Tag Archives: concert

Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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An Ode to the Old Arms Park

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I’d been a Simple Minds fan since 1986, when my cousin Linden turned me on to them. Once upon a Time was one of the first albums I ever bought as a 12-year old, and I loved Live in the City of Light. Therefore, when tickets for the Street Fighting Years tour went on sale I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. It was the first gig I ever went to, and I still remember the buzz as the excitement built in the weeks leading up to the gig, and then during the day. The support bands were the Darling Buds, the Silencers and Texas (not the Pixies, as some sources state), an early highlight being Sharleen Spiteri calling us a ‘load of Welsh b*stards’ and storming off in a huff because, in truth, nobody was there to see her band and didn’t pay them any attention. There may have been a few projectiles in the form of little plastic bottles aimed at the stage. For me and the 56,000 others, it was all about the Minds.

I wasn’t such a big fan of the Street Fighting Years album, though in time the title track and Belfast Child went on to become two of my favourite Simple Minds songs. I was more into the stadium rock sound that preceded it. Important and relevant it may have been, but being so young, a lot of the political stuff about Apartheid and Nelson Mandela went over my head.

Musically, the Cardiff gig wasn’t perfect. The set was too heavily reliant on the newer, slow-paced material and, as far as I can remember, they played virtually nothing pre-Sparkle in the Rain. Until recently, the band has tried desperately to distance themselves from those early art-rock outpourings, and it is more than a little ironic that today those tunes sound a lot fresher than some of the albums they put out in their pomp. Jim Kerr has always been a fantastic frontman (“Lemme see yer hands!”) and even back then I could appreciate the relationship he formed with the crowd and the sheer effort he and his bandmates put in.

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Now, more than 25-years on, Simple Minds are still recording and touring. They endured some difficult times during the late 90’s and early noughties when they declined in popularity and lost major label backing, but in the past couple of years have experienced a renaissance and are back playing arenas again, if not stadiums. Paradoxically, they have returned to the style of their first few albums and tracks from that period feature prominently in their setlists, usually at the expense of material from the Street Fighting Years (1989) and Real Life (1991) albums. Last year they put out Big Music, their most acclaimed album in years, which pays more than a passing nod to their roots. They seem to be enjoying their Indian summer, which is good to see.

Despite being renowned as a rugby union stadium, a fact acknowledged from the stage by Jim Kerr that day, during this era Cardiff Arms Park (aka the National Stadium) attained a pretty good pedigree in attracting world famous recording artists. Michael Jackson had performed there the year before, and over the years it also played host to the Stones, David Bowie, U2, Dire Straits and REM, to name but a few during its tenure as Wales’ biggest and best music venue. Summer gigs there became a bit of a tradition among people of a certain age. The last act to put on a show there before the venue was demolished to make way for the Millennium stadium was Tina Turner in 1996. Bands still come to play at the Millennium Stadium, but it just doesn’t have the same allure as the old Arms Park, which has surely earned it’s place in the rich tapestry of Welsh culture.


Mike Peters – The Year of Strength Live @The Globe, Cardiff

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“If a man can’t change the world these days,
I still believe a man can change his own destiny,
But the price is high that has got to be paid,
For everyone who survives there are many who fail,
I’ve seen my friends caught up in the crossfire,
All their dreams and hopes smashed on the funeral pyre.”

– Spirit of ’76

When the original Strength album was released back in 1985, it was a seminal moment in the history of Welsh rock. It was the sound of a band at the height of their powers, every chord, every word resonating with everyone with dragon blood running through their veins, and a fair few who didn’t. They were songs of despair and struggle, hope and triumph. Lyrically, it was an album born of it’s time, with songs about the the miner’s strike, growing up in a country with a dying industry, and working class life in the Iron Lady’s Britain. It wasn’t pretty.

“I’ve got ideas that I cannot deny,
If I stay I’ll be killed by the dreams in my mind,
Today I can’t find nothing nowhere,
Tomorrow I might find something somewhere.”

– Father to Son

The stadium rock sound of Strength marked a slight departure from the folky punk organized chaos of the Alarm’s debut, the songwriting was on-point, the playing tight and the production (by Mike Howlett, who had previously worked with Tears For Fears, OMD and Joan Armatrading) crisp and sharp. Absolute Reality, Spirit of ’76 and the title track all made the UK Top 40 singles chart, with the latter also becoming their biggest US hit. For a while, the Alarm were our U2, our Simple Minds. The Irish had the Troubles to sing about, the Scots had the Glasgow shipyards, and the Welsh had empty coalfaces. In their own ways, they all spoke for a lost generation. Every track on Strength is a classic, and it’s a mystery how the album didn’t sell as many copies as the likes of Unforgettable Fire and Once Upon a Time. It’s also a fucking tragedy.

