Thursday, November 23, 2006

Liverpool Vs PSV 22/11/06

Yep. I decided to go to Anfield again. And I'm broke remember?

This time I didn't decide to go until the morning of the match. I've been to the previous two home champions league games, and was eligible for tickets to this game against the Dutch side PSV. To keep my loyalty points going (all part of my master plan for a ticket if (nay..when) we reach the final in Athens), we bought tickets. I was going to give mine to a friend as I went to the Muse gig (awesome) last week, but then had a change of heart. Even then we needed transport. A friend backed out less than two days before the match (you know who you are!), so we had no driver, and a spare ticket. By then it was too late for other friends to get time off work so looked like all was lost, until someone mentioned that the the Coventry branch of the Liverpool Supporters club had a coach going to Anfield. He made some calls, and we had places on the coach! Had to bus it to Cov to get the coach for 3pm.

Rolled into Anfield at about 6.30. This was later than we've usually gotten there (last time we had 4 hours to kill!!). Traditions were being broken today, we had a big to-do list, but everything seemed to fall into place. Parked somewhere different, got directed to a different ATM, I grabbed my pre match sausage and chips from different (though still Chinese) chip shop. Food and cash were on our list so was lucky to have them next to each other. Then with police helicopters flying overhead, I needed my match badge, and the previous match's as I'd lost it! One badge was found at the first stall we saw, and the other was at the second stall we saw. This was all before we'd even reached the stadium gates! Great! Next on the list was my match day programme and a golden goal ticket (last time I was one second from winning a bottle of Anfield Whiskey!), and low and behold, no sooner had we walked through the gates, we saw a golden goal ticket seller and the programme stall!
At this point, I thought things were going a little too well... I just hoped we'd end up winning this game.

So we took our seats, row 12 of the lower centenary stand, the best yet (though of course, I'd rather be in the Kop). The traditional rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was better than the other Champions League games as people around me were singing loudly, but I still think they play it too early on European nights (I blame TV and the stupid pre match things), not everyone was in their seats.
I still think the home match vs Arsenal in Nov 2004 was my favourite YNWA rendition, probably because it was my first time. But then again, I've noticed the atmosphere has been a little flat (I have very high standards of Liverpool fans!) in recent games.

Fellow fans on the fan sites have noticed it too. A big debate is currently raging on the forums about "reclaiming the Kop" and how we need to do something to stop us regressing and becoming like fans of every other club who just chant "easy easy" or "who are ya". This is a complex issue in that you can't point the finger to any particular set of Liverpool fans (I do not believe that this is an out-of-towners issue, as I am one myself, nor can you blame just the season ticket holders who may be in their comfort zone). But I do think we should start living up to our label as the 12th man in every game (which we did used to do) and not save it for the big games like those 70000+ at Old 'trampy' Trafford who leave their voices behind at home (London) every week (unless they score their third, then all of a sudden the win was due to the "great support" - how ridiculous). I think we can, perhaps I'll quote some "new Labour" line and say the answer is education, education, education! Maybe some of the new generation of fans have made a choice to support Liverpool rather than having been brought up on it (thrust upon them by their parents perhaps) and need to to be taught the "Liverpool way", the history, the songs about our heritage (and the clever re-workings of pop/famous songs for our current crop!!) etc, the "code of honour" if you will, that makes us special (as appreciative as we can be as intimidating). Maybe its just the simple reason that people feel too embarrassed to sing when they think people will "stare" when they do.
For me, I'm not sure if becoming a Liverpool fan was a conscious choice, or just being brought up (by neighbours!) on it, a bit of both probably. Either way, I don't remember ever not supporting Liverpool and all that matters is 100% commitment to the cause. I'm sure 2007 will see a rise in atmosphere and a return to what those lovely people at Pro Evolution Soccer 6 call Anfield, the "Red Cauldron."

Woah. I digressed, and how. Where was I? Right. Good fortune was over as soon as we took our seats. Firstly, we lost the coin toss, which meant Liverpool would attack the Kop in the first half rather than the customary second half assault. Then (for the second successive match I've seen at Anfield), Xabi Alonso, the "pass master" (and my favourite player if you don't already know by now) was taken out by a wreckless player, and had to be substituted due to a knee/thigh injury. Shortly afterwards, Mark "Speedy" Gonzalez tore his hamstring, just when he started playing well, and had to go off. That left Rafa only one substitution for tactical purpose going into half time 0-0. But he couldn't use it as in the 2nd half, Jermaine Pennant also went off injured! I wasn't best pleased as, although I'm sure more is to come from him, he had frustrated me so much during the match with his choices of runs and passing. In the end second half goals from Captain Steven Gerrard and big Peter Crouch secured a 2-0 victory, and surprisingly, PSV only ever threatened a couple of times.

