Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Every Gig I've Ever Seen #58 Iggy & The Stooges

Hot on the heels of John Cale in March and Lou Reed in April, here comes Iggy and dem Stooges. Doing all of their difficult Third Album,1973’s “Raw Power”. I can feel it… 

Iggy has been dragging The Stooges Mk1 around the globe for about 4 years now. Ron Ashton, the original guitarist, died last year so, quick as you like, Iggy was on the blower to James Williamson, the second guitarist. “Dude, we got gigs”. And lo, The Stooges Mk2 get to play the whole of the only album they ever made, in the city where it was recorded in those dim, distant early-70s.

Far as I know Iggy and Jim hadn’t spoken in 3 decades, but Iggy seems to be applying Swiftcover to his whole life, making belated hay now that he’s finally mainstream enough to coin in some money. Apparently, Bowie’s cover of “China Girl” made Iggy more money than all his other recorded output put together.  Me? I know the Iggy act and the insurance ads are a bit tacky but it’s also vindication for Iggy. He and his crew helped write The Book, and almost died trying.

I trundle up on the bank holiday with my oldest skool mate, Nick Edmonds. The Apollo, or Odeon as it should be called, is an Art Deco gem and lends a sense of occasion to any gig. Support on this one is Suicide, playing the whole of their debut LP.

The original album was early-electro, drenched in echo and the corpse of rockabilly. It was a sparse affair but had an atmospheric, dreamlike quality. This live experience was horrible. Two angry pensioners, in “cool” ‘70s leather: one haranguing the mic, the other bothering an old synth. It was loud, sludgy, tedium.A shame, really. One of them smoked a fag onstage. Ooh, edgy. The “dramatic” power chords at the end came on like The Phantom of The Opera. We laughed. Suicide were famously bottled off-stage supporting The Clash in 1977. Harse, as back then it was genuinely ground-breaking stuff, but, today? An interesting footnote.

Time for a pee and listen to James Brown at The Apollo over the speakers. See what they did there? We’re near the front of the circle balcony with a good view and, better yet, seats. I’m done standing at gigs. Lights dim and Jim walks on stage, picks up his Les Paul and starts Raw Power, the title track, joined by bass and original drummer Scott Asheton. Iggy grabs the mic, and we’re off.

The sound is loud and bright with Iggy high in the mix. Iggy does his usual stuff and I spent most of the evening watching the guitar. Williamson is a big guy and looks relatively straight in a T-shirt. The riffs though! He wrote them!! Fast, loud blam. The band was super tight. Search & Destroy, Your Pretty Face is Going To Hell, Penetration, Shake Appeal – with mandatory stage invasion (one of my Desert Island discs), Death Trip. All played with vim and vigour. A classic LP. Every home should have one. 

The rest of the set included I Wanna Be Your Dog, I Gotta Right, LA Blues, Open Up and Bleed, Cock in My Pocket. Ur-riffs that I’d heard a million times, from them and thousands of bands since. When you consider James Taylor was the biggest thing on the planet in the early 70s, dem Stooges really did kick against the pricks. Their influence will live long.

Iggy’s 63 now but bossed the stage like a 20 year old. A true original. His voice isn’t just words. Every yelp and groan is another instrument playing. He makes the band gel. Sure, it is just a bunch of old guys playing old songs, but this didn’t feel like karaoke. It was a joy to watch. The world would be a duller place without Iggy and his Stooges.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Every Gig I've Ever Seen #57 Lou Reed

Lou Reed, Royal Festival Hall, London. April 19th 2010.


Not a toe-tapper. That’s obvious though. The Metal Machine Music LP re-imagined by Uncle Lou as a Night of Deep Noise. On bass, guitar and drum. And sax. And gong. And gizmos. The Festival Hall is half empty.

The original album is 4 sides of electronic squall. Cycling white-noise. Distorted, tinny drone. Shifting frequencies. Famously, people took copies back on its release, assuming the vinyl was defective. Some reckoned sides 3 and 4 were actually sides 1 and 2 backwards. The wags.

