Monday, 3 December 2012

The Divine Comedy, The Royal Festival Hall, London, 7th November 2012

After making my way to London and finding my way to The Royal Festival Hall via the 'Location' app on my HTC with relative ease, I was surprised at how middle class the place was, with a typically over-priced restaurant and art gallery. It was also a sit down gig - my first! which is something I wasn't expecting. It was Neil Hannon's 42nd birthday bash, so everyone, except myself, were handed party hats and kazoos on entry. Not sure why I missed out on that honour. I think I was just too eager and rushed past the party hat and kazoo ushers to find my seat!

I've always been a fan of The Divine Comedy aka Neil Hannon's most popular songs, but it wasn't until I began using Spotify that I really discovered how good his music was. I found that he had recorded so many albums over the years. So much genius and varied style. Fellow Irish band Pugwash were supporting with their familiar Hannon-like sound. A fitting introdution. The highlight of their performance was Meeting Mr. Miandad from the Duckworth Lewis Method album, in which Neil actually made an appearance for that one song, and then quickly rushed off stage again.

Neil Hannon @ The Festival Hall, London. 7th November 2012
Many of the Divine Comedy favourites were included and I just wanted to sing along. But the audience were quiet and retiring. The tongue-in-cheek performance from Neil was fantastic though, with songs like The Complete Banker, Assume the Permendicular, The Indie Disco and the ever haunting, and my personal favourite, A Lady of a Certain Age. Part way through the performance, as it was Neil's birthday, a giant 42 was wheeled on stage along with a cake, presented by Neil's daughter. He then, after the appearance of his string quartet, proceeded to perform the Promanade album in it's entirety, which, although not my favourite album, made for a magical performance. He even (barely) pulled off Book Lovers! Oh, he also did Songs of Love, in which everyone, EXCEPT ME, played the chorus on their kazoos! I knew they had a purpose! I should have gone back and got one!

There were also two special guests. Tom Chaplin from Keane made an appearance and sang Love What You Do, and Alison Moyet then did a performance of Don't Go from her Yazoo days. Then she sang Neil's The Certainty of Chance. All in all it was fantastic, although I was disappointed that such classics as Come Home Billy Bird, Generation Sex and Commuter Love didn't make it into the set list, but you can't expect everything from a guy with such a big back catalogue of great songs! Even with two encores, it all ended in time for me to catch the 23:05 train home. I was back by 2am, which, even by my regular standards, isn't bad going.

Below is a rough video I took of Alison Moyet performing Don't Go.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Twin Shadow at Dingwalls, Camden, London, 4th July 2012

Through the power of Facebook, came the word that Twin Shadow were touring and soon to play Camden Town. As mentioned in my first blog, these guys were one of the original bands I discovered through Spotify. In fact I found them through the 'related artists' link whilst listening to Twin Sister, although from what I can gather, the only thing they have in common is the 'Twin'. Anyway, it worked out well, because their debut album 'Forget' is another favourite of mine.

Now, I snapped up a ticket two whole months before the gig, with little consideration of whether I'd be financially stable enough to afford another expensive excursion to London after a May stag weekend in Majorca, and two friends' weddings in late June - one of them 500 miles away in Glasgow. My bank balance was less than stable. Anyway, I'd bought my ticket, so I was going, that was certain.

Twin Shadow at Dingwalls, Camden Lock, London, 4th July 2012
I had some trouble locating Dingwalls. It was tucked away on the lower Middle Yard of Camden Lock. A typically 1970s underground club, you are presented with two huge, worn out, black wooden doors, which opened out into a small concert venue. It was 8:00pm, and Twin shadow were due on in 90 minutes, during which time there was a nondescript DJ set of pop and RnB. As 9:30 approached the place became much more busy, with people eventually crammed into every corner. 15 minutes later than scheduled, Twin Shadow emerged from the, erm... shadows. The band immediately opened up with 'Slow', with all the grandeur and enthusiasm you'd expect from from George Lewis Jr and his band. Such a cool trio, although no one could out-cool Mr. Ice himself.

