DEATH SHANTIES

9 APRIL
CAFE #9

For a night that lays claim to “balladeers, hauntologists, super-8 soundtracks, audio-archaeologists, occult circuit-benders” and more, the Heretics' Folk Club certainly delivers on the unusual. That's part of the thrill as we fold ourselves into the nooks and crannies of Cafe #9. Aside from a few rather opaque genre signposts, no one really knows what to expect.

Akker Phallus Duo kick off proceedings with some menacing free noise experimentation, as the pair (Jon Marshall and Ben Morris) mix heavily muffled vocal sounds with electronic effects to create a deeply unsettling atmosphere. The set continues to evolve, adding organic sound elements to no-less-brutal effect, and the noise intensifies and challenges the audience throughout.

As the duo exit centre stage and chatter resumes, the next question is where headliners Death Shanties will fit into all of this. Playing tonight as a duo - minus visual artist and third member Lucy Reid - they had recently performed on stage with Thurston Moore, a notion somewhat unsettled by the sight of saxophonist Sybren Renema gently jamming along to the more traditional jazz numbers playing in the background.

Eventually they begin with a breathless free jazz assault. It's a thrilling intro, yet far from the only weapon in their arsenal. Death Shanties demonstrate a profound talent for bringing both shade and light to their work. Not only is their set beautifully paced, engaging the listener with a variety of jazz styles and tempos, but there's a real feeling of creativity and fun at hand. Both musicians seem to be on an exploratory mission with their instruments, with Renema teasing alien sounds out of both alto and tenor sax, and Alex Neilson drumming at various points with a bell in his mouth.

Perhaps the high point of the evening is the most unexpected of all - Neilson, gingerly announcing his intention to sing, walking up to centre stage to deliver a beautiful a cappella song, 'Adam Had No Navel'. It's a moment of quietude that nonetheless complements the evening's spirit of musical adventure.

Matthew Neale

Courtney Barnett

30 March
Leadmill

After releasing a couple of EPs and spending the last couple of years undertaking much low-key touring, Courtney Barnett has seemingly burst into the media spotlight with universally glowing reviews for her debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. The music weeklies, monthlies and the broadsheets have been salivating over the album, so there were lots of curious people here tonight wanting to see the 'next big thing'.

The first support is Fraser A Gorman, who charms the sizeable crowd with his banter and cosmic country songs, which are lovelorn and witty. His Antipodean take on the classic dustbowl themes climaxes on his last song, 'Dark Eyes', where he is in full Dylan circa '65 mode.

Manchester's Spring King are the main support and they whip through their 30-minute set in a 100mph frenetic frenzy. Driven forward by lead singer and drummer Tarek Musa, they never let up the pace and provide an energetic, if ultimately one-dimensional, diversion.

The sell-out crowd greets Barnett with real enthusiasm as she plugs in and kicks off with 'Nobody Really Cares....' and 'Lance Jr', two uptempo crowd-pleasers. Backed only with bass and drums, she cranks out the majority of the album together with a few favourites from the EPs. The album showcases Barnett's unselfconscious vocal delivery, quirky lyrics full of life's myriad mundanities, and the band's loose-limbed musical backing. Inevitably, some of the album's charm and subtleties are lost in a live setting, especially with just a guitar, bass and drums set up, but the recent run of gigs has turned this trio into a lithe, toned outfit.         

With Barnett shouldering all the guitar duties, occasionally things become a little basic and workmanlike, but there are a couple of brilliant wig-outs with some heavily distorted guitar, and for penultimate song 'Canned Tomatoes (Whole)', Barnett stands on the drum riser like a real guitar heroine. The lightshow is very effective, with great swathes of blue, orange and pink, and some judicious use of strobe, but this never intrudes on the music.

Barnett returns for two rollicking encores - her own 'Aqua Profunda!' and a tribute to two fellow Oz bands, a cover of Divinyls cover of The Easybeats' 'I'll Make You Happy'. The hype has been considerable, but on this evidence it is probably justified.

Pete Martin

Kurokuma

Washington
17 April

Seeking out a kind of despair that couldn't be provided by ‘quad vods’, I descended into the bowels of the Washington for a night of doom and experimental rock.

The first band on were cosmic noise merchants Lunar Maria, who kicked off proceedings by locking us into a darkly psychedelic groove. Their long-form riffing took me on an astral journey that I am unlikely to forget.

Next on were doom band Archelon. They started their set as they meant go on with a crushing riff heavy groove. They created an oppressive wall of sound that was aggressive and darkly sinister, engendering feelings of claustrophobic paranoia.

Headlining were misery mongers Kurokuma.  They play doom, the point at which heavy metal and experimental noise rub together like tectonic plates.  Kurokuma treated us to layers of sounds, heavy glacial riffs and an uncompromising heaviness.  

They played solidly for almost an hour, enveloping us in tortured soundscapes. I feel honour-bound to tell you that you will never be uplifted by this music. Instead you will get an aural manifestation of misery and despair. Sometimes it's good to look into the abyss.

Herbert Soden

Luna Kicks

24 April
Plug

Three-piece Luna Kicks open the night with their raw, bluesy garage rock, moving from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s bass-driven grooves on the swamp rock of ‘Black Widow’ to stand-out track ‘Candy Floss’ with its fuzz-laden shoe-gaze, reminiscent of Ride. Luna Kicks may still have the air of newcomers about them, but they are a band that show potential, with some good songs under their belt.

