Tag Archives: manchester

The National

I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees

Who knew The National now actually had “hit” songs. Who knew massive crowd sing-alongs to The National even existed, let alone were possible. I have never quite experienced anything like it.

Like the vintage sight of Matt pouring himself a glass of wine, The National have only got better with time. From gracing many a headphone with soothing baritone, irony-laced, sad, melancholic and melodic musings, to selling out the biggest concert halls (I never thought I’d end up having to tout a ticket because of leisurely waking up an hour too late to find tickets were sold out…) and becoming Indie Rock’s darlings and now on the cusp of headlining major festivals (trust me on this), their rise has been well-documented – and well deserved – and getting to see them at Manchester’s O2 Apollo allowed for a glimpse into their handling of it all. Because if 2007’s Boxer was their critical breakthrough, 2010’s High Violet their commercial “wider-audience” breakthrough, then 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me further cemented their place as everyone’s new  favourite Indie Rock band. With most of those albums receiving rave reviews, the pressure was on to deliver yet another stellar album.

Their latest effort, 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, was described by many as their heaviest to date, with angular noises, riffs and actual guitar solos, but underlying it throughout is a soft underbelly of piano, laying the foundation for one of their most subtle works yet. However, although they have most definitely learnt and evolved as a band and even embraced their newfound position, ultimately, they really haven’t done much to alter their formula: rather, it seems like dogged persistence has just finally led them to a wider audience who’ve slowly come to embrace their slow, thoughtful style and wittily self-depreciative lyricism. The new songs bear all the hallmarks of classic National songs with the interplay of the Dessner brothers’ guitars and piano, Scott Devendorf’s driving bass and the dark swagger of Matt’s voice tied together by Bryan Devendorf’s rolling drum rhythms. But a strong twinkling of piano has come to permeate their songs and a smattering of guitar solos – even duelling brothers! – to add more oomph and, dare I say it, sexiness, or to use a less disturbing word, flair. Without mentioning Matt’s stage presence as he readily stalks the stage, in and about, out and around, leaning, crouching, screaming, slow dancing his arms about as he lilts his new songs into the mic, eyes closed, lullabying the enraptured crowd into blissful dreamland.

‘Tis in such a fashion that he began the night with new album opener “Nobody Else Will Be There” easing the crowd in before launching straight into what may well be their most upbeat song to date, to which I, for one, can’t help but groove and sway along to – which is called “dancing” (dancing to The National, who’d have thought!) – with lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” complete with that new jagged guitar sound and first proper, uplifting solo of the night from Aaron Dessner as Matt almost ironically repeats: I can’t explain it, any other way.

With that quick one-two of differing The National styles and vibes, the stage was set and they continued with their latest LP with “Walk It Back”, complete with atypical electronic intro before Matt’s deep vocals return the track to familiar territory. As the speech segment comes on, Matt starts stalking around the stage, circling behind the drum kit and getting into the mood as he sings familiar themes of don’t want to fuck it up. No danger there Matt. They follow up with the popular “Guilty Party” that slowly builds like many of their songs, progressively, drumbeat increasing in intensity and complexity and the indispensable horn section adding just the right touch of magic to the song, à la The National, as the song grows but then steadies itself before the expectant end, a feature typical of the last album as they tamper and play with the expected but inexistent explosion present on previous offerings.

They break the succession of new songs with “Don’t Swallow the Cap” off High Violet which, with its quick rolling rhythm, hopeful lyrics and bonus Dessner guitar outro bravado providing the perfect platform for one of the night’s biggest highlights in the increasingly adored “Bloodbuzz Ohio”.
I’d never imagined I would get to hear thousands of people sing The National lyrics together in harmony and what a most stunning thing it was to both belt out those lyrics with all one’s heart and vigour and also be a part of and bathe in: a moment to close one’s eyes and marvel at how far The National have come from their early days. It’s safe to say the older songs drew a few more sing-alongs – yes, there were more! – with “Afraid of Everyone” continuing the wonderful trend

I don’t have the drugs to sort it out

 before it was back to new territory with the pleading rosy-sounding “Empire Line”, before a rip-roaring – I cannot skip the chance to use that word to describe a National song – rendition of their heaviest song to date, “Turtleneck”, as Matt writhed and contorted himself into all sorts of anguished cries and screams, to the obvious delight of the crowd who, may I say it, impressively responded to every bated offering of adulation such as the above or Aaron and Bryce’s forays to the edge of the stage.

