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.

Two Door Cinema Club at the O2 Academy Birmingham – 24.01.2017

In this, the first show of their sell out UK tour, the indie-pop stalwarts provide a night of nostalgia.

With Two Door Cinema Club’s first British tour for four years, in support of Gameshow, their first album for four years, it comes as a surprise – albeit a nice one – that they opt against ramming new material down our throats. The opening four numbers all come from debut album, Tourist History. Full of adolescent anthems, they unleash Cigarettes in the Theatre, Undercover Martyn, Do You Want It All? and This Is the Life; beginning at breakneck speed. In fact, all of this seminal indie-pop album is showcased bar You’re Not Stubborn. As a result, the show is relentless, as the nature of Two Door songs don’t allow for respite. Their shows should come with hazard warning, advising bringing a waterproof jacket, or a towel, such is the intense perspiration amongst the crowd.

The Chris Martin-current-midlife-crisis-dirge-inspired, nightmarish-Avicci-club-like, actually Madeon-produced Changing of the Seasons follows. If Tourist History is the Chris Tarrant or Takeshi’s Castle of albums, then the Changing of the Seasons EP is more Dale Winton’s fake tan or the 2016 remake of the Crystal Maze. Certainly proving to be the musical Weakest Link of the night.

On the subject of Gameshows, the Northern Irish outfit have followed The 1975 down the wondrously colourful (and evidently fruitful) alley of disco with their 2016 album Gameshow. Bad Decisions, an album highlight, is similarly a live stand out from the new album, as primitive pogoing turned to groovier grinding. The closest thing to a rest we would be gifted all night. Frontman Alex Trimble clearly took whatever post-AM Alex Turner has been taking. He occasionally relinquishes his guitar and swaggers around stage, scaling new vocal heights on the falsetto-driven Je Viens De La.

Not too much was said by the band throughout the hour and a half set, asides from showing genuine gratitude to the crowd. Instead the instruments did the talking as impressive lead guitarist, Sam Halliday, made his guitar sing with the instantly recognizable delicate finger picking and furious friction-inducing strumming sounds. Understated and perhaps underestimated, Halliday is a modern day guitar hero of British indie, just see futuristic I Can Talk and first ever single Something Good Can Work. First started on MySpace ten years ago, most of the crowd wouldn’t have remembered this release as, to my surprise, the crowd was full of excitable youths. This as opposed to being surrounded by similar-aged adults seeking to recapture our secondary school, long hair-swishing, inbetweener, indie kid heyday, when the only worries we had were if the girl you liked poked you back on Facebook and avoiding detentions from weary teachers who didn’t find phallic-shaped graffiti on textbooks amusing. A form of escapism from the endless war waged against dissertations, grad jobs and general adult life that I currently live. What is evident then, is that Two Door’s music still resonates with teenagers as it did with me ten years ago. From the height of my high horse everyone seemed to have a great time, even if it was a school night, after the ten o’clock curfew, in the middle of GCSE mock season.

The main set ends with a rousing rendition of Sun from 2012’s Beacon. As the horns escalate, serotonin levels rise to new heights. Two Door Cinema Club are THE feel good indie-pop band that carry great sentimentality for so many. Finishing with What You Know, those with any energy left leave everything on the O2 Academy dancefloor. And if I know anything, Two Door Cinema Club’s return is certainly a welcome one, definitely an enjoyable one and undoubtedly a sweaty one.

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.

George Ezra at Brixton Academy 20.02.2015

Not quite Ezra-Ordinary

George Ezra provides an enjoyable show that will only get better with experience

The beautiful Brixton Academy was a fitting venue to stage one of Britain’s most exciting emerging musical talents of the past few years. However it wasn’t big enough to fit the thousands of fans left disappointed after missing out on tickets for a tour that entirely sold out in ten minutes. Streams of fans queued outside the venue filtering down several Brixton backstreets, eagerly anticipating hearing some popular soulful blues. George Ezra had toured festivals relentlessly last summer and supported Sam Smith in the US last year, but this night was all about him and the backdrop embellishing the word ‘Ezra’ confirmed it. As 8:30 neared, the sold-out Academy waited in anticipation to witness Ezra and that colossal voice.

Jacob Anderson better known by his stage name Raleigh Ritchie, even better known as his character from Game of Thrones Grey Worm, was the warm up act. Evidently delighted to be supporting Ezra, Ritchie leapt around the stage to his hip-hop beats like an AA battery bunny after drinking a four pack of Red Bull. He is arguably a more talented musician and endurance jumper-up-and-downer than actor, and he is definitely someone to look out for on the hip-hop music scene. Though genre-wise not an obvious choice for a support act, Ritchie managed to get the crowd into some sort of dancing mood and ready for the main event.

