Thursday, August 29, 2013

David Byrne and St Vincent @ Symphony Hall, Wednesday 28th August

When it comes to surprising collaborations new wave polymath David Byrne has previous form. Just take his hook up with Fatboy Slim on the Imelda Marcos musical Here Lies Love. happened. Google it. So joining forces with ex Polyphonic Spree disciple turned quirky solo artist in her own right St Vincent shouldn’t really have come as much of a shock. Listen carefully and you might even pick up some shared lyrical and vocal traits too, it really doesn’t take much imagination to hear Byrne coming up with St Vincent’s 2009 track Laughing With a Mouth Of Blood for instance.

It’s 30 years since Talking Heads’ big commercial breakthrough courtesy of Speaking In Tongues (coincidently St Vincent - aka Annie Clark - was making a bit of a breakthrough of her own around the same time...being born), but despite being over twice her age Byrne (61 years young) looks impressively spritely and fresh up on stage tonight, almost as if the whole collaboration’s breathed new life into him.

After 15 minutes of ambient rainforest sounds (which send a fair few of the predominantly middle aged audience scurrying off to the loo) he and St Vincent come on stage accompanied by an 8 piece brass band. With Byrne’s silver grey locks and St Vincent’s dyed blonde hair they make a cute couple (there’s nothing ‘going on’ as far as I know but clearly there’s a lot of affection and mutual admiration between the pair), kicking off the set with Who, the curiously catchy first single from their album together Love This Giant. An oddball mix of funk and vaguely Middle Eastern sounding vocal breaks from St Vincent it’s a fine example of Byrne’s ability to come up with something that’s undeniably arty and yet (see also pretty much all of Talking Heads’ singles) all at the same time. Like pretty much every track that followed it featured some simple but effective choreography too. Byrne’s always jigged around a bit onstage, perfecting an oddly cool looking form of dad dancing that few white men can pull off. St Vincent’s a nifty mover too, employing a slightly scary tottering backwards and forwards motion that makes her look like a doll on a travellator. Add to this a plain backdrop with some stark but effective lighting casting giant shadows and the show’s got plenty for the eyes as well as the ears to revel in.

Let’s get one thing straight, tonight isn’t the David Byrne show. The set’s a perfectly balanced mix of his solo stuff, Talking Heads numbers, his collaboration with St Vincent and her own (new to most of the audience I’m guessing) material. In fact Byrne often seems to shun the limelight, happy to act as St Vincent’s backing dancer on her tracks, just adding the odd distinctive vocal embellishment here and there. It’s a generous move in some ways but St Vincent deserves the respect. 

From the domestic angst ridden anthem Save Me From What I Want through to the more visceral Marrow, transformed this evening into a bombastic brassathon (so much more powerful than its original synth based version), she’s a revelation. Surrounded by the band lying prostrate on the floor she came across as both vulnerable and powerful (something she does particularly a kitten with a Kalashnikov) at the same time on another of her solo numbers, Cheerleader. That’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. She’s a pretty impressive guitarist too, seemingly as comfortably laying down some fret melting funk as she is playing the gentler, more intricate stuff.

Whilst St Vincent may be new to most Byrne’s output is hard wired into the brains of anyone with ears. Wild Wild Life, Lazy (which sounds particularly good in its brassed up form and gives each member of the 8 piece band the chance to sing a line...bless ‘em), Burning Down The House and show closer Road To Nowhere predictably all (double cliché alert) go down a storm (that’s cliché number one...tick) with St Vincent’s voice the proverbial cherry on the cake (boom...two clichés in one sentence...I’m on fire today).     

