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.)

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Northern Chords - Best of 2016 - Part 4 - #10-#6

Following on from the three previous installments, here is the penultimate part of The Northern Chords' Best of 2016 countdown for live shows, including two performances from this year's Glastonbury Festival. Almost at the end now!

Glastonbury Festival, Pilton, 24.06.16.

A few acts may play across the Thursday evening at Glastonbury, but the first spot on the Other Stage on Friday has become a coveted position, third only to headliner and the Legends Slot. In Madchester icons James, riding a revival of fortunes behind new record Girl at the End of the World, the festival found a match made in heaven. From the brass-drenched feelgood anthemics of Nothing But Love, to the baggy throwback of Laid, through the soaring alt-rock balladry of Tomorrow, Tim Booth and company helped blow through the drizzle and referendum hangover with a chirpy, feel-good performance. Altogether now; come home, come home….
Tim Booth of James performing live in Manchester in 2016.
(Credit to Sean Hansford.)
The Cure
Manchester Arena, Manchester, 29.11.16.

Goth-pop legends The Cure’s first UK show in almost two years – and first arena show at least three times that length – may have been a breeze compared to recent slogs at a mere two hours; but Robert Smith and co packed it so full of hits and fan favourites that it was difficult to feel short-changed. Backed by five vertical screens and a wild, often trippy light show, the band played a career-spanning set, from the juddering post-punk thrill of A Forest to the charged jangle-rock of The Hungry Ghost, and found space to throw in the joyously bouncy trio of Just Like Heaven, In Between Days and Friday I’m In Love. The Cure are back again – and even all these years later, smudged kohl and lipstick has never felt so giddily fun. Stellar stuff.
The Cure performing live at Bestival 2016.
(Credit to Red Bull.)
Glastonbury Festival, Pilton, 25.06.16.

Beige. Uninspired. Music for grannies. Boring. Not Glastonbury enough. These were just some of the insults thrown around regarding the booking of soul pop singer Adele Adkins, the biggest artist on the planet. Yet from the opening notes of mega-ballad Hello to the closing piano chimes of Someone Like You, the Tottenham-born superstar won over her audience with a tight, superb performance of her biggest hits, punctured with potty-mouth rambles and fez-sporting sidetracks. With modern classics such as Skyfall, Set Fire to the Rain and Rolling in the Deep dispatched with flair and panache, Adele proved soft pop had a place on the Pyramid and wrote herself into history once more doing so.
Adele performing live at Glastonbury Festival 2016.
(Credit to BBC.)
O2 Academy Leeds, Leeds, 14.02.16.

It was fitting perhaps, that on a grey Valentine’s Day, Suede turned up to the O2 Academy Leeds to play a new album based around the concept of a relationship disintegrating in tragic circumstances. Their presentation of latest record Night Thoughts – played entirely behind a screen onto which an accompanying short film was played – was a nature, challenging, cinematic thrill; and when they unloaded the hits in a second act, curtain raised, the band were even more compelling. From Brett Anderson’s snake-hip thrust on the deliciously dirty Animal Nitrate to the wretched-scuzz riffs of Trash, Suede reaffirmed themselves as a vital live act, unafraid to take a gamble here and there.
Suede performing live in Manchester in 2016.
(Credit to Manchester Evening News.)
Biffy Clyro
First Direct Arena, Leeds, 04.12.16.

The Scottish power trio’s return to arenas may have been down on attendance figures compared to their 2013 jaunt; but the Ayrshire rockers gave no less an incendiary performance than they did three years ago. From the pummelling fretwork of Wolves of Winter to the euphoric lighters-aloft balladry of Biblical, to the stoner-sprint of Bubbles, Simon Neil and brothers Ben and James Johnston roared – minus their tops of course – through a 130-minute extravaganza, on a stage bedecked by four separate halogen lighting rigs that gave the impression of an optical illusion. They arguably peaked with the iconic, sky-high singalong of Many of Horror – but Neil showcased his showmanship best when accompanied only by an acoustic guitar for a beautiful Machines. Mon the Biff indeed! 
Biffy Clyro performing live at Reading Festival in 2016.
(Credit to Emma Swan.)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Northern Chords - Best of 2016 - Part 3 - #15-#11

The Christmas countdown of our best of 2016 continues here at The Northern Chords, with numbers #15 through #11 today. Ho ho ho!

