Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Of Biff 2014 - Episode 1 - Dublin

Simon Neil / Picture: Anita Ivanković

This will be a quick one because I am a bit in a rush. Today will be a long and intense working day and then the next night will be really short. Thursday will have a 4 am start because I need to get very early to the airport for my to Glasgow via Düsseldorf flight for episode 2 of this Summer Of Biff at T IN THE PARK (I cannot believe it's here. It feels like forever since I bought the ticket in an attack of craziness).

But this is not about TITP, this is about the first highlight of the summer - Biffy Clyro in Dublin!

The last weekend of June I traveled with my friend Anita to Ireland for the first of a small series of Biffy gigs this summer. I am doing by far not all of them but cherry picked a few to make sure I see my favorite people again a couple of times before they go into recording hiatus.
I arrived on Friday in the early afternoon and settled already in our cozy airbnb room close to the venue. Our lovely host was so nice to explain to me how to get best to the venue and recommended to go there straight away so that I would know my way the next morning. Smart advice. I went and found everything perfectly like she had described. The venue was inside a beautiful park at the Royal Hospital of Kilmainham and easy to access. All good.
Next I headed for the city center to shop for my niece and to look around a bit. I was in Dublin before but that was a couple of years ago and I barely remembered anything, but the LUAS tram line between the city center and our home was easy to find and I got around nicely. I had some delicious dinner at Temple Bar (which is like a bit more charming version of the Altstadt in Düsseldorf), went for a nice walk at the Liffey and got my shopping done.

Camp Biffy Dublin
Saturday was an early start because ... queuing. I love watching Biffy from the front row (not just but especially Biffy) but I won't do that at the big festivals. So Dublin was supposed to become THE front row show of the summer and that indeed worked fine. Anita and I were by far not the only ones coming to Dublin from pretty far away and we all had agreed on an early queue. So when we arrived around 8 am in the morning we were already No 15 and 16 (still good enough).
The group soon moved from the gates into the park to the entrance of the actual venue. At this point I have to really mention the excellent organization of the event. The security welcomed us with a friendly "You are the queue? Please make yourself comfortable over there." They advised us to wait at a lovely piece of the park with trees and green. They assured us we would be the first getting in, explained the procedure later at doors, kept us up to date and even helped when it was time to keep things in order. Later on the grounds they were handing out water to us and made sure we were well hydrated and comfortable. It was really enjoyable. Additionally we had the whole day access to the Museum Of Modern Art in the Royal Hospital (it is free!), the museum café with cold drinks, coffee, tea, warm food and snacks and excellent clean bathrooms. PLUS we had except for some minutes in the morning PERFECT sunny weather. It was for sure the nicest queuing experience ever and obviously so much better than spending a whole day on the pavement of a random city in the middle of  winter (been there, done that).
It was all around a wonderful day spent picnicking in a lovely park with good friends. It was absolutely great to see all the other folks again after a couple of months off the road and we had a lot of fun. And if you wonder what little miracles music can do: I counted 11 nationalities in the first 30 people in the queue alone - all happily enjoying the day together. Just beautiful.

In the late afternoon at 5.30 pm it was time for doors. That's the moment that proofs that it is all in our heads ;). You know ... I am a cyclist. I HATE running. I do really long walks and stuff, but running? If I try to do that as a workout I can barely run to the next street corner without swearing, coughing, blaming the world for everything (give me my road bike - very different picture). BUT if you open the doors of a football field sized venue and every second matters, I can run and even leave several people behind me. It is also absolutely hilarious that I who cannot be bothered to catch a ball really can snag such a tiny thing like a snipped pick out of the thin air with one quick smooth move. But yes - I can. Thanks to James for the pick (I have to admit his very targeted throw made things very easy though).

Nathan Conolly / Little Matador
Then it was finally time for music. The first support band Little Matador was AMAZING. It is the band of Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly, who is the frontman of this groovin' rock band (significantly heavier and dirtier in a good way than Snow Patrol). I will definitely try to catch them Friday at TITP and both of us purchased the album first thing when we got home. Check them out - you won't regret.  I am already jealous for all the folks who can make it to Belsonic (Belfast) in August to see Little Matador, Twin Atlantic and Biffy Clyro. What a killer line up.

2nd support band of the night were You Me And Six and they were god awful. Gosh ... that was one damn long hour. The songs were boring but the worst thing was the hilariously exaggerated attitude. Tip between us brothers and sisters for YMAS: Just watch again that band that played after you to see how that is done well. Posing over some boring tunes and then tell those teenagers who came to see you (yes, there were quite a few) to remove some clothing (remember ... it was a hot summer day and there were no hats and scarfs and such things) to wave is ... questionable. We folks from the Biffy queue could not hold back some pretty nasty laughs (NOT appreciated by the YMAS singer) when indeed bras were thrown on stage.
At least I collected some karma points. During Little Matador's set a girl behind me asked if she could stand in front of me. THIS is a question you do not ask a person that started queuing at 8 am. If you do .. be happy when you earn just a "NO". It could be much worse. During the first songs of YMAS I then understood the situation. THAT was the band the child was there for and the lady behind her was her mum. The girlie had tears in her eyes looking up to the stage. And while I have no idea how you do that for YMAS I know very well how she feels. So I put the kid in front of me to the barrier and negotiated with the mother that she had to remove her daughter again for Biffy. The mum almost cried and said like three times "You made her day!" and agreed to make sure they would go back right after YMAS (they did). Since the singer dude had to look in our bored faces over the longest stretch of the barrier he was obviously happy to catch the eye of the now front row teenager and flashed some bleached smiles for her. Kiddo almost died of happy. I want to be at least reborn as a cat or so for that. I think that would be fair.

Churd :)
Then it was time .... oh how I love that. YMAS were off and the Biffy crew on stage. So good to see all the familiar faces again. Churd wearing his DOUG FIR shirt (club in Portland) made me especially happy since I know that the best memories are connected with that place for my US friends.
And then one of the best Biffy shows I have seen to date started. They all had their special moments and especially Paris and Tourcoing will always be most precious memories and Tourcoing still has the top spot, but Dublin was damn special as well.

James Johnston
First of all the setting in the summer evening with a golden and then pink and then dark blueish sky was AMAZING although the daylight made the light show on stage pretty redundant. It also caused the funniest moment of the night when James was not sure his strobe in the "Glitter & Trauma" intro was working and checked by strobing himself right in the face. I guess he did not see much for the next minute or so.
What made me silly happy is that FINALLY the boys started to play more around with the set lists - something we wished for already for a long time.

