Archive for the ‘2010s’ Category

Taylor Swift looks almost presidential as she glides on a rotating platform over the crowds in Hyde Park. June 27th 2015

Taylor Swift looks almost presidential as she glides on a rotating platform over the crowds in Hyde Park. June 27th 2015

On her transition from Country music star to pop music icon, Taylor Swift has had her detractors but not too many. It is worth reminding people, even before Tay Tay s love letter to the eighties in the form of the album “1989” came out, she had picked 7 Grammies and now in 2015 a Brit award. As she herself reminded the audience at the cavernous Lanxess Arena in Cologne, she has also been criticised for writing too many break-up or sentimental songs. Yet in the context of the “1989” album and World tour it works. During both the Hyde Park and Cologne shows, the music invoked a nostalgic feeling of cult 80s teen films like the Breakfast Club. The viewing was better in the arena but there is something magical about the atmosphere in Hyde Park with 65000 people in it -a real feel good factor.

Somehow though in both Cologne and Hyde Park fate contrived to deprive me of seeing all of the opening – power pop number “Welcome to New York”. In the Lanxess I was stuffing my face with a jumbo Bratwurst when the opening bars started and In London, Tay Tay caught everyone by surprise starting the set 10 minutes earlier than billed. I was still at the bar.

The next big number I did catch in full at both gigs; there was no mistaking during “New Romantics” the references to heartbreak and break-up as well as continuing the references to the 1980s groups in the title.

Taylor Swift on the 1989 World Tour at the Lanxess Arena, Cologne, Germany June 19th 2015

Taylor Swift on the 1989 World Tour at the Lanxess Arena, Cologne, Germany June 19th 2015

“Blank Space” provided a combination of flirty lyrics with a hint of sexual tension to dreamy synth powered music without being smutty, perfectly evoking the feeling of young adults playing the dating game while “How you Get the Girl” was a simple life lesson to the boys on how to get and keep a relationship. “All you had to do is stay” had the feel of a teenage cheerleader chant meets sweet regretful nostalgia for a lost relationship.

A particularly interesting part of the Cologne show consisted of 2 songs and Swift talking about the nature of friendship followed by “Bad Blood” and “We are never ever getting back together”. With the cinematic backdrop of a lookalike of one Katy Perry’s screen or stage personas, this was undoubtedly a very thinly veiled reference to the ” virtual ” argument in which the two singers are involved.

Proving she is no slouch when it comes to instruments, reverting briefly to her country roots. Swift came out on an extended platform into the middle of the crowd and unsupported played a small acoustic section with the song ” You are in love” . Others section saw her playing electric guitar, keyboards on a revolving platform, and piano in an elegant dress during the ethereally romantic “Wildest Dreams” which for me invoked the image of an 80s prom queen. And the costume changes were frequent -6 or 7 by my count – certainly rivalling other pop divas shows.

Shake it Off on a rotating platform at the Lanxess Arena, Cologne, Germany June 19th 2015

Iconic – Talylor Swift & Dancers perform Shake it Off on a rotating platform at the Lanxess Arena, Cologne, Germany June 19th 2015

There is a difference however; Swift did not go over the top with overly elaborate sets or costumes. These complimented the show but do not overpower it. There was a little bit more glitz at the Hyde Park concert during “Style” when Tay Tays’ pals, including Cara Delavigne, Kendall Jenner and Wimbledon Tennis champ – Serena Williams walked down the runway. And there was an interesting cinematic backdrop for the booming synth of “Out of the Woods”. The main feature, though in both Cologne and London shows was the raised giant revolving platform in the middle of the audience which saw Swift and dancers resolving above the crowd at a slightly unnerving speed while performing a routine to worldwide hit “Shake it Off”. The crowd went wild at both gigs and this proved the iconic moment of the shows leaving audiences going home with a simile on their faces.

Taylor Swift at the relatively tender age of 25 was already a successful musician and business woman as is proven her album sales, list of awards and the clout she recently demonstrated in dealing with Apple. However, what she has achieved with the “1989” album and tour is remarkable. She has created something that almost everybody likes, that appeals to old and young; she done what few artists have ever achieve, successfully crossed-over genres and broadened her appeal beyond country. “1989” is a Modern pop classic and the shows were a visual personification of this.

