Saturday, June 18, 2016

Alice Cooper at The O2

The O2 Arena, London. Saturday 18-June-2016.

The Stone Free Festival was an opportunity to see the legendary Alice Cooper.

The first act Blackberry Smoke impressed. They are an American Southern rock/country rock band from Atlanta, Georgia.

Apocalytica were my first encounter with Cello Metal - who knew that was a thing? File under "Hmmm. Interesting".

The Darkness were OK-ish. Not Mary's thing so she went out for that set.

Finally the act I suspect was the real reason many were there - Alice Cooper. He kicked off with "No More Mr Nice Guy",  always one of my favourites.

The Evening Standard wrote: "Cooper’s tightly drilled, heroically daft pantomime was in fine fettle, despite the 68-year-old’s reduced mobility and absence of patter. As if it were 1972 (the whole point of Stone Free), there were explosions; the traditional live snake on Is it My Body; the guillotine ritual on the Killer/I Love the Dead medley which, not entirely unpredictably, ended with Cooper being resurrected by the love of a lascivious woman; a 20ft monster on Feed My Frankenstein and two fake Kennedys having a fake brawl during the closing Elected." Full review...

I think "heroically daft pantomime" describes it perfectly.

Louder Than War’s Sophie Sparham wrote: "The band’s encore consisted of a series of tributes to fallen rock stars such as Keith Moon, Hendrix, Lemmy and Bowie. It was great to see such a legend paying tribute to musicians that have passed and revved the crowd up for ‘Eighteen’ and ‘Schools Out’, which he sang accompanied by bubbles that came out from the side of the stage." Full review and pictures...

The tributes were great rock and roll songs and very touching all at the same time.

So that's another act ticked off the bucket list :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tom Jones at Hampton Court Palace

Thursday 16-June-2016.

An excellent concert as you might expect from Jones "the Voice". A few of the greatest hits and others lesser known numbers all delivered with expert musicianship. The crowd seemed to be mostly made up of the faithful followers. There were a couple of pairs of knickers thrown on the stage but I believe that is more of a tradition these days.

John Clark of 'The i' wrote: "... any fears that this was to be a sombre affair were blown away by a set based mainly around tracks from the recent trilogy of albums (Praise & Blame, Spirit In The Room and Long Lost Suitcase) in which he revisited his blues, gospel and country musical roots and influences. [...] The voice from the valleys was as powerful as ever and the whole evening had a contemporary feel rather than being a tired collection of past successes." Full review...

We had planned a picnic in the grounds but the heavens opened so we picniced on the dining room table then headed off. Tom came on just after 9pm and played for nearly two hours, they clearly have an immovable 11pm curfew. He sang the expected hits, Delilah, It's Not unusual, Green Green Grass, Sex Bomb and Kiss (my favourite), interspersed with other songs I didn't know but all excellent.

Top evening.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chicago 2016 - Statues

Chicago, Illinois, USA. 12/13-June-2016.

As well as the Blues Festival we also used our time to see some of Chicago's statues:
"Downtown Chicago is home to more than 100 sculptures, mosaics, and paintings placed in plazas, lobbies, and on the Riverwalk. The dedication of the huge sculpture by Pablo Picasso in 1967 confirmed that Chicago was a city for the arts. Since then, major works by Alexander Calder, Sir Anthony Caro, Sol LeWitt, Richard Hunt, and Ellen Lanyon, among others, have been added to this free open-air museum." The Chicago Public Art Guide
The tourist information office had relocated from the Chicago Cultural Centre to Macy's where the guy behind the desk printed us a list of major public art works. We used that to spend a couple of mornings wandering round downtown Chicago finding and ticking statues off our list, we managed a fair few.

In alphabetic order:

Alexander Calder - Flamingo

A spectacular piece of curves and sharp angles put me in mind of feathers and beaks.

Alexander Calder - Flying Dragon

Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate (1)

A major selfie opportunity for almost everyone there.

Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate (2)

Looking up and seeing the distorted reflections is really disorienting, it made me giddy.

David Smith - Cubi VII

Edward Kemeys - Lions

Frank Gehry - Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Hector Guimard - Paris Metro Entryway

Henry Moore - Large Interior Form

Jaume Plensa - The Crown Fountain (1)

This fountain is a fun piece with the changing back projections.

Jaume Plensa - The Crown Fountain (2)

The first time we saw it was a really hot day and all the children were having so much fun splashing around under the waterfall and in the pool.

Jean Dubuffet - Monument with Standing Beast (1)

I like the way you can walk into and through this one like an old castle or standing stones.

Jean Dubuffet - Monument with Standing Beast (2)

Jerald Jacquard - Space Junction of Energy

We only noticed this as we were leaving for the airport, directly across from our hotel by Belmont station.

Joan Miro - Miro's Chicago

Louise Nevelson - Dawn Shadows

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons (1)

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons (2)

Pablo Picasso - Untitled

This is credited as the piece that started the whole public statues thing in Chicago. It even gets a mention in The Blues Brothers:
Elwood: This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive! If my estimations are correct, we should be very close to the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza!
Jake: That's where they got that Picasso.
Elwood: Yep.
Richard Hunt - We Will

Richard Lippold - Radiant 1

Sol LeWitt - Lines in Four Directions

Took us a while to spot this one: not just a statue but the whole side of a building.

