Hollywood Vampires & The Darkness, Wembley Arena

IMG_5538London, Wednesday June 20, 2018

It’s only Wednesday and it’s been a busy week – three evenings, three gigs. So I’m already semi-exhausted before even arriving at Wembley Arena for this evening’s concert with the Hollywood Vampires. I miss out on the first support band, The Stranglers, but take my seat just in time for the second support band, The Darkness. Wembley Arena will never be on the list of my favourite venues, but if the bands you want to see play there, what can you do? For Wembley Arena standards it’s a reasonably good seat, but still far enough from the stage for me to really appreciate the two big screens on both sides of the stage, through which I will be watching about 50% of the concert.

The Darkness has opened my eyes
The Darkness (I didn’t know they still existed) take to the stage. Of course I know their most famous hits from what seems like a long time ago, but I’ve never really thought much of them. So it’s a lovely eye opener to see how good they are and what a great rock and roll show they put on. Frontman Justin Hawkins was clearly made to be on stage, he is a very strong presence indeed. Strutting and posing and pouting, while singing his heart out and playing his hands off (OK, maybe not the latter). He certainly knows how to work an audience. I catch myself thinking that this is as close as I ever get to see anything a bit like Queen, so it’s funny to later find out that the drummer of The Darkness is actually drummer from Queen, Roger Taylor’s son, Rufus Taylor. Well, there you go. 

IMG_5540The Darkness

I don’t know most of the songs but it doesn’t matter; they’re all catchy and rocking, and when The Darkness play the two songs I do know, Growing On Me and I Believe In a Thing Called Love, I appreciate both songs more than I ever did before. One could say they’re really growing on me.

The whole band plays well, but my eyes are mostly on Hawkins (he is the frontman after all), not least of all, when he does a handstand on the drum riser and claps his feet together (instead of his hands) – definitely one of the bolder (so much could go wrong) and funnier rock and roll tricks I’ve seen.

Before The Darkness entered the stage, a blond rock and roll-looking dude came on and introduced them. It was only when the person next to me told me who it was, that I realised it was the drummer for the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins (no relation to Justin I’m sure). I guess that’s just the kind of evening this is. Rock stars on stage and rock stars hanging out backstage, bands playing, and their friends from other bands coming on and introducing their friends – why the hell not?

The coming of the Vampires
After The Darkness leaves the stage – no doubt to go and have a drink or ten with their Foo Fighting friend Taylor, the rest of us wait a while before the stage crew have done whatever it is they need to do, and finally the lights go down for tonight’s main attraction. From my seat, I can see a big group of silhouettes walking from the backstage area to the back of the stage – the vampires are coming from the shadows and will soon enter the light through a misty haze of white smoke, to the sound of Bela Lugosi’s Dead/The Last Vampire.

IMG_5675Hollywood Vampires

And there they are, the main vampires being Alice Cooper (of course), Joe Perry (him of Aerosmith) and, gasp, Johnny Depp (the scissor-handed-cry baby-undercover cop-drug smuggling-pirate-Don Juan in person). The other, less famous, musicians (well, they’re not on the poster) are Tommy Henriksen (guitar), Glen Sobel (drums), Chris Wyse (bass) and Buck Johnson (Keyboards).

The set is a proper rock and roll set of Alice Cooper songs and covers of some of what might have been your favourite rock songs if you’d been a teenager in the seventies. There’s no doubt who the frontman is, this is Alice Cooper dammit, but a certain middle-aged former heartthrob manages to, unwittingly, garner the most attention from the audience. Johnny Depp wears an outfit that’s very similar to what he might have worn in Pirates of the Caribbean and plays the guitar, probably proficiently, but it’s hard to tell when there are two other really good guitarists at play on the other side of the stage, Joe Perry and Tommy Henriksen. Whatever Johnny Depp’s guitar skills may be, he certainly looks like he belongs in a rock band, and when he takes over the microphone for two songs, first People Who Died by The Jim Carroll Band, and later, Heroes by David Bowie, he sings both songs really well. Not a bad voice there Mr Depp, can we expect a solo album at some point?

Heroes who die
People Who Died
is accompanied by images on a screen of some of the famous contemporaries (and friends) who have died – like the writer of the song, Jim Carroll, David Bowie, Tom Petty, Jim Morrison, Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Joe Strummer etc. The chorus (‘Those are people who died, died…’) might seem a bit crass when shouted by a 70-year-old man in horror makeup and a group of middle-aged men all dressed up like they were still in their 20’s, but when listening to the lyrics in the verses, the song is quite moving in a very matter of fact way. For a Bowie fan like myself, I am always sceptical about the thought of others singing his songs, and often my scepticism is valid, but I have to give in and admit that Hollywood Vampires’ take on Heroes is really good, staying very close to the original version but somehow making it their own.

