Sunday, October 23, 2016

DANPYUNSUN AND THE SAILORS (London Rich Mix, 21/10/16)

So, apparently Jambinai are far from the only alternative band of note from South Korea at the moment. I discovered these avant-garde indie-rockers on the K-Music Month Spotify playlist a couple of weeks back, and they struck me as a band I nedded to see live. And in that I was correct, even though some of their songs are a little middle-of-the-road for my tastes. Danpyunsun is a hilarious, deadpan frontman, even when jetlagged to hell, and their riveting, no-holds-barred performance is up there with the most energetic I've seen in 2016. Well worth checking out, for sure.
HANNAH EPPERSON (London Slaughtered Lamb, 20/10/16)

Looped violins and birthday cake from the talented Julianna Barwick collaborator, whose spawling, absorbing compositions mark her out as a talent to keep an eye on.
OPERATORS (London Lexington, 18/10/16)

Any band involving Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner is always going to be one hell of a beast, but Operators might well be his best side-project yet, marrying the zest and energy of the Handsome Furs to electrifying synth-rock and tremendous live drumming. One of the best London debuts I've seen this year.
YUMI ZOUMA (London Oslo, 17/10/16)

Pleasant enough dream-pop from New Zealand, with a couple of standout songs going someway to make up for a lack of variety.
HOLY FUCK (London Village Underground, 15/10/16)

A holy fuckin' great show from the Toronto electro-rock quartet, who can still inspire a dance party even when playing an absurdly early time-slot. One of the few shows I've seen recently that I genuinely wish had been longer.
SWANS (London Islington Assembly Halls, 13/10/16)

Review: HERE
EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY (London Brixton Academy, 12/10/16)

Review: HERE
SYMPHONIC FANTASIES (London Barbican, 06/10/16)

There's no one person more responsible for my deep and enduring love of music than Nobuo Uematsu, the composer behind the "Final Fantasy" series. Since I first played FFVII at the age of eleven and heard the synthesized church bells of "Flowers Blooming In The Church" I've obsessively gorged on his soundtracks and the various arranged albums built around thhem. I've religiously attended every concert of his music put on in this country - the "Distant Worlds" series more purist and faithful to the original compositions, the "Symphonies" taking familiar melodies and leitmotifs and re-arranging them into exciting new forms. I've even met him in person, leading to the only time in my life where I've genuinely been star-struck.

 But I've always secretly hoped that I'd get to hear a concert showcasing from some of his lesser-known but similarly brilliant contemporaries, most notably Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross/Xenogears), Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts) and Hiroshi Sakimoto (FFXII/FF Tactics/Vagrant Story). I'm still waiting for that Sakimoto concert, but Symphonic Fantasies offered me the opportunity to witness Mitsuda and Shimomura performed by no less than the London Symphony Orchestra - and it was just as elatory an experience as I could have anticipated.

The first half comprised of two works, one based around Kingdom Hearts, the other around Hiroki Kikuta's "Secret of Mana" soundtrack. To my surprise, though the former symphony engaged the old nostalgia glands right from the start with the simple, beautiful piano line of "Dearly Beloved", it was latter that ultimately proved the stronger work, with its masterful use of choir and unexpected sound effects, including that of a tropical rain storm.

But it was inevitably the second half that truly shined, with a Mitsuda medley that wove together a smorgasbord of classic Chrono tracks- not least Scars Left By Time, Gale, Frog's Theme, Magus' Theme, To Far Away Times and Peaceful Days. What has always differentiated Mitsuda's work from most VGM composers is his passion for world music, and the effect that has on his melodies, his rhythms and his instrumentation - and thus giving a starring role to the effervescent red-coated darbouka virtuoso Rony Barrak and his percussive brilliance was a masterstroke. After that, a conservatively arranged work based around Uematsu's themes felt a little underwhelming, especially compared to what was showcased during the Final Symphony concerts (in fairness, this program predates those by several years), but there's no denying the hold those classic themes have over my psyche.

As is standard for these concerts, an "unannounced" encore wrapped up proceedings- and delightfully, it comprised a medley of final boss themes from the various games represented tonight. "One Winged Angel" and "Dancing Mad" are inevitably the focus of the piece, but hearing 80 or so primly-dressed choristers intone "LAVOS!" with appropriately apocalyptic volume may have been my personal highlight.

