Gabriel Moreno, Upstart Crow Festival

Gabriel Moreno, Upstart Crow Festival, London, September 30, 2018

It’s a mild, partially sunny Autumn day. I’m on my way home walking past Spitalfields – the old market which no longer feels like a market, just a bunch of food stalls, corporate pop-up shops and boutiques pretending to be ‘authentic’, selling overpriced items tagged as ‘vintage’ or ‘artisan’. You know the kind. I do stumble upon one authentic ‘item’ though – not inside the market but just outside in the square, where a stage has been erected to facilitate the several singer-songwriters who are playing throughout the day at this year’s Upstart Crow Festival – ‘London’s first and finest songwriters festival’.

I had no idea there was such a festival, even less so close to home, but I’m lucky enough to pass by as a trio of musicians – bass, violin and guitar/vocals – play an Americana-styled song of longing. I walk past, not intending to stop, but something makes me turn around and go back – I feel the song pull me back, and I watch the rest of the concert with this singer who I’m soon to find out is named Gabriel Moreno, a poet and songwriter, and his two band members.

The songs share DNA with Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and Johnny Cash, sung in Spanish. Moreno commands the stage and is equally good at telling anecdotes while singing his songs. Some bands are concerned with being detached and ‘cool’, but this is not one of those bands. This is warm and inclusive, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. The other people sitting and standing around seem to like it as much as I do; the children are running around and playing, those people sitting down and observing, those laughing loudly at the funny stories between the songs, and the couple who dance passionately, joined at the hip, to each other and the music.

One song, Love or Fire, is introduced as being about ‘when you meet someone and don’t know whether what you feel is something physical, or something a tiny bit deeper.’ It’s a catchy song about desire, with a strong dose of melancholy.

Before one song, Moreno tells the audience, ’We started together in the underground scene of London. No one wanted to listen, so we just played to each other.’ And that’s what this festival is about: A bunch of performers who get together to play ‘for each other’ and whoever may happen to pass by.

After the concert, there are still four or five performers left on the bill, but I’ve had my fill for the day. As I continue my delayed walk home, I think about how Spitalfields has changed over the years. It used to be a recreational ground – a hospital – for people from London who needed to get out of town and recover in more natural surroundings. That’s hard to imagine now that Spitalfields is part of the centre of London and there are hardly any trees, and indeed no fields insight these days. But the name stands firm: ‘Hospital Fields’, or Spitalfields.

Spitalfields may no longer be a place of rehabilitation. Still, when you stumble upon a music festival in the middle of an overpriced mall masquerading as a ‘market’, the beauty of the music can feel like a counter to the disease known as capitalism – and I guess that counts as recovery.

Gabriel Moreno setlist
Not available

Roskilde Festival, Day 3 (Nick Cave)

Roskilde Festival/Daytime campsite, Marlon Williams, Dead Cross, Nick Cave, Nighttime campsite, Day 3, July 6, 2018

This review is of Roskilde Festival 2018, based on the two days I attended – Day 1 and Day 3, emphasising the two main gigs I saw; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Eminem.

Friday afternoon, I arrive back at the festival site early in the afternoon. I want to watch Dead Cross with Mike Patton (Faith No More), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Justin Pearson and Michael Crain (both from Retox) at 3 pm. 

But first I watch a bit of English band, The Hunna, on the Pavilion stage, which I’d never heard of before but was a pleasant experience with catchy songs and a very chatty frontman. Everyone around me seemed to enjoy it, and so did I.

I can hear some country-esque music from the Avalon stage, so I head over there to find New Zealand singer-songwriter Marlon Williams. Williams channels a bit of Johnny Cash, a bit of Roy Orbison, and does it well. What a beautiful voice. I don’t know any of his songs, but I’ll make sure to get to know them better. This is what festivals are about; stumbling upon a singer or band you’ve never heard of and realising how much you dig them. For the limited time I’m at the festival this year, I’m glad I got one of those ’stumbling’ moments.

