Wheatus: The Soundhouse Leicester – Reviewed!

Scuttling down the dark back streets of Leicester city on a Sunday night would normally mean you’re up to something dodgy, and as we sidle up to the queue of distinctly eclectic looking folk bathed under the faint green glow of a neon sign, it occurs to me that this is exactly the sort of reputation the ‘alternatives’ always had – dodgy. Luckily our band of choice tonight, made their mark singing about precisely this sort of thing, so we’re in good hands.

As we slip past the giant sage green tour bus, jammed like a conga eel down a tiny alleyway, and head into The Soundhouse venue, we are greeted by friendly faces and an absolutely tiny room. Now, I must note two things here. Firstly that I adore gigs in small venues. There is an intimate and special quality that definitely dies in larger places. Secondly, I have no idea how we’re all going to fit in here, nor the band on the miniscule stage.

As it turns out, I need not have worried – the tattooed skinheads, stoners and hipsters have all filed in just fine and there’s a decent amount of dancing room. I do slightly fear for the health of the two very on brand dirtbags at the front, who have come in full ‘Loser’ movie regalia of parkas and furry trapper hats. Exemplary dedication to the cause.

A small merch stand is selling the very last of their tour tshirts, signed posters and such. There are quite a few items that have sold out, presumably due to the fact that we have ended up being the very last date on this tour due to Brendan B Brown’s illness causing the cancellation of the previous show. I’d also like to highlight how brilliant it is that they and The Soundhouse worked together to get this night stuck on the end instead of just faintly promising “they’d be back at some point” – we are truly grateful, and it’s a sellout show for a second time.

Up first is the perfectly awkward purveyor of (as he puts it) Nerdcore Rap, MC Frontalot. Ascending (and by ascending I mean taking one slightly elevated step) the stage wearing a very convincing Dwight Schrute outfit, and a head-torch he yells “I’m a nerdcore rapper, from San Fransisco to Knife Crime Island” and laments that this is the 47th and final time he’ll have done this show on this tour.

Instantly taken with his self-deprecating rhymes, we giggle our way through the likes of ‘First World Problem’ and ‘Power User’“I’m in a sadomasochistic relationship with my desktop computer” he says, deadpan. The beats are distinctly 90’s in feel, and I guess the intersection of rap and rock was a lot lower in the UK than it was in the US, so the crowd is unfortunately kind of flat, which is a shame as Frontalot is actually really fun.

There’s a definite Flight of The Conchords style familiarity about him, which I obviously enjoy, and joking about being dressed like a sixth grade English teacher has us in stitches, mainly because my plus one for this gig tonight actually *is* a high school English teacher. Finally the ‘Tut Tut’ song requires a bit of crowd participation and at this point everyone seems to decide it’s ok to join in and have a bit of a boogie, which obviously serves to rocket the temperature of the room. Anyway, MC Frontalot – I salute you, that was a kickass set, and I shall join your Nerdcore rap movement by subscribing to you on Spotify later.

As Wheatus sneak onto the stage to start setting up, a commotion in the middle of the room is brewing. It seems that a lady has passed out and they’re trying to get her to the fire doors for some air. As Brendan B. Brown calls for security to come over and help before they start, I joke “Well, you’ve got them passing out before you’ve even played a note” and he replies “Ha, well… it’s not my first choice”.

© Anna Hyams for SFG. Do not use without permission.

Once the situation has been appropriately handled, the gap in the crowd closes and all eyes turn to the now very cramped stage. Brendan is sporting a rather excellent semi-acoustic guitar whose sound holes are shaped like the Wheatus stylized ‘W’, and yells out a quick hi to the crowd before asking what we want to hear. Now, I knew that for the rest of the tour they’d been taking requests, but I simply wasn’t ready for how far they would go – this night, we had an entirely crowd-curated set list. Mixing hits with B-sides, never before heard-live tracks and the band working their asses off to keep a 63 song repertoire live in their heads, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a gig.

Starting out strong with ‘Pretty Girl’ and then my yelled suggestion ‘Leroy’, I am already absolutely delighted to be here tonight, Brendan’s voice sounds fantastic despite the recent illness, until he has to stop for a short cough-break after ‘Semolina’. “That’s the sound of pneumonia… it’s not Covid, I tested negative five times! This is just regular sick. See they love that!” he laughs as the crowd cheers.

