Monthly Archive: May 2012

Blancmange + Light Cascades + The Audacity @ HMV Institute Temple, 19th May 2012

Review for Birmingham Live! Pictures: Ken Harrison

After having moved venues twice in as many days – we climb to the top of the HMV Institute to see the iconic electronic Blancmange, back again, for the second time in less that a year after a twenty five year hiatus.

This gig started out life in the 02 Academy 2, then moved to the Academy 3, before a last minute move to The Temple at the HMV Institute across town. We don’t know why, but maybe it was because a “lesser known, small band” with the name of Black Sabbath were performing an intimate gig in the 02 Academy 1…

So after a traipse across town and a climb pretty much to the rooftop of the HMV Institute to the Temple (not sure why they’ve gone for this room – The Library would have made more sense – and there’s nowt else on at the Institute tonight). Though fair play to The Institute, the staff are all very friendly and they’ve opened up the VIP Conservatory, with bar and area for those fans who want a fag, without having to traipse down two flights of stairs.

The teeny Temple is three-quarters full – couple of hundred fans – probably due to the fact they’re playing The Slade Rooms in Wolvo the following night. Blancmange were indeed one of the influential pioneers in their hey day –  ‘Living on The Ceiling’, ‘Feel Me’ and “Blind Vision” are just some of their stand out tracks. Over recent years, they’ve been acknowledged as inspirational by bands such as La Roux, Hot Chip and Faithless.

Formed in ‘79, inspired by Joy Division, early Human League and the godfathers of electronica, Kraftwerk. Stephen Luscombe and Neil Arthur didn’t have a plan; they went along with the ride. And by the mid eighties, they felt their time was as a band was over – but kept their friendship in tact. And so, turn to 2010; they started working on their fourth album ‘Blanc Burn’.

Sadly Luscombe once again has been advised not to tour having been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurism near his spine (you can read his message on the front of the Blancmange website) . And so again, it’s down to Arthur to continue with the tour accompanied on the teeny stage tonight by Graham Henderson “twiddling the knobs…”

Local bands are tonight’s support’s – first up – The Audacity – inspired by early Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and New Order. Next up – Light Cascades – another young indie electronica band, with female lead plus bass and guitar; they are very early 80s in sound. Set includes cover of The Cure’s ‘Pictures of You.’

And at 9pm, Arthur and his side kick Henderson appear on the darkened stage, with arty screen backdrop accompaniment and we’re into the first track of the night  ‘Game Above My Head.’ Arthur stoops and sheltering his eyes from the spotlight, peers into the crowd. His voice still is the iconic sound of Blancmange. With Lancastrian accent “That’s very nice of you Birmingham, find ya way ‘ere did you? We got lost….” (comment on venue change from an audience member) Arthur joking – “that’s what I meant!”  Next track “I Can’t Explain “ shows how early Blancmange gained their early influence – very Kraftwerk inspired. Tonight’s set it the old and the new (from 2011’s Blanc Burn); from the first single ‘God’s Kitchen’ to tracks such as ‘Radio Therapy’ …. And Arthur is keeping track of the footie score – “What’s the score?” (Nil-Nil) “ooooo”

The stand out tracks tonight are the main hits of the past – a track that was released thirty years ago this September – ‘Living on the Ceiling’ is still as classy as Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tears Us Apart’. And as the number closes, and the music rolls, Arthurs disappears off stage – to re-appear slap bang in front of us in the audience – before nipping back. “Always wanted to see Blancmange… wish I was thirty years younger” he quips. Few more tracks – then the classic ‘Blind Vision’, followed by Blanc Burn track ‘Starfucker’ then ‘Feel Me’ – a track that Talking Heads would have been proud of.

Off and back on for encore with an unsuspecting audience member he grabbed “while she was on the way to the loo…”  The we get the ABBA cover ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Probably Nothing.’ Arthur and Henderson bow to the crowd.

