(Planet Me)
Sunday, November 17, 2019
 
UNDERWORLD : “Drift : Series 1”

A year after being announced, and in 52 weekly instalments, the physical release of “Drift” by Underworld is finally here. It’s ambitious, occasionally boring, but never..uninspired.

The premise is straightforward : over a huge 7 CD and 1 Blu Ray box set, Underworld present every new and original track they released in a 12 month period : every Thursday they emailed out a link of a new song and normally a visual to accompany it. At this point the band fed on an insanely ambitious workload whilst also playing all over the world on a weekly basis. And hosting an art exhibition in Manchester which also birthed another album – part of which, in an alternate form, also appears here. It’s the kind of workload that would make Prince at his peak feel stretched.

Each album is present in the chronological order of release : as such, these feel like the haphazard compilations that they are and not structured albums with a standard flow and feel. For example, the third track on the first CD – a spoken word piece on the nature of Drift itself – would make a great introduction to the work, but we’re already a quarter of an hour in by the time it appears. The CD’s also contain several extra songs that weren’t quite finished in time but met the overall release date and thus, exist as new additions. And many of the songs have been remixed or rethought since they were first published. And finally, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the sheer size of all this.

It’s an immense project : 39 audio tracks, alongside 10 alternate versions on the “Sampler” disc, and 31 video tracks, weighting in at a total of ten and a half hours of music – of which six and a half hours come on CD.

The Blu Ray is a weighty accompaniment : over 4 hours and 31 songs from the set with all the matching visuals. Whereas the audio CDs have on occasion been revisited, re-edited, remixed or rethought slightly (“Soniamode” carries a new vocal and lyric, “Appleshine Continum” is edited to a mere 33 minutes instead of the 47 on the BR), the BR contains the original, as released at the time, video/audio mixes.

Sometimes the sheer girth of the release reflects this project for its strengths and weaknesses : there was no time to think, only feel, and to push the songs to a state where they had to, by definition be fresh and to let go of them as they barely become ready. The spontaneity, and the rapid tonal shifts, are an essential part of the projects success. There wasn’t chance to overthink it. (Though as alluded above, some versions were remixed or edited/changed for the box set release and the overall package does hint at a lack of one single overarching vision or theme). It’s almost a compendium of Underworld as is, ranging from the ambient and minimal, to the banging dancefloor thumper, or experimental jazz excursion in repetition in the frankly annoyingly long “Appleshine Continium”. It’s the world of Underworld, covering all their current styles and interests, in one enormous delivery of a frantic year of sound.

There’s a number of missing tracks in this set which will be made available to download with the 8 disc box set : normally re-recordings and reinterpretations of previously released songs in new forms. Since these haven’t yet been released to download, I can only speculate on what they are, but there were an extra 2 hours of extra mixes in those.

For less extravagant consumers, there’s a compelling hour in a 10 track ‘Sampler’ Edition – a Greatest Hits of the material – which boils the whole experiment down to a bite sized compilation of the most accessible selections in new edits and mixes. Some of the choices are a little odd, as some of the most poppy, fast, and straight forward tracks (such as “Dexters Chalk”, and “Another Silent Way”) are absent, but given that there’s so much material here, it seems odd to complain. There’s almost too much.

But aside from the fact that this is a huge and exhaustive compendium of a period of intense creativity, effectively you get 7 new Underworld albums in one go, alongside a huge volume of accompanying films. It’s ambitious, flawed, and absolutely fascinating to see. And it puts other, less exciting and creative bands to shame.


Thursday, November 07, 2019
 
EDITORS - "Black Gold"

I know I’m getting old, because I think of Editors as a new band even though they’ve been going at least 17 years : They’re on their sixth studio album, and, despite a lineup change a few years ago, have never really stopped ; never ceased creating, or playing live, or trying new things, and a career encompassing “Best Of” is a strange beast at the best of times.

Over the 17 years, Editors have grown up in public. And with history being what it is, especially with anyone who makes records for a living, it’s impossible to forget your past the way most people do : recordings being what they are, they are permanent and specifically designed to represent a moment in time, a feeling, an echo of what was. With a Greatest Hits, its designed to have immediate, perfect recall of something that, by definition should fade from existence to become a memory. And yet, there you are, the ghosts of your past, standing by you, reminding you of who you used to be, and the mistakes you made, and the victories you won.

“Black Gold”, taking its name from the slang to describe oil, or coffee, and of course, vinyl itself, follows the tradition of every previous Editors release : there’s a title track (or a track that mentions the title) that somehow embodies everything around it. What is curious is, unlike many similar releases, this one doesn’t tell the bands story chronologically, or in a way that might seem obvious : the big hits aren’t loaded up the front with any new material as an afterthought tacked onto the end – but lineups, eras, and styles are all interwoven around each other with the band as a single, cohesive entity made of different configurations ; but no matter what happens it all sounds like Editors, even when the past and present weave next to each other – and with only six songs from the bands first lineup out of 16, it’s no nostalgia trip : the songs are placed together in a narrative collage that creates more than the sum of its parts ; as well as adding three songs to the bands album work, with first-time-on-album appearances for Frankenstein, Upside Down and Black Gold.

This effectively then draw the common line through what has sometimes felt like two bands with the same name over the years : with two styles, the faster, more abrasive guitar led sound of the first two and a half albums, and the more pensive, epic, rich textures of the latter three and a half, bridging roughly the departure of Chris Urbanowicz and the addition of Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams, with songs all representing an enormous part of the bands work.

It would be strange to criticise what is not in this : though its by no means a complete Editors story, as some key singles are not represented here – and neither is the incredible band arrangement of “Nothing” that has still yet to be officially released. What it is both an advertisement for the band and the strength of their diverse, consistent body of work, and a new context for what has gone before. If the cliché is that a life is only lived forward and can only be understood backwards, then this is perhaps a way of making sense of what went before. And looking backwards (and yet also forwards) it also makes more sense now than it often did at the time, as you can hear the band growing into who they will become minute by minute.

Sadly, Editors seem to be overlooked in this day and age and I genuinely can’t understand why they’re not bigger as they’re so much better, and more essential, than so many of their contemporaries. Hopefully this will be the first step in overturning that.

If you’re canny, you can get a double (or triple) CD edition : the deluxe edition carries an extra disc of eight acoustic reinterpretations. These versions are essential, gorgeous rethinkings of the bands oeuvre – repeating just one song – “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” – from the first part, and adding seven extra songs ; including a few, non-obvious reworkings that make old songs feel new, having been taken down to their bones and remade. The version of “Blood” on here is particularly effective. Alongside the very under-rated “Two Hearted Spider”. The story of the band almost feels half-told without these extra songs.

Orders from the bands website also come with a third CD – “The Snowfield Demos” – being the first demo recordings from the band in 2003, with an array of songs that will eventually become Editors songs from the bands first flush of work ; b-sides, album tracks and singles alike, which brings us a complete compendium of their identities from the first sparks to the here and now. “Black Gold” is as good an introduction to the band as you can ever find : let your good heart lead you home.


Sunday, November 03, 2019
 
R.E.M. - "Monster" (25th Anniversary Reissue)

Can it really be 25 years already? So much has changed, and so little. That little orange box, the blue disc, the smudged gorgon face on the front – and the title that says everything and nothing at the same time. “Monster”.

I’ve long posited that “Monster” is R.E.M.’s most interesting, and possibly best album. If you don’t agree, close this web page now. Because I’m going to spend far too long telling you how this 48 minute slice of noise is one of the most important records in my life.

This reissue – a whopping six disc set with the studio album in original and alternate forms, alongside a disc of demos, a servicable live recording from Chicago, alongside a Blu Ray of 5.1 mixes, the 1996 concert film “Road Movie”, and promos – is perhaps more Monster than you might have ever thought likely. But it’s still not as much as it deserves, and, like every previous R.E.M. reissue, concentrates on new and unheard music : the multitude of B-sides that accompanied each album are not represented here. Which means no space for live recordings (though many made the previous “Automatic” boxset), compilation album appearances, or weird alternate mixes from red vinyl 7” singles.

