Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The X Factor Live in The O2 (25/2/13)

Following the X Factor's significantly lower viewership in 2012, questions were raised about the reality series' ability to keep up the pace and continue to dominate television ratings and the UK charts as it has since 2004. However, yet another Christmas number 1 in James Arthur's ''Impossible'' and another sell out live tour would suggest that the Simon Cowell machine is still a booming business, and so The 02 was full to the brim last night with a cast of screaming teenagers and younger children accompanied by their parents, all of whom making a serious amount of noise even before the show began.

And while this is a far cry my typical type of gig, I must admit that The X Factor know how to put on a hell of a show. The stage set-up was magnificant and acts were introduced in the same format as throughtout the show, providing an atomsphere to rival or even better the live Saturday night sing-off. First to the stage was Rylan Clark, a controversial figure this year and notorious pain in the backside of Gary Barlow for his weak vocal skills, going as far as to label the singer ''talentless'' and a ''joke act''. Putting that aside, Rylan is undoubtedly a gifted showman and got the crowd going early on with his own rendition of ''Gangnam Style'' and later spicing it up with nineties classic ''Wannabe''.

Next up were the boybands in Union J and District3 respectively, two very different acts in terms of talent as the four piece of Union J far outshined their counterparts with a memorable version of Taylor Swift's ''Love Story'' before calling up a delighted young audience member for ''Call Me Maybe'', a nice touch that was received well by the Irish crowd. The less said about District3 the better as the trio belted out tuneless versions of ''Beggin'' and ''Tears In Heaven'' that sounded much the same, and just as bad on the original show.

Another unattractive aspect of the show was the eternally dislikable Christopher Maloney, a frequent victim of criticism on the show yet a contender for the crown all the way simply due to his Liverpool heritage, and his family's excessive voting strategy, rumoured to be in excess of £25,000 individually for his grandmother and close friends. The scousers mainipulative and fake personality shone through as he spoke to the crowd, gushing praise toward everyone present, before delivering a string of tunes that would truthfully sound more at home on a cruise ship than on stage, and it won't be long before the Liverpool native finds himself on the ferry performing to passengers rather than sold out audiences.

The cripplingly shy Jahmene Douglas was a welcome improvement, kicking off with ''Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' and finishing with a cover of Bealtes' classic ''Let It Be''. While I'm usually disgusted by X Factor attempts at these legendary songs (''Hallejulah'' in 2010 being by far the worst offender), even I have to admit Douglas' take was respectful to the original and by no means a disaster.

In a year that saw the weakest set of finalists to date, I honestly believe that the show struck gold in two artists that have very real potential for legimate solo careers in the form of their winner (moore on him later) and the exceptional Ella Henderson. Henderson is a level beyond the X Factor in my opinion, and has demonstated it several times with her outstanding vocal and musical ability. Her decision to audition with an original song was impressive and she performed the emotionally charged ''Missed'' in Dublin which silenced the crowd for the only time of the night. Another excellent feature of her set was a unique cover of Cher's ''Believe'', which Henderson performed on piano in accomplished style, yet again convincing me that her path as an artist lies far beyond this tour.

The final act of the night was James Arthur, the winner of the series and in my eyes the best X Factor contestant of all time. Arthur convinced me of this following his incredible survival performance in week 7 with a passionate, stunning rendition of Alicia Keys' ''Fallin'' and ever since he proved himself a worthy winner with his original approach. His extended song set included ''Sexy And I Know It'', ''Hometown Glory'' and ''Let's Get It On'', all memorable performances from the show, before finishing with first single and number 1 hit ''Impossible''. If Arthur sticks to his instincts and remains true to his own vision then he could very easily find himself one of the shows most successful and acclaimed products, and he demonstrated that very clearly with his closing performance.

