Inhaler, Borderline

IMG_2208London, Sunday March 31, 2019

I admit it straight up. The reason we went to this Sunday evening gig at the Borderline, was not to see the main band, Touts, but the second support band, Inhaler, fronted by the son of U2’s Bono, Elijah Hewson. There, I said it. So this review will not include Touts, because by the time I suspect they took to the stage, we were almost home – we do have to get up early for work tomorrow, you know.

We arrive at the small but legendary venue. One of the few that hasn’t been affected – yet – by gentrification and rising rents in the area, unlike former neighbouring venues like Astoria and Mean Fiddler, now long gone. (SAD UPDATE May 13, 2019: Borderline is going to close down in the summer of 2019).

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The first band of the evening is called The Clockworks. They’re loud and the reason we ask the nice woman behind the bar for earplugs, which she freely supplies us with – good service. I’m no longer a youth and I have seen my share of rock and punk bands and felt the excitement, that perhaps you only really feel when you’re a teenager or in your early twenties, when you see a new, happening band. So The Clockworks don’t really do anything for me, but that doesn’t mean they might not be good. I’m just not their audience.

IMG_2156The Clockworks

Then it’s time for Inhaler. It’s impossible not to compare Hewson a little bit to Bono – the young man does dress like like his old man did in his younger years, and the way he stands, kind of lifting his feet up, presumably to make himself appear taller, is definitely also a move lifted or inherited from his dad. Unfortunately, either the sound engineer was having an off-day, or Hewson simply didn’t sing loud enough or project his voice well enough, which is a shame, because he clearly has a good voice. The vocal volume needs to be fixed for future gigs. We need to be able to hear not only the sound of the bass, and the drums and the keyboards and the guitars, but also of the voice. LOUDER, please.

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‘Sunday, Ice Cream Sunday’
Having said that, Inhaler are pretty good, especially the drummer, Ryan McMahon, is impressive. Bass player, Robert Keating, plays well and his backing vocals are actually louder than Hewson’s lead vocals, and his poses certainly rivals those of his lead singer, which sometimes are a bit too much. Josh Jenkinson plays a good lead guitar and his and Hewson’s guitars compliment each other perfectly. Inhaler also has a keyboard player, who to my knowledge is either new or not a permanent member of the band (?), and I’m afraid I don’t know his name, but his synth adds a great atmospheric vibe to the songs.

It is a comical sight to see the several photographers running around in front of the stage, taking pictures throughout the gig. For most concerts of this size there might be one or two photographers taking a few pictures and audience members (like me) taking pictures on their phones. But for tonight’s concert it almost feels like it’s a runway, more than a stage. This is obviously because of the you-know-who connection, and it’s quite funny to watch the photographers almost fall over each other at times, trying to get the best close up.

The six-songs-set is a bunch of songs sounding rather like they’d stepped out of the early eighties – songs that especially stood out were Ice Cream Sunday and Another Like You. The band does pose quite a bit, which seems slightly forced. When I see someone like Eddie Vedder stage dive I don’t know how much he rehearsed it, but I do know it comes across as natural. Inhaler’s poses this evening come across as too cliched – they should probably work on that, and I’m sure they will. With experience, these things will appear more naturally.

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Hewson doesn’t talk much in between songs, but towards the end he says, ‘This is our last song’. Someone in the audience cheers, and he snaps back, ‘Don’t cheer for that’. He seems to know how to interact, and it would suit him – and the band – if he did that more. Then Inhaler plays their debut single, It Won’t Always Be Like This – a catchy song and a fitting way to end the concert.

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So, it was a good gig. Nothing spectacular, but can you really expect spectacular from a new band that’s only just finding their way? Maybe later.

Inhaler setlist
1. The Sound
2. My Honest Face
3. Dublin in Ecstacy
4. Another Like You
5. Ice Cream Sunday
6. It Won’t Always Be Like This

Vampire Weekend, EartH

IMG_1614London, Thursday March 21, 2019

Apparently this is Vampire Weekend’s first gig in London since 2013, and this evening’s ‘welcome back’ committee is comprised of the about 800 lucky people who managed to get a ticket before it sold out. 

