Alphastone/Ma Cherie for Painting/Avrocar

Arts Cafe Bar, Toynbee Hall, London - 12 May, 2001


 "Avrocar were totally compelling from start to finish"

[Alphastone Flyer]

The UK Enraptured label specialises in thoughtful, clever, space-post-kraut-rock psychedelic-ambient-dance-film-soundscape type stuff. This Enraptured label night was originally a four-band line up, but Radio 9 had to pull out at the last minute. Which was a shame as they were one of the main reasons for me attending. Thanks to Connex's totally shite service (ever heard of 'announcements' Connex?), it took us two hours to get to London. Even so, with Radio 9 having pulled out, there was time to grab a freshly made pizza at the Arts Cafe Bar. Superb - I can thoroughly recommend them. Anyway, back to the gig...

Avrocar

[Half of Avrocar] Having played with previously with the likes of AMP and Magnetaphone, Avrocar occupy similar territory but, based upon what I heard tonight, possibly surpass them both. This was Avrocar's first gig in two years and used the opportunity to demo new material. So new, I discovered later, that the entire set had only been written in the past week and a half! That in mind, the results were bloody impressive. Even more so, when I further discovered that Avrocar are normally a four-piece and tonight there were only two members on stage, and half the equipment was borrowed due to some mix up or another. All things considered then, this ought to have sounded pretty dire but the whole one hour slot was totally compelling from start to finish

Including an almost unrecognisably imaginative cover of The Go-Gos' Our Lips Are Sealed, Avrocar's minimal live set up (minidisc player, guitar, sampler, mixer) blended sharp percussive snares and gut-rumbling bass with psychedelic guitars and mesmerising synths. Somewhat unexpectedly, I couldn't help but think of Joy Division in a slightly more optimistic mood at times. Although lead guitarist/vocalist Perry sang on most tracks, this was more experimental than commercial. There was no bullshit pop/rock star crap - just great music. With just the two of them there was not much on offer visually but that didn't matter one jot. Once more, music proved to be all that was necessary and with their guitar feedback wavering into pulsating, electro beats and cheap hi hats that's all you could ever need. A brilliant discovery for me and, I humbly suggest, for you to. Expect to read more about Avrocar both here and elsewhere.

[Ma Cherie for Painting rocking] Ma Cherie for Painting

Sounding and looking French, this German three-piece took Avrocar's experimental edge and ran recklessly with it into avant -garde jazz rock turf. With drummer, guitarist and keyboard player all switching roles and instruments throughout their set, this bunch look as musically adept as they appeared intelligently eccentric. With constant wry smiles at one another and repeated checking back and forth as to when each track might finally end, this appeared to be largely improvised around a bunch of core songs. This carefree attitude was entertaining, even if their music wasn't always so.

Slipping into almost trendy 'safe' territory of 60s-inspired jazzy French new wave cinema scores at times, Ma Cherie for Painting certainly delivered a vigorous performance. A special mention goes out to their off-stage sound engineer (who looked like a slightly scary cross between a male version of Charleen Spitteri from Texas and a Japanese Sumo wrestler popular a few years ago called Taro) - thanks to him the output of their electric piano, guitar, bass and drums constantly morphed in and out of various bouncy digital effects which added a occasionally amusing edge to their music, which mirrored the band's own casual approach. However, the music itself (entirely instrumental by the way) was frequently borderline pretentious, certainly not all to my tastes. The faster tracks were the best, but still none of the audience (some of whom had clearly come specifically for Ma Cherie) responded by moving, indeed half stayed seated, legs crossed hippy style, on the floor throughout.

Alphastone

As ex-Spacemen 3 and Darkside, Alphastone aren't what you'd call new kids on the block. When I think back to Spacemen 3, I think cool space rock (i.e. trendy psychedelic rather than Hawkwind hippy). Self-confessed conceived as a Pop Art band, Alphastone take their cue from that background but add more rigid and conventional song structures to the otherwise occasionaly rambling soundscapes that fill the genre. Running late by 25 minutes, the three piece finally make it to the stage. Unfortunately, the crowd is slightly smaller - fans of Ma Cherie for Painting having followed their idols out the door. Front man, Pete Bassman apologised for the lack of 'atmosphere'. [Alphastone sans light show] They normally provide an impressive light show but this wasn't possible tonight since Bassman had forgotten to bring the projector lead!

Immediately, Alphastone's sound is bigger, seeming slightly odd at such a small venue as the Arts Cafe Bar. Indeed, I'd have expected them to player a larger venue to a larger audience. Still, those that remained expressed their gratitude, but there was a subdued air about the audience. (That could have had something to do with the natural tobacco weed being puffed.) Also using a minidisc for backing, this was a conventional guitar (and vocalist), bass and drums set up; singer Bassman sometimes tinkling on a small "alpha-stone"-branded retro analogue synth. Previewing material from their forthcoming album Life's A Motorway, mixed with back catalogue faves, they launched into the recent single and title track Life's A Motorway. Having been mostly unmoved by the single, I have to confess that, live, the song works extremely well. With its 'picky' lead guitar line, looping bass guitar and chilled out drumming it was the first Alphastone track to really grab the audience's attention.

Tracks off their Elasticated Waveband album appeared before they launched into the mighty (new) Cool Earth Sensation. This was the only time Alphastone put aside their conventions and entered into the freeform/jam area already demonstrated so well by the two earlier bands. Personally, the results were far more satisfactory - closer to Krautrock than spacerock. But after just 40 minutes, Alphastone had had enough. It was only when the promoter stepped in to encourage an encore that, with the audience slowly realising that it was almost over, that the band agreed to play on. Only one song followed and in much less than an hour it was all over, the band having played a shorter set than both support acts. Whatever the problems there might have been, the sound was still up to standard according to a long-standing fan friend of mine. I've never been enamoured with Alphastone and it is likely to remain that way as long as they rely upon rock 'n roll song structure conventions instead of pushing their sound envelope just that bit further. Which is a shame, as at times they can obviously challenge the best of them.

Rob Dyer


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