Archive | October, 2011

Live Review: Anna Calvi

31 Oct

Concorde 2: Sunday, October 30 2011
A quick scan around a rammed Concorde 2 proved that pure class and natural talent makes a mockery of the music industry’s marketing moguls.

There was no target audience for them to tap into here; this sold-out crowd was made up of every age-group from teens to 60-somethings.

And it didn’t take long to see why.

An older, bearded fella nearby went weak at the knees every time Calvi unfurled some seriously nifty fretwork on her intros. While he was getting off on her technical prowess, the lad in front appeared dumbstruck by her presence, seemingly beguiled as she stared intently, pouting with her bright-red lips.

You can’t blame either of them. While her eponymous debut LP was – for the main part – a deliciously dark piece of musical melodrama, on stage it became a stunning spectacle. Calvi was simply captivating.

Her steely glares, rhythmic jolts and soaring vocal range entranced, even managing to stitch together the more sparse songs, which on the album occasionally appeared distant instead of intense.

It was her stark contrasts, however, which really impressed. Vocally, Calvi flitted from being a silky-smooth seductress with vulnerable whispers to unleashing impassioned, dramatic howls. Her guitar playing, meanwhile, veered from intricate bluesy riffs to scything, spine-tingling chords.

Musically, it was magical, but there were other forces at work here too; Calvi is a high priestess of control. Every time the haunting Suzanne and I threatened to build to a euphoric climax, she reeled it in, cranking up the suspense.

It’s a tactic she’s perfected, only really letting go when former single Desire reached a clattering, sing-along crescendo.

There have been some outstanding live shows in Brighton this year, but with two months to go, this is really going to take some beating.


Live Review: Tindersticks

27 Oct

Brighton Dome: Wednesday, October 26 2011
The first UK Tindersticks shows in years were billed as live performances of their scores from filmmaker Claire Denis’ movies along with some numbers from their eight studio albums.

So there was a palpable sense of disappointment when singer Stuart A Staples opened his mouth to speak and could barely croak.

Due to a severe bout of laryngitis, this was going to be a film score show only

It was immediately obvious that Denis’ assertion that the band often understood her films before she did wasn’t flattery.

Perhaps it’s because Denis gave them a free reign to interpret her work, or maybe it’s just a meeting of minds, but there’s clearly a natural affinity which obliterates the film and music divide.

The opening, dream-like section of a girl on her back in a swimming pool was a prime example; the twinkle of piano expertly timed alongside the bubbles as she exhaled under water.

On another clip, the jolting orchestration and rattling drums chimed perfectly with the shaky camera in a train driver’s cab as it rolled out of Paris, while, later, sweeping strings joyfully captured the happiness of a young couple dancing in their flat.

There was the odd moment when the music jarred with the footage, not least the gentle piano and rumbling basslines which accompanied a graphic description of what appeared to be a rape attack. 

It wasn’t the only section which was difficult to watch, but in other scenes of harrowing violence, murder and fires, the music always added to atmosphere, rather than detracting from it.

This was a brave, original show which vividly brought home how crucial music is to film, whatever the on-screen emotions and actions.

Comedy Review: Tommy Tiernan

17 Oct

Pavilion Theatre: Friday, October 14 2011

It’d be easy to wince at the thought of firebrand Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan spending an hour picking at the seams of subjects as risqué as mental health, religion and disability.

This is a fella, let’s not forget, who has previously come out with some one-liners that have not so much been near the knuckle as past his elbow.

So it’s testament to his finely honed, masterful vocabulary, big heart and vice-like comic control that he can now dissect these issues without being crass or offensive.

After galloping on to stage and playing with a bubble machine like a kid crammed with E numbers, he effortlessly segued into a routine about having a borderline personality disorder – “that doesn’t mean I’ve almost got a personality,” he insisted – before adding “I tread a narrow line between psychosis, which is bad for you, and neurosis, which is bad for me.”

“Lunacy”, as he likes to call it, was a reoccurring theme. He was at pains to urge the audience not to conform, to keep life exciting and unpredictable.

With his frantic act forever on the brink of carnage or controversy, he clearly likes to practice what he preaches, but these days he’s far too smart to let his captivating show slide into blustering ranting.

Next on his radar was religion as he told us he admired a lot about Isalm, but had “comfort issues”. “There’s no furniture in mosques,” he said, before gleefully comparing them to opulent Catholic churches “which are full of gold and chairs but have no-one in them.”

