Archive for the ‘Synth Pop’ Category

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.

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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.

In 10 years of gig continuous gig going there has always been one venue that has stood out from the rest in London or anywhere for that matter. Sure, venues like Wembley or the O2 have size and scale on their side and that can lend an impressive atmosphere to the place and there are small boxy venues like the Garage or the Jazz Café that put you close up to the artist. However, for a combination of feeling being at a gig of importance but also with an intimate atmosphere, for me you cannot beat the 2000 seater, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. For these reasons, out of the 350 or so gigs that I’ve lucky enough to attend in the past ten years, 56 have been at this super cool venue. The building itself was built as an Edwardian music hall theatre in 1903 and continued in this form for the next fifty years, even surviving World War II relatively unscathed. From 1953 to 1991 it was owned by the BBC who produced many famous light entertainment shows there, including Hancock’s Half Hour, The Generation Game, This is your life and , of course famous UK chat show of the 1980s Wogan. After 3 years of renovation, the venue saw itself transform into a music venue in 1994 and next will see it celebrate its 20th anniversary as such. I was fortunate to attend during its 10th anniversary series where I saw Mike and the Mechanics and the performance was videoed. This was one among many memorable performances I saw but which made the grade to be worthy of inclusion in my Top 5. It has been very difficult to choose but finally here is my list.


Number 1 – Ray Davies, February 11th 2006

A worthy Londoner for a worthy London gig venue. In 2005, now without The Kinks since 1997, Ray Davies was on the comeback trail, recording his first commercially successful album – “Other People’s Lives – for a number of years. The hit the charts early February 2006 at the time of the gig and a seven song segment from the album was played during the show demonstrating Davies masterful songwriting and observational skills particularly in connection with London and English life. He then finished up the gig with such Kinks classics “All day and All of the Night”, “You Really Got Me”, “Waterloo Sunset” and “Lola”. I cannot describe the atmosphere so highly charged was it; the whole of the Empire audience getting to their feet, singing and dancing. Davies also received standing ovations. Without a doubt this was the greatest gig ever at this venue.

Number 2 – Kaiser Chiefs, March 4th 2007

The Kaiser Chiefs were at the height of their early powers. Ricky Wilson proudly announced at the show that their second album had just gone to No.1 in the UK charts and a week before “Ruby” had been the No.1 single. Though still a great band and one of my personal favourites, The Kaisers have never quite been able to recapture the heady triumph of those days. This gig, though, was an “I was there” moment. At one point, Mr Wilson dived off the stage into the frenetically swaying crowd which buckled under him. Standing on the first balcony was an equally unnerving experience and you could feel it moving underfoot to the vibrations of the beat and the pogoing crowd. ” I predict a riot” almost felt like one. This gig was one of the most high octane events I have ever witnessed. Fantastic energy.

Number 3 – The Human League with John Foxx supporting, December 18th 2003

This one is very special to me on a personal level for several reasons. It is the first gig I ever went to with my wife either at Shepherd’s Bush or anywhere. For all you lovers of Ultravox it also had John Foxx supporting. It was an absolute thrill to hear the glorious soaring synth of “Underpass” booming out filling up the theatre. Curiously, it’s also one of the very few times I’ve seen any trouble break in what is normally a problem free theatre. Some guy got into a row with a couple in the row below and thought it would amusing to throw a drink at her which , of course kicked things and involved the intervention of security. Just goes to prove, situations like this can arise anywhere if you’re unlikely. That said, it did not spoil our enjoyment of the League who played what was, in effect their anthology. It was great to sing along to belting tunes like “Mirror Man”, “Sound of the Crowd” and “Don’t you Want Me”?

Number 4 – The Killers (as a support act), March 5th 2004

I have already written in my previous blog entitled Londongigger’s Top 10 support acts that this was by far the best support gig I ever saw. That has not changed. With only a few hundred people in the audience, the band ran through most of the tracks from “Hot Fuss” thrilling the small crowd. None months later, The Killers were number one in the UK Album charts and the rest as they say, is history.

Number 5 – Juliette Lewis and the New Romantiques, October 23rd 2009

This gig was hard work physically and the last standing gig I did at this venue. Yes, Miss Lewis, renowned Hollywood actress and very credible rock and roll indie artist, made us work hard for a taste of her work. Standing through 4 support acts, 2 of whom were fun, 1 crap and 1 of which was so loud, I thought I’d had a free ear syringe was not the most enjoyable experience in a sardine packed crowd. However, it proved to be worth the wait and the pain on the feet as she absolutely tore the place down. Bedecked in a flamboyant outfit with feathers, and coming out with phrases like “if you’re too shy to shake your hips then shake your tits”, she exuded boundless energy , even coming down of the stage with no fear and singing and dancing with fans. It’s not everyday you see a Hollywood star do that. The gig was 65 minutes of pure mosh pitting bliss climaxing with title track of the album “Terra Incognito”. At £14 a ticket, this was probably also the Best Value for Money gig I’ve seen.

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.

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

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

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

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

as first featured on the Safeconcerts.com website