ED’S PICK: March ‘18

Rews + You Dirty Blue, P.E.T @ Hare & Hounds 22.03.18Words by Ed King

**Due to the severe weather conditions, some March editorial may be delayed. It has nothing to do with 1) hangovers, 2) gigs on a Sunday that cause hangovers, 3) each episode of The Deuce being 1hr long. It’s the snow… it’s all about the snow**

The BIG NEWS this month is that Rews are coming back to Birmingham, finishing of their England tour with a special gig at the Hare & Hounds on Thursday 22nd March – joined by an awesome local line up, Tamworth’s garage rock two piece You Dirty Blue and Birmingham’s rising balloon punksters P.E.T.

Still out smashing holes in radio playlists and the right kind of ear drums across the country,  Rews are back on the road (do they ever stop!?!?) with their debut album Pyro – a rock pop stonker which we thoroughly suggest you check out. Read my Birmingham Review of the ten track beast here, or cut out the middle person and just get yourself a copy. You can bill me if you’re unhappy.

But Rews are a step up live. And don’t just take my word for it, ask any of the following: Hew Edwards, Mark Radcliffe, John Kennedy, Scott Mills, Alice Levine, Dev, Greg James, Scott Mills, Clara Amfo, Adele Roberts… (and that’s just the beeb). Or anyone who’s seen them play. Or Google. It’s not a difficult cross reference.

Of course, the best way to know for absolute certainty is to come and see Rews at the Hare & Hounds on 22nd March – for direct gig info and links to online ticket sales, click here. Or to can hop over to the Facebook event page for updates, info and links aplenty – click here.

Paloma Faith @ Genting Arena 21.03.18WARNING – CONTAINS CIVIC PRIDE: Rews have bolted Birmingham onto their England tour dates because their last gig in the city was such a stormer – Birmingham loves Rews, and it seems there’s a little mutual flutter there too. So, come down to the Hare on 22nd March, enjoy an awesome gig from Rews, You Dirty Blue and P.E.T, and stand on for your local live music scene. BRUMMIES UNITE.

And breathe…. There are other gigs this month, some pretty high profile shows too. In the land of five figure crowds, the Genting Arena hosts All Time Low (15th Mar) and the resplendent resurfacing of Paloma Faith (21st Mar). Whilst at Arena Birmingham we see some of America’s A-Lists rock with Fall Out Boy (27th Mar) and 30 Seconds to Mars (29th Mar). So, that’ll keep you busy. And a little broke.

Feeder @ O2 Academy 14.03.18N.B. Paul Weller was scheduled to play at the Genting Arena on 2nd March, but due to the school run slaying beast from the east (erm, the snow) this gig has been postponed. When we know more…

Editors play an ‘intimate’ gig at the Town Hall (4th Mar) to showcase their new album, Violence. Whilst across town Hookworms headline at the Hare & Hounds (4th Mar), and across the road Amit Dittani introduces his debut solo album, Santiago, at the Kitchen Garden Café (4th Mar).

Elsewhere in the city, Ezio return to Birmingham but this time at the Kitchen Garden Cafe (7th Mar), Astroid Boys tour their debut album, Broke, at The Asylum (1th Mar), Feeder take us on a retrospective love in at the O2 Academy (14th Mar), Joan Baez celebrates the end of a near 60 year live career as her Fare Thee Well Tour comes to the Symphony Hall (14th Mar), The Stranglers come to the O2 Academy (17th Mar),Rae Morris @ O2 Institute 21.03.18 ‘First Lady of Celtic Music’ and Clannad family member Moya Brennan plays at the Glee Club (20th Mar), whilst Rae Morris brings a sneak peak of her sophomore album, Someone Out There, to the O2 Institute (21st Mar). Phew… can anyone lend me a tenner?

And so exciting it gets it’s own paragraph, electronic music pioneers, Plaid, bring their AV tour to the Hare & Hounds on 10th March. A pivotal piece in the EDM jigsaw, Plaid come back to Birmingham after their sell out gig in the city last year – if this show doesn’t pack out then there’s something inherently wrong with the world, so we would suggest getting your Warp loving wriggle on and buying a ticket or two quick smart. For direct gig info and online ticket sales, click here or on the relevant hyper link.

Plaid @ Hare & Hounds 10.03.18A little later in the month the same promoters, Scratch Club, are putting on a breaks, beats and hip hop free bash at One Trick Pony with Dr Syntax (The Mouse Outfit, Foreign Beggars) & Pete Cannon, joined by Birmingham’s own DMC champion Mr Switch (30th Mar). For free..!?!? Now that’s a good bloomin’ Friday.

