Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hideous Hoards of Crumbling Undead Men,

After being introduced to Jeffrey Lewis through City & Eastern Songs, on the recommendation of 6music’s Marc Riley, I have been eager to see a live show. Unfortunately, it’s always been the case that he has only been nearby whilst supporting nincompoops. An opportunity eventually arose in the shape of a double headline gig at the Bongo Club in Embra, as organised by the EU IndieSoc – Misty’s Big Adventure also share headliner status. When I hear a Misty’s Big Adventure song on the radio, I take notice because they’re always different from the rest and they usually add a jaunty three minutes to anyone’s day.

Students, smelly, smelly students. Put them in charge of anything and it’ll be a mess. That’s an overreaction but after arriving 15 minutes after doors were scheduled to open, we were sent away for 20 minutes because they were running behind.

First on were Kategoes, a band from Birmingham who have been supporting Misty’s Big Adventure on their UK tour. Kate and Joe arrived on stage in bathing costumes, Beth and Bird with handkerchiefs on their noggins and Susie came complete with waders, woolly jumper, tammy and fishing rod because for the night they were Kategoes…To The Beach. They, especially Kate, are mad. They’ve gone for every gimmick under the Sun but they’re all the better for it. Their songs are really driven by Kate’s piano (this gives them a Dresden Dolls-like quality) but the use of mandolin, clarinet, violin and squeaky dog toy sets them apart from the standard fare available. The vocals are sometimes fast and punky but Kategoes are also quite capable of superb harmonies involving Beth and Susie. Lyrics range from touching and poignant to manic and nonsensical. They’re great. Having said that, there was still that awkward space at the front; that space that no one dares to stand in. Jeffrey Lewis was the man who went and stood in that huge clearance by himself.

A short while later, Jeffrey was on stage with his brother Jack and Dave the drummer. Jeffrey was still scribbling what I presumed to be the setlist on a scrap of paper right up until they begun playing. He began with his poem/song about England, the land of pounds; this was great. Then they rocked out with a song I didn’t recognise. It continued like this, Jeff’s delicate rambles would alternate with a noisy rocky one. They did Anxiety Attack, Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror, Something Good and The Singing Tree from City & Eastern Songs. We were treated to Creeping Brain complete with the comic book show projected onto a screen as controlled by Jeff’s foot on a laptop. The same technology was in use for Jeff’s lo-fi, low-budget documentary on The History of Communism in China. I love Roll Bus Roll which is one of their newer ones; it’s a unique talent to be able to sing such beautiful songs in with vocals that are basically off-key and unremarkable. Most of the songs are about subjects and feelings that people can relate to (obviously not The Man with the Golden Arm); “Roll bus, roll, take me off, a rolled up sweater makes the window soft”, that’s a situation in which everyone has been in (except from the Queen, probably). The songs also confer a sense of vulnerability that craves sympathy and decent upstanding people like me are quite willing to offer that to the mortal suffering that anxiety attack. They’re something special. I’d suggest that Jeff & Jack Lewis are commissioned to sing the next James Bond theme tune, perhaps Jeff can draw the movie too.

Whilst I did like Misty’s Big Adventure to an extent beforehand, I did fear that all their songs would sound the same and that it would all become too much for me. My fears were confirmed. There were 7 of them, none of them were violinists or cellists, and then there was a moron dancer in a suit with gloves stitched to it. Their songs generally all have the same fast, stomping beat through them, only the words delivered by the novelty vocals of Grandmaster Gareth – he’s more of an announcer or a narrator than a singer – differ in each song. It became tiring. It was late and I did not want to have that dancing glove monster in my face. We left them to make their racket and we went back to the car to listen to Janice Long on Radio Double One – finer musical output from Birmingham.


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