Tag Archives: live music

Live review: Pharrell Williams + Baauer + Nina Las Vegas – Brisbane Riverstage – 12/3/14

Pharrell Brisbane

For a man with so many fingers in so many pies, it’s a wonder that Pharrell Williams can even spare the time to be touring Australia. Producer, musician, rapper, fashion designer; he has been called a man of many talents, and while I was aware of his ubiquitous presence across seemingly every corner of the music world in the last twelve months, I wasn’t yet convinced that he deserves the level of veneration in which he’s held by a fair percentage of the music-loving population. This gig would help me decide.

Initially to be held at the RNA Showgrounds Marquee, the show was moved to the far superior Riverstage due to huge early demand, and no doubt benefited as a result. The natural amphitheatre by the river is surely one of the best venues in Brisbane, and it’s a blessing for everyone involved that the dreaded Entertainment Centre had no part to play in the evening’s proceedings.

Nina Las Vegas took to the stage to warm up the crowd as the venue filled, and ran through an up-tempo set of party tunes before an audience still happy to stretch out on the grass with a beer in hand; it was only seven o’clock and most people had just finished work after all. “Oh my God, you’re alive!” she announced, to a fairly fuzzed-out bunch of gig-goers, before further trying to entice a bit of movement with “arms are good if you wanna say hi!” during a remix of Disclosure’s ‘When A Fire Starts To Burn’.

Baauer was up next with a request to “make some noise if you’re seeing Pharrell tonight,” as I realise that I’ve never actually heard a DJ say anything interesting between or during songs; the nature of their work relegates them to using inane sentences like “let’s go Brisbane!” or “are you ready?” and while it’ll probably work at a club gig, it mostly fell on deaf ears with this audience.

With a 10pm curfew firmly in place for every Riverstage gig, Pharrell had his work cut out to make his show worthwhile when he arrived on-stage at 9:15. With his DJ and pair of dancers in tow, he simply had to walk to the front of the stage and salute for this crowd to go wild and bawl his name. What followed can only be described as a lazy, half-hearted attempt at a performance, as he reeled off shortened versions of most of the more well-known songs he’s had a hand in, with a Ramones-esque urgency but lacking in the elbow grease, entertainment value and any semblance of realism. He’s got a fairly hectic schedule, so preserving a bit of energy is understandable, but gig-goers still want to get some value for money, you know what I mean?

Starting off with ‘One’ by Swedish House Mafia, Pharrell leaned over almost into his baying and slathering audience during ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and an excerpt of ‘Hollaback Girl’, and he still had basically done nothing on stage. I found myself wondering what would happen if the audience didn’t immediately go crazy for him the second he appeared. What would he have in his performer’s arsenal that would win over a crowd who aren’t instantly impressed by a foolishly-chosen hat, a couple of gyrating girls and a – admittedly impressive – set of abs? Luckily for him it’s a question that doesn’t have to be asked, as somehow his reputation carries him through.

“Tonight I just wanna perform for you and show how much I appreciate you so much. I know they call this the land Down Under, but this is the land on top. I want the Martians to hear the Australian voices all the way to the moon. Australia, are you ready to make some motherfucking noise?” Planetary confusion aside, this request got a huge response before more shortened versions of ‘Hot In Herre’ and ‘Lapdance’ and a request for some “oestrogen on stage” saw six or seven enthusiastically gyrating girls take their moment in the limelight.

The only song to be played in full – and indeed be anything more than two minutes long – was new effort ‘Hunter’; a song “written from the woman’s perspective”, as we’re informed. Hearing a track in its entirety made for a pleasant change to the start-stop nature of the show up to this point, but unfortunately that feeling is quickly erased when the wince-inducing lyrics of ‘Blurred Lines’ appeared.

The obvious climax is ‘Get Lucky’, which got the biggest response of the night, before ‘Happy’ closed out the set as dancing breaks out across the entire venue, although the man himself is still fairly static and alone on a big stage. More rambled speeches about being so loud as to shake the moon or some such nonsense are made, but as I left the venue it was more a feeling of utter indifference than happiness that I felt; and I was certainly no closer to understanding the phenomenon that is Pharrell Williams’s popularity after this half-hearted and peculiar little evening of live music that was a runaway triumph for style over substance.

