Arrest that man.

Radiohead are maybe too bright, too cool, too thoughtful to do triumph. Certainly when I see them in Ippodromo delle Cascinee, Firenze that’s one of the thoughts I’m left with.

This not to say they were in any way a disappointment – quite the reverse. I’m psyching myself up here to make the argument that Radiohead (as Pil allegedly once did, with music) went right past triumph.

The venue, immediately west of the spectacular cultural honey-pot that is Duomo City/Uffizi City/Michelangelo’s David City was impressively good-natured, given the enormity of the gig. 55,000 (with all due respects) just for Radiohead. Some booze, some dope, some annoying pushers-towards-the-front but mainly an energy-flow entirely appropriate to the parkland, Arno-side setting.

Yes, the intelligentsia. And yes a mixed, international crowd. Mainly Italians – obviously – mainly disinterested in support James Blake.

I would have felt sorrier for JB but for the very personal feeling that he was dull: that if you’re ploughing the singery-songwritery soulful geezer with pleasantly diverting things to say furrow then you really better have some searingly beautiful or excitingly challenging things to say. Maybe especially if you actually sound a bit like you’re in love with the main act.

Folks around me passed the time in chatter, or by gently exercising limbs they knew would later be either active or aching or both; legs, feet.

James Blake was fine but I can’t imagine why anybody would want to see him/them live. Not outdoors, at a festival – not unless they wanted to sleep, or snooze, in the sun, before gathering for the pardee some time later. I repeat that I barely do mellowness and move on.

After one of those waits overflowing with incongruously malicious references to guitar roadies – surely for fuck’s sakes he’s tuned that seven times! – Radiohead. In Florence, in a balmy park.

Going to swerve the set-list (which I imagine will see them through Glasto and beyond?) because… why spoil things? Will, however, say that things open with two recent numbers, from the MoodMusicacious Moon-shaped Pool. The first challenge.

It’s low-key – or relatively – it’s quietly, authoritatively bold. They know and we know they could have Tuscany frothing if they’d opened with Creep! Radiohead choose their way differently.

It’s melodic and beautifully executed. Yorke is absurdly note-perfect, given the fact that the songs are simply bloody tough to sing – near impossible for us blokey mortals. Crucially (for me) there is nothing masturbatory-placatory or obvious about any of this. As the gig shimmers and gathers and places its prisms beneath our feet, we are not experiencing the soporific.

Instead we get a firework display. No – we get an expressive lightshow and a run of commanding, explosive anti-songs. We get proper Radiohead.

I expected this but somehow this is the principle expectation they exceed. They know that at any moment they can launch the event somewhere different, somewhere Rockier, more Triumphant. They eschew this option, magnificently.

Ok, we could argue that Radiohead don’t do hits; that their ‘anthems’ are hardly Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. This is true. But the running order of this gig – plus the reinvention of certain numbers, plus the commitment to the fiercely angular – marked out an extraordinary level of faith in what they do.

Radiohead do challenge. They annihilate the idea that music is ear-candy. They write intelligent noises but noises you’re gonna have to work at (listener). In Firenze they were soo-perlatively right on mission.

The players in the band – whom I’ve heard are so crazy into-it they’re almost completely barking – fabulously execute. The show is stunning, the racket intense, almost defiantly monotone at the mid-point, with spangly, ripped-up riffs and twiddles and demonic, headshaking vocals.

The crowd love it… but not in that normal, easy-ecstatic way. The response is muted, is subtler than yer average blowout. And then they (the band) stop.

There are (minor spoiler alert) two encores. Firstly a bunch of wonderful ‘songs’ then a break and then two or three(?) more.

Tonight there’s a stand-out, wonderful singalong moment but don’t expect too many fag-lighters (or iphones) illuminating the dumb adulation. There is no dumb adulation. There’s more a coming together as the band recognise that most of the audience get it, get off on that… and us punters give something back. Just not crazy whoops and fistpumps.

I love the guitar-playing in Radiohead. The way it bolts and flashes and twinkles but rarely simply grooves. Tonight this was (almost shockingly) only one of the stunning slabs building the noise.

