DEMON DAYZ FESTIVAL / GORILLAZ & FRIENDS, DREAMLAND, MARGATE 2017

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DEMON DAYZ FESTIVAL

Gorillaz & friends

De La Soul / Danny Brown / Vince Staples

Dreamland, Margate, UK

They might bear the dubious distinction of ‘world’s biggest virtual band’, but Gorillaz have all but phased out any ‘virtual’ pretentions. What began as cartoonish conceit has, contrary to the way of things, become more real in development. And while they limply persist with gimmicks – the inexplicable presence of death figures roaming Dreamland’s grounds all day; the frankly distracting stage animations (which goes for ALL screens); the fact we’re in Dreamland (geddit?) – you get the impresssion this garish Hewlett factor is now extraneous to Gorillaz’ newfound verisimilitude.

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The architecture of new album ‘Humanz’ mines a deeper musical trench, and perennial show-off Damon Albarn has made a surprisingly happy transition into musical egalitarianism. Onstage, he seems to relish the plethora of ‘special guestz’ – including Kilo Kish, a luminescent Kali Uchis, a frenetic Kano, a Graham Coxony Graham Coxon – neither of whom steal or promote his thunder; it’s a perfect storm, typified by ‘Sex Murder Party’, a menacing ménage à abattoirs of Albarn, Kelela and Danny Brown, whose earlier warehouse party made for some thrusty, bass-filthy foreplay. In their own set, De La Soul made faint gestures of some classic tracks; as nominal Gorillaz they stamped bombastic class all over ‘Momentz’ and ‘Feel Good Inc’s windmilling finale, all the while Albarn dipping in and out, impishly jocular as if in, well, Dreamland. It’s infectious too; the party vibes spill frothily from the stage, as does a bewildered Shaun Ryder’s sleepy lunge through ‘D.A.R.E.’, which seemed like just that.

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And while the circus acts may provide animated distraction – ‘Clint Eastwood’s “sunshine in a bag” casts a novelty shadow – it’s Gorillaz’ emergent humanity, exemplified by the tender Kelela duet ‘Busted & Blue’ and ‘We Got The Power’s call-to-arms, that brings a whole other reality to virtual dimensions.

10 June 2017

*edited-for-print version of this review in Record Collector – OUT SOME POINT!

Set list:

Ascension / Last Living Souls / Saturn Barz / Stylo / Tomorrow Comes Today / Rhinestone Eyes / Charger / Momentz / Submission / Sex Murder Party / She’s My Collar / El Manana / Dirty Harry / Let Me Out / Andromeda / Busted & Blue / Strobelite / Kids With Guns / D.A.R.E. / Out Of Body / Garage Palace / We Got The Power

Encore: Sleeping Powder / Feel Good Inc. / Clint Eastwood / Don’t Get Lost In Heaven / Demon Days

 

 

Richard Ashcroft: live @ Roundhouse, London

RICHARD ASHCROFT

London, Roundhouse

Armed with a brand-new album and a same-old attitude, Richard Ashcroft resurrects the 1990s with some old-school Northern swagger at Camden’s Roundhouse, a venue once home to the Gallic gaudiness of Cirque du Soleil. Ladies and gents, welcome to the Cirque du Salford.

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And it suddenly occurs, like some occurring thing that was standing in front of me all along in a pink Ben Sherman: the middle-aged are taking over.

The queue outside the Roundhouse is like a biscuit tin of Rich Tea-type middling – fresh enough to dunk, but liable to go floppy and break apart if left to linger. Tonight, the going-stale assortment of 40-somethings are gathered to unfurl the red carpet for Sir Richard of Ashcroft – the grand Garibaldi of rock (chewy, misshapen, and apparently immune to decay) – who’s here to herald a much-needed distraction from lives that have accidentally become like a box of biscuits: you know exactly what you’re gonna get.

And sometimes it’s heartening to know what’s coming. Strutting onto the stage like he’s just nipped out for a piss, Richard Ashcroft sashays back into the spotlight as if he’s wandered in off the set of the Bittersweet Symphony video, a bulldozer with cheekbones on a headlong collision into anywhere a face happens to be. You can almost hear the refrain of “No change, I can’t change” punctuating each footfall.

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It’s all a little anachronistic, you think to yourself sniffily, having since grown up and become a citizen. Meanwhile, you’re surreptitiously wanking at the cartoonish arrogance with a Red Bull mixer and the words ‘Come ON!’ punchbagging your epiglottis.

Decked out in impeccably tailored suit (and a gas mask, for some reason), shaved head and aviators, Ashcroft looks like a grim approximation of Liam Gallagher interviewing for Top Gun. With a gas mask. And thus feeling the need for speed (and alcohol and anything else on the table (a gas mask?)), he blasts into album opener ‘Out Of My Body’ with sentient authority, his ventriloquist-puppet vocals still averse to the odd diphthong but brooding up a nice alphabet all its own. “Aahhdaahvemahbahdayy,” goes the song’s title, coursing eminently from a jutting kingfisher jugular that swoops upon every note with glottal alacrity. “Feeelainyeeknoorrh/Eezwhaanbeeegllaayyiiee,” and so forth.

On the evidence of new album ‘These People’, Ashcroft has eschewed the diffident route to middle age in favour of building big massive choruses, standing atop them and golden-showering sincerity all over everyone. A mere two songs in, and the exalted one whips out a colossus in the shape of ‘This Is How It Feels’, a massive arm-waver that seems to be just one perpetual chorus woah-yeahing its way into oblivion atop the Glastonbury Tor.

