Saturday, September 8, 2012

Electric Picnic 2012 Review

It has been a LONG time since my last post, with too many things interrupting my best intentions to get back to my blog, and  had almost thought of retiring, but then came Electric Picnic, and I was so overwhelmed I had to write about it and share it with anyone who might listen beyond those around me  who are probably sick of me raving by now.

There are a lot of other things to catch up on (movies, books, music, TV, and in particular my epic devouring of ALL the Song of Fire and Ice books on Kindle on the iPhone - probably not good for the eyes, lets face it - and loving the series (especially season 2, episode 9, 'Blackwater', probably the best piece of television I have ever seen).  However, all of those will have to wait until I get Electric Picnic out of my system.

To start with, we almost didn't get there at all.  When the line-up came out, and I saw Sigur Ros, Killers, Elbow and, towering above all, The Cure, I immediately went on to Ticketmaster to get a family ticket for myself and my 12-year-old son (DK), but couldn't book for some reason.  An email to the promoters revealed that the family tickets were already all gone, apparently to folks who booked them even before the line-up was announced.  Sad faces all round.  Then, that Friday, an incredibly thoughtful email from my new hero at the promoter to say that a new batch had come out and within an hour we had it secured.  Happy faces all round.

So off we went, small tent (we had serious tent envy all weekend, compared to those who appeared to have brought the kitchen sink and all utensils too!) and not much more.

It was amazing.  Sun shone. Music soared. Amazing. Far beyond anything I would have expected.

Friday was always going to be slower and quieter,and started with Grandaddy, who I actually really   although I hadn't listened to The Sophtware Slump in years - can't get 'Crystal Lake' out of my head since.  Then Grizzly Bear did nothing for either of us, and we left after 2 songs, to the sunshine, where Alabama Shakes were warming things up nicely, and sounded very good in fact, although I am not sure I would listen to a full album.  Fair play for the full Indian headdress on the singer though!

A brief break from standing at Fossett's Circus later, we emerged to the XX, who I have never warmed too much, although I can certainly see what the fuss is about - a band to admire rather than love, and their live set did nothing to change my mind.  Then a gap (quick run to check out Mark Lanegan - loud but class) and Sigur Ros came out (10 minutes late - the only late start we noticed) to initial noodling on keyboards followed by a sudden huge loud chord to make everyone jump out of their skins - first indelible moment of the festival - followed by a heavenly cacophony led by Jonsi sawing madly at his electric guitar with a violin bow. Didn't know the song but a subsequent bit of research found it to be iI gaer' from Harma, and I have now downloaded that one and is a great song! Overall, through, I am not completely sure their set worked on the big stage (and had the nagging feeling all weekend that many strange choices had been put on that stage which would have worked more in marquee and vice versa) but there were of course great moments, such as 'Hoppipolla' and 'Svefn-G-Englar' (can anyone really pronounce their song names - and those are two of the more straightforward - the way they probably should be pronounced?) .

Anyway, DK found it a bit slow, so persuaded me to try Ed Sheeran for a while; I had essentially no foreknowledge of this guy but all I can say is that
(a) everyone in the Electric Arena knew every single word of every single song (except me!)
(b) one song went on very very very long and had a backing track (cheat!)
(c) his biggest reaction was to an admittedly wow version of 'chasing cars'

It seemed like crowd-baiting kiddy stuff to me but undoubtedly powerful and DK loved it.

Saturday started with some sunshine and some Heathers (nice and worth checking out) and then Dry the River, whose CD I had downloaded three days before to give it a shot.  They really are an incredible band, most songs starting high, slow and folky before building to an Arcade Fire/National epic - one formula variously applied, but it bloody works on songs like 'New ceremony', 'Weights and measures' and 'Chambers and the valves' and a very odd but appealing live act.  Quiet singer with amazing voice partnered with bassist who looks like a defector from a heavy metal band and does all the talking.  The quiet bits were ethereal and the peaks shook the ground - fantastic and really a band to get excited about (see video clip below).

The afternoon brought one of the two incredible reunion gigs of the weekend, which collected all the 40-somethings in the area (mostly male) and drew them to the tents like a magnet.  Tom Dunne and
Something Happens took to the Cosby Stage (why so small?) and Tom pointed out gleefully that some of the audience hadn't been born when they last played, but some (most!) definitely had.  They looked very happy to be back in action. For a while I thought the set was going to play 'Been there, seen that, done that' in entirety and possibly in order, and they seemed to ignore their troubled third album, but it really was a great set delivered with great humour and personality.  There seemed to be some slagging on stage and rusty creaks between members, and Tom had to berate guitarist Ray Harmon in the persona of Bono at one point, but the old magic was clearly still there and hopefully they won't give up for good again now.

We also caught a fair chunk of Wild Beasts' set, but they just failed to do it for me live, and did nothing to shift the nonplussed reaction I have had to both their albums so far - I know they are good, and different, but I just can't really connect with the music for some reason.

Anyway, of course, Electric Picnic was always going to be for me about The Cure, and the thought of 3 full hours of them doing a greatest hits set live had kept me in some state of excitement for weeks.  I had only seen them live once, in 1989, and had found that disappointing, but this was not a repeat.  We started close to the front, and they started as I hoped they would with the majestic splendour of 'Plainsong', which I filmed as below.  Strangely, in retrospect, comparing the start of their set with the start of Sigur Ros' can only make you think how much the latter have been (at a certain extent at least) influenced by the former.

