(Planet Me)
Sunday, September 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Hates Faggots
No More Tangles
Voodoo Doll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45 Second Blunder

Saturday, July 30, 2016

In which a while, male man offers an opinion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank Zuul for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Fiio X5 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2016
RADIOHEAD, A Moon Shaped Pool

There's a temptation to review it halfway through the first listen. To place the review up, and claim FIRST! And gloat about it. But not this. Radiohead and I have a complicated relationship. They're stubborn bastards. A slow work rate. They seem to have carved themselves into a narrow trench where they don't actually sound like anyone else. Every band, of course, should sound like only ever themselves. Half a decade after the slight “The King Of Limbs” - which came out at a truly appalling time in my world - “A Moon Shaped Pool” is Radiohead's most insular record yet, and their most effective. It carries with it a deliberation. An unhurried approach. A measured glory.

Sure, Thom Yorke – and the rest of the band – aren't to everyone's taste. It's possible that, in the future, they'll be seen akin to the best of the post millenium debacle, rather than with the horror I currently view Simply Red. But only time will tell if we stand the test of time.

“A Moon Shaped Pool” resonates with me. At this time and at this hour. Politically a divided and unhappy Britain. The album carries with it a cloud, a fog, a sense of relaxed, exhausted doom in it, as if, somehow the band have simply had enough of this, and yet, must somehow, live within it. Like I do right now. It's an album made, clearly, of thought. Thinking is the sexiest thing in the world.

You will probably have heard “Burn The Witch” : a darkly paranoid and fearful rampage, which – like all Radiohead songs – follows the basic semblance of chorus and matches it with the accessability of a monolith. The songs work on a lyrical basis of suggested half truths and vague promises, on the world of some kind of known, but half-formed emotional reality. It sounds authentic (because it is), and musically carries with the sense of some kind of hovering threat, coupled with an air of tired, finished, resignation. There's beauty in here - “Daydreaming” - and at last, “True Love Waits” is complete and released ; 20 years after it was first performed live. A lot has changed since then. When it was written, that song was the kind of cynical, but hopeful anthem. Now, divorce & separation, and children, later, it's the kind of song that seems far more naunced. The vision of lollipops when it was written no longer applies. Except to the younglings of a broken home. The declarations of unending love are more the shadows of a committed regret.. that I will love you even though you live with another... that I would give you everything ; and at one point I did … but it wasn't enough. Over all this, there's a sense of sadness. Sure Radiohead are affluent now ; but is that all it takes to make everything alright forever? It's been a long five years. Much has changed. And “A Moon Shaped Pool” is a violently successful artistic return to Radiohead at their most potent.

MINOR VICTORIES, minor victories

Part Mogwai, Part Slowdive, part Editors.. Minor Victories are a band of perhaps limited appeal, but good lord, they're seemingly designed to solely tick every box in my book of bands. Rachel Goswell, of Slowdive handles lead vocals on almost every song, with Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, Justin Lockey (and his brother James) of Editors, and a guest appearance from James of The Twilight Sad, make no mistake, this is weapons grade middle class vague rock of the most potent recipe.

In many way, the half-sung, half-whispered vocals, remind me of Curve, but – coupled with the music – it's much better than that : huge dynamics, and sweeping, epic sounds, recreations of string orchestras using detuned guitars, and insistent, precise rhythms, make the music a glorious racket. There's choruses, of a sort. Songs in there. But really, what this is, is something more.. intangible, untouchable, more suggestive of vague emotions, of feelings, textures, atmosphere, and of an elegant, almost doomed movement, a rough moment, a glance, a look between illicit lovers, a shared secret, a huge romantic gesture. Agh. It's all hyperbole. Do you like Mogwai? Do you like Editors? Do you think they'd sound amazing with Slowdive mixed in? Sure you would.

Much as I hate the thought of supergroups, really Minor Victories are the kind of band that I would love if I didn't know who was in them, though I'd never find them. The album is a deceptively short, and there's something about the sound, a dense, gutteral guitar sound that frankly, I could just listen to all day. I can't stop listening to this, it's brilliant, and I can't explain why.

