Ten gigs to remember…

I will not give you a figure (although I have it!) but I already spent a huge portion of my time on Earth attending gigs. It also means money spent on tickets, travels, tens of merchandising and gallons of beer! Jim & Greg from Sound Opinions recently did one of their shows on the concerts which made them what they are. I thought it would be a cool idea for this blog. You will find below a selection of ten concerts. A few massive live bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, U2 or again Bruce Springsteen could have been there for sure but these next ten are really special to me.

  • Prince – Paris, Bercy – 14th June 1987 – Setlist

Difficult not to select Prince in this list. I was lucky enough to catch him live three times but the first concert was definitely the best. He was at the peak of his career and had released his first post-Revolution LP “Sign O’ The Times” a few months earlier. I remember the stage was amazing while retaining a very natural feel. And Mr Prince Roger Nelson was also playing his beautiful peach harp-shaped guitar…

  • Happy Mondays / My Bloody Valentine – Paris, New Morning – 22nd March 1989 – Setlist

I must admit I am not sure which band was supporting which but I remember sweat was literally pouring on the walls of the tiny New Morning theatre, which was more a jazz location than a Madchester / Noisy Pop one! I also remember experiencing Happy Monday’s Bez dancing like hell with MBV on stage as if his life were depending on it!

  • Neil Young – Paris, Zenith – 7th July 1993 – Setlist

Neil Young is one of the best performers of all times and I guess you do not need to read this blog to discover this as a fact. I have attended six gigs of his and they have all been gorgeous. In my mind, the first time I caught him live on stage with the immense Booker T and the MG’s gave me shivers down my spine throughout all the concert and for good reasons probably. I saw him last year in 2019 at Hyde Park and he was playing like a guy in his twenties.

  • Jeff Buckley – Paris, Olympia – 6th July 1995 – Setlist

Jeff Buckley… The saddest history of them all… He gave us one hell of an album with “Grace” and was destined to be one of the greatest… It was unfortunately not meant to be but that night was one of the most moving moments I experienced in my life. This was an extraordinary performance by a beautiful human being. Pretty awesome setlist as well from acapella opener “Dream Brother” to final Big Star cover song “Kanga Roo“.

  • Radiohead – Paris, Cigale – 16th April 1996 – Setlist

Radiohead is probably my favourite band of the last 25 years and when I am asked which style of music I listen to, I generally reply that I like every genre but with a specific love of bands such as The Velvet Underground or Radiohead. I went to seven Radiohead gigs in my life and I must say their initiative of releasing one new video concert every week during this lockdown period was a real sign of class. In 1996, they were far from releasing their next to come masterpieces but that night they way the played tracks from “The Bends” with so much passion was the start of a love story between me and the band.

  • Tom Waits – Paris, Grand Rex – 24th July 2008 – Setlist

…and here we go, twelve years later, back in Paris as if living in Brazil or Strasbourg never happened… Catching Tom Waits on stage is quite difficult to say the least as the great man very rarely tours (no sign of him in Europe since then). What made this concert standing up above the rest was probably the musicianship and atmosphere the audience had that night and the feeling we were all in a different and fairy world.

  • Arcade Fire – Austin City Limits festival, Texas – 18th September 2011 – Setlist

Is there a better band than Canadians Arcade Fire on stage in terms of intensity, passion and dedication? Probably not. Is there a cooler musical city in the world than Austin, Texas? Probably not either… Attending Austin City Limits festival was a dream come true for this blog’s main shareholder and his Paulistano buddy. No ticket picture this time and no way to find the original wristband…

  • Iggy Pop – London, Royal Albert Hall – 13th May 2016 – Setlist

Finally, a concert happening in my favourite city in the world! Was it the best concert I have ever seen? Difficult to answer such a question but the way Iggy Pop performed that night was probably as good as in his years with The Stooges but with more experience and life troubles behind him. Based mainly on his three best albums, i.e. “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” from his Bowie Berlin years and recent “Post Pop Depression“, what made this show so special was also his backing band…which basically was Queens Of The Stone Age on this tour. Spotting Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Mani (The Stone Roses) and Kate Moss while leaving the Hall probably added up to the excitement that night.

  • Moses Sumney – End of the Road festival, Dorset – 2nd September 2017

Another obvious choice as End of the Road has probably been my favourite time of the year since I have discovered it. No edition this year for the same obvious reasons which have made 2020 such a weird year so far but memories from past editions as still there. Moses Sumney’s gig that year was a shocker to me as I had no clue whatsoever about who he was and what kind of music he was playing. I am not sure being able to better characterize his art today but I know for sure he is one of my favourite current artists following the emotional encounter I had that day at the beautiful Garden Stage.

