Concert Review: Rihanna at Wembley Stadium, London, England

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Opening a concert with “Stay” sounds like an odd choice for a singer known primarily for her pop bangers, but Rihanna captivated Wembley Stadium with the sheer power of her vocal through her haunting live rendition of the 2013 ballad.

And in a way it was very much a move that showcased the evolution of pop princess Bad Gal RiRi to a fully rounded creative artist.

Ending on the line “I want you to stay”, the Barbadian singer triumphantly removes the hood of her white boxing robe and treats the cheering crowd to the first verse and hook of “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)”, the song that saw her in tears just a few days earlier.

No tears this time, and it’s back on with the hood as she swaggers up and down a moving suspended glass platform, launching into Anti numbers “Woo” and “Sex with Me” with her trademark attitude and finally ascending the minimalistic stage to properly acknowledge her Navy – “London!” she yells, grinning – and to sing “Pour It Up”, “Numb” and “Consideration”, which are almost psychedelic in their execution.

“Ain’t no party like a Rihanna Navy party.”

For an artist famous for her don’t-give-a-damn attitude, Rihanna is a rare combination of nonchalance and energy; she alternates between smiling contentedly at the audience, dancing casually and singing along whenever she pleases, yet somehow managed to retain command of the stage in spite of her laid-backness. And you know better to mess with her, especially witnessing the high energy “Bitch Better Have My Money”.

White strobe lights, the crowd roaring along, the highlight of the night came with the albeit short-lived medley of some of her greatest hits of “Live Your Life”, “Run This Town” and “All of the Lights”, fading effortlessly into each other. By the time “Umbrella” is ringing across the stadium, it’s as if the crowd had found themselves not at Wembley but inside a club, partying with RiRi herself.

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“I only want you on your phones if you’re taking pictures of me!”

Riding off an impressive solo performance of “Desperado” and the incredible energy of “Man Down”, Rihanna proceeds to reel off a string of her most recognisable hits, from “Rude Boy”, which featured a sexy glittery one-piece and dance moves to match, Drake collabs “Work” and “Take Care” (sadly without the 6 God himself, who Rihanna is rumored to be again dating) to a mash-up of her biggest single with Calvin Harris “We Found Love” with the Scottish DJ’s “How Deep Is Your Love” that is basically a fan singalong. As the seated crowd leaps off their seats to scream along to the lyrics of “Where Have You Been,” the lights turn off and the pace slows down as RiRi does an atmospheric cover of Tame Impala’s “Same Ol’ Mistake”, building up to the iconic “Diamonds”. Wembley is lit – quite literally and figuratively – flashlights and a dancing Navy, a vision of ecstasy.

“Thank you for inspiring us to do what we want to do,” she says, visibly moved in a moment of emotion, before remembering herself and declaring, “We’re fucking up our reputation in London with this soft shit”. 

“Enough with the soft shit!”

And “soft shit” her performance of the catchy “FourFiveSeconds” is not. Juxtaposed against the song’s simple acoustic line, her vocal prowess is on full display now, with the R&B Princess triumphantly belting out the final verse in true diva style.

Those who were expecting of her most popular bangers for an encore would have certainly forgotten that they had gone to see a Rihanna gig. The songstress ended the night not with “Only Girl” and “What’s My Name” – both noticeably missing, although hardly to blame for a megastar who, at 28, already has a whopping eight albums to her name – but two of her personal favourites from Anti. “Love on the Brain” gets the full treatment it deserves: as a majestic ballad that has the audience swaying in unison, indulging in the music, lost in the romance of the moment. Concluding with “Kiss It Better”, RiRi, smile on her face, takes her victory lap – striding up and down the length of the stage, waving and blowing kisses at the audience, who for just 90 minutes escaped the surprise, shock, and in some cases, horror of waking up to the news of Brexit just earlier that day.

As Rihanna takes a bow, it’s clear just how far she has come as an artist, but that’s not to say that she can’t have a good time while doing it, which she did, and London certainly did too.

Setlist

  1. Stay
  2. Love the Way You Lie (Part II)
  3. Woo
  4. Sex with Me
  5. Birthday Cake
  6. Pour It Up
  7. Numb
  8. Bitch Better Have My Money
  9. Consideration
  10. Live Your Life / Run This Town / All of the Lights
  11. Umbrella
  12. Desperado
  13. Man Down
  14. Rude Boy
  15. Work
  16. Take Care
  17. We Found Love / How Deep Is Your Love
  18. Where Have You Been
  19. Needed Me
  20. Same Ol’ Mistakes
  21. Diamonds
  22. FourFiveSeconds
  23. Love on the Brain
  24. Kiss It Better

Best Things: 2015

My year in media. More to come in the final days of 2015.

