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Pretty much the only thing I feared I’d be giving up on leaving London was the Big Smoke’s rich & varied live music scene. Sure, I still cast the occasional envious glance at The Luminaire‘s programme of The Young Gods acoustic sets, Jason Molina Christmas parties and Stars Of The Lid supported by Boduf Songs (and reminisce how that great little venue was but a stone’s throw from my former lair), but my time in Holland so far has been packed full of excellent gigs. The beauty of this small country is that distances between cities are such that it is possible to go and see a show in a different city in the same travel time as it would take to get from one side of London to another – so I’ve already seen things in Amsterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Haarlem, and that list is only likely to grow (hopefully taking in Groningen’s Vera one of these days, which has a reputation as one of the best places to play anywhere in Europe). And the smaller hall upstairs at Paradiso, located in an old church but a space that can rock hard, has fast become one of my favourite venues.

So in another attempt at getting this site back up to speed, here is a (mainly visual) rundown of some of the great live experiences I’ve had in this country so far…


Six Organs Of Admittance @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (14-Aug-2007)

I’ve written here about my first proper live experience in my new home, this highly-charged ritual of amplifier worship definitely one of my favourite shows of last year.


Future Of The Left @ Tivoli De Helling, Utrecht (04-Oct-2007)

Future Of The Left @ Tivoli De Helling, Utrecht

The maiden out-of-town gig, to catch Future Of The Left on their first foray to continental Europe. Their energetically vicious stabs of sound and low-end punch quickly won over the crowd, many of whom were presumably encountering the band for the first time (FotL were supporting American punkrockers Against Me!)


Michael Gira @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (15-Oct-2007)

Michael Gira @ Paradiso, Amsterdam

That this show did not make my top gigs of ’07 list is criminal oversight. Michael Gira is a living legend, and every performance of his that I have witnessed has been a special experience, none more so than this one. He invests his performances with genuine passion, his hollerin’ & boot-stampin’ making it seem as though he’s channeling a sold-his-soul bluesman playing in 1920’s dusty nowheresville. The set opens with Swans-song “I Am The Sun” and follows with a perfect mix of material covering further late-period Swans releases and all of Angels Of Light‘s oeuvre. Gira wrly remarks that he wishes to “write spiritual songs, but I don’t have any”, but don’t worry Michael: as I’m sure the rest of this night’s audience would agree, despite the bleak and sometime hopeless nature of the subject matter, your performances reach right into one’s emotional core and are genuinely life-affirming.

Setlist: Michael Gira @ Paradiso (15 October 2007)
I Am The Sun
Promise Of Water
Nations
Failure
Lena’s Song
My Brother’s Man
She Lives!
Destroyer
My Sister Said
Sometimes I Dream I’m Hurting You
Rose Of Los Angeles
God Damn The Sun

Here is the encore “God Damn The Sun”, recorded live in Lisbon, Portugal in 2002 and taken from the (now out-of-print) “Living ’02” release.

Michael Gira – God Damn The Sun (live in Lisbon)



Liars @ Melkweg, Amsterdam (30-Oct-2007)

Liars @ Melkweg, Amsterdam

My first experience of this legendary venue, and what an experience it was.  Angus Andrew seemed to be enjoying Amsterdam to its mind-altering fullest and was in fine showman form, he and his cohorts putting on a sensory assault of rhythmic noise and lights that overwhelmed some in the audience but delighted most (at their best Liars manage to channel the Cure, Bauhaus, Neubauten, and the Birthday Party, giving it all a post-modern/art-school twist, their live shows somewhere between pagan ritual and post-millennial dance party). The newest songs were blasted out fully-formed, unlike my first exposure to them months previously – and the trancey tribalism of the amazing “We Fenced Our Houses…” and “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack” had the audience riveted in near-religious awe.


