Marilyn Manson & Rob Zombie @ The MEN (October 2012) – live review

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So I’ve got a nice new blog but it feels a bit empty and I will miss some of my favourite old posts. So I’m migrating a few across, starting with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. There are no pictures of Marilyn Manson because he withdrew the passes at the last minute. Oh well.

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The ‘Twins of Evil Tour’ came to town and it was costume night at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Tuesday, November 27th.  There was plenty of pale skin and black eye shadow on display, a lot of leatherwear, several hundred bondage enthusiasts, a few sexy Nazi girls in full SS regalia.  A large contingent of the undead were in from somewhere near Wigan.  It was a sea of black and white (with the occasional cherry red hairdo for variety), but there weren’t any nuns.

Time was when a few nuns waving placards and sprinkling holy water on the concertgoers were an essential part of the build up to a Marilyn Manson show, but nobody pickets him anymore.  Nobody holds him personally responsible for any atrocities.  Nobody hates him.  This audience came for a night of pantomime grotesquery – they wouldn’t get another chance to break out these costumes again until the touring production of The Rocky Horror Show arrived.  The demographic was strikingly broad, both Manson and co-headliner Rob Zombie have a wide fan base, including plenty of grandparents and children.  There’s no doubt about it, Marilyn Manson has now officially been declared safe.

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Having spent many years complaining about being public scapegoat number one for a wide range of random atrocities, it ought to make a nice change to be a family favourite.  And there was always something endearingly vulnerable about him, the white face and eyestripe not the mark of a monster but rather the sign of the perpetual outsider – condemned to unjust vilification for the crimes of others.  You’d think he’d be pleased.

He didn’t look pleased however and there was precious little of the vulnerable Manson on show at the MEN.  He seemed to be taking the ‘Twins of Evil’ tag pretty literally and the set list was packed with his loudest and most abrasive material, opening with “Hey Cruel World”, “Disposable Teens” and “Love Song” and closing with “Antichrist Superstar” and “Beautiful People”, taking in “mOBSCENE” and “Rock Is Dead” along the way.  Each song was dispatched with relish, allowed to scream for a while before being finished off with a stake through its heart; Manson’s voice was in fine fettle, hysterical one moment, menacing the next.  There were, of course, lots of costume changes, several feather boas in a variety of colours and some fantastic light effects but Manson himself seemed somewhat distant; he engaged only occasionally with the audience, throwing a few angular shapes with the microphone stand and issuing a few booming obscenities.

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The audience screamed and punched the air during the rocking out numbers but their biggest reaction was reserved for the two cover versions that made up the middle part of the show, Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus: and the Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”.  For these songs Manson allowed the decibel level to drop just a little and it was here that he made best use of the deeper end of his vocal range, the sly and insinuatingly wicked vocal stylings which have always been a feature of his recordings, but which feature less in his live performances.  He ruthlessly dissected these small innocent songs and reassembled their still quivering parts into gothic inversions of themselves, teasing dark nuances from the lyric with irresistible relish, investing them with a menace that their authors surely never envisaged.

Manson has always been a master of image manipulation and there was plenty of that in evidence on stage – his guitar is equipped with a laser rifle sight which he played on the audience during “Slo-Mo-Tion”, inverted American flags featured widely, the stars replaced by a jagged fascistic arrow, and during “Sweet Dreams” a single lamp in a circular shade was lowered from the roof to hang just above Manson’s head evoking countless movie scenes of torture and interrogation, but at times the whole symbolic edifice seemed somewhat random and top heavy – particularly when two crew members manhandled a distinctly wobbly looking barbed wire tinseled pulpit onto the stage for Manson to mount and declaim “King Kill 33” Nuremberg Rally-style.  One began to suspect that perhaps Manson had taken his reputation for evil just a little too seriously – and recent events in the U.K. have shown that we can create plenty of evil of our own thank you, and it is more likely to be wearing a track suit and smoking a big cigar than sporting a gimp mask and red leather elbow gloves.

