Author Archives: Jason Miller

TVD Live Shots: Sleep Token at the Eventim Apollo, 1/22

Sleep Token is on a tear across the UK at the moment, selling out gigs left and right, playing their biggest headlining shows to date, and putting themselves on the map as the next big thing in metal—but is the hype real?

If you’ve been living under a proverbial heavy metal rock for the past year, it may seem that Sleep Token have seemingly come out of nowhere, but that’s not the case. They’ve been around since 2016 and have two critically acclaimed albums under their belt. You could say they’ve paid their dues and played the game exactly right, sticking to their guns, consistently releasing songs that one up the other, and patiently waiting for the moment when it all comes together. That moment is 2023.

Their music is often described as a blend of heavy metal and ethereal vocals, but that’s taking the easy way out. There’s much more to unpack here, starting with a vocalist who can hit some serious notes, taking his range in places that only a handful of other metal, or even pop, singers can go. Simply known as Vessel, his real identity is not publicly known. Of course, a ton of speculation and several Reddit threads go down this rabbit hole, which can be a fun read.

But the fact that he’s still “unknown” in this day and age may just be because the fans want and need that bit of mystery across a space where every single detail of everyday life is shared and amplified via social media. I would argue it also provides much more musical freedom in creativity and experimentation, as there is no face or excessive image for one to judge. (The band generally doesn’t do interviews or talk to the press.) That must be gratifying in itself.

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TVD Live Shots:
The Cure at Wembley Arena, 12/12

It’s my final show of the year, and it was an incredible one. Night two of three sold-out shows from post punk legends The Cure at the equally impressive Wembly Arena; it was epic. What was initially supposed to be a tour supporting the much anticipated new album became a celebration of the band’s entire catalogue. 

Songs Of a Lost World will be the band’s first batch of new songs since 2008’s 4:13 Dream, and from the three songs played live, it’s not only going to live up to the hype, but far surpass it. While I don’t think anyone expects the album to be released within the remainder of the year, who knows, maybe we’ll get an unexpected Christmas gift. I imagine is Robert ready to push the button at any given moment.

Until then, we’ll just have to replay the bootleg videos from YouTube and dive into the anticipation of the show coming back around next year. Long-serving members Simon Gallup, Roger O’Donnell, and Perry Bamonte, were joined by former Bowie guitarist extraordinaire Reeves Gabrels, and drummer Jason Cooper brought the wall of sound that is The Cure to life with exquisite attention to detail.

Robert Smith slowly walked the entire length of the stage, taking a moment to pause and gaze into the crowd of twelve thousand plus. He was certainly grateful, and it was a bit ceremonial before he got behind the mic and unleashed that signature voice. Opening with a new song is certainly bold, but Jesus, “Alone” was drenched in that brilliant, lush slow burn of a rhythm that reminds us all that these guys invented the genre.

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Needle Drop: Bo Burnham, INSIDE
Deluxe Vinyl Box Set

Does the world need a comedy record on vinyl? Let’s dive in and answer that one.

As a kid, I remember having the first two or three Steve Marin records and listening to them pretty much non-stop. Granted, that was in the late ’70s, and to be honest, I didn’t have much else to do as a kid. Fast forward several decades later, and I take pride in the vast collection of vinyl that I’ve amassed over the years. While I have more vinyl than any human needs (including my priceless ’80s hair metal), there are a few centerpieces in that collection, and I think I’ve just found another.

Recognized as one of the most acclaimed comedy albums of the past decade, Bo Burnham’s INSIDE is not only a cultural phenomenon, but he made history as “the first person to win three Emmy Awards individually in a single year.” INSIDE (The Songs) debuted at number 7 on the Billboard Top 200, held a spot in the Top 10 for six non-consecutive weeks, and remained the No.1 comedy album for 58 weeks and counting. Jesus.

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TVD Live Shots: Kula Shaker at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 12/8

I knew there was something special here the first time I heard Kula Shaker during the Brit-pop explosion in the mid-nineties. Their debut album, K, is not only one of the best-selling UK debut albums of all time, but it also pushed the genre into a new, unexpected direction that has yet to be matched.

Sure it had all the elements that made Brit-pop great; Stone Roses-type grooves and the attitude and snarl of Oasis, but frontman Crispian Mills added a spiritual element that elevated this sound to another level. It was rock, it was pop, it was psychedelic, but most of it, it was original—and really, really fucking good.