The alternate version of the album is a refreshing and new approach – like meeting an old friend who has aged wonderfully, and in some ways I prefer it to the original. The version of “Let Me In” on here, all brittle and raw emotion and delicate textures – shows the beautiful heart underneath the albums skin and protective barnacles. It’s my favourite version of any R.E.M. song ever. It’s a refreshing take on songs you already know in ways you don’t.

Some of the alternate mixes are less successful, and for some reason, some of the finished mixes are hissy which is either a poor artistic choice, or simple sloppiness.

The demos also support the view that R.E.M. never dried up ; they were just very selective around what they released at this point. Almost all of the demo recordings could’ve been a contender for the album themselves – a couple at least were revisited for future albums, with embryonic versions of “The Final Straw” and “Until The Day Is Done” in the pack. R.E.M. didn’t write bad songs – they just didn’t finish every song they wrote, and there’s an abundance of songs that – had Stipe written vocals for – were at least as good as anything on most of their albums.

The final two live discs from Chicago in June 1995 are not an essential listen, but a curious recording of a relatively early show in the tour, and a fascinating snapshot of a night in the life of a band in transition, swinging between the outsized parody of a rock band R.E.M. knowingly were at that time, trying to force intimacy into huge rooms, as well as the considered and sensitive folk-rock act that they had just escaped being. It’s by no means a bad recording – just maybe not as precise with post-show overdubbing as many live recordings often are. This is R.E.M. as they were on that night.

But I have to explain to you. You have to know. Up to “Green” I was a huge R.E.M. fan. The release of “Out of Time” suddenly made this band everybody’s secret – and they were everywhere. That album, and “Automatic For The People”, are more exceptions in the bands work rather than the benchmark. Those two records were quiet, contemplative, the sound of a band making peace rather than making noise. I drifted from the band, admired them, not loved them.

And then with “Monster” they stole my heart again. For “Monster” was the sound of the band flexing its muscle again ; moving away from the sincere to something more complex. In “Monster” the band were grieving, and if you knew where to look and spoke the language, it was there and screaming from the rooftops. In the heart of “Monster” were hurt, sad, loving songs of loss and confusion, asking the permanent questions ; Who am I? Where do I go? What do I do next?

R.E.M. went from making art to asking questions : to exploring life, and how to live it, and somehow navigating the maze of age, success, identity, and the first world problems that come with it. You could argue this album could just as well be called “Paradise Syndrome”, but it’s all the same thing. Sometimes the Monster is what you see in the mirror.

And, given the circumstances the band were in, the music was the same as ever, but covered in scar tissue, obscured in effects pedals and stances, almost in fact, too sincere, too raw, in its original and open configuration, and the need to hide the songs in sound was a suit of armour to protect these brittle feelings and emotions from the pain of sunlight and visibility. You wore expectations like an armoured suit, uh-huh?

In many way, “Monster” is a vampire ; one that will die on contact with the atmosphere, and the effects pedals, the distorted vocals, the obscure words, the impenetrable whole shows that sometimes – this time – all of the affectations were in fact protection and masks. With it, R.E.M. were returning to a love they touched on but had never previously explicitly addressed, the obscure, the unseen, the independent aesthetic they always wore quietly that came from bands like Sonic Youth, Husker Du, The Go Betweens, Echo & The Bunnymen, Tad, Talking Heads, Nirvana… bands that came before and after them, then rode alongside them in culture and became part of the world they existed in. In “Monster” R.E.M. understood that you could often only speak absolute truth whilst wearing a mask, and given how many masks they had at this point, there was no record quite as honest as it.

Individual songs in the album collapsed and rose like wave – the cumulative effect of each song following the previous and preceding the following created a thematic wholeness, a narrative of joined pieces, and it felt like listening to a work of art where each piece was placed next to each other to create a link : from the opening, what-the-heck-is-thisery of “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” to the final, doomed “You”, the record asks all the right questions, and almost every song has a question in it : and this is both sonic and lyrical.

Clear in intent, once you unfogged the words, “Monster” is the sound of confusion, grief, and a search for identity in a world that expects you to keep functioning even if you can’t. There’s loss in every line, and the question keeps popping up : Where next? What do I do? What position should I wear?

It was never meant to be anything other than uneasy listening, reflecting the struggle of a life in the wrong shaped world, trying to it fit in, and be yourself at the same time, and sometimes the monster is You. To me, it speaks more openly and directly to me in ways no other R.E.M. album ever did ; and whilst it is – and was – very much a Marmite album, love it or hate it, it was the first time R.E.M. took to wearing masks and trying new viewpoints to express and explore ideas, taking a step back from who Stipe/Mills/Buck/Berry are and were, and who we thought they were, or who the world painted them to be, and instead made clear that who you are is as important as anything else.

It’s rewarding, difficult, and by no means ever an easy puzzle to solve, but “Monster” is a set of questions, and the answer – the monster - is you.


 
THE CURE - Curætion-25 / Anniversary : Live 2018

This enormous and weighty concert film set – the first official live Cure visual document since 2005, and the first live release to capture the current lineup – captures two very different nights in the life of the band marking their 40th birthday.

The package is divided into two very different sets : The first “Curætion-25” is a stealthy, indoor, moody thematic set of material, one from each album, first going forward through history from “Three Imaginary Boys” to “4:13 Dream”, alongside two unreleased songs, before winding backwards to the start, ending on “Boy’s Don’t Cry”. At the time it was never clear exactly what kind of show it would be, merely advertised as Robert Smith And Guests, and, with the possibility of ex-Cures and former collaborators, was swiftly dispensed with when the Cure themselves arrived. It’s a curiously bleak setlist, but also, thankfully a unique evening in the bands life captured forever on film : directed by Nick Wickham, it’s occasionally claustrophobic, sometimes bizarre, mixing film stocks, editing styles, aspect ratios and similar, as well as presenting for the first time ever official filmed live performances of many rarely performed songs such as “Other Voices”, “Bananafishbones”, “Like Cockatoos”, “Jupiter Crash”, “It’s Over” and others (discounting long deleted Japanese only VHS concert tapes). The sound is well presented on the Blu Ray – though the audio CD’s are mastered loud.

Naturally, on the night, I was stuck behind a nincompoop who was busy looking up his next Italian holiday because he was bored during “Disintegration” and was moaning by text that they hadn’t played “Lullaby” or “Just Like Heaven”. But the trick The Cure can always pull is to simultaneously make you feel alone in a crowd and surrounded by likeminded souls whilst you’re alone.

The first part of the set also featured two unreleased songs – “It Can Never Be The Same” and “Step Into The Light”. They’re more introspective, doomier and gloomier, than most Cure songs but a good way of getting new songs out there in public in the absence of a new studio album. The Cure only ever do things on their own terms and their own way ; sometimes this means people think the band difficult, but it just means that The Cure aren’t going to do what you want, but what they want ; and normally the two overlap.

Pack your bag of deep cuts. It’s been a long time since the band represented their enormous body of work this fairly or this equally : even 1996’s career-killing “Wild Mood Swings” gets two songs.

Like any band, The Cure have to balance themselves between the accomplished peddlers of wonderful misery and the beautiful pop machine they are, and unlike most shows, where more than half the set is nothing but hits, tonight the world’s best Cure tribute band are beautifully miserable. It’s been a long time, if ever, since they have performed many of these songs – and even songs from 2004’s “The Cure” sell the darker reaches of the bands work as worthy of reappraisal. Certainly “alt.end” and “Us And Them” feel better now than they were at the time of release.

