St John At Hackney Church, London
Playing to just 1,400 fans for their first British gig in 18 months, Coldplay would have been forgiven for sticking to tunes from new album A Head Full Of Dreams, with maybe a few obscurities and fan favourites.
Instead, from the moment multi-coloured lasers sprang out across the church, it was clear that Coldplay don’t really do intimate shows as such. In essence, this was their regular stadium lightshow dumped in a church and left to get on with it.
The same ethos applied to their setlist. While they opened with energetic new song Fun, the remainder of the 70-minute set saw half-a-dozen classics like Fix You, Clocks and Paradise mixing with the surprisingly house-influenced fresh tunes.
Although he was quieter than usual between songs, Chris Martin was once again the definition of “Dance like no-one is watching”, bouncing like an on-one youth worker even during the stately Magic.
Of the new songs, the rolling pianos and military beats of Hymn For The Weekend stood out, sounding like Technique-era New Order before main set closer Up And Up slowly grew into Coldplay’s own Champagne Supernova. It’s all too easy to imagine the song’s euphoria climaxing their next Glastonbury headline slot to a sea of flags.
Having finished their main hour for Radio 1’s mics, the band re-emerged to a barrage of party balloons to mark their manager Dave Holmes’ 50th birthday, Martin joking how Holmes has guided them through “all our good albums and the not-so-good one.”
There’s little doubt that, title apart, the playful A Head Full Of Dreams is one of the good ones. Despite the tiny crowd, Martin seemed genuinely grateful that Coldplay had somehow convinced 1,400 people to see them.
As the finale of White Christmas mashed with their own festive single Christmas Lights faded, it felt as if everyone present had just received their own birthday treat. Reliable Coldplay, sure, but with enough of a fresh impetus to make them actually exciting again.
Brixton O2 Academy, London
After watching the band career wildly out of control during Step On at Glastonbury some 15 years ago – a show that concluded with frontman Shaun Ryder leaving the stage after a bust up with Rowetta – you always get the sense that anything can happen at a Mondays gig.
Even on this 25th anniversary tour of Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches, with the average age of the band somewhere around a half century, nothing much has changed. Staying true to the album’s tracklist, so starting with Kinky Afro, it’s the beginning of a night where Ryder is drowned out by the crowd on every chorus he sings.
Working through the early part of the record, riotous renditions of God’s Cop and Loose Fit prove that, for all their chaos, Mondays’ back catalogue makes them as valid as The Stone Roses, Primal Scream et al. Bez hasn’t lost an ounce of energy as he bounds across the stage, working the already up for it crowd.
Before telling them “You talk so hip, man, you’re twisting my melon, man.” Ryder asks Rowetta: “Are we good?” Her reply “We’re very good” actually falls some way short of where the band find themselves after the years that so magnificently derailed them. The subsequent ten minutes of Step On prove that nobody has managed a dance-rock crossover in the decades since.
Some of the interludes between tracks can be a bit slapstick now that the band are flying a bit closer to planet Earth than they did at their peak, but that’s always been part of the band’s charm. There’s always been a similar juxtaposition with the music itself, which often rides a line between humour and high quality.
Much like Madchester peer Ian Brown, Ryder’s vocal range has never been the most enviable, but after a slow end to the album with Harmony, they start the encore with Hallelujah. It confirms that, although they might have lost the anarchy, what’s left is a genuinely solid back catalogue of music that the band aren’t always given the credit for they deserve.
As guitarist Mark Day continues to play long after the rest of the band have exited at the close of Wrote For Luck – eventually pulled off the stage by the inexhaustible Bez – it seems that any personal troubles that stopped the band wanting to play together are behind them. Mondays’ fans have learned never be too confident in anything, but so far it all bodes well for the new music on the horizon next year.
Thee Oh Sees
Total Refreshment Centre, London
Two shows in as many days in the capital for Thee Oh Sees proves the hunger remains to see the best-loved sons and daughters of San Francisco’s rich garage rock scene. The band headlined the far larger Forum the previous night, but here they’re playing for ATP at the Total Refreshment Centre in Stoke Newington.
Around 200 people are packed into the tiny space to see the omnipresent leader John Dwyer play with his “new” live line-up, who have actually been playing together for long over a year now. After a teasing ten minutes of trying to get the sound right, Dwyer asks “Shall we just start?”
Working through tracks from this year’s Mutilator Defeated at Last and 2014’s Drop, the band, as a two-drummer four-piece, brings slight Krautrock undertones into the mix as they get locked into a groove, all before Dwyer’s trademark guitar solos go wandering. Eighteen years in, spitting, licking and bouncing with even more energy than the crowd’s frenzy that’s broken out in front of him, Dwyer is still clearly having as much fun as he was in his twenties.
Despite the band’s seemingly inexhaustible stream of releases over the years, it’s still tracks from 2009 full-length Carrion Crawler/The Dream that get the biggest response. The Dream sends the already baying crowd into rapture and as Contraption/Soul Desert echoes out, the low ceiling keeps the sound packed in.
It’s a shame that, as marked by the constant gestures to the sound desk at the back of the room, it’s never quite right tonight. As something of an elder statesman of the San Francisco garage scene, Dwyer doesn’t let it derail proceedings. But it takes the gloss off a show from a band known for riotous on stage antics that you would expect to warrant a 10/10 in a space this size.