A weekend to remember


I wouldn’t say I’m a massively outgoing person as far as venturing far and wide, but in recent years I’ve tried to broaden my horizons, at least when opportunities arise.  Two such opportunities arrived the weekend just gone, not entirely planned as such but I jumped at the chance to go and see my favourite band once again … and then another opportunity came around to see a personal favourite TV sketch show’s live tour.

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Probably over a year ago I booked tickets to see Garbage again in London as well as meet up with a friend I’d made last time I went.  Some months later VIP meet & Greets were announced, and so yeah, once again I was going to meet the band and get a photo taken.  The whole experience this time around was even better than I’d experienced in 2016 at The Troxy.  For starters at Brixton Academy, the meet & greet q&a part of the VIP experience was in the same room where the photos were to be taken and it was a small, intimate affair with me sitting amongst 50+ fans within touching distance of the band (!!).  It was so surreal as it wasn’t as if I was sitting before my favourite band, but almost like old friends … it all felt so nice and relaxed and really f’ing cool.  I didn’t say much, as I knew I’d clam up (again) but did get a chance to say how fantastic I thought they were and that Version 2.0 (of which the tour was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary) was my favourite album of all time, by any artist.  I got my photo taken which turned out to be more of a fun thing, with me posing with the band and all pretending to be zombies, with outstretched arms etc. lol.

The VIP experience also meant early entry so I was pretty much at the front (one short girl in front of me, so I had an awesome view) and what was the actual concert like?  In short Garbage (Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker) were on electrifying form, belting out the hits as well as more obscure b-sides both word-perfect and with an energetic response from a sold-out Brixton Academy crowd.  It was intense, heart-pounding, utterly feel good and the best I’ve seen them perform.  Garbage are such a skilled and talented band and once again delivered an evening of rockin’ good entertainment that didn’t disappoint.

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Two night’s later I was heading off to Liverpool to see The League of Gentlemen at the Echo Arena and this British sketch comedy four-piece that started out on radio before creating a cult TV show of the same name were utterly brilliant.  They went through a plethora of their most famous sketches and iconic characters to deliver a 2hr+ show of bonkers humour, one-liners, political satire and toilet humour with no end of imagination and charisma.  Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gattis and (behind the scenes / co-writer) Jeremy Dyson are one of the best comedy groups Britain has spawned since Monty Python and that … is not said lightly.  Translating the sketch-based comedy of the show worked well on stage and the sets and costumes were all very well done and seemed to go off without a hitch, aided by what appeared to be some funny ad-libbing and natural glimpses of the guy’s personalities.  This show was partly a celebration of their 20th anniversary as well as a hinted at farewell to the characters unless this talented four-piece find a way to work together again at some stage … we’ll see.  For now though, me and a couple of friends as well as the sold out crowd had a ball.

As far as my usual weekends go, this was pretty intense, rather exhausting but utterly fulfilling, creating memories I’ll look back on for years to come.  So a big shout-out to Garbage and to The League of Gentlemen for making the past few days so very special.

Craig.

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Beyond a fan boy’s wildest dreams


I can’t believe I’m typing this and NOT making it up.  On Monday night of the 13 June 2016…I got to MEET my favorite band in-the-flesh and tell them how much I love their music and even have a photo taken.  That’s not to mention the fact I also got to watch them rehearse and eventually perform a full concert at the Troxy in London.

Yes I just typed all that and it really happened.  I am looking back on it now in disbelief.  Lead singer Shirley Manson was everything I could have hoped and more and on getting to actually speak to her, I almost lost it emotionally, but with her assistance I didn’t cry – but it came worryingly close.  She was a real gem and so nice and genuine.  In fact the same can also be said for Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, who were so lovely and I shook their hands and well, just wanted to press pause on the moment and wallow in it.  It was simply one of the greatest night’s of my life thus far.  Sadly drummer and producer Butch Vig couldn’t make the gig as he’d been signed off sick with a sinus infection.

