Reflections on Suede @The Forum, Joe Jackson @The Palladium

I’ve just had two nights of gigs, Suede followed by Joe Jackson.   Reflections…
Suede were great fun. Playing the whole of their new album behind a screen projecting the film they’ve commissioned to accompany it was a neat trick… it actually worked… in as much as it made the whole crowd listen to their new album in it’s entirety (and there were some special moments when the lights picked them out in their positions, as ghostly images in their own film)… although it was easy to forget they were there at times.
Not so in the second – greatest hits set – where they rocked like it was 1994, Brett Anderson still crowd-surfing, strutting, microphone swinging like he did when I last saw them 20 years ago. The crowd (mostly in their 40s like me) loved every minute of it, but I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering how despite me aging at least 20 years in the last 20 years (and about to have knee surgery), they don’t seem to have aged a day (Brett still sliding across the stage and going down on his knees).  That’s not fair, I thought they were supposed to be the Rock Stars with the hard lives.
Joe Jackson, on the other hand, has aged, but gracefully.  He was on imperious form as always… the best thing about a Joe Jackson gig being that he always has a different line-up of musicians and picks the appropriate songs for the band and arranges them appropriately.  So you always here slightly different versions.
This one was a quartet with electric guitar, but just as the musicians go off one at a time in Slow Song, they also came on in stages, Joe playing solo for four songs, before being joined by Graham Maby on bass who started playing the riff for Is She Really Going Out with Him (Joe feigned surprise), which was then played by the two of them (and the crowd).  The relationship between these two guys is wonderful to watch, as is the fact that all four men sang and seemed to take such pleasure in the whole experience.
Joe’s introductions to the new songs is a wonderful insight into songwriting, where the idea comes from, and nobody can write a bridge or modulate a pop song like Joe.
He was completely humbled that 37 years after his first album he can still sell out the Palladium, and he should be.. as well as proud.  Without much acclaim for the last twenty years or so, he’s been doing it consistenly and doing it well.  A Joe Jackson gig is always a fantastic experience and this was no different.

My cultural highlights of 2012

My cultural highlights of 2012

I don’t listen to anything like enough new albums, watch enough new films etc to produce a top 100 list… not even a top 10.  But here’s some of my favourite things in the Cultural world from 2012.

Albums:

Wayne Escoffery – The Only Son of One                     (Top Jazz Pick)

This is a burning set, mostly a quintet, with the addition of Adam Holzmann’s keyboards to the piano, bass, drums.  He uses it like an additional lead instrument and I found it surprisingly engaging (closer to Zawinul’s use of Keyboards than most modern uses).  But the real star is Escoffery and his writing.  Great stuff.

Carina Round – Tigermending                                        (Top Songwriter’s album)

This should be in the top ten of most critics songwriter’s albums of the year.  Instead its come out on a tiny release and hardly registered.  Round is from Birmingham, resident in LA, and moves in the muso-social circuits of Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Curt Smith (Tears for Fears).  This is brilliant stuff though… Edgy, honest… and it rocks!  At times reminiscent of Radiohead in that the arrangements don’t necessarily conform, but each do a credit to the song.

Every song on here is a potential single, hook-laden and memorable.    If you haven’t discovered this album (and the chances are high that you haven’t) then check it out.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth                          (Favourite Rock album)

I’m aware that my tastes are broad and perhaps disparate to some.  But I’ve listened to this album and liked it a lot this year, so it would be unfair for me to not include it.

I loved Van Halen when I was a kid and almost found myself interested in this out of sentimentality, though everything I’ve liked I still like at some level.  This is a great rock set, these songs could easily have come out of their earliest period together in the 70s (and some of them did), but the band have found a new energy and a modern sound.  Wolfgang Van Halen (Eddie’s son) is surprisingly good on bass, now much more to the forefront of the mix, and the fact that the other three have kicked on and produced this album with Wolfie on board is good enough reason to support it, however much one liked the other fellow.

