After a year and a half of singles and heavy blog discussion, Haim’s debut did anything but disappoint. Nearly the strongest pop release of the year which puts all of their strengths and flavours on full display: tight vocal performances, tasteful and lush instrumentals, catchy choruses and a bag of influences ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Destiny’s Child. Every track could have been a single and as a collection “Days Are Gone” does not drop the ball once. The change in sound from their previous more rock-oriented live front may disappoint some followers but the clean, rich pop sheen each song receives here is irresistible. Sophisticated yet instantly accessible, this album deserves to be remembered. An extremely promising genesis to the career of a band that will hopefully continue to thrive.
The most impressive female solo singer to emerge this year, Lorde’s debut’s refreshingly stark production makes you realise how hard its competitors seem to be trying to even be heard. “Royals” is only one of the many highlights here and even after its over-exposure on the radio it sounds blissful in context here. The consistently minimalist atmosphere becomes surprisingly heavy on repeated listens, making one realise how effective the “less is more” approach can be. Lyrically it’s youthful but it’s easy to forget this with what’s happening around the words. Again, the number of possible hits is staggering with Lorde’s surprisingly mature voice serving as one of the most enticing sounds of 2013. A hugely exciting debut, “Pure Heroine” is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that this was the year of female pop.
Kanye’s personality was flaunted so much in 2013. Between the Kardashians, his various outlandish interviews and clashes with the paparazzi it’s easy to forget what was at the eye of the storm: “Yeezus”. However rushed and messy some of this record seems, it’s thrilling, cathartic and a lot more listenable than some might claim. Resembling a sharper-edged, colder-sounding “808s & Heartbreak”,” Yeezus” is at least the darkest SOUNDING thing he’s ever released. It’s like a digital rainbow: between the steely synths on the earlier tracks, the horn samples on “Blood on the Leaves” and the early-Yeezy soul samples on “Bound 2”, it’s surprisingly varied and in spite of some misguided lyrical direction we’re left with a largely on-point, albeit bizarre, record essential at this point in the man’s career.
One of the most colourful releases from this year, “Nanda Collection” can be at once immediate and baffling. The extremely layered, almost three-dimensional instrumentation is thrilling enough to make up for the lack of power behind Kyary’s voice but that’s not what she’s about anyway, what with her prime function simply being kawaii. The songs fit her persona and image perfectly, discussing such subjects as ice cream, fashion, aliens, ninjas… you get the idea without even being able to entirely understand the lyrics. The enjoyment here is something both more primal and innocent and once you push past any initial possible alienation there’s nothing left but excitement and happiness. The amount of care put into this album just bounces off it and it’s unbelievably infectious. Oddball of the year for sure.
It seems some quiet time was just what Gaga needed following the paper-thin “Born This Way” album: almost every song on “ARTPOP” sounds like it’s been given the room to breathe and develop that most of the tracks on her previous release never had. If you ever thought her music didn’t actually justify her oddball public persona and fashion sense, “ARTPOP” is absolutely what you have been waiting for. One listen of opener “Aura” makes it clear this is the most actually “Gaga” record Ms. Germanotta has released. Dominated by a thick, lively, 80s-style production it excites pretty consistently, featuring absolutely some of the best tracks Gaga’s ever put out. Her stabs at pop culture and her other usual themes actually have weight in both what they’re saying and their musical backing. Certainly her strongest full-length release so far.
This year’s Reading and Leeds headliners could be considered just about the strongest of any festival this year. Featuring relatively new, home-grown talent, some seasoned veterans and a returning headliner who still surprises wherever he’s announced, there was a lot to talk about. Not least because the headlining spots at this year’s festivals meant something very different for each concerned. Biffy Clyro were the only headliners who seemed to have something to prove: this being only their second and certainly most notable headlining spot at a UK festival after having spent years slowly climbing up the bill and releasing six albums (including the new double release, Opposites).
It was easy to see the effort put into at least looking like a headlining band with an enormous tree resembling the new album cover sitting centre-stage complete with raised platform for singer Simon Neil to perform from. During the second song, “That Golden Rule”, pyrotechnics were let loose for the explosive finale. Confetti cannons were unleashed for “Many of Horror” and lasers were abundant during Opposites track “Modern Magic Formula”. While most of the visual elements fell into place rather well it often seemed shoehorned in such as during “Who’s Got a Match?” where Neil stood holding a lit flare over his head. A cool idea but rather odd to look at.
