Live Reviews

I travelled to Kilkenny on Saturday for a gig at the lovely Set Theatre. I had been there once before, to see Frank Turner, and I liked the venue so much that I had been keeping an eye on their listings ever since. A concert by the Unthanks was a good excuse for a visit to the Marble City.

The last few times I had seen the Unthanks it had been their big band extravaganza with brass and string sections. This time it was only the core five members, and I liked it all the more for that. There would not have been room for more on the Set's tiny stage in any case.

The Unthanks are celebrating ten years as a band and were doing some looking back tonight. They played songs from the Rachel Unthank & the Winterset era, which suited the smaller set up. They also did a good few songs from 'Songs from the shipyards', a show I had missed when they toured it. In addition they did a song from Sting's shipyard project on which they had guested.

They talked about the fact that Becky had got to sing a duet with Sting (cue much joking from all band members and audience; poor old Sting..), but it was Rachel's song they performed: 'Peggy's song' was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Other standouts were 'Anarchie Gordon', 'The testimony of Patience Kershaw' and 'Here's the tender coming'.

For one song Rachel and Becky divided up the audience and taught us some three part harmonies, as they do in their workshops and singing weekends. The resulting singalong sounded great. There was then an interval during which people went to the bar and bought CDs. Rachel came over to say hello as she remembered me from a singing weekend a good few years ago. Her husband Adrian recognised me as well. Such nice people. We talked about the differences between the big band and this smaller set up. Adrian said they like to think that neither is better; just different (true).

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill were in the audience for the concert, which was a good two hours long. In the queue beforehand I had talked with some musos who were grumbling about Ricky Scaggs' very short show as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival a few days earlier. One man spotted my Bruce shirt and commented that Ricky could learn a thing or two from the Boss. No such complaints with the Unthanks.

On my way back to the hostel I witnessed what I presume is a typical Saturday night in Kilkenny. Girls on stilts in swimwear and many folks in Kilkenny shirts. I came home with the Unthanks' 'Archive Treasures', which has rarities, demos and alternative live versions – a great collection.

Helen

Hot on the heels of the New York maestro’s latest album release Blues of Desperation, followed by a short UK tour, Joe Bonamassa hits these shores again for a run of 5 Summer shows as an homage to his British blues guitar heroes : Clapton, Beck and Page.

Billed as A Salute to the British Blues Explosion, Bonamassa is famously quoted as saying that without the British influence during the early 60’s, rock as we now now it may never have happened...

Set up like a mini festival, and with the impressive Newark Castle ruins behind the stage, first up is Brummie Joanne Shaw Taylor. Despite being the support act, the majority of the assembled are in their seats and attentive during her impressive 40 minute set. She sure can play guitar and has an impressive set of lungs to match. Job done ; crowd warmed up.

And so at 8pm sharp, the now familiar opening backing track of Cash’s Ring of Fire blares out before the band, and finally the immaculately suited and shaded Bonamassa joins them. And without ceremony, they set off into Beck’s Bolero.

Despite the poor vocal volume during the first couple of songs, momentum grows especially when the first Zep song of the night Boogie With Stu lands, and the population of middle aged blokes in the audience show their appreciation.

Bonamassa’s first address to the audience basically suggests that without listening to his heroes back in his childhood, he wouldn’t have picked up a guitar and would have gone down the house painting route...Their loss....

Double Crossing Time, actually a John Mayall cover, features one of several insane solos during the night, and leaves us aspiring guitarists wondering why we bother.

The Clapton songs covered during the night are obvious even if you are were not familiar with the tracks, as Bonamassa almost has a touch of old Slow Hand’s vocal style, and Motherless Children is the perfect example.

Bonamassa’s backing band are Anton Fig on drums, Russ Irwin on rhythm guitar, Reece Wynans on Keys and the inimitable Michael Rhodes on bass. And what a band. They are certainly not just there for Bonamassa to show off his peerless talent, but to enhance it. Let’s face it, you’ve got to be on your game when playing with a maestro.

SWLABR is one of the many highlights of the night, culminating is a furious bass/guitar play off which clearly shows 2 friends having fun and loving what they do.

Zeppelin’s I’ Can’t Quit You Babe is also a masterpiece....is it sacrilege to suggest it actually might have been an improvement on the original...? Magnificent.

