Paul Simon & James Taylor, Hyde Park

2018, Paul Simon, stageLondon, Sunday July 15, 2018

Hyde Park is sizzling and the astronomical price some of us have paid for a Summer Garden VIP ticket has paid of in the shape of shade and easy access to cooling drinks and clean toilets. If only I could afford to go to concerts like this all the time. To be honest, concerts of this magnitude are far too expensive and part of me would like to boycott them. But I guess that wouldn’t make a difference, and the only thing it would mean was, that I would miss out on a concert that I would like to attend. But I doubt I would enjoy the day as much if I’d gone for the cheaper (£70’ish) tickets further back – I mean, even in the Golden Cirlce we’re already quite a bit away from the stage.

Half of the bands of the day have already played when we arrive, and Bonnie Raitt goes on stage shortly after we’ve got our Golden Circle access wristbands. But the heat doesn’t make you run for a place in front of the stage when you can hide in the shadows with an overpriced Margarita in hand. So the Bonnie Raitt concert is more heard than seen. It’s nice to hear the only song of hers I really know, Something to Talk About, in the background and we do actually not only hear, but also see the last song, announced by Raitt as a song by ‘one of my favourite bands,’ as they launch into a great version of Burning Down the House by Talking Heads.

In the heat of the afternoon
At this point, there’s no avoiding the sun if we want to secure a reasonable spot, so we head into the heat, right in the centre in front of the stage. No more shade until the sun goes down a few hours later. We wait about 30 minutes before James Taylor and his band come on. For people who’ve seen Taylor before this probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but for a first timer like myself, it’s a welcome surprise that he is an entertaining onstage presence with lots of banter between the songs. After the first song, he praises the group of musicians playing with him, calling them a ‘great band to work with… they are amazing,’ while he turns his guitar and holds it up, displaying a ‘Help Me’ sign, which gets a good laugh from the crowd. Throughout the gig he introduces the band, and, as if James Taylor isn’t legendary enough, his musicians are no slouches either, from ‘the legendary Steve Gadd’ on the drums, to the saxophone player, who gets the following introduction; ‘If you’re a fan of the Blues Brothers you’ll probably recognise our sax player… Lou Marini, Blue Lou.’

Version 2James Taylor and his band, including Steve Gadd on drums

The concert is basically a showcase of some of the most beloved songs in the singer-songwriter tradition of the late sixties and early seventies, with some covers thrown in – obviously, it’s hard to imagine a James Taylor concert without him covering Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend. With a repertoire like this and a voice backed by a band like that, it’s hard to see what could go wrong. And nothing does. Everything goes exactly right.

Then it’s time for a toilet run, or rather a toilet stroll. Better not to move too fast in this heat. Then back to our spot in front of the stage, sitting on the yellow hay that’s pretending to be grass, and we wait for nearly an hour longer in the baking sun.

When I wait for a band to go on, and watch the roadies and stage technicians getting things ready for the band, I sometimes wonder how many of those things could have been prepared earlier. I’m sure they do what needs to be done as fast as they can, but the anticipation of what’s about to happen can cause impatience and make every little extra guitar tuning, and every extra soundcheck of the drums seem excruciatingly long. Watching roadies get the stage ready for the band you’re waiting to see, may not be as boring as watching paint dry, but it’s certainly a lesson in keeping your zen.

Let us be lovers…
But finally, a neverending stream of musicians enter the stage to inevitable applause from the audience. The string/horn-section play the opening chords of America and Paul Simon enters with oversized sunglasses and guitar and sings that line; ‘Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.’ Starting a gig with a song like that could mean it’s all downhill from there. But when you have a catalogue of songs like Simon does (and not many do), you can start on a high and still go even higher. Granted, there are parts of the set that are less engaging than others; parts that have the audience chattering more, or, like the people standing next to us, hurrying out for burgers and chips, only to return a few songs later, bringing with them the stench of stinking chip oil. I’ll keep what I think about that to myself.

For the first part of the concert, the sun has been strong, and Simon has been wearing sunglasses, making sure to inform us, that as soon as the sun goes down, the sunglasses will come off. And he sticks to his promise. The very moment the sun disappears behind a tree, Simon takes the sunglasses off, to applause from the audience.