It rocks.  There isn’t much more to say about it.  Except that these guys are doing astonishingly well considering 3 of them are around 60 years old.  I’d far rather listen to this than The Rolling Stones (though I do like Doom and Gloom).

 

Films:

Rust and Bone

As The Prophet was one of my favourite films of 2009 I was very keen to see this and loved it.

To describe to someone.. “It’s a love story, really, between a bare-knuckle fighter and an amputee whale-trainer”… doesn’t half approach the level of emotional depth and warmth in this film.  It works on every level.  Incredible acting, breath-taking cinematography and a great score.  And I’m still thinking about it now, a few months after seeing it.

My film of the year.

Other mentions:

As a Bond fan, I loved Skyfall.  My lengthy review of it is here: bit.ly/TeLrmU

The Master was a bit dissapointing.  It shared great acting, cinematography and music with There Will be Blood, but lacked story.

TV:

My drama highlights were Borgen and The Bridge.  Far and away the best things on television this year.  Borgen I have a slight preference for, because I love politics and its the best drama about it ever made.  The Bridge was ultimately a mystery, and I’m not such a great fan of those – although the characters made The Bridge utterly compelling (I even discovered The Choir of Young Believers, who sing the theme tune).  When are they on again?  Not soon enough.

The Hour Series 2 was all about Ben Whishaw.  He was largely absent for the first episode, and it seemed strangely lacking until he arrived.  The last two episodes though were great.  Peter Capaldi had the single best scene on television this year (if not ever).  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It started with him re-arranging things on his desk and ended up with him destroying the room.  I love The Thick of It and Malcolm Tucker, but his range is a bit wasted on all that swearing compared with this.

Having always thought Mastermind and University Challenge were the ultimate quiz shows I discovered (several years after the fact) Only Connect this year.  And became addicted.  So much to I long to play that I’m applying to be on it.

Mad Men Series 5 was long awaited, and similarly enjoyed, although there wasn’t any dramatic reveal or arc to the series.  One can’t help feeling all the backstory has been revealed now.  It does rather allow the makers to concentrate more on the relationships between the established ensemble.  I recently re-watched the first episode of my favourite series ever, Six Feet Under, and realised that every character and everything they would go through in the six series that followed, were all there in that pilot episode.  Now that’s classy TV  writing.

I’m looking forward to more Luther in 2013, and hopeful of some more Shane Meadows TV.  As well as the next series of Borgen and The Bridge of course.

 

Books:

Of the books I’ve read that came out this year, I can recommend wholeheartedly Richard Ford’s wonderful Canada, which is, obviously, about the USA (and what it means to be American).  It’s rich in detail and a very captivating read.

I would also recommend Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, a wonderful and interesting novel about being a [black] jazz musician in pre-war Nazi-Germany; the latest Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory and two London gangster novels – of a sort.  Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker and Martin Amis’s Lionel Asbo.  The latter is basically a very British take on The Godfather.  And a very Amisian take on The Godfather, filled with hyper-real characters and laugh out loud humour (‘They called her Cynthia, which has seven letters, even though they can only pronounce four of them [‘Simfia’]).  It’s not Amis’s best, and I think he’s slightly more successful when turning the eye on to his own ilk rather than imagining a lowlife, council estate family (They’re neither Shameless or Fish Tank).  But its funny, and good.

 

Gigs:

 

A wonderful gigging year.  If I had to pick a few favourites it would be:

Faith No More – Hammersmith Odeon

Toto – Lucca Summer Festival (I’ve blogged about this here: bit.ly/RfBx88)

Radiohead – The Greenwich Arena

 

But the standout was Joe Jackson, with the Bigger Band, at the Cadogan Hall.  I’ve seen Joe lots of times with his trio, but seeing him with a full band (and not only that, but one featuring the amazing Regina Carter on Violin, Jesse Harris on Bass and Nate Smith on Drums) playing tunes with close to (or better than) original arrangements, was amazing.  I wish I’d gone the next night too.