Wednesday, 13 February 2008
but really this all sounds quite meaningless...
NME Awards Tour 2008: The Cribs, Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, Does it Offend You, Yeah? and The Ting Tings @ Rock City, 12th February 2008
The NME tour has some pedigree, and past lineups have shown a remarkable talent for picking out bands on the cusp of making it really big:
2007: Klaxons, CSS
2006: Maximo Park, Arctic Monkeys, We Are Scientists, Mystery Jets
2005: Killers, Futureheads, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs
2004 Funeral for a Friend, The Von Bondies, Franz Ferdinand
2003: The Datsuns, Polyphonic Spree, Interpol, the Thrills
...and so on.
I've been trying to get a ticket now for each of the last five years. Perhaps the fact that I finally succeeded this year should have given me pause for thought. It's not exactly the most enticing line up in the world, is it? Sure, there are some bands on this bill that have been tipped for bigger things, but no one is actually breaking as the tour goes on, as has definitely been the case with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, the Killers, Franz Ferdinand... (no one had heard of the Kaiser Chiefs in 2005 either, and most wondered why on earth they were on that bill at all).
Way back in May 2007, I took part in a feature called "5x5" on The Art of Noise. The idea was that I was given five anonymous MP3s from bands heavily tipped to make it big, and I had to give them a review based simply upon what I was hearing and with no knowledge about the musicians themselves. It was an interesting exercise... rendered all the more interesting by the fact that it turns out that no fewer than three of those five bands are on tonight's bill. I thought it might be instructive to revisit my thoughts from last year as I come to each of those bands.
The gig itself was sponsored by the NME and by Shockwaves. Neither are products that are very close to my heart. I wasn't very fond of the NME even when I did read it religiously as a student, and since my hair started falling out, my need for gels and waxes has somewhat diminished. The sponsors to perhaps give another clue as to who the target audience for tonight is though. Sure enough, the place was filled with children. When I was stood at the bar buying some drinks for my lovely companions, Sarah and LB, literally everyone standing on either side of me was asked for some ID before they were allowed to buy. Needless to say, I was not asked to provide any.
Hey ho. The bands then.
Doors at Rock City opened at 7pm and we turned up at about 7.40. That's probably a full 90 minutes earlier than I would normally turn up for a gig here, and yet the Ting Tings were already in full swing. In fact, we only really saw them do one song.... which seemed pretty good... but thanks a bunch to Rock City for not bothering to update that special bit on their answerphone where they give you advance warning of the stage times for the show that night, and another thanks for not bothering to answer the phone so I could ask.
The Ting Tings are building up a bit of a head of steam at the moment. They haven't yet released a single that has charted (or indeed been eligible for the charts), but they are one of those bands that featured in the "Previews of 2008" that appeared in most magazines and newspapers around the start of the year.
The song included on 5x5 was "Great DJ', and I had this to say about it:
"I like the intro, but it's not terribly challenging or orginal sounding. Oooh, but those Casio blips suddenly mark this out as being a little bit different, and I wasn't expecting the prominent female vocal either (somehow made all the more prominent by the male vocal tracking underneath it). This is infectious: it's slightly spiky and awkward, but has a fantastic little hook that gives this great earworm potential. Mind you, I think that the whole "the drums, the drums, the drums..." thing is overdone. Less would be more, and perhaps this is about 60 seconds too long. It's good. Different but catchy and memorable. Would it be a big seller? No, it screams small but devoted indie audience to me. It's the Rescue Rooms, not Rock City for me."
Well, they've made it to Rock City, I see. They're kind of like a reverse White Stripes: a two piece band with a male drummer (who looks a bit like a builder) and a female singer (who was clearly an object of lust for the kids standing next to me). I had pictured them as being quite a poppy band, certainly the poppiest band on the bill, but they were actually quite rocky live. I didn't see enough of them to form a proper opinion of them, but they seemed alright. They're not likely to be challenging Girls Aloud any time soon, but they're a good, interesting band.
