Archive for November, 2010

Paul Gilbert @ Islington Academy

5th November 2010

After a last minute venue downgrade from KoKo, we found ourselves in an epic queue streaking through an Upper street shopping complex. The fact that 90% of sold tickets were box office collection provided this early stumbling block. After finally gaining entry we ascended to the main arena. I was impressed with its compact size, balcony area, aesthetics, cleanliness and ample stage size. It made for a very likeable venue which is on the firmly in the mid-sized venue market in London, holding approx 800 people.

Not having been to a gig on a Friday night for ages, I had forgotten proceedings run mega eaarly as tonight’s show kicked out at 10pm! No sooner then we had settled into a nice cozy spot in prime viewing position, Paul Gilbert emerged with his band and wasted no time in proving why he is held in such high regard amongst guitar aficionados.

Gilbert & Band

After donning his trademark headphones Paul began to showcase the skills he is recognised for. Shredding his way up and down the fretboard, his hands were merely a bur of high octane speed and accuracy on songs from his latest album Fuzz Universe. This was just incredible stuff to behold, especially as he made it look sooo incredibly easy. He effortlessly glided through some astonishingly technical pieces of superbly composed instrumental guitar music in a wide range of styles ranging from jazz to classical and hard rock to metal. Gilbert himself was an instantly lovable character and his modesty was clear to see. The wide eyed look of jubilation and joy on his face when the crowd applauded was one of true honesty and appreciation.

Paul Gilbert

Tonight was mainly focused on his playing, but there was so much more to this show than just sheer guitar virtuosity. It was surprising for an act of this nature to have another great guitar player sharing the spotlight, but that’s exactly what happened. Paul and auxiliary guitarist Tony Spinner played many a blues jam over the night as they traded riff for riff in epic guitar battles, showing off many skills including speedy sweep picking, harmonics, double tapping and soloing picking with their teeth.

Teeth Soloing

The choice of set was also a master stroke. Instead of focusing solely on himself, Paul picked songs with/without vocals and those which were transcribed onto 2 guitars. With he and Stringer playing superb duelling solos and brilliant combined harmonies they were reminiscent of a top form Thin Lizzy. Also there were plenty of cover versions thrown into the mix ranging from blues masters Muddy Waters I Want To Be Loved, BB King’s Rock Me Baby, Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper, Light My Fire from the Doors and Ac/Dc’s Go Down. Now when I say cover, Paul doesn’t just repeat a song note for note. He adds a sprinkling of his special genius, feeding in some truly stunning guitar hooks and melodies throughout as well as placing his own spin on electrifying guitar soloing.

Gilbert & Spinner

I was personally delighted when he played I’m Not Addicted the absolute highlight from his collaborative album America with singer Freddie Nelson. This blasting punk does speed metal tune has bundles of melody and a cracking simple vocal hook that’s mega-catchy. Other infectious material was aired as Paul turned back the clocks to perform some of tracks from his numerous 80’s bands,Mr Big’s Green Tinted Sixties Mind, Racer X’s Scarified & Technical Difficulties, Despite their cheesy nature it was both fun and really hard not to enjoy.

A simply stunning showcase from one of the worlds top exponents of guitar virtuosity!

Apocalyptica @ The Forum

2nd November 2010

It was clear tonight was going to be special as we trundled our way to the back of the huge queue snaking down side streets and back alleys behind The Kentish Town Forum. Finally in from the cold damn air, we were just in time for the sole support act of the night Pain of Salvation.

We were immediately stuck by a wave of crushingly heavy guitars and epic bass loud enough to jolt the earth off its orbit. Now I wasn’t even down the front, but I was having issues with the sound levels (not something that has ever bothered me before)! Even their equipment seemed not to like it as they kept shorting out during the first half of their set.

Thankfully they toned things down enough for me to discern what was being played, which was a series of epically struck guitar chords which made for a atmospheric noise prog backdrop of monstrous proportions. There was plenty of noise and not a lot of action sadly, but they excelled when they incorporated different instruments like keyboards and strings to form wondrous environments of rock sound. To match their meandering musical aspirations, their image was distinctly Prog rock too as they didn’t have a decent haircut between them. We had a Pocahontas ponytail from the vocalist, long blonde dreadlocks from the rhythm guitarist and a Chard Kroeger mullet from the bassist, not a great showing! They seemed to go down well worth the crowd, but left e very underwhelmed & slightly deaf.

