Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks @ Koko

Slacker love


You wouldn't have thought - I wouldn't have thought, but Mr Malkmus instantly takes you away with his effortless sweetness and immediacy. And despite his lack of a certain photogenic aspect, the man is truly handsome!
With all the unmusical trivia out of the way, I can now get on with what really makes Malkmus so intriguing: The Music.
Mirror Traffic, his fifth recording stride in the post-Pavement era, contains tracks like Spazz, reminding us why we typically expect of him so much. Rhythmic and lyrical anomalies - the latter, somehow, still managing to rhyme -, excellent guitar work and a trusted sense of unorthodox, humorous blubbering.
That guitar, from time to time tends to perpetuate a dialogue between itself and the rest of its instrumental surroundings, eventually forcing your mind to quit.
But then, I thought to myself, what would be the purpose of the quintessential slacker tunes than not to keep you on your toes? It would then beat their own purpose...
Instead, you get Mr M weaving the soundtrack to your time off - even on the Koko pit. You switch off - but the music is, still, artfully and thoughtfully made.

The most annoying Mirror track I find it to be Senator; and, judging from the sudden ecstatic state guitarist Mike Clark's in, it must be their hit.
If we were to talk hits, how about Sweet's Love Is Like Oxygen, which Malkmus delivers with extra spice on that -gen? Like a pure Frenchman (!).
Another kind of hit, or better, blow, would also be that against ex-Libertine Carl Barat, the superstar who, against all other superstars (according to the band) got three of his pictures hanging on the backstage wall.
And life with the Jicks - intelligently, ironically, intricately musically goes on...

Louis @ The Barbican

The trumpeter at the gates of dawn


The fact that all our tickets had been upgraded, due to the pretty conspicuous lack of audience, was the first great surprise on that moody Sunday night.
The second one, involved a crafty quartet we commonly faced at the Barbican's freestage, while savouring yummy sandwiches from the bar - courtesy of the London Jazz Festival (the quartet, not the sandwiches, obviously...).
The third and final one, was Louis itself. As a movie and as a project in its whole.
Set in a seedy part of New Orleans in the beginning of the 20th century, the movie Louis found jolly and generous little Louis Armstrong exposed in the darker realities of life, all the while dribbling over an expensive cornet in a shop window.
Inspired by the Charlie Chaplin silent era and shot in funny-moving black and white, it was beautifully surprising and insightful, re-enacting the environment that united Armstrong with the instrument that changed his life - and a lot of other people's lives as well.
The soundtrack Louis, written by veteran trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, was played live by a masterfully versatile band dead set to give us goose-bumps. Capable of swinging notes and atmospheres in the blink of an eye, the dynamic ensemble (which comprised a few of Marsalis' trusted associates) pretty much sounded like a few bands in one.
Compared to the Man With A Movie Camera by In The Nursery, where at almost any given instant you could recognize the trademark ITN sound, this gang would have you guessing. Excellent pianist Cyrus Chestnut, drummer Herlin Riley and their bandmates under the baguette of trumpeter Wycliffe Gordon didn't skip a beat, keeping up with the adventures and mishaps in the life of a budding genius.
They deservedly received a farewell standing ovation from the audience, including the boy that played Louis onscreen.
This audience wasn't as insignificant as our ticket upgrade may have suggested, but still, you wonder where all the rest had been. 
The rest who? 
Armstrong lovers; jazz lovers; film and music lovers. I really hope they didn't spend their hard-earned cash to see Boyce Avenue, just another youtube star band, thanks to a series of banal and cheesy covers. 
Cause that London night was pretty much sold out...