The setlist was heavy on latter-period material with only two-and-a-half songs from the band’s first three albums appearing: “57” from their debut, “Blackened Sky”, stood out as a high point in the evening; “Glitter and Trauma” from “Infinity Land” has very much been a live staple since its release and a teaser of “Questions and Answers” during a solo acoustic portion of the evening almost appeased any hardcore fans pining for rarities.
The band seemed extremely comfortable and confident considering the occasion and, despite a short period of technical difficulties early in the set, had no problem with whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Neil’s presence and verbal delivery when addressing the crowd had a seductive, menacing quality to it. Through the light rain they powered through the night and hardly seemed to drop the ball at all. It’s as though Biffy Clyro have evolved specifically to please festival crowds with many of their most recent tracks seemingly designed exactly for this (“That Golden Rule”, “Biblical”, “Mountains”). All shortcomings considered (there weren’t many anyway) there are few UK bands who have been as well-prepared for a headlining slot as this band. I wish for nothing but to see this band continue to succeed and make more, possibly more refined festival appearances.
The rock theme continued over onto Saturday night. For Green Day these Reading and Leeds performances would serve as the final nail in the coffin of their recent year from hell following lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s pills-and-alcohol-fuelled meltdown leading to the poor sales of their new albums,” ¡Uno!”,” ¡Dos!” and “ ¡Tré!”. Nearly a year on from the incident the band seem keen to appease those in doubt of their abilities following the ordeal and perform the whole of their smash album, “Dookie”, front to back in anticipation of its 20th anniversary next year.
What material still remains in the setlist from last year’s trilogy is tried and tested. New barnstormer “Stay the Night” deserves a spot in setlists for years to come while “Let Yourself Go” is the closest to the Ramones that Green Day have ever come. The opening eight songs’ well-engineered crowd-pleasing abilities prove what slick and powerful performers the group still are. Fan favourite “Letterbomb” serves as a platform for an empowered rant from Armstrong about living in the moment and turning a blind eye to the ever-accelerating pace and embedding of technology in our culture. The biggest shock of the night comes in the form of a cover of The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away”, a nod to their seminal live album, Live at Leeds”. Seemingly unrehearsed, the performance was sloppy in places but a treat for fans and a nice sentiment.
The hits remain as exciting as ever: “Minority” has the masses bouncing; “American Idiot”, arguably the most recognisable tune here, has everyone riled up; “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” inspires the biggest sing-along of the night. The tradition of pulling fans onstage is carried on at two points throughout the night, first during “Know Your Enemy” where a boy sings the wordless chant during the bridge before stage-diving. The second instance occurs during “Longview” where this writer was invited to sing the final verse and chorus as well as the first two of the following song, “Welcome to Paradise”.
Armstrong explained the gig was the band’s last for “a really long time”. If this means the end of any promotion for the trilogy, it’s a wonderful close to perhaps the darkest chapter of Green Day’s career.
The headliner on Sunday could have suffered greatly if another rock band had been billed. Luckily, a very welcome palette refresher was lined up in the form of the iconic Marshall Mathers. Eminem’s performance was a rare live UK appearance signalling the beginning of a new album cycle. It certainly put his cancelled appearances in 2000 out of mind and his unusually punctual onstage arrival is certainly worth noting. However, in spite of opening with new single, “Survival”, this was very much a greatest hits show. The setlist was virtually unchanged from recent years’ in promotion of 2010’s “Recovery”, yet the featured songs, such as “Love the Way You Lie” and “Not Afraid” come just as expectedly as “Lose Yourself” and are mostly just as well received. The likes of “Airplanes, Pt. II” and “Like Toy Soldiers” bring the sing-alongs while “Kill You” and “White America” put Eminem’s murderous early-career persona on full display, delighting all watching. Eminem himself seemed less than present a lot of the time with hype man Mr. Porter doing much of the talking in between songs. The songs seemed to speak on behalf of the man himself.
Visually the show is a treat with an enormous letter E lying on its side as the backline, paired with towering screens overhead showing various gruesome and hilarious scenarios lining up with the subject matter of each track: at one point a first-person perspective of a bound victim being dragged along a dark corridor leaving a thick trail of blood; later on during the Slim Shady portion of the evening, various images of a young Eminem are splashed across the stage with their mouths moving to the lyrics.
