Sunday review

Dot To Dot Festival (Bristol) 2008

published: Thu 29th May 2008

Saul Williams

Saturday 24th to Sunday 25th May 2008
various venues, Bristol, BS1 5NA, England MAP
£30 for weekend, £20 for any day
last updated: Thu 22nd May 2008

There's always a good chance you're onto something when you arrive at a gig in Bristol and the only other person there is the city's semi-celebrity gig-going fanatic Big Jeff.

Tripwires



So it proves with Reading's Tripwires, the first act on at Academy 2 on Sunday. I first came across them, playing at pokey Bristol venue Joe Public's about six months ago and thought then that they were destined for bigger and better things. This performance offers further evidence that that may well be the case.

Built of angular guitars and razor-sharp chord changes, their emotionally intense music is the perfect wake-up call to those still rubbing the sleep from their eyes after a heavy first night of the festival.

Their frenetic, wrought sound draws influences from bands like Explosions in the Sky and Seafood and the venue is soon filling with curious onlookers.

First single 'Kings And Queens' evokes some of Placebo's better moments, opening delicately before coming on strong with a rush of uplifting fuzzed-up guitar and emotive vocals and ending up sounding not unlike fellow Reading-dwellers The Cooper Temple Clause, but when they were good.

This is what Bloc Party could be like if their singer didn't sound like a mildly depressed civil servant stuck, eternally, on a rainy Bank Holiday in a caravan in Cleethorpes. Excellent stuff.

The diversity and frequent juxtaposition of styles at Dot to Dot is again perfectly illustrated by the next band - Bumblebeez, at the Thekla.

Bumblebeez



The Australian hip-hop/dance three-piece consist of an excellent turntablist, who spins a web of cut-and-paste magic from behind her decks while two rappers, Chris Colonna and sister Pia mc over the top.

Chris, who formed the band, is, in truth, the weak link when it comes to his rapping style and he expresses surprise and disappointment upon arriving on stage that "you could hear a pin drop in here."

There's no danger of that well-worn cliché being true over the next 30 minutes as their raucous mix of hip-hop, new rave and rap rocks the boat and its inhabitants out of any sense of apathetic silence.

When Chris takes over on drums, with Pia's high-pitched screech allowed to take centre stage, things veer closer to Le Tigre-like garage rock. There's some great ideas on show, but the sum of the parts is often confusing and muddled.

Back at Academy 1, rap/trip-hop poet Saul Williams, a resident of New York, is taking to the stage, resplendent in Indian head dress and war paint, to deliver a slice of genre-hopping brilliance.

He tells us that when he heard he would be playing in Bristol "the home of Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky and so much important music" that he was thrilled but confesses to being confused to look out at so many static pairs of feet and blank faces.

Urged on by Jeff, who tells eFestivals that Williams is his only 'must-see' act of the day, that state of inertia is quickly eradicated.

Saul Williams



On 'Gunshots By Computer', an ideological rant, he spits furiously: "technology has failed us", sounding a little like Rage Against The Machine or fellow East Coast rapper Sage Francis.

The piano-led 'Talk To Strangers' ventures into the trip-hop sound he's already expressed his love for, before he moves through pedal-to-the-metal punk, sounding a little like a black Iggy Pop, and then switches to politicised stream-of-consciousness poetry.

He introduces an excellent cover of U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' with the killer line "You were the trigger, Ireland was the nigger" and it's hard not to feel the collective sense of shame.

But his music is about inclusion, nullifying racial divides and the fact that he strides through so many genres, so effortlessly, is reflected in that belief system.

For the second time in the weekend a trip to the Louisiana, one of Bristol's most intimate venues, ends in disappointment.

While on day one we missed out on the wonderfully whimsical delights of Noah And The Whale because the venue had reached capacity a full 20 minutes before they were due to start, today it's the turn of Dag For Dag – a band of American siblings who have lived in five different countries and eight US states between them- to have the sold-out signs put up before their set.

