(Planet Me)
Sunday, November 27, 2016
LEONARD COHEN, You Want It Darker

And barely two weeks after it came out, Leonard has left us. I prefer to listen to albums for a while, let the records sink in. They are products of years of work. We should listen to them more before we commit to judgement. Cohen songs take years to write, and sometimes decades to reveal their full scope and glory. And, Leonard is gone. I thought he would be immortal. Like Prince, Lemmy, and oh my, David Bowie, I thought they'd just endure. Survive. Carry on somehow.

Ending on a glorious final stretch of creativity, (with four albums and an exhaustive concert set equating to practically one new album a year since 2012), You Want It Darker is a mellow, resigned set, where the intellect is on fire and the music is an exhausted sigh. Given that Cohen was 81 at the time of recording, it's no surprise that perhaps Cohen's contribution was limited to vocals and keyboards recorded in his home studio, augmented with the help of a band offsite and produced by his son. It's not a defiant exit, but a closing of the book. Even before his death, it felt, - like many of his albums always felt, actually – like a closing of the book, a final reckoning. Like a man staring at reality and trying to make peace with it.

There's no dimming of the flame with time intellectually. You might want it darker, and 2016 is the darkest year yet – practically unimaginable in the scale of the horror faced with Prince, Bowie, Lemmy, Brexit, Trump and Leonard himself – and yet, in all of this, there are traces and remains. Records are that, records. Memories. And from the title track - “You Want It Darker”, there's still this sense, this enormous weight, of so many great lost songs we will never hear him sing ; even though there's a recognition of time, when he whispers - “I'm ready, my lord” - that the race is run, that the time is out, that all things are coming to a natural end. And even in this, there is a sense of unhurried thought. Like his later records, the considered and thoughtful, this is a record of time, of contemplation. Music for thinking.

OASIS Be Here Now (Expanded Edition)

Oh God, I love drugs. Aren't they fantastic? They make you think everything is getting better man. And nobody could ever accuse you of not being brilliant and mad for it. Or something. Still, Be Here Now, Oasis third album, is rubbish. You know it. I know it. It's to long. There's too many verses, sometimes the word are drivel. There's long instrumental passages that seem to last longer than a boxset of Game Of Thrones. This album, given, undeservingly, a full belts and braces mega uber reissue treatment alongside a documentary, has aged very, very badly.

At this time, Oasis were bulletproof. They could put out a 70+ minute epic of overlong, meaningless drivel songs, overcompressed, overproduced and massively overthought, alongside a whole bunch of videos that clearly told us that this wasn't a hungry band anymore, but a bunch of newly-rich men who were starting to lose touch. So, for the original album, there's been no tinkering. Unlike some bands, who seem to re-record and alter the mixes for reissues, this is exactly as it was – albeit with a 2016 remix of “D'You Know What I Mean?”. Heaven help us. Be Here Now has a couple of great songs - “Don't Go Away” is the clear winner out of here – and some of the other stuff is very very good, but most of it is just.. dreadful. The songs are too long, the choruses are b-side fodder, the lyrics are “I / Saw A Pie / In The Sky / I / Am Just A Guy / Who Will Be Rock N Roll / I Will Never Die” and every song is full of lines that rhyme every single time even if they don't align with my mind

If you must buy this (and hey, I don't blame you), it's much, much better than the grab bag assortment of leftovers that made the other albums. Here you have a full set of album demos sung by Noel, and several unreleased songs – some of which are good indeed – including the acoustic version of “Setting Sun” which is a practically a brand new song.You also get most of the b-sides (but not the ramshackle covers of Bowie's “Heroes” or The Stones “Street Fightin' Man”, as Oasis were never the most... hip of bands).

“Be Here Now” has aged appallingly – a white elephant of drugs and self-indulgence – that could nearly have been a very good record but instead turned out to be the the first wrong move (of many) in their life. Whilst this deluxe 3CD version is the best edition to get, it doesn't redeem the album beyond it's deservedly low standing. Flawed, and fascinating.

Friday, November 18, 2016
METALLICA, Hardwired To Self Destruct

Metallica albums are always difficult to review. They take years before they come out. They've been thought about long and hard. And given the past few years of their chequered history - the unamazing “Lulu”, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it “Beyond Magnetic” leftovers EP, and the moneysink that was “Through The Never” - Metallica have lost ground and traction. Seemingly paralysed by creative indecision, they finally commit to a record after eight years in a creative wilderness. And here it is.

And it's the worst album Metallica have made in 20 years. At the moment, and after repeated listening, it's a generic grab-bag of OK, mid-paced riffs. A massive step down after the brilliant “Death Magnetic”. It makes “St. Anger” look like one of the best records ever made. Simply put, it's nowhere near as dull, characterless and boring as “Reload”, and probably on a par with the insipid “Load”. The songs are fairly unexciting. It's too long, with too many riffs and segments repeated too long, alongside a bunch of mid-paced, generic, interchangable songs, and utterly predictable Kirk Hammett wah-wah solos that could have been on any record they've made in the past 25 years. Even the tempos are predictable with what feels like the exact same 'dramatic silence' in “Halo Of Fire” that has previously been used in “Sad But True” and “Harvester of Sorrow.” You could drop any of these songs into any album they made in the 90's...and not know the difference.

The songs are often dense and detailed. Every riff that is there should be there ; the product of hundreds of riffs, and dozens of permutations. This is why Metallica albums are often so good : every sound that is there is the best of dozens of possibilities. The problem is that these songs have been tested to destruction, and the album is simply ok. Predictable. There's nothing exciting here, no innovation, nothing that you haven't already heard a dozen times on other better albums over twenty years ago. Sure, if you want “Black #2 : Stadium Rock Boogaloo” or “Threeload!” you're happy as Larry, but this is dull stadium rock that The Cult perfected in “Sonic Temple”, but with added mediocrity. There's no excitement. No fire.

Sure – what you've heard already - “Hardwired”, “Rise! Atlas! Rise!” and “Moths To Flame” are good, but they're the best ones by far. But the time you get to “Here Comes Revenge”, it sounds like a song they've kept in a box since 1991. It's clearly the sound of the band working their way through a desperate need to release uninspired new product, trying to recreate a time that has long gone with a bunch of drearily predictable new stuff that seems like it's a past-their-best stab at reminding us of their history. The songs simply aren't that great – they're predictable, quite good (but, 'quite good' by Metallica's standards is both better than many other bands, and frankly not good enough at all) – but they should never be 'Quite Good'. Metallica should be great and this just isn't. It's the sound of them trying to recapture past glories instead of creating new glories. If you loved “Black” and still want to pretend it's 1991 you'll like this. “Enter Middle-Aged-Man”

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Alongside “Black★”, “Lazarus” is the final David Bowie statement : whereas “Black★” turned his death and mortality into a work of art – nobody ever died so well - “Lazarus” is a powerful, dense, and difficult look back through his body of work that recontextualises his past so it faces to his death as well.

Built in a collaborative workshop with Ivo Van Hove and a team picked by Bowie, “Lazarus” picks up the key threads of Bowie's 1976 The Man Who Fell To Earth, and posits the question of “What happened on The Next Day?”.

In this case, Bowie and the team allow this to become allegorical, and not, I suspect through chance. Michael C Hall plays Bowie surrogate TJ Newton (and he does so with a mastery I envy), an alien who fell to earth and is now trapped in these earthly chains. A more effective metaphor for all of us there could not be. After all, aren't we all trapped in our skins, our worlds, these realities we have not chosen? At one point, Newton explicitly says “None of us chose the heads we are born with”.

It opens with Newton, isolated and retired in a New York Apartment, not reading all the books he's wanted to read, but instead slowly going mad. Lazarus is about his quest to escape the reality he lives in ; and, as the plot unravels, it becomes increasingly clear that maybe he has succeeded but not in the way he wanted to. Drawing together songs new, very new (including Bowie's final recordings), and very old, the narrative pulls a common, perhaps hidden theme of the material and recontextualises Bowie's past in a way that adds a richness to them.

Songs such as “Life On Mars” and “Changes” were glorious kitchen sink dramas ; now “Life On Mars” is just about that, but the added element is about a man trying to escape, get off here, free the earthly chains, trying to live life on an alien planet. The placement of the songs and the dialogue are considered, thoughtful, and add new light to the old material. Even “It's No Game” tells, by the title itself, what this is all about. It is a matter of life and death. And, the imagery harks back to old Bowie work. You can easily see this presentation, with some mild amends, as the staging for a challenging Bowie tour that never happened, or perhaps a way of dramatising mortality and the process of coming to terms with the end of our time. Were Bowie alive, I'm not sure how we would read this.. difficult, confusing, challenging. But Lazarus is more than that. The plot is somewhat obtuse – scenes make an emotional sense, but you either experience it on a musical / emotional level as a connecting thread, or in a more literal way about a Rich Old Man Looking For A Spaceship.

