Category Archives: Reviews

Gig review: Charlotte Church, Sound Control, 10/08/2012

The act: Charlotte Church

The venue: Sound Control, Manchester

Why? : Charlotte Church is back. Yes, again. Since leaving the world of Classical-crossover to the likes of Katherine Jenkins it’s been an interesting ride for the former “voice of an angel”. Her Pop effort Tissues and Issues was solid, although you sometimes felt that her heart wasn’t quite in it. Back to Scratch, her 2010 release was an absolutely stunning Folk-Pop record that the likes of Nerina Pallot would’ve been proud of, but didn’t get the large-scale release her comeback deserved. This time around she’s keeping it more low-key with lots of touring at small venues which complements the “band” feel of the material from her upcoming 5 EPS.

The music:  All new. No ‘Crazy Chick’ and certainly no bloody ‘Pie Jesu’. While it would’ve been nice to hear some of the songs from Back to Scratch they wouldn’t have worked with her newer, noisier material. Opening with recent free download ‘The Rise’, it took a few minutes to adjust to such a clear and powerful voice. That’s not to say on angrier songs like ‘Judge from Afar’, directed as a response to faceless poisonous comments at her from the Daily Mail website she lacked the necessary emotional punch. The best performance had to be the wonderfully-titled ‘How Not To Be Surprised When You’re a Ghost’ (see below).

The banter:  As a woman who used to have her own chat show, Charlotte’s crowd-natter was predictably witty, playful and self-deprecating. Nobody else could get away with ladling spoons of honey throughout a gig to keep her voice going quite as funnily as her.

The crowd: An interesting mix of indie singer-songwriter act fans that Charl’s trying to convert and Classical afficionados trying to fulfill some morbid curiosity of seeing what’s happened to their former-idol; “The venues keep getting smaller”, sniffed an imperious old lady. The Prize Twat award however goes to the hyperactive boy-girl duo wearing merchandise tshirts who waved their hands and wooped loudly throughout, killing the atmosphere of at least two songs.

Any surprises? ‘Mr. The News’, a funky little number about Rupert Murdoch which she wrote around the time that she gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry. It was dedicated to Rebekah Brooks with a vengeful smile.

The question you all want to ask: Where does all this leave Charlotte Church as a musician?

The answer: The answer is a lot more simple than you might think; she’s writing and releasing her own material, not financially dependent on a big record label and having a thoroughly fun time of it. Musicians DREAM of this.

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Gig review: Queen + Adam Lambert, HMV Hammersmith Apollo, 12/07/2012

The act: Queen + Adam Lambert

The venue: HMV Hammersmith Apollo

Why? : Queen were originally due to perform at the Sonisphere festival to mark their last performance with Freddie Mercury  at the festival’s site in Knebworth in 1986, but due to poor ticket sales (partially thanks to the rival Download festival’s brilliant line-up) it was cancelled. Determined to mark the occasion regardless, the reunion was rescheduled in the UK at the Apollo where Queen had performed in the past. As for recruiting Adam Lambert as stand-in vocalist, Brian May said that he believed he would be a “great interpreter” of Queen’s songs – no pressure there…

The music:  For the big anthems such as ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’ Lambert nailed it. There were some outstanding bits of visual – a set of rotating lights about the stage which moved and changed colour accordingly throughout the setlist. At one point May attached a camera to his guitar with the images it caught of the stage and audience shown via a big screen. For all of Adam Lambert’s showmanship and vocal fireworks there was no way he could have recaptured Freddie Mercury’s emotional power on the more subtle Queen songs such as ‘Love of my Life’  which was performed partially by Brian with a recording of Freddie appearing halfway through. Roger Taylor also performed ‘These are the Days of Our Lives’, ‘A Kind of Magic’ and in my opinion should’ve performed ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’  as well which was the only Lambert misfire .

The banter:  A difficult balancing act of poignancy and fun. Adam didn’t perform onstage at the same time as Freddie appearing so there was no sense of awkwardness, his respect never coming across as over-egged. It was ultimately Brian May whose song introductions meant the most, particularly his thanks to the Queen fans old and new who have supported the band over the years.

The crowd: A predictably interesting mixture of aging Queen fans and Glambert devotees, many wearing hoodies for Adam’s Trespassing album that had only been released in the UK earlier during the week.

Any surprises? At one point Adam’s leather trousers split, but rather than leg it backstage to change into a new pair he announced “There are no costume changes in rock ‘n roll!” and bravely soldiered on.

