NOEL GALLAGHER'S HIGH FLYING BIRDS - London York Hall - 01 November 2017
Has there ever been a better time to be Noel Gallagher? Well, probably – Noel after all was in Oasis, and headlined Knebworth twice as often as Queen. But now, Noel Gallagher seems to be king of his world ; leading a solo band, unshackled from an abusive relationship with his brother, master of his own destiny and it seems happier than he’s been in a long time. Tonight’s show at the York Hall in Bethnal Green sees him premiering most of his new songs live, alongside around 7 older songs, at a competition winners event in a boxing hall in what is, I think, his only headlining show of the year.
It’s different from other gigs. Our phones are all locked up in snot green pouches to prevent bootlegging the new songs, and so the inevitable home release isn’t just full of idiots filming the show with their bright screens. The audience is somewhat less rowdy, and an introductory DJ set by David Holmes sounds like a broad and fascinating romp through the influences you didn’t get in Oasis : I can hear something of every song he plays in Noel’s solo songs.
OH SHUT UP MAN, TELL ME ABOUT THE NEW SONGS NOBODY ELSE HAS HEARD YET!!!
So, here we are : in tonight’s set there are five new songs, and two of them are played live for the first time. Noel and his band (occasionally expanded with a second keyboard player, a Scissors-Player, and various backing vocalists and hornspeople). Of the five songs – “Holy Mountain” is a rollocking, bright and breezy romp – all horns and sunshine and celebration – which sounds like a kid tumbling down a hill endlessly for four minutes and laughing his head off at how silly and great life can be.
Aw, bum, I’ve got to pseuds corner. There’s also “It’s a beautiful world”, which is the most positive song Noel’s put his name to in a long time ; it’s a straight up loveletter to the world. We all define our own reality, to an extent – and our happiness is as much in our own mind and our own perception as it is in the material. This is an instantly memorable song, which is almost predictable, but that’s no bad thing. There’s a few seconds heading into the chorus where you know you’re about to get buzzed by a jumbo jet sized adrenaline rush as the chorus hits, as it’s gorgeous.
We also get live premieres of “Be Careful What You Wish For” and “Black And White Sunshine”. The former is a more delicate and intimate song – and dedicated by Noel to his kids who are in the balcony, and who are … heartmeltingly… singing along to all the songs whilst simultaneously going ‘That’s my Dad!’. It shows you the inside of a life which looks very happy ; the kind of thing that no one sensible would ever begrudge another human being.
“Black and White Sunshine” is more difficult to describe, but to me it’s utterly unpredictable, and that is surprising and enjoyable to experience. One of the great joys of new songs is you’re seeing something new, you don’t know what exactly will happen next or how, and that’s wonderful.
Finally, of the new songs comes “She Taught Me How To Fly” which is a urgent, driving song, with pace and vision and accelerates to a speedy conclusion with a key change that sounds like a black vinyl orgasm.
(Hey, I’m not paid by the word – or paid at all. I just think these songs are really bloody good).
The rest of the set is well known ; there’s three Oasis songs (“Little By Little” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, as well as Noel’s take on the Liam-sung “Champagne Supernova”.) And the way they are treated shows that really, these are Noel’s songs, and he can do what he likes with them. They are still the same songs they always were. At the heart of all these songs is a hopeful cynicism, even down to the way most of the hall sings words like “Going to get away for the summer”, or perhaps in the ultimate example of Dad-rock in a line that has changed over the years from being told, to doing the telling, “Take that look off your face.” In Oasis, Noel’s use of common parlance was one of the best kept secrets, to take phrases we heard coming out of our Mum and Dad’s mouths, and make them new and fresh. Oh yeah, and the tunes.
There’s also three songs from the previous Noel solo albums, and they are like Oasis, but better. You may find it weird, but I prefer solo Noel to Oasis and am very happy that we get to experience both of the brothers as solo identities without having to compromise. Oasis was a fantastic vehicle, but Noel was the driver, and I’ve not seen a band compromise more than them.
Publically, the world is currently facing a Noel vs Liam battle that makes Oasis vs Blur look like peanuts ; in one corner, the assured songwriter who wrote some of the best selling albums of all time with his tenth album under his belt (and a Scissors-player), and in the other the foulmouthed gobshite (and estranged brother) who sang on some of the best selling albums of all time. For two grown men, it’s rather sad. Though, to be honest, it’s just one side having an endless pop like a spurned ex-wife, and the other side shrugging it off as bluster.
Nonetheless, at the release of the third album by him and his ever changing band called The High Flying Birds, Noel Gallagher has entered what I regard as the third act of his life ; beyond the rampaging bluster of early Oasis, the later, more considered post 2000 Oasis (which was effectively a different band with the same name), and now, finally solodom. In some respects, even though Noel wrote almost all the songs, it reminds me of the artistic evolution of an artist like Bowie, or of Pink Floyd – as people change, their songs change, and like everyone, we change over time, our relationship to the songs change, and to an extent, the songs artists play now also reflect the parts of them they feel close to now. With a Noel Gallagher gig, sure he may have written “Live Forever”, or “Wonderwall” or (well, you get the point). The point is, he doesn’t have to play them, and doesn’t feel the need to. There’s so much more to Noel than those songs.
Even if his band is 2/3rds of Oasis (Chris Sharrock on drums, Gem on guitar, and Mike Rowe on keys all first played with Noel in that band), this is the nearest thing to Oasis you can get these days. And it’s glorious fun ; at times it’s practically watching the later period Oasis do the bit where Noel sang his songs and the other fella had a fag backstage. But it’s better than that ; the worst thing about Oasis was respectively the then-singer who reminded me of the kids that bullied you at school, and half the audience, who also reminded me of the kids that bullied me at school. There’s none of that edge tonight.
We all bring our own baggage to a show, but I don’t think I’m unique in this assessment. As a night, it’s a celebration of being here now, not that you were there then – and from the arms aloft sing-your-heart-out of “Don’t Look Back In Anger” to the new songs, that Noel may be any one of a million things but he’s always looking forward.
p.s. I've borrowed the photos from the Internet, but since i) you couldn't take cameras into the gig and ii) I'm visibly in both the crowd shots, I don't mind using them.
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING Hammersmith Apollo 26 October 2017
This wonderfully British band cap off their biggest tour yet with their biggest headline show yet ; and it’s a work of art, with a 2 hour show of conceptual, danceable art rock and approximately 412 special guests. They play almost all of their latest album “Every Valley”, and get every guest from it on stage (with the exception of James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers) for the show.
The nearest comparison I can probably reach with them, conceptually is a modern day rock Kraftwerk, effortlessly melding spoken word interview segments from history around a danceable framework of grooviness to create a sum more than the parts : for tonight, the set is constructed in such a way as to enhance and add to the existing material as much as it is to present the new stuff. From the first record, which was built around the struggle of war, and the next, around the innovation of space, the new one – “Every Valley” touches on something much closer to home – the nature of identity, work, and labour, using the closure of the Welsh pitmines forty years ago as the key in the lock.
Whilst watching these songs, the old footage of derelict Welsh towns I know well from spending many years in Wales, and feeling the same, nationwide loss from the time these are just songs about Welsh miners. They’re songs about my childhood as well – a world that no longer exists – a world where you could buy a house on a single income (or buy a house, at all), a world where the women did the house work and the men went to work, and the identity was in that, and where the books just about balanced and where Dad worked and Mum didn’t. This is the world that has been swept away by rampant capitalism, and a coldness that isn’t in the weather. Part of the songs though, now build a third level into the past – all of the industry is mankind, as a whole, building towards something – advancing technology through work at war, advancing mankind through conquering space, and advancing survival through energy.
As a show though it’s assured : the stage set is made of multiple projections, and two huge prop Steelmill turnwheels, alongside an assortment of suspended lightbulbs, to create an atmosphere, aided by a lively set of fluently executed instrumental rock that sounds simultaneously futuristic, retro, and utterly of the moment, whilst also reminding me of the best TV soundtrack theme tunes you never heard. It’s utterly Mark Catnip for me, and where the heck have that band been all my life?
