Monthly Archive: September 2013

Elbow announce new album and UK Arena Tour

Elbow are returning in 2014. The band are currently putting the finishing touches to their sixth studio album, at their facilities at Blueprint Studios, Salford, which due for release in March 2014. As with previous albums, including the platinum ‘build a rocket boys!’ and multi-platinum ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, the production and mixing of the album is being undertaken by keyboardist Craig Potter.

Fans will have the opportunity to pre-order the new album, as well as an exclusive bundle including a DVD / double CD of the band’s 2012 headline performance at Jodrell Bank for immediate dispatch. Available for a limited time only via the band’s website www.elbow.co.uk.

UK dates have been released including a date at LG Arena, Birmingham on 5 April 2014.

April 2014 tour dates:

Sat 5  – LG Arena, Birmingham

Sun 6  – Glasgow SSC Hydro

Tue 8  – Cardiff Motorpoint Arena

Wed 9 – Manchester Phones4U Arena

Fri 11  – Leeds First Direct Arena

Sat 12 – Liverpool Echo Arena

Mon 14 – Nottingham Capital FM Arena

Wed 16 – The o2 Arena, London

Live Transmission – Joy Division Reworked @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 28 September 2013

Joy Division were around for a tiny snapshot in time. Formed in ’76 they pioneered the post-punk indie sound that subsequently inspired so many. Their debut album, ‘Unknown Pleasures’ drew critical massive acclaim. But lead singer Ian Curtis was beset with depression and illness beyond other personal difficulties. In 1980, aged just 23, he tragically committed suicide. So tonight’s reworking of everything Joy Division comes 33 years after his untimely death. Live Transmission, we are assured, is an immersive, cacophony of orchestra meets interactive plays homage to a truly unique period in music.

Live Transmission is performed by the Heritage Orchestra, with electronic composer Scanner and Birmingham-based video artist Matt Watkins. This isn’t just a series of Joy Division songs, it’s deconstructed – you can hear the indie riffs and iconic melodies. The visual graphics inspired by Joy Division cover art, such as the ‘Unknown Pleasures’, morph into a 3D experience. Musically tonight’s performance is driven by drummer Adam Betts, guitarist Matt Calvert (both of instrumental noise-rock band Three Trapped Tigers) and bassist John Calvert (Ghostpoet), with conductor Jules Buckley, who battles with equal force using the incomparable strings, brass, voices and percussion of the Heritage Orchestra in conjunction with the unique sounds of Scanner.

A leftfield and truly unusual concept, the team at the Town Hall & Symphony Hall have taken a risk in having the 80 minute performance in Symphony Hall, in all its musical beauty. And boy, how that pays off.

The lights switch to darkness at 7.45pm; it’s near pitch black. Lasers scoot round the Hall from a central point as dry ice floods the air. Layered screens, plus the ice give us an exceptional 3D effect for the graphic accompaniment. From a haunting start, then that drumming bass beat of total indie-ness, it seems odd in some ways to see this as a full orchestra; post-punk was DIY, learn on the hoof, deliver on the fly. I wonder if Curtis could have at all visualized the concept of this performance, although in his darkened dreams he may have dreamt it. Dark and moody and mesmeric, we occasionally get haunting female vocals and an occasional snatch of the Curtis voice as the beautiful performance rolls on. 3D images leap out from the screens, much of which is live edited on the fly, no glasses required and if you love Joy Division or the subsequent genre and generations they inspired – you would love this. It is not overblown or over the top – the balance between interactivity and music is perfect, and to hear it in such a venue as the Symphony Hall, a huge and glorious treat.

Then in 3D we see in words – scribbled and scrawled, sometimes scratched out and overwritten, in front of the orchestra, as if floating in fresh air written by the hand of Curtis himself.  The lyrics to ‘Isolation’ are poignant and moving: “A blindness that touches perfection. But hurts just like anything else….” The scrawl goes on… “Mother I tried. Please believe me. I am doing the best that I can. I’m ashamed of things I put you through. I am ashamed of the person I am.”

