The most realistic story ever told.

Category: gig (page 2 of 3)

Many cameejuns

It should be clear by now that I’m not a poodle.  At least they seem to learn by repetition.  I seem to keep buying tickets to large-scale comedy gigs and optimistically expecting to enjoy it.

The culprit in this case was the seemingly irresistible opportunity to be an audient at Channel 4’s Comedy Gala – a humungous comedy effort put together in conjunction with Off The Kerb (a fairly prominent comedy management company) to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  By all accounts the idea was to put on the largest comedy gig in history, and it really succeeded in underscoring why these things don’t really work.

The lineup was – it must be said – massive.  On paper, you couldn’t go wrong really.

One of the problems of the charity gig is that circuit comics won’t use their best material there.  It makes sense of course, particularly if they’re currently touring – you don’t give away the good stuff, do you?

Over the course of the howevermanyhoursthethingran for the entertainment bill was more or less a continuous onslaught.  Check it out – the evening opened with a full-stage percussive dance extravaganza from the Stomp team (although they’ve clearly been breeding since I saw them, because there were hundreds, it seemed!), then the comedians cavalcaded out thusly:

  • Alan Carr
  • Jason Manford
  • Jo Brand
  • Patrick Stewart & Sharon Osbourne via video
  • Sean Lock
  • Jonathon Ross
  • Kevin Bridges
  • Patrick Kielty
  • Rocky Gervais & Stephen Merchant via cartoon video
  • Rob Brydon & Gok Wan
  • Kevin Bishop via video
  • Andy Parsons
  • Mark Watson
  • Katie Price & Alex Reid
  • Michael MacIntyre
  • Bill Baily & Kevin Eldon
  • Mock the Week crew via video
  • Christine Blakeley & Tommy Tibbs
  • Jack Dee
  • Shappi Khorsandi
  • Peep Show video
  • Catherine Tate
  • Noel Fielding
  • Gavin & Stacey characters whose names I didn’t catch
  • John Bishop
  • David Mitchell
  • Jack Whitehall
  • Rich Hall
  • Derren Brown via video
  • Lee Evans

This is going to sound extremely snobbish, but I got the distinct impression that many of the comics were fairly safe in the knowledge that it didn’t matter what kind of material they got out for the crowd – they were already on a winning bet because the people in the audience recognised them from the telly.

Noel Fielding’s routine was his “standard gala 5” which I know he’s been using since at least 2003.  Gok Wan & Rob Brydon put together a fairly contrived & tense sequence, and I spent more time thinking of how much Wan’s hairstyle resembled Simon Singh’s.  Jonathon Ross spent most of his time talking about people farting on his chat show.

Michael McIntyre was as harmless & enthusiastic as you’d expect him to be – he’s very much mainstream comedy’s Man Of The Moment, and he is exceptional at what he does, even if there’s next to no substance to it whatsoever.  Perhaps I just found it difficult to engage with a routine on observations about the inanity of various things you see on daytime TV.  In his defence, he’d probably picked that set for a safe-bet of a TV-watching audience.

The most controversial points of the evening were when Katie Price & Alex Reid took the stage, and before they’d said anything the crowd started booing them.  It wasn’t until I was able to get a signal to Wikipedia that I even knew who either of them were, and I’m still scratching my head about what the hell they were on the bill for…  still, irrelevant as they were there was a minor comedic moment as McIntyre took the stage after them, made a derogatory jibe about Alex Reid, and then realised that Reid had come back on stage and was chasing him around – well played, that man.

Mark Watson was very good I thought – he came across as a cardigan-wearing nice boy, and seemed to make quite a good impression on behalf of what The Guardian’s decided to label “middle class comedians” on the C4 crowd.

Andy Parsons was, from memory, the only comic to really get stuck into any material on politics – he tackled it quite well, although again, being “a bloke wot talks about politics from off the telly” he didn’t have too much credentialuar establishment to do.  That’s not even a phrase, is it.  I noticed that at one point, just after he’d made a joke mentioning Robert Mugabe, quite pretty mid-20 year old girls sat impassively for a second, then turned to their boyfriends and muttered something, at which point I heard in stereo the sound of guys trying to explain who Robert Mugabe was, and then in the case of the one on my left, what Zimbabwe was.

Jo Brand stuck to her usual fodder about sex, bodily functions, and her being overweight – which is a shame, because I think she’s got a lot more to offer comedically.

One thing which seemed quite common for the acts to mention was the size of the room, and as an audient you sort of take it for granted a bit that an entertainer comes out & entertains, and gets on with it.  Comedians, however, in the main do not play stadium gigs and contrasting the O2 centre (20,000 capacity) with the normal circuit venues (between 30 and 100 people usually) it may explain the sense of stunnedness that some of them had.  Not performance-affecting, just an awe thing.

For me the standout highlight acts of the evening were Rich Hall and Bill Bailey.  Rich Hall carried his curmudgeonly bewildered force of personality thing into the space, hounding the audience with the ludicrousness of America and offering an unspoken cry of “why does it all have to be so damn stupid and difficult?”.

Bill Bailey looked as if he was going to reprise one of his old standby pieces, but then took us off in a slightly different and hilarious direction (with the help of The Actor Kevin Eldon) with a Kraftwerk-esque rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  Makes sense I guess, as everyone else in the world seems to have done a cover of it.

The night didn’t have a single compere, but rather the compering duties were busted up between Alan Carr, Jonathon Ross, Rob Brydon, Jack Dee, and David Mitchell – who each introduced a brace of 4 or 5 acts.  I find Carr completely pointless, Brydon very funny and capable, Dee excellently disparaging yet respectful where it’s needed, and Mitchell’s just an all-round legend.  He pondered at one point what he’d been included on the bill for, as he’s not a standup comic, and mused on the need to inject a sense of middle-class respectability into such an event.  Ross I don’t usually rate at all and find generally self-obsessed and puerile, however he made me laugh quite a lot when he spontaneously decided to get a world record for the largest number of people shouting the “C word”, by instructing the capacity crowd of the O2 to do at his count of 3.  I suspect a goodly number of them abstained, but it would have been an impressive thing to have captured a recording of.

