Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Elbow - Little Fictions

Elbow’s stock in trade is playing song mid paced contemplative songs.  Nothing much has really changed with this their seventh album.  Elbow play songs that feel like a warm embrace from an old friend, which is something that can be comfort in these uneasy times.  The album isn’t too exciting, and I doubt it will appeal to the unconverted, but for fans this album will be a welcome return. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Simple Minds - Hordern Pavilion

Simple Minds

Hordern Pavilion

Sydney 9 February 2017

On the same night that Bruce Springsteen is playing across town, why would you choose to spend your evening with Simple Minds? 

Well, one reason is, before they became a byword for bloated stadium rock, Simple Minds were cool. How cool were they?  They were an art rock indie dance band before anyone knew what one of those thing was (OK, I’ll admit that I barely know what one of those things is now).  But they were ice cold cool.  Their name would fit seamlessly beside uber-cool bands like Kraftwerk and Can (look them up) and, yes, Bowie. 

But then they were tempted by stadiums had a small dalliance with the Breakfast Club (Don’t You Forget About Me was confidently played mid set) and they seemed to have left their cool roots behind them.  In came big choruses but what went out the door was that feeling of underground edge (for want of a better term).  For many that’s not a problem – they like the singalong songs - but for some they miss the interesting arty music of the early years. 

How did Simple Minds approach this problem while keeping everyone happy?  The set relied heavily on their greatest hits from the stadium rock years, but also the seminal New Gold Dream album with a few other early classics as well (Love Song was an early highlight).  They nicely balance the songs that are keeping them playing to large venues such as the Hordern Pavilion, but also reminding the faithful that they were a pretty interesting band to begin with.  A couple of tracks played from their latest album illustrate the point best.  They have a foundation in art-rock, but still manage to bring in the big choruses when necessary. 

This approach was best summed up in the three song encore.  One song from the new album, one singalong hit and then they finished with a storming version of the title track from New Gold Dream. 

As I said, something for everyone.    

At one point in a singalong chorus when the crowd wouldn't stop, Jim Kerr said "it's alright for us, we don't have to go to work tomorrow".  Maybe if Simple Minds had let us sing all night we might have had to explain to two bosses our choice in seeing the band.  But if you were there, no explanation was necessary.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Coldplay - Sydney Football Stadium

The best artists tell us something about themselves.  And, if we're really lucky, they'll tell us something about us while doing so.
Coldplay are unfairly targeted as lightweight and boring.  But, they reveal something about themselves just as much of themselves as any "credible" artist.  For example, Chris Martin famously has a break up (with Gwyneth) and voila! the result is a break up album (Ghost Stories).  Then, possibly in response to the break up, Chris Martin decides to respond to this with positivity and a "moving on" album appears (A Head Full of Dreams).   How much more do we want him to tell us? 
 But how does this translate into the live show?  Well it certainly helps if you have all the tricks that a modern rock show allows.  TV screens, Fireworks, Confetti, Electronic wrist bands that flash in tune to the music.  And that's just the first song!  Coldplay approach the first song much like another band would approach the encore.  They throw everything at it, and then (this bit is different to most bands) they keep the energy level at that point for about two hours.
One thing they've got on their side is the number of songs that appeal to a crowd of 50,000 people.  They've got the ballads covered (Scientist, Fix You), they've got the Beyonce number (sadly she didn’t appear in person – she featured on the backing track to Hymn for the Weekend), they've got rockers (Charlie Brown), they've got the obligatory acoustic set (featuring early hit In My Place), they play their first hit (Yellow) and they turn the whole arena into a dance party (Adventure of a Lifetime).  This was the point that I think it all came together.  The song Adventure of a Lifetime is where the band states their manifesto, which is both intimate and universal.  Paraphrasing here, it says “If you’ve only got one life, I want to share it with you”.  And that’s the trick.  They’ve got the songs that mean something to every single person in the audience, but also to everyone collectively.  This is some trick.   
Don't take my word for it though.  Take the word of Ms "hard to please" 15.  When told that another reviewer gave the concert 4 stars she said - disdainfully, as only a 15 year old can - "it deserves more than that".  Who am I to argue?  If it can touch the impenetrable 15 year old heart and mind then it deserves every one of its 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Oasis - Be Here Now Demos

Popular wisdom is that Oasis took too many drugs (mainly coke) when recording their third album Be Here Now which resulted in an overblown and self-indulgent album.  The world was theirs for the taking.  They had released two brilliant albums and needed to just capitalise on this success.  They had played Knebworth to 250,000 people only 2 years after releasing their debut album.  They. Were.  Big. 

Next step – writing the third album. 

Noel Gallagher went on holiday to Mustique and stayed in Mick Jagger’s villa.  He flew his producer over to record some demos.  Why is this relevant?  Because the demos that are included in the deluxe edition of Be Here Now are not actually that different from the versions that appear on the final album.  Yes, the performances are more polished but the general arrangements are basically the same.  The demos show that, aside from a few tracks, the songs Noel brought to the third album just aren’t very good.  Maybe it was too much time in the sun or hanging out with celebrity friends, but something just wasn’t working for him.  Perhaps the well was just dry. 

The final album does have layers on layers of guitar tracks that make it seem overblown and self-indulgent, but I don’t think this is the major problem.  What Noel should have done was to save some of the tracks that he, frankly, threw away on B-sides for the first two albums and used them for his third. 

If the band had used the best tracks from the excellent B-sides collection (The Masterplan) and the best tracks from the Be Here Now demos (with a bit of judicious editing) it could have made a killer third album. 

Sadly, it was not to be.