New Theatre Oxford, 6th May 2013
Support: John Foxx and The Maths
After a warm and sunny May Day bank holiday the icing on the cake was still to come. OMD had chosen this date to bring their electronic bag of tricks to Oxford’s New Theatre to promote their latest album, English Electric, with support from John Foxx and the Maths. I was eagerly anticipating my first ever OMD show having been a hardened electronic fan since the early eighties and the days of Souvenir, when I played that track over and over with tracks from the likes of Gary Newman, Human League, Blancmange and the mighty Depeche Mode. I’ve been a sucker for electro bands ever since, and to my astonishment I discovered that in that time OMD have released 12 albums.
John Foxx and the Maths (who are John Foxx and Benge) quietly took to the stage, playing a selection of tracks that took advantage of the addition of multi-instrumentalist Hannah Peel to the line up (who, I was interested to read, has previously worked with Blood Red Shoes, amongst others). Foxx was the original lead singer of Ultravox before Midge Ure took over, and has worked with many of the electronic scene’s legends. The waiting audience seemed to really enjoy their no nonsense performance. Foxx kept audience interaction to a minimum, adding to the mystery and moodiness of the set. The highlight of the set was a track called The Running Man from the band’s critically acclaimed album, Interplay, which drew a very enthusiastic response from the crowd.
After a short wait OMD appeared for the first track of their set to cheers from the crowd, some of whom immediately leapt to their feet ready for a dance marathon. From the very start, lead singer Andy McCluskey did a flawless job of embracing and including the audience in the gig, sharing playful banter throughout the performance with both the rest of the band and the punters. He declared that the cure for too much barbeque food and sunburn was to have a good dance, and he joked with 15 audience members that they needed to dance harder to ensure a collapse of the “condemned” balcony onto the audience in the circle (cheekily adding that the theatre was insured for such an event). The other band members joined in, with fellow bandmate, Paul Humphreys, jesting that he’d “set the right sound up” for McCluskey when the pair swapped roles (with Humphreys on lead vocals and McCluskey on synth) for old favourite, (Forever) Live and Die.
They played a great mix of older 80s and 90s material with more recent tracks, airing crowd pleasers such as Tesla Girls, Souvenir, Maid Of Orleans, Locomotion, Joan Of Arc and Sailing On The Seven Seas alongside releases from their latest album, such as Dresden (which has just been added to the Radio 2 playlist) and Metroland. Throughout the gig the audience clapped, danced, sang and waved their arms with gusto (at times it felt a little like being on a cruise ship due to the mesmerising dancing and waving), with the biggest cheers saved for the final track of the set before the encore (the OMD classic, Enola Gay), with every member of the audience on their feet and jigging about.
Coming back on for the encore, McCluskey was having a bit of shirt trouble – between going off the stage and coming back for the encore he was missing a button. Playing a roaring encore consisting of Walking On The Milky Way (for which the audience obliged with singing duties) and Electricity, McCluskey absent-mindedly fiddled with the phantom button while he danced about the stage. The band eventually retired triumphantly from the stage, the crowd cheering, clapping, whooping and whistling for all they were worth. OMD certainly raised the roof in Oxford!
My review score: 8/10
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Alexandra Palace, 27th April 2013
Support: Chvrches, Everything Everything
It’s not every day that you’re blessed with the good fortune of finding out that a band you’ve been wanting to see for a while is supporting a band you already have tickets for. I was already really pleased to discover that Everything Everything were supporting Two Door Cinema Club at Saturday’s gig at the Ally Pally, but when I found out on Saturday morning that Chvrches were also supporting I was over the moon. I’ve been trying to see Chvrches for a while but diary clashes had conspired against me. And so I found myself in the crowd, with 17 friends, on Saturday night, eagerly awaiting their arrival on stage.
Kicking off their set with a slowed down version of the intro to Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy was a promising start and Chvrches soon got into their stride, playing a selection of their electro-infused tracks, and swapping vocal and synth duties between the threesome. By the time they struck into their latest EP, Recover, a large number of people in the crowd were bobbing and singing with them.
