Drake vs. Nick Drake: the fight!

Not really planned but the accidents of life made me attend two very different gigs in the last weeks. The first one was a tribute to Nick Drake (fragile folk/rock singer dead in the early 70’s) and the second one was a show held by the biggest music act today (click on the link and you will realise this is official), namely Canadian hip-hop/pop singer Drake. So who won the fight? Answers below!

  • First round: catalogue and discography

Only 3 studio albums for Nick Drake but I would really die to defend them to anyone. His music is a true gem, he is one of the best guitarists ever heard and his voice is magic.

Drake has made 5 albums if one counts his mixtape of 2016 and they all are…quite ok to listen to. The thing that I do not understand (and I listened to them all before the show) is that there is nothing particularly inventive or shocking or different. Everything is quite smooth and his DJ is the real talented guy as he sometimes has very interesting samples. But Drake is neither a very good rapper nor a good singer…

Drake: 5/10 vs. Nick Drake 9.5/10

  • Second round: popularity

Of course, this round is easily won by Drake as he is probably one of the most famous artists…sorry celebrities today and I guess no youngster below 30-years old has not heard about him. However, although he was virtually unknown when he died in 1974, Nick Drake has built through time a new reputation in the music lovers community. And many people have heard his music in this famous VW advertising clip (click here).

Drake : 9/10 vs. Nick Drake 5/10

  • Third round: authenticity

Here also, really no question… On one side, one guy whose only ambition in life is to be famous (and whining about it in his albums) and who indirectly sells clothes and beverages in his concerts. On the other side, a young depressed lad who literally died for his music and did not compromise with the music business for one second…

Drake: 2/10 vs. Nick Drake 10/10

  • Fourth round: the shows

The Color Bars Experience - Eric Pulido

Nick Drake’s tribute was an initiative coming from the Color Bars Experience and their French leader Yann Debiak. They did a first tribute a couple of years ago based on Elliott Smith’s songs interpreted by Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Troy Von Balthazar (Chokebore) and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies). This time, the tribute was based on Nick Drake’s songs and they did a few dates in the UK and in Continental Europe.

The Color Bars Experience - Mark Gardener

This time, the classical band (no amplified instruments) was as usual made out of musicians coming from all around the world and the new singers were all great: Eric Pulido (Midlake), Brian Lopez (Giant Sand) and Mark Gardener from Ride to give a bit of English favour as he put it nicely. Very moving show either in terms of delicacy and craftsmanship coming from the musicians but also regarding the respect and joy felt through the singers’ voices and serenity.

Drake’s show was…weird. First I was really impressed by the audience as the 20,000 fans were standing up and singing… bit and pieces of non-music as if the guy was a real inspiration to them. Then, you have a drummer, a keyboard player and a DJ on stage but they remain in the shadow as if they did not exist. I have nothing against not seeing real instruments live (hello Sleaford Mods or many other hip-hop crews) but here it looks Drake is between a rock and a hard place and does not really know what to do.

Drake - O2 Arena - 2017

The stage also was supposed to be amazingly impressive…and it was not the case at all. I have still not made what this giant ball held up at the end of the show was standing for. Last but not least, I did not really enjoyed Drake’s performance as he merely sings or (badly) raps bit and pieces of his songs in the middle of slogans or megalomaniac appreciation messages to the crowd. The only interesting moments were when he twice invited young British rappers as they put a bit of energy in the show.

Drake: 4/10 vs. Nick Drake 8.5/10

  • The Verdict: Drake 20/40 vs. Nick Drake 33/40

Easy unexpected win for Nick Drake. Talent-and-beauty-bigger-than-money-and-fame shock! Do not lose your time with Drake really… You may hear and enjoy him in a few songs of his or other singers’ once in a while but there are literally hundreds of bands or solo artists to discover…

and the first in line should be Nick Drake. Listen to his records and I can tell you his music will be with you forever.

The Cure: studio albums review and Wembley live show 01/12/16

I decided recently to try whenever possible to listen to the discography of the bands I am about to see live a) not to look ridiculous when the people beside you sing by heart all the words of the most famous songs of that group b) to have a bit of perspective and enjoy in due respect the set list I am going to hear.

I did it for Wilco (cf. show review) but also for The Cure who were playing in London Wembley Arena as part of the current world tour. But first let’s focus on their studio discography.

 Three Imaginary Boys (1979): A bit like the first U2 LP, I would recommend to listen to this record on its own, i.e. not anticipating any future evolution or sign of greatness for the band. And a good record it is! One can find in this first LP the influences of the times in a post-punk vein to make it short. But the pink lamp/fridge/hoover cover and also the way songs are structured show that this band is different from their peers. There is nothing goth or any other ludicrous label associated with this band but one can already feel a singularity in these stories, associated with a very lean trio dynamic. You will also find in this album probably the less groovy ever Jimi Hendrix cover (“Foxy Lady”)…but as well one of the best. A very promising debut, still great to listen to after all these years. Best tracks: “10:15 Saturday Night”, “Meathook” and “Three Imaginary Boys”. 8/10