A particular highlight of being at this game was that there was a young lad, about 5yrs old, sitting in front of me with his dad, kitted out with his little red Liverpool cap. He was standing on his seat singing aloud every word of every chant that the near by Kop end started, it was funny because he had more enthusiasm and voice than a lot of the fans near us, and though he never left his seat, somehow later in the game, the near by steward (about 10-15 seats away) handed the lad his cap back. I can't for the life of me figure out how it got there! No one even knew it was missing! His dad did shush him on occasions, but I think the young gun should keep singing away as reclaiming the Kop would be easier with more like him.

I've seen the three home group games this season, which have seen fans from Turkey, France and Holland visit Anfield. Each had their own distinct character, and supported their team very well. Even though there is a reputation of Turkish fans, all fans supported their team in the right way. I also think we could learn a lesson from them. Though the away fans were a minority, some of their chants that involved them jumping up and down in unison (and waving their scarves around their head) looked very impressive (and a bit intimidating - especially the Turks). If the 12,000 people in the Kop did that, or even the whole stadium, it'd sure add to the 'Lions den' factor that Anfield has been known for. Reclaim the Kop in style.

The trip back saw an old lady in the coach give her analysis on the injuries, and us listen to a few mixed opinions on the Radio 5 live phone in '606.' When we got to Coventry, we had to get a taxi to Warwick University (the taxi appeared as if from nowhere in the pouring rain), and then catch the night bus full of drunk students singing classics like Bon Jovi's 'Livin' on a Prayer' and Bryan Adam' 'Summer of '69' (ah to be in uni again....) back home.

All in all, a different, but nice match day. And most importantly, my 100% win record at Liverpool matches (home and away) continues.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Muse rock the Birmingham NEC 15/11/06

9PM Wednesday 15th November 2006, Birmingham NEC. The (what felt like) months of waiting were over as Muse hit the stage. I thought I'd wait a few days to see if my opinion of the gig would change from the immediate aftermath of that show before writing my gig review. It hasn't. Here it is.

My gig build up hadn't really gone according to plan. My idea of listening to the entire back catalogue (thats 4 albums and a double album) over 2 days ended up being most of the first album (Showbiz) and the four tracks currently on their myspace page.
The gig going line-up had changed twice in as many days before weds, in the end there were 3 of us, Me, Mat (with one 't') and big Jag. After a few games of pro evo 6, we set off, a bit later than I'd hoped, about 4.45pm. Inevitably, we got stuck in rush hour, it took forever to get out of Leamington!! I thought people just didn't like the place and were trying to get out.... but then I thought "nah.. how ridiculous!.. just workers.." We ended up getting there about 10 mins after doors opened (6.10), but it was ok.

It was my first gig at the NEC, having been there a couple of times for other things, and the first thing we walked into was a big warehouse type area. It was not the stage/gig area, but was nice in that there were lots of tables and chairs where people could just kick back with a pre gig Tea/beer. Unfortunately, I was with a designated driver and a guy who doesn't drink so there was no chance of any fun.. I mean beer... Instead I headed towards the merch stand and purchased an overpriced, but essential, tour t shirt. It wasn't my first choice (the merch seller tried to give me the last remaining shirt from the display wall! So I said no thanks!) but in hindsight I like the one I bought. There were some Muse underwear and braces but I decided against them!
At this point, we'd handed our tickets in at the main doors, and the weird thing is that they tore the part of the ticket they normally do, but then they kept the rest of the ticket too, assuring us that we'd get them back at the end. Strange to say the least. After an overpriced (surprise surprise) microwaved cheese burger, we headed towards the stage area as the first support act came on. Very decent spot too, not too far from the front, pretty much centre, maybe slightly left (which was ok cos I knew Matt Bellamy [guitar] would play around there).

The support acts. What can I say about them? There were two. They both had very competent guitarists in their bands which might be a reason why Muse chose them. I'm struggling to come with others really (ooh controversial!). The first act was Talula, a three piece alt rock band from Exeter. To be honest, these guys weren't bad. A couple of songs got good receptions. The lead singer/guitarist's voice might not be my cup of tea but some of the music was pretty good, though tailed off a bit at the end. I think the previous muse UK gigs didn't get 2 acts (I think) so I guess I can't complain that Talula played. The second act were the Noisettes. On the whole, I didn't like them. The general opinion was that they sucked. The lead singer/bassist was too loud for me. She scared me a little! I think she was trying to be like Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but failed miserably. The guitarist did some cool things like sampling himself then playing over the top, but the only real good thing about them was their crazy drummer, he was insane! This big hairy guy could have broken that drum kit in two! He was feeling every beat, reminded me of Animal from the Muppets! As cool as he was, I was still glad the support was over with! (The best support I have seen remain Services at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gig) And the wait for Muse began.

