Category Archives: live reviews

EX HEX – @ VILLAGE UNDERGROUND, 28 MAY 2019

Live review by LornaMyles (photo by IG: @wunmio)

Before Ex Hex play a note tonight, I’m already in love with them, although I don’t even know who they are. Crazy, right? I mean, I’ve played on or been in the audience for similar bills as them since the early 90s, yet somehow until 6 months ago I’d never even heard of Ex Hex, Mary Timony, Helium, Betsy Wright, Bat Fangs, Laura Harris or many of their other bands. But then a Spotify algorithm gifted me one of their tracks, setting me off on a sporadic search for further tiny nuggets of info, and by the time they came to the UK for this tour they’d taken on the quality of mythical beings in my imagination, avatars from a parallel world that I’d barely glimpsed and which wasn’t quite real to me.

I’m here to review the rock show, but first I need to tell you: sometimes, when I’ve been drinking wine at friends’ houses and playing Rock Band with their children, I go home full of intentions to write the next Hit Me With Your Best Shot. But I never do.

So it’s pretty great to discover a separate thread of musical herstory, which I’d somehow completely missed, which leads to the reinvention of classic rock by three women of a similar age and musical intent. If I’d dared dream it, would it have been this good? Probably not.

I match the faces to their names afterwards, so I can describe their arrival onto the stage thus: Mary looks mellow, serene as she sets up her guitar, exuding calm focus, as does Laura as she fine-tunes her drums just right to punch right through the mix. Betsy comes on dressed like Elvis and struts the stage like she’s in the Revolution… and then the show starts, and immediately the energy changes, it’s POWERFUL, tight, it’s like you went down to the Bronze and discovered your new favourite band and left ready to fight vampires.

There’s a guy there too, on bass – until this point I’d assumed Mary played guitar and Betsy played bass. Maybe on the recordings that’s the case, but live at least they both play guitar, switching between rhythm and lead, trading a few bars each in the solos, back to back or head to head. It’s exhilarating to watch. Occasionally one of them will come out and pull a rock pose, head out over the crowd, foot on the monitor, and it doesn’t seem arrogant or posturing, just cool, and I can’t decide if I wish I were in this band or just want to watch them.

I’m so lost in the moment, that I forget to make notes of the set list, the order. I can tell you that Cosmic Cave and Tough Enough and Rainbow Shiner and Radio On were the ones that stuck out, the first three because I already knew them pretty well and the last one just because. During Rainbow Shiner, which has a guitar break that gives me the same rush as Back In Black by AC/DC or Can You Hear Me Knocking by The Rolling Stones, I’m totally rocking out, no longer bothered about getting the best view. There’s no pit here, I’m close to the front and it’s quite safe, no flailing limbs or elbows knocking me sideways, and that’s cool but I wonder, why aren’t this band massive, and why do people prefer to take photos than to dance?

Well, those are questions for others to think about, and by the end I confess I can’t contain myself but am on my phone as well, grabbing a couple of blurry shots and exuberantly messaging a fellow guitarist, “watching EX HEX I am in LOVE.”

For yes, I am a guitarist myself, and I am of a similar age (possibly older, if I’m honest), and yet I’m still able to babble incoherently at someone after a show, like a teenage fangirl. I guess maybe I’ll always be liable to succumb to the crush/hysteria-inducing power of “classic rock”, as re-imagined by bands like Ex Hex, and this is the triumph and tragedy of my life.

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HELEN McCOOKERYBOOK – LIVE AND (ALMOST) UNPLUGGED… The Betsey Trotwood – 20/6/19.

Live review by Tony Rounce

If you have never been to a gig upstairs at central London’s Betsey Trotwood pub, nothing will prepare you for what greets you on your first visit.  With a capacity of 40 – and that’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder – it has to be one of the smallest venues anywhere in the UK.  A tiny bar and an even tinier stage (holds exactly 1) on opposite corners of the room, no stage lighting at all, and bags of atmosphere as a result.