On a bill featuring some of the worst band names in the history of music, the prize for the worst name just has to go to Does It Offend You, Yeah?. It wasn't until I checked them out on Wiki on Monday night that I even realised that this lot were an electro band and not really a guitar band. I saw that they had remixed songs for people like Bloc Party, which seemed like a good sign, but I can't say that I was actually looking forward to them.
Their track "Weird Science" was included on 5x5, and here's what I had to say about it:
"Is this Daft Punk? Seriously? Or is it Lonely Town doing Daft Punk? You know, that guy who had that number one hit from his bedroom? (White Town - Ed.) I'm not sure that I can take this seriously. Was it written on one of those Casio synthesisers that has the buttons you press to get a drumbeat out? It's not really going anywhere... and the places it does go have already been extensively mined by other bands. I bet they'd put robots in the video to this, or - get this - perhaps the artists could dress up as robots themselves? You know, and throw a few jerky robot moves? How long is this? 5 minutes? What charm it has has disappeared after 2 minutes. No thanks. B-O-R-I-N-G."
Listening to that MP3 again today, I actually stand by some of that - it sounds like a fairly generic, sub-Daft Punk, sub-Chemical Brothers slab of electro pop. As it turned out, they were comfortably the most enjoyable band of the night. Their live sound is about a hundred times louder and rockier than their recorded output, and with their slamming grooves, it took them all of about thirty seconds to have the whole place absolutely pumping. Their were still one or two bits that reminded me an awful lot of the Chemical Brothers, but they were in the main a much louder and aggressive affair, actually having more in common with punk and the Prodigy than with Daft Punk. They're not just static DJs stuck behind their decks and their synthesisers either, with real live bassist, drummer and guitarist supplementing the synths. As soon as they got everyone dancing, the crowd was always likely to be on their side, but even so, they still produced the best onstage banter of the night. A real surprise, and I absolutely loved them.
8 / 10
And so to Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong.
"We're not just a band to write about, we're a band to fucking listen to". So said Joe Lean in the February of Q magazine, in a feature entitled "The British Band Most Likely To". It seems that everyone has heard of Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong. But are they the saviours of British music or just another over-hyped, over-dressed Menswear?
Their track "Lonely Buoy" appeared on 5x5, and here's what I thought:
"Oh, this sounds like a classic indie intro: I can hear various classic US indie bands in that intro? The main guitar melody is wearing its Smiths influences on its sleeve, but sadly for the band, the guitarist is no Johnny Marr and the singer is certainly no Morrissey... no matter how much he wishes that he was. Oh God, perhaps I'm getting too old for this. I think that rather than being directly influenced by the Smiths, the singer is actually trying to be Pete Doherty doing Morrissey, and there's a definite Libertines edge to this too, and perhaps via the Libertines influence there's just the tiniest hint of The Clash about this too. I can see this singer wearing one of those stupid pork-pie trilbys that Docherty wears. I don't really like this particular song, and the band sound a bit rough on this recording, but I do think it's at least a little bit interesting and that perhaps this lot might even have some potential."
What I missed from that MP3 was the fact that the song is about as deep as a puddle. Having watched their set last night, I'm not even sure that the band are as deep as that.
"I'm not some stage school freak" said Joe Lean, sometime extra in Peep Show, The Tudors and other such shows. "You should come and get involved. We want to make you dance." If that's your mission, Mr. Lean, then I'm afraid you have failed.... not just with me, but with a large chunk of tonight's crowd, some of whom prefer to entertain themselves by fighting instead of listening to you and your band.
They were awful. Right from the moment that the Jing Jang Jong took to the stage and made a mess of their big, flashy intro, leaving Joe Lean to slink onto the stage to start singing. In their review of the tour, The Guardian described them thusly:
"Playing into a wall of apathy, they are what Americans call an "English haircut group". Career advice would be to spend as much time on their songs as they do at the hairdresser's. Their mediocre indie twanging leaves only Joe Lean breathless: after the next trim, perhaps he should visit a gym."
