Thursday, 2 February 2017

Glenn Hughes - Dirty Hard Rock Burdened by Sorrow - Church, Leeds, 01.02.17.

The diminishing returns of an aged rock vocalist is a well-trodden path in the annals of music. Bob Dylan, Roger Daltrey, Debbie Harry of Blondie, to name but a few, have found their idiosyncratic voices ravaged by the march of time. Whilst some older statesmen continue to defy expectations live, most others have succumbed to the passage of the years. Ian Gillan and David Coverdale are not excluded from this latter cohort; so you could be forgiven for thinking that Glenn Hughes would complete a set of Purple frontmen past their absolute prime.
Glenn Hughes performing live in Newcastle, UK, in
2015. (Credit to David Wala.)
On the contrary, he is on impressive form. Elfin and lissom at sixty-five, like a Burton-esque caricature in purple and black, Hughes still possesses an elastic range and claims full ownership of it over ninety-five minutes of rock and roll. Under a mop of dark hair and aviator shades, he bounces between husky baritone and shrieking falsetto on Muscle and Blood with an enviable ease, and brings impressive acrobatics to the gospel-funk drama of You Keep On Moving. On the groove metal tracks culled from new record Resonate, he sound appropriately heavy, a low-slung gritty menace colouring his tone, in particular on the funk-tinged Flow.

Yet this is a performance encumbered by a quiet mourning, dirty hard rock burdened by sorrow. Hughes’ mother Sheila passed away earlier in the week and the typically charismatic frontman struggles to articulate himself between songs. His stage patter often falls flat and, struck by a cold, he cuts a lonely, hurting figure between songs as he gives treatises about “the human condition”. There is something outrĂ© about this assemblage of hard rock in a disused church; for Hughes, it is a fitting mausoleum in which to channel his pain, the setting and mood appropriately sombre.

It is testament then, to his will, that he still delivers a complete performance, warts and all. Hughes spins on a dime when the music starts, heroically gurning like a pantomime villain as he vamps his way across the stage. His bass work is impeccable and virtuosic – on the nagging, alluring Getting’ Tighter, he takes an extended solo spot where he mixes popping and a wah-wah peddle to mind-boggling effect. For the party-starter number of Soul Mover, his nimble bejewelled fingers on the fretboard resemble more a lead guitar; his tight three-piece band mostly form the foundations on which their bandleader can expand upon his position of rock doyen.
Glenn Hughes performing live in Newcastle, UK, in 2015.
(Credit to David Wala.)
The mood whiplash and extended mid-section however, where the group fall into a jejune rhythm of extended jams, threaten to derail their efforts at points, with the slow blues of Medusa proving particularly monotonous. But Hughes calls upon the sagacious experience of forty-plus years on the road to finish strong, dispatching Purple classic and signature tune Burn with the sheer sound force of a volcanic eruption. “Hold your mamas close,” he implores as the lights dim, with proclamations of support and love echoed back to him; a man left frail by tragedy, but determined to soldier on.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

St. Paul and the Broken Bones - A Celebratory Cocktail of Soul Played with Exuberant Ease - Leeds Irish Centre, Leeds, 31.01.17.

When singer Paul Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips met in 2012 to start a musical project together, they both viewed it as “a last hurrah” before quitting the musical scene. Almost five years on, Alabama’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones have put out two records, play a televised slot at last year’s Glastonbury Festival and open for The Rolling Stones across America. As a final roll-of-the-dice goes, this one keeps on tumbling.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones performing live at Austin City
Limits Festival, 2016. (Credit to Austin Music Source.)
Their sold-out Leeds show – upgraded from the Brudenell Social Club to the near-double capacity Irish Centre – is part of a celebratory lap supporting sophomore LP Sea of Noise, an exuberant, heady cocktail of soul, jazz and blues. The onus of this multitude of musical veins being opened lies with the seven-piece Broken Bones, who showcase a lean versatility throughout proceedings. Across a ninety-five minute set, they cross-pollinate genres with an exuberant ease, from the Southern gothic of I’ll Be Your Woman to the beefy, brassy funk of Like a Mighty River, with driving, disco-tinged covers of Van Morrison, Sam Cooke and Radiohead throwing enjoyable curveballs into the mix.

