Manchester Orchestra – SWG3, 12th April 2014 (live review)

Hidden-away locale SWG3 plays host to what is an intimate treat for many as Sydney troupe Gang Of Youths present themselves to an already buzzing audience. Their set of atmospheric rock tunes appears to go down well, sounding tight and like a band worthy of filling the room themselves.

Manchester Orchestra soon wander onstage, unassuming and not particularly suggestive of a band capable of playing rooms two or three times the size of this evening’s cosy venue. Unsurprisingly, they only need to let their music do the talking – launching into a furious rendition of Shake It Out, the Atlanta indie-rock outfit is thrilling to watch. A powerhouse of sound as they make their way through a fair balance of fan favourites and new material, their songs pack a punch in a live setting that is less evident on record. Andy Hull said of the band’s latest release, COPE, that they sought to create ‘something that’s just brutal and pounding you over the head’; whether or not they achieved that is up for debate, but in the live environment they really deliver on their promise. The newer tracks slot in well with the old, with songs like The Ocean, Top Notch and Every Stone transferring so effectively to the live setting that they prove themselves to be show highlights. The band can slow down for a bit of a breather for staple track Colly Strings, Andy Hull’s distinctive tones reaching across the low ceiling just as every person in the room seems to know when to chime in, ‘don’t stop calling, you’re the reason I love losing sleep’. The band is personable with the crowd between songs, clearly comfortable in the close quarters.

Before heading off-stage for an encore, Manchester Orchestra close the main body of the set with an almost ethereal cover of Willie Nelson’s The Party’s Over. At one point the lights are turned out, as the song requests, and the microphone is turned to point into the crowd. It’s not necessary, really, as the fans sing loud enough to reassure the band they’ll be welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd at the ABC come October.

Advertisements

You Me At Six – O2 Academy, 29th March 2014 (live review)

If you live in the UK and have dabbled in live music over the past few years, it’s likely that you have already experienced a You Me At Six set. Touring relentlessly since their mid-teens, the Surrey natives have supported some of the biggest names in rock and in turn asserted themselves as one of the mainstays of the space that exists somewhere between ‘alternative’ and ‘mainstream’ in the UK – so it’s of little surprise that they’re in Glasgow to play a two-night stint at the O2 Academy in support of their latest release, Cavalier Youth.

The Kerrang! favourites emerge to little fanfare other than the eardrum-splitting screams of  eager fans. Somewhere in the midst of a frantic light show which continues throughout their set, You Me At Six launch into Too Young To Feel This Old, the title of which could serve as an accurate review of the evening in itself.  Their performance is teeming with energy and frontman Josh Franceschi conducts the crowd in a way that only someone with practice under their belt could. Recent single Fresh Start Fever sees the crowd work itself into a frenzy, with a well-timed explosion of confetti adding a fun touch – but also highlighting that with a much smaller production set-up than on previous tours, YMAS may not have songs strong enough to fall back on. As the band has matured, so too has their brand of pop-punk into anthemic pop-rock – unfortunately, this appears to have also meant settling into a comfortable formula as each track is met with the niggling feeling of ‘haven’t they already played this one?’. As a result of this, the set drags despite only lasting a short 15 songs. The quintet perform with fervour but there is a distinct sense of going through the motions – though Franceschi seems entirely genuine when thanking the crowd for their continued support and the success of Cavalier Youth, which saw the band score their first chart-topping album.

Encore track Reckless is the highlight of the set and one of the better songs the band has to offer. By the time You Me At Six close with Lived A Lie, it’s evident that the crowd is just as much to credit for the success of the band’s live show as the musicians themselves, with their enthusiasm serving to distract from the band’s shortcomings at times. Tonight may not have been their best show, but there’s no doubt that there will be plenty of opportunities for them to redeem themselves in future.

King Krule – Broadcast, 4th October 2013 (live review)

The room is already half full when South London’s Filthy Boy emerge from a tangle of black curtains behind the stage. Picking up their instruments like they’ve done this a thousand times before, they exude an air of confidence not typical for a relatively young band. While hardly ground breaking, their indie-rock production combined with a gritty ‘60s edge is, at the very least, enjoyable. Their musicianship is tight and the booming vocals almost seem smug – but it fits. All twangy guitars, their brand of storytelling appears to be a fair success with the crowd and it’s safe to say that they leave the stage with a few more fans under their belt.

