Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Venue: Victoria Park, London
Support: Bat For Lashes
Reviewer: Phil W

In a vast arena carved into a London park, 40,000 people are congregating to see one of Alternative Rock’s leading stars. Strange and sinister electronica is playing through the PA and there’s nothing on the big screens. Bat for Lashes appear on stage with little of an introduction; they work hard with their astonishing array of musical instruments but somehow never quite pull together a really decent tune. Their best song has a lyrical hook about finding someone dead in a car. The beer keeps flowing; vendor vans dish out burgers at an astonishing £6 a go. The sinister electronica is back on the PA, building up darker and darker atmospherics. Down at the front, drunken fans squeeze and jostle with introverted geeks. I’m suddenly finding it hard to feel at home here, I just don’t feel anything in common with the drunken people around me. The Mighty G and his girl have already pushed deeper into the moshpit, but The French Dude and I have already assessed the situation and decided our staked-out position to the right of the stage is just fine. Looking about me, the event feels like a vast contradiction. Sinister, hookless electronica and dark, multi-instrumental experimenters are interbred with several thousand drunk radio listeners eating overpriced burgers. At a stall on the way in, Radiohead were selling t-shirts made entirely from recycled bottles. Next to the stand, Bat for Lashes were handing out free cardboard masks, 90% of which were immediately discarded by the takers and simply dropped on the floor. As we had gotten nearer the entrance, the ground was covered in discarded masks. At the gate, the security guards threw away perfectly good food and drink, informing us we could buy more inside, while UNICEF posters with pictures of starving children were plastered on steel walls. Now I scanned the horizon for The French Dude’s head... He should be on the way with the beer!

So could Radiohead be the UK’s biggest current band? Are they a modern day Beatles? Radiohead did rise to world-wide popularity with a musical style that appealed to the masses of the time. Much like The Beatles, Radiohead earned their wings in popular ‘rock-n-roll’ before entering a massively experimental phase. 2000’s Kid A saw the band put away their guitars and reduce the bass to three- or four-note riffs while Thom Yorke stripped his lyrics to the bone, leaving only simple statements and abstract concepts. How To Disappear Completely may have spoken of Thom Yorke’s deepest hope, but even when the band’s songs were at their most simple and abstract and swirling in a pool of electronic synths, they were still superb. Radiohead proved, like The Beatles and Pink Floyd before them, that pop music could be intelligent, ground breaking, critically acclaimed and appreciated on many levels. Then like The Beatles, Radiohead almost retired from touring in the traditional sense, making every opportunity to see them a rare and celebrated event. With new album In Rainbows, the band have broken from their record label and released the record on their own label, their very own Apple. And, like The White Album, In Rainbows shows a return to guitars after a lengthy period of experimentation which has been entirely unsuccessful in diminishing the general public’s infatuation with the band. Radiohead fans come from all ages and all walks of life; the band is appreciated by snobbish musos and lager louts alike.

Radiohead came to fame in the early 90’s with their indie-grunge hybrid Creep, a song that appealed to fans of guitar music on both sides of the fence and both sides of the Atlantic and went on to take in everyone else too. Thom Yorke wrote the song while studying for his degree and his band were still called On A Friday. The band actually dismissed the song at the time, feeling it didn’t really represent who they were and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood actively tried to sabotage the recording in the studio - but his improvised blast of open guitar notes actually ended up making the song just more special. If the band didn’t like the song, producers did and so did a worldwide audience that pushed the song to the top of the record charts in Europe and the US. The band broke America before they’d even stepped off the plane. Radiohead were worldwide stars, barely into their twenties. From there, there was no going back. Creep proved to have the kind of longevity to still have pop and indie fans alike cheering in night clubs a decade later. Their follow-up album The Bends remains a timeless classic that only seems to get better with age. OK Computer went on to win the Mercury Music Prize and Kid A and Amnesiac found a band on the cusp of their creative genius. But after Amnesiac, the band started to lose their way. Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows both have standout tracks, but they’re also both full of material that just isn’t as groundbreaking as their previous material. Radiohead had a stunning run of great records, each one more surprising than the next, so it was actually a surprise when Hail To The Thief contained no surprises!