Thirty years on, not that much has changed, except I’m not an over-excited ten-year old anymore. All the exuberance of youth has long since deserted me. Three of the four original members of the Alarm have also left, but the songs and the sentiments remain and are still as relevant today as they were in 1985. The band may be gone but Mike Peters still stands, guitar in hand. He even has the same hair cut. Despite his well-documented health problems, tonight he is in top form. It’s clear nothing can sap the man’s passion. As promised, he performs the Strength album in it’s entirety, though the songs have been re-imagined and rearranged. Some tracks are virtually unrecognisable from their original versions, but all have retained their power and allure. I must admit I was dubious when I first heard of the project to re-record Strength. If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it and all that. But hearing the songs in this stripped-down form adds a whole new depth and clarity, bringing them kicking and screaming into the 21st century where they can be enjoyed in a new context.

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I’ve never been to the Globe before. It’s small. Very small. Intimate, even. Which suits me fine. I’m off the big soulless venues where you can’t see anything and the sound goes over your head. Maybe it’s a consequence of getting old. Set deep in the suburbs of Cardiff, the venue used to be a cinema, and it retains some of that old-school character and charm.

Peters is a born storyteller, and the gig is punctuated by long raps about the music business and his experiences. As well as the Strength material and the between-song banter, he throws in a selection of lesser-known tracks from his extensive back catalogue. Set opener Howling Wind goes down a storm and Strength-era b-side Majority, which has also been re-recorded and re-released this year on the companion album to Strength, is another highlight. There is the usual smattering of old standards like Unbreak the Promise and One Step Closer to Home, and the traditional set-closer Going Out in a Blaze of Glory to the delight of the partisan crowd. It just wouldn’t be a Mike peters gig without it. With no support and a two hour-plus gig, Peters gets more like Bruce Springsteen with every passing moment. He’s also the nicest rock star you could ever wish to meet, and possibly one of the busiest. The tour continues throughout the summer in Europe and the States. Catch it while you can.

Love, Hope, Strength

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Pop Punk Not Dead Tour 2014 Review

Only Rivals / Candy Hearts / State Champs / The Story So Far/ New Found Glory

The Forum, London, November 29th 2014

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Here it is. The final night of the 2014 Pop Punk Not Dead Tour. The only UK representatives on the bill, Dublin’s Only Rivals, are more grungy alt rock than pop punk, and taking the stage just after 6:30 didn’t help their cause. Still, they are a tight unit and have some decent tunes. Their new EP, Details is out now.

On the other hand, the Candy Hearts embody what pop punk is all about. As the name suggests, sugar sweet melodies and killer hooks combine with emotionally-heavy lyrics sung with gusto by Mariel Loveland to great effect. Most of the short set was taken from this years ‘All the Ways You Let Me Down’ album, probably their strongest to date.

State Champs were up next, showcasing tunes from last year’s debut full-length ‘The Finer Thing.’ If you missed it, that’s a great album, and they hit all the right notes live. Polished and fluid, and with some good crowd interaction, the New York 5-piece made more than a few new friends tonight and ensured that pop punk certainly is not dead.

Main support The Story So Far have been around a long time now, and have amassed a healthy body of work to call upon. Live they are technically flawless, and perhaps the only thing missing from their repertoire is the presence of a couple of killer singles that might threaten the charts. They closed their 10-song set with High Regard, possibly the closest thing they have, apart from Small Talk, which they didn’t even play. Still, if this is the story so far, its pretty fucking impressive.

This being the last night of the tour, many in attendance were expecting something special and headliners New Found Glory didn’t disappoint. In fairness, they rarely do. Even after almost 18 years together and eight studio albums, they still give each performance everything and play every show like it could be their last. After a slightly surreal intro tape they ripped straight into Understatement, lead track from arguably one of their best-loved albums Sticks and Stones. After that, the classics kept on coming, Better Off Dead, Hit or Miss, Don’t Let Her Pull You Down, Failure’s Not Flattering, Dressed to Kill, Truck Stop Blues, and, of course, My Friends Over You, mixed with a few stand-out tracks from most recent album Resurrection.

During his between-song banter, guitarist Chad Gilbert said the concept of the new album was based on finding that inner strength and belief that helps you triumph in the face of adversity. Anyone who knows the back story of NFG, and in particular the scandal that broke last year surrounding ex-member Steve Klein, will know what he was alluding to. Another thing Gilbert said in one of his between-song raps that stuck with me was that life isn’t about chasing fame, money or success, its about making memories. He’s probably right about that because in the end, memories will be all any of us are left with and if that’s the case we made some good ones tonight. Cheers boys.


A Musical Odyssey (part 1)

Everyone has their own personal musical odyssey, their own journey through the rich landscape of sound. To an extent the journey mirrors and charts our progression and development as people. As in life, within the musical realm we all have our guilty pleasures, and those little dalliances that we instinctively know are bad for us but relish anyway. Some songs or artists are a part of your life for the briefest time, a one-night stand when compared to others with whom you form deep, lasting relationships. To paraphrase a Less Than Jake lyric, the music we listen to is the soundtrack of our lives.

Welcome to my personal musical odyssey.

