The Vaccines, live, at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, Monday, April 8th 2013

My review of The Vaccines live in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre was published in this April 20th 2013 edition of NME

Originally published in NME on Wednesday, April 20th 2013.

“I’ve been in Ireland for five days and I’m starting to feel the effects. You’re gonna have to help me out on this next one. I’ve heard you sing and I’m impressed.” So pleads The Vaccines’ frontman Justin Young before he and bandmates Arni Arnason, Freddie Cowan and Peter Robertson launch into 2011 banger ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ to an overwhelming display of bouncing bodies and mass sing- along’s. And yeah, Young’s voice sounds jaded from five days on tour in Ireland, which included a 3am headline slot at Dublin’s booze-fuelled Trinity College Ball. So much so that the bawling masses at the Olympia tonight almost down him out during the “that helps you forget your ex” bit of the chorus.

Ahead of the Londoner’s biggest ever shows at London’s O2 in May the big question is: do the The Vaccines have the necessary hooks, riffs and epic choruses to own an arean? Well, there’s probably nowhere else in the world where an almost even split of lads and ladies are jubilantly belting out the words “There is NO HOPE” as they do during set opener ‘No Hope’, which takes on a fresh potency in recession- stricken Dublin. The sounds of debut single ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ follow, a song that’s pretty much on enormous chorus. There is, however, a noticeable dip as ‘Tiger Blood’ and ‘Wetsuit’ don’t quite capitalise on the explosive reaction to the opening tunes. The band sense it and rattle through them. making time to milk for the love for ‘Teenage Icon’, every bit the indie anthem. ‘Under Your Thumb’, meanwhile, initiates mass hand-clapping so loud and accurate it makes the air wobble. ‘I Always Knew’, though, is the most memorable of the night, as the crowd collapses in on itself under the strobe lights. So the songs are almost there. Releasing half of them as singles (11 of the songs from a total 22 across their two albums) has seen to that.

But it’s the swagger of lead guitarist Freddie Cowan that impresses most tonight. He oozes the charisma of a young Mick Jones, and with his jacket collar upturned, the younger brother of Tom from The Horrors is at his best when standing centre- stage during solos with his foot on a monitor, routinely throwing plectrums into the crowd. Young’s behaviour is in complete contrast to Cowan’s, and he’s seemingly taken aback by the reaction to the encore of ‘Wolf Pack’, ‘Bad Mood’ and ‘Nørgaard’. “The first time I played here, I was in a band that was supporting a band…Ireland seemed like a mythical place…it’s great that a band like us can come here and get this reaction.”

The Vaccines remain as potent as ever.

My live review of The Vaccines at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, in this week’s @NME

In this week’s NME…my review of The Vaccines, live in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.

In this week’s NME…my review of The Vaccines, live, in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre

Hello one and all.

Just a brief note to tell you that I have a review in this week’s NME (20th April 2013, pictured left). It’s a review of The Vaccines, live in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. It’s featured on page 52 of the magazine and it features some stunning live snaps from the very talented Lili Foberg. Available in all good newsagents, etc.

You can also read the full text of the review right here. If you’ve got an opinion relating to my review, by all means comment here.

Thanks and stay classy.

Aimee Mann – Live at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, January 31st, 2013

It’s a Mann’s world: Singer- songwriter Aimee Mann

Originally featured in the online edition of the Irish Post.

Clad in chic leather jacket and dark rimmed glasses and swinging her hips down stage right to bassist and collaborator Paul Bryan’s down stage left, Aimee Mann betrays her 52 years. Youthful and sprightly, she appears like a cross between the ethereal, angelic Emmylou Harris and the geeky charm of Elvis Costello; like the former, she posses a strong, commanding voice; like the latter her work, unfortunately, ranges from the remarkable to the forgettable.

In what is a fully seated show, Mann has her loyal and devoted fan base- who have, no doubt, journeyed with Mann through her eight albums of output, including 2012’s patchy release,  Charmer- in the palm of her hand from opener ‘Disappeared’. In what is very much a show of two halves, Mann’s set is divided. The first half draws largely from Charmer and 1995’s I’m With Stupid, including the latter’s ‘You Could Make A Killing’, which Mann has previously claimed was written about her one- time infatuation with Noel Gallagher.

While it’s clearly evident that Mann knows her way with  the fundamentals of Power Pop; that is, 4/4, mid- tempo, major key, blues- pop that owes much to the classic I-IV-V major progression, it all feels slightly samey: the song arrangements are too similar to each other and Mann’s unremarkable tunes bleed into one another. There is also a distinct lack of surprise and both Mann and her band look very much on auto pilot.

True, Mann is a crafty wordsmith, so it’s unfortunate that her literate lyrics, including much of her narrative- driven tunes from her concept album about a journey man boxer, The Forgotten Arm, are drowned out in the mix by two keyboard players, particularly Charmer’s title track, which is laden in Moog synthesizer sounds. Indeed, the selections from Charmer are full of the kind of sneering, self- deprecating cynicism that defined the best songs of Soft Rock and New Wave, but which is distinctly lacking in pop songs today. That said, however, there are sloppy, hackneyed metaphors and clichés abound, such as ‘Labrador’ and the album’s title track. Clearly, quality control is an issue and one gets the feeling that a writer of Mann’s calibre and experience should know better.

