Author Archives: Jason Miller

TVD Live Shots: Vive Le Rock Awards at the O2 Academy Islington, 3/27

I’ve been a massive fan of Vive Le Rock magazine since moving to London from San Francisco a few years back. It’s the one magazine that is keeping the spirit of punk and new wave alive and well in the UK, and they do it surprisingly well. So when a chance to attend the awards popped into my TVD inbox, I jumped at the chance and brought my camera along.

The bill for the evening was stacked, to say the least, plus they were teasing a special set from a 1977 band who would be reforming for one night only. Headlining the night would be The Stranglers, but before they would close out the night the stage would host a who’s who of punk rock and new wave icons from the glory days or the late ’70s and early ’80s both presenting and accepting awards while jamming away with the songs that defined the two decades.

Opening the night promptly at 7:30 was the house band appropriately named The Vive Le Rockers. While I’m not sure who the lead dude was, he threw down like a proper rock star and pretty much owned the stage while donning a full-on mariachi suit complete with oversized sombrero. The Professionals’ Tom Spencer joined in on the first set which included the songs “Pipeline,” “Green Door,” and “Know Your Product.”

Next, up Vive Le Rock editor, Eugene Butcher jumped on stage to welcome the crowd and to introduce one of my all-time favorite musicians, the legendary Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols. Glen got the crowd going, opening with “Sexy Beast” and “Keep on Pushing” from his brilliant new solo record, and then closing out with a rebel rousing version of the Pistols’ classic “Pretty Vacant.”

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TVD Live Shots: James at Royal Albert Hall, 3/9

The last time I saw James was at a radio festival in the States in the early ’90s. The band was riding high on the Brit-pop invasion and celebrating much-deserved success with their breakthrough single “Laid.” While I’ve always considered myself a casual fan, I had sort of lost track of the band before moving to London a few years ago. That all changed last week at Royal Albert Hall—I’m hooked—and I feel like I’ve discovered the genius of James once again in a proper setting.

If seeing a show at the beautiful and legendary space that is Royal Albert Hall isn’t enough, enter Tim Booth and company. James delivered a masterclass in what it means to be considered Brit-pop royalty and how to keep relevant for three decades plus. The band opened for themselves with a short acoustic set of stripped-down deep cuts and fan favorites. That’s quite a bold move, and the only other artist I’ve seen do this is the excellent Noel Gallagher (who admitted that he couldn’t find anyone worthy of the spot). After seeing the full-blown electric set that James delivered, I think they could easily say the same.

James are touring in support of their 15th studio album Living in Extraordinary Times. The Manchester natives blasted through a set celebrating pieces of their impressive catalog while pulling heavily from their latest. In fact, I think they nearly played the entire record, but I was in too much awe to be taking any notes—and trying to keep up with Tim Booth as the 59 years young frontman impressively sailed over the top of the crowd following several stage dives and making his way around the entire venue. This guy has more energy and personality than most punk bands half or even a quarter of his age.

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TVD Live Shots: 311 at the House of Blues, 2/25

ORLANDO, FL | One of my rare trips back to the States happened last week to Orlando for a Microsoft Advertising global offsite (my day job). I’m always on the lookout for a gig or two when I travel, and this would be no exception. It’s still hit or miss as to which bands are touring in sync with my travel schedule, but this time I lucked out. 311 was playing two sold-out nights at the House of Blues just a few minutes walk from the Microsoft summit. This would be checking two boxes for me: never having been to the House of Blues in Orlando, and I haven’t checked in with 311 in about 20 years.

Back in my college days at the University of Missouri St. Louis, I was working in a record store and someone sent a copy of 311’s debut album Music to the store as a promo. These guys immediately had credibility as they were on an up and coming independent record label named Capricorn Records which was being pushed pretty hard by their distribution company, the all mighty Warner Brothers. I remember 311’s first two records very well as they were gaining traction amongst the cool kids and critics alike, but ignored by radio at the time which can be a good thing for a little while.

