Live Review: Pocket Billiards, The Cities We Captured, No Mean City

31 03 2010

**As originally published on BBC’s Across The Line – Mar 2010**

No Mean City kick off proceedings tonight; they’re a pleasant surprise as they’re actually pretty awesome. The focal point of the band is without a doubt their striking front-lady, Jilly, who not only looks good up there in her tiny shorts, but has a great voice and throws some mean shapes too. She’s like our own homegrown Karen O with a bit of Peaches sex-appeal, and attitude thrown in – she’s not afraid to put a heckling punk firmly in his place, mid-set. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are an obvious reference musically too, but No Mean City are a heavier beast, more straight-up rock, grunge guitars and big riffs. Set highlights include ‘TigerKissRose’ with it’s catchy refrain and ‘Gettin’ Off’, which is a bit pervy (but in a good way). They’re still a little rough around the edges in terms of full-band performance, it’s more like a solo act with a backing band at the minute, Jilly’s rock star swagger makes the other guys look timid in comparison but there’s bags of potential here for No Mean City to add a bit of polish and truly sparkle.

After all that rock, it seems appropriate that we have some post-rock (!), and here’s The Cities We Captured to deliver it. They’ve got more pedals than you could shake a stick at. You’d need several sticks. Not sure why you’d want to do that. The lighting effects in the Speakeasy tonight really add an extra dimension, helping to create the perfect atmosphere for this type of set – when the music tries to deafen you, the lights try to blind you. It sounds a bit painful actually but it’s not, it’s great. There’s a hint of magic in the air, the atmosphere is tense and the waves of music are enveloping. At least for a bit anyway, then things start to all sound a bit the same. The influences on display are obvious: think Pelican or Russian Circles but I’d wager that if it weren’t for Tracer AMC and more recently, ASIWYFA, bands like The Cities We Captured might not have been so quite to pop up on the local scene. Undeniably tight and technically proficient, there’s some great ideas in here but some of the songs go on a bit and they haven’t managed to replicate that intangible, emotional investment that Tracer AMC or ASIWYFA have honed to perfection. And so I watched the rest of their set from the bar.

Through a haze of cider, Pocket Billiards are headlining tonight’s extravaganza. The cider is important; Pocket Billiards are a party band, so to truly appreciate them you need to be suitably lubricated. Pocket Billiards deliver ska-punk in their own unique style, they may appeal to fans of Less Than Jake or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones but they don’t try to imitate them; they do things their own way, there’s no Americanisms or faux accents here – these are songs about their own lives (‘Don’t Scratch My Soca’ is about their love of comedy classic, Desmond’s) and about Belfast (such as set highlight ‘SPIDE’), sung in a Belfast accent, they’re passionate about what they’re doing but they don’t take themselves too seriously either – they’re here to have fun. You don’t need to be a ska or punk fan to enjoy Pocket Billiards. You just need to like having fun. And everyone likes having fun, don’t they? So check them out, they’re one of Belfast’s finest and it’d be a shame to let the punks hog all the fun.

Album Review: Ocean Colour Scene – Saturday

30 03 2010

**As originally published on PANICDOTS.COM – Mar 2010**

Remember the 90’s when TFI Friday was a highlight of the week, Chris Evans was still amusing and brit-pop was super-cool? A time when Ocean Colour Scene released Moseley Shoals, which included The Riverboat Song (that song off TFI Friday) and bona-fide rock anthem, The Day We Caught The Train. Those were good times.

Having just listened to this album, that seem like a life-time ago. Nowadays, you’d be forgiven for thinking TFI Friday was a restaurant, Chris Evans is just known as that irritating ginger twat that used to bang Billie Piper and Ocean Colour Scene have just released their ninth album, seven albums after they should’ve called it a day. If their current offering was a colour, it’d be beigey beige beige.

That’s not to say it’s terrible. It isn’t. Not really. It’s just bland. It’s inoffensive. Where their debut, Moseley Shoals, and even its follow-up, Marchin’ Already, had some genuine classic tracks, some proper rock-n-roll moments, some passion, somewhere along the way, Ocean Colour Scene lost that spark. It’s fair enough, they probably got old, it was 14 years ago that that magnificent debut was released. Scary thought that. There are a few foot-tappers here, such as title track Saturday, Mrs Maylie and Rockfield, but there’s a lot of fluff too e.g. first single Magic Carpet Days (which unsurprisingly failed to chart). The influences on display aren’t so much worn on their sleeves, more like they’ve weaved themselves some adult-sized romper suits out of the Beatles back catalogue, with a little Paul Weller shaped cravat.

If you’re a long-standing Ocean Colour Scene fan, you’ll probably enjoy this record. If you grew up with them, then your taste has probably matured alongside theirs, so this brit-pop dad-rock crossover is probably going to be perfect for you. If, however, you remember their classics fondly, but you’re not quite ready for your slippers and beige sweaters just yet, don’t ruin the memories, steer well clear.