Monthly Archives: April 2013

It certainly is a “Savage playground” when CrashDiet hits London

CrashDiet + Jettblack – O2 Islington Academy – 27/04/13

Jettblack are what you might call the perfect support band. They’re modern,  bring along a host of their own fans and their hard rock genre means that you can place them with pretty much any other rock band. This, however, was more of a co-headline tour. With album no.2 under their belts, you’d expect the boys to be building up experience and honing their craft. And they are, just in a slightly regrettable direction.

                The set list was predictable but very well received, running through a host of their hits including the Two Hot Girls and Slip It On as well as the newer Prison of Love, Less Torque More Thrust and In Between Lovers. The gritty ballad Black Gold was less expected due to its slower nature and length but the band played it well, living up to the song’s emotion. Their performance was tighter than I’ve seen it before, the sound balanced and rough, just like their studio work. The vocals, however, were less than perfect at times with a few clashes erring on the wrong side of harmony between singer/guitarists Jon Dow and Will Stapleton.

                The crowd were mostly receptive and enthusiastic though in places the band became a little boring, as if the same visual show had been rewound and replayed with the soundtrack of a different song. The lights and constant guitar soloing on podiums of amplifiers detracted from the show; if you’re a band that can play, you don’t need to hold yourself up for this sort of attention.

                A mixed, not exactly thrilling set, which was disappointing, especially since the songs were played, on the whole, pretty well.

 

CrashDiet had a welcome of their own. It’s time to expect more from this band and justifiably so too. This is the tour for the 2nd album with singer, Simon Cruz, and a UK show like last time, with rather shambolic vocals and apathetic stagecraft at best, might cut it with the 15-year-old Crash cult hogging the front two rows, but the band should be pushing for more.

                Luckily, to some extent, they are. Bouncing out to Change the World, Cruz’s vocals were on top form, guttural howls matched only by the backing vocals provided more by the crowd than Martin Sweet and Peter London.  I was sceptically impressed by how much these two have improved their harmonies, especially when singing so far away from their microphones…

                Nevertheless, Sweet and London were interactive, visibly enjoying the show which always makes the crowd enjoy it more. Cruz jittered around the stage like an electrocuted jelly bean, racing through Anarchy, California, Snakes in Paradise and Generation Wild to name but a few. The performance as a band was certainly much tighter and the contrast in attitude to Jettblack, especially concerning Sweet’s solos was welcome, with minimal fuss made over Sweet’s handiwork. London received his own roar for an average bass solo and the “instrumental”, if that’s what it was meant to be, three-quarters of the way through the set was a strange and redundant mash up of acoustic guitar, harmonica, bass and drums.

                For some reason the set seemed extraordinarily short, despite being an hour and I felt more older hits wouldn’t have gone amiss given the crowd’s reaction to Queen Obscene/69 Shots and Riot in Everyone. Cruz’s stage dive at the end was an entertaining stunt, not least because he only got across about 4 people before security dragged him out and then a girl wouldn’t let him go. Still, it added to the atmosphere of rebellion, anarchy and chaos.

                Condolences, of course, go out to CrashDiet at this time for the loss of their manager, Michael Sundén, who tragically passed away in Nottingham earlier this week. For a band to commit to a show like this so soon after is impressive and professional and I don’t think their fans would have thought any less of them had they postponed it.

                While they may not match the solidarity and sheer performance of some other bands, CrashDiet are undoubtedly impressive in their ability to create an atmosphere and to drive a crowd. Remarkably vivid and entertaining.

 

 

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Skid Row: maybe older but certainly no less spirited

Skid Row: 02 Islington Academy, 16 Parkfield Street, Islington, London

13th April 2013

They’ve been around since 1986 and within 10 years they’d sold 20 million albums worldwide. They are, however, still going strong, with 3 original (roughly) members, a bold and charismatic singer and an album due out in the UK on the 27th May (North America, you can get yours now!) When a band that old produces a show like this, no matter how big or small, it epitomizes the point of music: for expression, for colour of life and for fun.

OK, so their United World Rebellion tour wasn’t exactly covering stadiums of 20,000 like back in the days of vocalist Sebastian Bach of 1989-1990. But the fact is that they came to the UK and who would say no to an intimate gig at the likes of the 02 Islington with a deliciously close atmosphere of 800 people. And there were 800 too, it was sold out.

So there’s the first success. A sold out London show. And the band showed their thanks. Singer Johnny Solinger gave embellished throaty performances of the old favourites Piece of Me, 18 & Life and Big Guns and put Bach partly to shame with his still-strong voice and lack of arrogance on stage. There was attitude and meanness but certainly no lack of care.