Arthur is chatty – and loves to engage with the fans – he’ll be chatting by the merchandising stand after the gig, and as we leave – most people stay behind for the opportunity……

Tonight’s gig wasn’t as good as their gig last year at The Academy 2 – but that could well have been down to the venue move. There is something very classy about Blancmange, they truly deserve a bigger take-up from those fans who love electronica. They deserved more than the couple of hundred that turned up tonight – however loyal those few are. So go check em out – you will not be disappointed. And to Arthur, and Luscombe, keep it up boys, it’s great to hear you once again.

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Brum Live photographer Ken Harrison got to see Blancmange the following night at The Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton with support from local lad Johnny Normal. This gig was indeed Blancmange back on full form (everyone is entitled to a bit of an off night especially with last minute swap-around on venues!) – far better sound and more space on stage. They were also joined by long time associate, Pandit Dinesh, on percussion. Setlist was a bit different – they finished the set with the melodic ‘Waves’.

Ken caught up with Neil Arthur after the gig – and gave an acknowledgment to Birmingham Live! “They’re great!”  Cheers matey – we look forward to see Blancmange back in the Midlands very soon!

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Setlist:

  1. Game Above My Head
  2. I Can’t Explain
  3. WDYF
  4. God’s Kitchen
  5. Radio Therapy
  6. Drive Me
  1. The Western
  2. Living on the Celling
  3. By the Bus Stop @ Woolies
  4. Don’t Let These Days
  5. Blind Vision
  6. Star Fucker
  7. Feel Me

 

Encore:

14. The Day Before You Came

15. Probably Nothing

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Listening:

Happy Families (1982)

Mange Tout (1984)

Believe You Me (1985)

Blanc Burn (2011)

Elvis Costello and The Imposters @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham 15th May 2012

Review for Birmingham Live! and Gig Junkies.

Elvis Costello is a legend. Full stop. What more can you say about a man who has had more classic hits than most of us have had hot dinners, with over 60 singles, thirty-odd albums in a career spanning well over thirty years.

Tonight, we’re in for a treat. And it’s at the delightful Symphony Hall. This is the Revolver tour. There is no support, the stage has a backdrop of an old TV,  a ‘bar’ with drinks and stools, a circular dancing ‘cage’, a vaudeville set with a ‘the hammer of songs’ and a spectacular spinning ‘wheel of tunes’. Wow.

And just after 8pm, on they come – and a fast rip through of songs – ‘Hope You’re Happy Now’, ‘Heat of the City’ (Nick Lowe cover), ‘Mystery Dance’ and ‘Radio Radio’ a track that speeds through at a million miles an hour. All frenetically danced to in the ‘cage’ by Mother Superior of Our Lady of Perpetual Tormente – Dixie de la Fenton.

And then we get a total change of pace – Costello swaps his trilby for a showman’s top hat, cane in hand – “Good evening, my name’s Napoleon Dymanite…. sorry no dog acts in this show….. you are here to hear many, many songs…. and you will be the ones to choose them…. love (ooh from crowd)…. sex (another ooooh)…. death (laughter)… and not necessarily in that order…” He shines a spotlight on the crowd, and his lovely assistant Katja, escorts a brave soul to the stage to participate in the first spin of the ‘wheel of tunes’ –  Joyce is the first audience member “these people’s enjoyment of the next five minutes is in your hands…”   Tonight’s set takes from over 150 songs – it could be anything. Whilst Joyce sits on the barstool for the first, for the second she’s invited to waltz as Costello serenades her with ‘She’. ‘She’ culminates with Costello, singing with limited accompaniment slap bang in the middle of the audience in the Symphony Hall. This is Costello at his best.

Back on stage, this time with audience member Neville, for a second spin of the wheel. Costello: “Great thing about this show is we have no idea what we’re doing….” This one’s a numbers game – ‘Everything is Less than Zero.’ Spin three, with Hannah in charge, “show your enthusiasm for these spinners…. sympathy or envy…” Costello is chatty and engaging: “Tomorrow’s Sun (newspaper) headline: Rebecca is a pervert” (a first reference to the phone hacking and press storm currently going on and the news today that Rebecca Brookes being charged with perverting the course of justice) “…. Well printing half the story has never bothered them before…” A slot on Have I Got News For You may well be waiting for him. And into a song co-written with one Paul McCartney ‘So Like Candy.’

