Thursday 31 December 2009

Favourite Gigs Of 2009

Second part of my review of the year, my favourite ten gigs of the past year.

It was so difficult this year to pick just ten!

So honourable mentions to the following who didn't make it:- In particularly Doves at Coventry Kasbah, it was good to have them back; The Joy Formidable at Derby Royal, always excellent and getting better all the time; That Petrol Emotion back after 15 years away and still sounding good at the Rescue Rooms and even to Marilyn Manson who impressed me recently at the Nottingham Arena.

Also regrettably no place in my ten for Bloc Party, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Brakes, Art Brut, The Hours, The Rakes, Official Secrets Act and everyone we saw at the Leeds Festival or on the Shockwaves NME Tour.


10. The Editors, Sheffield Academy, Thursday 22nd October

Finally after years of trying I get to see Editors and they're oddly flat or was it the crowd... I'll soon find out at Lincoln in March.

Read My Review

9. The Gaslight Anthem, Rock City, Tuesday 3rd March

A high energy performance from a band who show that they're a lot more than just Springteen wannabes.

Read My Review

8. The Horrors, Rescue Rooms, Thursday 3rd December

Yes believe the hype, reinvention of the year.

Read My Review

7. Gary Numan, Rock City, Wednesday 2nd December

The Pleasure Principal in its entirety is a pure pleasure and old man Gary gatecrashes my top ten.

Read My Review

6. Red Light Company, Bodega Social, Monday 16th March

Pulsating drums, meaty riffs and plenty of terrific songs, full of irresistible hooks, one of the best new bands of the year.

Read My Review

5. Handsome Furs, Brainwash Festival, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, Saturday 31st October

We trekked all the way up to Leeds for a late night performance by these guys, in front of a rapidly thinning crowd, a closed bar and the venue's cleaning staff but it was well worth the effort.

Read My Review

4. The View, Rescue Rooms, Saturday 24th January

Astedwae ittlae ejaysdae, the View manage to complete their set and show that when they're not wasted that there are very few better live bands.

Read My Review

3. Maximo Park, Rock City, Wednesday 20th May

The albums are probably getting duller but live they just seem to get better and better.

Read My Review

2. Frank Turner, Rock City, Sunday 18th October

Who'd have thought that one of the most mental gigs at Rock City this year would belong to Frank Turner but it did. Vive La Frank.

Read My Review

1. Frightened Rabbit, The Musician, Leicester, Sunday 29th March

Frightened Rabbit are ace anyway but acoustically unplugged, as they were in Leicester, just took everything to an even higher level. So gig of the year.

Read My Review

Thursday 17 December 2009

Marilyn Manson, Nottingham Arena

We’re off down the Arena to see Brian tonight. Somehow I always end up at the bloody Arena just before Christmas. I can’t say that I’ve ever really been a fan of our Bry, better known as Marilyn Manson, so when I was talked into seeing him, I had to do a bit of research to get me up to speed because I only really knew a few of his tracks.

Then on the eve of the gig, there were rumours going around that it may not happen and suggestions (by me) that they might consider switching it to the Rescue Rooms because the ticket sales had been so poor. Suppose he is over forty now and his bubble did seem to burst a few years ago. The Arena was bizarre choice anyway, particularly as the rest of his tour consists of Academys, with 2500-3000 capacities. Consequently the 8000 capacity Arena is not even half full tonight.

Support is from a band called esOterica, which sounds like a sports drink. They are from Croydon and have a lead singer who has quite a big opinion of himself. Correction, a very big opinion of himself. His over confident stage presence, to be fair, goes down well with crowd. If somebody had just walked in off the street and had no idea who was playing, they’d think this lot were headlining. Their set is good though, full of energy and enthusiasm. Their sound a touch industrial and a bit heavier than I expect even Marilyn to be. Reasonably impressed.

Once the support band have finished the stage is hidden behind a large black curtain which is a bit annoying as I like to see all the kit being setup and helps pass the time between bands. The curtain stays up when the lights go out. Then strange noises and a lot of smoke start to emanate from behind it. If this was to keep you in suspense they needn’t have bothered because once the curtain has dropped and the band are well into the swing of ‘Cruci-Fiction in Space’ you still can’t see anything because of the denseness of the smoke. It must be several minutes before someone emerges from of the gloom wearing a pair of red laser gloves which he fires at the crowd. It may or may not be the man himself.

