Eddie Reloaded

eddie-reloaded

Somehow I managed to score front row, dead centre seats for the current London run of Eddie Izzard – Force Majeure Reloaded. I think the last time I saw Eddie was a way back, for the Stripped tour – which was sitting further back, but randly behind the, then still together Lenny Henry and Dawn French.

This time there were no other British comedian legends, or indeed anything else, between me and the British comedy legend that is Eddie Izzard. This was the perfect view from which to enjoy Eddie’s sublime facial and body antics as he capered about the stage acting out various mammals, Darth Vader / God and various people all of whom seem to be called ‘Steve’ (or Mr Stevens).

As to the show itself, it didn’t rank as highly to my mind as Dress to Kill or other earlier performances. There’s a tiredness to some of the associations, and whereas earlier when Eddie might crack up at his own joke (or write on his hand that a joke didn’t work) the flow kept going, this time it seemed to create breaks where the whole audience went quiet – eerily so. These lulls were outshone by the times he hit his stride, perhaps mostly so in the re-visiting of the Darth Vader canteen sketch for which he’s now so famous, but this time we end up with a God vs Vader battle which had the whole audience in stitches. So, overall, well worth going down to check it out if you’re in town.

And for the record this time I didn’t get drunk and end up in chatting to him in his dressing room. For which I’m sure he’s very glad 😉

Beck to Beck at the Barbican

Beck at the Barbican Beck at the Barbican

The other week I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Beck in his Station to Station gig at the Barbican. And by lucky, I mean front row, center. Near enough to reach out and touch his fine cowboy boots. Not that I did, tempting though it was.

An over-arching cowboy and train theme was present from the very start, where Beck and three actors dressed as cowboys crouched round a faux fire – with the London Chamber Orchestra sitting in the background. The backdrop visuals, provided by Station to Station mastermind Doug Aitken, evoked the dry mid-west of America and the trains that slowly cross its wide expanse. Beck then stood to deliver the first of his solo songs to a rapt crowd, an older number on acoustic guitar.

From this gentle beginning we were given many more beautiful moments to enjoy. From poets reading their pieces on the subject of travel, in many styles – from sedate to near rap. To ethereal chamber music as the cowboys pointed slowly out across the audience. Followed by Thurston Moore, ex Sonic Youth, melting the stage and our ears with classic guitar feedback. Across all of this were scattered more Beck songs, ending with the ethereal Wave.

The show may have been pretty short, just over an hour and a quarter, and it certainly couldn’t be classed as a gig – more of a happening – yet most everyone in the audience left with smiles on their faces and the glow of seeing something different and special. This was one of those moments that make you glad to be in London, a city of many delights that are never easily attained but well worth the effort. Yee haw!

The Perfect Valentines

Last Friday was the mystical combination of Valentines Day and a full moon, so as a suave and sophisticated international playboy, my night was to be filled with exciting adventures, heart stopping romance and other acts too lewd to mention in public. By which I mean staying in, watching movies and getting organised for my friend Sheila’s wedding to the lovely Matt, now Mr Woodbridge (congratulations both!!). Yes, I rock that hard.

Then everything changed. The artist formally known as Prince, now formally know as symbol was in town, performing last minute gigs to lucky souls. Through the wonders of Twitter and social media ‘#PrinceWatch’ was on constant refresh on my phone, and then came the fateful message – “Prince is playing. Now. At Kings Place near Kings Cross”. WTW!

Romantic night in plans scuppered I grabbed everything I could and shot out the door. I ran swiftly through the streets of Walthamstow, texting friends as I went, testing my knee fitness down the epic stairs of Blackhorse Road tube (when will they fix that escalator?) and straight onto a tube. Kings Cross was but a few short stops away. The signs were in place. I would make this gig, oh yes!

As I caught my breath the tube wound its way under the streets of London. My mind raced. How many people in this carriage were on the way to see the small purple music god in all his glory? With every minute I knew the exponential laws of digital communications and London transport would be extending that queue. Another 10, 100, 1000 people – what was the rate of growth? The train paused, waiting outside of Seven Sisters. “Please move train, please! Prince awaits!” I quietly willed the train to go, the lights to change and eventually they did, more precious minutes lost.

