Monthly Archive: April 2013

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) + John Foxx and the Maths, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 29th April 2013

Tonight we’re at the delectable Symphony Hall in Brum. Refined, comfortable and cosy and a venue where you just know the sound will be stunning, we’re here to see some retro (and the new) from electro legend John Foxx and the Maths in support of OMD (aka Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).

Tonight, greeted by the friendly and helpful Symphony Hall staff, we take our seats to wait for the first act. The stage is draped with a black backdrop, red, then green lights spiral the stage, dry ice emits to build atmosphere. To polite applause, on come John Foxx and the Maths. Foxx: “Good evening. Real pleasure to be here in this beautiful home that we will see if we can destroy for you tonight.” The trio of Foxx, Benge and Hannah Peel line up in front of synths plus electric drums, violins and gizmos.  The first song is very loud but soon into the set, the sound begins to balance.

Foxx is one of the pioneers of electronica.  He’s probably best recognised as the man who started Ultravox in ‘74, way before the 80’s commercial successes enjoyed by the band’s later incarnation. By ‘79, Ultravox! (with or without exclamation mark) had released 3 critically acclaimed albums and what became a major influence on a future generation of electronic musicians.  But Foxx chose to go solo releasing his first album ‘Metamatic’ in ‘80 and followed with three up to ‘85. Then a 12 year sabbatical since which he’s been totally prolific, releasing well over 20 albums and working with artists such as Harold Budd, Steve Jansen (Japan) and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) to name but a few.

And he’s still being pioneering. Foxx’s set tonight is indeed ‘the dark atmospheric side’ of the electronic sphere. Sound is better by the third song ‘Evergreen’ which has an infectious rhythm.  Then we get ‘No One Driving’, Summerland’ and ‘Running Man’ complete with strobe lighting and spiraling crescendo. Followed by ‘Burning Car’, ‘Catwalk’ and the finale, ‘Underpass’. Good reception as Foxx puts his hands in the air as the track slides out.  He’s clearly enjoyed it, as have the audience.

A comfy break in the bar and we return, the forty-something audience keen for the headliners. OMD were one amongst a number of bands formed in the late seventies. Some went to the dark side and mega success (note Depeche Mode and their 100 million album sales), 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 in vogue and coming back out. That’ll be OMD then.

Last time OMD played in Brum it was a soggy and cold night in November ’10. They were back after a fourteen years with their album ‘History of Modern’.  They’ve clearly got the bug back; three years on they are on an extensive worldwide tour with the follow up – ‘English Electric’ (released 8th April making #12 in the charts). Birmingham is first on their UK date list. And just in case you were wondering, the set will indeed include drippings of their classic hits.

The beat starts up and the audience clap and cheer: here come OMD in the form of Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes. First track ‘Metroland’ is a kinda, happy, clappy song. McCluskey’s has already started dancing frenetically.  McCluskey: “Good evening we are truly excited to be back here! [As clearly are the crowd] – it was a celebration 3 years ago! [Crowd: Huge cheer] Yes! You know we will play new ones but we may play some old ones – did you bring your dancing shoes put them on – are you ready?”

Next up ‘Messages’. You can question why some bands with hits from years past are out and about gigging, certainly when they haven’t been around for a while. When you ask why are OMD playing gigs there is a clear answer – ‘cos they are clearly having one hell of a blast! McCluskey grinning broadly: “This [gig] is not gonna disappoint – this is gonna be a good one!”

Everyone is dancing as we go into ‘Tesla Girls’. And just in case you weren’t: “ Are you all warmed up ‘cos the real dancing starts now! Follow me…” The hyper-energetic McCluskey leaps around the stage with the energy an individual half his age would struggle with. And he’s totally engaged with the audience, waving to people on the tiers and leaning down on the stage so a fan at the front can have his picture taken with him.