All in all, it probably didn't hit quite hit the heady heights of Final Symphony II - which was one of the best concerts I've ever attended in any medium - but just hearing the Chrono piece alone was well worth the price of admission. A superb performance, and one that makes me excited about what the organisers will come up with next.
JAMBINAI (London Oslo, 03/10/16)

Every time I see Jambinai, they get a little less post-rock and a little more metal. Which isn't a criticism by any means, as their fusion of the harder edge of Western music with traditional South Korean instrumentation remains as potent as ever.
STARS OF THE LID (London Barbican, 02/10/16)

Although they're almost indistinguishable from their sister band A Winged Victory For The Sullen these days (no bad thing), Stars of the Lid's beautiful orchestral ambience and stunning projections - which look breathtaking from the back of the Barbican Hall- provide the perfect soundtrack to a most agreeable Sunday evening.
MERZBOW (London Cafe Oto, 01/10/16)

The sound of a tiny kitten skipping lightly over a sea of rose petals. Or forty-five minutes of unrelenting harsh noise being blasted in my direction, and every other direction, and possibly in directions not as yet discovered by even the most intrepid scientists. A not entirely unpleasant experience oddly enough, but one that left me in a weird daze for some time afterwards.
THE GOON SAX (London Shacklewell Arms, 27/09/16)

A scrappy but endearing set from the maudlin Australian three-piece, whose wistful lo-fi melancholy compensates for their lack of polish.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

TERRY RILEY (London Barbican, 24/09/16)

Review: HERE
WEAVES (London Scala, 22/09/16)

The best band to have come out of Canada since the mid-Noughties heyday of that particular scene, the off-kilter, grungey art-pop of WEAVES is an unabased riot live, coming across as a glorious mix of Deerhoof, Pavement and the Pixies (and maybe a sprinkle of Ponytail too). The best support act I've seen in many a year.
BJORK (London Royal Albert Hall, 21/09/16)

Being eight foot away from Bjork is like being in the presence of a unicorn, a rare and beautiful creature - that you're even there seems an honour in itself, regardless of what she actually does. So the fact that the show was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen could be considered almost a bonus. It many ways, it was her "Carrie and Lowell" to the Volta tour's "Age of Adz", eschewing the lasers, confetti, and electronic beats for minimalism and subtlety and though it wasn't quite what I was expecting, it was undoubtedly a truly special experience. The first half, focusing purely on "Vulnicura" was relentlessly bleak but utterly beautiful, complimented by understated, but stunningly arranged strings. The second, a carefully-curated run through her more delicate classics, including "Aurora" and "Pagan Poetry" (where she giggled in delight when the audience joined in during the final refrain) added some light to the darkness, culminating in an ambitious and unexpected string-based take on "Pluto". It probably wasn't a show for everyone, but for those who respect Bjork's inventiveness and innovation, it was a night we won't soon forget.

Interview/feature: HERE

Saturday, September 17, 2016

END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL (Larmer Tree Gardens, 01/09/16-04/09/16)

Yes, it rained. A lot. Yes, it felt there was a slightly higher proportion of twats in the audience than in the past (although maybe that was just due to the ubiquity of the guy from MONEY). Yes, I still hate camping with a passion that burns brighter than seven suns. But at the end of the day, it was another fantastic weekend filled with good music, good people and good hot dogs slathered with melted raclette cheese. Highlights:

- Broken Social Scene: Hearing "Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl" performed live for the first time since 2008 made me cry. The rest of it was alright too.
- Ezra Furman: Three separate sets, three stunning performances - although Thursday's all-covers set incorporating Madonna, The Arcade Fire, Springsteen, Jackie Wilson, The Clash and Beck was my personal favourite.
- Jeffrey Lewis: No comic strips, but more rockage than usual from the New York "anti-folk" veteran. Always a pleasure.
- Whitney: Some much-needed summertime vibes on a desperately grey day.
- Anna Meredith: One of Britain's most inspiring, eccentric composers, bringing something a bit more left-field to the EOTR mix.
- Martha: Riotous, tongue-in-cheek lo-fi punks from Yorkshire trigger the most middle-class crowd-surfing experience ever witnessed at a live music event.
SILVER APPLES (London Corsica Studios, 31/08/16)

