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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 11th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
Header photo by TGTF Head Photographer Martin Sharman at Deer Shed Festival 2014
Guitar god and all around musical legend Johnny Marr just released his second solo album ‘Playland’ in October. Despite his solo work that began earnestly in recent years and all of his work from 1987 on, playing in and contributing to numerous other bands’ art, the shadow of being in the Smiths, what made him a household name and still revered 30 years on, still follows him around. Luckily for the Smiths devoted, he has no problem returning to a treasure trove of a back catalogue that he himself had an integral part in creating. His show Sunday night at the 9:30 Club, the first date on a massive North American tour that does not let up until mid-December, proved that unlike many other artists of his age that don’t like particularly like returning to their roots, Marr can and will. And with the widest of grins too.
This is not to say that the entire set in DC was filled with retreads of another bygone era. Songs from both ‘Playland’ and its predecessor ‘The Messenger’ (though, oddly not the 2013 LP’s title track, which I was had been hoping for and expecting) were proffered to an eager audience. ‘Easy Money’, the radio-friendly hit from the new album that has been making the rounds, is appropriately loud, fast and guitar-jangly to cause mayhem. Same goes for ‘Boys Get Straight’, whose name you can have for a price on blue coloured t-shirts being sold at the merch stand: Marr himself models the shirt later on in the show. (You couldn’t ask for any better product placement.) Synths buzz to usher in ‘Back in the Box’ and spark it to life, resulting in another set standout.
The evening was not without surprises. Marr rolled out an astoundingly brilliant version of ‘Getting Away With It’, the single from late ’80s supergroup Electronic that he formed with New Order’s Bernard Sumner after he quit the Smiths (watch the two of them perform the song at Live at Jodrell Bank in 2013 in this previous Live Gig Video). And for a truly left field moment, a cover of ‘Lust for Life’ came roaring through the amps during the encore. It’s not if the Washington crowd Sunday night needed a psyching up moment, but I suppose in other markets where the audience assembled is less excited, this might be a moment to re-energise them. Initially when the heavy beats started, I honestly thought this might be one of Marr’s new songs that just happened to sound like the Iggy Pop song. Until he began to sing.
‘Dynamo’, the album’s third track and newest single, is saved for the encore, though its title could have easily doubled as Marr’s nickname for the evening: the man is like Gumby come to life. Jumping onto speakers and pointing to folks in the rafters, showboating with his guitar to pause every so often in a serious stance right in front of fans who look like they’re about to faint, pogoing up and down in place in his smart burgundy trainers while – wait for it – not missing a note on his guitar, the man does it all. If there is any criticism to make, it’s for something that Marr can’t help: the vocals on the Smiths songs, while good, just don’t have the magic of Steven Patrick Morrissey’s. Having seen Morrissey so many times live singing these songs, I got a lump in my throat watching these songs – their songs – being performed without him. I am still hopeful that one day we might see the two of them on a stage together again.
There is, however, one thing that Johnny Marr will always remain supremely untouchable on: his way with a guitar. He alternated between two guitars all night – a blue Fender Jaguar and a black one whose make I could not catch – and the man was on fire all night. Some particularly excited punters spent the entire evening punching the air as their god was shredding before them. There are few that can hold an audience as massive as at the 9:30 in such rapt attention, and you would be wise to not forget this. And how could you really, as he bends backward and raises his guitar horizontal over his head to finish ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ while every single person in the club chants the lyrics back to him? Word on the street is that Marr will appear – with his guitar, of course – on Noel Gallagher’s upcoming album ‘Chasing Yesterday’, due out in March 2015. My argument is, if Marr can put up with one cantankerous aging musician from Manchester, he can put up with another. Fingers crossed.
After the cut: Johnny Marr’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Johnny Marr at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 9th November 2014
Photos by Cheryl Demas, except where noted
Shows at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC are always worth traveling for, even, as in this case, when the travel involves multiple time zones and full days spent on airplanes. I always have to remind myself that as difficult as the travel might be for me, it’s often a Herculean effort for the musicians actually giving the show. Irish singer/songwriter Hozier has been on tour almost non-stop since March of this year, when he played SXSW in Austin, pausing only to record his self-titled debut studio album that was released in October. His show at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday night marked the penultimate stop on his North American tour, preceding two shows in New York and the start of a lengthy tour through the UK and Europe.