Some teasing of his fellow countrymen and their fondness for booze followed – “why do you think we have paddy’s day in the middle of Lent?” he asked, before ending with a tale about his dad being chased by a “platoon of baboons” in Africa while trying to make amends for a flippant remark, which had upset his brother who had Cerebral Palsy.

While the story might be absurd, it’s vividly told, and its themes are somehow simultaneously cruelly honest, deeply touching and incredibly funny.

And there are few comedians clever enough to accomplish that.

Live Review: Art Brut

12 Oct

Haunt: Tuesday, October 11 2011

 “I’m 32 now”, bellowed Art Brut’s main man Eddie Argos mid-way through a typically chaotic and charm-fuelled performance.

Why he felt the need to share this was unclear because there’s no sign of him toning down his unhinged, livewire act.

Tonight he rushed on to stage as the band banged out Guns n Roses’ ‘Paradise City’ and unleashed an ungainly high-kick to signal the start of a frenetic opening which culminated in ‘Axl Rose’, Argos’ homage to his “favourite lead singer”.

The frontman happily admitted that he sang for the first time on latest album ‘Brilliant! Tragic!’ but there was little evidence of it here.

Even on the relatively soothing ‘Sealand’ he still erred firmly on the side of shouting and ranting as it descended into a crashing finale.

Let’s be frank, though, no-one expected polished professionalism and, besides, their between-track banter and mad ramblings are as big a part of the show as the music.

Half-way through the set Argos waded into the crowd mid-song, embarking on a rant about the admission cost at an Amsterdam art gallery. As he chuntered on he demanded everyone crouched down – and everyone did – before cheerily admitting he’d “not really thought this through” and that he didn’t have a “dignified exit plan”.

It’s this improvised lunacy and his immense likeability that has seen Art Brut stay the pace when many other foot-to-the-floor, shout-along bands have fallen by the wayside over the past seven years.

 Tonight they were enthralling and entertaining in equal measure. Long may they continue.

Comedy Review: Hal Cruttenden

11 Oct

Komedia:  Sunday, October 9 2011

For a self-confessed camp, middle class, posh chap, Hal Cruttenden has a welcome amount of bile to offset his perma-grin.

He gleefully played on his “comfortable” life and, to the casual observer, looked like a cheery middle-aged dad who would be more concerned by the school run than appearing on Live at the Apollo.

One critic said Cruttenden would only hit the big time if Michael McIntyre popped his clogs. It’s a nice line, but there’s no mundane ‘man drawer’ malarky here.

Instead, Cruttenden combined wry observational humour with some cutting jibes and refreshingly honest confessions.

We got laugh-out-loud jokes – and I write this as someone born north of the Watford gap – about the north/south divide. “It’s very real”, he said. “We should build a wall to keep the north out. Well, they can build it, we’ll pay for it.”

There are also some great lines about his Northern Irish wife’s laid-back attitude to the recent London riots. Needless to say gangs of hooded, looting kids didn’t quite strike the same level of fear as paramilitaries in the Troubles.

He was at his best, however, when his affable nature was overtaken by overwhelming irritation and opinionated bluster.

Berating one teenager who didn’t think it was worth voting, he steam-rollered into a rant arguing that people like her should be sent to Iran or North Korea, while pro-democracy campaigners in those countries could come here.

There’s no danger of him being too ‘right-on’ though, he cheekily admitted he’d like to help the poor, “just as long as they don’t live next door or take my kids’ school places.”

Cruttenden’s fascinating patter of middle class worry and impassioned views was polished, seamless and packed with a high giggle to gag ratio. He’s highly recommended.

Live Review: Fenech Soler

11 Oct

Concorde: Friday, October 7 2011

Fenech Soler’s upward trajectory was brought crashing down to Earth in March when singer Ben Duffy was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

This tour was postponed while he underwent a successful bout of chemotherapy.

It would have been easy for the personal misfortune to have become a professional crisis. After all, they’d grafted non-stop for three years and Duffy’s illness was discovered just as their breakthrough seemed imminent.

As it is, their enforced absence seems to have given them even more energy and a heightened determination to blast out their floor-filling electro-pop at ear-splitting levels.

There was no gentle warm-up or greetings; instead, during the opening 15 minutes, they battered the brain with an incessant bombardment of artillery-fire synths, intense strobe lighting and structure- shaking bass as a pumped-up Duffy threw himself across the stage, frequently demanding “jump Brighton”. And Brighton jumped.

The band’s achilles heel, however, was the set list. Instead of devoting a four-song section to slower numbers, they then dropped them in across the rest of the performance with little thought to the irritating stop-start nature of the set it created.

 Low key tracks like The Great Unknown, performed with elongated wishy-washy intros and outros, shattered the pace and atmosphere while doing little more than highlight Duffy’s penchant for some grating, funked-up vocal wailings.

Thankfully they went out with a bang, ramping up the tempo again to kick-start Friday night in style for the swelled ranks at the front. It was loud, lively and exciting. And that’s when Fenech Soler are at their best.

Live Review: Sophie Madeleine

5 Oct

Pavilion Theatre: Tuesday, October 4 2011

The Indian summer might have scarpered but don’t despair, Brighton’s Sophie Madeleine will bring some sunshine into your life.

It’s impossible not to bask in the glow of her chirpy, hum-along sweet melodies or revel in the unfaltering  DIY ethos that saw her self-record her two albums because she couldn’t find a label to stump up some cash.

It’s tempting to say she doesn’t need their help, but her performance tonight makes it hard to fathom why a label didn’t take a punt on her.

Backed with a three-piece band featuring violin, double bass and guitar, opener Stars is a silky, classy number bathed in backing vocals and propped-up by beats and glockenspiel on a loop, while Change The Numbers – with the opening line “turn back the clocks, change the numbers, wind back the watch on your wrist” – cleverly uses a ticking timepiece as its percussive base.

Despite the overwhelming heart-warming buzz gained from her songs, Madeleine tempers the cheeriness with her shy demeanour, hiding behind her hair throughout the performance.

Nevertheless, no amount of reserve can dilute the bouncy Oil And Gold, which is surely destined to soundtrack a balmy, late afternoon festival set with its breezy rhythm, lolloping tune and ba-dop backing vocals.

Her band leave the stage while she performs Hypothetically Yours – her voice growing in stature as it’s paired with an intricate ukulele melody – before returning for the finale The Rhythm You Started, which is a joyous jaunt powered by sweeping, three-way vocals and dreamy orchestration.

Madeleine’s live show is sublime and, despite the attitudes of many record labels, the least we can do is make sure it doesn’t go unnoticed in her home town.

Live Review: Emmy The Great and Stealing Sheep

5 Oct

Duke of York’s Picture House: Monday, October 3 2011

Liverpudlian female three-piece Stealing Sheep have been touted by some as the, yawn, Next Big Thing.

Really? If three giggling girls dispatching hazy, Sixties-warped mantras while wearing their Nan’s Seventies curtains turns out to be the future of music, then Shed Seven will have the Christmas number one, Morrissey will sing the jingle for a KFC ad and George Osborne will cease to be a smug prick. Like that last jibe, Stealing Sheep are very sixth form.

Emmy The Great, on the other hand, is wise beyond her years. Lyrically sharp and musically cute, she has the one thing that can’t be taught; authenticity.

Strolling on to the stage in a glittering silver dress half-covered with a battered denim jacket, she launches straight into Eastern Maria. As ever, her stark, unmistakable voice is imperfect, but that merely adds to the charm.

Joined by her five piece band, she weirdly devotes We Almost Had A Baby – complete with the line “You didn’t stop, when I told you to stop” – to her heavily pregnant friend, before Dinosaur Sex perfectly embodies the transformation from the DIY folk-ethic of debut album First Love to the more expansive textures of follow-up Virtue.

Here, long-time collaborator Euan Hinshelwood’s distorted guitar just about refrains from going off at a tangent, while the greater sound complexity is enhanced with some dense, dark drums and underlying keys.

Mid way through the set, after MIA – a fantastically catchy tune juxtaposed with lyrics about a fatal car crash – the soothing sing-along Cassandra and the breathless, propelling Paper Forest (In The Afterglow of Rapture), it hits home that her output is consistently impressive.

The set is topped off with Trellick Towers, which was written after her partner had a religious conversion and left her for the church. Accompanied by only bass and keys, you’d have to be dead inside not to be moved by both the intensity of the performance and lines like “Something holy used to touch me, then he heard the voice I couldn’t hear, he’s gone to where it sent him, and now I’m praying for this pain to clear.”

After taking a few requests, the encore is wrapped-up with a frantic version of Edward is Dedward.

“This was the best gig of the tour,” she beamed. “I’d been really worried – my bloody mum is here and everything.”

Worried? She really didn’t look it. And, more to the point, she really, really didn’t need to be.

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