Version 2Paul Simon, after the sun had gone down and the sunglasses had come off

Setlists don’t come much better than this. Of course there will always be favourites that are not played (Something So Right, Baby Driver…) but this really is as good as it gets – a collection of old and new, the folkier stuff, the dancier stuff, bass-heavy songs, a few rearrangements for strings and horns – it’s all in there. I later hear some people call parts of the set self-indulgent, but it would be just as self-indulgent to think the artist should only cater to your wishes, and not also their own. All things considered, I think Simon got the choice of songs just right.

His voice is slightly shaky in places, but nothing major, and also some songs seem to have been rearranged to suit an older man’s voice, which may find it harder to hit all those high notes it hit so well when it was younger. That’s what growing old does to you, to Paul Simon and to all of us.

2018, Paul Simon, hand on heartThe end of a concert – the end of an era

The concert takes us from America, a country known for making a lot of noise, to the inevitable end with the Sound of Silence. In between, we are invited to Graceland and given an insight to a songwriter’s Rewrite. We get nostalgic with Kodachrome (let’s be honest, most people in the crowd are more likely to have an iPhone camera, than a Nikon camera), and we are told about the 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. We get Simon’s own vocal version of Bridge Over Troubled Water, which he may not be able to sing as well as a certain Art Garfunkel (or indeed Aretha Franklin, who’s also covered the song), but it IS Simon’s song, and with a smart rearrangement, he sings it really well. We also get one of my favourite songs, Wristband, a groovy song with an, at first, funny narrative, which then, very cleverly becomes a socially conscious contemplation on how unequal the world is. In fact, this Hyde Park event is a good example; you need a wristband to get in, and the people with the best wristbands, get the best view of the stage, and access to the best facilities.

This is very likely Paul Simon’s last tour, and last concert in Europe and, indeed, last concert in England. Aged 76, he shows once more that he truly is a songwriting giant and musical master. It’s doubtful that the music world will see a songwriter and musician like him after he’s gone. With his supreme band of musicians, he gives us an absolute masterclass in how it should be done.

James Taylor setlist
1. Carolina in My Mind
2. Country Road
3. You’ve Got a Friend (Carole King cover)
4. Up on the Roof (Carole King cover)
5. Mexico
6. Something in the Way She Moves
7. Sweet Baby James
8. Fire and Rain
9. Shed a Little Light
10. Your Smiling Face
11. Shower the People
12. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) (Marvin Gaye cover)

Paul Simon setlist
1. America (Simon & Garfunkel song)
2. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
3. The Boy in the Bubble
4. Dazzling Blue
5 That Was Your Mother
6 Rewrite
7. Mother and Child Reunion
8. Me and Julio Down the Schoolyard
9 Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War
10. Can’t Run But
11. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel song)
12. Wristband
13. Spirit Voices
14. The Obvious Child
15. Questions for the Angels
16. The Cool, Cool River
17. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
18. You Can Call Me Al
19. Late in the Evening
20. Still Crazy After All These Years
21. Graceland
22. Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel song)
23. Kodachrome
24. The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel song)
25. American Tune
26. The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel song)

 

Roskilde Festival, Day 3 (Nick Cave)

2018, roskilde, crowdRoskilde Festival, Denmark, Friday July 6, 2018

This review is of Roskilde Festival 2018, based on the two days I attended – Day 1 and Day 3, with special emphasis on the two main gigs I saw; Eminem and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Friday afternoon I arrive back at the festival site early in the afternoon. I want to watch Dead Cross with Mike Patton (Faith No More), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Justin Pearson and Michael Crain (both from Retox) at 3pm. But first I watch a bit of English band, The Hunna, on the Pavilion stage, who I’d never heard of before but who was a pleasant experience with catchy songs and a very chatty frontman. Everyone around me seemed to enjoy it, and so did I.

2018, roskilde, engelsk bandThe Hunna, Pavilion stage

I can hear some country-esque music from the Avalon stage, so I head over there, where I find New Zealand singer-songwriter, Marlon Williams. Williams channels a bit of Johnny Cash, a bit of Roy Orbison and does it really, really well. What a beautiful voice. I don’t know any of his songs, but I’ll make sure to get to know them better. This is what festivals are about; stumbling upon a singer or band you’ve never heard of, and realising how much you dig them. For the limited time I’m at the festival this year, I’m glad I got one of those ’stumbling’ moments.

