What: Twentieth Anniversary tour of the “Gran Turismo” album
Who: The Cardigans
Where: Hammersmith Apollo, Hammersmith, London, UK
When: 7th December 2018
Twice during this show (once during the performance of the whole of the “Gran Turismo” album and one during the subsequent “smorgasbord” selection) all the sound from the stage failed, leaving Nina Persson and the rest of the band stranded. Taking this all in their stride, they pressed on in good-humoured fashion to return with flash and panache as soon as the problems were corrected.
When Ms Persson first enters the stage for the band’s performance of “Paralysed”, she is wearing a kind of silk sheath with something perched on her head which lady wedding attendees of a certain age would call a fascinator. In truth, the thing on her head looks rather like the kind of gas mask that a Batman character might have worn in front of their face in the 1966 TV series.
“Paralysed” doesn’t fare too well. The keyboard-led mix drowns most of the vocal and the backlit stage, heavy with dry ice, makes it difficult to see what is happening. But if there are flaws here, they are the only ones of the night.
Moving on to material on which the guitar is more prominent, the band and their sound engineer hit their stride. It also doesn’t hurt that the next song is one of several hits from the Gran Turismo album – “Erase/ Rewind” and the audience begin to join in the song.
“Gran Turismo” was The Cardigans only top 10 album in the UK. In commercial terms, they had hit their stride just a year before when “Lovefool” which had charted in 1996 as a featured single from their “First Band on the Moon” album but was re-issued a year later because of its appearance on the Romeo & Juliet film soundtrack. It was to reach number 2 on the Official UK listings, second time around and primed the band for increased success when they issued their next album, “Gran Turismo” in 1998. Of the three hit singles which came from this top 10 album “My Favourite Game” is the best known and fan-favourite but it was actually “Erase/Rewind” which claimed the higher chart position.
The band recreated the album tonight in exemplary fashion moving through “Explode” and “Starter” to reach the third single from the disc, “Hanging Around”. The ballad “Higher” is then followed by “Marvel Hill” before we come to the memorable guitar riff of the aforementioned “My Favourite Game”.
The sad and nihilistic “Do You Believe” is followed by “Junk of the Hearts” which was perhaps this reviewer’s favourite performance of the night before the main set closes out with the delicate “Nil”.
It is good to be taken back to a time when artists crafted out albums rather than playlists – with songs that sound like they belong together. “Gran Turismo” has an ebb-and-flow which has stood the test of time and whose impact is not lost merely because of the twenty years that have passed since it first came to the public’s attention.
The band are clearly keener on the rockier later albums than the poppier discs which first established them in Scandinavia and Japan. When they return after costume changes, it is for “Live and Learn” from the 2003 album “Long Gone Before Daylight” and its sister track from the same record “For What It’s Worth”. From the same record comes the brutal lyric of “And Then You Kissed Me”. It is evident that some in the audience are becoming a little detached from what is happening on the stage – and certainly not because the musical or vocal performance is any less fine. In truth, The Cardigans moment in the sun in the UK was a brief one and by the time that “Long Gone Before Daylight” came around, this equally excellent album (the next after “Gran Turismo”) spent only three weeks on the chart, peaking at number 47, compared to the 66 weeks on the UK list for “Gran Turismo” which took it to number 8. The simple reality is that the less hardcore sections of the audience don’t know these songs as well.
Even less successful in the UK, whilst musically almost the equal of the two preceding records was “Super Extra Gravity” which debuted on the chart at 78 and disappeared the following week. It was the final album the band recorded together, and band members have said that is unlikely that they will record together again to follow up this 2005 platter. Anyway, it has many fine moments and the band next play “Don’t Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)” before returning to “Long Gone…” for the minor hit “You’re the Storm”. The main set closes out with the last Cardigans song to feature on the UK singles chart “I need some fine wine and you, you need to be nicer”.
Throughout this the band have kept the audience on board with a great performance and when they return for a heartily demanded encore, they do so bravely with “Communication” the opening track from that “Long Gone Before Daylight” album, but now they need to serve up some treats for the more casual fan. It is then surprising that before settling on the obvious they reach out for a carefully crafted cover of the Black Sabbath song “Iron Man” before romping through the much more obvious hits “Carnival” and “Lovefool”. “Carnival” is the earliest song on offer for those who came to the band in their sweet earlier days and originally appeared on their “Life” album which debuted way back in 1995.
Then it is back to “Long Gone Before Daylight” for the closer of that album and this show, the song that is title track of that record (in all but name) “03.45: No Sleep”.
It is a great way to finish out the evening. Bows are taken, appreciation is shown. As we walk away from the stage, we do so to the theme music of “Emmerdale Farm” on the p.a. whose abbreviated title was the name of the band’s first album. It seems a long time ago. In some ways, The Cardigans are a band from another era, in others they can be just as relevant today.
A superb performance.