Advertisements
Elly Jackson of La Roux is achingly cool performing at O2 Empire, Shepherd's Bush, Wednesday 12th November 2014, London, UK

Elly Jackson of La Roux is achingly cool performing at O2 Empire, Shepherd’s Bush, Wednesday 12th November 2014, London, UK

It may have been 5 years since La Roux last performed at this venue but you would have known it. The wild raucous mainly teen audience of 2009 had gone to be replaced by a far more mature (some might even say old). It was almost complete transformation in the audience demographic which given the subtle changes in the musical style was surprising. Still, singer Elly Jackson, the driving force behind La Roux remains a constant. Gone was the signature large quiff and androgynous look replaced by black lounge jacket and casual beige trousers resembling David Bowie look from the Serious Moonlight tour of 1983. She still looked cool in fact effortlessly cool.
The intro was smooth on “Let me down gently” with some glorious synth riffs complementing Jackson’s intense soaring vocals. This show was all about showcasing the new songs from the excellent album “Trouble in Paradise”, notable tracks of which in the show were ” Sexotheque” and “Tropical Chancer” during which Jackson side shuffled and swayed in a very 80s style. There was a liberal smattering of hits from the first album like “Quicksand”, ” I’m not your Toy and Quicksand which closed the show with a well -deserved standing ovation from floor theatre balconies. The crowd were massively into the gig with cheers going up after every song. The gig was only about an hour and ten minutes long but the experience was so enthralling it felt like double that. This crowd pleaser was undoubtedly one of the gigs of the year but please Miss Jackson don’t leave it so long to come back next time.

Full of Melancholy -Lykke Li performs at Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith,  thursday 13th November  2014, London UK.

Full of Melancholy -Lykke Li performs at Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, thursday 13th November 2014, London UK.

Lykke Li thanked the audience at the end of her 1 hour 20 minute performance for still being there after 7 years. Its not hard to see why. Li’s voice is very engaging; there’s a quality in it that gives the heart strings a quiver if not a full plucking. The gig was naturally themed around her new album “I never learn” which itself is a concept around loss and heartbreak. So I suppose it is a bit churlish to expect a brightly lit upbeat set. Yet, I could not help but feel that the exceptionally monochromatic lighting conveyed not heartache but rather extreme sombreness and melancholia. At times the singer was barely visible in the gloom going from dark to the occasional glimpse to shadowy profile. Her very capable band were hardly visible at all. This could been very frustrating for the less tolerant and it was just as well the emotional power of Li’ s voice and some excellent musical arrangements overcame this. There were notable moments. Opening the show, “I never learn ” was accompanied by an acoustically rich guitar and hauntingly pure vocals. “Sadness is a Blessing”had all the resemblance of atragic Shangri La’s song while “Gunshot”, although sung a couple of keys down impressed with its intensity of feeling. However none of these compared with a sublime cover of Drake’s ” Hold on, We’re going home” with a totally gorgeous synth hook. There was the odd twee bit in the show. “Never Gonna Love Again” had the audience out with the lighters and mobile phones. It was a nice touch to bring out support act Eliot Sumner (formerly I blame Coco) just before the encore “Get Some”. This proved to be the liveliest and rockiest track of the gig. Generally, this was good atmospheric gig but it could have done with lifting on occasion. A less sombre lighter mood would have gone way.

MØ floors the crowd at Shpherds Bush, London, Saturday 1st November 2014

MØ floors the crowd at Shpherds Bush, London, Saturday 1st November 2014

Those who have never seen Mo before may well be surprised by the vigour that puts into shows and this was no exception at Shepherds Bush Empire.Mo (real name Karen Marie Orstead) is already a breakthrough star in Denmark and fast rising in other countries including the UK. She has ditched her punkish roots for an electro sound with occasional soft R n B electro-beats. Her performance at Shepherds Bush was vocally gutsy and stylistically forceful.