As a measure of his square-mile reach, Ashcroft is a ley-line ordinance survey, still headlining in his head at the End Of The World festival, and this is the lullaby that lighter-waves humanity through the apocalypse and beyond. Almost immediately it becomes clear: this ‘Lucky Man’ is not counting his blessings while ploughing through some old faves, nor is he invoking some jazz-flavoured, doo-wop-shoo-bop nodding appreciation in the back of a pub. No; Richard Ashcroft is back TO RULE THE FUCKING WORLD.

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“Thank you for sticking with me,” he says, humbly, unconvincingly. His appreciation may be genuine, but there’s no way Ashcroft was expecting anything less than the adoration that’s swelling in this packed arena, even before any of the old tunes kick in. If he were cryogenically suspended for a million years, he’d defrost with his arms in the air, going “come on!” and expecting what’s left of humanity to join in. Time is simply not a factor for this man.

In fact, RA (as his album cover declares him to be) is less a human condition than a geological one; he is pure rock. Even as he’s easing himself out of his suit jacket to reveal a waistcoat tailored to James Bond proportions, he’s possessed of a certain immovability that almost dares time and trend to come square on. As if to prove this, the hymnal Science Of Silence unfurls its call-to-arms mantra with unashamed echoes of Bill Withers’ philanthropic classic Lean On Me, and suddenly a paean for black oppression becomes a hymn for the plight of the (middle aged) indie kid.

Under the glow of harsh white light, as the song weaves its way to a typically grandiose finish, Ashcroft’s foreboding chock-full-o’cheekbone face looks like an Easter Island edifice.

And in such a timeless state he delivers the perennial ‘Sonnet’, the true ‘urban hymn’ from said album, and a transcendent moment tonight as the Roundhouse is compelled to time-travel back to days when arm-waving was acceptable. And while I blame my unapologetically retro plus-one for my involvement, there’s something to be said about holding one’s hands aloft without wielding an LCD monitor. It feels free.

Thus emancipated, another newbie squeezes its way into the free zone, the defiant ‘They Don’t Own Me’ a mellifluous protest that soars with taut strings (sans string section) and tauter heart (avec Ashcroft beating his bespoke chest), all marinating in a rolling mantra that typifies Ashcroft at his loftiest.

And while he’s undoubtedly on top form, rock music’s Alexander The Great is rarely content with those laurels of his – sometimes to his detriment. Even when he’s standing atop the most mountainous song in Chrisendom – in this instance, the grandiose Music Is Power – the breadth of his domain is seemingly never enough, prompting an outro so overblown it loses itself up a labyrinthine tunnel of its own intricacy, then farts itself out.

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Having said that, much of what’s played tonight – especially the new material – points the way to Ashcroft regaining whatever mantle was left in his wake. By the time Lucky Man puts a full stop on the main set, the sheen that adorned Ashcroft in his highest pomp is back, even though most of his sartorial refinery has been refashioned into that of the most pissed man at the wedding.

Thus in tatters he leaves the stage… for an encore, presumably.

Yes, an encore surely. Any minute now…

(Anyone seen an encore around here?)

(Joke to unsoliciting +1: ‘Hey. Encores – they’re coming back!’)

Silence.

He returns after an age, looking for all the world like he’s had a shower, a shit, a shave… and a Shawshank redemption. (It’s been that long.) And thus, arms aloft, he plunges back into the spotlight like a man emancipated, with no apologies for the delay whatsoever. Whether he really was performing ablutions backstage or just milking up the adulation is soon forgotten – an acoustic version of ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ perfectly contradicts its subject matter by instilling the sedative that works wonders on a restive crowd. And while its sparse evocation leaves a vacancy where the strings of a full-blown version reside, the ghostly rendition just makes the absence more palpable – and the heart fonder. Truly, Ashcroft’s voice has never sounded so fibrously vulnerable.

Not a trait you commonly associate with The Big I-Am, but if there was ever a doubt Ashcroft wasn’t here to take on the world, the biggest and brightest surprise comes with the dancefloor ripper-upper Hold On. An obvious highlight from the new album, tonight it’s delivered as a commandment from on high that thou shalt move thy arse to the groove. What Lord Ash of the Croft didn’t reckon on, however, was London crowds and their own collective commandment of ‘thou shalt always be a chattering, posturing gobshite’.

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Taxi for gobshite?

Atop Mount Olympus the song pours its utterly infectious hook onto an utterly egregious crowd, but it hardly matters: sooner or later, as with most things involving Richard Ashcroft, the world will catch up. The look on his face at the end of a rousing Bittersweet Symphony says as much.

“I can change, I can change” goes the crowd eventually, echoing Dickie as he conducts the root-taking, middle-aged, utterly hip floppy-biscuit crowd into a grim paradox. And even though the performance is starting to invoke visions of King Richard pedalling it out in a Vegas swansong decrying his kingdom for a hearse, the song itself is a reminder that, even when time catches up – as middle-eights become middle-aged – there are some things you’d never want to change, even if you could.

As for Richard Ashcroft, he’s here in his mould – no change, he can’t change. He is a rock, and that’s how he rolls.

