A golden trio of concerts: Greentea Peng, Sharon van Etten, Kacey Musgraves

A golden trio of concerts indeed! All in the space of a week. Three artists whose music I love; three of the best from recent years. And all playing at rather special venues.

Greentea Peng at the Royal Festival Hall, Thursday 16 June

Greentea Peng – aka Aria Wells – is someone whose music I’ve followed closely ever since I first heard the sultry break-up ballad Used To in 2018. Her music is a languid combination of soul, jazz, rap and reggae, with a distinct dubwise inflection at times. Very much the sound of London – London in the summer, London at night. The music is a mellow pleasure; but listen to the lyrics and you hear the voice of someone who has something to say about the way things are. And she is fighting back.

Her debut album, Man Made, was released last year. There had been a steady stream of singles and EPs since 2018, but it was good to have a full long player. Put it on and just chill. I liked it a lot and made it No 3 in my albums of 2021.

I saw her play twice last year at festivals; Latitude and Green Man. Latitude in particular was a real joy – she was last on at the Sunrise Arena on the Sunday. The last show of the festival for me and many others there. It was a festival full of the sense of liberation, the first big gathering after the lockdown restrictions started to be lifted.  And to be in that crowd, moving to those languid beats, singing along to Mr Sun (miss da sun) and Jimtastic Bluesyou’ve got to fight for your right to party – felt like a new dawn.

It was no surprise to see that Greentea Peng, with her musical influences and her take on the world, was invited to be part of Grace Jones’s Meltdown festival line-up at the Southbank this year. There is definitely a line that you can trace from Grace Jones, especially those wonderful albums she made in the early 1980s with Sly and Robbie laying down the drums and bass. But the Festival Hall itself – wow! It’s a big place, an imposing arena. And it has seats! I was intrigued to see how she and her band would make the leap.

I had the pleasure of the company of my daughter, Izzy, for the show. Greentea Peng is one of those artists that unites me with all of my children, which is always a good feeling. The hall was respectably full and almost immediately the music began everyone stood up. Quite hard to sway to the beats sitting down! The show was a generous hour and a half, with some quite extended numbers taking up that time. The groove was established from the start: mellow, jazzy, with that dub feel. I did feel that it was a bit one paced at times and it dragged a little in the middle. Having said that I was delighted when she played Used To about half way through. The familiar sounds of Mr Sun and Hu Man livened things up towards the end and sent everyone home happy.

Gazing downstream from Hungerford Bridge at the lit-up bridges, St Paul’s and the City towers as we made our way afterwards to Embankment Station, I was reminded once again how much I love this city. Reflecting on the fact that I’d just seen Greentea Peng at the Royal Festival Hall reminded me even more.

Sharon van Etten at O2 Brixton Academy, Friday 17 June

When I booked the tickets for me and Jon for this show back in February, I was really looking forward to it. With the temperature close to 30 degrees during the day the main concern became not wilting in the heat at Brixton Academy! In the event, it was fine. I’d booked seats and the place was well-ventilated – one positive legacy of the covid measures.

Sharon van Etten’s music has been a constant companion for me since I discovered the wonders of her 2012 album Tramp, and, in particular, the song Give Out, which became a bit of an obsession in 2014, around the time the next album, Are We There, came out. Give Out, which I enjoyed playing on the guitar, was a song about the hope – and the fear – that exists at the beginning of a relationship. Much of Sharon’s work explored the debris of broken relationships. The songs had an inner fragility, but were often powerfully expressed. There was redemption in all the darkness, a surviving spirit. In that respect she had a kinship with the music of Bruce Springsteen, and maybe that is one of the things that attracted me to it.

She played a great show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2015. Thereafter things went quiet on the musical front for a while – she started a family, studied for a psychology degree and began an acting career. She returned to the music in a big way in 2019, with the release of the album Remind Me Tomorrow. It was a dramatic return, with a rockier sound, but the lyrics were as unsparing as usual, including about herself, never more so than on the sparse opener I Told You Everything. But the song that has risen above all the others, to become one of her anthems – perhaps the anthem – is Seventeen, a dialogue with her teenage self. Sonically, it is the most Springteenesque song she has ever written – and none the worse for it!

I saw her a couple of times in 2019: first at the Roundhouse, then at Green Man festival. She her band were on top form on both occasions. The music had a real punch. The pandemic intervened after that, of course; so this tour, accompanied by a new album, was her second return to the limelight after time away. The new album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, is another powerful work, perhaps with a return to some of the tenderness of some of her early, more acoustic albums. Reflections on life during the pandemic have clearly played a part in the compositions.

I found some time to get to know the new album before the concert, and it grew on me very quickly. Songs like Anything, Born and Come Back are destined to become real favourites, I think. Lead single Mistakes and Headspace are built for live performance; while Darkish and Darkness Fades reveal Sharon’s most fragile side, with that hope/fear thing again. All of these and a few more featured in the show – I was glad I’d taken the trouble to familiarise myself with the album. I really enjoyed the rendition of Born, which ended the main set. It follows a classic anthem pattern, starting slow and contemplative, building gradually before breaking out of the shackles. Crowd favourite Every Time the Sun Comes Up – supreme until the emergence of Seventeen – still featured, but was faster and more guitar-based than usual. I’m not sure it entirely worked, but it’s good to try out different interpretations.

I really enjoyed the encore. First we had Darkish and Darkness Fades, Sharon solo for some of it. And then, to finish things off, to lift the mood, even if the lyrics are wistfully looking back at a freer time, Seventeen. There is no escaping it now, Sharon, this is the song you will always have to play! A true anthem, an uplifting end to a captivating concert.

And why was this concert a special moment for Sharon van Etten? With a capacity of just under 5,000, Brixton Academy was the biggest headlining show she has done, as she told us with delight. I was glad to be part of it.

Kacey Musgraves at Hampton Court Palace, Wednesday 22 June

“I don’t know how they got me here,” said Kacey at one point, before going on to say how amazing and unusual the experience was, playing at Hampton Court, once the home of King Henry VIII. And yes, it is pretty weird, as well as being a magnificent venue, especially when darkness falls and the lights glow on the old tyrant’s palace.

Kath and I were there with my friend Dave and his wife Fiona, who live on the other side of the river from the palace. A lovely part of the world. We’ve been to a few shows there over the years, highlights being Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music a couple of times and, in 2019, none other than Kylie. Like Kacey this time, she was playing a warm up show ahead of an appearance at Glastonbury festival, which is back in full effect this year. This weekend in fact. I can’t wait, and I’m not even going! Watching it on the BBC is not a bad alternative.

I said Sharon van Etten has been a constant musical companion since 2014. Well, Kacey Musgraves has been even more so, if only since 2018. That was the year that her album Golden Hour was released. I played that album constantly – it became the soundtrack to my year, and I made it my No 1 in my end of year Best Of. It started to win big awards like Grammies the following year and launched Kacey beyond her country music base to pop stardom in the US. Her traction isn’t quite as great in this country, but she still has a strong following. Golden Hour was a happy album in the main, a product of her marriage. But there were warning signs. The song Happy and Sad reflected on the fact that at her happiest moments she was waiting for things to go wrong. And they did. Last year’s album Starcrossed tracked the emotions of her crumbling relationship and eventual divorce. So she stuck to country script after all, even if the music remained a subtle blend of pop, dance and country.

So we expected a good number of Starcrossed songs in the show on Wednesday. Not too many, in case it became a bit depressing. Kacey even joked about that, but she did still start with five straight from the new album. And they worked really well. First because of the musicianship; second because the audience, which was pretty youthful for Hampton Court, seemed to know the words and were singing along. Starcrossed has really struck a chord with, let’s say, millennial women – of whom Kacey is one of course. Good Wife, with its catchy, ironic chorus, stood out for me.

After the Starcrossed introduction, we moved into a Golden Hour section, starting with the title track, which I love. It covered the poppier elements of the album – Butterflies, Lonely Weekend, Space Cowboy, High Horse – but was all a lot of fun. And then it got really interesting. First she sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s I Can’t help Falling In Love With You, which is on the soundtrack to the new Baz Luhrmann film on Elvis. Then, sitting on a stool, she played a lovely acoustic version of Merry-go-round, one of the great songs from her first album, Same Trailer Different Park. A song about the hopelessness of life for many in small town America, a place from which she came herself. And after that, another cover: Fleetwood Mac’s classic Dreams. Kacey can take on Stevie Nicks any time!

The main set finished with a couple more from the new album – good, upbeat sounds. And then, first up in the encore, the song I love most: Slow Burn from Golden Hour. A song about taking your time in life, and true to my heart. Rainbow, from the same album concluded things on a lovely, positive note.  We left with a warm glow – to go with the glow from our wristbands!

Next stop for Kacey, the Other Stage at Glasto. I’ll be making an appointment with the iPlayer.

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Wide Awake Festival, 28 May 2022

Primal Scream on the main stage

Not quite summer yet, but the festival season has begun. Wide Awake festival takes place in Brockwell Park, Brixton. Nearest station is Herne Hill. It made its debut in September 2021, delayed by the pandemic. In this, its second year, the music was spread over two days, Friday and Saturday. Friday was headlined by Caribou and erred more towards dance music; Saturday mixed dance and indie/rock, with a bit more emphasis on the latter. Primal Scream were the headliners, featuring a rendition of their classic album from the early 90s, Screamadelica. I was tempted by both days, but settled for the Saturday. Primal Scream was too good to miss; Floating Points and Overmono offered some interesting electronic options; the Comet is Coming are always hugely entertaining; and I was looking forward to renewing acquaintance with Faye Webster after a few years. Of course, when making that assessment, I didn’t think about the curse of all festivals – the line-up clash. In the event that did for everyone on that list except Primal Scream and Faye Webster!

