Thursday, 27 February 2014

Roger, Wilko & Out: Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey @Shepherds Bush Empire - 24\2\14

All things considered he ain't looking that bad, quite sprightly, grinning and gurning, belted out some bluesy R&B to a packed Empire. But enough about Roger Daltrey, how's the doctor defying Wilko Johnson holding up tonight?

I'm not going to pretend I'm a life long Wilko or Feelgoods devotee and that his recent illness has sent me scurrying to the back catalogue to have an opinion after he's gone like a good music nerd should. This was very much a last minute thing with a friend unable to go but I was devoted enough to queue up outside and plant myself near the front. And after tonight I might just take suggestions on where to go for top Wilko.

The poster for the night (see above) billed the show like an old prizefight or right royal ruble wrestling match but the atmosphere was warm and friendly. Usually at these sold out Empire shows there is a fair bit of elbowing to the front, pushing and general unpleasantness but not from Wilko's crowd.

As soon as the lights went down Wilko and his band scampered to their places and almost exploded into life. In a pattern set for the next 90 minutes or so, every machine gunning run Wilko took across the stage was cheered to the rafters.

Opening with a short set without Daltrey, there was no let up in energy and musicality.
Was unfamiliar with 90% of the material tonight but 'Dr Dupree' particularly impressed. I was lucky enough to be on Norman Watt-Roy's side of the stage and it was a pleasure just to watch him play his bass like a lead guitarist would. His bass runs and that deep, twangy sound he produced on 'When I'm Gone' was as vital to the sound as Wilko's guitar. His Blockhead hoppo Dylan Howe on drums ensured a tight but loose rhythm throughout.

Much later when exiting the venue a young herbert behind me said to his pal "I think that was the best bass player I've ever seen". he may well not be wrong.

Whe I heard they'd covered Dylan's 'Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window' I was dubious about whether it would work but Daltrey brings a soulful depth to the song and Johnson's playing is stately and sublime while maintaining a slightly jagged edge.

After the wordy intro and infectious riff of 'Roxette' (ooh, I know that one!) Roger from 'The 'orrible 'Oo took centre stage looking for all the world like Lovejoy as played by Burt Bacharach. Still fairly trim in slimming black and voice in much better nick than last time I saw him with his band he barrelled into the title track of their collaborative album 'Going Back Home'. A rock n roll, blues R&B, growler that Daltrey no doubt enjoyed singing when he started out and as he acknowledged "good old rock n roll - we're not killing anyone up here". It might have got a little stodgy, meat n potatoes pub rock for a song or two but it was damned enjoyable nevertheless.

When Roger forgot the lyric during a storming 'All Through the City' Wilko took over, trying not to laugh as Daltrey looked on. Throwing us his thousand yard stare, darting and diving towards Norman, he was happy to let Roger take the lead so he could relax and enjoy the moment but never letting that intensity drop. Despite seeing a roadie make sure he had a mic on a long unfurled lead, there was none of the usual windmilling actions.

"Oi Roger, play us something we recognise" says a wag behind me and Wilko is excited as a pup to strike the opening chords to 'I Can't Explain' with the audience providing the backing vocals. As they had played "everything we know" they gave another blast on the single (in 2014 - how quaint!) 'I Keep It To Myself' before leaving the stage as the whole Empire is on its feet chanting Wilko's name. Tonight he was the star as much as the little fella from the billion dollar band.


        All Right
        Barbed Wire Blues
        The More I Give
        Dr. Dupree
        When I'm Gone

        Going Back Home
        I Keep It to Myself
        Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
        Keep on Loving You
        Some Kind of Hero
        Ice on the Motorway
        Sneakin' Suspicion
        Everybody's Carrying a Gun
        Keep It Out of Sight
        All Through the City
        I Can't Explain
        I Keep It to Myself

Monday, 24 February 2014

That Last Gasp Of Greatness: 'When the flags coming down and the Last Post sounds'

There's no specific reason for this post apart from - today an old song made my heart soar

From my sad old music snob POV I'm very much against bands getting back together - particularly if its just a cash grab and no new music is forthcoming. yet my heart has made me leap at the chance to see Pixies, The Specials, Sex Pistols, Magazine etc and would stomp over living creatures if XTC ever graced a stage again.

Sometimes bands just limp to a conclusion with bitterness finally spilling over as they become a mere shadow of what they were in their pomp. Others leave whilst the crowd is baying for more.

Blur were done when Graham exited. Yes they finished 'Think Tank' and toured but it wasn't the same.

However, a strange coincidence of the London Olympics and a recent band reformation for one last knees up in Hyde Park came together enabling them to put a more dignified full stop on their career. 

It was everything you loved about Blur at their anthemic heights - it made you want to put your arm round a friend and sway, singing along to its melancholy oh so London world view. Hopeful and hopeless in equal measure. Melodies and harmonies recalling The Beatles & the desolation of  Mercury Rev with an aching Coxon solo echoing Albarn's yearning vocal. 

I don't know if they'll ever record another note together - they seem too disparate and focused on their own muse (or cheese) to want to dilute their ideas with each other but if 'Under The Westway' is to be their last message to the world then its a beautiful way to go. 

