category: Reviews » Gig reviews



14
Apr 2009

April in London (David Byrne gig review)

hallo y’all.

I’m sat here at one of those fancy web-terminals they have in public spaces these days. I’ve been in London for the past few days and am now on my way back to Dublin.

It’s been a groovy weekend and no mistake. London has changed in the three years since I left of course, but not by much. I felt utterly at home walking around the streets of Wood Green earlier today. Some of the shops are new, but most aren’t. There was familiarity everywhere I turned. The faces and voices. The smells. The shape of the buildings. The steel grey sky of London in Springtime. And that tree on Waldeck Road still has flecks of white paint on it. 16 years on! (about three people will know what that means, but they’ll get a smile from it. The rest of you will just have to wonder.)

The less said about The Queen’s Head at Turnpike Lane though, the better… London’s finest dirty rock pub turned into a sports bar? We live in profane times.

Anyhoo, I was over in London for a David Byrne weekend. Leastways, that was the excuse. Needless to say, the Byrnester didn’t disappoint. Though even if he had, the opportunity to catch up with some old friends was itself more than enough to make the trip worthwhile. I stayed with my old mate Gyrus (once again dude, many thanks for organising everything) and together we chilled out with a few cups of tea as well as attending a David Byrne movie double-bill at the BFI (Stop Making Sense and True Stories) on the night before the gig at the Festival Hall.

And what a gig!

I’ve seen Byrne at least once (and usually more often) on every tour since the eponymous album in the mid-90s. I’ve also seen several one-off shows (festivals and what have you). I can safely say he was never better than last night’s gig.

In fact, I’d kind of felt a bit worried about seeing Stop Making Sense on the big screen the night before the gig. Clearly live music and cinema are radically different experiences… but even so… how could his 2009 tour possibly match up to the performance on what is arguably the finest concert film ever made?

I needn’t have worried. The two can’t really be compared of course, but last night’s gig was simply breath-taking. As you may (or may not) know, the tour is called “The Songs of Brian Eno and David Byrne” and covers tracks from all of their work together… the two direct collaborations (My Life in The Bush of Ghosts and last year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today), the three Talking Heads albums that Eno produced (More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light) as well as The Catherine Wheel (the Byrne solo album that includes a few Byrne-Eno compositions).

Anyways, it’s probably safe to say that while I’m a fan of pretty much everything Byrne has done; from ’77 to ’09; it’s his work with Eno that excites me the most. Well, Remain in Light is the best album ever recorded after all*.

I was delighted, so, when it turned out that the two albums that dominated the set were the latest one (naturally) and Remain in Light. He must have played at least half of that record. Needless to say, I’m hoarse from cheering.

Dressed all in white, the band and the three dancers (whose whirling, creatively slapdash choreography was at times funny, at times sexy and at times just weird, though always successful in transmitting energy to the proceedings) rarely stopped moving for the two hours. It was truly joyous, and how many gigs manage to even get close to that?

By the halfway point, everyone in the festie hall was on their feet. The audience reaction was incredible. The whoops, cheers and wild applause were heartfelt and real. Those in the lower tiers crowded down to the front of the stage, and the festival hall became a dance hall.

Life During Wartime, a glorious version of Once in a Lifetime (a song that has perhaps suffered a little from over-exposure but managed to sound fresh and wonderful all over again last night) and stunning versions of Houses in Motion and The Great Curve (“The world moves on a woman’s hips / the world moves when she swivels and bops”). Those were the highlights for me up until the encore.

Returning to the stage, still in white, but now with the addition of ballerina’s tutus, Byrne and the band launched into a blistering version of Burning Down The House. By the end, pretty much the entire hall was shouting the refrain… must have been a little bit like what Funkadelic gigs were like in the late 70s.

That wasn’t the end… but how to top that? Well, how about getting Brian Eno on stage for the final encore to provide backing vocals on the achingly beautiful title track from the last album? It was the cherry atop an already perfect cake. When the house-lights came up at the end, the Japanese chap sitting next to me asked in broken English… “the man at the end? He was Brian Eno, yes?” “Yes”, I said. He looked utterly delighted. It was the cherry for him too.

So yeah, that’s where I’m at. I must away now… my time on this terminal is running out, and I need to think about making tracks soon. If you get a chance to see Byrne on this tour, then you really need to. It’s bloody incredible.

* Excepting on the days when Astral Weeks is.

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5
Dec 2008

Billy Bragg Live in Dublin

I don’t want this place to become just a collection of YouTube clips, but I’ve not got much time right now and wanted to say a little bit about the gig last night… this is better than nothing I guess. We went to see Billy Bragg at Vicar Street and, as ever, he raised the roof. A thousand people singing There is Power in a Union is a wonderful thing to hear. I ended up describing him to someone today as “like an English Christy Moore”. I hope Billy would take that as the powerful compliment I mean it as (even if, strictly speaking, Bragg has his roots in punk while Moore is a folkie).

