Glasvegas, Concert Hall, Troon
Dionne Warwick and Friends, Apollo Victoria Theatre, London
Just when you thought 2011 might be a dud, Glasvegas stage a return, while diva Dionne heads-up a charity bash
Sunday 16 January 2011
It's a long way from Saltcoats beach to Santa Monica.
The latter, somewhat improbably, is where Glasvegas exiled themselves in a studio during a disappearance which barely lasted a year but felt, in pop terms, like an eternity. The Scots quartet's return from radio silence is perfectly timed, coming at a moment when every one of the industry-backed "bright new hopes" for homegrown rock appears vacuous.
The Glaswegians have launched their comeback campaign with a tour of the less-visited corners of Caledonia, from the wilds of Orkney to, literally, a cowshed in Forres. The nearest thing to a hometown gig is in Troon, a slightly snobby golf resort on the Ayrshire coast, and the between-song banter is indecipherable to Sassenachs.
Taking the stage under the Concert Hall's heraldic coat of arms, James Allan is breaking the dress code. Contrary to Glasvegas's usual none-more-black uniform, the singer is in white, the look topped off with Presleyan aviator shades. There's also a new lo-fi glitz to Glasvegas gigs, amps draped in rope lights nicked from a mobile disco, James's mic lead a neon cobra. And there's a new member: young Swede Jonna Lofgren who, like her predecessor, plays standing up because, let's face it, female stand-up drummers are as cool as drummers get.
They open with a snatch of "(I'm Gonna Get) Stabbed", a sotto voce monologue over Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", and a nod to (or direct steal from) the Shangri-La's "Past, Present And Future". But from there on we're into the fruits of their recent Californian labours. The new songs from the forthcoming EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\, a title which, though annoyingly formatted, accurately summarises Glasvegas's bittersweet beauty. It begins with "The World Is Yours", with a definite flavour of the Bunnymen's "Killing Moon", and continues with potential lead single "Shine Like Stars" which, on first hearing, exudes a life-or-death intensity.
The classic Glasvegas sound wedded the melodies of 1950s/60s jukebox pop to 1980s guitar distortion, but new number "Euphoria" involve atmospheric keyboards and effects from bassist Paul Donoghue. It's a style they also employ on live renditions of older tracks "Flowers and Football Tops" and "Ice Cream Van", both of which see James Allan, alone in a spotlight, singing almost a capella over subtle washes of synth.
Some songs, however, are not to be messed with, such as the majestic "Fuck You It's Over" or "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry", Allan's painfully honest study of the feedback loop of paranoia caused by infidelity, which prompts such an outbreak of participation that he's able to lie down and let the audience take two whole verses. The climactic "Daddy's Gone" still brings a lump to the throat of anyone who experienced the pain of parental break-up as a child and, perhaps paradoxically, is a cathartic feel-good moment.
Glasvegas have always had the guts to take the subjects most bands wouldn't touch with a barge pole – social workers, sectarian murders – and turn them into anthems. "If you think that stuff struck a chord," I'm told by someone in the know, "wait till you see the lyrics on the new album." I believe it. Because Glasvegas are still – and we desperately need this right now – a band to believe in.
In my student days, two political postcards were de rigueur for bleeding-heart lefties. One was Pastor Niemöller's "First they came ...". The other was Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara's dictum: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."
A giant iron dragon looms over the set of the musical Wicked, from which the Hunger Project has borrowed the Victoria Theatre for a gala concert, but it's dwarfed by an even bigger elephant in the room. The Hunger Project is a newish charity whose president, Mary Ellen McNish, talks plenty of sensible stuff about "empowering grass-roots communities", but little in the way of specifics, or why hunger and poverty exist in the first place.
Dionne Warwick, entering her 50th year in showbiz, is the ideal host for a bash like this: the perfect balance of sass and class. And, as Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, her heart's clearly in it. The variety show structure fits her like an evening glove. Hearing the septuagenarian diva sing "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and "Alfie", backed by a 40-piece orchestra is never a chore, and she even sings the announcement of the intermission. Amazing.
Perhaps her most impressive guest is Mica Paris, who's developed a sensational pair of lungs since the demure days of "My One Temptation", and who duets with Dionne on her still spine-tingling 1961 debut "Don't Make Me Over". A close second is Elaine Paige, who delivers a "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" that is vulnerable rather than imperious, and all the lovelier for it.
Less memorable are Wicked's Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman, who sing some dreadful schmaltz from the score, and Steven McRae, a young principal with the Royal Ballet, whose tap routine merely proves that tap is the terpsichorean equivalent of playing the spoons: simultaneously impressive and completely pointless.
I'm still pondering whether it would be ungallant to note that, with her close-cropped hair, Natalie Cole really looks like her dad, when a Hunger Project spokesperson makes a speech ending with "... and then all will live in harmony with one another and the earth". My fingers don't move fast enough to scribble it all down, but suffice to say the preamble didn't advocate smashing the grip of corporations, dropping the debt or anything remotely radical.
Up next, the London Community Gospel Choir couldn't be happier or clappier as they inform us, "We need faith!" We don't need a complete restructuring of the power relations between the hemispheres, just faith. I'd ask why, but somebody might call me a communist.
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Sound of 2011-topping, Brit Award-winning newcomer Jessica Ellen Cornish, aka Jessie J, right, plays London's Scala, (Mon), Glasgow's ABC2 (Fri), and Night and Day, Manchester (Sat) as part of an ongoing tour, while Astbury and Duffy dust off their gonzo goth-metal hits for The Cult, at Leeds Academy, (Tue); Bristol Academy (Wed); Hammersmith Apollo, London (Fri); Corn Exchange, Cambridge (Sat); tour continues.
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