Stephen Brolan

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Setlist:

Out Of My Body

This Is How It Feels

Science Of Silence

Sonnet

They Don’t Own Me

Music Is Power

Break The Night With Colour

These People

New York

Lucky Man

Encore (eventually):

The Drugs Don’t Work (acoustic)

A Song For The Lovers

Lonely Soul (UNKLE cover)

Hold On

Bitter Sweet Symphony

* An edited version of this review appears in Record Collector magazine

Vök – live at The Lexington, London

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Vök

London, The Lexington

“Apparently, our Icelandic gear doesn’t agree with your electricity.”

It’s not really a complaint from the Vök keyboardist, delivered as it is in that languid, minus-two-shits Nordic manner. But the point is pertinent:  there’s a conflict of currents here rarely seen in these parts – a charge of electrical particles that shocks a typically English crowd out of its comfort zone. It’s the Bloody-Nora! Borealis.

Born out of Iceland’s forbidding landscape, Vök’s glacial sound, while unmistakably of its region, forges an identity that’s paradoxically alien. The three figures on stage are certainly of mother-ship material, stationary and rigid as pens shoved up Kraftwerk’s shatwurst, while frontwoman Margret Ran’s voice broadcasts from all compass points, hypnotising in a directionless reverie that retains improbable grounding as it pulls with ferocious gravitational force. A cathedral of sound, the beauty of her voice is so ubiquitous it’s disorienting. Like saccharine strychnine, she sounds like a euthanasian angel of mercy, beautiful to the final breath.

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Circumnavigating this vocal like a centrifuge, the music pulsates with magnetic resistance, a confluence of minimalist old-school analogue through industrial gothic to striated dub-disco that finds light from the darkest sources. In a room so intimate, the effect is womb-like, as if wrapped in fleshy fluidity and amnio. Typified by the sax-led sultry pop-poltergeist of ‘Before’, the almost Brutalist architecture of the music is beyond language, a Tower of Babel that brings its own special electricity from an alien sky, with Ran’s voice weaving a sonic tapestry that makes patterns from half-missed whispers.

Transcendent and intransigent, Vök’s is a tangibly fluid sound channeling Archemides as it moves the Earth while standing absolutely still. It’s a presence that comes from everywhere and nowhere: the Northern Lights on strobe; déjà vu in situ. And once they’re plugged in, there’s just no turning off.

Apparently,  electricity doesn’t agree with them. Tonight, the currents fell in line as Vök settled the argument by giving it watt for.

Aurora? For realis.

Stephen Brolan

*This article is published in Record Collector (UK) and Flood (US) magazines

Vök / Roch – live@ The Lexington, London

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Vök / Roch

London, The Lexington

While we’re principally here for the debut London headline show of Icelandic trio Vök, it would be remiss not to make mention of the support. After all, what grabs our attention is a rare thing, not least on the capital’s live circuit: silence.

On stage, a diminutive singer calling herself Roch (and pronouncing it “rock”) is flanked by two minimalist males (one a Chris Lowe-esque synth zombie; the other strapped to a bass, possibly dead). The noise they make as we enter almost hides in all corners of the room, dark and conspiratorial. Suddenly, Roch locks her voice mid-song. A bassline fizzes, then fades into fibrous silence. In a Wild West scenario, the piano player has just shut the fuck up, and someone is about to get blown away. And when Roch’s crystalline voice, after a seeming eternity, returns to slice the silence like a blade, the entire Lexington saloon is effectively just that.

It’s a rare gift indeed to instil a note of respectful deference upon the capital’s customarily garrulous gig-goons (although tonight’s Vök crowd are not your average ape-like ilk), and for that Roch deserves rich applause. More than this, hers is a contemplative sound composed of such soul-bearing honesty as to expel exhibition: repose, not pose. And while most of the artsy crowd are engaged in the latter, the space in between their practiced stances is suffused by treacle-thick tendrils of noise that recoil and collide with magnetic resistance, with cleverly overlapping, undulating chord structures almost waltzing in opposite directions.

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Roch: star quality

The sound is so familiar yet alien – incongruous, like midsummer currents lost in midwinter. Roch herself is slight and statuesque, with a voice straight from a cloud’s catacombs – weightlessly deep; a million miles away yet somehow in your face. Around the room, dark musical shapes are on the move; Roch’s sonorous vocals sweep them ever on. Truncated beats tiptoe conspiratorially around rhythmic incantations like priests in purple cassocks, and the whole room transmogrifies into a gothic version of Alice In Wonderland directed by David Lynch. So weird; so, so close.

“This next song is ‘Closer’,” she announces, invoking more claustrophobia as the walls get smaller and oxygen darts out the fire exit. We draw a final lungful as ‘Closer’ draws things to a close, its seductive pop showcasing Roch’s Mazzy Star-like bone-china voice, which cracks for the last time like a brittle plate at the Mad Hatter’s party. The crowd remains respectfully silent, still and contrived as statues, but now almost amorphous – a collective closer to humanity than their shapes suggested at the beginning.

And even when we later discover art student Roch is potentially one of them, her craft eschews esoteric posturing in favour of incandescent, insouciant honesty. This is Roch: star (in the sculpting).

