The Lumineers: Albert Hall, Manchester – live review

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The Lumineers

Manchester Albert Hall

19th April 2016

The Albert Hall. But not that Albert Hall. This one is in Manchester and it’s a small miracle of Late Victorian gothic baroque. It was closed up and forgotten about for thirty years until being reopened in 2011. It’s a huge pit of a place, with a superb three quarter balcony and just dilapidated enough to feel like you’re in touch with history. Getting to the toilets involves a huge trek through a subterranean maze, in corridors lined with those creamy ceramic tiles that have a curved profile in the corners. It’s like changing tube lines. The stage is bow fronted with a large overhang at the front which makes navigating the pit pretty tricky but fortunately the edge is marked out in white tape like in Tomb Raider.

First up is Canadian singer songwriter Andy Shauf who plays a deliberately restrained set to an already packed house on a stage drenched in blood red light, which suits his mixture of wistful fragments of poetry and disarmingly humdrum accidental murder ballads and while his live performance lacks some of the counter intuitive jazz embellishment that make his album The Bearer Of Bad News such a riveting listen, it’s still clear that Shauf is someone to watch for the future. Which doesn’t necessarily mean the distant future because his new album, The Party, arrives on May 20th.

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Restrained is not an adjective you could use about The Lumineers. Their set is part hootenanny, part singalong, part revivalist prayer meeting and all a big come as you are party at someone’s very large house. It’s relaxed and joyful and sharp as a nail and the band are clearly having a great time. They’re helped by their relationship with their audience which has the kind of warmth that you expect at gigs by people who have been around a lot longer than The Lumineers. They seem to have engender the same kind of affection that you expect at a Springsteen gig, it’s almost tangible. I don’t think I’ve ever been at a show where all of the audience knew all of the words to all of the songs before. The singalong starts right from the opening Sleep On The Floor and keeps going until the end of the show, only going quiet when the house lights go on so the band can conduct an acapella audience version of Ain’t Nobody’s Problem. Suddenly everybody gets self conscious. That’s audiences for you.

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Usually at this point I’d pick some highlights, but tonight it’s all good. Hey Ho arrives earlier than expected, as do Cleopatra, Classy Girls and Ophelia and with other bands you might expect so many big songs so early to lead to problems later on but it doesn’t. The Lumineers have enough quality material to keep things running just nicely and the band are flexible enough to change formats to keep things interesting throughout. Wesley Schultz is ever present, his voice as honey toned and emotional live as it is on the band’s studio work, complemented by the colours added by Jeremiah Fraites’ percussion and Neyla Pekarek’s cello.

After the show people are singing Hey Ho in the street and if this performance is anything to go by I’d expect The Lumineer’s next visit to Manchester to bring them to The Arena, just up the road and I shall be able to tell people that I saw them when they were still playing interesting and slightly dilapidated Victorian chapels. I shall be a bit smug.

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The Lumineers: Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Andy Frasco & The UN: Happy Bastards – album review

Album Cover
Andy Frasco & The UN

Happy Bastards (Ruf Records)

If I was organising a party and I wanted to make it a really good party I’d get Andy Frasco & The UN round to play a few tunes. I’m not sure that they’d all fit in my living room, (alongside core members Andrew Frasco (lead vocals & keys), Shawn Eckels (guitar & vocals), Ernie Chang (sax), Andee Avila (drums) and Supaman (bass), they have a large and eclectic rotating membership) but I’d put a few in the kitchen maybe and a couple on the stairs and people could just dance round them.

That’s what they are really, a fabulous band for dancing round.

Frasco’s style is a mixture of dirty blues and retro funk and soul, all given a modern makeover with plenty of horn thrown in. That’s an essential part of the mix. It’s almost impossible to imagine Andy Frasco and the UN without horn. Their music is all about happiness, sex, good times, sex, love, and being a free spirit. And horn.

And if at this point I’m giving you the impression that this album is the product of a one track mind, well let’s settle on two track. Because there’s a lot of great music in there as well. And music and lasciviousness have a long and honourable shared history. Frasco’s music is fun music. And who doesn’t like fun? Frasco calls it an adrenalin shot of pure escapism.