We have to be wary of nostalgia in this respect. Some people want other lineups of the band, but like any relationship, you wouldn’t stay with the same people you knew when you were 14, would you? Generally not, anyway. I understand the need to want the band to keep the same lineup as the day you first heard them, because that was your version of the band, and the band meant something to you then, but surely part of the joy of this is.. growing older with the band through time? On the face of tonight, given a unique setlist and a powerful, uncompromising performance that rewarded the faithful with a trainspotter setlist, The Cure have a future in front of them as well as a glorious past. The Cure are undoubtedly Roberts lifework. But if you have to pour your life into your work, there’s few better things than that band.

At the heart of it, it was also one of the handful of shows the band where staples such as “Lullaby”, “Lovesong”, “Friday I’m In Love”, “Just Like Heaven” are not played : that hit of hands in the air ecstasy is two weeks from now at Hyde Park . The Cure have always walked a tightrope between the miserable stadium band and joyous pop, and, at the same time, been both constantly and equally. Curætion-25 isn’t, nor was it ever, presented as a Cure show, but an evening of oddities. The hits weren’t missed by people familiar with their work ; it showed just how good, and adept The Cure are, and were, at encompassing almost all emotions, and how they would still be one of the most important and reliable artists of their time without the pop hits.

There’s also little repetition between this and the second feature “Anniversary”. Filmed live at Hyde Park two weeks later by Tim Pope, these two concerts can only be viewed as complete when seen together as both sides of the coin : the former, the darker, more intense and smaller ; the latter a lighter, happier, more celebratory set, largely made of their best known and most loved songs. Tim Pope’s direction brings us full circle as the bands long time visual collaborator, it’s a joyous present of 40 years of pop hits and heartbreak. It acts as both a glorious finale and a summation of the bands many different styles and identities over the years, as well as a definitive document that captures who they are here and now at this point in their history. The bands performance is visually represented in a way that shows many times the cohesive unit the band now are, complete with subtle glances, smiles, and cuddles that show the bands unity through music.

As this was the bands 40th Anniversary Birthday Show, marking 40 years (is it really that long?) since their first appearance as The Cure at the Crawley Rocket in 1978, yet also serving as an effective, in-front-of-your-eyes greatest hits reprise of the finest moments of their lives. Whilst the past ten years have seen the band retreat from new releases thanks to a combination of inertia caused by a significant and painful lineup change in 2010, the end of their record contract, and a desire to focus on music and not marketing, The Cure still don’t feel like a touring museum of music. The lineup has remained basically solid for a quarter century with only Reeves Gabrels as a ‘new’ addition at a mere seven years in the band. As such, it’s a definitive Cure show ; though, frustratingly, lacking in anything post 1993, apart from the singular “The End Of The World”.

In technical terms, the band play a show as good as any I have seen. The songs are also dispatched with the deftness of touch, and precision you expect from The Cure. I’ve never seen a bad Cure gig but few have been as much fun. Some Cure gigs are really very very long indeed, and some feel even longer than that. The Cure rarely, if ever, leave you wanting more, and often play two shows in one, with a range of emotions, moving between one and the other fluidly. Tonight, thankfully, its pure, undiluted Cure, with little in the way of the moments where you can obviously feel the audience and band drifting apart. A celebration of everything this band has done and how far they have come and what we have won by having them.

Perhaps the biggest issue in this celebration is the sheer size of the night : it’s nearly the biggest crowd they have played to, and Robert Smith will never be Bono. If The Cure are playing to 800 or 80,000 people you get the same experience.

The band are solid, delivering almost all of their major songs in a ruthlessly efficient, passionate way, exchanging the sly glances and injokes that only a long established group can make. This band have grown up in public, and with each other, and part of the glory of this is seeing The Cure become old and still retaining the same qualities they had when much, much younger. By the time of the encore, the band play 10 hit singles in a row. Just when you think you’ve had enough, BAM!, comes another, and another, and another, and you get to the end and you still wonder why they didn’t play “Mint Car” or “Lets Go To Bed”, or “Lovecats”, or “Primary”. And then, as the band are playing “10.15 Saturday Night” – seven minutes late at 10.22, clockwatchers – it’s fairly clear to me that when I was younger, I made the right choices. I fell in love with the right bands. I bought the right records. I’m in a field, with loads of my friends, happily playing air guitar and singing out of tune, and knowing that these, these are the moments. I’ll never get to my death bed, and think, I saw too many gigs. I’ll get to my death bed and know that This was a life I was blessed to live.

And somehow, it’s been captured on film.


Wednesday, July 03, 2019
 
METALLICA / GHOST London Twickenham Stadium 20 June 2019

Sometimes it feels like Metallica are an arena rock band cruelly forced into playing stadiums. Twickenham stadium, like most huge, corporate megadomes, suffers from being absolutely bloody enormous. The only way to create intimacy in a venue that takes fives minutes to walk across is to project it on a huge screen. Is to be in a venue so big that the visuals don’t match the sounds because by the time you hear Lars hit the drums, the chap on the screen is half a word ahead sometimes.

And, as James Hetfield says, “It’s not cheap to see Metallica”. At an average ticket price of £100+ including fees, and premium tier seating and ‘golden circles’, it’s just another £10m grossing day at the office for this band. Of course, people wouldn’t keep seeing them, and they wouldn’t keep touring, if their fierce live reputation didn’t sell tickets for them. But sometimes, Metallica 2019-style are a very good tribute act to how good the band were live in 1989.

It seems bizarre that people seem quite happy to lay out £100+ a ticket to see a band they won’t pay £10 for their CD, but people are strange. Especially when their current – high – ticket prices are the result of market testing when they checked, and apparently nobody minds paying more. I mind. Even 15 years ago, when the band cost £17 to see. I guarantee you I don’t earn six times as much as I did then. I wish I did. Going to see Metallica costs the same as a holiday. It’s not a small sacrifice. And my thanks go to Robin, who found himself with a spare at short notice and helped me have a much needed big night out.

Support comes from the equally strange, and not exactly uneventful Ghost, who are clearly a solo act with the name of a band. And a backing band of seven people in masks that seem to act as their own frontmen whilst all playing the same song at the same time yet seemingly all being the lead in their own solo acts. It’s a strange and unusual experience. I’ve not seen a band seem so less like a band in my life. They’re good, but not great.

And then, with the learned punctuality of a multi million dollar business, The Metallica Express arrives at 8.00pm exactly, for exactly 2 hours and 20 minutes of entertainment. There’s a learned stagecraft in the night. There’s well rehearsed comments, jokes, and platitudes that sound like they’ve been said every night so far. There’s the predictable – and multiple – references to the Metallica Family, as if the band somehow split and reformed post rehab and therapy as a extremely well paying therapy session for the band [or for us].

There’s stadium karaoke – sing with me Twickenham – where the arrangements of the song would collapse without 72,000 subvocalists wordlessly intoning yeah yeah yeah yeah. There’s the sense of watching an enormous television surrounded by drunks. It’s great, crowd pleasing fun. But it’s Metallica as stadium rock.

I miss the edge. I miss the fire. It’s not to say Metallica aren’t great – and tonight they probably are – but they are playing like a very big, and much older, version of the band they used to. The set rests on the tried and true, with more than half the set being hits from the days that they didn’t do singles – and they are kind of like a very heavy Grateful Dead. A band that does not chase television or radio coverage, because they’re big enough by now already. The final third of the main set is comprised of exclusively early stuff that is received, much better, than anything else. There’s a run from “One”, to “Master of Puppets”, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Creeping Death” and “Seek And Destroy” that could have come from anytime in the past 32 years. Of course it is fantastic fun and a great big night out.

There’s a sense of something being held back through learned stagecraft and restraint. The hell-bent-for-leather sense of thirty years ago – the live fast, die young, and leave a great record – is missing. To compensate we have big screens, fires, inflatable band members, and rehearsed moves. The compelling, desperate edge that made their reputation is duller here with age and time and work. Nobody can be the same at twice their age than they were half their life ago, nor would I want them to. But what this is is a reminder of what they used to be, in some ways.

