“Fuck you, I’m having a cupcake”. 8.15 on a Monday night, the first post-dinner pint is still brimming and the band onstage are tucking into the produce of their alleged new sponsors, a city centre sandwich shop. This, though, is Strange News From Another Star, and such things are fast becoming expected. Last time out they entered triumphantly to a well-oiled midnight audience at Swn, but tonight we’re a bit harder to please, and it’s accordingly a cautious start, the band bludgeoning in fine style without being at their gibbering, sweaty best. They hit stride swiftly though, tales of locker-room encounters puncturing the pummeling noise. The cakes looked delightful, too.
Sandwiched (arf) between two local favourites, you fear for Amsterdam’s Labasheeda on a night like this; sure enough, many take the opportunity for a lingering fag break or a chat at the back. They miss a bit of a treat, though, as the unassuming quartet offer some nice slow-building art-rock with undeniable echoes of Sonic Youth (Saskia van der Giessen’s vocals on the first couple of songs are a dead ringer for Kim Gordon) and dEUS amongst others. Van der Giessen switches from guitar to violin halfway through and the set diverts into more experimental, drawn-out territory as she tentatively navigates a forest of wires and pedals. It’s a song or two overlong, but rewards attention; a considered, slow-building swirl with a particular charm reminiscent of Dutch peers Bettie Serveert or Seedling. Nice.
This is apparently the last Right Hand Left Hand gig for a while, as they head to the studio; it’s a hell of a way to close a chapter. An all-killer-no-filler half-hour brimming with confidence and yet plenty of creativity, trying ideas on the fly and relaxed enough to laugh off any slight miscues or uneven loops. Plus they have glow-in-the-dark drumsticks. I mean really. The penultimate tune, in particular, has familiar faces grinning with glee and the uninitiated open-mouthed, beginning with a huge, swooping bass riff from Bernie and adding layer upon layer of insidiously catchy guitar while Rhodri screams repeatedly into his fretboard. Each section is looped, drops out and is reintroduced at just the right moment, and the effect is staggering. The more these songs build on the basic looped-riff, thunderous drumming format, the more essential they get. Roll on 2010.
Joe Lally‘s name and Fugazi pedigree alone were seemingly enough to draw a pretty decent crowd for a cold, wet Monday night, though how many of them knew what to expect from his solo material is a different matter. His two solo albums to date (neither of which, he cheerfully remarks, he’s brought with him) flew under the radar for many, but owe more to the spirit of his old band than Ian Mackaye’s work in the Evens has. It’s probably a sign one should leave the house more to say that a bassist’s style can be instantly recognisable, but as with Mike Watt it’s true of Lally; a relaxed, almost zenlike calm falls across him as he picks out nimble, head-nodding patterns accompanied by skittering percussion and the fascinating, atonal guitar of Elisa Abela. Head bowed, almost oblivious, Abela coaxes rumbling drones, squeaks and clicks from her instrument, leaving Lally’s bass to take the lead, and with his spare, quiet vocals intruding little there’s a lovely spaciness to it all. It can get a little one-paced, and his personable banter loses some of the crowd as the clock ticks past 11.30, but it’s refreshing stuff and further proof that in your rock music, as with your sandwiches, there’s plenty of ways to do the same thing.