Saturday, 31 October 2009

Oceansize - Kingston Peel - 30th October 2009

Kingston Peel is a lovely little venue. I certainly think it is and it appears so do Oceansize who tonight (30th October 2009) play here for the third year in a row. This is the first headline show for the band of 2009 and arrives in support of recent EP 'Home & Minor'. The set does not just contain new songs from this release however coming as it does also with new songs never played by the band before from their forthcoming 4th album, set to be released in 2010.

Before Oceansize take to the stage however come two local acts in and Shield Your Eyes. feature massive Oceansize fan, and gig promoter, Del Noble on guitar and vocals and their set of reverb heavy songs ends in Noble flinging his guitar around like a mad man on the venue's floor, much to the surprise of several early doors pint swilling punters. Three piece Shield Your Eyes seem to have a very simple formula to their songs. They all begin with a jagged riff and some yelpy vocals before progressing to having the same riff, maybe with the odd variation, played over and over again with no vocals until the song comes to a conclusion just after falling asleep. Some onlookers clearly think this band are the bees knees. Let's just leave things as saying that I think they're average at best.

Oceansize arrive with a new song ('Ransoms') and depart with one also (the furious 'It's My Tale'). In between come fan favourites such as the rarely played 'Paper Champion' and the behemoth that is 'Massive Bereavement'. Also included is the complex monster of a new song currently known as 'Steven's Head' as well as 'Legal Teens' and 'Home & Minor' off the new EP. One of the things that Oceansize are total masters of in the live domain is the way their set flows. Songs don't merely start and then finish they progress naturally into one another with only the occasional bit of Mike Vennart stage banter providing lengthy pauses between songs. The absolute star of Oceansize's live show is drummer Mark Heron however...a truly incredible musician who deserves far more recognition than he is ever likely to get. Just to watch his drumming during songs like 'You Can't Keep A Bad Man Down' or 'A Homage To A Shame' is a treat on its own. The crowd also play their part, with one guy at the front holding up Mike's lyric sheet for him to read from during new songs! The ones actually into the music get great reward out of the show and persuade the band to come back for an encore of 'The Charm Offensive' which is as excellent live as ever. A thoroughly entertaining evening of 'Size. (6/10)
Shield Your Eyes (5/10)
Oceansize (10/10)

Biffy Clyro - Southampton Guildhall - 24th October 2009

It feels like ages since I've seen Biffy Clyro. It's not, just a couple of months ago I journeyed all the way up to Edinburgh to see them. That's the sort of thing that you feel compelled to do when you're in love with a band. It's the sort of thing that the majority of people can't understand but for me following the fortunes of Biffy Clyro is just as important, more so if I'm going to be fully honest, as following the fortunes of my favourite sports teams. It's with a mix of pleasure and trepidation that I've watched over the past couple of years as Biffy have gone from the underground to firm fixtures in the Radio 1 bigtime. The pleasure comes from the three band members (singer/guitarist Simon Neil, bassist James Johnston and drummer Ben Johnston) now being in a position where, financially, they are set to continue with the job that they love doing for a reasonable time to come. Before the release of 2007's breakthrough "Puzzle" the Johnston twins were road digging to make ends meet. The'll see where that comes from later...

Tonight, 24th October 2009, sees the Southampton Guildhall comfortably sold out and a rabid crowd awaits the arrival onstage of Biffy Clyro, who in the last year have had two top 10 singles and therefore significantly expanded their fanbase. The crowd is an interesting mix ranging from those who are genuine music lovers in their obscure band t-shirts (Karnivool tonight for me, brilliant Tad t-shirt for someone else) to NME influenced scene kids in checked shirts of the least grunge variety to casual Radio 1 listeners who think Biffy's #5 single "Mountains" is the best thing since the last Coldplay mega single. First support act Tellison are not well known amongst the diverse crowd but their slightly more complex than average indie with plenty of added 'woah-oh-oh-ba-ba-da-la-ing' seems popular enough.

Pulled Apart By Horses are a different proposition entirely. They make as much of a racket with their instruments as they possibly could and their short scream filled exercises in noises shock as many people as they impress tonight for sure. Singer Tom Hudson gets up close and personal with the crowd as early as the second song while guitarist James Brown showcases his love for jumping off tall amplifiers. While only "I Punched A Lion In The Throat" and "E=MC Hammer" are truly memorable there's no doubting that PABH are an excellent live band even if the set ending with Hudson throwing up at the front of the stage and then rolling about in it is a little OTT even for the most seasoned gig goer.