All too soon they disappeared backstage, leaving the scene set for Everything Everything, who drew whoops and whistles from the crowd with their opener, Cough Cough. Speeding through their more popular tracks, including old favourite My Kz Yr Bf and new track Duet, the audience were enthusiastic and eagerly clapped and uttered more whoops of encouragement. Both support acts received a great reception, which was well deserved as they really set up the party atmosphere that was ignited as soon as Two Door Cinema Club took to the stage.
With a huge roar from the waiting crowd Two Door started as they meant to go on, building on the electric atmosphere by playing their first four glee-inducing tracks almost back to back, with minimal crowd interaction in between (Sleeps Alone, Undercover Martyn, Do You Want It All and This Is The Life). At this point lead singer, Alex Trimble, addressed the crowd for the first time, humbly thanking the crowd for coming to their biggest UK show to date (which, incidentally, had sold out weeks in advance), and stating that while they were “super-excited to be here” they were also “shitting themselves”.
Next up was Wake Up from the latest album (Beacon), followed by You Are Not Stubborn and Come Back Home from the first album (Tourist History), and the crowd was partying so hard it began to feel like we were part of a big carnival (and actually, a huge conga procession would not have been out of place at all!). The lighting and laser show only served to heighten the carnival feel whilst the band ploughed through more material from the new album in the shape of Beacon and Sun. As the kick drum and spangly guitars of the intro to Pyramid began the lasers came into their own, trapping the smoke from the stage into a mesmerising, laser-lined pyramid. Then came “Ah! Oh! Ah! Ah! Oh!”, signalling the start of I Can Talk, and sending the crowd into a whooping frenzy.
I noticed that there was a slight dip in the dancing activities during Costume Party, although this could be because it was released as the B side to I Can Talk and it does not appear on their albums, so it’s possibly less well known. Nevertheless it’s a great track that continues their knack of producing jangly, grin inducing tunes. In any event, a singalong was next on the agenda, with Trimble asking the audience to fill in for one-time vocalist Valentina on The World Is Watching, and the crowd continuing this theme into Next Year, Something Good Can Work and Handshake.
After thanking the crowd again, the band launched into their final two tracks of the set Eat That Up It’s Good For You and It’s Too Late) releasing a net full of large white balloons onto the dancing crowd below. The atmosphere was almost indescribable. The band disappeared offstage but the crowd continued to cheer, chase the balloons and party. Within moments they were back, and launched into Someday in a maze of lasers and balloons, followed by Cigarettes In The Theatre. The band then addressed the crowd once again, thanking them for a “truly life-changing, unforgettable experience”. And then, amid a plethora of showering streamers, they played the final track of the night, What You Know to the elated party goers in front of them.
If I could give the entire gig 11 out of 10, I would. The support acts were great and really set the crowd up for the main event, Two Door Cinema Club completely outplayed themselves with an absolute sack load of party friendly tracks, and the atmosphere was electric and akin to being amid a carnival (helped by the balloons, lasers and streamers of course). The only thing missing was that conga procession.
My voice was shredded, my feet were throbbing, and I had that hangover feeling the next day even though I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol. That is the sign of an exceptional gig!
My review score: 11/10 (....ok, ok…rules are rules I suppose....10/10 then)
Monday, 22 April 2013
I’m really excited to announce that I have a new column over on the Strictly Reading and Leeds website, called “Reading Randoms”. It’s based on my popular “Unearthing Hidden Gems” series that I’ve been publishing on this blog for some time, but is mostly focused on Reading and Leeds Festival bands, with a weekly “Curveball”.
So every week I randomly pick four tracks by bands that have played at Reading and Leeds Festival over the years. Like my “Unearthing Hidden Gems” posts, selection is completely random, with tracks being plucked via my itunes shuffle feature from the huge number of tracks released by the vast array of bands that have graced the stages over the years. The fifth track is a “Curveball” from a band that has not played the Festival.
The aim is to spark some great memories of past festivals and bands, and to introduce some new music to those who have not seen or heard of the bands or tracks.
Head over to the Strictly Reading & Leeds site to see this week’s edition by clicking this link . I hope you like it!
