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My first White Stripes gig (in Denver)

3 Feb

The news that The White Stripes have split is, like their career, entirely against the trends and flow of the music industry.

At a time when dozens of reforming indie favourites are back in the game and admit it’s just for the money, the best American rock band to come alive in the noughties have quietly called it a day and politely ended a decade of adoration from fans, critics and the Italian football team who used the tune of Seven Nation Army to accompany their 2006 World Cup chant.

When I first heard The White Stripes, I naturally wanted to see them live, if only to see how Jack White made those noises with his guitar. The bluesy punk explosion was short, addictive and full of the the shrieking air guitar moments that only ancient bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin could muster.

The White Stripes sounded retro but had twisted the rock band template and proved that a duo could create a sound as loud and exciting as any five-piece. Jack and Meg together always reminded me of two people playing with sound like early hip-hop amateurs, adding rap over rough ghetto blaster beats. The ad-hoc drumming and improv riffs was as roughly hewn as any Brooklyn rapper working with a bag of mixtapes and a mic.

Jack and his mythical selection of guitar pedals, DIY guitars and distortion trickery was a new sound, fuzzed over and stripped to basics to showcase his talent and homage to classic blues guitarists.

In my quest to see The White Stripes live, I was ready to see them at Reading Festival in 2003 after smaller venue tickets sold out in minutes. Sadly, Jack broke one of his fingers and pulled the gig but The White Stripes had released landmark album Elephant, which – looking back – was my favorite album of the decade. Releasing the indie fanboy, I decided that a broken finger wasn’t going to get in the way of me seeing The White Stripes. I investigated flights to America where the tour was still going ahead and flew out to Denver to see The White Stripes for the first time on 19th September 2003.

I remember the date because I was given a rare print commissioned for the gig by an artist in San Francisco. Like Jack’s fascination with the glamour and appreciation of vinyl, the free print (see below) was an example of unique, home made merchandise, a world apart from familiar hoodies with any band logo printed in bold. Naturally, the print is framed and living on my bedroom wall.

The gig itself was at the Fillmore Auditorium, a 3,500 capacity  hall which used to be an ice rink. The venue was draped in red curtains and dim white lights, like a vampiric ballroom.  Before the show, I visited a music shop near the venue and found fans openly drinking bottles of beer while flicking through records and buying vintage rock tee shirts. “I just wanna see Jack White play guitar, that’s all. He’s the best” said a tipsy, skinny fan who was destined for the moshpit. But were there moshpits at Jack White gigs? Were moshpits even allowed in Denver, which seemed to be a couple of decades behind the rest of the world?

Stepping outside the shop, I bought a ticket from a tout for $20 and saw the venue was enthusiastic but not full. But this was before Spotify and new music spread slowly across America and alternative rock wasn’t high on the agenda for many radio stations. The White Stripes eventually changed radio playlists and MTV too, enlisting original directors and making Kate Moss dance on a pole. This was the near future of course and the Denver gig was part of the tour charge for an album that changed the attitude of American radio by putting classic rock in a blender and replacing pomp with raw passion.

The start of the gig saw Jack White shuffle on to the stage nervously, hiding behind the opening bars of a song. Seconds later, he started to scream before Meg had picked up her sticks. Ball and Biscuit was incredible, as was The Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground. Surrounded by locals, the scene had shades of the bit in Back To The Future where Michael J Fox does that guitar solo to a stunned audience. Comfortable couples looked at each other nervously managing smiles, slowly retreating from the front of  stage assault while the gang I saw in the music shop were stood at the front, drunk and chanting.

Strangely, Meg took to the front of stage to sing her own song, In The Cold, Cold Night. Everyone went to the bar at that point but it didn’t change the buzz in the Fillmore Auditorium. Since Denver, I’ve seen The White Stripes a few times but those gigs didn’t come close to showing me the key change in American rock music I saw happening before my eyes at the Fillmore Auditorium. Yes, I’m gutted that The White Stripes split up but 13 years together and 6 albums is a decent legacy. And, for the record, there was a moshpit in Denver. I’d like to think it was the first one it had ever seen.

