Live at Rocket on Sunday, 13th May 2001
Doubts over Alan McGee's sanity have become commonplace since his surrender of the once-great Creation Records to the likes of Mishka, Kevin Rowlands and the money men at Sony. The launch of his new musical venture, Poptones, was supposed to bring with it a rebirth of the indie ethos, and a chance for previously over-looked musical gems to shine. Sunday night saw January, one of the most highly-trumpeted jewels in McGee's new crown, and west-coast US rockers Oranger take to the Cockpit in a valiant attempt to prove that those pop-reggae moments were nothing more than an oversight on McGee's part.
Openers (though, in effect, this was a co-headline show) ORANGER are lively, vibrant and make gorgeous use of dynamics, quite clearly enjoying every minute of it. Their breed of surf-pop has shades of Grandaddy, Fountains of Wayne and the Beach Boys on copious amounts of acid, and the tapping of feet is more than obligatory - it's quite impossible not to get into it. Drummer Jim Lindsay is a modern-day Keith Moon - always the centre of attention, the theatrical loon and insanely talented rhythmically. His battering-ram triplets perfectly compliment the stomping guitar choruses and pumping bass lines that are as cheeky and cheerful as they are powerful.
Opener 'This Snake Will Kill You' has a pretty, 'Strawberry Fields'-esque organ intro and a chorus guitar line that picks you up and hurls you against the nearest wall. Welcome to tonight's show. The group's own admission to a heavy Who influence surprises nobody, but their own twist on the tried-and-tested is absolute genius and forces a smile from even the glummest of audience members.
Those familiar with the staunch shoegazing principles that support Simon McLean's JANUARY may wonder how the barrage of feedback, slide guitar and long faces of the band's recently-released album 'I Heard Myself In You' fared in comparison to the light-hearted pop craziness of their label mates. In short, January and Oranger are simply polar opposites and the transition was far from seamless.
The occasional touch of tremoloed guitar and a few nice violin parts from bassist Jonny Wood prevented too many jaws from dragging along the floor during the band's set, but it was mightily close. Tuneless drone-alongs such as 'Falling In' do the band no favours. Nine minutes of feedback and guitar noodling may have been acceptable a decade ago, when Slowdive and Ride were kings of the playground, but tonight's meagre audience almost forgets to clap after most songs. When clapping is deemed unavoidable, it is almost apologetic and rarely so much as even polite. Stand-out album track 'All Time' is relatively well received, and sees front man McLean finally stretch his vocal chords, albeit for a short while. Guitarist Sarah Peacock's frequent need to reach for a tissue to stem the tide of a cold-savaged nose represents the highlights of January's on-stage presence.
All this is such a shame, since although their album is far from being a modern day classic, some of the guitar work and delicate acoustic touches do make it infinitely more listenable that tonight's poor live performance. Moments of sheer songwriting loveliness such as 'Invisible Lines' are not played; one would hope it was not sacrificed for reasons of preserving what little 'energy' the rest of the set provides.
The battle between the cool surfing kids from San Francisco and the lanky, floppy-haired British crowd could only ever result in one winner. If ever you get a chance to see Oranger, quite literally jump at it.