We Love David Bowie @ BFI Southbank

"Crack, baby, crack, show me you're real
Smack, baby, smack, is that all that you feel?"


London is living and breathing David Bowie.
V & A's exhibition has obviously sparked major media attention (a really long queue waited patiently on the opening night), reheating the public's affair with the iconic sonic oddity. Then, there's The Next Day, his first album in a decade that freshly hit the bin, much awaited and critically lauded.
In that Bowie-heavy atmosphere came this year's Gay & Lesbian Film Festival to examine his significance as a queer icon, under the stage guidance of writer Rupert Smith.
Characteristically entertaining and chirpy, Smith made his grand entrance by copying Ziggy's mime act, as it would later appear (much upgraded - though our host claimed that it was actually Bowie who struggled to reach his level of expertise) as part of D.A. Pennebaker's Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars documentary. BBC4 in fact played the above film on repeat a few months ago; but it was the event as a whole that made the difference - and who has ever shunned the big screen if they can afford it?

Smith's projection involved iconic photos and rare newspaper cuts of Bowie's ambiguous "I'm bisexual" interviews, followed by insightful and humorous commentary. I had no idea his so-called bisexuality could've been all talk and no action, a very successful public stunt, as it appears. Some of his closest affairs are indeed in question (not that you can ever be too sure about what goes on behind closed doors - did, or didn't Bowie have an affair with his drag queen friend? His mate Lou Reed was apparently much more serious about it all...). Bowie was struggling for media attention and mainstream hits; and it seems like nothing back then was as hot as his sexual identity, which finally did the trick. Until, at least, he decided to straighten up his act and join Jagger in freaky dances (...in the street), which eventually made him hot even in the toughest of music cookies, the U.S.
The highlight of the night was, unquestionably, the rockumentary itself, screaming the main man's knack for interpretation and stage antics (mimicry included). Seeing Ziggy... for the third time in the last few months, I couldn't help but gasp in awe of Bowie's alien ability to bring some of the best songs in rock 'n' roll to life - Moonage Daydream, Space Oddity, Cracked Actor, and my absolute favourite, Time, thanks to a couple of theatrically provocative lyrics:
 "Time - He flexes like a whore / Falls wanking to the floor..", which he delivers in all its perfection.
And then, there are guitarists like Mick Ronson, who excels on this last Hammersmith Odeon gig, a wonder of a player on Ziggy's side whose role shouldn't be underestimated. His lengthy solo on Moonage Dream is out of this world - especially when, as it turned out, he was one of the very few people in Bowie's circle to have heard about the impending death of Ziggy. When Stardust took everyone else by surprise, announcing his plans on stage, the crowd's shock transformed into one big simultaneous shriek.
Inevitably, my big question then was why did this new kind of audience gather at the BFI? A sea of people that might look hooked on Bowie - but is all this really a media-imposed consequence? Was it his much-talked about significance in pop culture that had everybody convinced they should attend? I was one of the very few shaking and swinging in my chair, stressing the beat and playing air guitar in synch with Ronson. It was sad to see everyone cared in theory but not in practice. Or was it the theatre itself that barred the audience from expressing itself (I highly doubt it)?
Things got a bit warmer in the We Love Bowie after party in BFI's Blue Room. A few people queued to get the characteristic Aladdin Sane coloured thunder painted on their faces. A few others put on the appropriate glamour rock look (including myself - but then, I hardly ever stray from it...); and a lot of us danced, video projections dressing the wall with some of Bowie's best videos. The art gallery surroundings of the Blue Room brought a certain high brow "it" to the party - which was a bad thing. I can't lie, I would've preferred something a little more decadent, with the kind of people that would've shaken it a little more in their chairs earlier on, probably...
If we want Bowie's legacy to continue as it deserves, shouldn't it be us flexing it (like whores, or not, I don't know...) a bit more?
Fall rocking to the floor?

 Soundbite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwdmZ8yUvqw&list=PL1BD01A54FC675EE5

Text by Danai Molocha; pics stolen by the BFI website and the web.

Johnny Marr @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

There was a wicked Messenger...