Thankfully my hearing had recovered in time for tonight’s headline act, the classical metallers Apocalyptica. Immediately upon first glance you can easily tell that they are from Scandinavian, with such long and pristine hair. They stood to rapturous applause before they even got started as their armed themselves with their bows and began to play. Apocalyptica are a truly remarkable band as they play some seriously heavy metal, on three cellos’!

The sound of their instruments was astounding and utterly beautiful as the unusually sedate crowd sat back and admired the talent on display. They kicked off with some tracks from their latest album 7th Symphony which were loaded with melody and drive. With each Cellist playing a three part harmony on each track it’s easy to understand just how beautiful this was to hear. I’m not undermining their rock credentials either, as when they rock out they do so in style!

Playing a cover of Metallica’s Master of Puppets while bounding about stage was not only sounded truly spectacular but a technically impressive feat to pull off. They are masters of their instruments who just happen to love heavy metal, which is fine by us! Witnessing a room full of long haired heavy metal fans stare and admire classical musicians was a priceless sight.

For the occasional song during the set they were joined by a vocalist, who despite being in-tune was under powering. He was up against it tonight, as the cello firmly took centre stage tonight. During each song break, band leader Eicca Toppinen would talk with the crowd keeping a tight bond with his audience. Halfway through he said in his heavy Finnish accent…

Would it be alright If we played you song beautiful Cello music

To which a resounding roar replied in agreement. They each took seats and played out a few of their instrumental tunes which were astoundingly brilliant, playing some (what I’m told were) supremely technically difficult pieces with apparent ease. Of the 3 Cellist it was Perttu Kivilaakso who seemed to get the good harmony lines and his maestro looks matched his abilities.

They soon rocked it up again with some more covers, this time Sepultura’s and another Metallica tune Seek & Destroy which each had the crowd singing their hearts out before dashing off for a well earned break. They returned to play a brief encore which included sing-along hit I Don’t Care and an inspired, heavy speed metal version of the classical masterpiece Hall of The Mountain King. After nearly 2 hours they departed with monumentous applause echoing round the venue!

Such a show cannot be judged alongside any others I’ve seen before. It was simply unique and stunningly great. It was brilliant to see musical genius’s melding 2 genres which seem to co-exist with such grace. Lovers of both classical and metal will find something to love about one of the most enigmatic bands I’ve ever seen! Sheer Virtuosity!

Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster @ Heaven

31st October 2010

The venue for tonight’s Halloween spectacular could not have been more apt. Descending into the bowels of Charing Cross station Heaven is a rustic place to say the least. The bare brick walls of the Railway arches with creepy deep red lighting casting an eerie glow, gave the sense you are in some barely habitable cavern (if you ignore the thumping sound system, the bar and hundreds of tipsy revelers of course). I really like this venue as it has great character & it’s vastly different to any others in London.

Kicking off the bulging line-up tonight were Arrows Of Love who were just finishing up their set upon our arrival. Their take on indie-rock was basically a mess of fuzz pedal distortion noise and the odd spiky riff. It was simple stuff which while not being unpleasant, was pretty bland.

The James Cleaver Quintet were the worst dressers of the evening with lead guitar donning a Tiger Suit and the Bassist sporting a rather racy pair of tights (trust me…not a nice sight). They played with a thrashy punk mentality and focused more on being loud and heavy than making cohesive melodic tunes. It felt like a rushed set rather than a fast paced punk extravaganza which indicates their lack of songwriting prowess. Entertainment wise they paraded about plenty making scary faces at the crowd making them a lively bunch. Plus the Bassist thought that life on stage was boring, so he climbed up to the speakers and thought he’d play from there, before dropping back in again! Overall a noisy metallic outpouring of rage that failed to engage the crowd.

Robots In Disguise were by far the most profession outfit of the night thus far (despite wearing capes). Their electro-centred pop rock was a welcome dose of catchy melodies, those which were lost on the earlier bands. They have clearly leaned a few tricks from their time in The Mighty Boosh as the Goth Girls, as they added some extra quirk and eccentricity to proceedings by leading out 2 huge costumed robots who danced alongside for the duration of the set. They were slightly gig rusty, but this didnt seem to matter. Saying that the first couple of tracks were tough to listen to while they warmed up their vocals.