All is not lost, however. When Mann’s backing band leave the stage, Mann performs selections from her soundtrack to Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2000 masterpiece, and the soundtrack’s companion album, 2000’s Bachelor No. 2. During the descending G minor / G minor seventh introduction to ‘Save Me’- Mann’s Oscar nominated song and, arguably, her best known song- Mann indulges her audience in a spot of light- hearted jibes aimed at Phil Collins, who beat her to the Oscar. Rivaled only by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mann makes an excellent raconteur. A craft in itself, Mann’s on- stage banter between songs diffuses the intensity of her tunes, allowing her to present and perform her songs in a way that is inclusive and, above all, entertaining.

Not only is it refreshing at this point of the set that Mann’s lyrics can finally come through in the mix, but the stripped down and sonically arresting arrangements of the Magnolia and  material open up an infinitely more interesting dimension to Mann’s material. Indeed, ‘Wise Up’, a seminal, solo- piano song, which was an integral soundtrack to a defining sequence in P.T. Anderson’s sprawling movie, has Mann’s Dublin audience spellbound and in awe. Finally, the gravitas of Mann’s mature and oaky voice is able to take centre stage.

After what can only be the most resounding round of applause of the night, Mann’s band once again grace the stage for Mann’s cover version of Harry Nilsson’s ‘One’, which features in the opening credits of Magnolia. As the lush harmonies, tremolo- heavy guitar, swelling organ and crashing symbols all work together to build during the song’s chorus, one can’t help but feel that this is the band at their most interesting, exciting, suspenseful and less predictable. It is this kind of sweeping, sonically diverse material that is lacking in Mann’s catalogue.

Gamely taking requests from audience members, Mann’s audience of die- hards call out songs so obscure that Mann no longer knows how to play them. Eventually, Mann settles on ‘Invisible Ink’ from 2002’s Lost in Space. Keeping feel- good vibe of the night alive, she recalls her trip earlier in the day to the statue of Phil Lynott outside Bruxelles on Dublin’s Harry Street before launching into a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Honesty is No Excuse’ with support act Ted Leo playing Eric Bell’s audacious lead guitar parts. Earlier in the night, Leo had provided backing vocals on Charmer’s ‘Living a Lie’, which, on record, features backing vocals by The Shins’ James Mercer.

Closing on a dizzying high with Bachelor No. 2 highlight ‘Deathly’, complete with one of the best opening lines ever written in song (Now that I’ve met you / Would you object to / Never Seeing each other again),  Mann makes up for the lyrical shortcomings of recent material.

Fans may not have long to wait until Mann’s work graces the Grand Canal Theatre again: a stage musical, adapted from her 2005 album The Forgotten Arm and written in collaboration with heavily in- demand Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), might be with us soon. And while Charmer may not be enough to win Mann new admirers, the savvy Virginian certainly has the songs and stagecraft to remind those who take her granted of her mercurial talent.

Nick Lowe – Live at Vicar St., Dublin, February 15th, 2012

All- time Lowe: Nick Lowe is one of the world’s greatest living songwriters.

Finishing up the European leg of his tour, Nick Lowe saunters on stage, solo, with his acoustic guitar in front of a reservedVicar Streetaudience, seated at round tables on the ground floor. No longer happy to drift on the nostalgia of his 70’s heyday, Lowe has long left behind his career as producer and mentor to the most successful exponents of British New Wave (Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Squeeze) and, for almost 25 years, has entrenched himself in American roots music.

Opening with ‘Stoplight Roses’ from his latest release, The Old Magic, Lowe’s warm, mellow voice and austere instrumentation cut an arresting presence. It’s clear that, like Richard Hawley, Lowe draws from a songwriting well that projects a romantic view of loneliness; mainly American country songwriters and performers such as George Jones, Ray Price and Patsy Cline. A stunning, styled rendition of ‘Heart’, a song by Lowe’s former band Rockpile, concludes Lowe’s two- song solo set. As Lowe starts into ‘What Lack of Love Has Done’ from 1998’s Dig My Mood his band, including support act Geraint Watkins on keys, make their way on stage, which makes for a smooth change in dynamics early in the set.

The sheer breath of Lowe’s songbook comes into full force in the middle section of the set when ‘I Read A Lot’, a sombre, slow- burning number from The Old Magic is followed immediately by ‘Cruel To Be Kind’, Lowe’s first big pop hit, which he recently performed withUS tour- mates Wilco. The chemistry of the band is most evident on the big pop numbers, namely ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ and ‘When I Write the Book’.

After the encore, Lowe and Watkins return on stage for a duet of Watkins’ ‘Only a Rose’ and a powerful performance of ‘When I Write the Book’, which, like ‘Cruel to Be Kind’, is when the band are at their most loose and playful. As if to further emphasize that he is not enslaved by the New Wave sound that he helped to define, Lowe’s acoustic, slow- tempo version of ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ carries just as much weight on Lowe’s acoustic guitar and finds its place among his roots- influenced songbook and the youthful exuberance of the original studio version is side- stepped in favor of a version which casts Lowe as wiser, more mature man than the angry young man who originally wrote the tune.

