Thursday, July 10, 2014

ARCADE FIRE (London Hyde Park, 03/07/14)

The last Hyde Park AF show was the worst show of theirs I've ever seen with its odd setlist ("Wake Up" as the second song!), dodgy sound and the surfeit of Mumfordian terrorists chatting their way through proceedings, but this was a damn sight better despite a very uninspiring start. No real surprises except "Crown of Love", but much fun was had and the finale of "Power Out", "Here Comes The Night-Time" and "Wake Up" was pretty much the epitome of how an encore should be done.
STEVIE WONDER (London Clapham Common, 29/06/14)

The boy wonder turned elder statesman of soul may not be as sprightly as he used to be, but man, he's still one of the greatest songwriters ever to have graced this green Earth. Two and a half hours of hit after hit after hit (seriously: "Sir Duke"->"I Wish"->"Signed, Sealed, Delivered"->"You Are The Sunshine Of My Life"->"My Cherie Amour"), well judged covers in tribute to Bobby Womack and Gerry Goffin, self-deprecating jokes in a faux-South London accent and of course the song with the Funkiest Guitar Line In History (TM) to close. Perhaps a little less Jesus chat and a bit more "Misstra Know It All" wouldn't have gone amiss, but eh, he's Stevie Wonder- he can do whatever the hell he wants.
LONNIE LISTON SMITH (London Jazz Cafe, 28/06/14)

The jazz-funk pioneer and former Miles Davis collaborator is 73 years of age, but time and fading eyesight hasn't dimmed his ability to play some damn funky keyboards. Some material heavily verged on the cheesy, but "Expansions" remains a bona fide, stone-cold classic of the genre.
DAPTONES SUPER SOUL REVUE (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 27/06/14)

For soul of the old-school variety, you can't do much better than the Daptones label, and this showcase of their finest talent did not disappoint. Sharon Jones, recovered from cancer and more vivacious than ever and Antibalas with their energetic Afrobeat both put on excellent sets, but the night inevitably belonged to "The Screaming Eagle of Soul" Charles Bradley, a once-homeless sexagenerian reborn as an soul man with the voice of James Brown and the moves of a drunken uncle.
CAMDEN CRAWL (London Electric Ballroom/St Michael's Church, 21/06/14)

It's a shame this year's Camden Crawl ended in bankruptcy and acrimony, because for all its overambition, I had a hell of a lot of fun. The much-reduced, Greatest Hits toting incarnation of Of Montreal triggered mild anarchy at the front of the Electric Ballroom, antifolk messiah Jeff Lewis killed it with one of the sharpest and witty sets I've seen him do (his ode to British cuisine almost brought a tear to my eye...) and Au Revoir Simone and Haiku Salut bookended proceedings with sheer loveliness.
VIOLENT FEMMES (London Troxy, 18/06/14)

Some older bands, when reuniting to play material from their long-distant youth, clearly expend the least amount of effort possible in doing so (*cough*Pixies*cough*) but the Violent Femmes looked like they were having the time of the lives, and ensure we did as well. Plus, they played "Blister In The Sun" twice because they could, and that made me very happy.
RAMONA LISA (London Courtyard Theatre, 17/06/14)

The natural inclination when discussing Ramona Lisa, the solo project of the immensely talented Caroline Polachek, is to bring up comparisons to her more established synth-pop outfit, Chairlift (best known for scoring an iPod commercial with the excellent "Bruises" back in 2008). However, her dramatic debut London performance would perhaps be better paralleled with Swedish electro-oddball's The Knife, in particular their controversial Shaking The Habitual tour, in that it was less a traditional gig and more a piece of performance art. Yet whilst The Knife shows suffered a surfeit of pretension and a shortfall of substance, Polachek's melding of music and dance proved significantly more interesting and artistically unified. Stylistically, her inspiration seems to be the late 60's- the crisp, sterile retro-futuristic white jumpsuits, the sinister eye motif, the purposefully kitsch choreography. Instruments are nowhere to be seen (a rare example of this being a good thing), audience interaction is restricted to a few words and cleverly-utilised projections augment the beguiling, stylised atmosphere. Yet this impressive stagecraft isn't delivered at the expense of the music, which combines the melodic strengths of her other band with the dreamlike otherworldliness of Julia Holter. A triumphant introduction to Polachek's brave new world, Ramona Lisa are destined to become one of the "must-see" live acts of 2014.
WYE OAK (London Islington Assembly, 10/06/14)

