Monthly Archive: November 2013

Simple Minds + Ultravox @ NIA Birmingham, 29 November 2013

Tonight is an opportunity to put on those rose tinted glasses and remember those ‘fab’ good 80s old days with much nostalgia. A time when ‘mobile’ phones were strange red (rather smelly) kiosks on street corners. ‘Social media’ entailed a pen, paper, a stamp, a postman and a few days to get a response.  Steve Jobs was busy launching the Apple Mac computer, way, way, way before he dreamt of iPods and iTunes, the nearest thing to copying a song was on a C90 cassette tape, CDs were yet to make their mark and digital downloads? They were a pipe dream….

Ultravox disappeared from view returning in 2009/10 with their ‘classic line-up’ featuring Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billie Currie with frontman Midge Ure. They did two cracking and hugely successful ‘Return to Eden’ tours followed up by their first album in 28 years (with this line-up) in the critically acclaimed ‘Brilliant.’ And toured with it. Meanwhile headliners Simple Minds flatly refuse to give up and go away. Na no. The hits may no longer be there, but they’ve continued to play live and surprisingly, given they’ve played both the Academy and Wolves Civic over the past 12 months, they‘ve now opted for big arenas, part of a four-date UK tour with Ultravox. An arena was always a question mark – would both bands together fill it?  Answer in Brum is no. The arena is cut to less than half it’s full capacity, the stage radically moved forward. You’re probably looking between 5-6,000 people standing on the floor and cascading high in the tiered seats into the rafters.

However, to get this middle aged audience (sorry – we all feel young) in the mood, over the speakers we have Numan and his friends electric, a smattering of Bunnymen and Adam rapping his ants. With the addition of Bowie in ‘Fame’ mode and then sound cranked up – ‘Life on Mars.’

First up, a truly early 7.30pm, onto a blackened set, the band in black be Ultravox. All noticeably older (even young Midge has just turned 60) but still hugely slick and professional, Ure greets us with “How you going?” First up ‘New Europeans’ – they take a little time to warm up and for the technicians to balance the sound. With mono-lighting and moody atmosphere, like a black and white movie, ‘Sleepwalk’ goes down well. ‘Reap the Wild Wind’ gets hands in the air, next up ‘The Thin Wall’ is extended in an electronic mix jamming sesh. Middle of their set – and as the haunting double drum echoes through the venue – the crowd recognise ‘Vienna’ and big cheers go round the arena. Ure can just about still manage the high vocals; fair play the crowd cheer. Currie once again on his electronic violin. Then ‘One Small Day’ followed by ‘Hymn.’ The crowd sing along… “Give us…this day…all that you showed me….” ‘Dancing with Tears in My Eyes’ their song about the last few minutes before nuclear obliteration, and a commercial success in the day, leads Ure into band introductions, before the final song of the night ‘The Voice’ completed with band members at the front of the stage in their classic drumming line-up moment.

This wasn’t one of Ultravox’s better sets – sadly dumbed down to support slot and time limitation but by the audience response, I think they surprised a few who hadn’t seen them before or since their ‘comeback’. You enjoyed this snippet, go and see them when they are out headlining their own tour. Ultravox are more than well worth it.

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.” 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 for Simple Minds, as they slipped from the stratosphere taking their loyal fans with them.

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 so – around ten to nine, the lights go down, and a rambling electronic rhythm fills the auditorium, big cheers as the band appear, as we’re into the dede-dede-dede-dede bass beat that is ‘Waterfront’ – in front of me a bloke stands and starts dancing like a madman as the band go into the track.

Kerr, in black suit and silver scarf, is in his element. “How are you?” he asks the crowd to a big cheer, as we get ‘Broken Glass Park’ followed by that dance classic ‘I Travel’. It rolls on and on.  “Shall we do ‘Once Upon A time’?” Kerr is down on his knees, posing in front of the audience, then rolling round the stage and sitting and singing at the front of the stage. He’s charismatic and still pretty energetic. The stage is continually drenched with dry ice from the back and front of the set – it’s beginning to get quite overwhelming and somewhat foggy in this reduced size NIA.

‘Promised You A Miracle’ gets the crowd singing back and they roll through their back catalogue. Kerr takes a break “…for a whiskey…” as we get instrumental ‘Theme From Great Cities’ before retuning to play a song for Nelson Mandela. That’ll be ‘Mandela Day’ the lighting all transferred to South African flag colours. ‘Somewhere Somehow in Summertime’ gets everyone dancing, fans are having a good time (even if on the side stands the security prevents some from dancing on the steep isles. The set rolls on  as they continue with the hits; ‘The American’,  ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ – from film The Breakfast Club and ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84).’

Their encore gives us the big-arena hits ‘Sanctify Yourself’ and ‘Alive and Kicking.’

So – tonight was true 80s retro. With just 50 minutes to show off their class, Ultravox are far more than just another retro act out on a cash-in. When they re-appeared there was no fanfare, they just did. And the fans flocked. And if you want to see past and present classics, from the world of electronica, tonight was just a snapshot. See them headlining their own tour, doing a full set, as they are a must see.

