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.