Then a slight break for McCluskey as he invites Paul Humphreys to take the vocal lead. As Humphreys comes to the front of the stage, knickers are thrown at him as he sings on ‘(Forever) Live and Die’ completed by a huge cheer from audience. Now, the ever-engaging McCluskey is back in charge. “We haven’t played this in the UK… this is the one hit we had in the US… [The sole American in the audience screams]… You’ll have to scream for everyone then okay?” as the band go into ‘If You Leave.’

And now we’re into the classics – ‘Souvenir,’ sung by Humphreys, receives a big cheer. Then, after ‘Night Cafe’ we’re into ‘Joan of Arc’; the audience clap along to the drumbeat, it echoes around the Symphony Hall. Bang on. Then the classic ‘Maid of Orleans’ led by a crash of drums; a track probably more powerful live now than when it was released.  McCluskey is doing his crazy dancing to white strobe lights all the way through. Pretty incredible and stand out track of the night for me. McCluskey claps the audience back. The band is clearly being blown away by the audience response.

Next song about what OMD write about – as McCluskey breathless explains  – missions in outer space: ‘Our System.’ Then it’s time to “Put your dancing shoes back on…” as we get the totally commercial sugar puff candy fluff OMD segment starting with ‘So in love?’ and ‘Sister Marie Says’, a song the furthest away from ‘Maid of Orleans’ in style as you can imagine. But it doesn’t matter the crowd still loves it. McCluskey addresses the ultra-high punters in the lofty grand high tiers “You can stand up and dance as long as you promise not to fall over the edge…”

‘Locomotion’ and we’re still dancing; McCluskey directs set lights so he can wave to every single member of the audience. “The drummer wants to go to sleep… Oh he’s fine, he’s only had 18 hrs sleep today …” as said drummer belts us into ‘Sailing the Seven Seas.’ And then to another iconic hit, probably the most upbeat and happiest song you’ll ever hear about nuclear war: ‘Enola Gay’. The last song of the main set.

Quick break and to the encore: “Oh we like playing here don’t we… before we made 2 albums this used to be our most recent song from ‘96 – good old fashioned audience participation required…”

And it’s the upbeat ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ with an acknowledgment to Brum half way through. Then to a song “we hardly ever play… last time in Birmingham probably at the Odeon in ‘86 – in memory of the Odeon being a rock venue…” and we’re into ‘Secret.’

“Thank you – we shall leave you with the oldest and fastest song that we have…” That’ll be ‘Electricity’ then.  The gig is completed to a rapturous applause.

Tonight’s gig at £32.50 is pretty much sold out and if you are a fan, well worth your hard earned pounds, they’re certainly one of the best live bands of their ilk out there. More than fair play to ‘em, OMD are well and truly still up for it and with a slick and professional set; they clearly are having one hell of a great time. 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.

Sounds like you will have the opportunity to see them once again in the near future. If you were an OMD fan and like your electronica with a dabbing of candy-floss, the odd dark chocolate flake, the added bit of cheese and ‘dangerous’ dancing, and you want to go to a gig and come away with a totally uplifting feel good factor and a big fat grin on your face – go and dance your cotton socks off to OMD.

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OMD Setlist:

  1. Metroland
  2. Messages
  3. Tesla Girls
  4. Dresden
  5. History of the Modern (Part 1)
  6. (Forever) Live and Die
  7. If You Leave
  8. Souvenir
  9. Night Cafe
  10. Joan of Arc
  11. Maid of Orleans
  12. Our System
  13. Kissing the Machine
  14. So In Love
  15. Sister Marie Says
  16. Locomotion
  17. Sailing the Seven Seas
  18. Enola Gay

Encore:

  1. Walking on the Milky Way
  2. Secret
  3. Electricity

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John Foxx & the Maths Setlist:

  1. Evidence
  2. He’s a Liquid
  3. Evergreen
  4. No-one Driving
  5. Summerland
  6. Running Man
  7. Burning Car
  8. Catwalk
  9. Underpass

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Listening:

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark [1980]

Organisation [1980]

Architecture & Morality [1981]

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Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison.

