Thursday, 29 April 2010

Alphabeat at Koko

On Wednesday I accompanied Chris to see his pop heroes du jour, Alphabeat. They were playing at Koko, one of my least favourite venues which is a triumph of style over purpose with awful views of the stage and a ridiculous tunnel to get in and out, but it seemed like it was sold out, so good on the 'Beat.

They were showcasing their new album, 'The Beat Is...' interspersed with massive crowd-pleasers from the first record and, I have to admit, I prefer the simple pop of the first album to the pseudo-'90s beats of the second. But, played live, the songs sound much less '90s. I don't understand why they traded in pure pop for '90s dance which, I have to say, just makes some of the songs sound like cover versions of old songs. Sorry.

Live, the 'Beaters don't stand still for a moment (which probably helps to keep them all stick thin) and put on a good show, solid musical backing to Anders and Stine at the front on vocals. They're a good combo and very slick and professional. Anders needs a bigger stage than Koko to throw himself around and I did worry when he clambered up onto the speakers - careful, lad! And Stine has an odd image topped off with deep red hair, a sort of don't-touch-me virgin image while she's dressed in see-through black lace, very seductive but confusing at the same time.

They played a nice selection of songs from both albums, opening with 'Fantastic 6' and playing '10,000 Nights', 'Touch Me Touching You' and the lovely 'Boyfriend' from the first album along with 'The Spell', 'Hole in my Heart' and the new single, 'DJ'. The audience exerted it's irritation factor by talking over the quiet opening of 'Chess' but seemed to come round to it by the chorus.

They ended with their usual closer, 'Fascination' with the long, slow and moody synth opening, gradually picking up the pace as the chant of 'The word is on your lips, say the word' winds up - a great way to end the show on a high.

As is often the case at Koko, there were more lights on the crowd than on the stage so there are no photos of the gig, but here's the vidoe for the new single, 'DJ'. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Hair 3 - Gielgud 2

Tonight we went to see 'Hair' again, the second time at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, and it was tres fab.

The special treat was that Sasha Allen was on, playing Dionne - she was off when we saw the show in New York and again when we saw it a couple of weeks ago - and she gave it good voice (I particularly liked 'Aquarius' and 'White Boys'). The disappointing news was that Gavin Creel (who plays Claude) was off tonight. His understudy was Kevin Kern who made a good fist of it, but he has a noticeably more 'theatrical voice' than Gavin. Nevertheless, he did the role proud.

Will Swenson was on top form as Berger and, unfortunately, when he was introducing himself the people next to our seats had just arrived so they were the butt of one of his jokes. Serves 'em right, too. Mind you, Berger is a bit disgusting, since he and Sheila copulated at the end of our row in the stalls during one of the songs. It was obviously his doing, not Sheila (who is nice). Yes, I *am* biased.

I love the way the cast use the whole theatre as their extended stage, running off the stage and into the stalls and up into the circle at the drop of a hat, including climbing over the front rows of seats in the stalls. Mind you, they're probably just trying to escape the heat from the banks of lights that hover over the stage - it's hot up there.

Tip #1: If you want to be fondled by a hippy sit near the aisle - you might even be given a flower.

Tip #2: If you don't want to interact with a hippy sit in the middle behind Row K, otherwise you're not safe.

I will be booking my next tickets at about Row F in the aisle....

Caissie Levy was (as ever) great as Sheila, Democracy's Daughter, Kacie Sheik was touching as Jeanie and Allison Case was lovely as the love-lorn Crissy. I also enjoyed Andrew Kober as Margaret Mead (cross dressing with baggy Y-fronts) and Megan Lawrence as Buddhadalirama (such a shame she burns to death). Darius Nichols is a sex god as Hud (who crawled out to row K in the stalls during 'Hair') and Luther Creek is growing on me as Woof. I like Hud's line about the Vietnam war being when 'white men send black men to kill yellow men for a land they stole from the red man'.

Of course, at the end of the show I was forced (forced, I tell you) to go up on stage and dance and clap and wave. It's hot up there. At the end I got a hug from Allison Case and a pat of the back from Kacie Sheik, as, out of breath, I made my way back to my seat to grab my jacket and bag. Phew! And here's the view from the stage... >>

Y'know what? I think I might just have to see it again... I missed the Be-In at the draft office and don't think my draft card burned properly. I also forgot to yip up the sun and forgot to levitate a government building so I probably need to stay in for an extra tutorial or two.

Go and see it - it is life and joy and sorrow, live it, be it and grow your hair, maaan!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Evelyn Evelyn at Bush Hall

Saturday night and it's time to finally see the Neville twins, Evelyn Evelyn, along with their friends and producers, Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. We got there shortly after the doors opened to find the hall laid out with seats, all of which were already taken, so we staked out some space at the back of the hall beside the grand piano. The show kicked off at 7.30pm with Bitter Ruin, the duo from Brighton who supported Amanda's shows while everyone else was stranded on the other side of the Atlantic due to the Ash Cloud. They played a few songs and then it was time for the Evelyn twins to make their way onto stage...