Film is stomping is size 10s across the city too, a cheeky month before Flatpack #12, with a healthy collage of celluloid (well, probably digital now) coming to screens in a variety of Birmingham venues. Ruben Östlund’s takes a well-penned stab at the pretensions of class and art with The Square – on general UK release from 16th March, before coming to The Electric (23rd Mar) and mac (30th Mar). Whilst mac programme a centennial celebration of Ingmar Burgman with The Seventh Seal (16th Mar), The Touch (17th Mar) and Persona (18th Mar).Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits @ The Mockingbird Kitchen & Cinema 26.03.18

The Mockingbird hosts a Wes Anderson Marathon (18th Mar) featuring The Royal Tenenbaums at 12noon, Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou at 2:30pm, Fantastic Mr Fox at 5:00pm and The Grand Budapest Hotel at 6:45pm. Bit of a welcome refresher course before Anderson’s latest (and animated) feature, Isle of Dogs, is out on general release from 30th March – with two preview screenings at The Electric (25th Mar) if you wanted to jump the gun a little.

The Mockingbird are also showing the eponymous biopic about the notorious fashion designer, Westwood, throughout the month. But we recommend you wait until 26th March, so you can jump straight into Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits – another biopic, but this time about an altogether more altogether slice of formative female punk.Comedy Short - fundraiser fro SIFA Fireside @ Artefact (Stirchley High Street) 21.03.18

On the city’s smaller silver screens this March, Neighbourhood present a series of comedy shorts at Artefact in Stirchley (21st Mar) – with a pay as you feel fundraiser for SIFA Fireside, a Birmingham based organisation who support ‘those experiencing homelessness or who are vulnerably-housed.’ A great charity that deserves our cash and consideration; look outside, now pay what you feel.

Elsewhere, The Victoria welcomes the rescheduled Birmingham Horror Group: Mini-Movie Marathon (25th Mar) which is also fundraising – this time ‘with proceeds from ticket sales going to the medical charity Diabetes UK’. Whilst the Kitchen Garden Café screen the Arnie body count craziness and all round awesome… Predator  (20th Mar) – which we are more than a little happy about. I’m off to buy a dog eared cigar, dog eared dog tags, and practice the film’s profound script such as, “if it bleeds we can kill it”. Powerful stuff Arn, Kierkegaard?

The Gilded Merkin @ Glee Club 18.03.18Treading the boards this month, Joe Black starts the UK run of his new show, Touch of Evil: A Celebration of Villainy in Song, with two nights at The Old Joint Stock (09-10th Mar). The Birmingham REP stages fingersmiths’ rewrite of John Godber’s Up’n’Under (12-14th Mar) – a play about pride and adversity (and rugby, to be fair) which has been adapted for all audiences ‘with a cast of Deaf and hearing actors using British Sign Language and spoken English’.

Overlapping a little bit, REP also present The Kite Runner (13-24th Mar) performed in venue’s main theatre, coming to Birmingham after ‘an outstanding’ run in the West End. Then back in the ‘burbs, The Wardrobe Ensemble present their tale 90’s nostalgia and the Blair honeymoon – Education, Education, Education – at mac (20th Mar).

On the more glamourous side of town, Alyssa Edwards’ The Secret Is Out Tour saunters over to the Glee Club (7th Mar), before BCU’s Burlesque society present Dare to Desire at the Bierkeller (15th Mar) and Scarlett Daggers brings The Gilded Merkin burlesque show back to the Glee Club (18th Mar).The Twisted Circus @ O2 Academy 30.03.18 Not far behind is Ben DeLaCreme, with her ‘terminally delightful’ show coming to the Glee Club (29th Mar) – a day before Klub Kids present The Twisted Circus in all its glitz and glory at the O2 Academy (30th Mar).

Comedy has a pretty decent crack of the whip in March too, kicking off with Russell Brand’s Re:Birth at Symphony Hall (8th Mar) before the Glee Club takes the reigns until April, with Phil Wang (11th Mar), John Robbins (21st Mar) and Tiff Stevenson (23rd Mar).

Outside of all that, if you’ve got any dry socks or shekles left, there’s A Notorious Odyssey at The Electric (24th Mar) – as Birmingham’s 35 piece a cappella choir, notorious, take us on ‘a musical voyage where no audience has gone before’ performing ‘tunes from sc-fi films and TV, to music inspired by space and the future.’