Review: HERE
ARCADE FIRE (London Earls Court, 06/06/14-07/06/14)

To be honest, I thought the days where Arcade Fire's shows were something to rave about were long past. Sure, the Suburbs tour featured the likes of "Tunnels" and "Wake Up" so they couldn't be all bad, but the magic was certainly starting to wane. But the Reflektor tour, for the most part, has been a real return to form. Sure, they still persist in playing fucking "Rococo", but a Funeral-heavy setlist, juxtaposed with the best tracks from the new album (plus a sprinkling of Neon Bible, an LP they pretty much excised in the last tour) and an impressive stage setup worthy of their new arena-filling status resulted in what was undoubtedly the most out-and-out enjoyable gigs I've seen in a very long time.
SHANNON AND THE CLAMS (London Lexington, 04/06/14)

A rollocking, if slightly shallow set from a band that's basically an encapsulation of West Coast California circa 1961. Good fun, even if their punchy garage-rock/doo-wop fusion gets a bit old over the course of an hour.
PRIMAVERA SOUND FESTIVAL (Barcelona Parc del Forum, 29/05/14-01/06/14)

A long overdue return to Catalunya for another round of Primavera Sound, and what a doozy it was. Colin Stetson with his saxamophone, Neutral Milk Hotel->St Vincent->Queens of the Stone Age->Arcade Fire providing my own personal indie jukebox, Nic Offer's godless gyrating, Trent Reznor's intense emoting, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan summoning eldritch gods of rain, Sean Kuti's melding of A-grade Afrofunk and anti-neoliberalist ranting, Za! providing the glorious middle-ground between Boredoms and a.P.A.t.T I was unaware I so fervently needed and a frankly unwise quantity of absinthe. Still not got over the lack of pizza cones though.
THE OCTOPUS PROJECT (London Lexington, 26/05/14)

Not only did the Octopus Project, a more psychedelic Holy Fuck with added theremin, manage to blow up three separate bits of equipment tonight, they also succeeded in blowing our minds. God knows why the Austin band remains under the radar for so many, but their propulsive onslaught of percussive electronica never fails to seriously impress.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL(London Roundhouse, 22/05/13-23/05/14)

 First night, stood at the back, pretty underwhelmed. Second night, got to the front barrier, absolutely loved it. Truth is, Neutral Milk Hotel aren't a particularly well-rehearsed or exceptional live band, which given I've waited a decade to see them isn't something I hoped I'd have to say. With the exception of Jeff Mangum's abrasive yet remarkably powerful vocals, they're mostly carried by their enthusiasm and the audience response to their deservedly revered catalogue of songs. That explains why the experience was so much better from close-up, where the regular failure to keep in time didn't matter as much as the fact I was surrounded by hundreds of other fans singing "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" at the top of their voices. Don't think anyone could accuse this of being a masterclass in performance, but as a chance to join in a communal singalong of some of my favourite songs of all time it was pretty unimpeachable.
OWEN PALLETT (London Oval Space, 21/05/14)

Given I've seen the Artist Formerly Known as Final Fantasy in churches, fancy concert halls and on one occasion, surrounded by palm trees in the Californian desert, it seems odd that one of the best shows I've seen him play took place in a converted industrial space in Hackney. But there you go. His new material sounded great ("The Riverbed" has an almost post-rock brutality about it), the older material even better ("Lewis Takes Off His Shirt"! "This Lamb Sells Condos"! "This Is The Dream Of Win And Regine"! "Song Song Song"!) and Owen seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, which wasn't the case the last time he played London. A blinder of a show.
TYONDAI BRAXTON (London Oval Space, 20/05/14)