Manchester Arena, Manchester, 08.04.16.

Muse’s seventh record Drones was another album full of Wagnerian bluster, pompous riffs and tetchy progtronica – so it was only right that their UK tour should see them exceed Spinal Tap levels of overblown spectacle by flying numerous drones around Britain’s biggest arena, lit up like kaleidoscopic mines and portable suns. Such theatrics would be a distraction if not for the quality of the band below. Though their new material could be stodgy, classic new glam-anthems like Uprising and Knights of Cydonia allowed Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme to flex their peerless musical muscles in another toud-de-force performance. The band headline Reading and Leeds next year – a show sure to be another captivating notch in their belt.
Muse performing live in Manchester in 2016.
(Credit to Joel Goodman.)
Cigarettes After Sex
Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 22.11.16.

Cigarettes After Sex – the Texan ambient collective led by the softly-spoken Greg Gonzalez – have been making waves for a reason. Their brand of androgynous, witchy music, eerily reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins, is disarmingly hypnotic and whilst their show at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds was rather short on quantity, it was easily eclipsed by quality. From their latest single K, through a cover of REO Speedwagon’s Keep on Loving You, to the superbly executed Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby, Gonzalez and company kept their crowd hooked in a dreamlike state of haunted ecstasy. The group return to these shores for a trio of shows next Spring – a must see for any fan of ethereal pop.
Cigarettes after Sex performing live in New York in 2015.
(Credit to brechtbug.)
Glastonbury Festival, Pilton, 25.06.16.

Few people would have the balls to were a pristine white suit in the torrential mud of Glastonbury 2016, but Theo Hutchcraft is not one of them. Like a sexually-charged angel stalking the slate grey skies and stage, his boundless energy and impeccable vocals helped make Hurts’ set one of the weekend’s stand-out highlights. From the throbbing bass of Some Kind of Heaven to the emphatic disco-dance of Sunday, to the stunning ballad Stay that closed their brief, hour-long set, Hutchcraft and musical partner Adam Anderson kept up an arch vein of witty synthpop that served as a wonderful tonic to the drizzle over Pilton. Hurts are classy party-starters – and they showed why they remain a massive live draw across the continent with their excellent showmanship.
Hurts performing live at Glastonbury Festival 2016.
(Credit to BBC.)
Manchester Academy, Manchester, 03.04.16.

It’s a rare treat when power-pop icons Weezer makes the journey across to the UK. With no full tour over here in well over a decade, and their appearances reduced to sporadic London and festival shows, their stop in Manchester behind their four self-titled record was long overdue. The Californian legends justified the wait and the hype too, with a blistering career-spanning set including college-staple tracks such as Say It Ain’t So, Buddy Holly and Troublemaker, the latter complete with a snippet of Oasis’ Champagne Supernova. Weezer are perhaps the perfect crowd-pleasing live band, tight and catchy; but let’s hope they don’t make Britain wait another ten years for a proper visit.
Weezer performing live in Manchester in 2016.
(Credit to
Neil Young and Promise of the Real
First Direct Arena, Leeds, 10.06.16.

Canadian folk legend Neil Young’s first visit to Europe with his new backing group, Californian jam band Promise of the Real, was as thrilling as its billing suggested. Opening with a solo acoustic set featuring classic cuts such as Heart of Gold and Comes a Time, Young steered the show through his musical evolution, from his hippie days to his place as the godfather of grunge, through twenty-minute renditions of Cowgirl in the Sand and Down by the River, all stuttering staccato guitar licks. When he screamed “Fuck Donald Trump!” at the beginning of a messy yet visceral Rockin’ in the Free World, his rage at the state of the West was palpable. A genuine icon, Young remains a compelling live performer, even as his septuagenarian years roll on.
Neil Young performing live in Glasgow in 2016.
(Credit to The Guardian.)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Northern Chords - Best of 2016 - Part 2 - #20-#16

Following on from yesterday's first part, The Northern Chords presents the second installment of their review of 2016's best live shows, with the countdown featuring #20 through #16. Happy holidays!

