Judie Tzuke, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, Dio
The band who took the stage bearing the name Any Trouble bore very little resemblance to the Stiff proteges of two or three years ago. The previous Any Trouble were very much a guitar-based band (indeed they had a high turnover of keyboard players, because the role was neither demanding nor central to the band sound), so it came as some surprise to find the front of the stage piled with various keyboards and even more of one to see band leader and primary songwriter, Clive Gregson, abandoning his traditional guitar in favour of the ivories. The only other remaining member of the original band, bass guitarist Phil Barnes, was also doubling on keyboards, as was new man Steve Gurl.
However, Gregson's songwriting - the mainstay of the band's earlier success - remains consistently good and the new material compared favourably with new arrangements of old songs like 'Trouble With Love'. Perhaps the jagged edge which the band had in the early days has been smoothed, but the result is a broader, more atmospheric back-drop to the songs, something of which they were always capable but are only now exploiting to the full.
Judie Tzuke's band have also made a similar, if more widely publicised, move towards keyboards, with the addition of a second keyboard player. Previously producer Paul Muggleton had filled occasionally on a second keyboard part, but in the latest edition of the band he concentrates on backing vocals, percussion and some rhythm guitar. New man Don Snow now shares all the keyboards with Tzuke stalwart, Bob Noble. Both were using a Yamaha CP80 piano as the basis of their setup, to which Snow added an OBXa, an electric piano and a Roland monosynth. Noble was using a CS80, a JP-8 and a string synth.
The result of this greater emphasis was that keyboard parts from the albums remained in the live set, and each player put in a more relaxed performance. Previously Bob Noble had always been stretched to playing parts simultaneously and jumping from keyboard to keyboard without time to breathe.
From this fuller sound-base, the vocals and the lead guitar stood out in sharp relief and the whole thing was powered along by a solid but inventive rhythm section. Drummer Matthew Letley's kit cut through well and provided a wide range of sounds thanks to the augmentation of his acoustic heads by Simmons electronic drums. Bassist Gary Twigg alternated between solid rhythm playing on a Jazz bass and lyrical lines on a fretless.
Mike Paxman's guitar lines cut through like a knife. Alternating between a Schecter Tele and a Gibson semi-acoustic through the new Fender Showman amps, he provided surging chordal power and searing lead lines, with all the melodic feel of his playing on the albums aided by some additional power and edge.
Ms Tzuke's voice soared over the top with a clarity which was a credit to both her and the sound engineer. Although she complained several times of a cold and sore throat, her voice never faltered or cracked on even the highest lines, far out of the range of the average singer.
The songs from the new album (Ritmo) held up well against the older material, although they are different in style. Full of urban angst, they tell of gangs ('Nighthawks'), the pressure of city life ('Push Push, Pull Pull') and violence on the streets ('Walk Don't Walk'). The band's backing vocals added to this feel of hostility and alienation with repeated lines in the style of a theatrical Chorus, but I couldn't help feeling this was a bit overdone after the third successive song. However, the lead vocal came across well above them, and 'Push Push, Pull Pull' featured a fine bubbling bassline from Gary Twigg. 'Another Country' displayed the strength of the new keyboard-orientated line-up to good effect.
Of the older material, 'I am the Phoenix', 'City of Swimming Pools' and 'Sportscar' sounded particularly good, but come the encores, the concert reached new heights. Returning with the classic 'Stay With Me Till Dawn' (as poignant as ever), the band then crashed into a manic 'Black Furs', and then disappeared. They returned, however, to finish with 'How Do I Feel', one of the few love-songs from the new album, a ballad which proved to be the highlight of the evening (as final encores should be, but seldom are). This time the repeated 'How Do I Feel' chorus from the band really succeeded, an emotionless chant contrasting with Judie's desperately yearning solo. The full choruses had a power which bordered on the operatic, and the drums and keyboards provided a stark but compelling backdrop. A stunning end to a well-constructed set, proving that white singers can sing from the soul too.
Lycabettus Theatre, Athens
The end of August saw Tangerine Dream play two concerts at the Lycabettus open-air amphitheatre in Athens. It was the first time any electronic music had been performed in Greece, and perhaps not surprisingly both concerts were almost completely sold out. It's no exaggeration to say that people came from all over the country to see TD play.
