Utrecht and Eindhoven. Editors and Brakes. 2 cities. 2 venues. 2 bands. 2 reviews. Read on.
Utrecht and Eindhoven. Editors and Brakes. 2 cities. 2 venues. 2 bands. 2 reviews. Read on.
“It looks like its all dollar now Richard.” Eamon Hamilton, Late of BSP, now solely of Brakes had, earlier in the day presented me with this rather dry comment on his band’s rapid rise from the amiable “suck it and see” outfit of last year’s festivals to the full blown main act in waiting role that they find themselves in now. That status will surely be their fate once these here support tours with Belle and Sebastian and Editors are completed. Not that Brakes could ever be considered remotely corporate or compliant, either as a unit or individually. Still the point was made.
An interesting couple of evenings lay ahead. For the record, both the Tivoli in Utrecht and the Effenaar in Eindhoven, (the first and last stops on the Dutch leg of the Brakes and Editors European tour) were sold out and they had been sold out for weeks. In many ways this is a remarkable thing I itself. Change must be in the air. Rarely do the Dutch public take so avowedly to a band after a mere handful of appearances, the odd single and debut LP releases that were only released eight or so months ago. But it’s happened twice in a year, firstly with headliners Editors and to the ever so super duper in no way at all over hyped Arctic Monkeys, ahem. It could also happen to Brakes very soon. Let’s face it, barely a handful of people knew of these two bands last summer.
There I feel similarities end. Brakes for example have been given the cross entitled country punk to carry around, but this glib and lazy journalistic description belies their fiercely independent spirit and their incredibly wide-ranging musical tastes. This reviewer over two nights backstage drinking with the band (well, someone has to) was presented with possibly the widest range of genres and acts I have ever heard on anyone’s communal ghetto blaster. How many acts could have the wit and foresight to play (in no particular order) Sunn O))), a Nina Simone live LP (complete with an inter-band discussion over whether the Great Lady had changed from key from E to A minor), Mwyng by Super Furries, Kyuss, Royal Trux, Moondog, Viv Stanshall and TFC? Not many, if any.
This eclecticism does find its way into their music, and it certainly informs their live sets. At no point do Brakes feel like they are a musical prescription that must be swallowed (for fashion’s sake of course). No, despite the stop-start nature of their live set Brakes often slip into territories that are quite alien to most people’s preconceptions of “that band who wrote that song, you know, All Night Disco Party” Their laid-back confidence overcomes the odd glitch. The pause necessitated by Eamon breaking a string in Eindhoven is given a brilliantly jazzy, Pat Metheny-style guitar run for company by Tom White. Little things like that don’t come easily to other more programmed bands.
Another thing that is special is their responsiveness to the ever changing atmosphere of playing live. If an audience is warm and receptive, then Brakes visibly warm up. They never go onto autopilot if the audience doesn’t respond to them, rather they seem to pick a song to change the crowd’s mood. This was especially notable in Eindhoven, where after playing half a set to a crowd moulded (one suspects) largely from Madame Tussauds’ wax residue, an inter-band discussion ended in an audible on-stage consensus of “disco, yeah, lets do disco”. Cue an especially pumped up version of All Night Disco Party and a dancing, amiable crowd.
One other noticeable thing about Brakes live performances at present is the sound. It’s much, much stronger, but that is down in no small measure to the fact that they are playing much bigger venues. Still, they have refined their sonic power into ever more explosive bursts. On both nights the band are able to whip up a thunderous sound on What’s In It For Me and I Can’t Stand To Stand Beside You. Make no mistake, despite caustic comments about money and the on-going questioning of the very nature of this band’s highly autonomous set-up, Brakes are on the cusp of something very special indeed.
Of course the big venues on this tour are down to the popularity of headlining act Editors. Make no mistake, the Dutch love them. Something in Editor’s music has touched the Dutch soul. Personally speaking they aren’t really my cup of tea. I find them pretty obvious if truth be told. And no, those Joy Division and Chameleons comparisons are not going to go away. I suppose singer Tom can’t help but sing like that – rather it’s the sound that Editors create is a tad too reminiscent of Curtis’s lot. Still, they do put on a very committed engaging show, pushing the emotion button for all it’s worth (Actually on a moment’s reflection, scrap all that stuff I said about Joy Div. No, the band Editors most closely resemble is Coldplay, but mercifully without Chris Martin’s devout choirboy stance). All too often, Tom’s guitar playing (staggering about, swaying it seems under the almost impossible burden of his emotions) is somewhat theatrical. Still, the young audience lap it up; to them Factory records is but a name and Editor’s merchandise will seem original.
