Aerosmith: Eat the rich

Aerosmith | Calling Festival | 28 June 2014

On the list of rock show clichés, playing guitar on top of a grand piano comes just below drum solos. But when Joe Perry does just that during the original power ballad, ‘Dream On’, there’s no collective eye-roll from the punters. Instead, it’s all cheers and raised lighters.

Aerosmith clearly know what their audiences want – and subtlety is not it. Tonight’s all about classic hits, confetti cannons, a blinding light show, and the rockstar grandstanding the band helped originate in the ‘70s. In his black top hat and leopard-print coat, Steven Tyler struts up and down the runway like a man half his age, twirls his scarf-adorned mic stand above his head, declares his love for London, and plasters that famous mouth all over the big screens. Perry, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, and bassist Tom Hamilton strike various poses perfected over 40 years on the road. And the big songs just keep on coming.

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Depeche Mode: reach out and touch faith

| Depeche Mode | The O2 Arena | 19 November 2013 |

Dave Gahan is Depeche Mode’s natural born showman. Prowling the stage, stripped down to his suit trousers, he’s prone to traditional frontman routines: twirling around, mic stand raised above his head; conducting the audience in mass sing-alongs, milking their cheers by cupping his hands to his ears.

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Editors: It kicks like a sleep twitch

Editors | Brixton Academy | 14 November 2013

Bands, they say, are greater than the sum of their parts. But Chris Urbanowicz’s departure has changed Editors. Most obviously, their latest album is more REM than Joy Division. And tonight, the angular guitar riffs of their biggest hits sound blunted.

It doesn’t matter. The more fluid playing style of his replacements – guitarist Justin Lockey and multi-instumentalist Elliott Williams – brings a cohesion to the set, the back catalogue’s oppressive gloom complemented by the expansive, Americana-tinged new songs.

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The National: You must be somewhere in London

The National | Alexandra Palace | 13 November 2013

Matt Berninger needs time to warm up. Dressed in suit and tie, the bearded-and-bespectacled National frontman looks like a socially awkward university lecturer as he nervously paces to-and-fro. The gulps of red wine from a plastic cup only reinforce the impression.

But by the encore he’s been swallowed up by the crowd, raging “Mr November, I won’t fuck us over” somewhere amongst the first few rows, without a thought for the roadie desperately wrangling the microphone cord.

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Arcade Fire: Here comes the night time

Arcade Fire | The Roundhouse | 11 November 2013

The rumours start in the queue outside. David Bowie will be joining the band on backing vocals. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy is DJ for the night. And Jesse from ‘Breaking Bad’ will probably be in the crowd – he’s been begging his Twitter followers for tickets.

Of course, none of this turns out to be true. But nobody cares. They’re just here to see Arcade Fire play songs from their brand new (Murphy-produced, Bowie-featuring) album, in the relative intimacy of The Roundhouse.

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Peter Gabriel: Hear that voice again

Peter Gabriel | The O2 Arena | 22 October 2013

Peter Gabriel has ditched the tricks. That giant inflatable Zorb ball, the suspending himself upside down from the stage, and that lumpy-blob-with-inflatable-genitals costume from the ’70s are long gone, but he’s lost none of the showmanship.

Take his ongoing Back to Front tour. Ostensibly celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album ‘So’, this is no straightforward nostalgia act. He’s gone to the effort of rounding up the same musicians he took out on the road back in 1987. He’s recreated the era’s moody staging, complete with the craned lights that glide ominously across the stage, interacting with the band members like giant mechanical stagehands. And he’s buried the evening’s centrepiece, the collection of nine songs that gave us ‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’, in a set that’s not exactly big on hits.

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White Lies: this fear’s got a hold on me

White Lies | Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen | 24 July 2013

The last time White Lies played London, they sold out Wembley Arena. Now, just 18 months later, the trio are performing to 300 people in a bar. But this downsizing isn’t due to a Glasvegas-style career collapse – for the launch of their third album, the band have gone back to where it all began five years ago.

And, judging from the new songs showcased tonight, returning to the site of their first gig is more than just a PR stunt: after the over-polished sheen of 2010’s radio-baiting ‘Ritual’, ‘Big TV’ sounds like a concerted back to basics record.

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