Reviews 2010

Reviews from 2010

Age of the Dinosaur
Dinosaur Jr @ The O2 Shepherd’s Bush 18.05.10

I think it’s probably been 10 years since I was in a mosh-pit proper. These days myself and the paunchy, greying late-30 something & 40 somethings stand near the sound desk swaying gently, nodding our heads or tapping our feet, perhaps singing the words under our breath. Somehow around the encore of the Dinosaur Jr gig, the young hooligan who had dragged me along (a good 8 years younger than me) had convinced me to join him in the sweaty, roiling mass of committed wreckers. I have to say I quite enjoyed it.

By the time we’d elbowed our way through the half-suited, half scruffy-bastard crowd Built to Spill were midway through their set. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a support band so well attended and despite the fact that personally I wasn’t that familiar with them, the majority of the crowd seemed to be avid fans – the guy behind me pretty much sang accompaniment to every other number (in his middle aged nodding-along-at-the-back kinda way). Doug Martsch and Co are clearly much respected for their brand of carefully crafted, reflective & slightly miserable, jangly-guitar-based American indie rock. To my mind they lacked some energy in places, but Martsch has a magnetic (if jiggly-headed) presence, with a beard you could lose a badger in … and the songs had interesting lyrical hooks that had obviously resonated with a large part of the male audience. Understandable, since most of the songs seemed to deal with relationship break-downs and other existentialist self-analysis.

After a few ales in the inevitable plastic pint-pots, we had positioned ourselves dead-centre of the floor about 15ft forward of the mixing desk, so as to appreciate the optimum sound from J Mascis’s impressive triple-stacked Marshall rig. So, obviously we were quite disappointed when a howling over-driven morass of fuzz and barely audible vocals actually came out from it when Dinosaur Jr kicked-off. This was pretty strange really as Built to Spill’s sound had been near perfect not 20 minutes earlier!

I couldn’t identify the first 3 songs – either because they were from 2009’s Farm & 2007’s Beyond and not yet on my radar; or possibly because the sound really was that terrible! Anyway, somehow the hooligan convinced me that maybe if we moved further forward the sound would get better. Now either a) it was better another 20ft closer or b) the Sound Engineer pulled his finger out and sorted out the sound or c) the booze was starting to have an effect … either way by the time Mascis cranked out Out There the sound seemed perfect and I was pretty much transported back 15 or so years when I first heard Where You Been? (I seem to remember there as a huge lightning storm outside which added to the atmospher … It was certainly better than the fairly low-key lighting rig that accompanied the gig anyways!)

By the time Feel the Pain and the more recent Pieces had been executed, the distinctive sound – centered around heroic levels of gain, much pleasing feedback and distortion, melodic guitar & slacker nasally-whiny vocals – had all done their job.

FreakScene still sounded as fresh and visceral as the first time I’d heard it and the whole of the mosh-pit erupted, spoiling for some mischief. The hooligan disappeared into it’s depths and before I knew it so had I … by the time the band re-appeared for the ‘metal-thrashathon’ that was the encore, we didn’t know ourselves any longer.

J Mascis is probably one of the most interesting guitarists of his generation mixing a number of genres into his melting pot of over-driven Fender madness … I like to think that if Hendrix had not joined the 27 Club, they might have done some interesting work together … and whenever I have seen Mascis live, I am always reminded of the inventiveness and sheer audacity of the guitar-driven soundscape that characterizes both their music.

Overall the gig could be summed up as follows: Terrible sound, claustrophobic antiquated venue, over-priced gassy-as-feck beer, minimal set & basic light show, sweaty middle-aged crowd, slightly-less-sweaty middle-aged, grey haired, paunchy guitarist playing noisy indie rock. All these things should have combined for a truly dreadful experience, but somehow me and the hooligan left with a big grin plastered over our phizogs. Not quite Just Like Heaven – which unfortunately they didn’t play – but a pretty good night out all in all.

From Coast to Astro Coast
Surfer Blood @ The Garage 12.05.10

One of the the many impressive things about Surfer Blood is their phlegmatic presence on stage. I mean these guys don’t look like they’re far into their 20s – yet their breadth of musical influences and their laid-back command of the stage was quite frankly … unexpected.

It might have something to do with the fact that they have an uncommonly good dozen or so songs to take from their recently released album Astro Coast. It also might have something to do with the fact that they’ve toured all over the UK and Europe despite only really being together for a little over a year.

