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Happy Birthday to Us! – Extreme Listening Mode is 1

Doesn’t time fly? The world was a very different place 12 months ago when what would soon be the recognisably scary orange and black colour scheme loaded up and Extreme Listening Mode came into being. Since then we’ve seen a lot of changes but what has been undeniable is that ELM has continued to exist. Hey, baby steps and all that.

We came into being after much prodding by the Wookie, our creator and general driving force. The initial name was going to be ‘Left of the Dial’ after the Replacements song, but was deemed to be a bit too archaic to anyone under 30, which was true. If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase ‘extreme listening mode’ came from, it’s in reference to my habit of wanting to play my entire record collection in about 20 minutes. Why listen to songs the whole way through? That’s for girls, frankly.

We initially planned to do album reviews, but that was sort of abandoned as the site developed. The rationale was simply that you could get those reviews elsewhere and quicker. Instead the development was more organic, with the site becoming one of Scotland’s premier sites for live reviews. We’ve reviewed over 100 bands in the last year. Also, the news, rants and pisstakes seemed to go down well and we are great believers in giving the public – the great, unwashed, demanding public – what they want. We’re those type of guys. We’ve also been delighted by the amount of great music that we’ve turned people on to and that they’ve turned us on to in return.

In an Oscars stylee, I’d like to thank our plethora of talented guest writers, and also ScantRegard, Vespertine, Chenks, E-Streeter, Salamander and Mrs. Morrissey. I kid! I kid because I love! Their contributions add another dimension to the place and all of them hate David Gray. That alone marks them out as stellar humans.

Thanks also to our regular commentators such as Whippet, Longman, Bertrand, Dusty, Adrian Mole, Suedehead, Swineshead and the eviscerating wit that is Good God Man, all of who’s splendidly abusive posts make me feel less guilty every time I write something a bit naughty about our bête noir du jour.

Most of all, thanks to the Wookie, without his drive I’d still be talking about maybe sorta kinda possibly doing something, if I could be arsed.

So we’ll keep writing this crap so long as you keep reading it. The plan is as it has always been – we write about what interests us, what excites us, what abhors us. We still tend to go out on gig manoeuvres, so we’ll still be bringing you the quickest and best reviews. And yes, geography limits us, but the fact is if the band sucked in our town, they probably sucked in yours too.

And remember, every time someone buys an Amy MacDonald record, a kitten dies. Just remember that.

ELM

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Birmingham Academy

by E Streeter

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About a year ago I went to see Ryan Adams and the Cardinals with a friend and having seen about an hour and a quarter I was really none the wiser as to whether Ryan Adams is a rock musician trapped inside a wistful country boy’s shell, or not. I’m still not sure but I really don’t care because it really doesn’t matter.

Adams has a singing style simultaneously fragile and brave, a high register full of soul and a pleasing mid-range which conveys emotion and surprising enjoyment. He is also prepared to deliver achingly personal sentiments sotto voce, quiet, plaintive and in a sweet falsetto. That said, snivelling indie kids expecting an evening of angst will be disappointed because Ryan Adams and the Cardinals play songs which engage and enthral. The other Cardinals are the usual American standard collective of highly-competent players with the unenviable task of remembering a back catalogue from such a prolific writer.

Statistically, this gig ended just ten minutes short of three hours to a three-quarters full Carling Academy. With no support act. Adams and Co took the stage just after 8 with the minimum of fuss, Ryan emphasising the collegiate nature of the evening with the first of four ‘we are the Cardinals’ references and an upbeat opening sequence which featured the excellent ‘Rescue Blues’ and some livelier material. The ‘Easy Tiger’ and ‘Cardinology’ material sounded strong and confident and on this evidence, there’s still fuel in the songwriting tank.

For someone who bares their heart on a regular basis, Ryan Adams disdains the polemic style of Billy Bragg or the pre-Rising Springsteen, content to let his songs do the talking for him. Apart from some arcane meandering about oversized calculators in Oxford and in-jokes with his pals, Adams restricted himself to short introductions and diffident thank yous..

I’ve bought RA&TC CDs like ‘29’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ and find Ryan Adams a frustrating ‘hit and miss’ artist, far too much average alt-country material padding out the songs that grab your attention. Thankfully, this tour seems to have been scripted with set lists and strong material like ‘Beautiful Sorta’and ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’ to the fore. Highlight for me was the low key melodic caressing of ‘Wonderwall’, breathing new life into what is now karaoke-fodder for the terminally unimaginative. Adams did four songs at the Wurlitzer and on this evidence should do a bit more because he was uniformly excellent, showing that his surprisingly strong rock guitar isn’t the only surprise he has.