Across town and the space-time continuum, Rupi Kaur presents an evening of performance poetry the Town Hall (24th Mar) including work from her recently released second collection, The Sun and Her Flowers.Phil Wang @ Glee Club 11.03.18 Then just shy of a week later, Richard P Rogers rounds off the month with his Frank Cook and the Birmingham Scene exhibition at mac’s Community Gallery (30th Mar) – a study of the titular Ladywood artist, as he worked his way from the north Birmingham back to backs to art school in London in the late 1960’s.

Right then, a fair amount happening in March – I’m off to do some diary/bank statement cross referencing. And maybe drink a glass of wine, or two. What day is it again…?

For more on any of the events listed here, click on the highlighted hyperlinks. Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, which issues both the Birmingham Review and Birmingham Preview.

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham Review

Words by Ed King / Pics by Cameron Goodyer

This is a first. I’m early. Fifteen minutes early. Never happens… Ever.

But the God of Surprises is on the warpath, as tonight’s Ani DiFanco gig at the Town Hall has undersold to the point that they’ve closed the Circle. What, the..? This is an artist that can sell out two nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, back to back, with a mail out and an advert in the Guardian Guide.

OK, fair enough; there’s more to promotion than this. But I’ve been running events since before I was legally allowed to be in the venues that hosted them, so I have some perspective. Sort your shit out Birmingham or we’ll never get Ani DiFranco back in the city.

The review is also, now, a plea.

But also a review. Like an empty airplane I stretch out, bags and coats, as Chastity Brown opens up with her blues and bluegrass coated folk… I’m getting tired of genre descriptions. Braving the echoing cavern first, not an easy hurdle, Brown delivers a tight yet stripped back set – winning over the stalls only crowd with melody, candor and “…like a talk show host” instructions. Awesome stuff.

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham ReviewThere’s now five albums out there for you to explore, Silhouette of Sirens released this May, but I am surprised to see Chastity Brown back in Birmingham so soon – having played the Hare & Hounds with Otis Gibbs only a couple of weeks before. Seems like another missed opportunity for the Righteous Babe roster too.

But support set turns into interval, interval turns into alcohol, alcohol turns into a more salacious atmosphere as the interval turns into the headline set; Ani DiFranco walks on to the Town Hall stage to a reassuringly huge reception.

Opening with ‘Not Angry Anymore’ there is immediate fire in the gut. It’s odd; I’m not used to seeing Ani DiFranco in front of anything less than wall to wall adulation, but there’s an edge tonight. The confidence and cocked head/wry smile deflections are still there but they’ve come out fighting. Maybe the challenge of the crowd-to-floor-space-index is a good thing, a blue touch paper to a performer who has worked her way with every step.

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham ReviewA quick shout out to the calibre of the venue, a far cry from the “sticky floors” DiFranco is more used to playing on, and ‘Two Little Girls’ is introduced with a candid quip about the other person in the story. I love Little Plastic Castles and getting to see anything from it played live is a bucket list bullet point, but DiFranco punches this tale of love, heroin and the absurdity of self destruction off stage with tight control. Ferocious in all the right ways.

‘Allergic to Water’, the tile track from DiFranco’s last but one LP, comes out next with some beautifully tempered percussion from Terence Higgins. ‘Names and Dates and Places’ takes us back to the cutting teeth days of the Canadian folk circuits, before ‘Modulation’ is introduced as a byproduct of getting “married by accident… throw in a leather jacket and call it a good deal.”

Higgins is once again standout, with some short tap percussion, but the whole band are tight and together. At least that what it feels like from Row K. In fact the air is significantly lighter than it was before anyone started playing anything. I’ve seen Ani DiFranco at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Glee Club here in Birmingham; both great gigs but already, only a few songs in, this feels… something, I don’t know, more involved I guess. Stronger.

Then Bucket List A / Subsection 2B: ‘Swan Dive’. I’ve waited years to sing ‘…I’ve got better things to do than survive,’ in a room with its author. DiFranco rips through the song of fuck you/empowerment (or at least it is to me) as if the chords were searing flesh; unrelenting. Troubadour 101.

