Faye Webster at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, 5 July 2018

Faye Webster is a singer-songwriter from Atlanta, Georgia. Her music is a lovely mix of country and 70s soft rock (think Fleetwood Mac or even the Eagles) with a dose of indie in the attitude. Faye is also a photographer and in with the rap community in Atlanta – I think she has provided guest vocals on a few songs. So not just your standard singer-songwriter. I first came across her when I went to see Julia Jacklin at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last November. She was one of two support acts. I checked a video of her singing a song called “Alone Again” and loved it. So, for once, I made sure I was there to see both the support acts. My love of her music started there.

At that time she was promoting her second album, “Faye Webster”. It was a beautiful, wistful collection of songs, in the style I described just now. I made it No7 in my 2017 albums of the year and still play it a lot. It’s an album to chill to. Lose yourself in the mellow grooves, the sweet melancholy. Highly recommended.

So when I saw she was playing a show in London I had to go. My friend Annabelle agreed to come along. She enjoyed Soccer Mommy earlier this year, and there are similarities. The Slaughtered Lamb is a bar/restaurant in Clerkenwell, and it has a music venue down below. A large lounge with a bar, basically. It had an intimate feel, and we managed to get a table right at the front. There weren’t a vast number of people there – maybe 50 or 60? – but it was enough to create a nice atmosphere. Faye had a few followers there, including her parents, so it was an enthusiastic group.

Faye was accompanied by just her pedal steel player, who she calls “Kippy” (I think). He gets some lovely sounds out of his instrument – a mellifluous addition to Faye’s fragile vocals and sparse guitar. A dreamy sound, which was enhanced by being so close to the action. Every fret position, the look in the eyes, the grimace or the smile. Intimate, and really quite moving. First song was “Alone Again” – still my favourite. It was followed soon after by a lovely version of “What’s the Point”, which did bring a tear to my eye. Most of the favourites from “Faye Webster” got an airing, plus a couple of older ones, and two new songs, which sounded great. Strangely she didn’t play “She Won’t Go Away”, which might be her best-known song; but I guess you sometimes just don’t feel like playing what everyone expects.

It was a truly wonderful hour of music. Afterwards I passed by Faye and had to tell her how much I’d enjoyed the show and the album. Annabelle had walked on, then turned back and arranged a photo! As a man in his fifties, I don’t overstay my welcome, but yeah, I got a photo! It’s below with a couple of other shots. I didn’t take too many, because we were so close. I didn’t want to distract her or Kippy. We went back upstairs and had a glass of wine. Kippy came by and we had a chat with him too. Said how the new ones had hardly been rehearsed. He has the skill to improvise on the pedal steel. A talented musician.

I do hope Faye has more success. She’s doing well, but there are a lot of good artists out there. I was hooked as soon as I heard her. I hope more and more people feel the same. Give her album a try.

 

 

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Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, 30 June 2018

Bruce Springsteen has made the music which has been the most important to me over the course of my adult life. Not always the thing I listen to most, especially these days, but the music I always come back to. My love for his music began in earnest with the release of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in 1978. The music on that album, full of despair, anger, love, redemption spoke to the 19 year old me in a way that nothing else had done before, from the moment I heard “Racing in the Street”, lying in bed, in the dark, stuck on an RAF camp during the holidays from university.  I was lucky enough to be at Oxford, doing well, lots of friends, enjoying my football, beer and discos. But I was still angry, maybe even depressed. That’s hindsight, but I think I still felt a bit out of place, lacking the social ease of some of my contemporaries; and was frustrated with my own shyness and inarticulacy with the women I liked. Yeah, typical teenage angst – I got over it. But Bruce helped me a lot. I could lose myself in “Darkness” and its predecessor, “Born to Run”.  I could celebrate the songs with my friends, but there was something about them that I kept to myself. My own Bruce story.

