Some people invest their hard earned cash and savings into extortionate – but often worth the price – festival tickets whilst others simply wait for the infamous iTunes festival (held at the London Roundhouse in Chalk Farm) to announce their line up so they can apply, pray they win at least one pair of tickets and enjoy the beauty of a free festival. Unlike some festivals (BBC Radio 1 Hackney Weekend) where they tell you it is absolutely free but then you register and find that you have to pay a diminutive booking fee, the iTunes festival doesn’t! Yes, it is 100% free and provides a notable line up each year.
This year Usher was the headlining act for the iTunes Festival and the funky inventive R&B singer Miguel supported him. The venue doors opened just after 6pm and the audience started to trickle into the main space. The stage was set for Miguel and his band. Miguel opened his set with ‘Do You’ his second single from his new album Kaleidoscope Dream. He entered the stage rocking formal attire, almost portraying a male Janelle Monae with the big quiff and slick suit. Overall his vocals were outstanding as he demonstrated his aptitude to sing vibrato throughout his set as he performed a mixture of old and new tracks. The idiosyncratic artist even performed a cover of Tupac ‘I Get Around’ that then led him into his first single ‘Quickie’ he also covered the Zombies 1968 hit ‘Time of the Season’. Miguel was able to lift the atmosphere and had the audience dancing along to his sex oozing tracks from his new album throughout his 55-minute set. The lighting and AV visuals correlated well with the music and his band defined talent with their musical skills. It is safe to say Miguel did his image and his new album justice.
Approximately fifteen minutes after the support act had exited the stage, Usher enters the stage after an iTunes official count down (an intense moment). His entrance was quite dramatic with a haze filled stage and his band playing quite a dark and sinister instrumental. His opening song was his 2012 dance track ‘Can’t Stop, Wont Stop’, which doesn’t reflect Usher’s musical talent. It’s a track that sounds like it has been hit by the ‘Guetta effect’ however it got the audience buzzing. As per usual Usher performed a lot of well-crafted choreography where he showed off his Michael Jackson influenced dance moves and his overly toned abs. His vocals were not at their best, but he was dancing around with promiscuous female dancers, so we’ll make an exception. Despite the opening song Usher’s set list was well selected and he performed a collection of songs from his old albums as well as his new album ‘Looking 4 Myself’. His performance for ‘Make Me Wanna’ resembled the video, as Usher and a selection of well groomed men in unbuttoned shirts danced on chairs among orange and red flood lights. I would say that many female audience members enjoyed Usher’s set. Maybe not the gig you would take your boyfriend to – unless he doesn’t mind you drooling over another man (it is Usher after all). Usher’s one-hour and a half set was of a high standard and allowed his authentic fans to reminisce about the days when R&B was sexy and precious. His polished dance moves and entertaining numbers were the perfect combination and an excellent way to open the iTunes Festival. My only concern was that the main space didn’t reach maximum capacity.
The headliner for second gig of the Festival was the country boy with soul and a guitar Ed Sheeran. Rudimental and Charlie XCX supported Ed. Both supporting acts were energetic and created anticipation for the headline act. Rudimental, spent an amount of their set time remixing songs and at some points their presence on stage was forgotten as it felt like a really good Ministry of Sound CD was being played, nonetheless they demonstrated their impeccable mixing techniques. The first thing that was different about the second night was that there was a larger audience. Ed opened with his song ‘Give Me Love’ and continued to mesmerise the audience with his mellow set and dimmed lighting. If slow and chilled is not for you then I wouldn’t suggest you watch Ed’s gig on the iTunes App (rated 3 out of 5 stars on the Apple App store) as most of his set was him and his guitar. He interacted with the crowd, but there were moments when his talking became his decoy. Ed’s vocals were almost perfect and he did his best to entertain the crowd. For those who won tickets but were not familiar with his music then this was the perfect introduction to Ed as he performed almost every track from his debut album and even introduced his friends, Wretch 32, Sway, Chip (formerly known as Chipmunk) and Devlin on stage for his encore. Although brief their appearances were appreciated, as it was the liveliest moment of Ed’s set. Got to give props to iTunes for having an eclectic set over two days as both days offered something different and exciting.
