Archive for the ‘Pop’ 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.

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.

Ccaption id=”attachment_919″ align=”alignnone” width=”614″]Sister Sledge get down in the heart of East London, UK, August 14th 2014 Sister Sledge get down in the heart of East London, UK, August 14th 2014 [/caption]

If they had been performing indoor, you would have say they could have brought the house but as it happens it was the stars. At the Under the Stars festival in Central Park, East Ham, we are starting to get used to seeing bigg-ish acts. But,sponsored by the mayor of Newham the acts are getting bigger and bigger. Sister weren’t there definitely the most famous name to play this neck of thew woods. The experience of seeing and hearing some of the biggest disco hits from childhood and teenage years was surreal made all the more remarkable by it taking place in one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest boroughs. Still, the sisters did anything but patronise their audience. This was a full-on gig where,yes some of the finest tunes ever to grace dance in the last 40 years were played but their was also originality and musical mastery as some numbers were mashed up and other delivered with verve and charm that far exceed their effect played in a club.

The opening – All American girls was delivered with as much as could mustered given the dismal drizzly conditions. Thing of You was sentimentally sweet but the party really started with the playing of Lost in Music where the sisters go the crowd into a sing-along. Very engaged by now, they challenged the audience to prove who was the greatest during the song of the same name by choosing audience members to come up on stage and dance.

The hour and half set finished with an encore rendition Good Times where the tremendously good band played on when after the Sisters left the stage to a very rousing cheer.

The evening cost nothing. We were thoroughly entertained with some of the great dance music ever produced.

Other Top Live Song Performances of 2013

Yolanda Brown’s Bob Marley medley mix
Zaz – “On ira” and “Je veux”
Siouxsie (Sioux) “Dear Prudence”
The Rolling Stones “Paint it Black”
Paramore “The Only Exception”

From amongst the 32 concerts I went to see this there were no shortage of candidates. Kicking off the year February , MOBO award winner Yolanda Brown’s sassy sexy sax medley of Bob Marley Classics –Waiting in Vain / Is this Love etc. got the crowd going in our tiny little local theatre in Barking.

French singer’s Zaz’s deeply humanitarian lyrics for “On ira” and “Je veux” set against a bouncy up-tempo beat provided a moving performance in June at the pocket-sized Scala Theatre in Kings Cross.

Also in June, in what has to be one of the coolest gigs of the gig and only just outside my Top 10 of the year, Siouxsie (Sioux) dressed in a white latex cat suit sang some stonking post punk classics at Yoko Ono’s meltdown festival at London’s Festival Hall, the memorable of which was “Dear Prudence” .

While the open-air concert may have been overpriced and the facilities pretty terrible for concert-goers not paying the premium rates, during the hot summer the Rolling Stones did play a number of classics. A barnstorming rendition of “Paint It Black” compensated a little for a distant view and long waits at the beer and food stalls.

In Autumn, Paramore’s live performance of “The Only Exception” to the sold out crowd of Wembley Arena made my hair stand on end with the 12,000 crowd singing the chorus and waving their lighted mobile phones. Some may mind it a bit cheesy. I found an unforgettable moment.

However, head and shoulder above all those is a man at the age of 63 is a man who moved around the stage like a man 20 years younger full of spirit and verve. This is also a man who quite rightly is about to be inducted into the hall of fame. This is Peter Gabriel, a creative genius who, together with his high calibre band, produced a flawless and entertaining of his massive 1986 hit “Sledeghammer”. The nostalgia buzz was immense for me personally. Check this out.

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.

I have just heard the saddening news that one of my all time favourites of American music has died following possible complication after a liver transplant. I’m in total shock. I have no doubt that when historians comes to write the history of late 20th music, Lou Reed will stand as a colossus of that time, not just for his outstanding contribution but also for the influence he had many names in music – big and small. He was one of the most influential musicians of his generation whose music keenly observed and captured the atmosphere and spirit of early-mid 1970’s New York. My abiding fond memory of him will be the encore at his Hammersmith Apollo concert on Tuesday 17th August 2004 in London where he performed 3 most iconic tracks back to back, Satellite of Love with the whole ground floor audience stood up and sang along, Perfect Day and Walk on the Wild, the latter of which saw the chords and melodies change around but was still very recognisable by the rhythm. In tribute, here is the full set list from that concert.

1.Turn to Me, 2.Modern Dance 3.Guardian Angel 4.Magic and Loss 5.Why Do You Talk? 6.Venus in Furs (The Velvet Underground song). 7.Dreamin’ 8.Jesus (The Velvet Underground song)
9. Ecstasy 10.A Wild Being From Birth 11.The Valley of Unrest 12.The Day John Kennedy Died 13.Vanishing Act 14.Power and Glory 15.The Blue Mask

Encore:
16. Satellite of Love
(The Velvet Underground song)

17. Perfect Day
18. Walk on the Wild

R.I.P Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013)

Kasabian deliver a stonking live show at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, June 29th 2013

Kasabian deliver a stonking live show at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, June 29th 2013

Being the inaugural headliner at a new venue if not a new festival was a challenge that Kasabian took up with relish. Given their credentials as a seriously good live band, it is surprising that they were not taken up by Glastonbury as a headliner. No invite so far but then Glasto’s loss was East London’s gain.
Having opted to see a resurgent Gaz Coombes (formerly of Surpegrass fame), whose slot had started late, I missed a good third of their set. So, it was disappointing to miss such gems as “Days are forgotten” “Velociraptor”. Nonetheless, from where I did pick the set – about 7 songs in and from what I saw, I can report that Kasabian were at the top of their game. Picking up the show at “I.D”, the atmosphere emitting from the 30,000 plus crowd was already very lively.
Tom Meighan, with several liberal doses of the F word declared himself to be buzzing and the band obviously were as well as they took us through the back catalogue with a couple of covers, such as The Korgi’s “Everyone’s got to learn sometime and Fat Boy Slim’s “Praise You” thrown in for good measure.
Meighan dedicated the foot-stomping classic “Empire” to Paul Weller who’d been on just before. The flashing lights and the barnstorming nature of the performance provoked a mass bounce-along in parts of the crowd while during “Fast Fuse” perfect strangers were dancing with each other and red flares were being lit. (I am sure that was in the plan of the site security).
L.S.F (Lost Souls Forever) wound up the main part of the gig with a mass audience sing-along that continued long after the band left the stage.

The crowd show flare at the  Kasabian Concert, London, June 29th 2013

The crowd show flare at the Kasabian Concert, London, June 29th 2013

After a short break the fun continued with “Switchblade Smiles” and a high energy version of “Vlad the Impaler”. Just to mix it up a little the band finished with a version of The Crazy World of the Arthur Brown’s “Fire” .
As evidenced by this live performance, Kasabian continue to grow in stature as a band. They take influences from across the decades, mix them up into cocktail and come out with a special flavour every time. This is the band Oasis would have liked to have been had they not got stuck in retro. Moreover, I do not believe Kasabian have yet reached their peak. Simply, for the creativity and the raw energy they generate at live performances they are one of the best live bands around. When they do reach their peak they will the best band in the country. That day is not far off. Watch out Muse.