Evelyn Evelyn appeared and gingerly made their way up the steps onto the stage in a big, floor-length dress, two heads, two arms and three (unseen) legs. Amanda and Jason gave a great performance as the twins, staying in character throughout, wiping down instruments and mics with a red handkerchief, eating a banana during the guitar solo in 'My Space', being fed sweets (I suspect it was a Twix) to calm them down and shut them up, moving round the stage with Holly Gaiman helping them to the keyboard and get into the accordion and guitar straps. The hours of practice really paid off and I think everyone was delighted with the performance.

Thomas Dolby (yes, there's a name I've not come across for many years) was filling in for Sxip Shirey as the MC for the Evelyn Evelyn part of the show, and he played it like everyone's daft uncle who thinks he's funnier than he really is. My favourite bit was when he came on stage during 'Chicken Man' with a chicken under his arm to freak out the twins who had to be calmed with sweets.

Evelyn Evelyn played my favourite songs from the new album (click to buy it in the column to the right, over there >>), 'Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn' and 'Elephant Elephant' (there's something about the simplicity of that song that I find incredibly pleasing). 'Chicken Man' was a fab thrash and the '80s tribute of 'My Space' has some great sing-along moments. After the twins vanished from the stage after about 45 minutes, Mr Dolby kept talking on stage to allow the twins time to get to the balcony at the back of the hall to sing a gentle and tender 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', which was excellent. It looked like that song was being filmed and, of course, when the camera panned across the throng below I was busy taking a swig of Guinness, so I was caught in the act... so to speak.

After a short break, on bounced Jason Webley to do a short set of some of his songs, mainly, I think, from his album, 'The Cost Of Living'. My favourite song in his set was the audience participation song, 'There's Not A Step You Can Take...' in which my side of the hall pretended to be a trombone and the other half were violins - clearly, we won. It's a fun song to be part of. I saw Jason as part of the Dresden Dolls shows at the Roundhouse four years ago and I think I'd go to see him again - he's a great live performer and even though his record sounds rather serious, he isn't at all.

And then on came Amanda Palmer to open her set and close Jason's with a joint song before launching into what sounded like a 'best of Amanda' set, mixing Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer solo songs nicely. She didn't seem quite as full-on as other times I've seen Amanda (11 times and counting, I think) and it turned out she was full of cold for real, but carried on anyway, her voice just as strong as always - she's not a woman to let us down.

It would've been lovely to have had a longer solo set from Amanda but she gave us some great performances - 'Ampersand', 'Bad Habit', 'Coin Operated Boy' and 'Leeds United' (have I mentioned I was going to be in that video?). Amanda played 'Delilah' with Georgia from Bitter Ruin doing backing warbles (Amanda likes getting different singers on different tours to sing that song with her) and I couldn't help but think back to the Roundhouse and Lene Lovich singing it with the Dolls - no-one does warbles better than Lene (I will return to Lene in a minute).

Then back came Jason to help Amanda close the show by singing the great 'Electric Blanket', a song they wrote together on tour last year. Then on came Thomas Dolby (out of costume) to join in the encores by doing a song with Amanda and Jason, a song he wrote for Lene Lovich back in the day, 'New Toy', and I delighted in being one of the few people in the Hall able to join in the chorus. And then everyone was back on stage with a couple of lucky people from the crowd for a drinking song led by Mr Webley, and that was it. I wasn't clock watching, but it must've been a 3.5 hour show with a few short breaks, very tiring for the performers and great value for fans.

The final part of any viewing of an Amanda Palmer show is the signing afterwards and, in my case, a trademarked Amanda Hug. But it was not to be. The Bitter Ruin duo were dutifully out front to sign things and then Jason Webley came out as well, but no Amanda, and that's when my shyness turned into despair. She's not coming. If she was, she'd have arrived with Jason or shortly afterwards. We waited until kicking out time and then left. Just as we were outside in the street, Amanda followed, coughing and with a tissue to her nose, clearly not well. So, I didn't get a hug or have a chance to say 'hello', but at least I saw her, and reminded myself how small she really is - she's a giant on stage.

It was a great show - Amanda always gives good show even when it's an anarchic mess of great songs strung together by her own conviction. A lot of work has obviously gone into the Evelyn Evelyn project and it must've been heart-rending for Amanda to play the first few shows on the tour on her own with her sister Jason being stuck in America due to the Ash Cloud, and then to be struck down with a cold. Still, I had a great night out and I've now seen the latest pop sensation on the block, the Evelyn Evelyn twins, in the flesh. So to speak. Get well, Amanda, and have a great tour! Oh, and sorry about the quality of the photos...

As ever, Punk Cabaret Is Freedom!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Kid Creole & The Coconuts at The Barbican

Tonight we went to see Kid Creole & The Coconuts at the concrete and pebble-dash bunker that is The Barbican as part of the La Linea Latin music festival.