 Seventeen Seconds (1980): The first record of the so-called gloomy trilogy but in reality there are as many similarities with the first record than with those to come later. The band and their leader Robert Smith are not reaching greatness yet…but it does not mean this record does not stay on its own. One can feel the start of a very personal atmosphere in music but never at the expense of a sense of melody and commercial potential. There are a few standards that will stay forever in all The Cure’s sets and this is probably the first album where one can hear Robert Smith’s very original guitar sound. By the way, I have never understood why he is regularly forgotten when one mentions guitar’s main innovators… Best tracks: “Play for Today” , “A Forest” and “Seventeen Seconds”. 8.5/10

 Faith (1981): Faith could be considered as the first The Cure album where one can find their very personal atmosphere and overall themes. This is the place where Robert Smith starts to be a really singular voice and the moment when people realised that there was more than a standard post-punk band. It is very difficult to distinguish a track above the rest as this album is very much a moody one. Having said this, “Primary” remains one of the best songs ever. Another very singular factor is the use of a 6-string bass, which gives this scary and warm sound throughout the record. Not a bad place for those who want to start with a record by The Cure. Best tracks: “Primary”, “Other Voices” and “Faith”. 9/10

 Pornography (1982): This LP is a peak in The Cure’s discography but also one of the best of all times in rock history, period. This is not the kind of music one would play at a dinner’s party unless your friends are goth or unless you want to part ways with not so good friends as each one of the eight tracks here is very intense and deserves to be listened to with concentration and almost worship. The quick and easy thing to say is that this is the final step in the Seventeen Seconds/Faith/Pornography trilogy but the reality is more complex. Robert Smith had to take a step backwards after this album as he was touching a kind of limit in his commitment. This is what he did by touring as a guitarist with Siouxsie and the Banshees and by working with Steve Severin on their side project The Glove before returning to something less heavy with The Cure. Best tracks: “One Hundred Years”, “The Hanging Garden” and “Pornography”. 10/10

 The Top (1984): “The Top” is probably my preferred album by The Cure and I admit I must be one of the few here. It is commonly agreed amongst rock critics that this is a transitional album and that it was more a Robert Smith/ Lol Tolhurst record than anything else. It came also after the pop/jazz singles period favoured by the band with tracks such as “Let’s Go to Bed”, “The Lovecats” or “The Walk” (all collected on the excellent compilation “Japanese Whispers”). However, for me, this album is close to a perfect balance between Robert Smith’s pop sensitivities, a tough atmosphere inherited from the trilogy described above but also new sounds (Spanish guitar, middle-eastern moods, etc…). Close to perfect and as fresh now as when it went out. Best tracks: “Shake Dog Shake”, “Birdmad Girl” and “The Caterpillar”. 10/10

 The Head On The Door (1985): For you French readers, if you were interested by rock and pop music at that time, it probably brings back memories. This was indeed the album with which The Cure became famous there. It was due in particular to the song “In Between Days” and its accompanying clip which could be seen in heavy rotation on tv but also for those facts always difficult to analyse when a so-called underground band becomes massive: right timing, more mature sound, one radio hit (hello R.E.M….). Quite a good album but not my favourite of theirs as to me the sound is indeed too polished and perfect. Difficult to explain really…knowing that there are a few songs in this album which are amongst their best. Best tracks: “Close To Me”, “A Night Like This” and “Sinking”. 8/10

 Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987): This record was probably the most expected one of The Cure’s discography as it came two years after the huge global success of “The Head of the Door”. Would Robert Smith and his band become a pop band far from the underground beginnings or would The Cure go back to their original sound? My feeling by listening to this record again is that the band came back with a sort of gentle middle finger, meaning let’s go back with a 18-track double album where we will play whatever style of music we enjoy. But let’s be clear here: this is not a vibe/jam sort of album as the 18 songs stand on their own and can still be played and enjoyed today in live gigs. Of course, there are a few moments of relative weakness but the overall quality and diversity is amazing. Take the first two songs as an example: you have first the deep and demanding “The Kiss” with its 3.52 seconds wah-wah guitar solo intro and then the beautiful pop song “Catch”. The album goes on like this throughout all the tracks and deserves to be listened again in one go to get an immense rewarding pleasure. Best tracks: “The Kiss”, “How Beautiful You Are…” and “Just Like Heaven”. 9.5/10

 Disintegration (1989): Their last album from the 80’s…and their best ever? Although The Cure started in the 70’s and are still well alive, especially on stage, they will forever be considered as a typical 80’s band. …and what better way than ending that decade than with such a masterpiece? This record is probably that where Robert Smith and his band perfected at best the art of creating amazing songs without losing their pop side. All twelve tracks (with an average length of 6 minutes!) are beautiful and fascinating and the three tracks I kept below could change on a daily basis depending on the mood of the day. As mentioned in South Park, is “Disintegration” the best album ever? Best tracks: “Lovesong”, “Fascination Street” and “Disintegration”. 10.5/10

 Wish (1992): I remember being slightly disappointed when this album came out as I felt there was not the same balance as for “Disintegration” but this is an album that has aged very well with time. I know late-style The Cure (long intros, heavy usage of the wah-wah guitar pedal, screaming voice) is not everyone’s cup of tea but I personally think that this is actually what kept on making the band still very relevant. There are also a few very radio-friendly songs in this album so a kind of ideal record to re-discover. Best tracks: “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” “Friday I’m In Love” and “Cut”. 8.5/10