Hozier’s special guest on this leg of the American tour was Hitchin born singer/songwriter James Bay. Joined on stage by colleague Gerry Morgan on piano and percussion, Bay played an opening set of earnest, bluesy love songs that were a perfect warm up for Hozier’s more intense, r&b-influenced style. There were clearly some longtime James Bay fans in the audience, as evidenced by the squeals, sighs and singing along in the more unabashedly romantic moments. Recent single ‘Let It Go’ was particularly effective, as was slow burner ‘Move Together’.
In the fashion of a performer more accomplished than his youthful age, Bay closed his set with his strongest effort, upcoming single ‘Hold Back the River’. Stay tuned to TGTF for more coverage on James Bay leading into his recently announced scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015. Bay is set to embark on a tour of the UK and Ireland later this month. His next single ‘Hold Back the River’ is due for release on the 23rd of November via Republic Records.
When I first saw Hozier at SXSW 2014 as part of Communion’a showcase at St. David’s Church, his songs were still new to most of us, and although the response was unquestionably positive, audience members seemed stunned into silence by the sheer power of his musicianship and songwriting. A mere 8 months later, the full-to-capacity crowd in Washington, DC clearly knew exactly what to expect. There was much singing along, cheering and a few cheeky requests (some music-related, some not) shouted from the back of the room. Hozier himself took this in stride, looking a bit dazed but keeping his cool as he played through his set list with a minimal amount of banter between songs.
Because Hozier currently has only one album of songs to draw from, his set list was somewhat predictable, though there were a few small surprises. He opened with a lesser known ballad, ‘Like Real People Do,’ then immediately followed it with the energetic groove of ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’. He politely provided us with the title of each song before he played it, giving brief explanations for his cover of Skip James’ ‘Illinois Blues’ and the earthy folk song ‘In a Week’, which he performed here in a lovely duet with cellist and vocalist Alana Henderson.
photo by Carrie Clancy
Rather than saving hit track ‘Take Me to Church’ for the encore, Hozier chose to play it at the end of the set proper. After an appropriate interval for applause, he returned to the stage to play a rather unexpected cover of American r&b singer Amerie’s hit single ‘1 Thing’ before closing with his own current American radio single ‘From Eden’.
Naturally, when Hozier took the stage, the focus was squarely on him. But his unassuming stage demeanour left plenty of space for his band members to display their talents as well. Hozier’s entourage of accomplished touring musicians are worth noting, as they bring the full range of color to his songs, from the dark gospel of ‘Take Me to Church’ to the dance pop leanings of ‘Sedated’. Henderson was an indispensable part of that sound, along with bassist Alex Ryan, keyboardist Mia Fitz and backing vocalists Ruby Amanfu and Rachael Lampa.
Drummer Rory Doyle was familiar to my gig partner Cheryl and me, having toured in America previously with Bell X1. The fact that Doyle has worked on albums by both Hozier and Bell X1 is a testament to the versatility of his musicianship and an example of the calibre of the other musicians on the stage, including Hozier himself. The cooperative spirit of the performance was neatly emphasised at the end of the night when the full band took a curtain call to close the show.
Hozier will play live dates in the UK and Europe through November and December before returning to America early next year. A full listing of shows can be found on Hozier’s official Web site.
After the cut: James Bay and Hozier’s set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Hozier with James Bay at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 4th November 2014
As a music writer it’s very easy to get sucked into some sort of hyper-critical vortex of opinionation, with the poor musician at its centre but paradoxically just a bit-part player, the catalyst for the writer’s real agenda. So it was with my last review of the perfectly serviceable Jon Allen, and so it will be again this week with the discussion of Nick Mulvey.
It’s always a rather curve-ball start to the evening by being kept waiting so long for the press ticket to be found that one entirely misses the support act. Suffice to say that if Sivu is as good live as his album, I very much regret that I didn’t get to see him play. Not that I’d have actually seen much of him – the seat that this review was written from was the worst in the house, actually behind the stage, on a balcony of such restricted view that even though I watched him play for more than an hour, I had no idea what Nick Mulvey actually looked like. Until I got up from my cheap seat and moved around a bit. Ha – screw you, Sage Gateshead. In a bizarre puritanical flourish, I am informed that my 5-quid plastic cup of beer isn’t permitted on the upper levels of the Sage Hall 2. So this review was written without the reflective assistance of an alcoholic beverage – until I cracked open my hip flask. Ha – screw you, Sage Gateshead*. Finally, no photo pass can be “found”, which means this review is unaccompanied by the usual high-quality photography. So I took some with my iPhone. Ha – screw you, Sage Gateshead**.