Jon G and I managed to get to Brockwell Park half an hour before the festival gates opened, at midday, so we went off to Herne Hill to get a cup of tea. We met Louis and Gab at the entrance just before 12, along with Gab’s brother Finlay and his friend Georgia. As we entered, we were all given a token for a free can of Beefeater gin and tonic. What could we do but go up to the stall and get our freebie? Made a change from starting with a fizzy lager! It was amusing to see all the early birds at the first shows, which began at 12.15, wandering around with their G&Ts.

First up were the Golden Dregs, in the big tent, sponsored by the Moth Club* – which we love – and DIY Magazine. This is a band that I’ve missed a few times at previous festivals, so it was good to catch up with them. They’re a south London-based band, but singer Benjamin Woods is from Falmouth in Cornwall, a place I know well, as one of my daughters has been at university there. His sister Hannah plays saxophone in the band, amongst other things. I’d read that they played Americana-style music, but it was rather more than that. The band all came on dressed in white and played a very slick set, with plenty of musical variety. Benjamin played a bit of guitar, but mostly just sang – or, I should say, crooned. I was getting the National, Lloyd Cole and maybe Tindersticks in the sound. Or even Gene – remember them? All good stuff and a very enjoyable start to the day’s music. I’ll be checking out their albums at home.

I split with the rest for the next show. They stayed in the tent for Crows, the ear-splitting rockers. They were amazing at Latitude in 2019, but I fancied something a little lighter at lunchtime. Katy J Pearson was on the Windmill* stage, the main arena.  I’ve heard a bit of her country-tinged pop, and really like her recent single Talk Over Town, which takes you into Angel Olsen territory. In the sunshine she started with that song, and proceeded to play a set that suited the sunny, breezy day. It got people dancing – when they weren’t taking selfies. A refreshing aperitif of a show.

Back to the big tent after that to meet up with the gang and take ourselves back to the electropop of the mid-80s. One part New Romantic, two parts Depeche Mode. With a dash of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. All the way from Brooklyn, New York, Nation of Language. Their second album, A Way Forward, had quite a lot of airplay on 6 Music last year. It was one of Jon’s favourites of the year; I never quite got round to listening to all of it. I liked what I heard, but having grown up with the originals, I didn’t feel the urge to investigate further. But, I have to say, the show was excellent, and really grew on me as it went along. The beats were so redolent of all those 80s classics that you couldn’t help but love it. The singer Ian Richard Devaney had a bit of charisma and threw himself around the stage. He occasionally picked up the guitar, and that provided some of the outstanding moments for me, particularly the last song Across That Fine Line, which is one of their best known. The guitar, with that live distortion that you just can’t capture on record, melded perfectly with the electro-beats. A dramatic end to an absorbing set.

And I’ve listened to the album since – I really like it!

I stayed in the tent for the next show, one of those I was most looking forward to: Faye Webster. The first time I saw her was in 2017, when she was supporting Julia Jacklin at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (as was Nilufer Yanya, who is also doing well). Her self-titled second album had just come out. It’s a beautiful album of bittersweet country-pop. Since then her sounds have become ever more lush, and just as poignant. Check out Kingston and In a Good Way, both songs I absolutely love. Live, her music works best in a small venue, which allows the understated melodies and the embellishments of the steel guitar to shine through. Faye’s demeanour is quite modest too, which is fine when you are close to the action; today, with a large (and appreciative) crowd the sound was somewhat overwhelmed by the buzz of chatter, which is an inescapable part of the festival experience. Having said that, I was delighted to hear both In a Good Way and Kingston for the first time live, and She Won’t Go Away, one of the highlights of the Faye Webster album. An enjoyable set, but I should have stood a bit closer to the stage for a better appreciation.

The next two to three hours were a bit of this and a bit of that. In the meantime, I managed to miss The Comet is Coming, but I’m sure I’ll see them again soon, for more of Shabaka Hutching’s amazing sax-playing. After Faye Webster I wandered down to the Windmill stage for the second half of Yard Act. They’ve been winning a lot of plaudits recently, and are appearing everywhere, but I found it all a bit wordy, and after a couple of rants from James Smith, I decided to go and get a burger. Product placement alert – Cheeky Burgers, very good quality!

Afterwards I wandered up to the small Brixton Brewery stage, open but with one of those big canopies. A band called Modern Woman (aka Mordern Woman) were about to come on. They looked interesting: a dark-haired, rather striking woman guitarist in a long diaphanous red dress; and three men, including one who had a violin as well lots of electronic kit. They looked quite Mediterranean in appearance, Turkish maybe, and I wondered whether we were going to get an interesting clash of musical styles. So I stuck around, even though the band, especially the woman, seemed to be taking an age tuning up. I’m glad I did, because the music was intriguing – a clash of sounds indeed, but folk rock and post-punk jarring guitars and violins over jagged bass lines. Fairpoint Convention meets Black Midi! And quite a lot of shrieking too. There was a sort of suppressed wildness about them. It was all over quite quickly – probably because of that prolonged sound check – but not before a previously innocuous young man just in front of me began to leap about crazily, dragging one of his friends and a few bystanders into his improvised mosh.  I moved away to keep out of it and try to focus on the music, which was reaching a frenzied climax – before it ended suddenly. All a bit surreal.

It made quite an impression me though, and I looked afterwards to see what information there was on the band online. The singer and guitarist is Sophie Harris, the violinist/synth man David Denyer, who has Armenian heritage. The band are south London-based. Of course they are! Jon and Louis later said they’d seen them at End of the Road last year, which I missed. There’s an EP from 2021 called Dogs Fighting my Dream on Spotify, which summarises their recorded output so far. I shall keep an eye out for future shows – I’d like to see more of them. I’ll try to avoid that lone mosher if he’s there though!

After that excitement, I thought I’d give Billy Nomates a go. She’s another artist I’ve not got around to seeing at previous festivals. I liked the duet she did with Jason Williamson on Sleaford Mod’s catchy single Mork and Mindy last year. What I’d heard of her own music sounded like 70s rock/soul melodies set against a modern electronic backbeat. Could be interesting live, I thought. And it was – sort of. Billy was very energetic, leaping around the stage, as the laptop pumped out the sound. I could see why she was a fit with Sleaford Mods. But it was a bit karaoke for me – onstage. The music itself was fine. I decided to go up to the Bad Vibrations/So Young stage across the way, where the delightfully-named Tropical Fuck Storm were about to play.

TFS – let’s call them that – were bound to rock, I assumed. I was right about that! They looked the part, too. After the shenanigans at Modern Woman, I was impressed by how the band were all standing in their places, raring to go, for about five minutes before they were due to start.  No-nonsense professionals. They are from Australia, and clearly know how to entertain an audience. I didn’t know any of their music, but it was easy to enjoy the riffing, the shaking heads and the general (controlled) mayhem. Judging from the crowd they also have a diehard fanbase, who were at Wide Awake to see them today. Good fun – might not listen to their music at home, but would be happy to see them again on the stage.

I left before TFS’s set ended to return to the tent for the Horrors, and to hook up again with the rest of the group. I have good memories of this band – their show at my first Latitude, in 2012, was the highlight of the weekend. They were three albums into their career, having recently released Skying. They combined Goth, post-punk, shoegaze and electropop effortlessly and had the classic rock’n’roll look, singer Faris Badwan in particular. Fast forward to 2022 and what did we get? More of the same? Not really, not for me, anyway. It might partly have been because the lighting and imagery wasn’t anywhere near as good as that Latitude show; but mainly it was the music. It all seemed like a rather turgid wall of sound to me, with some thumping beats. Where had the melodic underpinning, the brilliant guitar sound, that stylish grandiosity gone? Ten years ago… things obviously change. The band have had some successes, but haven’t really dominated the indie scene in the way that  might have been expected. A very loyal following, for sure, but I felt that something had been lost. Some of the swagger. I didn’t stay on to see if it got better in the end, as I had an appointment with some proper rock’n’rollers…

Amyl and the Sniffers don’t make any pretences. They are a straight up hard rocking Aussie punk rock’n’roll band. Almost a cartoon version of the genre. They have the feisty, foul-mouthed, female singer, the mullet-haired guitarist, straight from the AC/DC school of rock, the booted skinhead bassist – he used to have a mullet too, I’m sure – and the drummer… the bloke who holds it altogether, but no-one knows. When I first came across them, at End of the Road in 2018, I couldn’t stop smiling. They just brought back so many youthful memories of metal, rock, punk – and they were clearly having a great time. A big rock’n’roll celebration. I saw them again, at Heaven in Charing Cross a year later, and the attraction had palled a bit; but when their new album Comfort to Me came out last year, my interest revived. There are one or two terrific rocking tunes on that, notably Guided by Angels and Looking for Love. And on the Windmill Stage they gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: a big slug of no-nonsense up-yours rock’n’roll. After the gloomy dirges of the Horrors, my smile was back! Highlights included the two songs already mentioned and the old favourite I’m not a Loser – great to hear that again. Amy Taylor strutted around the stage, taking everyone on, as she always does. Rock’n’roll grew from rebellion, but it’s a reassuring presence too, these days. Forget your worries, drink some beer and punch the air. Amyl and the Sniffers are the perfect accompaniment.