Thanks Jack and Meg. We’ll miss you.


Miles Kane: Live at the Barfly

24 Jan
The Last Shadow Puppet takes his solo album on the road. First stop: Camden, 22nd January.

After surfacing as the best mate of Alex Turner, Miles Kane has proved himself to have more in common with the Arctic Monkeys frontman than just a hairdresser.

He’s been the frontman of his own band – The Rascals – and worked with Alex to release his best work as one half of The Last Shadow Puppets. Tonight, Miles Kane is appearing as Miles Kane, testing his first solo album before an April release.

The packed Barfly holds balding Britpoppers and a scattering of Arctic Monkeys fans, discussing whether Alex Turner or perhaps even Noel Gallagher will take to the stage, having recently added vocals to his album in return for Kane playing guitar on the forthcoming Noel solo album. Of course, the problem with riding on the coat tails of friends is that, sooner or later, you’re going to have to prove yourself and that’s why this live solo debut is taking part in a room that holds 200 people – it’s less risky than, say, the Kentish Town Forum. The audience at the Barfly tonight are almost exclusively die-hard indie drunks who have been watching bands in the venue since 3pm.

The last time we saw Miles Kane, he was bouncing around the audience at Blur’s 2009 Hyde Park gig, sharing poppers with Peaches Geldof and Agyness Deyn and playing air guitar. He spoke about how great Blur were, constantly caught up in the guitar solos and choruses, living the moment while The Rascals were going nowhere fast. Friendly, passionate and devoted to music, you can’t help but feel sorry for a man desperately trying to live the life of a rock star while failing to get any success outside of The Last Shadow Puppets or the Shadow of Alex Turner.

Even tonight, Alex Turner’s other half Alexa Chung attracts more attention than the band as she slinks to the back of the bar. The sound of Miles Kane with his new band isn’t that different to The Rascals – urgent, basic melodies full of chroruses which never really engage or prompt a singalong.

Recent track Inhaler is a radio-friendly riff without substance and other songs retread the bluesy garage band stuff that we expect The Coral experimented with when they were at high school. The best thing about Miles Kane solo is his voice but this is drowned out by musicians so enthusiastic, they look like a music class covering their favorite hits. There is a cover tonight, too – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Spread Your Love, a muscular stomp that, in it’s original anthemic form, has enough bass and swagger to blow amps and shatter windows.

Tonight, Spread Your Love sounds like Harry Potter tapping away to Motorhead on Guitar Hero – tinny, high pitched and just wrong.The laddish swagger that Miles Kane talks about just isn’t here tonight, nor are the ‘good looking blokes playing good music’ that he’s fond of saying to the press.

Instead, we get a talented singer struggling to define himself as a frontman and nervous, pale friends as bandmates who kill the attitude that begins to appear towards the end of the night. For someone so obsessed with British guitar heroes of the past, Miles Kane needs to look at creating modern sounds and a better band – even Oasis had to cut friends out of the party at some point.

Interview: Jimmy Eat World

24 Nov

We speak to Jim Adkins and Tom Linton about their new album Invented, student bands, leather pants and why UK crowds beat US crowds…

Invented is seen as kind of a return to your breakthrough Bleed American album – do you see it that way? And where does it fit in to your discography?

Jim: If you’re in a group for a long time with so many songs, everyone tries to categorise things in terms of the catalogue. For me, it just sounds like us.

You’ve said before that you ‘don’t go in with a concept for an album, just a document of the time’ What things are you documenting on Invented?

Musically, it’s what challenges us and interests us in terms of our current tastes and prejudices as a whole band.

What was the inspiration between Stop and Mixtape on the album – in a few words?

Stop is about jealousy, Mixtape is about….regret.

