where the hell has chickfactor been? here.

27 october 2005 saint etienne performed live and showed their new film what have you done today, mervyn day? at the barbican, london: the editor of chickfactor was once voted to be one of the biggest assholes in rock and the reason she was chosen was that she was an asskisser to various bands she couldn’t stop championing. if that sort of thing makes someone an asshole, then so be it! here she goes again. saint etienne are one of the reasons I love london. they are so london. I bought foxbase alpha on my first trip to london and I can’t believe I love em as much today as I did then! more, even. that they have transformed themselves into this multimedia enterprise that can get the barbican to commission them to make a film is what makes them my idol. bob stanley set up a superfun film series over the summer that was another reason I feel privileged to live here (we saw the dolly mixture documentary for eff’s sake!!). I was sort of involved in the finisterre dvd project and seeing that film on the big screen didn’t wow me – was it the screen at the ica? I don’t know. but this new film, which focuses on the lee/lea valley in east london where the olympics are supposed to happen some years from now, is perfect st etienne fodder. london, decay, graffiti, cute kids, history. they make films like this to take the attention away from themselves and because they totally should be writing soundtracks. they’re so damn good at it. the band played the brand new mervyn day soundtrack live while they showed the film – which we’re guessing they were up all night editing! the film was beautifully shot and directed by birdie man paul kelly — and his lovely wife debs from birdie and dolly mixture is also in saint etienne (they’re as lucky to have her as she is to be in the band). the new soundtrack was ace (I would say that, what a kissass) and they came back after intermission to play hits from their new album and albums past, including the song of the year “teenage winter” and one of my all-time finisterre/ fave “action”. they must have heard my heart screaming out for that one. I told lupe if they play “action” we have to dance! and they did. and we danced like fools. most of the barbican crowd remained sedately seated sadly – unlike the belle & sebastian crowd a month back – which makes no sense. sarah cracknell is still the pop queen of all pop queens with stardust shooting out of her every fingertip. damn the whole night was fun fun fun and too short if anything. just let bob stanley become the director of the barbican! bob, can you help me get a flat there?

here’s more about the film from the guardian:

23 october 2005 the zombies at ucl bloomsbury, london: my expectations are too high. this applies to many areas of my life. but the reason they are too high tonight is that in the late 90s I saw colin blunstone perform at fez in new york – he did a solo set backed by the loser’s lounge band which specializes in vintage covers. it had a few cringeworthy moments but generally was incroyable. I had never seen mr blunstone with his pal rod argent though I had been warned by peter and jessica that it could be a little noodly. well. oh. my. god. even I wasn’t prepared for this. the band members could probably even see my facial expressions from the stage which must have varied from ecstatic (“summertime” and “a rose for emily”) to flummoxed (many, many poor choices, the argent hit “hold your head up”) and even just plain mortified. number one: will someone please videotape these guys so they can see what they look like? then could they perhaps hire stephen duffy to be their music director once he finishes with his current project (robbie williams)? and also can pam give them all proper haircuts? colin is the only one who looks presentable. they do have it in them to do the zombies songs properly, they really do, they proved it. but they just insisted on rocking out in a cheesy and overly animated way that suggested maybe they have never seen spinal tap. either way, my date was a good sport and just made the best of the so bad it’s good vibe. so many gems left off the set list. too much colin solo material and argent bloody argent. I wanted a refund but then I remembered how good “summertime” sounded. just remind me the next time I book colin for a cf party to insist on writing the set list myself. sheesh.

21 october 2005 mascott at the rockwood music hall, new york: kendall mascot teamed up with the guys from varnaline tonight for a chilled out set at a new venue with grand piano. her voice gets more amazing all the time, her songs more accomplished. can anyone explain why she isn’t a millionaire like norah jones already? she just gets better and better. the only bad thing about tonight was that jennifer o’connor had to cancel her show.

