Monday, 26 July 2010

Saturday @ T in the Park 2010

blurbs on bands at T in the Park on Saturday

for the skinny

Saturday lunchtime’s persistent drizzle sends most casual fans under canvas, so bands like the T Break tent-bound Astral Planes can benefit from a larger audience. But beyond the friends in the front row, the casual outliers never really take to them. Doris Day’s (the song, obvs) weighty riffs momentarily stop the crowd chatting and even inspire a little air guitar; but the Glasgow band’s similarities to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Blondie suggest a personality received, not conceived.

“The new Frightened Rabbit?” a friend jokes as we head to the BBC Introducing stage for Admiral Fallow, formerly Brother Louis Collective. A reductive, throwaway comment; sadly impossible to shrug off. In a 20 minute set, three songs feel like shadows of specific FRabbit tunes. Their best moment comes when they step out of that shadow: an emotional clarinet burst at the end of final song Subbuteo provides a welcome Roxy Music-style release.

Unfortunately for the newly Guardian-profiled Kid Adrift, the rain has stopped before he takes the stage, and fans seem determined to enjoy the skies while they’re dry. So only a wee group is present to gawp at his bombastic synth-rock, and despite the volume and scope, somehow even they don’t seem to be paying attention. He’s not helped by poor sound, specifically an underpowered mic that leaves his vocals clouded out by the bass and drums, but predictable quiet/loud shifts in his music don’t help either.

Vampire Weekend are astonishingly popular. For a group with only two Top 40 hits to attract a miles-deep crowd at the Main Stage is remarkable, and for miles around we can see fans dancing, not just to those minor hits, but to album tracks too. “Cousins” is the highlight, the off-kilter scratch guitar intro immediately drawing waves of cheers from the crowd, before Ezra Koenig draws laughs by asking for “anger and ecstasy” from the crowd during “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)”. Perhaps he touched on the real secret to all this dancing?

After We Are Scientists pack the King Tuts tent out, The Coral’s crowd is sparse. It’s a minor mystery why they have such a good slot at all, and they don’t offer any clues from the stage. They start with breakthrough single Goodbye, before a dreary In The Rain and a new song with a stultifying chorus of “oh oh, waiting for a thousand years, oh oh, sailing on a thousand tears”. We don’t wait a thousand milliseconds more.

Rambling Man

Laura Marling | MySpace Music Videos

In the Futures tent, we’d earlier seen the quiet, folky Middle East suffer because watchers were too drunk to listen. But now the same tent is packed and wholly attentive for 20 year old Laura Marling, the new star of English folk thanks to her beautiful second album I Speak Because I Can. There’s a dramatic pause in Rambling Man that’s perfectly held by the rapt crowd, emphasising the effect of the return; before a sizable core of fans sing along to every word of Ghosts. Wonderful.

The BBC’s Vic Galloway introduces Young Fathers as “the best three-piece electro hip-hop group Edinburgh’s ever produced!”, which might sound a soft compliment but it’s pretty accurate: while their lyrics are hard to make out in the melee, there’s no hating their style. Before the crowd knows it, we're jumping around and flapping our arms like birds, all because of their infectious onstage energy and charm.

Seven years since he last played in Scotland, it’s an honour and a thrill to see Eminem performing again, even if we do have to wait an additional forty minutes past showtime for him to arrive. In some ways it’s like he’s never been away: his performance is full of energy, he doesn’t miss a beat and he’s clearly enjoying himself. Unfortunately his wireless mic isn’t quite so wide awake, meaning whole verses are occasionally inaudible as he patrols the stage, and his set includes a few recent stinkers: Beautiful and Not Afraid are particularly galling. Luckily, a late run including My Name Is, Without Me and Lose Yourself is clearly audible and full of fire. Anytime, Mister Mathers.


No way in hell was I missing the next day's World Cup Final, even for Jay-Z.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Eminem @ T in the Park, 10 Jul

Eminem @ T in the Park, Balado near Kinross, Scotland, 10/07/2010 (***)
live review for The Skinny

Five years after his last scheduled UK gig -- and seven years since he last actually performed in Scotland -- it's teasing to have to wait 40 minutes past showtime for Eminem to finally take the stage to close Saturday's Main Stage lineup. But when Marshall Mathers arrives, it's a relief to see him still youthful and full of fight; considering the drug problems and the rare public appearances, my subconscious feared he’d turn up in a string vest and pyjama bottoms, or unshaven and greying at least. But seven years away haven’t aged him at all, physically; artistically, it’s a different story. Growing up is a difficult subject to navigate, for any person or any artist, but it’s extra hard for artists who have a stage persona and a real personality as messily intertwined as Eminem’s. So, just as a new greatest hits release from Em would sound strangely incoherent, tonight's set contained songs as if written by a few different Slim Shadys.

His earliest persona -- the funny one -- is who everyone’s here to see, but he leaves most of that for the end. The first half of the show is almost entirely Recovery and Relapse tracks, plus a three-song set with D12, and it’s underwhelming for all but the Stans on the barrier, frequently shown on the giant screens reciting every word. Presumably the cause of the delayed start was technical, and technical problems with Em’s wireless mic persist - entire verses are lost while his sidekick MC is fully audible. When it comes to Stan -- the song -- Em’s mic problems frustratingly remain: after the crowd sings along to Dido’s intro, the first verse is a washout.

