Mike Atkinson

La Roux – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday November 17.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on November 18, 2009

“Was anyone at my last gig in Nottingham?” she asked, before admitting that “it was my shitttest gig ever.” True enough, La Roux’s show at the Rescue Rooms in April had been plagued by technical faults – but in a strange sort of way, the fiasco had played to her strengths as a personality, highlighting the flawed frailty that lies at the heart of her appeal.

Promoted to Rock City for their autumn tour, Elly Jackson and her band encountered no further hitches – although we could have done without the absurd forty-five minute wait which followed the support band. Performing in front of an impressively slick illuminated backdrop, her hair teased into a sky-high vertical quiff that even the X Factor’s John and Edward would have baulked at, La Roux presented herself as a fully fledged pop star.

Unfortunately, the scale of the show also magnified Elly’s limitations as a singer and performer. Vocally sharp and shrill, with indifferent phrasing and a grating lack of pitch control, she sounded like someone who was straining to sing above her natural range. And in terms of showmanship, her lack of training and absence of natural charisma left her unable to establish any meaningful rapport with the crowd.

Luckily, there was still enough goodwill in the room to tide the band over, and enough strong material in the La Roux songbook to overcome the amateurishness of Elly’s delivery. Colourless Colour marked the turning point, and the wildly popular In For The Kill ensured that the main set ended on a rapturous high.

An extended version of the unassailably brilliant Bulletproof was saved for the encore, reminding us of why we all fell for La Roux in the first place. But after a meagre forty-seven minutes on stage – scarcely longer than the gap between the acts – it was difficult not to feel a little bit short-changed, and a little bit deflated.

Alabama 3 – Nottingham Rock City, Thursday November 12.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on November 16, 2009

Musical trends may come and go, but it’s reassuring to know that there’s always room for a good old-fashioned “punk rock, blues and country techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninist electro pop band”. Since their inception in 1996, Alabama 3 have built a reputation as one of the most dependably enjoyable live bands on the circuit. If you only know them from their records, then you’re missing half the story. An Alabama 3 gig is an event: a gathering of the faithful, who have come to worship at the altar of the “First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine”.

The service was led by a pair of renegade preachers: The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love (hirsute, full-figured, fond of sermons, and possessed of a Southern American drawl that belied his Brixton roots) and his co-vocalist Larry Love (a latter day medallion man, whose raddled, wired, possibly sleep-deprived performance channelled the spirits of Joe Strummer, Ian Dury and Hunter S. Thompson). Their hymn sheets included devotional numbers such as “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”, “Mao Tse Tung Said”, and the ever-popular “Woke Up This Morning” (best known as the theme tune from The Sopranos).

A lengthy encore included a re-appearance from the support band, followed by an updated version of Country Joe and the Fish’s anti-war protest song, I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die, its words altered to reference the current situation in Afghanistan.

Just Jack – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday November 10.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on November 11, 2009

With three hit singles and two charting albums under his belt, you might have expected Just Jack to have filled Rock City to capacity. So it came as a surprise to find him relegated to the venue’s basement bar, playing to an audience that would have fitted comfortably into the Rescue Rooms next door. “They must have turned a thousand people away at the door”, he joked, adapting to his reduced circumstances with relaxed good humour.

On Monday night, Jack Allsop and his five-piece band had played to 1200 people at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – and yet by the end the set, he happily conceded that this had been the better show. The intimacy of the venue gave him free rein to trade quips and banter with the more vocal members of the audience, making everybody feel included.

Wearing his thirty-four years lightly, with the sprightly demeanour of a fresh-faced teen, Jack breezed his way through his 75 minutes on stage. Observational, witty and tender, his songs presented neatly drawn vignettes of everyday life. What they lacked in profundity, they made up for in simple, unforced charm.

As the set gathered steam, the crowd loosened up, bellowing the likeably daft lyrics of The Day I Died back at the stage. (“I always hated Rob! And now they’ll probably offer me Rob’s old job!”) A bold choice for a single, the canon-like Embers broke from the formula, while Starz In Their Eyes – dedicated on this occasion to Susan Boyle – offered a timely pricking of the delusions of TV talent show hopefuls.

