Wednesday 6 March 2024

Echo and the Bunnymen - O2 Academy, Bournemouth - 5th March 2024

I'd wanted to see Echo and the Bunnymen for some time, so when I saw they were playing the small O2 Academy venue in Bournemouth, I booked a ticket.

As it turned out, I was spending the night a few miles away, so it was a pleasantly short trip to the venue and back, although the £4 parking fee took me aback a little (and paled next to the £7+ for a pint of overly cold IPA at the venue!).

I arrived in plenty of time to catch the support act, a severe looking blonde woman by the name of Erica Nockalls.

She seemed a very pleasant person as she interacted with the audience between songs, but I'd have to say I found her 'experimental' music not to my taste and I wandered off to buy the aforementioned expensive pint a couple of songs in.

I could still see and hear her set, along with the guitarist/vocalist she performed with (who seemed to spend most of the time torturing his instrument), but I won't be making a trip to see her again, perhaps you'd enjoy it more.

After the usual on-stage sheenanigans, the band we'd come to see finally appeared about 9:10 (a few of the audience were getting impatient by then, but it's rock and roll, isn't it?).

While I was keen to see Echo and the Bunnymen, I certainly wouldn't call myself a diehard fan, only having their greatest hits album in my collection.

As the tour was dubbed the 'Songs to Learn and Sing' tour, though, I expected to recognise a lot of them, but having seen the setlist from Bristol, I didn't recognise all of the titles.

They started with one I didn't "Going Up", but the next one "All That Jazz" was an old favourite.

Oddly, I thought, they performed in two sets, with a 20 minute or so break in the middle, which I've rarely experienced and did leave most people just standing around, in fear of leaving a good spot, for a while.

"Rescue", "Never Stop" and "Bring on the Dancing Horses" featured in the first set along with a new song "Brussels is Haunted" (it was OK) and some others I didn't know, but others around me were singing along to, so were clearly known to them.

Between songs "Mac" chatted with the crowd. Sometimes he was a bit mumbled (he's a Liverpuddlian and joked about 'enunciating more clearly' at one point), but seemed in a fairly good humour.

The lead guitarist was a similar age and did a lot of the musical heavy lifting and a quick Goggle confirms he is an original band member, Will Sargent. The others on stage were all far too young to have been, but the overall sound on the songs I recognised was as true to the records as you'd expect a live performance to be, while retaining the energy that you want, so they all did a good job.

I'd heard criticism of Ian McCulloch's voice, but I don't think you'd ever call him a 'singer' and the distinctive sound of his voice was still there and still clear, so I have no complaints on that score either.

The lighting was a bit strange, plenty from behind the band, but very rarely were they actually lit from the front and only for a split second here and there. I've only ever really seen this at the tiny Boiler Room, where the spots tend to blind and roast the acts!

After the mid-set hiatus, they came back with another song I didn't know, but then debuted "Over The Wall" on this tour. "Seven Seas", one of their best known tracks followed, and most people seemed to know the words to "Nothing Lasts Forever", although it was a new one for me.

"Unstoppable Force" wasn't a song I knew either, but they rounded out with "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo", "The Killing Moon" and "The Cutter", the latter two their iconic songs.

After a fair wait, they did come back for an encore, an extended version of another old favourite, "Lips Like Sugar".

Overall, the sound quality was pretty good, the vocals were nicely balanced to the instruments, meaning you could hear both the tune and the words, something not everyone gets right and I've had reason to complain about at this venue before.

Perhaps, if I'd been a bigger fan, I'd have known more of the songs, but the ones I did recognise sounded pretty good.

I am glad I went and I enjoyed the gig, but, unlike many others there, I think once will probably be enough for me.

Set 1:
Going Up
All That Jazz
Brussels Is Haunted
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Never StopPlay Video
Bring On the Dancing Horses

Set 2:
Show of Strength
Over the Wall (Tour debut)
Seven Seas
Nothing Lasts Forever / Walk on the Wild Side
Unstoppable Force
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
The Killing Moon
The Cutter
Lips Like Sugar

Monday 4 March 2024

Editors - Guildhall, Southampton - 3rd March 2024

I'd been here before to see Editors and I wondered if, maybe, Bono was right and there's nothing like the first time.

I'd really enjoyed that last gig, being very impressed with Editor's live performance and it had been watching the TV coverage of their 2023 set at Glastonbury that had made me decide that I'd go and see them again if the opportunity arose.

A few months later, it did, at the same venue I'd enjoyed them at before - The acoustics at the Guildhall are very good, I think (although my last visit, to see the Amazons, was a disappointment) - so I booked a ticket.

Coming just a few days after Nouvelle Vague (and a couple before another gig) in the cold weather, I was beginning to feel a bit of gig-fatigue already, but my excitment grew as the day came closer.