In Rainbows is an intriguing record. It has some decent enough tunes but it all feels like Radiohead on autopilot. Its simple, subtle guitar tunes and Thom Yorke’s downbeat lyrics all feel like places the band has been to before. Jonny Greenwood has perfected the minimalist approach to guitar that he’s been perfecting since Kid A, but the bare bones he reveals beneath his sparse guitar are nothing new. The album’s songs all drift into one. Where Sonic Youth managed one step forward with each new record, Radiohead made giant leaps between their records, bounding ahead and leaving the rest of the indie crowd far behind. Few artists display such a sense of history in their recordings, each album belonging to a particular phase in both their career and their artistic development. But where Sonic Youth work like fine art students, subtly progressing in their chosen media over literally decades, Radiohead sprinted ahead and now it feels like they’ve found themselves with nowhere to go but to look back at the path they’ve already walked.

Radiohead walk onto the stage. Thom Yorke is sporting a huge grin and all the band members except Jonny Greenwood look in good spirits, waving at the crowd as they pick up their instruments and take their places. Their entry isn’t grand, there is no moving stage and the grins on their faces are contrary to the band’s foreboding reputation. Up high above them, huge steel strip lights clang in the wind. “It’ll be dark soon and then we can turn on the lights,” Yorke says to the crowd. He’s wearing a shabby denim jacket and red drainpipe jeans. The band start to play Reckoner from the new album. It’s an unpretentious start, like a wind-up toy swinging into action. All the parts are in place and the band begin to play. 15 Step follows much the same path and it’s not till single There There gets under way with Jonny and Ed beating on drums that the band really start to pick up a momentum. Much of the first half of the set is dominated by cuts from In Rainbows which, while well performed, just don’t feel like they suit the massive arena. The band seem like they would be more comfortable playing in the corner of a small jazz club, where their stripped-down guitar tunes would probably have been better suited. On the other hand, the massive audience may not have felt the same way as drunk and screaming fans across the audience continued to make their presence known throughout the songs.

A surprise performance of No Surprises midway through the set caught everyone off-guard, then the second half of the set heavily featured material from Kid A. The bass and synths sounded bruised and hard, injecting techno energy into the set. By the time the band walked offstage, they had built up quite a momentum and no one could dispute the great performances of all the songs. Then back for the encore and the band flatten the whole arena when they break into a stunning rendition of The Bends. Suddenly I remembered this was the band I had come to see. And then the hits came rolling out: My Iron Lung, Karma Police and a stunning closer of prog epic Paranoid Android. It was like getting to the bottom of the biscuit barrel and realising all the jammy dodgers had fallen down there. “Thanks for coming,” Thom said to the crowd. “All 40,000 of you!”

It took an age to get home. The tube stations were flooded and police were on every corner trying to control the drunk and weary crowd. At an intersection a female police officer was shouting repeatedly for people to not walk in front of oncoming traffic. Her voice was hoarse, the crowd didn’t care. We lost The Mighty G and his girl in the chaos of the main road as the thick crowd pushed and surged in all directions. At Mile End tube station the queue went on as far as we could see and the crowd was getting ugly. A girl was shouting savagely at a police officer. Ahead of us, people were being dragged into the back of police vans. Assessing the situation, The French Dude and I broke away from the crowds and made our way through a random series of suburban back streets to find a tube station that we wouldn’t have to queue up all night at. At one point, after circumnavigating several alleyways I wondered if we might be lost. “Oh wait,” said The French Dude. Reaching deep into his rucksack, he pulled out an A-Z!

