Category Archives: 2012

Marina and the Diamonds

The O2 Academy, Oxford
15th October 2012

Marina Diamandis’s PhD thesis would be on the relationship between surface and substance, with special reference to American society. Her medium would be her remarkable voice, blessed with a beguiling mix of Kate Bush, opera and the histrionics of a couple having an argument. Her conference papers would cover the various personas manifested on her second album, Electra Heart, all of which are present tonight: the regretful Teen Idle, the unapologetic, lock-twirling Homewrecker, the Primadonna, and the trapped-in-suburbia Su-Barbie-A from the nihilistic Valley of the Dolls, a nod to the themes of fame, success and self-destruction of the 60s novel and film.

It seems appropriate that to deliver Electra Heart she’s plunged more fully into what is often said to be the most ephemeral and transient mode of music: pop. It’s a bit odd to pepper this concept album it with the earlier, more new wave stuff; she covered similar themes on a lot of her Family Jewels-era songs, such as Hollywood and Oh No! (albeit from a somewhat more cynical outside viewpoint of celebrity culture), but she still leaves the out-and-out bangers – the Calvin Harris-esque metaphor-flogging Radioactive and latest single, How To Be A Heartbreaker – until later.

Given the many layers steeped in the obsession, it’s a relief to see her paraphernalia limited to a bit of set decoration (neon signs, an old TV) and a few props (like a veil, a negligee and the toy dog, Marilyn, from the Primadonna video); mock castles and hordes of dancers would have been overwhelming.

It’s an overtly confident performance, even when the lyrical content is more vulnerable, as in I Am Not A Robot; whereas Lana del Rey seems to trade on being a victim of the American dream, absorbed and confused, Marina examines it from different sides, from Power and Control to Fear and Loathing.

 

From Nightshift, November 2012

Bright Light Bright Light

The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
27th October 2012

Every so often a musical act comes along with all the right characteristics for it to become your new favourite but fails in some way, be it execution, tone or sheer lack of tunes. For me, Bright Light Bright Light is not one of those musical acts. In fact, he – singer/drummer/sample triggerer Rod Thomas – takes those characteristics and conjures them into something glorious.

A love of both the sweeping synths and soundscapes of the Pet Shop Boys and 90s piano house is evident; in places, I even get a whiff of Sybil (of Stock/Waterman fame). Moves veers into the dreamy territory of the wonderful Swedish synthpop duo The Sound of Arrows, and latest single Feel It even has an amazing Carol Kenyon/Loleatta Holloway bit.

New song In Your Care is probably most representative of the songwriting craft on display; atmospheric but with a pounding bass, it sounds like a dance remix of a much more delicate and mellow song. The drops and peaks are carefully paced, enveloping and carrying you on the song’s journey.

Rod sings (beautifully) like he’s saying what he wants to say the way he wants to say it, not worrying about cynicism or conforming to any sort of expectation of what people want to hear. And it’s heartfelt and poignant. Disco Moment brilliantly captures a moment it’s hard to describe and one you might not even admit acknowledging to yourself; Cry at Films laments the difference between the perfection of celluloid relationships and reality; and the anthemic refrain of Love Part II – “I’m in love again” – seems simultaneously euphoric and vulnerable.

Sometimes all the analysis you can muster can’t describe the emotion something in provokes in you. “I’m in love again”: quite. Bright Light Bright Light is utter pop magnificence and the world needs to know.

 

From Nightshift, December 2012

Lianne La Havas

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
9th March 2012

Lianne La Havas is adept at honesty. Tonight, the singer and guitarist – the guitar forming as much of her performance as her voice – is easily convincing her captivated audience that she means every word; she seems charmingly overwhelmed by all the adulation she’s getting in return.

It helps that her subject matter is relationship-based and confessional. Both an ex and her apparently current partner are covered. In Age, she channels a jazz-tinged Nina Simone insouciance into asking “Is it such a problem if he’s old as long as he does whatever he is told?” No Room for Doubt documents a blip with this older chap, her delicate yet selectively powerful voice betraying the despair and eventual resolution of the episode. In the effortlessly smooth Au Cinema, she could be Catherine Deneuve strolling with her beau down the Champs-Elysees into the end credits.

She’s so careful with her bitterness that even when she lets herself go a bit – as on Forget, her upbeat way of telling the ex to get lost – it still seems polite. Yet when she loses the guitar to finish the story of the “delightful ex” in the piano-backed Gone, she’s visibly moved.

Soul is too narrow a definition; Don’t Wake Me Up is probably her most commercial offering tonight but she still manages tight Imogen Heap-esque harmonies with her band, and forthcoming album title track Is Your Love Big Enough? has some great African-style guitar. Her voice has gentle soul inflections but not so much melisma that tune is obscured and subtlety lost (take note, Jessie J).

Few singers would be so gracious in making an audience feel like they’ve been reading her diary. It’s almost as if she’s grateful that she could bend our collective ear; relieved she had someone to sing it all out to.

