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Baxter Dury, Halo Maud – Stereo, Glasgow, 20 February 2018

In May this year, Baxter Dury will play at the Casino de Paris, an iconic venue with a capacity of 2000, and venue for an iconic live album by Serge Gainsbourg; Stereo in Glasgow is among the best venues in Scotland, but it’s just a smidge smaller (capacity: 300) - the audience tonight may not know, in a way, just how privileged it is.

Parisians Halo Maud open, perhaps a little bit bashful at first if très charmants, their sound is certainly aligned with what one tends to think of in terms of contemporary French pop music (or at least that which we are exposed to in the UK): somewhat ethereal vocals, minimalist guitar, slightly proggy keyboard washes, melodic and propulsive bass, driving (but never heavy) drums. There’s a lightly psychedelic touch to them, little hints of Broadcast, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Aquaserge – at one point, vocalist and guitarist Maud Nadal (also of Moodoïd) even sings a searching melody that brings Björk to mind. Rightly well-received, their set is dynamic and memorable.

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Baxter Dury’s onstage persona is certainly geezerish but with a knowing glint in the eye present at all times. It’s wholly appropriate for the music, especially numbers from his superlative 2017 album Prince of Tears, a catalogue of sad characters victimised by their own masculinity, too in love their own bravado and braggadocio to notice they’re pathetic, broken.

Across a set composed primarily (but not solely) of songs from his last three albums, Dury is a charismatic stage presence and the music shines. Played live, these songs take on an extra vivacity, muscularity – the band has a great time, and so do the audience. It’s pretty rare for a 16-song set (including encore) to be anything other than irritating/waring/boring by the time of its conclusion, but not tonight. It’s pretty much perfect - sometimes cheeky, sometimes downtrodden, always captivating. Dury should be a household name in the UK but as it stands he’s just another example in a long list of ways our Continental brethren can show us the way. Bof.

Photos: Erika Sella. Words: Andrew R. Hill

Live: Veronica Falls (with La La Vasquez) at St Leonard's Shoreditch Church, 8 February 2013


It all gets a bit much for our Andrew R. Hill when he catches the one and only Veronica Falls in action in London


St. Leonard’s Shoreditch Church is mentioned in the nursery rhyme Oranges & Lemons (“When will you pay me? / Say the bells of Old Bailey / When I am rich / Say the bells of Shoreditch”); that Veronica Falls should launch their second album Waiting for Something to Happen in such a venue is, on the face of it, oddly apposite. Hitherto, the band have been purveyors of melodies and lyrical concerns that capture something of the qualities associated with the nursery rhyme (and, by extension, childhood itself): sweetness and innocence on the surface with and underlying darkness and melancholia. Tonight’s show builds on this solid foundation but with a new confidence, a boldness even, that suggests a figurative coming of age that is reflected in the grand yet austere setting.

First up are three-piece La La Vasquez, who bring to mind Black Tambourine, Vivian Girls and Pavement, not only through their melodies and clattering rhythms, but also the constant sense that it could all fall apart at any given second. Theirs is a thrilling racket and a perfect preface for the headlining act.

A quick turnaround and Veronica Falls assume position, stridently launching with Tell Me. They are dramatically backlit, clad in dark hues, and (given the venue) the tenebrous oils of Caravaggio and Rothko’s religious paintings come to mind. Last year’s single (also featured on the new album) My Heart Beats is more vibrant than its relatively bloodless studio companion, retaining the edge that came as something of a shock on initial listen in April but moderated with a ragged edge. For old favourite Found Love in a Graveyard, the lighting shifts to the front creating enormous shadows, then the band really hit their stride with Waiting for Something to Happen.

To one familiar with their prior work and performances, throughout there is a sense the band has changed, there’s a new ‘toughness’, and it’s illustrated well by a double-whammy of - old tracks - Bad Feeling and Beachy Head. They’ve always had a certain quiet confidence, but now there’s something resembling swagger, a renewed tension in the dynamics that renders them justifiably self-assured as opposed to irksomely cocky. They also seem relaxed in the right kind of way, and let their somewhat gloomy image slip with the odd grin here and there. No wonder though – there’s dancing in the aisle, lips mouthing lyrics; it’s hard not to get swept along. Who else but Veronica Falls could make a song entitled Buried Alive so catchy, so downright joyous?

The band clatters through two songs from the old album followed by two from the new album (highlights being Wedding Day and Teenage, respectively), and then it’s over. Almost. The pitted and bare crucifix doesn’t have to wait long for the return of its temporary neighbours. Feet stamp, hands clap, throats cry and of course they’re back, with the Wicked Game-esque If You Still Want Me, their classic cover of Roky Erickson’s Starry Eyes and, the eternally perfect pièce de résistance, Come on Over. The collective elation of the audience and band alike, the revelry in this stunning setting, the tingling spines, the dewy eyes… It all gets a bit much for a certain ‘impartial’ writer. Come on over? Veronica Falls need never ask twice.