Finally, the crowd are urged to join the band on their feet for the finale of How Many More Times, and sadly it felt like this should have happened an hour ago to really get the party started, but better late than never and the euphoric ending was entirely appropriate.

And so to the encore. Bonamassa himself announced that he would not have been able to sleep properly tonight if he hadn’t played something the crowd really knew and loved, and so onto the epic Sloe Gin. The roof would have been brought down if we’d had one, instead we showed our appreciation into the usual manner and sloped off into the now chilly night grinning from ear to ear.

So a unique occasion, in a unique setting and a truly special night. If the aim of the tour was to show his admiration and respect for his heroes, then mission accomplished. If it was to entertain his legions of fans along the way, then mission accomplished with bells on it. Page, Beck and Clapton may have been pivotal at the beginning of blues rock as we know it, but Bonamassa is at the forefront of its future. The Blues couldn’t be in better hands.

Keith @kjsmith4082

photo: Christie Goodwin

If you want a spectacular setting for a concert and you're not too keen on the annual quagmirefest hosted in the Isle of Avalon then how about a stage between a Rainforest and a Mediterranean climate in a quarried out bowl in Cornwall. The Eden Project near St Austell has been hosting the Eden Sessions since 2002 in this very location and tonight's show is billed as PJ Harvey plus Special Guest. Those of us who got here early enough to make use of the Eden Project pass which is included in the cost of the gig ticket and represents great value for money, saw Jehnny Beth from Savages sound-checking and worked out who the Special Guest was. It's best we let Jehnny explain why she's here “My friend Polly asked me to play some songs tonight and you don't say no to Polly Jean Harvey”, and possibly PJ Harvey had a spare seat on the bus back from Glastonbury.

Whilst Jehnny's stage attire is the usual black and white combination, in a marked contrast to the often intense and brutal Savages live show she sits at the piano and plays 30 minutes of touching and beautiful ballads, finishing with a version of 'Adore', from the most recent Savages album which she says was originally written on the piano.

All dressed in black and wearing a crown of raven feathers PJ Harvey accompanied by her nine-piece band slow march onto stage. The slow march is to the beat of funeral drums which half the band are playing, the other half playing brass for the intro to 'Chain of Keys' from 'The Hope Six Demolition Project'. The first five tracks tonight are all from the new album , the highlight being 'The Community of Hope' which criticises the Hope VI regeneration project in Ward 7, Washington D.C, the chorus of “They're gonna put a Walmart here”; being the unlikely solution.

The instantly recognisable intro to 'Let England Shake' starts a triple whammy from that Mercury award winning album. The band co-ordinate hand clamps through the “ What if I take my problem to the United Nations” lines from 'The Words that Maketh Murder'. Polly says virtually nothing during the show but she embellishes the songs through mime and movement ; during 'This Glorious land' she turns to the band and demands of them “ And what is this glorious fruit of our land ?” to get the response from the band “Its fruit is deformed children”.

The set list is dominated by tracks from the two most recent albums, but towards the end of the show there are three older tracks : John Parish hammering out the guitar riff to '50ft Queenie' with Polly throwing shapes around him; 'Down by the River' and its creepy “Little Fish, Big Fish swimming in the water ...” outro and 'To Bring you My Love'. The main set finishes with a melancholic and haunting 'River Anacostia', the band removed of all of their instruments for the acapella outro “Wade in the water, God's gonna trouble the water” as they slow march depart from the stage as they arrived to the sound of the funeral drums.

They return for single song encore of 'Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln' before taking their bows, thank you and good-nights. These brilliant, flawless musicians and Polly's hypnotic, commanding stage presence in this beautiful setting puts this show amongst the most memorable of the year.

Alisdair Whyte

 

So here we are again, Neil Young at the O2 Arena in London. This time the band are, ‘The Promise of the Real’ a young band that, Neil really sparks off.

Laura Marling and band pull off a sparkling support slot which bodes well for her headline spot at The Green Man festival in August as as 8.30 pm approaches, the lights dim and there is Neil sitting at his battered piano singing, ‘After The Gold Rush’ then, he picks up a battered acoustic guitar and we get ‘Heart Of Gold’, ‘From Hank To Hendrix’ and ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’. The solo slot concludes with Neil at the organ for ‘Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)’. Its one of the most magical openings to a concert for a long time.