Over the years I went back to the fantastic first two albums – “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ” and “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” – immersed myself in “The River” (no pun intended), railed against “Born in the USA” for appealing to the yuppies before realising later how good it was, and stuck with him through all the years when he didn’t always seem to be doing anything new, but always released albums with tracks that came to have great meaning for me. Songs like “Tougher than the Rest”, “If I should Fall Behind”, “Highway Patrolman”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”. And when Bruce reacted to the appropriation of the song “Born in the USA” by triumphalist politicians by stripping it down to its anti-Vietnam war essence and playing it as a visceral blues, it became just about my favourite song in the canon. I have a story for each of these songs, and I told them in my book “I Was There – A Musical Journey“. Bruce got more coverage than any other artist in that book (though Bowie crept across more chapters).

In 2016 Bruce published an autobiography, inevitably called “Born to Run”. Equally inevitably, it was a searing, brutally honest account of his life: the impact of his family and, especially, his father; the inspiration he took from music from an early age; his desire for control; his hopelessness in love; his depression and more besides. It was a moving, inspiring account. Then it was announced that he would be performing a one man show on Broadway: singing songs, telling stories about his life. A limited run in 2017, to start. How good would that be, I thought to myself, never thinking I would get a chance. Then I got a chance.

The run of shows was extended, initially to the end of June 2018 (it’s now running until the end of this year). And my friend DC got offered some tickets by an American friend. I had the chance to go. But this was when I was contemplating early retirement, and hadn’t figured out the finances. So the cost of the ticket, flights and a few days in New York felt like a self-indulgence too far. And I turned down the offer. DC and Tony went. They loved it. I felt a pang of regret. But I felt I had done the right thing.

At work I eventually delayed my retirement to this September, worked out it was affordable. And Bruce extended the run again. My colleague Matthew had a ticket for 30 June, which had been due to be the last show. He likes the big events, so wants to go to the new last show. And he offered me his ticket for June. That second chance! I couldn’t say no…

6.30 pm, 30 June. I’m walking in the New York heat from the 47/50 Sts Rockefeller subway station  on 6th Avenue, over to West 48th off Broadway and the Walter Kerr theatre. The venue for “Springsteen on Broadway”. I’m feeling a sense of anticipation, but also apprehension – about what, I’m not sure.  Will I get in?  How will it feel when music has been mostly about Honeyblood, Kacey Musgraves, Lindi Ortega, Taylor Swift for me this year? How will I react? I don’t want to be a blubbering wreck. It isn’t about me. It’s about Bruce. It’s his story, not mine. I have avoided drinking all day – don’t want to feel tired, I want to stay in control. I’m on my own in this magnificent but still unfamiliar city (only my third brief visit). I get to the theatre and look up at the billboard. I feel a sense of awe. How did I get here? I take some photos on my iPhone, and queue up. They let me in! It’s cool, air conditioned. I have a great seat, in the stalls. I get some white wine – hideously expensive. I settle into my seat. The audience is well-heeled. Hardly surprising, with the price of the tickets. I look over at the stage: spartan, dark brick walls, just Bruce’s piano and mics, some boxes and a lot of monitors. I visit the “rest room” – it’s a 2 hour 20 minute show, no break. I get back to my seat and soon the lights go down. Bruce wanders on with an acoustic guitar and with no fanfare starts to tell a story, the same one as in the book’s introduction, about how deep down he’s a chancer, a fraud, the one who got lucky. But yeah, through hard gigging, musical talent, and that break, which everyone needs.  He introduces the young Bruce, the kid from Freehold New Jersey, and launches into “Growin’ Up”.  There is a tear in my eye – just a small one. Just an acknowledgement of my sense of wonder at being here tonight.

The show isn’t a narrative of Bruce’s whole life and career. Rather, it’s the story of his family – his often troubled family – and how they made him what he is, what his music is. And a celebration of some his greatest inspirations – his 1+1 =3. For me, the most moving song of the evening is the second, “My Hometown”, last song on “Born in the USA”, the album I dismissed at first. Bruce at the piano, after telling the story of his early life and beginning on his his troubled relationship with his father. That story continues, and leads to “My Father’s House”, off “Nebraska”, Bruce’s darkest album. As he switches to his mother, Bruce assures us it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact the story of his mother and her sisters, the Italian side of the family, is one about the love of life, giving it everything, whatever the circumstances.  He sings quite an obscure song called “The Wish”, off an outtakes box set of CDs called “Tracks”, which came out in 1998. Bruce aficionados will have it – so do I! It tells the tale when his mother bought him an electric guitar, even though she could barely afford it. That gift set him on his way.