Review: HERE
KAMASI WASHINGTON (London Royal Albert Hall, 30/08/16)

One of the most astounding figures in modern jazz, with a 20-piece gospel choir and a 36-piece string section, playing at the Royal Albert Hall. Of course it was going to be one of the best gigs I've seen in my life. Perhaps the Star Trek-ish choral washes went a bit overboard at times, but when the band were in full flow, their hard-bopping, dazzingly proficient, orchestrally-enhanced jams produced some of the most transcendent music these ears have had the pleasure of hearing

The Moth Club in Hackney may have been sweatier than Chris Moyles' jockstrap, but the Australian psych-rock phenomenon would have melted everyone's faces regardless. Two drums, two guitars, two bassists, one flute, all the riffs- no wonder they're selling out venues ten times the size of this.

Monday, August 29, 2016

DAN DEACON (London Roundhouse, 24/08/16)

Malfunctioning player-pianos. A 25-minute, audience-participation-fuelled improv. piece involving five hundred mobile phones blasting out Phil Collins. Dance-offs and human tunnels and overhead projectors and The Crystal Goddamn Cat. Even by Dan Deacon's standards, this was a pretty out-there show, but by God, it was tremendous fun.
GRANDADDY (London Oslo, 23/08/16) 

It's not everyday you get to see "The Crystal Lake" performed in a 300-capacity sweat box where you're so close to Jason Lytle it's actually a little bit awkward. True, the band looked a little tired, even pissed off at first, but the overwhelming reaction of the audition soon saw them perk up, and by the end it was grins and A-grade lo-fi American indie-rock all round. Superb.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROES (London Islington Assembly Hall, 15/08/16)

Review: HERE

Saturday, August 13, 2016

CAUGHT BY THE RIVER FESTIVAL (London Fulham Palace, 13/08/16)

Review: HERE

Sunday, July 24, 2016

RAGNAR KJARTANSSON AND FRIENDS (London Barbican, 19/07/16)

An eccentric, whimsical, and downright hilarious revue-type show courtesy of critically-acclaimed Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Cigars were smoked, Brecht was sung, pianos were pushed, poetry was declaimed, confetti was scattered, and musicians from The National, Sigur Ros and mùm all enthusiastically contributed to one of the most artistically satisfying, but genuinely peculiar shows I've attended this year.
CITADEL FESTIVAL (London Victoria Park, 17/07/16)

Review: HERE
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (London Victoria Park, 16/07/16)

Five years ago, Win Butler told James Murphy to "Shut Up And Play The Hits", and tonight they took that advice to heart. In truth, LCD Soundsystem were never as tight a live unit as I'd hoped when I saw them in their heyday, but this was pretty much a flawless set, with the closing run of "New York I Love You", "Dancing Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends" leaving me buzzing for the days.
ISLAM CHIPSY (London Lloyd Park, 16/07/16)

Premium Egyptian chiptune from the engaging Islam Chipsy and his dual-drumming band "EEK".
STEVIE WONDER (London Hyde Park, 10/07/16)

The fact that Stevie Wonder took almost four hours to complete performing an album that's only ninety minutes long is both a testament to the man's dedication to riffing off a piece, and also his frustrating tendency for self-indulgence. "Songs In The Key Of Life" isn't a natural fit for a festival setting in any event, with its second half full of obscurities, but there's no arguing that when he hit the mark, as he did with "Sir Duke"->"I Wish", he and his twenty-piece backing ensemble delivered as remarkable a live music experience as I've ever experienced in well over a thousand gigs. There's no real excuse the 30 minute interlude where every one of his backing singers got their own cover song to sing, but that was all forgotten by the time "DJ Tick Tick Boom" delivered the final double-whammy of "Signed, Sealed, Deliver" and an absolutely monstrous "Superstition." A show that epitomised "from the sublime to the ridiculous", although thankfully, ultimately leaning strongly towards the former.
LIONEL RICHIE (London O2 Arena, 06/07/16)

The show was labelled as "All The Hits", and that's what we got, dammit. All very polished and predictable of course, but Richie is perhaps even more charming that you'd expect and there's no denying the likes of "Easy" or "Three Times A Lady", although I was slightly disappointed by the general lack of clay-sculpting throughout.
CAROLE KING (London Hyde Park, 03/07/16)