The question you all want to ask: What would Freddie have made of all this?

The answer: You know what? Asides from the man himself I don’t think there was anyone who could’ve done a better job as Queen’s frontman than Adam Lambert. He “gets” the pomp and showmanship of glam-rock better than any other popstar around and vocally he was more than capable of tackling some of most chanted songs in music history.

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Gig review: Garbage, Manchester Academy, 03/07/2012

The act: Garbage

The venue: Manchester Academy

Why? : It’s been seven years since the members of Garbage went their separate ways, during that time Shirley Manson briefly became a Terminator and Butch Vig became even more like everyone’s eccentric uncle. Well now they’re back, with a new album Not Your Kind of People out, and it’s time they hit the road again.

The music: Garbage have got such an overwhelming array of classics in their back catalogue that it worried me that they’d not be able to fit everything in…which is why a close to 2 hour set solved that problem immediately. Hearing songs like ‘Queer’ and ‘Stupid Girl’ performed brought back the best teenage memories. At the same time it would’ve been a waste to leave out so many strong album tracks from their latest offering (‘Automatic Systematic Habit’, ‘Blood for Poppies’ and ‘I Hate Love’ especially), so this was a great opportunity to give them a chance to shine live. The overall highlight was definitely ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ which managed to be as much of a joyful dirge as it always has been.

The banter:  Having read that this was a slick set, I hadn’t been expecting much in the way of chit-chat. How wrong I was. No one could accuse Shirley of being ungrateful – the number of times she graciously thanked everyone for still giving Garbage the time of day “in a world where careers now end before they’ve even properly started” was heartfelt. She also grumpily explained that ‘Control’ will only be released as a single in the US because of the lack of rock music played on UK radioAbout three quarters towards the end of the show she stopped for what can best be described as an impromptu chat show. When asking a fan in the audience what she wanted to be when she grew up and the girl replied “You and Gwen Stefani, No Doubt are my favourite band” there was a bemused silence before she snidely replied; “You’ve got your work cut out!”

The crowd: Lots of regular Joes in their 30s and 40s. It’s nice thinking that the vicious lyrics of Garbage might be subliminally corrupting Middle England.

Any surprises? ‘Battle In Me’ – my favourite song off Not Your Kind of People hadn’t been performed at the previous London date. Nice of them to mix things up on the setlist and bring it back.

The question you all want to ask: Anything slightly Terminator-ish about Shirley?

The answer: On the contrary, her “madwoman windmill sail arms” dancing was definitely human. Expect it to be a craze near you.

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Gig review: Marina and the Diamonds, Manchester Cathedral, 22/06/2012

The act: Marina and the Diamonds

The venue: Manchester Cathedral

Why? : Marina Diamantis has only gone and released the best pop album of 2012 (at time of writing) Electra Heart, and its songs *demand* to be heard live.

The music: As Electra Heart and its predecessor, The Family Jewels are just so different it was always going to be interesting to see whether the meeting of alt-pop and synthy torch songs would work…and it did.  By bunching together ‘Oh No!’ and ‘Mowgli’s Road’ Marina managed to placate older fans (like me) who’d missed seeing her before. Occasionally the echoey acoustics didn’t do some of the more overproduced songs like ‘Primadonna’ justice.  There was however an inevitable mass sing-along for everyone’s favourite Bupa anthem ‘I am Not a Robot’. The best thing of all was the inclusion of so many of Electra Heart ballads – especially her favourite ‘Teen Idle’ which despite its youthful nostalgia seemed to fit perfectly sung in a bloody cathedral.

The banter:  This concert was supposed to happen back in May, but due to illness Marina hadn’t been able to perform.  Recovered and rescheduled she was raring to get the show going in this most unique of venues, kicking things off by only going and wearing a WEDDING DRESS . Her original philosophy of “I’m Marina, you guys are the Diamonds” remained. There was also something deeply surreal about standing in a house of the Lord while a woman with a sash reading ‘Miss Shellfish Beach’ excused herself with “I’m going to do a bit of housekeeping, my stage is a mess!”

The crowd: To be honest I didn’t pay much attention. Many gays I know from Twitter were present – does that count?

Any surprises?  Asides from that wedding dress and some visuals shown from a tiny old fashioned television, she did introduce a song via a plush toy poodle called Marilyn. As you do.

The question you all want to ask: What did she drink to keep her voice going?

The answer: An unidentifiable liquid from a giant Martini glass.