Dead Cross delivers a chaotic and confrontational noise, tumbling down from the stage and weirdly tempered by Patton’s impeccable vocals – screaming and shouting his lungs out but never straying too far from his trademark croon. Patton does his customary ‘squatting’-pose before the beginning of each song as if he’s getting in position to attack the song (or take a shit, frankly). His juvenile frat-boy humour (“Do you do anal?”) goes well with his Hawaiian-shirt-wearing-surf-punk-attire, but it’s also a bit ‘Doh’. Though it’s fun to see Mike Patton up close on stage, Dead Cross doesn’t excite me like Patton’s other bands, Faith No More and Mr Bungle do. Still, when Patton invites three audience members on stage for a dance competition, the silliness of it all is quite entertaining and endearing.

Then it’s time to meet up with my Mojito Bus-friends for more Mojitos and to sit down for a while. A few Mojitos later, we venture into the camp area in which none of us is staying. Still, it’s fun in a truly disgusting way to see the dry, dusty garbage-strewn camp areas – bottles and cartons and plastic containers and half-eaten food and pools of vomit and streams of piss. Every camp seems to blast its own choice of music, creating a kind of mash-up of noise, and the heat (and Mojitos) make everything seem a bit twisted and surreal. Are we extras in a Mad Max film all of a sudden?

I’m glad to leave the campsite behind and return to the festival site. This is how I attended the festival in my youth. But those days are gone. My tolerance of walking through piles of garbage and the stench of vomit has decreased significantly.

Back at the festival site, the Danish band, The Minds of 99, is playing on Orange Stage, and even though we don’t actually see them, we hear enough of them to know that we like what we hear.

Nick Cave ranks high on my list, and since I haven’t seen him play live before, I’m especially keen to claim my spot in one of the pits in front of the stage and wait one hour for Cave and his Bad Seeds to enter the stage. The waiting game for a concert to begin is never fun, so I’m going to skip right to the show.

Though I have a pretty decent view of the stage, I’m standing in the pit just behind the ‘front-pit’, separated by a ‘work-area’ where the Roskilde Festival crew watch the audience and hand out water. One orange-clad crew member keeps walking into my view, and though he’s only doing his job, he becomes a bit of irritation because I almost see more of him than I see of Nick Cave. Meanwhile, up on stage, Nick Cave is not wearing orange; he is dressed mainly in black.

Cave is such a charismatic stage presence, and even if he weren’t a great singer, it would be fun to watch him. Luckily, of course, he sings great too, and the band is LIT!

After the concert, I read that some reviewers thought the gig was disappointing. This is a surprise to me. I thought the gig was brilliant. But I can’t compare it to other gigs as I’ve never seen Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live before. And that’s another thing about concerts. One person might have a great experience because they stood in a good spot where the view and sound were just right, or they’re happy that the band played their favourite songs. Someone else might have an obstructed view of the stage or have already seen the band several times before and don’t think this time is one of the better ones.

Nick Cave truly is an enigmatic performer, and with his fabulous deep voice, backed by a group of magnificent musicians, this concert, for me, was the highlight of this year’s festival.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds setlist
1. Jesus Alone
2. Magneto
3. Do You Love Me?
4. From Her To Eternity
5. Loverman
6. Red Right Hand
7. Into My Arms
8. Girl in Amber
9. Tupelo
10. Jubilee Street
11. The Weeping Song
12. Stagger Lee
13. Push the Sky Away

Roskilde Festival, Day 1 (Eminem)

Roskilde Festival/Eminem, Day 1, July 4, 2018

This review is of Roskilde Festival 2018, based on the two days I attended – Day 1 and Day 3, emphasising the two main gigs I saw; Eminem and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Roskilde Festival is where I left it the last time I was here, six years ago. Unlike last time it’s not raining, and I feel that increased age has made me less willing to wander around as much as I once would have. That means checking out fewer bands and getting into fewer shenanigans, which suits me fine. These days I go for the safer option, which may not be the ideal way of going to a festival, but it works for me.

Arriving by train to the Red Entrance, the obligatory walk through some of the camp area is completed, and all I can think is, Thank God I’m not staying here for the night. We enter through the Main Entrance to the festival site and immediately test the toilet facilities. Verdict: Clean but smelly. As the guy in the booth next to mine exclaims: “It smells of old shit in here.” Safely out of the shit-pit, we stroll around, taking in that atmosphere you really can’t find anywhere else than at a festival this size.

