Category Archives: Phantom Band, The
The Phantom Band
West End Festival All Dayer – featuring The Phantom Band, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, We Were Promised Jetpacks, RM Hubbert, Tuff Love, De Rosa and ULTRAS – Oran Mor, Glasgow – Sunday 21st June 2015
It’s been a hectic week so it’s taken me this long to get the chance to sit down and reflect on Sunday’s West End Festival Alldayer at the Oran Mor. And, boy, there’s plenty to reflect on.
This was the first chance I’d had to see the Auditorium at the Oran Mor and it’s an impressive setting for a show. Whereas the Venue in the basement is dark and claustrophobic, the Auditorium, effectively the top part of the former chart is grand and roomy.
One imponderable as a first timer was how easy it would be to move between the stages. As it turned out the level of sales made it quite possible to see what you wanted although the smaller Venue was pretty crammed by the time of Wells & Moffat (and correspondingly it subsequently took a while for the Auditorium to fill up for the Phantom Band).
Whilst it would be therefore possible to pretty much see at least a part of every act performing, our approach was more geared around seeing as much of the bands that we wanted to see as we could. So the likes of Stanley Odd and Remember Remember missed out on an MPT presence whilst the one serious clash of the days – the Phantom Band vs Wells & Moffat was resolved in favour of the Phantos.
So let’s start at the end and the Phantom Band’s quite astonishing headline set. Whereas at times some of the earlier acts struggled to fill the huge spaces of the Auditorium the Phantos managed this with no bother. Instead it rather felt more like the room was struggling to contain them.
Although the crowd was initially comparatively meagre due to the aforementioned clash (Rick thanking those present for being ‘up here’ rather than ‘down there’), there was a huge energy about the performance with the likes of ‘The Kingfisher’ sounding more than a little unhinged whilst ‘Sweatbox’ got a serious groove on.
In fact a lot of the performance was about the groove and to illustrate just how good they were there was some unlikely MPT dancing (although no alcohol had been consumed) and even a severely improbable Manic Pop Pogo during the closing ‘Throwing Bones’.
The best set I’ve ever seen them play – and that’s saying something.
The Phantom Band played:
1. Tender Castle 2. The Wind That Cried The World 3. Doom Patrol 4. Local Zero 5. Sweatbox 6. The Kingfisher 7. The Howling 8. Into The Corn 9. Clapshot 10. Women of Ghent 11. Throwing Bones
The Phantos weren’t the principal reason for finally getting to an event that I’d been tempted by in previous years. No, that was the second live performance by the reformed De Rosa albeit with a different line-up from the Baubles show at the end of 2013. Stripped back to the original trio the sound was bolstered by the addition of Gill Fleetwood on keyboards and backing vocals with the latter something which the band have lacked in the past.
It was a sombre set in a lot of respects and initially a little tentative. A downbeat ‘New Lanark’ opened the show whilst the set also featured the likes of ‘Pest’ and ‘Tinto’ and no obvious pop tunes.
But the performance was really energised with the electro double header of ‘In Code’ and ‘Nocturne’. That built everyone up perfectly for the undoubted highlight of the show – a spine tingling ‘Spectres’ to close – real hairs standing on the back of the neck stuff.
It’s great to have them back.
De Rosa played:
1. New Lanark 2. The Mute 3. Tinto 4. The Engineer 5. In Code 6. Nocturne for an Absentee 7. Pest 8. Spectres
It’s only been a couple of weeks since I last saw Tuff Love but if anything they’ve got better in the interim. The set was similar to the Dundee show and with most of the hits at the back end a real sense of momentum was built up. But sound-wise it was a step up even from that impressive show.
The most memorable thing about the show though was the Wall of Death when Suse convinced the audience to split into 2 halves then basically charge into each other. I suspect that the results were rather more genteel than at any metal concert but it was thoroughly entertaining.
Similarly R.M. Hubbert’s performance was notable for more than the music. In this case rather than forcing the audience into a kamikaze maneouvre what sticks out was the combative way in which Hubby took on the folk chatting through his songs. Berating them for their rudeness was appreciated by the vast majority of the folk in the room even if they were somewhat terrified that they might inadvertently interrupt the maestro.
The music, of course, was pretty great too with the highlight being the first time we’ve seen Aidan Moffat join Hubby on stage for the closing ‘Car Song’.
We Were Promised Jetpacks
Fresh from a tour of the continent, We Were Promised Jetpacks set their stall out rather differently from normal with a ‘stripped back’ performance. In practice this meant not just less noise but also less velocity with a remarkably controlled performance.
