Sunday, 18 November 2007

15 November 2007 – Rod Thomas + si-cut.db, The ICA

A Roundhouse/ICA collaboration
Concentrate, because this blog gets a bit art-house now. The proposition, as cooked up by Henry T’s Entertainment and Nick Luscombe, was to hook up two musicians in a roots’n’shoots’ collaboration, to see what they produce – the Anderson principle here being that for every 1000 near-misses, the occasional success will make the whole thing worthwhile. The set – a bit of Doug, a bit of Rod and then the collaboration - the result of 10 weeks rehearsals at the Roundhouse.

Now the keener reader of this blog will have noticed that I know Rod Thomas’ music quite well – from the unplugged sound in the tiled corridors beneath Liverpool Street Station, to noisy bashes in the livelier bars of Hoxton and Shoreditch. This time Rod had a real theatre to play in, with good acoustics and a professional sound system – oh, and the happy accident of seating – focussing the audience’s attention, which performers can struggle with at Indie gigs.

On the other hand, I don’t know a lot about si-cut.db (Doug Benford), but I can see where he’s coming from and he is clearly well-respected in his own circle; back in May he performed in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, so I guess that puts him firmly in the experimental musician category.

So, back to the roots’n’shoots premise – established/emerging musician, old ways in collaboration with new ways. Well, not quite. In fact the whole preconception is turned on its head. The ‘elder’ party being an electronic techno-wizard – his sole set a composition of music files - layered, pulsing, overlapping and echoing; electronica in free-form with no two performances ever the same. That said, I think his style is more suited to recorded cds rather than a live theatre performance. As he sat slaving over a hot lap-top, I found myself wanting to see what was on his computer screen – was he moving files around in time to the music, or was he watching the swirls from Media Player? The projector screen above his head was begging to be filled with pictures - give this man an interactive whiteboard, please!

The counterpoint to si-cut is young Rod, who has gone back to music’s purer roots, using ‘old’ technology to record and loop real sounds as he goes along, so that he too builds a unique performance each time. And – and he sings. Rod showed what he could do with a loop pedal, handclaps, keyboard and guitar, putting in a short set of his beatier tunes, including ‘Your Love is a Tease’, ‘You’re So Disco’, ‘Good Coat’ and ‘As If’ – one man band meets disco/folk – erm, it really is his own niche.

For the joint performance Rod and Doug presented a set which displayed their respective skills, at the same time showing how two individualists can work respectfully together to produce something new and rather special. Someone had the brainwave of adding graphics – step forward Matt Collet, whose themed films worked a treat and were the necessary third element (see Youtube clip here.) Taking the theme of Play Room, they used different combinations of their respective styles to cast an imaginative spell where electronica gave way to pure notes, and back, sometimes both mixing together under a pulsating overhead echo. Laptop, guitar, keyboard, ukulele, piano, melodica, glockenspiel and vocals were all used (what, no stylophone?). There were instrumental pieces and sung melodies too – the heartbreaker ‘Plastic Lullabye’ being one of the highlights.

Dues were paid to each musician’s particular style, but I couldn’t help wondering which of them gained the most from this collaboration. Rod had the edge in terms of vocals and the sheer number of instruments at his command but there is no doubting si-cut’s ├╝ber-cool technical skills. It added a spark to see him come out from behind that laptop to play the glockenspiel and keyboard – maybe next time he could sing too.

So hats off to the performers and lots of cred to the brains behind the project. Look them up here for more information and pod casts to download. I'm told there will be an i-tunes EP in 2008 also.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

30 October 2007 – Rufus Wainwright, Hammersmith Apollo

My final date in this fantastic year of Rufus (although DVD of Palladium performance due in early December). Rufus’s audiences are always an interesting mix of young and old, gays, gals and guys and the large circle bar at Hammersmith is a good place to mingle with the (RWMB) fans, the glitterati and the metropolitan crowd. Had a really interesting chat with two Americans who had been fans of Rufus since whenever and one of whom (like yours truly) had seen R’s mother and aunt - Kate and Anna McGarrigle – perform BITD. So missed the support act completely – apologies to Sean Matthews.

