Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Month of gigs: part 4 - road trip edition

OK, so I've given this some more thought and I really want you to be reading the words MONTH OF GIGS like how they said PIGS IN SPACE on The Muppet Show. Got that? Right - let's crack on with the final part of MONTH OF GIGS!

(you did it, right?)

So last time we spoke I mentioned that MONTH OF GIGS was supposed to end with Monday's Cold War Kids show at the Shepherds Bush Empire, and then I mentioned the immortal words 'road trip.' What happened, basically, was that I'd just happened upon Panic! At the Disco's website one evening and noticed that after a few dates in Europe they were popping back to the UK for a few shows they'd rescheduled from April. And one of those shows - Norwich, to be precise - still had some tickets available.

Now, I never do things like spontaneously drive 140-odd miles across the country to do anything, but I found myself sitting here thinking 'that's doable,' and 'it's not actually that far,' and 'I have plenty of holiday to use,' and 'I *really* enjoyed their Shepherds Bush Empire show and who knows how long it will be before they come back again?' Then I was googling directions and finding out about nearby accommodation for the night.

And then before I knew it, I'd bought a ticket and booked a room at a Travelodge, all for less than 70 quid. I'll happily admit I surprised myself with such spontaneity.

Spontaneity personified.

So, the day after seeing Cold War Kids, I faffed about at home in the morning, bunged some stuff in a bag, and just after one in the afternoon, under the firm yet plumby guiding voice of satnav lady, set out on my little adventure.

The journey took just under three hours, and by around four o'clock I was ensconced in a comfortable Travelodge room, sipping the worst cup of tea I've ever made.

Yes, it was comfortable enough, but the TV remote didn't work, nor did three of the lights. The bed was well squishy in a 'it'll-be-exciting-for-one-night-but-I-wouldn't-want-to-live-with-it-permanently' kinda way.

With nothing better to do I spent just over two hours spread-eagled on the bed reading my book. I was half tempted to do something rock 'n roll like throw the telly out the window, but it was quite a bulky TV and the windows didn't open all the way. Plus, I was on the ground floor, so it would actually have looked more like someone had just put a telly outside, which wouldn't really be what I was going for.

Anyway, at about half six I decided to head for the venue, which was the UEA LCR - basically the student union at the University of East Anglia. Never having gone to uni, this was definitely VERY EXCITING. I was soon queuing with lots of student-type people and bizarrely not feeling at all out of place despite being an entire teenaged person older than most of them.

The queue was long but shuffled forward quite quickly so before I knew it I was handing over my ticket and I was in.


An aside:

I don't know about you, but I like to hang on to my gig tickets as a souvenir of the event; I've got a drawer full of them that I some day intend to assemble into some sort of immense ticket collage or something. Annoyingly, though, the dudes on the door of the venue took the complete tickets off everyone rather than just tear the stub off. This is actually doubly annoying, because writing this post I discovered that the LCR has a capacity of 1550 people, and my ticket was number 1550 (seriously - go back and look at the photo). Yes, it looks like I actually got THE LAST TICKET.

I soon found myself a decent spot just behind the mixing desk, and began tweeting, texting, and facebooking furiously on my iPhone so as not to look too much like Billy No-Mates.

After a short time, the support act came on. They were actually the exact same support that Panic! had at the Shepherds Bush gig just 13 days earlier, and I found it kind of weird that I'd been standing beside the guitarist outside the stage door while queuing in the alleyway alongside the Empire. Not only that, but I actually quite enjoyed their set this time round, having found it a bit ho-hum previously.

After that it was another half hour wait before the lights dimmed once more (at a surprisingly early 8:30), and Panic! At the Disco bounded onto the stage.

Bearing in mind this was the third time I've seen Panic! play this year, my enthusiasm at seeing them perform again was undiminished. And, it seems, their enthusiasm for playing to a crowd was every bit as potent as when I saw them on those two previous occasions. This was the last gig of the UK tour, and here was a band who were clearly enjoying themselves and having a great time playing - which was in turn reflected by the audience's reactions. They bantered with the crowd and with each other, and they played some unexpected and obviously spontaneous cover versions - from an uncannily accurate John Mayer track to a hilarious version of James Blunt's 'You're Beautiful' (don't ask me how Panic! knew that track, but suffice to say I preferred their version to the original). As the show went on we were also treated to versions of the Friends and Super Mario Bro. theme tunes, 'Panic' (ha, fitting) by The Smiths, and a version of the Kansas song 'Carry on Wayward Son' because they'd been playing it on Guitar Hero.

