Archive for the ‘Art Rock’ Category

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.

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.

Natasha bangs the drum, Bar for Lashes at the Field Day festival, London, May 25th 2013

Natasha bangs the drum, Bar for Lashes at the Field Day festival, London, May 25th 2013

Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan’s performance shone through in the late evening sun at the Field Day festival during a day of high quality performances, though, it’s hard to know why she was not top of the bill. No disrespect to Animal Collective, who were the official headliners on the main Eat Your Own Ears stage (and whom I did not see) but they are hardly that well known in the UK and their chart performance in the US peaked in 2007/2008. This does not stack up with Khan’s two UK Top Ten albums and a prestigious Ivor Novello award. Similarly irksome was finding out band of the moment Palma Violets had bumped up to second billing when I was expecting to the see them on the Laneway stage in the afternoon.
Rant aside; let’s imagine Bat for Lashes was in the headline slot, Khan’s performance was, as ever as engaging and lively as her multi-coloured outfit. Tracks from new albums “The Haunted Man” were interweaved easily with songs from “Fur and Gold” and “Two Suns”. First up was the ethereal “Lillies” with its grand orchestral synth instrumentals that saw Khan purposely wielding a drum stick.

Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan dazzles the crowd at Field Day festival , London, May 25th 2013

Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan dazzles the crowd at Field Day festival , London, May 25th 2013

Khan’s vocals on “What’s a girl To Do?” resonated a haunting quality similar to that of top French singer Mylene Farmer while the four octave range of her voice was brilliant demonstrated on “Glass”.
Removing her colourful cape she swayed, danced and hopped her way round the stage during “Oh Yeah” and referring to Victoria Park said was glad to be back in “my back garden”.
Of the tracks from the new album, the lyrical allegories of All Your Gold were delivered impressively and “The Haunted Man” saw a strange moment with Khan holding what appeared to be an old wireless set over her head during the military drumming section. I’m sure there was a reason behind but I was hard pressed to see what that reason might be.

What on the box? Natasha Khan holds a wireless set aloft, Bat for Lashes at Field Day festival 2013, London

What on the box? Natasha Khan holds a wireless set aloft, Bat for Lashes at Field Day festival 2013, London

The dance interest for festival goers was brought with the introduction of the science-fiction type fantasy song “Pearl’s Dream” with its infectious drum beat. An hour long set seemed to fly by and was brought to an end with an enthusiastic crowd singing along to award winning song “Daniel”. It was clear from this set that the quality and range of Natasha Khan’s voice is comparable to some of the contemporary greats of British pop music such as Florence Welch and Alison Goldfrapp but you cannot help but think that, in spite of this being a great performance for a festival, the edge is taken off by an outdoor setting.
Last time I saw Bat for Lashes in 2009 it was also outdoors but night had descended and torrential rain and lighting added to the atmosphere. However, in general, singing of this calibre is better appreciated indoors and I look forward to the day that I can watch this talented artist in a venue like Shepherd’s Bush Empire or even the Royal Albert Hall.

BAT FOR LASHES – SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON, THURSDAY 16TH JULY
NATASHA KHAN PROVES TO BE HIGH PRIESTESS OF THE ELEMENTS.
In what should have been the idyllic mid-summer setting of the resplendent neo-classical Somerset House, Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes had to contend with the full fury of the elements just as her show began. She and the crowd, many of whom did have umbrellas or waterproofs, had to contend with torrential rain, wind and at some points nearby lightning, which I am sure was the special effect intended, yet both singer and crowd proved equally resilient, sticking it out to the last.
The show opened with the haunting drum thumping “Trophy” that owes more than a nod to the influence of Björk. After that the show went quickly into works from latest acclaimed album “Two Suns”.  The lyrics from “Glass” could have come straight out of a fantasy novel and the music proved equally ethereal. Khan voice was truly awesome, especially when she hit the top end of the range. It was pure cut crystal. “Sleep Alone” could only be described as a piece of ambient electro –romanticism. For “Moon and Moon” and “Siren’s Song” Natasha returned to the piano for these soaring ballads, the latter of the two finishing with dramatic glorious piano crescendo. The singer, backed by her excellent band, returned periodically to past work such as the harpsichord inspired “Horse and I” and “The Wizard.  And indeed, dressed in a silver, purple and red cape, dark pvc and slightly shimmery looking one piece with long lengths of fur coming off the arms, she could have been taken for one. But as she performed little hops skips and jumps, around the stage for the most danceable her of her repertoire “Pearl Dream”, she more likely resembled a new age High Priestess invoking the elements. The elements did finally stop for the last song at which point Khan expressed herself grateful as finally seeing everyone’s face. Current best known song the darkly romantic “Daniel” finished off the sodden proceedings leaving everyone to reflect on what a brilliant show they had seen. Next time I see Bat for Lashes, though, it will be undercover.

