Fontaines D.C. – Rough Trade East

IMG_5718London, Monday December 2, 2019

I’m late to the party. But then again, I don’t follow the latest bands as much as I once did. But sometimes word get through about a ‘new sensation’ or upcoming potential legend in the making. I’d seen the name, Fontaines D.C., here and there but hadn’t paid attention until I saw they were doing one of those performances at Rough Trade (East) that consists of a shortened gig and signing of the current record the band is promoting at that time. In this case Fontaines D.C. were promoting their debut album, Dogrel, and celebrating that it had been named Rough Trade’s Album of the Year.

As the group is still relatively new and only has one album’s worth of songs (plus a few extras) their mini-gig at Rough Trade this evening where they play 8 songs, is not that much shorter than their ‘real’ gigs which seem to be only 3-4 songs longer, so it almost feels like we’re getting a full gig. Nevertheless, it certainly made me want to check them out at a proper concert in the future.

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So who is Fontaines D.C.?
A unit of five young men from Ireland, apparently named after the character Johnny Fontaine from The Godfather. I don’t know if this implies they foresee themselves as failed entertainers who have to make use of their mob connections and decapitated horse heads to try and revive their careers. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, and for now at least, it certainly doesn’t look like it. 

The band is blessed with a charismatic frontman, Grian Chatten, though it’s hard to tell how much is a studied pose and how much is sincere quirkiness. I suspect a mixture of both. He keeps staring at the bright light above him, sometimes hitting out at it, as if feigning discomfort of being in the spotlight. His body movement alternates between an erratic boxer waiting for a fight and a bored child making faces and bouncing around. Perhaps this is how he gets himself in the ‘frontman zone’, by turning nervous energy into confident swagger, and staring out members of the audience with affected menace. Like any great frontman he is intriguing to watch and his extensive movements never happen at expense of his singing.

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We all know that cool rock stars tend to down-play their cool factor and up-play their affected weirdness, because they know that’ll make them appear even cooler. It’s a funny circle of pretence, all for the sake of being cool while pretending not to be cool. It’s all part of the rock star game and it works. In addition, Fontaine D.C.’s songs are great. They are a part of a current crop of bands that have tapped into the sound and atmosphere (and look?) of bands like The Fall, Echo and the Bunnymen or Joy Division, and it’s hard not to get the sense of having stepped into a soundscape of the alternative rock scene from the late seventies/early eighties. 

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Regardless, Fontaines D.C. come across as current and new, as indeed they are, and their songs don’t feel like rip-offs. The band got their own thing going on and I’m sure the crowd agree, from grey haired Gen X’ers to fresh faced Millennials and whatever other category of humans that are in attendance at this gig.

Towards the end there is some mild moshing going on with a few bumps and pushes but nothing nothing approaching aggressive for violent. Is Polite Moshing a thing – ‘Poshing’, perhaps?

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I am often not able to pick out lyrics from songs I don’t know (perhaps because of a lifelong reduced hearing on one ear), but when I look up the lyrics online afterwards I can read what I couldn’t hear properly – these lyrics are really good:

‘Dublin in the rain is mine, A pregnant city with a catholic mind, My childhood was small, But I’m gonna be big’ (Big).

‘A sell-out is someone who becomes a hypocrite in the name of money, An idiot is someone who lets their education do all their thinking… Charisma is exquisite manipulation, and money is a sandpit of the soul’ (Chequeless Reckless).

‘You’re so real, I’m a show reel, You work for money and the rest you steal’ (Sha Sha Sha).

The first line in the song, Too Real, (‘The winter evening settles down’) references T.S. Eliot’s poem Preludes, and on Boys in the Better Land, the band give a shout out to James Joyce when Chatten belts out, ‘…and the radio is all about a runway model with a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel’.

The songs are very much little tales with a Dublin backdrop where raindrops of Romanticism pour down on the the old town, only to disappear down the sewer of Realism. There’s a new song called Lucid Dream in which Chatten appears to be rhyming ‘Voltaire’ with ‘Chair’ and ‘Despair’, but knowing my hearing I might have got that wrong. I can only wait ‘till the lyrics appear somewhere on the internet for me to find out if I heard it right. He could be rhyming ‘Robespierre’ with ‘Daycare’ and ‘Creme de la Mer’, either way, the song sounds great.

In the first song of the set, Hurricane Laughter, Chatten informs the crowd over and over that there is ‘no connection available’, but judging by the reaction from the people around me it’s clear that the connection between band and audience is very much available.