Stranded in the transport desert that is Twickenham, it’s not even dark, and the main set has barely crashed to a shuddering halt, before I see the people streaming to the exits. In fact, given the location of their previous gigs – being often in profitably-priced-to-hire-competitive-megadomes on the outskirts of town – I’ve managed to miss the end of more Metallica gigs than I haven’t recently. My choice is either to bail before they play “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman”, or to wait for two hours in a mile long queue to miss the last train home.

With the final leg of the three year tour coming to a close this summer, Metallica have become a furious, thrash version of The Rolling Stones : and in no way is that a criticism. They know what the crowd want – and they deliver it with a professional, dry efficiency that betrays a fluent, unconscious stagecraft and assumed knowledge. Like an ruthless joke machine that no longer finds their own material funny, Metallica are instead very, very good at what they do, as a professional cog in a huge multinational business that is in the business of selling T-shirts, beer cups, and action figures. Sometimes the music itself is just another product, and whilst Metallica were great fun and hugely enjoyable, they are no longer an amazingly good thrash metal band, but instead a great stadium rock show experience.

Hardwired
The Memory Remains
Ride The Lightning
Harvester of Sorrow
The Unforgiven
Here Comes Revenge
Moth Into Flame
Sad But True
No Leaf Clover
Killers
Frantic
One
Master Of Puppets
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Creeping Death
Seek And Destroy
-
Lords of Summer
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman


Monday, July 01, 2019
 
THE CURE / RIDE / THE TWILIGHT SAD / JUST MUSTARD - Dublin Malahide Castle, 08 June 2019

Sometimes it feels like The Cure are a tribute band. But their songs never age as such : they were always old, often decades older than their years, and, as the band sort-of approach old age, they seem to have finally caught up with the songs they wrote as young men. As a 15 year old listener, “Disintegration” – most of which is scattered through the night – felt like some kind of melancholy I couldn’t quite understand. Three decades later, those songs have become the sound of a modern life. The sound of a tired commute to a job. The sound of what it is to be this age. The sound of what it is to have had enough.

The Cure sometimes seemingly slide away from currency to being merely an enticing live proposition, and sometimes seem to fall victim to the same malaise as The Rolling Stones and Roxy Music – that is, not releasing new music and becoming a touring museum. In that respect, a Cure show is always a history lesson these days. But it’s never nostalgia as such : every show is firmly rooted in today and now, and the knowledge that it is the path of history that lead to here. And those songs seem to exist outside of time. A great song can be written last week, last century, or a millennium ago. What matters only is that it still speaks to you. A Cure show isn’t a time capsule to another century, but an experience that seem to cover most emotions that a life contains. Joy, tragedy, and the wild mood swings inbetween.

This, their first Dublin show in 27 years, is the opening stop on their summer festival jaunt : and over two and a half hours – a relative skimp by Cure standards, given some nights they play over four hours – they present a wide reaching overview of their entire body of work, from the deep depths of their more obscure albums, and bringing long-neglected songs back to the stage (“The Wendy Time” gets its first live performance in 27 years and only its sixth outing ever, alongside “Just One Kiss” returning from a 7 year holiday).

In some respects, I’m glad they play “Shake Dog Shake” and “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” in the first 15 minutes. Of the songs the band play regularly, they are my least favourite ; being simplistic, repetitive, and of relatively few sections with little variation.

With the most stable lineup they’ve had (7 years, and counting), The Cure have found a configuration that is playing some of the best shows of their lives. I’ve seen good Cure shows, legendary Cure shows, and bad Cure shows. Even the bad ones are better than some bands on their best night. It’s taken some time, but with the core lineup playing together for twenty five years, and relative newbie Reeves Gabrels (formerly David Bowie’s best guitarist) at only seven years in post, it’s a definitive version of the band tonight. Jason Cooper – the most under-rated drummer there is – effortlessly punctuates each song with a precise attack, alongside Roger O'Donnell on keys, and bass player Simon Gallup (who joined the band forty years ago) prowls the stage protectively. This Cure are as good as any other lineup. That is a hill I will fight you on. And win.

Support comes from Just Mustard, who remind me of no one so much as the long lost, now defunct Cranes, with unfriendly, obscure vocals, and a dense roar of sound. After that come The Twilight Sad – not only Robert Smiths favourite band (and Cure support act at many of their shows) – but also one of my favourite bands in the world. A short thirty minute set in daylight barely scratches the surface of possibilities for this band, but they stick to a compact and powerful, undiluted roar through their work. A truncated Sad show in daylight is by no means the best environment to catch them, but does provide a glimpse of their magic.

Ride are penultimate on the bill, with an assortment of new, old, and very new songs from their upcoming album. I’m sure they work better in darkness, but they don’t connect with me. I like them, and they are more than capable of weaving a spell, but sunshine in a field is not their world.

And onto The Cure. These days, they play live because they want to, not because they need to, and have long become financially self-sustaining to the point that the bands existence is a luxury : every show and release is the result of it being an artistically right thing to do and not an act of commerce or profit. And, unlike some bands, there’s not really a sense that a Cure gig is Yet Another Day At The Office. There’s a sense that this band are creating a world of music and emotion, and inviting you to be part of it.

But, given that it’s the thirtieth anniversary of “Disintegration” – an album the band have just played five times at Sydney Opera House, alongside a large number of b-sides – there’s a sense of this night being, perhaps, a special show, or an event, which will see them play that album in full and in order. No such chance. As such, it’s a broad career retrospective that covers almost all of their work, with at least something from every album bar the most recent two. Which means that even the youngest song is 19 years old.

Nonetheless, I’ve seen The Cure a lot of times in a lot of places. And this show reminds me so much of a previous one that I actually think I might have seen them too much, if you can do such a thing. Or that some things never change. There’s distinct points where it feels just like Finsbury Park in 1993, right down to the weather, and where I am stood. Which is bizarre.

Most bizarre of all is during “Play For Today.” I have a sudden, violent and weird flashback to this exact moment, in this exact field, with the band playing this exact song, a feeling of having been here before, despite this never having happened before. And at this exact moment, it’s the rudest, and most unsociable Cure crowd I have experienced. After many of us have patiently waited most of the day, there’s a handful of rude, pushy, drunk men (well, mostly men), who seem to think it is their god-given divine privilege to stand exactly where you are, and push you out of the way, because that is What They Want To Do. And they’re drunk, of course. So get out of the way. I Want To Be At The Front. I Want To Be A Moron. I Want To Be Annoying.

And it spoils things. There’s no need to be so selfish, and no need to be so obviously annoying. No need at all. Is your pleasure worth so much you can piss off dozens of people? (It isn’t). We’re all here for the music that makes us forget the world, and makes us forget people like you.

And then after ten minutes he leaves when he realises they’re playing the Doom-And-Gloom part of the set (“Want”, “39”, “One Hundred Years”), and someone else, seemingly immediately barges in his place, then they leave, then two drunk people think they can just shove everyone else out of the way, before they realise they can’t. These seemingly infinite cavalcade of cuntery keeps up from “Inbetween Days” all the way to the last notes of “Boys Don’t Cry”.

It breaks the spell The Cure are working so hard to achieving, and one that, when it works, makes a Cure show like nothing else in the world. Where the band use music to vibrate the air in a way that somehow changes the way we feel. That’s the magic. Magic is something that can’t be seen or touched, but that changes what we feel in relation to the world around us. Despite all the stupidity, the band are still playing an essential, and cleansing set of songs that make the world make more sense. What more do you want from art than that?