The band are well chosen, precise, and accurate – replicating the haunting “Black★” sound but also updating Bowie's material with sensitivity. The Man Who Sold The World – presented in the same arrangement of the Outside Tour has a new context, the line “face to face” isn't just about two human faces, but about turning your face to face an abstract, being The Man Who Sold The World … but which world? His world? Our world? The future? There's so many interpretations available. It's all there. It just depends how deep you can dive. What this does is add an extra layer to Bowie's past ; to show you where he was, and that there was more than you might have originally thought. Some of the obscure material is repurposed : I was never a fan of “Valentine's Day”, and yet here, it's the same song yet also brand new. Everything makes a different kind of sense now.

At the end, Lazarus is dense, challenging and rewarding. Bowies work becomes new. The imagery he used all through his work has a new meaning: no longer a desire to explore other planets, but when Michael C Hall proclaims, definitively, “I'm done with this life. I have to explore other universes!”, it's clear that there aren't just other planets. It was all about finding new worlds, new levels of consciousness, new ways of existing. The final song is “Heroes” as the cast prepare to leave in their vessel.. leave what and go where is unclear.. but to a new land, beyond perhaps even life itself, the song becomes an inner monologue, about our spiritual lives, about who we are inside our own minds, where I will be King. And you will be queen. A hopeful anthem could become a sign of hopeless retreat into our own minds. And, like much of the best work, by anyone anywhere, it works.

Black★” may by Bowie facing his mortality in the moment. “Lazarus” is him looking back, turning the thousand strands of his past into something new and making sense of it all, even if it doesn't make sense to anyone but him. It's bold, baffling, and by no means easy, but rewarding.

(photographs mostly taken from Sotheby's exhibition Bowie / Collector)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016
JOHN CARPENTER London Troxy 31st October 2016

At 68, and 22 years since he made his last utterly great movie, in the bonkers “In The Mouth of Madness”, and John Carpenter is playing his first ever concert tour. This is perhaps a more fitting way to see a true artist in his domain ; certainly more dignified than when I saw Terry Gilliam have spaghetti poured on his head.

Carpenter is one of the most commercially unappreciated filmmakers there is ; if his films weren't mostly horror and Sci-fi, if they weren't often made on shoestring budgets, and if they weren't aware of a beautiful self-depreciating humour, Carpenter would be up there with Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick. (To me, and some others, he is though). This is not to undersell his other skills. Carpenter is a musician, who – through necessity to start with – wrote the music that accompanied almost all of his films, giving his work a unique, otherworldly effect of electronic pulses in weird time signatures. His films didn't sound like other films. They didn't look like other films. They weren't like other films.

These days, Carpenter has made only a handful of films in the past twenty years, largely unable to gain the even meagre funding for small scale work and having to crush his talent into undeserving scripts. Like Romero, Carpenter has fallen victim, like many of us have, to the changing nature of consumption economy. In film, revenue streams have been sliced to the bone, money has once again moved to the middle men, the bureaucrats and the visionless cash slicers, who expect us to work for free, or 'exposure', unwilling to invest in something that lasts, only chasing the balance-sheet-profitable. Which explains why a cinematic dwarf like Zack Snyder gets $300,000,000 to make brain dead drivel like Spaceboy vs Orphan Billionaire Punchy Punchy, and Carpenter can't even get 3% of that to make anything at all. Films aren't cheap, but some of the most expensive films are the cheapest intellectually of them all.

Built on his side-career, tonight sees Carpenter play his first live show in the capital – incidentally the second live show he ever announced – and, given the accents around us, and the nature of the audience ; horror pilgrims from many countries, alongside a large number of themed Halloween costumes, are here. There's several They Live aliens. A note perfect Snake Plissken. A few Mike Myers. And at least two people dressed in white sheets.

Carpenter is accompanied by a five piece band, of a live rhythm section and guitarist (all borrowed from Tenacious D), lead guitarist and keyboard player, alongside his son Cody on all manner of trademark electronics. Carpenter himself is almost the 'Fletch' of the band, a band leader who sometimes barely plays much. Daniel Davis the guitar player, offers a squall of noise which accurately mimics the now-obselete and probably unreproducable old synth textures and sounds of some of the material.

And whilst I would say most of the sound comes from the backing band, and therefore... how much of this is John Carpenter... that's imitation... the band deserve credit for a note perfect re-creation. The drummer in particular takes the offkilter rhythms no human has ever played and replicates them to perfection. The only variation is the addition of a solid bass drum beat that adds a compelling rhythm to the material and pushes the atmosphere further. It is though, undeniably, a selection of largely atmospheric, minimal material, built on a handful of recurrent motifs, like a terrifying, electronic Ramones, that builds and escalates in dynamics to a generally compelling climax. The songs though are clearly designed around a set of recurrent musical imagery, as film soundtracks, layered in tension/release, with odd timings, somewhat experimental structures, and clearly not your conventional material. Were these not soundtracks, Carpenter would be hailed as a small selling, avant-garde experimental composer in revered tones.

Sound aside, the Carpenter experience is – as you would expect – very strong visually. For most of the set, the backdrop is a projection of key imagery from his films : taken out of context, he's selected the iconic moments and visuals, taking perhaps the approach of Every Frame A Painting. Some of these images are not just iconic, but also utterly bizarre. Some of them ; The Things "Crawling Head", Big Trouble In Little China's "Shadow Battle", The Fogs "Pirate Ghosts In A Church", for example, would sit as lone, classic images of terror, fantasy, and outlandish reality beyond the accepted world. What is strange is I used to watch these on VHS recorded from late night TV, and the theme of those movies, the nature of reality, identity, the fear of the bogeyman, the unusual and the questioning of the accepted convention of the 'real' is the kind of themes that, had Martin Scorcese's name been attached to the films, be viewed as peerless works of genius. Even allegedly lesser films such as the confounding In The Mouth of Madness are, in themselves, only lesser by recognition, not by vision. In this re-presentation, Carpenter as a painter of celluloid visions of the bizarre and unusual is heightened as the images aren't within a context but as visions that would be framed in a museum of the unsettling. Horror and suspense as a genre relies on the sense of … somehow not belonging... of the alien inside the familiar and the mundane, of a world where motives are obscure, and monsters hide the normal, inscrutable.

The other world – of wraiths, of spirits, of a consciousness and existence beyond that which we see with eyes and ears and feel with our flesh – is real. It has touched me. The imagery, and the stories within the films, are part of how I see the world. A world where the terrors that stalk the normal are sometimes incomprehensible in motive or method, and where the reason is not what it seems, or there is no reason at all. There was often no reason in his work, which is much like life itself. We give life the reasons we need even if they are absent.

It's a short show. Carpenter is on stage by 8.32, and it's finished 85 minutes later. We're queuing for toilets by 9.50. It feels slight. And, with an unchanging set being played in the same order something like 26 times in a row, it's also somewhat predictable. But at 68, this might be the once in a lifetime moment. Loving film is a sometimes solitary experience, rigid, controlled : tonight was more a celebration – of fear, of own fragility, of a community that existed in front of the screen. Of facing the manifest of terror, and taking back the joy as an act of defiance.

Also. Bloody Hell. John Carpenter is playing the theme from Escape From New York live in front of my own eyes and ears. Bloody hell. I never thought that would happen.

Escape From New York Theme
Assault On Precinct 13
The Fog
They Live / Coming To LA
The Thing / Desolation
Distant Dream
Big Trouble In Little China / Pork Chop Express
In The Mouth of Madness

Prince Of Darkness / Darkness Begins
Distant Dream
Christine Attacks / The Plymouth Fury

Tuesday, November 01, 2016
PETER HOOK Substance : Inside New Order

Peter Hook is an angry man. Angry at himself, angry at his former record company, most of his former bandmates, and at his accountants. This no-holds-barred* tale is an indie rock equivalent of Motley Crue's The Dirt. Equal to such, in its rampant hedonism, the drug taking, the heartless and stupid promiscuity, the squandering of talent and money, oh my word, the decadent squandering and the recklessness. Nobody comes out of this looking especially good, least of all Hook himself.

*the lawyers have cleansed this and changed names to protect the guilty

This huge tome is utter New Order geek catnip. It's absolutely essential reading, though it is ugly and clearly not objective.

Over 700+ pages, Hook details every thrust, insult, and blow – and every line of blow. It's somewhat surprising anyone in the band is still alive given the utter excess and the reckless way the band was run – leaking money like a sinking ship, run by a tribe of addicts, junkies, cowards and idiots. Hook also clearly demarcates roles in the bands ; and whilst all of us have our own perspectives on absolutely anything, Hook is no hero in this book. The rest of the band are cast out as The Despot Who Wants To Do Everything But Nothing, The One Who Does Nothing, and The One Who Says Nothing, alongside the addition of Young and Stupid Session Musician. It's an ugly tale. Hook himself is self-cast as the promiscious drugaholic who eventually has guest spots on his own albums, sometimes through an inability to contribute. All of the roles are of course, gross caricatures, but they are the ones Hook sketches of himself and others. With a court case coming up, I'm not sure this is wise.

