Monthly Archive: November 2010

Marc Almond @ New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, 28th November 2010

Review for Birmingham Live! Unfortunately no photographs were permitted for this concert.

On this freezing November night it’s off the ‘New’ Alexandra Theatre to see an icon of alternative electronica Marc Almond.

This is his (and yet another act touring with a) thirtieth anniversary tour to celebrate his ‘best bits’ – Hits and A sides.

Marc Almond rose to fame as one half of Soft Cell, formed with Dave Ball in 1979, when they were both at Leeds Poly. Their most famous hit, ‘Tainted Love’ became a dance floor classic available in multiple 12″ vinyl remixes. Most people will have heard, brought or danced to it.  Mavericks for the time, Soft Cell celebrated the dark side of the movement with ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ exposing the sleazy side of live they ended up living within.

The critics found them confusing (and before their time) and by the mid-eighties they split amicably, with Almond forming the Marc and the Mambas and subsequently concentrating on his own work, dabbling in a wide range of genres. Though Soft Cell briefly reformed in 2000, Marc continued on his own since then and fought his way back from a life-threatening motorcycle accident, after which he had to learn to sing again. His voice is now probably better than ever. Whether you like him or not, Almond’s work has inspired a generation…

So the set starts off with a film showing Almond’s eclectic career throughout his three decades of work. The audience love it and he appears on stage to rapturous applause.

The Alex isn’t the best venue for a gig, the sound system doesn’t really give his voice justice – undoubtedly in a venue such as the Symphony Hall his vocals would be truly impressive. However, he’s on song tonight, even though he’s suffering from laryngitis and a cough. “We’re all suffering illness – but we’ll battle through ‘cos its show business! I’ll keep going although my voice may be ropey, you can sing the high notes….

He’s a charismatic front man – happy to chat and engage with the crowd and to shake the hands of audience members.

The set starts off with the hits‘Tears Run Rings’, ‘Hand Over Heart and ‘Stories of Johnny’ featuring a whistling drummer. Then onto a couple of tracks from his 2010 album ‘Varietie’,  his first self-written album in over a decade. A few further tracks, including ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ he departs the stage and we had a second film interlude of Almond from across the decades.

Then an “acoustic” section – just Almond and a pianist – including Soft Cell track ‘Entertain Me’, and the melodic “Gone and Not Forgotten”, a tribute to those who have lost their lives in war. Probably the best section of the show, it truly showed Almond’s vocal talent and lyrical skill.

Then the rest of the band returned and out came the Soft Cell classics and his dabbling with euro-pop. While it was great to hear the classics, somehow a full band didn’t really work on the interpretation of electronica. After ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘What?’ came ‘Tainted Love’ for which the crowd gave a standing ovation. A further song and end of this set – “Thank you for all the past few years…. I’ll struggle on for another thirty.”

And then to the encore of ‘Ruby Red’ and ‘Something’s Gotta Hold of My Heart’, and a break, then second encore. A glove was thrown on the stage, “Oh thank you – you want it back? I was gonna keep it, as a glove puppet, to remember you for the rest of my life. It’s a recession so we got to take our gifts back – oh well you need it to keep warm!”

And then the final song ‘Say Hello and Wave Goodbye” with an audience only sing-a-along to a chorus.

Marc Almond is indeed a maverick. He’s got a phenomenal and unique voice and is a talented lyricist, although dancing is clearly not his forte. You can’t stick him in a box to say which genre he is. He’s continually skirted around the edges, in a similar manner to Nick Cave, and maybe he hasn’t gained the level of success his talent deserves, specifically because he doesn’t conform.  In lots of ways he’s a national treasure. Worth a sneak peek, if you get a chance.

………………..

Setlist:

1. Tears Run Rings

2. Hand Over Heart

3. Stories of Johnny

4. Nijinsky Heart

5. Varietie

6. My Love

7. You have

8. Tenderness is a Weakness

9.  Melancholic Girl

10. Tales of Pearly Spencer

11. Jacky

Film interlude

12. Entertain Me

13. Gone But Not Forgotten

14. What Makes A Man A Man

15.