 Wild Mood Swings (1996): The beauty of this review is that it made me listen again to records not heard for ages. I had basically no real memories about this album despite it being a very good one. Not really different from “The Head on the Door” in terms of balance between long moody songs and short pop ones. Robert Smith would start a sort of cycle here, meaning he would take his time between albums but would focus on quality…and quantity as The Cure’s albums will keep on being quite long and often over 1 hour-time. Best tracks: “Want”, “Mint Car” and “Numb”. 8/10

 Bloodflowers (2000): Robert is now on a “one-album-every-four-years” mode as indeed there is probably no real need for constant new material in a career full of many gems. The band and their leader took a huge amount of time to finalize this album which Robert Smith consider as part III of a trilogy including “Pornography” and “Disintegration”. They actually played the three albums in a row, as can be seen in the “Trilogy” DVD. However, considering this album as good as the other two would probably not be a fair statement. “Bloodflowers” is indeed a very good album by The Cure with all the great things one likes to find in their albums (long songs, dark themes, great guitar playing) but something is missing probably on the melody side. Still better though than 90% of all music production. Best tracks: “Out Of This World”, “Watching Me Fall” and “39”. 7.5/10

 The Cure (2004): A self-titled album produced by the infamous Ross Robinson responsible for crimes against humanity such as Korn or Limp Bizkit? No, please do not run out as this is actually a pretty solid album. Of course, the more it goes, the less innovator Robert Smith and his band will be but this is an album where the musicians play on their strength, with a probably edgier sound that their last efforts. Maybe not the record I will spontaneously listen to very frequently but I really enjoyed (re)discovering it again. Best tracks: “Lost” , “The End Of The World” and “Us Or Them”. 7.5/10

 4:13 Dream (2008): …and here we go for the latest (and last?) The Cure album. This, their thirteenth album, did not bring any musical revolution in 2008 and I am pretty sure that many of you forgot that this LP actually existed. A quite good one I must say although it sounds as if Robert Smith did not really decide if he wanted to make a gloomy and heavy record or a light and poppy one. The band are at the top of their game but melodies are not really memorable and a couple of songs a bit weak. A nice record overall but not the one I would recommend for newcomers. Best tracks: “Underneath The Stars”, “The Hungry Ghost” and “Sleep When I’m Dead”. 7/10

And that’s it really. There are of course many compilations, live or rarities albums or boxsets to discover for die-hard fans but this review was focused on the studio albums.

  • Wembley Arena, London, 1st of December 2016

Let me first recognize that my mission to listen to all The Cure records (including live, compilations, etc…) miserably failed as I am finishing this post more than two months after the gig. However, I must say that I realised again how strong The Cure’s discography was and how creative Robert Smith is. So time well spent!

The Cure, Wembley Arena

The show in itself was not that surprising as the band was the same as the one I enjoyed seeing late 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo. However, I was again flabbergasted by the quality and dedication of the band after so many years. There is to me a constant freshness in their music that makes it as if it was conceived yesterday.

The Cure, Wembley Arena, Simon Gallup

I found however the concert not as extraordinary as the previous one first because The Wembley Arena is not really a friendly theatre and secondly because the setlist was a bit expected and focused on the most famous songs. But these are tiny caveats really as I went home once again delighted and impressed to spend a wonderful evening with such an amazing band. Long live The Cure!

Brian Wilson: “I am Brian Wilson” biography and Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds live, London Palladium, 20th May 2016

Another post on a music giant who is very much alive despite what one could have guessed thirty or forty years ago. I had already wrote something on the movie “Love and Mercy” released in 2015 and about two phases in the life of the leader of The Beach Boys but 2016 has also been rich in Brian Wilson’s events.

  • Brian Wilson present Pet Sounds, London Palladium, 20th May 2016

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, full band

I had fantastic memories of the way Brian Wilson and his great band of (mainly) youngsters played live his doomed SMiLE masterpiece in March 2004 and did not want to miss the same concept for The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”. There are three categories of people in life: those who have never heard about The Beach Boys (no, they do not live in a cave and I have a few of them in my family), those who know a few tracks and consider this is a minor band singing about surf and nice pop songs… and the others who know that digging into The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s records is a never-ending reward, especially the period going from 1965 to 1975. “Pet Sounds” is by no way an obscure or underground record as it is regularly ranked amongst the best records of all times by magazines or websites, the most recent being for instance Uncut 200 best records of all times late 2015. This is for sure very personal but really if you love music, you must buy (buy, not stream) this record and at least give it a try.

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, with Al Jardine

Having said that, how was the 74-old man doing on stage when one is aware about his life and the constant fights he had against mental illness. Well, if one were to concentrate solely on Brian Wilson, the show would definitely be weird as he does not sing as beautifully as he used to do and as he stays sat down the whole show pretending to play his keyboard once in a while. However, when one looks at the overall picture and the excellence of the band in playing with beauty and fidelity these immense songs, one can only agree that it was a fantastic show. I must say that this is the feedback I had from our prestigious guests from New York, NY who traveled over the Atlantic to experience this show and were delighted.

