Sunday, 21 June 2015

Brandon Flowers at Brixton Academy, London - 21/05/2015

In terms of venues, I have been spoilt by my last two live music events, both of which have taken place in intimate settings with strong acoustics, adding to my overall enjoyment of the gig-going experience. Although Brixton Academy boasts an impressive interior and thriving atmosphere, it is, at times, notable for its muddy sound, an attribute that was present, but didn't detract from the dynamic horns of Brandon Flowers' set opener, 'Dreams Come True' - the first track from latest release, The Desired Effect. Within moments however, any less than clear acoustics seemed to either subside or go unnoticed, as lead single 'Can't Deny My Love' gained full crowd investment and set the standard for a gig that fully embraced Flowers' solo work, while also touching upon a few Killers classics.

The release of The Desired Effect makes for a refreshing addition to Flowers' repertoire, and the eclectic feel of the 80's inspired songs were further enhanced in a live setting due to an impressive eight-piece band. Along with the set's opening two tracks, other key moments from the current album included the gospel / synth infused 'I Can Change' and 'Between Me and You', in which Flowers was joined on stage by Chrissie Hynde, with the pair also duetting on The Pretenders' 'Don't Get Me Wrong'.

Flowers' last tour - in support of 2010 debut Flamingo - seemed sparse at times, and with shows based entirely on the ten short but sweet tracks from that album, Flowers' turned to Killers songs and cover versions to fill sets. This time round, the set flowed more naturally, with the Flamingo material - 'Crossfire' and 'Only The Young' being the most memorable - generously slotted around the new songs. 

Though Flowers' solo work should be viewed as a separate entity, comparisons to the Killers are inevitable, and from a crowd perspective, there was a running sense of urgent longing for his band's material throughout the gig. While re-worked versions of Hot Fuss classics such as a stripped-down 'Jenny Was a Friend of Mine' and the Jacques Lu Cont Remix of 'Mr. Brightside' may not have fully satisfied fans who were solely in attendance for Killers material, Sam's Town's anthemic 'Read My Mind' more than compensated to became an overall set highlight.

The Desired Effect sets a fine balance which sees Flowers boldly evolving musically, without completely straying from the synth-led, stadium-rock that initially shaped the success of the Killers - a quality that not only suggests promise for future solo releases, but will most likely draw new fans as his career progresses, without alienating longtime Killers supporters.

'Dreams Come True'
'Can't Deny My Love'
'Hard Enough'
'Jenny Was a Friend of Mine'
'Lonely Town'
'I Can Change'
'Read My Mind'
'Swallow It'
'Only the Young'
'Mr. Brightside'

'Don't Get Me Wrong'
'Between Me and You'
'Still Want You'
'The Way It's Always Been'

Monday, 11 May 2015

Josh Rouse at Kings Place, London - 23/04/2015

As part of his most recent UK tour, Josh Rouse came to London's Kings Place last month for a performance in support of latest album, The Embers of Time. This release comes two years after The Happiness Waltz, a record in which themes of growing older and family life, are effectively depicted through Rouse's atmospheric lyrics. The Embers of Time follows in a similar vein with songs like 'JR Worried Blues' ("I've got a stack of bills this high / I've got worries, worries on my mind") and 'Time' ("Early forties, how ya' doing / What's the deal / How am I supposed to look, how am I supposed to feel") touching upon these previously addressed themes. Rouse's music has mellowed considerably since the darker, moodier sound of 1998 debut Dressed Up Like Nebraska, though it is 2005's Nashville that is often regarded as his best work to date. While the soft, folk/pop of The Embers of Time will come as no real surprise to fans familiar with Rouse's last few offerings, the album's melancholy lyrics, offset against bright instrumentation, culminate to an overall well-crafted collection of songs.

Rouse got the set underway with the three strongest tracks from the new record; 'Some Days I'm Golden All Night' made for a natural set opener, with a country shuffle that conveyed warmth, even in the absence of the strings that are such a noteworthy addition to the album version. The subtly rhythmic 'Too Many Things On My Mind' followed, although of the latest material, it was 'New Young' - enhanced by the uplifting vocal harmonies and general vibrant musicianship of Rouse's four-piece band - that made the most impact. Later in the set, further highlights from the current album included the reflective 'Time', while the relaxed jazz vibes of 'You Walked Through The Door', proved reminiscent of 2006's Subtitulo.

It's difficult not to compare this performance with Rouse's previous London shows, all of which have been masterfully varied across a career spanning 11 studio albums. Though this gig was inevitably geared towards The Embers of Time, the complete lack of material pre-1972 noticed. In a set that covered the latter half of Rouse's catalogue, the two tracks to come from 2010's Spanish inspired El Turista - 'I Will Live On Islands' and the vocally pleasing, if slightly random encore track, 'Las Vacos' - were among the most enjoyable of the evening. Nashville was generously represented and provided rarities like 'Why Won't You Tell Me What' and 'Carolina', alongside setlist regulars 'It's The Nighttime' and 'Winter In The Hamptons', although the long-time fan in me yearned for the likes of 'Streetlights' and 'Sad Eyes' (as did the crowd, who repeatedly shouted requests for both tracks). The audience were, however, treated to 1972's 'Love Vibration', along with the instantly recognisable groove-led bass of 'Comeback (Light Therapy)', though a solo acoustic rendition of the album's title track could have benefited from fuller instrumentation - most notably keys - in order to capture the subliminal tone that is present on the studio version.