Recollections of most shows are included. Every tour date is shown. No one is spared. God help Hook's karma, because he certainly paints himself as a indefensible man who seemingly inserted every substance on the planet into parts of his body – and parts of his body into near enough female on the planet . And whilst lawyers have removed many names, occasionally they sneak through. Lies, infidelity, and the kind of behaviour that would get sacked in a regular job in days seem like day to day business as usual in this world. It's a twenty six year carcrash of awful behaviour and brilliant music.

Some areas are notable by their omission. Some of the well known financial dealings (such as the alleged huge offset of earnings between bands by Factory's incompetent accountants) are glossed over. The bands big paydays are mentioned in passing (£250,000 for a gig here, and £130,000 for tour there), then dismissed before Hook turns up a handful of pages later doing DJ gigs for £500 because he's skint : even though he's been headlining arenas and festivals for twenty years. The utter waste of money is irresponsible, and when the band gets paid 11 times the average national salary for one show whilst the bass player pleads poverty very shortly after, it's galling and crass. Gillian's departure – even though Hook spends most of the book casting her as utterly uncreative and barely present on most records – is glossed over, with an unsympathetic eye to the reason : after all, if you had a seriously ill child, wouldn't you want to not tour all over the world? However, this is mere detail. Hook needed money to fund the profiligate waste, so she's an obstacle to his earning potential. At the same time, since the illness of a young child also occurred to Hook, it largely did so when the band weren't touring, so he details his own situation far more sympathetically.

Even though Hook paints himself as an appalling addict man-child, there's little in the way of reflection, and nothing in the way of an apology. The whole story is told, and observed, with a critical eye – almost unfeeling. Even after he cures himself of his addictions, Hook is a drydrunk for a while, before he finally reigns in the behaviour. And sends an employee in to inform the rest of the band that he's quitting. And more than he's quitting, that by doing so, he is defacto splitting the band despite the rest of the band not necessarily agreeing with his opinion. I'm not sure if Hook feels he has to apologise for using and casting aside what seems to be nearly hundreds of humans and wasting more money than 99% of the world will earn in their lifetimes. Instead, he magnifies perceived slights and egos, and tells a story that is, to be honest, both depressingly mundane around power, corruption & lies, and, at the same time, exhaustingly exhaustive. It's essential reading and whether you like the bands music or not, one of the most compelling and explicit music memoirs ever written.

But at the end of it all, you won't like him.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
INDIE DAZE – London Forum 01 October 2016 – Bentley Rhythm Ace, Gaye Bykers On Acid, JimBob, Pop Will Eat Itself, Echobelly, EMF

By now a regular fixture in my gig calendar, the first weekend in October sees an all day indoor minifestival, the kind of thing that would sell out Reading Festival some years, and probably – for people my age – the highlight of my gig year.

By year three, Indie Daze isn't just an excuse to go and see bands, but an opportunity to see friends. (I'm going to count up how many people I know are here.. give me an hour – well, about 50 anyway.)

When I was younger, you only knew people in your town. Or in a town near you, at any rate. These days, the world is a much smaller place. (Given which, my step count from the show is 24,020 ; or about three days regular walking). Everyone seems to know people from everywhere, with some of us flying from America, or Switzerland. It's a case of not making arrangements, but just kind of knowing people who will be there and seeing them.

Aside from all of that, there's a chance, a feeling of ticking off the bucket list a number of things. If you missed a band way back when, you might very well be able to do so here. Whilst there's a common thread and a core constituency, with the exception of Pop Will Eat Itself (who have played here more than once), each year has a completely different lineup.

The first band I see are Bentley Rhythm Ace (for today, a trio, with Richard March and Fuzz of PWEI and James from EMF), who are, as always, an enjoyable. Whilst the band are normally a quartet, today they're one man down, and in this day and age, kids, jobs, and age make music the thing that you fit in around the other stuff, so a temporary absence is excusable. Not that you would necessarily know : Fuzz plays the drums like he's the best drummer in the world. (I've seen over a thousand gigs, and seen him in four bands - and he is). Bentleys play with a instrumental fury deriving from nothing more, and nothing less, than an ambition to make a racket of utter joy. Lacking an agenda, any lyrical content, or anything, the approach is simple fun. It works, utterly. Whilst at the end there's no lasting memory, and no sense of having had anything meaningful happen, it's still an overall moment of simple, pure, fun. And nothings ever wrong with that.

Indoors, it's mid-afternoon. There's friends to meet. Drinks to drink. Ramblechats to ramblechat about. By 4pm, it's time for the final Gaye Bykers On Acid show. After a 25 year hiatus, GBOA return for a handful of small shows ending with this, an hour in front of around 2,000 people. The show is determinded, committed, a way of ending the band the way bands should end, not with a whimper – but a bang. It's loud, and tight, and excusing the fact that every song is at least a quarter century old, as relevant now as ever. History is a hard thing to forget, but it's wise not to be beholden to it. Knowing the world as it is, this isn't their last shows. But who knows?

Breaking a two year live silence, JimBob – the gorgeously erudite voice of Carter USM – marks his first solo post-Carter-USM-absolutely-final-split with a set of just him and a guitar, a man and his voice, and his best known songs. Therefore, these are almost all Carter songs – with the exception of the cover of “The Impossible Dream” that became a Carter USM showstopper. Even some of the lesser known songs – the wonderful and very, very rarely played “Johnny Cash” from 1997 – are received with open arms.

Pop Will Eat Itself are next. This is the nearest thing to a 30th Anniversary show you can get : Fuzz Townsend is back on drums, and The Buzzard (the bands one-time guitarist who can seemingly play anything, was in some live lineups and on all the albums), are here. Alongside core member Graham Crabb, Mary Byker, and Davey Benett on bass, what you see is the nearest, and most historically representative lineup Pop Will Eat Itself have had in a very long time. I admit to being harsh on the bands new lineup in 2011, and having seen at least a dozen shows by the new lineup, the Graham-Mary version of the band are a good, strong live act. Though, to be honest, oldskool PWEI are, undoubtedly one of my favourite bands of all fucking time, and seeing most of the 'classic' lineup again is exciting. New PWEI have a somewhat rotating lineup (they've had 4 drummers and 3 guitarists and 2 bass players in the past five years across the tours, as much a reflection of the fact that the real world and other commitments keep getting in the way as anything else), but all of the times I've seen them … with the exception of when I saw them the week before I was hospitalised with double pneumonia … they've always captured and maintained the spirit of the band. But this. This is probably the best PWEI lineup I've seen in 11 years. And the best gig(s). *

There's new stuff (2 songs each from New Noise Designed By A Sadist and last years Anti-Nasty League). There's some pissing and moaning from people that want these bands to be an indie time machine, frozen forever in 1992. Saying that the band shouldn't do new songs, because this isn't that kind of gig. The band are not your bitch, and if you're not paying attention to the new stuff, that's not their fault, but yours. There's old stuff. There's Fuzz, who I think is the best drummer on the planet, and who plays with a swing and fluency that most drummers dream of (He also uses a sequencer failure the following night in Bilston to plug his garage). The Buzzard fronts the guitars with a 7 string Inabenez and a boatload of effects pedals, that gives the band a furious chainsaw sound that utterly fits. Not, by the way, that Adam Mole or Tim Muddiman don't fit. Just that this attack seems to give the band a slightly different approach that is refreshing. Graham Crabb and Mary Byker bounce off each other as a perfect foil.

Given that this is also 30 years since the band first came into being, it's fitting that both Richard March (bass) and Adam Mole (guitars) rejoin the band for three songs – Def Con One, Auslander, and Wise Up Sucker. This then, is the nearest to a PWEI reunion in over a decade : the band's final 1996 lineup minus Clint, with Graham and Mary. What's important here is recognising the band and also going forward to the future. And, if I'm honest, standing in a room with 2000 mostly middle-aged people dancing like mad bastards and singing lots of very very rude words is great fun. In my world, this band should be headlining Wembley Stadium whilst The Stone Roses are playing predictable 'album-in-full' gigs at the Folkestone Leas Cliff instead of mining a bankrupt stadium nostalgia bullshit tour.

In the meantime, Pop Will Eat Itself are playing one the best gigs I've ever seen them do. They are, and were, the much under-appreciated amalgamation of the best influences you could have and at least, at least, as influential as The Beastie Boys. And much bloody better. Oh yeah, and the crowd seemingly become a sweaty flood of excitable people that know how to be at a gig without filming everyfuckingthing to Tweet on their Periscope later. Its a joyous celebration that overshadows near enough every other band of the day.

(*I see them the night after, on an underpopulated Sunday in Bilston, which is pretty much my favourite PWEI experience since the frankly incredible 2005 minitour.)

Second place, and following PWEI, are Echobelly. Their approach and material is more... considered than the full on gonzo batshit crazy of PWEI, and thus, there's a sense of the atmosphere drilling down. Like that quiet bit in a movie, the few minutes breather between two big battles, Echobelly have a subdued response and a lower pitch of material that is more thoughtful and considered. It's a credit to the Mute Elephant crew to broaden the days lineup, to add unexpected acts, to widen the years of the day and to show that 'indie' reflects many years and many styles. As long as we don't get the musical amoeba that are Shed Fucking Seven, I'm good.

EMF, meanwhile, are the headline act. With only their third show in six years, and a reputation to defend, this sees the part time band celebrating 25 years of their debut Schubert Dip. It's an under-rated record that got lost in the critical mire when Nevermind came forth as a Cultural Year Zero. Mortality aside – the sadly missed Zac on bass – it's the original lineup of the band that stayed together throughout their entire existence. Ian Dench – the bands Noel Gallagher, to be honest – is back on guitar. And whilst the band had their career cut short by a cruel tide of press brutalism and record company bullshit giving them only three records, it's an energetic 70 minutes.

Of course, it's pure nostalgia, but its also unashamed entertainment. The songs themselves, some are better than others : like any band, whilst the songs follow the relatively standard verse/chorus/instrumentally bit format, sometimes some verses, and some choruses are better than others, and that's the battle. As far as gig openers go, “Children” has one of the best builds there is, a slow escalation of ingredients that suddenly stops, then explodes like a firework in your ears. Atkin may not be the most versatile of vocalists, but he works hard and joyfully that matches the songs whilst around him the band aren't exactly the kids we all used to be, but instead are a fun holiday in the past. Taking a cue from the 25th Anniversary of Schubert Dip, tonight is only the second EMF headline show in nine years, and a veritable bag of near enough everything they did. There's nothing from the under-rated Cha Cha Cha album, and no sign of the great “Far From Me”, but generally, EMF know what is expected : hits. And lots of them. And you get almost all of them. And a crowdsurfing DJ Milf. And a roof raising encore that sees “Unbelievable” played for a second time, this time with guest vocals from Jim Bob, Mary Byker, Graham Poppie, and bass from one-time EMF-er Richard March for his third time on stage in a day. It's a ramshackable excuse of general confusion, which is simple, daft fun tied up with deeper, more meaningful songs hidden inside all the dayglo shorts.

Some the end of the night, and there's lots of us here that somehow still survived another all day endurance test, surrounded by many friends from across a great many places, people I see rarely and love, kindred spirits at the best value gig of the year that is under £5 an act. The world that birthed this music is wide, and in many ways, still ongoing, and Indie Daze is not just a snapshot of a time, but a celebration of another way of thinking, a striving to know that there is more to this world than what was in the pages of the tabloids – and of course, a damn good afternoon and night out.

Monday, October 17, 2016
MOBY, These Systems Are Failing

For the journeyed Moby fan, there isn't much he hasn't tried. Being post 50, and commercially astute enough to have made himself financially secure in the last days of boom years, Moby is now in a place of relative freedom : freed, as such, from the commercial pressures of buying yet another rock star yacht, and and running his own label, and so on, he can do whatever he likes. If that means turning his back on touring at the time that almost everyone uses that as the only way of making money, so be it.

Unlike his other records, for the first time since 1996's much-underappreciated “Animal Rights”, this sees him take lead vocals on everything. He plays – as far as I can tell – every instrument himself, and, to be honest, it's a refreshing change. His voice is limited, fragile, human, and to me, an under-used instrument, as it's fragility is also its strength. I tire of hearing anonymous soul divas belting out yet another fucking ballad with great emotion like an overenthusiastic actor. So... it doesn't sound like anything he's done before. Unlike the broken-hearted metal rage of “Animal Rights”, this is more considered, but also blander, record. It has thought but has traded off urgency and honesty for a less raw approach. The songs are good, and all of them are solid, but they suffer from a lack of variation, from a monotone sound drawn from a cheap drum machine, from a set of identical keys and tempos, and all sounding the same. It doesn't feel like an album, but a collection of songs all thrown together with no structure. All of the songs are good on their own, but collectively they lack the sense of epic scale and depth his previous albums have enjoyed. On the other hand, it could be that this is an album that is dense and obtuse, that rewards continued listening, that reviews hidden depths if you work for it.

But maybe not. It's an unusual Moby record – a fast paced, lo-fi album of relatively obscure material designed not to be big hits – and for that, it's fascinating to hear.

Saturday, October 08, 2016
The Shortlist

your name will go a list
everyone's name will go a list
a list to prove if you are human
a list to check if you can exist
a list to show where you were born
a list to end all other lists
a list to see if you can work
a list to see if you are legit
a list for your children's birthplace
a list for everything that there is

a list to see if you are safe
a list to see if you can stay
a list to see if you are worth saving
a list to see if you were born on this rock
a list to see if you are acceptable, or not
a list for everyone
a list for everything
a list to end all lists

your name will go on a list
everyone's name will go on a list
and you will be named and shamed and deported
if you do not belong
on the right list

Friday, October 07, 2016
DAVID GILMOUR London Royal Albert Hall 29 September 2016

This may possibly be the last time I see a member of Pink Floyd in the flesh. At 70, David Gilmour is already older than David Bowie ever was. The fact is, despite this – the fifth and final – leg of his tour, Gilmour is advancing in years, and a three hour show can be difficult for someone half his age. And that, at this point in his life, Gilmour has nothing he needs to prove to anyone. Even if you were the type of person with something to prove, he's done that already.

The penultimate show of what may be his final tour has a bittersweet ring to it. There's a knowledge in every moment, even if only felt for the briefest moment before quenched, that this – whatever it is – good and bad, won't last, that it will pass, terror, love, all of it. And so, whilst in the moment, it feels like this could happen a thousand times again, I know it won't. The end is nearer than the beginning.

And the Royal Albert Hall is a practical home from home for Gilmour, with something like 14 shows here in the past year or so alone. “Rattle That Lock”, his latest solo record after a nine year interregnum, sees Gilmour moving gracefully into a new, reflective phase of his life, where names move out of address books, where the knowledge is there is less ahead than behind. But with this, Gilmour also articulates it with the kind of fascinating depth few others do. The Rolling Stones still bang on playing very little less than 40 years old, like some kind of rock version of King Canute trying to hold back the tide – and look ridiculous as a result. Whereas with this, the changes may be subtle, but they are there.

The bands changed since last year. Phil Manzaneara and Jon Carin are no longer here. Jon having a clash of responsibilities by also being Roger Waters main keyboard player. And Roger starts his 2016 tour in Mexico tonight, alas. Instead, we have Chester Kamen on guitar and Greg Phillganes on keyboards. Chester, in particular, is a perfect fit : a lively, and clearly engaged player who compliments him completely, switching effortlessly between lead and rhythm, and also chosen by the exacting Roger Waters as guitar player : being chosen by two members of Floyd to play in their solo bands is a high accolade. Whilst both Gilmour and Kamen indulge in a large amount of #guitarsexface , the sound is solid, the performance valid, and ultimately, it feels like the other band. Even though that band may no longer exist, there is still much of their spirit and style here, there's a connection between this now and that then, between the fact that Gilmour is playing note-perfect, emotionally correct versions of songs from all periods of Pink Floyd's career with flair and wit : during a barnstorming “One Of These Days”, which has only been performed a handful of times since The Floyd's end as a touring unit, there's the subtle nod, as I realise that a mild live improvisation from an ancient concert album is happening right in front of my eyes – that is, the band skilfully and quietly move into a few bars of the Doctor Who theme – before a voice intones “one of these days i'm going to cut you into little pieces”, the lights become … excitable... and a rampaging roar appears, as if the past 45 years never happened. The fluency with which this 70 year old man dispatches songs he wrote when he was 25 is glorious. Never thought I'd see it. I don't think I will again.

What is also not insignificant is that the set is stuffed with the newer stuff – older, wiser, and more mature, more considered and thoughtful – the sound of a man inside his time moving with an awareness of not only his own mortality, but also of the position one has within one's own life and the life of others. Several songs from his latest album fit effortlessly into the set, as do the majestic “The Blue” and the title track from “On An Island”. It's music that stands the test of time because its taken time to make.

And whilst – since Gilmour was more prolific way back when – many of the songs are taken from the Pink Floyd canon (15, versus 8 solo songs, or 17 Floyd albums vs 4 solo records), the Floyd material was never aimed at some kind of hedonism but a more thoughtful approach. Which is why I always gravitated to them and not some of the more raucous bands from that period. Lyrically Floyd songs – and latterly, the Gilmour solo stuff – was always connected to the big things : about who, where, why, what it is to be here, and now. Whatever and whenever and wherever here and now was. Musically as well, as with everything Gilmour touches, there's an elegant precision that betrays an enormous amount of thought, an immaculate taste, around which every song appears to have a large number of options explored, and every step that's taken is the perfect, and best one, of all the options, if anything, it's around … an unhurried consideration of the choices and the most enduring one being taken.