As the song ends and the mist subsides, yep it’s him. The man clearly still has presence stage although it does seem to be accompanied by a bit of a beer belly these days.

One thing I’ve learnt by researching his music is that he certainly has some good songs and his second one tonight ‘Disposable Teens’, shows how surprisingly catchy some of them are. That said, he’s not known as a crowd pleaser for his song selection, often preferring the obscure album track to the big hit and he’s no exception tonight. They are many notable exceptions from the set but I for one, being a big fan of the obscure oldie, shouldn’t complain.

Visually though, he keep us busy, employing a number of costume changes, well mainly hats and jackets, all of which seemed to be quickly discarded into the crowd at the front. There are fewer costumes and certainly less razzmatazz than I was expecting but he did still possess an interesting selection of gadgets and lights to supplement his act.

Earlier this year a lot of people walked out of the Legends of Motown concert because the sound at the Arena was so awful, but I doubt that would ever happen at a ‘proper’ gig and Mazza may just have found the solution to the Arena’s awful acoustics. If you scream 'f*** you' at the roof, often enough and loud enough, as he does on 'The Love Song' eventually the sound reverberates back. Sorted. Works a treat too with the multiple cries of 'F*** It' on the following 'Irresponsible Hate Anthem'. As you can tell, so far it's a nice family show.

Although it’s a tour to promote his seventh studio album, ‘High End Of Low’, the majority of the set is pulled from his most famous albums, 1998’s ‘Mechanical Animals’ and 2000’s ‘Holywood: In the Shadow of the Valley of Death’. There are just three songs from the new album tonight. One of which is a nice little romantic ditty called 'Pretty As A Swastika', Mazza showing all his usual charm. Another is the wonderful ‘Devour’, which could almost be described as mellow.

The album is said to be a step back in the right direction after his previous one ‘Eat Me Drink Me’ bombed and nothing is played from that tonight. A lot of this is credited to the return of long time guitarist and co-songwriter Twiggy Ramirez who didn’t work on that particular record. Don’t know if they fell out or not but they appear to be best buddies again tonight.

Going through his back catalogue has enabled me to unearth the absolute gems that are the moody ‘Coma’ songs, ‘Coma White’ and ‘Coma Black’. I couldn’t tell you for certain whether it was just ‘Coma White’ tonight or whether he wove a bit of ‘Black’ in there as well, but it was the highlight of the evening for me.

There were also several heavier, more growling numbers, notably the stuff from his ‘Antichrist Superstar’ album, although he gives it a longer more expletive filled title but tracks such as ‘Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World’ and ‘Little Horn’ leave me largely unmoved.

A few expletives apart, I thought Manson was rather well-behaved tonight, there was actually less swearing that that provided by the support band, there were of course plenty of drugs references but this also included a lecture against their use, maybe serious, maybe not, as he launched in to popular ‘The Dope Show’.

He obviously adapts his props to where he is, draping himself in the Union flag at one stage and even bringing on Robin Hood at one point. ‘Robbing from the bitch and giving to the whore’ he explains. Ok so perhaps there was more bad language than I thought.

With the excellent ‘Rock is Dead’ we’re clearly heading towards the conclusion and he closes with a couple of covers, not ‘Personal Jesus’ or ‘Tainted Love’, we get ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and Patti Smith’s ‘Rock n Roll Nigger’. As we were saying afterwards, no one really admits to liking Patti Smith but everybody seems to cover her songs.

After which it wasn’t so much an exit as a disappearance, with the smoke and the darkness it was actually hard to tell whether the band had gone or were just lurking in the shadows. They reappeared just as mysteriously to play us out with 'The Beautiful People' accompanied by streams of ticker tape pumped out from the stage. Leaving someone a lot of clearing up to do before the next Ice Hockey match.

