The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


September 2006

Black Keys

The Black Keys
ABC, Glasgow

3 stars

Though half the length of Sauchiehall Street separates the venues, it is hard not consider the audience along the street at the Garage, no doubt being royally entertained by The Pipettes.

Their showbiz sense of performance is something the resolutely monochrome Black Keys would do well to study. There is an overwhelming seriousness and dourness about their show that makes it an unengaging spectacle.

This is the fare of those, predominantly male, who like their rock entrenched in the past and in its most overwrought form. Nevertheless, the duo cannot be faulted for the size of their sound and the sharpness of the playing. While this can make for the occasional thrilling moment on vinyl, over the course of an hour, with no stage presence or visual distractions, it becomes repetitive and unrelenting.

Dan Auerbach has a great rock voice in the tradition of Plant and Rodgers, but the material is rarely inspiring – drawing as it does on alternate decades of rock history (fifties’ rock and blues, seventies’ hard rock and metal, nineties’ grunge). ‘Your Touch’ is the best their current album, ‘Magic Potion’ has to offer, ‘Set Me Free’ the most anthemic pick from their back catalogue.

The encores of ‘Til i Get My Way’ and ‘Grown So Ugly’ offer some strobe lighting and a final burst of energy, but throughout they straddle a fine line between tribute and parody.

Lacking the charisma of their most obvious peers, the affection and appetite shown for The Black Keys is perhaps surprising. Their quest for authenticity may be laudable, but this is music to be admired rather than loved and a show to be endured rather than enjoyed. At the bus stop afterwards, The Pipettes’ fans seem somehow happier and more excited, probably the result of being properly entertained.


Indian Summer – Saturday

IndianSummer / Saturday
Victoria Park, Glasgow

Like many of the best things in Glasgow, its newest festival sits within easy striking distance of the 44 bus route, hidden in leafy West End suburbia.  If the low-key nature of the farmers’ market meets polite rock festival ambience needs exemplified, it is surely the sound engineer’s dog, asleep during Guillemots’ set.

Their eclecticism and tinny, trebly sound resembles recalls the late 1980s – think Prefab Sprout without the songs (only ‘Trains to Brazil’ stands out) or Danny Wilson without the white soul dynamics. On a day when the rest of the fare is reliable and vaguely alternative, they stand out as a mainstream rather than boutique festival act.

Amp Fiddler is a welcome and energetic break from the guitar-dominated sounds, and back on the main stage, Hot Chip steal the show with their surprisingly warm electronica. Imagine Kraftwerk meeting OMD, with the added bonus that you can dance to it and remember the chorus. Indeed, if Day 1 of Indian Summer has an anthem, it is surely their single, ‘Over and Over.’

The Fall, in typically perverse mode, are tight and almost festival friendly. By the conclusion, eighteen year olds at their first festival are giving the hands in the air treatment to their versions ‘Mr Pharmacist’ and ‘I Can See The Grass Grow’.

The difference between them and headliners, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is one of application. Where it appears that Mark E. Smith appears not to try, Karen O’s troupe try too hard to the detriment of their usually reliable songwriting. If the antics are a bit of a distraction, their best songs, ‘Cold Light’ and ‘Y Control’ bring an enjoyable and promising first day to its finale.

edited version appeared in The Herald

Children’s albums

lengthy article in The Times today by Peter Paphides on music for small children can be found here. It is good enough to mention the forthcoming Colours Are Brighter album.

Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams
Hampden Park, Glasgow

While it easy to make much of Robbie Williams’ durability and ability to make a modicum of talent go intergalactic distances, his current show offers some more prosaic insights into his superstardom.

Williams is a master of the grand gesture. He is unerringly populist, and perhaps most surprisingly, his musical output has regressed progressively since the demise of Take That.

His entrance, in a cloud of smoke from under a specially constructed adjunct to the stage in the exclusively priced ‘inner sanctum’, is spectacular and while the sound appears to be coming through a concrete mixer rather than a sound desk, the visuals are impressive, bright and garish.

By the time the periodic table scrolls behind him, Williams is well into his unique brand of showmanship. Think the worst turns on Seaside Special and The Wheeltappers and Shunters. His brand of chemistry involves dry humping the stage and shirt ripping to reveal his tattooed torso.

Though it is enough to generate impressive levels of euphoria, the show reaches a nadir with the appearance of his friend, Jonny Wilkes. Tackling both the Rat Pack and disco, before kicking footballs into the crowd in a shower of innuendo, their double act is a low rent PJ and Duncan.

In the clutter, Williams’ nineties’ pop roots still find room to shine, and ‘Back For Good’ is the one truly great song of the night. Successive solo hits including ‘Stong’ and ‘Let Me Entertain You’ have to make up for in spectacle what they lack in substance.

His real skill is appropriation – with every genre from big band to pop to metal to (laughably) hip-hop thrown into the mix – it is little surprise that the ultra-mainstream reference points make for a triumph of familiarity over imagination.

edited version appeared in The Herald 

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