Great Australians in London : Courtney Barnett, 26th November 2015, The Forum – Robert Forster, 7th December 2015, Bush Hall

Not a lot in common between these two artists apart from their nationality and the fact their music is really fresh and exciting.

  • Courtney Barnett, The Forum, 26th November 2015

Courtney Barnett - Choose love T-shirt

This gig was my first one after the Paris events and I thought that was no better coincidence than to watch on stage a super talented young woman very much in line with what the new generation of youngsters should be. She arrived on the music scene a couple of years ago with straight-to-your-face rock’n’roll with a strong touch of Velvet Underground influence for her music. Her words though are very much representative of the “now”, with a mix of criticism, despair and energy to still keep on living, despite all the bullshit that is surrounding us. Her first tracks have been compiled last year through the “The Double EP : a Sea of Split Peas” record and I must stay I had not listened to something so exciting and full of energy for a long time.

She had been touring in 2015 to play extracts from her new proper debut LP “Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit”, which is one of the best records of the year. On top of being such a great record title, Courtney brought us the same formula as her first singles but on a more dynamic way. Many great tunes on this record too with in particular “Pedestrian at best“, a track you will find in all 2015 best of magazine compilations.

Courtney Barnett - with band and birds

Tonight, she was on top form with a bunch of excellent musicians with whom she had been touring most of the year. Although I found no real concern or stress in the audience after what happened in Paris (probably for the better), I am pretty sure Courtney had something to express by wearing her nice “Choose Love” white tee-shirt. Great gig and one of the best new artists to follow in the next years.

  • Robert Forster, Bush Hall, 7th December 2015

Robert Forster

Attending this gig was like seeing an old friend about whom one would not have had any news for many years : changed for sure, more white hair…but still overall the same. Robert Forster was the main driving force behind the seminal Australian band The Go-Betweens with his compadre Grant McLennan. After six fantastic records in the 80’s, the band even regrouped again in the late 90’s / early 00’s for three more records which were as good as their first period. Sad news is that Grant died from a heart failure in 2006, leaving Robert away from his musical soul mate and back to a solo career.

Robert Forster - with tree

Robert Forster on his own has never been the most prolific artist ever but each record he did as always a source of pleasure, either to be found in the simplicity and beauty of the songs or in the greatness of the words. I personally thought he had stopped doing music as there had been no such news in the last years but 2015 saw the release of this new LP “Songs to Play” which is among its best records.

Tonight, in the great atmosphere of the super small Bush Hall theater and surrounded by natives from surfing regions (Australia or Pays Basque), Robert Forster was solo and acoustic. This allowed him to present and sing his songs to the bone and on a very clear mode when one could appreciate every rhyme or subtle chord change. The man was as expected full of humility but also chatting to the audience between all songs, sometimes seriously but more often making everyone laugh. The set list was excellent, mixing songs from his solo career from all records plus a few gems from the Go-Betweens era. I was lucky enough to have a few words with him at the end of the show and have my “Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express” 1986 LP signed by the great man. And thanks again for the photographer!

Robert Forster - chat after concert

Gaelic Power : U2 (London O2 Arena – 29th October 2015) / The Waterboys (London Apollo, 6th December 2015)

I had in mind from the start to do joint reviews of these great Irish bands. The events that happened in the meantime only reinforced the importance of U2 in the story of people who became men in the 80’s as if they have been and will always be here, sometimes for better or worse.

  • U2, 29th October, O2 Arena

Only my third U2 gig in so many years, the first two ones having occurred in 1989 with the late great B.B. King as opening act and more recently in 2009 when they had their amazing spaceship.

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I must say I was very excited as their last album is actually a grower and gets better and better after each listening. One of the main reasons is probably that the “iTunes” controversy is now behind us and one can concentrate more openly on the music. The other reason of my eagerness to see U2 live is that their setlist is always fantastic (our #52 band!) and that I wanted to share this with my whole family which I had succeeded in bringing for once to see rock’n’roll (not a complete success there I am afraid…but I will not give up!).

As usual in U2 arena or stadium shows, these guys make you feel as if you are actually very close to the stage. This is due to their great showmanship and music skills but as well to the set-up of the stage. For this tour, they have chosen a main stage linked to a very small one where the band can feel like a real gang. In the middle of both was a huge screen in which the band could actually play or sing. Very impressive.

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First part of the show was mainly focused on the last LP and as written above, there are very moving sons about Bono’s youth in Ireland. However, the more the show was going forward, the more the fans were in a position to hear their favourite songs. I feel like when I am at a zoo when listening to songs such as “Where the streets have no name“, “Even better than the real thing” or “Bullet the blue sky“, i.e. like a young child full of hopes and dreams. The way they played “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was particularly amazing, with the four of them lined up in the middle of the arena.

Everyone was looking for a British artist to meet them on stage for the encore after Noel Gallagher the night before but we were lucky enough to actually have Patti Smith that night. They closed the show by playing “People have the Power” with her and they did it again recently in Paris when the Eagles of Death Metal joined them on stage.