If there's one thing you can guarantee from August Darnell, it's a good show and he delivered once again. A slick show, well choreographed and a solid band (I particularly liked the brass and percussion), just a shame the mix on the vocals was a bit low. But, Kid, I *liked* the suits! Purple, white and then yellow - they worked for me.

The Coconuts are a great feature of the show, and this was a show, not a gig, and there's nothing wrong with that. The Coconuts have legs up to *here*, are obviously poorly paid since they can't afford many clothes, do good hair flick and pose and do everything together, 1 2 3. One is from Bora Bora, one from London and one from Scandinavia - I didn't know that coconuts grew in London but I've seen one with my own eyes. They were great fun and I loved the interactions with the Kid, teasing him and dancing round him before heading back to their own part of the stage.

I also liked Bongo Eddie, who's been with the Kid for 30 years. I liked his bright green suit and baggy trousers, wandering round the stage, quipping with the Kid, bashing his bongos and drums and, halfway through the set, had his solo moment singing a raunchy blues song.

The focal point is, of course, Kid Creole himself, that wonderful creation of August Darnell who seems to permanently live in the hot sun of the Latin Caribbean, rum on tap, women wearing little clothing and the rhythms of the samba flowing in the breeze around him. For someone who's 60 later this year, he's in great voice and looking fit, dancing round the stage and teasing the Coconuts and the audience. I couldn't keep up with him and neither could Bongo Eddie.

Favourite songs this evening were the song he dedicated to the illegitimate children of the world, 'Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy', 'Don't Take Away My Coconuts', the great 'Stool Pigeon', 'I'm A Wonderful Thing, Baby', 'Endicott' and one of the several encore songs, 'Lifeboat Party'. We were treated to 12" extended mixes of all the songs which made me yearn for a 7" single edit now and then, but they kept people on their feet and, at one point, doing a conga round the stalls.

If you get the chance to see Kid Creole and The Coconuts jump at it with both feet and at least one hand - you won't regret it.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Operator Please - 'Back And Forth'

Take a look/listen to the new single from Operator Please - 'Back And Forth'. I fell in love with the mad excitement of 'Just a Song About Ping Pong' from the first album and, although this song isn't in the same league, I'm looking forward to the next album, 'Gloves', due to be released at the end of May.

Operator Please 'Back And Forth' from BRILLE RECORDS on Vimeo.

Monday, 19 April 2010

'Alice In Wonderland' at The IMAX

I had my first experience of The IMAX last night when we went to see Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'. It's the biggest screen in the UK and I can well believe it, but it's square rather than letterbox so I don't know what that does to the film.

We saw the 3D version of the film, with big 3D spex and it was nice to see things poking out of the screen at me every now and then but every so often it looked like the lead character in the scene was standing in front of one of those "3D hologram" cards which rather takes away from the experience. Chris pointed out that it wasn't filmed in 3D so maybe that's the reason why it doesn't always work. And you know what? I'd quite like to see it again in 2D.

Johnny Depp was great as the rather sad Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham-Carter was perfect as the perfectly awful Red Queen - nice to see them together again so soon after 'Sweeney Todd'. It was full of British theatrical and screen names and I was both astonished an delighted to learn that the Dormouse was voiced by Barbara Windsor. The range of talent alone makes me want to see it again.

I enjoyed it but, sometimes, the effects got in the way of the story. But see it anyway - it's worth it for Johnny's Hatter at the least.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Dresden Dolls at Patti Smith's Meltdown 2005

While checking out Richard Thompson's Meltdown schedule at this years' festival on the Southbank I found this video of the 'Stand Bravely Brothers' concert as part of Patti Smith's Meltdown in 2005. It was a celebration of the songs of Bertold Brecht and featured various singers including Patti herself along with Marc Almond, Sparks, the Tiger Lillies and others, plus The Dresden Dolls.

This was the first time I'd ever seen or heard of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione and I'm well pleased I was there that night. After the show The Dolls played a free gig in the open space in front of the bar at The Royal Festival Hall, opening with the glorious 'Good Day' and featuring many of the songs from the first album as well as a beer-swilling 'Amsterdam'. After the show I bought the Dolls CD (on 8ft Records, since this was pre-Roadrunner) and met Amanda for the first time when she signed it for me. Sigh...

Scroll in to about 4:40 to hear the thunder of Brian's drums and Amanda start singing 'The Soldiers Wife'.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Evelyn Evelyn - "Have You Seen My Sister, Evelyn?" - Oberon, Cambridge MA

Here are the Neville twins, Evelyn Evelyn, with their big smash hit, 'Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?'- enjoy and then click on the cover of their record (on the right >>) to buy it. You know it makes sense.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Tyranny Of The Sock

OK, so when did you sign it then? Y'know, the form you must've signed to follow the crowd. It was probably a multi-page carbon thingy and, ok, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and accept that you didn't know you were signing up to some life-long, life-sapping deal. After all, you were probably quite young and could well have been influenced in your choices by your parents. But when, exactly, did you sign the form that said you would only wear matching socks?