Although the list is growing, the number of songs that could be labelled “hits” by The National is relatively short, but amongst them is an unlikely yet characteristic song in the wistful “I Need My Girl” which had all the couples lovingly cuddling up. They backed it up with the lilting guitar slides of “This Is The Last Time”, remorseful lyrics and quiet tone prompting the crowd to make themselves heard. The National then returned to their roots somewhat with one of only 3 songs from seminal album Boxer with “Apartment Story” that they appropriately dedicated to a certain Bernie who’d hosted them on her floor in Manchester during previous visits. The warm fuzzy blue and rose-coloured light-show – which was excellent throughout – adequately mirrored the lyrics in conveying the warm cosiness of being nestled in a sofa at home with loved ones (a most welcome change and remedy to my incessant mumbling of that very song as I waited outside in the cold beforehand). We’d have gladly stayed in the cosy Apollo until way past curfew.

Stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz, for days

They continued with a few rare gems starting with the tour debut of “Hard to Find”, one of the quietest songs of the evening that silenced the room to a gentle hush as we were further cradled in the warm lush tones of the piano coupled with Matt’s baritone. They followed that with the double High Violet whammy of “Lemonworld” with its cooing “doo doo” echoing around the room in mingled opposition with the preceding lines of dying in a lemonworld. In this respect, The National have a certain gift in suffusing many of their songs with undertones and murmurs of hope despite the palpable darkness, as evidenced here on “Lemonworld” or with the subtle trumpets of “Guilty Party”, that offset Matt’s feelings of uselessness with lines such as Nothing I change changes anything in “Walk It Back”, or this song’s And I’ll try to find something on this thing that means nothing enough.
The biggest surprise came next with “Conversation 16” featuring the beautifully bizarre eargasm of hundreds of people belting out the bridge

I was afraid I’d eat your brains, cause I’m evil.

They returned to pastures new with the soft and stunning “Carin at the Liquor Store”, a ballad to rival any of their work as a tranquil hush descended on the audience who bathed in such still elegance and gracefully demonstrated the band’s new status as every ear was tuned in and attentive, every mouth muted, and everyone’s gaze, will and mind enraptured and riveted.
It’s a foregone conclusion nowadays.

The yearningly hopeful notes of their ode to this country rang out to huge cheers as “England” grew and grew in energy and life before culminating in the stalling bittersweet outro capped by Matt’s desperate longing to push the night away. The art of raising and lowering the mood and tempo seemed to be second nature to them as another swaying rhythm on the toms signals the upbeat sound of “Day I Die”, the opening arrogant lines recalling “All the Wine”, before the end of the chorus brings with it that exuberant and wackily happy guitar riff to which we gleefully (stupidly) sang along with.
One of the biggest cheers of the night is reserved for a Boxer classic as the opening piano lines of “Fake Empire” are drowned out but then the noise is returned in kind when the horn section work their magic with aplomb to an overwhelmed audience thunderously applauding the performance as the band wander off for a short break.

I ecstatically ramble on about how many and which potential songs they could play for the encore before they throw my erratically yet thoughtful propositions out of the window with another new song in “Born to Beg” with its gentle electronic hum coupled with piano building into that limbo state of catharsis that they’ve perfect on Sleep Well Beast. They then brought out the acoustic guitar for an oldie and fan favourite “Slow Show” before delving even deeper into their back catalogue for their only pre-Boxer song and live show staple from 2005’s Alligator: “Mr November”. There was a wonderful irony during the song’s quieter bridge in hearing Matt singing of being carried in the arms of cheerleaders as I saw one lucky soul crowdsurfing over the barrier into the waiting arms of the security personnel, before Matt exploded at every corner of the stage, as every repetitive and louder chiasmic cry brought his yearning and hopeful words closer to reality:

I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November,
I’m Mr. November, I won’t fuck us over

Lullabies and gnarly guitar solos, soft piano ballads, lead singer chucking glasses to the balcony, soft deep singing and throat-wrenching scream, we’ve been pulled every which wonderful way.
They had time for one last song and amongst a wealth of options opted for “Terrible Love” as its ragged opening guitar rang out and echoed in the lovely, expectant and satisfied air of the Apollo.  The song lingers through its first verses and chorus until the urgent guitar riff starts the slow crescendo, followed shortly by Matt’s baring admission to needing help to sleep is joined by the rush the quickening hi-hat hits that add to the nervous anxiousness. There is a lull as Matt sings about trying not to break, playing with our heartstrings and toying with our emotional lilt, before the song enters its final climactic pull leaving us with us drenched and soaked and bathed in the last of Matt’s words and sweet aftermath of the storm we’ve just weathered, a cleansing and cathartic storm of emotions.