There’s a buzz in the air when the time comes for King Krule’s set to begin. A sold-out crowd waits excitedly for the BBC Sound of 2013 nominee, and it’s easy to see why once he starts playing. There isn’t a note out of place, from the singer-songwriter or from his band. He sounds gutsier live than on record while retaining the intricacy of his indie-blues infusion. Resonant and expressive, his baritone voice hits you in the chest with deeply personal confessions of growing up troubled, and it’s easy to forget that this is coming from a man who is only 19 himself. The real sing-a-long comes during ‘Easy Easy’ as the crowd, who have otherwise been calmly fixated on Archy Marshall’s every word, springs to life. He seems unfazed by the adoring audience watching as he bobs about the stage as if he truly feels every song he performs, and quietly grateful during the roar of applause between each and every song. The King Krule material is poetry interwoven with dissonance and empty space, classy in its execution, and he seems proud of his art. As he should, too, as tonight proves that he has established his own style and developed it more successfully than artists twice his age.  The show is a victory and as he exits the stage, we can be sure that we’ll be seeing him play to a much bigger room next time around.

Manchester Orchestra – Cope (album review)

“We wanted to make the kind of album that’s missing at this time in rock: something that’s just brutal and pounding you over the head every track.” Andy Hull is right in suggesting that there was a clear focus in the creation of Cope, a quality which some felt was missing from MO’s last release, Simple Math.  It’s also true that Cope falls on the harder side of things, guitar driven and mostly unrelenting. Unfortunately, this sharp vision for the album appears to have also been the album’s downfall, leaving little room for ideas to grow.

Opener and single Top Notch gives a fairly accurate foreshadowing of the record to come; palm-muted verses sit against powerful, swirling choruses as Manchester Orchestra’s brand of melancholic indie-rock is given an energetic kick into 2014. The mid-tempo feel doesn’t let up much throughout the record, though, which largely contributes to Cope’s monotony, with The Ocean’s repetition proving tedious. Meanwhile, Every Stone is an album highlight and not the only point on the album to feel evocative of a rougher-sounding Jimmy Eat World. The album closes with the title track whichgets as close to ‘brutal’ as this release comes, showing potential that was frustratingly forgotten on earlier songs.

There’s nothing bad about the album, and Manchester Orchestra remain one of the pillars of their genre – but with a record that tends to blend into itself, it’s unlikely that Cope will have much lasting value.

Questions of Feminism

International Women’s Day fell on Saturday 8th March this year, an occasion which is actually a national holiday in countries like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria. According to a website dedicated to the event, it’s “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Some well-deserved recognition for us ladies and a middle finger to the patriarchy, then. Good.

It’s safe to say that we’re quickly becoming a more progressively-thinking society in general, so we can hope that complaints of “but what about an International MEN’s Day?” have been kept to a minimum (hint: it’s every other day). We can also hope that this means the long-overdue death of the stereotype of a bra-burning man-hating lesbian evoked by any reference to feminism for some. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian who sets uncomfortable underwear alight, but it’s difficult enough to open dialogue about the promotion of women in society when ‘feminism’ translates to ‘hatred of men and femininity’.

This is an issue brought to light time and time again in the saddest of ways when female celebrities denounce feminism for that very (misguided) reason. Of course, women in the media spotlight face a multitude of challenges when it comes to staying appealing and respected by consumer culture and they may not think publicly siding with a controversial social movement is in their best interests. Whether their statements come from ignorance or a desire to keep the ignorant on their side, they’re detrimental to a cause which exists to support them.

When asked if they would consider themselves feminists, the following stars responded:

  • Kelly Clarkson, when asked if she was a feminist, responded “No, I wouldn’t say feminist — that’s too strong.”
  • Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture.”
  • Susan Sarandon: “I think of myself as a humanist because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education, and health care. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned word. It’s used more in a way to minimize you.”
  • Katy Perry: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.’ Even Bjork: ‘[I don’t identify as a feminist] because I think it would isolate me. I think it’s important to do positive stuff. It’s more important to be asking than complaining.”
  • Taylor Swift (who faces a near unprecedented level of misogyny-guised-as-criticism): “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
  • Even girl group Little Mix, who released an album very much focused on the topic of girl power in 2013, insisted: “I wouldn’t say we’re feminists: we don’t hate our men.” These comments all appear to come from the same misunderstanding of what feminism is and unintentionally demonstrates why feminism is necessary – because there are plenty of people who would like us to believe that having a voice, having the audacity to point it out when mistreated is something to disassociate ourselves from. Because feminism is merely ‘complaining’.