You might expect the negative tone to influence the review of Mulvey himself, but you’d be wrong. How dare you, dear reader, question this writer’s professional integrity? For it turns out that Mulvey is a purveyor of delicately robust songs with just the right amount of virtuoso playing, traditional songwriting chops, avant-garde arrangements, and plain simple funkiness, that tonight’s performance is truly a beautiful thing to behold. The audience are largely converts, with a surprising number being capable of mouthing along to a surprising number of songs. He’s clearly popular with the ladies, particularly those well-dressed ones in their late 20s and early 30s (which make up the majority of the crowd), perhaps nurturing a fantasy that they could get to know the lithe, bearded Mr Mulvey a little better than a brief encounter at the merch stand might allow.
With Mulvey promoting his Mercury-nominated début ‘First Mind’, tonight’s show is a run-through of said collection’s salient parts, which is to say, pretty much all of it. Mulvey is an accomplished finger-style nylon-string player, his unusual, percussive technique rich with African influences. ‘April’ is an appropriately atmospheric start, with its flamenco-style picking and obscure percussion. Non-album track ‘House of Saint Give Me’ is a surprise addition, but it’s not until ‘Meet Me There’ that the crowd really start to get enthusiastic, and you know from that point Mulvey’s got them in the palm of his hand. The band’s pretty good, too: there’s loads of synth squelches, an electric upright bass and a girl on percussive noises. There’s also a hang, a nod to Mulvey’s previous life in Portico Quartet, although it only gets an outing on the very last song.
Highlights? Pretty much all of it, but the undulating rhythm of ‘Juramidam’ and its lucked harmonics are distinctive and funky, ‘Fever to the Form”s familiarity works in its favour, and the set-climaxing ‘Nitrous’, incorporating as it does Olive’s ‘You’re Not Alone’, is both familiar and novel, providing a comforting circularity to climax the gig. Live, Mulvey brings life to what is perhaps a modestly cerebral record, adding funkiness and power where on record it is delicacy and rumination. On this showing, he has a rare ability to connect with an audience, and manages to walk that fine line between populism and credibility with ease.
* I’d be quite prepared to take some sort of manual handling test to prove that I am capable of taking a drink into the first floor balcony of an auditorium without spilling it on the performers below. What say you, Sage Gateshead? I demand a drinking test!
** The Sage is a superb venue, world-class in every respect, except in its rock ‘n’ roll attitude, for which it scores nothing out of ten. If they are on a mission to remove every element of decadence, to reduce the act of gig-going to a sober, well-dressed, well-behaved act of expensive self-flagellation, they couldn’t be doing a better job.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 3rd November 2014 at 4:00 pm
Irish duo The Lost Brothers recently played on their homeland’s tv station RTE’s The Saturday Night Show Sessions, and here are two videos from the show of ‘Derridae’ and ‘Soldier’s Song’. Both songs figure prominently on their fourth LP ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’, out now on Lojinx. Joining them on fiddle for this special performance below is Steve Wickham of the Waterboys.
The act have just started an extensive UK/Irish tour; catch them live through the end of November. Just yesterday, we featured the new promo for ‘Spanish Reprise’ as our Sunday Video of the Moment.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 3rd November 2014 at 2:00 pm
Saturday night in Washington. Usually a good shout but seeing that it was the first true cold snap we’d had this second half of the year (hello, first true frost warning of winter), I wondered if that would diminish the turnout at U Street Music Hall. This show had been sold out long ago but I was unimpressed by the queue when I strolled up 10 minutes before doors and found myself about 20th in line. Then the wind started howling and I decided anyone already in line was serious about the bill.
I exchanged pleasantries with the teenage couple in front of me in the queue when they asked me for the set times. The girl then went on to explain that support act Wet “only have about five songs”. Not terribly auspicious. Still, I went in with the hope that I’d find something about them to like. Here’s the thing: electronic music isn’t known to be forgiving to a singer. You’re either a strong singer whose voice holds up to the electronics and rises above it emphatically (say Andy McCluskey of OMD, Theo Hutchcraft of Hurts), or you risk getting lost in the shuffle. And sometimes the latter is fine, if that’s the mood you’re going for.