It takes an ocean not to break


(O2 Apollo, 22nd of September 2017, Manchester, U.K.)


The other Manchester One Love concert.

Yesterday, Sunday 4th of June, thousands crammed the tramlines, masses crowded the streets and droves of excited, worried, scared and brave souls homed in on Manchester’s Trafford borough.

Millions, nationwide and further tuned in to watch Ariana Grande and the all-star studded slew of famous pop musicians take to the stage to cement and celebrate Manchester as a city united, in what must have been a bittersweet and joyous deluge of emotional tears and smiles.

I wouldn’t know though because I was a few miles away in the centre at a different, not last-minute, multiple-band gig. At the O2 Ritz, from 4 till 10, a few bands took to two different stages and rooms in the lead-up to the “headlining” slot by Chicago’s breezy 2016 breakout band: Whitney.

I was there for Whitney but had the pleasure of making it in time for Bill Ryder-Jones who was on just before for a solo “acoustic” set. “Acoustic” because I thought the wording was funny considering he used an electric guitar. So no piano to perform certain tracks from the only album I knew, 2013’s “A Bad Wind Blows in my Heart”.
He really took me by surprise though, shuffling onstage unexpectedly and so so casually joking and fooling around with himself and the crowd. A very far cry from the image I’d created in my head of a soft, frail, short and dark-haired (don’t ask me why…had to picture him somehow), skinny piano guy with the softest and graceful of voices, slow and somehow low-key and relatable. But he proved a bubbly character between and during songs, interrupting them ad lib to comment on something or someone: basically just coming across as a friendly and cool guy-next-door dude, as if he’d just walked into the living room to play some tunes. Having not prepared a setlist, he took people’s requests but he had kept a certain song for the closer as he played a ripping and gripping cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” to full approval of the audience.

It’s the third gig I’ve been to since that awful attack and just like the other two, this one was still instilled with a certain sense of unity and fellowship that transcended the music.

Whitney came on a half hour later with the softest of intro’s showcasing drummer and lead singer (a peculiar and somewhat spellbinding sight) Julien Ehrlich’s flawless and impeccable high, falsetto-like voice.
They performed most songs off their excellent and critically-love debut Light Upon the Lake, starting with “Dave’s Song” and including the wonderful “On My Own” and “Golden Days” before highlights “Magnet”, an energetic NRBQ cover, and new song “Rolling Blackout” which swirled in various buoyant directions and beckoned bright, shiny and pretty new things were on the horizon, promising more of the summery, relaxed window-down road trip music we’ve come to love. I could be imagining it – or wistfully wishing for it – but I thought I noted a hint of maturity and perhaps an ever so slight bump in intricacy. Their set was so satisfyingly and revitalisingly enjoyable, easy and pleasant, short an sweet, different: the singer’s drum platform taking centre-stage, 3 band members not too obscured behind him, some tight drumming, gusty solos, animated pianist, three-way soloing between guitarist, pianist and the excellent trumpeter, some jamming and with their only album clocking in at just 30 minutes, some refreshing 2 and 3 minute light-hearted songs. They ended with their dreamy “No Woman” to a singalong before the DJ or music-guy or whoever, quickly blasted out some music before they’d hardly left the stage completely.

I started fuming once more to my friend but before I had time to repeat my earlier rant of hating the post-performance music as a disrespectful invasion of musical privacy that should be banned to allow the viewer/listener to bathe in the aftermath of the performance they just witness; before I had time to angrily go on about it, before all band members had fully disappeared from sight, my ire was quenched by one the most beautiful sounds that exists to my ears which is the sound of voices blending into a single powerful voice as they sung Manchester’s newly-adopted, post-attack musical emblem “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.

In the blink of an ear, we were singing along to the famous “soooooooooooooo Sally can wait” chorus from our perched balcony heights, standing up on the couches as the lads a few metres down were swaying, shirtless, belting out the hit, to add to the ground floor’s huge medley of raised arms and heads, mouths agape and eyes and faces beaming.
So quick was the transition that the pianist, looked back (in hesitation, not anger), and decided he’d jump in and join in, raised aloft in the arms of Manchester.
The music-guy was making amends and wasted no time in following that up with another Manchester-themed tune, second time during the night, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. So we ran down and joined in the celebrations of one of the things that makes Manchester what it is, and we danced and we sang and there we were having a party in the O2 Ritz, guy in a park flaying his limbs around and shoving his phone in our faces to film it all, balcony couples dancing away and big making-the-ground-shake crowd we were part of just euphorically singing, jumping and dancing away.
All that was left was to follow a Joy Division tune with a New Order one, “Blue Monday” and to continue the partying. Well, until they switched that off…to little avail as we took it up again for a while until the glum-faced security personnel (seriously, why??) ushered us out.

