Archive for December, 2011

Amy Winehouse Tribute review – Recollections of her 2004 Brixton Concert

Way back when in November 2004, I had the privilege of attending Amy Winehouse’s concert at Brixton Academy. The concert was not a sell-out and although the downstairs was quite packed only half the Balcony was full. Of course, if you had been lucky enough to get a ticket for a concert this year 2011, you would have found not only the venue sold out but it would have cost you an arm and a leg. My ticket was around £20 and upon reflection proved to be excellent value for money.

So let’s set the context:  Back to Black was still far off in the future;  Amy Winehouse had  been nominated for the Mercury Music prize  for the album Frank but did not win. That honour went to Franz Ferdinand’s self titled album. Her greatest glories and tragedies were still to come.

As for me, I had not started writing reviews at this stage. I had only started going again to concerts a year before in 2003 after an absence of 10 years. I was like any other gig goer, just going for the fun and the buzz of it. I still go for those reasons but I like to record the experience as well which I why I started writing in 2007.  Back in 2004, there were no notes, no photos just my memory which thankfully happens to be very good.

So back to the gig. After a performance from the support act that didn’t impress me or my friends, we dulled the event with a pint or too of tepid lager from the bar.  The ground floor level had had the atmosphere of a festival : lots groups of friends and some couples sitting  down on a sticky alcohol  imbued carpet. As the ground level steadily filled up people had to stand up.  20 meters up the gentle rake of the auditorium from the stage was a great place to stand.  Amy tottered on stage about 9:15pm in amazing high heels and dressed in a white very short summer dress looking sensational. She did not have yet have her synonymous beehive. Her black hair was combed straight and worn at shoulder length. Less the rock star and more the girl next door dressed up on a night out, even then she had a stage presence and her voice was engaging and seductive. Now, at this stage, 7 years down the line I do not recall the exact order of the set list but I remember individual numbers. She sang most of the songs from Frank and there are certain tracks I remember more than others.  On “Stronger than Me” you could have believed yourself transported into a smoky jazz club rather than being at Brixton Academy.  The control and contrast of Amy’s voice was amazing to behold: at one moment you had her deep laid back American jazz voice in conjunction with the sassy sound of the brass and then in the chorus the lighter touch fresh soprano girly sound.

 I equally liked the laid back grandeur of “Take the Box”, the vocal dexterity of “No Greater Love” which incidentally got massive applause and the drama of “In My Bed” whose  darkly danceable rhythm filled the vaulted space of the Academy while exuding the feel of the sexual tension within the story of the gradual breakdown of a relationship. The musical arrangement on this was masterful and even thinking about it now puts my hairs on end.

What is remarkable is that this song was sung at the Contralto level but Amy could easily fly up the scale almost to Soprano as she did on one of the choruses of “You Sent Me Flying”.  Hearing this unexpected change live was spine-tingling.

My final favourite of that wonderful was “Amy Amy Amy“which stylistically and vocally recalled Nancy Sinitra’s These Boots were made for walking” towards the end of the concert was a cheeky self reference to her love of men and falling to temptation.  If only she had stuck to the men and not fallen to the temptation of anything else.

“Frank” has been a very overlooked and underrated album amid the hype of “Back to Black” but her show-casing of it that night was sublime and greatly appreciated by all who attended. If you don’t believe this though, I happened by chance to be standing next to Johnny Vegas the comic that night and his partner. I asked him what he thought and in his very down to earth northern way he replied “Yeah, she alright, ain’t she” with a glint in his eye. Well the years and her untimely departure caused me to recall this concert and she was already a good deal more than alright. At that time she was on the cusp of being one of the all time greats but she still retained a kind of innocent beguiling charm.

No words will, of course, do the level of  Amy ‘s talent justice but these ones are my tribute to a great artist who had so much more to give and who has been taken from the world before her years.

RIP AMY WINEHOUSE September 14TH 1983 –  July  23RD 2011

CARO EMERALD’S GEM OF A PERFORMANCE AT SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE, December 13th 2011

Caro Emerald shines lives at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, UK December 13th, 2011

Caro Emerald shines at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, December 13th 2011

 

I must confess I can hardly claim to be objective when writing this particular review. I have for several months been itching to see this artist following my first listening of her Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room floor album. Emerald’s fusion of musical genres with its essence firmly rooted in the mid 20th century jazz and swing is addictive. The rhythms and hooks that weave back and forth are so ridiculous catchy that you find yourself a’moving and a’grooving and humming the tunes all over your house.   In addition, due to a somewhat curtailed performance of 20 minutes at Radio 2 live festival in Hyde Park this summer, my need to see this live show just kept growing over the months. I finally got to scratch my itch at Shepherd’s Bush Empire where I and 2000 others were rewarded with a thrilling performance.

