Review: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Button Factory

27 10 2009

From Connected

After months of watching insipid indie-kids standing around languidly as some hipster in hipsters played with synthesisers, it was great to see people dancing so much that their collective sweat dripped from the walls
The Saturday night before a bank holiday Sunday doesn’t usually bode too well for pub owners or party goers. Not to mention the fact that that bastard of an economy has knocked the bollocks out of our leather wallets and sequined purses, people tend to save themselves for Halloween night so that they can blow €70 on an inflatable whoopee cushion costume in the vain hope of winning a plastic trophy and a bottle of sparkling wine down the local hotspot.

Imagine my surprise, so, when I arrived at the Button Factory last Saturday to see Chicago’s most successful buskers, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and found the place packed tighter than John O’Donoghue’s expense account. The thing about the Button Factory is you have to get there early otherwise you’re screwed, thanks to the ‘school hall’ shape of the room. Thankfully, Connected risked life and limb manoeuvring our way through the slightly agro crowd as they tutted, sighed and spilled warm beer on our heads, before nestling ourselves into a comfy spot between the sound techies and the stage (all for the benefit of you, our beloved readers, of course).

Only once we were in situ did the real energy of the place come resonate with us; though we did feel a little sorry for the poor sods who’d forked out €22 to stand down the back without so much as a glimpse of the stage. After months of watching insipid indie-kids standing around languidly as some hipster in hipsters played with synthesisers, it was great to see people dancing so much that their collective sweat dripped from the walls; such was the effect of the nine hyperactive Hypnotic’s on stage; eight of whom are sons of Kelan Phil Cohran, trumpeter with the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra and founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

The assemblage of trumpets, trombones, baritones, drums and that mighty impressive sousaphone is a sight enough in itself but to play those instruments with the panache and professionalism of the HBE takes some doing. Not to mention the fact that they move like Chippendales in rhythmic unison to the jazz/hip-hop/funk/soul fusion that appears to come so easily to them. As children, the eight Cohran brothers had wind instruments thrust into their mouths in place of pacifiers and, though they have grown up in a hip-hop generation, their primary sound has its roots in 60’s Jazz and 70’s Soul.

Their instantly recognisable second single ‘War’, which they dedicated to all of those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be described simultaneously as a battle cry, thanks to its segmented instrumentation and overlying trumpet solo, or a contemporary jazz opus. Either way, the crowd went mental for it, as they did with the rest of a raucous, sweaty set. In fact, the only time that HBE seem slightly under par is when they allow their hip-hop influences to surpass their phenomenally disciplined musicianship. Calls to the crowd to “let me hear you say” and an over-extended rendition of ‘ole, ole, ole’ came across as unnecessary and caused a bit of a lull in the night’s proceedings.

But now we’re really just nit-picking. Ideally, you want to be seeing these guys in their natural, organic environment: in front of a dressed shop window at Christmas, a sprawling urban park in Summertime or down a cobble-locked side street in the late evening sun. You can bet your bottom dollar that at least half of Saturday’s crowd turned up as a result of having seen this formidable band of brothers at Electric Picnic in September. For all their hip-hop stylings and “say yeeaah, say ho-ho” yammering, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are exceptional musicians and merit a distinctive setting for their music to be fully realised. Failing that, though, the Button Factory will do.

review: Sheena Madden


Cold War Kids @ The Academy

14 11 2008

Last week’s Cold War Kids gig at The Academy was predictably filled with the neon wayfarers brigade. Whatever, they’re unavoidable, I have faith that someday soon they’ll realise that they’re not MGMT. That aside, once the music started all eyes were firmly fixed on the stage and what followed was an obscure musical extravaganza that Cold War Kids have perfected to a tee. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to their new album, Loyalty to Loyalty, more than a handful of times so wasn’t over-familiar with some of the newer songs, but the band have an energy, or a ‘pull’ of some description, that makes it impossible to look away. Their playfulness and willingness to stretch traditional conventions of what a typical four piece should be is mesmerising. Rather than your standard set with a couple of guitar changes and maybe a foray onto the piano by the lead vocalist, they chop and change instruments with the energy of a 5 year old on blue Smarties, introducing a plethora of inanimate objects that suddenly transform into melodic instruments. And it all suddenly seems so simple – remember when you used to bang pots and pans together as a child and drop marbles into the sink just because you liked the sound of it? Ok maybe that last one was just me, but you know what I mean. At one point, Jonnie Russel bangs a drumstick against an empty wine bottle whilst a drum cymbal is haphazardly thrown on the floor and tossed like a frisbee as the crowd delight in the richness it adds to the beautifully off-key songs.