Then, true to form, the major label was entirely out of sync with the artist and their fanbase as the band released their third self-titled record which pretty much just kept the converted happy. They failed to release the strongest song on the record as the single, and this would flatline the band for the rest of the year. Then in 1996 someone, somewhere took a chance and played “Down.” That would push record sales on this one alone to more than three million in the US while also driving the first two records to gold status pretty much overnight. 311 had become the hottest band in the US from a song that wasn’t even a single. But it didn’t matter as the band was just getting started.

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TVD Live Shots: Blue Oyster Cult and The Temperance Movement at the Eventim Apollo 2/22

Blue Oyster Cult returned to the UK for the first time in nearly a decade. This is a very interesting band for me as they wrote one of the most iconic anthems of the ’70s, had a string of brilliant albums, but never really seemed to break through like several of their kindred spirits.

Maybe it’s because BOC is a bit too diverse for their own good. They certainly have the musicianship and songwriting chops to stand out on their own, but their continuous jumping between radio-friendly classic rock pop songs and over the top psychedelic rock put them in the “where the hell do they really fit” category. It’s a nice problem to have for the band and their fans, but it can wreak havoc for any plan to achieve mainstream success and find a steady home at radio.

Either way, Blue Oyster Cult has certainly cemented their legacy, and the live show is where it all comes together regardless of the critics or manufactured radio playlists. Watching the show here in the UK at the legendary Eventim Apollo (the former Hammerstein Ballroom), it’s refreshing not hearing anyone shouting out, “I gotta have more cowbell,” or “I’ve got a fever….” as the band winds up to play “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Saturday Night Live isn’t a thing over here. In addition, classics such as “Burning for You,” “Godzilla,” and “E.T.I.,” comprise a setlist that would make any classic rock fan bust with nostalgia. The fact that the band sounded as good as they did that night is just one of the many reasons why BOC can still pull in a crowd.

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TVD Live Shots:
The Dead South and
The Hooten Hallers at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, 2/15

Canadian bluegrass punk rebels The Dead South have arrived and their moment is now. Having sold out their biggest UK tour to date, this quartet is primed to take the reins from the terribly overrated Mumford & Sons with a return to the style of the original rowdy acoustic punks, The Avett Brothers. It’s traditional, it’s edgy, the lyrics tell a great story, and you can’t help but stomp your foot and be pulled into the energy that these guys produce on stage.

Based in Regina, Saskatchewan, the band was formed in 2012 and has released two full-length albums and an EP to date. The songs “In Hell I’ll be in Good Company,” “Honey You,” “Boots,” and “Banjo Odessy” are instant classics for the genre and sound even better live than on the records.

Famed London venue the O2 Forum in Kentish Town was jam-packed with 2300 fans, the largest crowd to date for these guys, and it was a rip-roaring ride through the band’s short but celebrated catalog backed by one of the most impressive light shows I’ve seen at the venue. As these guys have just recently appeared on my radar, it became immediately apparent why the buzz and the hype around The Dead South is legit, and it will be interesting to see where the band goes next as they’ve clearly outgrown another London venue.

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TVD Live Shots: Behemoth at the
O2 Forum Kentish
Town, 2/8

Behemoth is a fascinating band on so many levels. For one, they’ve transcended labels. They started off embracing the qualities of Polish black metal more than a decade ago, to pushing the boundaries of what the genre can become with their latest critically acclaimed masterpiece. Secondly, you have one of the most identifiable, relatable, and inspirational frontmen in the business in Nergal.

He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. Maybe that’s because he’s living life on his terms and has no time for the bullshit opinions of others. This guy stared death the face, then took it out back and beat the shit out of it.

To those who only look at Behemoth’s dark and disturbing imagery, it would be easy to pass them off as caricatures. But if you dig in, it’s remarkable to see a band take both their visuals and themes to the heights that they achieve. They expertly weave dark religious themes with the heaviest of heavy metal. Throw in a bit of middle eastern flair and experimental noise, and you have the makings for one of the most unique bands over the past several years.