The family roots established, Bruce goes on to his desire to escape the confines of Freehold and New Jersey. To move from being a local star to someone they’ve heard of in New York. Cue “Thunder Road” and the “Promised Land”. The real deal. Songs that are central to what Bruce Springsteen is about. Throughout the show Bruce has some good lines in self-deprecation, like how the man who was born to run now lives 10 minutes away from his first home in Freehold. But he doesn’t do false modesty either. He knows he has a gift. And when he jokes that I made New Jersey, he probably also means it.

The story of “Born in the USA” comes next: how Bruce read a book by a Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, “Born on the Fourth of July”, then met the man by chance. That led to a visit to veterans in Southern California, men who had lost limbs, jobs, loved ones, maybe even their sanity. Bruce himself managed to dodge the draft, having been summoned to a recruitment centre. He says, poignantly, I often wonder who went in place of me… someone did. And plays a brutal, raw, sliding blues version of the song, like nothing I’ve heard before. He howls the words with no accompaniment. An excoriating rejoinder to the politicians who want to distort the message purely to America is great. For me, this is the outstanding moment of the show.

“Ten Avenue Freeze Out” features Bruce on ambling, jazzy piano as he pays a lengthy tribute to the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011. The audience responds with joy. And then from one soulmate to another: his wife Patti Scialfa joins Bruce on stage and they duet on “Tougher than the Rest” and “Brilliant Disguise”. Bruce on piano for the first, both of them on guitar for the second. A truly moving interlude.

It gets serious again for “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “The Rising”. Bruce prefaces them with a statement of support for all the people who are fighting back against Trump’s appalling immigration policy and the separation of children from their families. I saw a news story on the local New York TV station about how 327 of these children had wound up in New York, some with little or no documentation. Getting them back with their parents may prove impossible. It’s shocking to see a great nation, a beacon to the world, behave like this. “Tom Joad” is a song about people at their lowest point; “The Rising” offers hope. At the time it came out, that hope for renewal, recovery, was for New York, recovering from the trauma of 9/11. Bruce doesn’t mention that tonight.

Now we are into the home run. “Dancing in the Dark”, with Bruce giving his guitar a good thrash, prompts the most celebratory response of the evening. It’s the only Bruce song you can really dance to (unless you can jive), the most streamed on Spotify. And yet the lyrics are full of frustration and self-loathing. The irony of pop, eh? The song segues into “Land of Hope and Dreams”, another riposte to the Trumpian hate-view of the world. Bruce’s last story gets spiritual. The return to his roots – literally. There used to be a large tree in the yard where he first lived. He spent a lot of time in its branches, lord of all he surveyed. It’s gone now, cut down to make way for a car park. But Bruce describes how some roots have survived, how he took the soil by those roots in his hand and how he felt the spirits of friends and family, long gone, all around him. And then he declaims a version of the Lord’s Prayer. A bit of me says, steady on now Bruce, let’s just worship rock’n’roll tonight, but the power of those words coming from his mouth is enough to overcome the scepticism. In Bruce we believe!

And then it’s “Born to Run”… hooray! Had to be the last song didn’t it? Turned inside out by Bruce on his acoustic guitar, but still “Born to Run”. Living the dream. And tonight was living the dream. Two hours twenty just flashed by. I’m still processing it as I write this on the flight home. How did it compare with that night in 2013 at Wembley, when he played the whole of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in one go? Well that was a blub fest – and it wasn’t just me. But that was back to those memories of being nineteen – and we’d had few beers. So they don’t compare, except to say that they will both stay in the memory to the day I die.

Redemption in music. No-one does it like Bruce Springsteen.