Clearly Simple Minds truly love arena tours; which maybe in this part of the world, probably beyond them, although the reduced venue size could well be they played locally too much. They did well to keep their fans in tow given tickets are not the cheapest (once again – circa £55). 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. Simple Minds still have a very loyal following – and clearly, the band and fans are very much ‘alive and kicking’ and having one hell of a blast.

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Ultravox Setlist

New Europeans
Sleepwalk
Reap the Wild Wind
The Thin Wall
Vienna
One Small Day
Hymn
Dancing with Years in My Eyes
The Voice

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Simple Minds Setlist

Waterfront
Broken Glass Park
I Travel
Once Upon A Time
All the Things She Said
Hunter and the Hunted
Promised You a Miracle
Glittering Prize
Theme from Great Cities
Mandela Day
Somewhere Somehow in Summertime
This Fear of Gods
The American
Love Song
See the Lights
Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Let It All Come Down
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

Encore:
Sanctify Yourself
Alive and Kicking

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Review for Gig Junkies – pictures: Ken Harrison

New Model Army + Bomb Whateva¿ @ Robin 2, Bilston, 17 November 2013

And so to the back-end of the Black Country. Hidden beyond the Black Country Route, in an inner-city town, lies the Robin 2. It is indeed in the back end of beyond, near the end of the world. But it has everything, really friendly welcome, great cozy venue, cheap refreshments and food and, tonight it has the powerful, raw and legendary New Model Army. 

As we mingle and the room gets warm support Bomb Whateva¿ take to the stage. They’re from Stuttgart in Germany and appear shocked to be here “… it’s nice being in Bilston – woohoo!” Bomb Whateva¿ are made up of Karl Francis (guitar, a Brit and former member of Bomb Disneyland), Cody Barcelona (vocals, former frontman of Skulls & Bones), Pavel (guitar) and Amin (drums). They’re a tight band, heavy and are giving it some, punky, 70s inspired Sabbath, proggie rock plus good bass beat with rhythm going on. They like it here and get a good reception from the waiting Model Army fans. Even a comment to “… make some noise…” gets a good response. Check ‘em out – I’ve a feeling they’ll be around some more.

And we wait for Cromwell’s men. New Model Army formed way back in 1645 [er… no sorry that’s the actual New Model Army], make that remarkably 1980 in Bradford, Yorkshire, releasing their first album in ‘Vengeance’ in ‘84.  Led by Justin Sullivan, the Model Army have attracted a loyal following over the years, and as a band, have always been overtly political, never fearful of being confrontational. ‘89s album ‘Thunder and Consolation’ was their landmark and probably their most commercial – reaching the Top 20 in UK charts. The Model Army have never chosen the easy route, sticking to their guns and principals throughout.  The journey has never been easy for the band throughout their history either. Lineup changes, personal tragedies are all part of the band’s history. Even since the late noughties, difficulties have caused them angst. The loss of their manager, Tommy Tee suddenly in 2008, with the band since they started out, was a major shock. In 2011, long time member Nelson left the band amicably after 22 years – days after his final gig, fire destroyed their studio, equipment and archive material – though they managed to save some touring equipment. Within 3 months they were back up and running, with new bassist and multi-instrumentalist 26 year old Ceri Monger in the fold. After his first gig, the their van got robbed, most of the guitars and other items were stolen. Kit was borrowed from family and friends and they got through the festival season… Resilient to the last – they’ve just issued their best album in years and have a huge tour bands half as old would struggle to deliver.

At just after ten past 9, we can hear an accordion, off stage, that starts off tonight’s proceedings, a rapturous applause as they take to the tiny stage, in this increasingly warm room. Almost an Arabic melody accompanied by a bass beat, we’re into ‘I Need More Time’. Sullivan’s vocals sinisterly crawl to start of with, but by the end of the song he’s screaming the title line. A big cheer from the crowd – he screams it again. The bass riff starts up and we believe it is indeed ‘Today is a Good Day.’

NMASullivan: “Ta…. welcome back to Bilston – yeah – we’ll play you this…” as we ‘March in September’; the arms start to rise from the family, fans are in full swing. ‘Pull the Sun’ is more powerful live, the drumbeat has an almost Native American beat – Monger swaps his bass for drums and the beat powers through the venue. And the crowd rise – literally, they’re standing on shoulders.

Model Army’s brand new album out ‘Between Dog and Wolf is self-produced and finished off in Los Angeles with Joe Barresi mixing (Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool). The album is filled with multi-layered tracks and atmosphere but looses none of Model Army’s passion. And the faithful here tonight already have it. They know the tracks. They know the words.

‘Christian Militia’ starts with an increasing bass beat – this be the Model Army powering up… crowd have arms in the air, spotlights on them as the faithful sing the words… Sullivan: “I think I never thought of was nostalgia for the 80s…There’s whole generation growing up thinking that Mrs. Thatcher was a kindly Meryl Streep – this is what it was really like…” and from the classic ‘Thunder and Consolation’ they deliver us  ‘Archway Towers’ followed by ‘Here Comes the War.’ Yep, the Model Army are in town – and boy, do they mean it.

And to a song about someone all the boys in the 70s wanted to be, Evil Knievel, the man who jumped things on his motorbike. He was uber-cool in the day. A quip about the prospective winter being the coldest ever “… which may or may not be true…”, a poke at the press speculation, takes us into a winter love song and title track from new outing – ‘Between Dog and Wolf’, typically poetic and beautifully written. Sullivan sweetly sings before the track starts bouncing along.

