Thursday 28 November 2013

Editors, Rock City, Nottingham

Supported by British Sea Power

I attempt to be Rock City for when doors open at 6.30 and fail. It’s shockingly early gig due to student night later on and the support band, British Sea Power, are on at a ridiculous 6.45. BSP, of course, cannot be missed.

I don’t understand why bands book venues that have club nights, like Rock City, on the nights when these things take place and then have to wind things up by 10pm. A least half the venues on the Editors current tour do not have club nights... so play them on Thursday-Saturday and come to RC on say a Tuesday. This is just bad scheduling surely?

I still miss the first few tracks and arrive as they are winding down what may have been the ‘Scottish Wildlife Experience’... surely not... then they’re into ‘Oh Larsen B’, a track their own fans complain they’d don’t play anywhere near often enough.

It’s odd seeing one of your top five bands, albeit in a generous 45 minute slot, supporting one of your top 30 ones, Editors headline tonight. 

BSP could probably have been massive if they did not steadfastly refuse to attempt to appeal to even a minority of the majority. Like tonight, a set full of their most accessible numbers would have had a few Editors fans splashing out on their albums but that’s not their style and that is why we love them so. Whereas ‘No Lucifer’ and ‘Fear Of Drowning’ probably would appeal to most nonpartisan crowds, ‘When a Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass’ is one of the least accessible tracks on their new album, so of course they play it tonight.

As as well as no compromise on the set selection, it's good to see the same approach on the foliage and the stage is brilliantly decked out as ever.

Their set ends in slight chaos, after another slowie from the new album in ‘What You Need The Most’, with five minutes of their allotted time to go and, you suspect, the mighty ‘Carrion’ looming they appear to be unceremoniously chucked off the stage. Oh well, I just hope Editors plan to use those extra five minutes well by making this last night of the tour memorable.

So from a support band who have been rotating their set every night to a band who used to be very good themselves at swapping their set around whilst on tour, keeping things fresh and the audience guessing. Reports are that this isn't something they've been doing this time and they’re been sticking pretty much rigidly to the same songs every night, sadly.

Opening with a taped instrumental version of ‘The Weight’ (odd - why not play it!), they’re then into ‘Sugar’, one of the best tracks on the new record. Next up the welcome return of ‘Someone Says’ and it's going well. Then it’s ‘Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors’ and ‘Bones’ but things aren't quite what they were.

Since the departure of Chris Urbanowicz, Editors have changed direction somewhat. The new album is more ‘stadium’ rock and their existing material seems to have been totally reinvented live. In that the songs are now bassier, louder, noiser, faster perhaps but does this make them better? Not really. 

Urbanowicz has been replaced by Justin Lockey who clearly approaches the songs in a different way. They have also added, at least temporarily, Elliott Williams to play keyboards which frees front man Tom Smith up to be, well, more of a front man. Smith tries theatrically to add emotion to the songs but sadly the cleverer, slower songs where he could do this have been left at home and culled from the set.

‘Two Hearted Spider’ off the new album is an exception and is very good tonight but another new one which would have been equally theatrical ‘Bird of Prey’ isn’t played. Tonight is a pure ‘rock out’ with everything played at a high tempo, loud and fast, all those slow brooding numbers have disappeared or been reworked.

I’ve never liked ‘You Don't Know Love’ but tonight it’s so different, bassed up and heavier that even I like it. So not all change is bad.

‘Formaldehyde’ sounds better live than it does on record and the other single ‘A Ton of Love’ goes down a storm. In fact all the new tracks come over well, it’s just the older tracks that sound ropey.

It’s good to see ‘In This Light and on This Evening’ still played and still impressive but among the new arrangements, a reworked ‘Munich’ leaves the song not what it was. This leaves the new track ‘Honesty’ and fan favourite ‘Fingers in the Factories’ to pick up the pieces but that too has lost something.

