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.
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)
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:
(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.
(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.
(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 ;)