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.