Tag Archives: gig

Blackroom

Photographing concerts is hard. This one of Blackroom at the Water Rats in London was no exception.

It’s dark and with fast movement, which is a bad combination in itself. Low light implies longer shutter speeds; movement implies the exact opposite.

But just in case you managed to figure out how best to cope with low light and animated performers, there’s the added bonus of bright, flashing lights. This throws off the automatic metering that the camera performs, leading to a dark blur or a white blur, neither particularly appealing.

After some experimentation I settled on under-exposing by two stops, using AI focusing and rattling off a few frames at a time.

Back on my Mac, I decided against removing the purple cast seen in most of the images. It’s both a fairly faithful representation of the lighting on the night and quite fitting for a band with dark themes.

More images can be seen on Flickr.

What an amazing time

Gwen Stefani gig ticketOn the approach to Wembley there were a gaggle of vendors selling glowing rabbit ears and furry wands. We speculated whether this was where Gwen Stefani bought the wardrobe for her tour. They probably sell the same merchandise for most gigs here, but there are few other artists that I could imagine actually wearing such cheap and cheesy accessories.

Of course she didn’t, at least until about two thirds of the way through the set when she launched herself into the audience, alternately running around and standing in the crowd to sing a verse. At one point she borrowed some rabbit ears from a fan. Very fetching.

Okay, so I’ve now written two paragraphs about the gig and I’ve not said a word about the music. I think that’s a function of the kind of music she’s performing these days. At one end of the spectrum you have people like Madonna who do a show. This isn’t a gig in the traditional sense of the word. It’s tightly choreographed, with dancing that is tiring to watch much less perform and audience involvement limited to dancing and singing along. At the other end you have your standard four-piece bouncing around the stage; it’s all about presence, music and, maybe, a little banter. It’s a positive feedback loop.

Stefani tries to straddle the two worlds. Her dancers are energetic and well synchronised (but not quite up to the standards of Madonna’s “Confessions” tour), while she generally struts around them but not joining in. There are frequent dress changes, ranging from track suit pants to red, sparkly hot-pants. Every two or three songs she stops the music and switches into “banter mode.” We need to be louder than Paris. She’s nervous because her father-in-law is in the audience. This song was co-written by a member of Keane.

For me it didn’t quite work. The switch from the tunes to the “ad libs” felt forced, scripted in some places, random in others. You expect exhortations to sing along, but normally on the up-tempo tracks rather than ballads.

But that’s not to say that the gig as a whole failed. At the moment there are few other people making such fun, bright and energetic pop music, and even fewer with the quirky, playful nature of Stefani. “The Sweet Escape” tour reflects these qualities from beginning to end, the whole “who’s that girl” bit when the lights go down, in the choice of songs, the projected videos, the stage set and everyone performance.

In summary: well worth seeing.

Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

We went to see Pet Shop Boys play live at the Hammersmith Apollo on the 6th. It was a great gig, possibly the best of theirs that I’ve seen. This is perhaps the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen them over the years and the first time I’ve not left at least a little disappointed.

But despite the ups and downs of their live shows, they have maintained their prime position in my music collection since at least Actually came out in 1987. That makes me feel old! Of course you can’t really rationalise something that tugs at raw emotion in the way that music often can1, but that has not stopped me trying to figure out why I keep listening to them2.

The closest thing to a conclusion I’ve come to actually relates to something that Scott Adams, the guy that does Dilbert, wrote in one of his books (and blogged about but the link appears to be missing) about drawing successful cartoons. He says that a cartoon should utilise at least a few of these qualities:

  • Cute
  • Naughty
  • Bizarre
  • Clever
  • Recognisable
  • Cruel

I’m not sure that writing songs has exactly the same requirements, but there’s certainly an overlap. One of my favourite recent tracks is “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.” The first time you hear the title your reaction might be to think it’s funny. But the music and other lyrics are kind of sad and beautiful. And at the same time it’s almost universally recognisable. We may not have been there but we can imagine what it would be like. Each element might work individually but together they’re a killer combination.

But then, perhaps there is something to Adams’ original list. “I’m with stupid” is pretty cruel if you’re George Bush (funny otherwise); doing the sound-track to an early, black-and-white, silent, Russian film is quite bizarre; posing with a small dog on the sleeve of “Introspective” could be called ‘cute’; and appearing naked in front of the Queen is quite naughty. That last bit is on their album ‘Very’ and not some Jarvis Cocker-eque act of rebellion.

Anyway, back to the gig. I would never have remembered the set list unaided, but I did find a very helpful website that did the job for me. I created an iTunes iMix3 if you want to recreate the gig in your own living room:

  1. Something that I’ve noticed is that pretty much all of my closest friends are passionate about music. Not necessarily the same kind of thing as me, but they’re all above your typical couple of dozen CDs. []
  2. Such are the perils of being INTP. []
  3. Unfortunately the list isn’t entirely complete. iTunes didn’t have all the tracks in the same format I have, even though I decided against including the original Bobby Orlando version of “West End Girls”! []

The Mighty Blur

The Mighty BooshOkay, really I’m talking about The Mighty Boosh, but my camera phone doesn’t quite have the resolution to give you much more than a blur…

A few months ago I tried to organise a trip to see The Boosh but despite every indication to the contrary, they had completely sold out. We settled for watching the DVD at a friends house.

On a whim I checked a ticketing website last Friday and there were still tickets available for some new dates that were added. After umming and ahhing over the price for a while I whipped out my credit card.

The show was kind of a mixture of some new material, some “best of” moments from the TV series and a lot of ad-libbing. That’s selling it a bit short. It was a new story but with some familiar elements and some favourite characters. We were pleased to see The Moon (“Neil Armstrong, walking on me face…”) make an appearance.

Basically it’s a programme full of in-jokes. You could go to an Eddie Izzard gig and laugh at pretty much all of it (except any references to Mrs Badcrumble). If you’d not seen the TV show would the phrase “top shelf” make you laugh out loud?

We were laughing pretty much from beginning to end. Recommended.