Wednesday 19 June 2019

Nick Lowe at The Sage

Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets
The Sage, Gateshead

This busy and diverse month of gigs continued to provide plenty of entertainment and, for the first time since the Johnny Cash Roadshow, a male singer. I had been in two minds whether or not to book a ticket for this one but once I found out Dawn Landes was going to be there as support it made the decision very easy.
Dawn's music made a big impression on me when I saw her in York back in October 2018. As I already stated in my round-up of last year's influential music, Dawn deserves to be much better-known in the UK. Her 40-minute set was excellent and showcased songs from Bluebird and Meet Me at the River albums (seek them out if you are unfamiliar) and brought the story right up to date with material from the brand new My Tiny Twilight EP, plus a song from a forthcoming musical.

20 minutes wasn't too long to wait for the main act. In fact I welcomed the opportunity to pop out to chat with Dawn.
Frankly, I hadn't paid much attention to Nick Lowe's advertised band, Los Straitjackets. The quartet took to the stage before Nick Lowe and it was immediately apparent they were going to offer something very different, not least because they were all wearing what can only be described as wrestling or superhero masks. Their musicianship was on display from the very start too and they ensured we saw the rocking side of Nick Lowe for the remainder of the evening.
Nick took a mid-session break which allowed Los Straitjackets to play a small set of their own, which was extremely fresh and entertaining - especially when they played Space Mosquito. They are men of very few words but their talent is definitely not in doubt.


Nick went through the card, with songs stretching across several eras. These included So It Goes, Ragin' Eyes, I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass, Cruel to be Kind and then up his most recent material with Los Straitjackets, including Tokyo Bay.

He joked that as his songs are just three minutes long, anyone not enjoying one of them doesn't[t have have to wait too long for another one to start. It was that sort of evening, with Nick making an instant and strong connection with the audience.

Incidentally, I was surprised to see this show was placed in Sage 2 rather than the much larger hall, especially as the last run of tickets were for standing only, which is rare for Sage 2.

(What’s So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding seemed a good place to finish the excellent evening. I am now looking forward to investigating more of Nick's extensive back catalogue and of finding out more about Los Straitjackets.

Bikini Kill at Brixton Academy

Bikini Kill
Brixton Academy

I just happened to be working in London when Bikini Kill were on in Brixton. Their unexpected return to action after more than 20 years away brought a large slice of feminist punk to the city. They had been in Brixton for a sold-out show on the previous evening too.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from there evening when I queued in the rain between a man in a dress and two girls with bright green hair. I have been to the Brixton Academy many times over the years to see many different gigs, but this one had a palpable crackle of energy like no other.

Also on the bill were The Tux...
...and Big Joanie.
Both support acts shared the same genre as Bikini Kill. The music was loud, brash and immediate. There were axes to grind, causes to fight; a very different kind of Girl Power to that seen the previous week. Indeed, Bikini Kill are - and always were - prime players in the riot grrrl movement.

I could feel the growing sense of anticipation in the hall when the time ticked down towards Bikini Kill's entrance. Two people behind me were repeatedly shouting 'Oh my God! Oh my God!' out of sheer excitement.

The quartet - Kathleen Hanna (vocals) Tobi Vail (drums), Kathi Wilcox (bass) and Erica Dawn Lyle (guitar) - virtually exploded onto the stage to tear through a belting set at a fabulous pace.

Bikini Kill switched vocalists and instruments several times throughout the evening. I have never seen such frequent switching during a gig which went far beyond a change of vocalist to give the main one a rest, or a swap of lead guitar for bass for one or two songs. No, this was large-scale, on-stage evolution.

It was definitely a lively evening, showcasing anger, defiance and energy in equal measure, topped off with a slice of revolution.

Set List

Jigsaw Youth
New Radio
Don't Need You
Feels Blind
I Hate Danger
In Accordance to Natural Law
Demi Rep
Reject All American
Alien She
No Backrub
Hamster Baby
Tell Me So
This Is Not a Test
Capri Pants
Resist Psychic Death
Outta Me
For Only
Distinct Complicity
Lil' Red
Rebel Girl


Double Dare Ya
Suck My Left One

Second encore

For Tammy Rae

That's a lot of songs but they were all relatively short.


It was an explosive and highly potent return to the stage for Bikini Kill; an evening like no other. Are they back for good? Will there be new material? They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and they still have plenty to say, so watch this space...