It is, however, Lowe’s second encore which provides the night’s highlight. Walking on stage, solo, with his acoustic once again, Lowe performs a beautiful, measured version of ‘Alison’, a song produced by Lowe which was written by his former protégée, Elvis Costello. In a sense, it encapsulates Nick Lowe’s songwriting style and model; the well- worn Englishness of Ray Davies’sEnglandset to the American songbook of folk / country / soul music. The old magic, indeed.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Live at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, October 23rd, 2011

High flyer: Noel Gallagher, back on live duties and back on form.

Between his debut solo album topping both the UK and Irish albums charts which, after only one week of sales, is already outselling Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding – and opening his first ever solo tour in his ancestral hometown of Dublin, Noel Gallagher has reason to swagger on stage at the Olympia Theatre. Add to this the result of the Manchester derby and the former guitarist and chief songwriter in Oasis has no reason not to be in great form.

Indeed, Gallagher is in playful mood tonight, initiating banter between audience members, despite his advance warning in press interviews that he was an uncomfortable and inexperienced frontman. He opens the set, confidently, with an Oasis B-side, ‘(It’s Good) To Be Free’, the title and chorus of which, alone, carry symbolic and rhetorical weight to the nature of the night’s event and is, no doubt, a gift to the red-tops who are still generating stories and interest from Oasis’s messy split two years ago. During a successive run, half a dozen or so songs in, of ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, ‘Dream On’, ‘If I Had A Gun’, ‘The Good Rebel’, ‘The Death Of You And Me’, and a heavy, early Kinks-sounding untitled new track, one realizes that Gallagher has not only the tunes, but also the backing band to go the distance. Mike Rowe, who played keyboards during Oasis’ Be Here Now world tour, is a key player in the band, skillfully negotiating the middle eight of ‘The Death Of You And Me’, which on record features a New Orleans-style marching band, but tonight is convincingly replaced with the twinkling sound of a bar-room piano.

What work best tonight are the dynamics, a sign of the old stager that he is. After a blazing run through the first eight songs with his full band, he brings the feel of the set down a couple of gears and reduces the line-up to just himself on acoustic guitar, drummer / percussionist Jeremy Stacy and Rowe. Together, they run through a rejuvenated ‘Wonderwall’, in which Noel blends hallmarks of Ryan Adams 2004 cover version of the track with his own distinctive tenor voice. This is followed by the most surprising song choice of the night; an acoustic version of Oasis’ 1994 debut single, ‘Supersonic’, which lends an insight into how it might have sounded when he first wrote the song on an acoustic guitar all those years ago in his Manchester flat.

There’s no question that Gallagher is playing to a home crowd of dedicated Oasis fans, some of whom may have attended and may have distinct memories of Oasis’s December 4th & 5th nights in The Point Depot in 1997, when Noel took over lead vocal duties from a missing-in-action Liam. Tonight, however, the songs which elicit the loudest cheers and sing-alongs of the night aside from ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, which appeal to casual fans and die-hard fans alike, are those B-sides that are held in such high regard with Oasis devotees such as ‘Half The World Away’ and ‘Talk Tonight’.

The night ends, somewhat predictably, with a definitive, three song encore of some of Oasis’ most successful stadium rock anthems. An acoustic-led ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, an excellent band performance of ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ and ‘Little By Little’, which, when played tonight, feels close in sentiment and style to some of the tracks on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and satisfy Oasis fans even if ending on those songs threaten to eclipse his current solo songs. However, it’s a mark of the wealth of material that Gallagher can draw from over the past 18 years that many of his band era songs, such as ‘Sunday Morning Call’, ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong’ and ‘Let’s All Make Believe’ – all of which would have gelled well with the sound and feel of his current solo material – are sadly omitted from the night’s set. But with Gallagher’s falsetto hitting all the notes, a versatile and ambitious backing band and a set list of choice cuts that successfully tie together a broad and prolific songwriting career, it’s not a bad way to open his live account at all.

Originally published by State.ie

©  Philip Cummins. All rights reserved.

Setlist for Noel Gallgher’s High Flying Birds – Live at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, October 23rd, 2011

  1. (It’s Good) To Be Free
    (Oasis cover)
  2. Mucky Fingers
    (Oasis cover)
  3. Everybody’s on the Run
  4. Dream On
  5. If I Had a Gun…
  6. The Good Rebel
  7. The Death of You and Me
  8. Freaky Teeth
  9. Wonderwall
    (Oasis cover)
  10. Supersonic
    (Oasis cover)
  11. (I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine
  12. AKA… What a Life!
  13. Talk Tonight
    (Oasis cover)
  14. Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks
  15. AKA…Broken Arrow
  16. Half The World Away
    (Oasis cover)
  17. (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach

Encore:

  1. Don’t Look Back In Anger
    (Oasis cover)
  2. The Importance of Being Idle
    (Oasis cover)
  3. Little By Little
    (Oasis cover)