gilberto gil – live review

Gilberto Gil still frustrates at 64

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Lifelong Gilberto Gil fans are mostly bald. Not just because the Brazilian superstar been making music since 1963, but because they have been tearing at their hair in frustration at the patchiness of his output. Tonight’s show was a case in point.

Gil has been Brazil’s Minister of Culture for the last four years, but looks dashing and far from bureaucratic in his all white outfit and greying dreadlocks. Driven on by his spiky rhythm guitar, Gil’s band were exhilarating when they hit their peak early on with a simple and effective Samba de Los Angeles. The crowd in the packed out hall responded by getting to its feet and staying there.

Gil can shake his backside like a man possessed, and still has an impressive voice with a range from Justin Hawkins at the top end, to Andrew Eldritch at the bottom. He roamed the stage with energy, punctuating instrumental moments with piercing whoops, and led some call and response that tested the audience’s vocal range. On favourites including Realce, Palco and Toda Menina Baiana, written about his home town of Salvador, he had people singing along and dancing with varying degrees of success to the syncopated samba beats. A raucous carnival set at the end of the night was a riotous success, and proved again that the Grammy-winning superstar is still vital listening when at his best.

This is the man who, with his friend Caetano Veloso, is feted as the founder of the late-60s Tropicalia movement, which launched the careers of legends Tom Ze, Os Mutantes and others. But there were low moments tonight, which seemed a long way from the dizzy heights of 60’s Brazilian creativity.

Since the Tropicalia days, Gil has made a career as an unashamed musical magpie, and has a sweet tooth for pop music that has resulted in misjudged and syrupy songs. His reggae output was never his strongest, and a Jamaican flavoured set seemed rather dull and pointless. He played two Bob Marley covers, which he obviously enjoyed, but added nothing of himself to the songs. There was a cheesy bossa nova version of John Lennon’s Imagine, some pompous Brazilian pop/rock, and even a round of unnecessary solos that underlined the bands tendency to over play.

However, when you delve into Gilberto Gil’s back catalogue as we did at this concert, you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. Clearly, The Minister considers himself to be somewhere in the middle of his long career, and not at retirement yet. This is good news, as he may produce some more gems for us in the coming years. Surprisingly, Gil is now 64, as he revealed in a beautiful, tropical version of the Beatles’ ‘When I’m 64’ at the end of the night, but all the signs were that he will still be touring in 20 year’s time, as sprightly and frustrating as ever.

I suspect many of tonight’s audience will be there again – bald, but happy.

The Barbican, 26 June 2006

Original music criticism for The Independent

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everything everything – live review

[one from the archive]

Everything isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

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Everything Everything has to be one of the most apt band names around. These prog indie (Prindie?) guys from Manchester via Newscastle, Kent and Guernsey want it all…twice. However, as last year’s long player ‘Man Alive’ showed, they want too much – cramming so many ideas, melodies, styles and time signatures into each song that the hooks can be overwhelmed. And it was the hooks that the Concorde 2’s young and enthusiastic crowd depended on.

They may be only one album in, but it’s clear that EE are already defining their own style…and tonight this was matching khaki jumpsuits. Taking into account singer Jonathan Higgs’ appearance as a cross between Will Young and Mark ‘Level 42’ King, and the searchlights that herald the band’s arrival on stage, the impression was less Devo, more ‘gayest squadron in the RAF’.

Thankfully, opener ‘Final Form’ makes you forget their appearance for a moment. Sub-bass, floor toms and the gorgeous bell tones of guitarist Alex Robertshaw drove Higgs’ falsetto vocal to euphoric heights. Moments like this leave impressions of Wild Beasts, Bloc Party and Of Montreal, and that’s a good thing. But by third song ‘Come Alive Diana’, the awkward, ADD-shaped troughs had started to appear between the peaks. Imagine The New Pornographers on a really bad day, playing all their songs at once, and you won’t be far off.

