June 2018 Album of the month: John Coltrane “Both Directions At Once”

June is traditionally one of the best months of the year in terms of releases and this year was no exception with a bunch of amazing records. Let’s start with the liveliest album of them all from a man who passed away fifty-one years ago…Album of the month: John Coltrane – “Both Directions At Once” – Jazz – Stating that John Coltrane plays jazz music is a bit like saying Roger Federer plays tennis or Zinedine Zidane football; we all know this is more than this. John Coltrane is probably the best musician ever and I can only see Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis or again John Bonham to potentially compete with such an incredible talent…but same thing here, the maestro’s aficionados know that his musical skills were just a means to reach out something greater, for lack of a better word. This “new” album is a lost session from March 1963 at a moment when the jazz master was leading his legendary quartet: Jim Garrison on bass, McToy Tyner on piano and the amazing Elvin Jones on drums. This session had weirdly disappeared for ages and it was actually securely held at John Coltrane’s ex-wife and descendants’ house. I was just expecting another not-very-interesting lost session..but not such a shock and emotion. The quality of the music is incredible and I must say being overwhelmed while listening to it with the headphones. You will not find a more lively album… from a guy who actually died the year before I was born. Buy in vinyl and cherish!Image result for john coltrane both directions at once vinyl

  • Runner-up: Kanye West “Ye” – Hip Hop – Ok, I admit mentioning to a friend of mine that Kanye’s best days were behind him after first listening to this 7-track album. How wrong I was… The more I listened to it, the more I felt the presence of an old-school suffering  man and artist showing his wounds to the world…in a beautiful musical context. I will repeat it again and again for those who like shortcuts: Kanye the public figure does not equal Kanye the artist. A fantastic record which would have been record of the month anytime…but for the month when a new John Coltrane record is released. Kanye West also recently played and/or produced four other mini-albums from Pusha-T, Kid Cudi, Nas and Teyana Taylor. They are all excellent and I suggest you create THE playlist of the summer with all these tracks.
  • Also recommended:
    • Father John Misty  “God’s Favourite Customer” – Pop Rock – Another indispensable album from our favourite bearded American singer. Another album of the year for 2018? Only time will tell…
    • Damso – “Lithopédion” – Belgian Rap – A new step ahead for today’s most talented French-speaking rapper. Crude and tough lyrics but isn’t it what life is today?
    • Nine Inch Nails“Bad Witch” – Pop Rock – Another excellent mini-album from Trent Renznor and associates.
    • Kamasi Washington “Heaven And Earth” – Jazz Odyssey – The title says it all; 2hours 30minutes of space travel.
    • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever  “Hope Downs” – Pop Rock – Debut album from thid young Aussie band, perpetuating musical excellence down under
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Gaz Coombes – “World’s Strongest Man

My 80’s were…different: The The (Royal Albert Hall, 5th June 2018) and Microdisney (Barbican, 9th June 2018)

 

There is nothing more annoying that associating a decade with the bad music which was played then. I must say that apart from the 60’s, there is a tendency to match the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s with the worst music that was available at that time. The 80’s are probably the worst example of what I am trying to explain and so-called 80’s retro parties are generally a nightmare because the music that is played was and still is the enemy. Even worse I must say in my own country as one has to deal with all French awful “variété” songs of the time.

Anyway, this introduction was only meant to emphasize that the two bands I will describe in this review were indeed originally from the 80’s but could have been from any period thanks to the excellence of their sounds and production but also the witness and intelligence of the words. A few common things here as well as both bands had ceased to exist for a long time and had not played live for ages.

  • The The, Royal Albert Hall, 5th June 2018

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Basically the sole project of Matt Johson, The The made extremely good music in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The four records released from 1983 to 1993 are amongst the best of all times from any band, period: “Soul Mining“, “Infected“, “Mind Bomb” and “Dusk“. Their music was a mix of indie rock and ethnical rhythms, confirmed by the impressive list of great collaborators who played on these tracks (Jools Holland, Zeke Manyika or again Johnny Marr). In terms of words, Matt Johnson is probably one of the best British writers and always mixed personal topics with bigger political concepts.

