Archive for the ‘Popular Music’ 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.

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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.

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)

Zaz Pizazz at Scala, London, UK June 12th 2013

Zaz Pizazz at Scala, London, UK June 12th 2013

Having chalked up from her first two albums, 10 top 5 places in 5 European countries including 5 No.1 spots, Mademoiselle Isabelle Geffroy, better known by the stage name of Zaz, had every reason to be smiling as she hit the London lights at the Scala venue in King’s Cross. Blending a variety of different styles in her set ranging from old “chanson Française” to folkish ska rhythms through to ballads and jazz fusions, 33 year old Zaz has had a steady rise since breaking through in France in 2010 picking up a European Border Breakers Award in 2011 along the way. She is now a well-known established European artist.
Since Zaz has not yet reached the mainstream of these shores and as she sings almost completely in French (with the odd Spanish language thrown in), you were left to wonder why London was a destination on the tour in the first place. Sure, there were a lot of french people, some of whom had queued for several hours to get the best places at the front in the 1000 capacity. But certainly there also a significant minority of English speakers.
Always smiling, Zaz, started with “Les Passants” (The Passers by), arranged in a light folk jazz fusion whose lyrics reflected upon the rush of everyday life , the passing of time and personal growth from this. In fact, the interpretation of free spirit is a theme that Zaz would return to a number of times in songs during the set, notably in her current single On ira (Let’s go) and best known track “Je veux”, (I want).
Also notable was her use of scatting during a number of songs such as Je Saute (I jump).
Slightly more poppy was “La Fée” where the band tried to work up the audience to sing vocal instrumental bit of the song to only limited success. There was a much better attempt at working the crowd into another number where Zaz got 3 sections of the audience to sing in melody. The bulging crowd did a lot of work that evening, one audience member even going so far as to translate the detailed synopsis Zaz gave her of the story behind Piaf song “Dan La Rue”. You couldn’t help thinking that the poor soul should have been on a commission rate. Still, it was needed. it was evident neither Zaz nor her band’s command of English was the best, in particular unwittingly mixing up the words joke and play.
Zaz was to perform another classic Piaf “La Vie en Rose” very competently with an up-tempo beat from the band as well as a very chilled-out cover of Jacques Cabrel’s “Petite Marie”.
The end of the show was wound up in a very lively fashion with Ni Oui Ni No (Neither Yes or No), a lot of jumping which only added to the sweltering humidity in the building and proper rock track “Auz Detenteurs”. Zaz was also to give an impromptu stint on the drums.
Zaz’s enthusiasm for the show was infectious and she was backed up by an excellent band. However , the sheer number of the crowd made the venue feel small and cramped. In addition, at times, particularly while doing the links to the songs in French, she struggled with the incessant crowd chatter which I personally found irritating . Next time, I see her it will have to be in a bigger venue or nothing but this lively charming singer definitely is worth seeing again.

The Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) Concert at London's Twickenham Stadium, June 1st 2013, UK

The Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) Concert at London’s Twickenham Stadium, June 1st 2013, UK

Americans steal the show at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) benefit concert, Live review from Twickenham Stadium, London, UK, Saturday 1st June 2013, featuring Beyoncé, Ellie Goulding, Timbaland, Jennifer Lopez, Haim, John Legend, Florence and the Machine, Laura Pausini, Rita Ora, Iggy Azalea, Jessie J

Jessie J at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) Concert, June 1st 2013, London, UK

Jessie J at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) Concert, June 1st 2013, London, UK

Iggy Azalea and dancers shake a leg at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013,UK

Iggy Azalea and dancers shake a leg at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013,UK

Rita Ora shimmers at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concer, London, June 1st 2013, UKt

Rita Ora shimmers at the Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concer, London, June 1st 2013, UKt

Laura Pausini appears a tad chilly with an overcoat and scarf, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Laura Pausini appears a tad chilly with an overcoat and scarf, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Famous pop names came together at London’s national home of rugby – Twickenham Stadium on Saturday for Sounds of Change , a Gucci sponsored event that was as much about the political message as the music. That message was essentially about female empowerment and was drilled home to a 50,000 strong crowd and so, it was claimed, to global audience of 1 billion in 159 countries with a series of thought provoking short docu-videos and speeches from activists and A list celebrities such as Selma Hayek, Jessica Chastain and Madonna, the latter of whom vociferously challenged the audience “to commit to my revolution”.
These messages were interspersed throughout the musical interludes from range of pop artists leaning towards the commercial but occasionally going leftfield with contributions from Florence and the Machine and BBC Sound of 2013 winner – Haim.