Shake Dog Shake,
Burn,
From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea,
A Night Like This,
Pictures Like You,
High,
Just One Kiss,
Lovesong,
Just Like Heaven,
Last Dance,
Fascination Street,
Never Enough,
The Wendy Time,
The Walk,
Push,
Inbetween Days,
Play For Today,
A Forest,
Primary,
Want,
39,
One Hundred Years,
Lullaby,
The Caterpillar,
Doing The Unstuck,
Friday I’m In Love,
Close To Me,
Why Can’t I Be You?,
Boy’s Don’t Cry


Wednesday, May 08, 2019
 
NICK MASON’s SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS - London Camden Roundhouse 04 May 2019

With Pink Floyd now defunct (and half of the original lineup dead), and both David Gilmour and Roger Waters working in their own solo spheres, Nick Mason – the only member of Pink Floyd to play on every album and at every show – occupies the enviable status of being both the last man standing for this great band, and perhaps its most fervent cheerleader. At 75, it’s a strange time to be on your first solo tour, but Pink Floyd have never been the most conventional of bands.

In another universe, the Floyd would have carried on like The Stones, touring football stadiums every so often as an incredibly well paid job on the back of yet another greatest hits record, before one of them finally dropped dead in a hotel room in Copenhagen being almost as rich as God herself.

In this world, the Floyd simply took breaks and made solo material – inevitably one of them lasting 25 years, and then the band were no more. One can hardly accuse Mason of hurriedly exploiting the bands name for glory ; starting his first solo tour in his seventies, in theatres about 50 times smaller than the final Floyd tour, and ticket prices being at least half what you might expect from an original member of the band - having waited a diplomatic quarter century to do so, it feels like a faithful and proud reclaiming of the bands often overlooked early material. There’s a sense that this tour is the sole result of his phone never ringing, and Mason wanting to simply go and play drums on songs he loves with his friends. No song in tonights set is less than 47 years old. Frighteningly, none of these songs were recorded whilst I was alive. And I am in my lateish forties. Most of them were never played live by Pink Floyd since before I was born. And there’s no real reason I can think of why : most of it is staggeringly good, and clearly points to the melodic strengths of The Dark Side Of The Moon.

The early Pink Floyd – with Syd Barrett – is a band that ceased to exist fifty one years ago ; if you saw them then, there’s a slim chance you aren’t in your Seventies. And an even slimmer chance you remember any of it. The band Mason fronts is a convincing mixture of Floyd alumni – including their live bass player of over thirty years, Guy Pratt – alongside Gary Kemp and Lee Harris on guitars, and Dom Beken on keyboards; all of whom seem to be living out their childhood dreams that were forged by listening to Relics at school in the 70’s, and now get to play the songs with the bands original drummer. The Pink Floyd rhythm section of the past 30 or so years, performing the bands early material, on tour in small rooms, feels like fun. It’s the first tour that Mason has played without a second drummer / percussionist on stage since I was four years old. But it doesn’t show.

It feels like a fleeting glimpse of what may have happened then : every song is dispatched with a sonically pure, precise but faithful sound, with Mason pounding the drums in the way that demonstrates how whilst he always played to the benefit of the song and not his ego, his strength came in knowing when not to overplay the song. Material such as “Interstellar Overdrive” sounds muscular and powerful – the way the records never quite captured thanks to limited technology and rushed studio budgets.

The choice of songs is astute ; with a clear selection of strong material cherry picked from the first six studio albums – including three songs from the much overlooked ‘Obscured By Clouds’, including the brilliant, and pounding title track which slips effortlessly into “When You’re In”. There’s a medley of “If” and “Atom Heart Mother” which – if you close your eyes – could be any one of a million early 70’s live recordings. Alongside songs which, if you’d told me five years ago I’d be watching a founder member of Pink Floyd perform “Vegetable Man” or “The Nile Song”, I’d’ve told you to stop lying to me. The early Floyd material is – was – fiercely inventive and fun, but sporadically brilliant, and sometimes rubbish. Such was the life of a young, hardworking band who made an album every year whether they had written enough songs to justify it. By the time the set comes to a close, “See Emily Play”, “Bike” and “One Of These Days” reaches a thunderous ending, it feels like an authentic recreation of what Pink Floyd might have been like. The pensioner in a tie-dye shirt headbanging on the front row seems to agree.

Huge chunks of this are Mason fronting a tribute band to himself ; but also, if anyone has the right to play the early Floyd material live, it’s Nick Mason. Nobody else is doing it – as both other living members rarely, if ever play anything recorded earlier than 1973. And this bands material ends at 1972. Overall, it was an unexpected, revelatory treat that showed just how wrong anyone who writes off their early years is. A Saucerful Of Secrets feel like a glimpse into what these songs might once have been like and a vital restatement of the bands early work – making these songs live and breathe again on stage in a way almost all of us have not seen in our lifetimes. Miss it at your peril.

Interstellar Overdrive
Astronomy Domine
Lucifer Sam
Fearless
Obscured By Clouds
When You’re In
Remember A Day
Arnold Layne
Vegetable Man
If
Atom Heart Mother
If (pt 2)
The Nile Song
Green Is The Colour
Let There Be More Light
Childhood’s End
Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun
See Emily Play
Bike
One Of These Days

A Saucerful Of Secrets
Point Me At The Sky


 
UNKLE Royal Festival Hall London 19 April 2019

As the launch of their eight (or maybe ninth album), “The Road II : Lost Highway”, UNKLE presented a strange uneven, but sproadically thrilling look through their twenty five year history. With the night split into two parts (Act 1: “The Club”, and Act II : “Afterhours”), it was perhaps not quite what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe a night of moodier more introspective material, but this was a two hour collection of a live band meshing together a multitude of their songs into a cohesive, tidal wave of sound.

Built around a core live lineup of James Lavelle on decks, mixing, and keys, with a multi-instrumentalist guitar/bass/synth wizard Steven Weston, ample live drummer Alex Thomas, and cellist Philip Sheppard on four plinths, the first hour was a representation of the bands more clubby, driving moments, with songs blending into each other and around each other (a vocal here, a bassline there) in a well-rehearsed, fluid set that reminded me of nothing so much as mid 90’s Underworld where there was barely pause to take breath. The first half raced through instrumental versions of tracks such as “Chemistry” overlaid with sampled vocals from “Restless”, “Be There”, “Reign”, “Heaven” and countless others, relentlessly presented in a solid but insistent first hour, rising to a pounding tempo where the bizarrely seated venue became a full on disco frenzy of “I Feel Love”. The visuals – a gentle mix of abstract imagery that occasionally fell into simple massive flashing lights, like a light up dance floor, or perhaps an epileptic-fit inducing strobe attack, moved like a tide through the venue. “Heaven” (originally, staggeringly, a b-side of epic proportions), is still one of the best songs by any act of the past decade or so, and the venue shimmered with the recorded vocal of the departed Gavin Clark.

After an hour of disco crescendo’s and a hard, bracing rhythm, the night paused. Having built up to a climax, the second half was a more considered, slower paced set of traditional live performance and live vocals. It’s much more of a ‘gig’ and a paced comedown after the somewhat euphoric first half.

Part II: “Afterhours” was the aftermath – the legacy of the night before. It was a measured set of guest vocalists [mostly taken from the latest record], with Thom Smith of Editors emoting effectively through “The Other Side”, Leila Moss on “More with Less” and “Days And Nights” with Dhani Harrison, Robbie Furze on “Find An Outsider”, and EKSA on “Reign” and “In A State”. There’s no sign of the estranged Richard File, who was the bands voice on 2003’s superlative “Never Never Land”, but the bands forte, that of a dense, driving rhythm with dynamic strings and soaring vocals, are amply evidenced. The set ebbs and flows through the more song based part of the bands work : setting an emotional temperature, each song building and growing, until the final “In A State”, which sends the audience out on a peak, and a climax. It was kind of like great sex, but perhaps not love.