After a while, we moved back, and the set was full of simply jaw-dropping moments as great song followed great song - the first hour alone included 'Inbetween days' (shown below, for some reason appearing as if shot underwater) and 'Just like heaven', consecutively if I remember correctly.  As discussed later, 'Pictures of you' really moved me unexpectedly, and overall it was really a fantastic set and there is just no band who could put on so many songs that mean so much to me for so long.  Close-up, they do look rather odd these days, with Robert sporting a sparkly black top and the guitarist (apparently Reeves Gabrels, not a traditional member) looking old, heavy and somewhat misplaced.  There were only 1 or 2 unfamiliar songs, one of   which seemed to feature both a harmonica and a wah-wah guitar, neither of which should be found easily in a Cure song.  We did miss the end, heading briefly to catch some of Bell X1 (DK's request, and he had listened to over 2 hours of the Cure for me), but that was full and we were tired, so we headed campward, and sat outside listening to the astonishing final run of 'Why can't I be you?', '10:15 Saturday night' (around 2 hours late), 'Lovecats' and 'Killing an arab'.  Just brilliant.

Sunday turned out to be one of the best days of the Irish non-summer, and was a cloudless scorcher, and the only way to pass the morning was stretched out in the sun listening to the Dublin Gospel Choir (not something I would normally do).  The first main gig was Of Monsters and Men, as I loved the album, but we were a bit late getting there and couldn't even get near the tent, which was a huge pity as the album is really good.  Anyway, then time for a few minutes of Mick Flannery, who is always good but we have seen maybe 10 times in Cork, so with apologies and without time to hear him inevitably apologising for dragging people away from the sun to hear his miserable (if mighty) songs, we headed to what I expected to be, and was, one of the highlights of EP 2012.

This was the reunion of Fat Lady Sings, fronted by the nicest man in Irish music, Nick Kelly (no insult, no sarcasm).  I saw FLS (and Something Happens, as it Happens) in around 1988 in a series of Dublin gigs called 'Seven bands on the up' (sponsored by a drinks company - Sprite perhaps), and loved them, and their debut album 'Twist'.  I also had bought several of Nick's solo albums, and remain on his mailing list.  Live, this time, they just looked thrilled to be there, and the music was as beautiful as I remember.  Obviously, 'Arclight' has never strayed far from my or general consciousness, but 'Deborah', 'Manscared' and, in particular, 'Contact' were brilliant, the latter showing how a song unheard for 20 years can suddenly grab your heart and emotions as if ne'er a day had passed....

Then the first main act of the evening, Elbow on the main stage.  They really delivered a very impressive set, which affected me far more than I expected.  Guy Garvey is a hell of an effective frontman, with banter, waves, hand gestures and everything he did leading the audience to perch in the palm of his hand, even if he cannot help but remind me constantly of Ricky Gervais.  Their sound was brilliant, with strings and horns for many of the songs (as seen in photo below), and even the Irish youth choir for 'Lippy kids' (although to be honest I cannot say I really could discern their specific contribution).

Clips below of 'Weather to fly', which I think they said was one for the band themselves (which was less cocky  than it may sound as most of the rest of the songs had been preluded by remarks about their being about them f**king things up) and was preceded with a lovely acoustic verse, and 'One day like this'.

The 45-minute interval between Elbow and the Killers allowed time for a quick run to see some of Tindersticks, always a favourite of mine (see previous post here).  We only caught three songs, and it
certainly hit the slow and ruminant air of their most recent albums, and I am not sure Stuart Staples eyes opened at all while I watched.  Class, undeniable class, but a bit too low-key.  Below is set opener 'If you're looking for a way out' (an Opus cover, I think, from 'Simple pleasures'):

The Killers delivered a very large and powerful performance, to be fair, and have to be recognised as a really good guitar band who stand out because of the somewhat theatrical approach of their singer and
the massive layers of 80s synths they drape over everything.  Live, they were tight and loud, if somewhat indifferent to the crowd (bar an opening 'Conas a ta tu'!) but have to be given marks for not overloading the set with tracks from their soon to be released new album 'Battle born' (great title, by the
way) - 3 I counted, and one 'Flesh and bone' sounds great at first listen).  They did two cover versions, lighting up the Stradbally sky with lasers for 'Shadowplay' (how many of the audience will have known the sinister original?) and giving a nod to the locals with a short burst of Van Morrison's 'Brown-eyed
girl', both captured from (apologies) a bit far back in the crowd below, as well as 'All the things that I've done', with which they closed their main set (my attempts to get nearby members of the crowd to sing our home version - 'I've got ham but I'm not a hamster' - tragically came to naught):

The Killers then confused a huge proportion of the crowd (well, at least me, DK, and a few near us) by leaving the stage at 11.30 whereupon we headed away thinking of the last few minutes of Glen Hansard, only to hear them reappear for an encore, leading to a rapid turnaround for a lot of us between the main arena and the smaller stages to beat a hasty retreat back to hear the last few songs.  This was definitely worth it, though, to hear the best 'rock and roll' line of the weekend, as Brandon Flowers preceded the final song ('When we were young') with the lines (and I may be paraphrasing) 'We are about to rock as hard as we can.  Are you ready to receive as hard as you can?' and then...the brilliant line to the band 'Okay boys, lets see what this thing can do').

Minor disappointments:

1. Not getting there early enough to be in the tent
for Of Monsters and Men (see picture below of crowd OUTSIDE the tent listening)

2. Failing to bring a picnic blanket and hence sitting on dampish grass too much - top EP tip for sure.
3. Dexys - had bit of a listen to the new album beforehand and sounded good but they put on a bizarre show which seemed like 1920s music hall or something, and we both hated it, so didn't even wait to see just in case they played 'Come on Eileen' (which I would not have bet they would given the vibe they were exuding).

Pleasantest surprise (nonmusical):

No traffic problems.  At all. 