It's not that I would call Marr's first solo album (25 whole years after The Smiths split) wicked as lightly.
The music is good, of course. But I find even better the fact that it reminds me of what simple, but unquestionably beautiful song-writing really means. Something he got us addicted to, first and foremost, with The Smiths, along with that other criminal, Moz (though the latter's lyrics I'd call anything but simple, thankfully). Such astounding substance lingering in their melodies gave pop true purpose and a radical nature that you can only find in rock 'n' roll.
The Messenger reminds me of that at a time when nothing much in rock screams (or whispers) substance. It's not "awesome" or radical per se, but it lets Marr's trademark qualities shine through in so many ways; apart of course from the most obvious quality of all - his guitar, one of the best that have ever graced the tempestuous kingdom of pop-rock.
After this appropriate (or not at all) introduction, it was time for me to listen to The Messenger live. That and, oh, a couple of what's-their-name hits The Smiths released in the '80s. The crowd's reaction to those (Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, How Soon Is Now, Big Mouth Strikes Again, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out) was predictably euphoric. Electronic's Getting Away With it also got some enthusiasm. But I was disappointed (albeit not surprised) that he reception to Marr's new record was bordering indifference.
I was personally thrilled to listen to The Smiths songs live - I danced and levitated and did my whole "I'm a sucker for The Smiths" routine; but there wasn't a moment in between those songs that I wasn't happily carried away by the melody. The Messenger's Lockdown was utterly exciting; New Town Velocity and European Me were really touching; and the guitar on the album's title track was high and mighty (is it my idea or that song is reminiscent of some well-known Madchester hymns?).
Thanks to the above, I apparently forgave his reported "shortcomings": A less than a wonder of a voice and a less than glorious repertoire (that pretty much sums up what I've read). So what? I was way too absorbed by the music to be ticking the losses.
He may have remained a side-man all the while Morrissey was reaching his solo peak (the elephant in the room), but I find admirable he got tirelessly involved in respected groups (Modest Mouse, The Cribs - c'mon! It's not like it was Fall Out Boy..). Other musicians got bored of their own jobs - or didn't even dare do them once they hit and missed the spotlight. Marr not only braved Morrissey's fame with unexpected (but to the point) collaborations, but he kept on singing The Smiths grudge-free. You might be tempted to call him an underachiever, in comparison to his old day job. I call him classy. It's about time someone did interesting things without manifesting a spotlight complex. It's great to see him undeterred. He's not loud or provocative - but he stuns me with his ability to deliver without making noise.
Of course, there's Generate! Generate! and Upstarts in the Messenger, two songs I find almost annoying - on record or (less so) on stage... And I'm happy to declare it, in case by now I was coming across as plain starstruck.
I crossed paths with him backstage you know - and nope, no star striking there. But I am, in spite of his modesty and his modest post-Smith moves, simply and beautifully impressed.

Text by Danai Molocha - thank you to whoever took those fine pictures..

The soul girls take the Empire


Lianne La Havas

Four girls with talent and wit took over the Empire, unintentionally building up a four-day showcase for the female soul wave (in the broader sense of the term) currently splashing the UK. The ladies at the helm were none other than the much talked-about (and advertised) Lianne La Havas (11 & 12/3) and Jessie Ware (13 & 14/3).
But I first have to stress out, in all fairness, that I'm not a great soul fan. Unless we're talking Marvin Gaye or (to hit the 21st century roster) Lee Fields & the Expressions, I hardly have any patience with their soft rhythms and moaning vocals.
Jessie Ware
Their strengths? Both girls were unpretentious and generous performers, enthusiastically engaging with their audience. Their voices? Pretty darn engaging too. And their bands did a fine job supporting their ladies-at-the-wheel.
 La Havas's Forget (http://bit.ly/12UmCX5) and No Room For Doubt (http://bit.ly/z7cOVw) were beautiful live, as we know them on record. Ware, on the other hand, was a  different deal; I had to compartmentalize, admiring her vocals and the sensual backing rhythms - most evident in Running (http://bit.ly/Q8bkXF) - separately and at my own time. Despite her talent, most of her songs ring a rather trendy bell. She interestingly broke conventions with the numerous choral guests from Goldsmiths College, who further enhanced her vocals and added to them (and the general surprise effect) with an artsy dance routine.
Laura Mvula
Ware's opening acts didn't go unnoticed either: Lulu James was a capable performer with a big voice. But I'm worried that she visually relates to Rihanna more than, let's say, Sharon Jones, as if she belongs to hit pop videos rather than to the powerful soul she is vocally able to pull off. Both at the soundcheck and the show, the bass (whether that translated to bass guitar or James' vocal tone) echoed so bad it was downright deafening. I'm not sure if I should blame the plain bad sound, or the band's inflated attack on their material... Either way the result was unfair to promising singles like Closer (http://bit.ly/Y47VM8).
An original soul blend was what Ware's second opening act, Laura Mvula, was effortlessly able to capture. She dressed the beats with an interesting angle and a commanding presence. Her single Green Garden (http://bit.ly/W1C40c) is by itself a joy.
All in all, the above gigs are judged by their highlights. There was plenty of space for me, personally, to drift and disengage (I also couldn't help but notice that Ware's fans talked more among them than actually paid attention; but then a lot of them kept dancing...).
But hey, you can't win them all; especially when they drool over the mere sound of Black Flag.