Swigging from a paper coffee cup he quips “I’m actually completely drink and drug free, so when I get the chance to have medicine and 4 shots of espresso, I take it, woo! But yeah don’t do drugs, especially don’t do cocaine it fucks up your nose then you can’t sing the girl part to teenage dirtbag.”

Flowing into ‘Truffles’ with an extensive solo on the end, it’s more like we’re earwigging on a jam session than at a gig, I can’t rave enough about how collaborative and interesting it feels to not just be played *at*. “That was some lead singer gratuitous bullshit there… I decided I’m not a good guitarist halfway through.. was it OK? You don’t have to cheer you know” Brendan says, underestimating a UK crowd who immediately 180 to giggled booing instead. “Oh bollocks” he replies in a British accent.

‘F.B.S.M’ comes with a side story about how this forgotten song was rebuilt due to Neil (in the crowd)’s shitty flip phone recording at a previous gig, which of course galvanizes the record-everything crowd to hold their phones aloft for ‘Temporary Song’. It’s irritating in a small room, and they’ve memorised all 63 of these songs already my guy, put your phone down and enjoy the music.

Perhaps in karmic response, suddenly the stage goes dark as the lighting desk goes kaput and a very frantic fiddling begins to try and fix it. ‘Tipsy’ is played in a blueish twilight (totally useless for the iphone videographer crew, ha), but apparently Saviour tech ‘Archie’ manages to harrass a new board in place before ‘Hump’em n’Dump’Em’ which then morphs into some sort of disco rave situation. Following this, a full crowd karaoke ensues for their hit cover of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’, which is weirdly poignant on this Remembrance Sunday, amid the news of Gaza – “We can make love not war”.

When someone yells out ‘Punk Ass Bitch’ I expect to be singing my head off, but they instead play their alternate lyrics version written for Jackie Chan’s Adventures, called ‘Chan’s The Man’. It’s cute, and again something unique… but I am damn well singing the OG lyrics over the top.

‘Marigold Girl’ is a bit of an emo dirge, but you know – so am I, so I liked it. “This song is about a Zombie apocalypse. This is my dead people song. This is a tour first, we haven’t done this yet in the 46 other shows we’ve played, it’s the only one we haven’t played so we’re gonna complete it”. Up next, ‘Sunshine’ is the absolute antithesis of the previous song and it sounds every bit as excellent as teenage me thought it might, back in 2000, listening on a silver CD walkman.

‘Wannabe Gangstar’ has everyone singing along again, into ‘Whole Amoeba’ and when someone yells out “PLAY THE LEICESTER SONG” the band quickly whip up a few bars of funk and call it ours. ‘London Sun’ and ‘Lemonade’, are two of my favourites that aren’t from their debut album and for a final show set of a long tour, plagued by illness and extensions – I am surprised and awed that the band continue to sound this good.

Someone calls out ‘Mr. Brown’ – another great debut album track, and then it’s time for *the song*, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Rocking a safari style bucket hat, Bendan says “So, Dirtbag… back in the charts… I don’t know how you did that but it’s down to you, thank you so much. Anyway, we know it’s your song now, not ours. Here we go”, and then it is a deafening crescendo of crowd singing through to the ‘girl part’ which hits the kind of sound barrier that makes neighborhood cats scarper and brain fluid fizz. “You wanna hear me do it?” BBB asks to a chorus of agreement, and thankfully most people understand the brief and let him actually sing the section before ending on a full house high. Oh, but not before we get some inserted bars from the returning MC Frontalot. I love it.

At almost 11pm a few people prematurely head for the doors, but the chants of “one more song” ring out and we get to hear ‘People’. “Thanks for supporting my illness these last few shows, your love is felt. Oh, yes we’ll definitely be back don’t worry” Brendan enthuses. “This song is about how it’s better to have more diverse people, and less of the same people” brings about cheers and clapping, and sadly, the end of an epic set.

This version of the band, although almost entirely changed from the original line-up, have an energy and connectivity that flows so organically that it truly feels as if you’re being swept by the tide of them. I can’t rave enough about how special and interesting this one-of-a-kind show was. Yeah, I know we were number 47 on the roster but, if you weren’t at this one, you’ll never see it again – and that, is the power of live music and a band who are brave enough to let their fans run the show.

© Anna Hyams for SFG. Do not use without permission.

Handmade Festival 2014 Review

For its second year, the burgeoning Handmade Festival, situated in a number of venues across the inner-city landscape of Leicester, brought in a diverse range of acts once again.