Now, I can't remember actually signing up to this. So I no longer feel bound by it. That's the kinda guy I am.

I know they (the mysterious *they*) only sell socks in matching pairs but why limit yourself to a matching pair? How dull is that? Even if you wear fluorescent green socks, it's still a matching pair of fluorescent green socks. Mix and match a bit, show your individuality with the colour and pattern combinations you discover. The only thing to be wary of is mixing different materials - one wool sock and one cotton might lead to hot-foot syndrome and, let's face it, you probably don't want that.

So, yesterday, I wore one green sock and one yellow sock to see 'Hair', along with my lovely green boots. Today I wore caramel-coloured shoes with one pink sock with blue toes and heel and one yellow sock with green toes and heel. I shall experiment with colour and pattern next.

Unfortunately, people did not notice my radical anti-matching-sockism at work today so I eventually had to explain my new campaign. Join me?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

'Hair' at the Gielgud Theatre

I let the sun shine in tonight with my first dose of 'Hair' in London - I saw the same production with largely the same cast in New York back in February and the hippies are even more contagious on this side of the Atlantic. A great time was had by all and the excellent cast were rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the end - I don't think I've ever seen people get to their feet so quickly and clap along so happily.

There's been a lot of publicity about the show over the last few days with the formal opening night last night and I think we reaped the benefit of the cast being on a high and wanting to love us into submission - and they did. The energy on stage, the professionalism, the excellent choreography, the music and songs, it all worked just right. Needless to say, I loved it!

It's the story of Berger and Claude and Sheila and their hippy chums in New York in 1967 experimenting with sex and drugs with social change and the Vietnam war in the background. Berger is out to have fun, with lots of sex and drugs, Claude is torn between the counter-culture and supporting his country, and Sheila is the hippy radical who helps to levitate the Pentagon and is introduced as Joan of Arc.

Other hippies are Woof who isn't homosexual but wants to go to bed with Mick Jagger, the pregnant Jeannie who loves Claude who is oblivious to her and Crissy who lost the address of the man she loves after one meeting and lives in hope of seeing him again. Some of the songs are designed to shock (like 'Sodomy') and most are relatively short and strung together to add pace and movement. The hippies leave the stage a lot and invade the audience, running down the aisles, handing out leaflets inviting us to a be-in and handing out flowers (my flower is in a glass of water at the moment).

The show opens with 'Aquarius', a great opening song that sets the scene nicely. Unfortunately I've yet to see Sasha Allen, who plays the part of Dionne, since she was off the night we saw the show on Broadway and was off again tonight, but we had the excellent Phyre Hawkins tonight with her big voice (and enormous wig!). The cast were all in great voice and, just as in the Broadway production, I'd single out Gavin Creel (as Claude) and Caissie Levy (as Shelia) for special praise, both with excellent voices and charismatic performances.

The two stand-out scenes for me tonight were the title song, 'Hair', in which both Claude and Hud crawled over the seats in the stalls during the song, touching and stroking the audience (Hud made it to our row K). It was a powerhouse of a scene with the hippies all over the stage and out into the audience, powerful music and those classic words. The other scene I'd pick out was Claude's closer to the first half, 'Where Do I Go?', a touching song that sums up his indecision about the draft. It's also when the cast strip off as they sing along and, just like in New York, I was too busy watching him deliver this poignant song to see all the flesh on display - but, obviously, I cast a quick glance over the rest of the cast at the end.

The second half of the show is darker with an extended bad trip scene and where we learn the fate of Claude. It opens with the great 'Electric Blues' (that Alex Harvey, a member of the original London Hair Band, recorded two versions of the song) and closes with 'Let The Sun Shine In' as the cast leave the stage through the audience and we're left with an echo of the song, a darkened stage and snow falling on a body on the stage. This is rather shocking since, throughout the show we've beet treated to movement and light and song and the echoing silence and gray stage at the end is a counterpoint to the previous two hours. And then the hippies return to sing the encore and we all got to our feet and then .... and then ...

... went up onto the stage to dance and clap along with the hippies. Yes, I did. I didn't in New York because my British reserve was on in full strength but on home territory I overcame the quiet reserve that's inbred in us and let my inner hippy out and I'm pleased I did. The stage got full very quickly - more people wanting to join in than there's space for on the Gielgud stage but I didn't care. It's very hot under all those lights! And on the way off the stage at the end I managed to have a few words with Caissie Levy who was sitting at the top of the ladder at the side of the stage and thanked her for a great show.

You must see this show - it is full of nonsense but it's optimistic and positive, hopeful for the future and full of songs that you know (whether you know it or not). I'm so glad that I saw it on Broadway and now have had the privilege of seeing it in London with mainly the same cast. I'm seeing it again in a couple of weeks time and I can't wait!

