Author Archives: Jason Miller

TVD Live Shots: Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, and Obituary at the SSE Arena, 11/3

Has it really been 37 years? I remember discovering Slayer as a teenager based on the fact that they were the scariest band in the world and I was on a mission to piss off my parents. The satanic artwork that graced their album covers and t-shirts not only looked super cool, but was fascinating to a rebellious young kid looking for his place in the world.

Slayer’s music took you to another world at another time where excess was defined only by how extreme one could push contrary religious views and how heavy music could become.One could argue that Slayer has evolved into a brand, but one that was built around a relentless fan base and one that answered to no one. I spent a tremendous amount of time listening to Slayer in my youth and that time has undoubtedly influenced not only my taste in music but also who I am as an individual—rebellious, curious, questioning everything, and continuously pushing the envelope in everything I do.

So it’s bittersweet that I get to see Slayer live one last time. I’ve seen these guys numerous times over the years, and I guess that I took it for granted as I thought they would go the KISS route and tour for another decade, extracting every last ounce of value out of touring. But they decided to do something that few legacy artists do; bow out gracefully at the top of their game. That’s precisely what this show was about. How does a band wrap up a remarkable career spanning nearly four decades of chaos, ups, downs, tragedy, record label battles and mainstream media backlash? By going out with a bang, literally and figuratively.

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TVD Live Shots: Jeff Lynne’s ELO at the O2 Arena, 10/17

One of the most iconic songwriters of all time is about to turn 71 years old, but you would never guess that based on his touring schedule.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO took to the stage at the O2 Arena in front of a capacity crowd to play the first show of a four-night run at the legendary venue. It’s truly a show for the ages as fans both old and new turned up in droves to see the Birmingham native play the classics with his incredibly talented band. The cross-generational impact of ELO’s music is evident with the diversity of the crowd and even a bit surprising as I saw several millennial hipsters dressed up with fake wigs, beards, and sunglasses in honor of the signature look that has defined Lynne’s brand over the years.

Having seen Jeff Lynne’s ELO last year at Wembley, I was excited to see him in a more “intimate” venue. While the O2 holds a meager 20,000 vs. Wembley’s 90,000, it was a stadium show for an arena crowd, and it was magnificent. Opening the set with “Standing in the Rain” immediately began to warm up the eager audience before launching into “Evil Woman”—then it was game over as the crowd lept to their feet and sang along with every single word.

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TVD Live Shots: Suede at the Eventim Apollo, 10/13

I was gutted to find out that Suede and Glasvegas were playing on the same night in London last week. Not that one is the equivalent to the other—although it could be argued that they shared similar stories regarding their debut records—but as an expat living in the UK and the fact that both bands do not tour as extensively as I would prefer, I put them on the same pedestal personally. Thanks to the Brit-pop gods above, Suede announced a second show at the legendary Eventim Apollo which solved the dilemma. I know, I know, first world problems…

If you are a regular reader of my reviews, then you know that I have a special place in my rock ‘n’ roll heart for all things Britpop, especially the standouts from the mid-90s. Suede is one of them. They stood out from the pack with a sound that is all their own. Their fourth album Head Music was supposed to be the one that “broke” them in the States (beyond the hipsters, that is). But it didn’t—and it’s become a cliché, the story of a band that is huge in the UK, yet unable to penetrate the US. The hype almost always outweighs the substance, or in this case, the US just wasn’t prepared for something of this magnitude. Suede is a different kind of beast. This wasn’t Oasis, it wasn’t Blur, it was more Bowie/ T-Rex/ Smiths-esque.

Having never seen Suede before I had no idea what to expect. Holy shit these guys were on fire out of the gates. One would never guess that frontman Brett Anderson just turned 50. The energy, charisma, the passionate crawls, the taunting of the audience, the fucking jump shots—Jesus Christ this guy had more energy than most punk rock singers. You can’t watch Brett and not see a bit of Bryan Ferry, and that’s okay because like all the great musicians in the world, he takes inspiration and makes it his own.