20 october 2005 mean reds orchestra at king’s, raleigh, north carolina: back in the 90s there was a band called soccer fronted by a guy named gavin o’hara who happens to be my brother. they were kinda silly – they had songs about zema and coffee and stuff like that and they even had a hit song called “hey hipster.” once, during mergefest, we heard it on the radio (okay, like duke or unc college radio dude). stephin merritt was in the car. he said in typically eeyore style, “I wonder what it feels like to hear your songs played on the radio.” gavin said we should just leave the radio on because they play the magnetic fields like all the time. anyway, the mean reds are gavin’s new band. I thought they were going to be a cross between gil scott-heron and lambchop – at least that seemed to be gavin’s intention? but live it is a bit harder to size up: there is a funky moment, then a rap moment, all accompanied with a cello, violin, etc. gavin is a good lyricist though and when you can hear it it all makes sense. he should just skip the indie rock thing though and head for a major label because he has that kind of voice the mainstream people would like. (not a slag!) he sings like a pro. anyway, I’m not really able to be objective!

16 october 2005 mia doi todd at the bowery ballroom, new york: a long time ago I used to have trouble with l.a. folkstress mia’s lyrics but they have improved by leaps and bounds and they’re quite moving. her last few albums have been pretty great and I had been meaning to see her play for ages. she did sound fantastic tonight – she was supporting the swedish band dungen who are apparently huge enough to do two nights at bb – though not as crisp as she does on those albums. I had a problem with her not playing her really great originals and instead going for fairly obvious covers by bob dylan and neil young that tend to make the other songs she was doing sound less good by comparison. still, go see mia. her voice is amazing and singular.

15 october 2005 jens lekman + olson + nedelle at the mercury lounge, new york: this was the third time I’d seen mr lekman and I have to say it was definitely my least favourite gig. first time I saw him at the chickfactor mon gala papillons festival in december 04 and he played alone with “the party machine” and it was absolutey dreamy – the kids danced, he chose all the right songs, the speakers nearly tumbled down upon the revelers (I had had some champagne as well…). if anyone doesn’t know mr lekman’s stuff – which is unlikely if you’re reading this magazine – he does crosses merritt and jonathan richman with a touch of morrissey but still manages to overcome the imitative thing with his own goofy spirit, crooners delight of a voice, and silly but lovely lyrics. the second time I saw him was at the duke coffeehouse in north carolina, and he played with a small combo (cello, etc). he played some stuff alone as well – and he was quite the singer. he was dazzling actually. this time things seemed a bit crowded onstage, a bit disjointed setwise and they seemed just kinda going through the motions. placing a bunch of small indie girls up there to sing unrehearsed backing vocals smacks of another bunch of indie giants: b&s. but it just lacked the sweet punch of the better shows. and while we’re on the subject, when did new york city become so rich white and clean cut? damn.

14 october 2005 lambchop + the ladybug transistor at the bowery ballroom, new york: man oh man. lambchop has really scaled it down! I guess too many members of their 14-piece ensemble are having children and then opting out of the live tour thing. it was the smallest ‘chop I have ever seen, only seven or so! it still sounded real nice, though that man’s lyrics make me wonder sometimes, and I even wish they had more instrumentals! someone had a tantrum toward the end of the set – a fan (a member of the scene is now perhaps?) saying “I love you but why don’t you play some old stuff?” and then stormed out! it was quite silly but generally the crowd just could not give the chop enough love and they didn’t seem to mind what songs were played. I had not seen the ladybug transistor (well, full band style) in ages and they sounded stellar too.

8 october 2005 karaoke at ribon, london: okay, big deal, we did karaoke. mostly mentionable here cause lupe pipas and mark lucksmiths did a hilarious duet of michael jackson’s billie jean complete with dance moves and ‘hoo!’s lupe and I did the cher gay nightclub hit “believe” and I got the whole room moving to “lovefool.” so goofy and yet so fun.

3 october 2005 donovan at foyle’s bookshop, london: right. well, it’s old hippie month in london! even as a tiny child my siblings and I made fun of donovan when our babysitter “fat diane” showed up with armloads of his albums. the hurdy gurdy man turned up here tonight to promote his new autobiography (ahem: I don’t think he actually remembers enough about his own life to actually have written this book on his own!), which is titled, erm, the hurdy gurdy man. I did not buy it and I have not read it. but he did play some super-obvious donovan hits for the indie star-studded crowd (oh how young we all felt!) and then he answered some questions from the audience, many of which he could not answer and he kept looking for his old pal, rambler or something, to help him out with the memories. there were so many birds, you see, hard to remember which was which! (apparently he doesn’t even remember vashti bunyan – which makes him a total loser to me) it was all a bit sad!