  • A Lover spurned

16. Torch

17. Where the heart is

18. Pop Up Poster of a Teenage Dream

19. Romance of the Night

20. Bedsitter

21. What?

22. Tainted love

23. Way You Make Me Feel

Encore

24.  Ruby Red

25. Something Gotta Hold of my Heart

Encore 2

26. Say Hello Wave Goodbye

…………………….

Listening:

Soft Cell: Non Stop Erotic Cabaret (1980)

Marc Almond: Varietie (2010)

 

Heaven 17 @ HMV Institute, 26th November 2010

Tonight it’s off to the new HMV Institute to see, what appears from the promotions, something different from your average gig – part concert and part art installation – courtesy of Heaven 17.

As part of  H17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement 30th Anniversary UK Tour’ there will be a “live digital visual show, featuring some of the biggest names and most talented up-and-coming artists from the worlds of digital and graphic design, fine art and film.”

We are promised something different - a world-first multimedia show – right from when we walk into the venue – this should be interesting….

So first the venue – the first time I’ve been to the Institute since it morphed into it’s current HMV Institute incarnation. What a delight! Finally a glorious, small, intimate venue that Birmingham deserved and sorely missed. With great sound. And hopefully this time with the backing of the Mean Fiddler group it will survive. No more need to traipse down to London for such a venue – all we need now is a great line up of acts playing there!

Bit of background is needed, as like so many early eighties bands, original band line-ups split, morphed and did something different.  And these guys were another group inspired by the godfathers of electronic Kraftwerk. Right at the turn of the 80s, two members of the Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh walked away and formed a band / production company B.E.F. (British Electronic Foundation). Initially recording music under the guise of BEF, they subsequently recruited photographer Glenn Gregory on vocals, and became Heaven 17 (taking their name from the fictional pop group ‘The Heaven Seventeen’ from the classic film ‘A Clockwork Orange’).

So as I arrive, and set up camp on the balcony, in good view of the stage I am meet with a DJ with decks and 12″ vinyl records (remember them?) with three graphic LED panels. I’m not convinced this is a full art installation, but he’s playing classic 80s – Soft Cell’s ‘Memorabilia’, Blancmange’s ‘Living on the Ceiling’, and Devo’s ‘Whip It.’ The audience sing along. Then it’s off with the DJ and some B.E.F. Music with retro graphics on the displays. Still not convinced about the ‘world first multimedia show’ – OMD managed 3D lazer graphics at the start of their recent gig…

So then here we go – on stage come Heaven 17 –  featuring original founding members, a smart looking Glenn Gregory (lead vocals) and Martyn Ware (synthesizers, vocals and bizarrely wearing purple winkle pickers!)  supported by Billie Godfrey (backing vocals), Asa Bennett (guitar), Joel Farland (electronic percussion) and Randy Hope-Taylor (bass). The other founding member, Ian Craig Marsh, left the band during their years of hiatus in the mid noughties.

‘Penthouse and Pavement’ was released in 1981. And Heaven 17 play it tonight in track order. In ’81, while the Human League began to have commercial success, Heaven 17 found life more difficult with the first single (and first track of the evening) ‘(We don’t need this) Fascist Grove Thang’ getting limited radio play due to  Radio 1 DJ Mike Read effectively banning it due to its left wing lyrics. At a time when the Top 40  was key to success, none of the singles from this album broke into the charts.  It would be a further two years before they really made commercial success….

“The first time in 30 years in it’s entirety – why didn’t we do this before?” Gregory stated after the first song, only to regret it later in the set. After ‘Civil Warefare’ – “Too many words in the song – we never intended to play it live – I’ve a memory of a goldfish!”

After the first side of the album, an interlude of a couple of  BEF tracks: ‘Ball of Confusion’ originally sung by Tina Turner, now with the stunning vocals of Billie Godfrey, and then Gregory singing a cover of Glenn Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’.

Then there was an acoustic treat, an cheeky rendition of a sister band’s classic 80’s hit,  the whole audience sang along – “Martyn won’t like this,” said Gregory, “Don’t mention it to Phil (Oakey) – our newfound friendship will be over!”