A wonderful, cathartic and adrenaline-raising ending to this most charming and cheerful of evenings.

And the music-guy had redeemed himself.

P.s.: this is assuming there is an actual “music-guy” and not just a “Manchester playlist” that came on at that point, or a random playlist which just so happened to play those 3 songs in that order.

Seu Jorge

What a voice.
Deep, rich, creamy and full of emotion.
The next best thing to seeing Bowie in concert.
I want to move to Brazil. I want to learn Portuguese. I want to dress like a sailor in a funky red hat.
He’s given me an itch to learn his lovely language and to discover his original music and sing it in my deepest, velvety voice and to learn how to play some samba and play it on a hot Brazilian day.
All these thoughts coursed through my head at the end of his brilliant set.

His name is Seu Jorge and one day, he received a call by none other than Wes Anderson. The rest, as they say, is history.

Casually strolling on stage, cup of tea in hand, looking like he’d just walked into his living room – the absolute embodiment of “chill” – he launched into “Ziggy Stardust” and from the moment he opened his mouth for that opening cry, I was hooked. During a week when the only voice consuming my mind was that of Chris Cornell, he provided me with a welcome distraction and reminder that many other beautiful and different voices still grace us the world over. It proved a refreshing release and re-invigoration.

What’s more, Seu was full of casual banter. After the opener, he described the scene when he first got that famous phone call: playing PlayStation as his then-wife picked up the phone and nonchalantly answering Wes Anderson’s questions. “Yes I know Bowie”, “blond guy?”, “two different coloured eyes?”, “sometimes I confuse him with Billy Idol…”.
Had it not been for that single phone call, Seu Jorge’s renown may not have strayed so globally to such a teeming hive as Manchester. And so it came to be that Seu Jorge was cast as one of the crewmen in Team Zissou, the crew of Steve Zissou (longtime collaborator Bill Murray) in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Playing a few Portuguese-language covers of David Bowie songs in the film itself, he then released a soundtrack with up to 15 of these covers. During the gig, stories of the shooting of the film were commonplace between some of the songs and he really got the crowd charmed and laughing cheerfully, and was given an enthusiastic response after each and every song.

After “Changes” and “Oh! You Pretty Things”, he revealed how tough it was to change the rock’n’roll songs of Bowie into the samba style he was used to and recounted how he pretended to Wes Anderson that he had his version of “Rebel Rebel” ready but needed 15 minutes to “concentrate” before filming the scene. Cue a mad rush for some inspiration.

And so it went on, performing “Rebel Rebel” before a really lively “Starman”, revealing the lyrics he sings were coined by a different Brazilian band. “Lady Stardust”, inspired by Cate Blanchett in the film, was followed by “Rock’n’roll Suicide” and then a terrific “Suffragette City” which stayed in my head long through the night. “Quicksand” and a “Space Oddity” dedicated to all those wearing hats ensued (he was dressed in his Team Zissou uniform from the film, as were members of the staff at the venue and a few in the audience had either brought their own red hats or bought them at the merch stand).

A thundering “Five Years” was of one the highlights: how he instils the songs with such power I’ll never know but in his hands they sometimes become even more potent in their stripped-down setting with where his voice truly shines with vigour, strength and emotion.

One last story to tell concerning David Bowie’s death and that of his father, a few days apart and how he was convinced by his ex-wife (the same one?) to do something in tribute to them and after mulling over it came up with the idea to tour and play these beautiful song to people around the world. And so he dedicated the next song to Manchester and those affected by the recent bombing.
A rousing “Life on Mars” was performed with soul, sweetness and feeling with a devastating final cry of the title lyrics, to a standing ovation and teary eyes from performer and audience members in every corner of the Albert Hall.

He finished with the simplest of elegances in “When I Live My Dreams”, gracefully acknowledging the crowd one last time before peacefully making his way offstage to leave us with minds appeased to watch him one more time in a special screening of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic.

(Albert Hall, 25th of May 2017, Manchester, U.K.)