The hits – if anyone has hits anymore – are all delivered authoritavely – in “Spitfire”, “Go”, “Everest”, “Night Mail”, “Sputnik” – as well as new songs that will become live staples in future. The show ends, surprisingly, with the Male Welsh Voice Choir (I think) performing “Take Me Home” – the albums finale, before the band come out and shake the hands of the front row in an emptying venue. It’s quite a victory really, for an act as determinedly singleminded of vision to slowly rise to this point as an autonomously entity, but it’s a better world for it, and a great night with friends new and old. Art communicates. It brings people together. It opens minds. It makes the world a better place. It cheers me up, and makes me dance. What more can you ask?
Theme From PSB
The Now Generation
Theme From Korolev
People Will Always Need Coal
They Gave Me A Lamp
The Other Side
You And Me
Take Me Home
METALLICA London o2 24 October 2017
Good god, these tickets are expensive. But then, Metallica tour every 8 or 9 years. So I can kind of divide the year by the pounds. And, most years they only do about 50 or shows. When you're a band that are that big in near enough every country in the world, there's only so many shows left ; and too many cities. And whilst Metallica are still themselves these days, the thrash metal Rolling Stones, they're also a ruthless and efficient business. Like U2, Metallica have become far bigger than they actually are, and Metallica can put their logo on something and sell it to you, they will. If its a skateboard, a beer flask, a fridge, or even, god forbid, music – they will. And the music seems to have become, almost, irrelevant sometimes, or perhaps a small part of what the huge Metallica machine offers.
These tickets by the way, aren't by any standard the most expensive. You can spend £2,000 for a meet-and-greet. Or £300 for “The Whiplash Experience”, whatever that is. Presumably with sandwiches and a complimentary drink. Which is utter bullshit, but if peoplepay it, more fool them.
It doesn't make the show any better, of course. On the back of last years overall unexceptional “Hardwired To Self-Destruct”, the remove of a year has made those songs better : like many great bands, their material takes a while to unlock every intricate depth and flavour. At first listen, “Hardwired” felt like a backstep to the 90's era Metallica, where the band were straddled between thrash metal gods and standard hard rock megastars. With the benefit of a year on the road, “Hardwired” is a better record. And it shows : tonight the band play seven songs from it – more 'new' songs than any previous tour in 25 years – and none of those songs sound as if they don't fit.
It's also, resolutely, a fan-friendly set ; but not a set for the casuals. If you want “Until It Sleeps”, or “St.Anger” dream on. A large number of their hits are now in rotation ; that is played, but rarely. “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Harvester Of Sorrow,” “Fuel”, “The Memory Remains”, or “The Day That Never Comes” - some of them get played some nights –but less than half . Not at all. Tonight, on the second night, the band bring out some of their rarer choices. As is often their way, Night #1 is the more conventional set and Night#2 is always for the rarer material. This lineup of the band can play probably 90% of their large catalogue with minimal rehearsal, aside from the handful of songs they've never played live.
Even in the enormous O2 – the largest indoor venue in Europe – Metallica make it feel intimate ; primarily by not standing at the far corner of the room, but by placing the stage in the centre of the room. Sure, there's huge chunks of choreographed and rehearsed moments ; a huge drum solo with all four members of the band on portable drumkits in “When We're Dead”, or a drone display during “Moth Into Flame”. Also, and perhaps more depressingly, the predictable between song banter contains 3 references to the 'Metallica Family' in the first twenty minutes, 3 references to 'being alive', and we're also asked 4 times 'Can you feel it, Lahndawn?”. There's also the usual flashpoints, lasers, and fire ; all of which exist to prove to you where your money has gone. There's also 48 mobile video cubes with 192 sides hanging from the ceiling that show a mixture of live footage, preshot film, and imagery. It's all slick and professional, and ultimately, quite surprising – yet not. Metallica are one of those bands that dogged powered through with energy and alcohol for about 20 years, and then slowly turned into a precise business surrounded by industry pioneers to become a practiced and determined money making behemoth. The band would have got nowhere if they didn't have the songs, though. They coulda been contenders, and coulda been as big as Great White if the songs just were terrible.
It’s a slick business operation and a ruthless one. Probably the only band that sells so much useless tat with its logo on apart from this lot are Kiss, and were The Beatles. They even have their own record pressing plant for all their vinyl editions.
Thankfully, Metallica aren't playing the same 18 songs in the same set order for 113 shows in a row. This time round, for example, we get “Leper Messiah” (10% of shows), “Confusion” (about 15% of shows), "Last Caress" (2% of shows), "Creeping Death" (10%), and the first time ever performance of “Spit Out The Bone” (1% of current shows). It may not sound like much, but keeping it fresh, changing the song choices around, and presenting something that feels different every night matters – especially in the age of instant broadcasts and accessibility via Periscope and Mixlr and Setlist.fm and YouTube. And since every show is recorded, mixed, and released by Metallica.com, it needs to be different. I love the idea of not knowing, of being surprised. That's why I avoided the Internet – I want to see what it is, and not to be able to predict every last moment.
As it stands, by playing much of the newer material Metallica inspire and annoy. The new record is as good as the others, but newer and not so loved. There’s also a dearth of ‘big hits’ ; with just a quarter of the set being radio hits mostly loaded towards the end. But Metallica aren’t really the kind of band that have hits these days (is anyone?), but instead a self contained, oblivious entity that doesn’t play the chat show game and knows its audience are secure and mostly found. They could play two hours of LP tracks with no huge hits and the audience would probably be just as happy. What’s strangest is seeing this band carry on – 35 years in now – without ever compromising musically [or, by and large, commercially] as a huge business and a huge band. I wouldn’t’ve thought this was where the band was going 30 years ago when I started listening to them ; but then, who was thinking about the future, in the past?
Given the overall scarcity of Metallica tours (this is just the second tour of UK indoor dates in 22 years), I may never see them again. I can’t say for sure if this is the end for me seeing them; probably not. But if so, they put a show as good as any of their past ones I have seen, and keep their reputation intact. Sure, they’ve changed, but the world has changed, we’ve changed, and we keep changing. Always changing, always the same.
The Ecstasy of Gold
Seek and Destroy
Fade To Black
When We're Dead
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Halo On Fire
Moth To Flame
Sad But True
Spit Out The Bone
Nothing Else Matters
MANIC STREET PREACHERS - London Camden Roundhouse - 18th October 2017
Where do we go now?
The Manics are a lifetime into it now. The core faces on stage may have been the same for their entire career (mostly), but it's not the same, and the Manics have become everything they set out to destroy – a careerist rock band, playing nothing but old songs, to diminishing returns.
Ostensibly, this is to mark them winning the Q Award for being an Inspiration. But with only two songs in the set less than a decade old, and with only one new song released in the past three and a half years, the Manics aren't inspired. The past two tours have been nostalgic old-album-in-full shows, alongside a sproadic set of greatest hits shows this year in strange and relatively obscure places like Bingley, Overton, Penrith, Llangolen. What exactly are the Manics up to now?
They came out of the gates so hard, so urgently, so fast, that the state of the band today is almost the sound of artistic defeat : have they anything left to say? Do they want to say... anything? Every song here might be fabulous, and in some cases, rarely played, but there's too much looking back, too much coasting, too much resting on laurels, not enough artistry, not enough creativity.
So really, it's 'just another Manics gig' (and their first in London that is just the songs, and not an album-played-in-full retrospective in nearly four years), and whilst just another Manics gig is a glorious experience, this is also becoming long in the tooth. Staid. Predictable. Boring, even, with 93% of the set comprising their hit singles – near enough one from every album – alongside “No Surface All Feeling”, and, for the first time in Britain for 13 years (and only the eighth time ever), the wonderful “A Song For Departure.”
The old songs (and they are all old songs now) are executed with a familiar and practiced ability. The Manics have clearly become a very, very good band and have been for a long time. But they aren't the band they used to be, even if the core lineup hasn't changed in 28 years. Some of these songs are lifechanging, and by my standards, wonderful. But the Manics are fast falling over the horizon of relevancy. And for a band that, at one point to me, seemed directly hardwired into the spirit of the times, that they have become largely a hermetic, sealed and contained insular universe, is the beginning of the end.
It's not too much to expect a headline set to last over 65 minutes is it? Or to expect a band to have new songs? Unlike others, The Manics never went fallow, or had several years off, or split up, or had a falling out with an incompetent and useless record company : all that happened was that the muse has mostly deserted them. I can't keep going if they become a museum.
What a glorious past they have ahead of them.
