Concerts

Roskilde Festival Review: Johnny Marr, Cupcakke, Sydney Gish, Lankum, Robyn, Inna De Yard, July 5

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In recent years, Morrissey has continued his steady decline into becoming everyone’s weird, angry old uncle who posts dodgy videos online and has all the worst opinions about everything. In response to the most recent example of such behaviour on Moz’s part, Billy Bragg posted a lengthy Facbook post in response that, among many other points, asked the question of whether we can or should separate the singer from the song. It’s a valid point, and one that Smiths fans (including Bragg) have had to contend with for a good while now, but luckily there’s an easy enough way to sidestep that question somewhat and literally separate the singer from the song – go see Johnny Marr in concert.

Playing a Friday night show on Roskilde’s Arena stage, Marr played a mix of songs from his solo career alongside a few numbers from Electronic, his collaboration with Bernard Sumner, and a decent selection of Smiths songs with a solid cover of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You” thrown in for good measure. Highlights included “Easy Money”, “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and “How Soon Is Now” but of course the biggest crowd response came for the set closing rendition of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” which culminated in a mass singalong and which Marr dedicated to “everyone under this tent and no one fucking else.”

While Marr’s set was a definite highlight of the day and one of the highlights of the whole festival, there were many other highlights on the third day of the festival which illustrated the wide musical diversity seen in the lineup. Chicago rapper Cupcakke started the day off strong with a high energy set of her hilarious, clever and very, very filthy songs. To say her tunes are sexually explicit is putting it mildly but unless you’re easily offended, Cupcakke’s show is a must see. The crowd got quite into the spirit as well, with a few inflated condoms spotted being tossed around the crowd like beach balls and a couple of fans up front just waving cucumbers around in the air. “If you was a virgin,” said Cupcakke at the end of her show, “I don’t think you a virgin no more.”

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Next up was Sidney Gish, who proved to be just as clever a lyricist as Cupcakke while covering quite different subject matter and taking a much different approach to her music. Performing solo, the Boston based singer put on an entertaining show full of quirky indie rock tunes like “Sin Triangle” and “I’m Full Of Steak, and Cannot Dance” that was highlighted by some impressive guitar work throughout. Also impressive was Irish folk band Lankum’s performance, with the band running through both original compositions and traditional numbers with a focus on anti-war and anti-fascist tunes at times. The band scored some points with the crowd as well by singing a snippet of the one Danish protest song they knew, which one of them had seen sung at Danish protests and which roughly translated to “Middle finger, where are you? Here I am, here I am. G’day g’day g’day!” That they did this all while the booming bass of Ross From Friends’ performance reverberated from a nearby stage made it all the more impressive.

Of course one of the most anticipated sets of the entire festival was Robyn’s late night headlining set on the Orange stage that really got the crowd going. Once she launched into “Dancing On My Own” it was impossible to deny the power of that song. Robyn herself seemed a bit taken aback by the response she got when the crowd sang the chorus back to her en masse. It was a memorable moment and one that brought to mind a comment made by a member of Jamaican reggae group Inna De Yard earlier in the day: “This is my first time in Denmark and I must say – it’s full of love.”

It is indeed.



Roskilde Festival Review: Stella Donnelly, Sharon Van Etten, Søren Huss, Testament, July 4

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“Thank you for coming in here,” said Stella Donnelly at the outset of her early afternoon set on the Gloria Stage. “I was not expecting this many people and now I’m shitting my pants.”

While she may have been surprised and perhaps a bit intimidated by a larger crowd than expected, she ended up putting on a fantastic show regardless. In fact, her set ended up being the most memorable show out of the entire day’s lineup. Donnelly came across as charming and funny, both in her lyrics and her stage banter, while also dealing with serious issues in her songs. Highlights of her set included”You Owe Me,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” “Old Man” and “Seasons Greetings,” described by her as a song about spending Christmas Eve with racists. “Never done that intro before,” she added, wondering if it was perhaps a bit too harsh before ultimately deciding it was a “short and sweet” summation of the song. She ended things off by bringing her bandmates up to the front of the stage to sing along with her as she played a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” “I’ve got a special treat for you Roskilde,” she noted. “I’m gonna play it in tune. Didn’t do it at Glastonbury. Fuck ‘em.”

