Mike Atkinson

Drake – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Wednesday April 25

Posted in Capital FM Arena, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on April 26, 2012

(originally published in the Nottingham Post)

It was the last night of Drake’s European tour, so the Canadian hip-hop superstar was in the mood for celebrating. This was his best night of the tour, we were told – and despite certain lingering suspicions, it would have been mean-spirited to disbelieve him.

Functionally attired in a plain black shirt, that was discarded mid-set to reveal an equally plain black singlet (and a finely sculpted pair of shoulders), Drake has made his mark by setting himself apart from his blingier musical cousins. Although his tracks are stuffed full of the usual bad-boy bragging – he’s a magnet for the ladies, he’s dripping with cash, he’s basically God’s gift to mankind – the boasts are subverted by uncertainties, doubts and vulnerabilities.

It doesn’t always quite add up, though. On Marvin’s Room, one of the key tracks on his monumentally successful Take Care album, our hero seems to be trying to have it both ways. “I’ve had sex four times this week, I’ll explain, having a hard time adjusting to fame”, he sings, in a less than convincing bid for our sympathy. As for the album’s mega-selling title track, an affecting duet with Rihanna that casts the pair as estranged lovers, driven apart by forces beyond their control, the emotional impact was rather diluted when Drake chose to express his anguish by hoicking up his top and flashing his abs.

Then again, a Drake show is more about showmanship than soulfulness, and showmanship is a quality which he has in abundance. A natural arena performer, he worked the crowd to fever pitch, without needing to fall back on fancy dance routines or elaborate props. An unobtrusive six-piece band were kept to the sidelines, and the clever video graphics never intruded too much on the strong connection between the star and his adoring fans.

“I can tell it’s real women that listen to my music”, he purred, keen to distinguish them from the “bitches” that constantly pepper his lyrics. As for that troublesome (and equally overused) n-word, we were given a special dispensation – valid for one night only – to apply it to ourselves, regardless of ethnicity. (“I don’t recommend this strategy outside the building”, he cautioned.)

Eager to get to know us all on a one-to-one basis, Drake devoted nearly fifteen minutes of his ninety minute set to an extended “I see you” routine, in which he picked out individual members of the crowd, describing their clothes, their hair, or their physique. (“You’ve got a lot of things going on with your body that I love!” he exclaimed, pointing at an ecstatic fan in the front row.) It’s not an original trick – Beyoncé did much the same thing in the same venue, a few years back – but it made dozens of people feel special, even including your reviewer. (“I see you in the polo!”)

The night climaxed with a storming version of The Motto – a straight-up party banger with a bowel- quaking sub-bass – swiftly followed by a dazzling Headlines, whose lyrics flashed across the stage in perfect synch. The road crew danced on stage, invited up to mark the last night, while each and every one of the capacity crowd gave it maximum welly. No encore was offered, but none was needed; Drizzy had delivered, and the Arena had shown him all their love.

Fists, Cantaloupe, Kagoule – Nottingham Contemporary, Saturday April 21

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Post by Mike A on April 26, 2012

(originally published in the Nottingham Post)

To mark the end of Record Store Day 2012, LeftLion magazine teamed up with The Music Exchange to present a free evening of live music at Nottingham Contemporary’s café-bar, a venue which has done much to promote Nottingham’s thriving music scene in recent months.

Teenage trio Kagoule, who opened for Dog Is Dead at Rock City at the end of last year, proved to be equally capable of impressing Contemporary’s largely older clientele. Their playing displayed a calm, steady purposefulness, and a maturity which was well beyond their years.  Singer and guitarist Cai Burns, an intense but unshowy performer, formed an effective partnership with bassist Lucy Hatter and drummer Lawrence English, delivering brooding, low-slung grooves that evoked the spirit of Nineties post-grunge alt-rock.

For those who mourn the passing of long-time scene stalwarts Souvaris, who played their farewell gig at Contemporary in February, it was cheering to witness three-fifths of the band continuing to perform as Cantaloupe. There aren’t many acts who would introduce a track as their “disco” number and then perform it in 10:4 time, but Cantaloupe have a rare knack of twisting tricky time signatures into surprisingly dance-friendly shapes. Led by John Simson’s retro-futurist keyboards, the instrumental trio retain some of the experimental krautrock influences of their old band, but the overall mood is lighter, bouncier and sunnier. Cantaloupe’s debut EP (Teapot) is due out in June, on local label Hello Thor.