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, greetings

The band was amazing, first because they played all these traditional but also weird instruments with grace but also because there were two former Beach Boys, namely the legendary Al Jardine but also the amazing South African Blondie Chaplin who played as much in his career with the Beach Boys as with the Rolling Stones…and Brian Wilson was there also with a good presence, introducing his beautiful songs with a mix a humility and naivety (“I was very happy to use a bike bell on that song”). A special reward for Al Jardine’s son Matthew for the way he backed up Brian Wilson and sang the high-pitched voices’ parts. The setlist was tremendous as on top of playing Pet Sounds in its entirety the band also played lots of great other Beach Boys tracks.

  • “I am Brian Wilson” written with Ben Greenman

Interviews of Brian Wilson are often a burden for journalists as he rarely says things out of pure material ones, such as “Paul McCartney really liked “God Only Knows”” or “I have a good band and am very happy to play in London” …but who cares to be honest? Having Brian Wilson alive with us today is quite a miracle when one thinks about all his life and his struggles with mental illness and poor health. This is why I was not expecting anything from this book…and I was wrong.

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All credit goes to Ben Greenman who succeeded in having Brian Wilson talk simply and openly about everything with no taboo at all and with method and order. I had already read his collaboration with Questlove of the Roots called “Mo’ Meta Blues” and I must say he did again an excellent job with Brian Wilson. For those who saw the movie, you will learn more about the other periods of Brian’s life but also got directly to the source regarding the main events described in the film. For others not that familiar with him, you will discover the life of a man who managed (with a little help from his friends) to get over the voices in his head and build a career and a family. Of course, the style is a bit childish sometimes (Brian likes to describe his food!) and very far from Bruce Springsteen’s style in his biography “Born to Run” but once again this is not what is essential here. On my side, I finally learnt the real reason behind Brian Wilson being deaf from the right ear and can only thank him for all the joy his “working” left ear brought to people like me.

 

My music personality and gig of the year 2016: Iggy Pop, Royal Albert Hall, 13th May

Be warned: this post is an excuse to talk about one of the last living heroes: Mr. James Osterberg, alias Iggy Pop! Not really actually as I really think his presence and excellence throughout the year was huge and unexpected and that he deserved this virtual reward.

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Iggy Pop, 13th May 2016, Royal Albert Hall – Iggy celebrating

I let you read the review of his latest LP “Post Pop Depression” which ended up the year ranked #2 in our best of the year list. The good news is that Iggy Pop toured throughout the year for a few shows and that the band which played with him at least during the first part of the year was actually that present on the album.

Iggy Pop, 13th May 2016, Royal Albert Hall - full stage

In particular, I was lucky enough to attend the 13th of May gig which occurred at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I know superlatives are easy and that music reviewers do have sometimes the tendency in being over-enthusiastic for the last album they listened to and for the last gig they attended. But trust me, this concert was definitely in my personal top four, which means a lot for someone who spends his life listening to live music. For the record, the other gigs would be Jeff Buckley in 1995 (Paris Olympia), Radiohead in 1996 (Paris la Cigale) and Tom Waits in 2008 (Paris, Grand Rex). Why was this concert so amazing? First, the Royal Albert Hall is a very specific and beautiful place but I do admit we are just dealing with the environment here. Secondly, apart from the original Stooges, Iggy Pop has never played with such a great and smart band: Josh Homme, Dean Fertita, Troy van Leeuwen from the Queens of the Stone Age galaxy, Matt Sweney from Chavez/Swans and Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys. Apart from the latest who only played incredible drums throughout the concert, the other musicians alternated between keyboard, guitars and bass with an incredible sensitivity, joy of being on stage and a certain fandom also. Third reason was the setlist which was entirely based on the three best Iggy’s albums, namely “The Idiot”, “Lust for Life” and the new one “Post Pop Depression”. Listening live and for real by such tracks as “Lust for Life”, “Mass Production” or “Fall in Love with me” was really something I never thought I would live.

Fourth reason was the energy, love and enthusiasm showed by the little 69-year old man. He succeeded to keep his jacket for two tracks but as usual he took it off and spent the whole show bared-chested, showing his strange skin which is a mix of that of an old lizard and of an ageless punk rocker. The way he sang these songs was incredible and his voice was really on top. But more important, what made this concert special was the feeling of love and good vibes transmitted by him. I must say I have never seen so many hugs in one concert!

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I was not the only one to feel the quality of this concert as we spotted after the show of group of people, including Kate Moss, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Mani (The Stone Roses). I recommend also the following linked review by The Guardian who says it all…in better English. Last but not least, this concert is now available in CD, DVD or even better Blu-ray so watch if you want to experience the beautiful moment yourself in your sofa…or elsewhere.

Image result for jim jarmusch gimme danger

…and that is not all there is to it for Iggy Pop in 2016. The great American director Jim Jarmusch filmed and produced a documentary on Iggy Pop’s first band called “Gimme Danger” . Jim Jarmusch has always been very much influenced and present within the world of music either through his movies where one could see the late Joe Strummer (The Clash) or the RZA (Wu-Tan Clan) acting or the documentary he did on Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The Stooges only actually released three albums but they are all indispensable and influenced generations of musician and music lovers. Not sure if this is already available everywhere globally but watch it when you can and in the meantime click to see the trailer.