The headliner of the night was perplexingly popular physical observational comic Lee Evans, and when he took stage I wondered if the crowd had mistaken him for Barack Obama, or something – the roar was deafening.  Evans was allotted far longer than the other acts, performing a mimed musical-sync piece featuring a jazz trio, then an energetic but quite ordinary observational set, and finishing with a comedy-choreographed mime to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody.  What I don’t get is why there were people crying with laughter at any of this.  The standup material was inconsequential 90’s-style “have you ever noticed how” stuff, distinguished only by Evans’ constant mugging and contorting to punctuate each joke – presumably the punters felt at ease as it meant they didn’t have to think about when they were meant to laugh?  The Bohemian Rhapsody thing was ok I guess – you know the score: making a series of unlikely or rude mimes to fit with each word of the song in an predictably hilarious manner.

Thankfully, it finished.

Following that, and the inevitable standing ovation, Evans was presented by Jack Dee with some kind of Channel 4 comedy award, which Evans then attempted to auction off to the crowd in an attempt to raise more money for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

If you’re interested in watching the gala, there are DVDs available, or you could just scour Youtube for it, as judging by the near-constant sea of glowing screens I think pretty much the entire thing was captured on mobile phones.

Having more or less resolved never to buy another ticket to a charity comedy gig, just today I’ve picked up a ticket for Reprieve’s 2010 comedy fundraiser.  And it looks totally, totally awesome.

This ain’t no Hank Williams song…

Buying a ticket to see German industrial hard rockers Rammstein seemed like a good idea at the time, and then afterwards I started to have a few hesitations, as the fans give over a certain image being a fairly hard & intense crowd, and though I’ve survived Iron Maiden and Prodigy gigs before, I really started to wonder whether this might be a bit “next level”.

Turns out it was, but for entirely different reasons.

As it happened, I didn’t find a taker for my second ticket, so I did some neat dealing with Brett the Dodgy Aussie and found myself perched in an excellent spot in the upstairs seated section.  Of course it meant having to catch up with Brettles, but I figured it’d only be for an hour or so before the gig, so it wasn’t too much of an imposition…
The gig was one massive spectacle from end to end – the band’s entry on to the stage had suggestions of Pink Floyd’s The Wall concert about it, although by way of extra-mile, singer Till Lindemann’s entrance involved cutting through a metal plate with a gas axe.  I’m aware that this band’s genre is sometimes described as “industrial” – they out industrialled industry here.  Well, other than metalworking industries.  They probably get it all the time.

The music was – as expected – all in German, meaning that I didn’t have much idea what was specifically being sung about for a large part of the night.  My german language skills are useful for ordering 3 beers and asking where the frog throwing competition is, but that’s about the extent of it.  Even without the benefit of linguistic comprehension though, you could tell that whatever they were on about, they really meant it.  Till’s standard position was in a sort of wide stance at the front of stage, where he’d rhythmically pound his fist against his thigh and whip his head from side to side.

Another thing I’d been forewarned about was the excellence and calibre of “the show” – it’s often a comment made about concerts, and I think my earliest memory of being aware of this was listening to Orge & Spiro talking about how amazing the Michael Jackson gig they went to was all the way back in high school.  One of the components of “the show” sometimes mentioned is fireworks – this is something which I’d yet to be overwhelmed by.  We had jets of flame shooting into the air at the Roger Waters gig in Hyde Park, but it all seemed a little peripheral… I can’t recall being that excited by anything on stage, and it never seemed to amount to much more than a few flashpots of varying sizes.  But then along came Rammstein.

Oh.  Mein.  Gott.

It would be safe to say without fear of contradiction: these guys don’t f*ck about.

The brutish pounding music continued awesomely and a range of visual spectacle took place – and just when it seemed they couldn’t go any further over the top, they did.  The catchy little summertime hit “Feuer Frei!” was accompanied with the band donning cone-shaped masks, and then belching plumes of flame into the air.  And from our vantage point, I was able to capture it quite well, I thought:


What was especially cool was that they kept playing throughout.

Further mad stuff took place, including exploding babies with green lasers coming out of their eyes, and the bit with the bathtub.  Probably the bit which I found most memorable though was Benzin.

Fairly clearly, it was something to do with petrol.  Again, not sure what.  However it didn’t seem to much of a stretch of comprehension that given their demonstrated affection for fire, and a song about petrol, that their might be some sort of symbolic interplay between the two.  As predicted, Till took hold of the petrol pump on stage and it transpired that it was in fact a stylised flamethrower.  I wasn’t expecting the next bit though:

You wouldn’t get that at a Roger Waters gig.  Probably just as well, given his temprament.

There’s only so much one can write about a gig at which one doesn’t really understand the content, however I can say with certainty that it was relentlessly and continuously awesome.  The weird stuff didn’t cease, with the expected rendition of chart hit “Du Hast“, and a finale of Till sitting astride a giant foam cannon and coating the front quarter of the auditorium with a blanket of the stuff.  Oh, and filling the front of the venue with tickertape confetti.  But still the crowd cheered, and in the landmark bit of band/crowd interaction I’ve yet seen, Kristian the keyboardist boarded a rubber dinghy & crowdsurfed his way around Wembley Arena!

In honesty I’d have been happy with that lot, but the teutonic marauders weren’t done with us yet, and amid a smoke-filled stage Lindemann appeared wearing a massive set of metallic angel wings and launched into another song, filling the venue with his sonorous baritone.  But being Rammstein wings, they naturally came fitted with jets of flame that shot out of the tips.

Some gigs you come away from thinking “Was that really worth £40?”.  This was not one of them.  Just brilliant.  And again – no idea what half of it meant, although I’ve got the impression that they’re not the hard & serious maniacs I’d taken them for initially.  Whilst not trying to be silly, I’m led to believe that they’re using a particularly German type of humour, and their songs often contain clever wordplay.  Really angry sounding wordplay.  So, maybe before the next tour they do I’ll have to get some language lessons in, eh?

(The rest of my photos are in my Rammstein Flickr Gallery and there’s a couple more videos on my Youtube Channel – although if I’d had any idea what was gonna go down I might’ve cleared my memory card off beforehand.  Then again, it’d be nice just to watch the gig, too.)

A weekend of old angry white males

Every now and again a weekend comes up which culminates in an almost shellshocked feeling of “Wow, how lucky am I?!”.  And the 15th was the beginning of just such a weekend, because it started with a chance to see marathon-talking & epically curious global documenter Henry Rollins at Royal Festival Hall.

