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)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Best of 2009 so far (part 2): The Singles

In the second and final part of our presentation of the best music of 2009 so far, we select our 40 favorite tracks of the last six months. This list is based mostly on single releases but there are also a few outstanding album tracks. And as we usually do when it comes to song lists, only one track is allowed per artist or band in order to maximize variety. So, here's what our 2009 playlist looks like at the moment:

Top 40 Tracks

Help I’m alive - METRIC
Sacred trickster - SONIC YOUTH
Young adult friction - THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART
Triangle walks - FEVER RAY
Black hearted love - P.J. HARVEY & JOHN PARISH
Stillness is the move - DIRTY PROJECTORS
I’m confused - HANDSOME FURS
Troubles like mine - GUN OUTFIT
People got a lotta nerve - NEKO CASE
The rake's song - THE DECEMBERISTS
Something is squeezing my skull - MORRISSEY
French navy - CAMERA OBSCURA
Digital hearts - HOWLING BELLS
Got nuffin - SPOON
Sea with a sea - THE HORRORS
First communion - GANG GANG DANCE
Dancing choose - TV ON THE RADIO
Lovesick - GRAND DUCHY
Over it - DINOSAUR JR.
When I died - THE THERMALS
Pale bride - THE VON BONDIES
Short fuse - BLACK LIPS
Misfits & mistakes - SUPERCHUNK
Devotion - VIVA VOCE
Don't talk in your sleep - MAGIK MARKERS
Kingdom of rust - DOVES
Alcoholics unanimous - ART BRUT
One month off - BLOC PARTY

Three of our Top 10 tracks of the year from Metric, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Fever Ray:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Best of 2009 so far (part 1): The Albums

Lists presenting the best albums of the first half of the year have become as inevitable as a heat wave in July. And since this blog is known for never missing an opportunity to create a "Best of" list (as you may have guessed, we’re big fans of "High Fidelity"), this is exactly what you’re going to get.

The music of the first half of 2009 hasn’t exactly been spectacular, but there are at least 15 albums that meet our excellence standards. Dinosaur Jr., Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand and The Decemberists weren’t able to surpass their previous efforts but their latest albums were strong enough to be included in 2009’s elite. Handsome Furs turned to ’80s electropop for inspiration in their sophomore work with impressive results. Norwegian post-rockers The Low Frequency In Stereo offered their best album to date by using krautrock and noise-pop influences to shape their propulsive sound. Career highlights were also achieved this year by Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Metric. Animal Collective’s years of experimentation have crystallized into a futuristic psychedelic gem, while Yeah Yeah Yeahs continued their shape shifting, this time turning into the queen and kings of indie-disco dance. Metric turned their amps all the way up to 11 for their most rocking effort to date, their best work since their awesome "Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?" debut from 2003. And talking about rocking efforts, Sonic Youth delivered the goods once again in their first indie album in twenty years, which happens to be their best work of this decade. Natasha Kahn is slowly but surely turning into the brightest star of alternative pop. Her second album under the Bat For Lashes moniker is simply stunning as was her appearance in the recent Primavera Sound festival.

As always, we reserve a special place in our hearts for newcomers and so far this year we had four debuts that are worth writing home about. The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson launched her solo career as Fever Ray with an exceptional album featuring some of the most haunting, otherworldly and addictive electro sounds you are going to hear this or any other year. A description that is also fitting for Telepathe’s first LP, the David Sitek produced "Dance Mother" where Kraftwerk meet TV On The Radio on the dancefloor of a haunted disco with ESG as the house band. And, finally, if you are looking for some feverish guitar sounds, you should definitely check out fresh-faced indie-pop sensations The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and “just-gimme-indie-rock” noiseniks Gun Outfit. The ’80s indie scene obviously played an important role in the upbringing of these talented youngsters, with the C86 British sound and Sarah Records being at the core of the pure hearts of the former and the U.S. underground guitar noise of bands like Dinosaur Jr. or Meat Puppets dominating the record collection of the latter.