1 october 2005 the modern times club at shanghai blues, london: david and johnny from modern times are visionaries on the london club scene and we are glad that they exist. they host parties where folk are expected to dress properly (1920s to the 1950s), drink proper cocktails and know how to foxtrot dammit. or at the very least to waltz. music is played by djs who know their noel coward from their al bowlly and know when it’s best to sit and sip or drink and dance. I have fond memories of bonding with the retro girls at the great eastern hotel or reclining with a cool tall one at the sweet old throgmortons, conversing with men wearing zoot suits and silly hats. but tonight all those fond memories vanished because tonight’s affair was more like being on the set of a very badly art directed period film. blame it on the most recent media coverage of the modern times club – in vogue – and media coverage in general for ruining all good vaguely underground things. the boys and girls at shanghai blues were not even dressed properly: a 1970s khaki safari mini dress with stilettos? wrong. a corset that should only be worn beneath an outfit worn instead as outerwear? bad. these people did not even try. my compadre emily and I snickered behind our £12 cocktails (but who was laughing at us for paying that price? oh it isn’t funny is it) at the misdressed masters and mistresses. many of the lads looked as though they were expecting a burlesque show for the stag night they were out on. many of the girls were just slutty exhibitionists who probably don’t have a proper vintage dress in their wardrobes. yawn. we had a fine time on our own but what a sad crowd (kelly osborne was there dontcha know).

28 september 2005 broadcast + things in herds at koko, london: I didn’t review koko in my previous rant against — I mean, assessment of — local venues, but basically I adore the place. I went there for the first time in august for the fabulous yo la tengo + the scene is now show and we were blown away by the lush red bars and multiple rooms and layers and levels and the redness of it all and the giant mirror ball. this is the kind of venue I should own and run my nightclub in. it used to be the camden palace, as I am often reminded, and many people say oh, it used to be so much better but I can’t see what is wrong with it now. but then we came to the broadcast show. not to worry, broadcast were just as flawless live as ever. no one would disagree. but when I got to the venue early so that I could show my dashing companion all the lovely mod upstairs bars where we were going to sit quietly and engage in a little badinage, I realized that all the fun upper levels were closed down! roped off! what the hey! but that did not stop me and my costar. we grabbed some cocktails and snuck into the mod red bar and chilled, then we got caught and tossed out. then we sat in another off-limits area, in some rows of chairs where there was so little light we went unnoticed, until a large, unpleasant bouncer dude ejected us from our private spot once again. the whole evening turned into a chase scene. we darted from nook to cranny to box to booth while the large man with the bulbous nose tried to keep sight of us. broadcast only made the whole situation all the more sinister.

25 september 2005 belle and sebastian perform if you’re feeling sinister at the barbican, london: the all tomorrow’s parties folks did a series of concerts this autumn called don’t look back where some popular act — such as the stooges, dinosaur jr, cat power, mum, melvins etc. — plays its most definitive album (according to whom?). b&s did this one, which for many (including me) was the first one ever heard. I have a soft spot for it (oh please stop, asskisser! – editor) even though it doesn’t have a song called “chickfactor” on it. the band played five songs, then the sinister album in its entirety and order, then five more songs as an encore. it was a divine experience this show. it seemed a bit silly, this album concept, but then hearing it all — you know, eight or nine years (ten?) after they actually recorded it — made it seem really special. the songs have different meanings now. they perform so much more confidently now. my charming companion and I endlessly discussed which song was our favourite and reconsidered some of the lesser tracks, changing our minds throughout the event. even “me and the major” seemed to have some kind of charm that it used to lack (for me!). the song that was stuck in my head the next day, however, was “stars of track and field.” groovy show – ending with all the barbican on its feet singing along to the most recent album’s best track: “if you find yourself caught in love.” practically too much excitement for one night.

