(Planet Me)
Tuesday, October 09, 2018
 
PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT - "Technique/Republic" - London Camden Electric Ballroom 28 September 2018

Continuing the seemingly infinite quest to play everywhere to everyone, and to play every song he’s ever released with Joy Division and New Order, Peter Hook and The Light now knock down albums 10 and 11. With the ability to play nearly every song from the 1977-1993 body of work, Hook and his band have become, like his former band, custodians of anthems that these days belong to the audience as much as they do the band themselves.

Moved hastily from the Camden Palace (not Koko, despite what legally may be the name), the Electric Ballroom is the stage that he first played as a member of Joy Division 40 years ago. And, as a result of the venue also having a night of hair ballads and Ultimate Power rock at 10pm, he’s on stage at 6.45 for a traditional three hour set that is all over by 9.45. Enough time for a pint post show.

He opens, as is normal with an assortment of Joy Division songs. I’m beginning to think that I’ve seen those songs played enough now with at least half an hour of Joy Division songs played at every show I’ve seen him play. Sure, give it twenty five years, and I’ll be clamouring to see a member of Joy Division perform “Transmission”, in the way that when I was a twenty five year old in suburban nowhere, seeing a member of Joy Division perform any one of those songs was an abstract impossibility. Flashback to the 1997 Monaco tour, which saw that band perform “Failures” to a rabid ballroom in Wolverhampton, and maybe it’s time to rest the Joy Division legacy for a while and come back to it later. It sure is weird, to see the band perform something as punishing as “Autosuggestion”, then to be rampaging through the hands-in-the-air Baleric disco of “Fine Time” ten minutes later. The change in tone is a leap.

For me at least, “Technique” was a transformative album. I came out of that album with my eyes and ears opened. Having not seen any songs from it performed in twenty years, its surprising, but also exciting : the songs are as good as they ever were. They have aged elegantly, though now are promises of a future that never quite happened. The first side of the album – “All the Way”, “Love less”, “Round & Round”, “Guilty Partner” are largely guitar based rockier numbers. It’s probably around the time of “Round & Round”, which sounds the same, yet different, that I kind of realise I’m a few minutes away from seeing something important to me. “Round & Round” is perfectly executed. It’s stunning that this hasn’t been a staple of the setlist since the dawn of time. Other, lesser bands would make something like this a must-play-every-night concert staple. For Hooky’s former band, it’s been played only 7 times in the past 25 years.

For me, this album was an eye opening way in to a much bigger world ; where things like indie, electronic, and so on, just became squashed into one category : good music. At the end of “Guilty Partner”, we turn to four songs that, in my eyes form the best single side of vinyl ever pressed. “Run”, “Mr.Disco”, “Vanishing Point” and “Dream Attack”. Since I was a spindly 15 year old when they toured these songs, I had no chance to see these performed live then. Now I see them now.

What is also obvious is that Hook is performing the album, as the album, in full. The live arrangement of “Mr.Disco” had a very different (and equally fabulous) middle-section the band never recorded which isn’t here, replacing it with a duelling bass/guitar solo that was on the record. The whole thing sounds perfect. And then there’s my favourite New Order song, ever. “Vanishing Point”. In the confines of an ancient ballroom, the driving rhythms, Italian House pianos, and great big disco stabs sound as good now as they did then. We’re all older, bigger, wiser, but also.. we’re still here. I’ve waited a long time to see these songs played live, and I wasn’t disappointed.

On stage, the songs from these two albums – New Order’s commercial high points – are rarities. “Technique” was born in the midst of a separation, and the lyrics are ones that Barney Sumner rarely wants to revisit : “Republic” was born in the midst of bankruptcy through a sense of commercial obligation. That said, on stage, the songs from both of these albums betray none of this.

In fact, more than half of Republic has never been played live by New Order. Aside from “Regret”, its largely been written out of history. So, for me, I’ve never seen 15 of tonights songs played live ever, by anyone.

“Republic” may be just a record, but it has a distinctly formative place in my life : I remember sitting in a Burger King in Leicester with the CD, thinking This Is The Last New Order Album I Will Hear. I was wrong, but there was no knowledge of the future. There never is. “Regret” is the one which I can most easily compare with New Order live.

What is clear is that Hooky is rightly proud of these songs and his role in their creation. To see where the bands differ though, you have to look at what they are doing now. Hooky plays 70 or shows a year, and is determined to perform almost every song he recorded. New Order play less often. Hooky would, were he in charge of New Order, probably have been playing frequently with varied setlists, probably like some electronic version of Pearl Jam with three hour sets, the ability to play anything from the body of work, and always out there somewhere. His band, The Light have largely been together since 1996 or so, and acquit themselves and the songs faithfully. The songs are more muscular, more assertative, given a different lease of life on stage. On record, “Republic” especially sounded like a studio creation that had perhaps been mixed a bit too often and became lacking in spark. On stage, the songs feel alive. “World”, which I’ve known for 25 years before seeing it performed live, bounces playfully like I always thought and hoped it would. “Ruined In A Day” is reimagined with a break into the godlike K-Klass remix that makes the song even better than it was. After this, it’s nothing but songs New Order haven’t performed since 1993, if at all.

“Spooky” is perhaps the most.. interesting. Never performed live by any member of New Order before this week, it’s absence is baffling. The song is streamlined, a blend of the numerous remixes and alternate versions, powering along assuredly, vocals shared evenly between Hook and Pottsy, and glistening with a modern incarnation. Alongside many of the songs tonight, it would become a live classic – if it had been played live more often.

The show drops pace for ”Everyone Everywhere”. Given that I’ll never get to travel back in time to see New Order in 1989 or 1993, this is probably the closest anyone can get. Like other artists of advancing years that don’t release songs anymore, Hook is recreating the past and, to some extent, reclaiming a sense of ownership over those songs. These things are always driven by a mix of ego and pride. Hook’s voice tends to suit the Joy Division material better, but more than adequately matches the songs and I do wish he’d sung more in New Order.

The second half of “Republic” is a banquet of rarely served treats : “Young Offender”, “Liar”, “Chemical” and “Times Change” have never been played live by any member of New Order, and it’s a bit odd. Seeing these songs performed live for the first time, a quarter century after release, is a little strange – but also, rewarding. In the new configuration, the band have to do things and play instruments, and so the sound is thicker, stronger, with lovely guitar embellishments, textures and vocals that make the songs sound just that little bit more complete. “Avalanche” isn’t included ; it’s a song Hooky made no contribution to so seems a little strange to try.

Encore time comes (and its not even 9.15pm). There’s a four header of “World In Motion”, “Blue Monday”, “Temptation” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. There was a time the thought of seeing any of those songs live was my holy grail : now it’s the sound of a rowdy Friday night. Inevitably the question comes down to which one you prefer? Hook or New Order? And do we have to choose? Both are valid, both offer a rewarding experience, and both are authentic in presentation and sound. There’s no winners, as such. Both are now free to follow their own path, and that is perhaps the victory – as best we can enjoy it. I waited 30 years to see some of these songs live – and it was worth the wait.

No Love Lost
Warsaw
Leaders Of Men
Digital
Autosuggestion
Transmission

Fine Time
All The Way
Love Less
Round & Round
Guilty Partner
Run
Mr. Disco
Vanishing Point
Dream Attack
Regret
World
Ruined In A Day
Spooky
Everyone Everywhere
Young Offender
Liar
Chemical
Times Change
Special

World In Motion
Blue Monday
Temptation
Love Will Tear Us Apart

p.s. pictures from "Stage Left" by Hebe Katia.