Then the tube pulled into Kings Cross, laces freshly tightened on my red tiger trainers I raced along the platform and up the stairs. Past friendly police helping some lucky chap put his hands behind his back to gently cuff. Past drunken groups of friends laughing too loudly with each other on their night out without a date, each hoping without hoping that tonight some other desperate soul would change their lives and create a story for their wedding – yes, we met on Valentines, how funny is that? My mind was focussed, no thoughts of soul mates intruded on my calculations of the fastest route out of the warren of Kings Cross to my destination.

The rain was starting to lash down as I raced up York Way. As I passed some people they realised we were heading to the same place and started running too, shared madness making us laugh and smile at each other even in our very competition. Then I was there, to the sight of a line already snaking from the venue and up the stairs onto the road. It had only been 40 minutes since the announcement. My friend Sanj had been nearer than me and was 50 people further down the line – queue etiquette kicked in and I resisted the strong urge to play the “my mate’s holding my place” card. We were both there, now all we could do was wait.

As new friends were made in the line, someone from the venue came past with a clicker. The prognosis was not good.. We were past the cut-off for this 300/350 seat venue and, no, there was only one show tonight. This couldn’t be, we reasoned. Surely we’d all invested so much the fates would be on our side? The line kept growing along with our nervousness. The wind and rain howling around us to represent our inner turmoil hidden behind smiling faces.

The line started to move, soon we would know the truth. A slow edging and the slight shelter of the building kept us more out of the wind. Small mercies. The thoughts of toilet breaks and warming beers crossed our minds, but no-one would dare to leave the line. Closer and closer we got to the door. Then, disaster, the line stopped moving. Murmurs and questions started to rise up from everyone. We were so close, only 15 metres from the door. The line was now so long that it still stretched far beyond where I’d first joined up an hour or so before.

Official news came down the line – the show was on and was full, I was just that bit too late. Oh damn that short delay in the tube! Damn not living in the Guardian offices! Then, more news – a second show would be put on! We’d gone from being at the back of the venue to now being almost first in. Oh happy day, callooh callay. Smiles erupted on us all, with sad thoughts for those people still waiting out in the new torrential rain back where we’d started as no third show was on offer.

Shortly we were inside the venue, tickets bought, warming whiskey in hand courtesy of Sanj. We could hear the first show in progress, doors sometimes opening to give us a brief blast of Prince sound, cheering and warmth. Then the first show was over, people streamed out faces glowing and red, smiles from ear to ear. It would soon be our turn, not long now.. Then the security guards told us we would go in, “slowly please!”, the crowd didn’t want to hear that – a surge began – security got anxious. Somehow I ended up near the front and got let through to the doors early, racing along to the door I was in. The venue so small, I got to the middle of the second row and grabbed seats for Sanj and myself. Prince’s symbol attached to the mike was but a few metres away, could this be any better?

Waiting for everyone else you could see the smiles on everyone’s face. We all knew how special this was. The security guards also knew, but didn’t want us taking photos – a harder task to prevent these days with every phone a camera. The anticipation was rising and then, the three women who formed 3rd Eye Girl – Prince’s current band – came out. Elegant and tall, they welcomed us and asked that we didn’t take photos – while telling us of the next few gigs; Koko tonight, Ronnie Scotts on Monday – then a few in Manchester and Brixton Academy soon. After all the sneaks of information this was a welcome flood. Then they left the stage and the lights dimmed..

Suddenly he was there, Prince, the man we’d come to see, striding confidently onto the stage with an afro and back hair jacket, shoes with perspex souls that flashed with red lights. We all stood, seats abandoned and didn’t sit for the rest of the show. He moved gracefully to sit on a chair at the front of the stage and smiled warmly at us all. The crowd erupted in cheers, everyone grinning wildly. Then he launched into an acoustic version of Raspberry Beret and all was good with the world as we sang along.

