Wednesday, 26 October 2016

High Tyde - Brighton Boys' Tropical-Pop Thrills in a Familiar Way - The Wardrobe, Leeds, 25.10.16

“Leeds, it’s been a while,” announces Cody Thomas-Matthews as he shrugs off his denim jacket to excitable teenage screams, two songs into High Tyde’s brisk forty-five minute headline show at The Wardrobe. In fact, it’s only been two months since they played the BBC Introducing Stage up the road in Bramham Park – but as that’s technically Wetherby, it’s a toss-up. “How are we all doing tonight?” he asks the intimate crowd, whose response is to make as much noise as possible. He contemplates nodding, then shrugs and hits up the first notes of Safe on his Korg synthesizer.
High Tyde performing live in Leeds in 2016.
(Credit to Hullfire Radio).
The band – formed in Brighton by four school friends – are a distinctly British indie outfit and very much product of the obvious influences. There’s a touch of public-school about them at first glance – three members have double-barrelled surnames for good measure – and in drawing from the same musical well as Bombay Bicycle Club, they’ve done little to disabuse the notion. They may take their name from a lyric in a Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds track, but their output is far more chardonnay-chic than lager-lout, the type of music that carries itself with a melodic grace rather than a first to the face. It is palmtree-shaded pop, served upon a plate of indie dance-rock that has encapsulated the genre for the last decade or so.

Just because it’s familiar though doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in the odd spark of superb originality; rather, High Tyde’s output feels like a fresh take on a genre at risk of losing its identity. Entering to the dissonant rumble of deep-bass techno, with guitarist Spencer Tobias-Williams clad in an outrageously loud shirt, they tear into recent single One Bullet with a ferocity belayed by many of their influences, burying it under some good, old-fashioned riffage. It’s pleasingly heavy – perhaps a nod towards Foals’ What Went Down in its execution – but it differs by trading out brute strength for a vein of tropical-rock courtesy of Tobias-Williams that almost dances between the beefier bass of Thomas-Matthews and the rhythmic scuzz of Connor Cheetham’s fretwork. Follow-up Talk to Frank throws out staccato, siren-like guitar squeals, but contrasts them with a hip-hop drumbeat, courtesy of Louis Semlekan-Faith at the back. They even dabble in post-punk, through the juddering Feeling the Vibes, showing an impressive understanding of genre knowledge, if not an innate command of it through skill.

Such touches require fine musicianship, and for the most part, they deliver; High Tyde are a competent outfit, tight and well-honed. Thomas-Matthews and Cheetham both add sigh-brushed soundscapes to the choppy, angular Feel it, whilst Semlekan-Faith is the bedrock behind the propulsive Gold, all arena-size fills and whoa-oh singalongs. Indeed, the band’s mere presence creates a palpable atmosphere of giddy delirium amongst the predominantly college-aged crowd, who mosh furiously at any given opportunity to the bounce-along pop fare they are served. When Thomas-Matthews asks for a “singalong if you know it” on Do What You Want, the aural response is as equally deafening as the music. It’s unlikely to match teen-pop hysteria at its peak – but there is no denying that the band have their fans wrapped around their finger before a chord is even strum.
High Tyde performing live in Brighton in 2013.
(Credit to
Gripes could be made about the show length and choice of cuts; in a twelve-song set, the band exclude much of their earlier material, and the inclusion of tracks such as the technicolour burst of Karibu and the cacophonous Mustang Japan would have further widened their palate. And indeed, much of the set can feel oddly repetitive; the band are yet to mature their sound past the most obvious heart-on-sleeve acknowledgements, and it shows often throughout. But they are minor complaints with a well-executed performance by a band with a rapidly rising star. “Leeds, you’ve set the bar high tonight,” a sweaty Thomas-Matthews says after Speak. “We’ve got one more – you’ve been amazing.” And with that, they propel themselves into Dark Love, their most delicious melding of clarion-call guitars and scuzzy backing in their catalogue. With a sixth EP due imminently, High Tyde are dead-set on going places in the indie-pop world; and with this assured confidence about them, their sights are going to be pretty high.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Mark Morriss - Wryly-Delivered Acoustics from a Darkly Comic Raconteur - The Fulford Arms, York, 16.10.16

As Mark Morriss sheds his jacket and rolls up the sleeves of his check-shirt at the dawn of his solo set in York, he gamely calls out for requests, before being immediately inundated by several shouts, including one who backs their choice with a whoop. “We’ve got a woo!” he cries, before enquiring for the song. “After Hours?” He shrugs. “Can’t play it, I’m afraid.” A mock boo. “Oh yeah? Well, you can take your woo and shove it!”
Mark Morriss performs in Frankfurt in 2014.
(Credit to
It’s a throwaway response that sets the tone for this acoustic shindig. Morriss, fresh from the return of his Britpop hitmakers The Bluetones, cuts a dry-witted, sharp-tongued figure with a salt-and-pepper beard and a tendency to crack filthy one-liners. Over the course of a ninety-five-minute set, he displays a maverick skill as both storyteller and entertainer, crafting a narrative of kitchen-sink-drama music that is interspersed with tongue-in-cheek cover versions. He ribs the audience as much as he self-deprecates; though wary initially to his humour, he wins them over with his earthly waggishness.

