Muse at the O2 11.04.2016

The Drones Tour was everything the ‘Drones’ album failed to be: clever, inspiring and spectacular.

The Songs of Praise crossed cult ceremony hymn ‘Drones’ announced Muse’s landing in London in a spiritual manner. As eleven remote-controlled drones looking like rogue London Eye pods engaged in some sort of mid-air synchronised swimming routine, it became evident that the stadium-rock pioneers were embarking on their most ambitious tour yet.

If ‘Drones’ was a subdued introduction, ‘Psycho’ was anything but. The Teignmouth trio unleashed the lead from 2015 album ‘Drones’ on the packed O2 Arena. The jumpable army drill anthem swiftly reinforced their position as the widely acknowledged best live band in the world. Drummer Dominic Howard, (as far as my Muse musings are concerned, a dead ringer for Kian Egan of Westlife), instigated the next round of carnage kicking in the opening drumbeat for ‘Reapers’ before frontman Matt Bellamy displayed the fingerpicking of arguably the best guitarist in the world today. So impressive is his shredding, sliding and strumming, it could possibly bring about world peace. If anyone had wandered into the concert unaware of what they were about to witness, the opening number ‘Drones’, the flying drones and the screams of ‘Here come the drones’ in ‘Reapers’ were probably enough to remind people.

The ferocious start continued with usual staple of a Muse gig ‘Plug in Baby’, which has interestingly and controversially been reduced to a mere interchangeable set-filler on this Drones Tour. As possibly the band’s biggest song, its unstapling is like going to Nandos and not getting chicken. We were also subject to the heavy-metal flirting ‘Stockholm Syndrome’; the Tom Morello-inspired ‘Citizen Erased’, a welcome inclusion from the seminal ‘Origin of Symmetry’; and Morgan Nicholls, Muse’s touring member, demonstrated what can only be described as the most furious maraca playing ever seen on the supermassive ‘Supermassive Black Hole’.

During ‘Undisclosed Desires’ Bellamy sported a pair of flashing red glasses as though he was on a bloke called Gaz’s legendary stag-do in Magaluf. While he has ditched his lyric-listing glasses for ‘Madness’ from the previous tour, the frontman instead assumed these migraine-inducing spectacles. This proved to be just the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading me to call for the sacking of the band stylist. The trio dressed head to toe in all-black padded, stitched and generally awful attire resembling the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The same could not be said for the production team, though. As far as show production is concerned, it was flawless. With the flying drones, the unfurled curtain banners, the politically charged graphics, the confetti-filled balloons, and the spinning central stage combined with the double-headed arrow shaped platforms spanning almost the length of the arena floor. It enabled a truly 360-degree, U2-esque experience and an equally engaging affair not just for those standing but for those in the heavens of the arena. Complex, yes. Self-indulgent, yes. But innovative, ground-breaking and brilliant, yes.

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During ‘Time is Running Out’ Bellamy’s extraordinary vocal range permeated throughout the O2; his falsettos sounding like a strangled cat but in the best possible way. This complemented the unmistakable bass line of Chris Wolstenholme. Although the guitar work steals the headlines, Muse’s mute bassist mustn’t be overlooked, with iconic contributions to ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Madness’, most notably. ‘Munich Jam’ was just one of a number of solos on the night, but the only time when Wolstenholme and Howard were able to steal the limelight from Bellamy, largely because he had retreated off stage to collect his next guitar.

The Muse faithful transformed into an army of over 20,000 to the marching tune of ‘Uprising’. As Bellamy declared:
‘They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious’
His followers willingly obliged, complimenting the chorus with ‘Hey’ chants and fist pumps. This confirmed what had already developed as a theatre-like performance, not just for its Les Miserables revolution-provoking music.