More exciting news to come shortly….. :-)
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
LG Arena Birmingham, 21st March 2013
Support: City and Colour
Having been elevated to headline status for Reading and Leeds Festivals this August, Biffy Clyro are working hard to prove that they are ready and worthy of their coveted headline spot, starting the year with a 24 date European tour (11 of those in the UK), then jetting off to the US and Canada for another 11 dates, and finally playing 6 European festivals before taking to the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds. Given their usual style of being quite insular when they play (in that they are so into what they are playing that they go into a “band huddle” and they forget they have an audience) and the fact that, despite having six studio albums under their belt, they are fairly new to the UK’s mainstream music chart (although they have been on the rock circuit for years), it is perhaps understandable why there is scepticism as to whether they will be capable of being a memorable Reading and Leeds headliner.
Taking to the stage at the LG Arena in Birmingham for their second UK date, amid the crowd’s cries of “Mon the Biff!” (being the fans’ usual affectionate chant for the band), the band burst onto the stage in their usual topless state to open with Different People, the first track of their latest album, Opposites. They the thrashed their way through That Golden Rule and Sounds Like Balloons to the obvious joy of the crowd, who went into a moshing frenzy. It wasn’t until the start of Black Chandelier that lead singer Simon Neil said a rather sheepish “hello” to the crowd before leading the first of a number of calmer mass sing-alongs, which befitted the arena setting perfectly.
As the gig progressed, the band emulated the sentiment of Opposites perfectly by expertly steering the crowd through instants of ferocious moshing and “lighter in the air” moments, with the set list veering from one extreme to the other in a dizzying, but gratifying, haze. A frantic Modern Magic Formula was followed by a beautiful rendition of Opposite , before bassist James Johnston cheekily tried to stoke up a fight between the fans of the previous opening night (in Newcastle) with the Birmingham fans with the usual baiting of “they were good but I think you’ll be better”. After playing Justboy from their first album, Blackened Sky , the band launched into Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies from Puzzle , at which point a massive circle pit opened up in front of the stage and the fans went ballistic. The stops and starts of this track were played by the band so tightly that you wouldn’t have even got a gnat’s whisker in between them. It was absolutely breathtaking.
On a roll, and obviously warming to the task of bringing the audience into the band, Neil declared that he wanted to see the whole arena bounce for Bubbles, and the audience duly obliged, jumping and singing this popular track as if their lives depended on it. After calming the pace down with Victory Over The Sun, the band jokingly berated the fans in the seated area of the arena (most of which had been alternating between sitting and standing, but who were almost all seated for the last track) by stating, “You in the seats! You need to get up! This is a fucking rock concert!” And to the opening bars of A Day Of... from the album The Vertigo Of Bliss, the seated fans leapt up and went for it!
Following another mass sing-along for their newest single release, Biblical, and Spanish Radio, the band launched into There's Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake from Infinity Land, at the end of which Neil scrawled the number 26 on a backboard and showed it to the crowd before the band perfectly executed 26 chops to close the song. The band, including the backing musicians but excluding Neil, all exited the stage while Neil walked out onto a runway and into the crowd to play an acoustic version of God and Satan. His performance was so captivating that it was almost as if he was playing to just me in a room. He was then joined by bassist Johnston for The Thaw and Machines, with both band members providing an equally entrancing acoustic performance.
This didn’t last long, however, due to the sudden frenzy of dance-style lazers, bass and beats that introduced Glitter and Trauma, which led the audience into a 3-track mini-mosh including the brilliant Who's Got A Match and The Joke's On Us. And then it happened: the “Coldplay moment”. The band struck up for Many Of Horror and the crowd blew the roof off of the arena as they joined in with the band, singing at the tops of their lungs. Finishing the set with Picture A Knife Fight and an absolutely outstanding rendition of The Captain the band retreated backstage to more shouts of “Mon the Biff!”
After some frantic rearrangements of the stage area by the band’s techies, Neil reappeared for the encore at the top of a set of stairs, to a spot which appeared to be at the base of a spine. The band then played Skylight and the more upbeat Stingin' Belle before saving Mountains for their last track of the night, which elicited more singing and bouncing from the crowd.
Playing a wide range of tracks from all six of their studio albums, and performing a perfectly balanced set list ranging from heavy rock to sing-along ballads, the band were fantastically tight and threw themselves completely into the gig. They have obviously worked on the “insular effect”, and whilst they still have these moments (which have obviously benefitted the band’s tightness, and which are necessary to maintain that tightness) they are now more mindful of the fact they have an audience too, and are more comfortable and adept at bringing the audience into this world. This, coupled with the interesting nature of many of their tracks due to their trademark of mixing unusual time signatures, can only lead to one conclusion…
Is Biffy Clyro worthy of a headline spot at Reading and Leeds, and will they be memorable?