Sunday, June 12, 2016
PiL London Indigo O2 07 June 2016

“I don't fancy AC/DC as it'll be raining”. That's the way I wanna rock'n'roll. That's the kind of text messages I send now I'm in my forties.

A summer Saturday in the south, and the choice is discernable. PiL to around 1,000 people in London, or a Axl/DC down the road headlining a football stadium in the rain with a replacement singer borrowed from Guns N Roses, and a replacement guitarist and their third drummer in post? Tempting as Axl/DC is, it's not tempting enough. Of course, I could live in somewhere neither AC/DC or PiL have played in around 40,000 years. But that isn't how it is.

I haven't seen PiL in five years, since they headlinined the small Heaven club, played most of their new – and then unreleased - album in a two and a half hour set, and released the show as a DVD. The show then was glorious, but suffered from a thin, deep venue that had poor sightlines and sound, unfamiliar songs, and I wasn't exactly in the best of places, having been made redundant two months earlier and carrying the weight of that worry upon me. Years later, life is a different place, and I'm perhaps more prepared to be in the headspace PiL provide. A PiL gig isn't exactly easy. They don't do greatest hits shows : the band haven't played many of their 'hits' since their 2009 rebirth, and tonight sees a distinct absence of some of the bigger and better known songs from their pop years. But it's tight, it roars, and the band play the best show of theirs I have seen yet.

As has been the way for years, Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith of the bands 1985-1989 incarnation are on guitar and drums, with Scott Firth on bass. It may have started off as a loose collective of musical workers way back when, but PiL now are accomplished, whip up a vibrant and strong sound, and are adept at old stuff like “Religion” (which tonight breaches the 21 minute barrier), the more obvious rock years with “The Body”, and newer material from last years splendid “What The World Needs Now”.

John Lydon may be past 60 now – as indeed are a great many artists – but age itself is no necessary impediment. Prince saw time as somewhat irrelevant, a way only of marking the passage between pointers, and to be honest, when bands I love age, that's how I feel. If Bernard Sumner is 60, and even the relatively new John Grant is 47, it's somewhat unimportant except in so much as time will pass and eventually all artists will end. There always be songs unwritten and choruses unsung.

With two thirds of the new record in tonights setlist, it's fairly clear that PiL are looking forward as much as back. The newer stuff – Corporate, Bettie Page – shows the artistic crime that Virgin committed by holding Rotten to ransom with a contract they had no intention of honouring. By 10pm, the band are in full swing. There's a tighter locked groove from human metronome Bruce Smith, and Scott Firth on bass and electronics is also finely in there, the rhythm precise and almost mechanical, but also – and especially on “Religion” - the loudest, deepest bass I've ever heard. (Yes, Leftfield at Glastonbury was a baby's paw compared at this). There's no “Disappointed”, or “Seattle”, or “Home”, or “Bad Life”, or ....

There's also a solid hour of deep cuts and a handful of older hits. “The Order Of Death” is – to these ears – one of the finest PiL songs of all time. I never thought I'd see it played live. It tantalisingly melds into “Tie Me To the Length Of That” after a couple of minutes. Free to follow their own path. Near the end, “Warrior” tops ten minutes as one of the great, unloved songs of the decade that shows PiL far beyond their alleged peers (really, what were some of the punk greats doing in 1989?), and the final song is a medley of a roaring cover of Leftfield/Lydon's “Open Up”, and the glorious, best-PiL-song-in-decades “Shoom”, which is just a fantastic, misanthrophic, cyncial swearfest built on a huge groove, roaring guitars, and wonderful dynamics that make it near enough the perfect show closer, as band, and crowd, in unison loudly chant very naughty words. It's not big, and it's not clever, but at the same time, it is enormous, and smart, and knowingly inarticulate. As Lydon so often says, this is proper music, for proper people. It's all here, raw, and uncompromising artistically. It won't headline stadiums and be as big as U2, but biggest isn't always best.