2018 Perry, Depp, CooperMain Vamps; Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp

It’s great to hear some of those famous rock hits that I’ve heard on soundtracks or in bars but never heard live before, like Baba O’Riley (The Who) Ace of Spades (Motorhead) and Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith), all songs are played with appropriate respect for the original artist, but still played like they were Hollywood Vampires’ own songs. It’s fun, in your face, and importantly, unapologetic, just like rock should be. 

Sure, it is a bit ridiculous when they play old Alice Cooper classics like I’m Eighteen (no you’re not) and last song of the evening, School’s Out (you haven’t been to school for decades), but it doesn’t matter, this is a proper rock and roll show, and in rock and roll-land no rules apply, and everyone’s young forever (unless they kill themselves or O.D.).

The big balloons that we’ve all noticed hanging in the ceiling when we entered the arena, will have to come down at some point, and not surprisingly they’re released during School’s Out, and about 50 lucky people will go home with a huge balloon, perhaps symbolic of the concert itself; overblown, without much substance, easy going and youthful and reckless. And that’s exactly why this evening was so much fun – just a couple of hours of losing oneself in complete and utter carefreeness.

The Darkness setlist
1. Solid Gold
2. Growing on Me
3. Love is Only a Feeling
4. Japanese Prisoner of Love
5. One Way Ticket
6. Barbarian
7. Buccaneers of Hispaniola
8. Get Your Hands Off My Woman
9. I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Hollywood Vampires setlist
(Bela Lugosi’s Dead / The Last Vampire)
1. I Want Mine Now
2. Raise the Dead
3. I Got a Line on You (Spirit cover)
4. 7 and 7 Is (Love cover)
5. My Dead Drunk Friends
6. Five to One / Break on Through (to the Other Side) (The Doors cover)
7. The Jack (AC/DC cover)
8. Ace of Spades (Motörhead cover)
9. Baba O’Riley (The Who cover)
10. As Bad As I Am
11. The Boogie Man Surprise
12. I’m Eighteen (Alice Cooper cover)
13. Stop Messin’ Around (Fleetwood Mac cover)
14. People Who Died (The Jim Carroll Band cover)
15. Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith cover)
16. Bushwackers
17. Heroes (David Bowie cover)
18. Train Kept A’Rollin’ (Tiny Bradshaw cover)
19. School’s Out (Alice Cooper cover)

David Byrne, Eventim Apollo

2018, David Byrne, Eventim
London, Tuesday June 19, 2018

For someone who never had the chance to see Talking Heads, David Byrne as a solo artist has been high on my list for a long time. So my expectations for tonight’s concert have probably been higher than what one can expect any performing artist to live up to.

The only seats I could manage to get five months or so ago, are right in the middle of the bloody nosebleeds – not ideal, but the view is acceptable and at least we get an overview of the stage (and choreography) which people in the stalls might not see as well as we can.

David Byrne comes on stage alone, in a light grey suit and bare feet, topped off with that full white hair he wears so well. He sits down at a table, picks up a brain and, channelling Hamlet speaking to that infamous skull, Byrne starts singing at the brain as if he has a bone to pick with it – and why not?

A grey carnival
Then things get really interesting when the other musicians begin entering the stage. 11 in total (not counting Byrne), they wander in and out from behind the semi-see-through curtain throughout the concert. No one’s fixed to one spot on the stage; there’s no drum-kit, no microphone-stands, no keyboard-stand. Everyone is wearing their instrument, just like they’re wearing their grey suits. It means there’s a lot of movement and very few static moments, giving the whole concert a carnival vibe – albeit a grey carnival, rather than a conventional colourful one. The colour of the evening is instead provided through the liveliness of its participants and the songs that are played wonderfully; whether it’s the new material from Byrne’s latest album or old Talking Heads classics, and anything in between, every song is full of spirit.

2018, David Byrne, band in other light

The word ‘original’ is often misused, and I maybe misuse it now, but I truly believe this is an original concert. It certainly feels unique. The combination of a strong set of songs, played to perfection in brilliant arrangements, to the simple but effective use of lights, to the quirky and playful choreography – there’s a feel to this concert that I haven’t quite experienced before.

