At work, meanwhile, I'd progressed to a role where I'd chat to reps from record companies on a regular basis. If I'd heard the hot new band they were touting that week, perhaps on Peel or The Evening Session, or maybe if they'd supported someone at The Joiners, I'd give my opinion on what they sounded like - often pre-empting and predicting the official spiel the rep would have on them. It was suggested, therefore, that I should perhaps have a think about writing for the music press.
To this end, I wrote a review of a show I'd been to recently, sent it to a national music magazine and, of course, heard nothing. So I had another go, this time selecting a Joiners gig by Californian melodic hardcore types Gameface. This review is now lost to the mists of time - it was composed on an old word processor and posted to London, as I had no access to a computer, or even an email address, at this point in world history. I do remember being generally positive, while retaining a slight snarkiness about their middle of the road stylings - possibly remarking that their end of hardcore was actually soft enough that you could imagine the cast of Friends getting down to it. Sadly, my review would have had no space for opening band Portiswood.
Well, whatever I said, it worked. At some point in the next week or so, Simon took a call for me, which turned out to be from the live review editor of the magazine. He was, incredibly, up for giving me a go as a reviewer. And his first assignment for me was Sahara Hotnights at The Joiners.
Sahara Hotnights, who apparently still exist, are an all-girl band from Sweden; a few years after this review, frontwoman Maria Andersson would go out with Howlin' Pelle out of The Hives, but for now those heights of stardom would have to wait until they'd performed the thankless task of opening for Animal House, a band featuring former Ride member Mark Gardener. In fairness, according to my review, ver Hotnights had already sold 40,000 records in their own land, a fact which I'd either gleaned from extensive research or the press release I got sent. But cracking the UK is something to which most bands aspire, and if that means facing down a bunch of disinterested Ride diehards, so be it.
Ver Hotnights were too polished to be garage rock and too dirty to be pop, but made a pretty diverting racket somewhere inbetween. I gave them a pretty good, comparison-packed review, and seeing it in print was a genuine thrill, even if it was in an issue with Travis on the cover.
I was next summoned to the offices, not for bad behaviour but to meet the live editor along with a few other recently-acquired hacks, some of whom have gone on to write for some pretty august places, and others who I literally can't remember. The live editor seemed a pretty judgemental character for a man who had recently championed Travis - "No more Gameface!" he advised me, clearly unaware that within eighteen months the mag would be raving about not dissimilar bands when emo belatedly attracted mainstream attention. Then, when answering a question about local bands who might be worthy of attention, I attempted to describe Trophy Girls, and a stray reference to Slint or Tortoise got a makeshift biro crucifix held up at me, as if such sounds were blasphemous in the golden age of Travis we were then enjoying.
Then we went to the pub.
I did have business in London town, however. To make the most of my presence in the smoke, it had been arranged that I should review Derrero, a Welsh band who were opening up for Grandaddy at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. I was pretty chuffed about this - I'd heard their single Radar Intruder on Peel and dug it - so me and Jimmy met up in Camden looking forward to the show. Unfortunately, they turned out to be pretty ordinary - as did my review, which was initially rejected for not being good enough. I can't remember what the issue was exactly, but my second attempt was much better, and successfully made it into print.
A common thread running throughout my time writing about bands for magazines has been a largely doomed attempt to get coverage for DIY punk rock action into the mainstream. In fairness, many underground bands traditionally react to any overtures from the music press not with undying gratitude but with the sort of fury you'd normally reserve for a cold call asking about that accident at work you supposedly had, or a knock on the door from the local UKIP candidate - only with more of a moral high ground.