Then they ‘turned the album over, wiped it with their sleeve’ and onto side two of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’. Slight hiccup when the boys, nearly forgot ’A Song with No Name’, they completed the album with ‘We’re gonna live for a very long time’ – to a rapturous applause from the audience.

But the gig didn’t finish there, Heaven 17 switch to the hits and crank up the audience. ‘Crushed by the Wheels of Industry’, ‘Come Live with Me’ and the band’s favourite song ‘Let Me Go’ followed by a stunning dance 12 ” remix of ‘Temptation’ which was just jaw dropping.

Off and then back on for an encore – with the good question of how do you follow that? Well they did and then some – first track ( a newer song) ‘I’m Gonna Make You Fall in Love with Me’ was okay, then followed by a stunning version of The Associates ‘Party Fears Two’, a track Heaven 17 first played to honour Associate Billie McKenzie who committed suicide. A sad loss and hear-rending rendition.

Then – a treat-  a classic Human League song written by Ware, Craig Marsh and Phil Oakey. ‘Being Boiled.’ An awesome and stunning finale.

H17 were truly stunned by the audience reaction, you could tell they thoroughly enjoyed the gig, as much as the audience did. ‘We will return next year’ said Ware. If you get a chance to see Heaven 17, forget the art installation, reminisce about classic 12″ collector vinyl, cough up  £20 (which is what tonight’s prices were) and be prepared to be blown away!

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Setlist:

Side A: Penthouse and Pavement.

  1. (We Don’t Need This) Facist Grove hTang
  2. Penthouse and Pavement
  3. Play to Win
  4. Soul Warfare

Interlude:

  1. Ball of Confusion (BEF)
  2. Wichita Lineman (BEF)
  3. Don’t You Want Me (Human League Cover)

 

Side B: Penthouse and Pavement

  1. Geisha Boys and Temple Girls
  2. Let’s All Make a Bomb
  3. The Height of Fighting (He-La-Hu)
  4. Song with No Name
  5. We’re Going to Live for a Very Long Time

 

Hits:

  1. I’m Your Money
  2. Crushed by the Wheels of Industry
  3. Come with Me
  4. Let Me Go
  5. Temptation

 

Encore:

  1. I’m Gonna Make You Fall in Love with Me
  2. Party Fears Too (The Associates Cover)
  3. Being Boiled (Human League)

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Listening:

Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement (1981) digitally remastered (2010)

BEF  – ‘Music For Stowaways’ and ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction Vol.1’

The Associates – Singles (2007)

 

Keep Music Live….

I’ve been going to live gigs for more years than I could mention. I’ve seen pretty much everyone – from the mainstream to alternative, indie, goth, rock, big name acts, tiny acts….

I’ve seen hundred of bands.
And over the years, pretty much every venues in Birmingham and beyond….

I have an opinion on live gigs. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert – but I’ve seen so many, I have a view. And now I review for Brum Live.

guitarist-in-smoke2

For me it’s the experience of watching a live band – those wow! instances – where you go – that was awesome! I can remember the great experiences – and the not so good. I went to Monsters of Rock (Donnington), now Download. I was only a kid, it was probably the first time I’d been to an open air gig. I wasn’t massively into rock at the time – I was an indie / goth chick. We’d gone with a mate, cos she was into the headliners – Bon Jovi. It was cheap (yes in those days it really was) – it was different – I hadn’t been there before – and my mate was begging – so we went.

The day before it had been hot and sunny. That day it was torrential thunderstorms. We weren’t prepared – and there was no cover. It was the mid eighties, and there was just one stage, and very few stalls. We brought bin bags for something like £1 (crazy prices) to wear to attempt to keep us dry. It was mud pies everywhere. And the only dry place was a hanger, where the loos were. And flying around the hanger were bats! (Only at a rock gig!). I remember sitting on the track, four of us in a row. Freezing cold. Clearly a great picture, which kinda summed up the day – a photographer took pictures of us.

It was mid afternoon, and we sat there listening to one of the lower line-up acts, about fifth on the line-up. I can remember the song – it was cool. The song was ‘One.’ The band were Metallica….. Twenty years on, I returned, so see them play once again.