The predictable setlist didn’t mean a lack of surprises though. Midway through, Royce da 5’9″, the other half of Bad Meets Evil, appears to run through two songs from their EP, “Hell: The Sequel”. And for the many seemingly unfamiliar with this work, Dido graces the stage for the chorus of “Stan”, receiving one of the biggest audience reactions of the night. With the generally indie and rock heavy line-up of 2013, Eminem brought a breath of fresh air in at the close while also assembling the biggest audience the main stage had all weekend. A strong start to the return of a giant.
On Tuesday Hampden Park was blessed with one of the most gorgeously sunny days seen all year and a fittingly spectacular concert. For three and a half hours, Bruce Springsteen used his usual magic to turn Scotland’s national stadium into the most intimate of gig venues through a mixture of well-known hits, lesser-known wild cards, sing-alongs and a masterful command of the art of audience participation.
This concert was particularly notable for being on the two-year anniversary of Springsteen’s long-running saxophonist, Clarence Clemons’, death. This occasion was marked by “My City of Ruins” returning to the setlist after being in semi-retirement for some months. The singer told the crowd to dedicate it to anyone they might be missing in their life and once he began singing the line “when the change was made uptown…” over and over, a line lifted from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, a song which details the first meeting of Bruce and Clarence, it was clear where the sentiment was coming from.
As surprising as the return of “My City of Ruins” was, the fact that this was one of the lesser shocks of the evening illustrates just how unpredictable and consistently wild Springsteen shows have always been. After the opening “We Take Care of Our Own” and an unexpected “The Ties That Bind”, Bruce immediately dove into the audience fetching sign requests that have become so standard in the touring process. After collecting what seemed to be at least six (including this reviewer’s own!) he called upon the band to play the almost unknown “Jole Blon”, a cajun traditional which he had recorded with golden oldies singer Gary U.S. Bonds. He described it beforehand as a “band stumper” but given the level of performance the E Street Band gave it was hard to tell and any fans left unknowing of the track were singing the “sha-la-la” chorus by the time it was over. From here, two more requests took place in the form of the early-career “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and post-2000 “Radio Nowhere”. It was as if Bruce was trying to show how any request no matter how old or unexpected could be pulled off with a great deal of ease.
One might think that with a show as unpredictable and career-sprawling as this, it could end up feeling directionless and inconsistent but watching, it seemed that every step of the way seemed to be very carefully calculated. The request of “I’m on Fire” into “Tougher Than the Rest” flowed perfectly and when “Atlantic City” and “Murder Incorporated” followed, the thematic and musical fluency was so astounding it was as if this setlist had been planned and rehearsed for weeks.
Throughout the night, the New Jersey singer seemed to be in great spirits, copying the dance moves of anyone who seemed to have a particularly visible groove in the audience and sharing banter with anyone who seemed to have something to offer. At least four fans managed to get up onstage: two women were pulled up for a dance during “Dancing in the Dark” as well as a younger girl getting to play guitar and sing backing vocals on the same track (but not without taking a few pictures while up there). During “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” Bruce performed the usual ritual of letting a small child sing the chorus through a few times before shouting “come on, E Street Band!” and kicking the song off again. A boogie-woogie version of “Open All Night” showed Springsteen promising to have everyone in the stadium on their feet within thirty seconds, a promise which was very easily kept.
The night seemed to go on forever and in the least tedious way possible. And just when it seemed it was all over after the poignant tribute to Clarence Clemons in the form of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, Bruce let everyone know that this was far from true. “Oh, we ain’t done yet!” came the cry and so the house party was extended through the devices of covering both “Twist and Shout” and “Shout”, especially meaningful given Scottish singer Lulu’s successful version. No party, including the band, seemed to want the marathon gig to end. Even following this and the exit of the band from the stage there was one more surprise for the still eager Glasgow audience: a “rock and roll lullaby” as Bruce put it in the form of a solo acoustic “Thunder Road”, one final heartfelt sing-along before the stadium collapsed with exhaustion and satisfaction.
On a more personal note, walking out of the venue myself and those I had attended it with were literally speechless. Watching a Springsteen concert feels less like being at a gig sometimes and more like some sort of religious enlightenment. To think nights like this happen up to 100 times a year and have been occurring for around 40 years is extraordinary. I whole-heartedly pray more than anything else to do with the music industry that these sort of shows remain a constant for a good while longer.
I’m not sure if any artist holds definite claim to having avoided as many expectations as Neil Young and I very much doubt there is. More than anything, the performance displayed at the S.E.C.C. has taught this reviewer more than anything not to presume anything about a gig upon purchase of tickets.
