James Blunt concert surprisingly great

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James Blunt crowd surfing at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington.

Last night I travelled back in time to my 14-year-old self, I went to see James Blunt in concert.

I expected a good performance, maybe a few bouncy tunes and a few slow and sad piano ballads but what I got was so much more. There’s more to James Blunt than most would expect. Yes he’s a funny sounding British singer who’s regularly given a hard time for all his songs sounding the same but that’s not something he’s embarrassed about. In fact, the comedy-man is incredibly happy to take on the abuse and prove people wrong in his very entertaining live performance.

He rose to fame in 2004 with the release of his debut album Back to Bedlam. Don’t deny it all you people who now claim to dislike him – I know you all loved his first hit You’re Beautiful, really it’s impossible not to. I was a big fan of that first album back in the day, it was full of great songs and it saw him quickly become a popular man on the music scene. I can’t say I’ve listened to much of his material since then, except for the odd song and radio hits like 1973 and Stay the Night but last night that didn’t matter. All of his songs came to life. Blunt was energetic, even in the slow songs, his audience interaction was as good as it gets, he and his band were obviously having a blast together and the music sounded darn good.

After declaring the Michael Fowler Centre was the ‘dryest’ venue he’d ever played he promised to change that. In no time at all Blunt had the audience, of mostly over 40s couples I might add, flocking out of their seats to dance at the front of the stage or showing off some hilarious dance moves in the upper circle seating. But it got way better than that. Near the end of his set Blunt put his guitar on the ground, went over to the crowd gathered at the stage and with a quick check for reassurance he crowd surfed all the way up the aisle, those still seated quickly jumping up to run and meet him.

This was half the fun of the show. As you may already know if you follow the musician on Twitter, he is a hilarious man. The quick witted Brit humour is something I found myself longing for more of throughout the gig. I was enjoying the music but his rapport with the audience and cheeky gags were brilliant! Blunt once tried to sell his latest tour by advertising it as a comedy show – well he wasn’t lying!

Until last night I’d forgotten just how many good songs James Blunt actually has. The five-time Grammy nominee who’s sold more than 20,000 albums worldwide played hit after hit. The audience favourites like High, Three Wise Men and Goodbye My Lover, were welcomed with rapturous applause and every word was screamed by the audience each chorus. My personal favourite was Same Mistake. The song starts beautifully with soft guitar picking, gentle singing and pretty piano playing before the introduction of an electric guitar and drums builds a stronger quality and Blunts vocals take it up a notch. It was the most chilling tune of the night and as the audience swayed their phone torches high in the air the venue was brought to life.

With a strong backing band and a steady and pitch-perfect voice Blunt rocked the guitar, strummed the ukulele and played the piano with fantastic enthusiasm and technique. The way he held eye contact with people in the crowd made you feel like he was singing straight to you. The songs he played from his new album Moonlanding went down well with the dedicated fans in the crowd. I should note – the whole band was wearing ridiculous astronaut jumpsuits as a hat tip to the album name. I particularly enjoyed the bouncy Satellites to which I found myself bopping and clapping in my seat and the piano ballad Miss America, passionately dedicated to Whitney Houston and the fact people focused on her death too much instead of remembering her magnificent music.

Blunt drew things to a close with his first big hit You’re Beautiful to which he hardly sang because the audience were belting it out as loudly as possible, before finishing with a rocking version of So Long, Jimmy. He was back for an encore of hits starting with upbeat catchy 2010 single Stay the Night, his latest release getting airplay at the moment Bonfire Heart and the final number, the much anticipated 1973. He’d had a costume change and was now wearing a ridiculous jumpsuit that looked somewhat like a green lizard while he danced around the stage like a mad thing.

Granted, I know he’s a sound which doesn’t appeal to everyone but for those who love him last nights show would have been an absolute treat. James Blunt’s performance has officially pushed any doubt I had in his musical abilities from my mind. His songs will be making their way back onto my iPod playlist and I’ll happily await his return to New Zealand.

 

Song of the week – The Way We Do It by Jurassic 5

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The Way We Do It – Jurassic 5

What. A. Comeback.

The Jurassic 5 boys know how to take a tune and mix it with some brilliant bouncy rap better than anyone and they’ve done it again with new track The Way We Do It.

The hip hop collective, big in the 90s, reunited last year to the pleasure of many. They reclaimed their former glory on the stage at Coachella and are set to conquer the UK this year at Glastonbury.

I didn’t think it’d get much better than that. But then today, out came a new track from the group. I clicked play on the song with some hesitation – terrified this wasn’t going to be anywhere near as good as their old stuff. But I was one very happy gal. What a tune! Now I feel comfortable their Glastonbury set won’t be an awkward run of new songs nobody knows and doesn’t really enjoy, even if they play all new tunes – if they’re anything like The Way We Do It – that’ll be one happy audience.