  • David Byrne – London, Eventim Apollo – 19th June 2018 – Setlist / New York, Hudson Theatre – 25th January 2020 – Setlist

Last but not least to end up this list of concerts, let me introduce you to Mr. David Byrne, originally from Scotland but better known as the singer of New York band Talking Heads. I went to his London concert just because his new album was quite good and also because I had good memories about the previous gigs I had seen. However, nothing was preparing me for such a beautiful conceptual thing. Surrounded by eleven musicians from all over the world, each of them wearing an elegant grey suit, free of their moves and barefoot, David Byrne had never sung so well. The setlist was extraordinary with songs from all periods of his musical career. If you add up a beautiful stage, lots of fund and energy plus a pinch of political conscience, you will get a recipe of a fantastic gig. The good news is that this tour had a continuity on Broadway in late 2019 and early 2020. I must admit I loved it so much that I succeeded in seeing it again in New York at the start of the year.

So ten nights out of hundreds of great performances may look like a difficult choice to make but I guess it was done quite naturally. Regrets, I had a few (how did I do not to see Nirvana live?…) but overall I would like to thank all these artists for the 1,304 concerts I have been to (indeed, here is the number!).

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!

My Californian rock trip, July 2016

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The blog has been away for a few months but for good reasons. First, there has been a change of office in order to deal with the exponential growth of readers all around the globe but the main reason is that one of the blog’s best reporter has been sent to the USA and more precisely in California for a couple of weeks.

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As for all good Californian journeys, better to start with San Francisco not only because the temperature difference is low vs. London but also as this is a great rock’n’roll place. A bit disappointing to be honest as the Haight and Ashbury district is not really what it used to be when bands such as Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead were leading the psychedelic world but one can still sense a bit of hippie vibes when hanging around in the city. Funny as well to see for real places such as Grace Cathedral Park, as sung by Mark Kozelek in his Red House Painters days. The real music highs I experienced were the visit of the great Haight Ashbury Music Center guitar store but moreover the way I found a quite rare American edition of Virgins and Philistines by the Colourfield for only $9! I have been looking for the vinyl version of this record for a long time and found it in a store who had only a few vinyls…in a country where basically this is getting very difficult and rare to find records’ store.

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Change of atmosphere a few days later on our way from the Death Valley to Joshua Tree. “This is 9am ; let’s stop for breakfast… this place seems nice…funny that this is called Bagdad Café like that in the movie…but stop, that’s the one actually!” Yes, indeed, quite unexpected but great. For some reason, this movie has been really popular in France and Japan… and that’s it really but one cannot forget the fantastic cover of the soundtrack done by the late Jeff Buckley.

I would lie if I were to say that visiting the Joshua Tree National Park was only to see the beauties of this weird and atypical place. U2 made indeed the place more famous than it used to be with their 1987 LP and this is also the home of the Rancho de la Luna studio, home for instance of many Queens of the Stone Age records and the latest Iggy Pop LP too. However, I really booked our motel there as it looked nice, cheap and quite easy vs. our overall road trip. What a surprise then to realise at the reception desk that this is actually the motel where U2 stayed and had many famous pictures taken for the promotion of the album…close to 30 years ago now… Great place with just a few rooms and a special vibe as one can guess.

After San Francisco, Big Sur, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, our last stop was in Los Angeles and in particular on Venice Beach. No way for a music and records lover not to pay a visit to Amoeba records which is probably the biggest independent records’ store in the world right now with Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas. Quite an amazing place indeed. I was impressed in particular by the way so many records were so well labelled and organised in such a big store and I must say it was quite easy to find out what one was looking for. But the real totally unexpected event of it was to spot Jesse Hugues, leader and singer of the Eagles of Death Metal hanging around in the store, without nobody really recognising him. I met him for a chat and although a lot of not-so-nice comments have been made about him recently, he was charming and very warm. I could really felt that the Bataclan November events were still very much in his heart and soul and that the guy feels connected forever with French people with what happened that night.