Mike Vennart
So this night's special treats were "Questions & Answers" (amazing dance by Mike Vennart), "The Thaw" (that piano intro KILLS me - so beautiful), "Whorses", "Machines" and ... "Justboy".  I am aware that it is not easy to understand for not Biffy fans, but this meant so much to me.  It was my first "Justboy" live ... EVER. And it is one of my very favorite songs, my right arm tattoo song, too. So when the first notes went off into the evening sky I promptly started crying. No chance stopping it. It was amazing.  So good.
The audience at least around us really appreciated what was going on and at some point the guy behind me (who I did not know) and I gave each other a big HI5 while he kept saying "We are so lucky!"  Yes, we really were.

Team Biffy in the Irish sunset
When the show was over we were simply ... happy. This sounds like a simple sentence but it means so much. Being really happy is not so easy to achieve and those moments when you question nothing, when you can leave everything behind and just enjoy who you are, what you are doing and what you are feeling in this very second are rare. But that is the reason why I do this ... why I travel, queue, spend money. I do it because doing it and listening to this band and watching them play makes me happy. And not just me - the same applies to my friends who spend these gig days and nights with me. It is why we grin at each other and comment all the efforts just with "WORTH IT!".

After leaving the venue we finally stumbled back to the LUAS stop and went home after a very, very happy day spent with friends at a really nice place and with enjoying the best rock show you can get these days.

Next day we went for a bit of sightseeing but we were basically powered out from the days before and kind of happy to catch our flights home.  Thank you Dublin - you were a great host for a great weekend.

On to the next one ...

PS: All pictures enlarge when you click on them.


Different People 
That Golden Rule 
The Captain 
Sounds Like Balloons 
The Thaw 
Living Is a Problem Because Everything Dies 
God & Satan 
(Simon solo acoustic)
Glitter and Trauma 
Who's Got a Match? 
Questions and Answers 
Many of Horror 
Woo Woo 
Black Chandelier 

(Simon solo acoustic)
Stingin' Belle 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mixtape - June 2014 Edition

The trip to Scotland was already a month ago and I would have a severe depression about that fact if not a lot had happened in between and more will happen very soon. To not let too much time pass without an update I went for another mixtape edition. I hope you enjoy ...

General state of mind

I wrote in the Medals post that with this show 2014 stopped sucking and it really did. My life feels like it is back on regular speed. The gigs keep coming, a LOT of travel is in the pipeline and even the work situation is starting to get better again.
The only thing that keeps annoying me is my body who seems to think 40 is a good age to become a jagoff. Latest adventure - an infection around a wisdom tooth that kept me on painkillers and frequent dentist visits for weeks. The wisdom tooth has to go. Obviously. I think sometimes between T In The Park and Serengeti. Wish me luck.
On the first day without painkillers for the tooth (yesterday) I made a stupid move in the morning that then resulted in terrible backpain. Long story ... it was foreseeable and tracks back to an old problem. Stupid me. Praise the lord for Voltaren, my mom's old physio therapist who taught me how to deal with it when it happens some years ago and a good rock show (standing for hours seems a bad idea, but nothing distracts better and that's essential when a sudden muscle stiffness has to losen up). I am a bit sore now but okay, I just could really do without that type of trouble. I really do. Getting old sucks. 


New Pens GM Jim Rutherford
While all the other madness was going on the Pens dropped out of the Stanley Cup playoffs early again. Yes, again. The main difference was that I did not care as much as the years before. I could not watch too much of the 2nd half of the season because I was not fit enough to deal with all the late nighters, but what I saw made it really clear to me that we were no Cup contender this season. The drive, the energy, the chemistry, the excitement were missing - and depth in the roster. So I protected my heart early and was of course still dissapointed but not as shattered as the years before.
It was very obvious to me and everybody else that things had to change. The way this team was handeled would not bring us a Cup and that is what this whole game is about. What I did NOT expect was that the first head rolling was not the one of coach Dan Bylsma but of GM Ray Shero. But I am not Mario Lemieux and I have not the insights to really judge that decision. What followed were some dreadful weeks of waiting for a new GM and shockingly the search included interviews with Pierre McGuire. I really, really cannot stand that guy and I am not sure how I would have dealt with having him in such a key position. He did not make it, but Jim Rutherford did. Yes, the Jim Rutherford who gave us Jussi Jokinen for a bag of pucks and kept paying half of his salary. I have really trouble to see how this guy after spending decades with the Hurricanes including some very questionable decisions is supposed to do the job better than Shero, but here we go.
Trying to rationalize this is the way it makes kind of sense: This is an interim solution supported by a trio of talented assistant GMs who should grow into the full role within the next 2 to 3 years with Jason Botterill being the strongest candidat. To close the gap the Pens chose to opt for an experienced person to manage a team around Crosby and Malkin in their prime instead of a rookie in that position like *gulp* Pierre. Rutherford was sure not the wishlist No 1 candidate but the one they could get on board and met somewhat the criteria. We will see if that all works out. 
Rutherford's first decision was to fire Bylsma, which was no surprise. I like Dan but I would have done the same. He is a good regular season coach, but he is very obviously nobody who leads a team to a Stanley Cup. For those who insist that he did exactly that: Well yes ... but that was a team he took out of the hands of Michael Therrien who is the opposite character - often questioned and blamed during regular season but surely setting his boys up for playoffs as you can see with the Habs, who made it further this year since quite a while. 
It will be exciting to watch who can Rutherford bring in as a new head coach and how the rebuilding process works for the team. On to a new season in the fall ...

Very sad news for us Pens fans broke a few days ago. We lost Cy Clark - better known as Malkamania and one of the most passionate Pens fans ever. He lost his fight against throat cancer and he will be missed - a lot! I met him once - at the first game ever where I had seats down at the ice and I was SO excited - and he was a lovely, friendly guy - a Pittsburgh orginal - and he just belonged with his team. Rest in peace, Cy! 

