Sunday, May 31, 2015

Brandon Flowers in London: The HMV Signing and Brixton Round 2

It took a long time before I fell asleep on Thursday night. The fact that I'd met my idol kept running through my mind, and I played it back like a film clip on repeat in my head. I eventually drifted off in a haze of vivid but unmemorable dreams, and woke with a start when my alarm went off. The four hours before I could leave for the signing were the closest to hell I've probably ever come. My inability to force down food, the caffiene I was injesting in attempt to keep me awake, and the slowly rising levels of adrenaline all combined for a terrible effect on the human body, but I pushed through. And so I made it to the signing, where I was shepherded into a back room of the HMV Oxford Street store with 300 or so other Victims, all clutching our copies of The Desired Effect, and bouncing on the balls of our feet to try to get a glimpse of the man of the moment - who hadn't even yet arrived. Hey, we were excited, okay? I was joined by Daisy, and for a while we discussed last night's meeting, the show and what we were hoping for from tonight's show. By now the album was playing on a loop for the second time, and standing in a room with 300 superfans, all signing along to Can't Deny My Love was another surreal moment. Brandon appeared to massive applause, and grinned his way through the sigining. "Nice to meet you again, Brandon. Thanks for being an inspiration, see you tonight." I said as he handed me back my signed CD. I don't know why I didn't go for the handshake, but I was happy nonetheless. Still shaking like made when I left - either due to lack of food or adrenaline - I abandoned my plans to go straight to Brixton, and headed home for a nap. After sleeping for exactly 20 minutes, I bounded out of bed with the idea that if I didn't leave for Brixton now, I'd fall back asleep and never make it before gates. However, upon arrival at 5pm, I scoped out the - small - queue, and instead headed off for a cocktail with Rachel. Unheard of. I was slacking in my old age. I made it back to the queue around 6.30pm, and made friends with two young girls in queue, who wanted to know all about last night's show. I don't even know their names, but I was in their Snapchat, so we're basically besties, right? I made second row on what would be Dave's side, and Daisy waded her way through the crowd to me. We had the perfect view. Perfect.

Tonight's support was Joywave, mercifully less noisy than last night's band, and with a good sense of humour. "We know we're standing between you and Brandon right now." 
Perhaps it was because I was closer to the stage, or perhaps my mind was allowing me to focus on finer details tonight, but Brandon was unstoppable. Air-punching and mounting speakers, Only The Young dance moves and all - it was perfection. 
I was ecstatic at tonight's opener of Untangled Love, in my opinion the most 'Killers-ish' song on the new album. Jenny Was A Friend of Mine came with Brandon's inquiry of whether or not we thought the narrator was guilty - an overwhelming yes from the crowd. "I don't want you guys on my jury" he said, giggling, and in that special Brandon way of almost singing his sentences.
A surprise came in the form of substituting Read My Mind for Human, and the crowd lost it. "... are we human, or are we dancer? LOOOOONDOOOOOON!" Goodbye sanity and hello so-long-to-devotion hand gesture. I screamed my face off at the appearance of 'Diggin Up The Heart', by far my favourite off the new album, and although the rest of the setlistwas similar to the previous night, it did nothing to diminish the impact of night two. Chrissie Hynde appeared again, ending her and Brandon's performance of 'Don't Get Me Wrong' with "Isn't he gorgeous?!" Yes, Chrissie, he's gorgeous.

And although the crazy part of me wanted to stay and meet him a third time, my aching 24-year-old body disagreed, and sent me straight back on the tube home, where I was barely able to converse with anyone around me. Great gig, yeah, zzzzzzzzzz. I collapsed for about 4.5 hours, until it was time to throw some clothes in a bag and hightail it to Euston for my train to Manchester: round three was about to begin.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brandon Flowers in London: The Meeting

