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Friendly Fires @ Koko

Friendly Fires @ Koko, London, Dec 08

My last concert of 2008 and certainly one of the best (along with Bon Iver, Hot Chip and Sigur Ros).

Here’s a review of last night’s gig that perfectly sums it up for me (“I didn’t really have any expectations of Friendly Fires’ performance. Obviously their album is great but how would that translate to the stage? In the most amazing light and hip gyrating show ever!”).

Last night was full of out-of-synch jumping, serious headbanging, bad-but-who-cares singing along (apparently, we’re all gonna live in Paris, I promise, I’m on it), profuse sweating, camera flashing and the predicable flying beer cups. I did manage to dodge the beer (for once), but I couldn’t escape the attack of FF frontman Macfarlane’s armpits….The dood threw himself at me, not once but twice (during “White Diamonds” I think, and then again during “Paris”), and each time, my head ended up completely pressed against his chest so the only way for me to get some fucking air was to move towards the armpit area… not a smart move, I know.

Highlights: “White Diamonds”, “Jumping In The Pool”, “Paris” and Macfarlane’s dance moves (I might steal those from him).

Friendly Fires - White Diamonds

Full set of photos here

With Buzzing in Our Ears We Listen Endlessly

Sigur Rós @ Alexandra Palace, London, Nov 08

You know you’re early at a gig when, on your way to the venue, the guy sitting next to you on the bus is the guitar player of the supporting band. That’s how early I was.

I discovered Sigur Ros in 2004 but I really got into their music a year later, with Takk, their fourth album, and I haven’t stopped listening to them since. I’m a sucker for their ethereal and moody sound. They can be very experimental and minimalistic, or completely over-the-top epic and melodic. But whichever direction they go, I always find their music out of this world and utterly magical.

I caught the London leg of the mini-tour they’re doing this fall to promote their latest album (almost half the songs they performed were from Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust). They ditched Amiina (the string quartet) and the brass band, so we only got the four of them on stage. I would have loved to see them perform with the whole gang and thought that without the string and the brass, we would lose on the epic. But I was wrong; those four really know how do to epic on their own.

They opened with Sven-n-glar, and you can watch a video recording of it here. The great recording quality of this video goes to show you the crispy clear quality of the sound (impressively so, considering that Alexandra Palace is a gigantic venue), Jónsi Birgisson’s vocal prowess (he later showed off his vocal chords on Festival by keeping a high-pitched note as long as possible), and how subjugated we all were.

And here’s another good video recording from that night. It’s of Gobbledigook. It gives you taste of the type of stunning (and very Sigurossy) visuals they were using in the background. Make sure to catch the confetti explosion that starts bout 2 minutes into the song. This time, they didn’t have Bjork on the percussions, but instead they had the help of their supporting band (For a Minor Reflection — a not-bad-at-all post-rock instrumental band from Iceland).

It was epic, it was magical, it was goosebumps fest all around.

Highlights: confetti explosion, indoors rain, stunning visuals, pedal cam (filming Jonsi from below and projecting the film on the huge ballons in the background), great sound quality and epic moments (ref to Popplagið, the last number of their encore and what has to be one of the most memorable and climatic live moments I’ve ever seen).

Sidenotes: Here’s the guy in the crowd who caught Jónsi’s broken cello bow that night

Full set of photos here.

Walking out on Cohen

Leonard Cohen @ The Royal Albert Hall, London, Nov 08

I couldn’t take it anymore so when the intermission came, I left.

His voice has gone so cavernous along the years that I thought I was at a Barry White concert. I knew the gig was to be on the quiet side, but in a moody sort of way. I know he’s 74, but man, I still expected some emotions coming from the stage; instead all I got from him and his boring accompanying band was complete utter lethargy.

Dancers in the dark

Cold War Kids @ Astoria, London, Nov 08

I only started listening to Cold War Kids a month ago but it only took me a couple of songs to become a fan. Their sophomore album, Royalty To Royalty, is filled with gems and I can’t find a single song in it that is just OK. Their music is exciting and I was excited to catch them on their UK tour.

But as it turned out, by the time CWK graced the stage of the Astoria, I was suffering from what can only be described as concert fatigue. Hot Chip had drained me of all my energy the night before and I was on my third night in a row attending a gig, which means that for the past three nights I had spent about 12 hours standing in line and waiting for headliners to come on stage. So I must admit, I was ready to call it a night before CWK even started their set. They were good and I enjoyed it thoroughly but I wasn’t quite with it.

