Song, by Toad

Posts tagged sneaky pete’s

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Dylan Carlson – Live at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, 11th October 2012

 It took me a while, I confess, to properly appreciate Wounded Knee‘s live show.  Drew Wright has been playing in Edinburgh under that name for a good while now, but the first few times I saw him he performed a slightly less accessible set based around layers of looped vocals.

It wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t easy either, so I have to confess my attention drifted a little, despite the recommendations from many of my friends. Last year I learned the error of my ways, finally, after a captivating album launch set for a Gerry Loves Records release.

Tonight was even more chatty and accessible, with Drew accompanied by a double-bassist, lending the performance something of the air of the lounge raconteur, meets bingo caller, meets intellectual folk historian.  Throw in a rather annoyed but amusing song about the potential closure of Leith Water World and you have a set of charm and humour.

Dylan Carlson, on the other hand, cut a slightly less jovial presence, although he was hardly standoffish.  This gig was to showcase music separate from his work with Earth* and to focus more on the Dr Carlson Albion and the Hackney Lass project, which is based around the magic and history of English folklore.

In the absence of the actual Hackney Lass – this lady – the first couple of songs were performed to a pre-recorded backing track.  Given Carlson himself did nothing but play the guitar, and irrespective of how good the songs themselves actually sounded, this came across as a sort of odd version of guitar karaoke, and I have my doubts about it.  The actual sound he made wasn’t bad of course, and I appreciate the dilemma of trying to put across a song without the people who actually helped you make it, but personally I don’t think I’d have persevered with those two songs.

Part of the reason for this was the excellence of what followed.  Carlson was joined by a vocalist and percussionist whose names escaped me, and they played a set of more traditional proggy psychedelic folk. And honestly, it was awesome.  The psychedelic elements were more of the trippy, menacing kind rather than the intricate noodling kind, with a heavy delay on Carlson’s guitar for much of the show giving his relatively minimal playing a more mesmeric, dizzy feel. The vocalist sang like an English folk approximation of Nico, blank and flat, yet with a hint of the red blooded and insane at the moments when she cut loose and belted it out.

There’s something about music this minimal that I absolutely love – you wait and wait on each strum, each syllable, each rumble of percussion – every single element takes on an importance you don’t tend to get from a full band performance, and that seems to draw you in in an hypnotic fashion.

They ended with a stunning version of Reynardine, a song I know from the incredible version on Fairport Convention’s stunning Liege & Lief. Having cruised YouTube since I got home I think I can say that with the exception of Sanny Denny and pals, this was the best version of this song going.  And it’s some song. And a great end to a fine, fine evening.

Fairport Convention – Reynardine

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*In my head I kept referring to him as ‘Dylan Carlson of Earth’ and for some reason I kept doing it like Klytus from Flash Gordon. ‘Dylan Carlson.  Of Eeeeaaaaarth.’

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Pinact, Birdhead, Paws & Eagulls – Live at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, 31st August 2012

 This review is going to be rather more focussed on the support bands than the main acts, unfortunately, because I have to confess that I managed to get myself sufficiently well-oiled by the time PAWS and Eagulls came to the stage that pretty much all I have to say in retrospect is ‘Yeeeeeaaahh, awesome!’

To be fair, both bands are phenomenal live acts, and you have heard me bang on about PAWS often enough on this site. Eagulls are a different prospect, with the band setting up a cacophonous wall of noise, while the lead singer, unhindered by an instrument to play, prowls the stage and howls vitriolically through the microphone. It’s feels like a quasi-spiritual experience for him, and its hard not to get caught up in yourself.  And on Friday, that’s just what I did – terrifying, tinnitus-inducing bliss!

For those of you who listened to this week’s podcast (Which is everyone, right?  Right? Aww, come on people!) then what I have to say about the first two bands will sound relatively familiar, but I figured it was worth writing down as well.

First up are Pinact, a Glasgow band about whom I know absolutely nothing at all. On stage they sound like what you would get if you bisected a direct line between PAWS and Stonehaven’s rather excellent Dolfinz. Their recorded stuff, which you can hear on their Bandcamp page, suggests a rather smoother sound however, which I personally think could do with some of the fuzz of their aforementioned contemporaries.

