Saturday, 18 June 2011

822 SIMPLE MINDS, James Walsh, Westonbirt Arboretum, Friday 17 June 2011

Seeing Ex-Simple Minds last year, whilst being a thrilling nostalgia jaunt through the innovative, cutting edge early material of one of my favourite post-punk bands, also whetted my appetite for seeing the “real thing”, as it were, potential stadium rock excess and all. So when a Simple Minds date was announced as part of nearby Westonbirt Arboretum’s run of open-air Summer shows, I snapped up a ticket pretty much immediately, ultimately persuading a couple of work colleagues into coming along too.

So it was that I drove down with my former boss Bob, who could count the gigs he’d been to on the fingers of one hand, but one of which, impressively, had been The Beatles and Tyrannosaurus Rex! I’d also done my research; firstly, I’d checked out recent set-lists from the Minds’ forest jaunt thus far, and whilst lightning hadn’t struck twice, Adam Ant-wise, there was a small smattering of pre-hit material to really pique my interest, along with a Glittering Prize of a “New Gold Dream”-centric set climax to look forward to. Also, I’d checked the weather for this open-air affair, and the only disagreement between weather websites was when the heavy rain was going to hit, not if! So, fully prepared, we arrived easily at 7 after a quick cross country run, finding a nice compact venue site skirted by trees, and thankfully only drizzly rather than persistent, as we hit the beer tent!

Took a wander forward for support James Walsh, whom I’m convinced is a Rain God, given that the only time I’d seen his previous charges Starsailor, at Fleadh 2001, it had pissed down too! He took the stage to increasing drizzle, having an invidious task in warming up the slightly sodden early arrivals. However he set to it with gusto, with pumping beatbox, chiming acoustic guitar and occasional keyboard colour, and a plaintive, keening voice. “Follow the man possessed by a storm,” was a prophetic early lyric, as Walsh alternated between more morose but recognisable Starsailor oldies entirely appropriate for the slate grey conditions, and more chipper newies. “Four To The Floor” and an almost jolly “Good Souls” were highlights of a quietly impressive support set.

Ran into one of my brother’s bandmates for a chat, then colleague Mairi and hubby by the beer tent, before the Minds early entrance music wrong-footed us and saw us striding purposefully to the front for their early arrival, just before 9, with a bombastic “Moscow Underground”, which segued into a fist-pumping, anthemic “Waterfront”. The early set took the expected route, mainly drawing on material from their mid-80’s “Stadium Rock” albums, “Sparkle In The Rain” and “Once Upon A Time”, when they moved away from their dazzling, synth driven cutting edge groove, and into more expansive, radio friendly material. However the Krautrock-influenced “Sons And Fascination” got me moving, and I gleefully anticipated the clattering industrial robotic dance of “Celebrate”, next up. Unfortunately, this was disappointingly thin-sounding in the open air, and I feared for my interest level, thinking this was as good as it was going to get.

However the unmistakable synth pulse of a totally unexpected “Love Song” started up, and I was utterly sold. This was brilliant, easily the set highlight, and they had me after that. “You’re not too cold, not too wet, we’re not too old, are we?” asked Jim Kerr before a fine “Hunter And The Hunted”, and true enough, he gave an energetic performance of his expansive dance style which belied his years. Despite the false start, the slow-burn “Someone Somewhere In Summertime” was as sparkling as ever, heralding a “New Gold Dream”-heavy denouement, taking in a heavy but sharply short shower during “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – “rain keeps falling down”, indeed! - and climaxing in the title track of that breakthrough album.

A final encore “Ghostdancing”, which I’d forgotten appropriated the first line of the sadly absent “I Travel”, segued into a singalong cover medley of “Gloria” and Talking Heads’ “Take Me To The River”, capping an entirely worthwhile actually near-2 hour set (a frankly dull “Mandela Day” notwithstanding!). “We’ll be back again,” announced an achingly sincere Jim Kerr at the end. And, d’you know what, I might be as well!

Monday, 13 June 2011

821 CHEAP TRICK, Plead The Fifth, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 12 June 2011

The retro June continues, with yet another band of old codgers (!); this time veteran powerpop boys Cheap Trick, exactly 7 months after their last UK outing, which itself followed an absence of 6 years! Nevertheless, da Trick are always great value and entertainment “live”, and even more so given this gig would be the first time (in 7) that I’d seen these grizzled US rock long-stayers outside of London! I’d booked this one some time ago for Rach and myself, but then The Wild Swans gig was added to the Rose itinerary, and Rach decided she couldn’t really do both. Luckily similar old rocker Beef stepped in at short notice, so he and I bopped down to Brizzle in the drizzle.