One of interesting and laudable features of the Windmill stage was that there were a couple of people to one side providing a sign language version of the songs for those who might need it. I couldn’t help but wonder what they made of Amy Taylor’s language!

I caught a few minutes of Overmono in the big tent – looked like a big rave was happening inside – and then rejoined Jon and the gang for the final show, Primal Scream playing Screamadelica. On the way down Gab took issue with my dismissal of the Horrors – she thought they were brilliant and said they had played plenty of their best songs. So there you go – a bit of BBC  balance for you.

As we waited, you could feel the anticipation in the air. We were talking about who we’d enjoyed most during the day, had a group photo taken (not a selfie!) and then the lights changed and on walked Bobby Gillespie, resplendent in white suite, flanked by his band and a gospel choir. They launched straight into Movin’ On Up and the celebrations began. There was a lot of love in the crowd for this song, this album, this band – even though a lot of the audience wouldn’t have been born when Screamadelica was released in 1991. It was one of those albums which brought rock, pop, soul, dance and rave together in an unprecedented way. It set a benchmark for others in the future. The great and late, lamented producer Andy Weatherall was, of course, at the centre of it, setting the controls for the heart of the sun, as Pink Floyd once sang.

There are three big songs on Screamadelica, with everything, especially the singers, in full flow: Movin’ On Up, Come Together and Loaded. Movin’ On Up kicks off the album; the other two are bunched together in the middle, if you listen on anything other than the vinyl, which is a double album. On that Come Together ends Side 2 and Loaded begins Side 3. That makes more sense; but if you listen all the way through, the album peaks in the middle. Around that are some pretty mellow, psychedelic tracks, some ballads. How do you deal with that in the live environment? It could all be a bit anti-climactic. What Primal Scream did was to take Loaded out of the middle and put it at the end – though not the end of the main set. That did end a bit tamely – but we still had the encore.

The whole set was brilliantly put together. A lot of the songs were given quite a different reading to the original album versions. More dance beats would sum it up. That worked for the crowd, of course. The band and the choir were superb, and Bobby was ever the showman. The lighting, the backdrop, playing on the album cover for the first part of the show, made it even more spectacular. And then came the encore…

At first, just a Scots piper, playing that familiar motif from Loaded. Teasing us. A brilliant touch. And then they all came on and piled in. A triumphal rendition of an absolute anthem. The festival anthem?

And then a switch of gear. If Amyl and the Sniffers could do rock’n’roll, then Primal Scream could do it even better. If you know the band then you can guess which three they played. In order: Jailbird, Country Girl, Rocks. Just magnificent! The only issue was fending off the bodies of some pretty beefy blokes in front as they leapt around. But yeah, what a wonderful celebration – first, of a landmark album and then the best live music of all: 100% pure rock’n’roll.

Meanwhile Liverpool were playing Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Did we care? I think you know the answer.

* The Moth Club is an excellent music venue in Hackney. By day it is a military veterans’ club. The Windmill is a Brixton pub, well known for its musical roster of up-and-coming bands. I went there for the first time this April to see Enola Gay – a great evening.

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Gang of three: Mattiel at Lafayette, Portico Quartet at Koko and Gretel Hanlyn at Bermondsey Social Club

Three concerts from a couple of weeks ago. They happened over a four day spell, from Saturday 7 May to Tuesday 10th. First and third were classic indie-pop; in the middle, some atmospheric electro-jazz. I’ll take them in chronological order.

Mattiel at Lafayette, King’s Cross, 7 May

Mattiel are a duo from Atlanta, Georgia, comprising singer Mattiel Brown and guitarist/producer Jonah Swilley. They released a self-titled debut album in 2018 and followed that with another, Satis Factory, in 2019. I came across them in 2019, when a few of their songs were given airtime by 6 Music. I particularly liked one called Keep the Change, which had a real New York feel to it – a bit of Bruce even. Thinking about it, the melody and rhythm reminded me a bit of Jesse Malin. He had a couple of albums I liked in the early 2000s, with songs like Mona Lisa and Queen of the Underworld. Mattiel has a more distinctive voice than Jesse’s – and an ear for a catchy melody. The easy categorisation is indie, but they’re not just another Strokes re-tread. Their earlier sounds have a strong hint of Americana and I’d say their influences go back to the 70s, at least. That’s acknowledged by the band’s cover of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton.

Like a lot of new bands, Mattiel’s progress was put on hold by the pandemic, but they came back this year with their best album yet, Georgia Gothic. There’s a richer sound to this one than its predecessors, and overall the songs are stronger. Highlights include Jeff Goldblum and Lighthouse, both of which bounce along and demand you join in the celebration. And that explains why the gig at Lafayette was a sell-out. The venue is part of the new development just north of King’s Cross station. I hadn’t been there before, but I liked it. There’s a modern bar upstairs and the music venue downstairs is designed so that the 300 or so audience get good views of the wide stage. I thought that maybe there were slightly too many people packed in, but Jon and I managed to find a bit of space near the bar at the back, having got there just as the concert was about to begin.

I was interested to see that the crowd was fairly young – mostly 20s or early 30s, I’d say. That surprised me a little, given that Mattiel’s music is classic indie and rock, essentially. Maybe it’s the 90s revival – or is it now the noughties? And the songs, drawn from all three albums, were greeted really enthusiastically. It was striking how many great choruses there were – an invitation to sing along, which a lot of people did. The one thing I’d say was missing was the rock’n’roll sound of a full four or five piece band. Mattiel sings and presses a few buttons, while Jonah plays guitar, without much stage presence. So the focus is very much on Mattiel. It might be anyway, but I think she’d benefit from having some more organic beats to sing along to. Call me old fashioned…

They came straight out of the traps with Jeff Goldblum, and Lighthouse soon followed. Another favourite during the main set was Subterranean Shut-in Blues, which does nod to Bob Dylan given the title, and has a very catchy chorus about making me nervous. They rattled through 18 songs and came back for five more – a very generous set list. Jonah swapped his electric guitar for an acoustic in the encore, and paradoxically that gave the songs a harder edge. And what a great surprise to hear Guns of Brixton – they did the Clash classic full justice.  They kept the best till last – Keep the Change. Mattiel sings I’ve wasted all my time, but nothing could be further from the truth. A really enjoyable evening.

Portico Quartet at Koko, Camden, 8 May

I first saw Portico Quartet in March 2012, supporting Scritti Politti at the Lexington on the Pentonville Road. It was part of a series of concerts promoted by the Word magazine –  sadly no more, though Mark Ellen and David Hepworth keep the spirit going with their excellent Word podcast. I’d not heard much about the band before the gig, even though their 2007 debut album Knee Deep in the North Sea was nominated for the 2008 Mercury music prize. Here’s what I said about them in my review at the time:

First band on was Portico Quartet. We missed a bit of their set, drinking beers downstairs, waiting for one of our number and then just chatting. But as soon as we got upstairs, I was just blown away. Four young guys extracting amazing sounds from a mini-sax, drums, double bass with occasional violin bow, synth and a set of sort-of steel drums. It was at the same time prog rock, jazz, world.  It was haunting, it grooved and the bass lines shook the floor.  You could feel the vibrations rise up your legs. It was like a sound system at Notting Hill. A thought occurred that this was the kind of sound that Radiohead are increasingly heading towards.  I imagined what it might be like with Thom Yorke singing over it (with no disrespect to the drummer who did a bit of singing).  Awesome.

I’ve followed the band ever since, though not in a dedicated way. They make jazzy, ambient electronica – their website describes it as widescreen instrumental music – which is relaxing, absorbing, but, like the band themselves, rather unassuming. They are there when you want them, but they don’t scream for attention. Seven albums since they started, and various collaborations. All high quality. The band members are: Jack Wylie on saxophone and keyboards, Duncan Bellamy on drums and electronics, Milo Fitzpatrick on electric and double bass and Keir Vine on keyboards. All but Keir Vine are original members of the band; he replaced Nick Mulvey, who left in 2011, to pursue a successful solo career. And that sort-of steel drum I referred to in 2012 is called a hang, and still features in their sound.

When I saw that Portico Quartet were playing Koko, I thought it was a good opportunity to renew the acquaintance with the band and the venue. Koko had been closed since January 2020, when a fire destroyed the roof of the building. I always liked going there for gigs – a nice size – around 1,500 – and with some of the old musical hall/theatre designed retained. It had, of course, been the Camden Palace in the 80s and 90s, and before that, the Music Machine, a favoured punk venue, in the 70s. It dates back to the early 20th century, and I’m pretty sure must be the theatre which features in many of the paintings of Walter Sickert, currently the subject of a major new exhibition at Tate Britain. Jon G and Tony were up for the occasion, so after a couple of beers across the road at the Lyttelton Arms, we wandered over for an evening of cool, atmospheric jazz.

And that’s what we got. More than jazz of course – a lot of that ambient electronica, and some reverberating basslines. The lighting and dry ice was used cleverly to enhance the spacey atmospherics. I especially liked the way that it caught Jack Wylie’s sax and beamed out into the audience. The band were predictably low key, letting the music do the talking. Koko’s an all-standing venue, which gave the place a bit of a buzz – had it been seated, I think it would have been tempting to shut your eyes and just let it all flow. I honestly can’t tell you which tunes were played, though I think I recognised Impressions from last year’s album Monument. Likewise, I imagine that the new EP Next Stop featured. Both well worth a listen, as I’ve been doing since the concert.

