Seattle do nicely

It’s a good thing I’d be happy to watch Pearl Jam any time anyone asked.

I’ve checked and I only own three albums from their 25-year plus career which doesn’t suggest a hardcore attachment.

But they’re so frighteningly good live that I’m very comfortable even though I don’t know threequarters of their set these days.

And on this occasion I was prepared to make a 14-hour round trip to see them having made almost exactly the same trip a month earlier only to be denied by a throat complaint – not mine, Eddie Vedder’s.

There we were in June, me and regular Tony, motoring down the M1 when his phone pings with a message from a mate saying the 02 show was cancelled. A quick Facebook check confirms the bad news, so we doubled back at the next junction and headed for home to await the rescheduled date.

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And four weeks later we found ourselves walking past the hilarious Trump Baby balloon into the venue to see yet another performance that demonstrated the enduring prowess of this fine, fine band.

Having lost his voice previously that familiar plaintive Vedder warble was back in evidence as he and the band kept 20,000 people in the palms of their hands with one great song after another.

As well as the musicianship they clearly also care about the staging of their gigs. Where most bands playing this kind of venue have a very perfunctory filming arrangement for the big screens, Pearl Jam’s was shot in the kind of classy black and white that characterises quality concert film releases – all unusual angles and atmosphere.

They also had a lighting rig that altered its height and shape to create more intimate or widescreen framing of their songs as required.

The music is what it is. Timeless rock music. Rarely fashionable – although of course they had their moment – but never without a following. I suspect a lot of more fashionable bands would swap in a heartbeat.

 

 

Truly Olympian

I’ve never been to a gig before that was as good as this but which left me feeling a little sadder.

So far in 2018 this was the best show I’ve seen and I doubt I’ll see better in the next six months either.

There may well be more musically proficient performances, stronger back catalogues on display and more impressive stage productions but nothing to match the raw thrill of this full-on demonstration of what heart, soul, commitment and killer hooks can bring to the party.

Singer Richard Jobson said that on getting back together the Skids didn’t want to be part of the nostalgia trail and recorded a well received album to back it up – other bands take notes (cough Stone Roses cough).

They included two new songs in this set and neither felt out of place even if they didn’t have the familiarity of the classic post-punk and new wave hits the band is famous for.

Jobson looked fit and well with his idiosyncratic dance moves still very much in evidence, and he was joined on stage by founding member Bill Simpson and Big Country’s Bruce Watson in a five-piece band that did justice to their enduring legacy.

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Mid-set he paid tribute to their truly great former guitarist Stuart Adamson who died in 2001 – and that’s where the story takes a turn towards the melancholy.

I had a great friend, Duncan, who loved the Skids. He also loved everything the band members did following the Skids. I went with him to see Big Country’s first Liverpool show which was also watched by members of U2 who I always thought owed Adamson and the Skids a huge debt – something borne out when The Edge delivered the eulogy at Adamson’s funeral.

Duncan and I were the only two in our year at school who travelled in from Runcorn. We also played for the same junior football team. We loved the same bands. We listened to the same records.

But while we were at school Duncan got ill and was ill for the next 20 or so years. Remarkably, he dealt with it incredibly well. His sense of humour never left him nor did his love of music.

With quite unfortunate timing the news of Stuart Adamson’s death came through when Duncan was slowly slipping away too at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. We talked but I didn’t tell him about his guitar hero’s demise.

He had their great anthem Into the Valley played at his funeral and I can’t think of anything else when I hear it.

He’d have loved this reunion and I went, partly, because of that fact. Gill was on one side of me at the barrier at the front and I wish Duncan had been on the other.

 

 

 

All the world’s a stage

These days it’s not often I get the chance to add a new type of venue to my gig-going list. Over the years I’ve seen bands pretty much everywhere and anywhere.

Fields, tents, halls, clubs, pubs, theatres and now a table tennis regional centre of excellence.

It doesn’t have the same ring to it as Live from Carnegie Hall or Live at Budokan, but Liverpool’s 90s hitmakers Space made the best of what was essentially just a big sports hall under a stand at the home of Widnes Vikings.

Maybe they just wanted to say they were doing a stadium tour.

Not that Space were the only reason for going. Support was provided by the estimable Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – the only avant-garde punk n roll band with backing dancers in existence.

Now I have to declare something of an interest in having known Pete for a very long time and in several musical incarnations, not least the brilliant Halfway to Eddies and Out 77.

His latest band are a stalwart of the Liverpool scene, a regular at Blackpool’s Rebellion punk festival, and feature songs in their set that reference conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, the Russian space programme and Liverpool’s Concert Square.