You’re in Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero. Bands seem to love or hate the relationship between music and games…

Jim: I don’t think it stops anyone from playing guitar. Knowing how to play real guitar doesn’t help you play the game at all…

Tom: There’s nothing wrong with the games, it’s always fun but when you think about how much time people do spend playing the video game, they could be playing an instrument…

Jim: It is fun at parties though, I have to say. If a group of people are hanging out anyway, it does push the party meter to 10.

What advice would you give students starting a band?

Jim: I would say, regardless of where you are, playing music is one of the most rewarding and satisfying things you can do. You have to be satisfied with the reward it brings you on a personal level. I think that’s the only bit you can control. Whether or not anyone’s going to care about what you’re doing is beyond your control. You can be smart about opportunities that come to you but it’s first and foremost about being proud of your work and, you know, some leather pants. Tight leather pants. They definitely help.

You’ve been together for 17 years – how do you stick together without breaking any bones?

Jim: Have you seen how many dressing rooms we have? This is the only time me and Tom are in the same room together…No, but seriously, we were all friends, more or less, before the band got anywhere serious. We knew each other from the same schools growing up in Arizona.

When you approach it all from the perspective of anyone making a connection with what you’re doing as a fragile and fleeting thing and something that should be taken seriously and not for granted, then it’s a whole lot easier to let the small things go when you’re working in a group situation.Things get heated and passionate when we’re in a creative mode but we all realise that we’re struggling for the same goal and get the best end result. So, to answer the question, I’d say Friendship and Respect. And being mildly drunk the whole time…

Where do you get the biggest reaction in the UK?

Jim: All over. The UK is the place where we have some of our best shows. Our London gig sold out before any of the other shows…

Tom: The crowds are always enthusiastic and singalong and you don’t see that too much in the states.

Why do US bands come to the UK to make it big in the US? Like Kings of Leon and The  Strokes?

Jim: Yeah, that happens sometimes, right? I was going to say Kings of Leon.

Tom: And Jimi Hendrix..

Jim: People in America might be cautious to drop the hammer and promote something until someone else tells them it’s good. If a UK buzz gets rolling, that might translate to someone at a label taking notice. It’s weird. But music journalism in the UK is a lot more passionate than American mainstream music journalism. In America, it’s all about blogs – you have Rolling Stone and Alternative Press but those guys are hurting. The American appetite for blog based stuff is way higher than for magazines.

How do you feel about bands like Paramore citing you as an influence?

Jim: It’s extremely flattering. We have bands that we look up to and that we would freak out if we met today. We understand what it feels like to be fans and it’s a big compliment for other bands to feel that way about what we do.

What do you sing in the shower and what’s on in the tour bus playlist?

Tom: LL Cool J!

Jim: I go with old school LL Cool J, Tom goes new school…with Going Back To Cali or even, you know, Mamma Said Knock You Out. On the tour bus, everyone has such different tastes…it could be Hank Williams one minute and then death metal the next. It’s democratic!

Brandon Flowers @ Kentish Town Forum

18 Oct

Camden rolls out the red carpet for The Killers’  frontman – 17/10/2010

There’s a red dot at the Kentish Town Forum, dancing across the dark stage like a laser pointer. It’s a roadie filming the expectant crowd with a camera phone. The crowd scream, pause and examine the person holding the camera phone. It’s a girl. Confused, they contemplate this for 3 seconds, lower their hand made signs (DO YOU LIKE MY HAT?) and start again.

The roadie quickly tapes the A4 set list to the floor and exits stage left. More screams, then brief silence. As the last house lights dim, brassy intro music accompanies rose red search lights and the screaming is no longer shouting, it’s a communal, constant high pitch gargle of expectation for the man that made it cool to inject pop in to rock.

A gruff rocker emerges from the darkness, guitar firmly strapped across his hips. The hand made signs fall, the moshpit of teenage girls gawp. It’s Transfer from San Diego. In the glamorous, sequin studded glitzfest that surrounds Brandon Flowers like a cape on loan from Elton John, even the support band get a big Vegas style introduction.

