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Gig Reviews (with potato-quality photos)

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This was the first time I was strongly recommended to wear earplugs at a gig.  £2 later from the pharmacy I had a pair of standard yellow foam ones, and one spare for my comrade, who turns out already came prepared.  And it became a surreal experience as the five piece band that is currently Swans, stepped to their instruments to the gong-beat of their fierce Ewok representative Thor Harris- that you could see the crowd screwing in their bits of plastic into their ears. And looking at these terrible men approaching their instruments, like butchers to their fresh slabs of meat, it looked like some ears were not going to be leaving un-assaulted.

Then Michael Gira steps up.  The lumbering giant with hair that looked like threadbare vines, covering a monolothic face that looked carved into his head and hat not seen much light for several years.  He picks up his guitar, and I take out my earplugs.

They started with a new song called ‘Frankie M,’ which set a good landmark of where Swans’ new album To Be Kind had taken them- to a more funkier slightly homoerotic soundscape, but yet still retaining that brooding darkness of their established style.  Gira would slowly blurt the words ‘Frankie M’ and then let the musicians carry the song through in an abrasive wave. They then followed with their most obivous version of a ‘hit; from To Be Kind ‘A Little God in My Hands,’ led by the hammering pokes of Christopher Pravdica’s bass-lines. This seemed like the band’s warm-up song, even with Thor Harris having already taken his shirt off.  But the chorus was still one of the most scathing experiences, trumpets blaring and a piercing slide guitar courtesy of the terrifying Christoph Hahn.  Once this ‘hit’ was complete, the band settled into their more epic songs, each one almost a 20 minute odyssey, from their previous album’s centrepiece ‘The Apostate, and, my personal highlight, the mockingly beautiful ‘Just a Little Boy’,

The chemistry between the bandmates was incredible, if you see them in the interviews they are the nicest gentlemen you would ever meet.  Yet on stage they look like the kind of violent rag-tags the French foreign legion would hesitate at hiring.  Michael Gira would hover round like a manic drill sergeant, checking to see that his crew’s fingers were bleeding- then he’d throw his arms up in the air like two flailing eels, and grate his voice against the mic. Pravdica the bassist would look with at Gira with obvious pain in his grimaces, but with the determination of a child recklessly trying to impress his father.  Then Hahn and long-time guitarist Norm Westerberg would hover on the frontiers of the stage like perverted sentinels.

To conclude I’m not sure I even enjoyed the gig in a conventional sense, the sound was like feeling my body peeling from my ears down to my lower back.  The endless building repetition tired me to my bones bones, and I felt physically exhausted at the end of the gig.  But it was this sheer determination to reach some kind of goal that held the gig together, every song on the set had a climactic conclusion, with Gira kicking up a leg to finish them.  But then almost in Sisyphean resolve, they would then start constructing another sickening musical monolith.  Then with a theatrical bow, they concluded their set- and you are left wondering how they could do this absolutely disintegrating display a day later.  Surely something has to eventually break.

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Slint’s apocalyptic album Spiderland has a horrific power that seems to derive from somewhere truly disturbing.  But like the narrator of Heart of Darkness who witnesses the dying Kurtz uttering ‘the horror the horror’, the audience cannot see this source head on, but only feel its enveloping darkness.  Indeed despite the sinister weight to Spiderland the topics are mundane teenage events like riding a roller coaster or being at a house party.  And over twenty years on, another barrier seems to have formed.  In that now the reunited 40-something dads, who constitute Slint, have to try to recreate the same adolescent nihilistic selves that supposedly had to be institutionalised after making the album.  Indeed, the task seems pretty nihilistic.