I once read a Stephen King book in which people were described as being tied to some kind of metaphysical string, and when the string was cut, they died. I’ve re-interpreted this theory slightly, and come to my own conclusion that we’re all tethered to the earth by a string - and sometimes, something happens that loosens your string, and sends you flying into nothingness, into the great beyond. You feel unhinged from the rest of the world, everything seems to spin, and just for a few moments you’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t. I think this feeling could come from a great shock, or simply from a lack of ability to comprehend just what’s going on around you. Sometimes things are just too much for our tiny human brains to fully absorb. That happened to me last Thursday. About ten minutes before BF was due on stage, the string holding me to the earth was severed, and I felt myself drifting away from the 5000 other people in the room. This was not happening: there was no way my hero was really going to appear on this stage in front of my face in a few minutes, and perform some of the songs that had defined periods of my life since 2010. No way. I could barely register that the guy behind me was speaking Afrikaans, I could barely stand up straight or breathe. I was - unfathomably - nervous. As though I was the one about to take to that stage. I gripped Emma’s shoulder and squealed that I wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready either. We would never be ready for this.

But I want to dial this back a bit. Back to Monday, when HMV decided to announce a CD signing by none other than a certain Mr Flowers. First 300 people to buy the CD in store get in. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to the brand new assistant Tom, who had started work about an hour previously. “I’m sorry”, I told him, trying to retain the last vestiges of my professionalism, “I have an emergency, I need to go to HMV, I’ll be back in an hour.” And so I sprinted to the tube, and whiled the thing to hurry up as it carried me toward Oxford Street. I dashed out of Bond Street station breathlessly, threw myself into HMV and stared around like a mad woman. Where is it??? The precious CD was located, and I speed walked to the counter. Keepin’ it cool. “Can I still get the wristband for the signing?” The cashier frowned at me. “I dunno. Some guy came in earlier talking about a wristband too. Go upstairs and ask them.” The answer was yes, I could (definitely) still get a wrsitband, and I pegged it back to work safe in the knowledge that come Friday, I’d be meeting Brandon Flowers. Meeting. Brandon. Flowers. I sent out a slew of Whatsapp messages decorated with crying emojis. I was meeting Brandon Flowers. Hey, I had to take full advantage of this tour - the first one and probably last time I’d be in the thick of things to experience a defining moment for my favourite artist.

I’d be lying if I said the next three days flew - in fact they dragged, time seeming to slow down as we got closer and closer to show number 1 on Thursday, and the signing on Friday. By Wednesday night, I was mildly hysterical, and in danger of the excitement spilling over and manifesting in either a screaming match or a tearful breakdown at any given moment. It was that kind of crazy, ridiculous excitement that I had felt the day I was going to see Coldplay live after dreaming about it for years. Thursday crawled by even slower, with frantic glances at the clock every few minutes. Every moment until 4pm was pure torture, and at exactly 4, I raced home to drop off my laptop and then grabbed the first circle line train in the right direction - unfortunately no matter how many times I am advised to avoid Edgware Road station, I always end up spending an inordinate amount of time there waiting for a connecting train. On this particular night it was 20 minutes, and by the end I was almost ready to rage tweet Transport For London, thought I knew nothing good could come of that. And so by the time I’d caught yet another train from Victoria, it was after 5.30pm, and I was  tapping my foot impatiently to the beat of my iPod, clutching my lighting bolt necklace and mouthing the words to Magdalena like some sort of desperate prayer. And then all at once I’d arrived, I was greeting Emma at the station and we’d covered the 400m or so the the venue. It was happening. We scoped out the line for familiar faces before taking our own spot at the back of the line, where we were accosted by an excited Alice (“Remember your cat wellies?” Yes, I remember them all too well), a quick hello from Sinead, Sam, waved greetings and "OMG I totally know them from Twitter" and then gates are open.