Top song moments:

1. The Cure 'Pictures of you' - for some reason, this just blew me away and transported me off during their set, although it would not have been immediately in my top 5 Cure songs and I hadn't heard it in
2. The Cure 'In between days' (soundcheck, Saturday morning) - sunny morning, family campsite, perfect music suddenly comes into focus.  The one that made me start this blog (see here).
3. Something Happens 'Hello, hello, hello (Petrol)' - they were having such fun it was impossible not to feel it, and working in 'Use somebody' and 'Smells like teen spirit' just added to the crack.
4. The Fat Lady Sings 'Contact' - again, how a song you have not heard for 20 years suddenly grips you with a passion and power you had completely forgotten, delivered by the nicest happiest looking band in the festival
5. Dry the river 'New ceremony' - a fantastic whisper to shout epic from my newest favourite band
6. Ed Sheeran 'Chasing cars' - ok, it is a cheat for his best song to be a cover version, but the visceral thrill of the packed-full Electric Arena tent singing every syllable of this was spine-tingling

So, that's it for Electric Picnic 2012, but not for the Culture Collection as lots more to catch up on now back to the blogging habit.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Airborne toxins actually quite pleasant

Musically, May is turning out quite interesting, with new downloads from The Airborne Toxic Event and Jamie Woon (both on recommendation of my new friend the Sunday Times iPad App's culture section), Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky (they just fit together, with thanks this time to eMusic) and Fleet Foxes.

The TATE (as I will abbreviate the first-named band, not being arced to type their full title, which incidentally reminds me of the very odd Mark Wahlberg/M Night Shyamalan movie, the Happening - coincidence?) album 'All at once' is actually really good, even it it does feel like a compilation of stuff by other people, if mainly good ones. The opening title track sounds very Nationalish, with anthematic reach and cool drums (see below), and I really like the following 'Numb', particularly where the rush of the music takes a breath for the line with the title.

'The graveyard near the house' was really nice until my son pointed out how much it sounds like 'Hey there Delilah' by the Plain White Ts. Some songs have a touch of Pogueishness about them, and the singer's voice seems too mutable to get a good grasp on, sounding very different in different songs ('Changing' sounds like a different band entirely, more at home in the UK than the US).   'It doesn't mean a thing' (slightly different version below) ranges from the Pogues to Elvis Costello very cooly within a little over 2 minutes, which is quite an achievement.

It does sound really nice on 'All for a woman' (below), which builds up like a Ryan Adams epic (something like 'Meadowlake street' springs to mind) and 'Half of something else' is really good too.

The album got a very tough review in Uncut for Arcade Fire clonism, but I don't really get that, although I agree that 'The kids are ready to die' is pretty weak. Overall, though, this is one of the best albums I have heard in a while.

Jamie Woon was always a bit of a stretch for me, as the reviews made it sound quite low-key and ambient for me, but a preview on iTunes made me interested, and I quite like his voice, but I am still struggling to really engage in the music, which seems a bit too backgroundy for me, although 'Night air' does stand out.

I didn't get quite as excited as many folks and folkies seemed to about Fleet Foxes' debut, although 'White water hymnal' and 'Mykonos' (first heard on an Uncut CD) were gorgeous, but I did divert some of my eMusic subscription their way based on the reviews of the new album. I really like the simpler more acoustic ones, like 'Helplnessness blues' itself and 'Montezuma', although some of the rest is a bit noodley and dense for me.

I haven't given Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai enough aural attention to review yet, but maybe next time.

Movies-wise, I downloaded 'The girl who played with fire' on Apple TV (first straight download, no PC required!) and made the mistake of picking the English-dubbed version, on which the voices are simply crap, and make taking the whole thing seriously almost impossible. My internet connection dropped around two-thirds of the way through and when it reattached the movie was no longer saved (although I should have had it for 48 hours) but to be honest I don't think I will bother to pay for the rest.

I have also started watching 'Centurion' (I liked Neil Marshall's first two films, 'Dog soldiers' and 'The descent' a lot), and it actually looks pretty good, with some very impressively visceral action, and accents and characters far like the protagonists of Dog Soldiers than what I would have expected for the Roman Empire's finest. 

TV-wise, we have been enjoying 'Boardwalk empire' a lot, and I have watched the first episode of 'Game of thrones', which looks very interesting if a bit mad in the head and off the wall (metaphorically speaking).

Books-wise, just finished Joseph Wilsons book on the nasty tactics of the Bush administration (what a shocker) and just started 'Unscientific America' by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, as I loved Mooney's scary book about how the Bush adminsitration also gave scientists a very hard time, and not just ex-ambassadors ('The Republican war on science').

That's all for now, folks!

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter musical eggs

This is a test post using the Blogsy app on my iPad. This is taking a little time to get used to as not quite intuitive but I am gradually getting the hang of it. This combined with my Zaggmate keyboard will hopefully mean the iPad becomes my blogging device of choice, and I might even get back to more regular posts than so far this year (although 2011 seems to be turning into quite the year for quality music).

One thing which seems quite useful is the ease of embedding Youtube clips, like this one from TV on the Radio:

I discovered TV on the Radio through their last album 'Dear Science', the title of which was almost enough to ensnare me (occupational hazard), which was a case of the least expected like of the last few years for me, as terms like art rock and funk could readily be used to describe it but I still really liked it. I first listened to 'Nine Types of Light' (another cool title) on a train to Dublin by headphones and was to be honest a little disappointed first run through, as it lacked the dramatic punch of 'Halfway home' or 'Dancing choose' (where they added rap to the list of things I did not expect to like in their sound), but a little patience allowed the songs time to grow and breathe, and now I really like quite a few of them. 'Keep your heart' is an obvious one, but 'Will do' (seen above) and the closer (bonus track?) 'Troubles' are really good, the latter in particular a great pop song.