To be honest, I never listened to the whole thing. Legend has it that Lou wanted to kill off his Glam Rock Star image, and piss his record company off at the same time. Part true, probably. But Lou has always liked noise. He was in the Velvet Underground, fercrissakes.

I always liked the idea of the album. The conceit. The challenge. Something so “other” that you had to admire it, just for its weirdness. And this from a guy who wrote songs as fragile and beautiful as, “Femme Fatale”. A proper concept-album. Back then, it was as out-there as you could get. Still is.

Lou’s assembled a Metal Machine Trio, improvising, based on the theme of the record. So, it’s not a note-for-note recitation. Which is a shame. The sheer skill to recreate exactly the white-noise sound of the original, with real instruments, would have been something to behold.

Tonight was intense, churning sounds but, strangely, also quite quaint. Quaint in its old-school Avantgardeness, which as we all know is French for “bullshit”. Lou Reed is officially an old man. He looks frail and moves like an old guy. How he manages to grind through a show like this has to be applauded. From the bleachers, it’s physically draining. My ears took a pounding just from the intro-tape.

The noise was big and repetitive and droning and feed-backing and pitch-shifted and reverb-ed. It was like the climax of a Sonic Youth gig, slowed down, and spread over 70 minutes.

It started off sounding like early Hawkwind at their most trippiest, with a pulsing digital didgeridoo-type throbbing bass, only, not as much fun. The sounded recede. Lou fiddled with his amps, whilst sat on a wheeled office-chair, shuffling between them like a mad scientist. Lots of FX pedals and wringing of guitar strings. No tune, just dings and stabs and distorted harmonics, processed and filtered through an array of boxes onstage. It went on for a long time…

Suddenly, the sound dipped and Lou was creating a sound like My Bloody Valentine being played on a Stylophone. I laughed. It was preposterous. That’s not a slag. I enjoyed it. It was like one of Nigel Tufnel’s guitar solos. I almost expected to see Lou tune his guitar halfway through.

The sax player threw his all into squonking out notes on his sax. Somehow it seemed out of place with its organic, natural sound. Didn’t do it for me really. Curiously the show wasn’t overly loud. If it had been face-melting all the way through it might have been more effective. Total immersion. Shock and Awe. This was more sedate. Tame even.

Things only really took off when Lou actually stood up and blammed out a few chords. The sound, for a split second, was like the album. Big, grinding noise. My mate Nick always thought Lou’s guitar sounded like a toilet flushing. Dirty.

So, was it any good? Really? Yes. It went pear-shaped, sure, but that was the risk. A totally improvised show. I’ve seen Lou Reed loads and at least this was different. He deserves his eccentricities. As part of the Ether Festival, which celebrates all things electronic, it was spot-on. And brought a little Rock Star magic too.

As Art, with a capital A, it was just the right side of Emperor’s New Clothes. It had the feel a proper classical music recital, only louder. Like the album, though, it’s the idea behind it that makes it work. Not an every day thing. Laughing Lou Reed. Legend. 

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Every Gig I've Ever Seen #56 Big Star

Big Star The Grand, Clapham, London, August 1993

(I wrote this before Chilton's sad death, 2010. RIP)

Alex Chilton had been a teenage star in the 60s with the Box Tops. Big Star followed who were the ultimate cult band. They never played Europe and hardly played in the US. Bad management, bad drugs, bad luck. Ahead of their time. I’d seen him solo in Berkeley and had since bought all 3 Big Star albums and knew them inside out. 

And suddenly he announced a tour with the original drummer and back up from the Posies. Unbelievable! And it was just down the road from where I was living.

