Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Astoria's Swansong

Its a sad day.
Tonight is the last, EVER, gig at The Astoria in London before it gets demolished to make way for a cross-town railroad. The venue has played host to nearly every British band that have become massive and to quite a few foreigners too. It was a landmark gig for any band to play the Astoria, a sign that you had made it, as it was the perfect size (around 2000 capacity) for an upcoming band on the brink of success. Where are these bands going to play now?
I haven't actually been to a gig there, or at its smaller sister venue The Meanfiddler
(which is also being removed), since 2005 but the sight of its fluorescent red sign and a line of eager fans waiting outside its doors, is one that I will sorely miss.
The first time I set foot in the venue was for what now sounds like a massive line-up: Muse supported by Coldplay! Nowadays two of the biggest bands in the world but in 2000 things weren't that way. Muse had released their debut album Showbiz and played early versions of both Plug In Baby and Newborn. Coldplay hadn't even released Parachutes yet and were causing a buzz with their single Yellow. The performance's were amazing, even with the Astoria's standard bad sound. Matt Bellamy ended up trashing the drum kit and lying in its remains for ages before leaving the stage.
I remember feeling so close to the bands, even though there were probably hundreds of people in between me and them. The floor was dark and sticky and it seemed very easy to get lost in the building's many corridors. I nearly ended up in the venue's gay club by taking the wrong set of stairs on my way out.
Other memorable gigs were Soulwax in 2001, before they became 2 Many DJs, and Thursday in 2003, during my emo rock phase.
The Mean Fiddler, or the LA2 as I remember it, is also going to be missed by myself. With its 360 degree balcony so that you could watch the band from the back of the stage, the step which cause a lot of moshing accidents and its awesome club-night. I remember watching the lead singer of The Bellrays getting into the crowd and taking justice into her own hands after getting bottled. Amazing scenes!
Tonight's final show is called the Demolition Ball and The Automatic, Frank Turner; Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly; Paul Draper from Mansun and some of ...And You'll Know As By The Trail Of Dead are just a few of the names on the bill. A bit of a shitty send-off to be honest
What's your best memory of the Astoria?

Muse - Showbiz
Soulwax - Much Against Everyone's Advice
Thursday - Cross Out The Eyes

Cheers to Fredrick73 for the fitting photo

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

funfunfun's Favourite Albums Of 2008 (5-1)

And the list goes on...

5) Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster
Hold On Now, Youngster saw LC! explode with fizzy delight into Britain's indie underground early in 2008. Its bold, loud and unabashed. Gareth's untrained yelps are the first thing that strikes you as he stutters out strings of clever lyrics about girls and bands but Aleks' sweet voice is the perfect accompaniment to smooth it out. The tracks off their first demo still contain the uncontrollable energy as on that release and it seems like the band had enough left over for the rest of the tracks. The guitar riffs are catchy and jubilant and the violin screams on My Year In Lists and even when the music descends into a scratchy mess, the 7-piece are able to pick the pieces apart and recreate something beautiful out of it. LC! developed and expanded their sound to create a darker, and in some ways better record, in We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed later in the year but their debut will be the record that marked them as the band to like in 2008.

Favourite Tracks - Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks, Death To Los Campesinos!, This Is How You Spell "Hahaha We Destroyed The Hopes And The Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux Romantics"
Video - My Year In Lists
Download - Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)

4) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Much has been made of the story behind For Emma, Forever Ago - Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, retreating to a log cabin in the middle of a Wisconsin forest for three months after his band spilt and wrote the album there - but it's this background that is ingrained in the music and makes it magical. The solidarity of Flume, it feels like there is nothing else in the world apart from Vernon's falsetto and his guitar, is beguiling. Even with this solitude, the music has a warmth to it, the acoustic guitar is full and glowing and the beats and added electronic noises fill the atmosphere with a presence that is at once eerie and welcoming. The album's impact on me was immediate. I can't even count how many times it's got me through cold walks home from the pub or how often it's soundtracked me lying on my bed, procrastinating...I mean thinking. And as for the story, well it sure worked well as a publicity tool. Let's see how many log cabin albums we get in 2009.

