 28 May 2011

Gig Review: 25 May 2011 – Andrew Jackson Jihad and The Great Cynics at The Borderline

The last time Andrew Jackson Jihad played in London was at the legendary Gaff on Holloway Road (which is now a fucking Costa) and I was terribly drunk. So drunk in fact, that I signed up to play Dungeons and Dragons in a squat, rubbed the tummy of a man next to me during the song “Candle in the Wind”, and, for several subsequent weeks, I had hangover paranoia and thought Sean and Ben of AJJ hated me and would never come back to the UK.

This was my first gig at the Borderline and, despite its unmistakable mean fiddler corporate sheen, the venue is definitely a new favourite. Its walls are bedecked with flyers, the staff are friendly and it’s far easier to get home from than most places. Unfortunately the only ale on offer was Newcastle Brown, a last resort but an inevitably reliable one. Though luckily, I still had some Adnams bitter sloshing about inside me from a pub stop earlier.

At the bar, I start chatting to two friendly gents, Ed and Nathan, after hearing one mentions seeing the undeniable comic genius that is Stewart Lee. Determined not to discuss the merits of paladins, we talk bands and it transpires that the duo play as The Atomic Penguins, an anti-folk comedy band from Canterbury (not to be confused with Tactical Nuclear Penguin, BrewDog's 32% ABV imperial stout). We were devastated that tonight had clashed with two other incredible gigs; the Mountain Goats at Koko and the Skints at Nambucca, supported by Bedouin Soundclash and the Newtown Kings. Had they been on separate nights, I would have gone to all three, but none of us were going to miss Sean and Ben for the world.

Kepi Ghoulie, who I had the pleasure of seeing on AJJ’s last European tour, was billed to support. However, to my surprise, A4 sheets of paper declared, in Times New Roman, that The Great Cynics (formerly The Cynics, following threats of legal action from Pittsburgh based garage rock revival act of the same name) were playing instead. This was exciting as the band had very recently been signed to Household Name Records, the label responsible for numerous legendary ska punk bands of the last decade including Adequate Seven, Capdown, Howards Alias, The Filaments, Ye Wiles and of course Lightyear. Coincidently, Chas Palmer-Williams of the aforementioned Lightyear is also supporting AJJ on their Derby date. The Great Cynics appear on stage, and play their own brand of raw, electric indie punk with plenty of passion and energy. The choruses are catchy with intelligent lyrics and shifting rhythms, and they are very well received by the crowd.

After congratulating the band on their performance, and for breathing life into Household Name, I make my way to the front to wait for Andrew Jackson Jihad where I meet Bob, a student from Reading with a sprained wrist. AJJ don’t delay and make it on stage early, opening with “Rejoice”, “Brave as a Noun” and “Survival Song”, the first three songs from their incredible album People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest in the World. The crowd needs no encouragement to join in and sing along to every single song of the night. Sean’s lyrics are quite difficult at times and his vocal style is uniquely awkward, yet it is the most natural thing in the world to sing with him. The love displayed by the crowd is unmatched by any other audience I have been a part of. The honesty, sensitivity, vulnerability and humour that AJJ exude can only provoke this level of affection and respect, which manifests as hugs between people who have never met and adoring heckles which Sean and Ben sheepishly accept.

They play a good mix of old and new tunes; including a few covers I hadn’t heard before, choosing to focus less on the tracks from Operation Stackola and more on Only God Can Judge Me. To my delight they play “Jesus Saves (God Hates Us All)”, my first taste of AJJ back in 2009, which was notably absent from their set at the Gaff last year. The band have a wonderful chemistry; Sean plays his guitar hectically with nervous quivering vocals while next to him stands Ben, tall and mellow, bending serenely over the neck of his double bass. Occasionally they break away briefly to confer about which song to play next and the pause is punctuated by shouted requests for every tune in their repertoire. A request for “Ladykiller” is turned down by Sean for being a ‘horrible song’ but he is happy to submit to cries for “People” and “People II: The Reckoning”, two excellent songs played in quick succession. Towards the end of their set, which lasts about an hour and a half, time checks are met with pleading assurances that they could squeeze in everything again. Had the curfew been 5 AM, no one would have left until Sean's fingers were worn to the bone and every thread on Ben's bow had split in two.