By the time Biffy take to the stage there's no hope for getting back out again if you're near the front and when recent single "That Golden Rule" opens the set the Guildhall is a sea of flailing bodies with just a few lines of brave souls trapped against the barrier by the stage. This is a song that's judderingly heavy in a way that many so-called metal bands can't master after years of trying. A few songs later comes another sublime newie in "Bubbles" propelled by the twins' backing vocals while "Cloud Of Stink" is propelled by falsetto vocals and another thunderous riff. "God And Satan" meanwhile sees Neil playing his gorgeous Gretsch White Falcon while gently singing some of his simplest yet most profound lyrics yet, 'I savour hate as much as I crave for love because I'm just a twisted guy'. The highlights however are the oldest songs on display tonight. "Kill The Old, Torture Their Young" and "Hero Management" haven't been played much over the past few years but are truly incredible live, especially those in the know screaming 'Take me away!' along with Si at the end of the latter. Sadly there's far too few older songs in this set which features all but two tracks from "Puzzle". This is where the trepidation comes in...why exactly is a band supposedly promoting a new record playing pretty much the whole of their previous album every night? It's worrying as it does affect the quality of the show, the band is clearly not as energetic during Puzzle tracks like "A Whole Child Ago" and "Who's Got A Match?", both of which have been played to death since early 2007. It's worrying that the band appears to be getting stuck on "Puzzle" as if they're afraid of unleashing on an audience a bunch of older songs that the majority may not have bothered to hear. What they should be doing is trying to make the show the best it can possibly be and who cares if this means that half the crowd doesn't know half the songs being played?

The encore comes and goes with a sole old song, "Questions & Answers" which frankly seems a slightly bizarre choice to bring back because it was hardly their most popular song when it first came round. The final song is, perhaps unsurprisingly, "Mountains" but it doesn't end the evening on a high for the majority. It simply isn't a very good show closer especially considering this is a band that has songs like "Now The Action Is On Fire!", "57", " Bodies In Flight", "There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake" and the (already played on the night but suitably epic) more recent "Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies".

It's frustrating because I know how good this band can be live, sadly tonight they're just not as good as they can be.

Tellison - 6/10
Pulled Apart By Horses - 9/10
Biffy Clyro - 8/10

Biffy clyro played:

That Golden Rule
Living Is A Problem...
A Whole Child Ago
Love Has A Diameter
Kill The Old, Torture Their Young
Born On A Horse
Get Fucked Stud
Now I'm Everyone
God And Satan
Cloud Of Stink
Hero Management
Glitter And Trauma
Saturday Superhouse
The Captain
Questions And Answers
As Dust Dances

For the record 2 nights later at Brighton Dome they played JDI in place of Q&A and also dropped KTO, TTY from the set...very disappointing decision with KTO but there ye go!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Karnivool - Islington Academy 2 - 18th October 2009

The small bar section of the O2 Islington Academy is cosy to say the least with a capacity of around 250 people making it the smalles of the O2 Academy venues spread across Britain. It probably comes as a bit of a shock to Karnivool, the best thing to come out of Australia since Shane Warne started to play test cricket. Back home their most recent album, the excellent 'Sound Awake' went straight to #2 in the charts and they have toured their home nation at credibly large venues to some major extent. This however is their first UK headline show scheduled between dates supporting Welsh reggae metal quartet Skindred across the UK' a first headline show that has been too long coming for the band's tiny yet dedicated army of UK fans.

The gig is thankfully sold out but by the time the first support band take to the stage is roughly two-thirds full only. Many not yet here will later express disappointment when they realise that Skindred opened for their touring partners, a secret surprisingly well kept until doors open. The second half of their set is pure dynamite, proving their reputation as an act whose reputation has been built on live foundations, and by the time they end with a blast through their best known song 'Nobody' the crowd is baying for more metal action. Essex metalcore act Forever Never do their best but unfortunately they are merely a generic metalcore band without the extra talent levels of unique songwriting to make them stand out from a tired scene in the same way that Exit Ten, for example, do. Lead singer Renny Carroll looks like a school's 1st XV rugby captain but jumps up and down with a ferocity that sees some in the audience worry that he may either fall off the tiny stage or else break through the lower than usual ceiling. His bandmates meanwhile strike an unusual mix between ditch dwellers, scene kids and Jerry Cantrell lookalikes and in contrast are extremely static. This gives the performance a somewhat underwhelming feel although, to be brutally honest, the music isn't good enough to deserve any better.

Some equipment issues see Karnivool arrive on stage slightly later than planned but they more than make up for it with the crowd cheering the opening chords of every song like the return of a long lost relative. It would not be an understatement to call the Australian quintet one of the tightest bands around at present as they make their complex grooves shimmer with the same force as on record. Singer Ian Kenny's voice is spot on throughout while the bass playing of Jon Stockman also deserves high praise. First album tracks such as 'Fear of the Sky' get the best reception but the strongest are those from the new record, especially opener 'Simple Boy' and the epic 'Deadman'. There isn't really enough room on stage for Kenny to employ the extravagant stage moves he apparently performs in larger venues but the enthusiasm and skill of the group is what makes them winners at this show. The guitar of Drew Goddard guides everything with his riffs being heavy enough to shake the walls but also technical enough to impress. By the time the band depart after their 11 song set they have won the hearts of any in the room who were undecided before the show. The band also seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves throughout, regularly expressing what a "pleasure" it is for them to be playing a headline show in the UK at long last. An absolute steal of a show at £8.50, everyone present hopes that they will return sooner rather than later.