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Gig review: Ladyhawke, The Ruby Lounge, 02/05/2012

The act: Ladyhawke

The venue: The Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Why? : She’s got a new album coming out. Or at least she’s supposed to – it’s been delayed three times in the past 6 months. These tour dates were originally supposed to slot in perfectly with the release – instead she’s been travelling across the UK, performing new songs that most people don’t know and haven’t heard.

The music:  Having listened to Anxiety a few times it’s obvious that the new tracks are mostly nowhere near as instant as her synthy debut material, but performing on guitar herself throughout alongside two guitarists and a drummer, the more aggressive “band” feel such as album opener ‘Girl Like Me’ translated really well. A rather twattish man next to me was loudly complaining that her vocals were turned down too low, missing the point that Ladyhawke songs aren’t really about a singer with a bit of a backing track – it’s about vocals and production coming together to make something bigger. Predictably the better-known favourites such as ‘Dusk to Dawn’ and ‘Paris is Burning’ were better received but it was more interesting seeing newer songs like ‘Sunday Drive’ and ‘Vaccine’ performed with a massive foot-stamping riff. Throughout the setlist lighting of different colours was used during each song, resulting in a moody atmosphere – although it’s hard to take someone singing about their angst entirely seriously when their microphone stand is decked in fairy lights…

The banter:  Pip is notoriously shy. Having never seen her perform live before I didn’t know just how shy. While musically she was in her element, it was during those awkward gaps between songs that she looked absolutely terrified, like Shaggy from Scooby Doo‘s nerdier, nervier sister. Asides from squeaking “thank you” after each performance there was no track introduction or “banter” per se, asides from a bizarre exchange where she unsuccessfully attempted to persuade her hot drummer to take his shirt off for the audience. Chit-chat is not her thing, but who cares?

The crowd: Honest to God I don’t think I’ve been to a gig with so many people of one gender. Asides from a very light peppering of women it was at least 90% scruffy blokes.

Any surprises?  An unexpectedly energetic use of strobe and other fancy lighting effects for ‘My Delirium’ saved right at the very end.

The question you all want to ask: What did she perform as an encore?

The answer: There was no encore. When she said “this is the last song” she meant it and somehow, unlike other gigs there was an immediate understanding of this.

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Gig review: Jay Brannan, Deaf Institute, 18/04/2012

The act: Jay Brannan

The venue: The Deaf Institute, Manchester

Why? : The best thing to come out of John Cameron Mitchell’s x-rated cult classic Shortbus has forged a successful career as a singer-songwriter and he’s just released his third album Rob Me Blind. With a strong following scattered across the globe from New York to York to Tel Aviv it’s once again time for him to take to the masses.

The music:  A nice mixture of old favourites such as ‘Housewife’ and ‘Soda Shop’ while at the same time showcasing the new album’s material. Something that I wasn’t aware of until Jay mentioned it was that Rob Me Blind was produced by David Kahne who was behind Regina Spektor’s magnum opus Begin To Hope. This was like switching on a lightbulb in my head as many of its songs share the same lyrical subtlety, especially ‘The Spanglish Song’ that tests emotional connection in dual languages. Not content with performing the old and the new, Jay also threw in some covers ranging from the apt (Dylan’s ‘Blowing In The Wind’), the current (‘Someone Like You’ by Adele) and the unexpectedly brilliant (Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’, complete with rapping).

The banter: Jay knows exactly how to balance informal chatter with an audience while keeping them hungry for the next song. Much was made of his love of the three essentials that he stocks up on when in Europe (Cadbury’s Twirls, Strepsils and Kinder Hippos) to the extent that a superfan quickly legged it outside to a newsagents and returned, proffering a Twirl. Also, if you’re from the North of England and you want to woo him it might be a wise investment to buy a Stephen Hawking voice machine as otherwise it’s likely he won’t be able to understand a word you’re saying.

The crowd: Considering Shortbus‘ niche genre it was a pleasant surprise to see that over the years with several releases and tours Jay has built up a mainstream following of fans – the sort of people who’d give James Morrison an eager spin. There was also a floppy-haired gay couple who decided to eat each other’s faces for most of the set.

Any surprises?  The Minaj cover, which somehow worked. Don’t ask me how – it just DID.

The question you all want to ask: Any mention of any upcoming acting projects?

The answer: Nope, he seems pretty busy with touring in the UK, across Europe and then back in the US until the Summer. Asides from Shortbus he was excellent in Holding Trevor so hopefully we’ll see him in something else someday.

