Sunday, October 28, 2018

Idles, Heavy Lungs - Institute, Birmingham - Oct 26, 2018

Heavy Lungs
The band were all over the stage, in a good way. The drummer, shirtless from the outset, was either screaming into the mic (not singing, shrieking) or sticking his tongue out KISS style for the entirety of the set. Meanwhile the singer (the Danny Nedelko) couldn't dance but he sure did move - essentially repeating a chosen gyration a bunch of times until deciding to move on to the next. Arms swinging, head swirling, whatever it was it filled every gap between his vocals. In time he also removed his shirt and began doing push-ups on the kick drum. These two were the scene for me although the guitarist was pretty impressive, more for his actual musical talent. I can't say the music was mind-blowing yet I did enjoy it. Despite listening to their limited selection of online tunes a few times through in preparation I only recognized one of them when it was played live and it was the only slightly slower song of the set. Altogether it was a powerful, enjoyable showing of a hugely energetic group on the upswing.

With a 10pm curfew the room filled in swiftly between 7:30 when the openers hit the stage and 8:30 when the main event were due. In the past year, almost to the day, Idles have gone from headlining a mini local festival for a couple hundred to easily selling out the gorgeous Institute for a couple thousand not just fans but rabid admirers. The cheers began as Jon, the drummer, casually took his place at the kit, followed by Mr Beauty Beard (Adam) who revved things up drum and bass style, so to speak, with a protracted intro to Colossus, until the rest of the members arrived. And with the first snarl from Joe, the floor was transformed into a roiling pit that would not let up throughout the rest of the set.

Obviously being the Joy as an Act of Resistance tour they pulled heavily from the new release (playing everything but June actually), with an early highlight being Danny Nedelko, including an appearance from the inspiration for the song himself that ended with a kiss shared with Joe. Also during that tune the guitarist came down to the edge of the crowd to lead the spelling bee. The crowd ate up the hilarious Never Fight a Man with a Perm, shouting out the title to add punctuation to the tune. When Joe asked who here was scum plenty answered his call and voiced it loudly. So as not to keep early adopters waiting too long they dipped back into Mother and also tossed Heal/Heel into the mix with alternating thumbs up and down for each burst of the title.

Love Song didn't offer much new played live versus the record but it did give us a chance to hug our friends or consenting strangers on Joe's request which saw this reviewer in a joyous four-way hug with a mixed assemblage of punks. It was also around this time in the set they changed it up as the band started pulling people from the crowd onto the stage to sing, dance and play along. Yes, play! They gave out drum sticks and even a guitar to one girl to strum although she had no idea how and ended up on someone's shoulders by the end of the song, still clutching it. Easily a dozen lucky people clambered over the rail and onto the stage until the end of Exeter when Joe had to shoo them off. "I don't want to be rude but if I don't tell you to go you'll forget we're trying to put on a gig here and want to stay for a chat. It happened in Leeds!"

Television (or was it Cry to Me?) was introed by Joe with a quick word about depression, as he's known to be vocal about, well, being vocal and reaching out if in need. While he explained that Gram Rock was about the utter dummies (my word, I forget his) running the country, two of whom snorted cocaine at a funeral (in this apparently imagined scenario). The song then gave us the surreal experience of screaming "ten points for Gryffindor" in public.

Of course, it all crescendoed as mandatory Well Done revved everyone up and then Rottweiler signaled the end of the night. It still seems odd to have the face of the band leave halfway through the finale and skip the curtain call but alas the rest of the boys made a spectacle of it, drowning our cheers out with feedback and reverb. Mark came down to crowd surf, then back on stage balanced his axe on his head before skipping it like a jump rope, and then sliding it across the stage.
Although it was exhausting to even remain on two feet in the pit with all the commotion we still chanted along to Samaritans and found the breath to spell out our review of the gig - G.R.E.A.T. They're great!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Another Perspective of Arcade Fire [Guest Post]

Here's a slightly different perspective of that same Arcade Fire show in-the-round from Lauren Armstrong:

Arcade Fire is one of those bands where upon discovery, I wanted to buy thousands of CDs so I could take to the streets like a religious zealot and convert everyone. The fluidity of this band and its ability to test new waters is reminiscent of David Bowie, another musician I hold in high esteem.

Coming off the back of seeing Arcade Fire at Best Kept Secret 2017, when the announcement came for their Everything Now roundhouse tour, I was bursting with excitement to see the gig and snagged tickets a whopping seven months ahead of it.