2018, David Byrne, shadowplay

Any complaints? I would have preferred better seats, but there’s no one to blame for that. As for the setlist, are there songs I would have wished they’d played but didn’t? Why, of course. Isn’t that always the way? I think Road to Nowhere would have fit in perfectly. Could they perhaps have attempted a song from My Life In the Bush of Ghosts? But then there’s another angle. The enjoyment of appreciating songs I otherwise am not so keen on, but in this setting works brilliantly, like Lazy. I’m also not completely convinced that it’s the best idea to end the concert with their cover of Janelle Monae’s Hell You Talmbout. It’s a great and poignant song, in which several names of people who have been victims of police brutality are shouted out, and the strong message of the song is important and undeniable. I do wonder though, if the message of the song may have appeared even stronger if it had been played a few songs earlier, and not been the last song of the evening. Perhaps it’s because that it appears as an extra standalone song, and therefore doesn’t feel integrated in the set in the same way the other songs are. Maybe the point of playing it last and kind of isolated from the other songs is to force the audience to pay attention, but I personally think the message of the song would have been supported better if the song had felt more like a part of the set, rather than an afterthought. But these are minor ‘complaints’. This concert is as good as a concert can get, and if I had any stars to give, I’d award it six out of five.

David Byrne setlist
1. Here
2. Lazy
3. I Zimbra (Talking Heads song)
4. Slippery People (Talking Heads song)
5. I should Watch TV (David Byrne & St. Vincent cover)
6. Dog’s Mind
7. Everybody’s Coming to My House
8. This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) (Talking Heads song)
9. Once In a Lifetime (Talking Heads song)
10. Doing the Right Thing
11. Toe Jam
12. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) (Talking Heads song)
13. I Dance Like This
14. Bullet
15. Every Day Is a Miracle
16. Like Humans Do
17. Blind
18. Burning Down the House (Talking Heads song)
19. Dancing Together
20. The Great Curve (Talking Heads song)
Encore 2
21. Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monae cover)

Pearl Jam, The O2

Version 2London, Monday June 18, 2018

I’ll be the first to admit that my favourite Pearl Jam record is their first, and most popular one – Ten. They have released and toured many records since Ten, and I confess I haven’t kept much track of their other records. So tonight’s concert consists primarily of songs I have never heard before. But it doesn’t matter. Pearl Jam seems as eager to be there as if it was their first ever gig. This is hammered home by the fact that singer Eddie Vedder is not well this evening, but still insists to continue the concert. He has a cold, which comes across in his already raw voice, which tonight sounds particularly fragile in places. He joins his roadie at the back of the stage several times throughout the evening, to get a top-up of cough syrup and god knows what else, to keep his voice going until the end. Vedder also asks the crowd to help him out by taking over vocal duties here and there – but I’m sure they would have sung along either way. 

Vedder’s ill health gives the evening a certain amount of suspense; there are several times when he leaves the stage for a minute or two, where I think, this is it, the concert is over. But he keeps coming back, and the band plays on and on.

Version 2

For me, the highlights of the concert are mainly the six songs played from Ten. Whether it’s nostalgia or because I genuinely think they’re the best songs, who knows. But when Even Flow, Deep, Porch, Why Go, Black and Alive are played scattered throughout the set, my excitement barometer measures a bit higher than for any other song. I’ll go on record and say I wished they’d played Jeremy and Release. But, then again, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert where I didn’t wish for a couple of songs that weren’t played. That’s the nature of going to concerts, and that’s OK.

Pearl Jam has a reputation of being a band of the people – and it shows. Apart from obviously being a tight unit who maintains a high level of playing, they are also blessed with a frontman who really knows how to connect with a crowd. Vedder seems to put as much effort into watching the crowd, as the crowd does watching him. He sees what’s going on and comments and interacts between most songs. Whether it’s listening to some fans telling him how they got to the concert by walking a long distance (!), or sharing his wine (or was it the cough syrup?) with someone in the first row, or throwing out at least a dozen of tambourines to the lucky receivers, or getting as close to the audience as he can without actually crowd surfing (hope he didn’t pass on any of those germs), or when he sees a member of the audience wearing a ‘Matt Fucking Cameron’ t-shirt, and makes sure to introduce the drummer as such, he has really perfected the art of engaging with an audience.