Fontaines D.C. setlist
1. Hurricane Laughter
2. Chequeless Reckless
3. Sha Sha Sha
4. Lucid Dream (new song)
5. Too Real
6. Liberty Belle
7. Boys in the Better Land
8. Big

Inhaler and Apre, Dingwalls

IMG_1973Wednesday October 9, 2019

Tonight’s concert with Inhaler and Apre at Dingwalls is sold out and there’s a long queue waiting to get in. As I get in to the venue the first few rows in front of the stage are already occupied by expectant fans, but there’s plenty of room on the side on a raised platform, which is perfect for short people like me.

IMG_1975Apre, Dingwalls

I saw Inhaler earlier this year supporting another band (Touts) at the now closed down Borderline, and they were decent. Tonight they’re headlining. The support band, Apre is really good, a bit Happy Mondays, a bit Foals, funky guitars and electronic vibes and pedal effects. Stand out track for me is the joyous Everybody Loves You. Definitely a band to explore further.

And then its time for headlining band, Inhaler. Singer Eli Hewson is more extroverted at this concert than the last one. I gather they’ve toured a lot since I saw them in the spring and he’s gained confidence which enhances his stage presence. And this time his microphone is turned up louder, which it wasn’t at the Borderline where his singing almost disappeared among the instruments. This time his voice is loud and clear and it’s evident what an expressive singer he is.

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A song I didn’t know at the last concert but remember standing out, Ice Cream Sundae, has since grown into their current single. Though catchy I’m not sure I like it as much as first time I heard it. Luckily there are ten other songs, most of which turn out to be very good. I’m only really familiar with four songs of the 11-song set, opener It Won’t always Be Like This, closing song My Honest Face, current single Ice Cream Sundae and B-side Oklahoma.

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At one point Hewson and guitarist Josh Jenkinson are alone on stage performing an acoustic version of Oklahoma. It’s bit faster than on the record, but still slow enough to show off another side of Inhaler which I think suits them and I’m hoping for more quiet, atmospheric songs in the future. Hewson says it’s the first time they’ve done this and after the song he states, ‘We were nervous about that’, but any nervousness certainly didn’t show. 

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Hewson’s voice is really good and yes he does sound like his dad (that would be Bono) at times but he has his own thing going on. It also doesn’t hurt he bears a slight resemblance to Jeff Buckley. All members dress the part of rock and roll musicians and those hairstyles definitely didn’t happen effortlessly. Though any band worth their salt always will claim it’s about the music, we all know that looks and image is ever important in Rock and Roll-land.

Speaking of Rock and Roll, Noel Gallagher is in the audience, not surprising as he’s a friend of the Hewson family and his daughter has been photographing Inhaler. Everything’s related.

My Honest Face serves as good a closing song, just like It Won’t Always Be Like This was the perfect opener. The crowd right in front of the stage go mad, pogoing and moshing and almost force their way to the stage and Hewson has to tell them to step back several times. Finally, bass player Robert Keating solves the problem by jumping into the crowd and pretty much forcing some more space so people at the front don’t get crushed. I don’t think anyone was in any danger but the enthusiasm is infectious and the affection for the band is clear. They’ve been touring a lot in the last year or two and they’ve definitely grown and improved since I saw them in March. If they’ll get a proper breakthrough and become one of the big ones, or even medium-sized bands, remains to be seen. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens once their debut album comes out, but based on tonight at Dingwalls; the reaction from the crowd, a good set of songs executed really well, their stage presence, their stylishly downplayed but clearly thought through rock and roll attire, a frontman who is growing into himself and who can get the audience going – it really looks like Inhaler could be going places much bigger than this.

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Inhaler setlist
1. It Won’t Always Be Like This
2. I Have To Move On
3. Another Like You
4. A Night On the Floor
5. Ice Cream Sundae
6. Save Yourself
7. Oklahoma
8. My King Will Be Kind
9. When I’m With You
10. Cheer Up Baby
11. My Honest Face

Ezra Furman and Shilpa Ray, Bowery Ballroom

IMG_0884Saturday September 14, 2019

When I travel I always look for a possible concert to go to, so I was happy to see that Ezra Furman was playing Bowery Ballroom while I was visiting New York. Tonight’s support artist, Shilpa Ray and her band are great. Ray has been a fixture on the New York/East Coast scene for a few years now and has worked with Nick Cave among others, but the big break hasn’t quite happened, which is baffling considering how compelling a live performer and intriguing songwriter she is. I don’t know any of the songs but I like them all. Her voice is tremendous, from honey sweet to sandpaper coarse, she can whisper seductively and scream in anguish with the best of them. A bit of punk, a bit of cabaret, a bit of sea shanty and all done with heart and soul.

