End of the Road festival – Larmer Tree Gardens, 29/30/31 August 2019

This week brought the very sad but quite expected news that the 2020 edition of the End of the Road festival will be postponed to 2021. This event has been this blog’s favourite part of the year for a bit of time now and missing it will be a huge disappointment…

As I did not take the time to review last year’s festival, I thought that the moment to do so was perfect and that it would (slightly) ease the pain. The 2019 edition was quite special for me. On the minus side, I had to leave on Sunday and therefore did not attend any of the fourth day’s gigs. Not ideal as for those familiar with this festival will undertand that this is more than actually missing a few bands… On the plus side though, I was accompanied last year by the leading music expert of Garidech, France and we both enjoyed every minute of it. Here is a selection of the bands and artists I liked the most.

Day One – Thursday 29th August 2019

I guess I probably repeat myself but deciding a few years ago to extend the festival from three to four days was a great decision. This was even truer this year with two of my favourite artists. Du Blonde (née Beth Jeans Houghton) played as usual a very intense set with her usual mix of rage and tenderness.

Thursday’s headliners may not appear an obvious choice on paper but to me Spiritualized played the best set of the festival. Jason Pierce is one of the best songwriters of his generation and the only one to mix so beautifully gospel sounds and psychedelic rock. If not familiar with his career, please read my review of their “Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” masterpiece.

Day Two – Friday 30th August 2019

I think I can bear any sort of weather when attending a festival but I must confess that nothing beats a beautiful sunny day! We were also lucky to have an unexpected and friendly chat with Sofia Hagberg, one of the two original founders of the festival.

From The Beths (young pop band from New Zealand) to Wire (post punk legends), I very much enjoyed all the gigs I attended but a specific mention has to be given to two artists. The first one is what is called a musicians’ musician, i.e. an artist very much lauded amongst their peers but without necessarily a major impact in terms of sales of records. Steve Gunn is an extraordinary guitar player and he can regularly be found on other bands’ records. He is starting to find his own voice as well as a songwriter and singer and his set was close to perfect. Very nice to find him again a few hours later playing guitar on two songs with Cass McCombs. The latter had been one of this blog’s favourite for a long time now and his latest LP was one of our albums of the month in 2019.

The other special mention of that day was to be given to the festival’s main headliner. Michael Kiwanuka‘s name is probably no stranger to those reading reviews in this blog on a regular basis. The more he ages, the better and personal his art and music get. That night’s set was incredible in terms of dedication and beauty. There is still a feel of the late Bill Withers in his music but also something which is very ‘now’ and difficult to describe. Probably one of the key artists with whom we will grow old in the next twenty years.

Day Three – Saturday 31st August 2019

Saturday was a tough one in terms of choices. As I still did not find a proper solution to be in two different places at the same time (I would be happy to learn from you, beloved readers…), I did not attend Courtney Barnett‘s concert. No regret however as all eight gigs we attended were awesome, from young British sax player Nubya Garcia to London female band Goat Girl (and their papier maché guest on stage) or again Porridge Radio, lead by vocalist Dana Margolin. Specific mention though to be given to three bands.

The first one is to the very young and bright band called black midi. Not a band you wanted to miss on stage as they played at 120% from the very first second to the last. Their music could be associated with a kind of modern age Public Image Ltd and I hope they will confirm all their musical talent in the years to come. Did I also mention that their drummer is amazing?

I finished the festival with two major bands, the first one being Low. That was a bit weird to catch them in the relaxed and mysterious atmosphere of the Garden Stage after their Barbican February gig but I must say I found it even better. The way this fantastic trio of musicians evolve in their art is simply flabbergasting.

No better way to finish the festival than partying with Sleaford Mods. No real surprise here as they give what you get, i.e. Andrew Fearn touches his laptop at the start of every song and dances with a beer in hand while Jason Williamson puts into lyrics all that does not work in today’s society with a Balzac-sense of details and loads of wittiness and humour. I must admit I was not that convinced the first time I caught them live in 2015 but the more it goes, the more I like them. A band not to miss on stage by any means.

So it looks this is it for now… The pain is still here but I already got my ticket for the 2021 edition for which a few greats have already confirmed their presence (Pixies, Aldous Harding, King Krule, Little Simz, Big Thief,…). For sure, ‘we will meet again’.

Noise rules! Two gigs at the Islington Academy: Young Gods / Helmet

I must admit that with all the diversification this blog has faced in the last years (a restaurant chain, a web hosting service, consulting advice on the climate warming, etc…) this is time to stick back to our core business and review a few gigs attended by our team. I went twice to the O2 Islington Academy this year to see two excellent bands I never had the chance to see before.