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Movies: Birdman (2014), Boyhood (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), Whiplash (2014), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Inside Out (2015), The Martian (2015), The Lobster (2015)

Oldies: Before Sunrise (1994) / Before Sunset (2004) / Before Midnight (2013), Strangers on a Train (1951)

TV: Doctor Who Series 9, Hannibal, Twin Peaks

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Books: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov, I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Singles: “Hotline Bling”, Drake; “On My Mind”, Ellie Goulding; “Eventually”, Tame Impala; “King”, Years & Years; “Still Want You” Brandon Flowers; “High by the Beach”, Lana Del Rey; “La Lune”, Madeon feat. Dan Smith; “Hangin'”, Bastille; “Powerful”, Major Lazer feat. Ellie Goulding; “I Bet My Life”, Imagine Dragons; “Jungle”, Drake; “Greek Tragedy”, The Wombats; “Happy”, Marina and the Diamonds

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Albums: Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind; Disclosure, Caracal; Halsey, BADLANDS; Florence and the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye; Jamie xx, In Colour; Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Concerts: Too many! Bastille @ Taipei International Convention Center, Mumford & Sons at The O2. Honourable mentions: Disclosure @ Ally Pally, OK Go @ National Taiwan University Sports Center

Nights Out: Dance Rock Taipei @ Revolver, FKJ @ The Wall, Pomo @ Korner, Darius @ Barcode, “The Owls Are Not What They Seem” Twin Peaks-themed bar by Lemonade and Laughing Gas

Articles:

People I’ll miss: David Carr, Leonard Nimoy, Jonah Lomu, Catherine Coulson, Omar Sharif

Breakup I may never get over: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield

Places: Czech Republic, Austria, Taipei (because I was sad to leave), Yunnan

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Artists: Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha

Things I wrote/created/made:

Concert Review: Lily Allen at Taipei International Convention Center

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Four years, a marriage and two kids later, Lily Allen is back. She’s still got her trademark attitude and charm, and the English singer brought both – and lots of fun – to Taipei for her first ever show in Taiwan on Thursday at the Taipei International Convention Center.

Things were a little shaky with the opening “Sheezus”, the namesake of Allen’s most recent album, but quickly picked up with dance tune “Not Fair”, featuring some rather suggestive albeit funny visuals in the background. This was followed up by upbeat classic “LDN” – which as a nice touch – Allen customized to “Walkin’ around Taipei town”, and the equally cheerful “As Long As I Got You”, a song dedicated to her husband. ”It’s not a sexy one. That’s later,” she quipped.

During her performance, Allen – true to her outspoken persona– delivered tunes that broached a variety of subjects including the media, domestic life as a mum of two and cyberbullying, the latter in a funny little number called “URL Badman”, but all the time kept things light with her bubbly personality and giggling in between songs.

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Despite the range of new material, Allen’s older hits proved to be the highlights of the show. From “Not Fair”, “Everyone’s At It” to “22″, the fans adored her, clapping along and cheering her on as she periodically tried her hand at a list of Mandarin phrases from”Xie xie”, “Da jia hao” to “Wo ai ni men”. The classic hit “Smile” was an kaleidoscopic disco of LED lights, and Allen even kicked off her heels in all the excitement.

She soon puts them back on for “Hard Out There”, the lead single from Sheezus, a song that, she says, “requires heels”. Flaunting some outrageously provocative dance moves, she dedicates the song to “her ladies”, as the women (and men) in the audience join her in expressing their frustration at and deliberately defying societal expectations of females.

Despite her numerous vibrant outfits, Allen – with her tiny figure and a lone DJ – at times had some difficulty commanding the stage. The massive baby bottles and the backing visuals compensated for it somewhat, and the rest came down to her singing, which did not disappoint. In fact, Allen’s vocals were richer and more resonate live than the somewhat muted versions heard on her albums, and this was especially apparent in her oldie “Littlest Things” from her 2006 debut album Alright, Still and in the slower ballad of “Miserable Without Your Love”, which featured a single spotlight on Allen centre stage, the deep bass accentuating her dulcet tones.

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Allen’s quirky humour also came through in her interactions with the audience; she declined to sign a fan’s iPhone because she “is in contract with Samsung” and mistook a fan asking her to sign her album as gifting her a present.