I never got to see Kula Shaker when I was living in the States, at least I don’t remember it, but they have always been a band that I go back to for those first two albums. I thought the follow-up, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts which came out in 1999, was a more interesting record even though it didn’t have a string of “hits.” However, I saw the band back in 2016 at the Kentish Town Forum and thought they were excellent, but what I saw at Shepherds Bush Empire was different; it was next level.

There is a fire burning in Crispian that wasn’t there six years ago. This guy was electric, almost possessed with the music, and he made the guitar an extension of his body. At times I thought that he was in a guitar battle with Jimi Hendrix, and he made it look easy, like he was born to do this.

Maybe it was the excitement and energy from the slew of new music exploding from the band over the past year, including a stellar return to roots album called The First Congregational Church of Eternal Love and Free Hugs, or the two most recent singles, including a straight-ahead cracking version of the Lennon classic “Gimme Some Truth.”

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TVD Live Shots: Placebo at the O2 Academy Brixton, 11/27

It’s fair to say that 2022 is a banner year for Placebo. Twenty-eight years into their career, you could argue that they have never sounded better in the studio and on stage.

Their eighth album, Never Let Me Go, was released earlier this year to critical acclaim, and a sold-out tour quickly followed. The core of Placebo, eclectic frontman Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal have evolved as a sonic force to be reckoned with, and I find it fascinating to watch the image of the band transform as well. While they’ve always been provocative with their look and lyrical content, the brand of Placebo—with its beautiful mix of dark shadows and gloriously beautiful bright colors—continues to build on the mystique, evoking that emotional response that is undeniably singular.

And that emotional response can be overwhelming, in a good way, during the live show. If you haven’t heard yet, the band has been very outspoken about using phones and mobile devices during their set. It’s pretty refreshing to see a gig without screens flailing in the air—it reminds me of when I first saw them back in the States on their first tour in the late ’90s. Yeah, I know it’s not fashionable to talk about the way things “used to be,” but previously it was a much better experience. Now, once more, you can get lost in the music without distraction, and they make this point while underscoring the message that’s plastered across the venue: “This exact moment will never happen again.”

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TVD Live Shots:
Jason Isbell and the
400 Unit at the Eventim Apollo, 11/17

Having lived in Texas for nearly ten years and working in the record business during that time, I saw a genre struck with an identity crisis. It was the early 2000s, and the “Nashville sound” started fusing into the newly revived Americana movement. A fresh wave of traditional county singer-songwriters blossomed across Texas.

Although its roots were inspired by Nashville, its heartbeat was strongest in Austin. The best singer-songwriters all seemed to be popping up quite quickly. Charlie Robinson, Bruce Robinson, Bob Schnieder, Pat Green, and several others were bringing a much-needed makeover to the bloated pop-style country being churned out and mass marketed. It was time for a reset, and all eyes were on Texas.

Meanwhile, just a few states away, an Athens-based “rock” band started making waves. The Drive-By Truckers were laying the foundation for a breakthrough in the scene, and the stage was set for the band’s defining moment when they signed with Austin-based New West records. It was also the first time that newish member Jason Isbell would significantly contribute to the songwriting. It was an exciting time when country music was being embraced by the hipsters of Austin.

With complete control of South by SouthWest and arguably the most prominent tastemakers at the time, they were waiting for the band that would bridge the two cities together. The Drive-By Truckers were on a tear and would answer that call. More importantly, in this story, you could see Isbell’s influence and songwriting chops come into play. He would continue to blossom, and it was inevitable that he would need to branch out and ultimately go solo.

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TVD Live Shots: The Hunna at the Electric Ballroom, 11/4

Hailing from Watford, Hertfordshire, alt-rock buzz band The Hunna made an explosive return to London last week to launch their much anticipated new self-titled album. The famed Electric Ballroom, one of my favorite venues in Camden, played host to a wall-to-wall, sold-out gig. I’ve never seen this many people jammed into the place. From the looks of the VIP section alone, it was the venue to be at Friday night, even with some stiff competition just up the road from Creeper at the Roundhouse.

But this was a different kind of show for The Hunna as they opted for a more intimate venue where they would play their new album. The band’s self-titled fourth LP was released just days before the gig. The fact that the crowd was singing along with every word says it all about the reception, and that they came out thrashing across the stage with one of the loudest shows I’ve heard all year sends yet another clear message—these guys are back with a vengeance.

The Hunna are embracing a new beginning that follows a whirlwind of touring and releases after their meteoric rise a few years back. It’s the classic band gets fucked over by a record label, questions their future, and ponders their next move situation. Still, in this case, the story has a happy ending so far. But it certainly wasn’t easy, and the band needed help and inspiration.