With a band this early in their careers, however, it’s hard to tell if they want to sound that little bit smoother, or if that’s just what the engineer where they recorded their first material wanted, as young bands can be a little vulnerable to that sort of ‘help’.  Who knows, though, it may have been exactly what they intended.  Whatever the reason, I think I preferred the rougher edges of the live show, personally, and if that’s the direction they push in then I could end up liking them rather a lot.  If they push in the other, of course, I may like them less but they are likely to have a lot more success, so I suppose my liking for rough music needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Finally, the second support act Birdhead are a band I know about already, although before Friday I had yet to see them live. I declined to review an EP they sent me through a while back, but having seen them perform I freely confess I may have made a mistake ignoring that one.  Listening back to the one song on their Bandcamp page, I still feel there is something I preferred about the live show, frankly, although I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what it is. Again, maybe some dirt on the guitar and more emphasis of live drums over processed beats would bring it more in line with the show I enjoyed so much on Friday, but I am no producer, so that may be nonsense.

The presence of a laptop on stage gave the impression of the band essentially playing along to a pre-recorded backing track, but I have spoken to them about this since, and apparently it’s used more as a sampler than anything else. Either way, they were really good live – dark and broody and nicely epic without being overblown – and I will definitely be seeing them again.  And revisiting that EP I passed over earlier as well.  Shame on me.

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Interview with Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Before seeing the band perform for the last time ever at Sneaky Pete’s last week, I had the chance to sit down for a chat with Owen Ashworth from Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.  This is his last tour as Casiotone, but this is not for the purposes of retiring from music, more so that he can put to bed a project which has dominated the last thirteen years of his life and start work on new projects with relative freedom.

It was interesting listening to him talk about it, because for all he repeated the reasons he’s given about not being the same person anymore, and it feeling a little false to sing songs in his thirties which were written when he was in his twenties and in a completely different place emotionally, it seemed that the actual constrictions and demands generated by the success of the band played an equally important role in his deciding it was time to move on to new projects.

Have a watch of the video above for edited highlights from the interview, and below we have a couple of live videos from the performance.  I’d forgotten, I have to confess, just how much I love the Casiotone material, until I heard about this tour and went back to listen to it all over again.  It really is incredibly intimate and organic for music made entirely on machines, and I ended up buying three of his records on 12″ before end of the show.  When the live element is being retired, all we’ll be left with will be the artifacts.

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Here, People, is What We Do Next

There have been a few posts recently – Gaseous Brain, Radar – bewailing the collapse of the Edinburgh University Settlement, a century-old charity reduced to dust in the space of a couple of years.  The loss of their ridiculous homepathic program is something for which we can be grateful, but the accompanying demise of The Forest Cafe and The Roxy Art House is more of a problem, particularly for those of a musical bent.

I have to confess, I thought the GRV was also owned by the Settlement, but they are not closing, just changing their name, so whatever the situation there might be, the venue collapse we are suffering is at least limited to the Forest, the Bristo Hall and the Roxy.

This, of course, is more than enough cause for worry as it is.  As the Radar piece quite rightly points out, the presence of decent, low-cost venues is crucial for fostering a thriving music scene, and without wishing to denigrate the ones we do have like Sneaky Pete’s, Henry’s and The Wee Red Bar, we are hardly blessed in that department here in Edinburgh.

Just to add to the fun, though, we also seem to be fast running out of promoters.  I always mention I Fly Spitfires when I talk about this, but in the three years or so since their demise we have yet to see anyone willing to step into their shoes and bring genuinely trendy bands to Edinburgh.  In terms of the scene slightly closer to home, as far as I am concerned at least, Tracer Trails have all but stopped, Trampoline has been silent for ages, The Gentle Invasion seems to be on one of its periodic hiatuses, and Ruth from the Bowery hasn’t really been able to get back in the game since her venue was placed in other hands at the end of 2009.