You can stream some of the lovely tracks from Rob Me Blind below:

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Gig review: Steps: The Ultimate Tour, Manchester Arena, 10/04/2012

The act: Steps

The venue: Manchester Arena, Manchester

Why? : The biggest pop group of the 90s have reformed DONTCHA KNOW. After 10 years apart they have a new Greatest Hits album, a new TV show and the glimmering possibility of recording new material. A tour, resulting in over 20 sold-out arenas definitely goes to show that even if it’s just nostalgia – Steps can still sell.

The music:  It wouldn’t seem plausible at first that Steps could perform for two hours and manage to keep everyone consistently entertained, but they more than managed to deliver with their (upon reflection) vast selection of hits after being activated from futuristic capsules onstage at the start with ‘Here and Now’.  What didn’t work nearly as well was the “solos” section as this included some truly godawful covers. Lee doing a mash-up of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ and ‘S&M’? H doing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’? At least Claire’s version of Celine Dion’s ‘I Surrender’ managed to blow the roof off. Fortunately this bit didn’t last too long and we were back in familiar Steps territory with trademark ballads, including ‘When I Said Goodbye’ which had was particularly emotional as it was being performed in the venue where they had last performed before splitting in 2001.  More than anything, this was definitely Claire’s show. Although she was always the one with the pipes it was unavoidably apparent that as the rest of the group’s vocals had diminished over the years, her range had got even more powerful. If Steps had been around in the 1970s they probably would’ve been “Claire Richards and The Footsteps”.

The banter: What makes Steps so appealing in their comeback is how genuinely grateful they seem to their fans for letting it happen. Asides from lots of thanks, they also definitely still had their trademark sense of energy for a section that was like a interactive dance videogame.

The crowd: As well as the inevitable peppering of gays there were lots of middle-aged ladies with a steely hen-night determination to wear their flashing devil horns to the bitter end. There were also a surprisingly large amount of kids who couldn’t have been old enough to remember the band in their heyday, yet still knew all the choreography pitch-perfectly. Scary.

Any surprises?  Lisa’s solo section wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d fear it would be. Despite oversinging in places like a child trying to get the lead in a school play, her enthusiasm was endearing – especially incorporating her No.6 smash ‘Lately’ with David Guetta’s ‘Without You’ as a mashup.

The question you all want to ask: Did the mask slip and how much they hate each other become obvious?

The answer: Asides from forcing Lisa scramble across from the other side of the stage to take the final bow, they were consummate professionals.

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Gig review: McFly, HMV Hammersmith Apollo, 7/04/2012

The act: McFly

The venue: HMV Apollo, Hammersmith.

Why? : 2011 was a success for McFly, even if they didn’t release any new music. With Dougie crowned King of the Jungle on I’m a Celebrity and Harry shimmying his way to victory on the Strictly dancefloor, these two achievements helped get them back in the public eye. And what better way to cash in on this raised profile than to announce a new tour around the time of these competitions – KERCHING.

The music:  This was basically a Greatest Hits tour except in name with a splattering of older and newer material. Although I find it difficult to name individual McFly song titles, once the likes of  ‘Obviously’ and ‘All About You’ were being performed I was chanting away perfectly. A medley of surprising covers ranging from ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston and ‘Year 3000’ by former arch-rivals Busted added a welcome sense of variety. They also unveiled new tracks ‘Red’, a spectacular rock anthem and the emotional ‘Touch the Rain’ which held teenage girls in a mascara-streaming reverie.

The banter: McFly give Jedward a run for their money in the “hyperactive childish banter” stakes. For instance it was decided that Tom Fletcher’s new nickname was “Teabag” for the simple excuse that he could announce “You’ve just been teabagged” to the audience after a song. Quite often the band would take about 5 minutes break between songs just through fannying about on stage and chatting to each other. They manage to get away with behaviour which would horrify the fans of other artists simply because it never looks like they’re having anything other than unadulterated fun.

The crowd: SO many teenage girls. Attempting to do some maths – if McFly have been going for nearly 9 years many of these fans were first listening to their music as they learnt to read. That or there’s some serious Benjamin Button shit going on.

Any surprises? The sheer power and effectiveness of ‘Red’. It’s quite something. Here’s hoping it turns out to be a new single as it would catch everyone off-guard.

The question you all want to ask: Did they get naked?

