The first time I saw Federal Charm, they were supporting Southside Johnny (I know, you’re shocked that I was at a Southside Johnny gig) in Bury St Edmunds six months ago. I was gobsmacked on that night by their playing and confidence but I wanted to see the band play live again before writing a review. Since then, the band have released their first album (and very good it is too) and they’ve been playing shows across the UK. The current tour is a blues/rock package with Laurence Jones and Mitch Laddie. I’d love to tell you about Laurence and Mitch, but I could only stay for the Federal Charm set; next time, guys.
Federal Charm are Nick Bowden (vocals/guitar), Paul Bowe (guitar), L D Morawski (bass) and Danny Rigg (drums) and they’re from Stockport. It’s pretty much the standard rock band line-up with the added bonus that the quality of Nick Bowden’s playing allows the band to drop in a bit of twin lead guitar work to the mix. The relatively short set focuses mainly on the album, ripping through the big riffs of “I’m not Gonna Beg”, “There’s a Light”, “No Money Down”, and “Tell your Friends” before slowing things down with their stunning version of “Reconsider”, giving Paul Bowe the chance to let rip with blues, rock, and funk/rock solos.
So how do you follow the big showpiece song? You speed things up and get some audience participation as well, and if they don’t know your songs well enough then you play something that they do know, the Golden Earring classic, “Radar Love” and it works perfectly as a lead-in to the dirty riff of “Reaction”. Throw in a couple of non-album songs as well and you’ve got a perfectly-paced set of twenty-first century blues rock.
Federal Charm have been together less than three years, but they play with the assurance of seasoned and honed rockers. The rhythm section is rock solid as the band move through changes in tempo and style within songs (particularly “Reconsider”) and Nick Bowden and Paul Bowe are charismatic and energetic frontmen. The two guitars are used together in different ways ranging from straightforward rhythm or riff and lead guitar to more complicated twin guitar stylings with nods to The Stones and Thin Lizzy. It’s not difficult to pick out the influences, but they’re put together with such style that the end result is something that’s pure Federal Charm.
As the opening band in a three band package in London on a Tuesday night, you might expect to struggle, but Federal Charm ripped into their set as if they were playing a sellout gig at the O2, and that attitude made them a lot of friends on the night. There are a couple of things that make this band stand out. The first is that Paul Bowe is a very, very good player and he always looks like he’s having the best time ever. The other is that when you watch Nick Bowden sing, you have to ask where that incredible rock voice comes from, and he doesn’t even make it look difficult.
If you’re into blues, rock, great guitar playing, great singing or any combination of the above, you really should get out and see these guys at any of these gigs.
I’ve seen a lot of gigs in London pubs this year; in basements, back rooms and upstairs rooms. I’ve seen indie bands, electronic bands and Americana artists, but I haven’t been to a gig that was as much fun as Dean Owens supported by Drumfire Records latest signing, Ags Connolly, at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham. If you pay any attention at all to MusicRiot (or even Ricky Ross or Bob Harris), you’ll know that we’re all big Dean Owens fans; he’s always a great live performer and The Cabbage Patch is a lovely venue for an intimate acoustic performance.
Ags Connolly’s opening set featured songs from his upcoming country and Americana-tinged debut album (produced by Dean Owens) on Drumfire Records and was well received by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience, setting things up very nicely for the headline act. I’ve seen arena gigs and festivals this year, but I haven’t experienced an atmosphere as warm as this one.
Dean’s current mini tour is still under the “Cash Back” banner and is partly in support of his current single from “Cash Back”, “I Still Miss Someone” but, from the beginning of the set, it’s obvious that this is about giving the audience what they want, rather than sticking to a rigid set list. What we actually get is a mix of songs from Dean’s three latest albums, “Cash Back”, “New York Hummingbird” and “Whisky Hearts” (and that’s a pretty impressive set of songs to choose from) and a few surprises. Dean’s a very relaxed and accomplished performer, full of self-deprecatory chat and dry Scottish humour between songs. From the start of the set Dean lets the audience know that requests are very welcome and the audience can play their part in the performance.
At various times during the set we hear “Whisky Hearts”, “Man from Leith” and “Raining in Glasgow” from “Whisky Hearts”, “Lost Time”, “Little Baby Fireworks” and “Desert Star” from “New York Hummingbird” and “I Still Miss Someone”, “Delia’s Gone”, “Cocaine Carolina” and the self-penned “The Night Johnny Cash played San Quentin” from “Cash Back”. They’re all stripped-down versions relying on guitar, vocal, harmonica, whistling and a few other vocal tricks, but it’s a mark of the quality of the songwriting that they all work perfectly with the minimalist approach.
