Tag Archives: setlist

Half Man Half Biscuit, Cambridge Junction, 4/7/2013

HMHB2

Half Man Half Biscuit’s set at The Junction last night was just cracking, a robust (and at times veering surprisingly close to nimble) run through some of the highlights of one of the finest back catalogues in modern pop music. On record the Biccies’ unique selling point is Nigel Blackwell’s unrivalled genius for lyrics, with seemingly every song containing at least one hilarious and immortal couplet of a quality that ought to make Cohen, Dylan et al think about chucking it in and getting a job in Safeways. In a live environment however, the emphasis is more on the pithy and catchy chunkiness of the tunes and the pleasing unfussiness of their approach that in some ways makes the band come over like a Birkenhead version of The Ramones: they just crank ’em out, one after the other. I counted at least 23 songs in the hour and three-quarters they were on, which is surely consummate value for money. The only pauses are for a few of Nigel’s deadpan comedy observations on aspects of the local geography. This show is the second leg of a rare East Anglian foray for the group and follows an appearance at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, and a clue to how they fill their downtime between gigs is given by Nigel’s very first comment to the audience: “Anglesey Abbey: not bad.” This is in time followed up by references to local villages Great and Little Wilbraham and Swaffhams Prior and Bulbeck – my guess is that Nigel is a man who likes his OS maps.

The band’s straight-ahead, high-speed delivery is responded to favourably by a boisterous crowd which pleasingly doesn’t consist entirely of middle-aged men. A full-on moshpit has developed by the fourth number, occasioning your intrepid reporter’s partial retreat to somewhere nearer the back of the hall, but the pushing and shoving is conducted with high spirits and never becomes threatening and it’s actually nice to see a crowd engaging with the music rather than just standing there solemnly recording everything on camera-phones. Everyone seems to know the words and sings along lustily – it’s kind of delightful to be part of a room of people all yelling Fuckin’ ‘Ell, It’s Fred Titmus* or You’re Going On After Crispy Ambulance** or, most poignantly, For What Is Chatteris*** Without You In It. The material HMHB play tonight covers all but one or two of their dozen or so albums and EPs and it’s particularly nice to hear Time Flies By When You’re The Driver Of A Train from their debut Back In The DHSS, an album which had me literally rolling on the floor with laughter when I first heard it in 1986. The most recent songs aired are Joy In Leeuwarden and Rock And Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools from 2011’s 90 Bisodol (Crimond) and there’s room also for the relatively obscure Whit Week Malarkey and Bogus Official as well as the inevitable, and rapturously received, Joy Division Oven Gloves and a stonking take on Holiday In Cambodia for the encore.

The Rolling Stones headlined at Glastonbury last weekend and by all accounts it was a pretty jim-dandy gig…but some of us know who the real greatest rock’n’roll group in the country are.

HMHB1

* Stalwart English cricket player of the 50s, 60s and 70s

** One of Factory Records’ not so celebrated signings

*** Sleepy and somewhat isolated Fenland town. I played in a band who came second in the 1991 Chatteris Rock Competition, you know.

Edwyn Collins, Cambridge Junction 22 April 2013

Edwyn2

It’s already a minor miracle that former Orange Juice frontman and informally acknowledged national treasure Edwyn Collins is still able to walk and talk given the sudden and potentially cataclysmic brain haemorrhages he suffered eight years ago (for more information his wife Grace Maxwell’s book about the trauma and Edwyn’s recovery is highly recommended). That he’s been able to resume his recording career with albums as brilliant as Losing Sleep and the new Understated as well as putting on shows as energetic and life-affirming as last night’s might be taken as positive proof of a higher power in the universe…if you didn’t know that that’s the type of ludicrous hyperbole that would make the man in question wince. Collins’s approach is resolutely down to earth, despite his gift for disarming lyrical flourishes, and while it may be a legacy of his condition and the way his near-death experiences forced him to re-learn language from scratch that his song introductions are almost comically deadpan and matter of fact you can’t help feeling that the refreshing absence of rock’n’roll airs and graces in his presentation suits his intimate and honest material perfectly.