I hope that a little bit of my opinion, will help you decide whether to go and see the bands I review. Of course, everyone will have a view on what they saw. But these days the sad news is that many gigs by named acts are expensive. At times hugely expensive. You are looking at around £30 for a ticket, booking fee PER ticket, credit card charges, postal charges. And that’s before you get to the gig – some venues have exorbitant parking charges (the o2 in London Docklands charges £17.50 to park – madness when CLOSER to the venue there is a Rail Station car park at around £3 to park all day!) – others charge a small fortune it you fancy a drink or food. u2 stated recession busting tickets (average price £70!), Take That tickets sold from £50 – £75.

My current benchmark has to be what Metallica (back to them then) charged, to play in the round at the NEC (now LG). I stood 10 foot away from James Hetfield. They played for 2 and half hours. And then stayed on the stage after the gig to chat to fans. Whether you are a Metallica fan or not – they are one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Ticket price £32.00. For standing. There was no area in front of us – no “Golden Circle’.  (When I was there a mate texted me to see if I wanted to see a reformed Spandau Ballet. Ticket price £70. With a set of retro hits. The answer – NO!)

I understand that venues and bands have to make money. It’s a business at the end of the day. But the country’s broke. Times are tough. Don’t price live music out the market, through booking fees and other additional  costs….

Goo Goo Dolls + Uncle Bob @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 11th November 2010

Review for Birmingham Live!

Tonight it’s off to the 02 Academy to see The Goo Goo Dolls – an American rock band formed way back in ’86, from Buffalo, New York. I can’t say I know a massive amount about them, besides THAT song, which has somehow managed to sneak into the list of my favourite tracks. So tonight will be interesting, as I go with no expectations at all. (Beside the fact they play THAT track!)

The Goo Goo Dolls are promoting their new album “Something for the Rest of Us”released a couple of months ago. The band lineup consists of original members: lead singer John Rzeznik ( eye candy for the ladies) and Robbie Takac (guitar) with Mike Malinin (drums) joined by touring members Brad Fernquist and Korel Tunador.

I have yet to be convinced by the new Academy. Probably partially because of spending way too many hours in the former Hummingbird (in both incarnations) and knowing the best places to stand for a gig. So tonight is another attempt to learn to love it as a venue.  One thing I find annoying is that it you do not stand in the middle of the venue, you get distorted sound, and in this case limited vocals. It was the second song before the sound began to even out slightly.

The songs are good, listenable, middle of the road AOR, think Nickelback, Stone Sour ( in ballad mode) and Creed. In fact, I found myself singing Creed’s ‘With Arms Wide Open’ on more than one occasion.

The Goo Goo Dolls are recording breaking and a Grammy nominated and winning band. I’m sure in the States they play large venues. But here in the UK playing to a just over half full venue, in what must seem to them, the back of beyond, where most people only know THAT song, and possibly a couple of your other ‘hits.’ Must be pretty soul destroying for a band who have been around since the mid 80s and have seen others, pass them by in the success stakes, and are clearly still trying to get a break

The audience were appreciative, but not exactly blowing the roof off, and later in the set, when the guitarist tried to get the audience clapping, barely half made the effort. They were talking.  And waiting. For THAT song.

On four songs, the lead guitarist took on vocal duty. A tad bizarre, as they scooted into sounding like Blink 182, with Rzeznik quite happy to play lead. He’s an unassuming front man, great vocals, the guy with the looks and comes across as kinda shy with it.

And then they played THAT song. The crowd lifted and sang ALL the words. And it was only then the band came alive. “Iris” is 12 years old from chick flick smooze movie ‘City of Angels’. It is a classic indeed and the performance did make the hackles stand up on the back of your neck. Everyone sang along (and no doubt half the bar staff did too).

“Iris” was last song of the main set, then off and back on for the encore. But the audience had heard what they came for, and had started to leave. “Notbroken” was, as Rzeznik explained, a song about a conversation between a couple split by the Iraq war. Powerful stuff and a good song. But the audience had heard what they wanted to hear – “They should have played ‘Iris’ in the encore” a punter was heard to say on his way out the door.