They are funny, clever, invigorating and always worth every penny of whatever admission they are charging on the night.

Space followed and were as mildly frustrating as I’d found their heyday to be – and for exactly the same reason. Unsurprising really.

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They have got some decent tunes and enjoyed a brief run of chart success in the post-Britpop era but I always thought they tried to be a bit too clever when the basis of the songs always stood up well and didn’t need too much embellishment.

With front man Tommy Scott happy to engage with the audience and making several mid-song excursions into the crowd there was a buoyant atmosphere throughout and when they did call it a night they did so before outstaying their warm welcome.

Hit singles Female of the Species, Avenging Angels, Neighbourhood and my favourite from back in the day, Me and You Versus the World, were all duly aired but the highlight was the Spiders album track, Drop Dead, which thundered along with a big rolling groove that Primal Scream might have been happy to call their own.

 

 

 

 

Three is the magic number

There will always be a certain snobbishness about music. I’m afraid I can be as guilty of it as anyone else.

I try not to be, I really do. But sometimes you find yourself unable to contain your prejudices any longer and when someone tells you that Telegraph Road by Dire Straits is a top three song of all time, you can’t hold it in any longer.

I’ve been misguidedly snobbish in the past; sneering, incredibly, at both Abba and Steely Dan. How wrong was that?

And I’ve found there’s always been an element of condescension towards British rock music by the cooler end of the music media.

So how the scenesters viewed a triple-headlining tour of Terrorvision, Reef and The Wildhearts is anyone’s guess.

But I’ll take more than three hours of unfashionable rock over half an hour of what passes for the next big thing any day of the week.

Which is what I did.

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I’ve seen all three on their own and been hugely entertained, so the chance to see them all on the same bill wasn’t to be passed up.

Strangely, Britpoppers Dodgy had been added as the opening act for some reason. They might have been contemporaries but shared nothing in terms of output.

So regular Tony and I gave them a miss and headed in for the night’s proper opener, The Wildhearts.

It was very weird seeing them at 6.30pm with the sun blazing outside, but the conditions were soon forgotten as they tore through the likes of TV Tan, Caffeine Bomb, Headf*ck and Everlone without a misstep along the way.

We were then joined by a gig-going companion from yesteryear in the shape of our friend Ste who now lives in London but was a regular back in the days when these three bands were top of our particular hit parade.

Unfortunately he arrived just in time for Reef who were the weakest of the trio on the night. There were still some great songs and stuff from the new album held up very well, but there was a little too much self indulgence and not enough rock and roll swagger about their set – at least until the closing stomper, Yer Old.

By the time Terrorvision came on we had been joined by two more of our wider late 90s circle in Fiona and Shellyanne, as if the scene had been transported back 20 years.

Terrorvision were everything they always are – punchy, funny, catchy as hell and over too soon.

As I approach seeing them for the 20th time I never find it any less entertaining than I did back in the day when me, Ste and Tony saw them at the Krazy House in Liverpool and thought the floor was going to collapse.

 

The Time of Our Lives

Many gigs you go to are not what you would call ‘fun’.

They can be intense, powerful, moving, uplifting and, sometimes, a little dull. But few bands, I’ve found, do fun well.

Sometimes you wonder if there’s actually any enjoyment from being up on stage such is the lack of interaction between performers and audience.

 

So, much like I’ll always turn out for Terrorvision, I feel the same about Green Day.

I know that my ticket price will guarantee me more than two hours of solid rock entertainment and a shedload of good tunes.

They aren’t perfect by any means and Billie-Joe has a tendency to overdo the call and response stuff, but weighing everything up they are always well in credit.

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The last couple of times I’ve seen them has been at the Manchester Arena which is too big, really, even though they can sell all the seats.

We – by which I mean me and Gill – were about as far back as it is possible to go on this occasion facing the stage in the upper tier.

It’s not their fault they’ve outgrown provincial theatres but you know the experience would be more suited to a concentrated, packed out, 3,000-capacity venue than in a 18,000-seat barn.

That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that they literally come to play. No moodiness, no muttered asides – it’s full on from the word go.

This show differed from others I’ve seen only in that they had more songs to choose from.

The high watermark remains the stuff from American Idiot, but no matter what they pluck from their back catalogue you know they’ll play it with balls out commitment – and often you can’t ask for much more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Weller, weller, weller, uh

And I’m about to tell you more (see what I did there?)