The encore eased any doubts the audience may have had over her somewhat odd decision in closing the set with “The Fear”, a lesser-known hit in Asia from her second album It’s Not Me, It’s You. Screams erupted from the auditorium as soon as the intro for “Who’d Have Known” started playing, and Allen’s live rendition of the tune was pure perfection for any fans – like myself – who grew up listening to the song. The audience rocked along, hands in the air, fully immersed in the sweet melody.

Quite appropriately, Allen closed out her Taipei show with one of her most popular songs “F— You”, the audience roaring along, having just as genuinely good a time as Allen herself. A whole lot of technicoloured lights, effects and energetic dancing, Allen’s one-hour show reminded audiences of the kind of kooky, abrasive charm they had missed before Sheezus’ rebirth. We’ll let her be our leader.

Set list

  • Sheezus
  • Not Fair
  • LDN
  • As Long As I Got You
  • Who Do You Love?
  • Everyone’s At It
  • Close Your Eyes
  • URL Badman
  • Smile
  • Life For Me
  • Miserable Without Your Love
  • Littlest Things
  • Hard Out Here
  • 22
  • L8 CMMR
  • The Fear

Encore

  • Who’d Have Known?
  • F— You

cross-posted from the ICRT Blog

Concert Review: Bastille at Taipei International Convention Center

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Anyone who went to the Bastille concert in Taipei on Sunday knowing little about the band no doubt left a super fan. And if you were already a fan like myself, you probably reached “stormer” level and wondered if it was humanly possible to love Bastille even more.

The British indie rock band performed an explosive gig at the Taipei International Convention Center on Sunday, and it was the best concert I have ever attended.

After what seemed like a lengthy wait after opening act DJ Mykal (林哲儀), Bastille – quite fittingly – graced the stage to the theme song of the TV show Twin Peaks, a favourite of frontman Dan Smith, who is a huge David Lynch fan.

Cheers then erupted as Smith, keyboardist Kyle Simmons, bassist Will Fraquarson and drummer Chris “Woody” Wood opened with their single “Bad Blood” followed by a set of two more upbeat songs “The Weight of Living, Pt. II” and “Laura Palmer”.

Flicking the hood of his grey hoodie up and down as he danced, the self-proclaimed shy guy Smith proved to be quite the contrary on the stage. Despite the seating restrictions of the venue, he was extremely energetic, firing up the crowd right from the off with his trademark hair, skinny jeans and – excuse the fangirling – awkwardly adorable dance moves.

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There was never a dull moment during the concert; the audience – myself included – was entranced, alternating between clapping, jumping up and down and belting out the words to the pounding beat of anthems like “Things We Lost Lost in the Fire” and “Icarus”.

Bastille kept things varied too, with a segment of softer and slower songs such as “Overjoyed,” “Poet” and Smith’s favourite “These Streets”. “Overjoyed” was perhaps the most intimate, stripped down to the bare minimum, with Smith on keyboard, Simmons and Farquarson sharing another and Wood on a single drum. The song ended with a spotlight on Smith, leaving the audience with his haunting vocals.

With his self-deprecating humour, Smith then joked they would lighten the mood by performing their most depressing song “Oblivion”, a beautiful ballad made much more so by a sea of lights created by the glowing screens and flashlights of the phones, as encouraged by the band.

Bastille also treated fans to some of its more recent works including “Blame” – a new composition that Smith said was “quite different” and promised would be on their second album – and “The Driver”, a song inspired by the film Drive found on the band’s third and latest mixtape VS. (Other People’s Heartache, Pt. III).

Naturally, with Smith being a bit of a film buff, other film homages were cleverly worked in. Besides a sample of a quote from the film Requiem for a Dream before “Icarus”, Bastille performed “No Angels”, a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” mashed The xx’s “Angels”. While there was no Ella Eyre to duet with Smith, the song was executed to perfection, complete with film quotes from Psycho and even an effortless transition into the chorus of “Angels” at the end.

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After performing “The Draw” – what Smith calls the band’s “terrible attempt at being in a grunge band” – a familiar riff rang across the concert hall as the band launched into their hit and my favourite “Flaws”. Donning back on his hoodie, Smith jumped off the stage into the crowd’s crazed embrace. Despite the chaos of the mob that ensued, Smith was unfazed, doing a lap around TICC before leaping back on stage again with a boyish grin to finish the song and the show.

