Kasabian at the O2 Academy Birmingham – 13.04.2017

Welcome return for Comeback Kids Kasabian

Mixing a portion of indie, a pinch of electronica and a spoonful of football hooliganism, Kasabian have cemented their place as one of Britain’s most riotous live acts. As such, tickets for such an exclusive (by their standards) event were as hard to come by as an Arsene Wenger loyalist.

You’re In Love With A Psycho opened proceedings and initiated the party. The first of three new songs played on the night, while it perhaps didn’t suit its set opening slot, it will undoubtedly be a staple of Kasabian sets for years to come.

Bumblebee followed. Carnage ensued.

But for frontman Tom Meighan blowing kisses to the crowd there was no tenderness amongst the gig-goers as Underdog continued the chaos in the audience. Often favouring recognizable transitions between songs (see Black Skinhead and Praise You) the lads from Leicester chose Daft Punk’s Around The World to exquisitely segue out of Shoot the Runner and into Eez-Eh.

With Kasabian’s upcoming, sixth effort, For Crying Out Loud, imminent (May 5th), Serge, Tom and co. would be forgiven for showcasing the album in its entirety. However, we were treated to just three new tracks, as Comeback Kid and Bless This Acid House made up the Holy Trinity of pre-release offerings. Devoid of the 48:13 narcissism, fans will be pleased to hear that the new album still has the sort of ridiculous lyricism that made 48:13 so… fun(?).
– ‘Sasquatch in a bin bag, Sasquatch in a bin bag’ (Comeback Kid, Verse 2, Lines 1 & 2)
– ‘I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick, And you got me switched on, baby, like electric eel’ (You’re in Love with a Psycho, Verse 1, Lines 4 & 5).
I could go on.

2014’s groovy electronic treat, Treat, proved the most danceable number of the evening. The instrumental section saw guitarist Sergio Pizzorno scale the venue, eyes ablaze, channeling his inner Ibiza DJ, dictating festivities from the balcony. With chants of ‘Sergio, Sergio’ greeting Serge’s return to the stage you can understand why he would later declare this to be one of Kasabian’s ‘best ever gigs’.

Never room for a timid audience member at a Kasabian gig, throughout, Meighan led the way, showcasing the work of his trips to the Mick Jagger School of Questionable Dancing. A notable highlight being his unprecedented ‘air violining’ during Stevie, that would not look out of place at a London Philharmonic Orchestra Christmas party.

Indeed, playing such an intimate tour does come with snags. The usually colossal Club Foot and Vlad The Impaler sounding somewhat off, with the production struggling to contain the band’s stadium-sized sound. Like having a Big Mac but minus the gherkins, something small was missing. However, no such problems followed with LSF, as the crowd’s chorus echoes begged the band back on stage for an encore.

A conclusion of Fire saw the group finish in a blaze of glory. It didn’t take much of the 90-minute set to realise it, but Kasabian are stalwarts of the largest of stages, witnessing them in such a small venue was truly a privilege. Wishing the crowd a ‘Happy f*cking Easter’ on their way off stage, Tom, Serge and the Kasabian posse ensured the best possible start to the Easter weekend for 3,000 fans.

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Sundara Karma at the O2 Institute, Birmingham – 11.02.2017

One day after the conclusion of their support of Two Door Cinema Club, Sundara Karma comfortably shake off the Best Supporting Cast shackles, proving to be more than capable of a rapturous headline show.

The band emerged on the O2 Institute stage to Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl; presumably the foursome had forgotten their entrance music and the only CD at their disposal was NOW 62*. Diving straight in with album opener A Young Understanding, the band certainly showed they had this as the youthful crowd swayed, crushed, moshed and bounced energetically over the next seventy minutes.
*(check it, it’s right)

On their first major headline tour, the glamorous Reading outfit hoped to make this first night a spectacle, dressed to impress, as though they had walked through a Salvation Army shop covered in Velcro; flares, blouses and long hair to boot. Admittedly they scored an own-goal by deciding to deploy large multi-coloured balloons, bought for a giants’ birthday party. They not only disrupted the bands’ concentration (knocking over mic stands, bumping pedals) but scared this reviewer sh*tless, as spontaneous balloon pops were less than complimentary additions to the set.

That complaint out of the way, the exciting opening was followed by latest single, the anthemic Flame. It perfectly demonstrated why they had to upgrade venues from The Rainbow to Birmingham’s O2 Institute, such was the demand for the show. Mark my words they have a sound fit for stadiums, so don’t expect to see them in 2,000 capacity venues for too much longer.

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Sundara Karma fully showcased their debut album, the cynically named Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect. This cynic was very impressed by this strong first effort, one of the best albums of 2017 so far (admittedly we are one month and 14 days into 2017 at the time of writing). However one song I find less impressive is She Said, a blatant Circa Waves rip-off. One Circa Waves is more than enough, fellas.

Ally Baty on lead guitar, Haydn Evans on drums and Dom Cordell on bass all contribute towards Sundara Karma’s tight indie-pop sound, but it is frontman Oscar Pollock providing the star quality. He proved this on Vivienne, losing his guitar before losing himself amongst the crowd during this epic love number. A crowd-surf-gone-wrong turned into Pollock navigating his way around a packed dancefloor back to the stage as though he were a religious icon being mobbed by adoring followers. All the while effortlessly maintaining his grace and poise.