All this up and down made for a queasy journey. The peaks were rarely maintained for long enough, even within songs. The biggest reactions – singalongs to ‘Leave the Engine Room’, pogoing to ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ and crowd surfing to ‘Suffragette, Suffragette’ – were therefore bittersweet, and caused itchy shuffling as the audience tried to find its rhythm.

Higgs’ voice is the source of much of this love/hate wrestle. ‘Schoolin’’, for example, brings to mind Jimmy Somerville singing Kanye whilst hopped up on Marmite, and not in a good way. Whilst on a “brand new song”, the half rapping, electronic sounding vocal bridging drives a – dare I say it – Black Eyed Peas-y tune. Keeping it simple(r) pays off and hints at a more linear and more accessible direction.

Perhaps their final song of the night ‘Photoshop Handsome’ sums it up the best: “More dollar, less scholar, less time!” Future success will need more feeling and less thinking. After all, as American comedian Steven Wright once said: “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

Everything Everything, Concorde 2, 24 June 2011

Original music criticism for Brighton Noise

the bass pelican and other names

Northern gannet, Morus bassanus, family Sulidae

We tend to forget, in our cultural bubbles, that most living things have many names. Gannet names, for example, tell a story of how humans have responded to this magnificent seabird in ways which reflect local uses, geography, folklore.

bassanus is from Bass Rock, Firth of Forth, home to the world’s largest colony of the species.

Morus from ancient Greek moros, meaning foolish – birds were unafraid and therefore easily caught.

Gannet (Old English ‘ganot’ – strong/masculine)

Atlantic gannet

Great booby (booby from C16 Spanish pooby – blend of ‘poop’ or ‘befoul’, and bobo, Latin, ‘stuttering’)

Spotted booby

Saithor, Zethar/Saethwr (Cornwall from Cornish, ‘arrow’, reflecting their diving outline)

Gant, Gaunt (possibly from Greek ‘to yawn’. Wide gapes)

Sula (from Old Norse meaning cleft stick, referring to crossed black wing-tips against white plumage; or from Sulao – ‘to rob’ or ‘spoil’)

Solan goose, Solan (Shetland), Soland (Gaelic ‘suil’ or eye – sharp sighted referring to ability to see through the water)

Guga (young bird, Ness, Scotland, where Gannets are still hunted for food)

Parliament goose (young with ‘wig’ of down on head)

Ian Ban an Sgadan (Gaelic – ‘the white bird of the herring’)

Amhasan, Amhasag, Asan (Gaelic)

Morfran (Welsh, ‘arrow’)

Gwydd Lygadlon (clear-eyed goose), Gwylan Hafssula (Welsh)

Bergshammar, Suula (Finnish)

Bass-TÖlpel, Schottengans, Seerabe (sea raven) (German)

Jan van Gent, Basaangans (Dutch)

Fou de Bassan, Fou Tacheté (French, speckled)

Boubie, Harenguier, Marga (Normandy French)

Alcatraz (Spanish. Meaning pelican from Arabic for sea eagle)

Ganso-patôla, Mascato, Fascão (Portguese)

Sula bianca (Italian)

Olusha-glupish (Russian, ‘simpleton’ or ‘dolt’)

Old Latin names: Pelecanus bassanus, Pelecanus masculatus, Sula bassana, Sula alba, Sula americana, Sula lefevri, Sula hoieri, Moris bassana, Morus bassanus, Sula melanura, Sula vulgaris, Sula major.

2017 top 20

warofnature’s top 20 albums of 2017.

Conflict, hatred, posturing self-love, immorality – and that’s just the government. Who knows what the best reaction to a world like this is – we’re in uncharted territory. Kick against it, sure. Act. Organise. Reflect. Laugh at the absurdity of it all. Or just do the ‘la la la’ thing, pretend it’s not happening, and make some killer tunes. All these approaches and more in the music of 2017.