The Promise of the Real are Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass), and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is the son of Willie Nelson, a long time buddy of Neil Young. These guys are a band in their own right, three albums old and they step on the stage for ‘Out On The Weekend’ from Harvest’, the set continues with ‘Western Hero’, from 'Sleeps with Angels",‘Hold Back The Tears’, ‘Someday’ from ‘Freedom’ and back to Harvest for ‘Alabama’.

The set is really bringing out some some long lost live songs, it seems London is in for a treat tonight. ‘If I Could Have Her Tonight’ from the 1968 album ‘Neil Young’ follows, Words up next then our first visit to ‘On the Beach’ with ‘Walk On’.

Then we have the elongated wig-out to ‘Love To Burn’ and a trip to Ragged Glory’ for ‘Mansion On The Hill’. ‘Seed Justice’ is from upcoming album ‘Earth’ before a mighty ‘Revolution Blues’ is played from ‘On The Beach’ and we are in awe.

Keeping things recent ‘Monsanto Years’ follows, then ‘After The Garden’ from ‘Living with War’, ‘Love And Only Love’ finishes the set and a storming F*!#in' Up complete’s the show.

This was a thinking man’s /women’s set list, not songs that have appeared regularly, a set from a man with a conscience and someone who still has something to say at 70, his songs still resonate that much. If he doesn’t make the point who will?

The Promise of the Real were able to reproduce the songs and style of the many bands that Neil has been part of over the years. It was really quite amazing that you could listen to one band but, shut your eyes and that could have been many different bands. So maybe, we didn’t get all the favourites (don’t forget that start) but what we got, were the rare gems.

Long may this man run!

Pete

Photo: Eilís Boland
SSE Belfast

The Joy Formidable visit Nottingham tonight as part of the 'Hitch' tour in support of their new album of the same name. The backdrop has their logo drawn in the characteristic stylings of Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman who drew some of the album's artwork and with whom this reviewer more than once shared a local pub.

The distorted ice-cream van chimes intro to 'The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade' welcomes the band on stage to play that track from the 'A Balloon Called Moaning' EP released way back in 2009. The stage is set up with the drum kit stage left which gives plenty of room for bass player Rhydian Davies and guitarist Ritzy Bryan (with her blonde bob bouncing) to leap and dart around during the meaty instrumental sections of each track. 'The Blimp' starts with a chunky bass riff and during the guitar solo Ritzy displays some of the finest backwards /side sliding around the stage whilst playing since James Dean Bradfield of the Manics; there must be a Welsh School of Rock where they teach this stuff. Ritzy picks out the opening oriental sounding chords of 'Maw Maw Song' from 'Wolf's Law' before the track's monster riff explodes around the room ; fortunately all the references to carnivores doesn't appear to phase the small model of a Welsh Mountain Goat which is positioned on Ritzy's guitar effects board.

Driving the whole show along is Matt Thomas whose drumming style reminds you of an octopus in a tumble dryer in the best possible way. Matt confirms his membership of the 'drummers being slightly mad' club by selecting a striking yellow Hawaiian shirt as opposed to standard black for his stage wear and his star turn during a previous visit to Nottingham which we are told involved dancing and feeding the audience instant mash potato ; an act which was apparently a “Smash hit”- yes he really did say this.

Early single 'Cradle' and the big, bouncy funky drum and bass lines of 'Hitch's', 'The Last Thing on My Mind' get the crowd moving and show TJF have consistently written catchy tunes throughout their career.

The encore starts with the recent single 'Radio of Lips' with its killer chorus “The further I run, The faster you apologise ...”, and after 'Liana' also from 'Hitch' there's a call from the audience to play 'Cradle' again to which Ritzy replys she's learnt two things whilst touring, “Don't play any Chris de Burgh and never play the same song twice” (quite correct on both counts) . The chiming guitars and solid, pounding rhythm accompaniment of 'Whirring' has a little pause halfway through as Ritzy has to retune which gives the boys chance for a funky, jazzy improv workout, though with the general thrashing, squealing feedback which finishes the track I'm not sure the retune made a lot of difference. Guitars are thrown into the amps and it's kisses goodnight as they leave the stage for the final time, confirming once again that The Joy Formidable are definitely a band you need to see live.

Alisdair Whyte

Band Website

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