Tensions grew with the imminent arrival of Ezra as a black screen shielded the stage throughout the interval. This would fall to unveil George Ezra and his band as they simultaneously launched into the very popular and infectious Cassy O. Bar a minor smirk, Ezra looked relatively unfazed by the scale of the crowd, a packed out Brixton academy, as he confidently approached the microphone. As he raced through the song like an unstoppable freight train, what became apparent was his self-assured swagger. Ezra, as he would throughout the concert, swayed, rocked, bounced up and down and side-to-side like he was ballroom dancing with his guitar. It proved to be a strong start, one immediately involving sing-a-longs and dancing, and that would set the night off on the right foot. The next few songs contained the big singles Blame it on Me and Listen to the Man which inevitably went down well with the crowd. Playing these songs so early on just reflects how confident Ezra is in his back catalogue and album.

Between each song Ezra would take a swig of tea presumably to numb voice to those famous gravelly bass baritone levels reminiscent of Lead Belly or Barry White. After all most conversations regarding George Ezra involve someone saying he doesn’t look like he should sound like that, which is true, he sounds like a 50 year old southern blues singer, not a skinny baby-faced 21 year old in a groovy shirt. In spite of this the hysterical screaming of girls in the audience did bring his voice down an octave. Additionally there was not as much talk by Ezra during these breaks, only to point out the relevance of each song to his year travelling round Europe, which forms the premise of his album. It was difficult to tell if he was overwhelmed, humbled, shy, or uninterested. I should probably let him off due to the fact that he was so ill the Manchester gig the next day had to be cancelled. Ezra did, however, spare us the relentless, cringe-worthy thanks at every opportunity that many young artists feel is necessary, so I appreciated that.

Ezra’s big mistake was sending away his backing band, who looked like they were discarded members of Mumford and sons, to perform three solo songs. Beginning with the unrecognisable and unimpressive Over The Creek, it sounded as though his normally reliable semi-acoustic guitar was out of tune. This was followed by a less than average cover of one of Ezra’s (and every singer songwriter that ever existed) idols Bob Dylan. Girl From The North Country went lost on the many teenage fan girls in the audience. Fortunately the backing band re-emerged and blasted out Ezra’s jazziest number Stand by Your Gun bringing the set – and the audience – back to life.

The Bristolian had far better luck with his next cover of Macy Gray’s I Try that he had recorded for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge earlier that week. The nostalgia of this 90s/00s hit was ripe amongst audience members who thoroughly appreciated this number and it looked like Ezra was enjoying himself by this point. It also reflected Ezra’s talent to make this classic song his own, smothering it with blues and his iconic low vocals.

Spectacular Rival would provide evidence of Ezra’s vocal range and talents as he reached depths that no man has ever sung at. It was this, I’m sure, that was to blame for the ice in my drink instantly melting. Beautiful ballad Breakaway proved to be the highlight of the night, a simplistic number that slowly built up to a big sing-a-long, as a full Brixton Academy bellowed ‘breakaway’ at the pleased 21 year old.

Ezra decided not to save Budapest, his biggest single for the encore, the most obvious choice and what most probably expected. I felt like this was a mistake as he possibly peaked too soon, as the crowd euphorically recited the words. It was evidence proving that this song named after the capital city of Hungary was one of 2014s biggest singles. Unfortunately I noticed some ‘fans’ leaving after Budapest before the encore. I guess they’d seen what they wanted, the one song they knew, and didn’t want to risk missing their trains home to witness a few more songs.

Instead he would finish with Did You Hear the Rain?, which is his most passionate song, and the only one that could pass as a rock number. The song opened with an incredible acapella section that built up for a minute and a half before unleashing into a rhythm that is difficult not to dance to. By the end of the song Ezra’s guard and cool exterior was non-existent as he tore into a furious, roaring climax. If I had to nit-pick I would say that Did You Hear the Rain? would make a fantastic opening number, immediately establishing a fiery mood for an evening of delight.

While overall it was generally an enjoyable and impressive gig, there is definite room for improvement. George will be keen to hear my suggestions for improvements, these include a set list shake up, greater crowd interaction and call and response style sing-a-longs, but this will come with experience. Ezra has had some year, his debut album Wanted On Voyage reached number one, went triple platinum, he received four Brit Award nominations and his current tour sold out in ten minutes. The most staggering thing about these achievements is that he is only 21 years old. He undoubtedly has a fantastic future ahead of him.

Also, just in case the girl stood in front of me during the gig happens to go to Warwick University: I may be six foot two but I still can’t see over or through your arms which you held up and waved about for an hour straight like a tree climbing sloth. You will never know how frustrating that was for everyone stood around you.