A certain idea of America: Lambchop (Rough Trade-8th Nov.) and Wilco (Brixton Academy-19th Nov.)

This blog’s readers know (or will understand by browsing the topics which can be found on the menu) that my rules are only to talk about music, whatever the personal or worldwide events happening around us. It may be a bit theoretical sometimes especially living in a place which is pro-European in a country which did not think the same but I consider not being skilled enough to write about everything. It does not mean being insensitive to what is happening in the world and the best examples of this could be found in these two cherished American bands.

  • Kurt Wagner (Lambchop)- Rough Trade East – 8th of November 2016

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Another great private event from Rough Trade after those recently reviewed (Teenage Fanclub and Bob Mould). This time Kurt Wagner from Lambchop was there to promote his new LP “FLOTUS”. The evening started with a 30-minute chat with prestigious interviewer Tim Burgess from The Charlatans. The two of them know each other quite well as Tim spent a bit of time in Nashville a few years ago on a solo album produced by Kurt Wagner. The interview was clumsy at times but really friendly and often funny. Good idea also to let the audience asking questions ; your host was quite proud to ask a question to Kurt about his involvement in wood floor carpeting! Then the great man played a few tracks from his new record and past ones before finishing with the traditional records signing session.

Lambchop is one of these bands which have been here for ages and which have never made a bad record. Their music could be described by a mix of country and soul, made different with what it looks like thanks to Kurt’s beautiful voice and inventive texts. I probably need a bit more time to digest “FLOTUS”…which by the way does not mean First Lady Of The United States but “For Love Often Turns Us Still”. However, it is true that what is very surprising is the use of Auto-Tune, more generally used by hip-hop or r’n’b artists. Not that surprising actually after Kurt mentioned his current main influences are probably to be found in nowadays hip-hop like Kendrick Lamar…or these artists heard through his neighbours’ car’s stereo!

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You will have noted that this event was taking place on the 8th of November. A member of the audience asked the question about who was to win the election and Kurt answered :” You know who will win…and by far”. I guess the night and the following day must have been tough for the guy… Keep on doing your beautiful music, man.

  • Wilco – O2 Academy Brixton – 19th of November 2016

No surprise again for anyone here if I mention that Wilco is one of my favourite bands ever ; they were #81 in my top 100 of all times. What makes them really so special is the consistency in the excellence of their work. They just had another album out this year (“Schmilco“). Although this record is largely acoustic (and beautiful), one recognizes very quickly Wilco’s style towards more robotic and in-your-face tracks throughout this album.

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Wilco are not only one of my favourite bands ;  you may remember candidate Obama playing their records during his 2007/08 campaign. Unless I am wrong, they were also invited to the White House. Moreover, they are a constant presence in the best movie of the 21st century yet, namely Boyhood by Richard Linklater. Watch this video showing the character played by Ethan Hawke explaining one of their songs to his son ; very moving scene : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9CciFGOuY4

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The gig was great ; not really a surprise to be honest but I guess being always that good on stage must not be taken for granted. Lasting more than 2 hours and with a setlist picking up tracks from all their already 20ish-year long career, here was a digest of everything I love about a certain side of the USA: creative, poetic whilst being down to earth (hello Bruce Springsteen), tolerant, funny, interested by the world, moving… The band was tighter than ever yesterday night, with the six players playing as one. Of course, Jeff Tweedy is their beloved leader and main singer but every one of them plays their role.

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As commented by Jeff Tweedy after a marvellous solo from Nels Cline on guitar on the fantastic “Impossible Germany”, “…take that Trump!”

 

 

Tea time at Rough Trade East with Teenage Fanclub and Bob Mould!

For those familiar with the blog, probably not a surprise to see once again these two bands and artists as they were for the both of them in my Top 100 best of list.

2016 has been quite a good year for them as they are currently on tour and both published excellent records. On my side, I have been happy to catch Bob Mould on stage in February and Teenage Fanclub more recently at the End of the Road Festival.

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The good news for those who have a bit more time than usual like me right now is that one can queue at around 6.30pm for the many private sets organised by the excellent Rough Trade East store. So not a long post but a few pictures of these artists recently seen on stage at that store for two excellent gigs, not that different from those one could see at a festival.

What is great with these shows is that it always ends with the artists signing records and books, having a friendly chat with the audience and who knows even having pictures taken like the ones below of Gerard Love and Bob Mould.

Good opportunity as well to inform my beloved readers that the “records stores” page has been updated. Happy to get your comments or tips for other great stores you have been to!

End of the Road Festival 2016 – 4th of September – Day Four

Bill Ryder-Jones - blurred

Final day of the 2016 edition and fourth post on this blog. Still so-so weather on Sunday but a fantastic line-up (again)!

Bill Ryder-Jones - End of the Road 2016

No better way to start a day than attending a good gig on the Garden Stage. Bill Ryder-Jones used to be a founding member of the excellent Liverpudlian band The Coral but left after a couple of records as he wanted to do his own music and was not really made for tour and band life. Despite his health issues, he has kept on doing beautiful orchestral music and his 2015 “West Kirby County Primary” LP was one of the best records of last year (which I discovered a bit too late to put in my best-of list). The show was in line with what he is, i.e. a good-looking young but not really well-dressed man, not at ease on stage but at the same time very communicative. He and his musicians well excellent though and that was a very good gig for a start.