While the final sound checks were going on, we had noticed the support acts had played in front of this big black curtain thing that we thought was concealing the secret muse set behind it. I just wanted it to come down to spectacularly to reveal it, rather than it lamely being pulled up! As the wait went on, closer to 9, the background music turned to Rage Against The Machine's classic "Killing in the Name." Most people knew the song, and were singing to the words, "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me!", as the final chorus/bridge came, the volume went up. We figured that this has to be the band's "getting pumped" track! Think they were delayed because U2's Vertigo followed that, as well as 3 condoms blown up, being tossed around like balloons! And then the lights went out, for the imminent arrival of Muse on stage.

The curtain dropped (woohoo!), revealing an amazing set, a big video screen covering the entire back wall, and the drum kit on some weird spaceship like podium, with 3 sided screen above it (which would move up and down through the show, and at one point, Dom [drums] was totally encapsulated inside it). The screens, along with the fantastic lighting, would change throughout the show to match the mood of the song.
It all kicked off with Knights of Cydonia. We had a feeling it would open or close the show, it was a great way to get everyone going right from the start! The video screens were set to look like a starry night, it was was just pretty! And that killer riff in the middle of the song really got us going! (Jag took a video of it from his phone, apparently I'm the one goin "woo" when the riff kicks in.. how embarrassing... no regrets!)
The sound was perfect throughout the gig, so combined with the awesome lighting and video screen effects it was a very well executed show! Then they went and played one of my favourite songs, Hysteria! But we kinda knew they would play that. I was hoping they might have played "Hyper Music" but that was wishful thinking because I don't think they played that live in a long while.

Instead of picking apart the setlist, I'll mention a few hi/low lights of some of the songs. In Butterflies & Hurricanes, the Piano solo was amazing, especially with the video screen effects, he's a guitar genius but made the piano look easy! This led to the build up of more jumping around!
After the piano intro of New Born, before Matt did his mega cool riff, he saluted the crowd in typical guitar god fashion! Then he starting playing the riff on his knees, before going nuts! Not many could make that look cool! Soldier's Poem was one that I didn't really want in the set, was a bit slow and boring. However, when Matt said "this one's for your phones and lighters" he wasn't kidding. Everyone was waving their phones around and it looked like stars. It looked amazing. I think they just threw that in to give people a breather! City of Delusion worked quite well, wasn't sure if it would.
Being from a guitar(ish) background, I found myself stopping midst my groove to just go "wow" at Matt's guitar mastery! The solo to Invincible was particularly good, I haven't figured out what he has specially built in to that guitar (my theory is an e-bow type thing), but he sure knows how to use it to great effect! And after plug in baby kicked in after a typical 'squealy' intro , that guitar blinded us with the reflection of the lights! I'm glad they played Hoodoo. I have a soft spot for the song, probably mainly because of the guitar. So it was more surprising that I enjoyed it even when Matt decided to play his guitar parts on piano. It worked very well and felt like it was quite an emotional song. A quick shout out here for robots strutting there stuff during Supermassive Black Hole and the megaphone used on Feeling Good, I want one! But the prize for best prop goes to..... the big giant balloons full of confetti! They released them into the crowd during Bliss, one of Muse faves. I quipped..."someone blew up my condoms...", but that remark went down faster than those balloons.. ouch. Jag would try and pop a balloon with his pin, but someone would always push it away when he was almost in reach! When they did pop, the confetti went everywhere, and looked cool with the lights and stuff!

We were treated to two encores. The 2nd one had the thumping Stockholm Syndrome and closed with Take a Bow. This is probably one of the negatives in my opinions, as I felt that that song wasn't really a "closer". It needed something bigger, maybe more triumphant. Its hard to look past Stockholm for that, especially as we'd already been treated to knights! This made me a bit jealous of the previous night's encore as they were treated to Muscle Museum and Knights to close (as well as Assassin earlier on)! I know Hyper Music would've been pushing it, but I also would have loved it if they threw in Citizen Erased, but it wasn't to be. These were minor niggles and also show the strength in depth that Muse actually have. Another minor thing is that there was a lack of banter with the crowd, bar a few "Cheers Birmingham" type things. Matt and Dom did exchange a few looks here and there which felt like they were enjoying it, while Chris on bass didn't really join them in that, and just stayed in is head banging zone. Maybe its just the way they are on stage. If they have to be in the zone to produce that kind of show then who am I to complain!
One thing that did upset me was that we were promised our tickets back, and we didn't know where to get them at the end, as we were ushered out towards the car park. All I have to add to my collection of football/gig tickets is a green wristband which doesn't even say Muse!! (though "standing area" will have to do).

