Category Archives: live

Live Music:Renegades (of Feeder) at The Electric Ballroom, Camden 22/04/10

Old bands ‘going back to their roots’ is nothing new, but when Feeder completely regenerated as Renegades, something changed significantly. Gone were the slow and thoughtful songs of old which dwelled on the untimely death of original drummer Jon Lee and in their place fans found the energy and simplicity of a fresh new band, as if the group had been transported back to their formation in 1992.

In the transition drummer Mark Richardson was replaced with Karl Brazil, from the relatively unknown band Ben’s Brother, who encapsulates the bands new-found new energy with furious and relentless drumbeats.

Front-man Grant Nicholas, who you imagine came up with the ‘back to basics’ concept, continues to impress on stage at The Electric Ballroom, a venue far smaller than the likes of the Hammersmith Apollo which they played on the Silent Cry tour only a few years ago.

Nicholas admitted he had a soft spot for the Ballroom, saying: “I love this venue. We haven’t played here for about 12 years, but even now I remember the great atmosphere it always has.”

Posters on the front doors warn Feeder fans expecting the likes of ‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘Just A Day’ that the band will be playing ‘predominantly new material’, and sure enough they don’t disappoint, the most recent, and debatably well-known, of the tracks played is 2006’s ‘Lost and Found’.

“We know you all want to hear the hits”, Nicholas cries across a crowd spanning decades, “but this is really about the new material and moving forward.”

Luckily the new material delivers the sort of quality we’ve come to expect from Feeder over the years, albeit a bit more gritty, new band anthem ‘Renegades’ has even the most lost-looking fans singing along and ‘Home’ and ‘Down By The River’, a nod to the bands native Wales, stand up well on stage.

Free with the gig comes Renegades EP2, complete with four tracks: ‘Home’, ‘Goodhead’, ‘In Times Of Crisis’ and ‘All I Ever Wanted’, making a perfect souvenir for fans who are now left salivating expectantly for the bands new(/debut?) album.

For those feeling out-of-step with the Renegades there were a few ‘covers’ of Feeder tunes including ‘Tangerine’, ‘Godzilla’, ‘Sweet 16’ and grungy set-closer ‘Descend’.

While many may have been disappointed with the lack of hits – the crowd broke into ‘Just A Day”s infectious main riff more than once – the band is doing what it wants to do, from the plain but bold style of the merchandise to downsizing to smaller venues, and it feels a lot more personal and as though they are more connected with their fans than ever before.

Verdict: Possibly too much for the Feeder pop fans, but for those longing for some dynamic and striking music from fantastic musicians the night was nothing short of amazing.

Rating: 5/5

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Xbox LIVE: The Past, the Present and the Future

Online gaming is no longer just a novelty, it’s a phenomenon, and in the console world if there’s one platform that shines brighter than all others it’s Microsoft’s Xbox Live.

The service launched back in 2002 and had amassed 10 million users by February last year, but will its ‘golden age’ last? What makes it so successful? Where will Live go from here?

It’s difficult to work out exactly how many people log on, since Microsoft keeps such information pretty close to the chest, but since it reported a rise from eight to 10 million users in only a few months, it’s clear there’s potential for further success.

But what about the other side? There have been hacking issues, deleted accounts, glitches and cheaters who upset the online status quo for their own personal gains.

Totally360.com spoke to Gary Shaw, the Managing Director of unofficial troubleshooting site Xbox Live the Guide, who believes cheating is a serious issue:

“Cheating has been around since games were invented and it will never go away. I’m firmly from the ‘you’re only cheating yourself’ camp. If it’s not a genuine win when playing PES [Pro Evolution Soccer] or ‘winning’ COD [Call of Duty] with a rapid-fire mod… well… have you really won anything?”

The effect of cheating is that is creates more cheaters, since more people exploit the glitches in games that they see others doing. Colin Miller, a professional Games Journalist, believes that if cheating is allowed to continue it can cause other issues: “The main problem is that it leads to more ‘rage quitting’. I have quit quite a few games of COD: World at War myself after seeing cheaters shooting other players whilst hovering in thin air. It’s annoying for players when you spend all that time waiting to join a decent match and then that happens.”

The introduction of the ‘New Xbox Experience’, or NXE, in November last year led to an increased focus on the social side of gaming, allowing gamers to form ‘parties’ and jump from game to game together.

