QOTSA + IGGY POP: live

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE ALL-DAYER AT FINSBURY PARK, JUNE 30 2018. IGGY POP SECOND IN COMMAND

It’s a heatwave, it’s a scorching Saturday aft and there are complaints-worthy queues for the bars in Finsbury Park. Do you file in with a human snake for an hour to get yourself a sip o’ the shite stuff?

Or do you make sure you miss not one second of Iggy Pop?

You know the answer, and when Iggy skip-runs out, shirtless from the off, to I Wanna Be Your Dog, it’s confirmed. Screw lager, here is the Miracle of Pop. He’s lost speed, he limps badly and his muscle tone is much melted, but seeing him still giving it everything after a long life of feral performances and time-defying physicality is a life-affirming spectacle. And it is a pleasant shock to see him fired up like this in the lowering sun. The Post Pop Depression Live at the Albert Hall DVD – another captivating performance (is there any other?) – looked like it might have been a last-of-its-kind statement from Pop, the start of a move towards slightly more refined – or, at least, less physical – performances, but no. It’s like he can’t help himself. The momentarily mature Pop that peeped through PPD has been ditched for a return to the Stooges wild.

Gimme Danger is next up, and then: “If you saw somebody hitchiking … near Swindon … would you pick ’em up?” Cue The Passenger, then Lust for Life. He’s put the big-crowd guns out early, so what happens next? This is where it gets interesting, this is what it means to pull a great mass-appeal set out of your pants. Skull Ring. I’m Sick of You. TV Eye, Search and Destroy, Some Weird Sin, Mass Production …. who would have thought Mass Production on a day like this? It always sounds 10 times longer than it actually is, and crowd chatter does rise as it goes on, but you cannot ignore this crawling Idiot-grotesque factory dirge dragging the beauty out of a hot summer afterglow. But then, knowing he has to bring everyone back with the last track, he lets the Jean Genie out. Pop doesn’t mention Bowie, but surely everyone thinks Bowie, and while we do it’s Pop the Survivor who twists his body through a track that links them forever.

As far as tracklists for support slots go, it’s pretty hard to beat. As far as performances from still-got-it legends go … same. He looks strong – almost broken, but in the same gasp, nowhere near, with voice to match. We’ll never work it out, the guy’s still a phenomenon who you’ve got to watch as much as listen to. Pop time is show time. Again.

Queens of the Stone Age … are on ridiculous form. There’s no point teasing it out, they just are. Finsbury Park 2018 will surely be known as one of those gigs in a band’s lifetime where the cosmic forces got all their arses in line, and those who made it were lucky enough to witness something more than a bit special. It felt like they played for hours but finished in minutes. If I Had a Tail, Lost Art of Keeping a Secret and Feet Don’t Fail Me Now are early starters, and it’s clear the band are in a fearsome groove – pacy, heavy, clear and jammed with musicianship: a consummate rock gig and they never stop working it. Little Sister and Sick Sick Sick hit hard and lift high, but then again so does everything, the one exception being Make It Wit Chu’s seductive breather ahead of a SFTD one-two.

Songs for the Deaf shuts the main set down. The encore is a 10-minute Song for the Dead, shit ye not. THAT’S how to finish off Finsbury – a hard rock orgy for 45,000. Do it all over again? If only we could. QOTSA albums on permanent replay ever since. Untouchable.

Queens of the Stone Age do Finsbury

QOTSA do Finsbury

KARMA TO BURN: live

KARMA TO BURN with DESERT STORM at The Cellar, Oxford, June 27 2018.

This is a billing you really don’t wanna miss. Oxford wrecking merchants Desert Storm hook up with hard rock legends Karma to Burn in the none-more-suitable confines of the Cellar.

So. Desert Storm. Drunk-en shambollock. No, hang on – that’s Uncle Will, buffering across the stage mid-set to ruffle everyone’s hair. What we really mean is, DESERT FUCKING STORM: another titanic chunk of metallic heft that pummels and grooves in all the right places, same as it ever did. Journey’s End is the opener, just as it is for new album Sentinels, and it’s a forceful declaration, launching a set that draws heavily on Sentinels and rightly bloody so because it’s a heavyweight beast. Too Far Gone, The Brawl and Gearhead are, if memory serves, among the other new tracks thrown in with old familiars, but it’s the textured maturity of Kingdom of Horns that really leaps out, as it does on the album. What more to say? Another awe-tastic Desert Storm offensive.