There’s also an interesting selection of other people’s songs including “Teenage Kicks” (which Dean played live and acoustic during an interview on an Australian radio station just as the news of John Peel’s untimely death broke), Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and the totally unexpected “Heart of Glass” (yes, that “Heart of Glass”). The evening had everything you could ask for from a gig, great songs, great performances (from Ags and Dean) and an audience that actually wanted to see and hear the performers. There’s a lot that’s wrong with the live scene in London at the moment (pay-to-play and play for exposure, for example) but when you see a gig like this, you think there just might be some hope. When everyone plays their part (the performers, the promoters, the venue and the audience) as they did at The Cabbage Patch it can be a truly uplifting experience. Thanks everyone.
I’ve got to say this; my end of year piece this year will be jam-packed with superlatives. I’ll have to give the thesaurus a hammering to avoid repetition because I’ve seen so many great gigs and heard so many great new albums this year. Carrie Rodriguez is easily in the top five live artists I’ve seen this year and her show at The Old Queens Head in Islington was the kind of warm, confident and intimate performance that only a true star can give.
The venue is perfect for this show; an upstairs room at a pub with a good sound system and just enough room for the appreciative and knowledgeable audience. From the start of the set, Carrie (singing, playing fiddle and the unusual tenor guitar) and her touring compadre Luke Jacobs (playing acoustic, electric and lap steel guitar and supplying beautiful vocal harmonies) gradually extend their intimate working relationship to include everyone in the audience. I was surprised by the number of stomp boxes on the stage but the two players used them with the same deft touch that they applied to their playing and vocals.
How do you describe Carrie’s genre? Country, folk, Americana, bluegrass, all of the above? I think it has to be the latter; it’s also obvious that Carrie is a very gifted writer and the show tonight is full of examples of that. She’s touring to promote her new album “Give Me All You Got” and the two sets lean fairly heavily on the new material interspersed with some old classics. The opener “Devil in Mind” showcases Carrie’s powerful voice alongside her wonderful fiddle playing. I’ve seen many country and folk fiddle players stamp one foot in time to the music, but never in two-inch platforms with a six-inch spike heel. The two sets are well-paced and the new songs are placed alongside old favourites although it doesn’t seem to matter because the audience seem to know all the songs anyway, old and new. There’s even a Luke Jacobs song on the Faust theme, “Oh Margherite” which follows the beautiful and poignant “Seven Angels on a Bicycle”.
It’s difficult to pigeonhole a performer like Carrie Rodriguez (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing), because she does so many things so well, moving effortlessly from the pure country of “I Don’t want to Play House Anymore” to the riff-driven mystery and menace of “’50’s French Movie” and from the upbeat, uptempo “Lake Harriet” to the delicate beauty of “Get Back in Love” with its lovely subtle touches of lap steel. It’s easy to see why Carrie has a reputation as great fiddle player; she incorporates elements of classical, country, folk and even rock into her playing and has the knack of making the incredibly difficult look really simple. She also creates a very intimate atmosphere for the show, inviting the audience to be a part of the experience and breaking down the traditional barriers. There’s also genuine emotion when she talks about her good friend who was the subject of “Seven Angels…” and about her mother before playing “La Puñalada Trapera”. And all of this makes for a very warm and intimate live experience.
It may be a while before she’s back in the UK again, but you could always listen to the new album (or her previous albums); you won’t be disappointed.
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.
Ever since I first heard Aynsley Lister’s latest album “Home”, I’ve been looking forward to seeing him play live; last Thursday was my chance as he supported blues legend Joe Louis Walker at The Garage in Islington. The majority of the audience had come to see Joe Louis Walker but were very appreciative, giving their support to a talented and charismatic support act.
Aynsley Lister live is quite an experience. He’s totally at ease and confident centre-stage without ever appearing arrogant, but he has been doing this since he was barely a teenager and playing guitar since he was eight years old. Bear with me here if you read my review of “Home”, but Anysley Lister is the real deal; he plays superbly across a wide dynamic range, he has a voice which is the perfect balance of power and control and he writes songs which step out of the standard blues/rock themes; how does a Gene Hunt tribute song grab you?