 

From Nightshift, April 2012

Rizzle Kicks

O2 Academy, Oxford
8th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks are energy personified. The 20-year-old Brighton duo of Jordan Stephens and Harley Alexander-Sule spar verbally with complementary synchronicity; Jordan does more of the rapping while Harley does more of the singing (and even plays guitar at one point). With the same soul record-plundering sample modus operandi as Fatboy Slim (who produced that matrilineal exhortation to dance, Mama Do The Hump), they seem to be aiming hip hop at a pop level. Less brash and gaudy – and less related to Berry Gordy – than LMFAO, they’re simultaneously T4-friendly and naughty (they do swear a lot).

Their live show is the kind of disjointed affair that might have naturally progressed from originally impromptu bedroom jams, PAs and support slots. Tracks from their debut album, Stereo Typical, are sometimes incidental to jamming and rapping over random tunes, which range from the Inspector Gadget and James Bond themes to Seven Nation Army and Hot in Herre.

They’re into questions. What Jordan’s saying doesn’t seem as important as the act of engaging the crowd; queries about whether we’ve heard of James Brown and the film 8 Mile get as much of a cheer as Ed Sheeran’s Brit Awards success and an announcement that the pair smoke (their “hip hop jive” Miss Cigarette is a nicotine analogy, you see).

When I Was a Youngster samples The Clash’s Revolution Rock and is their most obvious connection to that mariachi/ska/reggae element. This fusion could sound like a mess, but they keep it light, making every track sound distinctively Rizzle Kicks, be it from their early Hadouken-style vocal patterning or the trumpet (present throughout, as you might hope for an act whose breakthrough hit was Down With The Trumpets). While their live presence doesn’t hold together as well as the recorded music does, you can’t fault their exuberance and enthusiasm.

 

From Nightshift, April 2012

Babybird

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
29th January 2012

Stephen Jones is a man riled – so much so that it seems he’s built a career on it. It could almost have been deliberate that his band became best known for an often misunderstood song – the anticipation of which hangs in the air tonight like a dirty plastic bag caught on a washing line.

The mid-late 90s expansive guitar sound is still in evidence, but the music largely feels secondary to Stephen’s lyrics and voice. He carries the words’ emotions masterfully, his weariness picking its way carefully between anger, resentment and resignation.

Tonight’s journey takes in self-loathing (Goodnight), hope and despair (Send Me Back My Dreams, Unloveable) via musings on parenthood (Like Them, I Love Her). Songs like Drug Time aren’t subtle, but aren’t mawkish either. The mood conjured by the repetitious, menacing insistence of songs like Back Together and the internet stalker tale www.song seems effortless.

These mini sagas are punctuated by some heated chat and banter with the audience. Cornershop is “dedicated to our government for slowly destroying life”, and the gloriously sinister Bad Old Man is dedicated to Louis Walsh, not far off the luminaries it was rumoured to be about at the time. “Everything’s written from a happy place – I’m not a tortured artist!” Stephen insists, somewhat belligerently, and his encore is announced by an acerbic “I’ve just found my happy pills backstage!”

Stephen complains that “someone’s got Gorgeous Tourette’s” after only three songs, but the band do eventually play You’re Gorgeous – and even the arrangement seems reluctant. He almost spits his parting shot – “You wouldn’t want me to sing that to you if you knew the real meaning of the words” – suggesting the hecklers have hit a nerve about a misunderstanding of Babybird in general. There has long been far more to them than that, though.

 

From Nightshift, March 2012

Errors

The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
8th May 2012

Watching Glasgow trio Errors touring their third album, Have Some Faith in Magic, is like being treated to an electro-rock baroque concert. Simon Ward and Steev Livingstone’s Foals-like guitar riffs repeat over and under bubbling electronica and soaring synth lines somewhat contrapuntally, with James Hamilton’s varying, syncopated drumming underpinning everything. Steev does provide some vocals, but they’re soft, chillwavey and effectively, as with Cocteau Twins, another instrument.

Tonight makes me wonder how much instrumental bands think they need to work on making their music engaging without lyrics; trance and so on have no problem, but words and guitars often seem mutually requisite. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article explaining why Adele’s behemoth Someone Like You provokes such an emotional reaction, psychologists at the University of British Columbia have found that chill-provoking passages have at least four features: beginning softly then becoming loud; the introduction of a new “voice” (either a new instrument or harmony); an expansion of the frequencies played; and unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.

The effect of these things in Adele’s song is of course intensified by the lyrics, but the beauty of Errors’ music is such that all of these melodic manipulators are abundant, relentless and seemingly effortless. Apparently our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert when music suddenly breaks from its expected pattern. With Errors, this is usually more subtle than sudden; every phrase of “the chords and notes and that”, as Steev puts it, is different: riffs build up and drop out, counter-riffs weave in, pick up chords, drop chords…

Despite the tracks’ differences, they are all characterised by being simultaneously conventional and unexpected, memorable but free from traditional verse-chorus restrictions. So lyrics really aren’t needed; tracks such as the stand-out A Rumour in Africa are far too busy – and fun – for that.

