It’s time to talk about Hot Chip‘s perpetually classy live show. Continue reading Still chipper
UPDATE TO UPDATE: The recording of the concert mentioned below wove its way into the film Shut Up And Play The Hits, which I wrote about here.
UPDATE: According to this Facebook exchange, LCD Soundsystem have confirmed that a DVD release of the concert recording is on its way, once they have “mix[ed] the music” and “edit[ed] between all the cameras”. Great news!
So, as I was saying earlier, like a sleep-deprived fanboy, I spent the night of 2nd April sitting on the edge of my bed, watching Pitchfork’s live-stream of the final act in the LCD Soundsystem saga: a near-four-hour long concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Were it not for my comparatively sane flatmates, fast asleep, I probably would have been singing along at the top of my lungs—as it was, I was mouthing the lyrics under my breath most of the way through. I was giddy with excitement, and James Murphy did his best to assuage my distress at the realisation that, after tonight, his band would be no more. Finis.
LCD Soundsystem existed as both the archetype and the antidote to hipster culture. Murphy made no attempt to disguise his influences, many of whom are quoted liberally throughout the band’s œuvre—from the Iggy Pop cut-and-paste of “Somebody’s Calling Me”, to the deranged Fall-like madness of “Movement” and “Tired”. But throughout, it was a loving homage, not a pastiche. Murphy’s honesty set his music apart from the emptiness and façade-building of so much of the music which followed him.
The music of LCD Soundsystem was, in a word, generous. It welcomed you into its arms, even as it pointed out the tragic flaws at the heart of us all. On “I Can Change”, Murphy is unrepentantly a flawed romantic, putting himself down, putting others down, putting down the whole concept of a relationship. Through the simple channelling of his synth-pop heroes, the song is a triumph: you want to shed a tear alongside him, as well as for him. On “Yr City’s A Sucker”, a rambling 2004 B-side, he’s at once hyping up and deflating his adopted hometown, while a creepy/cheery synth line winds through a jumble of percussion and rock-solid bass. The effect is mesmerising; we await some kind of payoff which, when it arrives, not just embraces you, but practically swallows you up like an expanding star.
The Long Goodbye, which was a wholly appropriate title, by the way, was a final act of generosity; the musical equivalent of a farewell hug before you depart for unknown shores. For one thing, there was the breadth and calibre of guests who showed up to help Murphy through this mammoth undertaking. Arcade Fire singing backup vocals on “North American Scum“. Reggie Watts scatting through the second part of “45:33”. Marcus Lambkin (a.k.a. Shit Robot) doing vocoderised battle with John MacLean (of The Juan MacLean and Six Finger Satellite) from opposing cardboard space-ships. A male choir which included the punk-rock-cum-music-critic band Mr. Dream. Quickly, I lost count of how many people were on stage.
My introduction to Talking Heads was, because I am a young person, listening to the 1984 live album Stop Making Sense. A year later or so, I unearthed the concert film of the same name, directed by Jonathan Demme. The concert in question, which took place at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater, is the best point of comparison to The Long Goodbye (lots of guest musicians, stylised overarching narrative), but even it pales in comparison to LCD Soundsystem’s ordeal. The Madison Square Garden concert was the culmination of a week’s worth of “warm-up” gigs at Terminal 5, each of which had themselves lasted three hours. This climactic event was split into multiple themed movements, each with their own costume changes. By dint of being a conclusion, as well as an apotheosis, there was a palpable countdown going on, as the band neared the final song (inevitably, “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”).
In one of the episodes of the video diary which charted the progress of recording LCD Soundsystem’s final album, Murphy himself waxed philosophical on the closing phase of the band. “This has to happen,” he said, “this has to happen now.” And this was before the album had even been christened. Evidently, throughout the recording of This Is Happening, Murphy and his acolytes were cognisant of the external pressures acting on them, building up the sense of event surrounding the album’s release. This was not the overbearing hype that precedes the début of a twenty-one-year old, nor was it the calculating PR mumbo-jumbo that swathes the rebirth of a fallen popstar. This was the love of a band’s adoring fans and critics, by some process of osmosis, bleeding into everyday life at the Manshun.
And then Murphy would pull the rug from under his own feet, punch himself in the nose, and insist that it was “just a record”.
This tension between preparing for some kind of messianic happening, and just trying to have a good time, manifested itself in glorious fashion on the album in question. And come 2nd April, the same beast reared its head: the timer was counting down to the inevitable, while the band just wanted everyone to have fun. Fortunately, the execution was every bit as good as the conception, because this performance was flawless.