I did, however, manage to get a review of an STE festival into the national music press - well, OK, just a review of one of the bands performing, the likes of Urko and Imbalance left for the next chapter of this blog. The band in question were Chicago jazzcore proponents Sweep The Leg Johnny, and I got the impression I only got to write about them because their press person had sufficiently ground down the live editor. Still, it was great to big up the STE in (national) print, and Sweep were a thoroughly entertaining mixture of post-hardcore and free jazz - a sign of the varied music that was being dragged into the orbit of both the STE Collective and the punk scene in general back then, never mind the fact that at the exact same time that Sweep were playing The Kellar in Southampton, as mentioned in my review and written about on the very next page of the mag, NOFX and a bunch of similarly-minded Epi-Fat types were entertaining thousands at London's Deconstruction festival.
Also, my review used the word "parping", which Adam enjoyed.
Around this time, I went with assorted Gilamonsters and Winchester types (and The Leper) to see the return of the Bruce Dickinson-fronted Iron Maiden play Earls Court, with Slayer and Entombed in tow. You'll have to wait to hear more about that, though, as it wasn't me who reviewed it, although I did have a piece printed on the same page. And, far from relating the sounds of duelling guitars and the sights of leather'n'spandex experienced in the capital, my hands had word processed words about Oxfordshire's Whispering Bob.
As I recall, this show was the Southampton leg of a Soton/Oxon gig swap with my old muckers Orko, now rebooted as Black Nielson, about whom more will doubtless be written in these parts. Whispering Bob would themselves change names a little while later, perhaps reasoning that naming yourselves after a still-broadcasting BBC DJ might seem a little twee for a band about to sign to Virgin and therefore rebranding themselves as Goldrush, and while they never quite got the success that my review wished for them, the brothers at their core would go on to indie scene significance via their Truck festival and label. The latter would release Black Nielson's splendid debut album, and I suspect the former will turn up here pretty soon. The Bennetts (for that is they) are still making music as The Dreaming Spires, as well as contributing to stuff by Danny & The Champions Of the World, post-Black Nielson outfit Co-Pilgrim, and solo work by Ride chap Mark Gardener, about whom I was only wittering about a few paragraphs ago. Gosh, it's all connected, isn't it?
So what was the next thing I wrote about? You guessed it: Truck festival, the 2000 edition. I'm pretty sure I was already going, thanks to my friendship with the aforementioned Black Nielson, who were on the bill, but it was lovely to be asked to review it as well. I'm not sure whether it was Black Nielson, or my favourable Whispering Bob review, or the fact that I was reviewing the shebang, that got me a camping spot in the VIP area, but it says a great deal about the sort of festival it was that said area was no more than a cordoned off space inside what you could inaccurately describe as the "main arena", its main perk being that you didn't have to walk the five or so minutes to the campsite for yer average Joes. With catering provided by the Didcot Rotary Club, this was an amusing world away from your Readings and Glastonburys, a state of affairs I gently mocked in my review.
As well as writing on a whopping five bands, I had another job to do onsite: my first interview for the mag, with Shifty Disco-signed one-man band Jack Drag. John Dragonetti, as he was really called, was a mellow charmer, and our conversation, sat on the grass on a lovely July day, was a very pleasant induction into the world of rock star interviews. His band, who played later that same day, were pretty sweet too, all gentle indie psychedelia in the style of Folk Implosion or Flaming Lips.
One of the festival's stand-outs were John Robb's brilliant punk soul brothers Gold Blade. In marked contrast to the general politeness of the proceedings, PVC-trousered Brother John took exception to my long hair (threatening "I wanna shave you" at me from the main stage, which was the back of an old HGV) and then whipping out a comb to run through the hair of Black Nielson member Will. Also on the bill that day, and strongly resembling a John Peel playlist, were the likes of The Rock Of Travolta, The Samurai Seven, Pluto Monkey, KaitO and future Foals The Edmund Fitzgerald. The second stage - by which I mean the cow shed, still smelling of its usual function - was headlined by triple bass post-rockers Rothko, whose gentle sounds drifted pleasantly into the Oxfordshire evening, while Londoners Seafood, then at the top of their alt-rock game, finished the main stage festivities with a clutch of great tunes and - what will the Rotary Club say? - some instrument-smashing.