I’ve been lucky enough to catch Rollins’ spoken word shows a couple of times in the past, and this time was every bit as engaging & inspiring.  He’s famous for being a hard punk powerhouse, but as he’s aged, learned more, met people and seen more of the world he’s grown to be very interested in what different countries are like – especially distrusting the picture painted of many of these countries by the US media.  In his own words, he sees the map of the world as a thing that taunts him, with each country he’s not yet been to wheedling and sneering at him – and so if his media or government say “The people there hate us”, or “This region is highly dangerous”, or even just “You shouldn’t go there”, he’ll usually book a trip there to find out for himself what it’s like.

On this occasion he took us on quite a voyage – starting in the US and focussing on politics and social change (and active lack of change) there – first to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, then to Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhopal in India.

The Riyadh leg of the trip involved spending time with the sons of one of the Arab world’s richest men, and seeing how they live.  Importantly, Henry remained non-judgemental about the excess and opulence of the man’s lifestyle, and noted that the man & his brothers don’t live the way they do as a way of proving anything to anybody, or to reward themselves with anything – but mainly because that’s just how life is for them.  This included driving around like maniacs in the man’s fleet of ludicrously expensive & powerful hand-finished sports cars, and visiting the family palace compound.  Rollins also took the opportunity to ask questions of many of the people he met and try to understand Sharia law, as well as learning how young people live within the opressive constraints of that system.

In Sri Lanka he spent time in the mountains in the home of a friend of a friend, listened to Sri Lankan death metal with the man’s son, and introduced the boy to the music of the West – particularly Iggy & The Stooges.

Cambodia meant a visit to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, to try to understand the extent of what went on there and how the people are subsequently dealing with the leftover physical, emotional and cultural remains from that time.

Bangladesh is home to the Karail Slum, which Henry walked around for 2 days to see how the people live, and how they’ve adjusted their lives to survive – all the time taking note & contrasting it with life in the US and the developed West.

He visited Bhopal on the 25th anniversary of the gas leak at the Union Carbide plant which killed thousands of people, and continues to affect the health of those living in the area.  This involved observing the annual parade & effigy burning that takes place in front of the plant, and also climbing a fence to get into the plant & taking photos (avoiding security guards all the way).

There was so, so much more to the stories, and somewhere in there he also managed to flip the finger at Burmese dictator General Than Shwe through the window of his limousine.  And spent Thanksgiving with William Shatner.

As I said – listening to Rollins is an epic journey every time.  He walks out on stage, wraps the mike lead around his hand, and goes for it (I think this time for about 2.5 hours of interval-free content onslaught) – and upon ceasing he unwraps the cable, puts the mike back on the stand, waves, and departs.  It’s not a full-on, heavy night of listening to tales of hardship – I find his manner serves to inspire curiosity about the world and what might be out there beyond the borders of our safe suburban lives.  The minute he walked off stage I felt like jumping up & booking that trip on the Trans-Siberian Express that I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years.

The only thing wrong with Rollins, as far as I’m concerned, is that he’s so busy working & experiencing things that he doesn’t get to visit more often.

Sunday night found me in the sights of another of the world’s great raconteurs: Billy Connolly.

Again, I’m lucky enough to have seen him a few times now (most recently, London in 2004), and though his material’s changed a lot even in the last 15 years, I think he’s still on top of his game.

Sporting the sort of highly-tasteful attire that makes me green with envy (I never did have that teatowel suit made up…) the beardy Glaswegian kept us enthralled with tale after tale from his extensive repertoire, including a piece about a concert he did in Ireland at the Gaiety Theatre involving “a big tweedy beetroot of a man”, which he led into at the top of the show and didn’t finish until several tangential wanderings later.

(By the way, I nicked the photo above from someone else’s Flickr page – chief reason being that my camera battery was flat, and the best my iPhone could come up with was this)

A Connolly show these days contains pretty much the same type of thing it always did – stories from touring and travelling that have made him laugh, jokes (both old & borrowed from other comedians – always referenced though), the occasional polemic rant about politicians and technology, memories from his working-class childhood & his apprenticeship years, and various opinion and observational pieces.

In years gone by I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve had the chance to see Billy more than once on the same tour (a practice I’ve continued recently with other “wandering” comics, such as Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard), and one thing which endears him greatly to me is that he doesn’t really construct a “set”, so much as have a ticklist of topics he wants to cover at some juncture, and the journey between them gets filled with wherever his brain and the crowd take him.  And as his mind wanders he’ll often remember something which he hasn’t thought of in a while, or think up a new joke, and double over with laughter on stage.  I absolutely love this.

Quite often the stories & jokes may not even have a punchline – it doesn’t seem to matter; one can’t help but get caught up in the wave of enthusiasm & having a good time that eminates from the man.

One thing which has had me giggling a few times since hearing it was a story he told about overhearing a show on Radio 4 about a Peruvian tribe called the Wancas (also called Huancas), and how he nearly fell over laughing in the shower at the thought of the alternative to the oft-heard refrain “My family is descended from the Inca bloodlines”: “I come from a long line of Huancas”.

And finishing up the trifecta, Stewart Lee and his latest show: If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One.

Lee is probably a bit more of an acquired taste than the other two – I remember being distinctly underwhelmed the first time I saw him, but then it was a bit of a crap gig altogether that night.  He’s since risen into my list of favourite circuit comics and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him about half a dozen times in the last year.

He uses repetition of phrases particularly artfully, and combined with a deadpan sardonic delivery & some hyperbole can elevate a situation from a fairly pedestrian observation into an absurd caricature of reality, and then snap you back down to earth for laughing at it when it’s obviously not real.  Sometimes it can feel like he’s treading a fine line between delivering material and actually having a go at the audience, but having seen him a few times now it’s clear that he really knows what he’s doing.  From the outset he had us on the back foot: “it’s great to have such a big Monday night crowd in… a Monday night in the extra dates we put on to the run – a run to which you people clearly didn’t initially feel enthusiastic about paying to come and see”.

This show, which Lee performed in Edinburgh in 2009, made news headlines because of a routine he does about Top Gear’s Richard Hammond, and how he wished that “The Hamster” had died in that car crash.  I guess widespread hysterical press-time often results from hysterical reporting of out of context facts, and it was quite clear that the Top Gear related part of the show was pretty much like the rest of the show – an absurd yet biting & satirical piece.

