December boy’s got it bad, sang Alex Chilton back in 1974, and how prescient his words were; he’s dead now, after all, which is pretty bloody bad for all concerned. Perhaps his wistful, yearning and timeless words spoke of the relative dearth of quality live music around this time of year. More likely he was talking about girls, but the point stands; it’s a quiet month, but there’s enough gems to keep you from Christmas shopping until well after the 21st…
Moving seamlessly on from that horrific start, let’s stop to salute the often inspired, often embittered 12-years’-plus journey of expat Cardiff vets The Loves, whose new single December Boy (see?) is out RIGHT NOW. Collecting ex-members like a runaway snowball, Simon Stone’s 60s-inspired artful dodgers have honed a mix of Velvets, Monkees, glam, psychedelic pop and Muppets covers over the years and their Xmas gig with The School, Lucky Delucci and others (Buffalo, 5th) will be their penultimate one ever and last in their home town. Once hated to a comical degree locally, they’ll be missed by those that bothered to listen, and it should be quite the drunken send-off. We’ll be among the DJs, by the way. Loose also host adorable Swedes Those Dancing Days (Buffalo, 9th, with Jose Vanders) for which attendees of other high-profile gigs that night will get cheap entry, so be nice. Canadian post-punk catcallers You Say Party!, no longer saying Die!, also play for Loose (Buffalo, 6th) and at the Louisiana (11th) this month.
December is, as is usually the case, heavy on big-hitting one-off gigs and rambunctious, VFM Christmas party shows. Alongside the aforementioned Loose shindig, there’s a belter on the 13th (Clwb) for label of the year Shape. Crowning glories Islet cap off a magnificent year, NME poll plaudits and all, with a headline set. Sweet Baboo, H. Hawkline, Failed NASA Experiment and Tidal Barrage fill out a pretty dang unmissable line-up. Across at Undertone, Flux=Rad and Barely Regal kick off later and offer tight-as punkpoppers Kutosis alongside Samoans, Cut Ribbons, Effort and Among Brothers man Alex Comana’s somnolent solo piano tunes. You should be able to see a good chunk of both of these. Meanwhile, Newport sees Diverse Records empty the drinks cabinet and dance on the photocopier in the fine company of gibbering sleazeball rockabillies The Sick Livers, excellent lurching post-hardcore lovelies Science Bastard and the inimitable, brilliant Strange News From Another Star (Le Pub, 11th). Winner.
As we’re on the local stuff first up, let’s note some more goodies. There’s a fine-looking charity do in aid of young persons’ organisation Fairbridge (Globe, 4th) with Spencer McGarry Season, Threatmantics, Samoans and Barefoot Dance Of The Sea. Nice eclectic line-up, fiver tickets, good cause. Simple. Barely Regal have a busy month, with a pre-Xmas EP launch for Among Brothers (Clwb, 17th) which is excellently placed in that dead zone before the day itself. Hail! The Planes and Lucky Delucci provide stirring, folk-tinged post-rock and indie respectively in support. Swn-slaying surf godheads Y Niwl are busier still, supporting the Sadies (Globe, 1st) and the Llyn Peninsula’s foremost familial country three-piece Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog (Clwb, 11th) before venturing over to Bristol for an afternoon set at the Scout Hut (a venue, mind) on the 12th. Finally, also down from the frozen north and very much worth catching are brilliant post-hardcore screamers Bastions (Buffalo, 14th).
What of the Christmas arena tours, then? Ten nights of Boyzone at the CIA and Annie Lennox’s face digitally superimposed onto the Castle, probably, but let’s spurn them as we would a rabid hound and draw out the good stuff instead. Arcade Fire’s ascent to US Billboard chart-toppers with The Suburbs was heartening, and they return to the CIA (9th) with pothead pixie Devendra Banhart gurgling away in support. Last time out they were splendid against all best expectations of the Arena’s dynamics and their own pulling power; a more accessible, expansive Arcade Fire should do very nicely. Belle & Sebastian know all about evolving as a live band, nut-tight, shiny and chock full of hits these days and playing the Colston Hall (16th) with Daniel Kitson spinning his heartbreaking tales of wonder in support. So get there early, and shut up. On a smaller scale, but a much bigger deal, is the unlikely return of near-mythical millennial post-rock doyens Godspeed You! Black Emperor, missing presumed dead since around 2002 and back to curate ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Their short accompanying tour calls at the Anson Rooms (12th). It’s sold out. I’ve got a spare, you know.
