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Squirrel Skin SlippersThe Dogbones
Maple Bee
Squirrel Skin Slippers

Club Hell @ The Cross Kings, London
Friday November 27 2009



A motley assortment of musical entertainments has been assembled for this, the allegedly final night of Club Hell. But then, Club Hell is always good for motley assortments. Motley assortments are what Club Hell does. This might be the last time (actually, my guess is that Club Hell won't freeze over just yet) but we've still got a show ahead of us. Let's dive in to the infernal flames.

Squirrel Skin Slippers rattle out a kind of down-home rock 'n' blues thing, but with a certain accessible pop touch instead of the gruff grittiness that's more usual in this musical area. Perhaps that's at least partly because rather than the collection of grizzled rock blokes we might expect, there are only two Squirrels: a chiselled chap who looks like he's just stepped out of the 1950s in his best shirt, and a vampy girl who sets off her drop-dead lipstick with a cute fluffy hat.

The two of them swap between guitar and drums, and share vocals from song to song. They rattle out an infectious wang-dang-doodle in which every number sounds like the soundtrack to a high school hop in Delaware, circa 1957. By the end of the set they almost had me believing I had a T-bird parked out the back.

Maple BeeMaple Bee is the current trading name of Melanie Garside, ex- of umpteen other bands and previous incarnations: Tabitha Zu, Vertigo Angels, Our Lady Of Miracles, Medieval Babes...she's put in a stint with Queen Adreena and is currently also part of glam-electo merchants Huski.

Her incarnation as Maple Bee is somewhat unusual if only because its practically the only thing she's done that's lasted for more than five minutes - an encouraging development from my point of view. I've always said that she could be a star if she stuck at one of her myriad projects long-term.

At any rate, tonight she's joined by a companion on keyboards: Ms Bee herself (or can we call her Maple?) lets loose her engaging wail of a voice, while strumming a plangent guitar and occasionally pling-plonging on a vibraphone. Yes, it's a folkie thing, and as psychedelic projections flicker over the stage we could almost be at some sixties happening (there, we've gone from the fifties to the sixties in two acts).

But what gives the performance a certain edge - and stops it all becoming merely winsome - is Maple Bee's undulating vocal quiver, a keening squall that simply couldn't be anyone else. Rather lovely stuff, actually. It seems Maple Bee is clearly not in the business of rocking out these days - at least, not in this incarnatiion - but I'll say this: she makes a splendid beatnik.

Minimalism takes a back seat now. Widows arrive mob-handed, fully loaded with rock 'n' roll hardware. There are six of them, and notwithstanding some sort of vaguely 'dark' aesthetic that's supposed to surround the band - they're allegedly a bunch of Nick Cave-ish Widowslow-life poets, as far as I can glean from my customary five minutes of Googling - to me they're straight-up pub rock, no more, no less.

Galumphing through a set of bar-room rockin', the singer's faux-American drawl well to the fore, they're a throwback to the kind of seventies boozer-boogie that cluttered up the London pub circuit before punk came along and sorted a few things out.

Well, at least we've moved forward another decade tonight, but frankly I can't bring myself to be enamoured with a band that seems to draw its main influence from pre-punk plodders like Roogalator.

Oh, Widows rollick along amiably enough: the band clearly have all the necessary muso-chops to make a good-time rock 'n' roll noise. But, to be blunt about it, bands have been churning out this sort of stuff in the back rooms of pubs for the last thirty-odd years. It's hardly distinctive. Enough, no more, is what I say.

If the blurbosphere is to be believed, Knifeworld are a wild 'n' crazy psychedelic experience, a heady brew of tangled instrumentation and wayward imagination. Which sounds good to theory. I'm rather disconcerted, then, to find that the band arranging themselves before us tonight seems to contain sundry off-duty members of Chrome Hoof, without the tinfoil costumes.

As recognition dawns - 'Oh no, it's them!' - I cherish the hope that maybe the stripped-down image brings with it an appropriately stripped-down sound. Chrome Hoof's Knifeworldtiresome prog-outs are at least vaguely tolerable when leavened by the band's zany costumes and general wackiness: without such visual assistance I fear it'll all get a bit heavy going unless the Hoofers' apparent reincarnation as Knifeworld has been accompanied by some ruthless excess baggage removal in the music department.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you, the excess baggage is present and correct. It does indeed get a bit heavy going, for Knifeworld make a self-consciously clever-clogs pub-prog racket that isn't half as smart as it thinks it is. The guitar cranks up to max-heaviosity levels; you're never more than an odd number of bars from a gratuitous tempo-change. And talking of bars, there's one over there to which I shall retreat until the bloody maths class is over.

Nobody could ever accuse The Dogbones of proggy indulgences, or indeed galumphing pub-rock ordinariness. They've necked far too many punk rock pills for any of that nonsense.

They come hammering out of the traps in a frenzy of dual-drummer fireworks, the guitar sound chopping up the air like slicing sausage. There are many great things about The Dogbones - one day, maybe, I'll make a list - but for now let us simply big up Crispin Gray's glam grandstanding, as he struts about the stage in a series of rock 'n' roll poses, a spectacle that would look frankly daft if anyone else tried it. But Crispin has that essential element of rock 'n' roll cool: he deploys a certain raised-eybrow knowingness even as he slips seamlessly from one shape to the next, not even breaking stride when vocalist Nomi Leonard crashes into him as she cannons about the stage like a random particle.

The DogbonesThe Dogbones walk that fine line between coherence and chaos, but they never fall off. Their glam-punk tumult has structure and form - the songs are meticulously assembled, and never fail to rise exhilaratingly into a killer chorus. But on top of all this, the band gleefully scribble a deliberate disarray.

Never mind the maths class. Hell gets a whole lot better when the punks are let into the art room.



The Dogbones: MySpace

Knifeworld: MySpace

Widows: MySpace

Maple Bee: Website | MySpace

Squirrel Skin Slippers: MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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