The 90 minute set (shame about the 10pm curfew Islington!) thundered through tracks of the popular self-titled album as well as hits from Slave to the Grind and Thickskin. Dave Sabo and Scotti Hill’s guitar work had a deep and decent sound, perfectly akin to the albums and their stagecraft was indeed engaging and tailored towards the crowd, never forgetting the people up on the balcony watching down also. The encore, if you can call them that nowadays seeing as they’re more 5-minute breaks for both the band and crowd, consisted mostly of Solinger’s regret about the curfew. Still, Youth Gone Wild closed the show with a bang, though inviting the supporting UK bands back onstage was a little amateurish and made the whole ending messy and without impact.

Rachel Bolan, certainly the key creative mind in the band as well as the bass player, gave a passionate performance of Pyscho Love as well as providing the most interesting part of Sabo and Hill’s instrumental intermission – they both got a bit “guitarist in their bedroom.” Both Sabo and Bolan talked of their happiness to be in the UK and it truly was heartfelt, none of this triumphalist crap that they had a sold out show.

There were smiles on stage, smiles in the crowd, and these rockers have lost nothing of their style, dedication or skill for their music, not even their long hair (with the exception of Bolan, who was always more of the punk genre anyway!) They promised to be back and I advise you to get your ticket early. Thanks to this show, I think there will be many disenchanted fans who will check out the new album that promises to be an ecelectic mix of old and new.

It was rock’n’roll, but this time, for the fun and love of it. If Skid Row are right and “Park Avenue leads to Skid Row!” then that’s the Park Avenue I’m looking for.

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What’s Mexican slang for someone looking for fun in the bright lights of Mexico?

Chilango: 27 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 0PN

There’s lots of Mexican places in London, from the trendy burrito shacks to the market stalls and from the slap-up chains to the more costly dine-in restaurants. Well, many there may be, but there’s a reason that Chilango was voted No 1. Mexican restaurant in 2011 and 2012. And you know, these surveys aren’t always right.

Squashed into Upper Street in Islington, amidst Starbucks’, H&Ms and even a Jack Wills, Chilango offers a spot of colour where others are going for the professional commercial boredom. That’s not to say that Chilango’s isn’t professional. It’s just different, you’ll see.

The restaurant, if you would call it that, more of a paint-splattered, endearing shed, is narrow but two-storey with plenty of seats up and downstairs. Go along to the end and you’ll be faced with the simple menu of salads, burritos, tacos etc with pork, chicken, beef and all the beans, guacamole and peppers you should want in a Mexican.

The staff are efficient but by no means hurried and, as a minimum, walk along the rows of food opposite you following your directions of whatever you want on your burrito or choice of base. As if that wasn’t enough, all the food is freshly prepared adjacent to the service area so even if the menu isn’t quite convincing enough, the smells certainly will be. I wasn’t so enticed by the bagged nachos, though they had been bagged in-store as opposed to say, Tesco’s nachos, and I suppose to some extent it stops the chips from drying out. Otherwise, there are no starters/desserts or hot drinks though cold ones are available. The interior is awash with colour, one wall plastered head-to-toe with old record covers, while seats are available as bar stools, cosy benches or more intimate booths. It’s laid-back, funky and really welcoming.

The special Pirito Chicken Burrito came stuffed with coriander rice, fried peppers and onions, mild salsa, sour cream, cheese and guacamole. The tortilla was huge and light, supple enough for our waitress to masterfully fold everything inside to form a handy wrap-type meal in foil! The pirito chicken was succulent, not too spicy, and, while some may find the mix of hot and cold a little odd, the components of the dish blend wonderfully. The coriander rice wasn’t particularly prominent, but a nice filler.

Chicken Salad is a great choice for smaller bellies, those watching the calories or even for someone who wants to taste a little more as sometimes the ingredients shine out a little better. The grilled chicken was chargrilled and juicy, freshly cubed, while the salad was bright and fresh. The mild salsa was thick and chunky and added just enough heat. Sour cream and guacamole were both fantastically thick, the sour cream smooth and moreish, while the guacamole was a little grainier, as it should be, but rich and fatty. Fried peppers and onions were recognisable, so not overdone, and the black beans were fat little spheres of goodness.

Chilango may look like just another burrito bar, or even like someone’s home improvement project in a lean-to, but I can guarantee that you won’t be needing to go to Mexico for fun and adventure.

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Tinderbox: a bit of fire for your coffee break

Tinderbox: 7 Parkfield St  London, Greater London N1 0PS

A quiet, unassuming shop front can be really quite deceptive. The downstairs entrance to Tinderbox seconds as the takeaway counter, topped with muffins, pastries the size of a small frisbee and a short sweet drinks menu. Head upstairs, however…

and you’re greeted with a chic, alternative coffee shop. Seating ranges from sleek wooden benches to leather sofa-style car seats or dark alcoves with mirrors and padded benches. The staff are friendly and fresh in their service, happy to talk you through the many different types of loose tea or to spare a few more seconds for the regulars.

