Spring has actually bloody gone and sprung. Longer days, bank holidays, the first wave of festivals. People attending gigs in shorts. Clearly it’s not all good news, then, but the glut of live activity this month should provide even more encouragement to get you lazy gets out of the house and into the musical cattlesheds of South Wales and the surrounding area. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?
Kicking off in Cardiff, the cream of the city’s indie promoters offer a nice mix of the familiar (but welcome) and unfamiliar (but intriguing). A rare live outing for THE HIGH LLAMAS, Sean O’Hagan’s seasoned Brian Wilson/Tropicalia-referencing outfit, is hugely recommended, so top work Swn. Expertly chosen support from Cardiff’s own hyper-literate composer/arranger extraordinaire SPENCER McGARRY too (Globe, 21st). Also very nice to see in the listings are Wolf Parade side-project HANDSOME FURS (Buffalo, 14th); Dan Boeckner’s me-and-the-missus distraction has delivered two albums of streamlined synthpop/indie-rock which beat out most of his main band’s work. They’re here courtesy of Loose, who also have a paw in several other lower-key but excellent offerings this month; WET PAINT put out a cracking album of hooky, archly funny Pavement/Broken Family Band-esque pop to near-silence a while back and should unreservedly be checked out at Undertone (30th), and there you can also see the ungoogleable yet thrillingly ace post-punk polyrhythmic attack of Baltimore’s THANK YOU (19th, with ex-King Alexander duo JAMES JAMES supporting). Back at Buffalo, get discovering the chiming lo-fi pop and mush-mouthed crooning of Belfast cuties GIRLS NAMES (4th), and a cracking Swn-helmed double bill of inventive, kinetic mathy noodling from THREE TRAPPED TIGERS and TALL SHIPS (19th). There’s also welcome returns for prolific Richman-esque indie mavericks THE WAVE PICTURES (Clwb, 12th, with THREATMANTICS), THE VOLUNTARY BUTLER SCHEME (Rob Jones’ shuffling kitchen-sink pop enterprise supports the VEG Club at 10 Feet Tall on the 17th), FRANCOIS & THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS, now Domino-signed and back at 10 Feet Tall on the 3rd, and MISTY’S BIG ADVENTURE whose Panini sticker-style collection of Cardiff venues is complete with a stop at 10 Feet Tall on the 5th where they’re assisted by your GINDRINKER. Yes.
It’s a packed month, actually; there’s loads more of this stuff to recommend. The mighty ISLET play Primavera Sound this month, which is great news for them and the dozens of Cardiffians doubtless attending; they’ll limber up with an, er, intimate show at Undertone (23rd) which should be chaos. Likewise, FUCKED UP kindly mark my impending birthday by squeezing in a full-bill matinee show (Clwb, 7th) ahead of their Croft gig in Bristol that night. Tour supports BLACK LUNGS and, better, nutso Copenhagen hardcore pups ICEAGE join the fun. Tickets strongly advised. Staying with the harder stuff, there’s an alldayer at Clwb on the 15th in aid of MIND with a ton of fine punk, doom and hardcore types like THE DEATH OF HER MONEY, BASTIONS and GOODTIME BOYS and, courtesy of Lesson No. 1, the Bristolian cosmic prog magnificence of ANTA ably backed by local doom/sludge purveyors PUS and THORUN (9th). Over in Newport, Cardiff City Hardcore’s 60th and final show is a half-day blowout (Le Pub, 7th) with a full eight hardcore outfits bidding them farewell. IRONCLAD, HARBOUR and DEAL WITH IT feature strongly, while the night before a preview show features CROSSBREAKER and more. LAST PARTISAN do the Meze (6th) that night too, a pretty splendid weekend for Newport heads all told. YUCK‘s peppy grunge revivalism is all fine and dandy, and good luck to them as they play Millennium Music Hall’s smaller room (15th) and the Thekla (16th), but spare a thought for the giddy pop shambles of LET’S WRESTLE as they tag along in support. If you’re going to either date, turn up early and clutch the Wrestle to your bosom, kids. Oh yeah, and because I didn’t fit it in elsewhere, props to Cardiff Arts for booking blissful Chicago electroacoustic drone duo MOUNTAINS because they’re awesome. That’s on the 26th, with a show at the Arnolfini the following night.
What of Bristol, then? Fucking loads, that’s what. Some top marquee shows this month at the Trinity, with captivating, idiosyncratic alt-folk hottie BILL CALLAHAN making an overdue return (10th) before the heartstoppingly wonderful LOW arrive on the 20th. That’ll do for starters. Keeping the folk/country thread alive, old pals THE HANDSOME FAMILY‘s gothic Americana hits the Fleece (16th), the glacially beautiful trad-country songcraft of LAURA CANTRELL is a should-see at St Bonaventure’s (2nd) and the ragged, rootsy and downright lovely RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE are a hot tip at the Cooler (18th). Best of all, Matthew Houck’s PHOSPHORESCENT return to the Thekla (30th) still trailing a career-high breakthrough album of skyscraping country-rock wonder. Maybe I won’t break down en route short of the bridge and end up getting towed back home this time, eh? Elsewhere there’s folky eccentricity old and new, LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III doing the Colston Hall (21st) and St David’s Hall (11th) and Howe Gelb-esque piano man HANS CHEW taking in Buffalo Lounge (free show, 6th) before the Mother’s Ruin (8th).