‘Bricks and Mortar’ lifts things a touch in the encore, as does the new record’s ‘Nothing’ and then they send us home with a lively ‘Papillon’

Tonight the Editors came, played louder, harder and faster than before and got the job done but... to use an odd analogy, if the Editors had painted your house, you’d ask them back to put another coat on it. Only this time lads, take your time and you’ll do a much better job. I think perhaps they’re trying too hard.

Sunday 24 November 2013

China Crisis, The Flowerpot, Derby

Supported by Peter Coyle

The test of an artist is often whether they can ‘pull it off’ when they’re up against it. Peter Coyle, it is probably fair to say, is up against it. He turns up tonight totally on his own, no band, no instruments and is at first mistaken for a roadie by the bulk of the audience.

So it is to his immense credit that he then swiftly gets everyone’s attention, and at the same time turns the entire venue into respectful silence, as he delivers his three minutes of fame from 1983, ‘The First Picture of You’, totally a capella. Coyle you see was the vocalist with the Lotus Eaters. A band that had great promise and even Peel sessions but despite several subsequent singles, they never really achieved another three minutes in the spotlight and Coyle went solo, again without making much of an impression.

Thirty years on Coyle certainly still has that brilliant voice even if he does not possess either his own guitar (or keyboard) or perhaps the capacity to play one. Instead he fires up a backing tape and does karaoke for the remainder of his support slot. Faced with this, and the fact it’s all unfamiliar material, the majority of the crowd turn back to their conversations and their pints.

China Crises on the other hand arrive as a three piece and with instruments. The band's core has remained constant throughout their long career with Gary Daly on vocals and Eddie Lundon on guitar. They do introduce their keyboard player several times but I, amateurishly, don’t make a note of his name.

I look forward to seeing how this slimmed down line-up handles their back catalogue but I’m quickly disappointed as sadly, like Coyle, they also make heavy use of backing tapes. Thinking back now, I bet they always did to get all those twiddly bits into their songs for their live shows.

I’ve seen the band several times back in the day and I can even now vividly recall them at Rock City in 1987 bemoaning the fact they’d been downgraded from the Concert Hall because their fourth album, the excellent (in their opinion and mine) ‘What Price Paradise’ didn’t sell as well as their earlier stuff. Of course to me the Concert Hall not Rock City is the downgrade and they were back at Rock City in 1989 a bit more chastened.
Two things are striking tonight as regards that memory. Firstly they’re now very at home in a pub (a downgrade deluxe), albeit a full one, and they play nothing from that excellent fourth album, sadly. It is, slightly predictably, mostly a hits set.

The start though is a bit more leftfield. First up ‘The Soul Awakening’ from ‘Working with Fire and Steel’ followed by ‘Temptation’s Big Blue Eyes’ and ‘Seven Sports for All’ from ‘Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms’ which Gary urges us ‘to get out of the loft’. As if I’d assign any records to the loft.

‘Temptation’s Big Blue Eyes’ particularly is a surprise and they admit that this gem off their debut album remained pretty much unplayed for the last thirty years until recently.

Then it’s time to plunder their most famous offering ‘Flaunt the Imperfection’ for a clutch of tracks. ‘Gift Of Freedom’ and ‘You Did Cut Me’ are played without the tapes and with only the audience as backing. Resulting in a far less polished offering but the songs are the better for it. The whole point of seeing someone live is to see what they can do outside the comfort of the studio and not to reproduce everything in prefect CD quality.

After that they revert to using the tapes and ‘Black Man Ray’ opens a run of all singles through to the end. Among them is a song which transports me back to Sixth Form College and starting my A Levels. Do I really want to go back there? Probably not, but a note perfect ‘Wishful Thinking’ does it anyway. Assisted by those immaculate backing tapes of course.

Peter Coyne reappears for the encore of ‘Here Comes a Raincloud’ from ‘Working with Fire and Steel’ but he leaves them to close what has been a pleasant evening on their own. Gary and Eddie have been chatty throughout, pleasant hosts, and we’ve even managed to overcome the language problems posed by their Scouse accents.