I was discussing the other day whether there was anyone in the last 50 years who had been more popular or critically acclaimed as a solo artist than they had been as part of their original group.

The only one I could think of for certain off the top of my head was Michael Jackson who, for a while, was the non pareil of all pop performers so clearly better than he was with the Jackson 5.

I got to discussing it because of the recent Morrissey gig I went to and the reaction to the songs he recorded with The Smiths compared to his solo output.

And, equally, the same could apply to Paul Weller who I saw at the Echo Arena in Liverpool almost a decade ago.

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I was a massive fan of The Jam although, shamefully, I never saw them live but regard their singles collection as being as close to a perfect greatest hits as you could have.

As a side note I think it was the NME that reviewed the first Pet Shop Boys’ greatest hits album by declaring that it was that rarest of things, a greatest hits collection where they are all hits and they’re all great.

So I probably wasn’t alone in the arena in hoping that a few Jam classics would be sprinkled throughout the set.

But what was hugely disappointing was that a large section of the audience seemed to only want to become engaged when he did a Jam song – and the same thing happened at a festival I saw him at.

Now Weller has a great solo back catalogue. He has never settled for a default mode knowing that his fans might like it. He’s always stretched himself and while I can’t say I’ve liked it all, there’s more than enough to make any Weller gig a solidly entertaining experience.

But all around me there were groups of people chatting away until the familiar opening chords to The Eton Rifles or That’s Entertainment sounded out.

And I wondered whether you would really spend the money just to see if he might do a couple of songs from a band who had split up a quarter of a century ago?

Now, of course, chat at gigs happens all the time so it might not seem so noticeable but then I was really taken aback.

 

 

 

They’ve paved paradise

I mourned the loss of The Lomax recently and another great lost venue in Liverpool is The Kazimier which sadly succumbed to the march of redevelopment across the city centre.

Housed in what was formerly a typically 80s nightclub called The Continental, its owners took a less than promising proposition and made it into something uniquely thrilling.

For the best part of a decade it was the beating heart of Liverpool’s music and arts community – hosting the best gigs, shows, events and some activity that defies description.

And now it’s gone. To be replaced by yet more apartments, restaurants and cafes. The same development also took out Nation – home to Cream – which was pretty much next door to The Kazimier.

When visitors think of going to Liverpool do they say `let’s go and see that block of new flats with the ground floor cafes?’, or do they think`you know what it’s home to one of the world’s most famous clubs and the North West’s best live venue?’

Even one of its less remembered nights when Delphic played there was the kind of sweaty, euphoric experience that makes any kind of gig special.

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At the time Delphic were being touted as the new New Order and The Kazimier was suitably packed  to see what all the fuss was about.

What helped the atmosphere was the venue’s low stage and its immediate proximity to the octagonal dancefloor which brought both band and audience almost face to face.

It was an exciting enough gig and you could see where the comparisons were coming from with their dancey electronica, but there was nothing of New Order’s early majesty in what they did.

 

 

Ain’t missing Hugh at all

The Stranglers eh? Back to almost where it all began.

I’ll be honest and admit that I can’t now remember whether they were my second ever concert or my third.

It was them and Rory Gallagher who occupy those spots and I’ve forgotten which way round they were.

In those early days as I’ve mentioned before I was grateful to older friends – and sometimes friends of friends – for letting me tag along to shows I might not otherwise have seen.

The Stranglers at the Mountford Hall in Liverpool was once such occasion when the only punk fan I knew at the time, Martin, was quite happy for me to go with him. He was at Liverpool Uni at the time and the house he was living in was genunely the coldest place I’d ever been up to that point.

While waiting for The Stranglers to appear at Liverpool Academy I thought of Martin again as the between bands soundtrack included White Punks on Dope by The Tubes which he was a big fan of.

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I saw The Stranglers a few times during the 80s but gradually lost interest especially after Hugh Cornwell left, but in recent years I’ve seen the advert for what now appears to be a traditional UK tour throughout March and wondered whether I should go or not.

Thankfully, this year, I decided I should and was treated to something more that just a wallow in nostalgia. Gill went with me for her first taste of the MeninBlack and was duly impressed by what she saw. She also attracted some attention with her Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies t-shirt.

With Jet Black now stood down from touring at the ripe old age of 79, the band consisted of just two original members in Jean Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield, with Baz Warne handling lead guitar and Cornwell’s vocal contribution.

In Burnel and Greenfield The Stranglers had two musicians who were far too accomplished to be considered as traditional `punk’ three-chord wonders.