Rufus and band were even more “broochilicious” than before and the set has held up well, with more back catalogue material finding its way onto the set list. Thank you, thank you for including ‘Consort’ – such a beautiful song. The dear boy is working his neenies off this year, what with the Judy project, the new album and world tour and all – come back soon, London loves you, honey!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

20 October 2007 – Richard Thompson, The Roundhouse

A circular tale

One of the grand old men of folk-rock, Richard Thompson drew the audience into a neat circular tale at the superb Roundhouse. He would have us believe that he train-spotted there back in 1959, returning for some hi-jinks in the 60s/70s – pointing out the spot where someone set their hair on fire, right up to the present day where he was playing to a mixed bunch of former train-spotting hippie types and showing the young ’uns a thing or two. (Industrial) circle of life in the old turntable shed, or what – I could go on with the metaphors, but I’ll spare you …

Thompson and his three-piece band played a selection from his excellent new album ‘Soldier of Fortune’ and included a few oldies too. There were nods to Maddy Prior and Linda Thompson – ‘Bright Lights’ sounding odd when sung by two male voices. Ever a protest singer, his latest lambast at the Iraq war (Bag) ‘Dad’s Gonna Kill Me’ is a fierce denunciation of the situation the ordinary grunts find themselves in. But folk is not his only strength – this guy can really punish an electric guitar too – as in rock guitar, not thrash rock guitar.

So an excellent night in an excellent venue (Mary Gauthier could fill this house with a proper bit of promotion – see below). Lots of Dad dancing, Dad air guitar and Dad rock – the young ‘uns seemed to like it too.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

14 October 2007 – Mary Gauthier, Arts Theatre

A small West End theatre is not the ideal venue for Mary Gauthier. With an act far better suited to bar-rooms and stand-up venues, this seemed a strange choice for Mary’s only London date on her 2007 tour. Comparing with her Bristol gig at St Bonaventure’s Social Club, I am guessing that this was a showcase for industry-type guests. It seemed that the fans were seated from Row G back, with guests to the front or even upstairs. Not that there’s anything wrong with hearing gems from the back catalogue, ‘Drag Queens and Limousines’, ‘Camelot Motel’ and ‘I Drink’ to name a few, but there are songs from her new album ‘Between Daylight and Dark’ that deserved an outing. So the very moving ‘Thanksgiving’ gave way to ‘Christmas in Paradise’ as a selection from Mary’s repertoire of “miserable holiday songs” and so on. Another surprising omission was ‘Soft Place to Land’. But enough carping – we can all think up our dream gig.

Mary’s stories, like her songs, are full of truth and wit, particularly when explaining why she’s “a freak” in Nashville, as she can’t sing the usual he-loved-me-and-left-me songs – “that wouldn’t be honest”, she said with a wink. Lots of powerful songs too, with ‘Mercy Now’ (Iraq) and ‘Can’t Find The Way’ (Katrina) being the most topical.

If Mary’s playing at a dive near you, then don’t miss out – you’re in for a treat.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

05 September 2007 – Rod Thomas, Hoxton Bar and Kitchen

“Let’s dance”

I wrote earlier about a gig with a snappy 30-minute slot at the Spitz – well this was Rod Thomas headlining for his home crowd. Opening with his current single ‘Your Love Is A Tease’, Rod then stormed his way through a set of superbly-crafted lyrics set to folkie-pop tunes and genuinely grin-making dance-your-socks-off beats. Others have commented that the lack of a band can be a drawback, but Rod was fully the master of his tricky loop system. This talented Welshman’s assured mix of acoustic guitar and/or loop pedal numbers delivered an infectious set of get-up-and-dance delights. Liverpool Street Station’s favourite busker, make sure you catch him live – utterly brilliant.

Check out Rod's web-site for music and all links: here

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

August 2007 - Barcelona

Busker in the Barri Gothic

Not much happening in August, unless you fancy yet another festival of all the 'K' bands (Kaiser Chiefs, Kooks, etc) and the obligatory Amy Winehouse no-show. So to Barcelona - which by the way is a good place to spot buskers, too.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

04 July 2007 – Rod Thomas, The Spitz, Shoreditch

Sadly, The Spitz is now no more – it’s Commercial Street site has been given over to the developers – let’s hope it resurfaces someplace else – preferably soonish.

More Rules – Indie Gigs (Shut up, already!)

Your bar tab will be more than the cost of entry.
Given the entry/drinks price ratio, some punters natter away loudly as if in a pub (which they are really) – so be warned.
Up to four acts per show – expect short sets.
Start late, finish late.

Rod Thomas by day is a busker on the London Underground (yes, the one who makes you catch your breath). By night he becomes a one-man-band outfit with guitar, keyboard, loop pedal and handclaps. Buskers’ “sets” last around 30 seconds, the time it takes to walk past them, so turned up out of curiosity to hear the full versions and was glad I did. Using a live loop pedal means that Rod has to enter the various layers (handclaps, backing lines and so on) before the song can get going. This looks tricky, but the end effect is a gorgeous multi-layered sound – something of an art form here. So a short set of up-beat songs – you can catch samples on his Myspace site – with my favourite, As If. Definitely a feel-good experience, a mixture of folk and pop, but not schmaltzy - Rod has a way with words and there’s always a phrase or two to chew on. Go see for yourself. Go soon.