Family issues (losses mainly) and a certain lack of faith in the music industry and its rules made him vanished little by little. Their last gig was in 2002 and personally I had only caught them live twice in Paris in 1989 and 1993. The recent loss of his other brother made Matt Johnson realise that being on stage was the best he could do, hence this mini tour with three dates in London, the first one being held at the Royal Albert Hall.

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The band were sharp on stage and all dressed in black as expected if I may. The The’s songs have not aged at all: the musicianship was extraordinary on stage and Matt’s voice even better than in my memory. The real impressive treat though lied in the quality of the lyrics with themes that are today even more relevant that they used to be (religious wars, gap between the poor and the rich, etc…). A fantastic band which deserves a second life.

Please click for the impressive setlist or The Guardian’s review.

  • Microdisney, Barbican, 9th June 2018

Originally from Cork, Ireland, Microdisney is to me one of the most hidden treasures of all times and I did not hesitate to put them in my 100 favourite artists of all times. Their four records released from 1983 to 1988 are also amongst the best series ever done, mixing a kind of Beach Boys / Country & Western sensitivity (created by Sean O’Hagan) with extremely sharp and bitter lyrics (sung and written by Cathal Coughlan). The late DJ John Peel described them at best when he mentioned that their music was an iron fist in a velvet glove.

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A bit like for The The, the band did not get the success they deserved or were expecting and they called it quit in 1988. Their two leaders stayed in the music business, Cathal Coughlan with the very good Fatima Mansions and Sean O’Hagan with the great High Llamas but one could not feel that their career could have been huge if…

Thanks to a local initiative celebrating the best Irish music and records ever made, Microdisney were requested to play for two nights only (one in Dublin and the other one at the London Barbican)…and they accepted! More precisely, the overall idea was to play their 1985 masterpiece “The Clock Comes Down The Stairs” in its entirety.

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Quite an emotive evening then for your reviewer as my only Microdisney gig was in 1987 at the now defunct Astoria on Charing Cross Road. The least one could say was that the band did not disappoint and were as good as they could be. Cathal Coughlan’s voice in particular remains for me one of the most beautiful male voices ever and Sean O’Hagan musicianship and leadership of the band was truly exceptional. After playing the ten songs of the album, the band performed a second set of “classics” amongst their repertoire. These songs were as good as the others and the gig was as magical as I hoped. The fact that it was a one-time event made it even stronger… If you want to discover Microdisney, there are three records on streaming platforms (a compilation and their first two records) so get there!

Please click for the setlist and for the Dublin gig which occurred a few days earlier.

All Points East presents… the greatest bands in the world! Victoria Park, 2nd and 3rd June, 2018

 

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Last week was held in the very nice Mile End neighbourhood and more precisely in Victoria Park the second week-end of the new All Points East Festival. Actually, the previous week-end was the actual official festival with names such as The XX, Bjork or again LCD Soundsytem whereas the gigs I went to were part of something called “All Points East presents…”. Well, whatever the name, the real treat was in the line-up as basically I could find many of my current or past musical obsessions.

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So, for once, nothing particularly new to write again about these great bands or artists but just the pleasure in sharing a few photos of these two days: This Is The Kit, Spoon, Flyte, The War On Drugs, The National, Courtney Barnett, Patti Smith, St. Vincent and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. My camera was also as overwhelmed as I was by such a line-up as its lens stopped working after a certain stage…

Stay connected as next time, I will write about two amazing bands I had not seen live for decades..

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May 2018 Album of the month: Gaz Coombes “World’s Strongest Man”

Album of the month: Gaz Coombes“World’s Strongest Man” – Pop Rock – Although very popular at least in their own country, Supergrass is to me an underrated band, especially regarding their late albums. This is their original singer’s 3rd LP and the least one can mention is that this is getting better with each release. These songs do not necessarily sound special but there is an emotion in the words and melodies which make them overwhelming. I must say being a particular fan of non-macho songwriters trying to find a meaning of their lives in our current times. That was also to me the recurring them of my 2017 album of the year with Father John Misty and at the end of the day aren’t we all looking for such a thing?
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I was also lucky to recently attend a Rough Trade showcase for the release of that album and Gaz Coombes was magnificent on stage that day. Album of the month…. and of the year so far.

