Saturday, 24 April 2010

Rufus Wainwright - Bristol Colston Hall

Just twenty four short hours from a rollicking Idlewild show in Wolverhampton I found myself sat down in Colston Hall for a show that was a polar opposite, Rufus delivering his All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu album, a tribute to his mother's, Kate McGarrigle passing.

Fortunately I had been pre-warned of the format for the evening and an announcer read out:

"The first part of the program will be performed as a song cycle with visuals by Douglas Gordon. During the first set, Rufus has asked that you please do not applaud until after he has left the stage. His exit is part of the piece. After a brief intermission, Rufus will return for the second part of the show during which you may applaud to your heart's content. Please also refrain from photography during the first set."

Well thank goodness he hadn't gotten all precious on us then...

The 'song cycle' frankly is a hard set of songs to listen to in a block like this, there is a monotone to their nature, the tried and tested soft/loud/soft structure just too obvious on this excursion for me. Songs like Martha are more approachable and the final Zebulon a painful elegy for his mother. The visuals of various forms of his heavily made up eyes, blinking across the huge, backdrop paled after a while. Rufus' uber camp and ponderous arrival and exit in a black gown trimmed with feathers and sequins stretching far out behind him as he made his oh so slow progress from wings to piano stool was I guess, 'dramatic'. Not a comfortable of entirely enjoyable first half.

The second half on the other hand was much more the ticket - a more chipper and personable Rufus played a pleasing number of old songs from Poses, a few from more recent sets and pleased the whole hall. A particular personal fav was Under ta Memphis Skyline, a complex song delivered with sensitivity and accuracy - great stuff. His piano is excellent and he was in full voice last night, from the low notes to the high and the long notes such as those in Vibrate. A long second half meant that he must have played for close on two hours in total, quite a marathon on your own. Closing the pre-planned encore with the Walking Song written by his mother seemed quite appropriate and we all left in better humour than we would have at half time.

Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang - The Wonder Show of the World

I have been an occasional fan of Bonnie Prince Billy the nom de plume of Will Oldham but heard a track from this latest on an NPR podcast and it grabbed me. The Wonder Show of the World is basically a trio with Oldham, Emmett Kelly and Shahzard Ismaily.

There have been a few less than ecstatic but none the less positive review perhaps the most useful of which might be the Pitchfork review. For me its an almost sublime affair, not as bleak perhaps as earlier stuff, but not a barrel of laughs either. The sensitive playing highlights Oldhams vocals and the harmonies on some tracks are quite delicious, with sonic similarities on a few occasions to the Fleet Foxes harmonic style and hints of old Neil Young.

On a warm sunny Saturday afternoon with no-one else around this is a perfect accompaniment. here are some beautiful tracks here but the set seems to pivot around That's What Our Love Is. Feels like this might well be one of the albums to come back to time and time again - fabulous.

Idlewild Wolverhampton

Almost goes without saying that its a bit of a schlep up to Brum or Wolverhampton at the end of the day for a gig, but needs must. Deeply irked that I missed both the Bristol and Gloucester Idlewild shows earlier because I was away, this trip was a necessity. Furthermore after turning me down on a couple of shows IDS had an evening pass and away we went.

The Slade Rooms (named after... well you know who) is a congenial if a bit pokey venue on the edge of town, with a very small stage and a wide and narrow room. Inevitably being the sad old groupies we are we nabbed a spot at the crush bar and settled in.

Support for the evening was ably given by The Sparrow and the Workshop, a threesome from north of the border (with a dash of Chicago and Wales thrown in). I have to ‘fess up that I am not normally enamoured of female led groups – its a bad non-PC thing I know but somehow it often just doesn’t work for me. First off I thought my prejudice might be held up again but this lot are a little different – they really drive along, a little bit alt-country, a little bit rock a little bit Americana flavour. A couple of songs in and they had me. Their debut release Crystals Fall is out and of course at the end of the gig IDS and I sloped along to the merch stand bought a copy and had a wee chat and the chaps signed a poster or two. Will certainly seek them out again as live they are great stuff and Gregor on drums and vocals is the devil incarnate.

Without too much ado the Idlewild chaps sauntered on stage and took up their spots, Roddy quite properly pointed out the minuscule nature of the stage. IDS commented that they, and especially Roddy looked a bit tired, and I guess after the 40 or so shows they have done in support of Post Electric, they have a right to.

I pondered about how many more times we might get to see them, they have been at this for some time, produced some most excellent stuff but nothing lasts for ever. It was a fleeting thought but the very next day the blog post sort of confirmed my worst fears. A hiatus maybe but they often turn into splits, maybe this will be different. It must indeed be hard if you sense that your time is over, despite a loyal and fervent band of followers, if you sense that it’s a downward trajectory. I had thought that perhaps Post Electric was a project that would knock them back on track but perhaps it wasn’t.

The set, as so often now with their increasingly tight and sharp shows, was a great mix of stuff from across the Idlewild cannon. Some very welcome returns from early albums, some well loved mainstreamers and a smattering of newer stuff. A great set, delivered with polish and attack, they looked like they enjoyed themselves and the crowd certainly did. Idlewild never fail to make me feel good, to bring a sometimes long lost smile to the face, its music that somehow touches a deep place, maybe its associations with times and places maybe its more visceral. This show did all that again. Let’s hope they are just a bit weary, need some time out to recharge and will come back to their loyal followers...

Anyhoo like the girlie groupies we are we hung around, IDS blagged a set list (which he unaccountably donated to me – it’s now pinned on the lads wall of gigs along with the ticket) and we then slid over to the merch stand for the Sparrow stuff. Off home from the dubious qualities of Wolverhampton, half deaf from the unexpected loudness and stoked (ooh get me with the lingo)from perhaps the last Idlewild gig for some time.