They’ve previously demonstrated that this approach can work on record (on the ‘The Last Place You’ll Look’ E.P.) but nevertheless it’s still impressive how tunes like ‘It’s Thunder, It’s Lightning’ and ‘Short Bursts’ work in this format.
Most of the noise in the set was reserved for a terrific take on ‘Peaks and Troughs’ from the last album but, particularly with MPT energy levels starting to flag, the overall effect of the slower approach was less satisfying than a regular show. Whilst I do think the approach is worth persevering with, perhaps dropping slower versions of songs in amongst the adrenaline of a regular set would work better than as an exercise in its own right.
Opening act ULTRAS were the only discovery of the day. Based around Gav Prentice formerly of Over The Wall, ULTRAS retain OTW’s knack for a great tune but presented in a harder edged package.
Interestingly unlike many of their contemporaries they don’t shy away from taking a political stand with their material. Slightly ironically the most overtly political (and somewhat metallic) tune ‘The Path To Being Paid’ was probably the song I enjoyed the least. But my overall impressions of the set were very positive.
Other than the full sets described above we did manage to catch a chunk of start of the Wells and Moffat set in the Venue before the Phantom Band. This was the one clash that I wish could have been scheduled out but knowing we weren’t hanging around it was difficult to get into the gentler songs from the back of the floor although ‘Lock Up Your Lambs’ was stonking.
What we saw was also slightly marred by folk talking at the bar (where was Hubby when we needed him?) but it was still enough to make us regret that we couldn’t have seen more.
Sometimes these events don’t quite live up to the sum of their parts and turn into tests of endurance but it’s fair to say that Sunday was one of the very best. Roll on next year!
A fearful Auditorium trying to stay quiet for R.M. Hubbert
The not particularly terrifying other half of the Tuff Love Wall of Death!
The Phantom Band – Buskers, Dundee – Sunday 8th February 2015
If there’s one band in the last 12 months I wish that I’d seen play more often it’s the Phantom Band.
‘Strange Friend’ has been one of my favourite albums of the last few years but, before Sunday evening, I’d actually only seen two shows which featured songs from that record.
It really doesn’t feel like it’s been enough – particularly as the three shows have all been different.
Aberdeen in March combined the hits with an almost complete run through of ‘Strange Friend’ – an almost perfect setlist. Unfortunately it was somewhat undermined by a sludgy sound mix which buried Andy Wake’s keyboards, so important on the album, almost to the point of inaudibility.
By contrast the sound in October at the Pleasance Sessions was fabulously rich, but at just over an hour, the show was a tad on the short side.
Sunday night in Dundee was different again. It was one of the better sounding evenings I’ve experienced in the Doghouse/Buskers building but, whilst the core SF songs from October were retained, the set was lent a significantly different feel as the majority of new LP ‘Fears Trending’ was also played.
The immediacy of the ‘Stange Friend’ material was matched by a storming ‘Throwing Bones’ to close the set. But otherwise the back catalogue took its cue from the darker material on ‘Fears Trending’.
Photo by MPK2
A monolithic ‘Burial Sounds’ was one of the few choices from the debut and it fit perfectly alongside highlights from the new record including the psychedelic ska of ‘The Kingfisher’.
Prominently featured in the set were the philthy electro grooves on the likes of a magnificent ‘Denise Hopper’, regular live stand-out ‘Women of Ghent’ and ‘Into The Corn’ – the only choice from “difficult” second album ‘The Wants’.
As ever the songs, both old and new, remain constantly evolving in the live environment. Oldest song (and encore) ‘Crocodile’ has gained a false crescendo whilst much newer kid on the block ‘Sweatbox’ now boasts a synth intro (which confused the hell out of MPK2!)
Once upon a time, the Phantom Band could be a bit hit or miss live. That can’t be said these days and Sunday was ample evidence that the Phantos have developed into an unmissable live act.