Fortunately, the band still retained the one factor that made the music so gripping: the instrumentation.  While many 90’s throwback reunions seem like only faded versions of their former personas, Slint made sure that no persona could be tainted.  The vocal parts sung/spoken by Brian McMahan and Brit Walford were comfortably smothered in the background, as in Spiderland, sounding more like voices in the back of your head rather than a centrepiece.  Likewise the equipment was minimal and set up halfway back from the stage, the best pointer that no one was going to be making a scene.  Yet also the band didn’t try to make a Godspeed You more-apocalyptic-than-though impression.  Harking back to their debut album Tweez, which was most recognised as a half-baked, but enjoyable fuckaround, jokes were cracked and smiles were exchanged.  The band was definitely enjoying playing their set.

And so did the crowd.  The stage was pulsing.  Brian McMahan’s drumming was some of the best and loudest I’ve ever witnessed, like a hunter relentlessly beating an enormous loveable animal to a pulp.  While Dave Pajo’s guitar leads showed why Slint become so indented in everyone’s head.  It was almost like a re-education.  Because I knew what was coming but was still dazzled at the sheer genius and simplicity of the movements- the grating chords of ‘Nosferatu Man,’ the uncalming riff of ‘Washer’.  There was a period at the end of ‘Glenn’ when Pajo turned his back to the audience and went up to the amp.  Then a strange cacophony of sounds came out of the guitar.  His skinny figure with its back to the audience sent a visual chill of turning against the crowd in raising this of this inhumane, thrashing weight.

Likewise, the band must have still had the same pedals from recording Spiderland, because almost every horrifying sound was reproduced exactly live: the ‘drop’ on ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ and the harmonics of ‘Don Aman’.  The overwhelming feeling I got was that the band was still as fascinated and confused by what they had created.  And all that the members could do was create the portal to access this profane exhibition for both themselves and the audience.  So there was no room to ‘improve’ on the songs or ‘jam’ to them, because that would mean that the band had some kind of control over them.

The set list ended as logical as it could, that is when it had exhausted all of Spiderland, played the best proto-Spiderland songs from Tweez as well as their single EP.  The official setlist finished of course with ‘Good Morning Captain’ and it was as beautiful as expected. When McMahan sings ‘I miss you!’ you finally realise that very rarely in life can one reach such a purified energy in any line.  It is the accumulation of their whole sound, screamed beyond human capacity (rumour has it he started vomiting after singing this on the album).  And like a bullet ‘I miss you’ enters you and leaves a hole, and you’re left trying to figure out all over again what you had just felt.

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Califone have carved such an idiosyncratic legacy for themselves that whatever various genres try to cling to them only the add-on ‘deep’ seems to have any right to stick.  Oh the experimental-alt-country-rock hijinks these beardy fellas get up to!  After 15 years of being active, and with their excellent 13th album Stitches out this year, the three-piece show no signs of offering a ‘lite’ version to their sound.  Indeed it’s almost comforting that Califone show no desire to turn a new leaf and go for the big time.  Instead they’ve almost refined their goals even more.

Last year the band did a relentless ‘Living Room Tour’ across America, where they performed in whatever living room fans would offer them.  I myself even volunteered my place up in Durham, UK, which unfortunately did not cause impetus for a European tour.

However a year later, The Lexington was not much bigger than a living room.  In fact the guys looked like they had come straight out of a living room.  Lead singer and guitarist Tim Rutili wore a layer clothes that could not be easily distinguished from each other, and he and likewise dressed regular Ben Massarella on bass remained seated for most of the show.  This was not a sign of lethargy but more an indifference to keeping up appearances.  In fact making an impression beyond the music seems not have been on their minds for quite a while.

The act started with possibly Califone’s best song ‘All My Friends are Funeral Singers,’ that gradually came into being through random looping and feedback, which the band used to transition all their songs throughout the set.  Like opening your eyes and having them gradually put into focus.  The solid power chords and really excellent drumming ‘Funeral Singers’ (actually drumming was superb throughout) was a great entrance, but from a personal level I was hoping of it being further in the set when they had built up energy.