The set opened with “Big Sleep” and “Early Morning Dew”, from the 2009 album “Equilibrium”, before slipping in to a batch of songs from “Home” which effortlessly demonstrate the quality and variety of Aynsley’s playing, singing and writing. The funky, clipped groove of “Inside Out” eases the audience out of the older material and into a couple of songs with a harder edge, starting with the menacing opening guitar riff of the “Life on Mars”-inspired “Hyde 2612”.
Next up is the more traditional blues barrel-house boogie of “Sugar” featuring André Bassing’s piano alongside some old-school blues guitar followed by the beautiful “Home”. The final track from the album is another rocker, “Possession” which takes us almost to the end of the set. The finale is a breathtaking version of the Prince classic “Purple Rain” which builds from a subtle and quiet intro to a storming climax to bring the set to a close.
The headliner, Joe Louis Walker, played to a hugely partisan audience and delivered a set which featured blues, funk, rock and gospel with stylistic nods to B.B. King and Albert Collins, among many others. The high point of the set came when Joe Louis, in time-honoured blues tradition, invited Aynsley back on stage to jam for two songs. The two guitarists alternated on lead and rhythm for a while before an extended session of trading licks which brought smiles to the faces of the two players, the band and the audience. Great while it lasted but, unfortunately, it meant that the set peaked too early, apart from Joe Louis’s solo gospel song, his first encore.
So, back to Aynsley Lister. He was even better than I expected; he writes, sings and plays beautifully live and, even playing a support set, he’s so engaging that he wins over the audience from the outset. You really should have a listen to “Home” for starters and then make the effort to get out and see him live. His tour dates to the end of 2013 are:
05/09/13 WIMBORNE Tivoli Theatre www.tivoliwimborne.co.uk
06/09/13 PUTNEY Half Moon www.halfmoon.co.uk
13/09/13 MILTON KEYNES Stables Theatre www.stables.org
14/09/13 SOUTHAMPTON The Brook www.the-brook.com
15/09/13 DARLINGTON R&B Festival
20/09/13 BLAKENEY Harbour Rooms www.blakeneyharbourroom.co.uk
21/09/13 IMMINGHAM Golf Club
26/09/13 FARNHAM The Maltings www.boogaloopromotions.com
27/09/13 SUTTON Boom Boom Club www.feenstra.co.uk
07/11/13 CHISLEHURST Beaverwood Club www.feenstra.co.uk
08/11/13 KENDAL Bootleggers www.bootleggersbar.com
12/11/13 CHESTER Telfords www.telfordswarehousechester.com
16/11/13 PRESTON 53 Degrees www.53degrees.net
22/11/13 YORK The Duchess www.theduchessyork.co.uk
23/11/13 REETH Buck Hotel www.buckhotel.co.uk
29/11/13 NEWCASTLE The Cluny www.thecluny.com
01/12/13 EDINBURGH The Caves www.thecavesedinburgh.co.uk
05/12/13 FARNHAM The Maltings www.boogaloopromotions.co.uk
06/12/13 DERBY The Flowerpot www.rawpromo.co.uk
I may even see you there.
So, a Spanish indie band playing at a small but well-established venue five minutes from Kings Cross station; sounds good to me. The venue was Monto Water Rats and the band was The Dirt Tracks, making their second appearance there in four days to promote their current single, “Kaleidoscope” and their upcoming debut album. The line-up is Santiago Coma (guitar and vocals), Rafael Vicente (guitar and backing vocals), Carlos Ortigosa (samplers and backing vocals), Miguel Alvarez (bass and backing vocals) and Guillem Masid (drums and percussion) and if I had to define their musical style, I would probably call it psychedelic indie.
The band opened their set with the first song from the debut album, “All Paths Cross”, which gradually builds through an extended intro of sampled synth washes to a main section which hints at some Pink Floyd influences before segueing straight in to the second song “Pulse” with its sampled beats and big, dirty guitars. “Bit-Train” took the pace down a few notches with a slow-riffing guitar intro leading into a main section dominated by the two guitars. The middle section of the set featured two singles “The Madding Crowd” and “Kaleidoscope”, which are both melodic and showcase the band’s vocal harmonies and, in particular, the backing vocals of Carlos Ortigosa.
