Thursday, 29 September 2011

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Beirut at Brixton Academy

Having received critical acclaim for their newest album, The Rip Tide, the queue snaking down the side of The Brixton Academy was a testament to the success Beirut has become.
     With support from tUnE-yArDs, the evening got underway with Merrill Garbus' rhythmic beats, looping, ukulele strumming, and something that could have been yodelling mixed with the wail of a police car's siren - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. With such an extraordinarily powerful voice, from the offset, Garbus silenced the audience, no mean feat for a support band, who often are ignored by those who only care to see the main act.
     Bizness combined chirpy harmonies (all created one at a time on stage and looped together) with an African-influenced drum rhythm, and a repetitive and highly catchy saxophone part to create a melodic symposium of contrasting sounds, that somehow worked together. tUnE-yArDs softer side was shown on Powa, a more laid-back, bluesy song than 'Bizness', and one in which the full extent of Merrill Garbus' vocal range was witnessed. The whole set was truly inspirational and it seemed that the whole of Brixton Academy was captivated by the exceptional talent Garbus possesses for creating music so unlike any other artist.
Opening with Scenic World, Beirut began their set with an explosion of noise, combining an accordion, bass, trombone and trumpets in a truly European sounding way. Brixton Academy is a huge venue, and yet none of the sound was lost on the room - instead the deep drones of the brass penetrated every corner of the building, and Zach Condon's voice, filled with such emotion and power touched everyone.  
    Postcards From Italy on the other hand, was a lot more stripped back (well for Beirut anyway..), with a simple ukulele riff keeping a gentle pulse, whilst the brass section perfectly blended into the background - still audible, but not overpowering. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the evening though was the sighting of the sousaphone (a large tuba), which featured on quite a few of the songs including Cocek, a purely instrumental number, that could have been straight out of Kazakhstan - if Borat walked out onto the stage at that moment I wouldn't have been surprised.  
   After leaving the stage, Zach Condon and friends returned for an encore of no less than 6 songs, and I did have to question at what point an encore stops being an encore, and just the second half after the interval... But nonetheless, it was very much appreciated, as the audience wasn't ready for the evening to finish. Goshen, one of the few Beirut songs featuring a piano, was a true highlight of the set.  The simple, understated song was not typically 'Beirut' and without the added frills of trumpets and accordions; but it was beautifully crafted, and a breath of fresh air after the richness of some of their other songs.
     Musically, it was a stunning set. The extraordinary variety of instruments fit perfectly with Condon's melodic voice, and every song had the audience singing and dancing along. However, it seemed that Beirut lacked confidence in their stage presence. Condon appeared overwhelmed by the mass of people in front of him, and hardly spoke to the audience throughout the set. Overall though, it was a fantastic evening which could only be improved by Beirut's engagement with their audience matching the musical excellence on show.

l've Been Listening To...

Zebra - Beach House 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Up and Coming: Lana Del Rey

American singer Lana Del Rey has suddenly burst on the music scene over the past few months, with her new single 'Video Games'. With such a beautiful, husky voice, her songs have a certain melancholy aspect to them, that makes her so different from the hundreds of female singers trying to make it today. The 24 year old has had an amazing year so far - 'Video Games' was featured as one of  Pitchfork's rising stars, and her London gig sold out within half an hour. Sure to be one to watch, 'Video Games' and 'Blue Jeans' are released on 9th October (as a download), and on limited edition 7" on 10th October.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Villagers: Cecelia & Her Selfhood

Villagers have finally released the long-awaited video for their song 'Cecelia and her Selfhood'. The simple animations fit perfectly with the gentle melody of the song, and creator, Adrien Merigeau has done a wonderful job. For a free MP3 download of the single visit their website.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Summer Playlist

Sorry the posts have been so sporadic, I've been swamped with work (the start of the school year is always hectic), but I'm starting to get on top of things, so hopefully I'll pick up the pace on blogging again soon. In the meantime I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite songs from my Summer playlist... yes I know Summer's over, but you can still enjoy them.

The Boy With The Arab Strap - Belle & Sebastian 
The Ghost Inside - Broken Bells
French Navy - Camera Obscura 
This Is What I Said - Cloud Control
Go Outside - Cults
We Are The People - Empire of the Sun
I Held You Once - The Epstein 
King Of Rome - Goldheart Assembly
Hydra Fancies - of Montreal
No Soap (In A Dirty War) - Reverend & The Makers
All In White - The Vaccines
The Pact - Villagers

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Concert4Conservation: The Dreaming Spires, The Epstein and Stornoway