Hit the venue just after 8; a disappointingly low early turnout of the usual ranks of hoary old rock casualties and medieval roadie types for da Trick. Nevertheless, we early comers were treated to a support slot from ridiculously young ruffians Plead The Fifth. Whilst quite enjoying their spunky powerpop thrills, which I found similar to The Click Five whilst also skirting around Orange County nu-punk/emo territory , Beef and I also noted that the bouffant-haired bassist and the bespectacled drummer looked like quite like me and him, 30 years ago!

We got a drink in, then resumed our good viewing spot, stage right for once (!), for the entrance of da Trick at 9 pm. Again, the cut-up intro tape featured Homer Simpson and Apoo extolling the virtues of this classic band, before a young female voice announced, “please welcome to the stage the greatest fucking rock’n’roll band you’ll ever see… Cheap Trick!” By this time the venue had filled up, although was by no means full, but da Trick received a rapturous welcome as they burst full-on into the chugging badass boogie of “Just Got Back”. Vocalist Robin Zander, resplendent in embroidered military jacket which was soon discarded to reveal a black wet-look shirt, and a black general’s peaked cap which remained in situ throughout, was on top form from the outset, stretching his elastic larynx through an excellent early “California Man”, then the outstanding, definitive descending-bassline driven, “I Want You To Want Me”, which was an early set highlight.

“We’ve written this set-list especially for…you!” announced the supreme showman and band leader, guitarist Rick Nielsen, showering guitar picks as usual into the appreciative audience, as they strode through soaring new power ballad “These Days”. Similar lighters-held-aloft classic “Tonight It’s You” was superb, the hook as big as the venue, and subsequent “On Top Of The World” was an unexpected slab of mutant surf rock, rounding off an opening half hour of old-school rock and powerpop as good as they’ve ever delivered.

The band then introduced their European Fan-club Chairman onstage, who took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend – sorry mate, we did that 7 years ago! For me, the set wavered thereafter, whilst still maintaining its' muscular power and pace and trademark grand, if slightly overblown and preposterous, rock riffs and huge choruses. However set closer and all-time powerpop classic “Surrender”, with its’ helium hookline and strident singalong outro, saw them roaring back with a vengeance, and encores “Dream Police” (always a favourite of mine to shout along to), a rocking “Clock Strikes Ten” and “Goodnight Ladies And Gentlemen” put the exclamation point on a 1½ hour set of fine pure old school rock.

Grabbed another set-list to make my evening. Another great retro June night, thanks to Cheap Trick!

820 THE WILD SWANS, Bristol Thekla, Thursday 9 June 2011

The retro June continues, and here’s another welcome reunion resulting in another eagerly anticipated gig. The Wild Swans, who as support act of my second ever gig made an indelible impression on my 16 year old mind with a stunning set of sweeping power, followed it up with easily the best single for the following year in “Revolutionary Spirit” – hell, still one of the best singles EVER – and, following an early 80’s hiatus, established themselves as a mid-80’s “live” favourite with an all-too-brief reprise, during which time I became a familiar face at their shows for vocalist and visionary Paul Simpson, who was nevertheless friendly and open each time I met him. The true “lost” band from that storied and mythical Liverpool Bunnymen/ Teardrops 80’s scene, the band with the vision, scale and talent to have assumed stadium level popularity, who were instead consigned to hushed, dusty half whispered legend. Until…

Scarcely-believable rumours of a Wild Swans reunion show at the back end of 2008 nearly saw me consider hot-footing it up to Liverpool, but t’was not to be. Nevertheless, they followed up these (very) low-key live shows with a couple of single releases, then, this year, a full length CD and a mini tour, choosing the Thekla, increasingly one of my favourite venues given that this “dirty boat” literally oozes the distilled essence of rock’n’roll, as a near-perfect venue for their scattergun vision of a run-down yet heroic England, where giants and mythical beasts still bestride these emerald Elysian fields. I booked tickets immediately and persuaded Rachel to forego Sunday’s gig to join me (Cheap Trick? Seen them before!!).