1. Tender Castle 2. The Wind That Cried The World 3. Doom Patrol 4. Local Zero 5. Burial Sounds 6. Sweatbox 7. The Kingfisher 8. Into The Corn 9. Clapshot 10. Denise Hopper 11. Women of Ghent 12. Throwing Bones
Somewhat belatedly, entirely due to circumstances outwith my control, here’s MPT’s favourite 10 albums of 2014 …
- The Phantom Band – Strange Friend
‘Strange Friend’ was a classic example of not knowing what you’re wanting until you get it. After a couple of plays I did think it was going to be a disappointment. After 4 or 5 it was odds on for album of the year. In some ways it eschews what I think I love about the Phantos but ends up sounding more like them than ever. Without doubt their best and most consistent record – so far. [Review]
- The Everlasting Yeah – Anima Rising
‘Anima Rising’ would have made a worthy sixth That Petrol Emotion record in that it has strong connections with the band’s past. But it definitely also managed to break new ground with a looser, funkier aesthetic at play. Spread the word! [Review]
- James King & The Lonewolves – Lost Songs of the Confederacy
Probably the rock’n’roll miracle of the year. The fact that ‘Lost Songs …’ exists would be enough in itself but that it lives up to the legend is quite astonishing. Our memories were not playing tricks – the Lonewolves had a trunk full of classic songs and many of them are on here. [Review]
- Split Single – Fragmented World
In many ways ‘Fragmented World’ is more unassuming than Jason Narducy’s past albums with Verbow yet without question it’s a far more consistent record. Taking a lot of its cues from a Sixties/psychedelic vibe it’s chock full of insistent hooks. [Review]
- Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin
One thing that Bob has never done in his solo career is sound quite as much like H***** D*as he does here – and that return to past glories has done his profile no harm at all. Contrary to my initial impressions, B&R is, in fact, definitely stronger than ‘Silver Age’ and his best record in years. [Review]
- We Were Promised Jetpacks – Unravelling
‘Unravelling’ is another fascinating segment of WWPJ’s musical journey in which they all but leave the staccato rock of the debut behind. More expansive and somewhat less hurried it’s their third fine LP in an already impressive career. [Review]
- Malcolm Middleton/David Shrigley – Music & Words
I meant to review this but ran out of time. Foul mouthed, scatological yet utterly brilliant Middleton’s music ensures that this isn’t just a novelty record and bears repeated plays even if the likes of ‘Story Time’ won’t have quite the same WTF? impact as on the first play.
- Mogwai – Rave Tapes
With their status as Scottish indie royalty long secured, Mogwai proved they could do little wrong with another excellent record. It’s so good in fact that they were able to make a cracking E.P. out of tunes that didn’t make the main record.
- Deathcats – All Hail Deathcats!
Deathcats finally captured the essence of their live show on record with impressive results. Officially on hiatus at the moment, quite what the future holds for the band remains to be seen. But ‘All Hail’ makes me hope that there’s much more to come.
- King Post Kitsch – Sheep on a Beach
The ‘sleeper’ hit of 2014 for me. More angular than 2011’s debut ‘The Party’s Over’ SOAB is nevertheless just as rewarding. Probably the criminally Scottish released LP of 2014.
Reissues of the Year
- The Chills – BBC Sessions
- Bob Mould – Workbook 25
- Various Artists – C86
- Pixies – Doolittle 25
- The Wedding Present – The Hit Parade
And finally a MPT innovation …
MPK2’s Favourite Albums of the Year
- The Phantom Band – Strange Friend
- Withered Hand – New Gods
- Randolph’s Leap – Clumsy Knot
- Broken Records – Weights and Pulleys
- Malcolm Middleton/David Shrigley – Music & Words
At the moment, MPK2’s list is a subset of the main MPT list but I’m sure before long he’ll be off discovering new stuff all on his own.
Phantom Band live outings have been rare since the release of ‘Strange Friend’ so the Skinny curated Pleasance Sessions appearance on Saturday night definitely fell into the ‘do not miss’ category.
It turned out to be quite a different experience from last time I saw the band in Aberdeen in June.
The biggest and most crucial difference was that the sound was excellent. Unlike in Aberdeen there was a real clarity which meant that the keyboards (AWOL that night) were present and correct.
Whilst the main theatre at the Pleasance has an old music hall charm, its biggest drawback is that it’s all seated.That was a problem because it’s pretty much impossible to fully enjoy the Phantoms whilst sitting down.
It was also, at just over an hour, a comparatively short set so the number of old favourites was cut back slightly whilst, disappointingly, half the new album was also jettisoned.
If the ‘Strange Friend’ material sounded just as good as the old classics, the standout for me was still a wonderful, euphoric version of ‘Throwing Bones’. Meanwhile the live evolution of ‘Crocodile’ continued with a version which seemed to be focusing on the groove in the song.
A couple of weeks ago, I was clear that this year’s live band of the year nomination was settled. After Saturday, I’m not sure I haven’t, maybe, jumped the gun on that.
