Tag Archives: electronic

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.

Dream On, Edgar Froese

Tangerine Dream
Tangerine Dream

Edgar Froese, the influential pioneer behind the group Tangerine Dream passed away January 20 at age 70. I had the rare opportunity to see him and the band perform at the Yes sponsored Cruise to the Edge show in April 2014, and while saddened at his passing am happy to report on his lifetime of achievement on full display last year.

Linda Spa
Linda Spa

Somehow during these last forty years collecting all manner of progressive rock, I’ve not ended up owning many Tangerine Dream albums, even though they recorded over 100 studio and live records, along with more than 60 film scores. However, I’ve been aware of them and their influence on any number of other bands, and on entire musical movements including krautrock, ambient (often dark, as with Zeit) and electronic (dance, trance). Much of their work is improvisational around minimalist arrangements, often not bound to traditional song structure. Some has much in common with contemporary classical music, and all driven by electronic keyboards and percussion. Almost all of it is instrumental, though some 12-19th century poetry and a few vocal tracks found their way into the work.

Ulrich Schnauss
Ulrich Schnauss

When I think of Tangerine Dream, what stands out is their pioneering use of tape loops and analog sequencers – forming the basis for long compositions that allow for improvisation on guitar, keys, winds and other instruments atop the repeated phrases. Their music had the power to capture complex emotions, deftly used for instance in the cult classic film Sorcerer.

TD_band1
The Man and his Hat!

What we witnessed in concert last year was a band still at the peak of their powers delivering a set of sequencer laden electronic music that held tight the audience’s attention. The stage overflowed with spectacular waves of sequenced and synthesized sound, punctuated by inclusion of winding electronic guitar and violin leads, winds, and percussion. Colorful lighting including the use of lasers, which they had deployed in groundbreaking ways in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, were still on display making the whole experience at times serene, at others exciting, and throughout very dreamy and surreal. Edgar said a few words, but let the music do the talking.

Edgar leaves behind a huge body of work, having been massively influential in the world of music. I hear his voice in so many bands, from Daft Punk to Radiohead – from Paul van Dyk to Porcupine Tree and Steve Wilson. He will be missed, but will live on via this vast catalog and it’s admirers.

Warm Blips and Clicks

1st_commercial_Moog_synthesizerDuring the time I was learning to play piano (badly) in my youth, I was witness to the rise of modern electronic music.  In 1968 we purchased Switched on Bach by Wendy Carlos and my love affair with the Moog analog synthesizer and the artists who mastered it began.  That same year, my older brother bought me The Beatles White Album for Christmas, and I also heard Dick Hymen’s first electronic album which included the single “”Topless Dancers of Corfu” – a fun bit of pop that showcased many of the sounds possible from analog synthesizers.  This early combination of adventurous rock, classical, and electronic sounds became the basis for much of progressive rock music, from expert practitioners in bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Yes. The sonic depth of this music, and that of their contemporaries was trans-formative – the sound fused to the analog past, and electronic future where all things might be possible.  The sounds made by those early synths still seems fresh today, and is still incorporated in all kinds of music.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the mid 70s the all-electronic music of Kraftwerk came to my attention via their first several albums, most notably The Man Machine from 1978. As we entered the 80’s I was primed for a new wave of bands that employed synths to drive pop and goth music of the period.  Of the groups from the era, several, like Kraftwerk, used only synth and vocals in their work.  None were more prolific and successful than the musical genius Vince Clark.  Vince was a founding member of Depeche Mode, Yazoo (Yaz), and Erasure – the latter still writing and recording today.  Of these, Yazoo holds a special place as being a perfect blend of pop, soul, and cold clear electronic music.  Singer Alison Moyet provided the vocal warmth with her powerful, soulful delivery on tracks spanning their two releases Upstairs at Eric’s (1982) and You and Me Both (1983).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlison’s post Yazoo work is varied.  All of her releases since Yazoo have charted in the UK, as she graces any music that backs her massive powerful voice.  This year she released The Minutes, a welcome return to electronic music and an excellent album in it’s own right.  Her tour led to three dates in the states – we hit the San Francisco stop at the Fillmore auditorium, November 14. The show was wonderful, highlighting the new record and long solo catalog along with a handful of Yazoo tracks. Alison’s voice is undiminished, lending a warmth to all the blips, clicks, and patchwork of traditional synth sounds, still fresh and compelling ear candy after all these years.

A’la Mode

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great Depeche Mode played the Shoreline theater last week to a sold out crowd of devoted rapturous fans.  I was there for every note with my soul mate and a couple of our best friends.  This is a band that’s truly weathered time well – singer David Gahan still bumps, grinds, and belts out the deep notes with aplomb.  Singer multi-instrumentalist and principal writer Martin Gore raises the stakes whenever he comes out to be front and center, most notably on this tour performing slow acoustic versions of “But Not Tonight”, “Home” and “Shake the Disease” hitting all the best long vibrato soaked tones perfectly. Andy Fletcher does his low key celebration in back.  A drummer and second instrumentalist round out the band for their live shows as they have for just over 10 years now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe group was out to promote their latest release “Delta Machine” – an album that’s surprisingly good for writers so well into their careers.  From the opening track, also played to start the show, “Welcome to my World” to “Angel”, “The Child Inside (another Martin slow burner) and “Soothe My Soul” (a classic form for David’s best delivery) they covered many of its high points, all of which fit nicely in their catalog.  These new tracks serve to update the Depeche Mode sound, even hinting in parts at dub-step electronica, a variant on the form they practically invented along with German forbearers Kraftwerk.

Of the later work, only 2005’s “Playing the Angel” was represented with two tracks – “A Pain That I’m Used To” and “Precious.”  The rest of the set list focused on the band’s 80’s and 90’s hits including 1981’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”, skipping to 1985’s “Shake the Disease”, 1986’s “Black Celebration”, “A Question of Time”, and “But Not Tonight”, 1987’s “Never Let Me Down Again” (encore with everyone’s arm wipers to augment it), 1990’s “Enjoy the Silence”, “Personal Jesus”, “Halo”, and “Policy of Truth” (all practically required for these shows), 1993’s “Walking in My Shoes” and Martin’s tear jerker “Home”, now a perennial favorite from 1997. Not as fond of the other selection from “Ultra”- “Barrel of a Gun” which ended up being one of several instances where the drummer drowned out the founding members – a minor complaint, but here’s one fan wishing they more frequently dispense with the live drums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe whole event proved that Depeche Mode has remained not only commercially viable, but in rare form artistically, delivering their sometimes gloomy but more often celebratory wares, aged appropriately and served up hot.