Dizzee Rascal – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday October 13.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on October 14, 2009

From leading light of the underground grime scene, to darling of the broadsheet critics, to fully fledged mainstream pop star, Dizzee Rascal has come a long way in the last seven years. As with fellow traveller Tinchy Stryder, his new audience is young, eager, pop-savvy, and up for having the best time possible. The girls at the front of the balcony lapped up his bad-boy act (without ever taking it too seriously), while the boys at the back of the main floor nodded their appreciation of his quickfire lyrical flow. All of them knew their stuff, chanting whole verses back at their beaming hero, his sidekick and rhyming partner Scope, and Semtex, their man-mountain of a DJ.

Saving his most pop-orientated tunes for the end of the set, Dizzee launched straight into his performance at full tilt: spitting out the rhymes at top speed, with barely any let-up for the first twenty minutes. It could have felt oppressive – but the MC carried his crowd with controlled assurance, keeping right on his marks and never dropping a syllable for even a split second. The tempo dropped briefly, for the nearest we were going to get to a slow jam, before Dizzee picked up the pace once again, with a special shout-out out to his female fans. (“This one’s for all you sexy girls. DROP THAT S***!”)

As the set built to its climax, Old Skool recycled the Lyn Collins “woo-yeah” breakbeat that so dominated hip hop in the late Eighties, while new single Dirtee Cash revived Stevie V’s dance anthem from 1990. Finally, we got to the three big hitters: Dance Wiv Me, Holiday and Bonkers, all of them chart-toppers, and all of them guaranteed to raise the temperature to boiling point and beyond. Bonkers in particular seemed to unleash a special kind of madness – confirming its status as one of the defining hits of 2009, and reminding us that this has truly been the Year of the Rascal.

Bat For Lashes, Yeasayer – Nottingham Rock City, Monday October 12.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on October 13, 2009

Having impressed the cognoscenti with their fine debut All Hour Cymbals, it has been a couple of years since we last heard anything from Brooklyn-based art-rockers Yeasayer. Last night’s warmly received thirty-minute support slot gave the band – now expanded to a five-piece – a chance to try out material from their next album, due for release in the new year. The new songs sound more straightforwardly accessible and melodic, nudging the band away from the Animal Collective end of the indie spectrum (gone is the tribal hollering which characterised much of the first album), and placing them nearer to fellow Brooklyn-ites MGMT. That early experimentalism has by no means vanished – but equally, a commercial breakthough now looks possible.

Natasha Khan, the 29 year-old singer-songwriter who performs as Bat For Lashes, has drawn creative inspiration from the same Brooklyn scene for her second album Two Suns. Although eclipsed in sales terms by the strikingly similar Florence and the Machine, Natasha’s music offers subtler, richer rewards. Where Florence can sound strident and over-egged, Natasha understands the value of space, restraint and a softer, surer touch.

Backed by a shifting line-up of up to six musicians, with strings and percussion shaping the musical palette, Natasha maintained an ethereal, captivating presence. After building to a mid-set peak with Daniel and What’s A Girl To Do, the band faced the tricky task of maintaining the momentum set by their two best-known numbers. The energy levels dipped for a while, before soaring to new heights with the percussive, syncopated Two Planets and a thunderous, climactic Pearl’s Dream.

Encoring with The Big Sleep (the final track on Two Suns), Natasha duetted with a monochrome screen image of herself, who faded from view after the first verse. Was this a way of bidding farewell to “Pearl”, the alter-ego around which the album is centred? Theatrical to the end, Bat For Lashes were poetic without being pretentious, spiritual without being soppy, and tender without being twee. Glorious, uplifting stuff.

Maxïmo Park, Bombay Bicycle Club – Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday May 20.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 21, 2009

Anyone expecting the originally advertised support act was in for a disappointment last night, as The Noisettes turned out to be missing from the bill – mysteriously so, as they are still listed as the support for the remainder of Maxïmo Park’s current tour. Their place was taken by Bombay Bicycle Club: a likeable teenage indie band, whose album is due out in early July. Singer Jack Steadman put in an intriguingly eccentric performance, his face contorted into the sort of cringing, apologetic grimace that you might pull if you had just offended your grandparents with an off-colour joke.

