Tag Archives: live

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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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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Yellowcard/Less Than Jake @ Koko 9/03/2015 – Review

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I love KOKO. It’s not the biggest venue in the world, but its old-school multi-balconied layout always makes for a good atmosphere and a storming gig in this little corner of Camden Tahn. In past lives the venue has been a theatre, a cinema, and a BBC studio. Now it is a 1400-capacity concert venue. It has character and charm, and is a welcome deviation from the sterile sports arenas and pokey little rock clubs so often used by gigging bands these days. Some juiced-up jobsworth security guard confiscated my Cadbury’s Dairy Milk on the way in, presumably in case I clubbed someone to death with it, which didn’t get my evening off to the best start but at least I wasn’t accused of being a Romanian pickpocket like I was at the Ally Pally last year. A Day to Remember? A day to forget, more like.

I’ve been a fan of ska punk stalwarts LTJ since their album Anthem rocked my world back in ’03. I’ve also loved Yellowcard since Ocean Avenue which, ironically enough, came out the same year. I’d never seen either band live so to get them both on the same bill was pretty amazing. I didn’t even care that it was a Monday night and I had work the next day.

Co-headlining tours often make for a weird dynamic. The first question to be answered is who’s going to play first? There is still a level of prestige that comes with playing last, on the top of the bill in the traditional headliner slot. I don’t know if they alternated or what, but on this occasion it was Yellowcard who followed French rockers Chunk! No, Captain Chunk, who I completely missed because I was eating Mexican food across the road.

Fresh off the Warped Tour and a US jaunt with Memphis May Fire, Yellowcard are a band on form. Powerful, polished, and profound, their multi-layered music comes at you in waves, and is given an extra dimension by Sean Mackin’s often-manic violin. Having progressed from their slightly more hardcore roots and survived the demise of pop punk, they now manufacture a brand of solid, mainstream rock it’s hard not to like. The bulk of the material in the first half of the show was taken from last year’s Lift a Sail, as evidenced by the opening salvo of Convocation segueing into Transmission Home and Crash the Gates, the first three tracks off the album. In truth they didn’t go down too well, which prompted front man Ryan Key to yell, “I know it’s Monday but wake the fuck up!” before launching into Lights and Sounds.

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I’m no expert dude, but if you want crowd interaction, maybe starting a gig with an extended violin intro and a couple of mid-tempo plodders most of the crowd don’t know isn’t the most sensible option. A stunningly stark rendition of the piano ballad California aside, the latter part of the show was, naturally, more geared toward the crowd-pleasing classics (and there are a lot of them) building up to the one-two encore of probably their best-loved songs, Way Away and Ocean Avenue.

After roughly 70 minutes of Yellowcard, the stage was set for their fellow Floridians Less Than Jake. With eight albums and a clutch of singles and EP’s to choose from, any LTJ set list is full of potential surprises, and so it proved. They kicked things off with Look What Happened, which is a bit like Bon Jovi starting a gig with You Give Love a Bad Name. Cue mosh pit. From there it was a veritable free-for-all as the five-piece tore up the rule book and hopped, jumped and skipped all over their extensive back catalogue. It’s very clear that this is a band who doesn’t give a fuck. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious, not to mention relentless, with Chris DeMakes and Roger Lima forming a two-headed vocal assault team that barely pauses for breath. Their (usually) good-natured banter easily plugs the gaps between songs, the duo sometimes coming across more like a well-oiled comedy act than members of rock band, a la Blink 182. One of the biggest LOL moments of the night came when, in an effort to drag fans away from social media for a few precious moments, DeMakes said, “If your phones not a dildo, you shouldn’t be using it.” Priceless.

The whole thing makes for an inclusive and fun atmosphere. This is a band that obviously loves what they do, as evidenced by trombone player Buddy Schaub’s no-holds-barred performance just six weeks after having a pacemaker fitted. At one point they invited a guy up from the crowd, gave him a huge comedy mask to wear, and let him stumble around the stage like a drunk Elvis Presley for a couple of songs. There were also lots of sparkly things and balloons. Highlights on the musical front, for me anyway, were the Ghosts of Me and You, Automatic, History of a Boring Town, and a faultless, tour exclusive (we are assured) version of Gainsville Rock City.

