Go on, can you?

A friend of mine disputes the fact that Red Hot Chili Peppers are a big band because, as he likes to say, no-one can name more than six of their songs.

Obviously fans can but I’ve tried it out on regular people (ie not massive Chili Peppers fans) and he’s right. They can never name six. Most struggle with four.

He’s wrong though about the big band thing. They are huge.

Gill and I were lucky enough to be given a couple of tickets for their show at Emirates Old Trafford and the place was teeming with 40,000 people who clearly knew pretty much every song in the set and were word perfect when joining in.

It was a glorious evening, too, and before they came out there was time to bask in the sun and chill to some extended Santana-esque jams on the PA.

They chose to open with an instrumental cover of Joy Division’s Shadowplay, making it the second time in two weeks we’d seen an American headliner incorporate it into their set after The Killers performed it in the same venue.

And the gig was one of those that you could have enjoyed no matter how long they stayed on for. To go all muso for a moment, the quality of the playing was staggering and it’s not something I would usually comment on, but bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and particularly guitarist John Frusciante were something to behold in full flight.

It was, by turns, funky, experimental, slick, jagged and soulful and didn’t lean on several of their heavyweight tunes to prop up the set. Yes there was Californication and Give It Away but equally Under the Bridge and The Zephyr Song were absent.

Third time seeing them for both of us and the first time outside a festival. I wouldn’t be surprised if we make it four next time they come around.

Abba Ever After

Abba split a long time ago. And when they split I wasn’t that much of a fan anyway.

Abba were on the list of artists I stupidly ignored because they were around at the wrong time for me. And you can add McCartney, Steely Dan and David Bowie to this list of people I once sneered at only to grow to love.

I buy Take A Chance On Me which is still my favourite Abba song, but a single single isn’t really enough for fandom.

Then over the years I’ve come to truly appreciate just how good they were. They have an unimpeachable Greatest Hits setlist that ranks with just about anyone’s and move seamlessly from dancefloor to divorce court in their songwriting without missing a beat.

So having become a fan I’d obviously left it 43 years too late to see them in concert. Or so I thought.

The band’s announcement that they were going to pioneer a new technology-driven performance using their recorded vocals, a live band and 3D avatars of their younger selves created using motion capture suits opened up the possibility of actually seeing `them’ in concert.

My wife, Gill, has smartly always been a fan so was ready and poised when the tickets went on sale for the shows in the specially created Abba Arena in London’s Olympic Park and we obtained two for the first week of its production.

I won’t go into the near desperate state we got into finding the place – it’s a long and involved story – but we arrived with enough time to spare to get settled and take in the marvellous design of an arena built to hold 3,000 people but with everyone in close enough proximity to the stage for it to feel quite intimate.

We were ready to be excited, but we weren’t ready for quite how much.

The `Abbatars’ emerged from below stage level at the conclusion of The Visitors -played to herald their arrival – and the collective gasp at the sight of four pop superstars looking exactly like their peak late-70s selves was something to hear.

They were staggeringly lifelike. Almost worryingly lifelike – Benny and Bjorn especially, and for three songs I think my mouth just hung open while I struggled to find something to say other than Wow!

The excellent live band and backing singers gave it an extra authenticity but you couldn’t take your eyes off `Abba’. The slightly clunky dance moves, the audience interaction and the between songs patter looked and sounded as real as if you were watching genuine flesh and blood human beings.

If their band had been on the stage around them rather than on a platform at the front of the stage, nothing would have convinced me that I hadn’t seen a `proper’ gig.

If you’re a fan then you know how good the set was so I don’t need to list 90 minutes’ worth of pop gems, but even if you’re not I’d urge you to see this show. It’s too good to miss.

Locked down – but not Idle

I’ve been writing this blog for several years and added an accompanying podcast last autumn.

And it was the podcast which started to bring See You Down The Front to a wider audience – particularly other podcasters, broadcasters, labels and bands themselves.

And we were delighted (it’s we now because the podcast means SYDTF is no longer a one fan band) when Idle Lies got in touch to share their latest offering.

It’s the fourth single for a band who are starting to mature nicely and who have defied the problems caused by prolonged lockdown periods to keep writing and have released Two’s A Crowd to showcase their distanced efforts.

It’s an intriguing slice of stripped back indie built around a snaking guitar line, and with a couple of unexpected departures from the norm along its four minutes playing time.

It’s all too easy to tread a well worn path, but Idle Lies have managed to give the cliches a swerve to come up with something that’s at once easily familiar but also pleasingly different at the same time. Not an easy circle to square that.