Double Trouble
Know Now
Love Song
Bettie Page
Deeper Water
Death Disco
The One
The Order of Death
Tie Me To The Length Of That
The Body

I'm Not Satisfied
Open Up

Tuesday, June 07, 2016
The Wave

It's been the best 12 months of my life – the past year or so. It's not always been easy and there's been a couple of black hours in January and February, but overall, it's been the best 12 months I've ever had, and I couldn't've made it without some of you around.

I've had a historical problem with depression. But it's not depression as such. It's been hope. When you lose hope, you lose everything. According to medical records, I've had some form of ... depression on a number of occasions since my mid 20's. If I'm honest, I've probably had some form of hope problem all my life. And it's really only when I hit my – at that point, my then lowest ebb – in the summer of 2000 I decided that this wasn't normal. It wasn't acceptable to me to have an enemy living in my head. That's how it felt. An invisible enemy who was trying to change how I thought. I know the signs now, but I haven't always done that.

It's not a battle as such you can win. It's one where the hostilities quietly disappear for a while, until an unexpected moment. It's a form of emotional terrorism, but the perpetrator and the recipient are the same person. It's an invisible war that starts without warning. A car bomb in your thinking. Or perhaps a small set of balls start rolling. And some days, I'm just not myself.

Depression. Anxiety. Asbergers. Whatever. Once, when I was talking to an ex, she said that who I was, my need for quiet and peace, made her sad to think of. People are different, and so strange and lovely. It doesn't need a name. Though I have.

The Wave. Some days are rough waters. Some are not. I know what causes the rain inside my head. Too many times,it's the outside world. The face I wear, the clothes I hide inside, the laughing, happy guy that I am almost all of the time – who I really am – sometimes gets covered with the rain of the fact that it's 3.12 on a Tuesday.

I just thought that's who I was. The angry kid. The barely simmering rage. I felt. God, I felt so much. Too much, when I was younger. The brutal injustice of growing up an ordinary, mediocre, working class kid in the Midlands. In no way special, or unique, or different, or anything like that.

And I was scared. This was who I was, but on the outside the wisecracking twentysomething, with my armour made of wit. I could see the signs. The way I behaved, the escapes I sought, the way I became entwined, because I was just... avoiding life. A life that, if I am honest, I asked little of. All I asked of the world really, was... Don't Suck. It couldn't even do that when I was younger.

I'm older now. Happier. Not always happy, but happier. Know the things that make me unhappy, and I avoid them. I leave stressful jobs where I am treated like shit. Leave relationships where I am treated as an object to be manipulated and manoeuvered.

I was scared that somehow, the Prozac, and Citalopram, Paroxetine, Fluvox, Sertraline, SSRI's, all those things, would take away parts of me, and I would no longer be myself. I feared the spiritual amputation and anaesthetic. Would my abilities desert me? I wrote songs and novels and poems and played music and what would happen if that just stopped? What it like to suddenly not have any more songs in you anymore? Would my life be covered in the unfeeling fog?

I'm not proud of who I was. Just struggling with the world, the way the world struggled with me. That the world – the vast, impersonal reality that surrounded us – just carried on, not even cruel, but unfeeling, determined to do whatever it did (sun goes up, sun goes down) irrespective of how it hurt me. Reality felt like some kind of tumour.

The classic symptoms of dissociative disorder are there. I'm chasing the uncatchable, where the world just slips away and where money, illness, love, loneliness, all of it just disappears, where we are the Olympian in the apex of the moment, that's the moment of joy.

For years I'd probably been misdiagnosed as having The Sads. The Sads? That was the word to describe my perfectly normal reaction to a unsatisfactory reality. Living in a world where bosses lied to you, where lovers disappeared for no reason, where lives were cut in half, lands where ravaged, where spiritually my dreams were set ablaze. Sometimes, I've seen everything I've ever worked for in jeopardy, actively endangered, by an irrational cruelty and unsuitable, unkind use of power. By people who couldn't hide that they enjoyed placing my world, and our world, in jeopardy.