I’m definitely looking forward to another chance to see Stewart Lee.

Hello Possums!

Yet another one of those rare opportunities that crop up as a result of living here: on Tuesday night Paul, HC & I were fortunate enough to attend “The Last Night Of The Poms” at the Royal Albert Hall – a concert featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, and starring Housewife Gigastar Dame Edna Everage, and Australia’s former cultural attaché to the Court of St James’s, and now Chairperson of the Australian Chapter of the International Cheese Board: Sir Les Patterson.

Roundly panned by newspaper critics, I have to say I enjoyed it massively – however my expectations were less for a cohesive comedy end-to-end experience, and more a chance to see the legendary performance skills up close.

Dr Sir Lesley Colin Patterson was, as you would expect, utterly vile – the silver-haired ruddy-faced rotund statesman taking stage with anonymous brown stains on his white-tie waistcoat, and leaving no doubt whatsoever to the extent of his trouseral-endowment.  As he spoke and hit hard ‘p’ consonants, spit would issue forth into the front few rows, looking a lot like the sea crashing against a rocky outcrop, and he’d leer suggestively at people, with his yellow dentures forming a kind of miniature jaundiced Stonehenge-of-the-mouth.  There was nothing subtle about his manner, talking of budgie smugglers, trips to Bangkok and adventures in the nearby rub&tug shop, and some delightful spur-of-the-moment behaviour (some punters walked in late, and he accosted one asking “Where are you from?  Windsor?  Get stuck on the motorway did we?  I’ve come from Australia.  And I managed to fucking make it on time!”).  I was awed by the fact that the room was packed to the rafters with middle-England, and here was this odious man spewing grossness & profanity, yet they were lapping it up!  I wanted to see how far he’d push his luck, and push it he did – without giving away a hint of self-awareness of any boundaries.  Breathtaking.  He seemed to have marked a woman in near the front as a casual target, at one time remarking “The last time I saw a face like that, it had a hook in it”.  Whilst remarking on how busy he’d been lately, he offered “I’ve been as busy as a one-armed taxi driver with crabs”.

The bulk of the first half was Sir Les narrating an orchestral piece, entitled “Peter and the Shark”.  A sort of ockerised tale ostensibly for kids but given the Patterson treatment, with instrumental interludes representing each character.  Oh man, some of the female violinists looked less than impressed when Les started lurching in their direction.  During the long expanses of music where Les wasn’t narrating he would glance around the auditorium, leering, panting, occasionally adjusting his tackle with a wince…  ever present.

At the conclusion of the piece he acknowledged the choir, who as yet hadn’t sung a note, with an avuncular “Look at that choir, eh?  Don’t they look lovely, all sitting there…  ‘course they’ve done fuck all so far…”.  Leaving the stage you could sense a palpable exhalation from the now near-sodden front rows.

The second half saw Les replaced with his diametric opposite, Dame Edna Everage.  I wasn’t going to take any photos, however such was her presence that I couldn’t help myself.  You knew you were in the company of an icon.


She similarly engaged the crowd in what she described as “not so much a show, as a conversation – where one of the people involved is vastly more interesting than the other”.  Again, the routine was incisive and quite sharp, and her spur-of-the-moment banter left no doubt that her wit is every bit as crippling as it was when she first burst into the entertainment scene 50-odd years ago.

Again the orchestra provided a musical backdrop – this time a cantata of Australiana, with some absolutely appalling lyrics injected by Edna in her unmistakeable alto.  At one point she rhymed “peculiar” with “Imbruglia”, during a little number about all the wonderful Australian celebrities making the world a better place: turgid, and magical.

In the obligatory encore, despite the increasing number of punters making good their exit, she distributed armloads of gladioli one by one into the crowd, soliloquising to nobody in particular all the time – even in the face of there being far more gladdy’s to distribute than she was anticipating.  Eventually casting great bundles of them into the stalls, she mused, “I always like to do this.  I do.  And I’ll tell you why.  It’s because… Actually I never did figure out why I do this”.  And with the foliage now disseminated she led us in a standing chorus of the anthemic “Why Do We Love Australia?” (I couldn’t stop giggling at “it costs so much to go there / there’s nobody we know there”), before departing with a quasi-regal wave.

Yes, general consensus is that the evening was overly long, self-indulgent, frequently tedious, and not a top-notch comedy spectacular.  Given though that the only person who’s ever been able to make an orchestra sustainably amusing for an entire concert is Prof. Peter Schickele, it seems a bit much to have that expectation of this.  For what it was, I have to say I enjoyed it immensely, and was very glad to have had the chance to be there.

We 4 at U2

Went & saw U2 on Friday night (the other week… 14th, I think it was) out at the London Cathedral to Football: Wembley Stadium.  I’d never been to a U2 gig before.

I think it’s fair to say that it was massively frigging impressive.

They’re not a band that I’ve ever been fanatical about, however they are of course – like Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, etc. – one of the “big acts” of my lifetime, and them playing 2 nights at Wembley Stadium gave me a 1 in 196,000 chance of being able ot tick this particular box.  I had seen them at Live 8 (way back in 2005) initially acting as Paul McCartney’s backing band, but they only got out about 3 songs on that occasion, and we were miles back from the stage – this time we’d crept substantially further forward.  And thanks to the near-pervy zoom on my Panasonic Lumix TZ5 the photos didn’t all suck!

The first part of the gig was a little nondescript as far as I was concerned – Dave later told me this was because they were mainly running through the new album, which he described as being a bit pants by their standards.  All I could really think of (other than sniggering at the “no cameras allowed” sign at the entry doors, as the crowd twinkled away with myriad flashes) was Bill Bailey’s routine about a massive technical failure at a U2 gig:

Thankfully it was all visually brilliant enough to carry me through disinterest, and the wave of crowd worship seeded the great chamber with the feeling that irrespective of what happened (short of an Oasis-style cancellation) this was to be counted as an epic concert moment.

One of the things that impressed me most was the circular videoscreen which they had at the top of the stage.  By the look of all the crossbracing on the back of it I was pretty certain that this was going to be a majorly non-standard piece of kit.  Definitely not the sort of thing you’d get off the rack at Dixon’s.