On the Sunday, the second stage - renamed The Barn That Cannot Be Named in honour of its curators from Oxford club night, yes, The Club That Cannot Be Named - was a metal stage, boasting the likes of Defenestration, Inline Sk8ing Barbies and something called Shouting Myke. Its headliners, however, were the mighty Raging Speedhorn, who blasted away the variable quality of their barn-rocking predecessors with a mighty set of sludge-slinging aggro. Wandering over to the main stage to watch Unbelievable Truth should have been a come-down, but they were long-term favourites of Clare, and an agreeable way to finish the weekend.
Come the end of September, Muse were celebrating what might have been their first cover appearance, but even more significant was the fact that I'd got two live reviews in the one issue, both involving trips to Portsmouth's Wedgewood Rooms. One was of forgettable (and, indeed now-forgotten) indie band Straw, a band I summed up with the phrase "So far, so stright-in-at-Number-27", blissfully unaware that the singles chart would cease to have any relevance whatsoever within a decade or so. The other was a great deal more fun, given that it detailed an encounter with the Supersuckers at what was, in retrospect, their absolute peak. A year or so earlier, they'd released the solid gold album The Evil Powers of Rock'N'Roll, a record which would later lend its name to a zine by members of the excellent You're Smiling Now But We'll All Turn Into Demons, who hail from... Portsmouth. Gosh, it's all connected, isn't it? Anyway, this accurately-named release had followed swiftly on the heels of a greatest hits album. It's a ballsy move to release a greatest hits album when you haven't really had any hits. Particularly when you go and call it How the Supersuckers Became the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.
As you may have guessed, while noting that they chose to spell it two different ways on consecutive releases, the Supersuckers played (and, indeed, still play) Rock'N'Roll. They weren't exactly reticent about drawing attention to this either, with perma-Stetsonned frontman Eddie Spaghetti (you heard) pointing out onstage "There ain't no sub-genre for this. This is what we call ROCK! AND! ROLL!"
It's quite mad to think that this lot came out of the same Seattle scene as Pearl Jam.
This was one of my favourite reviews of the time, not least because I wrote it on the train home while quite refreshed, leading to the printed assertion that this was a band who could "incite a whiskey-fuelled knife fight in a monastery".
Within a week or so, there was more rock'n'roll, and indeed, more Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, when I was despatched to write about The Yo-Yo's. Despite my best intentions, Clare and I only arrived in time for the end of the opening band's set. This was an outfit I'd heard on CD samplers for Swedish label Burning Heart, and I figured that as an underground European punk band they'd be unlikely to make it over to the UK very often. The band in question was The Hives, who in due course would make it much bigger than any of the bands I've actually reviewed in this chapter so far.
Main support that night was the mighty Groop Dogdrill, at that point on their uppers after getting dropped by their label, something which I described as an "injustice". This may have been the last time I got to see them, as history records that they split the following year. More recently, I've seen frontman Pete Spiby at least a couple of times with his current endeavour Black Spiders... who I've recently heard might have split up. It's a shit business.
And so to the Yo-Yo's, one of the many bands on the Wildhearts rock family tree. Formed and fronted by former 'Hearts bassist Danny McCormack, a man whose well-documented drug problems didn't stop him from penning cheery tunes which I compared to "Eddie Cochran joining the Ramones to cover the Grease soundtrack".
Danny threw up into a bucket onstage and opened a beer bottle with his teeth, but he was a shrinking violet compared to Davey Crockett out of, er, The Crocketts, who were my next assignment back at the dear old Joiners. A hyperactive chap who leapt about the stage while speaking in tongues and punching himself in the head, it might read as if he was trying a little too hard. I found him convincing, however, and some of his bands' tunes were genuinely good, drawing on the decadent soul of The Pogues and the scattershot fire of The Clash's live performances. There was one clunker, a tune called On Something which played up the wacky angle a little too much for comfort, but otherwise they were a good night out. I think this was also the evening I met a future colleague, Emma Johnston, who introduced me to Davey after the show. The man in question was charming and gave me a signed copy of a poetry book he'd had published.