I've held a sense of terror in the night that everything I worked towards was so fragile. In a corporate sense, in some worlds, I've been abused, and now can see the effects of a corporate Post Trauamtic Stress Disorder years later. At the time, you're just... Living Through This.. because it might get better. It's occasionally, afterwards, you realise just how... awful it was. I had moments, and I can recall exact dates, where I was absolutely spiritually, emotionally.. bereft. Moments where my son has comforted his crying father, telling me he's been a good boy.. and knowing that he was the best boy I could have.

I have known amazing love and incredible happiness. I know I can, I have recently, I know I will again (not that I am not now). After all, I had a vague career ambition when I was younger. Now, finally, I have achieved it. That feels amazing. Fragile.

Depression, The wave.. whatever it is. It isn't a condition, but it's some kind of wave, and you ride it, you go with it, and sometimes, you end up higher up the hill than when you started. But it's in me. It's part of me now. You can't control the storm. You can ride the wave.

Thursday, May 19, 2016
EDITORS London Royal Albert Hall 17 May 2016

It's been a long time since Editors have been a support act, at the very least in the UK. Whilst this tour – aiding Manic Street Preachers Everything Must Go 20th Anniversary Tour – sees them playing arenas for the first time in a long time, Editors are no longer up and comers, and this seems to be the first admission by the band, 10 years in, that perhaps the upwards trajectory has plateaued, and that the momentum is starting to stall. Also, a six month absence from live performances caused by illness has somewhat derailed the band ; Editors then, a band with something to prove again, and somehow two bands at the same time. There's precious little from the bands first incarnation with guitarist Chris Urbanowcisz – three hits from the guitar years are dispatched in the first half, the rest being drawn heavily from their later approaches, the years where the band turned imperceptably from a four piece, to a expansive quintet, a band where strings and synths and brooding textures became as much part of the band as anything in their arsenal. Songs like “Ocean Of Night”, “Papillion”, and the final, layered “Marching Orders” are large, aspirational, multi-storied songs, which turn from one movement into another and another and another, like some kind of abstract texture.

Though they have had this lineup for four years now, the one that's birthed the most recent – and best – two albums – still feels new, and it's somewhat as if, through evolution, Editors have become two bands ; the barely recognisable indie upstarts that stood head and shoulders above the dreadful Indie Landfill of The Same Old Fucking Jeans, Vodafone Call Centre Clerks, and the recently dropped Hipsterpocalypse ; and the second band, also called Editors, that make huge, and impressionaistic epic slices of emotion. There's three songs from the most recent, and criminally under-rated 'In Dream', sandwiched inbetween the enormous “Papillon”. On record, “Papillon” is a three and a half minute cross-breed of moody, late night disco arpeggios and self-aware introspection. On stage, it's a huge jolt of electricity, a call to arms, and – by the sound fo the words – addressed to some kind of burden, a pain, an eternal weight, and to the inevitable sense of release when you escape. What it is is never quite specified, a person? , a situation?, a place – but the band execute it flawlessly, with a learned passion. Thom Smith channels the songs, becoming them, so to speak. To some, this is a self-referential indie dirge. To me, this is a light. So many songs are happy, or lusty, or about... nothing.. and if culture could be summed up in three words, most of it would be the Great Big Nothing, whereas these songs, the words matter. Words matter in songs. If Thom was singing WHOABLACKBETTYRAMALAM I wouldn't care how great the rest of the song would be : I wouldn't be interested. Art has to be about something... or it isn't art. That's really all there is to it.

Editors may be performing their hearts out to a half-full Albert Hall with a brutally short 40 minute set, but it was as strong, as good, as meaningful as any show I have seen them do. If, through all of it, there is one moment, it is Thom reaching out to the crowd, yearning for a connection, trying, and sometimes succeeding to achieve the one thing so few of us do. Only connect.

The Racing Rats
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
Ocean of Night
Marching Orders

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
MANIC STREET PREACHERS, Everything Must Go #20, London Royal Albert Hall, 17 May 2016

It's been 24 hours and 19 years, 1 month, and 5 days since the Manic Street Preachers last played the Royal Albert Hall. That night, as James Dean Bradfield recalls, he was shitting himself, as his Mum and Dad, and Jimmy Page, were in the room. Tonight, of course, is what Nicky Wire describes as 'Probably the last time we will ever play here'. The Manics, at album twelve, now seem to be looking back.. and it's not quite as good as was when they were looking forward.