A further chance to change my mind will take place on Thursday 11th December at Non-Zeros in Dundee.
The Phantom Band played:
1. The Wind That Cried The World 2. Doom Patrol 3. Sweatbox 4. Into The Corn 5. Clapshot 6. Throwing Bones 7. Women of Ghent 8. Crocodile
9. The Howling
Birdhead had opened the show with an excellent half hour set. It was the cleanest sounding set I’ve seen them play and, like the headliners, it sounded fantastic.
There didn’t seem to be a large number of folk in the theatre when they started but the crowd grew steadily throughout the set. And, if you’re out to make a good impression then the likes of ‘Tourist’, ‘Time Lag Accumulator’ and ‘Dronebone’, are a good way to do it. Such that by the end of their set Birdhead had a sizeable and appreciative audience.
All kudos to Remember Remember for carrying a lot of their melodies on a xylophone but my overriding impression of them was that they were … nice. Serious but nice and that’s not really enough for MPT.
Perhaps the slot did them little favours, placed between two such exciting live bands, but then again I suppose that I can’t love everyone and it seems that Remember Remember have slipped through the cracks.
Photos of all three acts can be found here.
As much as I love the Phantom Band their two LPs to date haven’t quite delivered everything that I’d hoped for.
Debut ‘Checkmate Savage’ certainly has some of their very best tunes but it’s also a little uneven at times. Sophomore LP ‘The Wants’ is a more consistent record but the second side of that record perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first half .
It gives me great pleasure therefore to be able to report that third LP ‘Strange Friend’ is the one where it all comes together.
In a way, rather strangely, ‘SF’ is something of an understated record. The odd flourish aside (for example the crashing guitars midway through ‘Doom Patrol’) it’s rarely attention grabbing. Indeed initially I wondered if it really lived up to the rave reviews it was receiving.
Often the easiest way into a record for me is through a handful of stand-out tracks which draw you in to the rest of the record. But ‘Strange Friend’ doesn’t offer that option – there are no stand-out tracks. More often than not that means that an album’s just not up to scratch. But not in this case because ‘Strange Friend’ is that rare record on which pretty much everything is as great as everything else.
For that reason I think it’s a record that you need to invest a little time in initially. But, boy, that pays rich rewards.
Because once you’ve scratched the surface not only do the differences between the songs get drawn out but the strength (and durability) of the melodies become clear. These are songs that not only bear, but insist on, repeated listens.
‘The Wind That Cried The World’ with its soaring, wordless chorus is probably the obvious single choice thanks its clarity of purpose. But there’s nothing quite like it elsewhere on the album.
But then that can be said too of the insistent electro dance stylings of ‘Women of Ghent’ or the rhythmic clatter of ‘Galagapos’ or the lively lead guitar on ‘Sweatbox’ or … Well, you get my point.
The slower tracks deserve a mention too. ‘No Shoes Blues’ is lovely building from a downbeat intro before , whilst ‘(Invisible) Friends’ is every bit as good.
The largely acoustic ‘Atacama’ does stand a little apart from the rest of the record. But even if it sounds almost more like something from the Rick Redbeard solo album ultimately it belongs to an established Phantoms tradition of stripped back tunes such as ‘Island’ and ‘Come Away In The Dark’.
More than any Phantoms album to date, the keyboards are critical to the songs. There’s an 80s feel to some of these sounds which recall early 80s Simple Minds on he likes of ‘Sweatbox’ and, most notably, on the melody which accounts for half of the chorus on ‘Doom Patrol’.
There’s plenty of other reasons to love this record. ‘Strange Friend’ probably features Rick’s best vocal performances for the band with each and every one pitched perfectly for the songs and it’s those performances which invest the record with its emotional resonance. But there’s also the subtle little touches throughout, such as the brass towards the end of ‘No Shoe Blues’ or the Prince-esque solo towards the end of ‘Sweatbox’ ,which confirm the band’s reputation for invention.
But perhaps what says it best for me is that it’s the first album in ages that’s been on repeat – again and again – even when there’s other excellent new stuff to be heard.
To the point then – ‘Strange Friend’ is a record that will keep rewarding you with every play and, even at this relatively early stage, I’m certain that anything that beats it for album of the year is going to have to be very special indeed.
‘Strange Friend’ is available from all good record shops or online from Chemikal Underground.
