Steve Hogarth @ Södra Latin, Stockholm

It was a long time ago that I’ve heard Marillion for the first time, I was probably around 14 and most likely I didn’t even pay too much attention to them. But the fact that my older siblings paid attention to them did stir my interest so I started dragging along, like the annoying (sweet) little sister that I’ve always been and always will be.

Two years ago I saw Steve Hogarth live for the first time, here in Stockholm. I wrote about it here. Then about a month ago I saw Marillion live for the first time in Paris, an experience I shared with the persons mentioned above. I will not go through the details of the previous events again, but focus on the event that happened at Södra Latin in Stockholm this past Saturday. There aren’t many things to say about it, I am not a music critic, and definitely not a Marillion expert, but here is my best shot at saying how I lived it that afternoon. If there is one thing I am sure of is that I know good music when I hear it, and the afternoon was full of that. And a lot of chatting and laughing.

Steve seems like nothing of a rock-star, but his straight-forward warm way of being in front of the audience gets him the rock-star treatment especially in terms of appreciation from the crowd. Even before he opened his mouth to say hi everybody welcomed him with a frantic and long round of applause. The event started with some chit-chat and joking that brought a huge smile upon my face and made me remember the previous concert from Historiska Museet, but now I saw things with different eyes. I didn’t have the curiosity of a first-timer and I had more time to deepen my knowledge in Marillion. Still, I impatiently waited for the music to start. One after the other the songs started to flow. Nothing like the Marillion live setlist, with older songs, newer (Living in FEAR from the latest album), a stop to Brave (Hard as Love), a too short introduction to Beautiful and some reading from his diary. The man, besides having a beautiful voice that goes great alongside a piano, has this hypnotising charm that gets you to listen to him not only when he is singing, but also when he is reading out loud to you about his horrible experience of a flight to Mexico City.

It was unacceptable to miss the chance to go up and talk to him after the show and tell him how I stuck my nose in my older siblings’ business and ended up well… there talking to him because of that. And in Paris to see Marillion (which he said was his favourite concert from the tour and that he likes playing in Zénith). And I also ended up passing his regards to the, again, before-mentioned persons. I was absolutely impressed by his patience in signing autographs, taking photos and making faces for selfies, shaking hands and listening to everyone who wanted to share his or her story about how much they like Marillion or his shows.

So he didn’t play all the songs I wanted to hear, but that was expected, but he played beautifully. Amazingly beautiful! To a sold out auditorium of devoted fans that clapped and appreciated every sound and every word. A crowd that came with ornaments to decorate the tree, just as the tradition of the H concerts requires, a crowd that hit the floor with their feet to show how much they enjoy the event, a crowd of beautiful people really passionate about music.

It was the second sold-out show in Stockholm in two years. I am so surely going to help the third become sold out as well and I so wish he visited Stockholm with the whole band because, even if in a way the music is the same, the experience itself is totally different. Give him, and them, a chance if they come playing anywhere near you (says me with White Paper playing in my headphones).

 

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Alcest and Anathema @ Kägelbanan Södra Teatern, Stockholm

A few weeks ago I deleted this concert from my interest list, with a certain feeling of regret. In the end Anathema is a band I’ve seen live three times before and even if some might think it’s enough, the reason why I saw them live three times is that they’re worth the attention. And I remember saying, after I attended their last concert 7 years ago, that I want to see them again. Alcest is that French metal band that I missed when living in France. Totally incredible sound, good vocals and not strange at all, even if they sing in French. Thank you Spotify for suggesting them to me more than a year ago. So a sudden decision got me to their concert on Monday evening. The location: Kägelbanan. I’ve never been there but the place is quite cozy and intimate for such a type of concert. Anathema don’t gather huge crowds and usually the people who attend are dedicated fans or really interested in the music, not just people who look for something to pass time with. The concert place has a bit of a problem: if you are not in front or way back or very tall you don’t see much on stage. But the bar is decent and the bartender, or at least the one that helped me with a drink, was absolutely brilliant in doing a great job and putting a smile on my face. Thank you, sir!

Opening act: Alcest. French. To me they sound like very melodic black metal with epic lyrics and good instrumentals, complex melodies but not over-worked, blended perfectly to capture the attention of the listener and of the viewer. Lots of headbanging, really long hair, kind words and good quality music. Below is the song that Spotify suggested for me and that made me curious in giving them a chance. They have other good songs so do give them a good listen.