They weren't disappointed.
The band played a two-hour set (excluding no fewer than three encores), coming on stage at 9.30pm and performing about 45 minutes of music from their new LP, Hyperborea. The second half comprised some more familiar material, with music from the Exit and Logos albums. This half also saw the introduction of lasers, the first half making do with colour slides for the music's visual accompaniment.
The second concert (on August 31) was plagued by high winds, some damage being caused to on-stage equipment, but despite this I felt the evening was more satisfying musically, with Edgar Froese and Johannes Schmoelling creating some perfectly synchronised synth lines.
Press and media reaction to the presentation was extremely favourable, a rare thing for Greece and particularly astonishing when you consider that nobody here is accustomed to seeing somebody 'play' an instrument that consists only of rows of knobs and buttons. That, for me, was the highlight of the occasion. I'll never forget seeing Chris Franke twiddling the knobs on his 'black boxes' through binoculars. (Yes, I was that far away, and I had a good seat!).
The Greek television service recorded sections of both concerts on videotape for broadcast later in the year, so Tangerine Dream should be reaching even more Greek homes by the time you read this.
All credit to the band for coming out to play in what amounted to 'uncharted waters', but I have just one complaint. Why Athens and not Thessaloniki?
St. Davids Hall, Cardiff
Friday, September 30, saw the palatial surroundings of the newly erected St. Davids Hall in Cardiff recoiling at the onslaught of a powerful dose of Depeche Mode, playing only their second gig in Cardiff for nigh on two years.
Supporting Depeche was Matt Fretton who gave a splendid performance to the accompaniment of a Teac 4-track backing tape. Doing a solo performance of this nature must take some doing but Matt, resplendent in a pink suit, did it with great vigour, leaping, dancing, and singing his way through his set which lasted getting on for an hour. The 4-track backing tape was put together by Matt himself and sounded chunky with its' driving percussion and synthesisers. Also on the tape was a brass section. It seems that Matt has two tapes, one which contains the brass and one that doesn't, as he sometimes has the brass section live on stage with him. His music is varied: sometimes electronic, sometimes with a Gabrielesque ethnic feel to it and sometimes very funky. He played his last single and his latest, 'Dance It Up', which deserves to be a hit.
There was a short break to clear the stage, and then Depeche took up their positions to an ecstatic response. The stage was set with David Gahan flanked on each side by Alan Wilder who played a Jupiter 8 (with another as a spare!) and Andy Fletcher who had an OBXa. Martin Gore was centre stage at the back and had at his disposal a newly acquired Yamaha DX7 which replaces the PPG because it's too unreliable. He also had an Emulator, a variety of flutes and a 12-string guitar. The band also had a Syndrum each, and these were used to great effect during the show.
The backing tape was as powerful as ever and sounded particularly good. They now use an 8-track to accommodate the extra sequencers and keyboard parts, while their drum sound is now provided by a Drumulator, extra percussion being synthesised.
The band kicked off with the latest single 'Love, In Itself', from their excellent new album and finished with 'Just Can't Get Enough'. Sandwiched in between were tracks from their three albums and, of course, most of their singles. One of the highspots of the gig for me was their rendition of 'Pipeline', also from 'Construction Time Again'. David Gahan left the stage for Martin to take the vocal mic while Alan hit a huge sheet of corrugated iron and Andy scraped some strange tubular device. Meanwhile the tape provided various synthesised (and sampled?) metallic industrial sounds.
The set was very good indeed and consisted of what appeared to be simple flat screens, but during the course of the gig they rotated into various configurations to reveal that they were, in fact, lighting gantries. They gave the stage an unforgettable atmosphere.
The sound was also excellent. The 13K rig was supplied by Audiolease: punchy but still clear. Two Roland Space Echoes, an MXR DDL and a Lexicon 224 digital reverb were used for effects.
In all the band played for about 1¼ hours plus an encore. They looked good, sounded good and gave a good show - exactly what the audience paid for. David Gahan is a great frontman for the band and his voice comes over much stronger live than it does on record in my opinion (he's also quite a stylish mover). The rest of the band remain fairly static, however, preferring to concentrate on their playing and backing vocals which, incidentally, were spot on throughout.