It seems to be a common problem over the two days and, perhaps, the organisers need to look at rescheduling popular acts to bigger venues or ensuring the Louis concentrates on local or smaller acts, as paying £30-£40 for a two-day ticket should allow punters to see the acts they've forked out for.

So, with another hour frustratingly wasted, it's back to the Academy for former Libertine Carl Barat's Dirty Pretty Things.

While their first album 'Waterloo To Anywhere' was overshadowed and tinged by the exhaustively well-documented demise of the Libertines and the break-up of Barat's relationship with band-mate and best mate Pete Doherty, they're now set to release second long player 'Romance At Short Notice' and Barat appears to be relishing the opportunity to be judged in his own right.

The same goes for fellow former Libertine Gary Powell, possibly the nicest and certainly one of the most talented and under-rated drummers in music today. Striding on stage, topless and with a grin at least as wide as his enormous drum kit, he powers each song along, dictating the tempo and embellishing the music with soul and invention, as he did to such great effect in the Libs.

Bassist Didz Hammond also seems far more at home than he was when attempting the space rock freak-out contributions he was required to produce in The Cooper Temple Clause.

New song 'Hippy's Son' opens with growly, rough vocals, quite unlike Barat's usual romantic poet's mumble before breaking into an insistent and softly-delivered catchy melody.

'Tired of England' is a more traditional Barat fare and already sounds a likely addition to their growing catalogue of singles. The only disappointment from the batch of new songs they preview is the pedestrian and predictable Kooks-like 'Plastic Hearts'.

Watch Barat and American guitarist Anthony Rossomando stumbling loose-legged around the stage, dripping with sweat and exchanging conspiratorial glances as they thrash through this excellent adrenalin-fuelled set, with Powell pounding away behind them, and squint a little and you're almost back in 2004 watching the Libertines at the peak of their powers. For some that sight is tinged with a little sadness and the feeling that you're watching an ex cavorting with their new beau in front of your eyes. But if anyone deserves such happiness it's Barat and Powell.

Barat is a truly great frontman, a capable guitarist and possesses a comforting, heart-warming voice that can snap into an bitter and pained howl in a second.

The glorious minute-and-half-thrash of 'You Fucking Love It', almost a rework of the Libertines' 'May Day' sees the Academy crowd become a sea of flailing limbs as carefully-positioned fringes are flung about with abandon.

The catchy 'Doctors and Dealers' and raw Stooges-like B-side 'Chinese Dogs' are ripped through delightfully before they draw the set to a close, Powell hurling his drum sticks into the crowd, his grin in danger of swallowing up the first couple of rows of the crowd.

They return for an encore including first single 'Bang Bang Your Dead', a broadside at Doherty which articulates Barat's woe and anger at being left holding the baby like a battered wife while his best friend went into meltdown, blaming him for the band's collapse. Rossomando plays the opening trumpet solo before picking up his guitar and launching into one of the finest and most catchy singles of recent times.

Sweaty and sated the Dot-to-Dotters drift away into the night, some to Legowelt's DJ set at the Thekla and others home, satisfied and exhausted by two days of great music and chasing around Bristol in search of more.

It's been an impressive second year for Dot to Dot. The diversity of acts the organisers have drawn together is exhaustive and impressive, the mixture of local and national bands spot on, and the type of venues – from the more esoteric Trinity Centre to the populist Academy and the back-street, homely, Fleece, is perfect.

There are a few teething problems to sort out, such as the excessive demand at the Louisiana and the fact that getting between some of the venues – from the Trinity Centre to Fiddlers must be nearly two miles as the crow flies – in time to catch enough bands is tough, even with the much-talked-of but seldom-witnessed shuttle bus that has been especially laid on.

All in all, though, it's been an undoubted success and has become, in just two years, a welcome and much-loved addition to Bristol's already busy calendar of festivals. I'm looking forward to next year already.


review by: Gary Walker

photos by: Steve Palmer and Gary Walker

Saturday 24th to Sunday 25th May 2008
various venues, Bristol, BS1 5NA, England MAP
£30 for weekend, £20 for any day
last updated: Thu 22nd May 2008


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