Monday, October 23, 2006Long time no blog
I've not felt like writing in this for a while due to camera issues. It's strange how a small piece of technology can be so important. I had bought a 512mb card for it after the 128mb stopped working - I had a lovely weekend with Elizabeth who came to London when the Knife/PlanningToRock circus came rolling into town, she organised a photopass for the event, we walked along the Thames, bought delicious food at Borough market and drank cheap red wine up Primrose Hill. The said 512mb memory card also stopped working and I lost all the pictures from it. And I forgot to bring a working 16mb card to The Long Blondes' triumphant, biggest-ever-headlining-show at the Mean Fiddler...at which, some horrible little boy pissed on me, literally.
I will now draw a line under this period and carry on as before.
I'd been so excited about the Knife's gig since I first saw it listed on seetickets. The thing with the Knife is that they hardly ever play live, they hardly give interviews, there are very few pictures of them available. When their second album, Deep Cuts became a word-of-mouth success, they upped the stakes with its follow up, Silent Shout, less accessable, darker and more dramatic than its predecessor. (Un?)fortunately for the Knife, they can't seem to suppress public opinion and played a sold-out show at the Kentish Town Forum on Saturday 14th October. They took The fantastic PlanningToRock with them. PTR opened the show, dressed in her trademark dapper whites, top hat and all. The crowd lapped up her up - if there's any crowd likely to get the genius of PTR, it's the Knife crowd. PTR's audio-visual experience was superb, with new videos for some of the songs. Her recent tour with Peaches had proven an influence on her hammed-up performance, more daring and affecting than ever before. She has also just released an EP featuring classically arranged versions of some of her songs, titled Have It All Stringed Up and is available from the merch booth or from Itunes.
The Knife were incredible. They kept the capacity crowd waiting for ages before they came on stage, dressed in black and wearing masks. A huge screen separated the two-piece from the crowd, while videos and visual effects were projected on to it as well as one at the back of the stage, creating a very haunting space. The sound was wonderful and all-consuming - the bass was literally shaking the foundations of the old theatre and felt as brutal and awesome as the Knife's music. My only complaint for the whole evening was that the house lights were not dimmed enough to really be as effective as it could be at creating the alienation that the Knife's music does. Everything else was perfect - they didn't speak at all to the crowd, not a single thank you, no banter about the tour or "this is our next single", utterly anonymous. The stage was littered with spooky props, an exaggerated caricature of a circus man grinding an organ, a rabbit (possibly representing Frau Rabid??) hung from a noose high in the wings of the stage, other spooky looking figures...shadows everywhere. It was simply awesome.
It seemed, at points, that the crowd was unsure how to react to this unconventional show. Indeed, many punters may have been at the Peaches show in the same venue the previous night, and despite reports of her dancing crazy at the Knife's aftershow, the nights couldn't have been any more different. When people are so used to whooping and cheering for everything a performer does, it's hard to know what to do when the performer doesn't perform at all - what do you react to? The music? The light show? Nothing? Naturally their chilled-out version of Heartbeats got a rapturous applause when people realised what it was but opinion was clearly divided as to whether to stay silent and let the show be one entire piece, or to perceive it as a twelve song set with shrieks bookending each song.
The Knife are playing a handful of US dates at the beginning of November (with PTR again!) and who knows when after that. If you live in LA, NY or San Fransisco, you should not pass this opportunity.
In low-brow news, Gwen Stefani's new single debuted on radio yesterday. It's called Wind It Up and samples the Sound of Music. It's completely bizarre and unexpected. Could this be the end of Gwen's credibility? Download it from Everythingintime.com.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006Camille
Last Thursday I was lucky enough to catch the wonderful French chauntesse, Camille on the last date of her world tour for Le Fil, her second album, which has been a slow-burning word-of-mouth success. I first heard about her from a Belgian friend who cited it last November as her album of the year. The CD was all over the shops in Berlin with it's intriguing portrait cover. I finally bought the album in December and fell in love instantly - it was like nothing I'd heard before; principally acapella, layered vocals and sounds, beauitful chord changes, irresistable French. I wrote a review of it for Wears The Trousers (about to go bi-monthly!) so read it for a more succinct description of her sound.
I wasn't sure what to expect from the live show; the album is so serene and - without a very good working knowledge of French - it's hard to gauge the tone of the lyrics. I was also curious as to how she would re-create the vocal layering live. It was absolutely beautiful and conceptually brilliant. About 80cm high across the entire stage was a thread (le fil) from which hung white chiffon. At first I thought it was an anti-photographer device, but (as can be seen above) Camille brought it up with her fist, draped it around her like a wedding dress and finally tossed it out into the crowd where it was passed slowly backwards and forth above the heads of the standing ticket holders, glimmering in flickers of white light that broke the dark of the cavernous theatre.