“We want people to be happy,” is his musical mission statement. “To smile at their faults, love life for what it is, and follow the beat of their own drum. We’re just trying to throw a party and get people to turn off their phones, leave their stress and complications at the door, live in the moment and just celebrate life for a few hours. If by the end of the night I see 90 per cent of the room laughing and smiling, then I know I did my job.”

Andy Travelling Light!

It’s also music that reconnects with that era before rock and soul split apart, when musicians of all races could share a stage without anyone even commenting. Frasco cites Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Buddy Guy, The Band, Samantha Fish and Houndmouth as blues players who inspire him and while it’s an unusual list, it’s a good one. This week of all weeks maybe we should add Prince and Beyonce in there too, people who can transcend artistic and cultural barriers as if they weren’t there, making music that speaks to everyone.

The band have spent the past few years living in vans and playing 250+ shows a year and according to Frasco this is the first of their CDs to really capture their unique live style. (Which is not to say that the others are bad by any means – check out 2007’s Half A Man for confirmation).

Album opener, Tie You Up, kicks off with a burst of deeply funky, loping bass that can’t help reminding you of Amy Winehouse (maybe she should be in that list too) and it’s almost a surprise when Frasco’s vocal kicks in rather than hers, but he’s got that same sly, knowing vocal thing going on, and the track builds into a great little rocker as does the second track You’re The Kind Of Crazy That I Like, a tribute to the manifold joys of being involved with mad women.

The scene once set the album keeps up a breakneck pace with tracks that range from 1970s slap bass funk on Doin’ It, evocations of Motown’s golden age on the snappily titled Blame It On the Pussy (seewhat they did there?), the Zutonesque (neologism alert) Good Ride, a madcap blues stomp on the superb Mature As Fuck, some whistling reggae on Here’s To Letting You Down and even a smutty Hawaiian torch ballad called Let’s Get Down To Business.

It’s certainly an album that lets the band show their versatility and there isn’t a track on there that would make you even think about skipping it. A fine thing for keeping in the CD player in the car, although probably not child friendly enough for the school run – parental advisory and all that you know.

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Andy Frasco & The UN: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Marcella Detroit: Gray Matterz – album review

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Marcella Detroit
Gray Matterz (Make Zee Records)
Available April 22nd 2016

To many of us she’s best known as the edgy half of Shakepear’s Sister but Marcella Detroit has a enjoyed a distinguished career, working with the likes of Eric Clapton and Elton John and producing a series of fine soul/pop albums since the break up of the bardic sorority, including 1996’s Feeler which is my favourite of her works under the Detroit moniker.

She has also had success as a blues singer with the Marcy Levy Band (that’s her birth name) and been a star of reality TV. She’s a fine guitarist who is clearly happy in many genres but it’s the extraordinary quality of her voice, strong yet fragile, soaring but always threatening to break with emotion that marks her out as something really special and she’s at her best when she allows herself the freedom to really lean into the vocal and showcase her remarkable range and power.

Detroit’s new album is Gray Matterz and it’s a step back from the blues towards classic 80’s style synth pop, recorded by Detroit in her home studio and featuring the lady herself on vocals, computers and real instruments too, and remixed by Paul Drew of DWB Music. In a nutshell it’s electro dance music with proper songs and it’s an album which, given the current resurgence in interest in 80s music and if it gets enough traction, could easily generate some buzz on the retro club scene.

Turn Up The Volume On The Positive may not be the catchiest title ever but with its rapped verses and vocoded chorus, (and electronic hand claps – everbody say yay for electronic hndclaps), it could be a real dance floor filler. Home, an a uptempo tribute to domesticity is another dancer as is Not Just A Number which has the irresisible beat of an piece of early SAW HiNRG.
Lighthouse, a song about depression and being there for people, is the track which gives Detroit’s voice it’s best workout, and What’s The Time In Tokyo is another which gives her the opportunity to show how good she sounds. According to interviews Detroit herself is of the opinion that her voice has improved and got stronger over the last several years, and on this showing no-one is going to argue.

The first single from the album is Drag Queen – which has already proved to be a club favourite, so here it is ….

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Marcella Detroit: Website | Facebook | Twitter