Monday, 29 June 2009

Blur @ Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 24/06/09

It took me a while to register that this was actually happening when four of my idols sauntered onstage last week. I haven't recovered from the initial shock. There had been a complicated preshow bar system with all sorts of inside-queueing and confusion, so when I got to the front and saw four brilliant people all together on one stage, it was dreamlike. It was the best place to be to witness the brilliance of a Blur reunion first hand.

Two supports, local band Tukazon and Klaxons-esque electro-rock band The Magistrates, had kicked it off. Neither were exceptional, but neither got boring as they only had twenty minute sets. Blur came on at the early time of quarter to nine, to frenetic pogoing as the opening chords of She's So High rang out in the 5000-capacity venue. The crowd were fantastic: stadium-worthy singalongs and mass jumping ensued.

Alex James stood like a prize on the right hand side of the stage, posing coyly for photographs, flicking his hair and moving his hips. They'd all lost weight for the tour and looked at their youngest and best for years. Damon Albarn's energy was contagious; after the subdued poise of The Good, The Bad & The Queen, suits and hats aplenty, he seemed pleased and relieved to be back on a stage where he could charge around, stage dive and berate the crowd for not singing loudly enough. At one point he changed shoes because he was slipping around everywhere, to a crowd chant of "Damon! Damon!" that soon turned into a round of all the band members' names.

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The setlist was vaguely chronological, with tracks from the shunned first album Leisure, the underrated second album Modern Life Is Rubbish and the famed third album Parklife played near the beginning. The first pause for breath came during Badhead, the crowd surprisingly nonchalant considering the song's delicate charm. The full setlist can be found here, two encores and all. Highlights of the night for me were Beetlebum, which was epic live, especially with that sultry bassline, Sunday Sunday with its manic second half, Parklife, which was sped up to a ridiculous tempo and punkified beyond recognition (Phil Daniels never turned up, sadly), Tender for the crowd participation, This Is A Low for the pure rapture, and of course, The Universal.

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The Universal was just superb. It was the final song of the night, after Blur playing almost 2 hours, and the band buzzed with the most amazing positive vibe: they got a standing ovation on the balcony, and at the end, the whole band just stood without their instruments, grinning and lapping up the applause they fully deserved. It was fifteen years ago again, four men youthful and vibrant (despite the thinning hair and wedding rings), four kindred spirits, back together to have another go at it. Thank fuck.

I got a plectrum and Dave's signature afterwards, though teetotallers Alex James and Graham Coxon left early, and Damon rushed out, rightfully shattered after a fantastic gig. Really worth the wait, considering I never thought it would happen. I hope for a bright and Blurry future.


Monday, 15 June 2009

'The Eternal', Sonic Youth

Though releasing their 16th studio album, Sonic Youth have managed to slip under the radar of the mainstream for most of their long and fruitful career, flirting with fame (outside of the indie community, in which they are worshipped) only when Incinerate, taken from 2006's Rather Ripped, recieved a good amount of radio airplay, and Superstar got into the soundtrack of the hit film Juno.

When first listening to this album, it feels like Sonic Youth have regressed more than progressed. It could be that their indie vehicle has veered too close to the mainstream for their liking, or for their fans' liking, so they have deliberately headed back to the early 2000s sounds of Murray Street and Sonic Nurse; it could just as easily be an unconscious returning to that sound, or it may be something that only I have perceived. However, The Eternal does remind me of those albums, less mellow than Rather Ripped, and with generally longer and more noise-filled songs.

You may notice, I am not raving about this album, yet. With Sonic Youth, the music recorded in the last 10 years is very different to their original trademark sound, but in each era, they record a lot of similar music. It feels like Sonic Youth are retreading old ground here. Admittedly, it is ground that they paved (or should that be broke?), but movement forward is slow and...a little boring.

Having said all that, looking at The Eternal out of context, this is a great album of good songs. Opening with the unnerving chords of Sacred Trickster, it matches the standard of any of the young bands around today. Sonic Youth will not be left behind. They are on a platform of their own - listen to the cryptic lyrics of Anti-Orgasm, the rocking 'woah-woah's of Thunderclap, the beautiful timbre of the guitars in Walking Blue or the profound lyrics and gorgeous bassline of What We Know for proof.

You could compare Sonic Youth to Jane Austen. Yes, she basically wrote the same book loads of times, but they're all classics, aren't they? They're all praised, and they all epitomise their genre. Well there you go. Sonic Youth have done it again.


Thursday, 11 June 2009

Peter Doherty arrested.

For drink driving, and driving without a license. In possession of class A drugs. Again.

Hopes of an imminent Libertines reunion are dashed; Carl Barât said he would get back together with Pete if Pete could stay off the drugs. And Pete agreed, as he always does - but they were false promises, as they always are. I was naïve to think it would turn out any other way - I was so hopeful for a Libertines reunion, tour, and then new material (which I am detemined would be good enough to sustain their legacy, even if it wasn't as youthful and invigorated as it was ten years ago).

What that man does with his life is his choice, but I know many fans will be disappointed now. I don't like it when Pete gets dragged through the tabloids, ends up in prison, has his musical creativity put on pause by the law and the media. I don't think any fans do.

Like he once sang:
"My boy who will believe your lies? Noone's going to sell you any alibis."

Saturday, 6 June 2009

'West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum', Kasabian

The last thing I expected was for Kasabian to mature and develop before their third album. I'd gone off Kasabian recently, with their masculine bravado and Oasis-worshipping, but I decided to listen to West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum anyway, just to see if I could rekindle the fire that burnt when I first heard the empowering swagger of Empire, or the anthemic simplicity of L.S.F., from their eponymous debut.

Underdog, the first track on the album, rekindled the fire instantly. Where most of the British rock bands have swung with the times recently and made electro-inspired albums (see Franz Ferdinand, Maxïmo Park, Marmaduke Duke), Kasabian have kept a gritty guitar sound, not overdosing the synths which have defined them in the past. However, the synths and electronics are still there, hidden in the mix, perfectly integrated. The production is great, managing to get the album sounding rich and clean without smothering the raw edge which makes Kasabian...dare I say, Kasabian.

Kasabian have matured. The lyrics still don't matter too much, more chosen for auditory aesthetic effect than literary quality, but the music has matured: they are experimenting a lot more with new sounds, textures and structure, while still retaining catchiness and dance-worthy beats.

Kasabian seem to have been listening to different music during the making of West Ryder to that they were inspired by during their previous two. Obviously, there are echoes of Beatles/Oasis in everything, but Thick As Thieves has a bit of the Carl-Barât-ballad about it, Secret Alphabets is surprisingly minimalistic, Swarfiga sounds like late The Fall, Fire reminds of 60s-psychedelia, but with a Kylie bassline, and West Ryder Silver Bullet has an 'Age Of The Understatement' Last Shadow Puppets feel to it. And yet all of the tracks work - even the tracks I like least (Take Aim, Happiness and Thick As Thieves) have their good qualities. Kasabian have escaped the shadow of Oasis, and I believe it's further into the sun from here.

Now, anyone got a spare ticket for one of the gigs?