Check out Rod's web-site for music and all links: here

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

27 June 2007 – Rufus Wainwright, Leas Cliffs Hall, Folkestone

(Above, Rufus morphing into Loudon?)

This time it’s not so much the show, it’s more to do with the venue. Leas Cliffs Hall is a hidden gem – one of the best-kept secrets on the concert circuit. It must have started life as a regular seaside ballroom. Now it makes for a wonderfully intimate venue for any sort of act with spot-on acoustics. The hall literally perches on the side of a sheer cliff – the entrance is via a small structure at street level, then you descent two flights of stairs to a small but perfectly-formed, wooden-floored hall. The stage was set along one of the long walls with a wide standing area in front and some seating in a small gallery opposite. Bars in ante-rooms at either end completed a perfect set up. Tip – if a band you’re interested in is to play Folkestone, don’t hesitate, pick up the phone or mouse and book – you won’t regret it. My spies tell me the likes of Motorhead play there, even if it means you’re deaf for a week afterwards.

Rufus and band were clearly taken with the place too – lots of quips about it being like playing at a Barmitzva, or “you kinda expect the floor to open up and there’s a swimming pool”. His Rufusness had spent the afternoon “sitting in my room looking at the ocean while listening to opera and playing with my jewels with the door locked.” Ouch – that’s not (quite) as bad as it sounds – fans have been sending in brooches so that Rufus has enough to deck out his whole band. Just picture this – before each show he sits before the huge jewellery box and doles out items as he sees fit .. and collects them all in at the end of the show. Sometime, if they’ve been good, they get to keep one. Yes, I know, mind-boggling isn’t it.

As for the show – because the songs and the band had settled in so well, and because of the very special venue – this really was a wonderful evening. With the stage so close it was possible for Rufus to interact with the audience properly – he could see we were having a rocking time, so that fed back into the performance. For the spoken section of ‘Between My Legs’ Rufus could see several of us evidently knew the words so he decided on the spot to “let you guys” do the piece – nice idea, but we weren’t miked up. Top marks for the thought, though. Yes, I have lost my critical faculties over this one – but many agree that this was a rather special evening. It almost makes you afraid to go to another show for fear of spoiling the memory. (Well, not for too long.) I’d be hard-pressed to pick out the best moment, but I think ‘Macushla’ did it again. Rufus, honey, you were perfect.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

24 June 2007 – Aerosmith/Chris Connor/Jet, Hyde Park, London

To Hyde Park on a very damp Sunday. Festival Rules here, so a quick look at the merchandise then on to the main stage. Crowd very crowded, herding together to shelter from rain – hah!

Jet played a competent set (in a hey-we’re-supporting-the-mighty-Aerosmith-kinda-way), followed by a commendable performance by Chris Connor. Audience were soaked through by that point and getting a bit tetchy about it. However Chris earned muchos respect y kudos by venturing out onto the stage’s apron and getting soaked too. Big “aah” moment when he brought on his own little guys to sing with their Dad.

Aerosmith - So on to the main act. Stage hands sweeping water off the runway, putting out the fairy lights and deckchairs, the whole bit. Just to amuse itself, the crowd alternately booed or cheered two of the sweepers – must have been worrying for the one who got booed. Rain easing up a bit and then, voila! – out comes the sun and the stars. Messrs Tyler, Perry and co ripped their way through a set packed with anthemic standards – this is not the crowd quietly mumbling-alonga-Bob, this is the full-volume, air-punching, audience-louder-than-the-band type experience.

Thanks to the runway (essential – please note, everybody) had the surreal experience of being about 6 feet away from a spot-lit Tyler and Perry while they sang against the backdrop of a darkening stormy sky. The biz, every second of it.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

28 May 2007 – Rufus Wainwright, The Old Vic Theatre, London

Rufus Wainwright – The Old Vic – each one made for the other. A mid-week evening during the week-long residency, the curtain-raiser on RW’s most ambitious tour so far – UK, US, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia well into 2008. The theme is Stars and Stripes, the stage decorated with a huge black and white star spangled banner, Rufus and band decorated in stars (brooches) and stripes (jazzy, stripey mis-matched suits and shirts). I quote: “It’s great to have a band – they do as I say and I get to dress them like faggots.” Well, you all looked lovely, guys.