In stark contrast, Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith – as natty as ever in his trademark black trilby and a close-fitting maroon checked suit – radiated an ebullient, unshakeable confidence from the off, his energy levels never dipping for a single second of his hour and ten minutes on stage. Eyes bulging and arms akimbo, he spent much of the set perched on a raised area at the lip of the stage, allowing even the most tightly crushed punter at the back of the sold-out venue to enjoy a full performance.

For a band whose rabble-rousing, anthemic indie rock was always underpinned with thoughtful lyrics and a leftfield approach, Maxïmo’s latest album is a disappointingly safe and conventional affair, which sees them treading water artistically. Beefed up on stage, the new material worked well enough – particularly recent single The Kids Are Sick Again – but it paled in comparison to crowd favourites such as Graffiti (which opened the set) and Apply Some Pressure (the final encore). And by placing such an emphasis on getting the crowd to leap around and generally go mad, much of the band’s subtlety was lost along the way.

Maxïmo Park used to be a little bit arty, a little bit different. Nowadays, they seem happy to turn themselves into the Kaiser Chiefs. Given their talent and potential, you can’t help wondering whether they’re selling themselves short.

Doves – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday May 5.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 6, 2009

The band themselves might be sick of the constant comparisons, but it’s hard to witness Doves’ return from the wilderness – it’s been four years since the last album – without remembering Elbow’s position this time last year. Both bands deal in a similar sort of weather-beaten Mancunian wistfulness: blending the melancholy with the uplifting, and addressing themselves more to the individual listener than the collective throng. And both bands have come back re-energised: offering fresh new twists on their classic sound, and trusting that the quality of the music alone will see them through.

But where Elbow’s Guy Garvey plays the showman, actively seeking a direct emotional connection with his audience, Doves’ Jimi Goodwin cuts an altogether more distanced, elusive, almost private figure. His band aren’t there to force their own interpretations of their music upon you. What you make of the songs is up to you. Everything’s left open-ended: from the impressionistic lyrics through to the obscure movie footage on the back wall.

At times, it seemed as if everyone in the room was lost in their own private world: concentrating on the exquisitely played material, without letting their faces give anything away. And then occasionally, an anthem like “Black And White Town” or “Pounding” would punch through: breaking the spell, and sending hands flying skywards.

A four-song encore climaxed with “There Goes The Fear”, whose coda had the whole band bashing out funky percussion rhythms, their regular instruments abandoned. It formed the perfect moment for an unscripted extra encore, especially for the “Nottingham ravers” in the house who had been bellowing for it all night: the 1992 cult club classic “Space Face”, recorded back when Doves were still known as Sub Sub. It was the one truly spontaneous moment of the night – and all the more welcome for it.

Basement Jaxx – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday April 21st.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on April 22, 2009

Two and a half years on from their last album, it feels like Basement Jaxx are itching to get back in the game. Instead of waiting for their forthcoming album Scars to be released (it’s due in May or June), they’ve broken with convention, touring the new material before anyone has a chance to hear it elsewhere.

Perhaps the purpose of this tour, which kicked off the night before in Newcastle, is simply to remind us that Basement Jaxx are still a going concern, and anything but a spent force? If so, then it’s a canny if unusual move.

The new stuff sounds good enough – particularly the addictively thumping new single “Raindrops”, which the band had only performed once before – and appetites were duly whetted for the recorded versions, which will include guest spots from the likes of Yoko Ono and Lightspeed Champion.

But it was the band’s sterling back catalogue which the capacity crowd had come to hear, and it was songs like the strident “Good Luck” (which opened the show), the ridiculously cheery 1920s throwback “Do Your Thing” and the relentlessly building momentum of Slarta John’s “Jump N’ Shout” which drew the loudest cheers from the surprisingly youthful audience.

The ten-strong line-up divided equally between the musicians and a fluctuating team of up to five guest vocalists, whose every re-appearance signalled yet another change of outfit. The outfits drew heavily on early 1980s hip hop influences, with plenty of bold primary colours, and the brilliant computer-generated animations at the back of the stage continued this bright, colourful theme.

As ever, the core creative duo of Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton kept a relatively low profile, allowing free rein to the crew at the front of the stage. The diva-esque Vula Malinga was as loveably sassy as ever, the more lithe Joy Malcolm busted some amazing dance moves, and the interaction between all the performers felt fresh, spontaneous, sometimes cheekily provocative, and always full of fun.