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Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium, 22 June 2018

Last night I took a break from my usual musical fare of indie, country and old favourites and went for a pure pop experience – Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium. Why, you may ask. Why not, I might reply. Actually, the reason is simple – I really like her latest album “Reputation”. Like anyone with any interest in music, I was familiar with Taylor Swift’s best known songs – “Shake it Off”, “We are Never Ever getting Back Together”, “Blank Space”, that sort of thing. When my daughters were a bit younger (they’re now 19) they liked her music, and so there was a bit on my iTunes. Chance for a sneaky listen! What I heard I thought was good, and I could see and hear the appeal to the target audience, but I found the music just a bit too shiny and tinny to listen to a lot. And of course Taylor was always in the news, having a spat with some celebrity or other. So when “Reputation” came out I read about it with interest – the Guardian took it pretty seriously, if I recall. But the catalyst for actually listening to the album wasn’t the reviews or the publicity. It was Catherine McGrath, the Northern Irish country singer who I like a lot. She often posts videos on her Facebook page of her singing covers of songs she likes. And she did a version of “Gorgeous”, which is one of the catchiest songs on “Reputation”. I thought, I like this, must listen to the original. And I liked that too, so I listened to the whole album, and what I heard was the perfectly designed, state-of-the-art pop album. With great melodies, rousing choruses, pounding beats, rumbling bass lines, and an interesting narrative. You can be cynical about wealthy pop stars bemoaning their lot, but Taylor Swift does it with style, makes her trials and tribulations interesting. I particularly liked “Delicate” – my reputation has never been worse… possibly an exaggeration!

So, when I read about the tour, I thought, let’s do it. Tickets weren’t cheap, but what the hell, it will be a spectacle. And it sure was! She was doing two nights at Wembley, and the show on Friday wasn’t a sell-out, but the stadium was 90% full. No shortage of atmosphere and anticipation. The age range was quite mixed – it’s fair to say most of the people of my generation in attendance were there with their kids, or even grandkids, but the teenies were in no way the majority. I’d say the twenty and thirty-somethings dominated, with a gap in the late teens – a bit like my girls, who’ve moved on to better, cooler things (at least for now). I managed to persuade Kath to come, the seats were comfortable (not that we were able to sit down much once the concert got going) and it was easy to buy a beer – the queue for the Pick’n’Mix sweets was longer!

So the scene was set.

There were two entertaining support acts: Charli XCX, who was very bouncy, and Camila Cabello, who I was impressed by. She had her banging anthems, but mixed it with Latin rhythms and some powerful ballads. She had a great voice. Absolutely the kind of music we used to hear in the discos of Cala Gogo on the Costa Brava in years past. A rival to Shakira perhaps.

And then the build up to Taylor’s grand entrance. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett playing, and then the inevitable opener, “…Ready for It?”, first track on “Reputation”. That was followed by the defiant “I Did Something Bad” (which went down really well) and the gorgeous… “Gorgeous”. What a start! Songs from “Reputation” dominated the album, and they were greeted like old favourites. The set was pretty amazing at times, the costumes and screens ever changing, and there were a lot of snakes! Signifying something on Taylor’s mind, no doubt. Surrounded by them in the world of showbiz, I guess. There were two stages halfway down the pitch, as well as the main stage, and Taylor sang and danced on both in the course of the evening. She was transported in mid-air to and from them. There was a lot going on! She sang part of “Delicate” in a gilded cage suspended over the audience, after telling one of her heartfelt stories – no doubt the same every night, but done with sincerity. That was followed by perhaps the highlight of the show, with the most reaction from the crowd. “Shake it Off” of course, where she was joined by Charli XCX and Camila Cabello. No trick missed in this show.

The exuberance of “Shake it Off” was followed by Taylor picking up an acoustic guitar and going back to her country roots. A nice reminder. One of the songs she sang was a stripped down version of “So it Goes” off “Reputation”, which I really liked.  Later she sat at the piano and sang a lovely version of the come-down closer on “Reputation”, “New Year’s Day”. It ain’t all brash dancing, big beats and inflatable snakes!

She played for two hours too, which was more than I would have expected. I think she genuinely wants to give something back to her audience and she did that and more. I really enjoyed the show – the music was brilliant, it was a huge spectacle, the atmosphere was great, especially when all the wrist bands lit up as darkness fell, and she really means it. What more could you ask for?