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TVD Live Shots: Glasvegas at Heaven, 10/12

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since the release of one of the most critically acclaimed debut albums of all time. Glasvegas released their eponymous debut record in September of 2008 and I saw them live the following year as they toured the States. I was working for their record label, Sony Music, at the time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more significant buzz on a band from the UK Stateside since Franz Ferdinand or maybe Editors. The record was celebrated and praised by all the big media outlets in the UK, was nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize award, and topped virtually every best album year-end list. So was it overhyped? Absolutely fucking not.

Then again that could be said with 90% of the UK bands who find success in their home country but fail to get traction Stateside. I can tell you this, it’s not because the label didn’t push them, they did. Several folks at the record label were very passionate about this band and rightfully so. The problem I think was that radio (still a big factor for determining success at the time) had no idea what to do with them. I mean, what station would play a band that sounds like The Clash crossed with Elvis and produced by Phil Spector and the Ronettes? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Glasvegas is an important record because it made a statement in a sea of copycats looking for radio play. It was part throwback, part future-forward, and drenched in emotion. From the opening cut “Flowers and Football Tops” to the very end of “Ice Cream Van,” this record has something for everyone. Of course, the highlights were in the meaty center propped up with the brilliant “Geraldine” and “Daddy’s Gone,” but it felt like a single piece of work at a time when the album was under attack. I would even go as far to say that this was one of the last few true albums, or at least the last of the great debuts.

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TVD Live Shots: The Posies at De Helling, Utrecht, 10/11

This is the first time I’ve seen The Posies live, having been a huge fan now for nearly three decades and it was not what I expected—at all. It reminded me of the first time I saw self-help guru Tony Robbins speak live, where every other word out of his mouth was an F-bomb. I was shocked (not offended by any means) because I had always assumed he was pretty clean-cut and conservative. Not the case. The same thing happened in Utrecht last week. I went to see one of my favorite bands from the early ’90s live and was shocked at what I saw. I, of course, expected the incredible songs and the brilliant harmonies, but I didn’t expect it delivered in true punk rock fashion.

Holy shit these guys were on fire! I was expecting a laid-back singer/songwriter-styled power pop show. What I got instead was nothing short of beautiful, heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll chaos. It was a roller coaster ride that very quickly became one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, indeed top 5. There were crashing guitars, spot-on harmonies, double jumps, a drummer climbing on top of his kit, and most importantly the songs and the chemistry of two of the world’s most undercelebrated songwriting teams.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me take you back to 1993 when I first heard The Posies. It was a confusing year for music as grunge continued to dominate, hip-hop’s east coast vs. west coast feud was taking shape, and Whitney Houston was breaking records with the release of The Bodyguard soundtrack and a single that would redefine her career. But there was something else happening in the background; Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, better known as The Posies, would release a power pop masterpiece that would redefine the genre.

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TVD Live Shots:
Pale Waves at the
O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, 9/27

The Cure crossed with the Cocteau Twins with a touch of Blondie—that’s how I would describe one of the hottest bands in the UK at the moment, Pale Waves.

You can’t go anywhere in London without seeing posters plastering tube stations and busy street corners announcing the band’s debut record My Mind Makes Noise which was released last month and hit number 8 on the UK albums chart. Led by lead singer and guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie, Pale Waves are taking the UK by storm and priming themselves for the rest of world with their brand of incredibly catchy goth-synth-pop.

It’s fascinating to watch a group build a buzz the right way—by putting in the work. Having recorded and released a slew of widely acclaimed singles and gigging with successful peers The 1975, the buzz was building and undeniable. They would go on to win the coveted NME Under the Radar Award earlier this year and performed at the much-celebrated awards ceremony along with the likes of Alt-J and the mighty Liam Gallagher.