Sunday, September 30, 2018
 
SUEDE London Rough Trade East 21 September 2018 / London HMV Oxford Street 23 September 2018

Opening the live campaign with a series of in store appearances, Suede play two live sets in London (at Rough Trade East and HMV). I barely make Rough Trade a minute before they take the stage : I was trying to get to, and then back, from a wedding hundreds of miles away. I’m in a foul mood, and I cannot get anywhere near the front – so I don’t try. Standing at the back as the band play a fifty minute set made exclusively of newer songs is a refreshing and rewarding experience. The confidence in there – and the material – makes clear the band don’t need the old songs to play a great show. Sure, the old songs are great. But the new songs are great too. And I love that over the two shows, almost every song is made from the recent years ; the millstone of history is a weight they carry with grace, not a rock that drags them down.

Starting with a double punch of “As One” and “Wastelands”, either of these songs would be hailed as godlike classics if only it was 1994. Make no mistake about it, this version of the band, with Richard Oakes and Neil Codling in, is as much Suede as they ever were and more so, and these choices have become integral and essential to the band ; Codling and Oakes interplay with an affection and playfulness – especially on the live debut of “Flytipping”, that demolishes confidently any doubts anyone should ever have had. In particular, the absence of any songs written by the first lineup, isn’t to me, noticeable at all. Suede are a self-realised, fully complete artistic identity that have outpaced the shadow of history and escaped the legacy by being who they are, not who they were. I don’t feel the lack of those older songs at all. This is who Suede are.

At this point, Suede are as close to perfect as I think they will ever get. They’ve been doing this so long now that they’ve clearly mastered their craft, and at that enviable point where skills and experience at their apex whilst also the band are physically young and hungry enough to be atheletes. In short, few bands get to this point – 30 years in – with the same lineup they had 23 years ago, and still make vital, and fresh records. Suede have long left behind any conception of who you think they might be, and now are growing with grace and skill. In some ways this stuff they do now is like Talk Talk’s “Spirit Of Eden”, a world removed from their previous pop life. They don’t try to have hits, because nobody has hits these days. They try to write the best songs they can, and compete on their own terms.

The pop level is still there, because the band can’t help but write songs – and good ones. The grand epic reach and drama, the curled tension of the later years shows a band that has, in the past five years, been reborn. Suede have pulled off, as I hoped they would, the best reformation I’ve ever seen. The records are just as good as they used to be, if not better. The abilities they had then have become refined, and strengthened with time. “The Blue Hour” is made of solid, powerful songs that sit very well with each other, and on their own. Suede can do epic at the drop of a hat. “Outskirts”, for example, has the pull-and-release stomp of glam rock wrapped around the kind of drama you would expect in a move soundtrack.

There’s a token nod at HMV to two songs from “Coming Up” : know your audience, and the live debut of “Flytipping” (that is, to my minds, a huge meditation of sound and words that is a latter-day brother to “Asphalt World”), sees the band communicating by glances to make sure they don’t lose their place in this multi-faceted and complex song, with a seamless and showy transition to “Film Star” and “Trash”. Both sets close with “The Invisibles” and “Life Is Golden”. The latter is one of the best songs Suede have ever done, and closes the set with a confident optimism that asserts the song’s rightful place, and position, as they grow old with a dignity and strength of vision that so many of their once-peers abandoned many years ago. Suede are determinedly not a touring history museum for nostalgic middle-aged people clinging to the last gasp of their twenties, but clearly showing how it is not only possible, but preferable, to remain valid, relevant, and determinedly alive as you travel in time through life. This isn’t the sound of surrender to time, but, as so few bands do, not going gently into the night but living and being alive.

Rough Trade East :
As One,
Wastelands,
Cold Hands,
Outsiders,
It Starts And Ends With You,
I Don’t Know How To Reach You,
For The Strangers,
Tides,
Sabotage,
Invisibles,
Life Is Golden

HMV :
As One,
Wastelands,
Outsiders,
It Starts And Ends With You,
Roadkill,
Flytipping,
Film Star,
Trash,
Invisibles,
Life Is Golden.


Friday, September 14, 2018
 
IDLES Joy As An Act Of Resistance

This is the album of the year. I *never* say things like that on first listen. This isn’t first listen. This album is less than two weeks old, but I know. It’s what I’ve been hoping for in music in years. It’s smart, funny, fiercely human, joyful, and fuming at the same time. It reflects – exactly – the war that lives in my head. The music is a furious, tightly coiled spring. The band wait, they pounce, and they roar. This is the articulate sound of unheard fury in every street in the country.

Joy As An Act of Resistance is the perfect title. The album is full of joy. The world should be joyful. We should be living this life, now, at the peak of humanity ; humanity has conquered space, and has nearly defeated disease. We have the resources in this world to equalise poverty, eliminate hunger, to cure unhappiness. And so many of us are unhappy ; because it’s not fair, it’s not equal. It’s not right. And this is where the joy comes from. The news is terrible. We should be worried about everything. Joy, happiness, love, a smile – these are acts of resistance. This is the war.

Sometimes it feels like the way the world works, that we, humans, we’re just Economic Units Of Production and all joy and emotion is nothing compared to a balance sheet. And then, we get the words in the songs : all the songs come from a place of Joy. In a belief that mankind can conquer all imperfections if – IF – somehow the power was all in the right places. It’s written in every line. And whilst the songs are undoubtedly angry, at the same time, they’re also full of passion. Each song is a story, an image, a snapshot of modern life. “A dulcet man with a dulcet tone from a dulcet town and a dulcet home” sums up so much of a modern high street on a Friday night ; the electric terrifying buzz of a Saturday Night at closing time that we’ve all known.

And it’s a vulnerable album ; the lyrics are raw, and emotional : a man lost in a modern world, where we are surrounded, bombarded by conflicting messages and a confusion over what it is to be a man anymore :

“I'm lefty, I'm soft. I'm minimum wage job. I am a mongrel dog. I'm just another cog. This snowflake’s an avalanche.”

And there’s songs that cover every part of how I feel. The songs pointedly and clearly address the xenophobic post-Brexit MadMaxScape that is modern Britain – a land where we want more nurses, yet also deport them – a land where we are taught to hate ourselves to buy more things – a land where we are taught to hate everyone who isn’t quite exactly like us – a land of adequate food, low quality meat, No Deal, and stockpiled medicines - and, at the same time, that somehow all these contradictions are meant to make sense. Which they don’t. They can’t.

And the songs : they pound on a complex set of ever changing tempos and parts, all built to come to a crescendo in each song, and each song is perfectly placed next to each other. Especially the heart-rending, mid album pause of “June” which deals, brutally, with stillbirth and tragedy with the power and devastation of the most powerful poem you might have ever read. And to follow it with “Samaritans”, which addresses the way masculinity becomes a flippant prison where you aren’t meant to show your feelings as a mask is no accident. The whole album feels like the soundtrack to an exploration of the utter fucked-up-ness of modern life, and an acceptance of who we are for all our flaws. And, at the same time, that acceptance is a joy. Loving yourself is an act of joy ; this is who I am, and what I am, and that is that.

The album ends with “Rottweiler”. The final call, the final word on this album is a cry of “Unity!” – a theme that pulls through many songs on this record, the sense of unity, community, of people all in this together, united by a common experience : and of course, there’s also the joyful music, that is so furiously alive, so passionate, and so clear. This album feels like being given a pre-match pep talk by Muhammad Ali – except the match is your whole damn life, and Joy As An Act Of Resistance is a musical instruction manual on how to survive the modern world.

This is my album of the year in one of the best years for music I have ever known.


Thursday, September 13, 2018
 
U2 “Experience And Innocence Tour” Berlin Arena 31st August 2018

Three years later, U2 work on the concluding part of what has – perhaps unintentionally – become a themed triptych of related touring ; building on 2015’s “Innocence” tour, and last years somewhat nostalgic “The Joshua Tree 30”, the last part – this tour - is a determinedly forward thinking, modern show – part art installation, part rock gig with half of the set being new songs from the past five years. Whereas “Innocence” seemed all about growing up, and finding your place in the world, and “The Joshua Tree 30” tour felt like a look back and a contextualising of the past in the present, of coming to terms with history, “Experience” feels different ; about the here, and the now, and the future. It’s a strong and powerful, clever show. Like everything U2 it’s “political”, but political only in the sense that the bands work has always addressed the state of the world what we do in our place in the world.