I found some cheap on street parking nearby and arrived at the Guildhall about 7:30.

At around 8, the lights went down and the support act came on.

They were Wings Of Desire, who I knew nothing about, but their style suited the audience well (a 5 piece indy guitar band, with a woman on keyboards).

They'd obviously done a decent sound check beforehand, too, as the instruments and vocals were pretty clear, especially for a support act (and in stark contrast to the shambles The Amazons had been).

They were pretty enjoyable, I thought, and I can see them having some success (although, what do I know?).

The lights came up after their set and there was the usual 30 minutes of kit shuffling until the stage was ready for Editors.

At 9PM sharp, the lights went down and, without any histrionics, on came the band.

The tour was a belated one to cover the release of their most recent (but 2022) album, EBM, so it wasn't surprising that some of the tracks were from that album, but they opened with the slightly obscure "Two Hearted Spider" from The Weight Of Your Love album, the one I'm least familiar with.

They were soon into more popular and familiar territory, though, with "Sugar", before delivering "Karma Climb" from EBM.

P>From then on it was pretty much a mix of EBM tracks and older favourites, the exception being an enjoyable cover of "Killer" by Adamski.

I was slightly surprised to hear Munich, still their best known track, delivered in the main set (It had been the finale last time) and they round out the main set with "Papillon", "An End Has A Start", "The Racing Rats" and "Nothing", from The Weight Of Your Love.

The lights, of course, didn't go up after they left the stage and we went through the charade of clapping, stamping and cheering before they returned for three more tracks.

The first was "At All Cost", delivered with just Tom (on vocals) and the guitarists, pretty atmospheric.

That was followed by "The Phone Book", another track from "The Weight Of Your Love" - A lot of that album's lesser known tracks getting an airing.

The finale, tonight, though was epic - Tom delivered the first part of "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors" solo on a piano and then said "Goodnight".

That would have worked just fine, but a split second later the stage was lit by a flash of bright white light and the full band joined in for the more familiar version.

Everyone cheered as the lights went up and the band clapped and bowed to the audience.

Their performance, once again, had left me impressed and enthusiastic. The mix of tracks was imaginative and varied, sure a few of my favourites were missing this time, but lots were there and it was good to hear tracks I was less familiar with performed live.

The sound balance had been good, too, something I always appreciate and that they had got spot on last time. Bands of their quality and experience should be able to get this right, but I've been disappointed many times at other gigs.

Highlights for me were 'Sugar', 'Heart Attack', 'Blood', 'Munich', 'Papillon', 'An End..', 'Smokers Outside...' and the 'Killer' cover, but I enjoyed everything this time as much as I had the first time I saw them and as much as I hoped I would.

They are a band that seem to fly under the radar a bit, despite their first album approaching 20 years old, but the Guildhall was full with people of all ages and everyone seemed to have a great time and there's no doubt in my mind that they're one of the best live bands around - If I'd been organising Glastonbury last year, I'd have made them the headliner, they were far better than the dreadful nostalgia acts that seem to dominate it nowadays.

It had been another brilliant gig by Editors and I will come and see them again.

Two Hearted Spider
Karma Climb
A Ton of Love
Heart Attack
Hallelujah (So Low)
Strawberry Lemonade
Killer(Adamski cover)
No Harm
Strange Intimacy
An End Has a Start
The Racing Rats
Nothing (full band version)
At All Cost
The Phone Book
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors(Tom solo (on guitar) first verse and chorus)

Saturday 2 March 2024

Nouvelle Vague - 1865, Southampton - 29th February 2024

Cover bands, they're OK for a bit of fun, but they don't add anything, do they? Well Nouvelle Vague have always challenged that notion.

I've always found their very different, Bossa Nova, style covers very enjoyable, taking familiar (mostly '80s) songs and transforming them into something totally different.

So, when, in May 2023, I saw they were coming to Southampton, I booked a ticket, so this was a gig that I waited longer than most for.

It was a miserable February evening and, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the drive to Southampton.

However, it was delay free and I found somewhere fairly close to park for a reasonable amount (parking being free between 8PM and 8AM) and made my way to 1865, which I'd never visited before.

Inside I found one fairly large hall with a balcony area to the right, overlooking the main floor and stage. A small bar was alongside the floor to the right (as you look at the stage), while a much larger bar was between the floor and balcony levels at the rear.

I bought myself a nice pint of beer for a very reasonable £4.50 (The Boiler Room's pricing put to shame here) and waited for the support act, De Laurentis, to appear.

I had no idea who or what that would be, but it turned out to be a French woman with an electronic box of tricks. Throughout her set, she pressed the squares on what looked like an electronic chess board.