Zazie and her Band absolutely at the top of their game, Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium, Friday 6th December 2013

Zazie and her Band absolutely at the top of their game, Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium, Friday 6th December 2013

It has finally happened – the extra special performance that I have been longing for from one of my favourite French artists – Zazie has arrived. Zazie, with an eye watering real name of Isabelle Marie Anne de Truchis de Varennes served up not only one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever personally experienced but did it without overly obtrusive visual effects so that your eyes and ears were focussed firmly on the singer and her band.
Zazie first came to my attention in 1996/97 while I was living in France studying for my degree. The buses in which I used to travel around the university town of Besancon, constantly had on the radio, playing a mix of French and English pop music that was current at that time. Tunes that were frequently played included several singles from Zazie’s first commercially successful 2nd album Zen, such as “Larsen”, “Un point, c’est toi” and “Homme, Sweet, Homme”. These tunes, that juxtapose sweet tense harmonies with Zazie’s emotional almost folk-like voice, imbedded themselves on my psyche and took root.
Then in 2004, she released the album “Rodeo” which I consider to this day to be her masterwork and one of the best French language pop albums of all time. The next year in 2005 I decided to go and see her live but unfortunately the experiences were mixed partly due to the venues (in Bordeaux we could only see part of the stage) and technical difficulties (in Lille, although the set was visually iconic with Zazie arriving suspended from the ceiling on 4 straps, the sound system and occasionally the singer’s voice sounded crackly.
The year 2008 saw Zazie break new ground and come to London, playing the venerable Shepherd’s Bush Empire on my wife’s birthday weekend. New material was aired from the Album “Totem” to an overwhelmingly French crowd made up largely of expats, young French workers and students. In my favourite London venue, it should have been the perfect show. It was a good show. We had great seats in the middle of the Level 1 balcony. Zazie made some valiant attempts to speak English and there was a vibrant atmosphere particularly towards when the crowd got up and sang classics like “Rue de la Paix”. Like I said it was a good show but not quite perfect. This time it was the crowd themselves or at least the ones around me that took the shine off. I heard too many murmurings, petty criticisms and unworthy attempts at deconstruction. My frustration was palpable. I did not know if I would ever get another chance to see this great singer at her best.
Her 2010 Za7ie: l’Intégrale came and went and while interesting, at 49 tracks over 7 EPs, demanded some work and patience from the listener. Admittedly, I didn’t go to the 2011 tour in France.
Now fast forward to 2013 and the release of latest album “Cyclo”, an album with an altogether darker and grandiose feel. This album is almost as good as “Rodeo”; I knew had to go to a live show again and being the most convenient date, booked for Brussels.
All I can say is perfect, perfect, perfect.
For this show, the venue was acoustically completely right from opening number “Ou allons nous?” (where are we going) to the end.

Sometimes Zazie played a brilliant melancholy with her voice on such songs as “Les Contraires” (The Opposites) , a song which as many, throws the spotlight on the emotional differences in relationships between men and women.
At other times, delving back into her extensive back catalogue, you could feel the substantial drama put into songs like “Ca fait mal et ca fait rien” (It hurts and doesn’t matter) that explore warring relationship within a couple.
Zazie also appears as a keen observer of modern tendencies and trends. The song “Tout” with its up-tempo techno beats and club-like synth rhythms was delivered as a critique to the fast paced modern life and impatient consumer society that now extends into our private lives.
Some classics such as the 1995 release “Larsen” were heartfelt and played in full but others like “Un point , c’est toi , and “Je suis un homme” were incorporated into an amusing Brazil medley style where the Zazie’s band left their instrument to come the front of the stage and play samba drums. At one point, Zazie and the band donned pretend bishops mitre’s and sat on the edge of the stage to acknowledge St. Nicolas Day. After Zazie then went off into the audience to try and start a story going with occasionally bemused individuals in the crowd, with mixed but hilarious results.
Within the long set consisting of about 24 songs there was a liberally sprinkling from latest album “Cyclo” . “Je sais Pas” , another song that with its slow start long build-up into a crescendo projected a feeling of foreboding of a relationship coming to an end. But the title track was a masterpiece both in vocal and instrumental delivery that held me spellbound. The synth riffs were haunting and reminiscent in many ways of the dark atmosphere found in Depeche Mode songs.
The concert got into full electro dance phase with Electro-libre and an slightly more up-tempo and squeakier version of Adam et Yves than usual.
The end of the main set saw 3 live classics; first ,a note perfect version of the truly beautiful “La Dolce Vite” whose synth melody reverberated perfectly through the vast space of the circular arena like a wave; then the proper version of “Je suis un Homme”, a critique of the nature of man in society and history. Zazie exhorted the crowd to sing the chorus “Je tourne en ronde “ ( I go around in circles) to which duly obliged, same thing for next song “Rodeo” – another live classic . The crowd were singing “C’est la vie pas le paradis” long before Zazie started singing the song. All three of these songs were executed with perfect precision.
The first encore also contained crowd pleasers including the very danceable and very apt 20 ans (20 years old), considering most of the crowd were probably in their 30s and 40s, the popular singalong “Rue de la Paix” and the smooth melodic vocal harmonies of “Ca”.
The second encore and last song “J’envoie valser”was personally very special to me and my wife who was also at the concert with there with me as it was the music of our first dance at our wedding; very emotional and a perfect end to a show that was without any shadow of doubt the concert of the year 2013.