Absolutely, especially if they perform as fantastically as they did at this gig, mixing moshing with sing-along material, and providing a tight performance whilst making the audience feel that they are part of the band. If they do, their slot is sure to be a hit with their fans and should also bring many new fans into the fold.
My review score: 10/10
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
From the very start of the performance Helen drew the audience in to her world, chatting easily and telling the stories of each of the tracks she had chosen to perform. With her trusty sidekick and husband at the helm of the sound and light controls, the pair provided an additional dimension to the show by performing as a double act, sharing witty banter throughout and putting the audience completely at ease. Helen chose to alternate performing to her backing tracks with playing whilst at her piano, which added a further interesting facet to the intimate gig.
Starting out with two of the tracks from her previous album, At Second Glance, Helen then introduced the first of the tracks from her new album, Sirens and other Mysteries, explaining that the song, All These Chains, was borne out of the frustration of all of the tasks we weigh ourselves down with in modern life. This was followed by a beautiful rendition of a cover by a childhood influence; Carole King’s, You've Got A Friend.
Explaining the story behind the second track of the night from the new album, Helen recalled that she had written I'll Be With You after waking up in the middle of the night with the song in her head in the run up to the wedding of a close friend, and the song was now affectionately known as "The Wedding Song" by them, having been dedicated to the happy couple. Following up with a track from her 2006 album, Fallen But Not Fatal, the audience was then treated to a goody bag containing various treats before Helen sang the final song of her first set, Without You, from the new album.
Kicking off the second set, Helen chose to sing another track from her previous album before introducing a new track, If That's The Way. In doing so, Helen opened her heart to the audience by telling the story of how the track came about, explaining that the track came at a difficult time in her life following, almost simultaneously, the miscarriage of a much wanted baby and her husband losing his job. A studio session was booked three weeks after these terrible events, and at the session her producer, Andy Baker, had asked her to sum up how she felt about it in one sentence. Helen replied, “If that’s the way it has to be…”, and a song was born. Helen then recorded the song on the same day through a sea of tears and stops and starts. The song is so beautiful, and was sung by Helen at the intimate gig with such feeling and vulnerability, that many in the audience struggled to maintain composure, myself included. This was followed up by another great cover, this time of the Bob Dylan classic, Make You Feel My Love, which has more latterly been made popular by Adele.
After singing another track from the new album, Helen skilfully lightened the mood with the tale of how the following song, Since I Met You, from her 2004 album, Conversations With The Heart, was conceived. After being pursued by her now husband at university for some time Helen finally gave in and started dating him, and she was so consumed by the relationship that her normally organised world went into complete chaos, sparking the lyrics for this catchy song. This track was followed by another from the new album, When The Time Comes, before the upbeat Never Too Late rounded off the evening.
Helen’s relaxed style, combined with the charming intimate venue and great set list, served to create a perfect and emotional performance which captivated the audience and took her to their hearts.
Helen’s new album, Sirens and other Mysteries, is released on 5th April 2013 and will be available digitally from iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and on CD from www.helensandersonwhite.com.
Monday, 25 March 2013
Following their popular gig at Birmingham’s O2 Academy in January Birmingham band, Among The Echoes, have been busy recording a new four track EP, Freak. The addition of producer and guitarist Sam Wale to the band’s line up has added both a new dimension and sparkle to their already polished sound, which skilfully manages to fuse 80s electronica akin to Fiction Factory, Talk Talk and Depeche Mode with a more contemporary sound such as that from indietronica band M83.
The lead track, Freak, is an absolute earworm that swirls its way into your head with captivating ethereal synths, heavy bass, and dark vocals before stomping into the chorus with an uplifting 80s synth riff and vocals akin to Siouxsie Sioux and David Bowie, courtesy of Rachael O’Hara and Ian Wall respectively. The following song, Talk Talk, continues this powerful theme teaming Phil Lockhart’s brilliantly fuzzy bassline with escalating vocals which become fantastically needy by the end of the track. Steve Turrell’s soaring synth in the chorus intensifies the great drop that follows, with the band’s trademark dark edge being present throughout.