Version 2Marlon Williams, Avalon stage

Dead Cross delivers a chaotic and confrontational noise, tumbling down from the stage, and weirdly tempered by Patton’s impeccable vocals – screaming and shouting his lungs out, but never straying too far from his trademark-croon. Patton does his customary ‘squatting’-pose, before the beginning of each song, as if he’s getting in position to attack the song. His juvenile frat-boy humour (“Do you do anal?”) goes well with his Hawaiian-shirt-wearing-surf-punk-attire. Though it’s fun to see Mike Patton up close on stage, Dead Cross doesn’t quite excite me the way Patton’s other bands, Faith No More and Mr. Bungle do, but when Patton invites three audience members on stage for a little dance competition, the silliness of it all is quite entertaining and endearing.

2018, roskilde, dead crossDead Cross, Avalon stage

Then it’s time to meet up with my Mojito Bus-friends, for more Mojitos and sitting down for a while. A few Mojitos later, we venture into the camp area which none of us is staying in, but it’s kind of fun in a truly disgusting way to see the dry dusty garbage-strewn camp areas – bottles and cartons and plastic containers and half-eaten food and pools of vomit and streams of piss. Every camp seems to blast its own choice of music, creating a kind of mash-up of noise, and the heat (and Mojitos) make everything seem a bit twisted and surreal. Are we extras in a Mad Max-film all of a sudden?

IMG_6287Campsite or Trash site? You decide!

I’m glad to leave the campsite behind and go back to the festival site. Danish band, The Minds of 99, is playing on Orange stage, and even though we don’t actually see them, we hear enough of them for me to know that I like what I hear. 

Nick Cave is high on my list, so I’m happy to claim my spot in one of the pits in front of the stage and wait one hour for Cave and his Bad Seeds to enter the stage. The waiting game for a concert to begin is never fun, so I’m going to skip right to the concert.

IMG_6300Waiting in the pit for the concert to begin

Though I have a pretty decent view of the stage, I’m standing in the pit just behind the ‘front-pit’, separated by a ‘work-area’ where the Roskilde Festival crew watch the audience and hand out water. One orange-clad crew member keeps walking into my view, and though he’s only doing his job, he becomes a bit of an irritation because I almost see more of him than I see of Nick Cave. Meanwhile, up on stage, Nick Cave is not wearing orange, he is of course dressed mainly in black.

Version 2Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Orange stage

Cave is such a charismatic stage presence and even if he wasn’t a great singer, it would be fun just to watch him. Luckily, of course, he sings great too, and the band is absolutely LIT!

After the concert, I read that some reviewers thought the gig was disappointing. This is a surprise to me. I thought the gig was brilliant. But I can’t compare it to other gigs as I’ve never seen Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live before. And that’s another thing about concerts; one person might have a great experience because they stood in a good spot where the view and sound was just right, or they are happy that the band played their favourite songs – while someone else might have an obstructed view of the stage, or have already seen the band several times before and don’t think this time is one of the better ones. 

Version 2Nick Cave on the big screen, Orange stage

Nick Cave truly is an enigmatic performer, and with his fabulous deep voice, backed by a group of magnificent musicians, this concert for me, was the highlight of this year’s festival.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds setlist
1. Jesus Alone
2. Magneto
3. Do You Love Me?
4. From Her To Eternity
5. Loverman
6. Red Right Hand
7. Into My Arms
8. Girl in Amber
9. Tupelo
10. Jubilee Street
11. The Weeping Song
12. Stagger Lee
13. Push the Sky Away

Roskilde Festival, Day 1 (Eminem)

2018, roskilde, crowdRoskilde Festival, Denmark, Wednesday July 4, 2018

This review is of Roskilde Festival 2018, based on the two days I attended – Day 1 and Day 3, with special emphasis on the two main gigs I saw; Eminem and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Roskilde Festival is where I left it the last time I was here, six years ago. This time it’s not raining and I feel that increased age has made me less willing to wander around as much as I once would have. That means checking out fewer bands and getting into fewer shenanigans and that suits me fine. These days I go more for the safe option, which may not be the ideal way of going to a festival, but it works for me.

IMG_6293Campsite area

Arriving by train to the Red Entrance, the obligatory walk through some of the camp area is completed and all I can think is, Thank God I’m not staying here for the night. We enter through the Main Entrance to the festival site and immediately test the toilet facilities. Verdict: Clean but smelly. As the guy in the booth next to mine exclaims: “It smells of old shit in here.” Safely out of the shit-pit, we stroll around, taking in that atmosphere which you really can’t find anywhere else than at a festival this size. 