Oh yes, the show – mostly the luscious ‘Release The Stars’ collection, but with a few oldies and Garlands thrown in. Obligatory costume change from dazzling suit to lederhosen (oh my) to fedora tux’n’tights for the finale. As an experiment Rufus sang an old Irish folk song, ‘Macushla’, acapella – you could’ve heard a pin drop. Apparently this was at his mother’s request “Whatever Mamma says, Rufus does!” (such a good boy). So it was tear-jerker one moment, then we were ripped along to the full-on Judy Garland finale of “Get Happy” – see various Youtube clips for the full delirious experience. Audience left gagging for more – just as it should be.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

25 May 2007 – Josh Groban, Birmingham Symphony Hall

'Awake' tour.

With only two UK dates, it was a choice between Hampton Court with doubtful weather and the guaranteed acoustics of distant Birmingham – the day trip to Brum won.

This likeable young performer already has a devoted following of ladies (the Grobanites) – the gig trademark being glowsticks (see Dec 2004). Combine a seriously good venue (a modern, wooden-panelled hall with the ultimate design for acoustics and sight lines) with a seriously good artist (with the ultimate voice for depth and reach) and you have pretty much a perfect evening. One fly in the ointment for me - the West-coast banter was a bit cheesy at times, along the lines of “..even the guys here love me because they brought along the ladies who love me, and they’ll be getting their (“thanks”) later …” Cringe.

Enough of the negative, get back to the voice. Josh’s voice is clear and mesmerising – it’s like listening to opera without the difficult bits. Every song is moving, whether sung in English, Spanish or Italian. There was quite a bit of joshing around with the band, particularly the drummer who had been teaching him “a few tricks” – only turned out to be a 5-minute drum solo from JG which shook a few rafters. Also to be mentioned was a fantastic violin solo (Led Zeppelin) from Lucia Micarelli.

I’m thinking New Three Tenors, I’m thinking Josh Groban, I’m thinking Enrique Inglesias, I’m thinking (fill in your own suggestion) but, hey, Harvey Goldsmith – how about it?

09 & 14 May 2007, Rufus Wainwright (in-store appearances)

At HMV and Virgin Megastore, Central London, to promote ‘Release The Stars’

Ok, this is the UK Year of Rufus. Thought I’d check out the store previews as a bit of fun. Some more rules:

Store appearance rules:

HMV – turn up early and join the scrum at the back of the store while they block of aisles and set up the stage.

Virgin – basement stage . For wrist-band entry queue early in the morning to buy cd and get entry wristband for later show. Tip – if you just roll up on time you can get a pretty good view from the stairs above.

At HMV the chief prop was Rufus’ sequined scarf with a sequined bear attached. Apparently the naughty dangling bear with interfering with said performer’s performance (you fill in the quote ….) Anyways, first of all were the standard warm-ups ‘Pretty Things’ and ‘Vibrate’, followed by two of the newies ‘ Sanssouci’ and the very moving ‘Going To A Town’. Definitely most promising – definitely looking forward to Old Vic later in the month.

Virgin Megastore. Unable to spend all morning in a queue, took a chance and rolled up a lunchtime for a stairwell spot – excellent view (big thank-you to my tipster at HMV). This time Rufus had his band in tow, including the fabulous Hall and Petruzzelli. More of a buzz to this showlet – Rufus genuinely pleased so many had turned out to see him -and a pleasant surprise for passers by. Hubby on phone to wife “I’m in Virgin and guess who’s playing ….?” Never mind what was he doing spending his lunchtime in town while she was stuck at home – you can just picture it - “That’s nice, dear,” wifey thinking “Lucky so-and-so!”

Live UK premieres of ‘Release The Stars’ and ‘Rules and Regulations’, repeat of ‘Sanssouci’, old standard ‘Art Teacher’ and finishing with ‘Going To A Town’. All compelling, kicking band – looking good for the UK tour.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

15 April 2007 – Bob Dylan, Wembley Arena

Overheard: “Daddy, Daddy, which one’s Dylan?” - “The one in the hat, son.”

‘Modern Times’ tour.

Further Rules of Dylan:

  • Expect to stand in the stalls, even if you happen to have a seat. There still exist people who are outraged when the front audience stand for Dylan.
  • More accessible Dylan = wider audience. Wider audience = take the kids (Ok, guilty as charged, but it’s a duty, right?)

