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Archive for the ‘Live reviews’ Category

20131115_230714Barcelona must surely be the world capital of events that take dance music very seriously indeed. Take Sonar – it’s not just a massive rave in an exhibition centre on the outskirts of town; it’s an “international festival of advanced music and new media art”.

Mira, a festival of “music and visual arts”, which took place in the Catalan capital last week, fits very snugly into this lineage: it is set in Fabra I Coats, a vast old factory turned art space; most acts are accompanied by VJs and there are also artistic installations for revellers to check out as they wait The Haxan Cloak to make their ears bleed.

But if this sounds like a bit of a chore, it’s not. Barcelona is also a global capital of having a lot of fun and the two worlds collide with ease at Mira. There are people with arty moustaches checking out the installations, sure, but they are typically to be found, beer in hand later, making a disgrace of themselves later to Spanish producer Begun.

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Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys have spent most of the last two decades as forlornly separate entities, united by history but divided by everything from lawsuits to mental health problems.

And yet throughout this time the two parties have done pretty much everything other than reunite: Brian toured much-loved Beach Boys album Pet Sounds and even re-recorded legendary lost release Smile as a solo project, while The Beach Boys lumbered on under the leadership of Mike Love, taking the perfect pop songs that a teenage Wilson wrote in the 60s to arenas around the world.

As such, it was both a relief and a worry when Wilson announced that he would be getting back with The Beach Boys for a tour and album to mark their 50th anniversary. A relief because, at the end of it all, you feel that Brian Wilson really should be at the helm of The Beach Boys, the band he formed back in 1961 and drove to imperial pop stardom.

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With its two theatre tents and ballet headliners, the overwhelming impression the Latitude Festival leaves is of an arts festival smuggled under the wire of a rock event. This impression is only hardened on the Saturday afternoon by the realisation that my first incident of sweaty-palmed excitement is caused not by the latest pop sensation but by the appearance of Alan Hollinghurst in the Literature Arena.

This is not to say, of course, that there are no musical thrills to be had at Latitude – just that you have to look rather harder to locate them.

The first of these turns out to be Caribou on a glorious Friday afternoon. The band of travelling Canadians have been touting the same brand of woozy disco electronics since the release of Swim last year but producer Dan Snaith’s way with a sun-bobbled melody and the band’s excellent use of percussion win out.

The crowd – young, beery and very tall indeed – love them but I can’t help feeling Caribou could be better served by a proper diva-style singer belting it out rather than Snaith’s little boy lost vocal style, which doesn’t sit well astride such sunny psychedelic disco. Hot Chip – much as I like them – have a lot to answer for.

A trip to the Sunrise Arena, hidden in the Suffolk woods, follows for Glasser, an artist who seems to attract an inordinate amount of praise for what is, essentially, a Bjork copycat act with none of the Icelandic’s explosive charm. On these terms, Glasser doesn’t disappoint.  But these terms hardly constitute fulsome praise and Glasser feels so stuck in the early 2000s you almost want to warn her about 9/11.

We wander, picking our way around an art installation, but our journey is cut short by the sound of some beautifully chaotic saxophone honking.

“Looks like we’ve found the free jazz stage,” I joke, only to realise that we have, in fact, actually found the free jazz stage, or as near as darn it courtesy of the Radio 3 Late Junction pocket arena, where the Shabaka Hutchings Trio are giving it some deconstructed wellie to an enthusiastic crowd. Suffice to say, all the passion and power Glasser is lacking is to be found here in great, glorious spades.

Eschewing The National – a band who leave me with the nagging feeling I’ll like them some day – and the baffling Bombay Bicycle Club, the last act of the night is Cat’s Eyes, who have brought along a choir for the occasion. Sound problems sadly render the extra singers inaudible – at least for the first few songs – and it looks like things may go all awry. Cue much rolling of eyes from co-singer Faris Badwan.

But there is something quite stirring about the Cat’s Eyes combo of Rachel Zeffira’s swooning vocals and the band’s love of dirty garage rock and Sixties girl groups – the dirt and the drama, if you will – and the band’s way with a whipsmart pop tune pulls things round into a glorious pop totality that seems to suit the dark woods as well as an East London bear pit.

Saturday is headlined by the rain. Well, not really, it’s Paolo Nutini. But nothing can quite match the impact of the drilling rain pounding on the tent tops, testing to its limit the oft-repeated claim that the Latitude site doesn’t get muddy. It does get muddy, incidentally, just not that much thanks to the very sandy soil.

The rain means that anyone playing under cover is very welcome indeed. But even this cannot account for the heroic reception that greets Adam Ant (or rather Adam Ant and the, ahem, Good The Mad and the Lovely Posse) as they bring their tribal-ic two drum kit pop sounds to The Word Arena.

The hits are there in their full glory and – while the new material feels rather paint by number rock and roll revival – you can hardly begrudge a band that bring at least two era-defining pop songs (Prince Charming and Stand And Deliver) to a rainy Saturday afternoon in Suffolk.