Meanwhile, there will be more punk gigs for me later in the year.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor in Birmingham and Manchester

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Birmingham Symphony Hall
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
8/9 June 2019
One of the best gigs of 2017 was undoubtedly Sophie Ellis-Bextor at The Sage. I had booked it on the spur of the moment, not really knowing what to expect. I remember the cold and rainy your journey to Gateshead and then having my mood lifted by such a tremendous show that immediately became one of the highlights of the year.

This year’s major tour to support The Song Diaries - the new orchestral album - gave me the perfect opportunity to experience Sophie’s inimitable music again - twice over; first in Birmingham and then in Manchester.

This was only my second time at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. It is a fine venue and I will be returning there in the very near future. Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall is an old favourite, reminiscent of The Sage.

Alice Jemima opened on both evenings. I enjoyed her set, even though she seemed a shade nervous between songs. Incidentally, Alice is touring the UK later in the year.

The main event was soon under way. The orchestra took to the stage first and struck up the overture. The audience reaction was huge when Sophie made her appearance. Beautiful and radiant, she launched into Groovejet (If This Ain't Love) and had the audience in the palm of her hand from that moment onwards.

The set was in two distinct halves. The first featured Sophie with the orchestra and then a quick change into yellow heralded the start of the much faster second part of the show, with her regular band joining the fun alongside the orchestra. Suddenly, everyone was up dancing and singing.

Set List (both evenings)

Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)
Wild Forever
Catch You
Young Blood
Love Is a Camera
Not Giving Up On Love
Today the Sun's on Us
Music Gets the Best of Me
Mixed Up World

Take Me Home
Young Hearts Run Free
Love Is You
Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)
Don't Leave Me This Way
Get Over You
Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)
Murder on the Dancefloor


A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed

It was a strong set list, with the orchestral arrangements bringing plenty of new textures from the songs.

The encore added an extra level to the evening, in more ways than one. Catch one of the tour dates if you want to see what that means.
The photographs in this review are all from the Birmingham show. A gallery from the evening in Manchester will follow in due course.

The two evenings definitely lived up to expectations and I am going to see Sophie again later in the year.

The Spice Girls at The Stadium of Light

The Spice Girls
The Stadium of Light
The route to the Stadium of Light was packed with people of all ages. Groups would spontaneously peal off to the side to break out into song; others stopped to have their faces painted and glittered. It was an atmosphere quite unlike any I had experienced at other gigs and it was entirely positive.

The stadium was noisy as people took their places. As usual, there was a lot of coming and going while the support act was on but there was no denying the building sense of anticipation.
I thought Jess Glynne did a good job as the support act, warming up the audience nicely. People I spoke to later disagreed and felt she relied too much on her backing singers. This week there has been controversy over her pulling out of a festival appearance at the last minute, with anxiety and/or partying taking the blame. It will be interesting to see how career develops from here.

The arrival of the Spice Girls was heralded by a growing number of dancers who appeared on the stage. They seemed to be a random assortment at first but they built into themed teams and it became apparent they were to split into four factions - one for each of the stars. Yes, five became four for this reunion tour and the absence of Posh was highlighted on one of the most common T-shirts of the crowd, which showed the names of the girls with Posh crossed out.

Suddenly Ginger, Baby, Scary and Sporty were side by side on the stage, ready to rock. The audience’s reaction was everything one would expect it to be.

The show did slow down when the girls left the stage for various changes of costume. The dancers filled in the gaps but it took too long each time (although not as long as Katherine Jenkins needed.)

The whole Spiceworld set up was spectacular and the girls themselves are clearly in great shape. The much-quoted sound problems were absent at the Stadium of Light, with only the noise form the exuberant crowd having the potential to drown out the spoken pieces between the songs. Scary’s language was inappropriate when discussing the time Ginger left the group; with so many very young fans in attendance there was really no need to lapse into vulgarity.

The percentage of females in the audience was very high, which caused mayhem during the break between acts. The women stormed the men’s toilets leading to many a crossed-leg scenario. ‘You can use the troughs’ they said, as they laid siege to the cubicles. That really was girl power in action.

Set List

Spice Up Your Life
If U Can't Dance
Who Do You Think You Are
Do It
Something Kinda Funny
Queer Tango
Viva Forever
Let Love Lead the Way
Never Give Up on the Good Times
We Are Family
Love Thing
The Lady Is a Vamp
The Last Waltz
Too Much
Say You'll Be There
2 Become 1
Girl Power
Spice Up Your Life

There’s no doubt about it; this was a fabulous feel good evening and a great occasion for North East England. What next for the Spice Girls?