James + Echo and the Bunnymen @ O2 Academy, Birmingham, 25th April 2013,

When I first heard of this line-up I thought it was a tad odd. Bands from two different eras and two different generations of fans – the mighty Echo and the Bunnymen – once princes of the indie alternative scene of the early and mid 80s. And then, James, the kings of 90’s indie dance anthems. Both had highs of success, under the radar and commercially. So this’ll be an interesting Spring gig at the O2 Academy.

So with this kinda double headliner, first act Echo and the Bunnymen, it’s an early start. As we arrive at 7pm, the punters are already arriving – the venue is filling nicely. Photo passes for photographers tonight initially had a ‘questionable’ ‘sign your life away agreement’ for James though this appeared to dissipate. McCulloch and his Bunnymen are fussier (I guess whether you think that he is entitled to be so or just plain arrogant). Photographers are only allowed to shoot from the side of the pit at the front of the stage and only for one song. If that wasn’t enough before they arrive on set, the stage is draped in a dry ice thick smog, and once the band appear, the lighting is minimal (atmospheric you know) and “in your dreams” are words that come to mind with any success of getting a near decent shot.

If you ask me to choose between James and the Bunnymen as to whom I’d listen to it would have to be the Bunnymen. I grew up with these guys, I saw them in their hey-day – at The Odeon – they were class. I know their likely set tonight, for any Bunnymen fan, is should be a delight. Though short, 45 minutes, you get the best from very early, classic indie hits, and then the later commercial sound.

First up with ‘Lips Like Sugar’ the band warm up halfway through the song. Then a treat – a duo of early tracks ‘Rescue’ and ‘Do It Clean.’ I’m in a time warp – taken back to the hours spent in darkened, stick floored goth indie clubs, meandering in the maze of the indie sound. McCulloch, as usual, with floppy mess of hair, is dressed in long dark coat and trademark blackened sunglasses. Like you’d change your image after all this time. “Alight?” he addresses the audience, to a positive response. “Me too…” he replies in his best Liverpudlian drawl.

Next up it’s the later commercial side, less angsty, including ‘Seven Seas’ and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’. The band are on form, the spiraling darkened class riffs are there  – I would love to say the set just gets better and better. But it starts to decline. The Bunnymen are visually the same throughout, they don’t do anything ‘exciting’ on stage – they are a band where it is the music that carries them – a ‘close your eyes’ and dance away type of band. But McCulloch is struggling vocally. While he has a unique voice, he’s off the mark. ‘Never Stop’ still remains the indie classic that it is, but he struggles to deliver. “This is the best song ever written” as McCulloch’s modesty prevails and we crawl into a somewhat painful rendition of ‘Killing Moon’. I worry; I know what the final track is – a track that, for me, would probably make my top twenty ever.  McCulloch introduces it as “…. the second greatest song ever written…” As the track starts it is indeed the classic ‘The Cutter’. McCulloch swigs from a tinny, obviously with some success, for this track, his vocals return. I had hoped, but for me, the Bunnymen of today are a shadow of their former selves.

Then we get a half an hour interlude. The O2 is sold out tonight, so we’re packed in like sardines. Booth and his ‘band that is not a person’ have a truly loyal fan-base, not in the manic screamy sense – but that of a close-nit community. Surprisingly, James were formed way back in ’82. This means they’ve been around over 30 years. After struggling for success and at times being totally skint, success finally came with the release of ‘Gold Mother’ in ‘90, with a subsequent series of hits. The most successful ‘Sit Down’, re-worked from its original ’88 version, made #2 in the charts in ’91.

Lead singer Tim Booth left in 2001 and returned in 2007 to tour and record new albums; including 2008‘s ‘Hey Ma’. In 2010, they released two mini EPs: ‘The Morning After.’ and ‘The Night Before’. And they’re still recording; new album may appear soon. There are indeed, new tracks tonight. In the busy O2 people are talking, the backing track before the band is on is indistinguishable, but has a tap and bass rhythm that starts to reverberate through the room. You can feel the atmosphere beginning to build. 10 minutes later than billed they appear to a very low key ‘Loose Control’ which starts with a guitar and trumpet before morphing into a jazz rendition. Chillin’ man. The crowd join in and welcome the band with a huge cheer – Booth claps the audience in acknowledgment – “Where is the love? Look’s like it’s here in Birmingham! One.Two… One. Two. Three. Four…” and we’re into ‘Waltzing Along’ as the crowd sing VERY loudly.