An enriching evening of high quality music to immerse yourself in.

Gretel Hänlyn at Bermondsey Social Club, SE London, 10 May

This was a real night of discovery! It’s not often that I venture into the depths of SE London for a gig under some railway arches, but this was the location for Bermondsey Social Club. Slightly intimidating from the outside; inside a basic, but welcoming venue, holding at most 150 people, I’d say. And the artist, also new, though I’d been listening to her quite a lot in recent months. That’s thanks to Steve Lamacq, who has been backing her singles – a string of catchy indie rock’n’roll songs with Gretel’s deep voice giving them a distinctive edge. Each time I heard a new song of hers, I immediately thought, this is good, what is it? I assumed she must be Scandinavian, or German, given her name; but she is in fact from Acton, West London. Just down the road from my patch, Ealing. She does in fact have some German heritage; her real name is Maddy Haenlein. I’ll call her Gretel.

Gretel has recently released an EP called Slugeye, which brings together all her singles with some new tracks. Seven in all, checking in in a brisk twenty minutes. It’s not so different to Mattiel’s music, but with a more modern feel – the slower songs especially feel very contemporary. That’s no surprise when you read that Mura Masa has been involved in the production. This collection hits a lot of bases, and might just be the best new music I’ve heard this year. My favourite is the infectious rock’n’roll of Motorbike, closely followed by It’s the Future Baby, which was the first song of hers that I heard. Motorbike is absurdly catchy – with good promotion it could be this year’s Chaise Longue, Wet Leg’s irresistible first single, which became 2021’s indie sound of the summer.

Jon and I got to the venue in good time to see the support band, gglum, fronted by Ella Smoker, who is from Croydon and is half-Finnish. I didn’t know the music, but enjoyed it. In the same vein as Gretel Hänlyn, maybe a bit dreamier and less rooted in rock’n’roll. I read later that she’s had over two million streams on Spotify, which is impressive. She attended the Brit school apparently, which may help to explain things. I shall watch out for more from her.

gglum

This was Gretel’s first ever headline show, and she went for it from the start. First song was Motorbike and it rocked! It’s the Future Baby followed. She had a tight band, and a good dynamic with her bassist Edd Paul, who looked like he’d come straight from the gym. There must have been some new songs, as the set lasted a good hour. The ballad Connie went down really well – Gretel mentioned that in an Instagram poll it was voted favourite song on the EP. She played an Elliot Smith cover during the set too. The uptempo Apple Juice, the most recent single, was another highlight; and the set finished with the excellent Slugeye, one of the songs where it occurs to you that her voice has some resemblance to Hannah Reid’s (the London Grammar vocalist).

This was an upbeat, celebratory show, full of the joys of rock’n’roll, and the crowd’s reaction reflected that. Lots of love! She and the band were clearly delighted. That is so nice to see. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will go on to greater things, and I’ll be pleased to be able to say I was at her first headline show!

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Mabe Fratti at King’s Place, 21 April 2021

Mabe Fratti is a Guatemalan cellist and composer, based in Mexico. Last year she released a wonderful, entrancing album called Sera Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos. I first heard tracks from it, of course, on BBC 6 Music: Mary Anne Hobbs, Lauren Laverne, Tom Ravenscroft on what was then called 6 Music Recommends – it was all or one of them. Nadie Sabe, the album opener, was my introduction. From there I explored the whole album, and was quickly hooked. I made it No 10 in my albums of 2021, but really, it could have been a lot higher. It was like nothing else I listened to all year. I said this in my review of the the albums of the year:

The album title in English is Will We Be able to Understand Each Other Now? That sense of unease permeates the album as Mabe Fratti’s wistful vocals float over a soundscape of juddering and looped cellos, synths, discordant guitars – and a bit of birdsong! There’s a strange beauty to it, which occasionally brings to mind Kate Bush or even the Cocteau Twins, but really I haven’t heard anything like it before.

And so, when I saw she was playing King’s Place in April, I leapt at the chance to get tickets. I persuaded my wife, Kath, that it would be interesting; and King’s Place is a great place to see any artists, musical or spoken word. It’s near King’s Cross station, sharing the building with the Guardian newspaper, and the two halls have comfortable seats and good acoustics. What’s not to like?

Events got off to a slow start on the night, with the 8.30 start pushed back further. A brief support performance was provided by Australian artist Laila Sakini. The music was mostly pre-recorded, though she played a bit of piano and chanted a little. There was no introduction, so we weren’t sure whether this was part of Mabe Fratti’s set; but it ended after about twenty minutes. After a short break, Mabe came on, accompanied by a guitarist and two keyboard/synth players. Together, I think they were Concepion Huerta – Mabe has made an EP with them recently, called Estatica.

A little confusing; but once the band started up, that was entirely forgotten. The concert was captivating from start to finish. Mabe’s cello playing was amazing, and her voice floated beautifully over the wildness, the rawness of the music. Meanwhile, the guitarist conjured up some extraordinary, meandering sounds, which complemented the musings of her cello. The synths added further layers to the soundscape. It was truly immersive. I couldn’t tell you what they played, though I think there were a few from the 2021 album – if not my favourite, En Medio, as far as I could tell. That’s the one which really brings to mind the Cocteau Twins. Estatica had a full rendition in the second phase of the show. I know this because Mabe told us!

A fantastic concert, an entrancing sound. You don’t need to know the tunes beforehand to find them engrossing. Mabe Fratti herself is visually quite understated, but musically, incredibly powerful. I’ll certainly be looking out for her next visit to these shores.

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King Hannah at Oslo, Hackney, 20 April 2022

King Hannah are a four piece band featuring, on vocals and rhythm guitar, Hannah Merrick; and on lead guitar and occasional vocals, Guy Whittle. They are Liverpool-based, though Hannah is from Wales. Theirs is not the typical Liverpool indie sound though – all those jangling guitars and Beatles-inspired melodies. This is music from the dark heart of America, meshing with Hannah’s droll reflections on daily life.

I first came across the band last year at Green Man. They were second on, on the Sunday in the Far Out tent. Always a rather soporific time at the festivals, as people recharge their batteries after the excesses of Saturday night. The programme notes for the band referred to America’s big open spaces, to Mazzy Star and Lana del Rey. And it said that they had just released a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper – a song from his album Nebraska, the bleak but brilliant acoustic album that came out in 1982, after The River and before Born in the USA. It sounded like a good prospect.

And it was. I loved the performance. The songs were mostly quite long, starting dreamily, with that Mazzy Star sound very much in evidence, especially through Hannah’s singing. A touch of Velvet Underground too, in their slower moments. And then Guy’s guitar would be unleashed, and we were into Neil Young/Adam Granduciel territory, with the distortion pedal in full effect. Think Cortez the Killer or Cowgirl in the Sand, or War on Drugs’ Thinking of a Place. This was absolutely my thing! And they played State Trooper – at a slightly higher tempo than Bruce, with the bonus of a rasping solo at the end. My top discovery at Green Man in 2021.

At Green Man, August 2021

Of course when I got home I checked out the back catalogue. Just a couple of singles and a six track EP called Tell Me Your Mind and I’ll Tell You Mine, as well as State Trooper. The EP included the first two singles, Crème Brûlée and Meal Deal. Both terrific songs, with the deadpan vocals and soaring guitars. Crème Brûlée rapidly became my favourite. It’s a song about yearning, and doesn’t mention the fabled French dessert at any point!

The band played the Lexington on Pentonville Road in the autumn, but I couldn’t make that; so I was pleased to see that they had a tour to promote their first album, I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me, this spring. I wasn’t able to persuade any of my friends of the band’s merits, so made my way up to Hackney on the Overground last Wednesday to see them myself. I like Oslo: there’s an excellent bar/restaurant on the ground floor and the music room upstairs is a nice size. I’d say you could get 300 plus in there. Just right for a band on its way up. I got there in time to see the support act, Hussy, named after the singer (real name Sophie Nicole Ellison). She played guitar and was accompanied by another guitarist with an impressive mullet! I wasn’t familiar with their music, but enjoyed it – some of the guitar work took them into similar territory to the main act.

Hussy – Sophie on the left

Which brings us onto King Hannah. The set was based around the new album, of course, but the sound was familiar from Green Man, though more powerful and direct in the smaller venue. Hannah for a while adopted the insouciant/nervous pose, with no introductions: but she succumbed after a few songs, to express her gratitude and amazement at the number of people there. They are quite a humble band – their Instagram account suggests that they are genuinely taken aback by the numbers of people coming to see them. And it’s well deserved: the show was excellent, with some astonishing guitar from Guy adorning every song. Visually the two of them are chalk and cheese: Hannah elegant and seemingly aloof, New York indie style; Guy, in his plaid shirt and beanie, straight out of some mid-west Americana band. But they complement each other perfectly, just as the brooding melodies blend so well with the searing riffs and solos.

After opening with A Well-Made Woman, one of singles from the album, it was straight into State Trooper. What a great version it is – I wonder if Bruce has heard it? I’m sure he would approve.  The Sea has Stretchmarks from the early EP followed, before a deep dive into the new album. Highlights? Every solo! Credit, too, to the drummer and bassist who laid down a very solid – and subtle – beat that allowed the songs to build so effectively to that point where Guy let rip, with Hannah’s rhythms embellishing the wall of sound. We liked that one, she smiled after one particularly raucous wig out – it might have been Big Big Baby. To cap it all, the main set finished with the masterpiece: Crème Brûlée. Magnificent.