Shirley Troxy.jpgThe concert that followed this was incredible, spanning the full gamut of their 20+ year career and every song was performed with such energy, enthusiasm and power that I was totally floored.  Personal highlights were the rarely sang ‘So Like a Rose’ which Shirley performed aided by her guitar and was a tribute to photographer friend Matt Irwin who had recently passed away.  Also my favourite Garbage song ‘Why Do You Love Me?’ was delivered as a thankyou to the loyal fan-base, and it was also great to hear several new tracks from the new album, including ‘Blackout’ and ‘Empty’.  I had purchased a VIP package for this event and as well as what I mentioned above, I also got early entry and was right at the front.  In comparison to the last time I saw them at Brixton Academy, I found the sound although very loud, much better and I didn’t come away with the ringing and deafness I experienced last time.  So it was such a better experience and with all the trimmings I can safely say this was a dream I never even considered would be realised … but it was!

The pictures above were taken by myself so you can get a good idea of the view I had.  What an experience which I fully recommend if you get the opportunity.  I conquered several fears and personal obstacles to achieve this and feel so proud of myself for doing so.  Also few front women in the industry have the sheer charisma, likeability or stage presence of Shirley Manson and I tell you now, she delivered 100%.

Not just a band … but a way of life.

Thank you Garbage for such an amazing experience!

Legend


Viewed – 26 January 2016  Blu-ray

I loved the 1990 British biopic of The Krays starring former Spandau Ballet brothers Gary & Martin Kemp which for me had long been one of the best gangster movies I had seen.  However I haven’t seen that rendition in a long time so the prospect of a new adaptation of the famed East End mobsters’ story was exciting.  Also the fact current hot property Tom Hardy (Mad Max Fury Road) was taking on the roles of both Ronnie & Reggie Kray meant this couldn’t fail … or could it?

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Set during the height of the gangster’s reign over the criminal underworld in the 1960s, Reggie and his rather unstable brother Ronnie have London eating out of their hands; rubbing shoulders with celebrities, owning nightclubs and about to go into business with the Italian Mafia.  Told primarily from the perspective of Reggie’s wife Francis (Emily Browning – who somehow still has a career after the god-awful Sleeping Beauty) this promises to be another mob classic to stand alongside movies such as Goodfellas.  Yet in the hands of director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale), we get anything but that.  His direction is plodding despite decent production value and eye-catching photography, but for a mob movie there is a total lack of menace.  I didn’t feel like these people were all that intimidating or scary, and in a decent gangster yarn, I’m usually always a bit nervy of something kicking off any second.  This is not helped by the focus on Reggie & Francis’ relationship where the casting of the porcelain pretty Emily Browning once again proves her as one of the most uninteresting actresses currently working, not helped by her snore-inducing narration.  This needed much more of the criminal lifestyle and the enforcing of that lifestyle … yet mob hits come out of nowhere, and famous murders just happen with no build up.  Trying his damndest is Tom Hardy but although charismatic as Reggie, his apparent control and intimidation of Francis is bizarrely glossed over, making a certain turn of events later on come out of nowhere.  On the flip side his portrayal of Ronnie is borderline farcical, the legendary gangland mobster reduced to an absurd caricature rather than particularly threatening (the trumpet blowing scene almost had me giggling in embarrassment).

So the tone and pacing and everything other than the look was totally off, and important characters to the Kray’s story such as their mother or infamous names like Jack ‘the hat’ McVittie are little more than ‘just there’ when their inclusion could have helped with the movie’s authenticity (which has to be said, it takes liberties with).  The Krays were fascinating and pretty scary in real life by all accounts – but this interpretation failed to capture hardly any of what made them famous or ironically, legends.

Verdict:  2 /5

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – impressions


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It’s taken me a few entries in this popular franchise to really appreciate what it does.  The only Assassin’s Creed game I ever completed was the last, somewhat controversial entry ‘Unity’ set in Paris which I’ll admit was the soul reason I gave it a go.  I loved it however and unlike other entries, it held my interest.

acsyndicateevieThis latest game is set in the very appealing setting of Victorian London and was initially to be called AC: Victory (although not a great title I’ll say).  You play as twin brother and sister assassins Jacob & Evie Fry who are out to track down the Templars and in Evie’s case find the legendary pieces of Eden.  Now it has to be said I never play these games for the story as they are convoluted and lacking in focus at the best of times (I still don’t really know what was going on in Unity).  But what I do play it for is the detailed, highly atmospheric setting and the industry defining climbing and exploring and the excellent stealth mechanics.  This game is no different and seems to have further developed both the parkour / free running and the stealth to make the game a real joy to play.  The addition of a grappling hook is also very welcome and makes ascending tall structures a breeze.  Graphically it is also a stunner – very detailed, tons going on on the cobbled streets, a welcome addition of a day-to-night cycle sorely missing from the previous games and decent weather / rain / particle and lighting effects throughout.  It also helps that London has been realised fantastically with several large districts full of things to do and find.  I was puzzled at the absence of Tower Bridge or The Tower of London, but I am only a little way into the game so maybe these areas open up later?

