Hammersmith Apollo, London
Having seen Midlake a week earlier at the ULU and found them disappointing, simply because the sound quality was very poor, I luckily decided to get to this gig at the Hammersmith Apollo early - and it turned out that Midlake would also be supporting the Flaming Lips. Seeing them again at the Apollo was so encouraging - you could really appreciate Tim Smith's voice and their nostalgic sound, which really resonated across the room. Sadly, no one had a clue who they were. Van Occupanther's fantastic songs like Roscoe, and Head Home came and went without any fuss, unlike at ULU - where the crowd clearly adored them, singing along to every word. It was sad; a great band like Midlake can really appeal to a wider audience, and even though the sound quality was better at the Apollo, the uninformed crowd wasn't quiet sure how to receive them. They had driven all the way from Paris especially for the show, and afterwards had to drive back to Lille to perform another gig the next day. Let's hope they had more success across the channel.
I had heard the Flaming Lips really put on a show - a friend once saw them live where they gave out mini radios for everyone. A local radio station would be broadcasting a song live, and when that song was performed everyone had to switch on their radio so they could hear it in stereo. Back at the Apollo, balloons were hovering above our heads as the crowd diligently played 'keepy upy' with them. The band came on stage accompanied by mass eruptions of cheering, shouting, confetti, more giant green balloons, and mirror balls - 3 mirror balls.
Opening the set with The Soft Bulletin's hit single Race For The Prize, Wayne Coyne got into his translucent giant balloon and walked across the crowd. My god, it was friggin amazing. As the show moved on the balloons really began to irritate, and you soon noticed popping sounds, as they were very quickly eliminated. More confetti was fired into the crowd, with the never-ending audience sing-a-long lasting from start finish - ending with Bohemian Rhapsody - Flaming Lips style.
Ever-articulate circus leader Wayne Coyne marshalled proceedings, first encouraging everyone to celebrate the recent mid-term defeat of George Bush's Republican Party, then apologising and praising how wonderful a crowd we were - how he has subjected us to all this confetti and balloons, and singing along to surreal lyrics - yet we didn't boo him once. He went down on his knees and thanked us all, watched on by a crowd of Santas on the right and green aliens on the left, holding touch lights. The rest of the band was dressed in super hero outfits. I can't think of another band that has put so much effort into making sure they entertained us.
The prospect of seeing Midlake live was an exciting one. The superb album The Trials of Van Occupanther is peppered with themes of nature, conjuring nostalgic feelings of the countryside and man's relationship with it. A bunch of grown men with gruffty beards singing delicately about nature is a wonderful juxtaposition. A juxtaposition reminiscent of Grandaddy perhaps, but to compare Midlake with Granddaddy would be wholly unfair - overlooking their own unique sound.
After strong support form Robert Gomez and Fionn Regan, Midlake took to the stage. The crowd went crazy when they started playing the single Rosco, and there were cries for a repeat of the same song. Every song was accompanied with some strange film in the background - some homemade, others seeming very familiar and possibly a Roman Polanski film - but don't quote me on that. The films really helped to bolster the song's strange eerie feel, conjuring a lost time and lost place. It was nice to see that the band were very humbled by the crowds' affection towards them, singing along to all their songs.
There's something strangely important about wanting to see a band we like live, but so often they never live up to the same sound quality we know them for. And particulary when you have a band that doesn't make 'jump-up' music, the sound quality has to be spot on. Sadly this wasn't the case at ULU. The gig itself was entertaining, but the sounds did no justice to Tim Smith's vocals and of course the songs lost much of their eerie magic. They ended the set with current single Head Home, perfectly apt and a crowd pleaser to finish on a higher note.
Luckily, I caught the band a couple of nights later, supporting the Flaming Lips at Shepherd's Bush... with much more satisfying results.
I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
How do you describe Yo La Tengo's music? At times jazzy, tender, melodic, hypnotic instrumentals, and full out rock and roll songs. In their new album, they have returned to what they do best; toying with musical forms to create a messy, but melodic album. The album opens with an epic sprawling 11 minute track Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind.
Stylistically the album is all over the place and some might say incohesive - but don't let that put you off.
Ira shows his vast talents here, from crooning on Mr Tough or Sometimes I Don't Get You, to going full out rock and rolling Watch Out For Me Ronnie or The Room Got Heavy - with Georgia's delicious voice helping to soften the edges. They have so much heart in the centre of their songs, beautiful and delicate melodies that help to anchor what at times can veer into crazy directions.
I've given up trying to pin them down with a definition. Embrace them with both arms, you won't be disappointed. They are clearly not afraid of you... and you shouldn't be afraid of them.
The Letting Go
Something has happened to Billy, he's not so depressing anymore. During 'Lay and Love' he eulogises about a woman. 'From what I've seen, you're magnificent, you fight evil with all you do
From what I hear you're generous. You make sunshine and glory too. When you walk in things go luminous.' What's going on? What happened to the Billy that made me feel my life is so much better having heard how tough his life is? Is she the one he's in love with? But then why not? For someone with such poetic sensitivity, he's bound to find love.
I really could preach about Bonnie Prince Billy forever, how special and rare his talent is etc. I love the way he peppers biblical references in his previous albums. The thing about Bonnie Prince Billy is whenever I listen to his songs I get lulled into a false sense that I'm listening to something very pretty and sweet, only to be stunned he's actually singing about the very opposite of that - sometimes dirty sexual encounters, at others times kinky affairs. 'No Bad News' is a fine example of this, a very melodic song about someone bearing bad news by far the best song here, and the most accessible. His melodies don't always immediately hit you, they take time. But once they do you really do feel like you've worked for it and you feel an ownership to it. "The Letting Go" in some ways has lost that edge, as it is more accessible, but that edge has been replaced giving us a fuller, meatier album. This is a fantastic album with beautifully crafted songs.
'The Letting Go' has a female vocal to complement Will Oldham's coarse voice - vocal harmony of the highest order. At times these songs feel like duets. There are drum beats too we're talking electronic beats - but having said all this we're still talking about Bonnie Prince Billy and even when he attempts more accessible songs they still have something no singer can get near. His lyrics are like little Raymond Carveresque stories, full of poignancy and wonderment.