Sunday, 1 May 2011

At the Wee Red

 . . . Bar, that is.  The one in the Art college.  I was there on Tuesday night, to see Fuzzystar, The Oates Field and Golden Grrrls.  Mainly to see Fuzzystar, if the truth be told, but I was interested in the others.  I'd seen Alan Oates solo a few times, and always enjoyed his stuff, without being completely bowled over by it.  Anyone who can play a keyboard with a beater between their toes whilst singing and playing the guitar deserves some respect, I feel.

Before Fuzzystar opened the proceedings though, I couldn't help reflecting that many shows around the town succeed despite the qualities of the venue in question, not because of them.

Take the Wee Red:  There's usually absolutely nothing outside to suggest there's a gig on that night, or that it is even a venue of any description.   Often there's daylight coming in (Daylight?!! With Rock n roll??!! Yuck!) from the doorway (if it's open), and a bit of outside noise coming in from the corridor.  If the door is shut, then every time someone comes in they have to walk in front of most of the audience to look for a seat (and letting in more daylight, arrg), and it's somewhat distracting from the band.  There's no stage, the performers are on the same floor as the audience.  The sound can often be pretty terrible.  The bar doesn't sell any nice beer, and the toilets stink.  The miserable wretch known as the music-lover tolerates all this, Ladies and Gentlemen, in order to occasionally catch a fleeting glimpse of beauty through the medium of music.
Fuzzystar as a four-piece (no Malcom in this photo)

Happily though, on Tuesday, the sound wasn't terrible, it was actually quite good.  And, the beer wasn't horribly overpriced (like it was at London's Brixton Academy, where two drinks cost £11.25.  But anyway).  And I should stress that I'm not blaming the promoters The Gentle Invasion for any of the above.  They have honoured their end of the bargain by selecting quality acts and publicising the event.  And they're nice people too.

So, given all the above, I was pleasantly surprised when Fuzzystar, who were playing as a duo, played an entrancing set.  Malcolm Benzie was being Mr Multi-instrumentalist, swapping an electric guitar for a ukelele, then for a violin, plus doing backing vocals.  You could hear Andy Thomson's fine lyrics clearly, and the whole thing was melodic, varied and interesting.

Then on to the "power trio" The Oates Field.  I didn't really know what to expect, but it became apparent that if Alan's solo stuff is his Dr Jekyll, then this band is his Mr Hyde.  The guy let rip into one of the most rocking sets I've seen in a long time, dancing on guitar effects, and bellowed and screamed into the mike as if his life depended upon it.  Truly exhilarating and great.  At one point he switched to singing through a vocoder, but instead of using it generate an icy cool, a la Air or Kraftwerk, he repeatedly screamed "Come on!", which made it sound like a demented robot, which was brilliant. 

The 3-piece Golden Grrrls initially disappointed me by not being all girls (one's a boy), and not particularly golden.  In fact, one had dark hair and one had light brown.  Putting that to one side, one could admire their chutzpah for dispensing with a bass, and for their spiky, jaunty lead lines played on a Telecaster.  Reminded me at times a fair bit of the late Edinburgh band The Shop Assistants, in the general unabashed nature of their Indie sound.  As I said to Andy, one could imagine it going down well in a student union.

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