PREVIEW: The Ordinary Boys – Maybe Somebody Tour / O2 Academy (B’ham), Dec 9th

Widely unknown until Celebrity Big Brother, a rickety career ladder to stand on, The Ordinary Boys are back on the road after a 5 year live show hiatus. Armed with a new guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and pet cat, lead singer Samuel Peston is freaking out just thinking about how fun it’s gonna be.’

Getting their name and hair from Morrissey, The Ordinary Boys were once happy foundations of the British neo punk scene (walk away from the Google browser, I just made it up). Influenced by Britpop and the mod revival, the musical equivalent of photocopying Dickens, their first album was a screaming tirade of teen angst and BO. Songs like ‘Maybe Somebody’ and ‘Talk Talk Talk’ gained them a certain notoriety in certain circles, whilst the rather obviously titled ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ from their second album nudged them into the limelight.

Then in 2006 Preston entered Endemol’s house of fame death, married the winner, stormed off Never Mind The Buzzcocks (oooohh Amstell, you big bully you) and flushed the whole thing away. Now, 3 years after announcing the band’s official break up and carving a path into writing and production, he joins drummer No2 – Simon Goldring, for eleven dates across the UK. A reunion tour the O2 Academy Music Group bill as ‘giving their hit tracks the send off they deserve in a string of loud and fast live shows’.

The terms ‘hit tracks’ or ‘reunion’ may not be appropriate, The Ordinary Boys never achieved significant chart success and 60% of the line up are new, but it’s the word ‘deserve’ that sticks out the most. The Ordinary Boys’ Maybe Somebody Tour won’t be the original line up, there’s no public pretentions about a comeback, no ‘previously unreleased’s lurking in the background, and other than the O2 Academy bar takings it’s hard to see any gain. So what’s this really about? Rewarding support or just public masturbation?

And The Ordinary Boys have maintained a fervent fanbase, one that seems to be doing a better job of promotion than their label ever did. But if this tour is really for them why has it taken the life span of my niece?

And whilst I duck the flag waving retorts from The Ordinary Army, riddle me this. What happens if the gig sucks? You know, bubbles can be both blown up and burst. And again all that’s left is a sticky mess of regret.

Ceri Black will be at the O2 Academy, B’ham on Dec 9th for the Birmingham Review

For more gig info visit http://www.o2academybirmingham.co.uk

REVIEW: Hanson @ HMV Institute – 27.11.11

Hanson (l-r Issac, Zac, Taylor)

Words by Ceri Black

1997 has a lot to answer for; the death of Princess Diana, Tony Blair becoming Prime minister, and Hanson releasing ‘Mmmbop’. Now, after 5 years and three marriages, the Oklahoma trio are back touring the UK. Birmingham Review went to the HMV Institute to see how they’ve grown.

I’ll admit, I had concerns about attending this gig. Mainly that I was going to be the only person in the venue, outside a couple of 30something’s dressed head to toe in Hanson merchandise. But with an open mind and emergency bar tab, I dragged myself into town on a cold Sunday evening. As it turns out so had 750 other people, mostly women, all of whom knew every lyric to every song performed. It seems Hanson are far from forgotten in certain circles.

One fan even waited outside the HMV Institute for 7 hours, in the bitter cold of Digbeth, just to make sure she got a ticket. Baffling. I was certain if a survey was conducted a higher percentage would tick the ‘Hanson are drivel’ box. Someone’s been lying…

Eventually, Zac, Isaac and Taylor Hanson appeared on stage. What happened next was an hour and a half of sugar-coated, lyrically feeble pop. As a group, Hanson know what they’re doing. Taylor’s guitar skills are adequate, and vocally his harmonies and timing were solid. A proficient performance, but one I felt lacked originality and depth.

The lyrics to ‘Strong Enough to Break’ didn’t seem to make sense, and ‘This Time Around’ sounded like something from the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack. The more acoustic tracks such as ‘Go’ and ‘Lost Without Each Other’ were more audibly pleasing, almost acceptable – even to me, but again containing no lyrical substance. They felt impersonal, without any intimate meaning to the person who wrote them.

