Gig review – Kanye West, Sydney Entertainment Centre 2012

Kanye West is one of the most acclaimed musicians of his generation and a certified, name-up-in-lights superstar, yet a live Kanye performance nonetheless seems a bit problematic on paper. His records are heavily collaborative affairs, cherry picking the biggest names from his genre and beyond to realise his visions of kaleidoscope, wide-screen extravaganzas. Live, there are just a couple of musicians, no special guests and a lot of pre-recorded backing. It’s basically all Kanye. But in this high-energy juggernaut of a show, that proves to be more than enough.

While a persistent criticism of touring hip-hop acts is the stop-start nature of their performances, Kanye’s foot is rarely off the pedal tonight. After appearing deep in the dancefloor crowd on a crane, he powers through Powerand Dark Fantasy to a near hysterical reception. The classic Jesus Walks soon follows, West stalking the stage and spitting out words with such urgency, he seems more a hungry up-and-comer with a point to prove than the stadium-filling multi-millionaire he has long since become.

As choreographed dancers swoon and swirl around him, West covers just about every highlight from his feted back catalogue with older cuts like the slinky minimalism of Love Lockdown, the robotic maximalism of Strongerand the typically defiant Through The Wire all maintaining the irresistible momentum, while Heartless, featuring a crowd singalong, is a clear highlight.

Like some gold-chain clad pied piper, West keeps the crowd energy bubbling as he moves down a catwalk extending from the main stage and later ventures into the upper tiers of the cavernous Entertainment Centre during Touch The Sky, camera phones flashing and fans racing for an up-close glimpse of their charismatic idol. After completing almost a full lap of the venue he disappears through an exit and reappears a few seconds later on stage to launching into another of his monster hits, the ear-worm Gold Digger.

Divided into three acts, apparently to allow for a costume change and add even further to the stadium-sized grandeur, the final section begins with a Chariots of Fire introduction – ridiculous and over-the-top, sure, but nobody comes to a Kanye West show hoping for a low-key production. Dressed in an eye-catching red suit, he stretches his masterpiece Runaway out into something truly epic, with primal screaming and samples mashed together into noise adding to its cathartic power. Lost in the World sees him pondering the state of the universe, before Hey Mama ends proceedings.

Generous in length and packed with hits, what this show lacked in spontaneity it made up for in sheer spectacle. While his all-star collaborators may have been absent, you wouldn’t say they were missed. Some performers get swallowed up by a venue this big, its lack of intimacy working against them. But Kanye West seems to thrive in such a setting and tonight was no exception. His juggernaut rolls on.

Originally appeared in: Faster Louder

Blondie & The Stranglers, Enmore Theatre, 6th December 2012

DANIEL HERBORN discovers that The Stranglers still have it and punk legends Blondie wouldn’t ever do anything as uncool as pandering to what their audience wants.

You know you’ve got some pulling power when your support band has 23 Top 40 singles. That’s the UK track record of The Stranglers, who rose to fame (or more accurately, infamy) during the punk explosion. Influenced by that movement’s energy and spite without ever neatly fitting into it, The Stranglers were initially dismissed as bandwagon jumpers and misogynist yobs, yet their music has proven strangely enduring and its sense of strangeness remains undimmed.

Featuring a 74-year-old drummer and a ring-in lead singer, The Stranglers circa 2012 may be rubbish on paper, but they are dynamite in reality. Dressed all in black, like a uniform, they are a purposeful unit and Baz Warne makes a menacing, more than capable replacement for the original but long-departed frontman Hugh Cornwell.

The greatest hits set takes in the surging nostalgia of 1986 hit ‘Always The Sun’, a paranoid, clattering version of the controversial ‘Peaches’ and a funeral-march paced, pitch black cover of ‘Walk On By’.

A rare detour into new material comes in the form of ‘Mercury Rising’ which is a strong addition to their canon, featuring an almost spoken-word rave from Warne and some howling guitar work. They’re soon back to the classics though with ‘Golden Brown’, its instantly memorable harpsichord hook and haunting, lysergic rhythm making for a hypnotising highlight. Most bands never write a song this good.

In a tight, filler-free set their cover of The Kinks’ ‘All Day and All of the Night’ stands tall, before the title track of their best album ‘No More Heroes’ brings their set to a triumphant finish.

Recently Blondie’s Clem Burke told FL that “we were almost the perfect band”, a statement that at once seems outlandish, melancholy and difficult to refute. That sense of past perfection hangs over tonight’s set, in which the towering pop highlights and ongoing star power of Debbie Harry are the dominant themes.

Dressed in three-quarter length red pants, with a gold jacket, glitter-skull belt buckle and red-tinted ponytail, Debbie Harry looks equal parts glamorous and ridiculous, still every bit a rock star. For the first few songs, which include a raucously received ‘Hanging On The Telephone’, the delirium is such that it’s almost irrelevant what they sound like, the experience of being at a Blondie show being more important to a mainly middle-aged, often drunk audience hungry for nostalgia and familiarity.

“At one point Harry whips her sunglasses off, a gesture that gets a bigger response than some of the new songs. ”

Harry’s voice is still as refreshing and clear as cool water and she remains a charismatic figure. When a friend asks me a few songs in about Burke’s drum shield, I realise that I haven’t actually looked at the drummer, or any of the other members of the band at all, such is the dominance of Harry. At one point she whips her sunglasses off, a gesture that gets a bigger response than some of the new songs. Later, she hides at the back of the stage, apparently to let the others have a much-deserved share of the spotlight.

When the initial excitement wears off, new songs like ‘D-Day’ and ‘Wipe Off My Sweat’ prove to be perfectly serviceable pieces of dance pop, but fail to elicit much of a response. ‘What I Heard’- another track from last year’s largely ignored Panic of Girls – has a cruisy disco feel. It’s fine, but again finds the band at odds with its audience.

‘The Tide Is High’ fares better, a kind of easy listening reggae torch tune- virtually unknown in the pop world until Blondie covered it – it’s a shining example of a band making a song their own. ‘Atomic’, meanwhile, is huge and ‘Call Me’, featuring some choice keytar action, pulses with energy.

The strange pop of ‘Mother’ segues into an unlikely, but winning version of the Beastie Boys’ classic ‘No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn’, before the encore begins with a solid (if inessential) cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’. The endpoint and pinnacle is of course, ‘Heart of Glass’. A completely perfect slice of pop and a sunny, detached ode to romantic indifference (how many other pop songs have ever shrugged off infatuation as “a pain in the ass”?) Bringing a close to this uneven but enjoyable show, it’s a reminder that Blondie wouldn’t ever do anything as uncool as pandering to what their audience wants.

Originally appeared in: FasterLouder