I would have gone home happy at that point, but we were treated to a generous encore of Meal Deal – which counts as an old favourite – and It’s You and Me, Kid, on which Guy shares the vocal duties. A fitting end, as they really do work so well together.

So, if you haven’t heard King Hannah give them a try. And try to catch them live, where the power and majesty of their songs is fully realised.

Riffing at the speed of light!

 

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The War on Drugs at the O2 Dome, 12 April 2022

The War on Drugs are a band that I liked from the first time I saw them, at Latitude in 2012, and have loved ever since they released their fourth album, Lost in the Dream, in 2014. In 2012, not knowing the band, I immediately took to their big, spacey sound, a combination of  Americana and grunge. I likened them to Pearl Jam in that regard. But the roots of this band lie most of all in the classic sounds of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, with Neil Young, Freebird Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dire Straits inspiring the solos of Adam Granduciel, the main man, singer and lead guitarist. Lost in the Dream was an album that reflected its title: lost, in love or despair; hoping, dreaming of better times. Springsteen themes, for sure, but sung with a fragility and tenderness that made them less defiant, more forlorn. Instead, the most uplifting moments often came from the sounds of Adam’s guitar –  in the words of Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe, crying to the sky.

There was something else that lifted the songs; a pounding motorik beat that seemed more European than American. German, to be precise. Never was that more so than on Lost in the Dream’s flagship tune, Under the Pressure. A nine minute anthem bookended by a flickering, shimmering build-up and a gradual, abstracted fade. In between a triumphant piano motif and relentless Euro-beat as Adam lamented being under the pressure. A universal feeling, but also one tied to a fragile relationship, it seemed. But in this song, the hurt of the words was overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of the music. It was a song born to be the War on Drugs’ signature tune for all time.

There were epic tunes aplenty on Lost in the DreamRed Eyes, Burning, Eyes to the Wind, An Ocean in Between the Waves – but the two ballads were the ones that hit home for me most of all. The title track was a sumptuous Dylanesque lament, straight from the Blood on the Tracks songbook; Suffering was about lost hope, but had a musical backdrop of languid beauty, cracked at the end by a tremolo guitar, a whisper of sax and a cry from Adam that pierced the soul. I had a bit of an epiphany with this song once, walking over Ebury Bridge in Pimlico, gazing over the railway lines with their snaking trains coming in and out of Victoria Station, and a hazy Battersea Power Station looming in the background. With that moment in mind, the song made its way into my novel, The Decision, as the hero, Charlie, had his dark night of the soul before the act that would launch him and his rebel group to prominence.

So yes, the War on Drugs became an important band for me. They played a sublime show at Latitude in 2014 at the end of a sequence of amazing bands – Parquet Courts, Eagulls, Fat White Family, Augustines  – which probably still ranks as my finest memory of the festival. I saw them too at Brixton Academy in 2015, Alexandra Palace in 2017 and All Points East in 2018. Each time they were awesome – and each time they failed to play Suffering! Maybe it hurts too much to sing. Adam has been candid over the years about his struggles with depression – maybe it was a song too far. But Under the Pressure was always there, always a highlight, wherever it featured in the set.

Latitude 2014

The follow up to Lost in the Dream, A Deeper Understanding, came out in 2017. More discursive than its predecessor, it took me longer to appreciate fully, but it stands the test of time. My favourite two tracks are Thinking of a Place, which may have Adam’s finest guitar moments, and Pain, which rivals it on that account. You can tell from the song titles that Adam’s themes hadn’t changed, and the melodies on both those songs are the height of wistful. Lost in that dream.

It was four years until the next studio album I Don’t Live Here Anymore in October 2021. Nearly two years taken out by the pandemic, of course. I’d settled into listening to the songs I’ve mentioned above on various playlists, and not much else. I completely missed the fact that a live album had been released in 2020. When the new album came out I was surprised at how much promotion it was getting – billboards around London, in tube stations. And it was surprising to see that the London leg of the UK tour was at the O2 in the Dome, the largest indoor arena, I think. Had they become this big? When did that happen? I feared the worst – was the new album an attempt at larger audience, which would almost certainly mean commercialising the sound? More dinky beats, uptempo tunes and less guitar? Not my War on Drugs at all. My fears weren’t realised. There was more of a pop edge to some of the melodies, the production was a bit shinier, 80s style. But it was still discernibly the War on Drugs, with song titles like Victim, Old Skin, Wasted and Rings Around my Father’s Eyes. They hadn’t exactly gone happy-clappy.

Jon E, not previously a known War on Drugs fan, suggested getting some tickets for the O2 show. And so we were there last Tuesday. For various reasons, including wanting to watch Real Madrid vs Chelsea  – a mystery to me, that one – Dave, Tony, Shane, Jon G and Louis all couldn’t come in the end, but Gab did, so we were three. Great seats, quite near to the front, to the left of the stage. The top tier of the O2 was closed and the seats were about two-thirds occupied; but the standing area looked full, and the atmosphere was tingling as the lights went down. The support band, Lo Moon were excellent. Based in LA, with some New York roots, they have a big sound in common with the War on Drugs, but it errs towards Coldplay and an element of shoegaze. I liked it a lot.

Lo Moon

And so to the main attraction. First song, Old Skin, starting slow but building to a crescendo. And from there into Pain, truly magnificent. Already this felt like a level above what the band had done before. The sound, the lights, the solos. Every song seemed to soar. Around us, there were ecstatic fans, celebrating at the end of each song. It felt triumphal.

The set revolved around the last three albums, though we did also get Come to the City from Slave Ambient, the album featured at Latitude in 2012. The songs from the new album were prevalent of course, and they sounded fresh and sharp – those commercial elements worked really well in the arena. Which is what they were designed for, I guess: I Don’t Live Here Anymore, I Don’t Wanna Wait, Harmonia’s Dream – the new anthems. But the beautiful ballad got in there too: Living Proof, the album opener. This is unlike most War on Drugs songs, in that it doesn’t feel long enough. A lot of them meander to the finish. In contrast, Living Proof ends abruptly after a wonderfully delicate guitar solo. You really want another chorus, but it doesn’t arrive. A lovely song though, with that plaintive intro brings a tear to the eye.

In the first half of the show we had an Ocean in Between the Waves and Red Eyes from Lost in the Dream and The Strangest Thing from A Deeper Understanding. Each one infused with emphatic beats and embellished by the soaring solos. It reminded me of the Latitude show in 2014 when I thought to myself, it’s like Freebird in every song. The band are really tight, and Adam just lets rip with his guitar over the rich foundation they provide. Things peaked, of course, with Under the Pressure, third song from the end of the main set. As soon as those electro beats started ticking, the sense of anticipation rose. And this was the best I’ve ever heard it. A immense, immersive sound, the stage bathed in metallic light. And that relentless, driving beat. Sensational. I, for one, was filled with a sense of wonder – lost in the dream.

That may have been the peak, but there were more delights to come. I Don’t Live Here Anymore and Occasional Rain, both from the new album, completed the main set brilliantly. And then the encore exceeded all my hopes. First a magisterial Thinking of a Place; and then, for the first time on this tour I think, Lost in the Dream. A moment of pure joy. And that wasn’t even the end. To round things off we were treated to a version of Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane – an acknowledgement of where this band have come from.

I think the War on Drugs are now operating at a level above anything they have done before. When I first saw them I wondered whether their more delicate songs could translate to the stadiums. There’s no doubt now – this is a band that fills the arena, the stadium with a huge sound, a triumphal sound, but one that can still tug the heartstrings. Inevitably, as time advances, we will see and hear less of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young and others of their generation(s). Adam Granduciel and the War on Drugs are one of those bands that stand ready to keep the flag flying.

 

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Enola Gay at the Windmill Brixton and Caroline at Cecil Sharp House, 6 and 7 April 2022

This last week I’ve been to see two up-and-coming bands who, it is fair to say, are on opposite ends of the indie spectrum. And that’s indie in its broadest sense. Both have support from 6 Music, both are selling out their gigs; both, in their different ways, are uncompromising. And both their shows were brilliant.

The bands are Enola Gay, who played the Windmill Brixton on 6 and 7 April, and Caroline, who played Cecil Sharpe House, near Regent’s Park on 7 April.

Enola Gay

Caroline

I went with Jon G to Enola Gay on the 6th. I’d not been to the Windmill before, which is surprising, given that it is the place that so many indie bands have made a name in recent years, including Fat White Family, Goat Girl and Shame. It’s a pub, but one devoted to music. There’s no separate room for the gigs. I liked it – a proper music venue. We got there for the support act, Yinyang (aka Lauren Hannan) from Belfast, like Enola Gay. She sings about the tribulations of life over bass-heavy hip hop beats, which on Spotify reminded me occasionally of some of Billie Eilish’s early music. It was her first ever live show apparently. She did well, but it’s just her and her laptop – I’d suggest she teams up with someone – Sleaford Mods style? – so that there’s a bit more to focus on.

