Monday, June 17, 2013

Welcome to the cheap seats

It's been a case of 'played two, watched one' this weekend for your humble narrator :-

Friday saw The Upper Cut venture South of the River Thames for the first time; I depped with The Atlantic Soul Machine at Patrick's Bar in Crystal Palace back in March, and remembering it to be a basement venue I decided to take my Fender combo as it's a bit lighter than my recently acquired Marshall. (Yeah I know - but like all six foot tall men I'm a complete wimp!) When we got there the very nice young lady behind the bar told us that we were playing upstairs, and indeed the house P.A. system had already been set up for us. Given the fact that the guv'nor told us after the show that he thought that we'd been a bit loud maybe it's just as well that the mighty Marshall didn't make an appearance? While we were setting up a cheery chappie came over and told us that he was Phil Lynott's cousin; he then went on to tell us that he'd been in prison and The Army. He seemed happy enough... overall the band played very well if not excellently, and although it took a a while for things to get going (and indeed for the audience to arrive as there was only a handful of people in the bar when we started playing - the venue is on the Crystal Palace Triangle and we were told that people wander from bar to bar throughout the evening) we ended up playing a couple of encores and being rebooked for July 26th. It's good when that happens, although remind me to adjust the lights before we start playing next time as both Roger and myself were nearly driven insane by the strobe effect setting. Nasty!

The next night Big Al Reed and The Blistering Buicks played at The Wishing Well in Hayes. You know it's interesting - when you tell people that you're playing in Hayes you generally get comments like 'take a crash helmet', 'wear some armour' and even 'you're going to get killed'. It's funny how some places just have that sort of reputation isn't it? Well in this case they were all wrong (and yes I did get comments like that) as it turned out to be a highly enjoyable evening with everyone in the band on top form and our 2+ hour performance (I didn't realise that we knew that many songs!) going down very well with all concerned. The Blistering Buicks are becoming a very good little band!

And talking of good little bands last night I ventured over to The O2 Arena to see that well-known mod band The Who. I'd heard some very mixed reports about the venue, from some folk calling it the best 'big' venue in the country to others saying that they would never visit it again. I'd always much prefer to see a band in a smaller venue, and as I sat something like a quarter of a mile from the stage (I was in what I believe are referred to as 'the vertigo seats') wondering just how long I could make a £5 plastic glass of flat lager last I don't mind admitting that I was ready to unconditionally hate the evening - I'm pleased to say that any such thoughts disappeared a few seconds into Vintage Trouble's first song. I was first alerted as to their excellence by fellow former Chicago Blues Brothers man Matt who recommended this clip of them playing 'Blues Hand Me Down'; I subsequently bought their excellent 'The Bomb Shelter Sessions' album and so were really looking forward to seeing them play. Indeed if I'm honest it was their presence on the bill that convinced me to get a ticket, as I'd hesitated for a while not least due to the expense. (You and I both know that I'd have gone anyway, but I'm trying to play hard to get here! Incidentally I bought a ticket just a few days ago on Seatwave for well below than the face value. Result!) Great as the album is if anything they're an even more dynamic prospect live, with singer Ty Taylor an unstoppable ball of energy and charisma and the rest of the band up there with him all the way. Much of their set was presumably new songs (well, they're not on the album) but it's a testament to their quality that the rapidly-arriving audience was singing along with choruses and joining in at every opportunity. That said they weren't really given much choice - Vintage Trouble didn't come across  a support band, but more as a headline act, a great band from the moment they hit stage to when they left it to walk through the audience to sign merchandise at the back of the hall. I've never seen a band in a venue this size do that before. Absolutely brilliant. 
The Who, as seen from
Block 416, Row P, Seat 835.
Well it looked like them
on the screens...
So how do The Who follow that? Simple - with the sound of the sea. 'Quadrophenia' often splits the jury even among their most ardent followers, with many finding it overwrought and difficult to get close to, while others consider it to be the band's crowning achievement. Me? Well I'm definitely a long way nearer to the second analysis that the first, and as such I guess I'm very unlikely to give any show that features the album in it's entirety a bad review - that said the last time that I saw them perform it back in 2010 it was one of the least convincing shows that I'd ever seen the band play. Not so this time - with a completely new stage set and background films (no 'talking head' narration this time) and a lot of new faces in the band the whole thing worked wonderfully well, with Pete Townshend playing superbly and Roger Daltrey's vocals continuing to amaze. And thanks to the wonders of modern technology their departed bandmates both made appearances, with John Entwistle 'playing' a bass solo during '5.15' and Keith Moon's classic vocal in 'Bellboy' bringing a massed smile to the audience's faces. And it was great to hear 'Drowned' played by the band rather than as a solo acoustic piece by Townshend - I don't think I've heard it played electrically since way back in the early '80s. I thought the films worked particularly well especially during the two instrumental pieces 'Quadrophenia' and 'The Rock', with the former using footage from the end of World War II through to the mod era of the 1960s and the latter continuing the story up to the 9/11 attacks. As 'Love Reign O'er Me' bought things to a suitably epic climax the audience's reaction seemed to me to be more like the reverential applause that you might get at a classical concert rather than the euphoric type normally associated with rock shows - that's not to say that it didn't go down well, more that it seemed to get an extraordinary amount of respect from the assembled multitude. Maybe 'Quadrophenia' is now seen in a different, more 'serious' light? 
Meanwhile in the vertigo seats the beery bunch of lads next to me didn't seem to know it at all, wondering loudly if Ve Ooo were gunna to play any ov vere old stuff - they didn't seem too familiar with 'Who Are You' or 'You Better You Bet' either, although 'Pinball Wizard' seemed to get their attention to the stage for at least a couple of minutes. Meanwhile the rest of the audience had left their previous reverence well behind, and with mayhem and chaos erupting all around a thunderous end salvo of 'Baba O'Riley' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' bought the band's contribution to the evening to a magnificent close. It only remained for Townshend and Daltrey to finish proceedings with an oddly fragile-sounding 'Tea And Theatre' - as I left my seat the beery lads were contemplating where vey were gunna get anuvver drink from, while the rest of us were safe in the knowledge that the two surviving members of The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band In The World had kept us all from wondering what we would do without The Who for another day. 

A fine evening all round - and there's another one on the horizon this Thursday...

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