Goldfrapp perform the last leg of theeir "Tales of Us" World Tour,  Hammersmith Apollo, November 1st 2013, London, UK

Goldfrapp perform the last leg of their “Tales of Us” World Tour, Hammersmith Apollo, November 1st 2013, London, UK

Watching Goldfrapp performing can be a bit like a making a spaghetti Bolognese; you know you have all the right tasty ingredients there but depending on how you combine them and also the chef’s mood on the day, the dish could be one of the tastiest you’ve tried or something good but not exceptional. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am and remain a massive fan of the band. I have all 6 studio albums and have been to see them more times than you could shake a stick. However, while exceptionally talented and with a 4 octave voice that could melt crystal, lead singer Alison Goldfrapp’s changeable on-stage temperament could and did, in earlier years, affect the tone of the show.

As the years go by, though, and certainly evidenced by the last two shows I’ve seen – both at Hammersmith Apollo, Alison seems to have become more self assured and relaxed as a performer. The venue seemed to suit and the audience was respectful and appreciative. I’ve noticed that shows have not always worked so well in venues like Brixton or at festivals where the crowd tends to be more raucous. While parts of Goldfrapp shows can be fun and demand you get up and dance, other parts require listening rather then just hearing.

Goldfrapp’s lastest live outing was more subtle than the “In your face” loud and proud 80s style power extravaganza of 2010, and fell in line with the mood of latest album, “Tales of Us”, many tracks of which were showcased in the first half of the concert. Commencing with the first of the track of the new album “Jo”, the tantalisingly delicate strings and background synth riffs and simple piano repetition of a few notes interwove beautifully with the fragility of Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals.

The acoustic guitar melodies on tracks such as “Drew”, “Stranger”, “Alvar” and “Annabel” were well played, proving as haunting and notable as Alison voice – the perfect foil. “Stranger” and “Annabel”, in fact, almost felt as if they could have come out of the songbook of Goldfrapp’s first album “Felt Mountain”.

Alison Goldfrapp is not renowned for long chats with the audience but did take time out to explain the meaning behind some of the new songs, like the gender ambiguity behind the character in “Annabel”. In focusing on the music, the intimate lyrically rich content intricately bound up with each of the characters showcased in the songs from the new album should be not be underestimated or overlooked.

A couple more mellow moments from the Seventh Tree album in the form of “Little Bird” and “Clowns” were to follow as well the operatically tinged “You Never Know” but then the concert gave way about way in to the splendid electro-glam song tracks from 3rd and most commercially successful album “Supernature” and impressive laser effects. A section of the crowd downstairs got up and strutted their stuff (or rather wiggled) – mostly men, I think during “Number 1” but then more and more joined in for “Ride A White Horse” and “Ooh La La”. The set by now, already littered with crowd pleasers was crowned with a quite screechy rendition of “Lovely Head”, the pulsating “Train” and the deliciously sexy and euphoric “Strict Machine” with which the group have finished their set on a number of previous occasions. Great climax – a string of danceable electro-artpop numbers. Frankly, what was not to love?

The mesmerizing voice and lyrics of Alison Goldfrapp and the musical electro genius of Gregory’s compositions are as strong as ever as was the touring band. A special mention should also be made of Angie Pollock whose keyboard work was as dynamic and vibrant as ever. In fact, this final show of the tour was probably the most polished and artistically mature that I have seen from the band thus far. Long may they continue.