On paper, the Pandaman’s quest for glory couldn’t be simpler: seeing 365 bands in one year equals seeing one band each and every night of that very same year, right? Could not be simpler. Yet gigging life does not work so smoothly, and even the most persistent of Pandamen need the odd night off sitting on the sofa glaring at ‘Midsomer Murders’ or wrestling panthers or somesuch. Fair play to April then – while past months have seen us wearying of minimalistic two band bills the spring really has sprung with all manner of chaotic live delights and multi-banded line-ups. In fact those bills are so multi-banded that we can safely say we saw 46 live turns in 30 thrilling Aprilling days.
Being at the Wide Days convention in Edinburgh helps somewhat as they put on 16 new acts for us across two nights. Better still, those acts are playing down the same wee road, which means an evening spent pinballing and pint-spilling between La Belle Angele, Sneaky Pete’s and the Bongo Club. Sultry synth duo MIDNIGHT AMBULANCE proffer the best name of the weekend, IONA ZAJAC peddles a shadowy, slinky noirish noise like Nadine Shah lurking in the shed and SLIX deliver an impressively robust set of indie thrustings which get the Friday night crowd flying.
Top marks however go to HUMOUR at Sneaky Pete’s. Taut of expression and tight of sound the five piece are perfecting a darkly sardonic sonic dymanic. You might think it’s funny to suggest there is any more juice to be squeezed from the post-punk lemon, but firstly Humour don’t look like the laughing kind, and secondly this is no bandwagoneering brutalism – theirs is a more jagged, more jaundiced approach which fits with the discomforting likes of Lonely The Brave and The Walkmen than any trendy score-settling.
Speaking of which, down in London Village even the cockney promoters are getting into the communal vibe. Over at The Victoria in Dalston there’s a fulsome five band bill on a Tuesday night, featuring THE FAMILY BATTENBURG who are from Wales and make stompy indieglam noises like The Fratellis getting fruity with The Sweet with a great double guitar / vocal frontal dronal interface going on. BO GRITZ (pronounced ‘no rights’) meanwhile are a tough-looking trio named after a US military general type man and are suitably brutalist and beefy and gritty (pronounced ‘leafy and witty’). There’s a hardcore undercurrent and a raging overtone to proceedings which means it ain’t pretty but it is pretty unpleasant.
Similarly, headliners KNIVES are very much out and about. The bassist has unhinged Colombian hair (cf Carlos Valderamma World Cup drama) and they continue the jagged hardcore theme, all unbridled Idles-style shouty idling and At the Drive-in piledriving passion and deadpan post-pandemic anti-melodic trashings. The singer is a bit…stout. “I want to take off my jacket” he grunts at one especially heated point, “but I’ve got stains on my shirt”. Classy.
As tends to be the case at these modern moderately hipster shows the most popular act are actually middle on the bill. GETDOWN SERVICES (for ’tis they) are two blokes doing that rappy poet-punk thing, vaguely akin to Beastie Boys meeting Sleaford Mods in the Moto Trowell smoking area. The shirts are soon off for the boys and the girls and the they / thems and the manboobs are bouncing.
Yet amidst the sweaty silliness there is a semblance of melodic loveliness with a swoop of synth, a wee keyboard cruise, a chunky ‘Heart of Glass’ beat. Throw in a nice reference to the A59 and you have the manliest, campest, most honestly non-contrived thing we’ve seen all month, and we’ve seen a few. To be honest, this entire 821 word column could just be about Getdown Services. In many ways, it already is.
The following night up the road at the Shacklewell Arms there’s a four-bander for the Pandaman, with MAN / WOMAN / CHAINSAW taking bruised pride of place in the headline slot. As well as having the best name of this diary since Midnight Ambulance they turn out to be a berserk slamming six piece unafraid to launch into spurts of melody. It’s a cavalcade of indie chaos, a mixed bag of raffled riffs and shrieks about shagging which, somewhat inevitably, gets very / very / jazz / skronk.
To Oxford O2 Academy, where RAZORLIGHT follow last month’s slinky Suede model by bringing their Greatest Hits tour to the Home Counties. Wait…a Greatest Hits album?? For those of us who saw Johnny Borrell supporting The Libertines at the 333 in Old Street a million indie years ago and cocked half a tired ear to their ongoing internal ructions it’s easy to forget just how huge Razorlight were in those ever-naughty noughties with their number one greatest hit tunes and their Reading Festival headliners.
Fair play to them in the present day: this tour brings the original line-up back together for the first time in yonkers, including Andy Burrows on drums. And from ‘Stumble And Fall’ right through to ‘America’ theirs is a set littered with those greatest hit tunes and hectic frontmanship from Borrell in front of a sold out ever-enthusiastic school night crowd. Fair play.
Razorlight are supported by the frankly inexplicable Affleck’s Palace and young JACK FLANAGAN, who spends an opening 20 minute set playing an acoustic guitar with an unseemly vigour and talks of lost loves. “Anyone here called Juliana?” he asks hopefully. Apologetic mumbling from the early doors crowd. Oxford, it seems, is not a city full of Julianas. Shame, as Jack references Juliana Hatfield, postergirl for the post-grungepop generation of the early ’90s as singer in Blake Babies and onetime paramour of Evan Dando.
Which rather alarmingly ties into our last band of the column: enter SASHA ASSAD, the singer and the band. Essentially three girls having the time of their lives with Sasha upfront on vocals and guitar, they open up for our very own Manatees band at the Sebright Arms in Hackney with a panache and a genteel passion which even hauls punters from the Manchester City versus Arsenal soccerballing upstairs. It’s also – concept alert – heavy of heart and light of touch, not unlike Blake Babies or Throwing Muses from back in the day when collegiate rock ruled the underworld.
The bendy bits are surprising, the smiles are inspiring. She may be the 44th live act of the month but Sasha Assad is frothing right near the top of the springtime tree.
THE PANDMAN’S 2023 TOTAL: 121