Have a listen here:

https://open.spotify.com/track/7hd8GdSPqbVwqvvcjiKAr3?si=0f0sew0QSAG_kkNZMOftxA&fbclid=IwAR1A2mT3sJomLtzx3JgCVg_byXAJhmFocpD9jeEKHfSWdJHr9iFu2TqsWqA&nd=1

28th of August, not 4th of July

Bands that should be better thought of, part one…

U2 are truly a great band. Live, they’re as good as anyone I’ve seen, they’ve recorded a slew of fantastic albums and, for a long time, they were brave enough to try different things which many bands in their position just wouldn’t do.

And yet…

And yet, it’s mostly Bono isn’t it?. He polarises opinions like few others and, as a consequence, your hear people slagging U2 as if what he says and does lessens the band’s appeal. And he does say a lot.

But if you want to judge them on their musical merits alone, I suggest you find a live DVD or stream, and watch the masters of their craft at work.

They have stadium shows down to a fine art but, equally, would be able to rock any small venue if they chose to do so. There’s a Rockpalast show online from their early days which helps proves the point. It’s the songs and their chemistry as musicians.

The show I’m talking about here was at the larger and more ambitious end of the scale as they brought the PopMart extravaganza to Leeds.

dav

Me, regular Tony, Ste and Melissa journeyed to Roundhay Park for the concert having got Ste his ticket for his birthday some months earlier.

Cast opened proceedings with their fairly knockabout, good time indie tunes, and we then got a proper soaking as the rain poured down. Now on a bad day this would have spoiled the afternoon. Instead, it just made us laugh.

We’d heard all about the astonishing visuals for this tour and could see the stage set looked epic enough even before it lit up.

Their arrival was heralded by a lenghty remix of M’s glorious Pop Muzik and while we weren’t disappointed in the spectacle that followed, they could have played in front of a blank wall and would still have blown us away.

They got I Will Follow in nice and early and took off with a mid-set trio of New Year’s Day, Pride and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Throughout the set they were throwing in snippets of tunes before or during some of their own monsters and we lapped it up.

We had plenty to talk about on the trip home which was a good job as lane closures on the M62 meant what should have taken an hour and a half actually took about four hours but, for once, I wasn’t driving and could enjoy a couple of extra drinks!

I’ve been lucky enough to see U2 on several occasions and they’ve always delivered the goods even if the goods, sometimes, have to be accompanied by a couple of long-winded speeches. It’s just who he is.

Look back with clangour

1995 was all about Oasis.

There was the glorious headline set at Glastonbury which introduced the phrase ‘Rock n Roll Star, yeah?’ to mine and Gill’s frequently used lexicon.

Then there was the recently chronicled cancellation in support of REM at Huddersfield.

And by the end of the year they had set out on their own tour in support of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – a tour which had unmissable written all over it.

With my own car in one of its frequent spells off the road, four of us set off in Gill’s Mini for what was then known as the Nynex Arena in Manchester. Me, obvs, regular Tony, his girlfriend Melissa and her mate who spent most of the night looking gloomy – never found out why.

As an added bonus, support came from the fabulous Chemical Brothers who had released their debut album Exit Planet Dust in June of the same year and which I had used to soundtrack the summer.

dav

Following the Chems’ Big Beat battering we were ready for the main event and Oasis couldn’t really fail to deliver, choosing from what would prove to be their two best albums.

It proved to be the kind of night you never want to end and actually, looking back, represented a high point in many ways. They were still raw, rough and ready enough to be truly, genuinely exciting.

But, before long, they would get too big, too overblown and the number of killer tunes would drop with each album release.

In this show they gave us Cigarettes and Alcohol, Champagne Supernova, Supersonic, Shakermaker, Rock n Roll Star, Wonderwall, Live Forever and Don’t Look Back in Anger amongst others. They weren’t going to improve on that.

 

So much more than OK, and yet…

By many people’s reckoning, Radiohead have been the greatest British band of the last 25 years

Their body of work stands comparison with anyone else’s and they have at least one genuine masterpiece in their back catalogue in OK Computer – released in 1997 and which, along with that year’s Fat of the Land and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, provided a blistering counterpoint to the fag end of Britpop.

Unfortunately I’d stopped liking them after The Bends and never bought into the OK Computer love-in at the time and subsequent releases didn’t bring me back into the fold.

Now, however, I fully appreciate the staggering scale of OK Computer and how worthy it is of its place in the British music pantheon.

So I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen them tour on the back of OK Computer’s release for a show which was a light and sound overload of the kind very few bands can pull off.

dav

As you can see from the ticket, those of us who went were issued with duplicates as getting in proved to be anything but straightforward.