Bullies

There are two supports, both featuring players from the main man’s backing band, and first up are Bullies, a young and almost defiantly ordinarily dressed trio. It takes a while for the penny to drop that the bassist and lead vocalist is in fact Edwyn’s son Will, and while this might seem a fairly blatant bit of nepotism I’ve got to say this band isn’t half bad: while the tempo, format and chugging basslines initially suggest a grungey Nirvana/Dinosaur Jr. influence some catchy melodies do cut through, and the guitarist is able enough to vary the sound with some jazzy chords and clearly audible riffs and picking. Will doesn’t say too much between numbers but when he sings his voice is fine, and he sensibly sticks to playing root notes while he’s doing it (how do people like Sting and Phil Lynott play the bass and sing at the same time? It’s impossible!)

Colorama

It’s immediately obvious that the five-piece Colorama, on the other hand, are already highly accomplished and confident enough to swap instruments around with aplomb. The Brian Jones haircut and sharp suit sported by leader Carwyn Ellis gives you the clue as to where they’re at musically: dense, funky, psychedelic grooves topped off with electric piano and highly adept harmonies. It’s like they’ve walked straight out of a subterranean late 60s nightclub where the walls are painted purple and everything’s seen through a fish-eye lens. They’re no mere Austin Powers-style pastiche though – despite the flowery musicianship their pieces are in the main taut and disciplined, with proper tunes and only a couple of rambling instrumental interludes. The best psych-folk band to come out of Wales this century, probably.

Edwyn1After the break, and right on time, the main act appears, with Edwyn finding his way over to a bass amp positioned centre stage on which he perches for the duration of his set, slightly in the manner of a hip, but not to be crossed, English teacher. Without any ceremony he announces “Orange Juice. Falling And Laughing” and his band (in which Ellis reappears, this time as bassist and keyboard player) launch into a joyous version of said joyous debut single, a coup that a wilier band leader might have held back for the encore. You sense pretty quickly though that Edwyn’s not got much truck with showmanship – he’s here to play the songs he wants to play, be they over thirty years old or newly released, and in this context the songs fit together seamlessly, glorious uplifting lilting odes supported by full-bodied and vigorous arrangements that for once at The Junction are mixed so well that you can pick out every instrument. It’s a brilliant gig. Edwyn has a lectern of song lyrics by his side but scarcely glances at it, and manages to keep the crowd entertained between songs via his pithy reminisces and cheeky remarks to his wife. He brings out Will to sing back-up vocals on a couple of songs, and while the younger man’s clearly self-conscious he’s also happy to be there, and not afraid to tell his old man to get a move on when Edwyn loses the thread during one song’s introduction. There are even moments when some old school rock’n’roll grandstanding is indulged, with guitarist James Walbourne let off the leash for some full-on soloing at the end of the set, though one suspects this is cover to let the singer make a dignified exit before the rest of the band. The main set ends with Edwyn’s two big hits Rip It Up (complete with authentically squelchy keyboard sounds) and A Girl Like You (which must be the only worldwide smash ever to feature the word “allegorically”), but there’s a treat in store for the encore in the form of the two ballads Home Again and It Dawns On Me, for which Walbourne and Ellis provide accompaniment on acoustic guitars.

This was a great evening, with three bands that were all worth the time, a genuine living legend and some wonderful songs. Catch him if you can.

Setlist: Falling And Laughing, Make Me Feel, What Presence, 31 Years, Ghost Of A Chance, Understated, Dying Day, Too Bad (That’s Sad), In Your Eyes, Losing Sleep, Dilemna, Rip It Up, A Girl Like You. Encores: Home Again, It Dawns On Me, Blue Boy, Don’t Shilly Shally

Dexys, Cambridge Corn Exchange, September 11th 2012

Eeee, that Kevin Rowland’s a bit of a rum ‘un, innee?

