Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tramlines Review (Part 2) Friday and Saturday

So Tramlines 2011 begins properly on Friday, and as the advertising campaign stresses it's 'Free For All'. Now obviously this is a very fantastic thing, and as Los Campesinos! would mention on the Saturday night, there's not many councils across the country that would trust it's citizens and pop fans quite so much. Still, as becomes more apparent as the weekend goes on, the free entertainment factor means that those who are there to watch the bands can get their fun disrupted by the tools who just want to be seen.

There's not much sign of this where we are on Friday though. The Kate Jackson Group kick off the main section of my festival experience on the Barker's Pool Stage, erected between the classical fa├žade of the City Hall and the horrid brutalism of John Lewis. This suits Jackson fine as she takes to the stage in style whilst her music often reflects or references the dingy and darkly glam. It takes Kate a song to warm up, which is understandable as she's been away for quite a few years. Still she's genuinely happy to be playing in Sheffield – her adopted hometown – for the first time in about three years. 'Date With Dawn' really kicks her set into gear and proves to be a decent showcase for her new material. If the demo's often seemed lacking, here they're given a full lease of life. Set highlight is titled 'The Pacific' and feels both driven and laid back, like a 70's radio hit come good. Elsewhere there's a horn player introduced to flesh out one song, whilst at other times the guitars – which are in danger of drowning out Kate's wail – riff on in a way that The Long Blondes would never allow themselves. All in all, it's a rather fine show with plenty of promise.

Town's got pretty busy by this point and a trip to the Forum brings no joy. (We're informed later that Hot Club de Paris midnight show here is ludicrously oversubscribed!) So we head to the Bowery in an attempt to see Let's Buy Happiness. Sadly it's full so we plump for a quiet pint in the University Arms. Deciding to make one last shot at it we go to The Harley and manage to cram right in at the back for Trophy Wife's set. It's rammed and we're stuck with people who'd rather talk loudly over the act, but nonetheless the band seem rather good. We can just about see the head of the singer and the bouncing sticks of the percussionist, but the sound of Trophy Wife's zingy math-pop recalls the dancier elements of Foals and the joyous side to Two Door Cinema Club's catalogue. A pleasant surprise.

Saturday again sees Team KPL hit the Barker's Pool stage. That it's sponsored by Nando's gives pretty much every act something to comment on. Aside that is from the one that's playing as we arrive. Although it says Eagulls on the bill I'm certain I hear them introduce themselves with a different name. Either way, they're pretty terrible. The musicians are competent enough, but rendered irrelevant by someone who is easily the worst singer of the weekend. Looking like a cross between Bez and the singer from The Drums he's tuneless and drags his knuckles round the stage whilst practically drooling down his cammo jacket. Horrendous.

Still, Copy Haho are on next, playing a set of songs from their recently released self-titled album. They're on good form and dryly funny. With the crowd still not fully warmed up the band sarcastically tell us how amazing we are. Even if it seems they're not fully feeling it, the songs come across really well. Closer 'Factory Floor' is a highlight, as is single 'Wrong Direction'. With their 90's college rock informed indie they're perhaps a bit at odd with their surroundings, but nonetheless I really like 'em. If you're currently unfamiliar then you really aught to go and check them out now.

Taking a punt Mrs KPL and I stick around for next act Spector. They're referred to as power-pop, which proves to fairly apt. At least the 'pop' bit of that is. Suited up, they look a little bit like Hurts expanded to a full band. Luckily they're not mere revivalists and actually have some good tunes. With a new-wave influence and some 50's rock n roll harmonies they manage to at once be highly accessible and completely odd. They close with vaguely familiar latest single 'Never Fade Away' and leave the impression that they're set for big things.

We stick with the same stage for the final trio of acts Young Legionnaire, Dananananaykroyd and Los Campesinos! for the very obvious reason that they're all right up our street. Young Legionnaire, for those that don't know, are lead by yourcodenameis:milo/The Automatic's Paul Mullen and feature Bloc Party's Gordon Moakes on bass. Unsurprisingly they're very much in the vain of ycni:m's collaboration with Moakes – wirey, abrasive guitars, piercing vocals and powerful, electro-informed basslines. They're very very good at what they do, and debut some songs from a forthcoming EP, but unfortunately my unfamiliarity with much of their recorded output means that a lot of the set blurs into one. Still, if post-hardcore is you bag then check out Young Legionnaire if you haven't already.

Now, if anyone ever asks you when it was that global megastars Dananananaykroyd turned into festival slaying crowd pleasers you can tell them that it was a Tramlines 2011. Like you would not believe, the Dana's turn the crowd of people largely unfamiliar with their music into huge partying mass. 'Reboot' opens the set in eardrum blasting fashion, but it's only a warm up. They get everyone crouching down ready to jump up into 'Watch This' and from there they just take it. It seems at one point as if they're about to initiate the Wall Of Hugs, but it's merely one of the singers getting into the pit. “If you're going to do that... Don't! Just don't!” they say, noticing the crowd getting a bit wild. One guy in a blue shirt is even singled out for being a mong. 'Think And Feel', 'Muscle Memory' and 'Black Wax' help to make up a 'greatest hits' set that's fun, funny and ridiculously entertaining. A real festival highlight!

In fact Los Campesinos! have a bit of difficulty following it. 'In Media Res' is a fantastic opener, but the crowd just aren't going for it right away. Then the bad start up 'Death To Los Campesinos!' and everything's alright. Los Camp! are pros and know how to put together a festival setlist, even if they're perhaps not used to playing next to a war memorial. Everything you'd expect from the eight-piece in is place with Gareth forming the focal point. If his presence on Twitter can occasionally be offputting then live he's completely different – genuine and funny he's a great stage presence taking the band through tracks from all three albums. It's hard to know how the families on the steps of city hall took the sweary 'Straight In At 101', but everyone loves 'You! Me! Dancing!'. 'Miserabelia' also serves to remind me how long it's been since I've listened to We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Closing pair 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think About The Future' and 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks' invoke some goosebumps before the stage closes for the night.

Although it's tempting to go and see The Duke Spirit at DQ I decide to go with Mrs KPL to the Cathedral to see (former Monkey Swallows The Universe singer) Nat Johnson with her band The Figureheads, who's already something of a musical legend in Sheffield. Now the Catherdral's not just the name for some bar type venue. No. It's actually the city's Cathedral. It's host to the acoustic stage this weekend, and Nat's headlining tonight. Outside the building is a bit squat and dark. Inside however it's high vaulted arches with a replacement frontage (from the WWII bombing) that blends nicely into the old features. The stage sits in the corner of there sets of arches and when we get there there's already plenty of people in the pews. We take a seat to the side and await the act.

With the blue lights glowing around the bases of the stone pillars, it's unlike any other set of the festival. Nat is a small figure in a red dress that's dwarfed by the scale of the building. But as soon as she sings it's truly spellbinding. I've been a fan of her voice for many years and there's something warmly familiar whenever I hear her sing. It's like coming home, in a way that I can't explain. Accompanied by a rotating set of musicians her gentle acoustic indiepop is delightful comprising of both new material and that that's appeared on EP releases. The only issue with the set is that some people behind us insist on talking. It's not nice when people do this at gigs at the best of times, but seriously Sheffield – If you want a chat over a drink go to a pub NOT an acoustic gig. Audience aside, Nat Johnson and the Figureheads round off my Saturday night in the perfect fashion and stick in the mind for delivering something truly special.

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