venue reviews

Mean Fiddler (Formerly LA2 London Astoria 2, clever eh?), Charing Cross Road, London

Next door to its big broth, the Astoria, and architecturally part of the same structure, LA2 also offers a dazzling choice of gig-enjoying space, with Yes! an upstairs bit and a downstairs bit. Recently taken over by the Mean Fiddler and thus respelendant under a new moniker, which I refuse to acknowledge. For me this place is forever LA2. The Mean Fiddler is that place stuck inconveniently out in Willesden, where you always get sranded after missing the last tube.
Rather more low-key in frontage, though still featuring that handy 'playing tonite' moveable letters signage. On entering, we immediately descend the wide stairs to a cloakroom 'n' t-shirt stall foyer. Passing by such fripperies we find ourselves on a mezzanine level (but, yes!) overlooking the dancefloor and stage.
So, do you turn left or right? Think carefully here. You may think it doesn't really matter which side you hang on, but oh how wrong you are.

Go right and you get to hear the band/spit over the balcony onto peoples heads below (actually, Kitten could NEVER advocate such boorishness), for here is open space unfolding across a vista of tousled gigheads. Useful if you're trying to spot someone and it's often much more entertaining to watch the motley audience than yer actual band. If you should glance stagewards, then you have a magnificent birds-eye view of the bass players bald spot.
Also round this way:

  • An ultra-violet lit bar (good selection of chilled tinnage at £2.50 a pop) which makes your eyes go funny/shows up each and every last sodding speck of dust (or whatever) on your clothes.
  • A narrow mirror thing running the length of the balcony cunningly situated above head level, so that, should you happen to roll your eyes heaven-wards as you realise you've come in to find the Dum Dums supporting (this did actually happen once, brrr!) it will FREAKYOUOUT! to catch your own eye gazing down balefully from on high.
  • Some little round table 'n' stool combinations that are always taken by some raving idiots who must have queued up since 4pm just so they could race in and sit there smugly/look up in disgust should you dare to place your empties on their table.

Go left and you'll find yourself on a section of the balcony that has ideas above its station and sees itself as some kind of bar independent to the rest of the proceedings. Indeed, this section even has the temerity to have a separate 'd.j.' when the place is being a club. Such upstartery means it divides itself from the vulgar concept of live music with panels of smeary glass (actually probably plastic) muffling the sounds from below. Obviously, muffling can save your ears a lot of grief, depending on who's playing, but its not really in the spirit of things now is it? Needless to say this is the place to find those errant popstars 'n' journos, trying their utmost not to actually hear any live music ferchrissakes!
The seating and tabling round here is also more conducive to settling down to bandy words with ones muckers than the perch-a-thon going on at the other bar. However if you really want to go for some serious lounge action, then head on downstairs.

Leaving the lightweights to trade cocktail-party chit-chat in this plastic bubble bar, we stomp on down the stairs (there are the lavs at the top since we're passing). Behold! In front is the stage. Hang on a sec. though, 'cos if you turn around… Behold behind! It's another bar!! Nice one. So, eyes front again to spy a series of comfy booths running down either side of the dancehall. Classy. Plenty of room on the big squodgy seats. Be warned though, in the booth nearest the stage you will shiver in the arctic blast of industrial air conditioning.

Okay, enough reclining, on with the show. Here we must consider our ankles, for the 'dancefloor' is raised about a foot above the surrounding floor. If you choose to get on down up there, please be ever vigilant of THE EDGE. In the general frenzy of things you may find yourself suddenly balancing split second precariously on THE EDGE before tumbling off into the abyss and twisting your delicate ankle, not to mention stumbling oafishly. This would never do, so either make sure you are well ensconced 'midst the throng, or just stand on the normal flat floor that doesn't have any sudden edges. If you go for the latter option, you're going to be a foot shorter than everyone up there braving THE EDGE, although a lot of the time, one foot or ten feet what the hell difference does it make, right, fellow shorter persons?

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