Thursday, June 22, 2017

Whitney + Girl Ray. Live at Mama Roux's 21/6/17 Review.

Mama Roux's is an old warehouse that through painstaking attention to detail been transformed into a 1930's speak-easy. With fake buildings, lights that don't really work and a balcony where audience members can watch bands while sat at a table. The current heatwave made the illusion feel even more realistic, the only things missing were the moonshine and the 1930's jazz soundtrack.

London's 'estrogen pop' group Girl Ray (6.4/10) kicked things off with their summery lo-fi indie rock. Drawing on the washed out sounds of Beach Coast with a Nico-ish style of vocals. While they've got the knack for washed out indie rock, a highlight of their set was a 'new song' simply titled 'rock out' that already hints at a grungy change of direction.

Whitney's Début album 'Light upon the lake' was one of 2016's best. A gorgeous album of bitter-sweet breakup songs which already stands as a classic example of Americana.
They may play sad songs but Whitney like to have fun. Even before they'd officially started playing two of them were messing around with the bongos. Once Mama Roux's had filled up the heat was almost unbearable. Whitney had the difficult task of playing an hour's set despite only having a 30 minute long album.
Right from 'The Falls' providing a lively start to the set. Whitney had the whole crowd singing along to every world. The only problem Whitney had was getting people to stay quiet for the delicate ballad 'Light upon the lake'. While they may sound understated on record Whitney are experienced virtuoso musicians, who've played in a variety of indie bands. Many of their songs were fleshed out and livened up through added guitar solos and drum fills. There's nowhere Whitney sound better than on a stage. Julien Ehrlich provides more than just his unique vocal style he effortlessly mixes playing drums while singing and he is consistently witty. He introduced 'golden days' by saying that it's about being unhappy in a relationship and that "even if you don't divorce you're still gonna hate each other".
A surprise kiss between Julien and Whitney's bassist was shrugged off with Julien saying that they've kissed on-stage about two hundred times but "that one was a bit gross to me as it was at a different angle" than usual. Whitney padded out the set with their recent cover and single 'You've got a Woman'. Julien requested that the audience not take any photos for this one as it was a newer song and the audience obliged. Yet Whitney played so perfectly they needn't have bothered. Despite being an American band Whitney were struggling with the heat (to which a bottle of water got thrown at him in reply), and the drunken heckles. 'I can't understand a word your saying' admitted Julien. After a quick "sweat break" encore Whitney were back on-stage. They played a fantastic new song which is about The "D-Word" (depression). And strangely enough, a quick cover of the 'Gilmore Girls' theme tune, "We don't like the show but we like the song". Whitney saved the best for last with a fantastic jam session that showed off their musical abilities and the song that started everybody's love affair with the band, 'No Woman' which inspired a mass sing-along and a fitting end to a genuinely special night.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Krafterwerk 3D Live at the Symphony Hall Birmingham 13/6/17 review.

How do you update the future? Or rather how do you modernise a band who for the past 40 years with their style, sound, music and overall aesthetic have defined what the the future looks and sounds like? This is is a question which must have been playing on Kraftwerk's minds for a long time.
The idea of mixing Kraftwerk's famous visuals in state of the art 3D is so obvious. Yet it could only be done now. Now that the technology is so much more advanced than it has ever been before. Every single person in the Symphony hall had been given a pair of white 3D specs.
Kraftwerk came on-stage with light up clothes and keyboards and started the set with 'Numbers'. In which the numbers behind the band seemed to fly right off the screen. Throughout the show the 3D effect was stunning. Whether simply adding more depth to the black and white footage used for 'The Model' and 'Tour De France' or giving the illusion of a space craft being inches from your face for 'Spacelab'. Kraftwerk's visuals gave me some idea of what it must have felt like seeing a cinema screen for the first time and being convinced that the train on screen was going to burst though into the theatre.
It's not just the visual aspect of Kraftwerk's music that has been bought straight back up to date however. The minimalist feel of many of their 70's classics has been replaced with a heavy, groovier sound. The simple kick drum effects have been replaced with a heavier bass sound that shook the entire auditorium.
'The Robot's saw Kraftwerk temporarily replaced with actual robot versions of themselves, and 'Spacelab' concluded with a 3D UFO landing directly outside the Symphony Hall itself. Despite being on stage for 28 songs there was hardly a song which felt out of place or a hit that wasn't played*. Kraftwerk's set-list spanned all their albums from 'Autobahn' to 'Tour De France'. The extended medley of songs from 2003's Tour De France proved that it's easily their most underrated album. The pulsating rhythms mixed with the footage of hundreds of cyclists racing made the 'Tour De France' medley the most exhilarating section of the show.