“the club”
The Road
Chemistry
Restless
Money And Run
Looking For The Rain
Reign
Be There
Cowboys Or Indians
Heaven
Sunrise
Touch Me
I Feel Love

“the aftermath”
Crucifixion (with Thom Smith)
Days and Nights
Reprise
Find An Outsider
The Other Side (with Thom Smith)
Lonely Soul (with ESKA)
Feel More With Less (with Leila Moss)
Touch Me (with Leila Moss)
Reign (with ESKA)
In A State (with Leila Moss)


Monday, April 15, 2019
 
POP WILL EAT ITSELF / NED’S ATOMIC DUSTBIN / MILES HUNT – London Shepards Bush Empire 06 April 2019
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(photo by Jemm Lough)

With the near enough annual gig cycle of touring, this years Love With Stourbridge tour sees Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and Miles Hunt playing on the same bill for the first time in London in at least 30 years, if not ever.

Without a suitable anniversary (for some), it’s just an excuse for the bands to have a few weekends off in the school holidays, play a few live shows, tour most of the UK, and make a big noise. Miles Hunt opens with a solo acoustic set before dipping into a retro DJ set. It’s an excuse for dozens of friends who are now scattered all over the country (and the world) to get together and see the music they grew up listening to.

We never thought we’d get this far. I never did. And if we ever got to 2019, I always thought we’d be in hovercars and commuting to the moon. Here we are now. Entertain us.

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Miles Hunt opens with a short, and sharp 30 minute acoustic set at 7.30, so we’re treated to a 8 song set that draws (mostly) on his songs for The Wonder Stuff : Opening with “Unbearable”, the set covers half hits, a solo song in the shape of the wonderful “Everything Is Not OK”, a couple of LP tracks, and much loved 1994 b-side “Room 512”. It’s a fun, punctual start to the night – and there’s more to come.

Next up is Pop Will Eat Itself. With 4/5ths of the original classic lineup back in the fray, there’s something intangible and magical that happens when it’s this close to the best known lineup. Like all Pop Will Eat Itself gigs, it’s a glorious shambles of noise by the most under-rated band of their time. I’ve always thought that this band was as important and innovative culturally and musically as The Beastie Boys – and to me, personally, far more so because when The Beastie Boys were still running around like fucking idiots with inflatable willies, the Poppies were making a nuclear apocalypse danceable. But since PWEI didn’t come from Brooklyn but from a place near Birmingham, everything they did was discounted by stupid snobbery. Make no mistake, this band were undoubtedly musically one of the best of their formative years – and still one I’ve seen almost more than anyone else. Tonight they’re brilliant. Probably the best I’ve seen them in 14 years.

There’s lots of reasons : not least of which is this that they are playing their seminal (and groundbreaking) “This Is The Day… This Is The Hour… THIS IS THIS!” album in full on tour for the first time. Many songs have never been performed in 30 years, if at all. It’s a wonderful relief and change for the band to bring back songs they should play more often – and to have a degree of variety in the song choice. Opening with “PWEI Is A Four Letter Word” is a novelty – but it shouldn’t be. The show then opens up with a perfectly sequenced, smooth groove of embryonic, pioneering rock-with-computers, with the one-two suckerpunch of “Preaching To The Perverted” / “Wise Up! Sucker” next to each other, the two songs separated solely by a seamless morse-code signal that turns the two songs into two sides of the same coin, moving together to create a glorious whole. The buzzsaw guitar riffs and pounding rhythms, made flesh by the metronomic, unstoppable Fuzz Townsend on drums, make for a driving beat that seems to never pause and take breath. Somehow these songs feel shorter, faster, more powerful live. And then there’s the tiniest of breaths, and we’re deep into side two with “Poison To The Mind” and “Def Con One.”

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(photo by Jemm Lough)

Normally, when bands perform album-in-full shows, it feels wrong. The dynamics of playing to a crowd are very different from a heard-in-headphones-on-your-own experience of the record. Here, there’s no such disconnect : it feels like these songs must be next to each other in the natural order, the way things must and should be. There’s the quite wonderful resurrection of “Satellite Ecstatica” (which later apparently was borrowed to be the title of an unreleased Aphex Twin album), and the chaos that is “Not Now James, We’re Busy”. All of these songs sound like every instrument is somehow all fighting each other at the same time in a very crowded bag of sound. I’m not quite sure, but for me, years, worries, they all slip away and I become who I once was, and who I sometimes get to be again, the child inside the man. As the album comes to a close with an apocalyptic “Wake Up! Time To Die.”, there’s a shift in tempo to a short, sharp greatest hits set of big hitters from their other albums, in the shape of “Get The Girl + Kill the Baddies”, “Dance Of The Mad Bastards”, and a final, defiant “Ich Bin Ein Auslander”. It seems staggering to me that we’re still fighting the same battles, the same wars, battling the same terrible monsters of Phobias and Isms, that racists, homophobes, sexists, transphobics, and the rest are still enemies and that we still have to define ourselves not just by what we are but what we are against, and that there are still, staggering asshats who can only feel safe when they oppress other people, that only feel good when they make others feel bad, and won’t just let others be who they are. The battle is eternal.

And then the best PWEI show I have seen in over a decade comes to a close.

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There’s a brief break, and then it’s Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Being born and braised in Birmingham, at the time that this band, and PWEI, and The Wonder Stuff were huge, it felt like I was in my very own zeitgeist. These were bands I saw in the pub, and on the bus, and talking to people I knew as friends. It was weird, but also, it was just my normality. I had no idea how unusual it was that people you sort of knew appeared on television and on front pages of the music press. Or how weird it was to grow up with my school inside a Chocolate Factory. It was just my normal. Whatever that was.

What Neds had, that many of their peers didn’t,was a musical vulnerability. Like all the bands I love, the music has to be great, but I can’t love a band with bad lyrics. And this band have very good, honest, insightful words. The band play passionately, but without a new album in the past 24 years, and only three new songs in that time, the Neds are a musical museum. I’m fascinated and interested in hearing bands track and reflect where they are now, how they see the world now, and always connected to artists whose work spoke to me. Music was a map that helped me navigate my way through this world, and a lack of new art – especially where once it was prolific – makes the band, for me, a memory that is front of me. No matter how good they are, or how well they play, or how good the songs are, the band are a memory and a museum in front of me.

But it all got lost in a fickle and stupid music press that was run by snobs. There was much fawning over second-division indie landfill just a few years later, with grasping desperation trying to make artistic amoebas such as Cast and Shed Seven in some way credible or tolerable. Anything that came out of Manchester was lauded, and much that was mere laddish repackaging of the thuggish elements of The Rolling Stones and The Who was somehow regarded as brave, and vital, instead of the babbling of idiots who’d borrowed their Dad’s record collections and know the words but don’t know what they mean.

Certainly it’s fun and fabulous to jump around dancing to old songs like the present never happened… but I want more. I want to see how people are growing old, and how they interpret that through their work, to help me, now, as I get older. Somewhere in a corner of a crowded O2 venue, there is a dancefloor that is forever 1993.

And I wouldn’t want to be normal for all the money in the world.

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Miles Hunt :
Unbearable,
Ruby Horse,
Caught In My Shadow,
Can’t Shape Up,
Everything is Not OK,
Room 512,
Golden Green,
Give Give Give Me More More More

Pop Will Eat Itself :
PWEI Is a Four Letter Word,
Preaching to the Perverted,
Wise Up! Sucker,
Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell,
Inject Me,
Can U Dig It?,
The Fuses Have Been Lit,
Poison to the Mind,
Def Con One,
Radio P.W.E.I.,
Shortwave Transmission on 'Up to the Minuteman Nine’
Satellite Ecstatica,
Not Now James, We're Busy... ,
Wake Up! Time to Die
,Get the Girl! Kill the Baddies!,
Dance of the Mad Bastards,
Ich Bin Ein Auslander

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Ned’s Atomic Dustbin :
Tantrum,
Not Sleeping Around,
Until You Find Out,
Throwing Things,
Trust,
Walking Through Syrup,
A Leg-End In His Own Boots,
Aim,
Stuck,
Two and Two Made Five,
Cut Up,
Traffic,
Capsize,
Happy,
Grey Cell Green,
Intact,
Kill Your Television,
Selfish

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Sunday, April 14, 2019
 
IDLES, London Camden Electric Ballroom, 05 April 2019

Are Idles a band, or a movement?

