Sunday, 20 February 2011

Live Review: The Loves Retirement Party, 13/02/2011

Last Sunday, the Loves had their last ever gig, splitting up after more than 10 years in which they had released a few albums, played a few Peel Sessions and played many, many gigs. They still hadn't really made much of an impression on the wider music scene, and Simon Love (the frontman, who had seen more than 30 band members come and go over the years) decided to call it a day. They released their final album last month, and thought it would be fitting to go out by organising an all-day gig featuring a lot of their contemporaries the day before Valentine's Day. They put together a really enticing bill of 8 bands, including Comet Gain, Pocketbooks, the School and the Lovely Eggs.

The Werewandas were on first. Obviously very nervous, despite being a collection of people from other London indiepop bands, they played 60s pastiche girl-fronted pop. they were a pretty good way to kick off the whole thing - the band was fairly tight and the singer had a voice that was perfectly suited to the genre,  but none of the songs were especially memorable in themselves.

Micktravis, who used to play with Tompaulin, then came on and performed some acoustic songs about how he couldn't get a girlfriend. I'm a big fan of Tompaulin, and I enjoyed his set, mostly comprising songs about failure with girls and how he missed out on success - fairly depressing subject matter, but that was played with him seeming fairly cheerful, which felt quite odd. He apparently claims to have discovered the Loves - in which case he fully deserves his place in a gig where he didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the bill.

The Vinyl Stitches, again, were a slightly different type of band to most of the stuff you get at this kind of indiepop gig. They were garage rock plain and simple, with fuzz and howling guitars. Not really my kind of thing, to be honest - the first few songs were pretty good, but they all sounded exactly the same. They had to have a 5 minute break about 2/3 of the way through their set due to having blown an amp, and I don't think many people would have complained if they hadn't come back out afterwards.

There was a marked step up in quality and professionalism before the next band, Pocketbooks. They're a band I really like, and I played their first album to death when I first got it. Quintessentially indiepop, with vocals and piano parts that lend a twee element, they've made some truly brilliant songs, foremost among which is probably Footsteps, an early-set highlight. I hadn't seenthem in a while, not since the Indietracks warm-up gig at the Brixton Jamm last year, where they appeared to be working on a new direction for their second album - that time, I thought they were straying worryingly close to a lounge jazz band. Having seen their newer stuff again, it does sound like they did go through a phase of that kind of thing - some of the songs I didn't know had extremely laid-back jazzy piano parts, with little of the drive that makes Pocketbooks special. However, the songs that they introduced as being 'new' seemed to have gone back to the style of their first album, albeit with the occasional laid-back interlude, and I think it was probably just a phase, and not an entirely new sound for the band. Which is definitely a good thing - it's always good for a band to try new things out and incorporate them into their sound, but last July I felt they'd lost what made them great.

The Lovely Eggs were on next. I didn't know much of them, other than the two closest things they have to 'hits', 'Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion?' and 'I Like Birds (But I Like Other Animals Too)'. They're a completely unique two-piece, with utterly bizzare and occasionally touching lyrics sung over a variety of styles of music, even inside single songs. They have a good strand in Brakes-y 20 second vitriol, and are able to absolutely rock out when needed. The set seemed to draw heavily on both their new album, released the day after the gig, and their last effort, 'If You Were Fruit', but I don't think most of the audience really knew many of the songs, at least when they started - lead singer Holly somehow manages to imprint each song on your brain within moments of the introductory drum blasts. I'm not sure how well they work on record, but live they were definitely a lot more fun than just another indiepop band, and got the crowd (which grew considerably during their set) really up for the rest of the evening.

The School were on next, doing a set that drew fairly heavily on Loves covers and less heavily on their album, which I have been obsessed with recently. While this is fair enough at a gig put on especially for the Loves, I'd probably have preferred them to do their own songs, such as my recent Song Of The Day, 'I Want You Back'. Most of the lyrics were fairly muffled at best, and although this is probably the fault of the sound rather than the band, it detracted slightly. They were still great, but it was my first time seeing them live, and I don't think it quite lived up to their recorded material. I'll still try and see them again at a gig more focused on them, though, as the album really is one of my favourite indiepop albums of the last couple of years.

I'd seen Comet Gain fairly recently at the same venue, back at the Winter Sprinter in January. This set was fairly similar - again, they seemed fairly drunk, and there was still no 'You Can Hide Your Love Forever', although they did seem to be closer to playing it this time, seemingly only held back by not actually being able to remember how to play it. There was less of the stage banter this time, as presumably they did not want to steal the Loves' thunder, but it was a solid set that further cemented their place in my brain as one of the quintessential London indiepop bands.

The Loves finally made it to the stage at about 10:00 and rattled through a fairly typical set. There were many 'extras' sued, with a (pretty much completely inaudible) string section and the backing dancers the band had at Indietracks last year brought on to add excitement. Fortuna Pop!'s Sean Price was brought on to be the 'Jesus' figure. There was a definite party vibe, with the band all swigging sparkling wine. To be honest, there isn't really much to say about the gig - it was ace, and exactly as I (and probably everyone else) expected - it was good enough to make you really disappointed they're splitting up. It's easy to understand why they are, though. Fundamentally they had nowhere left to go, and they just didn't really have the audience - the video posted below, their final one, has just 322 views on YouTube at the time of writing. A massive shame.

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