Tag Archives: Reviews

➤ Thanks to Neil McCormick for the only Bowie Blackstar review we need to read

Blackstar, album, David Bowie, jazz, pop music, video,Johan Renck , reviews,

Late-life melancholy with jazzy modulations: Bowie in messianic mode in the video for the album’s title track Blackstar

➢ With an album as rich and strange as Blackstar, Bowie is well and truly back from beyond, reports Neil McCormick, Daily Telegraph music critic, 18 December 2015:

For his 27th studio album, has Bowie gone jazz? On first listens to Blackstar, released on 8 January, Bowie’s 69th birthday, it certainly sounds like rock’s oldest futurist has dusted down his saxophone. They are tooting, parping, wailing and gusting all over the place, occupying rhythmic, atmospheric and lead parts, with guitars and keyboards intermingling in a weave of supporting roles.

Donny McCaslin, David Bowie, jazz, Lazarus, Blackstar

Donny McCaslin: Bowie’s new-found friend

The saxophone was Bowie’s first instrument, which he started learning in his pre-teens inspired by a bohemian, jazz-loving elder half-brother, Terry Burns. Bowie once said that, aged 14, he couldn’t decide if he wanted “to be a rock’n’roll singer or John Coltrane”. Even in his rise to rock fame, Bowie remained a creature of the jazz age, at least in the sense of the boundary-crashing freedom that characterises his work.

A new single, Lazarus, released today, may kick off in the vague realm of contemporary music, with spectral guitar and stuttering rhythms calling to mind the young British trio the xx, but it is not long before those saxophones are sighing and the beat is fragmenting. Just about holding it together are the familiar tones of Bowie’s teeth-gritted, tight-chested whisper of a vocal, proclaiming it is This way or no way / You know I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird / Now ain’t that just like me? Sure sounds like jazz to me. . .

What Bowie has created with this hardcore jazz crew, though, is not something any jazz fan would recognise and is all the better for it. At its best, free jazz is amongst the most technically advanced and audacious music ever heard but it can be uncompromisingly difficult to listen to for the non-aficionado. The improvisational elements that make it so gladiatorial and hypnotic live can make it over complex and inaccessible on record. Bowie’s intriguing experiment has been to take this wild, abstract form and try to turn it into songs. Blackstar is an album on which words and melody gradually rise from a sonic swamp to sink their hooks in. It is probably as close as free jazz has ever got to pop. . . / Read the full review at Telegraph online

◼ IN AN UNNERVING SIMULATION OF BOWIE’S VOICE, the star of Bowie’s new musical Lazarus, Michael C. Hall, sings its title track for the CBS Late Show (below) the day it is released as a single. The maestro himself is watching the show at home in his armchair. How meta-modern is that?!

➢ Bowie fulfills his jazz dream – Listen to an NPR Music interview with the two main characters who accompany Bowie on this new adventure in music – his longtime friend and producer Tony Visconti and his new-found friend/saxophonist and band leader Donny McCaslin.

➢ Nov 23, more background revelations in Rolling Stone – “We were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar,” says producer Tony Visconti. “The goal was to avoid rock & roll”

➢ PLUS: The Blackstar album reviewed track by track by Neil McCormick

FRONT PAGE

➤ Who’s that man in the black jumper and spectacles? Wowie, it’s Bowie

David Bowie, Lazarus, theatre, musicals, New York Theatre Workshop

David Bowie at rehearsals for Lazarus: wearing a feather embroidered wool-silk V-neck sweater by Alexander McQueen, plus the latest self-winding Louis Vuitton Tambour eVolution Chrono GMT watch in stainless steel. Facebook fans comment: “Back to blond!”. . . “Is that his John Shuttleworth impression?” … “Almost unbelievable that a man approaching 70 can cause such media interest”. . . “The watch is the Vuitton one he got for free when shooting in Venice [wink]” [Wrong!]. . . “Still not wearing his wedding ring though – it disappeared from his finger when he returned with The Next Day”. . . And a female: “Really the spit of his Dad there!”