I like this picture. I know the quality is crappy, but I like the colours and the raised camera held up in front of me.

And then, just a little before 10 o'clock, they took their bows and bid us good night. Shortly after I joined the heaving throng of sweaty students as we shuffled out into the cool night air (and on the way managed to snaffle a ticket from the pile collected on the way in; it's not my original number 1550, but it's a souvenir of the evening nonetheless). To be honest, if I'd known the gig was going to end at this time I would've seriously thought about driving home instead of staying over; I mean, seriously, can't these students party late?!

Still, I'd paid for a room for the night, so I headed back there. By 22:20 I was plonked on my squishy bed, texting and tweeting mercilessly while reflecting on the gig. Oh, and posing sexily to remember my post-Panic!/end of MONTH OF GIGS face:

That's a look of slight bewilderment/over-excitement there, people.

I woke up this morning surprisingly early, so sat in the room and read my book for an hour or so while listening to two of the maids loudly discussing their sex lives while cleaning the room opposite. Then I packed my stuff, grabbed my bag, stole three sachets of coffee in an attempt to make up for not chucking the telly out the window, and checked out. Before heading home, though, I decided to grab some breakfast at the Little Chef attached to the Travelodge. For just over seven quid I got a surprisingly tasty pancake breakfast, a pot of Earl Grey (I cannot function in the morning without it), and an orange juice.

The only downside was that the pot of sauce was 'maple-flavoured syrup' rather than actual maple syrup. Not that I could tell the difference, though.

And then following the stern instructions of satnav lady, I headed home.

Sitting here now, I actually sort of can't believe I did this little road trip just to see a band play. I've never done that before - something that was highlighted when the singer of the support act shouted "good evening Norwich!"; I've only ever heard "good evening London!" before. But d'ya know what? I had an awesome time, and I got to see one of my favourite bands play somewhere totally unexpected just by acting on a whim.

And that, I think you'll agree, was a fitting end to MONTH OF GIGS.


Some videos! I think I was standing next to a speaker or someone who gave off strange magnetic vibes because the sound in these videos is pretty atrocious. So, like, apologies for that. On the plus side, it should give you an idea of what the gig was like.

I got a snippet of their cover of George Michael's 'Careless Whisper' - despite appalling sound quality you can just about hear the guiter part. At one point the guitarist was playing his guitar behind his head. AWESOME.

And finally, here's 'New Perspective,' which begins with the tail end of the cover of the Super Mario Bro. theme, complete with the 'getting coins' sound effect - all done on guitar! It was good to hear 'New Perspective' played as they didn't do it at the Shepherds Bush show - possibly the only omission from that earlier gig.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Month of gigs: part 3

Well. After the life-changing experience that was Sufjan Stevens at Royal Festival Hall, you really wouldn't envy the task facing the next band Yazzle Dazzle and I had lined up as part of our MONTH OF GIGS.

You know what? I really think that should be MONTH OF GIIIIIIIIIIGS but I'm really not sure that typing it like that gets across the echoing sound effect I want to convey. It just looks a bit like I suffered an aneurysm while typing 'gigs.' Could you, like, maybe just imagine there's an echo? Just on the GIGS part so it sounds all, like, "GIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS" but fading off towards the end like someone's shouting it as they're plummeting off a cliff or something. That would be grand.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so post-Sufjan (and let me tell you, I had a proper post-Sufjan funk over the weekend; it was like GRIEF), we were a little worried that nothing would be able to compare. "Cold War Kids have A LOT to live up to," Yazzle said with a serious tone in her voice as we tubed it back from Festival Hall on Thursday night, words that rang in our heads as we took our seats in the Shepherds Bush Empire, where MONTH OF GIGS had begun a little less than two weeks ago. In fact, as we walked past the seats we'd sat in at the Panic! At the Disco gig I pointed forlornly and said "Look - Panic! seats…"

Look, I'll keep it brief. The evening did not begin terribly well. We *hated* the support act. I actually have no idea who they were because they either didn't tell us, or it was mumbled so incoherently that I just didn't pick it up. Their drummer was very animated, though, which was quite exciting. Add to that the fact that the couple seated directly next to me spent a considerable amount of time in the throes of a very handsy, very slurpy makeout session and I was thinking "I'd quite like to be at home right about now."

