Hot off the Press


by Alissa Ordabai
– Senior Columnist —

A summer in London resembles one big never-ending music festival: several A-listers playing on the same night at different venues, not to mention B-listers, C-listers, various up-and-comers, chancers, and charlatans. And just the way a festival report can’t deal with each show in detail, neither can this summary. So here is a compact rundown on the London gigs that stood out the most over the past 6 months. Mind you, when our fave Americans don’t come to England, the English go to America. So some New York City dates are thrown in for good measure too – the ones this writer went to while swinging by the Big Apple in August.

The Underworld Club, London
22 October 2013

BiohazardKingpins of rapcore have finally completed their descent from metal’s top ranks back into the general population. Some 15 years ago London was hosting them at its grandest arenas. Think sold out shows and people in the street begging you for a ticket offering crazy money. To get stuff signed you stood in line for over an hour. This time Biohazard played a 500-capacity basement club in Camden. Which didn’t deter local die-hards who packed the sweatbox like this was the last rock show of their lives. After endless stream of support acts reviving that nu metal vibe with varying degrees of street cred, Biohazard hit the stage at half ten. The crowd – mostly male, overwhelmingly white, and primarily over 35 – is a fist-pumping, yelling, rowdy bunch. The band looks and sounds past its peak, but punters just want to relive their youth, so who cares if all of us are 15 years older, with our biggest dreams dashed and tattoos half-faded? “It’s all in the mind,” as philosophers tell us. If the crowd wants a killer show, it gets a killer show, such is the power of us humans to process external reality almost in any way we choose to. The riffs and grooves were easy on the ear, the delivery is up to code, so nothing is left but to jump and head bang. And judging by the crowd’s ecstatic affray, Biohazard couldn’t have delivered a better show.

The Howling
Brixton Academy, London, UK
19 October 2013

The HowlingBack in 2006 when Camden’s spit-and-sawdust clubs were this writer’s stomping ground, the word in the street was that three London bands were destined for glory: Marner Brown (an indie outfit), Red Star Rebels (glam metal revivalists), and Towers of London (punk rockers). Mainstream rock press predicted fame and fortune, lesser bands fixed them with a jaundiced eye, and legions of groupies suffered broken hearts. But after a few years the hype fizzled, and what internal squabbling didn’t do, was finished off by incompetent management. Fast-forward to now, and the toughest survivors from these three gangs suddenly form a brand new rat pack. Quitters never win, right? The band is called the Howling and sounds like a weird cross of sleaze rock, electronica, and punk. Still, no matter how current this bunch try to sound, you know it in your gut they haven’t given up on the dream to become the next Motley Crue. The Rev’s steamy guitar solos are the most obvious giveaway (the way he aims at that young DeMartini / Mick Mars vibe) and singer Blacky wraps his mews and groans around those debauched tunes in a way only a sleaze rocker would. Will it happen for them this time around? Not likely. Do they put on a great show? You bet. The Howling is one of those bands you’ve absolutely got to see live, but can pass on storing in your player.

Islington Academy, London, UK
13 October 2013

AnnihilatorA tactful, courteous audience politely head bangs its way through the set, and people immediately apologize when they accidentally bump into you. Yep, that’s the Annihilator show in London last month. Somewhere between raw thrash abandon and artful musicianship, the band remains a metal outfit that at once makes you want to mosh and crowd-surf but also to stand perfectly still to watch those dazzling guitar leads. Band leader and guitarist Jeff Waters says these days he doesn’t play much at home for his own enjoyment. But when you see him live, you don’t believe him – the buzz and the drive are so palpably there. And when the time comes for Waters to solo, you know he does spend a lot of time thinking and caring about his music – the phrasing, the interplay of tension and release sound almost too intelligent for the genre. But the sheer high-voltage energy does show here’s someone who lives and breathes metal. A combination of old hits and songs from the newly released album proves that life is just as exciting for the band as it was back in 1983, or at that mythical time when Annihilator used to share a tour bus with Pantera.

Pat Travers
Islington Academy, London, UK
11 October 2013

Pat TraversIs this the rudest joke on earth Travers drummer is telling the stunned audience just before the encore? Yep, it is, and I won’t repeat it – both out of respect for you, reader, and to avoid various vigilantes hounding me down. Travers looks slightly flustered himself, telling the crowd in an apologetic tone this is the only joke his drummer knows. But thankfully Pat doesn’t need to apologize for the set, because this becomes one of the best shows of 2013 – a full-on, firing on all cylinders ride driving home the tried-and-tested blues-rock truths. The 59 year-old vet either goes all-out or he doesn’t hit the road. He last played in London in 2011, and breaks between tours seem to turn Travers into a more formidable performer each time he comes back. The singing, beautifully sustained tone of his guitar, the heart he puts in every phrase, and the way he so evidently enjoys what he does just screams “American blues musician.” Not to mention his rip-roaring singing voice that comes through so powerful you know this isn’t drinking cocaine that keeps his pipes in shape. Not that the British deliver less energetically when they perform, but simplicity and conviction of vintage blues-rock becomes a rare thing in the UK these days. Especially after Alvin Lee’s passing earlier this year. The last time Travers and I spoke, he was telling me about his hilarious one-off encounter with Lee where they both didn’t say a word to each other, just kept sizing each other up. Strange how Travers comes back to the UK the year of Alvin’s death, as if to reassure us that all isn’t lost.

Alex Skolnick Trio
The Jazz Café, London
29 September 2013

Alex Skolnick TrioNot hugely adventurous by the standards of jazz, but pretty far-out by the standards of metal, Skolnick’s way of giving jazz interpretations to rock’s classic numbers remains a congenial, poetic, and intelligent affair. Original pieces written in the same vein sound more interesting than covers, but overall the Alex Skolnick Trio sustains a unified, very recognizable sound. Judging by the turnout (which was modest this time), the main audience for this trip are still rock fans, not jazz buffs. When Skolnick first began his jazz experiments, the initial buzz in the rock world was huge. Now everyone knows what to expect, so the 400-capacity venue tonight stayed half-empty, although Skolnick was saying on Twitter he did a lot of press that day.

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1 Comment on 20 CONCERT HIGHLIGHTS OF 2013

  1. LYNN GARDNER // November 6, 2013 at 9:39 am //

    Prayers for All! “In God We Trust!”

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