Despite these obvious crowd pleasers the Love This Giant tracks more than held their own though, with the vocal harmonies of I Am An Ape, the naggingly catchy chorus of Weekend In Dust (damn that’s some funky shit) and the oddball melting pot of Who in particular  all lodging themselves firmly in your brain and refusing to leave. What strikes you most is that they really do seem to bring the best out of each other, 1 + 1 = 3 as it were, add the brass (an odd concept on paper perhaps but it just works so well) and it’s a grin inducingly irresistible combination. On more than one occasion St Vincent seemingly can’t believe she’s up there and, towards the end of the show, she mused about how her 5 year old self (the first time she can remember hearing Byrne’s music) would have reacted to finding herself on stage with possibly her first and perhaps most significant musical hero. She wasn't the only one who counted herself lucky to be there, as the standing ovation at the end of the main set ably demonstrated. 

Where do they go from here? Will this be one of Byrne’s ‘roads to nowhere’ one offs or is this the start of something really special? Who the hell knows, on previous form I’m guessing it’ll sadly be the former though which makes these shows even more unmissable. Love This Giant? You betcha.

Setlist: Who/Weekend in the Dust/Save Me From What I Want/ Strange Overtones/I Am An Ape/Marrow/This Must Be The Place/The Forest Awakes/Ice Age/Lightning/Wild Wild Life/Cheerleader/Lazy/I Should Watch TV/Northern Lights/The One Who Broke Your Heart/Outside Of Space and Time

Encore 1: Cruel/Burning Down The House

Encore 2: The Party/Road To Nowhere

Photos courtesy of the lovely Wayne Fox

Thomas Dolby's Invisible Lighthouse Tour

When Dolby emigrated to the US in the 90s and invented the Nokia ringtone thingy (as well as developing some fancy pants file format for downloading music) it looked likely that his performing days were over, over here in the UK at least. Happily he's not only back in his homeland he's also touring and releasing new music too, with 2011's A Map Of The Floating City including some truly top notch tracks. Now he's off on a new tour showcasing a film he's made, inspired by his current coastal retreat. Predictably being Dolby there's a bit of a twist and it seems as though he's going to be soundtracking the movie live as it's being shown. This is one of those 'whoops no net' concepts that few performers would even think about attempting but if anyone can pull it off it's this dude. An irresistibly different show from an equally distinctive talent.

PS: Expect to hear all the hits in this show too...stuff like this...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Robbie Williams hooks up with Coventry man...

After leaving the Take That fold again old Robbie's back out on the road. Whatever you might think of the man and his music he is, it has to be said, a pretty ruddy entertaining performer. I've only seen him 'in the flesh' once, back when he played Glastonbury, where he justifiably cemented his reputation as a massive crowd pleaser, the likes of which we rarely see these days. From big hairy blokes to ickle kids, grannies to trannies, pot heads to acid casualties it was one of those hug your neighbour kind of shows. Anyway, I digress, a mate of mine from school days is a HUGE fan and follows Robbie around the world, earning money as an international hit man along the way (I can't imagine how else he makes the dosh to do this). To me that level of devotion is frankly awe inspiring. Sleeping on the pavement to get to the front, standing in the wind/rain/snow/blistering heat for hours, drinking your own urine to survive (again, I have no other idea how else people survive at the front of these enormogigs)'s staggering. After doing all this for years it seems that our Robbie spotted him in the crowd and...well...just watch the video.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Introducing Oh Land

I say Introducing Oh land, who knows, you might already be a fully paid up member of this 28 year old Danish singer/songwriter and record producer's fan club. Somehow I doubt it though as her profile here in the UK is lower than a belly dancing snake. She's been around for a few years but maybe signing to TV On The Radio dude Dave Sitek's record label to release her new album, Wish Bone, on 23rd September will get her the attention she deserves. It should do. New single, Renaissance Girls, is so freakishly addictive I'm considering checking myself into The Priory. A little bit pop, a little bit electro she's a cross between Kelis (check out My Boxer), Lana Del Ray and Lady Gaga with a dash of Katy Perry thrown in for good measure. Judging by some of her earlier tracks, see Wolf and I for instance, this current incarnation's a bit of a departure though. Hmmmm. One to watch...  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Moseley Folk...going, going...

