I didn’t put into cover tonight (just in case you were wondering) but got a last minute email the day before enquiring whether I was available to cover it. Although I had another gig in The Valley already arranged for the night, the earlier Riverstage shows, with their 10pm curfews) meant that there was time to fit this in before heading off to The Zoo for Neon Indian. It meant heading out straight from work rather than going home and driving back in later, the major downside being having to rely on public transport to get back home. The lack of an 11:25pm train (with the trains going every 30 minutes until 10:55pm and then the last train of the night being an hour later at 11:55pm) together with a “police incident at Alderley” making the train more than 20 minutes late and the walk back home from the station mean not getting back home until just before 1am. The things I do for rock ‘n’ roll…
Having accepted the gig I then get a call from the promoter asking if I want to be their official photographer for the night but have to turn it down as I know that I’d be struggling to get to The Riverstage for the 6pm start start and have to leave before the end to get back to the Valley in time to photograph there. Neon Indian at The Zoo might be a much smaller gig and a much less glamorous opportunity than getting to be the show’s official photographer but I am a man of my word and I don’t like letting people down, especially if they’ve gone to the effort of arranging my media pass for me and are expecting photos from me. It is disappointing though; you really should make the most of opporunties like that as you never know where it might lead. Turning down opportunities has been a theme over the last few months, most of them because they’ve been such late requests, less than 12 hours in some cases, and I’ve already made other plans or am photographing elsewhere that night. It’s a good job I’m not in music photography for the money…
I get to The Riverstage within seconds of Amy Meredith starting. For such an awful band they seem to do ok for themselves, although I’m guessing its a lot more to do with who you know, rather than what you know. They look like a band that spends as much time preening in the mirror and working on their ‘look’ as they do working on the music, although having said that it’s remarkable how Cure-like they sound in some songs. It’s funny how much The Cure-influenced bands have become a mainstay of commercial radio over the last decade, considering how dark, edgy and alternative The Cure used to be when they their height in the early 1980s. As for Amy Meredith, they’re basically the new Faker except they probably don’t get played on triple j.
Professor Green is nothing of note: Man with tattoos raps and walks from one side of the stage to the other and back again for 45 minutes. His band are pretty solid but other than a couple “Brisbane, how you fuckin’ doing!” it’s all very mainstream-safe, family-orientated, unimaginative and unsurprising rap.
By the time of Jessie J’s 8:30pm start (how much do I love The Riverstage’s 10pm curfew and headline sets that start at a reasonable hour), there’s a fairly healthy crowd in to see her. By rough calculation, it’s over 3,000 people, mostly full in the section in front of the mixing desk, more sparse behind this on the hill.
In doing some last-minute research for tonight I’ve heard about a throne as a stage prop and as there’s a small set of stairs at the back on the stage I’m expecting Jessie J to make some sort of grand entrance and so have my long lens on ready for it only to find she bounds out from the side of the stage and starts performing right at the front of the stage. For that first song I keep my distance at the other end of the pit from the action and then change when the song ends to something wider and stick with that set-up for the rest of the night.
Tonight Jessie J has gone for a chav/stripper combo look, with big gold hoop earrings matched with a see-through purple dress, black stay-ups and chunky looking ankle boots. It is a bit of a shock given the number of impressionable young girls being chaperoned by their mothers, although I realise after a bit that she is wearing an all white body suit and it’s not bare thigh flesh she keeps flashing the front row.
Despite being one of the very few males in the audience, as well as one of the very few over 25s, at least one that isn’t there to look after their children, it’s pretty fun and enjoyable. She plays for just about the whole of her allotted 90 minutes, although it’s very dragged out at times, with extended jams and in-song banter with the audience helping to fill out the time. Songs like Do It Like A Dude and Price Tag must go on for over 10 mins each, Price Tag having an almost never-ending series of false endings, so many that it’s a relief when it finally finishes.
You can tell that she’s a Stage School alumni, there’s just something about her and the way she carries herself on stage. If she wasn’t doing this she’d be a Butlins Redcoat or something similar and doing it in the same way except for probably/possibly being slightly more conservatively dressed. At one point she takes a cuddly toy that’s been thrown from the crowd and says she’s going to put him in a good spot for the show, before remarking that she sounds like a children’s TV presenter. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that’s where she ends up at some point in the future. There’s just something very natural about the way she communicates with the audience. She’s cheeky, and admits to talking far too much at one point, but is a natural and comes across as genuine and very down-to-earth.
She also endears herself to any photographers in crowd when she introduces one song in the middle of the set by demanding that everyone puts down their camera phones for this song and threatens not to start until she can’t see any from the stage. She puts forward a well thought out argument in her introduction, noting that when you’re watching through a phone screen you’re not really there and that when you get it back home and look at it, it sounds rubbish anyway. She does shame a few people from the stage, saying that she can see their phones, and for a few minutes from the top of the hill the crowd is plunged into darkness. It doesn’t last though; straight after all the camera phones are back out along with the widespread LCD glow throughout the audience.
She can really sing too, there’s no doubt about it. The band she’s playing with is minimal with drums, guitar, keyboards and a bassist that switches to keyboards for some songs. Other than the screen at the back of the stage that proclaims her name the stage show is also minimal; it’s not a big production, there’s no flashy stage props, no big pyrotechnics and no dance troupes, and she has to carry the show largely on her own personality. There’s noticeable samples and triggers throughout though. B.O.B.’s contributions during Price Tag are still there despite the fact that there’s no one on stage delivering the words and there’s other vocals during other songs that no one on stage looks like they’re singing. How much of the backing music is live and how much programmed is hard to tell at times, although the guitars and drums all look live from close up. Either way it doesn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of show; it’s just an evening of harmless fun.