Blancmange Connect With Semi-Detached

Neil 3Blancmange recently completed a two-night live stint at The Red Gallery in London. We were fortunate to be over from San Francisco, to catch the first of these on Friday May 15, 2015. Blancmange last made it to my city by the bay way back in the early 1980’s when I felt similarly fortunate to catch a show at the Old Waldorf. There we witnessed Neil Arthur (vocals, haircut, quirky moves), Stephen Luscombe (keyboards) and David Rhodes (guitar, rhythm) play along with a reel to reel tape, backup singers, and a harried drummer who had occasional trouble keeping up with the pace of Stephen’s drum machine. It was a fantastic show – one of my favorite memories of 80’s era “new wave” concerts we attended in and around San Francisco.

David RhodesBlancmange is now primarily the vehicle for singer Neil Arthur and his current day electronic music. Founding partner Stephen Luscombe is said to be ill, unable to join on this album and live shows that follow. For the concert, long time guitarist and collaborator David Rhodes, was present once again. His resume includes work with Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Tim Finn and many others. He joined Neil, along with Ogoo Maia and producer Adam Fuest on keys and computers.

The new album Semi DBlancmange_SD_Cover-800x800etached, featured prominently in the show, from long opener “The Fall” to the buoyant “Paddington” (Neil said this could have been written about almost any rail station) and the most danceable track “Acid,” that harkens back to their 1980’s origins. The sound of this new record is somewhat metronomic – sometimes a bit colder than early albums. But it’s an effective updating of their original approach, coloring lyrics that hew to modern mature themes and bringing to mind German peers who’ve explored similar territory. Melancholy and joy is balanced, with Neil’s wit, clever wordplay and occasional bite still clearly on display.

Neil LyriconOn this evening, Neil’s clear baritone was in fine form, delivered forcefully. Though his role was as usual on main vocals, he unexpectedly picked up a melodica for one of the rare early tracks. David Rhodes was his typical affable self, working more to color tracks than taking the lead. He was best heard on new song “Bloody Hell Fire” full of trademark winding, wailing guitar to back Neil’s emotive lead vocal. All the backing keyboard work supported the two leads effectively.

The set list was peppered with rare tracks including “I Would” and “Running Thin,” both early B-sides, and “Holiday Camp” from their debut EP, alongside a handful of fan favorites from their early catalog, “Game Above My Head,” “I Can’t Explain,” “Blind Vision” and the propulsive, desperate sound of “Feel Me.” With so much new material in the set list, and the rarities known mostly to dedicated fans, there wasn’t a chance to include additional early album cuts from the 80’s. But, the new material demonstrated that Blancmange is of continued interest, and on the whole the show was fun and appealing.

The "Band"To prove the point, the encore began with a jubilant cover of Can’s “I Want More” from the new album followed by their signature track “Living On The Ceiling” from their first, leaving the rapturous audience plenty warm and satisfied.

Midlake Live on in Denton

Midlake_DVD_advertMidlake is a band that mixes a bit of folk, psychedelic, and alternative rock into a unique brand of heartfelt indie music. The group has weathered personnel changes and is now at their strongest with guitarist and lead vocalist Eric Pulido joined by Paul Alexander (bass/vocals), Joey McClellan (guitar/vocals), Jesse Chandler (keys/flute/vocals) Eric Nichelson (guitar/keys) and McKenzie Smith (drums). Notice if you will, that’s a lot of guys who can sing, and they make full use of that vocal talent. Led by Eric’s rich baritone their four-part harmonies fill the latest album, Antiphon (2013), infusing normally down-tempo sounds with beautiful warm tones. Structured compositions give way to free flowing instrumental excursions, mixing flute, lightly distorted guitar leads, and strong lyrics, from the lost love of “Aurora Gone” to the prose admonishing us to bear the “Old and the Young:”

Awoke from a long one that came on the heels of a day
Where sun would arise and then grant us the kindness of ray
Fields full of gladness surrounded by droves that await
And look for the grave in everything adorn
Bear the old and the young

Midlake_Antiphon_CoverFans of Wilco, Badly Drawn Boy, Sea Wolf, The National, and other bands of this kind take note – its challenging, soulful music that’s stands a cut above – one of the best records of its kind so far this decade. Best listen to the title track, “Antiphon” to experience the whole. Follow up with the propulsive beat of the melancholic yet hopeful “Old and the Young.”

Midlake – Antiphon – Title Track (Youtube)
Midlake – Antiphon – Old and the Young (Youtube)

At points, the use of flute, Hammond organ, inventive bass leads, and propulsive drumming will put you in mind of classic rock and progressive contemporaries of long ago. Musical influences like Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac, and Pink Floyd have been suggested by others, but importantly this music sounds very much of today – an unique combination of these elements and more without being derivative.