The setting was the same, but the music very different, when I went to review Cousteau at the Joiners a couple of weeks later. Black Nielson were the support, and I managed to get them in print with favourable comparisons to Grandaddy and Mercury Rev, while pointing out that they'd signed to Truck Records.
Now, as for Cousteau... This lot were a London outfit, dealing in the same sort of late night bar room croon as Tindersticks. They had one excellent track, The Last Good Day Of The Year, but the bulk of their material was just a bit too MOR, a bit lacking in danger or grit. I duly gave them a gentle drubbing, but experienced for the first time an editor rewriting large chunks of my text, making it way more negative and throwing in a reference to Scott Walker, a comparison I'd deliberately avoided as it had already been attached to Cousteau so often it bordered on cliche. A while later, Cousteau played The Joiners again, and I went on account of Black Nielson getting the call-up to support a second time. I was rather concerned that singer Liam McKahey, a hard-looking fellow, would know who I was and have a go, but luckily I was able to skulk about anonymously.
A few weeks later, I was able to convince the live editor that my old punk rock favourites Avail should get covered in the mag. This I achieved by placing them within the wave of noisy alternative rock which had recently washed up on British shores: At The Drive-In, Queens Of The Stone Age, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, even Amen, whose cartoonish frontman Casey Chaos would appear on the cover of the issue which contained my review of Avail at the Wedgewood Rooms. As discussed in a previous chapter, my review was consequently rather over-keen to sell Avail to readers who might have been into said bands, but getting them into the mag was still a proud moment.
It appears that at this point I must have had some influence on things, or alternatively that nobody really knew what was going on. Either of these might explain the fact that my next published live review was of local electronic duo Lien, signed to my mate John's Skool Records label and on this occasion performing downstairs at the Rhino Club - quite possibly while DJ Hammy span indie floorfillers in the main room.
I was at pains not to hype them simply because I knew John, so gave them a pretty fair review which threw in comparisons to Boards Of Canada and Sigur Ros while also commenting on their occasional "drift into the territory of wind-powered sound systems". I also couldn't help but mention John himself, who was heckling the band throughout. While this was both good-natured and entirely in keeping with his tricksterish character, one of Lien later told me they'd been pretty fucking annoyed with him.
Next we go to an issue packed with coverage from the magazine's awards show, with the faintly stomach-churning prospect of a Bono/Gallagher brothers love-in on the front cover. Distant from that scene both geographically and spiritually, I was reviewing Pitchshifter at my old stomping ground of Southampton Uni.
I'd been into Pitchshifter since their early years thanks to John Peel; more recently, they'd crossed over to become local rock club dancefloor favourites with the song Genius. Clare's sister Sarah came along with me, and we arrived shortly before the end of the opening band's set. Said band were Lostprophets, about whom it's very hard to write these days without recourse to gallows humour or moral outrage. Between their days opening bills and their eventual implosion, they would make it to festival headliner status, a position sadly beyond the reach of fellow support earthtone9, who played a cracking set at Southampton Uni that night.
To be totally honest, I was less keen on Pitchshifter in 2001 than I had been even a few years previously, but felt that Nottingham's industrial metal veterans deserved a decent notice that night. I duly focused on their plus points and threw in a bunch of on point comparisons (my favourite being "like RATM listening to old jungle mixtapes"). As I pointed out, they'd just been dumped by Universal, and it turned out that they'd never really reclaim the lost ground that ensued.