Favourite Tracks - For Emma, Flume, Re:Stacks
Video - For Emma
Download - Skinny Love

3) Johnny Foreigner - Waited Up Til It Was Light
A riotous, squealing, electrifying, noisy romp of an album. With Waited Up Til It Was Light, Johnny Foreigner have seen how the Yanks make alternative rock and copied it in a very British way. The energy of the album is undeniably infectious. Guitars screech and buzz at lightning pace as Alexei and Kelly yelp over each other like arguing kids but in a good way. Everything about WUTIWL is loud and in yr face. Our Bipolar Friends travels by in a blur of scratchy strings and machine gun percussion and The End And Everything After is an eruption of technically tapping guitars and screams. The band can also do emotion, show in Eyes Wide Terrified and especially DJs Get Doubts with its heart-wrenching string section and soft tempo. But the band are best when they are tearing through the music and the double-billed ending of Yr All Just Jealous/Absolute Balance is the perfect showcase of why Johnny Foreigner are the most exciting band in the country.

Favourite Track - Yr All Just Jealous, Hennings Favourite, The End And Everything Else
Video - Salt, Peppa and Spinderella
Download - Cranes And Cranes And Cranes And Cranes (demo)

2) El Guincho - Alegranza
How surprised was I when, waiting for the folky offerings of Fanfarlo back in Feb at Madame JoJo's, I was whisked away to a South American carnival in a swirl of tropical beats and foreign chanting. That startling performance by El Guincho got almost the whole room dancing and I was happy to find out that the party vibe had translated to CD with all its force. Alegranza is a non-stop flurry of poly-rhythms that have a exponential effect on your body once you start moving to it. Like Person Pitch, funfunfun's favourite album last year, Alegranza is a mix of samples and live vocal but El Gunicho's effort is a more exotic affair, a memory of a long-lost beach party. Listen back to the album as I write this, I can picture lazing by a swimming pool in Southern France, walking along the Seine in Paris and staring out of a train window at the wet but beautiful Welsh countryside. It really did soundtrack my summer and it will probably be there for many more to come.

Favourite Tracks - Antillas, Kalise, Costa Paraiso
Video - Kalise
Download - Palmitos Park

1) Marnie Stern -
This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
Yes the album's title is long and a bit pretentious but there's nothing else about This Is It... that can be described that way. It's a joyous, upbeat, delight of an album that doesn't stop pushing itself throughout it's 40 minute lifespan. Marnie's songwriting on This Is It... is the most fun and unrestrained I've heard all year. The twiddly, technical guitar parts spring to life like a signal jumping a synapses and Zach Hill's frantic drumming adds a rhythm to the feverous excitement that builds throughout the album's 12 tracks. Stern plays with the words too. She lengthens or shortens syllables (the "truuuuuue" in Transformer is a perfect example) and hypnotically chants some passages as if they were mantra. The lyrics draw from many influences: science, philosophy, numbers, the natural world but are always hopefully and optimistic and, I think, this is why I connected with This Is It... since it's release in Autumn. Having to hear about depressions, wars, abuse, Crunches, unemployment everyday on the news casts a gloomy shadow but Marnie and her music seem to lift this, illuminated the good things about my life. Maybe it could be used to sort out the problems that seem to have reached every corner of the globe, Wyld-Stallyns style, but if that doesn't happen, I'll be happy to press play again and forget about my worries for another 40 minutes.
"The future is yours, so fill this part in" - Marnie Stern (Transformer)

Favourite Tracks -
Steely, Transformer, The Crippled Jazzer
Video - Transformer
Download - Transformer

It was a very good year in music. Do you agree with my list? What was your favourite album of 2008? Leave a comment and let me know.