Gotye’s Mix of Ambient Electro Indie with a Masterful  Cinematic Backdrop proves they’re no one trick pony.

Gotye and Band perform with Dancing Skeletons on the Cinematic Backdrop, Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 12th 2012

Gotye and Band perform with Dancing Skeletons on the Cinematic Backdrop, Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 12th 2012

Most will associate Gotye with the massive international hit of the year “Someone that I used to know”.  This tune that is as catchy as it is quirky has been reigning supreme at the top many country’s charts making it one of the biggest sellers in the world in 2012.

If truth be told, it is probably the main reason why many people have been going to the see this charismatic singer from Melbourne and his band in concert and I’m sure many just expected to hear a couple of decent tunes, a bit of padding, a lot of speech and the big climax with the one big hit. But then, that’s not taking into account that Gotye’s 3rd and most commercially successful to date has also broken into the Top 10 in most major music markets.  What the audience were treated to was actually breathtakingly good.  The ambient indie electro beat as well as Gotye’s  ( aka Wouter De Backer) vocals blended seamlessly with the amazing cinematic backdrop. It really was a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its two parts.

The band eased into the performance with the very short but relaxed sound of “Making Mirrors” the title and opening track of the album followed by a far more up-tempo but mournful eastern tinged song called “The Only Way” – about the last moments of death against a kaleidoscope of smoke filled shapes.

The sombre atmosphere continued on the somewhat gloomy sounding “What do you want” in amongst which from the cinematic backdrop were the animated form of a sinister looking pin striped suited man looking  down on the audience and lip synching some of the words as well as dancing monochromatic  animated skeletons.

The atmosphere lightened considerably for “The Easy Way Out” with its meaty baseline, drums, and symphonic dashes of synth, reminiscent of early solo Peter Gabriel. This was accompanied by another animation of running figures; characters that looked like they just dropped out of the latest Akira film.

Gotye and band performs "The Easy Way Out" with Japanese Style Animation, Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK, November 12th 2012

Gotye and band performs “The Easy Way Out” with Japanese Style Animation, Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK, November 12th 2012

“Eyes Wide Open”, with an A-ha style rhythm gave us  a series of beautiful desolate cinematic landscapes  whereas “Smoke and Mirrors” saw a series of sketched figures and heads bursting out of one another like a Russian doll as well as Gotye demonstrating his prowess as a drummer at the end of the song.

But surely the highlight of the show had to be “State of the Art” whose lyrics and cinematic concept had an average animated family taken over by a keyboard entertainment centre that gets ever bigger and more powerful and takes control of the  house. The house eventually takes off into outer space, passes a bemused astronaut and when its lands the family members are eventually integrated into the system as organ pipes.  The animation is perfectly in synch, especially when the animated organ pipes mouths the words of Mr De Baker vocals. It’s an amazing piece of concept art with amazing attention to detail but then this applies to the whole concert.

The Entertainment Centre takes over. Gotye performing State of the Art at Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 12th 2012

The Entertainment Centre takes over. Gotye performing State of the Art at Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 12th 2012

The BIG HIT was, of course not neglected but neither did Gotye fall into the cliché of leaving it until the end. Cleverly, during the verse that Kimbra should sing, he fell silent and the audience picked it up very well.

The encore proved equally brilliant for the animation on the instrumental  “Seven Hours with a Backseat Driver” with a  nervous naive purple elephant strolling tentatively through a town full of various malevolent looking animals , this obviously being an allegory of a country boy in the big bad city.

The fun continued with the band going full throttle on the soul tinged 60’s rhythmed  “I Feel Better”  and “Learnalilgivinanlovin” and many up on their feet dancing in the balcony. This was an uplifting end to the show and finishing with a drumming extravaganza by Gotye and his drummer, it brought the house down.

Gotye shows off his drumming skills, Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 12th 2012

Gotye shows off his drumming skills, Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 12th 2012

I can only say that Gotye is no one trick pony.  This music and cinema in this show combined to produce a masterpiece of iconic live artistic performance that will live long in the memory.