Bob and his cool dudes returned to Wembley to promote the most ace ‘Modern Times’ album. On top form, Dylan even played a few songs on guitar (a first for me). Very wide audience this time – lots of kids brought to the shrine of Bob by caring parents (it’s an education, after all, to see the greatest living poet since John Keats). Even if the kids couldn’t see much, they were impressed by what they heard. His Bobness was on top form, playing the best of the excellent newies, as well as a hefty selection of Dylan classics. The set enhanced the general mood of laid-back, good-times toe-tapping bluesy-folk, and I think the mighty one was enjoying himself as much as we were. Ace times.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

18 February 2007 – Rufus Wainwright, London Palladium

The ‘Judy Garland’ Show (first night)

The long-awaited Rufus-does-Judy show finally touched down in London for a starry-starry night at the spiritual home of music theatre. As it was a Sunday (Sound of Music’s night off) the theatre was packed with more luvvies and media types than you could shake a stick at – Sian Phillips, Sir Ian McKellen, Richard E Grant, Ray Davies, David Furnish et al ..

The audacious idea was to recreate Judy Garland’s legendary 1961 show (also performed at the Palladium BITD) song by song. This seems to be something of a life-long ambition for Rufus – the programme note by mother Kate tells of a young Rufus listening almost in pain to worthy folk songs but coming alive when she played a Broadway hit – “That’s what I wanna learn!”

This was no camped-up traipse through Judy-land, this was the genuinely felt channelling of a much-loved singer, with Rufus – as he does – “becoming” the song each time. Obviously there had to be some re-arrangements to allow for his vocal range, and a few songs were turned over to Lorna Luft (Garland’s daughter) and his sister Martha Wainwright. Even so, a whole range of styles were covered that night – no surprise really that he can sing jazz as well as he can sing anything else. The most moving of all was ‘Over the Rainbow’, which Rufus sang sitting on the edge of the stage – I swear I saw a tear in his eye at the end.

What else can I say – this was what theatres were built for.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

12 November 2006 – Bruce Springsteen, Wembley Arena

Back to Wembley for a repeat of the storming Seeger Sessions show. This set has been toured for some months now and it has become more polished and, in becoming more polished, has lost some of its spontaneity. Also, the few ‘Springsteen’ songs don'treally suit being ‘Seegerised’. Patti was absent this time – trouble at home apparently. Bruce explained - “Teenagers, you can’t take your eyes off the little b******s" - which struck a chord with many in the crowd. On the plus side - a good-natured audience (lots of Irish in) and Bruce managed to inject some spark into that gloomy hangar of a place (where the ghosts of past performances flit wailing along the rafters) ('scuse the hyperbole, but that ceiling really bothers me and I don't see how it has been"improved" at all).

Overall, a very good evening – ‘Eerie Canal’ my favourite.

So that’s it for 2006 – hoarse and foot-sore, but generally a happy gig bunny.

04 November 2006 – Mary Gauthier, Roundhouse Studio

You couldn’t have had two more contrasting audiences converging on the Roundhouse that night. On the one hand retro-romantic-glam-punk rockers for the Dresden Dolls, on the other – well, er, could’ve been their “older, but we ain’t dead yet” folks for Mary Gauthier.

Thomm Jutz, Mary’s superbly-talented backing musician, came out and settled down to tuning his guitar. Mary soon. Thomm strums. Management pops out of the back door and goes back in. Thomm strums. Still no Mary. Ladies near me getting worried – “Don’t worry”, say I, (thinking Oh God, she’s had a run-in with the punks). Thomm strums. Finally, Mary – phew! But she’s as wired and spooked as hell by something and it’s a couple of songs before she starts to relax enough to speak to us.

Mary’s from the Deep South and Hurricane Katrina hit her and hers badly, the grief and anger plain to see in ‘Momma Louisiana’. There were more stories from Mary’s life on the road and some more new songs too. Lots of them. New album promised sometime - “it’s in the queue” – but the music business may not be playing straight with her – well, we’ll see. Wonderfully self-deprecating, Mary acknowledges she does a great line in “miserable holiday songs” – one of the latest being “Thanksgiving at the Prison” where the fine details of families queuing up to visit their loved ones includes the dignified grandma who is frisked not once, but twice: “When they’re done she wipes their touch off her dress, stands tall and walks in”.

Mary was delighted so many waited afterwards for a meet’n’greet. If she’s passing through a town near you, drop by, open your ears and listen – you won’t be disappointed. Oh yes, and Bob Dylan rates her ‘Mercy Now’ – that must please her.

20 August 2006 – V Festival (Chelmsford)

Rufus Wainwright - Beautiful South - Gomez

Festivals are much like theme parks – lots of attractions but too many punters and only enough time (and space) to get round to a few. There being no fast track, this was for me an ‘Operation Rufus’ – this being his ONLY UK date in 2006. So – the signing tent and then on to the JJB stage.