Camille was much more humerous than I'd imagined, too. The audience was about 60% French (exactly what it was like when some British/American bands played Berlin) and when people hollered in French she answered back in (very fluent) English, reminding les emigrantes that they should be speaking English! She had the crowd participating throughout. I remember having the same kind of surprise having seen Emiliana Torrini live - when these singers don't really have a media presence or give that many interviews then your view of them is untainted by any other influences and so the live show is a total surprise. Camille had the whole crowd grinning away, there's just something about English spoken with a cute French accent. And for that one evening Camille resolved anglo-franco relations...hoorah!
Thursday, October 05, 2006Accident and Emergency
I love Patrick Wolf, I really do. I can't think of any other musician who speaks to me as much as he does. He released his first album, Lycanthropy in 2003. At the time he was 21, a lanky, precocious bleached blonde with some stories to tell. The first wave of electroclash was happening and he was very much part of it, often seen (or performing) at Nag Nag Nag or Kaspoint. When that whole scene imploded, Patrick disappeared from the streets of London and emerged a year later having spent time in Cornwall writing and recording his second album, Wind in the Wires, a thoroughly organic, romantic affair and a fair distance from his debut. The intelligent music press cottoned onto his amazingness and by the end of the year he had attracted quite the army of floppy-fringed dedicatees. A year on and he's gearing up to release his third album in four years. It's called The Magic Position and is due out in February next year.
He launched his metamorphasis at a two-part theatre gig in March this year, but is now on a proper UK tour to promote his upcoming single, Accident and Emergency. He played Koko last night (definitely my favourite mid-sized London venue) to a rapturous (and well-dressed) crowd. The set comprised mainly of new songs and very old songs, which doesn't always go down well with a crowd, but the strength of Mr Wolf's material, old, new and middle-aged, is so powerful and appealing that it would take a very determined person to deny it. It was great to hear the old material performed as on the Wind in the Wires tour there was an element of moving on from that phase of his life and the laptop-based performance. The gig showed a much happier and liberated Patrick Wolf as he bounded about on the stage dressed in sequens, glitter and flannel shorts with leopard-print dinosaur armoury, his dyed ginger hair adding to an overall similarity to Ziggy Stardust. The new songs were fantastic - especially the title track, The Magic Position, which he played just before the encore - the best pop dance song you'll here in years. It had the 1500 large crowd clapping and grinning along and featured the line "...to live to learn to love in the major key...", which pretty much sums up the mood of the concert.
While watching him I thought about the Ziggy Stardust comparison. He reminded me that the age of invention and utterly unique artists isn't over and that Patrick Wolf could very well become as global an idol as David Bowie came. There is no sign of his artistic progress slowing down, he only gets stronger and more popular. I can't imagine him ever giving up on music or releasing a duff record. His music is unique enough to outlive any trend with which he was associated. I'm very excited about this new album. Accident and Emergency is out in the UK on 23rd October.
Monday, October 02, 2006Take Us To Your Planet
You know what it's like when you like a band for ages and they keep getting more and more popular and you still really like them but you don't really want to go to their gigs any more because you hate the new fans/what the band are becoming? Yes? No? I do. And I thought I would leave The Pipettes gig at Koko on Friday, their biggest headline show to date, feeling just like that. I've felt like that with lots of bands - Razorlight, Bloc Party, Stellastarr*. And despite the sold out show being choc-a-bloc with 28 year old couples and creepy older men only there to ogle Rose, Becki and Gwenno in their revealing stage get-up, I left convinced that The Pipettes are one of the best pop bands out there right now.
When I saw them for the first time eighteen months ago, they were unsigned, but playing with Sleater-Kinney at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, a far cry from where they are now. And yet very little has changed - they perform with just as much love and enthusiasm, their dance routines are just as cute and, well, they have new homemade polkadot dresses, but the concept is still the same. It makes me happy that their vision and determination has remained uncompromised throughout. Many record companies didn't have the guts to sign them as they didn't know how to market them. You can read my review of their album here.
Live, they charmed the pants off the crowd - not literally, but it wouldn't have taken much more. They ain't no divas and give a good bit of onstage banter. The backdrop featured a light up Pipettes sign and their backing band, the Casettes, were dimly lit in their yellow tank tops. My photos do a better job of explaining it, but it was so swish and I was so proud. I walked into the crisp late September evening feeling satisfied that the Pipettes are well on the road to taking over the planet exactly as they set out two years ago. I would recommend that you see them if you get the chance - first impressions might remind you of the Sheila's Wheels advert, but there's much more to them than retro kitsch.