Gigs at home

Manic Street Preachers 
Once again I was benefiting from the relaxed gig approach of the people here in Munich when I headed out to see the Manic Street Preachers. I arrived at  the Backstage (one of my favorite bigger clubs) shortly after doors and found my preferred slot at the left end of the barrier still available. So on to another front row show. It was - shame on me - my first Manics show and it was good fun. The gents did sound very well and the band is sure a smoothly running machine. The audience was cool and friendly all around. People were singing and dancing but for once not pushing like maniacs - very enjoyable. It sure did help that the majority was well ... middle aged like *cough* ... me. Also both neighbors left and right identified my arm tattoos by the quotes as Biffy tats and were also at the Biffy show in Munich - nice.
A fun side note about the Manic Street Preachers:  that was the cleanest stage I have ever seen. Since drums, keys and 2nd guitar are all in the back only James Dean Bradfield and the lovely Nicky Wire use the whole front part of the stage ... one cable from the left, one from the right and pretty minimalistic pedal set up hidden behind monitors and that's it. It looked clean like a dance floor before the party starts.

The second show was The Amazing Snakeheads from Glasgow in the Café of the Muffathalle, which is a lovely, tiny club. It was warm and sunny Sunday evening which is sadly the worst that can happen to a band here in Munich, but while it was not packed it wasn't super empty either. I have seen much worse and some of the fans in the house were really enthusiastic and made up for the relatively small headcount in the audience. The Snakeheads are not exactly my cup of tea. They sound and look like they were out to make a Tarantino soundtrack. There is a certain buzz around the band and I was mostly out to see if it has some substance and yes ... definitely a solid set, but nothing that wins over my heart. Most fun part was watching the puzzled Bavarian faces around me trying very hard to figure Dale's accent out without much success. There was a lot of "What did he just say???" around me. 

Gigs on the road

Way Back When Festival - Dortmund

What a perfect weekend! On Saturday morning I threw myself in the train up to Cologne where my friend Anita lives. It was a lovely, sunny summer day and once I was there we went for a long walk followed by fantastic burgers and freshly cut fries at Fette Kuh - the best burger meal I ever had outside of the US. Highly recommended.
Then it was time to head to Dortmund for "Way Back When Festival". This festival works like for example "Live At Leeds". It is not outside but takes place in several clubs around town. It goes on for a couple of days but we only could make the Saturday because I had to work. We wanted to make this a Swedish night and that worked out perfectly fine. 

Friska Viljor
First stop were our lovely besties of Friska Viljor. Instead of the usual 5 people line up Joakim and Daniel played this show as a stripped down acoustic set and it was absolutely beautiful.
The setlist was a brilliant mix of fan favorites and rarities including a stunning version of my much loved "Useless". There was a lot of interaction with the happy audience, story telling, improvisation and many laughs. I really, really like the full electric line up (later more about that), but this was a different thing. It of course did not hurt also that we made it front row and could enjoy it the show from really close by. We still had the big big grin of the extended "Shotgun Sister" in our face and the last notes in our ears, when we had to leave and run to catch as much as possible of the Johnossi show happening in another bigger club 15 min walk away. And that would be my feedback to the organizers: It was very obvious that Friska and Johnossi would have a big share in the audience and it would be nice, if we would have been able to see both sets completely. We opted for staying with Friska until the end and missing the first half an hour of Johnossi, some others left Friska early - happy was nobody with this. 

Johnossi ... a totally different beast than Friska Viljor. Dark, loud, huge. I LOVE them. On record it is already good, but live? They are SO good, that they made me forget that The Black Crowes cancelled on me (same weekend than my first Johnossi show) and that means something!
The venue was packed but with some trickery (not pushing away people - honestly) and the usual "over the wings" approach we made it despite the late arrival to the (far end) of the barrier. Thankfully I did not miss too many of my favorite tunes and we could rock for another hour. The weird thing really is that it looks like nothing. There is only Ossi on the drums, John with his (semi) acoustic guitars - he usually switches only between 2-3 guitars through the whole show - and a keyboarder who is on the road with them to support the songs from the latest album. If you look at the pics it looks almost singer songwriter style, but hell .....NO! It is like a thunderstorm

For the musicians among you. THAT is what is happening with those acoustic guitar sounds - pedal porn ;) 

After the Johnossi set the night was still not over. Joakim and Daniel were doing another DJ set in one of the local clubs and it was a lot of fun. We danced through the rest of the night and were not in bed before 5 am. It's been a while since I went to sleep with the sun up and the birds singing. 

On Sunday we went to see the new X-Men movie, which was definitely better than the last Wolverine. It also has Michael Fassbender so nothing could go wrong anyway. Ahem ;)

Musiksommer Dachau

I had seriously thought about skipping this one since I had to go alone, but after seeing Friska in Dortmund I just could not have them play only 20 min by S-Bahn from Munich and stay away. They are one of my favorite live bands and I KNOW that I will have fun every time I see them. So a last minute ticket was purchased and I took the train out to Dachau in the lovely warm evening sun. Sadly the train was delayed and when I finally arrived I sprinted through the small town up the hill because I could hear that Friska Viljor were playing already. 

Friska Viljor
The little square was filled with people and the scenario could not have been nicer - a warm summer night in a lovely old town, lots of people in a very good mood and a fab band playing. I made my way to the front ... over the wings but it wasn't that packed / squeezed anyway.
Back to full strength Friska offered their typical fun show with Joakim being in best form flirting with the front rows and the band members joking with each other and fooling around. It's surely not the most complex music Friska is offering and there might be bands who could do crazier, more experimental stuff, but those Swedish guys play their hearts out every single time. If you need something to cheer yourself up - a Friska show will do the job. I promise! 

Shoud Out Louds
Second band of the night were the Shout Out Louds - as well from Sweden. I have to admit that I heard some of their songs before but I do not own a record (should change that soon) and I had never seen them live before. My friends were texting me if I would stay around after Friska or take the train home, but I loved it there, the weather was perfect and why not?
Gosh, I am glad I stayed. Should Out Louds were ... awesome! I am not knowledgable enough to name songs here or praise single performances (sure frontman Adam knows his business though), but they did sound damn good and had the people dancing. I had changed the "wing" and found myself a nice slot at the entrance to the backstage area where I could go some stairs up for better sight (see the side of stage picture) which turned out to be a lucky decision because when Adam towards the end came off the stage to climb the stairs up where I was standing it all turned into a little fun dance party right there with the Friska boys. PERFECT and also a nice cure for my sore back. 

