Archive for July, 2012

In defence of Madonna – Live Review from Hyde Park, London, Tuesday 17th July 2012

 

The Girl goes Wild - Madonna with dancers July 17th 2012, Hyde Parl,, London, UK

The Girl goes Wild – Madonna with dancers July 17th 2012, Hyde Parl,, London, UK

Celebrities use the media to promote films books and albums all the time and  the media, in spite of the slight  dumbing down of  reporting following the phone hacking scandals in the UK, the media still see the rich and famous as fair game. There is very cynical tendency in this country,  to paraphrase the words of a Tasmin Archer  song,  to  build someone up and then to knock them down no matter what they have  achieved. In this respect Madonna with her frequent changes of style to suit the time, is a target par excellence.

I had originally intended to write a straight review of her recent London show in Hyde Park but all that changed when I read some of the negative reviews of the concert. It’s not that Madonna needs my help in countering negative criticism. She has a very able pres team to do that.  However I do detest exaggerated or unrepresentative reporting. This is one of the reason I started this blog.  What was surprising was that London’s Evening Standard, a free newspaper that hundreds of thousands of commuters pick daily  (in various states)  on their way back from work, was, in my view, the worst offender. This is even more surprising given that their music journalists are well respected and generally a pretty balanced bunch.

But after reading the article I found myself wondering which concert the journalists from the Evening Standard had been watching but it certainly was not the same one as me. They claimed that many in the audience were so dissatisfied that they were leaving early.  I certainly did not see much evidence of people leaving in droves and if they did leave early, it was generally only 10 minutes before the end to beat the mad rush out of the concert site and Hyde Park.

They also made the point that ticket sales were well down – obviously a clear sign things are not going well for Her Madg-es-ty. Evidence perhaps of a fall in the popularity of the once unassailable first lady of pop.  More speculation of someone’s impending downfall. How we love to speculate in old blighty.  So we should believe Madonna’s in trouble.  Put bluntly: this is absolute rot.

Let’s put it in perspective: the concert did not sell out true but Live Nation and Westminster Council have increased the capacity of Hyde Park up to 80,000 from the 50,000 it was a few years ago. Despite this and the fact we are in the middle of a recession the concert sold well enough.

Opening with the first tracks oft new album MDNA, the amazingly fit 53 year singer accompanied by her dancers put on some slick well-rehearsed moves looking very sharp indeed. During the number “Gang Bang” Madonna busted some very intricate and well coordinated moves in a scene set in a bedroom, moving around a dancer as if doing a fight scene and for a long time wielding a pistol. Madonna’s female dancers at that moment of the show looked extras out  from the James Bond intro you see at the start of every film.  Other highlights included Madonna and female dancers coming out as majorettes and a drumming troupe being wheeled out mid-air and being suspended 30 feet (10 metres) off the ground. The audience were also introduced to the delights of two basque musicians playing a folkoric tune and an unintended comic moment when Madonna  recall a phrase in Basque that was about an apple thief  (I think).

You can't beat that. Supended Drummers at Madonna's concer, Hyde Park, July 17th 2012 London UK

You can’t beat that. Supended Drummers at Madonna’s concert, Hyde Park, July 17th 2012 London UK

The latest album MDNA may not be to everyone’s taste but it is following current trends of dance electro-music produced by DJs/music producers and the show was orientated around it. The papers claimed people were moaning because Madonna did not play many of her big hits. It is true that there was on on one occasion only small pre-recored snippets of some her 1984 hits but  contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to play an anthology of hits to product a good show. There were actually some crowd pleasing hits such as Open Your Heart and Like a Prayer, the latter of which had tens of thousands people singing-along but such hits as there were from the back catalogue focused more on the 90s period of Erotica, an era that was long overdue for a fresh airing. Make no mistake though this show was mainly about MDNA and that part the journalists got right. But MDNA in the context of the show actually works.

Now, I am not a diehard Madonna fan  but I, for one, thought the show was original and edgy and  was more stripped down than previous ones.  Madonna should be applauded for trying to do something different not pilloried in a cynical attempt to boost newspaper ratings. She should also be praised for her work rate and effort during the show. I could only dream of being as fit as that in my fifties but clearly bringing something down is a very British vice as the show has been well received in mainland Europe. Never mind Gaga and Rihanna, the only other female pop artists that can construct an engaging show of this high calibre are Kylie Minogue, Mylene Farmer of France and Tina Turner.   Madonna – carry on playing to packed out venues around Euroipe and prove the doubters wrong.

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Hard Rock Calling Festival Day 3 – Paul Simon “graces” London with his towering musical presence and “lands” an epic concert.

Sunday July 15th 2012

Paul Simon performs "Mother and Child Reunion" with Jimmy Cliff during Graceland 25th Anniversary Tour, Hyde Park, London July 15th 2012

Paul Simon performs “Mother and Child Reunion” with Jimmy Cliff during Graceland 25th Anniversary Tour, Hyde Park, London July 15th 2012

I would praise and criticize the organisers of Hard Rock calling and its predecessor a week ago – the Wireless festival, in equal measure. They have different sponsors but are both run by Live Nation.  The criticism would be regarding the spectator numbers they allow in to this considerably under pressure corner of Hyde Park that annually hosts musical events between July and August.