Janeway is the magnetic presence that anchors it all though, oozing sex and spirituality behind his gold microphone. Voice rich and mellifluous, with the depth of the Marianas Trench, he bellows his way through the church-parade gospel of Waves and Brain Matter with a lithe vitality, thriving above the horn-and-organ bedrock. On All I Ever Wonder, he jives his way across the stage from left to right, glittered animal-print jacket catching the lights like tiny diamonds. During I’m Torn Up, brow profusely sweating, he undulates wildly as he howls pained, lonely sentiments, a preacher exorcising demons through the impassioned roar of his own soul.

For the tender ballad Broken Bones and Pocket Change, he makes his way through the crowd to the padded benches behind the sound desk that separate the two levels of the venue, where he croons and hollers to appreciative fans whilst the band on-stage vamp it up. He loses his right shoe, a gold brogue, whilst clambering up; on his return to the stage, he holds it aloft, like an ostentatious lamp guiding this intrepid explorer through the forest of bodies. Part-minister, part-master of ceremonies, Janeway commands all of the space afforded him; when slipping between the falsetto croon of Flow With It (You Got Me Feeling Like) and the sultry smooth of Midnight on the Earth, his credentials are impeccably authentic, his showmanship freighted with unfiltered desire.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones performing live at Austin City
Limits Festival, 2016. (Credit to Getty Images.)
Stripped of the burnished strings on record, some of the Broken Bones’ newest material loses an elegiac grandeur; but in turn, it is traded out for a physical heft, with material like Tears in the Diamond buoyed by woozy keyboard flourishes. Chicken-scratch guitar roughs up old cut Half the City; and with the slow sermon-like Burning Rome storming to a dynamic crescendo, the group cap off an infectiously feel-good performance triumphantly. Janeway and company’s “last hurrah” as they put it is, rightfully, not so final after all.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Black Sabbath - Metal Pioneers Take A Triumphant Final Bow - Manchester Arena, Manchester, 22.01.17.

“How the fuck are you?” hollers Ozzy Osbourne, clad in glittery black and smudged kohl from behind his microphone, over the distorted fretwork of Fairies Wear Boots. The Prince of Darkness has seen better days – nearing seventy, the lines on his face are more pronounced, his posture more shrunken and frail – but with several thousand cheering acolytes in front of him, he strikes an oddly defiant pose. To his left, guitarist Tony Iommi, resplendent in velvet, is methodically statesmanlike as he concisely conjures stormy licks; to his right, the shaggy Geezer Butler franticly strums his bass with all four fingers like a man possessed. It is high pantomime, crushingly heavy and joyously booming.
Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath performing live at
Download Festival 2016. (Credit to Birmingham Mail.)
Few bands can match the longevity of Black Sabbath in terms of critical and commercial success. Though a revolving-door cast of members have played in the group throughout their forty-nine year career, including the late, legendary Ronnie James Dio, the classic lineup of Osbourne, Iommi and Butler are forever the definitive core trio of the band. Together, they are icons, architects of doom, sludge and stoner metal, with an early back catalogue of stone-cold classics that remain the genesis of heavy metal to this day.

It’s from their first four records that all but one track is culled from in this celebratory farewell lap of a tour, aptly named The End. Over a hundred minutes, Osbourne and company forgo a mawkish send-off in favour of dispatching gloriously camp and dark renditions of their signature songs. From the foreboding, inverted tritone riff of Black Sabbath, thrilling in its chilling execution, to the crunching blues of N.I.B., aided by Butler’s psychedelic bass-work, Sabbath serve up slices of definitive metal with a workmanlike efficiency, backed up impressively by touring drummer Tommy Clufetos.