The artist herself apparently had also had a desire as she stated quite genuinely that she had been looking forward to this particular show for such a long time and noted that it had been long sold out. This was indeed the case. The Empire was packed to the rafters with a mature and highly appreciative audience.

Every track from the album was played along with new material – “Two Hearts” and to put us in the festive spirit a track called “You’re All I want for Christmas”. With a band very classically placed around the stage from left to right keyboard, decks, bass, 3 horns brass section and guitar, Caro sauntered into the centre of the stage in fifties style green swing dress (the first of  costumes during the show) and indeed started the swing thing going with “That Man”.

Follow that up with the seductive “ Just One dance” and you had the making of a smouldering combustible performance, except that this show was peppered with lighter hearted fun offerings as well. For example, “Riviera Drive” had, as the title suggested, the feel of going on summer road trip and you could almost imagine the horns following in a car behind as an accompaniment.

Caro was so  obviously proud of the song “Back it UP” that she on went at length to explain gave her the opportunity to record, having been called in by her 2 Dutch producers Jan van Wieringen and David Scheurs to replace a demo singer. The rest as they say is history as the collaboration took off. This extended “Back it Up” complete with a bit of classy scratching from the desks was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the show. Caro Emerald even got the crowd repeatedly singing the title for about 5 minutes.  Impressive extended solos to band members were also given on “Absolutely Me” where Caro took a backseat for a half of the song

The formidable arrangements for “Lipstick on his Collar” and “The Other Woman” could have come straight out of a grand James Bond movie score. But what made me want to get up swing (even on the 3rd floor balcony) was the infectious combination of old time jazz and swing of “You Don’t Love” interspersed with Caro’s passionate mournful crescendos. Absolutely brilliant!  The swirling bossa-nova style piano of “A Night Like This” brought the first part to a climax but it wasn’t long that Caro and her band were off stage.

It does seem compulsory these days artist must perform an obligatory cover but it’s alright when the cover is a decent song and the arrangement is original. So, to already rapturous applause, they returned to complete to perform The Cure number “ Close to Me” and a lively upbeat rendition of “Stuck” which recalled my summer holiday in Italy and an slapstick advert on Italian TV with a stranded girl in the sea, an octopus and a couple of lifeguards but we won’t go into that.

Fittingly in a 2nd encore, Caro brought the show to a close with a cover tribute  to Amy Winehouse of “Love is a Losing Game” on the very stage where one of the latter’s most memorable concert was recorded.  This was to be my final gig of 2011 but what an amazing way to end. Caro Emerald, her band and the musical arrangements are sensational.

THIS IS THE FIRST OF SERIES OF RETROSPECTIVES LOOKING BACK AT MEMORABLES CONCERTS OF THE PAST. BY POPULAR DEMAND, I BEGIN WITH THE NATIONAL ON FRIDAY EVENING 4TH JULY2008. THIS WAS A BAND I HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE BUT THEY MADE A DEEP IMPRESSION ON ME.

The National play an Impressive Set at the Wireless Festival, Hyde Park, London,UK, July 4th 2008

The National play an Impressive Set at the Wireless Festival, Hyde Park, London, UK, July 4th 2008

The National, headlining, in the tented SanDisk at the Wireless festival put their heart into their hour long set to perform their mournful psychedelia flavoured tunes with an intensity rarely seen by other live performers. In the case of lead vocalist Matt Berninger, it seemed like he put his soul into the show as he girated, twisted and swung around the stage awkwardly like a man possessed. His penetrating baritone voice washed over the audience in the tent like a wave reminding me of The Editors and Joy Division. Showcasing tunes from the latest CD Boxer mournful, the atmosphere the National conjured up could only be described as doleful, deep but brilliant. The songs lyrics can be at times intensely introspective or can resemble an emotionally analytical observation of another individual as if a fictitious conversation were taking place. After a fairly low key start with “Start A War”, the intensity of the band racheted up with every song. Medium tempoed “Slow Show” exuded longing and regret at the same time. “Mistaken for Strangers” was mesmerizing, haunting and dark. The chorus of “Abel” bordered on the anarchical. The rich keyboard sound and instrumentals were something to be experienced on “Fake Empires” and took the gig to another level. And there it reached it climax with final track “Mr November” to a rapturous reception from the crowd. The music will not be to everyone’s taste but if you like your indie deep then this is the band for you. Personally I loved it.

