It’s back. The behemoth of music television that is Later… With Jools Holland is back for its 43rd (!) series. Everyone’s favourite pianist/presenter kicks off this series with performances from Kings of Leon, Sting, Lorde, Drenge, our lord and saviour Kanye West and an interview with Bill Medley. A veritable smorgasbord of music royalty mingled with an exciting aperitif of young talent.
The show opens with the steely-eyed and joyless Kings of Leon. I’ve come to this performance with my guard fully up. Ever since that infamous headline performance at Reading 2009 I’ve never been able to trust the Followill clan. Not to make a decent record. Not to put on a great live show. Not even to occasionally crack a smile.
Performing new single ‘Supersoaker’, Caleb’s listless drawl fills me with the kind of boredom I usually experience when ‘Chelsea Dagger‘ comes on at a Propaganda club night. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who used to scream with such ferocity on tracks like ‘Charmer’ and ‘Pistol of Fire’. The whole performance smacks of a band that have lost their passion for their craft. If you look bored while performing your new single on national, how can you expect anyone to go out and buy it?
Next up is Sting performing ‘And Yet’. Before I start laying into Gordon’s performance, I have to ask why is his guitar so small? Did he steal it from the girl he was creeping on in ‘Don’t Stand so Close to Me’? (a song that has become incredibly distressing to listen to since one of our delightful editors told me ol’ Gordy used to be a teacher. Eurgh.)
As for the performance? It’s dreary. Apparently the song’s taken from Sting’s musical about shipbuilding, something that failed to capture my imagination. One of my problems with Later… is the heritage acts often feel undermined by their new material. The Sting we all know and love is the Sting that wrote ‘Field of Gold‘ and ‘Roxanne‘, not the guy who writes musicals about ships.
So, when does Kanye’s performance start?
Not quite yet, as instead we now have the performance of New Zealand’s wunderkind Lorde. A quick Google search tells me that she’s 17 in two months, has had millions of hits on youtube and two number one singles in her homeland. Therefore, the only logical conclusion we can make is that she’s prodigiously talented and has the kind of sound that will translate well to radio airwaves. Check and CHECK.
Performing ‘Royals’, Lorde shows up the revered acts that preceded her. Mixing SBTRKT like minimal beats and delicate yet punchy vocals, she puts in the most complete musical performance of the evening. Already achieving great success in other markets, this performance should be the springboard for Lorde’s ascension to the top of the UK charts.
It’s time for me to make a confession; I love Kanye West. Like, I really love him. So I’m going to try really hard to pretend that was the best performance in the history of Later… But ultimately it was all a bit confusing. For all the talk of Kanye the egomaniac, the choice of ‘Bound 2’ was a strange one, as live, this song becomes all about ‘Uncle’ Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band. Yeezus is such a progressive album that ‘Bound 2’ feels like an epilogue, tacked on at the end to make the listener feel like the college dropout still lives deep within our messiah. Outside of the context of the album it feels somewhat incomplete.
Despite the odd choice of song this was by far the most engaging experience of the night. The blacked out studio, Kanye standing arms spread, Charlie Wilson showing he’s still got one of the most powerful voices in the game; this was theatre, a genuine performance by an artist putting out some of their most interesting work to date.
Up next are Derbyshire punk rock brothers Drenge performing ‘Bloodsports’. Now, I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t envy anyone tasked with following Kanye West, but Drenge fulfilled their role amicably. Crafting a surprisingly heavy noise out of a single guitar and a drum kit, ‘Bloodsports’ offered up the kinds of riffs that are often left off Later….
Oh Sting’s back, and this time he’s performing ‘August Winds’. He’s still not playing ‘Fields of Gold’? Yawn. At this point my mind drifted to more pressing issues, like what Sting would look like in a horrible parody of Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ video.
Unfortunately, I woke from my daydream just in time to catch Kings of Leon perform ‘Don’t Matter’. This is just too much. Yeah, Caleb we can tell this shit doesn’t matter to you. Hell it doesn’t matter to any of you. OR any of us watching for that matter. Now excuse me while I go listen to ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ and remember the halcyon days of 2004.
Overall, this was a strange experience of occasional brilliance mingled with abject monotony. Lorde was impressive, and her unique yet marketable style will see her rocket up the charts in the northern hemisphere as well as down under. Kanye was, well… Kanye. A magnetic yet obtuse performance that will have confused many of the viewing public.
Ultimately I’ll remember this show for the lack of stage presence of two of the marquee acts. The Followills are clearly running on frumes at this point in the career, creatively going through the motions until they finally recognise they’ve lost their spark. And as for Sting? Well let’s just say I shan’t be attending a matinee performance of The Last Ship anytime soon.
Catch Later… With Jools Holland Tuesdays at 10pm on BBC2.