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Vok: ahh quality

After which, the organic craft of Vök shows what Nature herself can sculpt with the tools of geographic circumstance. Born out of Iceland’s forbidding landscape, this triumvirate’s glacial sound is one that demonstrates how geometry too can be a compositional element. And while it’s true the sound emanating from their homeland has a tendency to evoke Sigur Rós, Björk et al – just as, on the opposite side of the globe, Australian bands rock in perpetuity on an adolescent highway to AC/DC – the generic strain in the northern hemisphere is one that consistently evolves. The polite term for this contiguity would be ‘homogenous’ (in Oz: ‘homunculus’ ); the similarity, however, is redeemed by one simple fact: they do it so… fucking… well.

In the case of Vök, theirs is an evolution of sound that, while unmistakably of its region, forges an identity that’s paradoxically unidentifiable – alien. The three figures facing us from the stage are convincingly mother-ship material, stationary and rigid as pens shoved up Kraftwerk’s arse, while leader and frontwoman Margret Ran has a voice broadcasting from everywhere and nowhere – a series of points in time that converge at the slightest tilt of her elfin head.

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Surrounded by a mixture of beats and melodies that run the gamut from minimalist old-school analogue through industrial gothic to striated Blue Weaver-style disco, the chaos is anchored by Ran’s nursery-horror vocals that seduce and scathe with alternating abandon like a hibernating banshee. And while she remains fixedly positioned centre stage – flanked by synth-bound goalpost men – her distracted, almost desultory vocals writhe like fidget like knotted serpents brimming with poison. During soporific seducer ‘Waterfall’, the venom is like a whispered osmosis drip-drip-dripping into the heart of a cavernous, black-hole melody that implodes and impregnates itself. It’s as if original sin has found a soundtrack.

But despite the reference points – smatterings of Jan Hammer, Portishead, Kraftwerk, The KLF; Prussian hauteur meets Icelandic auteur – we’re still floating somewhere in the middle of nowhere, neither hot nor cold, neither human nor alien. This is music to simply exist to, with no definitions – no country or boundaries.

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“Apparently, our Icelandic gear doesn’t agree with your electricity,” one of the goalposts says, trying to hook up his synth and unearthing some cantankerous English voltage. The metaphor is as irresistible as the currents apparently are: theirs is a life force that can’t be translated; regions are so alien to their output that special adapters are required. And while their sound is fiercely and studiously confining, it staunchly refuses to be confined.

As the saxophone comes out on the sultry pop-poltergeist of ‘Before’, the musical shift is like a tapestry, its pattern familiar but alien, like déjà vu in reverse, with Ran’s voice running back and forth, weaving in and out, and sculpting itself around the living melody with ergonomic precision. With the sound of water overlain with soporific effects and throbbing, robotic bass, eventually evolving into metronomic beats and saxo-cacophony, it’s like a scene from Bladerunner the porno (dir. Fiddly Scott) wherein replicants upstage humanity with precision love-making. Passion never sounded so mathematical.

By the time the throbbing trance-like genesis of single ‘Circles’ brings us aptly full circle, it’s difficult to know whether this has been a cerebral or a sensual experience. The feeling is like love as an equation: precise as Cupid’s arrow unleashing chaos in the heart. The music is so replete with angles, its architecture a mixture of Brutalist and Romantic, it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where and how it comes to meet you. All you know is: it just does. Vök’s music is a force that arrives without invitation, yet is somehow uninvasive; the sound, like the entity that makes it – on the surface of it yet another Icelandic triptych with synths and a frontwoman with airy, Björk-like vocals and dodgy, Björk-like hair stub – is just welcome without rhyme or reason – the expected unexpected. That this collective comes under the moniker of Vök is the only definition on offer.

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In fact, with regards the band’s name (pronounced ‘verk’), rumours abound that it’s a phonetic encryption, a composite word fusing various European linguistic pronunciations to make a rude word (basically ‘fuck’ in three languages). Whether it’s true or not is moot – it’s very apt: this is a sound that ventures out beyond all confines and structures to become something that defies geographical provenance. And a surreptitious, multilingual profanity is fine with us – it’s as good a definition as any: a Fuck-you Tower of Babel set to confound national grids and electrical currents all across Europe and the known world, with everything and nothing lost in translation.

By the end, we’re lost for words. The only thing that springs to mind has, like the music that prompted its utterance, seemingly come from nowhere: Vök me!

Stephen Brolan

* An edited version of the Vök review is published in Record Collector in the UK and Flood magazine in the US

SUEDE – live at The Forum, London

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Suede

London, Kentish Town Forum

Oop. Sorry I’m late. Shit; it’s started. Have I missed much?

As I eventually shut the fuck up and take my, er, pigeon-jostle perch amid an over-sold Forum crowd, the screen on stage shows some random images synchronised to the strains of Suede’s newest long-player, and I feel like some late-coming cinema knob immersed in a missed plot. A colleague had earlier texted the jolly news: film starts in 5 min & ur going to be l8 u dik. x

Not being made aware there was a film to be late for in the first place, my dyslexic friend’s taunt is nevertheless apposite: this is an event that, unlike any other gig, you can be LATE for. Not the sort of thing that’s customary of a Friday night in London town, nor even of the band in question: Suede cordially invites you to a night in front of the telly. Amyl nitrate optional.

With new album Night Thoughts still a relative stranger, When You Are Young makes for a disconcerting entrance, all ominous strings selling science-fiction romance and death (probably), being given a sexual bashing by Bretty-blue’s gyrating meerkat vocals. This is rompingly rampant Suede here, so sex is like a dribbling thing everywhere, but there’s also a warm familiarity that’s like coming home. It’s Sunday lunch and porno at your parents’.