Coheed and Cambria
O2 Ritz, Manchester, 01.02.16.

The NY-area progressive metallers have famously put out seven conceptual records over a decade that all tied into a sprawling science-fiction storyline and comic book series, The Amory Wars, written by frontman Claudio Sanchez. Freed off these creative constraints, Coheed and Cambria’s eighth album, The Color Before the Sun, instead delivered superb lashings of pop rock, showcased brilliantly in a career-spanning Manchester show. New tracks such as Island and You’ve Got Spirit, Kid were bona-fide singalong anthems – and their line in older material, such as the crushingly heavy Welcome Home kept the purists entertained too. Visceral, stirring stuff.
Coheed and Cambria performing live in Portland in 2015.
(Credit to Vortex Music Magazine.)

First Direct Arena, Leeds, 20.02.16.

Arena level shows were arguably overdue for Foals, Oxford’s biggest musical export since Radiohead. Purveyors of tropical indie pop, and renown for the chaotic, sweaty live shows, they impressively carried over that energy into concrete monoliths in February, ahead of their major festival headline debut at Reading. In part, their success lied with frantic, heavy new material such as the pummelling What Went Down and the groove-laden Snake Oil – but it was the dance-funk of My Number and the ethereal Spanish Sahara that justly captivated Leeds, Yannis Philippakis scaling sound towers and inciting mosh pits aplenty. Hectic and thrilling, Foals remain a premier live act even at this level.
Foals performing live in London in 2016. (Credit
to DIY Magazine.)

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Manchester Arena, Manchester, 14.12.16

On their winter UK arena tour, there was a sense that the Red Hot Chili Peppers had something to prove. The band had played a run of lacklustre festival headline shows in the summer, including T in the Park and Reading and Leeds Festivals, and questions were asked about their quality as a live act. Doubts were firmly banished at the first night of two in Manchester, with rhythm section Flea and Chad Smith as elastic as ever on hard funk classics Higher Ground, Give It Away and Californication. Frontman Anthony Kiedis shined on the melodically sweet Snow ((Hey Oh)) and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer shined on newer cuts The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie and Dark Necessities, all accompanied by a jaw-dropping lighting rig. Fortune faded? Not quite yet.
Red Hot Chili Peppers performing live in Birmingham in
2016. (Credit to Birmingham Mail.)
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes
Albert Hall, Manchester, 18.02.16.

Second down on this year’s Kerrang! Tour bill, former Gallows and Pure Love frontman Frank Carter’s set was the undisputed highlight, blowing out comeback headliners Sum 41 in emphatic fashion. Backed by his group The Rattlesnakes, he blew threw a tight set of hardcore punk at Manchester’s Albert Hall that saw him stand atop the crowd itself, in the middle of an extraordinary circle pit during a visceral Jackals. By the venomous, destructive I Hate You, Carter had truly stole the show, crowning himself rightfully as one of the most exhilarating live acts in the modern British rock scene.
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes performing live in London
in 2015. (Credit to Daniel Quesada.)
Tame Impala
Manchester Arena, Manchester, 11.02.16.

Having made their name with neo-psychedelic jams straight from the suburbs of Australia, Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala made a sidestep into disco with their latest record Currents, a stylistic shift ably showcased at their UK arena headline debut. Backed by swirls of neon colour and heady smoke, the rock outfit unfurled shimmering gems such as the infectious Let It Happen and the stoner-thump of Elephant. By the time they close with the slow, sensual New Person, Same Old Mistakes, Tame Impala had emphatically justified their step up into large venues – and with such an ability to hypnotise audiences, the sky is truly their limit.
Tame Impala performing live in Dublin in 2016.
(Credit to No More Workhorse.)