Broken Social Scene

It’s May 23rd, the day after a terrorist attack at Manchester Arena and you’re opening your tour in that very city, what do you?
Why not kick things off by bringing onstage, straight from the off, a born and bred legendary Manc in Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr? Yeah, that’ll do nicely.

Not sure anyone in the crowd could even have begun to suspect something like that from this sizable and ever-changing collective of Canadian musicians. But as the 9 members of Broken Social Scene waltzed onstage, they wasted no time at all in bringing him on for the surprise opener and big favourite “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old”.
I for one did not expect them to open with my favourite song but so sweetly beautiful was it with Emily Haines’ soft and syrupy voice repeating those cherished lines during the bridge that it felt like its own standalone introduction, a taster, a teaser, an presentation to the opener. With its hauntingly delicate and cosy melodies, it just bathed you in its velvety glow.
It was timeless.

                    Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me

Not quite the sort of song you’d associate with Johnny Marr but he did stay on for one more as various of the (semi) permanent members shuffled off stage or swapped instruments. So then they “properly” opened the show with another live favourite “Cause = Time” which upped the ante and got things rolling with all 6 men feeling their way into it, Marr singing along, all smiles, and by the end they were confidently rocking it out together as one, louder and louder as the song climaxed. There was still a certain element of shock at Johnny Marr’s mere presence but guitarist and crowd alike enjoyed it and vociferously acclaimed him after his short, welcome and inconceivable cameo.
He left the stage echoing frontman Kevin Drew’s – who looks like Eddie Vedder’s long lost brother – thanks and his urge to stick together for Manchester.

Then it was just the band. Just the 9 of them that is: like a chaotic yet cohesive indie rock version of Snarky Puppy I’d seen 3 weeks prior. They chose that opportune moment to play one of their newly released songs from upcoming album Hug of Thunder and delivered a powerful performance of “Halfway Home” that fit in seamlessly with the rest of their material and kept the wave of synthesis we were slowly cresting on the rise. A wave we fittingly crested and became one with on the next aptly-titled “7/4 (Shoreline)” which grew and burgeoned once more – and not nearly for the last time that night – into a wall of discernible sound that emanated good ecstatic energy and culminated in the two-man horn section sneaking up onstage for their indispensable part in the outro.

Relax and breathe and release the shackles. Everything felt better, felt alright.
They chose not to let up yet with a pulsating and wonderful “Texico Bitches” before switching singers for the next song. The one I’d been labelling “the old man in the band” took the vocal reins and started “Stars and Sons”. Turns out this sprightly grey-haired and high-kicking bassist of the previous songs was none other than founding member Brendan Canning whom I knew of only in name. I did him great disservice because he was the most lively member during the gig, enthusiastically animating the crowd and jumping around and cutting loose. And he played some great bass, although the brilliant bassline to “Stars and Sons” was played by another member of the band. Don’t ask me who.

It was time for a Feist-less “Hug of Thunder”, their beguiling second release from the new album, and Ariel Engle proved an able, cute and lovable deputy in her absence, even when fumbling a high note. But it was adorable and t’was not a night to hold grudges. As opposed to “Halfway Home”, they hadn’t quite nailed it down yet but they grew into it somewhat and have a whole tour left to find its perfect little niche in the set. Not that the lovely crowd seemed put off by anything anyways but they followed that up with the hugely popular “Lover’s Spit” dedicated to the lovers out there and wonderfully capped with a heartfelt and pleading rant of advice to keep those “things” – *mimics handheld appliances* – away from us, especially from the bedroom where we don’t need 756 likes, and to find love and comfort in human touch and togetherness, be it in just a single person, or two, or even yourself. On a bed of lovely music, a speech from the heart to make your soul ache with agreement and guilt.

Kevin Drew cut a charmingly friendly figure on stage, engaging the audience pleasantly, casually and simply, intervening with mid-song banter or chatting away before the next one, he was a great watch throughout and an admirable frontman. The gig served as a cathartic reminder of the power of music to join people together, transcending the physical barrier between artist, audience and outside world as he inspired us into a soul-purging and cleansing outpouring of any and all emotions by screaming as loudly and as long as we could on the count of 3 as the noise level flourished to a new high.
He steadily got rid of all of the tension, theirs and ours during a special evening, joking around during the next song “Fire Eye’d Boy” sung by guitarist Andrew Whiteman, exclaiming he’d changed a lyric around and the chemistry in the band was clear to see as they all harmoniously jammed off each other, exchanging smiles and pleasantries along the way. It really is a great and comforting sight to see a band so at ease with each other’s presence.