After an interminably long wait, the half hour encore featured this writer’s favourite ‘Stars Go Blue’ and ‘I See Monsters’. However, a Ryan Adams gig wouldn’t be interesting without an attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of triumph, which the self-indulgent feedback fiesta ‘Magnolia Mountain’ undoubtedly was. A surreal ending to what was, on the whole, three hours well spent.

Let the Music Do The Talking

‘It’s only words’ sang the Bee Gees many moons ago, and they may well have been correct, though obviously not in the grammatical sense. But there are times when words can cause problems. And I don’t mean hurtful or nasty words. I mean loud ones, spoken at gigs, by arseholes. 

ELM attended two cracking gigs this weekend (Built To Spill and MGMT; reviews to follow), both of which were sell-outs, both of which had genuinely hot ticket status (the Wookie’s BTS ticket was procured 20 minutes before the gig started). But yet people were more interested in hearing about what their mate got up to at work than listening to the gig. 

Now, I’m a reasonable sort of fellow. I understand that a gig is a social event, of course it is and especially on a Saturday. But when you are chirping away like a demented budgie on bad ecstasy continually for an hour and a half, you are crossing a very definite line. Legally, I should be allowed to stab you with a pitchfork. 

It actually defies rational logic. You’d think that if you had taken the time to buy a ticket, make your way to the venue that you might actually fancy hearing a few of the songs. I like a pint or eight with the best of them, but do occasionally like to hear some of what the talented musicians I have paid to see perform, well, perform. 

MGMT was slightly better, but we were still treated to gangs (mainly of women, weirdly) acting like they’d had their first drink and it had rather got the better of them. Shrieking and whooping is acceptable at a gig BUT AT THE END OF THE SONG NOT DURING! I know it’s a newish phenomenon for a lot of young ladies to be regular gig-goers, but puh-leeze, there are acceptable levels and modes of behaviour. Respect the rules! 

If this sounds like some churlish killjoy in full flow, well, fuck it, I’m guilty. But when the beautiful strains of ‘Nowhere Nothin’ Fuck-Up’ is being battered into the ether by some shrieking harridan standing in front of me rattling on about how her ex-boyfriend is a pig, then I think I’ve got the right to be a bit moany. If you want a night out, go to a pub. If you want to hear music, go to a gig. It’s not difficult!

It’s a Rich Man’s World – Has the Live Market Reached it’s Peak?

Many moons ago, there was an Office of Fair Trade (OFT) investigation into the price of CD’s. Older readers – most of you, frankly – will recall that the CD, from its inception, was a pretty pricey piece of kit. I vividly recall being charged £13.49 for Nevermind way back in 1992, and that was the rule rather than the exception.

The OFT were asked to look into whether the price was artificially high, and duly reported back that yes, of course it was, record companies being scoundrels and all. However, they were powerless to do anything about it because CD’s were a luxury item; no-one put a gun to your head and told you that you had to buy a CD. You chose to, and if you felt it was too expensive, you had the choice to walk away from the Steely Dan Greatest Hits.

Now, that doesn’t take into account people who live and breathe music. I have a friend who told me that he feared going deaf more than going blind as he couldn’t live without it. But I could see the logic and the market, as it so often does, righted itself with the onset of mail order and indie shops such as Fopp, before the onset of digital music obliterated the market anyway.

But I see history repeating itself here, as it has become clear our thriving live scene is in danger of cutting its own throat. more people now like going to gigs than ever before; live music has never been in ruder health. However, greedy promoters – and, to be fair, bands – are in danger of kicking to death the goose that lays the golden eggs.

ELM faves Sigur Ros are touring in October. one only needs to read the fawning reviews of their Connect set on this site to see what we think of them. But, despite playing the 2,500 capacity Carling Academy, they haven’t sold out. Could it be that the £25 ticket price has something to with it? I know people who really want to go, but that is a lot of cash at a time when money, to quote the bleedin’ obvious, is a bit tight for punters.

Similarly, Elbow are swinging round the country, and will play Glasgow for the second time this year….and are asking £20 a throw to see it. I’d love to, but can I really justify it for a band I have seen twice this year?

It is a luxury item, and bands who sell out in seconds have a perfectly reasonable argument for charging what they like; supply and demand. But when decent bands are struggling to sell out medium sized venues, then it is time to look at the bigger picture. I’m all for stuffing my fingers in my ears and pretending that the bad things will go away, but there is no denying we are in a recession.