◼ SOMETHING IS IN THE AIR. Bowie as you’ve never seen him before. Nothing new about that. But here he is with black spectacles and short-back-and-sides (plus a hint of moustache or mere cool stubble?) coming and going while his new show Lazarus is in rehearsals in New York, modestly and without fuss, sitting in the auditorium for previews alongside its director Ivo van Hove. “No one saw him sat there! ‘I can behave very well so nobody sees I’m there,’ he would say.” And before an enthusiastic first-night audience on Monday, Bowie appeared unshowily on stage to take a bow along with the cast. In fact, he looked inwardly chuffed.

The multimedia production is co-written with Enda Walsh and presented off-Broadway at the 200-seat New York Theatre Workshop. It is Bowie’s surreal live stage re-imagining of The Man Who Fell To Earth, according to the entertainment site ShockTillYouDrop. “This is a Bowie show. Lazarus takes pieces from Bowie’s music, album covers, music videos, and more, to belie a virtual scrapbook of the artist’s career and ideas new, used and unused.”

The New York Times decides it’s a “great-looking and mind-numbing new musical built around songs by David Bowie”, four of them new (Lazarus, No Plan, Killing a Little Time and When I Met You). Some songs “are rhapsodies of alienation; cries of solitary pain turn into our collective pleasure”.

Click any pic below to view bigger:

David Bowie, Ivo van Hove, Lazarus, theatre, musicals, New York Theatre Workshop,

Bowie and director Ivo van Hove at Lazarus rehearsals


Under the headline “Bowie’s weirdly brilliant off-Broadway masterpiece”, The Daily Beast says: “Lazarus contains its own surreal logic, but at its heart seems to be about love and connection, and the forces that can make or violently break such connections.”

Rolling Stone declares it a “Surrealistic tour de force: Impromptu kabuki actors invade the stage. And through it all, the humanoid Thomas Newton [The Man Who Fell to Earth] — played by golden-throated Michael C. Hall, who is best known for his roles on Dexter and Six Feet Under but whose theatrical credits include big roles in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Cabaret and Chicago — mostly remains stoic, lonely, yearning. At its core, Lazarus is a two-hour meditation on grief and lost hope (with no intermission), but it takes so many wild, fantastical, eye-popping turns that it never drags.”

In a nutshell, The Wrap media website raves: “It’s the best jukebox musical ever. That may not sound like much of a compliment, but when you put David Bowie’s musical catalogue at the service of book writers Bowie and Enda Walsh and director Ivo van Hove, the result is more than unique. It’s terrific must-see theater.”

Meanwhile in little ole London, look what has appeared on a billboard at Olympia – a stylish poster counting down to the January launch of Bowie’s new album, ★. And a Bowie New Year to us all!

Blackstar , poster, David Bowie, album,

Ta-daaa! Jonathan Barnbrook’s ★ billboard at Olympia

➢ The V&A touring exhibition David Bowie is. . .
opens 11 Dec at the Groninger Museum in Holland, running until 13 March…

➢ Plan your channel-hop with The Man in Seat 61

FRONT PAGE

➤ 75 Ballet gigs later, Gary Kemp tackles serious theatre but denounces its obsession with class

Homecoming, Harold Pinter, Gary Kemp, Jamie Lloyd, Gemma Chan, Trafalgar Studios, interview, theatre, London, reviews

Gemma Chan as Ruth, with Gary Kemp as Teddy, rehearsing for The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios in London. Photograph by Matt Humphrey


➢ Gary Kemp interviewed by Nick Clark in The Independent, 10 Nov, before he opened this week in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios:

The play, set in 1965 was written when working-class people didn’t cross into celebrity, or cross classes. Kemp can empathise with the character who left his working-class roots and found home alien upon his return. “I went to grammar school and things became different, more middle class. My parents were definitely working class. My dad was a printer.” He said: “I get that thing about coming home and having a different language to your parents and sometimes using it against them and sometimes feeling terrible because of that.”