 

From Nightshift, June 2012

2012

Bright Light Bright Light – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 27th October 2012

Marina and the Diamonds – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th October 2012

Errors – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 8th May 2012

Lianne La Havas – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 9th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks – O2 Academy, Oxford – 8th March 2012

Babybird – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 29th January 2012

Reviews

 

Nathassia – The Bullingdon, Oxford – 14th July 2017

Soulwax – Electric Brixton, London – 8th April 2017

Goldfrapp – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th March 2017

Sal Para – Her single – February 2017

Vienna Ditto – Ticks EP – May 2016

Wild Swim – Untitled EP – January 2016

Esther Joy Lane – Esther Joy Lane – October 2015

Charli XCX – O2 Academy, Oxford – 30th March 2015

Rae Morris – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 8th February 2015

Hozier – O2 Academy, Oxford – 21st January 2015

La Roux – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th November 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP – November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP – July 2014

Banks – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th March 2014

Katy B – O2 Academy, Oxford – 27th March 2014

Foxes – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th February 2014

Vienna Ditto – Ugly EP – November 2013

Blue – O2 Academy, Oxford – 25th October 2013

Major Lazer – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd May 2013

Secret Rivals – Just Fall album – May 2013

Jessie Ware – O2 Academy, Oxford – 11th March 2013

Space – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th March 2013

Kodaline – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 13th February 2013

Bright Light Bright Light – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 27th October 2012

Marina and the Diamonds – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th October 2012

Errors – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 8th May 2012

Lianne La Havas – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 9th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks – O2 Academy, Oxford – 8th March 2012

Babybird – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 29th January 2012

Professor Green – O2 Academy, Oxford – 1st November 2011

East 17 – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd September 2011

N-Dubz – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th July 2011

Sparkadia, A.Human and La Shark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 24th February 2011

Emiliana Torrini – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th September 2009

2manydjs – O2 Academy, Oxford – 5th June 2009

Rosalita and Off The Radar – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 4th March 2009

The Subways – Carling Academy, Oxford – 2nd October 2008

Wakestock – Blenheim Palace – 29th June 2008

Alphabeat and Palladium – Carling Academy, Oxford – 28th January 2008

Erasure – New Theatre, Oxford – 3rd September 2007

The Sounds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 24th March 2007

The Noisettes and The Victorian English Gentlemens Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 22nd January 2007

White Rose Movement – The Zodiac, Oxford – 27th November 2006

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2006

Nizlopi – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2006

The Lightning Seeds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 5th June 2006

Kula Shaker – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th May 2006

The Go! Team and Smoosh – Oxford Brookes University – 5th March 2006

Idiot Pilot and The Seal Cub Clubbing Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 6th February 2006

Eskimo Disco, Trademark and Script – The Exeter Hall, Oxford – 2nd December 2005

Knifehandchop, Nervous Testpilot and The Nailbomb Cults – The Wheatsheaf, Oxford – 13th November 2005

King Biscuit Time – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th September 2005

The Mission – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2005

Josh Rouse – The Zodiac, Oxford – 17th July 2005

Big Speakers, Flooded Hallways and Capsky – The Cellar, Oxford – 3rd June 2005

Melanie C – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd May 2005

I Am Kloot – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th April 2005

Thirteen Senses – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th March 2005

The Others – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th October 2004

The Ordinary Boys and Dive Dive – The Zodiac – 15th October 2004

Polysics – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th September 2004

The Last Trailerpark – The September Gurls, The Schla La Las, Goldrush and The Black Madonnas – The Cellar, Oxford – 20th July 2004

The (International) Noise Conspiracy – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th June 2004

Simple Kid – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th April 2004

Ulrich Schnauss – The Bullingdon Arms, Oxford – 28th February 2004

Dogs Die In Hot Cars – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th February 2004

Cayto – The Cellar, Oxford – 16th December 2003

The Futureheads – The Zodiac, Oxford – 13th October 2003

Longview – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd July 2003

Fiel Garvie, Roquphane and The Epstein-Barr Virus Band – The Cellar, Oxford – 17th June 2003

Panel Of Judges, Byrne, The Broken Family Band, The Maplettes and Spartacus – The Cellar, Oxford – 27th February 2003

Scratch Perverts – Po Na Na, Oxford – 6th February 2003

Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th November 2002

British Sea Power – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2002

Trademark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 29th August 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments – The Cellar, Oxford – 12th August 2002

a-ha – Royal Albert Hall, London – 25th June 2002

Fischerspooner – The Bridge, London – 30th May 2002

Mansun – The Zodiac, Oxford – 19th May 2002

The Soundtrack of our Lives and Sahara Hotnights – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th May 2002

AM60 – The Cellar, Oxford – 31st January 2002