I’m not going to go through the set-list song by song because to be honest there’s no point, one song led excitedly into the next. Highlights for me were definitely the sublime Hospital Beds, latest single Something is Not Right with Me and encore St John but there was no particular ‘best song’.

Their ethos shows that music is there to have fun with and take delight in. Delight in discovering new sounds and new formations, not just sticking your standard ‘verse verse chorus verse bridge chorus’.
Throughout the whole gig, a bouncer resembling a bulldog stood arms folded at the front of the stage looking physically in pain. To me, he summed up the Cold War Kids – you either get it or you don’t.

Something for the Weekend

22 10 2008

The long weekend is fast approaching and you may find yourself short of ideas for things to make and do. If you want to do the former, whip up a batch of toffee apples for distribution next weekend in order to prevent your gaff from being toilet papered/having dog shit posted through your letterbox (depending on which side of the Liffey you lay your head). If you’re more into the idea of finding something worthwhile to do, consider the following:

Why not start the long weekend early by getting your mitts on tickets to see Vampire Weekend at the Ambassador tomorrow night and relive the summer with their irritatingly catchy but lyrically sublime selection of clever tunes. If you still have some fight left in you after this, drop into Fibber Magees across the road for a late drink. There’s a great Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers tribute band on at 11pm that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in action before and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Dublin Electronic Arts Festival (DEAF Ireland) also kicks off tomorrow night encompassing everything from visual art to theatre to film to music. Hightlights over the weekend include SweeTalk in the Sugar Club (Thursday @ 7.30), where €5 will get you an insightful look into the worlds of Dublin’s most infamous street artist, Maser, and hip-hop legend Steinski. On Friday, lo-fi kings M83 supported by Dublin band, Channel One play Vicar Street. Saturday sees a Norwegian invasion at Whelans with the arrival of In The Country and Susanna of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. After this, get down to Andrews Lane Theatre to dance your socks off to tunes spun by Johnny Moy and Arveene. The closing party on the bank holiday Sunday is a 3 venue extravaganza incorporating Whelans, Upstairs at Whelans and The Village, with €35 gaining you access all areas and with performances from Laurent Garnier, Fuck Buttons, Chequerboard and Model 500 to name but a few, you’d be mad to miss it.

On Saturday night The Sugar Club plays host to the fantastic Erin McKeown, whose last visit to Ireland a few years ago saw her play to a sellout crowd at The Village. Her razor-sharp, tongue-in-cheek lyrics set to folksy country music is both infectiously catchy and clever at once. Check out the clip below for a sampler.

Happy Bank Holiday!

Bon Iver ~ Tripod: Outstanding

8 10 2008

Last night saw Bon Iver return to Tripod for the second time this year. On the back of June’s now near-legendary gig, the Wisconsin three-piece had a lot of hype to live up to. As one of the first crazed fans through the door, I parked myself in front of centre-stage and refused to move, despite death-stares from some equally obsessive attendees.

Having heard reports from the last show there, I was expecting nothing short of acoustic perfection, so I was surprised by the magnitude of instrument tweaking and tuning that went on before the band took to the stage. An impressive set up of no less than 3 drum kits, 7 guitars and 2 keyboards (and that’s just what I could see from my 5-foot-zilch eye level) made for a decidedly, um, ‘un-acoustic’ set. Support came in the form of Anais Mitchell who, with her 1960’s-inspired lyrics about free love and revolution, seemed to be going for the Joni Mitchell vibe, but with her eerie fixed grin and youthful naivety it manifested itself as way too contrived. All a little too coffee-house folk for my liking to be honest.

So, after what seemed like an eternity of the aforementioned tweaking and faffing about with instruments, the buzz of chatter lulled and the bizarre interval music subsided as a hush fell over the room and Bon Iver emerged from backstage and began their set with album opener, Flume. First impressions were that this gig was going to live up to my expectations by providing an evening of tender harmonies and subtle melodies. I was completely blown away by what followed. After the beautifully up-tempo Lump Sum came to an end, my personal favorite album track Creature Fear, which has lulled me off to sleep many a night, was transformed by an overwhelmingly powerful electric guitar-enhanced chorus. Subtlety was out the window but amazingly the song managed to retain it’s tenderness, plucking on every heart-string in the room with the raw and genuine emotion prevalent in the music coming from the stage. Equally entrancing was their rendition of probably the band’s best known tune, Skinny Love, made famous by Vernon’s acoustic Jools Holland performance. The use of three simultaneously-pounded drums made for an epic sounding ending to the normally tranquil track.