And, in truth, their version of punk was much more about attitude than music exemplified by the occasionally provocative nature of their song titles and lyrics.

Plus they became a bona fide pop band for a while and recorded a truly timeless number one hit in Golden Brown which will get airplay for as long as radio exists.

Their set spanned a 40-year career with more modern songs like Norfolk Coast slotting in comfotably alongside their classics like Hanging Around, Grip and the evening’s inevitable closer No More Heroes.

One interesting highlight was the crowd’s reaction to Always the Sun which was treated like an anthem and sung back to the band louder than anything else.

Personally I was delighted to hear the likes of Tank, Nuclear Device and particularly Bear Cage again which were all favourites from 30 years or more ago.

 

 

Blizzard of Moz

With all due respect to my better half, this was an important Morrissey gig.

By attending, I got to see him as a solo artist as many times as I’ve seen Barry Manilow with her –  and, in my grand scheme of things, that counts for a lot.

Baz or Moz? Nothing against the former, but the latter has been an endless source of fascination for almost 35 years.

This show at Birmingham’s Genting Arena was a wonderful Christmas present and we awoke on the morning of the gig to find the worst of the winter weather had duly arrived. Snow was pelting down and travel arrangements were hurriedly checked to make sure the trains were running that would get us to the Second City and back.

Thankfully they were because we got to see Morrissey on fine form – probably the best he’s been for a decade or so at least.

Thankfully he did without a support act as I’ve found most of his over the years haven’t been anything special and instead we were treated to a collection of what I presume were Moz favourites projected onto a giant curtain which hitherto held an image of the great Peter Wyngarde.

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Amongst the video highlights were the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Four Tops and Dionne Warwick – all played at thundering volume.

Then, exactly as advertised, Morrissey strode on stage at 9.04pm and the band launched into an Elvis cover – You’ll Be Gone – before a spirited version of his debut solo single Suedehead.

The set was full of drama and passion, with Morrissey fully engaged and in excellent voice. His newer material such as Jacky’s Only Happy… and Spent the Day in Bed stood up well and he finished the main set with an outstanding trio of How Soon is Now?, Everyday is Like Sunday and Speedway before returning for a single encore – Irish Blood, English Heart.

The only thing it lacked – and I feel tremendously churlish for even mentioning it – was a certain spring; a lightness to contrast with the big, dramatic moments.

When he covered The Pretenders’ Back on the Chain Gang it suited him down to the ground and only served to remind us what his erstwhile writing partner from a certain other band used to bring to the party in terms of melody.

 

But you don’t have to go back that far – just to the start of his solo career.

There’s nothing in his newer work to touch the Last of the Famous international Playboys or the sharp rockabilly of Pregnant for the Last Time, never mind the aforementioned pair of solo singles with which he began his post-Smiths recordings.

It’s not that the light never goes out, he just needs to let it back in.

They could be Heroes

The two venues I’ve loved most in Liverpool over the years have been the Royal Court and The Lomax.

The Royal Court for 15 years from 1981 and the Lomax from about 1996 until the turn of the century.

There was just something about the atmosphere at both that made gigs in either truly special no matter who it was you were seeing.

Now both are gone – at least in terms of gig hosting – but there was a reminder of the old days at The Lomax when me and regular Tony took our places in the audience at The Ritz in Manchester for a Hell is for Heroes anniversary show, with support from A.

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The picture above is of A, although you couldn’t tell by looking at it!

Hell is for Heroes formed out of Symposium who seemed to be on at The Lomax every couple of months.

I took Gill to see them once and barely had we walked through the door than the singer came rushing out on to the stage and hurled himself into the crowd right in front of us. That was enough to see her watching the rest of the show from a safer distance.

Regular Tony is also pictured on the inner sleeve artwork of one of their albums – albeit as part of a big festival crowd from which he’s certain he can pick himself out.

Equally I’m sure I saw A at The Lomax more than once at a time when every passing indie hopeful would check in.

Super Furry Animals, Silver Sun, Collapsed Lung, Joyrider, The Montrose Avenue, Flyscreen, Crazy Gods of Endless Noise and many more were watched and thoroughly enjoyed.

At the new gig, Hell is for Heroes were marking the 15th anniversary of the release of their acclaimed The Neon Handshake album – and it went down an absolute storm.

I thought it sounded of its time, but there was no denying its power in a live setting.

Personally I preferred their previous incarnation who were a huge amount of fun. Like your best mate’s band playing on the last day of summer term after GCSEs.

What they became was more like the black-clad moody sixth-former. More intense, more depth and more grown-up – but fewer laughs.