It starts in a way that clearly, unambigiously, makes its position clear. Redesigned for Europe, the show places politics front and centre – and the inevitable too much politics crowd can shut up. Politics – or more correctly, ethics – has been part of the U2 texture for forty years : and, at the ground level, in every part of the band. If U2 has been a band, it has also been an exploration ; a way of trying to find out how one fits into this world, and how others are also part of this. The opening montage is a heady mixture of footage and sounds that contextualises the rest of the show ; alongside MRI scan footage and static, it also combines carefully selected shot a of each city the band will be visiting on tour, taken from war damaged history. Berlin 1945, London 1940, Manchester, amongst others, showing the universal, and great leveller that is war. It is a carefully selected warning, as a remix of the bands “Zooropa”/”Love Is All We Have Left” is played, and perhaps most pointedly the Speech To Humanity from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” addresses the crowd.

Certainly, some of it will go over some heads. But context is important : to me, this montage sets the tone of the show – a near death experience represented by the MRI, a crisis point for reality, a moment of surrender and revelation : and in that moment, where we see our whole lives flash before us, and we see things the way we really are, and where we are now is a warning.

In the context of things, “The Great Dictator” is an obvious but also sly move. Hitler – who walked the streets of this town, and whose shadow hangs heavy over the continent still – was apparently furious about the obvious mockery of him. “The Great Dictator” (and apologies if you are aware), sees a hairdresser become a stand in for the great dictator. The mockery of power is biting and, even now, amongst the most obvious and effective political satire made. The parallels drawn between then and now are also clear – the current political climate sees the world standing on the edge of American dictatorship and every day it isn’t stopped it becomes more likely. It is a terrifying time to live in. The world has become poor in the space of a generation, and we are implored to fight amongst ourselves for scraps of nothingness.

And it helps that U2 are at this age, still pushing to explore new ideas, find new meanings in their songs. Old songs are given new meanings, and new songs are shown to be part of the bands overall work : the positioning of songs next to each other draws lines between them. Does “I Will Follow” now work better because “You’re The Best Thing” also draws on the refrain of walking away, why am I walking away? versus Walk away, walk away. I will follow.

The show opens with last years roaring protest song “The Blackout”. It’s both an urgent, and supple exercise – musically taut and urgent, and lyrically biting. It’s all about extinction, earthquakes, the collapse of civilisation, the end of the world as we know it – and in the heart of it is a line that certainly rings true to me : “Blackout. It’s clear. Who you are will appear.”

It seems such an obvious, reductionist truism, but we show who we are when tested, and this song, at this time, is important to me : I have personally, travelled through a terrible and testing five year run of relentless battles, and survived and came out the other side alive. Who I was did appear, and it was a near extinction level event.

With the battle played out on stage, the next song is an exclamation of survival. Bono sings clearly “I shouldn’t be here. I should be dead.” Certainly, the first few songs in the set directly address mortality ; even later, with “Beautiful Day” which is the first ‘big hit’ of the note, is a celebration after a near-death event. Seize the day, don’t let it get away. It’s followed by “The Ocean” (played in Europe for the first time since 1982), that moves seamlessly into “Iris”.

The middle quarter of the show acts as a virtual reprise of the 2015 tour. The four songs that follow – “Iris”, “Cedarwood Road”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Until The End Of The World” – are largely the same as they were. In this context, and it is only now, I realise, that “Iris” is so damn important ; a key point of the tour, and the bands work, that openly addresses the premature death of Bono’s mother. It’s raw, but true, and it feels a lot like a lot of our lives : Iris says that I will be “The Death of Her” But it was not me. The second half of the show takes the promise of 2015’s “Innocence” tour and builds upon it. Thematically, it opens with “Elevation” and “Vertigo”. Both are well known, almost tired, numb-through-overexposure songs that have been played at 99% of U2 live shows since their release. (“Vertigo” missed ten shows last year but aside from that made 316 shows in a row and at one point was played twice at 38 shows). Sure, the songs get the crowd jumping and they’re great stupid fun to play, but at the heart of “Elevation” is a lyrical emptiness, a lack of cohesion that has somehow made the song lesser over the years. It’s U2’s worst song lyrically, and ultimately it’s like candyfloss : it tastes good, but full of air and nothingness. It makes you feel full but doesn’t fill you up.

For the European leg, the band bring back “Even Better Than The Real Thing” – having missed every American show thus far. Linked with a thematic speech from alter-ago McPhisto, it addresses the reality gap we often face these days ; the void between what we see and what we are told we are seeing, and the nature of identity. Following that comes the ‘holy grail’ of U2 live performances : “Acrobat” sees its first performance in Europe ever, just 27 years after release. On stage its biting, powerful, pointed, urgent. And it shows that a song that is fresh to the band – no matter how old – is not dulled by time. Lyrically it fits perfectly with the theme of the tour : resistance, reality, delusion, and conflict – and Edge peels out the solo in a way that feels new and old at the same time. It’s glorious. U2 should play more older, rarer songs : because unlike many bands, U2’s “crap-songs-on-the-album” ratio is really very low, and even songs they rarely played at the time are still normally very very good. A look at the hits the band haven’t touched on the tour so far is staggeringly big : it’s also necessary that the band play nothing from “The Joshua Tree” on this tour. They played that record in full last year, and to then play huge chunks of it this year is redundant.

Also, any show without “Bullet The Blue Sky” is a good one in my opinion. I know U2 love this song, but I don’t. It’s hectoring and to be honest, has been very boring on occasion. This tour is clearly aimed at the bands newer material, with 10 songs less than 5 years old in the pack, and the back half of the set is almost all newer material. Unlike most U2 gigs of the past 25 years – which have been a celebratory victory lap of “Bullet The Blue Sky”, “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found”, “With or Without You” and similar, all those songs are mercifully rested. Sure, you can say that U2 haven’t played Australia in 8 years and be factually correct, but I like my artists to be more than a breathing jukebox, and not every song needs to be played at every show. Songs like “New Years Day” are ones that some bands would make staples of their set : here, U2 have played it at just 4% of their previous three indoor tours.

The acoustic set moves from sincere to passionate and furious in a blink. “You’re The Best Thing About Me” is a gentle, heartfelt love song – and followed with “Summer of Love”. The latter is a powerful song about refugees dying by the hundreds as they flee war. The visuals start to become horrifying familiar, with shots of devastation and despair that are designed purely because they are identical to the opening carnage – the eternal battle, mankind in a loop, trapped in repeating itself with brutality. It’s followed by a necessary “Pride” – recontextualised into a great song about human equality, and the call to arms that is “Get Out of Your Own Way”, “New Years Day” - thrillingly rearranged with huge chunks of the 12” remixes used – becomes a new song after many years of being predictable. It’s the little things that give you away, after all. As the band perform, the European flag hangs behind them, and the band sing of soon, we will be one. Unity is baked into who U2 are : You too indeed.

There’s “City Of Blinding Lights”, and “One”, both of which present a unified world. Whilst the show itself is a regimented presentation, lacking both the excitement and spontaneity of the innocence leg of this tour, it is instead a clear, and precise presentation of the modern day band. After three shows where the band address thematically – and with guts – who they are now (and who they were), where they have come from, and how they got here, U2 bring the trilogy to a close with “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” and “13”. The former is an obvious attempt at a late period hit epic, with a huge rousing chorus, but also, and perhaps best of all, a clear message of hope and unity written from one generation aging to a younger one : U2 here are becoming, for the first time, aware of the passing of time and passing of the baton, and doing so with a form of dignity that ‘just play the hits’ legacy acts often miss. After all of this, and the context of horror we live in, U2 still are optimists. Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.

