Swans @ Koko

Bishop, The Seer, Thor and the utter brilliance of Michael Gira


There are very few things out there that you can get into with the highest of expectations, and come out on the other end with these expectations ultimately justified.
Gigs like Swans' render reviews utterly powerless. There's nothing like words, videos, or pictures that can actually convey the genius of Michael Gira and his ilk - nor what happened that night. Everything else just fades to the point that I wonder, what am I doing here?
Thirty years on the go, assaulting us with noise and freakishness and plenty of nerves, Gira is a true old soul of the New York scene, one that has obviously taken and given a lot of trouble; and for that, apart from his enormous talent, he can hardly compare or conform with anything you're bound to see about town.
What hits you first and foremost, is the truth of a life lived and places gone that you wouldn't really want to know much about, that you probably wouldn't know how to handle.
I could hardly handle the passion, the fashion (say, the half-naked Thor banging the gongs at the back, or the sinister cult leader-lookalike Christoph Hahn in his shiny green suit, stage left), or the tension of this one night, but I happily immersed myself into the merciless noise - and loved it (not bad for a music wreck with chronic Tinnitus - yup, that ringing that wakes me up on quiet Sunday mornings).
To Be Kind, Avatar (the absolute highlight for me), The Seer, Coward - it didn't matter what the band played, they played it at full tilt. Fast, slow or repetitive when they had to be, sick and infinite, they made us trip full-on till midnight. With Michael Gira dancing his perverse fantasy rite, jumping wild, kneeling on the floor and swinging his tongue ecstatic, next to Phil Puleo, Thor Harris, Christoph Hahn, Norman Westberg and (the youngest of the bunch) Chris Pravdica - they covered the full scale from expressionless menace to ear-splitting riot.
Just as my friend, who had seen them first, advised me in the past, don't miss this. For anyone, or anything.

 P.S. Respect also to the utterly skillful Sir Richard Bishop, who opened the show. Beautiful and super-crafty on guitar, he had to, nevertheless, get all swiped out by hurricane Gira in the end. Like everything else.

Review and live photography by Danai Molocha (excuse the faulty pics; most security tend to get hold of my big mighty camera, leaving me with a small and week compact).

Darkstar @ Electrowerkz

Gold, selling us short


I remember the exact moment I fell for Darkstar. I was braving the Field Day '11 crowds to rush to some band I don't even remember, till I spotted a crammed tent and a sprawling audience ritualistically circling the stage. I stuck around, and it's this memory I now only hold from the lot, and what I mostly treasure from the festival altogether.
A vulnerable, slow-burning but sophisticated electronica, combined with a long-haired singer who hugged the mic like a desperate teenager who'd just had his heart broken. The sound was forward, the looks weirdly deja-vu - but it's the pairing of them both that, knowingly, made them stick out.
One by one, the gems of their debut on Hyberdub, North, paraded in full splendor: Deadness, In The Wings, North, Dear Heartbeat - not that I really remember their setlist then, but I do constantly listen to North now and it happily sounds exactly like it.
Back to the present and the gig at hand - one I waited over a year to attend in peace, making me snub Soundgarden at the O2 Empire (sonically irrelevant, you're gonna say, but can't easily say no to sexy hard-rocking bastards now, can ya?). Electrowerkz in Angel provided the setting - a dark, industrial space that fitted those Northern boys like a glove.
Can't really complain about the sound: The trio seemed physically and sonically devoted  - simple, focused, to the point, simple again, cause I love seeing a band that let their sound shine through, seemingly not trying too hard, but giving their hearts to the result. They mixed up bits from their new album News From Nowhere (first single Timeaway out now), out on Warp this February, with a glimpse of North, like the rhythmically aching Human League cover Gold. The sound on News... seems more electronically uplifting, as is its cover - colourful and flowery, as opposed to North's bleeding red industrial shot.
And... after whole 45 min. on stage, the band went off. Maybe it was almost an hour they graced us with their presence (I don't think it was), when there was no lack of songs or strict festival time-slots to put up with this time. Without no encore, of course - and though I'm happy they didn't put up with that kind of pretense, maybe it was their label who didn't want them to give away too much of their upcoming release, nor focus on the old one... All I truly know is that I'm freaking pissed off!
An ignorantly loud girl stood, first row, next to the speaker joking and chatting as fluently as possible (I even think she was one of the band's circle), not once getting my sinister looks to shut up; this one too spruced up the experience nicely...
That's all too bad, boys, when otherwise there was the beauty and the comfort and the respect and, yes, the performance that could've made this night a really good one. You missed out on that one.

Review and photography by Danai Molocha.

Chromatics @ Heaven

Rhythm candy


When you come with a noir synth pop gem of an album - Kill For Love, that is - and you play a Heaven-ly underground club with moody low-ceiling rooms and arches, you pretty much prepare your audience for a Drive... em, ride, that is. The band's contribution (Tick of the Clock) to that trippy, cinematic-with-a-twist soundtrack must be to blame... But obviously Chromatics didn't have to stick with that one hit, the way it probably happened with Desire and their signature You Got Me Under Your Spell. Here, key player (both literally and metaphorically) and producer Johnny Jewel (Desire, Glass Candy, Italians Do It Better record label) teamed up with Chromatics' only original member Adam Miller, who penned most of the songs. And what a job he did at that.
Coupled up with the sad longing of Ruth Radelet's vocals and Nat Walker's beat on the drums, they make for an addictive on stage ensemble.
With black tears painted under his eyes, Jewel was an imposing figure in black (he probably doesn't wanna hear it, but he'd make an excellent Edward Cullen in a parallel Twilight universe), while Miller played a sinister part combining good-boy looks and sexy, dynamic guitars. Ruth was... Ruth, as obscurely delicate and lusciously soothing as on record.
From Lady to Kill For Love and I Want Your Love, the music was sweet, decadent and lustful, dressed up with hip-swaying synths (setlist also included Tick of the Clock, Back From the Grave, These Streets Will Never Look the Same). Their cover of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill in my eyes dulled (and dulls in general) the result. They might have found some common ground in theory, but ultimately the cover lessens Bush's weird dynamics, while it makes the band sound weirdly conservative in return. I much prefer Neil Young cover Into the Black, which opened the much-awaited encore with a sensual, aching edge unfailingly strengthened by that classic rock guitar. Disco-rhythmic In The City was the last goodbye, one that left us swaying quite a while after that.
 Well, that's understandable since they played just 9 songs, in a fairly short set that would've left us  either way wanting for more. Obviously I can't claim total disappointment, but a bit of bitterness I can't deny. 