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U2, London, 29-10-15, The Edge

I understand that Bono might annoy a few people sometimes by his will to change the world amongst the powerful but I personally find it great for one to use the little power they have to do so as long as they keep integrity in their art. Not a final word without reminding everyone how creative and inventor of beautiful sounds and melodies The Edge is as a guitarist. Set list here.

  • The Waterboys, 6th December, Eventim Apollo

Lead by Mike Scott from Scotland, the Waterboys can be considered as an Irish band too as their music has always been very much influenced by Ireland and its mystique. After a long hiatus in the 00’s, the band has been back a few years ago and have been regularly played since then. They even gave us this year an excellent LP with “Modern Blues“. And tonight indeed, band members were either coming from Ireland, the UK or the USA.

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But enough about nationalities and back to the show, which was indeed very good. The Waterboys came to fame at the same time that U2 and both bands with others such as Simple Minds or Big Country were supposed to be about “the big music”. This is true that The Waterboys had such songs with “A Girl called Johnny” or “The Whole of the Moon” but with time they went towards more subtlety and one felt the real change in their career when “Fisherman’s Blues” went out and showed the world that Mike Scott was as much a rocker as a lover of traditional folk sounds (…and songs).

The fact that they played their most exuberant anthem “Don’t Bang the Drum” in an acoustic violin and piano version was a good example of what I was trying to explain above.

Musicianship was particularly excellent as well as every player brought craft and power to the other members of the team. Setlist here.

Age does not matter – Crosby, Stills and Nash, 13th September 2015, Eventim Apollo – The Zombies, 10th November 2015, The Forum

Dedicated to those who perished simply by watching one of their favourite bands and who just wanted to get a good time. The Charlatans, Suede, Pavement, Sufjan Stevens, TV on the Radio, Yo La Tengo, LCD Soundsystem, Paul Weller, MGMT, The Black Keys, Mercury Rev, Echo and the Bunnymen,…all these artists I had the pleasure to see at the Bataclan. Let’s never forget what happened.

Is it really worth keeping on making rock and pop music when you are getting close or over 70 ? What about the quality of the music ? And what about the fans and the audience ; what do we expect from such concerts ? These are a few questions I always have in mind when facing such gigs. The two reviews below should bring a few answers to these interrogations…

  • Crosby, Stills & Nash – Eventim Apollo, London, 13th September 2015
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 That was actually my second concert of Crosby, Stills & Nash and I must say I was not sure it was worth seeing these guys again although the 2010 Olympia concert I attended had been an excellent surprise. My only fear was that five years had gone in the meantime and I did not know if they would be as sharp as in the past. I guess that if you read this review it means that you are familiar with C, S & N but if not click on the link as they were ranked #50 in my top 100.
Let’s stop the teasing here as the show was really amazing ; I must say my enthusiasm has even been kindly recognised at the end of the show by our female neighbours. But difficult to resist to such a fantastic playlist which started with the incredible “Carry On” from the “Deja Vu” LP.
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Quite moving to see that these three gents still sing beautifully together and match the old stereotype when one talks about the fact that the sum of individuals is often greater than the mere addition of them. Graham Nash remains very sharp (and barefoot as usual) and is a kind of sticking force within the band. David Crosby is still the funniest of the three, especially when telling anecdotes but his real strength in the band remains his amazing voice. I had forgotten how gifted and truly gorgeous a guitar player Stephen Stills is. The way he played and the passion he put in his instrument reminded me of this fantastic talent who gets 30 years younger every time his fingers slide on the guitar neck.
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Like old blues players from the delta, these guys were made to play music and they will probably do it until their last breath. Super concert.
Note : C,S & N pictures are not mine
  •  The Zombies, The Forum, London, 10th November 2015
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Another completely different story but real emotion to eventually see the Zombies live. This is basically one of these “hidden gem” bands I did not know at first and really discovered in the last ten years but who are now really for me on par with the greatest. Weird and missed career really as although the band had two major hits with “She’s not there” and “Time of the Season“, they never met the success they would have deserved to get and the irony is that they got their biggest hit a few months after giving up and deciding that this was not meant to be.
Their masterpiece “Odessey and Oracle” from 1968 started to create a buzz in the 80’s and has kept on growing within the music community as one of these records you cannot live without. A true masterpiece indeed, mixing melodies and sounds from the late 60’s with a “je ne sais quoi” which makes it timeless.
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Two of the leaders of this legendary band (Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone) decided to give it a go (again) in the mid 00’s more for fun than anything else. However, the way the audience has met them live and the level of enthusiasm they faced made them take the decision to get the band on track for good. They even made recently a great new LP through crowd-funding, which shows these old guys are really part of today’s life.
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The gig was really excellent and the band was full of energy. I was a bit afraid to find them playing their old tracks like a cover band but that was the other way round. The fact they have excellent new songs brings fresh air and excitement and makes them play even better their old classics. Great setlist as well with a few great covers but also many songs from “Odessey and Oracle” sang wonderfully by Colin Blunstone who as far as I am concerned is one of the greatest singers ever. Keep on the good work gentlemen.