Kelly Zutrau doesn’t look the part of electronic band frontwoman seductress; maybe I’ve been spoiled at this venue by the regality of Valerie “Tei Shi” Teicher back in July supporting Glass Animals? But laid back Zutrau in a t-shirt and jeans seems to fit in with the overall philosophy of Wet: yes, the vocals are dreamy and the electronics with r&b inflection are a sight to behold live, but really, this young band are not one to take themselves too seriously. I mean, take a look at some of their song titles: ‘You’re the Best’, ‘Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl’ (promo video below), ‘No Lie’. They’re not going to win any songwriting awards anytime soon. On paper, the sweetness of Zutrau’s voice (probably better suited for a dream pop act) shouldn’t work with the backing thrown at her but somehow it works. Then again, I still don’t understand the appeal and meteoric rise of CHVRCHES, their former touring mates in the States, so what do I know? Turns out quite a few punters were there for Wet and not for SOHN, which was a surprise to me, but I guess 13,000 followers on Facebook don’t lie.
A man who dresses nightly like the dark version of The Flying Nun shouldn’t be a popular electronic artist. Yet somehow Christopher Taylor, the London-born, Vienna-dwelling producer who goes by the stage name of SOHN, can pull it off. His debut album for 4AD that was released in the spring, ‘Tremors’, has already made impressive waves around the world. I’ve considered that the all black outfit he favours is like Daft Punk’s spacesuits, designed to minimise the effect of his appearance (as a very tall English chap with a hipster beard and unlikely to hurt a fly) that might otherwise detract from the complex nature of the electronic music he makes. Thankfully, the thick fog that envelopes the stage for a good third of the night eventually lifts, but I couldn’t help but think that any number of animals from colder climes could be hiding under that misty shroud playing music, and we wouldn’t know any better:
However, the decision to shroud both himself, his two live band members and the stage turns out to be a very good idea for most of the set. Except for a few obviously pissed audience members who are throwing their bodies around for the entire show, for until the last quarter of the hour or so he plays, due to the lack of distraction on stage, the vibe in the club is one of reverence, with men and women singing along softly word for word to the songs. While I was surprised by the minimalism, it allowed Taylor’s soulful voice to shine on ‘Bloodflows’ and ‘Veto’, and the falsetto he brings out for title track ‘Tremors’ was met with rapturous crowd response. Humourously, an attempt to signal his sound guy, stationed all the way at the far end of the floor, to lower a “woo” frequency only caused the audience to get more riled up, mistaking his hand gestures for a request for them to be louder and make more noise. Oops.
But this is all part of SOHN’s appeal. Taylor might be dressed in a hood, but one suspects that he’s a really down-to-earth kind of guy, feeling truly blessed his music has reached this many people, and in such a strong and positive way. In an avuncular, Mister Rogers manner, he actually asks the audience with a smile, “ready?”, before launching into megahit ‘Artifice’. Bless. Rhetorical question. The club lit up as Taylor threw his own body into the performance, which is no mean feat considering the man was sat in front of his table of electronics all night. Followed by ‘Lights’, with its heartfelt refrain of “blood, sweat and tears won’t retrieve it / you just have to wait to receive it”, the progression was peerless.
In the middle of the show, a fire alarm triggered by the aforementioned fog refused to shut off; instead of stopping the set, Taylor and his bandmates embraced it, slowing down an entire number to incorporate it into the song. “At least it’s on the beat!” he commented with a grin, before continuing. But it was ‘The Wheel’, the sole encore, that truly brought the house down. “The very last breath” SOHN had to give us Saturday, like the other songs that came before, was brilliant. Technically gifted and with a beautiful voice, I hope Taylor continues to share his music with us for a long time to come.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 31st October 2014 at 2:00 pm
Ever since I started blogging, I’ve been whinging about terribly mismatched headliners and their support acts. (Pretty sure the worst pairing I’ve ever seen was LA punk band Abe Vigoda opening for Vampire Weekend at Constitution Hall in April 2010.) Earlier this week, I probably witnessed the best pairing of my life so far: Kettering’s Temples, who have made their name in the 21st century by successfully resurrecting late ’60s psychedelia, were preceded by Brooklyn band Spires, who might not look as wigged out as Temples but they’ve got the same vibe. Both made their 9:30 Club debut in Washington Tuesday evening.