Live review: Wire + Per Purpose + Multiple Man – The Zoo, Brisbane – 19/2/14

Wire

Writing about Wire is hard, just like listening to a lot of their music. Just like spending a couple of hours in the sweatbox we know as probably the best live music venue in Brisbane. Just like waiting for support band Per Purpose to warm up. Just like, well, just like anything about now; I’m listening to Wire as I write this.

Getting together in 1976 just after the first year’s worth of English punk had reared its ugly head, the quartet of Londoners that made up Wire were never a bunch to follow trends or fashion; instead being intent to walk their own path and be one of the original instigators of post-punk. Often credited for expanding sonic boundaries in new and brave ways, they have influenced just about everything that has ever been labelled post-punk.

Now: maybe it’s the heat, but tonight’s lesson in crushing electronic noise doesn’t have the desired effect, except I don’t know what that effect should be. A sense of stark destruction, perhaps? I arrive just as openers Multiple Man are finishing, but don’t get a sense of what they’re really about. Per Purpose, on the other hand, know exactly what they’re about; droning jams, intense cheekbone-framed stares and wailing, shattered guitars. Towards the end of their half-hour set they finally get going and produce some quality The Fall-esque jams.

Wire were innovators in the ’70s, so I’m not sure why it feels odd to see singer-guitarist Colin Newman using a tablet and USB, but as their songs morph from one to the next without much of a discernible difference except perhaps the cacophonous volume of drone, it’s more the lack of a tune that is most frustrating. Something about the performance feels great; dark and enveloping in a brooding way, but in other ways it falls over; a lack of connection to the audience or any showing of emotion, perhaps.

Some bands make great records and others were born to play live, and I think Wire fall into the first category.

Live review: Richie Sambora – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 20/2/14

Richie Sambora

IF YOU BELIEVE EVERYTHING that you’ve read in the majority of music press, it would seem that the past week has been a turbulent one for Soundwave. Bands pulling out of the festival, a multitude of timetable changes and a flurry of what promoter AJ Maddah has referred to as “pissing contests” between bands have all contributed to an impression of a festival in trouble. If you look past the melodrama, however, you’ll realise that there remains a festival of almost a hundred bands of such impressive diversity and talent to make any such trivialities irrelevant, and with more rock credentials than any music fan could spend a day shaking several sticks at.

A pleasant bonus to having Soundwave roll through town is of course sideshows, and tonight’s gig from ex-Bon Jovi member Richie Sambora would be a more than pleasant addition to that roster.

With a set beginning at the early time of 8pm and with no support bands on a stiflingly humid Brisbane evening, it could be suggested that Sambora might have his work cut out to make the gig work, but this is one rock stalwart who has played more stadium gigs than some of the fans here tonight have had hot dinners, so it’s no surprise that the old master works the audience into a frenzy with a series of classic rock tracks and plenty of between-song banter. The only question remains is how much Bon Jovi material will he play, and will he mention his old song-writing (and latter day sparring) partner?

At around 8:30 the lights dim and AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ comes over the PA, announcing the arrival of the healthy looking Sambora and Australian guitarist Orianthi among a six-piece setup. Starting off with the first two tracks from his most recent album Aftermath Of The Lowdown, ‘Burn The Candle Down’ and ‘Every Road Leads Home To You’, he directs his audience to “wave your hands motherfuckers,” and said motherfuckers respond in the appropriate fashion. Explaining that his last album was a cathartic one for him to write and record, and receiving an amiable ribbing from a few people in the crowd for drinking water instead of alcohol, the 54 year-old says that “there’s too much shit around music now; people just want to hear people communicate music and jam out,” in reference to over-production and adding too many electronic elements.

Working through ‘Taking A Chance On The Wind’ followed by an excerpt from ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, Sambora leads the first huge sing-along of the evening for Bon Jovi number ‘I’ll Be There For You’, although there’s no mention of Jon as yet. Platinum-blonde guitarist Orianthi is a hard-rocking delight throughout; trading riffs and owning large sections of songs, while not stealing the limelight at any point. Its easy to see why she has been voted one of the top female guitarists in the world by several guitar magazines.

A cover of INXS’s ‘Don’t Change’ is wedged appropriately into the show at this point, before ‘Sugar Daddy’ and ‘Weathering The Storm’ provide rocking riffs and a spot of cheese-rock balladry respectively.