Judging by the reactions of those who were there in person, this concert may go down in history as one of the most culturally significant events of the twenty-first century. Back at home, some of this drama failed to seep through the computer screen—LCD pixels cannot convey emotion in the same way, it would seem. But even this simulacrum of being there was thrilling and moving, and I’d like to think at least some of the on-stage ecstasy found its way into my room.
The balance between chart-pleasing hits (though, as Murphy has intimated, “Maybe we don’t do hits”) and fan-pleasing cuts was struck perfectly in the first and third sets, and so we had “All My Friends” followed by “Tired”, and “North American Scum” trailed by the first and last performance of “Bye Bye Bayou“, an Alan Vega cover. Everywhere, you could see the band’s mastery of interstitial transitions between songs, a carryover from DJ-ing, no doubt, as in the way “You Wanted A Hit” morphed into “Tribulations” via Pat Mahoney’s indefatigable drumming, or in the way Gavin Russom artfully transformed the white-noise blowout at the end of “Yeah” into the elegant squiggles of “Someone Great”.
The second set was a treat for LCD die-hards, no mistake. I had longed to see “45:33” being given an airing, and here it was! With a brass band in tin-foil spacesuits! While the other players got on with the job, you could see Murphy lurking around the back of the stage, tinkering with keyboards and amps and generally preparing himself for life post-LCD. It doesn’t suit him right now, but I’m sure in time it will.
It has been noted from both within and without the band that LCD Soundsystem were bulletproof from the start—that the mythos of the band proscribed criticism. I think that’s true, but I don’t say that in a curmudgeonly spirit. I read somewhere else that LCD was the band people had dared to dream about for a lifetime: with that kind of anticipation, who would begrudge them an iota of acclaim?
But even if you were the kind of person who winced at the plaudits they have attracted, The Long Goodbye was their night; their chance to go out with a bang at everyone’s expense. And, credit to them, they didn’t. Worthier champions than that, the gig felt inclusive and all-encompassing. More than that, it looked like an effort beyond the call of duty. As we approached the finale–three songs left… two songs left…–Murphy was visibly shattered; destroyed, even. A week of exertions had taken their toll on the man; nine years of a purported ‘side-project’ had almost claimed a victim. But he was determined to the end, which made for a wonderful night.
And so they departed, “like a sales-force into the night”, Murphy pausing only to tentatively stab a stray balloon which had worked its way onto the stage, before making a characteristically low-key exit.
How I will miss this band.♦
Epic, thrilling confirmation of how powerful this band is.
Good to see stacks of vinyl serving a purpose – as a lover of impromptu percussion/tapping on my thighs, Jim Eno’s methods resonate with me.
Full show can be found here.
The Brewis brothers are clearly extremely gifted musicians, who write songs (under the banner of Field Music) which are intricately arranged, structurally complex, and traditionally evoke XTC, Steely Dan and the Beach Boys. None of this makes their music particularly easy to love – though their Geordie voices are thick with region, they rarely let their emotional guards down, hence why some critics have labelled their music cold and mechanical and knowingly tricksy.
None of this can prepare me for witnessing them live – an environment which accentuates their flaws as well as their virtues. Augmented by Ian Black and Kevin Dosdale on bass and guitar respectively, the band launch into Tones of Town opener, “Give It Lose It Take It” amidst found sound, glockenspiels, rousing piano and thoroughly excellent drumming. For a few songs at least, the playfulness is plain to see, and the predominantly Sunderland-bookish crowd rewards them with a whole lotta love.
When the band cut to newer material, taken from the recent Field Music (Measure) double-album, the response is notably muted, because the band have to an extent abandoned the bucolic textures of their earlier work, in favour of a more guitar-based aesthetic that owes much more to Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and, on occasion, Queen. However, bereft of the intense personality bestowed upon these progenitors, the songs sound strangely lurching and mathematical. Though Field Music are, individually, some of the funniest, warmest and most virtuosic musicians, the sum is sadly less than its constituent parts.
All the more infuriating is just how playful and quick-witted the band seem in between songs, where they deal with all manner of obstacles, from troublesome electricals to the bassist’s Hawaiian shirt. The Prince-meets-Sunderland funk of “Let’s Write A Book” is very much the exception to this disappointing revelation – for once, the groove is remarkably simple, and it evinces the band’s personality. For the middle chunk of the performance, songs like “Something Familiar” and “Each Time Is A New Time” are dispatched with maximum skill (replete with tasteful bluesy guitar licks) but less-than satisfactory enjoyment.
