Live Review: Years and Years – Mandela Hall – 4/11/15

2015 has been massive for Years and Years to say the least. Awarded BBC’s Sound of 2015 and topping the UK album charts with their album “Communion”, their single “King” and not to mention “Shine” reaching no. 2, their rise to fame through the duration of the year has felt meteoric. Rapidly selling out the modest venue of the Mandela Hall, Years and Years feel absolutely destined for larger venues. A somewhat smug feeling pervades the evening that those in attendance at the gig will be able to say in a few years from now that they were around for the band’s modest beginnings.

The support band for the evening were London based Nimmo. Launching the night off in a suitably electro fashion, Nimmo is certainly an act that can adequately warm the audience up for Years and Years through the similarity of their electro infused sounds. Fronted by Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlet, Nimmo sound somewhat like The xx meets Disclosure. Their combined vocals, reminiscent of La Roux and Janele Monaé respectively, compliment one another especially on their song “Dilute This.” Overall their set delivered an eclectic mix of electronic, synth sound combined keyboard that lends a layer of variation and brings to mind the piano infused string of hits Jess Glynn has belted out.

Years and Years were welcomed to the stage by the eagerest of screams from their audience. Getting their set off without delay front man Olly Alexander proceeds to bust some questionable dance moves that continue almost relentlessly throughout their set. Energetic and with impressive vocals right from the onset it’s established very early that Years and Years sound pretty impeccable live.

When “Desire” has the audience singing along almost instantaneously, Olly Alexander looks blown away by the enthusiasm of the audience. Indeed, right the way through Years and Years set, Alexander seems, through laughter and looks of disbelief, not quite able to grasp the position he is in and the ability he has to very easily get a crowd clapping and singing along to something he and his bandmates created. It’s quite heartening to see this throughout the gig as the band clearly are still not attuned to the extent of their fame or at least still delighted by it.

The following song “Worship” further demonstrates the devotion of their fanbase as Alexander is at times inaudible under hundreds of audience member’s voices singing along word for word. “So Belfast is pretty good then?” Alexander says laughing filling the silence only to have the audience screaming once again.

As the band work through their synth infused, electropop set list with the audience in rhapsody, Years and Years skill at creating outstanding pop music really stands out. Alexis Petridis wrote that “Communion” “feels weirdly like a kind of omnipresent, nondescript background noise, the music you always seem to be listening to without actively choosing to – while queuing in shops, or waiting in cafes” The exact opposite however feels at work in the duration of the evening as Years and Years demonstrate the irresistibly catchy nature of their music.

Yet soft, piano charged song “Eyes Shut” suggests a whole other layer to the band’s sound that moves beyond mere electropop. Exploring a sound that is more comparable to the likes of Sam Smith, “Eyes Shut” is emotionally charged yet manages to retain that quality beckoning you to sing along. It is a particular highlight of the show as it showcases that Years and Years have deceived us into thinking they are simply an electro pop band when there is much more at work in their sound.

Their cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” however quickly brings the focus back to electropop. It’s one of those fun, unlikely covers that actually adapts really well to Alexander’s Sam Smith-esque vocals and the signature, synth infused Years and Years sound that has become so well known.

Closing the evening with an encore consisting of – of course – their chart topping hit “King” it undeniably ends the evening on a high note. Unlike many pop bands and artists today, Years and Years flaunt how skilled as musicians they actually are. Alexander’s vocals are immaculate right the way through their show and there’s no nasty surprises in not matching the sound of the album. It seems like a pretty safe bet that next time Years and Years are in Belfast they’ll be playing a larger venue but for now they seem to be enjoying the onset of their fame.

Review: The Late Twos – HMV Belfast 4/07/2015

Local Belfast band The Late Twos performed a free, afternoon gig in HMV in the midst of one of Belfast’s busiest times of the year – the Tall Ships festival.

For an up and coming band this festival atmosphere could only work in their favour and indeed for a small gig, The Late Twos attracted a considerable crowd to hear what they had to offer. The five piece band was formed in late 2010 and in that space of time have produced two EPs and their single “Never Mind.”

Without a word the band immediately kick off their set and what is striking from the start is how despite having a small stage the band aren’t put off by it, instead lead singer Matty is dancing and making full use of their space. Their sound is ultimately influenced by a range of musical styles from indie toT pop punk to Brit pop and this is evident within their first two fast paced songs. They bring it down a notch slightly with their more melodic offering of “Modette to Ladette.” This is the first song that the audience seem very familiar with, singing along to it and indeed it is easy to imagine this song in particular being belted out at a summer festival. It has that certain irresistible summer, anthem-like quality.