Next spin and we have Rachel and nephew Sam on stage “family show you see..” and a double spin comes up with ‘Girl’ and ‘Kings Ransom’. More songs including ‘Girl Talk.’ And we’re less than halfway through this epic set – Katja escorts John and his daughter to the stage. This time to hit the ‘hammer of songs.’  For ‘Motel Mothers’  we see Dixie back in her cage, followed up by a Chuck Berry classic “Riding along in my automobile…” ‘No Particular Place to Go’ played in a different time sync – which he played, without band, at a 2012 Award ceremony in front of Chuck Berry and Keith Richards – Leonard Cohen was also there. Costello is on the move again, walking round the auditorium, and taking time to sit within the audience and sing.

Costello: “Half the time we don’t know what songs are on there …(referring to the wheel) …. The other night it was all Slade….” The (un)fortunate  (depending on how you look at it) pulled up on stage, don’t get to escape that easily – either seated at the ‘bar’ or given opportunity to strut their stuff in Dixie’s ‘cage.’  And another one, Vicky, spins the wheel and gets ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and classic Costello tracks to accompany that theme.

Then to finish this part of set a gothic track – ‘I Want You’ – the stage shrouded in red light, big sing, with harpsichord sound, and screaming vocals at the end.

And, finally,  a break – but not for long here’s the encore. On comes the ‘magic table’ and appearing from a case- a ukulele – and we’re into a couple of ‘Josephine’ tracks – ‘Who’s the Meanest Girl in Town, Josephine’ and ‘ A Slow Drag with Josephine…..and following an acoustic period – it’s still going, tracks including ‘Oliver’s Army’, ‘Watching the Detectives’ and another standout of the night ‘Shipbuilding’. Self spinning his wheel of tunes – he stops it at the classic ‘Chelsea’ and following the intro to his band of Imposters, we’re into the finale – ‘Peace Love and Understanding’.

Nigh on a three hour set, this was one the audience watched, seated, memorized by so many songs, Costello’s friendly and quirky and entertaining anecdotes, the amount that was going on, and of course taking in his true lyrical prowess that is very much Costello’s own.  To give a set list would be wrong – every night is different, the potential song list way too long, and there’s treats that pop up when you least expect it – so as per the way the entire night runs, I’ll leave it a surprise. For me Costello is at his best when singing alone, or with low key band – it was ‘She’ and Shipbuilding’ that were the standouts. And you sat, and listened to all the words.

This set was for the fans, and to celebrate a massive back catalogue that is literally full of surprises. A night to absorb rather than party – but truly impressive. Catch the vaudeville wheel of songs if you can – it’s worth the spin. And you can check it out on his rather impressive website www.elviscostello.com – and play the game at home!

 

Morten Harket @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham 14th May 2012

The Symphony Hall is a beautiful venue – with amazing sound. Therefore it is the brave that choose to play there – you need the vocals to deliver. And former a-ha frontman Morten Harket certainly has that.

Surprisingly Morten Harket has been singing live for nigh on 30 years. a-ha formed in ’82 – and disbanded in 2010 with over 40m album worldwide sales including 15 top ten singles in the UK alone. It was their iconic mid-eighties ‘Take On Me’ with the illustrated video which took the Norwegian band to stratospheric heights.  Harket dabbled with solo albums during their brief 90‘s hiatus, and one in 2008; tonight he’s here with his new post a-ha 2012 offering ‘Out of My Hands’, plus his previous solo work and a set that features the odd a-ha hit for the fans.

Support tonight comes from introspective indie Celtic folk group Song Dog, hailing from South Wales and Dundee. Putting poetry to music and ‘creating soundscapes’ their most recent release was “A Life Eroding’ in 2010 on indie label One Little Indian.