Last but by no mean least, I had been warmly recommended by a Garideche Hell’s Angels’ hipster not to leave L.A. without attending a show at the Hollywood Bowl. I did not manage to make it as the shows were not great when we were there but I had booked in advance to spend our last night at the Greek Theater to see The National, one of my favourite bands ever. The Greek Theatre bears the same concept as the Hollywood Bowl, in the sense that the audience sits outside in an amphitheatre surrounded by a beautiful landscape. Amazing place…and another great show for the National. On top of singing their usual beautiful songs which were chosen amongst all their past LP’s, the band played a few songs from their future LP which is still under a work in progress phase. Very interesting songs with more electro sounds although final versions may be quite different. The band were excellent as usual and their singer Matt Berninger particularly happy to be there, as shown with his recurring beetle-on-stage jokes. Great invitees on stage as well with Adam Granduciel from the The War on Drugs and Annie Clarke from St. Vincent…and a concert from The National would not be the same without the splendid a capella performance of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” so the show ended beautifully.

No “Californication”, neither “California uber alles”, just a great trip in one of the greatest rock’n’roll places in the world.

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Rock city : Alan Parsons’ master class at Abbey Road, The Rolling Stones exhibitionism & The Kinks’ musical

Abbey Road Studios

I read so many books and magazines on rock music and its history/stories that at one stage considering cities such a New York, Austin, Chicago, Berlin or London as key rock places is really obvious. However, as one knows, there is sometimes difference between theory and reality…but this is not the case for London. This is not obvious at first although you realise quickly there are more quality gigs than anywhere in the world. Then although a few of them have been closed throughout the years there are probably more record stores than any city in the world. But the real difference comes from the other options available when one is looking closely and the fact that this is not fake but really part of the culture of this city.

Abbey Road, Studio 2

One of the best moments I experienced last year was to attend a Master Class held by Alan Parsons at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios. Alan Parsons is better known by the general audience for a few hits he had in the late 80’s with the Alan Parsons Project (hello “Eye in the Sky” for instance) but for rock aficionados he is famous for his role as young sound assistant on The Beatles “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” LP’s when he was only a 19-year old young man and later as the main sound engineer on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” album. Many hifi sellers from the late 70’s and early 80’s own this man a few quids as this album was very often used in stores to show the quality of the hifi equipment. Quite moving and unique opportunity also as the conference was taking place in Studio 2, where the Beatles recorded around 190 of the 210 tracks they have in total (I count on Beatles geek fans to precise the exact number).

Abbey Road, George and John

Interviewed by the excellent journalist David Hepworth, the 90 minutes I spent there were a complete joy, especially when he played on the original piano the “Lady Madonna” intro or when he showed us how he and Pink Floyd created the sounds heard on their worldwide hit “Money”. There is a cool Abbey Road store full of memorabilia nearby and you can of course walk on the famous zebras!

Abbey road, zebras

Choosing between the Beatles and the Stones is like choosing between mum and dad so let’s embrace them both (although depending on the mood of the day one clearly prefers of these two bands). I went to the Saatchi Galery to visit Exhibitionism, the Rolling Stones exhibition curated and closely followed by Sir Jagger. The man is currently more active than ever these days as he is also a co-producer with Martin Scorcese of the excellent “Vinyl” HBO series, held in the mid-70’s in NY city. Putting the Rolling Stones in a museum may look like a weird idea as they were probably the antithesis of such a thing when they started their career…but the times they are a’changin’.

The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism

Do not get me wrong here, the exhibition is clearly recommended for Stones and rock music fans as the curators have gathered an impressive collection of guitars, clothes, movies, etc… The studio room in particular is a delight by the way it has been re-created and by the number of beautiful guitars owned by Keith Richards and Mick Wood throughout the years. My only problem is that I have been having with the Rolling Stones for many years now ; they want so much to control all business around their names that the exhibition lacks a bit of authenticity. I would have liked to know more about the real role of the late Brian Jones during his last years in the band or for instance more context about what the band has been in England during the 60’s and 70’s. Funny as well how Bill Wyman has been almost erased from their history. Once again, clearly recommended if you are in London but could have been even better.