Inside, I was happy to choose a spot near the sound desk. With three more shows after this one, easing into things was surely best. One noisy support act later, we were itching for the main man to take to the stage. By the time the lights dimmed, I’d still not managed to re-attached the string that grounds me it’s really happening, he’s really here. And then the music started up, and I lost myself in it. Punch the clock, baby on the nightstand I sang like no one was watching, and surely they were not. Decked out in a golden jacket, Brandon was a vision. A consummate showman, a born and bred musician. It’s gonna be alright, you’re a performer. Somehow the entire crowd knew the words to Can’t Deny My Love, but it was Crossfire that sent me over the edge. This was the song I’d had a poster of in my lounge for the past three years. This was the song I’d brainwashed all my friends into liking in 2010. This was what I’d first heard on World Cup kick-off day, this was the song I’d tweeted East Coast Radio about daily, and screamed when they’d finally played it. This song was my first indication that Brandon would never let me down musically. Magdalena came with a chat, and the first surprise was Hard Enough. You let me into your life on a whim…Isn’t that true of everyone? The acoustic version of Jenny Was A Friend of mine was haunting, and by the end of Lonely Town, we’d all started doing the graviton dance. I Can Change is not a favourite of mine, but live it worked out well, and Brandon followed it up with another Killers cover - this time Read My Mind. And who doesn’t love Read My Mind?

By this time Emma had left, and I wound my way a bit closer to the stage, only to have to suffer through Swallow It. Thank goodness the setlist recovered with Only The Young, and then a remix of Mr Brightside. Now tell me, Brandon, how does it feel going to bed every night knowing that you’re the guy behind one of the most iconic songs of our generation? Good, yeah? Although I was already realising it, I didn’t want to admit to myself that Brandon could pull off a solo show as well as he could pull off a Killers show. I love The Killers, and it would break my heart if they split, but I take some comfort in knowing this deep in my heart.

Exit Brandon. Cue screaming. Cue more screaming.

If anyone was waiting for a surprise, this was it. Out pops Brandon for the encore, and then out pops Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders to join him. I’d never seen such joy on a man’s face (until the Bernard Sumner incident of May 24th, but we’ll get to that). Brandon and Chrissie performed ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, complete with the most adorable dance moves possible, then she joined him in a beautiful duet of ‘Between Me and You’.

“I’ve shared a lot of myself with you over the past 12 years.” Brandon says after Chrissie leaves. “And… I’m probably going to embarrass her, but you’ve got to thank her for sharing me… come on our here.” A collective 5000 people held their breath as Brandon’s wife Tana and two oldest sons made their way onto the stage. She waved shyly to massive applause. “This one’s for you” … Brandon launched into Still Want You to shouts of ‘Awwww’ from the Victims. It was the first time we’d ever seen her in real life.

The Way It’s Always Been is one of my personal highlights of the album, but ended the show on a slightly melancholy note. Hey, maybe that’s what he was going for.

For me, there was no time to be melancholy - I fought my way through the crowd and pegged it to the stage door, where I was joined by Alice and Daisy for the long wait. By 11pm it was freezing, the adrenaline comedown had me shaking terribly, and I was considering leaving to make it back to the tube before it shut. Every time the stage door opened it was Brandon…. but it wasn’t. The small crowed began to disperse, leaving about 20 of us die hards to harass the security guard (“Orville, like the guy who invented the airplane”), who eventually told us yes, he was coming out, but he wouldn’t have much time. When band photographer Torey popped his head out the door, I knew it was time. The string connecting me to the earth was tied firmly, and I was calm. Brandon was grinning widely as he stepped out the door and straight towards the throng of selfie-seekers. “Hey Torey, how’re you doing?” I asked (calmly). Torey was good, how was I? “Good, thanks.” “Hi Brandon, can we have a really quick photo? Your music changed my life, thank you for being you.” I was dimly aware of the small crowd around me letting out a collective “aww” at my words. I snapped the photo, stepped back and then all of a sudden the world stopped turning, and all I could do was repeat “I’m done, I’m done with life, I’m done.” We watched Torey hop into the front seat of a cab, and Brandon in the back, as we ran up the road squealing “We met Brandon!” much to our surprise, Torey waved to us from the car, and snapped a few pictures before they sped off. It had happened. I had met Brandon Flowers. Life as I knew it had changed.

Monday, May 11, 2015

D'You Want To Go To The Seaside?