Gilmour tours are rare : and there are few, if any left. The penultimate night sees the last performance of “Us And Them”, for example. You have to live your life where you can.

From Row 15 on the arena floor – something like 30 feet from Gilmour as he plays – it's a luxurious experience, in so much as Gilmour tours are generally extremely rare, and like many things he does, the reasons have to be right and the work he does is never about business, or money, or merchandising himself in endless live shows, or playing stadiums (though that is always there), but for the right reasons … and generally with music and environments where the emotion connects with the audience. Gilmour – and The Floyd – often were a band that were about exploring. But about venturing in inner space. As I watch him play his immaculately phrased notes, I'm not jumping up and down, or yelling the words, but just... thinking. Feeling. So few humans actually do nothing – and being in this moment – allows us to do nothing else. Not tweeting or Instagramming, or watching it through a screen on your GoPro* ….

*we'll get to this later, by the way

…. but being in this moment, this unique second, that will never happen again, so lets be here and experience it, goddamit.

Let's not be the guy who gets up every 15 minutes to go for a ten minute piss during the entire show. And, by the way, ambles s-l-o-w-l-y through the venue blocking everyone's view.

Let's not be the guy who changes seats every few songs, edging closer and closer to the stage occupying unusued seats and being an utter oaf, pissing everyone off – and trying to take someone's seat when they go to the toilet. Just sit and enjoy it. Be here. Now.

Let's not be the guy who spends the whole show with arms outstretched filming it on your phone.

“Comfortably Numb” isn't a photo opportunity. It's a once in a lifetime experience. What's wrong with your eyes? Remember it that way and be lost in the moment. Reality seems to be a dying concept.

Whilst it seems like this could happen endlessly, and forever – and I am aware how dim the memories I have are of his shows here just ten years ago – and how I don't really remember that night, but I remember remembering that night – it all returns and is made fresh tonight. It may seem like nothing very much, but seeing him perform songs I have loved as long as I have loved music – from blistering takes on the obscure “Fat Old Sun” to the crescendo of “Comfortably Numb” - of seeing a happy and comfortable Gilmour bashing drums or playing clarinet or merely peeling out precise solos – is like seeing a magician in front of you. These may only be guitars and instruments, but they are tools to build new worlds. The 15 year old in me would never have believed I could have seen this with my own eyes.

The time is gone. The song is over. Thought I'd have something more to say.

5 Am
Rattle That Lock
Faces Of Stone
What Do You Want From Me?
The Blue
The Great Gig In The Sky
A Boat Lies Waiting
Wish You Were Here
In Any Tongue
High Hopes
One Of These Days
Shine On You Crazy Diamond I-V
Fat Old Sun
Coming Back To Life
On An Island
Us And Them
Run Like Hell
Comfortably Numb

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I can't keep track of how many Wedding Present albums there are : I don't particularly care. It's thirty years since “George Best” and it's a very different band – and a better one - in every way since then. Whilst the traditional view is that the Wedding Present (whoever they are these days, though this is the first album by this configuration who have been together a number of years now) are that noisy, one-dimensional jangle jangle act that did “Brassneck” and “Kennedy”, they've come a very very long way since then.

“Going, Going, Gone” is a expansive, 80 minutes of post-rock, instrumental glory – it's ten minutes before David Gedges voice is heard in the third song, and even then, it's a wordless croon for the duration.

This is one of the best Wedding Present records. Given that “Seamonsters” and “Take Fountain” are amongst the best records ever made to my ears, that's high praise. Though, this is in effect two albums – an opening instrumental salvo of gorgeous post-rock – alongside a fine selection of songs. There's a harsh entrance of actual song (which would be solved by moving two songs slow-build songs with rising vocals - “Sprague” and “Emporia” - ahead in the running order). But of those songs, stuff like “Two Bridges”, “Broken Bow”, “Bear”, “Bells” are all equal to any previous Wedding Present high watermark. And the band sounds more democratic than it has for a long time – new styles, new vocals, and an evolution of the bands sound. This does have its downsides, as “Secretary” is a brash and insubstantial song, and my least favourite song by the band since the mid 1980's. But then even songs such as “Fordland” are already hidden diamonds in the bands enormous catalogue.

It's a fib to call it a concept album, though it sort of is. If the concept is “Songs that aren't rubbish”. (Or, perhaps, what is more accurate is that the songs revolve around the idea of the narrative of a relationship, loosely termed). An 80 minute set of songs is a tough sell in this day and age, where there's everything competing against everything else for ever smaller amounts of money. It's unlikely The Wedding Present will win many new fans, but if they can continue to make music this good, I'm overjoyed they just get to exist.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT London o2 Forum 17 September 2016

“It's a covers band”, my less.. partisan friend says. And he's right, of course.

And two weeks after an hour long hits set in Brighton, it's a three hour marathon two-albums-and-b-sides show which sees Hook and his band play the entire of both Joy Division and New Order's “Substance” albums, as well as several b-sides ; missing, thankfully the 10 minute dub remixes.

Were I in, say, a relatively obscure part of the world where New Order have never played, I'd probably think this is the best gig ever. And since I don't, I don't. And whilst it's weird to go from seeing the band he used to be in to the band he is in – both playing many of the same songs - in a matter of weeks. It's a very different experience. It reminds of nothing so much as the Roger Waters vs. Pink Floyd show.

It's also exhausting : there's 31 songs here. And whilst it isn't Cure-style 50 song luxury punishment, the gig – only the third show of this tour – suffers from erratic pacing and a.. well, a bit of a dickhead crowd. It may be the fifth song, you might be 7 foot tall so no one behind you can see anything, and Hooky might be playing “Everything's Gone Green” in London for only the second time in thirty five years, but that doesn't mean you can't use the show to discuss whatever if it is that simply cannot wait. Things like what shopping to get. There's the rest of your goddamn life for that. This is happening. Here and now. In front of your eyes. Pay attention.

Opening with three b-sides may not be the way to keep the momentum up : the crowd clearly want the sort of joyous celebration the perfect gig can offer, and a relatively obscure only-released-in-Belgium thirty five year old 12” b-side isn't going to really get the party … er... “rocking”. Therefore, there's a wait for release. And there's few gigs where “Temptation” is done by 8.30, and where you follow “Blue Monday” with another 24 songs.

Hook is clearly – and rightly – proud of his past. But there's no demonstration of the present except being present. And, with front loading the set with the New Order material – even the youngest of which is a staggering 29 years of age – devalues the power and currency of those songs. The crowd visibly thins during the Joy Division segment : as if the New Order material is the show itself,followed by a really very very long encore. And since I wasn't there in 1977, Joy Division has always been a historical artifact to me : never alive, never tangible, always as distant in my past as The Doors, or The Beatles. Something that was already dead before I felt alive. Whereas New Order to me, was and is a band that are alive, current. Here's the twist : Hook is a widow of Joy Division, and divorced from New Order. Which is why the New Order part of the night feels more valid. I remember then. Of Joy Division, I remember nothing. Joy Division was a memory long before I got to them.

So, for me, the draw is not seeing Hook playing Joy Division. That's like seeing Ray Manzarek doing The Doors. Too long ago. Hook's voice is deeper and darker than Sumners, so whilst the New Order portion sounds an immaculate reproduction, but not quite right – think, if you will, Sean Connery in “Never Say Never Again” - when he sings the Joy Division stuff, Hook could have been the actual vocalist. Even on such underwhelming, lesser songs as “Autosuggestion” and “From Safety To Where?” - the two least songs in the official Joy Division canon – that ultimately provide me with an opportunity catch the night from the back briefly in what feels like, from the audience apathy, a somewhat strange support set placed in the middle of the headline act.

Having never seen any member of New Order, or anyone, perform songs like “Procession” and “State Of The Nation” live, and bearing in mind they're all nudging 60, I'm running out of chances. There's nothing like the sound of drunk people bouncing up and down and simply … enjoying themselves. With “Substance” played in full, the final six songs are an immaculate run, starting at “Transmission”and ending with a heart-break-as-singalong that is “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. It may be one of the greatest songs ever written, but after hundreds of posthumous live performances, this is art as entertainment. Glorious art. But are you not entertained?

