Thursday 29 November 2012

Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield, The Institute, Birmingham

These dates looked like they may never happen. The ones in Europe had been cancelled because Juliana Hatfield was unable to make them, so Evan Dando did one on his own, which didn't go down that well, so they scrapped the rest.

The UK ones don't seem to be that well organised either. The Institute’s Facebook said this morning that stage times would be up later. They were, at about 7.30pm, half an hour after the doors had opened and I’d already arrived there straight from work.

Now we learn that the guys are on at 9pm, which would be fine but there’s no support. So two hours to kick one’s heels with only some really bad lager for company. No support is unforgivable really. How many local artists would have played for nothing? Plenty I’m sure.

The show has also been moved from 'The Library' to the smaller and cosier upstairs 'Temple' which is packed. Actually I think we're all here now, we’re just missing two people... I look at my watch, an hour to go... This better be good.

Evan and Juliana come on just after nine and spent the next five minutes tuning up while the PA continues to play. Couldn’t they have done that earlier...

16 years ago I stood Juliana up, well I didn't buy a ticket. I'd had what I hoped was a better offer and I'm still with that better offer, so it's looking like I made the right call. She and I had met up just the once before in October 1993 at Sheffield Poly or was it already Sheffield Hallam by then? But it’s a long time ago and I've not seen her since until tonight. We were both much younger then of course. Not that she seems to have changed much.

Finally tuning up is done and we’re off. Into Evan’s 'All My Life'.

The two of them are old pals as well as musical collaborators. Juliana played bass and provided backing vocals for the Lemonheads back in the day while Evan briefly returned the favour by filling in on bass for Hatfield’s The Blake Babies. So there’s some crossover as they produce a selection of songs from both of their extensive back catalogues.

Occasionally they share the lead, such as when they cover The Velvet Underground’s 'Pale Blue Eyes' but usually they just back each other or as often happens simply let the other one get on with it and take centre stage. It’s an off-the-cuff format that works well.

In fact it’s so off-the-cuff that both ,but particularly Evan, have a plethora of crib notes scattered on the floor in front of him. Occasionally this off-the-cuff-ness degenerates something a bit disjointed and rambling but the evening is probably all the better for that. It’s a really relaxed evening unless you’re Juliana who does seem a bit nervous at times. I get the impression they haven’t practised together much, if at all, since they last toured together over a year ago.

It’s a lot of fun with some very good natured banter between the two, making fun of Evan’s university days or lack of them, among other things.

The crowd throw multiple requests at the stage and they do their best to meet some of them. A shout for ‘$1,000 Wedding’ though, which is a Gram Parsons song they’ve covered before, is a step too far for Juliana. She recoils in horror, reveals a dislike of Gram Parsons and complains that she can never get Evan to take his records off her stereo. Then someone yells ‘Streets of Baltimore’ another Gram Parsons song. ‘Yeah, I’ll do that’ cries Evan, I think Juliana gives up at that point and disappears.

They seem to be totally making this up as they go along but I’m not complaining as Juliana chucks in ‘Ugly’ having previously given us ‘My Sister’. Playing it doesn’t go that smoothly though. She blames her guitar which she found in her mother’s garage and then apologises for blaming her tools, hating people who make excuses.

Then Evan was taking another request off the crowd with Juliana just telling him to give the people what they want while she puts her feet up. Cue ‘Laying Up With Linda’

The audience is pretty much split into two camps, Juliana fans and Ewan fans, with a bit of crossover. Evan’s ‘Into Your Arms’ and ‘The Outdoor Type’ win the singalong contest but Juliana offers some great highs too, ‘Candy Wrappers’, ‘Waiting For Heaven’ and a great cover of Teenage Fan Club’s ‘Cells’.

After a slightly shaky start, they seem to bring the best out of each other and what really shines through is that both have excellent voices. The only problem with the venue is the very subdued lighting. It’s not good for photography and I hate using flash. However Juliana likes it and complains when they turn it up, so back down it goes.

Then after a closing ‘My Drug Buddy’ they go off and the house PA comes back on. No encore?

After raucous protests from the crowd Evan reappears briefly before heading off to drag Juliana back. She appears alone and plays a slightly stumbling version of ‘Nirvana’ but she sees it through and then launches into ‘I Picked You Up’ all with Evan nowhere to be seen.

Then she goes and he appears to round off the night with a rousing ‘Big Gay Heart’. Then sadly it really is all over but a 24 song night, so all in all, a bit special.

Now I'm off home to that better offer.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Feeder, The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton

Supported by The Virginmarys & Dakota Beats

Thanks to the M6, why is it always the M6? I only catch the last two minutes of the Dakota Beats. So I can’t really comment guys. Except to say, of what I saw, you were noisy, animated and got a good round of applause when you went off, so you may have been quite good.

