Gig Review: Faithless, N.I.A. Birmingham, Dec 10 2010

I’d forgotten how much I love live music.

On the train on the way in I was feeling a bit flat. I’d not had enough sleep  as usual, but I was sufficiently caffeined up: even enough to have a drink :-O I’d eaten a quick meal early, & had just managed to settle J before grabbing my stuff at the last minute. Rushing for the train, too cold outside, too hot inside. For once I was grateful that the train was a bit late. I was worried it would be a bit like The Charlatans at V98: just too tired to enjoy it.

However getting off at New Street, standing in the taxi queue, all the time with great Faithless tunes in my ears, I realised I was getting excited. ‘Proper’ excited! ‘Insomnia’ was playing just as my taxi pulled in, & climaxed just as I got in. You know, that bit.

For those who don’t know Faithless are a British band whose core members are vocalist Maxi Jazz, DJ & instrumentalist Sister Bliss & mixer / producer Rollo; vocalist  Jamie Catto being the other founding member. The album vocals complementing Maxi’s raps / chants are mostly provided by Pauline Taylor, but they also are notable for many vocal collaborations, including with Rollo’s sister Dido, Nina Simone, Boy George & Estelle, among others.  They are generally classified as a dance act – their best-known tracks being their huge House anthems – but their range is far greater, covering Trip-Hop, Chill-Out, Funk, Reggae,  & even Ballads.

Once I reached the NIA my first impressions were negative. My seat was much worse than I thought. Right at the top & a long way back. The stage looked distant & I felt removed, remote. The warm-up DJs were going for it & playing great tunes but it felt flat.

Then the opener, Example, came on. I’d only ever heard 1 track of his, & that very recently thru my twitter friend & fellow music-lover @onatrainagain.

Again, first impressions were negative. The bass seemed too boomy, clunky & was drowning out the vocals. I still felt detached.

However after the 2nd track the sound seemed to sort itself out & I then decided: I FUCKING LOVE EXAMPLE. One great track after another, high energy, great crowd interaction, great showmanship. I managed to record a couple of tracks & surprisingly, especially as I’d never done this before, the sound quality wasn’t bad: (format is .m4a, MPEG-4)

Example: Show Me Your Dirty Face

Example: new track You Can Take It Too Far

Note: Although live & vibrant, the sound quality of these & my other recordings is still pretty rough.  If you’re a fan, I thoroughly recommend buying the artists’ official releases. I will be! Faithless have already released a live album from this tour :)

A half-hour break, during which I wrote most the above. I’ve only editted it for typos & added the Faithless & audio bits; it was written ‘in the moment’ & I wanted to keep it that way. Which might explain some of the ‘flowery’ language.

Then: the Main Event:

Faithless 1, 11 minutes

(Sound is very choppy in all 3 of these Faithless audio clips, unfortunately; more so in some places than in others. This 1 is particularly bad.  The pick-up seemed to cut out on certain frequencies. I probably shouldn’t have put my mic in the laundry I guess… Despite that I would recommend having a listen: it does get better, particularly in the 3rd & last clip).

To start with my initial misgivings returned: feeling removed from the stage & the sound mix seeming unbalanced, also probably as I didn’t recognise the first few tracks. Having said that, after a couple of minutes the massive aircraft hangar that is the NIA felt like a tent: Faithless’ stage presence is Huge.

Then after 10  minutes or so: sayeth Maxi Jazz, the Grand Oral Disseminator, “This is my church, this is where I heal my hurts…”, kicking off Faithless’ great anthem ‘God is a DJ’. Everyone is on their feet, dancing, cheering, singing, going wild. Even us boring old farts sitting at the back were up & jigging.

Faithless 2, 30 minutes

(Sound is still very choppy, especially at the start, including for ‘God is a DJ’ at 2’20. It’s great for Harry at 6’40 & mostly good after that, including ‘Mass Destruction’ at 16′)

“Harry” – Collier I presume – provided most of the sung parts for this gig, particularly on the more laid-back numbers. He quite simply blew me away. He sang with tremendous power & passion, had a great range including an amazing falsetto, and yet still had a wonderfully sweet quality to his voice. A Star! For me, his vocals were 1 of the gig’s many highlights.

