The Wylam Brewery, across Exhibition Park, next to Newcastle University, is one of a number of new music venues that have been added to the city circuit recently. This is an indication that the live scene is flourishing here, always a good thing, and it's pleasing that alternatives are being supplied to the rather soulless Carling Academy, which for a while was the only venue to see bands like Parquet Courts who'd outgrown The Cluny and Digital Underground's Think Tank in terms of the number of punters they could attract through the front doors.
The Brewery certainly has its share of soul. Set across the lake in the heart of the park, it has rolling gardens, still functions on most nights as a brewery and micro-pub for real ale devotees and has a large, atmospheric hall where the bands play. A number of people had told me that the acoustics were not what they should be, but having been a couple of times I can scotch that rumour, and as the guy who runs the place says to me, 'Opinions are like arseholes...'.
So, to Ultimate Painting, too good a band to be supporting anybody, but it's always great to see a fully formed unit in operation before the main event. I'm reasonably sure in any case that a fair few of the audience are looking forward to catching them just as much as the headliners, a young and very friendly couple I chatted with at the beginning of the evening for example.
Ultimate Painting are a union between the principle songwriting talents from Veronica Falls and Mazes, James Hoare and Jack Cooper. They're nothing if not prolific, having recorded and released three albums in two years together from Hoare's bedroom in London of neat guitar driven pop music of the type they used to make.
Looking, and sounding like a band who Creation Records would have signed up in the eighties, all hooped shirts and fringes, they're the missing link between The Velvet Underground, (during the phase that Doug Yule was in the band), The Kinks and Rubber Soul era Beatles. Neat guitar, lyrics, harmonies and driving rhythm section, they strike me as a group that haven't got the attention and acclaim they deserve, they would have blown many of those eighties acts off the stage for example, and that comes from someone who saw a fair few of them back in the day.
In terms of sheer songwriting, Ultimate Painting knock the spots off most of their contemporaries and a fair few of more revered forbears. Dividing things between Hoare and Cooper, (I'd say Cooper just shades it in terms of songs and charisma, though with these joint operations there's no need to choose, as the fact that they've got the dual point of attack is a central part of their appeal), they're looking back to forge forward, in some ways a simple, melodic response to an age where things are far more cluttered than they need to be.
They blow me away with Central Park Blues, (to my mind their strongest), which they play midset, a song in the spirit of Courtney Barnett doing Dylan, and one that she herself would have been mighty proud of coming up with. Then on to Song for Brian Jones and finishing a set which was just too short, with Ten Street which allows scope for appropriate full on guitar freakout to close.
'We're the fabulous Parquet Courts from New York City', intones A.Savage into his mic half an hour later after the band have kicked off with Dust and Human Performance, the same one-two that sets off their album from last year. In contrast to Ultimate Painting who are all English self-depreciating diffidence and modesty in terms of their onstage demeanor, the headliners are non-stop 'attitood' from the moment they hit the stage to the moment they leave it and don't return for an encore.
They approach everything, absolutely everything, from an angle. If you like bands that go at everything from an angle, they, more than anyone currently around, are the ones for you. They've certainly got the songs to back up the swagger. Five years of intensively produced back catalogue which now allows them to pick and choose at will rather than kowtow to the demands of an audience baying for Stoned & Starving, to pick one example, (this isn't played).
Plenty from the Human Performance album is, an indication that they rate it as their best, more than a year after its initial release. As with Ultimate Painting, they divide attention and proceedings between Savage and Austin Brown left and right, with bassist and considerable presence Sean Yeaton centre-stage. This three pronged line of attack is considerably effective with drummer, A.'s brother Max providing a driving backbeat but keeping schtum between songs. He probably wouldn't be able to get a word in edgeways anyhow.
The moshpit is small but eager and mostly female, which I imagine the band would have appreciated. The banter comes thick and fast between songs, Brown and Yeaton conduct a bowing competition at one point. They are smart arse and eternally sure of themselves, 'too cool for school' as the girl at the cornershop artisan bakery, (who was also there), says to me when I stop off for my customary pain au chocolat the next morning.
They've earned a right to a certain degree of hubris. Starting off as a DIY proposition, they've come a long way in a short time and done so largely on their own terms. Tonight though I don't always find their cockiness particularly endearing, (I'm in the diffident Englishman camp with Ultimate Painting not unnaturally), I do enjoy the show, apparently the first they've ever played in an octagon-shaped hall.
Towards the end of the show Yeaton shakes himself out of the frantic shugging, frothing mode he operates in for most of the set to remark on the judgmental Santa shadows thrown onto the backwall by the onstage overhead speakers. Brown thanks us for choosing to come and see them rather than Mac DeMarco at the Carling Academy, (he's playing there this evening, it's clearly meant as a slagging), and they're gone after closer One Man, No City, where they do their Marquee Moon style burning inferno, (the comparison is inevitable). As I said, no encore, but they've done more than enough.
So two fine bands and an altogether fine night!