The Jacksons, Hammersmith Apollo

Purely joyous: The Jacksons perform at Hammersmith Apollo

Purely joyous: The Jacksons perform at Hammersmith Apollo Photo: Stephanie Paschal / Rex Features

04 Mar 2013

You might think there would be a ghost haunting this show, an inescapable absence at its centre, yet of all the Michael Jackson related tributes I have seen, the reunion of his brothers was by far the most purely joyous and entertaining.

It worked, in a way, because it wasn’t all about Michael. There were no excessively maudlin speeches, no hi-tech projections from beyond the grave, and none of the quasi-religious homages that make less obsessive fans queasy. There was just great music and dancing and a real spirit of fraternal togetherness, with Michael being celebrated as a part of this talented clan, as opposed to something completely other.

In truth, The Jacksons career never really recovered from the departure and phenomenal solo success of their most extravagantly talented member in the early Eighties. From 1984 on, all of their careers seemed to depend on his beneficence. A speculative comeback in 2009 was cut short by Michael’s death, and there have been various falling outs and disagreements, with indications that it took torturous negotiations to get four of the five back onstage (without youngest, Randy, who became a member at the tail end of their career). Yet there is no sense of conflict or compromise, apart, perhaps, from an unnecessary Jermaine solo section. This is a slick, fun, engaging, super well-drilled show in which the performers seem to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience.

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Liza Minnelli, Royal Festival Hall

Liza Minelli live at the Royal Festival Hall, London

03 Mar 2013

This was my first time seeing Liza (with a Z) in the flesh, and I felt quite virginal amongst the exuberantly camp men, single women and older couples who form her devoted audience. Cilla (with a C) was sitting a few rows down from me. Everyone I spoke to promised that I was in for quite a treat, although one older woman added, pragmatically, “if she can still do it at her age.”

I am happy to report that Minnelli can, indeed, still do at her age (66). Although exactly what she does is hard to define. She interprets melodramatic show tunes and other old standards with an almost hammy commitment to theatrical emotional veracity, the intensity of her vocal peppered with melodramatic gestures. Between songs she larks about, her persona one part wide-eyed child, one part wry old dame, peppering remarks with a hoarse, squeaky laugh. But as soon as the music starts up, she is absolutely in the moment and on song.

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Filed under: Review

Dido: “Maybe I am boring”

Dido

Dido: ‘I see the world in songs’ Photo: Sony
03 Mar 2013

‘I haven’t actually performed in front of other human beings for five years, so this could go either way,” jokes Dido as she takes the stage for an intimate London showcase. At 41, she looks exactly the same as she ever did: blonde, beautiful, fresh faced and smiling with a delight that beams out across the room. Her voice, too, is immediately familiar, that soft, pure tone, very precise diction and little, folky catch in her throat as she floats up to falsetto notes. “If only for today, I want to be, the girl who got away,” she sings.

Dido is one of the biggest-selling stars in UK music history. Two massive albums of mellifluous, electronic-shaded songs (No Angel in 1999 and Life For Rent in 2003) established her as one of the most ubiquitous sounds of the Noughties, topping singles charts around the world and shifting more than 30 million albums, before apparently drifting out of sight and out of mind. She is back, somehow untouched by time, with a new album, Girl Who Got Away. It is actually her fourth album but, as she cheerfully acknowledges, not many people seemed to notice her third, a downbeat collection of acoustic orchestral melancholy, Safe Trip Home, in 2008.

“I get that a lot in cabs,” she laughs. “’Oi, Dido, I’ve got both your albums, when you putting another one out?’”

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Laura Mvula, Sing To the Moon

Orchestral soul newcomer Laura Mvula received a Brit nomination

01 Mar 2013

Strong, soulful British female singer-songwriters have enjoyed such amazing crossover success in recent years it sometimes appears that record companies must be scouring open mic nights in search of successors to Amy Winehouse, Adele and Emeli Sandé, snapping up every young chanteuse they can find with a broken heart and Grade 6 piano. On first sight, Laura Mvula might appear to be the latest candidate, easy-on-the-ear and eye, with a forthright vocal manner, unadorned beauty and copious melodious gifts. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the breadth of her talents and her bold commitment to creative individuality. Sing To The Moon is one of the most striking and original debuts from any British artist in many a year.

Pick any track and you find yourself groping to enumerate the musical multitudes it contains. Like The Morning Dew opens in a bright blast of choral ecstasy, before shrinking to a soft hum of acoustic bass and tinkling bells, then playfully breaking in to a stirring march. Is There Anybody Out There? advances with a stately strum and a vocal as poised as Nina Simone at her most querulous, before opening up with a flourish of harp. The ebulliently confrontational That’s Alright could be Billie Holiday in a Thirties flapper romp underpinned by Burundi percussion, Busby Berkley meets Adam Ant.

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Moxafrica

If you’re in London on March 6th, there’s no better place to be. For tickets visit Eventbrite

Read about my trials and tribulations as a charity promoter here: David Gray, Bono’s Sunglasses & Me

Stereophonics Kelly Jones: “This is the truest thing I’ve ever written”

Tell us a story: Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics says his love of narrative songs is due to his upbringing in South Wales

Tell us a story: Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics says his love of narrative songs is due to his upbringing in South Wales
28 Feb 2013

The nondescript terraced building down a side street in Shepherd’s Bush doesn’t look like much. The front door opens on to a clean, white office that could pass as the reception for a medical practice. Only the sound of Otis Redding Live playing on a vinyl turntable hints at something else, and a glimpse of guitars and piano in the neat and tidy rooms beyond.

