Fall Round Up: PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING in Seattle, INVSN, HAR MAR SUPERSTAR & AFGHAN WHIGS. (Including special mentions of Depeche Mode, Billy Bragg and Steve Earle)

Autumn’s always busy for gigs. Bands return well-fed and well-oiled from the summer Euro festival circuit and limp to the markets they’ve missed, to wrap up and then hunker down for the winter. It’s a good time for live gigs, and usually a crazy one. But since my modus operandi these days is to spend my often limited energy (I’ve got a few doozy illnesses) on the bands that are going to be the best bets for filling me with joy, I was picky this fall. And it paid off. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THEM. DELIVERED.

Billy Bragg, pic Mikala Folb I took Mama BSR to see Billy Bragg – whom I’ve been supporting since the late 80s – and he made me swoon, and even cry. His hopeful, political, smart songs rallied the room. Before “I Keep faith,” he reminded us: “That’s the job of music. My job is to make you not feel like you are not alone. I’ll be in another town tomorrow, but you will be here and you can keep fighting. My job is to fire up your activism. This is my faith in your ability to change the world.” Oh Billy, thank you for the reminder.

I took Boyfriend BSR to see Steve Earle & The Dukes – whom I’ve been supporting since the late80s – and he made us tap our toes, bob our heads n’ country-rawk out to the likes of  “Hardcore Troubadour” “Taneytown” (which is a few clicks away from “Guitar Town” down the”Copperhead Road.”) The gig was a little more sedate that I expected, but it was on a Sunday, and I could listen to Steve Earle read the phone book, really.

I took myself to see Depeche Mode – whom I’ve been supporting since the mid-80s –  and lost my shit when they played “Everything Counts” and “Never Let Me Down Again.” It’s been 30 years since I last saw Depeche Mode live during their Music for the Masses tour, and despite the fact that the band still cart out the cheese (Dave Gahan’s pornstache and windmill spins or Fletch’s Dance-Like-Yer-Dad moves), it was a good craic. I’ve never been much of a Martin L. Gore fan, but he earned major kudos for not cracking during his solo “A Question of Lust.” The sound was great, the background vignettes were great, the set list was a B- but it was so good to relive much of my teenhood.

Sounds good so far, right? But who else? Who were the real winners? I’m glad you asked.


Public Service Broadcasting, pic by Mikala Folb

There was the show that very nearly didn’t happen, when London, U.K.-based Public Service Broadcasting arrived at their venue in Seattle only to find out that the venue’s gear was inhospitable to their own. Three of us had taken time off work to drive southto the country whose name we dare not speak, and when my interview with the band was grudgingly, politely canceled, and we were all left queueing outside, I admit my balloons all burst. But not to worry.  The UK’s best instrumentalists (bar Mogwai) rallied.

On paper, the PSB concept sounds awkward: “They’re three guys with pseudonyms that make them sound like they just stepped out of a British boarding school. They dress up in tweed with bow-ties and glasses and perform songs themed around the US and Russian space race, pay tribute to Southern Welsh miners, and Everest explorers, and there are no vocals except for samples from old BBC documentaries.” But Public Service Broadcasting remain one of my most favourite bands and over the years have become a formidable live act. Tight guitar, drums, samples and (now) horns, rollick alongside fantastic old black and white screen footage. Singer J. Willgoose Esq (John to his mates) has become more relaxed, chatting at the mic with a smile, Wrigglesworth keeps things rather meticulous at the drums, and the addition of new guy JF Abraham on horns and keys amps up the energy. And somehow it comes together, magically, even if in the background, things were falling apart. If you are lucky enough to live in a city that their booker actually likes, do go see them.


INVSN, pic by Mikala FolbSame with INVSN. No, never heard of them? Fine, but do you remember post-punkers from Sweden, Refused? I do, I bloody love them. And the main reason I bloody love them is because of their lead singer Dennis Lyxzén. And INVSN is Lyxzén’s four-ish-year-old fourpiece. I last saw them at SXSW in 2014 (the same year I first saw Public ServiceBroadcasting, incidentally) and while their current stuff is more new wave pop punk than post-punk thrash, they’re still fun to listen to, and remarkable to watch. Lyxzén’s a live wire and 138% showman: he’ll fling his mic into the air and catch it while kneeling as if limbo-ing under the lowest bar, hand-free, the mic landing on his chest. He’ll sing into your face, leap into the crowd and crawl on top the back bar, or babble between songs about the power of music, politics, and hope. He’ll give ‘er if he’s playing to 5,000, not 50 (which was the incredibly sad reality when I saw them on this particularly cold September Thursday). The band hung around to watch the openers (my excellent friends ACTORS), and hung around afterwards to chat. Lyxzén gives me hope that not all rock frontmen are uptight, mumbling hipster gits who shuffle through the motions on stage, then disappear to the bus with their Macbooks, and I’m very thankful people like him still exist.


Afghan Whigs, pic by Mikala FolbFinally, let’s give a slow and sincere clap to The Afghan Whigs. Not just for bringing out the awesome Har Mar Superstar as their opener on tour (everyone’s favourite soul-singing shlub, doing the moves and singing shirtless while doin’ a headstand – can you do that?), but for the fact that they won’t suffer fools while they’re melting your face. Particularly fools who forget their ear plugs. “Take your fingers out of your fuckin’ ears,” singer Greg Dulli barked a song or two into the set at a guy who was feeling the heat from the MELTING, MOLTEN ROCK that the Whigs were pouring. “This is a fucking rock show! I don’t want to see you with your fingers in your ears for rest of the show” But finger his ears the guy did, until Dulli sourced him took it upon himself to find a pair of plugs, and not start the song until he’d handed them over the beet-red dude. (Then, softening, “Tinnitus really sucks” he added.)

But you need ear plugs for an Afghan Whigs show. Not just because they’re so loud, but because you have to ration the amount of awesome that filters into your brain at any one time. From “Birdland” and “Arabian Heights” from new album In Spades, to “Matamoros” off of Do To the Beast, you gotta come to a Whigs show preparing to face some demons. Because they’re there. In spades, as it were.

“Cause it don’t bleed and it don’t breatheAfghan Whigs, pic by Mikala Folb
It’s locked its jaws and now it’s swallowing 
It’s in our heart
It’s in our head
It’s in our love
Baby it’s in our bed
Tonight I go to hell
For what I’ve done to you
This ain’t about regret
It’s when I tell the truth.”

…comes when “Debonair” does, a few songs in, and by this time, even the underfilled venue (how even does that happen?) have been voodoo’d. Gentlemen remains one of the greatest albums ever made, and both “Debonair” and “My Enemy” sound visceral. But for every demon, there was an angel, too. Dulli delivered a bittersweet tribute to Dave Rosser, their 50-year-old guitarist who passed away from cancer this year, and we all raised a glass. I was lucky enough tohave met Dave a few times, and they don’t many of ’em like that. They still have his amp set up. Water forms at the edges in eyes in the room. Then dry with the heat. Because that’s what the Whigs are about – tender moments at the piano, little covers (a bit of Jeff Buckley, maybe the Beatles) here and there, slipped in between nuclear warheads of rock. Just come wearing your ear plugs, and you’ll be okay.

But do come, to see any of these bands. They’re all epic, and don’t you deserve some epic in your life? \m/

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