His Rufusness arrived looking tanned and relaxed. He patiently signed, chatted and good-naturedly posed for pictures with everyone. People wanted to know if he was to bring the Judy Garland show to the UK, perhaps to the Palladium, to which he replied “We’re working on it”.. Such a doll. Trek back to the stage and begin to squeeze to the front of the crowd as fans of other bands left after their sets. Getting closer.

Gomez – a real belter of a set (shame the recorded version turned out to be much tamer). A little closer.

Beautiful South (before the split) – who played their socks off. Closer yet. Result – front of stage.

Then out comes the grand piano and lone guitar stand, some anxious prodding of out-of-tune hammers by concert-pianist-looking roadie and several worried managers, then at last we were ready.

(Oh yeah, the other downside to festivals is that they offer ‘taster’ sets – which is fine if you turn up out of curiosity to hear someone and you’re pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, you’ll only get a “best of” set from your main band.)

Rufus Wainwright. Some Rufus is better than no Rufus and there was absolutely nothing to complain about here. Great songs played to rapt attention, regrettably no peek preview of next year’s album. Droll chat and banter in spades, but the funniest moment was when Rufus got his foot caught in a guitar cable – “Hey, this lead’s trying to hit on me”. Lucy Wainwright Roche (a half-sister) ably supporting - Wainwright gigs being usually family affairs. Come back soon, honey.

15 June 2006 – Dixie Chicks, Shepherds Bush Empire

“Taking The Long Way” tour

Fired up by a great new album, yours truly jumped at the chance to see these gals for the first time. Tickets at the grimy Bush were being released in phases, so took a chance on standing – and a good thing too – as the circle was entirely reserved for friends’n’family. And it was family too, with their little guys waving to their mommies from the balcony.

Film cameras everywhere, fancy(ish) set and expectations high. The gig was being streamed live on the internet (ahem – please release this somewhere) and in every sense was a “we’re still not ready to make nice” comeback after the kerfuffle over something someone said about George Bush on the same spot in 2003. The show was fairly belting along from the start, but when Natalie Maines stepped up to repeat “I’m (still) ashamed to come from Texas” the place just erupted – no friends of Bush (or Blair) in the house that night.

Business over, we all got down to some serious enjoyment with London doing its best to out-stomp, out-sing and out-Dublin everything else. Cracking atmosphere - and to think some nitwits are about to pull the place down. ‘Top of the World’ was ethereal – you could almost see the skylark up in the fly tower. Top night. Come back soon!

Monday, 3 September 2007

08 May 2006 - Bruce Springsteen with Seeger Sessions Band, Hammersmith Apollo

The first time the Boss payed Hammersmith he literally threw up with nerves - and it was a career-making show. This night the artist was late - again he threw up outside and again it was a career-making show.

Hammersmith with the downstairs seats ripped out makes for a fine wooden-floored dancehall, perfect for a boot-stomping hoedown. The deep-toned boo-ing from the restless crowd in front turned out to be the faithful calling
"Br-oo-oo-ce". The whole evening was a wonderful sweep through American folk history, playing the blue-collar songs of the people in blue-grass/jazz/blues/folksey styles which made the most of every member of the 20-piece band. The audience had a great time too, not caring that we were being "worked" by a master. We sang, we cheered, we stomped along - was this really London? You betcha! For "Pay Me My Money Down" the band exited the stage one by one, leaving us to sing the chorus on our own for a whole ten minutes. Our nerve didn't break and sure enough the Boss came back to reclaim the show as if not quite believing what he'd just heard. Could barely speak for a week after that one.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

25 April 2006 - Chris Rea, Hammersmith Apollo

Chris Rea had been seriously ill before this gig, which was pretty much the last date on a farewell tour before 'retiring' from frontline performing. Audience turned out as a mark of respect/affection for the canny lad from Middlesborough.

The shocker was seeing Chris obviously in pain during the early numbers. Not sure if it was the adrenalin or the pain-killers which kicked in after a while, but you could see him warming to the job and growing more relaxed. Whatever had happened to the frame, the voice was strong and the technique sure, with almost as many guitar changes as there were songs.

At the end, duty done, a lifetime's songbook played through, a raised guitar salute and he was gone. You did it, you were great - goodbye and God bless, Chris.