Anything wrong with acoustic shows ? Grant-Lee Phillips, Islington Assembly Hall and Yo La Tengo, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, October 2015

Two acoustic shows in a row…without knowing it in advance so no introduction chit chat and let’s go for the review !

  • Grant-Lee Phillips, Islington Assembly Hall, London, 15th October 2015
Grant-Lee Phillips, London, October 2015, cloudy

Remember Grant Lee Buffalo ? They were a American band from the 90’s which published excellent records in a style that could be described between the “Big Music” and folk. Being French, I remember for instance that their song “Fuzzy” had been an unexpected success. If my memory serves me well, they did big tours too either as opening act or as the main one. But that was a long time ago…and now their former leader Grant-Lee Philipps has a more modest career for which he is probably as happy as he was in the days of his previous band. He records regularly very nice records which, although not revolutionary, bring his great touch of tradition and mysticism. His 2006 covers LP “nineteeneighties” was particularly great and part of our best of that year.

Seeing him in the context of the Islington Assembly Hall was a bit weird, first as I was not expecting him to be on his own on stage with only the same acoustic guitar for the whole set but also because the concert hall had a real David Lynch atmosphere feel. This feeling was coming either with the piece of furniture available (the chairs!) but as well with a part of the audience whose crazy dances were reminding of the best parts of Twin Peaks… Apart from this strange context, that was a very strong and moving show that started slowly but surely with nice recent songs before putting the time machine in place for Grant-Lee to play the jewels written with his former band. This was the last date of this tour but the guy plays regularly so catch him if he were to play close to where you live.

Setlist here

  • Yo La Tengo, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, 20th October 2015

Yo La Tengo, Shepherd's Bush Empire, October 2015, theatre sign

Different fame context with Yo La Tengo as although we are talking about a band that has been playing for a long time now (first record in 1986), they have been staying in the spotlight ever since in the indie rock world. Here is a band I have seen many times as their mix of slow beautiful songs and powerful Velvetian ones has always been a delight. The last show I attended a couple of years ago as part of the Pitchfork Festival was particularly amazing for instance.

 

Yo La Tengo, Shepherd's Bush Empire, October 2015, band

They just published a new covers acoustic record called “Stuff Like That There” so I was quite excited to hear them play these songs live for the first time. The only surprise is that they were indeed in such an acoustic set-up on a stage surrounded by nice paintings…and calm. Do not get me wrong, the set was beautiful and there were very interesting renditions of cover songs such as for instance “Friday I’m In Love” by The Cure but to me what makes this band really great is the opposition they have between two styles. I was quite happy to get standup tickets as I am pretty sure being seated would have meant being lost with closed yes in a dreamy feeling…and struggling not to sleep! Looking forward then to seeing Yo La Tengo in a electric context

One of the most exciting moment of the show was when Gruff Rhys who was the opening act, singer of the Super Furry Animals, came on stage with the band to cover in a Yo La Tengo style one of his band’s best songs. The fan in me is always super excited to see such events happening in a concert and that was awesome.

Setlist here

Old punks aging gracefully – Public Image Ltd, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 2nd October 2015 – Viv Albertine’s book

“No future” ? Well, as recently spotted by the arrow of Picardy, these two people are around 60-years old in 2015 and the lease one can say is that their attitude does not reflect their ages. They were both part of the late-70’s UK punk and post-punk scenes and although they had been famous through the so-called “punk” movement, they reached musical excellence later, mixing punk energy and attitude with dub and reggae influences.

  • Public Image Ltd, London Shepherd’s Bush, 2nd of October
P.I.L., London October 2015

I tried and tried again to catch P.I.L. live in the last years but there was always a reason for me not to be able to attend. So I could not believe my luck when realizing that they were to play so close to home. After a long hiatus, the band went to reform in 2012 and their new 2015 LP “What the world needs now...” is as good as the previous one.

“France just scored a goal !”. For those brave enough to dig into my concerts page, they will spot indeed that until then my only P.I.L. concert had been in Paris in 1986 the day France was playing against the Soviet Union in the Mexican World Cup. As there were no way to be informed about games’ score at that time, I remember John Lyndon kindly informed us that Luis Fernandez had scored a goal to get a 1-1 draw! Anyway, old times…

This time, the band were in their classic new structure with in particular the excellent Lu Edmonds on guitar. They played a lean and straight to the point concert, with not an inch of fat. I would not describe the audience as such as there were a few old and not that thin punks in the attendance but at least this was real England from Shepherd’s Bush, far from the posh and hipster districts…

P.I.L. ; John Lydon ; London October 2015

Really great show I must say, most above my expectations, with the band revisiting magnificently classics such as “This is not a love song” or “Rise” but as well playing very long and repetitive songs from the last LP’s or the “Metal Box” era. John Lydon’s voice is what it is but nobody cannot deny this is not a true original one.