Two drumkits, loopy, monumental bass and the dancetronic divertogizmos. All weaving and throbbing and denying the banal. Either winkling something out or blasting a hole or laying some magic, be-jewelled carpet.

Probably we have to acknowledge Yorke’s magnificent singing – though it doesn’t feel right to offer this absolute primacy.

Our Thom is looking slightly worryingly artsy – flamenco student? French poet? – what with that naff sub-pony barnet but… the boy comes through, bigtime. It can only be from him that the yearning and caring and hurt and political charge truly springs. And it does, powerfully, for hours.

Enough. Radiohead sound immaculate but they also have soul. We walk out through the park fired up and clear that a) music matters b) things can be rich and deep, and magical, without conciliating.

 

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Ageism is an NRG.

I’ve hardly been keeping count but John Lydon appears to have been in eight zillion and twenty-three radio studios this month. Publicising that most modern of phenomenon – the second autobiography. Given the erm difficulties re confronting the perennially inflammatory Gooner, has anybody dared ask him about Second Autobio Syndrome, I wonder? That might stoke the always-spookily-close-to-the-surface fury, eh? Having failed to opt for pod-cast mode during these fests-du-bonhomie, can I ask if the hosts wore shin-pads, as well as the obligatory ear-defenders?

The two Johns – Lydon and @Harumphrys – was surely a good match; have yet to check it. But the singer-songwriter’s (huh? Well… yeh!) also appeared with Simon Mayo and on Beeb Six… and now with Polly Toynbee for The Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/johnny-rotten-lydon-russell-brand-revolution-vote?CMP=twt_gu .

This extraordinary volume of coverage speaks to the BIGNESS of the Lydon/Rotten phenomenon as well (of course) the nature of publishing and appetites of The Biz/Media. It’s been a punky mohair  blanket-of-a-thing; were you hiding, cringing, tutting or chortling? I smiled at the deconstruction of our friend Russell Brand, I must admit.

‘Cos when Lydon spouts – and he does, right? – everything’s an opinion. Everything’s loaded with a challenge – even when it’s a plea for common decency. It’s remarkable. I could fully understand how many might think the (let’s be honest?) faintly ludicrously still-mohicanned one a total, total bore. I tend not to. I kinda forgive him, some of it. Just possibly not that barnet.

Look the essence of Rottenness is mischief. To say he plays up to that is both an insult and insultingly obvious. But it’s also inadequate because he’s a complex man and broadly significantly too bright (and too principled? Discuss!) to merely pedal anything. I think there’s an argument, even amidst this dubious schmoozling, that John Lydon has and does and continues to stand for something. Something inevitably compromised yes, but to do with old-fashioned rightness. Whether he does that gracefully or appallingly is debatable but Lydon has always railed against wrongs.

Inevitably we only hear him get interviewed and this is very different from being in his company, having penetrated the protective mesh. For one thing, there’s no relaxing. For anybody. Lydon responds almost uniformly stridently, rarely either confining himself to the question or answering it. He holds court, being occasionally genuinely funny but mostly actually just being prickly – being Johnnie Rotten. What we are left with is chiefly the sense of the absurdity of the game.

Which is why I go back to the music, not the construct. ‘Careering’ or ‘Poptones’ or ‘Rise’ rather than the blowtorch that is his ‘honesty’. I go back there because there was – is? – a real subversive majesty to some of that stuff. The Pil appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, where Lydon/Wobble/Levene simply disembowel seventies traditions for rawk moosic is in itself sufficient to cut Johnnie Johnnie a lifetime of slack. ‘Metal Box’ is in itself one of the greatest ever slabs of anything to be committed (and I mean committed) to vinyl. Lydon was the voice of and for this revolution, in which the Pil Army waded in against banality/capitalism(!)/drudgery and our addiction to sweet melody.

It’s raining across the border
The pride of history
The same as murder
Is this living?
We’ve been careering.