They then performed two new and never-heard-before songs in “Protest Song” with Emily Haines with a great self-conscious and self-deprecating chorus about the long line of protest songs. One of the highlights of the night then ensued as new song “Stay Happy”, sang by Ariel, drifted into noise and jam land and then blended into “Sweetest Kill” for a while as Canning and Ariel traded different song lyrics and twisted and turned the tune into a beautiful cacophony of controlled music. It was a marvellous concoction of new and old, drawn-out instrumentals with repeated and climactic vocals soaring to elation.

They rounded off the night with another new song called “Skyline” and a vibrant “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” enthusiastically roared on by the gleeful crowd to whom Kevin admiringly gave his sincere thanks for making it out and standing together with them on that special day before they slipped offstage. But within a heartbeat, Kevin was back with an acoustic guitar and invited Emily on for a stripped down, tender and graceful rendition of “Backyards” with Emily’s somehow husky-soft chorus so evocative and soothing. Band members then steadily came back onstage, one by one, to add their voices to the outro’s amplifying lines before hushing it down completely until the only sound resonating through the airy space of the magnificent Albert Hall was the sound of a few hundred enchanted souls singing together, in unison, as one.

                                              It’s a heart parade, just be courageous

A fitting end indeed but also pleasantly not the case as they came back on one final time for their customary closer “KC Accidental”, to the immense delight of the hall, and its stop/start rhythm did nothing to lessen the audience’s emotion as we jumped and bounced around all the way to the loud, thrilling and joyous end, satisfied smiles on the faces of every single person, band and crowd, as we all took our time to leave by savouring the special moment.

There’s something so purely heart-warming and jubilant about watching this group of people play, proving that Broken Social Scene are anything but what their names implies.

(Albert Hall, 23rd of May, Manchester, U.K.)

Snarky Puppy

You’d be forgiven for wondering who the bandleader was when 9 regular looking chaps walked onstage at the O2 Apollo last Thursday. Only 3 saxophonists, 2 drummers, 2 keyboardists, a bassist, and a guitarist – without counting the number of instruments each of them switched between… I had to ask which one the phenomenally-named Michael League was to my mate who indicated the bassist as he opened the set off with the twirling bassline to “GØ”.

I was soon extremely glad I’d ditched the comfy looking balcony seats I’d had planned on sitting on to stand on the floor with my friends. “I’ll just peacefully enjoy and admire the professionalism and skilful, pinpoint execution on show from my elevated height” I had naively thought upon buying the tickets. Although possible and no doubt thoroughly enjoyable, I’d have been a fool and missed out on the intrinsic hip-shaking, finger-clicking urge that comes with the propagation of their brand of modern jazz.

As the title implies, “GØ” got the ball rolling as both the audience and band members eased and felt their way into it, until saxophonist Chris Bullock took it upon himself for the first solo and from then on, the tone was set. From sax to minimoog to guitar, the solos never stopped, each and every one to huge acclaim from the buoyant crowd, with the songs swaying one way and the other under the calm leadership of Michael League, who seemed content to take a back seat to proceedings, leaving the spotlight to the other members and their instruments as they swirled in and out of the songs.
That did lead to every small moment of magic from Michael’s bass being greeted with an even bigger roar of approval.

They followed the opener with two further songs from their latest effort, 2016’s Australian-pronounced Culcha Vulcha, starting off with setlist oddity – if such a band can be considered to have “oddities” in their catalogue – “Beep Box”, a slow and quiet jam morphing into slow but bouncy when the first synth line suddenly ghosts in out of nowhere and the bass bounds around with its descending line, all of it topped off with a flugelhorn (“a what?” I know..) solo outro. A quite surreal and otherwordly tune that only further showcased their eclecticism, if any doubts still lingered…
And then it was back to familiar territory and regular groovy business with “Grown Folks” with snazzy bass and guitar riffs to uphold another uncannily familiar horn riff.

For some reason, Michael felt the need to calm things down a notch for a moment by switching to some older songs that guitarist Chris McQueen got going with some beautiful arpeggios until the trumpets eased themselves in effortlessly to the tune. And when the conga came in, the “Flood” was well and truly on its way, with Bob Reynolds throwing out a surging tenor solo culminating in a booming cascade of tight drumrolls over a backdrop of looping piano and shimmering horns. If only for their length and diversity I’ll spare you the details and shan’t go into every solo that was performed but by the end, it was safe to say “Flood” hadn’t calmed things down even a smidgeon.

