98Pages – The Duchess, 13/03/09

…and the start of a busy weekend for me, music-wise.

Tonight, I’ve managed to get my pass signed to allow me to attend the launch of 98Pages’ debut album, Broken Homes And The Halfway House, at the Duchess despite already planning to go out tomorrow night for the very welcome and much-anticipated return of a current favourite.

First up at the Duchess was Astrae, a six-piece from York. I’m afraid that they didn’t do a lot for me. It may be a deliberate plan but this appeared, to me, to be a band in desperate need of a cohesive identity. By that I mean that, rather than looking like a band, they looked like six individuals who happened to be sharing a stage. With a mixture of visual styles which encompassed big hair and eye makeup (James A Hutchinson, lead-singer/guitarist), unruly samurai top-knot (Jack Beavers, guitarist) and clean-cut (pretty much everybody else) and a musical style that mixed the vocals of The Cure with the heavier aspects of the likes of Metallica, the end result struck me as more than a little discordant. Stunning violinist (yes, there was a violin) Jo Wherry seemed to be aiming for dark and broody but succeeded in sultry, while Hutchinson leaped about stage like a jack-rabbit, narrowly avoiding the rest of the band and only just missing having his eye taken out by Wherry’s bow – antics for a bigger stage, perhaps. In hindsight, it might simply have been the vocals that put me off this performance but, at the time, the music wasn’t doing anything to float my boat either. It may be that the band suffered from the rather high volume being employed at the Duchess tonight but, I’m sorry to say, I don’t think I’ll be going out of my way to see them again. Sorry, lads and lass.

Next on stage were Bolton-based foursome To The Bones and, initially at least, they seemed to be more my cup of tea – a hard, heavy, industrial sound of clashing guitars and drums with a much more mainstream vocal style reminiscent of the heaviest of heavy metal. Unfortunately, after a few songs it became apparent that there wasn’t a great deal of variation and that heavy was, at least tonight, the limit of their repertoire. Don’t get me wrong, I can quite happily listen to the likes of Motorhead, but only in small doses and I prefer bands who mix it up a bit style-wise. To The Bones debut album Duke Type A has, apparently, garnered some pretty good reviews and during this set I was tempted to make a purchase. Eventually, though, I decided that I probably wouldn’t actually play it enough to justify buying it. Definitely better than the first band and I’m glad I have experienced them live but, again, I doubt I’ll see them again soon.

Finally, the band we had come to see. 98Pages are a York-based trio who I’ve not managed to catch before, although Roj and Andy have seen them at least once and have recommended them. Not that we always agree… Anyway, this was the launch gig for their album, and that generally means I’ll take a gamble and see what a band are all about. Being honest, I like telling people at work that I’m attending an album launch – it evokes thoughts of canapes, free drink, mixing with stars, etc. Whereas, in reality, it generally means a small merchandising table from which you can buy the album the day it becomes available. You still have to buy your drinks and the closest you get to canapes are bags of Walkers Ready Salted, although you can often have a bit of a chat with the band, if you so desire.

Anyway, 98Pages are a more traditional rock outfit than the other two bands on tonight. Live, they evoked in me memories of both The Mexicolas and Black Stone Cherry, although the former may only have been because there were three of them on stage and the latter because bass-player Jason Brooks looked a little like BSC’s lead singer… Lead Guitarist Martyn Fillingham broke a string during the very first song and played most of the rest of the set semi-acoustically. I have no idea whether this changed the sound much from what was planned but it certainly didn’t make it any less enjoyable. The songs were catchy, blues-based and, at times, with a hint of Southern Rock and there wasn’t a duff one in the whole set. Another impressive live performance that reinforced my enjoyment of heavy rock, something which had, until fairly recently been dwindling a little.

At the end of the set, we wandered over to the merchandise table and were pleasantly surprised to find that the eleven track album was on sale for a mere £5. Bargain! Obviously, a bought a copy, although I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. Once I have, I’ll try to post a review here.

As usual, we headed to the Roman Bath after leaving the Duchess. Tonight’s Bath-band was Copowt, a self-proclaimed party-band from Copmanthorpe. Given that I was also going out on Saturday, I decided to leave early, after just two songs, so can’t really comment on them.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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