Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bob Geldof at the Islington Assembly Hall, 1st June 2012

Bob Geldof

“Why am I seeing Bob Geldof?” ran through my mind over and over again.  “Why am I seeing Bob Geldof?”  I didn’t even know he still did gigs.  I’ve only had 3 hours sleep the night before. “Why am I seeing Bob Geldof?”.  

What do I know about Bob Geldof?   I know about his work with Live Aid and Live 8.  I know he was in a band called the Boomtown Rats.  I know he has a daughter, Peaches Geldof.  I know he doesn’t like Mondays very much.  That’s about it. So this begs the question: “Why am I seeing Bob Geldof?”

The answer is this: because almost nobody wants to go and see Bob Geldof.  I should have taken it as a bad sign when I couldn’t get anybody to go with me.  When I said I was going to see Bob Geldof they looked at me quizzically as if to ask "Why would anyone want to go and see Bob Geldof?" 

So I find myself standing in a small crowd at Islington Assembly Hall.  Ticket sales have apparently not been hot.  The room is just under half full, people perch uneasily on radiators around the room.  I spy that elusive breed, the Bob Geldof fan.  I see people with ‘Geldof’ emblazoned on their t-shirts, they’re cooing over a woman who’s doling them out of a cardboard box for a tenner each.  I flit amongst the crowd nervously, not finding anywhere comfortable to stand.

The support band is on as I arrive, and the guitarist begins an anecdote about his wet trousers.  This turns into what I can only assume is a joke that the mere sight of Bob Geldof induces him to ejaculate uncontrollably.  

Then the main attraction appears, it’s Bob Geldof!  He’s a stringy, jangly, loose-limbed,  simian kinda guy, hopping from one foot to the other in a gentle, elegant sway.  He smoothly sways and flows around the stage, light footed and strangely bendy.  He’s dressed in a smart grey suit with a black shirt, and his hair is a scraggly mop of grey.   For a 60 year old he has a strange yogic grace to him.  When his hair is over his face, and he’s hunched over the microphone he could be a man of 25 or 30.  

Offsetting this slightly vampiric figure at stage front are his band.  They look every inch their age, and have that professional musician aura to them.  They’re running on autopilot. Every grimace, every body-shake, every “yeah man” and spontaneous hand clap seem to be straight from the professional musician playbook.  These seem like men for whom laying down a funky bluesy guitar solo comes as easy as breathing.  If Bob Geldof was surrounded by younger musicians he’d begin to look slightly creepy, as it is, this gathering seems to just make him look cooler in his sharp suit.  For example, his lead guitarist appears to be wearing a woollen cardigan.

But there is one member of his band that stands out above all the rest.  The resident fiddler.  He looks like he could crush a man’s head like an over-ripe grape.  My god but he is a mean looking, crumple-browed motherfucker.  The kind of Tony Soprano looking guy with those thick sweaty creases at the back of his neck.  I don’t get to see his back, but I bet it’s like a hair jungle there.  Towards the middle of the show he removes his jacket, and proudly stands there in a vest.  It has unmentionable stains pockmarking it, there are two holes distressingly near the nipple.  The way he smiles at Bob Geldof makes you think he’s got some dirt on him.  Bob Geldof lamely tries to introduce him, explaining that he’s from Zimbabwe.  The crowd doesn’t buy it.  Try harder, Bob Geldof.

Shit!  He's seen me!
I probably should say something about the music.  It’s alright, actually.  It’s a kind of driving, bluesy sort of rocky Irish folky kind of thing.  I only know one Boomtown Rats song, the famous one, so I have no idea which songs are new and which are 10 years old.  One,  ‘Banana Republic’ stands out with a nice bouncy has a nice ska-y feel.  Bob Geldof never gives any song less than a good go though, and often begins scatting away, a string of garbled phonemes spilling from his lips.  He sounds an awful lot like modern Bob Dylan, with the scratchy road-worn “seen it all” rasp.  I like it actually, it’s the kind of voice that seems to have a story to tell.

We get some monologues peppered throughout the songs. He’s a good talker, and runs a nice line in self-deprecation.  He even makes light of the fact that there’s not many people here, which is a brave thing for a performer to acknowledge.   A quick potted history of the Troublesworks quite well to set the scene as we begin 'Banana Republic'.  However, a detailed account of successful yam-growing in the African town of Harbo runs on seemingly forever.  It’s slightly galling to stand through ten minutes of a story about how some boiled yams cheered him up, followed by a song about said yams where the chorus is: “Sweet Yams in the fields of Harbo / Made me feel better(better)”.  We get it Bob Geldof, you really liked the yams.

At times you get the occasional fleeting sensation that this concert might be more for Bob Geldof’s own sake than ours.  He always looks like he’s enjoying himself on stage, and his posing and dancing has a certain air of innocent self satisfaction. A secret smile plays across his face at times when he grabs the microphone and yells into it while striking a pose.  “Still got it”, he seems to be saying.

Bob Geldof clearly seems himself as a musician first, and a philanthropist second, while I think for most people it’s the other way around.  He also didn’t seem to be overly upset that not many people showed up.  I looked up his wikipedia page mid-concert to try and find out a bit about his current musical career.  It was here that I found out that he’s worth over $70,000,000.  Suddenly it all slots into place.  

Now, I don’t necessarily think this concert is a vanity project, but I suspect it may be something close.  Here is a man who has worldwide respect, who can sleep soundly at night knowing that thousands of people are alive thanks to his efforts, happy that he is that rare thing, a rich man whose existence has made the world a better place.  What more could he want?  What he started out craving - musical success.  In his mind he has always been and always will be a professional musician.  

There’s nothing really wrong with any of this.  Even rich men get the blues.  Bob Geldof is a big and easy target to poke fun at.  He has done a lot of good in the world*.  Maybe he deserves to get up on stage and for two hours be  the rock star he so desperately wants to be.  A small amount of clapping and cheering from me is a small price to pay to make an old man happy.  

I should add that maybe I’d be a little more critical if I’d actually paid to get in.

*but I don't like this weird anger over his taxes

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