The Top 40 albums of the first half of 2009, based on what we’ve been listening to so far and in a not so random order, are the following:

Top 40 Albums

Dance mother - TELEPATHE
It's blitz! - YEAH YEAH YEAHS
The eternal - SONIC YOUTH
Fantasies - METRIC
Merriweather post pavilion - ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
Fever Ray - FEVER RAY
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART
Face control - HANDSOME FURS
Dim light - GUN OUTFIT
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand - FRANZ FERDINAND
Years of refusal - MORRISSEY
The hazards of love - THE DECEMBERISTS
Radio wars - HOWLING BELLS
Balf quarry - MAGIK MARKERS
Middle cyclone - NEKO CASE
Sometimes I wish we were an eagle - BILL CALLAHAN
Primary colours - THE HORRORS
Now we can see - THE THERMALS
The spirit of Apollo - N.A.S.A.
I feel cream - PEACHES
Petits fours - GRAND DUCHY
A woman a man walked by - P.J. HARVEY & JOHN PARISH
Kingdom of rust - DOVES
Further complications - JARVIS COCKER
My maudlin career - CAMERA OBSCURA
200 million thousand - BLACK LIPS
Art Brut vs. Satan - ART BRUT
Love hate and then there's you - THE VON BONDIES
The airing of grievances - TITUS ANDRONICUS
Dear John - LONEY DEAR

Our favorite tracks of the past six months will be the subject of our next post. Meanwhile, here's one of the latest additions in our Killer Tracks Hall of Fame, Sonic Youth's "Sacred trickster", the opening track of "The Eternal":

Sonic Youth - Sacred trickster

Monday, July 06, 2009

Postcards from Ejekt Festival '09 and Coca Cola Soundwave Vol. 3

Last week I was saying how great June had been for live music in Athens, but it seems that by giving praise too soon I may have inadvertently put a jinx on future events! A sudden hailstorm last Sunday (28/6) led to the cancellation of the second day of Rockwave Festival where The Killers, Tricky and Dinosaur Jr. (among others) were supposed to play. Unfortunately, the organizers were not prepared to deal with bad weather so, instead of attending what could have been the biggest concert of the summer, the Cool Music Central team went for a swim to a nearby beach instead! No, we don't have any photos from that occasion, but I have to tell you that it was a pretty nice swim as the bad weather only affected the area of the festival. What we do have for you, though, are some cool live shots and videos from Ejekt Festival '09 that took place between June 18 and 19, starring Pixies, Editors, Klaxons, Echo & The Bunnymen and Jarvis Cocker, and from Coca Cola Soundwave Vol.3 with Bloc Party and Primal Scream (July 1).

Ejekt Festival 2009 (June 18 - 19)

Pixies - Live@Ejekt 2009 (June 18, Athens)

The first day of the Ejekt festival, with Pixies as the headliners and with Editors, Starsailor and White Lies completing the line up, drew the biggest crowd. Editors presented us some of their new material, giving us a taste of their forthcoming third LP. The sound of the new songs relies on synthesizers and is heavily influenced by '80s electropop, a fact that some of their fans didn't seem to appreciate, responding much better to the guitar-based old material. Personally, I thought that after the very promising first album, the band seemed to repeat itself on its sophomore effort. So, this change in direction is more than welcome and tracks like the closing "Papillon" (a video of which you can see below) give the promise of a more exciting next step.

Editors - Live@Ejekt 2009 (June 18, Athens)

On the other hand, our beloved heroes, the Pixies, don't give any such promises. Although the band has reunited more than 5 years ago, they seem to be happy going around the world, playing more or less the same set and cashing in their cheques without showing any intention of taking the risk to write new material. It was really exciting seeing them again in the summer of 2004, but now the thrill is gone and no box-set, no matter how well packaged and presented, is going to change that.

Pixies - Live@Ejekt 2009 (June 18, Athens)

The second day of the festival had a smaller attendance and inexplicable delays in the scheduled stage times, but it turned out to be more enjoyable for me. Subways was the first band that we got to see (as I've written before, they may be dull in their recorded output but they're certainly good fun live, thanks to their amazing energy), followed by Klaxons who played the hits of their interesting but over-hyped nu rave debut "Myths Of The Near Future", as well as new tracks showing some unexpected hard-rocking tendencies. Is nu metal their next step? Only time will tell, as we've been reading in the news lately that their record label demanded the re-recording of some of their new material, deeming it "too experimental"!