The show closes with “13”. In this, imagery from the previous shows comes to life on the stage, and Bono grasps the tours recurring motif of a lightbulb in person. It’s the correct ending to the show ; as he sings there is a light, don’t let it go out, a light shines in darkness, symbolising both the lightbulb-as-idea, and revisiting the lightbulb symbol from the previous tour ; that somehow the concept, the idea, the band is their own light in the darkness, their own salvation. And I can be ours too. And for some of us here, they are : There is a light. Don’t let it go out.

The Blackout
Lights Of Home
I Will Follow
Red Flag Day
Beautiful Day
The Ocean
Iris
Cedarwood Road
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Until The End Of The World
Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me
Elevation
Vertigo
Even Better Than The Real Thing
Acrobat
The Best Thing
Summer Of Love
Pride
Get Out Of Your Own Way
New Years Day
City of Blinding Lights

One
Love Is Bigger
13


Tuesday, August 14, 2018
 
PET SHOP BOYS - "Inner Sanctum" - London Royal Opera House 26 + 28 July 2018

As the two year, 92 show “Inner Sanctum Tour” comes to a close, Pet Shop Boys return to where it started with a reprise. The show (and oh boy, is it a show) has demonstrated the band have become that most unlikely of things ; a compelling live act. It may be, to all intents and purposes only two people (One of whom does not leave his keyboard all night) but if you think of them as constant anchor points, the rest of the show is a bold, outlandish exploration of pop music that glows and shimmers. Taking a cue from seaside pantomime hall tradition, “Inner Sanctum” is a celebration of near enough everything and a representation of all of it – joy, sadness, heartbreak, and 808’s – as a day-glo childs version of the world.

It’s probably the last time in a long time I get to see them, because the tour only has three shows left after this – and it’s been rolling on for over two years to almost everywhere in the world. Before the first show, and the world was very different.

The past two years have seen the world change beyond all recognition – then, neither Brexit nor Trump had happened. Now, of course, they have. There’s no acknowledgement of any of this in the stage design ; but then should there be? Some artists think you shouldn’t mix art and politics (which can be a nice way of saying they are.. OK … with whatever is happening). Others over do it. On the other hand, Pet Shop Boys have a different approach ; the art has stayed, but we have changed. The world seems angrier, ruder, and harder than it did two years ago. But that is not here. Tonight is a show that is bookended by “The Pop Kids” as a song and a philosophy, a selection of the best bits, and where, thankfully, the Pet Shop Boys know what people want and aren’t afraid to provide it. Sure, you can’t get every hit single they have ever done, because they have so many of them (60 or so, over the past 32 years), but also, all the songs you could reasonably hope for are here. Also, unlike many bands, the selection of songs offers something from near enough every period of the bands career. There’s no revisionist rewriting out of history a certain mis-step. Even 2002’s first major shocker in “Home And Dry”, and the less than adored album “Release” which saw the band moving away from their strengths to produce a more guitar based pop tone, is represented – albeit in a form that resembles the more minimal ‘ambient’ mix from the 12” single and evolves into a selection of bouncy remixes – makes the song sound more contemporary and modern.

The staging, as such, is minimal, but also, wonderfully irreverent. The band take the stage with two huge disco balls that rotate and carry projections, before the walls collapse, extra musicians appear, weird circles fall from the ceiling, lights flash, video projections encompass the arena, and on my god, more lasers than an 80’s Pink Floyd stadium show. And a fleet of dancers in flouroscent inflatable suits dancing like huge, sentient disco jelly babies. It’s glorious, and never boring. And of course, the sounds match it.

What it is, from the opening “Inner Sanctum” to the final arms-aloft-disco-frenzy of “Always On My Mind” is a modern resetting of the bands work over the past three decades. By careful juxtaposition, songs like “Vocal” become a manifesto about the nature of pop music, popular culture, and most importantly, as with all great art, communication of common sentiment between people. I like the singer. He’s lonely and strange. Every track has a vocal, and that makes a change.

Even opening with “Inner Sanctum” works as a declaration ; here is a look inside the machine, here is an insight into a life made of Pop and Art. To some extent, this feels like the bands Super Tour, but also, an Ultimate tour. They might never have been more Pet Shop Boys than they are being right now. And whilst on the face of It, a 64 year old singing songs of heartbreak starting in 1983, and a 59 year old former architect plugging away at a huge keyboard rack sounds quite dull, the band stay the same in the heart of it all, like a Disco Gilbert & George, as the world – a huge lightbulb if you like – changes around them. And, perhaps surprisingly, everything comes out of those boxes live ; eagle eye punters on the final night will have seen the bands engineer/technican/general Yoda, Pete Gleadall, fiddling with boxes and reloading programmes and sequences in “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” – and you wouldn’t’ve noticed. The narrative structure of the show, which opens in a search for hedonism, finds love, and ends in heartbreak and redemption, sounds corny, it works as each song sits next to the other in a way that makes sense. “Love Comes Quickly” sounds enormous and beautiful, and then “Love Etc.,” comes, and makes you realise that oh yes they did this song as well! And then another… And this one! And it’s all gorgeous and fun. And eminently danceable.

It’s not a perfect show ; I’d rather they play some different songs – but everyone has a favourite they don’t hear. Especially when the band have 35 years on vinyl across several hundred songs, 16 albums, 5 remix compilations, 2 concert sets, 3 greatest hits albums and 2 B-Sides Box Sets. To keep it fresh, after all, the band rebuild and redesign their songs as well ; always the same, always changing. Like a lovestruck disco version of The Fall.

And on the face of it, the bands universal appeal is that they know what it is like to be an individual in an identikit world full of individuals. As a confused 14 year old stuck in a life that never fit my soul, not sure who I was or what or how to make sense of the world there is no way to explain how "It's A Sin" helped me become myself in 1987. Songs pursue the element of identity and expectation, from the cornerstone “It’s A Sin” to “Go West”, both of which deal with the need to belong, and the trials and tribulations of being true to yourself in a world that demands conformity. To an extent, the bands visual identity has often addressed this ; from the use of uniforms and disguise, to rub out the individual in a self-constructed identity of ones own marking, which is a way of both revealing and concealing at the same time. Little is known about the personal lives of the band – which is, as it should be, mostly – but what this does is allow the band to become who they choose to be ; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs prime pillar of self-actualisation – instead of who the world forces us to be or who nature makes us to be. Complete self-control.

After these shows (filmed for commercial release), the Super Tour comes shortly to an end. The Royal Opera House is a perfect venue for the band to end their headline run before they finish with a handful of festival shows. The audience have travelled far and wide – replete with pointy hats, silver suits with angel wings replicating old stage costumes, and other similar acts of dedication – and it has been rewarded with what I regard as my favourite Pet Shop Boys tour so far. The show ends with a reprise of “The Pop Kids”, and the curtain coming down on the evening. It’s a perfect ending : classic, traditional, yet utterly unusual for the pop format the band work in. Unlike so many of their peers who saw their powers visibly wane with time, Pet Shop Boys again stated – as if it were ever needed – their supremacy over the medium that propels them from mere musicians into artists dabbling in all mediums, and somehow making it all work as a cohesive whole, a self-contained artistic statement. It’s a Pet Shop Boys world, and tonight we lived in it.

Inner Sanctum
Opportunities
The Pop Kids
In The Night
Burn
Love Is A Bourgoeuis Construct
New York City Boy
Se A Vida E
Love Comes Quickly
Love Etc
The Dictator Decides
Inside A Dream
West End Girls
Se A Vide E
Home And Dry (ambient mix)
Vocal
The Enigma
Sodom And Gomarrah Show
It’s A Sin
Left To My Own Devices
Heart
Go West

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


Sunday, August 12, 2018
 
THE CURE + FRIENDS - London Hyde Park - 07 July 2018

CURES! THAAAAASANDS OF THEM!!