But then Cold War Kids came on and everything was good. We've seen them a couple of times before, but after just a couple of songs Yazzle turned to me and said "whoa! They've really upped their game!" And they have. Much like how I thought Panic! had really stepped things up since their last tour, Cold War Kids were much more confident and interesting to watch, rather than just listen to. For some reason, though, the bass player kept kicking the singer in the bum which was a bit weird.

Anyway, the general consensus as we filed out of the Empire was - and although it may not sound like it, in the post-Sufjan world I live in this is intended as a compliment - that this was as good a gig as we could've hoped for just days after seeing Sufjan Stevens. And that, my friends, is praise indeed.

Here's the obligatory grainy photos and dodgy video clip.

So the idea was that MONTH OF GIGS (imaginary echo please) concluded where it began with Panic! At the Disco on May 4th at Shepherds Bush Empire. Yazzle and I both liked the synergy and symmetry of that. And for Yazzle it does. But in a stunning and somewhat unexpected (yes, I surprised myself) turn of events, I've extended MONTH OF GIGS (you know what to do by now, right?) by one more show. And two important words here are:


Friday, May 13, 2011

Month of gigs: part 2

So, last night I finally got to fulfil a long-held ambition to see Sufjan Stevens perform live.

After last week's amazing Panic! At the Disco gig I was a little apprehensive about going to see Sufjan because I've been so utterly in love with his music for so long now that I began to fear I'd hyped myself into such a frenzy that the reality might not quite live up to expectations. Still, I was in good company (Yazzle Dazzle, the lovely Ryan, and Big Bro), and due to my quick off the mark ticket purchasing a couple of months back we were in the fourth row from the front (in fact I was so quick off the mark buying the tickets that I accidentally bought them for the Thursday gig rather than the Friday one we'd all agreed to go to), so at the very least I thought we'd have an enjoyable evening.

You know you're going to have a good evening when you can see balloons suspended from the ceiling.

What we actually had was an evening of such utter, unmitigated joy that I shall never forget it.

I don't know why, but I always had this preconceived notion that Sufjan Stevens would be quite a shy, withdrawn artist to watch on stage, but the reality was, much to my surprise, the exact opposite. He came on stage wearing vast feathered wings, and both he and his band wore what I can only describe as homemade Tron costumes: black clothes gleefully enhanced with strips of neon tape. He quickly introduced himself and announced "I’ll be singing a lot of songs about love and death and the apocalypse. But it should be a lot of fun." He giggled as he said it, and we were immediately won over by how humble and likeable he was.

Sufjan and his neon-clad band take to the stage.

Most of the set was made up of songs from his latest album, The Age of Adz, which I described in my 2010 Year in Reviews post as being "brilliantly mad, psychedelically bonkers and completely brilliant"; performed live it was even more so. Not only that, but Sufjan really took the time to engage with the audience, far more so than any artist I've seen in … well, ever. He paused about halfway through the two and a half hour-long set (telling us that now was a good time to "visit the restroom") to talk about how he put this album together, from the synthesiser samples that make it sound so radically different from his earlier work, to how he was inspired by the work of a self-taught artist named Royal Robertson.

He went on to talk about his unusual upbringing (naked family yoga anyone?), and how his parents told him that they were star-children. He also explained how his dancing - which I had previously dismissed as seeming to be a bit awkward after seeing youtube videos of earlier concerts - was actually a vital part of the music, how it was basically a language in itself, after which point I totally got it and even started doing it myself.

When he continued with the music he did so while wearing a bizarre crystalline headpiece with half a glitter ball attached to his chest. Moments later this was dispensed with in favour of what I can only describe as a neon chiffon wedding dress with a wig made of paper streamers. Oh, and some plastic wings. He then proceeded to run up and down the stage, waving glow-sticks and busting more dance moves.

Sufjan's crystalline costume made him look a little bit like a Tholian

And here he is in his neon wedding dress.

This was somehow something more than just seeing a singer I've enjoyed listening to for years perform live - it was a celebration of life, and quite possibly the closest I've come to having a religious experience; she'll thump me for sharing this, but Yazzle told me that there were a handful of times during the show where she felt like she "had something in her eye."*

It was an utterly joyous and completely magical evening, which culminated in the entire audience on their feet dancing and singing along to 'Impossible Soul,' a 25 minute-long song, before an encore in which Sufjan performed two acoustic tracks from his Illinoise album, followed by a rousing version of 'Chicago' during which he stomped around the stage wearing a monkey mask as confetti and giant balloons rained down from the ceiling.