Making the rounds with mediocre reviews, the fans still embraced it and set the band up for what would be their pinnacle moment. Calling on the many friends they’ve made along the way, including Fall Out Boy, Blink 182, Twenty One Pilots, and super producer John Feldman, they took all that negative energy and blew it into a narrative that became 2020’s I’d Rather Die Than Let You.

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TVD Live Shots: The Damned at the Eventim Apollo, 10/28

It’s the concert that they said would never happen, but it finally did. After two years of pandemic-related postponements, the original lineup of The Damned kicked off the first show of their much anticipated UK mini-tour.

Seeing all four members walk onto the stage with smiles on their faces was something special, but hearing the explosion of sound that ignited as they kicked into high gear was a once in a musical lifetime moment. The last time the original lineup shared the stage together was back in 1991, and Scabies hasn’t performed with The Damned since the release of Not of This Earth in 1995. The rift between band members was very real and, at times, very public, but tonight hatchets were buried and the most important punk band from the UK showed us that they still have plenty of noise to make.

The importance of The Danmed cannot be understated. They were the first UK punk band to release a record and the first UK punk band to tour the US. Their single “New Rose” was recorded in just one day, and their eponymous debut Damned Damned Damned was recorded in only two. It’s raw, loud, and perfectly captures the chaos in the early days and the creative nuclear blast that set the band on a path of self-destruction. It’s a very different record from the one that slowed things down, upped the production, ultimately grabbed all the attention, and came in the form of the Pistols’ debut.

If you are a fan from back in the day or even a new fan who’s been reading all the stories about the booze, drugs, fighting, and controversies, it’s a miracle to be here now and witness this event. Not to mention that it’s all taking place at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo. Could there be a better venue? I think not.

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TVD Live Shots: Counting Crows at the Eventim Apollo, 10/20

1993, what a year for music. Back when albums still mattered, this was a pinnacle year with debuts from Tool, The Cranberries, Digable Planets, Radiohead, and The Verve. There were breakthrough sophomore efforts from Mazzy Star, Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, Nirvana, Afghan Whigs, and Smashing Pumpkins, just to name a few.

I was in college and working at a record store when another band showed up in our weekly promo box from the record labels. Before I could crack the seal on the CD, people came in left and right looking for “Mr. Jones.” I looked at my record store colleagues, and we all had the same look on our faces; here we go again. What a time to be alive.

It was a mad rush to keep the band’s debut August and Everything After in stock for the next few months. We hadn’t seen anything like this before this. Hootie and the Blowfish, Coldplay, and Dave Matthews would hit the following year, but this one was different. There wasn’t a particular demographic that wanted this song; it was fucking everybody. It was universally appealing, yet it had substance. It was undeniably a hat tip to Van Morrison and REM, but it wasn’t fake nor a copy. This was going to be the year of the Counting Crows, and there was nothing that would stop it.

I saw the band live on that tour. To be honest, I was there for openers Sam Phillips and Buffalo Tom more than the headliner. Still, I remember staying until the end and thinking Counting Crows were pretty solid. Sam Phillips was breathtaking. Both artists shared the exquisite production skills of legend T Bone Burnett, and one was married to him.

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TVD Live Shots:
Roxy Music 50th Anniversary Tour at
the O2 Arena, 10/14

Roxy Music wrapped the UK leg of their critically acclaimed 50th-anniversary tour, celebrating their first album at a sold-out O2 Arena in London on Friday night. It was the reunion that I never expected to see in my lifetime, and it was exquisite. The band that gave birth to the genre of art rock was also noted for keeping David Bowie inspired and “on his toes.” They laid the foundation for many subcultures to follow, including electronic, punk, disco, new wave, and of course, the new romantics. It was all on display, and it was done with style.

Led by the ultra-charismatic Bryan Ferry, this was the classic 1972 Roxy Music line-up featuring guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay, and drummer Paul Thompson. Noticeably absent was Brian Eno, but after the first few songs, I don’t think it made any difference. The band were locked and loaded, and it looked like they were having the time of their lives, feeding off not only the capacity crowd but one another.

The setlist opened with the first song from the classic debut album, “Re-Make, Re-Model,” and we were off to the races. Then it was straight into “Out of the Blue” from 1974’s Country Life, followed by an amended version of the 9-minute opus “The Bogus Man.” Then Ferry and company slowed the pace a bit with “Ladytron,” “While My Heart is Still Beating,” and “Oh Yeah,” which was my favorite song of the evening.