Just weeks after his solo debut, Brandon Flowers is on the road, ensuring that the support band follow the Killers’ template of shock and awe, suspense then spectacle. So it comes as a surprise when Brandon walks on stage alone, standing in he spotlight and opening with the stripped down, stage school story-telling of On The Floor. He isn’t wearing any feathers, shoulder pads or posing behind a retro piano. Instead, he looks every inch the  shy 1950’s handyman, with braces, work shirt and hefty  boots. This is Brandon wandering solo, positioned at front of stage like a solitary scene from Oliver.

We knew Brandon could sing, but this show proves that there’s a bigger voice and a wider talent in the grip of a man intent on glamorising his hometown via pop, country, rock and beyond. Switching between heartfelt ballads and epic singalongs like Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts with ease, debut single Crossfire is full of fist shaking, stomping and swirls.

With the camp showman confidence of a 50 year old Morrissey, Brandon leaps around the stage for singalongs but stays fixed when getting emotional, though the arms still flail and punch in time to a cover of Bette Davis Eyes. Yes, Bette Davis Eyes – a 1974 song that is a regular cover in Vegas cabaret bars for retired couples. You’ve probably heard it on Magic FM or at a wedding. It sounds great but has floored the audience, expecting a snatch of Mr Brightside.

Back to the album tracks, Brandon is in safer territory, preaching to the converted with a selection of songs which are often chorus after chorus. Barely a sentence passes without upward intonation warning you about the arrival of the next one. It’s like ABBA birthing chorus triplets every minute. A bit of Killers arrived in the form of Day & Age album track Losing Touch which fits with the sound and Vegas narrative and we’re left with Brandon singing When You Were Young, with only the bearded keyboard player to help him out on acoustic guitar. With the rest of the band off stage, it sounds like a gospel prayer. But there’s no need for prayers. With Brandon’s solo debut eclipsing the last Killers album and the man proving he can deliver a solo performance to shock the house, everyone’s on a winning streak here.

Interview: Adam Ficek

14 Oct

The Babyshambles drummer talks about going solo, starting his own band and what it was like being in (and out) of Babyshambles.

Roses Kings Castles – how and why did you start the project?

It was a side project for Babyshambles really. Babyshambles were doing loads of touring and we weren’t really writing for the album. I wanted an outlet for my songs to be heard, really.

Obviously now it’s somewhat changed shape – it’s my main focus now the whole Babyshambles thing has crumbled.

Now it’s more of a primary project working at a much higher level which brings it’s own challenges like finding musicians and making sure the performance level is much higher. It’s challenging but you’ve just got to put your head down and get on with it.

What are your tips for any bands trying to get noticed or signed?

The first thing you’ve got to do is work. It’s no good assuming that music is an easy way out and a justification for being lazy. You’ve got to view it as if it’s a job.

All the high-level bands, there’s a small minority who have done it through the media but the majority of them have put in the hours. My three tips are: get up in the morning, know the right people and know your market, the people you want to sell your music to.

But it’s not that simple – labels, whatever their strengths – still want to spot you because you look ‘right’ though?

I know bands that have been signed before they’ve played a gig. They get signed by a music label who can mould them into what they think the future is going to be next year.

So they’ll pick some Pete Doherty style girl singing with a guitar and think, okay she’s young enough, let’s rebuild her and remodel her, give her an elecro tinge and throw a bit of glitter in her hair, stick her on some billboards and see what happens.

Have you had any bad experiences with RKC and getting signed?

Yeah, I’ve had some bad experiences. My stuff is very different to Babyshambles – I’m on acoustic guitar and I’ve been supported by heavy bands and it’s not been working. It’s the agents. I’d say 80% of the people in the music business couldn’t give a toss about the actual music, maybe 87%.

You’ve got to watch out because those people will instantly think ‘can we make money from this or not?’ and that’s what it’s about for them. I think that as a musician you have to protect your integrity and go in strong and say ‘no, I don’t want this support act’.

Being in Babyshambles – how was that?

It was an amazing experience and an experience that, from a very young age, I had geared up for. I was one of those naive kids that used to have indie band posters on my wall and read the NME. I just absorbed it all and I chased it – I dreamed of being in band.

