Thursday, March 16

White Rose Movement / The Violets / Koala Grip @ Birmingham Barfly
I blame the White Stripes. They were the band that first started the trend of using a minimal amount of instruments, opening the floodgates for a stream of bands that lack a full complement of musicians.

One such band are Koala Grip, who have a stripped down electro-rock sound with a guitarist, bassist and female vocalist accompanied by a drum machine and sampled keyboards.

The Kings Heath based trio are and certainly a much more professional and assured outfit than many of their fellow Brum bands and are creating somewhat of a buzz in local circles. Either that or they have a few keen friends who are very good at postering and flyering in local record shops.

It’s easy to see why as in singer Miz they have a born frontwoman. Cool, sassy, sexy and in control, she holds the attention of the crowd as Stevie K and Mr Ant lay down the guitar and bass. It is a great credit to them that they don’t look out of place playing before two nationally touring bands.

My one gripe would be that because they use recorded drums and keyboard effects, their sound doesn’t fill the cavernous metal interior of the Barfly. However this is a problem not unique to them and in a sweaty packed club, I’m sure they would go down a storm. Keep your eye on Koala Grip

Next come The Violets. This twitchy London three-piece don’t have a bassist, just guitar, drums and some powerful Siouxsie Sioux-like vocals.

They’re an abrasive and compelling prospect with the choppy guitar work of Joe Daniel in particular standing out. At times it seems as if he is about to lose control of the song, but he always reels it back in, staying perfectly in time.

Vocalist Alex struts around, kohl-eyed with bleach blonde hair and an attitude that says she’s not to be messed with. She spits out her vocals with venom and bile, prowling the stage.

Feast On You is the stand out track of the set, all angular guitar, tribal drums and piercing vocals. And where that came from there are half a dozen more songs of the same calibre.

Again though, they suffer the same fate of their slightly top-heavy sound echoing round the submarine-esque Barfly. It’s a shame, as I would like to hear more of the lyrics and the details in the guitar playing. Maybe next time.

No such sound difficulties for White Rose Movement, who provide a full complement of drums, guitar, bass and keyboards.

White Rose Movement have been much-hyped by the NME and are about to release their debut album Kick. Suave and immaculately tailored, they look as if they would be equally at home on a catwalk as onstage on a freezing Friday night in Birmingham.

But cor blimey guvnor, they are a serious lot, maybe a little too serious. Even more serious than Midlands Today’s Nick Owen when he’s doing a particularly sad story about an injured animal.

“Are you having a good time” deadpans frontman Finn Vine at one point, though he might as well have added, “Cus we’re not”. The lanky singer reminds me in equal parts of Ian Curtis and this bloke I used to know called John.*

Thankfully tonight he keeps his dancemoves in check, restraining himself in the main with the odd flick of his side-parted hair.

Something else that deserves a mention is the hair of bassist Owen Dyke, which could only be described as a reverse peroxide mullet. How he manages to see through it to play is anyone’s guess, and he tops off the look with a jaunty White Rose Movement Nazi-style armband that is sadly not available from the merchandise stand. One speculates that if he did in fact live in the Third Reich, he would soon be called in by the Gestapo for a spot of gentle questioning due to his dodgy barnet.

In some ways it’s a shame that this band places so much emphasis on image, as they have some fantastic tunes. Love Is a Number and Alsatian are searing slices of robotic-post-punk-disco, with choruses that burn their way into your memory, sounding even better live than on record.

New single Girls in the Back is just as good, and if the songs they play tonight are anything to go by, their album Kick could be one of the best of 2006.

In a venue where it is sometimes difficult to achieve a good sound, White Rose Movement make it seem easy, blasting through the speakers with a wall of noise.

However, onstage they are a little awkward. They’re aloof, morose and do precious little to interact with the audience. There’s little spontaneity and the personality of the individual band members doesn’t come through.

It’s a major negative for a band that look and sound really good. Perhaps they should take a lesson from Nick Owen and slot in a corny joke or two, or a bit of banter with the crowd now and again. A bit of humour would certainly make them seem more human and give a chance for more people to hear their songs.

*John once fell asleep whilst sitting against a fireguard whilst drunk and woke up several hours later with a back like a noughts and crosses board. This injury later became known in local medical circles as a case of 'fireguard back'