As we sat on the tube train, rumbling somewhere beneath the London streets, there was a moment to reflect on what had been; the crowds, the chaos and the human excess. The vastness, the capitalism, the cheers and the police vans. And the shining moments that gleamed like gold in the centre of it all. Descriptions of the event sound like the lyrics of a Radiohead album. But in the middle of all this excess, Radiohead did perform a decent enough set. It wasn’t amazing, and it wasn’t overly long. For a band that has a formidable reputation for live performances, tonight’s was underwhelming. The material didn’t really suit the massive scale, and leaving all the hits till the end only highlighted the weaknesses of the first half. Radiohead’s performance, like their new album, had managed to seem small and unimposing even in the centre of this wildly excessive setting. It was unpretentious; no crazy sets or costume changes. No drum kit appearing out of a glass rocket, no Thom Yorke rising up on a podium. And the band looked cheery throughout, not trying too hard, just playing some songs for us. They smiled and didn’t say too much. They just came and played their songs. After all these years, perhaps the band would like to be seen as just another guitar band, to have the limelight turned away for just long enough for them to breathe! Perhaps In Rainbows is all about being smaller and more insular, and not progressing as far but taking a moment to enjoy the moment and not worrying if you’re watching history in the making. Maybe it’s just about putting out a decent record and a decent show. So there’ll be no more surprises. You were lucky to have seen them play at all. But everything’s in its right place. And with the new record you won’t get the bends. 2+2 doesn’t always equal 5.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


Venue: Camden Roundhouse, London
Reviewers: Phil W (bold) & MMT (italics)

As we entered the auditorium, a girl standing at the door offered us each a pair of bright yellow ear plugs. I was about to refuse them but Matthew, always a much wiser man than I, accepted a pair and suddenly I felt left out and wanted some too. I reached deep down into the bucket and plucked up one of the little plastic packets. It’s one of those unlikely moments that seems irrelevant at the time but makes so much sense later on. I’d never been offered ear plugs at a gig before and had never really felt I needed them, but looking back now it’s all very clear why we needed them.

Once inside, on either side of the stage stacks of amps and speakers reached high up to the roof of the Roundhouse. There were racks of classic Fender guitars; Jaguars, Jazz Masters, Mustangs - their key is the floating tremolo that effectively gives the player a second bridge. Rows of effects pedals surround the microphone stands, the drum kit has a special mic over the kick drum and in front of the kit sat a white bass guitar fitted with humbucking pickups. Perhaps the band may turn out to be quite loud, I pondered. My Bloody Valentine were always known to play at legendary volumes. I’ll keep the ear plugs close to hand and if it gets too loud I might give them a go…

I never loved My Bloody Valentine at the time. I was aware they were massively critically acclaimed, but somehow I could never quite get with it. To start with, they just scared me when I was fifteen – hearing them on John Peel was like the batteries in my stereo were slowly grinding to a halt, or some gremlin had got into the speakers. But when I was sixteen I bought “Isn’t Anything” on cassette in an Our Price sale, and slowly came to Quite Like it. My favourite tracks were the ones with a bit more tune, like “Soft As Snow” or “No More Sorry”. But by the time they came to be – slightly unfairly – lumped in with the rest of the Shoegazing genre that they accidentally spawned, I preferred the more structured approach of Ride, or the ace coolness with tunes of Curve. A less challenging listen than the “classic” second album “Loveless”, anyway. That’s what I wanted in 1991/2.

But almost two decades later, it’d be a foolish man indeed who’d pass on the chance to accompany Phil to Camden to see the recently-reformed noisy pioneers. And Ma Taylor she no raise no fool.

I never really listened to My Bloody Valentine until I was at university and I started out with Loveless. I’d become fascinated with the euphoric properties of guitar distortion and had become vaguely aware at some point I’d missed an entire movement known as Shoegazing. Sonic Youth had done plenty of experimentation with the guitar sound and I’ll be forever indebted to their influence, but somehow I was after something bigger and louder. Something heavily distorted but also smoother and almost blissful. Within a few spins I’d fallen in love with My Bloody Valentine’s seminal classic. It was never exactly what I was after but it has been a hugely influential album for me. The guitars sounded amazing, the production consistently fascinating. I loved the way the vocals were mixed equally with the guitars, treated no differently in the mix to any other instrument, no longer the lead. If anything, the only real problem I’ve always felt with the record was that it just wasn’t loud enough!! Legend had it that live the band were torturously loud, but they had broken up long before I discovered them and for years the idea of seeing them reform was like a crazy dream that could never be.