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Northern Chords - Best of 2016 - Part 1 - #25-#21

2016 was not just another year. It was the year where the world turned itself upside down, perhaps no more so in the music world. We sadly learnt that Bowie was not immortal, nor Prince, nor Cohen. These illustrious greats, these wordsmiths, these musicians who formed the very tapestry of modern music were suddenly no longer among us, all too human, gone too soon. It was a sobering year, and many more didn’t make it to the end.

But 2016 also delivered some of the finest live music experiences going. Numerous musicians made their first visit to UK shores for some years, several stepped up on the festival bills and at Glastonbury, the referendum result was cast aside in a celebration of unity and togetherness. Thenorthernchords was lucky to attend some superb events once more this year, with over a hundred different artists seen. In a year of tragedy, music could still remind us of triumph.
So, without further ado, may we present our Top #25 Performances of 2016

Brand New
First Direct Arena, Leeds, 04.12.16.

A veil of uncertainty clouds the future of New York emo stalwarts Brand New. With their end signalled to be within the next twenty-four months, the band’s support slots for Biffy Clyro were perhaps the first notes of an extended swansong. If so, they couldn’t have started it in a better way, bringing out soaring, angst-ridden renditions of Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t and Jesus. Under flashes of chaotic light, Jesse Lacey and co reminded those present of the legacy they will leave behind – but here’s to hoping that they might delay retirement a little longer.
Brand New performing live in Michigan in 2016.
(Credit to Scott Legato.)
First Direct Arena, Leeds, 05.02.16.

Generally, a support act isn’t meant to overshadow the main attraction. But after Shinedown’s performance on the Carnival of Madness Tour before Black Stone Cherry, it was always going to be a difficult act for the latter to follow. The Jacksonville hard rockers turned out a consummately professional performance that was no less enjoyable for its adherence to convention, with highlights including their stunning staple cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man and a punchy, chunky Sound of Madness. But perhaps the highlight is their power-ballad Second Chance, all superb riffs and cheesy air-punching. They return to the UK next May in support of Iron Maiden too; a must-see for rock fans in need of a good time.
Shinedown performing live in Leeds in 2016..
(Credit to Katy Blackwood.)
Mark Morriss
The Fulford Arms, York, 16.10.16.

Few gigs came more intimate than Bluetones frontman Mark Morriss’ show in an old pub. Yet it suited the singer and guitarist down to a tee, allowing him to mine his natural skill as a raconteur and a filthy sense of humour alongside some excellently rendered gritty acoustic pop. What stood out best though were his oddball cover choices – his left-field picks of Elton John’s Daniel and the new-wave sex-stomp of Rio were truly magnificent. Morriss often cut close to the bone with his jokes but his waggish geniality allowed him to easily break down the barriers between performer and audience for an friendly show that never lost the personal touch.
Mark Morriss performing live in Frankfurt in 2014.
(Credit to
Manchester Arena, Manchester, 14.12.16.

When it was announced that the Red Hot Chili Peppers would bring Japanese teenage outfit Babymetal to the UK as their support act, more than a few eyebrows were raised. But their match is more logical than doubters assume; both play their music with a keen sense of theatrical humour, both fuse melodic pop with heavy riffs and both are known for ridiculous fashion choices. As such, Babymetal – Su-metal, Yuimetal, Moametal and the Kami Band – were absolutely brilliant, from the J-pop metalcore of Megitsune to the groove-laden, anthemic Karate. Some may dismiss Babymetal as a joke, a one-trick pony; but in Manchester, they ably staked a claim as a credible live artist.
Babymetal performing live in London in 2016.
(Credit to TeamRock.)
Massive Attack
O2 Academy Leeds, Leeds, 27.01.16.

