Against The Wheel – headline act at The Flapper, Birmingham, 20.4.2012
I scored a wonderful musical brace to be able to attend this quite different gig the day after seeing Renbourn and Williamson.
The band I went to see was Against the Wheel, reviewed last November on this blog, and there were other bands playing on the bill in this neat, independent live music venue and pub in Birmingham City Centre. I missed the opening act, and not sure what they were called, but hearing a little of their cd later today I clearly missed out on a cool grunge sound.
I arrived just before second act Bowen & The Tide took the stage. This was an interesting addition to the night’s entertainment, an indie folk trio playing amidst the potentially raucous antipathy of grunge, heavy metal and hard rock. Ironically – the guts of this assertion exposed as I write the whole review – this is the band/solo artist on the night most likely to ‘succeed’ in the business: lead singer [and songwriter?] who is, presumably, Bowen [another parenthesis: acts really do need to get their promotion information sorted – after accessing myspace, facebook, ep album info I bought on the night, ditto flyer, and a Balcony TV YouTube clip, I’m none the wiser on these fundamental details, and it’s only because I’ve started this review that I decided to persevere....I mean, they’re good, but not yet that good....] has a presence, and I mean essentially image, and possesses a fine singing voice so this marries presentation and talent into music industry potential. I enjoyed their set, particularly the opening numbers, though it panned out to be a little bland, apart from a fine guitar rip on the final number, perhaps in homage to the core genre of the evening’s assembled performers. Listening to the five song ep I bought I’m hovering uncertainly between the polish of this, including a more acoustic sound, and the at least slightly more gritty live sound. I also listened to a sweet piano ballad from their myspace page, a duet with a female singer - and again I’m none the fucking wiser who she is – which is the kind of ‘pretty’ music I do quite like. But, without the information I should be able to access much more easily, they don’t deserve anymore of this. But you’re getting the irony?
The next band was a heavy metal outfit called Only The Good. If only. But I have jumped to an apparent judgement before really expanding. The guys and one gal bass player in this band exemplify all that is phenomenal in live music on this planet and in this one genuine den of good gigs: these jobbing musicians with their full array of full-time day occupations and then other time of dedicated bedroom/garage/lock-up and/or any other space for practising/playing their music are the epitome of what makes live music so essential and exhilarating – whatever the quality [we’re not including crap here] – because it’s about desire and pleasure and commitment and fantasy and above all a love for the music they play and then the varying degrees of expertise that come with this. Now, this group had a pair of guitar shredders that had plenty of virtuoso expertise with occasional Wishbone Ash type dual interludes. Wonderful. And I should leave it there, but I do intend to be totally honest. They also had a distinctive appearance [and this is where I’m expanding I think on the terms irony and industry within the musical sphere] and because the lead singer and one of his guitar companions were Penn and Tellar doppelgangers they did preoccupy my interest beyond the playing. Indeed, the guitarist who looked like Penn could also double for a geek version of early ponytailed Burton Cummings. I know this sounds irrelevant, perhaps a little rude, but I’m talking about image and presentation too and there are times when no matter how good the music is, these other peripherals, and essentially lesser aspects, actually take on a huge significance for the music ‘industry’ and the potential for ‘success’ within it. To be blunt, this band’s sound heavy metal credentials were dented by the lead singer’s voice rather than the image ‘issue’. Full of enthusiasm, energy and joy, it just didn’t cut the heavy metal mustard. But the band didn’t seem to care and their clear collective love of playing is all that ultimately matters.
And then there’s Against The Wheel, and I can see myself writing less about the best band on the night, by a mile. As I’ve said before, they are a kick-ass hard rock band and last night’s performance was both tight and hugely entertaining. You could see the guys enjoyed themselves and there was a palpable sense [largely a consequence of the thumping decibel levels!] that there was for this ‘jobbing’ band all that commitment, desire, love, joy and expertise – and everything else – coalescing in a perfection that makes such small gig performances the genuine phenomena they are. And the other phenomenon is that this band, again as I have mentioned before, would not be amiss in getting airplay on any rock radio station [e.g. Planet Rock] and holding their own with the other rock ‘industry’ luminaries. They have both the sound and the image to be a ‘success’, and within their local gig world, which is vibrant and expanding all the time for them, they are successful, but they will find it hard to succeed further in a market saturated in equal yin yang measure by more marketable but less assured bands, and – because I want to celebrate the wealth of such bands – other talented musicians. So are you getting the point about the irony of the Bowen situation?
Anyways, I was delighted that Against the Wheel opened their blistering set with their excellent self-penned song Bones. What a great mix of melody and mayhem! It’s always naff in one sense to cite musical reference points, but it can be useful, and I feel ATW have a little of the Foo Fighters about themselves with their increasingly melodic songwriting [I don’t mean pretty, but using harmonies and having defined hooks] and the stonking power of its delivery. Gavin Flint’s vocals are really attaining the power to lead such a heavy sound – and he adds fine guitar support – Jeff Gowen plays a mean bass and provides excellent vocal harmony, Dan Ratcliffe has a felicity with riffs and shredding that announce instinct over labour – though it’s clear he puts in some practise, as the whole band clearly do - and Kelvin Hayward flails the drums with an energy and skill complementing perfectly the whole fulsome sound.
The whole night and the range of performers were appreciated by a wonderful camaraderie of exuberant and genuine appreciation from a relatively small but typical independent gig attendance. I had a great time. And I got to go with my daughter and drink some bourbon. Life can be good.