  • Viv Albertine – Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

Viv Albertine was the guitarist in the post-punk band The Slits and their 2 LP’s before disbanding (“Cut” from 1979 and “Return of the Giant Slits” from 1980) are to me timeless classics. She wrote her memoirs last year in 2014 and I had read so many great reviews of this book that it made me want to read it…and indeed what a shocker.

The name of the book came from a quote her mum used to tell her, like “this is the only thing you are interested in” and indeed Viv talks a lot about this in her book but not only. The first part is great and the more traditional one for those like me who love music biographies : the not so glamorous life of punk rock stars, her long relationship with Mick Jones from The Clash, her sharing her flat with Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols, the first shows, etc… Her style is really punchy and she describes very well the almost-normal life these musicians had at that time, having no conscience whatsoever in being part of something that literally changed the world. Not that far from how Tracey Thorn was describing her day to day life with Ben Watt when they started Everything But The Girl… but with less crunchy sex details…

But what makes this book really moving is the second part where Viv describes her post-musician years : the loss of purpose, the quest for a normal life, all her health issues,… basically quite normal stuff but wrote from the point of view of a woman of our ages with all her hopes and struggles. Very much recommended.

End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Park, Dorset, 4th, 5th and 6th September 2015

End of the Road 2015, Logo Day

I think I have found what I was looking for… A festival that, despite being sold out, succeeds in :

  • having as a line-up only interesting, good or great bands
  • keeping a human face and making your life enjoyable rather than miserable with great food, not too much walk between the four beautiful music stages, easiness to get access to the camping or parking areas , clean toilets without no queue, plenty of space when one attends a gig,…
  • being really different with lots of great stores, surprise concerts in the forest, other stages (comedy, disco, cinema)…and peacocks in utter freedom
  • making you feel young again compared to other festivals ! I have never seen so many babies (not children or teenagers, I really mean babies!) but people in their 60’s as well

So, yes, English summer time means 18 degrees at best but there was no rain at all during the whole festival and Sunday was sunny and wonderful so I guess we were lucky here too. No question about it : that was my best festival of all times with Austin City Limits and although a few of you might be sceptical in not finding so many big names, the density of good bands is amazing. I attended 31 gigs in three days and did not remember a bad one (ok… maybe I should exclude Sleaford Mods… but these guys remain interesting). I had to do choices so I did not succeed in seeing such big artists as Tame Impala, Django Django, Saint Etienne, Mark Lanegan, Laura Marling or Mac De Marco but I guess I have been rewarded by those I saw. Here is the list of my favourite gigs, stage by stage. Many of these artists will be found again in my best of the year 2015 list and I must say that women are more than ever leading what is interesting in pop and rock today.

 

  • Tipi Tent

Very nice and friendly space, protected from the weather…with carpet on the floor. Temperature on site often reached around 10 degrees at night so the campfire held outside was a brilliant idea too. Three names I would like to comment on in particular. The first one was actually the first gig of the whole festival I went to (Friday 1.30pm) with a new artist named Aero Flynn. He is a friend of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and his music is a beautiful mix of American sensitivity with a electro/Radiohead touch. I finished my first day until midnight with another musician I have been following during these last 3 years : Jacco Gardner. This Dutch artist does a very melodic music with influences I can spot coming from the Byrds or Teenage Fanclub. But the best gig of the Tipi tent I have attended was without any question that of a UK band called This Is The Kit, lead by Kate Stables. Their music is difficult to describe ; it mixes folk and electro with a grunge attitude, whatever it means… The band were really amazed by the crowd packed in such a small area and my feeling is that they should be really successful in the years to come

 

  • Garden Stage

End of the Road 2015, Garden Stage

Without any doubt the most beautiful stage not only of the festival but of all of them. This is the place I spent most of my time and one could feel a real sense of happiness and achievement between the relaxed audience and the bands. Weird to hear regularly the typical sounds of the peacocks but this is one of the charms of the festival. Low, one of my favourite bands were the last band on this stage on the first day and theirs was the usual mix of Velvetian cool melodies and more “in your head” songs. Saturday was only dedicated to the label Heavenly, home of prestigious past names such as Doves, Edwyn Collins or Manic Street Preachers for instance and all the bands I have seen that day were really a pleasure (cf. gigs’ list page for details). But my main enthusiasm of the week-end went to the great retro/soul sounds of Natalie Prass, with whom I had the pleasure in having a 5-minute chat during the Rough Trade signature event.