The opener, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, seemed like an odd choice but upon their introduction to the stage, I began to beam and bop along to the beat of the six piece New Orleans jazz pumping into the arena. With the usual riffing off one another that comes with jazz, the master cap jumped from the piano to the sax onto the upright bass, to the trumpet, trombone and drums. My favourite of the troupe quickly became the jovial trombone player. His deep voice, playful whop whop whopping of his trombone with a plunger, alongside sliding and dancing along on the stage was just the trick to win me and likely the rest of the crowd. This band did a great job of amping up the audience ahead of the spectacle Arcade Fire were sure to put on.

Waiting alongside the ever growing crowd, we were met with fake ads for electric blue, the neon bible, and USB fidget spinners. A cosmic-faced cowboy was having us chant "Everything Now" while the roadies were busy putting up wrestling ropes around the circumference of the stage. Finally the lights dimmed and on came the song A Fifth of Beethoven (by Walter Murphy) while the members of Arcade Fire began making their way to the stage. RĂ©gine, wearing a sequined hoodie and shadow boxing stole the entrance as the crowd pushed to get closer.

The center of the stage began to revolve two drum kits and a piano while each band member took their initial spot on stage, quickly jumping into the single Everything Now. Having fun and moving about the stage, Win Butler quickly discarded his Everything Now bomber jacket only to be wearing an Everything Now shirt underneath.

Everything Now transitions into Rebellion and had us shaking our bums and singing along. This song never gets old; just feels like a longtime friend has come for a visit. A surprising amount of back catalogue songs were played, Here Comes the Night Time and No Cars Go before they moved swiftly into the current album for Electric Blue and Put Your Money on Me and then swiftly back to classics like Neon Bible, Suburbs, and moreThe energy on stage, as well as the excellent light show and video boards kept the crowd on pace. Most of the audience was belting along with their favourite tracks and all in all the Brummie audience behaved themselves with no beers thrown or overly rowdy behaviour.

Not one to like goodbyes, I became blue when the eventual conclusion of the night came and the encore hit the stage, with the reappearance of Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I think the band felt similarly since they made a bit of a parade around the arena and had the crowd chasing them to the back stage.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Arcade Fire, NEC, Apr 15, 2018

Taking full advantage of the ‘in the round’ format Arcade Fire hammed it up with the full boxing ring intro. It wasn’t as tacky as the digitally-face-removed cowboy MC on the screen that kept trying to hype us with the prerecorded messages. As one crew they wound their way through the crowd and towards the stage/ring with an entourage of camera men and security parting the crowd so they could slip right by us. Numbering nine for most of the performance they entered through the actual boxing ropes and took up their starting positions for the rousing Everything Now opener. Of course, I say starting positions as throughout the evening they swapped instruments and roles in a well-coordinated dance. Getting to the goods early they went straight into Rebellion (Lies) before Here Comes the Night Time. During this track's frenetic breakdown they swapped out of the boxing formation for varied laser beams flashing from corner to corner above the stage which opened up things up even further. The drum set was centre stage and on a revolving platform so you really could see the majority of things from most vantage points. My only complaint is that personal fave, Richard Reed Parry, didn’t come to visit as often as I’d have liked though we did get a lot of Win when he was singing, as in the glow of our phones for Neon Bible, or guitaring, There was also Regine on keys and leading Sprawl II (along with her streamer routine) to wrap the mid-set Arcade Fire Presents the Suburbs that also included the title track and Ready To Start. The crowd sang and danced along throughout the night making it a joyous occasion for band and fan alike.

Considering it was the Everything Now tour the setlist did not seem overwhelmed by this, perhaps due to the band being self aware that it is not their strongest material. As Win admitted recently "Part of me hopes that this record is our stinker, our horrible record...If it’s the worst thing we can possibly do then I’m at peace.” That said Put Your Money on Me was actually stuck in my head for a week after the tour and coming back for the encore with We Don't Deserve Love really worked. Although we didn't get any special guests like London their musical hype man did a good at keeping us up and having the Preservation Hall Jazz Band rejoin them onstage and then winding back out through the crowd for Wake Up was an energetic move, even if obvious for how well it worked. Even after a couple of hours featuring career highlights I still wanted more and chased the band to the end of the arena as the Wake Up chorus continued right to the eventual back stage.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Rather than another indie upstart AF have this decades old jazz band from New Orleans do their thing as the opening act and let me tell you they nailed it. A very fun, bombastic set of popping jazz that people seemed to really warm up to. How could you not love the trombonist giving it all he's got? They may not have utilized the stage as the headline act but I was on the proper side so I wasn't complaining.