I can only presume she was manipulating some kind of sampler, but it was very French and enigmatic, she described her instrument as an 'AI' at one point.

The material was electronic dance music, I guess, not horrible, but not truly remarkable, with definite hints of Jean Michel Jarre at times. She got a positive response and the crowd definitely warmed to her as she progressed. Overall, a decent support act.

After that, we had a half hour wait, while the roadies did final setups and sound checks and then, about 9PM, four men appeared and took up their places behind a keyboard, a drumset, something like a double bass and on a chair with an acoustic guitar.

The lighting stayed low, though, just a series of downward pointing spots and then a blonde woman in a black dress appeared as the first notes of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' were played.

Now, I'm a big fan of New Order and Joy Division and I think that most covers of, possibly the latter's most iconic song, are pretty awful, but Nouvelle Vague's is so different and yet retains the essential emotion (unlike, for example, Paul Young's dire rendition) of the original that it works for me. Melancholic, rather than angst ridden, like the original.

The lights illuminated the blonde's face as the next song started and she was joined on stage by another woman.

The blonde was Marine Quemere and the other woman, Shanice Alonya Sloan, apparently.

Together they sang a sultry version of 'People are People'.

Marine's voice is quite sweet, with an almost characature French accent ('Zese are the Zings we can do Wizout' on Shout, for example), but I'm a sucker for a French accent anyway, so that's 100% fine with me. Her delivery (most of the time) is very 'torch singer'.

Shanice, meanwhile, has a deeper voice and doesn't sound French (although she seems to be), having no problems with 'th' sounds in English. Her delivery, too, is far more theatrical than Marine's and together they provide a great visual and aural combination, either singing together or taking turns on the lead.

Most people (me included) probably think of Nouvelle Vague as slowing down songs, but their live rendition of 'Only You' provided it with a energy that neither the original or the Flying Picket's acapella version have.

'Making Plans For Nigel', though, was the more typical style of cover for the band.

It was only after listening to their new album the day after the gig, that I realised that many of the songs they performed were from it. They've been fairly prolific and I just assumed I'd not heard them all or even that I had, in some cases!

'Girls On Film' started with the bass player centre stage, delivering a 'Fever' like introduction and then a very different version of the Duran Duran hit. 'What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend' is a fairly obscure Specials song, but delivered in a chripy, upbeat manner here, very unlike the original.

'The Forest' saw the stage lit in green and gave Shanice a chance to show off her modern dance skills as well as take lead vocal.

And so it went. 'Teenage Kicks','I Just Can't Get Enough' and 'The Guns of Brixton' were old favourites for me, but 'Too Drunk To Fuck' was a rare excursion into manic energy for Marine, especially, and brilliant fun.

Their reggae-tinged version of 'Shout' (Tears for Fear, not Lulu!) was great too and they finished the main set on a song I only vaguely knew 'I Melt With You', which was fantastic.

Of course, it didn't take long for them to return to the stage for an encore, which started with the stalwart 'Ever Fallen In Love' and then Marine delivered 'This Charming Man' and Shanice ended the gig with another song I didn't know 'In a Manner of Speaking'.

I must admit, I came to the gig wondering if I'd really enjoy it, maybe finding it a bit too mellow and a bit samey, but my doubts were comprehensively dismissed.

Live, the band have a much more energetic and edgy sound than on recordings and the two singers, especially, deliver an entertaining performance.

Early on I recall thinking that the guitarist was doing a lot of the instrumental work, but as the gig progressed, the bass player and the drummer all had virtuoso performances and, on reflection, I don't think any single member of the band could have been dispensed with, everyone played their part.

Throughout, founder member, Marc Collin, remained impassive, almost hidden, at the back behind his keyboard, letting his band take the limelight while, no doubt, adding to the overall pleasure of the sound. I liked that.

So, Nouvelle Vague are absolutely not your typical cover band.

Their versions of the songs, while homaging the 80s classics they love, are absolutely their own.

Another gig, like A Certain Ratio, where I came away a fan! Go see them!

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)
People are People (Depeche Mode cover)
Only You (Yazoo cover)
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC cover)
This Is Not a Love Song (Public Image Ltd cover)
Girls on Film (Duran Duran cover)
What I Like Most About You is Your Girlfriend (The Specials cover)
A Forest (The Cure cover)
Marian (The Sisters of Mercy cover)
Teenage Kicks (The Undertones cover)
Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode cover)
She’s in Parties (Bauhaus cover)
You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive cover)
The Guns of Brixton (The Clash cover)
Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys cover)
Shout (Tears for Fears cover)
Friday Night, Saturday Morning (The Specials cover)
I Melt With You (Modern English cover)
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) (Buzzcocks cover)
This Charming Man (The Smiths cover)
In a Manner of Speaking(Tuxedomoon cover)