Human Disaster

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Last week was kind of a smorgasbord of minor calamities for me. On Sunday I passed out at Ben Howard and the following day had me occupied with a clogged toilet, at which point I was forced to accept that my life was basically a sitcom (reviews would read: “too sad to be funny”, “amusing at points but far too ridiculous to enable the suspension of disbelief”). I also had a bad experience at Zizzi’s which hit pretty hard given my penchant for Italian food and the wasted opportunity it turned out to be; their pulled pork pizza was one of the most significant bummers of my lifetime. Anyway, given the comedy of errors that Sunday night turned into, I thought I would recap.

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Our view of Ben Howard. © Emma Holbrook

About five songs into Ben Howard’s set, I whisper rather pathetically to my friend Emma, “I need water” or “I can’t breathe” or something desperate and dramatic. Concerned, she suggests I leave the crowd, which I rather sensibly, and stubbornly, refuse. My other friend, Hannah, has now turned around to support Emma’s suggestion and before things turn into a singalong of Jojo’s Leave (Get Out), I flop onto Hannah’s shoulder, suspending all arguments. It is at this point that Hannah and Emma turn into my bodyguards, helpfully guiding me out of the crowd. It’s clear to everyone that it’s a matter of time before I’m flat on the floor, and I lose my eyesight for a moment, so we hurriedly stumble to clear space. Before I know it, Hannah has turned into Paramedic in Charge and is authoritatively saying, “Let’s sit her down” and Emma has hustled a security dude over. The security dude insists I go to the first aid room so I get up to follow him. Instead of leading us, he goes through to the bar to grab a water for me but we all follow him because I’m so out of it that I don’t know what’s happening. Dude then has to say, “Yeah, this isn’t the first aid room.” It shouldn’t be news to me but it is.

Our time in the actual first aid room is a series of amusing missteps. To set the scene, before Hannah, Emma and I go in, there are about six first aiders and one patient in there and it’s probably definitely already over capacity. First, they ask my name for a form that has to be filled out. “Kennedy,” I say, because it’s, y’know, the answer. Inexperienced First Aider Number One, we’ll call him, seems amused by this and asks, “Like the president?” He laughs, I sigh. I give him a pass on it seeing as he probably thinks I’ve never heard that before. He doesn’t know my life. Hannah and I lock eyes and share a mutual internal groan. Not for the last time that night.

Later, they begin asking me things like, “Have you been drinking?” A simple question, you might think. In my hazy state, however, I misunderstood the question not to mean alcohol but really any drink. My reply, therefore, was, “Not enough.” Everybody laughs at me. I don’t blame them. I attempt to claw back some dignity by hamming up my haziness and muttering, “I haven’t been drinking enough water… probably.” It’s too late. They have decided I’m either an alcoholic or an idiot. They then ask how much I’ve eaten. Before I can reply, Emma eagerly jumps in and announces to the room, “She just ate a MASSIVE pizza.” More laughter. As they continue with the form, it becomes clear that Inexperienced First Aider Number One is not doing a good enough job and it becomes a team effort between three inexperienced first aiders and their superior. They take turns with their questions and seem remarkably nervous to ask me rather inane, basic questions. At this point, I’m 99% fine and amused by the fuss. They ask my emergency contact and I give my mum’s number, despite that we are in Norwich and she is approximately seven hours away. It would need to be quite a slow emergency, and therefore not an emergency, for that to be remotely helpful.

It’s when they begin trying to get my pulse that things go awry. To begin with, the first aiders are fighting over who gets the honour. I can’t blame them, have you seen my wrist? Hot shit. When they begin trying to get my pulse, Inexperienced First Aider Number Two fails to find any sign of life. Then One and Three take their shot. I try to break the tension with a “maybe I’m dead” quip. All of a sudden no one wants to laugh; I develop an irrational bitterness but remind myself that I got a good laugh out of Emma for my earlier “All About That Space” singsong upon noticing that she follows NASA on Instagram, so I’ve had enough validation for one day. I also begin to think about the episode of Chicago Fire I’d watched the day before, where they go into a bombed building to get people out, checking pulses to identify those who are still saveable. LIKE WHAT IF YOU JUST DIDN’T FIND THE PULSE, CASEY, YOU CALLOUS BASTARD????* I now feel concerned that my pulse playing hard to get will cause me problems in a dramatic disaster-style situation. Upon sharing my concerns with Hannah, she suggested that I remind myself TV isn’t real life. Solid advice.

Eventually we get back to Inexperienced First Aider Number Two and she claims to find a pulse. It takes about five attempts but we’re there. Not dead. Relatively normal. And is that The Fear I hear in the background? We dash back to the concert, relieved in the knowledge that I have a pulse, and enjoy the rest of Ben Howard. Turns out we actually missed out on the real drama of the night. Long story long, what a fuss.

*I can’t stay mad.

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HAIM 14/03/14: Concert Review

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“I was worried your expectations were maybe a little too high,” admits my best friend, The Wise One, after the lights of the LCR come up and people begin filtering out. She was probably right to be worried too. Since we’d very serendipitously procured our tickets, I’d been monomaniacally immersing myself in all things HAIM. It’s fair to say I was monumentally pumped.

The day itself proves a stressful experience, and one that I would not recommend to friend or enemy. The usual seven-hour trip from Bournemouth to Norwich comes with a bonus hour, a pair of crying babies (a pair!) and stifling heat, to the point that the cheese in my Mum-made sandwiches actually melts. By the time I arrive at Norwich Coach Station, I couldn’t be less in the mood to party down. We go straight off to the LCR, though, get in line with some very excitable people (too many of which pronounce it “Hame”, those fools), and by the time we hear a few drumbeats of the “Falling” soundcheck I’m game-ready. My mood is as changeable as the English weather, after all.