Singer Ezra Koenig himself describes tonight’s gathering as a bit of an ‘attended rehearsal’. But Koenig’s socks-and-sandals aside, it certainly feels like a proper gig. EartH is an old cinema and the last time I was here it was so cold that I promised myself never to return to this venue between October and April. So, here I am back in March but luckily today is milder than last time and it doesn’t feel cold this time.

There’s no support band and at 20:30 the weekend-only vampires casually – very casually – stroll on stage to excited applause. First song is Harmony Hall, one of the new songs from their upcoming album, Father of the Bride. Apart from the evocative title, Harmony Hall, is also a very uplifting piece of music in which Koenig assures us all, ‘I don’t want to die’. Well, seeing how he and his bandmates seem to enjoy themselves playing their music, I don’t think anyone would think otherwise.

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Another new song, 2021, is played twice – this is an ‘attended rehearsal’ after all. The first version is short and simple, and the second longer and more experimental. Koenig uses a talk box and though it’s an effect that can enhance a song, I must admit I don’t much see the point of it in this particular case. But it’s probably a lot of fun to play.

Most of the set though, is made up of crowd-favourites; Holiday and Unbelievers are the second and third song respectively, and that’s as good a beginning to a concert as can be expected, and sets the tone for the rest of the evening. 

Vampire Weekend sometimes jump straight into that great big net of ‘cultural appropriation’ that you can so easily get entangled in, and that some people are more bothered with than others. Me personally, I don’t mind, but I do know it’s the reason why some people don’t like them. Being inspired by music from cultures ‘different than yours’ is not a crime, and if you can pull it off, then why not? As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine that a non-Italian cooks spaghetti, a Westener eats sushi, a Brazilian plays in a Rolling Stones cover-band, a German tries to play piano like Thelonious Monk, or a Greek person prefers watching The Simpsons over reading Greek mythology. ‘Cultural appropriation’ is really just the art of being open and curious – and why not? Songs like White Sky and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa are deeply rooted on African soil, far away from these American white-bred East-coast-preppy-boys. But maybe that’s part of the charm of the songs; positioning yourself musically far away from your assigned parking zone and somehow making it part of your comfort zone. 

The last four songs before the band leave the stage for the first time, are a relentless attack on the ecstatic crowd who dance and sing along to Diane Young, Cousins, A-Punk and Oxford Comma.

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Bass player Chris Baio is refreshingly unconcerned with being cool and dances and gyrates around, quite honestly sometimes giving the impression he is so in love with his bass he wants to hump it. And who are we to judge, as long as he keeps the engine of the songs going and enjoys himself.

Like all musicians who can play well, the musicians in Vampire Weekend are prone to slightly longer solos than what might actually suit the songs and some songs do turn into more of a jam session at times, which I’m sure is fun to play but less fun to listen to. Vampire Weekend is at their best when they keep the songs short and to the point. 

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The encore consists of six songs, three of which are requests from the audience, M79 from their debut album (2008), and Finger Back, Everlasting Arms, from their most recent album Modern Vampires of the City (2013). The last two songs of the concert are also from Modern Vampires of the City, the fast, pumping, triumphant Worship You, followed by the slow, melancholic Ya Hey, a song about having, sometimes questioning, and perhaps even losing faith. But agnostics and atheists can also take away from this song a perfect summary of most of our lives in this post-modern world: ‘In the dark of this place, There’s the glow of your face, There’s the dust on the screen, Of this broken machine, And I can’t help but feel, That I’ve made some mistake, But I let it go, Ya Hey’.

And that’s what this concert was a good reminder of, the importance of letting go.

Vampire Weekend setlist
1. Harmony Hall (new song)
2. Holiday
3. Unbelievers
4. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
5. White Sky
6. Sunflower (new song)
7. Step
8. 2021 (new song, album version)
9. 2021 (new song, piano version)
10. Horchata
11. New Drop. New York (SBTRKT w. Ezra Koenig cover)
12. Hannah Hunt
13. Diane Young
14. Cousins
15. A-Punk
16. Oxford Comma
Encore
17. Big Blue (new song)
18. Finger Back (request from audience)
19. Everlasting Arms (request from audience
20. M79 (request from audience)
21. Worship You
22. Ya Hey