Whilst still firmly in the same vein, Pure, manages to bring a slightly more rock feel to the table courtesy of a gritty guitar backdrop in the chorus. The vocals are softer than the previous two tracks but this provides a great contrast, and serves to create a fantastic build up to the final track, Feels Like Heaven. This track covers Fiction Factory’s popular electronic hit of the 80s in a new, unexpected way, resulting in nostalgic electronica with a new twist. With a slow, moody beat overlaid by an otherworldly synth and gravelly rock guitar, the vocals weave in and out of the verses and chorus to an escalating interlude, before bringing the EP to a shuddering close. Fiction Factory’s Eddie Jordan gives a ringing endorsement of Among The Echoes’ new version of Feels Like Heaven calling it “amazing”, and he is not wrong.
With fantastic production by Sam Wale, fans of dark wave, 80s electronica and indie synth pop will not be disappointed with this EP. Freak is released for digital download on 1st April and is available on Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby and the usual digital outlets.
Hear the first exclusive radio play of the EP in full on Johnny Normal's Radio Show at www.radio-happy.com on Tuesday 26th March between 20:00 and 22:00 UK time!
2. Talk Talk
4. Feels Like Heaven
Among The Echoes website
Sam Wale Productions website
Saturday, 23 February 2013
Earl’s Court London, 22nd February 2013
Support: Old Men, The Joy Formidable
Having already completed 20 dates in the US, Japan and Europe this year, this was the final date of the European leg of the tour before Bloc Party embark on a 14 date tour of Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific. The gig was their largest UK performance to date (aside from any festivals), playing at the 19,000 capacity Earl’s Court One venue.
Kicking off to a backdrop of lasers and a huge halogen logo from their latest album, Four, the band threw themselves into the first 13 track first set with a frantic version of And So He Begins To Lie, immediately followed by the ever popular Hunting For Witches. Frontman Kele Okereke was on top form, bantering with the attentive audience and introducing each track by relaying the sentiment behind it, including Waiting For The 7.18 which he described as being “about public transport”, prompting a huge cheer from the crowd. This was followed up by a fantastically tight performance of both Song For Clay (Disappear Here) and Banquet, to the obvious glee of the crowd who sang and jumped around like their lives depended on it. At this point I got slightly distracted. It was extremely dark in the venue, with the only light coming from the stage, making the lad directly in front of me look like some kind of cross between a body popper and the Churchill nodding dog due to the strange type of jigging he was executing. It amused me so much that I almost missed some very interesting screenshots of the crowd that were being transmitted from the large screen either side of the stage (the crowd were, at that point, frantically moshing to Coliseum).
The band performed an impressive array of tracks from all four of their studio albums, with selected songs being performed in a frenzy of lazers and strobes. The end of the first set was marked with “something different” in the shape of One More Chance, and Octopus. The band then disappeared without a word, to the bemusement of the audience, before reappearing a few minutes later to open the 4 track “Round Two” with Kreuzberg, which Okereke dedicated to his parents. Finishing the set with an absolutely blistering version of Flux (preceded by the intro to Rihanna’s We Found Love), the band once again disappeared.
The first track of the encore was a new one, Ratchet, which Okereke confirmed had not even yet been recorded, and had only been aired live for the first time in Missouri on the US leg of January 2013’s tour dates. The track itself has the unmistakeable Bloc Party sound, and features an interesting pitch-bending guitar riff, which the crowd eagerly embraced. The following track, Truth, had been the subject of an email to their mailing list a few days beforehand, where the band encouraged the crowd to download an app to their iPhones and film footage of the track being performed, and this footage would be collected via the app and a video made from the best bits. Okereke seemed a bit uncertain about this concept, but nevertheless asked the crowd to record the track as it was being performed. The final track of the night, Helicopter, was performed amid an array of lasers to the partying crowd, before the band took their final bows and left the stage.
Although the venue was not sold out it did not deter the band, who performed a great mix of old favourites and new material, and at least this gave the crowd more room to dance. The gig did perhaps suffer slightly at times in terms of atmosphere due to the size of the venue, but overall the band and crowd had a good rapport. Once again the band showed off their great musicianship, and the tightness of the band really shone through.
My review score: 8/10