Then the Virginmarys come on to Jay Z, which is not how to get me on side. It's the second time I've seen them and the first time, about 18 months ago, they didn’t leave much of an impression. This time they do.

They are the best kind of a three piece; just drums, bass and guitar. They open powerfully with ‘Bang Bang Bang’ and don’t really let up.

I like lead singer Ally Dickaty’s raspy vocals, even if he does tell us he’s ‘Out of (my fucking) mind’ before moving seamlessly on to the next number ‘My Little Girl’, which is perhaps not as sweet as the title suggests. I’ll get back to you on the finer lyrical points of that one.

‘Dressed to Kill’ is as close to a ballad as they get and even that's got serious balls. It’s a top tune, which I try to find on the CD’s they’re selling post-gig but I don’t think it’s been released yet.

In terms of pure entertainment you could actually just watch the drummer, Danny Dolan, who is ace and have a great evening. He’s a man with loads of energy and knows how to batter a drumkit, which half the time he’s out of his seat doing.

I recommend you catch them but I would do so smartish if I was you because the way Mr Dickaty sings I’m not sure how long his voice will last.

There's a huge gap between the crowd and the stage here at the Civic. Is that really necessary? Stage diving will require a most impressive leap of Olympic proportions. So unless Greg Rutherford is in tonight it ain't gonna happen.

So to Feeder. You may ask if this blog needs another Feeder review? I've seen them so many times it must be getting monotonous and what with me whinging more about what they don't play rather than commenting on what they do play... but they're one of the few bands that I got into from the start and that are still going 15 years on. So it’s personal, we have affinity.

That said, I almost skipped this tour because Wolverhampton is a fair trek on a Wednesday night and there's nowhere closer. It's also a fairly large unintimate venue and having seen them twice earlier this year in smaller venues, could it really be any better? They did say they would chuck in some real oldies on this tour... but then they always says that... then don't... either way, I promise not to whinge tonight.

As they’re setting up the stage, they're taping down around four sheets of paper for lead singer Grant Nicholas. That’s more than just a set list, has he forgotten the words of some of the stuff he intends to play?

Then the lights are down and is that Grant’s dulcet tones I can hear them playing over the PA? Are Feeder going to come on to their own backing track? I know this song... but can’t place it... quick, Shazam it! Ahhh, ‘20th Century Trip’, the last track or ‘outro’ on Polythene, their first album. Nice touch. Hope that’s not the extent of the oldies.

'Oh My' opens the show, it’s the opener to the new album and a great opener, the only question is why it's taken so long for it to get to that spot for the gigs.

'Sentimental' is the selected extra from the ‘Renegades’ album tonight which wouldn't have been my choice but perhaps serves a warning to the crowd that this is going to get heavier.

Previous nights have got either 'Yesterday Went Too Soon' or 'Hey Johnny'. Hell I want both, they are both great tracks. YWTS is a must in any Feeder set for me. A track that still gives me goose bumps every time I hear it live, which obviously isn't often enough. It's a song about not realising what you've got until it's gone. A bit like one’s back catalogue... Damn I promised not to whinge.

Grant seems undecided about which guitar to pick up next, as if weighing up what song to play. Finally the distinctive intro to YWTS tumbles forth from the stage. Good choice. I’m a happy man already. Then later we get ‘Hey Johnny’ as well, bonus. It’s a special song for anyone who knows their Feeder history.

I'm happy to see 'Tender' appear because it's a change and any change is good. Grant recently played it acoustic at the London Guitar show, where it went down well. Tonight, it’s full band and it sounds pretty ace actually. Another good choice mate.

Grant jokes that he’s lost the coin toss yet again about whether to include the next track in the set. This is met with a chorus of cries for ‘Tangerine’.

It’s always Tangerine’ he complains.

A track he claims to dislike and has tried to retire for good more than once. Yes it's always ‘Tangerine’ and probably always will be. I don’t understand it either.

You write two of the most ridiculous throwaway pop songs on the planet, one is a success and one isn’t, you grow to hate both of them but both haunt you forever. The band plays the other, more successful one, ‘Buck Rogers’. The crowd go predictably ape.

‘Buck Rogers’ actually brings to the end a sequence of seven consecutive singles played back to back tonight of which only 2010’s ‘Renegades’ didn’t chart. An impressive collection. Then four of the last five tracks showcase the new album ending with the epic title track of ‘Generation Freakshow’.

Encore time. Starting with 'Children of the Sun' with just Grant on guitar and CC on keyboards but then the rest of the band join until it’s full band part way through, as it is on the album, and it sounds better for it.

Then something for the ‘old skool’. It’s back to the early ‘Swim’ EP for ‘Sweet 16’ which is simply amazing and this ‘old skool’ reviewer is one very happy bunny. Then without a break straight into ‘Descend’. ‘Descend’ has certainly been toned down a touch, possibly to try and appeal to the newer fans who may find its original format a bit too heavy. Although I still thought it sounded absolutely immense as it echoed around the Civic Hall and probably down the street.

