Archive for April, 2012

Amadou and Miriam thrill the crowd at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 13th April 2012

Amadou and Miriam thrill the crowd at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 13th April 2012

Amadou and Miriam bring African Dance Vibe to London

Malian duo Amadou and Mariam brought their vibrant show to London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and wowed the crowd in the process – a feat made all the more remarkable because most of the songs are in Malian languages -mainly Bambara and French with a few of the choruses in English. Fortunately for me I had an advantage over many in that I speak French so some songs I did understand. I won’t get too hung up on it, though; good music is good music in whatever culture. The infectious polyphonic rhythms transcended the language barrier as witnessed by the steady mild bouncing movements of the jigging crowd firstly on the ground level and then as the gig progressed up onto the balconies.

The other remarkable fact for those not familiar with the duo is that Amadou Bagayoko and Miriam Doumbia are both blind and have been for all their adult lives. Apart from being guided onto centre stage to the microphones, this proves to be no disadvantage. Though, the pair are very talented on their own as they prove in the opening, it doesn’t hurt to have a strong band consisting of keyboard bass, drums and percussion as well as two lively backing singer providing some energetic african ( I assume Malian) dancing, backing you up. It is hard to pick all the titles because of the said language barrier. Although, Amadou was announcing the song as he went, the roar of the crowd made his accented voice hard to hear for Malian songs.

I had better luck with the French titles. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the bluesy tone of Amadou’s voice combined with the west african roots rhythms on the track “Oh Amadou” and the passion of “Mon Afrique”. “Dimanche a Bamako” (Sunday in Bamako)  that closed the pre-encore part brought a popular reponse, particular from french speaking contingents in the crowd. It was shame Miriam whose lyrically strong voice imposed itself mid-way through the gig could not complete the show. She looked unsteady on her feet and had to be helped off.  Amadou and his translator later explained she was feeling tired. So the last 30 minutes Amadou and the band did a first rate job in holding the show. Amadou did a amazing an 8 minute guitar solo and in the encore the song “Africa” cranked up the atmosphere several notches to the extent that the even the majority on the balconies were up on their feet.

 

Amadou rocks out during a great guitar solo at Shepherd's Bush Empire, April 13th 2012

Amadou rocks out during a great guitar solo at Shepherd's Bush Empire, April 13th 2012

Though it was a shame that Miriam could not complete the concert, there was still a buzz through the whole gig. The audience loved it, I loved it. At the end, when it was announced that it was Miriam’s birthday, the next day, they even sang Happy Bithday to her. What a lovely way to finish.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, live at Scala, London, UK, April 10th 2012

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour land in London, Live at Scala, April 10th 2012

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour land in London, Live at Scala, April 10th 2012

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour is a group hailing from Denmark and based in Copenhagen. It is principally  a collaboration between song writer and producer Lars Iversen and singer Mette Lindberg. On tour the band bring in other musicians to round out their psychedelic and slightly funky based sound. They formed in 2007 and released their first single in September of 2008.

The group have a good claim to one of the most unusual and original names around for any band. Along with other bands with memorable names like Death Cab for Cutie, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and The Ozric Tentacles to name but a few , this group’s title does stick in the head but does the music?

Mette Lindberg of The Asteroids Galaxy Tour exudes a air of cool European chic, Live at Scala, London, April 10th 2012

Mette Lindberg of The Asteroids Galaxy Tour exudes a air of cool European chic, Live at Scala, London, April 10th 2012

Judging from the very intimate live show I attended at Scala, it does. The stunning looking Mette Lindberg made her way on stage in a shimmering gold jacket backed by a guitar, bass, drummer and a three man horn section, lightly stomping her way through the set, moving occasionally from one side to the other on the small stage.  The band started with the opening three tracks of their 2nd album- “Gold Rush part 1 -Dollar in the Nights –  Gold Rush part 2” rolled into one and played many of the tracks from the new album  “Out of Frequency” including the title. Second track of the night “Heart Attack” was definitely a stomping song. Third one “The Sun Ain’t Shining no more”, a song about a short term fling had the ambience of early 1970’s Steely Dan jazz rock about it.