We aim for the first gig of the day; Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, who play at the Gloria stage. As I recall it, the Gloria stage used to be in a tent, like the more prominent, nearby Arena stage. But now it’s a covered ‘venue’, I guess, to give it a more intimate small-club type feel. It works fine. It’s dark, unlike any of the other outdoor stages, and at the back of the venue, they’ve built a staircase where people can stand and watch the gig from an elevated viewpoint, which is handy for short people like me. Pigs x 7 is a punkish, metal band whose name is more fun than the music, so we leave after a few songs.

We get drinks and sit under a tree to look through the festival schedule for the day. As is customary for a festival, we are in mobile contact with a friend who catches up with us for a drink before he’s heading to another concert. On the other hand, we head for another drink – a watery version of Pina Colada. Not worth the 85 DKK, but this is a festival after all, so what can you do?

Then it’s time to move. We walk past the main Orange Stage as the opening act, Danish band Saveus, belt out their songs from somewhere up there. They sound fine but not enough to make us want to stop in our tracks, so we continue past the Mojito Bus (more about that later). We check out a bit of Slaves on the Pavilion stage. The tent is packed, and I can’t see much from the outside, but they sound great.

A message on Messenger pulls us back to the Mojito Bus, where a couple of friends are drinking what doesn’t exactly look like their first Mojito of the day.

From the Mojito Bus, we can hear the rest of Slaves’ set and then it’s off to check out a bit of Clutch at the Avalon stage, who isn’t my thing. Still, we do spot the long, anti-capitalist snake that’s making its way around the festival site, and there’s the first sighting of the cow-sodomising alien that has become a fixture at the festival over the last 20 years. Oh, the things you see and accept as acceptable within the confines of a rock festival.

We see people queuing up by the Orange Stage for the Eminem gig, which will begin in about five hours. We don’t join the queue, but later I catch myself thinking that those who did, without a doubt, had a better Eminem experience than I did, which leads us to the main concert of the day.

I don’t recall having been to a concert where I was so far away from the stage as I am tonight. The distance between the giver and receiver significantly affects the concert experience. It’s hard to feel part of the concert when you have trouble seeing what happens on the two screens on both sides of the stage. From where I stand, I can’t even be sure it actually is Eminem, AKA Marshall Mathers, but I have to assume it is. The sound is too low and strangely slippy for the first third of the concert. But once the sound is sorted out, at least the show sounds good from then on.

We get all the hits, from Stan to My Name IsSing For The Moment to Without Me, etc. I would have liked to have heard Mosh, but it doesn’t matter. I can listen to it at home instead. It does feel like a bit of a cop-out that several songs are cut shorter than the recorded versions. I wonder how many verses of songs didn’t make it into the set tonight. But I guess it’s a way of playing as many of the songs that people want to hear as possible. Eminem is quite chatty between songs, but there is a limit to how many times you want to listen to the performing artist shout, ‘What’s up Roskilde?’ But at least it’s better than not acknowledging the crowd at all.

As Eminem leaves the stage without performing Lose Yourself, we all know he’ll be back. Indeed, there he comes. He finishes up strong with his anthem about going for what you want to do in life, and to work hard at it, to make it happen. Indeed a sentiment everyone can relate to, and a perfect song to ensure that the concert ends on a high. 

The size of this concert is more extensive than I appreciate, yet I still leave with that feeling I always get when I’ve attended a show that was a little bit better than usual, not least of all thanks to the words of the final song:

‘Lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.’

Life-affirming lyrics don’t come better than this. Thank you, Mr Mathers.

Eminem setlist
1. Medicine Man (Dr. Dre cover)
2. Won’t Back Down
3. 3am
4. Square Dance
5. Kill You
6. White America
7. Rap God
8. Sing For the Moment
9. Like Toy Soldiers
10. Forever (Drake cover)
11. Just Don’t Give a Fuck
12. Framed
13. Criminal
14. The Way I Am
15. Walk on Water
16. Stan
17. Love the Way You Lie
18. Bezerk
19. ‘Till I Collapse
20. Cinderella Man
21. Fast Lane (Bad Meets Evil song)
22. River
23. The Monster
24. My Name Is
25. The Real Slim Shady
26. Without Me
27. Not Afraid
28. Lose Yourself