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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Well with life being what it is I’ve been away from my desk for a little while, in the course of which a few reviews have been waiting to be written. And as a number of hefty gigs are looming it seemed the best way out of this problem, without doing a disservice to the artistes involved, was to write three (thankfully no doubt for some) abbreviated pieces. So here they are.
PAT METHENY AND BRAD MEHLDAU The Barbican, London, July 2nd 2007
Metheny Mehldau
It’s just a shame that we went to see Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau so soon after Chick Corea and Gary Burton. The latter robbed me of my sparse vocabulary of jazz descriptors and superlatives, and to re-use them again so soon would be a disservice both to you, dear reader, and to my limited literary talent. Metheny of course has been around for years – coincidentally starting his career in Gary Burton’s band – at 37 (almost to the day) Mehldau is a relative whipper-snapper. However this equally ill-matched couple – think of Garth from Wayne’s World meets British snooker ace Steve Davies – play together as if joined at the hip (more than ably supported for some of the set by Mehldau sidekicks Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums). Metheny as one would expect is more forward and perhaps obvious, Mehldau’s keyboards restrained and subdued yet complex beyond belief. The result is entrancing. Well almost. Metheny plays in the classic jazz guitar style with a very full-fat and rich plectrum driven tone from his big semi-acoustic Epiphone (I think), and a lot of finger board carry-over. He occasionally plays (quite beautifully) an acoustic, and also a Roland G-303 synth guitar (which sounds like a trumpet) – but the Barney Kessel sound predominated, and to be honest became just slightly tedious. Having said that the appearance of his frankly absurd Ibanez Pikasso – a sort of cross between a guitar and several zithers, with its five sets of strings – would lead me to forgive him almost anything. What I couldn’t forgive was the overbearing steward who jumped on The Photographer as she fired off her first shot, muttering “You can’t do that, it’s copyright”. So I’m off to consult my best friends the Intellectual Property lawyers on that moot point.
STEELY DAN The Hammersmith Apollo, London, July 7th 2007
Steely Dan
I’d come a long way for this gig. Over thirteen hours on a jet plane to be precise, into a bomb-scared Heathrow. Home, shower, sharpener and straight out into our plush balcony seats for a Steely Dan spectacular, or as the outrageously expensive programme put it, “The Heavy Rollers Tour”. If I were to say, “Maybe I was a bit too tired …” then you might imagine what’s going to come next. So I’ll restrain myself and say first that much of the musicianship from this twelve-piece outfit was just outstanding. And if Walter Becker had a few dodgy moments on guitar then these were more than made up for by guitarist and band leader John Herrington. Nor were there many duff songs – why Becker chose to sing ‘Hawaiian divorce’ in the way he did we’ll never know, and though nice it was an unnessecary gesture to give ‘Dirty work’ to the backing vocalists, sort of throwing the song away really. What did surprise me was that there were only two songs from the Dansters’ first two albums. You see for me these were works of real genius, after which it all got a bit too clever, too slick and just like a well-practiced production line.
Steely Dan 2 Whilst I know the parallel might shock Dan fans, it is a bit like (as the Photographer suggested) 10CC, who after two and a half brilliantly accomplished and funny albums lost sight of the joke and started to take themselves too seriously. And boy these guys are so serious they’re sanitised. And though the set is presented as an American soul review, it’s actually a totally soulless affair with the band remaining as far to the back of the huge Hammersmith stage as they possible can. Audience engagement: nil. Try as I might I could only see cynicism in place of sincerity, and a granular image of Fagen and Becker counting the night’s quids in the back of a stretch-limo on their way to the next gig.
 The Tower of London, London, July 9th, 2007
GBQ In case you didn’t know, or so my daughter tells me, Damon Albarn is a bit of a prodigy. He’s certainly all over the place at the moment, with the hugely successful cartoon band Gorillaz, a new opera, Monkey, a Journey to the West, and his latest project, the Good, the Bad and the Queen. The eponymous album has been something of a surprise hit (Gold within a week), and on the road the band have been receiving increasingly positive reviews.
I hope they’re good – we’re at the Tower of London (which features on the album cover) and it is, as befits an English July evening, pissing it down, cats, dogs, kitchen sinks and the lot. It’s cold too. So we take shelter by the forbidding walls of the Tower and eventually take our (flooded) seats just before the band take the stage. They are an accomplished lot – ex Verve and sometime Gorillaz guitarist Simon Tong, drum virtuoso Tony Allen and ex Clash bassist Paul Simonon (who, by the way, is responsible for the excellent drawings that come in the album’s wonderful little booklet). The songs are sinister, pessimistic (count the references to war) and largely melancholic London streetscapes and vignettes: some of it feels like a guided tour of Holloway, Islington and Camden Town. But it’s compelling and engaging, the band supported by a hauntingly powerful choir and at one stage David Coulter and his saw (on ‘Behind the sun’).
The sound is defined by Albarn’s distinctive singing, Tong’s pedal driven guitar, Allen’s surprisingly delicate drumming and most of all Simonon’s deep pounding reggae-fuelled bass playing. In fact he’s the star of the show – he’s rarely more than a foot away from Albarn and with his menacing swagger and perpetual posing he confirms that this is something from London’s darker side. It was certainly enough to scare the rain away and keep the cold from biting too deep. And I, I have to say, sat in these incongruous and damp surroundings simply engrossed by what I heard. Highly recommended. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Albarn Simonon
Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon
(GBQ website forum)

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