Touring a 20th anniversary celebration of that album and period, it feels disturbingly like some form of musical museum, a nostalgia for a time that never really existed. Trust me, I feel no nostalgia for then. There's a danger to pretending that being in your late teens and early twenties was awesome ; it wasn't then, and even less so now. Romanticising the past? It's nonsense, and whilst there was good in it... now is better.

Ultimately, it feels wrong. What's the point of always looking back? There's a creative stagnation here, a cultural necrophilia in touring all the old albums in order. The albums don't quite work played live. Not that the songs are in any way lesser – after all, Everything Must Go is near enough a greatest hits made of new songs – but that those songs, in that order, just don't quite work on stage. They are designed to be experienced alone with headphones, not in big rooms not alone.

On stage, the 1996 live lineup are augmented by Wayne Murray on guitar, and the rest of the band, growing older slowly, play with the same sense of passion and engagement. What is absent is the fire : the songs are no longer fierce declarations of independence – free from the memory – of the past, or paths to the future. They're echoes. They're memories. They are reminders of things hat once were and can never be. It's not that the band perform badly, or without integrity. It's that … maybe you shouldn't go back and recreate the past anymore. Maybe it's time, especially with the goodwill of the superior Futurology starting to fade, that the band need to write about, and continue to look at, where they are now, and how they fit in the world. Not about how they used to.

Few bands were ever as culturally relevant, or important, at one point as the Manics. Now they're a jukebox. It's predictable, and whilst it's also refreshing to hear songs like “Removables”, “Interiors” and “The Girl Who Wanted To Be God” being played after 20 years away, there's also a sense of being shackled to the past. Great songs are ignored. Crowdpleasers are anthems. And well, definitely in the midst of “Australia” and “You Stole The Sun” (the two worst Manics single there are, both being anaemic, diluted, and utterly boring stadium rock with …. unspectacular lyrics), these songs may be doing a storm with the crowd. But the crowd are wrong. Jump a bit. Have a laugh.

If this is your favourite band, as you tweeted next to me... why are you going to the bar? Why are you having a conversation loudly during the whole. Fucking. Gig? There are a million rooms in this town alone the band aren't playing. Go in any one of those, kindly. Now.

Especially when the band are playing songs like “Further Away”. It's rarely played (and, alongside several other songs from this album) and often goes 15 years between performances. Pay attention to this stuff.

The second half of the set is more exciting. There's rare live airings of “Natwest – Barclays Midlands – Lloyds” (that I last saw them perform 24 years ago) and “You're Tender And You're Tired”. Both songs are, in their way, glorious, but not exactly solid 100% setlist staples. But The Manics have become a band they never quite thought they would... they've become not just A Band That Could Change The World, but just another Very Good Band. Sandwiched around this are the great newer songs “This Sullen Welsh Heart”, “Walk Me To the Bridge” and “Show Me The Wonder”, as well as a normal greatest hits set. What is clear though is that the band aren't the same thing they once were. The films that accompany the songs, once chosen with great care, are now... vaguer. This may not mean much, but it means that the band want to mean less than they once did : whereas once the visuals would be chosen to complement and enhance the songs, now they are vague, abstract... meaningless. But never meaningless. The band themselves roar through these songs. And whilst revisiting “Everything Must Go” on it's twentieth is a case of celebration, revision... and at the same time, a case of comfort without a necessary reward (I'm baffled as to why, apart from the ego pleasing element of headlining arenas again after a ten year absence)... you can't say The Manics are back, because they never went away.

Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier (An American Trilogy)
A Design for Life
Kevin Carter
Enola/Alone (Safe European Home)
Everything Must Go
Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky
The Girl Who Wanted to Be God
Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning)
Further Away
No Surface All Feeling
This Sullen Welsh Heart
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head
Motorcycle Emptiness
Walk Me to the Bridge
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough
Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds
You Stole the Sun From My Heart
Roses in the Hospital (Sound And Vision)
You're Tender and You're Tired
Show Me the Wonder
(Feels Like) Heaven
You Love Us

Friday, May 13, 2016
LUSH London Camden Roundhouse 06 May 2016

Dependent on where you came in, Lush are a shortlived Britpop band that had a couple of brilliant hits and then vanished... or a near legendary band, of no small potency, who changed, evolved, created glory, and then.. disappeared on the cusp of their next great step. But if ifs and buts were halibuts, or something. Can't go back. Only forward.

This weekend, the reformed Lush, after a somewhat haphazard US tour – half of which was aborted at short notice thanks to the hostile and unthinking bureaucracy of the American Embassy and Visa system – return to London for a celebration. Being the first shows announced and onsale, these are the shows for which people have Travelled. Booked flights from America, and possibly the Antartic. No pressure then.

It's an identical set to Hackney, three weeks previous. With some more shows under their belt, the band are tighter. Justin Welch – who barely betrayed any first night nerves in an excellent showing – is a great choice. The songs sound the same. Sure, it was weird for the first show, seeing someone else on the drum stool... but ultimately, there's no finer choice. A natural choice.

For a band with a strong set of singles in their armoury, there's some choices missing - “Nothing Natural”, “Single Girl” - but there's no sense of anything missing, or absent. The euphoria of their return is perhaps, more understated. Not the huge sense of joy, but more a sense of... return. After all, who hasn't returned and reformed these days? But perhaps, better is the sense of continuation. Lush are already recording new stuff and have a future going their way.

We're older and fatter and balder, and all that stuff. But isn't part of the journey what's exciting? The fact it isn't the same? That these are old songs in new times. The way that those songs may have had a meaning then, but now, they have a different meaning, even if what that meaning is is... unclear. Great art has more meanings with time, more... intricacies... still reveals new elements all these years later.

Ultimately, Lush acquit themselves excellently. What I feel is that, and it's confirmed further from the previous show, is that Lush are a band that I think for, not feel. (The difference is small, but huge). Some bands make me move myself, or express myself. Lush are the kind of band who, when I hear them, my mind explores and moves. This isn't music for losing your mind to, for standing alas a world, hands to the sky, but one where we lose ourselves. And so, whilst on the outside, I may be being uncharacteristically undemonstrative (that is, not peeling out note perfect air guitar solos, for starters!), it's one where inside, I am moving, and inside my head, I'm … going places, in a way that we often don't do with music. Some music – that's all there is, the noise, the sound, the ideas, the emotion, the feeling, whatever it is, you just concentrate on noise, and it's one of those nights when you turn down the lights and everything comes into view... where, when everything clears... everything makes sense and everything connect and … you think, you feel, like a form of meditation. Where everything else goes away. Lush are one of the bands here I explore inner space.

But, like Pink Floyd, their music is the type where I feel, where I think.. where my mind wanders, and the band performing live is the trigger for meditation and thought, for thinking and exploring. I don't dance to the songs. I feel them. I think my way through things like “Light From A Dead Star”, and absorb the fact that Lush are in the same room as me, playing songs. What matters is not what Lush were once. What matters is what they are now.. and what they will be in the future. We live in a changing world. And that is beautiful to experience.

Light From A Dead Star
Lit Up
For Love
Out of Control
Sweetness And Light
Desire Lines
Leaves Me Cold

Sunday, May 08, 2016
JAMES London Kentish Town Forum 04 May 2016

35 years, umpteen lineups, and 14 albums in, James are one of the more schizophrenic bands in the world. It's been 8 years since I saw this band, for reasons too personal to explain : the last time I saw them co-incided with some awful news. It's not enough, and not possible, sometimes, for the band, or any band, not to be wrapped around memories ; good or bad. For me, Blur have always been tied with an awful evening at the NEC in 1999 where other people had a very public split.