Woe is me, waah waah, piss moan, whinge whinge, will we ever have a scene ever again etc etc etc etc…

Stop it.  Just stop.  I don’t really disagree with anything either Nick or Milo say in their respective articles, but I don’t want to focus on what damage this might do to Edinburgh music.  All this doom and gloom is ridiculous, and utterly needless.  The very point of DIY and alternative music is that it is quite literally alternative.  It is an alternative to mainstream mass-market culture and as such will always be a struggle.  To complain about that is kind of ridiculous, because it is inherent in the culture – it’s like saying that you hate swimming because you always get so wet.

The Tracer Trails, Spitfires and Bowerys of this world did not have it easy.  Spitfires brought fashionable music to an initially indifferent city, when most people would simply skip Edinburgh altogether when putting together their tours.  Tracer Trails were so unimpressed with the actual venues on offer they made it a point of tracking down unusual places to put on shows.  The Bowery was started in a disused basement on a budget of a couple of grand.  Christ, even I wrote about music for an audience of zero for nearly three years, before someone actually commented on my website for the first time.

None of the institutions we think of as being representative of Edinburgh’s thriving DIY scene over the last five years had an easy time of it – that’s why they are so respected.  So quite simply, if we perceive the closure of these venues and the absence of these promoters as a real problem threatening the progress of the city over the immediate future there is only one answer: fucking do something about it.  Yes, YOU!

If you want to put on gigs regularly, just do it.  Start with bands who are mates so you can afford to underpay a bit if you have to until you find your feet, but a venue doesn’t have to be amazing.  I saw Meursault blow the roof off Henry’s, and Jeffrey Lewis pack the place out so much it nearly burst at the seams.  I saw The Low Lows’ amazing set at the Ark, which really was a shithole.  Just do it.  Just put things on – it’s not as hard as it looks, you just have to be a little organised.  Make sure you have a PA and a sound guy, get some posters up a month in advance – even shitey photocopied things are just fine – make a Facebook page and get your friends along.  Fuck it, it can be done.

Edinburgh may be famous for having reticent crowds and a dearth of venues and few decent bands and so on and so forth, but you can always make things happen if you are absolutely fucking determined and prepared to force them to.  This is what everyone else had to do, before we got a bit of press for the good bands which appeared in the city over the last few years, but sometimes I think this has led to people treating a music scene as something which just happens, and it most definitely is not.  It is something you have to care about enough to make happen.

Which means that the only way to react to these venues closing down is to use other ones, and bollocks to whether or not they’re quite right.  And if you hear anyone sneering about how the gigs aren’t as busy or the venues aren’t as nice or the bands aren’t as good or the writers don’t care or any of that shit, then FUCK THEM.

It’s a piece of piss being part of a thriving scene – it’s good fun and everyone pats you on the back.  But when there’s little there and you have to fight like hell to keep things happening and to make sure that whatever small fire you have is still being fed, that’s when it’s rewarding, that’s when you’ll feel like you’re achieving something.  Adversity is fun.  It’s a challenge, and I fucking hate being told by people what I cannot do – and that’s what being part of DIY music is actually about.

And while you’re at it, the Forest are trying to raise the money to buy their space from the Settlement (or their administrators, presumably) and you can donate here.  Please do.  It’s worth more than the pints you might spend it on otherwise.

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Thoughts on the Coming Year

This is just a brief list of some stuff I’m looking forward to in the Edinburgh music scene over the coming year.  I don’t intend to be parochial about this, or too narrow, but I am not as close to the precise ins and outs of what’s happening in the rest of the country so there’s a limit to what I can meaningfully say about what’s going on there.  It’s not meant to be exhaustive either, just some thoughts pottering about at the front of my mind.

New Labels

Last year saw the first steps made by a couple of new labels in Edinburgh, Kilter and Mini50.  With Song, by Toad Records virtually at capacity in terms of labour and money, and 17 Seconds and SL Records also really busy, these two new labels should have a pretty free hand in terms of first dibs on emerging bands this year.

Kilter have already showed the quality of their work with the beatiful eagleowl single in December, so in that sense they’re a slight step ahead.  Mini50 have been negotiating with some of the newer bands to emerge in the last year or so though, and album releases by the likes of Mammoeth should give a really solid foundation to their launch.  Basically, this is great news for the city’s young bands.