Mette Linberg didn’t say that much to the audience between numbers. She didn’t really have to. Many in the audience knew the songs and were just happy to swing along to the rhythms. Mette appeared controlled in her delivery and at times a little detached at the start but this may just have been her stage persona.  She noticeably relaxed and became more engaged with the audience as the gig went on.   The band – particularly the brass section – seemed to be  having great time throughout. Even the guy sound in the caged covered sound desk was constantly moving through the gig.

From a musician’s perspective, the 6 minute long “Theme from 45 Eugenia” mid-way through the set was probably the most interesting combining as it did a 60’s style psychedelic melody and lyrics with a slow Kravitz style funk beat.

Lindberg did speak to the crowd saying it was great to be back in London and at one point tried to make a joke about the size of the horn section but somehow it got lost in translation. What really got the crowd going though was “Around the Bend” with its infectious horn packed rhythmic hook. The main set wound up with the flourishing psychedelic fanfare and sliding downscale minor chords of “Push the Envelope”.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour live at Scala, London, UK, April 10th 2012

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour live at Scala, London, UK, April 10th 2012

The encore saw the group play “Golden Age”, essentially a party piece as homage to the Brat Pack era. This is the song that has brought them to the attention of a wider public via a TV commercial and naturally the crowd responded enthusiastically. The set was rounded off with another great funky horn section hook in “Major”, a song whose lyrics raise the pitfalls of rising stardom, ambition and a fast lifestyle.

Undoubtedly, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour has still a way to go to make themselves more widely known in the UK but on this performance they certainly deserve to increase their following and start playing bigger venues in the future.

Florence and the Machine, Teenage Cancer Trust series, Live at the Royal Albert Hall, April 3rd 2012

Florence Welch with Classical Machine at The Royal Albert Hall, London, UK, April 3rd 2012

Florence Welch with Classical Machine at The Royal Albert Hall, London, UK, April 3rd 2012

Going to see Florence and the Machine last night at the Royal Albert I thought would be routine (well about as routine as it gets when you’re going to see an artist like Florence Welch). I thought I would basically be filling in the blanks for a show similar to the one I had seen at Alexandra Palace. Well, I could not have been more wrong.  I was completely blindsided as Florence Welch, in keeping with the grandiose venue went classical bordering on operatic and changed the setlist around. Gone was the regular “Machine” replaced by an orchestra and probably about 10 quality backing singers.

Gone was the feathery gothic costume that she performed in the last time she was at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009, (incidentally for the same event  – “The Teenage Cancer Trust” concert series), as she made her way onto stage in a stunning figure length, figure hugging gold coloured dress. Then, taking me completely by surprise she opened with a slow soaring rendition of  “You Got The Love”  supported with a mournful string section accompaniment. And that was an opening statement as to the intent of the show. It was to be classical but more than this it was to be a showcase for Florence Welch’s voice. This was a brave and bold decision to take for an artist who is only on her second studio album, even if she is currently the darling of the art rock/indie scene. There were some songs that lent themselves better to this approach. “Only if for a night” fitted in perfectly with the orchestral sound. No drums are really needed for that one but maybe they are for the “Drumming Song” and “Heartlines”. For the “Drumming Song” there were sudden crescendos of brass and punctuated chords from the backing singers and staccato notes from the strings. The drama was there in the music but I did not quite click with the arrangement. It’s all down to personal taste, I suppose. However, for “Heartline”s, the swirling harp in the background, piano and backing singers made for a charming take on the song. With Florence’s classical look you could have closed your eyes and easily imagined yourself sitting a garden in Ancient Rome by a fountain.

Florence Welch shows poise at The Royal Albert Hall, London, April 3rd, 2012

Florence admitted she had “never felt so nervous” and did take a while to settle. But when she did she started to get into stride. She even gave waves to each part of the auditorium including the choir sections and side circles – nice touch, I thought.

