It's December 2017 and the publisher of Outsideleft is looking concerned. All he wanted from me was a straightforward review of the albums of the year, but I'm bombarding him with lengthy in-depth write ups. He is worried for my health and wondering why I'm preferring to enthuse about Nihiloxia (disorientingly), Momus (predictably) and, Cigarettes After Sex (regrettably), rather than watch an endless stream of Christmas specials and re-runs on TV with my family.
Maybe this is why he's just asked me to submit a mid year review for 2018. To ease the strain, for him, for me and, most likely, for my family.
So, here it is. Ten things (albums, re-releases, singles, books and concerts), that have shaken me and keep my obsessions alive.
10. Always see the support act.
Statistically it doesn't stack up!
You could argue that, after seeing hundreds upon hundreds of live gigs, the fact that I've only ever raved about half a dozen of the support acts flies in the face of my argument that you should always arrive in time to see whoever it is that's playing to a half empty hall.
For decades, friends and loved ones have tried to deter me. Insisting that the chances of me liking, even loving, what the support act is going to offer is ridiculously, hopelessly slim! Why bother, they argue. Stay in the bar, relax and stop defensively wittering on about the times I turned up in time to see Micah P Hinson, Zun Zun Egui or the Dead Rat Orchestra.
Well sorry, but no, I'm sticking to my guns. I need to see, hear and absorb as much live music as I can whilst my ears, eyes and senses are still functioning. I need the excitement and surprise of seeing something that I'm not familiar with. And this year, I'm beside myself because, turning all that statistical nonsense on its head are my experiences of two remarkable support acts.
First up, are The Cosmics, a deliriously powerful three piece from Birmingham. Back in May, they supported the wonderful Goat Girl (more later), they looked so unassuming as they chatted by the merch stall before their set. But after they took to the stage it was as if a strange metamorphosis had taken place. Shoeless guitarist Conor Boyle commands the stage, leaning forward, his head shaking furiously, whilst he plays the most glorious garage punk riffs (Inis Fraoigh bears more than a passing resemblance to Holidays in Cambodia). His brother Danny provides the assertive drumming and their cousin Erin Curran screams her raw tales of messed up relationships. Hardly any of the songs last more than three minutes. It's a visceral, overwhelming experience.
The second act I need to mention brilliantly and subtlety dismantled every single perception that I had about them. When I heard that David Byrne's support act at Birmingham's Symphony Hall was to be local soul singer Laura Mvula, I grizzled at the blandness of the prospect. Too safe, I sneered, certain that her music wouldn't work as a preamble to the bewildering assault on the senses that was to follow.
I could not have been more wrong.
If your memory of Mvula is of her playing the mildly endearing Green Garden then this show is a revelation. On stage it's just her, a stack of keyboards and a drummer. That's all. Her passionate interpretation of Overcome, which opens the set, is an indication of the stripped back approach, it's like hearing her raw and stirring voice for the first time and then feeling ridiculous for not having noticed it's sublime power before.
The less conventional songs from her second album (The Dreaming Room) such as Bread and Kiss My Feet work best in this arrangement. It's telling that the aforementioned Green Garden, although left to end of the set, feels tacked on, more out of obligation than necessity.
As with the time honoured tales of artists that don't fit the mould that their record label have mapped out for them, Mvula was dropped by Sony after her second album failed to sell in the quantities that her debut had. It's a tale I've heard so many times and yet it still infuriating.
Yet, tonight the crowd at the Symphony Hall give Mvula a standing ovation. My early cynicism has been torn to shreds and now I'm eager to hear what remarkable direction she will move in next.
So I insist, alway, always see the support act!
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