Large group of us went. They concentrated on the first two poppier albums, not the bleak third. Have you ever heard “Holocaust”? Music for the end of the World. Alex had a big semi-acoustic and made it look easy. He’s not sold on the myth and even spent 2 years working in a New Orleans kitchen. He didn’t care. But he played the songs as if they were fresh. Chiming riffs and licks. “September Gurls” was magic. “Back of a Car”, “Baby Beside Me”, “Way Out West”, “I’m in Love with a Girl”, “You Get What You Deserve”. Song after song, all of them bigger and better live. The crowd were screaming approval and Alex seemed to enjoy it, though he commented that he couldn’t believe we wanted to hear this “old shit”. He came back for one last encore 10 minutes after the house lights went up and the venue was half full. Michael Jackson had just been done for kiddy-fiddling (the first time) and he dedicated “Thirteen” to him. One of my Top Ten gigs, easy.


Every Gig I've Ever Seen #55 Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton Berkeley Square, Berkeley, California, November 1985

I knew Alex Chilton had been the lead singer of The Boxtops and I knew one song, “The Letter” from my “Stardust” original movie soundtrack album. A great album by the way and is how I first heard Hendrix. KALX used to play “September Gurls” by his next band, Big Star, all the time. More recently he’d produced the first Cramps and Panther Burns albums, which I loved. He was indie underground Legend. Alan McGee, who set up Creation records and signed Oasis, apparently made all his signings listen to Big Star. They were like the Velvet Underground – no audience first time around, but became cult. At this stage, though, Big Star were a distant memory and Chilton had all but retired from music. So, a rare sighting of a Legend. Big Star reformed in the early 90s for a tour and finally got some kudos and dosh.

He was short, kinda straight looking and played great guitar. There was no ego or rock God posturing. Normal guy. He played “Slut” by Todd Rungren, loads of old soul and RnB covers, one about AIDS (“fuck me and die”), no “The Letter” but did do “September Gurls”, the opening riff getting a big cheer. All very casual and almost throw-away. He made it look easy. The only song I recognised, when I finally heard more Big Star, was a version of “Big, Black Car”. Totally Cool. Made you want to keep it to yourself but at the same time wanting more people to know about this great thing.

Alex died suddenly on St Patrick's Day, 2010 aged 59.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Every Gig I've Ever Seen #54 John Cale

If you live long enough you’ll see most things. I’ve seen John Cale many times, including the Velvet Underground reformation in 1993. But, the whole of ‘1919”? With an orchestra? Dude, I’m there!

In Rock’s twilight years we’ve seen many classic albums played in their entirety: Pet Sounds; Funhouse; SF Sorrow. The songs still work and fans, old and new, get a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. “1919” is Cale’s most complete album – orchestral pop with a weary strain of melancholia. The songs are loosely based around the theme of life after The Great War and Treaty of Versailles. Cale gave the Velvets their avant-garde edge and has always been about more than just 3 chords.

Officially Cale’s 67, though some say he’s 72. Whichever way, he has presence. With a capital P. He makes his entrance with an ‘Hello London, nice to see you”, casual suit, shirt out, hair dyed rust-and-blonde. El Hombre cool. And we’re off, straight into ‘Child’s Christmas in Wales”.

Strings, horns, drums and guitar all blend beautifully. Cale’s rich baritone cuts through it all. I’m Fan Boy and could happily listen to him singing it all a cappella. Mind you, I get teary when I hear Welsh rugby fans singing their national anthem. There’s something about the Welsh heart…

Meanwhile, back in the jungle. “Hanky Panky Nohow” was gorgeous. “The Endless Plain of Fortune” cello-tastic with horns that made hairs stand. “Paris 1919” tailor made for the event. “Andalucia” aching. “Graham Green” jaunty. “Half Past France” made my eyes prickle. The songs, familiar to me over decades, were reborn. The ballast of the orchestra gave them a full, warm, analogue glow.  “Macbeth” romped us home. Ovation and a visibly touched Cale patted his heart.

I could have gone home happy then but, seeing as the original album was only 30 minutes long, there was more to come. The orchestra went off, leaving Cale with the band. “Amsterdam” from his first album was a complete surprise and special treat. “Femme Fatale” was radically reworked and tipped a nod to his history. “Heartbreak Hotel” was the usual demented tale of woe. “Fear” is still scary whilst making you laugh. The band are great. Axe work that flowed, every note fitting. The drummer man – a joy to watch; loose but nailing it.