After over and hour and five the performance stops and we’re once again plunged into darkness. It stops so suddenly, I hear a person nearby say ‘…amazing…’ quietly, in awe. But it’s so quiet we hear him. And a polite applause breaks out.

It’s not over; we start again with a melancholy suite of violins… in full string arrangement. Curtis vocals are revealed and echo round the Hall in accompaniment. It sends shivers down everyone’s spine…

“When routine bites hard, 

And ambitions are low. 

And resentment rides high, 

But emotions won’t grow. 

And we’re changing our ways, 

Taking different roads. 

 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again…” 

 

The screen is muted, made of greens and golds; slowly and beautifully morphing in time to the music and lyrics…

 

Why is the bedroom so cold? 

Turned away on your side. 

Is my timing that flawed? 

Our respect run so dry? 

Yet there’s still this appeal, 

That we’ve kept through our lives. 

 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

 

Do you cry out in your sleep? 

All my failings exposed… 

Gets a taste in my mouth 

As desperation takes hold. 

Why is it something so good 

Just can’t function no more? 

 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear up apart again…”

 

A beautifully haunting reflection to one lost so young. Wow. We are all in awe; claps and a standing ovation and, no doubt, a few tears fill the auditorium.

Sometimes you get the opportunity to SEE something truly unique. Sometimes you get to EXPERIENCE something truly unique. This was both – in bucketfulls. A beautiful, truly original and moving performance that words just cannot do justice to. Brave for the Symphony Hall to do this, but exactly the right venue – Live Transmission deserves all the plaudits it’s receiving, and then some. You can’t exactly call Joy Division upbeat but this performance perfectly balances the beauty and the angst. This is a total experience – see it and experience it – because words just don’t do it justice.

 Review for Gig Junkies – pictures: Ken Harrison

Alice in Chains – November Tour and UK only single: ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’

Alice in Chains have returned once again in 2013 with new album ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’. Heavy and raw, AiC maintain their power, strength and uniquely influential sound. If 2009’s album ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ was an acknowledgement to past days, difficult times and re-birth, than the new album firmly establishes them once again as one of the power players in alternative metal, making as relevant today, as they were in the past. Rousing and mesmerizing guitars riffs, complimented by DuVall and Cantrell on vocals – one of the must listen albums of the year.

Having played this years Download festival to critical acclaim, the boys are back in the UK with a November tour and UK exclusive single; the title track and full six minutes long (so unlikely to get commercial radio airtime) AiC present exclusively for us: ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’. This track takes “aim at fundamental belief systems and the inflexibility of conservative doctrines, the song challenges reactionists straight between the eyes with the chorus intoning, ‘The devil put dinosaurs here / Jesus don’t like a queer / No problem with faith / Just fear’.”

Jerry Cantrell is keen to come and play to UK; “ fans have always been very good to us and we’re very much looking forward to playing for all of them in November.” AiC’s setlist may feature old classics but these gigs will be far from a nostalgia trip. Right here, right now – AiCs future is bright, current and powerful – in their own, unique way. And live – well worth forking out your hard earn cash for.

Tour starts 9th November and you can see them at the Birmingham 02 Academy on 13th November, with support from Ghost and Scar the Martyr. Tickets still available at @ £30. And for avid fans – exclusive VIP meet and greet from £115 – also still available.

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Full tour listing below:

9th Nov                   London Alexandra Palace

10th Nov                Leeds 02 Academy

11th Nov                Manchester Academy

13th Nov                Birmingham 02 Academy

14th Nov                Glasgow 02 Academy

15th Nov                Newport Centre

Thomas Dolby @ The MAC, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, 21st September 2013.