Everything Must Go
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough
Walk Me To The Bridge
You Stole The Sun
A Song For Departure
Little Baby Nothing
You Love Us
Show Me The Wonder
A Design For Life
MOGWAI Every Country's Sun
Fiercely prolific, Every Country's Sun is yet another Mogwai album : in some respects, I don't even know where to review it – or how. If you like the other Mogwai albums, this is just as good as any of those. If you like teeming, pulsing, instrumental math-rock, built on atmosphere and riffs, you'll like this. With barely any vocals, their songs shimmer like the long fade out of the sun on a summers day. There's an elegance anda beauty in there ; and “Coolverine” is a name for a song that doesn't officially, mean anything, but it doesn't need to mean anything – does it? A name is just a 'tag' to identify an object – a way of differentiation from others : and therefore, also a degree of seperation.
It's difficult to hang this on anything as straightforward as a 'song'. Mogwai have them, of sort ; they have movements, codas, they have motifs, and effect are a rock band playing a set of instrumental themes and imaginary soundtracks to films that will never be made that exist only in your mind. The album is another, generally superior, Mogwai album that captures the ability to look inward and self-explore with a soundtrack. Other acts try and fail to achieve this sense of self, this assured, confident fluency where it appears there is no gap between the player and the instruments, and – on the grounds of what I saw at Primavera – their new configuration seems invigorated and hungry again. A new dawn and another solid experience of evocative, post-rock glory.
DAVID GILMOUR Live In Pompeii
At 70, David Gilmour is already older than David Bowie ever was. 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. “Live at Pompeii” might be his final statement, and as such, it's a glorious reminder – and capturing – of an artist nearing the end with is powers intact.
There's a broad selection of both newer solo songs and classic Pink Floyd songs, as well as (on the deluxe edition) a wealth of extra documentary material. Visually it is immaculate and sonically precise and exact.
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. 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. But here, on film, it will last forever.
With a set built on the majority of the most recent album “Rattle That Lock”, Gilmour is 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.
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.
The sound is solid, the performance valid, and ultimately, it feels more like Gilmour's solo band – whereas the 2006 live line up was barely removed from the final touring period of Pink Floyd. 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, the fluency with which this 70 year old man dispatches songs he wrote when he was 25 is glorious.
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.
Musically as well, as with everything Gilmour touches, there's an elegant precision that betrays an enormous amount of thought, a 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.
It may seem like nothing very much, but blistering takes on the relatively 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. If this is the final Gilmour live document, then it stands equal to anything from his career.
The time is gone. The song is over. Thought I'd have something more to say.
THE THE : Radio Cineola Trilogy
Where the heck has Matt Johnson been? 17 long years since his last song-based, major release, 17 long years which has seen many of his fans move from youth to clear late middle-age, and Matt Johnson releases his first major statement in far too long, backed up with the first live shows from his band in 16 years. And though, on the surface, this 3CD set is promising, it is also a canny, almost cynical way of completely avoiding his talents and expectations.
In many ways, this release is a complete statement of defiance against your own muse. The first CD, “The End Of The Day” is a selection of cover versions of old The The songs (stretching back to 1981), all sensitively interpreted – but also a continuation of an idea of replacing b-sides with covers that The The first launched unsuccessfully in 1999. The interpretations are well handled – but none add stunning new light onto the originals, nor do they better any of the originals. And, perhaps most obviously, 2011's re-recording of “Giant” with DJ Food, and 2007's “Mrs Mac” are both absent. Thankfully, the one new The The song in the past decade - “You Can't Stop What's Coming” is here. And it's quite OK, but not a stunning new classic that you will cling to forever as a work of godlike genius.
CD2 is “The Inertia Variations”, a 70-part, 43 minute spoken word piece that sees Matt narrate a poem by John Tottenham with unusual sound effects. It is quite, quite indulgent. Possibly the kind of thing that even Kate Bush or Scott Walker would reject as unwise. Presumably taken from the documentary film about Matt's inability to ever do anything for decades on end whilst he eats, sleeps, and generally behaves in a way that is oblivious to his talents and abilities, it is quite simply a listen-once-and-not-again release. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but I have to be a lot more productive in my own life than lie down and contemplate my navel for 17 years at a time, and the music contained here (and on CD3) are really the sound of the somewhat aimless instrumental meanderings that would make a 2-minute b-side on the back of a 1986 12”. It's almost insensitive to glory in the ability to be so utterly inert. Now, whilst everyone creative has a degree of inertia, or writers block, of being unable to force what must flow naturally, this second CD is utterly annoying given how hard everyone else has to work. From a philosophical perspective, I have no issues with a well earned rest, but with just six albums (and at least three unreleased ones) in the first 20 years, and just two songs in the past 17, it seems craven and oblivious to the world which The The exist in.
CD3 is “Midday to Midnight”, which compiles some 36 instrumental themes (over 52 minutes) that Johnson has worked on, and again, is the sound of The The utterly missing the point. As a band, The The is the creative extension of Johnson's identity, and yet, Johnson has become largely featureless. (The band released three soundtrack albums between 2011-2014, and a private pressing of instrumental film music in 2002 : effectively absenting themselves from their arena). In many ways, The The could have been contenders : they could have been as culturally relevant and active as many of their then peers – at one point, neck and neck with The Smiths, New Order, Depeche Mode – but instead chose to abdicate responsibility.
This release won't restore that loss, but instead restate - and show perhaps too clearly – that few acts have suffered such a visible and obvious commercial and artistic decline through inactivity and indulgence. Even a long, long overdue reissue programme appears to have come to naught : The The haven't even bothered with a responsible and comprehensive reissue programme of past work to 'fill the gaps', issue long lost VHS tapes on DVD, and scoop up the lost and obscure b-sides once released on a 1983 flexidisc attached to Record Mirror.
There's hope of course, that The The could stun and wow with next years live shows, and perhaps even, Johnson could remove his muse from his rear end and deliver a set of songs and play them live ; hardly the most demanding of hopes, but I don't hold out much for it.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM American Dream
And what once was gone, is back again. And older, and wiser. And unlike anyone else, LCD are the band that have at least words to back up the music. There's bands that sound similar to LCD, and in some ways, bands that are better, but why don't I Love them, the way I love LCD?
LCD are a band that did what every band did. They came, they saw, they disappeared. And now, for a second, they are back and showing us. Like an old friend you haven't seen for a while, or one who's moved to the other side of the world you will never kiss again, suddenly reappearing.
If anything LCD Soundsystem are the silver fox of bands. Growing more beautiful with age. The songs are the same, yet different. The same people, but wiser. After a long goodbye, which saw them – and us – saying goodbye to something, quitting at exactly the right time, before they got too boring, too predictable, too normal, or before time dulled the blade of their work, LCD came back. Opening the door. And showing us that now, the hair is grey, the suits are a bit tatty, but the heart is as strong as ever. The grooves are still there. Aging, with integrity, is beautiful. Aging, but still being who you are, not fighting it but embracing it, is beautiful.
For some bands, a seven year gap is the blink of an eye. For others, their entire lifetime. But here, American Dream cuts slyly both way. America is dreaming. America has just woken from the long nightmare of peace and prosperity. America dreams of what it could be. Everyone's dream is different – some a place of happiness and sunshine. Others of a clean white land where there are no dreamers, and no dreams.
The elephant in the room is David Bowie. He's in every second of this. Every groove. Murphy remixed some of Bowie's last material, and contributed to the final Blackstar. Some of the lyrics are direct lifts from conversations and emails he had with Bowie : American Dream is as much about seeing the world change around you and wondering what your position is in that world (if you have one, anymore), and seeing everything changing, and aging in a young world, as much as anything. As a man racing through middle age, one day at a time, this is my battle.
“I never realised how much artists thought about dying”, Murphy sings. And he's right. All art is some way of trying to achieve immortality, conscious or not. American Dream is an imagining of identity and where we all are in the modern world, to a fluid and lovely sound.
American Dream comes from a land where everyone is dying is the future LCD now live in : where everything changes and decays. In some respects, this is the legacy – or the hangover – of the decade before. Nobody dies, they just grow older and disappear. And now people are dying, the band are back, before its too late. This isn't the movies, where Superman comes back from the dead before the end credits. LCD were dead and gone, and now they are not. They are back, and alive, and the music is as good as anything they have done before. It's a “comeback” done perfectly – with new songs as good as old songs.