  • Big Top

A more traditional tent stage as can be found in other festivals, this stage still had a je-ne-sais-quoi that still made it different ; probably the elephant hanging from the ballon under the roof…This stage was made to receive tougher sounds and the two artists I prefer there were really in that mood. Metz is not only the name of a French city but as well of a powerful trio signed on the seminal Sub Pop label. Difficult not to mention Nirvana such their music is powerful and demanding. Let’s stop the comparison here as not a lot of bands would be advantaged by such a thing but let me just write that I spent a hell of a moment with them, in the good meaning of the word. The other gig I would specifically like to mention here is that of the great Beth Jeans Houghton who has been facing this year a complete transformation under the name Du Blonde. Her music is like such a name could mean for me : great melodies with no fat and a close to the bone attitude, whilst still keeping a feminine touch. Without falling into stereotypes, she is one of these artists who achieve something more while on stage.

  • The Woods
End of the Road 2015, The Woods

The Woods, what a nice name rather than calling it main stage… As this is what it is about probably, the outdoor stage with the main space and the bigger names but with something different once again difficult to describe. Due to the choices described above, the only gig I attended on Friday was that of Torres but what a gig that was. Torres is the artist name of the American female songwriter Mackenzie Scott and her music is very intense and beautiful at the same time. Her latest LP is a real treasure and benefits from the presence of Adrian Utley from Portishead. To make it short and lazy, she is the new American PJ Harvey.

The names on Saturday were amazing. I had in mind to watch My Morning Jacket for 45 minutes before leaving to catch Saint Etienne on the Garden Stage but their concert was so great and authentic that I stayed until the end. I may have been too over familiar with this great American band and will dig again in all their records, such their musical evolution is interesting. And they really have an amazing leader with Jim James, who is able to sing like an angel during one song and play a saturated guitar solo five minutes later.

The main star and headliner of the festival was of course Sufjan Stevens, one of the best artists of our times (ranked #89 in my top 100). Although I feel that his music may sound not that warm sometimes on stage, his talent is so immense that he succeeds in making you feel very personal quiet songs, surrounded by thousands of other people. His interaction with the audience was very funny as well and full of wit. That was my third Sufjan Stevens gig and that was probably that where I found the best balance between his acoustic side and his electro one.

Sunday at the Woods was probably as good as the previous day. The festival had the good idea in closing with The War On Drugs, the band lead by Adam Granduciel and in which Kurt Vile used to play as well before going solo. Their LP “Lost in the Dream” was to be found in all best of the year 2014 lists and I must say there are probably even better on stage than on record, with a huge emphasis put in guitar solos. What Bruce Springsteen would be if he were to start today and was slightly less mainstream (and this is a compliment).

But for me the main thrill of the festival was to eventually see Future Islands. I have been a huge fan of their 2014 LP “Singles” and I guess anyone who has seen a TV live performance of the great single “Seasons” and the crazy dance moves of their singer Samuel T. Herring will not forget them in a long time. On stage, the formula is simple but super efficient : no guitar but a never ending groove beautifully orchestrated on keyboards/drums/bass by the band whereas Samuel T. Herring keeps on singing and living his songs as if it were the last day on earth. Not sure I spent a better moment this year than during the hour and fifteen minutes that last their gig.

So this is the way it ended for 2015 and the 10th anniversary of the festival, full of memories and great moments. Thanks to Sofia and Simon for having created this marvellous idea ten years ago and see you next year (already got my ticket…)!

End of the Road 2015, Logo Night

Musical leaves in London 25&26th July 2015 ;The Jam/Brian Wilson/Badly Drawn Boy

The Jam, Somerset House, 2015 - Band

I remember being super excited two years ago when I spent a great week-end in London, enjoying the “David Bowie is…” exhibition at the V&A and a Dexys Midnight Runners concert. I must say that although I have been in London for a year now, I still get more or less the same feeling of excitement every week-end when discovering this amazing city with endless treasures. Funny then that without knowing it, I sort of got recently the same kind of week-end as that mentioned above with three great events.

I started on Saturday by visiting an exhibition at the prestigious and beautiful Somerset House, home in particular of the recommended Courtauld Gallery. Actually this exhibition was about…The Jam! Interesting to see how popular culture and tradition mix so well in this city. For those not familiar with The Jam, they were Paul Weller’s first band and probably the most popular in the UK between 1977 and 1982, when their leader decided to stop at the peak of their popularity to go towards new musical adventures. It created a kind of trauma within the British youth at that time but showed as well the spirit of independence Paul Weller has been having for 5 decades now. The exhibition showed a great balance between memorabilia objects (guitars, pictures, clothes,…) and movies of concerts and clips. Funny to see former and current mod fans visiting the exhibition (well I guess I am one of them…) not hiding smiles and enthusiasm but still in well-behaved manners!

