Category Archives: Live reviews

Citadel Festival – Victoria Park – Sunday 17th July

CITADEL-2016-GS-4251There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude on offer as you watch a rain-sodden Glastonbury from the comfort of your own sofa, but nothing beats a sunny day listening to live music, and so it was as Citadel Festival happened to sync up perfectly with Britain’s annual 4 day burst of what the rest of the world calls ‘summer’.

Citadel Festival, held in East London’s Victoria Park is a relatively new addition to the festival season. A one day event run by the hippy-chic team behind its big brother festival, Wilderness Festival, it offered a line-up well curated enough to stand out among the dozens of festivals competing for attention. Additionally, they made the most of their location, building stages around existing features in the park.

After stumbling past the Park Bandstand Stage on arrival, which made use of the 150+ year old Bandstand, Barbarella’s Bang Bang were finishing off their Euro gypsy punk set. The crowd were melting in the sun like the chocolate they were asked to call and respond to in the breakdown of the final track, ‘Cioccolata’. Of course, call and response is usually plan A for a performer in a festival set to get the crowd involved, and it was a theme that ran across the day, save for the final act. But more on that later.

Next up were the Pierce Brothers at the Urban Forest stage, which made use of, surprisingly, a cluster of trees to create an intimate, closed off stage. The Pierce Brothers consist of two Aussie brothers playing acoustic guitar and drums to produce typically anthemic folk rock. During their closer, ‘Golden Times’, the drumming brother holds a xylophone to the guitarist brother’s mouth, while simultaneously playing the didgeridoo.  It’s the kind of move that just helps to elevate the levels of fun beyond just being another band simply playing their own instruments, and makes them look a little more like Vishnu, what with his four arms….and his known love for a mean acoustic guitar. One of those things might not be true.

Nathanial Ratcliffe and the Night Sweats were doing plenty of day sweating dressed mainly in blue and black denim as the sun beamed down on the Main Stage. Nathanial’s slice of Americana-filled rhythm and blues swings enough to capture everybody’s attention, even before he shattered a tambourine into a thousand pieces by hurling it to the floor. He also indulges in what he described as his first attempt at call and response. “I’ve never done this before, but then again, neither have you guys.” ‘Son of a Bitch’ gets everyone singing along, showing that some songs just beg to be yelled out into the hazy afternoon air, whether they’ve been asked to do it or not.

Over on the Communion Stage, Matt Corby and Lianne La Havas play one after the other. It’s a fitting arrangement, as both have the most incredible vocal skills, but do so much more than just sing. Matt Corby’s performance is focused and understated, but his voice melts people’s faces right off. He dips between some of his more psych-funk tracks, and the more straight-up gospel-rock  of ‘Knife’s Edge’ and ‘Brother’.

As the sun sets, Lianne La Havas plays what for her, as an East London native, is a homecoming show. While fire and brimstone moments such as ‘Forget’ and ‘Never Get Enough’ are ferocious and fun, it’s her cover of ‘Say A Little Prayer’ that’s the standout moment. Her band take a break and watch, and they do the same thing that most of us in the crowd do when she sings; tilt their heads to the side a little, and just watch in awe. It’s an impressive confirmation that even those that perform with her regularly can’t get over how incredible her voice is. She finishes off with a little call and response moment too, before the main stage headliners Sigur Rós finished off the event with the most disconnected festival headlining set likely ever witnessed. This sounds critical, but really, it’s the complete opposite.

CITADEL-2016-GS-4969

Now operating as a three piece, Sigur Rós are known for their atmospheric and sprawling music, with a rich and diverse back catalogue. They do have their lighter moments, but the Sigur Rós 2016 experience is very much focused towards the darker, broody side of their sound. The performance was tied intricately into an array of trippy and dazzling visuals. Captivating video filters were transposed over live footage, background video was displayed on a giant screen at the back of the stage, and sail-shaped skeletal lights hummed along in accompaniment. Huge crescendos would build as tracks moved from gradual, spacey arrangements towards thunderous endings. On one occasion, Jónsi, the lead singer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist channels Hendrix as best he can as he shreds a violin bow’s strings (which he uses to play guitar). Older tracks such as ‘Sæglópur’ and ‘Glósóli’ get an airing and new single ‘Óveður’ opened the show before the ferociousness of ‘Popplagið’ ends it. It’s a moment where all of the visuals from the previous 75 minutes or so suddenly crash together, causing a frenzied assault on the senses. The performance acted as an entirely cohesive piece, showing the possibilities of what can be done with a festival headlining set. It was a thrilling end to a diverse and perfectly curated festival.