It’s only Johnnie who noticed – who protested – our dumb appeasement to careering like this. He (only) railed against it, with a poet’s vision and a lion’s heart… and that unholy delivery. OK – maybe only him and (more surreally) Mark E Smith. Late seventies early eighties it was perfectly acceptable to love Cure and JD and Bunnymen and Talking Heads and Television but only he – only Pistols and then particularly Pil – challenged the fraud that is Our Working Lives. He exposed the murderous anti-love at its core; he rose against its cruel unjustness, most magnificently in ‘Metal Box’. It’s there in ‘Poptones’, where we – our souls, us the suckers, the minions, the mindlessly seduced – are being murdered in a forest to the soundtrack of vapid music.

Drive to the forest in a Japanese car
The smell of rubber on country tar
Hindsight does me no good
Standing naked in this back of the woods
The cassette played… poptones.

These two songs, both featured in that OGWT (CAREERING IS HERE – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rtwiMFDWa0 ) might be the spiritual and political source for everything brilliant from Occupy to Uncut. Or they might just be the greatest (radical?) noises ever recorded by humans. Either way they simply utterly vindicate Lydon and they changed my life.

On every level they are… whatever the next strata up from ‘seminal’ is. They are fluid and mercurial and bewitching and yet caustic – razor-like. The lyrics are sensational in every way. Levene’s guitar is from another, more atmospheric planet. In the same way that Jackson Pollock produced creepily species-enlarging chunks of expressive art, Pil did too. That famous quote (James Blood Ulmer – ‘they went right past music’) applies. Plus – is it just me? – there is something undeniably beautiful about Lydon’s poise, his control of the (quiet?) whirlwind around him. It’s inviolably, unsurpassably magnificent music.

Not the case though, that this euphoric peak was flukily ascended in some transcendentally inspired recording session. ‘Rise’ is palpably also a truly great noise, as were Pretty Vacant and God Save the Queen from the Pistols days. Sure all that is mired in doubts over fashion/puppetry/simply playing The Complex but them were reet powerful toons too.

If a guitar sound can be said to unpeel the corners of the Establishment postcard then the raw, raking racket emerging from The Pistols stacks was it. A personal favourite for me – partly because of that signature mix of moralistic fire and spittliferous attack was I Did You No Wrong. For all that Rotten, Vicious et al were postcards (or cardboard cut-outs) themselves, unsettlingly magic product was the result of the MacClaren/Lydon/Kings Road adventure.

So for all the hot air, Lydon has produced. He is bona-fide. Whether this entitles him to be a bore is another matter. Whether it’s embarrassing or inspiring to see a worryingly inflated version onstage at Glasto is clearly dependent upon whether you remain either a fan or not. Personally, despite being conversant with the ageism is an nrg debate, I find it (how shall I say?) unnecessary to go see Pil now. I can still love the old bastard.

Few music icons retain their fire in the way that Lydon appears to have  done. But anyway, that back catalogue, those performances, they are enough.

Kate Bush – I hear him.

Focus could be the word.

I hear him / before I go to sleep / and focus on the day that’s been.

It’s a delicious opening. An invitation to travel as well as to what – indulge? Or just be thankful?

But who is your ‘him’? Who is that you love so deeply that they are where you go… with or without Kate in that perfectly expressed moment? Probably it’s a lover – no? Whether it’s a lament depends of course on which emotions-from-now you copy and paste upon it.

I think for me that first line – so personal, so all of us? – has always been about my dad, who died at 44. I hear a lament in that tenderness but I hope you don’t, I hope you just luxuriate in its richness. Unquestionably, there’s both that ‘great toon’ thing and some seductively universal draw going on there; undeniably too there’s elite level execution of the intention – of the song.

The Man with the Child in his Eyes is classic Bush in the sense that it pulses and soars beautifully, it’s whole, it transcends pop. It’s intelligent and powerfully received (as meaningful) even if the meaning ain’t always clear. In the opening lines there’s movement – often there is some shift – back into the now. But if I was a real student of Bush maybe I’d be working up a hypothesis around the theme of… yeh, focus.

Look at a slack handful of the videos and the extraordinary (and quite dating?) backlighting or faerie-fuzziness thing. In Man with the Child that dance/tease(?)/express through-the-veil combo is striking. Firstly the dance is erm, sitting down only and yet lithe and wavelike, birdlike, swelling with movement and comfort or the search for comfort. Second the lighting is either about the softness of the song or about Bush’s insecurity about body image, depending on how you read the Kate-as-essentially vulnerable line. Or (most likely) it is some accommodation of the two wildly conflicting notions.