That’s not to say that feminism is a black-and-white issue that comes complete with a set of guidelines. Just like the cultural issues faced by women, feminism is a deeply personal thing; I, for example, struggle to reconcile feminism without intersectionality with feminism at all. Of course some takes on feminism are questionable at best but those who are racist, transphobic and incapable of thinking outside the western hemisphere are not feminist because they do not support the struggles of women and therefore shouldn’t be used as examples to tarnish the name of a movement which strives for equality.

While it’s true that the perceived negative connotations surrounding feminism are the result of ignorance and often used as just another tool to attack women, perhaps educating people on the meaning of a word isn’t what’s most crucial at this point. Maybe we should spend the other 364 days of the year instead educating people on the realities of rape culture, the danger faced by transgender women and the countless other faults in society that render any claim that feminism is no longer necessary completely redundant. And wherever you’re reading this, fellow student of higher education, remember that the first ever university was founded by a woman.

Blackfish

The bitter cold and general university pressure of this time of year is a far cry from sunny family holidays which often include a visit to marine parks like SeaWorld. But this could all have changed by the time Summer 2014 rolls around thanks to the independent docu-thriller phenomenon that is Blackfish.

Released to cinemas globally last August, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s creation had already been gaining attention months prior amongst the already existing communities of those strongly opposed to cetacean captivity. The film focused on Tilikum, SeaWorld’s largest male orca who has been responsible for the deaths of three people to date, including senior trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well as providing a commentary on the highly questionable ethics behind holding cetaceans captive. This, of course, isn’t a new issue, but one that may not cross the minds of tourists as they watch orcas perform tricks to uplifting music in Shamu Stadium.

The dramatic footage in the documentary’s trailer asks: “If you were in a bathtub for twenty five years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” This is a reasonable starting point when considering the problems with establishments like SeaWorld, Marineland or Loro Parque. Many arguments can be made regarding the size or design of tanks, but the truth is that a tank is exactly that: a concrete tank which isn’t at all comparable to the freedom of an entire ocean, in which wild orcas swim hundreds of miles per day. Orcas which are scientifically proven to be more emotional than human beings. Incidents with the orcas aren’t uncommon, and while they’re often written off as incompetency on the part of the human involved regardless of the true nature of the incident (Dawn Brancheau’s death being a shocking example of this), it’s important to remember that these are wild animals whose frustration only builds the longer they’re kept in unpleasant, mind-numbing conditions. To admit that captivity can heighten the levels of aggression in orcas would mean to move away from performing animals as a business selling point, and to do so would mean to lose money.

SeaWorld puts great emphasis on education and their part in conservation whilst shamelessly ignoring what it means to be both of these things. In reality, Shamu shows do very little to educate audiences about orcas at all and have even been caught telling blatant lies to customers to coincide with their own agenda. The animals in captivity also suffer constant health problems due to the stress of their environment. Their stance on conservation, while a valuable message to be spreading, is laughable when they have a history of abducting – let’s be honest, can it be considered anything other than that? – perfectly healthy young whales and dolphins from their families to be transported halfway around the world to spend the rest of their lives performing in a glorified circus and being fed dead fish. Families which exist in incredibly close-knit matriarchal societies in which male orcas stay by their mother’s side almost their entire lives. As if that isn’t upsetting enough, orca pods all around the world have their own unique sets of language and behaviour, meaning the abductees are dropped into the company of animals they can’t communicate with nor understand. This regularly leads to aggression between whales. There’s nowhere to run to in a concrete tank to avoid confrontation.

Many celebrities have expressed support of Blackfish and its message in recent months, including Stephen Fry, Miley Cyrus, and Ewan McGregor. CNN attracted almost 1.4 million viewers when it showed the documentary, followed by a showing on BBC4 here in the UK. It’s unsurprising, then, that SeaWorld have seen a 6% drop in ticket sales and have been forced to lower their prices. They were offered the chance to make comment during the making of Blackfish and declined, but quickly went on a damage-control mission in the face of backlash. This included deleting angry messages from their Facebook until they could no longer keep up with the volume and claiming that their business is essential for teaching the public to take an interest in these animals – despite, for example, a lot of people caring about dinosaurs, and I’m pretty sure Jurassic Park was fictional.

I visited SeaWorld once, and what will always stick with me is the sight of a beluga whale so bored that it twirled around on the spot for a good thirty seconds just for something to do. We don’t consider it acceptable to make bears dance anymore, so why is this? It’s important that we go on to raise our kids without the arrogance that lies behind us humans considering holding animals captive and forcing them to perform to be ‘entertainment’.