It’s not always the case that the first act up for the day ends up being the best thing you see all day, but it absolutely happened for me with Donnelly’s set on the most intimate stage at Roskilde. As it turns out, the intimate vibe and personal songwriting of Donnelly’s show set the tone for the day, with most of the best sets I saw coming from performers who could be classified as singer-songwriters.

Immediately after Donnelly, I wandered over to the Arena Stage to take in a set from Søren Huss, a well regarded Danish singer-songwriter best known for his time fronting ’90s Danish rock band Saybia. Of course, the fact that he sings in Danish and all his stage banter was in Danish meant I didn’t understand a damn word he said, but one doesn’t need to understand the language to appreciate the songcraft. Speaking of good songs, Sharon Van Etten’s got more than her fair share of those in her repertoire and she played a good number of them, from earlier numbers like “One Day” to newer songs like “Seventeen” and “Comeback Kid” off of her latest Remind Me Tomorrow. The most memorable moment in her set however, came in the form of someone else’s song – a cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds” that, as Van Etten pointed out, is sadly all too relevant today decades after it was first released.

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Of course my day wasn’t devoted entirely to singer-songwriters and one of the other highlights of the day came from the heavier end of the musical spectrum in the form of Testament’s thrash metal (not to be confused with Donnelly’s debut EP Thrush Metal). The Bay area thrashers ran through a fun set full of tracks from throughout their career, including “Practice What You Preach,” “Electric Crown” and “Low,” which, according to vocalist Chuck Billy, may have made its European live debut at this show. Since the band was playing on the 4th Of July, they played in front of a version of their logo that incorporated an American flag to acknowledge their country’s birthday. That wasn’t the only birthday being acknowledged during their show though – Billy also led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to the band’s tour manager Nick.

And while we’re on the topic of birthdays, here’s a gift for everyone, even if it’s not your birthday: a video of Stella Donnelly’s “Beware Of The Dog” recorded live at Roskilde. Enjoy!

Roskilde Festival Review: Bob Dylan, Christine and the Queens, Hatari, Fontaines DC, Jpegmafia, Ulver, July 3

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Not every festival has its own overarching them, but Roskilde does, and the theme of this year’s Roskilde Festival (its 49th edition) was solidarity.

Inspired by young people around the world fighting to make the world a better place while also hearkening back to Roskilde’s origins in the ’70s youth movement, the Danish festival demonstrated that it’s about more than just a big party (though it is absolutely about that as well). This was reflected in the festival’s programming through the booking of several socially conscious artists such as Petrol Girls, Lankum, and Stella Donnelly and speakers like activist Saffiyah Khan as well as in the festival’s donations to various organizations such as Freemuse and Popkollo (selected as this year’s “orange donation” by Swedish rapper Silvana Imam who played the Orange stage on the first night of the fest).

In the words of spokeswoman Christina Bilde, “Roskilde Festival is a journey that lasts for eight days, a journey that can set you free and take you new places. We’re creating a space together where you can open up in a different way. The people you experience art or a talk with and the atmosphere you’re in, it’s something that combines to let you be inspired. You might not change your everyday life drastically afterwards, but if you’ve taken part actively, I believe that it inspires you to do things differently.”

That notion of bringing people together to share ideas and see things in new ways was evident in Christine And The Queens’ fantastic, energetic performance on the Arena stage with Chris speaking to the crowd about her shows being a safe space for anyone to be whoever they want to be. She later mentioned how it’s a safe space for her as well and that she often uses drama to become who she wants to be during the introduction to “iT.” That theme of reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be is a recurring one in Christine and The Queens’ work and it occurred to me that in a way, it’s something Chris has in common with another of the evening’s headliners – Bob Dylan.