In the mood for something a little different, a bit challenging? Course you are. Bristol delivers in spades, naturally, and Qu Junktions are the reason. Over here for ATP this month, Sun City Girls’ Richard and Alan Bishop perform as THE BROTHERS UNCONNECTED, a tribute show of sorts to recently deceased colleague Charles Gocher. Qu and the venue (Cube, 10th) are being coy about an extra-special support guest too, if you need further encouragement. At the same venue on the 14th there’s a cracking double bill featuring the reunion of DAMON & NAOMI with MICHIO KURIHARA of Ghost and Boris – epic drone-folk ahoy – and the masterful RICHARD YOUNGS. Essential, exploratory, tangential folk aceness. Currently subject of a cinema documentary on their remarkable journey, joyous Congolese rhythmists STAFF BENDA BILILI are brought to the Colston Hall by Qu on the 20th, and if you’re into that check out GRUPO LOKITO, a sprawling Afro-Cuban troupe relocated from Congo to London. Blinding booking at the O2 Academy on the 7th, where godhead MC and total voice of hip-hop RAKIM marks the 25th anniversary of ‘Paid In Full’ (eek!) with support from DJ Format and beatbox legend RAHZEL. On a different tip, fiercely intelligent, playful, culture-savvy Brooklynites DAS RACIST may be divisive and blog-friendly enough to arouse suspicion but they’re one of the most interesting and certainly culturally unique voices in hip-hop, and allegedly pretty riotous fun live too. Thekla on the 14th for that one, again highly recommended; as are, while we’re on hipster suspicion, WARPAINT, whose tribal, psychedelic indie-rock gets a run-out at the O2 Academy (17th, with Connan Mockasin) ahead of a Swn show in Cardiff next month.
Rowdier fare in Bristol this month comes in the shape of returning metal noiseniks ROLO TOMASSI, always tight as the proverbial live (Fleece, 10th, with HOLY STATE); frat-thrash rabble CEREBRAL BALLZY, back at the Thekla on the 9th (props to support Thrush Metal for keeping their end up name-wise); Liverpudlian psych bruisers MUGSTAR, teaming up with the aforementioned ANTA and – brace yourself – Urethra Franklin at the Croft (5th); and Alec Empire’s latest incarnation of ATARI TEENAGE RIOT going around again at the Fleece (13th). Blissful Scandinavian noisepop from THE RADIO DEPT, like a super-sugary MBV, comes to the Fleece on the 12th backed by Sarah Records alumni SECRET SHINE; elsewhere, forced into despatches by constraints of time and patience, there’s the return of oddball MOR genius ARIEL PINK (Thekla, 17th); urgent, likeable pop from FRANKIE & THE HEARTSTRINGS (Fleece, 9th), adorable beach-bum BEST COAST‘s woozy polaroid chug (Thekla, 1st), perfectly poised PJ Harvey torch-pop moves from ANNA CALVI (Thekla, 2nd) and proggy, dramatic Euro-synth flourishes from ex-M83 man TEAM GHOST (Louisiana, 16th).
Round-up time; this month sponsored by me not having packed for a camping trip to Machynlleth tomorrow morning. Brief mentions, then, for two festivals bookending the month; Simple Things (Start The Bus/Old Firestation, 1st) offers JAMIE XX, GONJASUFI, BATHS, DAEDELUS, FLOATING POINTS and some more suspect stuff; Dot To Dot (various Bristol venues, 28th) hits big with …TRAIL OF DEAD then tails off dramatically with flaccid sub-MGMT crap like The Naked & Famous. Hmm. Much more admirable, and to be featured in these pages soon, is a Spillers Records-curated series of 12 Saturday afternoon sessions at the Big Little City exhbition in the Old Library. The exhibition itself is a joyous multimedia celebration of Cardiff curios past and present; musical turns this month include HUW M (7th) and LLWYBR LLAETHOG (14th). Elsewhere, give up some time if you please for THE KEYS (album launch, Globe, 6th), THE MIDDLE ONES (Buffalo Lounge, 1st), SARABETH TUCEK (Buffalo, 15th), AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR (Cooler & Clwb, 4th & 5th), NEDRY (CAI, 11th – they’re dead good), the double bill of ROZI PLAIN and TWO WINGS (10 Feet Tall, 22nd), THE JEZABELS (Buffalo, 17th) and SHAPES (Louisiana, 12th). Before I finish, just time to mention some old lags treading the boards one more time to the same crowds and probably diminishing returns; enough about the Manics, though, let’s hear it for THE ZOMBIES (Globe, 25th), THREE OF THE MONKEES (Motorboat Arena, 24th) and barmy old ADAM ANT (Coal Exchange, 31st). It’s a shit business.