Tonight it’s an eclectic left-field multimedia mix of music, film and spoken word including personal history, nostalgia, swizzling synths, WWII, lighthouses and alien invasions. Not your usual gig, welcome to the truly mad, affable and eccentric world of Thomas Dolby.

Thomas DolbyThomas Dolby gained some pretty incredible success in the eighties. Liking punk he was more inspired by the do-it-yourself culture that the synthesizer brought, inspired by the mix of XTC, Souixsie and the Banshees and Bowie’s Berlin period. His first album ‘The Golden Age of Wireless’ brought the mad scientist Magnus Pyke to musical hit sensation with ‘She Blinded Me With Science’. Another hit ‘Hyperactive’ was originally written for somebody called Michael Jackson. Dolby got to perform at Live Aid to thousands at Wembley and millions around the world, on his own set and playing keyboards for some other bloke called David Bowie. In the same year he appeared at the Grammy Awards. In the late eighties he was the support act to some blokes from Essex; Depeche Mode at their massive Passenda Rose Bowl US gig (which was recorded and released as ‘101’). He was one of the cast members at Roger Water’s The Wall in Berlin, playing to 350,000. A producer and collaborator, he’s worked with Joni Mitchell and Prefab Sprout. And more, he’s worked on film scores, created the polyphonic Nokia ringtone and from 2001-2012 was the musical director for the TED Conferences.

After almost a twenty-year break, in 2011 an album with a creative multimedia twist. ‘Map of the Floating City’ was also a multiplayer online game. In Dolby’s own words, “The Floating City is set against a dystopian vision of the 1940s that might have existed had WWII turned out a lot differently. “ The game was played between June and August 2011; players could earn free song download and the winning team was awarded with a private performance from Dolby himself.

So tonight, in the MAC theatre, disappointing half full, we get to experience Dolby’s new project ‘The Invisible Light’. Tonight’s event will be in three parts, an interactive film (by that a film accompanied by Dolby as narrator and playing synths), then a chat with Q&A and then three songs. Onto the tiny stage area to “Good Evening Birmingham, it’s good to be back…” 

‘The Invisible Lighthouse’ is an art-house film about a lighthouse (well that’s the central plot) and he starts off the narration with “ I live on the edge of the world….” as the film starts and he plays synths. As an overview, the lighthouse in question is the Orfordness Lighthouse in Suffolk. Dolby could see it as he grew up; it was part of his childhood. As the sea over the years has crept across the Suffolk Downs, the sea will envelop the lighthouse and it was therefore set for decommission. Dolby wanted to document this, and with little help from the authorities in his personal quest, he documented the time till it closed, complete with personal anecdotes, potted history about potential invasion during WWII and bizarre alien stories from the surrounding area. Orfordness Lighthouse was finally decommissioned on 27 June 2013.

The sound in the theatre is good; we get the ‘Dolby’ surround effects from the film and the artist himself. The personal anecdotes include his truly original recording studio; he purchased a former lifeboat on eBay (yes that was eBay), placed it on his property in Suffolk (which has the potential to flood), converted it and called it ‘Nutmeg of Consolation.’ As he tells the story, he flips between hats, to a tin hat from the war – sounding an air raid siren to accompany the WWII element to his tale. Another personal anecdote; during the war, invasion was so real his granny poisoned half the food in her larder (you really had to know which section was safe to eat!). This is part Dolby “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Then to the local alien invasion legend, and to a nightmarish scenario. Snippets of his hits are included within his tales, as he talks and plays, and includes ‘Windpower’ as we view the wind farms on the coast. Now he’s got a sheet over him, like some sort of ghost, he’s actually taking us back to his time as a kid, when in bed he’d play with his toys and books. A slight reference to his extraordinary career, brief comments on Live Aid, MTV and The Wall – he still seems stunned that he got to be involved in such things.

The film finished with a grainy shot of the last flicker from Orfordness Lighthouse as it was closed.