I have really loved Field Music for far too long, championing them to my friends when their chips were down. Now, after a three-year hiatus, I find it hard to empathise with their new direction which, though on record comes across as lovingly crafted and “makes sense”, doesn’t work that well on stage. Though the band pad out the pure Field Music work with excerpts from their solo albums, I left with mixed opinions of a band who I thought I had really figured out.
Spoon‘s 1997 EP was entitled Soft Effects; its opener, “Mountain To Sound”, was an almost robotic splurge of chunky guitar chords over a barren expanse of tape. Thirteen years on, Spoon trade in far subtler terms on record – the psychoanalytically titled Transference possesses compositions of nuanced yet ragged beauty, replete with lovingly painted washes of droning synths and bizarre vocal, yes, effects. Going in to my first Spoon gig, what I wanted to know was how this meticulously arranged chaos that the band have mastered in the studio plays out in a live setting, where everything is instantaneous and nothing can be rearranged or meddled with later on.
Impressively, and perhaps this is a rationale for why so much of Transference stems from live demo tracks, the band pulls off the performance with passionate and anthemic aplomb. From the get go, they are unafraid of playing with our conceptions of how their songs, whether new or old, sound and develop. Opener “Don’t Make Me A Target” is suitably slow-building, rising to a brutal peak as frontman Britt Daniel conjures the same vocal trickery used in their newer material. Throughout the gig, two things remain constant: the entire band’s sonic tapestry-weaving, and drummer Jim Eno’s delightedly precise and virtuosic rhythms, which manage to fulfil the same manifesto as opening band White Rabbits’ arsenal of percussionsists with considerably more economy and considerably less showiness.
A few songs later, when translating another Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga gem, “The Ghost Of You Lingers”, the band once again engage in direct combat with the material, with Britt Daniel’s characteristic gravelly bark gradually overwhelmed by feedback, reverb-drenched keyboards, and bliss-nearing slabs of white noise. From a band that usually trades in rock qua rock, in a minimalist style, this is an unexpected gesture that revels in their playful, emotionally raw experimental side.
The setlist is culled almost exclusively from the band’s last four albums (alas, despite numerous calls from the crowd, “Fitted Shirt” is absent, along with anything else from Girls Can Tell and its predecessors), but to be honest, many of the songs are melded into the aesthetic favoured on recent release Transference – in particular, “My Mathematical Mind” and “They Never Got You” are subsumed into effects-heavy motorik grooves, much to their advantage. Britt Daniel looks like he’s having a riot of a time mucking around with his voice, and it’s just as well that the crowd adoringly lap up his playfulness. This is evidenced further by the band’s mesmerising cover of The Damned’s 1979 single, “Love Song”, which ditches the original’s clattering punk in favour of the same droney keyboards that underpin “Before Destruction”.
Nevertheless, when it’s time to rock out, Spoon prove they’re no slouches, with “Rhthm & Soul” and “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” dispatched with great vigour and sparkle. Kill The Moonlight-era fare, meanwhile, is represented by the classic pairing of “Small Stakes” and “The Way We Get By”, and encore closer “Jonathan Fisk”, which is delivered with the maximum conveyance of end-of-tether anxiety.
As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, it’s a crying shame that Spoon aren’t bigger fish here in the UK – particularly telling is the fact that on the same night, on the other side of London, bright young things Vampire Weekend were busy playing to a sell-out crowd at Brixton Academy. On the other hand, it’s always a pleasure to see such masters of their art at close quarters, and in this respect, the Electric Ballroom can’t be beaten. Taken in combination with probably the best live mix/engineering I’ve witnessed at a gig (we can thank the perfectionist Jim Eno for that, I suspect, and not just because the drums were notably crisp), this was a really tremendous performance, with a set of songs cherrypicked from a career full of cult classics. Spoon rarely bring their concise breed of art rock to Britain; this was an unmissable opportunity to see them weave their magic over a rainy and miserable London.
Don’t Make Me A Target
The Mystery Zone
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
My Mathematical Mind
The Ghost of You Lingers
Is Love Forever?