listen here: http://www.bowlie.com/torrents/mystats.php

for you nerds, the barbican setlist, courtesy the band’s own site
• slow graffiti
• another sunny day
• women’s realm
• the loneliness of a middle distance runner
• electronic renaissance
• the stars of track and field
• seeing other people
• me and the major
• like dylan in the movies
• the fox in the snow
• get me away from here, I’m dying
• if you’re feeling sinister
• mayfly
• the boy done wrong again
• judy and the dream of horses
• encore
• dog on wheels
• the boy with the arab strap
• the wrong girl
• I’m a cuckoo
• if you find yourself caught in love

rooms and a view

as a future nightclub hostess I am forever evaluating any venue I happen to find myself in. of course london is known as a crap town for musicians but the rooms do vary. here are a few recent observations.

case study: the pullens centre, crampton street, london se17
show: pipas along with rachel app and butchers boy, june 11
this was a low-key afternoon deal in a part of london most people tend to avoid – but the audience here not only like the area, but currently or previously live in it. it was a benefit for a political prisoner named jeff “free” luers (an environmental activist who is serving 23 years for torching three suvs), but it was also sorta portrayed as a free show so I’m not sure how many pounds and pence were tossed into the watering can. the typical punky slash indie crowd member here tended to be on the skint side I am guessing. this is such a humble event and a modest room – very little atmosphere, attention to sound quality, etc. but it didn’t seem to matter in this case. pipas fared best in terms of good sound – because they peddle a softer sort of musical entertainment than the other acts. room itself could use a little love. tolerant crowd. table full of zines. could have used some incense. ear plugs a plus.
recommendation: let pnac play the pullens! with gnac perhaps!

case study: wilton’s music hall, graces alley, london e1
show: royal college of music jazz band, june 10
my lovely flame-haired shellac sister pal virginia corralled a bunch of hackney sorts into attending this concert, which was primarily a reason to see the restored (and in the process of being restored) shabby-chic old music hall which is just up the road from tower bridge and the tower of london. wilton’s claims to be the world’s oldest surviving music hall, having had its heyday in the 1850s/60s, it was once described as being “the handsomest room in town.” (sadly the chandelier that helped it get its name is no longer burning). lucky for us, john betjeman managed to stop it from getting demolished in 1964. since its reopening in 1999, some film scenes have been set here (interview with a vampire, chaplin, catastrophe, among others) and all kinds of entertainment (from opera to burlesque) has been staged. tonight’s jazz big band played mostly acoustically and featured a few familiar miles davis tunes alongside their ambitious originals. it wasn’t life-changing but was well worth the five quid. the room tends to overshadow the show – there is so much character in it it’s almost frightening. I sprinted home to email the venue about booking it for a cf event and cannot wait to hear the pines, keren ann, or some other worthy acoustic acts fill this place with music.
recommendation: send them a cheque (or a check if you’re in the states)

case study: carling academy (or islington academy), upper street mall, london
show: smog, june 9
last september I saw smog at conway hall, a wonderful venue smack in the centre of london, which is just the right size, at a festival called homefires, which brought in a very chilled out crowd of folkie ish types. I hadn’t seen smog in eons – since he was so small he had to play mercury lounge. he was compelling, he was mesmerizing, he was on, he was on fire. I was shocked at how much I had been missing and by how much mr callahan has changed for the better. trevor and I told travis and helene about this show and they must have expected an awful lot. I know we did. the first clue to this place being a shithole is that it’s in a shopping mall. the second is that they have a half dozen burly bouncers ready to bounce ya out if ya give em any lip guarding the velvet fucking ropes. one of them wanted to confiscate my camera (which I take everywhere all the time), but a manager lady came out and took me at my word that I would not be using it in the venue (surprisingly). the carling academy is big, very big. too big for such an intimate and intense smog show as we witnessed last september. the room is packed, too packed, with very tall men, mostly men. everyone in my party is among the smaller guests – none of us can see a thing from anywhere. after getting batted about like a big tennis ball on the floor while people struggling to tote 4 pints of beer in wobbly plastic pint glasses weave around me, I finally take my claustrophobic ass upstairs to try to peer over the wee balcony. I can catch a glimpse now and again of mr smog but mostly I really cannot see a thing. look, it’s okay. I know what he looks like, but if you’re going to charge all that money for a show, shouldn’t someone (besides the unusually tall) apart from the first three rows be able to see? yes, they should. I didn’t expect much from this venue but then two things made me think it was even worse: 1. they have giant fans blowing air on the crowd, which seem like a great idea (unless you are freezing) to circulate the ciggie smoke. but when I got home I had massive chest pain from secondhand smoke inhalation! 2. when the show ended within seconds the aforementioned burly bouncers start shoving the audience members toward the exits. yes, physically touching them. this makes me very angry. there is nowhere to go – the crowd isn’t moving. yes, we all want to leave, desperately, but there’s no need to be treated like cattle.
recommendation: must be turned into a public toilet immediately.

