Tonight’s gig came to me on recommendation and I am reviewing knowing very little about the three bands on. This is sometimes good because I have no preconceptions and take everything on face value. Like the child of Lloyd Cole, Lou Reed, Nick Cave and Roy Orbison, Mike Maloney and his band are first up and play songs that rarely move beyond a pedestrian tempo and maudlin mood. In the right setting this works and even though today is a Monday, it is a Bank Holiday and so feels like a Sunday, and this is proper Sunday night wind down music: so it works. I can’t think of another time it would work, except maybe at the end of the world. This is a minor misgiving, as I believe almost all music will sound good if played at the right time. Vocally, Mike has a style that is a mixture of the above singers, but has a habit or affectation of reaching each note sung from the note below. This can quickly become annoying even after a short set. Saying that there is little I didn’t like about him or his songs. He is original for this present time in music history (except for maybe Richard Hawley), and of course this style has all been done before. Special mention though for their drummer, whose touch is light and compliments the slow, softly sung compositions perfectly.
Next is The Courtesy Group and they hit the stage like a big rhythmic juggernaut with two bass players and two drummers, complimented by a truly original guitar player and a powerhouse lead singer. As a first time listener little of it made sense to me and I felt like I did after hearing Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’. But the commitment in the band pulls you through and keeps you interested: it is an absolutely astonishing and captivating performance. The singer and writer Al Hutchins is how you would imagine Ian Curtis if he had lived and became angry instead of remaining unhappy and dead (his dancing and stage movements are either deliberately influenced by Ian Curtis or Al is possessed by similar ghosts). The Courtesy Group’s music may not be immediately accessible and it may not be an easy journey, but it is essential. Try and catch them live or pick up their album ‘Tradesman’s Entrance’ if you can, but good luck trying to find them on the internet, as there only appears to be a myspace page online for them (remember myspace?).
The Lovely Eggs follow and the small basement room of the Sunflower Lounge is suddenly rammed to bursting. I had only quickly checked out their website before attending and made the decision to attend based on the fact that Graham Fellows is in their video ‘Don’t Look At Me’ (and I love Graham Fellows).
It is too easy to write off The Lovely Eggs as writers of quirky rock songs and there are uncanny comparisons with songs written by Graham Fellows (‘My Turn To Be Poorly’, ‘Two Margarines’, ‘Pigeons In Flight’) or Chris Sievey (‘Guess Who’s Been On Match of the Day’, ‘The Robbins Aren’t Bobbins’, ‘Anarchy In Timperley’), because they deal with everyday life and use colloquial language. But it is much more than this. The Lovely Eggs are hugely imaginative with their use of words and situations, and moreover are funny and dark at the same time. A beautiful example of this is ‘Fuck It’, describing the moment when you are at your lowest ebb and you can do no more than accept it. Also ‘Don’t Look At Me’, which colourfully illustrates those moments when abuse is hurled at you by strangers, but instead of using standard insults they transform them into fantastic lines like: “look at her with her washing line smile” or “look at him with his sausage roll thumb”. Prize also goes out for a song that is constructed around words that rhyme with accordion (see below).
You could consider that They Might Be Giants at their creative peak are The Lovely Eggs’ closest peers based on the songwriting alone, but musically no one has done or is doing anything like this at all: mixing heavy post-punk rock, with surreal yet down to earth lyrics. The band is made up of Holly on guitar and lead vocals and David on drums and vocals. The sound is closer to early Black Keys than White Stripes, but the overall sound is in this ballpark: vintage drums with the roughest, thickest, beefiest Fender Jaguar you ever heard. Vocals are presented with a wonderfully undiluted Lancashire accent that reminds me of Dubstar (although they are obviously from the other side of the Pennines) and even lyrically there is a connection with Sarah Blackwood’s deadpan look on life.
The audience is clearly made up of die-hard fans as lyrics are shouted out all through the set – not often will you hear any of these words in any order sang out by a crowd anywhere: “Well if you’ve never travelled time in a Delorean, or eaten Beef Bourgignon, or fought a deadly scorpion, or read some Richard Brautigan, or heard a digital accordion, then I am fairly sure you’ll burn in hell”… it is so refreshing.
You can really tell a good music crowd from one who happens to turn up to the latest rated band: the whole room is transfixed. There is no talking and very few times are mobile phones held up to film the event… this time that is exactly what I need though, as the room is so full I can barely see the performance at all, just flashes of Holly’s hair and glimpses of her guitar being held up. I think at one point she is on the floor playing and hope someone was close enough to get a picture — I couldn’t see.
At the end of the set, the duo get ready to leave the stage. The crowd cheers for more and Holly screams into the microphone: “Don’t you dare ask for more!” — this is based on the band philosophy of ‘no encores’. I have been harping on about this for years: a band should play all the songs on their set and then go, don’t have a false ending so they can come back on stage after the crowd have clapped and cheered for five minutes — it is outdated and stale. The Lovely Eggs are true to their word and I love them for it — check out their website for more wisdom .
I am so glad I agreed to do this review without knowing the bands involved because it is such a special surprise to be so utterly entertained. When I start writing my report the morning after, I check my notes on my iPhone and have only written: ‘They are ace’. It’s difficult to add more to that really.
Review: Alan Neilson