And then, to a standing ovation, he and his band were gone.

Thinking about it now sends a shiver of emotion down my spine. I half-jokingly said to Yazzle on the way home that life would forever now be split into pre- and post-Sufjan, but to be honest it actually kills me that as I type this, over in Festival Hall he's playing to another sellout crowd. I would do anything to be there now, and I can only hope that I will have the privilege of seeing him perform again at some point in the future.


While it's difficult to truly convey exactly what it was like at the concert, I hope these videos I took give you at least a small idea of how wonderful Sufjan Stevens was.

I kid you not, if ever I'm feeling down I am just going to watch this last video to remember how great life is.

*she means crying

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Month of gigs: Thursday tease edition

So, by the time you're reading this I should be safely ensconced in London's Royal Festival Hall bouncing up and down in my FOURTH ROW SEAT with giddy expectation at the prospect of finally seeing - *le gasp!* - Sufjan Stevens!

As long time readers will know, I'm nutty for Sufjan and he's without a doubt the most prominent name on my by now very short list of artists I want to see perform live before either they or I shuffle off this mortal coil (hopefully neither of which will occur in the immediate future. Or at all, quite frankly).


An aside:

I actually had the chance to buy tickets to see Sufjan about five years ago, but passed on the opportunity because I had tickets for the same night to see The Feeling, a band I'd already seen twice that year. In retrospect, I should've sold The Feeling tickets, or quite honestly just given them away, and gone seen young Mr. Stevens instead.

For the simple fact that I didn't, I now vehemently HATE The Feeling.


Anyway, Sufjan announced two gigs at the Royal Festival Hall a couple of months back and I immediately corralled some Sufjan-loyal troops together. I actually meant to buy tickets for the Friday night show as I thought it would be a lovely lead-in to the weekend, but in my haste at the moment tickets went on sale I accidentally bought them for the Thursday night one instead.

Still, fourth row tickets, eh?

One of the faithful joining me is my Big Bro, who has been gently appreciative of Sufjan for a few years now, before exploding into crazed nuttiness after hearing his latest album, 'Age of Adz'; seriously, Big Bro described it as being something like 'Sufjan Stevens colliding with Nine Inch Nails,' which in his book is A GOOD THING. And mine, too.

Anyway, because it was Big Bro's birthday recently I told him I'd pick up the tab for his ticket as one of his presents from me (note I said 'one of'; I'm a very generous present giver, I'll have you know). My intention was to slip it inside his birthday card. Sadly, the tickets didn't arrive in time (they actually arrived the day after - tut!), which put the kibosh on that plan.

That being the case, I improvised - the result being this:

Honestly, I really don't think Sufjan speaks like that, but it made Big Bro laugh. For all I know he's laminated it and stuck it on his living room wall. Actually, I hope he has; it took a fair bit of time to do, you know.

And if by any chance Sufjan or any of his peeps come across this: NO OFFENCE INTENDED - HONEST!

So anyway, yeah, excitement levels will be going slightly off the scale tonight. And there's always the question of what he'll be wearing - will it be the stars and stripes catsuit, the angel wings, hot neon post-it notes, or an immense crystalline … thing?!

Reporting back SOON.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Month of gigs: part 1

Some time ago, Yazzle Dazzle and I got talking about how we'd not been to a gig in a while, and resolved to do something about that.

And then, lo and behold, a load of people I wanted to see popped up and I ended up spending a small fortune on tickets. Somehow all these gigs fell into a short two-week period, and by some miracle of miracles there wasn't any overlap in the dates. We subsequently named this intense period 'MONTH OF GIGS,' as although strictly speaking 'FORTNIGHT OF GIGS' would be technically more correct, it doesn't sound anywhere near as dramatic or exciting.

Anyway, MONTH OF GIGS kicked off this week, with back-to-back concerts on Wednesday and Thursday. First up:

Panic! At the Disco at Shepherds Bush Empire!
I think we all know by now that I'm a huge Panic! fan, and was totally blown away by their performance at Bush Hall back in February. As a result, I was very much looking forward to seeing them again, not least because having now heard their new album, 'Vices and Virtues,' in its entirety many times I'm more familiar with the new stuff, but also because I wanted to see what Yazzle thought of them (she's only seen them play briefly at the Decaydance Festival four years ago).