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  • Runner-up: Courtney Barnett “Tell Me How You Really Feel” – Pop Rock – Our favourite Aussie female singer is back with her proper second album. Probably less immediate than her previous releases, this is also deeper in terms of words and more in phase with the complicated life women face in their late 20’s / early 30’s. Amazing also how one could find acquaintances with Liz Phair‘s “Exile to Guyville” which has just been reissued for a 25-year edition.
  • Also recommended:
    • Eleanor Friedberger “Rebound” – Pop Rock – Another beautiful album from the former Fiery Furnaces singer
    • Arctic Monkeys – “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” – Pop Rock – The Sheffield band gets sentimental on this heavily Bowie-Gainsbourg influenced record
    • Slow Mass “On Watch” – Pop Rock – Is it hardcore? Is it pop? Or is it simply real powerful music?
    • Stephen Malkmus “Sparkle Hard” – Pop Rock – Now with more solo albums than Pavement’s in his career, he remains though a relevant force.
    • Kamaal Williams  “The Return” – Soul Jazz – A welcome different musical style in this very indie pop selection… 
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Eels – “The Deconstruction

 

April 2018 Album of the month: Eels “The Deconstruction”

We are already reaching the end of one third of the year and as usual no time for laziness or deception regarding this monthly review (which by the way has millions of followers now…)

Album of the month: Eels“The Deconstruction” – Pop Rock – I am generally always happy, excited but also scared of being disappointed when one of my all time favourites is back with a new album, as was so with Eels this month. For those not that familiar with this band, Eels is the brainchild of Mark Everett, a.k.a. E. After starting their career with a hit (“Novocaine for the Soul“) in 1996, they have been releasing albums on a regular basis. All these records are more than recommended really and to me Mark Everett’s clear inspiration can be found in Paul McCartney‘s work as a solo artist. Just imagine a more cynical McCartney with a rougher voice and you are not far from Eels’ style of music. The man is quite multi-talented either as a writer (cf. my review of his autobiography) or as an actor. He recently appeared in a few episodes of the great Judd Apatow “Love” series and after getting married, having a baby…and getting divorced again , here he is full of energy after a four-year break for our listening pleasure.

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  • Runner-up: Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Sex & Food” – Pop Rock – What a nice record name! A bit like for Eels, this band could actually bear the name of its leader, Ruban Nielson from New Zealand. This is their fourth album and more than ever the mix of fresh melodies and of a retro and polished production makes it very different from other current releases. To discover if not yet done.
  • Also recommended:
    • Goat Girl “Goat Girl” – Pop Rock – Exciting debut album from this American-sounding all female UK band.
    • Manic Street Preachers – “Resistance Is Futile” – Pop Rock – Very dignified 13th (!) album from the best Welsh rock’n’roll band ever.
    • Drinks “Hippo Lite” – Pop Rock – Second excellent collaboration between Cate Le Bon from Wales and Tim Presley from the USA. Recorded in Saint Hyppolyte du Fort in France, hence the title…
    • Forth Wanderers“Forth Wanderers” – Indie Pop – Debut album signed by Sub Pop. There is something sounding like classical indie pop about this album.
    • Josh T.Pearson  “The Straight Hits!” – Pop Rock – No more beard nor long and slow depressing songs from the Lift to Experience leader, only straight hits!
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Buffalo Tom – “Quiet And Peace

 

Better to burn out than fade away: a parallel between Morrissey and New Musical Express

As written by the great Neil Young and reproduced by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note, this aphorism is probably one of the most famous in the world of rock music. I thought it was quite relevant to two recent events I experienced and which were very much connected with my discovering and love of music in my teenage years.

New Musical Express (nickname NME) was without any question the music Bible for many youngsters from the early 70’s to the mid 90’s. This weekly magazine reached its peak during the punk, post-punk and brit-pop years and at one stage its publication figures were in the hundreds of thousands. Numbers are not all there is to it though and more important in an age when internet was not even a concept, I was one of many people waiting with eagerness to receive (quite late) the latest music news, articles about my idols or new bands to discover. My favourite section was the records review and the straight-to-the-point way of writing of its journalists has remained a fantastic inspiration. I guess it also made me what I am and it gave me in particular a fascination for British music, which was not complicated for a teenager living in France. We all know the joke: “French rock music is the equivalent of British red wine…”.