Surprisingly for a band who've made a career out of being isolated from their audience. The Birmingham crowd could almost be considered rowdy. Kraftwerk's remaining founder member Ralph Hutter had to ignore several cheers of his name. Coincidentally the last song of the set was 'Music Non Stop' which had been loudly requested minutes earlier. At the end of 'music non stop' each member of Kraftwerk each member in turn took a bow and left the stage, after two encores and a set-list spanning 40 years.

*except for Showroom Dummies and Pocket Calculator. But I can live without those

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Best albums of the year (so far...)

1. Formation - Look at the powerful people
In the numerous trips to my girlfriend's house and back the album playing in my car has been the début from Formation. In many ways Formation seem like the perfect band for 2017. While not explicitly political, they express the frustrations and anger that many of my generation feel. What makes them special is that they channel this into a hedonistic Happy Monday's via LCD Soundsystem blast of indie disco bangers. It's an exhilarating listen from start to finish that might still be at the top of this list in 6 months time.

2. Creeper - Eternity, in your arms.
It was inevitable that with My Chemical romance still inactive and many other heroes of the 00's pop punk and emo scenes either defunct or changing sound and style, that a new band would emerge to pick up where 2007 left off. Enter Creeper. A band with the looks, sound, STYLE, and most importantly, the tunes to make pop punk vital again. They may not be the most innovative or original bands (country & western balladry aside) but it's the songs that really stand out. Landing somewhere between the operatics of meatloaf and the angst of MCR, every song here demands to be sung along as loud as humanly possible.

3. Wiley - Godfather
To put it in his own idiosyncratic way, Wiley's got more bangers than a butchers. The sole exception on Godfather being a slightly disappointing slow jam 'U were always part 2'. Other than that it's 16 tracks of hard-hitting pure grime. To Wiley's credit he bring out the best in all his collaborators. Newcomers and fellow grime legends such as Ghetts, Jme and Frisco alike bring out their best flows and verses while Wiley is frank, funnuThe production and beats are solid and all have that old school grime feel to them which has never really aged. On 'Godfather' Wiley lives up to his title.

4. Father John Misty - Pure comedy
If there is one main critisism of this album is that it is 80, minutes long and it needs to be listened to carefully. It's not an album that can be put on in the background. 'pure comedy is Josh Gill and at his witty sardonic best. Looking at himself and the world at large with a satirical eye. Whether that be his own career on 'leaving LA' or painting visions of a dystopian future on 'total entertainment forever'. Pure comedy is a true masterpiece of an album.

5. Kendrick Lamar - Damn
After scoring a hat trick with three classic hip hop records kendrick had his work cut out for him. 'Damn' in some ways a return to kendrick earlier sound, ditching the jazz-funk of 'TPAB' for washed out Psychedelica. On 'Damn' kendrick comes to terms with his own psyche and tackles religion as well as his status as a hip hop legend.

And in no particular order...

Sampha - Process
Perfume Genius - No Shape.
Hoops - Routines
Luke Rainsford - I feel at home with you
Elbow - Little Fictions
The XX -  I see you
Brockhampton - Saturation
Mac Demarco- This Old Dog
Gorillaz - Humanz
Slowdive - Slowdive
Pumarosa - The Witch
Paramore - After Laughter
Kasabian - For Crying Out Loud
Ibibio Sound Machine -Uyai
Lowly - Heba
Blondie - Polinator
Sylvan Esso - What now?
King Gizzard and the Lizard wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana
Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Alex G - Rocket

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn visits Birmingham! (6/6/17)

