Nov 12

Ben Kweller @ the Electric Ballroom 8/11/12


When I was eleven I made a new friend. He decided we should start a band and gave me a cassette tape. On one side was ‘Dookie’ by Greenday and on the other was ‘Restraining Bolt’ – the debut LP from Ben Kweller’s first musical project Radish, a band he started at the age of twelve!

Needless to say Radish were awesome, our band, less so. Now Kweller is all grown up, married to the eponymous ‘Lizzy’ with two kids. He is a bonafide genre spanner, over the years producing punchy Radish-esq rock/pop albums as well as more low key acoustic and piano filled records, and even a full blown country effort.

Taking to the stage at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, Kweller is reminiscent of a Woodstock era Arlo Guthrie, if Guthrie had been an extra in Wayne’s World. He is a charmer and his fairly new band is mega tight. He seems so comfortable and at ease with the audience you can tell he’s grown up in front of a crowd.

The set list reads like a lovely tapas dinner with a couple of delish morsels from every album. Highlights include the whole crowd joining in for a raucous rendition of Wasted and Ready, performed after the band down their halftime jägers. Plus a little acoustic set of requests including Drug Buddy – a cover of the great Evan Dando and a nod to the guy who gave him one of his first support slots.

Ben Kweller is like the cool older cousin who lives abroad and you only see at the occasional family get together, the kind that tells you about a band that will change your life and sneaks you a shot or two when you’re thirteen. You worry that the next time you see him he will have changed, but actually he just keeps getting better.

Photobucket Words: Dickon Drury

Jul 12

M. Ward: Koko, July 2012

It was with a slight sense of apprehension that I headed down to Koko to see M. Ward play Camden on the last night of his European tour.

I had been a genuine fan of his breakthrough album ‘Post-War’ back in 2006, but was markedly less enthused by his twee and rather restrictive She & Him collaborations with Zooey Deschanel, and his latest offering ‘A Wasteland Companion’ released earlier this year.  Would he stick to his new material or would I get to enjoy a nostalgic trip down a musical memory lane?

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. M(atthew) Ward treated us to a healthy dose of songs both old and new, peppered with a few happy surprises.

Bittersweet Poison Cup and Chinese Translation were both honoured and elicited delighted cheers from the crowd. Tracks from the new album such as Primitive Girl and Sweetheart that had previously left me cold thankfully came to life on stage, and I was left with a greater appreciation for the record once Ward had shown us how they were meant to be played. A couple of unexpected covers were thrown in for good measure, including Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven and a perhaps overly syrupy rendition of anti-folk hero Daniel Johnston’s Story Of An Artist.

The sweetly husky voice that draws you into his recordings was just as seductive live, and left us wondering exactly how he manages to perfect the gritty yet oh-so smooth vocal combo – I reckon if it was breakfast it would be a slice of burnt toast drenched in honey, except rather than tasting better than it sounds it would sound better than it tastes…

Ward’s lack of on-stage chat and genre-spanning set make him a tricky man to pin down, but his genuine love of music shone throughout the show as he and the band delivered a schizophrenic smattering of country, blues, rock and sturdy folk songs. Whoever he is and whatever he is about, I hope he sticks with what he excels in – showcasing his gorgeous voice with the help of some good solid tunes.

Photobucket Words: Daisy Drury

Apr 12

Jack White debuts solo show in Camden

If Edward Scissorhands had got himself a successful hand transplant and swapped his outrageous snipping skills for guitar picking, I think he would bear more than a slight resemblance to Jack White.

It’s Monday the 23rd of April, and Jack White is marking the release date of his new album ‘Blunderbuss’, by playing his first ever UK gig as a solo artist.

White is touring with two bands. One all male, and one all female. He enters the stage tonight surrounded by women and promptly explodes into the White Stripes classic Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground. The band encircling the wiry-haired dervish consists of a piano, a violin, a backing vocalist, a pedal steel, a double bass and a particularly fantastic drummer.

The gig plays like a Jack White retrospective. Songs from the new album are juxtaposed with old classics from The White Stripes and The Racontours as well as his work with Dangermouse.