When the inevitable end comes, the band finish with “Personal Space Invader” followed by “Olde(y) Time(y)” and no one can quite believe it’s over. I pick up their excellent split full length with Ghost Mice and a T-Shirt from their merch guy and loiter a few moments to speak to Sean and get that all important hug. Their next European tour can’t come sooner enough.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Gig Review: 07 May 2011 - The JUNK, Thee Infidels, Luvdump, The Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Dicky Swaffles at The Bird’s Nest in Deptford

Round the corner from Deptford Bridge stands the legendary Birds Nest. This small unassuming pub, home to a gaggle of friendly locals and their dog, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on numerous occasions, is an absolute gem and cornerstone of the London punk scene. My tipple is the ever awkward real ale which, this evening, is bottled and various and I start off with a Bombardier. Tonight is courtesy of Pus Promos’ Andy Howells, and yet again he’s managed to put on an incredible line-up, all for free.

In no time at all, Dicky Swaffles is on stage, armed only with his guitar. The self proclaimed “northerner” strums out a series of punk covers, ranging from Aqua’s Barbie Girl and Wannabe by the Spice Girls to NOFX’s Bob and other skate punk favourites. He is warmly received by us “southerners”, even taking a few requests, and does a great job of warming everyone up.

Next up are the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. This lively four-piece from Camberley play good solid hardcore punk, with a hint ska thrown in for good measure, and are right at home in this line-up. Their anarchic energy, style and commitment to the DIY punk ethos has rightfully earned them support slots for legendary bands such as Sham 69 and the UK Subs and their performance tonight is good frenzied fun. The band also brought with them an inexhaustible supply of Buckfast (it gets you fuckedfast), which made the rounds on stage with the bands throughout the rest of the night.

I leave to get some fresh, albeit muggy air. Picnic benches are strewn outside, all overlooking the decaying carcass of a dilapidated Routemaster; the number 30 to “nowhere”, and I sit and chat punk over another pint while Luvdump are setting up. This blistering crack-rock-steady outfit from Bury St Edmunds are no strangers to Deptford and play a raucous chaotic mix of hardcore punk and fiendishly fast ska. The singer joins in with the people dancing at the front and at one point the crowd decide to mob the bass player and hoist him into the air. Gigs at the Nest are always intimate affairs; I fondly recall getting stabbed in the shoulder by the slide of the Hostiles trombone on a particularly long glist. This is what gigs should be like.

I manage to sink one last ale, chatting to new friends and congratulating band members, before Thee Infidels make their way to the stage. The aggressive crack-rock-steady four piece from Frankfurt are in the UK on an intrepid whirlwind four day tour, ending at the Nest. They play a fantastic set of resilient, triumphant tunes with socially conscious lyrics and shout along choruses, reminiscent of the Infested and early Choking Victim. Despite a cancellation in Bolton the previous night, forcing an unscheduled detour via a gig in Derby, the band are in high spirits, and it’s more than just the Buckfast. They receive a warm and enthusiastic reception and are definitely a high point of the evening, leaving everyone watching wanting more. I doubt this will be their last visit to Deptford and I can’t wait to see them again soon.

I must admit, by now I’m getting tired and I sheepishly order a water from the bar in preparation for the final voluntary assault on every single muscle in my body. Fresh from a two week UK tour with staggering genrefucks Beat the Red Light, somehow the JUNK still have it in them to drive all the way from Brighton and headline the Nest. They dish out mean angry skacore, together with horn driven punk without any of the clich├ęs, and are on exceptionally tight form starting with a new track “Left For Dead”. Their energy is infectious and spreads through the audience like wildfire, turning the pit into a maelstrom of flinging limbs, punching fists and the odd stray shoe. Despite being down a sax and a trumpet player, the band hardly fit on the 6 inch high stage; the brass tonight is all courtesy of Laura on trombone. Halfway through the set the bass drum calls it quits, but lead vocalist Jake averts a lull, grabbing a guitar and performing a stripped down solo number while the repairs are made. After the ad hoc but impressive interlude, the JUNK don’t hold back, furiously rattling through most of the tracks from their latest release on Bad Mood Records and Twelve Step Plan. After 45 minutes of relentless skanking, shouting, occasional pit brawling and slipping up in beer, the JUNK end their set on a high with sing along favourite “Far From Here”.

Shattered, I pick up a copy of The JUNK’s latest album Problem. Reaction. Solution. along with LUVDUMP’s Information is Power, thank Andy for the night and stumble onto the night bus home. Gig well done.