Then after a few gags by the band about ‘Free Bird’ and an imagining an 80’s film called ‘Summer Boners’ starring Chevy Chase and with three sequels- the band got into the thick of it with their new album Stitches.  And though their latest album doesn’t have the immediate power as some of Califone’s earlier greats such as Quicksand/Cradlesnakes or Roots and Crowns, it did have a slow burning effect of consistently good songs after another, which their performance reflected.

The band were at their strongest with the louder stuff, and the set highlight was the banger ‘Electric Fence’ from their second eponymous EP.  They also shrewdly accepted picked out some of their earlier greats such as the requested ‘Michigan Girls’ and ‘The Orchids’.  Then finally ended with the great beating chorus of their new single ‘Frosted Tips’ where Rutili even decided to stand

So Califone created a handsomely informal version of what their fans had imagined of them.  They finely rode the line between pockets of beauty and grating background noise.  I wonder if my interest would have wavered if the set had continued, or even they had accepted an encore.  But this qualm was not so much a doubt about the band’s ability but perhaps a reflection on the band itself: That their greatness rests on the fleeting glimpses of wonder through the layers of thick noise.  And if you strain to hard to find it, you’ll always end up disappointed.

Kendrick Lamar is no longer a cult figure, his breakthrough album Good Kid M.A.A.D. City swept up a furore of universal acclaim and huge record sales. Yet there was still a tangible feeling in the audience last night that we were experiencing something incredibly fresh, and were witness to the rise of one of our time’s most innovative rappers. It was Kendrick’s first time to Newcastle too.

There were two very striking features of Kendrick’s set. Firstly, it was incredibly minimal. Kendrick only had his DJ on stage that MC’d for the first five minutes and then stuck to the decks. Moreover, as apparent on the album, the beats were so simple. This provided the contrast for the most brilliant part of the set, which was the sheer craftsmanship of Lamar’s lyrics. In fact, on numerous occasions, he’d stop the decks to freestyle on his own, and on one song even told the audience to pay attention to the words. Furthermore, the speed of his lyric delivery is not totally appreciated until you see him up there, not missing a beat in his poetic stream-of-consciousness.

These two features made it very evident that this was a no-bullshit rapper. He didn’t need the public image of his contemporaries such as Riff Raff or Chief Keef. In fact he looked incredibly normal on stage with just a hoody, and would not have stood out in a crowd. All emphasis was made on the music.

And boy was he not cashing in on the classics either. The first three or four songs of his set were from his acclaimed but less-well-known earlier album Section.80, the highlight being “ADHD”. He even did some songs from his first EP and earlier mixtapes. Fortunately the Newcastle crowd was very well versed on their Kendrick Lamar, and managed to shout back every chorus that Kendrick threw at them.

Yet when Kendrick asked if anyone had heard of his new album Good Kid and went straight into “Money Trees,” things became electric. He went on to do an onslaught of the incredible hits from that album, the highlight being “Backseat Freestyle” especially the “biaaaatch-Coldplay” build-up (the jury is out on whether Kendrick actually says Coldplay, but I will certainly be singing it, and will defy anyone who wants to prove me wrong). Kendrick even did a smooth medley from “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” into “Poetic Justice,” which was good but seemed to cut the first song, perhaps the album’s strongest, off a bit short. Overall, Kendrick played around half and half of Section .80 and Good Kid material, which though disappointingly meant that he missed a few Good Kid greats such as “Compton” and “Sing about Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” also merited a lot of respect, in that Kendrick called the shots and not his audience. In fact the encore was one of Kendrick’s earlier more obscure tracks.

Indeed, this sense of self-respect and control really resonated in Kendrick’s character if you compare him to another rapper of similar status, Danny Brown. A friend remembered how at a London gig Danny came on stage with a bottle of Hennessey’s, fell off stage, and apparently got a handjob during the set, though somehow managed to do an incredible performance. This kind of excess wouldn’t happen at a Kendrick Lamar gig. But it doesn’t mean that Kendrick was somehow a tamer rapper, it’s just that all the energy went into the music. Even gangster rap, which Lamar was definitely a disciple of, being Compton-bred and a Dr. Dre collaborator, seemed less about intimidation and more a communal celebration, most noticeably in his performance of the really dark “m.A.A.d city.”