From its western-style opening all the way to its triumphant piano finale via a hard rocking filling, ‘The Globalist’ proved its worth as merely a Bohemian Rhapsody rip-off. An ominous Thunderbirds 2-spaceship-drone –thing, meanwhile circled the audience only serving to distract me. The ten minute track is just one of the flaws of ‘Drones’ which was admittedly incorrectly deemed the Best Rock Album at this year’s Grammys, which gives me hope that my forthcoming album about global warming played on the spoons could win next year. It could be worse, however, Bellamy could have ‘done a Chris Martin’ and followed his split with actress Kate Hudson by producing an album as bad as Coldplay’s ‘Ghost Stories’. ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Drones’ certainly is not.

After a reprise of the ‘Drones’ hymn, the band returned with a jubilant rendition of Mercy, a ‘Drones’ highlight. ‘Knights of Cydonia’ epically concluded the set. The Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock classic that caused so much distress for so many wannabe rockstars caused both delight and havoc amongst the crowd. A record-breaking crowd boarded a UFO-resembling O2 Arena and the space rock trio were the soundtrack for two terrific hours. The Drones Tour has seen Muse surpass previous live efforts, resetting the bar for music concerts to new heights by which all artists must now aspire to reach.

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Adele at The O2 Arena 04.04.2016

On this, the penultimate night of Adele’s sold out Great Britain and Ireland 22-date tour, the biggest artist in the world proves to be well worth the agonising four year wait, with the biggest tour of the year.

As a pair of closed, mascara-clad eyes dominate the O2 Arena stage, the moody opening piano chords signal the obvious opener, ‘Hello’. The eyes flash open and the woman that emerges on a separate stage in the centre of the O2 Arena, stunning in a sparkling sequined gown, is a far cry from the fresh-faced chav that rose to fame at just 19. Madonna, Prince, Bono and Akon are all one-named greats that have conquered the O2 Arena and Adele certainly fits that bill roaring through her colossal comeback single, proceeding to say ‘Hello’ to each and every other side of the audience. The Londoner, on home turf, follows with ‘Hometown Glory’, penned at just 16, before ‘One and Only’ from ‘21’. Writing this as a hopeful 21 year old, the same age Adele wrote the multi-Grammy award winning, best-selling album of the past 15 years it’s hard not to feel like I’ve underachieved compared to her.

As the star bursts into ‘Rumour Has It’, it is clear that unlike Beyonce, Adele doesn’t need 8 costume changes. Unlike Miley Cyrus, Adele opts for class over twerking-trash. Unlike Taylor Swift, Adele has her ego in check. Unlike Katy Perry, Adele’s music actually means something. You pay (albeit a lot) for the voice and boy do you hear it. No gimmicks needed. The voice is just as impressive, if not more so, as on record. Despite 20,000 plus in attendance, it feels just as intimate as being in a local pub. It is clear that Adele is both the most talented export this country has seen since the late Amy Winehouse. But unlike Amy Winehouse, there is no risk of Adele following the same fate, as she sips a honey mixture from a mug this evening.

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The record smashing ‘25’ is expectedly well showcased with faultless renditions of ‘Sweetest Devotion’, ‘Water Under The Bridge’, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ and ‘Million Years Ago’. ‘19’ and ‘21’ get decent plays much to the relief of the crowd, as does the Oscar-winning, Bond-theme ‘Skyfall’. A stripped back ‘Don’t You Remember’ performed with her guitarist, double bassist and drummer stands out even though Adele warns that she may burp when hitting the high, climaxing note. It must be said, that an Adele burp is probably more tuneful than my best effort to sing along.

Her songs have the heart-wrenching edge of a Hugh Grant film, while her performance has the street swag of Missy Elliott combined with the grace and poise of Etta James. However, her mid-song chats are anything but elegant. An Adele gig has as many expletives as a Tarentino film. She also deems it necessary to announce that she no longer requires Imodium to prevent her getting the sh*ts before gigs. She also thanks everyone for coming, even those who were dragged along by their other halves, guaranteeing that they will get laid as a result. If Adele happened to wake up one day, devoid of her angelic voice, at least she could fall back on a stand-up comedy career.