The 100-minute set peaked with a thunderous, roof-raising “Where’s Your Head At”, which had pretty much everyone in the room pogoing on the spot and furiously pumping their fists. Bizarrely, it was prefaced by the opening lines of “Three Times A Lady”, which cut off just as Lionel Richie was telling us that “there’s something I must say out loud”. The Jaxx are never anything less than eclectic, and their spirit of inclusion and open-mindedness is one of their greatest strengths – but who would have guessed that dear old Lionel would rank as one of their muses?

NME Shockwaves Tour – Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday February 11.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on February 12, 2009

These annual NME package tours can be patchy affairs. For every band who leap-frogs to greater success (Coldplay, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys), plenty more are destined to fall by the wayside (hands up, who remembers Campag Velocet, Alfie, Mumm-Ra or JJ72?).

Following below-par showings in 2007 and 2008, this year’s line-up marked a return to form. Florence and the Machine opened the show, with a well-received set that showcased Florence Welch’s powerful vocal capabilities. Florence was at her best on the more intense, dramatic numbers, which carried distinct echoes of Siouxsie and the Banshees. If she can rein in the ditsy bohemian act, and carry herself less like an art student and more like an artist, then her future should be assured.

Although the most orthodox band on the bill – we’ve heard these early New Order/Bunnymen influences many times before – White Lies proved to be the surprise hit of the night, building their comparatively lengthy set up to a satisfying crescendo, and demonstrating an efficient grasp of stagecraft.

They might be the superior band on record, but Friendly Fires struggled to retain the momentum set by White Lies. Their sound mix was sludgy, their playing lacked focus, and there was something faintly irritating about front man Ed Macfarlane’s over-strenuous cavortings. That said, nothing could spoil the impact of minor-league gems such as In The Hospital, Jump In The Pool or the sublime Paris. Perhaps this was just an off night?

Headliners Glasvegas have come a long way since their self-effacing half-hour set at the Bodega last January. They carry themselves differently these days. There’s more assurance, more authority, and even the first glimmers of a rapport with their audience. Rock City suited them perfectly, and James Allan returned our love with a smile and a bow. Despite an overly booming, bass-heavy mix, the night belonged to them.

Buzzcocks – Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday January 21.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on January 22, 2009

Over the past couple of years, an increasing number of veteran acts have opted to perform their classic albums in full. The Human League toured Dare in 2007, Gary Numan toured Replicas in 2008 – and this year, Manchester’s original punk pioneers have taken the concept a step further, playing their first two albums in their entirety.

Released in March and September of 1978, Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites caught the Buzzcocks riding an extraordinary wave of creative energy. As the initial head-rush of hardcore punk idealism faded away, they broke ranks with the herd and forged a fresh, clean sound that blended classic songcraft with cutting edge modernism. Over thirty years later, the material sounds as timeless as ever.

To the delight of any purists in the audience, both albums were played back to back, in their original track sequence, without any interruption. It was a bold move, which required a certain patience from the eager moshers down the front. The band’s biggest and best loved hit Ever Fallen in Love was buried in the middle of the set, rather than being saved for the climax. It was one of just two singles to be aired, the other being the equally lovelorn and transcendent I Don’t Mind.

For the thirty minute encore, our patience was rewarded. One by one, all the remaining classic Buzzcocks singles – and their accompanying B-sides – were wheeled out, again in fastidiously chronological order, ending with a gloriously messy thrash through Steve Diggle’s Harmony In My Head.

The Hold Steady – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday December 9

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on December 9, 2008

Patience was rewarded last night, as The Hold Steady compensated for October’s cancelled show with a storming 90 minute set. Just three nights into the rescheduled UK tour, singer Craig Finn could already spot familiar faces in the crowd. These people knew every word of the band’s dense, multi-layered mini-dramas, and they took eager delight in roaring an equally delighted Finn’s lyrics back at him.

Drawing on the experiences of his late teens and early twenties, Finn’s songs capture a world of reckless youthful excess, creating a complex narrative which runs through all four albums. There’s a nostalgic, almost mythological quality which invites comparison with Springsteen – but where Bruce can get bogged down in earnest worthiness, Craig never allows the darker undertows of his lyrics to stand in the way of having the best time possible. He’s the bespectacled college boy who hung out with dangerous “townies”, the geek made good, the thirtysomething who was given a second shot at success, and who has seized that opportunity with both hands.