Kendrick also showed himself to be a really principled character. He gave respect to his hometown Compton, as well as those that helped him on the way, giving a brief account of his musical career through introducing his songs. He also gave a shout out to all his doubters and made the pretty impressive, and mostly true, statement that “we made the mainstream come to us.” But perhaps the greatest moment of the whole set was at the end, when Kendrick picked out a fan at the front, who had known every single word to Lamar’s songs and impressed the rapper by keeping up with him for the whole hour and a half. Kendrick brought the fan on stage for everyone to see him, and told the crowd that this guy was the reason he’d be coming back to Newcastle, though next time he’ll probably be in the Metro Arena at £50 a ticket.

Since the late 2000’s, boutique festivals have not only become contenders on the festival circuit, but even preferred alternatives to patrons and artists alike. But in the year 2012 when the summer has not been dwarfed by the behemoth that is Glastonbury, the boutique festival has taken the lead as a vital, and sometimes only, lifeline for good music in the UK. Green Man is at the forefront of this movement as it successfully completed its 10th year. It already has an affectionate status in any Welsh music-lover’s heart, being the nation’s largest music festival. I’m not Welsh, and it was my second time at the festival.

Every festival has its category, and Green Man definitely falls under chilled. The majority groups are families, middle aged Londoners and post-A level students. This makes for a very relaxing festival, which to some may be disappointing. Indeed all live sets ended by 12, and there were two DJs that went until 4, leaving not much to do for the late night goers. But of course, everyone was friendly and my friends and I would chat until the early hours with our neighbours. And so, though not an obvious point, it is certainly one worth making, that this festival has zero intimidation: no one pissing on tents, no pill-poppers palpitating in the mud and no fear of things being stolen. Indeed the atmosphere is almost as calming as the beautiful surroundings in the Welsh valleys.

However, let not this compliment come as a caveat to the music-lover who fears being subdued into radio-friendly submission; may I remind the reader that we came for the music. While Green Man is often juggled with other leading boutique festivals, such as End of the Road and Beacons, it certainly had the best line-up. The festival traditionally has folk/psychedelic taste, which has mostly been reduced to the smaller venues. Some were good, such as the jam band Meanz Heinz, and some were appalling such as a band we saw with the chorus “Space is ace, doo doo doo doo doo”. Fortunately the festival has reached out to more eclectic tastes.

Day 1

After enduring appalling rain, and inevitable mud, we finally set up camp and entered the site. The festival is based around a country estate with a house in the middle, and has two principal stages, the Main Stage, in an almost amphitheatre where one can set up deckchairs (a commodity my friends and I soon regretted, and also remembered that we regretted not bringing last time) and the Far Out tent, where the more unusual acts were. We spent the majority of the day at the Far Out tent. Our first act of the festival were the Scottish band Errors, who were an entertaining electronic band, but soon descended into generic looping. Lower Dens lived up to expectations with their droning psychedelia, concluding on their killer song “Brains”. While the enigmatic alt-country man Cass McCombs’s lingering voice remained crystalline throughout and mixed with sublime riffing throughout the set, which climaxed with “County Line”, the best song of the festival. We then returned to the Main Stage to see Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks play their latest album Mirror Traffic, which, similar to my review of them in the Constellations Festival, was entertaining but gave off a sense that Malkmus is in decline since his Pavement days. Although his thirty-second cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent” definitely ticked off one hypothetical box of scenarios I’d dreamt about. Green Man continued their string of post-rock bands with Mogwai as their first headline act. Though the band looked old, and the members seemed almost too appreciative to be there, the music was still fresh as ever, and the addition of a rock organ and synthesised vocals catalysed the chords into a moving experience. However, your trusty reporter must admit that he and his friends may have drunken too much, which meant that we were all sent pleasantly dreaming near the end of the Mogwai set, which meant we missed Mr Scruff.