A magnificent evening – so glad I bought those tickets on a whim, after a couple of glasses of wine one night!

I took a load of photos. Here are a few. Hopefully they convey a sense of the occasion.

 

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Lindi Ortega at Komedia, Brighton and The Garage, London, 12 and 14 June 2018

Lindi Ortega, as regular readers of this blog will know, is my favourite country artist. She doesn’t come to the UK all that often, so I decided to go to  a couple of the shows on her latest tour, which is promoting her new album “Liberty”. It’s a great album, by the way, with a Wild West twang to it, in homage to spaghetti westerns and Quentin Tarantino. As well as Lindi’s usual themes – mostly grappling with the dark forces in her mind, but also with its happy moments, notably the lovely and potentially anthemic “Lovers in Love”. That one reflects her happiness in her recent marriage, I think.

The first show I went to was down on the south coast in Brighton, at the Komedia. I made the same visit a couple of years ago, when she was on her previous tour, because I couldn’t make the London gig that time. This time I was just being greedy! I like Komedia as a venue – a basement below the cinema/theatre in a cool part of Brighton. On Tuesday it was only about half full, which I was surprised about, but there was still a good atmosphere. It meant I got a bit closer up than usual. The set was a nice mix of old and new. It started with a few from the back catalogue: “Dying of Another Broken Heart”, “Angels” and “Demons Won’t Get Me Down, and then maybe my favourite song of all, even now, “Tin Star”. If music wasn’t running through the blood in my veins… And then “Lovers in Love”. Not much of a singalong from the crowd, but I had a go!

(Photos are a bit fuzzy as I only had my iPhone 5S with me. I need an upgrade!)

As ever, it was great to hear new songs performed live. Really does bring them to life. I loved the rendition of “Pablo” – Lindi in great voice – and a very feisty “You Ain’t Foolin’ Me”.  And in a three song encore, the classic Lindi song,  “Cigarettes and Truckstops” took its turn. Up there with “Tin Star”.

A wonderful show. Quite pared down: just Lindi, ever faithful guitarist “Champagne” James Robertson, and drummer, whose name I didn’t catch, (he was good). Bass lines played by James simultaneously on his guitar, using tuned-down strings. Keeps the cost down, I guess, and James did it brilliantly. I initially thought there must be some pre-prepared tracks, but a later exchange on Twitter confirmed that wasn’t the case. It’s all real time.

On to London: The Garage, Islington, in north London. With a friend from work (lone groove in Brighton). A bigger venue and a bigger crowd. More varied too: younger, more women. It’s London (though I love Brighton too). The set list was the same, except that new song “Liberty” was replaced by the title track of the previous album, “Faded Gloryville”. And what a great addition that was. Lindi was excellent in Brighton, but I felt she was lifted by the London crowd. Last gig of the UK tour too. There was a different level of energy and verve. She talked more, smiled more. James rocked more. For both gigs, Lindi often left the guitar to James and just put everything into the singing. And she was in really good, dramatic voice.

Two brilliant concerts, which I’ll remember with great affection.

And, as a nice little postscript, we got to meet Lindi at the end. I told her I thought she was the best country singer around. Well, why not? It’s true!

And for anyone interested, here’s the setlist. “Bang, Bang”, a tribute to Tarantino, was originally sung by Nancy Sinatra and is the same on this playlist.

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Jehnny Beth and Simon Armitage at King’s Place, 9 June 2018

Last Saturday Kath and I went up to King’s Place, near King’s Cross, to hear a fascinating discussion between Jehnny Beth, the singer with the band Savages, and the poet Simon Armitage. It was facilitated by Radio 4’s John Wilson, and the topic was the relationship between poetry and music. It was part of the Poetry and Lyrics festival, which took place over Friday and Saturday.

I was tempted to go and see this because I admire both artists. Simon Armitage is a renowned English poet, who writes beautifully and poignantly about changing times, changing relationships. Jehnny Beth is a truly amazing performer live, as her band, Savages, piledrive through the riffs and beats. They were spectacular at End of the Road in 2016.

