Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Love life, love live music

What a wonderful weekend of musical entertainment it was. On Saturday I enjoyed the best of English folk music and on Sunday some of the best American Metal.

Show of Hands played the final date of their autumn tour at the local arts centre, supported by an excellent exponent of American folk music, one Mr Slaid Cleaves (google that name) and his friend Michael O'Connor. Cleaves took us through a predictable and slightly samey but highly enjoyable support set that showcased some of his crowd-pleasing tracks and prompted something of a rush for his CDs during the interval. Some of the songs, or at least the stories behind the songs, dated back to the 1860's and gave us a brief glimpse into the underbelly of American life. As with all folk music this was social history told in the musical form and as such it proved to be a highly enjoyable introduction to his work and to the American folk-music experience. Any open-minded music fans who like to kick back with a drink and let the world drift by but still want to hear intelligence and passion will enjoy Cleaves as the soundtrack to their lazy afternoon.

Show of Hands came perilously close to playing the gig of the year and I think the only reason they were relegated to third place was because I knew very few of their songs before I got there and couldn't sing along. Until the gig, their breakthrough classic "Country Life" was the only one of their songs I could recognise and is so good that it counted as my folk favourite even though I'd had the pleasure of seeing Roy Harper (supported by his son Nick) and the great Irishman Christy Moore. However, when they pounded out a storming rendition of their 'patriotic' classic "Roots" the pinnacle of English folk was reached. Never before had I heard a song that stirred such depth of feeling and, as much as I hate to say something so potentially blinkered and pompous, made me feel truly English. As mentioned above, folk music is social history sung to us rather than written in books and this song makes the point: "Without our stories or our songs how will we know where we come from?" Now the reasons for their cult following are blindingly clear and as we left the gig I was skimming the tour dates to find out when I could next see them. Check their website for dates near you and get ready to enjoy a great evening of live music.

Moving up the motorway to Birmingham and the NEC, we have an evening with the incomparable Marilyn Manson. This was my third MM experience and it came close to being the best, easily outstripping the Alexander Palace gig where a poor choice of venue (only 1 entrance!) and even poorer choice of support (even the brief appearance of Iggy Pop couldn't save Peaches's set) and equalling the London Arena gig where support came in the capable hands of Disturbed. In the NEC we were treated to Turbonegro's huge nod towards NWOBHM and the overblown stage posturing that goes so well with that style of music. Having lauded Birmingham for inventing NWOBHM and the devil (yes, they really credited Brum for creating the epitome of evil) they launched into their standout track of the night "City of Satan" and verily the crowd did enjoy themselves.

When MM hit the stage after a relatively short interval and sound check he started with the first track ("If I was your vampire") of the new album ("Eat me, drink me") just to ease us slowly into the set and then got everyone singing along as the band powered through "Disposable Teens" and "Mobscene". A relatively simple stage set-up and light show allowed the band to showcase the music itself and if anyone left disappointed it was only because a full 2-hour blast of Marilyn Manson live is just enough to leave you hungry for yet more. Every studio album was visited at least once, including Portrait of an American Family and even Smells Like Children. There were a couple of 2-3 minute breaks for costume changes and to allow for one or two large props to be added to the stage for particular songs, which ended up meaning the traditional encore didn't happen. That, for me, was a thoroughly pleasant change: no daft charade where the band says goodnight and leaves the stage for 2-5 minutes while the crowd chant and stamp until they reappear for a 'spontaneous' rendition of a few more songs. With a touch of crowd-pleasing brilliance, they finished the set with "The Beautiful People". When the last bar of the song was over, the stage lights went out and within a few seconds the house lights came on. How great is that? Here's a brilliant, stomping song that ends sharply (no fade-out) and then you're done. Wham bam thank you Ma'am, the set's over; go home! If only they could have played for another hour or had a post-gig club set like Prince does that would have rounded off a truly fantastic night.

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