When you get there, you realise that it’s not how you perceived it to be. It did tarnish my dream when you realise people can buy front covers of magazines and, unfortunately, the press. I’m a bit of a cynic and I read magazines and I can see through it.

So it must have been difficult to release your first RKC album then?

Yeah. When I released my first RKC record, I was really buzzing about it and thought it was a chance for someone without a major label to make a splash but you slowly realise if you’re on an independent label, it’s like you’re pissing in the wind.

If you haven’t got that financial weight to buy some good reviews or some adverts in places, then you can’t get out to the masses. The good thing is that you realise people can download albums for free and then decide if they want to buy the full thing or not so those magazines are of kind of irrelevant.

I know some of the good guys at the NME but it was only because of the Babyshambles connection… If I didn’t have that connection, I don’t know what I’d do. You have to find your own way in and I’m lucky enough to have that connection.

I used to think that if you wrote an amazing song that was produced well, you could get anywhere and it would open doors but that’s not the case unfortunately.

Where do you stand with Babyshambles at the moment – there’s been a lot of talk and they’ve put the drummer from Supergrass in your seat?

I’m not in Babyshambles at the moment. I’d like to elaborate on the reasons why but I can’t at the moment – it’s all getting a bit grown up so I can’t say too much about it. It’s a little bit messy on that front. It’s a real shame that I’m not in the band anymore. Maybe in a month, I can give you the full lowdown but it’s really hard for me – I’m in a bit of a tricky situation.

So what next?

My second album, which was finished last August, has taken a long time to come out but the label were waiting for the right time. I’m working on my fan base and playing gigs.

What’s the difference of being in your own band? Do you like being the leader?

The whole process of trying to keep a band together is a nightmare. It’s difficult being the leader, but I need that. In Babyshambles, we had a small say but now I know what I want – from the album artwork to the music – and it’s good to have control of what you want.

Now, I’m finding venues and chasing PA people and finding the right support – I don’t want some banging guitar band supporting me!

What do you think of the Libertines reforming for Reading and Leeds festivals?

All of them could do with the dough which is great. I know them all and they’re all genuinely nice guys. If they want the money, let them go and do it. But it’s about the money. I can’t say I would never do that because it’s a toss up between paying your mortgage or not and you look at it as work.

Has the internet told us that people in bands aren’t always loaded?

A normal musician now is earning as much as a professional labourer would – you’re not Sting with your four mansions. I think the internet has broken down those barriers. My income now is from DJing and doing remixes and stuff, RKC isn’t yet on the level where you make money. You just hope that from performing, you’re on the next bit of the ladder next year in terms of gigs.

What about iTunes and making money from downloads? Isn’t this the DIY revolution?

iTunes, I don’t even think about it because I know there’s nothing coming in. I never see any of it, Christ knows where that goes. It does annoy me a bit with sites like Spotify and mFlow – entrepreneurs are making good money but the musicians are getting shafted.

You can visit the official RKC site here, see Adam’s homepage here and he Tweets at @adamficek.

This interview originally appeared on

The Brits 2010/1996

22 Feb

The Brits 2010 really did take place this year, though most of the guests and hired talent made it seem distinctly 1996. First, there was Liam Gallagher, all mascara and middle-aged feather cut, sticking out his chest as if his slack jawed strut still meant anything to anyone outside of The Courteeners. Geri Halliwell then arrived, looking toned, orange and mentally ill – every family has an auntie like this. “Is Peter Kaye doing okayyy?” she rasped at the audience, begging them for approval so the host could regain his nerve and halt the streams of piss caused by his performance which was, on all levels, as funny as cancer of the bollock.