Musicals on the West End are a key thing to do when you visit the city as a tourist and are the equivalent of Broadway shows in NY. I have always been sceptical about the quality of these shows but I think it was more contempt and ignorance on my side than anything else. I must admit that my only experience was the amazing “Love” musical by the Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas in 2009 so I thought it was a good moment to check this. I had read great reviews on the “Sunny Afternoon” musical based on the story of the seminal band The Kinks lead by the two Davies brothers. Ray Davies (genius songwriter) has always had a love and hate relationship with brother Dave but they really made their best work when collaborating together, not that dissimilar from a certain 90’s Mancunian band…

The Kinks, Sunny afternoon

Held in the nice Harold Pinter theatre, literally 300 yards from Piccadilly Circus, the show was the best homage one could find in such a musical. I think  Ray Davies has been closely consulted for the show as it describes so well what London was between 1964 and 196, showing at the same time the energy and optimism of the swinging 60’s without forgetting the fact that the working class was quite far to live the same kind of thing. The actors playing the band are particularly amazing bringing fresh air with an amazing quality in the musicianship (specific mention to the actor playing Dave Davies on guitar). And the songs… “Dead End Street”, “You Really Got Me”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Lola”,…the list is endless. Not sure why they did not make my Top 100 as I have always been a huge fan… Anyway, if you spend a few days in London, go and see this play.

On top of these two examples, a couple of pictures below taken near home and showing that London will never forget great musicians. Unlike what James Murphy would sing on NY with LCD Soundsystem, London I love you and you are never bringing me down.

To read more on London, please go to the post I did last year on the Jam at the Somerset House or to the great week-end I spent a few years ago to attend the “David Bowie is…” exhibition at the V&A museum.

TOP 100 Artists/Bands of all Times : 46 – 50

I hope you have enjoyed the bottom half of our TOP 100 as now is the time to get serious and stop foolin’ around : here are the first names of the TOP 50!

50. Crosby, Stills and Nash

 from : Laurel Canyon, California, USA / first great sounds : 60’s / style : voices and melodies / essential albums : Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969) , Déjà Vu (1970)

…and sometimes Young, or David Crosby solo, or Stills-Young, or Crosby & Nash, or Stephen Stills with Manassas, or Graham Nash solo, knowing that Stills and Young were The Buffalo Springfield leaders, that Graham Nash was singing in British band the Hollies and that The Byrds would not have been what they were without David Crosby,…well I think you got my point. Difficult to find more influential musicians and personalities in the music business. Listen to the voices again and enjoy.

49. Scott Walker

 from : Hamilton, Ohio, USA  / first great sounds : 60’s / style : existential pop / essential albums : Scott (1967), Scott 2 (1968), Scott 3 (1969), Scott 4 (1969)

Born Noel Engel, Scott Walker has been living three distinct musical lives : the first one in the mid-sixites when he came to England to become pop phenomenon with the Walker Brothers, the second one in the late 60’s and early 70’s when he made intense and beautiful records mixing an American feeling with European influences (hello Jacques Brel) and the third since the mid-80’s when he does a new experimental LP every five to ten years. Dive into his recommended albums and be a different person.

48. Prince

 from : Minneapolis, MN, USA / first great sounds : 70’s / style : above funk / essential albums : Purple Rain (1984), Around The World In A Day (1985), Parade (1986), Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)

We tend to like our heroes dead or keeping on being excellent and this is always a bit painful to see Prince still being there and making…quite ok records and living as a recluse when he used to rule the 80’s. By far the most innovative artist of that decade, he took the flame from Sly Stone but went even further in his musical melting point, mixing basically all genres and styles. A great artist, creator, singer and guitar player, let’s still revere Prince and thank him for what he brought to the world of music.

47. Joy Division

Portrait of Joy Division

from : Manchester, England / first great sounds : 70’s  / style : post punk / essential albums : Unknown Pleasures (1979), Closer (1980)

Probably one of the most intense and influential bands ever, Joy Division was a Manchester band formed by four friends and whose singer Ian Curtis hung himself just before success were to become massive. You can watch the excellent movie Control for more detail about Ian Curtis and the gloom atmosphere of Manchester in the mid and late 70’s but you should as well revisit their two LP’s and great singles as you will never find elsewhere such originality in a band. The remaining members would form New Order after their singer’s death but this is another story described elsewhere in this TOP 100.

46. Bill Callahan / Smog

 from : Silver Spring, MD, USA / first great sounds : 80’s  / style : modern times’ troubadour / essential albums : Knock Knock (1999), Dongs Of Sevotion (2000), Apocalypse (2011) / Click for more on the blog

Just a quick reminder to start with : Bill Callahan = Smog. This blog’s faithful followers will not be surprised to find him here and I would suggest to click on the link above if you want more (pictures, videos) about the great Bill. A very normal and humble person, this man matured beautifully with time and what was at first shyness and a sense of being insecure is now felt as serendipity in his music. A great story-teller with a gift for timeless melodies.