Karma to Burn next, straight outta West Virginia-ish. Will they conquer too?

Yes. And no.

The yes is for other people. Cellar crowd rocks out to Forty Four, Thirteen, Eight, Twenty One and whatever the hell else got played. Cellar Loves Karma.

The NO? That’s mine, and it doesn’t feel great to say it. There’s a ton of love for the band from here got the albums on heavy rotation ahead of the gig, finally wrapped up a long-unfinished lost-classic style review of their debut, and am definitely over the karaoke Karma experience of 2013. This one feels RIGHT, especially with Desert Storm upfront. Anticipation is high again.

But that moment when KTB’s Will Mecum wandered through the DS stage, warning bells rang because he looked pretty hammered already. Not fall-over gone, but wavering down the slow-focus end of beered/whatevered. What that means, when Karma to Burn take the stage, is that those mountain ‘spired riffs are crunched and amped and sound right enough, and Eric Cutter and a hulking Evan Devine give it plenty, but it just doesn’t look right – because the guy on guitar lets the riffs do the work without working the riffs. Instead of some attack and right-now presence from THE Karma originator and (let’s be honest) focal point, we got a slow drawling geezer who wasn’t bad but was on muscle-memory auto. It was a distraction and I couldn’t shake it. Funny how, when the music’s all there is – and that is literally true of this band – it ends up not being just about the music. You gotta show up, you gotta PLAY. Like it means something.

So, it wound up feeling like another karaoke job. Twice a bit burned, now. Any more? Better instead to savour clips like this from just a couple of years ago or recall a more vital show you’ve got lodged in the vault of memories (Audioscope 2011 for me: amps stacked higher than the stage was wide, full force rocking in your facials. Much more like it.)

RETURN OF THE PIGS

JUNE REWIND: ISRAEL NASH ON STAGE. PIGSX7 RETURN.

Israel Nash plays Oxford, so do Karma to Burn (review on its way), QOTSA hit London (ditto), and we’ve two – count ’em – chunks of brutish rage to skid-mark for thine ear. They’re not exactly heatwave music, but Israel Nash is, so let’s go there first.

Israel Nash – The Bullingdon, Oxford, June 14 2018
Looking for the sound of summer? You can do a lot worse – and maybe not a lot better – than plug into Israel Nash’s Silver Season, his 2015 album. It captures the sliding, gliding country peaks and pedal steel that Neil Young/CSN scaled on select tracks, but Nash (Israel) makes a complete album’s worth of these near-cosmic shimmers.

Tonight’s show is just Nash, his acoustic and harmonica, and his new-found friends (us). He’s such a generous presence – one of the world’s people people – that you can’t help but like the guy, and his home-on-the-ranch tales of recording, touring and parenthood confirm a nature-loving music-loving spirituality. Here’s a guy who wants to create moments and make them special, which is probably why he steps off stage and into the middle of the crowd to play a couple of tracks with audience accompaniment. Tambourine Jam, he calls it, putting a call out for two percussionists to join him, though the Bullingdon is clearly short of wannabe musos tonight as it takes a bit of coaxing to get the volunteers. “Do what feels right” is the only instruction to his new two-song backing band, and they do. It works.

While Nash is a magnet for warmth and exudes mellow positivity, the music – to me – loses something when reduced to a one-man acoustic strum-only, because the very thing that makes the last two albums such a draw is the richness of a big-sounding, expansive band playing with blissed-out restraint. Still, the chance to hang out in Israel’s company is not one to pass up. There’s a lot of feelgood in here.

OK, on to a couple of new tunes with a more raucous bent – something international, something north east England.