The Phantom Band / Adam Stafford / River of Slime – The Tunnels, Aberdeen – Friday 6th June 2014
Friday night at the Tunnels was a good reminder of why I don’t go to that many shows in Aberdeen. Even with the show finishing at 11:30, it was still nearly 2 a.m. until I got to bed. But the combination of acts made both the show unmissable and the late night more than worthwhile.
It was my first time at the Tunnels and first impressions were quite favourable with a dance floor in front of the stage and the bar sited on a raised level to the rear of the room. The Tunnels definitely falls into the category of sweaty basement, particularly, as was on the case on Friday night, when it contains a 300 strong sell-out audience.
Opening act was Kev from FOUND’s River of Slime alter ego and, as on previous occasions, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.
The first time I saw RoS, the set had a very cut-up feeling but since then the sets seem to have become more focused. Interestingly these more coherent pieces aren’t a million miles away from the electronic direction that the mothership FOUND seems to be taking.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t experimental elements included but overall, thanks to a beefy sound and a nice range of electronic tunes, this was the most satisfying River of Slime set that I’ve seen to date.
River of Slime
Experimental was a good word to apply to Adam Stafford’s 4 song (but still half hour) set. It was the first time that I’ve seen Adam deliver a set wholly with his voice (no guitar at all) and was effectively split into two halves.
The first half comprised two familiar songs, one from each of his last two LPs. ‘Build A Harbour Immediately’ was represented by the opening ‘Shot Down Summer Wannabe’ whilst the SAY long listed (but criminally overlooked) ‘Imaginary Walls Collapse’ contributed (just) ‘His Acres’.
The remaining songs were both ‘instrumentals’ (or to be more accurate – wordless) and those explored the sonic possibilities that one man can create with just his voice and vocal looping. The lengthy latter piece in particular was complex building up layer upon layer of samples to dramatic effect.
If ‘Imaginary Walls’ was the sort of pop music that Adam would like to hear played on the radio then these two pieces suggest that his next album (due to be recorded imminently) will take things in a far more avant garde direction. As ever though he was met by an appreciative audience and received a terrific reaction.
And so to the headliners themselves. The Phantom Band were a big part of the early years of this blog with two albums released in 18 months and loads of great live shows. This however was first time I’d seen them play in more than two and a half years, with the release of third LP ‘Strange Friend’ last week finally ending their hibernation
I sometimes think that the best time to hear a record live is after just a handful of plays when the songs are fresh and still revealing things with every play. Which is where I found myself on Friday as the album had only arrived the previous day. There’s no doubt that the timing of the show offered a great opportunity to explore (much of) the new record since seven of its nine tracks were played in the course of the evening. And on the basis of Friday’s evidence, the new tunes fully live up to the pedigree of their illustrious predecessors
The set was filled out with many of their best songs from the first two albums although it’s a little surprising that there was just one (‘A Glamour’) drawn from ‘The Wants’. The four selections from ‘Checkmate Savage’ make a convincing case for just how great the Phantoms are as a rock band that you can dance to. (Or at least sway to in the case of elderly bloggers).
So there were plenty of positives on Friday but unfortunately the show didn’t quite manage to be the truly great experience of previous shows.
That it fell a little short was entirely down to a rather sludgey sound with, in particular, Andy’s keyboards (so prominent on ‘Strange Friend’) struggling to find space in amongst the sturm und drang of the rest of the band. In fact Rick’s comment at one point that the band had some ‘bunker busters’ lined up later in the set could honestly have been applied to the sonic shock and awe tactics deployed virtually throughout.
This wasn’t always a drawback, as both ‘(Invisible) Friend’ and first encore ‘No Shoe Blues’ (which included a vocal reprise of set opener ‘The Wind That Cried The World’) stood out for their more subtle approach. But on the whole it did blunt the attack somewhat meaning that the show fell frustratingly short of its potential.
Nevertheless Friday was still a really good experience best illustrated perhaps by the fact that I’ve spent much of the weekend since listening to, not just ‘Strange Friend’ but the band’s entire catalogue.
The Phantom Band played:
1. The Wind That Cried The World 2. Folk Song Oblivion 3. Doom Patrol 4. Sweatbox 5. The Howling 6. (Invisible) Friends 7. A Glamour 8. Throwing Bones 9. Clapshot 10. Women of Ghent
11. No Shoe Blues 12. Crocodile
‘Strange Friend is available in all good record shops and from Chemikal Underground.
The Phantom Band play Lost Map’s sold out appropriately named Howling Fling (18-20 July – Isle of Eigg) and further dates are expected in the autumn.