Let the sun shine in!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Pomes Poems Peoms

I am going to read more poetry. If you use the Tube in London you'll be familiar with the Poems on the Underground series of posters that publish short poems or extracts from longer ones. I always make a point of reading them and sometimes I actually like what I read. I'm not a great fan of the form but I ought to read more.

Poetry, like everything else, goes through phases and fads and so does my taste. I remember being quite fond of Ted Hughes at school, graduating to Yeats and the Metaphysicals at university. I've had a small volume of Blake for years (I'm partial to Songs of Innocence and Experience) that I used to carry round to dip in and out of when the moment struck.

I suppose one of the problems with being an English graduate (and yes, the song, 'What do you do with a BA in English?' from Avenue Q could have been written for me) is that you dip into so many different forms, genres and eras over the years that I've probably read some of most of the most important poets, but only some. And dip in might mean read one poem. I never had any time for the Victorians until I read something by Tennyson without knowing it was by him and decided to revise my opinions. I got a volume of Tennyson at Christmas and I think it's time to indulge.

Blood Red Shoes - 'Don't Ask'

The new single from Steven and Laura-Mary, aka Blood Red Shoes, 'Don't Ask', will be out on 10 May in limited edition 7" vinyl and for download. But why wait to hear it? Just do the clicky thing below:

Don't Ask from bloodredshoes on Vimeo.

And they've just announced gigs inManchester and London in October.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

'The Caretaker' at The Trafalgar Studios

Last night we went to see 'The Caretaker' at the very steep Trafalgar Studios, surrounded (or so it seemed) by young drama students with inappropriate hair wanting to absorb Pinter and Jonathan Pryce's acting. And well they should because he was excellent.

'The Caretaker' is about nothing in particular but manages to encompass a lot of grand themes in a couple of hours. It opens with Davies, an old tramp, being brought into the bedsit room of young Aston who is doing up the house. The room (and stage) is cluttered with a load of junk, all lovingly saved from somewhere, the kind of stuff that *might* be useful for *something* at sometime. There are also various appearances by Aston's younger brother, Mick, who, it seems owns the house that Aston is supposed to be doing up.

It's an odd play, really, with no big plot or story, just a few weeks in the lives of three men during which relationships change and that's about it. But it resonates with so much more. It was first performed 50 years and yet so many of the themes are still relevant today - failure of mental health support, the property market, homelessness - it's still with us today.

And that leads me to Jonathan Pryce's portrayal of the tramp which struck so many chords of recognition - I've seen his tramp at Victoria and on The Strand, usually late at night and slightly the worse for wear. He's got the character down pat but never does he come across as a loveable rogue, he is consistently dodgy and suspect, looking after number 1, a precursor to the 'me' generation.

I liked Peter McDonald's portrayal of Aston, the gentle and caring young man who offers the tramp a bed for a few nights and ends up being verbally abused by him. His long scene about his electric shock treatment in a mental hospital when he was younger was particularly affecting, gradually drawing us into his smaller and claustrophobic world as he recounts the worst terror of his life. You could've heard a pin drop. It was a very powerful performance.

One thing that brought a smile to my face in this rather depressing play was the tap dancing in both acts - I'd joking said I'd hoped for a good song and dance number somewhere in the play and Jonathan Pryce obliged when he tried on new shoes. Twice!

'Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang'

On Sunday evening we went to see 'Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang', the latest film by Emma Thompson and her great portrayal of Nanny McPhee. The film treads a nice line between being a sequel and being a film that you don't have to have seen the first one to enjoy, and it works very well indeed.

As a 'family' film there was a lot of scene setting up-front, with the children being out of control and needing a nanny to sort them out, exacerbated in this film by having the posh cousins arrive at the country farm of their aunt whose husband is away fighting in the Second World War. There are a few sub-plots going on, like the bad brother of the husband who wants to sell the family farm to pay off gambling debts and being threatened by the nasty debt collecting women - it's nice for the baddies to be women for a change, and very good they are too.

The children are all good and interact well, the adults all play their stereotyped roles well and it was a surprise to see Sam Kelly as his pantomime character somewhere underneath his rather fleshily rotund physique. Maggie Gyllenhaal was great casting as the hapless mother who saw the positive side of her children using her wedding veil to trap the escaped piglets. She and Ewan McGregor make a nice couple, especially since Ewan doesn't actually have any lines. The piglets were stars in their own right as a porcine synchronised swimming team.

Emma was great fun as Nanny, gradually becoming prettier as the children learned their lessons. It's actually quite refreshing to have an actress of Emma's calibre deliberately playing it ugly, warts, fat and all, and still commanding the screen. But one of the best scenes goes to Maggie Smith when she sits on a cowpat during a picnic - a lovely scene. And, of course, she trumps everyone else in the penultimate scene when she holds the baby's rattle she was given by Nanny McPhee in the first film which suggests that her character was the baby in the first film, now grown old.