My new stereo

Little Big Man
My old stereo was a gift from my mom after my dad had died. I was 17. It was that old. The CD player had few years less, but the speakers? Ancient. I had thought about buying a new one for quite a while, but it is a serious investment and it never really happened. Then three things came together:
1) I got my tiny BOSE for Christmas / birthday and that wee bastard sounds better than the whole old stereo that I barely touched ever since.
2) My colleague bought the Teufel "Little Big Man" package and loved it. Teufel is a German brand for somewhat affordable highend speaker systems. You can read as many tests and reviews as you want and you will get as many opinions, but on average the Teufel set had - in its price segment - very decent reviews all over the place and my coworker (who listens to the same music as I do) loved his. The stereo itself is not groundbreaking and only an interims solution but the speakers incl subwoofer are really good. 
3) Teufel reduced the price for "Little Big Man" - 20% off. That was the moment I was sold and ordered. It had to happen and it just had made into the "affordable" segment. 

A few days later HUGE parcels arrived and although I came home late that night (thanks to my neighbor for handling the delivery) I OF COURSE had to unpack and set up right away. And what should I say ... BRILLIANT! Since my old system was really dead I am easy to please but it is really good especially for that overseeable amount of money I spent. The sound is very clear and detailed. I heard things I never heard before .... Ben Johnston's work on the cymbals at Live From Glasgow for example. And Medals "Tastes Like Glass" with an additional subwoofer is really a lot of fun. I am totally in love with that thingy. Not sure said neighbor is though ;) 


The next three months should be fun (minus the wisdom tooth removal) and here is what is in the pipeline:

- Biffy Clyro in Dublin at the end of June
- T In The Park in Scotland with Biffy Clyro headlining mid of July 
- Serengeti Festival in Germany with Biffy Clyro headlining mid of August
- Medals full electric show in Glasgow mid of September 

All the awesomeness ... I CAN'T WAIT!

More to read

... but not written by me. You should go here and read what David Conrad, actor, Pittsburgher and fantastic writer has to say about traveling. As a nomadic existence that has trouble to stay more than 4 weeks in a row at home I can deeply relate. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Save my soul with Rock 'n' Roll - Medals in Irvine (Scotland)

YAY .... finally again a travel issue of the "Save my soul ... " gig series! 

Medals live at the HAC in Irvine. Scotland

There is no way  to describe it nicely, but until May 2014 was a pile of shit. I was sick for solid eight weeks - two of them the knocked out and drugged up type of ill - and that would be usually enough for 3 to 4 average years. On top of the fun there was and is lots of trouble at the work place and a couple of really shattering things happened to people close to me. It was just not a good time.

One morning in late April I found out about what theoretically could have been the cure of all evil: Biffy Clyro would play an acoustic gig at the legendary King Tut's in Glasgow celebrating the (re)launch of XFM Scotland.
THAT was something .... I have been to a lot of Biffy shows from very big to very small venues, but no hometown gig and no acoustic show yet. The only 200 tickets for this event would not go on sale but given away in a couple of competitions which means: MADNESS. My friends and I tried everything possible and impossible to get tickets, but it worked out only for a very very few of us.

On Good Friday - still ticketless - I went to my sister's for Easter when in the early afternoon my cellphone started to dance on the table in some kind of crazy buzz with dozens of messages dropping in all at the same time: Breaking news - Medals, the recent project of Sucioperro's JP Reid, would have their first ever live show supporting Biffy at King Tut's (All about how much I love the Medals debut album "Disguises" can be read here and that I am a massive Sooch fan is no secret either.)
With that having no tickets turned from "really sad" to "complete nightmare". We all now tried even harder to get our hands on those diamond dust like wristbands, but there was simply no way and no luck for pretty much all of us. 2014 felt worse than ever.

The day of the show came and I could do nothing but starring at my phone waiting for the messages and pictures dropping in from the very few lucky ones of my friends who had managed to get in and they did and with them good news:  
Medals would have another gig - the first ever headliner show - on Friday May 9 in Irvine (a small town on the Scottish West Coast).
Logistically that was a challenge but I wanted to hear those songs live since they were released and I was really in the need of a nice gig trip to cheer myself up. Thankfully I have amazing friends and within 48 hrs the whole Irvine thing started to shape up: My friend Claire would give me a lift up North from Manchester. I would get there by train from London, where I was for work anyway that week - and we would be not the only ones traveling. The little hotel next to the venue was booked out in no time and of course lots of the Glasgow area based pals would come around, too. Finally ... good times around the corner!

When May 9 came everything went like planned. The adventure part of the trip started then with passing the "Welcome to Scotland" sign which was btw a first for me. I never made it North of Yorkshire before.
We thought it would be smart to avoid the rush hour around Glasgow and chose the "direct" route to Irvine the TomTom offered and got off the motorway soon after entering Scotland

To call what followed "a scenic drive" is the understatement of the year. Long and - literally - winding roads took us through tiny villages with gaelic names, landscapes shaped by hills in all sizes and forms and over high plateaus with incredible views. While Claire bravely fought the challenging roads I just sat watching and falling mile by mile more in love with the still, mostly humanless land under the rushing, windswept sky. It is like a fairy tale country made mainly to produce rainbows (I have never seen rain and sun at the same time more often than in 24 hrs in Scotland). 
We would have been worried that we were lost because there was really nothing and nobody around us for most of the time except sheep, lots of sheep, but the GPS spot kept getting closer to the target and the encouraging naming of the roads like Ayr or Kilmarnock Road kept us optimistic. Only when between two especially steep hills where the road was barely wide enough for one car (in total - not in each direction) some lambs jumped around in front of the car (all good - nobody got injured) we had a slightly hysterical laughing fit

Around 6 pm we arrived in Irvine and it immediatly made it into the top list of "odd ends of the world where I had a really good time" - together with a very hispanic little town in NoCal, an abandoned steel mill in the Mon Valley (PA) and a small youth center in "Toorkwah" (Tourcoing, France). It's a rough little harbour town that at least on that grey spring day was not exactly pouring the charme of a beach resort, but it had a clean and surprinsingly comfy inn and with the Habour Arts Center a really nice, small concert venue - and that was all we needed.

