James Bay @ Gröna Lund

I have no words to say how I’ve been waiting for this concert ever since before it was announced. Pretty much the same way I’ve been waiting for James Bay’s new album, “Electric Light”. I’ve been probably waiting for it since the moment the previous concert, and the first one I’ve attended, ended. I can probably count my favourite artists on the fingers of my hands, and when I say favourite I mean those artists that I don’t want to miss live and I learn the lyrics of their songs by heart. Well, James Bay is one of those artists and he is high on top of the list. And it all started with “Hold Back the River” back in 2014.

The announcement that he was going to play in Gröna Lund made me book June 14 months in advance: this evening was taken! The new album came out a few weeks ago but singles from it are available ever since February. The first one, “Wild Love”, was not what I expected. After “Chaos and the Calm”, which is a great rock album, the first single from the new album was too pop-r’n’b-ish for my taste. But James Bay didn’t disappoint and the next singles and the album as a whole are now a constant presence in my playlists or, better said, they are just a playlist that goes on and on and on in my Spotify app. And the acoustic version of “Wild Love” is not that bad, in the end.

But the concert tonight. WOW! He started with “Wasted on Each Other” and “Pink Lemonade”, both from the new album, to go into the previous one with “Craving” which is one of my favourite songs from him. One by one, old and new songs were performed, from ballads to rock’n’roll tracks that made the crowd go crazy. People danced, clapped and sang along and I have to say that this was probably one of the most active crowds that I’ve ever seen in Gröna Lund. Everybody sighed when it was time for “Let It Go” and we took care of singing the chorus instead of James. The same happened to “If You Ever Want to Be in Love”. The end of the concert was an explosion of sound, energy and joy as it culminated with “Just for Tonight” and, of course, “Hold Back the River”. The encore was a cover of “The Best” (Bonnie Tyler).

James took the time to talk to the audience, to present his very talented band members and to put a lot of soul into his performance. During “Slide” , which you can watch & listen to below, one could only hear his clear voice and the piano, and occasionally the screams of the people from the rollercoasters. Every now and then James would look in the direction of the fast speeding amusement park attractions a bit annoyed that it was ruining the atmosphere of his very beautiful and gentle song. And I have to say that yes, it was annoying! But business must go on as usual for Gröna Lund, otherwise we wouldn’t get the chance to see so many concerts with just a Summer pass.

Overall, the concert didn’t disappoint, on the contrary. James’s voice is a pleasure to listen to, the songs are catchy and live both him and his band sound amazing. I told all my friends to go see him live if they have the chance. I know I will be in the crowd next time I have the opportunity to see him live again.

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Bella Italia

It was just like the pictures of the old Italian movies that I used to watch with my parents when I was little. You could expect Adriano Celentano to pop up from behind a building or just see him riding a scooter on a narrow street. You’d expect to see beautiful women with colourful scarves covering their hair and wearing wavy skirts rushing down with a shopping basket on their arm. I am of course talking about the very small bit of Italy that I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to see during a four day trip. It was like walking in a dream. After 3 days spent in Riva di Solto, Lovere and Fonteno, by Lago d’Iseo, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a more beautiful place in my life. This might have been influenced by the experience of it all, the waking up high above a lake with the mountains on the horizon, the cozy breakfast and amazing coffee, the people I got to see again and the ones I got to meet for the first time.

Growing up in a house where Italian music was a constant presence it was obvious that I had the perfect soundtrack to my trip. And pretty much every corner reminded me of a different sound and vibe but I had the song below permanently on the back of my mind.

And then there was the part of communicating. It is amazing how people can just understand each other without using many words. It was also incredible that I could understand a bit of Italian but  it was frustrating that I couldn’t answer using the same language.

As bewildered as I was by the beautiful Italian countryside, I had to leave it behind, say goodbye to dear people and head towards the city. This time it was Milano. And this is where I say that I wasn’t too impressed. Il Duomo is beautiful, I couldn’t understand why people were more fascinated by taking selfies in the shopping galleria rather than in front of the church, La Scala is impressive and the cat colony by Sforza Castle gave my visit a purpose. The gelato is delicious and so is the food, especially when friends tip you on where to go dining, the cozy narrow streets have their own charm but I wasn’t swept off my feet. That might have also been because I was very tired and missed a lot of activities because on my only night in Milano I fell asleep quite early. However, I was advised to visit Bergamo so on my way to the airport I stopped by and just walked its cosy streets for a few hours, rode the funicular and enjoyed the view from above. Still, my thoughts went back to the resort by the lake, the hot and humid weather, the thunderstorms and the mountains.