Bristol’s politically-charged godfathers of trip-hop may have headlined Hyde Park with Patti Smith this year, but it was their intimate show at the O2 Academy in Leeds that really set pulses racing. Eschewing some of their biggest hits, they instead rolled out new material including a riveting Voodoo in My Blood, with guest vocals from support act Young Fathers and the eerie Ritual Spirt. If the music was great, the visuals were even better – all rendered in the style of old Ceefax pages, with real-time news headlines painting a violent image of early 2016, dire warnings that have become spookily prophetic in hindsight. Hits? Who needs the hits when it’s this good?
Massive Attack performing live in London in 2016.
(Credit to The Telegraph.)

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Status Quo - Three-Chord Stalwarts Sign Off With a Wallop - First Direct Arena, Leeds, 17.12.16.

Four songs in, and Francis Rossi, the sharply dressed frontman of Status Quo, is already removing his waistcoat, wiping firstly his brow and then his crotch with the garment in question. He looks at it for a moment, then shrugs and throws it over his shoulder. “I’ve got that feeling of going too far,” he quips. When a member of the audience heckles him, his response is succinct and good-natured: “Shut yer gob!”
Status Quo performing live in London in December
2016. (Credit to Andrew Fosker.)

Succinct and good-natured is a pretty good way to describe the Quo. The three-chord stalwarts have made a half-century long career out of music that is direct and to the point; no-nonsense, in-your-face, chunky rock-and-roll, with all the fat shaved off. Thirty-two albums in, and they show no sign of stopping, though ostensibly, they are slowing down. Their show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds is part of what is being billed as an electric full-band farewell tour, with Rossi having announced that the group will switch to acoustic shows only. Indeed, with Rossi the only original member left following Rick Parfitt’s retirement after a heart attack in the summer, the question lingers whether Quo have a future beyond their immediate slate of dates.

Rossi obviously hasn’t got the memo about signing off quietly; from the ferocious Caroline to the driving, pounding Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like, Quo’s lead guitarist delivers brusque, taut riffs that shake the foundations around him. His voice remains in excellent shape, fifty years on – and in Parfitt’s absence, long-term bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and keyboard player Andy Brown ably fill his vocal cues. Indeed, Rossi does not even mention his founding partner all night; and touring replacement Richie Malone, referred to as “Paddy” by the frontman, ably fills the big guitar licks required on songs such as The Wanderer and Rain.

Their staging is spartan and their lighting old-school; a sharp contrast to the modern arena spectacle on offer. And when all five, including drummer Leon Cave – with a “cocktail kit” as Rossi terms it – decamp to the front for a cheeky Gerdundula, there’s a wonderfully intimate feel to proceedings. But it’s the thunderous rock and roll they serve that truly captures attention, from the roaring Beginning of the End to the snappy Roll Over Lay Down. They even roll five or six of their hits up into a fast-paced medley; though the snapshot nature does feel somewhat lacking.
Status Quo performing live in Nottingham in December
2016. (Credit to Kevin Cooper.)
But the hits do keep coming; a burbling In the Army Now, the bouncy Whatever You Want, the booming, singalong Rockin’ All Over the World that bursts with anthemic passion. When they return, after a brief break, for the encore, they turn out fan favourite and latter-day hit Burning Bridges (On and Off and On Again), famously the basis for a football chant and hit single by Manchester United. As they wrap up with Chuck Berry’s Rock and Roll Music, Rossi sketches a quick bow. Status Quo may be going out – but they’re rolling home with a wallop, not a whisper.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Ageless Funk Unit Remain Gloriously Outlandish - Manchester Arena, Manchester, 14.12.16

“I was just about to play the wrong song,” announces Michael Balzary, or Flea as he is better known, to raucous laughter. “The one thing you do if you’ve been in the Red Hot Chili Peppers for thirty-five years is consistently embarrass yourself,” he adds as singer Anthony Kiedis chuckles at him. “You get used to it.” Behind them, large screens depict band members being decapitated in cartoon form as well as fetishized imagery of female buttocks. It’s shamelessly juvenile and gloriously outlandish, snuff in technicolour that aims to titillate, rudely and crudely.
Red Hot Chili Peppers performing live in Birmingham
in 2016. (Credit to Andy Shaw.)
The ageless LA funk unit, mercifully bereft of cock-socks, are not known for their deeper insights. Indeed, their odes to sex and drugs border on the fantastically dumb on occasions – but their absurdity and audacity has always worked thanks to an urgent high-spiritedness and their superb musical credentials. Their first stop of two in Manchester on their UK tour is in support of eleventh album The Getaway; and after a summer of festivals, it gives them a chance to dig deep and showcase their skills.