I can only agree. For all that they have apparently been the subject of a bidding war amongst labels, they are oh-so-clearly a band who have spent more time working out their "look" than they have spent working on their songs. They sound a bit like the Ramones, a bit like the Libertines, and an awful lot like every other generic, no-mark indie band that has ever existed. Joe Lean himself looks like a particularly irritating sixth former from a public school, which is probably exactly what he is. In spite of his desire to be looked at, I think he's actually a little bit shy and definitely hasn't got the hang of this frontman thing: he strikes the odd pose, but is utterly inarticulate and gives the impression that he doesn't have the brains of a small fruit. At one point he tells us "this song is our next single". Promising, but then he goes and spoils it all by adding "you might have seen the video on the telly". That's what it's about for Joe Lean, isn't it? It's not about what you play and what you sound like, it's about being seen and what you look like. [incidentally, see Little Red Boat Anna talking about that video here]
Absolute garbage. They get a very small section of the crowd moving, but in contrast to Does It Offend You, Yeah?, the lack of interest is palpable.
1 / 10 (and they only get that mark for the fact that their distinctly chubby bassist looks like he's wandered into completely the wrong band by mistake. They've tried to dress him up and do his hair, but it just isn't working, and you have to love him for trying)
[MySpace - if you can bear it]
The Cribs are a bit of a weird choice to headline a list of new bands, being as they're on their third album and all. They're also a weird choice because they are famously no-frills and wouldn't normally be seen dead on the same bill as the likes of the insubstantial Jing Jang Jong. Still, here they are, and it's immediately clear from the very first notes that they play that they are a very different proposition from the Jing Jang Jong: there are only three of them, but they sound well drilled and accomplished. They also sound like they mean it, and their set is delivered with an almost frenzied intensity throughtout, and intensity that isn't dimmed even when the singer (him of the Gary Numan hair) puts on a comedy wig that has been tossed onto the stage. He wears it for a couple of songs before discarding it, all without cracking a smile. I think music is a serious business for these boys.
I'm a touch handicapped by the fact that I don't know a single song by the Cribs. I appear to have one of their albums on my iPod, but I can't honestly say that I've listened to it (well, I'm listening to it now, but that doesn't count). It didn't matter much. Lots of people in the crowd clearly know lots of their material, from the smelly looking students all the way though to the two bright-as-a-button girls just in front of me - in their floaty vest tops and skirts, they looked more than a little bit lost, but they clearly dug the Cribs, only pausing from singing out the words to wrinkle their noses in disgust as sweaty bodies poured past them from the front on their way to buy a drink.
It was a good set, well delivered... they look a bit Oasis, but I think they've got a little bit more about them than the Gallaghers. They clearly appeal to a similar crowd, but I think their palate of influences is wider and they're a bit more adventurous. It's all good stuff, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that part of the reason that they held my attention was because I had read that they have been bringing Johnny Marr onto the stage for part of their set, including a cover of "Panic" by the Smiths. The prospect of seeing one of my heroes focused the mind nicely on the band, watching intently to see if he would appear from the side of the stage. Now that would be something to remember. Sadly, he never turned up, and the band didn't even really get to play an encore before the houselights came up and we were making our way home. Never mind. It was a good set even without the appearance by a guitar legend. Besides, we did get a video appearance from Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo during "Be Safe". An indie legend is an indie legend, right?
All in all, an interesting night then. There weren't any amazing bands on the bill, but it was worth the price of entrance just to see Does It Offend You, Yeah? and also to see quite how bad Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong are. The Cribs were pretty good too; certainly good enough that I've dug out their album and I'm giving it a listen. They're not the Killers or the Arctic Monkey, but they are good honest purveyors of no-nonsense indie rock. You can't say fairer than that and it makes for a decent night out.
On the way out, I also discovered one of the bonuses of going to a gig heavily attended by teenagers: there was no queue at the car park... although there was quite a pile up of parents trying to pick up their offspring immediately outside the venue. I quite enjoyed cruising past them listening to some Nouvelle Vague... in case they hadn't thought I was a wanker already....
Thanks to Sarah and LB for their company, and apologies for getting them out so early that they didn't get a decent dinner and yet still managing to miss most of the first band.... maybe next year we'll know better, eh?
Overall Rating: 7 / 10 (even allowing for how bad JLATJJJ are)