It was the perfect venue for a double-header featuring two women, two guitars and a sackful of super songs and performances. The evening was promoted by former Chefs and Helen and the Horns front woman, Helen McCookerybook.  She and headliner Pauline Murray are old friends, and thus Helen was able to coax a rare solo show out of Pauline prior to the string of dates she’s playing in the next couple of weeks with her long time band, punk icons Penetration.

Of course, when you are the promoter it makes it easier to sort out support of the calibre of, well, yourself.  Thus we got to enjoy not one, but two of the best singer-songwriters of the past 30-odd years.

Helen is a friendly, giggly woman with a way of making everyone in the crowd feel like she’s been our mate for years. Her melodic, commercial songs address a variety of topics, always in an upbeat way but sometimes with darkness at their heart. Among her ‘protest songs’, the attractive tune of ‘21st Century Blues’ embraced a pithy lyric about liars (and was inevitably dedicated to ‘Boris…and Donald…and…’). ‘So Long, Elon’ offered a blatant dig-in-the-ribs to the Space Race and the money wasted thereupon while homelessness is at its highest-ever peak.

Other highlights of her 11 song, 40 minute set included ‘Heaven Avenue’, a song about Helen’s first and only acid trip and the closer ‘Daisies’, which below its message that ‘no matter how often you pull them up, they always grow back’ hinted at an altogether deeper and more sinister outcome.  She reached back to her days as a Chef to resurrect the witty “cosmetics advice for teenagers” of ‘Let’s Make Up’, and probably got her best response of the set for ‘London Saturday Night’, a song for all of us who have been drawn back to regular gig attendance in this new Golden Age for great bands, after sitting out a decade or two for any number of reasons.

The majority of those in attendance may have been there primarily to see a solo Pauline, but Helen will, I hope, have been pleased with the genuinely warm and enthusiastic way in which each song in her 40-minute song was acknowledged. She was charming, and we were charmed…

Helen is playing ‘Loud Women Unplugged’ in a couple of weeks from now.  Get there early, get yourself a good seat on a comfy sofa, and c with what you see and hear from Mademoiselle McCookerybook.

Loud Women Unplugged is happening at the Old Queens Head in London’s Essex Road on Wednesday July 10. Pauline and Penetration have a number of shows all over the country in June and July – follow them on Facebook, and find out where.

The Feeding of the 5000: Bikini Kill, Brixton Academy, London, 10 June 2019

Review by Kris Smith

Won’t fit your definitions
Won’t fit into your dumb plan
Not in to win the majority
Won’t meet your demands

I want to say something: about a sold-out gig, about a band I’d never seen before, about a scene, reunions, possibilities. Some of it will probably State The Obvious (which I’ll keep as brief as possible) and the rest will be thinking out loud. Anyone who attended the two Bikini Kill gigs in Brixton on 10th & 11th June will have their own narrative and I’ll state for the record here that I am a cisgender white male and your.experience.may.vary. (Write your own review! Get in touch with Loud Women if you’d like to publish it here.) While we’re on the subject of disclosure regarding the gaze I might also admit that I mostly identify as straight although I’ve been given the queer-theory explanation of why I shouldn’t (not limited to a lifetime’s experience of homophobia) but even from my thus-limited perspective I’ll assert that you don’t have to be a womxn to find a crowd of men a deeply unsafe space. What a huge fucking treat then, to attend a sold out gig at a 5000-capacity venue in a major city with a womxn-majority audience, a demographic far from usual even at the most DIY of gigs, and feel none of the usual queasiness or threat. More of this sort of thing, and thank you.

I miss the opener Child’s Pose (promising myself to catch them another time) who sound great on bandcamp and feature members of Dregs and Woolf (I also miss Tuesday night entirely and therefore the other openers The Tuts but tbf I’ve seen and eulogised them before).

(c) Keira Anee - Bikini Kill in London, 10 June 2019
photo (c) Keira Anee Photography

Big Joanie are next and are the perfect support band, bringing as they do something completely different from the main attraction. I haven’t seen Big Joanie for far too long; they have Estella on bass now, Niadzi from Screaming Toenail on keyboards, and a successful album of songs behind them. They sound tight, look super-stylish and perform an efficient set, extremely well received.

