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.

 Bear’s Den at the Hammersmith Apollo – 05.04.2017

On home turf, Bear’s Den showcase their folk-rooted sounds at a sold out Hammersmith Apollo.

Brief and honourable mention to enigmatic support act Seramic. With his abundance of soul and questionable dance moves, he and his eclectic band put on an almost show-stealing funk-filled display. If Jack Garratt and D’Angelo somehow had a lovechild that lovechild would be Seramic. Or if Chet Faker was a Russian doll, Seramic would be one of the pieces inside.

However, the night belonged to Bear’s Den. Recently reduced to two hairy mammals, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, but surrounded by four talented multi-instrumentalists, they utilized atmospheric 2016 album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain as the gigs’ centre-piece. With its brooding electric feel filling the vast venue, the title track was an apt opener, and songs like Emeralds and Auld Wives entrancingly emanated throughout the Eventim Apollo.

The band aired December’s stand-alone single, Berlin, and Bear’s Den loyalists will welcome the return to the sound of superb debut, Islands, as a banjo-orientated number. Largely neglected on Red Earth & Pouring Rain, dropped completely by folk titans Mumford & Sons for their most recent effort, the pleasurable plucking on Berlin, Isaac and New Jerusalem prove it’s an instrument not limited to buck-toothed, tobacco-chewing, dungaree-sporting hillbillies utilizing their extra fingers to best effect.

Frontman, Davie’s lyrics and honest vocals give the impression that he’s both a hopeless romantic and that he’s had his heart ripped out of his chest, put through a shredder and then fed to ravenous dogs, such are the tragic words that are even more heartbreaking when heard in person. This allows emotionally-charged sing-a-longs to Above the Clouds of Pompeii and Stubborn Beast, and builds to a riotous set-stealing When You Break. While we are treated to a fair share of the new album, it’s this material from Islands that is best received by the London crowd.

Davie was visibly overwhelmed by the deafening ovation that welcomed the band back onto the stage for their encore. Lost for words, a stripped-back rendition of Bad Blood minus microphones completely reduced the 5,000 strong crowd to silence. A rousing finale of very first single, the now-anthemic Agape, concluded a triumphant evening before the Bear’s retreated into hibernation, ending their biggest British tour to date.

I spoke to Bear’s Den back in November, you can hear that interview and see that awful photo here:

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.

Neil Young and Promise of the Real at the O2 11.06.2016

On this, the Rebel Content Tour, the ageing rocker proves to be both ageless and still rebellious

As two straw hat-sporting, dungaree-wearing, grain-spreading figures scatter seeds across the O2 stage you would be forgiven for mistaking the gig for a theatrical performance of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This precedes the entrance of the evening’s villains. Wearing hazmat suits and spraying pesticides across the stage, the serene country atmosphere is wiped by a Ghostbusters-like nightmare. Hidden beneath his black hat and a harmonica, Neil Young looks like Zorro, an environmental protagonist here to save the world from corporate greed and environmental unsustainability with his acoustic guitar.

The rock hero emerges behind a piano for After The Gold Rush. The subdued and understated solo opening enhances the environmental message of the night, as Young updates the lyrics to ‘Look at Mother Nature on the run in the twenty-first century’. This contemporary edge is soon superseded by the reminiscent audience who eagerly cheer the line ‘There was a band playing in my head, and I felt like getting high’. From Hank to Hendrix, is a beautiful number, oozing vulnerability and showcasing Young’s often overlooked vocal abilities. Heart of Gold and The Needle and the Damage Done are welcome inclusions from the 1972 masterpiece Harvest. They sound even more impressive live in 2016 than on the CD I grew up listening to in my father’s car.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_0503fc7e-30a0-11e6-9c43-b579056ef2e5Young caps off this solo opening with Mother Earth (Natural Anthem). Hunched over a battered organ, with a single candle illuminating the old rocker, he resembles a maniacal musical genius conducting mass. Considering his recent live release Earth and the same title emblazoned on his t-shirt, we are under no illusions that Young is still fighting overtly for the environmental cause. Mother Earth’s conclusion exacerbates this:

‘Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways Or trade away our children’s days.’