Words : Richard Foster
I suppose the easiest thing to say is that Brakes are getting better, but that may imply to some that they were shit to start with. Not true. Their debut album Give Blood became one of the most played albums in the Incendiary shed last year and not because we’d shared a bottle of vile, liquorice-flavoured liqueur with them in Rotterdam, (I quite liked it – Richard) or enjoyed a storming and incredibly drunken evening with them in an Amsterdam jazz club. No, the album was played so much because it’s one of those albums that seems to get better every time you play it. So many of the new bands that have appeared on the scene over the last few years feel like they’ve been cut from the same piece of cloth. As Incendiary’s chauffer for this road trip Mac suggested, “It’s like they’ve all gone out and bought the same guitar, the same amp and the same effects pedal.” He was talking about Editors at the time it must be said and I’ll talk more about them in a minute, but if fashion is what’s important, then most of the bands on the scene would go out looking for a long black raincoat – just to show how mean, moody and interesting they are.
Brakes on the other hand, would probably steal Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat. There’s more to Brakes’ sound than a few Joy Division riffs, that’s for sure. In fact theirs is a real Jambolaya type sound – in other words, let’s throw everything into a pot and see if turns out tasty. I don’t think there’s another band on the scene at the minute who are prepared to take as many risks as Brakes. There’s a bit of punk attitude about them – only a handful of their songs break the two minute barrier – but there’s as much Willie Nelson in them as there is Joe Strummer. When I first heard their album I thought it was, well, all over the place. I didn’t know what it was trying to be, was it a country album, a punk album, a pop album, what? Then I realized that it was none of these and all of these at the same time. It is a Brakes album and that means a little bit of everything. Impossible to pigeon-hole and absolutely thrilling because of it, Brakes are truly, I think, one of the most refreshing bands to have appeared in quite some time. They may have started off as a side project for all involved, but they really have mined into a rich vein. There’s gold in them thar songs, I tells ya.
Unfortunately, I think the crowd in the Effenaar were still mining in the wrong place. It was rather disheartening to watch such wonderful songs floating over the heads of the crowd, bouncing off the back wall and connecting with absolutely nobody whatsoever. I can’t fault the band at all – the sped up version of All Night Disco Party was fabulous and I’m convinced that You’re So Pretty contains one of the top ten most beautiful guitar parts ever created – but the Eindhoven crowd need to wake up a bit. Richard likened them to waxworks, I’d say they were more ice sculptures because they stood staring cold and blankly at brakes, but suddenly melted and became rather enthusiastic for Editors.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Editors. I thought The Back Room was a bit samey and this gig hasn’t swayed that opinion in any direction. In fact I don’t just think that their songs are samey, I think they’re all the same. Thankfully the song they keep rewriting is quite a good one. Munich, Blood, and Bullets are the best variations of the theme and they turned this once ice-cold Eindhoven crowd into a sweaty, vibrating throng. Fingers in the Factories was pretty cool too it must be said. Watching from the side of the stage is always an interesting vantage point, not for watching the band, but for watching the crowd. Editors came to Eindhoven to do a job and they did it almost without breaking sweat. (Although the drummer did rip his jeans) The crowd absolutely lapped them up. They took their applause and sold a few t-shirts. Job done.
I may not find them as exciting or as invigorating as Brakes, but they do what they do well enough for me to give them credit. I can’t say I’d rush back to see them, but I can understand why people like them. They have a slightly darker edge to them than Coldplay have, but the same formula remains. Their music feels safe. If you like one track you’ll probably like them all. Their brand of depression comes sugar coated, so that it feels slightly sweeter on the way down. It would be interesting to see what they could do with a different guitar pedal though.
Brakes aren’t a safe option. They twist, turn, shake rattle and roll their way through a set, throwing out little nuggets of gold along the way. Editors plug in, set up a rhythm and then chug along quite nicely from start to finish, ticking off all the right boxes along the way – they play all the singles, they pose properly and they look like they mean every word and note they play. You can find Editors rather easy to like, but if you were to give Brakes a chance,well, there’s a band there that you could learn to really fall in love with.
Words : Damian Leslie
Pictures : Mac