ROGER WATERS is this the life we really want?
Oh, I have missed this man. One of the most fascinating things about artists – musical, or otherwise – is seeing the journey through life. How we change. How they change. How the world changes. How we... adapt to the passing of time. And with this, finally, Roger Waters lays out his stall with an album as good as almost anything he's been part of.
Sonically the nearest touchpoint for this is Pink Floyds “Animals” : “Is This The Life We Really Want?” is an angry, idealistic album, of pulsing and urgent songs, lyrically fierce, and dripping in substance. Shorn – thankfully – of the need for a theme or a narrative to tie the songs together, this album, instead thankfully eliminates the pretence, the shoehorned story, and steers away from that to concentrate on simply writing and releasing the best songs he can.
There may not be money in releasing a record anymore, Ozzy Osborne, but artists do things because the art demands it – not because it's a Return On Investment.
25 years is a long time. And Roger Waters has had 25 years between albums. In that time there's been two live albums, a compilation, an opera, three world tours, and a short Pink Floyd reunion. There's been numerous – dozens – of songs that have been fitfully released or played live : any of which is the equal of anything on here. Waters hasn't stopped creating, but had a crisis of confidence after “Amused To Death”. At last, here, he has pulled the trigger. Has pulled no punches. Gone for the throat with a clear state-of-the-nation address this world needs artistically. Where are the protest songs? HERE.
“Is this the life we really want?” is an urgent record, a final and desperate imploring, about the state of the world, and what happens next : built on the soundscape that we are familiar with from all the previous records Waters has had a hand in, an atmospheric and elegant sound, bolstered with a pulsing and biting sound. If anything, the album is most definitely a cornered liberal animal, forced into a position of uncomfortable confrontation, trying to open eyes. Like all of his records for the past forty of so years, the eternal conflict that is our reality – the gap between power and the powerless, the seemingly eternal balance that is now sadly tipped in the wrong favour – is the cornerstone of this record, a keen fight. These are where the protest songs are – and it's embarrassing that the most powerful artist tackling this is a 70-something. Whilst this might be the only 'rock' album Waters has released in the past 25 years, it's also as good as anything he's released since 1972. (After all, most albums are better than “Atom Heart Mother”), equal then to the most part of high high watermarks as member of Pink Floyd and his own solo activity.
If Pink Floyd are your thing, try this – a searing, angry, vital and deeply moral record that breathes with an urgency that shows that passion is not the preserve of youth.
THE EMOJI MOVIE
There are two types of movie for children. The ones made by people who don't hate parents, and the ones made by people who really, really fucking hate parents.
“The Emoji Movie” is in the second type. It is the worst film I have seen at the cinema in 17 years. Since Battlefield Earth. The first film in that long I have invented a need to go to the toilet, just to give my weary brain some respite from watching / enduring this endless litany of animation and noise. The first film in a very very long time that seems 10 times longer than it actually is. I guarantee you I have spent longer thinking about the plot writing this review than the three – THREE – scriptwriters spent on this idiotic drivel.
The plot isn't really a plot, but a series of loosely connected scenes linked by some kind of talking, that seems shoehorned around the main corporate sponsors of this. It's a digital version of Mac & Me, without any redeeming features. This isn't so bad it's good, it's so bad it's absolutely fucking terrible.
All of the films enormous plot shortcomings might possibly just be redeemed by the obvious fun & charm the actors might be having making it : a sort of modern day Cannonball Run if you like. But the voice acting is so utterly dull the film is drenched in the sense of contractual obligation and mortgage payments.
Laid out briefly, there's a Emettalike Emoji who wants to be his own person in a world of conformity. A wacky sidekick with secret powers who is practically James-Corden-as-Happy-Batman. A female hacker who fulfills every requirement of Manic Indie Pixie Girl who also happens to be secretly a Princess. There's a series of tasks that need to be fulfilled, each designed around an app on your phone. Go to AppLand! Defeat the monster of CorporateStorageBocks. Access the glory that lies beyond The Firewall and The Cloud. Navigate through MediaPlatform. Call on TweetyBlueBird for help.
This isn't actually a film. It's a long, tedious advertisement for the Google Play Store. A pathetic, and pointless waste of time where you are cynically sold the existence of product and have to pay for the privilege. A film so utterly forgettable that I had to pause and try to remember its title. A film that exists for the sole purpose of separating you and your children from their money. A film that doesn't even pretend to have a reason to exist other than to sell you things. It's approximately 99% advertising, alongside 100% emotionless. It's as if some psychopathic businessman alien pretending to be a human wrote a movie about emotions, using only what he knew from top placed Google Ads and email Spam. It's a jigsaw of scenes from other movies bolted together with a hammer to waste an afternoon in the summer holiday.
“The Emoji Movie” is quite simply one of the worst films ever made, and its short time isn't even a redeeming feature, because at 86 minutes, it feels as it lasts at least six hours of repetitive tedium even more boring than waiting for a bus in the rain. Still, at least James Corden got to pay off most of his mortgage by playing the usual "Fat Comedy Sidekick", so something good came out of this.
If anyone can think what it is though, don't bother to tell me.
U2 - "The Joshua Tree Tour" - London 8-9 July, Dublin 22 July, Brussels 01 August 2017
If you're like me – let's hope you aren't – on 31st December 1989, you would be at home with two cassette tapes, recording U2 at Dublin onto 2 x C60's, whilst your Mum and Dad were out getting drunk.
Since then, everything has changed, and nothing has changed. I'm still that kid, just older and bigger and taller with more years on me.
You may be surprised to hear this, but for me, this tour by U2 – a “Joshua Tree #30 Tour” where they play an old album in full – is one I didn't originally want. Certainly, I get to hear several songs live for the first time. But I don't get the U2 of now. I get a U2 of now, from then, playing songs of then, now. It's kind of weird, and also, somehow, also, a way to go back and glimpse what happened. How we got here. Where we are going, and – in the words of the missed David Bowie – where are we now.
And for the first time, U2 are looking back and travelling forward, not just going forward. This tour – as powerful and well executed as it is – is a reminder, and a restatement, of how good U2 were and not a statement of how good they still are. It's been a long time since then, but it's still then. The band have long been chasing a degree of commercial relevance and currency : but rock is a young mans game, and even the biggest band of all time have to realise that there comes a time when perhaps the game you should play is Being The Best U2 You Can Be, and not anything else. Imagine, if you will, a picture, where The Beatles stayed together, where in 1997 they were touring “Sgt Peppers” in full, and where they were collaborating with The Prodigy. That's the world they could have ended in. That's the world U2 are in danger of touching but this tour is a side step, perhaps a readjustment of direction.
Despite seeing several shows on this tour, and I love seeing U2 tour, but I'd rather, if I'm honest, they be touring something else. It's on the face of it a commercial transaction rather than an artistic endeavour. It's fascinating to see, but a tour where some nights the youngest song is still 13 years old isn't always satisfying. I understand the feeling from many people of the purpose of art and music ; to some, music is the reminder of what you once were, the dreams you had you traded for work and pension plans. To me, and others, what's important and vital is not where I came from, but where I am at. Live in the now. Music and art helps me find where I am in the world today, not where I once was.
At a 30 year remove, the songs that U2 have generally written have always been – like the best songs - out of time, or timeless, beyond the confines of the year of recording, but wider. Sure, there have been cultural touchpoints to individuals that now seem antiquated, but the themes are sadly common – and repeating themselves. “The Joshua Tree” as it was is a record that seems to be fixed in certain economical, ethical, social situations, coming from a time of political class warfare between the workers and the bosses just seconds before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the air that penetrated that album always seemed to be that of a perception very clearly of the pain of inequality, - songs around poverty, hope, or the relationship that exists between people, money, and power. These days, the pendulum of politics has swung back to the same time as the Eighties – what I regard as the political dark ages in the eternal, endless battle between People and Power : these days, by design or not, the subtle war has shifted in the favour of the unequal who have more than they could ever need who still take the little left from the hands of the struggling.
Put in that light, “The Joshua Tree” feels like an album for now that happened to come out 30 years ago. It's depressing to think that for all the advances we've made the past 30 years, some of the key problems still exist : the fierce inequality of poverty, the grinding nature of the system that uses us up and throws us away, and where the journey goes on is still real.