Marilyn Manson’s star may have faded a touch but he and his band can still put on a good show. Whilst mixing in some nicely dark humour and a decent light show, although along with the smoke, the lights make it a bit naff for photography. The smoke also often makes it hard to see, was he ceremoniously burning the bible at one point? At under an hour and a half, it was also short and punchy, and all delivered with bundles of energy. Nice one Brian.

Thursday 3 December 2009

The Horrors, Rescue Rooms

So to the reinvention of the year. When The Horrors unveiled 'Sea Within a Sea' back in March I think it came as a bit of a shock to everyone. They then went on to deal with that difficult second album problem by ripping up the blueprint for the first one and starting over again. Two years on from 'Strange House', out goes the gothic dress sense, the haircuts and most of their garage rock sound. I wasn’t over stuck on their goth parody or whatever it was and that's from a someone who grew up with that genre and thoroughly enjoyed it. Instead, in comes moody shoegaze style indie with added random bits. They’ve got Portishead's Geoff Barrow twiddling the knobs and he’s clearly having an impact but they’ve also taken on board a whole basket of other influences from other bands.

Talking of Geoff Barrow I wonder if he had any influence over tonight’s choice of support band because HTRK seem to be Portishead wannabes, although they don’t list them in their own list of influences. Formerly known as hTRKRTIO they now prefer to be known by the shortened version which I think is pronounced ‘Hate Rock’. It’s all very doom laden and their singer Jonnine Davis is probably the most miserable female I’ve seen in, well hours. She bangs the drum, as they say, just the one drum, repeatedly. Not bad though, although a bit repetitive.

We got practically nothing out of Gary Numan last night, chat wise, less than nothing out of HTRK and I imagine we’ll get little out of Faris Badwan of The Horrors either. I am not wrong. First though we have to put up with the worst backing track I have ever heard a band come on to, or not come on to in the Horrors case. It goes on and on, for a full seven minutes, yes I was timing it. You can recreate the noise yourself, it’s that sound when you leave something on your computer keyboard and you get that repetitive keyboard squeal, only they’ve amplified it by about 4000% percent. I’m surprise it didn’t clear the room, it was akin to someone scratching their nails down a blackboard for seven minutes. This too I feel must be a Geoff Barrow-ism and a quick check on his current band Beak afterwards, reveals similar masterpieces, so I think that’s where it came from.

Finally they take the stage, putting a stop to the annoying squeal and kick off into the sultry ‘Mirror’s Image’. All wonderful swirling guitars and hypnotic drumming but at first we can’t hear Faris’s vocals. Gradually they get it sorted and soon we can actually hear the man sing. We can almost see him as well, a dark figure among the smoke and the coloured lights, all of which means my photos are going to be even worse than usual.

The Horrors reinvention means that they now sound like any number of dark ‘n’ moody bands and often all at the same time. It is though, all wonderful. After all, it's not really about who your influences are and The Horrors certainly don't try to hide theirs, it’s what you do with them that count and this is where The Horrors excel, producing, in my mind, probably the best album of the year and who'd have thought out of Southend too.

Last night we got the ‘Pleasure Principle’ in order, tonight I wonder if we're going to get ‘Primary Colours’ in order too as a grunged up version of 'Three Decades', that I’m not sure was actually necessary, follows. It blurs the line between new Horrors and old Horrors, so now you can see how the band metamorphosed between their two albums. Then though the title track of ‘Primary Colours’ is thrown in early to break the sequence. All the same it's pretty much that album that we get in the main set with only 'Do You Remember' omitted.

'New Ice Age' is also beefed up, turning itself into quite a monster with Faris doing a passable 'John Lydon' impression as he barks the vocals at us. Then it’s back to the more dramatic, complex sound that makes the album so good with the simply wonderful ‘Scarlet Fields’. In my opinion there are early OMD keyboards all over this track, whilst the following track, the more plodding 'I Only Think Of You', is so like OMD’s 'Romance of the Telescope' it's untrue. Faris howls at us in anguish and you instantly see where the Ian Curtis comparisons come from.

The only none ‘Primary Colours’ track to get aired in the main set is ‘Whole New Way’ and even that was one of the bonus tracks on the Japanese only version of the album. The song has now been reworked and is out as a single. It’s almost disco.