It might be a kids fillum, but go and see it on the big screen while you can - it's a celebration of life. And then buy the DVD so you can celebrate life whenever you want!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Boy George at Leicester Square Theatre

We went to see Boy George at what seems to be his new venue of choice in London, the Leicester Square Theatre, the scene of his residency over Christmas last year and 'Taboo' a few years ago. It's a nice venue, a good size with a bar on either side of the concert room (always a good sign).

We got there just after 7.20pm and the ticket said 7.15pm start - naturally, it couldn't possibly mean the gig would actually start at 7.15pm, that's just not rock 'n' roll. Maybe there was a support act or something...? And there was Boy George on stage, all smiley face and very smooth voice - if George says he'll start at 7.15 then he'll start at 7.15 so get there on time. He played for about one and a half hours with a short interval and it was all over shortly after 9pm and we were ushered out since there was another show planned for later in the evening (some comedian or other). Still, it meant an early escape from the madness that is London's West End on a Saturday night.

George played a well crafted set with something from everyone, the Culture Club hits (of course), his own solo work over the past 20-odd years and some new tunes. He sang the 'Pentonville Blues' (about his 'holiday' last year) which he'd played at his Christmas shows and another new 'un called 'Ken', a lovers rock song with gentle reggae beats. One of my favourites was 'Stranger In This World' from 'Taboo' and I liked 'The Deal' morphing into 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' (again, from the Christmas show). George also did a fab version of 'Get It On' that had everyone on their feet and boogying.

He finished with the glorious 'Bow Down Mister' and I pride myself that I got all the 'Hare Krishna, Hare Ramas' right this time. The encore was 'This Little Light Of Mine', an odd choice for the final song. George said he'd see us again next year so, maybe after his solo tour followed by the '80s tour he'll be heading into the studio? He didn't play the new single, 'Amazing Grace' - unless he played it at the very start of the show and we missed it?

George was looking good, happy and healthy and in great voice. There's always a slight moment of trepidation at the start of a show that it might turn into the horror that was the Koko show a few years back but he seems to be way past that. He was bedecked in his B-Rude clothes, as was the band, mainly sparkly scarabs and skulls but Kevan wins the prize for best tee-shirt - a sparkly skull with an Aladdin Sane lightning flash across the skull.

If you get the chance, go and see Boy George - he puts on a great show and sends you home with a smile on your face. At least he does that for me. And he probably does that for the Pet Shop Boys who were in the audience and Tweeted about it afterwards.

Public Image Ltd in America

PiL have been unleashed on North America - enjoy or head for cover. The tour starts this week and runs into mid-May. Take a look at this great live performance of 'Rise' from the Jimmy Kimmell show last week:

Bananarama - 'Love Don't Live Here'

The new single from Bananarama, 'Love Don't Live Here' is available *now* - do the right thing and download it!

Friday, 9 April 2010

'The Little Dog Laughed' at The Garrick Theatre

"The little dog laughed and the dish ran away with the spoon..." yes, the title of the play comes from the old nursery rhyme which was recited at the end to sum up that a happy ending was needed - and was delivered.

'The Little Dog Laughed' was playing its penultimate night at the Garrick before closing tomorrow. It's the comic tale of a gay actor from Los Angeles who hides behind girlfriends he doesn't sleep with who phones up an agency for a rent boy while he's in New York after winning an award. He and the rent fall in love (-ish) but it's complicated by two sub-plots, one involving the rent boy sleeping with a girl friend (ie a friend who's a woman) who becomes pregnant, and the actor's agent trying to get him the lead in a screen adaptation of a play about men who fall in love. So, there are plots within plots and we need someone to help us through the twists and turns on the stage before us, and that's the actor's agent, in the shape of Tamsin Greig.

Tamsin's character is both narrator as well as actor, every now and then stepping out of the action to talk to the audience, and she plays it larger than life and very knowing. I liked the idea of the character-cum-narrator and she had great one-liners but she played it full-on 100% of the time rather than with any more subtlety. The two lads were a bit one dimensional as well, both skinny and interchangeable (especially when they stripped to underwear) and both had dodgy accents with every sentence ending on rising intonation. Chris commented at half time that they sounded like they were from 'Avenue Q' up the road and that summed them up perfectly. I quite liked the pregnant girl.

I enjoyed the show and I'm pleased to have seen the play but part of me understands why it's closing early.

Every now and then a rather heroic laugh drew attention to itself in the row just in front of us - Sir Derek Jacobi, who also came up to the bar at half-time, ramrod straight back and very neat hair. And that reminds me of a tip to pass on - there is a large bar upstairs at the Garrick with a balcony over Charing Cross Road and no-one seems to know it's there. The downstairs bar was crowded and the upstairs was virtually empty. I must remember that if I go back to the Garrick anytime soon.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Beverley Knight at The Royal Albert Hall

Last night we went to the long awaited concert by Beverley Knight at the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets went on sale last autumn so it's been a long wait and when we got there last night we found we were in a box right at the side of the stage (I never understand the RAH seating chart), so we were close but didn't have the best of views.