Angelic vocals from Florence Welch and accompanied by her classical machine, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Angelic vocals from Florence Welch and accompanied by her classical machine, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Musically, although the billing gave a relatively even spread of UK and US artists, there is no doubt the wow factor (with the exception of Florence Welch) belonged to our over-the-pond cousins who stole the show. Each artist up until Jennifer Lopez performed about 3 or 4 songs . True Brit Jessie J kicked off the concert with the anthemic “Price Tag” and was creditable enough. Newcomer Iggy Azalea was probably too new for most people as many in the audience struggled to recognise her, though her dancing troupe was impressive enough. Italian superstar Laura Pausini, who in a heavy coat, looked more like she was dressed for winter gave a high powered performance with “Io canto” (I sing) to the delight of many enthusiastic banner waving Italians in the crowd. Spangly dressed Rita Ora was, what I can say, er, Rita Ora and no, I am no fan of heavily electronically based R n B, in case you hadn’t guessed. She performed her big hits “Hot Right Now” and “RIP” and at least the kids in the crowd seemed to enjoy it. The only Brit that really held up her end up well was Florence Welch who sang an abridged rendition of the classical music version of “You Got the Love” that was almost identical to the one described in my review of Florence at the Royal albert hall last year. She also performed “Dog Days are over” where the crowd did not prove equal to clapping in rhythm – the cause of much hilarity. Florence’s voice though, as usual was impeccable as it effortlessly filled the humongous stadium and once again caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Less impressive was Ellie Goulding who had the unenviable task of filling the slot between Timbaland and headliner Beyonce. Though probably not her fault her usually distinct and penetrating voice struggled to make headway over the erratic and at times crackly sound system (at least from where I was sitting).

John Legend lives up to his name, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

John Legend lives up to his name, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Haim give out sisterly attitude, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert , London, June 1st 2013, UK

Haim give out sisterly attitude, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert , London, June 1st 2013, UK

J-Lo is back at the Top of her Game, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

J-Lo is back at the Top of her Game, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

The star turns really commenced with the arrival of John Legend on the stage who achieved the rare feat of successfully performing ”Bridge over Troubled Waters” while not being Simon and Garfunkel, so much so that it got the first ripples of a sing-a long going. But it was the song “Ordinary People” that really put a mellow vibe into the Twickenham crowd.
That may have given a pleasant chilled out feeling but Jennifer Lopez was second only to Beyonce as the star turn of the evening. The moment J-Lo stepped on stage with her dance troupe; it was like a bolt of electricity coursing through the stadium. Doing what American artists do best she worked it in a well-choreographed sexy vibrant set. Booties were shaking and numbers were being sung along to all over the stadium especially during “Love don’t Cost a Thing” and 2011 hit “On the Floor”. But without a shadow of doubt the highlight of the day was the surprise duet of “Come Together” with Mary J Blige.
Timbaland gave a crowd rousing performance of some his collaboration songs like “Promiscuous” and “The Way I Are “only without some of his collaborators which felt a bit strange – the exception being Simon Le Bon who put in a cameo appearance on a re-worked version of “ The Reflex”.

Timbaland works up the crowd, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Timbaland works up the crowd, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Despite sound issues, Ellie Goulding pulls it off, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London June 1st 2013, UK

Despite sound issues, Ellie Goulding pulls it off, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London June 1st 2013, UK

Then after Ellie Goulding, it was time for the main act– the Artistic Director of this event – Beyonce herself. She strolled down casually but purposefully down the centre of the stage flanked on her right by a 6 player string section. The concert did not follow the lines of the current Mrs Carter world tour. Instead, echoing the political theme of the event she started with an impeccably delivered version of “A Change is Gonna Come”. The string accompaniment gave a relaxed air to the opening. This vibe continued with a cover of Etta James’s “At last”.

Beyoncé - Star turn of the show,  Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

Beyoncé – Star turn of the show, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert, London, June 1st 2013, UK

The set shifted up gear with “Run the World” (a very appropriate song for the event ) and thereafter it was hits all the way with “Survivor” , “Irreplaceable” with the slightly naff “To the left , to the left” hand movement done on mass by the 50,000 crowd , “If I were a Boy” and “Crazy in Love”, which saw Jay –Z make a quick appearance to do the rapping part and give his wife a quick peck on the cheek. The crowd obviously went wild to this. As we moved through the reduced hour long set, the lights dazzled and flashed, the choreography was energetic and slick and the crowd on one occasion forgot the words on a sing-a-long. However, at times, it felt like a roller coaster ride as there several interludes where more videos were played concerning worldwide womens’ issues – good for getting your point across but it does kind of dampen the flow of the concert. Nonetheless, we are talking Beyonce here and such was the quality of the performance that you were not going to come away feeling short changed. The last songs “I Will Always Love You” which “Mrs Carter” dedicated to Whitney Houston and “Halo” gave the Twickenham audience a rousing send off.

Tour de Force -Beyoncé's set reinforces the message of female empowerment, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert , London, June 1st 2013, UK

Tour de Force -Beyoncé’s set reinforces the message of female empowerment, Sounds of Change (Chime for Change) concert , London, June 1st 2013, UK

I am not generally a great lover of mixing politics with music (other than in the lyrics of songs) but this show was well-constructed, the messages concerning women’s empowerment were balanced and put forward an important issue in a succinct and informative way, stopping just the right side of being preachy. Another nice touch was that all the proceeds from the tickets sales go to women’s projects and you can chose which you want the value of your ticket to go to. Did this benefit concert achieve what it set out to? Yes, I think so. Musically, it please most of the people most of the time and got its message out about the importance of world-wide female education and empowerment.

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.