I've been lucky in my limited gigging experience that there have always been unique factors that added something extra to the gigs. Whether it be being right at the front and getting a guitar pick at Kula Shaker, the great spot/weather/fireworks in a 92000 strong Hyde Park Bon Jovi show or the beers with friends at RHCP at the Ricoh Arena. Maybe if the friends who couldn't make it, had come, and the beers were flowing, this gig could have reached another level (if there is one!). But even without that, and setlist/banter issues aside, I would say Muse are the best band I have ever seen live. Quite a statement, but true. The scale and quality of the show was top notch. I'll be there on their next UK tour, that's for sure.

Sigh.... They're probably be about to enter the stage and rock some lucky people in Nottingham about now.... Any spare tickets?

1) Knights of Cydonia
2) Hysteria
3) Map of the Problematique
4) Butterflies & Hurricanes
5) New Born
6) City of Delusion
7) Plug in baby
8) Soldiers Poem
9) Invincible
10) Supermassive Black Hole
11) Time is Running Out
12) Starlight
13) Bliss (extended)
14) Feeling Good
15) Sunburn
16) Hoodoo
17) Stockholm Syndrome
18) Take a Bow

The videos below are just overviews of the show I found on youtube. The last picture was taken by me. And the others were borrowed from here.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Did you miss anything? Not likely but... (Part 1)

Well, after two posts, I got lazy already! So to try and get back into it. This is a quick (suckers) two part catch up.

No luck on the job front so far. Daytime tv is really starting to bug me, (especially as they replaced diagnosis murder with murder she wrote!), though I'm learning new morals from that 80s classic cartoon the Raccoons, as they're showing episodes on sky tv! Seriously though, it does suck that there isn't an "e-business" section in most job websites, and when there is, its just all the I.T. jobs plus a couple of others. Looks like I'll be widening the net/lowering my standards now (all part of selling out).

For a guy who's "between jobs", I have been quite busy - busy spending the bank's money.

Three Liverpool visits in a month, which to me is a big deal as I've only been once ever before, in '04. Two were matches and the other a museum/stadium tour. The theory: we bought tickets for the first game of the European cup, which in turn made us eligible for tickets for the next, which is what we've done for the last 2 home games, in blind faith that we'll make it all the way to the final in Athens and that we'll be there! Anything is possible, or do I have to remind people of our 2005 triumph for the millionth time! Ok then, moving on.

Liverpool FC Vs Galatasaray: Give the turks some credit, their fans were very loud (and slightly intimidating!) and gave a very good account of themselves. They must have loved it, after all, we were 3 up (including a super overhead kick for big Peter Crouch) and in dreamland, then they got 2 in quick succession, must have thought a Liverpool style comeback (had to throw that in) was on the cards. It was heart in mouths stuff, but was relieved to end up winning.

Ol' big ears. The cup, not me!The tour: we were 10secs away from missing the tour but we made it. Great day, though a long one. After fake interview infront of the BBC boards, I got to touch the famous "This is Anfield" sign, which was there to instill pride in our players and fear in the opponents just before they went out onto the pitch.. though I felt a bit of both! Also sat where the manager sits pitch side, and in the famous Spion Kop stand. (note to self: must experience a match from the Kop).
After a walk around the club museum, we had some time to kill, the spontaneous tourist spot of choice was the Albert dock. Some restaurants, museums and the Liverpool Tate gallery surround it. Didn't have the funds or time to check it all out, but the museum of international slavery was particularly hard hitting.
We returned to Anfield with one piece of business left on the agenda, and that was to get my hands on 'ol big ears. Yup, the European Cup (or the champions league for those who think football began in the 1990s). I was nervous, as the pic probably shows, though one friend said I look 18 in this pic, not sure if thats a compliment or an insult.
After a long drive back, I got home, and after a toilet break, was straight out the door to make it in time to my friends birthday 'shindig', where a lot of "social drinking" took place. I'm not proud of myself, but it was a mini reunion!
Yup..... it was a good day.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Not your average saturday!

This is post is another first, as i'm sending it from my phone! Technology eh?

What a day. A trip to Liverpool for the Anfield museum and stadium tour. What was unique about this day was the special event in which, I got my hands on the european cup! Oh yes!

We killed some time in between at the famous Albert dock, which you can see behind me in the pic! Will post details of the trip avec great pictures soon.

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