“I wrote this song about my fucking ex-wife,” says Sambora, to ridiculous levels of cheering, before playing the opening chords of ‘Learning How To Fly With A Broken Wing’ and finally the first reference to Jon Bon Jovi comes as he introduces ‘These Days’. “This is the title track of our 1995 album,” he says. “I know which songs are mine, and which were his.” Cue more cheering. “When he coughs up some dough I’ll probably go back.”

By now, everyone can feel that a big number is coming, and as Sambora dons a hat that looks like it was picked due its resemblance to that of Crocodile Dundee, the band kick into ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Midnight Oil, which after a couple of verses becomes ‘Living On A Prayer’. Like a time-bomb going off, the release of energy is inescapable, and for three or four minutes it feels like a stadium gig circa 1987, or every bad birthday party you’ve ever been to.

An obligatory encore including ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ is enough to finish off this audience, and if tonight’s gig reinforced anything, it’s that Soundwave is going to be special. Oh, and Richie Sambora doesn’t need the help of any old ‘friends’ to put on a kick-ass rock show.

RICHIE SAMBORA APPEARS AT SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL STARTING IN BRISBANE FEB 22.

Live review: Misfits + Graveyard Rockstars + The Wrath – The Zoo, Brisbane – 16/1/14

New Jersey horror-punk legends the Misfits may have had more line-up changes than Kiss, Thin Lizzy and The Ramones put together (possibly), but with founding bass player and vocalist Jerry Only still at the helm of the iconic band, they seem to be in just as good a shape as ever.

Brisbane’s The Zoo is packed and humid as a sell-out audience takes position to catch the make-up toting trio, with almost as many skulls on T-shirts as tattoos and chains hanging from a variety of facial features. First up is Sydney quintet The Wrath, who put in a strong opening set as the venue fills, followed by fellow Sydney-siders Graveyard Rockstars, whose performance is a mashing together of white horror-punk make-up, head-banging dreadlocks and foreboding tales about death and what might be lurking “six feet under the floor”. “This next song is a doomsday anthem,” says frontman Ash Rothschild. “You can take it how you will. That sounds a bit gay, doesn’t it?”

With a stripped-down stage show for their Australian jaunt, the Misfits themselves don’t take long before lowering the lights and appearing before an audience now collectively losing its marbles. Almost from the second Jerry, Dez and Eric take to the stage a mess of frenzied moshing breaks out front-and-centre, and the energy doesn’t let up for ninety minutes. Jerry Only is the focal point throughout; his trademark devilock hairstyle hasn’t changed a bit since 1977, and his spiked shoulders and skull-encrusted bass head reflect spotlights and drip sweat in tandem.

With Ramones-like speed the songs are reeled off, from ‘Land of the Dead’, ‘Scream’, ‘Attitude’, ‘Angel Fuck’ and ‘She’; the latter written when Only was seventeen, and seemingly about a hundred others. The inevitable crowd-surfing breaks out during ’20 Eyes’, and the band continue unperturbed as a sea of elbows, knees and beer bottles bubbles and boils beneath them.

Almost as quickly as it started the set is over, and I’m left with a feeling that despite the horror-punk label the band is given, there is so much more in their arsenal; from punk, speed-metal, rockabilly, and good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. They just don’t make ’em like this any more.

Live review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club + Immigrant Union – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – 17/11/13

It’s hard to believe that Californian rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been in existence since 1998. For me, their near-perfect blend of neo-psychedelia and barely-restrained garage-rock aggression transcends time and trends, owing to the fact that throughout their seven album, fifteen year career they haven’t ever tried to be anyone but themselves. Originally on the line-up of the now deceased Harvest Festival, the band delighted their Australian fans by swiftly responding to the cancellation of their festival shows and announcing a headlining tour of their own. Tonight’s result is that Brisbane gets to experience Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in West End’s The Hi-Fi. Game on.

An already quite full venue greets support act Immigrant Union; a band of mish-mashed styles (both musically and hair-wise), featuring Dandy Warhols’ drummer Brent DeBoer on frontman duties. Written descriptions of their music often feature the word ‘folk’, but tonight’s performance is a quite exhilarating mix of bluesy roots and country, with extended jams only being beaten in length by the awesome hair of singer-guitarist Bob Harrow.

