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.