 

Advertisements

Darwin Deez @ Oxford O2 Academy // 03.11.2015 //

In what felt like a terminal wait between Darwin Deez’s glorious self titled debut, and the follow-up, ‘Songs For Imaginative People’, occasional videos would show up of Darwin shredding the bejeezus out of a guitar from the comfort of his own home. Usually a cover of some proggy-jam from a bygone era, it was clear that this was one type of music Darwin liked to listen to, and play. However, what he liked to create, based on that first album, was something quite different. It used simple, steady chord structures, creating charming indie pop.

With album’s two and three now under his belt, his live show now highlights his pure, unadulterated love of a face-melter, and how he’s begun to incorporate that into his music. The show opens with a couple of ‘oldies’ from album one, ‘Constellations’ and ‘The City’ highlighting the old Darwin style. Oh, and the between-song dance routines are still an ever-present part of the Darwin Deez experience. It wouldn’t be a Darwin show without it. But it’s when we get into the meat of the set that fretful guitar fireworks act as a lynchpin and centrepiece for the whole set.

‘Chelsea’s Hotel’ closed album two, and is a track most people, myself included, wouldn’t place in their list of favourites. But hidden away in this lesser-known track is a lead guitar riff weaving through the chorus that’s quite the departure from what we’ve come to expect. With a live airing, Darwin and his band take that chorus riff as an opportunity to expand the track into something almost double in length, with Darwin evoking the spirit of those aforementioned videos as he gets to break free of the shackles of his usual sound.

‘Redshift’ follows not long after, and plays a similar trick to ‘Chelsea’s Hotel’, before the show closes out flicking between tracks from his new record, Double Down, and his debut. Darwin spoke openly ahead of Double Down’s release that he was looking to re-create the sound of his debut a little, and when tracks get played next to each other, that’s easy to hear. The lead guitar riffs on tracks like ‘Kill Your Attitude’ act as commas and full stops between his lyrics, just like on set closer ‘Bad Day’. But there’s something smart to those simple arrangements that helps to nestle those melodies into your brain, accentuated when hearing them live. Now we just need to wait to see what videos Darwin posts once he’s done touring to figure out what to expect next time round.

Wolf Alice @ Oxford O2 Academy // 04.04.2015 // World domination is next

WABombastic but ultimately-empty rhetoric is the kind of thing that keeps part-time blaggers/bloggers like me going. It’s too easy to say nice things in the hope of scoring retweets to get my precious view count up. But here’s a thing that I believe with 100% sincerity (‘cos I’m a stats guy). Wolf Alice are Britain’s best live band right now.

Wolf Alice swung past Oxford 10 months ago before their second EP – ‘Creature Songs’ – was released. It was a show which pointed to a bright future for the band, but like a greedy kid at Christmas, I wanted more. There was an underlying hope of ‘how great can this band be with a bigger collection of thunderous post-grunge rock ‘n roll?’ And so 10 months on, with a first U.S. tour behind them, a debut album close to being released, extensive radio play and a ballooning fan base, what we got was Wolf Alice v2.0. Harder, better, faster, strobe lighting. They have played more shows this year already (by April 1st 2015) than compared to all of 2014 (told you I’m a stats guy/thanks Songkick). Like Jafar, Dr. Evil and Pinky & The Brain, they are ready to take over the world. Except Wolf Alice might actually pull it off.