Same stage 45 minutes later with Kevin Morby, the only artist who was already there last year, as part of the Heavenly label day. He told the audience that he would play here again and again so much he likes this festival. Kevin Morby is a key person right now in the musical scene as he can be found in many projects. His progression has been impressive though from one year to another as it went from a really nice to a great gig. Same thing as for the previous artist ; his 2016 LP “Singing Saw” is great and one of the best of the year so far.

Broken Social Scene - End of the Road 2016

The Canadian collective Broken Social Scene were on the main stage today. Although they played with their regular enthusiasm and energy, I am always a bit sceptical about bands who have many players or members on stage, unless your name is Prince… Not unpleasant but a bit annoying sometimes when one does not enter into their world.

Thurston Moore - End of the Road 2016

Talking about annoying…Seeing Thurston Moore and his band (including Deg Googe from My Bloody Valentine on bass or the great Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth on drums) should have been dreamy stuff for a Sonic Youth fan…but that was not the case. Difficult to explain why as the music was very good but maybe I am so used to his usual tricks (distortion, 1-minute 1-note solo, etc…) that I lost a bit the flame. I felt like watching a sub-par Sonic Youth influenced band but maybe I was too harsh.. or influenced by the book “Girl in a Band” wrote by Kim Gordon.

Chris Cohen - End of the Road 2016

I then went for the last time under the Tipi Tent to see Chris Cohen and his band. Quite a miracle by the way as the guys missed a ferry-boat from who knows where and arrived five minutes before the show. It did not prevent them to play one of the most refreshing gigs of the festival, mixing a detached American style with a beautiful sense of melodies.

Green Gartside - End of the Road 2016

I had to choose between Sunflower Bean, a great new band (a mix of Cocteau Twins and Nirvana to make it quick) and the legendary Scritti Politti lead by Green Gartside. I chose the latter, having in mind I may be able to see the former in a few months or years. Not that bad a choice as despite a funny look (hello the Loveboat), Green showed that he was still going forward, mixing his love of pop, reggae and hip-hop. He told us a few funny stories as well about the genesis of a few songs (apparently Kraftwerk and reggae do not mix that well…) and played a refreshing show. …and for once I was not one of the oldest people in the audience!

Joanna Newsom - End of the Road 2016

Joanna Newsom was probably considered as THE headliner of the festival, which reflects quite well what the festival is about as having a young woman in a beautiful dress playing the harp on stage is far from the usual rock clichés… That was a strength and a weakness for me. I really love her music and am the proud owner of all her records but unless being super snobbish and despite the quality of her music, voice and band, you tend to feel a bit bored and tired at one stage when standing up in a field. But once again, her music is beautiful and she is one of the most original artists of our times.

Teenage Fanclub is one of my favourite band ever, ranked #22 in our Top 100 of the best bands of all times. It had been a few months that I was following their website as there were news of a new record and a tour so I was delighted when I learnt that they would play their only festival of the year at End of the Road. If you want revolutionary music, they may not be the band for you. If you like great melodic and punchy bands, they will be your friends for life. That was only the 3rd time I was attending one of their shows and the last one was already 11-year old at the Point Ephémere in Paris… As usual, the three songwriters Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley sang alternately but there is such a Teenage Fanclub sound that it does not look as if the songs were created by different writers. That was a delight as usual and the setlist was very well-balanced between old and new songs taken from their new LP. Probably the best way to finish late the festival and I was not the only one to experience such a feeling, surrounded by enthusiastic Scottish fans! Video I took of the opening song “Start Again” below.

Not sure where I will be in a year in terms of personal life but I already got my pass so I guess I will be spending a few days in a field in Dorset early September!

End of the Road Festival 2016 – 3nd of September – Day Three

Basia Bulat - guitar

Like all good series, important to make the audience wait eagerly for the next episode (not that true anymore with Netflix…) so here is episode 3 of the great End of the Road 2016 edition.

Saturday is traditionally the day where one feels a bit tired but not so much the case this year as I attended 10 gigs…despite the ongoing rain. I unfortunately did not spend one second around the Woods Stage and missed such excellent artists as Local Natives or Bat for Lashes but once again there were a few choices to me made.

Meilyr Jones

My start of the day was as usual at the Garden Stage with Meilyr Jones, a relatively newcomer from Wales who published this year his first album called “2013“. This is one of the records I have been listening the most recently and must say that the concert was as good as the show. This guy is very talented and has a way in making great melodies. Listen to the first song of the album (and of the show) named “How to recognize a work of art” and I can bet you will immediately be seduced by its rhythm and sense of melody. A real talent to follow.

I then adapted and changed my plan and decided to stay dry under the Big Top tent to see The Garden on stage. This band is that of twin brothers Fletcher and Wyatt Shears and is based on the bass and drums-only formula. Quite fascinating and a bit annoying at the same time as songs are very punchy, very short and sung with sounds that a smart monkey could do. I quite enjoyed the show but must admit this is not the kind of band I will follow.