Typically arty and erratic, though, the biggest musical thrill of the day is to be found not on any of the four devoted musical arenas but rather in the film tent where, almost unannounced, a clutch of female solo artists are providing specially commissioned live scores to silent films.

First – and best to my mind – is Tara Busch’s performance alongside Lois Weber’s 1913 thriller Suspense, which sees the young American use everything from creeping electronics to a glorious operatic voice to offset the sinister goings on.

More unsettling – if rather less traditionally musical – is Michachu’s use of an old cassette player to adorn Lotte Reiniger’s animated Hansel and Gretel with a variety of sinister drones and varispeed hums.

Seaming follows with her score to Maya Derren’s Meshes of the Afternoon before Imogen Heap (a Grammy Award winner, no less) premieres her a cappella score for Germaine Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergyman, considered to be the first ever surrealist film.

Heap, an artist I respect rather more than enjoy, has produced an expansive piece that makes full use of the possibilities of the human body for sound – from whooping whistles to chattering chest percussion – but the overall effect falls rather flat.

The problem, I suspect, is not entirely Heap’s, who has produced an intriguing score that sits well with the pre-WW2 surrealia.  Instead, it is down to the film itself which, though doubtlessly a vital cog in cinematic history, is to my mind a little dull and, at close to 30 minutes, over-long.

As the film drags, it starts to feel as if the musical ideas are running out so we leave for the Waterfront Stage where East Anglians are almost rioting over viewpoints for the English National Ballet.

Reading and Leeds, I repeat, this is not.

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Morrissey might not have picked the bill for the middle day of the Hop farm festival but, frankly, he might as well have done: all four acts that preceded him are personal favourites, while recent support act Viva Brother propped up the bill.

Perhaps it was this or simply the Kent sunshine but Morrissey proved on fine form. “How do you follow the Stooges?” he asked on taking the stage.

The answer, at least for the fervent crowd that had made its way down to Hop Farm, was to kick off with a Smiths song (I Want The One I Can’t Have) pick up with one of his best-loved solo songs (You’re the One For Me, Fatty) and then return to The Smiths (Shoplifters Of The World Unite) via latter period hit You Have Killed Me.

It was a brilliant way to start proceedings and, while the next 60 minutes couldn’t quite keep up with the pace, they nevertheless suggested a renewed vigour in Morrissey that has sometimes seemed lacking in recent years, with a run of concert cancellations, poor health and disappointing chart results.

Hop Farm might not have been sold out – at least not for the Saturday that Morrissey is headlining – but the singer remained a formidable live draw, appearing second on the bill to U2 at Glastonbury.

He was helped on this occasion by the fact that this initially looked like being the closest the singer was doing to a London gig this summer (two dates in the capital have since been announced) but there is no doubting the enthusiasm of the crowd, many of whom were still in nappies when he recorded 1992 album Your Arsenal, let alone singing with The Smiths.

It helps too that his band, the object of frequent criticism from fans, sound in good form. There’s still remains some tendency to crank out the guitars and rock out – versions of This Charming Man and Meat Is Murder suffer slightly from this – but they prove on songs such as Alma Matters that they can play with a great deal of sympathy. And Morrissey’s voice remains flawless throughout.

The former Smiths singer is, famously, without a record deal – an odd situation for any festival headliner – following stints on three of the four majors and Sanctuary.

At this gig he plays two new songs – rocker The Kid’s A Looker and the more sedate Action Is My Middle Name – which show his skill as a melodicist and lyric writer remain undimmed. They are greeted with verve and even a sing-along. Logic would dictate a new deal can’t be far away but things are rarely simple in Morrissey’s world.

To hear these new songs properly recorded would be a delight. But, perversely, Morrissey often seems at his best when faced with adversity – consider, for example, his UK tour in the early part of the century when he was previously label-less – and his excellent headline set almost makes you want the situation to continue.

As for Hop Farm, now in its fourth year, it can sometimes seem slightly confused. The line up generally follows the rule of new acts in the early part of the day followed by legends at night. But you wonder how many people in the world, let alone Kent, are dedicated fans of The Eagles, Morrissey and Prince, the three headliners in 2011.

But the appearance of the latter, in particular, for what was his only UK show of 2011 shows that promoter Vince Power has lost none of his skill with a contact book. And whoever organised a Saturday line up of Magazine, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Morrissey surely deserves a pay rise.

Morrissey set list:

I Want The One I Can’t Have / You’re The One For Me, Fatty / You Have Killed Me / Shoplifters Of The World Unite / Ouija Board, Ouija Board / There Is A Light That Never Goes Out / The Kid’s A Looker / Everyday Is Like Sunday / Action Is My Middle Name / Meat is Murder / Satellite Of Love / I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris / Speedway / Alma Matters / Irish Blood, English Heart / First Of The Gang To Die / This Charming Man / Panic

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