While Phil likes to get right in among the crowd, pushed right up against the barrier (and surely dangerously close to the speakers considering who the band were!), I’m more of a peripheral browser. Even before I became the claustrophobia-niggled bundle of nerves I am today that’s where you’d find me at the big gigs. Seeing what I could find on the edges of things. In this case it was a couple who’d brought their own sandwiches from home. I don’t think we’re at a teenage metal gig somehow, dude!

We certainly weren’t! In the thick of things at the front of the crowd, leaning on the barrier, I found myself relatively free of pushing as I mingled with the 30-somethings. On the front row I had a chat with a guy and his girlfriend about The Pixies; it really might have been the early 90s. The crowd was civilised, seasoned, and left you with that niggling concern that many of them didn’t get out much.

“Umm, hello” Kevin Shields said shyly as the band shuffled uneasily onto the stage. They all took up their instruments and for a moment all looked at each other with mild concern. There was a feeling suddenly that now, as the gig was about to start, the band were bewildered with the idea that anyone bothered to even show up at the gig at all. The band looked old, Kevin had gone grey and Belinda looked like someone’s mum. She smiled absently to herself, clutching in her hands a seductive sparkly red Mustang. Then Colm beat his drumsticks together and the band literally exploded. A tidal wave of white noise rippled across the crowd, you could actually feel a breeze coming of the stage. My vision blurred, my ear drums bulged and suddenly it all became very clear and I fumbled in my pockets for those yellow ear plugs the girl gave us both on the way in.

They kicked off with a couple of classics (“I Only Said” and “When You Sleep”) that even I with my lust for “tunes” could hum along with! And there’s no getting around the fact that the sound was immensely impressive! I could literally feel my trousers quaking with the vibrations! Visually too they’d compensated for the fact that MBV have always looked like a gang of scruffy teachers on a night off by having some cool lo-fi indie images projected massive onto the back wall: a camera whizzing through country lanes, colours and shapes, corridors. Interesting stuff.

The band played with stunning clarity and at ear bleeding decibels. It’s like watching a gig from the inside of a jet engine. Their sound is tight and fast, burning through decade-and-a-half old classics with fresh new discovery. One after another they deliver up classics I’d dreamed of hearing live, plucking up material from both albums and their EP’s. When You Sleep, Only Shallow, To Here Knows When, Blow A Wish, Soon. Feed Me Wish Your Kiss sounded like a metallic punk played in a furnace while Sueisfine would certainly have whipped up a moshpit if the audience had been ten years younger. And with each song the volume just got louder, their sound euphoric and rapturous. Asteroids burst, volcanoes erupted, geysers exploded and stars went supernova. My Bloody Valentine created a ruptured world carved with walls of distortion and feedback, of canyons and seabeds and wailing coastlines.

Cripes! :-D

Debbie’s bass rumbled through everything, pushing the instrument’s tone to previously unfound levels; always playing tightly with Colm’s drumming, the pair facing each other, driving the music with near metal fury. Kevin and Belinda’s vocals interweaved as they played their guitars, fingers clutching the tremolo bar as they strummed; tugging the guitar strings like the sea tugs the shore.

Towards the middle of the set though, I was starting to flag a bit. Having few lyrics to catch hold of, and not much to look at other than the pretty colours, my attention began to wander off. But the set-closer, a 25-minute version of “You Made Me Realise”, was enough to capture anyone’s attention right back! It came to a climax with a 20-minute barrage of riffing, feedback and chugging drums which relentlessly battered away at the crowd, building in sonic assault till it was almost unbearable. People were literally running out of the moshpit with their hands over their ears – as if they hadn’t expected it! I went through waves of enjoying it then feeling sick then enjoying it again – but there’s no denying it was an immense sensation.