In few places does Labour's current slogan 'for the many not the few seem to apply more than at one of Jeremy Corbyn's rallies. People of all races and ages came down to watch him talk in Birmingham. Jeremy Corbyn is a true man of the people. The size and variety of the crowd that came down to watch him speak reflects that. The atmosphere reminded me more of a music festival than a political rally. As groups of people danced together waving 'Vote Labour' placards to hits by The Jam, Blur, Cypress Hill and even Rage against the Machine's 'Killing in the name'.
The compère for this event was the actor and comedian Steve Coogan. Who gave a passionate speech backing Labour's manifesto when not introducing the other speakers and performers. He managed to be funny and serious in equal measure, gaining laughs from the crowd from his jabs at the conservative party. He pointed out that "we all want young people to go out and vote, but you won't read anything about it on the Conservative website... because they know there's nothing in the manifesto for them... they want to to take the houses of old people and they want to saddle the young people with debt". He also joked that Theresa May is not "Margaret Thatcher mark 2, she has the charisma of a pancake" and branded Boris Johnson as "the Tories clown, except he's not that funny"
Of all the bands I would have expected to back Labour the last I would have expected was Clean Bandit. Personally I've always disliked Clean Bandit and found their music both boring and annoying in equal measure. Yet they've won my respect by playing a short set of their three biggest hits, Real Love, Rather be and Rockabye. Clean Bandit's cellist Grace Chatto explained that rather than just being a huge pop smash 'Rockabye' is also a song about "single mothers who are struggling to make ends meet... it tells the story of one woman who is forced to take desperate measures in order to feed her child". "We believe in the basic principle that every child deserves a shot at a good life".
The next guest speaker to be introduced by Steve Coogan was local hero Saffiyah Khan. A photo of the student staring down a member of the EDL by The Birmingham Library has been shared around the world, making her an unlikely symbol in the fight against racism. Saffiyah is voting for the very first time on Thursday and she has decided to vote Labour. She might not be the best at public speaking but her reasons for supporting Labour wre met with cheers from the already converted crowd. "We reject the idea that we should set one generation against the other, we don't need to have grandparents and grandchildren competing for resources".
Jeremy Corbyn's appearance was met with a rockstars welcome. Unlike the carefully prepared speeches from other parties Jeremy's speech came completely from the heart, seemingly unscripted, with all the pauses and breaks of normal conversation but with fiery passion and a deep echo on his voice that gave the impression of a canyon like space. His opening lines were thanking the other guest speakers and everyone for being there, while stirring up cheers for all the other Labour rallies happening simultaneously over the country. Jeremy paints a bleak vision of poverty and inequality over the next five years if the Conservative party is elected. Citing homelessness, over crowded class rooms and NHS waiting lists as problems that all need to be solved before they can get any worse.
He countered this by pledging to give 30 hours a week free childcare for parents every week, and that "A Labour government will properly fund our primary schools so the headteachers wont have to have collections at the school gate". He argues his plan to allow every child to learn a musical instrument by saying "In children there is the most wonderful sense of imagination, and creativity, lets let that imagination flow". Jeremy believes that we can all benefit from his plans to aid young people who want to learn and study at university, "When you invest in young people you invest for the future of all of us". He pledges to run the "fundamental free right for all" NHS properly, "We won't leave a million people waiting for social care".
Jeremy also has an answer for his critics. "People say to me that all this is a wish-list, no, it's not. it's a program, its an agenda, and you know what? we are going to carry it out out". His speech was so full of highlights that it can hardly be fit into a blog so I urge you to watch the video of the event below. While the sun may have been out for Clean Bandit's pop tunes the weather changed to cold and wet for Jeremy's speech. He hardly seemed to notice as the rain formed a double rainbow by the stage. after Jeremy had finished talking the crowd chanted his name as if demanding an encore. Instead we got 90's britpop band The Farm playing their hit "all together now" as the festival feeling returned and the crowd dissipated and those who stayed, danced to The Farm and the follow up DJ set of more 90's tunes.

