Archive for January, 2013

This review was orginally published in 2008 following the Human League’s triumphal December 2007 tour of their most recognized album Dare.

Twenty-six years after in January 1982 The Human League stood at No1 in the UK album charts with their album Dare, the audience were treated to the first performance ever of this work in its entirety and went away completely satisfied. Blending haunting robotic synth riffs, pop melodies and accessible lyrics, the album was and remains a breakthrough, representing the transisition from art based abstract sythesiser music and to the melodic synth pop of the eighties. This genre has now been revived in modern Indie rock and electonica of the 2000’s but the League were most definitely one of its original exponent.

From the moment the show opened with The ThingsThat Dreams Are Made Of (the first track on “Dare”) large sections of the audience were up moving in typicial 80’s style or wiggling in the trademark style of singers Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall as the League moved relentlessly in strict order through the album, which of course contained many soaring hits such as Open your Heart, Sounds of the Crowd and Love Action. 80’s iconography flashed behind with images of personalities such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The slower tempo “I am the Law” gave a brief respite before the finishing the first part of the show on the hit that sealed their place in world pop history “Don’t you want me” which prompted a mass singalong from, at least, the 1000 or more dads present.

During the 10 minute break the musicians kept playing while Oakey, Sulley and Catherall changed into something more comfortable. In the case of Phil Oakey this consisted of a lounge suit and nothing more then glitzy shimmering very short cocktail dresses for Sulley and Catherell who looked fantastic . This costume change added class and sexyiness in equal measure to the proceedings. In the second part there was no experimenting with songs from recent albums as in the 2003 tour. They gave the public what they wanted and it was greatest hits all the way. A belting rendition of the League’s first venture into political pop, the still highly relevant The Lebanon was followed by 1986 hit Human. To the delight of a happy crowd they closed with Mirror Man. In the encore Oakey truly rolled back the years with the trance –like Being Boiled – the League first single release 30 years ago , then finished in triumphant fashion with the Giorgio Moroder penned Together in Electric Dreams. Not even an unwelcome intruder on the stage right at the end could spoil the overall feelgood nostalgia factor that emanated from this truly special gig celebrating “Dare” an album that some commentators have called synthpop’s equivalent of Sgt Pepper.

as first featured on the website

Birdy and Band take the well deservd applause at the end of the Shepherd's Bush Empire shoe in London, September 11th 2012

Birdy and Band take the well deservd applause at the end of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire shoe in London, September 11th 2012

Jasmine van den Bogaerde aka Birdy is already carving a quite a name for herself as a musician at the sophisticated end of pop. At the tender age of just 16, when most of her peers could be contemplating the first steps of their future career options, it is quite clear that Birdy’s route already has well laid foundations. Winner of the UK Open Mic competition in 2008, Birdy’s young career continues to scale new heights with her current single “People help the People” recently having reached the Europe Top 20 singles charts and residing in the Top 5 in Germany and Switzerland; and the previous single “Skinny Love” sitting pretty at No.6 in France.
Although, her eponymous debut album of mainly covers (the exception being “Without A Word”) has hit the top spot in a number of countries including Australia, the classically trained pianist has not had quite the same level of success in the UK, despite a Top 20 place.

This, however, should not detract from the quality of her live performances which from all evidence from September’s show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire will see her grow in stature in the future. Supported by a multi-instrumental band, including a drummer, a cellist, acoustic guitar player and guitar/bass player (these latter two also doubled up on keyboards), Birdy walked on purposefully for the few steps to her baby grand piano, sat down with arms outstretched at the keyboard in the style of a classical music concert and waited for the auditorium to quiet a little before beginning.

Birdy at play on the Baby Grand, Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, September 11th 2012

Birdy at play on the Baby Grand, Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, September 11th 2012

She may have sat rigid at the piano appearing at times quiet and slightly apprehensive but the remarkable thing was that each track was delivered with crystal clarity as if it had come straight off the album. “Shelter” was tinged with an air of emotional regret and was completely absorbing. “Without a word” with its lyrics about a couple on the verge of splitting up and powerful delivery, indicted her future strength as a ballad writer and the piano hook on “The District Sleeps Alone” literally had me hooked.
It was shame that there was practically no interaction with the audience apart the odd hushed “Thank you” but then given the quality of the music, was it really necessary? The memorable moments were the songs and their arrangements , like the chilled out slightly euphoric feel of “Young Blood” (yes the one from the CanonTV commercial) and the heart string tugging “People Help the People” with the melancholic mellow cello bridge which I regard as a new modern classic.