This Silent Forest
We entered the venue short after doors and there was already a buzz of excitement in the room. Although the capacity of the HAC is only 115 it is seated arena style which means there is basically no bad seat in the house - where ever you sit you are close to the stage and nobody can really block your view. It is quite perfect for a small acoustic show although I am really bad at sitting through a gig and prefer standing.
We took a small round to say hello to our friends which was great fun in itself because we had not seen most of them since the end of the Biffy winter tour and settled in our 2nd row seats on the side for the set of the support band This Silent Forest

I have really no idea what they put in their famous, crystal clear drinking water up there in Scotland to produce so many great bands, but here you got another one. I had not heard of them before, but the more pleasant was the surprise when the music started and some beautiful songs filled the room. I do not like comparing bands and I won't (much) but I think it is safe to say that This Silent Forest dig some nice Twilight Sad (as do I) ... just for a rough direction. I bought the album and like it a lot - definitely worth for you to check out! 

JP Reid
Then it was finally 9 pm. The sold out venue was packed with smiling people waiting for Medals as basically everybody collectively held their breath for a little moment when Simon Neil entered the room to take his reserved seat in the top right corner. Nobody of us was really surprised about him showing up, but since the overlap between Medals / Sucioperro and Biffy fans is easily 90% it certainly added to the already high happiness and excitement level.
A moment later the lights went out and all eyes were back focussed on the stage welcoming the band. I love small gigs 
with an audience that is really into it - it just creates a very special atmosphere

The Medals show itself then was a case of pure beauty. One hour of amazing music - song by song. While the recordings of the King Tut's show were already fantastic (give it a listen here) it was soon very clear that having the monkey of the very first show off the back and finally playing for their own audience was a really good thing. The songs from "Disguises" sounded tighter and more powerful than for the first gig. I personally found the difference most significant for "Stand Back, It's a Miracle" that definitely had a way more confident feel to it. 

The set list - Pic by Medals
Before finishing up the set with "Sit Back Down, Judas" and my favourite song "Tastes Like Glass" (How always my songs are the set closers? Am I not traumatized enough yet by "Mountains" breaking my heart again and again? ;) ) we could benefit from the fact that we had John backed up by a combination of former and recent Sucioperro members (plus the wonderful Marianne Fraser). They took together a little trip down the Sucioperro back catalogue memory lane with playing a heart shattering version of "Hands" (picture dozens of people blinking because there was suddenly "something" in their eyes), "Reflexes Of The Dead" and the sing along classic "Conception Territory"

We also got a totally jamming version of Marmaduke Duke's "Silhouettes". And then (actually before "Silhouettes") there was ... "Kid Gloves"

I love that song so much and especially the acoustic version. To be very honest ... I had until this show was in the planning never thought I get a real chance to hear it ever live and acoustic, but there it was and it was stunning

It was a very special moment on so many levels. I sat there drumming on my knees with Gus, singing along the lyrics I'd still know if you'd wake me straight out of a REM sleep phase. In front of me I had this really special and absolutely amazing band performing while I was looking over to the opposite side of the venue straight into the face of a smiling friend singing along as lyrics proof as me. One row below another friend his eyes fixed to the stage barely blinking to not miss a precious second. A few steps further in the round another lovely friend laughing at my "dancing in the seat" approach, more familiar faces just a few seats down the row and even more friends directly to my left and right and front. And finally not to forget - the Captain (my personal nickname for Si) in his dark corner on the highest rank. 
Right there in Irvine, Scotland, roughly 1,400 km from home, surrounded by fantastic people I would not even know if it wasn't for the music, it was one of those priceless magic moments in time you can't stop from passing by although you want to so badly but keep them in your heart where nobody can ever take them away from you again.

Sadly - and  that was probably the biggest bummer of the night - there was a hard stop at 10 pm. The audience burst into cheers and did not move hoping for an encore but the band was given only one hour and that was over. I just can say that I hope, no ... strongly believe that this was just the first of many shows. I for myself am totally ready to do it all again as soon as possible. 

The moment the light went on is also the moment for a honourable mention of Simon Neil's impressing patience. When it was clear Medals would not return about 100 people stopped simultaneously pretending Si was not there and slight madness ensued. He made his way only very slowly down the steps while taking pictures, chatting with fans, hugging people and looking at a significant number of Biffy tats. He could have easily just said "Not today - this is my private time" and left, but he didn't. 

After the show it was party time - congratulating Medals to the absolutely brilliant show, catching up with friends, drinks, putting faces to what had been just online nicknames before, chatting to new people, watching friends playing football with some oranges (don't ask ;) ), discussing tattoos with the barkeeper and more drinks. So. Much. Fun. 

The next morning we had to leave the inn at about 10 am and decided to make the short drive to Ayr for a walk at the beach and lunch.
I always was and always will be a seaside person. The salt in the air and the chance to rest my eyes on an empty horizon is extremely relaxing to me. That morning we were lucky enough to catch an hour of absolutely stunning spring weather and I just lay down on top of the wall above the beach for a while watching the sky and the sea.
Scents are some of the strongest memory triggers you can find and the beach in Ayr smelled in the same way of the sea and the wind as the North Sea beaches of my childhood holidays. It smelled like my sister, my dad and me stomping in wellies through the wet sand looking for the best spot to fly the kyte. It's been over 20 years since he's gone and I still miss him very much. I likely will always do. 

When the sun started to hide behind the clouds we went inside for a final round of chats and a really nice lunch before hitting the road down South again ...

And with that weekend 2014 officially has stopped sucking ;)

PS: If you still haven't yet go and check out & buy the Medals debut album "Disguises" HERE now!

The video

Medals LIVE - HAC Irvine 

Enjoy the full set in great audio and video quality!

Thanks a lot to John, Mike, Dave, Gus & Marianne for the music, the warm welcome & the hugs. Thanks to Si for the quick chat and for pulling funny faces with me. Much, much thanks to Claire for driving and being an excellent travel pal. Thanks to Dave (the other one) for the laughs (always) and the lunch (greetings to the chef - best bacon outside the US and as a part time Pennsylvanian I am very picky with bacon). Thanks to all my lovely Biffy/Medals/Sooch pals - so good to see you and I cannot wait to rock the shit out of T IN THE PARK with most of you! Thanks to all the new people I had lovely, fun chats with through the night - you made Scotland looking really good to a newbie. And finally big thanks to the Freckfest team for organizing the show - all of them are doing this as volunteers!  