The evening didn't start amazingly well because we slightly underestimated the need to get in the queue early, and ended up not getting out traditional level one balcony front row seats, instead having to go four rows back. But, as Yazzle pointed out, everything happens for a reason, and that reason swiftly became apparent when someone on the level two balcony emptied a pint of beer over the people in our usual seats. That near miss aside, our new seats still afforded us a fine view of the stage.

And how was Panic! this time round, you ask? Quite simply: awesome. As I noted in my write-up of the Bush Hall gig, lead singer Brendon Urie really seems to have upped his game since I saw them back in 2008; his voice is utterly phenomenal, and his onstage performance is a sight to behold; unlike the Bush Hall gig, however, our raised vantage point here allowed us to see Urie's dancing in its entirety - and the dude can throw some seriously incredible moves. I even went so far as to tweet after the gig that I consider him to be the "finest frontman performing today."

I read a review the day after that said Panic! is now "basically the Brendon Urie show," and I don't think that's a bad thing; I mean, look how famous frontmen such as Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury have stolen the limelight. But the fact of the matter is that Urie's backed up by a brilliant band who all contributed to make this one of the best gigs I've been to in a long time.

Awesome moment of the night:
During the song 'Memories' Yazzle and I noticed a young couple of boys in the standing section to the left of our seats who were pogo-ing around to the music with ferocious intensity, swept up, it seemed, by everything from the brilliant music to the vibrant atmosphere of the crowd and their love for each other. We were in hysterics just watching them, although the music journalist they kept bumping into while he sternly tried to take notes seemed somewhat less impressed.

As we were leaving after the gig finished, though, who should we bump into but the very same pogo boys! And of course we couldn't help but tell them how we'd enjoyed watching them dance (which fortunately they were pleased to hear rather than thinking it was a bit weird). Bless them, we chatted for a short while before they pogo'd off into the night.

I can't hear 'Memories' now without thinking of them jumping around like loons. Good times.

Joseph Arthur at Bush Hall!
Yazzle and I saw Joseph Arthur play at Bush Hall with his band The Lonely Astronauts two years ago and were so blown away by how good he was that we vowed we'd definitely go and see him again if ever the opportunity arose. And arise it did, with a single London date the day after the Panic gig.

This time, however, Arthur was playing solo, filling the room with sound by doing that incredible laying thing he does where he records guitar parts or harmonies then puts them on a loop. It's amazing to see - and even more so to hear as it genuinely does sound like there's a full band on stage when in fact there's just one dude, and every now and then he's off to the left of stage working on a painting.

I kid you not: Joseph Arthur paints onstage, often while still singing. It's a sight to behold.

It was a mighty fine gig, slightly ruined at one point by some wench who decided she wanted to stand exactly where I was standing without fully appreciating the fact that two people can't actually occupy the same precise point in space. She moved eventually, but only after Yazzle glared at her and said something like "you're in the way of me talking to my friend."

On the plus side, like all Joseph Arthur's gigs, this one was recorded so I got to take home a CD of the entire evening. And because he's such a down-to-Earth personable chap, Joseph Arthur even manned the merch table to sign everyone's CD cover!

Which in turn led me to awkwardly ask if I could have my photo taken with him.

OK, it's a bit of a crappy photo because it was taken using my iPhone which has a bit of a crappy camera, but: PHOTO WITH JOSEPH ARTHUR! Unfortunately, the crappy camera is no excuse for the weird look on my face. And what the hell's going on with my hair?! It had been awesomely bouffy during the day, but appeared to have gone all flat and 1920s by this point.

I always feel like a bit of dick when I meet famous people.

Anyway, another brilliant evening of fine music.

Awkward moment of the night:
During the encore, Joseph Arthur played a beautiful acoustic version of 'Honey and the Moon' without microphones. Even though Bush Hall is really quite small and we were only half way back, we still had to strain to hear it. Unfortunately, midway through the song, I could hear what sounded like music coming from a phone. This went on and on, to the point where I was ready to have a go at someone. And then a lovely young lady tapped me on the arm and said "I think your phone is ringing."

Turns out when I'd checked my phone between Joseph Arthur leaving the stage and coming back for the encore I'd accidentally swiped my hand on the iPod function, and my phone had started playing a Smashing Pumpkins song. I sheepishly pulled it out of my pocket, stopped it, and slid it back in my pocket.

At which point I did it again.

This time I swore, smiled at nice lady, and hastily turned my phone OFF.



Next time on MONTH OF GIGS: a singer I've been waiting to see live for *YEARS* and a band of Californian rockers!