Lonesome Tonight
Cries And Whispers
Everythings Gone Green
Blue Monday
Thieves Like Us
The Perfect Kiss
State of The Nation
Bizarre Love Triangle
True Faith

No Love Lost
From Safety To Where?
These Days
Leaders Of Men
She's Lost Control
Dead Souls
Love Will Tear Us Apart

Thursday, September 15, 2016
SUEDE / THE HORRORS / PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT – Brighton Together The People, 04th September 2016

Towards the end of the British Summer, and Suede, The Horrors, and Peter Hook And The Light play a suburban park in Brighton to around 5,000 people. The 'Together The People' Festival in its first year is a smallish day, bands of a vintage performing to an audience largely, to be honest, made of people of advancing years, parents, or parents having a day off being parents, or parents leaving their children at home with Mum and Dad, or parents here with their kids, of people who are getting older, and to be honest, it's an older crowd that reflects the bands themselves getting older, and wiser. It's odd to be middleaged and listening to songs about taking drugs and gay animal sex in a suburban park on a Sunday night, but it's important to remember where we came from, who we are and who we were and how these experiences shaped us and took us to where we are. If you forget how you got here, you are, after all, lost.

To me, though, moments like this, nights like this are the reason why. Suede allow us to be who we are, not who the asphalt world forces us to be. The kind of people who read books and get up when we want not when the alarm clock orders us to wake. This is why I keep doing this ; to get glimpses of a world that exists for hours at a time then disappears, when we are free. Where we are not bound by rash decisions of twenty years ago and where we can be who we want to be. It might be odd to sing of the way we used to be, and nostalgia is a dangerous drug, but only in moderation.

Arriving at 5.45, I turn up just in time for Peter Hook and The Light. They're a faithful, but ersatz reproduction of New Order. Given that the band are the half-million selling Monaco with the addition of Hook's son Jack on bass, it's somewhat fraudulent to see the predictable set of thirty year old songs that 80% of the musicians on stage had no role in writing. Like Brian Wilson and an army of hired hands. And whilst they are executed flawlessly, and with plenty of flair, The Light are given an hour in afternoon light to present a relative reproduction of Joy Division and New Order songs such as “Blue Monday”. If New Order didn't exist any more, it would probably be thrilling. But The Light are a tribute act to past glories.

The show is good, and to those who haven't seen him before, impressive. But what it lacks is the sense of spectacle and euphoria, the sense of, as his former band often had, of it being unique – for better and for worse, it is predictable, with a standard setlist of 11 or so 'greatest hits' from the first decade of Joy Division/New Order that will please. But it is, if I am honest, not quite as valid as seeing his former bandmates perform these songs. Hook has a unique sound, and one that I miss hearing on new songs. The Light have been touring for six years now, and released not one note of original music. It's a determined backwards look into how good things used to be. I had a great time, but am under no illusion it is anything more than what it is.

Peter Hook :
She's Lost Control,
The Perfect Kiss,
Blue Monday,
True Faith,
Love Will Tear Us Apart

I last time saw The Horrors around 500 yards away from here, supporting Jarvis Cocker 7 years ago. I didn't like them then and I don't like them now. And there are friends to meet, and food to eat, and drinks to drink.

Suede, meanwhile, close their summer season with a verve and passion that would show up other bands. I saw them supporting a lesser band that was greater loved, and tonight, they have an audience that deserves them ; and respond accordingly. It's no greatest hits set – for they open with two b-sides – but a passionate show of no small meaning. This isn't just another Suede show : it's the closest the band have played to where Mat and Brett grew up this millennia, executing a set of vital album tracks, hits, and oddities that are a determined statement of intent.

Brett Anderson lives vicariously through the show, Suede enjoying the kind of second act in their career that is practically impossible for most bands. One where the newer songs are as good as the old ones. Richard Oakes is as engaged as ever, and he owns these songs. Neil Codling meanwhile has perfected his integration, seemingly both aware of, distanced from, and immersed in – how ridiculous and fabulous something like being in a band can be. Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert have been in the band since near enough inception, and stamp an assured authority over the songs ; albeit they haven't been at every gig thanks to Mat Osman falling foul of fuckwit Visas and Simon falling victim to fuckwit Tuberculosis. Suede now as good as they ever were – which is to say, not better than ever, but certainly at their best.

Being no greatest hits set, the evening is laid bare by the simple power of sound : “The Next Life” is dedicated to Brett's mother, who died 27 years ago to the day of the show. “By The Sea” that precedes it, sees Brett tell us of the morning he walked his children by the beach, reminding him of his own childhood by the same beach. Life comes in circles. Newer songs such as “It Starts And Ends With You” and “Sabotage” sit comfortably and without any gap next to old classics. And whilst only one song from this years tremendous “Night Thoughts” gets an airing, that album has is strength in being experienced as a block, a whole, a cohesive unit where each song compliments each one around it. And thus, “I Can't Give Her What She Wants” is sung by Brett without a microphone as the rest of the band make a delicate squall around him, and what is apparent is this isn't just some bloke clocking on for 80 minutes a night for a paycheque, but a valid artistic rebirth.

There's a typical, predictable greatest hits run of several singles in order. But Suede know their audience. They may have performed “Metal Mickey” at 95% of shows since early 1992, but it is their 'Ace of Spades', and when you have this many hits, you can't help but benefit from a plethora of riches. It is undimmed by time.

Given the importance of the show – 27 years since a death in the family, the nearest show to home in 17 years, and 20 years to the day since the release of “Coming Up” - it sees the band in a sense of euphoria. As a result, they play the first song the band wrote for “Coming Up”, their second debut, the powerful and often un-noticed “Picnic By the Motorway”. It's a final romp through the only song from 'Dog Man Star' – a rampaging beast of “New Generation”, and then by 10pm, it's time to move on. To work tomorrow. Back, to the world of jumble sale mums and office furniture. Every Monday Morning Comes.

Suede :
Europe Is Our Playground,
Killing Of A Flashboy,
Animal Nitrate,
He's Dead,
By The Sea,
The Next Life,
The Drowners,
It Starts And Ends With You,
I Can't Give Her What She Wants,
She's In Fashion,
So Young,
Metal Mickey,
Beautiful Ones,
Picnic By The Motorway,
New Generation

Thursday, August 25, 2016
JOHN GRANT, Bexhill De La Warr Pavillion, 28 July 2016

Somewhat by stealth, John Grant has become popular. Now, selling out the Royal Albert Hall is no small feat, and without a hit as such, or much in the way of radio or TV play, the word of Grant spreads somewhat by word of mouth. Bexhill in the summer, at the gorgeous De La Warr Pavillion – one of my favourite venues in the world, an Art Deco masterpiece backing onto a beach after all, is considerably smaller than many venues he plays in the UK. Promoting last years “Grey Tickles, Black Pressure”, on paper Grant sounds like an unsellable proposition : witty self loathing wrapped in music with electronic / horror soundtrack overtones, alongside a man who looks like “The Thing”-era Kurt Russell in his late 40's. Pretty much the antithesis of our current cultural musical discourse, which is something so generally alien to me I feel like an old man yelling at clouds.

It's a long way from playing to 150 people in a tent in Scotland's yoof-obsessed T in The Park, where 80,000 stand in a field watching some gonk press buttons on his laptop instead of something more... live. I feel so old discussing it, but when you see one guy playing a DJ set of material with video screens it's not 'live'. There's no risk. No variation. Just a rote repetition. In effect, you're paying some guy to press play. The musician is actually a projectionist. It's not a show, as such – the audience are the show, because they're the only thing that ever changes.

Even a standard electronic show, where the majority of the show is somewhat predictable, albeit recreated live, is more 'real'. There's more engagement, more work. Of course, none of it matters. What matters is how we feel. How we respond. How the audience work. If the role of art is to communicate and engage, as long as the communication breaches the gap between people, then it is successful.

Backed by the same band he's had for ages (albeit with a new drummer in the shape of the showy Budgie, once of Siouxsie And The Banshees), Grant shows how live this is, by changing his mind after the first song and playing “Marz” second. Can't imagine Duplo – or whatever DJ I saw on BBC4 headlining a huge fucking field in Scotland to Buckfast Chavs – doing that.

Concerts are like sex – an intimate connection that exists only for a short time between the people in that room that can never be undone. IT may be forgotten. But it can never unhappen. It would be tedious if it was always the same, wouldn't it? That's what this feels like. Music can be intimate, personal, and human. Not just a bunch of noise to lose your shit to in a field.

Being then, the adventures of a late middle aged hitless American singer with a friendly cult following, John Grant's audience feels like.. a musical episode of Hairy Bikers – or perhaps, a night out with a close friend. There's no demographic. Front row of the balcony are sensitive pensioners, nestled next to troubled sensitive young men, and boring sensitive couples, and everything else in between. From Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z. OH man, feelings. I only listen to music to let me feel, because the rest of the world is too much. Some shows you go to, and you see the crowd, and you know who they are. This audience is broad in age and style, and John Grant is the rare type of artist who's fans you can't pick out walking down the street. But then again, his material isn't .. specfic.. it's aimed at humans, about humans, with sharp wit and no shortage of insight. You think you're going down a certain avenue, and then there's suddenly a song about Hitler, cult movie Heavy Metal Parking Lot, and honeymoons in Chernobyl. Sincerity is wrapped in a tight, perceptive noose, the rug is out from under your feet and then there's a song that openly makes you laugh when you first hear it.