IMG_0819Shilpa Ray, Bowery Ballroom

And then it’s time for Ezra Furman, who enters the stage with his band, all dressed in blue jumpsuits as if they’re going to work on a construction site rather than playing music on a stage. Ezra of course is wearing a dress as he usually (always?) is. Ezra straps on his guitar and attacks the microphone with intense gusto, lots of spittage when he sneers the words with angry precision. He’s shedding a ton of nervous energy that translates into a stage presence that is tense and cool in equal measures. He’s a bit of a paradox, wearing his dress and make up, but with quite manly mannerisms, singing his old school style rock and roll and punk songs, smearing them with his own personal twist, taking total ownership of a music genre that’s been done to death but somehow there are still sonic treasures to be found when someone like Ezra Furman digs in.

He plays one of my favourite songs, Haunted Head, with evocative lyrics like, ‘I take these aimless drives, from 2am to 4 I live these secret lives, Identities that all die off not one survives, By morning there’s nobody at the wheel’. 

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Two of my favourite songs from Furman’s latest album, Trauma and My Teeth Hurt are played in succession before one of many highlights, Body Was Made. A song about body shaming and the fact that our bodies are nobody’s business but our own. It’s a serious and poignant issue that nevertheless manages to be sexy and seductive too.

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After a energetic cover of The Equals’, Police on My Back, it’s time for the last song and the ultimate question: What Can You Do but Rock n Roll? In a world that seems to be currently stuck in a regression rather than moving forward we all have to do our bit to try and turn the tide. But in those moments when the weight of the world gets too overwhelming, perhaps the best thing to do, is put on your dancing shoes and ROCK AND ROLL.

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Ezra Furman setlist
(Intro song – Street Hassle, Lou Reed)
1. Suck the Blood from My Wound
2. Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone
3. Rated R Crusaders
4. Haunted Head
5. Trauma
6. My Teeth Hurt
7. Body Was Made
8. Psalm 151
9. In America
10. Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill
11. I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend
12. My Zero
13. Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere
14. No Place
15. Driving Down to LA
16. Love You So Bad
17. Evening Prayer aka Justice
18. Thermometer
Encore
19. On Your Own
20. Police on My Back (The Equals cover)
21. What Can You Do but Rock n Roll 

Graham Nash, Alexandra Palace

IMG_4679Saturday August 3, 2019

Alexandra Palace is located on the top of a hill overlooking London in its most unobstructed and picturesque glory. We sit on the grass and chat, before tonight’s concert with Graham Nash. This sets the mood perfectly for a gig that presents itself as ‘An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash’. 

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We sit near the front and it just so happens that the seats in front of us have not been taken which allows us a perfect view of the stage which is still empty. Actually that’s not true. Though the musicians haven’t arrived yet, their instruments are there waiting, as are several lit candles, flickering in unison with the sombre stage lights, setting a cozy mood before the concert has even begun.

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Graham Nash and his two fellow musicians, Shayne Fontayne (guitar) and Todd Caldwell (Hammond keyboard) join their instruments on stage. First song is Pre-Road Downs, a Crosby, Stills & Nash song. It’s not a song I’ve heard before. I’m not familiar with most of Nash’s songs, I know about a dozen of them, and I know enough to know that the majority of the songs played tonight are from the various Crosby & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young constellations. This band/these bands are known especially for their immaculate harmoniously weaved vocals. Like Nash, both Fontayne and Caldwell are blessed with beautiful voices, so any vocal harmony that any song may require is taken care of with perfection.

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C&N/CS&N/CSN&Y are of course also known for their songwriting; love songs, break up songs, political anthems, protest songs. Nash, arguably the poppier of the four song writing giants, has authored some of their most famous and most radio friendly songs. I don’t care much for the twee Marrakech Express – which is played in the middle of the set – but it’s nevertheless nice to hear it played live by the guy who wrote this classic song that’s been part of the fabric of popular music over the last five decades, and has been around for longer than I’ve been alive. Nash, 77, looks a bit tired at times but otherwise he seems in good shape and is on good form. When he sings he disappears into the songs like having an intense conversation with an old friend. Between the songs he’s personable and extroverted. He’s good at anecdotes, whether rehearsed or improvised. Halfway through the concert, he quips, ‘We’re having an interval. I’m 77 and I don’t know about you but I need a pee’.