In fact the only track they don’t chat about and introduce is the last one. It’s also the only one the majority of the audience don’t know, as they close with ‘Diary of a Hollow Horse’ from album number five.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

The Boomtown Rats, Rock City, Nottingham

Supported by Patrik Fitzgerald

Patrik Fitzgerald is, it is fair to say, more of a poet than a singer and one that delivers his prose deadpan style. This he does tonight over an electronic backing track for the first 25 minutes of his set. It is only then that he picks up a guitar for the remainder of his set, a 15 minute segment that includes a cover of the obscure David Bowie track ‘After All’.

There is no doubt that Fitzgerald has talent and he is clearly held in high regard by a lot of the audience but his style of delivery perhaps does not quite endear him to the majority, causing many to talk over his set this evening. Subsequently the nuisances of a lot of of his songs are lost in the general noise.  

Fitzgerald hails back from the start of punk circa 1975 but despite several attempts he failed to form a band with anyone and subsequently never became a household name like many of his peers. Instead he became a bit of musical loner albeit a quietly revered one.

Although he leaves the stage tonight to a roar of appreciation perhaps he was the wrong choice as a warm-up act. The Rats are going to have to do that job themselves.

Is she really going out with him? No not that one. I mean, is he really going out with Eva?

And so it is with the classic ‘(I Never Loved) Eva Braun’ that The Boomtown Rats open up tonight on their first UK tour in 27 years, at least one with Sir Bob at the helm. Looking at the size of the crowd in Rock City tonight, a near sell out, it is a welcome one. Followed by ’Like Clockwork’, The Rats quickly have Rock City warmed up, alive and screaming lyrics back at them.

It’s apparently a newly refurbished Rock City as well. I can see it’s been spruced up a touch and they've moved some stairs but I can confirm that the floor is still pleasantly sticky.

It’s a quartet of Rats tonight, this reunion is minus guitarist Gerry Cott and keyboardist Johnnie Fingers and we have two (talented) imposters in their places. Helpfully, just in case you can’t remember what they looked like back in the day, there’s a video screen replaying clips throughout to jog your memory.

Geldof as ever is the star, pouring every ounce into his performance while the rest of band stay extremely low key. He may well now look creviced and lived in but he still has a good head of hair (jealous), yet at 62 he still pulls off a lively stage presence in his f**k off pretend snake skin suit (his words). His ego too is more than intact.

We are the Boomtown Rats’ he tells us. Yes we know.

We are magnificent’, if you say so.

We are old’ someone shouts.

Yes, Bob agrees ‘We are old’ before hitting us with a terrific ‘Someone's Looking At You’, the stand-out track of the night... or was that a tremendous ‘She's So Modern’ or was that... they have picked such a good set tonight, pulling all the tracks bar ‘Banana Republic’ from their first three pre-1980 albums that it’s hard to choose.
Almost everything is sung straight back at Geldof but none more so than on ‘I Don't Like Mondays’. Which I’m glad to say appeared mid-set rather than being held back to be a predictable finale.

The entire crowd are word perfect on ‘Mondays’ and lift the roof off Rock City but the Rats own rendition tonight is so good that you have to eventually shut up, stand back and let the band wrestle back control, which they do in some style. Absolutely brilliant. Following that is going to be hard.

Having it mid-set should have perhaps stopped it totally dominating proceeding, in theory, but it still lords it over everything else from there until a rather brilliant finale arrives.

True, the excellent ‘Mary of the Fourth Form’ goes off at a rather unnecessary and unsatisfying tangent lurching into the likes of the Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker and Golden Earing but the band are bang back on track for ‘Looking After No. 1’ and the closing ‘Rat Trap’.

They were soon back for an encore of ‘Never Bite The Hand That Feeds’ and an amazing ’Diamond Smiles’, which was set to send everyone home smiling from ear to ear.

That they came back again, very quickly, and delivered one more song that was a new track simply entitled ‘The Boomtown Rats’ was a slight disappointment. Geldof had apparently been persuaded to write a few new tracks to go on their latest compilation album. So I guess they ought to try and sell a few copies of it but it actually left us with a rather downbeat ending to what otherwise was a totally brilliant evening.

