Efterklang, The Asylum, Birmingham, 29/10

I didn’t receive the most encouraging response when I announced that I was going to attempt Twitter based audience participation when reviewing the Efterklang gig.

Chris Unitt was the first to tweet with
‘Interesting that. Not planning to review this one though – thinking too much (incl afterwards) often detracts from enjoyment.’

This was swiftly followed by Pete Ashton
‘Reviewing gigs via Twitter is so 18 months ago, darling! (I’ll be photographing but you go for it).’

I fired back with
‘@ChrisUnitt Fair point, especially as [Efterklang are] immersive. Guess I’m more interested in experience than analysis. And @peteashton pix=1,000,000 tweets’.

However, within almost 280 characters I must admit my convictions had been fairly shaken. What was I doing?

Twitter isn’t particularly original or interesting way to review a gig. In fact if you present it in similar way to Giles Coren’s recent food review, it’s funny but ends up being more about the technology than the subject. Chris Unitt (who also kindly passed me that link) had a point, how much of the gig would I enjoy if I was constantly tapping away at my phone?

So to some extent I abandoned my plans to virtually engage with the crowd whilst the gig was in progress. I must add that I did guide @velvet_grooves to the venue before it kicked off though. But my dodgy old phone meant that there was too much of delay in tweets to actually find him at the gig.

In the end Twitter functioned as a slightly cooler reporter’s notepad which had the added bonus of glowing in the dark. Even button pushing in the corner by the bar seemed like it would be too intrusive for Nancy Elizabeth.

Although endearingly awkward when speaking, she sings with complete confidence, moving between piano and guitar with ease. Her mesmerising style is like all ages of PJ Harvey at once (angry rock chick, twisted goth and alt.folkie) but she’s also wonderfully idiosyncratic, pulling in a wooden chair into percussion.

Having performed at the Barbican with Britten Sinfonia the previous night, you might expect this Danish seven-piece to be feeling feint and flagging. But liberated from the restriction of having to just perform their 2007 LP, Parades in-its-entirety (to promote their recent live album with Danish National Orchestra) the largely spiv-ishly moustachioed Efterklang were full of life. In fact their drummer Thomas Kirirath Husmer was rather pleased he didn’t have a string section telling him to play quietly and it was a raucous affair.

They treated us not only to Parades tracks such as the delightfully skittish Mirador and the choral celebration of Caravan but also songs from their debut album One Sided and whole host of new songs including The Light with another new ‘shaky’ track on the encore. Despite the trademark moustache, lead vocalist Casper Clausen was a complete gentleman throughout the evening’s proceedings, and at the very end he was leading a crowd-sourced a cappella whilst an audience member was adding their joy-filled caterwaul down the microphone.

Who needs social media when you can be part of a community this strong for a night?

A-ha @ NIA

Posted by Ioana Epure On November – 5 – 2009

Aha_aha-1-250-250-85-nocropLet’s face it. We all loved the ’80s. Big hair, wide shoulders, tights & jean jackets. It was all about having fun. But nowadays, when you decide to go to a an ’80s band gig, you don’t really expect much. Even pop stars grow old, and a 50 year old dude with a weird haircut, jumping up and down the stage while singing tunes like Take On Me doesn’t really seem like a great picture.

But you know what? A-ha was probably one of the biggest surprises I’ve had this year. They proved that they’ve still got it and people absolutely loved them for the courage of still hanging on, even though their style of synth-pop has been dead and buried for almost 25 years.

However, the concert didn’t exactly start in a blast. The supporting act, a Norwegian band called Donkeyboy, was really inexperienced and didn’t exactly warm up the atmosphere. Not to mention their style of music is really similar to A-ha’s. This isn’t really a problem – except that A-ha started playing it 20 years ago. They have a pretty good excuse. What’s Donkeyboy’s excuse?

But when Morten Harket & the company jumped on the stage, everything changed. With a 3D light show, a few remixes of their old songs (like Train of Thought), an unplugged moment on Velvet and the attitude of those really cool grandpas that can pick you up from highschool without embarrassing you in front of your friends, they made people eat out of their palm.