Without much delay, Bikini Kill are on stage, and songs come sick and vast. Double Dare Ya, Feels Blind, Carnival, Suck My Left One from the first EP; Jigsaw Youth, This Is Not A Test, Don’t Need You, Resist Psychic Death, Rebel Girl from the split LP; Alien She, Sugar, Hamster Baby, For Tammy Rae from Pussy Whipped; New Radio and In Accordance To Natural Law from the singles; No Backrub and For Only from Reject All American (not in sequence, and others no doubt missing from a 90 minutes-or-so setlist: I didn’t take notes).

photo (c) Keira Anee Photography

The sound is pummelingly effective, the songs aural brickbats. At times the hard contours of guitar are somewhat lost in the huge proscenium arches of the old Astoria theatre, the bass an over-reverbed squall, but that aside it’s a tight punk rock gig; lyrical communication is clear and if you do miss the point of the songs there are handy preludes from Kathleen and Tobi.

(this blurry photo was not taken by Keira Anee, just in case you were wondering)

Not cursed with a media spotlight to the extent that Kathleen was, it’s relatively easy to forget that Bikini Kill has always had More Than One Vocalist, and an incredible frontperson in Tobi Vail. (That’s to take nothing away from Kathleen, but she has her own documentary after all and gets all the mentions; I’m adding some balance.) Alternately funny, humble, razorsharp-articulate and somehow ridiculously, unattainably cool in a uniquely self-deprecating manner, Tobi brings the theory, cites the herstory, breaks the fourth wall, and credits everyone including the UK riot grrrl/DIY punk scene then and now, a good proportion of which is in the audience. At one point I’m sat between Tobi’s mum and Tobi’s bandmate’s mum and there’s a fair bit of beaming going on. Tobi Vail makes me want to form a band, and I’m already in two and really don’t have the spoons. I can’t even play the spoons – but I digress.

photo (c) Keira Anee Photography

Bikini Kill play punk DC hardcore-style. It’s strange to think, having been for so long a phenomenon, almost a myth, for generations of younger fans and musicians (it may’ve only been twenty-odd years, but the generation-generator has sped up considerably), that at the heart of this is simply a garage band. There’s very little blues in their sound, and very little pop, although the later singles and last album were certainly more produced. It’s all rough as fuck, in the best possible way: the songs break down or just stop, having made their point in 2 minutes flat. Bikini Kill could’ve been any early 80s Dischord outfit but for the third-wave feminist mission, the fierce female sexuality, and their skill for slogan-as-chorus. (That first EP set the standard: Suck My Left One, Double Dare Ya; instant classics, memorable and singable, and equally perfect for a placard.)

Punk reunions. At this point it’d be easier to list the bands who haven’t reformed, although tbf some bands just plain keep-on-going. Probably our nearest equivalent in cultural importance was the Sex Pistols; when they reformed in the 90s it would have been churlish to deny them their right to reclaim their legacy, tell their own story, fill venues, get paid. Unfortunately at the time the UK was in the throes of post-peak Britpop and a band that started out playing dive bars to a small tribe of freaks, genuinely upsetting the establishment while getting physically attacked by ‘patriots’, had somehow become a Great British Rock Band, a Day Out For The Lads. They went away as one thing, came back as something completely different. Bikini Kill, in contrast, are still not part of any canon, their music hasn’t been anthologised or reissued by major labels over the last few decades (in fact they run their own record label, control their own archive), and they represent the same principles as they always did. The Pistols meant nothing by the time they reformed; Bikini Kill arguably mean far more now than ever.

