Tuesday 15 December 2015

Maxïmo Park, Rock City, Nottingham

Supported by Stealing Sheep

Tonight’s support comes from 'Stealing Sheep' who I was looking forward to seeing and the three Liverpudlian girls took to the stage dressed as... well I’m not actually sure what they were dressed as, with their technicolour bodysuits, capes and sunglasses. It does though match up with the cover of their latest album 'Get Real', not that that really solves the puzzle.

Psychedelic in look and also psychedelic in sound, at least initially because beyond that they are largely keyboard orientated pop. Perhaps what the Breeders would have sounded like if you'd taken away their guitars. 

After a few songs they take their shades off and get serious but sadly the girls are mainly lost in the darkness/smoke and the vocals are way too quiet meaning they fail to catch the attention of most of the audience. This is a shame because the three of them trading off vocals seems to be their thing.

Then two songs from the end someone seems to notice there is a problem. The lighting is turned up slightly, so that you could at least see their heads poking over their electronic gadgetry, and at the same time the vocals were turned up so that you could hear them. That made a massive difference and the crowd started to notice them. Shame that didn't happen at the start because five minutes later its shades back on and exit stage left. Dressed as whatever they are.

I'm not at all keen on these 'play an entire album in its entirety shows' but I'm actually quite looking forward to this one. I have also been driven to this one because Maxïmo Park have steadfastly refused to play one of my favourite tracks of theirs 'Once, a Glimpse' from their début album 'A Certain Trigger'. It is the only track on said album that I have never seen them play live, so tonight I will finally get to hear it. At least I would hope so as this is the 10th Anniversary show of that album.

They have also promised some rarities tonight which I had took to mean that they might also play the ‘Missing Songs’ B-sides album from the same era. That they don’t do, at least not in its entirety, but they do play ‘A19’ and ‘A Year of Doubt’ from it and both sound great ten years on. This pair of forgotten gems come in a first set of 11 songs which lead singer Paul Smith describes as a career spanning selection from albums two to five.

They open the set with ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and close it with a double header of ‘Our Velocity’ and ‘Books from Boxes’. All three of those come from their second album ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’, as does the possible stand out track from this first section the splendid ‘Russian Literature’ which sort of highlights their problems of late. In that their last three albums can’t really hold a candle to the first two. That said ‘Midnight on the Hill’ from last year’s ‘Too Much Information’ is another stand out moment tonight.

 After this first set they wander off stage for all of about two minutes before returning. This is just enough time for Smith to change his shirt and put a tie on for the occasion.

I wasn’t sure just how highly rated ‘A Certain Trigger’ was by their fan base but now I am sure. Very highly. Its opening track ‘Signal and Sign’ is greeted like a long lost friend.

Suddenly the crowd are even more up for the night than they were before but then so too are the band as they throw themselves into this near classic album.

‘Apply Some Pressure’ is followed by the excellent ‘Graffiti’, then an epic ‘Postcard of a Painting’. It’s excellent stuff and that’s before we get to ‘Going Missing’, probably their finest moment.

Eventually, thankfully, ‘Once, a Glimpse’ arrives and it does indeed sound fine. Worth the ten year wait? Not sure about that but hopefully I won’t have to wait another ten years before they play it again.

I’m still recovering from that experience when the always brilliant ‘Acrobat’ arrives. 

Before the final track of the album, Smith announces that the band will not be doing an encore. This is, of course, quite a ‘rock n roll’ thing to do (or not do) but I’m not sure this applies if you apologise in advance.

He gives the excuse that they'd already been off once, I’m not really sure why they did that, and they'd already played all the ‘big ones’. Which would have made their choices for the encore somewhat interesting would it not? Or they could just have delayed one of those ‘big ones’ from earlier. I suppose in mitigation they had already played 24 tracks but there was still 30 minutes to go to curfew. Lightweights.

Despite that slight let down at the end, it’s still a rather excellent evening. As I said I hate entire album shows... but that was rather good.

Friday 11 December 2015

Duran Duran, Nottingham Arena

Supported by The Bloom Twins & Seal

Apologies to the Bloom Twins who were on far too early for us late arrivals so I can’t comment on the Ukrainian twins but we did catch the end of Seal. I’m not a fan but I will say he was professional, amenable, popular and has a good voice. I just find him rather dull. Sorry mate. I was though impressed with the arena sound which was far better than the last time I was here, which bodes well for what is to come.

Duran Duran on the other hand are anything but dull. They open their set with ‘Paper Gods’, the title track from their latest album, and it’s an impressive opener played for effect with good visuals on the screen behind them. This is already far more glitzy than my usual gig nights.

After which they launch into a trio of crowd pleasers with ‘Wild Boys’, ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘A View To A Kill’ back to back. With the excellent ‘Come Undone’ following close behind you can’t help thinking that the band have perhaps shot their load (can I say that?) a bit too soon.

From this point onwards the band regularly dip into their 14th and newest album, which again visits the electro-dance sound that they started experimenting with as long ago as 1988 on ‘Big Thing’. I’m not sure a lot of the audience were ready for that.

Some of the new album is very good although they perhaps didn’t play some of the most accessible stuff on it. Alongside the new material they play the likes of minor hit ‘I Don't Want Your Love’ from the aforementioned ‘Big Thing’, and a slightly obscure album track in ‘Love Voodoo’ from 1993’s ‘Wedding Album’ the album that rescued them from near obscurity and which contributes four tracks tonight, which is more than any other bar the new one.

Then there’s their bizarre version of Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ which they covered way back in 1995 to much derision and yet it still seems an integral part of their set ahead of their own material.