Next up was a trip to the Wedgewood Rooms. Orange Goblin were headlining, but my brief was to review the main support - which was OK, because they were the excellent Nebula. (I think this might have been my first time seeing Goblin, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.) Nebula were a breakaway group from Fu Manchu, one of the big cheeses of the stoner rock world, and the power trio I was reviewing in Pompey that night took that sound and added psych and punk overtones to arrive at something not unlike Mudhoney at their most full-throttle. their drummer was also, rather winningly, carting a massive gong about with him just so he could light a beater on fire and smash the fuck out of it at the end of the set. I'm not sure whether this was the first time a quote from one of my reviews was used in advertising, but my description of then forthcoming single Do It Now as "a perfect, primal call to arms" made it onto print ads for its release.
Chris out of The Gilamonsters accompanied me to Portsmouth for the unmissable pairing of Goblin and Nebula, and I remember us chatting to some local types between bands. With prior experience of the Soton/Pompey beef, I was reluctant to open us to hostility, so when asked where we from, I simply replied "the west." Chris went one better, converting his New Forest residency into the perfect reply: "I live in the woods."
With all these reviews to chat about, I've failed to mention that I started seeing Anna at the end of the year 2000, a union which would ultimately lead me to Brighton. Before that permanent move, however, I'd sometimes travel back to her folks' place in Haywards Heath, itself a tantalisingly short distance from the pebbly-beached mecca of debauchery. On such visits, I'd always check out what was going on in the city's live music arena, beginning with a chance to go and review Hood playing a show at The Lift.
Another band who fit this blog's favourite template of underrated bands who never made it, this Leeds lot dealt in post-rock at its most pastoral, with an understatedly nostalgic pull to their music which would make it entirely appropriate to compare their semi-forgotten status to a faded, sepia-tinted photograph of the times. Or, in the spirit of excited revisionism, you could say that they marked a midway point on a continuum of English experimentation that started with Talk Talk, continued through the likes of AR Kane and Bark Psychosis, and probably finds its modern incarnation in the last These New Puritans record or, deeper underground, the New Wyrd Anglicana exhumed by labels like Front & Follow and Exotic Pylon.
At the time, the main story was that Hood's sound had broadened from the fragility of earlier records to dabble in echoes of dub and electronica. In print, I expressed a hope that they might gain broader recognition on the back of then-current mini-album Home Is Where It Hurts. Nope, obviously. Hood continued through to the mid-90s with a couple of fine albums, while members have done stuff under suitably rural-sounding names like Bracken and The Declining Winter. The Lift, meanwhile, has changed names several times but now seems firmly ensconced in Brighton's music scene as The Hope & Ruin - and at the precise time of typing these words, the location of the last show I attended (The Wharves and Slum Of Legs).
Back on then-home turf, my next assignment was to assess the merits of up and coming Aldershot emo types Hundred Reasons at The Joiners. I proved rather sniffy about them, while attempting to bolster my punk rock credentials by pointing readers in the direction of proper emo labels Deep Elm, Jade Tree and DeSoto instead.
The following week, I had two reviews in the magazine. Continuing a tradition of reviewing support bands not headliners, I was despatched to London's Mean Fiddler - previously the LA2, and latterly purchased by Crossrail - to spend an evening in the company of death metal's Great Beasts, Morbid Angel. However, it was the support bands I was there to write about. First up were Norway's Cadaver Inc. Both before and since, they were known simply as Cadaver, but the shtick around their then-current album Discipline was that they were a business offering the essential services of murder scene clean-up and corpse removal. Zyklon, meanwhile, had a genuine crim on hand, namely Emperor guitarist Samoth. It says much about the change in attitudes of this time that a band formed by a church-burning black metal legend was attracting the attention of the mainstream music press. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, John Peel had recently found himself pulled back to extremity, evoking his days spinning grindcore in the late 80s by championing Relapse bands like Nile and Cephalic Carnage, as well as unrelated oddities like Bal-Sagoth. And I'd recently felt the need to dive back into metal's murkier waters, becoming a Terrorizer reader (initially due to the presence of Chris out of The Gilamonsters in their writing team) and filling in the blanks from the years when I'd stopped paying attention.