There were blue skies in my city today
Everything was sinking, said snow would come on Sunday
The old school was due and the traffic grew
Up on the Westway

Where I stood watching comets lonesome trails

Shining up above me the jet fuel it fell
Down to earth where the money always comes first
And the sirens sing
Bring us the day they switch off the machines
Cos men in yellow jackets putting adverts inside my dreams
An automated song and the whole world gone
Fallen under the spell of
The distance between us when we communicate
Still picking up shortwave, somewhere they're out in space
It depends how you're wired when the night's on fire
Under the Westway

Now it's magic arrows hitting the bull
Doing one eighty still standing at last call
When the flags coming down and the Last Post sounds
Just like a love song
For the way I feel about you
On a permanent basis I apologise
Paradise's not lost, it's in you
But I am going to sing
Sing it out loud and sing it to you
Am I lost out at sea
Til a tide wash me up off the Westway

Sunday, 23 February 2014

More Rabbit than Sainsbury's: Ranting at incessant gig talkers

I was unable to go to a gig this Friday and when you hear it was Kathryn Williams regular readers will understand I was a little disappointed. However I was a little dismayed to see these following tweets from Kathryn and gig attendees, of the double headlining gig with Damian Dempsey at Shepherds Bush Empire.


(hope tweeters don't mind me illustrating my point with their words - if so, LMK and I'll delete)

I wasn't there so this is pure conjecture but of course, double headliners are a tough sell as you have two sets of fans but you would have thought that the fact Kathryn wasn't just a support act might have held some weight. We've all seen support acts getting treated terribly by audiences and its equally as disgraceful.

Funnily enough I think I was probably at that last tough gig Kathryn had which may have been at the legendary 100 Club in London. It was an UNCUT magazine night so I'm guessing everyone in there was either staff, staff of the whiskey sponsors or competition winners (like me). The majority were just talking away whilst all the acts were on. I say all, I had to leave after Kathryn's set and miss headliner, Ed Harcourt as I just felt I was about to do physical harm to almost everyone around me who hadn't been delighted to win tickets.
As a regular gig go-er I find it puzzling, obnoxious, selfish, nonsensical and downright fucking rude.

We all know the cost of living is going up and concerts are often luxuries, those little treats to ourselves more than anything else. Which makes it doubly puzzling when people pay to enter a venue, often paying higher drink prices than a regular boozer at the corner and then chat whilst the artist they came to see is performing. That defies my understanding, it really does.

The argument may be "I've paid my money, I'll do what I like" which is fair enough up to a point, after all we're not expecting venues to be like churches (unless it's the Union Chapel or St James' in Piccadilly but you get my point) but if you talk all the way through the songs, clap just as a Pavlovian response as everyone else is doing so and then continue to talk you are not engaging with the music in any way. Perhaps its the seemingly insatiable need to view everything through the lens of a camera on you phone that makes people think they are watching from their armchair so that talking doesn't matter. Or maybe, people are just no good, as Nick Cave once suggested.

Sometimes it takes as little as a tap on the shoulder and a "shhhh" mime to solve the problem and sometime that just makes things worse. I recall the Elvis Costello gig in Hyde Park last year, a concert that ended up being free when headliner Elton John pulled out. All was fine until about halfway into EC's set when a loudmouth American girl (no offence to Americans but she just was) elbowed her way to the front where we were and proceeded to talk loudly to perfect strangers, take a selfie of herself with Elvis in the background, make calls and when she asked someone to take her picture with back to stage the response as "If I do are you going to shut up for the rest of the gig". This elicited a threat to get security to throw them out for spoiling her evening.

Some artists have ways of dealing with this - on Spiritualized acoustic tour Jason Pierce would just sit there until people were silenced by either peer pressure or finally getting the message that their behaviour would not be tolerated. This wouldn't mean a shorter set just it would take longer and in the words of many a teacher "it's only your own time you're wasting". This was all despite polite signs all around the venue and an announcement at the start to refrain from talking.
 A great little venue in Kilburn called The Luminaire used to have these signs that crystallises my thoughts exactly.

I hope someone took them and still treasures them when the place closed. Maybe because of this "draconian" approach you could say. Shame as it was a great place to experience live music and I'm sure the artists thought so too. They also had staff that didn't throw glass bottles into bins from 10 feet away, talked loudly to each other when not serving and would police any talkers who thought standing back by the bar made them soundproof in such a small room.

Unfortunately despite all this grumbling I'm not sure there's an easy answer. I find that it means I have to get to gigs early as possible to get as far forward and assume everyone else up the front is there to hear someone else's voice rather than their own. Of course this means risking hearing damage at some shows but hey, whats a little tinnitus between friends? I SAID WHAT'S....etc.

I guess my message to any musician that may stumble over this - we feel your pain, we despise and find these people talking as frustrating as you do. We're sorry to even be in the same audience as them but they're too stupid or selfish to know any better.

And there's still life in your body
But most of it's leaving
Can't you give us all a break
Can't you stop breathing?

And I thought I heard "The Working Man's Blues"
I went to work that night and wasted my breath
Outside they're painting tar on somebody
It's the closest to a work of art that they will ever be"