See, many years ago there used to be this brilliant, weird, intense group called Dexy’s Midnight Runners, who started putting out brilliant, weird, intense records with loads of horn sections and soul keyboards on them, and cos it was the start of the 80s and everything was still a bit post-punk with the rules on what was allowable in the charts somewhat relaxed some of them got to be hits, and one of them even got to Number One…and then half the group walked out cos Kevin just got too damn odd and controlling, but that didn’t stop him growing his hair and dressing up in dungarees and eventually putting out some more brilliant, weird, intense stuff, this time with Irish jiggy fiddles on, and even though it was 1982 by now and everything had to sound plastic and crappy he still managed to get it on the radio, and scored another Number One with a song about a lady wearing a pretty red dress that went on to feature in every wedding disco ever.

By 1985 Kevin must have really been getting cocky as he must have thought he’d still get an automatic Number One from his third album even if he didn’t release any singles from it. This bold marketing strategy resulted in the critically lauded, brilliant, weird and intense Don’t Stand Me Down sinking like a stone, which was kind of a shame, given that the band had taken to trouble to get respectable haircuts and dress up in suits on the cover. And that seemed to be that for Dexy’s. Kevin scored a hit with the theme for a not very good sit-com, released a forgettable solo album a couple of years later and disappeared from sight for a decade before resurfacing with an album of cover versions called My Beauty which may or may not be brilliant, weird and intense – we’ll never know for sure, because the cover art depicting Kevin in a pretty red dress is so upsetting that no human being’s ever had the stomach to listen to it.

It’s now thirteen years on from what at the time seemed to be the most certain career killer in rock history, and Kevin’s back for another shot with a new album One Day I’m Going To Soar. For this he’s resurrected the Dexy’s brand, although he seems to have taken against apostrophes – the album’s credited to simply Dexys. He’s also touring, and last night I went to see him and his band at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge (curiously, the night before I’d been to the same venue to see another celebrated rock eccentric, the fabulous Patti Smith).

This turns out to be no ordinary gig. In fact, it’s not really a gig at all, more a full-blown example of musical theatre, with the new album being presented in order, in its entirety, with no interruptions for anything so facile as banter with the audience. The nine-piece band enter the stage in darkness while the opening section of the song (or overture, I guess, in this context) is being played and Kevin starts singing in his weird, but undeniably effective croon before you can actually see him which definitely builds suspense until the point where the song pauses, the band kicks in, the lights come on and the number gets jaunty – suddenly you can see everyone, and gracious, aren’t they all dressed up to the nines with the main man’s zoot suit, fedora and shades being particularly striking.  This is most definitely not one of those shows where there’s not really much to look at: band members come and go for different songs, props and chairs are brought on by stagehands, at one point there’s a projector screen showing images of the ideal woman Kevin is directing his bizarre, but always heartfelt, declarations of love towards, and there’s loads of to-and-froing across the stage, principally by the singer and his faithful foil Pete Williams, who takes the role of sounding-board and confidant. The music is lush, and soul-influenced, while remaining surprisingly true to the original Dexy’s template given the decades long gap since the band last had product to promote, with the guitar relegated to a supporting role in favour of piano, organ, trombone and fiddle. These are pretty complicated arrangements, with plenty of variety in terms of dynamics and tempo, and they must have taken a lot of time to work out and rehearse, although there’s nothing difficult or inaccessible about the music from a listener’s point of view. The musicians and sound technicians even manage to overcome the generally awful acoustics in the Corn Exchange – frankly, it sounds brilliant.