Another of which came soon after Harry’s first appearance: ‘Mass Destruction’, another of their great anthems. The light show & visual displays I thought complemented the music perfectly throughout the gig. Low-key when they should be, & full-on  in-your-face trippy for the big, high-energy climactic moments. At 1 point (during ‘Insomnia’) I can be heard muttering “I wish I’d brought my camera!”. Here it was particularly effective: this is a song with a strong political message – the Protest Song didn’t stop with Dylan, it just got a faster beat* – & accompanying this on the stage was a Rolling News / Stock Market style display showing statistics such as casualties from the Iraq invasion, worldwide deaths from disease & starvation, etc. It was done in such a way so as not to detract from the joy of the occasion, but enough to get the message across. Brilliant.

I felt teased several times when I thought they were going into their big number, ‘Insomnia’, being surprised each time as I had assumed it would be kept for the encore. What I should have known is that they always end their gigs with a particular song, &  – as I discovered  – with good reason.

However, just past the half-way mark (8 minutes into the next & last recording), they did. What can I say? It was fantastic, amazing, wonderful, transcendental. I can maybe be heard muttering, in a possibly less-than-sober state, something like “It’s moments like this that make life worth living!”. The light display went ballistic, as did the band, as did the crowd. Wonderful.

Faithless 3, 1 hour & 18 minutes

(Sound quality is again variable, & good from about 58 minutes to the end. Highlights include ‘Insomnia’ at  8′, ‘What About Love?’ at 19′,  followed by ‘Drifting Away’ at 28′, then ‘Everything Will be Alright Tomorrow’ & ‘Bombs’ at 31′. ‘I Want More’ is choppy, then ‘Salva Mea’ at 44′. Avoiding when I ‘did a Bjork’ & left the mic on while I went to the loo (sorry) at 55′, the rest from 58′ is mostly the terrific encore).

After this 1 great song flowed into the next great song & continued right until the end, where Maxi was overflowingly effusive in his thanks to us, the crowd, for coming to see them & for getting into it the way we did. He seemed genuinely moved: it’s hard not to love the guy.

From what I saw Maxi Jazz is as good a frontman as I’d ever expect to see. His vocals were flawless in pitch & timing; he was passionate, eloquent, spontaneous. And he has to remember a lot of words! He let the music flow & speak for itself, but his interactions with us when they came were heartfelt, & perfectly in step with the show.  The reason I had to take ‘a break’ (see audio note above) was because I was expecting an interval. It never came, & the band was onstage making music for almost 2 hours, non-stop.  Maxi was able to rest while Harry took over the lead vocals, but even so! He was on most of the time, & was Mr. Perpetual Motion: dancing &  jumping nearly the whole time. He goes beyond a mere great frontman, in my opinion: he’s 1 of the few frontmen of any generation who can legitimately be described as iconic. His trademark crucifix-like pose where he stands still with arms outstretched & head bowed – which he employed at key moments to stunning effect –  almost defines an entire genre of music, 1 which Faithless themselves have pioneered.

The rest of the band & backing musicians were also terrific – in particular Sister Bliss with her thundering keyboards, the guitarist & the drummer – they all played with tremendous passion, skill & vigour.

Live music just doesn’t get much better than this – my position & the venue notwithstanding. Some of the best music  I’ve ever heard, performed with great passion, great energy, great skill & by great people, terrific light show & visuals, & with 1 of the all-time great frontmen. If I have 1, personal, criticism, it’s that 2 at least of my favourite Faithless tracks are the slower ones: the Dido-written & -performed ‘Last This Day’, & the hypnotic chant of ‘Killer’s Lullaby’. They & others like them didn’t feature so much & I’d love to have heard them. However they were clearly going for a full-on high-energy adrenaline rush. They succeeded  – with knobs on – and I can’t complain about that!

And the last song of the encore? ‘We Come 1′, another of their great anthems. Maxi uses it to infuse & enthuse with his vision of unity & peace, where we all shout the ‘1’ together after his “We Come…”. A fantastic ending to a fantastic gig.

* And you can quote me on that ;)

One Trackback to “Gig Review: Faithless, N.I.A. Birmingham, Dec 10 2010”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: