The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh
16th June 2012
A fine evening of great live bands curated by the brilliant Song, By Toad website & label may have failed to draw the punters out but, as Steve Mcgillivray reports, that was their ('the punters') loss - they missed a fantastic night.
Once in a while a line-up of such epic proportions is announced that you have to pinch yourself to make sure it's not all a wonderful dream - like, for instance, when Edinburgh's Song, by Toad Records announced a split 12" with PAWS, Dolfinz, Waiters and Sex Hands. That was amazing enough in itself but when they then announced the four would be doing a 4-date tour to launch the record it had me checking the date wasn't April 1st. Needless to say when the evening of the gig arrived I was fairly excited. Even a Scottish Summer didn't dampen my enthusiasm, though it made a good job of doing that to my clothing as I plodded along past the strip bars to the venue, which is located on the grounds of Edinburgh College of Art.
I grab a bite to eat after work and head over to the venue for the doors at 7pm. When I get there the door is closed, so in a moment of daring I just go in anyway. Matthew, the main man of Song, by Toad Records is manning the ticket desk-cum-merchandise stall and looks a little surprised to see me standing there. Thankfully he seems to tolerate me constantly turning up at his gigs so after parting with a paltry ÃÂ£5 I get the bonus of seeing PAWS sound-check. The first thing I notice is regular drummer Josh is nowhere to be seen. After a brief enquiry I learn that work commitments mean he's not here tonight. Sitting in on drums will be Gav from Dolfinz. As I watch them run through a few songs I learn that Gav has never played any of these songs before, which is understandable I suppose. You'd never know though. To my ears he's pretty flawless and the two PAWS that are here seem part delighted and part dumbfounded at this favourable turn of events. With spirits high they declare the sound-check complete.
Soon the sound guy is over and checking everyone is happy before laying out the preferred running times (the venue has a 10pm curfew on gigs) and then he asks what music they'd like played on the PA. I decide this needs my input and suggest something like Pavement, Sonic Youth or Sebadoh given the bands playing tonight. Unsure whether he has any on his iPod, I nip out to the car and grab my iPod and we're sorted for a night of Pavement between bands. Before long the doors open and the venue starts filling up. Sadly it doesn't fill up nearly enough, which seems to be a sign of the times in Edinburgh. Anyway, I'll leave the rant out for now as PAWS have taken to the stage to kick the night off, sans Josh on drums. (Matthew informs me that the four nights will each have a different running order, which seems a good idea).
As soon as PAWS kick off, it's clear that Gav is some kind of prodigy on the drums. There doesn't seem to be any dip in quality from the band. Sure, they sound a little bit different, but they still sound fantastic. The set is punctuated by Philip and Matthew generally laughing with delight or asking everyone to applaud the Dolfin on drums, such is his prowess. The set seems to be tinkered slightly to accommodate the stand-in drummer, which is understandable. There is a place for 'Misled Youth' from the EP of the same name which was the band's debut release on FatCat but there's also an airing of 'Lekker' which was one of the band's earliest singles, released on Gerry Loves Records back in August 2011. It's brash, loud and stunningly brilliant from the two PAWS and one Dolfin and Philip insists that all the applause are directed at his stand in drummer, who looks thoroughly delighted. As PAWS leave the stage there's still no sign of either Sex Hands or Waiters, which is concerning but fair play to Matthew as he looks fairly relaxed. I'd say my iPod over the PA is helping there - who can't relax to Pavement?
About ten minutes after PAWS, Gav is back behind the drums. This time he's with his regular partner in crime Jordan. Together they are Dolfinz. To watch Dolfinz live is quite a tiring experience, but in the good sense. They are young and full of vim. Gav is a tornado of hair behind his kit as he literally batters it into submission. The gloves are clearly off, now that he's back on familiar ground. Meanwhile Jordan flies around on stage, falls to his knees and at times contorts himself into odd shapes, while continuously eliciting a screech from his guitar. They're not short on energy and enthusiasm but more importantly they have plenty of great songs to back it up. The music is a mix of garage and grunge, or "gurunge" as they put it themselves somewhere on the internet. They show a keen eye for the craft on songs like 'Teenage Bloom', and also a sense of humour on "Blowhole" when Jordan deadpans into the mic in something of a yell "I've got a blowhole on my head". It's hard not to like these two, but all too soon they're set is over (pesky curfew) and I'm knackered just watching them. Oh to be young again.
Thankfully, just before Dolfinz start, the two bands from Manchester arrive. While another round of PAWS/Dolfinz would have been good, I was really looking forward to seeing Sex Hands and Waiters live. It's something of a relief to see them turn up then. Sex Hands are first up and some tune-ups and tinkering are needed which delay things a little but it doesn't really distract from the set or dilute the experience at all. A four-piece, I see that they are going for three guitars and drums, with no bass guitar in sight. It's a great sound though, with one of the guitars sticking mainly to the bass notes but keeping enough versatility to add to the guitars. It's a nice, textured sound that they get. The drums are a little more laid back compared to hero of the hour Gav's physical playing. It's great hearing the Friends themed songs getting an airing live. When 'Chandler in a Box' starts the two lads from Dolfinz literally squeal in delight as they stand near me. It's a good shout too as the song sounds great. I had high hopes for this particular set and it's lived up to every expectation I had built up from their album 'Season 1'. Really great stuff from Sex Hands.
A little bit more Pavement and we're ready for the night's final band, Waiters. Out of the four bands tonight, I'd heard the least recorded work from Waiters in the run up to the gig, but what I did hear I really liked. Hopes were again high, but not to the levels of they're fellow Mancunians Sex Hands purely down to that unfamiliarity by comparison to their fellow Mancs. Unbeknownst to me the two bands shared a member (seems to have been a theme tonight) and also went without a bass guitar. There's a slower, more considered feel to Waiters. At times I get a little bit of Pavement or Sebadoh from the guitars. They have a really nice chime to them and all the songs have a great tempo, with some understated drumming backing up the two guitars. There are long instrumental passages that are engaging and mesmerising all at once. Again, there's the unavoidable tinkering due to lack of a soundcheck, but as with Sex Hands it doesn't detract at all as the band are very good when they get going. Vocally it's quite low key too with the vocal being understated and buried in with the guitars in the overall sound. Now this may be partly due to late arrival and no chance to sound check but it feels like it should be that way. I hope it is because it works for me. I'm really impressed by Waiters overall. The laid back pace and great guitars create a really nice sonic palette that I find very much to my taste. I certainly hope our paths cross again in the future.
All too quickly it seems, the night has drawn to a close. I arrived with a heart full of hope and head full of dreams and they've all been fulfilled. Even down a key member PAWS managed to be brilliant. I'll never tire of spending time in that bands company. I saw Dolfinz first gig in 2011 and they've come on a lot since then but they retain the boundless energy and sheer enthusiasm for playing that's great to see and the songs are there to back it all up. Sex Hands and Waiters were unknown quantities live but they were both fantastic. Much is said of the Manchester music scene just know and it was good to see a part of it transported to Edinburgh. They may have cut it fine getting to the venue but that didn't affect them one bit. Both played great sets. It's just a pity (and I sound like a broken record) that more people didn't come along to see them. It's difficult enough for promoters to get good bands from down South up to Scotland and it won't get easier if people don't come out to see them. ÃÂ£5 for four great bands is hardly a king's ransom.