2018, Pearl Jam, whole band

After already setting the bar high, Pearl Jam finishes off strong with Black, Alive and their sublime cover of Neil Young’s Rockin’ In the Free World, a song that may not be their own, but one the band has always worn as if it was their favourite flannel-shirt. Oh, an outdated apparel-reference. I know, grunge is over, and we are no longer in the 1990’s.

Back in the present of the 2010’s, it feels great to reacquaint myself with a part of my youth, and beyond that, tonight’s gig was really great. Pearl Jam is an unusually great rock band, no doubt about it.

The next day I see that Pearl Jam had to cancel their second gig at the O2 that evening because Eddie Vedder has lost his voice. It’s hardly surprising, and though I feel sorry for the people who’ll miss out on the second gig, I am grateful that Vedder went all in the night before, and gave us a wonderful live concert experience, instead of calling it in. I truly hope that most of the people who missed out on the cancelled gig got to go to the rescheduled gig.

Pearl Jam setlist
1. Of the Girl
2. Low Light
3. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
4. Animal
5. Brain of J.
6. Even Flow
7. Wishlist
8. Deep
9. Severed Hand
10. Love Boat Captain
11. Can’t Deny Me
12. Do the Evolution
13. Down
14. Daughter
15. You Are
16. Parting Ways
17. Porch
18. Off He Goes
19. Sleeping By Myself (Eddie Vedder song)
20. Footsteps
21. Mind Your Manners
22. Why Go
23. Better Man
24. Last Kiss (Wayne Cochran cover)
25. Black
26. Alive
27. Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)

Greta Van Fleet, Electric Ballroom

2018, greta van fleet, pavementLondon, Monday June 11, 2018

The streets of Camden Town on a summer evening are buzzing. The market is closed for the day, and for a brief moment, there’s the feeling of a more local Camden without the shoppers and the tourists, who’ve been replaced by the clubbers and drug dealers, ticket touts and gig-goers.

Once inside the legendary 1500-capacity venue, the crowd appears to be a healthy mix of young, middle-aged and old, all here to check out the new rock sensation known as Greta Van Fleet.

Support band, SHEAFS, from Sheffield, deliver a raw performance, complete with a crowd surfing frontman. I have never heard of them before, but am definitely compelled to find out more after having seen their set. With songs like This Is Not a Protest, Mind Pollution and Shock Machine, it’s fun and it’s in your face and it’s a great warm up for the main attraction of the evening.

IMG_5259Support band, SHEAFS

Kurtas and bare chests
And then it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. The four members of Greta Van Fleet enter the stage and launch into the insanely catchy Highway Tune, setting the bar high for the rest of the evening. The three Kiszka-brothers (Josh on vocals, Jake on guitar, Sam on bass) and their friend, Danny Wagner on drums, look like four characters who just stepped off the set of Almost Famous. They’ve got that seventies classic rock look down to a tee; long hair, open vests over bare chests, and beads and long flowing hair. No doubt their looks are a contributing factor to their popularity, but there’s no denying these young fellas can play and sing.

2018, greta van fleet, blueGreta Van Fleet at Electric Ballroom

While a kurta-attired Josh performs vocal somersaults, his bare-chest-vest-wearing twin brother Jake exercises finger acrobatics on his guitar fretboard. Especially impressive is a seemingly never-ending guitar solo early on in the show during Edge of Darkness, where about a minute of the solo is played while holding the guitar behind his back. Not only does it look like a complete rock and roll show off in the best possible way, it also sounds pretty damn good. Bass player, Sam, keeps a great groove going throughout, and it’s fun to watch him and Jake, often moving synchronously, on each their side of the singer, both tossing their long hair around, and often glancing sideways, as if to keep each other in check. Drummer Danny pounds hard and keeps the band’s heart beating. This is a tight unit who knows how to ROCK!

Version 2Guitarist, Jake Kiszka

Wearing a feather headband around his curly hair, Josh looks out at the audience with a warrior stare, but he’s a friendly warrior who’s never far from breaking out in a huge smile. He doesn’t dance much, and he stands still a lot, but his stillness is very effective, especially when surrounded by two such animated players as his two brothers. Also, if staying still is what it takes to belt those impressive vocals out, it’s all for the better.

Greta Van Fleet only has about a dozen songs in their repertoire, so their concerts are inevitably going to be a bit limited at this early stage of their career. I find my mind wandering, and after the first four songs, my feet start wandering too – away from my spot in front of the stage, simply because I get a little bored. When Greta Van Fleet are good, they’re really good, but in my opinion, they don’t have enough great songs yet, to keep it really exciting for a full gig. For now, too many of their songs just seem to weave in and out of one another, and so, the band only shines in glimpses. But I have no doubt that things can get a lot more exciting with one more record and more song material under their belts.