Karnivool played:

Friday, 16 October 2009

Funeral For A Friend - Hatfield Herts University Forum - 15th October 2009

Funeral For A Friend are one of those bands whose reputation is built more on live performance than on the quality of their studio albums and quite rightly so, for they are a formidable live act as anyone who has seen them will testify. The audience facing them tonight is mostly comprised of local students and it is apparent that many probably are not particularly big fans of the band but are just here to sample this new local venue (which only officially opened six days earlier with a performance from Mancunian indie rockers Doves). The venue itself is actually very nice, prompting singer Matt Davies to proclaim it "well lush", if lacking the atmosphere that only a number of spilt pints on the floor can give it over the next few years. It is not full though by any stretch of the imagination, which may be a little disappointing for a band that has previously played venues as large as Cardiff's International Arena.

The welsh quintet take to the stage with Davies miming along to some generic cheesy pop song ,that I probably should know but do not, before ripping straight into the jilted lover anthem that is 'Streetcar'. This is followed quickly by a succession of hits, for the band is promoting a greatest hits compilation with the current tour, including new single 'Wrench' and fan favourites 'Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings' and 'All The Rage'. Matt Davies occasionally engages in a bit of light hearted banter with the crowd, oddly focused on kung-fu tonight, but the rest of the band remain quiet and focused. Bassist Gavin Burrough has settled into the band well since joining just over a year ago while guitar team Kris Coombs-Roberts and Darran Smith are as impressive in their riffing as ever. Meanwhile drummer Ryan Richards is solid if not spectacular in either his actual drumming or his occasional bouts of screamed vocals. The band are involved in something of an upward struggle however as the show as a whole, no matter how good the performance, lacks any real atmosphere while the sound has overdriven the treble to such an extent that the bass is nearly inaudible.

Essentially for fans of the band this is a fun show, especially the mass singalongs to 'Into Oblivion (Reunion)' and 'Juneau' that round off the evening, but for everyone else it's not the most memorable of gigs. To say it wasn't good would be a lie but it could have been better.


Funeral For A Friend Setlist (roughly):
She Drove Me To Daytime Television
Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings
This Year's Most Open Heartbreak
All The Rage
Honour Amongst Theives
Bullet Theory
Red Is The New Black
Roses For The Dead
Built To Last
Rookie Of The Year
Escape Artists Never Die
Captains Of Industry
Into Oblivion (Reunion)
The Art Of American Football

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Progressive Nation 2009 - London Wembley Arena - 10th October 2009

2008 saw Dream Theater take 3 other bands on tour around the US under the header of 'Progressive Nation'. 2009 saw them do the same with different bands and now also sees them take the tour to Europe with sub-headliners Opeth, first time Euro tourers BigElf and avant-garde Canadian septet Unexpect. The biggest date of the tour sees the four bands play at London's famous Wembley Arena, albeit a Wembley Arena that is only around two-thirds full.

Unexpect take to the stage at around quarter past six; they aptly manage to shock, confuse and amuse the audience all at once. Their sound, consisting of male and female vocals that are both growled and clean, is largely driven by the 9 string bassist ChaotH and is augmented by the keys of Exod and violin of Blaise Borboen-Leonard plus the metal standard guitars and frantic drumming. While the group clearly have many good ideas they fail to allow any idea to settle or progress, instead sounding rather like they write by trying to jumble everything up and throw it all up in the air before seeing where it will land. The sight of the band's furious headbanging and hair whipping is hilarious to say the least, as is the aforementioned 9 string bass. They're quite fun to watch and their willingness to conform as little as possible is to be applauded but they're the worst band on show at Wembley tonight.

Next up are retro rockers BigElf who, after entering to the strains of the imperial march music from Star Wars, proceed to play a series of heavy metal songs with organ attached in awe as much as possible to Black Sabbath. They're progressive only in the very loosest sense of the word with only the occasional Pink Floyd-esque touch backing up the tag. What they lack in originality they make up for in fun factor and their half an hour on stage flashes by. It also features a brief cameo by Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy who is obviously the band's biggest fan. They also deserve credit for their nerves for this is only the second UK show for a band who's major influences are all British and to play it at Wembley Arena is a nerve racking thing indeed but they succeed in winning many of the crowd over.