Anathema. The headliners. Progressive rock from the UK, the guys have started their careers more than a quarter of a century ago as melodic-doom metal with some gothic influences, a bit too depressive and dark. They’ve evolved as artists towards progressive rock and complex songs with really worked-at instrumentals, catchy riffs and lyrics that tell stories, like any progressive band that respects itself and wants to do an awesome job. And besides that they are really talented musicians and they enjoy what they’re doing, or so it seems when you stand in front on the stage. For those of you who don’t know, Anathema has three brothers in the band: Daniel, Vincent and Jamie Cavanagh. Vincent is the one who talks a lot on stage, the main singer, though both him and Daniel take care of the vocals, alongside Lee Douglass. It was the first time they were playing in Stockholm and they were very happy people came to see them. Anathema is a band that interacts with their audience, they talk a lot, they tell stories, they improvise. Not all of these habits are tolerated by some members of the crowd and some of them voiced their disagreement towards long improvised riffs, changes in setlist that led to on-the-spot tuning of guitars or some messed up lyrics or out-of-beat sounds. However, these people can be ignored. Music is not exact science, it’s creative and flexible, and rock concerts are not military parades, they’re small acts of rebellion and fun, and though they have their rules, nobody should disagree with the fact that sometimes these rules can be broken.

At the end of the evening, after almost one hour of Alcest and two and a half of Anathema I can say that I love going to concerts. I probably said that before. The experience of live music, good live music, is unique. The same band can create a different vibe from one concert to the other. Anathema tried to make their new songs sound really good, and focus less on their older hits. In the end it’s their latest album, The Optimist, that they are promoting right now. And I still believe they are worth seeing live, which means that I will probably go see them again if I have this opportunity anytime in the future. Check their live video for Thin Air above and Can’t Let Go, the first single from their latest album.

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Intrum Stockholm Open 2017

Ymer/Ymer vs Lopez/Verdasco

And it was time for some Autumn tennis again. This year the Stockholm tournament got itself a new name: Intrum Stockholm Open, and a new colour. But in essence things didn’t change much: it was the same beautiful sport played in the Royal Tennis Hall and almost the same team trying to do a great job, as always.
It was my 5th time at Stockholm Open and being there is so normal and natural that it feels that I’ve never actually had a one year break since last year’s tournament. Tennis-wise, this year brought up some interesting names and players that I wanted to see live. Former champion Juan Martin Del Potro came to defend his title, and tournament classics Dimitrov, Sock and Verdasco were also there.

Qureshi/Rojer vs Marach/Pavic

A personal favourite of mine, Fabio Fognini, decided to visit Stockholm as well. The doubles draw was so amazing it was unbelievable. The Ymer brothers entered the race to defend their title, Fernando Verdasco paired up with Marc Lopez, Jean Julien Rojer, Horia Tecau’s regular partner, teamed up with former mate Aisam Qureshi, reforming one of the best teams in the past years and so did Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares. Paes and Zimonjic, doubles veterans and some of the best players in history, decided to sign in the competition alongside Raja and Sock. Of course, my focus turned again to Robert Lindstedt, pairing Jeremy Chardy and the Romanian duo Marius Copil/Florin Mergea. To my disappointment, both teams left the tournament early. Robert’s team met with Italians Bolelli/Fognini and lost in a flat 6-3, 6-1 match, while the Romanians faced a tight battle and frustrating loss in front of Erlich/Mektic with a 10-8 final score in the decisive tiebreak. These kind of matches can be extremely heartbreaking, both for the players but also for the audience, and when I say audience I mean me. All the Romanians are really dear to me and I love following them around the year in their tennis journeys but seeing them play live is, besides enjoyable, an honour. And of course that I like to show my support and that I try to understand their matches as best as I can. But if I thought this match was a heartbreak, nothing prepared me for Marius’s singles match against Jan-Lennard Struff. The Romanian lost a battle that went up to 14-12 in the last set’s tiebreak after saving several matches points, pulling himself together twice in the last set and fighting bravely. Actually, both players did that and in the end the best man won. This also meant I had to say goodbye to him and his team, and unfortunately for me, that was a sad moment since I barely see him play live. Since the tennis tournament in Bucharest got canceled I rarely get the chance to see the Romanians in action live, and when I do, of course I want them to stay in the tournament as much as possible.