Slamming from song to song with scarcely a pause, and with a set list that changes nightly, the band peaked with an exultant Sequestered In Memphis and an anthemic Chips Ahoy.

Martha Wainwright, Nottingham Rock City, Monday November 3

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on November 3, 2008

It takes a special kind of boldness to announce to your audience, after the third number, that you’re not wearing any underwear. Despite wrapping her admission in layers of wry self-deprecation, Martha Wainwright’s words came back to bite her later on, as a boorish heckler sought to labour the point. “I really wish I hadn’t said that”, she sighed.

This kind of reckless candour lies at the heart of much of Martha’s material: confessional, twisted, deeply personal songs that can teeter on the brink of over-sharing. On stage at a draughty, under-populated Rock City, her interpretations deftly straddled two competing standpoints: the accuser (“You cheated me, and I can’t believe it!”) and the victim (“My heart was made for bleeding all over you”).

Such dense lyrical complexity demanded much from us, and those with the greatest familiarity with Wainwright’s work derived the greatest rewards. Happily, most of her audience fell into this category, and an atmosphere of fond concentration prevailed.

Saving her most notorious song for the encore, Martha performed BMFA – written as an angry rant at her father – with an affectionate half-smile that suggested that the hatchet had long since been buried.

“Underwear is available in the foyer”, she quipped, truthfully. On the way out, the crush at the merchandise stall was three-deep.

Seasick Steve – Nottingham Rock City, Thursday October 9

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on October 9, 2008

The mythology surrounding Seasick Steve is a powerful one. Having drifted around the fringes of the music industry since the Sixties, an appearance on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny dramatically raised his profile. Now in his seventh decade, his third album in the Top Ten, this former train-hopping hobo has become one of the year’s more unlikely stars.

Last night at Rock City, a capacity crowd treated the grizzly, bearded bluesman to a hero’s welcome. Like thousands before them, they seemed keen to buy into Steve’s heart-warming rags-to-riches story.

The set began promisingly enough. Mixing traditional blues stylings with a dash of rock-based, Jack White-style showmanship, Steve played well – if not spectacularly – and quickly developed an easy, jokey rapport with the crowd. Good natured heckles were met with a brandished baseball bat. Showy slugs were taken from a bottle of Jack Daniels. A female admirer was serenaded on stage. A clock was theatrically smashed.

Nevertheless, attention spans soon started to drift. We might have warmed to the man and the myth, but how many were truly in love with the music? The songs became interchangeable, the genre’s limitations ever more exposed. Worst of all, most of us could barely see Steve’s seated figure – an awkward situation which eventually drew an apology.

As the crowd chatter escalated to uncomfortable levels, Steve worked ever harder to save the show. Quieter numbers were dropped. The rock-star flourishes grew flashier. It still wasn’t enough. Two years from now, will we still be indulging him like this?

The Ting Tings – Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday September 24

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on September 24, 2008

Down at the Bodega, 53 minute sets (including encore) are nothing to complain about. Over at the Rescue Rooms, they’re just about acceptable. But at a sold-out Rock City, where over two thousand punters had shelled out £15 per ticket, you couldn’t help feeling a little short-changed.

Then again, when you’ve only got a 35 minute debut album to your name, there’s little to be gained in pointless padding. Ting Tings songs are mostly short and sharp, and on the whole they’re best kept that way. And with pre-recorded backing tracks inevitably playing a large part in the duo’s instrumentation, there wasn’t exactly much scope for spontaneous jamming.

However – and this is very much to the band’s credit – the performance never felt overly constrained by the technology. Stepping confidently into the Deborah Harry/Kim Wilde tradition of Great Pop Blondes, singer and guitarist Katie White maintained a cool, commanding, effortlessly sexy presence: strutting her stuff, but preserving her mystique. Jules De Martino provided solid, unflashy accompaniment on the drum kit, switching to keyboards whenever it was required.

Almost inevitably, the three hit singles – a chugging Great DJ, a funky Shut Up And Let Me Go and a frenzied, climactic That’s Not My Name – proved to be the biggest highlights. Although most of the album tracks were well received, chatter from the only-here-for-the-hits brigade did threaten to drown out the more subdued Traffic Lights.