The gig really shifts up a gear when Young exchanges his acoustic guitar for his trusted electronic weapon ‘Old Black’ and his band Promise of the Real are introduced. The subdued, understated opening descends into a frenzy of feedback and crunching guitar sounds, showcasing his accreditation as the godfather of grunge. Most notably Alabama and Words (Behind the Lines of Age) still sound as bitter and venomous as on record, almost 45 years on from Harvest. Even On the Beach’s Revolution Blues is dusted off and Walk On is a jovial experience.

A mention must go to Promise of the Real, in place of the ageing Crazy Horse. Including Lukas and Micah Nelson (sons of Willie) they look like excitable children who had won a competition to play alongside their hero. Young to’s-and-fro’s with Lukas, engaging in a sonic, solo duel in constant attempts to out-do one-another, although Young always reigns supreme. This exemplifies the unpredictable nature of the night, as well as the authoritative dominance of the 70-year old, as his band constantly fight to respond to his cues and his lead. Having recorded and released The Monsanto Years with Promise of the Real, it comes as a surprise to only hear one song from the album, that being the self-titled single. This is somewhat a relief after a Bristol audience was subject to hearing the entirety of the then-unreleased Tonight’s the Night, four times over in 1973. It is safe to say that Young’s songwriting hasn’t gotten any less confrontational, however:

‘Every year he buys the patented seeds Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto When you shop for your daily bread and walk the aisles of Safeway, Safeway.’

The rocker attempting to tackle his vendetta against Safeway.

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There is a notable lack of Zuma, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Rust Never Sleeps, though with 36 studio albums to his name, it is inevitable that some albums will be overlooked. One album that is well-showcased is his and Crazy Horse’s excellent 1990 effort Ragged Glory. This is not just because Young concludes with a 30 minute Love and Only Love from the aforementioned album. While at first encapsulating, compelling and hypnotic, twenty minutes in it seems as though Young has forgotten he’s performing to a crowd, and instead serving his own boredom, or rather his ego.

F*!#in’ Up provides the youthful encore, bringing the 2 and a half hour barnstorming set to a close. For one last time the three guitarists and bassist gather in the centre of the stage in attempts to impress one another, as they had all night. Their musical chemistry is clear. By the end Neil Young is hard to distinguish as the old crony, as the band engage in a food fight, aiming cherries at each other and into the crowd. Promise of the Real not only sufficiently support Young musically, but they bring the 70-year olds’ youth back out of him. Tonight proves that Neil Young is not just an ailing rocker and that he still has a thing or two to teach today’s youth about how to rock out.

Coldplay at Wembley 16.06.2016

Coldplay redeem my faith in the world with a spectral showpiece.

The second of four sold out nights at the home of English failure (football*) saw the London band paint their home town multi-coloured, like they swallowed a rainbow and projectile vomited it across Wembley.

Support acts Lianne Le Havas and Alessia Cara proved to be underwhelming, failing to clear the dark clouds that hovered literally and metaphorically after the horrific events of previous weeks. Despite the former seducing us with her charm and soul, the latter lectured us with her ‘be who you want to be, not what the media wants you to be’, broken-hearted, excessive thanks etc. spiel. Considering the scale of Coldplay’s previous supports (see Jay Z and Girls Aloud circa 2008), the £70 ticket prices perhaps could have stretched further and provided more than just a gazebo to protect their supports from the rain.