One of my earliest memories is listening to the Beatles on an old 8-track cartridge on the way to the seaside in my dad’s Volkswagen Beatle. Yep, I’m that old. It was a compilation of their earliest hits, I wanna hold your hand, Can’t buy me love, etc. A perfect introduction to the world of pop. Those things were called 8-track cartridges because they could only physically hold 8 tracks, for a total playing time of about 20 minutes. What a pain in the ass it must have been to be a music lover in the late seventies.

I first became musically aware, in that I began to recognize what I liked and what I didn’t, and started to seek out certain kinds of music around the time I hit puberty in the mid-1980’s. This was probably my most ‘open’ spell when I was still trying to discover what genre I actually liked. I was receptive to everything from Five Star and Madonna to Public Enemy and Anthrax, though was always drawn to the rockier side of things.

One of the first bands I developed a fixation with was Dire Straits. I still remember the TV commercial for Brothers in Arms, showing clips of the Money for Nothing video featuring Mark Knopfler’s famous glowing sweat band. It was enough to make me buy the album. I liked it so much I saved up my pocket money and over the coming months bought Alchemy Live and Love Over Gold as well. Great albums. I always meant to get Making Movies, I thought about it every time I went into a record shop, but it had a shit cover. Those things were important then.

Take Marillion, in their early days the packaging on their albums was so cool, all colourful gate-fold sleeves with lots of hidden pictorial messages. I later discovered they were all designed by the same artist, Mark Wilkinson. Another good example is the Iron Maiden records of the late-seventies and eighties, which were all designed by Derek Riggs. I can’t imagine Maiden being quite as successful is their records came in plain white sleeves.

During my teens I consumed pop music and spent every spare penny I had on vinyl and tapes. Tapes, or cassettes, were all the rage for a while. Sometimes bands put bonus songs on them to entice you into buying them. Cassette singles, or ‘cassingles’ (groan) were a complete waste of time. But even these were a better idea than the copy-proof cassettes you were encouraged to buy. They were more expensive than normal cassettes, and you couldn’t make copies of them. Needless to say the whole concept was an unmitigated disaster. Like most people, what music I couldn’t buy for myself I would either steal from shops or tape off someone else, which was the eighties equivalent to file-sharing. I even watched Top of the Pops and listened to the Radio 1 chart show religiously hoping to discover new avenues to explore.

My first folly into full-fledged fandom was Simple Minds, who released a great album in 1986 called once Upon a Time and had a song on the soundtrack of the supercool Brat Pack movie The Breakfast Club. Me, a few mates at school, and an older cousin who I thought of as some kind of music guru, all declared ourselves fans. I think I was the only one who actually went so far as to join their fan club. It was quite a good deal; you got a regular magazine, some badges, a poster, and some other useless shit. If you joined a fan club these days you’d probably just get an email every couple of months.

Simple Minds at Cardiff Arms Park, summer 1989, was my first live concert. It was a very special time in my life. I was just about to leave school, it was the end of a decade, my future was a blank canvass, and I thought the world was my oyster. The concert was one of the rare events in life that actually lived up to expectation. The Minds, as the cool people called them, were fantastic, even if the set list was dominated by songs from the rather patchy Street Fighting Years album. Also on the bill that day were the Silencers (who, as the opening act, were technically the first band I ever saw live) and Texas, fronted by a very temperamental Charlene Spitteri who kept threatening to go home unless people stopped throwing bottles at her.

At this stage in their career Simple Minds were pure, fist-pumping stadium rock, just what a teenager needs in his life. I loved the passion and the energy. I also became a huge Alarm fan. Their music and lyrics held added poignancy for me, with many of their songs being about Wales. The artist I felt most affinity with, however, was Bruce Springsteen.

I was vaguely aware of the Born in the USA hype in 1984 / 85, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later when Live 1975 – 85 and Tunnel of Love came out that I caught the Boss bug. Somehow, my obsession with the Boss became intertwined with my blossoming fondness for travelling. If you are going to be a Boss fan you have to go and see him play live, so between 1992 and 2003 I saw him 5 times in 4 different countries. Philadelphia, USA; Milan, Italy; Rotterdam, Holland; and London and Manchester, England. Every gig was an emotional, intense experience. At his best, the Boss is one of the best performers the world has ever seen. I cried at the San Siro when he sang ‘Follow that Dream.’ I was going through some massive changes in my life and that song just struck a chord in me. I listened, and I did follow my dream.

For me, there were always tests involved when I travel to see the Boss. It is never plain-sailing. In 1999 I travelled to Philadelphia to see Springsteen play ‘at home.’ My girlfriend and I had tickets for two shows, but one was cancelled because of Hurricane Floyd. What a bitch. Even that wasn’t as bad as the Rotterdam adventure, where I got robbed by three big black guys then strip searched on my way home when my coach got pulled by French border police with guns.

Note to self: Never attempt to travel from Cardiff to Rotterdam by coach again. Life is just too short.

What happened next: A Musical Odyssey part 2


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