Sure enough, the screen cantelevered out into a massive coneshaped structure panelled with little video lozenges, and all assembled thought: “Whoa.”

The second act of the gig was a whistlestop tour of some of their big numbers.  But lets face it: a band of this profile doesn’t really have much in the way of “lesser-known” material, does it?  It was lots of fun, punctuated occasionally by me wondering whereabouts the “second band under the stage” was that Paul the Dodgy Aussie had insisted was there.

I’ve no shame in saying that a bit of a shiver ran up my spine when they played “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – Rattle & Hum being the first U2 album I ever really knew about, all the way back then in 1988.

After the obligatory couple of encores and the predictable bit of Bono’s political grandstanding (connected with the ongoing house arrest of Burmese democracy campainger Aung San Suu Kyi), the final final encore had Bono taking the stage wearing a suit bedecked with lasers, singing into a top-suspended mike, and the crowd going mental.  I swear I thought he was gonna swing out over the audience on that thing.

No, you’re right: I haven’t really said much about the songs, because I don’t really know that many of them.  Well I guess I do.  Where the Streets Have No Name, One, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Mysterious Ways, With Or Without You, Pride In The Name Of Love… they were all in there.  As I said, odd to think that you could go along having not paid much attention to a band for 20 years and yet still know most of the material they used in a gig.

Equally as impressive as the gig itself, I thought, was the way that Wembley Stadium can divest itself of a crowd of 88,000 people in such an orderly manner.  Descending the ramp onto Olympic Way back toward the tube station the sight was verging on the Epic end of the scale – a massive sea of humanity stretching out into the distance… a distance in which you somehow knew that there was lots of argy-bargy and cramming taking place in a tube station, somewhere.

A splendid gig, which I enjoyed immensely – Flickr gallery round about here.  Massive thanks to Minty & Siany for the patience and classy company, and to Dave for same + extra props for scoring the ticket in the first place, and being honest enough to not let me pay you for it twice.

Edit: Look, a setlist. I assume this is accurate.

Guitarchuckers Inc.

Quickish gig review – on Wednesday night Libby, Owen, Belinda, Tom, Brett, Rachel, The Puzzler, Pamela and I all braved the rigours of travelling south of the river to visit the O2 dome-thing for the farewell concert of industrial rocker legends Nine Inch Nails.  Admittedly we didn’t brave it all together, and even if we had done it would have been a bit futile because we were spread all over the shop.  Probably just as well, cos you couldn’t really talk to each other during the gig (and why would you want to?), and spreading out meant not having to buy as many of the arse-openingly overpriced beers in a round (£4.30 for a pint of Beck’s Vier – I mean, SERIOUSLY?).

“He hasn’t said much about the gig yet, has he?”

“No, but I’m sure he’ll get to it shortly…”

You’d be wrong for thinking that.  See, as enthusiastic as I am about NIN’s work, I’m not terribly au-fait with the ins & outs of their catalogue, so I could only recognise a handful of songs, at best.  But that didn’t stop me enjoying myself immensely.

Thanks to a textbook piece of British Queueing Design we only managed to gain entrance to the arena for the final 2 songs of support act Jane’s Addiction’s set – the first being the only song of theirs that I know, because my brother had it on the soundtrack of his skydiving video.  They seemed to play well enough, although I overheard more than one ambivalent punter remarking that the only reason they’d been invited on the tour was because Trent Reznor really wanted to call it the NIN/JA tour.  Following the set the house lights came back up and the punters charged to the back of the room towards the bar, giving Libby, Owen & I a chance to creep forward and set ourselves up on top of the cable-ducting speedhump coming out of the mixing desk, giving us a slightly improved view of things.

Following a bit of milling, chatting and drinking, someone on stage hit a drum, and then again, and it turned into a regularlish drum beat, and then with the houselights still up Reznor surged onto stage launching into Now I’m Nothing, much to the surprise of all involved.  He concluded, as the houselights faded, with what I can only describe as the most awesome guitar-hurl I’ve ever seen.  It was just like “song’s over, don’t need THIS fuckin’ thing!”, and throws it in an arc to the back of stage as he prowls back to the drumline.  Awesome.

I was rapt from one end of the gig to the other, making up for all of those gigs I’ve experimentally been to and not knowing whether it was the music that sucked or just me getting jaded (e.g. Velvet Revolver, Tool, Wolfmother), however this was grunty awesomeness from soup to nuts, and I loved every note of it.  As my camera can take video footage (albeit with abysmally shitful sound) I felt I ought to capture a big of the gig, however I didn’t really know this song in particular.  So here’s this, anyway.

Opting to bring on the musically influential special guest during the set, Reznor announced that he was being joined by Gary Numan.  Initially I had Randy Newman in my brain, and couldn’t quite see how “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”, or “Burn On” was going to fit into this musical genre, but it turned out I had the wrong dude, and Numan belted out a couple of songs – one which I did recognise – which seemingly did fit into this genre.

In the twilight moments of the gig they got out Head Like A Hole, storming it like it was the first song of the night and they were still fresh: only belied by the sweat flying in all directions and the frothed up crowd.  Of course you can’t let a crowd that excited out onto the streets of London without a permit, so masterfully bringing it back a notch the evening finished with Hurt.

And that was it.  Gig done, no encore, lights up.  And not a single person left feeling like they needed one.  Brilliant gig, perhaps one of the best.  Photos here.

Hankywaving and kickarse swamp rock

What a weekend!  This year saw the 75th anniversary of The Morris Ring, celebrated at the Thaxted Ring Meeting (I know, the what?!), and once again the Westminster Morris Men were honoured to participate.  What this translates into for our young hero is a weekend absolutely jam-packed with dancing, beer sampling, travelling around Essex, watching other people dance, singing in pubs, listening to top-class folk music being played in the same pubs in an effort to drown out some of the less-good singing, and generally having a mad and slightly surreal time.

I managed to capture a bit of video footage on my little camera, and upon returning home & reviewing it I’ve got to say – I was pretty darn impressed with the following dance which the lads did at the lunch stop on our tour.

The dance is one that was written by an old member of the team, and it’s called “Loveless” – named after Father Ken Loveless, a longtime friend and supporter of the team, and a much loved figure in morris dancing circles.  It’s in the style of the village of Longborough – you can tell that by the way it starts with those “shufflebacks”, and by the way that the hankies are waved in the air in a horizontal inward-circle.  Bloody lovely bit of dancing that!