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When in Prague

Prague was on my “places to visit” list since a long time ago, but somehow I never made it there until now. The city by the river that most know because of its numerous bridges and the beauty of its old town architecture is like a little gem. The streets of the old town are like a labyrinth and getting lost on them is not a bad idea, actually. As I have the habit of not using maps and just walking wherever a nice street takes me, I ended up seeing a lot of unplanned and unexpected things and probably missed just as many. The vibe of the city depends on which side of Vltava one is, and it took me a few days to find that out.

While looking around and enjoying the delicious Czech food that reminded me so much of the one in Western Romania, I started planning an itinerary that had nothing to do with the touristic landmarks of the city in the classic way, but to seeing as many sites from INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart” video. A few months ago when I found out I’d be going to Prague in May I was kindly provided with a list of 50 videos shot in the city. Some more interesting than others, some I’ve never heard of, some worth all the attention, and a few of them worth retracing the steps of the video shots. I’ve settled on “Never Tear Us Apart” because I like it, it is a beautiful song, it shows the full charm of the city and there is a map on Google of the sites of nearly every frame in that videoclip. So there I was walking the streets of Prague trying to figure out in which moment of the video I am just by sitting and staring at the walls of the Jewish Cemetery, for example. Oh the excitement in the evening when, after my long walk, I watched the video again and could happily say “I was there, uh and there, and there, seen that too, yay!” (The Jewish Cemetery, Charles Bridge, the island, the stairs, the city view, The Old Town Square, the places where the guys playing the violins are). It was impossible not to make this song the soundtrack of my trip to Prague just as well as it is impossible not to say that now I want to go and see the city in the Autumn, on a cold, gloomy, misty day, just like the one in the video. And because now, at the end of May, I found Prague to be suffocated with tourists, so I would really like to se it when it’s less crowded and cold.

Jumping from one Czech restaurant to another meant trying as many local dishes as possible. Hard to decide if I liked the goose or the pork better but I can say that the cabbage and the beer make every meal great. And the apple strudel. Though they are fighting for the authenticity of some dishes with the Austrians and Hungarians, they nevertheless serve delicious food.

The “I’m a tourist” part of the journey was just a small piece of the trip itself, as the purpose of my visit was work, not just playing tourist. Some mornings have been taken by putting things in order for the conference I was attending, other parts of the days were spent in panels listening to academics share their wonderful research or wondering how some of them can’t determine me to make sense of what they were saying. But in between listening and talking to people coming from all around the World, enjoying the food, meeting friends and colleagues, my thoughts would briefly be interrupted by a question: “what song’s next?” So then I move to another band that is ever so dear to me and one of the most beautiful songs ever, and one of my favourite songs ever: HIM’s “The Sacrament”. One can see a bit of Prague in it.

I can’t tell which part of the city I liked the most, but I am pretty sure all my favourites have at least a corner from which I could see the river. The old city with its buildings and narrow streets, cozy coffee shops and restaurants, tourist traps, speeding drivers and tens of thousands of tourists are there to take ones mind away from the fact that not a long time ago, though people seem to forget that, Communism was trying to dehumanise every living creature and make her or him bow its head in submission. All is fine until you end up in front of a set of statues that represent The Memorial to the Victims of Communism. It gave me shivers down my spine, not knowing right away what it was about but understanding just by the look of it that whatever it is a placeholder for, that thing should never happen again but should never be forgotten either. Other traces of a dark past are hidden far away from the eye of the enchanted tourist, on the outskirts, in tall blocks of flats that look like matchboxes. Others probably still hide in the eyes and the souls of those who experienced those times. Many can see them in the Museum of Communism. In essence Prague offers a little bit of each world. Its beauty is nevertheless undeniable.

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Editors @ Berns

If I were to say one word about this concert that word would be energy. That might also be because first impressions matter and Editors decided to begin their show with “Hallelujah (So Low)”, second track from their latest album “Violence”. The song is an explosion of sound and it worked perfectly to get everyone in the audience hocked.