Anyways, the gig was great. The pissed bloke, not far from where myself and Citizen S were sitting, who insisted on trying to shout over the top of Billy’s between-song-monologues got beyond a joke at one point and I came close to tracking him down and offering to pay him to leave. Not that I had the money, not that he’d have left, and not that he’d have stopped shouting, but maybe — just maybe — when he awoke hungover the next day he might recall my offer and be shamed into resolving to shut the fuck up next time!

But yeah, Billy was a star. Like he always is. And support was provided by US singer-songwriter, Otis Gibbs, who was worth the ticket price alone (not that I judge an artist’s worth by how much you’d pay to see him, but you know what I’m saying).

Like any great artist who has been around a while, Billy didn’t play half the stuff I’d have liked him to play. But, then, he could have played for another couple of hours and still not played half the stuff I wanted to hear. Which is OK. When what you do get is so wonderful, it’s only an arsehole who complains. Also, as is often the case with me, my favourite album by a singer is one that other fans don’t rave about so much. So I suspect even if he had played for another couple of hours, we still wouldn’t have heard much from William Bloke.

He was as strident, as righteous and as inspiring as ever. Although having said that, the lovely Citizen S did point out afterwards that, having grown up in a communist regime, it’s a little strange for her to hear songs that idealise and romanticise unions and workers and socialism to quite that extent.

Don’t get me wrong, she enjoyed the gig and sees the worth in the songs and ideas but I guess those words are bound to have a different resonance for her. That’s one of the (many) things I like about Citizen S… I get to see the world from a different perspective when we’re together. A good thing. We’re neither of us big fans of capitalism, though. So not too different a perspective!

Hopefully next time we go see Billy play he’ll dust off a couple of tracks from William Bloke. Maybe The Space Race Is Over and From Red to Blue? Just thought I’d put that idea out there in case he googles himself one day and reads this page…

But yeah, one song he did play last night (how could he not?) was Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. And, as the song says… if you’ve got a website, I want to be on it…

Billy Bragg | Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

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3
Dec 2008

Suzuki & Kawabata Live in Dublin

Last night I was lucky enough to be one of the small number of people crammed into one of Dublin’s smallest venues, Crawdaddy, to witness the first night of the Damo Suzuki and Makoto Kawabata tour. For those of you who aren’t up on their obscure psychedelic rock music, Damo Suzuki was the vocalist with legendary Krautrock band, Can, on what many consider their best albums (recorded between 1970 and 1973). And if you’re phased by the idea of a Japanese vocalist singing improvised lyrics in English with a German band, then the actual music will probably be a wee bit much for you. In my own strange little world, Damo Suzuki is one of the few singers who qualifies as a genuine living legend.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. My companion at the gig, the lovely Citizen S, was awestruck by Damo. I know I’m with a kindred spirit when they exclaim, “I can’t believe I was close enough to reach out and touch Damo! He was with Can on all their really important records, you know?”

Indeed I do know. And what’s more, he didn’t disappoint. I’ve seen a few others in that select “living legend” category and most of them, sadly, were past their best by the time I got there. I’m glad I saw Dylan, but let’s face it… 90s Dylan isn’t 60s Dylan. Or even 70s Dylan. Tom Waits… well, it was the venue and sound-system that let him down, but overall that evening wasn’t all it could have been. The Velvet Underground? Let’s just say I couldn’t even listen to their records for a couple of years after that shambolic reunion. And “going through the motions” doesn’t even begin to describe Van Morrison when I saw him.

But some of the greats still carry their muse with them long after they’ve created the music that defines their legend. Bowie, Patti Smith, Prince… even Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop retained enough of their glorious magic to carry you back down the years with them.

And to that list I can now add Damo Suzuki. I didn’t understand a single word he sang. I’m not even sure what language he was singing in, or if it was a language at all. But his presence and his voice transfixed me. The message was clear, even if the words weren’t. “We are all here together. Allow the sound to fill you. Let your mind get blown for a while.” In a way I’m glad I wasn’t under the influence of anything other than the music (though I suspect a wee schmoke beforehand would have intensified things somewhat) as it means I don’t have to spend the next few days wondering just how much of that experience was the music and how much was the pot.