The National keep slipping out great songs, with the last one 'Think you can wait' coming from a film called 'Win win', and being a gorgeous slow burner like 'Runaway' but somehow even nicer, and would not have been at all out of place on 'High violet':

The next one ('Exile Villify') apparently comes from a video game ('Portal 2', about which all I know is that I am pretty sure the original game came bundled with 'Half-Life 2', which gives it immediate credibility in my book, even before The National became involved). I am not sure whether being associated with a video game is either really cool or slightly odd, but as The National can never be less than cool let's assume the former. Anyway, the song is slightly less of an immediate love than the one above, but perhaps it needs more time....

The next music I want to talk about is Glasvegas' 'Euphoric heartbreak' (I can't bring myself to repeat the bizarre titular solidus-assault), for which advance press and reviews had been, frankly, pretty unenthusiastic. I discovered Glasvegas through their debut in 2008, which I actually only bought in its reissue form, when my curiosity was sparked by the review talking about Jesus and Mary Chain meets Phil Spector doing a bunch of Christmas songs (as bundled in the reissue with the debut). While I found some of their slower songs a bit too lifeless, I loved the energy of "Flowers and football tops', 'Geraldine' and the quite astonishing 'Go square go' (the bit where the singer first intones 'Here we f***ing go' is just heard-stopping), and loved the macho sloppiness of 'A snowflake fell and it felt like a kiss' (who could resist that title?). Anyway, the new album came with more health warnings than a pack of cigarettes (somehow that analogy just seemed apt) but my affection for the debut carried me through to trying the new one.

To be honest, it is not as bad as the reviews led me to expect (talk about damning with faint praise!) but there does seem to have been something of the honesty, modesty and raw passion of the debut lost in the process, perhaps due to the inevitable pressures of fame (stories of the bands drug-induced woes invariably feature in reviews and profiles), and the songs do seem a little lost inside huge production (one review compared the sound, unkindly but not necessarily inaccurately, to Simple Minds) and a bit more formulaic and polished. I think songs like 'Euphoria take my hand' (below) could benefit from a more stripped-back sound to bring that wonderful guitar riff out of the swamp in which it has become submerged, while the stand-out 'Lot's sometimes' (also below) just about survives the production and, more fatally, the appallingly placed apostrophe, to deliver an epic builder which comes closest to the spirit of the first album.

I am also thinking about downloading Jamie Woon and Radiohead based on the reviews, and will probably take a chance on Fleet Foxes when the new album comes out (especially as it will be on eMusic), although much of their debut did not really grab me.

In other culture-related news, I am nearly at the end of the second series of 'The West Wing' and it really is the pinnacle of televisual wonderfulness. This has pretty much dominated my TV-watching, so no other DVDs to report on, but a few box-sets lying in need of attention (although I watched and actually enjoyed 'Hellboy 2' on my iPad between some train journeys).

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the FreeBooks-wise, I read another book on Wikileaks (Greg Mitchell's 'The age of wikileaks' - interesting but a bit short and feeling rather rapidly flung-together) and a fantastically ascerbic book about the emergence of stupidity as a major dominating force in American society and politics in particular ('Idiot America: how stupidity became a virtue in the land of the free' by Charles P. Pierce). The latter was simultaneously funny, wise and enraging, with great analyses of the response to 911, the rush to war in Iraq, the Dover Intelligent Design case, climate change and more, starting with a great piece about a creationist museum which features dinosaurs with saddles. Dear lord, need we say any more.

I am currently reading a really interesting book about how a new generation of biological hackers are trying to beat major labs at their own game ('Biopunk: DIY scientists hack the software of life' by Marcus Wohlsen), and have also downloaded what looked (from a Kindle sample) very interesting, which is Joseph Wilson's account of the Bush Administration's use of dodgy intelligence (besides their own) regarding Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Niger ('The politics of truth'), which was recently dramatised in the film 'Fair game', which I didn't see.

Technology-wise, I am gradually moving away from hard-copy newspapers, being quite happy to read my favourite bits of the Guardian on the iPhone app I paid for (especially Alexis Petridis' wonderfully caustic culture columns and Peter Bradshaw's film reviews) and I have paid for a trial of the Sunday Times on the iPad (the demise of the Sunday Tribune has left my Sunday reading bereft, and the physical copy of the Times is just intimidatingly huge and induces savage guilt for the environment every time I chuck half its weight in paper, unread, straight into recycling).  The Times app actually works really well, and I am going to pay my monthly sub to read the best bits on screen on a Sunday, as I finally think both subscription and on-screen news papers could actually be the thing of the future.  On the subject of on-screen news, the Irish national station RTE has a news app which is very good (and, at certain times, quite surreal, as in their live blog during this winter's snow storms when the writer inserted many great jokes and off-the-point ruminations into the mundane updates), but the entertainment section is just bizarre; perhaps it reflects how little I dip into a certain fetid corner of celebrity 'news' but recent relevations about how Peter Andre or some other loser fell asleep in the cinema on a date and how some girlyband singer I never heard of had a dream that old-style Irish singer Mary Black released a disco track make me dispair for what passes for entertainment in certain quarters today.

Swerving away to much harsher stuff leads me to a somewhat sombre conclusion to this post, regarding the death of two celebrated war journalists in Libya, including Tim Hetherington, whose 'Restrepo' I watched recently and found very powerful.   The trailer is below:

I have always held huge admiration for war reporters, being constantly aware that every time we see a battle or other hostile situation on Sky News or whatever, there is someone unarmed there with a camera, recording it all for us to watch. This to me is another form of real heroism, and the sad events of last week made me think once again what real guts it must take to do what they have done, and how sad it is when they die in the line of action on our behalfs.  One of the things I read on the Sunday Times app yesterday was a very moving piece by Margarette Driscoll about Hetherington, the roles of war reporters, and the fact that he was far more interested in the effects of war on those caught up on it than the gruesome details which others favoured, which is well worth checking.