Also thanks to the greater powers for NOT winning King Tut's tickets. This was so much better!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Save my soul with Rock 'n' Roll - Rockation March 2014 in Munich

Arcane Roots
I started buying tickets for the shows this spring already back in 2013 and did not really look at the dates. So it was just some weeks ago that I realized that I had myself booked into 4 shows in 8 days in the last week of March with Gibonni, Soak & CHVRCHES, Paws & We Are Scientists, Boy Jumps Ship & the mighty Arcane Roots! Lucky me that I had still 5 vacation days left out of 2013 that I had to use up before the end of March to make it a stay-at-home "rockation"!

Zlatan Stipišić Gibonni is one of the most famous Croatian singers and songwriters and one of the very few of international format. He worked already with legendary musicians like Pino Paladino, Manu Katché or Tony Levin. Recently he released his first album in English language called "20th Century Man", which he was now promoting with a club tour. 
I am a Gibo fan for over a decade now and have seen him live already many times at many different venues between Wuppertal and Primošten. He is a great live musician with an excellent band and you just cannot go wrong with going to another show. I was curious how it would feel to see him in a regular club and not in a typical Croatian diaspora location and I was wondering how much English speaking songs he would really play. The answer is: Not many. 
This is Munich and the Croatian community is big and of course the club was packed with Croatian speaking people who wanted to hear the songs they love so much (including me) and they got what they had waited for. The Ampere club was not sold out but nicely filled and as always it was a big sing along. Although the music for the rest of the week was very different from this, there is barely a better way  to start a music filled time than with singing "Cesarica" from the bottom of your heart. 

The next show was in the biggest venue of the week - Muffathalle -, which is in the same building like the Ampere in Downtwon Munich directly at the river Isar.
As expected the place was packed already when support act Soak entered the stage, but not so packed that I could not just go for the barrier even if it was relatively far out on the left wing.
Soak is a singer songwriter and the audience ready for some fancy mixture of electro, rock and pop reacted a bit irritated at first but then very positively on the simple yet pretty intense little songs just performed with voice and acoustic guitar. It wasn't bad just not my cup of tea, but I have some serious respect, because Soak is a 17-year-old girl. And holy shit ... I would have DIED if I would have had to go out on stage in front of so many people when I was her age. I still might - I cannot tell. My max audience was about 500 people (and I spoke not sang!) until today while she looked into about 1,500 faces that night.

Then came CHVRCHES ... also not exactly my music because it's a bit too much electro, but the songs are real earworms and I also of course could not let the chance pass by to see a Scottish music legend perform with the one and only Iain Cook of Aereogramme and Unwinding Hours. The music scene in and around Glasgow would not be the same without that guy. And this is why it is almost amusing to stand around at a German show of CHVRCHES and hear people talking about how "fast" the career of this band took off and speculating if they may become even a one hit (one album) wonder. Well ... yes .... CHVRCHES was only founded in 2011 and they are enjoying already an incredible world wide success but neither for Iain nor for Martin, who used to tour with the amazing The Twilight Sad, nor for the lovely singer Lauren this commercial success came quick and easy. For me it is fantastic to see how it now works out for them. 

The show itself was pretty impressive, but very different from the rock shows I am used to .. more dancing than sing along. It was also relatively short which is what you have to expect when a band is touring their very first album, but very energetic and musically first class. There is more to come from those folks - that's for sure.
And one for the boys: Lauren from close by is even cuter than on TV and her voice sounds live as good as on record. 

The show on Thursday I owe to my musical US twin sister (minus Elbow ;) ) Villate, who strongly recommended me to see some of her favorite guys - Paws from Glasgow and We Are Scientists from New York - two bands who enjoy traveling as a double pack as well in Europe as in the US. Funny enough right when we talked about it a few months ago we checked if there would be tour dates by any chance - and there were! The new album "TV en Francais" of We Are Scientists would come out in spring and there was a perfectly timed tour to support it including a stop in Munich at the Ampere

I was early at the club this time and got easily a slot directly at the stage (no barrier) to welcome the next bunch of Glasgow people to Munich. Usually my fellow citizens show up late but for Paws the club was already nicely filled and kept getting more and more packed. The audience really appreciated the energetic punk / indie rock tunes of the trio and started off the party. I have seriously seen already a couple of headlining acts with bigger names who had way more trouble to get the Ampere crowd hopping. I loved it but felt pretty sorry for Phil, Josh & Ryan because the stage is really small and the drum kit and equipment of We Are Scientists in the back left almost no room for jumping around on stage and I felt like we had it easier than the band to dance. I guess Phil thought the same because he jumped off the stage for a bit and played amongst the audience.
After the show I went to say hello and get my CD signed and had some lovely short talk with the guys. Good music, lovely people - definitely will go and see them again as soon as I have the chance. 

When We Are Scientists were finally ready to rock the club was packed up to the roof and you can take this literally because it has a gallery that is only opened when a serious amount of tickets is out there and the word of "sold out" is making the round.
After hanging out a bit with Paws at the merch booth (which is at the Ampere practically "on  stage") I sneaked back into my front row slot - amazing enough that this worked without a problem and ended up right in front of bass player Chris Cain. I was well prepared for the party to come - "TV en Francais" is great fun and the back catalogue has some pearls as well.
The show was as awesome as expected - great sound, band in top form - musically and humorously (We Are Scientists are with full right known to be one of the funniest bands you can see) and the audience was dancing, singing and cheering like it is supposed to be. My personal highlights were two of the new tunes - the lovely "Dumb Luck" and the catchy "Make It Easy" which is exactly the big sing along hit I expected it to be from hearing the album the very first time on. What a fun night! 

As so often the best was left for the last and that was seeing the lovely Arcane Roots again who impressed with their album "Blood & Chemistry" before and even more importantly grew close to my heart when they were supporting Biffy Clyro on the winter tour playing great sets night after night. I could not wait to see and hear them playing a full headliner show right here in my town.

But before the main act a rock concert has the support band and in this case it were "Boy Jumps Ship" from Newcastle. I had honestly never heard of them before but I liked their show very much - crackin' rock music like I love it. They are also really nice guys who spent a lot of time at the merch after the show ready to talk to everybody interested in their music and very much appreciating the attention and positive feedback. They just signed a record deal and have soon their new EP "Lovers & Fighters" coming out. Look out for them - I bet you will hear more about them soon! 