Then the chat and Q&A – where we discover that he decided he wanted to document the decommissioning of the local landmark from his childhood. He didn’t know his journey; went with the flow. Not a filmmaker, but a true techno geek and artist, he invested in kit that would allow him to film and produce this personal journey. He loves the freedom of ‘Do It Yourself’, and the potential of now being able to be creative in the film industry with very little money, just as happened in the music industry. He showed the film to some friends, with his accompanying narration and music, and they loved the intimate experience so much, he thought as opposed to ‘just’ releasing it – he’d come and give this tour, performing in intimate venues like cinemas and tonight’s venue the MAC. A few dates in the UK and US.

Asked what the US would make of such a quirky UK movie he responded that they would love it’s Anglo-quirkiness.  A true fan, when given the opportunity to ask a question, says she stole a kiss from him at 16 and now, aged 44, could she steal one again? So she does, re-appearing to kiss him once again and sit on his lap. “I wasn’t expecting the lap dancing” he quips.  Another anecdote; he got to meet his hero, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who turned out to be a fan especially of ‘She Blinded Me With Science.’ After finding a broom-cupboard to rehearse in, they performed the song – much to Dolby’s delight.

Then to his three songs: ‘Evil Twin Brother’ (from Map of the Floating City), ‘One of Our Submarines’ and ‘She Blinded Me with Science.’ For the later, he appears from behind his keyboards. He’s tracked down the small UK company who created the gizmo that gave ZZ Top their guitar spinning effect. He fixes his synth to ‘his navel’ and during the performance gives it a spin.

Well Thomas Dolby can only be described as an English eccentric. Tonight’s event was certainly a totally different experience. Dolby is, as he admits, “a hermit with an exhibitionist streak”. Affable and a talented artist as a whole, this wasn’t done for commerciality (although tickets were circa £20, merchandise was available and you could meet and greet for an additional £25).  This was just him as an artist, giving us a personal snippet into his own true unique world. Just like Julian Cope; as mad as a fish and truly, uniquely different with that totally English quirk of eccentricity.

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Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison.

 

Album Review: Placebo – Loud Like Love

So Placebo are back with new album ‘Loud Like Love’ released mid September to a global digitally launched TV spectacular plus a range of social media feeds – and hangouts. All leading up to their 18 month world tour in support of it.

How times flies by. Placebo formed way back in ’94, with their breakthrough hit ‘Nancy Boy’ in ’96. ‘Loud Like Love’ is their seventh studio album; their first in four years, produced by Adam Noble. Placebo remains the core trio of frontman Brian Molko, Swedish bassist Stefan Olsdal and American Steve Forrest (the drummer who joined in 2008). The boy Molko just turned 40.

I’ve had a chance to listen the album for a few days. It’s not unusual for me to listen to an album and mentally switch off. It fades into the background as I do other things – the odd track sticks out. And then I remember I should be listening to it. ‘Loud Like Love’, for me, is more engaging than that.

Very early on it sucks you in. There’s more than just one stand out track in the few hours I’ve had to listen to this. Title track ‘Loud Like Love’ starts off with a jangly guitar before romping away. Single ‘Too Many Friends’ opens with that slightly bizarre tagline “My computer thinks I’m gay….” and even in the competition of commercial radio airplay, immediately stands out before rolling into it’s tale which according to Molko “… is about how technology has bred alienation.” ‘Purify’ is very much typical Placebo once it gets going.

There’s more than one floating lullaby as Molko’s high-pitched vocals soar. ‘Hold on to Me’ Molko sadly explaining his actions and why someone should stick by him. Closing track ‘Bosco’ – all six minutes and 41 seconds is a beautiful melodic track, with Molko soaring melancholy and beautiful as he looks back at a relationship. To an accompaniment of violins  “When I get drunk, you take me home, and keep me safe from harm…” pondering the fact: “..how I suck you dry….” over and over.