Clearly this is a band doing it for themselves as much as for the fans, a band who are not content to simply work the nostalgia circuit. They have some balls too, as it’s interesting to note they do not play either of their two UK number ones tonight. Oooo controversial.

They look good on it and at 57, Simon Le Bon’s voice is as good as ever, if not better. While Le Bon and bass player John Taylor bounce around the stage, Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes hide behind their drums and keyboards respectively. Rhodes it has to be said plays the enigmatic keyboard wizard so well that all he needs is the toothbrush moustache (in white preferably) to complete the transformation into Ron Mael from Sparks.

When ‘Planet Earth’ arrives the crowd are back on more solid ground, this is followed by the brilliant ‘Ordinary World’ and their 2004 hit ‘(Reach Up for the) Sunrise’ which pays homage to ‘New Moon on Monday’ mid-song for no apparent reason.

As paper cannons shower the arena with confetti presumably delivered from the Paper Gods, the finale approaches where they blend three songs together. Starting with the all new ‘Danceophobia’, into the mid-career ‘Too Much Information’ before finally arriving at the oldie ‘Girls on Film’ before they leave the stage to rapturous applause.

Returning for an encore, Le Bon turns uncharacteristically serious for a moment. Explaining that the band had performed ‘Save A Prayer’ with the Eagles of Death Metal not long before the Bataclan shootings in Paris. The Eagles of Death Metal’s version is now re-released and all proceeds will go to good causes.

He then asks for everyone to turn the lights on on their mobile phones and wave them in the air. This is despite me screaming and pleading at him ‘no’, I hate that sort of thing! They then of course played the song itself before closing an entertaining evening on a more upbeat note with ‘Rio’.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, Rock City, Nottingham

Supported by Will Varley & Skinny Lister

Will Varley is probably one part folk singer three parts comedian. All his songs come with a very large dose of dry humour which makes it well worthwhile turning up early to catch his entertaining support slot.

Some of his songs have a political edge but others just send up the likes of supermarket self-checkouts (‘The Self-Checkout Shuffle’) and those get rich quick emails we all get from foreign princes (‘I Got This Email’). Brilliant stuff. 

Skinny Lister are next up and they bring their own demijohn to join the party. What a party it is. This is not just folk but raucous good time folk of the like possibly not seen since The Pogues were in their prime. Oh, how I bet they're sick of that particular comparison but someone's got to restore the good name of folk after it's been diluted down to nothing by the likes of Mumford and Sons. This band could do it on their own.

Tonight the six piece are crammed in down the front of the stage but this doesn’t temper their boundless energy at all. They are an extremely confident outfit and get the crowd involved from the off. Singer Lorna Thomas will grab a lot of the attention but it’s not just her singing as most of the band contribute vocals at some point. I imagine they go down an absolute storm at festivals. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a band member go crowd surfing with a double bass. By rights security should have thrown him out... a dangerous precedent set there, perhaps.

Now can I use the ‘as seen at Glasto’ brag again? Perhaps not. Here's Frank...

Frank Turner is back home. After turning his back on his true love and having a brief affair with the Nottingham Arena, he is now back where he belongs. I hope he feels guilty about his infidelity. He's certainly making up for it big time with two nights at Rock City and an intimate show at Rough Trade.

He opens with ‘Get Better’, an ode to getting his half marathon time down despite the rapidly advancing years... ‘We could get better because we're not dead yet’, well that’s how I read it when it got me through the Leicester Half recently. Anyway... I digress, he and the Sleeping Souls machine gun out the first four tracks without pausing for breath. Four songs in and no monologue yet, what’s going on Frank? Just trying to fit an impressive 29 tracks into two hours I guess.

He finally takes a breath, rather appropriately, before introducing 'Out of Breath' one of many tonight from his new excellent album 'Positive Songs For Negative People'.

Before long he’s almost begging forgiveness for straying, once more proclaiming Rock City as his favourite venue in the whole of the UK and dedicating 'Polaroid Picture' to the venue. He keeps saying this year after year, so it must be true! We again get the story about his former band the Million Dead being told to f*** off and not come back, as well as being bowled over when he headlined here for the first time and it sold out in weeks. I wonder how his recent Möngöl Hörde hardcore side project would have gone down tonight...

I actually remember him being bowled over a good six months earlier than his first headlining at Rock City when he supported The Gaslight Anthem here and half the crowd seemed to have turned up purely for him. Even back then everyone knew every single word to every single song. It's the same tonight. It doesn't matter how old or how new the tracks are, same effect. A full singalong. Don't come to a Frank Turner gig unless you've rehearsed first!
On this tour he’s not been chopping and changing his sets much between gigs except for his acoustic request slot in the middle, when The Sleeping Souls put their feet up and whatever has been requested of him recently is played. It's produced a fair few rarities on this tour but tonight we probably get the best selection. Not total obscurities but set staples of yesteryear that there just isn't enough room in the set for these days.

The no longer retired 'The Ballad of Me and My Friends', an amazing 'Father's Day' and an equally good blast from the past with ‘Love Ire and Song' make an already brilliant set even better. In between he takes a moment to reflect on the happenings in Paris and dedicates 'Journey of the Magi' to Nick Alexander, a good friend of his, who died whilst working for the Eagles of Death Metal in the Bataclan. 

Then over ninety minutes in and we expected to perform star jumps to 'Recovery' accompanied by 'Lee' upon stage who shows us how, just like an instructor at an aerobics class.

It doesn’t feel like song number 25 but it is, the last song of the set and he finishes with a new song albeit the current single ‘The Next Storm’. Not many artists would risk doing that but then not many have new songs this good or fans who will know every word even if it was only released yesterday.

He’s back for an encore of course, playing four more songs before finally winding things up and sending the audience home to practice their star jumps for next time.