The support act, Saint Raymond (band or person, no one knows), keep us all happy for their half hour set, putting in a solid performance. There were definitely some songs that I’m keen to check out now, and I know my bud felt the same. Supports can be hit and miss, and I would definitely call them a hit. As we watch them, I find myself distractingly amused by the timidity of the Saint Raymond bassist in comparison to Este’s approach. After they finish up, we are then treated to pretty much a complete run-through of the most recent Beyoncé album, with the crowd enthusiastically singing along to tunes like “Drunk in Love” and “XO” – an exciting tease for what is to come.

HAIM open with “Falling”, taking the concert so far off the ground with their first song that it is going to take the entire set to land again. The band’s third single is the biggest lyrical treat they’ve offered as yet, with lines like “I can feel the heat but I’m not burning”, but it is the concluding proverb that Danielle repeats over and over that has the crowd yelling at the stage: “Never look back, never give up.” In fact, the atmosphere at the venue adds another dimension to what already felt pretty close to perfection. The HAIM ladies seem truly warmed by the reception, and the confidence with which the entire room sings along makes for a flawless introduction. “Falling” quickly transitions into “If I Could Change Your Mind”, with an equally impressive performance that sees Danielle get to show off her mad guitar skillz (a recurring treat that night).

As soon as “IICCYM” finishes up, odd members of the crowd begin the birthday heckles to the now-28-year-old Este. She beams, touched. “It took us a while but we finally fucking got here. And it’s my fucking birthday!” Este announces loudly so as to be heard over the small crowd. Cue a merry singsong of ‘Happy Birthday’ that gets the eldest Haim sister extra giddy, and then, in return, she and her younger sisters blow up the speakers with a killer cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”. This is perhaps the biggest opportunity of the night that HAIM have to show off just what brilliant musicians they are, and it doesn’t get squandered. Danielle and Este look and sound unstoppable on the right hand side of the stage, while Alana parades some serious swagger around the left. I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play a maraca with as much gusto as Baby Haim during “Oh Well”. Props.

Next comes “Honey and I”, my personal favourite, and the first album track of the night. It’s another example of how beautifully HAIM seem able to adapt their songs for each medium they explore. The laidback album version of “Honey and I” works perfectly for iPod listens, but on-stage they play much more with the build-up of the song, toying with their audience until everyone is joyously dancing around on the spot, yelling, “My, my, my, my honey and I!” The album’s title track, “Days Are Gone”, quickly follows and still the energy of the audience doesn’t let up. Every syllable seems to bounce right back at the stage.

One of the highlights of the evening comes in “My Song 5”. It might well be the peak song of the set for bassface, though Este’s game was looking tight all night, and we see Danielle let loose once again at centre stage. She seems to get a real kick out of coaxing the audience into bellowing, “Honey, I’m not your honey pie!” prematurely, before that particular lyric eventually does blast out – as though in response to the audience’s eager attempt.

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It is in the preamble to “Don’t Save Me” that the sisters, famed for their on-stage banter, kick things up a gear with Danielle telling the audience to prepare for a rap. “Y’all have to come up with a really good topic,” she explains, with a charming shyness that sharply contrasts the entertaining brashness of her older sister. Este adds, “I’m like the Jay-Z of jingles.” The crowd then proceed to soak up an explosive performance of “Don’t Save Me” that has me mentally booking more HAIM concert tickets to dates not yet announced. The chosen topic for the rap is Tinder and, with the help of soft-spoken drummer Dash Hutton and the littlest Haim, Este freestyles: “Motherfucker better impress me… Don’t try to trust me. No, you can’t undress me, ‘cause what? My name is Este!” Without missing a beat, as Este takes her bow, Middle Haim is already kicking off the band’s inaugural hit, “Forever”. It proves to be yet another contender for song of the night.

After “Forever”, the band disappear off-stage and the crowd is standing still for what seems like the first time in… well, forever. I think we suddenly all realise how mobile we’ve been, throwing shapes in whatever space we could make for ourselves. Thankfully, before we even have time to worry about where they’ve gone, Danielle quietly reappears behind the drum kit. A spotlight comes down on her, and she starts “XO” as Este, Alana and Dash return to front-of-stage. It’s Este’s biggest moment of the night, and somehow a thousand times better than their Radio 1 Live Lounge rendition. It’s also the most mellow that the show gets all night, but still everyone sings along, echoing Este’s conviction as they go. “The Wire” follows, giving a nice close to the evening as each of the sisters gets their own lead vocal through the song with a corresponding big cheer from their appreciative crowd.

“Let Me Go”, really the only decent way you can end a concert like the one we’ve just beheld, closes out the night. It begins with the sisters all playing their guitars and heartily singing their pleading lyrics. What it builds to is other-worldly. Halfway through, after a guitar solo that blows the roof off the building, Danielle puts her instrument down and picks up her drum sticks. Soon those perfectly-conditioned manes are flying everywhere as the sisters unite for a drum battle finale the likes of which I have never witnessed before. The four accomplished musicians on stage reach the climax of the song and the show triumphantly, as there’s no doubt that what we’re witnessing is special. I can’t imagine a single person who saw that concert not wanting to go back for more. The band briefly stay on stage a while longer to drink to the end of the tour and to Este’s birthday. Alana soaks it all up, having run around the stage so much that it seems she’s grown attached to the place. And then it’s goodnight.

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“I was worried your expectations were maybe a little too high,” admits my best friend, The Wise One, after the lights of the LCR come up and people begin filtering out. “But that was unbelievable. HAIM live are a religious experience.”

She’s a wise one, like I say. Best. Night. Ever.