Wednesday, 24 April 2013

880 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, New Killer Shoes, Bath Komedia, Wednesday 23 April 2013

Yup, again! For the 5th time in a shade under 2 years, it’s Adam Ant time! The 80’s pop/ punk/ New Romantic/ simply “Antmusic” icon, now arguably elevated to National Treasure status, his shining star restored to sparking radiance, and quite simply the best, most consummate “live” performer I’ve seen in years, and likely one of the best ever. Yup, Ever. There, I said it. I also said I’d be back whenever time and finances allow, so a trip down to Bath to the new Komedia venue was squeezed in to an otherwise impoverished late April. This time, I’m joined by Debbie the glam punk queen of ye olde Swindon Towne, surprisingly seeing Adam Ant for the first time!

We set off at 7 on a sunny evening, getting confused with the directions around Bath and eventually parking up in a small car park, just around the corner from the riverside park where Rach, the kids and myself had spent the previous Saturday sunning ourselves and eating ice cream! Despite needing to ask a policeman for directions (!), the venue itself was a short walk, very central; a modern frontispiece opening up into a grand mid-sized venue with ornate roof carvings, recalling the Regal in Oxford . New Killer Shoes were just finishing a brash, noisy guitar set with a bit of a swagger. From what I heard, they sounded worth checking out. Next time, then…

Took a spot near the front, stage right, for Adam’s entrance in front of an expectant and respectable but not full crowd, spot on at 8.30 to the orchestral swell of “The Charge Of The Light Brigade”. Adam, on last with a theatrical flourish, and his excellent band blasted through opener “Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter”, the lead track from his current CD, scarcely pausing for breath and making scant concession to his advancing years. Indeed, this was the modus operandi for tonight; a rejigged set over recent live shows, with more than a smattering of newies from said just-released new CD. However, “Deutscher Girls” notwithstanding, there was very little of significance omitted from recent sets, so with a whole lot to get through, it was a case of cut the chat and get on with it. This was underlined by the fact Adam didn’t actually address the audience until after a lengthy ovation for “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, 9th number in!

By this time we’d also had a brilliant amphetamine rush through “Beat My Guest”, a strident tribal drumbeat-led “Kick”, a thrillingly eerie “Ants Invasion” augmented by a side-lit strobe picking out Adam on the otherwise dark stage, and the usual rambunctious run-through of “Stand And Deliver”. But it was “Kings” that really ignited the previously moribund crowd, Adam performing his “manifesto” number as if his life depended on it, with the lengthy ovation giving him pause and eliciting a heartfelt and quite telling, “thank you,” from the great man.

The overall brevity of communication however didn’t detract from Adam’s performance; glittering and eye-catching throughout, he was his usual brilliant self, a performer born, riveting and kinetic, waving the mikestand around so vigorously that on more than one occasion I thought he would sideswipe occasional backing vocalist Georgie Girl upside the head with its’ circular base, and striding and strutting around the stage like he owned it. Which of course he did…

“This one’s about love, you know L-U-V, fellas… flowers on Valentines, flowers when you make up, flowers on her grave…”, Adam deadpanned by way of intro to “Wonderful”, before, “a different kind of love song,” the guitar sleaze of “Whip In My Valise”. The sussed NYC/ Velvet Underground understated cool of “Cool Zombie” was the best of the clutch of newies on show tonight, although as ever Adam hit the highlights with the old stuff; a brilliant staccato “Zerox”, a dark, sinister “Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)”, featuring some call and response vocals with Georgie Girl, rubber dress dripping off her ample front, and the raucous singalong to “Cartrouble”, inserted later into the set tonight. Actually I sang along raucously to pretty much everything tonight…!

After the regimental march of set closer “Prince Charming”, the encores were pretty damn perfect too; a vitriolic “Press Darlings”, Adam still venomously spitting out the names of his nemeses Kent and Bushall, the wonderful, cheeky “Lady” seamlessly segueing into the call to arms of “Fall In”, then a second encore featuring a sleazy, growling and pace-changing “Red Scab”, an unscheduled run through T Rex’ “Get It On”, and a final, roaring “Physical” to end a 30-odd song, near 2 hour performance from a 58 year old whose energy, vitality and sheer star power puts pretty much everyone else right now in the shade. Another brilliant night in the company of Adam Ant, and here’s to many more!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

879 JAMES, ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, Bristol Colston Hall, Wednesday 17 April 2013

Happy Birthday Rachel! I sorted these tickets at Christmas for a birthday surprise for Rach to go see one of her favourite bands; James, once again playing The Colston Hall around her birthday. A “live” staple of mine back in the 80’s as well, James’ performance here 3 years ago partly restored my faith in my former quirky student indie faves turned baggy Manc wave-riders, purging their subsequent stadium bore reputation somewhat. Furthermore, this gig had the added intrigue of the support; Echo And The Bunnymen, my “home team” favourite band in my late teens, who crushed me with a poor showing last time out, Ian McCulloch’s voice being particularly off-key, so definitely in need of some redemption in my eyes. The 13th time I’d seen both these bands, stretching back to the early 80’s in both cases; who would prove the most enduring, here in 2013?