The other name on the ticket was Makoto Kawabata. He’s a guitarist with contemporary Japanese psych-rock outfit, Acid Mothers Temple. I don’t really know their stuff (though I plan to), but if Kawabata’s playing is anything to go by, then they are spiritual heirs to Can (though doubtlessly with their own unique twist). Everything about Kawabata screamed “Rock God!” How he looked, his demeanor, and the intensity of his playing. He managed to redefine “kosmische” (doubtlessly using a Japanese word that I’m unfamilar with) and has shot right up near the top of my list of Guitar Greats. Imagine if Slash from Guns’n'Roses was Japanese. And good looking. And good at playing the guitar.

Together they put on what might have been an intricately rehearsed set, or might have been a jam session. It might have been a bunch of different tracks, or night have been one long piece. It really wasn’t easy to tell what was going on. Except my mind was being blown. And that’s what mattered most. It was hard, psychedelic rock in the most part, but shifted down into darkly ambient weirdness on occasion, and once in a while shifted gears into a kind of jazz-influenced insanity.

Also on stage were some local musicians… bass, drums, loops and clarinet. The drummer — wearing a rather cool Alien Sex Fiend t-shirt — was pretty good I thought. He was no Jaki Liebezeit, and I’m not going to pretend he was. But he didn’t let the side down. The others were… well, they succeeded in not ruining things, let’s put it that way. They allowed Suzuki and Kawabata to do their thing without ever really adding to it. But maybe that was the point.

And frankly, when Damo Suzuki is standing within touching distance, howling ancient magicks into my mind and Makoto Kawabata’s guitar is wailing with unearthly beauty next to him, I’ve got pretty much all I need from a gig right there. Close to the end, Suzuki spoke to the audience to inform us that he’d be playing one more song. “It’s late”, he said, “We will play one more song.” Then he smiled. “We will play one more universe”.

And they did.

The tour continues on to England over the next few days. I’d advise you to get along and see them.

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17
May 2007

Patti Smith – Live in Dublin, May 2007

The house-lights go down. A huge cheer erupts from the crowd when — from the darkness of the stage — a piano starts playing some of rock’s most recognisable chords. The cheer rises in intensity when the spot-light picks out the commanding figure of Patti Smith. She sings the words: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins… but not mine…”.

And I think to myself, “it just doesn’t get any better than this”.

Patti Smith played Dublin last weekend. She’s touring the new album, Twelve, which is an album of covers. Some people have criticised her for this, but she’s unapologetic. “If anyone asks you why I’ve done a covers album”, she said during the gig, “tell them Patti said: because I wanted to!”

I haven’t actually heard Twelve yet. But Patti Smith has always been better live than on record. She’s got that thing… It… whatever It is… and It can’t be captured on a record. You have to be there to experience It. So it matters little what the critics are saying about her version of Smells Like Teen Spirit; because if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room as Patti Smith when she’s singing, you get taken to a place where the words of critics don’t mean shit.

From Gloria she went straight into Redondo Beach and I briefly thrilled at the idea that she might be playing Horses in its entirety. In the end though, she played songs from almost every album including an encore of Babelogue / Rock & Roll Nigger that rocked like the proverbial bag of bastids. So as well as some excellent covers; Soul Kitchen, Within You Without You, Gimme Shelter, Are You Experienced and a version of White Rabbit on which — to lift a line — the whole building seemed to be playing bass; we also got some rarely-heard classics… Pissing In A River from Radio Ethiopia, Beneath The Southern Cross from the under-rated Gone Again and the soaring Free Money from Horses. Of course, Because The Night got a run out as is traditional.

And like all truly great artists who’ve been around for a while, I could have put together an entire alternative set-list of songs she didn’t play, and it would have been just as good. It’s impossible for a Patti Smith gig to ever be long enough.

The venue — Vicar Street — is a nice size. Wherever you are, you’re not far from the stage and although modern health and safety regulations mean that PA-systems are never as loud as I want them to be any more, the sound was nonetheless excellent. And most importantly, the band was awesome. Lenny Kaye has been playing guitar with Patti since the very first album and it shows. In a good way. Also on guitar is Patti’s son, Jackson, who I first saw (playing Smoke on The Water) on stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire when he was in his early teens! Jay Dee Daugherty — one time drummer with The Church — brings a vaguely jazzy influence to the band… though make no mistake, he can rock when the need arises. And Tony Shanahan is the new bass-player and keyboardist… from the opening chords of Gloria to the pounding backing for White Rabbit, he couldn’t have been better.

If you’re dithering about whether or not to see Patti Smith on this tour, then let me urge you to grab a ticket. There are very few people in the same league when it comes to playing live. She’s still got the passion and urgency that can pick up an entire audience and carry them with her to the sublime.

Afterwards I was buzzing. Proper buzzing. I wandered the empty streets of Dublin for a full hour before I could even consider dealing with public transport. What a gig!

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