Basia Buliat - piano

Still in my “let’s-not-get-too-wet” mindset, I then attended the gig from Basia Bulat under the Tipi tent. She is a Canadian singer and she and her band probably got one of the unexpected success of the festival. Basia Bulat has a fantastic voice and great songs but also something different in her fresh attitude and choice of instruments (hello,dulcimer?…). I have read that she starts to be very popular in her native Canada and cannot see any reason for this not to happen in the UK and continental Europe.

Sam Beam - End of the Road 2016

But to me the best concert of the week-end was that of Sam Beam (fron Iron & Wine) and Jesca Hoop. Funny how I always have great expectations from Iron & Wine in traditional halls and always feel (slightly) disappointed whereas I found the guy amazing in festivals. Not very intuitive as his music should not work in festivals but this is not the case. The great (and modest) man published a record this year with Jesca Hoop. I had already seen her as opening act for Shearwater and she is a beautiful artist on her own or in all the collaborative stuff she does with others. They were on their own with very often Sam’s acoustic guitar as the only instrument but believe me the emotion was incredible. Excellent stage presence between tracks also as both of them were very funny and a couple of great covers from The Bee Gees…and Eurythmics. Gig of the festival for me!

Jesca Hoop - End of the Road 2016

I continued my marathon and managed to grab a few songs from Cat’s Eyes, the duo formed by The Horrors’ singer Faris Badwan and the classically trained singer Rachel Zaffira. Their music is really interesting in the sense that they mix a gothic attitude with a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood type of music but with more ambition. I think the Big Top stage was probably not the best one to give back their sense of subtlety but I still enjoyed the few songs I saw. I would just add that not offering them a role in a Tim Burton movie is a real disgrace!

M. Ward is an artist from whom I regularly buy records either solo or with other collaborators (he has been quite popular with Zoe Deschanel as She & Him) but I realised it was the first time I was spotting him on stage. Excellent surprise as I was not expecting him to be as good as on records but he acted live the right way, i.e. with excitement and playing rockers rather than ballads. His band is really on top of their game and he is also an amazingly talented guitarist, which is something I did not know. A bit like for Phosphorescent the previous day, here are two guys who play traditional rock with a 21st century attitude so what’s not to like?

For really traditional music to typical inventive Scottish attitude, there are only a few yards… That was indeed the feeling I had with Steve Mason and his band. The guy started his career very high with the Beta Band, one of the most inventive British bands from the last decade. For those of you “High Fidelity” fans, you will remember the scene where Jack Black proudly announces to his boss John Cusack that he will sell a few records by the Beta Band (“The 3 EP’s” to be precise) after playing them in the store. But success is an ephemeral thing and Steve Mason disbanded the group quite soon and went back to his demons… He just released an album under his own name this year and this is a real return to form. More on record than live to be honest as there was too much a “lad” attitude on stage as far as I am concerned and I was a bit frustrated by a certain lack of subtlety. Pity really as the record is really good.

Steve Mason - End of the Road 2016

Last concert of the day at the Garden Stage with a new important talent: Ezra Furman. This singer/songwriter/guitarist has recently started a very positive buzz amongst critics and fans not only for his music but for what he is as well. Here is a young man who was close to being good for many years but with too heavy a personal burden to achieve what he had in him. But the solution was really obvious : let’s wear stockings, a pearls’ lace and moreover a nice dress on stage. So this is what I experienced ; a guy playing a very fresh version of rock’n’roll, wearing a dress and surrounded by a gang of rockers! Great energy and refreshing attitude indeed although one will really judge Ezra Furman in a few years when/if the sensation is over.

I did not stay until the end as I really wanted to enjoy BC Camplight under the Tipi Tent to end the night. This artist from Philadelphia, PA had released two LP’s which were not really noticed by the general public (me included I must admit) before relocating to Manchester, UK after a few years of doubts and personal trouble. I am just realising by the way that the three gigs in a row were a bit similar in the sense that these artists were far from getting a straight and linear career ; fascinating coincidence… Anyway, back to BC Camplight who to me has released one of the best albums of the year with “How to die in the North“. Do not focus on the title as I guess this is more a joke on Manchester than anything else. This album is not dissimilar to what Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would have done if he were of the same age nowadays (and having got rid of Mike Love…). Mini-symphonies, punchy melodies, weird solos… Go and listen to that record.

BC Camplight - End of the Road 2016

So here it was for Day Three with a “mission accomplished” feeling…but as I still had a bit of bravery and will, I went on my way out to the Big Top Stage to see who was playing as surprise show and if I had a chance of knowing the band… And indeed, as I had the great surprise with the other thousands of people staying late to watch Wild Beasts on stage! I only managed to watch the four last tracks of the gig but they all were hit songs. For those regular readers, you know this blog is a huge fan of Wild Beasts and that I have been either reviewing concerts and put their records in my best-of-the-year lists. Their last LP is quite different from the last ones (more radio-friendly or more urban? not sure yet…) but it is really impressive to see what they have become on stage, especially in the UK. I just hope they will not become too big and will not lose in subtlety what they gain in energy and popularity (hello Foals…).

Wild Beast - End of the Road 2016

One more review to come with Day 4 so stay tuned!