Opening with a short 4 song set of early hits, U2 play the first 30 minutes on a B-Stage in the crowd, with no cameras or video in harsh daylight, effectively supporting themselves (and dependent on where you are in the crowd, they are barely visible dots) showing how they got here and ending with a set built on where they are going next. For each night I see, it's the established warhorses of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Years Day” - the latter of which hasn't been a setlist staple since 1998 – “Pride”, and almost always “Bad.” This early in the set, “Bad” doesn't quite belong here. “Bad” in a show feels like a song that's generally earnt its place as a show closing climax. Here the band are on for less than 10 minutes before they play it. In London and Brussels, the band then slip into a medley of David Bowie's “Heroes” and “Where Are We Now?” (recognising the huge influence he had on near enough everybody, and also in London at least, being a local boy). Bowie's influence has been big on recent tours ; “Space Oddity” was the walk in music on 2009-11's tour, and had a key visual moment on the 2015 shows. Here, the band nail “Bad” ; but it feels too soon. In Brussels, particularly, the band bend and twist the song a little, to a new shape, in the intro with a pounding, building, hypnotic groove. All of this is the band orienting themselves ; this is where we came from, this is where we were.
In Dublin, playing “Bad” is actually a huge disappointment – not because of what it is, but what it isn't. On this tour U2 have brought back 'A Sort of Homecoming' as an occasional song for the first time in 30 years – otherwise having only played it twice between 1988 and 2017. And yet, in Dublin it is bafflingly absent even though the band have a longer stage time set than normal and they're playing their hometown. Despite being played several times, and fan requests at near enough every show and interaction, the band haven't made a gesture to the large number of fans who have flown, in some cases thousands of miles, to get here. It's not that any show is bad – but every band, whether they know it or not, have a contract with the fans to please not just themselves but also others. Not playing that song may be a little thing, but it is the little things that give you away.
It may be that the band didn't like how it was sounding, or that it didn't quite 'gel' for them. The bands opinion isn't always the only one ; after all, if it didn't work – and it would have – even if they didn't think it would, it would have been over in four minutes (about the length of one of Bono's many speechifying interludes) and many, many people would have been very happy. Instead we get the same setlist as Barcelona, and aside from Bono's rambling speeches – and one moment I'll touch on later – the band might as well be playing Zurich from where I am in the crowd. I don't like moaning, for U2 pride themselves on always playing a strong show and earning their money (and what a lot of it there is), but it's fair to say that many many other bands would make a slightly more specialised effort for their hometown show, as well as the show with probably the highest proportion of travelling fans of any of their gigs.
Especially as two songs that are rarely played on the tour that fans have been vocally hoping get played 4 days later in Paris.
It's still staggeringly light, and come barely 9.20, everything suddenly and clearly goes ever so slightly bonkers. “Where The Streets Have No Name” is here : complete with a full, and angry huge wall of red – and whilst this is utter showmanship – I'm staring at U2, looking just like the cover to the “Desire” single – in Dublin. It's definitely the image that defines the tour. The guitar chords chime, the toms kick in, the bass rumbles, and about 80,000 collectively lose their shit.
(Talking in the Off-Camera podcast with Sam Jones, The Edge describes that moment at Croke Park in 2009 as being one of the best moments of his life).
A couple of minutes later, the second verse starts, and Larry moves from toms to snares, the song rises up a key, and we see something out of the corner or our eyes. Four small dots, trailing smoke. White, Green, Orange trails. A roar in the crowd. A roar in the air that I cannot remember if you can hear above the noise and the confusion.
It's the moment that defines the gig for me. The band are there, the verse kicks, and suddenly, there's a roar, there's hands in the air, cameras are whipped out, and the stadium gets a low level flyby by four fighter jets trailing the colours of the country. It's … something unique.
It is the kind of moment that deserves a photograph. Not every moment does. Not, for example, “With Or Without You”, which is largely seen through the screens of iPhones.
See the stone set in your eyes
See a sea of cameraphones
I wait. For U2.
Of course, there's the rest of the album to follow. Some might call playing the second side of the biggest selling album of all time a “Deep Cut”, but when The Joshua Tree has sold more than every other album etc., even the darkest of songs sound like a greatest hit. Certainly, when presented live, “In God's Country” sounds like an unstoppable glorious song that should never have left the live repetoire. With luck, some of these songs will come back to regular rotation – and in particular the final two songs of the album are stormingly effective live.
Before we get there, the first side of “The Joshua Tree” is well known and has been largely a staple of live sets for three decades. Side two has one song never played live before - “Red Hill Mining Town” - which is ok live, but in a concert context isn't as successful as some of the other songs. One of the risks of the Album-in-full shows is that albums are designed to be listened to at home or on the move on your own ; not with 80,000 people standing around you in a football stadium on a Saturday night. “Red Hill” sees a considerable rush for the bar and the toilets : every gig has what I call a 'bog break' song, and “Red Hill” – like it or not – is the one for this tour. There is probably a tangible rush during this. Following this up is “Trip Through Your Wires” which again is good, but with a back catalogue as strong as U2's, it's not a song that they often play, nor one that particularly stands out in the live experience. What playing the whole of this album does show though, is that U2 can play near enough any song live – if they want. The final two songs of the album though, are “Exit” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared”.
Set inside a live context, “Exit” is a song that perhaps U2 could bring back and play much more frequently : here it is as effective, as powerful, as biting – more so in fact – than “Bullet The Blue Sky”. Whereas “Bullet” has been played on 8 of the past 9 tours, and it has been, to be honest, boring, predictable, and tired at some shows.. it's good – but not as good as U2 think it is. Every last vestige of interpretation and life has been wrung out of “Bullet” over the past 900+ performances, and it needs a break now. “Exit” though burns and shimmers with a fire that I haven't seen from the band in a long time. It's a song that should replace “Bullet” in live sets in future, born again with new meaning and excitement. I wasn't sure U2 could do justice to it now that they are older, but I'm not sure its ever sounded better.
Finally comes “Mothers Of The Disappeared” : rarely played in Europe [there was a brief performance in Dublin in 2009, but that's pretty much the only time], this song is a monster live, that combines all of the bands influences in something new, a pounding bass and a half-reggae groove coupled with a plaintive lament to create some new kind of genre – the intimate anthem. The stadium fills with a starfield of lights. This song also provides the narrative link to the 'encore', centrepinning one of U2's key causes of equality to a beat you can dance to.
The final forty minutes is a much better thought-out section, geared around a much wider choice of material, that works in the central themes of how all humans are One (man, woman, rich, poor, old, young) into something that makes as much sense as a very loud art gallery. No longer tied to a 30 year old running order, the encore sees for London and Dublin, the first ever performances of “Miss Sarajveo” in these towns. It's a gorgeous song – U2 at their most placid and thoughtful, that covers the fact that even in war, we are all ourselves, hoping, loving, dreaming, still people, not merely fighters or survivors. It's the song that has been played the most that hasn't yet been played live in Dublin … yet (at 183 performances), as well as the song that has the longest gap between release/first live performance, and appearance in London or Dublin – at 20 years. Given the content, the set is tied by lyrics, to put old songs in new environments, where this song draws a clear line between the inequalities and heartbreak of political mass murder in unmarked graves, to that of death camps and warzones, to modern day refugees. Yes, Bono can speechify at the Olympic standard, and the shows have never needed that – all the themes, all the big ideas, are all in the songs. The band have always been striving for the big idea, the next lightbulb. Some artists seem content to find a box ; a gorgeous box of their own making, and never venture out. U2 don't mind trying new stuff – even if there's a whole bunch of old stuff in it.
But every speech is a song I don't get.
On a performance level, the band have changed, the songs have changed, and Bono's voice has changed : he can no longer hit the high notes of “Running To Stand Still” or “Ultraviolet” or “Miss Sarajevo” so effortlessly, and so, the songs are different, down in key, and “Miss Sarajevo” now has Pavarotti's recorded vocals for the end, rather than Bono singing his heart out as he did just six years ago. It's still a show with the same fire, the same intention as any before, but the flesh is starting to show its age at the edges.