Yinyang

And then Enola Gay. Wow! Theirs is a brutal, relentless sound. On 6 Music I was particularly struck by the song Through Men’s Eyes, but all their songs combine hard-hitting lyrics – if you can discern them – with piledriving riffs and rhythms that are either punk or hip hop, and sometimes both. Live it was awesome, especially in such a small venue. Half way through I moved to the side at the front to get a better view of the guitarist and drummer, and was grateful for the ear plug I brought along to protect my good ear! I don’t use it that often, but it was essential tonight.

There are plenty of bands making punk/hardcore sounds: and hip hop infuses a lot of rock these days – Turnstile an excellent example.  But there is something about Enola Gay which stands out. There is no compromise. They are in your face, and they are serious. Down to earth too. They were at the front supporting Yinyang, and enjoying talking to fans at the merch table afterwards.

If you like noisy rock’n’roll with a political/social context, watch out for Enola Gay.

How to describe Caroline? The fact that they were playing at Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, tells you something – the music is rooted somewhere in the traditions of folk music. But folk music from everywhere, not just England. Throw in Black Country New Road, some monkish chanting, avant-garde jazz and some scratchy Captain Beefheart guitars and you might be able to get an idea of what they sound like. Best thing to do is just go and see them. They really are a fascinating, engrossing band. There’s a little singing, notably on the medieval-sounding IWR, which is rather lovely. There are trumpets and saxophones, cellos and violins, as well as guitars, acoustic and electric. Sometimes the sounds flow; other times they are eked out of the instruments, a good example of this being the tune Skydiving onto the Library Roof. Your guess is as good as mine what that’s all about, but the music is strangely compelling.

Chanting on IWR

I saw the band at Green Man last year, on the small Rising stage, tucked away in the trees behind the main stage. What struck me then was first, the togetherness of the band; and second, what an enthusiastic following they had. Both those things were evident on Thursday too, though the concert also had a bit of a campfire feel, with the band assembled in a circle, and the crowd – all around – mostly sitting on the hard floor. Mainly young folk too – why weren’t they up on their feet and giving it some? Maybe this is what they thought you are meant to do at a Caroline gig. It reminded me of something I heard on the Word podcast recently, when David Hepworth and Mark Ellen were discussing how a lot of the iconic live shows of bands like Led Zeppelin and the Who in the late 60s and early 70s were in university venues where everyone was sitting on the floor. The Who’s classic Live at Leeds album is one such example. The sitting down was a bit of an issue for me and my friends – Jon G, Shane and Tony tonight – with our creaking limbs and aching backs. (It’s sometimes hard being a gig-goer in your 60s, but it has to be done!) Eventually we made our way to an area near one of the exits where people were standing – and found ourselves a good view too.

From the floor!

So, what I’d say about Caroline is that you don’t have to be wedded to any particular genre of music to appreciate them. Like Enola Gay, though in a very different way, they have a bit of an aura about them. You can leave your musical prejudices at home and just go with the flow.

Two great gigs that confirm that music is ever-evolving and always fascinating.

Some more photos, starting this time with Caroline.

And Enola Gay.

It’s all too much!

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This is the Kit at the Royal Albert Hall, 8 March 2022

 

This is the Kit is a band that plays what you might call alternative folk. It’s the vehicle of the multi-talented Kate Stables, who sings and plays guitars and banjo, with core members Rozi Plain on bass, Neil Smith on lead guitar and Jamie Whitby-Coles on drums. Folk is certainly at the core of the sound, but there’s jazz, some world beats and lyrics that could be part of the psychedelic era.

Neil on left, Kate in black, Rozi in red

I first came across the band in 2015, courtesy of Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music. The song that caught my attention was All in Cahoots, which must have been a single at the time. It was off their album Bashed Out, which was their third, and their most polished by far (as I discovered when listening to its predecessors). Some big hitters connected with Aaron Dessner of The National were involved in the making. All in Cahoots summed up the appeal of This is the Kit to me: a wistful melody, beautifully sung, an insistent guitar strum, some gentle brass and lyrics that that did and didn’t make sense. Let’s call them abstract – you make of them what you will.

Bashed Out became one of my favourite albums of 2015. In fact, I made it No 3 in my Best Of that year. Here’s what I said in my review:

Fronted by singer, banjo player and guitarist Kate Stables, This Is The Kit play the most beautiful, wistful folk, with a modern and occasionally quirky touch. There are hints of John Martyn when they go electric – that really comes out live. Favourite tracks include “In Cahoots”, which is the one that introduced me to the band, and the lovely opener, “Misunderstanding”. That one echoed through my head during our summer holiday in Antibes. It felt right in a place I where had so much time to think and imagine, sitting on the balcony on balmy evenings. This is a wonderful, rather moving album from start to finish.

I’ll still go along with that, especially with the reference to Misunderstanding. I think that remains my favourite This is the Kit song, though there are plenty of contenders.

I first saw the band play at Latitude in 2015, on a stage called Other Voices, along the lake. It was a one-off for that year, Latitude’s tenth festival. The band had almost missed the gig because of a massive traffic jam along the A12 that year – Rozi Plain had a solo set that went by the wayside. They were still a bit flustered when they took to the stage, but soon settled to play a beautiful set of songs. It was then that I realised how powerful Misunderstanding was live, when Neil let rip on the echoey guitar at the end. Very much in the spirit of John Martyn.

Latitude July 2015

I’ve seen the band a few times since: at the Scala, King’s Cross in November 2015; at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in January 2018; and End of the Road in 2018 on the Garden Stage in the sunshine, straight after the metal/punk thrash of Amyl and the Sniffers! A wonderfully soothing comedown that one. All the shows were really satisfying. There was a real quality to the playing, exemplified by Kate Stables herself, switching between acoustic and electric guitar and the banjo.  A new album, 2017’s Moonshine Freeze, took centre stage in those 2018 concerts. It was a bit more upbeat musically and jazzier than Bashed Out, but the quirky lyrics hadn’t gone away – from Nits on Bashed Out to Riddled with Ticks and Solid Grease on Moonshine Freeze. What was Kate trying to say? The funny thing is that if you didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, all three of these songs were just lovely folk tunes.

And so to the Albert Hall, a couple of weeks ago. The concert was originally planned for 2021, as part of the Albert Hall’s 150 year celebrations. The pandemic knocked it back to 2022, and probably allowed for more ticket sales – I didn’t get mine until this year. On the night it was pretty full, if not sold out – it’s a big place for This is the Kit to headline. Kate made that point more than once – she was living the dream being there.

There was another album to accommodate in tonight’s show: 2020’s Off Off On. I must admit, that after a couple of initial listens, I rather dismissed it as more of the same, after the previous two. But I gave it more of a listen beforehand, and started to appreciate it more. And that applied especially to the closing track, Keep Going. It’s a long piece, with some lovely guitar. And a message that resonates in these troubled times. It had to play a part in the night’s proceedings…

We – my wife Kath and I – had great seats, right at the front at the first tier above the stalls. We got there in time for the support act, Jessca Hoop. I’d seen her at Latitude a few years ago on the Sunrise Arena. I like her recorded music, and tonight I thought she was very good, if a bit obsessed with her monitors and the sound. Some wry Californian humour thrown into the mix. She came back for a duet with Kate during This is the Kit’s set.

And then the main attraction. More musicians than ever, with a full brass section, who really did the business. But some lovely solo Kate too – just her and her banjo. Songs mostly from Off Off On and Moonshine Freeze, but Bashed Out still got a look in, with the title track (part of the encore), Silver John and, to my delight, Misunderstanding, as atmospheric as ever. Bullet Proof, from Moonshine Freeze is up there with Misunderstanding for that wistful beauty; and Moonshine Freeze, Hotter Colder (encore) and This is What You Did provided that more upbeat groove, incorporating sounds from around the world. And yes, Keep Going provided a fitting end to the main set.

As with previous concerts, it was a performance of the highest quality. Retaining that essence of folk, but exploring so many other genres, and doing everything just right. On top of that, Kate’s joy at being there was so palpable, and was clearly shared by her bandmates. For them it was a real celebration, and so it was for us, the audience, too.

A wonderful evening of music and celebration. This is the Kit always leave you feeling good about the world.

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Tony Visconti’s Holy Holy at the Barbican, 13 March 2022

Last night was a night of nostalgia, the best sort of nostalgia. A celebration of the music of David Bowie, performed by Holy Holy, a group put together by the great producer Tony Visconti, who worked with Bowie on many of his finest records, from the Man Who Sold the World in 1970, to Bowie’s final album before his death in 2016, Blackstar.

The concert, at the Barbican, was originally scheduled for 2020. Since then Woody Woodmansey, the drummer from the Spiders from Mars, Bowie’s legendary backing band in the early 70s, has dropped out – over covid vaccination issues, according to the press. Last night’s band comprised Visconti himself on bass, Steve “Smiley” Barnard on drums, guitarists James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford, Janette Mason on keyboards, Visconti’s daughter Jessica Lee Morgan on acoustic guitar, sax and backing vocals, and finally Glenn Gregory on vocals. Glenn made his name as the vocalist for the brilliant 80s electro-pop band Heaven 17, whose hits included Temptation and (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing. Classics, both.

Holy Holy have been playing Bowie songs since 2014, though I must admit I hadn’t come across them until Dave asked if we fancied going to the Barbican show. Their website asserts, “We are not a tribute band; we are the real deal.” Well, maybe they are both: a really good tribute band, but with authentic Bowie connections, primarily through Visconti. And they are all very accomplished musicians – the quality of the performance last night was astounding.