But brilliant is but one part of the Dexys magic formula, and while the band play their hearts out you find it difficult to direct your gaze anywhere but towards the guru of weird and intense, the singular Mr Rowland. One Day I’m Going To Soar would seem to be some kind of concept piece about our Kevin’s ongoing conflicting feelings of loneliness, yearning, lust, fickleness and regret, and he certainly doesn’t hold back on his delivery, projecting his vocals so passionately that it’s almost enough to take your mind off his pencil moustache and Hawaiian shirt. He seems to really mean this stuff, although there are hints during the spoken word exchanges he has with Williams that there is some deadpan humour going on. A highlight is I’m Always Going To Love You, in which he brings on singer Madeleine Hyland to play the object of his affection, who we wins and then spurns, prompting an on-stage break-up, but the whole set is compelling, even though part of you is always worrying a bit about how healthy it is to be playing all this stuff out in a public forum. The band round the set off with a run through some oldies, though typically even these have been meticulously sculpted into a mini opera, with Until I Believe In My Soul forming a framing device for a version of Tell Me When My Light Turns Green and a strange and hilarious confessional sequence between Rowland and Williams dressed as a police officer. They don’t completely thwart the audience’s expectations though – they finish with an extended Come On Eileen, which gets the punters out of their seats and bopping in the aisles, before returning for a full-blooded take on This Is What She’s Like. Kevin’s undoubtedly a strange one, but he sure knows how to put on a fantastic show, and he thanks the audience and his band with a grace that you can’t imagine Van Morrison, for example, summoning up. There’s really no-one else around like him.

Patti Smith, Cambridge Corn Exchange, September 10th 2012

OK. The stakes were high with this one. The best gig I can remember going to, ever, was New York poet-turned-singer Patti Smith about five years ago at The Junction in Cambridge, a show that was arranged at short notice and I believe wasn’t even sold out. I didn’t have particularly high expectations and went largely out of curiosity and a sense of obligation to my eighteen-year-old self, who had for a time been obsessed with Smith’s Horses album to the point of exclusion of all other music, but the sixty year old woman on stage knocked it clean out of the park, singing better than she did in her youth with a highly accomplished and sympathetic rock’n’roll band matching her every inch of the way. It was powerful, it was intimate, it was funny, it was inspiring and Gloria sounded even more wonderful than it does on the album. Most rock veterans are content to churn out the oldies for a paycheck but Smith sang these songs and made her case for people to stand up and let their voices be heard with the zeal of a missionary, tempered with a self-awareness and humour that neutralised any potential cringe factor. It was, and I don’t like to throw this kind of vernacular about lightly, awesome.

So when this gig at the considerably larger, and notably non-intimate, Corn Exchange was announced, I couldn’t help feeling a bit apprehensive. Surely it was going to be a tall order for Smith to establish the same connection with the audience in this barn-like environment? And the acoustics for loud rock music are generally terrible in there. Was the cherished memory of that Junction gig going to be irreparably tarnished? Well…no: within about ten seconds of the singer and her band coming on stage and launching into a pristine, beautifully played and perfectly-mixed version of Dancing Barefoot it was clear that everything was going to be all right. I’ve got a kind of tendency to gush on this blog that I know I’ve gotta keep an eye on but oh my – this was (again) one special gig.

The band had the same line-up as five years ago, with stalwarts Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty on guitar and drums respectively, Smith’s son Jackson on second guitar and Tony Shanahan on bass and occasional keyboard, and I don’t know what they and their road crew know that other bands don’t but they sounded fantastic: always clear and crisp even during the over-driven and rowdy climactic sections and suitably sensitive and subtle without ever sounding fussy in the quiet bits. Smith’s vocals are as strong as they’ve ever been and you can hear every word without having to strain. This is how it should be, and how it hardly ever is. Which is doubly good, because it would be a monumental pity if a set-list this impressive was fouled up by a dodgy mix. Five years ago, Smith was promoting (although you can’t imagine that this defiantly non-corporate artist has much truck with concepts like promotion) her covers album Twelve, so we got to hear a fair few interpretations of alternative rock classics – this time, she’s got Banga, an album of original material, out and the only covers aired are those that make up Lenny Kaye’s commemoration medley for the 40th anniversary of the release of his garage-band compilation Nuggets (I picked out The Heartbreakers’ Born To Lose and Pushin’ Too Hard by The Seeds, amongst others). The rest of the set is a heady, but well-selected, forage through Smith’s back catalogue, with some of the poppier tunes from the new record thrown in. Early on I get my Horses fix attended to with a boppy Redondo Beach and Free Money, which boasts an extended piano intro, and fans of the early albums will have been satisfied by hearing Pissing In A River, Ghost Dance and bona fide hit single Because The Night. The new songs slot right in – April Fool may be the most commercial thing she’s ever written, and the Amy Winehouse tribute This Is The Girl is the latest evidence of Smith’s fascination with prematurely deceased rock stars.