But also, it's entertainment as well as some form of mass populist art. People like the hits. And even when there's deep cuts in there, there's also the old biggies. Any set that presents between 13 to 16 hit singles in it can hardly be anything but. Lyrically there's no place for “Vertigo” in the set – but it's a big fat racket that makes the room bounce like demented ducks – and the last genuinely huge crossover hit U2 ever had. Maybe their time now is far beyond the world of mass communication and hits but in being a huge, self-contained artistic entity that doesn't try to get on the radio but should concentrate instead on getting into your mind and heart instead. They're 20 years past “Pop” now and definitely post-pop in their careers.
Perhaps the biggest gripe is the legitimate one that the show is the first backwards looking tour the band have done, the first one where on some shows the freshest song is still 13 years old, and where significant parts of their work are ignored. And there's still nothing off over half the albums they have made. On the other hand, there's 80,000 people playing air guitar to “Vertigo” and “Elevation” so that's not … always a bad thing. After an hour of being told Poverty Is Sexist, War Is Bad, We Are All One, it's refreshing just to cut loose.
As we come to the end though, there's a sense – justified or not – that perhaps this is a money driven tour, being placed as a springboard to propel the band back into consciousness before the next album which is being readied for probable launch, and the next tour following that. Always one eye on the future. Maybe U2 don't even know themselves exactly where they are going next, but one of the great things about growing older is seeing how we still fit into the world (if we do), and how we make the world the place we want it to be. In Brussels they close with a raucous, adrenalin rush of “I Will Follow”, a tasty and biting slice of post punk that is both aware and sincere, and still sounds as thrilling as the first time I ever heard it. It's a way to end, with where we started, ending where they began, four boys playing rock'n'roll with crazy ideas to make a difference but it also is a message to the audience who may have deserted them in times of strife. If you walk away, I Will Follow. Whilst nearly 50,000 mostly-Belgians dance around happily.
With that, the European leg is over- for now – and over the several shows, and friends old and new, we scatter to the edges of the world, waiting for the time this will happen again, be it next year or the year after, or whenever, disbanding temporarily the family and kinship built out of a common love for the same songs. This is this, and this is here and now, and there will be other shows, other nights, other moments, because even if we are nearer the end than the beginning, this is not over – yet – and we have the pleasure of seeing moments like this with our own eyes rather than reading about it in books in the future. We have to live in the here and now.
We said hello and goodbye to many songs for what is probably the last time - the old friends will be missed. Many of these songs have found new life this year, and I hope to see them again on future tours : but if not, we had this. A glorious and unexpected reframing of the songs to make old feel new again.
The future beckons - What a swell party it is.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Years Day
Bad / Heroes / Where Are We Now?
Where The Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
With Or Without You
Bullet The Blue Sky
Running To Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In Gods Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Mothers Of The Disappeared
Ultraviolet (not London #2)
Mysterious Ways (London #2 only)
The Little Things That Give You Away (not Brussels, or London #2)
I Will Follow (Brussels only)
Don't Look Back In Anger (London #1 only)
U2 : "The Fire Brigade Rehearsal" : London Twickenham Stadium, 07 July 2017
Most gigs you go to, if you go to as many as I do, you come out thinking “That was really good”, or “That was great”, or – if you're really lucky - “That was the best one of theirs I have seen.” It's very very rare you come out of a show thinking That Was The Best Gig I Have EVER Seen. I've had the same gig as my number #1 gig for 18 years, 11 months, and 20 days. Today it got replaced with this.
What could be better than seeing a secret warmup show by New Order after a 5 year split in a club in their hometown?
How about an invite only show for London Firefighters and their guests, to about 50 people, the night before U2 start a tour, in a football stadium? With free pizza and champagne?
Yeah, that would do it.
So walking to work this morning, I get a text message from a friend of mine who works for the London Fire Brigade. “Do you want to see U2 do a rehearsal tonight?”
My response has rude words in it. “WTAF?” is a summary.
From there, in a few short minutes, nights out are rearranged. Babysitters are called in. Promises of free curries fly around my inbox. I can go to the ball. I'm to arrive at Twickenham by 6.30pm with photo ID and my name is on a list. At the last minute I re-read the email, check something, and manage to arrange for Mark Peterboro (who has managed to be at even more U2 gigs than I have, which is actually possible) to take up an unused space. This is the kind of thing that dreams are made of. I'm heartbroken for the people queuing outside who can't get in to see this, but it's not my call to make.
I'm probably not able to tell anyone anything until we're in the stadium itself. Too much to lose. A few minutes after the first tweet, my notifications shoot through the roof, and I manage to attract about 300 new followers in a few minutes and 534 notifications overnight. That's not why I did it – it's just that this is a rare, rare thing and why be selfish and keep it to ourselves?
It's also probably only the 7th 'rehearsal' show they've ever done *
[* - others, from memory are Vancouver 2015, Barcelona 2009, Brussels 2005, Miami 2001, Rotterdam 1993, and Hershey 1992 ]
Names and photo ID are crossed off a list of around 50 names. We are given wristbands, and escorted into the stadiums by the bands PA. There's a free bar, free pizza. There's 20 or 30 minutes of standing in the empty stadium, just 48 of us who can't believe our luck, the bands techs, and around 69,952 unoccupied green chairs. Collectively, I think there's a quite stunned air of Is This Really Happening? This is just another night in a stadium tour as they set up the show.
The drumkit sits casually unoccupied. It's just another day at the office for U2, and they're just pottering about. There's Joe on sound, and Willie on lights, and Stuart, and Dallas all just doing their jobs. And then there's just that moment of walking around thinking about just how rare this type of thing is. Of course I want to see the biggest band in the world play to the smallest crowd they have in a very very long time. But U2 are a thing that exist only on TV screens and record covers. They're not actually real, or human. Even when Bono comes over for a chat with us before hand.
And when Bono does that, there's the really strange moment when I see Noel Gallagher standing over there minding his own business, and I think I can talk to either Noel Gallagher or Bono... and the choice is mine.
Bono meanwhile does handshakes and selfies, and talks a bit. I forget exactly what he says, but he explains that it's a very visual show, and it might not be so good in sunlight. And the whole show of everything is designed : “If it doesn't work for someone in the back row, way way back there, it doesn't work at all.”
This is a side of Bono I've not really seen. The artist who cares about his work. Who wants it to be understood. Who talks clearly with people. At one point, a Fireman and his daughter go for a photo ; he asks her name, and then replies something like : “That's a lovely name. Not like Bono, that's a silly name.” If of course I misquote anyone or anything, can you expect to remember all of this in precise detail? There was too much to take in to both feel and experience to get all of this.
Surrounded by selfies, I just ask “Bono? No selfie but a hug?” And we do, because we could. And it seemed fun. And more meaningful. He smells very very nice. His deodorant probably costs more than I earn in a year.
Three minutes later, and all of U2 are on the second stage, performing “The Little Things That Give You Away.” If I were a betting man, I'd say only Mark and I knew this song apart from the crew and band. It is so very very strange. Not surreal... but super-real. We're standing here, with the whole of the stadium floor to ourselves (near enough), and U2 are playing a song that hasn't come out yet three feet away from us. I can see every movement of every hand, the hair on the arms, the fillings in Bono's teeth, and the way the muscles in the neck bulge as he sings and it is real. This happened. It can never be taken away.
I have had an amazing, privileged life. This is one of those moments.
The band bring the song to a close, and the opening chords of “Streets” fade in. The band walk up the ramp, and four of them stand there. Because I've watched this show on YouTube before, I guess and Mark and I are the only people in the whole of the pitch who isn't working here when Bono raises his fist and the Edge begins chiming out that riff. And fucking hell, that's a thing to remember. Its just a wonderful gesture, for a band, that they don't need to do this, to play a private show for firefighters and their guests. And make no mistake, I'm not a firefighter, I'm here by luck and chance that I know someone who works for the Fire Brigade, and this is a beautiful moment. The kind of thing that many, many other bands don't do. They wouldn't even think to do this.
There may only be 48 people here [I counted them] ; but the band play as if there were 48,000. It still sounds glorious. U2 don't put a show on just because people are watching. This is just who they are. This is where we are now.