Yes, perversity reigns and anticipation humps the air like a randy goat, though the atmosphere is more brooding than seductive; where much of their formative oeuvre strove to get in our pants, this feels like the stirring consequence of succumbing. Thus impregnated, a night in front of the telly is probably just the ticket.

Except that’s not it at all. While the screen holds the entire auditorium under its spell, the allure of image-induced passivity is suddenly roused from its slumber as the house lights illuminate what’s going on beyond.Inside

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Inside-Outsiders

“She puts her faith in the moment – OUTSIDERS”…

The words erupt like liquid hormones and horror from the depths of Brett Anderson’s bowels, and the lights come streaming onto familiar angular limbs that hide just behind the screen. At the sight of this prurient, perfectly preserved praying mantis sashaying in the murky near distance surrounded by his rhythmic conspirators, the suspension of disbelief one normally takes to the movies is jolted into reality where incredulity is the paradoxical law.

Up until this point, it is conceivable this is simply a recording set to visuals, such is the sound’s implausible perfection. It’s a Wizard Of Oz moment in reverse; once we glimpse the men behind the curtain, the broken illusion heightens the majesty. There is alchemy here, and it’s showing its working.

Visually, it’s like a surreal incantation that has the eerie slow-motion effect of a snow dome – of life preserved in perpetuity beyond the flurry that dances in the foreground. In parallel, Anderson’s voice throws out crystalline nodes of music that resonate in a sonic stasis. The accompanying images – ostensibly a montage of life in all its beautiful mundanity, and all that crap – lend a haunting air to the music that begins with shivers and ends with earthquakes riding through colossal basslines. It’s all very metaphor central, I’m sure, like a Mike Leigh metafilm of a day in the life of a day in a life, set to a soundtrack by, well, Suede – but Suede screaming in an isolation tank.

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In fact, there’s a sense of closeness here that borders on claustrophobic, not least when the screen starts filling up with water and we’re submerged into a Radiohead video. And while the No Suprises treatment is no surprise to me – another colleague had warned I was in for a swim – the effect is nonetheless breathtaking, literally and figuratively. The woozy vertigo of Tightrope plummets like a deep-sea dive into the unknown, enticed by the sonorous sonar of Anderson the merman’s ethereal, submarine vocals as the screen becomes fully submerged below the water line. It’s an aural and visual drowning that’s refused mouth-to-mouth as it segues relentlessly into the amniotic fluid of Learning To Be’s womb-like somnolence, before squeezing through Rosemary’s Baby’s creepy la-la-la birth canal into (aptly) Like Kids, a brattish bouncing thing born in the image of Suede’s newfound paternity. It’s a visceral, organic segue that moves from hanging at the end of one’s rope to falling into regressive, baptismal rebirth in a three-song progression. From tightrope to umbilical cord, only Suede can make these connections appear seamless, pervaded as they are by a shared sense of life’s delicious precariousness.

Inside the screen, way below the water line, Anderson is on his knees (in the middle of the road, according to the images, though anywhere but in reality), imploring his vocals into being like a phantom of the operatic, the dying seduction of epic album closer The Fur And The Feathers a recalcitrant final breath. Accompanied by images of wading through water and cornfields, the cycle-of-life theme is blatant – as naive as a child’s drawing and just as perversely accurate – but at the same time perfectly aligns film and music and draws all matter back into itself, as if to begin again. The bookend of When You Were Young’s stirring finale echoes the beginning while portending the end… and another beginning, fledgling, sparsely feathered and on the verge of flight with a colossal, emergent outro. And as the spotlight fades on Anderson coiled double centre stage, a foetus suspended in fluid and fluidity, Suede’s new beginnings wash over a subaquatic Forum crowd like a biblical tidal wave – a deluge of regenerative destruction awash on a strange but familiar shore.

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If this is the end, the world and Noah are gonna need a bigger boat: the Drowners are back…

Part two

And then they are. And when they are, they are.

The new operatic proclivities of Suede mk… um, three-at-least apparently requires an opera-style intermission, so we’ve sought oxygen after the scuba dive, only to return to see the aquarium now become a suitably attired dive.

Screen removed, the stage is newly adorned with sleaze-swatch purple velvet beloved of whoever directed Suede videos in the 90s; all looks like a brothel again, and mankind’s parity is restored. Anderson has crawled out of his trench at the bottom of the ocean and is once again Madame Androgyny in his/her lascivious lair, grabbing his crotch and shagging ears all over with some dangerous aural insertions.

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Hump-hump. That’s Anderson’s magnetised pelvis thrusting its way centre stage as This Hollywood Life fires up the second half with a sledgehammer thigh-slap. Click-click: that’s the pushing-50 dude in loosened shirt and discarded tie in front of me throwing some Brett shapes… and possibly his back out. If the first half were a sombre David Attenborough affair in front of the telly looking at fish and their plight, part two is fucking JAWS vs. PIRANHA The Porno in 3D, and we’re gonna ponder the error of thinking it was safe to go back in the water – while our nuts get bitten off.