Mono + Future Of The Left @ Patronaat, Haarlem (09-Nov-2007)

Future Of The Left @ Patronaat, Haarlem

Following another blistering bass-heavy set from FotL (albeit with the band themselves not seeming to enjoy themselves, unhappy with the Haarlemmers engagement & their own equipment troubles), I didn’t actually see headliners Mono, instead listening to their bombastic but sterile ‘compositions’ from the merch stand while politely grilling FotL’s Falco for Albini tidbits & the like…


Gravenhurst @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (20-Nov-2007)

Gravenhurst @ Paradiso, Amsterdam

Nick Talbot’s Nick Drake-isms sometimes sit incongruously with the (post)rockier tack he has taken on Gravenhurst‘s past two albums. The best songs this night (like “Down River”, “The Western Lands” and “Black Holes In The Sand”) are when he pulls back on the earnest and the band collectively let their hair down.



Part II to follow shortly with futher uninformative blatherings on Jason Molina, Qui, Jesu, the State-X / New Forms festival, Aesop Rock and Whip…



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Having once been a relatively enthusiastic proponent of the end-of-year ‘best of’ list, a few years ago I stopped putting these together in favour of just creating an aural review of releases I particularly liked in the form of a CD compilation. I suppose I rejected the idea of trying to rank the year’s releases, to come up with the ‘best album’ of that particular year, as this was forcing me to evaluate the music on a critical/intellectual level that doesn’t work for me – for me music is about feeling; from wanting to bang my head or creep myself out, from getting goosebumps of euphoria to twinges of melancholy… But I suppose it is sacrilege for a music-related blog to come to the end of a year and not attempt some sort of round-up, so rather than create a ranked list justified by socio-political contexts or clever meta-musical references, these are the records (in no particular order) and live performances that have rocked / droned / folked up / brokebeat / hiphopped my world in 2007, that have made me feel



Top 25 Albums of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 25 Albums of 2007

from top, l-r:

Magnolia Electric Co : “Sojourner” boxset (Secretly Canadian)

PJ Harvey : “White Chalk” (Island)

Angels Of Light : “We Are Him” (Young God)

Low : “Drums And Guns” (Sub Pop)

Liars : “Liars” (Mute)

Mammal : “Lonesome Drifter” (Animal Disguise)

Grinderman : “Grinderman” (Mute)

Boris with Michio Kurihara : “Rainbow” (Pedal/Drag City)

El-P : “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” (Definitive Jux)

Vic Chesnutt : “North Star Deserter” (Constellation)

Nina Nastasia & Jim White : “You Follow Me” (Fat Cat)

Om : “Pilgrimage” (Southern Lord)

Scout Niblett : “This Fool Can Die Now” (Too Pure)

Shellac : “Excellent Italian Greyhound” (Touch & Go)

Epic45 : “May Your Heart Be The Map” (Make Mine Music)

Magik Markers : “Boss” (Ecstatic Peace!)

MIA : “Kala” (XL)

Sigur Rós : “Hvarf-Heim” (EMI)

Stars Of The Lid : “And The Refinement Of Their Decline” (Kranky)

Jesu : “Conqueror” (HydraHead/Daymare)

Alela Diane : “The Pirate’s Gospel” (Holocene/Names/Fargo)

Six Organs Of Admittance : “Shelter From The Ash” (Drag City)

Bracken : “We Know About The Need” (Anticon)

Future Of The Left : “Curses” (Too Pure)

Earth : “Hibernaculum” (Southern Lord)




Top 5 EPs/Singles of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 5 EPs of 2007

l-r:

Efterklang : “Under Giant Trees” (Leaf)

Zonderhoof : “Zonderhoof” EP (Sound Devastation)

Joanna Newsom : “Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band” EP (Drag City)

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy : “Ask Forgiveness” EP (Drag City/Domino)

Jesu : “Sundown / Sunrise” EP (Aurora Borealis/Daymare)

 



Top 10 Gigs of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 10 Gigs of 2007

Future Of The Left + Infants @ The Luminaire, London (10 March 2007)

Josh T Pearson @ ATP festival, Minehead (27 April 2007)

Nick Cave / Grinderman @ ATP festival, Minehead (28 April 2007)

Dirty Three @ ATP festival, Minehead (29 April 2007)

Scout Niblett @ Bush Hall, London (21 May 2007)

Isis + Boris @ Koko, London (02 July 2007)

Liars @ Madame Jo Jo’s, London (03 July 2007)

Six Organs Of Admittance @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (12 August 2007)

Sonic Youth do “Daydream Nation” @ The Roundhouse, London (30 August 2007)

Jesu @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (05 December 2007)


Correctly guess which picture was taken at which gig and I will send you a copy of my “Best of 2007” 2CD compilation (once I’ve pulled my finger out of my ass and actually made the thing). Use the contact form on the Disclaimer page to submit your ‘entry’.



