BPREVIEW: Maxïmo Park @ O2 Institute 05.05.17

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ed Taylor

On Friday 5th May, Maxïmo Park will be playing at the 02 Institute. Doors open from 7pm, with tickets priced at £20.50 + booking fee – as presented by SJM Concerts. Minimum age for entry is 14.

N.B. At the time of writing this gig has been ‘Sold Out’, so check with reputable ticket providers for spares and returns. For direct gig info, click here.

Maxïmo Park will be playing further UK dates in Newcastle (6th May), Aberdeen (8th May), Glasgow (9th May), Sheffield (10th May), London (12th May), Bexhill-on-Sea (13th May), Cambridge (15th May), Cardiff (16th May), Falmouth (17th May), Manchester (19th May), Margate (27th May). For direct tour details, including online ticket sales, click here.

Maxïmo Park will be back in Birmingham on Saturday 16th September – co-headling the main stage at the Beyond the Tracks festival on Eastside Park, Birmingham City Centre. For direct festival info, click here.

Schlepping up, down and around the UK, Maxïmo Park are on the headline trial with their new album, Risk to Exist – released on 24th April through Cooking Vinyl. To read the Birmingham Review of Risk to Exist, from Damien Russell, click here.

Named after a park dedicated to the Cuban Generalisimo Máximo Gómez – a key military figure in Cuba’s war of independence – Maxïmo Park have never been too far away from the murky world of socio-political-meets-pop-rock.

And whilst the-man-in-the-hat, Paul Smith (not that kind of hat, not that Paul Smith), was once quoted as saying ‘I think it’s people who change the world but music can influence people’Maxïmo Park have arguably used their sixteen years of creative endevours to do just that. Plus they’ve made their own beer. So, on the road during the UK’s local elections and campaign trails for the general… that’s going to be some green room to tidy.

But with a front man you’d rip your granny’s teeth out to get, Maxïmo Park also have a reputation for pretty electrifying stage shows, no matter what your political leanings. Expect strutting, jumping, the occasional strobe, and the band’s name (sometimes literally) up in lights somewhere. And with a new album to hock at the merch stand I wouldn’t expect too many pulled punches, even with two fingers extended in the face of totalitarian capitalism.

Birmingham Review last saw Maxïmo Park, again at the 02 Institute, in December 2015 – click here to read Helen Knott’s Birmingham Review of the gig.

‘Risk to Exist’ – Maxïmo Park

Risk to Exist by Maxïmo Park is out on general release from 21st April, via Cooking Vinyl. For more on Maxïmo Park, visit www.maximopark.com

For more on Maxïmo Park at the O2 Institute, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham/events/928783/maximo-park-tickets


For more from the O2 Institute, including full venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham

For more from SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours, visit www.gigsandtours.com

BREVIEW: Stewart Lee – Content Provider @ Symphony Hall 27.03.17

Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Idil Sukan

There aren’t too many comedians who would structure a stand-up show around a 19th Century painting. You can’t imagine Michael McIntrye or Russell Howard doing it. But then Stewart Lee isn’t like most comedians.

The painting in question is Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by the German Romantic artist Caspar Friedrich. It depicts the back of a mysterious figure looking out across a hazy landscape. Lee refers to it throughout his new show, Content Provider, and seeks to explore the role of the individual in a “digitised free market society”.

Wanting a show he can tour until mid 2017, the aim was to avoid the kind of current affairs-related material that quickly dates. Some things are impossible to ignore though, and each half starts with a short, almost identical routine: in the first half about the horrors of waking up after the Brexit vote, and in the second about the horrors of waking up after the election of Donald Trump. It’s a simple and effective method of drawing parallels between the issues that led to the two events.

And if I hadn’t spotted that Stewart Lee was using this device as a neat comedic method, it’s okay, because he’s more than happy to point it out; Lee is well known for explaining the mechanics behind his jokes, especially if part of the audience isn’t finding something funny enough. In truth, Lee probably explains his jokes too much in a disjointed first half and consequently things drag a little.

Still, he pulls out some great lines along the way. He professes to be annoyed to be appearing at Symphony Hall for two nights – there are too many people in the audience who don’t get it. He blames the venue’s efficient marketing campaign and his fans bringing their clueless friends for the odd flat reaction to a joke. Some seats are empty, but he assures us that they are sold. He’s popular enough for touts to snap up tickets, but not popular enough for people to buy them at inflated prices. This suits him: “That’s my dream, the whole room sold out and empty”.