Latest single ‘Giant Peach’ showed singer/guitarist Ellie Rowsell experimenting with her singing voice, throwing in chant-like bursts, yelps, and fun little low-octave moments. That experimentation has now become stitched into their live shows, such as on the show opener, ‘Fluffy’. Instead of a pretty-literal translation from record to real-life, the live version is made fresh with little nuanced changes like Ellie changing up the vocal tone and style of delivery. For a band that’s clearly destined to tour the dickens out of their music this year, that variety helps to spice things up.

The world will finally get studio versions of live staples ‘Your Love’s Whore’ and ‘You’re A Germ’ once the album arrives, but what they represent is what we expect Wolf Alice to be right now. The lightness of touch they show on ‘Your Love’s Whore’, building gradually from the rhythm section to an awesome cacophony of noise by the end. And on the flipside, a whole lot of fury on ‘You’re A Germ’ as the crowd screams back their 1 times tables in the chorus.

Even more exciting is the notion of experimentation, with the band not afraid to take a risk or two. An airing of forthcoming album track ‘Soapy Water’ sees drummer Theo using a drum pad for the first time, while Ellie channels a little of Lana Del Ray as she croons wistfully. Wolf Alice have done mid-tempo before, life started for them as a folk-pop two-piece. But ‘Soapy Water’ is something completely different.And that’s exciting.

However, main-set closer and latest single ‘Giant Peach’ is everything we’ve come to know and love: pure chaotic perfection. Somehow it sounds ten times heavier than anything else that’s come before as a gargantuan Muse/Led Zepp-in-their-heyday guitar riff floors the room. I’m told an encore happened afterwards but I was busy picking up pieces of my shattered skull from the floor.

Get ready to bow to your new overlords, Wolf Alice. And get ready for their debut album, ‘My Love Is Cool’, dropping on June 22nd through Dirty Hit.

Honeyblood – Live in Oxford

skelFor Honeyblood’s recent Halloween show in Glasgow on the NME New Breed Tour, singer/guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Shona McVicar took to the stage dressed in full skeletal garb. Fast forward to a show taking place on Guy Fawkes night in Oxford, and a small part of our collective imaginations (or mine at least) was hoping for catherine wheels spinning perilously around the bass drum. Alas it was not to be, but perhaps this was for the best. Yes, because the building would inevitably have melted to the ground with headliners Superfood being forced to play their headline set atop a smouldering mass of rubble. But more importantly, Honeyblood came armed with one of the standout albums of the year and didn’t need to rely on any cheap tricks.

Surrounded on stage by both Superfood’s and their own gear, the show felt like it was taking place inside a rather large garage…with a well stocked bar, and some neighbours with fancy-indie haircuts. It lent itself to a more informal setting than usual, so when the opening riffs of ‘Fall Forever’ erupted, it felt like how a show should be, a little more DIY. While Honeyblood retain a certain lo-fi aesthetic from early recordings in their bathroom, airing these tracks live brings to the fore those hookwormy melodies. ‘Biro’ and ‘(I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here’ swoon across with a certain languid groove, channelling 90’s fem-pop like The Breeders and Throwing Muses, while bridging across to melodic contemporaries like Best Coast and Wolf Alice.

There’s an attitude to enjoy with this band too. Yes, there’s some savagery in the lyrics which shine through on the record, but the live setting shows something else. After a guitar change provides a whole host of fuzzy feedback and a struggle to get rid of it, Stina nonchalantly jumps into ‘No Spare Key’ saying we’re going to play loud enough that it won’t matter anyway. Then with ‘All Dragged Up’, which already features the highest BPM of any track they have, the duo thunder through it at what feels like double speed to celebrate self-anointed ‘Jive Wednesday’. So much jiving in fact that drummer Shona loses a shoe, an understandable casualty following her ferocious attack on her kit during the track.

And all this takes place before ending with the excellent ‘Super Rat’ and ‘Killer Bangs’. Forget about remembering Guy Fawkes once a year, if we can have a yearly tribute to Shona losing a shoe on Jive Wednesday as a result of going a little too hard on ‘All Dragged Up’, I can get behind that.