The entire ensemble ended the night with a version of U2's ''Beautiful Day'' and no doubt the Irish audience will go home feeling they got their moneys worth, but in truth the night belonged to Ella Henderson and James Arthur. If The X Factors relevance has been called into question recently due to slipping ratings, we need only to look toward these well executed, sell-out performances to confirm the fact that the reality series is very much still a successful business, but even more importanty if Cowell and co. can handle these two gifted young artists in the proper manner, they may just have found their most credible recording artists yet, and if The X Factor continues to provide a stage for young talent such as this to be recognised, then I fully support the cause.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Bloc Party at The Olympia Theatre (12-13/2/13)

''Hello Dublin. We are Bloc Party from London. Long time no see.''
And it certainly has been- you couldn't tell from Kele Okerere's brief introduction but just a short while ago it seemed that Bloc Party were on the brink of extinction and we'd never see them again as a collective whole but here they were standing before a delighted audience in the Olympia Theatre upon their return to Ireland.

The Olympia seemed a strange choice of venue for a band of such status but for fans it provided a more intimate atomsphere than The O2 and it proved to be that Kele and co. had made quite a shrewd move in selecting two nights in a smaller setting rather than one sellout on a larger scale.

Kicking off with a set of classics, the band wasted no time getting down to work, largely drawing from their earlier albums as opposed to last year's Four, a relief to many as it must be said that their most recent effort failed to live up to decidely high expectations. Fan favourites including Hunting For Witches, Waiting For The 7.18 and Like Eating Glass ensured that the crowd were bouncing early on before more recent tunes were played and it proved a successful method with fans who responded just as well to songs taken from Four, largely due to the fact that the band had chosen well with the likes of Real Talk, Day Four and Octopus which actually sounded better in concert than on the original record.

They weren't the only songs of the night that were improved upon for live performance however- many of the band's signature sounds were amplified simply by the fact that this is an exceptional group of musicians, something you may have forgotten while they were away. Drummer Matt Tong was in fine form throughout while the other half of the rythym section Gordon Moakes contributed more than just bass with his atmospheric backing vocals and multi-instrumental talent, regularly switching from his guitar to glockenspiel and synths. Russell Lissack remains one of the finest guitarists on the planet, effortlessly recreating his innovative sound on stage while Okerere's vocals are just as good if not better in concert, and really quite a beautiful thing to behold on tracks like Kruezberg, Sunday and Truth.

Ultimately, Bloc Party deserve real credit for the length of their setlists (they played two encores both nights) and their refreshing approach to live music, regularly switching up the order and selection of their set, a feature of live music that is becoming rarer these days as many bands churn out a pre-selected tour setlist for months on end. The sheer skill of the band is demonstrated wonderfully in a live setting as always, and fans will surely be hoping that they aren't quite so long away next time. It doesn't seem so though with two new songs debuted for Irish audiences this week- in fact they appear a truly revitalized act and the future for Bloc Party is looking very bright indeed.

Setlist (Tuesday)

So He Begins To Lie
Hunting For Witches
Like Eating Glass
Real Talk
Waiting For The 7.18
Song For Clay (Disappear Here)
Day Four
One More Chance
We Are Not Good People

This Modern Love
Flux (We Found Love Intro)



Setlist (Wednesday)

So Here We Are
Team A
Trojan Horse
Hunting For Witches
Positive Tension
Real Talk
Waiting For The 7.18
Song For Clay (Disappear Here)
The Prayer

Flux (We Found Love Intro)

This Modern Love


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Disney CAO Confirms Star Wars Spin-Offs

Disney CAO Bob Iger has confirmed recent reports that there will be a series of ''standalone'' Star Wars films produced by the company in addition to their impending sequel trilogy. The first of the series is likely to focus on jedi master Yoda.

Speculation has been rising recently about the possibility of spin-offs from the classic sci-fi series, and Iger confirmed the reports, stating: ''I can confirm to you today that in fact we are working on a few stand-alone films... We still plan to make Star Wars 7, 8, 9 roughly over a six-year period of time starting in 2015 but there are going to be a few other films released in that period too."

Iger went on to reveal that Lawrence Kashdan, known previously to Star Wars fans for his writing on Episodes V and VI, will be involved with the projects, as well as Simon Kinberg (X-Men). He stated that both writers would be ''working on sequels that are not part of the overall saga.''

