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.

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Whereas the last 3 years have produced many newer bands some bordering on art rock that made the grade into my top gig list – Fever Ray, Metronomy & Gotye to name but a few, the year 2013 was took a very different path. This was essentially a battle between classic golden oldies and well established French artists. It is also a testament to the strength of venue outside of London that 4 out of 5 of the best gigs I saw were outside of the capital and 3 of the top 10 were abroad.

This is the first time this has happened and being so London-centric is highly unusual. My blog name being Londongigger should give something of clue as to my geographical orientation. In the past I have dallied a little outside of London but in 2013, of the 32 gigs I went to, 3 were abroad (2 in Paris, 1 in Brussels) and 3 were in England.; yet all finished up in my Top 10.

Is it because I am tired of London and am enjoying the experience of new venues? Is it because, familiarity breeds contempt; repeatedly going to the same venue becomes boring. Could be but I don’t think so. I rather believe that every artist has upped their game of late and that the quality of performance has risen especially amongst the more established performer.

The competition for your spectator buck has never been fiercer and these would also now seem to apply to area outside of the capital as well. Sell-out shows are now a regular occurrence in Manchester, Bristol and Brighton as much as in London. People, are more mobile and will travel further afield to see gigs – cost permitting. With our ever rising population in the UK, whatever the impact culturally on the country and its infrastructure, I can only see bright things ahead for the future of live music in terms of quality and quantity. Promoters, however, should be carefully not rip people off as happened at The Rolling Stones concert this summer in Hyde Park. This year has proven to me that you don’t need to reside in London to have access to good quality venues and artists. Londongigger – has suitcase , will travel.

So without further ado, here is this year’s list.

1.Zazie – The Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium Friday 6th December
2.Mylene Farmer – Bercy Arena, Paris, France, Wednesday 11th September
3.Kate Nash – The Sugarmill, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, UK, Wednesday 24th April
4.Simple Minds – Cliffs’s Pavillion, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK, Wednesday 17th April
5. The B52s – IndigO2, North Greenwich, London, UK, Friday 16th August
6.Fleetwood Mac – O2 Arena, North Greenwich, London, UK, Wednesday 25th September
7.Peter Gabriel – O2 Arena, North Greenwich, London, UK, Tuesday 22nd October
8.T’Pau – Rhodes Theatre, Bishops Stortford, Hertforshire, UK, Friday 31st May,
9.Pascal Obispo – Le Colisée de Roubaix, Roubaix, France, Friday 22nd March
=10.Goldfrapp – Eventim Apollo, Hammermsith (formerly Hammersmith Apollo) , London, UK, Friday 1st November
=10.Bat for Lashes- O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK, Tuesday 13th August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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.

Paramore triumph at Wembley, Sept 27th 2013

Paramore triumph at Wembley, Sept 27th 2013

I am always astonished when I go to a gig expecting a certain of crowd or a specific genre and then get an expected vibe. In this respect Paramore are a group that continue to surprise and delight. True, half the audience could be in a teen advert for Converse trainers, especially the type where a sudden flash dance mob appears or in a vibrant hair colour commercial but as a whole the audience remained mixed saying much about the group’s cross-over appeal. Reading recently about the slightly acrimonious departure of 2 band mates and spiteful accusation of the band being “manufactured” did nothing to dampen my spirits and judging from the performance I witnessed I saw nothing contrived about them. The effervescent Hayley Williams jumped around the stage like an enthusiastic Jack-in-a-box and band mates Jeremy Davis and Taylor York hardly covered any less ground of Wembley’s wide stage. Plenty of material from the new self-titled album was covered including open song “Grow-Up”, the epically defiant “Now” and “Daydreaming” that gave a nod in tempo and rhythm to Blondie’s “Dreaming”. “Ignorance” provided the opportunity for a bit of fist punching and there were quirky moments on “I’m Not Angry any more” with a banjo. However, I’m a sucker for a whole group of people waiving mobile phones and/or lighters to an atmospheric slow and that’s exactly what happened when “The Only Exception” was played. There was something magnificently moving about seeing thousands of lights swaying at Wembley and the whole of the arena singing the chorus.
It was also a nice touch to send a tribute out to Fleetwood Mac on the weekend that that group were playing in London. Having myself seen Fleetwood Mac only 3 days before, Williams voice was uncannily similar to that of the great Stevie Nicks as Paramore played a snippet of “Landslide”. Another great moment was to see Hayley pull fan called Amber up onto the stage to sing along side her at the on “Misery Business”. All 3 of the band received a hug from the somewhat feisty fan who looked a little horrified when asked by Hayley if she knew the words.

The biggest surprise of the night was how many people put their hands when asked it this was their first Paramore show. The first-timers were then very fortunate to witness something special.
With few exceptions this gig was a high-tempo affair fusing elements of indie, metal and pop with the very appealing emotional quality of Williams voice. All in all, a very entertaining and atmospheric evening.