Some members of the crowd are here not for headliners Dream Theater but for Opeth, widely viewed as the pioneering leaders of today's metal scene. Some other members of the crowd look a little apprehensive as the Swedish behemoths take to the stage. These people have only heard about Opeth and look a little wary as if a vicious dog has just looked up from its bone to see that there's the possibility of fresh meat in their direction. Rather kindly Mikael Akerfeldt's crew start up with the all clean guitar and vocals 'Windowpane' but this is merely the calm before a storm and 'The Lotus Eater', introduced by Akerfeldt as "a masterpiece" and quite rightly so, shows what Opeth is really all about. They play a relatively soft set by their standards but there's still enough growling and shuddering grooves to strike fear into the heart of some onlookers. They are a formidable live act and I can't help but wonder why Dream Theater take them on tour as they come very close to blowing the headliners off the stage!

When Dream Theater do arrive however, for a short by their standards 90 minute set, they manage to match Opeth and more. Akerfeldt even joins them, providing the growls for opening epic 'A Nightmare To Remember'. Every solo, whether it comes from the keys or continuum of Jordan Rudess, the guitar of John Petrucci or even the bass of John Myung, is greeted with roards and gazes of wonder and astonishment. Singer James LaBrie is also on fine form, especially during the excellent 'The Mirror' and 'Lie'. Wembley is even treated to a special 'Percussive Nation' drum off featuring the drummers from all four of the bands as well as an extended version of the classic 'Take The Time' with extra Petrucci outro soloing. The band encores with the stunningly epic 'The Count Of Tuscany' and the show is over all too soon. With a suggestion of a return next year Dream Theater are gone and an incredible evening of, for the most part, progressive entertainment comes to an end.

Unexpect - 5/10
BigElf - 7/10
Opeth - 9/10
Dream Theater - 9/10

Opeth setlist:
The Lotus Eater
Harlequin Forest
April Ethereal
Hex Omega

Dream Theater setlist:
A Nightmare To Remember
The Mirror
Jordan Rudess Keyboard Solo
Prophets Of War
The Dance Of Eternity
Percussive Nation 2009
Take The Time
The Count Of Tuscany

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Porcupine Tree - London Hammersmith Apollo - 9th October 2009

Porcupine Tree have been waiting a long time to play venues this big, venues that truly fit their grandiose model of modern progressive rock. Led by arguably the most creative man in music today, Steven Wilson, they are promoting their fine new record 'The Incident' with a world tour that has already stopped off at various venues across the USA. This however is something of a homecoming show for them. Wilson was born in Kingston-Upon-Thames and raised in Hemel Hempstead while keyboard player Richard Barbieri was also born in Britain's capital. Porcupine Tree have also managed to sell out this gig, which is undeniably impressive for a band well under the mainstream radar, although they may have been helped in the fact that the seats are all in for tonight's gig. This gives the show a rather static and uninvolving feel to it, especially during the first half (which is a full performance of the 55 minute song-cycle that is 'The Incident').

However the performance of the band, augmented live by guitarist John Wesley, is incredible. Every single note is peformed perfectly and Wilson's vocals are also spot on. The show also comes backed by some stunning visuals from acclaimed Danish artist Lasse Hoile, ensuring that even when the band is noodling through the quieter bits that there is still plenty to look at. The audience are clearly, for the most part, enthralled, despite the occasional person getting up to go to the toilet (an event which is always extremely conspicuous at an all seated gig). The epic that is 'Time Flies' probably gets the best reception, particularly Wilson's solo which would fit in perfectly well amongst Gilmour's finest. After the wonderfully melancholic 'I Drive The Hearse' the band leave the stage and take a ten minute break before returning with some of their best loved tracks from the last few years. 'The Start Of Something Beautiful' is followed swiftly by an abbreviated 'Russia On Ice' and an excpert from 2007's epic 'Anesthetize'. This three song run represents the highlight of the show and by the time the band exit from the stage once more with 'Bonnie The Cat' the audience has become fully aware of Porcupine Tree's excellence as a live act, if they weren't already.

An encore arrives in the form of 'The Sound Of Muzak' and 'Trains', which of course get its customary huge singalong reception. With the promise of another London gig next year ringing in their ears a load of very happy progheads (an interestingly diverse crowd with an age range from early teens to 65+) leave Hammersmith with big grins on their faces. A major feather in PT's live cap.

Porcupine Tree - 9/10

The Incident
i. Occam's Razor
ii. The Blind House
iii. Great Expectations
iv. Kneel and Disconnect
v. Drawing the Line
vi. The Incident
vii. Your Unpleasant Family
vii. The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train
ix. Time Flies
x. Degree Zero of Liberty
xi. Octane Twisted
xii. The Seance
xiii. Circle of Manias
xiv. I Drive the Hearse
The Start of Something Beautiful
Russia on Ice (first half)
ii. The Pills I'm Taking
Strip The Soul / .3
Bonnie The Cat
The Sound of Muzak

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Porcupine Tree are a band that the majority of people haven't heard of...yet they are one of the most 'important' bands to emerge from the UK in a long time. Over the last fifteen years they, with the guidance of visionary Steven Wilson, have modernised progressive rock by adding a dash of everything that's happened to music in the days since the genre's heyday. Their latest album, "The Incident", is their tenth and is the culmination of their aforementioned fifteen years of experience as a band. This is an album that combines everything Porcupine Tree have ever thrown into their music with dashes of industrial, metal, psychedelia and Radiohead littered throughout the record. This could be seen as the end of an era for the band before moving off in new directions.