Who else deserves a spin-off? Landa Calrissian and bounty hunter Boba Fett are names that have been throw around for years by fans of the series due to their rich backstories, and surely some sort of Han Solo prequel would be a welcome prospect. Dare I even suggest a Darth Maul? Once we don't get a Jar Jar Binks movie, I'll be happy.

Conor Oberst at The National Concert Hall (5/2/13)

It's often said by Bright Eyes fans that they grew up listening to Conor Oberst, and it's not hard to see why the Nebraskan was a popular teenage choice throughout the last decade- the rite of passage that youths experienced with the angst-filled fury of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain throughout the 90's was passed on to Oberst at the turn of the century with 'Fevers & Mirrors', an album dripping with anxiety, fear and rage that spoke to a generation of young listeners while impressing critics at the same time. Listening back, it's easy to forget that Oberst was near the same age as those he was speaking to, and while we were busy growing up to a Bright Eyes soundtrack, he was getting older as we listened with recent albums Cassadaga and The People's Key all but confirming a departure from the raw sound of his earlier work in favour of a matured approach.

Tonight was telling as far as the current mentality and direction of Conor Oberst goes, beginning with his choice of venue- The National Concert Hall was host to the Bright Eyes frontman and made for a very different kind of concert experience with it's formal style. As last calls were made for the shows beginning, the middle aged audience was seated in a hushed venue and you could have mistaken the event for a play rather than a rock and roll performance. It all felt rather civilised for the Bright Eyes frontman, with this delicate acoustic setting a far cry away from the in-your-face angsty yelps of the bands early years.

Oberst arrived on stage to rapturous applause and got down to it quickly with Bright Eyes classics including ''The Big Picture'' and ''First Day Of My Life'', and there was a strange air of comfort in the Omaha man's performance, notorious previously for his disasterous live shows, which frequently included heavy drinking, sloppy peformances and a sick bucket for intense stage fright. His interaction with the crowd began slowly and developed into a warm, polite and even playful (perhaps most notably as he jumped off stage during ''Laura Laurent'' to hug the entire front row and engage them in a chorus of ''la, la, la's'' for the last minute of the song) relationship with descriptive song introductions and amusing interactions with other onstage performers.

Oberst's song choice leaned very much in favour of quieter classics in order to set the intimate vibe that glowed all around the hall as songs such ''Arienette'', ''Cape Canaveral'' and ''Classic Cars'' set the mood perfectly. Credit is well deserved also for Ben Brodin, a friend of Oberst and multi talented musician who regularly switched from guitar to piano to xylophone throughout the set while Samantha Stone provided her exceptional vocals and violin skills to proceedings, and it must be said that both performers added an extra layer of beauty to an already stellar performance, particularly in the case of ''Laura Laurent'', ''An Attempt To Tip The Scales'' and ''Make War''.

All in all, despite this being billed simply as Conor Oberst, the set read like a greatest hits collection of Bright Eyes with 12 of the 20 songs played taken from Oberst's most famous creation. His claim prior to the release of The People's Key last year was that he wanted to ''clean it up, lock the door, say goodbye'' after their seventh studio album is still ringing in many fans ears and it seemed to me that tonight Oberst was hand picking his favourite songs of the last 15 years, indicating the possibility that this low-key tour was in fact a way of closing the book on Bright Eyes and moving on.

Regardless, Conor Oberst has never seemed such a content, satisifed and genuinely happy person in all the years we've known him, and it shone throughout his performance- for this, tonight will be remembered fondly for those who were there and if it happens to be the last we see of Bright Eyes for a while what a wonderful way to leave.


The Big Picture
First Day Of My Life
Common Knowledge
Cape Canaveral
Going For The Gold
Lenders In The Temple
Classic Cars
Ladder Song
Night At Lake Unknown
At The Bottom Of Everything
White Shoes
You Are Your Mothers Child
Shell Games
Laura Laurent

An Attempt To Tip The Scales
Make War
Waste Of Paint