Headliners for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday amounted to Irish experimentalists And So I Watch You From Afar, Japanese pop-rock girl-band Shonen Knife and the rousing acoustics of Dry the River, a pretty eclectic mixture, I'm sure you'll agree! Throw in some top comedic acts interspersed throughout local talent and smaller acts, aswell as photography and art installations at some interesting venues, a great combination of entertainment all for just £30.

For me, it began on Friday evening with Matt Henshaw  at the Cookie. Henshaw had pre-empted his slot with a selection of photos featuring him alongside Leicester landmarks like the Clock Tower and the King Power Stadiumon on his Facebook page. It was a nice way to kick-off the festival as his soulful style was soothing, after a long week for the majority of the audience! Henshaw is appearing back at the Cookie in a month's time to launch his new EP, so the city obviously means a lot to him, something he pointed out inbetween songs.

I jumped over to the Firebug pub to check out MJ Hibbett & the Validators set upstairs. They attracted a sparse, yet involved crowd upstairs, as they rattled through a relatively short 30-minute set. The leader of the group, Hibbett has a great history with the music industry, creating his own music label 'Artists Against Success' and peppered with a few viral hits, including he claims, the first ever viral video. I liked the tight drumming and the use of a violin, shaking things up a bit, and the lyricism of Hibbett was subtle yet effect, in a similar vein to Melvyn Bragg.

From Firebug, it was then over to the exquisite Hansome Hall, my third venue of the night for the backend of Three Trapped Tigers' set. I emerged into the ex-theatre venue to see a room full of bouncing fans, as TTT had the crowd in the palm of their hand. From the brief end of the set, it was clear to see they were on fine form, a fact confirmed as I discussed with a fellow fan who'd seen the entirity of the set.

But it was undoubtedly obvious what the majoirty of said fans were there for, the experimental stylings of Irish band And So I Watch You From Afar. Having listened to some of their work beforehand, I was anticipating their arrival greatly, and I wasn't left disappointed. The three-pronged guitars were backed up brilliantly by their drummer and some choice cuts from last year's 'All Hail Bright Future's' LP went down a storm, 'Big Things Do Remarkable' and 'Eunoia' amongst them. Their second record has progressed them higher up the musical spectrum, so it was great to see them in such an intimate environment, where they filled the room brilliantly with their sound. What was great about the band was that they controlled the room with very little vocalisation, but when that did kick in, you felt the effect fully. It was a great ending to the first evening of fun, as the band told their ecstatic audience just how much they loved playing in Leicester, a city that has been great to them.

Saturday began with a set from locals Juniors. They played at Firebug, which again showed its impressive use of space for a live music venue. It was brash, loud start to the day as the alternative-rock the band plays throws in some ragged, raw riffs to create a pacy, head-pounding sound. 'Sharman's Rug' was the pick of the bunch, as Leicester's eclectic music production line looks to have created a new batch of stars.

Brawlers followed Juniors, and kept up the relentless pace. It was almost as if the two bands were in direct competition for who could be as fast as possible. Nonetheless, the quality didn't dip either, as they impressed immensely. I got a Dinosaur Pile-Up vibe from the foursome, whilst there were also shades of the Strokes too. Handmade did well to deliver two such exciting bands so early in the day. 

After settling down, I was ready for the calming acoustics of Katie Malco at the Bishop St Methodist Centre. It was a much different affair from the back-to-back rockers of earlier in the day, but it's clear to see Malco is just as talented, as her haunting vocals put her in the bracket of fellow songstress Emmy the Great. The use of a piano on 'September' elevated her gig even moreso, making me delighted I'd picked to see this rising starlet. Go YouTube her now and prepare to be excited!

The exciting thing about this festival is the sheer variety, for this you just have to go for Shonen Knife. A band who toured with Nirvana and taken influences from the likes of the Ramones and the Beach Boys are never going to be boring! They followed on from ASIWYFA the previous evening to take on the headline status at Hansome Hall, and they lived up to the high standards set on Friday night, with their range of tunes that delighted a passionate crowd. After seeing a lot of up-and-comers it was refreshing to see band who'd toured the world over and still had such love for the art, most bands should look at Shonen Knife as a great template to follow.