The Cure. Ride. Interpol. The Twilight Sad. Goldfrapp. This Will Destroy You. Slowdive. Kathryn Joseph. Pumarosa. Pale Knives. Look at that bill. I’d pay good money to see almost every band on this bill on their own, let alone all together. And whilst for some, it’s too big, too fucking hot, too many people, this is a unique event – a near enough hand-curated bill of Robert Smiths favourite bands, but also, the strongest single day bill I have seen in decades.

Of course, the day I saw that bill I had two immediate and conflicting thoughts : The first I have to go to this! And the second… Oh shit, I’m seeing Roger Waters in Birmingham that night.

I can’t have both. So I buy tickets, and worry about it later. Certainly, the first thing I notice is this is also the only British Summer Time Hyde Park gig where the section in front of the stage isn’t sold for twice as much as everywhere else. Sure there’s expensive tickets, but they are only for a smaller section to the right. If you want to get right under Robert Smiths face you don’t have to pay more, unlike every other gig that very clearly has a Second Class option.

It’s an exhausting, exhaustive day : I manage to see at least a bit of every band on every stage. And over the twelve hours (from the moment we all tend to convene at 10.30am, to the last dying notes of “Killing An Arab” 12 hours and 4 minutes later), it’s an assault course of music, interspersed with randomly bumping into at least thirty people. To start with, there’s a somewhat informal Meeting of ‘The Cunts’* [that is, Twilight Sad fans who have flown long distances to be here] at 10.00am. A couple of hours later – and with too much alcohol in us – we flock to Hyde Park.

[* "A Greeting Of Cunts" is the self-appointed name for a plural of Twilight Sad fans : like a murder of crows, but listening to miserable pop music.]

Inside the enormous park – and the snaking line of admission – there are queues everywhere. Queues to buy t-shirts. Queues for food. Queues for water. Queues for … everything. Queues to get in. Queues to get out. Queues to… eventually we enter the main stage arena, and catch the first band – Pale Waves – opening on the enormous stage. It’s fair to say that the band aren’t quite used to reaching the back of the crowd, yet. Next up, it’s a solid walk 7 minutes up the field to the stage that houses Pumarosa. Their dense blend of Siouxsie-esque sound and rhythms is growing on me, but it sounds oddly like Sunscreem covering Nico. At this point, it’s already hotter than the surface of the sun, and I’m on my second application of suncream.

In the usual game of indie Tag, as soon as Pumarosa come to a close, Slowdive start at the other end of the field seven minutes away. I make it in time for this band, who I’ve never actually seen before. On record, Slowdive are a shimmering, untouchable monster, gorgeous, yet somehow not quite tangible, and the music sounds like instruments – but not quite. On stage, the band are a muscular, powerful beast, with a flex and power that isn’t on the record. The sound is strong, and the band assertively state their case with a set that is forward looking ; with songs from last years “Slowdive” standing next to quarter century old classics from the age of cassette singles, blending seamlessly in a context where the older songs become better by the new ones standing next to them, and recontextualising then and now. After their full set, it’s another run up to the top of the field, for a rare live appearance by This Will Destroy You. Burrowing deep in a beautiful post rock furrow, the genre is crowded and impenetrable to some, but ultimately staggeringly rewarding, if you open your heart and feel. Sure, you may know Sigur Ros and Mogwai if you’re lucky, but go deeper, and bands like this move far beyond the normal emotional position into something beyond words, something like music and sound, but more. This Will Destroy You make a face meltingly beautiful noise, and it’s the band that come on after them on the same stage are even better than that.

It’s another sunsplashed run down the field to catch Editors who are strongly in support of their sixth album “Violence”. As a record, it’s a gruelling, scartissue run of emotions that pulls no punches. As a band, Editors are fluent in their sound. I’m baffled by idiots who lament the loss of their earlier jingle-jangle era : good as it was, the depth, maturity, and evolution the band have brought reminds me of no one so much as The Cure, who grew far beyond their initial promise into something even better than that. Songs like “Violence” itself, “No Harm” and “Cold” are coiled snakes of intelligent emotion, the band burning with a knowledge of things you have not seen, a mastery of their craft that few achieve, and an ability to wield open wounds into essential pieces of art. The tension/release dynamic the band now work on is a glorious thing, the songs becoming dramatic, but not histrionic, and the material being refreshingly honest. Editors were in danger of painting themselves into a creative corner at the midpoint, and now have a second wind of creativity that sees them exploring and evolving with every song. Sadly, given the clashes of timing, Editors finish the second near enough my favourite band in the world start on another stage, so I have to leave Editors mid song to catch The Twilight Sad.

And this is probably the biggest crowd that band have ever played to. Being the first announced show of their short summer tour, it’s also the one with the highest attendance of Cunts* Travelling A Very Long Way To Greet In Public. The band appear briefly and soundcheck half a song, then reappear shortly to play a compelling 40 minute set that feels a bit like having your grieving heart ripped out and put back in your soul so it works a little better.

Oh, such hyperbole. But the songs are such fluid things – built on coiled and rising pulsing grooves, “Last January” means something different to everyone here, but there’s a couple of people lines for me, when James Graham voice rises and the lyric cuts through you are too old to fare on your own, which means something to me.There’s two new songs – the pounding “VTR” that is already one of the best songs they have, and “Arbor” which is a delicate shimmer. Alongside a Greatest-Hits-From-A-Band-That-Hasn’t-Had-Hits (Last January, Don’t Move, There’s A Girl In The Corner, And She Would Darken The Memory), there’s also a final cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm” that is, once again, powerful and emotional. The history of the two bands seems tightly wound each other, with each band egging the other on to succeed. With the loss of Scott, it’s almost as if The Twilight Sad have become more determined to continue in an act of defiance. Depression is a motherfucker,and living with an invisible monster that is inside your head and often can’t be seen until it strikes is a cruel battle. A state of constant war that one never knows is being fought, and so is always being fought. The emotions aren’t as high and hard as Leeds, but there’s a cathartic wave that seems to spread over the crowd during this song, an acknowledgement of a certain state of affairs, that somehow, the monster came and took one of our own, and we have to keep surviving. I’ve seen The Sad a lot over the years, and this felt like the peak of a small mountain, a victory on a battlefield, an ascent to a plateau where you can see not only where the band have come from, but also where they are going. The small rooms won’t be big enough for this band for much longer. Certainly, Robert Smiths fostering of them has brought them to peoples minds, but – and this is the crucial point – it’s the greatness in the band themselves that will keep the band in our minds. The songs speak for themselves.

I’m practically incapable of speaking after that, so Goldfrapp are a huge wrench in emotional flavour and I’m not really capable of being where Goldfrapp are, even if I wanted to be. In fact, I’m trying but not really ready for Kathryn Joseph playing in a tiny bandstand at the foot of the field.

Interpol are the main support, as such – being the penultimate band just before The Cure. They’ve been through a lot over the years, and changed. They are very good at what they do, even though they are all clad in suits and ties and appear to be the only people on the planet who aren’t capable of sweating when its hotter than the surface of the sun. Ultimately what they have doesn’t quite reach where I am today : the music is more rational, more logical, more reserved, and in some respects almost like a discourse on emotion, and it doesn’t reach me today. The band are clearly well versed in their skills, and strong. The new stuff they play is also amongst the best they have ever written. Now though, I am saving myself for The Cure. It’s been a long day, and there’s still a lot to come.

On the top of the field, Ride have firmly conquered their initial victory lap : a standard career mode, as such, is for a band to return, coast on a set of past glories, remind us how brilliant they once were, and then – sometimes inevitably – issue new material that isn’t quite as good. For Ride, the band have become business as usual quicker than some reunions – and whilst being an ongoing concern and a valid creative entity is important, there’s no sense of occasion as such. Ride blast through muscular, solid greatest hits from their body of work and many great new songs, but to be honest, my mind is on the band that take the stage in a few minutes, and thus, I leave before Ride are done to get a strong vantage spot for The Cure.