(we have more dancey goodness on YouTube, including the occasional dance featuring yours truly)

Now, most normal & sensible people would have taken a weekend-long dance festivity and said “Good, that’ll do for me!”, however can anyone guess which pillock thought “Hmm, chances are we’ll be back in London by about 5pm, so there’s no earthly reason NOT to book in a concert for later that night!”?


Lynyrd Skynyrd are one of those bands who have been around since time began, and near as I could tell the reasons for seeing them would be:

  1. Being a mad keen die hard fan.
  2. It’s a box-ticking exercise.

For me it was definitely the latter – essentially, it was an idea floated by Gig Chris a while back, and I thought “Yeah, why not”.  The only songs I knew being the ubiquitous “Sweet Home Alabama”, and the title of rock-gig encore in-joke staple, “Free Bird”.  As I handed over my £45, I thought to myself “Hang on, this is a frigging expensive exercise!?”, but by that point it was far too late.  And OH.  MY.  GOD.  Am I glad I went!


Suddenly it became obvious why these people are die-hard fans.  There’s something about southern blues-rock that just works and makes you want to holler whenever they dang well tell you to.  I thought perhaps the confederate flags in the crowd were a little bit too far (London not historically being a massive active supporter of the Confederacy), but otherwise I found that there was “something to it”, in a way that I didn’t get with the Hollywood Rock Posturing I got at Velvet Revolver.  I wouldn’t have said the blues influence on Skynyrd was quite as obvious as with Led Zeppelin, but damn… those boys can play!

In hindsight my skepticism was in part due to the knowledge that of the original lineup, only 2 band members were currently alive – along with the younger brother of the lead singer following the famous plane crash… and since booking the tickets in December or January we’d read about 2 more band member deaths.  Absolutely nothing to worry about though, as the 7 piece nailed every single song, of course finishing with “Sweet Home”, and then disappearing briefly before coming back for the inevitable encore.  Van Zant reappeared on stage and in mock-enquiry addressed the crowd: “So, is there anything else y’all wanna hear?”, and the crowd responded in unison – “PLAY FREE BIRD!”.  So they did.  For a good ten minutes solid.

Yes siree, much more than a box-ticker.

Firestarters must breathe my bitch up.

Review of The Prodigy at Wembley Arena:  Quite good.

Photo mercilessly borrowed from somewhere. There was no way *I* was gonna get that close...

Photo mercilessly borrowed from somewhere. There was no way *I* was gonna get that close...

Slightly more informative review: Given that going to see an electronic rock/breakbeats act warrants more than a series of complaints about the length of the queue to get in, it seemed relevant to at least remark on the fact it ever took place.

Housemate James & I made our way out to the former swimming pool, and after an hour and 15 minutes of queueing found ourselves inside the venue on the arena floor, just in time to miss nearly the entire set by warmup Dizzee Rascal.  And those are the most emotionally charged words you’re ever gonna read from me on that topic.

I could tell as soon as we got in there that this gig wasn’t gonna be a high beer-consumption evening.  The tipoffs were firstly that I was there with James, who believes he’s allergic to alcohol and fish.  Secondly, the number of people holding glowsticks indicated that the crowd at this gig wasn’t likely to be reliant on beer for their giggles.  Thirdly, the density of people per square metre meant that getting to and from the bar would prove complicated.  Fourthly, the ridiculous system the venue had devised to stop seated ticketholders reaching arena level was to only have one door open to enter the arena, meaning that were I to fight my way out for a beer, it would mean another 20 minutes of queueing to get back in – during which time I’d have drunk most of that beer.  But I suppose the most obvious clue, clearly supporting Secondly, was that every 20 minutes or so a man would belligerently push his way transversely across the venue shouting “Pills? Pills? Pills?” to anyone in the locale.

So one hugely obvious thing about The Prodigy is the amount of bass they crank out.  Heaving, seriously.  Like, making all your armhairs vibrate and tickle a bit.  Not that that was a problem for long, as the amount of sweat in the air soon stuck them down.  But still – Wow.  Visually it was extremely impressive as well, with a sort of developing visual thing going on – to start with there were spotlights, then there were more lights, then there were big pairs of lights above the main lot that looked a bit like cartoon eyes.  Then there were horizontal stripes, a bit Knight Rider-esque.  Then there were vertical strips.  Then the back opened up to reveal a monochrome screen, which went on to actually become coloured.  Exceptional!

As with my foray into this arena with The Chemical Brothers back in 2005, it was a bit unusual being the only one in the venue looking around wondering if there wasn’t a place I could get a nice cold Guinness.  There was one bloke who must’ve seen my plaintive look and came over saying “Anything? I can get you anything at all…”, but he didn’t appear to have a refrigerant system about his person.  He went on to shout “Pills?” at us some more, so I suspect his market research had only prepared him for one response to the question “Anything?”.  So because I was in-the-room it struck me that The Prodigy are a little limited lyrically.  “Firestarter” seems a veritable Odyssey compared to many of their other offerings.  “Breathe” features about 17 words, whereas the crowd-popular “The Horns of Jericho” appeared only to comprise the titular 4 words.  “Voodoo People” was a fraction repetitive, but taking the biscuit was the ambivalently reacted to “Comanche” – there appeared to be only one lyric to that, of three syllables.  Any guesses?

It’s a bit cheeky of me to complain about songs not having many lyrics, given that when songs *do* have lyrics I either tend to ignore them or not understand them, preferring to get into the tune more than anything.  For some reason this was an exception – whether it was because of the dearth of lyrics or melody, or because I was getting tired of Maxim shouting at us.  He seemed content with trying to involve the audience by addressing us as “My party people” (that was the people in the seats), “My warriors” (the people on arena floor), and occasionally, “My London people” (both groups): after identifying which group was being addressed he’d instruct us to jump up and down, or put our arms in the air… this seemed a bit of a no brainer, as 80% of the punters were already doing at least one of these things.  Whether he was already compensating for a reduced list of possible responses and only limiting his instructions to those things is hard to say.  James and I, of course, did neither of these things – no sense in contributing to any Messianic feeling the guy was already getting by having almost 12000 people following his instructions.