Some ‘Dithering’ next, before we are introduced to the first song tonight from Ani DiFranco’s most recent LP, Binary. Inspired by the stained glass hypocrisy and male governed dress up box that is a “proper working Church, with dudes in robes… I was in their way all day” – ‘Alrighty’ stalks its way off stage and into the BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham Reviewshadows, with some finally fixed distortion and lyrics as close to a pun as I’m comfortable to be. There’s a lot to revere in an Ani DiFranco back catalogue but it’s been the words that have pulled me in time after time. A significant songwriter, yes. But a writer.

Binary has some beautiful moments on it too, delivering important challenges through sometimes playful, yet acerbic and unassailable observations (to read my review of Binary, click here). But the “absurd” nature of the Church, with its anxious misogyny and religious patriarchy, is amongst the most important; a side step to the fight against male control of the female body, as delivered so deftly in ‘Play God’, being the next battle on the hill.

The set jumps from old to new, as Binary gets to show off more of its wares with some much earlier material filling in the gaps – including a musical pause to deliver ‘The Slant’, DiFranco’s prose only warning about ‘rhythms of attraction’ and the dangers of ‘something more they wanted’.

Then ‘Play God’ arrives. You can check out the official video below but this is Ani DiFranco on top form. And at a time when our Great Britain is preparing sell the right to choose for a heckle free Queen’s Speech it’s all the more important a message.BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham Review I’ve kept my political nose clean in recent months but all week I’ve wanted to throw chairs; now I just want to applaud.

With Chastity Brown back on stage, alongside the full band line up, the title track to Binary takes us into the encore. DiFranco’s latest LP is a mature call to arms, imploring a more reasoned approach to debate and understanding, as “consciousness is circular when consciousness is winning” – and the new material stands out, albeit a dangerous place to be against such a well loved and extensive portfolio. Played live tonight it’s superb, but its timing is just as important with the world’s three largest ‘democracies’ currently governed by bullies and murders. And this is not a left wing rally cry; actual bullies, actual murders.

We need to pull together, even if we don’t agree. We need to, quite simply, unite. We need to embrace musicians like Ani DiFranco who keep bringing something substantial to the table. And whilst this could neatly tie itself into my framing device – following on from the ‘surprise’ of an emptier Town Hall than the bill poster deserves – I don’t want to knock an audience who helped turn a kick in the teeth into a silver lining. Best Ani DiFranco gig I’ve been to.

Although there’s always one, and perhaps that’s the point. But I write my last line inspired by the loud complaints of an angry (and oddly vocal) woman we run into as we’re leaving the Town Hall; my final surprise of the evening.

So, a pro-lifer walks into an Ani DiFranco concert…

‘Play God’ – Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco released Binary on 9th June, through Righteous Babe Records and Aveline Records. For more on Ani DiFranco and the wider Righteous Babe roster, including online purchase points for the label’s entire portfolio, visit www.righteousbabe.com

For more on Chastity Brown, visit www.chastitybrownmusic.com

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.www.thsh.co.uk

BPREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17

BPREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17

Words by Ed King

On Tuesday 27th June, An Evening with Jackson Browne comes to the Symphony Hall.

Doors open at 7:30pm, with tickets priced between £42.50 – £49 plus booking fee. For direct gig info, including full venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

N.B. At the time of writing this event was near to being SOLD OUT – please check availability directly with the Symphony Hall or reputable ticket outlets.

“They sell us the president the same way; they sell us our clothes and our cars. They sell us everything from youth to religion the same time they sell us our wars.”

Jackson Browne released his eponymous debut album back 1972, following a pretty revered string of songs written for other artists – including Nico, Joni Mitchell, Eagles and The Byrds. Signing to Asylum Records in 1971 Browne’s five albums would build a steady commercial success story, consolidating his place in the spotlight and making him a lauded contributor to the American country and folk music scenes.

But to a child of the 80’s, growing up with Marty McFly and the Reagan administration, it was Jackson Browne’s 1986 album, Lives in the Balance, that would leave its mark above all else. As the de facto soundtrack to any long distance car journey with my mum, Lives in the Balance would be the first album I learned to sing along too – embracing the questions, accusations and declarations that Browne threw at America’s aggressive foreign policy, even if only initially by proxy. I was eight.

As my understanding of the world grew, and my frightening realisation that the game is indeed rigged, the track ‘Lives in the Balance’ itself would become the painful reference point and retort of so many frustrated discussions. I owe a lot of my perspective, political and otherwise, to the words that run though this album.

What is happening today happened yesterday, and was carved from the foundations of every day before that. We are ruled not governed.