Keeping the audience on their toes after this slower number they jump right into the faster paced “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” and even from the title of this song the influence of Arctic Monkeys is evident. Like Arctic Monkeys, The Late Twos have a laid back, down to earth attitude and their music deals with similar topics such as parties, drinking and get togethers. Yet alongside this laid back attitude their enthusiasm for performing shines out and it highlights simply how comfortable they are on stage.

A dramatic, guitar infused build up at the start of “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” won’t be the first occasion during this gig that the band’s music can be strongly compared to the heavy, fast paced but melodic sounds of The Vaccines. The Vaccines’ music is absolutely emboldened by the degree to which it is associated with summer music festivals and it is increasingly difficult throughout The Late Twos’ set to not imagine their music being played at a sunny festival. Indeed it is the simplicity of the chorus of “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” that renders this song particularly infectious to sing along to and gives off the sense that this band are really hitting the nail on the head with potential festival anthems.

Providing relief from the declamatory “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” is the slower paced “Sierra Leone” which is the first song thus far to really showcase the vocal range of lead singer Matty. Hitting the high notes in the chorus coupled with an impressive guitar solo, “Sierra Leone” despite not being one of the band’s better known songs really showcases, overall, the musical skill of The Late Twos.

The remainder of their gig is comprised of songs that the audience would be most familiar with such as “Don’t Wanna Stop This Dance” and their self titled track “The Late Twos.” These songs in particular feel as though they are the ones that the band themselves enjoy playing the most. Encouraging the audience to sing along, their lyrics are difficult to resist engaging with, especially their self titled track that sings about “A fridge full of Stella and a bag full of songs.” It is The Late Twos’ layered sound that moves from pop punk to something more reminiscent of The Strokes, combined with relatable lyrics, that makes their music so gripping and ensures the fact that they have much more in store.

Review: Laura Marling and Gill Landry, Waterfront Hall Belfast, 8/5/2015

Beginning her career in music at the young age of just sixteen, singer-songwriter and guitarist, Laura Marling, now twenty-five and still a young artist, has spent so many of her formative years within music. Personal growth is undoubtedly reflected through a music catalogue that can boast of five albums in just under a decade of musical activity. Associated most prominently with ‘nu-folk’ and acoustic music from her first albums ”Alas, I Cannot Swim” and “I Speak Because I Can” her latest album “Short Movie” marks an undeniable development from her folk-infused, acoustic beginnings, somewhat unexpectedly exploring an overall heavier sound that prefers the electric guitar more than the acoustic.

Beginning the night as support was Louisiana born, Old Crow Medicine Show member and singer-songwriter, Gill Landry. He entered the stage without a word and jumped right into “Funeral In My Heart” the first song off his new album suitably named “Gill Landry”. His simplistic, acoustic mellowness was the perfect pre-cursor for an audience of Marling fans. Although perhaps a song that includes the lyrics “Why do all good things have to die” threw the audience in at the deep end from the onset, he picked up straight after with the fast-paced, “Never Coming Here Again”. With strong, irresistibly husky vocals coupled seemlessly with finger-picking guitar solos that punctuated his set throughout, the sheer talent of Landry feels starkly obvious. The addition of violin brought into the latter part of his set lent an emotional depth that complimented the rawness of his acoustic skill. Not only this, but the transformation from an expected one-man set into collaboration with his violinist on a second mic made “Waiting For Your Love” into a duet that could rival Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan but with an undoubtedly country/folk twist.

However, the song that really made the set something to remember was “Take This Body”. With a simplistic guitar riff that brought attention to the intensity of the lyrics, this was only built upon by the addition of the double bass and drums brought in for the chorus. Taking the second part of the song, Marling unexpectedly and casually stepped out on to the stage. She sang with a quiet intensity that has you hanging on to each word, leaving you wanting to hear more, yet inevitably the chorus came along -“So take this body babe, and hold me tight. Give me more than flesh and bone” Marling and Landry make an emotionally fuelled collaboration seem effortless but intimate, as if you’re simply witness to a particularly special late night jam session between friends.