It may be less plentiful in number, but there’s still a good bit of noisy fun to be found this month. Those who slept on getting Arcade Fire tickets (or baulked at the price) are rewarded with a one-off Future Of The Left show (Clwb, 9th) which will see the new full-time line-up make their Cardiff debut. Science Bastard support, which is pretty neat. The sweaty, riotous shoutalongs of Pulled Apart By Horses should be a swinging soundtrack to new year’s eve festivities at the Fleece (31st), while there’s a lo-fi treats old and new in Bristol with reborn old lags Trumans Water (Cube, 14th, with Model Boat) and the scuzzy DIY frenzy of Ty Segall at the Cooler (11th). There’s also a couple of cracking events as part of the Inbetween Time festival. Malevolent drones, ambient unease and splendid facial hair abound as Ben Frost returns to the Arnolfini (2nd), this time performing alongside Tim Hecker, whose vast body of work (for Kranky, Fat Cat etc) is more glitchy and elliptical than Frost’s but no less bewitching. Mahjongg‘s return (3rd) is a welcome one for anyone who remembers their ace Clwb show a while back; the Chicago post-punk/afrobeat partyboys play a festival-closing event at The Island, a block-wide multimedia complex in Broadmead, amidst a full bill of DJs and perfomers. Always got to show off, Bristol, haven’t you? They’re getting into the full-on electronica alldayers across the Channel, with Chris Clark and Luke Vibert heading up one (Motion Sk8park, 3rd), Moderat another (same venue, 12th) and Max Tundra and Drum Eyes a third for promoters Absofuckingexactly at the Old Firestation (11th). More on Drum Eyes later, and for weeks to come. I’m warning you.
What else? There’s a few more notable recommendations before we round off. Ratatat have knocked out four albums of precision-tooled electro-rock like John Carpenter meets Trans Am without too many people cottoning on. They’re at the Thekla (6th), and so should you be. A couple of nicely different pre-Christmas shindigs for you: ex-Spiritualized man Sean Cook’s latest grubby shoegaze/fuzzpedal outfit The Flies headline ‘The Charles Manson Disco Show’ (Cube, 11th) which promises cheap synths, pole-dancing, usherettes, films and ‘a shit strobe light show’. Fine. At Chapter, meanwhile (10th), there’s a more refined evening of music, verse and gothick folk fun with Guto Dafis and Zeuk. One last live film score at the Arnolfini happens on the 11th where Hook And The Twin soundtrack robo-western Westworld. And the Cube fit in one more audio-visual treat on the 17th, with string-led ensemble Pepino playing amid a battlefield scene created from everyday detritus. Call that art?
Roundup time, then. Last call for the Concretes (Fleece, 2nd) and Johnny Foreigner (Croft, 3rd). There’s folky times in Bristol with Villagers (Thekla, 4th) and Johnny Flynn (Trinity, 9th), and the return of Camper Van Beethoven man David Lowery’s 90s incarnation Cracker (Fleece, 8th) should be good. Unpleasant metal and punk noise, meanwhile, is further sicked up by Municipal Waste (Fleece, 13th) and a pair of Newport shows from The Ghost Inside (Six Feet Under, 4th) and Warpath (Meze, 21st). Remarkably, there’s a Melvins/Nirvana hybrid tribute band – Melvana, no less – playing Clwb (10th), which could be worth a laff – Drains and A Thousand Arrows in support are both ace, so why not? Other than some festive turns from the Bees (Thekla, 14th), Billy Bragg (MMH, 14th) and Goldie Lookin Chain (Clwb, 16th and Fleece, 11th) that’s your lot. Sorry, Prostitute Disfigurement, maybe next time.
Look out for our end-of-year roundup and poll feature in the weeks to come, and endless entreaties to attend the GIG OF THE MONTH OF JANUARY featuring DJ Scotch Egg’s killer ensemble Drum Eyes. Happy New Year, pals.