In the way that The Clash were just a band, Idles are just a band. Just a band. But not just a band, but a way of being. Unlike many other bands, it feels like Idles are a band that don’t just make noise, but that there is somehow a purpose, a higher calling, and a need to create. To make music. To make sense of this madness that is Brexitland, 2019.

Instead of being a band because Daddy Was In The Police, Idles are a band born of love and necessity. Having existed in various part time forms for at least nine years, and only recently becoming a major, full time touring entity, Idles have come into this world the hard way. From years of working minimum wage job, or being dentists, working shifts, getting up and getting the bus to town five days a week, 48 weeks a year, Idles are a band that have lived the life they sing about, and know it.

Now though, on the back of a colossal sophomore album – “Joy As An Act of Resistance” – the band have managed, somehow to capture in 12 songs the spirit of the age ; the joy, the resistance, the call to action, and the confusion of these times.

The show isn’t a show as such ; there’s no showmanship, but there is a honesty. The band existed too long, and meant too much, and didn’t make enough money for too long, to be anything but a labour of love. Now there’s three shows at the Camden Electric Ballroom, in a row, each of which doesn’t feel like a normal “gig”. It doesn’t feel like just a bunch of people going to see a band on a Friday night. It feels like something happening.

It feels like someone made this infamous bit of graffiti, and made it real. You’re Not Strangers If You Like The Same Band. We’re all friends – people who seem to feel the same way about the world, who perhaps feel a bit lost in a world of madness – united by a common voice that speaks to us and for us, but not to us.

The venue is very crowded. The atmosphere is electric. In fact, there is nothing tonight reminds me of more – in terms of the crowd and the spirit – than Morrissey’s first solo tour in 1991. A very long time ago, when many people were very different. But that sense of tension/release, of cleansing, of finding music that helped make sense of the world.. that is there.

Idles open with “Colossus”. There’s a sense of a coiled snake waiting to pounce. When Joe Talbot sings I was done in by the weekend – the weekend lasted 20 years, there’s that moment of decoding ; the moment where he wasn’t referring to a literal weekend, but the sense of an extended adolescence, that of never quite growing up that sometimes lasts a whole lifetime. Lyrically the songs may seem minimal but they are precise and intone the multiple meanings through repetition. There’s a paused, poignant line – “I am my fathers son / his shadow weighs a ton” and I feel every ounce of that ton : my father was a role model, and he taught me in many ways who not to be. That shadow weighs a ton.

The room goes quiet, and a shouted “1-2!”. And everything explodes. And even though the music itself is abrasive, loud, brutal, it’s a kind of tender brutal. The kind that reminds me of frantic sex with tenderness in the heart of it. In fact that we’re not shouting at each other, but with each other, together in a chant and a refutation, in a joyous celebration of the fact that we are here, we are now, and we are resisting what we are told to think, what we are told to feel, and what we are told to believe. Humans are smarter and more complicated than we are given credit for. There’s a sense of unity in all of this, that all of this energy is going into a common direction.

“Never Fight A Man With A Perm” is next. It’s a silly, and serious song at the same time ; the coiled riff and the tense, claustrophobic lyrics remind me of growing up in cheap, desperate streets in poor suburbs – the threat of violence never more than a minute away, fuelled by the simmering rage that comes from not ever having enough money. I can name pubs that this song is practically the National Anthem for, and you probably can too. If anything, this song for me is the sound of my Eighties Birmingham childhood, and the sound of concrete, leather, and Ford Capris. I know that world still exists – I see it everyday in the headlines. Anyone who think that this is the sound of the something that doesn’t exist anymore needs to step outside the gates and smell the lager.

From the lyrical theme of a drunken night out, the band then slip easily into “Faith In The City”, the sound of the morning after, and perhaps also a job. I mean, I could go on and on and on, but all of the songs sound like articulate fragments of the often boring, hard life we have to live. I’m lefty, I’m soft, I’m minimum wage job… I’M SCUM.

And unless you’re double barrelled, and wearing two monocles, that’s probably what the populist politicians think of you. What they think of us. Potted plants. But we are different. And in the following songs, there’s “Great” (possibly the most immediately vital song refuting small minded Little England), alongside the inclusive, group hug that is “Danny Nedelko”.

The great thing is that almost all of these songs sound like timeless anthems that could have come from any time in history, but also could only have existed now, could only have meant what they mean now. “Danny Nedelko” is not only musically vital, but there’s something wonderful about a broad range of humans of many ages all in a loud room shouting “COMMUNITY!”. We are better than fighting amongst ourselves.

The band also break down barriers off stage : both Lee and Bobo on guitars frequently wander into the crowd, and there’s no sense that the band are on stage performing to us, but a sense that they are perhaps ringleaders or conductors of a room sized orchestra. The rest of the set is equally riotous, equally as passionate, equally vital, a directed, unified shout of resistance. It’s a short, exciting 90 minutes that seems to go in the blink of an eye – over, before it began – and then they are suddenly in the last seconds of “Rottweiler”, the crowd are still bouncing up and down like children full of sugar, singing every word, as the sound turns into feedback, turns into an echo, turns into tinnitus, turns into a memory. It wasn’t just a gig. This was something far better than that – it was a cathartic, joyful celebration of all that is good in humanity in a world that is an often terrible exploration of the worst my species can offer. We all, I think, came out of it feeling more hopeful, better, happier. The best art makes life seem a better place to be.

It’s fitting the last word that came off the stage was a word that sums up the band overall : “UNITY!”

Colossus
Never Fight A Man With A Perm
Mother
Faith In the City
I’m Scum
Great
Queens
Danny Nedelko
Divide & Conquer
1049 Gotho
Love Song
Benzocaine
Samaritans
Television
White Privilege
Where’s My Ice Cream?
All I Want For Christmas Is You
Well Done
Rottweiler


Friday, March 08, 2019
 
THE TWILIGHT SAD – London Camden Electric Ballroom 28 Feb + Glasgow Barrowlands 02 March 19

To see a band visibly make The Great Leap is a rare thing. Few bands get to do such a thing and even fewer of us get to see it happening with our own eyes. After 12 years, the ever changing Twilight Sad meanwhile, have managed to somehow step up a gear artistically and creatively – and brought people in with them on the way. It’s exciting. It’s intoxicating. It’s beautiful. The great leap has seen them take a huge step in both their visibility, and more importantly, their work. The latest album “It Won/t Be Like This All The Time” is probably my favourite album of the past 25 years, and to experience this is a night that will not be forgotten by anyone who was there.

The crowning glory, as such of this, is a Saturday night headline at the legendary Barrowlands in Glasgow – and for a band that came so close, so many times, to not being around anymore and often played to empty, small rooms and openly wondered if this was the end, the fact that they can sell out the best venue in the country (if not the world), in their home town, in a few minutes is a moment to savour. The secret it seems has escaped.

Exposure is a terrible word ; and yet exposure is what has opened doors. For all the high profile support slots, never forget that the band got here through two things ; the quality of the songs – and a dogged determination, of hard work, and persistence. It doesn’t matter how much exposure you get if the core songs aren’t good enough, or don’t connect. What this bands music does to some people is a magical thing. For the band, part of it is that they too believe in this. Because if you didn’t believe in this, and did it just for money, sometimes there isn’t that much money in this.