The best laid plans were however put into absolute panic when we couldn’t find Baa, our little daughter's favourite cuddly toy, to give to her before bedtime. A frantic last-minute turning the house upside down couldn’t reveal her whereabouts, so we set off late, flustered and worried about our daughter settling down with Grandma. Nevertheless, there’s a gig to go to, and we arrived at the “dirty boat” at 8, parking outside and wandering into the sparsely populated hold just as the support were rounding off their innocuous girly set.

Saw a familiar rakish figure snaking through the venue, dressed incredibly dapper in a dark cut suit, but before I wandered over to talk to Paul Simpson (for t’was he), I ran into old friend Craig, over from Cardiff for the show! Caught up thereafter with Simmo, who after a little prompting, apparently remembered me from my 80’s pursuits of The Wild Swans, and gave me a hug which was unexpected but welcome. A quick chat revealed his enthusiasm for the 2011 incarnation of his band, so we took a walk down the front for their early arrival at 8.30.

The Wild Swans took the stage to a still-sparse but loyal crowd, easing into their set with opener “Falling To Bits”, the melodic and evocative opener to their new album “The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years”. The sound seemed a little off from the outset, particularly feeding back through the rhythm guitarist throughout, but this seemed not to rattle their onstage insouciance. Rather they took heart, with an understated, restrained yet supremely melodic show of craftsmanship. Simmo had made reference earlier on to suffering throat problems, sipping honey and lemon from a pint glass onstage, but his deep baritone was nevertheless rich and resonant, albeit also restrained and controlled. A heroic “Archangels” was brilliantly evocative, an early set highlight, and newie “Bluebell Wood” saw Craig bantering with an affable Simmo about a Waitrose token (!). After a lovely “Now And Forever”, the set built to a glittering climax with a wonderfully discordant “God Forbid” (introduced by Simmo as, “a new one”; hah!), Simmo understandably keeping his voice one octave lower than the usual vocal line for protection. “No Bleeding” followed, as heartcrackingly emotive as ever, Simmo finally freeing his vocals to truly soar authoritatively, and the wonderful keyboard outro made this a true highlight of the night.

Then finally “Revolutionary Spirit”, possibly the greatest single of all time, a soaring plangent thing of melodic beauty, the band doing its’ extraordinary widescreen breadth and sweeping expanse full justice, and if Simmo over-egged the final chorus with an extra line, we can excuse him that for being so wrapped up in the moment. Brilliant stuff.

They stayed on then for an “encore” of “Tangerine Temple” before an actual encore of the uncharacteristic baggy dance anthem “Melting Blue Delicious”, Simmo abandoning the stage and joining us on the floor to deservedly applaud his own band after a remarkable resurrection.

Time to chat quickly afterwards, including a few words with bassist and former long-time Bunnyman Les Pattinson, and some words of gratitude with Simmo himself. We parted with his words, “don't leave it so long next time - well, I guess that’s up to me, isn't it?” That’s right, Simmo! A chat with Craig before setting off capped a brilliant night off wonderfully well too.

And after another exhaustive search when we got home, we managed to find Baa, so everything ended perfectly!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

819 THIN LIZZY, The Union, Swindon MECA (Music and Entertainment Cultural Arena), Thursday 2 June 2011

Shall I tell my Phil Lynott story? Okay, here goes… as a skinny little early teen, I whiled away many a balmy Summer evening hanging out on Swindon Railway Station; yes, it’s true, I was a teenage trainspotter! Anyway, one such Summer eve, a train pulled in and the first class compartment slowed to a stop next to my seat. Through the window I could see the occupants, and recognised one; a wiry leather spray-clad man with a candyfloss puff of jet black hair, and a gorgeous and nubile blonde draped provocatively over him. I reached for my notebook and scribbled, “are you Phil Lynott?” on it, pressing it up to the carriage window. This elicited a nod and a thumbs-up, and I then wrote, “thought so,” and held that up, to general hilarity from the great man.