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TVD Live Shots: Spiritualized and YAK at the Eventim Apollo, 9/21

If I never see another live show in my life after watching Spiritualized last week in London, I think I’d be ok with that. This was one of the most incredible musical performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands. Start with one of the best songwriters on the planet, add a live orchestra alongside the band, top that off with a full choir, and you have the makings of a once in a lifetime gig.

Spiritualized is best known for the critically acclaimed 1997 release of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, which NME magazine named as their Album of the Year, besting Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Verve’s Urban Hymns. This not only put them on the map but instantly secured them as one of the most important artists of the 1990s with We Are Floating in Space acclaimed as one of the best albums by virtually all the major music press around the world.

The Eventim Apollo was the perfect setting for this sold out extravaganza which was led by the man behind Spiritualized, Jason Pierce, directing the two dozen-plus musicians across the legendary Apollo stage. One would not be wrong to compare the wall of sound to the sort of experience you’d get from seeing a Pink Floyd show during their peak. It was a perfect combination of brilliant songwriting alongside stellar musicianship, with the icing on the cake being the orchestra and the choir.

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TVD Live Shots: The Quireboys, H.E.A.T, Aaron Buchanan, and Those Damn Crows at
the O2 Forum, 9/14

The Quireboys made a triumphant return to the stage in London to a sold-out O2 Forum crowd. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of their landmark record Homewreckers and Heartbreakers, these veteran rock ‘n’ rollers proved that they are still very relevant and that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well on their watch.

This would be a special one-off performance of the Homewreckers album in its entirety. While it may be a cliche these days to go on tour and play a classic record from start to finish, the Quireboys are anything but. These guys have stuck to their guns and their original sound from the beginning—one of the few bands who have a three-decade-plus career who never have to claim that they are “going back to their roots,” as they’ve never left them.

Spike looks and sounds fantastic as does the rest of the band. The songs hold up incredibly well, and that’s because of their dedication to keeping their brand of rock ‘n’ roll fresh. Being from the States, I remember the first time I saw these guys on MTV. I must have played their debut album A Bit of What You Fancy a hundred thousand times. I missed Homewreckers as it wasn’t a hit in the US, but I’m glad I got to see this show and even picked up the 10th-anniversary edition of the record which the band signed for me. (They are all super cool by the way and signed CDs and took photos with fans for hours before the gig.)

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TVD Live Shots: LA Guns at the O2 Islington, 8/31

I’ve always loved LA Guns and thought that these guys conjured up their own unique sound during an embarrassing mess of look-alike hair bands from the late ’80s. These guys were a bit more rough around the edges and had a much more raw, sort of lo-fi sound to their debut record that helped it stand out from the slick production and ridiculous lyrics of their peers. That self-titled debut album is an absolutely fucking masterpiece.

While I’ve celebrated several of the other releases from these guys, this is the one that set the bar, the one that all others shall always be compared to. The band sort of lost their way as they would split into two dueling projects and there’s not enough time in the world to discuss that saga. The good thing is that founding members Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis finally did the right thing and came together again. Even better, they made a brilliant record. A return to form for a band that everyone knew had this in them—it would just take a decade or so of bad decisions to get to this point.

The record is called The Missing Piece, and I guess you could consider it a reunion recording, but more importantly it is the first album of new material featuring both singer Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns in 15 years. Oh, and it’s bloody brilliant. But don’t take my word for it. How about the 77 plus nearly five-star reviews on Amazon, or the critics across the blogosphere praising it left and right.

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TVD Live Shots: Fantastic Negrito
at Nell’s Jazz and
Blues, 8/10

I was supposed to be at the Iron Maiden show at the O2 on Friday night here in London. Instead, I decided to check out something from the other side of the spectrum entirely, and I’m so glad that I did. Nell’s Jazz & Blues was hosting a sold-out show by Oakland, California native Fantastic Negrito. No opening act, a capacity crowd, and a venue that was somewhere between a cocktail lounge and a full-blown rock ‘n’ roll venue. I had no idea what to expect, and it quickly became apparent that this was going to be something over the top.