Day 2

Hangovers are easy when you realise all you need to do is keep drinking through the morning, which is how we spent the second day, as the music remained pretty unknown until the late evening. This also meant we were able to appreciate the other aspects of the festival, such as chainsaw art, the cinema tent, delicious (but extortionately priced) food and smaller acts. The first evening set wasMichael Kiwanuka, who was surprisingly good, since I had classed him under “mum’s easy- listening” music, but he gave a very entertaining set as the sun finally broke through, including an excellent cover of Hendix’s “Waterfall”. Van Morrison managed to garner the largest audience for the whole festival as the sun set, and though he only arrived a minute before the show and didn’t speak to the audience for the whole hour and a half set, he did play all the classics with grace. Yann Tiersen, was an unlikely choice, as most people only knew him from the “Amelie” soundtrack, but his instruments worked satisfactorily well. However the highlight of day 2 was definitely going to be that folk enigma Tallest Man on Earth. He played a very intense solo set, with great skill in performance. But what was most striking was how well known he was, almost on minor pop star level. As the majority of the crowd were teenage girls mouthing every single lyric.

Day 3

Our party fatigued was overcome by the most exciting day of them all. Ghostpoet, the seemingly only rap artist on the line-up, gave a welcomed performance, which would hopefully flagship more hip-hop perfomances in these country festivals. Damien Jurado was by far the most relaxed artist who would balance his emotional acoustic songs with song requests, and even requests for weed (which reflected on what kind of festival this was). However, the best set is certainly reserved for tUnE-yArDs. This was the last show of their year and a half tour, and so we got to see them at their peak of live performance, where every single beat was timed perfectly. Singer, drummer and core of the band Merrill Garbus was so funny and encapsulating, and managed to get the entire crowd to jump in the mud, which is no mild achievement. And perhaps the greatest achievement a live band can give is make someone who wasn’t a fan before become a dedicated follower. The Walkmen are one of my favourite bands, and so performed as incredibly as I’d expected (which is almost disappointing in a way, perhaps it is the contrast between expectation and performance, which causes the most impact).Feist was the final headliner, who gave a powerful performance of her album “Metals”, with her backing band Mountain Man, who had a huge following from former performances at this festival, and so Feist let them play a song of their own. Although Feist did not get on anyone’s side when she said “sucks that summer’s almost over, and you have to go back to your day jobs tomorrow”. But I chuckled to myself, because Durham has such long holidays that I didn’t need to be back for at least a month. So take that Feist.

Field Day has become a serious contender in the boutique festival circuit as it passes its 5th year. It has become the herald for the onslaught of music festivals, as it is poised on the brink of summer at the 1st of June. Yet the festival is only one day and so serves more as an appetizer than supplement for a summer in music. However, the festival contains two strong facets that will continue to encourage festival-goers to divert on this brief sojourn. Firstly it contains a healthily eclectic line-up with the alternative balanced by the big acts. Secondly, Field Day is very reasonably priced, at only £45, especially considering such a strong line-up. It is certainly a bonus that the festival is based in the scenic Victoria Park in East London.

However, these positives are inevitably weighed against the festival’s disadvantages. The greatest conflict of all one-day festivals is being able to fit in as many acts as possible within such a short time frame. Field Day had six stages in quite a small area, which sometimes meant that the loudest sets often overwhelmed the quieter bands in the neighbouring stages. For example in 2011, Mark Kozelek, the acoustic musician of Red House Painters fame, stopped his set as his music couldn’t be heard over the band playing nearby. This year, perhaps the organizers avoided the problem by not choosing many quiet bands, although a tension still remained for the musicians to be heard over the background noise. Furthermore, many acts were reduced to half-hour or 40 minute sets, which barely allowed the bands time to express beyond their normal routine.

