Tuesday 27 November 2007

Human League, Royal Concert Hall

Tonight the soulless Concert Hall. We are off to the 30th anniversary of the Human League and the 25th ish anniversary of their classic album Dare.

Support is by a band called OneTwo who I had never heard of, which is surprising as its basically Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Claudia Bruecken of Propaganda. Their competent if a little dull set consists of mostly tracks from their album 'Instead', but they also play Orchestral Manoeuvres classic 'Messages', although not as well as the band themselves did it earlier this year and they finish with Propaganda's 'Duel'. They are very well received by the crowd, despite Claudia's appalling dancing.

Another track they played was a cover of 'Club Country' by the Associates. This was done as a tribute to Billy MacKenzie who would have been 50 this year had he not committed suicide in 1997. MacKenzie who was already suffering with depression, overdosed on prescription drugs in his father's garden shed, after the death of his mother.

So to the main event and a huge backdrop of half the original Dare cover, of the three surviving members, covers the stage. Phil Oakey comes on stage, looking more and more like Christopher Walken in manner and dress, each time I see him. They launch straight into Dare, in its entity and in order. The problem is, it's immediately an anticlimax because the first three tracks of the album are well known live favourites anyway so the occasion doesn't really happen until 'Darkness' is played. Now had they thrown in a few pre-Dare rarities first then that would have whipped up the expectation straight away. How about opening with something like 'Girls And Boys' which was the first League Mark 2 single anyway.

'Do or Die' is my favourite track off Dare and I haven't heard them play this since the Hysteria tour in err.. 1985 was it? but tonight it falls a little flat. It doesn't help that they seem to prolong the instrumental bit in the middle and Phil and the girls disappear off stage for no apparent reason.

It’s side two of the vinyl that makes the night. The three tracks that merge together on record, the brief 'Get Carter' (that Phil milks for all its worth), the fantastically haunting 'I Am The Law' and a sensational 'Seconds', with great graphics. For the first time they crank the bass up and you can feel the walls of the auditorium throb. You want them to stop right there, rewind and do all three of them again. Brilliant.

Throughout the crowd are very static (standing but barely dancing) and very quiet, none of which is helped by the staid venue. The bands last three visits to Nottingham have all been to Rock City, so it seems an odd decision to downgrade to the Concert Hall this time. I only saw the last of the Rock City gigs in December 2005 but the atmosphere was fantasic. People's attitudes are different at places like Rock City, tonight you get the impression that people have nipped out to grab a concert in the gap between Coronation Street and their evening cocoa and they'll be really pissed off if they're not back in time for the Ten O'clock News.

'Love Action' and 'Don't You Want Me' round off Dare and then we get a totally instrumental Hard Times, purely so the gang can do a clothing change. Then we have a run through of some of the hits starting with the Lebanon and finishing with 'Fascination' and 'Mirror Man'. Regrettably there are no surprises.

The encore starts with a storming 'Being Boiled' and concludes with the immensely annoying 'Together in Electric Dreams'. Which is not even a Human League track but they always play it.

Oakey's voice was excellent throughout and the band weren't bad but still an awful lot was on tape but the three best tracks of the night were by miles 'I Am The Law', 'Seconds' and 'Being Boiled', unfortuantely non of them feature the girls. Who were their usual dancing, singing slightly off-key, selves with numerous costume changes. Perhaps too late for a career move but time to go solo Phil?

The problem with playing your classic album first, as I discovered with Orchestral Manoeuvres this year, is that whatever you play next is going to be an anti-climax. Also, although I thought it would, playing the album in order doesn't work either because there's no surprise, everyone knows what's coming next. What both bands should have done for a retro-tour like this is play it as if it really was the Dare tour (or the Architecture & Morality Tour) e.g. play what you would have played in 1982 on that original tour. Which in the Leagues case would have meant drawing on stuff from 'Travelogue' and 'Reproduction'. They could possibly get away with a few tracks that were close to that period e.g. 'Fascination', 'Mirror Man' and why do they never play the wonderful 'Love You Too Much'? It just doesn't seem right when you mix in stuff from twenty years later. Just my opinion.

In 2005 they did a greatest hits set, is there any point in doing the same thing every year? Go on surprise us. Just because 'Dare' sold millions doesn't make it a classic album, it's a classic album simply because it is! If you see what I mean. 'Travelogue' is a classic too, now there's a thought...

Go on Phil do it, 'Dare' To Be different, I can see it now...

'A crow and a baby had an affair...'

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Pigeon Detectives, Rock City

I've been stood up by my mate (again) who's decided to drive over to Birmingham to see the Foo Fighters for 2414th time rather than join me at the Pigeon Detectives. Since we got tickets they've suddenly become popular, which is a shame and the gig is now sold out, whereas a few months ago they couldn't give the tickets away. Daughter is keen to go and because my mate isn't now going I've manage to buy his ticket off him for her. So it's Daughter and me tonight, no L. She says she's not keen on them Pigeon Fanciers; she liked what she heard of them in the Ropewalk one night but not when she'd sobered up afterwards.

I ride home and then run to meet L from pilates. I persuade Doggo into doing a loop around Wollaton before heaving up to the Tennis Centre. Unfortunately we lose one of his flashing lights off his running jacket; well he loses it, too much pushing through bushes. We retrace our steps to look for it. This upsets Doggo who doesn't like it when we repeat a route, lazy creature.