Bizarrely as we wait between acts, the PA system plays out dance and rave – The Prodigy and Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’…..

And so to the main man, at 9pm on he comes, everyone immediately stands and claps – Harket looking unassumingly cool, in black shirt, jeans and shades. Harket: “Good evening… nice to see you….” and a couple from tracks from his new album ‘Burn Money Burn’ and ‘I’m the One.’

“Thank you so much…. been on stage for 25-30 years..” plus a reference to a-ha and we have thunderclaps and into the spine chingling Everley Brothers cover ‘Crying in the Rain.’ He acknowledge the time with a-ha and, as tonight will indeed feature smatterings of his former life, the fans vote on tracks that may not have been played as often as he would have liked. So we have a trio of tracks :’ Out of Blue Comes Green’, ‘Move to Memphis’ and ‘Forever Not Yours.’ Next up his older solo stuff “from that other century.”

He’s uber-cool on stage – an unassuming swagger, kinda shy but confident in his ability. With looks that good – it aint always easy to be a credible musician.  This is him, stripped bare of his band of thirty years, a new band, light rig and his voice. Brave. He’s quite chatty – and confident in his solo work. Joining him on stage tonight are drummer Karl Oluf Wennernerg, guitarist Dan Sundhordvik and keyboard and bass player Erik Ljunggren.

Then a snippet about how he and the other members of a-ha were given guitars as gift from Phil Everley and this track was the first one he wrote on the guitar he’s playing tonight –  ‘Los Angeles’. ‘A Kind of Christmas Card is his version of ‘Roxanne’ about a girl who travels abroad to become an actress and ends up a prostitute, and writes her story in a card.

‘We’re Looking for the Whales’  – the a-ha track which brought the band together all those years ago, as a reality that they could actually achieve something together. He dedicates it to Magne and Paul. Coupe of songs, quick break and we’re into the first encore – new album track ‘Scared of Heights’ (Espen Lind song) and two more a-ha – the high pitched ‘Stay on These Roads’ and the ‘give it some wellie’ track – ‘Foot of the Mountain.’

Another break and final encore – the acoustic ‘Lay Me Down Tonight’ and the hit that made a-ha and a thirty year career – ‘Take On Me.’ Surprisingly, this is no time warp – live, he hits ALL those incredibly high notes – and the night ends with a massive cheer and huge applause, raising the roof off the Symphony Hall.

Morten Harket was quite a surprise tonight. Many bands and acts are touring on nostalgia – but this gig wasn’t. This was a very enjoyable demonstration that shows the world that in an acoustically great venue he has one hell of a voice with a falsetto range beyond belief. And he is far more than just the good looking guy from a-ha. Forget ‘Take On Me’ – this is a Norwegian guy with a cracking voice. And without the pop boundaries it will be interesting to see where he chooses to explore in his own solo world – even thirty years into a career, there’s far more to come from Morten Harket yet. Tonights tickets were average price for the Symphony Hall – circa £35. Next time he’s in town take a look. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Setlist:

  1. Burn Money Burn
  2. I’m The One
  3. Keep the Sun Away
  4. Crying in the Rain (Everley Brothers cover)
  5. Out of Blue Comes Green (A-Ha)
  6. Move to Memphis (A-Ha)
  7. Forever Not Yours (A-Ha)
  8. When I Reached the Moon
  9. Los Angeles
  10. Spanish Steps
  11. A Kind of Christmas Card
  12. We’re Looking for the Whales (A-Ha)
  13. Just Believe It
  14. Lightning

 

Encore I:

15. Scared of Heights (Espen Lund cover)

16. Stay on These Roads (A-Ha)

17. Foot of the Mountain (A-Ha)

 

Encore II:

18. Lay Me Down Tonight (Acoustic)

19. Take On Me (A-Ha)

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Solo albums:

Poetenes Evangelium [1993]

Wild Seed [1995]

Vogts Villa [1996]

Letter from Egypt [2008]

Out of my Hands [2012]