They even got a sing along, on The Living Daylights, and came twice back up on the stage after the concert had ended. Totally predictable, you’ll say. But people didn’t just stand in their seats waiting for the band to finish their act, they really screamed and applauded. You know, like they really meant it.

The setlist had songs both from their old albums, and their new ones. The concert began with The Sun Always Shines on TV and ended with Take On Me. We got drama with Stay On These Roads, Manhattan Skyline and Hunting High and Low, dance beats with Cry Wolf and The Blood That Moves the Body, Forever Not Yours and Summer Moved On from their 2002 and 2000 albums, and a few songs from their newest album, Foot of the Mountain. And we missed Crying in the Rain.

All in all, a great evening. Totally tubular even 🙂 Not too much creative tension – just plain old entertainment, spiced up with the feeling of nostalgia that comes whenever you listen to the music of your childhood. So hurry up and buy tickets from their next performances – with their 2010 split-up it might be your last chance.

Oxjam Birmingham @ The Flapper & Basement

Posted by Ioana Epure On November – 4 – 2009

Picture 301In spite of its purpose – raising funds for Oxfam – Oxjam wasn’t  the kind of mainstream event that attracts bland masses with the aim of feeding African villages. As charity and entertainment have always gone well together, why not start appealing to a different audience, the one who’d rather see an unsigned band than a Beyonce concert?

Nonetheless, underground music didn’t make the event less pleasant, especially since each of the six venues hosted different types of bands. My first choice for the evening was The Flapper, where the concerts started at 4:30 in the afternoon and went on until 11pm.

But since seven hours of hanging in a bar was a little too much  for me (as getting my ass shaped like a stool wasn’t exactly what I had planned for the weekend) I decided to see only the last two bands in the schedule, William and Dinosaur Pile-Up. They played in front of a surprisingly small crowd at The Flapper – maybe 50 people with their faces painted (for the “blue in the face” campaign), chilling out in front of the stage. This was definitely not the kind of crowd that you expect on a Saturday evening at a festival. The bands seemed more than satisfied though. “We wouldn’t have gotten that in London”, added William’s front man, after thanking the audience for the applause. This made us wonder about what exactly they did get in London.

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Dinosaur Pile-Up had a bigger crowd, though, partly because the concerts were ending on the other venues, and people had started an “Oxjam pub crawling”, taking advantage of the £6 fee that would open the doors of six different bars for them that evening. I eventually took the same path: I enjoyed the tracks from the Dinosaurs’ latest EP, ‘The Most Powerful EP  In The Universe’, banged my head to the Dave Grohl-like drum beats and the grungy guitar riffs, enjoyed my favourite song (’Summer Hit Single’) and headed for Basement Bar.

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Compared to The Flapper, which is a pretty good location for a live gig (large enough, with a stage and half-decent lighting), The Basement wasn’t probably the wisest choice for Oxjam’s last concerts. The performers (The Rivers Presley Set and Vinny & The Curse) were crammed into a corner and people with weird indie haircuts had started jumping on tables just to get a glimpse of who was playing, which basically forced me to start making small animal shapes out of their haircuts’ shadows on the wall.

As for the sound – well, Flapper’s wasn’t brilliant, either, but at least the bands there didn’t sound like they were playing pots and pans. By the end of the first concert, half of the people had already left. Which wasn’t all that bad, as there was finally room to breathe, to move around and, maybe, even see who was guilty for those eardrum-crashing drum sounds.

It’s true that I didn’t get to see all that much. Each of the venues involved in the festival (The Sunflower Lounge, The Victoria, Island Bar, The Prince of Wales, Basement and The Flapper) would have been worth a visit. It was only a question of musical preferences and this is why I loved it: everybody got a piece of the cake.

I may have had fun, though, but I’m not really sure how much Oxfam got out of it. Oxjam wasn’t exactly Live Aid, and it was only the size of the Basement Bar that made it a squeeze to actually see the band – in fact, there were probably even fewer people there than at The Flapper.

Then again, the more the merrier doesn’t always guarantee more fun. Underground charitable festivals may not be as glamorous and life-changing as big, mainstream ones. But they’re waaaaay cooler. I swear it on my indie scarf.