You can't get much further from Zyklon than Bright Eyes, but that was the other outfit I was reviewing in that week of May 2001. I gently mocked Conor Oberst's angst while giving him/them a decent write-up, singling out the tunes Arienette and The Calendar Hung Itself for praise. The show at the Wedgewood Rooms was in fact a support slot (again), with headliners Arab Strap bringing a fair few of my Southampton buddies across to Portsmouth - many of us having to leave before the end of Arab Strap's set to rush back to Fratton station and the last train home.
My next assignment was at The Brook in Southampton, a venue which at that point rarely put on anything of interest. Anna came with me and as we walked down Portswood Road on the way to the gig we had the unpleasant experience of seeing a cat get run over. At the show, one of the members of the support band, old Gilas mates The Equidistant Sound, helped me comfort Anna, who was particularly shaken by events. Oh yeah, the band I was reviewing were Regular Fries, one of the lynchpins of the short-lived skunk rock scene - essentially a supercharged take on baggy, which steadfastly refused to catch on until, as Jimmy has pointed out, Kasabian took something fairly similar into the Oasis-shaped vacuum of 21st Century indie music. The Fries were a lot of fun that night, though. I concluded my review by confidently stating that "this brilliantly irregular party shows no signs of winding down."
Yeah, they split up that year.
Back to London, and back to only reviewing the support bands next. Cathedral were playing the Underworld in the company of Spirit Caravan and The Dukes Of Nothing. The latter featured members of Iron Monkey, Acrimony and Orange Goblin, as well as future Turbonegro frontman Tony Sylvester; the former were the current band of doom legend Wino, a man who did much to set the modern idea of doom metal in stone with The Obsessed and Saint Vitus. Man, Spirit Caravan were great, a band who proved that doom metal could be soulful while still being heavy as hell (see also: Goatsnake).
At this point, NYC (The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, er, ARE Weapons) and Detroit (The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, er, Electric Six) were the coolest places on Earth. Meanwhile, I was reviewing a band from Oxford in Winchester; Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia was their name, and I dug their Life Without Buildings-esque business.
Then it was back to Brighton, to watch excellent locals Electrelane play in excellent local cinema The Duke Of York's. I noted the band's static solemnity but praised the raggedness around their edges, and I stand by the fact that one of the most enlivening things about their early period was a slightly ramshackle quality all their own.
A weird pairing came my way when I was sent to review Americana types The Pernice Brothers at The Joiners. In support were my chums Black Blue Fish...Very Beautiful, whose Beefheart/Beta Band trance out was in marked contrast to the fun-but-straightforward tunesmithery of the headliners; great to get BBF...VB in the magazine, though.
At some point over the last few paragraphs, 9/11 happened. Not to mention it seems off, but this is clearly not the forum to discuss its impact. Certainly, several million places down the list of things affected by that day was the postponement of one-off travelling metal festival Tattoo The Planet, which myself and my fellow Gilamonsters attended a month or so later than originally planned. My review ticket got me a seat up on the balcony of Wembley Arena, while my mates were free to go buck wild down on the floor (though I think Chris came to sit with me towards that latter stages of the evening).
Brit nu-metal types Defenestration opened the bill - and how incredible it is to think that Defenestration once played Wembley Arena - but my review started with Raging Speedhorn, delivering their usual blast of merry hell. Napalm Death were up next and in rude health, before Biohazard played a set about which you couldn't help but have mixed feelings. On the one hand, you had to admire a band from NYC for refusing to bow to their fears - and unlike headliners Pantera, who pulled out of the tour, members of Biohazard had literally watched 9/11 happen with their own eyes. And on the other, Biohazard are, essentially, a fucking joke. Could have done without the phrase "campest band of the day, by far." being added to my review, though.