Highlights included a face-melting rendition of the solo heavy Ball and a Biscuit, immediately followed by the two and a half minute storm in an eggcup that is Sixteen Saltines. By the time the inevitable Seven Nation Army rolled around the entire audience was singing along with the riff like a crowd of plaid clad football hooligans.

A more comprehensive tour of the UK is scheduled for the summer. Get a ticket. Or get two and see him play with the boys as well.

Words: Dickon Drury

Apr 12

Free Willy

Free things are a mixed bag. There is an overwhelming abundance of depressing free things, like The Metro or single use toiletries. Then are the slightly less depressing things like the Evening Standard Magazine, refills and ropey wi-fi. Then you get the things that are free due to some massive, glaringly obvious, human error or scam, such as an inheritance from an unknown rich Nigerian uncle which you need to pay a small admin charge to receive, or a Willy Mason gig.

Having arrived at the newly opened Colonel Fawcett, a perfectly pleasant up-market pub, one suspected the ‘free’ gig was either a clever ruse to attract new customers or we were going to be sat down and made to listen to a time-share pitch sung by Willy. However the huge crowd was in for a treat not involving a Spanish villa, but Willy performing three sets from each of his albums from the last ten years.

The large upstairs room, which is due to host more gigs in the near future, was throbbing with Willy fans and notably many ex-pat Americans who had made the journey to see their country man perform. The set began as it would finish, with Mason, looking like a 60-a-day Marlboro man, on his own on stage with just his guitar for company.

The rolling American country music was perfectly suited to the intimate venue, lit up by fairy lights. After playing several songs from his first album he had a brief interlude before returning to play the big crowd pleasers, which transformed the Colonel’s crowd into an impeccable backing choir, singing along to We Can Be Strong. Listening to the broad range of his material was a funny experience, there are songs everyone knows and then those you didn’t realise were Mason’s but recognize, and all the melodies, like that of If The Ocean Gets Rough, have a hint of familiarity in a rather pleasant way.

The choir continued to oblige by singing (shouting) along to Save Myself with Mason politely allowing the crowd to dominate by sharing the verses. The set later went on to show case new material that didn’t stray too far away from his personal acoustic style and story-like lyrics.

As he rounded off a generously lengthy set, the slightly bemused audience dispersed wondering as to how they had been treated to an amazing performance from a well-established artist for completely gratis. The best things in life are free, indeed.

Photobucket Words: Cameron Smith

Mar 12

Scroobius Pip @ Koko


Scroobius Pip hits Camden for the second time in three months, but this time he’s determined to make sure we all have the night of our lives. I don’t know if it’s the fact that he’s now mid-way through a European tour, or whether it’s because he’s happy to be back in England, but tonight we are treated to more than we could ever hope for from one of his sets.

Starting with album opener Interdiction it’s clear tonight will be a little different as he takes to his hair with two clippers and proceeds to give himself a mini-mohawk (just like he does in the music video) midway through the song. It’s a devastatingly effective way of turning the heat up by a good few degrees, and the place becomes a cauldron of adoration, freneticism and exhilaration.

The set itself is both simple and complex at the same time. With just two other musicians on stage, both of whom are shielded from view by a lot of equipment, it’s left to Pip to fill the large space with his presence and it’s fortunate that he’s up to the job.

He drags cohort B. Dolan on stage for the single Soldier Boy, placing a joke arrow through his new mohawk as they work together to deliver the punchy, damning and sad indictment of the military and their puppet strings. Dolan has a fine set of blonde hair extensions… on his beard. Yes it’s strange but who really cares? Perhaps it’s the fallout from a recent successful trip to Amsterdam… to buy, er… tulips, probably.


Vocalist Natasha joins the stage for Feel It and we’re left with an encore that shows Pip’s slightly violent side; coming on stage for The Struggle with his hands drenched in blood. The song is about Johnny Depp, the serial killer and the front few rows are flecked with blood by the time it finishes. Having started in fine form with the clippers, we’re now left with a ‘London-only’ special of Prince’s Get Off, complete with all of the nights special guests and support bands on the stage. It’s messy, it’s tacky, it’s bloody good fun and it’s not something I’ll be able to avoid in the future, should we be graced by his presence again. And there endeth tonight’s lesson.

Photobucket Words and pictures: Dan Aitch