Love and Mercy

 

Change of place and direction Notting Hill for an early evening session at the beautiful Gate Theatre to watch “Love and Mercy” starring John Cusack. Based on the life of Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, the film is focused on two periods of his life : first the 1965-1968 years, source of extreme genius…and the start of his mental issues and then the end of the 80’s when he re-entered the life of normal people but at a certain price. I strongly recommend this very moving movie for all those interested in rock’n’roll myths, knowing what one can see on the screen is really close to what actually happened. Good to see for once a movie based on music facts not too Hollywood-driven in its transcription of it all. For you all Beach Boys fans, the scenes in the studio describing the sessions that made “Pet Sounds” and the doomed “Smile” albums are fantastic.

Badly Drawn Boy, Barbican London, 2015

…which brought us now to Sunday when I had a ticket to see live Badly Drawn Boy performing his first LP from 2000 “The Hour of Bewilderbeast“. The show was taking place at the Barbican Hall, situated on the Eastern side of town, in a very modern area stuck between offices and the Shoreditch neighbourhood. Always great to discover new places and theatre halls and that one was particularly amazing and with a great quality of sound. Not sure if this album rings a bell for many of you but this is clearly not the case in the UK where this is one of the classics of the last decade. Crazy of how time flies as to me it was still quite a recent LP and Badly Drawn Boy quite a new singer whereas we are talking about 15 years ago… What makes this LP so astonishing is a mix of modernity and classic songs, as if basically it had been done in the 60’s…or now but by a very strong individual. One can say whatever they want about Damon Gough (his real name) but strong individual he is indeed… Wearing his traditional wool hat (well it was 18 degrees in rainy London so for once the hat might have been justified), he showed his pride and happiness in being celebrated by such an enthusiastic crowd and I must say I spotted a few tears of joy here and there. The band was very subtile as well, being able to slow down and playing beautiful strings while getting noisy and/or funky when needed. BDB, Barbican 2015 setlist was based on songs from his other albums but the first part of the show was where the emotion was. (Re)discover him and start by this LP if you do not know this artist ; the rewards will be immense.

Festival Field Day, 6th & 7th June 2015, London Victoria Park

Back to festival time for the blog after close to 2 years of drought as the last one I went to was the excellent Paris Pitchfork Festival in November ’13. So with a big smile on my face and with the pleasure in having a sunny weather throughout the two days, here is my review of this event.

Field Day 2015, Ride

I had taken my 2-day pass ages ago as I did not succeed in being fast enough to get tickets to see Ride at the Roundhouse late May so going to this festival was an excellent opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Held in the beautiful Victoria Park in the North-Eastern side of London, it is almost the first one of the outdoor British festivals of the year. I was particularly impressed by the way the logistics were taken care of and by the fact the Festival was offering a few big names whilst keeping a decent size. 16 bands reviewed and scrutinised below ; I must admit that to me the second day was by far better than the first sold-out one. Pity for the prestigious guests I had convinced to put on their red shoes and dance the blues with me..

  • Poor : 1 Star

I lately realised that the different posts on this blog might appear slightly boring as always describing good to great concerts and/or books, records, etc… I must say that by getting older every day, one wants probably to keep their energy in writing positive things… On top of it, years of listening and spending well-earned money probably made me aware about which gigs I want to go to. This is why a Festival is always welcome for me as this is a very good opportunity to write about bad bands or bands good on records but less so on stage.

Field Day 2015, tUnE-yArDs

This is for instance the case with Caribou who were the headliners on Saturday evening. Their music and record have been a must in the recent years for those interested in intelligent and melodic dance music but I must say I have been waiting for the show to really start and give a bit of emotion or groove… Almost same deception for me regarding tUnE-yArDs. Exclusively the brainchild of Merrill Garbus, this is an almost-female fronted band whose ambition is apparently now only to mix high-pitched indie rock with tribal drums plaid in an African style. At the end of the day, nothing is particularly bad here but you keep hoping the concert will end soon as nothing really happens. A real pity as she was a real new original voice and presence when the band started but it looks from another age now.

Field Day 2015, Kindness

Kindness was the third major deception of Day One as although Adam Bainbridge’s will to mix uptempo melodies with Prince gimmicks and soul chorists looks like a great idea, you actually feel like watching an average band covering funky standards. I thought I would have interesting things to say about new UK band Gulf…but no really apart that it sounded to me like (another) soon to be forgotten UK band.

  • OK : 2 Stars

OK in the meaning that I did not spend a bad moment per se and that I even enjoyed part of the show…but, well, you know, ok means ok…

Field Day 2015, Philip Selway

Philip Selway is the drummer of one of our most cherished band (Radiohead) and that was funny seeing this great musician playing his delicate songs in front of around 300/400 people under one of the tent stages whereas the guy is used to play arenas in front of worshipping fans. Nice to see such a humble man singing and presenting his songs …and he has a nice voice by the way. But shall I be severely spanked to say that it was on the edge of being boring ? Too late I am afraid… Another good band watched on the same stage was the Allah-Las from Los Angeles. Their music is a mix of garage rock with nice 60’s West Coast influence melodies and they sometimes are on the verge of greatness. My only feeling is that their sound is so retro that this is a bit embarrassing sometimes.