I recalled that, when I’d heard that the next MECA rock booking was Thin Lizzy, Lynott’s classic 70’s rock band, a band which, more so than any other 70’s “rock” group, had an affinity and alignment with the burgeoning punk movement, Lynott hanging out with the Sex Pistols back in the day. As a result, I’d always admired them (even before my meeting with Phil!) without being a huge fan. I took a late shout on this one, however, given my Ant-ics the previous night, and also with trepidation that without Phil, sadly 25 years gone now, it just wouldn’t be the same... nevertheless, I drove up about 8.30, paying on the door and hitting the amply-filled venue while support band The Union were on. A gang of old rockers, they played some formulaic hard rock and occasional power balladry, which nevertheless went down well with the crowd of similar old rockers and middle-aged couples revisiting their wild youth, and which was alright for what it was.

Chatted with an old friend at the bar, filling time usefully as Thin Lizzy kept us waiting for ¾ hour! Yipe! Eventually, they emerged at 9.45, a 6-piece comprising 3 “original” members from their halcyon 70’s days, and 3 younger “guest” performers, bedecked in de rigeur rock hair, sleeveless shirts and full body tattooing. They played it hard and heavy from the outset, with a rocking opening number similar to Cheap Trick’s “Good Evening Ladies And Gentlemen”, not the only similarity in evidence tonight to a Trick gig!

Despite appearances, the “new” guys were nothing if not authentic; Guns & Roses lead guitar man Richard Fortus did a fine job of replicating the late Gary Moore’s snaking power-chord riffery, and dovetailed very well with “original” member Scott Gorham. Vocalist Ricky Warwick, of The Almighty, had the most unenviable task, and whilst not able to replicate Lynott’s smooth, smoky voice, did an admirable job of emulating his laid back and laconic, almost conversational vocal style. He also admirably deflected attention from himself to focus on the Lizzy legend (“I thought I’d gathered some rock’n’roll stories in 24 years – then I had a call to join the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world! It took me half a second to say yes and pick myself up off the floor…”), in a similar vein to Mike Peters’ Big Country appearance. An early, stomping “Do Anything You Wanna Do” was a highlight until a strident, powerful and lengthy “Whisky In The Jar” became a swelling terrace chant which filled the venue. I could have done without the drum solo during “Sha La La La”, but a roaring final “Boys Are Back In Town”, an octane-fuelled tale of male camaraderie, and an indisputable all-time classic deserving of its' place at rock’s top table, more than made up for it.

A couple of encores (including a fine and sinewy “Rosalie” - I was amazed throughout at how many Lizzy numbers I knew, and how well I knew them!) capped a fine performance and a thoroughly enjoyable gig. Despite not being my usual thing, I’ve travelled a whole lot further to go to worse gigs this year! Nice one, chaps.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

818 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, Krakatoa, Dressing For Pleasure, Birmingham O2 Academy, Wednesday 1 June 2011

Adam Ant? Adam frickin' Ant???? Oh yes. This was a gig I totally jumped all over as soon as I found out about it, so I could revisit one of my earliest musical icons. As a 15 year old fledgling punk rocker, I whiled away many a lazy hazy drunken Summer evening down the park with a gang of punks, copious bottles of Merrydown cider and Adam And The Ants as a musical backdrop. Really early stuff as well; not just “Dirk Wears White Sox”, their sleazy, sexy pseudo-glam punk first album, but Ant songs predating that, songs celebrating the perverse and different, songs which never saw the light of officially recorded day until a few popped up, also quite perversely, on the “B” sides of the big hits. I was an Ant fan on the ground floor, me! Unluckily, as soon as I was old enough to go to gigs, Adam Ant had “gone popular”; riding on the wave of “Stand And Deliver”, his first number one hit, he’d become a chameleonic new romantic pop idol, definitely not to my tastes. So there we’d parted, but I remembered my love of his old material…

Since those halcyon hit-strewn days, Adam had fallen on harder times, becoming a victim of changing musical/fashion tastes and suffering mental health issues, also sadly being arrested and sectioned on occasion. Thankfully, he’d emerged the other side, exorcised his ghosts in a splendid and frank autobiography, and decided to continue this recovery by getting back to performing “live”. I picked up on this recent burst of Ant activity at the end of last year, very nearly buying a ticket for one of his Xmas “World Tour of London” dates but blanching at the ticket price (£50? For the Electric Ballroom? Fuck that!). However a proper UK tour, apparently his first for 25 years, was just the ticket, and I sorted myself one for this Birmingham gig, the nearest the original slew of dates came to Swindon. Amazingly, I was on my own for this; despite doing some pre-gig research and finding, much to my utter delight, that the set was predominantly formed of the pre “Stand And Deliver” material of my hazy cider-fuelled mid-teens, I couldn’t persuade anyone to join me!