As already mentioned the setlist was a mix of old Top 40 favourites and new stuff from the recent album, Invaders Must Die.  The eponymous song from that was full of the sort of lyrical wizardry we’ve come to expect by now, and though the visuals suggested arcade games as the theme, the section of crowd I was in started to grow disturbingly BNP: loads of bare-torsoed skinheaded blokes pumped up with adrenaline and shouting “INVADERS MUST DIE”, with looks on their faces suggesting that any invaders in the area would be advised to keep a low profile.  “Breathe” came out very early in the set, as did “Firestarter” – leaving one wondering what they’d stick in the inevitable encore.  The main set finished with the fairly forgettable “Comanche”, which seemed almost devoid of crowd reaction other than the now constant jumping up and down.  “Smack My Bitch Up” turned out to be the closer for the evening, and with that thought dancing around our minds we were poured out into the chilly evening air for the pilgrimage back to Wembley Park Station.  The tube train back must’ve looked to an outsider like some kind of obscene phonecaller’s convention, as nearly every window was steamed up due to the litres of sweat still pouring out of those punters.

Well at least it was worth a look at.  As I said earlier, it was quite good.

Laugh at the funny comedians, ha ha

The last 2 nights have seen me at a couple of comedy sessions – as usual, a testimony to my alertness & awareness…  I was mainly looking for an opportunity to see Daniel Kitson without having to trek out into the middle of nowhere, and both gigs turned out to be multi-comic showcases of which Kitson was but a small part.  Thankfully, both nights were excellent – one was a fundraiser for mental health charity MIND, and the other was a new club night at Proud Gallery, “The Invisible Dot Club”: the themes of which were Love, God, and Evolution.

As I’m pressed a bit for time I thought I’d summarise the comics in alphabetical order:

  • Arthur Smith – normally an old(er)-school one-liner & absurdist, tonight he read a passage from his memoirs – specifically concerned with growing up living next to a bomb site during WWII and learning of the fragility of life.  Quite well-expressed, and quite amusing, but I’m not sure it was altogether well-positioned in this set.
  • Charlie Baker – West Country Jack Black lookalike Baker was the compere of the MIND gig, and a top job he did of it too…  a compere’s job is a tricky one, for keeping the audience warmed up is difficult amid a blotchy field, but in the case of this gig he had to push hard to match the quality of the acts he was bookending.
  • Daniel Kitson – prosaic demigod Kitson (I’m never gonna refer to him as a god, am I – I’m an atheist, and his ego doesn’t really need the stroking) was the only common feature of both nights, working on the same routine about ordinarily socially unacceptable utterances being commonplace but causing grief when taken out of context.  Ironically, his set on Monday night commenced with him getting involved in a tussle with a bloke who had used his mobile phone to film the first part of the gig: much of which, if taken out of context and in isolation, would probably earn him the exact type of public backlash to which his set referred.  Obviously work in progress, but even then he had the room totally on his side as he raced through the unfinished half of the routine in bullet point format.  I’m a bit biased when it comes to Kitson, but presently my favourite things are his newfound fondness for dishing out the epithet “dickbag”, and for beginning his gig at Proud Gallery by saying “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to carry on with doing a gig in here – I get the impression that ordinarily this is the sort of place that’s just packed full of c**ts”, with what I think was a wry smile playing across his beard.
  • James Sherwood – very clever grammatical deconstructions of song lyrics and a couple of really sharply crafted puns; would definitely go see him again.  Didn’t have the audience absolutely dying with laughter, but then he was the first one on after the compere.
  • Kevin Eldon – comic actor who turns up everywhere (except at the Orangutan benefit gig I was hoping to see him perform at last year), in character as globally conscious and socially aware poet Paul Hamilton.  I found myself quite transfixed by Eldon’s characterisation, as the character seemed three-dimensional enough to offer some depth and yet stereotype-based enough to give us laughter due to a sense of familiarity when he did something we could identify with.  I suppose the stark contrast is the sort of characterisation offered by people like Al Murray, who announce exactly where they’re going before the show even starts.  Eldon/Hamilton made me lost my bundle completely after announcing he was getting a real vibe of positivity and love from the audience, and was going to involve us in a poetic art happening, before collecting the names of a type of animal (aardvark), a subatomic particle (muon), a cheese (green cheese), a canal (Grand Union), and an abstract concept (ambivalence).  Then after a moment’s thought he returned to the microphone and said “No, that’s impossible”.
  • Paul Sinha – gay Bengali quiz enthusiast & former GP Paul Sinha embarked on a tidy set about prejudices, preconceptions and sporting commentators (it wasn’t the commentators who had the prejudices and preconceptions, to be clear – that was thick-necked suited thugs in South Norwood).  He won me over quite convincingly, as much for his comedy as his commitment to being interested in quizzes despite the mounting evidence that he’s no good at them.  He’s getting better.
  • Pippa Evans – in character as country & western singer and borderline psychopath Loretta Maine, she came across as fairly combative and necessarily obnoxious.  She hit her rhythm in the latter part of the set with a pretty good song written in a more or less bipolar manner.  She can definitely sing, I’ll give her that!
  • Simon Munnery – compere of the 2nd night, Munnery’s stuff was serviceable but didn’t blow me away.  Again, probably more a reflection on being surrounded by excellent comedians.  Some of his stuff fell a bit short of the mark – the surreal piece about having a co-presenter for the gig who was a punctured inflatable kangaroo with the face of Richard Dawkins stuck on it seemed to have a lot of the audience either confused or just not amused (although I think I maintained a healthy & enthusiastic giggle throughout).  Perhaps it was timing – I remember getting a little restless when he announced he was reading a poem, when we’d already had Kevin Eldon’s excellent poetry, Tim Minchin’s sublime beat poem, Arthur Smith finishing with a poem, and Tim Key the extremely surrealist poet further down the bill.
  • Stuart Goldsmith – Goldsmith’s got quite a youthful face, which kind of made me leap to similar conclusions to him as I did about Russell Howard: i.e. that he must be quite young & therefore new at this comedy lark.  Also, like Russell Howard, he seemed adept at couching his material in such a way that it seemed far more innocent than it actually was.  He was exceptional though – he did a tremendously fun piece about posh dogs (catalysed by overhearing a very posh man who had named his dog Martin).  Bonus points as well for dropping Daniel Kitson right in it: Goldsmith came out wearing the charity’s t-shirt, and said that it was important to provide visibility for the charity, and show that support in the form of wearing the shirt and getting exposure for the name, and that all the other comics should do the same.  He then added, “If Daniel Kitson comes out on stage and isn’t wearing the shirt, it’s because he thinks the mentally disabled are all pricks!”…  to which Kitson shouts from the wings “THAT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL PRICKS!”.  (Kitson later took the stage wearing a plain cardigan, which he shed to reveal the charity t-shirt, which turned out to be 8 layers of charity t-shirts which he shed continuously throughout his set in a weird sort of amelodic dance of 7 veils.
  • Tim Key – I’d seen surrealist poet Tim Key before once but he’s either dramatically improved or his poetry was massively augmented by having Tim Minchin noodling around on the keyboard to provide texture (and trying incredibly hard not to piss himself with laughter too much).  Key recited a few short poems on each of the gig’s 3 cornerstones (Love, God and Evolution), finishing up with a trilogy of works entitled “A List Of Animals I Could Fit Into”, “A List Of Animals I Could Almost Fit Into”, and finally “A List Of Animals I Could Not Fit Into”.  I seem to recall his poem on the topic of Love being short but excellent, and to try to describe it would more than likely result in more words than the 2 sentences it actually comprised of, and even then wouldn’t be nearly as well expressed.
  • Tim Minchin – Tim pulled out a couple of pieces from his current tour: an interesting idea on ecclesiastical hypocrisy in the form of a guitar-based singalong (clever idea but never seems to really take off), and then following up with his absolute masterpiece, the 9 minute beat poem about dinner party ideological conflict with an egocentric hippy, entitled Storm.  I think I’ve seen Minchin perform this live 4 times now, and listened to the recording about another 80 times, and it still strikes me as absolute brilliance.
  • Wil Hodgson – solid set from the pink-mohawked tattooed winner of the if.commedies “Best Newcomer Act”, although as the piece largely hinged around the socialogical lynchpin of the behaviour of skinheads I suspect he lost the crowd a little.  He seemed a little nervous, as if to make himself more reliant on being a human non-sequitur, like by being a skinhead and coming from quite a hard environment and at the same time saying that his passion was collecting Care Bears and My Little Ponies.