By track three – Booth can’t resist – he’s off stage in the pit and now on the railings – now standing on the railings, he delivers ‘How Was It For You’ – embarking at one stage into the audience. The megaphone is out for next song ‘Sound’ and he’ll be snake dancing.  Couple of tracks later, including a newbie, we get another “One.Two… One. Two. Three. Four…” and nobody it doing what the song title tells us to: ‘Sit Down’. (Fortunately there’s no sight of Peter Kaye plus red sofa). The crowd rolls and sings – we’re back in a sun-soaked festival field. The crowd take over: “Oh sit down, oh sit down, sit down next to me…” the band have stopped playing, the crowd are in charge as Booth conducts them. He’s a charismatic, articulate, yet serious and entertaining front man and this must be a pretty awesome feeling for any band. The crowd doesn’t just sing this – they OWN this – this is THEIR anthem. At the end, the crowd clap and cheer, both at Booth and the guys and themselves. For me, the standout moment of the night.

When you see James you can expect them to do a rolling set of songs. No single night is ever repeated. Last tour they had a rolling setlist of 54 songs and tonight is no different. On top of that members of the band are free to deliver tracks as they wish – so each song is always different. Do not expect the ‘single’ release edition to be performed, as Booth explains: “I’m proud to be in a band which changes the set every night – we don’t know what each other will do – we’re given the freedom to explore – maybe that’s why we’ve been going so long…” as he thanks the crowd for listening. One song may be laid back, another a dervish dance track – accompanied by Booth’s manic dancing. As the set goes on, the songs individually get longer, and longer, each one taking the slow build to riotous crescendo. ‘Born of Frustration’ – yet another that gets the crowd singing (and one that McCulloch, or a very good clone, pops out from backstage to watch). ‘Come Home’ – we’re raving. “You all gonna come to Manchester tomorrow night?” as we get invited to the next gig.

A regular downside at the O2 is the sound. It is not unknown to be dire. And while ‘Sometimes’ delivers and then some – the sound system ruins it – where we are it is just a dirge.  A quick break and back onto a dance version of ‘Sometimes’ followed by ‘Johnny Yen’ which includes acknowledgements to those “who died to entertain” – Winehouse and Cobain amongst them. I don’t know what Booth is on – but I want some – he’s still dancing frenetically. ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ starts off acoustic and gathers pace into dance rave, followed by the classic ‘Laid’, in not so classic ‘freeform’, and again the crowd are louder than the band.

And then it’s over. A standing ovation from the balconies and full on adulation from the floor- the punters have clearly had one hell of a blast.

So thought’s on the night? Whilst some James fans probably wondered who this strange band was – McCulloch and his Bunnymen are currently out and about on the scene – they headlined Moseley Folk last year. They are, given tonight’s performance, in my opinion, a shadow of their former selves. I’m sure fans will go for it, but be warned; they don’t appear to be the band they used to be. Booth and James (is not a person) are a full on indie party band, Booth a charismatic and totally engaging front man, and they all love their unique relationship with the audience. If you have 45 nicker going spare – go take a look, make sure you have your dancing boots on. Be prepared to spiral dance on, and on, and on, and on and on, and on, and on….

………..