Me, regular Tony, other Paul and at least one other person who I now forget and apologise to went because Paul was a massive fan – still is – and he had secured four tickets from a guy in Birmingham who couldn’t go to what was a sell-out show.

In true Paul fashion he neglected to mention that he didn’t actually have the tickets, so when we arrived it wasn’t simply a case of picking them up.

Without the correct ID and being unable to contact the guy he’d bought them from meant the venue wouldn’t release them until the lights went down, finally believing Paul that the guy whose name he was quoting wasn’t coming and the seats would be empty.

Once inside we were treated to a staggeringly full-on performance that made you question the commitment of most other acts.

I’d go on to see them twice more, but on neither occasion would they summon up the almost elemental forces on display here.

In fact, at Glastonbury, the elements played a part in us walking away from their headline set midway through as Thom launched into another maudlin wail as the rain bucketed down. Los Lobos were a lot more fun that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Four Kings

When I got my ticket to see Kings of Leon back in 2003 I hadn’t been as excited about seeing a band for a very long time.

I’d got the debut album for my birthday and their appearance on Later had whetted my appetite even further having been the most incendiary performance I’d seen on a TV show in quite a while.

I went with a couple of guys I worked with at the time in Dave and Jon and was absolutely buzzing on gig day – a cold December evening just before Christmas which should have been the perfect time to see a quality show and then hit the town afterwards.

Boy, was I setting myself up for a fall.

leon2

It still ranks as one of the worst concerts I’ve ever seen with a band seemingly caught out by their meteoric rise and still not really ready for shows of this size.

As the setlist comprised most of their debut album bangers you would think they couldn’t go far wrong, but it lacked the fire and intensity I was hoping for – instead replaced by a hesitancy that seemed to hamper their ability to really let rip.

Maybe I had built it up too much in my own mind but it just didn’t deliver the thrills I expected.

As they’ve got bigger and bigger I have’t gone back to see them as their appeal has diminished in relation to the glossier nature of their material, so I consider this to be a massive opportunity lost.

Unfortunately, you can’t win them all.

 

I’ve got a bag from Weaver D’s!

Conscious that it has been a while I thought I would come back with a bang.

No small hall, barely remembered indie hopefuls. Instead, the mighty REM at probably their stadium-sized peak.

Whether you consider stadium-sized to be their actual peak is a different matter but by the time of this gig they certainly bestrode the world like the proverbial colossus – coming to town on the back of the three albums that had cemented their alt-rock superstardom in Out of Time, Automatic for the People and Monster.

REM

Three of us had been due to attend, Me, Gill and Vicky – a friend’s daughter who we had taken to Glastonbury a couple of months earlier. Come the morning of the show, Gill was unable to go and a last-minute ring round of people who might have nothing to do on a weekday found Andy, a student who lived nearby, who snapped the spare ticket up.

Now, he was sold – as was I – on the premise that REM were going to be supported by Oasis. Not that REM weren’t enough, far from it, but to see them and the band most likely to on the cusp of releasing their second album – well, the excitement was off the scale.

We picked our coach up in Widnes and once underway the fateful announcement was made – Oasis had pulled out due to recording commitments but, not to worry, they were being replaced by The Beautiful South.

I feared for the purser’s life.

Still it all settled down and, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, we pitched up at the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield for the first of REM’s two-night run.

While The Beautiful South weren’t entirely welcome, other support from Belly certainly was. The Tanya Donnelly-fronted four-piece remain a favourite and in 1995 they seemed to be heading in only once direction, and that was up.

It never really panned out that way, but songs like Gepetto and Slow Dog always hit the spot.

The headliners were astounding in the way that only people truly at the top of their game can be.

From their college radio darling beginnings they had ascended to the highest plane seemingly without compromise and had a back catalogue perhaps without equal amongst their contemporaries to draw their set from.

I couldn’t tell you what the entire setlist comprised but opening with What’s The Frequency, Kenneth set a suitably rowdy tone, and including Finest Worksong was as much as I could have asked.

Oasis could wait.

 

 

 

The one we’ve waited for

I’m going to do what is, by now, a familiar cheat where I use one ticket to refer to something else that I can’t find the ticket for because it is, inherently, more interesting than the ticket I have in my possession.

I also appreciate how confusing that opening sentence sounds.

Anyhoo…

Thirty years ago I was fortunate enough to see The Stone Roses play in Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom. It remains one of my favourite ever shows because it was one of those rare occasions where I can claim to have been somewhere that was precisely the centre of the cultural universe at that point in time.