A few random observations about that night:

- I had a Spinal Tap moment, getting lost on my way to the stage, but I’m blaming the venue for that. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Astoria, the shitiest and most over-hyped venue known to man. Bands such as Oasis, U2 or Radiohead come to Astoria whenever they feel like giving a low-key concert (2,000 pax roughly). I guess the central location is reason enough to make this venue a pull. Whatever. Not only is it ugly as fuck (dark steel everywhere), but the staff have the audacity to match the ugly setting with an ugly attitude; the layout is totally nonsensical and you can’t find your way around (hence the Spinal Tap reference), and the stage lighting is such a sad affair (you go from total pitch dark to blinding white lighting and that’s the whole range of their stage lighting).

- CWK’s set list was yummy; between their two albums, they have enough amazing material to chose from for 1.30h of live goodness. Having said that, I didn’t find any song that was made any better live or taken to a higher level on stage; they were just as good as the studio recordings, and actually, at times they were of lesser quality. The band clearly focused on rocking the stage and high energy levels, giving a real raw quality to their performance but it can turn sometines into sloppy playing. Frontman Nathan Willett (lead vocals, piano, guitar) did bang on those keys a bit too hard during his performance of Hospital Beds, and Jonnie Russell (guitar, percussion, vocals you can’t hear, but cool hair you can see), in particular, was all over the place; it looked like he would have been just as happy playing air guitar.

- it was a good crowd but I found it a bit subdued for that type of music. Especially in comparison to Hot Chip’s audience the night before. Cold War Kids deserves some serious unrest from the crowd; their music is just very conducive to a all-hell-breaks-loose type of vibe, but the mosh pit felt very static, nobody spilled beer all over me, nobody threw their weigth against my lower back…I’m not sure what happened there. I had a good excuse: I was tired and I’m in my 30s; what was theirs?

Highlights: it’s difficult to pick one or two songs from the bunch as a highlight. Having said that, Hang Me Up To Dry got the biggest cheers from the crowd and I also liked the fact that they performed Robbers in total darkness, flashing lights at us. It was a nice way to turn shit lighting into a cool trick.

Cold War Kids - Against Privacy

Full set of photos here.

Warning: this Chip is very Hot

Hot Chip @ Brixton Academy, London, Nov 08

The above pix are not the result of my skillful photography (I am a lousy photographer and resorted to cutting off my middle finger after it had appeared in way too many of my photos), nor have they been doctored in post prod (I’m as good a Photoshoper as I am a  photographer). These are just the result of the psychedilic ligthing Hot Chip bombarded us with throughout their gig, and they are also very good indicators of the general hysteria and mania that was happening both on stage and in the crowd.

They even went as far as using that secret weapon that is only used by live acts when they mean serious business: yes, that’s right, Hot Chip unleashed the balloons. Clearly, that was them saying “tonight, we’re taking no prisoners, innit?”

Seriously, this has to be the most explosive concert I’ve ever been to. I got sucked into a giant pogo that started high up on the balcony level, travelled down the stairs, stopped by the groundfloor bars for fuel, gathered strength in the mosh pit and ended with me flattened against the stage barriers. I was crushed but happy.

These guys gave me the best ride this year. Their energy level is so high and their sense of fun is so geeky and genuine that no one in the audience could resist the urge to jump up and down, left and right, and in diagonal the entire time.

And their music is just too great for words. Their set list actually reminded me how I should revisit Made In The Dark; that album has more great tracks that I originally gave it credit for. (I tend to go back to The Warning every time I want to listen to Hot Chip).

Highlights: The balloons and the really really cool light effects + The music of course (all of it) + having Alexis Taylor inches away from my face, rapping in what looked like purple pajama trousers. Priceless.

And the award for the gayest moment goes to: when Jo Goddard shouted “I love You” and pointed at me (yes he did…before moving his finger towards the general vicinity of… the crowd… at large), and I might have shouted “I love you” back.

Sidenote: I really wanted to post “Alley Cats”, the new track they played live, but i can’t find any good-quality mp3 version of it on the web, so I’ll have to give it a miss.

Full set of photos here.

Fleet of Foxes sighted in London

Fleet Foxes @ Shepherds Bush Empire, London, Nov 08

What I’ll probably remember most vividly from seeing Fleet Foxes live was the cool and laid-back banter they shared with the audience. Frontman Robin Pecknold would pick up on every single comment coming from the crowd and shouted in his general direction, and he would run with it…Which led to funny banters about Obama’s win, Bush’s heritage, Prime Minister Brown, Fleet Foxes’ lousy performance at Later With Jool Holland the night before, Pecknold’s beard and why it should be grown for charity, among others. These turned into actual conversations between the band and the audience, and being in the first row, I started thinking that it was just a handful of us enjoying a bit of live music and chit chat in FF’s living room.

Robin Pecknold, Christian Wargo (bass, vocals) and Casey Wescott (keys, guitar, vocals) were the most extravert and entertaining of the bunch, while Josh Tillman (drums, vocals) and Skyler Skjelset (guitar) were the quiet ones who liked to keep to themselves. Skjelset was particularly withdrawn from the rest of the band but would occasionally wake up and go play off Tillman’s drumming.