The yelps and high pitched squeals is what passed for Robots In Disguise vocals, which remarkably fit their style to perfection. They played some cracking carefree tunes with some immediately familiar chorus’s and catchy guitar riffs such as The Sex Had Made Me Stupid Can’t Stop Getting Wasted. A very welcome set from a quirky duo which buoyed the crowd ready for tonight’s headliners.

An onslaught of flying beer, energy, elbows and grunts greeted Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster (if you want their full name) as they took to their dimly lit smoke filled stage. Before they could even get started the crazies most dressed in elaborate Halloween costumes were carving out a spot in mosh pit central, fit to burst with pent up aggression. It was quite a sight when the guitars buzzed into action. Zombies flailing, gothic ghouls fighting the undead with pogoing ghosts and vampires getting up close and personal with their victims. It could quite easily be the basis for a slightly deranged horror flick.

With their faces covered in face paint 80’s Matchbox piled huge darkly fuzzed up psycho blues riffs on top of crushing bass, all backed up with the haunted vocals of front man Guy McKnight (whose face paint made him look a bit like a Mexican Wrestler, only alot taller). He is a striking presence at the centre of the stage, delivering a vocals that count Dracula himself would have been proud of. It is the combination of him and lead guitarist Tristan McLenahan which make this band such an entertaining prospect. Highly energised riffs are played in such a reckless scuzzed up intensity they could have been drawn up from the deep dark unknown.

In the way set highlights, I loved the most of it! Stucking in my mind are the new album cracker Love Turns To Hate, flat out fuzz riffed Rise Of The Eagle and the rapid-fire vocals of Mission From God. This intensity they achieve is amazingly maintained over the entire set, with bundles of aggression thrown in for good measure. So much so, that sometimes this occasionally tipped over the balance of being downright intimidating. Especially when he started to get aggrieved with an unknown entity, throwing us a passioned middle finger before departing for his encore break.

On his return he hadn’t calmed one bit, hitting the guitar strings with such aggressive tendencies it’s amazing they did not snap under the stress. He also managed to “do a Pete Townshend“, he swung and connected damn hard with his monitor speaker. I’m not sure which came out worse of the exchange but Tristan crumpled in a heap of blown out energy to finish the song before finally leaving all a bit shocked at his antics.

The bands closest to the edge will always trump over those who are happy to sit in the comfort zone. For this they are deserving of the accolade of being one of the most exciting rock bands to see live in the UK today.

Train @ Shepherds Bush Empire

25th October 2010

An already heaving Sheperds Bush crowd have gathered for the support band tonight. Now whether or not that is due to the opening act AM being a cracking act who are out of my radar range, or that the sellout crowd is very eager for tonight’s headliners. After the first AM track I was certain it was the latter.

Train did not go out on a limb with their support, bringing another American country influenced group not so dissimilar from their own. It was a safe bet and surprisingly they were ok. Train have occupied a special place in my CD collection for a long time, all be it an isolated one. Hence AM as much as they were soulful with a hint of country breaking though their indie twanged melodies, I found it hard to remember them post show. Being memorable is a tough trick to perform, one they will need to do more of before making it big in the UK.

AM

It took over one hour fifteen minutes for Train to arrive onstage. This was really infuriating as out in this packed crowd, it was bloody hot. The venue decided to turn off the air-con for us as well to make matters worse! I know the government cuts were harsh but this was idiotic, I even saw a girl looking slightly queasy before almost passing out! An increasingly frustrated crowd resorted to countdown claps and the occasional boo. I ask myself, Is it really necessary to keep your audience waiting for so long? I suppose it could have been worse though, we could be waiting on Axl Rose!

Train

Finally they arrived and went straight into Parachute taken from their latest LP Save Me San Francisco.  Almost at one I was astonished at just how amazing Patrick Monahan’s vocals were. They were instantly strikingly powerful and so clean it feels he is singing only to you. His voice would leave all but the highest calibre of pop singers whimpering in the corner. Truly astonishing, hitting some of the toughest notes with apparent ease conveying both heart wrenching and heartfelt passion with equal skill.