06 April 2006 - Bill Wyman hosting Lords Taverners "One Generation 4 Another", Royal Albert Hall

Bill and his band, Bill and his pals - a starry benefit night. Bill doesn't lead the band so much as fade into the background, as ever barely moving a muscle, while he lets his band (plus whoever turned up that night) get on with it. It's never a lucky dip, though, it's all top-notch stuff - the fabulous Fabba, Kiki Dee, Steve Sanchez, Albert Lee, Andy Fairweather Low (he of the long locks, now bald as a coot). Solid performances, tad over-long as these rambling, everyone-gets-to-do-their-thing gigs are. Spine-tingling moment - Midge Ure's pure rendition of "Vienna" as the years rolled back. Great time had by all - respect, Bill.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

2005 - Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! etc.

01 March - Rufus Wainwright, Islington Academy
04 April - Willie Nelson and Family ( + Mary Gauthier), Shepherds Bush Empire
16 April - Rufus Wainwright, Shepherds Bush Empire
21 November - Bob Dylan, Brixton Academy
29 November - Rufus Wainwright, Hammersmith Apollo

Rufus, Islington. Having stupidly missed an earlier gig, I grabbed the chance to see this 'one-off' spot, billed as a special preview of 'Want Two'.

First, the venue - supposedly purpose-built for live music - hah! Take a large-ish shopping mall 'Superdrug', rip out the fixtures, put in a bar and stage - you get the idea.

Second, the Rules of Standing. Tall units - no problem anywhere. Average height units - get there well before the doors open and head straight for the front of stage area. Smaller units - (apart from "forget it") as before x 10, head straight for the front, do not pass Go, do not stop at the bar ...

Third, the act. Fighting jet-lag and a cold, Rufus's pared-down set was spoiled for me by the poor sound quality and by the fact that I could hardly see a thing (refer to 2 above). Luckily, there was Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith still to come.

Willie Nelson/Mary Gauthier. When you least expect it, along comes something new and rather wonderful.

Went along to pay my respects to Willie Nelson. Not a die-hard fan, but we were both in London, so what the hell. Support act was 'Mary who?' so, seat taken, a trip to the bar was called for. Then the tour guy announced "some racoon-assed country singer". We don't get than many racoon-asses in London, so was intrigued. The singer in question held the audience's attention from the first note, through the Dylan-esque lyrics to the droll, wry stories of a hard life. Was this a joke? Did the Country folks in Nashville realise they had a gay singer on their hands, singing of the ladies she had loved and lost, just like WN? She knew, we all knew, no-one cared and it was grreat. More, please.

Willie Nelson then showed London how to play a mean gee-tar, moving through dozens of songs in a seamless medley of more Country classics than you realized you knew and only stopping to rest to let his amazing sister show us what she could do on the piano. The Family played a blinder and WN was generous enough to let Mary Gauthier join in with the final songs of the set. We all went home talkin' Texan.

Shepherds Bush Empire. Tatty - yes. Smelly - yes. Good atmosphere - yes. Proper acoustics and sight-lines - yes. Pulling it down for "redevelopment" - yes. Really. I know, I know.

Rufus, Shepherds Bush. Whatever. Rufus with full band, horn section and backing singers (Martha Wainwright no less) put on a really good show. This is pop, pop-opera, pantomime, music-hall and a whole lotta fun. The highlight was 'Oh What a World' where his Rufusness stripped off (slowly) to reveal a rather fetching g-stringed fairy costume with wings and sparkly glow stick wand - to the screaming delight of the front row. (You had to be there ...) The audience didn't want to go home .."I'm so naughty" he drawled wickedly before his third encore. Craazy.

Bob Dylan, Brixton Academy. And now the Rules of Dylan:

  • Bob plays where he pleases, be in Cardiff or London.
  • Expect set rotation - no promises.
  • "Those that are first shall be last ..." The die-hards who queue all day to be 'front standing' do not necessarily get plum spots each time. This was a five-day residency and sometime the chosen ones were let in from the back of the queue.
  • Go to the Bob Links section on for the complete reviews (and show some respect while you're there, please).
  • Expect a body-search at Brixton.
  • Balcony seats at Brixton are rather good.

Music is meant for places like this. Much better atmosphere = much better gig. Appreciative audience and a bit of Cool Dude interaction – he played a snatch of ‘London Calling’ in honour of the Clash-man who was in that night. Much cheering, so he sang the entire song the following night. The Main Man on keyboards and harmonica throughout – seemed pleased with the evening, though.

Rufus Wainwright, Hammersmith Apollo – early panto.

Warning – this one’s a gusher, so look away now if you’re not a fan.

To Hammersmith for an early Christmas treat – front row seats, too. [The Gods must have been smiling on my booking – rant about internet tickets to come later.] Let’s get the downer over with – already a controversial song, ‘Gay Messiah’ was sung with Rufus/Jesus being crucified. Tacky and tackily obvious, but even worse was the moment when they put a painted mask over his face. Sorry – one level of artifice too many. Can’t see that going down well with Middle America.