The band closed the main set with their ‘Wonderwall’, Happy Family. A hymn-like harmony over a cheery guitar string plucking intro descends into Pollock desperately proclaiming anything but a happy family.

Swiftly re-emerging for an encore, Sundara Karma unleashed a Luther Vandross-shaped surprise with a cover of his disco classic, Never Too Much. Closing the set in fine fashion (unlike the garments on show), was Loveblood, one of the biggest indie singles of 2016. It’s a song that received much Radio 1 airplay and propelled the band through a stratospheric rise in recent months. Always a strong live act, now with an album under their belt, Sundara Karma prove why they are currently the hottest property on the up-and-coming British indie-rock scene.

Foals at Barclaycard Arena 19.02.2016

What Went Down when Nick Harris saw Foals in Birmingham

Foals are a band famous for their live shows; from their legendary early gigs in living rooms to the intense intimacy of academy-sized venues. Would their promotion to a fifteen thousand capacity venue change this? Of course not.

Support came from two members of Peace drunkenly pressing play on an Ipod and possibly the most underrated band with the most criminally overlooked album of the year, Everything Everything. While the DJ set was nothing short of genre diarrhoea going from Nirvana to the Happy Mondays to Justin Timberlake, you would, however, be forgiven for leaving the gig at 11pm talking about Everything Everything. Arguably, the most interesting band in the country, Everything Everything provided a support performance worthy of a headline slot. Leaning heavily on 2015’s Get To Heaven, oddly, the album low point, Fortune 500, proved to be the high point of the set. It saw frontman Jonathan Higgs, bassist Jeremy Pritchard and guitarist Alex Robertshaw, fought a passionate duel of politically charged vocals. Closing number, Distant Past, really set the standard for which the headlining band of the night would gladly follow.

Opening with Snake Oil, anyone thinking Foals’ rise to arenas would lessen the intensity of their live shows was proved wrong when the first drum beat kicked in. Mosh pits emerged, almost instinctively, like Foals songs just emit aggression-stimulating pheromones. This was equally as sweaty, equally as intense and equally as impressive thanks to the production and the scale of the new album, What Went Down.

In spite of White Went Down’s success, seminal math pop debut Antidotes (2008) got it’s deserved fair share. Olympic Airwaves, Balloons and Red Socks Pugie proved very danceable numbers on the night. 2013’s Holy Fire offered notable highlights such as Providence, which found a gear above that of the album version, including two filthy false endings; Inhaler likely left lots of audience members short of breath requiring one; and frontman Yannis Philippakis gracefully glided around stage performing a guitar solo to Late Night like a ballroom dance. While Philippakis unquestionably steals the show, a man of few words and fewer inches in height, yet commanding such respect and adoration, an honourable mention must go to his bandmates. Jack Bevan (drums), Jimmy Smith (guitar), Walter Gervers (bass) and Edwin Congreave (keyboardist) all add intricate details to the delicate construction of the behemoth of a sound that is Foals.

The succulent Spanish Sahara blissfully permeated throughout the Barclaycard Arena. It provided a welcome break to the moshing madness that had not ceased since the band walked on stage an hour earlier. As the song built, the crowd, as is tradition, sunk to the sticky Birmingham floor, finding empty beer cups and stray shoes, lost on the arena battlefield. The local charity shop mustn’t have believed their luck the following morning, with the sheer number of pieces of clothing discarded, like a space shuttle ejecting its rocket boosters after take-off, for the sake of maximum audience performance and enjoyment.

Dedicated to deep-sea divers, secondary school teachers, anyone working in milkshake parlours and Yannis’s mum (for obvious reasons…), A Knife In The Ocean was a welcome inclusion from the latest album. In comparison to Spanish Sahara, both are decelerated, slow-building songs, allowing for a breather; both are also pieces of musical beauty in which it is easy to lose one’s self. Yet at the same time, both songs are almost the antithesis of one-another. Although Spanish Sahara is peaceful and pleasurable in its aims, A Knife In The Ocean with its harsh guitar chords in the chorus stunned the audience into a painful submission towards the end of the set.

What Went Down resumed chaos, as expected. Foals’ hardest rocking single, Inhaler on steroids, incited riot-like pandemonium. Whether it be me being corny or perhaps the fruity smell radiating from a nearby cigarette structure, as Yannis professed I saw not men (and women), but a crowd of lions, such was the feline ferocity of the audience, matching the song. They once said their music aimed to ‘mimic the sound of the solar system’, but for five minutes the crowd got an insight into what the end of the universe would look like, as What Went Down was the soundtrack to that apocalypse.

During closing number Two Steps Twice, Philippakis was unable to showcase his parkour skills, as he was denied the chance to jump into the crowd from a balcony, a staple of any Foals gig. Philippakis’s failed pursuit of a platform from which to leap took him to seated sections before conceding defeat, a disappointing although undoubtedly sensible, injury-preventing decision. This was perhaps the only thing lacking from an otherwise very impressive statement. An hour and forty minutes was enough to further assure me of their credentials, and simultaneously almost kill me.

Foals oozed the confidence and strut of a band recently receiving the Best Album accolade at the NME Awards; nominated for the Best British Band Brit Award; topping the bill at Reading and Leeds this summer, and promoted to the Premier League of British rock bands. Foals have grabbed the challenge of leading the much-needed new generation of British rock bands and seem to be galloping away with it.