Everything Now
Rebellion (Lies)
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Electric Blue
Put Your Money on Me
Neon Bible
Normal Person
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Creature Comfort
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)

We Don't Deserve Love
Everything Now (Continued) (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Wake Up (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Wake Up Chorus (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Idles, Coventry Library Apr 14, 2018

Yes, it was Idles, one of the most rocking Brit bands in recent memory, playing in the quietest of places, Coventry. I mean the library in Coventry. Without much adieu, since there’s not much of a backstage in the middle of the stacks, they came to the stage at an early hour (8:30) for a Saturday night. Obviously wanting to get the crowd into it off the top they hit with the familiar Brutalism opener, Heel. And so it began as a small but rabid group of Idles fans began mixing it up in the pit. With only one released full-length thus far it's no surprise that the hits just kept on hitting. Date Night started with the crowd, instead of Joe, hollering the song title, perhaps, as he later explained, because of a headache that only bothered him in a talking but not singing voice. So the banter was limited but the music was not. Early in the set they dropped Mother to an appreciative audience and I hope the potency of “the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich” wasn’t lost on this library crowd. Continuing their crusade of lyrics-to-do-good they dropped 1049 Gotho and Faith in the City too. During another, it may have been Benzocaine, the punters were keeping it up and we opened the pit wide. However just as we crashed together the rhythm guitarist jumped into the middle with his axe. Intentionally or not the crowd crushed around him and the song went on. This was his first of many forays into our depths, while later both guitarists met in the middle of the crowd and the other  dropped his guitar on the floor to then skip back and forth overtop of it, finally breaking it down with a b-boy break.

Besides the majority of Brutalism, Divide and Conquer plus a stellar live rendition of Exeter included, they also dropped Danny Nedelko (the immigrant song) too, briefed by a short speech on our need for unity in a post Brexit age. There has been a fair amount of idle(s) chatter about a new record and they had a few on preview from that. First was Great, that spelled out it’s title in the track. Next was I’m Scum, that Joe almost dedicated before realising the title might make it offensive to the dedicatee. The last, and probably the most grabbing was The Love Song, endeared further by a light-hearted back and forth between Joe the guitarist he finally admitted he loved in a brotherly way.

On White Privilege the guitarist was back in the crowd, or should I specify at the far reaches of the crowd, still fully plugged in such that the mic cord was held taught above our heads while he gave most everyone a chance to yell the “yeah” refrain into the mic (myself included). With warning that they don’t do encores, “because we’re weird” they finally played Well Done to the delight of the fans. For the proper finale they did Rottweiler and did it indeed, even after Joe had left “back”stage the crew wound it to a close with the guitarist on top the crowd, along with a few game ladies as well. All told it was a friendly, fun gig unbecoming of its surroundings but just as well for it.

These are a few guys on the label that Idles have setup. Their billed as a satirical band and I wasn't sure how serious to take them as they didn't seem to take things too seriously themselves. The singer had a lackadaisical approach and the band overall played a bunch of short rock songs that weren't bad but none of which really stood out. They said they were playing their album in full and halfway through told us "That was side one. Any questions?" Someone playfully yelled out "How is side two?" and they replied "Pretty much the same" so at least they are self-aware. Kudos to the drummer who was filling in and learned all the songs in the last week.

Date Night
Faith in the City
1049 Gotho
Divide & Conquer
I Am Scum
White Privilege
Danny Nedelko
Well Done

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Idles - Hard Luck Bar, Toronto - March 20, '18 [Guest Post]

A warm A/V welcome to guest blogger Kate Foster who just needed to spread the word on Idles:

I hadn’t felt as genuinely excited as I was to see Idles in a very long time, some combo of the promise of seeing an excellent live show and the thrill of the unfamiliar. I took the streetcar as opposed to the subway which I'd never normally do, and this was my first time at Hard Luck Bar. It’s hard to feel like a tourist in your own home town, but tonight I had it.