Okay, if you want to go to one of the loveliest festivals around, Moseley Folk, you've got hours...minutes...nay, maybe even seconds to sort it out. Tickets for Friday have all gone and the full weekend ones went faster than Usain Bolt but I believe there are still a few Saturday and Sunday day and Saturday+Sunday  tickets left. This will sell always does these days...and you don't want to miss stuff like this do you eh?

Tickets here...or maybe not...depending on when you read this.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Never Regular New Music Roundup

It’s been so long since I did one of these I feel the need to explain what the heck it is. I get sent a load of emails with new stuff in, I listen to it, I sort the wheat from the chaff (in my own humble opinion of course) and serve it up for your delectation so you can impress your friends with your hipness when this stuff becomes a big hit (or sadly not as the case maybe) in a few months time. Hear/here we go then...

Sharkmuffin – Mermaid Sex Slave

Is it me or has there suddenly been a bit of a surge in all girl/lady/female bands? By this I mean ‘proper’ bands by the way, not generic X Factor style hit machines...bands that play/write/sing their own music. Savages seem to be making the biggest waves at the moment but Sharkmuffin can’t be far behind with their rebooting of late 90s Riot Grrrl garage pop. See also Pins, who bring more of a trippy 60s vibe to proceedings: 

Patterns – Sunny Days 

Okay, this fetish for producing deeply disturbing videos is getting out of hand. What the funk is this all about? Aggghhhhhh!!! You people is sickkkkk. Still, it’s a good tune from Costa Rican synth band (yes, you read that right) Patterns. It’s a bit Friends, a bit CSS, a bit Summer Camp and – if you can blank the video out of your mind with some therapy – ruddy lovely.

Lizzieand the Yes Men – Unstoppable

Sounding not unlike the late lamented Doll & The Kicks in places this track's got a touch of the Joe Meeks about it least to my frazzled ears. A fine vocal from Lizzie (I’m guessing she’s called Lizzie). A real grower as we say in the business (yeah, okay so I’m not in the ‘business’ but I can dream eh?).

Oh dear...there’s no need for this is there? Filth, pure filth. Splutter, splutter...Dear Daily Mail...etc etc. I’m guessing this is actually a devastating critique of the porn culture that seems to be remarkably attractive to some young girls these days, but then again it might just be another big dumb dance ‘banger’ from the ever reliable Kitsune label.

Untitled Musical Project – The People vs Michael Miller

Okay, before anyone points out that this track’s at least 6 years old there’s a reason for its inclusion. UMP have reformed! Hotly tipped for greatness back in the day they split a few years back – unexplained musical differences I’m guessing – but now they’re back, back, BACK to burst eardrums and cause carnage all over again. Just two live dates announced so far (one in London, one in their hometown on Brum) but then, who knows...if there’s any justice in this big, bad old world global domination surely beckons.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Courtesy Group to headline Sunday Xpress!

If you’ve not yet seen the unique marvellous musical maelstrom that is The Courtesy Group (Can meets The Fall meets PiL meets that bloke who walks up to you with a bottle of White Lightning cider and starts speaking in tongues) then stick Sunday 1st September in your diary and head on down to The Adam and Eve in deepest, darkest Digbeth for a shot of the good stuff courtesy (as it were) of Sunday Xpress.

These Sunday Xpress sessions have been going on since 2006 and, on top of some suitably bostin’ headline acts, there are some open mic slots available from around 4pm too. So if you fancy a shot at fame and fortune without having to sell your soul/ass to Simon Cowell just pop over to the event’s Facebook page to book one.