Midlake_DVD_Cover_DSHAfter spending some time on the indie film circuit, last month on Record Store day, Midlake released a DVD of a movie by Jason Lee and Eric Noren: Live in Denton, TX. I snagged the last copy at our local Amoeba Records store in San Francisco. The film is a rare document of this band playing in a small club in, you guessed it, Denton, Texas. The footage captures the concert, interspersing close shots of the band during performance with shots of the city of Denton, it’s inhabitants, and workaday life. The career-spanning set list includes many of their best songs – lots of tracks from their earlier albums including Bamnan & Slivercork (2004), The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006), and The Courage of Others (2010) along with six from their newest, which is really a big step forward for the band. The musicianship and vocal delivery is top notch, and the soundtrack reproduces the live set perfectly – lots of deep bass & drums, with shimmering keys, flute, guitars, and Eric’s amazingly strong lead vibrato, backed by those beautiful harmonies.

Midlake_DVD_Eric72DPIThe film’s images are crisp and clear – lots of deeps hues, colored lights, and interesting use of varying points of focus. Due to the small club setting, and possibly also to represent the experience of those in attendance, many shots are captured from positions in the crowd, which obscures a bit of the action, and the club and stage itself is often so darkly lit it can be tough to catch the musicians technique. Still, it’s fitting to the sometimes-brooding compositions and the drama of their songs. Near the end of the set we get a little more light on the band, and might well recognize them when, hopefully, the next tour rolls into town! Don’t miss it.

Midlake_DVD_Denton72DPI

Gryphon Take Flight

GryphonGIG_AdThis week we witnessed the first of six concerts from the 1970’s progressive folk/rock band Gryphon. Opening night took place at The Robin, a small club in Wolverhampton, on 12 May, 2015. The show was absolutely fantastic! There are more gigs planned through May, all taking place in England. If you can get to one it’s highly recommended!

Gryphon recorded 5 albums from 1971-1977, each with a slightly different contemporary take on traditional English folk music including medieval and Renaissance era sounds, and original compositions, which blended instruments like bassoon, crumhorn, recorders and mandolin, with modern electric bass, guitar, and keyboards. Their landmark work was a unique mix of influences that introduced generations of open-minded music lovers to the rich musical heritage of their past, seasoned with a bit of rock for the times.

Gryphon_RedQueenBack in the golden age of progressive rock there was an amazing array of artwork that graced record album covers, and I was originally drawn to Gryphon by the cover art for their third album Red Queen to Gryphon Three (1973). The music was as fantastic as implied by the sumptuous cover painting by Dan Pearce – an older man contemplating his chessboard in a pastoral scene recalling the Renaissance era.

Being from California, I never had the chance to see the group ply their trade live, though I was well aware they opened for Yes in Britain and on the east coast in 1975. They haven’t played live since then save for a one-off show in London 2009. Therefore, the shows this spring are a special chance to see these musicians perform their masterworks.

GryphonGIG_BandIt was absolutely well worth the wait. The band played their set in two halves, the first covering a number of their early tracks with an emphasis on their self-titled debut, which includes a number of more traditional pieces. The second half of the show added the title track from Midnight Mushrumps, a good portion of crowd-favorite Red Queen to Gryphon Three, and a fun encore with some unexpected deviations from their normal fare.

GryphonGIG_GraemeANDDavidOberleFrom the moment the guys first took the stage it was striking to hear how effective they were going to be in a live setting. There was a consistent display of virtuosity from each of the skilled multi-instrumentalists. Drummer Dave Oberle and Brian Gulland occasionally sang in rich bass and baritone voices undiminished by their long absence from the stage. Dave’s work on drums and percussion, along with bass player Jon Davie anchored the songs with rumbling toms, and a thick and varied bottom end. Guitarist Graeme Taylor spent the evening seated with his acoustic guitar front and center, adding shimmering rhythms and leads to the music. Relative newcomer Graham Preskett filled in on all sorts of instruments including the only electronic keyboard, along with guitar, violin and winds. Founder Richard Harvey and Brian led with solo and dueling winds and traditional keyboards, each thrilling the audience with their display of talent. Richard’s lightening fast leads on recorders bring honor to a sometimes-maligned instrument. Brian’s skill on the bassoon is a fun listen – certainly something you won’t often hear elsewhere. And, you haven’t seen anything in progressive folk/rock until you witness two expert krumhorn players duel with rapid-fire counterpoint! There was good humor on display from all, particularly Richard who introduced most of the selections.