Magazine @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

The correct use of post punk


Regarding Magazine's reunion, I had been prepared for the worst. Fans that had been present at one of the band's recent performances had made sure of that. But still...
One of the most inspiring - and awe-inspiring - bands of the English post punk era was meant to be an  effortless music lesson - and, boy, was I NOT dissapointed.
Surely, there were times that Dave Formula's characteristic keyboards sounded out of pace (and I don't think my significant distance from the stage was to blame). However, Howard, Devoto, wasn't all that far from the semi-psychotic weirdo of a frontman he once was, and seminal Magazine moments (see Motorcade) lived up to their legend.
Parade was, disappointedly, a slowed down version of its' old whimsical self;
and pure proof of Devoto genius, like Cut Out Shapes, was conspicuous by its' absence. But they made up for it with a double encore and other hits, like Shot By Both Sides, played in top form.

Any flaws reunited Magazine demonstrated, though, didn't seem that far out of hand. This was a band that didn't seem to give a f*** about rehearsing to perfection and giving out a polished respect-my-legend reunion show. They were rather a loosely-knit unit obeying their own individual tantrums and obsessions.
They might never reach the height of performances like in the aforementioned Cut Out Shapes video - and did they ever, live?
That, they could never again be.
As for the rest, I don't think it's in their nature to care. And that's what post punk expression was really meant to be. 

Throwing Muses @ Shepherd's Bush Empire (and the Bush goes on...)

The trio Muse(s)


Let's start the review with two guys that came up to me and said, and I quote, "Did you know them before? We thought we were coming to see The Muse... What an awesome band!".
My kind of band, I'm quick to add. It brought again before us a time when rock was effortlessly smart and mature, feasting on its' young and rebellious nature all the same. A quality - or, rather, a combination of qualities today's bands quite honestly lack.
The Muses, in very different ways than "The" Muse, know how to throw you off course, and therefore off your musical comfort zone by temperamentally changing gears several times within a song.
Fronted by the pleasantly sinister Kristin Hersh (now well in her forties) looking all innocent and cutesy - and then attacking you with a violent, sensually smokey voice.
She often brings up nuttiness (one of her solo career highlights is, unsurprisingly, also A Loon); and the band's rollercoaster mood swings are kind of scary. That's what makes them fascinating.
Yup, Hersh sounded kinda stoned when she spoke - unless she had just left her dentist's chair; but they were obviously on good form.
I never quite liked the pop breeze Tanya Donelly brought to the band, so I can't say I minded her absence (and I never liked her band Belly, largely thanks to that annoying '90s hit song Feed The Tree).
I got much more disappointed they played a slowed-down version of Bright Yellow Gun... But they came out for two encores and they hardly got boring (maybe for a minute there, while I was working).
Their brainchild is full of tantrums, guitar chord after guitar chord. From the '80s Rabbits Dying to the beautiful Your Ghost, Hersh's solo collaboration with Michael Stipe (on heavy MTV rotation in the '90s), they got the muse; and they throw her time and again against the wall just to see how well she bounces.

Anna Calvi @ Shepherd's Bush Empire (again)

Doom dancing flamenco


On my previous report on Calvi at Field Day, I declared my disappointment, largely thanks to the horrendous sound under a packed up festival tent.
Now at the Empire, gazing at her from a decidedly objective, devotedly musical perspective, Anna was amazing.
I am simply not a Calvi fan. Her generous femininity, what is  inescapably sung by a sumptuous letter W, is simply not my style.
Let's say I like things edgy instead of curvy.
What drew me in, were the instruments, actually having a breath of their own. Excellent instinct and timing, silence holding an equally precious part as volume - and lots of cudos to her percussionist extraordinaire (among other things) Mally Harpaz.
I try to appreciate Anna's unquestionably apt voice and I don't - as I don't like her playing dress-up flamenco style. But if that's your thing, she rocked it alright.
For a second there she dropped the vocal drama to announce coyly, like a little girl hiding behind her mother's skirt ,"you're so many!"; which, after a number of sold out gigs, I don't quite buy. She looks like quite a sweet girl, but possibly one that doesn't want to publicly follow her own fertile impact and seeks refuge in false modesty.
So be it.
Moments like Love Won't Be Leaving drumming the night away and No More Words courting us with an explicitly seductive guitar were stunning. And I'm still not an Anna Calvi fan.

"Hold me down and give me all your power.
Hold me close in every single hour".