All excellent comics though – I’d happily go see all of them again.  Not 100% sold on Proud Gallery as a comedy venue (at one point I think I expressed concern to Hannah that the excess moisture in the air due to the packed punters perspiring might be detrimental to the photographs being exhibited), but if you were to compare the two evenings the first one would get the points anyway because a nice lady bought me a glass of red wine to say thankyou for getting the barman’s attention for her during the great gladiatorial hustle of intermission.

Scalar extremities

Ordinarily being beaten to the punch on a piece of commentary would probably render me apathetic enough to let it go through to the keeper, however this one’s worth throwing in just because it crinkles my brain so much.

herbiehancockAt the beginning of the month some likeminded bold musical adventurers & I set forth to Barbican Hall to spend an evening in the presence of the amazing Herbie Hancock & associates.  In this case, Herbie’s associates were trumpet guru Terence Blanchard, expert harmonica wrangler Gregoire Maret, bass machine James Genus, drummer Kendrick Scott, and experimental guitar noodler Lionel Loueke.  Jazz always takes me away to another place, because after establishing how the song goes the players then hop & skip playfully around in the music – turning it into their own thing and occasionally giving you glimpses of it as reassurance that you’re still listening to the same song.  When you get six jazz dudes of this calibre together and slap a “jazz festival” banner on top of the gig the results can tend, however, towards the brain-hurty end of the scale.  Certainly much of the material hovered outside of the comfort zone area – Loueke’s epic piece “Seventeens” being an obvious candidate, in a 17 beat time signature… hard enough to follow at the best of times, but while you’ve got jazz heavies freestyling in & around it as well – the description I gave Paul was that “listening to this is a bit like having your brain gently chewed on”.  It wasn’t all hard work of course – Cantaloupe Island was effortless & sexy, like a romantic poolside cuddle with your honey in the sun.  And as an encore Hancock cranked up the keytar for the most porno bassline ever, Chameleon.

By sheer stark contrast, the gig that signifcantly fewer of my musical aficionado mates attended with me the other Monday night was by Mike Patton’s “hobby” band, Fantômas.  Having watched this band do their thing, and subsequently listened to their albums on iTunes, I’m still at an absolute loss to describe what in the hell you’d call it.  Wikipedia suggests “avant garde metal”, and there was undeniably a metal element to it…  The band are all undoubtedly talented musicians, and I could tell that WHATEVER it was they were doing, they were really good at it.  I suspect I wasn’t supposed to be giggling quite as much as I was however.  Several of the earnest looking black-shirted gathering seemed to shift uncomfortably at Brett & my mirth surrounding the proceedings.  Whereas Herbie & co. chewed gently on your brain, this felt more like someone had sawn out a section of one’s skull, and was probing around between your brain hemispheres using a Peruvian Torch Cactus.  Bewildering stuff.

tigerlilliesThe 3rd leg of this tripod of musical wonderment arrived a couple of weeks later, in the form of a concert by The Tiger Lillies.  Seriously, I don’t know why I do this sort of thing to my ears.  The Tiger Lillies play some dark & twisted tunes, which sound like nursery rhymes from the deepest recesses of a mind that is a hybrid of Tim Burton and Klaus Kinski.  Instrumentation here was a combination of piano, bass, accordian, drums, and theremin – accompanied by Martyn Jacques’ unmistakable horrific falsetto/demonic grind, and a drugstore back alley Julian Clary-esque cabaret singer.  The concert was built around the story of Sinderella, the crack whore.  Sort of an anti-panto; definitely no happy ending.  Certainly not typical yuletide fare – Jacques’ catstrato car-alarm like voice shouting “Why do I enjoy to watch a rapist thrust? Occasionally I get a glimpse that I am really f*cked f*cked f*cked F*CKED F*CKED F*CKED F*CKED F*CKED F*CKED F*CKED F*CKED!”, scowling, and glaring odiously out of one leering eye.  If it seemed a little disjointed, Jacques’ response was that they only rehearsed it for 3 days

In summary, I think I should be banned from buying the tickets in future.

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