With a strict 11pm curfew in effect in most of London these days (ask Bruce Springsteen) the gig was over all-too soon. Never mind. Like I said, I had work in the morning. And you know what? I even had time to go and get my Cadbury’s Dairy Milk back from the juiced-up jobsworth security guard. So the joke’s on you, dick wad.

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Gig Review – A Day to Remember @ Alexandra Palace, London, 12/02/2014

A Day to Remember

W/ The Story So Far, Every Time I Die, Mallory Knox

@ Alexandra Palace, London, 12/02/14

ADTR 2014 UK Tour Poster

The older I get, the less new bands I can get into. Maybe it’s an age thing. The days of me sitting around watching MTV for hours on end are long gone so not much really sticks. The Story So Far are one band, however, that I did notice. After a succession of splits and EPs, the Walnut Creek punks hit the mainstream last year with their album What You Don’t See and a well-earned spot on the Warped tour. They play the energetic brand of pop punk championed by the likes of The Wonder Years and I couldn’t wait to see if they could cut it live. Unfortunately, I missed their set through my own ineptitude. Ditto Every Time I Die and Mallory Knox. Which is a shame, I was impressed with Mallory Knox’s debut and lets face it, any band named after a character in Natural Born Killers can’t be bad.

There are some bands that when you listen to their studio recordings, you just know you are only getting half the story. ADTR are one of those bands. They’ve been near the top of my ‘to see’ list since I first listened to 2009’s Homesick, still one of my favourite albums. I was less enamored with last year’s Common Courtesy, partly because of all the faffing about between songs. It’s a ‘window into the creative process’ that, frankly, I could do without. After ‘I Remember’ there’s about 6 minutes of it. Despite that, they remain a band notoriously difficult to define. Are they punk? Hardcore? Metalcore?

Does it even matter?

Anyway, bring it ADTR. Here is your chance.

They take the stage in a flash of pyro to the thumping strains of All I Want. They are much less poppy in a live environment. Surprisingly, a lot of their lighter material seemed to fall a little flat while the more hardcore songs went down a storm. Fast Forward to 2012 sequeing into 2nd Sucks was absolutely brutal. Mid-set they surprised everyone, and showcased their considerable skills in the process, by going acoustic for a song and a half. Surprisingly, the set was weighted considerably toward older material, highlights being My Life For Hire and You Should Have Killed me When You Had the Chance. The guitar interplay between Neil Westfall and comparative new boy Kevin Skaff was just as layered and complex as it sounds on the records, but live it has an added punchiness that powers the songs effortlessly toward their thundering conclusions.

I don’t know what the huge multi-level doll’s house stage set was all about, but the band made full use of it, jumping around with admirable intensity. At one point, somebody (it might have been Jeremy McKinnon, it might not have been) crowd surfed in a giant bubble. Haven’t seen that at a gig before. I was also stumped during the encores when the band brought out about 25 bemused-looking teenage girls to stand behind them. Maybe they were competition winners or something. Or maybe they were just a bunch of horny groupies. Who knows?

The choice of venue wasn’t ideal. As legendary as it is, the Ally Pally is like a gigantic cavernous shoebox stuck on the edge of north London. It’s not easy to get to, the acoustics are awful, and if you are more than ten rows from the front you can’t see shit. ADTR are at that awkward stage in the UK where they can’t decide whether they want to be an arena band or not. Personally, I wish they had either bitten the bullet and booked the 02, or done two or three nights in a smaller venue. Ally Pally is the worst possible choice. But what the fuck do I know?

Setlist

All I want
I’m Made of Wax, Larry.
Fast Forward to 2012
2nd Sucks
Right Back at it Again
A Shot in the Dark
City of Ocala
You Had me @ Hello
If It Means a Lot to You
Complicated
Homesick
Mr Highway’s Thinking About the End
Life Lesson’s Learned the Hard Way
My Life for Hire
Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail
You Should Have Killed Me When You Had the Chance
Have Faith in Me
Plot to Bomb Panhandle

(Encores):

Violence
All Signs Point to Lauderdale
The Downfall of us All


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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