We were in Berns, a quite impressive venue which was almost packed. As always I didn’t chose to head to the front, closer to the stage, but preferred to stand in the back in order to capture the big picture. The whole feel of the gig depends a lot on your place in the crowd. It was the first time I saw Editors live though they are old acquaintances of mine, from the good ol’ days when Bucharest had a radio station named City FM that introduced me to them by playing the song below every single hour.

“Munich” is a constant presence in my playlists and a recommendation I make to anybody who asks for some good music. They played the song, but I had to wait a while until I got to hear it. In the meantime I got to enjoy “A Ton of Love”, “No Harm” or “Blood”. People reacted differently to each song but I was pleased to see that, just like me, everybody was familiar with the tracks from the new album as they played “Violence”, Nothingness” (really like this one) or “Darkness at the Door” from it. I was really happy to hear “Sugar” and “Ocean of Night”. Tom Smith’s voice is great, it is deep and gets stuck in your mind, or it got stuck in mine. He wasn’t very chatty but took the time to say hello and thank us for being there.

The encore started with an acoustic version of “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors”, then brought us over to the new album with “Cold” and “Magazine” just to unleash the energy of “Papillon” and finish with “Marching Orders”. I would have preferred them to end with “Papillon”, just to go out in a very loud style but the melodic softer outro of the last song calmed everybody down before we eventually decided to turn around and head to the exit.

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The Killers @ Globen

I am happy to start this year’s posts with one about a concert. Sorry for the very long silence, I’ve been busy.

So, The Killers. Well, I’ve known them since maybe 2003-2004 but back then I didn’t pay that much attention to them because it was way cooler to listen to darker, heavier stuff. I still listen to that, and blog about it, just so you know. But I’ve missed The Killers when they visited Romania years ago, so I couldn’t miss the chance to see them now. I secured my ticket last September (concert going is a very serious activity that requires a precise agenda otherwise one might actually end up broke or, even worse, missing mandatory shows) and eagerly expected to attend my first big venue concert for 2018.

The guys don’t just sing, they put up a show, with Brandon Flowers, the singer, holding the main part. And he is great at it! A showman, not just a singer, full of energy and talented, singing and playing instruments, entertaining the audience and communicating with it, he is absolutely hypnotising. His very sparkly, bright-coloured outfits might help too, a bit. They offered us a run for our money, from the new songs that they put out in 2017, which sound a lot like The Killers but are not a failed attempt at reinventing themselves, to the older tracks that can make anybody bounce, scream and sing along. Familiar guitar sounds, catchy beats and fast paced lyrics, wonderful melancholic melodies that give you the goosebumps, all of them met in their setlist. The first flashback was offered by “Somebody Told Me” which is actually the first song I ever heard from them back when they ruled the music channels and the radio stations, alongside Franz Ferdinand. Then the whole thing just got better and better with stops like “Spaceman”, “Miss Atomic Bomb”, “Human” (which at a certain time was played on TV and the radio so many times that I ended up hating it), my favourites “Smile Like You Mean It” and “Read My Mind”, all very well received. For “The Man”, a song from their 2017 album, the audience seemed a bit uninterested but that went away fast.

I think I complained before that Globen is a venue where, if you don’t have a ticket in front of the stage,  you sit… at a rock concert… you sit. Not OK. Well, that changed at the encore, and this was the first time I saw so many people standing. And dancing. Including the girl to my left who had seen them live 6 times, they’re her favourite band and Brandon is absolutely the best. And of course, me, and pretty much everybody around, we were all standing. They enchanted us all and finished with style and grace with “When You Were Young” and “Mr. Brightside” (that has a very motion picture-like video).

I am not a Killers fan, I like them, I like them enough to go see them live again, because they sound good, they make a nice atmosphere and have a sneaky way of hitting you in the face with a hammer without you even realising, meaning that they can put very deep meaning in a silly wrapping. You consume it and then when you get home you start to think about it. There were moments when the voice was choked by the instrumental part, which instrumental part was given a hard time during the first songs by what seemed to be a little desynchronising either from the guys themselves or, most likely, from the guys with the buttons. And maybe Brandon’s voice had to suffer a bit because he just couldn’t seem to be able to stand still, not even when he had to do his part with an instrument. It really seems that he loves being on stage and he loves what he’s doing there. I recommend seeing their live show and would definitely go see them again.

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