It’s so difficult to select, but this was a standout: ‘Stormclouds’. Another from their new album, it is powerful, with a stomping beat and rising crescendo; the fans be moshing and dancing at the front… we’re all singing along… as Sullivan finishes with “… Die… Die … Die…” Sullivan gives it his all; it’s personal and powerful. And then we get ‘No Rest’ .The single made the top 40 in ’85; the band appeared on Top of the Pops wearing T’s with the statement ‘Only Stupid B******s Take Heroin’. (These are available for charity on ebay from £50…)Track ends with us all shouting “… Dear God what is this evil that we’ve done? …”

‘High’ is about putting life in perspective. Well we should be top of the hills, or as Sullivan suggests: “…build a really tall tower block in Bilston…” The crowd are getting taller too – people standing or sitting on shoulders en masse, in this small venue they’re almost touching the ceiling. As Sullivan notes: “You guys kinda taking it very literally…”

If New Model Army were raising concerns about the future in the first three quarts of the gig, we’re assured that “…the last quarter of gig why you shouldn’t be scared of the future…” And we’re into ‘Seven Times’ now Monger is playing a bodhrán (Irish drum). One guy, stood high on shoulders waves his hands around like he’s doing semaphore. We come to conclusion that there’s a plane, that only he could see, that was coming into land…

‘Lust for Power’ takes us back to their punk roots, a track they haven’t plaid for years. Sullivan: ”… it’s good to be back in beautiful Bilston….”{?} “… For those of you who have come from abroad – this is what most of England looks like…” Well parts of.

As we finish on “What a Wonderful Way to Die.” Indeed. The Model Army disappear from the stage, the crowd stamp the floor, whistle, yawl, shout, cheer. We indeed want more.

They’re back. “It’s Sunday – we’ll play a Sunday song…” They were gonna play it in Yorkshire, but the Leeds audience were rubbish (more to do with the venue methinks – 02 Academies do not impress). “… 4million quid to buy a drink – far better in this warm Midlands venue…” And it’s ‘Summer Moors’. Next up we’re …”Getting the b******!” in ‘Vengeance’ followed by ‘Get Me Out.’ We exhausted – the Model Army put in huge energy and emotion – but we still want more.

And they disappear again. We’re not sure if they’ll return – but after 5 minutes they re-appear to a huge cheer. They have a day off tomorrow, so sod it. Sullivan’s knackered; he’s given us his all. But one more. ‘225’ a manic, frenzy of a track from ‘Thunder and Consolation.’

Huge. Respect.

New Model Army are one hell of a tough band. And these guys have been doing this for well over 30 years, before new guy Monger was born. Musically they are tight, soundwise great, more powerful and heavy ‘live’ and give every ounce of passion, ire and all and everything to every gig they do. You like music with real raw passion, a ‘family’ feel to the gig and a band who deliver and then some – go see New Model Army.

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Setlist: Bomb Whateva¿
No Free Ride
Come Closer
Deliver
Slippin Away
Supernova City
Keep It Clean
Mexico

Setlist: New Model Army
I Need More Time
Today is a Good Day
March in September
Did You Make It Safe?
Pull the Sun
Christian Militia
Archway Towers
Here Comes the War
Knievel
Between Dog and Wolf (N)
Stormclouds
No Rest
High
Seven Times
Lust for Power
Wonderful Way to Go

Encore:
Summer Moors
Vengeance
Get Me Out

Encore II:
225

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Listening: New Model Army
Thunder and Consolation [1989]
Between Dog and Wolf [2013]

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 Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison.

Thirty Seconds to Mars + You Me At Six @ The NIA, Birmingham, 15th November 2013

Lots of events going on in Birmingham tonight it nearly being Christmas, the festive market and big wheel have opened. So we fight our way through to make it to the NIA Arena. It sure has taken more than 30 seconds to find our way into the NIA (it’s in the process of refurb*) but tonight’s headliners offer us far more distant shores will be achieved far quicker. Tonight we’re invited to the church of Leto and his mates in Thirty Seconds to Mars plus the new upstarts for support You Me at Six.

Surrey boys You Me at Six are rocking the place out as we arrive and are going down well. Formed in 2004, albums ‘Take Off Your Colours’, ‘Hold Me Down’ and ‘Sinners Never Sleep’ brought them to the masses including winning the 2011 Kerrang! Award for Best British Band. New album nearly here, Cavalier Youth, due date 27 January 2014, you can pre-order via their website. Last track of their set ‘Underdog’ goes down well with the kids – they sing along, jump, scream and mosh. You Me at Six deliver well on an arena stage, well at home – no doubt they will be back early next year.

Set completed a huge curtain comes down on across the front of the stage, with the main band logo – the kids scream with excitement of what is to come as New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ blasts out through the speakers….

Thirty Seconds to Mars (or 30 if your prefer) started off ’98 when established actor Jared Leto went back to his musical roots with brother Shannon, joined by guitarist Tomo Miličević in ‘03. Starting off performing under different names, jamming in small venues, they eventually recorded their first self-titled album in 2001, to critical acclaim but slow burning success. Second album ‘A Beautiful Lie’ hit the big time and subsequent albums has led to them selling over 10 million albums worldwide (as of 2013), over 300 million hits on YouTube, arena tours and festival headlining. This tour be the ‘Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams Tour.’