The orchestra return for “Do Not Go Gentle” which builds and builds. Dylan Thomas set to orchestra with pounding piano clusters. “Hedda Gabler” is another obscure cut, which swells and unfurls beyond its original vinyl recording. It’s big. Things end with an even older curiosity; ‘Dirty Ass Rock n Roll”. Not an obvious choice but a jolly way to wind things up.

I was there. Tidy. “Music For a New Society” next, perhaps?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Every Gig I've Ever Seen #53

Martin Harley Band, Peter Parker's Rock n Roll Club, London. 22/2/10

What will music be like when Grandad was a punk, not an RAF pilot? The Book's been written.What is music, now that you can turn it on like water from a tap via the web? Rock, for want of a better word, is dead. Dead from too much karaoke.

The Authentic. That's what the People need. If all the forms are known, all the songs written, then it's the singer's take on the song that makes the difference now. Only connect. The human touch. Not Subo - the Diana Moment in Pop - but real performers playing real songs.

The Martin Harley Band possess the chops and tunes to take an audience with them. It's acoustic, blues-based, with Django-esque jazz tinges. You'll "know" the origins, even if you can't name them.
Great, you say, just what we need, another set of well-worn cliches.

But, a-ha, these guys are great. Harley's an engaging front man with a wonderful slide action and can turn a pretty lyric. The band are tight but loose, real connection between them. This isn't just another singer/songwriter with pick-up band. It's an entity in its own right.

In an age of Lady Ga-Ga and ever increasing plastic Pop it's refreshing to hear and see proper musicians play live. It's the musicianship that makes it. And they make it look so easy. "Automatic Life", "Drumrolls for Somersaults", "Carnival Girls" and a pin-drop acoustic version of "North Lanes". A fine set of songs. 

Harley isn't about to fall into the David Gray trap: enough talent to "make it" but then what? He's old enough to know better. His craft will just get better and better. He'll get bigger but that's not the main event. It's about the music. The sheer joy of making an instrument sing. You can listen along if you like...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Every gig I've Ever Seen #52 Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones Shepherds Bush Empire June 1999


Rushed down to Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus, with Rod Webster on the Monday morning. We were supposed to be editing but we bunked off – um vee. Well, why not, it’s not like it happens everyday? Queued for an hour, handed over £10 cash money (bargain!) and got a ticket and wrist band.

The Stones always liked to do a small club date in London, famously playing the 100 club, Brixton Academy and The Astoria on different tours. Although huge all over the planet, London is still their home town and they always needed to put on a good show in front of the home crowd. 1999 saw all sorts of unique gigs as the Twentieth Century drew to a close and I think people getting in a tizzy over YK2 (remember that?!) was a red herring, a distraction from a sense of loss, End of The Millennium Psychosis Blues, literally the end of an era. Part of this naval-gazing saw Macca play the Cavern Club in Liverpool, doing old rock’n’roll numbers. It made world news.

So, whither goest the The Rolling Stones in The Twentieth Century? Can they still pull it off? Does it matter? Is Rock Dead? That kinda thing. Having seen the Stones the year before at a routine Enormodome gig (and been underwhelmed) the chance to see them in such a small venue was novel.  

Gig was good, but…. it got a wee bit dull it has to be said. They didn’t do the really big set-piece songs (no Sympathy?!). Bits of it were, frankly, pub-rock. Keith, perched on a stool, did “Memory Motel” or some other coked-up nonsense from Black & Blue (a nasty soulless piece of vinyl). They did “Cherry O Baby” and it was horrible. The rest descended into Chuck Berry jamming. It wasn’t all bad but after the initial rush of “kinnel, it’s Them!” you were left with just watching a band and it didn’t seem to gel.  I don’t wish to sound ungrateful of course. It was great but it didn’t change my life. Special, if only for the chance to see them in such a small venue (about 2,000). Weirdly, I saw them again on the Saturday at Wembley Stadium and they were amazing. Go figure.