As for Tillman, he was our one-man supporting act, playing a few of his songs on the acoustic guitar. I’m still undecided as to whether or not I like his solo style. He’s got a very good voice and he can play a tune on the guitar, but I find his lyrics, his voice and guitar playing all too low key for my taste and it leaves you wondering if he’s not overplaying the “less is more” act. So in the end, while His Guitar Gently Wept, I slept.

Fleet Foxes, on the other hand, were fantastic and every time they played a song on stage, it would top the previous one. It’s actually quite impressive how many good songs they’ve got in just one album and I’m one to think that their music sounds even better live. I particularly enjoyed the vocal quartet that Pecknold, Wargo, Wescott and Tillman form, but in my opinon, Pecknold’s guitar playing and singing stood out from the pack. As well as his on-stage presence. Not that I’m suggesting that he should just ditch the other four and go solo, but he performed James Oliver and Tiger Mountain Peasant Song on his own and those two songs were definitely among the highlights of the night. Your Protector, White Winter Hymnal and Blue Ridge Mountains (the last song of their set) are big favourites of mine and it seems that the rest of crowd favoured those songs too.

Sidenote: I was standing next to folk geeks who were engaged in a pissing contest about who had seen more of FF’s gigs this year alone. For some reason, it irritated me (strange, considering that I totally support geek behavior) and I was this close to turning to them and blurt out that until recently I kept callling them Fleet Boxes and that I really like their Winter and Protector songs but that’s about all I know from them and by the way aren’t they from Canada or Montana, or something?…Granted, that would have been a slight exageration for the sake of making a point but it is a fact that for the longest time I did think the band was called Fleet Boxes. I’m glad they’re not.

Fleet Foxes - Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Fleet Foxes - Your Protector

Full set of photos here

Family affair

Martha Wainwright @ the Roundhouse, London, Oct 08

The Roundhouse is my clear favourite when it comes to local venues. It’s such a civilised place (it’s the type of venue where you can actually wear a nice coat without fear of seeing it drenched with beer or torn apart…and believe you me, this type of place is rare in Camden); I love its circular design, the vibe of the place. And every time I go there, they show impeccable stage lighting design.

As for Martha’s gig, well, that was cool too. I think she’s got great stage presence; she’s a great performer and by bringng her tribe with ehr on stage, she creates a very homy environment.

There’s Brad Albetta, her husband/bassist/producer , Kate McGarrigle, her mother as her guest panist, and Lily Lakin, her cousin who does the backup vocals.

To be quite honest, despite the fact that she clealry performed a great set, that she was very entertaining on stage, and that there was great energy, there’s a big chunk of her repertoire that just doesn’t do it for me. So boredom was unavoidable at times. For me, Martha Wainwright is and will always be the woman that gave me Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole and for that, she will always be a folk godess in my eyes. I came to see her perform that one song and man, I was not disappointed.

Highlights: Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole and her duo with Shlomo, the human beatbox. The unconventional combination of her folking and his beatboxing was rather amazing I thought.

Full set of photos here.

The family stone

Angus & Julia Stone @ the Roundhouse, London, Oct 08

Angus and Julia are a folk duo from Australia who also happen to be brother and sister. I discovered them last night at Martha Wainwright’s London gig at the Roundhouse.

My expectations are usually very low when it comes to supporting acts, so it’s always quite the unexpected treat when they turn out to be excellent. I find their music, style and demeanour wonderful. They both have lovely voices (Julia’s, in particular, reminds me of Joanna Newsom’s).

Sidenote: how fitting that Martha picked a brother&sister duo as her supporting act for her tour. It’s clearly all about family with her.

Angus & Julia Stone - Paper Aeroplane

Full set of photos here.

Vampire for the weekend

Vampire Weekend @ The Forum, London, Oct 08

The supporting bands were total shite and by the time Vampire Weekend came on stage I had turned into a vegetable state. But it didn’t take me long to return to life: Vampire Weekend kicked off on a high note (Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa) and never came down.

Their sound on stage is flawless, they’re full of gesticulating energy and their tunes are pure sing-along material. We jumped, we sang along, we sweated, we got sprayed with beer (yes, again…sigh), and we literally made the earth tremble for an encore.

They performed their entire debut album I think (the live versions of their songs were rather short I thought), plus a couple of new songs I didn’t think much about. For their encore, they covered Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere, which I thought totally fitted their style, and they wrapped up with an amazing rendition of Walcott.

Highlights: Oxford Comma and Walcott were the songs that turned the crowd completely epileptic. I also really liked Kids Don’t Stand A Chance and I Stand Corrected.

Downlights: I really wish I was spared the two horrendous supporting bands.

Full set of photos here.