And in this, there's also songs that just freeze, forever, emotions that I was never able to capture that I have lived years with ; a line as simple as “I still keep trying to figure out how I become irrelevant, how I got evicted from his heart.” sums up one specific, horrific year of my life. A year where everything unravelled and the narrative of reality became a David Lynch film. Songs shed light on lives, and help us live it. In some ways, these songs are a friend, and isn't that all you need from songs? Music isn't just a bunch of noise, but a painkiller, an ally, a friend, a voice in the wilderness. And in it, John Grant is truthsayer and joker, who takes songs of sincerity, and delivers them with a vicious joke at the end, that makes it just sweet enough to savour. At points, these songs leave you on the verge of tears of recognition, then laughing at the absurdity of near enough everything. Just like life itself.

Down Here
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
It Doesn't Matter To Him
Pale Green Ghosts
Snug Slacks
You And Him
Queen Of Denmark
Chicken Bones

Jesus Hates Faggots
No More Tangles
Voodoo Doll

Tuesday, August 02, 2016
NED'S ATOMIC DUSTBIN - "B-sides The Seaside" - Brighton Concorde 2, 23 July 2016

Let’s not think too much about time, or its dreary passing. Or what this is. It’s a summers day at the seaside. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin make their first appearance here since November 1994, and it’s a special, one-off appearance ; admittedly, averaging three gigs a year, all Ned’s shows are somewhat special, but this is the first Ned’s show ever to eschew the usual greatest hits, or ‘album in full’, with an unusual set made of largely obscure non-album tracks, live premieres, and generally obscure stuff targeted solely to the hardcore Ned’s fan. After all, over half the set comes from long lost 12” singles

These days, it isn’t just about seeing the band. It’s about an excuse – no, a reason – to go to some farflung town, see friends who only ever meet at gigs, talk, drink, laugh, eat fish and chips, and jump around a bit to songs we loved when we were half this age. We’re all scattered around the globe – or Europe mostly – these days. We’re all in a world with kids and illnesses and age and the real world getting in the way, and yet, we’re still trying, dammit to be who we are ; and not who the world forces us to be. Even the band, who squeeze these shows in inbetween work calendars, annual leave, team rotas and parents evenings.

I generally tend to tell you how great this band are, despite the name and the fact most people think of them as a comedy band. Because we all had awful haircuts and terrible clothes in 1992. I love the sound this band has, and the honesty of the lyrics. Though I grew up in near enough the same town the band did at the same point in time (with the same cultural reference points), it's only now,outside of it, I realise that seeing people from Top Of The Pops and the cover of the NME in the club in town was weird. It just felt... normal. It was my normal, anyway. Seeing this band felt normal, and regular. It still is.

Shorn of marketable anniversaries (apart from a 21st birthday for final, and commercially unsuccessful, BrainBloodVolume), the approach is simply a day by the seaside of b-sides. As a result, they open with “Take Me To Cleaners”, which hasn’t been played since… 1994? “Saturday Night” hasn’t been played… ever. And probably never will ever again. (Shame. It goes down a blinder).

Aside from that, the set is either made of rarely, or never played obscurities – most of which were last played 25 years ago – or a handful of hits. Where the Neds were always under-rated, trapped inside a box they never deserved, they were smarter than they were given credit for. In this day and age, the songs themselves have aged well : the unique two-bass-and-guitar configuration, where the bass ride on two separate frequencies, and the guitar is often the underlying rhythm that matches the drums makes for a particular, and rare combination of noises. Frankly I love it, and I can’t pretend I don’t. Some of the very early songs are somewhat slight – “Plug Me In” is probably the best Ramones song they never wrote – but even then there’s a charm to them, a naivety, or if you prefer an innocence. If we could capture that and bottle it, we’d be rich. The best we can hope for, really, is get these two or three minute wormholes in time back to another age. In this moment, the songs speak to me as I am, and who I was. It’s a joy to hear them again. And there’s also an assortment of the well known hits. And I can’t remember the last time I saw this band and they didn’t play “Until You Find Out.” Or “Stuck”. The last time I remember “Faceless” being played live was.. December 1991. It may only be a one off show in a glorious seaside town where you can turn one way and see the band, and the other way you can see the pier, and a beach. In another world, this band would have stayed huge and Blur would be touring a 25th anniversary of “Leisure” in full for three nights at the Dog & Duck inbetween their day jobs. No justice.

Not that I am nostalgic – I have never, actually, been happier in my world than 2016 overall. I may have been younger, hairier, thinner… but not happier. It may only be 75 minutes in a joyous time capsule of songs that were, in many cases, last played live when John Major was Prime Minister, my mother was alive, before Minimum Wage, and when I didn’t earn enough to pay tax, but it’s not about the passing of time, but how true you are. You shouldn't pretend the past never happened. Or be stuck there forever. It was what it was. One night in the life of 400 or so people. Where a band played songs that they hadn't touched in over 20 years in many cases, and where setlist trainspotters are excited about the first, only, and last performances of some of these songs. A moment that lived, breathed, and died, that now exists only in memory, as they all do, and always will. This, this fragment of words I just an attempt of feel the sand slipping through fingers. To see the songs as they live again. Happy?

Take Me To The Cleaners
Saturday Night
Plug Me In
Not Sleeping Around
Walking Through Syrup
Self Defence
Flexible Head
Grey Cell Green

45 Second Blunder

Saturday, July 30, 2016

In which a while, male man offers an opinion.

Already I've seen ridiculous – and undeniably stupid – comments from people who call this film 'pro-feminist, man-hating propaganda'. People who by their own admission haven't even seen the film, but seen the trailers. That’s why these comments are stupid. (The trailers are rubbish, by the way).

I understand the... fear. We live in a time of a dearth of original ideas. Of remakes, and reboots, of sequels, and prequels. Of tone deaf stupidity, where the plots don't make sense, where the characters misjudge the source material, where Batman and Superman and Aliens and Predators are all exploited ruthlessly by bored and cynical executives to make money by creating appallingly bad films that make this day and age look idiotic but make money. Where it seems.. OK.. to have a film where a psychotic billionaire orphan in a suit can punch an alien Superman, until they bond over their mothers having the same name. An all female Ghostbusters sounds, on paper, fucking awful. A terrible gimmick placed on top of a pointless cynical moneygrab. A joyless excuse to make profit by raping a well known, and much loved, modern legend with a self-consciously quirky, somewhat unjustifiable, spin.

I get it. I really do. And on paper – and by the atrocious trailers – the film looked like all my fears come true. It could have been one of the worst films ever made, an utterly awful, degrading pillage of the original concept. The film was poorly sold and pitched, and every bit of pre-release publicity looks utter crud. I completely understand if you don't see it because you think it's a pointless remake that looks unfunny. If you're boycotting it because its manhating political correctness gone mad from Hollywood liberal gay jews, you’re an idiot and I'll never get that… and this is why we can't have nice things. It’s Venk-MAN, not Venk-LADY, after all.

But you're wrong. This isn't a remake, or a sequel. It's a film about “Ghostbusters” in an alternate universe. Remember that all the ghosts caught in the original film go... somewhere? This might very well be the alternate reality they go into. A world where Stantz got drunk and flunked the exam, and became a cab driver. Where Zeddemore never answered an ad that was never placed, and became an undertaker. A world where there is a covert government agency that deals with these things, but less a Men In Black and more a Men In Black, Boring Suits.

Judged by any standard it's a fun film. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But it stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of re-imaginings/remakes that comprise modern blockbuster films. Maybe we've been trained by 30+ years of dreck by Michael Bay, Damon Lindelof, and Zack Snyder – but that's the world we live in now.

Plot wise, it's slight, but – at the same time – it works. Like many modern films, the key villain's motive is at best, slender, at worst, non-existent. Then again, the key villain isn't really a villain at all – and the villan is both unknown (and unknowable), with a motive of simple world domination. For some people that’s motive enough. Remember bad guys are bad guys because they do things that are bad, that we could never consider, for reasons that don’t make sense to us.

The key thing to remember here is that “Ghostbusters” now is, however you slice, not only a damn good comedy horror thing, but also – and this is important at the back – a parody of dunderheaded macho movies. Chris Hemsworth's character Kevin may be obviously too stupid to breathe, but – but – that's the point. We've all seen films where the female sidekick is a terrified, squealing bimbo who would die after 28 seconds in the real world, or could be replaced by a sexy lamp with no obvious effect : make that same imbecile male, and suddenly all the menchildren are squealing about feminazi propaganda like the eejits they are.

Ghostbusters” merely makes that terrible cliché male, and shows how painfully inane objectification is. If you don't get that, they're making the point about people like you. (Hemsworth has some gold in here, and it's a playful side of him I wish we'd see more).