Arguably the biggest surprise is Osbourne himself, notoriously unreliable as a vocalist on stage. Despite his advanced years and reputation, he is near-perfect across the first half of the show, with Under the Sun and Into the Void impressive highlights. Though it wavers later in the night, there is more good than bad with the Madman’s performance. The same can be said for Iommi, who deploys exquisite solos on Hand of Doom and a low-slung Dirty Women, but plays the seminal Iron Man in a key different from the rest of the band. Clufetos too suffers from a touch of overindulgence; during Rat Salad, his ten-minute drum solo could easily have given way to another song or two.
Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath performing
live at Download Festival 2016. (Credit to Birmingham Mail.)
But these are small gripes with an otherwise well-polished, warmly received show. And when the hits come – an electrifying War Pigs, a bruising Children of the Grave – they outweigh the cost of mistakes. “One more song!” chants Osbourne, clinging to the side of an amp as the lights go down again, and duly, his wish is granted with a blistering Paranoid, still as scorching as it was nearly five decades ago. Black Sabbath may have reached The End; but undoubtedly, their legacy will live on long after their final bow.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Dillinger Escape Plan - Mathcore Veterans Bow Out with Abrupt Nihilism - Manchester Academy 2, Manchester, 20.01.17.

As The Dillinger Escape Plan wind down their penultimate track of the night, fan favourite Sunshine the Werewolf, their anarchic wall of sound hits the emergency breaks, Greg Puciato breaks off from his hoarse vocal screams to suddenly wave frantically at security. It transpires that a fan has suffered a seizure at the barrier, spotted by the frontman in a small gap nestled at the front of the sell-out crowd at Manchester Academy. As medics swarm the front-of-stage area, Puciato implores the audience to step back, and that the show is likely over. It’s an abrupt finish to a band known for abrupt finishes, on what is ostensibly their final European headline tour.
The Dillinger Escape Plan, performing live at Leeds Festival
2016. (Credit to Ben Gibson.)
Is it really the end for The Dillinger Escape Plan though? New Jersey’s experimental mathcore veterans – arguably pioneers of the scene – have flip-flopped between the terms hiatus and break-up over their impending departure, twenty years after they first emerged. After six acclaimed albums, TDEP are bowing out; and unlike other dissolutions, there is the foreboding sense that this is final.

They certainly intend to leave an impression though. Under hellish red and moody blue lighting, with constant strobing, Dillinger set about delivering a nihilistic set of genre-bending metal that threatens to blow all the doors out, such is its intensity. Leaning heavily on 2016’s Dissociation, they hurtle through Limerent Death and Panasonic Youth with a barely-restrained aura of violence, aided by the antics of Puciato, guitarists Ben Weinman and Kevin Antreassian and bass player Liam Wilson, as they clamber over speakers and incite countless, brutal circle pits. It is a feral, ferocious performance that captivates with its raw brutality.

TDEP are a musically-diverse entity however; new track Symptom of Terminal Illness is a swirling, stormy plea of a track; the punk balladry of One of Us is the Killer highlights their tender side. The soaring alt-metal of Milk Lizard is also ecstatically welcomed, and when the scatter-jazz piano of Mouth of Ghosts opens the encore, a hushed appreciation falls over the venue. All are built upon the excellent drum work of Billy Rymer, whose ability to flick between swing and common time is a skill somewhat unheralded in the shadow of his vocalist.
The Dillinger Escape Plan, performing live at Leeds Festival
2016. (Credit to Ben Gibson.)
With good reason too. Puciato remains one of metal’s most electrifying frontmen, bleeding a visceral passion, if not blood too in his performance. It is his vocals that elevate Dillinger’s material live, from the raw-throated war cry of Hero of the Soviet Union, to the spindly falsetto he spits on the strident Black Bubblegum. For the closing one-two punch of Farewell, Mona Lisa and the animalistic Prancer, he launches himself from amp to amp, climbing up them like a demented monkey. Yet, when he sees the distress late on, he dives in to help the medics in a show-ending act that still speaks volumes about his ability to connect. TDEP are not a sentimental band; but with their final acts, they signify that they remain a thrilling live beast, drenched in a sweaty humanity.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Northern Chords - Best of 2016 - Part 5 - #5-#1

And here it is - after the four prior installments, The Northern Chords' Best of 2016 in concert performances concludes with the top five. Thank you for reading; Merry Christmas and roll on 2017!

The 1975
Glastonbury Festival, Pilton, 25.06.16.