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If Manson’s set verged on the over serious the same cannot be said of his partner in wickedness on the night, the gloriously over-the-top Rob Zombie.  Having revitalized the Halloween franchise, Zombie now divides his time between music and filmmaking, but whichever he’s doing he seems to give it one hundred percent, and his set featured every horror trope in the playbook.  When asked how long he will continue making music he usually replies, “As long as it’s still fun” – and he certainly appeared to be having a great time this night.  Having emerged from a giant robot at the start of the show, Zombie delivered several numbers from behind a microphone stand surmounted by a six armed skeleton, before being joined on stage by an assortment of aliens, Halloween pumpkins and (of course) Satan, who put in an appearance late on looking remarkably like a man in a very tall Satan costume with a big head.  Film inevitably played a large part in the set – every available vertical surface was covered with panels which showed a nonstop montage of fragments from horror movies and cartoons, soft core porn, clips from the original Planet of the Apes, and snippets from The Munsters as well as a promotional trailer for Zombie’s new film Lords of Salem, which drew appreciative roars from the crowd and actually looked pretty good.

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But for all the horror imagery Zombie always appeared to be aware of the high camp nature of his enterprise – he swung his massive dreadlocks from side to side like a man with a head full of nunchucks (he was lucky not to have anyone’s eye out) and danced around the stage with his arms held wide and curved as if he were polkaing with an imaginary fat girl, but he also knows that even the most diehard fans of the genre need some occasional light relief.  His attempt to organize adversarial community singing with one half of the audience (“The ones on the right of that guy with the skull bandana” – definitely the best line of the night) chanting “Rock, Rock, Rock” while the other half countered with “Motherfucker, Motherfucker, Motherfucker” rapidly disintegrated into disaster, but later while guitarist John 5 played an exhilarating extended solo Zombie descended from the stage and completed a full lap of the arena with security men floundering in his wake as the crowd parted before him but then closed up just as quickly when he had passed.  In this context the arrival on stage of dozens of large brightly coloured balloons which Zombie and the band kicked out for the audience to amuse themselves with came as no surprise.  Much hilarity ensued.  “When you’ve all finished playing with fucking balloons perhaps we can get back to some serious business,” Zombie growled before launching into “Pussy Liquor”.

Zombie-0014There was an early nod to Zombie’s early career in the White Zombies with “Thunder Kiss ’65”, and then songs were drawn even-handedly from his solo albums – highlights were the infectious stomp of “Sick Bubblegum” fromHellbilly Deluxe 2 and “Meet The Creeper” from HD version 1.  The set concluded with Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and then another on stage pulpit arrived, this one taking the form of a huge alien/dinosaur rib cage from which Zombie delivered everybody’s favourite goth rock anthem Dragula to close out a riveting performance.

As the leather clad hordes left the arena an elderly man and woman stopped to allow the motley collection of goths, vampires and assorted walking dead to pass in front of them.  They looked puzzled but not intimidated.  “What is it?” the woman asked.  “I think it must be some kind of concert,” replied her husband.  They don’t scare so easily in Manchester any more.

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Elvis Costello & The Roots: Wise Up Ghost – album review

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Elvis Costello & The Roots: Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note)
CD/LP/DL
Available now

Another Elvis Costello album another collaboration. But this one is with alt hip hop outfit The Roots. That’s got to be something special right? Right.

What’s the first thought that crosses your mind when you hear there’s a new Elvis Costello album out? There’s a good chance that it’s ‘Oh yeah, Elvis Costello. Who’s he with now?’ He’s a serial collaborator is Elvis. The Brodsky Quartet, Alain Toussaint, Sophie von Otter, Burt Bacharach – no one can accuse him of musical narrow mindedness. He’s one of those people who is clearly in love with all kinds of music and with all kinds of musicians.

But while the results of this promiscuity are always interesting they’re not always his best work, sometimes it can seem like he’s trying just that little bit too hard. The really good stuff tends to come when he’s with a group of musicians he knows and trusts, typically The Attractions or Imposters or whatever they’re called nowadays. His last stone cold masterpiece was 2002’s angular, bitter When I Was Cruel; albums since then have included the distinctly dull piano ballads of North and the very ordinary roots of The Delivery Man. Momofuku was good though.

So who’s he with now? None other than alternative hip hop pioneers The Roots with whose leader ?uestlove or Questlove he struck up a friendship after they had worked together on the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Show. Jam sessions followed and then a plan for an album revisiting Costello’s back catalogue which gradually developed into Wise Up Ghost, a mix old new and reworked material. Clearly it’s a work that its authors want us to take seriously – it’s released on the prestigious Blue Note jazz label and arrives with a black and white text only jacket design in homage to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights poetry covers. Is there a message here? Is this Costello’s Howl? Certainly these songs are populated by enough grotesques and snapshots of urban despair to make the connection tenable even if there are no saintly motorcyclists or screams of joy.