Welch was angelic on the opening bars of “Between Two Lungs” and I loved the interplay between her vocals and the piano and then eventually the harp. The whole arrangement of this song had a very sunny feel.

Florence proved she has an understated sense of humour. She said she could never have imagined when started that she would be doing an orchestral gig at the Royal Albert Hall and added she could never imagined saying the words “Hi Dad, this is Roger Daltrey”, in reference to the singer of The Who, who is also the host of these Teenage Cancer Trust concerts. Then it was back to the gig with the song “Breaking Down”. The intro with harp was distinctive and the strings gave the song a dreamy surreal feeling.

“All This and Heaven Too” was a masterclass in vocal control and harmony between Florence and the backing singers feeling a bit like listening to a choral work in church whereas “No Light, No Light” was understated compared to the album version but no less impressive for Florence’s vocal dexterity. I marvelled with the ease at which she was able to crisply go up an octave and half in three notes.

Florence and the "Classical" Machine captivate the crowd at the Royal Albert Hall, London, April 3rd 2012

Florence and the "Classical" Machine captivate the crowd at the Royal Albert Hall, London, April 3rd 2012

 

So by this time I had lost all sense of being part of a 5000 strong crowd and was totally enthralled and concentrated on the performance. The delivery of “Never Let Me Go” can only be described as vocal perfection. You could hear a pin drop in the Albert Hall.

Also enjoyable as much for the audience’s complete lack of hand clapping rhythm as for the atmosphere it engendered in the venue was “Dog Days are Over”. Mind you with no drums it wasn’t easy to keep time.

The show was wound up with a rousing rendition of “Shake it Out” and a standing ovation to which to the surprise of the audience Florence did not return to do an encore.

The concert and the arrangement were well constructed and the choice of an orchestral gig was entirely appropriate to this grand old venue. Florence herself was vocally brilliant but quite static on stage compared the energy she exudes in a regular concert. She kept saying she had to be “poised”. I enjoyed the originality and applaud the attempt but I am also glad I saw the Alexandra Palace concert with the more album-like arrangements. Overall, though, another excellent concert.

Paul McCartney Live at The Royal Albert Hall, London, March 29th 2012

Paul McCartney rocks the Royal Albert Hall, London, March 29th 2012

Paul McCartney rocks the Royal Albert Hall, London, March 29th 2012

How do you review a living legend?  This is a question I’ve been asking myself for the past 3 days since seeing Paul McCartney perform at the Royal Albert Hall as part at Teenage Cancer Trust concert series. Anything I write is going to seem insignificant set against the achievements of this musical colossus.  Any critique will be as if a gnat was buzzing around the hide of a rhinoceros. Positive comments may come across as fawning. So I will try to write this piece from a very personal standpoint as I experienced the concert.

The truth of the matter is that I was not sure what to expect at the start. I was sort of looking forward to the nostalgia element of the performance. Above all, I was hoping to hear Wings tracks in particular, maybe even more than Beatles song or Mc Cartney’s solo stuff as London Town is one of my all time favourite albums. In the end it did not matter one jot, this show was quality from start to finish – McCartney himself, yes but his band consisting of Paul Wickens on Keyboards, Rusty Anderson on Lead guitar,  Brian Ray on guitar were absolutely first rate. And if they left the main limelight to Paul, they did however smile and wave occasionally to audience. Drummer and vocalist Abe Laboriel Jnr was positively inspired. I have seen him drumming for one of  France’s top artists Mylene Farmer  at her 2006 Bercy concert in Paris and I must admit that, in respect of the joy and passion with which he plays the drums, I kept my eyes on him almost as much as McCartney. This was easily done as we had seats in the choir just above and to the rear of the band. Strange – a rear view but better than sitting up in the gods.