The most frustrating factor was perhaps the festival’s crowdedness. It took my friend over an hour to pick up his tickets and get through the barriers, and then another hour to get money from the cash machines. Also security was the tightest I had ever seen in a festival, with pat-downs, bag searches and security dogs. And though perhaps this was necessary in London, there was no need to throw my cheese sandwich away. A friend also noted that the security guards were probably taking pleasure in roughing up the wax-moustachioed hipsters.

The festival started at noon and we arrived at 2.15. The first act was the hippy survivor R. Stevie Moore at the “Village Mentality” stage, who apparently has made over 300 records, yet only recently has entered the broader limelight. His stage antics lived up to his reputation with marijuana print latex, a blue beard as well as bluesy jams.

The ever-transforming dance-punk Liars were on the “Eat Your Own Ears” main stage to promote their new album WIXIW. The softly menacing sounds did sound impressive, however it was totally at odds with the sunny mid-afternoon surroundings, and so would have been better to have placed them at a later time.

I was very excited to Fennesz play, as the Austrian musician distorts guitar riffs into layers of ethereal feedback. We encountered an middle-age guy in leather jacket at the cosy “BleeD/Lanzarote Stage,” and he was certainly not disappointing. We had to lie down to handle the face-melting distortion, and a friend had to leave as the sound became to heavy for him, but it was totally worth enduring.

Andrew Bird was next port-of-call back at the main-stage. Although his most recent album Break it Yourself isn’t one of his best, the man was reliably entertaining with faultless violin and whistling. He is also perhaps one of the best-dressed musicians on the circuit these days with amazingly casual suits.

Grimes had certainly become the new buzzword in alternative music, as her set at the “Village Mentality” tent was packed. So packed that even on someone’s shoulders I could only see the silhouette of a girl at the stage. She definitely sounded like she was having a good time, as squeals could be heard between verses, but it was so crammed in the tent, and the stage was barely above the ground, that there was a strong disconnection between the musician and the crowd a few layers from her. She definitely should’ve been on the main-stage where there was space to dance and a chance to actually see her.

Post punk legends Tortoise played after Grimes at “Village Mentality.” They were superb, with surprisingly catchy riffs, and incredible drumming, at one time with three drummers. It was a real shame to leave them early to see The Men.

The Men, the New York punkers supporting their second album Open Your Heart was perhaps our most anticipated band. They played at the tiny “Shacklewell Arms” Stage and had only a half hour set, but this didn’t deter them at all. The set seemed more like an extended jam session, where three out of the four members sang lead at one point and messy solos ensued. Perhaps the highlight of the whole festival was when they began playing their anthemic “Turn it Around.” The small crowd immediately transformed into a mosh pit with crowd-surfing, while I (perhaps wisely) stuck to the railing. After their brief set there seemed huge camaraderie as moshers were shaking hands and hugging each other, going back into the real world.

Beirut, the percussion festival favourite, played next at the main-stage. They played almost all of the classic sing-along-songs such as “Elephant Gun” and “Nantes”. However, as a few friends noted the set seemed quite subdued. And the reason why most of the audience ended in a gargantuan jig (which I’d like to claim responsibility for starting) may have been that the music began to sound a bit samey, and so the crowd focused more on dancing than the band itself.

After much debate between Franz Ferdinand and Mazzy Star, we eventually settled for the former to conclude the night. It was a good decision. Apart from diehard fans, most music-lovers would agree that Franz Ferdinand’s first self-titled album was incredible, but they have not paid much attention to the band’s later works. Franz Ferdinand certainly knew this, which is why they began the set with “Michael” and eventually went through over half their first album. What became progressively apparent was that Franz Ferdinand have so many instantly recognisable songs, as they segued from “No You Girls” to “Walk Away”. And although there were a few new songs that weren’t as stellar, such as “Fresh Strawberries” and “Trees and Animals”, the whole set was thoroughly entertaining, and a perfect conclusion to the night.

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Thanks to “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, winter indie festivals are becoming in vogue and the Constellations Festival has taken the initiative as well with its second year running.