“We wanted a place to hang out,” says Kelly Jones, guitarist and lead singer with the Stereophonics, as he shows me around the band’s HQ. “We’ve done a lot, achieved a lot, failed here and there, succeeded here and there. I think it was just time to press pause.” He wrinkles his nose a bit at the prospect of showing me the room downstairs where they keep the drums. “It’s like a serial killer’s den down there. We’ve got rubber on the walls to keep the sound down, it smells like an S&M dungeon. All that’s missing is the manacles.”

The Stereophonics have been ensconced here for two years, writing and recording. They released their last album in 2009, and last did a major tour in 2010. With their contract at Universal at an end, the band decided it was time for a fresh direction.

“I wanted to change the way we worked,” says Jones. “Find new ways of writing, new ways of listening…

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Can Digital save music?

The Adele factor has benefitted the music industry, but she can't do it all on her own

The Adele factor has benefitted the music industry, but she can’t do it all on her own Photo: Getty Images
28 Feb 2013

The music industry has got itself into a tizzy of excitement about figures showing that global sales rose last year for the first time since 1999. To be specific, they went up 0.3 per cent. Excuse me if I don’t break out the bunting.

Let’s get real, here. We are not talking about an actual increase on 1999’s figures. Recorded music sales have shrunk by 40 per cent since the turn of the millennium, from $27.8bn in 1999 to $16.5 billion in 2012. And that is before you adjust for inflation, which tends to make everything look even worse.

Sales revenues are up a tiny bit on the year before, boosted (according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, whose figures these are) by downloads, subscription and other digital services. Indeed, we are almost, but not quite, back to 2010 levels (when sales reached $16.8 billion). So when the chief executive of Sony Music Entertainment tries to spin this incremental increase into a line about how “Digital is saving music”, what he really means is, it’s bottomed out folks, and maybe the worst is over.

I think that might be a little optimistic. Last year, the music industry was still benefiting from the Adele factor. She sold 8.3 million copies of an album that actually came out in 2011 (and had already shifted 15.3 million). You cannot count on that kind of superstar bounce every year.

Nonetheless, the music industry has always been pretty good at the mass marketing of star brands. Out in the margins, things still feel really, really tough. Record companies are signing fewer acts, and employing fewer staff to promote them on shrinking budgets. Everything feels squeezed and pinched.

The impact of HMV’s bankruptcy in the UK has not really been felt yet but it is worth noting that, following last week’s Brits show, with 6.4 million television viewers, the UK album market actually experienced a sales drop of 15 per cent. And judging by her Oscar acceptance speech, Adele’s not going to be swooping back to the rescue any time soon.

From Telegraph

Filed under: Blogs

David Bowie: The Next Day

David Bowie’s first album for a decade is bold, beautiful and baffling

5 out of 5 stars
David Bowie's new album, The Next Day, is 'an absolute wonder'

David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, is ‘an absolute wonder’
25 Feb 2013

It is an enormous pleasure to report that the new David Bowie albumis an absolute wonder: urgent, sharp-edged, bold, beautiful and baffling, an intellectually stimulating, emotionally charged, musically jagged, electric bolt through his own mythos and the mixed-up, celebrity-obsessed, war-torn world of the 21st century.

Musically, it is stripped and to the point, painted in the primal colours ofrock: hard drums, fluid bass, fizzing guitars, shaded by splashes of keyboard and dirty rasps of horns. The 14 songs are short and spiky, often contrasting that kind of patent Bowie one-note declarative drawl with sweet bursts of melodic escape that hit you like a sugar rush. Bowie’s return from a decade’s absence feels very present, although full of sneaky backward glances.

Hints, references and echoes of the past abound.

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Kanye West, Hammersmith Apollo

In his solo show at the Hammersmith Apollo, Kanye West was weird, extraordinary and oddly disturbing

Kanye West performing at the Hammersmith Apollo

Kanye West performing at the Hammersmith Apollo
Neil McCormick

25 Feb 2013

There was a moment towards the end of Kanye West’s solo London shows when I thought, this is the future, and it is even weirder than I would have imagined.

A lone figure is standing in the midst of an arctic wasteland, wearing a white designer sci-fi straitjacket, a glittering, skin-tight crystal bondage mask obscuring his face. He is singing into an autotuned microphone set to maximum distortion, his digitised voice bending and fluctuating like a robot choir. Single icy synth notes blast out over a sub sonic bass more felt than heard. A crowd of thousands stand rapt, filming him on mobile phones, as the sounds grow ever more twisted and distorted, circling around and constantly returning to a beautiful, tortured melodic refrain, in which he sadly lists his all too human flaws and urges loved ones to “run away as fast as you can”.

This was not some obscure, left field electro art rock performance. This was one of the biggest pop stars in the world right now.

read more via The Telegraph

Filed under: Review

Thom Yorke: why should we care?

Atoms For Peace: Amok (XL) review
Conflicted: Thom Yorke fronts Atoms For Peace

GMT 22 Feb 2013

Before Your Very Eyes, the opening track of Thom Yorke’s latest side-project, cascades from the speakers in thrilling style, interweaving a jittery, propulsive afro-rhythmic bass with hi-life guitar, fizzing futuristic electronica, shuffling percussion and one of those ethereal, floating Radiohead melodies that seems to be moving at half the pace of the rest of the track, crossing the up-tempo groove with a ghostly sadness. As it segues from a rumbling, subsonic bass note into the nervy, morse-code synth rhythm and desperate, yearning melody of Default, the sinuous mix of electronic and analogue sounds suggests Yorke has found a new way to mesh rock’s visceral live attack with the shiny, digital beats of our computer world. Young musicians should grab a hold of an album with enough ideas to launch a hundred bands. But over the course of nine tracks, familiar problems start to manifest. Like: what is Thom Yorke singing about? And why should we care?

read more via Telegraph

Filed under: Review