Echo Setlist:

1. Lips Like Sugar

2. Rescue

3. Do It Clean

4. Seven Seas

5. Bring on the Dancing Horses

6. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo

7. (All My Colours) Zimbo

8. Never Stop

9. Nothing Lasts Forever

10. Killing Moon

11. The Cutter

 

James Setlist:

  1. Loose Control
  2. Waltzing Along
  3. How Was It for You
  4. Sound
  5. Interrogation
  6. Five-0
  7. Say Something
  8. Sit Down
  9. Top of the World
  10. Beefcake
  11. Star (Full Up Version)
  12. Moving On
  13. We’re Going to Miss You
  14. Born of Frustration
  15. Come Home
  16. Sometimes

 

Encore:

  1. Johnny Yen
  2. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
  3. Laid

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Listening:

James

Fresh as a Daisy – The Singles [2007]

Gold Mother [1990]

 

Echo and the Bunnymen

Porcupine [1983]

Ocean Rain [1984]

Songs to Learn and Sing (Greatest Hits) [1985][2006]

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Review for Gig Junkies and Birmingham Live!

Photographer for Gig Junkies – Ken Harrison and for Birmingham Live! Ian Dunn.

Simple Minds @ Wolverhampton Civic, 5 April 2103

Simple Minds flatly refuse to give up and go away. Na no. Stadia shows may be a few years ago (although arenas are a’ beckoning later in the year) this is the second time in just over 12 months they’ve played a mid-sized venue, playing all their hits from days gone by. And by all accounts it’s a great idea – tonight’s gig is totally sold out.

Last trip out was ‘5 from 5’ – five tracks from their first five albums. This time we have the full spread of hits – from the classic cult dance hit ‘I Travel’ right through to brand new tracks on their new greatest hits release ‘Celebrate.’ The 2 set CD features 36 songs, from 12 albums over 34 years.  Go up a notch – the 3 set CD features 50 songs off 13 albums over 36 years. As you do. According to Mr. Kerr as part of the press release: “One of the things I’m most proud of is that people say to me what Simple Minds are you talking about? The avant-garde, the art-rock, the pop, the ambient, the instrumental group, the political, the folk, the stadium band? We’ve been on one hell of a journey. To play all those different styles but at the same time be quintessentially Simple Minds is an amazing thing.”

Tonight is indeed a time warp, go back to the time of the ‘New Romantics’ when mobile phones were those red telephone kiosks on street corners, Apple had just released the Macintosh computer, you brought an album on cassette tape and on the round black stuff and social media entailed a pen, paper, a stamp and a few days to get a response. We’ve all come a long way since then – tonight is an opportunity to put on the rose tinted glasses and remember those ‘fab’ good old days. I would suspect many who attempted the new 7 shades of social class calculator probably come out in the category of ‘New Affluent Worker or above – average age 44, economically secure, go to gigs, live in the Midlands….

To a potted bit of Simple Minds history – formed way back in ’78, they took an eclectic journey up to ‘82, from the dance classic cult  ‘I Travel’ right through the big sound of the ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’ album, with splashing of arena-filling 80’s hits. Success became stratospheric – by the mid/late eighties Simple Minds were huge, playing not just arenas, but stadia, comparable to U2 in success.

According to their Twitter profile: “Simple Minds are Scotland’s most successful rock group to date. Having topped America’s Billboard chart, the Glasgow band have achieved six UK No.1 albums.” But for Simple Minds this ridiculously huge commercial success began to wane, not that has stopped them; they’ve continued to this day, both recording and playing live, and tonight here, once again in an intimate venue to celebrate with their loyal fans.

The Simple Minds of today are made up of original members Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar/keyboards), Mel Gaynor (drummer – who’s been in the line up pretty much since ’82), Andy Gillespie (keyboards – ditto since 2002) and Ged Grimes (bass – newbie and formerly a founding member of Danny Wilson).  And tonight it’s just them, no support. Times for a double-setted gig – 7.45pm-9pm – twenty minute break (we need one as we’re all getting on I guess) – then 9.20pm til 10.30pm.

