Spandau Ballet review

The warm up to the concert, with a couple of Heart 104.9 DJs was concerning. As they rolled through a mix of 80’s tunes, I couldn’t help but think that they were playing stuff from a whole catalogue of bands I’d rather be seeing than those on the bill for the evening.
And when they excitedly described Alphaville and Spandau Ballet as “the two biggest bands of the 80’s”, I couldn’t help but think that they were lying.

What about a-ha and Duran Duran? Or Tears for Fears and the Pet Shop Boys? 
Had they forgotten Depeche Mode and ABC and Culture Club and Wham! and OMD and the Human League and the Thompson Twins?

You get my point, I’m sure.
And then there was a delay and they ran out of 80s music to play. So maybe they had forgotten about all those other bands.

Anyway, belatedly, on came Alphaville.
The first thing that struck me was the irony that Alphaville’s biggest hit was Forever Young. Because, if the chorus line from that was some sort of plea:

Forever young, I want to be forever young

it hasn’t worked. Aged 55 and looking like a cross between Buster Bloodvessel and Till Lindemann’s dad, lead singer Marian Gold has put on a bit of weight since the 1980s. His partners in crime (and it did look like prison was actually involved at some point) were a keyboard player with an IQ apparently in single figures, a guitar player who didn’t really want to be there and a drummer who turned up sporting long blond hair and a tight white jumpsuit. As they came on to cheers – and indeed a fair amount of laughter – things were not looking promising.

But what an effort. What energy. The old favourites were obviously all there: Dance With Me, Jet Set Society, Sounds Like A Melody and of course, Big In Japan– many of them dragged from the synthpop of the 80s with a aggressive Deutsche Rock upgrade. But while it worked, you got the feeling that the fans would have preferred more keyboard and less guitar.  
Summer in Berlin reminded us of the simplicity of 80s lyrics:

Summer in Berlin, it’s alright.
Summer in Berlin, it’s ok.

And yes, it was a bit rough around the edges – almost like they hadn’t moved on from what was acceptable in their heyday. Stuff you’d never get away with these days. But that was fine. That performance was what people had come to hear and the response from the audience was every bit as enthusiastic as the energy on stage.
I was thoroughly impressed and I am now more sure than ever that the return of Synthpop is long overdue.

And then Spandau Ballet. My goodness, they look much older. Which is entirely logical, since they are actually much older.
Theirs was an altogether tighter, better rehearsed and better managed show. They obligingly posed for cellphone photos, they took it in turns to chat about the old days while Tony Hadley, traditionally clad in charcoal grey suit and tie, blew kisses to the middle-aged women on the front row.
The performance was hugely professional – a far cry from Alphaville’s earlier “80s-club” style efforts. In fact, it was almost too good, too polished – it would have been good to see a human side during the songs as well as in between them. Hadley’s voice is still unique, still as powerful as ever, but the shift from the raw New Romantic foundation towards a more refined, soul sound left me a little cold.

Once again, the list of hits was impressive: Only When You Leave, Communication, Chant No.1, Fight For Ourselves and To Cut a Long Story Short (amongst many others) were all carefully, energetically and perfectly performed before the inevitable True and then, as a second encore, Gold
A new, daring and beautiful acoustic version of With The Pride was sadly spoiled by idiots in the audience having loud conversations right through the course of it. (Why do SA audiences do this at concerts?)

And the band did look to be having a huge amount of fun on stage. If they were faking it, they were faking it well, with smiles and during the show and hugs after the final number. As Hadley remarked, their reforming was “the best decision we ever made”.
But it remains to be seen whether the “new” Spandau Ballet will have any commercial success aside from this tour, which clearly relies solely on their previous standing and music.
For me – and I suspect, many others – the magic of the band was the fact that they were one of the top New Romantic acts. Now that they’ve lost that, and despite the fact that they are obviously seasoned and professional performers, I’m not convinced that they have anything hugely significant to offer.
Although I’d love to be proved wrong.

CokeZeroFest 2009 – Review


Having survived the nightmarish drive out of the otherwise stunning Lourensford Wine Estate and the 60km back to Cape Town late yesterday evening, I feel I am now in a position to let you know if the 2009 CokeZeroFest was a hit or a miss.
And I’m going “hit”.

From the time we drove into the venue, surrounded on three sides by mountains, with sweeping views down to False Bay on the fourth, it was obvious that this was going to be a chilled day in the sun with some (hopefully) decent music to listen to while we were at it. And we didn’t have long to wait – diving from the beer tent through into the Golden Circle to see Die Heuwels Fantasties, and their unique brand of Afrikaans rock. I’m not a great Afrikaans speaker, but the music was pretty good – and made last year’s Van Coke Kartel look as amateurish as a first round Idols failure.
They were followed up by more Afrikaans rock in the shape of Foto na Dans, who have a lead singer bearing a worrying resemblance to Leo Sayer. That concern aside though, choral tones over the heavy nu-metal background made for an interesting and (perhaps surprisingly) functional combination. Great stuff and certainly worth a listen.
It should be noted that this genre of music is supported by a fanatical following and they were out in force up front for the first two acts.

Time for some English now though, please and Cassette obliged after a slightly shaky start with the bearded Jon Savage striding around the stage and giving us his no-holds-barred opinions of the last minute cancellations. Pushing their new album Who do You Trust?with the title track accompanied by a cartoon of Jacob Zuma on the big screens was topical and popular. The Boomtown Rats’ Tell me why (I don’t like Mondays) cover was a big hit, as was Useless Confusion.