If we ever go back there are plenty more on the list we still have yet to see...

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Chicago Blues Festival 2016

Chicago, Illinois, USA. Tuesday 07/Wednesday 15-June-2016.

Mary had always wanted to go to Chicago for the Blues Festival so we scraped out the last of our airmiles and using our two-for-one Amex voucher booked two business class flights to the U.S. of A.

We arrived Tuesday 7th which gave us several days to recover from jet lag and also do the tourist thing. Checked in and went for a beer at Schuba's Tavern (no live music as it was lunchtime) and later a pizza at Giordano's (pizza). We stayed a little North of the centre but close to a railway station so we could get in and out easily.

Wednesday 8th was full on tourist stuff: Boat tour in the morning, city winery for lunch, bike ride in the afternoon, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville @ Navy Pier,  then Joe's Seafood - #4 out of 7869 restaurants in Chicago according to TripAdvisor.

The boat tour was an excellent architectural guide to the buildings along the waterfront by a very knowledgeable volunteer guide or "docent" as the American word is. Recommended.

Thursday 9th. Frank Lloyd Wright centre and walk - as the son of an architect it was great to see so many buildings by a man I had known about from a very early age. Then River Roast for lunch, Sheffield Bar for early evening beer from a very knowledgeable and friendly barman, Mia Francesca for supper, Kingston Mines for late night music and more beer.

Friday 10th. First day of the Blues Fest. In the morning we did the zoo. The food at the festival was very basic and expensive so we decided to stock up on lunch beforehand at Buddy Guys Legends blues club complete with live music.

Afternoon and evening at the Blues fest starting with Siobhan Fahey formerly of Shakespears Sister.

The brilliant Shemekia Copeland on the main stage. She was so good it prompted us to book for the Great British Rock and Blues Festival the following year where she was due to headline.

All followed by a late night beer at Blackwood's Bar close to the hotel.

Saturday 11th. The morning was a major, self-guided sculpture walk, see post Chicago 2016 statues. On the way to the festival I just had to stand at the start of Route 66.

Again lunch and live music at Buddy Guys.

I cannot be sure who all we saw so the complete line can be found here:

One of the side stages.

The main stage:

After the show we went back to the hotel for a nightcap at the nearby Cesar's Killer Margaritas on Clark.

Sunday 12th. The morning was visiting a number of locations for the Blues Brothers, sightseeing more statutes and lunch at the highly recommended Purple Pig. Despite no booking they were able to squeeze us in as we were prepared to sit by the door.
Elwood: This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive! If my estimations are correct, we should be very close to the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza!
Jake: That's where they got that Picasso.
Elwood: Yep.

More music.

Yet more music.

Main stage again.

The whole of the concert in the evening on the main stage was a tribute to Otis Rush. The man himself was there, now in a wheelchair, and was brought on stage to great applause.

The fabulous signer (that is "signer" not "singer"). I was a bit surprised at first to see signing for the deaf at a music concert but why not. There were two of them who took it in turn. The dark haired guy seated was pretty restrained, he stood there and signed the lyrics real time. The blonde guy was really into the music, man he was grooving along. I didn't know you could sign with an accent but he was definitely camping it up - brilliant!

Monday 13th. Flew XPR to LGA, transferred to JFK so we were close to our departure airport. That was a mistake in retrospect, we should have stayed in Manhattan. We managed to meet up with our friends Fred and Lynne for supper which was excellent.

Tuesday 14th. Went in to NYC for a long stroll around Central Park. Then JFK - LHR and home arriving the next morning. Knackered but well pleased with the trip.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Madeline Bell at Ronnie Scott's 2016

Saturday 04-June-2016.

Third time of seeing this irrepressible singer and just as much fun as the previous two occasions. Her shows always sell out fast so we nabbed our tickets as soon as they were announced. We persuaded our friends Tim and Sarah to come up to London for the weekend and join us for this.

She was joined by Tommy Blaize, the lead singer with the Strictly Come Dancing Band, for a couple of great duets.

She always has a good chat with the audience. As a reviewer on Trip Advisor remarked "I hope I have as much lust for life, energy and kindness when I reach my golden years." I'll second that.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Distillery Tour at Sipsmiths

Chiswick, London. Wednesday 01-June-2016.

Mary bought me a tour of the Sipsmith distillery for Christmas which came with a bottle of gin. The gin I could make a start on any time but this tour is so popular that they were booked months ahead and, what with trips to Italy, this was the earliest date we could make.

We were one of the first to arrive and the welcome drink was, of course, a gin and tonic. I was pleased to note the tonic was Fever-tree which I had switched to as soon as I discovered it a few years back, forsaking all other tonic waters. Our host opined that Schweppes is a perfectly respectable tonic water but for me it would be of necessity not choice.

The tour was actually a bit of a misnomer as the whole distillery is in one room, an old garage. Most of the "tour" was a fascinating history of gin including the Gin Craze period in the first half of the 18th century and subsequent legislation. Well done, Sipsmith!

It was Sipsmith's pioneering efforts with HMRC in getting the size restriction removed from stills in order to obtain a license that has opened the doors for many other craft distilleries to spring up.

It was not all talk. We tasted a number of their fine products including a Pimm's-like cup and a Sloe gin. They also produce small batch runs of experimental flavourings on a quarterly basis some which were a little outrĂ©.

A fascinating tour - highly recommended.