To start off with, Mamas Gun were the support act. I first saw them back in 2007 when they supported Kiki Dee at the IndigO2, so it was nice to see them again. A smaller band and a tighter sound but they seem to have discovered extended mixes of their songs which wasn't a good thing. It was great to hear 'Put My Finger On It' and 'Pots Of Gold' again but the two extended versions of songs seemed to drag a bit. But it's good to see them again, especially supporting Beverley.

And then on came the main lady herself in a silver miniskirt-suit ensemble, lots of thighs and on impossibly high heels. But there's no mistaking that voice and that control of the stage, stalking it back and forth, never still. She's clearly on tour, very professional with a well-rehearsed band in matching black along with her usual trio of singers. Bev had three costume changes, all exposing acres of leg and sparkly high heels - she's in good form and dancing and singing her heart out, she must be incredibly fit. No sign of sounding winded at all, dancing and singing and giving us her all.

She played all the big hits you'd expect, old and new, so no-one would go home without hearing a favourite song. Favourites for me were 'Come As You Are' (the set closer), 'Beautiful Night', 'Black Butta', 'In Your Shoes', 'Gold' and 'Made It Back'. There was an extended version of 'Shoulda Woulda Coulda' that was, well, long, but the whole show was very professional and slick. And I think that may be partly why I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have.

I recall seeing Bev at the ICA last year which was the first time she'd played some of the songs from her new album, "100%" so that might've been why they sounded fresh and new and, well, not raw, exactly, but not slick. It was also more of a gig when we could get close to Bev rather than be restricted by the seating plan. And, sadly, having a couple of Italians in front of us that insisted on talking and laughing throughout until we asked them to be quiet, after which they smirked at each other and danced energetically with arms in the air to obscure the view. Not the happiest of concerts, but they rarely are at the Royal Albert Hall. It might be a prestige venue, but it's not designed for a rock or soul performance.

Bev was excellent and it was great to see her and great to see her commanding a venue like the Royal Albert Hall but I hope she plays somewhere else the next time she does a gig in London. My photos are from the ICA last year.

Malcolm McLaren

It is with some surprise and shock that I heard that Malcolm McLaren died today in New York after battling cancer for some time. Malcolm is forever immortalised in the history of punk music and rebellion and fashion in the '70s and '80s and he has his moment in social history. That moment probably coincided with the Sex Pistols releasing 'God Save The Queen' in the summer of 1977, the Jubilee year, and all the fuss that was unleashed in the media.

I won't claim to think about him often but he looms ever near John Lydon and The Sex Pistols and, whenever I've seen the Pistols or PiL, John has a word to say about him. I wonder if he'll change when he hears the news?

Malcolm also played his part in introducing us to scratching and African music in the early '80s with 'Buffalo Gals' and 'Double Dutch' and then to opera with 'Madame Butterfly'. I'm not sure what he got up to after that, but I expect the many obituaries over the next few days will tell me.

Malcolm deserves to be recorded in The Plastic Bag - it wouldn't be here without him. I hope he's looking down on us waiting for the next outrage to erupt with a wry smile on his face.

UPDATE: There was a nice tribute to Malcolm on the BBC1 News at 10 programme tonight.

UPDATE2: From "For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and i will miss him, and so should you" - Johnny Rotten

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Online Social Networks

Social networks are one of the more interesting phenomena of the Internet Age. Do you understand them? I must admit that I don't.

AOL has announced that it's selling Bebo and that made me start thinking. I used to go to Internet safety meetings with Bebo, Facebook and MySpace people back in the mid '00s when they were coming into being and thought they were interesting concepts that wouldn't catch on. OK, I was wrong. I've been on Facebook since those early days and still don't 'get' it. I use MySpace to keep up to date with the doings of my favourite bands. I joined Twitter a couple of years ago and have only just started twitting or tweeting regularly in an attempt to 'get' it. It's certainly useful to keep up to the minute with news and stuff, but what else?

That made me think of, one of the music-based networks (and you can see my most listened to albums in the quilt in the right-hand column to this blog). I suppose I'm a bit narcissistic about - I don't use it to interact with other music lovers, I use it to keep track of what I'm listening to. It doesn't tell the whole story since it only records those songs I listen to online or through my iPod, not the music I play on my stereo, but it's pretty representative. I'm not sure how to use it as a social network, really.

But I do find it fascinating to look at band pages and see how many times they're played - I'm listening to Garbage at the moment and I was surprised to see that they've been played over 22 million times by nearly 1m listeners (I've played them 102 times in the last 2.5 years). I find that rather astonishing. But I've no intention of interacting with any other Garbage listeners to try to understand that - that's too much like hard work for me.

Rather than being a passive recipient or observer of online social networks I ought to start engaging more. So watch out!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Amanda Palmer - 'Do You Swear To Tell The Truth ...?'