Camille, Live Review from The Hackney Empire, London UK, November 3rd 2011

 

Camille delivers another humorous avant-gard performance with her band - Hackney Empire, November 3rd 2011

French singerCamille delivers another humourous avant-garde performance with her band, Novemeber 3rd 2011

 

The Hackney Empire is a beautiful old Victorian music hall theatre in north east London that is more used to playing host to other performing arts such as musicals, comedy, opera and plays. It only occasionally gets used for concerts, which explains why I have not been there previously to cover a music performance. 

Camille Dalrais is a French artist that won the BBC 3 world music awards in 2007 and whose music can be said to have evolved into different styles and incarnations. She has progressed in the last decade from collaborations with the bossa nova stylings of the group Nouvelle Vague to performing concept works in the form of material from the album Le Fils, whose songs are themed around the note of C and its scales, chords. Music Hole the 3rd album, is one giant experiment with sound.

Camille could therefore be described as avant-garde but yet in live performance does not take herself too seriously. Audience interaction and participation is as much a feature of her shows as her considerable musicianship and vocal ability. But do not expect a bog standard pop concert because that is never going to happen. This was certainly true of the show at Hackney Empire.

Opening with “Aujord’hui”,  a almost breathless spoken piece about the first moments of childbirth, she centre stage turning on the spot in the middle of a beige linen cloth with lamp in the middle. The lamp, in fact, hanging by a cord in the middle of the stage and by a pulley also visible stage left, proved to be a constant and effective prop and served as a lighting effect. A simple idea but it worked. Several times it was swung back and forth across the stage like a pendulum and this was highly effective against the darkened stage during the haunting rendition of “Le Berger” (The Shepherd).

 

Haunting Lightting Effects were one of the feature of  Camille's performance at Hackney Empire, London, UK , November 3rd 2011

Haunting Lighting Effects were a main feature of Camille's performance at Hackney Empire, London, UK, Novemebr 3rd 2011

 

There were many moments of humour: “Mars is no fun” – a song in English was indeed very fun, offering a surreal imaging of what it would be like as an ordinary person going about  in everyday situations living on that red planet. It must the first I have heard anyone express in a song a desire to go back to social housing and  “wander all afternoon in the shopping mall of Milton Keynes”. (For those who do not know,  Milton Keynes is a formerly much maligned new style UK town, built on an American type grid system).

Bubble Lady saw Camille sitting down on the stage opposite one of her band making fish popping and bubbly noises. “Ilo Veyou”, the title track of the new album, produced mocking irony and “La France” singly in an exaggerated mixed style of Edith Piaf  meets 19th century operetta plainly just mocked. Camille introduced this number by having a joke with French members of the audience saying that the “Rosbifs” would not understand. Lucky then, I speak French. 

The show was not all about humour and was punctuated by several melancholic songs, “She was” and “Le banquet” being notable amongst them.

For the finale to the pre-encore she showed herself at vocally dextrous best on “Tout dit” . The repetition of this title ran as a rhythmic beat all the way through this piece but Camille did not pause for breath between title and verse.

Camille entreated all the audience to stand during the 20 minute long encore section and everyone (at least downstairs) duly obliged. This signalled some crowd favourites from 2nd studio album “Le Fils” .  “Ta Doleur” gave us all the opportunity to do a gentle jazz swing and “Au Port” was also played.  Probably the most surreal and hilarious moments came when Camille got the audience to make woofing and meowing noises during “Cats and Dogs” and then got everyone to repetitively sound off the consonants of the alphabet.

 

Camille gets intimate with the audience and band at Hackney Empire, London UK, November 3rd 2011

Camille gets intimate with the audience and band at Hackney Empire, London, UK November 3rd 2011

All in all, though, this was an art house gig meets cabaret with a dash of music hall thrown for good measure. Last time I saw Camille at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October 2006, she had the crowd on the ground level pull a kind of net tissue  over themselves. I, for one, cannot wait to see what she produces for her next theme. Her performance was artistic and humorous in equal measure and her sonic gymnastics were frankly amazing. It’s no wonder she has built up a considerable cult following in the UK.