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Thanks to one of my best high school mates, I subscribed in November ’85 and remained a faithful reader until last month, when NME editing group concluded that the printing version was not sustainable anymore. A real relief I must say as nothing is more painful than watching something you cherished decline at such a point that you feel more embarrassment than anything else. NME ended his first life in 2015 to become a weekly free magazine but the spirit was totally gone and I am sure I was not the only one to be ashamed to see such a cheap publication still bearing the name of my previous beloved magazine.

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Although there were probably more famous covers, the issue that made what I am today was the second one I received by post, dated 30/11/85 and including the journalists’ vote of the 100 greatest albums ever made. Click here to review this amazing list. R.I.P. NME.

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The parallel with Morrissey is an obvious one. NME were the first magazine to champion The Smiths when they appeared on the musical scene of the early 80’s and Morrissey used to write chronicles in the newspaper earlier in the 70’s about his beloved New York Dolls for instance. At one stage, when he went through his first solo years of the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a joke to rebaptise the NME New Morrissey Express so strong was his presence in the magazine.

..and the question therefore is: should Morrissey also realise that he lost his flame a few year ago and that one only follows him because one knows the beauty and power there used to be in his songs…many years ago. His latest albums are not necessarily bad and there are still a few interesting things to discover here and there but no real subtlety and charm anymore. The way he keeps on hammering his hate of the Royal family or meat eaters for instance is a bit pathetic and closed to the old racist uncle you have to meet at a family wedding ceremony. Interesting to see also how Johnny Marr aged gracefully physically and mentally-speaking, which is not really something one could say about Morrissey.

I went (probably for the last time ever) to see him live at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2018. I must admit the show was quite pleasant although really lacking subtlety. Morrissey’s physical appearance is also a bit unpleasant and one sometimes has the impression to see a sort of “Morrissey in Vegas” show. If I were you, Mister Stephen Patrick Morrissey, I would follow the example of NME and start to think about stopping making music. The man has a real writing talent by the way so would it be the right moment to start another career?

March 2018 Album of the month: Buffalo Tom “Quiet and Peace”

Can one have a job and still write such a monthly review? Easy peasy mate, especially in such another good month in terms of quality and quantity. Those who peruse this blog on a regular basis will find familiar names this time…

Album of the month: Buffalo Tom“Quiet and Peace” – Pop Rock – Buffalo Tom was one of the best bands of the 90’s and their style was a kind of Bruce Springsteen meets Nirvana sound. They reformed a few years ago and one of the best gig I attended last year was when they played their classic “Let Me Come Over” album in their entirety. Their recent LP’s were fine but not as good as their peak period so this new album was a real surprise…and such a treat I must say. Their sound is as sharp as that of a young band and melodies are beautiful. Welcome back again guys!

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  • Runner-up: Tracey Thorn“Record” – Pop Electro – One of my favourite female voices ever, Tracey Thorn was the lead singer of Everything But The Girl. She has been releasing records in the last fifteen years on a not-so-regular basis and for this new effort, she has particularly polished her sound. Her voice has changed as well but the emotion is still here. I attended recently a Rough Trade event when she was interviewed by the great John Grant (with whom I had a nice 10-minute chat) and the least one can say is that her music gives more emotion than her slightly cold and controlled personality…

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  • Also recommended:
    • Jack White “Boarding House Reach” – Pop Rock…but also R’n’B! – Jack White takes risks and does not play only blues and rock-shock! A few misshapes but a few amazing tracks as well.
    • Yo La Tengo – “There’s a Riot Going on” – Pop Rock- Moody and Krautrock sounding LP from one of the best American bands of all times.
    • The Men “Drift” – Rock – Every song is different… Is it the best band’s name in rock?
    • Anna von Hausswolff “Dead Magic” – Church organ Metal – A truly amazing and different record from this Swedish female musician and singer.
    • The Breeders “All Nerve” – Pop Rock – The return of the classic line-up from Kim Deal’s main project, now that she is out of Pixies…
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – MGMT – “Little Dark Age