All this professionalism and crowd-pleasing aside, what really lifts the gig is Smith’s engagement with the audience and her obvious delight in and passion for what she’s doing. Between songs she talks to the crowd about her awe at being in such a venerated seat of learning, and how she quite fancies living the life of a student or teacher at the University, and she’s happy to leave us guessing as to how serious she’s being. It feels like a real conversation rather than a set piece of stage banter. She recommends that we seek out Wittgenstein’s grave* and responds to audience members who shout out comments, although from where I was sitting it wasn’t always possible to make total sense of the exchanges. Later she uses the plight of the unjustly imprisoned Russian protest group Pussy Riot to urge us not to lapse into defeatism and accept the arbitrary and unfair rule of corrupt governments and corporations (I completely agree, but despite the deafening roar of approval these sentiments inspire I’m not sure the average Cambridge concert-goer is sufficiently oppressed yet to start a revolution). Throughout the show she displays the energy level of someone a third of her age, skipping nimbly around, dropping down into the crowd and going walkabout during the instrumental breaks, and ripping the strings off her guitar with her bare hands at the end of the evening. The audience feeds on the energy right from the start and are applauding riotously only a few songs in – by the end of the encore she gets a standing ovation and a warehouse sized tsunami of cheering. A brilliant gig from a veteran anti-establishment icon who still means it and can deliver the goods as potently as she ever could. And she only went and did Gloria again. It really doesn’t get any better.

* She mentioned this last time too, and I did go and have a look. The nice man who runs stone-carving classes at the church pointed out the grave, but was aghast and apologetic at the sight of six pork pies piled up on top of it. He swiftly re-arranged them so that they were in their proper places at the corners and halfway down the sides and expressed relief. Apparently Wittgenstein was keen on them, and this is a recognised tribute to this fact.

Elvis Costello charges through the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, Cambridge Corn Exchange, 26 May 2012

The Eurovision Song Contest was held last night, which would normally mean that I’d be spending the evening slumped on a sofa surrounded by beer, crisps and despair (my account of last year’s experience is here). This year however I was able to break the cycle by dint of having an opportunity to tick off one of the really major items on my musical to-do list – Elvis Costello was playing Cambridge for the first time in decades, and while the tickets were hair-raisingly pricy he’s one of the few acts I’m genuinely happy to shriek “hang the expense!” about.

I’ve been a fan of Costello since buying Punch The Clock on a school trip to Norwich in 1984, and while I’m not really up to speed with the last few albums put up by this fearsomely prolific songwriter I’m ready to defend his first ten years’ output against all comers. This man must have written more great pop songs than pretty much anybody – Lennon and McCartney, Holland, Dozier and Holland, Carole King, Frank Sidebottom, you name it – and at least one of his records, the ostensibly Stax and Motown pastiching, but in actuality contender for greatest soul album ever made, Get Happy!!, will have to prised from my clammy hands with a sonic lance capable of drilling holes in Saturn’s rings when justice finally catches up with me and sends me to that desert island based containment facility. You get the idea.

For his current tour Costello has resurrected the format that he was using in the mid-80s round about the time of Blood And Chocolate. The stage is dominated by a vast fairground-style rotating wheel upon the fifty or so sectors of which appear the names of either tried and trusted selections from his copious back catalogue or slightly cryptic jackpot categories, such as “Time”, “Girl” or “Crime and Punishment”*. The bulk of the night’s set is thus chosen by members of the audience, who are picked out and led up by the stage by one of Costello’s glamorous assistants: they get to spin the wheel and the band then launch into whatever song the roulette arrow points at when it comes to rest, while the lucky punters occupy themselves either by sipping brightly coloured drinks at a faux cocktail lounge or by jigging energetically in a go-go dancer’s cage. When there are no members of the general public available or willing to provide distraction there’s another glamorous assistant on hand to throw some shapes. It’s an ingenious mechanism that allows Costello to vary his set-lists and provide suspense and visual interest for his audience (even if you eventually start suspecting that the wheel may well be slightly rigged here and there), and also affords him the opportunity to relish his role as a slightly seedy master of ceremonies.