23rd March 2019: The Young Gods

To me , The Young Gods were not really active anymore and I must admit I kind of forgot them throughout the ’10’s. Their latest 2010 album (‘Everybody Knows‘) was excellent but no news since then. Quite a surprise then to see them on the cover of the excellent French Magazine New Noise with a new unexpected album. They were also back with original sampler band member Cesare Pizzi, which was very promising news as he used to give a specific flavour to the band before he left ages ago. And for those reading about this band for the first time ever, you should note they are from Fribourg, Switzerland.

On stage, they created a very dark but simultaneously warm atmosphere. They are now very far from the noisy sound of their beginnings and their music could be described as lovely but also menacing noisy techno pop. I guess this definition may look quite scary but really I had a complete different sensation while in the audience and more precisely a feeling of calm and peace of mind. Their leader and singer Franz Treichler has a real beautiful presence on stage. Go and listen to their latest LP ‘Data Mirage Tangram‘, one of the best of the current year.

10th October 2019: Helmet

Another new experience for me and a bit the same as for The Young Gods. I thought the band was no more but they decided to do a very interesting 30+30+30 conceptual tour this year, each figure meaning 30 years of career, 30 big cities in Europe and 30 tracks played each night (well..it looks they cheated that night with 31 tracks!). Lead by Page Hamilton on guitar and voice, Helmet were tagged as a early 90’s grunge band. It is true that their style of music and American origins made them close to Nirvana but they did not really get any cross over success out of those interested by this kind of music.

They really were amazing live and I do not remember seeing a band on stage with such dedication to the power of their music, not adding one inch of fat or any rock star bullshit attitude. Although their music is really different, their skills and ways of being reminded me of the American jazz scene of the 50’s, i.e. musicians in love with their art and happy to do it forever, notwithstanding the level of success they can enjoy. Page Hamilton is an incredible leader but all the band is impressive, with a specific mention to Dan Beeman on guitar (from whom I caught a mediator he sent)! Definitely not the kind of music to play at a posh dinner but if you are a person eager to listen to new ‘old’ sounds, Helmet is for you!

(grand)Fathers and sons: Todd Rundgren and The Lemon Twigs live (London – 2019)

I recently attended two beautiful gigs by artists of different generations but so close in their love and understanding of what music should be, i.e. inventive, energetic and full of melodies. On my left, The Lemon Twigs aka Brian and Michael d’Addario, respectively 21 and 19-years old. On my right, the immense Todd Rundgren, who just turned 70. I just realised how close their respective music was while catching Todd live and then remembered he featured as a guest on a couple of tracks on their latest excellent “Go To School” album. I was also sent this hilarious link by one of my most faithful readers, which is basically The Lemon Twigs interviewed two years ago by… Todd Rundgren.

  • The Lemon Twigs, London Roundhouse, 27th February 2019

I was quite excited to catch The Lemon Twigs again after their phenomenal gig at the End of the Road festival 2017 edition. Held in the great Roundhouse theatre where the atmosphere is always special, the gig was as good as expected thanks to the tremendous energy the two brothers (and the rest of the band) showed throughout the show.

The brothers’ dynamics is always a fascinating one too. One can really feel that Brian is the more mature person of the band, which makes him to accept the talent but also sometimes uncontrollable behaviour of little brother Michael. They clearly love each other but will things stay as such forever after spending life on tour, in the studio or under constant pressure? Difficult to know… What makes this band different thought is that both brothers have their equal share of compositions and I must say all tracks are superb whoever the composer can be.

However, the set was pretty amazing and I hope the pictures I took can translate the experience we all lived that night. …and if anyone has any doubt about these guys’ talent, have a look at this past video:

  • Todd Rundgren, London Eventim Apollo, 6th April 2019

I really thought I would end my music lover’s career without ever catching Todd Rundgren live as I thought his main interests were more creating weird music and enjoying his nice simple Hawaiian house than touring. It looks the guy either needs the cash or remains excited to tour… Whatever the reasons, this was probably one the best idea he had in recent years. For the record, you will find a quick catch-up about his musical career by clicking on this All Music link but to make it short Todd Rundgren’s musicianship is extraordinary, either through his own music or his work as a producer. All his albums of the 70’s are recommended and in particular both “Something/Anything” from 1972 and “A Wizard, A True Star” from 1973.

The concert was indeed excellent although those who wanted the hits probably ended up a bit frustrated. Typically of what he has been all his life, i.e. not doing real compromise, he played a first set with all 70’s classics and came back later in the show to play his more experimental stuff. I personally liked this approach a lot and was also seduced by the man’s showmanship and great contact with the audience. Please do not die before listening to “I Saw The Light“, one of the best songs ever.

