52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the word is on your lips (say the word)

The Wonky Pop Tour (Frankmusik, Leon Jean-Marie & Alphabeat) @ Stealth, 15th April 2008

Stealth is a small venue just next to the Rescue Rooms. Together with the Rescue Rooms, it's part of the Rock City family, and is mostly famous for its clubnights than it is as a gig venue. Well, it's the first time I've been here, anyway. As it happens, I used to work with the guy who does all the promotion for Stealth (and I think for the RR too). He was a slightly funny looking chap who used to exist on a diet of crisps and cola and who shuffled about the office working as an IT Consultant. I used to think he was alright but a little bit odd, and when he left, I didn't really think too much more of him... until, that is, he turned up with what looks like an absolute dream of a job. Apparently he started out as a promoter long before he actually gave up his day job, which just goes to show how you can't judge a book by its cover. Anton was in the venue this evening, and I thank the lord that he was, because it meant that I knew for a fact there was at least one other bloke in the room older than me.

Have you ever watched Skins? You know, the programme where teenagers go out clubbing and generally getting wasted? Well, being at this gig was a little bit like being in the middle of an episode.... and I was playing the role of one of the parents (perhaps Bill Bailey?). The place was filled with children. Forget about having love for you if you were born in the 80s, I reckon at least half of the people here were born in the 90s. Which is odd, as judging by the look of them in their Nike High Top trainers and bat-winged tracksuit tops, the 80s are big with the kidz of today. I wouldn't have been entirely surprised if someone had walked past me wearing a leotard and leg-warmers, kids-from-fame-stylee. They were all busy getting wasted, of course, as only people who are young enough to fear no hangover and with merely the cloud of that last 1000 words of their dissertation to get some time before Friday can do. Bless them all.

We wandered in after a leisurely Yakai Udon and immediately saw that we got a fantastic view by leaning on the bar at the side of the stage. Why bother to move any further in? From this vantage point, we were able to enjoy the delights of the Wonky Pop tour. I'm not entirely sure what binds these three artists together, as to be honest, I'd only really say that Alphabeat were particularly poppy... the other two? less so.

Frankmusik were already getting into their stride when we arrived, and it took me a little while to get my bearings. They're a three-piece, comprising a corkscrew-haired female drummer, an ageing keyboardist and a sort of Gareth Gates-alike vocalist. Their sound is not all that dissimilar to that of Does It Offend You, Yeah? in that they produce quite a squall of electronic noise that is actually quite heavy, almost rock. Layered on top of this were some fairly insipid white-boy soul singing, of the kind that you sometimes find slapped on the top of those house music songs that bother the charts, usually around summer, featuring a guest vocalist (David Byrne and Xpress2 aside) you've probably never heard of. They weren't dreadful by any means, but the singer rather ruined it for me and I would have preferred it if they had committed to a heavier sound. Still, there was plenty to be entertained by: the drummer was good, and by the looks of him, the keyboardist was living the dream. In spite of the actually really very bright tube lighting at the side of the stage, he bobbed about over his keyboards clutching a lit torch clutched in his mouth. I'd have thought that some kind of headtorch would have been more practical, but perhaps this is his 'thing'. He was loving it, loving it, loving it - throwing himself with huge gusto into every throbbing gear change. Most of Alphabeat were stood just in front of us as the band played, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway. Cutely, and very much in the spririt of one for all and all for one, they also helped to shift the gear off the stage at the end of the set and out to the van. At this point the PA played "Ready for the Floor" by Hot Chip, which unfortunately served to remind me that this kind of thing is being done a lot better elsewhere. Frankmusik aren't bad, by any means, but I've heard better.

Before too long, the next act was onstage. Leon Jean-Marie is apparently a solo-artist, although you could be forgiven for assuming that they were a band as the guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and drummer filed onto the stage. The music was definitely a change of pace from Frankmusik, but I got the distinct impression that our Leon didn't really know what he wanted to be: there were a couple of dancy tracks, some kind of dub-reggae-esque tracks, some straightforward rock and even some acoustic ballads. It was a bit of a mix up, to be honest, and nothing very much stuck in my memory. I'm not a guitarist, and I'm frankly amazed that anyone can play anykind of a chord at all, but LB also told me, from his vantage point at the very front of the stage, that he's not seen a worse guitarist at a proper gig ever - apparently Leon was a picture of concentration as he tried to find the right fingerings for his chords at the same time as he was singing. Not very good, to be honest, but again I found something to entertain me by watching the keyboardist - who looked a bit like Paul Casey (who would have had to leave Augusta pretty sharpish if he was going to be on this tour) and who for much of the gig appeared to be playing nothing more than a volume switch, flicking a backing track up and down in a rhythmic fashion. I'm not a musician, ladies and gentlemen, but I may just have found my instrument.

The kids by this point were getting quite rowdy and beered up (do kids still drink beer or is there some kind of rule that they can only drink brightly coloured spirits?). Alphabeat came on to a most receptive and rowdy crowd of about 250 shrieking students and I had a sudden revelation: a lot more young girls go to pop gigs than go to watch gloomy guitar bands. It's too late for me now, but save yourselves!


Alphabeat were great. Just as they did last time, their absolutely nonsensical but insanely infectious pop put a massive smile on my face. I'm not too sure that there grasp of the English language extends much beyond the rhyming dictionary that they have evidently swallowed, but it doesn't make a damn bit of difference... this is pure enjoyment, and pretty much all of their songs are bouncy fun, with recent hit single and near weapons grade earworm "Fascination" going down especially well (although I retain a soft-spot for "Touch Me Touching You" and "Boyfriend"). I have to say that I love the irony of a band clad mainly in scruffy t-shirts singing to me that "fashion is our passion", when all the evidence clearly states otherwise, but give me this over the more self-conscious likes of The Foals or Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong any time. The set finished with Alphabeat pulling onto the stage some members from the other two bands to sing an unlikely version of "Digital Love" by Daft Punk... with the sheer exuburance with which they sang it, they almost got away with it. Almost.

A very different night to Elbow, for sure, but also very enjoyable. I left in a fantastic mood, anyway, which doesn't happen after all that many gigs. Alphabeat are a lot better than the other two bands, I think, but as a whole it was fun, and who could ask for much more than that? It's a lot better this than some X-Factor shite, anyway.

Verdict? 7 / 10



  • At 7:11 pm, Blogger LB said…

    Alphabeat might just be my perfect band, you know. Every single ingredient required in perfect proportion.

    "10000 Nights of Thunder" is *amazing* (and I might have a little cruchette on Stine, also).

  • At 7:47 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    is now a good time to mention that I left the gig wanting nothing more than to listen to Joy Division, more specifically:

    Feel it closing in,
    Feel it closing in,
    The fear of whom I call,
    Every time I call,
    I feel it closing in,
    I feel it closing in,
    Day in, day out,
    Day in, day out,
    Day in, day out,
    Day in, day out,
    Day in, day out,
    Day in, day out."

    What that says about the gig, or about me, I'm not entirely sure.

    A good gig nonetheless.



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