The intimate surroundings of the Fulford Arms lend themselves to proceedings too, with fifty or sixty people crammed into a pub room. Morriss relishes the proximity, calling for drinks from the bar and accepting a bag of crisps from a fan after a jokey request. “It’s not a cardigan gig, is it?” he states during Digging a Hole whilst audience members divest themselves of jumpers. Later, he calls his voice “a little bit Bonnie Tyler” after a husky rendition of It’s Hard to Be Good All the Time. When he plays Bluetonic, he bemoans the cheer it receives. “Dear diary,” he monologues in a faux-Etonian accent. “It happened again.”

There’s always been a wry realism to the songs Morriss has crafted, snapshots of the humdrum. Such sentiments appear often throughout – Marblehead Johnson is recast in a more desolate manner, and Mockingbirds is painfully beautiful. When he scuffs up on Teenage Fanclub’s Alcoholiday, it endears the emotional highlight even further. To balance the dourness, Morriss alleviates it with stage patter that becomes increasingly inappropriate. When he delivers a quip about Yorkshire’s most infamous son, it earns belly laughs. He is a darkly comic raconteur who balances the bleak with the blackly funny, a spoonful of sugar to help the bitterest pill.
Mark Morriss performs in Inverness in 2015.
(Credit to Inverness Gigs.)
His secret weapon is his left-field cover choices though, which threaten to steal the show. A punchy take on Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets comes first; later, he bursts into a rendition of Duran Duran’s Rio that peters out into light-hearted observations about its lyrical qualities as a song. They are unexpected and gloriously camp, but Morriss makes them his own with well-worn ease. Sandwiched between Slight Return and Sleaze Bed Track, they help close a show high on humour and high on heart. As he packs up and gives his handwritten setlist to a fan, he thanks the owner for putting him on tonight. Based on his grin, that very well may be sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Elton John - Rocket Man Packs In the Hits for Whistle-Stop Show - Hyde Park, London, 11.09.16

“Hyde Park!” shouts Reginald Kenneth Dwight – or rather, Sir Elton John– to the crunching sound of The Bitch Is Back’s opening riff. He climbs onto his stool – at almost seventy, jumping up is out of the question – and seats himself atop the grand piano, where he mugs for the cameras cheekily, a dazzling white perma-grin illuminated under bright lights. There can be no doubting the man’s showman credentials – one, after all, does not play a decade-spanning residency in Las Vegas to over a million and a half people without knowing how to play a crowd – and for this type of performance, a festival show for the BBC, live on air, such effortless gestures serve to reinforce the knowledge that arguably Britain’s greatest export of the past forty-five years is a born entertainer.
Elton John performs live in Hyde Park in
2016. (Credit to Alan D West Photography.)
Following in the footsteps of Rod Stewart and a reformed Electric Light Orchestra, John has his work cut out for himself headlining Radio 2’s urban Festival in a Day, a rather sedate, pleasant and slightly schmaltzy affair slap bang in the middle of the capital. Restricted to a ninety-minute set, the Rocket Man has to find time to cram in all his hits, tip his hat to his new album Wonderful Crazy Night and pay lip service to the station putting him up in one of London’s most prestigious open-air venues (illness forced him to cancel a show in 2013 as part of the British Summer Time festival).

In John, the station has found the perfect artist for such an event and he rewards their faith with his easy-going approach and charismatic performance. Like a warm cup of tea, he is innately part of the country’s musical furniture, a national treasure. His songs are as iconic as fish and chips, or the Queen. When he plays Philadelphia Freedom, set to a background image of a gently-waving US flag, it’s almost disappointing that the Union Jack isn’t flying instead (though on the anniversary of 9/11, it probably would be insensitive). Upon producing a stirring rendition of I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, the hairs on arms involuntarily stand up before he even sings a word. His timeless classics are so ingrained into popular culture, they are practically state property. Even his new stuff – Looking Up and A Good Heart, dispatched early on– slot seamlessly into his vast catalogue of copper-bottomed hits.