Grant looks a happy bunny too playing this and who wouldn't be, it’s such a colossal tune. Much better than a throwaway pop song eh? I would be more than happy for this ‘new’ version to become a permanent fixture.

Then as it comes to its conclusion and so too the night, the long jump competition starts with ‘Just A Day’ and there’s a lot of entrants. Despite that though, no one makes the stage. Clearly if Mr Rutherford is here, he's on the balcony.

Then its back to ‘20th Century Trip’ to play us out of what has been an awesome night. See what happens when you shake the set list up a bit. More please.

People who know better than me say the band’s manager wants Grant to ‘man up’ and play more of the old classics and is apparently twisting the thumbscrews for a Swim/Polythene/B-sides tour. I like their manager, whoever he is.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Rock City, Nottingham

Supported by Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun & Tim Barry

Not for the first time Rock City opens its doors at 7:30 for a sold out gig with the first support on at 7:45. No chance. The queue is down the street, around the corner and disappearing inside the neighbouring multi story. Then of course Jim Lockey & the Solemn Sun finish five minutes early. So I don’t catch a lot of their lively full throttle folky-country-punky-rocky mixed baggy sound all the way from Cheltenham but it was good while it lasted Jim. Sort of like Mumford and Sons on acid.

So Tim Barry, a Yank, who doesn’t like coming on to Iron Maiden (they’re playing ‘Run to the Hills’ on the PA) and who might just talk his way through his entire thirty minute slot if he’s not careful. He takes time to tell us the back story of how he met Frank Turner on the US Revival Tour in 2008 and had to take the stage after him. Tonight he's somewhat relieved to be on before him.

He also tells us that that anyone can do what he does; all they have to do is learn the same three chords. This is perhaps why he seems to play the same song all set. It’s a good job it's a good one. He’s also so nice and thankful for his upgrade from his normal bar gigs that the crowd take him to their hearts. His is an entertaining set from a chap who’s clearly as passionate about what he does as the man who’s coming up next. Right you can turn Iron Maiden back on now.

Now it’s Turner Time for, rumour has it, the 1286th time. To his huge credit, no matter how big the man gets, and he’s very big now, he still stays grounded in his venues. He’s as likely to pop up in the 450 capacity Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms, like he did last year, as the 12,000 capacity Wembley Arena as he did in April this year or anything in between for that matter such as Rock City tonight. It’s the first night of his latest UK tour, a sell out of 25 UK venues plus 3 in Ireland and one in Germany all before Christmas. Now that’s a tour. The guy could have just done half a dozen arena shows and be done with it but that’s not his style.

This is his style. We start ‘a capella’, well the crowd does, I can’t actually hear whether Frank is joining in to the opening of ‘If Ever I Stray’ because the crowd are already drowning him out before he's even opened his mouth.

Does the guy ever get sick of everybody singing almost every word back at him, often before he can even get started? Not one bit, well not that he lets on. Audience participation is the big thing here, if you’re not singing you’re not doing it right.

It's nice though when he drops in a few less frequently played numbers such as the excellent ‘Isabel’ which allows Frank to rest back control a bit, with just a few hundred backing singers on that one.

There is also a bit of understandable quiet on the new numbers he plays tonight, ‘Time Machine’, ‘Four Simple Words’ and ‘Wherefore Art Thou, Gene Simmons?’ The latter of which is an interesting ode to the man from Kiss who once claimed of having slept with 4600 women and has the photographs to prove it. It’s a piss-take not a tribute, I think.

Other highlights? Well where do you start? Pick any from the nice mix of solo acoustic and full band numbers backed by the excellent Sleeping Souls.

My own personal favourite, as ever, is ‘Substitute’ which he dedicates to his moustache. He’s not totally happy about his Movember participation but he’s doing it anyway, as it’s all in a good cause.

Then there’s the popular mostly crowd sung ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’, the brilliant blasphemy of 'Glory Hallelujah', the home town tribute from the ‘Wessex Boy’ himself, ‘The Real Damage’ - the best song about a hangover ever or the hugely sad ‘Long Live The Queen’ which now seems to have metamorphosed into one of his rockiest numbers. Kind of the point I suppose, keep it upbeat.

They’re all good and we’re all having a good time. Which is why I suppose he chooses to end tonight’s session of togetherness with ‘I Still Believe’ with its message that everyone can find a song for them, ‘for every time they've lost and every time they've won’. Yep, ‘who'd have thought, that after all, something simple as rock 'n' roll would save us all’.

For the encore, there’s the stunning and heavily requested ‘Redemption’ before the usual elongated sing-along to ‘Photosynthesis’ which means then in order to cram in one more he hurtles through ‘Dan's Song’ in about one minute flat, whilst spending most of this riotous finale on his back in the mosh pit.