After such an incredible evening seeing Stornoway play at Somerset House back in July, it was with great anticipation that I found myself waiting outside The Regal in Oxford on Saturday evening. As a Londoner myself, part of the excitement was seeing them play on their home turf; and standing on the Cowley Road, I half expected to see a giant Zorb rolling through the Street at any given moment. Once in the queue we were quickly approached by an orang-utan and something resembling a 5 ft chicken taking money from us. No we weren’t being robbed by primates and birds; instead the evening was a charity fundraiser. The Concert4Conservation was in aid of 3 charities, The Sumatran Orangutan Society, The Earth Trust, and The RSPB – charities chosen by Stornoway, and particularly apt ones considering Brian’s previous job as an ornithologist, perhaps reinforcing the idea of escaping our ‘battery human’ existence. Supported by fellow Oxford bands The Epstein and The Dreaming Spires and organised by Truck, it had all the ingredients for a perfect homecoming for Stornoway – their first concert to a home crowd since 2010.
            Brothers, Robin and Joe Bennett (founders of Truck Festival and the recently opened Truck Store on Cowley Road) kicked off the evening with their band, The Dreaming Spires, recently featured as Steve Lamacq’s ‘favourite new band’ on BBC radio 6. Not knowing much about the band I was taken aback by their rock‘n’roll sound, such a contrast to the likes of some of Stornoway’s more muted songs, but nonetheless, I decided to give them a chance, and was even slightly surprised that I liked what I heard. With such a rich tapestry of full-on guitars and drums, the sheer energy being generated on the stage was enough for anyone to truly feel a part of the music – though I didn’t appreciate the constant elbowing from the people rocking out next to me!  However the true highlight of the set for me had to be ‘In Our Lifetimes’, a song which Robin Bennett told us had been written to accompany a video game his neighbour had created about running the United Nations Climate Agency – appropriate for an evening In aid of wildlife conservation. The gentler tones contrasted with the rest of their repertoire, and for the first time in the evening, I didn’t feel in danger of a seizure from the strobe lighting. With an album set to be released in October on Clubhouse Records, they’re sure to be one to watch, though whether I will be queuing up for it is a different matter. 

            The opening bars of ‘6.06pm’ reminded me why I love The Epstein so much. The ethereal quality of the piece was truly magical, and the lack of lyrics ensured that nothing detracted from the beauty of the melody and the intertwining instruments that came together to produce a sound so stunning that when the music swelled and crescendoed all your hairs stood on end. ‘Black Dog’ by contrast showed the band’s playfulness. Shut your eyes, and you could almost imagine yourself sitting on the porch of a cattle ranch in Wyoming, showing The Epstein’s versatility that two songs by the same band are such polar opposites. Olly Wills’ powerful voice in ‘Morning News’ combined with the background harmonies of Seb Reynolds and Jon Berry made for an exhilarating slice of Americana, which had even the most phlegmatic tapping their feet along to. And suddenly all too soon, they were onto their final song, ‘Leave Your Light On’ a reflective number ‘to sing around the fire’ that only required Olly and Jon and two acoustic guitars on stage. It was truly beautiful, but sadly the mesmerising musicality of it was lost on the back on the room, whose main priority seemed to be the bar. However, for those who were listening, it was an enchanting end to one of the best live sets I’ve ever seen. 

After what seemed like an age, and a technical hitch or two (well it couldn’t be a Stornoway gig without a couple of those!), Tim Bearder (Radio DJ and huge champion of the band) finally stepped on stage to introduce the headline act to the adoring fans. Reading from the email Stornoway first sent to him many years ago, he reminded us what a ‘polite band they are’, and well, that’s all part of their charm. Lead singer, Brian Briggs, seemed slightly taken aback by the mass of screaming audience members, and it’s reassuring that unlike so many bands, Stornoway haven’t ever taken their success for granted. It was a smart idea for ‘Fuel Up’ to be one of the first songs of the evening, considering that the concert was all about conserving the planet, and despite the serious implications to the environment that ‘fuelling up’ has, the song was as beautiful as ever - Brian’s clear voice rang out over the gentle strumming of the guitar and the harmonies of Jon Ouin, and Oli and Rob Steadman, and the driving beat of the drum (if you excuse the pun) kept the pace without distracting from the lyrical quality of the vocals. 

To restore the evening back to its green roots, it was appropriate that new song, ‘Sixth Wave’ followed – a song about mass extinction. Featuring the auto-harp (an instrument which Brian learnt especially for the occasion), the fast pace was a dramatic change from the slow melancholy of ‘Fuel Up’, and completely different to any of the material on their debut album ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’. For many in the audience, it was also the first time that they’d heard ‘Waiting On The Clock’, a fairly old song of the band’s, co-written by Brian and Oli that didn’t make it onto their first album. The references to Oxford landmarks (The Jericho Cafe and Worcester Place), the insanely catchy melody, and background vocals, encompassed everything that’s good about a classic Stornoway song, and Oli’s spinning round on the stage with an infectious grin was enough to carry the audience with him, sharing the moment. The high standard which Stornoway set themselves was never in danger of slipping. ‘The Ones We Hurt the Most’, had all 4 Storno-members around a single mic, singing in perfect four part harmonies, that cast a spell over the audience members, enraptured by the beauty of the gentle vocals, that at the same time was steeped with power and emotion.

But of course, there was only ever one song that would satisfy the audience at the end of such a memorable Stornoway evening, and backed by The North Sea Radio Orchestra; ‘Zorbing’ concluded the set with the same power and freshness it had on first hearing. With a second album looming in early 2012,  the fans are clearly ready to hear more from this remarkable band. 

 Read my interviews with Olly Wills of The Epstein and Rob Steadman of Stornoway, and for more information visit: 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...