The spirit of Stephen Malkmus is alive and well in Brixton. OK, he’s not actually dead so that’s a bit of an exagerration, but the bands playing The Windmill last night were definitely channelling a bit of Pavementy Malkmusness.
First up, San Francisco’s own n.Lannon (www.nlnmusic.com), sometimes billed as n.Ln (which may be a pictogram of his face or perhaps it’s the chemical symbol for acoustic geetar moozik). Nyles, as his mother no doubt calls him, has Malkmus’s lanky good looks and played a sober set while his enthusiastic cohorts did their best to rock out (drummer) or moog it up (keyboards).
Buy Chemical Friends from Amazon
A friend who is also a regular at the Windmill explained that the soundman on the night followed the Spinal Tap approach to mixing, turning everything either all the way up or down. What might otherwise have been a nice and chilled opening slot turned into a ear-piercing slice. He didn’t move much on stage and didn’t say much either, but his drummer was thrilled when I bought the CD, bless ‘im.
It’s all a bit unfair for Nyles, really, because his album, Chemical Friends (see, that chemical symbol idea may not be so far off) is anything but loud. Chemical Friends comes across in parts like Elliott Smith collaborating with Erland Oye, a lot of singer-songwriter stuff with quiet electronica or beats brewing in the background. Perfectly pleasant, quality stuff. Like a warm jumper on a cold night. Or something.
My Sad Captains (www.mysadcaptains.co.uk) carried on the Spirit of Stephen, from their sloppy shaggy hair to their low-hanging trou and their classic American indie guitar sound (despite being London based). If anything, their cute looks and American sound may work against them here. As my loverly Lucy said: “There’s not an un-cute one among them”. Like a house band for The OC. Or maybe Buffy. OK, possibly Charmed, but you get what I’m saying. Good songs, good sound, very familiar and comfortable. Charming with it though. “It’s like a wave of jam made of good looking teenagers,” Lucy added (paraphrasing Dougal in Father Ted). Again, the guitarist (Nick) was thrilled when I bought a copy of their very home-brewed CD. For £3, my kind of band, though Nick’s claim that there were, like, eight songs on it proved to be a bit of an exagreration… there were four. Worth it though. If only for the enthusiasm – I’d forgotten how sincerely grateful new bands could be.
Top billing on the night was Cambridge collective, The Pony Collaboration (www.theponycollaboration.com), very incorrectly described in the gig ads as “Belle & Sebastian go country”. Totally not. Obviously, someone was confused because Pony has quite a few members and one of them’s a girl, so the two bands are practically interchangeable.
In fact, they were the weakest link on the night, as Mr Soundman and rubbish circumstances conspired against them (we couldn’t even hear the violinist – I mean come on!). In all honesty, though, I think they should go back to the drawing board, starting with a few covers: Perfect Skin by Lloyd Cole, Under the Milky Way by The Church and possibly Heaven by Talking Heads, and go from there. All the ingredients are there, but they keep trying to make a chocolate soufflé when a nice chocolate pudding would do just as well. Could be good, but we’ll never know – Lucy and I left after four songs. And we didn’t buy a CD.
All in all, it was nice to get back to a small gig. And the venue was perfect with it. I haven’t been to The Windmill before – it has the unfortunate distinction of having been used as a “New York bar” in the risible Channel 4 series, NY-LON, but don’t let this put you off. It’s a solid spot for regular cheap gigs with new bands. If more music fans would try out other venues, say in South London, aside from say Brixton Academy, the music scene in London might truly be a scene, instead of the regional popularity contest it too often becomes.
7 Zesty Pete Points out of a possible 11 (minus 1 for the missing four songs – I may ask for them at the next My Sad Captains gig, at Upstairs at the Garage in December)
Book tickets at Ticketmaster