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Tsunami Benefit Gig, Bristol Academy

19 February 2005 3,311 views No Comment

If I Ever get Lucky, Darkness Darkness, All The King’s Horses, The Enchanter, Babe I’m Gonna leave You, Heartbreaker


This from Simon Dunphy
What a very, very strange gig. We turn up at 8pm (sharp!), thinking that it would all be over by eleven (it actually finished at 12:45), queue for half an hour brandishing the hottest tickets in town and entered an almost empty Academy. It really doesn’t seem like 2 years since we last saw The Man in this cramped venue (and quite a few other places across this city). By 10 o’clock, and lots of musical “filler” later, the place is jam-packed with the most mixed audience ever. From pissed-up Glaswegians, who’ve just “Easy-Jetted” down for the day to see Portishead’s first gig in ages (very difficult to shake off), to die hard Zepophiles. It is a truly strange atmosphere. However, the conversations heard as you return to the bar followed a very similar theme. Mainly in the form of guys in my age group (let’s say 35-45) trying to explain to the younger (and most predominant) members of the audience exactly who Robert Plant is and why he is so important. It is frankly, quite worrying. Now I don’t mind Massive Attack, I even went to see their big gig at Queens Square several years ago, but they’re hardly Premier League. But, it was for “charidee” so who care’s? (TBL/Webman comment: Oi! Massive Attack are one of my fave bands!!)
The man himself arrived on stage at about 10:30. Looking in pretty good shape for a 57 (?) year old (it has to be said), it was like he’d never been away. Kicking off with a suitable chilled and outstanding ‘If I Ever Get Lucky’, which was more like the ’66 To Timbuktu’ version that the album version. This version sits pretty comfortably alongside the headliner’s back catalogue, perhaps not such a bad choice considering the audience. And the inclusion of an unplanned trip over the mic lead and, frankly amazing, recovery during the centre section was truly professional. Yes Rob, we did notice!
Darkness Darkness was as good as ever, but maybe it’s time to move on. It seems to have been a live standard forever and I (for one) would rather hear ‘Big Log’, ’29 Palms’ or even ‘Fat Lip’ (let’s face it…they may be interesting but, Robert Plant really doesn’t need to do covers). The first new track, ‘All The Kings Horses’, was a trimmed down acoustic affair that passed me by completely. It was OK, perhaps it’ll grow on me. The next song “The Enchanter” was, by comparison, Plant at his very best. Along the lines of ‘If I Ever Get Lucky’ and the Afro Celts collaboration, full of eastern rhythms and world dance beats, complete with instrumentless, dancing Justin Adams. Just jaw dropping! Worth the price of admission on its own.
Then following two “adapted” Zep standards hit the spot for the part of the audience that were waiting for them. Although you do get the impression that Robert really doesn’t want to bother with them and it’s just professionalism ‘thing’ for him. I for one would be more that happy if he didn’t (I have to say that I’m in the ‘No Zep reunion’ camp). As far as I am concerned, his diversity has always been his greatest strength. He certainly would not be as revered if he had just done ‘Heartbreaker’ with different lyrics for the last 35 years. Yes! It would have been great if tonight’s “special guest” had been Jimmy Page and not Damon Albarn, but this is 2005. In my opinion, Plant is still relevant enough to sit comfortably alongside such contemporary acts, Page (quite simply) is not. In summary, The Man is back on form, I can’t wait for the new album and judging by the gyrating 19 year-old “chicks” in front of me he certainly made a few converts in Bristol on Saturday night.

This from Steven Connor
Here’re a few words on the Saturday night Tsunami Relief gig. There was an impressive line-up for Bristol’s fund raising concert in
aid of the victims of the Indian Ocean earthquake. A number of musicians involved had a long night as they played in more than one of the bands appearing. Billy Fuller, the bass player in Robert Plant’s band Strange Sensation put in an appearance early in the evening, playing with Fuzz Against Junk.
Following a short set by The Coral, Strange Sensation themselves began to appear on stage amid some loud cheering. Robert Plant joined them in time for the opening strains of If I Ever Get Lucky. Towering over his band mates, looking lean and trimmed, Plant took command of the stage effortlessly, igniting the crowd with a stunning run of Arabic quarter notes. The short version of Darkness, Darkness followed before Plant turned his attention to some brand new material. All the King’s Horses is a pretty, heartfelt ballad with a memorable melody. Next we were treated to The Enchanter, a great eastern-tinged slab of psychedelic rock with the kind of trip hop touches Johnny Baggot and Clive Deamer are so well known for in their other band Portishead.
Although all of this was very well received it’s fair to say many in the crowd were restless for some Led Zeppelin. This came in the form of BIGLY, which provoked a rapturous response. Afterwards, Plant said a few words emphasising the kind of work which the concert was raising funds for and encouraging us to use the web to keep an eye on it. Then he was gone.
There were a few loud cries for more and suddenly he was back for an unusual, twangy, fun-filled version of Heartbreaker. Then it really was over…
…except for the rest. For those of you who’re interested there was a short solo appearance from Blur’s Damon Albarn. Then Massive Attack performed a tight set notable for some ethereal singing from Liz Fraser. They ended with Dream On which segued seamlessly into Glory Box by Portishead. The fellow Bristol band’s headlining set was their first live show in seven years but there was no hint that their powers have diminished over time. Singer Beth Gibbons led a truly astonishing performance, sealing a great night.
This from the Bristol Evening Post – Thanks Stephen Humphries
The Crisis In Asia concert, which had a follow-up performance last night, raised money for disaster victims hit by the Boxing Day tsunami. As part of Oxfam’s Make Poverty History campaign, footage of the decimated countries were played in between acts and the venue was decorated with posters declaring some of the startling problems faced by the Third World.