John himself hasn’t aged as well as his songs however, his range hampered somewhat by throat surgery in 1987. He still makes a good fist of it – the husky deepness he infuses into Your Song transforms it from beautifully lovelorn to something more primitive and despairing – but on tracks such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, he strains painfully and still falls below the notes required. He is not helped by a typically hit-and-miss festival soundmix either – sludgy and quiet at points, in keeping with the Hyde Park noise curfew. It renders the nuances of Bennie and the Jets pointless, lost in reverberating echo. And some of his song choices leave a little to be desired – in an hour-and-a-half set, is there really time for a ten-minute rendition of Levon, particularly with the absence of hits such as Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word and Candle in the Wind?
Elton John performs live in Hyde Park in
2016. (Credit to Alan D West Photography.)
But the fabulous musicianship of his band – including veterans Nigel Olsson and Ray Cooper – more than compensate, particularly on spellbinding takes on Rocket Man and Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, their gentle flourishes fleshing out John’s piano work. He ramps up the party atmosphere for the finale – a bombastic I’m Still Standing and rollicking rendition of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. At its conclusion, John consults with a stage-hand and discovers he only has two and a half minutes left. “It’s been a blast,” he shouts, “And I love you!”, before he tears into a rapid-fire rendition of glam-stomper Crocodile Rock, played at a breakneck pace, and evading the curfew by a mere second. He may not retain the power and range to command songs as he once did – but it’s undoubtable that John can still command audiences and deliver a feel-good blast six decades on. Long may he continue to do so.

RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW - Depeche Mode - Synth Masters Still Deliver an Animalistic Thrill - First Direct Arena, Leeds, 13.11.13

There’s something idiosyncratic about Depeche Mode’s encore of their show at Leeds’s First Direct Arena when, from the midst of gothic, dark electropop, they throw out the bouncy, gloriously technicolour synth-fun of Just Can’t Get Enough. It’s almost a mood whiplash, a one-eighty turn – but the delirious outpouring of screaming women and dad dancing that suddenly erupt feel like a positively sunny form of cathartic release. Basildon’s finest may have made an international name as proprietors of sexually-charged dance rock at the dawn of the nineties – but before then, they knew their way around a pop hook or four.
Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, performing live
in Leeds in 2013. (Courtesy of Gigwise.)
The band are touring behind their thirteenth record Delta Machine tonight, and their show in Leeds is the first in the city for thirty years. Their club days are long gone – exclusively a stadium act in mainland Europe – and with it, they’ve honed a vein of alternative music that has influenced everyone from girl group The Saturdays to German metallers Rammstein. Once a foursome, now a trio, they have survived drug addiction, in-fighting and all the typical big band issues, without ever really troubling the tabloids either. They’ve appealed to the critics and to the fans, the snobs and the weirdos; Depeche Mode are the odd breed of band whose appeal transcends most boundaries.

In part, that success can be laid at the feet of Dave Gahan, their charismatic frontman. The 51-year-old is magnetic, in every sense; from the slow, hypnotic doom-laden synths of opener Welcome to My World, he struts, twists and pirouettes like a coiled spring and a restrained tiger across the stage, a compelling presence that draws the eye. Partially bare, with a black vest, he exudes a seductive, seedy charm, a rambunctious devil-like figure who charms with howls and whispers. It helps that he still possesses a fabulous voice; during the darkwave of Black Celebration, his baritone is exquisitely measured, tempering the animalistic hunger that threatens to spring loose and devour the ecstatic crowd. On A Pain That I’m Used To, he snarls like a wounded beast, and slowly grinds his hips against his microphone stand. It’s an astonishing tour-de-force frontman performance that is exhilarating dirty.

In sharp contrast, the band’s other two key members – Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher – are relatively low key and all the better for it, aided by an additional keyboard player and drummer. Out of the limelight they may be, but behind Gahan, they deliver a frantic performance, transforming synth-heavy songs into primitive hard industrial rock, Gore coaxing out nuanced riffs and melodies out of his sparkling guitar. Depeche Mode have always had the influence of the blues in their veins but here, it shines through, the figures intertwined with yearning vocal lines. Gore – dressed in a silver kilt – bleeds his fretboard dry on the rapturously received Walking in My Shoes, and performs similar histrionics on a punchy Policy of Truth. Behind him, Fletcher presides over proceedings with the air of an elder statesmen, a priest of sound; his delivers foreboding flourishes on Precious, whilst on Enjoy the Silence, he brings an orchestral grandeur to proceedings. Behind the group, the large screens flash images at odds with the music; dilapidated wheelbarrows rusting in a farmhouse, innocent puppies and, most disturbingly, various naked women crushed together in anatomically impossible positions. It’s immersive, dark sensory overload – and it succeeds in enrapturing the crowd.
Martin Gore and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode,
performing live in Leeds in 2013. (Courtesy of Gigwise.)