Today, he feels class restrictions remain visible, particularly in the acting world. It is, he said, “utterly class orientated. It’s ironic really because it’s incredibly liberal but underneath that facade there lies this need for Oxbridge, a need for the understanding of literature and a need for received pronunciation. Working-class actors are condemned to sitcoms and soap.” He pointed out that the production’s director Lloyd is working class. “That’s as rare as hen’s teeth” . . . / Continued at The Independent online

➢ The Homecoming runs at the Trafalgar Studios, London (0844 871 7632) until 13 February

UPDATE: REVIEWS OF THE HOMECOMING

➢ Michael Billington in the Guardian, 23 Nov:
Fifty years after its London premiere, Harold Pinter’s play continues to puzzle, astonish and delight. Far from treating it as a revered theatrical specimen preserved in aspic, Jamie Lloyd’s excellent revival offers a fresh approach to the play without in any way violating the rhythms of Pinter’s text. . . The Homecoming retains its hold over our imaginations. It can be seen as a Freudian play about sons filled with subconscious Oedipal desires. It can equally be seen as an ethological study of a group of human animals fighting over territory.

Homecoming, Harold Pinter, Gary Kemp, Ron Cook, Jamie Lloyd, Gemma Chan, Trafalgar Studios, interview, theatre, London, reviews

Gemma Chan as Ruth, with Gary Kemp and Ron Cook, in The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios. Photograph by Marc Brenner


➢ Dominic Maxwell in The Times:
Half a century after it first put Harold Pinter at the forefront of British drama, this 1965 play can still leave audiences provoked, puzzled and, finally, pleased. With its stark but colourful expressionist staging, its swirling bursts of Mod music and its sharp Sixties threads, this is Pinter goes Kafka, domestic drama goes haunted-house horror.

➢ Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph:
Welcome back to Pinter-land, a world of inescapable disquietude which, in Jamie Lloyd’s stripped-back 50th anniversary revival of The Homecoming, is more Hades than Hackney. The gender politics of the play make it Pinter’s most problematic major work. It’s not constructed to invite “debate” – you’re meant to submit to its strange, atavistic logic. . . In broad terms, Lloyd delivers an evening that is intense, committed and often – because of the dialogue – darkly funny.

➢ Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail:
Those with a taste for bleak, absurdist, sexist fantasy will find their needs adequately catered for by the latest Jamie Lloyd production at London’s Trafalgar Studios. . . Pinter’s language is always to be savoured, his patter of lower-middle class cliches so astute. References to Humber Snipes and jam rolls and London Airport and flannel vests evoke an era. Was he ahead of his time in envisaging a career woman liberating herself from a lifeless marriage? Or was bedhopper Harold working off a little fantasy about a woman too free with her favours? I incline to the latter view.

FRONT PAGE

2014 ➤ Spandau Ballet’s world tour reunion updates

New Romantics, Blitz Kids, Heaven Club, London, Swinging 80s, Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet’s tenth live date: playing Heaven in London 1980. Photographed © by Shapersofthe80s

SCREENINGS OF THEIR SOUL BOYS BIO-PIC

pop music, George Hencken, Tony Hadley, Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, movie, biopic,New Romantics, Blitz Kids
✱ Read Shapersofthe80s’ review of the SBWW film and its UK premiere, plus European screening dates, Oct–Nov 2014

✱ Hello Down Under! Auckland NZ 2 Nov, Melbourne 5 Nov and Sydney 7 Nov for special Q&A screenings of SBWW, plus live performance in Melbourne

✱ Spandau’s first public appearance in NYC since 1983, plus US release of their new single This Is The Love, plus outdoor mini-concert in LA for their TV debut with Jimmy Kimmel 10 Nov… plus live performance on Fox’s Good Day Nov 13… Plus SBWW screening 15 Nov at SVA Theatre, premiere and band talk at Doc NYC

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, cancellations, rescheduled, US tour, dates

Hadley sings True: Spandau live at London’s Albert Hall, 2014. Photographed © by Shapersofthe80s

➢ SPANDAU’S 2015 LIVE TOUR DATES IN ONE LIST

✱ North America tickets on sale 14 Nov from San Francisco 23 Jan to Red Bank NY 10 Feb and in between LA, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Boston, NYC, Westbury, Washington DC . . . Extra concert added 24 Jan at The Wiltern in Los Angeles . . . Extra concert added 2 Feb in Montreal (on sale 27 Nov).