Watch  the full video at

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hawkwind. Live at the Instutute review. (16/5/17)

In an unexpected twist, Hawkwind's current support on tour is Hawkwind (8.4/10). Their set at the Institute began with a short half hour acoustic set. Taking a break from interstellar travel to play some tunes around the camp-fire. Unlike Staus Quo these acoustic sets are not a way of covering up a lack of new ideas or ability to play at full volume but more of a chance for Hawkwind to communicate with each other and their fans more openly. The acoustic set gave Hawkwind's ship captain Dave Brock a rare chance to enjoy some nostalgia and relive his busking days. During this set Hawkwind nearly delved into some old jazz standards and Chuck Berry covers. the band and crowd did enjoy some light hearted banter about 'getting yourself together' and the recently detonated Aston Bomb, "did he say bong or bomb?" before Dave decided that the band should get back to playing some Hawkwind classics, "I mean I'm a Hawkwind classic!"
If the little acoustic set found a band nearing their 50th anniversary relaxing and looking back on their past then the second set was anything but. While the topless dancers may have left, the brain melting graphics have not. Hawkwind have been boosted by the addition of new(ish) members, such as their a young(ish) bass player who channels the spirit of Lemmy through his Rickenbacker bass guitar. Hawkwind's current singer is the formidable 'Mr Dibs', who has the task of singing tracks originally sung by a multitude of legendary frontmen.
The setlist was made up of deep cuts from their career such as overlooked 80's gems Psy-Power, 70's classics Warrior on the edge of time and recent tunes from the last two albums who Mr Dibs thanked us for helping chart for two years in a row. But sadly not the interplanetary hoedown of Spaceship Blues. The second set flew by despite almost every song being stretched out over ten minutes.
Mr Dibs thanked the crowd again for coming out year after year to see these "obscure cult motherfuckers", and took photos of everyone in the front rows.
After Hawkwind left the stage an encore was inevitable, yet the demand for one was still amazing, the bands name was chanted over and over while the stomping of feet shook the floor. When Hawkwind did come on stage it was to play their biggest hit 'Silver Machine', with probably the strangest part of the stage show - a dancing badger, and after two and a half hours Hawkwind left the stage.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lowly + Hoopla Blue. Live at the Hare and Hounds review (15/5/17)

 When Chartreuse pulled out due to their guitarist and driver breaking his foot it was up to Hoopla Blue to step in and save the day. As it turns out Hoopla Blue (7.2/10) were a perfect support act for Lowly. Having seen them a few times now I still can't accurately describe their music. They're the kind of band who could only have come out of this decade. They mix odd time signatures, with shimmering guitars, keyboards and some elements of sampling to add to the overall atmosphere. They can go from frantic Battles style math-rock to Wild Beats style grandeur in the space of a song.   Despite making such odd music Hoopla Blue could hardly be described as experimental, as they've honed their sound and they play with a quiet brooding confidence. Hoopla blue seem to get better with each performance.

A few years ago no one would have predicted that Denmark would have produced so many influential artists. Iceage, Communions, Marching Church, Lust For Youth, Liss, and Mo have all helped make a huge impact recently. Lowly (8) are the latest Danish band to break through, having recently released their début album Heba on Bella Union records. Their show at The Hare And Hounds was their very first in Birmingham and Lowly were clearly humbled to be there, saying "What a big crowd you are, so great!" early on. Like many of their Danish contemporaries Lowly are still a pop group at heart, no matter how experimental or avant-garde they get. Much like Mercury Rev, Lowly may sound mellow and dreamy on record, yet their songs are far more powerful when performed live. They bought an array of keyboards with them to help build a huge wall of sound, most of which were mixed and multi-tasked by the keyboard wizard Kasper Staub. Lowly can go from sounding overwhelmingly huge to bringing a whole room to absolute silence. One of these incidents was when one piece of kit seemed to break. The crowd stood in absolute silence before joining the band in awkward laughter. Lowly's vocals were split between Soffie Viemose and Nanna Schannong. While Nanna lent gentle melodies to their sound with her guitar. Soffie stood out with her fantastic voice and nonchalant dancing as being the front-woman of the band. Simply tossing aside a request for their breakthrough single 'Daydreamers' with a simple 'haha no'. While Nanna invited the audience to come over and say hi, and that they didn't have to buy anything, Lowly seem like genuinely nice people. Despite being such a new band Lowly have created a unique sound. That they've managed to do this while still making memorable pop songs and without being over pretentious seems to have been important to their success so far.