As I’m rocking up, I realize guitarist Adam is standing out front hacking a dart and checking his phone, along with the slew of fans lining the sidewalk doing the same. My immediate fanboi reaction is to run over and tell him all about how great I think the band is, but I quickly realize this is very clearly the opposite vibe of this night. This band brings no bullshit and often conveys that they appreciate their fans as much as we appreciate them, so keeping the symbiotic (and silent) respect seemed key.

I get up into the venue which is already quite crowded, seeing as I opted to show up around 15 minutes before set time. Again, I'm shocked as I take my first glance to the stage and see Joe et al. getting their gear set up, tuning, etc. It feels like forever since I've seen a band actually doing the "grunt" work for their own shows. Considering their tour schedule is back-to-back-to-back gigs, it clearly speaks to the character of Idles themselves and their passion. Worth noting, when not a day goes by you don’t hear about another band/pop star/DJ who has used their career to abuse women with impunity. 

Once I’ve saddled up beside the merch table and staked out a spot for myself, Joe appears again holding his hands up and spread out toward us, promising only ten more minutes to go. This update is met with cheers, and again, it hits me how cool it is to see a band giving this much of a shit about the crowd. They’re nowhere near behind schedule (if anything they’re early) yet their urgency to deliver a killer show is evident before a single note has even been struck.

As promised it’s suddenly showtime, they launch into Heel/Heal which gets the crowd going in a hurry – bodies are thrashing around in a quickly formed pit before the chorus hits. At this point I’m a few rows of bodies back from the action, the crowd is easily 85% men it seems. I begin the recurring debate of whether or not to stay put where I can dance freely or push to the front where I can get in a good workout and likely lose a possession or two. Telling myself my pit days are behind me, I’m thrilled when song two hits and it’s Idles Chant and nothing up front looks like it’s slowing down anytime soon. As I’m “WHOOOOOOAAA”-ing along I realize everyone around me is standing dead still, seeming confused something is being played that isn’t on Brutalism.

Next up is Mother – which I had been highly anticipating if only because I wanted to see how this song translates to fans – being mostly men. I can’t think of a song in recent memory that confronts rape quite as head-on as this. Well, I can, but there are never any dudes involved in the making of these songs. Now, here’s a fivesome of cis-men singing about the realities of sexual assault, reminding listeners that it is oh SO much more than the horrid act of rape itself – something many, many men need daily reminders of, apparently. So how does this confrontation go over with crowds of people who have likely participated in rape culture to varying degrees their entire lives? As the song is approaching the spoken word bridge (precisely the thing that made me adore Idles in the first place), the two young men directly in front of me turn to each other with smirks slowly spreading.

“Oh yeah, you gonna sing along with this part, eh!?” one chides the other, they both laugh. As if these lyrics are a joke, and not the reality of life for those of us not born with a dick. Rage is rising in me and I try to lean in a little to hear what the rest of the conversation is (mostly because I am dying to call them out at this point), but they’ve leaned into each other closer, presumably as they discuss how hilarious rape is. This is the moment my brain clicks into “fuck it all” mode and I shove past these men and the slew of others to get myself right into the thick of things. 

It’s a funny sort of immediate relief to feel myself lose control over my movements and give into the ebb and flow of the pit, my body aggressively yet slowly getting pushed around while I make sure to scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs when it hits:


I’m angry because despite the message of this song, of everything happening in the world today, being so goddamn clear it still isn’t understood. I digress.

The energy from both the band and crowd is massive and only seems to grow and fuel each other as the night goes on. No one from the band has spoken much at this point, but Joe is thanking us profusely in between songs and commenting on how great the night is for them. At one point he makes a statement regarding how important it is to him everyone has a good time and is feeling OK, and as the band is starting to play the next track, he directly asks if everyone is in fact OK, but the band more or less drowns him out. I assume they’ll continue on full throttle, imagining the answer wasn’t all that important to them anyway. I’m thrilled to find out I’m dead wrong – Joe insists, stops the band from playing, and again begs the question to the crowd. His inquiry is met with silence, and so he repeats, just to be sure, is anyone at all NOT feeling safe right now being here? and as the silence continues, he turns his back to motion to the rest of Idles to get the song going again. All I can do is yell THANK-YOU! as loud as I can, hoping they realize how incredibly important that moment was for me, and surely others.