A fun night out – but also rather a short one.

Public Enemy, Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday May 28

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 28, 2008

Here in “Nudding Ham”, we’ve grown used to visiting American acts telling us that we’re a “special audience”. In the case of veteran hip-hoppers Public Enemy, there’s a distinct truth behind the sentiment.

Back in the autumn of 1987, the band played a seminal gig at Rock City, which saw them debuting their classic Bring The Noise to wild — and unexpected — acclaim. Two decades later, the same song opened a set which was largely given over to a full reconstruction of their most celebrated album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.

With founder member Professor Griff unable to leave the US due to passport problems, Chuck D and Flavor Flav had more work to do than ever. Although the comforts of middle age might have blunted some of their youthful anger (barring the occasional swipe at Bush and Blair, and even a vicious, unrepeatable crack at “Queen Elizabitch” of which Mohammed Al Fayed would have been proud), their energy levels remained impressively high. Riffing off each other in time-honoured fashion — the preacher and the party animal, the sage and the fool — their delivery was crisp and sharp, hitting every mark with absolute precision.

This being the last night of the tour, the band invited their production team — Hank and Keith Shocklee, aka The Bomb Squad — onto the stage, in order to explain some of the musical thinking behind their groundbreaking masterpiece. Although this broke some of the early momentum, nothing could stop the crowd once Side Two of the album kicked in. (As the Shocklee brothers explained, it was originally conceived as Side One, before a last minute switch was made.)

She Watch Channel Zero got the fists pumping; Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos got us chanting along with its memorable opening lines; and when the delirious squall of Rebel Without A Pausedropped, the venue all but exploded.

The album’s final track dispensed with, the band launched into a lengthy greatest hits set, climaxing with a fierce, galvanising Fight The Power. Nearly two and a half hours after taking to the stage, Flavor Flav had to be virtually dragged off it.

 

Gary Numan: Replicas tour, Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday March 5

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on March 6, 2008

At most shows, there’s something both distracting and annoying about the inevitable sea of phone screens, wafting above the heads of the crowd. At last night’s re-creation of Replicas – Gary Numan’s 1979 breakthrough album, which famously deals with themes of alienation in an increasingly mechanised world – the phenomenon seemed almost appropriate, as if the phone-wielders could only experience the show at one remove.

In a rare concession to nostalgia, the album was performed in full, albeit in a different track sequence, and augmented by sundry B-sides and outtakes from the same period. Considering the critical panning that Replicas was given at the time, the songs held up magnificently, sounding as fresh and as relevant as ever.

As for Numan, who turns fifty on Saturday, middle age had not dimmed his singular and remarkable charisma in any respect, the cragginess of his face somehow serving to accentuate that essential other-ness. More crucially, his absolute belief in the old material – the anthemic Down In The Park, the helpless Me I Disconnect From You, the prophetic We Are So Fragile – was palpable, and helped to fuel a truly compelling performance.

Three decades ago, the rock snobs dismissed Numan as an opportunistic Bowie copyist, whose fluked fame would quickly fade. How wrong they were. Thirty years on, with his reputation fully restored and his influence widely acknowledged, the last laugh belongs not to the cracked actor who fell to earth, but to the authentically angst-driven alien who came in from the cold.

From The Jam – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday December 4

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on December 5, 2007

For anyone who witnessed From The Jam’s triumphant performance at the Rescue Rooms in May, last night came with dangerously high expectations. Could original members Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler, along with vocalist Russell Hastings and second guitarist Dave Moore, rekindle the magic once again, or was that springtime gig a unrepeatable fluke?

This time round, instead of blasting us with an opening salvo of classics, the band bravely eased us in with a couple of album tracks. For the first hour or so, they explored the best of their back catalogue, with an emphasis on the golden 1978-80 mid-period. Rather than being milked for easy nostalgia points, we were reminded that The Jam were always firmly about the music.

As the set progressed, the energy levels increased. B-sides such as The Butterfly Collector and So Sad About Us gave way to the big crowd pleasers: a punchy A-Bomb In Wardour Street, a razor-sharp Start, and the ever-resonant Strange Town. Later and lesser hits were conspicuous by their absence.