My first trip to Brighton was booked and planned in a reckless haze of and Trainline. No, I did not mind spending 100 Pounds on a hotel room if it meant that I could take a train through the countryside and listen to The Shins, whilst pretending it was 2012. Ever since my first trip to England way back in 2012, I’d had this inextricable association between The Shins and the English countryside. I spent some of the happiest days of my life driving around England listening to the lonely laments of this melancholy band. I was happier then with no mindset. But that’s not the point.

Let me start out by saying that I had never been so unprepared for a trip in my life - I’d barely taken a glance at Google’s directions from the train station to the hotel, and I’d not even bothered to search for things to do in Brighton. It was time to be impulsive, and this was about as impulsive as things got.

Of course I got to Victoria station an hour early (hey, I said impulsive, not idiotic), and scoped out where our train was departing from, whilst miss Catherine raced across town to make it in the nick of time. “OMG, friend, I thought I wasn’t going to make it - you would have killed me!” I sure would have.

The National Rail train was almost empty, except for two girls sipping something that looked like chocolate milk, but definitely was not. We watched the countryside speed by outside the windows, and I almost felt as though some of my enthusiasm for England was returning. What am I saying - it was definitely returning … within 45 minutes I was positively squealing about the adorable little houses, my voice approaching dangerously inhuman levels.

We stepped off the train in Brighton, and I breathed in the familiar smell of sea air - something I’d not experienced since January. The quaint streets of the town were abuzz with bank holiday weekend tourists, bustling through the shops and eateries. The magnetic pull of the ocean drew us towards it, and we managed to find the seafront without even using a map. D’you want to go to the seaside? The Kooks’ song begins to play incessantly in my head, and continues for the rest of the weekend.

Although neither of us are big fans of fish (or ‘fush’, as we Durbanites apparently say), there are certain traditions that simply need to be observed at the seaside, so we popped into the nearest fish and chip shop, and proceeded to wolf down a healthy portion of the stuff - of course slathered in a flavourful mix of ketchup, vinegar and enough salt to send my blood pressure through the roof by the time I’m 30.

Our hotel is just a stroll from the famous Brighton Pier, and is the cutest, quaintest little thing I have seen in my life. Strawberry Fields. As if I needed another song stuck in my head for the weekend. Or, well, forever. After cup of tea, we feel revitalised, and ready to take on the town.

And so we headed for Be At One bar and seated ourselves to prepare for the wonder that is a peanut butter cocktail. But this particular one was made with Reece’s Pieces are Bourbon, and let me tell you - The Killers were right all along. Bourbon needs to be left on the shelf, and only consumed in situations equal to or greater than you planning the demise of your girlfriend, Jenny. It got better as we got further along though, and by the time we had enough Bourbon in our bodies, it was really quite pleasant. We cleansed our pallets with another gem, the Candy Pants, and then headed back to the hotel room, but not before a pit stop at Tescos for chocolate, and another at a local pizza restaurant for a takeaway. We drifted into a happy slumber, to awake the next morning to a slight drizzle and chill in the air, but after spending a winter in London, I was not to be deterred!

We headed out for a buffet breakfast, complete with a range of teas, pancakes, nutella, bacons, sausages and yoghurt - though none of the famous brown sauce. I watched the rain fall on the window pane opposite the our table, and reflected on how beautiful the view of the pier must be from this spot in the summer. And speaking of the pier…

I’d never seen anything quite like the massive structure that sits in the sea in this tiny English town. No, this isn’t like KZN’s own Margate pier, which you’ll find in varying states of decay, and filled with ‘fisherman’ in varying states of vaalie. This pier is filled with cute food stalls, arcades, viewpoints, and right at the end - a funfair.

Ah, rollercoasters. We couldn’t help ourselves, and boarded the biggest one, light drizzle spattering on our faces, and already frozen fingers locking tightly around the safety rails. Rollercoasters - of course - always seem like a good idea until you’re hanging 50m above the Atlantic Ocean, praying to Dave Grohl that everything will be alright - the likelihood of the Brighton Pier, collapsing at this very moment are slim, right? Right? I shut my eyes tight and told myself that if I could survive Ratanga Junction’s ‘Cobra’, this thing was child’s play.