The show was only an hour or so long, but what an hour. Hits mixed with cover songs flowed effortlessly from one to the next. Acoustic became electric, classic songs became jams, hits became singlaongs. His band were tight and talented and though obviously deferring to his lead they held their own and jammed fluidly with him across many riffs. I’d forgotten just how good of a guitarist Prince is, his face bright with the obvious pleasure of playing as his fingers flew over the frets. Later his bass and keyboard playing would also astound, as would his dance moves. And that voice, oh that voice.

I’d only seen Prince play once before, sitting high in the nose bleeds at Madison Square Garden in 2004. He’d held us all in thrall at that large space so to see him in a 300 seat venue was beyond sublime and to be within two metres of him, well. I suspect at some point he made direct eye contact with almost every single one of us, but what struck me was that it wasn’t about a sexual pose I might have expected from earlier songs, but a feeling of warmth and intimacy and true pleasure in being with close with his audience. This was a valentines day for us all, and he was glad to share it.I can’t remember every song, the full setlist is here, but I do remember it ended with Purple Rain – smoke flowing out across the stage as Prince sat behind the keyboard encouraging us to try and reach the high notes. And though we clapped and cheered and hoped, through the return of the band to bow and smile one last time, the gig was over and it couldn’t have ended any other way. The moment though, will last forever.

So huge thanks to the crowds of people on Twitter who post to #PrinceWatch to share the love, if you get the chance to go and see him yourself on this tour then do it – you won’t regret the time spent lining up and you may make some good friends in the process. But most of all thanks to Prince for still playing smaller venues like this, and showing us a world through your purple tinted glasses.

Gig: Tom Vek at Heaven

Last night we went to see the long absent Tom Vek play his ‘coming out’ gig at Heaven, and boy was it worth the wait. To a crowded room packed with happy hipsters he rolled out hit after hit, winding the assembled throng to a fever pitch of dancing happiness culminating in his latest single ‘A Chore’ to rapturous applause – helped by the girl from the video (or lookalike) fronting the song at the start.

Last time we saw Vek play was at a small venue in Montreal in 2006 – to only about 50-100 people and supported by the wonderful The Duke Spirit. It was a great gig, even with Vek having to play drums on most songs as his drummer had left in the tour. This time, the band was in full force and we got to enjoy Vek front of stage, his angular, skinny frame bouncing out the beats to his slices of beat driven indie genius. The sound was amazing, the light show simple but effective. Vek himself seemed to start off a bit nervous, but as he played his hit songs the crowd got increasingly excited and Vek got more relaxed and chatty. Classics such as “The Lower the Sun”, “Nothing but Green Lights” and more kept the crowd moving, and the songs from his latest album fared just as well. Even if I have to admit to not really knowing them (yet) they certainly got my body moving.

Thanks for a great night, Tom – and please, don’t wait so long till we see you again…

Full Set Listing

  1. C-C
  2. World of Doubt
  3. We Do Nothing
  4. If You Want
  5. Lower The Sun
  6. Hold Your Hand
  7. Someone Loves You
  8. Nothing But Green Lights
  9. Aroused
  10. I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes
  11. Seizemic s-Leisure Seizure
  12. Too Bad
  13. A.P.O.L.O.G.Y
  14. A Chore

Sunfields @ The Windmill, Brixton

Jason & Cliff - Sunfields at The Windmill

Last night, Montreal friends Sunfields played the last night of their two week UK tour at The Windmill in Brixton. It was a great gig, in a great *very* un-London feel venue, and I’ve uploaded some photos here. There’s also a video floating around of their lovely, catchy new song Kiss Shy (we expect proper release soon, please…) recorded on the first night of their tour.

It’s been splendid fun seeing the lads over here doing what they do best – play great music and get drunk in their smiley, friendly Canadian manner. Just wish I’d been able to get to some of the non-London gigs. Until the next time though – whichever country it is this time – bon voyage, chaps.

A Memory of Gerard Smith

A few weeks ago Gerard Smith, the bassist from TV on the Radio, died from lung cancer age 34. I found this out in New York, sitting in the flat of my friends who live above Union Pool – the very place I’d first seen TV on the Radio play with Gerard in a small, intimate, sweaty and fun filled gig. Sad news at any time, but especially so in that situation, and my thoughts immediately turned to his friends, family and bandmates and the shock of someone dying so young.