Thankfully, The Cure have suffered no dulling of the blade over the years. The recent “Curætion” show at the Festival Hall was a deep dive through the bands darker moments. This is 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 (though there are, occasionally off nights – Brno in 1998 was notoriously bad), but few have been as much fun. Some Cure gigs are really very very long indeed, and some feel even longer than that. Much as I love The Cure (over 25+ years, 8 lineups, and about 80 hours seeing them) there can on occasion be too much of a bad thing, and when the band are playing – say – “If Only Tonight I Could Sleep” at sunset on a Saturday – the main thought I have is that I can have a short break from something I love to recharge. 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. Set pacing is, and always has been an issue, as the odd summery pop single gets the entire crowd dancing and laughing, before it swiftly gets dispatched by the ten minute doomfest of “The Same Deep Water As You” (not aired tonight). Even a short set, by their standards can be forty six songs, and over three hours, long, with an encore longer than many bands entire gigs. 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 I have seen them play to, and Robert Smith will never be Bono. If The Cure are playing to 800 or 80,000 people you get the same experience. And even though we have managed to get into the front enclosure, it still feels like standing at the back of Wembley Arena. The video screens have to pick up the slack, but they don’t : instead they act as an extension of the bands visual identity rather than reflecting the show back to the punters at the back of the huge field. While the band are rampaging through the first live outing for “Jumping Someone Else’s Train / Grinding Halt” in many, many years, most people are looking at poor quality VHS footage of the Brighton to London train journey from 1976 being projected onto video screens twice the size of your average block of flats. At one point, the screen is so big the band have six singers, six bass players, five keyboard players, five drummers, and five guitarists.

It’s not all fun. Put 80,000 people in a field all day with alcohol and sunshine, and there’s always going to be short tempers, punches thrown, and a bit of stupidity. We back away slowly from a man in a bad hat with a big mouth and someone else who stepped on his foot by mistake during “Push”. Nothing comes of it but we’re close to see something almost did. But its there, under the surface, growling for the rest of the night. Music may make all of us friends, but not always for long. Go Go Go, Push It Away. The joy with which this album deep cut is received tells us that The Cure aren’t just a band with people who ‘like’ them. Sometimes, The Cure go deep, and it doesn’t come from the number of people who like them, but how far into the soul that like goes. The Cure are a band that inspire a fervent devotion that some other bands could never achieve. Some other bands simply aren’t good enough.

That said, the band are solid, delivering almost all of their major songs in a ruthlessly efficieint, 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. Just like heaven.


 
ON WRITING

Over the years, I’ve managed to annoy a few people with my reviews and commentary. Some of them play on records you probably own.

So lets make clear what my writing is, and isn’t.

It is for me. It is about how I respond, relate, and react to art, music, live performance, and my experiences. It is what I want to say, how I want to say it, to the best of my abilities. It’s not for you. The purpose of a review is for the writer to give you their honest response to what they experience. We’ve been thrown off other sites years ago, for not writing asskissing reviews that would keep millionaires happy and keep the site getting free guests lists and access. We buy our own tickets, have our own opinions, and do this for love of music. We’re not going to tell you something is good if we think it isn’t. You lay your money down on this stuff ; you deserve an honest steer on whether we think whatever it is is good.

It isn’t to please you. It isn’t to get yet another English degree. It isn’t to gain clickbait, or to troll you. If you think what I write is to get impressions and clicks … you won’t believe it isn’t. This isn’t a revenue generating site. No ads. No click throughs. No Amazon links. Nothing. This costs us money.

I am not a machine. Last time I checked I was a living, breathing human with emotions, pets, and a need for both food and sleep (not necessarily in that order). The way I think and write reflects my personality and who I am. There is no contract between the reader and the author on this site. You aren’t paying me. I am not for hire. I owe you nothing. I write what I want, when I want, how I want, and I put it up here. If you like it, that’s up to you. If you don’t that’s up to you too.

The writing I do is not to pass an exam. I’m not going to tolerate you sending it back to me with green pen and notes about fronted adverbials. I don’t give a fuck if you think my writing style is not to your taste, or not technically correct. I’d rather be an imperfect Leonard Cohen than a precise Celine Dion.

Remember the above. There is no contract between us here. If you are rude, obnoxious, insulting or otherwise unpleasant I have no obligation to engage with you. I may say things you don’t like – that is your right not to like, or agree. It’s not your god-given right to be rude to me. I can withdraw, block, disengage. That’s my right to. I don’t have to be drawn into your discussions around, amongst other things, the ‘correct’ use of language or whether you are right and I am wrong. Just because you can @ us on Twitter doesn’t mean I owe you a fully researched essay with sources on my opinion. I owe you nothing.

Any situation you cannot leave is a prison, and we do not tolerate prison.

What is the purpose of art? It is to communicate ideas between humans. To show, illuminate, or enlighten. To make someone see the world a slightly different way. Sometimes you want art that makes you cry your heart out. Other times, you want it full of explosions and popcorn on a Saturday night.

As a fan of a brand, a director, a band, a writer, whomever it is, I am under no obligation to like anything or everything they do. Liking their past work does not mean I have to – not should it – have unquestioning acceptance of every part of their work without reservation.

Art that is never seen isn't art. Art exists when two things happen : when what is created is received and is then interpreted. Everyone decodes it on the basis of what they see and know. The artist controls what they create. Not how it is received. The majority of the time most people have the common vocabulary to create a broadly similar meaning – generally this is a consensus reality.

If art is product you don't get to tell people what it means to them. An artist gets to control the message being transmitted. Not the message received. Meaning exists in the mind of the audience. And if what the artist is communicating is being misinterpreted, that might be where the artist isn’t as successful at communicating as perhaps they intended.

Entitlement issues go both ways. Some artists seem very … touchy to criticism. Including imaginary criticism that only exists in their heads. The view from the stage is very different to the view of the stage. I’ve had performers wonder if I was at the same gig I was, and whilst factually I was, my experience is very different from theirs. My expectations of art might be different from theirs. The relationship between art and consumer involves two intellects meetings ; the creator making, and the viewer decoding what it means to them. There are facts, and there is truth, and the two are sometimes miles apart.

The world is a big place. It is entirely possible for different viewpoints to co-exist in this world. I write about how art, music, etc., affects me. How it makes me feel, what it does to me, how I see how it interacts with my reality and my soul. Nothing less. Nothing more. I am not a service industry. You aren’t my customers. I don’t owe you anything. You haven’t paid me. I have no obligation to you for you to like what I do.

In short ; I am not your bitch.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018
 
ROGER WATERS “Us + Them” London Hyde Park 06 July 2018

At this advanced stage, Roger Waters has become, to all intents and purposes, the public face of Pink Floyd. It was all so very different 25 years ago ; Pink Floyd then were an active operation, with Roger Waters skulking in the background like a furious ghost. Now, with the Floyd inactive and two of the original five now sadly deceased, Pink Floyd have become a memory – and if you want to experience even the vaguest glimmer of what it was to have seen them, well, here it is.

Two years after it began in the desert, the “Us + Them” tour comes finally to Europe : and it unambigiously restates the Pink Floyd legacy. Having seen Floyd, David Gilmour, and Waters in many incarnations over the past three decades, what this is, is a confident reclamation and restatement of what the work – both in and out of Pink Floyd was – and is. Whereas Gilmour was all about feeling, emotion, and some kind of non-specific evocation of feeling, Waters is a precise, pointed, and political show. It covers much of the same ground musically, and the films, animation, and staging are often very similar – making it clear it wasn’t musical differences that caused the band to separate – the difference sits all in the context. From an opening, and accurate “Speak To Me / Breathe”, the majority of the first half of the show covers most of the first half of “Dark Side Of The Moon”, and ties together the through line that runs through all of Rogers work. In the space of this, “Welcome To The Machine” is the first song that really shows the breadth of the show : it introduces a huge silver ball on screen, that then reappears at strategic points throughout the rest of the show, symbolising some kind of authority, some kind of machine, some kind of control. Other imagery repeats throughout the rest of the show – Battersea Power Station, pigs and animals, a prism of colours – each ascribed a new meaning, and combining together to create a powerful presentation of the music as something much bigger than it once was, with unconnected songs tied together by visual imagery and political themes.