17 Jan 2015 update – Shock change to Spandau Ballet’s North America live tour – still launching 23–25 Jan in California but with other US and Canada concert dates rescheduled for April–May. Click through for complete list of world tour dates 2015.

✱ Now on sale: tickets for 13 dates 3–19 March in Spandau Ballet’s live UK tour 2015, kicking off 3 March from Dublin in the land of music, now taking in TWO London dates at O2 Arena 17–18 March, and ending in Brummie Duran-land

First dates on live European tour 2015: Amsterdam 21 March, Luxembourg 22 March, Italy 24–30 March (Assago, Torino, Padova, Firenze, Roma), Germany 16–22 April (Leipzig, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich)

✱ Down under: Auckland, NZ 10 May tickets on sale 20 Nov… Oz on sale Nov 12: Spandau’s Australia concert tour 2015 kicks off in Brisbane 13 May, playing also Sydney, Melbourne and Perth

✱ Weekly: Big Tone’s party show Saturdays 7–9pm GMT on Absolute 80s Radio, on air and online


➢ First US review of the new single This Is the Love at Billboard: “Thirty years after Spandau Ballet’s last U.S. single, the British new-wave quintet brings back everything that made it danceable on This Is the Love, touting a thick sax, Tony Hadley’s syrup-and-silk delivery and poppy drum work. The twist? There’s also a James Bond theme vibe mixed in.” – Andrew Flanagan … 8 Nov Martin Kemp tweets: “Billboard single of the week in the U.S.”

SPANDAU INTERVIEWED IN NEW ZEALAND, 2 NOV


➢ Or, read a transcription of the above interview with New Zealand’s arts website, The 13th Floor – Here’s Tony Hadley on how life was different when he was a teenager: “The 80s was probably the last innocent decade in a kind of weird way, pretty primitive, you know. In Britain we had three TV channels. As a young person, you had music and you had fashion. So everything was pretty tribal and we’ve always been like that in Britain anyway, with the Mods, the Rockers, psychedelia, punk. So you picked your tribe and the kind of music you wanted to be associated with and that was it – it was just a simple time. We’ve now entered into a period where social media and connectivity around the world is unprecedented, incredible. So as a young person, you don’t necessarily need just fashion and just music. It’s a very different world we live in.”

➢ 1980: Read the epic story of Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics at The Observer

➢ Official Spandau Ballet website

FRONT PAGE

➤ Soul Boys Spandau rise like a phoenix from the flames of their film premiere

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, premiere

Spandau Ballet: smart-casual on the red carpet

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, premiere

Spandau live at the Albert Hall: All six members of the band reunited, the sixth being manager Steve Dagger in the wings

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, premiere

Royal Albert Hall: full house for Spandau’s premiere

◼︎ 6,000 PEOPLE WERE UP FOR an emotional roller-coaster ride at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday – hundreds more watched simulcasts in cinemas across the land. Today Rolling Stone has called it “the biggest home-movie party in British pop history”. We sped through yards of breathlessly cut vintage footage even the band hadn’t seen before, showing how five glammed-up school friends adopted the preposterous name Spandau Ballet and effectively rewrote the rules of a moribund pop industry to rocket into the charts and become one of Britain’s six supergroups of the New Romantic 80s…

We saw how their friendships turned nasty and imploded in a law court… and how they’ve agreed to make this film 20 years later in which each tells his own version “warts and all”, soul boys baring their souls in a cathartic process of reconciliation and redemption. Why, they’d even titled their home movie, Soul Boys of the Western World, ironically referencing one of theatre’s tragic morality tales about human failings, the greater irony being that the band themselves were actually shocked to hear each other’s words at the first screening. They were the film’s only narrators, recorded separately talking one-to-one with the director and telling the tale with more “crashing and burning” than tact.