 

February 2018 Album of the month: MGMT “Little Dark Age”

What have in common old favourites or newcomers like Franz Ferdinand, Ezra Furman, Hookworms, The Soft Moon, Joan As Police Woman, Superchunk, Born Ruffians, Grant-Lee Phillips or again The Low Anthem? Well, they all released good records in February but did not make the cut to be in this selection. One of the best month for sure since I started these reviews.

Album of the month: MGMT“Little Dark Age” – Pop Rock – I must say I was not expecting anything anymore from these two Californians. As almost everyone on this planet, I liked and played a lot their debut album “Oracular Spectacular which to me was a very promising record, especially in the balance they had found between success and experimentation. It looks the band were not at ease with such a success and did everything they could to alienate themselves from their fan base by releasing two interesting but difficult psychedelic records in 2010 (“Congratulations“) and 2013 (“MGMT“). What a surprise then to have them back at such a level of excellence. All 10 songs of this LP are great, can be whistled under the shower and mix a pop easiness with cool sounds and bittersweet lyrics. I guess they needed these few years to be back on track. Enjoy!

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  • Runner-up: Field Music “Open Here” – Pop Rock – Another amazing album from the Brewis brothers. I have been posting a lot about this band and still cannot understand why they are not more massive… Their new album is as usual very inventive in terms of melodies and sounds but this time they added up a political conscience. One should remember they come from Sunderland, known in the UK as Brexit city with its 62% of Leave voters and they are neither proud nor happy about it. “Count It Up” in particular is a nice and effective song about all the privileges we have in the so-called Western countries without realising it. I met them recently at a Rough Trade concert and signing event and they were as nice as one could guess. Keep up the good work boys.

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  • Also recommended:
    • Ought “Room Inside The World” – Pop Rock – Excellent angular music from this Canadian band lead by the great Tim Darcy.
    • Rhye – “Blood” – Syrupy Soul – Sade reincarnated as a male Canadian singer.
    • Marlon Williams “Make Way For Love” – Rock – Beautiful break-up songs. If you like Chris Isaak or Richard Hawley, this is for you.
    • Richard Russell “Everything Is Recorded” – Electro R’n’B – Soulful music from the XL label boss with invitees, including Sampha‘s fantastic voice
    • The Skull Defekts “Skull Defekts” – Noisy – Final album from this band from Sweden ; the most powerful record since the start of the year.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Ty Segall – “Freedom’s Goblin

 

A magical night with Flyte, Heath Street Baptist Church, 23rd February 2018

There is something incredible indeed when one loves music… How can this young band I had never heard of before last August suddenly becomes one of my favourite? How can a guy in his late forties be moved by youngsters in their 20’s playing classical pop/rock? That is really the beauty of it I guess and why I will keep on trying to discovering new bands and genres hopefully until my last breath.

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Flyte released their first proper album “The Loved Ones” last August and although I did not pay much attention first, it happened to be a grower and eventually one of my favourite albums of 2017 (ranked #5 in my end of the year-list). Claiming they are here to create a new style of music would be a lie. To my mind, their goal is to keep on the tradition of great pop/rock as, say, a blacksmith would like to keep on working on stuff the way his elders used to do so but in a modern way. Spontaneous influences to me are bands such as Prefab Sprout, The Bluebells or Pale Fountains for instance. In other words, all those great bands which appeared in the 80’s and wanted to keep on the great work done by their own influences.

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Last Friday’s gig was a special one as it was held in the beautiful context of the Heath Street Baptist Church, in the Hampstead borough, one of the most beautiful places in London. The 400-something tickets sold out in a few minutes and I was very happy to be one of the lucky few. The band really look like they are out of university as they are really young but also very much dedicated to their art…rather than their clothes or hair style. They played all the album, an old “classic” and also two great brand new songs. The musicianship of the four members is incredible either concerning their pure talent or on the team spirit they showed throughout the gig. Special mention in particular to keyboard/guitar player Sam Berridge who wrote in a couple of days the arrangements for the strings quartet which accompanied the band on the majority of the tracks.

