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.

Smoking causes George Bush.

Your slim frame
Your eager eyes and your wild mane
Oh they, keep me where I belong
All wrapped up in wrong.

You’re to blame,
For wasted words of sad refrain.
Oh let them,
Take me where they may.
Believe me when I say.

Oh, I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance
And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance.
Oh, oh fall for me.

Your slim frame.
Oh, your simple stare and your wrong, wrong name.
Oh, they keep me where I belong,
All strung out in song.

Why so tame?
When we could shoot longer vines through younger veins.
Sip slow from night’s deep wells,
And watch our garden swell, once the seeds are sown
Wild and overgrown, you’ll see.
Hearts’ colours change like leaves.

Oh sweet, sweet dream fall for me.
Fall fast,
Fall free,
Fall for me.

Because I will be your ambulance
If you will be my accident
And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance
So, sweet dream, fall with me.

Fall fast.
Fall free.
Fall with me.

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.

For the love of good music videos

Through some circuitous route that, for now, escapes me (but possibly involved Grizzly Bear) I just came across this great site full of intimate impromptu performances from great indie bands. Check out Arcade Fire’s two songs – first in a freight elevator, and then out in the middle of the audience waiting for them to come on stage. Some very happy fan faces there. I love this! Who knows how our concert visits will pan out this year after last year’s epic excess of wonderfully intimate gigs, but with sites like this you can capture that small venue feel in the comfort of your own home. When you’re not playing Beatles Rock Band of course…

Fleetwood Mac @ Wembley Arena

You may have noticed over the years that I’m not one for going to large stadium gigs. The intimate, smaller venues are almost so much more engaging – and generally a lot cheaper – for most bands that I love. That said, I have been very lucky with the bands I have seen in smaller venues. Sometimes though, you just have to bite the bullet and Friday night was just such a time – to see Fleetwood Mac play Wembley Arena – and I’m very glad I did.

The band came on around 8.30pm and started off quite slowly, with a bit of chat and a few slow songs. Stevie Nicks seemed a bit faltering and the energy was a bit off, but then, suddenly, everything turned around as they belted out hit after hit with barely a pause in between. Lindsay Buckingham did most of the audience interaction for the night, and seemed to be on stage more than any other band member performing a number of solo acoustic versions of classic songs. Never Going Back Again was stunning and moving and Buckingham’s guitarmanship is outstanding. Around an hour in the band was on top form, Nicks seemed to be more comfortable and started engaging more with the audience, and during World Turning we were treated to an extended guitar solo with shouted audience instructions from Mick Fleetwood, which culminated in a turntable/drumming head to head before the rest of the band came back on stage to finish the song.

I don’t think any Fleetwood Mac fan was disappointed, other than by the absence of Christine McVie. They played songs from all stages of their career – even solo efforts from Nicks and Buckingham and, most wonderfully, the blues classic ‘Oh Well’ from their pre Nicks and Buckingham incarnation – with Lindsay carrying off Peter Green’s singing and searing guitar with energy and impact. The only downside on the night was that we were so far back and the video screens were a bit crap, but the energy carried around the arena to keep us hooked. The full set, with no support, was about two and a half hours – three encores – impressive stuff and a wonderful night.

Song 2: The Revenge

Blur have performed their first ‘comeback’ gig in a small railway museum, and by most accounts it was a jolly good romp. This is good news as next week we’re seeing them at their ‘mid size’ pre Hyde Park gig in Southend. Huzah! Well, that’s assuming our tickets ever turn up – which I’m assuming will be last minute so people tempted to tout them are screwed over. Not very helpful for us actual fans though is it? Surely is there no other way…. Coff.

Speaking of music, as I write this it sounds like we’ve acquired a female vocalist fronted band practice in an apartment next door. On the one hand she sounds pretty good. On the other hand not a big fan of live drums on any day, let alone a Sunday. Of course it could just be a very high fidelity stereo system.

So for those of you who haven’t noticed my lack of blog posts recently, I seem to be throwing more random musings onto my twitter. yesterday though my main iPhone based app Twitterific failed during the ‘Tweetpocalypse’. This is where the numerical unique identifiers for new messages went above a certain level, a very big number that is not handle by standard data types. So a lot of subsidiary twitter apps went south. Ah well.

Finally, a big thanks to mum & Henry for a) something they know about and b) for my Gordon Ramsey sunday lunch cookbook years ago. I finally did a couple o’ recipes from it last night to stretch the normal. In fact not only did I cook, in itself a strange event as I’m normally relegated to washing up duties, but I cooked a wild mushroom pasta (recipe: shallots, mushrooms + oil, cook) and ate it all. Blimey. We’re trying to be more veggie this week and that was a first successful step. To celebrate we ate a wonderfully unhealthy lemon posset (lemon juice, sugar, cream – how can you go wrong with that?). Mmm..