Tuesday’s audience picked up these cues in pantomime tradition. We were bearing witness just as the penitent members of Spandau Ballet were hoping. We oohed and aahed at some really tear-jerky best bits. We howled at odd Spinal Tap daftness. We heckled the cocky Cockney TV presenter. We laughed at our quaint mullets and hilarious teenage pretensions four decades ago. Then when the screen froze in a silent moment of grim truth, the whole Albert Hall groaned “Ohhhh no!” One hero had been damned, but a succession of jaw-dropping out-takes from pop-idol interviews hanged the others in turn. Icicles formed in the air, Steve Norman’s voice told us “You can see on our faces Spandau Ballet has just come to an end” and we shared their pain. At times the spoken bluntness came too near the knuckle and between last spring’s hair-shirt trailer and this autumn premiere a couple of killer icicles have been chopped.

Click any pic to launch slideshow

Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, the yarn rattled along as a fascinating piece of social history, to a soundtrack deftly clipped from 22 Spandau numbers and a host of others that shaped the 80s. Tuesday’s melodrama came in three acts and we confessors gave the film a standing ovation, took a quick break to share our own shock at the band’s courage, and then rose to our feet again as the 6,000 to welcome onstage the happy smiling band of brothers, plus their equally glamorous film director, George Hencken, who had brought a woman’s instincts to handling the boys’ emotional baggage.

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World,

Soul Boys oWW reviewed by NME

Act 2 heard the team answer those burning questions live onstage, among them Gary Kemp saying “Yes, I’m the baddie”, and his brother Martin admitting disappointment in himself when young, while Tony Hadley said all the bitterness had weighed heavy on their families. There was plenty of humour too. When asked what he’d missed most since the great days, John Keeble said “the cheeseboard” (a reference to a backstage luxury specified in the band’s touring contract). Drummers, eh?

Act 3 was the equal of all that had come before. We rose to greet Spandau’s live set of six copper-bottomed hits, kicking off with their hymn of defiance, Through the Barricades, then sprinting into To Cut a Long Story Short. By Chant No 1 all six tiers of the Albert Hall were on their feet and cheering the dancefloor anthem that just missed being the chart No 1 in the riotous summer of 1981. Martin looked reassuringly relaxed powering its funky bassline, and Steve’s sax breaks were definitely dirtier than of old. In Only When You Leave Tony’s big balladeering vowels confirmed what a magnificent bel canto baritone he has become. And of course the last two classics, True and Gold, were inevitably hijacked by the choir filling the hall.

In words of the Eurovision winner, Spandau Ballet have risen from their ashes like a phoenix (fortunately without beards or frocks). We turn to our philosopher-drummer Keeble for the last word: “The film is a three-act play: guys have success, the wheels come off, then there’s some redemption. This now feels like fun and games – with love in it.” Gulp.

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, premiere

Spandau film premiere: Rock god Keeble photographed by Dave Hogan

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY ABOUT SBWW

Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, premiere

Soul Boys oWW reviewed by Empire magazine

“More than a typical rock doc … the biggest home-movie party in British pop history” – David Fricke, Rolling Stone

“I found it gripping. Despite having never understood the appeal of the New Romantics, I enjoyed the hell out of Soul Boys of the Western World” – Observer film critic Mark Kermode on BBC-tv … “The mark of a really good rock documentary is that it makes you care about a band who played music that you were never a fan of” – Kermode again, on BBC News channel, picking his DVD of the week 24 Oct

“A funny, absorbing, trivia-filled portrait of friendship, the 80s music biz and bad hair” – Ian Freer, Empire Online

“The muscular musicianship of the band suggested that this latest stage of their reunion is more than just a nostalgia-wallow” – James Hall, Daily Telegraph

➢ Soul Boys of the Western World goes on general release 3 October, plus w/b Oct 20 screenings at Rome Film Festival and cinemas across Italy, Belgium’s Film Fest Gent… from Oct 27 Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao, Pamplona… Plus, Nov 15 Spandau’s first public appearance in New York since 1983.

➢ Oct 20: tickets on sale today! Auckland NZ Nov 2, Melbourne Nov 5 and Sydney Nov 7 for special Q&A screenings of SBWW – Spandau Ballet are heading Down Under where the Melbourne screening will include a 20-minute live performance by the band.

➢ Plus Oct 24: Spandau’s first European tour dates announced: Amsterdam 21 March, Luxembourg live 22 March and a five-date Italian tour 24–30 March

FRONT PAGE