Jeffrey Lewis – Don’t Let the Record Label Take you out to Lunch

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The New Generation of Bands

Whilst I’m talking about the newer bands to emerge last year, there is a definite gap forming in the local musical ecosystem.  The fact that Broken Records and now Meursault and Withered Hand have graduated to an audience both nationwide and beyond leaves an opportunity for one of the new generation to make a mark locally.

With a single and an EP already to their name, Jesus H. Foxx are slightly further ahead in their development, but with the very promising emergence of bands like the Pineapple Chunks, Conquering Animal Sound and the Last Battle there is the opportunity for a band from the new generation to progress to the stage where they will obviously and easily be able to fill small venues like Sneaky Pete’s and whatever the Roxy management turn the old Bowery space into.


David Bowie – All the Young Dudes

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The New Roxy

And while we’re on the subject of the Roxy, Rupert Thomson, former Skinny editor, has been appointed to run the entire building in the new year.  I have a lot of time for Rupert, so I am really hopeful that he can carry on the development of what is pretty clearly the best gig space for small bands and promoters in the city.  In the absence of Ruth and Jane the place will inevitably have a very different atmosphere, but it is still easily the best space of its type around, so I really hope the new team can continue to foster the underground scene in the capital with the same kind of devotion and sympathy which Ruth brought to the place.  And very nice that they now have a one o’clock license, which is very fortuitous timing indeed for the new venture.


Tom Waits – New Coat of Paint (Live)

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Descent of the Digital Press Locusts

Last year saw the formation of so many new blogs in Scotland it made my head spin.  In fact it actually made me feel like an established veteran.  With respected indie publications like Bearded and Plan B swinging the axe on their print editions and also retreating to the web, we are getting closer to the American press model every day.

In the States there are basically no music magazines left, so labels and bands take blogs way, way more seriously, because we are pretty much the only people left who are addressing their audience.  In the UK there are still some excellent music magazines – Clash, Word, The Stool Pigeon and so on – but glossies like the NME, Q and Uncut are really becoming embarrassingly bad.  Personally I would be surprised if the year passed without a high profile music press casualty, which means that the playing field is unusually open for blogs and other digital publications.  And with the death of music television beyond the insultingly stupid X-Factor and its diseased ilk, pretty much the only music television which exists in the UK is now online.

This general trend could lead to a fairly considerable shift in how online publications are treated over the next year or so and, instead of being considered amateur or grassroots or DIY, we could end up being as close to mainstream as it actually gets in the indie world.


The Clash – Career Opportunities

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That Extra Step

Glasvegas were probably the last really big band to come out of Scotland, in terms of sheer audience size.  Frightened Rabbit, depending on their next album, could follow in their footsteps over the next twelve months.  Do any of the Edinburgh bands, I find myself wondering, have it in them to follow in their footsteps?  Are we likely to ever see the likes of Withered Hand, Meursault or Broken Records get anywhere near a late evening slot on the main stage at a major festival anytime soon?  It would be nice to think so, wouldn’t it.


Aileen Loy & Blue Valentines – Big in Japan

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Willard Grant Conspiracy – Live, Sneaky Pete’s Edinburgh, Wednesday 9th September 2009

wgc
It’s funny to note when you part ways with your gig-going peers. I went along to see X Lion Tamer and the Pineapple Chunks at the Electric Circus on Tuesday, perfectly confident that I would bump into people I knew at the gig. I rarely ever think twice about going to gigs by myself for two main reasons: partly because I am quite happy to be at a show by myself in the first place, because that means not having to apologise if it’s shit; and partly because I am pretty confident that at most shows I am going to bump into someone I know anyway.

That’s not always the case, however. I recently went to see Barry Adamson and was surrounded by a very different crowd than usual, and last night at Sneaky Pete’s the same thing happened: an older crowd, not one of whom I recognised.