Yet to be signed Spires were originally started by singer/guitarist Matt Stevenson, whose intention was to make it a home recording project. Eventually, I guess touring became a viable and potentially profitable option once band members Jack Manley (guitar), Michael Goodman (guitar/synth), Jack Collins (bass) and Carter McNeil (drums) were added. Last year, NME dubbed them “the US’ answer to Temples”, which makes one wonder if Temples were sat around a laptop one day to come up with potential bands to take around America as support, Googled what bands were being compared to them and came across that NME blog entry. No matter how this all came out, it’ll go down as one of the better matched band bills in recent memory. Having already made a splash in the UK with their single ‘Candy Flip’ appearing on the Too Pure Singles Club in early 2014, you could never blame them for enjoying this stroke of luck of getting this tour.
While the psych rock feeling definitely runs through the bulk of Spires’ songs, I couldn’t help but notice the haircut and swagger of Stevenson, recalling less so Mick Jagger in the Swinging Sixties and more of those ’90s charismatic Britpop frontmen Liam Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft, both of whom as of late have seen better days. As evidenced by songs like ‘Comic Book’, there seems to be a poppier undertone to their music too compared to Temples, which seems to beg for listening in almost complete darkness, with the only light coming from one spare lava lamp.
Spires also seems to have a lot of material, which is pretty good for an unknown band, and their headlining buddies were nice to let them play a pretty long opening set. Their most recently released song, just public for a mere 2 weeks, is ‘Sleepy Eyes’, which like its name suggests is a dreamy, hazy soundscape. For even more street cred, the track was engineered, mixed and produced by Connor Hanwick, who you may recall as the former drummer of The Drums.
The dressing rooms at the 9:30 Club have adjoining balconies so that bands can watch the others on their bill from a bird’s eye view. This particular night, I was wondering why Temples’ balcony seemed to full of equipment. Shortly before they went on stage, all was revealed: in addition to two blokes on the Temples’ balcony, another two had been dispatched to the other side of the club on the punters’ balcony upstairs, and all four were in charge of the pulsating, constantly changing coloured backdrop onstage that can only be described as appropriately trippy for this band. One can only assume they thought the foursome would somehow feel dwarfed by the massive stage of the 9:30 without the kind of lighting rigs only bands like Cut Copy and Kaiser Chiefs can afford, feeling desperate that they had to come up with some kind of visual gimmick of their own. While the manpower deserve an A for effort, the effect was entirely unnecessary and to be honest, mostly distracting.
So what does one do at a Temples concert? It isn’t the kind of music to mosh to, though a pair of kids near us insisted on throwing their bodies and their backpacks around, much to the chagrin of the predominately older, non-teenage crowd who preferred to be respectful, their heads bobbing side to side with the shared knowledge that they were witnessing a pretty special band play. Frontman James Bagshaw – you can’t miss him with that glam rock-y, Marc Bolan-esque, massive perm of hair almost totally obscuring his face – seemed truly touched by the reception. He smiled while commenting, “I see someone in the front who knows the words better than I do. Which is good!” There must be no greater validation for a band than to come to the world famous 9:30 and to see your fans clearly enjoying your performance. While the club wasn’t anywhere near sold out and heaving as I’ve seen for other bands, it didn’t matter: you could tell from the mood and general excitement that everyone who was there were there because they truly adored Temples, which is not something you can for most shows at this venue, often attracting hipsters who disrespectfully chat their way through sets, swilling beer.
Debut album title track ‘Sun Structures’ is fantastic in its tempo, chugging along and being less psychedelic oozy, which I can appreciate. ‘Shelter Song’, their most recognisable tune, was saved for the end of the main set and got the best reception of the night, and with good reason: it’s fun, it’s happy and you can tap your toes to it. However, the highest technical marks must go to ‘Mesmerise’, which on record is less than 4 minutes long, but Temples somehow manage to stretch over 10 minutes (I think?) with instrumental flourishes and expanses. As the song went on and on, I had to wonder when it would end, but after getting my ears screamed in a couple of times (yes, those kids again), I think it’s safe to say most punters didn’t want to see the show end. Is psychedelic rock back? Why, yes. It is.
After the cut: Temples’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Temples with Spires at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 28th October 2014