Now, my most eagerly anticipated act: Zebra & Giraffe. Widely tipped to be the next “big” SA band, they blew me away with their New Order vs The Cure mildly melancholic electronica. It amazes me that there are some bands that are still able to find a niche in the music market which no-one has previously exploited. While others are producing decent, enjoyable but somewhat “samey” tracks, Z&G are novel, refreshing and exciting. And eminently listenable. The performance was tight and professional, the audience interaction not too full-on, but enough to let us know they knew we were there. Very impressive and definitely the best SA band of the day. Questions do need to be asked about Greg Carlin’s choice of shirt, however.

Cape Town’s Dirty Skirts were up next and provided us with a decent, if unspectacular, set – probably their best offering being Daddy Don’t Disco. There was no huge audience connection though, which rather let them down. I have to admit to being a little disappointed. I’ve missed a couple of gigs and was told I was missing out, but it just didn’t click. That said, I like their stuff enough to give them another chance. Soon.
And there was more disappointment on the way with aKING. I’ve heard a fair amount of their stuff and I think they are hugely over-rated and their lukewarm performance did nothing to change my opinion. It was heavy, stodgy, dull. The crowd was enthusiastic though, despite the rather bland set. Time for a burger and (another) beer.

And then, the international acts, led by Panic at the Disco, who were friendly, funny and fun. Once again, an overseas act seemed bemused by a less-than-eager South African crowd, but they got through their hits and there was fun and rather too much audience participation to be had as they rounded off their set with a cover of Lulu’s enduring hit Shout. Energetic it was, and a really tight, well-rehearsed set. Impressive, if not unexpected.

Snow Patrol were next up and (for me) stole the show. They had the crowd eating out of their hands before they even came on stage with their “All of these places feel like home” display on the big screen. The power of words is incredible (if you have several thousand drunk teenagers in front of you).

It’s obvious that Gary Lightbody loves performing and loves to see his songs being enjoyed. And it was an emotional set, with the powerful Run and Chasing Cars thrown in between faster harder numbers like Eyes Open and Take Back the City. Gary couldn’t help but enthuse over the beautiful scenery, gorgeous people and wonderful country. But it was spontaneous and from the heart. You could just see that he was loving every minute of where he was and what he was doing. You can’t fake that sort of honesty.

And then, the finale: Oasis. They look old not just because of the drink and the drugs, but because they are old. But boy – they’ve still got it. Liam strutted around like he owned the place, barking orders at the sound desk and striking a bully-boy pose between lyrics. Attitude personified.

Noel looked older still, wandering around sloth-like and seemingly confused. But when it came to that voice… Wow. Every note, perfect; every chord, perfect. The brothers are well known for their “don’t give a toss” attitude, but it works so well on stage and it was a remarkable experience to see them live at long last. Love them or hate them, you have to admire their longevity against all the odds, and dare I say that their new stuff is sounding like it will stand alongside the classics like Wonderwall and Slide Away.
For me, Noel’s performance of Don’t Look Back in Anger was arguably the most spectacular moment of the entire day. And when you remember that it was up against those powerful modern classics from Snow Patrol, that’s saying something.

All in all, money well spent and an utterly superb day out.
Wonderful venue, great organisation, nice beer, great crowd, good music, perfect weather.

See you next year. And don’t forget those photos and videos!

The 6000 miles… James Blunt review

So we went, we saw, we listened and it actually wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had been fearing. And I’d been fearing a lot.
James Blunt came onto the stage a distinctly Capetonian 25 minutes late, to what I can only really term as “polite applause”, looking like a slightly rougher, scruffier version of my housemate.
My ex-housemate, that is. Not my current housemate. My current housemate is obviously my wife and she never lets her stubble get that long.

He kicked off with a few pseudo-uptempo efforts, which sounded like they were being played through treacle. Despite the fact that his voice sounds much better in person than on CD, my mind, which I’d fought hard to keep open, closed and I settled myself in for a couple of hours of frustration waiting in vain for something special.
And then, about 3 or 4 songs in, he did something remarkable. He put his guitar down (not in the veterinary sense) and headed pianoward. And there he sat and gave a 2 minute comedy routine about having an orgy with the audience, which left the two 14-year old girls next to us in fits of hopeful giggling, before launching into a jolly version of I’ll Take Everything (Blunt, not the girls).
From the ridiculous to the sublime though as he chucked the rest of the band off stage and weighed in with an unbelievably powerful, emotionally candid rendition of Goodbye, My Lover which gained a proper, old-fashioned, appreciative standing ovation and then moved onto No Bravery, with the backdrop showing footage of shallow graves, burnt out villages and distraught mothers in Kosovo. That shut us all up pretty quickly and it struck me that – like him or not – he’s actually rather good at those haunting, meaningful, heartfelt ballads.

Sadly, it never really reached those heady heights again as he ran through some of the more lively (but sadly, still really treacley) stuff off All The Lost Souls; the only exception being the finale – a pleasing, fresh version of 1973, which sent the audience off home abuzz.

All in all, a good evening’s entertainment with a couple of exceptional tracks, and although it didn’t come close to dislodging Muse from the top of my best live performances – much to my surprise – it would probably be close on the top ten, if only for that 8-minute spell in the middle where he had us all transfixed.

EDIT: Just to clarify – this post tells you why I was there last night.