It’s not a surprise of course that Elvis Costello should choose to cut a soul album – his first arrival in that territory was 1980’s Get Happy – an affectionate homage to the Stax sound – and he has revisited frequently. Questlove himself has a long history of collaboration having contributed to albums by D’Angelo, Fiona Apple, John Mayer, Christine Aguilera and Joss Stone to name only a few. From that point of view it’s a dream pairing but we know from past experience that dream pairings don’t necessarily produce baby pandas so it’s an album to approach with a degree of trepidation but from the opening bars of the first track it’s pretty clear that this collaboration is one of the success stories.

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A rhythm picked out on what sounds like an early digital telephone dialling system, some bleeps of computer noise, a Doppler shifted train horn followed by an urgent keyboard riff and we’re off, immediately drawn into a soundscape that’s urban and timeless, polite but always slightly threatening, with The Roots providing a tight and respectful 1970’s soul backing to Costello, who leans into the vocal with his trademark sly vehemence and who for once is happy to sound, well, just like Elvis Costello. Which is how we want him to sound. We never quite get the full on contemptuous sneering Elvis Costello but for most of the album he sounds thoroughly mardy, supercilious and rather unpleasant – just right then.

And contrary to rumour this is definitely not Costello’s rap album – the musical equivalent of Dad dancing – this is distinctively and recognisably a mainstream Elvis Costello album; for the most part Questlove and his boys seem content to take a deferential back seat and fulfil the role of backing group. And what a backing group it is. The drums always rock solid but capable of distinctly skittish asides along the way, some fine loping bass and then blasts of brass and keyboards which serve as punctuation to the lyric, Costello’s muse has seldom been so well served by a band.

There’s some archaeology to be done among the lyrics – whole chunks of earlier songs are incorporated into the new work – possibly this sampling and reworking is where the hip hop tradition shows it’s influence most clearly, although Costello has always been a bit of a magpie himself. Refuse To Be Saved is a new take on Invasion Hit Parade from Mighty Like A Rose, Wake Me Up runs together elements of Bedlam from The Delivery Man and The River In Reverse (from the album of the same name), (She Might Be A) Grenade takes it’s lyric from She’s Pulling Out The Pin (also from The Delivery Man) and anti Thatcher favourite Pills And Soap gets a lick of paint and a new identity as Stick Out Your Tongue. Do they all benefit from the radical revisioning? In most case the answer is yes, especially in the case of Bedlam, whose lyric, when pushed to the front of the mix and not smothered with percussion like the original, reveals itself to be one of Costello’s better later works. It’s not just his own back catalogue that Costello samples – snippets from songs as diverse as The Red Flag and We Wish You A Merry Christmas manage to insinuate themselves into the mix and I’ve no doubt that a diligent listen would yield even more borrowings. This is a knowing album that takes great pleasure in being just a little bit obscure. It has no intention of giving up its meanings easily.

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There are some good things among the originals too. Viceroy’s Row is a lyrically dense homage to places where they’re selling postcards of the hanging, Walk Us Uptown is a song to be sung on twenty first century protest marches until the guns open fire, Sugar Won’t Work offers a welcome to the end times and provides a catalogue of unnatural portents of doom straight out of Macbeth (Act 2 Scene 4), Tripwire drips with not entirely convincing compassion that sounds like a veiled threat and If I Could Believe (the album’s only ballad) is a world weary two fingered salute to credulousness. Only Cinqo Minutos Con Vos with its latin jazz stylings seems not to hit the mark.

The album’s highlight, and the song which will doubtless appear on several future Greatest Hits compilations is the title track Wise Up Ghost, which starts slow, the distant vocal accompanied only by strings, but gradually the vocal comes closer and the band arrive one by one as dystopic visions are piled high one on top of the other until the whole structure threatens to topple but never quite does. Here and on Tripwire are the signs that Costello’s verbose and cryptic lyricism and sure fire ear for a hook are both functioning at full power.

‘An old woman living in a cardboard shoe,

Lost so many souls she don’t know what to do.

So say your prayers

Cos down the stairs

It’s 1932.