The show at the sold-out O2 Forum in north London was like the live unpacking of a nightmare. The crowd was going bonkers from beginning to end. There are no “hits” to be found, but the band rightfully pulled heavily from last year’s I Loved You at Your Darkest. It was as if hell had been recreated on stage and I sat patiently waiting for the oversized arm of Satan himself to burst through the smoke at any given moment and condemn us all. In other words, it was my favorite show of the year so far.

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TVD Live Shots:
The Dandy Warhols
and Swervedriver at
the O2 Brixton, 2/1

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a quarter of a century since the debut record from The Dandy Warhols. I missed this record the first time around and instead discovered them on their masterful major label debut The Dandy Warhols Come Down. This is one of my favorite records of all time and one that easily stands the test of time. Often referred to as “the best Brit rock band from the States,” on tour the Dandys are not jumping on the current bandwagon and playing their classic album in its entirety along with a greatest hits encore. Instead, they do a proper celebration by dropping their 10th studio album, appropriately titled Why You So Crazy.

“The weirdest thing about it being ‎our 25th anniversary is it doesn’t feel like 25 years. Feels like about six. Or five,” muses frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor. I couldn’t agree more—how in the fuck did this happen? Am I really that old? Now that I think about it, I’ve seen the Dandys eight or nine times over the years, and I do celebrate their entire catalog.

While the Dandys have certainly done things on their terms after leaving the world of major labels, they’ve gone in some bizarre directions and never really went back to capture their roots on any later material. Well, that all changes with Why You So Crazy. Yeah, of course, it’s a fucking weird record, but they’ve managed to take a bit of influence from the other nine records and sprinkled that magic across the 12 songs on this gem—songs like “Forever,” “Terraform,” and “Motor City Steel” pulling a bit more from the trio of greatness that is Dandy’s Come Down, 13 Tales, and Welcome to the Monkey House.

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TVD Live Shots: Skid Row at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, 1/26

1989, it was a good year. The internet was born, the Berlin wall came down, Seinfeld was introduced, and Skid Row delivered their eponymous debut record. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since I first heard the anthem that would become the soundtrack to my rebellious teenage years. These guys make a fucking brilliant debut that fell somewhere between the bad boy image and the edge of Guns ‘n’ Roses and the glam appeal of fellow Jersey natives Bon Jovi.

The album peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and was certified 5× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1995 for shipping five million copies in the United States alone. It generated four singles, “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life,” “I Remember You,” and “Piece of Me,” all of which were accompanied by music videos and received heavy rotation on MTV. The album’s commercial and critical success made Skid Row a regular feature in rock magazines and brought the group nationwide popularity.

While most “hair metal” bands of the time wouldn’t try to fuck with the formula for success and make Skid Row part two, these guys broke the mold and forged new ground altogether. Their sophomore release Slave to the Grind was a game changer and created shock waves across the industry as it became the first heavy metal record to debut at #1 on the Billboard top 100 chart. And boy was it fucking HEAVY. This all happened based on the buzz and without the significant radio airplay that broke the first album. One could argue that it was purely organic and a reaction to the caricature that hair metal had become.

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TVD Live Shots: Avatar at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 1/20

It would be way too easy to slap a “melodic death metal” label on Sweden’s Avatar, but we’d be cheating ourselves.

I mean, it’s not easy to create an entirely new world called “Avatar Country” where the king is referred to as “the savior of mankind” and performs from a golden throne as part of an elaborate stage production. The makeup, the theatrics, and over the top costumes could easily be written off as gimmicky, but I had to see this for myself. Is the band overhyped? Does the production overshadow the music? I’m happy to report that the answer is a resounding no, to both.