Don’t You Evah
Love Song (The Damned cover)
Written In Reverse
Who Makes Your Money
The Way We Get By
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
They Never Got You
I Summon You
Rhthm & Soul
Black Like Me
Nobody Gets Me But You
I Turn My Camera On
The last time I saw Modest Mouse performing live, it was May 2007 – they were raising the roof of the Royal Albert Hall while Liverpool were busy losing in the Champions League final. Since then, a lot has changed. Johnny Marr has taken time out of the band to work with The Cribs; Liverpool are no longer even competing in the Champions League. And this time round, Modest Mouse have swapped the hallowed hall imbued with the spirit of Hendrix for the sardine-packed club atmosphere of Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Their numerous instruments and bandmembers shoehorned onto a stage barely bigger than my bedroom, the band look and sound like a troupe of consummate professionals, ostensibly touring in support of an EP, but in reality taking to the stage out of love for their devoted followers, and love of taking their rural groove out on the road. Continue reading Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)
Much as I hate to admit it, I’m suspiciously drawn to some songs on the recent Muse album, The Resistance. I get that it’s totally counter-intuitive to philosophise about pretentious music all day and then go home to a loud, outré, sloganeering chunk of symphonic rock, complete with time-signature changes, wholly self-indulgent guitar solos, and violently operatic vocals. But I really am beginning to love bits of it, at least.
Slap bang in the middle of the album lies the seven-minute long, multi-part leviathan that is “Unnatural Selection”. It opens with Bellamy phoning in a drawl over the kind of church organ that hasn’t been acceptable since Origin of Symmetry. From this innocuous opening emerges a slithering beast of a riff that recalls “New Born”. This somewhat pummelling passage eventually morphs into a rather baroque chorus that invokes memories of Bach, albeit interwoven with some background chanting resembling a football-terrace chant. Eventually, the song collapses into a gloriously decadent waltz, replete with woozy guitar licks and a Hammond organ that has somehow escaped out of a 50s horror film. When that passage is fully spent (and my, Bellamy has a lot of nonspecific wailing to get through), the baroque riff breaks through once more for a final showdown, this time with ten times more multi-tracked vocal harmonies and half a dozen more guitar overdubs.
And you know what? It’s marvellous.
Sometimes, Muse play up their theatricality until it just sounds ridiculous, but when they get it right, every disparate element of their schtick can fall into place perfectly, with a careless swagger than ploughs through any idea you may have had of decency. The lyrics may be meaningless nonsense, but when Bellamy is busy waking up the residents of Lake Como with his pair of bellows, it’s hard not to admit that he sounds like he’s having a good time. And, more to the p0int, that you’d be a bit of a killjoy not to have a good time yourself.
With very little ado about something, Arctic Monkeys have quietly sent the world a five-song “Web Transmission”, offered as a preview of their forthcoming third album, entitled Humbug. With much-analysed trips to the Mojave Desert, and a length of time spent in the company of a certain Mr. Josh Homme, the band have certainly raised expectations a notch – whereas no-one realised what a change of style Favourite Worst Nightmare would herald, the general perception of Humbug is that it’s not exactly going to be eleven re-treads of “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”. Lead single “Crying Lightning” confirmed this: four minutes of eerie, muggy and fuzzy desert rock, with siren-like guitars wailing behind Alex Turner’s typically evocative lyrics (this time with added confectionery!).
The webcast, then. There’s nothing too spontaneous about this – Radiohead’s Scotch Mist this certainly is not. The band are silhouetted in a shadowy warehouse environment, with numerous video screens showing looped close-up footage of a woman’s eyes. Now blessed with an additional fifth musician on-stage, contributing additional guitar and keyboards, the band launch into “Pretty Visitors”, where a carnival organ collides with jagged guitars. The chorus locks into a loping waltz, before a second guitar kicks in halfway through with kind of Queens Of The Stone Age-style slide work that we have come to expect. Then it’s back to the spooky waltz for the outro. The song is sprawling in its ambition, and yet tight in its musicianship – the perfect opening salvo, I suppose.
Next, the band tackle “Crying Lightning”, with a rendition that is less dependent on that intense, brain-mashing bass, and more open to improvisation with the desert-y wailing guitar. My reactions so far to Turner’s vocals are that he’s not so much singing, as attempting a kind of lurching, viscous style of rapping. Throughout, he remains resolutely sombre and dark – one has to wonder how such a tortured and complex individual tessellates so well with Alexa Chung.
The third song, which is called “Potion Approaching”, begins in a simple manner, with a repetitive, chugging riff on both guitar and bass. This whining, strangled lead guitar sound shows no sign of abating, and it’s difficult to compare it to anything else except the majority of Lullabies To Paralyze. A sludgy, psych-y refrain boasting the portentous lyrics “Yours is the only ocean that I want to hang onto” leads into a slowed-down, glammy bridge, and then back to the original chug.