Twice in the night, Gore takes the spotlight from Gahan to recasts versions of Judas and Shake the Disease in a beautiful solo-acoustic format – and offers an intriguing glimpse of what Depeche Mode could have been without their lion-chested frontman. But when Gahan returns to power through a sleazy Personal Jesus, there is the undeniable knowledge that he is irreplaceable; he is one of a kind. There are only minor gripes about the show – no real early hits outside of Just Can’t Get Enough Feature – but by the time a roaring, blues-and-thunder take on Never Let Me Down Again concludes proceedings, they’re forgotten in the haze of euphoria. Depeche Mode may have left their days of light, fabulous pop behind them a long time ago – but when they still sound this deliciously dark and sexy, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Goo Goo Dolls - Buffalo Balladeers Serve Up Fist-Pumping Pop Joy - O2 Academy Leeds, Leeds, 09.10.16

“We’ve gotta come back to the UK sometime soon so we can watch QI again,” the eternally youthful Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik states to a chorus of high, throaty laughs and deep chuckles that ripple through the near-two thousand people before him. “It used to be drugs and women – and now it’s just Stephen Fry.” It’s refreshing patter from the man, a step away from the somewhat banal and cliché lines enjoyed by many vocalists, and he visibly delights in the oddity and quirkiness he evokes with such comments.
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, performing live
in 2016. (Courtesy of
This six-date UK tour – of which the O2 Academy in Leeds is the second stop – is pretty much the band’s only touring commitment behind latest effort Boxes that sees them venture outside North America. It’s curious how they’ve never broken the UK the way they did the US – though few post-grunge bands ever made huge waves here in the era of Cool Britannia. It’s arguably more surprising that they didn’t break through afterwards though – from their roots, the Buffalo band shifted to alt-rock balladeers in the mid-nineties, before their change to chart-humping pop rock in the last decade. They sound commercial and hungry – yet they remain an act known to the wider European public as somewhat of a one-hit wonder, which is rather a shame.

Their show tonight roughly splits three ways and touches upon all the key musical iterations of the band, with particular emphasis on Boxes and 2013's previous record Magnetic (the two albums contribute over a third of the setlist between them). From the hand-clap-heavy piano-pop of So Alive, to the scuzzy snarl of guitar on Long Way Down to the soft rock strumming of Black Balloon, Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac (the only other permanent band member and co-founder thirty years ago) steer their set through an uplifting and joyful hundred minutes, mining a richly melodic vein in their songcraft. Opener Over and Over takes an echoing soundscape of chords over a violently percussive bass approach and marries it with a fist-pumping stadium-sized chorus. Rebel Beat is a slice of equally defiant power-pop that encourages arms aloft by the dozens.

Rzeznik is no fool either, and doesn’t overreach in pursuit of high range; he lowers his register for several older tracks, most notably on grungy-highlight Naked, and ably sidesteps any potential bum notes. Takac gamely takes lead vocals twice in the evening too; the highlight the first time is a well-worn version of classic track Smash, all sharp angst and sweaty spirit, whilst later on, it’s his tribute to the late Prince with a cover of I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man (recorded on their third album Hold Me Up) that is the show-stealer, featuring some scintillating guitar fretwork from Rzeznik. The pair, plus touring musicians Brad Fernquist, Korel Tunador and Craig Macintyre, are a slick unit too; they deliver fully-realised performances of Souls in the Machine, with its folksy, Midwestern strut, and are equally comfortable with the band’s biggest charting hit stateside, the gorgeous ballad Name, a song that brings a tear to the eye of several ladies (and a few men) in the house.
Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls performing live
in 2016. (Courtesy of  Las Vegas Informer.)
It’s a testament to the band that their show doesn’t feel like an extended build-up to that ubiquitous number that made their name in Britain. Still, after rousing performances of pop-rockers The Pin and Stay With You, and to delirious screams, Iris is duly delivered. It’s worthy of the hype too – Rzeznik’s crowning songwriting achievement transcends its live setting as the crowd holler back the iconic refrain at him and Takac. It’s a beautiful moment, and perhaps it would have been better to finish the show right there, rather than rolling out two more tracks in the aftermath of the communal, emotional high. Still, Broadway goes down a storm, and encore Long Way Home reaffirms their singalong-songwriting chops. As Rzeznik and Takac say their goodnights and vanish quickly as the house lights pop up, they leave a few thousand devoted acolytes sated and satisfied. It’s a shame that the Goo Goo Dolls aren’t bigger in Britain, yes; but from their energetic performance here, they’ll remain America’s top pop-rock export and best-kept secret for a while yet.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Feeder - Welsh Rockers Deliver Heavy, Genre-Straddling Comeback - O2 Ritz, Manchester, 03.10.16