A primarily self-taught musician with a colorful background of dealing and hustling on the streets of the East Bay, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz—aka Fantastic Negrito—is a unicorn upon the current musical landscape. Even the most prominent music labels in the world seem to be confused on what to do with his genre-fusing which he calls “Black Roots Music.” Is it funk, is it blues, is it rock, is it something completely different? That answer is yes to all of the above. The problem continues to be, how do you promote it?

As I squeezed my way up to the front of the stage trying to set myself up for a few good shots I mentioned to the two people next to me that I would only be up in front shooting the first few songs. They replied, “No problem, we’ll be dancing the whole time anyway.” Last time he played London was opening for the late great Chris Cornell at the famed Royal Albert Hall. Xavier asked the crowd how many had seen that show, and several people raised their hands with a loud cheer. What would come next was a full-blown blues and rock ‘n’ roll-fueled jam that at times felt like an underground sermon delivered by a master storyteller (and boy does this guy have some stories).

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TVD Live Shots: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
at the O2 Kentish Town Forum, 7/26

Is there a cooler fucking band on the planet than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? I think not.

These guys are the essence of rock ‘n’ roll, and eight albums into a steady and impressive near two-decade career they continue to make brilliant albums as if the digital single had never been invented. Although I’ve always been a fan of these guys, first seeing them at legendary Emo’s in Austin during the tour for their first record, I really fell in love with them on their third release. It’s one of the best records, start to finish, that I’ve ever heard—sixty minutes and twenty-six seconds of pure genius songwriting and production, entitled Baby 81.

Baby 81 was the last album for BRMC on a major label before going independent. “Berlin,” “Weapon of Choice,” “Took Out a Loan,” “Windows.” Holy shit, this record is brilliant. You can tell there’s a major label behind it because it’s too perfect. I would guess that there was a tremendous amount of pressure on these guys to deliver a breakthrough record with every critic in the world raving about them. But that’s a story for another time—on to the show at hand in London.

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TVD Live Shots: Ministry at the O2 Kentish Town Forum, 7/21

The last time I saw Ministry was in 1992 at the second Lollapalooza. They were touring in support of their genre-defining masterpiece Psalm69 while being groomed by their record label as the next big thing.

While Ministry were arguably at the top of their game regarding songwriting and live performances, what was happening behind the scenes would ultimately push the band to the brink of extinction. It’s the classic story of drugs and rock ‘n’ roll but retold in an extreme manner. Ministry founder and frontman Al Jourgensen not only invented the genre of industrial metal, but he also reinvented a mystique and intrigue around an entire rebranding of a band.

How does a group start off sounding like Depeche Mode/ New Order but later find their breakthrough moment pushing the boundaries within an entirely new genre? I think it’s all about timing. Furthermore, you give a musical genius a shit ton of money, an enormous amount of pressure, and some mind-altering substances, and you are likely to generate something no one has ever heard before.

The follow-up to Ministry’s breakthrough is one of the coolest stories of artist vs. major record label. The band was so pissed on drugs and trying to control the chaos of newfound success, that they basically delivered a huge middle finger to Sire/ Warner Brothers called Filth Pig; a noise infested sludgefest that would make the Melvins sound commercial. What could have become the band’s “Thriller” moment brought confusion and alienation to its fanbase. This was sort of the beginning of the end of the beginning of Ministry and begs the question, what would have become if the band did deliver a proper follow-up to their seminal masterpiece?

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TVD Live Shots: This Will Destroy You at the Electric Ballroom, 7/6

I’ve never been a big fan of solely instrumental songs or instrumental bands for that matter. Music without lyrics always made me think of movie soundtracks or classical music, two things I wasn’t into at all.