How do we view this? Why is there stuff in the way?

We need to be clear (ha!) that Bush was (yes!) steeped in English middle-class-ness but leaping, arcing, dancing radically free through what she thought of (thinks of) as her art. Her performances and the performances for video and television were extraordinarily brave. That which was seen was not only central, inseparable from the song and expressive in a way that was utterly exposing (but) it was the only way in which this artist could or apparently would work.

Most of us hadn’t seen dance like that or been pre-schooled in any sense for the lit-conversant art-school hand-grenades that this doctor’s daughter was about to fling surreally round the gaff. In short she was unique – obviously so, defiantly so – from the first moment.

Announcing herself with Wuthering Heights was some move. God I’ve love to speak to Dave Gilmour (who allegedly kinda bankrolled her early doors) about the early Kate and how she got there, how she was. Did she reek of prodigy or genius or precious wee thing? How much power did she wield? Were those around her vipers or were they in awe? Who plumped for all those leotards, all that sexuality and what boundaries were discussed? Was it actually all awash with drastically necessary drug-use or was Kate cruising in a kind of searing creative pomp?

I hope it’s not unseemly that I’m fascinated by what on a kindof visceral level fuelled the dance. I’m perfectly willing to believe that she was simply a majestic talent. But later, in that unhinged Babooshka vid, for example, was she simply unaware? I know there’s always some character-acting going on (and three hundred-weight of i-rony) but I worry that there was some self-hatred in there too.

Maybe all these things are more my problem than hers. Maybe the desperation I fear simply isn’t there. Perhaps the fact that Kate was instantly precious was gathered in, presumed and anticipated even by her and that frisson around how far she might go, how out there, became essential to the whole project. Maybe I’m out of order bringing us anywhere near this idea that things point to a level of vulnerability – predictable, girlie vulnerability – that Bush had to fight a way through.

Again let’s be clear; I personally rate and revere Kate Bush for her fearlessness and her ambition. Back then she was profoundly original, gem-like in the banal matrix of duff ‘bands’ and duffer cheesy-pop fluff. She took a huge lungful of something wonderful, loaded up with Klimt-like sensual expressionism and hurled her soul out into the audience. Zillions of us got just enough of it to hold her aloft.

But this becomes too breathy. Let’s grab a hold of something else – politics.

Breathing / breathing my mother in / breathing…

Bush would accept, I reckon, that she is broadly un-political, placing herself in the broader-than-that category we might term Artist. However I imagine there are folks out there who adore her for the revelatory nature of her Woman-as-Artisthood.
Breathing may be a seminal work of feminism as well as another fabulously intriguing product. Go listen.

An end-of-the-world crypto-dirge meets some extravagant, challenging and in truth maybe only partly successful homage to… Mother(s). It’s a line in the sand, yet another exposure and also a triumph of plain weirdness. We may not know whether to wallow in its sexiness, join some protest group, get back to art school or possibly campaign to get every art school in the nation closed down. How are we supposed to view this when the questions are so e-nor-mous and the milieu so colourful and new?

The Gift is surely that it pays to experience this stuff. Of course some of it don’t work – this is the edge. It’s also personal and pure and recklessly giving. So no wonder.

There’s no safe way for me to spill out the feeling that in the 70’s/80’s Kate Bush was a beautiful, beautiful specimen of womanhood who did something liberatingly special. That dancing/those toons/those lyrics. Loaded with something fantastical and real.

Tonight, I wonder where is she now?

She was (I think) an art or dance-school philosopher – and yes there is a wee criticism in there – out there somewhere bold, somewhere only hers. I’ve heard folks lump her in with Bowie as some un-Englishly cracked actor and I can see why… but why compare? Kate Bush was incomparable. I hope her return to the stage does nothing to diminish that.

I can see today that she was, in the midst of the masturbatory blandness of the pre-punk or un-punk music scene, gorgeously unique, bewitching, luminous and credible. How will we view her tomorrow?