[By the way, I gave up on Blogsy part way through this post, when I couldn't work out how to position the video clips reasily, moved onto the Blogpress App, and finished off the polishing (such as it is) on my PC - still a bit of practice to move completely to iPad for posting, alsas.]

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Monday, March 28, 2011

March music madness

There has been a lot of good new music this month, and I almost don't know where to start. It has been a while since my last confession, I mean post, so better get started.

Most recently, I downloaded from eMusic The Rural Alberta Advantage, which sounded good on preview as it sat at the top of their download charts (a recommendation I have come to trust a lot in recent months, after almost feeling like giving up my subscription). 'Departing' is very good, like Deer Tick but with the rough edges hewn smooth and honey poured over the lot. There is a chilly atmosphere from the whited-out highway of the cover, but the drums and piano are really far more upbeat than they at first seem, and there are several really outstanding tracks, including 'Coldest days', 'North star', 'Stamp' and 'Barnes' Yard'.

I found a version of the latter in a record store here:

And a version of 'under the knife' at:

I have still failed to warm to the new Elbow album, which just seems to fade into obscurity in the background when I play it and has never really engaged my ears fully. I do need to give it more of a chance but it feels a struggle with so much else fighting for aural attention.

REM's 'Collapse into now' has proven mostly worth the listen, and far better on average than the last few have been, but I could probably live without around half the songs. Still, 'Mine smell like honey', 'That someone is you' and 'Uberlin' are as strong as anything they have done for ages.  A studio performance of 'Mine smell like honey' is below:

An Uncut Album of the Month recommendation sent me predictably to the dark world of Josh T. Pearson's 'Last of the southern gentlemen', which really is bleak but beautiful, if lacking the warmth to live up its comparisons to The Boatman's Call. The lyrics are really something in their raw frankness, and 'The honeymoon's great, wish you were here' is just stunning in the picture it paints so poetically, and almost makes the heart break. I wonder if Josh has heard the beautifully sad Billy Bragg song 'Wish you were her', which covers much the same ground but considerably less abrasively. I knew 'Woman when I raised hell' (as seen below) from Uncut' March cover CD (of which more later) but opener 'Thou art loosed' is also brilliant.

On the back of this CD, I actually went and dug back through files off music not listened to in recent times to find Lift to Experience's 'The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads' and gave it a listen for the first time in years and it really doesn't sound like the same person at all, but that still is a greatly weird yet epic album (discovered again through Uncut at the time).

Speaking of Uncut, their March CD 'Homeward bound' was simply stunning and a much-needed reminder of why I have bought every issue since its launch. Beside the aforementioned Mr Pearson, it introduced me to Harper Simon (son of Paul), Simone Felice (the version of 'Union street' is breathtaking, and sent me off to get The Duke and the King, the version on which is nowhere as good - drums far too obtrusive), Michael McDermott (downloaded that CD too - bit MOR but there is something there, even if 'The American in me' is clearly the standout), and reminded me of Peter Broderick. Add in The Tallest Man on Earth, Josh Ritter and Villagers and it is a simply brilliant compilation.

Finally, music-wise for now, and in a very different musical style, and indeed parent decade, I have been quite impressed by Mirrors' 'Lights and offerings'. Let's face it, when every review mentioned some or all of OMD, Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, Tears for Fears etc etc I was hardly going to be able to resist, especially when the iTunes download was an incredibly generous package for a CD which wasn't even full priced, including loads of videos and live tracks. Of course it is not that original sounding, and also sounds quite like Editors in place, but it does what it does rather well, and tracks like 'Into the heart' (in particular, as seen below) and 'Something on your mind' are really strong and stick in the mind for days.

In other cultural news, there have been few movies or DVDs to report on, but have been enjoying 'Shameless' on TV. This is the US version, with William H Macy, not the UK one, and was initially quite a shock to the system, with the raw frankness (Frank-ness?), but the humour and Macy's great face made it watchable and eventually addictive. I have bought the UK series 1 and 2 on DVD and only started to watch, and while the extent to which the remake is really a cover version is surprising, I think the US version will still go down easier, and have a fonder place on my TV. In complete contrast, we have started to spoil ourselves by starting to work through The West Wing again, jumping in for some reason at Season 2, and enjoying what seem to be some of the golden days of the show, with great episodes, the cast all there (including Ainsley Hayes, great for a while before they forgot what to do with her and she disappeared) and Sorkin's writing at its sharpest.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksBooks-wise, really enjoyed 'The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks', which combined great science writing with a touching and frequently shocking family tale uncovered through some really interesting detective work by a very engaging narrator and writer.  As speculation about Obama's forthcoming visit to Ireland mounts (including a possible trip to Cork), and as sort of a companion piece to The West Wing, I downloaded 'O' (a presidential novel by an anonymous source), which is a barely-veiled account of the Obama team in the throes of forthcoming reelection campaigning - it is readable but not much more than that.  Switching back and forth between that and a book on Pluto's demise as a fully-recognised planet ('The case for pluto' by Alan Boyle) which is a really well written and interesting piece of recent science history.

Other than all of the above, thinking about getting myself an iMac, and using my iPad more and more. Getting the Zaggmate keyboard/case really transformed the functionality of the yoke, and I am now happily typing this on the iWriter app with the greatest of ease. The Angry Birds have gone to Rio, and I am using iDisk more and more as a file storage facility (including movies) and intermediary between PC and iPad, with saving and switching very easy indeed.