GryphonGIG_BrianANDJonDavie
Brian with Jon Davie

It was an exciting evening, long anticipated, and all we hoped for. Earlier this year, of these shows drummer Dave Oberle remarked: “The last proper tour was 39 years ago. Some of the people who will come to this concert weren’t even born when we started. We know a lot of the audience are “silver surfers” that are our age, but if you look at the web stats, there are guys 15-24 years olds telling us they found our records in their dad’s collection and are looking forward to seeing us. It’s medieval meets the 20th century!” In fact, attending with us was a young bass player studying music at Leeds who to Dave’s point, very much enjoyed the experience. Here’s hoping the group take this music to the public again – it’s best served up live by this important band.

The Band:

Richard Harvey – Keyboards, Recorders & Krumhorn
Brian Gulland – Vocals, Harmonium, Bassoon & Krumhorn
Graeme Taylor – Guitars
Dave Oberle – Vocals, Drums & Percussion
Jon Davie – Bass and Guitar
Graham Preskett – Keyboards, Winds, Violin, Enthusiasm

The Gigs:

By the time this hits Gonzo Weekly, there will only be three chances left to catch Gryphon on this short tour. These are the last dates for now:

17th May – Hertford Corn Exchange (Gryphon special guests to Fairport Convention)

        Tickets:

        – Website: http://www.reallylivemusic.com
        – Tel: 07904 333923 (Enquiries:10am-6pm, Mon-Sat)

20th May – Southampton Talking Heads

        Tickets:

        – Website:www.thetalkingheads.co.uk
        – Tel: 02380 678 446

29th May – London Union Chapel

        Tickets: 

         – Website: http://store.unionchapel.org.uk/events/29-may-15-gryphon-union-chapel/

 

If I might make a recommendation to anyone who is interested in progressive rock, medieval and Renaissance sounds and instrumentation I would say, hop off that couch and catch one of these shows!

GryphonGIG_RichardHarvey
Richard Harvey
GryphonGIG_GrahamPreskett
Graham Preskett
GryphonGIG_GraemeTaylor
Graeme Taylor
GryphonGIG_DaveOberle
Dave Oberle
GryphonGIG_BrianGulland
Brian Gulland

 

Eels Filmed at the Royal Albert Hall

Eels_RAH_CoverLast year in San Francisco the American alt rock band Eels played the best and most impactful set we’ve ever seen them deliver at the Palace of Fine Arts. Mark Oliver Everett, referred to as “E”, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist led the band through many tracks from his latest, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, along with a choice selection of his work back to 1995. Just last week, a new DVD was released of the Eels playing the Royal Albert Hall in London on a subsequent leg of this tour.

Eels_RAH_Band
Band Shot, from Eels Royal Albert Hall

The film simply called Eels Royal Albert Hall, will be a revelation to any fan of this work, whether new or old. After a short prelude backstage, the camera captures the band entering stage left, and gives us a crystal clear document of the night, with multiple camera angles, tight close-ups of the band, and E. at all the right moments. It’s one of the better concert films of this kind.

The new album it featured on this night is amazing – it’s an intimate portrait of personal growth involving someone E says he lost by choice and later came to regret. With titles like “Where I’m At,” “Where I’m From,” “Where I’m Going” and “Mistakes of My Youth” – the latter being one of E’s best compositions over these many years, it’s clear this a very personal work. Live it was stunningly beautiful.

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At Our Stop – San Francisco

From the end of the first song, a gorgeous rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” tells you where this one is going. You can see an audience member near front wiping away a tear. It was clear at our show and again at the RAH, that while there would be melancholy, E was in a great mood and would be conversing and connecting with the audience. He apologized for much of his music being sad – warning us before songs if they would be of the form he calls “soft bummer pop (or rock).”  There are other jests based on the RAH as venue – best to see these on DVD to appreciate the moment.

Since so much of E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects, his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with others such as “Lockdown Hurricane,” “I Like Birds,” and “A Daisy Through Concrete” from his stellar album Daisies of the Galaxy, “Fresh Feeling” from Souljacker, and “I Like the Way This is Going” from the new album.

E at the piano, from the film Eels Royal Albert Hall
E at the piano, from the film Eels Royal Albert Hall

True to the spirit of this very warm evening show, E came down to hug everyone in the first row at the end of the set. Having seen him play over the years it was an absolutely heartwarming and special night of his unique brand of live therapy. The encore: “Mistakes of My Youth” was truly confessional, hopeful, and heartwarming. A great show, worth owning on media – fill that prescription!