The ending was immense, something stunning and incomparable. As I leaned on the barrier, earplugs in and fingers over them, the sound was still deafening. Every now and then I eased off the ear plugs just a little and heard nothing but an immense rush of air coming from the stage. As I looked about me, the people on the front row rotated as fans pushed to the front, found it too much to bear and started heading for the door. The moshpit depleted to less than fifty percent of what it had been. As I looked up to the balcony, from both sides people were pealing off and heading for the doors. All the time the band continued to play, faces to the floor, the same note over and over again in a constant barrage of sonic annihilation. On and on - a part of me never wanted it to end, wanted to let my senses continue to be so entirely absorbed with the sonic maelstrom. Then the next minute I wanted it to end, didn’t think I could bear it anymore either. But then I was back again, wanting it to go on forever in its swirling tornado of white noise, sucking up the world it had created and leaving nothing behind but devastation.

The gig ended. People cheered but no-one could hear them, we were all deaf. The few people that had lasted till the end began to politely file out of the room. There was a hushed atmosphere across the entire venue. I saw Matthew, still alive and well at the edge of the stage. He too had survived the war where so many had fallen. “Like being in a war!” he shouted from somewhere far away, “I’ve seen things man….”. We all had. Life wasn’t going to be quite the same now. Indie dinosaurs had briefly returned to the stage to shake us up and show us how it could be or could have been or once was. And we knew not to worry, one day we would hear again and be better for it all.

Monday, 23 June 2008


Venue: Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Support: An Horse
Reviewer: Phil W

Like, the first band were pretty cool, aye! My heart like, totally sank when only a drummer and guitarist/vocalist walked unassumingly onto the stage but once they got going we really didn’t miss a bass player. An Horse were so awesome, I totally bought their EP after the show and the band were there at the desk to thank us for all our support and to sign our CD’s. Their sound was all wild drumming and massive, chunky riffs wrapped around alternative pop tunes which quickly sucked us in. Kate’s Mustang was massively overdriven, pummelling us with huge wedges of sound for her sharp vocals to cut through. Their set was short with little room to breathe inside the whirlwind of guitar except when Kate stopped for five minutes to tell us a story about airline hospitality. “They totally gave me a colouring book and everything!” she said. I remembered being let into the cockpit of a trans-Atlantic jumbo back in 1991 and wondered where those carefree days had gone…..

Tegan and Sara Quin like, totally know where it’s at. The singer-songwriter twin sister duo have been recording their own albums since they were kids, cutting their first two albums in their school’s recording studio in 1997. Living on opposite coasts of their Canadian homeland, the pair record demos of their songs at home, fully assembled with vocals and all the instruments, and then send the tapes to each other. By the time they reach the studio they like, totally know how they want the songs to sound and play most of the instruments themselves on new album The Con. Sara’s songs tend to be meticulously assembled idiosyncrasies while Tegan sticks with punk riffs and big chorus’s and the two styles totally compliment each other. Live, each of the sisters alternate between acoustic and electric guitars and a big red keyboard set just in front of the drum kit, their untrained vocals hitting somewhere on the middle ground between cute and angry, interweaving between each other and the instruments.

The two sisters opened alone with the gentle strum of Like O, Like H. It was like, a totally intimate moment with both sisters standing side by side on the stage strumming acoustic guitars. Then the backing band filed quickly onto the stage and the music exploded with the title track from new album The Con. “I listened in, yes I’m guilty of this you should know that” Tegan cried against a backdrop of swirling acoustic and electric guitars which seem to perfectly compliment each other in much the same way as the twins differing vocal deliveries. The Quins’ tiny pop songs, most of which are dispensed with well under the three minute mark, are consistently ingenious. Are You Ten Years Ago is a whirlwind of dark synth pop, Back In Your Head is a quaint piano driven pop song, Floorplan sounds like alt-folk on overdrive, So Jealous is epic with oozing synths. In between songs the pair chatter and bicker and tell stories; Sara went into great detail about her visit to a chiropractor earlier that day while Tegan dwelled on why she’s still single and questioned if Kate from An Horse was really the band’s best friend. The situation seemed complex, but after some playful banter she devoted the glorious single Nineteen to her; a story of teenage heartbreak wound tightly to a frame of simple punk pop.