By the time the encore came with “Skinny Love”, most of the 2000 hearts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire had melted.
Birdy still has some way to go to improve on stagecraft and audience interaction. To be frank, positioning the piano way out on stage right instead of centre was distracting as was, at times, the gyrations of band members who probably thought they had to fill the void of movement. Nonetheless, the musical performance was flawless with Birdy’s voice and the musical arrangements emotionally captivating. Birdy and her band have taken these indie covers and put innocence and soul into them that produces a mesmerising effect when performed live. I can only see great things ahead for this young talent.

I have been to see Martha Wainwright again recently in December 2012 but pending my publishing a review of that concert I thought it would be worth republishing my review of her 2007 concert at the same venue.

I first wrote this blog in

Martha Wainwright’s reputation for brilliant live shows was completely justified when she played the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Wearing the higest of heels that would have challenged even the most talented top runway model, she sparkled throughout the set. The guitar was strummed with gusto as she ehtusiatically played tracks from her 2006 self titled debut album and showcased some new songs from next years forthcoming album. The variety of song styles that were peformed, ranging from the angst ridden “Ball and Chain” to the wistful “Far Away” through to the early 70’s retro-feel “GPT”, was impressive. Nor did it even seems to matter to anyone when, ironically she momentarily forgot her lines during the aptly titled song “Don’t Forget”. The moment passed with a joke and this made her seems all the more endearing to her audience. Then, in the last third of the show a treat. With a grand announcement by Martha , Pete Townsend, from the Who complete with windmill arm and his partner Rachel Fuller may a low key entrance on stage and accompanied Martha on accoustic guitar on several tracks, notably “This Life”. Townsend appearance proved the icing on an already rich cake. Nonetheless, one final surprise lay in store. The show was closed with a Piafeseque song Dis, Quand reviendras-tu? , sung entirely in French.

Given that Martha’s music is quite distinct from that of the other illustrious Wainwright of the moment, it is, probably, not fair to compare the two. However, inevitably comparisons will abound and her performance more than matched if not surpassed that of her brother. The show did not contain the classical and cabaret elements that are associated with Rufus Wainwright but the show was impressive in its range of stylistic variation that can be attributed not only to her skills as a live performer but also her song writing abilities.

Beth Hart rocks out the Forum, Kentish Town, London, November 16th 2012

Beth Hart rocks out the Forum, Kentish Town, London, November 16th 2012

Beth Hart’s exuberance was a delight to watch as she came bounding onto the the Forum stage looking very excited. Mind you, with the audience having been kept waiting longer than expected, you could feel the crowd getting fidgety as some small ripples of slow-handclapping were heard. Not to worry, it was worth the wait as Beth was to prove. Practically bursting onto the stage, Beth started off with a relaxing piano ballad with “With You Everyday” but soon went into hot rocking mode and after that her energy knew bounds. The atmosphere cranked up with “Better Man”, a mid-tempo rock ballad – with a tinge of drama whose deliciously accusatory lyrics to a no good old flame revolve around description of life in a better relationship.

From then she had so such much enthusiasm she looked like she was going to explode. Two awesome americana rock songs followed – “Well Well” and “Delicious Surprise” that saw Beth, dressed in a knee length red dress marching and gyrating around different parts of the stage like she was about to burst. But then bringing the tempo right back down, she demonstrated her vocal versatility and subtlety on “Caught Out in the Rain” with a raw soulfulness akin to that of Randy Crawford at her height. As she smooched and swooned in front of the blues guitar, the solo was from this instrument was sublime.
There was humour too. While introducing the song “The Ugliest House on the Block” Beth recounted a story of her and her husband needing to find a cheap place to stay in Los Angeles , finding a cheap place online and it being horrible but stated that they are living still there.
Other highlights included a thrilling performance of Something’s Got A Hold of Me” with such an up-tempo beat that it could have come out of a Tina Turner songbook and the jaunty piano rock of title track of her latest album Bang Bang Boom Boom.

Then just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, as gift for the British audience , Beth and the band blasted us in the encore with a full-on version of Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love .
We thought that was it and many started to leave but Beth came back to her piano and sang one last glorious tune “My California” conveying a glorious soulful feeling of nostalgic homesickness, that a London crowd could appreciate. This was a truly magnificent gig from Beth Hart and a long one at just over 2 hours. “Thank god you came” she said almost in a whisper at the end of the song as a compliment to the crowd. No Beth, it is for us to thank you for coming.