Field Day 2015, Allah-Las

Third ok concert for me was that played by hype Scottish band Django Django. Their new second LP “Born Under Saturn” is really good but is it for the real reasons? What I try to say is that they are very clever guys much interested in new sounds and textures. They have everything to succeed as their good sense of melodies have already made them popular while at the same time pleasing the indie rock aficionados…but something is missing here. Not sure what this is (soul ? authenticity ?) but I pretended a bit to have a good time whereas in reality I was a bit indifferent to their songs.

Field Day 2015, Django Django

  • Good : 3 Stars

Either unexpected good surprises or confirmation of what I thought, these are bands I would be really happy to see again if opportunity were to knock again.

Field Day 2015, Ex Hex

The first band you see on Day One is always something special in a festival ; it will not necessarily give you the tempo about what is to come but it might give you a flavour of the mood, the audience, etc… Yossarian is a new band from the UK and their set was impressive in terms of energy and good songs (influences I spotted went from Pink Floyd to early Radiohead). Their first album was offered as a free download for those attending the set so nice initiative too! Another very good act on Saturday was the Norwegian Todd Terje. Although I did not have the best spot to see his very nice lounge/dance music, the tracks he played (mainly from his latest LP “It’s Album Time“) were as good live as they were on record, thanks in particular to an excellent drummer on stage. Perfect music to warm up on a declining sunny day!

Field Day 2015, DIIV

The next three acts were as good as I had expected them to be. I started my Day Two with the female trio Ex Hex. Held by singer/guitarist Mary Timony,  a woman who has been around for many years in excellent different bands, their music is a mix of grungy sounds with nice choirs. A kind of modern female Ramones and this is a real compliment! DIIV on their sides were presenting on the main stage extracts from their soon to come second LP and it sounded very promising. Although Zachary Cole Smith looks like a guy getting out of bed in terms of attitude…and clothes, he was actually very much there and focused. I must say the band made me a much better impression than the last time I had seen them at the Pitchfork Festival in Paris and I cannot wait to hear the new LP. Last but not least, I managed to watch the second part of Mac DeMarco‘s set and the guy was the way we like him. Dr. Jekyll on one side mainly on the way his songs are really moving and beautiful (his latest LP was part of our 2014 Top 20) and Mr. Hyde on the other one jamming sometimes stupidly with this bare-chested viking guitarist or crowd-surfing.

Field Day 2015, Mac DeMarco

  • Great : 4 Stars

Field Day 2015, Owen Pallett

My only real emotion of Day One was for Owen Pallett and his violin. This Canadian from Toronto used to be known in the business through his multiple activities and in particular as the one arranging strings for his friends Arcade Fire. On top of these many extra-curricular activities, he is now a solo artist on his own and his latest 2014 “In Conflict” LP is particularly recommended. What he does with his violin is really amazing but the skill he has with this instrument is always at the service of the songs and melodies.

Field Day 2015, My Brightest Diamond

Day Two was particularly heavy in emotions, starting with the great Shara Worden who plays under the guise of My Brightest Diamond. She is a super talented musician but I was not sure about how her intimate songs would get on stage. Exam more than succeeded as far as I am concerned first because her rhythm bass and drums section were astonishing but as well because of her personality. Here is a woman who can be funny, make you dance, give you the creeps,… and all this in a 40-minute set. Discover her if not done yet.

Field Day 2015, Patti Smith

Patti Smith playing the seminal “Horses” under a beautiful day with on her side Lenny Kaye on guitar ; can life be any better? Well, probably not, due to the fact that she was on top form at 68 years old and keeping the same balance of stamina and poetry as she has been famous for all her life. Nothing much to say apart from the fact the great lady is amongst our Top 100 of all times and that “Horses” is an album I have literally been listening to hundreds of times with always the same enthusiasm. The rest of the set was amazing as well and the band finished with their traditional cover of “My Generation” by The Who. Catch her if you can as she will have a few extra-dates comes Autumn.

Field Day 2015, Andy Bell & Mark Gardener

Last but not least, I ended up this 2-day marathon with the amazing Ride from Oxford, UK. This band is part too of our favourite ones and the least I could say is that a year ago I would not have believed such a tour possible. What made the reunion of the original four-member band possible was the good idea Liam Gallagher had last year of disbanding the post-Oasis mediocre Beady Eye, thus leading for an event all rock fans were waiting for almost twenty years. I had only caught them once in April 1990 as the opening act of The House of Love (remember them?) and that show was still a very strong memory. Faith and belief are two key words in rock’n’roll and Ride played at Field Day Festival as if their story had just begun. They opened their fantastic set with “Leave Them All Behind” and kept the pace as such throughout the whole gig. Not sure what will happen next (is this reunion for long ? any plan in trying to record new songs ?) but tonight there was magic in the air so thank you gents.

Field Day, see you next year!