Like Napalm, Therapy? were very much old favourites, and even seven years on from Troublegum could still justify a place high up the bill on a day like this. I was quite proud of my observation that their tune Knives condensed everything Slipknot's first album had to say (lyrically) into two minutes. Cradle Of Filth were the penultimate band of the night, and while it's never exactly been hard to have a joke at their expense, their panto black metal was a blast. Though not as much as Slayer, headlining in Pantera's absence and firing on all cylinders, despite Tom Araya seeming a little, well, refreshed. ("This song," he declared blearily at one point, "is from the soundtrack..." He never felt the need to specify which soundtrack, so the band just kicked into the song).
A week later, and once again giving me the option for a comedy segue between metal berzerkers and the rather more sedate sounds of Goldrush, as Whispering Bob were now calling themselves. I was reviewing them at Southampton uni, and I must confess this is the one gig of all of these shows that I honestly cannot remember. Maybe cos I saw Goldrush quite often around this point, I guess. Attempts to verify what happened that evening (for example, were they in fact supporting somebody?) via online searches have led me to a 70s funk cover band called Goldrush, based in Southampton ("but willing to travel!"): http://www.alphaentertainment.co.uk/goldrush_70s-funk_bands_southampton.htm
Now I come to think of it, though, I seem to remember seeing Elbow play the uni around this time, and sure enough this was the show at which Goldrush supported. Elbow would have been touring in support of their debut album, Asleep In The Back, which at that point had been out less than six months. I didn't particularly have an opinion on Elbow at this point, but Guy Garvey was an entertaining raconteur, and their songs felt bigger and warmer live than on Steve Lamacq's radio show.
As for Goldrush, the comparisons touted by me in the review were the triple threat of Starsailor, Travis and Coldplay (specifically, they weren't as overwrought as Starsailor, their songs were as catchy as Travis, and a similar lack of an image never stopped Coldplay). Obviously they never made it to be as big as those bands, but I'd rather listen to them now than any of their more famous peers.
Around this time at the magazine, reviews editors changed and work started drying up. And so I didn't do another live review for something like six months, though at least when I was called back into service it was for a splendid show: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, supported by The (International) Noise Conspiracy and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Brixton Academy.
Anna and I had intended to go and see The Yeah Yeah Yeahs at The Freebutt on one of our trips to Brighton. There had been quite a buzz about them so I suggested getting there early, but Anna was having none of it, confident that gigs at The Freebutt rarely sold out. When we got there, the queue stretched round the corner and some way up the road, with the number of people waiting numbering several times the amount who would actually fit into the venue. We ended up going to a 100% Dynamite club night instead.
At Brixton, I got to see the band at last, in a venue many times bigger than The Freebutt. This was definitely one of those times when you see a band early on (they'd released an EP, but Fever To Tell wouldn't come out for another year) and immediately realise you're in the presence of future stars. Incidentally, I was also in the presence of my friend Leesy, who'd come to the show with me, and who would later be in the bands Help She Can't Swim and Daskinsey4 (amongst others).
As well as rocking out to their anti-capitalist garage punk, I also interviewed The (International) Noise Conspiracy frontman Dennis Lyxzen for a piece on the band. Lyxzen's former (and, at the time of writing, now current again) band Refused had seen their fame grow exponentially after their fractious 1998 split, to the point where nu-metal jokes Crazy Town had covered their biggest tune, New Noise (http://www.metalsucks.net/2009/09/14/crazy-town-butchering-refuseds-new-noise/). (Lyxzen: "For that, someone needs to die"). He was good company: serious about his socialism but also about the need for showmanship, sweat and danger, bigging up both the Black Power moves of the 70s funk scene and the way British pop bands often snuck socio-politics into the charts in the 80s. Onstage his band lived up to this big talk; I didn't review them for the live piece, but in my interview I compared Lyxzen's onstage presence to a cross between Cedric out of At the Drive-In and David Lee Roth.
Spring 2002 didn't, perhaps, find Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at their peak. Their recently released Plastic Fang album felt lightweight compared to its heavy predecessors like Orange or Now I Got Worry. However, even after fired-up sets from two exciting, up-and-coming bands, Blues Explosion didn't disappoint. Through a dedication to performance and sheer force of will, they delivered a barnstorming blast of alt-rockabilly.