Lighting in a now packed Hi-Fi is sparse and ominous as the effortlessly cool trio of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club walk onto the stage, amid reverberating roars of welcome and gasps of shock (come on, people) at guitarist/vocalist Peter Hayes having a solitary cigarette perched on his guitar neck, the light trail of smoke heading ceiling-wards from the red-hot tip while reflecting the light and adding to his already smooth exterior.

Starting with the grand ‘Hate The Taste’, the trio build a monumental sound from their respective instruments, before heading into ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ and a cover of ‘Let The Day Begin’ by bassist Robert Been’s father’s band The Call. Switching styles, instruments, pace, and groove comes easy to the three-piece throughout, as an ecstatic crowd are treated to the likes of ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’, ‘Screaming Gun’ and ‘Conscience Killer’, before a final blast of scathing, fiercely powerful guitar rock with ‘Spread Your Love’.

Obviously an encore is called for, and BRMC oblige with a further four-song outing, including ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song)’. With pounded ears, a sense of dark elation, and the foreboding doom of the working week ahead, we make for home. What a bloody great gig.

Live review: Cody Chesnutt + The Cheap Fakes – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – 20/10/13

Cody Chesnutt

Some gigs promise much but deliver little. Fewer promise little but deliver much. Probably even fewer again promise much and deliver even more. But what type would tonight’s gig be? This particular Atlanta new-age soul brother – whose new record evokes smooth and dreamy mental images of Prince, Marvin Gaye and Southern-fried gospel – is in town for one night only, and for a soul gig in Brisbane on a Sunday night, perhaps expectations shouldn’t be high.

Enter Cody Chesnutt; a man who will take your expectations of the gig, the evening, and even your life, and lift them tenfold. Tonight, he would not only deliver more than could have reasonably been expected; tonight he’d take this Brisbane audience to church.

Support for tonight comes partly in the form of Brisbane’s own ska-party real-deals, Cheap Fakes. The classy six-piece run through an entertaining set of tight, danceable ska jams that instantly makes Sunday night feel like a Saturday again, as the dreaded Monday blues are fought off with vigour. Starting with ‘All I Know’, the six-piece led by engaging frontman Hayden Andrews are stylish and smooth and as the sound builds and each member solos like their lives depend on it, the audience knows they’re no fakes. Andrews announces the fact that “We’re really honoured to be supporting Cody Chesnutt. He’s been one of our favourite artists since his first album. You guys are in for a treat.”

Treat indeed. After a lengthy setup time, the impossibly cool Cody Chesnutt and his band of four take to the stage; the man himself in trademark blue army helmet and red cardigan, looking lean, mean, and ready to rock our worlds. Not content to rely on older, more familiar material, the set is comprised of songs mostly taken from his latest album, Landing On A Hundred, and lacks nothing for it. “Do you wanna listen to some soul music tonight? Let me hear you say YEAH!” he screams, and the audience respond from the off.

Starting with ‘Everybody’s Brother’ with it’s anthemic chorus, Chesnutt proves himself immediately to be a worker of crowds of the highest order as he has us eating out of his hands within minutes of being on the stage. As we sing “no turning back” loudly, then softly, then loudly again at his direction, Chesnutt grins, poses, sweats and beats around the stage with the energy of a man half his age, and we know we’re in for a pretty special night. This music is the very essence of soul, and Chesnutt knows the importance of putting everything into it and leaving nothing in the tank.

‘What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next)’ is next, and this is where his band of hand-picked musicians get their first chance to truly shine as they solo. It’s also apparent at this stage that this will be one of those gigs that goes for ninety minutes but only features about seven or eight songs, as the band jam and songs melt into the fabric of each other and back out again. ‘More Than A Wedding Day’ is next, and Chesnutt explains it is his favourite of the album, being the song that comes closest to describing his recent redemption and acceptance of family responsibilities and dedication to his craft, followed by ‘Where Is All The Money Going?”, which allows Chesnutt to flaunt the range of his vocals and once again lead the crowd in a sing-along. “Even a whisper is powerful,” he declares, “Because everyone in this room is united right now.” Never a truer word.