Sure, this is their first backwards look. But it feels fresh, and new. There's the goosebumps moment of seeing U2 play “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For” for a handful of people with the same fire as they would a stadium. There's a run through the relatively obscure “Red Hill Mining Town” - a song, if I am honest, I never connected with : and in the live context I get it. A song written by young men old before their time, but it suits the older men that U2 have become. As “Red Hill” ends, the band move to “Miss Sarajevo” - one of my favourite songs by anyone, ever – which this weekend will get its first live performance in Britain, and also ; at 22 years after release, its the longest gap yet between recording and eventual performance in the town it was recorded in for any U2 song. As the song ends Bono stands on his own on the B Stage, just watching the screen, checking the visuals, and his bandmates. There's a sense of, even now, Bono is a U2 fan who sometimes can't believe his luck even though he worked for it, and a pride and care in the performance – he owes it not just to you, but to him : don't be crap now. U2 became what they are, whether you like them or not, because they don't go for half measures. Death – or glory. And they reached glory.
“Sarajevo” ends, and transitions, quite seamlessly into “Beautiful Day”. It's a short but powerful evening : shorn of the thematic connection that links the songs together, it's not – objectively – as whole as the big gig, but emotionally, there's a moment : where I am the closest person in the whole stadium to the band, as they play “Where The Streets Have No Name”, where Bono reaches out to touch the flame, and I reach out too, and I think, is this really happening? Is this real? This is the type of thing U2 do (and have done, in total, six times in their lives, played a rehearsal to a handful of fans in a stadium), and they don't have to, but they want to. Yes, sure, my eyes grew damp with the privilege and the specialness of the experience.
But the band are there, playing “Beautiful Day”, and Bono is just kind of staring at the screen like a fan, and reaching through, emoting the song as he means it. It's no rote repetition. This is no dream. Always give the best you can even if not that many people will ever notice.
Given the strict curfew of 9pm by the council, the band are both relaxed, and passionate. You'd think, given that they've performed “Mysterious Ways” 588 times and “Vertigo” 406 times, that perhaps it might occasionally sound tired. But the band still go for it. Even now, they're still working through it – The Edge requests a second run through the last 8 bars of “Vertigo” to perfect the ending (and I saw the first time they ever played it, in a London carpark). “Mysterious Ways” is gloriously reworked to include the slow building beginning and Edge's glorious only-ever-played-live slide guitar solo, and whilst Bono is out on the other stage and dances with Louise, I stand under The Edge and just stare at his hands peeling out a solo. It's one of my favourite guitar solos of all time – to stand 5 feet from its creator as he plays it is worth … well, more money than you can imagine.
After “Vertigo”, it's just gone 8.30, and so, the band draw the short set to a close, and come down to talk to us, for selfies, and handshakes. I hear a Welsh/Irish voice say “Thank you so much for coming”, and I turn around, and The Edge is waiting to shake my hand. It was probably only a fraction of a second, but still... that wasn't the plan. I just listen to the conversations, before I have a minute with Adam – I thank him, then list off some of the shows, to which he says … charmingly, “You're a repeat customer – I like you, we should give you Airmiles.” Which is fairly crazy, really.
After 9 minutes, the band move on – but not before Mark Peterboro asks each member to play “A Sort Of Homecoming” in Dublin. The Edge wryly replies “That makes sense”. Bono says he's simply The Edges representative and gets 10%. These are practiced lines – but good ones. No wonder Bono is practically a black leather politician with answers that slippery. Before 8.45 we're asked firmly, but fairly to leave, and there's not much argument we can put up to that.
Before we go though, we notice an extra line on the setlist. “Work on 'Don't Look Back' with Noel G – PA Off”. But that is tomorrow.
Wow. That was a literal, once-in-a-lifetime evening.
The Little Things That Give You Away
Where The Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Redhill Mining Town
KRAFTWERK : Brighton Centre 06 June 17 + London Royal Albert Hall 22 June 17
This might be the last time. With Ralfbot at 70, and even the newer* members Henning Schmitzbot and Fritz Hilbot past 60, Kraftwerk are a touring museum. Age moves forward one day at a time, and whilst Kraftwerk have seemed mercifully free of the ravages of time, this is their largest tour in 35 years, and they are neither immortal, nor invincible.
*though 'newer' means they have both been in the band over 25 years, and both were studio engineers for the bands starting the 70's and 80's.
Presenting a 2 hour performance that isn't so much a concert as a huge art installation, tonight is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a playful presentation of a complete work of art. The show drips in understated, dry humour ; from absurd and deliberate audio glitches presented utterly straight faced, to the minimalist graphics that comprise the huge visual backdrop. And it is a staggering show, built on state of the art 3D graphics, sympathetic lighting that sees the Albert Hall lit up in the thematic colours of each song (blue / white / red, for “Tour De France”), and a rumbling bass louder than Leftfield ever were that makes me feel like I am in a techno earthquake.
Ever evolving , ever changing, yet rooted forever in a permanent concept that never changed but was merely refined, tonights show is probably the pinnacle of the Kraftwerk live experience, though miles away from the rampant and raucous crowd-surfing I saw their shows in the 90's ; and certainly the best show of theirs I've seen since the first a quarter century ago.
The show is by now, a traditional glimpse of a nostalgic future : in effect a condensed version of the “Catalogue” box set, the show sees the band present – mostly chronologically, most of most of their albums in order, with a mastery over every song from their established albums, and several songs that have only recently been played live. And they've never sounded so good live.
They open with the huge, immaculately precise “Numbers/Computerworld”, and ends, 134 minutes later, with a 15 minute romp through “Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Music Non Stop”. Sure, it looks like four blokes with laptops, but its really four craftsmen at easels, creating art before our eyes, and presenting something that isn't a concert, or art, but a gorgeous hybrid of the two. It's the type of music where you sit and feel and think and your brain just goes off there, and you end up thinking “That looks like a Superman movie”, or “The newer cars with higher numberplates always overtake the slower ones” during “Autobahn”. Or where you remember that the first synthesisers cost the same as a car in 1973, and that's why the song was about motorways, using the Volkswagen Beetle as a metaphor for the liberating power of technology.
> and hence a graphic of a car radio <
As an audio-visual presentation that cuts across multiple mediums ; sound, vision, light, art, and words, around key themes, we're invited to absorb, to contemplate, and to feel - but every day the arrangement is altered ; subtle variations arrive between Brighton and London, the addition of various percussive improvisations, lyrical switches between the German and English language versions, and minor visual tweaks, all of which adhere to the central theme. Alongside the inherent silliness of a huge banks of computers all tweaked to pull out immaculate sounds designed tor remind you of Cartoons, Batman, and old Science Fiction. It's like a kids playset for geeks who never grew up, complete with robots, trains, cars, bombs, spaceships, all thinking of an alternate future for mankind when Man>Nature>Technology all kind of worked out.
The band seem to be having a great time : subtle inflections indicate so, a tapping leg, eye contact, a smile. Sound buffets and rolls across the auditorium. The audience are clearly repressed – actually feeling that they want to dance and release – given the frequent whoops, claps, and responses, that culminate in mass co-ordinated clapping and … yet, we all seem glued to our seats until the final encore, which sees each member luxuriate in a solo section : Falk is the first to exit, and gets a standing ovation, that rapidly turns into a full, stoodup gig for the next six minutes.
The remaining members (Fritz and Henning) pick up their customary improvisatory section (16 bars, no more no less), Ralf actually stops playing, and watches with a big smile on his face. By Kraftwerk standards this is possibly akin to him breaking down in tears mid song saying “I love you all”.
As Henning leaves, he bows, smiles widely, and gestures to Ralf as the architect of all this. And, as it ends, and I see the final moments of what might be my final Kraftwerk show [and that is a weird feeling after 30 years of gigging], Ralf pauses, and clasps his hands together and places his fist over his heart. It's the nearest I've seen to an act of emotion ; possible then, as this work fo art near the end, even these small gestures are their way of recognising and acknowledging that we've seen the sum of a life's work here ; and it was worth it.
These songs may be old, but their meanings are eternal,and the passing of time has deepened mere songs into something far bigger around the nature of the relationship between man, nature, the planet, and each other. How cool is coldness?
its more fun to compute
the man machine
tour de france
trans europe express
metal on metal
planet of visions
boing boom tschak
music non stop
DEPECHE MODE Global Spirit Tour : Nice, Charles De Erhmann Stade 12 May 2017
Every Depeche Mode review I do now, I talk about the passing of time. They were the first 'proper' band I saw. How I was a carcrash child at 17, in Block 11 of the Birmingham NEC, and yet, somehow, all this time later, I'm still seeing them. How I'm still the same person I was then; but better.