case study: jazz café, camden, london
show: laura cantrell, june 1
laura’s fans are much smaller than mr. smog’s, which is a relief. they also love the dear girl to death, so they don’t mind in the least when she forgets the words. the audience cannot even believe what a beautiful person laura is – that people this good and smart even exist anymore, even in america. she teaches them about american music – about her heroes – as she charms her way through the set. despite being in a terribly clichéd “rock and roll” and “punk rock” part of town (the kind where 12 year olds run away to, get tattoos, show off their baggie trousers, and junkie hookers would like to tell you a story about why they need £5 to get to walthamstow), the jazz café is remarkably unfussed tonight. being a jazz venue usually means high-priced drink minimums and pushy hostesses, but I didn’t notice any of that. I did notice a high-ponytailed lady throwing cutlery around upstairs during some quieter moments, which was a bit annoying. especially considering that they have a sign that reads “stfu during the performance” just above the stage. still, apart from being a bit sterile and in camden, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot wrong with the jazz café. (didn’t see the loo, however) and there is hardly anything else in the world that tops laura c. singing “the whiskey makes you sweeter.”
recommendation: let them stay.

case study: cecil sharp house, camden, london
show: swaddling songs present richard youngs and alasdair roberts, may 28
on such a beautiful spring evening, it’s tough to even go inside but if one must go, then let it be to the cecil sharp house. swaddling songs is bob stanley and peter paphides’ folk night – and I would drive a smartcar across the desert to just hear these guys dj cause they got it going on. didn’t know much about the two scots on the bill. youngs was not great. he had a monotonous voice and repetitive and uninteresting lyrics – half the room emptied during one very lengthy rant. while I wanted to like him I just wasn’t into it. roberts is more my speed – there was some humour and melody. it was still a rather dark night. the house, which has giant windows, should have been left open to reveal all the glorious leafy greens fluttering just outside in the twilight. but no, it was dark and funereal onstage. still, very well-mannered crowd. reasonably priced bar. gorgeous room, loads of character.
recommendation: don’t ever let it close – sandy denny played here! the english folk dance and song society should hire me to curate a regular series.

case study: water rats, grays inn road, london
show: the clientele (+ some other bands), may 27
after the clientele’s previous london gig (at nambucca pub last month), things could only get better! the water rats is a nice intimate space, though we have on occasion had to run out of the room because it’s so hot and crowded. not so tonight. it’s the hottest day of the year so far in london, but it’s cooler in here than the tube or bus. the band is on fire. they play the hits and a few new ones. one college girl bobs along upfront and grins goofily at alasdair like he is donny osmond. the fans are here. people don’t talk. some smoke, some drink, all is well. the clientele are of course the best band in london and they don’t play nearly often enough. the great thing about tonight’s show is that it’s free. the creepy thing about tonight’s show is that it’s free…because budweiser has paid for it! so the beer drinkers are left with one choice only on the taps.
recommendation: keep it open. keep budweiser out of it – the budweiser logo being spotlighted across the club’s ceiling = tacky.