Flea, hair dyed cornflower yellow, is the cornerstone of RHCP’s sound, a genuine bass virtuoso. Dressed like a Jackson Pollock painting viewed on acid, he gurns and slaps hard through muscular versions of Around the World and The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie. When matched with guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and drummer Chad Smith, the three are thrilling, from the feedback-drenched finale of Don’t Forget Me to the thrilling punk racket of Nobody Weird Like Me, on which support act Babymetal make a fleeting cameo. “Who were those mystical Japanese girls who came up here flying out of control?” the bassist quips with a manic smile, clearly having a ball.

He’s matched in the crowd-pleasing stakes by singer Kiedis, clad in biker shorts, snapback and porno-tache, whose way with a lyric is amusingly filthy. When describing a sexual act on the propulsive disco-tinged Go Robot, there’s a dirty grin stretched across his face, like a schoolboy discovering a swearword for the first time. On the hard-rocking Higher Ground, he throbs with a primal energy, prowling and spinning across the stage like a lecherous pterodactyl. Yet when he slows it down for the heart-to-heart cries of Otherside, he is equally watchable, an enthralling presence with near-impeccable vocals and an undefined magnetic charisma.
Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers performing live
in Birmingham in 2016. (Credit to Birmingham Mail.)
Aided by a spectacular light-show that utilises Chinese Lantern-style strips on wires, it is a slick, tight performance, a sharp cry from the pedestrian nature of their Reading and Leeds slots in August. From the gorgeous Snow ((Hey Oh)) to the riotous By the Way, RHCP look once more like they’re having a good time. Though they skip over several of their biggest hits, no-one feels short-changed; and by the time Smith hurls his drumsticks into the crowd after a visceral Give It Away, the Chilis have confidently reasserted their live credentials. As Flea handstands his way across the stage, he raises his feet in triumph. Fortune faded? Thankfully, not quite yet.

Friday, 9 December 2016

James - Indie-Pop Rockers Cap Off a Fine Renaissance - O2 Academy Sheffield, Sheffield, 09.12.16

Only three numbers have passed at the O2 Academy in Sheffield before Tim Booth has fallen into the arms of the waiting crowd during a boisterous Surfer’s Song. The Yorkshireman – whose shining pate, trimmed goatee and erratic dancing gives the impression of a seventies adult actor transported to the twenty-first century – returns to the safety of the stage with a small grin. “There’s a big sign somewhere here saying that crowdsurfers will be ejected,” he quips, before he holds out his hands in mock-surrender to security policing the barrier, as if waiting to be handcuffed.
Tim Booth of James performing live in Leeds in 2016.
(Credit to Danny Payne Photography.)
He has reason to be cheeful. 2016 may go down in notoriety, but for James, the seminal Madchester-era band, it has been their most successful year since their reunion almost a decade ago. With a hit album in Girl At the End of the World and an acclaimed slot at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, they have made a triumphant, well-deserved return to the top flight of British music. Their appearance in Sheffield is their penultimate date of the year, amongst a handful of thank-you shows, a victory lap in all but name.

Expectation would be to trot out the hits, one after the other here. Instead, James subvert this notion with a setlist spanning over thirty years, heavy on deep cuts and fan favourites. Under dark blue lighting, they open with 2014’s Walk Like You, before an energetic dash through Ring The Bells. They dust off Hymn from a Village for the first time this year, and throw in fan favourite Five-O for good measure. It is a near-career-retrospective, a whistle-stop tour of lesser-renown moments that showcases the group’s versatility.