That’s no real issue, of course, because that really isn’t why I go to gigs. In this case, I have seen the Willard Grant Conspiracy three times before, and all three times have been drastically different gigs, which sort of makes the songs feel like old friends. You’ve seen them in their garage rock phase, their vulnerable acoustic phase and their grandiose orchestral phase and I really think that helps you get to know a song a lot more intimately than you might otherwise.

The performance at Sneaky Pete’s was happily intimate for a venue which I’d tend to describe as a grungy indie club. The stage lights were out of commission so the only light available was a still image from the projector, which happened to really suit the atmosphere. The band and some of the audience were seated, which further added to the relaxed ambience, and Robert Fisher’s relaxed, friendly way with an audience brought a feeling of calm and contentment to everyone. No-one talked through the performance, either. I liked that.

Given the shifting membership of the Willard Grant Conspiracy you rarely get the same gig twice, and the songs don’t seem to exist in any pre-defined sense, more as a collection of ideas which drift around loosely in one another’s company until they are pulled out out of the ether by a performance, coalescing around whatever arrangement of musicians happens to draw them out at the time.

This setup was based around fiddle, a second guitar and a female backing singer, a couple of whom were drawn from support band The Doghouse Roses, who I unfortunately arrived too late to see. It was a simple arrangement, and one which presented Fisher’s warm, enveloping songs with a satisfying lack of artifice. The band embellished enough to bring depth to the sound, and the fiddle was gorgeous, but at its core this was a very stripped back acoustic performance.

The set was something of a greatest hits collection, closely related to the recent release of Paper Covers Stone, an album of minimalistically re-worked versions of existing WGC tunes, suggesting that there are songs amongst his canon for which Fisher himself has a notable preference. His voice shifts gear dramatically from thunderous to intimate and sitting close up in a small venue it has amazing impact. You can never tell if he is furiously angry with the world, or trying to sympathetically console it for its woes, but the emotion is powerful and unavoidable in a Willard Grant Conspiracy set, whatever the setup.

Between that and the unexpectedly cosy atmosphere in Sneaky Pete’s I found myself split between wishing that some of my other music friends had been there to see it, and quietly pleased to have such a wonderful gig to enjoy by myself.

Willard Grant Conspiracy – Notes From the Waiting Room

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Willard Grant Conspiracy – Fare Thee Well

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Sparrow & the Workshop – Live at Sneaky Pete’s, Friday 11th July 2009

Sparrow & the Workshop

It’s funny, during the recent rise and rise of Sparrow & the Workshop I have started to wonder slightly, why them?  That’s not supposed to be a criticism of the band, because I think they’re brilliant, but there are a lot of good bands around these parts at the moment, and Sparrow’s current upward trajectory is probably the steepest.  Consequently, I had begun to wonder what it was about them in particular which seemed to capture the imagination of pretty much everyone.

Well on Friday I got my answer.  The circumstances were not the easiest, exactly: Sneaky Pete’s was like a bloody sauna, and recent sound complaints meant that the band had to make a few last minute adjustments and rearrange their set quite considerably.

Having been preceded by Randan Discotheque, a band who have never really captured my imagination I must confess, Sparrow & the Worlshop opened with a new song which was frankly bloody gorgeous.  A lot of bands seem to be able to generate an intial flurry of good material, but I always find it telling when they start writing after that initial burst, because a lot can’t manage it.  A band whose new material is consistently this good are clearly onto something.

The more acoustic setup – with three acoustic guitars, a single snare drum and cymbal, and a stomp-box instead of a bass drum – worked really well.  They even managed to add to their percussion by taping a tiny mic to Nick’s guitar and asking him to flick the end of it to fill out the higher end, which took some spotting, but was a really nice piece of improvisation.

In terms of the music, I think I even preferred some of the songs played this way.  Nick is clearly chanelling the spirit of the late Johnny Cash at the moment, and the sound he is making with his guitar is amazing.  With the quieter set the vocals could become a little less combative, allowing Jill’s voice to lose some of its fierceness and simply be lovely for an evening.  When all three were playing guitar there was a rich, confidently quiet aura to the performance which was really quite special.

