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REVIEW: Wilco - The Roundhouse, London

Wilco albums come and go, but the live act remains strong and steady - well aware which songs have stood the test of time and which have dropped off into back catalogue. New album and show opener “Art of Almost” immediately scored itself a position as today’s song of the year, setting the scene for a heavy set that wasn’t afraid to bring a couple of extra guitars off the bench when neccessary.

Possibly slightly more truncated in length than previous shows and light on Tweedy-stand-up, it was still plenty for my ageing body support system - and with another show tomorrow probably drawing back many of the beard-heavy crowd no-one is likely to be complaining.

Never, ever disappointing. Set list over at Wilco World.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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REVIEW: Pearl Jam - London Astoria

As one of the last gigs on my list of all-time favourite bands, having not seen these guys had always nagged at me. I had been too poor as a student, out of the country for one tour and then after the death of some fans at the Roskilde festival in 2000, Europe had been off rotation for the last couple of Pearl Jam world tours. I was resigned to eventually seeing the band at the enormo-arena-dome some time past their peak - and convincing myself that I wasn’t disappointed.

Recently, things started to look up. A well invested fan club membership led to a great 7 inch single, but the golden ticket was a heads-up on this one-off warm up show at London’s Astoria. Chimp Jnr managed to snag the tickets, which sold out in 1 minute and ended up going for £450 on eBay. It crossed our minds to cash them in and fly out to Seattle, but even there a 20,000 seat Arena could not offer the same opportunity as a 1600 seat venue on home turf.

The gig had a quick turnaround and before we knew it we were queuing down the side of the Astoria, round Soho Square and back onto Oxford Street. Some of the eBay tickets had apparently been confiscated, so some persistent fans did get a chance to get last minute surprise re-sale tickets on the door. The touts dropped their tickets to £250, while security guards checked the ticket numbers as some fakes had been circulated.

The atmosphere in the queue and inside the venue was electric. It obviously wasn’t just us that had been holding out to see them, and when the band came out the place went crazy. A quick acknowledgment that it had been a long time set the scene, and then we’re off with new single World Wide Suicide. As noted, this is a bad title, but as a song it was a great start - thundering, off new album Pearl Jam, but still one that the fans could get into. That was followed by Life Wasted and Severed Hand from the new album, which subdued the crowd slightly as they are still relatively unknown…. Two more new songs followed, but these were current b-side Unemployable and Christmas b-side Gone, which is already one of my current favourites. So things were picking up, and then they really took off with Even Flow.

From then on things only got better and better. The band pulled highlights and rarities from their 15 year back catalogue, such as Sad, I Am Mine, Leavin’ Here and Given To Fly mixed in with a couple of the new tracks. There was a healthy dose of revived songs from black-sheep album Ten (which out sold Nevermind for you haters out there) including an awesome ramped up version of Why Go? The Indie Goth Revival is over, long live Grunge.

The highlight had to be an impromptu sing along to Betterman, where Eddie Vedder literally hardly sang a word. The entire crowd took over in a spine tingling moment, reminiscent of Black on the Benaroya Hall album. Visibly moved by the crowd response, the band came back for two encores until finally the end had come, as Mike McCready plucked the opening notes of traditional set-closer Yellow Ledbetter. Everyone sang along and the band even dropped in a few notes of Nobody’s Fault But Mine as a nod to Robert Plant, who was in the crowd with his son. After a bow the band started to leave the stage, before the overwhelming reaction from the audience genuinely changed their minds. Eddie Vedder called them back for one more… a storming rendition of Alive. As one of their only UK hits, this is often how they are perceived by those who know little of their later work. It was an unashamedly 90’s moment, and I realised that after 15 years of progressing onwards they are now looking as much like the grunger’s of the early 90’s as ever…. and I love it.

All in all it couldn’t have been a much more satisfactory conclusion to my quest…. although thanks to a man on the inside we are off to see them taping Later with Jools Holland tonight.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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