So, busy month of March, and more frequent posts in April promised!
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Saturday, February 5, 2011

New music nirvana

Crazy EnglishI am curently dipping in and out of Richard Lederer's highly entertaining book 'Crazy English' (the case is strongly made on every page of how true the title is) on iPhone/Kindle and have just read about all kinds of phobias I didn't know existed.  These include things like 'cheruphobia' (gaiety - see Esben and the Wich below), 'tomophobia' (surgical operations - who doesn't have this?), 'verbaphobia' (fear of words, especially that one), 'tapinophobia' (small things - like what?) and 'erythrophobia' (the colour red - presumably not just the Krysztof Kieslowski film?).

However, I have been thinking of a new one for which there may not (yet) be a name, i.e., the fear that there is music out there which you would absolutely love but you just haven't met it yet.  Even with Genius and Amazon recommendations and previews on iTunes there is just too much music for one person to monitor casually, leading to he aforementioned fear, which I propose to name ignotacaramusicaphobia (from a haphazard Latin construction of words for unknown, beloved and music - you would never tell I lacked a classical education, would you?).

Anyway, this was brought home to me again this week when, in a need to finish my eMusic credits before they ran out at the end of the month, I took a hasty chance on two albums that had been near the top of their most downloaded charts for ages but about which I knew precious little.  Oh, and they were both by Swedish artists, which did not fill me with extra enthusiasm.

The first was 'The wild hunt' by The Tallest Man on Earth (who, from video evidence, is presumably in hiding from the enforcers of the Trades Descriptions Act), and I bloody love it.  Mostly acoustic guitar matched with an unusual voice most frequently compared to Bob Dylan but far less whiny and more generally joyous.  I found some clips online, starting with the one below:

I also found this clip of a live version of my favourite on the album, 'Burden of tomorrow':

Also from the chilly northern land which Steig Larsson would have me believe is full of very strange and rather dangerous individuals comes The Radio Dept, who eMusic also taunted me with for some time before I secumbed and downloaded their most recent album ('Clinging to a scheme').  This is quite different, but the songs are lovely in a very 'sensitive end of the 80s' way, although the heavily treated vocals which are frequently distorted place an emotional barrier for me: still, very interesting and worth a listen, and the live clip of 'You stopped making sense' below gives a flavour of what is to be found:

From a very different musical place, in fact Brighton I think, come the marvellously named Esben and the Witch, who I had taken acute note of in the preview-of-2011 articles due to the references to Goth and Banshees and old-style doom and gloom (the black-clad skeletons in my 80s closet rattling), and I bought the album 'Violet Cries' (could two fantastic albums with 'Violet' in the title in consecutive years be possible?) on iTunes.  I must admit, I love 'Marching song' below (particularly the drumming in the first section, mad video by the way) but the rest of the album has yet to really grow on me, but I will persevere:

The other major (re)discovery of the month was The Decemberists on the back of great reviews (including album of the month) for 'The king is dead' (he managed to hide for over 20 years after the Smiths killed his missus...), and it is a great album, and far more accessible than I had ever found their stuff before, and I had tried (although 'Sleepless' off the 'Dark was the night' compilation was gorgeous).  There is an undoubted feel of 'lets mix REM plus the Waterboys in a blender and record what spews out' (particularly the former in the intro to 'Calamity song' and the latter in the outro to 'Rox in the box', through the [probably traditional originally] air of 'Raggle taggle gypsy'); having Peter Buck on board legalises the REM lifts, and Gillian Welch and Laura Viers add that feminine touch from time to time.  Anyway, it is a really easy-listening nice album (and I mean that more positively than it might sound) and my favourite track is probably 'Dear avery' as seen below:

I also found a clip featuring my two other favourites, 'June Hymn' and 'This is why we fight' below:

So, all in all, a very good month for music.  I also tried to expand my musical pallette by experimenting with Kanye West ('Fantasy') and Plan B ('Strickland Banks') but, while both had tracks that really grabbed me (particularly 'Lost in the world', 'Power' and 'All of the lights' on the former), I do not think this signals the start of a major musical migration.  I also tried some EP stuff by James Blake (bit too minimalist for me, however good the reviews of the debut full album might be), and got a real unexpected pleasure from Cee Lo Green's 'The lady killer' (I do love that voice and something about the energy of the music just overcomes my natural resistance to such material).   I also have downloaded but need to listen more to Joan as Policewoman and Anna Calvi (having discovered 'Suzanne and I' thanks to Uncut, this remains the stand out on the album for me, as seen live below, with the great drum and guitar intro preserved):

In matters of non-musical culture, I haven't got to the cinema at all, nor seen any noteworthy DVDs, but have started to watch and am enjoying the sleazy charm of 'Shameless' (the US version - I have never seen the British version); I always loved William H. Macy and his performance, while far in tone from his previous work, still retains enough charm to give an interesting centre to the series, which looks worth future support:

I am also filling my Sky-plus box with the fruits of the new Sky Atlantic channel, and have lots of Boardwalk Empire and Curb your Enthusiasm, and more, waiting to watch.  Books-wise, I am in English-language mode, between the aforementioned Lederer plus the heavier but still fascinating and thought-provoking 'The stuff of thought' by Steven Pinker.  I also have just opened a Facebook account for the first time, and am just starting to wonder what do do with it.....

That's it for now, more to follow soon.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Phosphorescent escape from Irish gloom

Okay, firstly it has been waaayyy too long since a last update, but better late then never and I have a lot to catch up, to be divided over a few posts I guess.  I am also taking the opportunity to test to see how the new Writer app works in terms of allowing me to type more fluently on the iPad. Seems pretty good so far!  The last few posts have been concert reviews, and I still plan a roundup of the year's music, movies etc, so I am just going to get stuck in.