The mic is working by the time Em wants to talk to the crowd, pitting all the boys and girls against each other in a noise-making contest, and encouraging all the boys to turn to the nearest girl and say “fuck you bitch!”. That’s Slim Shady talking, but then comes the real head-fucking sequence of the evening: he asks the girls “how many of you ladies feel beautiful tonight?”, dedicates the next song to every girl in the crowd, and sings “don’t let them say you ain’t beautiful”. Minutes later, the girls are singing along to Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie hook, as Eminem threatens to tie her to a bed and set the house on fire.

Beautiful is on Eminem’s 2009 comeback album Relapse, but who is it by? Is it by a fake Slim Shady? Who was Kim, by? Is Beautiful by the real Marshall Mathers? Is Beautiful by the same artist as Kim? Is Beautiful by the same artist as Not Afraid?

Well yes, those two seem to go together: they’re both morose, self-pitying ballads that look for strength and hope but find cliche instead. Not Afraid, tonight’s second-last song, is a power ballad that sets Eminem up like an inspirational moral guide: “Everybody come take my hand, we'll walk this road together through the storm” and so on. What happened to “you can suck my dick if you don't like my shit”? That was only 20 minutes ago.

He created a monster, but it was a fully formed and living monster: as writer Jeff Weiss put it, he was “the id of every 16-year old boy in America”. Now what is he? A hotchpotch of moods, attitudes and beliefs: a normal adult? It’s hard to believe.

Eminem closed his T set with a furious Lose Yourself, but it was the other song to sandwich Not Afraid, Without Me, that was most revealing. 18 months after Stan, his comeback single declared an intention to be provocative: “...we need a little controversy, cos it feels so empty without me”. Now on another comeback, Eminem provoked boos from the T crowd whenever he addressed it as “Edinburgh”. It’s a reasonable mistake to make -- we’re well within a Ryanair definition of Edinburgh, at least -- but some fans weren’t happy. “Oi Eminem!” a little lass behind me yelled. “I’m fae Glenrothes!”.

Remember when Eminem was intentionally provocative?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

M.I.A. - Maya

M.I.A. - Maya (***)
album review for the skinny

When M.I.A. released a song attacking journalists just days after a scathing recent New York Times article, it either demonstrated a remarkable speed of execution, or that she had lots of room in her personal protesting schedule. That article exposed some of the half-truths in the M.I.A. mythos, including the discomforting leak that – having broken through as a pop artist with Paper Planes two years ago, and since got engaged to a multi-millionaire boyfriend – she's now very rich and famous. That's common for pop stars, but it leaves M.I.A. vulnerable: her rebel shtick could make her look like a trustafarian in a Che Guevara t-shirt if she isn’t careful with her words.

On new single Born Free she acknowledges that problem, singing “I don’t wanna talk about money, cos I got it”. She’s been forced to rein in the rhetoric, and thankfully she doesn’t say anything stupid on Maya about terrorism or truffles. But the problem with Maya is rooted in a far more mundane circumstance than the disorientating effect of celebrity: it’s that contentedness cools creativity. The NYT piece gave her a cause to fight for – her own reputation – hence the quick turnaround. But everything’s gone right for M.I.A. in the three years since second album Kala, so it’s no surprise that Maya is missing the spikiness so central to her personality.

Born Free is the stand-out, though – blowing through a four minute declaration of freedom in a frenzy, using an amped-up Suicide sample for its irresistible momentum. Story To Be Told combines heavily processed wailing Bollywood vocals and a low-flying jet with a cutting, juddering synth bassline, while Tell Me Why takes the Panda Bear route to psychedelia by endlessly looping and echoing choral samples. XXXO is probably the closest thing Maya will have to a hit, with a great shimmering synthline and a cloying hook: “you want me [to] be somebody who I’m really not”.

But it’s hard to take anything from, for example, Steppin’ Up, except the conclusion that the use of chainsaws for percussion is nowhere near as cool as it should be; or Teqkilla, which somehow stretches the dubious idea to pun on various drinks brands over six minutes of stuttering noise. If the politics of rebellion are now off-limits for M.I.A., then she’ll have to find something else to get angry about; we know what she thinks of journalists, so her fourth album is bound to be better.

Dirty Projectors + Bjork - Mount Wittenberg Orca

Dirty Projectors + Bj
örk - Mount Wittenberg Orca (***)
album review for the skinny

Dave Longstreth is a man with great ideas: his breakthrough album as leader of Dirty Projectors, Rise Above, was an attempt to reinterpret Black Flag’s Damaged despite not having heard it in 15 years. By the sounds of it, Mount Wittenberg Orca could be a similar attempt at a from-memory version of Björk’s Medúlla, only with Björk on hand, and not enough time to finish.

In fact it’s a 21 minute suite, available to download in exchange for a charitable donation, about a family of frolicking whales spotted by vocalist Amber Coffman last year. As with Medúlla, it’s almost entirely vocal, with Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle providing percussive chanting and precise harmonising to support the gymnastic lead roles of Longstreth and Björk. On And Ever Onward is the keeper, featuring Björk as the mommy whale celebrating the pleasures of a lifetime in the sea, with her calves cutely singing the title back to her.