The set started to build to a climax with the heavy metal guitar riff of “Lady Low”, the jangly, catchy pop of “Never Been to Mars” and the final song “Bloop” with its emphasis on the guitars and vocal harmonies again and a closing section with entire band playing percussion to bring the set to a close; and that was it. In just under forty-five minutes, The Dirt Tracks played a set which gave us well-written songs, great playing and arrangements (particularly the harmonies) and a huge dynamic range from the quiet and subtle opening of the set to the heavy guitar riffs of “Lady Low” and “Never Been to Mars”.
Despite a disappointingly small audience (possibly because of the good weather) the Dirt Tracks played their short opening set of eight songs as if their lives depended on it. Santiago Coma is a hugely charismatic frontman with a superb voice who is also crucial in the band’s guitar strike force with Rafael Vicente; sometimes it’s obviously rhythm and lead guitar, but more often it’s intertwining guitar parts which meld into something truly creative when they combine with the sampled sounds. The band can do the quiet and introspective material and then blast straight in to megariff mayhem with complete confidence; they are a very accomplished and exciting live act and there are plenty of good melodic songs to get them some radio play. This is a band which has all the pieces in place and only needs the breakthrough now; a bit of airplay or festival set with a big audience is all the momentum they need to send them on their way.
Keep an eye on MusicRiot for future UK tour dates and an exclusive review of the debut album in the next few weeks.
So, I’m in a basement bar in Dalston, painted black of course (the room, not me) on a Sunday night in July and it’s the hottest day of the year so far; this had better be good. I was in Birthdays on Stoke Newington Road for the launch party for a new release from The Nyco Project, whose EP “The New Machine” is being released in the form of an app. The Nyco Project (TNP) has four members: Ben Hardy, Zahara Muñoz, Joantoni Segui and Daisy Brodskis. I’m not going to list their instruments because, apart from the drummer, Joantoni, they mix it up quite a lot.
There were two support bands for the evening, Sky Between Leaves and Turnpike Glow. TNP decided to ignore the usual headline-band-last hierarchy and played between the two support bands to ensure that anyone leaving early to make sure they could actually get home on public transport (yeah, that’s me) didn’t miss their set. Unfortunately that meant I missed Turnpike Glow; sorry about that and I’ll try to catch you soon.
After an interactive session using the sound and vision clips from the EP on a big screen which allowed the audience to remix the songs in real time, Sky Between Leaves took the stage to play a set which was enthusiastically received despite the unbearable heat in the venue. The low-tech lighting effect created by shining a lamp through a stencilled cylinder rotating on a Technics SL1200 deserves a mention as well.
TNP are usually described as psychedelic indie, but there’s a lot more than that going on. From the opening song of the set, “Blown”, it’s obvious that they have great songs but the really impressive thing is that they deliver so well as a live act. The playing isn’t flashy, but the arrangements are perfect and when it has to be spot-on (vocal harmonies, for example) the band always nail it. The EP tracks “The New Machine”, “Fade Away” and “You’re So Weak” are spaced equally throughout the set, but TNP save the best for last. The final three songs, the storming “Poor”, the experimental “Disco Pedro” (which has a feel of early Pink Floyd) and the closer “She’s Only Carbon” are stunning. The final song was dedicated to a friend of the band who is no longer with us and demonstrated the quality of the band as they gave a perfect performance while struggling visibly with strong emotions.
So, what’s all the fuss about the EP/app release? The concept is that the band recorded each instrumental and vocal take as audio and video files with the motto “Everything you hear, you see”. They took this concept to the Arts Council, which agreed to fund the project (so even that losing lottery ticket is a winner for someone) and that enabled them to produce the app which shows the video footage of all of the takes used in the production and allows the user to isolate individual instrumental and vocal parts or to get information about the band members. It’s an original idea which works really well because the listener gets the chance to unpick the song and hear the way the parts fit together as well as having plenty of eye-catching visuals. It’s very addictive because you can’t see or hear everything at one attempt and you have to repeat to pick up on the parts you missed. And the live interactive version on the big screen is even better. Apparently there’s a chance that you might even be able to see this at The Barbican at some point and it’s the kind of installation that should work really well in that environment.
As a live band, The Nyco Project is superb and the EP/app is an innovative attempt to explore the possibilities being opened up by developing technologies; I love both approaches and I think you should download the EP/app and then get out and see the band live as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.