Joining the Courtesy Group on the night (they’ll be onstage around 8.30-ish) will be Citizen X and the cost...oh’s frickin’ FREE! Get in.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jon Brookes RIP

Really sad news today about the death of The Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes. Beyond his role in the band he seemed to be an all round good bloke, as evidenced by the tidal wave of overwhelmingly loving comments out there in social media land. 44 really is no age but if you're going to go then how much better it is to leave behind such a positive legacy eh? RIP.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's 'Hall' good...coming soon to Birmingham's Town and Symphony Halls

Birmingham’s Town and Symphony Halls have got some really impressive stuff coming up with highlights including an all too rare gig from David Byrne and Saint Vincent (Symphony Hall, August 28th), The Heritage Orchestra’s radical reworking of Joy Division's music (Symphony Hall, September 28th), a one off show from acid jazzers Brand New Heavies (Town Hall, September 6th) Bowie favourites and rock legends Mott The Hoople (Symphony Hall, November 11th) and the bard of Barking himself, Billy Bragg (Symphony Hall, 24th November). Not too shabby eh? 

For a full line up of events check out their website and get booking. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Summer Camp - Fresh

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...I love Summer Camp. Seriously. How good is this? It's a bit old school Hollywood and a little disco with just a touch of funk and a dash of 80s pop...all wrapped up in one gorgeous cute as a button package. It's the kind of track that makes me want to don a smoking jacket and recline on a chaise longue puffing away nonchalantly at pipe and supping a vintage brandy or two. As I don't own a smoking jacket, chaise longue or bottle of vintage brandy for that matter I'll have to make do with a chicken kebab and a pint of cider on the sofa but still, we can all dream eh?

Thursday, August 08, 2013

'Knife' to hear this again...

Given the unseasonable summer weather we’ve been having his year...unseasonable in the sense that it’s not piddled it down EVERY SINGLE DAY...I’ve been humming various summer time tunes and recently found myself attracted to the sadly underrated Young Knives classic Weekends and Bleakdays (Hot Summer) which I’ll forever associate with my glorious career in advertising back in 2006 (the last time we had a ‘hot summer' in fact). On more than one occasion I was indeed tempted to “pull a sickie” and “do a runner” but, driven by some kind of weird guilt (damn my work ethic), I never did. Well, almost never. Anyway it’s another flimsy excuse to stick another track that I like up here and while we’re at it let’s give one of the band’s new tunes an airing too.  Suffice to say it’s a bit different. Wibbly synths ahoy! Here you go...

The band's new Kickstarter funded album Sick Octave’s out in September and they’re off on tour in September / October as well. Heartily recommended... 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Layers release debut EP!

The last time I saw Layers live their lead singer was memorably somersaulting through the air in the relatively low ceilinged basement of The Sunflower Lounge...a move that could so easily have resulted in, at best, concussion and at worst complete decapitation (somehow he avoided both). It’s typical of a band that’s willing to take the odd risk or two though, as demonstrated by the last track, Gradually, on their rather fine debut EP (handily also called Layers). Clocking in at nearly 8 minutes it’s a slow burning epic, complete with acapella breaks, lush strings and full on rock outs, a pretty ambitious concoction to attempt for a band barely a year old eh? Elsewhere songs are a little more conventional but no less impressive. Opening number The Walking Dead pummels you into submission from the very first note, Hands recalls some of System Of A Down’s finest moments and Mind On Fire is a pure pedal to the metal head banger. That just leaves Not Enough, one of the best examples of their more funk tinged soulful numbers that perhaps sets them apart from so many of their peers. To celebrate the EP's release Layers are hooking up with Emp!re, Dead Sea Skulls and Mutes for a special gig at the 02 Academy (Birmingham) on Friday 20th September...thankfully the ceiling's a lot higher there so the risk of cranial catastrophe should be pretty minimal. 

Tickets are a bargaintastic £5 and available right here...or perhaps from one of those friendly but ever so slightly dodgy ticket touts who always seem to be outside both the Institute and the Academy every single night...often at the same time. Hmmmm...maybe they've been cloned? 

PS: The EP's out on Till Deaf Do Us Party Records on 16th September.