Like most TV on the Radio fans, I never knew Gerard as anyone other than a member of the band, playing wonderful music that made us smile, dance and sing. but one moment will stay with me that I wanted to share. In July 2009 TV on the Radio played Brixton Academy, shortly after playing a more intimate gig at Shepherds Bush. In coming out from the plastic cup strewn hall, we found a crowd of people gathered around a t-shirt vendor on the street. The t-shirts, bad knock offs of official merchandise, were laid out on the ground to catch happy fans on the way out of the gig. What made this scene so different from every other time, was that this time two of the band members themselves were helping sell the t-shirts. Jaleel and Gerard were laughing, smiling and trying to convince their fans that these were the best t-shirts ever much to the enjoyment of everyone around, especially the t-shirt vendor. A beautiful moment. Gerard, sorry the photo isn’t worthy of it, but the memory you left is one of the very best. Happy travels.

Gigs: Robert Plant @ The Roundhouse

Last week we had the pleasure to go and see Robert Plant and the Band of Joy play at The Roundhouse as part of the BBC’s Electric Proms season. The crowd veered towards the older range, with some folks obviously not used to going to gigs (‘Are you going to stand there? You’re in our way.’) but that’s hardly surprising given the longevity of Plant’s success. Thankfully, Plant and the excellent Band of Joy graced us with songs from the entirety of his back catalogue; from excellent renditions of Zep classics (Gallows Pole, Tangerine and Rock and Roll being standout), some classic Plant solo music in the form of ‘Tall Cool One’, more recent work from Raising Sand and finally plenty of great sounds from the Band of Joy’s recent album. Overall we couldn’t have asked for more, other than perhaps a full re-formation of Led Zep but let’s not get greedy shall we.

For those of you in these fair British Isles you can see the whole gig tonight on BBC, or later on iPlayer. Not sure if you can see us in the footage… Enjoy.

And in other music gig news, we saw the excellent Yann Tiersen of Amelie soundtrack fame at Koko on Wednesday night. Have to say not a great fan of Koko as a venue, but Tiersen is an amazing multi-instrumentalist, with his violin work truly breath-taking.

Tim Robbins @ Union Chapel

Last night we headed down, yet again, to the Union Chapel in Islington. This time, we weren’t checking out beardedly soulful singers of Americana, or disgracefully growing old Welsh crooners – we were there to see the transition of a fine screen actor into a card carrying musician. Whether it is the post-divorce mid-life crisis tour, or the ultimate fulfilment of a childhood dream, Tim Robbins and his band put on an admirable show, with an excellent, but way too short, support slot from Kami Thompson.

Looking suave in a long coat, his grey white hair slicked back atop his child-like face, Robbins strode out onto the stage with his extensive band. His expression was a mix of nervousness and joy throughout the set, and that showed itself in his songs – with a set-list that seemed more ‘favourite songs on random’ than careful curation, veering between his own songs and covers. The Chapel was nowhere near full capacity, with the top balconies closed off and seats still free in the venue, perhaps it was a bit too brave to try a small medium sized venue at this point in a career, but those people who were there enjoyed the show to its full. The highlight of the show came too early, with a singalong to an old blues gospel staple that had the audience grinning gleefully. This energy carried Robbins through the next few songs, but at some point that seemed to desert him and the set peetered out rather than ending with a bang. With the encore, ending a song earlier would have helped us leave on a high – but these are all tricks that Robbins will likely learn as he faces more real audiences, as well as finding which songs his voice carries best. Camp Billie Holiday covers may not be an ideal to strive for, Johnny Cash was a good fit with some great harmonica and Tom Waits.. well, you need Tom’s voice as Scarlett Johansson already proved.

Overall, an interesting night but more ‘watch this space’ than a gig that everyone will rue missing. Either way, you have to give Tim credit for following a childhood dream with such gusto and obvious joy. Bless you, sir.