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.