Nonetheless the band the 80,000 fans came to see spared no expense theatrically and pyrotechnically. Coldplay’s arrival on stage brought the first of numerous explosions of confetti of the night. Entire forests must have been demolished to supply Coldplay with confetti for their tour; it was possibly the reason why Chris Martin’s ex-wife and renowned environmental nut Gwyneth Paltrow ‘consciously uncoupled’ him. A huge commitment to his trade, dare I say it marital martyrdom. Martin and co. transformed Wembley into a glistening spectacle with an impressive lights show involving LED wristbands; the stadium must have resembled a UFO from afar. The audience thus became part of the show, rather than just spectators. Coldplay clearly weren’t put off by the fact that this same stunt left their Mylo Xyloto Tour completely unprofitable. Nevertheless, the stadium glowed and sparkled beautifully like a psychedelic acid trip from the 60s. Even the band’s instruments dripped multi-coloured paint as though they had fallen into an M & Ms mixing vat. This all distracted from the fact the title track from the band’s latest effort A Head Full of Dreams opened the show rather modestly, despite Chris Martin’s best efforts to lead the procession like a master of ceremonies with the demeanour of an excitable Jack Russell.

Martin gets his fair share of stick but it is hard to deny his showmanship qualities. While the rest of Coldplay stand mute on the grand stage, the band’s lead singer and leader entertains the crowd like a poorly dressed performing monkey (see his repugnant, rainbow-coloured, over-sized basketball sneakers and long-sleeved and short sleeved t-shirt combo) . His energetic bursts up and down the stage runway, solo-spinning like a drunk in a club just before lights go up, not to mention his ability to hold a tune at the same time, renders Martin a real tour de force to admire. However with the more downbeat numbers like Yellow (gotten out of the way surprisingly early), The Scientist, and Fix You seeing mass sing-a longs, it shows involvement takes no persuading. As the lyrics reverberated around North London, it became clear how personal and recognisable they are to each and every member of the audience; a testament to just how ingrained Coldplay have become within British culture.

13450891_10157042234300187_6799952874059811115_nNew, seventh album A Head Full of Dreams was, as expected, heavily showcased this evening. So much so that the Grammy Award-winning debut Parachutes and Brit award-winning and Grammy-nominated X & Y were neglected in favour for the mixed reviewed A Head Full of Dreams and Chris Martin’s sickening ode to his break up with Paltrow, Ghost Stories. Nevertheless it sounded better live, with the likes of Hymn for the Weekend (minus Beyonce, unfortunately) and Jonny Buckland’s infectious guitar rhythms on lead single Adventure of a Lifetime proving that every Coldplay song is made for live performances.

Swapping from the main stage to a smaller podium in the centre of the stadium, the band oscillated to more subdued numbers like 2014’s Magic and the audience Instagram-requested (Coldplay you don’t help yourself) God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, wonderfully harking back to second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Drummer Will Champion, bassist Guy Berryman, Martin and Buckland crowded round the podium in what were nice, stripped-back, understated renditions, particularly compared to the colourful parade that had preceded. A poignant, yet dreadful, cover of the late, great David Bowie’s Heroes, also featured, with the band paying tribute to Muhammad Ali, the Orlando victims, MP Jo Cox and Christina Grimmie, throughout the night.

Paradise was as fun as you’d imagine, until what seemed like the concert had been hijacked by Calvin Harris for an unnecessary nightclub rave-esque ending. Mylo Xyloto’s Charlie Brown provided a highlight of the night, it turned the concert from toe-tapping into full-scale jumping even getting the elderly audience members (sorry father) bouncing enthusiastically. Viva La Vida was the peak, and would later echo along Wembley Way all the way to Wembley Park Station. The encore, however, failed to elevate the concert to new heights with most of the songs you’d expect at the climax used up earlier, instead opting to finish with Up&Up; nice but just that.

Coldplay, love them or loathe them, are currently the biggest pop band in the world. Now veterans of the big stage, having performed the ‘prestigious’ Superbowl Half Time Corporate Circus, and headlining Glastonbury for – what seemed like – the 16th time, their pensions are well and truly secure, please now get back to writing good albums.

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.