Then cue the intro of the year, that thumping bass, those drums and then wait for it... 15 seconds in those OMD keyboards again. The sublime 'Who Can Say', it rocks and we all rock ‘n’ sob along with it. The anti-love song of the year by a mile and believe me I study these things. Go on mate you know it's over, twist that knife.

'And when I told her I didn't love her anymore, She cried.' Ah.
'And when I told her, her kisses were not like before, She cried.' Oooh.
'And when I told her another girl had caught my eye, She cried.' Oh dear.
'And I kissed her, with a kiss that could only mean goodbye.' Merciless bastard, I love it.

Go on girl, you've been told, now 'Get away, Get away, Get away'

I almost suggested a spot down the front tonight as I thought perhaps it would be quite restrained down there but no it’s a seething mass. So I’m glad we arrived early and grabbed a terrific spot right above the band on the balcony. Despite that it's quite a mixed crowd tonight and not just the youngsters I had expected.

Faris is now teetering on the edge of stage and a one point seems to fall in to the crowd but quickly and with great athleticism manages to bounce himself back up off the crowd barrier before anyone in the crowd or security can grab him.

Finally the eight minute epic 'Sea Within A Sea', closes the set in majestic style before with as few a words as possible Faris exits stage left and the rest of the band follow him.

They return to encore with a cover of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ before playing a trio of old singles which provides some serious limb hurling opportunities down the front. ‘Count In Fives’ actually blends really well with a lot of the Primary Colours stuff, ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ not quite so. The total gothness of ‘Gloves’ falls somewhere in between and brings proceedings to a slightly chaotic close.

Can they take it on from here? Who can say?

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Gary Numan, Rock City

Gary Numan, now 51 years young, was once thought to be a bit of recluse; he even retired from touring way back in the early eighties but it was a brief hiatus. These days he seems to come on tour practically every year. My partner always asks 'shall we?' Well we haven't so far. He was never really my thing, although other synthesizer dominated stuff from the same period was. Anyhow this year, curiosity got the better of even me as announced a tour to commemorate 30 years since his classic album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was released.

It’s also the first over 18’s gig we’ve been to for ages, as they all seem to let in kids these days. Numan probably knows he hasn’t got any fans under 18 or under 40 for that matter; in fact I may be the youngest one here tonight. We make our way down to the front; somebody wants a good view of her former (and perhaps still a current) heartthrob.

On the original tour for this album in 1979, the support band for the UK leg were no other than ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’ but tonight it’s ‘Dirty Harry’. Who were formed by singer Victoria Harrison (known as Harry) and former Towers Of London and The Prodigy guitarist, The Rev.

Harry is Ida Maria with attitude, better songs and blonder. She wavers from Courtney Love moments to Cerys Matthews. Meanwhile her band turn out an edgy rock sound which is all buzzing guitars providing the background to Harry’s strong vocals, which have an American tilt. Although English she has spent a lot of time living across the pond. They impress and had the tickets not mistakenly told us doors at 7.30 we might have seen more of them.

Rock City is by now about three quarters full and chants of ‘Numan, Numan’ are abound, honestly it’s like being at the football. Then Numan and his band take to the stage. Four guys at synthesizers, a bass guitar and drums. Nothing with six strings in sight. ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was the first album to be credited to Numan as a solo artist and unlike its predecessor Tubeway Army's 'Replicas' which incidentally Numan toured last year, it contained no guitars at all.

They kick things off with the instrumentals 'Random' (merely a b-side) and 'Airlane', the opening track to the album. They then proceed to play ‘The Pleasure Principle’ album in its entirety and in order. Numan, dressed appropriately in a dark suit and tie, finally takes to the microphone to sing ‘Metal’, a song about an android who wants to be human. Just one of many songs about alienated robots, no wonder they all thought him weird at the time and began to think of him as un-human as his songs.

The whole album sounds just like it would have done back in the day, this is no hyped up 2009 remix, and instead he transports us back to 1979. Not that I bought ‘The Pleasure Principle’ first time around, I didn't really even like 'Cars' that much. In fact I first listened to the album in its entirety only two weeks ago but pretty constantly ever since and there are some real gems on it.