As the tour is now two years in, there is also a changed lineup, and an unexpected new record – the pounding and vibrant “Is This The Life We Really Want?” – so the show has been reconfigured to provide several songs from it. These songs sit more than comfortably as the equal of some of the classic era Floyd songs : “Picture That”, and “Smell The Roses” for example, sound like they could always have been on a 70’s Floyd record. In one, particularly important transition, “Us + Them” itself pauses with a new ending, and then “Smell The Roses” slides in seamlessly. The only difference between say, Amused To Death and a Pink Floyd record is, in many ways, the name on the front of the record.

Visually, these newer songs offer a powerful, and unexpected interpretation of the entire body of work. During the middle of “Smell The Roses” the view suddenly changed to the interior of a corridor and a woman sitting on a beach – reversing the same view used as an ambient backdrop before the show itself began, and it recasts the whole show as the fever dream of thoughts running through the mind of a political prisoner ; and if you’re paying attention, it’s a cutting and brutal realisation. Is This The Life We Really Want?

In the meantime the frankly surreal setting sees Waters don an animal mask, a huge inflatable animal float over the crowd, and a nearly life-size Battersea Power Station rises up to tower over the venue, which becomes a space station, alongside some undoubtedly offensive imagery that shows the current President as, amongst a great many other things, a child in a KKK mask. It’s also during “Smell The Roses” that a huge silver ball floats over the crowd, the symbol of authoritarianism that sees over all of us. The show moves into ”Eclipse/Brain Damage.”, further tying together all the visual themes of the rest of the show into a single whole : as a laser pyramid opens up over the crowd, and a prism of light flies into the distance. You’re only seeing the cover of Dark Side Of The Moon come to life in front of your eyes. (And given that tonight sees 90% of that album played live, it’s also key to see how important this album is to Waters in his body of work.)

In the confines of Hyde Park, the show works on the huge scale – and there’s 60,000 people here to divide Us And Them between. Previous shows have seen a huge screen dividing the crowd in two ; here there is no such device, but the “Us” are the full price tickets (at a staggering £89), and the “Them” are the very well off “Gold Circle” at the front that grows the price considerably to around £199 each. Of course, to one of the richest rock stars there is, this isn’t much. But to Us, the divide is more apparent. And financially more obvious. But The “Us” and “Them” is quite clear tonight. .

In another way, “Us + Them”, also reflects world politics ; the polarised planet, where the US sees the rest of the world as a lesser, dehumanised “Them”, not worthy of individual recognition. Who cares if it doesn’t happen in America, anyway?

The final song is a powerful, and necessary “Comfortably Numb”. In this context, it’s a song about who we are now – we’re comfortable, we’re numb, and what happens around us we don’t feel anymore. It’s a call to arms and a moment of release : is this the life we really want, indeed? And I’m stood there, and wondering if this is the last time I will ever see any member of Pink Floyd perform any of their songs? Waters is nearly 75 now ; this could be the last hurrah.

Speak To Me
Breathe
One of These Days
Time
Breathe (In The Air)
The Great Gig In The Sky
Welcome To the Machine
Deja Vu
The Last Refugee
Picture That
Wish You Were Here
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives
Another Brick In The Wall

(Intermission)

Dogs
Pigs
Money
Us And Them
Smell The Roses
Brain Damage
Eclipse
Comfortably Numb


Thursday, July 05, 2018
 
MOGWAI London Royal Festival Hall 21 June 2018

The passing of time is almost invisible ; sometimes. It’s been twenty years since I’ve first seen this band, and its been the same every time. The venues may be different every time but the feelings are the same. I don’t feel like the core of me has changed at all in that time ; that I have become refined and more tightly precise, but that is it. I am still me, just better. And a bit older. And a bit balder.

Perhaps sometimes, it’s the venue that makes the difference. Last year, I caught the opening show of the tour with the album, unheard by anyone, debuted live at sunset in Barcelona overseen by skyscrapers. Tonight, with a slightly different lineup (Martin Bulloch is recuperating from a health matter, with live drummer Cat Myers on stage instead ; though Bulloch returns for a mini set of 4 songs as the encore, including the live return of “Kids Will Be Skeletons” after a seven year break), there’s a very different feel. Where Mogwai have worked, have achieved, is in defining the slippery ; shorn of vocals, as such, the band are always working towards to trying to bottle sunlight, with huge and often long instrumental excursions that circle human emotion nonspecifically – that is, since the band don’t have hits as such, they have fan favourites, and they don’t have songs that they must play live as a result. No need, then, to slot “West End Girls” or “Wonderwall” into the set. If anything, Mogwai are the music you need to experience live for thinking, for feeling, for exploring. It’s music where I feel connected to the people around me, rather than connecting to myself.

We’re all sat or stood there, many of us, feeling, thinking, communicating. In my mind, I am not losing myself, or connecting vicariously to emotion, but instead my head is lazily exploring the sensations the music gives me, like a soft, relaxing aural shower, a meditative, peaceful state. You know the moment where you lie next to your lover, and your heart feels different, intimate, beyond mere words? Like that. It’s the kind of music that is much better when you stand quietly next to someone and hold their hand as waves of rhythm and sound batter you like waves.

For me, the highlight of this is a fierce, gorgeous “Mogwai Fear Satan.” It’s the first song I ever saw them play live, and it is one of the finest moments of any show, by anyone, ever. The rolling rhythms, the powerful percussive hits remind me of nothing so much as the unstoppable, fierce force of nature, the song hits, and keeps hitting and I’m lost beautifully, in my own head and in this world that exists, just now, briefly, for 2 hours, with the people in this room.

The room reacts slowly : standing, sitting, airdrumming, and just… there, in whatever world this is for them. We are part of this, happening, here, now, and recordings are just a fragment, a slice. Nothing can change what this was. This happened.

Every Country’s Sun
Party In The Dark
Take Me Somewhere Nice
I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead
Rano Pano
Coolverine
Don’t Believe The Fife
Remurdered
Old Poisons
Mogwai Fear Satan

I Know You Are But What Am I
Kids Will Be Skeletons
Ex-Cowboy
My Father, My King


Saturday, June 30, 2018
 
CURÆTION-25 ; Robert Smith and Friends, London Royal Festival Hall, 24 June 2018

Though ostensibly billed as “Curætion-25”, a set that – for tedious contractual reasons requires this to officially be “Robert Smith and Curious Friends” – tonights climax to the 25th Meltdown Festival, curated by Robert Smith, is The Cure. The Curious Friends in his backing band are Simon Gallup, Roger O’Donnell, Jason Cooper and Reeves Gabrels - being the worst kept secret in music – and whilst some people hear clearly think it should be an evening of greatest hits, most of us know what we are expecting tonight : its been clearly announced as not a regular Cure gig, and full of “doom and gloom” for some time.

Supported by The Twilight Sad, Curætion-25 is a celebration and commiseration of the darker edges of the Cure’s catalogue. Thematically opening with a “From There To Here” and followed by a “…And Back Again” set, the band work their immense catalogue with one song from each album chronologically forward in time to the still unreleased “Scream” album, and then back again to 1979.

