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.

Live Review: Owen Denvir EP Launch – Sunflower Pub Belfast – 26/09/15

The intimate venue of The Sunflower bar made the perfect setting to showcase and promote some of the thriving musical talent that Belfast has to boast of. Although the evening was main act Owen Denvir‘s EP Launch, overall it felt more as though it was simply three friends getting together to play some music.

Kicking off the evening with a finger-picking guitar set was David Brown Murray. Right from the onset he manages to gauge that uniquely captivating quality that finger-picking guitar style has the ability to bring about, leaving the audience with no doubt as to his talent as a musician. Immediately fast-paced with a layered sound, it at moments has something of Latino influence but moves beyond this into an unashamedly creative sound that is extremely fun to listen to.

A highlight of the evening was his cover of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” from the film Flashdance. Not immediately a song that would strike you as working particularly well adapted to guitar never mind finger-picking guitar and without vocals. Yet it worked extremely well and the novelty of hearing such a popular song creatively reworked into the finger-picking style confirmed the audience’s investment in the music. Covers work particularly well for David Browne Murray due to how different the sound is from the original yet how seamlessly he has been able to translate the song into the finger-picking style.

Other covers included “Cavatina” from the film Deerhunter. Undeniably Simon and Garfunkel-esque, it provided a touch of repose from the up until now, fast-paced sound. He finished his set with a cover of The Beegees “Stayin’ Alive” which was immediately recognisable to the audience. It’s infectious rhythm even managed to get a couple up and dancing. Yet such a short set ultimately left the audience looking for more.

Next up was Hannah McPhillimy who started off her set with her song “Kindness.” Sang simply with the accompaniment of her ukulele, this ensured that her distinctive voice stood out. Simplistic but charming, her songs enthral right from the onset. Her voice and musical style are Gabrielle Alpin meets Regina Spektor, with a bit of Laura Marling thrown into the mix in places too for good measure.

In her second song “Heart” the influence of Regina Spektor rings out markedly through both her vocals and her piano style. With ardent, conversational lyrics that mull over relationships and our place in the world, her songs have a maturity and a relatable element that renders her music memorable.

Alternating between her ukulele and the piano throughout her set, Hannah showcases her talent as a musician in the space of her short set. You are left with the feeling that you have discovered an artist who is really something quite special.

The evening progressed from finger-picking guitar to piano and ukulele infused folksy vibes and over to acoustic goodness with the third and final act of the evening, Owen Denvir. His first song of the evening “Jack Hammer” is a slow but utterly infectious tune that flaunts from the onset, Owen’s impressive vocal range. With a simplistic but memorable chorus “My heart beats like a jack hammer” it is an undeniably catchy song that piques audience’s attention from the onset.

Although catchy, “Jack Hammer” sets the tone of good old bittersweet melancholia infused acoustic music. While Owen very much keeps to the musical expectations of an acoustic artist, he does this with evident talent and a passion that shines throughout his set. His emotionally fuelled singing on songs such as “Coast of Spain” and “Stones from Paris” has the ability to keep the audience rapt by verses that hope for better times in sunnier climes and the difficulty of keeping relationships adrift when geography gets in the way.

One of the highlights of his set however was his duet with Hannah for the track “Staring at the Sun” the second track of his new EP. With a chorus of “I still hold a light, a little light for you” this song approached a more lighter, feel good territory of sound with both Owen’s and Hannah’s voices complimenting each other right the way through the song.

This more uplifting theme is continued right into the next song that Owen explained was written and performed as the first song at his brother’s wedding. With an instrumental intro played on the viola it definitely has the feel of a wedding song as it is right from the onset both uplifting and emotional in sound. The addition of the viola certainly made for an interesting turn from acoustic expectations and added another intriguing dimension to the evening. Owen manages to hit the high notes perfectly in this song and with a chorus of “It’s easy to see that you and me are meant to be” it’s easy to envision this at a wedding.

Owen’s set goes above and beyond the expectation of him as simply an acoustic artist. While this element remains intact for most of his set, it becomes evident on certain songs throughout the night that he is exploring a more experimental and varied sound that rings more of Ed Sheeran than say James Morrison. Describing how he’s “Gonna go hip hop” on a ranty song about an old boss, you are met with a sound more likely to make you dance than to contemplate life and it adds an interesting layer to his sound. Overall it displays a progression as an artist and a willingness to explore sounds outside the sometimes predictable nature of acoustic music. It highlights a certain maturity as an artist and will ensure in the longrun that his sound retains and welcomes interest.

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.

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.