As they got closer to weaving in tracks from Avalon, the song selection began to get bolder—the art of art rock began to shine. There were several moments when I absolutely lost myself in the visuals and the drawn-out instrumental breaks. It was almost Pink Floyd-ish at times but nothing short of blissfully calm. It was a gorgeous soundscape with Phil Manzanera’s guitar tone slicing through the groundswell like a Ginsu knife through warm butter. It was interesting to see how these songs from so many different eras played so nicely together.

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TVD Live Shots:
Anvil at the O2 Islington Academy, 10/13

It was close to being the last live music show in London before the lockdown began in 2020. Anvil were touring in support of their 18th studio album, Legal at Last. “We put out the album, came here to England and went home. We had never had a chance to play anything from the album.” The pandemic forced the band to cancel the tour, and now they were in a race to get home before the world shut down. “We were the last band off the road. When we got to the airport, I got my ticket and handed them my passport, and they had just closed the borders of America,” recalled Lips. 

“You can’t take this flight as it goes through New York,” said the ticket agent. “So, how do we get home?” asked Lips. “You can’t,” said the agent. Eventually, after racing from airline to airline across several different terminals at Heathrow, flights were filling up, but they finally got a direct flight from London to Toronto. If that wasn’t chaotic enough, Lips tested positive for covid when he got back home to Toronto. Although he recovered, there seems to be a lingering effect.” I’ve got a bit of memory fog, I don’t know if it’s my age or covid, but I think it’s covid as I’ve never had that kind of issue before,” he recalls. But out of the darkness comes the light. Anvil always looks for the positive in any situation, and they try to push on and make the best of it. In this case, a new album was born; the pandemic-fueled Impact is Imminent.

“Our album titles are always alliterations; we have thousands compiled, literally,” says Lips. Impact is Imminent was chosen because of what was happening at the time and still is. “We were talking about the impact of the pandemic; the worst is yet to come. So we made an Anvil asteroid, but we didn’t want to show it hitting the Earth because maybe it would miss this time around. We realized they were printing money, and the cost of living was going to skyrocket. The impact is imminent, literally,” says Lips.

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Road Dogs: Tour Tales with The Sheepdogs

Hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, The Sheepdogs brought their authentic brand of ’70s-infused rock ‘n’ roll to the UK for an electrifying show at London’s famed Electric Ballroom. I’m a bit late to the party on this one, stumbling on the band on a recommendation from a fellow member of a Jellyfish Facebook group, but once I watched the video for “I Wanna Know You,” I was hooked. At first I thought this can’t be real—this is too fucking good. Then I met the band and saw the show, and I can say this is 100% real, it’s authentic, it’s home-cooked rock ‘n’ roll. 

Just before their show in London, I went backstage to chat with frontman Ewan Currie and bassist Ryan Gullen about their sound, creativity during the lockdown, and pop culture—and got a few fun stories along the way. 

Why this sound in particular? What drew the band to the ’70s? 

Ewan: When I was a teenager, I didn’t care about modern music the way I felt about Creedence, The Kinks, Zeppelin, or The Beatles. Then when I was 19 and going to bars, there weren’t any bands playing this kind of music. We were listening to the early Black Keys, the first Kings of Leon album, and we thought we could do this kind of stuff. We figured that we would all sing and do guitar harmonies hopefully. Eighteen years in, it’s not like we are chasing a trend; this is us. 

Ryan: We started out playing songs from bands that we liked, and then eventually we started writing our own songs. We always come from an honest place, even if it’s beneficial or not to us. We try to be genuine in the way we do things, and I think we attract a more dedicated fanbase because it’s so organic. 

How did the lockdown affect the band’s creativity? Did you find you were more or less creative? 

Ewan: I think it was a bit of both. We tour a lot it’s hard to be creative on the road. For me, I find that creativity is usually associated with quiet introspection, a chance to sit down and sort through thoughts and ideas instead of when you’re rushing around on tour. Being in a green room with a bunch of guys around you, along with frantic travel, it becomes the enemy of creativity. 

It was such a bummer of a time. I guess some people get motivated when they are depressed, but it didn’t feel like a very inspiring time. You have to live your life and be inspired by things to come up with ideas. Being stuck at home watching TV or whatever shit we were doing during lockdown just doesn’t really get my juices flowing. 

Ryan: What started to be like a fun long weekend turned into the uncertainty of when this would end. It was the first time we had taken a long period of time off with the band, it was kind of fun, but then as time went on, we didn’t really know if we are going to be able to make a record. It became a bit of a bummer, but when we finally did back together to play music again, it was amazing and it actually helped us creatively as we were all a bit refreshed and excited to be back together. 