It’s a luxury item, no-one makes you buy tickets; but musicians will have to face the fact that in tight times, concert tickets will be one of the first things to be sacrificed. For atmosphere alone, surely it’s better selling 2,000 tickets at £10 than a thousand and £20 anyway?

The Friday 5 – 5 Blatant Breaches of Gig Etiquette #2

Good day to y’all, and sing hosannas, ’tis Friday. Yes, the Lord has blessed us with another weekend, with all the attendant promise and possibilities that it offers. And, as if that wasn’t enough, NOT ONLY have the mighty Hold Steady announced a UK Tour, but so have the excellent Cold War Kids and current faves Fleet Foxes. With that in mind, ELM’s mind turned to gigs and how wonderful they are. And then, being a fairly misanthropic type, it turned to how there is always some bastard there to ruin it. Indeed, we wrote about this a while back, but this still troubles us.  You know the sorts – the ones who just seem to have no sense of etiquette or embarrassment, dedicated to getting right on your titties, causing you to want to hurl the nearest available fire extinguisher in their general direction. (You don’t, of course; you seethe inwardly, wishing all manner of illness and injury on them, maintaining a calm outward facade and hoping that your stern look will convey your disapproval; it’s the British way.) So here is this weeks 5;

1. Talking during quiet songs – ELM is not calling for a blanket ban on speaking at gigs. That would be silly. No, ELM’s ire is reserved for those muppets who wait til the quietest bit of the loveliest song before deciding to turn to their mate and regale them with a tale about how the Bourne Supremacy was on Sky Movies the other night and isn’t as good as the first one. I once had the good fortune to see Sigur Ros perform a magnificent show in Edinburgh. Some of the moments of ethereal beauty were almost other-worldly in their magnificence. And so, of course, some walking haircut decided to tell his friend about how Harvey Nickels were having a sale and listed the savings he’d made. Why would you do that? Why pay money to go and see a fabulous band and do that? You prick?

2. Synchronised Dancing – Many charismatic frontmen have certain shapes to throw during gigs, particularly arena and stadium bands who can’t simply get away with plugging in and playing. It’s all part of the show, and in fairness to each audience, they tend to replicate it most nights. Whether that is against the spirit of spontaneity is another argument. I recall seeing Michael Stipe doing some obviously rehearsed and co-ordinated moves at a show in 1999. So, sadly, did the girl next to me, who’d clearly spent many an hour watching them and then practicing them, except she was skittering around like an arthritic elephant who’d become inebriated after eating rotting fruit. On and on and on she went. Until they played a new song. That fucked her.

3. Exhorters – Sometimes at a gig, it’s just not enough to be enjoying the music at a show. You just aren’t demonstrating enough commitment to the cause, man. So that’s when a guy, always a guy, decides to exhort you to give more. ‘Dance you bastards! COME ON!’ is the cry. Quite why the feel the need to cheerlead is beyond me, but there you go. Usually best to avoid eye contact with these nutters.

4. The Perennial Requester – I actually feel sorry for these blokes. One song, just one song they are desperate for. Would it be so much trouble for the band to play it? Yes, usually. They start off all nice and quiet, just the odd shout, but by an hour in, as they realise that the band are not going to change their set-list and go for it, it becomes a tsunami of pleading. It never works.

5. Fat Lass on Skinny Blokes Shoulders – Always waving like an imbecile, flabby chebs in imminent danger of popping out. And it’s not that they block your view – you can always move round them – but that they bloke a whole rows view because they are tottering about as the poor bugger is in serious danger of collapsing under his wildebeest of a girlfriend’s weight. Surely it breaches H&S?

Well, that’s a moan, but lets face it, gigs are still great! Have a good one ELMers!

Goldfrapp – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

From contributor Chenks;

Hot on the heels of their triumphant set at Glasto, there was much anticipation from this correspondant when a friend was able to pass on some last-minute briefs for this sold-out gig. Then I realised that we were in the all-seater Concert Hall and I started to get a bit concerned as to how that would work.

Confession-time here – at a towering 5’3″ of Weegie womanhood my gig-going experience is often dependent on the height of the people between me and the stage, especially in some of our great city’s less salubrious venues. I am forever complaining about not being able to see, folk standing in front of me talking and so on – how would in many ways my ‘dream gig’ fare?