Patrick Monahan

After you have warmed to his overbearingly ‘nice smiley’ persona he becomes a front man of the highest order. He is adept at crowd interaction continuously asking the fans for ‘favours’ which ranged from pulling up a group of girls to be his ‘Trainettes‘ (complete with T-Shirts saying so) to sing the chorus of She’s On Fire, to holding mobile phone aloft during If It’s Love, even asking for calm not to manhandling him during a walk through the middle fo the crowd. He was a good laugh and his quips were genuinely funny which made him all the more a likable character.

Pat on his Walkies

After as many years as Train have under their belts it no surprise to report they are an extremely competent live band. Set Highlights included the anthemic Hey, Soul Sister, a shortened countryfied romp-a-stomper version of She’s On Fire, clever laid back rhymes of I Got You and the irrepressible mega-ballad Drops Of Jupiter. The moment which tops them all was during the performance of When I Look To The Sky when Pat sang the opening verse with NO microphone or backing band. showcasing his great set of pipes. Loaded with passion and heart, I was touched by this show of honest emotion.

Returning for the encore we part of a very odd request, ‘be in the video for our upcoming Christmas Song’. Sure enough they donned the red of Santa while playing a strangely enjoyable tune Shake Up Christmas. To finish on a high, Pat spoke to the crowd to apologise for their absence from these shores (…but not for being late!) while doing a jukebox of the songs they missed tonight. Prompted by crowd suggestions. This little skit contained Something More, Free & Mississippi before finally signed off with It Ain’t Goodbye, rounding off what was a master class in highly entertaining pop!

The Trainettes

Dinosaur Pile-Up @ Kings College Student Union, Temple

19 October 2010

It was like I had never been away. Oh, the instantly recognisable feel of a student union club!  It could have been in any town up and down the country. Only difference is this one can attract rising bands to play in their ample sized venue while most importantly retaining as close to student beer prices as you’re likely to find in London. The venue was surprisingly spacious, plus the sound & lights was more than satisfactory. Quite amusingly though the stage had a band riser in true 80’s arena rocker style. Still its all character hey!

TurboWolf

I was excited about the prospect of seeing TurboWolf, a band I’ve been meaning to catch for a while. It didn’t take long for them to warrant my attention. Scuzzy metal riffing over an electro backdrop and a small factory of distortion pedals drive the ultra-heavy but always melodic backdrop. Their riffs have a real spark which ignites the primeval nature to neck your beer, push aside the girls and rock the f**k out!

Irresistibly bold statements of noise were backed with impassioned vocals from gypsy punk Eugene Hutz, look-a-likie who flew across stage with a an almost rabid air of reckless endangerment. Leaping from the drum kits (the drum riser used to optimal effect) at every opportunity he was almost the perfect front man. He was missing one thing though…a voice! His screech howls were massively overwhelmed by the band and pretty much inaudible. A shame really, but with some live rig adjustments these guys could go the way of tonight headliners..up, up, up!

Dinosaur Pile-Up

Almost a year ago, we first witnessed the power of the grunge revivalists Dinosaur Pile-Up who massively impressed with their “we’re not quite Nirvana vibe and their cracking optimistic rock tunes. Tonight they build upon that initial footing and have crafted a very solid set of tracks taken from their debut album Growing Pains (review). Looking more and more like a Cobain-a-like lead singer/guitarist was expertly trading grungy riffs with up-tempo power chord blasts of down tuned glory.

Matt Bigland

Some will instantly call them grunge, but their optimistic sing-a-long tunes and energetic delivery defies the tag, yet Matt Bigland’s vocals have shifted towards Kurt-mania somewhat since I last saw them. This is especially true on their slower tunes which make up for their lack of pace with a brooding slow burning sense that something is on the verge of exploding. It usually does as the band kicks back in, mixing up their soft and loud’s with expert precision! However there were far too many songs of this variety on show tonight, which slightly soured the performance! But as soon as they explode back into another hard rocking classic like Birds & Planes, Traynor or My Rock and Roll…all is forgiven!

A very high standard was on display from two of the UK’s finest young rock and rollers!