Foals play secret homecoming Oxford show – melt faces and break hearts

Welcome to the year of the horse.

Regular readers of my foolish dim-wittery will have been subjected to seeing me prattling on about the possibility of a secret Foals show in Oxford taking place this week. But while there was that hope, there was always the possibilty that this was all just a glorious figment of my imagination.

We’ve all watched Foals grow from awkward-angular Oxford trendsetters all those years ago with their debut album Antidotes to becoming a huge global name with their third LP, Holy Fire. With this massive status comes issues for those of us that wait endlessly to see them play again in Oxford. The biggest venue in Oxford barely holds 800 and Foals have been busy playing multiple shows at The Royal Albert Hall and (very soon) at Alexandra Palace. In my head I was dreaming of some kind of huge homecoming event in Headington’s South Park in the summer, akin to what Radiohead did ten years ago or so.

And so it was that I found myself in a rampantly hot and sweaty Oxford Academy 2 room last night that barely holds 400 people, seeing a triumphant homecoming show, and realising this is what we all really wanted. Something intimate and connected, not something vast and expansive.

But let’s go back to the beginning. They finally announced the show on Friday, one day before the show itself, with tickets going on sale on the Saturday morning. 50% online, 50% from the box office on the Cowley Road at 10am. This was a genius way to make sure that the show was as much for Oxford folk as possible. Online seemed like too much of a gamble for me, so I was one of the hardy and hungover few who got to the box office at 7.45am. It was rough, and it wasn’t pretty, but it was something I had to do.

Bonus points if you can see my bald spot

Bonus points if you can see my bald spot

The queuing experience was actually a lot more fun than it had any right to be. It wasn’t raining! It was really well organised with all the senior box office staff coming in stupidly early on a Saturday morning. The security guard folk hadn’t actually been to sleep since working the previous night but were in remarkably good spirits, and brought round free tea and coffee to us idiots. Everyone involved had a real sense of how important this gig was, with the opportunity to welcome home our idols being a very rare and special thing.

Commenting to friends in the queue we called this our Harry Potter or iPhone 5 moment; that time where you want something so bad that you are prepared to queue up endlessly for it. Of course, there was to be no people driving past yelling spoilers like ‘Snape Kills Dumbledore!’, instead we half expected people to drive past yelling out the planned setlist as a spoiler. Perhaps not quite the same impact. ‘They’re playing Inhaler!? Noooooooo.’

We got our tickets but then had to wait for about 11 hours for the damn thing to happen. I ran off to Birmingham to watch the opening weekend of the Six Nations with friends and drink like I was a student again. So after England’s last-second defeat I was tired, emotional and a little bit drunk. I hot footed it back to Oxford just in time for the show.

And then I realise I’ve written 500+ words on queuing. I’m so British sometimes in hurts.

In all the chaos and excitement of the announcement of the show, I didn’t even realise that Foals had decided to play the upstairs Academy 2 room. Of course they could have sold out the downstairs room, they could have sold it out 10 times over. But climbing the stairs and realising we were going to be in this sweaty little box of a room where smaller bands usually play was just incredibly exciting.

We all sandwiched ourselves in and waited for this thing to happen. With only enough space for 1/16th of their usual lighting rig, it blared viciously away as they took to the stage and opened up with ‘Prelude’. The whole show was completely anarchic from start to finish. Seeing the band sharing this tiny stage together felt really special, as we’ve grown so used to seeing them dominate such huge stages.

You have to be a special kind of nutcase to get up at 7am on a Saturday to queue for tickets, and so equally the crowd was full of nutcases. But lets replace nutcase with ‘really committed fan’ and you can understand why the atmosphere was so incredible. We all moved as one. Everyone knew every word. Everyone jumped around like crazy. Everyone lost their shit for the breakdown in ‘After Glow’. Everyone lost all their shit for ‘Providence’. Everyone sat down for Spanish Sahara.

