Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s 6 months since my last blog entry. That means 6 months since I last saw a band. That’s too goddam long in anyone’s book, whether they live in the arse end of nowhere or not.
So, Phoenix Foundation were pretty good last time out (at Chicks Hotel) and Sammy’s is much more convenient (like walking distance kind of convenient) and cheap so I thought why the heck not? I like Sammy’s. It looks like dodgy club from the outside, all matt black and rain soaked promo posters, but inside it’s quite beautiful – a tidy little Victorian theatre that is in remarkably good condition, considering its age. Presumably it once had a fancy frontage to go with the fancy insides, but that’s long since replaced by plain concrete.
There are a few dozen mostly uninterested souls watching the first act, Anthonie Tonnon. He’s a rum fellow, and no mistake. One guy, sharply dressed in a suit, behind a small bank of synths and samplers and a backing tape. The main emphasis of his act would appear to be singing, at which he’s quite good, but almost all of the rest of the sound is backing tape. He twiddles a few knobs every now and again (why?), but really it’s little more than a glorified karaoke act – sort of reminds me of a less upbeat Hurts or Sparks with a bit of Edge style guitar thrown in for good measure. He has an unnerving habit of leaving the safety of his synths and throwing a few shapes out on the empty stage, which is a bit odd, it has to be said. Not an unpleasant sound by any means, but I struggle to see past the fact that it’s a bloke and a tape.
Males has to be the shittest name for a band. I mean if it was the name of the house band in a gay club it would still be a shit name, but for a serious indie band it’s got to be a hinderance, surely? Anyway , there are three males on the stage, and it doesn’t take long for me to get sucked in completely. They are brilliant. I mean, seriously brilliant. Frantic jangly indie/post-punk guitar – think The Fall, The Rakes, The Rifles, even early Nada Surf. Really energetic and fast and bouncy and thrangy (?!) and above all fucking tight, tight as a gnat’s chuff. They look like they’re just out of school, in fact the singer/guitarist is a dead ringer for Will out of Inbetweeners. It’s not just frantic 3 chord guitar pop though, these are expertly crafted songs with really quite intricate chord progressions, in and out of minor keys and complex rhythms, all delivered with a killer precision that belies a) their age and b) the fact that they are from Dunedin. The vocals are quite high, almost reminiscent of The Everly Brothers and if I have one minor criticism it’s that they waver up into the falsetto range a bit too often. Also, they’re too damn short! (We’re talking track length not musician height) Not many make it past the three minute mark and they’re so complex and interesting they could easily be pushing 4 or 5 without becoming boring or repetitive. The Phoenix Foundation are going to have to go some to beat these guys.
I gave Give Up Your Dreams a couple of listens over the previous days and I have to say it was the classic Curate’s Egg. The Phoenix Foundation have never put out an album that I liked all the way through – I tend towards the faster, more energetic end of their spectrum and this latest work is a bit more subdued than usual, with the exception of the title track and the excellent Bob Lennon John Dylan. The wafty tracks are really, well, wafty, almost loungy. It doesn’t translate nearly so well to the stage either – firstly, the mix isn’t great tonight, and they really don’t sound as tight as I remember them from before but my overall impression is that they’ve ‘lightened’ everything up a bit. It’s not nearly as danceable as it used to be, even some of the older, proven tracks are weaker than normal. Black Mould has always been one of my favourites, but tonight it’s a shadow of its former self, lacklustre and empty. Too many of the songs descend into self-indulgent prog-like ramblings, it’s like they’ve recently discovered Yes and decided they don’t want people to dance at their gigs any more. And don’t get me started on ‘Trans Fatty Acids’ – apparently this was deemed to bizarre to go on GUYD but I think it is also a bit too bizarre to be played live either. Bright Grey is the only one that they really nail tonight, I’m afraid, and even that is not as good as I remember it being. The encore includes a sub-par Buffalo, which was probably the only other decent effort. And where the fuck was Dalston Junction? It’s probably been deemed too ‘Blur’ to fit with their new bland direction so I don’t know why I was expecting to hear it to be honest.
I was not impressed with Phoenix Foundation tonight, to the point where I would probably not bother seeing them next time unless they put out a much better record. Unless of course they have Males playing with them! Males really saved the evening, definitely worth further investigation. They can’t really be from Dunedin can they? I must have misheard that.