I figured this to be an early one, so Rach and I left at 6, hitting some delays en route but parking up on the roof of the partly-closed car park opposite, taking our seats at 7.20. I’d hesitated slightly before booking tix, and this was reflected in our position; on the balcony of this large theatre, 3 rows from the back! Still, a good view… The Bunnymen came onstage promptly (for them!) to their usual Gregorian chant intro music, easing into opener “Lips Like Sugar”. The first test – could McCulloch sustain the octave straddling chorus note? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding Yes. And how!

Tonight the Bunnymen were restored to their imperious best. The backlit strobes made it difficult to pick out the mostly static band, but tonight there was no mistaking The Voice. This wasn’t Mac going through the motions as per last time out, this was a man using the full range and emotional impact of The Bunnymen’s most powerful asset, with the band unafraid to completely strip back the instrumentation at times at let Mac’s voice carry the songs. A chiming “Rescue” featured a lyric reference to obscure oldie “Broke My Neck”, and the magnificent “Villier’s Terrace” segued effortlessly into The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, mid-song. “We’ve not been here since 1982 – but the old girl’s still got it, and I’m not talking about Elton John,” Mac announced. Damn straight.

“Zimbo”, a stunning mid-set highlight, finally saw the inevitable dry ice envelop the blood red backlit stage, adding to the eerie feel of this tribal drumbeat-led elegy. “All That Jazz” was a brilliant, toughened up march, meaty, big and beaty, and a set highlight for me. The sweeping drama of “The Killing Moon” was introduced by an only partly tongue-in-cheek Mac with, “this is allegedly the best song ever written.” Then, a faultless and all-too short set finally culminated in “The Cutter”, Mac taking one last opportunity to let his voice soar unfettered during the song’s climax, giving me goosebumps in the process. Redemption assured; maybe The Bunnymen should always play this early, if this is the outcome!

The set in full; Lips Like Sugar, Rescue, Villier’s Terrace/ Roadhouse Blues, Seven Seas, Bring On The Dancing Horses, Bedbugs And Ballyhoo, Zimbo, The Disease, All That Jazz, Nothing Lasts Forever, The Killing Moon, The Cutter. Every one a winner. Superb stuff!

Rach and I eschewed the bar queues and got ice creams instead during the interval, grabbing some comfy seats to stretch our legs after our tiny confined balcony seats. We wandered back in for James’ arrival at 9 prompt; the band wandered on unheralded, Tim Booth taking the stage last, then announcing stark opener “Dust Motes” with, “this one craves your silence; we use it as a litmus test of whether an audience can shut the fuck up!"

Thence followed one of the most variable sets I’ve seen since Blondie, here back in 2004. Rach’s face cracked into a huge grin for a lovely early “Just Like Fred Astaire”, as Tim abandoned the stage and wandered through the crowd. The staccato dancing of the subsequent chugging beat of “Waltzing Along” saw him again transformed into the little funny dancing guy from those 80’s Bierkeller days. However “Seven” featured some discordant and quite jarring trumpeting, spoiling an otherwise good oldie, and a subsequent dull number actually saw loads of fellow balcony people head for an early loo break! “Johnny Yen”, however, revived the set; a marvellous version of this (very) oldie, tumbling drums to the fore, and “How Was It For You” (pre-empted by guitarist Larry Gott, who played the opening riff prior to “Johnny Yen” then remarked he should be following the set-list, which prompted Booth to confess, “you may have noticed we don’t know what we’re doing!”) was brilliant, herky-jerky and sinewy mutant dance, and damn fine for a song allegedly not played “live” for 20 years! The subsequent “We’re Gonna Miss You” was introduced as a song to exorcise a curse from an old girlfriend, and the dark, backlit stage fitted the song’s moody, mysterious edge perfectly. A lengthy, libidinous “Sound”, featuring some swirling trumpet and low, moody bass, completed a splendid mid-set section.

However, it went downhill for me thereafter. 3 new numbers (hey, it just wouldn’t be a James gig without some newies, they’re perverse like that…) were OK, but the middle one featured an interminable and tortuous violin solo, again spoiling the number. The inevitable “Sit Down”, the former all-inclusive little baggy manifesto turned housewife-friendly radio anthem, was perfunctorily delivered, but nevertheless had all the gig tourists standing up. Ironic that. The late-period Simple Minds-lite of “Born Of Frustration” was frankly rubbish, and it took a good, loose limbed “Come Home” to end the set on a positive note for me, although the band took a lengthy curtain call from the audience.