Where I’ve ended up in the pit there are many more women than expected, and despite the fact I’m alone at this gig, there is an undeniable feeling of comfort. At certain points throughout the set, Joe is graciously giving fans a hand either getting up or off of a crowd surf. He encourages several kids to get up and go for it, offering a hand to many of us in the front to take a turn. He even taps someone’s shoulder who has spent the majority of the set bracing themselves against an amp with their head down, and after a thumbs-up exchange to confirm they are OK, he’s back to business with the song. Lead guitarist Mark has made several trips into the crowd too, navigating himself to a spot to play and dance around a little surrounded by fans before making his way back on stage. These interactions just keep proving how fucking genuinely cool this band is. 

They blaze through most tracks from Brutalism, tossing in Queens, which Joe leads into by declaring “Fuck selfies!”. I’m personally thrilled to hear 1049 Gotho which is introduced as being about something horrible his friend suffered from greatly – depression. I can’t help but wonder if this song is actually more autobiographical, but it really doesn’t matter either way. Again, they are unapologetically diving into taboo waters, driving home the realities of living with depression. I’m excited to hear (personal) favourites like White Privilege, Faith in the City and Date Night. They introduce a new song, titled simply, The Love Song, as one of their final tracks which takes a minute to build up, but ends up getting us going just as much as Benzocaine had. Slower song Divide & Conquer was tossed in too, which I hadn’t imagined would be all that exciting to see live (despite being an awesome track). But the way the band builds the intensity throughout the song as Joe is pacing with it, finally getting the drop where he smashes his outstretched arms down around him seeming larger than life, makes this an excellent addition to the set list. 

We get fair warning when they approach their final track, which comes with the promise of “we don’t do encores, so this is it” to the crowd’s disappointment. For me, this is yet another reason to add to my ever-growing list of why Idles just might be the best band to come out of the last decade. No bullshit. After the lights come up, I scan the floor in a futile hunt for one of my tunnels that’s been pushed out of my ear by one of the many bodies passing over head during the last hour. I remember being a teen declaring there's no way I had a good time at a show if I didn't lose something, after countless scarves, jackets and pieces of jewelry got sucked up by dance floors and pits - and now here I am, wondering if maybe that still rings true. After giving up on the tunnel, I make my way down to the street, only to find Mark has beat me to it. He's shimmying his way up to a friend with a cigarette dangling as she waits, hers already lit. My brain again flashes to rushing up to him gushing, but I can only grin as I pass him, my clothes soaked through with sweat now and freezing me to the core on this 2 degree evening. 

Young Fathers - Institute 2 - March 20, '18

Entering the stage one by one, the drummer followed by the three vocalists - pinstripes (Alloysious), the guy who poses (Kayus), and button-down (G)- took their places in front of the sold out smaller Institute room. With the recent release of their excellent third LP, Cocoa Sugar, there is another wave of buzz around this Scottish outfit that despite being slightly mellower this time out, still refuse to be pigeonholed. They started up with a slow builder before getting into it. A good selection of the new stuff was on offer, with tracks like Toy coming across even better live. Same with Tremolo and Wow, and seeing the already great In My View brought to life was special indeed. Not sure what I was expecting in terms of instrumentation, there was a large drum kit centred around one giant drum, played standing with oversized felt-tipped sticks, and a bass drum side stage for Alloysious. Both these kits had absolutely mangled cymbals that crashed and died out with very little sizzle, adding to the low-fi effect. Besides that there was a bank of effects that G would fiddle with his back to us but it was primarily prerecorded tracks. And that was just fine as it was their vocals - singing, rapping, layered, yelping, yelling - that made it. The crowd seemed to need a shot in the arm early on so they dropped Get Up to get the crammed peeps grooving. Little later on was Old Rock n Roll, while a special track from the EPs was I Heard. There was very limited interaction between the members or with the audience besides one call and response track opener. Then they stood in the dark for an extended period before asking Birmingham what we wanted. Some wanted to party, others to dance, others wanted Shame, and they all got just what they wanted as Young Fathers closed with their ultimate ass-shaker. With that they exited one-by-one stage-left while Kayus belted it out until he too departed. Despite an effort by the fans to overcome the house music, and then the house lights they did not return, choosing to leave it at what felt like a brief hour-long dose of..whatever you call it.. I still can’t stick a title on it but it was damn fun. 

This gal sang over some mixed tracks and drums provided by her two male accomplices. Her voice wasn't bad but there was very little variation between the songs. Even within the songs themselves things seemed to get repetitive and this was on first listen. An impressive vocal display near the end gets some props but I likely won't be adding it to my playlists.