So, as the man in front ably demonstrates that mid-life crises have external symptoms (who knew?), a well brushed and distinctly leathery Suede go about the business of eviscerating anachronisms and showing that turning back the chronometer doesn’t have to be chronic. The still snake-like Animal Nitrate slithers about the place with its original original-sin allure, Anderson’s jutting throat a come-hither Adam’s apple to the slither of baying Eves (and Steves) down front. As he vocally pirouettes and preens from falsetto to baritone, etching each note with a variety of body shapes like a collapsible clothes horse, the prurient ambiguist (new word: n. Brett Anderson; his arse) teases and temps, by turns berating and becalming, scorning and seducing, and ultimately loosening and unzipping a deliriously confused audience down to a very sticky floor. Whether it’s the de-suited middle-aged uncle-dancer or the newer generation being born Freudian slippery into this cultish cauldron, the age boundaries are as blurred as the sexual preferences; the ensuing celebration that fires up when Filmstar parades the collective red carpet engenders a kind of pan-generational amorphous coming together of which Suede are the highest proponents.

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There are no ages here; there is no prejudice or politics; this is music for being alive to, without condition or conditioning. Even when cocksure anthem So Young ruffles its spring-chicken feathers – with Anderson somehow suddenly in the middle of the crowd, getting plucked to death by his plugged-in battery coup – its call-to-arms teenage mantra is emancipated by its lack of restraint. Unlike the stigma Supergrass face with the minty-fresh Alright, this young ‘un doesn’t need to embody in order to feel. By the end, everyone is chasing the dragon, with the legendary Anderson riding its hide like Kinky Arthur the nuclear knight; even my newfound embarrassing-uncle friend (who I’ve decided is a banker – he holds not himself to account) is somehow more congruent, even if just on loan (by the end he’s pissed me off again, with interest). There is mayhem here that belies its years – an aberration of nature that feels so natural, so timeless, so absolutely fuck-it.

And didn’t this night start out in front of the telly?

As he stops stripping off and starts stripping things back, Anderson has to orchestrate some calm among his enlivened stock of spring chickens and old goats, turning inward to sentiment and retrospection. A few of the herd don’t get it; dedicating a beautifully sparse acoustic version of High Rising to a collection of European fanatics who have shadowed them across the continent, Anderson spots some unruly chicks still chattering. “You can talk about fucking EastEnders later,” he says pointedly, and the fuck is upwardly closed. In the stillness, Anderson folds inward, physically and emotionally, as he excavates the living soul out of the music’s blackened depths with a miner’s blindness.

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“I want to thank the Forum for all you’ve done for us over the years,” he says to the Forum, before revealing that the last time they were here (in 1992), a girl had just fled from his life. Rolling back the years with candour, the surprise appearance of Justine Frischmann seems more coincidence than contrivance, Anderson making the comment offhandedly. He seems sanguine. So sanguine, in fact, that he thanks the frigging Bull & Gate next door, clearly oblivious to the fact the once-beloved venue has ditched the sleaze and gone gastro. Suede, on the other hand, have dragged their sleazy arses into a new generation and nestled their leathery hips right in the middle, planting their flag right in at the end with New Generation, an unscrupulous, untameable, ungovernable riot – led by Anderson’s screaming “Here they come!” and echoed to the rafters with “The beautiful ones!” – that’s always and forever heading this way, like a tidal wave, coming for us all – drowners, waving…

In front of me, the banker who likes to play Brett has stopped shorting his assets and is coming back into himself. Show is over; the time machine has hit the brakes, and… I swear this man looks younger. Has he lost some years, or have I gained some? After a slight pang of fear, I shrug and decide it’s all relative.

As the homogenous crowd files away to once again become filed away, the uncategorisable (another new word: adj. free) sense of boundlessness is a resonant tune. What started out as a night in front of the telly (albeit a massive, subaquatic one) and ended with having it largely unrestrained on the dance floor seems to evolved some pan-generational indifference to time; because we’re young and naive, we can be born every minute.

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In this case, we’re reborn Suedean slippery.

Stephen Brolan

*An edited version of this article is published in Flood magazine in the US and Record Collector in the UK

 

 

Setlist:

(full album: Night Thoughts)

When You Are Young

Outsiders

No Tomorrow

Pale Snow

I Don’t Know How To Reach You

What I’m Trying To Tell You

Tightrope

Learning To Be

Like Kids

I Can’t Give Her What She Wants

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When You Were Young

The Fur And The Feathers

(Hits)

This Hollywood Life

Killing Of A Flashboy

Trash

Animal Nitrate

Heroine

Filmstar

Pantomime Horse

High Rising (acoustic)

For The Strangers

So Young

Metal Mickey

Beautiful Ones

(Encore)

Everything Will Flow (acoustic)

To The Birds

New Generation

 

 

NIGEL THOMAS ‘Travelling Man’ – album review

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Nigel Thomas

Travelling Man

(Keo Records)

Release date: 14 March 2016.

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Some people can’t sit still. Just as we were getting a grip on him as frontman of jangly indie outfit The Foxes – that’s ‘The’ Foxes band, hence the plural, not the Michelin-lipped honking car park who sings under a collective noun (what’s her car called, ‘Convoy’?) – Nigel Thomas upped and disappeared into the theatre for a spell.

Emerging from this thespian hiatus, it seems the boards have crept their way into his chords, lending a more dramatic soundscape to his repertoire.

While infectious single Fever treads –  nay, stomps – a familiar ground that’s all angular vocals and truncated cabaret favoured by Maximo Park and other ilk from The Foxes’ formative years, its incongruous inclusion just serves to wrongfoot us.