An improvisational electro-percussive riot, courtesy of the erstwhile Battles frontman. It occasionally slipped into noodly pretentiousness, but the last third was as rhythmically brutal as Boredoms (the highest of all possible compliments).
EZRA FURMAN (London 100 Club, 19/05/14)

Why would you pay money for a gig just to chat through the whole damn thing? It's a question I had to ask myself several times tonight, as a typically spirited performance from Ezra and his Boyfriends was repeatedly ruined by the London Dickhead Fraternity. The sooner a swift crowbar to the kneecap is introduced as a legitimate response to this sort of thing, the better.
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH (London Songkick HQ, 16/05/14)

Review: HERE
WHITE HINTERLAND (London Birthdays, 14/05/14)

The problem for artists as quirky and complex as Casey Dienel is that their music always doesn't lend itself to being performed solo. In fairness, she made a decent stab and she's certainly a charismatic presence, but her beguiling Bjorkishness didn't come across as effectively as I'd hoped.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

tUnE-YaRdS (London Village Underground, 12/05/14)

The marvellous Merrill Garbus' latest album may not be quite as instant as the fantastic "whokill", but her live prowess remains diminished. Her band seemed rather superfluous last tour, adding little to her breathtaking musical talents but they're much tighter this time round, adding extra layers of density to her heady, brilliantly eccentric mix of afrobeat, R&B and indiepop. A couple of the new songs don't quite hit the mark, but the others sparkle with humour and vitality - and "Powa" remains one of the greatest songs of the decade so far.
JULIANNA BARWICK (London Elgar Room, 10/05/14)

Julianna Barwick's stunningly ethereal looped vocals are beautiful to behold, but I'm not entirely sure a packed and humid Elgar Room was the right venue to appreciate them in. Would definitely like to see her play a church or somewhere equally grand someday.
JANELLE MONAE (London Brixton Academy, 09/05/14)

Given my hopelessly pretentious taste in music, very few of the artists I like have any chance of hitting the big time. Janelle Monae has always been the major exception. Gifted with that indefinable star quality, she's the natural heir of Michael Jackson and Prince- slick, funky songs; killer dance moves; effortless charisma and a shedload of talent. Tonight's show almost felt too small for Brixton Academy- it's the kind of thing many stadium-fillers would struggle to match for overall accomplishment. Some might argue it was a little too polished, but that's a minor quibble- on the basis of performances like this, she's got the potential to become one of the biggest stars in the world.
THE HOLD STEADY (London Bush Hall, 05/05/14)

I kinda went off the Hold Steady after mustachioed keyboardist Franz Nicolay left the band and they started playing massive venues far removed from the sweaty bar-rooms that constitute their natural habitat. Nonetheless, I jumped at the chance to see them at the 600-capacity Bush Hall, because that's the kind of venue they've always excelled at playing. And god, if it wasn't the best show I've seen them do since the heady days of 2008, with a stellar setlist (the encore of Massive Nights, Constructive Summer, Hot Soft Light, Stay Positive and Killer Parties was sheer perfection), Craig Finn at his overenthusiastic best and an audience that treated the whole thing like a religious revival. They might be past their best album-wise, but on stage, the Hold Steady can still bring it.
FREAK OUT FANCLUB (Tokyo UFO Club, 01/05/14)

Freak Out Fanclub are a band that listened to "Trout Mask Replica" and thought, "nah, this isn't avant-garde enough." Truly bewildering, although not as much as the Red Hot Chili Pepper-soundalikes that played after them.
PEACH KELLI POP (Tokyo Batica, 30/04/14)

This show could have involved a naked Chad Kroeger playing Skrewdriver covers, and I'd have still come out with a positive impression because THEY SOLD CHEESECAKE AT THE SHOW. But even if no cake of any variety had been involved, this would have been an excellent introduction to the Japanese gig scene. Pink Politics had a vibrant garage-rock Los Campesinos! vibe, the fantastic Miila and the Geeks combined sparse, post-punk basslines with Colin Stetson-style saxophone and the headliners peddled a fun line in Shannon and the Clams-esque surf pop. Great fun.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (London Drury Lane Theatre, 06/04/14)