 

End of the Road Festival 2016 – 2nd of September – Day Two

Episode 2 of our review of the excellent End of the Road festival 2016 edition. As very often at End of the Road, the density of good bands and artists is so high that one has to do choices sometimes. My experience of festivals taught me that attending bits and pieces of concerts is not that great as one never really feels the mood so better to enjoy fewer gigs but the right way. Long justification probably to miss today’s headliners Animal Collective, knowing I found them quite boring the only time I caught them on stage a few years ago at the Pitchfork Festival.

Eleanor Friedberger, in light

But let’s start with no further due with Eleanor Friedberger on the Garden Stage, probably one of my favourite places in the world! Eleanor was one half of sis’ & bro’ band the Fiery Furnaces and she is now in a solo career with already three excellent LP’s. For those Franz Ferdinand fans out there, let me confirm that indeed she was THE Eleanor from “Eleanor, put your boots on” at a time when she and their singer Alex Kapranos were more than musical friends…Anyway, this was a great start of the day for me as she performed songs from different periods of her career. Although this is true that the songs she plays under her own solo name are probably less difficult to deal with in terms of structure than the Fiery Furnaces ones, she still has an air of mystery which makes her one of the leading female artists of her time. That day was her 40th birthday too so no better way to celebrate than being on stage with a cake.

Not a long way to go from the Garden Stage to the Big Top and catch U.S. Girls, the project led by Canadian artist Meghan Remy. I can acknowledge that something was going on here…but not sure what exactly… I did not stay long as did not succeed in feeling anything to be honest.

U.S. Girls

Back to the Garden Stage with the first revelation of the festival for me with Whitney, a band I was not familiar with. The set was beautiful and the way their drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich leads the band with a mix of humility and bravado is probably one of the reasons. If you like the Byrds and R.E.M., this band is for you and their first album “Light upon the Lake” is one of the records of the year so far.

Whitney

I relaxed afterwards in the Tipi Tent with a few songs from the very nice and charming set from Blue House, a band probably to follow in next months.

Blue House

Back to the Garden Stage for the next show from one of my favourite current bands: Field Music. They have been regularly in my end-of-the year lists but do not have the recognition they would deserve. Field Music is based around the nucleus of brothers David and Peter Brewis from Newcastle and all their records (including those from their solo projects) are more than recommended. Their music is difficult to describe so I will give influences such as Steely Dan, Prince, Prefab Sprout or even Danny Wilson for those who remember that band… Despite them arriving literally 1 minute before the supposed start of the show and thanks to the great help of the festival stage guys, they performed as always a very fresh and exciting concert.

Field Music

A quick walk to the Big Top again and here I was attending Jamie Lee’s band MONEY live. Their music is very intense and sometimes a bit embarrassing to watch as too represented by the personality of their leader. Better to listen at home or on headphones than to see live as far as I am concerned but maybe I was not in the mood after the previous shows. Anyway, I still recommend their new album “Suicide Songs” to be listened to…even if the title already tells a bit about the mood of it all…

I finished Day Two with concerts #7 and #8 again on the Garden Stage with two old American friends. The first one was Matthew Houck who has been doing constantly great music in the last decade under the monitor Phosphorescent. His set was probably the best I  have seen of him as I felt he really had a perfect balance between traditional American country-rock music and his very unique voice and sensitivity. As if the Byrds (again) has listened to too much Joy Division. Grab him live if you can.

Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck

On the other side, I was quite disappointed with Catpower‘s concert… Sure, her voice is superb, she has very good musicians…but there is something which to me sounded and looked a bit fake and without too much emotion. I have never been at ease catching her live as well as it feels like this is a real struggle for her. To be fair, maybe I was feeling also the tiredness of the day…so I left before the end of the gig to be ready and full of energy to live and review Day Three. Stay tuned!

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End of the Road Festival 2016 – 1st of September – Day One

Over the years, artists have told me time and time again that people really do listen here, which makes me proud of what we do. I always wanted this to be a music festival for music lovers. I never wanted it to just be about getting wasted whilst swinging by some token beat makers” from Simon Taffe, End of the Road Festival founder, in this year’s excellent program.

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I would not have found better words to describe what makes this festival different from the others. This was my second edition and I realised that my introduction of the 2015 edition is more relevant than ever. I had again a fantastic time despite the fact that the rain decided to be there (despite a beautiful British summer before and after the festival…but I guess one has to deserve their great moments in life). After last year’s review which was done on a stage by stage basis, let’s go with a more traditional approach this year, starting with Day One on Thursday, the 1st of September.

The organisers had the excellent idea of adding one evening of music as a kick-off of the 11th edition this year. There were only a few concerts but it allowed everyone to get in the mood and be ready for the next three days.

Teleman

After listening to my first notes of music with the very good melodic/repetitive UK band Teleman on the Woods Stage and relaxing with the newcomer electric troubadour John Johanna under the Tipi tent, the first thrill of the festival came with The Shins.

That was their first UK show in many years and unless I am wrong they were not here to promote any new records but simply to play tracks from their four excellent LP’s. For those not familiar with their music, this is a mix of guitar-oriented pop music but with a particular sense of melody and melancholy which is their leader James Mercer’s forte. I had seen them in the past at Rock en Seine festival and remember an ok-ish gig whereas this one was great and full of energy… and full of so many great songs.

A cool way to start the festival. Stay tuned for Day Two’s review!

The Shins, in the crowd