“Tarova” kept things going with a percussive intro grooving into a sexy late-night sounding soundtrack to some parallel bygone era of an intense and modern roaring twenties, complete with a mean ole dirty tenor solo by Bullock. A velvety “Gemini” then began with a soft but pounding bassline intro coupled with easy and effortless guitar and piano, calming things down to a serene calmness. A few backing vocals kept the mood flowing as the song bubbled its way along with the silky backdrop a welcome change in mood as Minimoog and Rhodes solos acted as the calm before the storm that was to come.

That storm was “Tio Macaco”.
Percussionist Marcelo Woloski started jamming hard on a pandeiro (“a what?”): how such a small-looking instrument can be made to sound so strong and powerful I’ll never know but Marcelo worked it like a charm during the intro (and afterwards!) until the horns kicked in, sounding once more like a song you’ve always known but never actually heard before. More wonderful solos ensued from the ever-reliable horn section and other instrumentalists but the highlight came towards the end with a double percussion solo-cum-battle between both drummers.

If I was already fixated on drummer Larnell Lewis before this – we had trouble deciding who our favourites were (it’s not a competition though is it?) – it did nothing to lessen my admiration of him or both of them as they swung one way or the other mimicking the other’s drumrolls, calling and responding or just ripping it up in tandem. It was a fantastic end to a great tune and a treat to watch them sweating it out!

Michael League got “Big Ugly” started with his rolling bass line and it settled into the now-familiar pattern of building a head of steam and then slowing things down before the big climaxing crescendo when the synth kicks in first, then the horns and finally Chris McQueen, letting it rip for one of the most euphoric and majestic solos of the night. I had a new favourite.

And then they unleashed the “hits” – if you can call them such from a band like Snarky Puppy – or fan-favourites from their “breakthrough” album We Like it Here starting with “Lingus”, stretching to 14 minutes and feeling fuelled on adrenaline and sweaty good vibes. The song incited the first handclaps to the song’s undeniably uplifting and catchy melodic vibes before Michael slowed it all down to introduce the band to unanimous applause – special cheers reserved for drummer Larnell Lewis and respected England-based keyboardist Bill Laurance who fronts his own similar iteration of the band with frontman Michael League. Having had the temerity to ask for some more Bill, we were duly treated to an insane and sublime prolonged solo from him as the song rose and crescendoed – or descended? – into madness  with the percussion following suit and providing manic backbone to it all . As “Lingus” resumed its “regular” course, Bill switched to the Rhodes piano for the outro, for some ethereal and intangible but truly funky vibes as the song kept climaxing to its bittersweet end.

Coming across as a genuine Michael League popped back onstage alone for the encore to give a humble little speech about the importance of supporting live acts by encouraging to stay open minded support for smaller bands by buying their music and going to watch them perform instead of streaming their music which he bemoaned doesn’t cater to these smaller. “There’s a big difference between listening to music and supporting music”.

And then the first clear guitar notes of “Shofukan” rang out for their closing song. The Oriental-sounding horns quickly came into the fray, laying themselves over with their distinctive Eastern (yet Snarky Puppyish) sound. Justin Stanton treats us to a subtle and restrained solo, at times threatening to burst out but keeping it beautifully controlled. And come the song’s closing horn leitmotif, the last two minutes – and even when they’d left – of the song were heartily sung by the five thousand or so ardent fans in the venue, giving the audience the feeling of having been able to participate in the complex and jazzy Snarky Puppy recipe for good times.

(O2 Apollo, 5th of May 2017, Manchester, U.K.)

James Vincent McMorrow

If you were only familiar with James Vincent McMorrow’s first album, you’d be forgiven for wondering why so many keyboards were on display before he took the stage at Manchester’s Albert Hall, and why there were no guitars.

James Vincent McMorrow has come a long way since his 2010 folksy debut album Early in the Morning, full of delicate guitar playing and harmonious vocal melodies shining around his angelic falsetto. The falsetto and melodies have stayed but they’ve now been fused with soft, subtle and low-key R&B vibes that reverberate and swirl around pianos and keyboards, with a hint of groovier and funkier electric guitar here and there. If the second album was the transition, his third and latest proves that he’s now in full control of his new style as he confidently performed most songs off his new effort, also managing to blend the old material with the new effortlessly.