So 15 minutes late (according to the above released times) on a darkened dry ice covered stage, to a dramatic entrance Simple Minds appear through the clouds. Encouraging the crowd to clap, Kerr dressed in black, draped in pink scarf, starts off the set with new song ‘Broken Glass Park.’ “We’re please to come and visit you in Wolverhampton… let me see your hands…. say hello to…. Charlie Burchill….. 1…2….3….4…” and we’re into ‘Waterfront.’ The crowd buzzed as the track rambles with that bass riff. Huge cheer as we’re then plunged into total darkness. Kerr’s voice emerges with “Everything okay?” before we’re into ‘Once Upon A Time’ which merges seamlessly into ‘Up On The Catwalk’. The crowd chant back the chorus “I will be there, I will be there, I will be there” as we’re all transported back to early 80s memories of ‘being there.’ ‘Catwalk’ is the standout track so far.

Kerr: “How are you? Thanks every one of you for coming to see Simple Minds…. We’ll do this set and then take a little break so you can get your energy back…. First time in Wolverhampton, unless anyone can tell me otherwise. We’ve been in Dudley…..” (a reference to the OLD blackened ‘garage’ that was the legendary JB’s methinks). And then we start to roll, to the dance track that achieved cult like status in it’s time, when as kids we went to discos…. “I Travel”. 12” (vinyl) extended edition.

First part of the set over, we take the break. Then after around 15-20 minutes, they’re back – instrumental ‘Book of Brilliant Things’, followed by their cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights.’  It’s song three before a white floppy shirted Kerr is back on stage for the song with the S’s ‘Someone Somewhere in Summertime.’

Couple of later career hits and then the new – ‘Blood Diamonds’ – before back to the old – ‘The American’ – as the crowd chant the chorus – this is what they crave for. Again from Kerr: “Everyone okay” as we return to the bass riff and  ‘Love Song’ another standout track. And then we get to dream about watching movies, curled up with pop and popcorn – ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ theme to The Breakfast Club. And a kinda interlude as Kerr has a go at some over-enthusiastic fans pushing too much and crushing others at the front. Fair play by all accounts.

The set finished on a smattering of time-warp – ‘Promised You A Miracle’, ‘Glittering Prize’ and ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’. The crowd are loving it. Break and then an encore – ‘Sanctify Yourself’, ‘Space’ and to finish up ‘Alive and Kicking’. And as the set finishes Bowie’s ‘The Jean Jeanie’ blasts from the speakers – the line “So simple minded” the inspiration for the band’s name.

Simple Minds were indeed mega-huge, but unlike U2 who conquered the world and then some, it didn’t quite play out in the same way. The major hits were certainly mostly during the 80’s and so tonight was a celebration of true nostalgia and most were here to hear tracks from a couple of decades past. And very probably for most here tonight – the older the track the better.

Tonight’s gig wasn’t cheap – tickets were between about £38 and £48 each, then you could buy the T-shirt (£20), the program (£10) and the regularly plugged ‘limited edition’ CD recording (£20 on the night) of tonight’s performance (only available at this and two other gigs on this tour). Putting this aside – it was clear everyone in the audience had a blast.  And if you are an avid fan undoubtedly you already have a ticket to their NIA gig in Birmingham on 29th November 13 (tickets up to £55) with support – superstars of moody electronica the reformed and resurgent Ultravox. So another opportunity to timewarp – it’ll be a New Romantic electronic extravaganza.

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Setlist:

  1. Broken Glass Park [New]
  2. Waterfront
  3. Once Upon A Time
  4. Up On the Catwalk
  5. Let There Be Love
  6. All The Things She Said
  7. War Babies
  8. I Travel

[Break]

  1. Book of Brilliant Things
  2. Neon Lights (Kraftwerk Cover)
  3. Someone Somewhere in Summertime
  4. She’s a River
  5. This is Your Land
  6. Blood Diamonds [New]
  7. The American
  8. Love Song
  9. See the Lights
  10. Don’t You (Forget About Me)
  11. Promised You A Miracle
  12. Glittering Prize
  13. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

[Encore]

  1. Sanctify Yourself
  2. Space
  3. Alive and Kicking

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Listening:

Celebrate (Greatest Hits + Collection) [2013]

Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call [1981]

New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) [1982]

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Reviewed for Gig Junkies.