photo (c) Keira Anee Photography

How many times did Bikini Kill play the UK? There was the Huggy Bear tour in ‘93, and a short final tour in ’96; was that it, can this really be only their third visit? In 2019 they’ve played just 6 gigs in 3 cities, two of them here in London. In the 90s they played the same kind of pub back rooms many of us still play, so where did their five thousand-plus crowd come from? A small slice of media coverage but a huge wave of word of mouth: YouTube, blogs, and a long-overdue mushrooming of female participation over the last few years in DIY punk, indie and alternative rock. UK riot grrrl was tiny, defiantly uncommercial, short-lived. But a small wave of bands formed around the Ladyfests at the turn of the century, and various DIY scenes have kept the flame since, all influenced by riot grrrl, with everything from bands and blogs, to club nights and dissertations named after Bikini Kill songs and lyrics. More importantly, their return chimes perfectly with what the media call the #metoo generation, in a socio-political context of right-wing backlash simultaneously forcing a refight of battles from thirty years ago, as the band themselves weren’t slow to point out on stage.

This gig didn’t feel like a band cashing in, collecting plaudits, resting on laurels, or taking anything for granted. The politics remain intact. Not just a party, this was a call to arms. A fierce statement of communal validation. Not bad for a Monday night, that.

Bikini Kill in London, 10 June 2019

Photos by Keira Anee

Last night Keira and I (plus just about everyone we know in the DIY scene!) went to see Bikini Kill at Brixton Academy, and it was pretty fucking amazing. This is the band I completely fell in love with as a teenager – their songs were both a mirror and a hammer for a girl struggling to find her voice in the midst of a teenage cyclone of love, hate, abuse and sexual violence. I first picked up a guitar to play along with them, and they’ve been the biggest influence on all my musical doings as an adult – LOUD WOMEN would not exist without Bikini Kill, and certainly the back catalogues of most the bands I’ve been in owe a huge debt to Bikini Kill. (Possibly quite literally – last night I realised quite how many lyrics seem to have hopped straight out of Kathleen Hanna’s mouth and into my songs, oops! KH, if you’re reading this, I owe you a few pints 🙂 )

A full review is coming once I pull myself together (pretty much lost my shit during ‘Feels Blind’ and haven’t recovered since), and after I’ve been back to see them again tonight because oh my, how could I not? There are still tickets available here – come and bounce/sing/cry/celebrate with me!

Huge thanks to Kelly, the Queen Bee of DHP Family, for passes that allowed us to put our girl Keira right at the front to capture these awesome photos of the three bands.

Child’s Pose

Big Joanie

Bikini Kill

All photos (c) Keira Anee – Keira Anee Photography

LIINES / Chorusgirl / Art Trip and the Static Sound – live review and photos by Keira Cullinane

Photos and words by Keira Cullinane @ Thousand Island, 30/5/19

Art Trip & The Static Sound

I never feel so passive aggressive, confident or direct about my vagina as I do when watching Art Trip! Watching Melodie stare the crowd down and groove out society’s flaws isn’t the only star of the show; the band are incredible together live and make you feel part of them, too.

Chorusgirl

This was the first time I’ve seen this band who are label mates with LIINES. I was smiling throughout their set (as were they!) Indie pop with melodies, bounce and beat, I have vowed to buy an album when I’m paid.

LIINES

Fuuuuuuck. I’m no writer and am trying to write about the set, but, fuck. They were great and I (me!) danced throughout. You must go see them.

All photos Copyright Keira Anee 2019

No use without permission and credit. Thanks everyone, it’s important! x

If you are unsure how you can use my photos, please read; https://www.facebook.com/keira.anee/about

Anna Calvi: live review, All Points East

Review by Molly Tie

Almost every other review of All Points East festival that I have read so far will differ from this review in two major ways 1) all anyone seems to want to talk about is the sound issues that plagued the set of headliners The Strokes but I’m not gonna even mention it here (oops, I just did…..) and 2) Anna Calvi has not got much of a look in as the reviews concentrate on the 3 major headliners- the aforementioned Strokes, Jack White’s dirgy post-Stripes outfit The Raconteurs and so-cool-I-thought-they-were-from-Scandanavia Interpol. This review focuses purely on Calvi’s set which was the highlight of the day for me.