It’s hard to fathom how good Booth sounds at fifty-six too. On the synth-drenched To My Surprise, he flows silkily between exclamation and exhumation with smooth ease. For 10 Below, played live for only the second known time, he creates dissonant noise through a megaphone, whipping up frenzied soundscapes. The rest are no slouches either; bassist Jim Glennie, drummer David Baynton-Power, guitarist Saul Davies, keyboard player Mark Hunter and Andy Diagram on trumpet, plus touring member Adrian Oxaal. Together, they deliver some thrilling renditions of classic songs; Waltzing Along is an unruly bass-heavy blast whilst the ethereal Vervaceous is heady and intoxicating in equal measure.
Tim Booth of James performing live in Manchester in 2016.
(Credit to Sean Hansford.)
At times, the sound mix fluctuates badly, drowning out Diagram often, and the setlist often feels a step too far for casual fans, oddly paced at points. But when the hits eventually come, they do so thick and fast. A driving Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and the baggy Come Home are dispatched with a gleeful abandon, triggering mass outbreaks of beery singalongs and dad dancing. A superb Sometimes build on the party atmosphere, and when they close with the strident Nothing But Love, it threatens to make Sheffield burst with unbridled joy. Renaissances don’t often come around in pop music – but James are the special kind of band who are more than deserving of a second wind.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Rod Stewart - A Bona-Fide National Treasure in Vegas Trappings - First Direct Arena, Leeds, 06.12.16.

“Enjoy yourselves, ladies and gentlemen,” Rod Stewart announces to the First Direct Arena in Leeds, dressed in a black sequinned shirt, skinny jeans and trainers. “It’s later than you think.” It’s an off-the-cuff joke underscored by a foreboding note of truth. Stewart is no spring chicken – he turns 72 in January – and after a year of music icons passing onto the great gig in the sky, it’s hard to not feel a slight chill in his quip. It vanishes quickly though as he gets the party started; one big NYE-style celebration delivered via Vegas schmaltz and trappings by a bona-fide national treasure.
Rod Stewart performing live in Dublin in November,
2016. (Credit to Dan Butler Photography.)
Entering to the Champions League theme, Rod the Mod proclaims that he will “be here for two hours”. He only plays one and a half but only a curmudgeon would feel short-changed by the festive bonanza provided. From the Gaelic jig of new track Love Is to the R&B-drenched Havin’ A Party, and all the way back to Ooh La La, from his time in the Faces, his band leave no stone unturned in delivering an unashamed greatest hits show. It has a wonderful jukebox feel, complimented by the retro-dinner style chequerboard pattern that lines the stage and curtains.

Stewart’s distinctive rasp is still husky, but time has withered the power and range behind it. On some of his most iconic tracks, such as the cheesy synthpop anthem Baby Jane, he lowers his register to compensate for such shortcomings. Such tremulous edges render other tracks more wistful; Downtown Train is earthly, Sailing fragile. It wobbles early on – on Robert Palmer tribute Some Guys Have All the Luck and the sweeping Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright) – but mostly, it is good, especially for a septuagenarian recovering from strep throat.

“Now we’re all going to sit down at the front and pretend we’re the Eagles,” Stewart wisecracks as he perches on a stool. It’s in this more intimate setting that he shines best; stripped of the showbiz sheen, the acoustic working of several classics – Handbags and GladragsThe First Cut is the DeepestI Don’t Want to Talk About It – are superb high points, allowing the singer’s gravelly tones space to breathe. He even works in videos of his beloved Celtic FC to You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim) to warm laughter from a partisan Yorkshire crowd.
Rod Stewart performing live in Dublin in November,
2016. (Credit to Dan Butler Photography.)
There are indulgences; an extended drum battle in the middle of a striding Forever Young, and a backing vocalist cover of Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High. But these discrepancies can be forgiven, thanks to the sheer fun factor. By the time Maggie May is giddily dispatched and Stay With Me has brought the audience to their feet, it is infectiously joyous as footballs are punted into the crowd to the disco-stomp of Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? Stewart may be not the force he once was, but he remains an excellent showman; and above all, knows how to have a jolly good time. Sir Rod, you wear it well indeed.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Biffy Clyro - Scottish Rockers Reassert Immaculate Live Credentials - First Direct Arena, Leeds, 04.12.16

