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’.