They were just coming off the back of the release of their debut album and were a genuine phenomenon.

A friend who ran a local indie night we went to every Thursday asked if we were interested in going and so six of us trotted off for a day on the Pleasure Beach and a night hearing the kind of tunes that never leave you.

All around Blackpool it was clear what a big deal this was and a rammed Ballroom reverberated to a stellar setlist that contained at least half a dozen all-time classics. Even their B-sides were streets ahead of most bands’ A-sides.

So 30 years down the track, now married to the girlfriend who accompanied me on the day and steaming towards a big anniversary of our own, we decided to join the hordes marking the anniversary of this particular gig.

Clones

The wonderful Clone Roses had organised a full afternoon and evening of tribute bands and Gill and I arrived to see the headliners and the Oasis-alikes as main support.

Bucket hats and adidas trainers abounded, and with DJ Clint Boon spinning some massive tunes from the era ahead of the Clones’ arrival the crowd was already in celebratory mood and so it continued throughout their set.

The place exploded when they came on, and if you check out their Instagram feed you can see clips of the hall going absolutely nuts. This much love for a tribute band remains astonishing, but they recreate a band and an era that meant so much for so many.

Roll on their Spike Island anniversary show…

 

 

 

 

Green and pleasant bands

I’ve been thinking of giving the whole three-day festival thing a miss in future unless I’m lucky enough with next year’s Glastonbury, so this could very well have been my last and, if it was, then it wasn’t a bad way to go out at all.

I’d never been to Green Man before but as it coincided with regular Tony’s 40th birthday we decided that this would be the one for this year no matter what the line-up.

Fortunately said line-up is usually pretty strong so we were confident that whatever the announcement we would find plenty worth watching.

As we tend to do, we booked accommodation nearby, this time in Abergavenny, and me Gill and Tony travelled in each day from a lovely little cottage adjoining a farm.

To say that the first day we were there was wet would be putting it mildly. It came down in torrents but we were encouraged by the weekend forecast of better weather to come. To paraphrase Marty Wilde, we were taking a trip up to Abergavenny and hoping the weather stayed fine.

As it was all new to us we wandered around the site getting our bearings before finally deciding who and what to watch. At first the site looked a bit all over the place but it soon made sense. The only downside – at least for one of us – was the sheer number of wasps in all the food and drink areas. Let’s just say there was a lot of getting up and down and moving seats.

At the site’s heart was the giant Green Man sculpture which is ceremonially set alight at the end of the festival but more of that later. It also boasts far and away the most picturesque main stage location I’ve ever seen. (The picture does it scant justice).

oznor

The eclectic line-up showcased the very new, the decidedly vintage, the incredibly shouty and the whisperingly quiet.

If you wanted noise then Yak and Pigs x7 were available, quality indie pop, check out The Big Moon and The Beths, ethereal folk – see Aldous Harding, but this is barely scratching the surface.

Best performance of the weekend for me was a close run thing but probably shaded by the legend that is Richard Thompson who was spellbinding for an hour and a quarter in front of a packed Far Out tent. A guy turned to me at one point and said `it’s like he’s playing two guitars at once’, and the virtuosity on display was mesmerising. Coupled with some outstanding songs of course.

Running a close second would be The Growlers who were a complete surprise on the Sunday night playing some infectious reggae and ska-tinged pop. Watching them I had to wonder exactly where a band like this fits in these days. Thirty five years ago they would have been pop stars. Now, who knows?

And then in no particular order would come the delightfully sleazy Fat White Family who were much better than when I last saw them a couple of years ago – less frantic and more in control; A Certain Ratio who continue to roll back the years and were solidly funky to say the least opening up with Do the Du and throwing in the classic cover of Banbarra’s Shack Up; and Stealing Sheep who added a giant inflatable pink sheep to bounce around the audience during their groove-filled set on the Walled Garden stage.

We also saw The Big Moon’s Juliette Jackson get proposed to at the end of their set – and accept. A lovely moment in a weekend filled with them.

Final band of the three days for us were Idles who Tony has waited a long time to see having had to pass up no fewer than four previous opportunities when he has had tickets and then not been able to go!

Unfortunately it wasn’t the barnstorming event closer we were hoping for. Too much sermonising and too few truly great tunes.

We headed out of the big top they had played in as Sunday turned into Monday to witness the lighting of the Green Man and nod appreciatively at the firework display that accompanied the ceremony.

All in all a fantastic weekend in gorgeous surroundings. If you want a festival with heart, then this is the one for you. Just mind the wasps!