From our third row seats, the acoustics at Kings Place - a stylishly modern arts centre - were superb throughout, probably the best of any music venue I have experienced. Rouse's signature smooth vocals effortlessly eased across all the albums touched upon, from the authentic Spanish sounds of El Turista, to the country/folk of the current release. While The Embers of Times makes a solid addition to Rouse's discography, with this year marking the ten year anniversary of the much-loved Nashville, I am holding out hope for a potential one-off celebratory tour in support of this album, with perhaps a wider focus on both the classics and rarities from his earlier work.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Guster at Bush Hall, London - 04/03/2015

Following the release of latest album Evermotion, Guster returned to London earlier this month for a one-off, intimate gig at Bush Hall. Although the album arrived in the UK only a few days prior to the gig, initial online previews had already indicated a strong transition from 2010's Easy Wonderful, with this latest effort driven towards a more spacious and atmospheric sound - a clear departure from its predecessor. This long-awaited performance marked the band's first London show in nearly a decade, a fact that was no doubt reflected by the anticipation of the thriving crowd, in both the lead-up and all throughout the 90-minute set.

The band opened the show with a haunting rendition of 'Ruby Falls', in which the heightened dynamics of the extended outro was enough to rival the studio version that appears on 2006's Ganging Up On The Sun. Acoustic fan favourite 'Do You Love Me' followed, though it was the defining synths and powerful vocals of 'Endlessly' that, as the first of the night's tracks to come from Evermotion, proved an early highlight and ultimately set the momentum for the proceeding songs. Other standout tracks from the new record included 'Long Night', and 'Kid Dreams', the latter of which translated fantastically in a live setting, but was perhaps most noteworthy due to the irresistible fusion of keys and bass. Though the band effortlessly switched instruments throughout the 20-track set, it was the bass that my ear was tuned to throughout, and along with Ryan Miller's impressive lead vocal, I found this aspect of the instrumentation to be most key to my overall enjoyment of the performance.

Although the set naturally centred around Evermotion, the band's previous three albums shaped the remainder of the gig, with material being equally drawn from Easy Wonderful and Ganging Up On The Sun. Their 2003 release, Keep It Together, was also touched upon, as the crowd were treated to the album's title track, along with 'Diane' and an unexpected final encore of 'Jesus On The Radio' - all of which made welcome additions to an already brilliant song line-up. While the absence of material from their first three studio albums was perhaps a bold move, the setlist was satisfyingly varied enough to appeal to both the long-time and casual fan. The much-loved 'Satellite' received a particularly rapturous response, adding further weight as to why the latter half of Guster's catalogue is arguably their best, however the new material truly shone in the fine acoustic settings of the ever-consistent Bush Hall, and with the tight musicianship of the band adding further substance, the night ultimately belonged to Evermotion.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hidden Treasures: Ball & Chain - Bus Stop

Bus Stop were a North Carolina-based, pop/rock band, formed in 1990 by vocalist Evan Olson and lead guitarist Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell. Completing the line-up were bassist Chuck Folds and drummer Eddie Walker, though the band is also notable for the involvement of Chuck's brother Ben, who contributed piano to a number of tracks over the course of their four LPs. I first came across Bus Stop after hearing a brief snippet of their music on a TV show. The clip was literally a ten-second instrumental intro section, but it was punchy and energetic, and I was immediately hooked. The track in question - 'What You Do' - and the album from which it appears - 2000's Japanese compilation release, Ball & Chain - offered me a solid introduction to the band's music.

The most endearing aspect of Ball & Chain, is how stylistically diverse it is. There is no one sound that dominates, with a tracklist spontaneously spanning multiple genres throughout its 23 songs. The strongest tracks appear in the album's first half; 'Arrow From My Heart' makes for a timeless, mid-tempo opener, accompanied by spacious riffs that run alongside effortless vocals, while the rock-infused, sharp hooks of the aforementioned 'What You Do', progress to an even more satisfying guitar solo. Another key moment, and an overall vocal highlight of the record, is the infectiously melodic title track, with the addition of Ben Folds on piano, further complimenting what is probably the most 'complete' sounding song on the album. On the latter half of the record, standout moments come by way of the funk-driven 'Mr. Midnight', while the breezy, euphoric instrumentation of 'Livin', Lovin' revisits the sublime tone that is captured so well on earlier parts of the album.

Ball & Chain was Bus Stop's final release, and as of yet, the only album of theirs that I have been able to find a physical copy of. It is hardly surprising that their music is difficult to obtain, considering that all of their material was released prior to today's digital age, in which music is so readily available. With that being said, I am eager to track down Bus Stop's other LPs, if only to see how they fare in comparison to the strength and consistency that is so evident on Ball & Chain.