By the time we reached The Eton Rifles and Going Underground, Rock City was on fire, as veterans relived their glory days and curious younger admirers got to see what the fuss was all about. Passionately and precisely delivered by Hastings, Paul Weller’s extraordinarily articulate lyrics retained all of their righteous power.

If your idea of a rock anthem extends no further than “Ruby-Ruby-Ruby-Ruby”, then last night was proof positive that, for some of us at least, The Jam will always rule supreme.

Manu Chao, Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday November 7th

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on November 7, 2007

If you’ve ever hung out in a backpacker bar in Koh Samui on your gap year, necking cheap sangria, smoking roll-ups and discussing world politics, then Manu Chao’s music will need no introduction. As the spiritual heir to the late Joe Strummer, he is one of the few remaining international performers who still dares to wear his ideology on his sleeve – although with his frizzy hair, thick scarlet bandanna and lurid green shirt slashed to the navel, he owes his look more to Keith Richards.

A massive star in continental Europe, Manu is much less well known in the UK. Consequently, relatively intimate venues such as Rock City must be a welcome novelty for him and his band. Their delighted looks throughout last night’s marathon set said it all, their enthusiasm more than matched by the ecstatic crowd reaction.

That said, the band stuck to a rigid formula, alternating between loping reggae and frantic, breakneck ska-punk, laced with Latin overtones. There were more “mi corazons” than you could shake a stick at, interspersed with the sort of cod-Jamaican “ma-yo-yo-yo” chanting that Sting popularised a generation ago. For the uninitiated, the formula swiftly wore thin. For the majority, those blissful backpacking memories were skilfully evoked.

The Gossip, Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday July 11

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on July 11, 2007

One of the more perplexing musical trends of the past few years has been the rise of the band with no bass guitar. White Stripes, Black Keys, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and now The Gossip: all of them have elected to survive on the sound of voice, lead guitar and drums alone. It’s a bold and uncompromising move, and yet not without its drawbacks. For when all is said and done, rock music – and especially live rock music – needs bass. It’s as simple and as inescapable as that.

That said, guitarist Brace Paine did an admirable and at times uncanny job at fleshing out the band’s sound. More often than not, he had the knack of simultaneously combining lead guitar riffs with funky basslines, in a way that left you wondering just how it was done.

Given such a minimalist backing, the vocalist’s job is rendered all the more difficult, and in many respects Beth Ditto rose to the challenge admirably. Beneath the fashionable punk-funk trappings and the in-your-face attitude, she has the voice of a classic blues-rock shouter. Lurching around the stage in her lemon yellow mini-dress, she may have given the impression of barely controlled chaos – but the delivery remained gloriously pitch-perfect throughout.

Perhaps the biggest problem lay with the band’s material, which essentially consisted of minor variations on the theme of their breakthrough hit (and instant classic) Standing In The Way Of Control. Unless you were intimately familiar with the songs – and plenty were – there was something inescapably one-dimensional about their sound. It was telling that, despite having three albums under their belts, the set only clocked in at a miserly fifty-five minutes, including the encore. Perhaps such a tightly restricted range simply couldn’t have been sustained for longer.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela: Nottingham Rock City, Thursday May 31

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 31, 2007

With each successive visit to Nottingham (last night’s being their third in twelve months), Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero’s audience seems to double in size. Much of this must be due to the word-of-mouth factor; as anyone who witnessed their extraordinary performances at Rock City last November and at the Rescue Rooms last May would testify, this amazingly accomplished Mexican guitar duo put on the sort of show that simply shouldn’t be missed.

However, success comes at a price – and if last night’s show was anything to go by, then the price in Rodrigo and Gabriela’s case may well be a loss of intimacy. Yes, the audience whooped and clapped in all the right places during the louder, more rock-influenced numbers – but during the quieter, more delicate passages, the rapt concentration which characterised the duo’s previous shows was all but wrecked by loud, incessant and appallingly disrespectful chatter from the edges of the venue, particularly around the right hand bar area.

This places Sanchez and Quintero in a potentially awkward position. If, in order to connect with their newly expanded audiences, they are forced to ramp up the volume and fall back on the usual rock-star tricks, then something special is in danger of being lost.

Despite this, there were more than enough dazzling highlights in last night’s show – from originals such as the gloriously tumbling Tamacun to spirited covers from Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and even Dave Brubeck – to satisfy the faithful and convert the newcomer alike.