It is noticeable to those familiar with Porcupine Tree's discography how there is a lack of anything especially 'new' about "The Incident". Whereas the previous nine Porcupine Tree albums each added something to the band's sound this does not, preferring instead to focus on blending sounds to create something close to the definitive 'Porcupine Tree' record.

What is truly remarkable about the album's first disc, consisting entirely of the fifty-five minute song cycle "The Incident" is that the songs are so memorable. The likes of "Blind House" and "Drawing The Line" are catchy enough to become radio favourites, they won't of course because commercial radio only plays things from the Top 40 but that's not the point. Even short interludes such as "Great Expectations" and "Your Unpleasant Family" etch themselves into the brain on first listen. Wilson has always been a fantastic songwriter above all else and he really does prove it here with the epic eleven minute "Time Flies" sounding accessible enough for the mainstream audience of today to not have a heart attack while listening to it. Wilson's skills are further emphasised on the second disc which, despite being slightly weaker than the rest of the album, features four very decent songs with "Flicker" and "Remember Me Lover" being the highlights.

It is important to recognise however that Wilson is not the only genius in Porcupine Tree. Richard Barbieri's keyboard textures may often be subtle but they are key to the band's sound as are Colin Edwin's often overlooked basslines. Gavin Harrison's drumming meanwhile is sure to gain him further recognition, having already been recruited by Robert Fripp to join King Crimson as a second drummer. Most importantly of all however is how well the four work as a group, never jostling for the limelight but always capable of filling it if the need arises. It is perhaps this cohesion as a group that makes "The Incident" a fine record. At the end of the day it does not need to contain new influences because when a combination of your previous influences is this good then why bother risking messing it up?

Key Tracks: Blind House, Incident, Time Flies.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Biffy Clyro (+ Oceansize) - Edinburgh Corn Exchange - 21st August 2009

Biffy Clyro are back. The unexpected success of fourth album 'Puzzle' means the Ayrshire trio have not only been able to continue with their career but also record their fifth record in LA (it's alright for some) with producer GGGarth Richardson (RATM, RHCP) at the helm again. The success of single 'Mountains' in the gap between albums also increased the band's profile to the point where selling out venues as big as Edinburgh Corn Exchange has become the norm. It's clear from the amount of Biffy t-shirts being worn around the, extremely sterile, venue that the band are preaching to the converted. However the band's recent exposure (they appeared on the cover of NME ffs!) appears to have attracted a new group of fans, indie scene kids are littered about the place as their parents have decided it's safe for them to be out on their own on a a gig by "that Mountains band". Annoying, but bearable...for the most part.

Mancunians Oceansize are lost on the newest Biffy converts in the crowd. The fact that they are probably the most talented band to come out of Britain in many a year does not appear to register (nor does the fact that they are great mates with the Biff themselves). They play a blinder of a set (when don't they?) but it is sadly spoilt by a crowd who goes so far to throw thing at them and boo throughout the set. Luckily Mike Vennart is a good enough frontman to rise above this sort of thing and he merely gets on with things, debuting two new songs ('Legal Teens' and 'Build Us A Rocket - You Rocket-Building Cunt') along the way. Mike ends the set screaming his lungs out as per usual and the majority of the crowd looks shocked as if the man has just decapitated a chicken or something...idiots.

Biffy Clyro only jetted in from the USA a day or so before the gig and they do seem a little rusty at times throughout their set. New single 'That Golden Rule' is the best song they've written since pre-'Puzzle' times however and is even better live than in the studio. Meanwhile the other new songs played, 'Born On A Horse' and 'Bubbles' are awkward enough to bemuse those in the crowd who have not heard the band's greatest albums 'The Vertigo Of Bliss' and 'Infinity Land'. For some reason unbeknownst to everyone the band does not include a single song from 'Vertigo' in their set (ridiculous) but then judging by the lack of reception some afford classics like '57', 'Joy. Discovery. Invention' and 'Glitter And Trauma' perhaps this is a good thing...don't want to scare the little kiddes after all. The die-hards in the crowd sing along to every word and are joined by the rest for 'Mountains' and closer 'Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies'. The set seems a little short but then the band do have to be in Chelmsford the following day so their departure at around twenty to eleven is fair enough. They are probably aware that this will not go down as one of their greatest shows, Oceansize are probably slightly better on the night but this is Biffy Clyro we are talking that does not make it bad in any sense of the word.