The reality is that these guys are tremendous musicians, but possess the even more important trait needed to pull off this over-the-top, twisted circus—fun—something these guys have in abundance. It reminds me of the glory days of MTV, or more specifically Headbangers Ball when videos meant something and the best ones told a story. These guys lean in on the visuals and storytelling, and it works brilliantly in their videos without becoming a caricatures. Musically Avatar is all over the place, it’s controlled chaos, and it’s really fucking weird at times. It’s truly a cornucopia of styles grounded in hard and fast technical metal.

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TVD Live Shots: Architects at Wembley Arena, 1/19

As a US-born metal fan living in the UK for the past three years, I thought I’ve seen the best of the best regarding both progressive and hardcore, then I heard Architects and that mindset was quickly thrown out the window.

Arguably the hottest metal band in the world at the moment, Architects have grown steadily over the past decade, but 2018 leading into 2019 was/ is the year where they are absolutely exploding and quickly soaring past their peers. I’m not quite sure how I missed them the first time around, but there is absolutely no way anyone can ignore the buzz and critical acclaim that is surging this band to the bleeding edge of all things metal with the release of their magnum opus Holy Hell.

But this is a triumph that almost didn’t happen as the band lost its lead guitarist and primary songwriter tragically on 20 August 2016. Founding guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle died at the age of 28, after living for three years with melanoma skin cancer. His condition was previously not made public, though he referenced it in the song “C.A.N.C.E.R.” Tom’s twin brother and bandmate, Dan, would take that pain and channel it into what would become Holy Hell.

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TVD Live Shots: Richard Ashcroft at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, 12/22

One thing that I’ve learned after living in the UK for nearly three years is that the rock stars here are much different from those in the rest of the world. They’re more opinionated, more resilient, more passionate about their fans, and they don’t take shit from anyone.

Case in point, Richard Ashcroft. This guy has had one hell of a ride over the past number of decades—from being in one of the most influential and successful UK bands, to being sued by the Rolling Stones in a landmark case that stemmed from a sampling matter. So what does one do almost three decades into a career? You make yet another bold statement through your music and release arguably your best solo album to date.

Natural Rebel is the fifth solo record from the former Verve frontman. It’s 1970s symphony-infused rock, combining the best elements from George Harrison, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty—and a warning to the next generation (along with a dose of humor). It’s a brilliant record from start to finish, and the more I listen to it the more I become interested in who Richard is as a person at the moment. The media loves to tear this guy down for one reason or another, and if you watch any of his recent interviews, he isn’t having it.

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TVD Live Shots: Adam Ant at the Roundhouse, 12/20

It’s one of my favorite stories from the early punk scene here in London. The year is 1979. Adam Ant approaches the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren and asks him to manage his band. McLaren steals the band, The Ants, away from him and introduces them to 14-year-old singer Annabella Lwin giving birth to Bow Wow Wow and ultimately a successful charting act. Malcolm would try to find a role for Adam in Bow Wow Wow, but it never worked out.

The legendary manager did provide Adam with some career changing advice however. According to Adam, Malcolm flat-out asked, “Look, what do you want?” Adam said, “I wanna sell millions of records,” to which McLaren replied, “Well, you’re going the wrong way about it. This [The Ant’s debut album Dirk Wears White Sox] is the kind of esoteric stuff you do when you’ve done eight albums, you’re living on a yacht, and you can do what you want.” That was a turning point which lead to 16 hit singles and sales of more than 15 million records in the 1980s.

Fast forward almost four decades and the importance of Adam Ant cannot be understated. Not only did he become a singular force pushing the limits of new wave, early punk, and crossover pop, he was a fashion icon as well with a specific interest in costumes from a bygone era which he donned proudly and still does. He ushered in the age of MTV and became their poster child—he was a visionary. Many artists are content with being one-dimensional but not Adam Ant. He forged new ground and paved the way for musicians to not only create something outlandish, but taught them how to package it for an unsuspecting audience.

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TVD Live Shots:
Def Leppard and Cheap Trick at the SSE Arena
at Wembley, 12/17

I was nine years old, and Def Leppard was the coolest band on the planet. The first record I ever bought with my own money was 1983’s classic rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut Pyromania. It was one of those rare albums where you could put it on from start to finish and never have to skip a song.