However Hanson clearly know how to give their fans what they want. The crowd was enamored by the brothers, and when the inevitable rendition of ‘Mmmbop’ started I was the only person in the room not screaming with delight. In fact, I was embarrassed. I wanted to hide my face and pretend none of it was happening.

After 14 years in the music business Hanson Have a dedicated audience. Pop obsessed, unsettlingly enthusiastic people. Fortunately I’m not one of them, and as I left the HMV Institute I felt confused (and a little angry) as to how this kind of music is still as popular as ever. Which when it comes to Hanson, it clearly seems to be.

Shout It Out, Hanson’s third album under their 3CG Records label, is out now. For more info visit www.hanson.net

REVIEW: ICE – by ACE Dance and Music @ MAC Theatre, 24th & 25th Nov

Words by Robert Kornreich

Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. The dance. The digital music. The lighting, video, graphics, all just… I’m sorry to sound gushy but while I watched ACE’s new production I thought: this is not happening; bodies can’t do this. But they did.

OK, so what’s it all about? I’ve seen Gail Parmel’s amalgamation of African/Japanese choreography before, in and outside of Birmingham, but I’m still influenced by production spiel.

ICE promised to explore the gradual freezing of people, into physically and emotionally static transhumans who can resist change, aging and pain. All too intriguing not to unravel.

Then, once the protagonists are ‘frozen’ in time and emotion, to carefully pick away at the flipside; the ambivalence of the thawed, the breathing, life, re-attachment, loss and death.

Throughout the production a staccato-like martial art-like dance swept across the stage, whilst urgent, melodious electronic, drumming and sporadic strobe lights perpetuated the scene. And although the MAC presented this in a rather thin, wet and New Age way, it did make the point that the work builds and radiates tension. Gloriously.

But the most engaging point was that ICE is not just a story, or narrative, but an experience of raw visceral, visual and audible energy and power (see, two can play about with New Age copy) and, insofar as ICE was a story, it always enabled the audience to construct it.

So, swapping the descriptive for references, think Pina Bausch meets 1930s German Expressionist film (like Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), crossed with George Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah; think Birmingham’s Stan’s Café, think London Contemporary Dance Theatre (some 15 years back). That’s ICE’s style, that’s its quality. One I’d love to return.

For more info on ACE visit www.acedanceandmusic.com

For info on other MAC productions visit www.macarts.co.uk

PREVIEW: Hanson @ HMV Institute – 27.11.11

There are some words you dread to write; ‘apocalypse’, ‘famine’, ‘spending the day with Keith Allen’, and some you never thought you’d have to again. So here goes, deep breath. Hanson are back. Playing in Birmingham, on Nov 27th, at the HMV Institute. Step aside Aide you might get hurt.

To be fair, the Oklahoma Tulsa Triplets were phenomenally successful. Even back in 1997, before widespread digital dissemination and amidst the demise of the major labels.

‘MMMBop’, their saccharine soaked debut single, was a massive hit. Following you round department stores from here to Hoi Ann like evangelical tinnitus. Their debut album, Middle of Nowhere – rode the wave, and despite being familiar and formulaic the brothers Hanson owned at least part of 1997’s summer soundtrack.

And how many 12-17yr olds do you know that can shift 15million units worldwide? (If you live in Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff or London, don’t answer that question. I’m not talking about fake jeans or crack).

Since ‘creative differences’ with new label execs, after Mercury merged with Island Def Jam Music Group (IDJMG) in May 2000 and rebuffed the release of over 80 tracks due to ‘a lack of marketability’, the arrayan poster boys decided to go it alone.

They left IDJMG to form 3CG Records in 2003, and off the back of a Summer/Autumn acoustic tour, ending with a gig at Carnegie Hall, released their 6th studio album, Underneath, in spring 2004. Underneath sold 37,500 copies in its first week, numbers most acts at the Hotel Café would almost literally kill for.

