I Am Kloot
There has been a new trend in the UK music press in the last couple of years. As known as “to do the Elbow thing”.
The idea is very simple and surely catchy for that indie philosophy which sees with a cinic interests every band struggling to put together enough money to pay the rent of the tour van.
When a band survives (having a tough time) along a multy-years long career and finally reaches a decent success in sales, or even charts, it can be praised by the indie snob audience that traditionally sees success as the evil and the devil. The moment the soul is sold to the damned market.
The example is taken from Elbow (from which my definition). When the Manchester band released their latest album to date the Seldom Seen Kid, their fourth, after seven years of music, a success of public and mainstream critique arrived.
Double Platinum, Mercury prize, they did even sell-out an arena tour without being disowned. This is not usual. The indie fan rejects arenas for not being intimate, for detaching the band from the audience, because are a synonymous of success hence money.
All these elements joined together build up an indie fairy tale. Music journalism, actually journalism altogether, loves these sort of stories. Fairy tales are archetypes that adapt to situations people can identify (or not) depending who we are.
The story of a poor unlucky band (Elbow), who struggles for year in a difficult environment (the music industry) and, only after a long fight against the Evil (the market), supported by a army (the fans) defending them, achieves triumph without selling its soul, it’s a perfect tale.
It’s like Cinderella and if you have seen how Cinderella remakes (Pretty Woman?) had success in the years, you understand why this story is worth telling.
So far so good.
Problem arrives when it is the moment to tell it again and again.
Since The Seldom Seen Kid a band trying “to do the Elbow thing” is seeked every year.
To take part in the selection the band needs to:
a) Have published several albums (at least 3) of mediocre success in sales.
b) To have been underground for some years (at least 5), better if they raised a cult following.
c) To be formed by musicians of at least 35+ years old.
d) (preferred) Being from Manchester.
Last year for “The Elbow Phenomenon competition of 2010” the selected band was the Doves and their album Kingdom of Rust.
Go back to the music reviews of that album and you’ll read the word Elbow in any of them.
The attempt to retell the myth failed. The album wasn’t good enough and the trick to sell it as a comparison to a brilliant album as the Elbow’s failed dramatically.
Doves neither toured arenas nor replaced Guy Garvey and friends.
Actually Doves recently published a “best of”, which in this music world reads as a sign of failure.
“Best of” arrive when a band is not commercial interesting anymore and the label try to get some cash revamping the back catalogue, adds some B-Sides (and the magic word “remastered”) to seduce even the fans who already have the original CDs. A strategy that also attempts to test the market and awake the audience before the next album. But this is a different story.
This year, applying for the “Elbow Phenomenon Competition of 2011” were I Am Kloot.
They check all the a), b), c) and even d) boxes. More. They have Mr Guy Gurvey in person to produce Sky At Night their fifth and latest album.
Here we are agin then. The press throughout the country, lazy must be said, try to sell the same story once again.
It almost seem to work, Sky At Night is among the 12 albums selected for the Mercury Prize. They will not win. The dance depression of the XX won over the depression on its own of I Am Kloot.
For the second time the fairy tale fails to deliver its happy ending.
I went to I Am Kloot concert to try to understand and solve the mistery.
Which is very simple. Remakes, even the most successful, need to be re-made very well. Actually they need to be made even better because the first thing that people do is to compare the original with the new version.
When you compare Elbow album with I Am Kloot what you immediately get is that it lacks of the same quality ingredients needed to the yummy recipe.
Elbow had a respectable pedigree too, I Am Kloot in fact have always competed during the years with Athlete for the first place in the most boring band in the country.
Sky At Night is a monotonous piece of work. An album that sounds ok at first listen but on repeated listening doesn’t grow, it tires.
Guy Garvey production can’t do the miracle, the material he has isn’t excellent and he does not do anything more than repeat his same story. Adding some ambitious orchestration and baroque arrangement can’t turn the album to gold.
Live the songs don’t take off either. The addition to the original trio of another guitarist, a multi-instrumentalist and a couple of brasses don’t give the band the swerve it needs.
Show opens with Northern Skies the song that also opens the album. Lately and To The Brink follows still from Sky at Night, then in an endless set of 24 songs over two hours they go through the entire career.
It stays on the mediocrity that has always depicted them. Mediocrity that on the first few songs sounds even interesting. As for the album, at the beginning it is ok, but on the long run it bores. So does the concert, much before the twentyfourth tune.
The closure is for Proof, a song originally included in I Am Kloot the second album that has been rerecorded for this fifth. Not the best sign for a band which wants to be seen as projected in the future.
Foreseeable as Christmas, I Am Kloot come back to play a one song encore, Same Shoes, of course the song that closes Sky at Night.
If it is because of they exhausted the material or exhaustion of the public I am happy the concert finishes here.
It is rare in rock music to have a member of the band who plays seated.
By definition rock is energy, dynamism, dance, body, sweat, sex. Sitting down playing a guitar recall more an old bluesman or a self-referential jazzman.
A rock band is expected to jump all over the place exciting the fans.
Not always. I am Kloot bass player plays sitting on a chair.
As I often pointed out, in concert photography 99% of shows are sort of the same situation with different lighting. There is not much variation especially for static indie-guitar bands. So anytime that something unusual happens on stage it must be seen as a photographic occasion.
A musicians sitting has also advantages, photography-wise.
It moves much less, so it allows to shoot with a slower shutter speed avoiding moved and blurred images.
If he is close to the edge of the stage, as I Am Kloot Peter Johnson, the situation allows some dramatic wideangle effects.
Put on the wider of your lenses, get as close as possible (don’t irritate him, though) and, very important to stress, don’t forget to consider the background. Having a look of what is behind the subject is as important as getting it on focus.
When using telephotos the crop is tight enough that there is no much space for the background in the frame, which is then less relevant.
Wideangle lenses always have something that falls into the frame. A rockband stage is full of distracting, unpleasant objects (sometimes even people of the crew). It is not as a clean studio setting.
if you pay attention to this and are brave enough to step ahead as close as you can be sure of some interesting shots. Give it a try and let me know.