@ Nottingham Social [8/12/2002]
The very mention of the term "keyboard solo" should send most normal people running for sanctuary and locking the doors behind them, the vacuous strain of Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygen" still perforating the eardrums to the point where even tinnitus would be a more desirable option.
The keyboard has certainly come a long way from those corny Bontempi commercials that used to clog up most pre-Christmas TV schedules not so many years ago. Take openers Schneider TM for example, who consist of three men and a collection of electronic gadgets that would probably make the Sales Manager at Dixons blush. New single 'Frogtoise' sounds like Kraftwerk's 'Autobahn' being remixed by Photek before being shat out the sky by one of the aliens from 'Close Encounters of The Third Kind'.
Throughout tonight's set the Kraftwerk comparisons are hard to avoid, but one thing that places Schneider TM apart from most of their avant garde/nu-electronica compatriots is frontman Dirk Dresselhaus who's a born entertainer in the mould of a stand-up comedian, and when he introduces 'Light 3000' as 'Sunday Bloody Sunday,' we smile and dance like demented chickens in equal measures.
I have to confess that before tonight, I couldn't quite understand why there was such a fuss being made around New York quintet Radio 4. I'd heard 'Dance To The Underground' and like everyone else, came here tonight expecting a pastiche of The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite. It took them about 90 seconds of the opening number 'Our Town' to prove me wrong! They take the aforementioned bands as reference points, throw them in the pack with a little Gang Of Four here and Red Hot Chili Peppers there before shuffling it up to make something exciting and new, and when next single 'Eyes Wide Open' is released early next year there will be no stopping them as they rip up every dancefloor from student dive hades to trendy clubbers' paradise.
The last time The Faint came to these shores I was fortunate enough to witness them piss all over ...Trail Of Dead from a great height. Judging by the claustrophobic sense of anticipation, it seems Omaha's finest must have made a few new friends on that cold Saturday night back in February, as the band's arrival on stage is greeted with a tumultuous roar and requests for just about every song they've ever written. It's hard to pin down who they sound like, but imagine Trent Reznor fronting Duran Duran and you're in the right ball park. Not that The Faint would ever need Reznor because in Todd Baechle they have a vocalist who is a star in his own right, his caustic vocal delivery somewhat superseded by his humble demeanour, while his dance moves have to be seen to be believed – if Ian Curtis was still alive he'd be the next John Travolta compared to Baechle!
The Faint deliver a history lesson of the last 20 years' worth of both popular and alternative music wrapped up in silver 21st Century multi-purpose foil that just won't age with time. 'Mote' and 'Agenda Suicide' echo Soft Cell's bedsit torment and 'Worked Up So Sexual' is the greatest Hi-NRG / gay disco anthem that was never made.
Tonight is a victory for the power of word of mouth over outlandish PR and merchandising, and pretty soon, when a new scene evolves around The Faint, you'll be kicking yourself for joining in with the wrong conversation.
@ Manchester Roadhouse [9/12/2002]
Deep in the dark, dank recesses of the place they call the Roadhouse, there is a tiny, low-level stage that bands regularly crowd onto to blast the eardrums out of the gig-going population of Manchester. Never has a band been more suited to this black stage and vivid red lighting than Radio 4 - a band who live for the throbbing basslines, the spiky guitars, who thrive off the in yer face intimacy that you can only get from this type of claustrophobic basement venue.
From the moment they strut on stage (which doesn't take too long - I really meant it when I said the stage was tiny,) they have energy and passion. Not the kind that gets the crowd jumping, but the kind that make the curiously immobile audience stare and nod their heads as the singer snarls, the percussionist gyrates and the tall one nearly whacks his head on the ceiling.
I came here tonight with the idea I'd be seeing some kind of electronic Gary Numan style affair. Having never heard this band on record, I'm in no place to compare their live shows to CDs, but if any of their stage presence and anger-fuelled intensity translates into their studio stuff then theirs is an album people should be looking out for.
As for what the band look like? God knows. Trust my luck to be stood behind three of the tallest people I've ever seen in my life. Radio 4: the band adored by punks and giants alike.
@ London Highbury Garage [10/12/2002]
It's a good turn out tonight at the Highbury and Islington Garage with plenty of indie kids in duffel coats and turn-ups sweating for their fashion statement amidst the general air of anticipation. These kids want to be impressed, so what will the verdict be?
The Faint are on first and it is quite hard to describe their sound. Think Madness on acid, New Order on a really bad day, Royksopp turned shite. There are pounding bass lines, fast drum beats and some man shouting incomprehensible words over the top. The crowd really seem to dig it so I guess I'm just missing something.
The Faint have done Radio 4 a favour because when they finally walk out on stage I find myself overwhelmed with the prospect of some decent music. The singer/bassist of Radio 4, Anthony Roman, looks like the love child of Rick Moranis and Chico Marx but this does nothing to diminish their coolness, in fact it enhances it.
The energy they exude onstage is captivating and genuine – these guys love their music, and so they should. Belting out instant and catchy punk pop tunes, the crowd throw themselves around with delight. In fact, the rather large man next to me starts doing the 'baggy trousers' dance and doesn't quit until I'm sure he has lost two stone from sweating alone.
'New Disco' is fast paced with full throttle guitars and the seminal lyrics "New Disco, it sounds so good, it feels so good, it looks so good" are a sure reflection on Radio 4's sound.
Unlike The Faint, you can actually hear each individual musician's input with every song. PJ O'Connor attacks his bongos with manic enthusiasm and Anthony wields his bass and its bouncy rhythm around the stage in a frenzy. The current single Dance To The Underground' gets the biggest cheer of the night, and quite rightly so, because its distinctive bass line and sing-along lyrics make it an instant classic.
Radio 4 blend pop, disco and punk successfully and draw influence from The Clash without being blatant rip off merchants. They deserve to go far in a world full of dreary rock spreading their happy glow and, after seeing them live up to my expectations, they are quite simply My New Favourite Band.
@ Cardiff Barfly [12/12/2002]
Even the best laid plans of mice and men go tits up as the twin headline tour wagon comes grinding to a halt on Thursday night in Cardiff. Radio 4 have pulled out of the show because two fifths of the band are still in last night's gig town Leicester, one in a hospital bed, the other at bedside, leaving Schneider TM and The Faint carry on in their absence. Well, not a complete absence, as I find guitarist Tommy Williams, Greg Collins the drummer and "handsome new keyboard player," Gerard Garone on the verge of petulant disappointment propping up the bar while watching the others soundcheck. PJ O'Connor has screwed up his best percussion hand in a freak accident. (Well all the best ones are, aren't they.) I wondered if alcohol had played a part and was offered a friendly "No comment," by way of explanation.
A further effect of the three into two bands equation, is a delayed opening time for the Barfly club that's left a prompt eight o'clock crowd shivering in the great outdoors for about a hour because there's going to be less music to go round. Once things get started, both bands play a bit longer to help fill the hole, but with Radio 4s profile in such rude health at the moment their no-show is a letdown that should be forgotten when they return in March to lead the Welsh capital onto the dance floor.
To read the DiS interview with Radio 4 click right here