Ingenuously diverse pop songs, tight performances, interweaving guitar melodies, and all delivered with unassuming ease, their banter affording an intimacy to the gig few other performers could master. Like, they totally rocked and I dug every minute! After the show I bought a t-shirt with my An Horse EP - Tegan and Sara morphing into trees; Treegan and Sara maybe? Awesome!

Thursday, 19 June 2008


Venue: Brixton Academy, London
Reviewer: Phil W

Outside the doors, in large red letters, a sign informs passers-by the event inside has sold out. It has been for weeks. Inside an Australian dude is performing a solo set on the large stage, just him and his acoustic guitar. At first I write him off as derivative, but by halfway through his set he’s won the crowd over. He sings about convicts and fights and girls and heartbreak, his songs flexing between folk and rock n roll. His penultimate song is tender and delicate without sounding insincere or hollow, while his final number rocks with the aid of an overdrive pedal and punk riffs. In the centre of a break, his guitar howls with hollow feedback. He said his name a number of times but I never managed to catch it so you’ll have to trust me when I say it wasn’t bad at all*!

It’s been a while since Canadian icon Alanis Morissette graced our small island, even longer since she put out a relevant record. In 1995, in collaboration with veteran record producer Glenn Ballard, actress-turned-teen-pop-star Alanis Morissette went alt-rock and cut the biggest selling debut album by a female music artist ever… And according to the Recording Industry Association of America it still is, with upwards of 14 million copies of Jagged Little Pill sold in the US alone! Overnight a fame-shy 21 year old Alanis was made an international superstar, and the world either loved or hated her. The shows got bigger, the lights got brighter; fans praised her as the new voice of alt-rock, while critics labelled her a man-hating shrew and claimed Glenn Ballard as the genius behind her success. And what’s a girl to do? She escaped to India to collect her thoughts. She parted ways with Glenn Ballard, first lyrically and then musically to go it alone and prove the critics wrong. And she never put out another relevant record. She was entirely unable to follow up her debut, and alone couldn’t turn out the tunes that Ballard had honed into platinum singles. Worse than retirement, she became irrelevant.

Darkness on stage. Soft, purple lights make the stage glow as the backing band file on and begin in play. A slow ballad gets underway and Alanis performs the vocals to the first song off stage. I’m about to write her off from the start as over indulgent, then she storms onto the stage for the baroque tidal wave of Uninvited. By the time the band have surged into a superbly fresh sounding All I Really Want, Alanis bouncing across the stage and wailing her vocals to the stage floor with unexpected passion, microphone clasped in hand, I’m entirely won over. In fact at moments like these, Alanis may have perfected the art of time travel. I could have sworn it wasn’t 2008 at all; I was ready to declare the last 13 years of my life just an unlikely daydream I’ve just awoken from. It was 1995 and Alanis sounded as fresh and invigorating as she ever did! Over the next hour or so, Alanis performed virtually the entire Jagged Little Pill album; You Oughta Know, You Learn, Head Over Feet, Hand In My Pocket, they were all present and all sounded fantastic. During a particularly emotional rendition of Perfect, Alanis actually started to cry. I was unsure whether this was a good thing or not, but if nothing else, her passion and honesty for the songs was undisputed. Later cuts such as Thank U, Uninvited and 8 Easy Pieces also sounded great, and the rest of the set wasn’t bad, but there’s where the problems lay. The newer material wasn't bad, but the cuts from Jagged Little Pill were fantastic. An encore of Ironic was easily the high point of the night. I went home and put Jagged Little Pill back on my CD player, but I didn’t leave the gig with any ideas about bothering to buy the new album. The songs weren’t bad live and were performed admirably, but their lack of tunes and their complex and wordy vocals left little room for hooks or generally memorable new songs.