Review and live photograph by Danai Molocha.

Bat For Lashes @ The Forum

Songs of the siren


Having come up with a distinctly more accessible, but equally arty and tasteful pop record, Natasha Khan embarked on a UK tour bringing The Haunted Man to the vast audiences. Sold out the first night, almost full the second, the gig had the smell of success before it even begun. Leave it to Khan to gracefully lift the weight of expectation.
In a sea-themed set scattered with fake rocks and the tender light of lanterns, seemingly reminiscent of the remote scenery she drifted on in order to write her third record, a lithe siren hit the stage in a long black-and-white brocade dress. Starting with Lilies and moving on to the ritualistic What's A Girl To Do? she seamlessly blended old and new work - Marilyn and Horse And I, Siren Song and Oh Yeah - in a harmonious sonic palette of which she was the indisputable star. Which doesn't go to say that she wasn't beautifully supported by her backing band.
"Climbing" the rocks, dancing and sparkling with delight at her own success, Khan exuded more than anything her satisfaction to perform music she believes in, making her good spirits addictive as she interacted with her audience (screaming at her that she's sexy as f***!) and said hello to her family. An expressive and theatrical performer, she swung and posed like a skillful dancer (well, she did take a few dance lessons in her quest for inspiration), transferring herself side to side and from the piano to a vintage radio, navigating through her many talents and facets. Laura, sung in the company of Ben Christophers on piano, was vocally striking. But Khan's emotional lore was rivaled by her ability to make you sway with tunes such as Rest Your Head and All Your Gold.
Pairing up the title track of The Haunted Man and Daniel for the encore she rhythmically danced us goodnight. I quite miss her more enigmatic side, as I miss the quirky girl inside this newly found mature, well-centered woman (she probably doesn't agree). But she did transform with beauty and grace at that.

Review by Danai Molocha, photography fished online.

Crime & The City Solution, Savages @ Queen Elizabeth Hall

American Twilight and global dawn


When I truly love a band, writing either translates to a predestined inspiration flow, or to a total lack of it - like now. How do I write a so-called "review" about a band that immerses me into a visceral state?
 I kept on thinking this the whole time during the gig: These guys - albeit, most of them, rather stylish - look like a bunch of untamed underground primitives, which one day grabbed a mic and a guitar and commonly came up with profoundly melodic, poetic narratives, which other musicians would kill to possess. The revenge of the outcast.
 Though Crime & The City Solution are outcasts no more (needless to say, in a review straight out of Queen Elizabeth Hall..). After the Sydney, Melbourne, London and Berlin phases, their brand new album American Twilight (their first one in over twenty years, which focuses on the imminent downfall of a sovereign empire) finds them in Detroit (frontman and mainstay Simon Bonney's city of residence) and more "popular" (or, more accurately, "appreciated") than ever. People have been given time to sink into their powerful thirty-year-plus history, one that has been evidenced in only a handful of records, and a couple of physical (Wings of Desire) or sonic (Until The End of The World) cameos in cult Wim Wenders movies.

..That power American Twilight, or their present reincarnation for that matter, didn't fail to validate.  With Simon Bonney (in a quirky mustardy suit and polka dot shirt) steadily at the helm, a sonically outraged Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubauten) and a sinister David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower, Wovenhand) on guitar, a raging Brownyn Adams on violin, Jim White (Dirty Three, Cat Power etc.) on drums, Troy Gregory (Swans, Spiritualised, The Dirtbombs) on bass, Matthew Smith on keyboards and Hacke's other half, visual artist Danielle de Picciotto on a haunting video background of dilapidated houses, skulls, angels and ballerinas - this band was in turns barbaric and gorgeously gifted.
Setlist included All Must Be Love, Six Bells Chime, I Have The Gun, On Every Train (Grain Will Bear Grain), Keepsake, Rose Blue, My Love Takes Me There, among others. And even though a certain Rowland S. Howard was a pivoting presence in this and any other band he ever took part in, this was one hell of a reunited ensemble. American Twilight will be released on Mute next spring.
Oh, and before I wrap this up.. Opening the show wasn't just another support act. Savages, a fierce, black-clad all-girl quartet possessed Siouxsie Sioux's femme fatale vocals and the dramatic urgency of almost every post-punk band out there (even Ian Curtis's stark, awkward spasms echoed in singer Jehnny Beth's unbeautiful knee-jerk reactions); but it certainly didn't strive to imitate anybody. That's who they are, it seems, and they display it beautifully at their I Am Here live ep (12'' vinyl from Pop Noire or Rough Trade), or the 7'' Husbands/Flying to Berlin (www.savagesband.com). Another party of primitives to watch out for..

Review and live photograph by Danai Molocha