I went to the first ever day of the Wireless in 2005 and the 2nd day of the inaugural festival of Hyde Park calling (now Hard Rock calling in 2006); The Who were headliners for the latter. I am fairly certain that in the early years of these events capacity was between no more than 35000 to 50000. Whilst this could still sometimes present a challenge in terms of getting a decent view, there was at least some breathing space around.

Spectators numbers at present are in the 70K to 80K range for big musical event days and it can be downright claustrophobic.  In addition, this number of people at last week’s Wireless festival there to see Rihanna and Drake in a relatively medium sized enclosed space combined with recent adverse weather combined to turn the usually green areas in a bog so that the organisers were obliged to lays down many tons of woodchip.

The praise I give to Live Nation is the perennial ability to attract artists of calibre or I would hazard to say, even legends to this venue.

Paul Simon is one such legend. Now, judging by the crowd demographic, many were just to there see him whatever he performed. But many were also there from my generation –  the 40 somethings -that were introduced to Paul Simon on the back of his much loved Graceland album and that was the purpose of this concert – to celebrate this classic album .

The album itself is over 25 years old being first released in the UK in September 1986 and hit number one position for the first in October remaining there for 5 weeks and then going back up to number one for another 3 weeks in February 1987. It was to spawn 2 hits singles and 2 minor hits. It won a grammy for Best Album in the US and won Paul Simon a Brit award for Best International Artist. In various lists it has been consistently quoted as being the within the Top 100 of Best Albums of all time. When you listen to the album it’s not hard to understand why? It is fuses various South African genres with folkish elements and the accordion in the pop and rock mix. This combined with Simon’s irresistible conversational style of storytelling makes for a great cocktail.

This day 3 of the Hard Rock Calling festival and many act on that interested me and therefore I felt very sorry to leave before the end of one the acts I was enjoying. Apologies to the group Big Country for that but I did not want to risk missing the start of Graceland.

But Simon did not actually start with “Graceland”. In fact the set was well crafted and split into several segments.  Although a huge cheer went up, he opened with what I assume is his regular band, in a relatively relaxed and low key way with  “Kodachrome” and  then the Gospel tinged rhthym of “Gone at Last”.  The first really known song  “50 Ways to Leave your Lover” was unveiled 4 songs in and prompted a sing-along in some section of the huge crowd. Then , what was probably the worst kept secret on the day – the “surprise” guest – Jimmy Cliff. He performed 3 of his biggest hits solo “The Harder they Come”  “ Many Rivers to Cross” and “Vietnam” .  Simon re-emerged to perform “Mother and Child Re-union” with Cliff.

Simon moved into the next phase that saw him perform another five songs, the most memorable of which were “That was Your Mother” , “Mystery Train” and “ Slip Sliding Away”

At this point you could feel the anticipation levels rise as the accomplished and acclaimed Ladysmith  Black Mambazo took to the stage to perform a couple of their own sons. And then suddenly, we were there at the highlight of the evening.  The group’s  Zulu  icathamiya singing style –a beautiful style of African  accapella floated effortlessly through the air as they and Simon eased into  first track “Homeless”  from the Graceland album.  They were continue the collaboration on  “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes” .  The South African mbaqanga rhythms started to take hold and the party vibe got going.  By the time we got to “I Know what I Know” and “The Boy in the Bubble”  the party was in full flow particularly in those sections of the crowd with younger people.  Great atmosphere.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo opening the Graceland section of Paul Simon's concert with the song Homeless, Hyde Park,  London, July15th 2012

Ladysmith Black Mambazo opening the Graceland section of Paul Simon’s concert with the song Homeless, Hyde Park, London, July15th 2012

 

If you look at the credit list, there were a huge number artists involved in the making and touring of the original Graceland and I’m not going to,list them here. Many of them were on the stage including the jazz and afrobeat musician Hugh Masekela  Maselela  with the backing of the Graceland ensemble performed a couple of numbers himself  including a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The rest of Graceland resumed after this interlude,  with Thandiswa Madwai duetting with Simon on “Under African Skies”.  Graceland itself and the album’s biggest hit “You Can Call Me Al”  prompted another mass sing-along and with that the Graceland part of the concert was over.

Simon was back on the stage after a few minutes to round off the evening with some of his renowned older songs.  Most impressive was the moment 80000 people went silent throughout the Park for Sound of Silence and you could almost hear a pin drop. For “The Boxer” Jerry Douglas, who earlier in the day had been on performing with Alison Krauss and Union Station was invited back on stage. The chorus “Lie la lie” rippled round the large green space emanating like a wave round the audience

The final tune of the encore  –  Late in the Evening , Simon performed with a lively almost cabaret quality. The second encore with the song Still Crazy After All These Years wound the show down nicely with Paul Simon  putting his hands applauding, bowing humbly before the vast crowd and leaving us to reflect on what had been a lengthy but memorable classic concert.  The making of Graceland -the album may have been contraversial in terms of whether or not it broke the Apartheid cultural boycott of the 1980’s in South Africa but the live show even 25 years on  is  a real gem.