With prologue as epilogue, what follows is a journey that similarly makes a focus of its influences with smokier depths of field. The Beatles-tinged Anne gargles McCartney’s saccharine syrup with some minty-freshness that conjures the Mr Soft song (in the sky with Softmints?); its mirror image, Que Sera, is a twinkling childhood dream that perhaps gets too snug in its slumber – an elegiac lullaby of interweaving vocals that’s an elongated outro away from a singalong classic. The sparse mid-album segue of Drift does just that, but its lethargy feeds with restless urgency into the title track’s spiralling wanderlust, a dusty country-funk paean with a cleverly rambling bassline reflecting its titular nomad – a forgotten Oasis b-side that got abducted on Route 66. As if to punctuate the Gallagher strand, following track Destiny does Lennon’s stripped-back insouciance in far subtler tones than Our Kid.

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The two-tone drama of Ghost Hunter couples Thomas’s obvious mod leanings with something more playful, like The Specials’ Ghost Town populated by rambunctious (Phil) spectres. Within this rural conurbation there are feral connotations – porous walls of sound through which beastly reggae-plagued apparitions ethereally transgress.

The real drama with Travelling Man, however, is its creative fusion: Dancing is a mystic, harp-led serenade to an undiscovered Shakespeare play that casts Thomas as the lovelorn fool of the forest, adrift in Pink Floyd’s dream of a midwinter’s night; and exiled ballad 5476 Miles, a trans-Atlantic sea breeze that reflects the oceanic divide of its subject matter by plonking Chilli Peppers and Badly Drawn Boy on a desert island in the middle, where they discover it’s not such a long way for either.

Travelling Man shows Nigel Thomas himself has come a long way with a masterfully crafted collection of songs that give performance to perseverance – a solo journey that comes full circle when there’s no other role to play but yourself.

He might have ditched his theatrical tights, but Thomas here demonstrates with unerring grace there are other ways to break a leg.

Stephen Brolan

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CD and vinyl available from: http://nigelsongs.com/store

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Photos: Chris Pressman/Jane Hoskyn

*Nigel Thomas plays a special album launch show at Camden Barfly on Saturday 12 March 2016.

For tickets visit: http://bit.ly/1QtSp86

REVIEW vs METAREVIEW: An appraisal and reappraisal of Florence & The Machine

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PART ONE: THE GIG

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE

Bournemouth, BIC

Her star has risen with all the precipitous urgency of a volcano with a pressing engagement. That Florence Welch has seemingly gone from insecure waif of the side-stage to colossal high-priestess of the centre-stage owes as much to the tabloid circus surrounding her as her increasingly molten delivery.

However, despite the mainstream’s depressingly predictable attempts to mould her into another Amy Winehouse (rather than tapping her phone, they’re spiking her water supply) Ms Welch retains a focus impervious to intoxication, which is her strength under the spotlights, but also forms part of her shortcomings. For though what we’re witnessing borders on bewitching – Raise It Up, for example, has become some sort of incantation, with jutting arms and robes all aflow – there’s something stylised about this performance that flirts with contrivance.

Having seen Flo in, er, full flow upon her emergence – climbing the tent scaffold in implausibly massive platform heels at Reading; freeform howling at Lovebox – there’s a professionalism here that, while admirable, negates the sort of wild abandon that actually got her here.

Early in, What The Water Gave Me hypnotises but its séance-like mechanics also leave you floundering in séance-like wonder: ‘Is, in fact, anybody there?’

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Hostess: Raise it up

Set against a weird kind of art-deco hotel lobby backdrop, there’s a sense of juxtaposition here that kind of disturbs. When she starts thrashing around – in front of two backing singers who look strikingly similar (twins?) – it’s like a scene from The Shining.

It could be that Flo has been ceaselessly touring the same material over and over in a seemingly remorseless PR assault that has turned FATM’s energy into something slightly static. However, some of the newer material aired tonight – specifically encore Never Let Me Go – show flashes of the spectral goddess Florence Welch could and should be – like a version of a former high-priestess, but even more incendiary: yes, occasionally, she’s like a burning Bush. And when she ignites like that, we’re all like a flock of Moseses (Mosi?) receiving our instruction from on high (yes, those platforms are still in evidence) and seeing a vision of what the future holds.

The Machine may be a little rusty, but Florence has got more than enough of the magic, and love, to see her through.

Prephen Brolan (then)

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PART TWO: THE AFTERMATH

MetaReview

Florence And The Machine, Brolan’s Writing Desk

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Sages paraoles, mate

So, I write this review of Florence And The Machine for Record Collector magazine – which is to be every bit the detailed and accurate account you would expect from a trained and critical eye, honed from years of experience in the field of measured deliberation and the darkened realms of cogitation (which sounds like a booth for hire in Amsterdam, but assuredly isn’t).

Absorbing the experience, trusty pen and pad to hand (which is mainly for insurance, and almost certainly for ostentation for lack of a t-shirt saying ‘I Am A Fucking Music Journalist’) the show begins, and so starts the critical scribbles (every venue in the world is pitch black, by the way, and most of what’s actually written looks like hieroglyphics). The eventual report starts to take shape in the portals of a suddenly serious mind, while my companions, oblivious to all this, soak up proceedings with untrained yet enthusiastic synaptic responsiveness.