The festival took place on the 12th of November in the Leeds University Student Union. The first thing that strikes you is the incredible setting. The Leeds student union, so my step-cousin who studies there tells me, is one of the richest student unions in the country, and it is massive! It’s as if it was designed for a music festival. The union boasts two large theatres, the largest being the Stylus arena, which had its own pit and balcony and could probably fit 1,000 people. There are also two intimate cubbies for the smaller acts, as well as multiple bars with cheap(ish) drinks.

Having taken a lazy Saturday train down from Durham to Leeds, I arrived at around 2, and met up with my old school friend for a long lunch and cup of tea in his derelict student accommodation. My friend dropped me off at the union at 6, for though the festival had started at 2, none of the big acts were on until the evening. And as luck would have it I realised that with my press ticket I was entitled to one extra ticket for my cameraman. So I invited my school friend back to be my cameraman. So for the night I was the amateur journalist with only a scrap of paper to take notes on, and my pal was a cameraman who had forgotten his camera.

The act I was most looking forward to was Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, for Malkmus is my musical hero who frontmanned the band Pavement until the turn of the century, and has since done a decade of music with his new band the Jicks. They had just released their Beck-produced albumMirror Traffic, and so most of the songs were from the album. The style was definitely more old school with some good riffs from “Tigers” and “Senator”, and Malkmus was certainly his old self with good audience interaction. The drummer deserves a mention for being the sweaty moustachioed, Hawaiin shirted, mentalist in the back. All in all, the band fulfilled satisfaction and managed a throbbing head banger with “Baby C’mon”, as well as solid jam on “Real Emotional Trash” to conclude. So though the cracks didn’t show, the band’s wrinkles certainly did, and the Jicks are certainly a bunch of middle-age rockers.

The next act on in Stylus was Yuck after a 20-minute delay due to technical difficulties, which actually pervaded throughout every act, and really gave a poor impression of the techies. They were playing all the songs from their self-titled debut, which consisted of a Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr.-esque style, and there were a few songs I was looking forward to. So after frustrating delay, they kicked off with the great song “The Wall” and trudged through their album, although I felt that you couldn’t hear the lead singer Daniel Blumberg’s vocals enough. Their best song “Get Away” started off well with its gut-wrenching chorus, but then they sped up the pace halfway through, which ruined its effect. However, they did make a great conclusion with the droner “The Rubber”, which made some of their poorer songs forgivable.

We then went to the Riley Smith room to see The Antlers who were incredible. They were showcasing their dreamy album Burst Apart, and incorporated a solid bass-line to keep the movement. The whole band looked like they were having fun as well, and at the core was leader Peter Silberman holding it all together with his impassioned falsetto, and swaying with rubbery fluidity as he sang. Their strongest song was definitely “Rolled Together” which encapsulated the audience in an epic combination of the repeated line “Rolled together with a burning paper heart” and the driving drums, culminating in a breathless climax. They also finished with my personal favourite “Every Night my Teeth are Falling Out”, where I frankly lost it for a minute or two, but later concluded that they could have done it slightly better. Nevertheless it was a very strong performance.

However, the festival highlight, probably felt by everyone was Wild Beasts returning to headline at their hometown. The floor was filled with fans who knew all their songs, and the enthusiasm caught on to the band members who were obviously having a good time. Although I have listened to their albums, I’m still not sure if I’m totally taken in with their falsetto Kate Bush ways, yet it could not be denied that they were very good. The band was stacked out with all kinds of equipment, and the two singers Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming would swap bass and lead guitar in between songs. Some of the songs they came out with in their equipment was truly mesmeric, but every song ploughed ahead with a steady and always interesting bass. All of their songs were strong, although “Albatross” got under my skin especially. But most importantly their music made you feel that they were doing it differently.

The show finished at around 11 and we hung around for a few more drinks then went back home. The festival had good music and a great setting, and we can only hope that more of these boutique winter festivals turn up (hopefully nearer Durham).