The support slot was ably filled by L.A. based, West Coast americans Funeral Party. As one would expect there was plenty of energy and intensity about the band, the crowd warmed up, and the stage nicely set for Surfer Blood.

Hailing from the East Coast of Florida, Surfer Blood has something about them that immediately pins them as an American, jangly, indie-guitar outfit following in the footsteps Pavement or The Shins – coupled with that particular kookiness and idiosyncratic inclusion of British indie influences that only an American, jangly-indie-guitar band seems capable of doing these days … oh and of course the Beach Boys!

Numbers such as the opener Fast Jabroni followed in the tradition of the aforementioned bands – the jangly, quirky, overdriven, fuzzy guitar riffs under-pinning the Wilson-esque falsetto vocal harmonies of JP Pitts. Similar sounding Floating Vibes built upon this fusion of influences, and with the gentle friendly banter between songs, the Surfers had the crowd fully engaged.

However, for me, the band came into their own when they navigated into darker waters, on tracks such as Harmonix and the impressively bleak Anchorage. All sorts of moody introverted influences sprung to mind – from Interpol (and therefore I guess Joy Division) to the Jesus & Mary Chain. In fact the second half of the set seemed to paddle around these darker vibrations, with the only patch of fairer weather being the melodic, over-driven, West Coast pop anthem that is Swim.

I have to say I enjoyed these moodier numbers and the finale of Catholic Pagans concluded with a wall-of-distortion reminiscent of the JMC at their height.

The encore Slow Jabroni was probably unnecessary, but gave all the band members a little more time to enjoy the appreciations of the crowd. If you get a chance to see the Surfers (who incidentally don’t surf much!) then I’d recommend catching them this Summer.

JP Pitts and Tom Fekete (lead Guitar) were actually good enough to do a short interview with the LMFM crew prior to the gig – so keep an eye on the LMFM Blog for an insight into touring as an American band in Europe (and presumably back to America after the festival season!)

Electro Pop Pomp & Ceremony
HURTS @ KOKO, 10.05.10

The many-balconied, opulently restored interior of KOKO provided a perfect platform for the theatrical climax of the NME Radar Tour. Electro-pop princes HURTS headlined on the night, but were ably supported by the equally poppy, if slightly more rocky Everything Everything. Unfortunately we missed Darwin Deez as we were actually shooting an interview with HURTS (which will be available very soon on the LMFM site!)

Everything Everything were in full flood when we made it into the main area, already packed to the rafters (and there are a lot of tiers to fill at KOKO) with punters who were eager to see for themselves the 3 bands being championed by NME. Everything Everything’s new single Schoolin’ was well received by the crowd, who were generally in ebullient form. The band themselves were making good use of the unique space that is KOKO and the light show was pretty spectacular (to be fair to NME they had put together a state of the art sound and lights rig for all three bands). To my own ears I have to admit that despite all the frenetic energy on stage, I didn’t feel that Everything Everything had anything new to offer and one of my fellow punters summed it up by suggesting that the last 3 tracks all sounded very similar (in fact we mistook the current single a few times!) However, we were in a minority as the crowd gave them a rousing send off. As I said the lights and energy were fairly impressive and to be honest that’s half the experience.

Having interviewed HURTS earlier I had been struck by both their maturity AND their breadth of musical influences ( as well as their obvious musical talent). Having played in various incarnations both together and separately in other bands, Theo Hutchraft and Adam Anderson have had plenty of experience in really honing their live presence – only playing the ‘right’ gigs for their sound and really crafting every nuance. From the moment the curtain lifted (it was that kind of entrance) the atmosphere rolled off the stage in the same way the dry ice would have billowed out at an 70s rock gig! Silver Lining is a classic opener in every sense, showcasing both the soaring vocals, the powerfully structured keyboards … and also the entirely appropriate addition of an operatic backing singer which, with the many-balconied opulent splendour of Kokos, only served to highlight the pomp and ceremony of this electro-pop tour de force.

The rather truncated set – which also consisted of songs the calibre of Wonderful Life where the early-80s pop influences are more apparent – ended with the next single to be released, the stylish Better Than Love. Again this was perfectly positioned and executed, with Theo’s vocal presence reaching its peak and powerfully filling the venue from the ‘Gods’ to the stalls. The soundscape of HURTS has to be experienced live, as it really filled every multi-tiered level of KOKO with the vocals floating adroitly over the atmospheric synths, pounding drums and intricate keyboards.