Klaxons - Live@Ejekt 2009 (June 19, Athens)

Echo & The Bunnymen - Live@Ejekt 2009 (June 19, Athens)

The highlights of the second day came from our old pals Echo & The Bunnymen (who stepped in at the last moment to replace Lauryn Hill!) and Jarvis Cocker. Both acts played strong sets a week before headlining the John Peel stage at Glastonbury Festival. Echo & The Bunnymen played one or two new songs but their set was based on their '80s hits, with those from "Crocodiles" being the most enjoyable for me. Jarvis, on the other hand, overlooked completely his past and based his set on his two solo albums, offering the best performance of the festival. This has a lot to do with the strength of his rocking new material, taken from the Steve Albini recorded "Further Complications" LP, as well as his undeniably impressive showmanship. Tracks like "Angela" and "Homewrecker!" and his Monty Python-esque humor (he tried, among other things, to say in greek "My hovercraft is full of eels"!) won the day for him.

Jarvis Cocker - Live@Ejekt 2009 (June 19, Athens)

Ejekt 2009 Live: Editors - Papillon, Pixies - Gigantic, Echo & The Bunnymen - The Back Of Love, Jarvis Cocker
- Angela

Bloc Party & Primal Scream @ Coca Cola Soundwave Vol.3 (July 1)

Primal Scream - Live@Soundwave Vol.3 (July 1, Athens)

Although I'm not that comfortable in advertising, even indirectly, big corporations I have to admit that the sponsorship of this event had a positive effect for our pockets, since this was the only gig this summer with a really low ticket price.

This event was the culmination of the Soundwave competition, a type of battle-of-the-bands contest between new local acts. The two finalists, Le Page and Flakes, got to play here, along with a couple of the biggest names of the British rock scene and in front of the largest audience they've ever faced before. Among the two acts, the most impressive for me was Flakes, with a raw, aggressive punk sound and a fiery singer, Yodashe, with a style influenced by Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. The evening had started with an appearance by Let's Tea Party, a new pop band from Bristol.

Flakes - Live@Soundwave Vol.3 (July 1, Athens)

Primal Scream played a fired up 65-minute set, similar to the one we witnessed last year at Madrid's Summercase festival, with material from almost all their albums since "Screamadelica" ("Movin' On Up" was its representative). "Can't Go Back" and "Suicide Bomb", from their latest album "Beautiful Future", were among the highlights, as well as "Miss Lucifer", "Exterminator", "Shoot Speed Kill Light" and the closing, pedal-to-the-metal, "Accelerator". Primal Scream's career had many ups and downs in the last 25 years, but they have aged well and their ups remain so spectacular that their status as living legends is well deserved.

Primal Scream - Live@Soundwave Vol.3 (July 1, Athens)

Bloc Party is one of the bands that stand out among those responsible for the recent resurgence of British rock. They have given us one of the most impressive debut albums of this decade (2005's "Silent Alarm") and they have never stopped experimenting with their sound, taking in different influences and exploring new directions - from the angular punk of their first days, to the beat-heavy modern rock of "A Weekend In The City", to the dancefloor experiments of the more recent "Intimacy" LP. For their debut appearance in Greece they played a 65-minute set covering all three of their albums, with "Banquet", "Helicopter", "The Prayer" and "Mercury" being among the highlights. They even found the time to squeeze in a couple of non-album singles - "Flux" and the brand new, disco-influenced, "One More Chance".

It seems that after the anti-climactic ending of the otherwise action-packed June, the jinx has been lifted from the live scene and July has started with a really enjoyable gig, bringing together on the same stage two established, well-respected bands and a couple of very promising local acts.

Bloc Party - Live@Soundwave Vol.3 (July 1, Athens)

Coca Cola Soundwave Vol.3 Live: Primal Scream - Miss Lucifer, Bloc Party - Mercury