 

Over the years I’ve dipped in and out of Placebo. They’ve occasionally issued a track that makes me take notice – so this is the first time I’ve listened to a new Placebo album in a while. This new outing as a whole is an album you can listen and listen to, it’s harmlessly musically absorbing.

 

Placebo are so stand-out it means they’ve always been one of those bands to love or loathe. Molko has hugely distinctive vocals and there’s no change on this album. And the subject matter may be introspective, self-appreciating and observational but it’s not totally dark. With Placebo you either get them or you don’t. Like The Cure or Depeche Mode before them they have their own unique charm. This is a commercially engaging album. Whether it’s enough for loyal fans only time will tell – it is commercial enough to engage a few new ones. It doesn’t depart from the Placebo formula – they’ve just grown up. Bands can’t always be angsty and screamy against the world, everyone grows up at some stage. And by the sound of it Placebo have, in their own unique way.

Worth a listen if you like your music on the alternative side of rock with a spin of commerciality. Enjoyable, but don’t expect anything new.

As part of their 18 month tour 02 Academy Birmingham on 12th December 2013, tickets are still available at a reasonably priced £30.

 

Soundgarden + Graveyard @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 14 September 2013

Tonight it’s rammed in Birmingham’s 02 Academy as fans flock in to see one of the giants of grunge, the recently reformed Soundgarden.

And as I arrive, Swedish rockers Graveyard are giving it a bit of heavy bluesy-rock, smattered with psychedelic riffs. Joakim Nilsson (guitar and vocals), Jonatan Larocca-Ramm (guitar and vocals) Rikard Edlund (bass) and Axel Sjöberg (drums) came together in Gothenburg in 2006 out of the ashes of previous bands and musings. Similar in genre to the main headliner (which makes a change) the crowd responds well. They finish their half hour set with a Zeppelin inspired blues title track off their second album. Latest album ‘Lights Out’ was released in October 2012. To cheers from the crowd they promise they will return – check them out through their Facebook page.

And now we wait for the main act, we watch a ridiculous amount of roadies swapping kit – even one vacuuming the stage. And while we wait here’s a potted bit of history. Formed in ’84, Soundgarden were one of the seminal bands and leading lights in the Seattle grunge scene before it spread out across the globe. They may have been first to sign to a major label but international success came on the back of the bands following in the wake of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.

Chris Cornell (vocals and guitar), Kim Thayil (guitar), Matt Cameron (drums) and joined by bassist Ben Shepherd in 1990 and, after localized, success launched album ‘Badmotorfinger’. It was the follow-up ‘Superunknown’ which took then stratospheric – a dark multi-award winning album compete with Grammy winning tracks: ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Spoonman.’  The follow-up ‘Down on the Upside’ was a tad of a departure – not as  heavy than their previous works and, as touring took its toll; Soundgarden spilt citing “creative differences.”  Each individual’s career took different directions. Cameron joined Seattle kinsmen Pearl Jam becoming their permanent drummer; Cornell went solo, hooked up with members of Rage Against The Machine to form supergroup Audioslave, before returning to a successful solo career, recording a Bond theme plus a sidestep with Timbaland and more recently, touring extensively with his ‘Songbook’ acoustic / spoken word gigs.

13 years after the split, Soundgarden got back together. Live gigs followed in 2012 with a trip to the recording studio culminating in their first album in 15 years ‘King Animal’. Soundgarden alone, let alone all the other projects, have sold well over 22 million albums worldwide; tonight is one of a handful of dates across the UK in O2 Academy venues.

The band is due on at 9pm, and at 5 past a roadie comes out and fixes the setlists to the floor; Soundgarden mix their set up – never doing the same two nights in a row. The crowd starts a slow handclap and start shouting in anticipation. Then to strobing lights each member separately appears on stage, to rapturous applause from the crowd.

First up ‘Let Me Down’, receives a big cheer but an even bigger response to second track; the tumthumping ‘Spoonman’. Cameron and Shepherd give it the bass rhythm core whilst Cornell stands and screams above the crowd as the track rolls on. The Brum crowd is well pleased.