The superlative ‘Someone Like You’ is as wonderful as expected, without carrying quite the same emotional punch as it did when her performance five years ago on the same stage at the Brit awards propelled her to superstardom. Famously about a now red-faced ex, maybe her next album will be an ode to her current, possibly neglected husband, as most of the songs played are introduced as being about the lover who spurned her. Maybe she will reinvent herself after what I will dub the ‘tearful trilogy’: ‘19’, ‘21’ and ‘25’. Maybe she will venture into other genres: hip-hop, dubstep or heavy metal? We will have to see.

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The star provided light-hearted relief between the onslaught of heart-wrenching numbers, taking a moment to pose for what some may call unflattering ‘Adelefies’, (Adele selfies for those not in with the lingo). By the time she ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ I was more than convinced by Adele’s Glastonbury headlining credentials. With more charisma in her little finger than Coldplay’s Chris Martin, as well as being from this planet in contrast to Muse’s Matt Bellamy, I have no doubt that Adele will steal the show in front of 100,000 mud-covered Glastonbury-goers.

I should probably keep this review balanced so here are a few negatives from the night:
Adele encouraged a mass sing along during ‘Chasing Pavements’, but one couldn’t help but feel ripped off. People had paid a lot of money to her Adele sing, not to hear a half-drunken crowd blurt out ‘Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements…’. Her exquisite cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ saw the arena lit up by mobile phone lights. Forget the fact that it was absolutely beautiful; it was a criminal waste of phone battery. She even stopped to give tickets to a fellow in the crowd from Kansas for a gig in the US. The negative here is this is just plain unfair. And anyone expecting to mosh along to an Adele love song would have been mightily disappointed. Okay, perhaps I’m just clutching at straws from an otherwise perfect performance.

Adele begins her encore with ‘All I Ask’. This is followed by what the Londoner regards as the crown jewel, the ‘Someone Like You’ of 25: ‘When We Were Young’. The number is accompanied by sweet pictures of a pre-superstardom, cheeky, gap-toothed Adele Adkins, back when the only thing she had to worry about was what flavour ice-cream to get, not how to follow up the ‘Greatest Billboard 200 Album of All Time’, performing in front of tens of thousands of fans combined with raising a child. ‘Rolling In The Deep’ proves to be a grand finale, even bringing my crippled, walking-stick sporting father to his feet. He too, like everyone fortunate enough to get tickets for this special concert was utterly mesmerised by a ready-made British musical legend.

Wolf Alice at Oxford Academy 13.03.2016

Wolf Alice prove why they are the most exciting British rock band around today, leaving Oxford with a trail of glitter in their wake.

Opening band, grunge try-hards, Bloody Knees sounded more like a Nirvana B-sides cover band. It begged the question where they got their name from: when vigorously pleading on their knees to Wolf Alice’s tour manager to let them support, or worse, when providing him with sexual pleasure. (Despite my admittedly harsh criticism Joff and Joel of Wolf Alice would later sport Bloody Knees merch, so what do I really know).

Swim Deep, however, nicely set the stage for the main act. Their set included ‘King City’ and ‘She Changes the Weather’ from their 2013 debut, and one couldn’t help but get lost in the dream pop. Aided, no doubt, by performance enhancing substances, frontman Ozzy Williams looked like an anti-drugs campaign advert. His over-sized white shirt could have been mistaken for an escaped strait jacket and combined with his occasional wide-eyed psychotic scream Williams could have just walked onstage from an insane asylum. In half an hour they showcased their excellent second album, ‘Mothers’, finishing with ‘Fueiho Boogie’, the colossal trance-pop anthem of 2015. The performance culminated in four out the five members plugged into a keyboard/synthesiser, synthesising away, to carefully transport the crowd to whatever planet Swim Deep had reached.

Having been supported by Drenge on their last tour, this is a testament to the scale of Wolf Alice’s ascent in the past year. They’ve leapfrogged the aforementioned Drenge and now Swim Deep (whom Wolf Alice actually supported in 2014) – both with two albums under their belt – to lead the pack of upcoming British rock bands. The future looks bright.