There’s a point early on, twenty minutes into Feeder’s set at Manchester’s O2 Ritz, when frontman Grant Nicholas simply shouts “Pushing the Senses!” to the sold-out, 1,500-strong crowd. It’s not until he plucks the first notes of that iconic riff – embedded deeper into culture on the back of a Vauxhall advert some years ago – that it becomes apparent that this is not Pushing the Senses as we know it. Indeed, the nimble title track from the band’s 2005 album has been downtuned, transforming it from its light power-pop origins into a more foreboding, ferocious beast, that pummels the crowd with its pure wall of sound. Feeder have returned, but not as you’ve seen them in recent times.
Grant Nicholas of Feeder, performing at the Isle of Wight Festival
2016, in the Big Top. (Courtesy of
The duo of Nicholas and bassist Taka Hirose were, around the millennium, arguably Britain’s finest purveyors of pop metal. The furore over their 2005 headline appearance at Download, in hindsight, appears small-minded; these gentlemen, and their various drummers since the death of original Jon Lee in 2002, know how to rock, and rock hard. But Feeder haven’t particularly dabbled in truly hard music since 2001’s commercial breakthrough Echo Park, instead slowly conforming to a template of anthemic alt-rock pioneered by bands such as Coldplay in a post-Britpop world. Their genre shift is understandable – after all, most bands not called AC/DC do undergo stylistic changes -  but it’s been a while since you could call them remotely metal.

Nicholas and Hirose are out to change these preconceptions though. Their return from an unexpected hiatus has not made waves in the press or the charts – as perhaps is to be expected in the current music climate – but with a new album entitled All Bright Electric, the band are out to reconcile their origins as guitar-shredding riff men with their modern dimensions of a genre-straddling unit. For most of their ninety-five-minute-plus set, they do just that, throwing not just hook-heavy metal at the crowd, but also Beatlesque melodies, post-rock soundscapes, trippy-southern-gothic-pop and a touch of referential shoegaze for good measure. It’s eclectic and mostly works.

The biggest complaint to be made is about the setlist. They may have a record to promote, but with it yet to hit the shelves, it’s a ballsy call by the group to cull a third of their setlist from it. Some tracks are mesmerising, showcasing top-of-the-game songwriting, such as the moody opener Another Day on Earth; recent single Eskimo becomes a woozy psychedelic number that gives ways to the stoner-rock of QOTSA and The Dead Weather, all whiskey-drenched and devilish. Others, however, are rather unexciting; Geezer sounds like a mere pastiche of Geezer Butler’s lesser work, whilst Infrared-Ultraviolet feels like a painful, groaning chore. What makes it grating is their presence in place of other, older hits – no Comfort in Sound, Tumble and Fall or Borders. What should be concert staples are new material of varying quality, met with a mixed response.
Taka Hirose and Grant Nicholas of Feeder, with Chris Hill of Warrington
Wolves and Matty Smith of Wigan Warriors, at Old Trafford. (Courtesy of Feeder.)
But it can be forgiven for how tight and fresh they sound, particularly when recasting their older material. Accompanied by a drummer, rhythm guitarist and keyboard player, Nicholas and Hirose overcome a sometimes muddy sound mix to deliver stone-cold classics, played with a joyous passion. With lusty singalong Feeling a Moment perhaps their only classic hit not altered in some form, downtuning means that tracks such as Come Back Around and Insomnia sound more intense and visceral than they once did. Their most accomplished track Just the Way I’m Feeling suffers a little, its keening guitar lines lost underneath the chords – but when they tease out the intro to Buck Rogers through a shoegaze-haze, before restarting the bouncing power-pop anthem at full tilt, it’s impossible not to grin.

Before they finish, Feeder tease their next visit to Manchester – in front of a 70,000-plus crowd at Old Trafford for the Super League Grand Final between Warrington and Wigan on Saturday. If going by the reception they subsequently elicit with Just a Day, its bellowing chorus and bludgeoning riff deafening, Nicholas and Hirose need not worry about having to win over rugby fans. On the basis of tonight’s return, one thing is clear; Feeder the softly-spoken are dead. Long live the Feeder of old, resurrected in their loud, proud glory.

Andrew Steel