Entering the hall it was clear I was not about to witness the no-frills, stripped back grunge set I was prepared for. The enormous fake storage crates behind the band set-up (which were elevated to reveal giant pretend amplifiers) as well as the giant fake televisions hanging either side of the stage illustrated this much. Never mind the lab-coat- and builder-uniform-clad roadies running around frantically, seemingly performing a mime act in the entire run-up to show time.
After the intro music of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and a surprising playing of “Flower of Scotland” over the PA system, complete with saltire hanging from the back of the stage, Young and Crazy Horse chugged slowly into Ragged Glory track “Love and Only Love”, which laid the blueprint down for how many of the nights songs were to be performed: long instrumental openings, wandering, guitar-laden interludes and seemingly ceaseless final cadences. The final chord of “Walk Like a Giant” was stretched to at least ten minutes and with each crash, a different image of Neil and the band from decades past flashed across the TVs either side of the stage.
This was just one of the interesting visual elements implemented throughout the night. After the aforementioned song finally ended, an impressive lightning storm effect was displayed across the stage and dialogue from the weather warnings from Woodstock in 1969 were played before a massive banner in tribute to the event was dropped. During unreleased track “Singer Without a Song”, a young girl with a guitar case in hand playing the title role of the song wandered around the stage among the band members looking lost. It seemed to have little consistency with the rest of what was on display but then again, look at who we’re talking about here. Finally, at the end of the encore the giant storage crates were lowered back down to cover the pretend amplifiers occupying the stage. In terms of setlist, picks for the evening stretched far and wide across Young’s career, from tracks off the new release, Psychedelic Pill to more obvious numbers found on Harvest and Rust Never Sleeps.
Of course, the audience seemed most receptive during a short solo acoustic slot where “Heart of Gold” won back any of those lost during the quarter-hour of feedback. Singing into spot mics mounted on his harmonica, Neil was free to wander the stage unconstrained by a mic stand. It made for a really natural performance, wonderful to both look at and listen to. Here it was also clear just how strong his voice still is. Every word was clear and not once did it seem he was losing grip. In fact, the only moments where it seemed the audience were not totally on board were during the aforementioned feedback storm and later during Ragged Glory track “Fuckin’ Up”, where very few seemed willing and ready to join in with the chant of “you’re just a fuck up!”. However the rest of the evening saw a rather hypnotised crowd ready for whatever came on. At the end of the main set, Neil seemed to echo a sentiment shared throughout the entire audience, singing “don’t say it’s over” repeatedly on the last chord of “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” (performed in the style of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) ?!?!?!?!).
The encore brought an emotive end to the night, with touching words spoken before the penultimate song, wishing everyone a save journey home that kids who parents had left at home would have a good night’s sleep. This moment was particularly important for the evening as a whole, reminding anyone unimpressed by what could be described by some as a self-indulgent set of noise and taking the piss that the man in front of them was entirely of sound mind when it came to every detail of what he was doing. This along with the length of time Young and Crazy Horse spent taking in their final applause illustrated how engaged all performers were and how truly grateful they were to everyone in attendance. This reviewer was certainly grateful to be there.
Poor Palma Violets. They didn’t do anything. All they’ve done is exist and make music like anyone else would but thanks to a certain publisher’s mild obsession everyone has gone to listen to them expecting the best thing since that last best thing, whatever the hell that was. Do not get me wrong, they are a good band who have released a fine album but that’s all they’ve released. It’s fine, guys.
The first thing to take note of when listening through “180” for the first time is the choice of opening track. You may spend your time listening through it thinking the same thing as me: “this is still a great song. Can’t wait to see what else they’ve got to offer”. Unfortunately, you may be similarly disappointed as this song pretty much represents the most exciting point of the album as well as introducing virtually every trick in their writing and performance book. If one vague listen through this album is all you have to go by for this band, you won’t remember a thing you’ve heard. You’re going to have heard a lot of the same, none of which is hugely memorable. I could even write out the general formula for virtually every song on the album but that would ruin absolutely any fun to be had here (and also be horrifically tedious).
This is not to say that once you’ve heard one Palma Violets song you’ve heard them all; there are some interesting deviations from the loose, swampy mid-tempo numbers that make up most of the album. “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts” stands as a fun, swinging, stop-starty beach-resort tune that sounds like its structure could have been written about fifty years prior. They even throw the odd rhythmic curveball here and there throughout the record, suddenly shifting between half- full- and double-time and throwing around the tempo of songs however they fancy.