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They have a formidable singer and leader with Will Taylor for sure but the four of them sing beautifully as well. The peak of the evening was without doubt their a capella cover of Alvvays‘ “Archie, Marry Me“, the kind of song which gives shivers down one’s spine. As Will said at the end of the gig, like a pastor speaking to his faithful listeners, “Spread the good word”. You will not find a more beautiful band than Flyte; discover them!

Clouds and Fire! Two artists at the top of their game: Iron & Wine (London Apollo, 16th February 2018) & Kendrick Lamar (Wembley Arena, 20th February 2018)

Two very different concerts within four days except that these two artists are among my favourite ones and currently at the top of their games so I thought it would be interesting to write a common review.

  • Iron & Wine, London Eventim Apollo, 16th February 2018

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For those who have not read yet the many posts I did on this band, Iron & Wine is the musical and stage name of Sam Beam, a very talented guy from Texas who happened also to be a father of five daughters …and the owner one of the most beautiful beards in the indie rock scene. He has been a long favourite of mine, basically since 2007 when I cherished his “The Shepherd’s Dog” album after driving through Texas that year. I have been lucky to catch him on stage in a few countries (USA, France, UK) and these gigs have never been anything else than pure joy so good is the guy on stage.

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Half Waif, the project of American-Indian Nandi Rose Plunkett singer, was a very good opening act. Funnily enough, I was seated just near her aunt and uncle (from Ashford, UK!) who were both very proud and moved by their niece’s beautiful voice.

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Sam Beam got on stage a bit later and he was as usual a mixed bag of emotion, cynicism and great humour. However, his great personality would be nothing without the beauty of his voice and songs and once again that was an amazing gig. There is a quality in his voice and melodies which may look common at first hearing for the non-converted but which is in reality completely different from that of a regular folk singer. First, his arrangements are always very subtle and influenced by pop, rock or even hip hop sometimes (he did a great cover of New Order‘s “Love Vigilantes“). Secondly, his themes and lyrics are nothing but extraordinary, mixing day-to-day life and poetry sometimes in the same sentence. Catch him live if you can or at least start to listen to these recommended records if you want to know more.

  • Kendrick Lamar, Wembley Arena, 20th February 2018

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I had a sort of hesitation to catch the incredible Kendrick Lamar on stage but I eventually went to see this gig, having the pleasure of being accompanied by my favourite teenager. For those who followed this blog on a regular basis, you will probably know I am a huge fan of this young rapper (well, not so young as I spotted he is now in his early 30’s) and that his last records have all been in my end of the year list (ALBUM OF THE YEAR actually in 2015). So indeed there was no real reason not to catch him live. However, I was a bit afraid to have again the Drake syndrome, i.e. not to find live Kendrick Lamar’s songs as good on stage as they are on records.

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It was fortunately not to be so and I must say it was an incredible and dense show. The great James Blake, his subtle electro/rock music and his beautiful voice put everyone in the right mood for the arrival of Kend…, sorry Kenny, our kung-fu turtle master of the evening. The guy played all night on his own on stage and unless I am wrong, there was no musician anywhere and the music was totally sampled from his records. The show itself was very good and full of rhythm and energy, although there was sometimes too much fire lights and special effects to my taste.

To put it differently, it could have been a not so pleasant mass celebration kind of show but that was not the case at all, thanks to the charismatic but quite humble personality of that evening’s host. Clothed in a beautiful colourful suit, our MC showed to his audience as much talent as energy and respect to his audience. One cannot say the guy is idle as after two sold-out gigs at the O2 Arena the previous week, he went back to the US to entertain the NBA All-Star before travelling back to London. ..and you may have noted he was the main musical force under the OST of the Black Panther movie, just released a few days ago. In a nutshell, Kendrick Lamar is currently at the top of his game in terms of art and like all great artists in such a position (say David Bowie, Prince, Radiohead or again Jack White), he does not sleep on his laurels but takes advantage of this period to be as productive as one can be. Good job Kenny!