We aim for the first gig of the day; Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, who play at the Gloria stage. As I recall it, the Gloria stage used to be in a tent, like the bigger, nearby Arena stage. But now it’s a covered ‘venue’, I guess, to give it a more intimate small-club type feel. It works fine. It’s dark, unlike any of the other outdoor stages, and at the back of the venue, they’ve built a staircase where people can stand and watch the gig from an elevated viewpoint, which is handy for short people like me. Pigs x 7 is a punkish, metal-band whose name is more fun than the music, so we leave after a few songs. 

IMG_6154Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs at Gloria

We get drinks and sit under a tree to look through the festival schedule for the day. As is customary for a festival, we are in mobile contact with a friend who catches up with us for a drink, before heading to another concert. We, on the other hand, head for another drink – a watery version of some kind of Pina Colada. Not quite worth the 85 DKK, but this is a festival after all, so what can you do?

Then it’s time to move. We walk past the main Orange Stage, as the opening act, Danish band Saveus, belt out their songs from somewhere up there. They sound fine but not enough to make us want to stop in our tracks, so we continue past the Mojito Bus (more about that later). We check out a bit of Slaves on the Pavilion stage. The tent is packed and I can’t see much from the outside, but they sound great.

IMG_6159The crowd checking out Slaves at Pavilion

A message on Messenger pulls us back to the Mojito Bus, where a couple of friends are drinking what doesn’t exactly look like their first Mojito of the day. From the Mojito Bus we can hear Slaves’ set and then it’s off to check out a bit of Clutch at the Avalon stage, who isn’t really my thing, but we spot the long, anti-capitalist snake that’s making its way around the festival site, and there’s the first sighting of the cow-sodomising alien that has become a fixture at the festival over the last 20 years. Oh, the things you see, and accept as acceptable, within the confines of a festival.

Back past Orange stage, we see people queuing up for the Eminem gig in about five hours time. We don’t join the queue, but later I catch myself thinking that they without a doubt had a better Eminem experience than I did. Which leads us to the main concert of the day…

2018, roskilde, eminemEminem on Orange Stage – he is up there somewhere

I don’t recall having been to a concert where I was so far away from the stage as I am tonight. The distance between the giver and receiver affects the concert experience a great deal. It’s hard to feel really part of the concert when you have trouble even seeing what happens on the two screens on either side of the stage. From where I stand, I can’t even be sure it really is Eminem AKA Marshall Mathers, but I just have to assume it is. For the first third of the concert the sound is too low and strangely slippy, but once the sound is sorted (why wasn’t that the case from the beginning?) at least the concert sounds good from then on.

We get all the hits, from Stan to My Name Is, to Sing For the Moment to Without Me and so on. I would have liked to have heard Mosh, but it doesn’t really matter. I can hear it at home instead. It does feel like a bit of a cop-out that several songs are cut shorter. I wonder how many verses of songs that didn’t make it into the set tonight. But I guess it’s a way of playing as many of the songs that people want to hear, as possible. Eminem is quite chatty in between songs, but there is a limit to how many times you want to hear the performing artist shout, ‘What’s up Roskilde?’ But at least it’s better than not acknowledging the crowd at all.

IMG_6195Eminem in blue lights on Orange stage

As Eminem leaves the stage without singing Lose Yourself we all know he’ll be back, and indeed there he comes, finishing up strong with his anthem about going for what you want to do in life, and work hard at it, to make it happen. Surely a sentiment everyone can relate to, and a perfect song to ensure the concert ends on a high. The size of this concert is bigger than I appreciate, yet I still leave with that feeling I always get when I’ve attended a concert that was a little bit better than usual, not least of all thanks to the words of the final song: ‘Lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.’ Life-affirming lyrics don’t really come better than this. Thank you Mr Mathers.

Eminem setlist
1. Medicine Man (Dr Dre cover)
2. Won’t Back Down
3. 3am
4. Square Dance
5. Kill You
6. White America
7. Rap God
8. Sing For the Moment
9. Like Toy Soldiers
10. Forever (Drake cover)
11. Just Don’t Give a Fuck
12. Framed
13. Criminal
14. The Way I Am
15. Walk on Water
16. Stan
17. Love the Way You Lie
18. Bezerk
19. ‘Till I Collapse
20. Cinderella Man
21. Fast Lane (Bad Meets Evil song)
22. River
23. The Monster
24. My Name Is
25. The Real Slim Shady
26. Without Me
27. Not Afraid
Encore
28. Lose Yourself