For me, Sunday was a quieter affair, beginning in the surroundings of the comedy basecamp, St Martin's Coffee Shop. I took my place in the terrfically decorated venue ready for a slice of comedy from 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' panellist and Pete Docherty lookalike Joey Page. Possibly the first observation from Page was of his passing resembelance to the Libertines frontman, as his eccentric show took in some Noel Fielding-esque stories of fantasy encounters with Eric Cantona in the five-item queue in Tesco Express…a ramble that began after thanking a guy called Stan for attending his show. Granted it might not be to everyone's comedic taste, but Page, admitting that the show was a smorgasboard of new and old material, had everyone roaring with laughter, especially with his discussion of just what has gone wrong with ITV's very own 'Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'. A great diversion from the excellent music I had seen up to that point.

Speaking in Italics followed up a show the other side of Leicester (the O2 Academy) the previous evening to entertain the citizens of Firebug with a half-hour set of progressive rock, that strayed into a more hardcore area at times. I enjoyed the vocals quite a lot, as they clashed with the instrumentation, but in a good way! No, SiI were placed well, offering a nice slice of entertainment ahead of their quieter counterparts.

Next up for me were Cut Ribbons, another interesting mixture of sounds. A lighter offering of indie-pop with male and female vocals, the sound was fresh and crisp as I got poppy-vibes, alongside something like early Kings of Leon. The vocals are hard to place though, given their originality. I enjoyed single 'Damascus' a lot, and they are supporting Thumpers on a UK tour, so watch out for more from this original group.

Possibly the most famous act at the minute on the entire bill came last, Dry the River, were an act a lot of people had been waiting for and a little bit later than advertised, the moment they took to the Firebug stage was a great one. The bar was slowly filling up throughout the evening and was almost to capacity when the foursome came on. Every song was greeted with rapturous applause, as songs from 2012's 'Shallow Bed' LP were sung from the rafters with some new material cheekily thrown in for good measure. They played for just under an hour, but it was a great experience, seeing such a hot band in such tight circumstances, made for memorable moments, such as 'Shield Your Eyes' and 'Weights & Measures' a rousing tune. The band themselves appeared to be loving every moment too, thanking the crowd for their patience and support throughout.

So there you have it, Handmade Festival is an exciting event that is growing with each annual edition. It was my first proper metropolitan city festival, and an experience I thoroughly enjoyed, allowing me to take in a wealth of different arenas, picking out some hidden musical gems in the process.

Handmade Festival hits Leicester for the second year with Dry the River the standout act

Leicester's very own inner city festival is back for its second year, with a recent announcement for the Handmade Festival, seeing Dry The River amongst others, revealed to be playing.

Dry The River take to the stage to play on Sunday May 4, with And So I Watch You From Afar the must-see act on Friday May 2 and long-running Japanese trio Shonen Knife topping the bill on Saturday May 3.

The aim is to bring an eclectic mix of music and the arts to fill the bars, venues and cathedrals (yes you read right), full of the best musicians, comedians and pieces of art going, alongside raw local talent, with applications being accepted from around the region.

2013's edition of the festival saw Rolo Tomassi, Dutch Uncles and Nine Black Alps amongst others feature on the bill, and with more acts promised for this year, the festival is looking to surpass its debut year.

Tickets for the full weekend are currently priced at £30 or £15 for a day ticket, with the wristband gaining access to a number of venues across the East Midlands city.

It's the beginning of a good year for Leicester, with the massive homecoming gig at Victoria Park for Kasabian in June, a new music festival pencilled in for Welford Road in late July and the annual Strawberry Fields, held in rural Leicestershire to come in August.

Strawberry Fields Festival 2013 – Friday Review

The place was getting dark, and as the crowd began to gather round the main stage, eagerly awaiting jaguar skills, what earlier looked like a reasonably empty festival scene soon became a place of chanting and cheering, excited people running to get a spot at the front of the stage ready for the headliners to begin.

As the video game style booth set got wheeled onto the stage, the crowd began to go crazy as the wait for Jaguar Skills was almost over, and the night was about to kick off. The chanting began, people began stamping their feet and clapping their hands; he enters the stage, arms in the air, face covered with a black Balaclava, his opening line 'put your mother fucking hands up'. The party had started.

His set list included some chart toppers, including Kanye West Niggas in Paris, love me again and rhythm is a dancer. About half way through he shouted to the audience 'this is an illegal party'. People began screaming, drinks were sent flying towards the stage and people got on others shoulders and began singing along with the next song 'woo woo that's the sound of the police.' The choice to have Jaguar Skills headlining the Friday definitely got everyone ready for what was in store for the rest of the weekend, and with their outstanding performance, the crowd loved the show they put on,begging for another song at the end of the set.

Jaguar Skills @ Strawberry Fields Festival