It was thanks to on-the-ball Drowned In Sound that I first heard that Liars were to play a low-key gig for White Heat @ Madame Jojo’s (a 250-capacity London institution in the heart of Soho). The thought of seeing this amazing band (“Drum’s Not Dead” was one of my favourite albums of last year) up close & personal in a tiny venue sent a jolted thrill through my body and tickets were hurriedly procured.

Anticipation is running high when Liars take to the stage (drummer Julian Gross is in a fetching blue sparkly jumpsuit, and has to make an ungainly clamber over his kit to get behind it – no space on the cramped Madame Jojo’s stage). They have a friend in tow on guitar/bass, and proceed to start up an unholy drone before Angus Andrew slow-motion slopes onto stage and launches into “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack”.

Liars live @ Madame Jojo’s (03-07-2007)

Seeing Liars live has brought home the realisation that drum is truly at the heart of their music. Julian Gross’s tribal beats power everything, providing the skeleton (sometimes fed through various effects) over which the guitar & bass noisedrone and Angus’s falsetto are draped. For much of the performance, guitarist Aaron Hemphill plays a half-kit, meshing with Gross’s playing and bringing to mind both the double-drum assault of early Swans and the primevality & precision of a taiko troupe. The sound is not great (partly the venue’s inadequacies, partly my positioning with head in front of bass amp), leaving Angus’s vocals indistinct, but the guitar / bass onslaught is satisfyingly physical as are the polyrhythmic beats. Second song “We Fenced Other Houses With The Bones Of Our Own” is awesome, the sound of early Einstürzende Neubauten presiding over a black mass, the mantra of “take your cauldron and get down” exhorting the witches & warlocks to free their asses and give in to the power of Drum. Next there’s “A Visit From Drum”, Angus now slung with guitar while Julian and Aaron forge a stark percussive primitivism, again evoking a creepy ritual visible only in flickering firelight.

Liars live @ Madame Jojo’s (03-07-2007)

“Freakout” is the first of the new songs that they play tonight, and it unfortunately doesn’t impress – sounding messy and unrehearsed (the gangly Angus even falls off the confined stage), but also likely suffering from the poor sound. The eponymous new album has been touted as being more ‘accessible’ than their earlier work, but that isn’t evident from this and the other new songs they play – “Pure Unevil” (which features Hemphill on vocals & guitar and Angus taking on bass duties) and a medley of “Cycle Time” and “Plaster Casts of Everything”. Inbetween though is the awesome “Drum And The Uncomfortable Can” with its dense percussion and tsunamis of guitar noise. And while instruments are swapped between songs, drummer Gross fills the silence with snatches of rhythms from “Drum’s Not Dead”.
They end with “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack”, a full-on double-drum double-guitar offensive.

Liars live @ Madame Jojo’s (03-07-2007)

When they return at the behest of the baying crowd it is just the original trio, who end the evening with the industrial beeps and rickity percussive clatter of “Brocken Witch”, with its Equus-like lyrics of horses and blood. “We are the army you see through the red haze of blood! blood! blood!”


Setlist: Liars @ White Heat, Madame Jojo’s (03 July 2007)
Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack!
We Fenced Other Gardens With The Bones of Our Own
A Visit From Drum
Freakout
Drum And The Uncomfortable Can
Pure Unevil
Medley: Cycle Time & Plaster Casts of Everything
Lets Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack!
Brocken Witch



Liars live @ Madame Jojo’s (03-07-2007)


Here is the creepy, tribal “Broom” from the “There’s Always Room On The Broom” EP, which reappeared as “A Visit From Drum” on “Drum’s Not Dead“.


Liars – Broom



Liars releases can be purchased directly from Mute.
Check out some more photos on Flickr courtesy of DG Jones, and here from Simon Leak.



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