The Blue Aeroplanes – The Exchange, Bristol (with Brockley Forest and Run Logan Run) – Thursday 6th December 2018 and The Fleece, Bristol (with Temple Keys and Karen) – Friday 7th December 2018
This worked out pretty well. Having finally followed through on our wish to see a Blue Aeroplanes Christmas show by booking tickets for the Fleece show on the Friday, a second show dropped into our laps when the first gig sold out and a second was added – on our other planned other night in the city. Result.
Needless to say it was our first visit to either of the two venues. The Exchange was by far the smaller of the two with a much more cramped stage. The L shaped room means that the majority of the audience are close to the stage with a good view but latecomers would end up near the entrance some way back. We were in early enough, however, to get a spot just outside the eventual kill zone.
In comparison, the Fleece is probably twice the size of the Exchange and has rather a lot of pillars. Fortunately, they’re quite narrow pillars but they still obstruct the view of the stage from anywhere other than on the barrier and the further back you go the more pillars there are. Despite being early we were still effectively two pillars from the stage.
In terms of the shows the band were simply sensational on both nights. Take a back catalogue that stretches for almost 4 decades, add the interplay between the musicians, particularly the three guitarists, and you have the makings of a grand spectacle. More bands should really have three guitars.
In terms of the shows, the two sets featured identical songs but the running order was varied slightly on the Friday.
Compared to last year’s ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ tour, more older material was included, with just three selections from MPT’s album of the year for 2017. It really was the only disappointment of the shows.
The compensation was that with such an extensive back catalogue the choices of older material are always unpredictable and it helps that the constants in the set are far more limited than most other bands would dare. That was the case this time as only 8 songs (from 19) survived from the last tour and the 80s were plundered twice. ‘Tolerance’ offered up ‘30-Love’ and the chance for Mike to demonstrate his best country twang. However, even that song looked looked comparatively contemporary compared to the other surprise, the pre-Planes ‘Showing Off To Impress The Girls’. Despite its vintage it nevertheless provided the perfect launch pad for the set’s double punch finale.
No matter how many great songs they’ve written since, the best received songs in the set remain the tunes from ‘Swagger’ and ‘Beatsongs’ and it was a raucous ‘… And Stones’ and a frenzied ‘Yr Own World’ that rounded off the main set to popular acclaim. But for my money there’s nothing more glorious than the ‘Planes in full flight playing ‘What It Is’. That one managed to stand the hairs up on the back of my neck on both nights.
The returning Rodney Allen also got two of his songs, both B-sides from the Swagger/Beatsongs era. ‘Different Now’ came in mid-set backed by the full band whilst first encore ‘Disney Head’ was largely delivered by Rodney and Chris backed by Rodney’s acoustic guitar. (Incidentally the band confirmed last night that Rodney has returned to the band as a full-time member).
The other songs not sung by Gerard, Bec’s (‘Adoration’) and Mike’s (‘Someone’), were two of the three new songs debuted at the shows. Taken with ’Apostle Spoons’, sung by Gerard, they suggest that the new album, due out early next year, will be a match for ‘Welcome, Stranger!’
The encores also featured the return of a personal favourite ‘Pony Boy’ one of many lost classics never to grace a full studio album. Someone shouted for it in Glasgow a few years ago on the Singles tour to Gerard’s amusement – I’d like to think the shouter was there at one of the shows.
Crowd surfing at the Exchange
Thursday’s celebratory ‘Breakin’ In My Heart’ was kicked off by Rodney and saw Bec indulge in a little bit of crowd-surfing. Friday’s performance was mental, and even longer, started by Rodney and Bec, included a couple of extra guitarists (including Davey Woodward from excellent support Karen) but no crowd surfing despite Gerard egging Bec on, although we did get an unlikely candidate for cab climbing to Gerard’s obvious delight.
Despite the element of surprise on Thursday I thought that the Friday performance was just a little bit better. The sound was a little muddied at the start of the Exchange gig, to the detriment of Bec particularly, but that wasn’t a problem on the ferociously loud Friday. Despite wearing earplugs, my ears were still ringing when I got to bed. The crowd’s reaction on the Friday also helped to make the show.
We headed south on the Thursday, fully expecting two great shows and the band more than lived up to these high expectations. I’ve seen some tremendous live bands recently but none of them can touch the ‘Planes on this sort of form.
The Aeroplanes’ sets would have been worth the journey on their own but we also got the bonus of an intriguing bundle of support bands.
Pony Boy is up from the country
At the Exchange Brockley Forest were a two piece (guitars/vocals and drums) although there seemed to be a couple of elves in a box somewhere as there was also bass throughout and even additional guitar at times. They largely dealt in the quiet/loud dynamic of grunge but without the godawful screaming vocals that these bands usually deploy. I quite liked them, particularly when they varied the dynamics midway through the set with a song that largely avoided the loud bits.
I feared the worst when Run Logan Run also turned out to be a two piece but with a saxophonist rather than a guitarist. Jazz duos aren’t my thing at all. However, their use of effects for the saxophone removed their sound (largely) from a more trad direction. Their first song was quite melodic whilst the second was a bit like what Mogwai might sound like if they were, er, a saxophone/drums duo. I wasn’t so keen on the last couple of songs but, overall, they were definitely interesting.
I’m sure that the first support at the Fleece on the Friday, Temple Keys, will quite easily find an audience for their 80s influenced stadium rock, think early U2, but I won’t be in it. They were a little too po-faced for my liking as the bass player seemed the only one of the quartet to actually be enjoying himself. But in fairness a lot of people (including Mrs MPT) seemed to like them.
Second support on Friday were the best of the lot though by some distance. Karen (with a K) feature Davey Woodward formerly of the Brilliant Corners (who I confess completely passed me by). But then I’m not afraid to jump on a train long after everybody else.
Their set reminded me in part of several Flying Nun acts with a bit of the Monochrome Set thrown in. In ‘Broken Stars’ they have a fabulous pop tune and there’s a couple of rockier numbers in there as well with the finale seeing Davey mangle his guitar so that it would almost immediately be out of tune!
Great stuff and I sought out any records to date almost as soon as we got home (since they didn’t have any merch at the gig). Turns out there’s a four track EP which has been quickly ordered. I’d love to see them again at some point but, in this day and age, that’s probably relatively unlikely, sadly.
Overall then two great shows with the promise of a new record in the near future. Hopefully there will also be a tour with a couple of Scottish dates included (at least). And if I can put in one final Christmas request, then if Karen can support then that would be perfect!
Colour gallery of photos from the 2 shows.