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Hayseed Dixie / Low / Dubcentral / Chloe-Jade Simmons.

by Now Then Sheffield

17th November.
Leadmill.

Reviewer – Edward Russell-Johnson.

Thirteen years ago a quartet of middle aged men released an album called A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC, and a new musical genre was born. Fusing the fury of rock and roll with the instrumentation of bluegrass mountain music, Hayseed Dixie created something unique. They created rockgrass.

Before you start thinking they’re a gimmicky, one-trick bucking bronco, take a listen. It’s the standard of musicianship that really sets Hayseed Dixie apart from any other band playing quirky rock covers. Every song has a virtuoso banjo or mandolin solo, or both, and it’s a beautiful thing to hear those instruments being played with the speed and dexterity usually reserved for electric guitars.

The band start off the night with their debut album in full, featuring all the AC/DC classics. There’s nothing derivative about these covers and everything has a uniquely Hayseed feel, from the hoedown fiddle on ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ to the tolling of ‘Hells Bells’, courtesy of an empty beer bottle and a pair of pliers.

Between songs lead vocalist John Wheeler muses on sex, alcohol and alien anal probes, entertaining the crowd with his impressions of US presidents. In his trademark tie-dye shirt he makes for an unconventional frontman, backed by bandmates sporting trucker caps, cut-off dungarees and impressive facial hair. These boys know they’re stereotypes, and they thrive on it.

The set list features other rock classics from the likes of Queen, Motörhead and Pink Floyd, and there are a few original songs thrown in, including the tender tear-jerker ‘Keeping Your Poop in a Jar’ and the ever-reliable ‘The Merchandise Table is Right There in the Corner’. It’s clear that Hayseed have a lot of fun doing what they do, but ultimately these originals don’t have the same impact as their covers.

Nonetheless, the fact that a four-piece string band with no drummer can put on such a foot-stomping show is proof of the honest power of Hayseed’s bluegrass roots. Their energy is phenomenal, particularly considering the blistering pace of their playing and the average age of the band. Between the slap and rattle of the acoustic bass and the percussive offbeat strum of the mandolin, the crowd carries on jumping and jigging for two hours.

When you see it in action, there’s nothing ridiculous about combining bluegrass with rock and roll. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

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16th November.
Queens Social Club.

Reviewer – Pete Martin.

Low was formed in Duluth, Minnesota in 1993 by husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. They have released ten studio albums including this year's The Invisible Way, produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

Though these albums have been increasingly well received, it is arguably through their live performances that they have made their reputation. With their sparse instrumentation and arrangements allied with a distinct reduction in volume, Low have sometimes fought an uphill battle getting live audiences to listen. Saying this, Sparhawk does have a wilful streak, and at a gig earlier this year they played a 27-minute set comprising a slow, drawn-out version of one song, ‘Do You Know How to Waltz?’ Sparhawk then left the stage with the comment “drone, not drones”. This performance resulted in much polarised commentary. Brave or self indulgent? Radical or audacious?

Tonight there was no problem with audience chatter during the quieter moments, as a mutual respect ensured that you could hear a pin drop. Sparhawk's guitar was subtle and assured, Parker stood behind a stripped-to-the-bone drum kit a la Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground, and third member Steve Garrington switched between bass and electric piano, providing understated tone and colour.

Though Sparhawk took the majority of lead vocals, Parker's voice is one of real beauty, both when harmonising and when singing lead. Her vocal on ‘Holy Ghost’ was plaintive and haunting. The set didn't just concentrate on the last album and some older gems were given an airing. ‘Dragonfly’ was slow and fragile, topping the album version. But the moment when the planets were perfectly aligned was during an epic rendition of ‘Nothing But Heart’, with the guitar growling and squealing and the twin vocals building to an intense, hypnotic climax.

Side project Retribution Gospel Choir enables Sparhawk to write and play louder, rockier material - check out their three tremendous albums - but I feel his true passion is to mine the seam between desperation and consolation. He has a wicked sense of humour and this manifests itself in his choice of cover versions the band sometimes plays. For the first encore he tried a few bars of John Denver's 'Annie's Song' (“You fill up my senses...”), but this was swiftly abandoned in favour of a beautiful version of Rihanna's ‘Stay’. We got a further two encores with Parker's funereal vocal delivery absolutely mesmerising the crowd.

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9th November.
Yellow Arch Studios.

Reviewer – Barney Harris.