But there was a problem for me as a music lover. As a writer in my day job, I find it nearly impossible to write while listening to songs with lyrics. I needed to find something inspiring and not distracting. I needed to find a band that could create something that could be the soundtrack to my life, representing ups and downs, triumph and tragedy, anger and frustration, while tying it all together with the essence of cool and a touch of mystique. Enter San Marco, Texas band This Will Destroy You and their self-titled 2008 release.

Often compared to Explosions in the Sky, which was recommended by several of my friends over the years which still haven’t dove into yet, this quartet burst onto the scene in the early 2000s and quickly gained notoriety among the most prestigious critics. Their sound has been called “near perfect,” their overall tone referred to as, “it doesn’t get much better,” and one critic, in particular, claimed their debut to be “an astonishingly beautiful work that promises a bright future,” priming the record for many best-of lists that year.

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TVD Live Shots: Run DMC and Slick Rick at the Eventim Apollo, 7/5

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legends Run DMC made a triumphant return to London last week marking their first gig in the UK in three years. Taking the stage at the famed Eventim Apollo, MC Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Joseph “Run” Simmons, and Jason Mizell Jr. (who performs as DJ Jam Master J’Son, the son of the late DJ Jam Master Jay) brought the near-capacity crowd back to a time when hip hop was only just beginning to take over the world. I have never seen Run DMC live, and this would be my first time photographing a hip hop show—and it was one for the ages.

The importance of Run DMC cannot be understated. The list of firsts is second to none. They were the first rappers on MTV, the first rappers on Saturday Night Live, the first rappers on the cover of Rolling Stone, the first rappers to win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. They single-handedly, seamlessly fused two genres to start a revolution and to breathe new life into a rock ‘n’ roll band on a downward spiral. They would ultimately become one of the most influential acts in the history of hip hop culture, and one of the most famous hip hop acts of all time.

Opening the night was British born American rapper and legend in his own right Slick Rick, aka Rick the Ruler. Rick is known for his storytelling abilities and as a pioneer in adding narratives to hip hop. Although he never really broke through to mainstream success as a solo artist, his music has been sampled and interpolated over 600 times, in over 35 songs, by artists including many of the biggest names in hip hop. Rick took to the stage in his signature throne and wowed the crowd with a selection of old school classics that would not only warm up the crowd for the headliner, but set the stage and the mood for an epic headlining set.

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TVD Live Shots: The Adicts at the O2 Islington Academy, 6/28

One of the many things I love about living in London is the fact that I get to see so many of bands from the original punk movement play live in their native environment. The story of punk in London is littered with stories of the best of the best; the Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Ruts, The Slits, and of course The Adicts.

A staple of the early ’80s London punk scene and indie charts alike, The Adicts set themselves apart from the onslaught of punk bands by focusing not only on the songs but also on their image. The group wears all-white clothing with black boots and black bowler hats. Frontman Keith “Monkey” Warren sports equally comical and frightening joker makeup, flamboyant checkerboard and polka dot suits, flared trousers, along with the bowler hat and gloves. Their live show quickly became a spectacle of its own as the band complimented their visual style with the likes of novelty items such as streamers, confetti, playing cards, joker hats, toy instruments, and glitter.

I’ve never seen the band live, so when the chance came to catch them at the very cool O2 Islington Academy I jumped on it. The Adicts were recently signed to Nuclear Blast (kudos to NB for being such a fresh and forward thinking label, by the way) and released And it was So!, their tenth studio album, and it’s garnered a slew of positive reviews.

Not a lot of punk bands, or any groups for that matter, can have a 40 year plus career and still look to be in their prime. The Adicts somehow discovered the punk rock fountain of youth which is not only showcased in their recent videos to support the new record, but even live I thought to myself, how old are these guys? They looked fantastic on stage. Maybe it was a couple of drinks impairing my vision a bit, but these guys not only had the energy of their prime in the ’80s, but their Clockwork Orange style dress makes them appear ageless.

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