And just as you thought Geri’s aunty gibber couldn’t get any worse, Courtney Love turned up, grinning like a stoned cat. Why? We’re not sure, but she was in town and probably fancied going dogging with the one from Kasabian who looks like a chunky Eddie Izzard and spoon feeding Ellie Goulding some MDMA jelly. But it’s the Brits – so let’s not forget it’s as much about Tom Ford and Sam Fox as well as the people that create the music! What did poor Jay Z think? If he actually knew what Butlins was, he would have believed he was there, but Sam Fox would have been an ageing waitress and JLS would have been called Urban Thrillz and exposed their buttocks for peanuts. And we mean KP Nuts, not actual money.

The biggest unsolved mystery was the appearance of Cheryl Cole. The UK public has seen her mime that auto-tuned-Geordie song a billion times. She’s so ashamed, she wears giant shades and as many clothes as possible, exposing the only bits of flesh she’s happy with. For reference, this appears to be the 3 inch square patches either side of her belly button. The best bit was the house megamix interlude, which saw Cheryl look as awkward as the time she slapped that toilet attendant. Puckering her lips and shifting her shoulders like some aztec epileptic, Cheryl defined what the Brits has become. Usually a place for people who have sold some records to sell many more to Asda customers, The Brits is now advertising space for A-Z listers. For every Jay Z, there’s a Sugababe waiting to maximise exposure by indecently exposing herself or working her way into Robbie’s Range Rover.

Next time Mr Brits, how about making it all about the acts that matter, not the ones you blackmailed into attending, hmm?


9 Aug

humbug cover

When the Arctic Monkeys play live, they do everything wrong. They’re shy, play their biggest hit as an opener and close on a slow moving, depressing track like 505. Faced with legions of cardigan wearing hipsters and laddish Britpop fans, they play Warren G or Public Enemy before taking to the stage with a drummer that is dressed exclusively by JD Sports. All of these things, combined with the impossible politeness of Alex Turner, go against any traditional template for rock success. But, against all odds, it works and for a band with the live power of Oasis and the kind of uniquely British lyrics unseen since The Smiths split, a new album is as exciting as any live event.

Humbug is an album that between skeletal bass and twisted, imaginary gloom manages to pull out anthem after anthem. Whether it’s the kind of spitting, brooding angst of Pretty Visitors or Cornerstone, a waltzy love song, all tracks have giant choruses and the required sing-along potential for the current tour circuit of arenas and festivals. More than before, vocals are pushed forward, perhaps after Turner found his softer voice by inventing The Last Shadow Puppets and becoming skilled in the ways of the croon. Or perhaps it’s because Queens of The Stone Age main man Josh Homme produced seven of the ten tracks on Humbug. Put against the wall beside the band, rock slab Homme looks every inch the greasy redneck biker who has come to steal the children and bury them in the desert. Instead, he’s helped the band add scale to their tales. This album wasn’t written in a lonely bar while casting imaginary characters in Sheffield soap opera songs and it shows.

Homme’s trademark heavy drone is everywhere and for every bass blowout, there’s the familiar jangle and rapid riff attack from Turner. On My Propeller, the song is driven down, constantly descending until the chorus drags the song out of depression and back to the kind of sunshine indie that you’d expect from Ash. It’s a weird mix and one that only works because the band are as open to new ideas as anyone. On paper it reads like Dave Grohl lending Morrissey a hand but on record, it makes perfect sense. Just as fellow Queens of The Stone age guitarist Dean Fertita joins The Dead Weather to release Horehound, similar traces of the Homme/Queens of The Stone Age influence can be found on those songs. A couple wouldn’t feel out of place on Humbug, which shows how diverse and versatile the Arctic Monkeys really are.

First single Crying Lighting is a star spangled psychedelic run through the strange subjects that Turner can transform into songs in minutes. Like the first album, songs are often narratives but narratives in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas instead of traditional songs about Sheffield or ‘cuddles in the kitchen to get things of the ground’. Put that Mardy Bum lyric beside ‘make a mess lioness’ from Dangerous Animals and you’ll see swaggering, primal confidence replacing the embarrassed idea of fronting a rock band. This is the Arctic Monkeys album that demands a bigger stage and a giant band to fill it. Happily, that’s just what Turner and friends have become, without actually noticing it themselves.