Good morning!

The singles finals was somehow predictable, even if the semifinalists, Fabio Fognini and Fernando Verdasco put up a good fight, Dimitrov and Del Potro decided to re-edit last year’s semifinal with the same outcome: the Argentinian player won and he also took the title, again. This only made the tournament audience-friendly as most evening matches were sold out and so were the ones in the week-end.

Good night!

Besides the beautiful tennis, Stockholm Open also meant a lot of time spent with a gang of very special and beautiful people: the tennis team that works behind the curtains making everything work smoothly. This team, as a whole, worked really hard last year, so hard that Stockholm Open was named ATP Tournament of the Year. A particularly amazing team worked hard as well, winning ATP Best Players Service for 2016, and funny enough it was my 5th year as a member in it. Hard work gets rewarded but not a lot of people realise how hard this hard work really is. If by any chance working with players seems fun and cool, all parties and star-struck people, think again. It takes diplomacy and professionalism, a great attention to details, a smile on your face even when you don’t feel like smiling and really long working hours. Yet again getting to the tennis hall early in the morning or leaving well after midnight offers a sense of what tennis is like before the crowds gather and the players start competing. Most of the time at the end of the day or at the end of the week you don’t really feel like partying, you just want to go home and rest.

Dimitrov vs Del Potro

But just as always Stockholm Open is an experience. It has tennis in the middle of it all and a lot of wonderful people on the side, from the colleagues and friends that you meet, to the staff you are working with, the players, families and teams, and even the VIPs who demand more attention than the real protagonists of the event. All in all it was a good Autumn for tennis. The season is almost over and my mind already moves forward to next year’s tennis adventures. For now, game, set, match, championship: Juan Martin Del Potro, Oliver Marach/Mate Pavic.

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Satyricon @ Fryshuset, Stockholm

After missing their previous concert in Stockholm, because I was in Bucharest and the one in Bucharest because I was in Stockholm, it was now about time to try my best not to miss another live show of one of the best live bands out there. It’s been 8 years since I last saw them in Vienna and many things have changed both in my life since then and in their sound. One thing is for sure: I moved closer to Norway! I say that because Satyricon, a Norwegian band, play what is called Norwegian Black Metal. Throughout the years their music evolved from a lot of growling and powerful guitar riffs to melodic pieces of work curdled together in quite a complex way. I still don’t know how so many guitars can keep track of the fast pace of the songs and how Frost, the drummer, has the energy and precision to play at a mind-blowing speed. Yet again he hasn’t been named one of the best drummers in black metal for nothing.

As grim as it sounds, the band and the music itself are not something to run from, on the contrary, I’d recommend it to anybody who has the courage to take a sip out of extreme metal. However, it’s not for the faint hearted. The songs tell stories and help channel anger, yet I haven’t seen an angry person around me at any of their concerts, just a lot of people having fun and eventually a little bit too drunk. But only smiles and all ears.

This concert in Stockholm has been on my list for 6 months now, and happy I am for putting it there so long ago as it was sold out. When I actually got to the venue I also understood why it was so: it was so small, too small, in my opinion, for a band as Satyricon. They are perfectly capable of enlivening crowds of thousands, yet, there were just a few hundreds of us in front of the stage. The organisation of the event was quite poor, if you ask me: poor security, probably too many people than the capacity of the venue, a mandatory coat-drop, but everything changed once the band started playing. Satyr was as charismatic as ever and a great frontman as he always is. He talked to the audience, demanded appreciation and seemed pleased with the reactions he stirred in us. And I have to say that so was I as it is the first concert in Sweden when I see people reacting the way the audience did at the Satyricon concert: a constant murmur, people singing, clapping, screaming, asking for more in a loud manner, not waiting for the encore in a civilised and silent way. It is true that Satyr kept involving us in the show all concert long and that I’ve noticed quite a lot of foreigners around me, but even so, I wish all rock concerts would have such devoted and active participants. If I didn’t make it clear until now I am going to say it again: we had a very good reason for it to be so.

All in all the band went through their new album, old hits and they made them all sound amazing. I still can’t believe how good Repined Bastard Nation sounds live and how the guitars are so well synchronised. That song played live gives me the goosebumps. Than of course there are the moments when Satyr gets his hands on a guitar. I knew from previous experience that I must listen closely because I will not be disappointed. And I wasn’t, the guy is a maestro.