A couple of months later, I was back in London on another pretty great assignment: reviewing Le Tigre at the Astoria. And like the JSBX show, this was another excellent line-up, with support from Slumber Party and The Kills. Like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills were an opening band soon to go places, though their star power consisted of a studied cool in marked contrast to the abandon of Karen O. I'd seen singer VV in a previous life, back when she was called Alison Mosshart (a name to which she's since returned) and was playing The Joiners with Florida punks Discount. And guitarist Hotel (or Jamie Hince, a name to which he's since returned) had previously been in Scarfo, a band I really liked who sounded a little like a mod Fugazi. The Kills were markedly different to their previous endeavours, however: a voice, a guitar and a drum machine creating scratchy, minimalist garage blues. I enjoyed them, though I knew that my punk friends who'd been into Discount thought they were terrible.
I can't remember what the Black Nielson lot thought about The Kills, but they were in attendance for Slumber Party, with whom they'd played and become friends with. Slumber Party, who I believe are still in existence, are an all-female band from Detroit, signed to venerable indie label Kill Rock Stars. Less rock'n'roll then The Kills and less danceable than Le Tigre, they provided a sweet mellow spot in the middle of the evening, the memory of which makes me feel slightly lame for never checking out their music again.
Le Tigre were, obviously, ruddy great. From Bikini Kill to The Julie Ruin, via recent-ish documentary The Punk Singer, Kathleen Hanna has long been one of the US alternative scene's most inspirational figures, and Le Tigre, in which she performed with JD Samson and Johanna Fateman, was her mid-career pop high. Like the slightly less successful Chicks On Speed, they eschewed electric guitars and sent up rockist tendencies, importing things like matching costumes and synchronised dance moves from mainstream pop into the alternative scene. Their LGBT-friendly femtronica ramalama was most welcome. The issue my review ran in had Oasis on the cover.
I only had one more review published in the magazine before fading from its pages. And this show was in Bristol, so I rearranged work shifts, got ont eh blower to my old mate Geek Tom, then studying in Brizzle, to arrange company and a place to crash, and headed to the Fleece & Firkin to see Rival Schools.
This time the bill was a little less overwhelming. Magic Dirt opened, a band who, Wikipedia tells me, had already been doing the rounds for over a decade, supporting the great and good of grunge (and Silverchair!) around their native Australia. As far as I can remember, they played pretty decent, fuzzy alt-rock, good enough for me to pick up their album - when I found a promo copy going cheap somewhere. Also on the bill were Little Hell, about whom I can remember the following details: 1) some of them had been in a band with the bassist out of EMF, and 2) they were shit.
Rival Schools were not shit. Not as good as frontman Walter Schreifels' old bands Gorilla biscuits and Quicksand, sure, but not shit. This was the point that emo was threatening to blow up like grunge had a decade earlier - which it would, but only when the MTV-friendly likes of My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy showed up. 2002 was kind of the transitional point for the scene, with bands putting out records on major labels but still connected to punk ethics and history in a way which just wouldn't apply to, say, Panic! At The Disco.
Accordingly, Rival Schools had released their debut full-length on Island, and it was a pretty polished, catchy alt-rock record. Said polish was less evident in a sweaty Fleece, with the band careering through their material at breakneck pace. As with Fugazi and At the Drive-In, some of their slower tunes were delivered live with almost dubby basslines, which made a change from what might otherwise have been a slightly samey set.
Over the next year, I'd write a few bits for a free mag called Logo, including reviews of Raging Speedhorn and Cave In at the Wedgewood Rooms, but it wasn't until moving to Brighton that I got a heads up about another national mag which might be interested in my work. I'll get to that another time, but we're not done with Southampton yet: next time, I'll get onto the punk rock shows of 2000-2003.