Onwards - guest appearance by French & Saunders to “spoil” the Christmas song for Mr Lufa Wetwipe. The rest – this was full on best-of-Rufus-so-far, in extravagant knock’em out mode, from mesmeric piano songs to the camped-up vaudeville of ‘Old Whore’s Diet’ with the band sand-dancing along. Yep, a whole lotta fun.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

2004 - Rockin' Oldies (and a Newbie)

07 October - Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, Royal Festival Hall
12 November - Status Quo, Brentwood Centre
22 December - Josh Groban, Hammersmith Apollo

This is what I imagine the Traveling Wilburys would have been like - really good musicians playing really good music and giving everyone a really great time. Bill's band of seriously professional musicians and singers played for the sheer fun of it - I'd have to list all twelve band members to be fair to one and all. Dead-pan and as laid-back as ever, Bill shunned the limelight but you could tell he was in charge. Surprise of the night - Ronnie Wood shambled onto the stage. It was a case of "Hiya Bill, what you want me to do?" - "Stand there and play, stoopid." Nice one all round.

Status Quo. The Brentwood Cenre must be on about the 'D' or 'E' list of tour categories but, what the hell, it was easy enough to get to. Certainly a dedicated audience and lots of faces being picked picked out by their nibses, Rossi'n'Parfitt. Fan gimmick - blow-up air guitars were handed out among the faithful and held aloft with gusto.

This was a rocking gig - quite literally. You see, the Brentwood Centre is a sports hall and the tiers of seats are pulled out from the surrounding walls. Fair enough when you're sitting down, but as soon as the Quo came on everyone stood up and as they rocked along to "Whatever You Want", the whole structure rocked along too.

Josh Groban. Young Josh hasn't been around as long as the gents mentioned above, but even so his fans have developed their own 'gimmick' - the glow sticks. Oh yes. Went to this as a 'surprise' evening out and was, pleasantly. The boy sure can sing - very strong tenor voice - and a lot of thought had gone into the whole show. The Japanese electro-violin lady was riveting, too.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

2003 - Never look back

15 November – Bob Dylan, Wembley Arena
05 December – Elton John, Wembley Arena

You might think it’s a bad idea to revisit the past, “never look back” and all that, but sometimes the “past” is relative.

In Dylan’s case there is no “past” as such – the Bobster’s music is changing all the time and the way the songs are sung depends on his current mood. Never seen Bob live before, thought it about time I did.

Bob Dylan Inc is a serious business. Grown men devote their lives to his every gig, Oxford dons gather in darkened rooms to listen to rare bootlegs and English professors write books about him. Turning up at Wembley was like stepping back in time – or was it? Sure, there were oldsters weeping as his Bobness mangled ‘Tambourine Man’ with the up-ward inflected whine at the end of each line, but just as many beardies were whooping it up – and there was a large and enthusiastic foreign contingent delighting in the ‘Watchtower’ final encore. Yup, mostly men. Brilliant night, though.

Elton John. Just couldn’t roll back the years on this one. Not Elton’s fault but my expectations were a tad high [see ‘Prehistory’]. Even so, and fair do’s he can really rattle those ivories. Lots of my favourites and some heavenly songs from the ‘West Coast’ album. Good on you, Sir!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Prehistory - dare you look?

Knew you would. Ok, so it's not vast but for me it's a case of getting it down in print for my own records.

The first. You never forget your first time. Lindisfarne playing to their home crowd BITD. Oh yes, a canny neet aalreet.

But your first "hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck"? Early Elton John who had the audience squealing with bliss as he rocked and stomped his way through his early standards, thumping that grand piano with his six-inch platform boots, rainbow collared cape billowing round him. Electrifying - a crowd of us were still wired-up three days later.

And then? An assortment - some of which I really can't remember that well. Ralph McTell; Yes; Camel supported by Genesis (or was it Yes supported by ELO?) (who cares?); the delightfully silly Stackridge; Richard and Linda Thompson; George Melly with his unforgettable "My canary's got circles under his eyes"; Kate (as in mother of Rufus Wainwright) and Anna McGarrigle; John Denver (in the round, if you please) [don't care, the guy was good and had the knack of making Wembley Arena feel like an intimate space]; Simon & Garfunkle; not-too-wrinkly Rolling Stones; Billy Joel; Brian Ferry; Paul Simon ..

Well, you did ask. Can you honestly say your conscience is clean? Thought not.