ELC @ Ray's Jazz Stage

(Not quite) easy listening


Chris Biscoe's Easy Listening Collective is quite far from what its' name suggests. Armed with alto sax and at least a couple of clarinets, double bass and drums, the quartet was pretty out there for a cold late afternoon at Foyle's Cafe, Charing Cross - and we thank them for that!
Guillaume Viltard delivered some pretty impressive playing on his bass, giving with the less loud of the four instruments the "loudest" performance.
There's no denying the foursome's expertise in both cool jazz standards and quirky experiments - a pretty good deal for the price of a coffee and a cake on the bookshop's cosy first floor.
P.S. If you bump into them again, by the way, they've just changed their name to Happenstance.

No Funk Intended @ O'Neil's

Feeling good


It was a casual Friday night live, next door to the 02 Shepherd's Bush Empire, courtesy of No Funk Intended.
Meg and Dan took turns on the mike, alternating Katie Perry's California Gurls with Plan B's She Said, The Noisettes Never Forget You with James Brown's I Feel Good, Amy Winehouse with Lady Gaga and nostalgic soul anthems. Lighthearted pop gave way to sophisticated grooves, charging the dancefloor with energy without sacrificing quality (well, most of the time they didn't...).
Despite a drunkard stealing their thunder with his crazy dance moves (there's always at least one), the band was definitely in charge, thanks also to a very agile drummer and some pretty strong guitar solos.
Whoever's around Shepherd's Bush Green on Saint Patrick's Day, the kids will be back for some extra celebratory dancing.

Kronos Quartet @ Barbican Hall

From industrial Germany to spiritual Uzbekistan 


No intermission, no pause was held between us and our vast journey into lands and sounds, led by the genre-defying Kronos Quartet.
Part of the Awakenings residency, Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Anniversary of 9/11 was build around Michael Gordon's The Sad Park ("inspired by recordings of New York school children’s reactions to the events of 9/11"), months after the last anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks (??).
Introduced in a moody artificial twilight, the quartet sat in the middle of the stage slowly immersing us into Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's contemplative music notebook. As livelier sounds splashed out of the Barbican stage, the light also swifted, mimicking the deep orange Iranian and Indian sun. Contrastingly, New London Children's Choir joined Kronos to sing Winter Was Hard (and then stood quite pointlessly on stage for a while...). Menace wandered and hope arose in the hour and a half that the quartet was kept in our company.
Two of those moments were my favorite:
Unavoidably (as an avid fan of '80s industrial Berlin), Einsturzende Neubauten's ruthless brilliance, ever present in a series of metal constructions that the foursome rhythmically banged;
and a piece that I lost count whether it was Gordon or Sallinen or Riley, but it involved a genius silent choreography of the musicians' upper bodies and bows.
All in all, a performance by Kronos Quartet is always a sophisticated and thought-provoking experience, but I have a few objections about this particular one. Last time I saw them, a couple of years ago in Athens, Greece, they had decidedly more nerve despite a setlist that included bands as serene as Sigur Ros. Interestingly, Awakenings' ethnic, let's-make-peace-with-the-world approach made them less vibrant.
Conclusion? Kronos - and the world, could use some more rebellion from where I stand.

Henry Rollins @ Royal Festival Hall



Regarding Black Flag, West Coast hardcore punk's relentless pioneers, I've always been for Keith Morris. However, when Rollings joined on vocals, he contributed in mosh pit masterpieces like Six Pack and Rise Above. How could I resist?
I had to see him live, despite the unwelcoming to punk ethos walls of Royal Festival Hall; me, along with a few other hardcore punksters and spectacular goths.
His uninterrupted spoken word marathon kicked off with the touring highs and lows (like swallowing a helluva lot of spit) of Black Flag, went via Captain Beefheart, his KCRW radio shows and stint as a National Geographic reporter, George W. Bush, Tibet... to end up somewhere I couldn't quite distinguish; I was half asleep by then.
It's not that he was boring. I was tired. But since the very beginning, Mr Rollins gave me the impression to cash in on his notorious punk days - the way he has for years now, taking the high road towards much more commercial and anti-anti-authoritarian stuff (if you catch my drift). I guess I gave up on him. I didn't wanna be an eye-witness to his ascent - pure descent from where I stand; and not just because he wasn't much of a punk anymore. But he abused himself and his art.
What are my impressions of Rollins as a spoken word artist onstage (cause I do own 1984 spoken word Black Flag LP Family Man, I do know what to expect)? On a DIY friendly stage, he'd be unquestionably funny, witty, eloquent, acerbic. But in a high-class venue, he looked much more talented in serving the masses, falsely modest and uncharacteristically likable.
Take almost any eloquent and street-smart artist, "punk", if you may - Richard Hell, Patti Smith, to name a couple of known ones (let alone the army of talented unknowns...). Their gigs are crammed with whip-smart social commentary and jokes. Rollins has a few things to say - and he can do it well; I'm just not convinced his commentary alone got him that far; and not his commercial rock 'n' roll status and ambition.
And for that, I don't respect him. He didn't have to work as hard to perfect his task - cause there are a lot of flashy events in his life, and even if he caused them, they do half the job. It's the witty recounts of a famously loud man that sell.