There are some obvious comparisons to early 80s pop acts and some less obvious, the whole style of the band has been carefully thought through from their haircuts to their sharp suits – and Theo’s trademark comb that he twirls round his fingers. However one thing remains, HURTS are definitely a commanding presence live and with the right kind of environment they are breath-taking. If they can take this level of performance to their upcoming festival slots over the summer, then they will definitely be a highlight of 2010.

The single ‘Better Than Love’ will be released on 24th May 2010 – watch this space for an exclusive LMFM interview with the band.

The New Empire
Tom Mckean & the Emperors, Water Rats, 07.04.10

So after a gap of almost 4 months, the Emperors are back. Kicking off at the Water Rats with their first gig of 2010, complete with relatively new stand up bass player Jon Parker.

Ol’ favourite, Ol’ Fashioned Morphine with the Emperor’s mix of Tom Waits-esque sublime vocal harmonies – and general jazz-craziness from Andy Simms anachronistic clarinet – stamped a lyrical intention on the evening from which the Emperors never looked back.

Tom’s slightly camp, slightly manic, bible-belt-preacher-gone-bad was it’s usual eye-catching (and ear-catching) entertaining self. As the Emperor’s cruised into the beautifully crafted number that is This is the Year you could feel that the band were really getting into their stride after a 4 month live performance hiatus. It’s no surprise to learn that this will be a big year for the Emperor’s as they have grown in stature from a number of recent high-profile gigs – from supporting Tony Christie at Cadogan Hall, to a magical winter performance at St. Giles in the Field late last year.

By the time the Emperor’s went onto One Thing on My Mind with its delightfully wistful clarinet, the hairs on the back of my neck were up, and I remembered why I have enjoyed seeing Tom and his troupe of accomplished musicians over the last few years.

In fact Fever sums up the essence of TMK … it’s a song that sounds so good, and is so damn catchy, that you are convinced you have heard it before and that it’s a cover. It’s not – it’s just a fucken great song, that once you’ve heard it you can’t help singing along! Following this up with This is a War and the pretty rocky version of A Little Something, really was a coup de grace and the crowd had grown considerably in numbers from the punters at the back of the bar coming in to listen to TMK’s unique brand of offbeat, jazzy, dark and moody countrified rock.

Jon Parker, the newest addition to the Emperors, and already an integral part of their sound, finished off the set with a devilishly great rendition of the Tom Waits classic “Way Down in the Hole” – somewhere between Get Carter’s smooth groove and Danny Thompson’s jazz-inspired bass complexities. As usual Andy Simms stole the show with a quite outrageous free-jazz outburst on the tenor sax – but by then the crowd were in the palms of Tom’s Mephistophelean hands … and the only real complaint was that this marked the end of another memorable set!

On chatting to Tom after the gig it’s no surprise that things are afoot chez les Emperor’s and we can expect a full album released in the near future (recorded last year in Texas with Grammy nominated producer John Congleton ). Long live the Emperor(s)

Lil-Ya For Ever?
Lily Allen @ Wembley Stadium 10.09.10

If I was truthfully honest I was probably a bit more excited about the prospect of Lily Allen rather than Muse. But to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from either … the missus was very keen to see Lily though as she a) likes her music and b) is very similarly mid-term pregnant.

That being said, I have to admit, on a stereo I kinda like her street-girly-rap-kinda-sung thing … but I wasn’t sure how it was gonna work in a stadium. Add to that, the fact that she’s cancelled most of her tour and is only a playing a few gigs (am I cynical in thinking ‘contractually obliged’ to play?) I’m not sure she really wanted to play the warm-up act to Muse, and what seemed like a good idea 6 months ago, seemed less of a good idea when you’re four or five months pregnant.

To give her her due she sang pretty well and her streetwise-saucy lyrics were well delivered with a band of competent (but uncharismatic) session musicians backing her up. But there wasn’t much connection with the audience, she almost looked a bit bored, and had soon jettisoned her 4″ heels ( what I guess might have at one time been called “Fuck me Pumps” – except when worn by a pregnant woman they just kinda look uncomfortable and inappropriate!!) Even her usual mad cavorting dances were kept to a bare minimum – probably because of worries about her “pregnancy support tights” gathering about her ankles! To be fair she said as much herself.