Alanis was and still is a mesmerising live performer with a unique voice few can effectively imitate - but since her 1995 debut, she just hasn’t had the tunes or hooks. 1998’s vast and underrated Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie was an interesting listen, but later albums flexed between the boring and the nearly unlistenable. I was pleased she played so much of her debut but it felt unfortunate that the gig simultaneously highlighted her inability to follow up that record. As with many highly successful artists that make it big too fast, it was another case of too much too soon for Alanis. At 21 she’d made the album of her career and found herself with nowhere to go but down - the best alternative to simply continue to surf the perpetual wave of her Jagged Little Pill. In the end it’s a pill that Alanis seems to have found hard to either swallow or come down from. Briefly she was the music world’s brightest new star, seemingly with infinite potential; she’s now found herself irrelevant, a relic of another time. But every now and then we’ll get her out of the box, have a listen, and remember 1995. Like Liz Phair’s landmark debut Exile From Guyville, Jagged Little Pill is a record that still sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded and Alanis could spend her life performing it and no-one would mind too much.

* A little bit of Googling reveals it to have been a man named Liam Gerner, dude! MMT. ;-)

Friday, 13 June 2008


Venue: Crauford Arms Hotel, Wolverton
Reviewer: Phil W

It’s not often - even for a professional like myself - that you get to hang out for the evening with your rock n roll heroes, so as I found myself sitting in a beer garden, supping a beer with Rooh shortly before his set you’ll forgive me for having missed all the other acts on that evening. I’m sure they were great, the cream of Milton Keynes’s budding music scene, but tonight it was all about Rooh. “I’ve been thinking about recording an album,” the dude mused, a rolled up cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other. “We’ll see.” Ever elusive as to either his musical direction or future releases, their’s something undisputable natural, pure, and untainted about Rooh’s musical output. There might indeed be an album in the making, but only if it’s the right time. Only if the signs are right. Only if the course of the river happens to be flowing in that direction.

Sitting on stage, bathed in red and white light, in a venue that sounded vaguely like the interior of a submarine, Rooh called out to the soundman “maybe it’s too loud?”. That’s not something you hear often, but Rooh is a modest dude, never wishing to impose himself - and an overamped guitar would destroy the subtleties of his playing style. The auditorium is then treated to a tight and beautifully delivered set of acoustic songs. Tonight Rooh appears at ease, pacing his songs and letting them breathe, each one delivered with deceptive ease and a natural banter with the audience. Fan favourite Flat Rock had never sounded so good, the vocals delivered with particular subtlety which let every line shine.

Despite his youth, Rooh plays like a seasoned bluesman from another time. As my mate the French dude said, sitting next to me in the audience, “watching Rooh is like stepping into a time machine!” People just don’t write music like this anymore. But there is no imitation in Rooh, he’s not copying the skills and ideas of the past, he’s adding to their canon. This is the real thing, approached with honesty and modesty and delivered with cool and style. Rooh isn’t making things easy on himself, but this is the music in his heart and he’s staying true to it. If you want to hear a true local legend, check out Rooh. He’s a dude who knows where it’s at! He is, after all, a professional!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


Venue: O2 Arena, London
Reviewer: Phil W

Ahead of me, the darkened concrete tunnel was bathed in luminous pink lighting. I could hear screaming from up ahead of me, the sound of thousands of young voices crying out. The tunnel rounded a corner; I could see now where it led. It was dark in there, bodies moved and mingled back and forth in a vast, cavernous pit. The sloped walls of the pit moved and surged, lights of green and pink and blue flickered and waved among them. The high pitched screams were everywhere, from every direction. There was something insane going on, something huge.