The performance was great, although I must admit to not recognising all of the songs straight away, as sometimes the instruments just drowned one another out from the sheer noise. After performing three tracks, which included 'Tyrant Destroyed', which was one of my favourites off the debut album, they took a moment to talk to the crowd, as bands usually do, I've found. After the usual 'thanks for coming out' speech, George went on to explain that they had just finished their tour of Scandinavia, and then carried on to say that the people of Scandinavia were "better looking" than us, but we rock out more. Way to win over your audience, George! However, coolness prevailed, and it seemed nothing he could say would stop our appreciation, even after the Anglo-American 4th of July history lesson which followed.

My highlights were 'Tyrant Destroyed', 'Castles in the Snow', and the amazing 'Forget'. There was a great moment near the end when Mr. Lewis explained that during the lack lustre visit to Scandinavia, they had lost heart slightly, but seeing us Brits appreciate the music as we did, gave them new inspiration to carry on. All in all it was a fantastic performance, and I wish I'd fought to get to the front where the animated fans were, instead of allowing myself to be pushed to the sidelines, as I did.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Chairlift at Scala, King's Cross, London, 25/04/12

Another band I discovered at the beginning of 2012 was Chairlift. 'Planet Health', from the 2008 album 'Does You Inspire You', was my introduction to them through my recent partner in music, Zoe. Even when they released their second album 'Something' in January, there were a couple of tracks I quite liked, but they didn't blow me away... but as I mentioned in my previous blog, music does tend to grow on me. As I scrawled through my regular list of Spotify starred tracks and albums, I kept going back to 'Something'. Just to listen again, as if to give a second, third and forth opinion. The thing is, I wasn't entirely convinced this couldn't be another grower and all-time favourite. I was right to do so, because by April this was a regular on my playlist, and I loved - almost - every song on the album. The one song that I found to be the most popular on YouTube and similar sites, was 'I Belong in Your Arms'. This was the one song that I wasn't overly impressed with. Only my humble opinion, of course (I don't want to come across as condescending. Who am I to truly judge musical genius?).

Anyway, last Monday I was checking for tour dates for bands, as I often do, and found out that Chairlift were playing London... in 2 days! I swiftly emailed Zoe and snapped up two tickets. I was excited about the gig. On Wednesday, after a 3 hour journey from Bournemouth, we'd arrived. After a lengthy wait and an impressive warm up by Liverpool's Outfit, Chairlift eventually emerged from the shadows and predictably opened up with an uproarious performance of 'Sidewalk Safari'.

Chairlift at Scala, King's Cross, London, 25th April 2012
The crowd were more animated and generally more enthusiastic than at the St. Vincent gig in January, and the appreciation grew as Chairlift belted out gem after gem, with Caroline Polachek's vocals nailing it every time. She even took to the drums in an extended performance of 'Guilty As Charged'. My favourite song, and the one performance I was looking forward to the most, was the hauntingly 80s 'Take It Out On Me', which, as sappy as it may sound, is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard! 'Planet Health', 'Wrong Opinion', 'Cool As a Fire' and the awesome 'Met Before' were all there too, in a fantastic and engaging performance that lasted little more than an hour! 'Amanaemonesia' was the encore, which included a pinata pig (I think) lowered down into the crowd. In everyone's excitement of tearing it apart, I managed to grab a leg - a novel souvenir if there ever was one!

This was Chairlift's biggest headlining audience to date. Not surprising really - a well deserved reputation among indie lovers. Again, it was a night to remember. I left Scala in King's Cross wanting more, and feeling sad that it was all over so soon.

Whilst sat at home thinking about the night, I remembered that I shot a very short video on my HTC phone during the encore. I meant to post this on YouTube as it was with no edits, but the sound and visual quality was so rough, I thought it'd be pointless. Instead I put 'Take It Out On Me' to the video and added synchronised lyrics. I thought it came out well. Anyway, here it is:


Friday, 2 March 2012

Discovering Spotify, and a world of new music

A couple of years ago I discovered the now popular online music sharing network called Spotify. At first I was pessimistic, as it was easy to download and share music for free through thousand of other sources on the internet. Why would I want to pay for it? The words "ice to Eskimos" sprung to mind. When Spotify cut down on listening time for free memberships, and then subsequently stopped their free memberships all together, I resisted paying. After all, we're in a recession, I thought. But as time went on, it became clear to me how valuable the service had become, and a year ago, I signed up for a paid membership. That decision was one of the best I have ever made, and, although it may sound like an overreaction, it changed me as a person, as a whole new world of music presented itself to me.