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TVD Live Shots: Behemoth, Arch Enemy, Carcass, and Unto Others at Brixton Academy, 10/2

Is it finally time to stop calling Behemoth underground? They are clearly on a trajectory for breaking through to mass appeal, and while I would hesitate to say mainstream, there’s something happening here that cannot be ignored.

Few bands can maintain this level of heaviness and continue to grow at this rate while keeping their street cred. Lamb of God did it when they signed to a major label more than a decade ago, something I don’t think anyone saw coming, but Epic records took a risk and hit a fucking home run. They’ve also had a longer run on Epic than 90% of other bands who took the plunge. Soon after, all the other major labels started looking for their extreme metal band with mass appeal, but they quickly found out this wasn’t a cookie-cutter exercise. Now that the hype has died down, Behemoth could be the last band standing, as they are primed for a major label to swoop in and take them to the next level.

Hats off to Nuclear Blast for doing what they do with pushing the band and keeping them at the forefront of a movement, but what happens next? Truth is, they’ve got everything they need; an insanely dedicated and rabid fanbase, critical acclaim (Kerrang gave the new album a perfect score), and literally nothing left to check off among the do-it-yourself, from-the-ground-up playbook. And does the band really care? I mean, hell, they just headlined Brixton Academy in London. Is there a better venue to aspire to? I think not.

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TVD Live Shots: Watain, Abbath, and Tribulation at the Troxy, 9/30

I’ve seen some metal shows in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as hardcore as Watain. These guys take the cake in terms of embracing the old-school death metal mentality as they bring together all the things we love about the often misunderstood genre.

Pyrotechnics, candles, Satanic rituals, animal carcasses, and yes, even real blood, which they’ve been known to hurl at audiences during their live shows, is a batteries-included approach to an epic metal show. Apparently, this show was moved from several different venues as I heard rumours that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the band to find a suitable venue as they tend to leave a mark where they play. I think that’s pretty fucking cool.

Enter London’s famed Troxy. The last place you would ever expect to see an extreme metal show. This place looks like it could have hosted a residency from the Rat Pack back in the ’60s. It’s massive, and it’s got carpet. So I guess the pig’s blood is out, then? Either way, it seemed to be a bit tamed down from the other shows I’ve heard about, and that’s okay. Watain “tamed” is still about 10-times more extreme than the mass of other so-called death metal bands. These guys still turned it up to eleven.

At one point during the show, eclectic frontman Erik Danielsson seemed to be conjuring up a spell of sorts with his back to the audience. Then out of nowhere, I get doused with a handful of ashes with some hard bits mixed in. My guess is crushed animal bones scattered across my camera and black t-shirt. I’ve shot Gwar a number of times and had a direct hit of space jizz from Vulvatron, so that didn’t really phase me (although it’s a bitch to get out of wool).

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TVD Live Shots: The Black Crowes at the O2 Brixton Academy, 9/26

The Black Crowes are on another level at the moment. They’re the best rock ‘n’ roll band on tour right now—my generation’s Led Zeppelin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band that makes it look so easy; it’s as if the only reason they are here on the planet to remind us what good old-school rock ‘n’ roll is and can be. (Yeah, I get it, that’s a heap of praise to throw at a band in the first paragraph of a gig review, but you had to see it to believe it.) People were in fucking awe. In the words of Liam Gallagher, “it was biblical.”

There’s something to be said about the company they keep as well. There was an all-star list of London rock ‘n’ rollers in attendance. Spike from the Quireboys and the man who invented heavy metal, Tony Iommi, were just a few that I saw on night one. The show had been postponed several times, but unlike many others, it didn’t affect the anticipation or turnout. Was it sold out? There was one seat open, and I grabbed it, so yeah, essentially, it was.

I watched two brothers with a very public turbulent past jamming together in perfect harmony. Hell, they even smiled at each other more than once. This is the power of music, the power of great fucking songs, the power of connection with the audience, personified and amplified. You could feel this show in your heart; it warmed you up.

I’ve always been a fan of the Crowes, but I lost touch after By Your Side. They started to drift into a sort of jam-band space that I wasn’t really into. But that doesn’t change the fact that their debut masterpiece, Shake Your Money Maker, is still one of my favourite records of all time.

I would argue that The Southern Harmony and Musician Companion is the superior record, only because it took everything I loved from the debut and turned it up to eleven, but hearing “Twice as Hard” as the opening song brought me back to the glory days of MTV and the first time I heard this band. Fucking hell, I forgot how brilliant that song is as an opener. I was transported automatically back to 1992 when Riki Rachtman first said, “I’ve got a new band for you that I think you are going to like,” and the rest is history.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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