Somewhere between the attempted grunge of Bloody Knees and the indie-pop of Swim Deep lies Wolf Alice. ‘Genreising’ the band proves to be a tough ask with the following terms being used in attempt to categorise: ‘Brit-Grunge’, ‘shoegazing indie’, ‘90s indie rock’, ‘intimate folk’ and ‘bubblegrunge’, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Ultimately, they don’t fit a mould; they simply don’t follow the ‘guide to making an indie band’, which is possibly the finest compliment I can pay.

Opening with ‘Your Loves Whore’, the pulsing strobe lights flashing an intense orange added to the ferocity of what would be a fierce performance. The anti-love song set the standard for what would be an intense and hard-hitting show. Followed by ‘You’re a Germ’, the disgust and animosity spat out by the wide and wild-eyed Ellie Rowsell almost felt personal. Adorning a black dress and covered in glitter, the frontwoman looked both ready for prom, but also as if she was about to attend a funeral. Perhaps this interpretation was more reflective of the themes she would sing about. Nonetheless, this is enough reason to tear down those posters of Hayley Williams, or for those still living in the nineties, Courtney Love, because Ellie Rowsell is the new poster girl for rock.

The glitter-clad crowd looked like a group you’d expect to see at a Paramore gig, the same sort that camped overnight to get into the first showing of Twilight Eclipse the day it opened back in 2010. Maybe they followed the trail of glitter to the venue, or their curiosity in the fact the band is named after a fairy tale by Angela Carter. Maybe it’s me being cynical, but nevertheless, this shouldn’t distract from the serious subjects being tackled. Deceptively dark themes of growing up, adolescence, love, abuse, drugs, depression and death, are hauntingly but innocently embodied by Wolf Alice and their music.

‘Bros’ and ‘Freazy’ immediately follow. These very danceable, more light-hearted tracks complimant and simultaneously provide a welcome respite from the venomous fury of the opening two songs. The untamed songs juxtaposed to the dreamier, sway-inducing numbers demonstrate this ranging unpredictability which makes Wolf Alice the band to watch and the best product of 2015. The more composed ‘Silk’ is a highlight, even better live than on record. It sounds like a lullaby, and is another example of the set fluctuating from feral to the ethereal in an instant. The 23 year old Rowsell proves she is both vocally brilliant and able to convey ranging emotions, much like Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith.

Wolf Alice isn’t all about its gem of a frontwoman, however. At stage right prowls Joff Oddie, the band’s lead guitarist whose influence on the band’s sound is evident on ‘Lisbon’, ‘Fluffy’ and with just about every guitar effect heard on the night. On the other side of Rowsell lurks the open-shirted, stagefloor-spitting, bass slapping Theo Ellis looking like Sid Vicious but overdosed on glitter. Drummer Joel Amey, makes sure he isn’t overlooked, adequately assuming vocals for ‘Swallow Tail’, the band’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The unrushed, winding five minute build-up concludes with a final minute, swallowdive plunge into musical chaos.

The quartet have set a new standard for upcoming bands. The band refused to rush their first album as four EPs teased us before the much-anticipated debut was dropped last summer. These EPs were showcased this evening with the dreamy ‘90 Mile Beach’, head-banging ‘Storms’, nightmarish ‘She’ and heart-breaking ‘Blush’ proving that Wolf Alice’s back catalogue is extensive and impressive. Debut ‘My Love is Cool’ was a long time coming, especially since the band’s inception as a folk duo (Rowsell and Oddie) back in 2010. But it didn’t disappoint, receiving widespread critical acclaim and certainly ranking among my best debuts of recent years. As a result, Wolf Alice are Brit nominees, Mercury Prize nominees, NME award winners, and most remarkably Grammy nominees for closing firecracker ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’.

The band returned to the stage for an encore starting with ‘Turn to Dust’, its messages of immortality posing food for thought as it diffused throughout Oxford Academy. They would finish with the giant ‘Giant Peach’, making sure they left their glittery mark on another stage on their sold out tour. Assisted by Rowsell and Ellis’s trademark dance routine, this finale marked an undisputed effortless triumph.

While the band are unlikely to have thought about a second album – their debut being proof of why to not rush records out – fans will wait hungry for more. In the meantime, they should savour these shows because this might well be the last chance you get to see Wolf Alice in such an intimate environment.