Of the 'Ghostbusters', each character takes elements from the original team, and re-positions them. Kate McKinnon is Spenglers tech genius, mixed with Stantz's puppyish enthusiasm. Leslie Jones Patty veers into cliché, with the standard backchattin' loud tough black gal stereotype seen in dozens of similar films, but also a unquestioning acceptance, which there should be more of. Ghosts are real, and whilst they are rare, I’ve been in enough situations to know they are a tangible fact. All consciousness is energy that is released from the vessel of the body into a different form at death. Sometimes that form just happens to be a huge floating blob of angry CGI.

But you know, ain't nobody needs another fucking Ozzy Osborne cameo.

Thank Zuul for that.

The film propels along, with a wellpaced tone and structure, no obvious plot holes (which, by the way, I can’t believe has to be mentioned as a positive), a sense of escalation, and works well. The cameos are – frankly – pointless and illjudged,but, overall, the film has enough invention, charm, and wit to stand on its own. It won’t set the world alight because.. you can’t catch a ghost in a trap twice.. but it is certainly much better than near enough everything at a cineplex recently. And it pisses off the manbabies who moan about man-hating feminazi’s, so hey, I’m in for that!

Monday, July 25, 2016
PET SHOP BOYS, Inner Sanctum, Royal Opera House, 20 July 2016

Three decades is a long time. Pet Shop Boys, now on their 42nd hit single, their 13th album, their 35th year together, have cemented their position to institutions, to great artists – fit to rank alongside … But they don't get respect. Unfairly denigrated, Pet Shop Boys have become, through a steady and sure march in time, perhaps the greatest British artists of the modern age. They should be spoken of as more than equal to Damien Hirst, and Tracey Emin, and further back, perhaps, Francis Bacon, and a pop Shakespeare.

Nope, this isn't hyperbole. They are that good. Oh, I understand why you don't like them. Guys singing in high voices, dressed as a Jelly Baby, armed with a bank of syntheisisers. It's not real music. But if it moves your heart, your soul, and your feet...it's real. Music unlocks emotions if it makes you feel something other than utter fury at how awful it is, it's real music.

The medium of music is often under-valued. Music – the tangible old format of the 7” single, the four minute song – is often seen as a popular, base taste. There's a snobbery here : you don't see kids enjoying great art (or any Studio Ghibli films, for that matter). Which is nonsense : the song is one of the most important art forms of all time. And Pet Shop Boys are the finest songwriting duo of all time : with a wider palette, a great history, and songs at least as valid as Morrissey/Marr or Lennon/McCartney. They might never get the recognition – after all – it's just pop. But on stage, the Pet Shop Boys art project is fully formed, fleshed out, and realised.

The “Inner Sanctum” tour takes the concept of the privileged VIP area, and gives us an asburd, abstract presentation of some of their greatest work. If they were to play every song of theirs of worth, well, across 14 albums, 4 remix sets, 3 best ofs, 2 B-side compilations, 2 live albums and 4 soundtracks, there's several hundred songs of worth there. Even their b-sides have a mostly classic status hat shows an abundance of riches. There are bad Pet Shop Boys songs, but aside from the 3rd b-side of the 5th single from their 5th album in 8 years, it's hard to think of one.

It's also a show aimed as much for the dancefloor as much as it is the art gallery. The opening salvo sees three live premieres (“Inner Sanctum”, “The Pop Kids”, and “Burn”), as well as the first concert performance of “In The Night” and “West End Girls” all done in the first quarter of an hour. It's a rampaging rhythmic monster. Whilst the band look to comprise just a duo, the first set of staging – two huge white rotating balls on which projections beam out surrounded by lasers, are wheeled off and replaced by a wall of drums mid-song combined with the kind of futuristic smoke, lasers, and strobes that I last saw when I caught most of Pink Floyd at the Albert Hall performing “Echoes”. Think of it really as an irresistable disco Death Star.

Whilst this might, on paper, be the Royal Opera House. It is, as the T-shirts say a night of House Music. There's little pretension – no overriding narrative that soundtracked their groundbreaking 1991 tour. No opera, no ballet, just gorgeously silly – and knowingly silly – pop music with beats the size of planets and lyrics better than most Hollywood blockbusters in 5% of the time. There's also no shortage of hits. Whilst Pet Shop Boys have an abundance of hits, and some setlist staples, “It's A Sin” is now an enormous recreation of the mid-Eighties eight minute disco mix, alongside dollops of “Left To My Own Devices”, and “Always On My Mind”, and “Go West”, and well, you get the picture...

And if “You Get The Picture” isn't a Pet Shop Boys song, it bloody well should be.

Behind the band, a set of interlocking disco circles dance behind the stage, rotating, and lit up with all manner of neon, lasers, and overall bonkersness. In the meantime, there's a reckless abandon at the heart of the show, an acknowledgement of how ridiculous the concept of dancing in an apocalypse is ; and going with it anyway. As the show climaxes in “Domino Dancing” and a reprise of "The Pop Kids".. the stage sees almost as many people on it as in the crowd : 32 dancers in inflatable pastel body suits – looking like E-dropping early 90's Jelly Babies – dance in unison, three drummers pound away huge rhythms.

It's been an incredibly long time since I saw a live show and thought it was worth a lot more. Tonight, with “Inner Sanctum”, I saw easily the best and most impressive Pet Shop Boys show in 25 years. I advise you – strongly – to see this show, let go of yourself, and dance your arse off.

Inner Sanctum
West End Girls
The Pop Kids
In The Night
Love Is A Bourgeouis Construct
New York City Boy
Se A Vida E
Twenty Something
Love Comes Quickly
Love Etc
The Dictator Decides
Inside A Dream
Home And Dry
The Sodom And Gomorrah Show
It's A Sin
Left To My Own Devices
Go West

Domino Dancing
Always On My Mind
The Pop Kids (reprise)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Fiio X5 Review

When Apple killed the iPod, one of my fears was real. The world where you could hold all the music ever, in a box the size of a chocolate, in your pocket, was suddenly eliminated by Apple's fetish for making everything streaming and inside their controlled, walled garden.

The Fiio X5 is the nearest thing to the iPod replacement there is. It's compact yet powerful with faithful audio reproduction, a good Digital Output as DAC, and hefty battery life, with none of the major drawbacks of Apple. Goodbye forever to clunky bloatware and torturous endless updates, limited cable options, nonsensical metadata (where, for example, including Album Artist and Song Artist created another identical Artist folder). Itunes is history. All you need is a file navigation system, and Windows Explorer is more than up to the job.

For the uninitated, there are a number of major – glaring – differences.The battery life is longer. The visual display is nowhere near as smooth, and the default -and unchangeable – colours of orange-on-black are difficult to see in high brightness environments such as a rare sunny day. Display and controls are analog, and thus you have to rethink (it's as if someone moved the steering wheel or gearstick). All the major iPod functions are there but you have to rethink how you engage the controls. After a few days, these do become second nature. But there will be confusion.

Storage takes a big leap up from the iPod 160GB. There's not a 12GB Operating System, either. First, there's 2 x microSD card mounts with a max supported file size of 128GB. You can mount larger microSD cards, but your mileage may vary and they may not work. Certainly here, they're fine, with the added – and minor – inconvenience of having to remember that you have two storage points, and you have to remember which of the two the chosen song is on. (Me, I just load up A-M on drive #1 and N-Z on drive #2). In effect I have gone from 148GB on the iPod to 256GB on the Fiio. A luxury.

Navigating files and choosing songs can first seem like a pain. Once you grasp that it is no limit : you simply browse files by folder (you can use artist, but then “ACDC”, “AC DC”, “AC-DC”, “AC/DC” and “AC_DC” become a pain quickly). It's all straightforward.

MicroSD cards a minor pain – to be compatable with the X5 and the 128GB SD card size they have to be formatted to FAT32. Windows 8+ above doesn't do this 'out of the box' so you have to find a suitable online application to do so. Once sorted, there is the formatting, and loading of your library onto the microSD cards.

Mass loading of the SD cards is a time consuming effort. Whilst you merely drag and drop in Explorer to load up the card, the only USB option is USB 2.0, and thus, it took me four days of constant copying to fill the newly-formatted microSD's. Baffling there is no USB3.0 option (which is much faster and more efficient).

Finally, the X5 also comes with a rubberised protective case as standard, alongside plenty of dongles and wire and cables. No need for expensive addons, extra cases, or anything like that, just the X5 as is, alongside 2 x microSD cards.

Sonically, reproduction seems warm. Metal and Rock is slightly tinny but thats probably more of a reflection of modern headphones. Electronic music is warm, bassy and expansive.

Overall, since moving to this when my ancient iPod 160GB died a few weeks ago, I have no regrets about my decision – excepting the boring and timeconsuming setp process which you will need to also do for any new bit of kit. The iPod is dead, Long Live the Fiio X5.

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