Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review: Charlie Simpson at the Waterfront, Norwich

Charlie Simpson at the Waterfront, Norwich, 21/10/11 (support from Andrew Balkwill, We Were Evergreen & Dave McPherson)

Charlie Simpson – familiar to many people my age as “that guy who was in Busted”. Well, he's matured since then, but his voice is as good as ever. Before I get onto that though, let's have a quick look at the support acts.

Kicking off the evening was Andrew Balkwill. One man and a piano and one hell of an opening set. Bluesy, jazzy, sing-along-able goodness. I feel he took the audience slightly by surprise, but the crowd was soon getting into the spirit of things – his is music that makes you move. To be honest, I'd have loved for him to play a slightly longer set, but at four (or was it five?) songs, it was a nice little introduction.

Moving on, We Were Evergreen. A somewhat avant-garde, slightly poppy three piece band from Paris. And they were oh so good. Bouncy, energetic and loud. Take loud as a good thing here. Plus, there is always something awesome about a band that uses a ukulele and xylophone in their music. The crowd really took to them – plenty of bobbing and bouncing going on now. Then of course there was the epic outro to their final song, which unfortunately I can't remember the name of. When I say epic, I mean it. This outro just didn't want to end.

Having ramped up the energy with We Were Evergreen, Dave McPherson slowed the pace a little. One man and an acoustic guitar this time. He might be familiar to some as the frontman of alternative rock band InMe, but for the most part I think he was pretty unknown at this gig. His set got off to a decent start and then he managed to break one of the strings on his guitar. Then he managed to hurt his finger while restringing it. Kudos to him for keeping up the banter and generally keeping the crowd entertained while he was solving the problem. All in all, he played a pretty good set, although given the high energy performance of We Were Evergreen, it seemed a bit of a come down. That said, he closed with a cover of Boom Shake The Room (y'know, the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff?), so I think it can be forgiven.

And so finally, we come to Charlie Simpson. Yes, that bloke from Busted. He was in Fightstar too, not that I've personally ever listened to them. Moving on... Tonight's set was made up of a selection of tracks from his solo album, released this year. More towards the mellow side, with some lovely vocal harmonies. The energy levels spiked again and give or take a few girls screaming “Charlie, I love you”, pretty much the whole crowd was singing along. Tucked in amongst his own material was a brilliant cover of Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died In Your Arms with some lovely harmonica parts courtesy of Nick Worpole (also of Me And The Mountain, shameless plug). Overall, a wonderful set with yet another epic outro going on. Oh, how I love outros...

Ahem. So anyway, if you're in the UK, totally check out the tour dates and if you can get to one: GO. A nice mix of support acts and a fantastic headliner.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: The Woman In Black at The Fortune Theatre, London

Book by Susan Hill, adapted for stage by Stephen Mallatratt.

The Woman In Black is a ghost story, plain and simple. But oh, what a ghost story. Seated in the tiny Fortune Theatre, the atmosphere began building from the very first lines. A man, wanting to tell his story, asking for help from an actor. Why is his story so important? Why does he feel it must be told? Some humour to begin with – the man, Mr Kipps, is struggling to get into the spirit of acting, reading his lines in a dull monotone. The audience smile, laugh a little.

The humour is short lived. As the play switches from the present to the past, the true horror of what Kipps witnessed becomes clear. A marvellous array of characters from the sleepy backwater of Crythin Gifford builds the tension – what is it that terrifies them so much about Eel Marsh House, the place Mr Kipps has been sent by his law firm? What mysteries lurk in the fog over the marshes?

The wonder of The Woman In Black is that all of these brilliant little characters are portrayed by just two actors. Props are sparse – most are pure make believe, such as the cart which takes Kipps across the causeway to Eel Marsh House each day and the little dog Spider who keeps him company in the old house. And yet the cast conjures up such great empathy, even for this little pretend dog.

And then there is the Woman. The cast is technically three people, but the Woman makes very few appearances. The atmosphere in the theatre is so effective that when she does make her brief appearances, the entire audience jumps. It should also be noted that in order to adapt the book for stage, a clever little plot device has been used, which effectively makes Kipps' story a play within a play. Tragic, chilling and downright scary. Be prepared for the ending.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Enter Shikari @ Norwich UEA, 5/10/11

Enter Shikari @ Norwich UEA (support from letlive. and Your Demise)

Barely five minutes into letlive.'s opening set and security are already telling their vocalist off for climbing on the speaker stacks. The set got off to a somewhat lacklustre start, given the hype around letlive.'s live act, but a couple of songs in it became clear that this is a band to watch. Loud, energetic and non-stop, they're a perfect opening band so I can only imagine how amazing it would be to see them play a full, headline set. In amongst the high octane tracks was a little gem in the form of “Muther”. Beautiful, melodic and a great track to involve the crowd. I admit to being almost completely unaware of letlive. other than knowing they played some sort of post-hardcore. After tonight's set, however, I'm hooked. Actually, I'm listening to one of their albums as I type this.

While Your Demise certainly matched letlive. in volume and general raucousness, their set felt a little messy. They play hardcore of some description (which I'll admit to not being a huge fan), but while there were a few moments of brilliance, their tracks just didn't have the intensity of letlive.'s. The structure of the set itself also felt slightly stilted – there was a fair bit of talking in between tracks, which isn't a bad thing, but there has to be that balance between talking and playing.

So, after a slightly disappointing set from Your Demise, we moved onto the headliners, the band I really wanted to see. Enter Shikari. Brief introduction needed, methinks. Enter Shikari play post-hardcore, with strong electronic influences (especially dubstep on more recent releases). I've seen them twice before and they're incredibly high energy and very big on crowd involvement. Tonight's show lived up to, even surpassed expectations. With a set taking in tracks from both LPs as well as recent singles Destabilise and Quelle Surprise, there was something to please fans of all their material. The light show was, as always, brilliant although it must suck to be an epileptic Shikari fan – I've not seen them play without strobes yet. Sad to say they didn't play Fanfare For The Concious Man, but having played so many fan favourites and closing with Juggernauts and OK, Time For Plan B, Enter Shikari really are a band that you need to see live to really appreciate.

We are the world and we are the people and we will be heard.” - Fanfare for the Concious Man - Enter Shikari

Rough setlist for Enter Shikari (not in order)
Destabilise, Mothership, Zzzonked, Hectic, The Jester, No Sssweat, Sssnakepit, Return To Energiser, Sorry You're Not A Winner, Gap In The Fence, No Sleep Tonight, Quelle Surprise.
Encore: Juggernauts, OK Time For Plan B.