As we wait, two men in suits with gas masks appear at the front of the stage and shine torches on the crowd. Then the houselights drop, as does the curtain onto the front of the crowd and 60 foot up, on a lowering stage is Leto, dressed in Viking-like face mask, fur sleeveless overcoat and a kilt, while the band play literally underneath him. First track is ‘Birth’ joined by Taiko drummers on stage as it powers out. The audience goes absolutely crazy.

The set is energetic, almost frenetic, Leto is now on the main stage, stripped of the mask and coat, running around – getting the crowd to ‘… jump… jump… jump….’ The set impressive, light-show crazy. Now we’re into ‘Search and Destroy’ lyrics enlarges on the huge screens at the back of the stage. Leto insists, this is the best audience of the tour, and gets everyone to crouch down. The audience do, then after 1… 2… 3…  they’re jumping up in tandem and going crazy.

‘This is War’ the crowd chants back and the arena is engulfed in huge balloons;  ‘Conquistador’ gives us confetti in bucket loads. 30STM are giving us a full-on show; they’re engaging, energetic and enjoyable. And then, with health and safety firmly chucked out the window, Leto gets the crowd to sit on their friend’s shoulders… and then jump! I’ve never seen so many people do this at a gig and not get shouted out by security.

Then a ‘slight’ break from the frenetic energy it’s a man in a cyr wheel, a large metal hool-a-hoop, he balances within it, spinning and doing tricks. The crowd cheer as we get a bit of Cirque Du Soleil in the middle of a gig. Next up 30STM epic – ‘End of Days…’ Leto sings from the platform, which extends from the front of the stage into the crowd; we are indeed in the church of Leto. As the high def screens show video, Leto encourages the crowd to get their phones out; a thousand lit phones and a handful of lighters, light up the arena like a glow worm cave. We’re making noise, we’re jumping and we’re clapping…

And as we catch our breath we get another Cirque experience; two guys on a seesaw that flips them high into the air and as they summersault the crowd cheer.

Then back to the church of Leto, just him under a spotlight with guitar, wearing a Joy Division T, he’s chatty and engaging, he knows just how to connect with his fans. He asks if this is people’s first time seeing 30STM – “Where you been? Welcome to the family…” And now he has long Christ-like locks, he asks the crowd if he should cut his hair? The response be no.  Then he gets two kids on stage, a zebra and a gator (dressed in onesies – we do indeed have a crocodile and a zebra). ‘Gatorboy’ is from Wolverhampton (partisan Brum crowd cheekily boos) “F*** you..” quips Leto. Stacey, the Zebra, is from Wales – gets the same response from the crowd. After a “…picture for Instagram…” they perch at the front of the stage at Leto’s feet, as he asks the audience what they would like him to play… song titles rain down on him. We get snippets of ‘From Yesterday’, “…for those who have had difficulties in their lives…” ‘Alibi’, ‘Hurricane’ for which he castigates the audience for singing the wrongs words “… you’re young, I’m old…” (surprising Leto is 41), ‘Up In the Air’ and a mash-up of ‘The Kill (Bury Me)’ for which the we wave our hands in the air from side to side. “You guys are the most amazing audience ever…” Leto is loving this; this acoustic set goes on for nearly 25 minutes, maybe not the best vocally, but hey we’re engaged and loving it too.

Then we’re into the finale: ‘Closer to the Edge’, an epic of epic proportions. The words are again across the screens and we get blasted with a huge amount of confetti, which once again, fills the arena.

‘Kings and Queens’ has U2 overtones for a new generation, then an encouragement to support 30STM to do something special. They’re filming. “Introduce the world to Birmingham…” – Leto speaks to the camera with the lights lowered as if he’s playing to “…a couple of hundred people…” and then the crowd scream the words “Birmingham” as the lights go up. Then we’re into ‘The Race’-  “it’s brand new… go f***king nuts…”

Leto is having a blast, the show was due to end at 10.15 and we’re well past that. “Incredible beginning to our UK tour… having so much fun I don’t want to leave…. shall we come back here tomorrow for a giant free show for everyone?”

Another song then ‘Up in the Air.’ Leto spends at least 10 minutes selecting kids from the audience to come on stage with him. “Craziest people come on stage…. guy with the tank top…you… you…you… you in the onesie…you… you… you in pink…you… you put your boobs away….” he’s running around selecting, and as they clamber over the barrier the stage fills with nearly 100 fans… He runs the stage for the finale song and once again we are encouraged to  “…stoop down low and jump….jump…jump…jump…”

And after nearly 2 hours of craziness it’s over.

I have to admit 30STM are a band that didn’t really cross my radar and this is the first time I’ve seen them. Jared Leto has the looks and it is indeed the church of the Mars with his messiah-like appeal. 30STM tonight, were just cracking good fun, putting on a fantastic show. You couldn’t say Leto’s acoustic set was the best ever given but that didn’t matter – he is fun and engaging – he held the crowd in the palm of his hands and then some and everyone came out smiling. 30STM do what Bon Jovi did twenty-odd years ago, just more modern for today’s world. You got a great set, a great light show, a great delivery. They will make you smile  and everyone had a blast. While 30STM may not be your scene, and you may think them overblown if you’ve seen their videos – live, you couldn’t ask for a better night out for £30 (30STM actively try and keep ticket process as low as possible). Catch them on the tour if you can and be prepared to be taken way up in the air…

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*NIA Arena is starting its refurb! So if you haven’t been there recently – be warned – everything has moved! You want the box office – it’s now in portacabins at the rear of the venue – be prepare to walk around, or along the canal to find it and ask directions….!

