Liverpool Sound City 2011 – Friday

Tributes to dead wrestlers, indiscriminate spitting and and a stand-off between headliners and bouncers on the last night on earth…maybe.

“Do You Believe in Rapture?” inquired Sonic Youth in 2006. Our pal Old Rope also suggested that Debbie Harry might have been rapping about it in 1981 (but probably wasn’t). If those in attendance at this year’s Sound City festival have accepted that the apocalypse is indeed coming on 21st May, as was predicted by American religious fanatics earlier this week, they’ve chosen rather a good playlist for their journey to the Pearly Gates (or Lake of Fire, as the case may be).

A delectable mélange of local talent, established artists, and hotly-tipped acts on the bill has ensured that this year’s event could be the best yet.

Liverpool’s very own demons of surf EL TORO kick off by dedicating their entire set to 80s wrestler and cult figure Macho Man Randy Savage, who was killed in a car accident earlier that day. Guitarist Chris Luna’s trademark reverb effect echoes around the the Masque Theatre as he punctuates his guitar accents with some fancy footwork. Catchy garage jams ‘No Doctor’ and ‘Down To the River’ are now firm live favourites among their followers, as is new song and set closer ‘Shame’, which, sounding almost like a Blondie song, appears to signal a new pop direction for the band, but as they’re not the sorts to pander to the whims of the masses, we’re fairly sure it’s a one-off.

The evening’s tight schedule means we have to sprint like the clappers up Mount Pleasant to catch Toronto’s RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE in the cavernous environs of the cathedral crypt. It’s an unusual choice of venue, but entirely appropriate for its acoustic effect; the sound booms off the masonry and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the apocalypse had come early. At least we’re in the right place.

The great thing about a festival like this is that if you’re prepared to hop from venue to venue, gambling on lesser-known acts, your faith is occasionally rewarded with something a little bit special. Today, Rural Alberta Advantage are it. Complete with Billy Corgan’s fragile vocal style, RAA strongly recall the Smashing Pumpkins’ short-lived side-project Zwan. Despite a set-up which comprises only drums, keyboards and acoustic guitar, they make a terrific noise. Their accomplished drummer Paul Banwatt takes four-to-the-floor rhythms and transforms them into galloping, rattling beasts and keyboardist Amy Cole hops around like an excitable child. We wheel away with the feeling that we’ve just been let in on a very exclusive secret and it makes the exhausting journey here seem somewhat insignificant.

We’re prepared to overlook the O2 Academy’s abominable drinks prices to catch a glimpse of Bay area skate-punkers SET YOUR GOALS. Not that the bar will take much on booze tonight – the average audience age is about 15. Energetic dual vocalists Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown instantly assert their command, whipping the kids into a frenzy and instigating circle pits simply by twirling an authoritative finger. Drawing from a range of influences across the contemporary punk spectrum, they play feel-good, positive punk pop from the school of Sum 41, New Found Glory et al, occasionally flecked with a more muscular hardcore sound to keep the punk purists happy.

Pressed for time and conscious of the boring trek into town, we scoot off back to the Masque to sneak a peek at the band everyone’s talking about at this year’s festival. Atlanta’s BLACK LIPS are renowned for courting controversy wherever they go; two members of the band were kicked out of school in the wake of the Columbine Massacre, their rebellious nature affording them the tag of ‘subculture danger’, and past live shows, which have included vomiting, live animals and wanton arson have been described by some as “just plain dangerous”.

They do not let us down. For all the mystique surrounding the band, they also boast some superb tunes. ‘Dirty Hands’ is self-deprecating, yet cockle-warming tale of childhood adventure and vulnerability, simple in arrangement, yet timeless in appeal. Their fusion of 60s garage, country and doo wop is all delivered with bags of big-hearted punk attitude. By the time they launch into the gang vocals of ‘Bad Kids’, enough beery missiles are flying around the Masque to make the security team more than a little edgy. The atmosphere sours as crowdsurfers are aggressively rebuffed by the neon-banded oafs, prompting guitarist Cole Alexander to barge past one of them and leap into the crowd to finish the song in a triumphant gesture of solidarity.

Despite instantly winning the hearts of every last audience member in the venue, Alexander’s bold display of gallantry only infuriates the Masque’s security team, who become locked in an angry stand-off with the band for several minutes. Bassist Jared Swilley taunts the nearest bouncer:

“What, are you gonna wait for me outside and kick my ass, IS THAT IT?!”

A cheer erupts and the band quickly perform one last song before a decision can be made on whether to pull the plug. Their notoriety is cemented and ensures that the finale to friday night is nothing short of heroic.


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