Calvi was on the North Stage at the tail end of the afternoon, a modest crowd at first growing to a much more sizeable audience as the riffs of her impressive back catalogue drifted throughout Victoria Park. The whole set was a bit of a masterclass in how to create an incredible and moving atmosphere without elaborate theatrics- just Calvi, her keyboardist-come-additional-instrumentalist and a drummer. Three people on stage creating an eclectic and intricate sound that showcased the best that Calvi can do with her limitless creativity and talent.

Calvi is like a slightly more accessible PJ Harvey (no disrespect at all to Harvey- I love her) able to oscillate between the rather abstract and the good ol’ rocking. Her passion and connection for music is demonstrated by her very energetic and powerful performance and her vocals are an absolute revelation live. There’s elements of many different genres and icons within her set- the set opener puts me in mind of a hazy and psychedelic Doors circa songs like The End; there’s an element of Hendrix (a clear influence on Calvi) in the way she plays her guitar like its an extension of her body and there’s a touch of the poetic Patti Smith in there as well.

The crowd were desperate for Suzanne and I and Calvi dutifully delivered halfway through the set; Wish was the centrepiece of the afternoon and marked the most passionately performed song and the rousing Alpha was a personal highlight of mine.

There was something effortlessly cool and understated about Calvi’s performance- no recycled patter, diving into the crowd or cringy gimmicks- the music was the focus of this set and it was certainly more than capable of holding its own.

kate nash – live review: banquet records, kingston 21/5/19

Seen and heard by Tony Rounce

Twelve years ago Kate Nash almost topped the UK charts with ‘Foundations’, and served notice that she was a songwriter of maturity and perception.  It didn’t really work out for her as a top-of-the-popette, but Kate’s audio rebirth in 2013 with “Girl Talk” put her on an independent road she is still travelling. The inspiration Kate has provided for many of those whose work this group embraces confirms that she is at home here among all Loud Women.

Kate releases far too few records, so each release is an event. And this May in-store suburban showcase tied in with the first ever vinyl issue for Kate’s 2010 “My Best Friend Is You” album.  Accompanied only by the estimable Linda Buratto from her regular touring band, Kate did indeed start off with ‘Paris’ from said album, as well as singing four more songs from it (including great versions of  ‘Kiss That Grrrl’ and ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt’).

A vibrant hour-long, 10-song set covered all 12 years of the discography of Kate Marie Nash – from ‘Birds’ and a particularly compelling ‘Foundations’ off her “Made Of Bricks” debut, to ‘Hate You’ and ‘My Little Alien’ from 2018’s “Yesterday Was Forever”.  Only “Girl Talk” went unrepresented, with a planned rendition of ‘Sister’ being spontaneously replaced by an unplanned performance of her ‘Free My Pussy’ single – prefaced by a lengthy, highly cogent speech that started off as a diatribe against the recent shocking Alabama abortion ruling, and ended up in praise of strong empowered women and men who support and empathise.

Kate has come a long way from the nervous young piano-playing teenager whose first major gig I witnessed at London’s now demolished Astoria Theatre in 2007.  The 2019 Kate is friendly and fearless, whether she is performing for a small record shop full of ecstatically-devoted fans who were happy to sing along every time she asked (and frequently even when she didn’t) or encouraging the mass invasion of a stage designed to hold a maximum of nine people, as I saw her do in Austin, Texas in 2017 – five of whom were Kate and her band.  She interacts with her audience like we are her closest BFFs, thinks nothing of jumping down from the stage and having a singsong with us, and on this occasion ended her set near the front door singing with the latecomers as everyone joined in on Kate’s charming song about her dog, ‘My Little Alien’.

Kate promised at the end of this terrific Kingston show that were would be a full tour later in the year when, presumably, she will have some new music to promote. More imminently she’s got a couple of gigs coming up in the summer, at Guildford’s Boilerhouse on June 9th and Brighton’s Concorde II July 31st.

I’d go to both if I were you…