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Setlist

Birth
Night of the Hunter
Search and Destroy
This is War
Conquistador
Do or Die
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Depuis Le Debut [Cyr Wheel]
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End of All Days
The Race
City of Angels
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Pyres of Varanasi [Acrobats]
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Acoustic set
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Closer to the Edge
Kings and Queens
Up in the Air
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Listening:
You Me At Six
Take Off Your Colours [2008
Hold Me Down [2010]
Sinners Never Sleep [2011]

Thirty Seconds to Mars
30 Seconds to Mars [2002]
A Beautiful Lie [2005]
This is War [2009]
Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams [2013]

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Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Bianca Barrett. 

Alice in Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 13 November 2013

If you were to do a ‘Rock Family Tree’ of the Seattle music scene and those associated with it, it would become a crazed scribble like a spider had gone mad on the page. And in Brum tonight (another ‘legendary home of metal’), some of that scrawl comes our way, with a rather unusual left-field ‘blip’ in the middle. Alice in Chains, with a Ghost and some Walking Papers.

First up and a very early start Walking Papers. From Seattle, this blues-rock band was initially a duo of Jeff Angell (Post Stardom Depression, The Missionary Position) and Barrett Martin (Skin Yard, Screaming Trees). Within a short time, Duff McKagan joined them on bass (you may have heard of a couple of bands he’s been in: Guns n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver…) as did Benjamin Anderson on keyboards. Sometimes, when his other band isn’t doing much, some bloke called Mike McCready pops along to join them on stage (he’s busy at the mo, doing his ‘day’ job  – with Pearl Jam…).  Walking Papers released their self-titled album in October 2012 and are a great start to this evenings gig.

Then comes the ‘blip’ in the Seattle proceedings. Well this band make interesting reading. Ghost. Scandinavian black metal. You want a line-up? Well that may be a tad difficult, the vocalist is know as Papa Emeritus II and appears on stage as a Roman Catholic cardinal, in full regalia with skull face paint and crucifix mace. The rest of the band, ‘nameless ghouls’ wear hooded robes and Darth Vader-like masks. All members are anonymous. Lyrically they choose the dark side; blasphemy and sacrilege be their gospel. And, apparently, they have Black Sabbath similarities.

However, if you are expecting screamy, screamy loud, fast metal rock – you couldn’t be more wrong. Coming onto stage to monastic Gregorian chants, they are a weird mixture of Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, monastic chants and operatic overtones. Ghost sound-wise sit far more commercially acceptable and Euro mainstream rock-pop than expected. They’re big in their home country, Sweden and have two albums out if you want to check them out – ‘Opus Eponymous’ and 2013 outing ‘ Infestissumam’. The good cardinal is polite, refined and engaging. They are entirely different, nothing about Ghost is the norm, or obvious for that matter. Ghost may have been inspired by many differing sources, but the way they have brought this together is indeed different. With only a handful their faithful congregation in the crowded Academy tonight (including a couple with painted faces), by then time they left their stage, they certainly left many more intrigued by their performance. Worth checking out.

So as Ghost disappear from view, we get a half hour break while the stage is set for Alice in Chains. None of the original ‘Seattle scene’ bands had an easy life outside of the (unwanted?) commercial success and AiCs story is another with a poignant sadness. Emerging in the early 90s (managed at the time by Susan Silver, former spouse of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell…) their first three albums gained huge success selling over 25 million worldwide. Jerry Cantrell, Layne Staley, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez (who replaced Mike Starr in ’83) were one of the biggest selling bands of the 90s. But after their ’95 self titled album, Staley desperately lost his way to drug oblivion, eventually succumbing in 2002. (Former bassist Mike Starr, allegedly the last person to see Staley alive, also battled the disease, sometimes publicly, before he too, lost his life in 2010).

Mid 90s onwards, with little choice, AiC went into what seemed a perpetual then permanent hiatus. Then in what only be described as possibly one of rock’s greatest come- backs, William DuVall took on Staley’s legendary vocal duties. It may have been a risk, Staley stood out from the crowd, but once again AiC starting performing. I saw them on a sunny afternoon at Download, they were surprisingly impressive. Then came 2009 album ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’; critically acclaimed and a commercial success, followed by another powerful album this year – ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.’

So onto blackened stage, mike stands bejeweled with plectrums, in full AiC tradition, a powerful, gut-wrenching power-grind starts up. ‘Again’. During the song’s musical interlude the house lights come up – the crowd give the horns to the band – and to DuVall. ‘Check My Brain’ from ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ has that grinding saw-edge start-off riff. And they don’t let up, into ‘Them Bones’, a classic – a song about mortality.

‘Hollow’, a newbie continues with all the vengeful grind and power that you expect; DuVall’s harmonised vocals with Cantrell crawling through the song. ‘Man in the Box’ another classic – DuVall gets the audience to clap – we are indeed a very happy bunch. This is a set of the new and the old. Tracks off the new albums go down well with the packed rock crowd, respected the same as the old stuff, although the classics, as with many groups, do receive that little bit more rapturous applause. AiC are here for the music, there’s little chat, no overblown charades, between each song the set goes black before they appear to deliver the next powerful epic. They are far more than just ‘grunge’, AiC are alternative and heavy, grinding guitars – dark and at times beautifully melodic.

‘Love Hate Love’ is delivered in its spooky, menacing way; in it’s full glory. DuVall gives it his all and delivers. From his own vocals to the harmonisation with Cantrell, DuVall is no longer ‘the replacement.’ Slowly but surely, he’s becoming his own man.

Set is darkened – we’re into encore and before they re-appear we get an electric warrior excerpt off stage by Cantrell.  Then they’re back on to deliver the grinding and haunting ‘Down in a Hole.’ Nirvana’s Cobain may be noted for lyrics, which all too sadly came true – but take Staley and co. The beautifully haunting ‘Down in a Hole’ from ‘92s ‘Dirt’, with the repetitive chorus of “Down in a hole, feelin’ so small, down in a hole, losin’ control…” with the all too sad premonition… “Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved …”

And then two more, to wet our rock appetites even more, the bass beat that gives us ‘Would?’, written as a thought to Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood, one of the first from the Seattle bands to loose his life to drugs.  And finally, Cantrell’s tribute to his father – ‘Rooster’.

There is no doubt of that the memory of Staley permeates through the set – Cantrell acknowledges that. AiC live with the past but move forward at the same time. They are not a tribute act to themselves (as some like to say), AiC are here to deliver and boy do they mean business. Listen to their albums, a musical inspiration to so many. Tonight’s crowd were a mix of fans of the original works, but also their latest two albums have brought more into the AiC fold.

Asked recently if there would be another album, Cantrell reckoned there would be in about three to four years. Judging by the audience response tonight, we can’t wait. So are AiC still a force to be reckoned with? You. Bet. Ya. Again… and again… and again…. and again…

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Setlist: Alice in Chains

Again
Check my Brain
Them Bones
Hollow
Voices
Man in the Box
No Excuses
Grind
Got Me Wrong
It Ain’t Like That
Stone
We Die Young
Love, Hate, Love

Encore:
Whale and Wasp (excerpt)
Down in a Hole
Would?
Rooster

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Listening:
Walking Papers
Walking Papers [2012]

Ghost 
Opus Eponymous [2010]
Infestissuman [2013]
Alice in Chains
Facelift [1990]
Dirt [1992]
Jar of Flies [EP] [1994]
Alice in Chains [1995]
Black Gives Way to Blue [2009]
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here [2013]
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Review by for Gig Junkies. Photos: Ian Dunn

Go West + Hue and Cry + The Christians, Town Hall, Birmingham, 6 November 2013

Well there’s total traffic meltdown tonight in Brum, but no problems for us – we’re seated cozily in the beautiful Town Hall listening to a bit ‘Love and Pride’ by King and ‘Footloose’ (Kenny Loggins) to get us in the mood for some 80s retro courtesy of The Christians, Hue & Cry and Go West.

 

Go West

First up at 7.30 come The Christians. Forming in ’85, three brothers Garry, Roger and Russell took their surname plus Henry Preistman (his middle name) becoming The Christians. These days its just Garry from the original line up, with full band. “Good evening Birmingham. Terrible weather and lots of traffic….” As they start up, they’re pretty slick and give it all the harmonisations the band was originally known for. “Been a great tour so far – don’t spoil it…” Christian jokes. He’s knackered after nine dates out of 30 odd. Next up is ’87s ‘Forgotten Town’, their first single ever released. Good rendition accompanied by a good reception, they are clearly enjoying life on the retro scene. Christian is quite chatty and entertaining; the next song ‘Ideal World’, he thinks means more today than it probably meant all those years ago. There are still a few empty seats: “Do you think they’re stuck in traffic, shall we wait for them?” They have a new album out (only two people in the crowd know this) but it is for sale tonight (and he’ll sign) so next is a track off it ‘Speed of Life.’ Garry loves Brum, (honestly) he really does, as he goes into ‘Hooverville (Promised Us the World)’. A short set, the last song, “…we’re constrained…” it’s ‘Harvest for the World.’ Goes down well with people dancing. And after his set Garry Christian is indeed at the merch stand chatting merrily away to the punters.

Quick break with Terence Trent Darby’s ‘Wishing Well’ before we get a bit of Hue & Cry. Scottish brothers, the Cranes – Pat and Greg, start off their set with ‘Labour of Love’, their biggest hit, which made No. 6 in the UK charts. Tonight’s set starts off with keyboards and vocals. We’re then encouraged to hold hands to ‘Violently.’ Pat is the one singing, has a powerful vocal range when he gets going. He’s feeling “…Liza Minnelli… a bit camp… but not all…” as they deliver ‘Ordinary Angel.’ Now he’ll be flogging their website, no problems with pictures or video: “…stick it inter-web.” “Here’s one you might know…” which is ‘Looking for Linda’ to which the crowd duly sing the chorus back. Greg’s swapping back from guitar accompaniment on a couple of tracks now to keyboards for ‘Mother Glasgow’ from their ’89 album ‘Bitter Suite’ – followed by an encouragement from Pat to start up an online petition to get them to sing it as the opening song at 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Next up, Paolo Nutini cover ‘Last Request’ followed by final track of their set and their first single on a “…pah…” major label, ‘I Refuse.’

And now to an interval and a little more 80s over the PA before Peter Cox and Richard Drummie aka Go West take the stage. Go West have full band in tow, starting off their set with ‘Don’t Look Down’ top 20 hit from ’85. People are already on their feet, dancing away. Straight into the next song, ‘Black & Gold’ Drummie encourages the audience to clap. Here’s something a bit different, they’ve all gone acoustic, three guitars and a couple of the band on rhythm accompany Cox as he sings soulfully ‘Skin Deep.’ Crowd politely cheers and start to clap as they recognise a very mellow version of ‘Call Me’, their ’84 hit that reached 12 in the UK Charts.

So acoustic set over and we’re into their rendition of Motown classic ‘Tracks of my Tears’, another song that has had a little bit of a makeover from their ’93 version which, once more, mellowly rolls on and on. Then we have possibly their biggest 80s hit that starts with bass beat and has bit of a remix before going into the version we all know ‘We Close Our Eyes.’ People start to stand as the audience repeats the second line to Cox and as the guitarist does a funky solo as the track goes on.

Now they’re trying a bit of Kings of Leon. ‘Sex on Fire’ is actually a better rendition than expected and shows that these West men can rock down. Cox’s voice too manages to deliver. This is the track that the crowd gets most involved in. An intro to the band members and then an intro to Birmingham, “…the audience…”, to cheers. And then it is their hit from the film ‘Pretty Woman’, this be ‘King of Wishful Thinking.’ Cox wants us on our feet and hands in the air. And after just over 35 minutes their set is over, as is the whole gig.

Well tonight it was a dolly-mixture of the pop middle ground, harmless bands of the 80s, slightly sugary, delivering pretty well in a nice posh cozy venue. Tickets at £32 maybe a tad steep, you got three bands (x 35 minute sets) for your buck and your 80s retro fix. And on a wet and miserable night or, as Cox pointed out a beautiful autumn evening, there were some very avid fans. Go West young man? It was indeed a gig for you.

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Go West setlist:
Don’t Look Down
Black & gold
Skin Deep
Call Me
Tracks of My Tears
We Close Our Eyes
Sex on Fire
King of Wishful Thinking

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Listening:
Go West – ‘Go West’ [1985]
Hue & Cry – ‘Seduced and Abandoned’ [1988]
The Christians – ‘The Christians’ [1987]

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Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison

 

Turin Brakes + Kevin Pearce + Charlotte Carpenter @ The Glee Club, Birmingham, 4 November 2013

Beautifully hamornised folk rock with exquisitely detailed lyrics is the order for tonight, courtesy of a couple of the pioneers of indie understatement as Turin Brakes return with new album and UK tour, performing tonight at Birmingham’s comedy venue, The Glee Club.

Turin Brakes

First up is Charlotte Carpenter, singer songwriter akin with acoustic guitar. She’s very happy to be here. First song is ‘In the Night'; Carpenter usually plays with a band but this gives her opportunity to try out new songs like ‘The Siren’. ‘Thinking’ is a song about being annoyed at her mom (no not really, she loves her mom). Her new EP is out on 25 November, entitled ‘Whole’. She’s an elfin singer with floating lyrical voice. ‘Panda Light’ is a positive response to a girlie holiday, a song that rises and rises. “Love playing to crowds like you because you listen…” We sure do.

Next up Kevin Pearce, another singer songwriter, personally requested by Turin Brakes to support them on this tour. (He also gets to play the ME.R.C.H. man later in the night selling his and Turin Brakes stuff). Plaudits from the likes of Steve Lamacq and Absolute Radio’s Frank Skinner, his vocals been noted as being similar to Cat Stevens or Nick Drake. His latest album is intriguingly titled ‘Matthew Hopkins and The Wormhole.’

“Hello, you alright, I’m from Essex… which is next to Mordor…” First song up is ‘Tides’ with an infectious giddy-up rhythm. The pundits are right he’s a beautiful vocal style. The room watches, captivated. ‘Dynamite’ shows his Cat Stevens type vocals and rolls and rolls into a crescendo. He realises he’s forgot to mention his name, “I’m curly bollocks….” – we laugh. ‘Walking Oceans’, a track off his new album, has an acoustic Radiohead feel about it with soaring high-pitched vocals. Traditional folk track ‘On a Monday Morning’ he thought it was about how you feel on a Monday morning, when actually its a bit of a mickey-take; this is his ‘dead serious’ version. Pearce is going to teach us to sing the end of the next one ‘Circular Haze’’, for which we should sing “…there’s a chance we can own our own lives….” We start off quite feeble and nervous but we get better as the chant rolls on. Pearce is chatty, engaging and funny. ‘We’ve Been Loving’ is the new single, out November 8 and he’s really excited, as it’s the first time he’ll have made a music video. “This is the best gig of the tour….” (He says he says that every night) and he’s on social media (he’s a lot of time so join him for a chat) completing his set with last track ‘The Wormhole.’