Marling’s own set had for its backdrop, a picture of a desert that varied from light to dark throughout the night, representative of emotional highs and lows that make Marling’s music so notable. Getting her show off to a particularly intense and if not slightly long-winded start, she combined “Howl” from her newest album with“I Was An Eagle”, “You Know” and “Breath” all from her fourth album. This combination showcased not only stamina but development upon her vocal skill. She showed a great deal of vocal variation ranging from calm, controlled almost quiet vocals at the beginning of “Howl” to the loud, declamatory “I will not be a victim of romance, I will not be a victim of circumstance” from “I was an Eagle”. Indeed, this combination of such different songs with moments of musical highs and lows exposed the candid parameters of human experience related within her lyrics.

Up until this point a word hasn’t been said to the audience, Marling utters a quick hello and jumps straight into her next song “I Feel Your Love” from “Short Movie” at this point it becomes evident that this is going to be an evening focused determinedly upon music. The heavier rock influences of her new album come out within this second , fast paced song. Following this up with one of her more popular new offerings, “How Can I” this is a song that retains its folk influences showing that despite her musical development, Marling has not let go completely of the genre she is so associated with. Yet, the vocals again are the most notable part with the infectious and smooth chorus of “How will I live without you?”

At this point there has been a favourable mixture of her old and new styles, showing that rather than an artist that has changed musically, Marling is an artist that is simply showing the ambitious musical range that she is capable of. Yet with an audience member shouting out “Do you have any banter?” the lack of conversational interaction has evidently left the her fans wanting. Simply replying with “Have you been to any of my shows before?” this purposeful focus upon delivering her show as a singer/musician rather than an entertainer is a clear feature expected from a Marling show. Beginning the eagerly awaited “Rambling Man” however, she stops abruptly, remembering some “banter”. This is the fact that she actually wrote “Rambling Man” when she was in Belfast. This provided a light-hearted counterpoint to an evening that has so far been musically intense. The folk infused “Rambling Man”, one of Marling’s most famous songs with the lyrics of “Let it always be known that I was who I am”, garnered the biggest engagement from the audience thus far. For many, this song would have sealed an overall interest in her music.

Marling is sure to throw in many of her early songs, not simply promoting her new album, but the show takes an undeniably heavy turn with offerings such as “False Hope” and “Master Hunter” (see link below). These more fast-paced songs reflect an edginess to her music that contrasts with the more modest offerings such as “Rambling Man” Indeed, with lyrics such as “You let men into your bed, they don’t know you well. They can’t get into my head, they don’t have a hope in hell” and fast singing that is at points, dare I say, Alanis Morrisette-esque, Marling again resists any easy categorisation as simply a folk artist. Yet, it cannot be denied that many members of the audience would have been there expecting a night consisting wholly of folk and easy listening acoustic.

Unexpectedly, one of the most enjoyable songs of the night is a song called “Daisy” a song that didn’t make it on to her new album but that Marling feels “Maybe should have”. It is a song that differs quite a bit from the heavier music on her new album with a definite folksy feel. Like much of Marling’s music the song feels almost as though she is simply relating a conversation or story yet somehow is able to make it intriguing. She wraps up the night with “Short Movie” – the song that takes the name of her album. It feels like the perfect song to end the night with the lyrics of “Who do you think you are? Just a girl who can play guitar” and “No I’m not gonna stop” Despite having no encore, Marling is an artist that successfully gives off the feeling that after almost a decade in music, she has still retained passion for it and it doesn’t seem likely to run short any time soon.

Live review: Nicki Minaj, Odyssey Arena Belfast, 1/4/2015

Arguably, the first and foremost thing that, ahem, sticks out, so to speak, about Nicki Minaj is that of her elaborate, risqué image. When she first exploded into the music scene back in 2012 she was adorned with bright neon wigs, elaborate make up and even more elaborate outfits. To say that this doesn’t have a certain amount of bearing upon how her status as an artist, and a female artist at that, is perceived would be wrong. A Nicki Minaj concert comes loaded with a certain amount of scandalous, boundary pushing expectations. Many may see her racy get ups as the only thing that defines her yet she’s the only female that has featured on the Hip Hop Cash Kings 2013 list, earning more than Eminem and Kendrick Lemar. Superficial or not, Minaj is clearly doing something right within the male dominated realm of rap and hip hop. Indeed, as the fans flooded into the Odyssey in their hundreds it’s time to figure out if there’s more to Nicki Minaj than racy outfits.