(Vines from @Transgressive)

And then we had Yannis taking frequent trips into the crowd. Jumping over the front and surfing while still playing his guitar. Running round to play from on top of the bar. During brief breathers we’d get a sense of how much they were enjoying playing a show in Oxford again. Yannis would say something like ‘We write all our songs here!’, or before going into the resident show-closer ‘Two Steps, Twice’, ‘Oxford, represent!’. But beyond us (and myself) just fawning over Yannis, it was so excellent to see all of the band playing up-close. Jack and Walter turning out their swampy, murky grooves on bass and drums was a particular highlight. It was appropriate too since the room turned into a swamp about halfway through track two. Who knew humans could produce so much sweat. Even my sweat was sweating.

Yannis on his way to Kebab Kid

Yannis on his way to Kebab Kid

The show felt so monumentally special and I felt so privileged to be a part of it. But now I’m spending a Sunday trying to figure out how to carry on with my life. I’m lucky enough to go to so many gigs because people are kind/stupid enough to ask me to write nonsense about it. But this was just a moment of pure unadulterated excellence, and something that only comes along once in an era.

So who’s next?

Foals to play super-secret show in Oxford on February 1st?

Twitter really is the best.

I’ve bought my tickets to go see Foals play in Birmingham, as sadly they haven’t played a local show in Oxford for a while. But no fuss, I’m still getting to see Foals live, so that’s great, right?

A new tour shirt image was posted to the @foals twitter account this afternoon showing all tour dates from December 2012 up until the end of their March 2014 dates, and the eagle eyed amongst us spotted an Oxford date listed on the 1st of February – despite there being NO EVIDENCE of this show anywhere on the whole damn internet. Then the post was swiftly deleted.

So what does this mean? Secret show? A little warm-up show to burn off those christmas calories in front of some Blessing Force crew chums? Or can us normal folk sneak in? Who knows.

Anyway, here’s the image below that I managed to snaffle, as the post didn’t stick around for too long!

foals

Kodaline @ Oxford 02 Academy

kode

Author: Eddie Morbey

The Irish folk-rock group Kodaline formed in March 2007 under the moniker 21 Demands and released an independent single that same year that went to number one, the first independent single so far with that claim in Ireland. Since then, the band dropped that name and re-formed as Kodaline, a move that has not been a mistake.

This current shot at stardom looks meteoric from an Oxford point of view – they were playing a sell-out gig in February this year at the smallish Jericho Tavern in Oxford, and on the 9th of November appeared before a sell-out crowd at the much-larger O2 Academy on Cowley Road.

Kodaline offered two Irish support bands, James Bay was receiving rapturous applause for the end of the set as your reviewer arrived to the gig, thanks to a large local firework display the 10 minute journey took an hour instead – the luck of the Irish was not on our side in terms of traffic.

The second support band Hudson Taylor came on by the time I had found my way to the show – and despite not expecting to enjoy the overly poppy Irish-folk music they gave us, I, like everyone was won over by the end of their set.

Finally, Kodaline appeared onstage to open with ‘After The Fall’ – received rapturously by the audience. The band seemed genuinely amazed at the sell-out crowd as they moved on to ‘Pray’, whose haunting, melodic guitar-led ballad was set to epileptic lighting. ‘Love Like This’ was a welcome return to their Irish folk roots, including all the musical tricks made to make audiences want to do a jig – harmonica, whistle, acoustic guitar – soon the crowd were head-bobbing in Celtic synchronicity.

The instantly recognisable ‘One Day’ saw lead singer Steve Garrigan strap on his guitar again, as Kodaline blitzed through a song so well-known that the audience ended up singing the whole of the last verse.

The end of the main set came with the haunting ballad ‘All Comes Down’, and with that, they were gone. However, they suddenly appeared on the counter of the bar (apparently a party trick of theirs) and with finger-clicking and just an acoustic guitar they pulled off a rousing version of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home’.

Back to the stage for the last two numbers, ‘The Answer’ was another folk-rooted ballad, and ‘All I Want’, their first single to be aired on Radio 1, was unsurprisingly the biggest crowd pleaser of the night. Who knows if there’ll be a big enough venue for them next time they’re in town.