As The Sad – a band I love, even though some of you don’t – play a compact 30 minutes, they play their souls out. James Graham can audibly be heard from the balcony over the noise even when he’s off-microphone, lost in the moment. The band’s absence has been noticed, they have been missed, and tonight they play to a quarter full Royal Festival Hall with the same passion and energy as they do a full house at a headline gig. Half of the set is yet unreleased, with the new songs being “VTR”, “Arbor”, and the final, emotional “Keep Yourself Warm”. “VTR” is a beast that grows with power every time I hear it. “Keep Yourself Warm” is not as heartbreaking as last week in Leeds, as I’m up on the balcony ; but I am here, and I am in, which given that this is the smallest non-competition show The Cure have played in 15 years is quite something.

Finally then, comes Curætion-25 : and it is an evening of surprises. Offering a broadly similar theme to the NME gig ten years ago, the band play a set that runs, one song per album, chronologically from the opening “Three Imaginary Boys” to “It Can Never Be The Same” from the unreleased ‘Scream’ album . After a short break, the band return to play a similar reverse set – one song per album, running from “Step Into The Light”, and “The Hungry Ghost” from 2008’s 4:13 Dream to a final pop thrill of “Boy’s Don’t Cry”.

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.

The long promised imaginary accompanists, and the reinventions of Robert Smiths body of work are absent. The solo songs and guest vocals – such as “A Girl In The Corner”, or anything from The Glove such as “Perfect Murder” and “Mr. Alphabet Says” – aren’t played. There are no ex-Cure’s tonight. It isn’t quite as we were promised. But it’s still not enough of a Cure show to please some people.

In front of me, there’s a relatively casual fan : looking up Things To Do In Italy, how to cook Spaghetti Bolognese, and texting his girlfriend “well, that’s two hours I won’t get back, they’ve only played one good song so far”(At this point, the band are deep into their second set, and are pummelling their way through the somewhat hazy If Only Tonight We Could Sleep and thus Pictures Of You and High have been the casual fanbait hits in the set at this point). The casual disregard some of the attendees give the importance of this show is somewhat insulting to the band : for a band as loved as The Cure, and the distances some people would go for a show like this – such as flying from Germany, or America – and someone who has one of the best seats in the house to walk out because they are bored is quite unfair. It was never sold as a standard Cure greatest hits show, but as an evening exploring the further reaches of the band. 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 I have seen some 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.

But The Cure are no longer a current band – having becoming a well established touring and nostalgia act – and having never fully recovered from their mid 90’s commercial slump. Every band has a 10 year peak at most of first success at the end of which most fans are 20-35. By the time people get to 30, most tend not to go to too many shows, often have kids, mortgages, and most bands have a tail off commercially in the second decade. Gig sales do slow down until the kids have grown up and the parents decide to go back to gigs again - i.e. 2009 (or thereabouts) where The Cure started to become a more prolific touring act.

Also, by 1996 they were a band that had been going 20 years, and the next few albums weren't hugely poppy, as well as a lineup change ; hits started to dry up, so they went from 4 nights in London arenas in 1992 to 1 at the end of 1996, and went from 2 nights at the NEC to a 5,000 half-sold-out show there in 1996. By 1996 they were also two big movements past (Grunge + Britpop), the fans had grown up, and they got little airplay beyond "Mint Car". They were 'put away' like childhood toys, commercially, to the point where Robert said he'd much rather play 4 sold out shows in sunny France, than a half-full shed in Sheffield.

Most people don't go back to seeing bands loads once the kids have grown up. The demographic of fans is massively overlooked. Bands fans get older, and have kids, and don't go to gigs anymore - and that's what kills off most bands. Few bands have managed to ride this crucial shift by appealing constantly cross-generationally : sure, U2 fans rang from 7 to 70, but can you say that of some other bands?

This lineup of the band has – despite existing for six years – not released one note of new music. And whilst Smith, Cooper, Gallup and O Donnell have between them, played near enough solidly for long over 20 years together (and with 124 years in the band between them), with Reeves Gabrels as an excellent second guitarist who is, to some people, a terrible choice, 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. But you can’t ignore the passing of time, and with some members in their sixties now, The Cure aren’t a young mans band, but clearly nearer the end than the beginning. The Cure are undoubtedly Roberts lifework. But if you have to pour your life into your work, there’s few better things that what they played tonight.

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. Tonight 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.

Three Imaginary Boys
At Night
Other Voices
A Strange Day
Bananafishbones
A Night Like This
Like Cockatoos
Pictures Of You
High
Jupiter Crash
39
Us And Them
It’s Over
It Can Never Be The Same
Step Into The Light
The Hungry Ghost
Alt. End
The Last Day of Summer
Want
From The Edge
Disintegration
If Only Tonight We Can Sleep
Sinking
Shake Dog Shake
100 Years
Primary
A Forest
Boys Don’t Cry


 
MANIC STREET PREACHERS / THE ANCHORESS - "Meltdown25" - London Royal Festival Hall - 19 June 2018

At this stage, I can’t even remember how many Manics albums there are (let me think about that, 13) ; and you probably wouldn’t miss a couple of them if they never existed. After last years underwhelming greatest hits shows, which also underlined the bands lack of creativity, this is a one-off out-of-tour headline show in the midst of a run of dreary outdoor festival shows, and tonight is specifically at Robert Smiths request.

And whilst at least half – if not more – of the onstage players are not official members of the band – and that feels weird and all kinds of wrong - Nicky Wire is back on bass after a bereavement,though understandably subdued and not as … loud as normal. There’s a new, and staggeringly redundant, third guitar player, and the band of six is twice as large as the last time I saw them play a truly brilliant show (the half-new/half-old Futurology/Holy Bible double header at Rough Trade East).

Support comes from the only show of the year by The Anchoress, who confidently delivers a compact halfhour of promising cuts. Like every act here, you can see why Robert Smith chose her. There’s a mysterious, indefinable factor of compulsion and talent.

But more than that, The Manics may still be mostly a nostalgia act, but there’s also five songs from the new record, and a special one-off performance of The Cure’s Inbetween Days, which is taken from the album The Manics used to listen to in their childhood bedroom as teenagers. It’s an important way of showing, marking, being in touch with who they used to be and where they once were. It’s easy to forget how you got here, and the steps you took to get here, and your path through history. So easy to think that where you are – be it a stadium or a club – is where you always deserved to be. Humility is important. Some bands lost that, and they lost us. We never forget why we fell in love, or how, and how we got here. Some bands forget the fans still struggle, still live month to month, day by day, sometimes holding on by the fingernails to whatever reality they can tolerate.

But also seeing a band grow older with us. There’s five songs from the frankly average "Resistance Is Futile", with “International Blue”, “Distant Colours”, “Dylan & Caitlin”, “Hold Me Like A Heaven” and “People Give In”. There’s some of the lesser songs from their former catalogue – “Tsunami” and “You Stole The Sun” from the frankly tepid "This Is My Truth" – and some gems the band have overlooked, such as “Motown Junk” which is only being played for the second time in four and a half years. And it tears your face off.

I’m not quite sure why the person next to me is here though, they are so obviously bored, sitting down and reading the internet, and spend the big hits filming them, and the rest of the time looking thoroughly miserable. Why leave the house?

At this point, though, the Manics are a mid level rock pop powerhouse, simultaneously at a career plateau like The Charlatans, never to be huge or small again, but a small business, and one that concentrates on trying to be the best they can ever be – even if that isn’t to everyone’s taste – and never ever being boring or average (though obviously your mileage may vary). Most bands are average, and the Manics will never be that. Even if they do leave me cold, and sometimes they do, they’re trying to be their own kind of interesting, and they never stop looking. It’s written in every note of tonight – the quest for greatness which may never be achieved, but they will always try. That’s so much more than so many bands.

International Blue
Motorcycle Emptiness
No Surface
Distant Colours
Inbetween Days
You Stole The Sun
Little Baby Nothing
Dylan & Caitlin
Everything Must Go
Motown Junk
If You Tolerate This
Faster
Welcome To The Jungle / You Love Us
Walk Me To The Bridge
Hold Me Like Heaven
Slash N Burn
Kevin Carter
People Give In
Tsunami
A Design For Life



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