When my review is written, theirs will be a mere glimpsed experience of what the fully loaded, acutely attuned palette perceives – like they’re seeing some art and going: ‘Yeah, my bed looks like that in the morning!’, while I’m all: ‘Post-cognitive, meta-shambolic anti-creative indictment on the ephemerality of human/sub-meta-humanistic domestic pseudo-rebellious servitude compounded and fractured by Emin’s imperfectly perfect pillow-laced, quilt-like coquettishness. A triumph!’

Or something.

Anyway, I’m feeling empowered. So empowered I have to cross my legs. The pen, think I (probably), is truly mightier than the sword. Just wait til these people get a load of my perspective. At the moment, they’re watching a puppet show, but I’m gonna show them the strings – and what the puppet master looks like… Or maybe it’s a magic show I’m thinking of? Whatever, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about tricks and illusions. There’s got to be.

Anyway, this review is gonna make nails rue the day God gave them a head (stigmata purgation?), such will be the force and accuracy of my hitting them square on.

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Postrogative: a woman’s write

So, job done, it’s time to bring in the readership. And who better than my own gig-going plus-one and, more crucially, girlfriend and most trusted confidante. The one thing I can rely on from such a trusted source is honesty. The other is some lovely love-infused hyperbole. And maybe some after-review backstage action. Um…

Review read, she sits back and pauses, presumably to take in some oxygen after nearly drowning in such depths of perception.

“What gig were you at?” she says, my heart nearly stopping for lack of hyperbole. “That’s not how I remember it.”

First thought: somehow I’ve shown the wrong review; second, I’m with the wrong fiancé. Neither tallies, which leads to the unthinkable third: I was totally fucking wrong.

So, as with so many utterances that issue forth from one who loves me, I’m forced to take a long, hard look at myself – the self, in this case, being this overblown review. And so, after a few mandatory, face-saving protestations – always simmering away in the back of any self-serving writer’s head – a long, hard look leads me into a reassessment of what I’ve written.

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Wrong tree: Dog days are assuredly NOT over

If you haven’t already read it, the review in question is on the blog before this. What you’re reading here is the world’s first (or possibly not) meta-review – a review of a review. And the reason I believe it’s necessary is simply because, as a writer and critic, it’s essential to get to the core of what you’re seeing and feeling, rather than revelling in the sound of your own fatuous ramblings. And to show a fiancé how brilliantly fucking humble you can be.

When you read the review – if, indeed, you can be arsed – there’s plenty of clever talk of contrivance/staged professionalism on the part of the protagonist (Florence) and jarring juxtaposition (her Machine) that seemed to occupy my chief objections. And while I stand by these assertions in the main – I have seen better performances in her earlier, less publicised days – what I’d actually missed was the main point of the show: that it was actually GOOD.

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Full Flo: ‘I’m coming for you, Brolan’

This is what was baffling my fiancé upon reading my words – we’d actually had a great time. The gig was phenomenal (she reports it’s one of the best she’s seen), yet all I could concentrate on was the flaws and, more crucially, the context.

Rather than looking at the show from a fresh perspective, I was contrasting this performance against the backdrop of so many other performances I’d seen of Florence And The Machine, and that’s where I believe I – and possibly many journalists before me – completely lost the point. Suddenly I realise I’ve become just the sort of writer I’ve always despised – the CRITIC: that noisome little entity that will point out the essential flaws in your choice of favourite crisp if he thinks he can elevate himself with it (Salt and vinegar? Tish! A veritable tyrant of a crisp – more like the Sultan Vinegar). What I’d missed here was the essence, and surely that is the job – the absolute obligation – of anyone who makes a living being offered free gig tickets whenever he demands.

And maybe that’s the chief problem. For while 99 percent of the crowd that night would have purchased, ebayed, blogged and begged for tickets – and, once procured, would have counted the days in anticipation – mine (and my beloved plus-one, I might add) was a mere email away. The main problem with this, as I see it now, is journalists in this field are far too blasé about what other attendees see as the highlight of their week, month or year. When attending so many shows throughout a calendar year, it’s hardly surprising the flaws become the primary focus – almost as if I’m trying to justify being there in the first place. While all around me are there for no other reason than loving the act in question, and honestly purchasing a ticket (or desperately mortgaging to a dishonest tout), I’m there mainly because I’m working but, more pertinently, because I can be. Just like that.

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Stage against the Machine

Of course, nobody wants to read a reviewer who writes like Fearne Cotton speaks – i.e. absolutely everything is BRILL-I-ANT – but what my girlfriend’s critique has told this critic is that, rather than concentrate on what makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, or what elevates me beyond the actual content I’m writing about, it might serve to actually absorb the experience, feel the atmosphere and the sheer power of what a truly good performance can do, rather than pontificating on niggling subtext or nagging context.

How about writing what I feel? Perhaps that’s what years of writing about such things has blunted – the essential feeling. The most legendary hack of all, Lester Bangs, once postulated that writing about music is like tap-dancing about architecture. If that is so (which it probably is), perhaps the only thing to do is stop tapping and make some cement.

And there you have it: my meta-review. Might start doing more of these (will, in fact; stand by for magazine launch) – maybe that’s the only way to get to the essence of what I’m bollocking on about in my actual reviews. After all, self-criticism is one of the few ways you can truly understand yourself – and possibly the only way a girlfriend will give you some backstage action, if only for the price of admitting she was right all along.

SB

Stephen Postlan

* Stand by for more MetaReviews with a new magazine launch coming this year…