Opening up the night was support act Trey Songz, promoting his new album ‘Trigga’. As the arena is left in darkness for his entrance, the screen displays the cover art for his new album. Said artwork equates Trey Songz with Christ through an image of him in a cross position. It was enough in itself to confirm that this portion of the night was going to be one big ego-trip. His entire show was tirelessly punctuated with cries to the audience of “Who is gonna be my girl?” and other empty cat calls to that effect. Greeted with hundreds of girlish cheers from the audience he gained himself exactly the reaction he wanted but it wasn’t for his music, it was for his physicality. Musically, Trey Songz is reminiscent of Chris Brown or Ne-Yo. Yet his music feels slightly derivative, the kind of songs that sound like something else that you can’t quite place. Song after song devoted to the subject of sex, with lyrics that lack any kind of vigour, Trey Songz’s portion of the night feels extremely repetitive and elongated. Just when you think he’s going to close his portion with his cleverly named ‘Na Na’ he jumps right into ‘Touchin, Lovin’ and asks his audience “Who wants to touch me?” An artist that clearly has no sense of the fact that he is not in fact Kanye West or Jay Z, there is a palpable relief when he finally exits the stage with an unearned ego of abhorrent proportions.

As a support act, Trey Songz was tiring. It was lucky that there was an interlude for the audience to collect themselves. Finally, however a dramatic opening that displays a video of various clips of Nicki being photographed by the paparazzi builds up a certain sense of tension only intensified by smoke snaking around the stage. While this intensity is built through the video clips, it does feel slightly longwinded, almost as if it’s preparing us for Nicki Minaj: The Movie, yet eventually, the eagerly awaited singer rises up on a lift from underneath the stage. Dressed from head to toe in black with a veil over her face, the colourful eclectic association we have of Minaj appear in this moment to be obsolete. There is the sense that she is challenging these widely held, narrow notions of who she is and showcasing to the audience how she has deeper dimensions.

Her latest ‘The Pinkprint’ album which the tour is promoting, was written in the wake of a break up with a long term partner. As she begins the show with the first song of the album ‘All Things Go’ the sense of mourning the end of her relationship is strongly clear through lyrics such as “Cherish these days, man do they go quick, just yesterday I swear it was ’06” Seemingly a far call from the days of her fun, upbeat club anthems such as ‘Starships’ which perhaps she has become most associated with, right from the onset Minaj shows herself as a developed artist musically.

This deeper vein continues right throughout the show as she continues with more offerings from ‘The Pinkprint’ such as ‘I Lied’ and ‘The Crying Game.’ However, this is not to say that the entire show was bereft of the colourful, scandalous side of her we have come to know so well. Indeed, lacking the skirt she was wearing at the beginning of the show, she begins her song ‘Feeling Myself’ which Beyonce featured in on ‘The Pinkprint’. More energised, this risqué song, evident even through its title, throws the audience in at the deep end after the slow beginning we were subjected to. At one point she steps back on to the stage lift for a costume change and is lowered down with one fist in the air appearing like some kind of backwards superhero, which indeed, could arguably be a fitting description of her overall.

Returning to the stage in a gold outfit donning gold thigh high boots Minaj looks more in line with audience expectations. When tree stump stools are laid out on stage it becomes instantly evident that the song so many people have been waiting for was about to happen. Yes, up next was the controversial ‘Anaconda’ with some extremely elaborate dancing with her back up dancers. The stark transition from the dark, gloomy beginning to the shouts of “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun” show how much diversity is abundant throughout the show.

Yet, perhaps the song that shone out the most, was unexpectedly, ‘Marilyn Monroe’. Introducing it with the words “For anyone that’s ever doubted themselves, that’s okay, I get that way too” she jumped right into the highly emotive, piano infused song. For an audience that had such a dominantly female audience it felt extremely prominent in how many girls and women alike would see her as a role model. It’s easy to see an artist that reaches sky high heights of fame in only one particular light, they feel somehow fictional in a way through the continual projection of a certain image. Yet ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and indeed the concert overall humanised a cultural figure that has become subject to so much scrutiny by the media and through her music videos.

Bringing the show to an end, she invited three members of the audience on stage to dance with her, the one that stuck out most was a twelve year old boy with so much enthusiasm for her music. He left the stage with the heartfelt statement ‘I don’t care what anyone says, you’re the queen of rap’ it caused the biggest reaction from the audience as they confirmed his statement through cheers. Returning for an encore wearing a blonde wig and performing a string of her more upbeat hits such as ‘Bang Bang’ it was clear that the upbeat and energetic side of Nicki Minaj has not disappeared through showing the more candid side of her in ‘The Pinkprint’. The show simply displayed an artist that is exploring ways of developing more mature musical inclinations while maintaining the more lighthearted side.