case study: ronnie scott’s, soho, london
show: roddy frame, may 22
I hadn’t seen mr aztec camera since he was born practically, so I jumped at the chance to go see him perform some of his classic pop hits (tim said he would and he wasn’t wrong). on our way in one of the mafioso-wannabe assholes at the door took a dislike to me. he said “the lady will need to check her coat.” I said, “the lady would prefer not to check her coat.” he spoke to me as though I were an inmate: there are no coats allowed. if you don’t check your coat I will refund your money. I almost went in with my coat on and then I saw tim’s poor face. I took off my fucking coat and bloody checked it — for a mandatory fee, natch. I don’t know what it is that makes doormen/bouncers into such huge pricks. we entered the theatre and I realized that no one else, including my own friends, was forced to check a coat. ronnie scott’s is a shit-hole. perhaps important people once played there. perhaps those people had no choice. important people rarely play there now, and it’s just one of those lame-o “jazz” clubs that charges outrageous drink prices, crams people in too close to each other, and employs lots of ugly and useless staff. most people sit with their backs to the stage! someone shoot the dying horse and put it out of its misery.
recommendation: immediate demolition please.

case study: king’s head, crouch end, london
show: damon & naomi, king creosote, may 20
crouch end isn’t really in our neck of the woods but we like d&n and felt like making the trip. the upstairs was a mob of friday night party kids typical of any london pub. they are the reason I like to stay in on weekends. the gig was downstairs. it looked a bit cheesy at first – like a comedy club with really low ceilings. once it filled up and the show got going it had a fantastic vibe – lots of folk kids in the house. I hadn’t seen kc and they were ace, really moving stuff. d&n did their gentle thing as a quintet tonight. there’s nothing that special about the room itself, but as long as something interesting is happening, this is a happening.
recommendation: get rid of the top level and raise the ceiling.

case study: the ica, london
show: archer prewitt, may 15
we’ve loved mr. prewitt since he was a coctail boy and his toons have no equal (nor does his collection of creepy farm toys). we had not seen him play as “archer prewitt” since oh god knows when at maxwell’s when he did a quiet alone man thing on a bill with edith frost and sam prekop acting similarly (was I in heaven? oh yes). okay. so the ica is a place where they have art shows and stuff but it’s mostly about the bookshop and meeting cute trendies in the bar, isn’t it? yes, it is. it’s not the greatest place for art-watching (especially during an opening), and it is one of the worst places for music watching. how can it be that you find yourself inside this amazing building (from the outside) and yet the inside has had any sense of place erased from it? perhaps the stage is meant to be art-gallery minimal. look, I don’t know. I just know that I don’t want to go to shows there anymore. it makes me sad. archer and his mates wanted to rock that night and rock they did. this was the archer prewitt ensemble’s london debut as far as I could tell and it shoulda been in a better place. still, thumbs up for not too crowded ness, showmanship, and the fact that it was still light out when they finished.
recommendation: turn the “venue” into a discotheque. or let pam berry reimagine it as a venue slash installation.

case study: new theatre, oxford
show: rufus wainwright + joan as police woman, may 13
we have a few of these sit-down theatre deals in london, all right. you know, fancy with red seats and stuff. I wasn’t around for this lineup in london so I headed up to oxford to see the big show. what I wasn’t expecting is that the room was almost bursting with enthusiasm and energy from the get-go – this is something we do not have in london. joan as police woman is a talented new york chick who used to play at chickfactor gigs in the early days as a duo with mary timony. she’s so hot! anyway, she is also in rufie’s backing band and, well, no one was really prepared for a show like this – filled with such utter showmanship, over-the-top-ness, pop music insanity. I think I sat there with my mouth hanging open the whole time (not just during the bit where the whole band stripped down to their underpants and did a little fetish comedy number for us). the venue was glam, the show was even glammer.
recommendation: fling those doors open. and reward the oxons with 7 shows a week!

case study: betsey trotwood, farringdon road, london
show: carolyn mark, may 11
ah, the quintessential indie venue. how many fricking indie things have happened here? some track and field dance night, some sinister meet-up, some chickfactor slash papercuts gig featuring the clientele and baxendale! many cute indies have hooked up or at least bumped into one another’s sweaty bods here. I actually have a soft spot for this place and I do fancy a drink on the ground floor – anytime really. I could do without those packed nights in the basement though. oh, if only the bands could play on the first floor instead, like in the old days. I have actually begged some acts, such as pipas and tuesday weld, to please not ever play in this basement again. tonight it’s okay – because there are only 17 of us here for canadian country-ish chick ms mark and we’re not even sweating in here. still, let’s keep the basement free of bands and move the pa upstairs, eh?
recommendation: like I said….