These benefits were generally well-received, with some even going as far as saying it felt like playing a brand new console, but according to Helene Wilson, EMEA Xbox MVP and webmistress of Xboxliveaddicts.co.uk, there is a down side to relying on ‘party’ based gaming:

“Although [it’s] great to have it so we can chat whilst all playing different games and from wherever we are, it’s taking away to a certain extent the ability to make new friends. If you are in a Party Chat and someone comes into a lobby, how are you meant to hear them?

“It’s a great feature for people who love to be in a small group, but not so good for new people to Xbox Live who may be looking to make friends.”

Despite this, Xbox Live remains significantly more developed than it’s equivalents on other consoles. The Playstation 3’s ‘Playstation Network’ (PSN) recently announced over 20million members, a significant amount in the two and a half years it’s been up and running.

The key difference between their successes is money. A silver subscription to Xbox Live is free to Xbox owners, but it requires a monthly fee of £4.99 in order to upgrade to a gold membership and access its best features, particularly multiplayer, while Sony’s PSN remains entirely free.

Talking to Edge magazine about the financial worth of Live in 2007, Aaron Greenberg, the group product manager for Xbox and Xbox Live, said “You’re creating your friends list, messaging…. instant messaging, you get a good 80% of the Live experience for free…we feel our multiplayer offering is good value at 50 bucks (£39.99) a year.”

The content of Xbox Live isn’t just limited to games though. Video on demand and other digital distribution has been increasingly utilised in the past year, with film studio Pathé being the latest to sign up only a few weeks ago. The studio, responsible for Oscar triumph Slumdog Millionaire, joins Universal Studios, MGM and Paramount, who are all already providing films for Live.

Video downloads still have some way to go to reach the popularity of DVDs, which had sold over a billion units in the UK by 2007, but Shaw believes attitudes differ between America and Europe: “I think if you live in the states it’s been great. Outside of the US though seems to have been forgotten about. Sure we’ve got a line up of movies but it’s not to the same extent as our cousins over the pond.”

Another major part of the success of Xbox Live is downloadable content (DLC) for games. Almost every week there are reports of download records being broken, the latest being for Xbox exclusive downloadable episode ‘The Lost and the Damned’ for Grand Theft Auto IV, which became the fastest opening day money-maker on Live, retailing at 1600 Microsoft points (around £14).

There have been numerous controversies and problems with DLC in the past, such as the infamous horse armour for Oblivion, which caused an uproar on release when developer Bethesda charged 200 Microsoft points (about £1) for something which most gamers agreed would have been an unlockable secret in days gone by.

This begs the question of what qualifies as ‘good’ downloadable content, just as ‘The Lost and the Damned’ made us wonder if there should be a limit on how much developers can charge for DLC.

Andrew Hemphill, a Freelance Entertainment Journalist and Sub Editor, believes the quality of DLC can often depend on the individual game: “It’s a very mixed bag, while some of it is priced correctly, there are far too many developers placing a massive tag on their DLC- I shouldn’t have to pay £10 to download three maps for COD 4 for example- that’s extortionate. It should be capped.”

Some would like to see DLC pushed even further though, Wilson said: “I would like to see in the future all games being downloadable to the hard drive or to some kind of server for consoles, the way they do for P.C. Not only does this eradicate the stack of boxes and reduce the need for storage, but it would also get rid of scratched discs and be much easier to find the game you are wanting to play.”

Another issue which had left the gaming community throwing their pads across the room is ‘pay-to-unlock’ content. This is content which is included on the retail disc and is merely unlocked by paying the Microsoft points.

A chief example of this comes from EA games who publish both Burnout Paradise and Skate 2, both of which have downloadable codes to unlock all the secrets in the game. For some gamers this has already started alarm bells ringing, since players are being offered a choice to pay for little more than a cheat code.

Recently action horror hit Resident Evil 5 released its Versus mode amid a wave of allegations due to the download’s filesize being a meagre 1.5megabytes (about half a song’s worth of music), since it was widely claimed the content was already on the disc. Capcom responded stating that the structure of the mode wasn’t on disc already, but brought together content from all over the disc and bundled it up with only a bit of new code.

The fact of the matter is that Xbox Live works, and with new releases on the horizon, both retail and DLC, there’s plenty of scope for the service to increase in popularity, but what else will change?

Miller believes Live will embrace the social element: “with the fact you can access your account from any computer, I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a bit more of a social network, like a gaming version of facebook.”