The loose, swampy factor remains a constant however. The main differences in sound you’re going to hear resides in the organ parts which one might argue give Palma Violets their sound. It sounds at once both ancient and refreshing. On “Tom the Drum” it sounds like an early song The Band may have recorded; gooey, deep and warm. A lot of the rest of the time, it’s very much what you’d expect to hear walking down a sunny pier in the 1940s.
Other than the lyrics there is very little else to talk about concerning this album. Even then, lyrics are a sparse resource on “180”. The intro of “Last of the Summer Wine“‘ ends at about 1:44 and instrumental sections are rife elsewhere too. This isn’t a bad thing; the lyrics are more often than not clichés that have been repeated to the point of losing any meaning (they even go as far to sing “all you need is love” at one point). It’s just that the instrumental passages aren’t all that interesting either. At least they’re making the music they want to make, which is ultimately what needs to be said here.
It may sound like I don’t like this album which isn’t true. Like I said before, it’s fine. There are genuinely good songs here and there but I do hope any hyped-up publishers or even fans don’t get too riled up about this one because somehow it’ll be Palma Violets themselves who are to blame regardless of the fact that they’re simply releasing some decent music they’ve written and enjoy. I’m sure the cry of “fucking brilliant!” on “Tom the Drum” confirms that. Just listen to this record with no context and you might have a lovely time.
OK, let’s unleash the second Riot Squad contribution to our 2012 annual round-up. This time it’s our Scottish correspondent, Louie Anderson, sharing his favourites from the last 12 months. Don’t forget to keep an eye on MusicRiot next week to catch the Top 5s of some of Music Riot’s favourite artists of 2012; you might be surprised to discover who’s willing to share their favourites with us.
Dylan’s 35th studio effort continues his rather strong (and bluesy) album streak which began with 1996’s” Time Out of Mind”. While not quite standing up to the majestic “Love and Theft” or “Modern Times”, it offers plenty in terms of both substance and listening. One of his longest albums, featuring the near fourteen-minute title track and numerous other hefty songs, it’s also one of his most lyrically dark (“I pay in blood, but not my own”). He bounces between romantic crooner, serial killer and elderly pervert, often embodying all at once (“Two-timing slim, who’s ever heard of him? I’ll drag his corpse through the mud”). Sprawling and scatter-brained, may come across as less of an album, more a collection of songs. Still great.
On Sacramento hip-hop outfit Death Grips’ first official studio album, and their first of two releases this year, they make little effort to hold anything back. And I mean anything; rawness, gruesome images, extremely impressive production and just straight-up incredible songs. A much more refined and focussed release in comparison with last year’s mixtape, “Exmilitary”. Amidst the dissonance and the noise and the shouting from chief-screamer MC Ride live some of the greatest refrains, choruses and general lyrics of the year. Vicious, surprisingly intellectual and complex and rather inaccessible but a hugely rewarding listen. I’M IN YOUR AREAAAAA.
Throughout all articles written about Grimes this year, she’s been described as everything but human. And upon listening to “Visions”, her third solo studio album, one can hear why. Overlapping delayed melisma and airy synths mixed with a falsetto so light create a sound so delicate yet instantly memorable it seems as if you blew on the disc the music would disappear. When you strip the songs down to their beautiful melodies and chord patterns, you may be left with what might seem standard pop and yet, the absurdity of the lyrics combined with the sheer charisma of Grimes and the blissful production beg to differ. Nothing less than extraordinary.
This boy’s first major label album improves on the previous in every way, more varied and just generally better production, improved story-telling skills, better hooks and much more subtle in most ways. Described on its front cover as a movie, its narrative follows the growing up of Lamar in his hometown, Compton. The skits are sometimes genuinely funny and the songs are just straight up brilliant. Lamar’s flow and delivery is varied and the guest spots are equally good. None feel tacked on, not even Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre! The record manages to be catchy and accessible yet also relevant, powerful and never cheesy. A real achievement. There’s a lot up ahead for this guy.