Of course, we don’t believe him. As an audience member at a Stewart Lee gig you feel like you’re there as much for his entertainment as he is there for yours. Although it’s a heavily scripted show, Lee seems to test new things out every night to amuse himself. Does a longer pause, a different noun, a different inflection, make a joke funnier? This might seem unlikely, but anyone who has read his 2011 book How I Escaped My Certain Fate, in which he analyses three of his own sets using comprehensive footnotes, will understand just how considered every facet of his performance is.

And what a performance. The fictionalised version of himself he plays on stage is clever, smug, arrogant, hypocritical, patronising, pompous, vain, and as wonderfully rounded as any comedy character going. Indeed, as Stewart Lee ages the character just makes more and more sense; of course this cantankerous, middle-aged man hates the under 40s and doesn’t understand Games of Thrones. In one skit he tries to appear relevant by knowing who the “rap singer” FKA Twigs is, but as the story unfolds and becomes more and more preposterous it becomes clear he thinks she’s a man from Gloucestershire.

The second half is much tighter and well paced than the first, and is all the more enjoyable for it. Lee starts to warm on his theme – exploring the idea that the digital world has fragmented communities and turned human interactions into marketplace transactions. He looks back to a time when all of the information, music, products and thrills you could wish for weren’t just a click away. You actually had to work for them and because of this they meant more.

Stewart Lee is self-aware enough to know that he’s as much a part of the problem he’s examining as the audience. After all, he’s a content provider himself, both in his roles as a performer and a column writer for The Guardian. He criticises the selfie culture, but his onstage persona isn’t immune to vanities of his own, mentioning his critical acclaim a number of times. He talks about the lengths he goes to in order to commodify his own work into profitable DVDs.

But his stand-up shows are not easy to mindlessly consume. To get the most out of a Stewart Lee set you need to listen carefully and attentively. As he jokes, “I hope that you’ve done the reading”. You have to make your own links, apply your knowledge of current affairs; in short, you have to think.

And whilst there may not be huge shared cultural moments anymore, like when half of the UK population watched Morecambe and Wise on TV in the 1970s, we did all share something watching a live comedy gig together tonight. Lee’s final monologue is poetic, memorable and leaves you with much to mull over. I go away wanting to be a bit more like the man in Friedrich’s painting, looking out at the world, instead of down at my little section of it.


For more on Stewart Lee, visit www.stewartlee.co.uk

For more from the Town Hall and Symphony Hall, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.thsh.co.uk

BPREVIEW: Warpaint @ O2 Institute 22.03.17

BPREVIEW: Warpaint @ O2 Institute 22.03.17 / Rob Hadley – Birmingham Review

Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Rob Hadley

Warpaint almost split up before recording last year’s album, Heads Up. After 18 months on the road the LA group’s four members took some time to pursue solo endeavors, with bassist Jenny Lee Linberg releasing a solo album and Stella Mozgawa drumming for a number of artists, including Kurt Vile. They almost didn’t reunite.

Happily they did, and the resulting album transmits a rediscovered joy of playing music together. It feels freer and lighter than Warpaint’s previous releases, while still being meticulously crafted and beautifully produced. It stands up well to repeat listens.

Tonight’s gig at the O2 Institute is the first of a five-date UK tour, in the middle of a month-long European tour. Warpaint sidle onto the stage for an oddly low-key beginning to the show, with a ponderous instrumental introduction leading into the hypnotic ‘Keep it Healthy’, taken from their eponymous second album. It’s a gorgeous song showcasing the talents of Mozgawa, whose drumming is a focal point throughout the gig.

BPREVIEW: Warpaint @ O2 Institute 22.03.17 / Rob Hadley – Birmingham Review‘Heads Up’, the title track from their latest album, ups the pace; dancey guitar lines flutter in and out across a driving bass line. ‘Undertow’ (arguably still Warpaint’s best song, keeps up the momentum. The enchanting, eerie vocals are mantra-like, building to a satisfying guitar breakdown payoff.

Tonight’s set draws evenly from across the band’s three albums. By the middle of the gig this serves to highlight the fact that, throughout their career, Warpaint have written a lot of mid-tempo tracks. ‘No Way Out’, taken from a 2015 EP, meanders through seven quite dull minutes. ‘The Stall’, from the new album, is similarly uninspiring and ‘Stars’, a post-rock opus, may be carefully considered and executed, but ultimately fails to hold the attention.