Nonetheless, tonight victory is The Sad’s to lose : but they triumph. In Glasgow they are supported by Fiskur and Michael Timmons – handpicked, local acts that mine similar territory. In London, it is probably the final London appearance by A Mote Of Dust, which is, in itself, a sad moment to see such talent simply unable to continue because of money.

The Twilight Sad never do things by halves. There’s no real showmanship as such, more a fluency in the music that becomes something else. And, in the shape of vocalist James Graham, there’s an obviously emotional, and conscious focal point who is both very aware of what this means, and absolutely not taking it for granted. Years of playing and songwriting have culminated in this night.

What we do get is a committed, passionate performance by a band that have utterly grown into everything they ever promised they could be. James sings at the peak of his abilities and powers with a passion that most bands could only hope to hit. Andy McFarlane on guitar acts as a sort of aural ringmaster, stoic and barely moving whilst creating a beautiful squall of noise as a dark texture over everything else ; almost, in many ways, similar to the way The Jesus And Mary Chain slathered “Psychocandy” with tonal noise over the top of these brittle, great songs. The bands engine room of Jonny Doc, new drummer Sebastien Schlutz, and Brendan Smith create a solid and powerful bedrock. Jonny’s basslines act as the melodic lead – he’s a sorely under-rated bass player, whilst at the same time Brendan creates rhythmic textures and atmospheres that match the guitar tones and complement them. At the heart is new drummer Seb, who pushes the songs with a technical fluency the band needed to make these songs what they have become. Seeing them with him now, even though I have seen other lineups, makes me wonder how the band could have ever done without him. They probably, truth be told, not been able to do this.

London opens with a powerful triple hit from the new album ; the music is built on dynamics with tone and tempo shifts, ebbs and flows, tension and release – veering between a tightly coiled spring and a joyous expression. The opener “[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]” is a slow build that casually spends its choruses like a millionaire on a gambling spree. As soon as there’s a chant from the crowd of “I called you. I called you all night.” There’s the double barrel line, that the first moment I heard it, I just knew this band had become everything I hoped they could :

“Do they understand you?
Do they call out your name?
Do they even miss you?
All these boys look the same.”

In the current world, and the refreshing tide against toxic, and stupid masculinity there’s not many songs that so obviously rubbish fuckboys for being the utter idiots they are. And yet, here it is, addressing it, and being openly vulnerable and emotional, in a way that the best bands do. Alongside Idles, this band are unafraid of showing their emotions and their humanity.

This song, like many of the others, achieves what all great art does. The best art opens our eyes, helps us see the world in a different light, and makes us understand life a little better than we did before.

And what is the point of art, if not to feel? If not to see? If not to access insights and emotions? To experience life differently? And for me at least, The Twilight Sad are a band that provides me with a map through the terrain. A way of understanding and decoding emotions. The confusion, sadness, joy, that comes with being alive. Their niche is ecstatic misery, in recognising both sides of the coin, and how true happiness cannot come without struggle. My life has been an uneasy path, and there is a bittersweet comfort in knowing that its not just my path that is difficult. Not that I would wish some of those struggles on anyone else, but to feel that sense of community in that it is a battle and not a lone trek through the wilderness is sometimes a consolation.

Also – and forgive me for indulging – the Sad fan community is one of the friendliest I have encountered. There’s a sense of belonging and likemindedness amongst the people here, with shared and common experiences and battles. Life doesn’t always come easy to some people, and maybe that’s one of the common elements amongst us. And down here at the gig, it’s very definitely a sense of “us”, instead of being alone in a crowd.

With barely a seconds pause, the band have revved up and are deep into “Girl Chewing Gum”, and aside from “Last January” (which is a pounding, powerful song), the first half hour is all new material. There’s also their best song yet – “VTr”. It’s the perfect combination of tension/release, built on a throbbing bassline, and stuffed with more hooks than a fish’s mouth. The lyric clearly addresses a matter very close to my soul – the redemptive power of love and community to overcome the adverse – and in one key line, an urging to find joy wherever it may be in whatever shape it may come. There’s no love too small.

In bands I love, I cling to the lyrics, to find nuggets and fragments of truth, to find designs for life, and commandments, of insights that are tossed from minds of others, signs that point to ways through this thing called life that might make it easier.

On previous nights of the tour, the band have played the whole of the new album in full : In Glasgow, James has strained his voice and they play almost all of it – not that the night feels shortchanged as a result. His voice can’t hit the high notes of “Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting”, or “Girl Chewing Gum” and cancelling your biggest headline show yet isn’t an option, so the band take some of songs out of the set which push the voice to its limits.

In the course of the night, the band also touch upon the key points of their history, with “Last January”, “Reflection Of The Television” and “Girl In The Corner”, as well as a final triumphant closing segment which is, to put it mildly, emotional, and designed perhaps intentionally, to make us all feel. Some of the older songs are absent – these are the first time, I think, since release that the band have taken “That Summer At Home I Became The Invisible Boy”, and “Don’t Move” out of a headline tour. But the night doesn’t feel less by their absence, and you may only miss them if you know they were once there.

There’s not a Sad gig yet that I have not felt things at. Tonight is no exception ; and I feel perhaps more than I have at most. “Cold Days In The Birdhouse” may be about many things, and nothing, but tonight its about one thing : the crowd singing together. And not mere terrace chant nursery rhymes about Wonderwalls or whatevers, but deep, heartfelt, enormous explorations of love and hope that feel like they were taken from my collective, unexpressed unconscious.

There’s the powerful, muscular “The Wrong Car”. This non-album single was only ever released on vinyl, and it floors me. I’m not sure exactly what its about, but as someone who has spent more of their life over-thinking and with anxiety as a superpower (just well hidden), I’ve spent what felt like many nights of my life staying in at night, because its more than I can bear to show. And of course, making the wrong decision, being wrong before, getting in to the right side of the wrong car. The lyrics are obtuse, even impenetrable, but to me, they cut right through to mean what I need them to mean. It’s about – to me – making mistakes, and learning from them.

And then there’s the next song. And like everytime, this song breaks my heart and remakes it at the same time. It’s Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm”. It’s too much and yet not quite enough ; and what do I feel? A thousand things at once. A reminder – as if I could forget – of the joy, of the life music gave me. Life never made sense until music came in, and songs like this became my guides when I was alone, or provided a light when I was lost. Songs like this helped me see in the dark. And yet I survived, and Scott didn’t, and it’s a survival song, a song of protest, a song that to me symbolises my life itself, and a sign of the eternal battle I fight between the sad, (the blues, whatever you want to call it) itself and the light that has steered me through the dark nights. I cry and weep and lose myself, and find myself, and here I am, fighting, living, and being alive itself is a victory because there were days when I wasn’t sure I would be doing that until I hit old age. I didn’t always think I’d make it to here and now. It’s quite literally the battle of, and for, my life, and it’s exhausting some days, and oh, how I wish it wasn’t.

The final song is “And She Would Darken The Memory”. It’s a transcendent blow out ; a firework ; a final cacophony of sound and defiance against the silence for me, that builds to a hypnotic trance of release.

Of course some bands have fans. And some bands have people that either love them or are indifferent. If you could judge a band’s greatness purely by how much a band is loved by their most fervent, The Twilight Sad might just be one of the best bands in human history ever. I would not argue that assessment.

Friendships were made. A intercontinental marriage proposal was made. This band changes lives. For one night, people travelled all across the world to be in that perfect room for two hours. There’s not many shows where you might think You had to be there. This was one. Magic happened here.

[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]
Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting*
Girl Chewing Gum*
Last January
The Arbor
VTr
Reflection Of The Television
Auge/Maschine
Sunday Day 13
There's A Girl In The Corner
I/m Not Here
Keep It All To Myself*
Let's Get Lost
Videograms
Cold Days In The Birdhouse
The Wrong Car
Keep Yourself Warm
And She Would Darken The Memory

* - not played in Glasgow



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