All rollercoastered out, we hit the streets again, wandering through the town in search of a market, and getting waylaid for hours in the cute shops hidden away down the alleyways. We eventually landed in a tea shop called the Mock Turtle, where I spent a good half hour trying to remember what a ‘mock turtle’ was, and decide whether or not the guy at the table next to me was a member of some obscure rock band. The Mock Turtle (named after a character from Alice in Wonderland, ha!) took ‘quaint’ to a new level - looking like a cross between a bakery and the living room of an sweet, little old lady from the early 1900s. The scones were excellent.

Our final day dawned bright and sunny - the clouds had evaporated, and although the mercury was only peaking at 11 degrees, it was pleasant to walk along the beach (in long pants and coats, of course). Imagine the surprise of a Durban girl to discover that the beach here was composed not of soft, fine sand, but rather of layers and layers of rounded, polished rocks. But somehow this strange beach has its own beauty, one I can’t comprehend fully. The only thing I know is that I never want to leave. It’s the first time I’ve ever been reluctant to get back to London. The Kooks were right - I fell in love on the seaside, though it wasn’t with a person, it was with England. I fell in love with the country all over again.

After a beautiful weekend of friendship bonding, we got on the train home, where I sat back with my iPod and my ‘Best of The Shins’ playlist. This was what I’d been dreaming of doing for three years, and now I was doing it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Walk Down South Africa's Musical Memory Lane

Sometimes - not often - I take a nap during the day, and I wake up after ten minutes, completely confused as to what century and country I am in. I legitimately expect to wake up in 2007, in my mom's house, during the school holidays, or something ridiculous like that. And when I hear the shrieks of the sirens outside my window, and absorb the fact that I'm starring at the dull beige walls of my shoebox apartment in London, there's nothing I can do but close my eyes as the waves of homesickness wash over me. At least I'm always safe in the knowledge that if I hold fast against those waves, the feeling will pass within a few minutes, and I'll be as happy as pie to be living in my favourite city.

Anyway, this happened yesterday, and then today when I turned on my iTunes on shuffle mode, I happened across an old gem that took me back to SA in the early 2000s, when Watershed-style, easy listening rock was all the rage. What was the song? It was 'Can't Lose With You' by none other than the 2001 SA Idols season 1 winner, Heinz Winckler. Ahhhh, the nostalgia. Ahhh, the full-flavoured cheese. Yeah, I mean the guy came on the TV show I worked for a couple of times, and I bumped into him in line at the airport last year, but in my mind he belongs in that carefree period of my life, when my biggest worry was whether I'd get an A or an A+ on the piece of homework I'd submitted. Oh, to be 11 again. It got me wondering what other SA gems from that time I'd completely forgotten about. You ready for this stroll down memory lane?

Watershed - Indigo Girl: I physically could not walk 5 meters in 2002 without hearing someone humming along to "you're my little indigo girl, indigo mmmmmmm'. In fact, my friends thought they were so cool because they knew lead singer Craig Hinds' little brother. Years later, I became good friends with his cousin, so I'm just as cool. 

Mandoza - Nkalakatha: No, I don't know what the words mean, but do I need to? Like, who couldn't sing along to this, despite having no idea what you were saying?

Arno Carstens - Another Universe: Can anyone ever forget that car ad with the dad and son? It's basically ingrained in my head, as though it aired on TV every day last year rather than more than ten years ago. Pity no one ever knew the words to the 2 and a half minutes of the song that weren't in the ad.

The Finkelstiens - QQ Me: No, I do not know what 'QQ me' means. I think it has something to do with instant messaging, which was just about to take off in SA around 2001. I mean, it could be some weird euphemism, but I choose to think that it's really about turning on your PC and hitting up the ladies on that MSN. 

Just Jinjer - Safer: Yes, it was 2004, so it was a bit later, but this is just one of those songs that gives me an "ahhhhh" moment everytime. Like "ahhhhh, I forgot this was their song, I'm only here for What He Means". 

Blue Eyes - Springbok Nude Girls: All together now ... "Daddy's little blue eyes .... mumble mumble mumble.... we're gonna leave it BEHIND." 

You're welcome.