Stag & Dagger - Leeds and Glasgow

The best of the S&D action...
White Denim live in Glasgow

Festivals, schmestivals… come summer and there’s far too many of them. They come and go, many biting the bullet in these credit crunched times. One recent success story though is Stag and Dagger, which started in Shoreditch last year to highlight the best in up and coming cutting-edge talent. This year the event has expanded to incorporate nights in Glasgow and Leeds. So Clash got itself out of the capital to check out the action elsewhere for once…

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Leeds

Clash’s first band of the evening is California’s Abe Vigoda at TJ’s Woodhouse Club – a much more modern, spacious venue than what it sounds. The LA band’s insistent cacophony of grizzled punk and feedback-soaked noise is like listening to someone hacking up furniture with a chainsaw.

Crystal Antlers, on the other hand, are a far more straightforward listen – miserable bastards that play elated melodies wouldn’t be too far off a description. There’s nothing particularly breakneck about their music, but they tear through the set as though Armageddon itself is approaching, with frontman Jonny Bell delivering a highly incendiary vocal performance.

With the next venue, Brudenell Social Club, being a short walk away, we leave hastily in order to avoid the expected queue-age gathering to witness Dananananaykroyd’s mirthful fight-pop (Seriously, can reviewers give this stupid term up now? – Ed). Volatile, raucous and irrepressibly fun, as the band tear through ‘Hey Everyone’, ‘Watch This’ and ‘The Greater Than Symbol and The Hash’, it’s evident that their music is only half, if that, of what they’re about. The magic and joy of a Dana’ gig lies solely in watching six mentalists causing visceral havoc in such a small space. Although subdued, and probably a bit shell-shocked, at first the crowd soon get going after a hilarious dance-off between members of the band and audience, before singer Calum Gunn dons a white dinner jacket and disappears into the crowd to hug as many people as possible.

After that eye-popping aural explosion, The Twilight Sad resemble a graveyard procession. Solemn and literally wobbling with romantic tension, there’s more than a hint of Morrissey in James Graham’s wry Scottish brogue. Against a haunting backdrop of crashing guitars and throbbing feedback, the understated band take their time in weaving their gloomy yet exquisite magic.

Tubelord, however, are in high spirits. Bringing proceedings in The Packhorse to a close this evening, the band juxtapose ferocious riffs with spiky vocals and big harmonies. Only a small crowd have gathered here in this tiny room tonight - by this point the majority of the festival goers appear to have crammed into TJ’s Woodhouse Club for Cold War Kids - but nonetheless Tubelord behave as though they’re inciting a fuck-off riot. There’s a distinct air of Pulled Apart By Horses meets Biffy Clyro meets Battles about their math-prog-rock epics and this dingy, gritty pub loft-room suits their brutish fire. As their short set comes to an end, their guitarist is sprawled spread-eagled on the floor at everyone’s feet, instrument to the sky. Then as sudden as it started, everything is over, the power is cut off, gear unplugged and we’re getting rapidly herded downstairs. “Quick everyone out!” shouts vocalist Joe Prendergast. “Cursive at the Brudenell.” Then they disappear, taking random members of the audience with them in the van. A proper band for the people, and a deliciously shambolic end to the night.

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Glasgow

In the interests of journalism, we’ve decided to concentrate on quality, home-grown produce.

First up: Frightened Rabbit warm up the ABC - an angsty, not exactly feel-good proposition for a festival opener. We wander in to some sound problems during a take of ‘The Modern Leper’, but the band quickly get the (already large) crowd going, resulting in much air punching and chanting to ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ and its catchy refrain of “You won’t find love in a hole”. Unfortunately they have to abdicate the stage, leaving the crowd wanting more, to equally angsty Caledonian label mates The Twilight Sad.

While the ‘Sad deliver a doomy and impressive sound, we instead decide to have a good time at the Art School, catching the tail end of Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gates Lock Pickers’ set. You may never have heard of this band with their ungainly name, but may recognise Jacob Yates from his former incarnation as the demented Uncle John from Glasgow’s greatest band that never were, Uncle John and Whitelock. Jake has done something of a Mark E. Smith by replacing his former bandmates with some young fans, while he still stalks the stage like a cursed cross between a rockabilly and hillbilly, and still purveys darkly ironic drenched takes on classic rock ‘n’ roll, like ‘You Done an’ Left Me’. He drags the formula kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with ‘Maryhell’, a blistering description of the blighted Glaswegian district where the dark brilliance of the lyrics again remind me of The Fall frontman, though in his prime.

The tight schedule forces the bands to play fairly short sets, with no room for encores. White Denim (pictured) respond by powering through their acclaimed debut album ‘Workout Holiday’ by way of a three-songs-in-one sequence from ‘All You Really Want To Do’ to ‘Shake Shake Shake’, which nicely gets it out of the way to concentrate on the business at hand: songs from new album ‘Fits’. The new material is as hectic and febrile as ever, intricate guitar lines swathed in reverb, vocals floating somewhere in the chaos. Sometimes they sound like the bastard love children of Led Zep’; at others like a ‘70s jazz jam-band; at all times it’s impossible to take your eyes from the hyper-kinetic, utterly driven performance on stage.

How can The Phantom Band possibly follow this? They concoct genre-defying music from Moogs, maracas and a never-ending supply of weird woodblocks to hypnotic effect on ‘Crocodile’. The epic ‘Island’, perhaps the closest thing they have to an anthem, has the audience singing along, leading up to ‘I Like My Hole’, which makes a fitting contrast to Frightened Rabbit’s thoughts on the subject four hours earlier.

And a perfect point at which to end this review, though I would like to rave about JD Twitch’s cut-up of classic R & S Records, at Men and Machines at Stereo.

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Words: Dannii Leivers and Brian Beadie
Photo: Kim Beveridge

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