Lives in the Balance was also Jackson Browne’s last release though Asylum – the label launched by his then manager David Geffen – with Browne signing to Electra for his subsequent four LPs. Jackson Browne would go on to form Inside Recordings in 1999, releasing his last two studio albums on the imprint – Time the Conqueror (2008) and Standing in the Breach (2014).

An Evening with… denotes music, stories and on stage anecdotes with the suffix – so considering the relentless tour schedules, rock, roll and public domain relationships that Jackson Browne has accrued in his fifty professional years, this could be more colourful than most. No offence Neil. Joining Jackson Browne on stage at the Symphony Hall will be Val McCallum (guitar), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (vocals) and Greg Leisz (lap steel, pedal steel).

Tickets from this Jackson Browne tour are also being sold to in aid of the Guacamole Fund, a ‘tax exempt, public charity’ that has been ‘supporting grass roots activities, with education, outreach, networking and funding, in the areas of the environment and wildlife, social change, peace with justice, energy and a non nuclear future’. To learn more about the Guacamole Fund, click here.

‘Lives in the Balance’ – Jackson Browne 

An Evening with Jackson Browne is coming to the Symphony Hall on 27th June. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

For more on Jackson Browne, visit www.jacksonbrowne.com

For more from Inside Recordings, visit www.insiderecordings.com


For more on the Guacamole Fund, visit www.guacfund.org

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, visit www.thsh.co.uk

BREVIEW: The Big Birmingham Soul Night @ Town Hall 15.04.17

BREVIEW: The Big Birmingham Soul Night @ Town Hall 15.04.17

Words by Charlotte Heap / Pics by Paul Stringer

Stepping into Birmingham Town Hall for the Big Birmingham Soul Night is like stepping back in time. Veterans of the Motown scene, clad in the classic wide-legged Oxford Bags, plimsolls and Ben Sherman polo shirts, dominate the giant wooden dance floor with their distinctive moves.

The spins, kicks; and shuffles (equally exhausting and joyful to watch) are tricky for a Northern Soul newbie to emulate but this doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of this all-nighter. The Night Owl, itself a relative newcomer to the scene, presents an impressive line up of DJs in an equally impressive venue. The listed splendour of the Town Hall and its sprung dance floor dovetails nicely with the nostalgia of original vinyl sounds. The bill, topped by legendary DJ Colin Curtis, kept the dance floor full throughout with famous 4-4 beats.

BREVIEW: The Big Birmingham Soul Night @ Town Hall 15.04.17 / Paul Stringer - The Night OwlFor many of the dancers, this is clearly a relished opportunity to relive their youth and, truthfully, that’s what gives the evening its authenticity. There’s a cathartic, carefree atmosphere: a sense that these ageing Mods have been waiting for this very moment to unleash years of pent up rhythm. Strangely, it’s the younger attendees that seem almost peripheral to the action, imitating but never quite improving upon the confidence of the originators.

The music, both in the stunning main room and downstairs bar, ranges from the familiar to the rare – reflecting the original scene. DJs like Curtis hunted down American Soul 45s and brought them to the hungry masses in the North West where DJs and dancers alike tried to outdo each other with the hardest-to-come-by vinyl and the hardest-to-execute moves. Memorabilia and record stalls add to the sense that this is an event for the serious Soul fan.

The tiny downstairs bar proved to be the only real detraction: the valiant staff struggled to quench the thirst of the sweating crowd in good time. For the dedicated ‘Soulies’ this made little difference; for the more casual participant itBREVIEW: The Big Birmingham Soul Night @ Town Hall 15.04.17 / Paul Stringer - The Night Owl was an annoying inconvenience. This could be easily rectified should the organisers decide to partner again, which they should.

(Ed’s note… after some post party exploration, we were told there had been another bar lurking at the back of the entrance level but most people didn’t know about it. BBSN organisers were already on the case, so next time… please drink responsibly.)

The Night Owl, recently voted Best New Venue by Birmingham Mail, has clearly filled a niche at its bar in Digbeth: it is the only dedicated Motown destination in the Midlands in decades. There’s an apparent appetite for Northern Soul and this partnership was an effective advert for the budding Birmingham Soul scene.

The issue for the organisers now is how to convert the nostalgia into real hunger for more. For the scene to thrive where previously it had withered and died, it will need to attract new, and, dare I say it, younger disciples.

For more from The Night Owl, visit www.nightowlbirmingham.com

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, visit www.thsh.co.uk

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