Part of the problem is that the subtleties of Warpaint’s recorded work, particularly in the gorgeously produced new album, are lost in the muddy sound of the live arena. An issue too is the aloof, introspective nature of the band members; they have a lot of chemistry, but at times I feel like an outsider awkwardly gate crashing into their rehearsal room.BPREVIEW: Warpaint @ O2 Institute 22.03.17 / Rob Hadley – Birmingham Review

Things pick up again with ‘Whiteout’, the opener from Heads Up. ‘Whiteout’ sounds more modern than much of Warpaint’s Cure-rock, with a funky, almost r‘n’b vibe benefiting from an impassioned vocal performance from Emily Kokal and insistent, woozy guitar triplets.

‘So Good’ and ‘New Song’ are also highlights of tonight’s gig, showcasing the pop sensibility of Warpaint’s most recent material. It’s the sound of a band that’s confident, adept and at ease with itself. Perhaps some time apart has done them good.

For more on Warpaint, visit www.warpaintwarpaint.com

For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham

For more from Rough Trade, visit www.roughtrade.com

For more from Crosstown Concerts, visit www.crosstownconcerts.com

BPREVIEW: Stewart Lee – Content Provider @ Symphony Hall 27&28.03.17

BPREVIEW: Stewart Lee - Content Provider @ Symphony Hall 27&28.03.17 / Idil Sukan

Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Idil Sukan

On Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th March, Stewart Lee brings his new show, Content Provider, to the Symphony Hall.

Doors open at 7.30pm, with tickets priced at £25 (including £3 booking fee). For direct gig info, including full venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

After four critically acclaimed series, the BBC finally wielded its axe and killed off Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. If you never saw it, Comedy Vehicle featured a half hour Stewart Lee stand-up routine, interspersed by interview segments of Lee examining his performance, joke writing abilities and career. It was a clever, insightful and funny show, but it’s hard to imagine it had mass-market appeal.

Anyway, it’s gone now and Stewart Lee had some unexpected time on his hands. The result was Content Provider, an anthology of selected short prose from the columns he writes for The Observer ‘every time that David Mitchell was away’First published by Faber & Faber in July 2016, Lee is now taking Content Provider out on an 18 month UK tour as his new stand up show.

This is Stewart Lee’s first full-length show since 2011’s Carpet Remnant World, with his most recent tours testing out 25 minute segments of material for his TV work. As such, the axing of his BBC show is perhaps a blessing in disguise for Lee fans: a full-length show is arguably a better channel for his carefully constructed, reflective and analytical comedy.

As Stewart Lee is a fully paid up member of the metropolitan liberal elite, it’s safe to expect Content Provider will contain left-leaning attacks on the Tories, Trump and Brexit. However with the need to keep the show topical for a long 18-month stint, Lee‘s focus will also be on consumerism, narcissism and their role in today’s society. Hopefully at the Symphony Hall, as a local boy made good, there may be some Birmingham jokes too (Lee was born in Shropshire before growing up in Solihull).

But with Stewart Lee there’s little middle ground – most people either think Lee’s the best stand-up comedian in the country, or can’t stand his long, repetitive speeches and smarmy persona. And for all his five star reviews, Dominic Cavendish (Daily Telegraph) made public his decision to walk out of a Stewart Lee gig in 2013:

‘If Lee had a shred of interest or insight into the working lives of other people, he’d realise that those who give up an evening at the end of a week to see him deserve his thanks not his toxic scorn.’

Of course, you could argue that Cavendish missed the point; Lee is playing a character, he’s pretending to be scornful to be funny, and he’s pushing the confines of comedy as far as he can. But it can undoubtedly get under your skin if you don’t take it for what it is. And with all the bad reviews and negative social media comments that Lee posts on his own website, I don’t think that he would want it any other way.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle Series 4 – ‘Telegraph Review’

Stewart Lee performs at the Birmingham Town Hall on Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th March. For direct gig info and online tickets sales, click here.


For more on Stewart Lee, visit www.stewartlee.co.uk

For more from the Town Hall and Symphony Hall, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.thsh.co.uk


INTERVIEW: Rosie Kay / Brian Slater

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Words by Helen Knott / Profile pic by Tim Cross, production shots by Brian J Slater 

When I catch up with Rosie Kay – artistic director and choreographer of Birmingham-based Rosie Kay Dance Company (RKDC) – it’s January and she is in the middle of running through her new show MK ULTRA.INTERVIEW: Rosie Kay / Tim Cross

Patiently explaining the rehearsal patterns of a professional dance company to me, “We’re working really intensely at the moment, then we will take most of February off and come back together for two more weeks in the studio before we go into the theatre. This works well, because I like having some breathing space to really consider what it is I’m making and if it works or not. I have the chance to work with my composer and film editor on the structure. It also helps prevent any injuries to the dancers.”