The Boomtown Rats Setlist Rock City, Nottingham, England 2013

Saturday 20 July 2013

Splendour Festival, Wollaton Park, Nottingham

Today we feel we ought to support our local music festival, the splendorous Splendour which is held within spitting distance of our humble abode, on Wollaton Park. There are just about enough decent bands to pull us in this year, maybe, hopefully...

The first thing we encounter is of course the splendorously huge queue to get in. So we once again use the seriously underhand tactic of going around to the unpublicised Derby Road entrance where there is no queue at all. For a mere ten minute walk, it’s well worth the detour.

Once inside, we dip into Jack Savoretti, Rob Green, Nina Nesbitt and Georgie Rose on assorted stages without being captivated by any of them. The real ale bar holds our attention much more readily despite the double queuing system. You queue once for tokens and then queue again for drinks. Yes you could queue just the once and stock up on tokens but then when the decent beer runs out you’re stuck with some very expensive pieces of paper or a can of Tuborg.

To be fair, the bar seems to be better stocked this year and therefore likely to make it beyond 2pm before it runs dry unlike in 2011. Sadly, the Splendour Ale by Castle Rock brewery is one of the first to go and before I get chance to have any. L’s seemed rather nice.

In fact we manage three trips to the bar before it looks likely that a fourth bout of double queuing would indeed end up with a Tuborg being thrust into our hands. So we don’t bother.

Back to the bands and Loughborough’s Park Bench Society raise things above the mundane for a while. Both with their catchy name and their first song, which is something a bit different but they don't really take it on from there. Their name conjures up something stripped down and simple but they are far from that with all sorts of instruments in the mix.

Good name though, much better than being named after a person like most of the performers today and I offer my apologies to the Injured Birds who we didn’t get to see. Splendour legends Dog Is Dead have a good name. Will the band appearing at their fifth Splendour out of six ignite the day?

Not for us really. Instead we settle down on the grass in front of the J├Ągermeister stage for the best name of the lot, Kagoule. Although I know nothing about them, I don't understand why the field isn't packed for such name greatness.

We are rewarded, as they turn out to be the best so far and they’re from Nottingham too but I guess I’m just a sucker for that sort of Post-Punk/Grunge sound.

After Kagoule, we take a wander around, admiring all the face and leg painting which seems to be popular. All the girls are covered in handprints, while the boys have had it smeared on with a trowel. I dare not comment on what sort of message this sends out, or on who’s doing the painting.

We wind our way back to the main stage, stepping over the hundreds of people who are now sprawled out in front of it or rather in front of the big screens. The majority of these people seem to have simply transferred their front rooms and their usual TV habits to Wollaton Park for the day. Not sure if that usually includes such a long wait for a toilet.

The big screens are being fed by new television start-up Notts TV, who are filming everything. Their channel starts broadcasting on Freeview Channel 8 in April next year.

Right now on stage is KT Tunstall, who I’ve always thought perhaps I ought to like but I don’t. Back at the J├Ągermeister it’s time for Peter Hook & The Light, one of the reasons I’m here.

After opening with three terrific Joy Division songs, Hooky goes all electronic. Now I have been all for his Joy Division revival sets but moving on to New Order, I think puts him onto much dodgier ground.

Despite being a former and founding member of the band, I still feel its New Order's job to play New Order's music whilst they still exist. Then again, if they're not going to revisit some of their lost classics, such as the glorious ‘Everything's Gone Green’, then Hooky might as well and tonight he does. The resurrection of ‘Fine Time’ though, we could probably have done without.

The ground is far less firm though when he includes New Order set regulars such as ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘586’, ‘True Faith’ and ‘Your Silent Face’. Particularly ‘Your Silent Face’ which is a Bernie Sumner lyrical classic, it’s not quite the same with Hooky singing it.

He signs off with New Order’s finest ever ‘Temptation’ and probably gives it its best rendition ever before the closing predictability of New Order’s biggest hit ‘Blue Monday’. The whole set is morally wrong but an exceptionally good guilty pleasure.