 

Springtime is the right time! Swervedriver, 27th May, Scala & José Gonzalez, 28th May 2015, Shepherd’s Bush Empire – London

Probably nothing in common between this English band and this Swedish singer apart from the fact their music is excellent… so let’s go for the review of their respective shows :

  • Swervedriver, 27th May 2015, Scala

From England, Swervedriver was one of the best bands of the 90’s, mixing the shoegazing scene style of the times with a sensitivity on melodies and “on-the -road” anthems. Theirs is the perfect music to listen to when on the drive. All their records are more than recommended but the way they start their career was one of the more impressive ones of that era with the three beautiful and powerful “Son of Mustang Ford“, “Rave Down” and “Sandblasted” EP’s.

Swervedriver, London Scala 2015, full band

After a long hiatus, the band have started to play together here and there in the last years but 2015 is marking a real step upwards with the new excellent “I Wasn’t Born To Lose You” LP. Funny to think that Ride, the other band they were associated with on the legendary Creation label, are currently doing a come back this year too. This was actually the first time I went to see this band on stage and although the guys are not that charismatic and really concentrated in their music, I must say that was one of my best shows in recent times.

Swervedriver, London Scala 2015, Adam Franklin

It probably came equally from the coziness of the Scala venue near Kings Cross St Pancras and from the great set they play mixing equally recent songs and the former great ones they created in the 90’s. Nice to see all the smiling faces in the audience enjoying these dreamy songs.

  • José Gonzalez, 28th May 2015, Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Quite different picture the next day, going from a real electric guitar-oriented band to a folk atmosphere with the talented Swede. I am personally more a fan on José Gonzalez in his Junip incarnation when he mixes his folk sensitivity with a repetitive and kraut sound.

José Gonzalez, London 2015, full band

But still, seeing him as such was a real pleasure so gentle and delicate his music is. I was particularly impressed by his gift in playing so nicely the acoustic guitar. The crowd was great as well, cheering like hell, recognizing every intro of the majority of songs and not only his famous cover of “Heartbeats” by his compatriots The Knife. A evening of calm, beauty and rest ; who would want for more?

José Gonzalez, London 2015, mountains

 

Great bands never die : The Blow Monkeys, 25th April 2015, Under the Bridge, London – Super Furry Animals, 8th May 2015, Brixton Academy, London

I recently saw on stage the two above-mentioned bands and although they do not have a lot in common in their music, they probably share a passion for their art and a high degree of excellence.

The Blow Monkeys

The Blow Monkeys, London 2015

First, the place was quite amazing as Under the Bridge is a club which is literally below Stanford Bridge Stadium, home of Chelsea F.C. I did not know what to expect from the Blow Monkeys as my last and only concert of this band happened…29 years ago but living the experience in the same place where PSG played an amazing game a month before could only mean good vibes. I must say I was not disappointed as the show was very lively and full of surprises.

The Blow Monkeys, London 2015, Dr. Robert

The Blow Monkeys had a few hits in the late 80’s when their mix of white soul, rock and jazzy sensitivity made them one of the best British bands for a few years. Their first career went from 1984 to 1990 in the course of 5 great albums (“Limping for a Generation” from 1984 being a particular hidden gem) before giving it a halt, allowing their leader Dr. Robert to work on different projects (with Paul Weller between others). They came back in 2008, have published in a more confidential way four very good LP’s and go now regularly on tour.

 

Of course, when one was watching at the audience and a few embarrassing dance moves, one could feel the weight (sometimes literally) of years gone by but I found the band on top form and their leader Dr. Robert particularly happy to be here and singing in his beautiful and very personal voice. Lots of new good songs, many classics such as “Digging your scene” or “It does not have to be this way” and few great covers (Neil Young, Curtis Mayfield) made it the perfect playlist as far as I was concerned.

Super Furry Animals

Different pattern with the Super Furry Animals as this great Welsh band is more contemporary to our modern times. Since their first LP “Fuzzy Logic” in 1996, they have been the constant purveyors of beautiful records, mixing folk, Beatles-y melodies with inventive and psychedelic sounds. They have been probably one of the most original bands of the last 20 years and their aim with this small tour was to remind everyone of their greatness after a period when the band was on hiatus to allow their respective members to work on separate projects.

Super Furry Animals, Brixton Academy 2015, sun

Apart from another bite in Nostalgialand with my being back to the Brixton Academy 25 years after having enjoyed the forgotten band The Wonder Stuff, the show was special as occurring just after election day in the UK. There were a few comments here and there from leader and main singer Gruff Rhys about it but not much time to do so too long as they were busy with their long set of great songs, covering all periods.

Super Furry Animals, Brixton Academy 2015, Gruff Rhys

Incredible celebration atmosphere in the audience but moreover on stage with the band wearing white industrial overalls amidst great psychedelic lights. They ended their show as traditionally expected with “The man don’t give a fuck“, wearing the yeti suits !

Super Furry Animals, Brixton Academy 2015, Band