Advent of Bedlam – A Human Farm
Swept up in Stuart Maconie’s World Cup Freakzone, which featured music from all the countries playing in the group stages, this corrosive discharge of extreme metal cuffed the ear more than many this month. Advent of Bedlam are from Costa Rica, their third album is out now, and this track is a precise, punishing fix of blackened deathly thrash. Advent of Bedlam bandcamp right here.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Cake of Light
big big big big big big big noise from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Cake of Light, the lead single from their forthcoming new album, has been aired in a world exclusive by Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC 6Music (2 hours 49 minutes in, after the Manics), and it doesn’t break the previous Pigs’ mould, thank fuck – slamming post-Sabbath doom mono-liffic that just about stops short of collapsing into the void. A howling, raging catharsis. Splendid. They’ve just stuck it up on Bandcamp, album due out in September.

Right, that’s it for June – a short fast ugly Rewind, live reviews on the way.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

ROBERT PLANT: live

ROBERT PLANT AND THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS
Bath Festival Finale Weekend, Bath Spa, May 27 2018

This gig feels like a massive, swollen-ball bonus in the music lottery. After last year’s tour date prices shot out of reach just a few hours after going on sale, it seemed that Robert Plant would be hard to catch on the road, but a few 2018 festival dates means the Bath Festival Finale Weekend drops us in an oddly cozy outdoor setting with Bath Spa as a 360-degree backdrop. It’s welcoming and inviting, packed with roots and history.

A bit like the music we’re about to hear, right?

Link Wray’s 1958 strut Rumble is the walk-on track and our headliners kick things off with signature Zep II blueser, The Lemon Song. Didn’t see that one coming, but you know the Space Shifters’ score by now – whatever feels right IS right, and their gigs are never less than immersive. You jump in for the ride and see where it goes, knowing roughly – but not exactly – where you might end up. After The Lemon Song and Turn It Up, that ride takes in Carry Fire, Lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar, Led Zeppelins I-II-III-IV and Dreamland with just one other stop – Nashville/Clarksdale for Please Read the Letter. Introduced with an Alison Krauss anecdote and an impish “written by two geniuses” quip, it’s big and full-some, but Gallows Pole is the first gig moment, a gallop that drops all downtempo parts and pelts it from the off, fired by Seth Lakeman’s fiddle. After that, Carry Fire’s entrancing trip is widescreen heavy, and again Lakeman is central.

A brace of less-riffsome Zep tracks – Going to California and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You – give Skin a chance to pick ‘n’ psyche, Little Maggie brings worldly beats, and the main set wraps with Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die). On the Dreamland record, it’s dusty, urgent, trancey. Here, it’s a toughed-up rock ‘n’ roller pushed by shuffling Radar Love drum patterns, and it’s stuff like this that make the Space Shifters a proper live experience. You don’t get the same old shit. They play with a Right Now vibe, locked in music’s moment whether it’s rock and roll, Touareg blues, Bristolian beats, misty mountain folk, Nashville/Appalachia or Zep perennials, or any mix they see fit to run with.

And Plant? His voice is bang on, as it has been since the first days of Strange Sensation in 2002. Of all the people from rock and pop’s first wave of mega bands, he, surely, is the one doing things with the most class, and though he’ll be leaving his 60s in a couple of months, he doesn’t look like he’s gonna wobble. No way.

If the encore brings the one dead cert in a Space Shifters gig – Whole Lotta Love – then the other near-cert is that it won’t follow the previous tour’s version, and it doesn’t. Out goes the slow desert intro. In comes the underplayed crunch of Bring It On Home ahead of THAT riff. Segue or what? Lakeman owns the theramin/ritti slot and all is well until the climactic home run gets cut short when half the band stop early. “I think that’s it,” says Plant of the ragged end. “Looks like we’ve fucking finished.”

Does anyone care? Not out here, not a bit, and though it’s not the trippiest or out-there of Shape Shifter sets, nor is it too obvious a crowd-pleaser. As ever, Plant and the Sensational ones keep finding extra gears to cover more miles in music’s adventures.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters tour t shirt 2018

Who else?

The set list went something like this:

The Lemon Song
Turn It Up
Rainbow
The May Queen
Please Read the Letter
Going to California
Gallows Pole
Carry Fire
Little Maggie
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
Funny in my Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die)
***
Bring it on Home/Whole Lotta Love