Third track in is a heavy thumping track, with riff from Thiyal accompanied by Cornell’s stunning vocals. Another from their latest outing ‘By Crooked Steps.’ The affable Cornell: “Thank you… been a long time since we’ve been here… we have some friends from Birmingham – Kim said write a song about Birmingham so we did…” and as we roll into first single from ‘King Animal’ ‘Been Away Too Long.’ (I do speculate they say this about every place they play in…)

Old track ‘Get on the Snake’ has an anecdote about when they started out and dragging themselves around the world in a van. Cameron, like I need to say this, is a mesmerizing drummer.

This is a well rounded setlist from the guys, something old, something new, something classic, something out the norm… the new single from ‘King Animal’ ‘Pretty Noose’ followed up with that jingly guitar riff as Cornell’s implores… “Follow me into the desert as thirsty as you are…”  – this be ‘Burden In My Hand’ – one of the stand out tracks of tonight from their pre-split last album. The crowd accompanies Cornell as he sings.

Then the classic and iconic dark ‘Black Hole Sun’, albeit delivered a tad lacklustre. Next a song that was the first they played when they come back together and surprisingly one they never played live in their previous life. You can see why they did; ‘Blind Dogs’ is a powerful track. And then back to ‘Superunknown’ and a track that was written in the ‘dreary’ Seattle – ‘ a place where there is seven different types of mould’ – its ‘Fell on Black Days.’ Big cheers followed by ‘Blow Up the Outside World’ a track that rolls and rolls, Cornell backlit as he swings his arms while playing his guitar. Set competes with ‘Rusty Cage’- Shepherd is not happy, giving his bass away and disappearing off stage.

For the encore we get two tracks, starting of with off with the controversial (at the time) ‘Jesus Christ Pose.’

Soundgarden 2013 is indeed an older incarnation. The band gave fans tonight a real mix of the Soundgarden musical journey. If they hadn’t split after ‘Down on the Upside’ it would have been interesting to see where their creative journey had taken them – 2013‘s ‘King Animal’ skipped a beat as they all took different journeys.  As a band, they may be not as energetic as they once were – letting the music do the talking. After nearly 30 years since they formed, the talent of Cornell and his truly incredible voice and Cameron the thunder-god, are clearly the standout members of the foursome. A good night, though I’ve seen Cornell with Soundgarden, Audioslave and with and without band in tow, and Cameron and his mates in Pearl Jam, give far better live performances – tonight the band seemed muted – Cornell seemed less keen to front the band – more aware of being part of them.

Tickets were a tad on the pricey side tonight at £40 + for one of their shorter sets at twenty songs and an hour and fifty. Nearer fans than I spotted technical difficulties – was this the reason for the shortened set? Will Soundgarden return once again? It feels like Soundgarden has become the band member’s side-project – Shepherd’s just released a new album, Cameron will soon be off thumping the skins with his ‘other’ band Pearl Jam, as they promote their new outing, Cornell has just released a huge tour of North American as part of his acoustic ‘Songbook’ tour. Cornell, interviewed in January, said there was no reason the band shouldn’t make more music in the future. So their paths may cross again and they may well once again visit our shores.

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Set List:

  1. Let Me Down
  2. Spoonman
  3. By Crooked Steps
  4. Been Away Too Long
  5. Worse Dreams
  6. My Wave
  7. Get on the Snake
  8. Non-State Actor
  9. Pretty Noose
  10. Burden in my Hand
  11. Blood on the Valley
  12. Black Hole Sun
  13. Blind Dogs
  14. Taree
  15. Eyelid’s Mouth
  16. Fell on Black Days
  17. Blow Up the Outside World
  18. Rusty Cage

Encore:

  1. Jesus Christ Pose
  2. Slaves and Bulldozers

 

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Reviewed for Birmingham Live! Pictures: John Mason