Backed by a stunning light show that seamlessly flowed along to the changes in his music, he started off with “Red Dust” from 2014’s Post Tropical which culminated in his virtuoso high falsetto longingly ringing out clearly against a backdrop of soft warming colours. From then on, his set shifted between lovelorn songs of missed romances and edgier and funkier songs such as “Get Low” from 2016’s We Move with brilliant backing vocals, and that album’s first single “Rising Water” which had people tapping their feet and bobbing their heads to it. He found time to perform “We Don’t Eat” from his first album, with a single repetitive piano note driving the song to its climaxing end and he also found the time to casually address the public and sound humbly privileged at playing in such a magnificent chapel-like building which only added to the quiet reverence his music radiated.

Despite the newfound style, finishing the set with first and second album highlights “If I a Boat” and “Cavalier” best portrayed the calm bliss James Vincent McMorrow is able to infuse into his music, providing the audience with a cathartic release on their dreamy way back to bed.

The Youngs: elderly statesmen of youthful endeavors (Part 1): Angus.

Two months ago or so I experienced a proper sort of musical heartbreak familiar to many who’ve tried and failed to get tickets to such “grandiose” events such as Glastonbury. On the agenda this time was a festival sounding a lot like the one we used to go to in Dubai, the Dubai Desert Rock Festival (the only rock festival we had), organised by the same people who do this Coachella business in Caleyfornia and on the same grounds. This “Desert Trip” festival was to have a mere six bands. Not much of a “festival” then is it?
But when these six little bands are none other than Bob Dylan followed by The Rolling Stones on the first night, Paul McCartney and Neil Young on the second before Roger Waters and The Who on the third and final night, well, that’s quite something I have to say.

Think of them what you will, that’s a badass line-up. Cutting short what could potentially be a long story about musical and live-performance merits of said artists and the sad, raging emotions of an avid music listener entertaining money-fueled thoughts of ticket-acquiring delusions, I didn’t get a ticket. Just a two and a half hour wait in a virtual queue which I made a point of waiting in ’till the end safe in the knowledge that by the time it would be my go, there wouldn’t be any tickets left anyways.

As you do though, I got over it. What I didn’t get over was the feeling of dread that these old fuckers and bastards would soon be too demented, frail, raspy-voiced, deaf or just generally dead to be able to see in any live setting (hence the huge draw of Desert Trip, 6 birds, one diamond). So I became determined to see as many as these beautiful old legends as possible as soon as realistically possible. And I’d probably save some money as well. All I had to hope for was that they’d live at least another year or so for me to have that opportunity (hopefully, they’ll last longer than a year of course..! I’m not that selfish).

So off I went to some website a week or so later to grab me some tickets to see AXL/DC. Was I sad that I wouldn’t get to see Brian Johnson’s black beret? Of course. Was I particularly chuffed to get the chance to see a chubby old Rose in a cowboy hat? Perhaps a little bit admittedly.
But I just thought the centrepiece was still there and that counts for a lot.

And what a centrepiece he proved to be. Good ole Mr. Young number 1. Angus was everything everyone knows him to be: a sexy & strutting Scottish-Australian guitar-shredding God of rock’n’roll. Signature moves in full swing, shuffling his feet from one side of the stage to the next and up to to the central walkway, it was a pleasure and a privilege to see such a figure of rock music doing his thing, mouth in full swing, gurning as only he can, pieces of schoolboy clothing covered in sweat and coming off to reveal his skinny frame, old-looking with the youth of habit coursing through them. We had the customary 15-minute Let There Be Rock solo, full of playful teasing and incessant running. His tirelessness belies his age, wouldn’t be surprised if old people all over the globe looked up to him…

Mr. Rose seemed to be fully aware of his role as interim singer and as a life-long fan of the band, his enthusiasm and Christmas-morning pre-opening of presents attitude was palpable and most appreciated. His vocal duties varied from excellent to not-entirely on point but it did nothing to lessen the experience.
Definitely a shame to not have Brian or Young number 2 with his long and flowing grey hair but being able to experience the properly mind-blowing number of hits they have in their catalogue glossed over it all.

Because after all, the music’s the important part. Back in Black, Highway to Hell, Shoot to Thrill, Thunderstruck, Whole Lotta Rosie, You Shook Me All Night Long, Hells Bells, T.N.T., For Those About To Rock, honestly, need I say more?

Coupled with bouncing mosh pits, sweaty middle-aged men with T-shirts of 70’s era AC/DC or Black Sabbath or *insert other rock/metal band*, and endless devil horns, the show was exactly what was to be expected and in the best way possible. A pure bonanza of childlike satisfaction of timeless rock and roll by a bunch of old rockers.