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Another one of the several anecdotes scattered throughout the set includes the story of when he hired a chauffeured Rolls Royce (as you do) which took him from London to Stonehenge and Winchester cathedral. Tripping on LSD, Nash wrote Cathedral, a song about the corruption and abuse that takes place in the guise of religion.

Nash of course also mentions Joni Mitchell (‘Joan’) who still after all these years, seems to be, if not the love of his life, then certainly the muse of his life. At least two songs played this evening are about her, an in-love song, the endearing but slightly mushy, Our House, and a break-up song, The First Time, which Nash tells us was written as a direct result of and immediately after he and Mitchell broke up.

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Back to the beginning of the set, after Wasted on the Way (another CSN&Y song) Nash and band play King Midas in Reverse, followed by I Used to Be a King. The former song written when Nash was still in the The Hollies (the band in which it all started for Nash), and the latter a solo song. The two songs may only be about five years apart, but considering the change Nash went through after leaving The Hollies and exchanging England for California, beers for weed, and teenybopper-pop for grown up folk-rock, the two songs played after one another feels like Nash is making a point of how much he grew and expanded in such a short time. King Midas in Reverse signified the end of Nash’s time with The Hollies, whereas I Used to Be a King marks the beginning of Nash as a solo artist, though only periodically in between stints with Crosby, Stills and Young.

Towards the end, the trio sing a lush accapella of the Buddy Holly song, Everyday, Buddy Holly being one of Nash’s idols when he was a teenager (as understandably seems to be the case for most famous English pop and rock stars of that era). I wonder who our time’s Buddy Holly is. Maybe there are no Buddy Hollies anymore.

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Highlights for me are a rendition of Love the One You’re With (by former bandmate Stephen Stills) and Southbound Train (a song by Nash and his former partner in crime and songwriting, David Crosby). The band also boldly covers A Day in the Life by The Beatles. Not an easy song to do, but they do it well. Having said that, to my ears, no one can ever sing that song better than John Lennon did.

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The last song of the evening is appropriately Teach Your Children. The song is an ode to the shifting relationship between parents and children, and though circumstances change over the years and you may not always understand or get on with each other, you might as well let it go, knowing you are loved. And what a perfect note to end a concert on.

Graham Nash setlist
First set
1. Pre-Road Downs (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
2. Wasted on the Way (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
3. King Midas in Reverse (The Hollies song)
4. I Used to Be a King
5. Right Between the Eyes (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
6. Southbound Train (Crosby & Nash song)
7. 4 + 20 (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
8. Military Madness
9. Wind on the Water (Crosby & Nash song)
10. A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
Second set
11. Marrakesh Express (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
12. Simple Man
13. Marguerita (Crosby & Nash song)
14. Taken at All (Crosby & Nash song)
15. Back Home
16. Love the One You’re With (Stephen Stills cover)
17. Just a Song Before I Go (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
18. Cathedral (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
19. Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
Encore
20. Chicago (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
21. Everyday (Buddy Holly cover)
22. Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)

Stevie Wonder, Hyde Park BST

IMG_4391Saturday July 6, 2019

Part 2 (Stevie Wonder). See Part 1 (Lionel Richie).

After Lionel Richie leaves the stage, I move further forward and to the side to find a better spot to get the best possible view of the main draw of the day, Stevie Wonder.

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Now all there is to do is wait. And wait we do. First the approximately 45 minutes between Richie’s and Wonder’s sets. Then an additional 30 minutes or so before Stevie Wonder actually enters the stage to the sound of September by Earth, Wind and Fire, slowly, led by two ladies who guide him to his piano.

First song is As If You Read My Mind which is the first indication that there might be an issue with the sound, which there wasn’t during Lionel Richie’s show. Then follows greatness in the shape of Master Blaster, Higher Ground and Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing. The foundation is definitely there for a great concert, but good sound is as important as good songs, and unfortunately the former is lacking, and it’s at times hard to hear Wonder’s singing properly. 

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He performs a couple of duets with Daley and Corinne Bailey Rae, both OK, but nothing more than that. I think Wonder shines the best when he sings as a solo singer. For Once In My Life is a classic of course, and when Signed, Sealed Delivered I’m Yours is played, everyone is singing, dancing and clapping their hands, as far as I can see. 