You have to wonder what was in Jon Landau’s mind when he made this statement in a 1974 article in The Real Paper: “I saw rock and roll’s future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.” At that time Bruce had released two critically-acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums (“Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” and “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle”) and “Born to Run” was just a twinkle in his eye; either Jon Landau was incredibly prescient or he made a very lucky guess. Whichever way you look at it, surely even Landau wouldn’t have predicted that The Boss would still be playing stadia and arenas forty years later. The band on Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” tour, now in its second year, includes five musicians (Max Weinberg, Gary Tallent, Roy Bittan, Steve van Zandt and The Boss himself) from the “Born to Run” album which was released in August 1975. However unlikely it is, that’s why I’m in the Olympic Park in Stratford to watch the E Street Band for the first time as part of the Hard Rock Calling festival on a rare sunny summer day in London.
The Boss is one of those artists I’ve loved since the very early days but always avoided seeing live. I know this sounds weird but there are artists whose work I love so much I didn’t want to see them live and possibly be disappointed. You have to admit there’s a kind of twisted logic to it. Anyway, call it the bucket list if you like but I finally saw sense this year and decided to go to the Hard Rock Calling gig.
The support line-up of the Zac Brown Band (great country music throwing in “Kashmir” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” towards the end of the set), Alabama Shakes and Black Crowes who dropped a Georgia medley of “Hard to Handle” and the wonderful Joe South song “Hush”. And then it was time for the The Boss.
The E Street Band hit the stage slightly early with a high-powered version of the “Wrecking Ball” song “Shackled and Drawn” which slid straight in to “Badlands” and the audience were hooked from the start. As usual, Bruce picked request placards from the audience, walked back up to the stage, showed the band the card and immediately launched into the song. The first song to get this treatment was “Johnny 99”, transformed from the stripped-back album original to a full-on band arrangement with horns and fiddle from Soozie Tyrell which was followed by a rock version of “Reason to Believe” driven by Steve van Zandt’s guitar riff. The two audience requests obviously had The Boss in a “Nebraska” mood because “Atlantic City” completed a run of three songs from the album before rousing versions of “Wrecking Ball” and “Death to my Hometown” brought the first part of the show to a close.
The band has been playing entire albums throughout this tour and tonight it was “Born in the USA”. If “Born to Run” was the album which made Springsteen famous, “Born in the USA” was the one which made him a global phenomenon with its crowd-pleasing anthems. It’s easy to forget how many classic songs come from the album until you hear it all live. With such a huge amount of great songs to choose from, it’s obvious (even with a three hour set) that some fans won’t get to hear their favourite song. I would have loved to hear “Highway Patrolman” or “Factory”, but I did get to hear “Bobby Jean”, so I’m pretty happy with that.
As if we hadn’t heard enough anthems, after a relatively low-key close to the set, the encores kicked off with “Jungleland”, “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “American Land” before closing with the downbeat but very moving acoustic rendition of “My Lucky Day”.
As a bit of break from forcing my opinions on you, I decided to get some feedback from Faye and Alice who came from Birmingham for the gig. Alice (who’s been going to Springsteen gigs since before she was born) loved the gig (not surprisingly) bouncing about and singing along to all the songs while Faye (who was seeing The Boss for the first time) was amazed at how good the show was and loved the idea of the band playing songs chosen by the audience. So, a big thumbs up from Faye and Alice. I hope you both had a safe journey home.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are a live phenomenon; they can play for three hours without even scratching the surface of their repertoire and drop immediately into any song called by The Boss without missing a beat, but it’s not just the musicianship I admire. The E Street Band (and Southside Johnny, Gary Bonds, Bon Jovi and Billy Walton) are all part of a Jersey shore tradition of bands that give a hundred per cent and want to play all night because they love playing and they understand that a mainly blue-collar audience wants their favourite bands to give them everything they have; you work hard to earn your dollar and you expect bands to work just as hard to earn it from you.
But there’s more to it than that. The Jersey shore bands are part of a family, literally and metaphorically. The Boss demonstrated that at Stratford by bringing his mother on for “Dancing in the Dark” and his sister Pam to accompany him at the close of the set. And don’t forget Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake playing tenor sax. I’m convinced that “We Take Care of Our Own” from “Wrecking Ball” isn’t flag-waving patriotism, it’s about all the players, singers and songwriters whose spiritual home is The Stone Pony. It doesn’t matter how successful you become, you’re still just one of the Jersey crew; for every Bruce, Steve van Zandt and Jon Bon Jovi, there’s a Soozie Tyrell, Ed Manion and Bobby Bandiera and they all have a huge amount of mutual respect.
If you can still get tickets for Springsteen gigs in the UK or Europe, then you should really give it a try; you won’t be disappointed.
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.