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.

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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.

Live Review: Morrissey, Odyssey Arena, 24/03/2015

Morrissey, is undeniably an artist that so many people have a love hate relationship with. Animal protectionist, monarchical abolitionist, he has always used his music as a platform for promoting his frank, outspoken views. His show at Odyssey Arena was no different. Still retaining his harsh veneer throughout some thirty years in music, you cannot fault his perseverance in upholding his principles. If you came to his show solely for a musical experience, then you were in for a perhaps, dampening surprise.

Canadian folk singer and Native American rights activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, was the support act of the evening. Before even entering the stage she kicked the night off with an extensive offering of spoken word. Vaguely Patti Smith-esque, this unconventional opening set the precedent for a night that was to be filled with unconventionalities. Entering the stage with boundless energy, you wouldn’t for a second believe that Buffy Sainte-Marie is in fact seventy-four years old. Wasting no time she greeted the audience with enthusiasm and jumped right into the first song ‘It’s My Way’. Accompanied with folk-infused guitar, this song is off her 1964 album of the same name. With the lyrics of ‘I’ve got my own life, I’ve got my own strife’ the sense of the long, independent rise in music that Buffy Sainte-Marie has made since the 1960’s is conveyed strongly.

Explaining how she got an academy award back in 1983 for the infamous ‘Up Where We Belong’ this led into performing the highly emotive power ballad, just three songs in. With one member of the audience feebly waving a lighter from side to side, there was a palpable sense that it was much too early in the evening for this song to be performed. Perhaps better reserved to the end it rendered her set slightly erratic. Asking the audience the question of “What do you think about the power in your DNA?” and jumping straight into a fast-paced song off her newest album, ‘Power In Your Blood’, it had an extremely jarring effect with the power ballad we were just minutes ago subjected to. Her politically infused set of songs all felt mawkishly benevolent in attempting to rally the audience into the various vague causes that may as well have been simply condensed down to world peace. Describing how her final song ‘Starwalker’ is for all the generations passed, all future generations and also, for “all the pets”, she gives us a roundabout way of explaining that her music is for everyone. Yet, I’m not so sure.

Overall, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s enthusiastic folk music, was a choice of support that was jarring with the musical tastes you could expect of a crowd of Morrissey fans. Yet it felt as though challenging the audience expectations of what is in store at a concert was one of Morrissey’s aims as the night went on. During the interval, exposed to a bricolage of cultural video clips that included music videos, Spanish dancing, tv clips, and a reading of Anne Sexton’s poem “Wanting to Die”, the audience was increasingly left unsure of the artist’s motives. Yet eventually, after tirelessly trawling through a seemingly endless list of clips, the screen falls and operatic music ensues with a meme-esque picture of Queen Elizabeth flipping the audience off. After being exposed to this slightly uneasy opening, the eagerly awaited Morrissey enters the stage with his band mates, pays homage to Louis MacNeice, utters a hello and the immediately recognisable drum driven opening of ‘The Queen Is Dead’ begins. The screen changes to a picture of Will and Kate with the words “United King Dumb” and the fact that this concert will be rendered a political polemic, whether the audience likes it or not, becomes evident.

Despite being some thirty years on from when he began his career in music, Morrissey’s smooth baritone vocals that make him so distinguished as an artist remain unchanged, surprisingly they could even be argued to have improved throughout the years. Providing some repose from the politically driven ‘The Queen Is Dead’ next is his debut single as a solo artist, ‘Suedehead’. The emotionally fuelled chorus of “I’m so sorry!” is infectious in beckoning the audience to sing along. The Smiths were well known for the quirk of swinging bunches of flowers around, and even handing them out to the audience at gigs. Morrissey opted simply to swing his microphone lead around excessively throughout the show as flowers appeared absent. Members of the audience however, engaged in this quirk swinging their own and throwing them on stage in homage to The Smiths.

After performing a handful of his older songs, he performed some of his new songs from his latest album ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’. Performing the fast-paced ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ he reveals this will be his latest single and that we should buy it if we are feeling “benevolent”. But the song that gets the biggest reaction is ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’. It is ironic to witness an audience stirred and energised by the melancholic, lamenting chorus of “Everyday is Like Sunday” however celebrating broody lyrics might be a quirk exclusive to Morrissey fans. Indeed, had it been ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ it would have garnered a similar celebratory reaction.

Playing a diverse mix of his musical catalogue, and even throwing in The Smiths’ hit ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ the show had seemingly steered away from the realms of making a political statement but this could only go on for so long. As a strong advocate of animal rights and having, in the past, subjected his audience to grotesque videos of animal slaughter, the audience was at least braced for what was to come. Asking the audience to purchase a stencil promoting animal rights in order “to blanket Belfast in something beautiful, not for us, but for them” the eyes of the audience are diverted toward the dreaded video along with which the lament of ‘Meat Is Murder’ is performed. As Morrissey reaches out towards the screen in an overly dramatic way, the show feels transformed into a theatrical piece on animal rights especially with the addition of a gong echoing threateningly and repeatedly throughout the arena.

It would be untrue to say that the video didn’t put a dampner on the evening, but what becomes clear as the show comes to a close, is that Morrissey didn’t perform with the ambition of ensuring his audience enjoyed it, it was performed with a goal of provoking his audience and trying to alter opinion on animal rights. It is only through coming face to face with what makes people uncomfortable, that Morrissey could attempt to alter the opinions of his audience. However, did the majority of people leave the venue as vegans and vegetarians? Not likely. He closed the show with an energetic performance of ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ which despite the previous harrowing video, didn’t detract the audience from engaging with and singing along. Yet you left the venue still feeling slightly uncomfortable, and that was certainly the intention.