Review: HERE
WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR (London Barbican, 01/04/14)

Who, indeed, is William Onyeabor? A fundamentalist Christian pastor, devoted entirely to the word of the Lord? A Soviet-trained cinematographer with long-standing links to Moscow? A shadowy businessman with whispered links to unsavoury underground elements? A mega-elaborate hoax devised by Damon Albarn? This show didn't answer any of these questions, but it did confirm the 70's Nigerian funk pioneer produced some seriously great tunes. The first half of a show was at times underwhelming, lacking the requisite groove to get things kicked off, but by the end the whole Barbican was on their feet, singing and dancing and ignoring the fact that Albarn fluffed his one and only moment in the spotlight. A solid tribute to a hitherto undiscovered genius, albeit one that was very rough round the edges.
65DAYSOFSTATIC (London Koko, 27/03/14)

Sheffield-based math-rockers 65daysofstatic have always been admirably cynical about rose-tinted nostalgia, but the 10 year anniversary of "The Fall of Math" reluctantly persuaded them to finally play their brilliant debut in full. And what a show it was. Not only did they perform every song from that album, including a couple that had never been aired live before, but they added a second set consisting of almost all the new album, plus fan-favourite "Radio Protector." Ferociously loud, brutally energetic, absolutely superb.

Monday, March 24, 2014

HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 21/03/14)

The last time I saw Half Man Half Biscuit was at a Christmas show in 2006, where they pointedly didn't play "All I Want For Xmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit". This, of course, was profoundly upsetting and led to a life long phobia of defunct Central European football teams. Tonight, however, finally rectified that. Not only did they perform the world's best paean to Subbueto, but they immediately preceded it with "Vatican Broadside" (the best sub-30 second song by anyone ever) and "Joy Division Oven Gloves" ("DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!"). Add in a bit of "Fuckin' Hell, It's Fred Titmus", "National Shite Day" "A Country Practice", "Bob Wilson, Anchorman", "Running Order Squabble Fest" and a myriad other shining examples of Nigel Blackwell's peerless wit, and you've got a gig that somehow transcended the Empire's frankly shoddy sound.
LAIBACH (London Village Underground, 12/03/14)

Review: HERE
JOHN GRANT (London Roundhouse, 09/03/14) 

Review: HERE

(Photo: Burak Cingi/The Line of Best Fit)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

MUTUAL BENEFIT (London St John-on-Bethnal Green Church, 04/03/14)

Review: HERE

(Photo: Danny Dorsa)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

WILD BEASTS (Kingston New Slang, 27/02/14)

  Wild Beasts may be one of the country's most critically acclaimed bands, but even they lose some of their lustre within a student nightclub with floors the consistency of treacle. Meh.
HAIKU SALUT (London Kings Place, 21/02/14)

A lovely, if brief set of orchestral folk from the Derbyshire trio, falling halfway between the glitchy beauty of múm and the whimsical charm of early Yann Tiersen. These ladies deserve to go far.
ST VINCENT (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 20/02/14)

Annie Clark certainly picked up a few tips from David Byrne during the "Love This Giant" tour. She still has a "less is more" mentality as to the musical aspect of her shows, eschewing big ensembles for two synth-players and a drummer, but this performance was a hell of a lot more theatrical than anything she's done before. Most of it works excellently- the dual shimmying, the guitar shredding atop a ziggurat- but there are moments the artifice wears a bit thin, not least the stilted, scripted, faux-insightful "banter". But she played "Krokodil". And "Cruel". And "Marrow". And "Surgeon" (god, I love that guitar tone). And "Cheerleader." And "Prince Johnny." And a gloriously apocalyptic "Your Lips Are Red" to round things off. So that's all OK then.
EZRA FURMAN (London Sebright Arms, 19/02/14)

Ezra Furman is Bruce Springsteen reincarnated into the body of a nebbish, shrill-voiced youth. Ezra Furman is a guy who produces quality, old-school rock 'n roll singalongs with unseemly ease. Ezra Furman is the kind of performer who can get away with three covers in a set ("Please Mr Postman", "Train In Vain" and "Hungry Heart") without making the punters feel like we're getting ripped off. Ezra Furman is bloody awesome.
JENNY WILSON (London Lexington, 17/02/14) 

It's pretty easy to tell Jenny Wilson once collaborated with The Knife. Her glacial, industrial Swedish pop bears a lot of similarity with that of the siblings Dreijer, and although she doesn't have anything in her catalogue to match "Heartbearts" or "We Share Our Mother's Health" she's also, thankfully, a lot less pretentious. Very enjoyable.

