Billed in some quarters as London’s answer to SXSW, a more accurate description of the inaugural Concrete and Glass festival would be the trendy older brother of the Camden Crawl (the Hoxton Hike maybe, or the Shoreditch Shuffle).  Held over two days at various venues across East London, it gamely attempts to combine (daytime) art exhibitions with (evening) music performances.  However despite my best intentions, I fail to check out any of the art (although I do find myself at a couple of local exhibitions which have nothing to do with the festival – such is the multitude of galleries in the area) so this review is limited to the music.

 

Day one kicks off with Glasgow’s Frightened Rabbit at the Hoxton Bar & Grill.  I’ve been a fan of theirs since hearing debut single, ‘Be Less Rude’, almost a year ago but this is the first time I’ve managed to catch their live show (barring an acoustic in-store featuring just the singer and drummer).  Sad to report, I find them a touch disappointing.  On record, there is an engaging fragility to their sound while the focus is all on Scott Hutchinson’s expletive ridden lyrics – kitchen sink tales which mix pathos with humour.  Live, and with the recent addition of a second guitarist, they sound considerably beefier but while this is initially impressive, over the course of the set it only serves to drown the vocals and render the songs a bit same-y.

 

Next up are new band The Big Pink at The Macbeth.  They are truly awful – almost totally lacking in any talent, stage presence or musical ambition (the sole exception is the energetic drummer who surely deserves better than this).  With their monotonic female backing vocals and vaguely electronica leanings (courtesy of two guys twiddling knobs to little effect), the closest comparison I can come up with is early Human League but that does Phil Oakey’s band a great disservice (even the man you penned The Lebanon’s “… and where there used to be some shops” never came up with lyrics this trite!)  But like a scene from Nathan Barley, they have attracted scores of photographers - I count at least ten of them in front of the tiny stage taking shots from all angles – so expect to see them on the cover of Artrocker soon, no doubt.

 

I end the night at Catch watching Dead Kids, whose singer is from the Monotonix/Fucked Up school of audience participation.  While the rest of the band confine themselves to the stage pounding out a series of agreeable if unmemorable ska-punk tunes, he repeatedly stage-dives and crowd-surfs (at one point leaping from the bar), scattering drinks and spitting pieces of orange (yes, orange) as he exhorts those at the back to join the joyful throng of scenesters pogoing at the front.  A girl pours a beer over his head only to be aggressively snogged in retaliation while a friend of mine emerges with blood dripping from his forehead.  It was an enjoyable experience but not one that I am in any particular hurry to repeat.

 

Day two commences with Sweet Baboo upstairs at Vibe Bar - a solo acoustic show by bobble-hatted Welshman Stephen Black whose quirky songs stay just the right side of twee.   I cross the road to 93 Feet East to check out Sky Larkin, a female fronted three-piece recently signed to Wichita Recordings whose muscular rhythmic rock is mightily impressive – at its best combining the inventiveness of Throwing Muses with the exuberance of Pixies.  It’s something of a surprise to find that they hail not from Boston, Massachusetts, but from Leeds, West Yorkshire.  Definitely a band to look out for.

 

Next I take the relatively long trek out to the Brady Arts and Community Centre in Tower Hamlets.   The venue could not be more different from those above: a modern building with a theatre stage, plus a separate acoustic stage adjoining a bar selling organic lager (sadly sold out).  The audience is largely middle-aged and smartly dressed, as are The Real Tuesday Weld whose besuited members take the stage one by one against a backdrop of brilliant and entertaining films.  The music is expertly played, switching from mellow electronica to stomping polkas, although the clarinet on every song begins to grate after a while.  The highlight is Dorothy Parker Blue, a beautiful plaintive number which recalls American Music Club.

 

I return to 93 Feet East to see Euros Child, the former front man of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, play his insanely catchy brand of upbeat keyboard-led pop.  Backed by just bass (courtesy of Sweet Baboo’s Stephen Black) and drums, he produces a big sound somewhere between 70’s ELO and 80’s Elton John – although as far I know neither of those artists ever managed to work lyrics about a monkey doing a poo into their songs.

 

The intention was to finish up with Selfish Cunt at Catch who were scheduled to perform at 11:15pm.  But at 11:30pm the band before them are only just taking the stage and it takes approximately 30 seconds for me to realise that they are not for me and I decide to call it a night.  All in all, it’s been a very promising start for this new addition to the crowded London festival scene.  There were the usual teething problems (changes of venue, inaccurate timetables, etc) but I did not have to queue once to get into any of the venues, or to wait unduly to get served at any of the bars (this might have been different had I attempted to see some of the more popular artists such a TV On The Radio, Fujiya & Miyagi or Lykke Li) and the mood was friendly and relaxed.  I am definitely intending to attend again next year and who knows, I might even make it to some of the art exhibitions.