You’ll find any coffee you want as well as an impressive arrary of teas. Surprises for the sweet-toothed amongst us include everything from proper French custard tarts, stuffed biscotti or slabs of mocha cake. An almond latte was a velvety smooth mix of dark, rich coffee and fluffy frothed milk, heavy with almond from the syrup. A regular was also ample size and good value. Want to match it? Try the carrot cake muffin: moist and sweet, without being overpowering as chocolate sometimes can be and the dollop of cream cheese in the middle was a wonderful innovation on the classic carrot cake.

Staying off the caffeine? Darjeeling was fantastic, though bought from another company but a good match would be the banana cake. Pale yellow flecked with dark seeds, it was the size of a brick made from the density of air. It was moist, suitably sweet and the plain icing topped it off nicely.

Tinderbox is open long hours and has Wi-fi too as well as serving sandwiches during the day. So why not add a bit of spark to your coffee today?

 

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A Rare Thing: Value in Val D’Isere

Bar L’Ouillette: Piste Madeleine, Val D’Isere, France

Situated above the fashionable and now-expensive ski resort of Val D’Isere and linked to the sister resort Tignes, Bar L’Ouillette is one of many mountain restaurants which not only compete with each other but with the more established restaurants in the resorts themselves. With a wider range of clientele restaurants are having to up their game and we’re seeing more mountain brasseries, outdoor discos, self-service zoos and sometimes, just sometimes, a traditional environment that does it all.

My first journey to Bar L’Ouillette was on a blisteringly cold morning when the then wooden shack offered a shaft of warmth and light in the freezing conditions. Then, the building was stuffed with sturdy oak tables, dim lamps and shuffling bodies stamping their feet to try and stimulate circulation. The drinks were hot, the cakes divine and the service homely and professional. So we decided to drop back four years later, for lunch.

Now, at Easter, the terrace is crammed with deck chairs and tassel-covered parasols and a barbecue sizzles away under a white-painted hut, offering marinated chicken, steaks and sausages. However, if -3 degrees Celsius, even with the blue skies and sunshine, isn’t quite your idea of sunbathing then you can head inside.

The dark tables remain though there are fewer of them and the food is now bar service and pay at the till straight away, a little like self-service except the food is prepared and stacked behind the wooden counter and the staff pass it to you to place on your tray, all heated appropriately, of course. There are no crowds armed with trays, wielding forks and plates of anaemic steak hache and frites. The menu is extensive so there’ll be something for everyone, from the blizzard days to the lazy sunnier afternoons one can have with Easter skiing. Hot dishes include the traditional (quiche, tartiflette), the expected (salads, fresh sandwiches) and the additional (the barbecue) but the range of each of these is staggering ranging from vegetarian, quiche lorraine, chicken, salmon and beef.

Curried pumpkin soup with cheese was fantastic; thick and warming with a full depth of taste, often unexpected in soups. The baguette was fresh and soft and was given to us for the soup and salad without asking. Chicken salad, though slightly unappetising when stacked in the refrigerated cabinet, was well worth the money. Thick slices of grilled chicken abed salad leaves, cornered by varying ingredients. In one corner, herbed couscous neighbouring cherry tomatoes on the vine while opposite there was homemade coleslaw. Finally, slices of cucumber and two slabs of pineapple for a tropical and sunny taste. Wholesome and filling! Quiche Lorraine was gorgeous; super fluffy and light and full of flavour. The pastry was wafer-like and it came served with a fresh side salad, though a bigger slice would have been appreciated.

Desserts, again self-service, come in all shapes, sizes, textures and flavours. This is really where Bar L’Ouillette specialises. From trifles to tortes and meringues to mille-feuilles, you can’t leave this mountain restaurant without trying one! An apple tartlet was a thick, buttery circle of pastry that melted in your mouth, topped with hunks of apple gently caramalised. Shreds of apple had also been twisted on top for decoration. Flaky and fruity and just right for one! A slice of the baked apple tart was done with a strudel-style topping, infused with cinnamon. The pastry bottom was light with a textured, tasty crust, the inside stuffed with whole pieces of apple (no sugary puree here!) and finished with a light dusting of sugar. It held together beautifully and the flavour was balanced.

The service behind the counter was slick, the queue simply a sign of this restaurant’s popularity. The staff are happy to take reservations and are smiles all round. You could never call a mountain restaurant good value but as far as a mountain restaurant in Val D’Isere goes you could pay a lot more for a lot worse. The outside terrace is a fantastic addition, especially in good weather: complete with music and a colourful, beachy atmoshpere, it’s perfect for drinks with friends (from beer to hot chocolate) or for a spot of altitude sunbathing. Inside is a different atmosphere, more traditional and homely (and much quieter!) though there is limited seating. Next time I’m here, you can count on me bagging one.

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