So, I hit the road at 5.30, full of anticipation but aware of previous issues with getting to this venue. However I needn’t have worried as this, a new location for Birmingham’s O2 Academy, was easy to get to and park up for. So I hit the gig, already utterly heaving with old punks, middle aged housewives with white stripes across their noses and the generally curious, at 7.30 in time for openers Dressing For Pleasure. A 3-piece featuring 2 sisters playing at burlesque dress-up and a stand-up bloke drummer, they played a thrashy garage blare, with their cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” poor but easily the best number they inflicted on us in their thankfully short set. From Birmingham, apparently, although still largely ignored! Main support Krakatoa were better; a group of young Cockneys mining a similar garagey vein, but with more Modish, Who leanings, and some occasional bluebeat thrown in. Another cover, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love”, was their best number too. I‘ve seen worse support bands; the first lot, for starters…

The crowd anticipation was palpable as we awaited the entrance of Adam; a huge “Antmusic For Sexpeople” backdrop and the double-drumkit set-up of old filled the stage. The place was old-school packed – not an inch to wiggle as I found a tiny and breathless viewing spot a few rows back, stage left. After a seemingly interminable wait, the band came on at the appointed hour and eased into the grungey, riff-heavy opening bars of “Plastic Surgery”. Then Adam emerged, dressed in a British Hussar’s gold rope embellished jacket and plumed pirate hat, pencil moustache and large glasses, looking for all the world 20 years younger than his actual 56 (!), as the opening number soared into punk-rock full-speed, Adam already yelping in his instantly recognisable vocal style.

The drums hit overload for “Dog Eat Dog” as I eased forward, and by the opening bars of “Beat My Guest”, a brilliant amphetamine-fast punk celebration of Sado-Masochism, I was in the mosh down the front, bashing away furiously and screaming the lyric for all I was worth, a 15 year old punk rocker again. A brilliant sequence followed; “Kick”, a furious manifesto, the jaunty and wonderfully singalong “Cartrouble”, then an awesome “Zerox”, easing in with its’ pin-picked opening riff then building throughout to an all-too short final strident crescendo of noise. Simply stunning stuff.

“This song is when I jumped out of the window and everything changed,” Adam announced as “Stand And Deliver” kicked in, igniting the housewives and still sounding, well, pretty good actually, for his “watershed” pop number. “Catholic Day” followed, Adam mischievously miming both the shooter and victim in this old number about the Kennedy assassination. Then a serious moment as Adam introduced the image-defining “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” as, “I mean every word of this song, I nearly died for this." Full-on Burundi-style double drumbeats and Native American chanting made for an all-encompassing set highlight. “A new Royal Family, a wild nobility…” indeed!

Adam, by now relaxed and in good fooling, with a swish and a swagger to his riveting and energetic performance totally belying his years, casually stated, “another hit single then? Why not? I dunno, guys playing stadiums after 2 hits; you’re having a laugh, right? I worked for this!” before a singalong “Antmusic”. Then after some Johnny Thunders stories, a dedication of “Cleopatra” for Elizabeth Taylor and featuring some more teasing (“you know what it’s about, right?”) and some choice words about Bono and U2 (“you want to see a hundred foot spider? Bollocks!”), a fantastic, Carry-on saucy “Lady” segued into a frantic, powerful “Fall In” to end a pretty damn near perfect set. A couple of encores, sadly omitting “Press Darlings” but featuring a fun, throwaway “A.N.T.S”, his own version of “YMCA”, and a speeded-up “Physical”, performed by a by-now shirtless Adam, rounded off a breathless, fucking lightning-quick 1¾ hours. Where the hell did that time go??!

I collected my thoughts (and a set-list – yay!) before realising I’d taken a total pounding and had been feeling sick for about the last half-hour, nevertheless toughing it out to suck out the max from this one. I’d been eagerly anticipating this gig since discovering Adam’s set, perhaps unfairly so given Adam’s long lay-off and recent history of mental health issues; however he delivered in brilliant style, with a performance which stripped back the years and restored his icon to full radiance. This was fully all I’d hoped it could possibly be. Welcome back, Adam Ant!