Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
9th Dec 2013
Louder Than War’s Nick Fist visits legendary Cardiff venue Clwb Ifor Bach to check out Chicago indie scene stalwart Mike Kinsella, aka Owen, do his emo-acoustic thing.
James – now there was a group who inexplicably took a boy’s first name as its band name. Bob as well. Now we have Owen. Answers on a postcard please if you can think of any others.
Like James, Owen is also a surname of course, and it was this fact alone that led me to check out this act, after being in Spillers with a friend who has Owen as his surname and noticing that the band were playing, and wondering what they might be like.
Well, alt-folk is the simple answer. I remember hearing Steve Lamacq say on Radio 6 that if someone had told him that folk music would be one of the biggest scenes at the start of the 21st century, he would not have believed you, and I have similar reservations about the genre, pushed by the likes of Cardiff’s Waiting Room Radioshow. It’s the age of technology and gadgets, yet musically, at times, things seem to have regressed.
Some of Owen’s material that I checked out in advance is padded out by the backing of a full band, but tonight it is Mike Kinsella going it alone; it’s just Mike and a mic. Plus guitar. Or maybe it’s Owen, plus mic. Not Mike.
Well anyway, he invites us to all sit down, and most of the crowd dutifully does (it’s like being at a James concert all over again!), and this does seem to be the best angle to try and extract enjoyment from this mournful music.
Having spoken to Mike prior to the gig’s start, and by the looks of him, I would not necessarily have put him down as the sensitive type, enduring, apparently, an endless string of unsuccessful relationships. He doesn’t have the geeky looks of someone like Stephen aka Sweet Baboo. He looks as if he could be a potential hit with the ladies if anything. But maybe it’s just an act in a sense. Maybe he’s just become comfortable with this style of songwriting and has stuck with it.
Much of this mostly quite young crowd might look up to him almost like a cuddly older brother, imparting tales of woe and heartache, guiding the way through life’s ups and downs. He certainly sounds like someone who has stomached just about all the hardship one person could suffer, and anyone wanting to truly empathise with him might have wished to get out the razorblades. Date music this is not!
It’s fittingly Autumnal sounding, I think you could say. Songs with death – whether it’s death in relationships, or just general downers – as a theme. Might have suited Movember even better, with facial hair being de riguer of those who follow this scene.
If you like this kind of thing, this would definitely be your kind of thing. Mike has a soothingly mellow voice (again, really, to fit the act, he could geek his vocal up a bit) and holds the crowd’s attention well, even though by his own admission, he’s wary that he might be sending people to sleep, but as the saying goes, in a good way.
It’s not an overly long set, and then people have the option of buying the merchandise, which comes in the form of 6 vinyl releases – he’s been going, in this guise, for about 10 years, after all. I’m still not sure about this vinyl thing. It does seem to be far too prohibitively niche. It occurs to me that it’s mostly musicians, trying to keep things going, for the sake of other musicians. It’s a problem certainly, finding a format that people will pay money for, but I don’t think vinyl is the solution. If bands are going to have to tour a lot more and make a living that way, perhaps selling programmes of the tour might be one option?
Well, anyway, I suppose I found Owen to be nice enough, but did come away thinking I possibly preferred supporting act, Pipedream more. They had some very reverential things to say about Owen, but should not be so humble as they have a good thing going themselves. A well put together 3-piece, with shouty vocals and a sound a tiny bit like Buffalo Tom (you see how I don’t have too much access to contemporary references!) The singer and bassist applauded their drummer for coming through quite a tough time, and speaking to Harry afterwards, I learned that he really had endured quite a harrowing experience a mere month earlier, following being put in a coma by four thugs. If they can get through something like that and keep going, they really deserve appreciation. I think they fit a site like Louderthanwar better than Owen who, frankly, would better suit a site named Quieterthandeath.
All words by Nick Fisk. More writing by Nick on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.