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The Windmill, Brixton
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
3pm till late

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Gig Review

The Alternative Truck Weekend Festival
Oxford Brookes University

Article written by Ged M - Jul 26, 2007

The rain came down on Steventon Friday morning. Mid-afternoon, everyone was told that Truck 10 was postponed through severe flooding. And by 10pm the same night, a further email announced that the organisers had arranged a weekend of performances at Oxford Brookes University, mainly for the bands who’d flown over for Truck. So whatever else you think about the weekend, to go from nothing to something in the space of hours is a putting-man-on-the-moon scale achievement for the people behind the scenes at Truck. Throughout the weekend there was a sense of triumph in adversity and the mood was best captured by Goldrush’s finest song on Sunday night, ‘Don’t Give Up The Ghost’. Though you could spot the joins occasionally, the event retained much of the charm of Truck, down to the cross-dressing bar staff and the Rotary Club’s bacon rolls - and the toilets were much, much better.

It was still raining when we arrived on Saturday (but all the flooding was to the West and South of Oxford, leaving the road from London clear but making it difficult for some of the artists to get home to the surrounding villages). There was one hall in use; facing the main stage was a staircase commandeered as a “small stage”, which were used in turn for the artists. The small stage acoustics and amplification meant artists had to compete with the ambient noise in the hall; when Brooklyn’s Brandon Patton plays his songs of “love and heartbreak”, it's the noisier country-folk tunes that make the best impression. On the main stage, Frank Turner sounds like Chris T-T (musically) crossed with Billy Bragg (lyrically), a point emphasised when he introduces ‘Nashville Tennessee’ as “about being English and not being ashamed of it”. The Bragg-ish polemics are heartfelt but his best song is one of the more personal, ‘The Real Damage’.

House and Parish are another Brooklyn band (this weekend suggested that every American band lives in Brooklyn) who I later discovered have been called "a post-emo supergroup". I'm not sure; I hear a post-Pixies sound and the more melodic bits of Husker Du, that occasionally drifts off into some dreamy reverie of chiming guitars. Thank goodness for Kansas City via Stoke Newington's Piney Gir for breaking the Brooklyn rule.
The Piney Gir Country Roadshow is also fighting adversity with a depleted Roadshow supplemented by KTB and a couple of Goldrushes. Despite longeurs while drummer G is taught the beat of the next song, Piney keeps spirits raised in best Blitz tradition (the war, not the nightclub) singing joyfully about dogs, floods and thunderstorms and acting as if all’s well, rather than wet, with the world.

Cat Martino (another Brooklyn-ite!) is my surprise discovery of the weekend. Her late night banshee blues gives you a chill like an icicle on the spine. When she sings, your attention seems magnetically drawn to the owner of that eldritch voice and her use of tape loops of her own voice as backing emphasises how seductive a performer she is. Everyone has a blind spot and Youthmovies fall in mine, their skronky trumpet-confused post-rock sounding unstructured and, frankly, jazz-rock – a Bad Thing. Normally I would have run a mile from KTB when she led the community singing of an East Timorese folksong but tonight it seemed defiantly appropriate for recent apocalyptic events.

Last act of Saturday night is the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Since every time I’ve seen them they seem to be flirting with disaster, I wonder whether this is all an act - although Anton denounced his portrayal in Dig!, he seems to try to live up to it live. Anton is certainly theatrical: he directs the stage crew to place two wing chairs on stage for Andy Bell and Mark Gardener to sit in and then struts around the stage bare-chested, orchestrating the rest of the band and the Ride guests, as well as surreptitiously smoking among the clouds of dry ice. He stops the first song because he doesn’t like Frankie Teardrop’s guitar settings (“you’re buying yourself a grave”!) and frequently scowls and scolds bandmates, including Andy Bell at one point. Whether it’s because he’s a perfectionist or just a bully, if he cut out the moaning at bandmates and audience (the perfectly reasonable advice to “stop being a wanker” seems to drive him to apoplexy) would allow them to play 6 or 7 more songs. It’s not like you need any diversion from songs as powerful as these anyway. But it’s also telling that the most transcendental musical moment is when Anton is offstage and Mark Gardener lead the BJM plus Andy Bell through a shoegazey guitar storm version of Ride’s ‘Drive Blind’. Tonight was always entertaining but not the finest example of Anton’s genius (that was Oxford too, but in 2006).

Sunday is sunny and dry (though waters are still rising) so being stuck in a student union is more of a chore. The Electric Soft Parade perform a subdued set, Alex having to be dragged onstage from the toilet after a dodgy service station sandwich (“it’s not just salmonella, it’s M&S…”), which gives Tom White good cause for taking the piss. New single ‘Misunderstood’ is the liveliest and best song and the influence of the Beatles and early solo McCartney is evident. The People’s Revolutionary Choir have to play the small stage but ramp up the volume to distortion levels, churning out waves of visceral drone rock, at their best sounding like the Rolling Stones performing spacerock in a Persian whorehouse. A festival hit! The Tamborines are the other great band of the day; again they go for massive distortion to create a JAMC whirlpool of noise. It’s superb, even though my ears are squealing for the rest of the evening. ‘Sally O’Gannon’ is not only the highlight of their set but is a classic modern shoegazing and nu-psych tune.

Before their set, The Silent League (guess where from?) hand out flyers asserting “soft rock is not a guilty pleasure” and then take joy in playing a rousing soft rock set for a lazy Sunday, including a cover of ‘Yours Truly’ by ELO. They’re led by Justin Russo, ex-Mercury Rev, who stands out in the seven-piece band in his suit and tie, especially stood next to a guitarist who’s taken fashion tips from the New York Dolls. The suit reminds you of Wayne Coyne and if you close your eyes for the closing number, the dreamy, blissful ‘Catbird Seat’, you might be in Flaming Lips land. Russo’s brother Jason’s band Hopewell also play. It’s fairly standard New York indiepop, which can’t improve on the first number when the four-piece are joined by eight or so members of other bands, including Justin, for a song of swaggering NY cool that puts the “funk” into “punk funk”.

By this time on Sunday night, stage times are stretching and a generous Students Union allows Garth and Maud Hudson to perform (they finish at 12.40am, an hour after curfew). The crowd - many of whom seem to have just materialised recently in order to see the legendary Band member - and the backing band (Goldrush) seem awestruck to be with a person so connected in rock history. Listening to his accomplished playing of jazz, blues and classical music, I feel like we’ve dipped our hands in the river of American music and felt the disparate streams of the last 90 years swirl around our digits. At the same time, the significance of the event feels much more historical than musical. The songs don’t move me that much, although the shouty ‘Shape I’m In’ seems fitting for the bruised survivors of the weekend. Goldrush and Danny George Wilson take most of the vocals, which is a shame after Maud Hudson demonstrates that she possesses a powerful voice and it’s also a strange choice to play one of Wilson’s songs when the Woodstock guests have such a remarkable back catalogue.

Still, the Truckers salvaged a great weekend from Friday’s disaster and those who attended showed the spirit that continues to make Truck the best and most righteous small festival around. Here’s hoping that the sun shines on them and us in September.


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