Back then you could expect a new record from your favorite band, like clockwork, every two years. But tragedy struck Def Leppard when, on New Year’s Eve 1984, drummer extraordinaire Rick Allen lost his arm in a horrific car accident. Many of the fans, including myself, thought the band might be done. There certainly wasn’t a new record coming anytime soon. That could have been the kiss of death for many groups, but the decade was in full glam metal phase so it would give them the extra time they needed to regroup and reload—which is precisely what they did.

Hysteria was released on August 3, 1987, almost four years after the monumental success of Pyromania. The lead single “Woman,” a favorite track of mine, seemed to bomb in the States and the band and their label were starting to question themselves. But it would only be a matter of time as they had seven hit singles in their back pocket and they were determined to make history. Hysteria hit No.1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the US chart for over three years, during which time Def Leppard became one of the biggest bands on the planet.

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TVD Live Shots:
Hank Von Hell at
The Garage, 12/15

Somehow I completely missed Turbonegro in their prime. It was only during a six-hour setting with a tattoo artist in London where I heard their music for the first time. I thought, what is this pure rock ‘n’ roll explosion with the insane lyrics and undeniably catchy riffs? It was like a punk rock band had sex with an ’80s hair metal band while listening to Iggy Pop. It had humor, huge hooks, and gigantic riffs, but most importantly, it didn’t take itself too seriously.

While sitting in the chair at the tattoo shop having my arm devastated with multiple needles and black ink, the only saving grace was the loud music. I pulled out my phone and Shazammed the songs, and there were several from Turbonegro, and I was hooked. I would quickly learn that these guys have been on and off for over the past decade, but their most prominent member Hank Von Hell departed from the band back in 2011. Would I ever get to see these guys perform live? Probably not, but as luck would have it while searching through upcoming gigs in London, I saw that the former frontman would be playing a show at The Garage in north London to celebrate the release of his new solo record.

I had to see this show and I was not disappointed. The new record is called Egomania and it’s quickly becoming a late addition to many of the year-end best-of lists, including mine. Hank Von Hell has gone back to the basics. A stripped down glam rock spectacle perfectly balancing the visuals and the songs. A cornucopia of the best of glam and punk from the ’70s glossed over with wit and sonic superiorness. The set focused heavily on the new record and of course, Van Hell didn’t disappoint by leaving out any Turbonegro classics.

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TVD Live Shots: Starsailor at the
O2 Shepherd’s Bush
Empire, 11/29

There are few albums in the world that are flawless from start to finish, and Silence is Easy is one of them.

Starsailor beat the sophomore slump and delivered a stunning album that should have made them one of the biggest bands on the planet. Instead they just never seemed to break out of the European market the way that their peers, and much less talented, Coldplay did. And that still doesn’t sit well with the fans. It resonated again and again with every conversation I had with the capacity crowd at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last week. Why are they not one of the biggest bands across the globe? No one seems to have an answer, and this night that didn’t matter—this night was all about the eleven songs that make up the juggernaut that is Silence is Easy. And did I mention that they had a string section with them?

As I was living in the States around the time of the album’s release, I never got to see them perform on that tour. I was fortunate enough to see them touring on the debut record, but this one is on a whole other level. “Fidelity,” “Some of Us,” “Telling Them,” “White Dove,” these are songs that represent the best songwriting of that decade.

Add to this the crazy story of Phil Spector sitting in the producer’s chair, the signature wall of sound interlaced and influencing the entire record. The album contains some of the last productions by Spector before his murder conviction and imprisonment in 2009 (“Silence Is Easy” and “White Dove”). While only the two cuts with Spector’s production are listed, I would imagine there are outtakes sitting around somewhere that would make for a fantastic deluxe edition. I tweeted this to the band along with a few other fans as well, and the question seems to have gone unnoticed.

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