The answer: Considering that “nudity” seems to be part of the McFly remit these days, it was surprising that they managed to keep their clothes on. Harry did flex his MASSIVE GUNS quite a bit which had everyone squealing.

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Gig review: Kylie Anti-Tour, Manchester Academy, 01/04/2012

The act: Kylie Minogue.

The venue: Manchester Academy.

Why? :  25 years it’s been. TWENTY FIVE, since Kylie Minogue first launched her pop career as nothing more than a soap strumpet looking to add a bit of longevity to what could well have been just a flash-in-the-pan Holly Valance affair. Fortunately history speaks for itself and rather than wheeling out another Greatest Hits-style tour to commemorate her quarter century as the one of the greatest popstars of all time, she decided to have a rummage through her back catalogue for choice b-sides, demos and other fan favourites and shun her usual big stage spectacle for a more intimate setting.

The music: Opening with ‘Magnetic Electric’, there was largely a mixture of leaks and demos from the past 10 years and SAW tracks that had mostly been chopped off previous tour setlists as punishment for sounding painfully dated compared to her post -‘Spinning Around’ resurgence material. What was most pleasantly surprising was hearing how strong some of the older songs sounded compared to when they were originally released as her voice has greatly developed in range, probably as a result of years of touring. A big favourite of mine was ‘B.P.M.’ which was so infectious it made you pray that the cloth-eared idiot in Parlophone ‘s A&R team who had relegated it to b-side status had lost their job. Although mostly a scaled-back, ‘intimate’ gig, there was still room for some FUCK-OFF lasers for ‘Drunk’ and ‘Say Hey’. Hearing ‘Mighty Rivers’, ‘What Kind of Fool’ and ‘Got To Be Certain’ – songs I never thought I’d ever hear live, let alone so close to the woman herself were worth the admission price alone. Needless to say by the time she closed with an explosion of gold glitter and ‘Enjoy Yourself’, there wasn’t a person in the room clapping like crazy.

The banter: As everything wasn’t choreographed within an inch of its life for a change, Kylie was able to interact with fans in a way she hadn’t been able to to for decades. A two hour running time gave her room to chat about the meaning behind some of the songs, such as her revelation that ‘Stars’ from the X album was written as a contemplative universe-ponderer in the wake of her cancer battle.  She often seemed genuinely taken aback at how songs she could barely remember were being chanted back at her.

The crowd: Asides from an obvious large delegation of The Gays, there were a lot of women in their late twenties and early thirties. As one lady chatting to me in the queue said; ‘Kylie has always been around since I was growing up and this is like revisiting my childhood, without having to listen to a Greatest Hits’ – n’awww, etc.

Any surprises? Hearing ‘Tears on My Pillow’ was unexpected as I’d assumed it was too twee and Eighties even for the Anti-Tour.  Her confession that she’d printed off the lyrics to ‘It’s No Secret’ from Google to prompt her was also bloody endearing.

The question you all want to ask: Did she perform ‘Especially For You’?

The answer: NO, thankfully. She sang about half a line as a joke between two songs and then looked too embarrassed to continue.

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Gig review: Yelle, Koko, 24/03/2012

The act: Yelle.

The venue: Koko, Camden.

Why? :  As French presidential candidate François Hollande recently pointed out by visiting London as part of his electoral campaign, the UK capital has the 5th largest French population in the world. Having toured their last album Safari Disco all over France last year, including a stint supporting Katy Perry, it was time to bring Yelle magique back to the UK – this time as part of club night at the Koko featuring an amazing line-up of electro/house/trance DJs.

The music: An incroyable mixture of tracks from both the two albums. Recent single ‘La Musique’ went down particularly well with mental lasering effects. The only song that they might’ve thrown in which they didn’t was the spectacular Crookers collaboration ‘Cooler Couleur’.

The banter: Asides from occasionally yelling at us to move, frontwoman Julie Budet concentrated solely on managing to sing live while dancing like a maniac, wearing a dress with CDs glued to it. It was actually a small miracle that with her vigour and the heat of the stage lights none of them went whizzing offstage and blinded any revellers.

The crowd: Hundreds of French people, many of them young and beautiful. There was also a worryingly large amount of Gallic jailbait that looked like it had escaped the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle for the weekend in an attempt to recreate Skins.

Any surprises? The amazing Tepr remix of ‘À cause des garçons’ that blew the roof off.

The question you all want to ask: Can French people dance better than English people?

The answer: Like most things, the French carry off dancing with nonchalant ease. Even when evidently twatted.

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