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

For more information on Hanson visit

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

For further info on the Birmingham Ballroom visit

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

‘Ice looks at spirit, animism and the spark from within, exploring the moment when we cross over and become something else. Do we lose ourselves? Or do we still believe we’re alive?’

And if you’ll all join me for the chorus… ‘WHAT????’

The above confused purple is how the MAC website sells ICE, the latest dance production from ACE – Birmingham’s African Cultural exchange. In collaboration with choreographer Akiko Kitamura, founder of the Leni-Basso company, and digital artist Akihiko Kaneko, Gail Parmel’s original production actually ‘reflects on how technology infiltrates our lives, set in a clinical white space with powerful visual projections.’

It features ‘six quicksilver dancers’ that lead a physical narrative, ‘asking questions about technology, crystalisation, cryogenics and what happens to the body when we lower the temperature, do we cross over and become something else?’ Its moniker comes from the opening, where ‘the temperature drops to freezing point, (and) ICE allows us to preserve the moment & dream together of how the future might be.’ And now I see the emperor new clothes.

Coming to the end of an 11 date UK tour, ICE’s penultimate pit stop is at the MAC theatre on Nov 24th & 25th, with a matinee performance on the Thursday. Tickets will set you back £12 (£9 concessions).

For more info (that we can’t guarantee you’ll understand) and bookings visit, or visit for full details on the company, ICE production and tour.

Robert Kornreich will be covering the Nov 24th evening production for Birmingham Review.

PREVIEW: Death Cab for Cutie @ Birmingham Ballroom – Friday Nov 18th

Death Cab for Cutie


Described by Atlantic Records as a ‘supportive brotherhood’, and everyone else as ‘rabidly independent’ – a troubling duplicity, Death Cab for Cutie are one of Indie Rock’s anti-celebrity success stories.

Reaching significant prominence through Barsuk Records, the Seattle based Independent that signed them in 1997, tracks from their 4th studio album, Transatlanticism, were featured on TV dramas; The OC, Californication, Six Feet Under and CSI: Miami. Whilst a subsequent ‘long term worldwide’ deal with Atlantic Records in 2004 saw their 5th studio album, Plans, nominated for ‘Best Alternative Album’ at the 51st Grammy Awards in 2005.

Defending their move to the majors, front man and founder, Ben Gibbard, explained, “we’ve been handed this opportunity where we can make a real dent in popular music that we never would have had”, further reiterating his point by saying, “to set the record straight for god knows the millionth time, we didn’t sign to Atlantic for just the money.”  Admirable politics, although joining Death Cab for Cutie’s official fan club, or ‘DCFC Union’, will cost you $30 per annum.

Death Cab for Cutie have fluctuated along the indie/pop/rock spectrum, being  penned as everything from ‘foggy, grunge-pop’, to a ‘literate, whispery style, the kind of stuff that normally sounds better in headphones’, during their 15 year tenure.

But cut the crap and you’ll hear solid melodic rock with a twist, from the lip stick mirror graffiti of ‘What Sarah Said’ to the John Cale self indulgence of ‘I Will Posses Your Heart’.  An identifiable style with something to say.

Releasing their 7th studio album, Code and Keys, in May this year, Death Cab for Cutie are back touring Northern America and Europe. UK Brummies get to see them on Friday.

Death Cab for Cutie play the Birmingham Ballroom on Fri Nov 18th. For tickets and info visit

Check out our this week for Death Cab for Cutie promos & videos. Ceri Black will be covering the gig for the Birmingham Review.

INTERVIEW: Jah Wobble & The Nippon Dub Ensemble

Japanese Dub Tour, 02 Academy, Friday July 30th

Punk wars survivor Jah Wobble is “too hot to handle” for the “world music cartel”. But the man who earned his moniker from a drunken Sid Vicious is back on the road, promoting his new Japanese Dub album with a tour of 02 Academy venues and independent European festivals.

Following his acclaimed 2008 Chinese Dub album, Japanese Dub brings Wobble’s love for Eastern culture back in front of a Western audience. Married to Chinese-born guzheng player and harpist Zi Lan Liao, Wobble has been influenced by Eastern culture throughout both personal and professional lives.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of the culture and I know a few Japanese players,” says Wobble, “For some time I’ve fancied having a crack at merging Japanese music with dub. There’s something unique and unmistakable about it.”

Stealing the show at WOMAD in 2008, Wobble is swapping the fire breathing and mask changing of Chinese Dub for a “high octane” stage show of Ikebana, or Japanese Flower arranging. Accompanying Jah Wobble on stage will be Takashi Sawano, the UK’s foremost designer of Japanese gardens and Ikebana master.

“He (Sawano) is the rock and roll of flower arrangers, he does these big displays whilst we play. He’s bit nutty,“ says Wobble. “It’s all done with a flourish, I believe he’s a martial artist as well. They’re massively complicated flower arrangements all over the stage.”

Recorded in five days, Japanese Dub combines traditional Shinto and Kabuki musical styles with Taiko drumming and “poinant, rather polite Japanese chamber music”. Featuring Joji Hirota (vocals, taiko drums), Keiko Kitamura (vocals, shamisen, koto), Clive Bell (shakahatchi) and Robin Thompson (hikaritchi, sho, shamisen) as The Nippon Dub Ensemble, special guests will also join Jah Wobble on stage at specific performances.

Fighting visa obstructions and a funding retreat from Anglo/Japanese organisations, Wobble’s own label, 30 Hertz Recordings, has been the sole financier of the tour.

“When you’re bringing artists over from a country who’s economy air fare is around £2000, you have to draw the line somewhere. We’ll have between six to eight or nine players on stage at each venue, but not each line up will be the same. Every performance will be clean but unique.”

Japanese Dub was released on April 6th. Jah Wobble & The Nippon Dub Ensemble will be touring the UK from mid July, playing at the 02 Academy in Birmingham on Friday 30th July.

For tickets and information on the show visit the 02 Academy Birmingham website at

For more information on Jah Wobble and The Nippon Dub Ensemble visit 30 Hertz Recordings’ website on