Friday, 28 March 2014

Today's Soundtrack: Alkaline Trio – Radio

Today's soundtrack is Radio by Alkaline Trio for one very good reason. My beloved Bayside are supporting them at The Forum in April and I've been so darn excited about Bayside returning to London that I almost forgot to be excited about seeing Alkaline Trio for the first time!

The band started out in 1996 and over the years have been labelled everything from goth punk to pop punk, but I'm just going to roll with punk rock. I've been listening to my old favourites (dig out Crimson if you've never heard it) and a few new songs –  I haven't actually heard their most recent albums This Addiction (2010) and My Shame Is True (2013) but from what I can tell they're still making great music!

With almost 18 years of history and nine albums it was fairly difficult to pick a song to post – I certainly couldn't pick just one favourite – but after a bit of thought there was really only one choice. First lines don't get more memorable than this!


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Gwen Stefani for OPI – a match made in nail polish heaven

The idea for a collaboration between nail gurus OPI and the beautiful Gwen Stefani occurred to Suzi Weiss Fischmann (OPI Co-Founder & Executive VP) after a visit to the Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibition at the Met in New York that I wrote about last June. She wanted to create a collection of shades that celebrated music's influence on fashion, and who embodies the two better than a trend-setting musician and fashion icon/designer like Gwen?!

I was always going to be excited about this collaboration. I'm an incurable nail varnish addict (I tried to go cold turkey last year and only managed two days with bare nails before caving and reaching for the bottle...) and Gwen Stefani has been a beauty crush of mine since the nineties. I'm also a big fan of OPI nail polish as it is incredibly opaque and long wearing – I can't be doing with wishy-washy shades that require three coats!

OPI's Gwen Stefani collection comprises seven new shades, including several of my favourite nail colours – black, red and hot pink – as well as a few metallics. It's been a while since I've gone down that route but it might be time to take a break from the old favourites and try them again. A couple even have a rather beautiful matte finish.

Left to right: Love. Angel. Music. Baby; 4 In The Morning; In True Stefani Fashion; Hey Baby; I Sing In Color; Over & Over A-Gwen; Push and Shove.
They retail at around £11 each (apart from Over & Over A-Gwen, which is a little more expensive as it comes complete with studs and crystals for those with the patience for nail art) but having been available for a little while now it's possible to pick up a bargain. I've found them reduced to £7.75 over on Nail Polish Direct.

I'm going to leave you with a little reminder (as if we really need one) of why we all love Ms Stefani so darn much. And why I love No Doubt. And Clueless.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Taking Back Sunday at Koko, Camden

Taking Back Sunday, Koko, 26 February

It’s taken me far longer than it should have to get around to writing this, because it didn't seem particularly exciting to simply write ‘Taking Back Sunday were freakin fantastic’. But in truth that’s all that needs to be said – Taking Back Sunday are fantastic.

If you love music, then you probably love a whole bunch of bands, choosing a soundtrack to suit every mood and making playlists for everything from road trips to pounding the pavements. But some bands steal a particularly large chunk of your heart when you least expect it and hold onto it forever.

© Sarah Louise Bennett

I think one of the reasons I love Taking Back Sunday so much is that they are an integral part of the soundtrack to a very memorable time in my life, a time that brought some unwelcome challenges followed by a move to another city for university. I think a lot of the things you enjoy at that particular time in your life define what you will like in the future, and music is no different.

At school I’d loved bands from the 90s with a fierce and unrivalled passion, but due to my age I was often late to the game, discovering them on the second or third album. I love the Stones and Fleetwood Mac too, but they really belong to my parents. I listen to a whole host of new bands, but these aren’t truly mine either – they belong to a new generation of skinny jean clad boys and girls who are no doubt as vocal about them as I was about the Foo Fighters all those years ago.

But there was a magical moment at the turn of the millennium when the tide turned and a new wave of bands had emerged, and suddenly something clicked. This sound was new and slightly different. It just felt right. This was a time just before the label ‘emo’ was being thrown around and before Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance dumbed the scene down a bit and fed it to the masses. The look fitted my generation too; boys who bought clothes in the right size not three sizes too small, and who only needed a handful of tattoos or the occasional piercing to set themselves apart.

This new generation included bands like Brand New, The Used, Bayside, Silverstein, Senses Fail and Rival Schools, and although I’d loved bands before and have done since, that certain musical moment suspended in time on CD (I was yet to own an iPod) spoke to me in a way that nothing else had. This was a time before Facebook, and in some cases even My Space, when bands really had to work hard and do it the old fashioned way to make their mark and sell records.