Even the classic chas-n-dave-singalonga-hits “Fuck You” and “Not Fair” failed to really engage Lily herself – she seemed dwarfed by the stadium and frequently isolated from her band of unemotional session musicians ( although the guitarist made some attempts to engage her … I may have even been supposed to recognise him as an ageing rock legend … anyone know who he actually was?)

The highlight was undoubtedly when rapper Professor Green took to the stage for their duet “Just be Good to Green” … but even then Lilly skulked at the back of the set like a little lost (and tired) girl in her older sister’s too-big dress. By the end of the song though, with the end of the set in sight maybe, she did perk up for a bit and for some reason I thought they were both going to go into a massive (and unexpected) Baby D “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” duet … which would have been awesome … unfortunately that didn’t materialise, and after “The Fear” she picked up her high-heeled pumps and high-tailed it off the stage. I think the timing was right for both parties by then though – her and the crowd.

To be fair to Lily it can’t have been easy doing a warm-up act for Muse at any time, and I could imagine on a sunny afternoon at Glastonbury or somewhere more intimate like Ireland’s Electric Picnic, I think her songs and cheeky, more endearing qualities would really have worked (although i confess I’m more of a Kate Nash fan at the end of the day!) In summary, she sang OK & she looked OK, but the sassy lyrics & dub rhythms just weren’t ‘BIG’ enough for Wembley. She did look a bit lost (or bored) and I think she was glad to get it over with … fair play for sticking with her commitment but I’m not sure it was a great gig to go out on for her (given that’s it now on the live music front until new baby has arrived!) I don’t think she lost any fans but I doubt she gained many new ones … that being said the missus enjoyed her and thought her very plucky for playing the gig whilst 5 months-or-so pregnant. And she liked her big white dress and thought she looked pretty good. No small compliment from my old lady to another woman – I can tell you!

Not sure what will happen in the future to Lil … will she go on forever and become the Noughties Brit institution she has occassionally threatened to be? Or will she just transform herself into being a settled mum and disappear into contented All Saints-esque obscurity once the patter of tiny feet are heard around her home. On the strength of the Wembley gig I’m tempted to say the latter … but with someone as mercurial as the progeny of Keith Allen… you never know!

Queens of the Space Age
Muse @ Wembley Stadium 10.09.10

Matt Bellamy is a chronic show-off. No seriously he really is – if he’s not wailing like an operatic diva, he’s doing Eddie Van Halen hammer-on solos, or playing a complicated sonata on the piano. Having said all that, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be worshipping both the brand of alternative, swirling atmospheric rock that Muse produce, or loving the egocentric and extrovert showboating of Matt Bellamy (or MB) himself. After all I’m a Hendrix fan and there was no bigger show-off in the guitar-world.

But in all honesty I DON’T like either MB or Muse much – “Showbiz” remains one of the few CDs I’ve ever taken back and got a refund from the record shop (prolly not before ripping “Sunburn” of course as duly instructed by the first ever Apple iTunes ad which featured that song and was in my opinion the only decent song on the whole CD!) With the exception of less than half-a-dozen songs over the last 10 years or so – I still think that there’s a massive element of Emperor’s new clothes about Muse and their music. It’s just not that good if you ask me.

So it’s even stranger that I ended up at THE gig of the year (according to some) – the sell-out Muse concert at Wembley. I guess for once “Gig” seems an inappropriate term, maybe “Opera” would have been more accurate a description! I have to admit I had free tickets from LMFM otherwise I doubt I would have gone. But to be fair I’m glad I did – if only to see what all the fuss was about. I’d heard that they put on a fantastic show and there was much talk of the silver ‘blimp’ UFO that had been banned from Tea in the Park and Glastonbury this year, but was rumoured to be making an appearance tonight at Wembley. Having never been to Wembley before 2010, this was the THIRD time I’d been this year and I was quite interested how different the vibe would be for a rock concert as opposed to an FA Cup final.

I missed the first two support acts but caught Lily Allen, who made a brave effort, but ultimately seemed more under a contractual obligation to play the warm up set, rather than any real desire to support Muse or play Wembley.

