Concerts

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 theme, 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.

Concert Review: Dido, June 15, Danforth Music Hall

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While introducing the song “See You When You’re 40″ off of her 2003 album Life For Rent, Dido mentioned how she wrote the song back in the day with the notion of wanting to hurt someone who hurt her and how she imagined that “the most insulting thing I could say to them is that they would one day be 40. Clearly that’s not old.”

No, it’s not. And a quick survey of the crowd would seem to indicate that this was an audience where perhaps the majority of people in the place were, if not over 40, at least somewhere in the vicinity of the big four-oh. You could easily tell it was an older crowd because while they stood up for certain songs, they happily sat back down when those songs were over. And for those on the other side of 40, this show was definitely a bit of a nostalgia trip. A trip back to a time when Dido was still in her 20s, 40 really did still seem old, and we were all just happy to have survived Y2K.

On the subject of nostalgia, while I do recall enjoying all of her hits from back in the day, I’ve never really been that big of a fan of Dido. With this in mind, I decided to refresh my memory a bit on her career before the show. In doing so I was reminded that “Here With Me” used to be the opening theme for the old WB series Roswell (which has of course recently been rebooted – yet another form of nostalgia) and also that the video for “White Flag” featured David Boreanaz, which seems like a very 2003 thing to do. Of course I needed no reminder on her breakthrough hit “Thank You,” which was also famously sampled by Eminem on “Stan.”

It wasn’t all about nostalgia of course. About a third of Dido’s set was taken up with songs from her latest release Still On My Mind. Live, Dido and her band did a good job on the new material, which fit in quite nicely with the oldies, though as is the case with most artists who’ve built up a decent back catalogue, the biggest reaction was for the older stuff.

While I was never more than a casual fan, it was clear upon walking into the sold out Danforth Music Hall that Dido has a fair number of diehard fans who were eager to see the English singer live on her first tour in fifteen years. I get the impression those fans did not walk away disappointed.

Concert Review: Nightmarer, May 29, Lee’s Palace

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Though its members have played in several other bands (including Gigan, War From A Harlots Mouth, and The Ocean) Florida death metallers Nightmarer are a relatively new band, having just released their debut album Cacophony of Terror in March of last year.

Nightmarer are currently on tour behind that album and were the first band up on a stacked bill for the Devastation On The Nation tour that also included Dark Funeral, Belphegor, Incantation, Hate, and Vale of Pnath. Starting things off at the not very metal hour of 6:30pm, the band played to a relatively sparse crowd, but those that showed up early were treated to a fairly intense performance that definitely stood out as unique from the other bands on the bill. At times sounding very reminiscent of Quebec’s Gorguts, Nightmarer created a certain mood with their music and managed to impress within the short time they were given on stage. Over the course of their roughly 25 minute set, singer John Collett spoke not one word between songs, not even to introduce the band, choosing instead to gesture dramatically during each song and basically let the music speak for itself.

That music, as exemplified in songs like “Cave Digger”, “Bleach” and “Fetisch” is really best described by the title of the album on which it appears. As album titles go, Cacophony of Terror is quite apt as this album is indeed pretty damn cacophonous. I mean that, of course, in the best way possible – on album and in concert, the band plays around a lot with dissonance, creating something that is full of different textures, expansive and experimental but at the same time just heavy as fuck. And also very good.