Monday, May 26, 2008

Ham Sandwich, Live @ the Village, 24/05/08

I should have got this up sooner, for fear of not getting it up at all. This is going to be a review of both this weekend's gig (the single launch for 'Never Talk') as well as February's Carry the Meek album launch, since I never got around to writing up a show review for that but instead spent all the time writing about the album.

I've already sort of decided that Carry the Meek is the album of the year for me so far. It's just so great that I'd jump at the chance to see the band live again. Unfortunately, this gig wasn't quite as good, overall, as their Whelan's show. It was still a great Saturday night out, a very enjoyable experience for what you could expect - as a friend said after the gig,

"Ham Sandwich [always] put on a good show. Fact"

That's all an attempt to be objective, for something that is a parochial, personal interest. There were a few reasons why the show would fall a little short: Dublin's suffering from a little bit of gig fatigue, not helped by the fact that the universities have had their end-of-year exams in the past few weeks. The Village took some time to fill up, and even then it wasn't completely packed. I personally wasn't starved of live guitar or electro sounds, having been at two gigs in the two previous nights in Whelan's and Doran's. And finally, I'm not a huge fan of the Village venue - it's a bit Studio 54 to Whelan's CBGBs (both the Village and Whelans are in the same building on Wexford St.). It's more difficult to fill up, and consequently their show didn't match the energy and raw power of the Whelans night. But, small quibbles.

Support act A Lazarus Soul were a band I really wanted to see live. Their brand of Joy Division-style, Dublin-rooted post-punk works excellently on record - Graveyard of Burnt Out Cars is poetic, graceful and heartfelt. On stage, early sound difficulties aside, it sort of half-worked - admittedly from high expectations. Frontman Brian Brannigan apologised for their "terrible" guitar sound, but truth be told you couldn't fault his own performance as singer. By voice he reminds me a lot of Sack's Martin McCann, who judging from his Other Voices performance had a terrific and mesmerising stage presence. Brannigan, too, really acted out. At one point in a song he was mock screaming (away from the mic, it being an instrumental passage) at the guitarist, gesticulating wildly - not out of frustration, but out of passion, for the music.

Something about Graveyard of Burnt Out Cars probably works best on record, or in a really perfect gig setting. (Its 80s audiophile sound, likely enough) But to take a particular example, there's a really crucial line on 'The Day I Disappeared', "and the Liffey filled with tears". On record, over the keyboard hook, it wafts almost transcendental over the rest of the song; that night, it didn't seem to hit anything like that. Again, quibbling and overly-high expectations from a support band in a (as yet) only half-full venue. Full credit to Brannigan's stage performance, and I hope to see this band again.

And then there was Ham Sandwich.

Opener, 'Keepsake' and an answer to those who wondered what they were going to do to follow the confetti rain of the album launch (more confetti, more colours). Podge Sandwich apologised for the state of his own guitar - which I noticed something a little off about on 'St. Christopher' - while pointing out that he's not actually the lead guitarist. That role goes to Darcy - fake moustache and carnation - who was crying out for the attention at the last gig. Well, it's true. Listen to any of their songs and notice that all the really interesting stuff comes from the lead guitar laid on top of Podge's. He's their Nick Zinner to Niamh Sandwich's (and Podge's?) Karen O.

Ham Sandwich are a loud band - on CD, production-wise, as I have noted already - and live. Not Dinosaur Jr.-loud, thankfully (at the end of two weeks of gigs!), but they really belt it out while keeping their dynamic range and the intricacies - such as there are - of their sound. This worked best in the sweaty, semi-airless confines of Whelans, but that's not to say it was absent in the Village either.

'Words' epitomises this sound, this loudness, and in my opinion is probably their best live song. This was confirmed in the Village, although like the rest of the gig it still fell short of explosive. 'Words' is heavy, driving - obviously on account of the two guitars, but credit must be given to the excellent rhythm section too - and really just impacts like most pop songs don't. It was the impression I got when I saw them live for the very first time, in the basement of HMV doing an instore the day before the album launch. Footage of 'Words' from that performance has made its way onto YouTube, and while the sound quality is pretty terrible, the energy shines through. Any band who can tear it up like this in a room surrounded by computer games, has got something going for them:

Finally - and before playing the single, 'Never Talk' - the band got down to their ironic pop cover. Previously, in Whelan's it had been Britney Spears' 'Piece of Me' - before 'Click Click Boom' - you can see their performance of it at Galway's Roisin Dubh here. This time, Niamh Sandwich coming out from backstage with a blond wig didn't do anything to dissuade us from the assumption that we were in for the same cover, but in fact it turned out to be Madonna's 'Material Girl'. The fact that, last February, I didn't even know Britney Spears had a latest hit called 'Piece of Me', let alone identify it, but was able to recognise the Madonna song might say a lot about me. Plus, it has a pretty great guitar solo:

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