On the stage, four boys pretended to play guitar while bathed in white floodlights. Behind them, a complete second band backed them. They had no spotlights. I particularly liked the big, overweight dude playing guitar just off to stage right. In the shadows he pulled off some nifty guitar licks and - after the boys left the stage - he stuck around to help out packing away all their stuff for them! What a helpful chap! I only caught the last two songs of the set; an insider had already told me it wasn’t worth catching all their set! They had a name and they have CD’s out there somewhere, but they where pretty missable boy band fodder. Kind of an American McFly. Nothing to bother going into the details of on this blog.

Avril Lavigne. Her first single came out when she was just 17 and the whole world bought into it. Her second album sold on the back of a single about saying No to giving in to sex too soon. Yes, Avril was the anti-Britney in a world where pop starlets were going head-to-head to see both how little they could wear on stage and how many sexual innuendoes they could fit into every song lyric. While Britney was sweating and moaning in a sauna, Christina was releasing albums called Stripped with singles called Dirrrty, and Flick from Neighbours was appearing in music videos completely starkers, Avril had class. She wasn’t naked and she was telling the girls to say No.

Jump to the present and little has changed. Lead single Girlfriend from new album The Best Darn Thing is playful, more giggles from the back row of the school bus than Debbie Does Dallas. Avril says at 23 she wanted to make one last fun record about being young and innocent before she thought about doing something more serious with the next one. There’s even a song on the record called Innocence. And so, from the centre of a stage bathed in pink flood lights, rising through the floor to the stomp of the opening thump of Girlfriend, is the elfin figure of Avril Lavigne, wearing skater shorts, hoodie and a huge grin. She charges down a catwalk that slices through the middle of the pit; “are you ready to have a good time?” she cries out to the audience. The audience explodes in a ludicrous frenzy of youthful enthusiasm and suddenly I’ve a huge grin on my face that won’t budge for the next hour and a half. Five minutes ago I’d been certain I’d come to the wrong gig - but now I was reminded of the immortal words of the late great Hunter Thompson; “buy the ticket, take the ride!” And this was one hell of a ride!

Over the course of the evening Avril played all the hits from all three records. Some she sung while bouncing around the stage beaming enthusiastically at the audience. For several she played her Telecaster Special. There was an interlude midway through the set in which she played a brief acoustic set, slumped over an electro-acoustic guitar, flanked either side by her two session guitarists. Cynically, it was fairly obvious at times her guitar was turned way down, but like, dude, who cares man? She’s really trying! She doesn’t have to put this much effort into her live set but she does! Later on a huge, pink grand piano is wheeled onstage and to our surprise Avril takes a seat behind it to play Innocence from the new album. And if anyone in the audience still doubted her musical abilities, toward the end of the set a pink, sparkly drum kit was brought on stage and Avril beat the skins to a rendition of Runaway, singing and drumming simultaneously. And, like, dude, it was awesome! I’ve always been impressed with multi-instrumental performers, but I wasn’t expecting Avril to be one of them!

Avril finished with He Wasn’t and then an encore of Sk8er Boi. She finished her set having sung, rapped, danced, played guitars, pianos and drum kits, and done it all without a hint of irony or snobbery or any of the other things that bog down far more credible artists. The whole thing just seemed like a lot of fun and she performed it all effortlessly and with enthusiasm. There were no signs of any backing tracks either. All the way through there was a full band backing her. Her vocals were sometimes note perfect - she has a very gifted voice - but sometimes they were off key and muddled, sometimes almost spoken, with all the swear words extenuated. But far from this being a problem this merely highlighted her live, raw vocals and, well, made it that much more punk, you know in a pink teen pop kind of way! The gig hardly had the indie credibility of Kaki King, but like Avril’s albums, it was a guilty pleaser, like admitting you quite enjoyed watching Never Been Kissed. You didn’t expect it to win an Oscar, and yes it was a bit girly - but, you know, you smiled when the dude popped up at the end of the movie to give her that first kiss, I know you did*! So, buy the ticket, take the ride, and just don’t bother over thinking the whole thing. You’ll love it!

* How well you know me, Phil! :-D MMT.