Tribute gigs… are they any good? Bowie and Prince, London, January & February 2019

I had mixed feelings in the past about tribute bands, considering them very often as quite pathetic either for the musicians involved or for the audience. To make it short, the past is the past and better to discover new exciting bands rather than listening to the same songs again and again from your favourite band from the past or dead artist. Maybe this is age or being more tolerant but I welcome such gigs now. The concert that made the difference was probably that I went to in the early 00’s in Strasbourg, bringing on stage Genesis “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” by the excellent tribute band The Musical Box. Bach or Coltrane have been dead for a certain period of time now and musicians play their music all over the world so why could not we listen to the music of The Rolling Stones?… Wait…I am just told The Rolling Stones are not dead actually…Anyway, I recently experienced two Bowie and one Prince tributes so here is the review for each of them.

A Bowie Celebration – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 12th January

The first gig I went to was in the same mindset as that attended early 2017, in the sense that the leader of this band is American pianist Mike Garson, probably one of the most influential band members David Bowie worked with (like Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Reeves Gabrels or Gail Ann Dorsey to name but a few). On stage with a few usual suspect compadres like Earl Slick on guitar or Carmine Rojas on bass, one must recognize he manages to bring David Bowie’s music live with joy, energy and just a slight touch of pathos. The three singers were also quite good, with a special mention to Corey Glover, one of the founding members of Living Colour. My only frustration came from the choice of songs; they were all great but quite a pity there were so few from the last thirty years.

Seu Jorge & The Heritage Orchestra – The Life Aquatic -Tribute to David Bowie – Hammersmith Apollo – 8th February

The next one was a bit different as it was a specific breed of tribute… Based on the songs he performed in his sailor role in Wes Anderson‘s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (one of my favourite movies ever), Seu Jorge was in the beautiful Apollo theatre to sing in Portuguese a few Bowie classics from the so-called glam period. The majority of the songs were indeed actually from “Hunky Dory“, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” or again “Aladdin Sane” and like in the movie, sung in Portuguese… according to Seu Jorge’s inspiration. For those not familiar with the man, he has been one of the most singular voices in Brazil in the last 25 years, either with supporting roles in movies or through a few excellent records. I was also a bit frustrated not to hear any Brazilian-sounding songs from Seu Jorge but I guess these were the rules of the game. On the other side, it would be a disgrace not to mention the extraordinary level of the classic ensemble on stage that night as they really brought an extra dimension to the songs whilst staying subtle.

The Revolution – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 14th February

No better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day that catching up live Prince‘s former glorious band from the early 80’s, surrounded by prestigious guests from Bordeaux, France. As a reminder, a bit like James Brown used to do, Prince did not hesitate to frequently change his musicians and despite their excellence, The Revolution was no exception. Despite great or…interesting records later, they probably played on Prince’s greatest albums: “1999“, “Purple Rain“, “Around the World in a Day” or the immense “Parade“, one of the most moving, dancing and singular albums of all times. The Revolution are/were: Lisa Coleman on piano, Doctor Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z. on drums, Brown Mark on bass and the great Wendy Melvoin on guitar. They were also accompanied on stage by singer Stockley Williams, especially when a falsetto voice was needed.

After Prince’s death in 2016, these musicians went through a tough mourning phase and spontaneously reformed the band more than 30 years since they last played together to celebrate their former leader. I guess I am not the only one to claim it but these musicians really created a specific sound thanks to Prince’s vision. The setlist was really extraordinary and I must admit being very much moved by Wendy’s interpretation of “Sometimes It Snows in April“. All the set was very moving actually and I spent the whole evening in a happy/sad state of mind. The rockers were also amazing in terms of energy and musicianship. Wanna see the funkiest band in town? Go and see a bunch of immensely skilled musicians in their late 50’s named The Revolution!

Low – London Barbican Centre – 1st February 2019

I tend to post not as many concerts’ reviews as I used to probably because I am in a state of mind where I prefer to simply enjoy a gig rather than analysing it. Another reason may also come from seeing my favourite bands many times on stage and trying to find new interesting things to say are often quite challenging.

…which is probably the reason why I wanted to post a(nother) review of Low on stage, for the 4th time after two gigs in Paris in 2011 and another one at End of the Road festival in 2015. Low were playing the great Barbican Center last Friday as part of a tour celebrating their latest LP “Double Negative“, which is not an easy beast to tame… I must admit not knowing exactly what to think about this album as one one side I really admired the weirdness of it all and recognised that American bands need to make a statement from their art nowadays and not just another record but on the other side, I did not feel a real emotion in this record and I guess this is not something one can command.

As expected, these reservations disappeared the moment the band played their first note on stage. This was by far the best performance from Low I attended and the reason is simply that the band gets better every year. They get sharper in what they are in the sense that their sound is more and more extreme as they know exactly what they want to do. And likewise, their sense of melodies is fantastic as can be heard in the way Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker blend their voices. They also found in Steve Garrington the bass player they were looking for in their early days and his continuous presence for many years now is not a coincidence in the maturity of the band.

So indeed probably not the final review from this blog about this great American treasure. Catch them live if you can; it has just been announced they are going to be there at End of the Road 2019!