The show itself turned out to be a four-hour epic which didn’t disappoint. Former Strangelove frontman Patrick Duff and his brother Alex kicked things off with a bright and breezy two-song set. Opening track Song To America included a little gentle universal philosophy from Duff while Married With Kids was cheekily dedicated to the “older sections of the audience”.

Six-piece act Fuzz Against Junk came as something of a shock when their raggle-taggle mob took to the stage. They’ve even got a flautist in a hat who veers dangerously into Ian Anderson Jethro Tull territory at times. The band battled gamely with their Woodstock-era hippie folk but made very little impression with a crowd who seemed just a bit puzzled by it all.

It’s the kind of material well suited to the acoustic tent on a sleepy Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury but oddly out of place when you consider the other acts in the line-up.By the time The Coral took to the stage, the crowd had had time to play a little game of ‘Six Degrees of Bristol Separation.’ All the big name acts were linked to each other in some way and some connections are more obvious than others.

The Coral have been in Bath recently working on their new album – surprisingly, it’s Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley who are producing the record.So it was a quick trip down the A4 for the lovable Scousers who kicked off their sprightly five-song set with Don’t Think You’re The First.Now that Lee Mavers and The La’s are no longer with us, their 60s-influenced pop stands out from the crowd and is a refreshing break from the current crop of 80s-obsessed guitar bands. They followed it with Pass It On – as perfect a piece of economical pop as anyone could muster.

The first mass singalong of the night came when they cranked up Dreaming Of You, giving frontman James Skelly a rare chance to really stretch himself vocally.Everyone may have been expecting an early Lennon and McCartney effort to round things off fully but instead The Coral opted to breeze through Buddy Holly’s Every Day, and pulled it off with ease.

We then entered bona fide Rock God territory with the arrival of Robert Plant. He may not have the waistline he had as the stadium straddling-frontman of Led Zeppelin but his stage presence was palpable for all to see. Lord Percy’s trademark vocals are stronger than ever too – he can eat a venue the size of the Academy for breakfast after all, but it was extraordinary to hear his dulcet tones reverberating around the rafters.

Win My Train Fare Home takes its lead from the Moroccan influences of late-era Led Zep while Darkness, Darkness (If I Ever Get Lucky) – both from his Dreamland album – is an epic acoustic ballad lifted once again by his outstanding voice.

Plant really wheeled out the big guns though with a stunning version of the Led Zep classic Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and ended with Heartbreaker – complete with one of the great rock riffs of all time.The band were clearly having a great time, something which was a common theme of all the acts. It was also at this point where the night really began to seem like something special.

There had been two rumours about the identity of the much-talked about ‘very special guest’ floating around the city for the last few weeks. The first was that it was to be Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. The second that it was fellow Britrock royalty Damon Albarn. And it’s the latter that turned out to be right. His first song saw him play along to the DVD he was watching on the train up from Taunton. The meandering acoustic strumalong doesn’t particularly go anywhere but you’ve got to admire Albarn for his devil-may-care attitude. But as soon as the opening chords to Tender drifted out into the crowd, their attention snapped back to him. What would you call it? Indie Gospel, I suppose, and it’s a perfectly chosen track for such an occasion.

The main attraction though was the unique pairing of Bristol’s two biggest bands for the first time.

With Portishead’s Adrian Utley on bass, Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall led the band through a stripped-down and reinterpreted version of Karmacoma from their Protection album, and guitarist Angelo Bruschini added some crunchy guitar chords over the top. It was a fine reworking and starkly different to its usual incarnation. Del Naja then gleefully introduced former Massive Attack collaborator and Cocteau Twins vocalist Liz Fraser. It was her first appearance with the band apparently for five years and she seemed visibly nervous as they launched into Black Milk.

Looking more like a librarian than a frontwoman, she certainly made for an unusual sight amid the rest of the musos. And she stayed on stage for an edge-of-the-seat version of Teardrop too.Massive Attack, in particular, altered their material for the show – and there was a real sense that the musicians were in unchartered territory.

Del Naja then returned for a thunderous run-through of Future Proof. His trademark whispering rap style may sound restrained on record but here he positively spat out his lines with venom. Then we got a goosebump-inducing moment the likes of which I can’t remember for some time. As Utley swapped his bass for lead guitar, the audience twigged that something a little different was in the air. The all-star band start up Eurochild with Del Naja but as he disappeared the song slowly morphed into Portishead’s Glory Box and the crowd erupted as Beth Gibbons took her place centre stage.

It was an emotional moment and proof that Portishead still hold a very special place in many people’s hearts despite their absence from the music scene for some seven or eight years.With such a long gap between records from the band, it almost seemed like nostalgia to see Gibbons hunched over her microphone. Geoff Barrow’s subtle scratching behind Wandering Star showcased his attention to detail, and Sour Times, complete with a Spaghetti Western guitar solo from Utley, was perfection. The spooky Mysterons rounded things off perfectly, although its trademark theremin sound was played instead on a keyboard. But it was still one of the band’s finest moments.

There was no new material though – we’ll have to wait until the summer for the hotly-anticipated third album for that. After all, the bands have been at pains to point out before the show that this is all about the cause. Not that Portishead would ever sensibly be accused of hyping up the new record on the back of this show, but the band made it abundantly clear by only playing songs from their debut Dummy. Now that the audience had got them within their grasp for the first time in ages, they were never going to let Portishead go without a fight. They returned for just one more – a dramatic version of Roads with Beth’s voice positively quivering with emotion.

It was a stunning end to a quite remarkable comeback, and particularly satisfying that it was the people of Bristol that got to see it first.

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