Amanda has just given the world a free new song, 'Do You Swear To Tell The Truth The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass'. Naturally I downloaded it instantly and you should too. Do the clicky thing here and donate some money for the privilege via Paypal. It has the lovely refrain of "... and I've already spent too much time doing things I didn't want to...", something we can all probably relate to.

The reason for this gift to the world? Amanda is finally free from Roadrunner Records and can now make music and give it away if she wants to. So she has done just that. Read her 'freedom' blog here. I'm happy for Amanda, this is good news indeed. Now, all we need is for the Evelyn record and tour to be a roaring success and then for Amanda to head into the studio and record a new album... and then tour it.

Oh, and give me another great big hug, of course.

Punk cabaret is freedom!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Pompeii: Lost In Time

I saw a fascinating article on the BBC website this morning about a new exhibition at Pompeii of the plaster cast remains of the dead townsfolk and animals after the volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago. It reminded me that I visited Pompeii on a school trip when I was 15 or 16. It struck a chord today because we visited in the run-up to Easter and spent Good Friday in Rome - I bought a big Easter Egg wrapped in coloured cellophane, something I'd never seen before. It was also my first foreign trip and first aeroplane flight.

I did Latin 'O' Level at school (don't worry, I didn't pass) and it was based on a new syllabus from Cambridge (I think) that involved learning Latin and learning about Roman culture through a series of short booklets that told the story (in Latin) of the family of Caecelius, a senator of Pompeii immediately before the eruption of Vesuvius. I think back on the lessons as some of the most boring ever (sorry, Mr McLeod), the different conjugation of verbs and wotnot, and I spent a lot of time day-dreaming, but I was fascinated by the ancient history. So I jumped at the opportunity to visit Pompeii and badgered my parents into letting me go on the basis that it would help with my Latin exams (it didn't).

I remember the coach to the newly opened Luton airport and the the cabins on the camp site near Naples, wandering round the streets of Pompeii and visiting the brothel to see the wall-paintings (well, I *was* a teenager) and visiting Vesuvius and going inside the crater. I picked up a piece of volcanic rock that I kept for years but have no idea what came of it. We then went to Rome for a few days and stayed in a sort of bed and breakfast place that specialised in school trips, big bedrooms with bunk-beds, ornate and with big windows. I recall visiting the Colosseum and the Vatican and looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel knowing it was important but just thinking, 'nice'. I didn't know enough about Pompeii or art or history to really appreciate where I was or what I was seeing. I would have a different response today.

I'd love to go back to Pompeii and see the exhibition. I think I'd see it with very different eyes. My Latin would be just as bad as it was back then, but I'd have a guidebook so I don't think I'd worry. I wonder what happened to Caecelius in the curriculum? Is Latin still taught in ordinary schools these days? I should know really...

I've no idea where my photos are from that trip. I think I'd borrowed my Mother's box brownie camera from the '50s which I found when we cleared the house a couple of years ago (my Dad kept it for some reason). Other than memories, the only thing I've still got from that trip is a small wooden music box that plays 'Close To You' by The Carpenters that I bought for my Grandma but kept for some reason (maybe I got something better for her?). It's on the top of a bookcase in my hallway and still works.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

'No 1 Boy' by The Rezillos

I've just discovered my new favourite song of all time - the latest single from The Rezillos, 'No 1 Boy'. Fay is sounding as fab as ever and looks like she's having fun rolling round with a mirror ball. I didn't realise they were back together but listened to 'Can't Stand The Rezillos' the other day and started exploring The Revillos catalogue, and, amazingly, here they are with a new single! Unfortunately, it looks like Jo Callis has just left the band (again). Still, this is pretty fab! Take a look at the video and then do the downloady thing from Amazon or iTunes - bounce around and enjoy!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Time: Dr Who

It's Good Friday so I spend it recuperating from a long week and watching 'Dr Who'. The new Dr Who makes his debut tomorrow but I spent the evening saying goodbye to the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, watching the last two episodes and 'Dr Who Confidential'.

There are different ways of measuring time and one of them is by which Dr Who was yours. *My* Doctors are the two that straddled the '70s - Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker - after which all Doctors were inferior (obviously). And then Christopher Ecclestone became the face of the new Dr Who and David Tennant made us love the show again. And I do. I particularly liked the last series of the Doctor with Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, which was inspired casting.

Tonight was a double-bill of the Christmas and New Year episodes that say farewell to David Tennant and hello to the new Doctor, Matt Smith, plus the final 'Dr Who Confidential' with interviews with cast and crew of the series. It was quite sad, saying goodbye to the characters that have populated Saturday evenings for the last four years (and in the case of Sarah-Jane, several decades) and this is the first time a Doctor has been able to say goodbye to his friends on regeneration. It was strangely moving.

Tomorrow we'll see the first episode with Matt Smith as the Doctor. Will he be able to pull it off? We'll see.