Over on the main stage, reason number two for attendance, Squeeze disappoint. I’m not really sure what I was expecting. Perhaps the energy of the last time I saw them in the late 1980’s when they were undergoing a bit of a reinvention but they’re a bit dull really, playing a set of reworked 70’s classics which I suppose the audience demands and a few new songs.

We amble off to see rising local star Harleighblu on the Courtyard stage, which on first impressions looks packed. Until we realise that most of the people are in the toilet queue. Well, it’s one way of getting a captive audience. She's pleasant but again not really our type, so we return to Squeeze.

I haven’t seen Maximo Park for a while. After a sensational first album they’ve been in a bit of a decline since, struggling to reproduce the originality of their early stuff and shedding fans like me as a result.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder though and they are very very good tonight. It helps that Paul Smith has heaps of the originality that some of their later material lacks. He remains a very engaging and entertaining front man, even when he’s not astride the speaker stack. There is evidence also tonight that their latest record 2012’s ‘The National Health’ is a return to form as such. Perhaps I should buy it.

Despite that it’s the old classics such as ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Going Missing’ that impress the most. Meaning that Smith and co probably shade Hook for the performance of the night.

Afterwards it’s a choice of a long wait for the loo or the main stage where Cliftonite Jake Bugg is the first home-grown musician to headline the festival. When I was last here two years ago, he played the courtyard stage and we missed him, so it’s a bit of a delayed rendezvous. If he smiles we’ll stay, if not we’re off home to use our own queueless facilities.

Three very similar songs and no smile later we’re leaving. Sorry Jake.

Friday 12 July 2013

British Sea Power, The Venue, Derby

Tonight British Sea Power at the Venue in Derby, which I think is just an overnight stopover on their way up to Scotland to play T in the Park tomorrow. It's a long way from Brighton you know. It’s our gain and I suppose you’ve got to pay your hotel bills somehow.

First up a Nirvana-esk (maybe) two piece support band who mumbled rather a lot, both when singing and conversing with the crowd, to the extent that nobody actually caught their name. Which surely removes any point of them actually playing? I think lacking this type of basic stage craft might hinder their career somewhat.

They are purely guitar and drums, with the drummer hitting his kit so hard that it displaces the carefully arranged BSP foliage off the wall.

At times they sound a bit like the Ramones, several men short. At other times they sound more Billy and Charlotte from the Subways and they seem to get progressively more dirgeful as they go along but overall I do actually I like his voice. They perhaps just need to lighten up a bit.

With them gone, it’s time to re-affix the foliage and hand out water to the crowd. It's hot in the venue tonight, stupidly hot, I bet they'll be no bear suits this evening. The heat also forces me to buy an alcoholic beverage in order to keep cool. There isn’t much choice and I instantly regret it.

Then the band take to the stage, possibly their prettiest stage yet.

There are no great surprises in the set, sadly, but some decent oldies are rotated in tonight. ‘Something Wicked’, ‘Oh Larsen B’ and ‘Fear of Drowning’ make welcome appearances alongside a fair smattering from the new ‘Machineries of Joy’ album, as you would expect. .

Four tracks in and the stage is awash with the sound of barking. Which is a nice touch, particularly with the RSPCA next door, as they move into ‘Loving Animals’ and a five track ‘Hamilton segment’. Although it doesn’t start well with a broken guitar that takes some time to replace, as the roadie seems to have trouble decoding what Hamilton’s furious waving of the injured instrument actually means. 

BSP’s travelling support have been bouncing throughout, despite the heat, and they up their game for ‘No Lucifer’ bringing bemused looks from the locals. Looks that get even more bemused when I am proved wrong about it being too hot for bears and Bipolar bear appears amongst the mosh during ‘Waving Flags’. Even amidst normal temperatures this sort of thing doesn’t happen that often in Derby.

After disappearing, possibly to ring out his suit and for session in an oxygen tent, Bipolar is back for the encore and indulges in a spot of crowd surfing to ‘Carrion’. Then the brown bear appears too, guitarist Noble is off in the crowd hanging from the roof supports and Yan is doing handstands on the stage. Just a normal night out with BSP then.