This is the Top 20 (warofnature’s first – a continuation of the annual lists previously compiled on the now dead skinnywhiteboy website). There were loads of great debuts (Declan McKenna, Snapped Ankles, Idles, Mammoth Penguins, Flat Worms). Some old hands (Michael Chapman, Slowdive, Jane Weaver, Ted Leo, Deerhoof, Andrew Weatherall). And some continued growth and maturity (Protomartyr, Thee Oh Sees, Irma Vep, Do Make Say Think).

My personal favourite new find, other than the debutantes, was Michael Chapman – a ridiculously prolific Cornish folkie whose first release was in 1969. ’50’ marks this history with his first state-side recording and it’s very special in a Leonard meets Mark Lanegan kind of way.

But best of all this year was Jane Weaver‘s ‘Modern Kosmology’, her 8th album. It showed all the perfection that you would expect with this amount of experience – not a note out of place – but also won on its sheer variety, depth and joy. Immediately accessible, its deep space voyages get better and better with every listen. A modern klassik.

Here is a Spotify playlist of the best of this lot, and a whole load more. 

20. Andrew Weatherall – Qualia

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19. Deerhoof – Mountain Moves

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18. Floating Points – Reflections Mojave

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17. Thee Oh Sees – Orc

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16. Flat Worms – Flat Worms

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15. Do Make Say Think – Persistent Illusions

14. Jlin – Black Origami

13. Slowdive – Slowdive

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12. Ted Leo – Hanged Man

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11. Zola Jesus – Okovi

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10. Irma Vep – No Handshake Blues

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9. Michael Chapman – 50

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8. Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

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7. Idles – Brutalism

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6. The XX – I See You

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5. Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About The Car?

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4. Snapped Ankles – Come Play The Trees

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3. Protomartyr – Relatives in descent

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2. Mammoth Penguins and Friends – John Doe

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1. Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology

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Featured post

vivian girls – live review

Frocks n fringes

Third album ‘Share the joy’ brings this Brooklyn trio of indie darlings to the Coalition for the first night of a UK tour. ‘Share…’ is a more subtle and melodic step on from the short, sharp 60’s influenced garage rock of their first two – critically acclaimed – records, so it ought to broaden their appeal. Right?

Well, not on tonight’s evidence, and the lack of audience (Coalition was barely a third full) suggests they’ve still got a long way to go. Voices cold, the leads Cassie Ramone and ‘Kickball Katy’ Goodman were jarringly off-key for the first few tunes. But, by the time the Shangri-Las style ‘Take it as it comes’ had rolled around, they had warmed up. Fun and sugar-coated, the 60s style indie pop brought to mind old duffle coat bands like Heavenly and Talulah Gosh.

The influences seem obvious with the Vivian Girls, but I guess originality is unlikely to be a priority for a group that picked a third-hand band name. And it was impossible to watch tonight without checking off a mental list of 80s indie greats. ‘I heard you say’ and ‘The other girls’ were low calorie versions of Lush. ‘Death’ and ‘Lake House’ conjure Courtney Love and Juliana Hatfield. ‘When I’m gone’ and ‘Survival’ from 2009’s ‘Everything goes wrong’ provided (welcome) straight-ahead Dead Kennedys interludes.

What’s the problem then? All this sounds like they tick every box in the ‘howtobeindie’ checklist and they even have the requisite look – indie-girly with a pinch of recklessness. Frocks, fringes and tats about sums it up. There was a bit of fun banter between songs (apparently they’ve named the tour the Twerking tour – look it up), and a crowd walkabout by bassist Goodman livened things up a bit.

But looks aren’t enough three albums in and the jangle and harmony of the new material started to get rather samey after a while. It was telling that the strongest moment tonight ‘Before I start to cry’ was from older album – a blissful, distorted, break-up tune that smacked of early My Bloody Valentine. But who needs another version of early MBV? Time will tell whether the Vivian Girls can take their Frock ‘n’ Roll in a more memorable direction in future.

Vivian Girls, Coalition, 17 July 2011

Original music criticism for Brighton Noise

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