Well to be honest, it was the only part of a fantastic evening which put a slight dampner on things. When you are listening to pastoral, ethereal melodies with soaring vocals, sitting down doesn’t seem that incongrous and is even quite pleasant. When they play a poppier or more psychedelic number, it lends a vaguely sterile and anodyne air to proceedings. In fairness to the Glasgow punters, they were on their feet strutting their stuff on a few occasions, although mainly to songs like Ooh La La from Supernature or Strict Machine from Black Cherry, with a huge industrial machine pump going up and down on the screen behind them. Nothing from the latest album Seventh Tree or indeed their first Felt Mountain seemed to float their boat in quite the same way, which was strange as my hubby and I were blown away by the newer stuff in particular.

These really are a band and singer and the top of the their game. Alison’s voice sounded amazing throughout. They opened with a tremendous triple-whammy – Brown Paper Bag from Felt Mountain, A&E from Seventh Tree and then Utopia from Felt Mountain. It is at this stage that I really have to mention the visual impact of the band and in particular the images projected behind them while they played. For a start, the stage is decorated with fairy lights, bunting and a huge maypole-type thingie with antlers on top which throws its slightly sinister shape onto the screen behind depending on the lighting. The band come on dressed entirely in white with the two female musician/backing singers barefoot. Alison herself is also barefoot and in a floaty cape number made of what looks like pink nightie-fabric with pompoms. There is great excitement from males at the front whenever she lifts her arms but it soon becomes clear that there are matching pink-nightie material shorts underneath. When the chorus of Utopia kicks in the projected image becomes the lights of sped up traffic in a city at night, flashing beat for beat in time with the music and the impact of this combined with the music really swept me away. Creative lighting along with visual images on screen were used to great effect throughout.

Other highlights for me were Some People and Happiness, and I found Little Bird with its amazing psychedelic light show properly spine-tingling. I believe the Frappmeisters will be playing Connect later in the summer and if you get the chance to see them you must. Even given the restrictions of the venue, tonight they were genuinely uplifting. Unmissable.

The Friday 5 – Blatant Breaches of Gig Etiquette

Well, finger my funnel if we haven’t arrived back at Friday. Ah, Friday, rich with promise and verve, all the colours of the ‘bow shine brightly as we contemplate the world in all it’s beauty. Or go to the pub and get pissed at least. This weekend promises to be a belter indeed. ELM gets to split its time between gigs and football, which is pretty much a golden weekend (not caring who wins at football; just that we all have an excuse to start drinking in the afternoon.) But the gig part is what has inspired this weeks FF….acceptable rules of behaviour at gigs. Now, I’m not a spoilsport. Oh, okay, I am. But there is a difference between getting right into a gig, enjoying yourself ferociously and being a complete dickwit and ruining it for others. Gentlemen, in a crabby, nebby special we present…the gig rules which must be observed on pain of death.

1. Talking during quiet songs – Now, if you are there to see AC/DC, fuck me, it’s loud. Have a yap. But don’t go to see Sigur Ros, wait until the quietest moment of the most ethereal beautiful song then turn round and tell your mate about something funny that happened at work that day and start giggling. It’s juvenile. Go outside for a fag. Give the rest of us peace. Don’t make me wish bad aids on you.

2. Bar-jumping – Unforgiveable. We are British. We queue, and we queue with honour, dammit. We will wait for ten minutes and miss our favourite songs to pay prices the equivalent of a barrel of oil for some over-priced, warm Interbrew generic lager. We do not expect some ferret-faced fucker to nip in front of us at that point and then order thity-four cocktails. This deserves a shoeing. And no court in the land would convict.

3. Shouting ‘amusing’ things at the bands between songs – Oh, Lord. You aren’t funny. You just aren’t. No-one in the hall came to see you. Go to an open mic night and wow the crowd then. Do not cause a supremely talented band to lose momentum trying to deal with your comedy stylings which are incomprehensible and, frankly, boring. You fucking loser.

4. Fat people crowd surfing – I’m sorry guys, but while it’s great that you are not caught up in some flagrantly unrealistic body-fascist mess and you are proud to like pies, it’s just…I don’t want to be supporting your enormous carcass and wondering if my hands are wet with your sweaty dewflap juice. Stand in one place. have a dance, it will add to the bass feeling through the floor. But come on lardarses of the world – obey gravity.

5. Waiting till the last song before moving to the front – If you have wallflowered , loitered around the bar during the new tracks and then fuck off up the front for the big hit, then you are scum on the same level as Wife Swap contestants. The people down the front have shown commitment. You have not. If you do it to me, I will punch you in the kidneys and spill beer on you as you fall. And I will feel no remorse.

Well, we are somewhat hamstrung with the Friday 5 as it’s a self-evident truth that we must stop at 5. I’m sure our beloved readers can add some more…..