The song, their first in eight years, has The White Stripes song My Doorbell as the underlying track. What a choice! The 2005 rock hit was a personal favourite of mine. It has a classic solid beat and Jack White’s unique quirky voice. When mixed up by producer Heavy D in this new J5 track the tempo is sped up, helping the drum beat to create that classic upbeat rhythm the groups rap tracks are recognised for. Add in a steady piano melody, the wondrous mixture of sounds portrayed by Jurassic 5’s MCs and a repetitive Jack White vocal sample and this song is evidence the ‘way they do it’ is a winning formula each and every time.

The J5 boys, Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir, Mark 7even, DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist, are right at the top of my list of acts I can’t wait to see at Glastonbury 2014 and this song just pushed them up even further. I can’t wait for the next installment.

Anyone else predicting a Jack White cameo during the Glastonbury set? Fingers crossed!

Song of the week – Oceans by Coldplay

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Oceans – Coldplay

iTunes is now free streaming Coldplay’s much anticipated new album Ghost Stories. From the record Oceans is my pick for best song. Of course the album is of particular interest to many to see how many details of his ‘conscious uncoupling’ from Gwyneth Paltrow Chris Martin gives away in each song. But for me (a BIG Coldplay fan) it was more about getting to hear more new material from this incredible, ever-changing band.

If you look back at the groups last three albums it’s pretty evident that they’ll never be afraid to try something new and push the boundaries. Somehow each and everytime, no matter what new sound they’re testing on us, they manage to get me hooked and with Ghost Stories they’ve done it again. I loved the first release Midnight even though I was asking myself ‘since when did Coldplay become Bon Iver?’ I was still happy  – because what kind of crazy person doesn’t like Bon Iver? It is a hauntingly beautiful song which builds to a chilling climax. Then came Magic. What a tune! It has a solid base beat, a funky rhythm, Martin’s trademark falsettos, insightful lyrics and more. It has been on regular rotate on my playlist.

This album is taking a step towards electronica and both Midnight and Magic showcase that. Don’t get me wrong – I like that new sound, but what kind of Coldplay fan would I be if I didn’t love their original ballads like Clocks, the Scientist and Fix You best of all. The reason Oceans truly appeals to me is because it most reflects the bands old sound. The soft, slow ballad about change is gentle but electric. It keeps in stride with the other songs on Ghost Stories with an eerie sounding electric guitar slide resonating behind Martin’s voice. Martin carries it perfectly with stunning use of light and shade in his voice, much like he does in old hits Amsterdam and Trouble.  Drummer Will Champion maintains a pulsating soft beat on an electric drum-kit which ties in all the elements together.

Chris Martin has done it again lyrics-wise. There’s definitely a hint of Paltrow in his words. He talks about love, change and finding himself alone. It’s beautiful stuff. I particularly love this verse:

“I’m ready for it all, love…
I’m ready for the change.
Meet under sunlight,
Meet me again,
In the rain,
In the rain.”

This song is a Coldplay classic. It’s the perfect soulful ballad with which you can lose yourself in the emotion. I certainly already have.

Coldplay – it’s good to have you back.

Check out the video below of the group performing the track live for BBC Radio 1. It’s brilliant – what more can you expect from the band who does ‘live’ best?

Song of the Week – Fever

Fever – The Black Keys

The Black Keys are back, and back with a vengeance. The rock duo from Ohio have just released their new album Turn Blue and so far the samples are as good as one could have hoped for. Off the back of El Camino, I had very high expectations. These boys know how to write fantastic rock music and they know how to change it up with each new album. But of course when a band doesn’t stick to what it knows works best there are always risks in releasing new music. I’m pleased to say the risk has paid off, this is a stellar album and the first release from it, Fever, gets things off to a roaring start.

I found a vid of the Black Keys performing this new track live on Later with Jools Holland and I haven’t been able to stop watching the clip all week. 

The song has the classics of a good Black Keys song, a grungy electric guitar melody, thrashing drums and groovy crooning. The element of difference shines through in the keyboard melody which repeats throughout the song. It’s a new sound for the duo, but it works perfectly with their alternative take on rock. Not only that, but the wonderful bass line holds the song together magically. There’s something about this band and the way every song carries such an effective beat beneath the melody. Fever is perfect in this sense also.

The bridge of the song is a nod-your-head-in-pleasure section of the tune, it slows up the track and gets the listener ready for the climax which is brought on with a fantastic change to the bopping keyboard melody. It’s a brilliant effect and I feel it’s a pretty fail-proof song for the Black Keys.

I can’t wait to see this new album brought to life on the Glastonbury stage.