This time they included Mother North in the core of the concert and left other songs for the encore: The Pentagram Burns, Fuel for Hatred and K.I.N.G. From the new songs I totally loved To Your Brethren in the Dark and The Ghost of Rome.

As a reminiscence of my black metal days, this concert came at a moment when I didn’t know if I have the vibe for such music inside me or not. Well, it is still there and it still fits like a glove. It wasn’t long after the first chord that it all came back to me and I was able to make sense of what others would call noise. And I left there with a huge smile upon my face and a desire to see them play live again. So, tusen takk Satyricon, it was amazing!!!

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Marillion @ Le Zénith Paris – La Villette

Last year in September I ended up in the UK, because why say no to a week-end getaway? It was about the same time I ran into a magazine that had a cover story dedicated to the British rock band Marillion. That magazine landed in Romania two days later, but it drew my attention on the band’s latest album, F E A R (F**k Everyone And Run), a piece that the guardian named Marillion’s best album in 20 years. What stirred my interest, besides the music itself, was the fact that the music sent a message, the whole album is a story with an amazing soundtrack, something that reminded me of Brave, their 1994 album that took me years to make sense of, and only got it in its whole meaning after I started being interested in popular culture and the politics of music. So yes, F E A R sends a message, it is there if one wants to get it, but even if one doesn’t, than it is at least worth listening to because it sounds very good. For me, who doesn’t know the band as well as the hardcore fans, out of which I personally know two, the album sounds a lot like Marillion, which means that if I listen to the instrumentals I get it: it’s them. I am plotting an in depth analysis, if only I had time for it. Even if most listeners and reviewers praise it as a masterpiece, unfortunately it will not reach the peak of popularity: no, it is not radio friendly but it sounds amazing live. And here we get to the interesting part: listening to the whole album live. Because this is what Marillion are doing during their current tour, they are playing F E A R  in its entirety. And they did so at Zénith, Paris, on October 7th, and I was there, together with the two hardcore Marillion fans mentioned earlier. As an occasional listener I think that I probably had an objective approach to the concert, so objective that I had to say it during the concert: “they sound so good!!!!!” And that crowd! When I said before that Marillion fans are a wonderful and passionate community I wasn’t mistaking. This concert made me believe it even more, so much joy streamed from the audience that it was, occasionally, just as interesting to turn back and look at the crowd as it was to watch the band play on stage.

The guys were in a very good shape, Steve Hogarth was his usual chit-chatty self, always ready for a joke, a story, and 26 (!!!) songs. The concert itself had two parts: F E A R first, and after a short break, some of their classic goldies. I’ve listened to the first part with great interest, and I looked at the images displayed on the screen behind the band with greater interest. Because they meant something and because some of them were sending some messages that were so real they simply hurt. Link that to the music and see what you get. My favourite parts: Living in F E A R and The New Kings (i) F**k Everyone And Run. The album itself joggles with topics as power play, social inequality and injustice, media manipulation, some of the topics that occur in music that dares to send a political message, the music that was thought obsolete, but that is there, just not in the mainstream. The images used for The New Kings (i) F**k Everyone And Run sent a shiver down my spine, I translated them, for me, into the arrogance and greed of certain people in the society, people with a lot of power and an even greater deal of ignorance. To fully get the whole message I’d probably have to attend another concert and pay even more attention to everything. There are more ways of reading into music than just by moving ones hips to the rhythm.

The second part of the concert was the one where people were hoping to hear their favourite Marillion track played live. For me that was The Great Escape and guess what? They played it! Alongside Easter, Afraid of Sunlight or Neverland. To make things sound even better they had 6 guest artists playing violins, horns and cellos. They teased the crowd with jokes, conversations, backstage footage and two encores, the second one showered with confetti.

I am pretty sure I missed a lot of details in the concert but I am sure I didn’t ignore the fact that it sounded great and that Marillion is a band worth seeing live and listening to as often as possible. Yes, they have lighter music as well, I guess everybody knows some of their previous hits. Nevertheless, a lot of their songs sound very good. Now I am eagerly waiting for Steve Hogarth’s concert in November, very curious how that will be like.

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