The chap immediately behind me obviously did buy it first time around. He knows every sodding word to every song on it and sings them heartily into my ear, practically drowning out the great man himself. When there’s nothing to sing he chucks in a few ‘Numan, Numan’ chants or simply yodels the instrumental bits. I try and move slightly further forward, out of ear shot.

One thing I've realised from listening to the album is what an absolute wonder 'Complex' is, with its haunting sound and the paranoia of the lyrics. This was the follow-up single to ‘Cars’ and the only other track to be released as a single from the album. Numan says little all night but he takes a moment to talk fondly of his friend and former band member Paul Gardiner, who died of a heroin overdose in 1984. Numan dedicates the song to him.

‘M.E.’ about the last machine on Earth and ‘Tracks’ are other highlights but they’re all highlights really. Then of course there’s the number one single 'Cars', his biggest hit, although tonight it was raced through, faster than I remembered, cast aside quickly as if he didn’t want it to be the focus tonight.

It’s been said that Numan doesn't much care for playing too much old stuff and it’s hard to tell whether he’s enjoying himself or not tonight. He says little and is generally expressionless throughout save for a smile when a wrong note is delivered or the occasional nod at the end of a song which I think means that that one went well.

They close the first part of the evening with another instrumental b-side ‘Asylum’ before a couple of the synths are removed and Numan decides to quickly fast forward 30 years and treat us to his new single ‘The Fall’. Not that he tells anyone this, so not good P.R. if he’s hoping for sales.

I’d been slightly amused by the tattooed rocker on keyboards to Numan’s right as he looked so out of place, particularly when he was forced centre stage briefly at the start of the set. Now with the keyboard gone, his eyes light up and he dives for the sanctuary of his guitar. Once it’s in his grasp he seems instantly more at home.

Numan has over the years reinvented himself and now dabbles heavily in industrial rock, as he now shows us. Much to the delight of the hardcore, like my new friend behind me, who again knows every word as Numan plays the rather excellent ‘Pure’ from 2000 album of the same name. Numan himself also now seems unleashed as he starts to prowl the stage and even dabbles with a guitar.

Then suddenly we’re back in 1979 again and to probably the best moment of the night, ‘Down In The Park’ from ‘Replicas’. A track covered by almost every man and his dog, from a techno version in French by DJ Hell (which admittedly I haven’t heard) to Marilyn Manson via the Foo Fighters and others. I’ve even seen a live version of it on the internet by Christian Death. Numan tonight tops the lot, it’s fantastic.

Then it’s back to the new stuff and to the delight of the hardcore three songs from his most recent album 2006’s ‘Jagged’, which may have confused a few people who didn’t know what Numan had been up to recently but judging by the number of ‘Jagged’ t-shirts in the crowd, which is by far the most popular attire tonight, they were in the minority.

That said, all the new stuff did come together in a clump at the end and perhaps another oldie to break things up a bit might not have been a bad idea but no one can say he didn’t play enough old stuff. He played an entire album worth.

Then to close we get a wonderful piano led intro in to, of all things, ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’, which is just ‘wow’ and possibly trumps ‘Down In The Park’ but only just. The way it’s been redone with the piano in it is just amazing, love it.

The band return for an encore and having played the A-side they flip ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’ over and play its b-side, the excellent ‘We Are So Fragile’. Then to close it’s a song that’s very personal to Numan, ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’. A song inspired by the numerous problems, miscarriages and unsuccessful IVF attempts that Numan and his wife, a former member of his own fan club, had conceiving. Finally successful, they now have three kids.

Afterwards Numan is on the internet before I am. Isn’t he supposed to be in the bar? He updates his website and offers an apology for being ‘a little bit distracted’ this evening and for not being as committed as usual. Apparently earlier that day they found out that their dog, who has been suffering from a canine version of Multiple Sclerosis for over 18 months, had taken a very serious downturn and the vet had recommended that it would be kinder to put him to sleep.

He’s clearly and understandably gutted and they have a day at home with their dog before their next show. So clearly he’s very human after all. See you next year Gary.