I realised I had some live clips I never put up from my amazing December gigs (Arcade Fire and The National), namely those I took of Phosporescent supporting the latter.  I had downloaded two albums by them (Here's to taking it easy and the Willie Nelson covers album) and quite a few tracks had favourably caught my ear (as opposed, I guess, to roughly grabbing it and yanking it half off my head), so I was quite interested to see them live, and they were certainly interesting.  The front man, Matthew Houck, initially seems hewn from the same kind of backwoods log as Bonnie Prince Billy in appearance and manner, but has a really distinctive voice which was lovely in concert.   His band looked kind of hairly and scraggly (with a particularly demented pianist), and sounded a lot louder in the loud bits, and quieter in the quiet bits, but there was generally a leaning in the direction of loud more than seemed apparent on record.

Anyway, the first of two clips is of my favourite of their songs, 'Rainbow parade':

While the second is the lovely if somewhat intruigingly named 'Picture of our torn up praise':

There is no doubt, in reflection, that 2010 was more like the inspiring 2008 than the insipid 2009 for music, with a lot of long-lasting favourites.  Number one of course must be 'High violet' by The National, although I must admit that this album perhaps did not entirely survive the forensic analysis I applied before and after its release, to the extent that it feels somewhat like a machine I took apart so drastically that it never quite reassembled into a coherent functioning whole.  It is hard to explain my relationship with this album, which is still head and shoulders above almost everything else for a long time, but somehow it remains a little spoiled by my own dumb failure to allow it a chance free from weighty expectation and dissembly. 

Most pleasant surprise was 'The suburbs' when Arcade Fire finally bludgeoned me into submission, and plain and simple pop joy (with attendendant goofy grins and addicted humming) of the year was 'American slang' by the Gaslight Anthem.  Other highlighted pleasures included the Drums, and Josh Ritter, while reissue of the year was the unexpected motown-flavoured pop masterpiece of Springsteen's 'The promise'.  Disappointment of the year was probably 'Contra' by Vampire Weekend, although this did yield the fantastic 'Giving up the gun'.  Gig of the year was clearly The National in the Olympia.

I didn't actually get much for a few weeks around Christmas, but made up for it in the last week by starting 2011 off in determinedly different style by downloading or being given Adele's '19' (I do like her voice), Kanye West's 'Fantasy' (my most radical departure, perhaps ever), Plan B (surprising but perhaps less so after mad Kanye) and Cee Lo Green (something about that voice!).  Comments on all will follow.
Albums currently being considered include those by The Decemberists, Iron & Wine and Anna Calvi for a start. Hopefully 2011 will be two good years in a row.


In the weeks before Christmas, I really enjoyed 'The Walking Dead', which came to a halt after far too few (i.e., six) episodes, but had good characters (Egg from the classic This Life as a southern US cop!), good action, and scary zombies.  Definitely hope this got good enough ratings to warrant another (longer) series:

I also watched some of the sixth season of the US version of 'The Office', which I have always enjoyed and really see as something which now exists in its own right completely independent of its British parent, of which it is the bastard offspring that has gone off to make its own cocky way in the world.    Finally, working through box sets, I watched the again truncated entire life of 'Firefly', which was really a very strange mix of western (with eastern overtones) and Star Wars, like the original Lucas-Kurosowa mythological blend had been fed once more into a mad blender and mixed up to see what would slurp out.  Very odd, but very funny in places and probably worth more of a life-span than it got.  I must go back and watch 'Serenity' again, which I saw quite a few years ago and own on DVD.....

WastersIt has been a busy month or so for books, with several on the go, and an unplanned shift back to the physical object as opposed to the virtual version.  First was a book on some particular individuals who have contributed overly notably to the recent tragic and spectacular demise of the Irish country.  The title, 'Wasters', says it all, and it chronicles an entirely depressing set of chancers, crooks and incompetents, which only feels progressively sadder these days as the impact of the damage down by these same losers leads us through simply bizarre days of Irish politics, to the point where it simply is not clear who, if anyone, is in charge any more.
Them: Adventures with ExtremistsIn years to come, a new edition of Jon Ronson's 'Them' might include profiles of some of the same feckers, seen correctly through the lens of history as just as mad as the bizarre cast of characters featured in this edition, from conspiracy theorists caught up in actual conspiracies to the recurrent shadowy figures of the supposed secret rulers of the world, i.e., the Bilderberg group.  This is a slim but entertaining and sometimes sad and slightly scary book, a few years old at this stage.  I also read an entertaining if short book called 'A mathematician reads the newspaper' which collats a series of columns by a US professor of maths of misunderstandings of mathematical principles throughout media and politics; interesting an thought-provoking.
"Have You Seen . . . ?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films
I also took on a major project on Kindle of 500,000 words by David Thomson, 500 each on 1000 movies - that is a lot of small screens of text!  What most shocked me about this was how many of the films I had never even heard of (at least 25%), and how man of them were from before 1940 or so. I estimate I have seen around 20% (at a generous estimate) of the books he discusses, which is tough when Thomson's style is unapologetically to assume the reader has seen the film in question, and to often jump straight in to some particular aspect of character or plot; I guess 500 words would suggest the straight-jacket of a brief symposis, which he clearly avoids, but it makes it hard to keep up somehow, although his fluent prose and eccentric turn of phrase make the effort worthwhile.  One thing that strikes me quite forcefully is to wonder how anyone could realistically find many of the more obscure ones he mentions, which led me to wonder how many old films even appear on TV any more, even allowing for how many channels that now exist. 

I am currently reading Steven Pinker's 'The stuff of thought', a complex treatise on the relationship between language and human thought which covers a lot of ground and veers wildly from the very funny (lots of movie references to keep me happy) to deep and serious considerations of specific details of grammar I didn't even know existed.  Learning a lot from this one!

Okay, there are a lot more things to talk about, including the slim few movies I have seen, Apple TV and more, but these will appear in future posts.