Hemphill sees it taking advantage of advances in web technology: “As high-speed internet connections become more popular, I can see an expansion in video and game downloads being forthcoming and possibly entire games being downloadable over the service.”

Wilson envisions a virtual world in your living room: “Touch, speech and movement sensitive controls and I would like to see an Xbox Live radio, web browser and perhaps a place to see how many lobbies are open on a game without having to put your disc in.”

Shaw thinks of the economics of the service: “People ask why Xbox Live isn’t free. I think it would ruin the service. It needs money to make sure it evolves. Although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to reduce the subscription price a bit or at least offer some sort of discount for gamer families who have to fork out a gold subscription for every child/parent in the house.”

The future economic and global success of Live will depend on the continued communication with its members and responding to their requests for their service, since without them, Live could not exist.

This piece can also be seen on Totally360.com here.

Live: The Living End at Manchester Club Academy 21/04/09

Blistering guitar, infectious drums and slammin’ double-bass were order of the day in Manchester as Aussie trio The Living End stormed the Club Academy.

As competent support act Tellison left the stage the crowd was wrought with anticipation, it has been two years since the boys last played in Manchester, and tensions were beginning to run very high.

With an explosion of sound, the band leapt into fast-paced opener Raise The Alarm from new album White Noise. The crowd embraced the new material as if it had been in their minds for years, ‘woah-ing’ at every opportunity.

Following up a strong with a set filled with classics like Prisoner of Society, Roll On and We Want More. Anthemic new tunes such as How Do We Know were accepted by the audience after only a moments hesitation, uniting the groups wide age range of fans in one voice.

With such energy on stage you might expect the musical precision to suffer, but if anything it was enhanced, with lead man Chris Cheney’s fingers flying up and down the fretboard of his eletcro-acoustic axe, which is largely responsible for the band’s distinct rock n roll twang.

Beat master Andy Strachan relentlessly pounded the drums with an impressive mix of perfectly crafted rock beats, stopping only for a moment when he got a little over-excited and cracked a cymbal.

The third side of this rock triangle belongs to Scott Owen and his famous double-bass. Immediately giving Owen a massive presence on stage, the bass is over a metre and a half from scroll to spike and almost a metre wide, its difference in sound from a standard electric bass is noticeable, as well as the custom glow-in-the-dark paint job leading to the looming presence of a glowing skull when the lights go down.

Owen’s impressive party piece sees him hoist the great instrument up in the air and proceed to play behind his head in homage to the great Jimi Hendrix.

Cheney, not to be out-done, soon teamed up with Owen to climb up the side of the bass for a dramatic finale, before using a nearby beer bottle as a real bottleneck to unleash an astounding slide solo as beer sprayed everywhere, only relenting to down the last few drops.

Musical improvisation was by no means an isolated incident, as the threesome broke into fierce upbeat arrangements numerous times during the evening, as the crowd looked on with awe and wonder.

Despite the recent turmoil in their homeland from bush fires, the band were determined to show England that it had only strengthened their resolve on stage, and kept excitement levels raised until the very last. A truly mesmerising show.

Live: Alkaline Trio at Manchester Academy 11/02/09

Chicago punk/rockers cooked up a fire-storm at Manchester’s Academy 1 on Wednesday, delighting old and new fans with a show to remember.

Support came from Broadway calls and The Audition, and while the former were unremarkable, the latter showed enough energy and enthusiasm to get even the most melancholy in the room clapping along to their own brand of infectious pop/punk with tunes like Warm Me Up and Hell To Sell.

The main event arrived to a dark stage, the typically gothic backdrop reads “Agony and Irony”; the title of their new album, as the lights blare to reveal guitar/vocal master Matt Skiba in large square sunglasses, like a rocked-up version of Johnny Depps Willy Wonka, to break into a punchy Calling All Skeletons.

Next up was fan favourite Private Eye, the first of several tracks from the bands celebrated “From Here To Infirmary” album. The song choices were very much for fans: a few catchy new tracks (particularly an impressive rendition of I Found Away) interspersed with classics going well back through the bands repertoire.

Despite only a little direct encouragement, only song-titles and the occasional hello coupled with Dan Andriano giving a timid “thanks”, the crowd revelled in the company of one of the best 90s punk/rock outfit still around.

The only tracks noticeable by their absence were the big songs from 2006’s Crimson, but this is unsurprising considering fans reaction at the time. It was clear that this gig was a celebration of everything that makes the band worthy of their Alkaline Trio skull-tattooed fans devotion.

4/5