Three weeks into the Festival and the Robert Glasper Experiment took over the Roundhouse with their funky auto-tune machines, guitars, percussions and grand Piano. Not only did they have an incredible support act, Jose James, Glasper also wowed his audience with a unique line up of well-known musicians and artists. Due to Robert Glasper not being as commercial as some of the other acts at the iTunes Festival (such as Emilie Sande and Jesse J) the venue was far from reaching its full capacity of 3,300 (standing). This meant that there was more room for the audience to kick back and enjoy the evening of musical entertainment; on the down side it can be quite disheartening for the act when they come on stage. Jose James graced the stage with his fitted cap, jeans and a leather jacket. His cool appearance matched his cool beats and idyllic vocals. Resembling a style similar to D’angelo his music created the perfect atmosphere for a rainy Sunday evening. Robert Glasper’s opening was a funky piece ‘Packed like Sardines’ that set the tone of the fun evening that was to follow. The line up consisted of Bilial, MF Doom, Lalah Hathaway, Alan Hampton, Lionel Loueke, Phonte and Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. All of the guests delivered and offered something different. The highlight for me was Lalah Hathaway who did a cover of Sade’s ‘Cherish the Day’ with her radiant singing and tremendous vocal techniques she left the audience wanting more. Also, I’d like to point out that MF Doom (the real one) made an appearance and performed a short set with his hype man. Not really familiar with his music, but wouldn’t say he was anything more than a mediocre hip-hop artist (that is solely based on his performance that night). Robert Glasper himself needs more credit for his masterpieces. He is simply a musical genius with a group of talented friends. His flamboyant persona made the audience instantly fall in love with him as the majority laughed along with him and his witty jokes. It is very hard to fault his versatile piano playing as he does it so well and without the sheet music! Would have been nice to hear more of the tracks from his new album, but that’s a reason to go and buy it when it comes out later this year. Again it is refreshing to have an act at a festival where backing tracks are non-existent and everything is done by instrument and 100% live. By having Robert Glasper at the iTunes Festival iTunes demonstrated the variety of music genres that they showcase over 30 days, thus making it a festival for everyone (if you win a ticket that is).
They say that every show must end with a ‘bang’ unfortunately the closing of the iTunes Festival was disappointing. It felt rushed and almost as if the other 29 nights didn’t happen. There was no celebration and nothing to distinguish the closing night from the other nights. Yes, the headliners Muse were phenomenal. Their opening act Natalie Duncan performed an extremely short set that consisted of slow tempo tracks back to back- not what you would expect at a Muse gig. Although sweet her voice became very bland after a while and her songs slowly became background music as she lacked interaction with the crowd. Compared to other supporting acts throughout the festival this was a let down considering it was the closing night. Muse, as per usual, never fails to deliver. Frontman Matt Bellamy rocked a rather casual but cool glitter covered blazer that added to his sensational playing and pitch perfect vocals. The band played a good variation of their old stuff and a few tracks from the new album. It was a fun night for Muse fans as they touched base with hits like ‘Time is Running Out’ and ’Uprising’. After the bands encore the house lights turned on and the technicians started packing up equipment, there wasn’t any confetti or extra haze for the acts finale and they finished ten minutes ahead of schedule. The end was an abrupt anti-climax.
Over all the Festival offered a wide range of artists (some a lot less relevant than others), but only those who were lucky enough to win tickets got to experience it first hand (unless you downloaded the app and watched it on the live stream). It’s an amazing month of free music, but there’s a catch: you have to win and this year it seemed as if there were very few competition winners at the events meaning that a lot of dedicated fans missed out and quite a few shows could have had a bigger crowd and better reception. BUT, iTunes always offers an impressive 30 days of entertainment in London and the fact that it’s indoors is a bonus. Let’s see what iTunes 2013 has to offer!