Lulu James

Text by Danai Molocha, photography kindly borrowed from the web.

"I see scars on my honey-pie.."

This one-line chorus by Greek post punk band Venus In Furs, which defines their gorgeous dark ballad Scars (New Horizon, 1985) instantly clicked with a series of songs that speak about a broken child (this child often being a girl...).
"You are a blue child... tell me why you look so sad" sings Rory Gallagher on his timeless Moonchild, while King Crimson described how they saw their own Moonchild "...playing hide and seek with the ghosts of dawn. Waiting for a smile from a sun child".
The Modern Lovers claim "When you get out of the hospital let me back into your life. I can't stand what you do, I'm in love with your eyes". A psycho with eyes of fire.
Sonic Youth cover the Carpenters' Superstar, a tribute to anorexic Karen Carpenter - "..come back to me again and play your sad guitar".
Christian Death claim with a broken female voice "When you die I wanna die with you" and a suffering Patti Smith weeps "A fire of unknown origin took my baby away".
Edith Piaf sings stoically, at first, "Shine another glass, make the hours pass" in the English version of Les Amants d' Un Jour, trying to forget the two love-birds that just entered the hotel room at the back of her cheap cafe... And in the end she breaks that glass in frustration.

 So, here it is: My kinky compilation of Songs for a Broken Child..

Moonchild – King Crimson       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1m1l00eaDg

Hospital – The Modern Lovers     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91U4_UfhSSw

Die With You – Christian Death         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMdiJ_OsKSA

Superstar – Sonic Youth      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y21VecIIdBI

Moonchild – Rory Gallagher     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUbLtdqdg9E

Fire of Unknown Origin - Patti Smith   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_2KIUuShbM

Les Amants d’ Un Jour - Edith Piaf  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsyhabr-vUU

Stiv Cantarelli and The Silent Strangers @ The Apple Tree

Come down and meet the Strangers


Stiv Cantarelli and Antonio Perugini in live action
Lighting up, both visually and sonically, an otherwise suspicious corner on Clerkenwell's Mount Pleasant, the Apple Tree pub invites us every 2nd and last Sunday of the month to Come Down & Meet the Folks. With Alan Tyler as host and general multi-tasking facilitator (I presume he's the guy cruising the main room for donations), this fortnightly music event delves deep into the dark soul of Americana, bluegrass, Apalacian, country, acoustic and folk music, educating/entertaining the lingering Sunday afternoon crowd.
Providing support, The Lucky Strikes
After a typically vigorous warm-up by the Americana-country quintet The Lucky Strikes, Italian trio Stiv Cantarelli & The Silent Strangers (http://scandthess.bandcamp.com/) are good to go, their brand new Black Music / White Music album (out on Stovepony Records) ready to inject new sonic sparks into their show.
If you're striving to establish a connection between an Italian trio and their ties with the Americana-blues sound, the story traces back to Stiv's first band Satellite Inn (who first signed with North Carolina's MoodFood Records) and most importantly, among other American adventures, his collaboration with Portland's esteemed Richmond Fontaine. It's bands like the latter that inform Cantarelli's alternative and eclectic repertory, as well as his introspective lyrics and vocals (as for his accent, you can hardly detect it's Italian).
"They told us we were playing the blues. Not sure about that..." is how he introduces the band and, indeed, the sassy guitar sound and the rich histories of the folk genre often interfere with their so-called blues identity. Still, one can't deny that such heated performances run parallel to the energy-ridden shows of The Black Keys - a trademark modern blues band.
Stiv stands (jumps, and dances) between stoic bassist Fabrizio Gramellini and raging drummer Antonio Perugini, fervently delivering everything from dark and gorgeous originals (Annie, Cornerstone Blues, Captain Blues, Mahogany Jones, Under The Red Star) to famous covers (Cowgirl in the Sand by Neil Young and the Crazy Horse).
 By that time the afternoon's lazy drinkers have realized they are not dealing with just another small pub band and they participate more lively, shouting songs, clapping and insisting on an encore; ultimately, convincing an exhausted but exhilarated Stiv and his backing band to come back.
The encore settled (an ironic choice of words) on extended covers by the Who (The Seeker), the Rolling Stones (Under My Thumb) and Bob Dylan (Red Line, Maggie's Farm), often unrecognizable in a collective jam. We eventually had to let them go... 
That was a lazy afternoon in the pub no more.

 Review and photography by Danai Molocha.