Encores were also variable; “Getting Away With It” dragged, but the conversational verses of the excellent “Sometimes” built to huge galloping chorus crescendos, and the ramshackle drumrolls and kitchen sink smut of a final “Laid” ended an overlong 2 hour set nicely.

So James; a mix of the brilliant and banal, but overall worth sitting through some Frustration for the likes of “Johnny Yen”. But for me The Bunnymen towered over this evening, restoring my faith in my old “home team”. Overall, though, a fine evening out for the Birthday Girl!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

878 THE HOUSE OF LOVE, Patrick Duff, Bristol Fleece, Tuesday 9 April 2013

Another band scratching that reunion itch now; The House Of Love, late 80’s Indie rock guitar heroes who ploughed a similar furrow to the 60’s-influenced rockist post-punk sonic template of Echo And The Bunnymen, Wild Swans, Joy Division etc. whilst skirting around the then-prevalent, more textural and shimmering mood of the Shoegaze crowd, before being lost in the noise of Grunge and Madchester in the early 90’s. A band I saw and thoroughly enjoyed 4 times, “back in the day”, and a band who hold the distinction of being the hosts of the only 2 occasions I’d been evacuated from a gig, both times due to excessive dry ice usage! Back together with its’ original squabbling song-writing duo of vocalist Guy Chadwick and guitar hero Terry Bickers, and back releasing new material, notably current, charming CD “She Paints Words In Red”. A band whom on reflection I really should have been a much bigger fan of, back then, so will the timely revival evident on the new CD translate into the “live” environment? Or will they just choke us all with dry ice and force us scuttling outside The Fleece’s cramped environs for fresh air?

Similar old HOL fan Beef and I set off about 7, hitting the venue at ¼ to 8 and going through the new door at the back of the venue, after a slight ticket-mare for Beef! We were therefore firmly ensconced for support act Patrick Duff, former vocalist of 90’s swirly pop-psych Bristolians Strangelove. Now reinvented as a woolly-hatted acoustic troubadour with some unsettlingly deadpan between-song banter, he played a couple of bare, pastoral numbers before really cutting loose with “Maria”, a huge Scott Walker-esque tale of heartbreak and infidelity, magnificently delivered with an extraordinarily passionate voice. A brilliant song which moved me to enquire of Beef, “where did THAT come from?” and one which he never topped, although “Tourist” (“I wrote this for Amy Winehouse; I didn’t know then that she was going to die but I had a fucking good idea...") came closest. A final number about monkeys featured some entertaining mouth trumpeting, concluding a fine, impressively delivered set, which made me take notice.

The place was busier now, yet the PA announcer advised people to move down towards the front where there was more room! We were therefore a couple of rows back, centre stage, when the uniformly black-shirted House Of Love came on, fittingly, to Canned Heat’s “On The Road Again”. No dry ice or backlit strobes this time, in deference to the smaller venue, but they eased impressively into their set with a couple of newies, a Byrds-like “Low Black Clouds” followed by a rockier “Baby Got Back”, featuring the annoyingly youthful looking Terry Bickers already energetically throwing shapes, in stark contrast to his towering monolith partner in crime Chadwick. A lush “Hope” and crescendo-fuelled “ Sulphur ” delved back to that classic first album and prompted the crowd into some polite moshing, and “Road” was carried by Bickers’ haunting guitar groove.

In fact the mid-set, lower key and more mid-paced, delved equally from the first and most recent albums, highlighting Chadwick’s smooth confessional vocals and supremely crafted songwriting, and Bickers’ swirling, slightly-delic guitar licks, with a countrified “Hemmingway” and plaintive “Beatles And Stones” a notable mid-set duo. However the set roared back with a vengeance, Chadwicks’, “take it away, Terry,” heralding the instantly recognisable guitar intro to the underrated “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”, sung with startling conviction by Chadwick and the magnificent highlight of the set – to date. However this was topped with “Christine”, playfully introduced by Chadwick with, “this is called “Claudine”, I hope you like it…”, and a strident, absorbing version of their best number, melding the Velvet Underground’s droney, monotone sonics with a supreme soaring hook. An almost-equally dramatic “Love In A Car” building to a huge dramatic crescendo, ended the set, and the encore was capped with a brilliant, sinister and singalong “Shine On”.

No “Destroy The Heart” but great stuff nonetheless. Running into the guys, getting my set-list signed and reminiscing with Guy Chadwick about their Swindon gig back in the day was a fun punctuation on yet another entirely worthy reunion show. Welcome back, House Of Love!