I’ve seen Sparrow play with aggression in the past, and it’s a great sight to see.  This time, however, they were playing to a very appreciative crowd, and one they know quite well, and the more relaxed, low key approach this engendered brought a warm, generous spirit to the set and made this month’s This is Music one of the best gigs I have been to all year.  Truly brilliant.

Sparrow & the Workshop – The Gun

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Yusuf Azak – Live at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, Friday 24th April 2009

Yusuf Azak

I have been a big fan of Yusuf Azak since I first heard his recent EP, Light Procession, last year but I’ve yet to even have the chance to see him live.  I was, therefore, really looking forward to this lineup, not least because it also included Edinburgh’s favourite mercurial musical maniac Enfant Bastard.

Yusuf’s recorded material is heavily layered and full of effects, so I was really curious to see how this would translate to what was the most basic solo acoustic setup: him, his acoustic guitar, and nothing else.  The result was that one thing remained constant: his voice; and another emerged from the shadows to take centre stage: his guitar playing.

There is a really warm breathiness to his singing voice which is instantly captivating.  He doesn’t have the hoarse growl of a barroom bourbon guzzler, exactly, nor the hushed grumble of an ageing bluesman, more accurately he sings with a really easy, scratched and yet somehow also honeyed charisma.  Some voice, anyway, however you describe it.

The guitar playing is another genuine highlight.  I don’t have the technical knowledge to know whether or not what he was doing was difficult, but it fucking well looked it, and more importantly it sounded amazing.  I don’t know how much of his style comes from his Turkish (I think – sorry Yusuf, if I’m wrong) heritage and how much comes from the acoustic influences he cites, such as Eliot Smith or Nick Drake, but it sounds faintly exotic in any case, and makes for a superb combination with his vocals.

For something as basic as a bloke with an acoustic guitar, this felt like a band gig, somehow.  It was a great performance which was enveloped in a strangely self-contradictory aura of shyness and confidence, and one which makes me really want to see him play again. For those outside the half-dozen or so people in this audience, missing this gig was a mistake which you should rectify as soon as possible

Yusuf Azak – 19.19

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Yusuf Azak – The Key Underground

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Casiotone For the Painfully Alone – Live, Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, Wednesday 22nd April 2009

Casiotone

I am a newcomer, relatively, to the work of Owen Ashworth and chums, having only really become properly acquainted with his work on the release of Etiquette a couple of years ago.  This makes me something of a Johnny Come Lately as far as more dedicated fans are concerned, which is no big deal, but also insofar as his music is concerned, which is more significant.

Etiquette was the first time Casiotone broke away from their eponymous bleepery and truly embraced a more full band sound, which shook the fanbase up a little and made them perhaps a little more palatable to a broader audience.  Including me.

I am not in any way against bare-bones, deadpan music, as any regular reader will know, but this gig almost felt like a microcosm of the neophyte’s journey into the Owen Ashworth canon.  The first half of the show was just the man himself, and an array of equipment somewhat reminiscent of an eighties science fiction set.  For me, this part fell slightly flat.  Not bad, don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable, just it didn’t seem to be bringing anything else to the party.  I think that the reason for this is probably one of the chief dangers with the use of electronics in a live situation: there is no difference between the sound of a synth played recklessly and one played with metronomic precision.

Consequently, when the guitar and drums came out to play, there seemed to be just a little more character and immediacy to the performance.  There was more room, I guess, for an actual performance, as opposed to a recital.  This opinion may offend the Casiotone purists, but this is my over-riding impression from this gig.

Then again, it may just be the sort of music that builds on you slowly, no matter what the arrangement.  I remember seeing the Arcade Fire in Glasgow a few years ago and it was the same.  At the beginning I felt a little flat, but by the end I was completely caught up in the show: this was just like that.  So maybe the line of reasoning laid out above is valid, and maybe it’s just pish made up to explain the fact that I thought the gig started slowly, but by the end was entirely captivating and an altogether brilliant night.  Me talking pish?  Nah, surely not.

Casiotone For the Painfully Alone – Bobby Malone Moves Home

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Casiotone For the Painfully Alone – Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm (When the Saints Go Marching In)

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