Perhaps the bravest release of this year? Throws hip-hop’s standards and attitudes towards sexuality up in the air, as well standing as a strong, honest release out of context. However hyped-up it may have been due to Ocean’s confessional letter released prior, it delivers in every respect. Carefully orchestrated, written and produced, featuring some fantastic vocal performances from Frank himself, it’s clear how much heart, soul and thought has gone into every detail of the album. From lazy jazzy free-form explorations to standard sung-verse-rapped-chorus pop songs to nine-minute club sagas from Egypt, it’s all over the place. Yet it works perfectly and should make the artist proud in every respect. A bold step forward.
Almost two years after their last Scottish date and nearly a year after their cancelled T in the Park appearance, Blink graced the SECC stage with a seamless set that dripped with professionalism. After some ropey support from Twin Atlantic and the All-American Rejects, the restless crowd were essentially in the palm of their hand from the word go.
Opening with 2003 hit “Feeling This”, the band appeared relaxed, happy and in their element, having run this same set since the beginning of the tour for their most recent album, “Neighborhoods”, last August. The show did little to surprise, with the band employing their tried, tested and reliable onstage routine of toilet humour, insulting each other’s mothers and irrefutable pop gems which a ridiculously enthusiastic, 12,500-strong crowd of fans lapped up.
The most unexpected element of the night came in the form of a short acoustic encore played at the back of the arena, consisting of live favourite “Reckless Abandon” and pre-“Enema of the State” oldie “Wasting Time”. Here, singer Tom DeLonge took some time to explore their musical background, talking briefly about what it meant to their community growing up. This signalled a surprisingly sincere moment during a show which offered very little in terms of food for thought.
Blink have gone from strength to strength since their reunion in 2009 following on from a messy break-up in 2005. Last year’s” Neighborhoods” showed that even after four years, a band that were constantly searching to develop their sound and explore new ways to demonstrate their pop songwriting genius can still surprise. This translated onstage: where once there existed sloppy musicianship, there was near-note-perfect precision. Where there once seemed animosity between DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, the band’s second lead singer, there was a clear display of respect and friendship. Fans will be glad to know that DeLonge’s vocals sounded great and nowhere near as sloppy as they have done on recent tours. Donning a baseball cap, he both looked and sounded as good as he did back in the early 2000s. Near-mute drummer Travis Barker also took his chance at the spotlight with a superb drum solo during the second encore, backed by a self-produced hip-hop/dubstep track.
Yet, in spite of the apparent maturity Blink have gained over the past few years, it was assuring, if not comforting, to hear them end the night with the vulgar “Family Reunion”, a thirty-second track consisting of nothing but swear words. “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” also appeared earlier on in the set and while the performance of such songs may give some the impression that even after a four year hiatus, nothing has changed when it comes to how seriously Blink take themselves, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If this concert is anything to go by then it’s obvious that, if anything, what they take most seriously is entertaining. It also happens to be what they excel at.
“When are we playing?”
“Who are you?”
“Oh, you guys will be on last.”
Not something a band with but two gigs under their belt expected to hear, especially considering the fact that at both of these gigs we had been first on the bill. Everyone outwith the band thought the prospect of performing last was brilliant: everyone will remember us! We’ll be the last thing they saw so we’ll stick in their memory! And for a while, it was a great feeling. It was as if we were headlining, despite this being a Battle of the Bands, and so we were filled with an air of confidence, an imaginary strength, like we had something that put us above every other band.
This was reinforced by our surroundings. We considered Studio 24 our home: it had been the site of our first gig and so, as silly as it sounds, that night felt like a homecoming. We had to outdo ourselves, this was going to be our best performance following a successful first gig and an ever so slightly disastrous second gig. Having decided to play it straight, our setlist consisted of seven original compositions (including our apparent signature song, “Disheartened”. A demo of it had been uploaded to YouTube, garnering some recognition among our friends) and no covers. Pretty much every other band on the bill had some sort of reinvention of some hit or another up their sleeve (with a curious performance of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” arising at one point) and so we chose not to pull out one of the few covers we had actually mastered.
We were at ease, which was reassuring yet slightly worrying. Complacency had been a major factor in the disappointment of our second gig with the success of our debut making us relaxed. If you’re not nervous before a gig, there’s something wrong so luckily (or not) as the night wore on and more and more bands performed anxiety crept in. Of course we were excited to perform but the longer we had to wait the more we began to dread it, especially after seeing some of the talent already on display.
During the band two before us, it arose that there had been a mix-up with the times of performances and for a moment it looked like we might have to shorten our set, making matters worse. Quickly, things were sorted but even the mild stress of that incident had been jarring and by the time we were heading for the stage I was particularly nervous.