Shame, the Goo Goo Dolls are clearly talented. And probably, in a different world, a great band. But luck fell with others to take the spoils. If you love THAT song, they are good enough to listen to for an hour, just to get 4 minutes of class.

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Set list included: Better Days, Big Machine, Slide, Dizzy, Here is Gone, Can’t Let It Go, Let Love in, Stay with You, Name, Iris;  From the new album:  Notbroken, Home, Nothing is Real.

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Listening :

The Goo Goo Dolls, Greatest Hits, Volume 1” [2007]

“Something for the Rest of Us” [2010]

 

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark @ Symphony Hall Birmingham, 8th November 2010

Review for Birmingham Live.

Winter has finally arrived, it’s a cold, wet and windy night – time to spend an evening in the delectable Symphony Hall – possibly the ‘poshest music venue’ in Brum. Refined, comfortable and cosy and a venue where you just know the sound will be stunning, even when you’re up in the gods.

So tonight, it’s back to eighties retro with another electronica band turning back the clock. This time it’s Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, aka OMD, touring with their first album in fourteen years, History of Modern, accompanied with drippings of their classic hits. Birmingham is their last date on their UK leg of the tour – a positive acknowledgement the band make to their fans during the set.

OMD were one amongst a number of bands formed in the late seventies to have been inspired by the godfathers of electronica Kraftwerk. Some went to the dark side and mega success (note Depeche Mode), others started indie or dark and traversed to the commercial side before finding it tough, going into hiatus and then finding they’re once again cool(ish) and coming back out on the road. That’ll be OMD then.

So, with an instrumental interlude and swish laser graphics courtesy of the techie sponsors, here comes OMD in the form of the classic line-up from 1980: Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes.

They have retained their loyal fan base – an appreciative audience applauds as OMD start as they mean to go on, a mixture of very old, slightly less old (gap for hiatus time) and the brand new.

Give them their due, OMD are still up for it. With a slick and professional set, they clearly enjoy their re-born success. Andy McCluskey had a reputation for dodgy arm swinging and is still leaping round the stage “dangerous dancing”. And when he starts, he doesn’t stop.

The classics from Morality & Architecture are the stand out tracks. Following Joan of Arc, the track of the night has to be the classic Maid of Orleans, culminating with a cracking blast of drums. Standing ovation commenced, with the band truly overwhelmed by the response. McCluskey: “We need to take you everywhere with us – wonderful! I’m going to die in a quiet corner.” “Make sure you come back!” responds an audience member.

Then the set scoots into their candy pop era; with I’m So In Love with You (sung by Paul Humphreys much to the liking to the ladies in the audience), Locomotion and Sailing the Seven Seas, before the final track – Enola Gay – a lighter take on nuclear apocalypse.

The new tracks from their 2010 album are on the whole, pretty good, not as good as the classics, but, better than the mid eighties cheesy pop they drifted into.

The encore starts off with Walk on the Milky Way (swap McCluskey for Gary and Robbie you’re in Take That territory) completing with going back thirty odd years to Electricity.

At the end of the gig, McCluskey says to the audience “You’ve made this a spectacular concert, we’re counting the days till we return….”

So sounds like you will have the opportunity to see them once again (or for the first time in recent times) in the near future. Bands from eighties past, tour on a regular basis these days  – if you like your retro electronica on the darker melodic side, go and see Ultravox. If you were an OMD fan and like your electronica with a dabbing of candy-floss, a dark chocolate flake, the odd bit of cheese and “dangerous” dad dancing – go and see OMD.

*************************

Setlist:

Intro

  1. New Babies; New Toys
  2. Souvenir
  3. Tesla Girls
  4. Bunker Soldiers
  5. History of Modern (Part 1)
  6. (Forever) Live and Die (sung by Paul Humphreys)
  7. She’s Leaving
  8. Messages
  9. Maid of Orleans
  10. Joan of Arc
  11. Architecture & Morality
  12. If You Leave
  13. Talking Loud and Clear
  14. I’m So in Love with You
  15. Locomotion
  16. Sister Mary Says
  17. Pandora’s Box
  18. Sailing the Seven Seas
  19. Enola Gay

Encore:

20. Walking on the Milky Way

21. Electricity