© Sarah Louise Bennett

The problem with the deep love I have for Taking Back Sunday, is that every time I go and see them, I'm still as excited as a child at a birthday party who’s had too much cake and cola, and subsequently spiralled into a debilitating sugar coma. Except instead of cake it’s Jack Daniels, and instead of cola it’s Jack Daniels, and instead of a sugar coma it's a level of inebriation that means not once have I truly remembered an encore.

So last month I headed to Koko with a game plan – to quit while I was ahead and stick to a three drink limit. After all, the band have grown up and matured so shouldn’t I be reflecting that in my appreciation?! With this in mind I stood on the balcony looking down on the action and spent a relaxed evening singing my heart out (my sincerest apologies to those around me.)

© Sarah Louise Bennett

The new album Happiness Is was still a couple of weeks away from being released so apart from a few new songs including the magnificent Flicker Fade, the setlist was a nice selection from the band’s back catalogue. Some people are pretty opinionated about which TBS era is best – the early years, post John Nolan and Shaun Cooper, the reunion – but personally I love it all. I particularly enjoyed the substantial portion of Louder Now including My Blue Heaven and Error Operator, which, if memory serves me correctly, have been missing from the last few shows I’ve been to.

Adam Lazzara is always an entertaining front man and the band seem to be genuinely enjoying playing together since reuniting the original line-up in 2010, which has resulted in an unbeatable chemistry and energy. The night ended on a high with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team) followed by a three-song encore that concluded the only way it could, with Make Damn Sure.

© Sarah Louise Bennett

From my elevated view point I looked down happily and with a certain amount of nostalgia, thinking how great it is that after so many years TBS are still producing music that excites me and makes me smile. I might be older and ever so slightly wiser, but that piece of my heart that they stole all those years ago still very much belongs to them. And I hope it always will.

Happiness Is is available now on iTunes, CD and some rather sexy vinyl

Huge thank you to Sarah Louise Bennett for the fantastic photos –

Monday, 3 March 2014

Presidents of the United States of America at Concorde 2

If you were a child or a teenager of the nineties, there's a very good chance that The Presidents of the United States of America's self-titled debut album was an integral part of your soundtrack for the latter half of the decade. I was only ten when it was released but I remember a friend playing it to me and instantly falling for its charms. Sure this was rock music, but the ridiculously catchy melodies and surreal humour gave it a mass appeal that was hard to ignore.

Although the band's initial stint was short lived, splitting for the first time in 1998, they influenced a generation and when we finally turned fourteen eighteen and started frequenting nightclubs, those initial hits – Lump, Peaches, Kitty – were still being played and enjoyed by all of us who were nostalgically reliving the better half of what the nineties had to offer.

Fast-forward another five years or so and the reformed band were touring again, jump forward another decade and there I was at the Concorde 2 in Brighton watching them play as good a show as I've seen them put on to date. I wrote about the Concorde 2 recently when I saw Ugly Kid Joe and yet again the sound was amazing. From the moment PUSA arrived on stage belting out Kick Out The Jams, to the final note of the encore, concluding with the very same song, they had the crowd hooked.

This is a band that has kept a loyal following over the decades, which was evident from the sea of smiling faces enthusiastically singing along to every word. None with more passion than my brother-in-law who, clad in a PUSA tshirt (the group consensus being that this as one of the few instances where it's acceptable to wear a band's shirt to their show) sang every last word with a devotion to rival Chris Ballew himself!

And that said it all really. This is a band that are clearly having fun and so are their fans. They love what they do, they make you smile, and when so many bands spend their time singing about misery and heartache, once in a while – especially on a rainy Sunday night – you just want to have a laugh and hear someone singing about moving to the country to eat peaches.

I'll admit that I'm always the person in the crowd hoping to hear as much of that debut album as possible – thanks guys, you didn't let me down – but my other favourite is a little song called Some Postman, which is the epitome of their ability to combine humour with genuine musical talent. I'm also very partial to Video Killed the Radio Star, one of those rare cases where a cover version might just be better than the original! Sorry Dad, I know you won't agree....

The new album Kudos To You! (yet another Pledge Music success story), which they made us laugh by heavily promoting between songs, is actually very good and worth checking out for PUSA fans of old. Almost twenty years have passed since their debut, but seeing them peform live is as good a reminder as you'll get that despite making a name for themselves with a comical song about peaches, this band is no gimmick.


© Rock & Runway

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