After a ludicrously camp and rather cheesy stage invasion by a sort of Orwellian-mob (complete with neo-fascists flags) MB & Co appeared on stage and launched into a gusty rendition of “Uprising”. MB himself was resplendent in a silver lamé space-suit which was a close-match in the tasteless stakes to the truly unspeakable double-headed guitar (which thankfully made only one other appearance!) I’m reliably informed this is a handmade “Casinocaster” Manson for those who want one – frankly i wouldn’t play one if you paid me … but then again 70,000 people had indeed paid a good wedge to see MB play his I suppose!

As the band went straight into the impressive “Supermassive Blackhole” I was struck by the whole aspect of the ‘show’. There is no doubting that MB is a virtuoso performer – but what the whole band really really understand is the concept of a ‘performance’ … Maybe it was no small coincidence that their first album was called “Showbiz”. They also have clearly learned what only a few bands before them – such as Queen or U2 – have learnt; that the crowd love a show. And the crowd will pay handsomely for the experience. That explained the broad cross-section of people at the gig itself that spanned ages, social demographics and musical tribes. By the time MB had sat down to his piano and was bashing out the intricate tocata of “Newborn” most of the crowd were spellbound – the amazing starship-of-a-stage, the mosaic of video-screens in the side of the starship, the incredible lighting towers, the smoke and pyrotechnics had all worked their magic.

Except on me. I felt like I was watching from outside and as tens of thousands of tiny pink-white arms thrust up into the air and beat time to the music, it was an incredible sight – but personally I felt somewhat disassociated from the music. Even MB’s no doubt impressive use of his techno-guitars producing the frankly amazing sounds that punctuate his spectacular guitar solos … all sounded a bit samey after a while.

Worse was to come though … I have an aversion to MB’s operatic falsetto at the best of times. But coupled with an extended grandstand performance on the grand piano and I was ready to leave. To be honest I’m not sure why I didn’t … but at some point the the silver peacock seemed to settle down and went into a frankly beautiful rendition of ‘Feeling Good’ – a song made famous by Nina Simone amongst others. I had to admit that was pretty good and it kept me in my seat. Even during some ludicrous kettle-drumming and more hideous guitar showmanship and overdriven-bass nonsense as the trio were transported into the midst of the crowd on a levitating spaceship! It all looked fantastic but most of the music in all honesty felt like … padding.

Maybe by this time though I was getting used to it … and when MB went down the catwalk for another extended OTT guitar performance, ending in a strutting delivery of AC/DC’s “Back In Black” I have to admit I was actually enjoying his antics a bit. I even thought they might go into an awesome Hendrix medley at one point … but they actually followed with “House of the Rising Sun” which was sung mostly (badly!) by the crowd. However, I had to admit that the ambience and general crowd feeling had gone up a notch or two … and so by the time the classic “Time is Running Out” was pumped out of the impressive Wembely sound-system … I think most people were thoroughly in ‘the zone’. Even me.

The encore of the acoustic “Soldier’s Poem” followed by 70,000 people waving lighters and mobile phone screens was actually breathtaking and would have taken some beating. That is, unless you have a 40ft diameter silver UFO to float from behind stage and then drop a silver-suited astronaut-cum-trapeze artist from the ballon and walk it into the middle of 20,000 or so people in the crowd in front of the stage. That will beat it every time. I have to say it was right over my head at one point and it was just fucking awesome! The second encore, consisting of easily their best song IMHO “Plug In Baby” was by then just the icing on the cake.

On the way home I was struck by the experience of the gig and I reckon, leaving aside truly horrendous space guitars, ridiculous silver-lame Liberace suits and the levitating platform, it was definitely something worth seeing. It was the best show bar none I have ever seen put on by a rock band. They clearly knew their business and like Queen before them – who they shamelessly follow into this arena of rock opera – they are amazing crowd-pleasers. But one thing remains – it was the best show I’d been to, but NOT the best gig. The music still needs to be at the heart of a great gig in my opinion – and even though Queen or even U2 these days are not necessarily my cup of tea, I’d have to admit they’d have at least a dozen or more absolute classic tracks to draw on. Muse by reckoning have only a handful of real classics and I don’t think they have quite earned the deification that many seem ready to heap on them … yet.

So, in summary:


© R M Lippiett 2010

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Friday, May 14th, 2010 copywriting, livemusic