Knaves bring in a slightly bigger audience made up of an enthusiastic fan base, sporting self-styled tie-dyed t-shirts. Fortunately the rehearsed ‘dance moves’ of the Knaves’ fan club did little to dampen the jangly guitar and upbeat pop melodies of the Two Door Cinema Club-inspired ‘Stalemate’ and ‘Circuit’.

Just before the night’s highlight graced the stage the crowd became sparse. Not that this in any way phased Feral Brood as they erupted into ‘Imitate Me’, sounding as consuming as it does on their debut album, Balloon. Phil Goodwin and Dan Williamson’s vocal harmonies entwined on the jangling melody driven ‘You Are The Sea’. ‘Out Of Sight’ reminisces 60s psychedelic garage rock by the likes of The Sonics and The Fuzztones, while Goodwin and Williamson make sure tongue stays firmly in cheek as they give a quick rundown of their favourite guitarists, from Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Page. Bassist Ash Romans and drummer Steve Broughton’s direct and perfectly placed rhythm section lays the foundations for keys player Tom Goodwin’s boogie woogie and Ray Manzarek stylings, notably on pop gem ‘You Keep My Love Still’ and the shivering ‘Balloon’, which bounces from sweltering, raucous rock to melodic breakdowns.

The oldest outfit on the bill were the 90s influenced Kartica. Wearing their influences of Oasis, Seahorses, and Ocean Colour Scene neatly on their sleeves, they blend passionate yet gentle vocals, rolling rhythm guitars, thumping bass and solid drumbeats. Kartica’s council estate rousing call reminiscent of Northern Soul era The Verve brought a ‘propa’ fitting end to a night of local talent, from energetic newcomers to the tighter, more prominent bands of Sheffield.

Alan Byatt

Frogbelly and Symphony

11 April
Plug

With an audience just a few score strong, tonight's show rattles around in a venue made for maybe eight times as many punters, which may be why none of tonight's acts managed to connect with me. 

Velcro Teddy Bears are a youthful take on Pearl Jam alt-rock, and their first tune lurches away with the ramshackle groove of Blind Melon, or one of the better Screaming Trees tracks. But it seems they've put all the good material up front, and the singer's vocals vary little from song to song, which dwindle into sameness as the set continues. There's promise here, but it ain't yet fulfilled.

Next up is Outroads. Or rather, two members of the band known as Outroads. Or maybe an Outroads side project? There was some onstage banter about this at the start, but not having heard of Outroads before now, it made little sense. Right now, Outroads is two singer-guitarists doing a straight and earnest take on the white man's blues, all heartfelt vocals and heartbreak lyrics, virtuoso yet restrained acoustic guitar and slide steel. I'm mostly glad the whole ironic redneck blues thing is over, but nonetheless I miss its grit. I just can't get a grip on this polished sincerity.

The headline slot belongs to Frogbelly and Symphony, whose loquacious website copy should have been a warning, as it reads like the rationale for an undergrad's end-of-third-year art exhibition. They're hard to put into a box, musically. There's a sort of keyboards-and-fiddle cabaret folk rock thing going on, plus some more of that sincere Americana with occasional lurches into irony and surrealism, and a quirky indie pop wilfulness threading through the whole thing. But their performance lacks a centre, somehow - a magic show that's long on patter, but short on solid tricks. 

But everyone else seems suitably impressed, so perhaps the only mojo that's missing is mine? For whatever reason, the rabbit remains in the hat.

Paul Graham Raven

Sofar Sounds

21 April

Sofar Sounds brought their brand of intimate and interactive gigs to Sheffield once again last month when they showcased the talents of Marianne Dissard, Kid Conventional and T. E. Morris, proving that high-quality music doesn’t have to come at the price of an expensive ticket or a jostling crowd.

From the start, the event was marked by the excitement, uncertainty and secrecy that Sofar has crafted its reputation around. After our small group of curious attendees had been searching for a way in for around 20 minutes, we managed to find the posters that eventually led us in the right direction.

I’d been told the venue was small, but even by Sofar’s standards this was an extremely cosy affair. Tightly squeezed into a decorated rehearsal room, punter and performer alike huddled together on the floor while those playing barely had space to shift their weight. Despite the limited space, the first set of the night was full of theatrical eccentricity in the form of Parisian chanteuse Marianne Dissard. Armed with her ‘band in a box’ – her laptop – Dissard crooned to music she had written and recorded in Tucson, Arizona, rounding the set off by showering the audience with confetti.

Kid Conventional had no problem following up with his intricate guitar work and plaintive vocals, describing his music as sounding like “a ginger on Valentine’s Day”, a small dose of humorous self-deprecation that severely underplayed an authentic gift for song writing.

Finishing the night off, T.E. Morris played some of the songs from his extensive back catalogue, layering poetic lyrical deliveries over melancholy acoustic guitar, shifting dynamically in volume, speed and temperament.

By providing dedicated followers of good music with a creative space to meet like-minded people, Sofar has demonstrated that exhibiting genuine talent in unusual and interesting venues needn’t be something exclusive or expensive.

Aidan Daly