Paul McCartney and his very able band from the rear of the Royal Albert Hall, London, March 29th 2012

Paul McCartney and his very able band from the rear of the Royal Albert Hall, London, March 29th 2012

There was no quiet start or gradually acclimatisation: from the off Paul McCartney and band, after being introduced by a very “geezer-like”  Paul Weller (ex The Jam and Style Council), launched full pelt into “Magical Mystery Tour”.  Already, you could feel a good vibe in the majestic Hall. This was not going to be a light touch set. Paul McCartney was going to give his rocking best. And so it was we were given the anthology.  From the early Beatles we period we were treated to“All my Loving” “Drive My Car” and a song that really started to warm up the crowd “Paperback Writer”. Paul was far from static on the stage and exuded an energy and form that belied his years. (It was hard to believe he is just 2 months away from his 70th birthday). The only time he ever set down was when he went to the piano just below us and performed “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let it Be” both of which, made my hairs stand on end and got a rousing reception from the packed Royal Albert Hall crowd. McCartney stood up from his piano, acknowledged the applause even waiving at the crowd at the back in the Choir seats. There were many many memorable moments – a mini acoustic section where the band went off and left Sir Paul on his own. He sang two tribute songs to his wives (not Heather Mills, obviously). Very moving was McCartney tribute song to John Lennon “Here Today”  before which he referred to Lennon simply as “my friend” and one of my favourite moments was listening to Eleanor Rigby sung with Abe Labouriel Jnr  who came to the front of the stage and proved himself as able a vocalist as he is a drummer.

Drummer Abe Labouriel Jnr joins Paul McCartney up front at the Royal Albert Hall to sing Eleanor Rigby, March 29th 2012

Drummer Abe Labouriel Jnr joins Paul McCartney up front at the Royal Albert Hall to sing Eleanor Rigby, March 29th 2012

I enjoyed very much some  of Sir Paul’s anecdotes. He referred to the giant mushroom shapes hanging from the ceiling of the Albert Hall and said that years ago when he played here with the Beatles (“a little band I use to play with, who some of you might remember”) there were none and the acoustics were terrible. Every time Ringo bashed out a drum beat the sound reverberated round the hall.  Another story involving a meeting with Jimi Hendrix had a heckler in the audience shouting “Stop name dropping” but Paul put him down with ease remarking that “there always one”. A personal opinion here but to my mind, if Paul McCartney wants to namedrop, with his status he has earned the right. I, for one, saw nothing wrong with the context of the story.

There were a couple of Wings song to keep children of the 70’s happy.  “Junior’s Farm” played early in the set gave that 70s vibe but “Band on the Run” had them rocking in the aisles with many in the audience standing, chanting the lyrics and fist pointing in the air. The tempo and tenor of the show continued with “Back in the USSR”. If it were possible the concert had stepped another gear to arrive at another Beatles classic – “Hey Jude”, which provoked a mass singalong; Sir Paul urging the crowd to sing the famous chorus. At one point, directing the crowd he got just men and then just the women to sing it. This was the massive climax I had been expecting from some 5000 strong crowd.

Paul McCartney's rocking performance with his band has the crowd on their feet at the Royal Albert Hall, March 29th 2012

Paul McCartney's rocking performance with his band has the crowd on their feet at the Royal Albert Hall, March 29th 2012

The encore also brought some pleasant nostalgia in the form of “Daytripper” and “Yesterday” but if we thought we were winding down, we were wrong. A second encore saw McCartney and band joined on stage by Paul Weller, Ronnie Wood and host of the Teenage Cancer Trust series Roger Daltrey for a rendition of “Get Back”. This was a veritable Who’s Who’s of British Rock royalty.

The concert appropriately finished with the final words to the Abbey Road recorded “The End” and McCartney and band rightly being cheered to the rafters.

I have heard people over the years express opinions about McCartney, the occasional one of which is not too nice. I have heard a number say they prefer The Rolling Stones.  Frankly, I don’t give a monkey’s uncle for those points of view.  I would challenge anyone who says Paul McCartney did not give of his best.  His performance and that of his band was enthralling, entertaining and energized.    Paul McCartney is the closest thing we have in the UK to an Elvis-like figure and he still rocks in 2012. As Paul Weller put it this fella is “the soundtrack to our lives”. This concert without any shadow of doubt goes into my all-time Top 10 of live performances.