Jehnny (not her real name) is French, although she lived in England for 12 years before recently moving back to Paris. Savages are on hold for now, while she pursues a series of other projects, including poetry. She said that she discovered poetry as a teenager, when an English teacher spent time at her school – and she fell in love with him! She said that, to her, the language of poetry is English – quite something for a French person to say! Simon Armitage spoke of “hating words”, a provocative statement, which was about how poetry lays you bare – everything must come from the words, and sometimes those words aren’t adequate enough to express what you really want to say. That, of course, is where music comes in. Jehnny Beth’s words may be simpler and more repetitive than poetry, but she has the power of the music, of live performance, to express her passion.

There was a discussion about whether Bob Dylan should have received the Nobel prize for literature, whether his lyrics were poetry. Simon Armitage was adamantly in the No camp, to my surprise, given his love of music (I was pleased to hear him namecheck Prefab Sprout, as well as the inevitable Joy Division). He claimed Dylan’s lyrics wouldn’t stand scrutiny in his university creative writing classes. Perhaps not, though why not? I guess they have the context of the music, to give them some of their meaning. But I would still call some of them poetry. Simon admitted that he was being a bit of a shop steward for “proper” poets. Can’t have rich musicians stealing their prizes from them! An interesting stance, but I found it narrow-minded. Jehnny Beth was conciliatory, acknowledging how music supports and uplifts words. She spoke of how her brilliant song “Adore”, from the album “Adore Life”, was inspired by a poem called “Shame” by American poet Minnie Bruce Pratt. It’s taken from a volume called “Crime Against Nature”, which Jehnny found in a San Francisco bookshop. She likes to choose random volumes of poetry, because the subject looks interesting, or there’s a good cover. “Shame” is about Bruce-Pratt’s own experience of realising she was lesbian and having to leave her children to make a life with her new partner. Jehnny read part of “Shame” and then her lyrics to “Adore”… is it human to adore life? It was powerful stuff.

Jehnny also read some of her new poems – rather tentatively. I suspect she felt like she was being judged by Simon Armitage, in the same way as he deconstructed Dylan. There was a real vulnerability in her voice. But she got through it. Pretty brave really.

Simon read a piece which was a hybrid of poetry and lyrics, called “Zodiac T Shirt”. It was about summer holiday love, and had some lovely, wistful lines, on repeat, like a song. He also played some music in which he intoned a poem over the top. It didn’t work for me: there’s not enough light and shade in his voice. It needed someone like John Cooper Clarke to bring it alive. Good that he’s trying, though. It’s all art.

My favourite story of the evening was from Jehnny Beth. She described an awful tour when Savages were supporting the Vaccines. They were in Bridlington, on the Yorkshire coast. The crowd was laddish, making crude, sexist remarks, some of which Jehnny didn’t understand at the time. She probably would have waded into the crowd and thumped someone otherwise. She disliked Bridlington. The gloomy grey skies, the rain, the mother feeding her young child greasy fried food on the seafront. When I was in Bridlington I thought of death. Now there’s a phrase for the Bridlington tourist board!

Two fascinating artists, different as chalk and cheese, but both exploring that interface between poetry and lyrics, verse and music.  Brought together with style and grace by John Wilson, a superb interviewer. An inspiring evening.

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All Points East Festival, Victoria Park, 2 June 2018

all points east festival

Saturday before last, I went over to Victoria Park with Jon G and his son Louis to the All Points East festival. All Points East has usurped Field Day and a number of other festivals from the park this summer – presumably after a re-tendering of the slots by the  Tower Hamlets council. Field Day has relocated to South London and is focusing even more on dance. All Points East, in fairness, has picked up the baton from the festivals it has replaced, and has held a string of events with some strong line ups from across the genres. The headliners on 2 June were The National and The War on Drugs – a dream team!

I got there about six; Jon and Louis went for the early shift. The sun was shining and the beer was flowing. When I met up with them, Warpaint were about to come on to the North Stage, the second biggest. War on Drugs were headlining that one. I do like Warpaint, but their music kind of drifts by in the open air. They deal in soundscapes rather than arresting melodies – it’s entertaining but doesn’t really get a crowd going. The exception was their last song, “New Song”, from their most recent album “Heads Up”. That had a real tune and shook people out of their summery torpor.

There was a bit of a gap until War on Drugs, and I’d noticed that there were a few bands lined up to play a place called the Jägerhaus, which was promoting Jägermeister, the sort of drink to be avoided at 7pm at a festival! To my surprise and delight Gengahr were on at seven. And Pumarosa at 8.20! I was sorely tempted to go to both, though decided in the end that as the main band I’d come to see was War on Drugs, it would be perverse to skip part of their show. Decisions, decisions. Anyway, we got into Gengahr and found ourselves in a small, barn-like space, with room for no more than 150 people. And on came Gengahr onto the tiny stage, and they played a riveting, high energy 35 minutes set. Eight songs, with more from the first album than the latest. An edited version of the recent Koko show. We stood about four rows back, really feeling the energy. And had a chance to study the guitar playing of both John and Felix. Loads of the great tunes, including “Heroine”, “She’s a Witch”, “Before Sunrise” and the closer, the awesome “Carrion”. Most Gengahr songs allow the opportunity at some point for a real guitar wig-out live, and they sure wigged-out! Just brilliant. My one good ear was ringing a bit at the end as we were so close to the speakers; but hey man, it’s rock’n’roll.

The War on Drugs were great – of course they were. Adam Granduciel to the fore – singer and lead guitarist. And his guitar, those solos that sing and cry, are a central part of the appeal of the music to me. They enhance the sense of melancholy that pervades the songs, but also lift them up. And the song right now that does that for me more than any other is “Thinking of a Place”. A magnificent, moving piece of music. So, of course, they didn’t play it!  They didn’t play “Thinking of a Place”! The song above all other songs on the latest album. Oh well. The set was really good, concentrating pretty heavily on “Lost in a Dream” (though, sadly without the title track). And naturally the highlight was an extended, recast version of “Under the Pressure”. “Red Eyes” roused the crowd too, and there was a lovely version of “Eyes to the Wind” at the beginning. On a warm, sunny day, Adam was wearing a red waterproof top. The epitome of uncool. But he still made that guitar sing. I loved the show, although I was always waiting for that song. No regrets about not going to Pumarosa. I wonder if they played “Honey”…

(Black and white photos are camera shots of the big screen).

Then it was over to the main, East Stage, for The National. I am learning to love this band. It was a band I knew I should like, but I had a lot of catching up to do. And I did what you do in this day and age. I heard individual tracks I liked, put them on the playlist and didn’t invest enough time in the whole albums. The only albums I’ve really got on top of are “High Violet” and “Trouble Will Find Me”. And there are so many good songs on them. My greatest favourites are: “Pink Rabbits”, “Demons”, I Should Live in Salt” and “I Need my Girl” from “Trouble Will Find me”; and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and “Terrible Love” from “High Violet”. We did get “Terrible Love” and “I Need my Girl”, though not this time, in the latter case, with Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches, as happened at Latitude in 2016. And there was an unamplified singalong of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” at the end, though that was only for the people at the front really. For us, it was a distant, though fetching echo.

It was a great show though. The band as a whole are pretty low key, but singer Matt Berninger is a real character, and he featured most of the time on the big screens. (I still think he and football manager Jurgen Klopp must have been separated at birth.) The lighting and backdrops are always interesting, and the songs are impressive even when you aren’t sure whether you know them or not. As it happens, it was quite a greatest hits selection, which all true fans would have known. One nice surprise was the guest appearance on a new song called “Light Years” by two of The Staves, Jessica and (I think) Camilla . And Adam Granduciel came on towards the end for a couple of songs. This was the fourth time I’d seen The National live, and I think I might just have made the breakthrough now.  Now for those early albums…

With the Staves.

After that it was the long traipse back to the other side of London, but it was definitely worth the effort. A great day of music. Highlights? Probably Gengahr, “Under the Pressure”, “I Need my Girl” and “Light Years”. We’ll be back next year, I’m sure.