Oceansize (8/10)
Biffy Clyro (8/10)

Biffy Clyro played:

That Golden Rule
Who's Got A Match?
Joy. Discovery. Invention
Born On A Horse
A Whole Child Ago
The Kids From Kibble And The Fist Of Light
Love Has A Diameter
Glitter And Trauma
Now I'm Everyone
Get Fucked Stud

As Dust Dances
Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Pearl Jam (+ Gomez) - The O2 Arena - 18th August 2009

I've waited a long time for this, and by the looks of things so have quite a few others in the audience tonight for this, Pearl Jam's first UK headline show since a date at Wembley Arena in June 2007. Pearl Jam were always the odd ones out of the early 90's grunge scene. Nirvana were all punkish teenage angst but Pearl Jam were, and still are, so much more than that. Eddie Vedder's lyrics gave them a more intellectual side while the music was as clearly influenced by classic rock like The Rolling Stones and The Who as it was The Melvins or Pixies. They struck a chord though and arguably became the biggest American rock band of the nineties. It's perhaps unsurprising therefore that the largest proportion of the audience tonight is in their mid thirties, having grown up listening to 'Ten'. Many have come to London for this show from abroad, desparate to see their favourite band who have not come to see them in their respective countries across Europe.

The anticipation for the headliners' set means that Southport quintet Gomez play to a sparsely populated O2 at half seven. They're folk tinged indie earned them a #2 album in 1999 but the majority of the audience tonight who have heard of them probably assumed they'd split up years ago. They are an intriguing live prospect, if a little static and uninvolving. They're merely a diversion though, this isn't a gig that you're persuaded to shell out on based on a support act after all!

It's quarter to nine when Pearl Jam arrive on stage, a simple wave backdrop behind them. This isn't a band that needs to rely on a lightshow or any other arena gimmicky; this is a band that is fully at home in the world of live performance. They start with the rarely played closer from 'Ten', 'Release'. It is a beautiful opener, quiet and methodical, played with the arena in almost total blackness. The band then rips into the punk monster that is 'Animal' and continue, with just a few brief pauses for a further ninety minutes or so. New songs 'The Fixer' and 'Got Some' are amongst the songs played. It's difficult to assess their quality, although recent single 'The Fixer' is better in a live setting than on the radio. Some songs get a better reaction than others, not everyone knows the likes of 'Insignificance' from 'Binaural' or 'Life Wasted' from 2006's self titled album. 'Why Go?' and 'Black' however gets a huge reception, everyone inside the O2 is screaming the words back at the band and every Mike McCready guitar solo is rapturously received. In fact it takes seeing him play in the flesh to appreciate how good a player McCready truly is, if a little unorthodox. The band leave the stage after 'Blood' but they aren't gone for long.

Another new song 'Supersonic' announces their return to the action, incidentally the first time the song has been played live. Keyboardist Boom Gaspar then leads a superb cover of The Who's ultimate classic, 'Love Reign O'er Me'; rather sadly around half the crowd seem not to know the song and need to do some serious brushing up on their rock history! For those who are familiar it is a highlight of the show and when followed by 'Do The Evolution' and the huge singalong that is 'Alive' spirits are raised to a real high. Pearl Jam still are not done however. A further encore arrives, beginning with 'Better Man' and ending with a double whammy of 'Porch' and 'Yellow Ledbetter'. Pearl Jam have graced the O2's stage for nearly two and a half hours by the time they leave, with extended jams thrown in for good measure during several of the later songs they play. The band clearly enjoyed this show more than most, they stayed well past the scheduled eleven o'clock finish time. This is not a band that do things by halves....and thank goodness for that!

Gomez - 6/10
Pearl Jam - 10/10

Pearl Jam played:

Why Go?
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
The Fixer
Even Flow
I Got Id
Got Some
Light Years
Life Wasted
Blood (Atomic Dog)

Hail, Hail
Love Reign O'er Me
Do The Evolution

Better Man (Save It For Later)
Crazy Mary
Leaving Here
Yellow Ledbetter

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sonisphere 2009

1st-2nd August 2009, Knebworth House

The grounds of Knebworth House are known as a historic music venue having played host to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Queen in the past. This year however it was announced that Knebworth would play host to the UK leg of a new travelling European rock / metal festival, Sonisphere. Having stopped off in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Finland the festival arrived at it's final destination with an extended lineup, as the Knebworth leg of Sonisphere featured two days of music in comparison to just the one in the other European nations it visited. The festival also has a promising staggered staging approach, the two main stages are scheduled so that all the band on both stages can be seen by everyone with just a short walk across the main arena necessary. For me it's fantastic to have a festival at Knebworth as I live just 15 minutes away from the site and luckily enough I managed to get half price tickets to the debut of the UK's latest major festival.