Tonight is, for me at least, a disappointing show. I know my expectations aren't always what the band want. A brand – and that is what a band is, whether they like it or not – has expectations. You see a band, or a James Bond film, or a Diet Coke, and you have an idea of what it is, what it does. I've never been the kind of person that puts bands in A Box, and demand they Never EVER Get Out Of The Box, or make them prisoners. But bands set themselves a standard.

And James are one of the more … schizophrenic bands. Determined never to look back. There's no trace of the spiky quartet that gave us their fantastic “One Man Clapping”, and little, to be honest, of their stadium indie years. 13 of tonights 22 songs are less than two years old, and there's a gap between what the audience want and where the band are.

James have changed over the year. The songs run a formula, of sorts, building to a crescendo, a cacophony of drums and trumpets and ascending chords, a move always, towards takeoff and to … ascension beyond the mere mortal.

And what James serve isn't necessarily what is ordered. Of course there's no obligation for a band to play.. any song.. and in theory, they could play nothing but unreleased songs. I've seen that happen. The new stuff is great, but most of it is unfamiliar, and the new record is six weeks old over half the set is made of the whole new record.

Normally, I'm all for bands braving forward, playing new stuff, exploring, going places. Sometimes there's a balance though, and you forget where you came from. It's half an hour before they play any song over seven weeks old. And whilst the audience are looking for something, I get the feeling they're not getting it. It's not that James are bad – the new stuff is very good – but that it is unfamiliar. The audience want to see a different James, mostly.

It's also... sort of James... and sort of not.. Longstanding guitarist Larry Gott has been quietly rotated out (either on temporary sabbatical, or permanent break), replaced by Adrian Oxaal. Multi-instrumentalist Swiss Ron (also temporary drummer for some promotional appearances) augments the lineup. There's a danger that with a number of members changing, is it still James? Not that that bothers AC/DC of course.. but it's underwhelming. The hits appear to be presented with a sense of obligation, and whilst “She's A Star” and “Just Like Fred Astaire” are wonderful songs... they are presented acoustically. There's a sense of waiting, of patience. And little reward. Whilst I am often loathe for bands to be a indie jukebox.. when you have songs like “Sit Down”, “Lose Control”, “Seven”, “Born Of Frustration”, “Tomorrow”, “Laid”, “Waltzing Along”, “What For”, and “Getting Away With It”, and you avoid those.. it can be offputting. We're getting older. Babysitters aren't cheap. Being at work the day after a gig isn't always easy. It's not a festival set or a crowd pleasing night out.

It's James alright. Always doing something new. Never following convention. For better, for worse, definitely. But tonight... not for me.

Move Down South
To My Surprise
Ring The Bells
Surfers Song
Girl At The End Of The World
One Of The Three
She's A Star
Just Like Fred Astaire
Come Home
Dear John
Honest Joe
Say Something
Nothing But Love
Moving On

Saturday, April 30, 2016
NEW ORDER London Royal Albert Hall 23 April 2016

Now firmly established in their third incarnation as a somewhat permanent fixture, New Order follow up last years “Music Complete” with a one off show for the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Albert Hall. As a building this enormous, imposing hall, a dome of history and of stature, a tribute to one womans love for another man, has become one of Britain's most important and beautiful locations. A place that, were you in a band, you'd want to headline in your life. A prestige venue.

In the thirty years since New Order last appeared at the Albert Hall, so much has changed. And yet, also, so little. Last time they did, I only experienced it through a grainy VHS and shitty cassette tape. To now experience them with my own eyes, my own ears, to see them in the flesh. There was a time that was never going to happen.

After 18 times, what's left to say? Well, what indeed. New Order are the band I grew up loving and never having. For years, they were a lost band in my world, one that existed but I never experienced. Now, 30 years liking them – well over two thirds of my life – gig #18 of New Order is not just another gig. Seeing New Order isn't ever just another gig.

Yes, they're getting old. Past 60. Why do I keep seeing them? Because nobody is immortal. Prince and Bowie can't escape mortality. Nothing can. They'll be a time when New Order are no more. When all that remains is records and memories and faded t-shirts. It could happen next week. I hope to God not.