I’m certainly not the first to say that Bob Dylan’s live shows in recent years can be a bit of a hit or miss affair, but the thing is, Bob Dylan has always been about subverting expectations. It’s been that way since he went electric at Newport and as Martin Scorsese’s recent Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story made clear, Dylan does what pleases him rather than just giving the audience what they want.

And while the experience of playing “name that tune” as the man croaks and growls his way through drastically revamped versions of the classics continues to be fairly standard for a Dylan concert, Dylan’s band is top notch and the constant tinkering with arrangements can sometimes yield great results, with “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Love Sick” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” standing out as particular highlights. Another highlight came when Dylan got up from behind his piano at the end of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, danced a sort of jig for a second, then posed like some kind of weird Elvis. It was kind of amazing. Having seen both great and well, not so great shows from Dylan, I went in with no expectations and the show turned out to be quite enjoyable. And judging by the smile on Dylan’s place, he seemed to be enjoying himself too. I’d wager that the always enthusiastic crowd at Roskilde probably played some part in his mood.

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Perhaps the most unique and memorable performance of the first night though came from Iceland’s Hatari, an S&M themed industrial band who have their hearts set on destroying capitalism and who were somehow the unlikely entry for their homeland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Not too many bands take to the stage following a pre-recorded manifesto, but then again. there’s not too many anti-capitalist, S&M-themed industrial bands out there. There probably only needs to be the one – Hatari have that area covered and they do what they do quite well.

Other impressive performances on this evening came from acts across various genres who illustrated the diversity within the festival’s lineup. From the Fall-esque post-punk of Fontaines DC and the confrontational hip hop of Jpegmafia to the ever evolving Ulver (who have now morphed into some mutant form of electro-pop far from their black metal origins), each of them take a different approach to their music, but like Bob Dylan, Hatari, and Christine And The Queens, they all understand the importance of image and attitude in cultivating a certain mood in their live show.

Concert Review: Petula Clark, June 17, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

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While a punk show at some dingy dive bar is probably more my speed on any given day, I will admit to having a fondness for old school show business and an appreciation of classic pop hits so it wasn’t really too much of a stretch for me to take in Petula Clark’s show this past Monday night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. As far as classic pop songs are concerned, Ms. Clark certainly has that covered latter with bona fide classics like “Don’t Sleep On The Subway”, “Sign of the Times”, and of course “Downtown”, all of which made their way into her set.

As for the old time showbiz vibe, she’s definitely got that covered as well, playing all her hits as well as songs made famous by others as she regaled the crowd with stories from throughout her lengthy career, dropping some impressive names like Fred Astaire, Francis Ford Coppola, John Lennon, and Charlie Chaplin and even throwing in a Glenn Close impression along the way.

The showbiz vibe perhaps went a bit too far for my taste when Clark performed her “60s Medley” which was an economical way to fit many of her old numbers into the set, but which also veered into slightly corny territory with the lyrics linking all those songs together and singing the praises of the ’60s. At times it came dangerously close to SCTV’s old Jackie Rogers Jr sketches.

Still, it was a good medley regardless, and Clark’s band for the evening, made up mostly of a group of Quebec musicians who made the trek along with her after the Montreal show, sounded great on it and everything else. It was especially impressive considering that this was only their second night playing with her (and that they were playing an almost entirely different set than the previous show, which focused on her French language recordings).

One of the highlights of the night that also came as a bit of a surprise was her version of Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 hit “Crazy.” The song’s been covered many times by many others but by adding a bit of that old school showbiz flair, she certainly managed to put her own spin on it. And at 86 years old, Clark’s voice does not seem to have lost much of its lustre. And I don’t just mean her singing voice – that Glenn Close impression was not too bad either.