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Car Seat Headrest at the Roundhouse, Nils Lofgren at the Barbican, May 2018

Two excellent concerts In London over the last week and a half. First up was Car Seat Headrest at the Roundhouse on 23 May; then Nils Lofgren in the rarified surroundings of the Barbican on 28 May. In between that, of course, Kath and I were up in Edinburgh for the Leith festival, which I wrote about the other day.

I’ve saw Car Seat Headrest a couple of times in 2017, first at Gorilla in Manchester, then on the Garden Stage at End of the Road. Brilliant both times, with “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” the best anthem around. Leader of the band is Will Toledo. He’s made a shedload of albums over the years, although he’s not that old yet – 26. 2016’s “Teens of Denial” is the one that really gave the band some profile. There were so many great songs on that, including “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, “Destroyed by Hippy Powers”, “Fill in the Blank” and “1937 State Park”. Laden with punching riffs, miserable but witty lyrics, and some killer choruses.

I managed to persuade a few of my friends to come along on Wednesday: Dave, Jon E and Jon G. At least no-one has to worry about confusing our names! And I think they were impressed – by the depth and variety of the sounds, as well as those riffs. Only about half of the set was familiar to me, as a fair bit of it came from a recent re-release of an album called “Twin Fantasy”. I read about that then forgot ever to listen to it. The set opened with a Lou Reed cover (thank you Setlist FM!) called “Waves of Fear” then ploughed into a lively piece from that new / old album called “Bodys” (sic). There was some serious moshing going on at the front and in the middle of the crowd. The most I’ve seen at the Roundhouse. We were in the seats above, gazing down at the melee. But it showed how this band have taken off with the twenty-somethings.  Highlights for me were an awesome “Hippie Powers” and then, of course, “Drunk Drivers”. Positively euphoric that one, as we reached the killer whales! “Cute Thing”, from “Twin Fantasy” packed a real punch too.

There was another cover, just before “Drunk Drivers”, which got our group very excited: “Crossed Eyed and Painless”. One of the great Talking Heads songs, from “Remain in Light”. An interesting one for the band to cover, being a slice of afro-funk – not the usual Car Seat Headrest fare. But Will Toledo is clearly not a man to stand still – there is a lot going on in that head of his.

The band also played a four song encore – unusual these days (unless you are Bruce Springsteen and never want to stop). Three from “Twin Fantasy”, including the 13 minute epic “Beach Life-In-Death” at the end. My photo above is deceptive too, because Will hardly touched the guitar all night, except to play one where he thought the band weren’t getting it right. Clearly Car Seat Headrest is his project and it is going to be done his way.

This is a band, and a character, really worth looking out for in the coming years. They are back in London in November, at Brixton Academy. Guaranteed sell-out.

Nils Lofgren has been on the road for 50 years and has been playing in Bruce Springsteen’s band for 34 years, after he stepped in for Steve van Zandt on the “Born in the USA” tour in the mid 80s. He is an amazing guitar player and has a beautiful, mellifluous voice, which doesn’t seem to have lost any of its tone, despite his advancing years. We saw Nils at the Union Chapel in 2015. That was a great show, and if anything, this one was even better. As then, he was accompanied just by Greg Verlotta, on keyboards, guitar, trumpet – anything necessary really! Nils mostly played a variety of acoustic guitars, fed through the electronics so he could play the solos and create all sorts of effects. It was a real masterclass in subtle, inventive guitar playing. He delved right back to his early days, playing a few Grin songs and a smattering of favourites from his debut solo album, including “Rock’n’Roll Crook”, a re-worked “Keith Don’t Go” and a lovely version of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back”, with Nils on keyboards. “I Came to Dance” had Nils donning his tap shoes, though we don’t get the tambourine flips these days – he’s had two hip replacements! Another real highlight for me was his intricate guitar over a looped riff during “Girl in Motion”. Stunning.

And then, as part of the encore, he sang the Bruce-penned sing made famous by Patti Smith, “Because the Night”. The anthem of the night.

Yeah, a wonderful concert; and you put that together with Car Seat Headrest, and add in Steena Tweeddale and Dream Wife in Leith, what a feast of amazing music in a fortnight! What a privilege.

Next up, later today, The National and The War on Drugs at All Points East in Victoria Park, Hackney. Better get on that Central Line!

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