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.

Florence and the Machine, Live at Alexandra Palace,  Saturday 10th March 2012

Taking a long walk up the energy sapping hill from the station to Alexandra Palace, “The People’s palace” of entertainment built in 1876, I was reminded of why I don’t go to this venue very often. However, it is a beautiful giant Victorian masterpiece with stunning views in London, especially pretty at night-time with twinkling lights of the city in a 180 degree panorama. And it’s totally appropriate place to see one of the London legs of the Ceremonials tour of Florence and the Machine. Capable of accommodating 10,000 standing, the venue undoubtedly reached its capacity for this very special concert.

Having arrived later than planned, we caught the tail end of Alpines support gig. With some similarity to the vocal style of Florence, the electro-pop duo sounded fresh and are worth a future look – possibly a review.

The other support act was The Horrors , a group from Southend-on-Sea, whose music has a grungy electro feel. And they introduced a surprise guest into the proceedings – Florence Welch herself to sing on what I believe was their recent single Still Life. Rapturous applause went up and the hall was not even yet full. The Horrors were on for about 50 mins – long for a support and they effectively showcased much of their new album “Skying”.

Florence Welch performs duet with The Horrors, live at Alexandra Palace, London, March 11th 2012

Florence Welch performs duet with The Horrors, live at Alexandra Palace, London, March 11th 2012

At around 9:15pm, the curtain that had been veiling the main stage set was rather unceremoniously and awkwardly tugged off by stage crew and made to drop to the ground. The Machine part of Florence and the Machine came on, not just guitars keyboard and but vocalists and an impressive looking string section. Expectations rose but curiously Florence did not appear for another 7 or 8 minutes. Then it all became clear, an announcement from the BBC Radio 6 presenter, the show was being broadcast live : that gave the atmosphere a special buzz.   Shortly after a tall caped figure strode purposely onto the stage.  Gone was the slightly reticent, slightly quirky figure with flowing robes from the Lungs era. This was a confident assured personality who was completely focused and meant business. She was in character as she delivered for opening song “Only if For The Night” , the first of many, many gymnastic-like vocals.  Next  song “What the Water gave me” gave vent to the raw emotional power of  Florence  voice as a well being a very full and round musical piece involving the whole band and orchestra, reminding me rather stylistically of 70’s Fleetwood Mac. The taut baseline was slightly less pronounced than on the studio album but that did not detract from a beautifully delivered piece as Florence swished her cape around.

Florence Welch's Caped Performance, Florence and the Machine, Alexandra Palace, March 10th 2012

Florence Welch's Caped Performance, Florence and the Machine, Alexandra Palace, March 10th 2012

The banter was only occasional with Florence making reference at one moment to the fact she was wearing a cat suit with her mother present. She waived in our general direction as her mother and family were standing – on a raised scaffold platform built specially for the VIPs just next to us.

Florence and the Machine, Live at Alexandra Palace, London, March 10th 2012

Florence and the Machine, Live at Alexandra Palace, London, March 10th 2012

This concert was very much centred on the fine album “Ceremonials” and many anthemic tracks were played. Particularly lively and enjoyable from this new album were “Shake it out” and “Heartlines”, a song that was written about being away from home and the importance of friends and family, “Strange to be doing it in London while I ‘m in my home town”, she said.   Later on, in the show Florence announced she was giving us one for the girls -“Rabbit Heart” and one for the boys “Say my Name”.  She let loose during these numbers bouncing from one side of the stage and then to the other. The crowd were in full flow by this time, hands in the air, pointing, fisting pumps. The climatic and dramatic power of “No Light No Light” was like a musical out of body experience. Off the stage for about 3 or 4 minutes, Florence came back and after introducing The Machine, we were all getting down to probably the best rendition I have ever heard her sing of “You Got the Love”. The passion and fire with which this was sung radiated throughout the audience.  Final song “Never Let Me Go”, with reference to sea and oceans had a feel good choral part providing an almost angelic aura that got the audience waving their outstretched arms over their heads slowly and rhythmically.  My niece who went with me to the show was overcome emotionally. I can understand why. Florence Welch’s voice for every song was technically awesome and she oozed performance from every pore. She was hailed a couple of years ago as the Queen of Indie, now she can rightly be crowned the Queen of Art Rock.

I’ll be seeing Florence and the Machine’s second London show in April at the Royal Albert Hall with a further review to follow.