A gig from two angles
As I wander away from the stage and up on the balcony, it gives me the chance to see the gig from another perspective. The sound is not quite as good up there as it was in front of the stage, which is a shame, especially since it’s such a small venue, Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the band from above for the last part of the gig. It gives a better overview, and it’s only now I notice that the bass player has bare feet. And it’s quite an ending the band pulls off – finishing with Black Smoke Rising and Safari Song, the Fleets (not really their nickname, but maybe it can catch on?) have the audience singing along to every word. 

Version 2Singer, Josh Kiszka

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence (or maybe it is) that Greta Van Fleet’s two currently strongest songs, Highway Tune and Safari Song bookend the gig, making sure they start and finish especially strong. In a time where many people would rather stay at home and watch Love Island, or stream Drake on Spotify, it’s not only refreshing, but vital, that we have a band like Greta Van Fleet to go see shredding and killing it in a small sweaty venue in the formerly most rocking part of London. They have now become part of the tradition of young rock bands playing small venues in Camden Town. Camden Town is no longer what it was, and the cultural significance of the place has nearly died out, but no one can deny its impressive rock history – and now, Greta Van Fleet has taken the baton. Run with it, Guys!

Great Van Fleet setlist
1. Highway Tune
2. Edge of Darkness
3. When the Cold Wind Blows
4. Talk on the Street
5. Flower Power
6. You’re the One
7. Evil (Howling’ Wolf cover)
8. Mountain of the Son
9. Watching Over
10. Lover Leaver Taker Believer
11. Black Smoke Rising
12. Safari Song

James Riley, The Blues Kitchen – Brixton

2018, james riley, dylan2London, Friday June 8, 2018

The concept of this evening’s concert is the reason why I’m here tonight, but also the reason why I’m a bit sceptical: ‘Join us as James Riley performs one of popular music’s most controversial moments over two live shows… When Dylan went electric.’

Singer-songwriter James Riley and band are here to showcase Bob Dylan’s famous shift from being an acoustic folk singer to becoming an electric rock singer. First, Riley will play solo and acoustic, and then the band will join in and go electric. Riley asks us to pretend we’re at the legendary Gaslight Cafe in New York’s West Village, where Dylan played many of his early gigs before he launches into Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. 

Early on in the evening, someone in the crowd shouts ‘Judas’. Of course, someone had to do it, and someone did. A reference to the concert Dylan did at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966, where a member of the audience shouted ‘Judas’, because the folksters (is that a word?) thought Dylan had ‘betrayed’ his folk roots. Riley assures us, ‘ Don’t worry, we’ll get to it.’

The vibe in the room is great. We’re a young and old(er) crowd of hipsters and hippies, and whatever else. Riley plays some of Dylan’s most loved songs with great confidence and skill. He sings the well-written verses of poetry clearly and with conviction. Riley may not have Dylan’s snarling, raspy, antagonistic vocal delivery, but instead, he sings the songs with a soulful and gentle voice. And it works.

We are taken through Dylan’s musical landscape with masterpieces like Blowin’ in the Wind, Song to Woody, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall and The Times They Are a-Changin’.

2018, james riley, dylan

After the intermission, the electric set begins with Mr Tambourine Man. But not before another shout of ‘Judas’, to which Riley responds, ‘There is electric on this one.’ And then another string of some of the most legendary songs ever written follows like She Belongs to Me, Maggie’s Farm, Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again, Just Like a Woman, and ending the evening with, no surprise there, Like a Rolling Stone.

Though this has nothing to do with tonight’s concert, this is the evening of the morning where it was announced that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. Being someone whose TV-shows I’ve followed for years, he’s on my mind during tonight’s concert. There’s something poignant about hearing these great songs in a room full of an appreciative crowd, and thinking that music really is therapeutic and healing.

Which leads me to another point this evening hammers home: James Riley does what every live performer should do, and what Bob Dylan doesn’t do, at least not anymore; he engages with his audience. So, though it would have been amazing to see Dylan at The Gaslight Cafe in New York in the early sixties, or on tour with The Band in the mid-sixties, seeing someone like Riley, who performs tonight’s choice of songs as if they were his own, is quite possibly the optimal way of seeing Dylan’s extraordinary catalogue of songs being performed.

James Riley setlist
Not available.