It also has the very useful function of allowing Costello to put on shows of extraordinary length containing several full-on sequences of four or five fast and ferociously delivered songs without physically exhausting his audience. At Cambridge he played for just shy of three hours and must have performed thirty odd numbers, very few of which had anything of the laid-back about them. Incredibly, this is more or less the same band that he was playing with in the late 70s when he was in danger of becoming a regular, if slightly funny-looking, pop star: Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve remain on drums and keyboards respectively, with the only change being Davey Faragher on bass in place of the estranged Bruce Thomas (Thomas wrote a distinctly non-complimentary book about his life on tour with Costello, and the two haven’t seen eye-to eye since). The main man himself must be nearly sixty now, but doesn’t look significantly different to how he did in 1977, or 1983, or any time outside his ill-considered beard years. It’s possible the porkpie hat he sports throughout is there to conceal baldness, but it suits his stage persona just fine. The band open with a blast through a few highlights from Costello’s 70s repertoire, and surprisingly this sets a pattern for most of the evening – I may have just had a lucky night, but it seems that most of the audience selections come from the era I’d consider golden, with amazingly few being unfamiliar to me, presumably because they’re drawn from recent albums. Whether rigged or not, the band tear through this stuff like they’re amphetamine-fuelled teenagers, and while the acoustics at the cavernous Corn Exchange are never going to be ideal for an M.O.  this aggressive you can at least always pick out the singer’s commanding vocals. He may not be your cup of tea, but this guy can really sing, and sometimes you feel he doesn’t even need the public address system.

It’s not all rama-lama mind. A couple of hours in, the band leave the stage and Costello goes acoustic, first on guitar, then on ukulele, playing songs which sound like they started in life in 1930s folk clubs but knowing this songwriter’s fecundity may well be original. It’s a welcome change of pace. He also gives us his soulful, if slightly overwrought, take on the immortal Shipbuilding, which may be his best ever lyric, and the savage, Thatcher-hating Tramp The Dirt Down, which as he points out in one of his many humorous and chatty asides, seems to have become depressingly relevant again. There’s also a startling interlude in the middle of Watching The Detectives where he leaves the stage and wanders through the packed auditorium while chanting like a shaman – presumably he knows his audience demographic well enough by now not to expect any disrespectful invasions of his person.

And then, just before the end, and just as I was inwardly bemoaning the absence of any material from Get Happy!! we get a climactic run featuring not only I Can’t Stand Up and the awesome High Fidelity but 24 carat crowd pleasers Oliver’s Army and Pump It Up. The roof duly comes off, the band take a bow, the lights come up and you can watch the wheel start to be taken apart by the road crew as you shuffle out. The longest gig I’ve been to since I stood in the middle of Wembley stadium watching Springsteen in 1985, but definitely one of the best. Value for money at twice the price.

* It turns out these unlock sequence of songs with a common theme. Last night someone got “Numbers”, which led to Two Little Hitlers, My Three Sons, 45 and so on.

Setlist, included for Costello obsessives only (updated 29/5/12, and should be definitive now. Amazingly, he played no less than 12 of his first 15 UK singles):

I Hope You’re Happy Now, Heart Of The City, Mystery Dance, Radio Radio, Bedlam, Living In Paradise, Big Tears, Shabby Doll, My Three Sons, Less Than Zero, Two Little Hitlers, 45, One Bell Ringing, Accidents Will Happen, Alison, Everyday I Write The Book, (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea, Shipbuilding, Watching The Detectives/Help Me, Clubland, Good Year For The Roses, A Slow Drag With Josephine, Who’s The Meanest Gal In Town Josephine, Jimmie Standing In the Rain, Tramp The Dirt Down, National Ransom no. 9, I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, High Fidelity, Oliver’s Army, Pump It Up/Day Tripper, What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding