Archive for the Music Category

Yodel Eclipse Of The Heart

Posted in Gigs, Music with tags , , , on July 25, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Live] Focus, Sheffield Leadmill, 23rd July 2010

Playing as part of Sheffield Tramlines Festival,  the queue of men in woman-repelling classic rock tees snaking around the venue offered the first clue as to who was headlining. The clincher was that stout-dispensing pumps seized up through overuse within 15 minutes of doors opening (this really happened).

Led by the now avuncular presence of Thijs Van Leer (now a respected classical musician) and backed up by original drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, the legendary Dutch yodel rockers finally arrived onstage after a brief delay caused by a fuse in Van Leer’s organ blowing – it was the only thing about the gig that did blow.

Opening with the smooth smooth guitar lines of Focus II things soon moved up a gear for a frenetic, if abridged, run through Answers Questions! Questions Answers! Jan Akkerman might have done one years ago but replacement plank-spanker Niels Van Der Steenhoven sure can play, despite an alarming resemblance to Phil Spencer from Location, Location, Location. Things slowed down again as the more melodic Focus III – Van Leer needs to pace himself, dude’s 62 – led into the first major highlight of the night: the balls to the wall flute-led madness of House Of The King. One thing’s for sure, he can handle the flute.

The remaining half was a blizzard of jazz flute, pan pipe, guitar solos, and tempo changes which took in Eruption, Sylvia and Harem Scarem. This was all just a precursor to the song the smattering of Nike fans in the audience had come to hear: Hocus Pocus. The tempo at which it started aroused suspicions that it might be the single version, which would have been devastating, obviously, but fortunately these fears were allayed as it sailed past the ten minute mark. Thijs can’t hit the high notes anymore, but the crowd were more than willing to help out, before the obligatory extended, if slightly ropey, drum solo brought things to a euphoric climax.

Of course we all know what The Netherlands’ most famous export is, but this was my porn.

Iron Lady

Posted in Gigs, Music with tags , , on June 7, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Live] Lady Gaga, Sheffield Arena, 4th June 2010

Following my moderately successful social experiment attending a Rihanna concert, I thought I may as well stand at the back being cynical about Lady Gaga too. My usual habitat is investigating the latest drone-prog sensation in some sticky-floored shitshack, but I can play the role of cultural explorer too – I’m Lauren Laverne. Gaga’s live shows are renowned for providing more skanky bangs for your buck than the latest Zooey Deschanel film, so I took my position, arms folded, and saw what went down.

The first thing to note about Gaga is the blind worship she engenders in her ill-advisedly dressed followers. After the obligatory bullshit ‘artsy’ intro video she performed Dance In The Dark stood motionless, silhouetted behind a curtain. In the dark. The first of many subtle metaphors. The occasional sharp jabbing motion of her arm was enough to draw deafening screams from most of the crowd. It was like the Nuremberg Rally all over again. She even repeatedly implored the crowd to make the sign of The Claw – stolen shamelessly from Jim Carrey in Liar Liar. Bloody cultural Magpies.

As she’s not exactly heavy on material we soon launched into the tiresome pop rock opera part of the show: endless tracts of primary school level theatrics centred around her quest to get to the Monster Ball. Although clearly based on The Wizard of Oz, the narrative thread actually had more in common with Danny Dyer’s little-known masterpiece, Malice In Wonderland, right down to the neon signs flashing meaningless slogans like ‘sexy ugly’. Fortunately after a couple of minutes stilted banter with her parade of freaks (trained dancers) she unleashed the first solid gold hit of the night, Just Dance, and the tedium which preceded it was obliterated. The tempo remained high as she blasted through Beautiful Dirty Rich, The Fame, Boys Boys Boys and then the mercifully abridged version of Telephone, performed inside a mock-up subway car.

Although allegedly subverting female pop aesthetics, Gaga spent most of the show wearing a leather bikini, showing off her toned and waxed to within an inch of its life physique with aplomb. Sure, she might be a bit beaky, but I fail to see how dying your hair urinal cake yellow is really skewering the stereotypical blonde bombshell image.

The relentless disco assault soon subsided as a costume change was masked by another video, this time featuring shocking imagery such as green vomit and Gaga biting a lump out of a still beating heart – ooh, she is offal. She then returned dressed as a standard lamp, presumably in a nod to the possessed one from the critically acclaimed third film in the Amityville franchise, as events took a turn for the turdulous. Taking a seat behind the piano she emoted her way through the Bowie-esque Brown Eyes, then onto Speechless, complete with flames spiralling from her Steinway, before an interminably long rendition of Teeth. Seasons changed. Governments fell. I went to the toilet. I came back again. And still she was yowling on, repeating her frankly confusing catchphrase of “I’m not a dentist, I’m a free bitch.” Then she broke off for five minutes to shoot the shit with a member of the audience and open a specially made card – big mistake, that envelope could easily have contained anthrax or razorblades – before picking up where she left off for the first of about three  jazz breakdowns. The rest of the audience seemed to love it though, so maybe it was just me who couldn’t handle the tooth.

After more ramblings from the Tao of Gaga – something about you can only cast a shadow if you’re stood in the light, never let anyone stand in your way, a watched pot never boils, the pace thankfully lifted again for a run through Alejandro and Poker Face. Another am-dram interlude – these bits really did gargle hairy monster balls – led to the highlight of the show, budget-wise if nothing else. Now warming to her theme, Gaga mused that fame is y’know, a bit like a monster, so what better way to express this than a subtle exploration of…. ah fuck it, get the 30ft animatronic fanged squid onstage. And shout “Look! It’s the Fame Monster!” just in case anyone missed the point. Credit where it’s due though, singing Paparazzi whilst writhing in the clutches of an eight-tentacled corn log, before shooting flames from your tits, is one of the more memorable ways you can close a show. Anyway, after a brief exit from the stage, and a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes after she had first appeared – seriously, I’ve seen shorter Yes gigs – Gaga re-emerged to belt her way through the song which we’d all been waiting for, the one which will probably define her career: Bad Romance.

Sure, there was a helluva lot of filler, and I could have well done without a lot of the theatrics, but it’s better that somebody puts too much effort into a show, rather than not enough. Otherwise I might find myself droning on like a Paul Weller fan and saying “it should all be about the music.” And then I’d have to kill myself.

Good Girl Gone Trad

Posted in Gigs, Music with tags , , on May 15, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Live] Rihanna, Sheffield Arena, 13th May 2010

The last time Rihanna toured these shores there was a little-known artist named Lady GaGa on the horizon, who had nothing to her name except a disco ball bra and a couple of yet-to-be-ubiquitous songs called Just Dance and Poker Face. Since then, she’s not only raised the bar for this kind of thing, she’s squatting on the bar and taking a glitter-dusted disco dump on the competition below. GaGa may not have invented asphyxi-wank chic, but she’s sure as hell become the industry standard.

In an attempt to strike back, Rihanna has allegedly based this show on the Charlton Heston film The Omega Man, the concept being that she is the Last Girl On Earth. Apart from her backing singers, of course. Starting with the slow-burning ballad Russian Roulette, she demonstrated more powerful vocals and a more conservative wardrobe than she’s usually given credit for. But no worry, as she soon launched into Hard, before taking it up a gear for an opening salvo of Shut Up And Drive, Fire Bomb and Disturbia, RiRi variously attacked a burnt-out car with a baseball bat, sexed it up with some breakdancing crash test dummies and straddled a pink cannon wearing an army helmet with Mickey Mouse ears. I don’t remember Chuck Heston doing any of these things, maybe it’s on the DVD extras.

After a strong start events took a turn for the turgid when she unveiled an acoustic rendition of fucking Wonderwall, no doubt in a nod to her mentor, Jay Z – that guy has a lot to answer for. I find there’s nothing more depressing than an R ‘n’ B act choosing to appropriate the very worst that white music has to offer. This was swiftly followed by the Topshop-rock stylings of Rockstar 101, with ex-Extreme star Nuno Bettencourt on fret-wanking duties and RiRi joining in on Flying V. This was probably the biggest problem with the show, a lot of songs were bludgeoned into submission by the muddy sound and rock reworking. The dancehall subtlety of Rude Boy got somewhat lost, although the obvious lyrical subtlety remained, aided by Rihanna’s coquettish microphone gesticulations (thrusting it between her crotch repeatedly.) Likewise the Tainted Love-sampling SOS, whilst still ace, ended up sounding closer to the turdulous Marilyn Manson cover. Whether this decision was made to reflect her new harder edge, or more cynically, to position herself between GaGa doing the disco and Beyonce doing the soul, I couldn’t say.

Fortunately songs like Breakin’ Dishes (an underrated classic in the RiRi canon) and Please Don’t Stop The Music were strong enough to withstand the plank-spanking assault. This segued into a cover of Sheila E’s The Glamorous Life, which saw Rihanna attack a drum solo with gusto, if not timing. Another nod to Oasis, I expect – this time, Tony McCarroll. After initially feeling about as comfortable as Nick Griffin at a Love Music, Hate Racism gig, by this point I was totally into it, despite some of her later outfits featuring more yards of tan stocking than the wardrobe department of Last Of The Summer Wine. The band then took a back seat for ballads such as Hate That I Love You and Take A Bow, which closed the main part of the show.

Returning to strut and bogle her way through Live Your Life and Run This Town, and to give a few more shout outs to [insert name of city here] this was all just killing time until Umbrella was finally unleashed. Ubiquity be damned, that song cannot be denied.

A Mild Saxual Assault

Posted in Gigs, Music with tags , , , , on November 24, 2009 by Tim Lee

[Live] Gong, Sheffield Leadmill, 23rd November 2009

They’re gonna play all the hits that you knew, and all of the new album too. So goes the mantra when heritage acts reform. But apprehension was left at the doors when pioneering space-rockers Gong got it on.

Gong are the band who put the fun into prog rock. Their philosophy is described by de facto band leader Daevid Allen as follows: “I always had a sense of being contacted by another planet of intelligent beings, who wanted to help the Earth people. They figured a way to do this was to use the music of my band as a vehicle for their strange noises, and prepare the way for their arrival.”

And forty-two years after they formed they prepared the ground in Sheffield. Featuring a line-up which had the acid casualties stifling a boner in their loon pants, we had Allen on guitar and vocals, Steve Hillage on guitar, Gilli Smyth on space whispers, Miquette Giraudy on synth and disinterested Kate Radley-esque poses, Mike Howlett on bass, Chris Taylor on drums and of course Theo Travis on saxophone and flute.

As a live proposition they were better than I could have possibly imagined. They played much harder and faster than on record and as septuagenarians go, Allen is an energetic, if slightly demented frontman, even if he does now resemble a long-haired, emaciated Richard Stilgoe. Hillage can still shred with the best of ’em and even though it pains me to say it, the rhythm section could indeed be described as ‘tight’ and the drumming as ‘propulsive’. Throw in some swirling atonal electronica and glissando guitar and it was pretty much the perfect gig for someone of my musical bent.

As on record the longer tracts of space whispering became vaguely irritating, especially as Smyth now looks like a psych Peggy Mitchell. It’s not a concept I’ve ever really understood because surely whispering is no more prevalent in space than anywhere else. If anything there’s no necessity to whisper in space as there’s nobody to listen in. But that’s just an aside, for now we must move onto the sax, my God the sax. It underpinned everything. It shouldn’t work but it really does. I will never dismiss the work of The Zutons again. Okay, I will.

blurry mobile phone shot

The band played for fully two hours mixing up tracks from surprisingly ace new album 2032 with classics such as You Can’t Kill Me, Oily Way, Portal, Dynamite/I Am Your Animal and many more I’ve forgotten, all the while complemented by a backdrop of kaleidoscopic imagery taking in those Gong staples: flying teapots, disembodied eyes and cheese-based political statements. I’d have to concede some of the projections were more PowerPoint Pixies than Exploding Plastic Inevitable, though. But anyway, there was just enough time for a five minute jazz flute solo, before Allen re-emerged after a costume change for an extended encore of You Never Blow Your Trip Forever which left me grinning from ear to ear. And it’s not often you can say that.