Friday, February 07, 2014

PRINCE (London Electric Ballroom, 05/02/14)

Yeah, I saw The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince in an 800 capacity venue. It was pretty sweet. Perhaps a bit too geared towards the newer classic rock stuff rather than his trademark funk for my liking, but goddamn, that man sure can play a guitar. And all for £10 too!

(Photo: Associated Press/3RDEYEGIRL NPG Records)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

THE HIDDEN CAMERAS (London Bush Hall, 29/01/14)

The Hidden Cameras are a lot tamer than they used to be (no men clad in lycra bodysuits gyrating around a crucifix atop a church altar this time), but Canada's premier "gay church folksters" still know how to put on a bloody enjoyable show. It's nice to have them back.
MOONFACE (London Elgar Room, 27/01/14)

No, it's not Sunset Rubdown, but Spencer Krug's beautiful, elegiac solo piano performance was yet another triumph from one of the greatest musicians in the world today. He's ditched the virgin ghost snakes of old to sing about love and stuff, but he's still got an ear for an expressive, eccentric turn of phrase, and there's still hints of the piano-crashing mania of old. Not sure if it's better than the work he did with Siinai, but one can't fault the guy for refusing to remain tied to the past.
MOGWAI (London Royal Festival Hall, 25/01/14)

Mogwai have always been a band I've always felt I should like more than I actually do, but tonight went some way to rectifying that. I still think they're a bit too post-rock by numbers for my tastes (especially as I tend to be more attracted to the orchestral end of the genre), but "Mogwai Fear Satan", with that mid-song eruption of eardrum-shredding guitar noise definitely stands alongside "Acid Police" and "Untitled 8" as songs that would justify the tinnitus I'm almost guaranteed to get in later life.
SON LUX (London Lexington, 23/01/14)

Wow. How to describe this gig and do it justice? Son Lux's "Lanterns" is a good album and all, but the live performance cranked things up five-hundred-fold, adding so many elements and twists and eccentricities that weren't there before. It's a show that flitted between haunting, echoey balladry and full on barrages of Boredoms-esque noise rock, a show that was cerebral yet also dancey, a show that on paper was the epitome of Pitchfork hipsterism, yet also delivered substance to back up the style. Given I was expecting a guy droning over pre-recorded backing tracks, the fact I witnessed one of the greatest live introductions to a band since perhaps Battles or Wildbirds and Peacedrums was a truly thrilling experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone who likes having their minds blown.

As much as I love Boban and Marko Markovic, I think a full set of their Balkan brass brilliance is too much for me. Their festival and brass battle sets in past years were incredibly focused, getting the mix of traditional Eastern European dance tunes and more modern, technically challenging pieces absolutely spot-on, but there were long stretches tonight that were just a bit self-indulgent. Fantastic at times, but it wasn't a patch on the Barbican performance last year.
STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS (London Kentish Town Forum, 16/01/14)

Review: HERE

(Photo: Wumni Onibudo/The Line Of Best Fit)
TEETH OF THE SEA (London Electrowerkz, 11/01/14) 

Imagine every film set in a 80's style sci-fi dystopia, distil them into musical form, and you've basically got Teeth of the Sea. Not as sonically brutal as their Electric Ballroom show (the small room muffled some of the subtleties of their sound), but not too shabby a start to the 2014 gig calendar, especially with a setlist bookended by the mighty electro/instrumental/post-rock assaults of "Reaper" and "Responder". Support band Evil Blizzard also truly lived up their name; no wonder Mark E Smith loves them, they're what the inside of his head would look like during a particularly bad trip.