Then it was time for Arcane Roots and I was very happy and excited. I just had wished for a bit more people in the club. Munich on a Sunday night is sadly not the ideal place for an awesome rock band on the way up. BUT on Team Biffy you can count: We were a nice little group of Biffy regulars welcoming our "other boys" some even traveling with Arcane Roots through Germany.
The show was nothing short of incredible. The new single "Over & Over" opened the set and it is amazing. I had then my tearful happy minutes right after when they played my very favorite song "Slow" that is part of their usual setlist for headliner shows, but was not part of the support shows I had only seen before. It was as beautiful as expected. If there is anything negative to say about the show then that the final and beautiful "You keep me here" came way, way too fast. I cannot wait for the new album. New music is always good and all the new material that was already introduced live is brilliant. And a new album will also mean more songs and longer shows. So ... BRING IT ON!

After the show Andrew, Adam & Daryl came also out to the merch booth to say hello. I have to admit that it is pretty cool to meet one of your favorite bands so easily and it gets even better when they link you right away correctly to common friends and you can share some stories and laughs. We had in particular some fun moments when we asked one of the very few people still around at the end if he could take a picture of us and picked - of course - the drunkest guy around who made an incredible fuss around the super simple task to take a cellphone picture. He was complaining it would not work, but when we checked afterwards he had taken easily a dozen photos of us in all kind of poses - half of them us gesturing over to him to return the phone - hilarious

It was a bit heart breaking to say good bye so soon again after only seeing one show and I was terribly jealous when I saw the pictures from packed venues and partying and singing people from the UK shows, but I know I will see our Roots again as soon as the new album is out. Can't wait already ... 

The full rockation photo set can be seen here

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hell & Heaven

I do not read music magazines - at least not on regular basis. I kind of feel that they either do not take things seriously enough or too serious.
In the first category they just print big and colorful pictures together with half correct band quotes and 3 line record reviews sponsored by the responsible record companies.
In the second category .. they usually take the record company money as well, but put much more effort into publishing content like interviews, stories about bands, concert reviews and tons of record reviews, where highly motivated writers try to transfer music into words with often outrageous comparisons and metaphors.
The first category is useless and does not matter anyway. Magazines from the second category I buy from time to time usually when they have interviews or features about one of my favorite bands, but I cannot bring myself to read and buy one every month because my reaction is the same like it is when I try to book a package holiday from a catalogue: my brain goes on "white noise".

A couple of times in my life I tried to book a package holiday. You know .... when you just want to go somewhere to do nothing but relax? I tried to do what - it seems - all people do and got some catalogues from the travel agencies to pick a destination and a hotel, but I just could not make it happen. After 5 pages latest all these white buildings at white beaches with blue water look totally the same and the descriptions and lists with amenities start to swim in front of my eyes. I in the end never booked one of those holidays and stopped even trying years ago. I book flights and rental cars and air bnb rooms and go see my friends around the world. I travel to rock shows and ice hockey games and Croatia has the very best places to relax and swim anyway.
It is the same with all the record reviews. After a few of them they all start to get blurry and sound the same - just a flood of weird adjectives and cross references
So what I do when I want new music is that I check the bands my favorite artists work with, recommend or reference, I go early enough to shows to catch the support bands and I have an eye and ear on what's the buzz between my friends who share mostly the same taste in music. 
Lately two records were released which are now in the center of the attention all around and I had a listen - with totally different out come.


Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything

My Twitter feed was full of praise for this record, but I was sceptical. I have the "Any Day Now EP" and the debut album "Asleep In The Back". In the goold ol' days I was working a lot with V2 and got free samples of most of their releases and Elbow was the next big thing. I did not like it very much ... too Radiohead (if you know me a bit you know this means "dead to me").
But hey ... that was in 2001. Times changed, probably the band changed as well? I checked a couple of songs and they were not exactly earworms but a lot of good people with a decent taste in music assured me the album is a "grower" and so I gave it a try. 

But ... good grief ... how SLOW can you play music??? The answer is very, very, very slow. One song is okay, two songs is starting to get awkward, three songs in I start to get fever fantasies about just pulling the speed up and half way through I am in such a state of denial that I start to develop a scientific interest in the philosophical question if you can play so slow that it basically stops but doesn't? The answer is: YES. 
The next question is: Do I even want to find this out? The answer is: NO
I tried, dear friends, but this record is not growing on me. It's not my cup of tea. It's even worse ... it drives me crazy and not in a good way. So thanks, but no thanks. Who ever likes it may become happy with it but it's not me.
PS: Dear review writers who love to compare this with the great Peter Gabriel - just DON'T! 


Manchester Orchestra - COPE

COPE - the new album of Atlanta rockers Manchester Orchestra was at least in my part of the music world one of the most anticipated releases of the last few months and not only because Biffy's Simon Neil wrote his own rave review about it. To be honest: as much as I love Si from the bottom of my heart - his music recommendations can be a bit weird .. eh ... special. I meant to say special ;)

So Simon alone would have not created the excitement nor would the "That reminds of Pinkerton" references (equals gold star rating) that could be read a couple of times, but what the band put on their soundcloud ahead of the release was already pretty amazing and that's always the best advertisement.
I preordered the album and when it finally came out I was immediatly VERY happy with what hit my eardrums. As much as the Elbow album is not mine the Manchester Orchestra one is exactly what I love. The guitars are loud and it's thankfully not slow at all. The songs stick in my head - music and lyrics - and it is so much fun to listen to. It is the type of fearless records I really like because it lets the big songs be big, it gives them room to shine and it ROCKS.
For me this is the best new record in 2014 to date and I think it has a good chance to stay in this top spot of my personal charts until "Similarities" - Biffy's b-side record - will be released. 

Check out the awesomeness here: 


Acoustic and heartbreakingly wonderful:

And my personal favorite. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

John Niven in Munich

Niven & Nagel
Last week on Wednesday, March 19, Scottish writer John Niven came together with his German sidekick Nagel (writer and musician Thorsten Nagelschmidt) to Munich to read from his new book "Straight White Male" and I went to listen & laugh.

The connection between music and Niven is strong and that not only for his delightfully cynic bestselling novel "Kill Your Friends" about murderous A&R Manager Steven Stelfox (the movie adaption is being filmed as we speak) and other music related texts as well as his own short career in music biz, but also because Niven and Nagel behave so much more like a touring band than the average writers on a reading tour. It gave the event a special touch and even the audience looked slightly different from the regular literature crowd.

