Sunday 6 December 2015

Recent gigs: Courtney Barnett / Buzzcocks

Last weekend saw a couple of great gigs  -  one from an up-and-coming Antipodean and one from some legendary Mancunians. On the Friday I headed up to the Black Country with my good friend Tom to see Courtney Barnett rock Wolverhampton's Wulfrun Hall. Due to dodgy weather and motorway pile-ups we arrived at the venue too late to see support band Big Scary but luckily didn't miss any of the headliner's set.
Courtney is gaining a reputation as an incisive songwriter with her sardonic slacker anthems which will surely soon propell her into the big leagues. She has the ability to imbue the most mundane subjects ( gardening, moving house, swimming ) with an intensely personal, coolly ironic viewpoint. The set started almost hesitantly with the laid back Avant Gardener ( "I'm not that good at breathing in" ) but appropriately changed gear with the relationship-as-roadkill boppiness of Dead Fox and then the pulverising blues of Small Poppies ( "I used to hate myself but now I think I'm alright." ) It was in this latter song that Courtney first unleashed her full arsenal of guitar firepower  -  thrashing at her instrument with just her fingers ( no guitar pick in evidence ) like her life depended on it. She seemed to have an effects pedal marked "Extreme Sonic Death!" or something like that because the volume rocketed every time she pressed it. The quiet / loud dynamics of her heavier songs often remind me of Pixies or the Breeders ( yep, there's definitely a Kim Deal influence here ) although I'd described her to Tom as a "cute, female Australian Lou Reed" which might be nearer to the truth. ( I flicked through the latest issue of Q Magazine recently which pretty much described her the same way. But without the word "cute", them being professionals and all. )
Courtney didn't have a lot to say to the crowd at first, but it was obvious from the grins she was flashing at the other two members of the "Courtney Barnett Three" that she was having a blast. After a lovely version of  the melancholic Depreston ( my fave of her songs ) caused some mass audience singalongs, she became more talkative. Someone yelled out "I love you, Courtney!"  -  to which the bemused singer replied "I love you too, stranger". Depreston itself is a perfect example of her songwriting skill: a deceptively trivial tale of a young couple house-hunting in a grim suburb which slowly, through the deadpan listing of estate agent waffle, describes a relationship that's stale and based on convenience. Well, that's my take on it anyway...
The main set ended of course with a storming version of razor sharp minor hit Pedestrian At Best and then the CB3 encored with a rockin' cover of an old Saints song ( apparently ), Know Your Product  -  with added back up from support band Big Scary  -  and a triumphant History Eraser ( "In my brain I rearrange the letters on the page to spell your name " ) to send us home convinced we'd just seen a major star of the future.
So, that was the Friday night  -  Saturday was a closer to home gig as I went over to the Stroud Subscription Rooms to see my mate Glenn's band Borrowed Time supporting the mighty Buzzcocks. I hadn't seen the 'cocks ( as nobody calls them ) in over twenty years so I was definitely looking forward to it. The gig was sold out and I didn't have a ticket but having friends on the inside helped  -  I sneaked in through the stage door and got in for free. Bargain!
Those Borrowed Time boys were on fine form, playing probably the best set I've seen from them. Although they started as a quite generic, shouty Punk band, they've grown hugely in a couple of years  - more tunes, more harmonies, more confidence  -  until they've now become a credible support band for acts such as Stiff Little Fingers and Sham 69 and now the Buzzcocks. BT played a strong, punchy set and songs like Nervous Reaction and Under The Radar went down a treat with the crowd.
The Buzzcocks came on stage and proceeded to rip through their set in an almost Ramones-like display of urgency, starting with classic first single Boredom and barely letting up from then on. Not bad for men who aren't exactly spring chickens. Guitarist Steve Diggle doesn't seem to change too much but lead singer Pete Shelley, who was once yer archetypal skinny Punk pin-up, is now bearded and portly and looks like he'd be better off playing Dubliners covers in some dodgy pub  -  luckily he's still got that distinctive, sneering vocal style and attacks every song as if he's still twenty-something...
And what songs! The Buzzcocks were always Punk's premier pop crossover band with a treasure trove of short, sharp, eloquent songs about life, love and relationships. And they all got an airing at this gig  -  What Do I Get, Noise Annoys, I Don't Mind, Fast Cars, Promises, Love You More  -  so many classics! Highlights were a lightning-fast Autonomy and Diggle taking the spotlight and rocking out to Harmony In My Head. In fact, Diggle rocked out throughout the set  -  watching the more reserved Shelley rolling his eyes good-humouredly at Diggle's rock star shape-throwing was hilarious.
They encored with Harmony..., the inevitable, irrepressible Ever Fallen In Love ( With Someone You Shouldn't've ) and a shout-along Orgasm Addict... and the crowd went wild. A great gig  -  and bloody loud! I was down the front with my good friend and former Death Planet Commandos guitarist, the mighty Mark B, and we were directly in line with Shelley's guitar amp which meant our ears took a serious pounding. Yep, my ear drums were buzz(cock)ing for about three days afterwards...
The only down side to this gig was that the Buzzcocks were very stand-offish backstage and wouldn't mix with Borrowed Time ( which is hardly Punk Rock is it! ) and a lot of Glenn's friends were turned away from the venue after being promised extra tickets following the sell-out. On a more positive note, Glenn's girlfriend Beki was organising a collection to aid refugees in Calais and they raised quite a lot of money for that worthy cause.
And here's a free plug for Borrowed Time:


Tom Wiggins said...

Great review, Simon! Thank you for recommending Miss Barnett. I knew about her, but, like a great gig mate, you got the tools out and re-calibrated my radar. It was a fun night in Wolverhampton and I will be keeping an eye on her for many years to come!

Simon B said...

No problem, Tom! It was a great gig alright.

I've never been accused of re-calibrating someome's radar before. Glad I did a half-decent job :-)


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