“It’s always wonderful when we come to Leeds,” Simon Neil gushes, midway through Biffy Clyro’s two-hour-plus set at the First Direct Arena in the city. “But it’s a nice change to not be in a muddy field.” His quip alludes to the rarity of an indoor show in Yorkshire for the Scottish hard-rock outfit; their last two major shows in the county saw them headline the Bramham Park leg of Reading and Leeds Festivals, both this year and in 2013. New record Ellipsis hasn’t caught fire the way their previous outings have however – and with curtains draped across several cavernous seating blocks in the venue, questions can be asked whether Ayrshire’s most famous sons are still at the top of the game.
Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro performing live at Reading
Festival 2016. (Courtesy of Emma Swan.)
They answer their critics with a resounding yes, in terms of performance, power and energy; within the span of the first song, the trio – guitarist Neil and brothers James and Ben Johnston – reassert their immaculate live credentials as one of Britain’s most thrilling acts on a stage. Juggling new material and fan favourites in an expertly balanced setlist, they deliver a bruising opening salvo that includes the ferocious Wolves of Winter and the math-rock edged Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies, before dropping power-ballad Biblical to deafening screams and a sea of handheld phone lights. The sheer heft, the wall of sound produced, is blindly exhilarating.

It helps that all three members are intensely charismatic characters and vocalists in their own rights. Neil, initially dressed in a flowing white cassock before disrobing to join his topless bandmates in semi-nakedness, is at turns a primal force of aggression and an oddly coquettish individual with an incredible dextrous voice, both baleful and bashful. He beams in obviously genuine pleasure when the crowd laps up early debut album cut Justboy, and profusely thanks the crowd after every song, a man for whom the experience of playing before thousands is still a treasured thrill. James, on the bass, skips and scampers across the stage in high pantomime, impressing on the stoner-rock-rush of Bubbles and permanently sporting a mile-wide grin. Ben, behind the drums, gets less of a chance to show off compared to the other two – but his soaring backing vocals on Puzzle number Folding Stars give it an aching quality that haunts behind the crashing fretwork and twinkling synths.

Their new material translates well to the stage too, and is better received than perhaps expected. Howl is played at a frantic pace, kinetic and driving, whilst new single Re-arrange, a Taylor Swift-esque country pop ballad, is met by arms aloft and sighing couples embracing throughout its duration. Only the somewhat drippy People is underwhelming; and even then, that is a minor gripe at the best. They are aided by a typical laser-guided light show that is elevated by the unusual staging – a four-tiered stage, encircled by large square frames of increasing sizes that pulse with the background visuals, creating various optical illusions. Angry red hues are conjured for new song In the Name of the Wee Man; monochrome flashes are rolled out aptly for Black Chandelier. Combined, both band and added effects are rather OTT and all the more enjoyable for it.
James Johnston of Biffy Clyro performing live at Reading
Festival 2016. (Courtesy of Emma Swan.)
But it’s the older material that truly lifts the show into top gear, be it the doff of the cap to the old-school fans with Infinity Land deep cut Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave, or the delightful pleasure of Different People’s reverb-drenched organ heralding mass pit activity. When they drop a particularly brutal rendition of That Golden Rule, there’s a moment where the churning ocean of bodies in front of the stage threatens to spill past the barriers, such is the alacrity with which fans throw themselves around. They roll out the biggest hits near the close of the main set – a roaring Mountains, a triumphant Many of Horror, a beautiful solo acoustic rendition of Machines that leaves shivers and goosebumps in its wake – before capping off proceedings with an encore including the soaring anthemics of The Captain. “Thank you so much, Leeds,” Neil snarls with a smile before they close with Stingin’ Belle. “We are Biffy. Fucking. Clyro.” Mon the Biff, they say. Mon the Biff indeed.