I got a taste of it right when I arrived about 40 minutes before the reading started. I settled down on the stairs up to the location (a small stage at the Volkstheater) because the room was not yet open. There were a few more people and after some short friendly chat they claimed that they have been waiting since 7 pm. OH HA - I realized I just entered my first literature qeue ever when John Niven and Nagel passed by for the soundcheck. Short before doors the now significantly bigger group of waiting people moved upstairs and started to get in position around the door. Rock 'n' Roll!  But I am too routined to be pushed back and when the doors finally opened I rushed inside and threw myself into a nice center stage first row seat. Little did I know this seat would bring me in slight trouble twice that night.

Next to me was a free seat and it turned out it belonged to a guy from the publishing company, who was standing now in front of the audience to make the introduction (good for me Niven and Nagel did not enter yet).  So publishing dude told us a bit about John Niven and his writing career before he said:  "John Niven is from Scotland - from Ayrshire (insert weird pronounciation) which is ... I think ... North or so of Glasgow." 
And god damn ... I am so so so so terrible with keeping my mouth shut, because then not exactly super loud but pretty good to hear in the tiny theater I said without thinking (obviously) "South West!"
Publishing guy looked at me, my seat neighbour looked at me, that lady down the row looked at me ....  But ... I mean, I may not know much about Scotland but for some - very music related -  reasons the one thing I really know is where Ayrshire is and it is NOT North of Glasgow. John Niven btw is from Irvine which is right West of Kilmarnock and North of Ayr at the coast.
After a slightly uncomfortable silent moment and a few more words the introduction was finished and Niven and Nagel entered the stage.

Before the actual reading was kicking off John Niven first apologized for not speaking German with introducing Nagel, who would do the German parts, and not even English but Scottish. He promised to speak slowly to help the audience dealing with his accent and so he did ... at least in the beginning. For me personally that accent is clearly a feature and no bug since I am quite used to it and I enjoyed it a lot.

Niven & Nagel used the following hour (short smoking break included) to make us meet Kennedy Marr (yes, named after Johnny Marr) the main character of Niven's new novel "Straight White Male".  Marr is of Irish descent but lives in Los Angeles. He used to be a successful author but he has not written a single line for his new novel in years, instead he enjoyed his Hollywood lifestyle and the decent amount of money he would make as a script doctor for big movie productions. All would be lovely if he would not have forgotten a nasty detail:  paying taxes
So Kennedy Marr is in trouble. He is deep in debts and either needs to face prison time, slow down his lifestyle and quickly write and release his next novel (he tends to look at prison) or .. find a source of money. He succeeds on option three when he scores a highly remunterated job - teaching "Creative Writing" at a prestigious English college. While the irony is not lost on him who had not written anything labeled "creative" for years, he takes his chance although he is not exactly keen on living so much closer to ex-wife and daughter in the UK and his dying mother in Ireland. But he has no choice and so he moves over the Atlantic ...

Niven and Nagel read selected scenes alternating in English and German. The highlights were clearly "the wanking scene" (read by Niven), which proofs just one more time that men are lousy multitaskers and a heavy party & sex scene including Marr and a young female movie star read by Nagel in German. As you can see here already ... just like a typical Niven book this one is again nothing for sensible souls. Marr is not the Patrick Bateman style bad guy like "Kill Your Friends" Steven Stelfox but he is sure no angel either and Niven is never talking around it. If you can take it - it's super funny. I loved it and I had to really laugh when Niven quoted his German translator (who from what I heard did a good job), who said about the challenge of translating a Niven novel: "John, you are writing things regular German people would not even think." He might be right.

Just a like a touring band Niven and Nagel were a smooth operating team supporting each others jokes and sharing a bottle of white wine as the evening went. I had a lot of fun, but sadly towards the end I got a bit confused over the rock concert character of the whole thing as it seems. There was a bit of an unclear situation about doing a little encore and / or the Q&A session which then started with the usual awkward silence before some people actually asked something. At some point the last question was called up and answered and I - in my first row center seat - made a move to get ready to give the much deserved applause, but stopped dead when nobody else did. 
The story was that I had not seen that a guy two chairs left of me had another question and just the same second I stopped my - now slightly awkward - move John Niven pointed at the guy and me and allowed the "Two more questions." He thought my move was me raising a hand for a question, too. 
Problem: I had no question, but just saying that was not really an option. So I gave the other guy the first go who then asked slightly off topic if the description of the music biz in "Kill Your Friends" was over the top or pretty much real. Answer for the ones of you wondering: Not exaggerating for the time described in the book, but pretty different now due to the totally changed situation in the music business.
Then Niven turned to me. I still had no question and said it was fine because he wanted to end the session already earlier anyway, but no chance. "COME ON" said the Scot like just Scots say it. There was no escape and so I pulled the only half way smart question I could think of and asked what he as a Scotsman would think about the referendum for the Scottish independence in fall. 

The first answer was just: "Oh." I think I might have been the first person on his reading tour who asked that. He took a deep breath and explained in as brief words as possible that life on "the day after" would just go on - without the horror scenarios of the NO campaigners even coming close to reality. He also explained that Scots would never elect a conservative government but have to deal with it as often as the rest of the country goes for it and would not want that anymore. He said for those reasons he is supporting the YES. (Note: This is not a exactly word for word what he said and just summarized in my very own words, but I tried to stay as close to his as I could from memory)

Phew ... I think I made it out of the awkward situation quite nicely and I felt at least good enough to queue up to get my books signed. I had brought my copies of "Kill Your Friends" and "Straight White Male".  First thing John Niven noticed was that my books were in English, but that is just my general habit. If I have the language skills to read a book in its original language I do that. The 2nd thing he noticed was my Biffy shirt although it just has really small "Biffy Clyro" written on it. He looked up and said: "Hm, Biffy fan, too?" Me: "Yes, very much." He then finished signing and shook my hand like he did with everybody but then did not say "Thanks for coming." like to all the others but: "MON THE BIFF!"

My jaw dropped a little before I grinned like kid under the Christmas tree and I of course shouted back: "MON THE BIFFY!"

I mean ... how cool is that???? MON THE NIVEN! 

Thanks for a really great night!

If you have not read "Kill Your Friends" go now and DO IT and if your are done just keep going with "Straight White Male" or any other John Niven book!