L whips up some excellent sausage, mash, and onions and then we're off to the gig at Rock City. Daughter seems to have her pulling gear on or perhaps she just wants to look good in the mosh pit; although she's not shown any inclination to crowd surf before but she probably just didn’t want to in front of her mother. Hope she behaves herself or else I could be in trouble with L.

We miss the first support band, the much hyped One Night Only, who I'd like to have seen but we catch most of the set by The Wallbirds. The place is packed and we're in the Maximo Park position, stage right, so the view isn't brilliant. The Wallbirds are kind of country-rock that reminds me of Fratellis but with potential. One of their songs seemed to consist of just a guitar, a hi-hat cymbal and a pair of sticks, assisted by a lot of clapping from the crowd. They're certainly energetic and it rubs off on the crowd. Possibly one to watch out for.

In between bands we move to a better position on the steps, where Daughter has to battle the drunks and some over enthusiastic fans but we have a good view. The beer throwing isn't too bad tonight which is a good job as Daughter has opted to keep her white sweat-top on rather than wow a pigeon fancier with her d├ęcolletage.

"Hello Nottinum"

Winning no prizes for pronunciation here come tonight headliners. All dressed in leather jackets the Pigeons energetically take flight into their breakthrough single 'I Found Out' which grazed the lower reaches of the charts earlier this year and is now set for a re-release.

The band, lead by their lunatic of a front man, Matt Bowman, then proceed to work their way through their debut album 'Wait For Me' and assorted b-sides. Hammering out their high octane, pop songs as the crowd jump, surge and crowd surf in front of them. I had expected it to be an almost exclusively under 18's crowd but it isn't, it's mainly students and twenty something's with a few oldies like me thrown in. Because the band have only recently become popular the youngsters must have been out manoeuvred on the tickets.

Music aside all the entertainment comes from Mental Matt. He swings his microphone above his head on its cable; I hope they've got plenty of spares. For some reason his performance reminds me of Alvin Stardust. Two songs in he takes off his leather jacket, to reveal a black t-shirt and launches himself into the crowd. He emerges with the t-shirt in shreds, pre-arranged me thinks, pre-ripped. Some ego. Already I've discarded the Alvin comparisons and now I'm wondering whether he's taken lessons on stage presence from Justin of the Darkness but then suddenly he goes a bit bashful on us. He resists the temptation to go bare-chested, as Justin would have done, and puts his jacket back on. Thank God for that. Then for the next song he swaps it for another t-shirt. We're four songs in and there have already been more costumes changes than at a Madonna gig.

Matt The Mouth continues to leap around the stage and the crowd sing-along-a-Matt. His and the band's energy is reflected and magnified by the crowd, which in turn spurs him on even more. He has the crowd eating out of his hand and he loves it; oh how much does he love it. Then he surfs into the crowd and is tossed around by a sea of hands. When he returns to the stage he has lost his microphone. Some feat when it's on a bloody long cable.

For his next trick, he catches a beer can that is thrown from the back of hall, he looks stunned he's caught it but he remains cool and casually drinks from it, then spits it out over the crowd before hurling the can back from where it came. The man's a one-man cabaret act. He spends the rest of the gig trying to catch another one, plenty are thrown, but he cannot repeat the feat. He regularly encores the spitting though, he's frequently drinking beer, or water and regurgitating it straight back out, either up in the air or over the audience. Not very endearing. If this is how he drinks I'd hate to see him eat.

A shoe makes it one stage and as Bowman makes a joke about it, it becomes the cue for lots of other shoes and article of clothing are thrown on stage. This isn't a f****** jumble sale he protests but he likes the belt and says he'll keep it.

The band who hail from Rothwell, near Leeds, and have a certain edgy Northern charm about them, nearly cause a riot at one stage when they threatened to play 'Marching On Together', Leeds United's anthem, while the guitarist's effects pedal is fixed. Luckily for them not enough people are clued up or else they'd probably have got bottled off.

They close with 'I'm Always Right' followed by 'I'm Not Sorry', their first release, which only emerged in March this year. Which goes to show how far they've come in a mere eight months.

There's no encore, I think after an hour they simply ran out of material and energy. Their problem is that their simple formula can wear a little thin. You can get the feeling that you've heard some of the tracks before even when you haven't. Three chord riffs, a bass player who only plays one string and caveman lyrics about drink, girls, and rowdiness, there isn't anything particularly original about them but they do do it rather well. I heard someone describe them as McFly with balls, quite.

Three songs from the end they played a track called 'Emergency'. I thought this was a cover but it turns out to be a new track of theirs. It's one of the best tracks of the night and could be a sign of the diversity they'll need to develop in their repertoire if they are to kick on from here. We don't get anything profound or enduring from them tonight but you do get fun, plenty of fun. Pure trash. Excellent. The best place to be tonight was probably down the front with the pogoing students and had I not been restraining Daughter I might just have joined them. Now where's me shoes.

Show over, the appreciative crowd, and Daughter, go home happy and singing. How many lads will be smooth talking their girlfriends tonight with Matt's sweet nothings, 'You know I love you, take off your clothes, its alright'. Daughter is humming along too but she has mangled together a Killers/Pigeons remix in her head, for some reason.