Sunday, July 26, 2009

That’s Entertainment: Paul Weller and Jane's Addiction, Nine Inch Nail live in Athens

Many of my travels over the years had something to do with music. Whenever I travel abroad, I'm always looking for opportunities to go to concerts or festivals and this unquenchable thirst for live music has taken me to tiny clubs, large concert halls or fields all over the map, in cities like London, Reading, Dublin, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid and more recently Barcelona. For the two concerts I'm writing about today, though, no long journey was required. Not even a cab ride. My childhood hero, Paul Weller, and two of the biggest names of American rock, Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails, came to play in my neighborhood's Vrahon Theater, a short walk from my home. The name of the venue can be translated as Rocks Theater and comes from the large rocks looming behind the stage of the amphitheater. This was the first time ever in the long history of all these artists that they were playing live in Greece. But let's take things from the beginning:

Paul Weller - Live @ Vrahon Theater (July 14)

It's hard to write about one of your childhood heroes and not get a bit sentimental and confessional. So I have to confess that The Jam was my first rock music love back in '82 and "The Gift", their last LP from that year, was the first album that I bought that had such a huge influence on me (which explains its No.1 position in my 1982 Best Albums list). Objectively, it might not be the best album released in that year but before I listened to it, all I knew about music was the pop and dance hits that dominated the charts. This album, which did reach the top of the UK chart, turned me on to punk music (although it's the most soul and funk influenced work of The Jam) and going back to look for their older albums led me to discover the bands and all the great underground music that came from the late '70s punk explosion and its aftermath. A life changing experience, indeed!

Following Paul Weller's career after his decision to break up The Jam at the height of their commercial and artistic power, was also a rewarding experience. His mod and punk days were now behind him and his new mission was to pursue his more soulful, pop and even jazz leanings. The Style Council, the band he formed with Mick Talbot, was a pop group unlike any other in the mid '80s, unafraid to experiment and mix different influences together. The result was a series of excellent singles ("Money Go Round", "Long Hot Summer", "Shout To The Top!", "Walls Come Tumbling Down") and at least one brilliant album (1985's "Our Favourite Shop"). His career took a downturn at the end of the decade, finding himself for the first time without a band or a recording contract, but he soon rediscovered his love for the guitar and launched a successful solo career at the start of the '90s, reinventing his sound as a rock-soul hybrid. Although I'm not such a big fan of Weller's solo work, my undying love for The Jam and my respect for his achievements in an amazing 33-year career (not to mention his influence on countless newer bands, from Oasis to Arctic Monkeys) led me to the front row of his first ever gig in Athens.

As expected, the biggest part of the 100 minute set came from his latest album "22 Dreams" along with some of the highlights of his solo career, including "Wild Wood", "The Changingman", "From The Floorboards Up", "You Do Something To Me" but unfortunately no "There's No Drinking After You're Dead", one of my favorites of his solo work. But the main reason I was here (contradicting myself since, usually, I am after the new music) was to hear the really old stuff and my reward came first with "Shout To The Top!", the only Style Council track of the night, followed by three of The Jam's classics, "Eton Rifles" (from 1979's "Setting Sons"), "That's Entertainment" (one of the best songs ever written by anyone, off 1980's "Sound Affects") and finally, as the second encore and the last song of the set, the 1982 UK No.1 hit "Town Called Malice" from "The Gift", a landmark track in my personal musical history as this is the single that takes the credit for making me discover rock music! The foundation where this blog is built upon, you might say! So, although this might not be the best gig I've been to this summer (I've already said that I'm not the biggest fan of his solo material), it was certainly a historic night that gave me the opportunity to see up close and personal one of my all-time heroes and hear live for the first time four of my all-time favorite tracks. Four tracks that explain why Paul Weller's poster is still hanging on my wall after all these years. You can watch all of them below:

Paul Weller live in Athens (July 14th, 2009): That's Entertainment, Shout To The Top!, Eton Rifles, Town Called Malice

Nine Inch Nails, Jane Addiction, Alec Empire - Live @ Vrahon Theater (July 20)

The last concert for me this summer before I leave for my holidays by the sea, was another historical event taking place in my neighborhood's open-air theater. I wouldn't say that I'm particularly fond of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails who were the headliners of the show, but I have a great amount of respect for Jane's Addiction, a band that came into prominence in the late '80s with a unique mixture of punk energy, glam swagger, gothic-rock shock tactics and epic metal riffs. The band has reunited once again with the original line up of Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins to collect NME's "Godlike Genius Award" last year (genius indeed!) and play concerts based on their two most important albums, 1988's "Nothing's Shocking" and 1990's "Ritual De Lo Habitual". This year they have joined forces with Nine Inch Nails for a tour that became one of the hottest rock tickets this summer and we were lucky enough to see them playing here for the first time.

The concert started with a solo set from Alec Empire. The former Atari Teenage Riot leader handled the decks for an instrumental half hour set that ranged from ambient, psycho-killer soundtrack to futuristic, beat-heavy noise. It was still early in the evening and the sun didn't agree too well with Empire's dark music but, nonetheless, it was a good start to the night's proceedings.

Twenty minutes after Empire waved us goodbye and while the theater was far from full as not all of the ticket holders had arrived yet, Jane's Addiction took to the stage (actually, the NIN/JA gig in Athens was not sold-out, gathering approximately 3000 people, a fact that perhaps explains why we don't get to see many big rock concerts here). Obviously, unlike myself, the majority of the crowd here belonged to the Nine Inch Nails camp. To their credit, Jane's Addiction seemed unphased by the relatively small attendance and proceeded to play a storming 65 minute set with highlights including the epic "Mountain Song", the funky "Been Caught Stealing" (their fan's favorite track), "Ain't No Right", "Ted, Just Admit It...", "Stop" and, for the grand finale, their own favorite track as they said in the introduction, "Jane Says". A great performance from a band too higly inflammable to stay together for a long time, but capable of amazing rock magic when they actually do manage it, even after all those years.

As for NIN, I am not really the right person to talk about them. I was never too impressed by Trent Reznor's theatrics and his doom and gloom industrial rock, but it was obvious that the majority of the crowd here didn't agree with me. The light and smoke effects of the almost two hour show were certainly dazzling, as was the loud but crystal clear sound, and there were actually a few tracks that I did like ("March Of The Pigs", "Wish", "The Hand That Feeds", the David Bowie cover "I'm Afraid Of Americans"), so I cannot say that I was bored but I haven't become their fan either. I guess for me the ideal would have been that NIN were the opening act and JA the headliners. Even so, this was definitely one memorable, ear-splittingly loud night.

Mountain Song - Jane's Addiction live in Athens (July 20, 2009)

I'm Afraid Of Americans - Nine Inch Nails live in Athens (July 20, 2009)

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