The Spotify interface (March 2012)
Like many other people, I knew what I liked, and I'd been listening to the same old music for years. It's what you get used to, and it's what you come to know and love, so you stick with it. But now I realise that this belief I had; that all new music isn't as good, was ignorant and misinformed.

Whilst watching the Mercury Music Awards on TV last year, two albums stuck out to me, albeit simply because of the artwork alone. I mean, I had nothing more to go on at that stage. They were Metronomy's 'The English Riviera' and Everything Everything's 'Man Alive'. So, I had a listen to both through Spotify, and within a couple of listens, I was absolutely hooked on Metronomy and their whole back catalogue. 'Riviera' is now one of my favourite albums for many many years. 'Man Alive' was more of a grower, but now that too is up there in my top 5. I now began to realise how ignorant I was, and that I'd been missing out on years of amazing bands releasing equally amazing music.

Now, there is a 'related artists' field on the Spotify interface that allows you to browse through other artists that you may also like. St. Vincent was one of the first I stumbled across whilst listening to Metronomy. OK, they aren't actually that similar, but who cares! They now rock my world! I knew straight away that I was going to like them when I heard the opening chords of the chaotic, yet haunting, 'Chloe in the Afternoon', but I didn't know I'd grow to adore Annie Clark. 'Strange Mercy' has become my favourite album to date. Ever.

Other artists I've come to know and love since using Spotify are Twin Sister, Late of the Pier, Twin Shadow, and the sublime Blonde Redhead. The latter was recommended to me by a friend I met on New Years Eve. Yet another band I just can't seem to get enough of now. I found out that they'd been recording for the best part of 20 years, but, not surprisingly, in my previously blinkered state, I'd never heard of them before.

Metronomy at the 02 Academy, Birmingham, England. 18th February 2012
During my obsession of new found bands in 2011, I promised myself that in 2012 I would go to see as many of them perform live as I possibly could. This came to fruition in February when I traveled to Birmingham to see Metronomy as part of the NME Awards Tour. It was a long day, and because tickets were so scarce, I went alone. Actually no one I knew really appreciated them as much as I did. I decided I'd rather rock out in the mosh-pit alone than stand at the back keeping a non-fan company, so that's just what I did! It was a fantastic night, even though I felt like the oldest person there... and my clothes were different. Five days later they performed in my home town of Bournemouth, but I'd left it far too late to buy tickets, and they'd sold out. Hence the Birmingham mission! One down.

I got an extremely generous Christmas present from my boss last year. Two tickets to see St. Vincent in London, only two weeks after the NME gig in Birmingham. So, this Monday just gone, I made my way to the Shepherds Bush Empire. Again I went alone for similar reasons to before, but I didn't care! I just wanted to see the one and only Annie Clark in the flesh. The St. Vincent gig was something I will never forget, and I've been banging on about it ever since to whoever will listen. I had booked a ticket on the 11:05pm train, but time was running out, and I had to make a decision; miss part of the performance and catch my train, or catch a later train and pay extra for a ticket. But the night was in full-swing. There was only one option for me, so I missed my train.

St. Vincent at the 02 Shepherds Bush
Empire, London. 27th February, 2012.
She absolutely nailed it! The highlights of the night were her performance of 'Year of the Tiger', 'Chloe in the Afternoon', and the haunting strings of 'Champagne Year', although the entire set was flawless. An unexpected crowd-surf followed during the encore, in which I had to hold up her leg at one point. It was incredible, although I was a little disappointed at the lack of interaction from the crowd. For some reason, unlike at the NME gig, no one was really rocking out. I wanted so badly to get involved and just lose it, but you can't really have a one-man mosh pit! Having said that, I will forever remember Monday night. It took me back to the days when I was a teenager, when I adored a band so much I wanted to wear the tour T-shirt with pride! St. Vincent, I salute you.

I will certainly continue to follow my much-loved bands this year. Maybe I'll get to see Everything Everything supporting Snow Patrol, or Blonde Redhead soon, although I know they're not touring at the moment. Spotify, thank you for opening my eyes, and indeed, changing my life. I will continue to use your revolutionary service.