Turin Brakes are Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian and when ‘live,’ are joined by Eddy Myer (bass) and Rob Allum (drums). Knights and Paridjanian have known each other since they were kids, and eventually joined up as Turin Brakes, continually developing their own unique sound since. TB morphed out of the same music scene that gave us Elbow, their debut album ‘The Optimist LP’ carried the singles ‘Underdog (Save Me)’ and ‘Mind Over Money’ and earned TB a Mercury Music nomination. They’ve been recording and touring ever since; they were part of Band Aid 20, have worked with others such as Take That, Tom McRae and Dido, played at Latitude and in 2012 played at a ‘Spirit of Talk Talk’ evening, performing alongside former members of that legendary band.

We’re standing tonight, I’m guessing allowing for more peeps in this intimate venue. As TB tweak their instrumental settings; “For a lot of you there’s not much breathing going on…. ” they say to the very quiet crowd.  They lead of with the first song off the new album… ‘Time and Money’ which rolls with harmonised vocals in true TB style, followed by a big cheer. “How you doing Birmingham? We put out a new album called ‘We Were Here’ – we’re gonna do the title track to the album…” And here it comes, TB are still well on form with their beautifully crafted songs. They note that there’s some ‘fresh meat’ in the audience – TB newbies. ‘Dear Dad’ immediately rocks out and rolls into psychedelic prog- rock, not far off Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ which morphs into ‘Blindsided Again.’ TB have just delivered us the first third of their new album.

An intro to Eddie Mayer on the bass. “Who remembers ‘The Optimist’? The young adults we played to at the time, now bringing their kids…” A quip: “…the children of The Optimist!” As we go into the beautifully haunting ‘Mind Over Money.’

The next song was filmed on iPad when they played it in Australia and is available on YouTube; apparently it was hugely noticeable at the time, as said recording device was slap bang in front of them. TB weren’t impressed by their performance; they insist they play it much better now. It’s their new single ‘Guess You Heard’. “It’s bloody quiet out there…” The crowd laughs as TB progress into ‘Rain City’, a ballad, a light is shine on the glitterball in the centre of the room. In another life we’d be waving lighters from side to side as it’s sweetly sung.

After ‘Future Boy’, TB start retuning their instruments – “The next album will be called tuning…” As they tune they explain it’s their way to escape the kids, before ‘Emergency 72′.  The next track was in a film, well nearly. After all the excitement, on viewing they discovered that as the credits start to roll, it’s er…. Coldplay, then some other track, then, as the trademark appears it’s this track -> and the chords start up to ‘Pain Killer (Summer Rain).’

Next up ‘Let’s Go Fishing’… for a dream… An intro to drummer Rob Allum – he’s a really nice guy, we know this ‘cos he arranged for Gig Junkies access for tonight’s gig. (We thank you kind sir!). “Such a nice and polite audience…” “Thank you” says a punter.  We laugh yet again. And TB rock into the last track ‘Red Moon.’

Quick break and they’re back, except Ed’s disappeared. We hear a little voice: “Coming…” “You have to call him like a cat….” the band quip. Now they’re going to try a track without the PA – total acoustic, right at the front of the stage, almost quite literally on top of the audience in this intimate venue. ‘Mirror’ is just like they’re busking, all four of them are tight, just rocking on down. If this is an intimate gig, well it’s just got far more intimate. They’re pretty much playing in my front room. Wowsers. We all start clapping, track completed to a huge cheer!

First time they played the next song live was in this very room and so for a ‘second’ time it’s ‘The Sea Change’ (although our backs are indeed not against the wall) and the track whirls faster and faster.

Shouts for ‘Underdog’, but no; this is a song from NEW album. With a smattering of Floyd prog-rock inspiration, it’s ‘Goodbye.’ Then into a marching stomp with a reggae beat – as we’re into the requested ‘Underdog (Save Me)’… which gets that multi-purpose household lubricant in the lyrics … “Two black lines streaming out like a guidance line. Put one foot on the road now where the cyborgs are driving, with the WD-40 in their veins – your screeching little brakes complains…” The track rolls on, fading out with the repeating “…save me..…” Finishing the set bang on 11, the crowd responds with big cheers and huge applause. TB claps the audience and bow down – we (the audience) are not worthy.

TB are not afraid of rocking out, they remain as class as when they were optimistic over a decade ago. They’re still mesmerising, they haven’t lost any of their creative talent, beautiful vocals or perfect harmonies. They maybe older, they may be wiser – and that has just only added to everything Turin Brakes. Mercury Award and such nominations again? Definitely. Maybe.

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Setlist:
Time and Money
We Were Here
Dear Dad
Blindsided Again
Above the Clover
Mind Over Money
Guess You Heard
Rain City
Future Boy
Emergency 72
Pain Killer (Summer Rain)
Fishing for a Dream
Red Moon
Encore:
Mirror (acoustic without PA)
The Sea Change
Goodbye
Underdog (Save Me)

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Listening:

Turin Brakes:
The Optimist LP [2001]
Ethersong [2003]
We Were Here [2013]

Kevin Pearce:
Matthew Hopkins and The Wormhole [2013]
Pocket Handkerchief Lane [2011]

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Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison

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