One of the most monumental roars I’ve ever heard in the Hi-Fi brings the singer back for an encore, and as he walks through the audience shaking hands and hugging strangers, there’s not a face in the house that doesn’t have a big goofy grin plastered across it. Cody Chesnutt is a man who knows how to deliver.

Live review: Blondie – Waterfront Hall, Belfast – 26th June 2013

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It’s a deliciously warm summer evening in my hometown; the kind that makes it seem that the sun won’t ever go down. In Belfast for the first time in about five years; I’m arguing with a taxi driver as we do about seventy miles per hour along the carriageway. He foolishly but stubbornly reckons Blondie were the first band to release a rap record, while I’m certain ‘Rapper’s Delight’ at least came before, even if it wasn’t the first. And weren’t Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five knocking around before either of them? I’m not sure on that one, so decide to keep it in my back pocket in the event of this debate heating up.

A dismissive “nah,” is all he’s got when I repeatedly make my argument that 1979 demonstrably came before 1981, and that elements of rap have been seen throughout reggae, jazz, and other forms of music well before front-woman Debbie Harry was even thought of, and also who-fucking-cares-anyway-can’t-we-all-just-enjoy-the-fucking-tunes. So, it’s with this sense of infuriation that I arrive at the Waterfront Hall to catch the classic new-wave band, now in their thirty-ninth year. Cheers, cabbie.

Thankfully, Blondie are way too much of a class act to let a smartass taxi driver spoil the vibe. The 2500-seater venue is full to capacity, and although the age-range of the audience is generally in the ballpark of those old enough to have enjoyed the band in their heyday, the energy level and atmosphere are high and buzzing, in that order. With an act that is obviously honed to perfection, the sextet take to the stage exactly on time, with Harry stealing the limelight with her trademark platinum blonde hair and an interesting red catsuit type number. It’s only about halfway through opener ‘One Way Or Another’ that surely every member of this – by now bouncing – crowd is reminded of what an original, and classic band this is.

Harry, from the off, is immeasurably infectious, and at 68 has lost none of the sex appeal that was such a trademark of the band in the late ’70s and early ’80s. She is a front-woman who is never boring, always visually engaging, and still has the pipes to fill out a venue of this size. Maybe it was her years spent working as a Playboy bunny, or simply a naturally engaging personality that taught her the need to not simply stand, but to always have a stance. Look up the ‘Heart of Glass’ video for example, and she’s not just standing behind the mic, but she’s there, hand on hip, one knee pushed forward, gently swaying her hips in an almost hypnotic motion. She also knows when to take a back seat and let guitarist Chris Stein or drummer Clem Burke’s sounds come to the fore. Did I mention that word class, already? Or the fact she influenced just about every white female vocalist who came after her?

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Newer songs mix with old dependables, with ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, ‘A Rose By Any Name’, and ‘The Tide Is High’ following in quick succession, with the Waterfront audience now looking like unwilling participants in a mass epileptic fit in a retirement village, before Harry announces “there’s something here that’s big, wet, and wild: Mr. Chris Stein on the guitar!” Oh Debbie, you’re a tease and you know it.

A couple of unannounced new tracks are fired off to a relatively muted response, as token youngster Tommy Kessler engages in some impressive axe shredding, with the predictable result of several hundred middle-aged women now hanging on his every move, and the scene being set nicely for the biggest cheer of the night, which comes during the first few notes of ‘Atomic’.

Closer ‘Heart of Glass’ is perhaps Blondie’s best-known song, and at the time of writing was considered to be nothing more than another album track by the band, hence its position tucked three-quarters of the way down the track-list of Parallel Lines. Clem Burke proves himself to still be a hard-hitting drum machine during the final tracks, as the Belfast crowd loses its collective marbles, and Harry and co. strut off-stage for a towel down and a cold drink.

An energetic encore featuring new song ‘Take Me In The Night’, ‘Call Me’, a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, and finale ‘Dreaming’ brings a fine night of entertainment to a close, and the band leave the stage for the last time to the sounds of near-deafening appreciation.

For those seeing the band for the first time, it’s a glorious moment, and for those seeing them for a second or maybe third time, it’s probably even more so. While the hits get the biggest response, this is a band with plenty of mileage remaining, and with new songs being written constantly, they aren’t happy to rely on their past. While songs like ‘Atomic’ probably won’t ever be bettered, it’s exciting to think that Blondie are going to give it a damn good try.