Due to a lack of punctuality the first band I witness at Sonisphere 2009 is New York alternative rockers Taking Back Sunday (4/10). They're one of the quieter bands on the bill and aren't the most impressive start to the weekend. Lead singer Adam Lazzara's awful on-stage banter and annoying microphone chucking doesn't help a band that may sound quite good on record but don't really have enough about them to succeed live. Next up for me is York metalcore act Glamour Of The Kill (6/10) in the Bohemia tent. They're surprisingly good although frontman Davey Death spoils the show slightly with immature comments about girls in the crowd and by asking for "the biggest wall of death ever seen", which is a wee bit sad. Anthrax (9/10) have always been behind Metallica and Slayer in my thrash metal rankings and due to the fact their latest singer Dan Nelson left the band just two weeks ago there's a slight tension in the air before the band begin their main (Apollo) stage set, featuring the one-off return of former vocalist John Bush. I, and everyone else, need not of worried for this an awesome set. The crowd go wild for the likes of 'Caught In A Mosh' and 'I Am The Law' becomes the anthem of the weekend. The crowd is extremely thin on the ground in Bohemia for Derry's finest in Fighting With Wire (8/10). This is a shame because, despite early sound issues, Cahir O'Doherty and company are on fine form with the frontman even taking the time to perform something akin to a stand-up comedy routine in between songs. Originally the next band on my timetable was Coheed & Cambria but they've got stuck on a ferry and instead Bohemia beckons again for a set by the promising Glaswegians Twin Atlantic (7/10), a band I've followed for a while. They are akin to a slightly poppier version of Biffy Clyro and their set mainly comprises of tracks from upcoming mini-album Vivarium, with 'You're Turning Into John Wayne' being a particular highlight. They close with two tracks from their excellent debut EP 'A Guidance From Colour'. The title track sees guitarist Barry McKenna break out his cello while 'Audience and Audio' seems to impress the crowd, many of whom will leave with a new band to look out for. Next up is a trip back to the main stage for the godfathers of heavy metal in Heaven & Hell (8/10). Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice are better known collectively of course as Black Sabbath but due to various legal issues related to 'Paranoid' (d'you get it?) ex-singer Ozzy Osbourne the band are not able to use that legendary name. The set may lull slightly in the middle but the quality of what is being played is undeniable and the riffs to classics such as 'The Mob Rules' and 'The Time Machine' are still as powerful today as they ever were. Dio's voice is also still in fine fettle, especially on new song 'Bible Black' and closer 'Heaven & Hell'. I also have Mr. Dio to thank for my free Saturday ticket, although that has in no way affected the review! A final trip to Bohemia for the day brings the reward of, in my opinion, one of the world's greatest and most underrated of bands in Mancunian art rock collective Oceansize (10/10). They only have half an hour to play but they make the most of it. Everyone in the room is surely struck by how tight they are as a band as well as the power and genius of their music. Frontman Mike Vennart seems to be having a great time, thanking Sonisphere organisers for "having the balls" to book them and thanking Michael Jackson as his death and therefore cancellation of his O2 Arena gigs has apparently allowed them their "first choice of sound engineer". Closer 'One Out Of None' is especially good and ends with Vennart trying to destroy the mic stand while guitarist Steve Durose tries to get out of the way!

Because I used to love them (didn't everyone at some point?) and because the friend I'm with still does love them I head from Bohemia to the main stage to see headliners Linkin Park (3/10). Sadly their set is a major disappointment. It could be that they are just having a bad night, I hope for their sake that this is the reason for their lifeless set. They have some immense songs but there is no energy in the performance to speak of. The band looks bored of their most famous anthems such as 'Numb' and 'What I've Done'. The only band member who looks even vaguely into it is MC/guitarist/keyboardist Mike Shinoda. His brief acapella version of politically charged 'Hands Held High' is the highlight of the set...and it's only a minute and a half long! The crowd is pretty static as well although there are enough Linkin Park fanboys and fangirls in the audience to make the gig at least appear to be going well. The encore begins with a short set from singer Chester Bennington's new band Dead By Sunrise (1/10). This does not go particularly well, mainly because the songs are dreadful. They gain a mark out of ten purely for the fact that I quite like their name and because I feel sorry for them. Linkin Park then return for a short encore, including new single 'New Divide' which is one of the best songs they play, because they don't look bored out of their minds with it yet. The set ends early and I think the band know they've not lived up to expectations. A shame and I wish I'd stayed in Bohemia for Rolo Tomassi and Fucked Up instead.

The Saturday ends there as Bohemia is expected to be packed for Thunder's last ever show and a following set from The Wildhearts...and I need to save my energy for the next day!