The only thing more astounding was the setlist. It was unbelievably good! They have a fantastic back catalogue to draw upon of course, but this really was a dream. The best thing to do is just list it – any Bowie fan will immediately just go, wow!

The Width of a Circle – Lady Grinning Soul – Ziggy Stardust – Time – Quicksand – Changes – Ashes to Ashes – All the Madmen – a medley of: Wild Eyed Boy from Free Cloud/All the Young Dudes/Oh You Pretty Things – Boys Keep Swinging – Space Oddity – The Man Who Sold the World – Starman – Heroes – Rock’n’Roll Suicide – Life on Mars – Moonage Daydream – Encore: Where Are We Now? and Rebel Rebel – Second encore: Suffragette City.  

A strong emphasis, you can see, on the early 70s albums, and some good rocking too. Funnily enough, the only one of these that Visconti produced exclusively was The Man Who Sold the World. In previous incarnations Holy Holy have performed the whole of this album. We – Dave, Jon, Tony and me – were kind of expecting that to be the case last night. It would have been interesting, as long as there were a few hits afterwards. But when Glenn announced Lady Grinning Soul after the darkly rocking Width of a Circle, we knew we were in for a night of pure entertainment. I’ve loved Lady Grinning Soul from the moment I first heard it on Aladdin Sane when I was 14. It is such a beautiful, jazzy tune, with a typically strange Bowie twist. It spoke of things I knew nothing about, but I could imagine what they might be. That applies to a lot of Bowie’s great work in the 1970s. As a teenager living in Suffolk and then the East Midlands, I was so far removed from the world that Bowie inhabited. But I, and millions of others, could inhabit it through his songs.

The crowd, unsurprisingly, tended towards the fifty-pluses, but it wasn’t long before a decent number of people were up on their feet, encouraged by Glenn Gregory. So many anthems! I was interested to see how well Boys Keep Swinging went down. It has a great beat, if it isn’t one of Bowie’s best known. Naturally Ashes to Ashes was an early highlight; and All the Young Dudes has truly been reclaimed from Mott the Hoople. But for me, the very best of all was the sequence which began with an eerily beautiful Space Oddity, continued with The Man Who Sold Who Sold the World, with that wonderful guitar motif; took in a sublime Starman, the song that introduced so many of us properly to Bowie; and finished with Heroes, forever a song of hope as well as a moment of defiance and celebration. Like many in the audience, I’m sure, my thoughts turned to the people of Ukraine and what they are going through right now. I wanted the stage to be bathed in yellow and blue light at that moment. Heroes for a lot more than one day.

How could you top that? Well, the band certainly did their best to match it for the rest of the show. Glenn introduced Rock’n’Roll Suicide as the song he most likes to sing. He told us a story about how, when Tony Visconti invited him to join the band after an encounter at Abbey Road studios, he said that Glenn’s voice had a little bit of Bowie in it. Of course it did, Glenn said to us. Every pop singer in the early 80s, especially in a cutting edge band like Heaven 17, was going to have been hugely influenced by David Bowie. And that dramatic song was followed by another, perhaps the most dramatic, Life on Mars. Another one that stirs so many teenage memories! And then the guitars cranked up for the last song of the main set: an awesome Moonage Daydream. James Stevenson had Mick Ronson’s Gibson Les Paul sound off to a tee throughout. Wikipedia tells me he was in the London punk band Chelsea, then Generation X, then Kim Wilde’s band. He later became a member of Gene Loves Jezebel. Steeped in rock’n’roll.

There was a lovely touch in the encore, when we fast-forwarded to Bowie’s penultimate album, The Next Day (2013) for a rendition of the lead song from that album, Where Are We Now? At the time it came out I found it a bit depressing – it might have been the video, as well as my resistance to songs about growing old (I’ve got over that!). Now I find it a beautiful, wistful tune, which, of course, now has an extra touch of the elegiac. And all those Berlin references strike a chord too. There was a lot of love for Bowie in the audience at that moment.

It wasn’t going to end with that though. The band changed gear and we had a rousing version of Rebel Rebel. Just fantastic. A timeless song, but one that also takes me back to hitching lifts home from school in Oakham on Saturday afternoons in 1974. Yes, we did that sort of thing in those days.

And that, we thought, was it. But no, Tony took centre stage to tell us a couple of Bowie stories, the first about his time in Berlin with Iggy Pop, the second about a time in Switzerland. At that point Glenn whispered in his ear that if they wanted to do another song he’d better get on with it. Good call! The story was wrapped up and the band reassembled for another punch-the-air rock’n’roll celebration, Suffragette City. Truly, the band that keeps on giving!

Tony tells a story

Like their website says, Holy Holy are the real deal. Catch them if you can.

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Concert catch up: Wolf Alice, Big Thief, Butch Kassidy/Legss, Echo and the Bunnymen

Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice

With the senseless, barbaric invasion of Ukraine by Russia dominating our thoughts, one sometimes wonders what the point of writing about pop music is. But I guess that while we are lucky and privileged enough to do so, it remains worth doing. It remains a brightness amid the surrounding gloom.

I’ve been surprisingly busy on what can only be described as work over the past month, and haven’t managed to get around to writing about the concerts I have been to. So this is a bumper edition of four such outings. It started small with Butch Kassidy and Legss at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, went retro with Echo and the Bunnymen at the Roundhouse, was triumphant with Wolf Alice at the Hammersmith Apollo, and finished magnificently if slightly perplexingly with Big Thief at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. A fifth concert which I was really looking forward to was Good Sad Happy Bad at Corsica Studios near Elephant Castle, but one of the band members contracted covid, and the rescheduled date clashes with another event. Such is the nature of these things.

I’ll take them in turn.

Butch Kassidy and Legss at the Old Blue Last, 5 February

I wouldn’t normally venture out to Shoreditch on a Saturday evening – it’s the preserve of the youngsters, the party people. But I made an exception to see Butch Kassidy, who were second on a three band bill, upstairs at the Old Blue Last, a pub on Great Eastern Street, on the edge of the City.

Why? I hear you ask. Well, it just so happens that I know a couple of the band, singer/guitarist Ffion and bassist Tom. They are good friends from schooldays of Jon’s son Louis. They were with us at Green Man festival last year, and Tom has been to End of the Road with us too. I saw the band in a previous incarnation at the Hanwell Hootie in 2018, when they were called My First Moustache. They put on an excellent show then and looked like a band who could go places. That applies equally to Butch Kassidy, and they are getting plenty of gigs on the London indie circuit now. I’d not been able to get to any of their recent shows, but was keen to see how they were doing, so dragged myself out of the armchair and headed for Liverpool Street station on a drizzly, rather chilly evening. Ten minutes or so to the Old Blue Last from there.

I was greeted with an ironic smile from the security man at the entrance to the pub, and I soon knew why. The ground floor pub was heaving – full of twenty-somethings, wielding cocktails and dancing to Abba’s Dancing Queen at 8.30 in the evening. For me – once I’d wiped the steam from my glasses – it was a vision of hell. Let me out of here! I looked around and saw a doorway leading upstairs, where the concert was happening. I pushed my way through the dancing, chanting throng and headed up to the music room. Relief! A decent space, good ventilation, a bar. Half full at that point – filled out later. People of similar age to downstairs, but totally different. I joked to my son Kieran later that all the misfits, the punks, the students were upstairs – my sort of people! A forty year age gap, but no matter. I got myself a beer and found a good viewing spot near the back. Louis and his friend Gab arrived soon after; Jon would have been there I’m sure, but was on his way home from France. We chatted a bit to Ffion and Tom before the show started – they watched the first band with us.

I’ve forgotten the first band’s name and they weren’t that good, so let’s move on to Butch Kassidy. I really enjoyed the show – a brisk half hour. They have just the one song on Spotify at the moment, which is called Heath. It’s ten minutes long, goes through various phases, and I said to Ffion at Green Man that I could hear a bit of classic Black Sabbath in there. They didn’t play it! I daresay that some observers would say they are in a similar mould to Black Midi, but I was most reminded of Mogwai. Except, in amongst the washes of doomy guitar there are bursts of punk riffing, which got the moshers going. In that respect they got the best reception of the night. Fingers crossed, it won’t be too long before they get a slot or two opening at the summer festivals. I think they would go down well.

Butch Kassidy – Ffion left, Tom centre

The headliners were Legss. They’re from South London, and were described by Loud and Quiet magazine as an experimental London band in conflict with the capital. I didn’t get the experimental bit of that from the performance tonight, but I did enjoy it. A lot of new indie bands at the moment draw on the sounds of post punk – particularly Gang of Four – as well as XTC. I’d put Legss in that category, and they do have a good angry persona, which inevitably conjures up Clash references for me. Singer Ned Green dresses stylishly and wields his guitar a bit like Wilko Johnson of the Feelgoods. Give him a bigger stage and I’m sure he’d be doing a full Chuck Berry duck walk!

Legss

So yes, it was a good evening. Always good to see the next generation of bands – drawing on past sounds, but re-inventing them.

The evening wasn’t quite over. On the way home on the tube, I sat next to a bunch of young folk, being quite lively, who turned out to be French. I sat there, listening to some music and reading The Economist. One of the group, a woman, leaned over and asked, what’s the news? I was reading a leader on President Macron’s chances of re-election at the time. We ended up having a ten minute conversation about French politics before they all got off!

 Echo and the Bunnymen at the Roundhouse, 7 February

A blast from the past, this one. Echo and the Bunnymen’s heyday was the 1980s, particularly the first half. They had a grandiose, almost goth sound, and were inevitably compared with the likes of U2 and Simple Minds. They weren’t quite as successful as those two, but, perhaps for that reason, were afforded more credibility by the music critics. Being from Liverpool didn’t do them any harm, either. For me, they were one of those bands that I thought I ought to like, but never really got into. I bought the key albums, played them a couple of times, and filed them away. Meanwhile I loved U2, and still do. That may be deemed less cool, but it is where I stand.

This was one of those concerts that was originally scheduled for either 2020 or 2021, but got put back because of the pandemic. My friend Dave organised the tickets, but at the last minute had to pull out. Still, Jon G, Tony and Shane were able to make it. Jon G is the biggest fan amongst us – and no fan of U2. We agree to disagree!

One of the highlights of the evening was the return to our favourite pre-Roundhouse restaurant, Sushi Salsa, by Camden Lock. Jon E joined us for that. Two years since the last visit due to lockdowns – that’s still hard to comprehend, looking back – but as good as ever, I’m glad to say, though we missed the old manager, Andy. He was a real ball of energy – and gave us sake on the house from time to time! Hope he’s doing alright wherever he is.

As for the concert, it was ok. Until near the end it felt bereft of familiar songs, though Jon said afterwards that he did know most of them. I’ve probably got a lot of them sitting in my vinyl collection, long-forgotten. I found it all a bit gloomy. The lighting was deliberately low, singer Ian McCulloch prowled around in a dark overcoat, when he wasn’t winding up the London crowd, and most of the songs were pretty dirge-like. All very well played though – and well-received by the capacity crowd. It brightened up for me briefly when they played Seven Seas and then The Cutter at the end of the set. Killing Moon was a suitable anthem with which to end the whole show. They did know how to write a good anthem in their heyday, I have to say. No Back of Love, which was a shame, especially when the vast majority of people there would have come to celebrate the Bunnymen’s moments of glory in the 80s. A cover of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side was a low, especially when McCulloch changed wild side to Merseyside.

Bunny gloom

In fairness, I should say that my friends all thought it was an excellent show. It was just one that didn’t quite do it for me. I’ll stick to U2 and Simple Minds when I want 80s grandiose!

Wolf Alice at Hammersmith Apollo, 19 February

This concert was postponed from 19 January, because of the band’s concern about continuing covid risks. It was a bit of a bonus when it turned out to be delayed by only a month – I was expecting a summer or even autumn date, given the band’s US commitments. It has been eight months since Wolf Alice’s third album Blue Weekend was released, and this is the first time they have been able to take it on tour, though they did play a few festivals last year, including Latitude.

I first saw Wolf Alice at Latitude in July 2015, soon after the release of their debut album My Love is Cool. They played in the 6 Music Tent, as it was then called. I was impressed. This is what I wrote in my review of Latitude that year:

They’ve got a bit of everything that makes a great indie band: screeching riffs, pounding beats, catchy melodies and choruses, rocking rhythms for the mosh – and a striking singer. Ellie Rowsell. It’s pop music. You can’t deny the importance of an iconic singer. Ellie Rowsell has that something. My notes say Siouxsie Sue meets Debbie Harry. And the sound: Horrors meet Blondie. Melodies and big riffs, which come across especially well live. This is a seriously good band.

The Guardian dismissed them as bubblegrunge at the time. Witty, but wrong, as the band have shown since then. Parts of that first album took a little while to grow on me – tracks like You’re a Germ and Bros were immediate – but then the riffs and the melodies really hooked me, and I still love it. 2017’s Vision of a Life veered towards 70s rock, but still had catchy tunes like Don’t Delete the Kisses and a scathing rocker in Yuk Foo. And then came Blue Weekend, a polished pop production, with big choruses and less of the riffing, though Smile and Play the Greatest Hits carried the flag for rock’n’roll.

And so to Hammersmith Apollo on a Saturday evening, with Jon G and Louis and Gab. Standing, but this turned out well – I’ve had some frustrating experiences at the Apollo in the past when standing, but it felt like maybe they don’t pack people in to quite the same extent these days. We had an excellent view, to the left about ten rows back. Shame I forgot my digital camera!

I make this my seventh Wolf Alice concert. Three Latitudes – 2015, 2018 and 2021. Kentish Town Forum in 2016, Ally Pally in 2017 and the Roundhouse 2018 (part of the Q awards). They’ve been consistently excellent – Latitude 2018 on the main stage perhaps the best before tonight. Because tonight, despite the high bar set by its predecessors, has to have been the best. There was a real sense of triumph tonight, of homecoming, and the realisation that Wolf Alice are now a seriously big rock band. Or should that be pop band? One of the things that became clear to me tonight was that so many songs from Blue Weekend, while still relatively new, have become real anthems for their fans. And there is probably now a younger cohort of fans than the indie crowd of 2015. The Last Man on Earth is the most obvious anthem – destined to be played on TV programmes for years to come. But songs like Lipstick on the Glass, Safe from Heartbreak and How Can I Make it OK? run it close. These, combined with a great selection of favourites from the first two albums, including You’re a Germ and Bros, and the evergreen Moaning Lisa Smile from early days, made it a set that pleased everybody.

Lead guitarist Joff Oddie

The band played with a confidence and swagger – without arrogance – that comes from knowing they have nailed it. They have just won a Brit for best rock band, beating perennial winners Coldplay. My slight reservations about the shift popwards and the fact that they seemed a bit tame at Latitude last year – admittedly after having had our senses assaulted by Chubby and the Gang! – melted away. I loved seeing the way the crowd sang along to so many of the choruses, and the screeching riffs and pounding beats I wrote about in 2015 were still plentiful. I guess it helped being in the crowd not too far from the front, rather than observing from the seats with beer in hand. That remains my preferred mode these days, but this was a refreshing change.

So yes, a glorious set, with the perfect encore of Last Man on Earth – lighters out time – and a rousing Don’t Delete the Kisses. I hadn’t realised how iconic that song has become for Wolf Alice fans.

This is a seriously good band, I wrote in 2015. Make that seriously brilliant in 2022.

Big Thief at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 2 March

Big Thief are, like Wolf Alice, one of my favourite indie bands of the past few years. Indie in the sense of not being full-on rock, nor pure pop. They are from New York, and have some of the edginess you expect of New York bands, but they are as grounded in Americana and folk as they are in Radiohead.  You could say they are New York state as well as New York City. They have an off-kilter quality, which is personified in singer Adrienne Lenker. She has a beautiful, rather fragile voice, and her onstage persona is rather nervy at times. She’s frequently tuning her guitar – the most excessive being the solo show I saw her play back in January 2019 at the Union Chapel in Islington. Didn’t stop it being great concert, but at times you couldn’t help feeling, get on with it!

I was quite late in discovering Big Thief. They were at End of the Road in 2018, and I’d heard good things about them, so checked out their first two albums, Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017). I really liked both, with standout tracks for me being Masterpiece, Real Love and Parallels from the first, Shark Smile, Mythological Beauty and Mary from the second. One of the things I liked was that a song could combine a tender melody with an outburst of guitars – Real Love being the best example. Shark Smile started wild then settled into a mid-tempo rock’n’roll groove – their most danceable song. Parallels rapidly became the song I played most – a slow build to an anthemic chorus, which went on for some time, somehow getting bigger and bigger. Weird lyrics: could be a song about love or the metamorphosis of a butterfly – or indeed both, one a metaphor for the other. Classic Big Thief: nothing is ever quite what it seems.

As it happens, I missed the End of the Road performance because of line-up clashes; but I rectified that with a trip to SWX in Bristol in May 2019. That coincided with the release of a new album, UFOF. Now, this one really did sound like Radiohead in places; but then it also had an enjoyable hoe-down called Cattails, which was already a crowd favourite by the time of the Bristol show. They played Green Man in 2019 and released a second 2019 album, Two Hands, in October. And that was followed by another tour in early 2020. I saw them at Hammersmith Apollo in February. Busy times… and then there was lockdown.

The band remained productive during the hiatus in live shows. Both Adrienne Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek released solo albums – Songs and Two Saviors respectively – and work began on another Big Thief album. That came out early this year – it’s called Dragon New Warm Album I Believe in You, a Big Thief title if there ever was one! It’s long – 20 songs – a double album in old language. The emphasis is on the more pastoral, folky side of their music, and is rather beautiful, with Change and Sparrow my two favourites so far. How lucky then, that Change opened the show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Sparrow was the encore. Spud Infinity is the new Cattails and went down well with the crowd. They played Cattails towards the end, after Adrienne abandoned the previous song Red Moon. That edginess again. Overall the emphasis was on the acoustic side, though the title song of Dragon was rocked up a bit and there was a blistering rendition of Not, which has become a staple of the set. There weren’t many of the older favourites, though Masterpiece got an outing, to great approval. I’m surprised Shark Smile didn’t make it, but I see from Setlist FM that it was played at the second and fourth of the four nights. An impressive run that – shows that they have a strong following these days. The emphasis on the new was such that they played a song that Adrienne had just written on the ferry over from Ireland! Would have preferred Parallels

So yes, it would have been nice to have a few more of the established songs, but that’s how it is with Big Thief – they like to mix things up. And why not? Makes life interesting. A great show; and I’ll be there for the next tour, wondering what they have in store for us.

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