However, stepping on the stage any nerves were quickly forgotten and we powered through our half-hour set in what seemed like five minutes. As far as I’m aware, the only mistake made was by yours truly during our opening song, Back to the Fire, and was resolved quick enough so as to be fairly unnoticeable. The audience reaction was incredible , particularly and predictably during our finisher, Disheartened. To be honest it was all a blur at this point. All I could hear was my cymbals and Amber, our singer and at the same time my vision was considerably impaired by strobe lights: I couldn’t even see my drumsticks in my hand.
It was incredible.
Once we had finished, all we had to do was wait for the verdict which wasn’t long. It was announced before I had even made it off stage.
We came second to a band called Lost Weekend. It was decided by the audience who wrote their favourite band of the night on a piece of paper however, according to many people we invited, a lot of people hadn’t had a chance to vote. A longer voting period could have benefited anyone.
Regardless, we were overwhelmed with the result. In all the excitement I ended up knackering my ankle as I jumped off the stage but, to be quite honest, it was worth it.
It was a night of ups and downs but the high points outweighed the lows. The concert as a whole was brilliant and we, Modern Misfortune, came off more than pleased with our performance. We’d done exactly what we’d hoped we would.
There was a particular moment at the Stranglers’ Edinburgh gig where the band seemed to have truly succeeded in bringing the audience together. About six songs in, the Picture House was flooded in orange light and a huge chorus reached an even bigger climax: “Always, always, always the sun!”. No person present could resist singing as loud as they could muster and the sound was incredible. Grins appeared across the faces of everyone onstage, the first time this had occurred the whole night.
This doesn’t mean that the band hadn’t had a good time up to this point. They had already bounced their way through the hit “Peaches” amongst others to everyone’s delight. The Stranglers almost didn’t play the Picture House. It quickly became apparent that Baz Warne had suffered some sort of accident involving a hotel shower door before the show and had one hand almost completely covered in bandages, making the energy of their performance even more surprising. There was of course the odd wince and moments where the guitar would stop as Warne inspected his hand but all this did was make the performance seem more human, something all crowds love, this one in particular.
Despite this, bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel seemed to be doing a very good job at looking as unimpressed with anything as he possibly could. Drummer Jet Black was an extremely tight performer but at his current age of 72 he seemed to be putting all of his energy into keeping this up: at the start of the band’s second song, “Was It You?”, there seemed to be a bit of a mix-up with the setlist. A total of three false starts were played and the culprit seemed to be Black playing the drum part for an entirely different song. Each time the band stopped, Burnel and Warne both turned to Black and exchanged confused and amused looks as they attempted to run it again.
At the age of 46, Baz Warne is the youngest here, replacing Hugh Cornwell as lead vocalist. He brought most of the band’s raw energy to the stage and did all the talking, which didn’t amount to much: only a song introduction here and there and an explanation of his own hand injury.
The band gave the audience a portion of the show to calm down, playing songs that were perhaps not as well known as the obvious hits and favourites of big fans. This made the return to the signatures extremely welcome and showed how well the Stranglers can craft a setlist, managing to raise the excitement even further by cheekily leaving the enormous rocker “No More Heroes” until the final song of the second encore, finishing the night with a boom. Other songs included in the encore were a stellar version of the Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night” and “Hanging Around”.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair not to mention support act Wilko Johnson who played for a good hour beforehand, still strutting all over the stage as he is famous for. It was remarkable what a sound his band of three, including himself, managed to make as he stormed his way through Dr. Feelgood hits as well as solo material. This was a perfect opening for a consistently rocking night.
It would have been even warmer, had the audience known what a show they were about to witness. Kicking off with the opening staple “After Hours”, frontman Tyler Spencer (aka: Dick Valentine) had everyone in the palm of his hand. This set the tone for the rest of the night.
“Everything you do here, you do the correct way!” Valentine claimed at one point, to enormous cheers from all. It seemed the same for him onstage: during the guitar solo on “Infected Girls”, he assumed a power stance and didn’t move a muscle until the vocals returned. This delighted the audience.
However, the band’s success in winning over the crowd not only resided in Valentine’s charisma. The songs themselves had people moshing, pogo-ing and chanting, with their hit, “Danger! High Voltage”, bringing the venue to an even higher excitement level. In between songs, the band burst into a short cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and during the encore almost ended up playing the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, a moment of comic genius much appreciated by the Scottish audience. Read more