Fresh from a recent tour of the USA, Fists returned to their home city in triumph, filling the café-bar to capacity. It immediately became clear that the tour had done them the power of good, fusing the five players together as a tighter unit than ever before, but without losing their ragged, ramshackle charm along the way. Their searing, surging triple-guitar squall engulfed the room, and their deranged, devilish delight in performing was a joy to behold.

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The Osmonds – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday April 4

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on April 26, 2012

(originally published in the Nottingham Post)

54 years on from their debut performance, with over 100 million record sales under their belts, The Osmonds have finally decided to bid us all farewell. This isn’t just their final tour of the UK; it’s also their longest, a fifty-date marathon which has been billed as “a great big thank you to all our fans for their love and support through the years”.

Only two members of the original barbershop quartet remain. 58-year old Merrill now bears an uncanny resemblance to Kenny Rogers – as his brothers weren’t slow to point out – and while 57-year old Jay might be a little thicker around the waist, his energy levels remain undimmed. An Osmonds show wouldn’t be an Osmonds show without a drum solo from Jay, and the trouper acquitted himself more than ably.

Merrill and Jay were joined on stage by not-so-“little”-anymore Jimmy, the baby of the bunch at a mere 48. A fourth brother, Wayne, had been expected on the tour, but a recent stroke has sadly forced him into premature retirement. Most of the fans already knew, and some paid tribute by dressing in orange, his signature colour from the old days.

But if the brothers were somewhat lacking in numbers, they more than made up for this by delivering a spirited, energised show, which felt fresher and more focussed than some of their more syrupy recent tours. The familiar old hits – “we’ve even had a couple of good ones”, quipped Jimmy – were bulked up by new material from their current album, Can’t Get There Without You, which is being promoted by Tesco. “We asked them to stock it between the wine and the cheese”, Jimmy grinned. “I’m cheesy – Merrill’s whiney – and Jay’s crackers.”

Underlining the “farewell” aspect of the tour, much use was made of cleverly assembled video montages, with footage that spanned the full five and a half decades. During Remember Me from the new album, absent brothers Alan, Wayne and Donny each materialised on screen, prompting warm applause from their ever-adoring fans.

Tribute was paid to the early days, in the form of a delightful barbershop number, performed unaccompanied and at breakneck speed. Breakthrough hit One Bad Apple took us back to the “bubblegum soul” period, Jimmy’s falsetto sounding particularly fine. The pile-driving Crazy Horses opened and closed the show, reminding us that The Osmonds could always rock out when they wanted to. The inevitable Long Haired Lover From Liverpool was served up with self-deprecating good humour, as giant balloons were released into the crowd. Arms swayed high for The Proud One, the first big ballad of the set, while Let Me In oozed class, and a medley of Are You Up There and I Believe prompted the longest and most emotional ovation of the night.

They might never have been fashionable, but you don’t become the world’s longest-serving pop group by chasing trends. Instead, The Osmonds have maintained their position by sticking to time-honoured show business values, by never short-changing their fans, and by never taking their enduring popularity for granted. Corny as it might sound, we’ve loved them for a reason.

VDU – Past Future Sequence

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on April 26, 2012

(originally published in LeftLion magazine)

VDU is a new alter-ego for Noel Murphy, an electronic composer and digital artist who also designs music software and hardware. Along with Tom Hill, who subsequently founded Origamibiro, Murphy first established his reputation with Wauvenfold, with releases for the Wichita label and remixes for Super Furry Animals and Brothers In Sound. Last year, the duo reunited for the Blockwerk Orchestra sound installation at Nottingham Castle, and Hill also helped with the mastering on this eight-track collection of instrumental mood pieces.

“For the last couple of years, I have been lamenting the general lack of futurism that has been the Noughties”, says Murphy, whose childhood visions of a gleaming, space-age future have not been matched by 21st century reality. These feelings of nostalgia – for a future which never actually happened – form the emotional starting point for Past Future Sequence. “It might not be the robots and jetpacks we were promised”, he explains,” but if you close your eyes and listen to it whilst wearing a hat fashioned from tin foil, it might go some way to scratching that itch.”

Spanning moods that range from the ethereally soothing (pstftr) to the fidgety and restless (Toad Skull), the mini-album begins with the smoothly undulating D.A.R.P.S, whose constant speeding up and slowing down could have been gimmicky – and yet , somehow, it sounds wholly natural and unforced.

Emerging quietly on New Year’s Day, with next to no promotion, Past Future Sequence deserves the attention of everyone who has an interest in electronic music.

Listen to this album on Bandcamp.

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