Because there's a moment where, even in a stuffy Victorian classical concert hall, the band roar through their songs like Gods. Because, even at their advancing years, there's a youth of spirit that remains with the band. Even if the crowd, including myself, are no longer half our age and twice as sprightly. The crowd are slowing down... slightly. Myself included.

Even the once ever youthful Bernard Sumner is getting slightly older. The perpetually blonde hair has gone white, and the waistline is slightly bigger, but aside from that, all that has changed is the synths are more reliable these days and the setlist slightly more predictable. Stephen Morris is still a human metronome. Gillian Gilbert a sedate architect of sound, whose health-enforced absence matches the bands artistic slump that is now clearly banished.

It's not the same. I don't want it to be the same. I want artists to change. Evolve. Grow old. I don't see music as a museum, but art as an ever changing organism, shifting constantly in relation to the world, to our place in the world, and to itself.

Even new stuff, like “Plastic” and “Singularity” sound like old songs you just didn't hear until recently. It's no determined history lesson – well over a third of tonights songs are barely six months old, and more than half of the new album gets aired. Also, the bands enormous legacy as Joy Division is treated without the somewhat slavish devotion it has sometimes had. New Order have never been the type of band to play the whole of an album in order, or a nostalgic themepark live set. Just one Joy Division song gets played - “Love Will Tear Us Apart” - and it's more of a celebration than an obligation. This isn't Joy Division, and whilst you should never forget where you come from, you shouldn't also get stuck there.

As a set, there's an absence of some perhaps expected big hits, as always was the way – and the revival of “Regret”, which gets only its second live airing in a number of years. Aside from this, 20 of the bands 31 singles don't get played. “Academic” and “Superheated” get played for the first time in the UK, and “Crystal” is brought back after an absence. For setlist watchers, it's somewhat predictable with around half the same songs in roughly the same place as Brixton in November.

But predictable isn't always bad. We align to films, politics, bands because we know the promise and the qualities we expect, and really, what we mean is.. consistent. The first half of the set is largely made of songs from the new album and deep LP cuts ; around half an hour in, the mood changes – subtly – from the measured “Your Silent Face” to a slow, gradual ascent to ecstasy – first with the Chic-via-Giorgio-Moroder grooves of “Tutti Frutti” and “People On The High Line” - before a gradual move up the leaderboard. “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Waiting For The Sirens Call” are played in their full 12” glory, bouncing like happy disco puppies – though the latter has been a fixture of setlists for a very long time, and probably needs rest. New material is slotted in elegantly (“Plastic” is the best single New Order song in probably 20 years. Then again, so is “Singularity”), and received keenly ; perhaps dispensing with the common knowledge that the past was always better than the present.

But when the present sounds this good, why think about it? There's huge wodges of lasers and fantastic lights, or the songs, oh the songs, the relentless pounding beats of perfect drum machines, the swooping strings and the way a stuffy classical concert hall gets transformed into a middle-aged/pensioner disco. Or the way that the crowd aren't quite as insanely bugnuts as the first time I saw them in a Manchester club twenty years ago.

Which is effortlessly re-created by a nostalgic climax : “The Perfect Kiss”, “True Faith”, “Temptation” and “Blue Monday” are all played back-to-back. If you told me in 1994 that I'd still be doing this, seeing that, and being here watching those songs played by the band that made them, in 2016, I would have been so happy about it you wouldn't believe it.

It ends with current LP closer “Superheated” ; presumably chosen for the chorus refrain of “It's Over, It's Over.”, which is both somewhat deflating for the previous two hours of euphoria, and ill placed ; it serves as a epilogue, not a climax, and the joyous celebration of the best New Order gigs is somewhat diluted. Unlike other bands of their age, made of ever changing lineups, useless albums, woefully predictable setlists of the same 17 songs that never change, New Order are no nostalgia act. What a beautiful future it could have been.

Your Silent Face
Tutti Frutti
People On The High Line
Bizarre Love Triangle
Waiting For The Sirens Call
The Perfect Kiss
True Faith
Blue Monday
Love Will Tear Us Apart

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