Cheshire’s The 1975 conquered Britain with their self-titled debut three years ago; the fact that they repeated the trick with second album I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It on a worldwide scale is testament to the songwriting chops behind it. Young, pretentious, and thoroughly engaging one way or another, their early evening Other Stage set showcased a band well on the way to becoming a formidable live act. Fronted by the charismatic Matt Healy, they barrelled through an intoxicating mix of electro-funk and alternative rock, grounded in eighties pop, with Love Me, The Sound, She’s American and Chocolate all rapturously received. The 1975 may attract teenage screams – but they’re more than a flash-in-the-pan boyband, with substance that will last beyond the hype.
The 1975 performing live at Glastonbury in 2016.
(Credit to BBC.)
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott
First Direct Arena, Leeds, 19.03.16.

The last time Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott popped by Leeds, they had sold out the city’s O2 Academy in a couple of days. Perhaps it was unsurprising then, that the former Beautiful South pairing moved up to the First Direct Arena on their following visit this March, where they had the distinct honour of being one of a handful of acts to sell out the 13,500 venue. Peppering their set with material from their new albums and Heaton’s days in The Housemartins as well as Beautiful South classics, the pair’s dry wit and superb lyricism – served over a tight, lushly melodic collection of songs – allowed them to coast through with ease, with Happy Hour, Rotterdam and Caravan of Love all superb high points. An arch masterclass in British pop, delivered by two of its finest – even if one was wearing an anorak.
Paul Heaton performing live at Glastonbury in 2016.
(Credit to BBC.)
Electric Light Orchestra (Jeff Lynne’s ELO)
Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, 14.04.16.

When Jeff Lynne announced he was resurrecting his beloved Electric Light Orchestra for a Radio 2 show in Hyde Park, he was taken aback by the ecstatic reaction. Such a warm reception led to a new record, Alone in the Universe, and, despite his reluctance to tour, a sell-out string of UK arena dates. Indeed, that hermit-like existence as a producer has only helped Lynne in the long run; his impeccable, idiosyncratic voice has been preserved to near perfection, and with such stellar glam anthems as Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Don’t Bring Me Down and Rockaria! note-perfect in recreation, his show in Newcastle was a fantasy come true. By the time Mr Blue Sky had soared above the audience, Lynne was beaming from behind his aviators and beard; an unexpected symphonic comeback sealed with style.
Electric Light Orchestra performing live in Newcastle.
(Credit to Carl Chambers.)
Glastonbury Festival, Pilton, 26.06.16.

If there was such a thing as a Glastonbury house band, surely mega-pop band Coldplay would be the logical choice. Headlining for the fourth time, on the Sunday night, few artists can match Chris Martin and company’s peerless catalogue of post-Britpop and taut dance-rock – and fewer still can match the joyous conviction with which they pour their soul into them. Backed by a kaleidoscopic light show and dozens of firework interludes, they threw all the hits they could – Viva la Vida, Paradise, The Scientist, Hymn for the Weekend – at the crowd, before bringing out Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees for a feelgood finale in a cover of Stayin’ Alive. To cap it off, they even brought out Michael Eavis himself, to croon through a highly touching My Way. Coldplay, Glastonbury; a triumphant match made in heaven.
Coldplay performing live at Glastonbury in 2016.
(Credit to Digital Spy.)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Ricoh Arena, Coventry, 03.06.16.

There are few artists still touring in 2016 who can carry the moniker of “legendary” as well as Bruce Springsteen. Legendary would also be an apt word to describe his mammoth live shows with the E Street Band, who into their fifth decade, are still turning out shows close to the four-hour mark. Their performance in Coventry, part of their anniversary tour behind 1980’s The River, may have only come in at a mere three hours; but with such classics like Hungry Heart, Badlands, Born in the USA and Born to Run delivered with boundless energy, skill and passion, there is little complaint. By the time he closes, alone with harmonica and guitar, on Thunder Road, the raw thrum of emotion brings a tear to the eye of thirty-odd thousand. Bruce Springsteen is called The Boss for a reason; and in 2016, he’s perhaps needed more than ever. Come on up for the rising, folks; communion has never felt so good.
Bruce Springsteen performing live in Coventry in 2016.
(Credit to Coventry Telegraph.)