Well, Carole King's first show on UK soil in twenty-seven years was always going to be "an event", but man, I wasn't expecting it to be that emotional. "Tapestry" is an important album for so many people across the generational divide, and to hear that nigh-on flawless album performed in full, even if the vivacious Ms King's voice isn't quite what it used to be was a recipe for an evening of the most memorable kind. And I completely forgot she wrote "The Loco-motion" too. What an inspiration!
MASSIVE ATTACK (London Hyde Park, 01/07/16)

Young Fathers! Tricky! Tunde Adebimpe! Horace Andy (wheeled in due to a fractured leg)! A full-on bloody orchestra for "Unfinished Sympathy"! A completely off-their-tits Scouser shouting in my ear about Michael Gove being a c**t! Add in a typically scintillating set from Patti Smith and solid showings from TV On The Radio and Shura, and there's £0.00 well spent.
HAM SANDWICH (London Islington Academy 2, 29/06/16)

Winsome indie-pop from the County Meath eight-piece, who essentially serve as an enthusiastic, if not exactly innovative distillation of the mid-Noughties alternative scene.
MOONFACE AND SIINAI (London Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, 27/06/16)

Given that this is only the second show of a tour crammed in between Wolf Parade dates, Moonface (AKA Spencer Krug), backed by Finnish kraut-rockers Siinai have no right to sound this ferociously good. Krug's other bands get more critical acclaim, but one suspects this is the project closest to his own heart, and I'll fight anyone who argues that "Lay Your Cheek On Down" isn't one of the best songs he's ever written.
BURT BACHARACH (London Palladium, 25/06/16)

When an songwriter feels confident enough to dispatch songs of such calibre as "Walk On By", "I Say A Little Prayer" and "There's Always Something There To Remind Me" within the first ten minutes of their set, they're either completely deluded or something really quite special. Burt Bacharach, of course, falls in the latter category. Tonight we're treated to two hours of back-to-back, solid gold hits, from "24 Hours To Tulsa" to "Close To You", with guest spots from Marc Almond, Rick Astley and Rumer, and although Bacharach's own voice is pretty much shot these days, the fact he's so sprightly at the age of 88 is still cause for celebration. A superb retrospective for one of the best songsmiths in the history of the form.
CHIC (London Fulham Palace, 24/06/16)

There's only one cure for the post-Brexit blues, and that's Nile Rodgers playing his greatest hits (and man, there's a lot of them) in what feels like a random village fete in the middle of Fulham. Nice four-song cameo from the inimitable Alison Moyet too.
DAKHABRAKHA (London Rich Mix, 23/06/16)

Ukraine's colourful "ethno-chaos" four-piece are an curious bird, mixing traditional Slavic instrumentation with pop and even hip-hop influences, but my God, if they don't produce spectacular results. An initially restless and talkative audience are swiftly won over by their hypnotic polyrhythms and beguiling vocals, and by the end the band were compelled to wing an impromptu second encore, on account of the rapturous reception they received.
WOODS (London Boston Arms, 22/06/16)

Review: HERE
WOLF PARADE (London Scala, 14/06/16-15/06/16)

Some reunions are clearly done for the money, or sometimes to relive a long lost youth, but my most beloved Wolf Parade have returned to action reinvigorated and more potent than ever. It's hard to pick a highlight from two exceptional nights of live music, but seeing Spencer Krug's involuntary grin as the whole audience sang along to "Sons and Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts" is definitely up there. The most straight-out exhilarating gigs of 2016 so far, and indeed, some of the most enjoyable I've ever been to.
PRIMAVERA PORTO (Porto Parque de Cidade, 09/06/16-11/06/16)

Primavera Barcelona is one of the best European festivals, but like the city it resides in, it can be a bit exhausting. Primavera Porto on the other hand is a far more relaxed affair- less big names, but significantly more chilled-out (and a hell of a lot cheaper to boot). In between stuffing my face with 3 euro bifanas, I caught some memorable sets, including Sigur Ros, Battles, Destroyer, Chairlift, A.R. Kane and Floating Points, but the two absolute highlights proved to be Brian Wilson (who despite being a half-zombie these days is supported by perhaps the most accomplished backing band in existence) and Titus Andronicus, who left me physically, mentally and emotionally broken. Highly recommended.
KAMASI WASHINGTON (Lisbon Teatro Tivoli, 07/06/16)

Kamasi Washington's three hour debut is called "The Epic", and that's a pretty good summary of this masterclass in jazz awesomeness. True, the drum-battle dragged on a bit, but the West Coast Get Down's odyssey through the history of the genre - from an unabashedly sentimental cover of "Clair De Lune" to some down-and-dirty jazz-funk indebted more to Rick James than Miles Davis - was all delivered with infectious vitality and consummate skill.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (London Wembley Stadium, 05/06/16)

I paid £100 to see The Boss at Wembley, and on balance I reckon that a bargain. The closing run of Badlands->Jungleland->Born To Run->Dancing In The Dark->10th Avenue Freezeout->Shout->Bobby Jean->Thunder Road was legitimately one of the best hours of live music I have ever enjoyed in my life, and the other 155 minutes weren't bad either. Truly, one of the greatest showmen in rock 'n roll history (and a dab hand at songwriting too).
MARGINAL CONSORT (London St John's-at-Hackney Church, 02/06/16)

Marginal Consort are a four-man Japanese art collective who traditionally perform one show a year, wherein they each free-improvise their own, well "music" would be too strong a word, using a variety of home made instruments, in complete isolation to the efforts of the others. Audiences are encouraged to wander about the space, as where you stand does materially effects how you perceive the soundscape, and as utterly pretentious as the whole thing is, there's a creativity and sense of fun that made this a fascinating, and occasionally sublime experience.
COLIN STETSON AND SARAH NEUFELD (London Barbican, 31/05/16) 

I've said it time and time again, but surely Colin Stetson should have been burnt as a warlock by now? To quote a previous review of mine (as I'm a lazy bugger) "sometimes he sounds like two people playing at once. Sometimes he vocalises whilst simultaneously maintaining some heavy, rumbling drone on his baritone. Sometimes he simply sounds like the end of worlds." And Sarah 'Schroedinger's Arcade Fire member' Neufeld's violin-based compositions were pretty fantastic to boot.
RAW POWER FESTIVAL (London Tufnell Park Dome, 27/05/16-29/05/16)

Baba Yaga's Hut has long been one of London's more forward-thinking and intriguing live music promoters, and nowhere is this better exemplified in their annual three-dayer, which never fails to leave Tufnell Park a smoking crater of decimated amps, and even more decimated eardrums. The highlights: Melt-Banana's abrasive grindcore assault, Teeth of the Sea's aural dystopia, Qujaku (or as I like to call them, Faux Ningen), Orchestra of Spheres' quirky tropicana dance party, Agathe Max's Armageddon-weaving violin looping, and the mesmerising, discordant Krautrock grooves of Sex Swing.
RADIOHEAD (London Roundhouse, 26/05/16)

I'm far from a subscriber to the Cult of Thom Yorke, Mother of Dragons, but I can't deny this was a pretty accomplished performance from England's whiniest musical export. It helps that the new album has ditched some the aimless bleepy-bloop they've become enamoured with over the last 15 years for actual tunes, but the fact they managed to cram so many oldies- and decent ones- into the setlist (Talk Show Host! Exit Music! Planet Telex!) was a surprise of the most delightful variety.
JAMBINAI (London Corsica Studios, 16/05/16)

Jambinai haven't as yet been the vanguard of an emergent South Korean music scene, but their juxtaposition of post-rock and (increasingly) metal influences with traditional Korean instrumentation makes them one of the most fascinating up-and-coming new acts around.

A brief, but commendably eclectic series of scores for some obscure early Andy Warhol films, performed by Dean Wareham (minimalist guitar), Martin Rev (hard synth noise), Eleanor Friedberger (bespoke indie-folk) and Dean Wareham (dreamy shoegaze). 
IGGY POP (London Royal Albert Hall, 13/05/16)

Review: HERE
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK (London Royal Albert Hall, 09/05/16)

So, apparently OMD have a few more songs than "Enola Gay" under their belt? The Merseyside band, by their own admission, seem to be genuinely chuffed to be headlining a sold-out Albert Hall 35 years into a career where their eccentric, before-its-time synth-pop hasn't always been appreciated, and that comes through in an impressive performance augmented with some quite phenomenal lighting. Plus, though they were only supposed to be play tracks from their first two albums they still found room to fit in a certain song named after a nuclear warhead. Which was nice.