Then there’s a strange interlude where a section of songs by deceased fellow musical icons is played, not by Wonder and his band, but by a DJ, like someone just putting on a playlist of Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin. As nice as it is of Wonder to pay tribute to these artists, it would have worked a lot better if the songs had been played as a medley live by the band, rather as just a playlist. It seems odd and feels like a bit of a cheat. The answer to this section might be explained by the fact that is revealed towards the end of the concert and is reported in the news the next day, that Wonder is actually ill and is expecting a kidney transplant later in the year. Maybe he’s simply giving himself a break on stage because he’s not well? And maybe the microphone is turned down low because he doesn’t feel he can sing as strong as usual? And maybe he didn’t want to cancel to not let down the fans? Maybe. That would all make sense. But it still leaves you feeling a bit flat, after having spent a lot of money on expensive tickets, that a whole section of the concert is merely a playlist of other artists, and the concert itself is played with bad microphone volume. 

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Having said that, there’s no denying the strength of the songs and the overwhelming musical talent that Wonder possesses. No one can take that away from him, even with bad sound.

I stay for Sir Duke and Living For the City. Two songs that are among the best pop songs ever written, and it’s great to hear them live and see how the audience, those who are close enough to the stage to hear, react with pure joy when hearing those tunes.

I admit I leave just after Living for the City as it starts to rain, and the combination of being tired and slightly frustrated by the low volume of Stevie Wonder’s microphone, I call it a day – happy to have seen Stevie Wonder live, but also realising this might not have been the best circumstances for seeing (and barely hearing) him. 

Read Part 1 (Lionel Richie).

Stevie Wonder setlist
(Intro music: September – Earth, Wind and Fire)
1. As If You Read My Mind
2. Master Blaster (Jammin’) / Jammin’ (Bob Marley cover)
3. Higher Ground
4. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
5. Rocket Love
6. You and I (We Can Conquer the World) (with Daley)
7. For Once In My Life (Jean DuShon cover)
8. That Girl (interrupted)
9. Creepin’ (with Corinne Bailey Rae)
10. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
DJ section
What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye)
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
When Doves Cry (Prince)
Let’s Dance (David Bowie)
Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
Respect (Aretha Franklin)
11. Sir Duke
12. I Wish
13. Living For the City
14. My Cherie Amour
15. You Are the Sunshine of My Life
16. Imagine (John Lennon cover)
17. I Just Called to Say I Love You
18. Do I Do
19. Superstition

Lionel Richie, Hyde Park BST

IMG_4391Saturday July 6, 2019

Part 1 (Lionel Richie). See Part 2 (Stevie Wonder).

I arrive at Hyde Park about halfway through today’s stream of concerts. I catch some of Corinne Bailey Ray’s gig and Lianne La Havas. But I have other things on my mind, finding a spot. A lot of people are sitting and standing on the lawn, half watching the stage, half eating picnics, having drinks. I sit behind a couple. The woman gets up to leave and while she’s gone two guys come and sit down close to where she’d be sitting. The guy, presumably her boyfriend, gets angry at them telling them to leave. But they insist on staying, it’s not like they’re sitting in her spot, just nearby. The guy (French, Spanish?) is absolutely furious and it makes me wonder if he’s ever been to a concert before. Does he realise that this lawn will be filled with people very soon and we’re all here to watch a concert? The girlfriend comes back and there’s still space for her. She doesn’t seem bothered but the boyfriend, huffing and sulking, moves a bit back, meaning that he suddenly sits as close to me as he’s accusing the ‘intruders’ of sitting to him. While I don’t mind sitting this close to someone, I do mind sitting this close to HIM, so I move in front of the couple instead. Shouldn’t have done that, because now he starts heckling me about sitting too close. He didn’t even notice me when I was sitting just as close behind him. I don’t move. I try to explain to him this is a concert and we’re all allowed to be here but he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of going to a concert – I think maybe he believes this is a picnic at home in his own garden. In the end I move a bit forward just to get me some peace. Funnily enough, soon more people arrive and the boyfriend and girlfriend stand up and move closer to where I’m standing and move in front of me. Everyone stand close now – I wonder if he’s going to complain about that too. Luckily I don’t have time to think anymore about that, because now the second-to-Stevie-Wonder-headliner of the day, Lionel Richie, takes to the stage. 

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Lionel Richie is pure energy right from the start. In contrast to Stevie Wonder, he’s an ultimate showman, which sometimes hides the fact that he’s also a songwriter, an artist. But no doubt he knows his stuff, and it’s impressive how good he is at getting the audience excited. The art of getting a crowd excited is of course partly due to the willingness of said crowd getting involved. But if you’re as personable and intent on connecting with the audience as Richie is, it’s hard to imagine how he wouldn’t have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.