After what seems like something of a hiatus, November saw the Dubcentral crew back in action at Yellow Arch Studios. The organisers weren’t pulling any punches either, boldly booking a line-up featuring the heavyweight Operation Sound System, mic man Ras Daddy Teacha, a live performance from 8-piece Bristol-based Smerins Anti-Social Club and a live PA from Hollie Cook, Horseman and Prince Fatty. As if this wasn’t enough, the delectable Khacha Puri Chai Café filled a second room with sweet smelling chai, delicious bites to eat and a well-chosen smattering of party DJs from Sheffield’s ever-growing pool of talent.

After a dubby introductory warm up courtesy of Operation Sound System, Smerins Anti-Social Club unleashed their patented blend of ‘brass and bass’ (I made that up). Elegant, retro sounding vocals, tub-thumping drums, jazzy light keys and a knees-up brass section makes dancing to Smerins a real no brainer. But will they fade into the abyss of southern party bands pandering to a wide-eyed, pork pie hat wearing crowd of 20-somethings, or will their appeal stand the test of time and take them forward to pastures new? Despite enjoying their show, I’d have to hedge my bets on this one.

Hollie Cook, Horseman and Prince Fatty were next up, representing the style of roots music Dubcentral is well known and well loved for. The infallible combination of groovy, driving bass and sweet vocals interspersed with Horseman’s tuff, chanted lyrics still works a treat. The trio’s cheeky rendition of ODB’s ‘Got Your Money’ was just one of many numbers that set the whole room skanking. The highlight of the night for me.

Fantastic sets in the backroom (big up Greef) meant that, all in all, the Dubcentralites were treated to a raucous session. Credit is due to the organisers and venue staff at the Yellow Arch Studios, a venue which, incidentally, has received a much needed revamp since my last visit. Gone are the days of DIY urinals, claustrophobic corridors and gridlock in the stairwells. It has scrubbed up rather nicely now and rumour has it they’ll be establishing themselves as a fully licensed venue in the near future. That’s great news, because after November’s Dubcentral, I don’t think I’ll be the only one who can’t wait for my next visit.

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29th November.
Hagglers Corner.

Reviewer – Phoebe Seymour.

Hagglers Corner is the best place for the launch of Chloe-Jade Simmon's folk laced single, 'Best Behaviour'. There is a laid-back vibe about the room, with its low wooden beams, wrapped in fairy lights, magically framing the stage.

Dr Robeatnik is a one-man, loop peddling, guitar drumming machine who layers vigorous strumming on top of reverberating string tapping. A far cry from Steve Allen's punk project, Wreck The Place, Robeatnik’s cover of 'Stem' sounds like DJ Shadow and guitarist Kaki King having musical intercourse.

This is a tough act to follow, but Long Strung Creatures add musical variety to the evening with blues-rock tracks like ‘Crying Man’, their style visually reinforced by the vocalist who sits on a cajon and drums along. The room becomes so packed and rowdy, it is difficult to fully appreciate David J Roch's heart-wrenchingly, atmospheric performance. But his incredibly high vocals in ‘Don't Let Go Yet’ run a shiver through the crowd, before erupting into a triumphant, country folk ending. He invites the crowd to clap and stomp to a final upbeat bluesy number.

Chloe-Jade Simmons emerges wearing a stunning green silk dress and a gold compass around her neck, an image which appears in the video for her new single. She starts with the acoustic pop charm of ‘Wanting To Be Found’ and ‘Any Lower’, before welcoming guitarist Leon Gorka and bassist Daniel Masters to the stage. ‘Ashes’ is the heaviest and most spine-tinglingly heartbreaking, followed by the light and sweet relief of ‘Hinges’. Gorka's melodic plunking on ‘Better With You’ accompanies Chloe-Jade's guitar beautifully. Gorka and Masters are then replaced by a band, as Chloe-Jade toasts ‘Best Behaviour’ with a glass of rum. There is a captivated silence as the warm cello and twinkling piano add deep emotion to high vocals on top of double bass and subtle cajon. With a massive smile, Chloe-Jade performs encore ‘Sitting In My Knickers’.

Next is an after party with a set from Sir Wixalot, followed by electronic act Limit Break and hip hop DJ, Zeeni. Limit Break play bass-thumping dance tunes like ‘Blue Seas’ and the breakbeat fuelled ‘Roll Me Out’ featuring Chloe-Jade, before ending with their remix of ‘Best Behaviour’. Zeeni finishes with an eclectic mix.

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by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 69

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