Wise Up And Rise Up Ghost.”

Highly recommended.

Elvis Costello’s music is available through his his website and on his Facebook, Twitter and MySpace pages.

The Roots’ website is here. They are also on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

Bingley Music Live 2013

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Bingley Music Live has a reputation for being one of the best summer music festivals in the North of England and it’s certainly one of the best values. Thanks to the support of Bradford City Council prices remain incredibly cheap at £45 for a weekend ticket, which works out at around a pound a band, pretty impressive when the bands include the likes of The Human League, Primal Scream and Chic with Nile Rodgers, Friday through Sunday, August 30th to September 1st.

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Held in a wooded natural amphitheatre at Myrtle Park, there are a few stalls and some fancy dress but Bingley has no pretensions to being a festival of arts or culture – it’s all about the music, and this year’s event maintained its reputation for big names, interesting up-and-coming performers and great value. It doesn’t have that rough and ready feel of some festivals either. Although there is camping it’s situated a couple of miles away, most people attending go home in the evenings to have proper food, wash and get clean clothes. It’s very civilized.

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In keeping with the festival’s family-friendly ethos, there’s a wide range of music on offer including Britain’s Got Talent favourites The Lovable Rogues, pop performers Nina Nesbitt and Man Can’t Fly, and some karaoke from Katy B. Tinchy Stryder delivers a set of rapid-fire grime and whips up the enthusiasm of the crowd with some call and response and an ultimately unfulfilled promise to bestow his shirt upon a member of the audience. He is assisted, as is Katy B, by a DJ acting as fluffer, whose task is to keep the audience excited and ready for action at times when their attention wanes by shouting, “Make some fucking noise,” or words to that effect. The biggest crowd at the second stage is for X Factor singer Lucy Spraggan, whose Sunday night set is witty and funny, and a small revelation to anyone present who has never seen her on television and had assumed that she must be rubbish simply because of her association with Simon Cowell (That would be me then…)

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In fact many of the highlights of the weekend come from the smaller stage, including a fabulous display of Hendrix influenced guitar virtuosity from JJ Rosa, some high energy folk stomp from perennial festival favourites Blackbeard’s Tea Party and the wild gypsy styled jazz pop of The Electric Swing Circus. The current revival of interest in acoustic music and singer-songwriters is reflected in the appearance of John Lennon McCullagh (what kind of parent names their child after an airport?) who has the delivery and guitar style of early Bob Dylan and a nice line in angry young mannishness, and of Dave McPherson, sometimes of Essex alt-metal outfit InMe, who switches to affecting folk pop as a solo artist.

There are also some excellent local bands on show including Halifax based Small Words, who bring plenty of supporters and a rubber duck for their set of riffy Britpop influenced songs about Britishness and independence, jazz tinged rock ‘n’ rollers Rose & The Howling North from Leeds, Born Thief from Bradford, and from Derbyshire (which is local-ish) Gary Barlow’s favourite flamboyant prog and psych revivalists The Struts. Promoted to the main stage as a result of the late arrival of Kat Men, the Dirty Rivers grab their chance by the scruff of the neck and deliver a high quality set of bluesy garage rock that puts to shame one or two of the bigger names on that stage, who give the impression that they feel that just turning up is enough.

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Top performances on the second stage are from Leeds folk rockers The Dunwells, closing out the Friday night, and Chris Helme (formerly of The Seahorses), whose set on the Saturday night tempts a large number of people to duck out on Primal Scream.

Down on the main stage (possibly the highest anyone had ever encountered, with the performers set so far back that the front rows can only see heads and shoulders and have to rely on the big screens for a view of the drummers) there’s plenty of variety on offer including eighties influenced pop stylists Frankie & The Heartstrings, who combine great rhythmic sounds with echoes of Bowie and Talking Heads, some echo-y feedback heavy rock from The Virginmarys, southern tinged blues rock from The Temperance Movement and synth driven electro pop from Summer Camp.

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Among the big names The Fratellis and The Wonderstuff both deliver sets that offer career overviews, before delivering the big hits that everybody is really waiting for. Chelsea Dagger and Size of a Cow both have everyone in the arena dancing and singing along and waving inflatable cows when appropriate (this is in fact almost the only time in one’s life when the waving of inflatable cows is even nearly appropriate) as does Neville Staple, formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three and now leading his own band, with hits like “Ghost Town”, “Message To You Rudy” and “Gangsters”.

Friday night closes with The Human League and a set packed with hits, from “Fascination” and “The Lebanon”, through “Don’t You Want Me” to their closer “Electric Dreams”. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about musicians as having provided ‘the soundtrack to our lives’ (in fact The Human League said something similar themselves in a minor single) and usually all it means is that we like them and we played them a lot, which is illogical because a soundtrack in a film mostly consists of music played in the background that adds to the atmosphere but that nobody really listens to.

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What’s striking about The Human League’s set (and Chic’s set on Sunday for that matter) is just how many of their songs have embedded themselves firmly in the consciousness and sing along repertoire even of people who do not consider themselves to be ardent fans. (That would be me again.) If I had been asked before the show (or before I had done my extensive and through pre show research) to name Human League hits I’d have been hard pressed to go beyond two or three. In fact it turns out that with the exception of one track (their first ever recording – played in front of a baffling video montage of erotic nuns and meat processing), not only do I know them all, I know all the words too. If the idea of a soundtrack to our lives means anything then this is it – songs with hooks so sharp we learn them subconsciously, almost without hearing them – and learn to love them too.

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Saturday night is Primal Scream night, much anticipated and they don’t disappoint, with a set that mixes established crowd pleasers like “Loaded”, “Country Girl” and “Moving On Up”, with several songs from their 2013 release More Light all played in front of an impressive light show. It’s high energy stuff with Bobby Gillespie roaming the stage, impossibly long limbed and gangly, dancing like a broken albatross and exhorting the crowd to join in and dedicating “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” to Wilko Johnson.

Wilko’s performance earlier that day is one that will live long in many people’s memories – possibly his last and full of his trademark guitar work, good humour, duck walking and of course the death stare. After a set including “Dr Dupree” and “Don’t Let Your Daddy Know”, he closes with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Bye, Bye Johnny” – an emotional moment for many present.

Sunday night brings the festival to a close with an extraordinary performance from the kings and queens of disco, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. The rediscovery of Rodgers and of disco itself has been one of the musical stories of the year, and Chic have played the U.K. festival circuit to acclaim, buoyed up by the success of Daft Punk’s “Up All Night”, in the production of which Rodgers played a major part.

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Dressed all in white and looking one hundred percent show business, Rodgers and his eight-piece band play a string of hits that, as with The Human League on Friday, make you realize just how much a part of your life he and they have been for years, possibly without you ever really noticing. Their set list takes in elements from his entire career, as a performer, songwriter and producer from the openers “Everybody Dance” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”, via “We Are Family” and “The Greatest Dancer” to “Let’s Dance”, “Le Freak” and of course “Get Lucky”. In the somewhat damp Bingley night everyone dances and sings and waves, many of them from the stage as Rodgers invites crew and festival friends up to join him. It’s a moment to cherish, when even the most die hard of the I hate disco brigade (that’s’s three times I’ve been in this) cheers and dances like an idiot in the dark. That’s real pop music for you.

For more pictures from Bingley go to the My Big Day website or Facebook.

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Bingley Pirates

Just putting the finishing touches to my review of Bingley for QRO. How much detail is needed in a festival review? Nobody wants a small novel, but how do you cover thirty or forty performers in five hundred words? Meanwhile, here are a few shots of the crowd at Bingley. There’s a lot more here and on Facebook.

A spiffy new website

A spiffing new website

New websiteStill figuring all this out but it looks like I am now the proud owner of a new website with linked blog both of which should update automatically on social media. I am so technologically enriched I may even get a mobile phone.

It has taken most of the day to upload images to make it look something like ready and there are still loads more to go but I rather like it. As yet my domain name is not pointed at it so the link is not quite right but with any sort of luck I’ll finish that tomorrow.

The Damned: Manchester Apollo – picture review

I regret to say that I was proper poorly at this gig and for a while after. I remember going to two wrong venues, missing the excellent Boss Hoss who I had been looking forward to, just catching the last song of the three shot window for The Damned, who were as spikey as you could wish and just exuded charisma and being pushed back in my seat by the physical force that is Motorhead. Other than that it’s all a bit sketchy. Some pictures I’m quite pleased with though so here they are.

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The Damned are on the web here: officialdamned.com. They are on Facebook and tweet as @damnedtwits

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