When I was younger, I felt acutely the exclusion of youth. Like this band? Well, you can't see them. You can't afford the records. You can't participate. You – outside, away, not involved. And these weren't crazy, unrealistic dreams, like wanting a goddamn yacht and feeling the injustice of normality. I simply had to consume voraciously and devour what little I could be part of.
Some people get their kicks on Route 66. Others by sportball. Me? I live the life I hungered for when I was a kid : being able to go somewhere. Being able to see a world beyond my street, not marrying the girl next door, not working at the Chocolate Factory and not taking the first options life gave me. Going to somewhere abroad, to see a band I love? When I was 17, that was about as realistic to me as being The First Man On Mars.
And so, we meet at a bus stop on a French Riveria. The old routine, of having to be at an airport two hours before the flight is tedious and boring. Wait here, queue there. Documents and papers. Unpack your bag. Laptop out. Phone off. Christ, what utter tedium this security theatre is. Take off your belt. Wait 10 minutes. This is why I hate flying ; the unproductive, dead time as Human Cattle. It's why, if the train is under four hours, I always take the train. Any longer than four hours, and well, flying is probably quicker.
Going to Nice is a little odd. The French Riveria, as it is, is a place I thought couldn't be actually real. Sure, I'd heard of it, but it's a strange place. With all due respect, aside from weather, and incredibly rich people's homes, I'm not sure exactly what it has in it. There's food, and there's wine, and there's all the other stuff, but I don't really know what there is here. It's like a place with the personality surgically extracted from it. It's beautiful but boring. Then again, I feel like I am and will be a Londoner forever – even if I was forced out by the absurd monetisation and brutal exploitation of the basic human need to have somewhere to sleep, whereby space became an asset to be sweated by the rich. For 12 years, I commuted to the town I couldn't live in, and spent (by my estimation) around £54,000 and 8,855 hours because some rich fucker had a portfolio of properties he wanted to rent out for profit.
Money doesn't talk, of course. It swears. Everything counts, in large amounts.
"Leftwing and poor? = Politics of Envy
Leftwing and rich? = Champagne Socialist Hypocrite."
(as Matt Beestonian probably said)
We take the bus to Eze, up through gorgeous hills and mountains that go above the crowd line. We walk through a mountain top village, then take a battered and ruined path down several thousand feet to the beach. We stand on the sand next to Bono's house : I don't know quite why, except that, whilst we're here, we might as well, because I've never been here before. And won't ever be again. Even though he's not here ; the tax dodger is in Vancouver launching another tour.
It is a once in a lifetime experience, for me, to walk down a mountain to a beach though : to take the train to Monte Carlo. Or Monaco. Or whatever it is called. And in Monte Carlo, the money drips invisibly in the air. In every step. This individual country, this secular paradise of affluence. This land of stone, steel, glass, and low taxes. This place was a mythical paradise of ice cream, of boats, of legs and racing cars, when I was younger. A land that couldn't be real. Couldn't really exist.
So we walked alongside the viewing stands for the Grand Prix ; and it looks just like it did on TV, but now it's real. And much taller. We walk through the bay of millionaires and billionaires yachts. The money is there. The names are meaningless. The places of registration baffling. (Georgetown, anyone?). It's a life I will never see. Maybe even one I'm not sure I'd want to. But it's superreal : a heightened version of reality. You can, after all, buy special share trading options packages so you can make millions whilst sitting on a yacht named after a Greek God, moving money around from one place to another. Money, and the accumulation of it, has become a game. You need not worry about any of the basics anymore : you will always have enough money for a great standard of living, for a roof over your head, a meal in your belly, a car on your drive. It's now no longer about the mere security of survival, but the status. The biggest car, the largest berth, the nicest view and the most bedrooms. It's meaningless though. You can become addicted to chasing money, not life. Chasing your own inadequacy, trying to be more when really... once you are past your first £10m, it doesn't matter. So I am told.
(Incidentally, Nice Airport has the largest and most expensive private jet in the world parked there).
I would laugh at the politics of envy. Sure, I wouldn't mind being rich, but not at the expense of changing who I am. My idea of rich isn't a yacht or chasing status. Imagine being so furious at having never to have work again, having your own yacht, and having prosperity beyond that puts you inside the top thousandth of richest people in the world, and it's still not enough to come second place in a race of billions?
It's bizarre. And, as I turn a corner, I remember. This strait. This tunnel, that I have memorised from a thousand laps of an arcade game whose name I can't recall (GTI Club!) in the Pot of Beer in Aston, Birmingham, and I'm walking down a road I have only have seen on a pixelated arcade screen yet memorised. I have to take my foot off the accelerator and glide through this corner, by muscle memory. These bends made of legend. Accelerate, brake, turn into the corner.
A hundred yards away come the bends. And at the top of that hill, the famed Casino (that, by the way, has a pivotal role in Pixar's Cars-2, so I half expect a haunted Popemobile to pass me). Roger Moore's house is somewhere near here ; but he died between the moment and the writing. Monaco is crowded and it just doesn't seem that nice (to be honest), or that cultured. There's money and luxury, but it seems there's little heart here. What there is is an abundance of low tax schemes and accountants. There's an emptiness, replaced instead by an accumulation of wealth. Most places I go to have some kind of soul : I'm not sure Monte Carlo did.
The train takes us back to Nice. We pass Eze, and Bono's house. We skirt the sea. We land back in Nice, and make our way to the Charles De Ehrmann Stadium. As a stadium it is a bizarre and beautiful venue : uniquely configured for indoor or outdoor shows, with a removable wall : face one way, and the band are inwards to a smaller indoor arena. Face the other way, and move the back wall, and the band face out into a huge outdoor atrium designed for sporting events and a racetrack. It's a lovely place to be.
So the sun sets, planes fly overhead, and Depeche Mode perform a show very like the one I saw six weeks prior in Glasgow (just with more songs). As is often the way, they indulge themselves* with new material, and old. It's more than half way, and 13 songs in, before they enter the predictable greatest hits part : and of those first 13 songs, 10 of them are from the most recent half of their career – the era perceived to be the bit where “Alan Left And Now They're A Bit Rubbish”. The new songs fit just as well as anything else into the work, and seem almost exclusively as good as the older ones. But every band's later material suffers slightly, as the thrill of the new has paled slightly. Sure, the audience perks up for “World In My Eyes”, but it's a quick and short thrill before the audience deflates slightly with the new stuff.
In the stadium context, these new songs are tolerated by the huge crowd : who appear to be waiting patiently for some great reward of the songs that remind them of their youth. I understand 'tuning out' of bands as you grow older. As the listener, we might change direction whilst the band carry on, or we might grow apart. Certainly I've lost touch with some bands ; but they weren't very good to start with.
It's refreshing to see a band not beholden merely to the hits of the ancient past. Like every band, there are a handful of big hitters that would upset the customers if not played. And Depeche aren't exactly Pearl Jam : the first 18 shows of this tour had an identical setlist. It's a machine of delivering emotions and music that has been finely tuned over the past 35 years.
Personally, I might not like “Poison Heart” (but I understand why other people do). Every song is accompanied by a visual identity that matches the song.
[* slightly, the new ones are very good, just not very familiar]
The best bands are the ones that we grow older with. The ones who map our changing time on the planet : not the ones frozen forever in amber as a pop fossil from 1981. Sure, much as I and many others would like a more varied setlist with more older songs in (but not all of them, “A Photograph of You” was always a rubbish song). Depeche Mode have managed to become the kind of band that know what people want, and strive to provide it, as much as they reasonably can. We can't get into a time machine and go back to 1990, so recognising how we got here will be as good as it can be : the hits are all present and show that on stage, Depeche Mode are a very different band from on record : a powerful, rocky behemoth selling convincing pre-packaged introspection. These are songs written in small rooms about emotions, played in football stadiums about the size of a small town.
It ends (near enough) where it started. David Gahan's first audition for the band was singing Bowie's “Heroes” in a small room in Basildon in 1979. Tonight, the band play the same song in tribute to David Bowie : in a stadium on the French Riveria. It's a long way from home. No matter where we are, never forget who you have been and where you have come from.
So Much Love
Barrel of A Gun
Pain That I Am Used To
In Your Room
World In My Eyes
A Question Of Lust
Where's The Revolution
Enjoy The Silence
Never Let Me Down Again
Walking In My Shoes
I Feel You