Hanson have toured annually since forming 3CG Records, released 3 albums and 4 documentaries. They also continue to fundraise for charities combating HIV and poverty in Africa, and to work on solo projects. In fact, far from melting like a green witch in water, Hanson’s dance card has been pretty full over the past 8 years. Apart a 2006 sabbatical, but I guess you’ve got to fit puberty in somewhere.

So what about the music? Truth be told I hated ‘MMMBop’, always have always will, its bouncing repetition sets my back teeth on edge. But I’m guessing the brothers Hanson weren’t after Seattle grunge obsessed teenagers back in 1997. And their new album, ‘Shout it out’, has the credentials of Funk Brothers bassist Bob Babbitt and 5 times Grammy winning horn arranger Jerry Hey, lurking in the background.

Plus, and it’s a big plus, to leave a major label and carve out your own marketplace is a ballsy move, not one you’d expect from a bible belt teen pop three piece. The fight for creative control, a direct path to your audience and the freedom to market yourself appropriately, are all music industry machinations to deeply respect. But like opera, you don’t have to enjoy it.

So the burning question is have Hanson grown up? Will their new material translate into an inspiring live act? And what were these ‘unmarketable’ demos sent back by Island Def Jam, have we been missing out on a burgeoning piece of modern Americana? My heart tells me no, but my head reminds me misrepresentation’s happened before. Anyway, there’s a week to mull it over. For better or worse we’ll find out on Sunday.

Hanson play the HMV Institute on November 27th. For gig tickets and info visit http://venues.meanfiddler.com/hmv-institute/home

For more information on Hanson visit http://www.hanson.net

Ceri Black will be covering the gig on Nov 27th for Birmingham Review

REVIEW: Death Cab for Cutie @ Birmingham Ballroom 18/11/11


Words by Ceri Black

Washington’s Death Cab for Cutie are veterans of the indie-pop scene, having released their first album – ‘Something About Airplanes’ in 1998 and reaching the US number one spot with ‘Narrow Stairs’ in 2008.

Tonight the Birmingham Ballroom was their host. After being rebranded and unveiled earlier this year, the BBallroom appears to have kept some of the original features from the Academy days; sticky floors, toilets that flood, terrible bar service, and the rough, dirty charm it has always had.

Whilst standing in the sea of Ben Gibbard look-a-likes, awaiting the band to come on, I couldn’t help but think Death Cab belonged in a more refined venue. Their lyrics are too delicate, too sensitive for such a cavernous room and I wondered how Gibbard would fill it.

I was, however, proved wrong almost immediately. Opening with the track ‘Bend to Squares’ the crowd were eased into what would be one of the most luminous, even emotional sets I have had the pleasure of experiencing.

Lead singer Ben Gibbard is beyond talented. He has a voice that hypnotised everyone in the room and demands to be listened to. Combined with some fairly odd behaviour on stage, all eyes were on Gibbard for the full hour and a half set. I felt a range of emotions, ranging from a little bored during tracks off their new album, ‘Codes and Keys’, to complete emotional breakdown. The later happened twice. Once during an extended version of ‘We Looked Like Giants’, which had Gibbard take to the drums in an almost indescribably atmospheric ten minutes.

The second was during the final song of the night. ‘Transatlanticism’ has always been one of my favourite Death Cab tracks, so maybe I’m being a little biased, but the band gave it everything; beautiful guitar riffs, mighty drum solos, and complete, heartfelt vocals to make this an overwhelming performance. When the lights came up I turned to the person next to me and simply said, “amazing”.

Death Cab for Cutie have earned their place in Indie hierarchy, and with their almost shy, definitely geeky front man, they seem to set to continue for a long time coming.

Codes and Keys is available now, for more info on Death Cab for Cutie visit www.deathcabforcutie.com

For further info on the Birmingham Ballroom visit www.birmingham-ballroom.com