A tasty free gig at the Corner House, with Violet Woods (reviewed extensively elsewhere on this site) sounding on great form, big echoing twelve string, organ and explosive drums all in place and bass player Mark Boxall featuring in Mammoth Penguins later too. As well as songs from their self-titled album there was also a new unrecorded song and a French interlude to celebrate Bastille Day.
Violet Woods have an album to be proud of, as now do Mammoth Penguins, with new disc ‘Hide And Seek’ forming the majority of their set. The packed-in and very hot audience warmed to the stripped back and very tight sound, a balance that often only the classic guitar, bass, drums line-up can achieve. Emma Kupa sings tales of grown-up disappointment, regret and hope, mostly distilled into three minute bursts of indie joy with biting lyrics floating on great bass/drum interplay and sharp guitar.
‘Propped Up’, ‘Played’, ‘Strength In My Legs’ are all neat snapshots and ‘March Of The Penguins’ is pure pop delight cloaking a bitter summary of rejection. A promising unrecorded song ‘Put It All On You’ showed a different direction with all of the band contributing vocals and then they finished with the dark chronicle of perceived failure ‘When I Was Your Age’ with the closing line ‘I’m going nowhere…’
Perfect summer listening, deserving a much bigger audience…
Another strong line-up for a sold out evening at The Portland, starting with Ben Garnet, otherwise known as The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, a regular in Cambridge (and on this site) with his guitar/random sounds/voice/laptop combination. A large audience was already in the venue, reacting well to the electronica, triggered effects and manipulated vocals of hours of painstaking studio crafting being let loose to run free in the live performance. Older songs ‘Testing the Theory…’ and ‘See This Through’ sound as good as ever as does the heavy bass and denser instrumentation of new track ‘False Economy’. Apparently new experiments in stereo are pushing the capacity of the laptop (Bill) beyond its limits but it looks like this creative partnership will run and run.
Five piece Cambridge band Violet Woods are featured elsewhere on this site and it was good to see that their live versions of tracks from the debut album have grown in stature. It was a nicely paced set, contrasting the dark mysteries of ‘Electric Fascination’ with the simpler pastoral pleasures of ‘Here’ and ‘Driftwood Royalty’. The band musically blends moody 12-string electric guitar with bold retro organ notes as second guitar, bass and drums all make a major contribution. The finale of the album and live set is ‘The River’ an epic track with a haunting vocal from Xavier Watkins, then eventually all the instruments break loose, with feedback and the drum kit flayed until it sounds like it is being thrown down the stairs…
The Wave Pictures are a likeable and unassuming trio, their sparse tight sound and onstage interplay creates a captivating and engrossing show. Having formed in 1998, they have recorded many albums as themselves or collaborations with a variety of performers, also they have covered songs by cult outsider American singer Daniel Johnston.
Complex lyrics featuring relationships, domestic trivia, assorted wildlife and name checks of Johnny Cash, Tracey Emin and The Real Slim Shady(!) are delivered mainly by guitarist Dave Tattersall with drummer Jonny Helm leading on some songs. Along with bassist Franic Rozycki the band are accomplished musicians, their trademark indie rock is clear sounding and intricate guitar solos interspersed with busy basslines and solid drums.
There are also departures in musical styles, the polyrhythmic shuffle of ‘Before This Day’ was an early highlight. At times I was reminded of the minimal relaxed sound and lyrical concerns of Jonathan Richman, another live performer with the ability to have the audience losing themselves in his unique musical world. Soon to be released album Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon featured strongly, then the show ended with requests, all warmly received by the very attentive audience.
Track by track review of the recent self-titled LP/CD from Cambridge band Violet Woods. An adventure in indie psychedelia…..
1. Electric Fascination. A strong, brooding opening track. The shimmering 12-string guitar figure opens the song then persists through variations as the echoing vocal competes. It is a walk through the trees (woods) on the LP sleeve with occasional glimpses of the brighter sky.
2. Over the Ground. A companion piece to track 1, again with a sinister guitar phrase dominating, backed with descending organ and vocal layers. A fuzzed electric guitar solo takes us to an abrupt end.
3. Here. A resolution to the first two songs, an optimistic pop song with a heartfelt statement of contentment. A simple and affecting lyric, the title barely mentioned but the sentiment very clear. Uplifting guitar lines and well judged sustained keyboards.
4. The Dancer. Appropriately titled, a bit funky this one, when played live it is an energetic high point of the show. Skips around at first, light touch on the bass, then from nowhere a big noisy finale.
5. Take Your Time. A low key ballad, but definitely a grower. Singer Xavier Watkins delivers one of his best vocals on the album, plaintive and subtle. Guitar, drums and organ given plenty of time to build on a repeated phrase at the end.
6. What I Need. Mid-tempo compact structure based around a staccato drum pattern, passes along nicely but not quite the same immersing ambience of the other songs.
7. Raw Love. The band’s debut single from late 2012. A carefully crafted catchy pop song, radio-friendly hook line, if only all radio was as good as 6 Music.
8. Driftwood Royalty. I really like this one, so laid back, could be from the sixties or eighties, it floats in and out again like some sort of impressionist reverie.
9. The River. The rest of the album paves the way for this track, it draws on all the others to create a complex epic, musically driven by military precision drumming, punctuated by restful passages with underlying tension. The last two minutes of the song goes into drumming and guitar overdrive before the final sustained note, tempting us back to track 1…
Overall an accomplished debut, excellent production and deserving of repeated listens (it sounds good live too!)
This was the launch party for the new album by Violet Woods, a Cambridge based five-piece led by vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Xavier Watkins. The psychedelic tone was set by DJ Rich Hero, playing very obscure and ultra-cool vinyl singles from the late sixties and early seventies, accompanied by oil slide projections on the ceiling.
The opening act were Riverane, previously reviewed on this site as support to The Hot Lights and moving their sound on into darker territory since then, as the vocals of lead singer Gabriel Coulter twist around the continually varying musical moods.
Violet Woods hit the stage with an instrumental introduction, then straight into ‘Over The Ground’ from their self-titled album. It is a retro sound, lovingly recreating and extending the late sixties pop/rock/psychedelic vibe with some modern edges. On record it is mostly fairly smooth and relaxed but live there is no holding back, with added echo to the voices, over a powerful instrumental backing, such as when 12-string guitar and organ are thrashing away in the ending of ‘The Dancer’. To make a Cambridge early Pink Floyd connection, it is definitely more ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ than ‘Grantchester Meadows’…
Probably my favourite song, ‘Electric Fascination’ is based around an eerie descending 12-string figure, repeating and competing with distant vocals. The guitar wins in the end… The reassuring chord structure of ‘Here’ is a neat pop song, ‘Driftwood Royalty’ is an optimistic dreamy lyric. The epic ‘The River’ ends the set, going through changes before an exhausting instrumental onslaught. It was a great advert for a confident and impressive debut album.