I have to admit, until last night I considered Bon Iver and Justin Vernon to be one in the same, with the former being nothing more than a moniker for the modestly charismatic front-man. However, after witnessing the mutual respect that the three piece afford each other’s skills, I can safely say that Mike Noyce and Sean Carey are just as integral to Bon Iver’s successes as Vernon is. Since their last show here, where Vernon apologised for their lack of material, Bon Iver have added new song Blood Bank to their on-stage repertoire, along with two cover songs – Graham Nash’s Simple Man and Talk Talk’s I Believe in You, sung by Noyce and Carey respectively. At the tender age of 21 (and to look at him you wouldn’t give him a day over 16), the baby-faced Mike Noyce stunned the audience with his rendition of Nash’s song by providing gentle yet confident vocals. Carey was equally as mesmerising performing vocals to I Believe in You which built to a powerful crescendo helped by stunning harmonies from the rest of the band.

The set concluded with with the laid-back front-man asking for some audience participation with The Wolves (Act I & II), something which I haven’t seen at a gig in ages – I was giddy as a schoolgirl. As the crowd echoed Vernons cries of “what might’ve been lost”, what we lacked in pitch was made up for with enthusiasm as the song built to a raw, primal scream from the occupants of Tripod.

Not one to disappoint, Vernon reappeared for a solo encore initially with a tender performance of Re: Stacks before being joined on-stage by his band-mates once again for the poingiant For Emma. The evening drew to a close with Bon Iver and support Anais Mitchell performing their version of Sarah Siskind’s Lovin’s For Fool’s.

I have to admit, prior to the gig I had wondered if Bon Iver would be able to tackle a large venue such as The National Stadium, where they play this December. I thought that maybe their songs were too beautifully fragile to fill such a bland open space, and that maybe they needed the intimacy of a venue such as Tripod to maximise the spine-tingling effect that they had on their listeners. I am now of the conclusion that you could be standing in the middle of a warehouse surrounded by thousands of people and still Bon Iver would make you feel like you were the only person in the room and that these songs were for you. Ok, corny I’ll admit, but after last night I just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Do not ON YOUR LIFE miss December’s date!!

Suggested Winter Gigging…

28 09 2008

Now that Summer Festival Season is nothing but a distant fond memory again, we are faced with a WHOLE BLOODY WINTER to get through before the madness starts again. Never fear, for those lucky enough to reside in the cosmopolitan metropolis that is Dublin city, there is a lovely little selection of winter gigs to choose from to warm your cockles and lift your spirits.

Jape – The Button Factory, 9th October. Richie Egan at his finest, promoting his latest endeavour, Ritual.

In The Country and Susanna (of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra) bring a Norwegian double bill to Whelans on Saturday October 25th. Check out her amazing cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Possibly one of the most widely covered songs around yet, unlike most, Susanna does it justice. Check out this clip of U2 and Arcade Fire making a haimes of the song for easy comparisons on how to and how not to do an Ian Curtis impression.

Roots Manuva – 1st November, The Academy. London based rapper Roots Manuva brings his mix of dub/funk/ragga/hip-hop (!) to Middle Abbey Street. Expect a cult following.

Cold War Kids – The Academy, 5th November. I’ve been raging that I missed their Ambassador date in November ’07 for almost a year now. I won’t be making that mistake again, no sir-ee, uh uh. I suggest you don’t either.

Hot Club de Paris – The Button Factory, 8th November. I can’t recommend this Liverpool-based band more. A little bit indie, a little bit punk but also a little bit different to the usual blah blah indie-punk.

Bestival Reunion Tour feat. Florence & The Machine, Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, DJ Yoda, 808 State and more – Tripod, Friday 14th November. Ahhh…. now this is the one that has me jumping up and down with excitement. 808 State, Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip AND Florence and the Machine, all in one night!!! I’ve developed something of an obsession with young Florence since hearing her mind-blowing cover of the Cold War Kids song Hospital Beds – see clip posted a few weeks ago, fantastic stuff altogether.

If that’s not really your bag, you could hop, skip or jump down to Middle Abbey Street on the same night – November 14th – to indulge in a spot of dubstep. Benga plays Traffic as part of the Twisted Pepper line-up (formerly Bodytonic). Altogether now… be be be be boo boo boo boo……. 😉

Bon Iver – National Stadium, 3rd December. If you didn’t manage to get tickets for thew now sold-out Tripod show on the 7th October, then beg, steal or borrow a pair for Juston Vernon’s 3rd Irish date of the year.

So there you have it. For the time being. Ok so you’ll be poor. But we’re in the midst of a recession, you may as well be poor and happy.. and you don’t have to stand in a field.

Video Clips 🙂

Benga & Coki – Night

Cold War Kids dabbling in some pretty impressive instrumental ad-libbing…

Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip -Thou Shalt Always Kill