Rosie Kay started choreographing MK ULTRA before Christmas, but the research and development stages began almost three years ago. “I started exploring, ‘can I make a political work?’ I was pregnant at the time, so I couldn’t do all my usual out-there research – in the past I’ve joined an army infantry or visited India and China – but for MK ULTRA I was much more home-bound.” Spurred on by the young people she met during a series of dance workshops who were fascinated by the shadowy ‘Illuminati’, Kay found herself “going down a rabbit hole” of online conspiracy theories.

Kay’s new show is named after one of her favourite conspiracy theories; MK ULTRA is the code word for a CIA brainwashing programme carried out in the 1950s and 1960s. The conspiracy goes that this programme has never stopped and is now issued to control Disney child stars, including Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan. “They’re actually under this brainwashing, so they’re puppets who are controlled. Now and again their programming breaks down and that’s why they have these kind of flip outs.” Kay is gleeful. “It’s pretty mad isn’t it? I love it!”

INTERVIEW: Rosie Kay / Brian SlaterThe resulting pop culture-inspired show features seven dancers who perform in big group numbers, duets and each have their own solos. “We get to know them individually,” explains Rosie Kay. “It’s almost like they have their own music videos, though it’s not as linear and straight-forward as that.” The show’s costume designer Gary Card seems to be the perfect choice for establishing an authentic version of this world, because he’s living it. Card’s clients include Stella McCartney, Topshop and Lady Gaga.

Another MK ULTRA collaborator points to its unsettling underbelly. BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis is best known for his documentaries Bitter Lake and HyperNormalisation, and for his series The Power of Nightmares, which challenges the conspiracy theories behind the reporting of Islamist terrorism. “Adam is creating some documentary contextualisations that help explain the world that MK ULTRA comes from,” tells Kay, “particularly in the first half. I want the show to feel glossy and to be entertaining and fun, but underneath it’s actually really disturbing. You’ve realised that you’re subjected to this imagery and these messages all the time, but maybe we’re so used to it we’ve stopped saying, ‘hang on, what is this saying and what is it doing to us?’”

Indeed for Kay the popularity of conspiracy theories, particularly with young people, points to wider issues. “Ultimately the thing that worries me about conspiracy theories is that there’s passivity to it. It’s like we can’t control anything, it’s all controlled by this shadowy elite and there’s nothing that we can do. And of course, now more than ever, it isn’t. We’re the people, we have the power, we can change how the world is. I feel strongly that all my work has this sense that we invent the world, we invent reality. We don’t have to have it the way that it is if we want to change it.”

INTERVIEW: Rosie Kay / Brian SlaterRosie Kay positions MK ULTRA as the final piece in a RKDC trilogy, connected to previous shows 5 SOLDIERS and There is Hope by Kay’s commitment to subjects that dance “doesn’t normally talk about”. 5 SOLDIERS is about war: “I got into that by exploring the body in war. In any war, at any time, the place of war is the individual’s body.” There is Hope is about religion: “Evoking spirituality or the religious state through the body.”

And MK ULTRA? “This one started off politically and I think it’s getting back there, but through the spectrum of the pop world and looking at how bodies are used.” In all three works Kay explores some of life’s biggest questions, coloured by a dancer’s pre-occupation with the physicality of the human body.

After the UK tour of MK ULTRA the rest of 2017 is shaping up to be busy for Rosie Kay Dance Company, with plans almost confirmed for a revival tour of 5 SOLDIERS from late summer. Until then, it’s all about entering the “strange world” of MK ULTRA. And for all our chatting about conspiracy theories and politics, Rosie Kay is keen to underline the talent of her dancers. “Above all, MK ULTRA is just so much amazing dancing by amazing dancers. It’s really exhilarating.”

MK ULTRA (official trailer) – Rosie Kay Dance Company

MK ULTRA receives its world premiere performances at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 17th & 18th March and will tour to a further 10 venues across the UK until 18 May 2017. For direct event info from REP, including venue details and online tickets sales, click here.


For more on MK Ultra, visit www.mkultra.dance

For more on Rosie Kay Dance Company, visit www.rosiekay.co.uk

For more from REP, including a full event programme and online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

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