I'm there bright and early on Sunday morning, well before midday at any rate, in order to catch my gothic doom metallers of choice on the second (Saturn) stage, Halifax's Paradise Lost (7/10). They are a decidedly acquired taste and a good deal of the crowd are not convinced but for those in the know or who enjoy the quartet's style of music the set is enjoyable, even though it could do with true classics like 'Embers Fire' and 'True Belief'. Their half hour set is followed on the main stage by veteran industrial rockers Killing Joke (5/10). While Jaz Coleman and co do their best they don't quite manage to succeed in winning over the crowd. They may well sound better in different surroundings but for me and, I think, the majority of the onlookers, they do not fit at Sonisphere. They are followed at the other end of the arena by even more veteran classic British heavy metal band Saxon (6/10). They put on a good show and get the crowd going but I can't help feeling they are just a poor man's Iron Maiden. They are followed on the main stage by a band that show how much more destructive and, er, heavy the genre of metal is these days. Lamb Of God (6/10) are all grooves and growled vocals from frontman Randy Blythe. Sadly the show is spoilt somewhat by the sound (the only sound gripe I have from the whole weekend) as Blythe's vocals get lost in the pounding wall of sound the band is producing. Blythe also suffers somewhat from the "American metal frontman swearing syndrome" but at least he does it with a bit of style and his band have the seriously heavy chops to back it up. Mastodon (9/10) are at the other end of the arena next and I get across in time to get right to the front. They're probably the best newish metal band in the world and their skill in playing their complex monsters of songs live. Their set is too short but every Hinds solo is perfectly executed and Troy Sanders puts huge amounts of energy into the performance, even managing to break his bass strings during the last song.

The worst kept secret of the festival is that Machine Head (7/10) are Sunday's "Special Guests" having originally dropped out of the festival after the massive pile of gooseberry that are Limp Bizkit were added. Sadly their set is spoilt a little by frontman Robb Flynn going on and on about wanting to break the record for most amount of circle pits ever seen at a festival. If he just shut his mouth and got on with playing some of the band's best songs the set would be a gargantuan powerhouse but because he takes so much time out to talk about pits and to make a rubbish speech about how much he loves their fans (supposedly). They do get the crowd going however, that's true enough. There are I'd estimate a good 15 circle pits around the place and I just about manage to avoid being caught in one myself, they're ok at the best of times but when you've been standing up almost exclusively for the past 24 hours they're a bit tiresome...and I don't want to lose my glasses like I nearly did at Hundred Reasons back in April. The highlight of Machine Head's set is the anthem that is 'Halo'. It is by far their best song and the chorus that echoes around Knebworth's grounds sounds so massive that it drowns out anything else for a time.

Machine Head being followed by Feeder (7/10) isn't something that makes sense when you really think about it. As Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose's pop infused alternative grunge rock outfit are one of my favourite bands however I'm not complaining. They're a band I, and it seems several other members of the crowd, grew up with. The likes of 'Insomnia' and 'Just A Day' are well received, as is new song 'Sentimental'. They even play the gloriously rubbish 'Godzilla', which is quite fun live and the Nirvana cover 'Breed'. I do wish they'd sometimes play less predictable setlists though, I've heard some of these songs live at least 5 time! A break is in order after Feeder in which fish and chips are consumed (£5 constituting a festival bargain). Then, appearing slightly late because Limp Bizkit overran (an insult to the many brilliant hard-working bands around the world), the grunge legends that are Alice In Chains (10/10) take to the stage. They are, of course, sadly without deceased original frontman Layne Staley but his replacement William DuVall has a fine voice and, combined with guitarist and co-frontman Jerry Cantrell, the vocals soar along providing the crowd with plenty to sing during the likes of 'Dam That River' and especially 'Would?'. New songs 'A Looking In View' and 'Check My Brain' are also promising for the new record, due in September, and DuVall also gains bonus points for getting into the crowd towards the end of the set. After this the emotions run high for Nine Inch Nails (10/10). It is, for at least the forseeable future, their last UK performance. Trent Reznor pulls it out of the bag with a set comprised of intricate, mostly quiet and understated, songs. A large portion of their set is instrumental and the hits that some restless crowd members appear to be expecting don't appear. It is my first time seeing them and if it is my last then it is a sad thing but their set, which only lasts about 50 minutes due to some slight overrunning earlier, is a wonderful thing. 'Hurt' is everything live I imagined it to be...and more. Trent Reznor is very subdude and I could swear there were tears in his eyes during the heart-achingly beutiful 'Something I Can Never Have'. Due to the occasion they should have had at least an hour and a half and in fact I cannot help but feel that they would have been superb Saturday headliners in place of the disappointing Linkin Park.

I spend over an hour waiting for Metallica (10/10) to make sure I get a decent place. I've been waiting what seems like an eternity to see this greatest of all metal bands live and they are worth the wait. Every song is performed perfectly and the atmosphere is top notch. There's a lack of breathing room in the crowd but the likes of 'Fade To Black', 'One' and 'Master Of Puppets' are screamed back at the band with enough energy to cause a minor earthquake. The band is clearly loving every second of playing at Knebworth and throw in a cover of Queen's 'Stone Cold Crazy' for good measure. The atmosphere at the end of the show is made truly unforgettable by a chorus of 'Happy Birthday' for James Hetfield. He is then covered in custard pies and silly strings by a mixture of friends and family. It is a special moment, once in a lifetime stuff, from a once in a lifetime band. What better way could there be to close out a fantastic weekend of rock at Sonisphere Knebworth 2009?