Depeche Mode are off to America very soon. Let's hope that they can win the hearts of Stateside audiences - if they perform as they did in Cardiff I see no reason why they shouldn't.
The scene, Guy Fawke's night, outside the Hammersmith Odeon, the sky occasionally lit by rockets, but few of the waiting crowd appreciating them, instead they were standing around with glum faces as the voice came over the loudspeaker system yet again that tonight's concert was sold out. The touts are doing brisk business, quoting £40.00 a ticket and are finding punters willing to pay out that amount of money.
The artist concerned? Ronnie James Dio, with his new band named, strangely enough, Dio, out on their first concert tour of the U.K. having previously only played Donnington Monsters of Rock Festival. R.J.D. must be one of the most under-rated rock vocalists - it's all too easy to dismiss heavy metal, and his past pedigree has not really brought him to the attention of unbeliever's in this genre of music. However, the fans of heavy metal acknowledge that R.J.D. is THE top vocalist in his field and it is probably only his obvious interest in the occult that stop people writing Dio is God on their leather jackets!
Anyway, onto a review of the gig itself. As the curtains draw back, the obligatory dry ice fills the stage and the only thing discernible through the mist is a green and red lit cavern centre stage with a shadowy figure emerging from it. The band explodes into "Stand Up And Shout", Track one on their new(ish) album, "Holy Diver". As the mist clears we can see the stage set for the first time, hard-board cliffs tower nine feet in the air, providing a good backdrop and an excellent and interesting drum platform. An additional advantage was that the stage, minus any backline, left plenty of room for the band to walk, or in R.J.D.'s case, bounce, around.
The sound from the massive (GLI?) PA system was good, though reports from very near the stage at the centre, centred on the fact that at times the monitors and backline drowned the PA. It seems very unfair to complain about the occasional lapse in the high standard of the mix, but when R.J.D. climbed onto the cliffs, standing in front of the drums, the signal coming through the mic failed - and they were very slow to recover. The crowd were vociferous in their complaints! Generally though, the clarity of the sound provided by the system at such high levels was an unexpected bonus.
After playing numbers from their new album, which most of the crowd were obviously familiar with, they went into Black Sabbath's "Children of the Sea" and even R.J.D. couldn't compete with the audience. For fans read fanatics.
But though the man was definitely the flavour of the evening, that didn't mean that the rest of the band's efforts went unappreciated. Vinny Appice on drums, provided a pyrotechnic solo, which, if it wasn't quite to my taste, certainly hammered the crowd into submission, and when playing with the band he gave them a rhythmic grounding which repeatedly used all twelve of his drums. The bass drum however, seemed to be a trifle loud, not all the headbanging was voluntary...
Jimmy Bain on bass proved to be a popular and talented player forming a great partnership with Appice. There was even a discussion in the pub opposite, after the show, that he was one Jimmy Page in disguise! On guitar was the much praised Vivian Campbell, and after the reviews that he has been receiving there seems little that I can add. Despite his distracting habit of ending a long guitar solo, moving to another part of the stage and starting again, the solo still managed to retain the crowd's interest, containing enough different styles to make it worth concentrating on. His straight guitar playing was a copy of how it is on the records, but that, in itself, is an achievement.
As for the man himself, his whole performance was stunning. Not only did his voice seem to be in fine fettle, ranging from the gentle beginnings of 'Don't Talk To Strangers' though a guitar/vocal battle during 'Man On The Silver Mountain' combined with glitter bomb fireworks, (Dio won on points) to the heavy raunch of 'Shame On The Night', but he also seems to thoroughly enjoy being on stage, and it shows. He behaves like a hyperactive dwarf when moving around the stage and the way he played with the audience, giving the sign of the goat and seeming to catch everyones eye enchanted us all. Does he really expect us to believe he's the wicked hobgoblin? He seems too nice and friendly!
The only things which did strike a wrong chord were the fact that the (occasional) keyboard player, who was off stage, was completely unacknowledged (or was it taped?), which came over as a bit pointless, and that the gap between the end of the set and the encore was far too long, antagonising the fans. However they are minor quibbles about an otherwise extremely enjoyable evening.
And where does he go from here? Over the Rainbow, probably. Blackmore won't like that.