And he (ab)uses it.

Singing away 2011 @ Shepherd's Bush Empire


December's highlight at the Empire had to be Bryan. Even so, with great delay - partly due to the relative insignificance of these particular live performances - I present you with a couple of handful of moments that stamped 2011 goodbye.

The Lemonheads 12/12/11
I'm unable to grasp the fuss about Evan Dando - sure he's cute, sure it's fun dancing to his version of "too-too-roo-too-too Mrs Robinson", but I still don't get what people (and especially music critics) are going on about. It's A Shame About Ray, the band's fifth album that accompanied our slacker memories of 1992, relived a night of glory among the longtime band's fans. On my part, I've always thought Ray was boring and, seeing ..him live, I still do; and I certainly won't hear of any comparisons between Dando and mega-Malkmus, by way of their mutual slackerness. Dando has a certain music charm (that I will admit goes further than his dimples), but I find songs like Big Gay Heart (which is not included in the album) too soft for my passions - if not predictably indifferent. That night, it wasn't until Into Your Arms (also not in Ray) came up that I euphorically started cavorting. And that's about it...
Caro Emerald 13/12/11
Now, this was a band I wasn't particularly eager to see; given that I wasn't as thrilled by their hit debut single Back It Up either, back in 2009 (as the rest of the world was). But Dutch Caro and her hefty backing band did a really pro job delivering the live goods. Playful, crafty, sparkly jazz, with voluptuous red-lipped Emerald in charge, swung the room and reminded us that sophisticated, yet light-hearted song-making can occasionally dominate the charts.
Stereophonics 19, 20 & 21/12/11
I had no idea those Welsh lads had such a devoted fanbase, but the Empire shook with singing stereophiles thrice-in-a-row. If the band failed to seduce me, the trippy Xmas decor sure did - an atmospherically lit set, complete with a deep pink tree that faded in the intense dark-coloured background (I'm not sure what I saw myself, but it was definitely eye candy). Most of the Stereophonics songs I find forgettable and cheesy, though Jones 's husky voice (if used correctly) is a favourable asset. I sang-along Maybe Tomorrow and I kind of had a nice night with Have A Nice Day and Dakota - the way you do when you have to work either way, so it's better if that is playing in the background, along to a jumping crowd than.... let's say, Alexandra Burke. 

Speaking of, Miss Burke played live at the Girls Night Out charity concert on the 12th of January; the first gig of 2012, along with The Saturdays and co. And it sucked.
That, my friends, was really not fun. Not even for work...

Bryan Ferry @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Chants of a humble gentleman


I wouldn't call the show humble; far from it. But the gentleman himself was another deal altogether...
Undisputed king of a 12-strong music team, complete with 4 glittery back-up singers and 2 dancers, Mr Ferry travelled us afar: From Roxy Music's ingenious past, with the trademark If There Is Something, to his slow-burning present, with Olympia's promo single You Can Dance.
That last one, along with other Olympia croons, unmistakeably bore intros and hooks that resembled Ferry's past anthems, i.e. Slave To Love (which, of course, was also dutifully added to the setlist). And Kate Moss on the album cover, was a rather failed attempt to relive Roxy Music's epic cover shoots - like a friend eloquently put it, she can try lavishly sexy (like all other Roxy Music cover girls were), but she can never be cult.
Olympia songs, somehow, often followed the same course.
But they all had the gentleman's style, and heart; and accordingly, from fellow veteran Chris Spedding on guitar, to newest sensation Jorja Chalmers on sax, the band managed to capture our imagination.
The audience, quite mature in their majority, sadly underlined the fact that younger crowds hardly indulge in Ferry's magic. I just wish someone could shake them up (and I would love it if it could just be me...). The nah-nah romance of Slave to Love, or Reason or Rhyme, are hardly my style, but when he sang "I Put A Spell On You" (one of the night's numerous covers) I was, once again, hooked. And don't even get me started on Roxy Music... There's something youthfully sinister about his mature-sounding romance, no doubt.
On my way backstage, I came across the man himself. Waiting, alone, by the venue's medical centre, buttoning in silence his elegant coat. I was ready to make the decisive step and go, simply, say "thank you", when a friend of his approached and introduced his girlfriend; so I just backed out... And the gentleman got introduced with kind pleasure.
That's Bryan for ya; ever imposing in his humble presence.