Screenshots taken directly from my PS4

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The fact its very easy to get spotted by the wealth of gang members around the city gets annoying quickly and their cut & paste repeated appearances seems rather lazy.  I think I’ve killed the exact same thugs now dozens of times and they tend to yell and complain with the same lines of dialogue also.  The game isn’t without it’s bugs either as it has frozen on me during loading and had the odd cut-scene with missing / invisible characters in it (!).  However with the usual implementation of key historical figures such as Charles Dickens and in forthcoming DLC, Jack the Ripper – this is a setting that is instantly attractive and intriguing.  I love exploring the city and with two characters to play with, upgrading their abilities and swapping between the two for a slightly different feel to the game is a great idea.  I hope to see this through to the end, and with very little on my gaming horizon until next year I’m sure I will.

Recommended.

Garbage and a dream realised


garbagebrixtondatesWell, it was a long time coming but on Monday the 9th of November 2015, I finally got to see my favourite band Garbage in concert at Brixton Academy, London.  The near-sold out show was such an incredible experience that putting it into words isn’t easy.  I had a long wait, queuing up for a few hours before finally finding my seat and waiting again.  There was a long wait until the support act The Dutch Uncles came on, who were enjoyable even if their music seemed a bit ‘samey’.  However it was a good indication of the decibels I was about to be assaulted with.

Video courtesy of Youtuber eStorm

Following this was a really cool intro, that involved a white sheet dropping to cover the stage and surrounding area entirely, then an archival video to the tune of Garbage b-side Alien Sex Fiend showed footage of the band back in ’95 along with a commentary on their origins in Madison, Wisconsin along with news footage of Princess Diana, OJ Simpson and the beginnings of the Internet.  This all then built up to the four members being presented in tall large images one after the other.  Then it was time for the first song, Subhuman which was performed entirely behind the sheet with the members only visible as silhouettes.  Very bold and utterly ingenious.  As this occurred I recalled actually shaking with excitement, an overload of emotions and feelings that I’ll admit brought tears to my eyes.

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A picture taken by my brother from where we were seated

I won’t go into too much detail of the show which spanned almost two hours and covered approximately 23 tracks spanning the entire first album and nine b-sides – topped off with an encore that threw in a couple of tracks off other albums which were Cherry Lips and Push It.  Throughout the guys and Shirley were on fine form – for a 49 year old Shirley Manson’s energy was intoxicating – she jumped and danced and head-banged around the stage like a woman half her age, and it was incredible to witness.  In between some songs she told stories, such as her strong feelings regarding the LGBT community as well as funny anecdotes like how cold she was walking to Smart studios to do some recording, and the frozen hairs in her nose inspired her to write the song Driving Lesson (because she wished at that moment she could drive).  Little moments like that and the rather emotional story of Kick My Ass detailing the tragic suicide of song writer Vic Chestnut made the night even more special.

garbage-by-frank-mojica-08Highlights for me musically were performances of Not My Idea (really got the crowd going that one), Fix Me Now (sounded amazing), Only Happy When It Rains, Stupid Girl (excellent light show), Kick My Ass (a beautiful song that again got me very emotional) and also Cherry Lips (a real crowd participation anthem).  Less effective, due to the immense sound and volume were As Heaven Is Wide (Shirley seemed to get drowned out by the guitars and drums) and to an extent Vow which felt too harsh and intense to completely appreciate.    But I’m a concert novice and it probably was too loud and over-powering at times for me … yet the good seriously outweighed the not so good, and the high production values, that glorious intro, Shirley’s sheer exuberance and various brilliantly delivered songs overshadowed any quibbles.

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Garbage blew the roof off Brixton on Monday and the whole event won’t be something I’ll get over for a very long time.  So thank you Garbage – you made this long-time fan very happy indeed.

Darkling4Life.