Now, here comes a real highlight, as Arctic Monkeys treat us to their cover of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand”, with its Jarvis Cocker-esque lyrics that speak of viaducts, mills and stacks. The organ is mournful, and a humid middle section eventually explodes into an angry, angry outro.
The final song, for which I have no name, sadly, is a beauty. Beginning with a plinky piano intro, over which Alex Turner adds some wonderfully appropriate guitar, it alternates between a pretty, dance-y beat, and a half-speed Scott Walker ballad, with starry-eyed melodies and coo-ing backing vocals. And then, far too quickly, it’s all over, and the screen cuts to black.
First impressions? It’s not such a huge step away from the more sinister second half of Favourite Worst Nightmare as the Chinese whispers would have us believe. There’s a lot of organ, of a variety more akin to The Doors than The Horrors; the lead guitar tone appears to be fixed on a sound last heard wailing through Queens Of The Stone Age at their most tortured; and of course, Matt Helders’ drumming is characteristically enviable. The general ambition displayed in the songwriting is definitely a step forward, with sprawling song structures and a lot of effort being paid to making each minute of each song different from the last. Undoubtedly, Humbug is going to be more of a grower than its two predecessors – in all likelihood, it will alienate some of the band’s least intellectually-minded fans. Which is no bad thing, judging by the typical crowd at an Arctic Monkeys gig. I suppose the hope must be that some impressionable young people who got into Arctic Monkeys as a gateway into indie music will hear the sophisticated craft of Humbug and use it as a gateway into a whole host of interesting and challenging rock music, which the band is clearly locked into right now. I’m going to have to wait till August 24th, when the album is released, but I do think I’m going to like it, as a uniquely dark and turmoil-filled creature.
Last night, after a surprisingly backing track-dependent opening set from Northampton-based Maps, London’s KOKO was privileged to host M83, the critically acclaimed French electronic/shoegaze act masterminded by Anthony Gonzalez (and formerly Nicholas Fromageau). Taking to a stage cloaked in dramatic lighting and decorated with two sizeable keyboard rigs and a perspex-shielded drum kit, Gonzalez treated the suitably blissed-out crowd to a substantial twenty-minute opening solo set, weaving intricate melodies and emotive washes of noise from his custom analog synthesiser, which one member of the crowd compared to an aquarium. Drum machine rhythms skidded and burbled, and Gonzalez occasionally looked up from his toys to greet and thank the audience, which, in true KOKO style, rose up to the rafters of this beautiful converted theatre.
Then, just as our attention may have begun to lapse, to a riotous reception, Gonzalez was joined onstage by his two current band-mates: on keyboards and vocals, Morgan Kibby (which I always thought was a boy’s name, but there you go); on drums, an unnamed musician who looked like he’d jumped out of an 80s synth pop group, and had colossal drumming technique to match. Breaking immediately into Saturdays=Youth anthem, “We Own The Sky”, the three-piece then proceeded to deliver a perfectly paced set incorporating new songs, old songs and songs that didn’t sound like songs that anybody knew. Gonzalez, now a certifiably talented musician, alternated between carving out backing chords on his keyboards, and unleashing a wall of shimmering, keening noise from his white Les Paul, simultaneously singing lyrics that veered between John Hughes and Philip K Dick. Kibby, dazzling in a sparkly blue outfit, made light work of the breathy, cooing vocals on newer songs, and also impressed on the keys.
From a series of 80s-indebted synth-pop songs, such as “Graveyard Girl” and “Kim and Jessie”, the band then moved on to a more chilled-out segment, with songs like “Skin Of The Night” (with its straight outta Phil Collins drums) invoking gentle swaying from the crowd. Then, the band took on a more clubby vibe, employing tasteful dance-punk percussion and searing synths on various unidentifiable songs. Finally, after bowing out rather prematurely, the band returned to delight the crowd with a wonderfully extended, gloriously uplifting performance of “Couleurs”, the centrepiece of Saturdays=Youth. Most of the audience clearly wanted more; the time on the clock suggested otherwise. Though M83 played nothing from their landmark 2003 album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the manner in which they eked every last drop of emotion from their songs left every one of us with enormous ear-to-ear grins. M83 are an extraordinarily enchanting proposition on record; live, twice as much.