Of course his vocals are impeccable, of the non-autotune-autocorrect-but-absolutely-real kind. He’s one of the old-schoolers who doesn’t need to resort to fakery. I don’t own any Lionel Richie records, yet every song seems familiar. The second song is a Commodores song, Easy, which I actually heard as a cover by Faith No More before I heard the original. 

Lionel Richie must be aware he’s great at what he does musically, but he also fancies himself as a bit of a stand up comedian, and I have no doubt if he put all his energy into creating a set of jokes, he’d excel at that too. He’s very funny and his comedy-timing is spot on. Before the song Endless Love, he builds up the anticipation of the crowd that Diana Ross could perhaps join him for this duet. ‘For the last 35 years I’ve invited Diana Ross to join me, also on this stage tonight. And for 35 years she’s told me, no’.

I forgot he co-wrote We Are the World, which might be the tackiest moment of the set. Sure the message of the song is well-intended but a little bit too corny for my ears. Yet, the song is a home run with the crowd and you can’t help but join in and sing along, after all, ‘we are the world’ indeed.

As Richie leaves the stage after the encore, All Night Long, I’m wondering how Stevie Wonder will live up to that amount of audience-participation. Sure, he has the songs, the skills, the voice and all the rest of it. But the showmanship-award definitely goes to Lionel Richie and I am slightly curious whether his personable performance will be difficult for Wonder to live up to.

See Part 2 (Stevie Wonder).

Lionel Richie setlist
1. Running With the Night
2. Easy (Commodores song)
3. Penny Lover
4. You Are
5. Stuck On You
6. Brick House / Fire (Commodores song)
7. Three Times a Lady (Commodores song)
8. Sail On (Commodores song)
9. Lady (You Bring Me Up) (Commodores song)
10. Endless Love (Diana Ross & Lionel Richie cover)
11. Angel
12. My Destiny
13. Dancing On the Ceiling
14. Hello
15. Say You, Say Me
16. We Are the World (USA for Africa cover)
Encore
17. All Night Long (All Night)

Mavis Staples, Roundhouse

IMG_4301Thursday July 4, 2019

I’ve been wanting to see Mavis Staples for a while and I missed her the last time she was in London, playing the Union Chapel, so tonight is a big moment in my ‘career’ as concert-goer. Arriving early and taking a spot at the front, I meet a guy from Switzerland, who comes to London regularly for concerts and who is great company, making the otherwise boring wait an absolute breeze. Always great to meet someone who likes talking about music.

The support band, Stone Foundation, is unknown to me but brilliant and is the perfect choice to set the mood for the main act of the evening with their funky and good vibes.

IMG_4296Stone Foundation, Roundhouse

Mavis and her band play a fantastic set of songs, old and new, joyous and hopeful, some I know, some I don’t. The band and backing singers are sublime, and though Mavis is the star of the show, they all shine in each their role: Rick Holmstrom (guitar), Stephen Hodges (drums), Jeff Turmes (bass) and Vicki Randle and Donny Gerrard (backing singers). 

Mavis sings in that deep voice that made me think it was a man singing the first time I heard I’ll Take You There. It’s a voice that can punch you in the guts and sex you up in equal measures – and it sure can hit a point home. They play several songs from her two latest records, If All I Was Was Black (2017) and We Get By (2019), with highlights like No Time For Crying with the urgent mantra, ‘We’ve got work to do’, and Love and Trust, a hopeful song reminding us that no matter who and where we are, we are all doing what we can and looking for the same things in life.

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They also do some good covers, like Buffalo Springfield’s anthem For What It’s Worth, a bit faster and more upbeat than the original version. They do a slightly slower take on Slippery People by Talking Heads, exchanging David Byrne’s quirkier vocals with Staples’ more soulful delivery.

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Mavis is not only a great singer, she’s also very personable on stage and talks a lot to the audience and makes plenty of eye contact. I’m pretty sure she looked every single person in the first few rows, myself included, in the eye a few times, Staples has got enough smiles and winks for everyone.

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As Mavis leaves the stage after a little over ran hour she looks tired and though the audience, myself included, hope for an encore, it’s not coming. I wouldn’t mind having heard her end the show with Come Go With Me or I’ll Take You There, but this is the end and that’s fine. It’s been a great concert from a 79-year-old lady who’s been singing a great set of songs and connecting fully with the audience – we can’t possibly ask for more. I can’t imagine anyone at the Roundhouse tonight didn’t leave with a smile on their face and a heart filled with joy.

Mavis Staples setlist
Not available