That is until they came back on stage for the encore. The band performed “Get Home”, followed by their perhaps most famous mash-up “Of the Night”. The audience was unstoppable by then. Completely lost in the music, fans screamed, shouted and squatted down with Smith before leaping up in unison to jump and dance to the fantastical electronic beat.

Finally, the band ended an amazing night with the single that catapulted them to stardom, “Pompeii”, and the crowd’s enthusiastic chants of “ey ey oh ey oh” echoed through the entire concert hall, gradually crescendoing into the grand finale that the band deserved.

Bastille’s concert in Taipei was no doubt the best concert I have ever been to. It was an almost surreal experience, having the opportunity to see them live. The band sounded even better live than they did on their albums. Not only did Smith captivate the hearts of concertgoers with his energy and sweet sincerity, he was also in a word resilient, hitting every note and singing every number during the 19-song set. The band is closely knit, their rapport evident, their coordination on point. Simmons, Farquarson and Wood are also incredibly talented playing multiple instruments (sometimes even two at once!) throughout the night. I left the concert practically speechless and brimming with love for Bastille. If you ever have the chance to see Bastille live, do it. It’s an experience unlike any other.

Set list:

  • Bad Blood
  • Weight of Living, Pt. II
  • Laura Palmer
  • Laughter Lines
  • Things We Lost in the Fire
  • Blame
  • Overjoyed
  • Poet
  • These Streets
  • The Driver
  • The Silence
  • Oblivion
  • No Angels
  • Icarus
  • The Draw
  • Flaws

Encore:

  • Get Home
  • Of the Night
  • Pompeii

cross-posted from the ICRT Blog

Best Things: 2014

As per usual, highlights of my year.

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Movies: 12 Years a Slave (2013), Her (2013), Blue Jasmine (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Gone Girl (2014), Interstellar (2014)

TV: Sherlock season 3, Black MirrorHannibalHouse of CardsA to Z

Books: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, Hannibal by Thomas Harris, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Albums: Arctic Monkeys, AM; Ed Sheeran, x; HAIM, Days are Gone; Bastille, Bad Blood; Jessie Ware, Tough Love

Singles: “Magic”, Coldplay; “Bite Down”, Bastille feat. HAIM; “Digital Witness”, St. Vincent; “Make It Rain”, Ed Sheeran; “From Eden”, Hozier; “If I Ever Feel Better”, Phoenix; “Make You Better”, The Decemberists; “The Waiting Game”, Banks; “Budapest”, George Ezra; “Hearts on Fire”, Passenger; “Not a Bad Thing”, Justin Timberlake; “Crave You”, Flight Facilities feat. Gisele

Concerts: Phoenix @ Legacy

Podcasts: Slate’s Cultural Gabfest, Call Your Girlfriend

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Exhibitions: Monet: Landscapes of Mind @ National Museum of History

Articles:

People I’ll miss the most: Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mike Nichols

Places: London (St. Paul’s Cathedral, The National Gallery, V&A Museum, Hyde Park)

Moments: 

Single worst thing: The How I Met Your Mother finale.

Things I wrote/created/made:

Playlist for London, The Swinging City

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I’m going to London on Thursday – fulfilling a lifelong dream – but mostly to accompany my talented artist of a younger sister, who will be attending Central St. Martin’s College at the University of Arts London.

To celebrate the occasion – and being similarly inspired by a New York playlist by good friend Susana – I’ve made a playlist celebrating my favourite British bands and artists, which is basically all I listen to any way (I once got asked on air what my favourite American band is, and all I could come up in the spur of the moment was Maroon 5. My earnest apologies to actual favourite Vampire Weekend).

In general, though, this is my first foray into the realm of writing/blogging about music, which in all honesty was to be expected considering I do work at a radio station, where I feel I have successfully propagated the following songs into the previously pop music-dominated system.

  1. Do I Wanna Know? – Arctic Monkeys
  2. Intro – The xx
  3. (I Just) Died in Your Arms – Bastille (cover)
  4. I’ll Hold My Breath – Ellie Goulding
  5. One and Only – Adele
  6. Into the Wild – Lewis Watson
  7. Tenerife Sea – Ed Sheeran
  8. Heart’s on Fire – Passenger Feat. Ed Sheeran
  9. The Way that I Need You – Passenger
  10. Lover of the Light – Mumford and Sons
  11. High and Dry  – Radiohead
  12. There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
  13. Candy – Paolo Nutini

Paolo’s technically Scottish, but until a secession actually happens, he’s fair game.

Image stolen from none other than said sister, Lian Tomato.