A lot of the distraction in recent weeks, particularly the last 2 weeks, has been the slow disintegration of my country's government, and the stripping bare of the sheer vanity, venality and incompetence of those in charge, and the lengths they will go to to remain so.  It certainly is a trying time to be Irish right now, as everyone who reads this, wherever you are, knows exactly how f***ed we are and how stupid we look. I am far from understanding most of what is going on, but as far as I see it, a small number of selfish bastards, in government and in banks, have led us into a deep dark hole from which there is no easy escape, and now no-one is prepared to take responsibility, and all semblance of order or sense at the top has simply evaporated.   Those who have caused the problems are turning on each other and the result is ghoulishly fascinating, and I have become addicted to political columns, TV and news shows and sites like never before. It would be great sport if it was happening to someone else.

And on that bleak note for a nonpolitical blog (although right now in Ireland everyone is political because everyone is in trouble) I will leave it.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This arcade's on fire!

Okay, that was a bad Kings of Leon pun to start with!

Now, I accept that in the past I have been cynical or suspicious of Arcade Fire (like herehere and here), but then 'The suburbs' turned me around more than a little (as admitted here), and when I saw they were to play Dublin in December alongside Vampire Weekend, I decided that it was time to see what all the live fuss was about.   I read a review of the gig here, the author of which very much shared my view on the band, and my inability to 'get' them the way others did, but this was their chance to break down my final defences and claim me for their own.

I also decided it would be my 10-year-old's first big concert, as he linked both acts, and we had not managed to get a family  ticket to Electric Picnic, even after buying the tent especially (at least I got to finally see the National in Ireland in 2010, the night before the Arcade Fire gig, as ecstatically reviewed here).

It was also acrually my first concert at Dublin's key venue, the O2, which I had been to some gigs in years ago in its previous incarnation as The Point Depot (maybe Pulp, the Waterboys, and a Feile festival, if memory serves me right).

Even with dashing through the Dublin snow, we didn't get there in time for Devendra Banhart (who I had heard recommended through Uncut, and whose 'Smoky rolls down thunder mountain' I gave a good try during the week before the gig, before concluding that the cool name was my favourite thing about it), but I was quite keen to see Vampire Weekend.

Their debt was one of my favourite albums of 2008, but 'Contra' earlier this year left me severely disappointed; although it did contain my favourite song of all of their's ('Giving up the gun'), the rest of the tracks did nothing for me.  Live, they came across as technically excellent (particularly the drumming) but somewhat cold and unemotional, as if they had read the textbooks on how to make passionate music and could push the buttons, but did not bring real heart and soul to the deal.  All the clinical aloofness from their records was amplified on stage, and I was somewhat disappointed.

Interestingly, leaving the last three songs of your set to your debut suggested to me they might, deep down, share my view on its follow-up (they never played 'gun', alas), and my iPhone captured the three.  First up was 'Oxford Comma', on which I wrote one of the first posts for this blog here, and which I still love:

Apologies for the video quality on these, as I didn't get as close as I would otherwise have, due to my small-scale apprentics.  'Oxford comma' was followed by 'Walcott', which I always also loved on album, but much of the ornate instrumentation of which was a little lost by the more basic live set up:

Finally (I think, maybe I have order mixed up) came the wonderfully oddball 'Mansard roof', which was certainly a statement of aristocractic knowing intent at the start of the debut:

Then came the break and build up to the main event, which inevitably involved a fair degree of reconstruction of the stage to fit a significantly more expansive and ambitiously instrumented Arcade Fire.  They came on stage with 'Ready to start', loud and proud, and basically hurled themselves at their instruments with a level of energy and gusto which was all the more incredible for the fact that they maintained it for almost 2 hours.  The waves of raw energy and passion rolling off the stage were quite astonishing, and I can understand the longstanding hype about their live shows.

The sudden spike in levels of everything, crowd adrenaline included, proved at this point a little too much for my son, so we beat a tactical retreat back a little to a place where there was more space, and so the quality of the subsequent video clips suffered a little as a result, and I didn't film as much as I might otherwise, particularly at the start.  When doing a bit of research for this post, I found an incredible web-site called 'Setlist' which includes the set-list (below, thanks to their cool widget) for the gig as well as clips of all songs, albeit not from this actual gig, plus lyrics here). 

I must admit that, without my audio-visual props to remind me, the first half of the gig was a bit of an overwhelming blur, with snippets of memories of band members beating hell out of drums held by other band members, and routinely swapping instruments, and the 'drive-in'-like giant screen showing a variety of images, some abstract, some less so (including some strange images for one song of what appeared to be female heads bobbing in water like something from an early 20th Century German expressionist movie, if I actually knew what those really looked like).  I also remember that 'we used to wait' featured lots of images of stamps and envelopes, like an ode to a pre-emmail era.

I did capture 'The suburbs', which is a great opener to the album of that name:

and 'Intervention', which is my son's favourite:

The main set finished with 'Neighbourhood #3 (Power out)' flowing kinetically and through sheer power of momentum into 'Rebellion (Lies)'.  So many of their songs do seems like several songs co-evolving together and fighting to be heard that such flow seems completely natural and organic, and I did capture it:

They came back after the perfunctory absence for 'Keep the car running' and what is apparently their traditional closer 'Wake up':

So overall, a very good gig and undeniably powerful.  Their audience interaction is pretty good too, with a few reflections our economic woes and also a plea for support for Haiti before the song of the same name, and several references to Ireland being their favourite place to play (of course).

There is no doubt that their commitment, passion, musicianship and energy in a live setting are about as good as I have ever seen, and really takes the breath away.  They must be one of the best live bands in the world without any doubt.  My only problem comes back to my own personal relationship with the songs, which has never been that strong, despite my best efforts, and leaves in place a residual barrier to my fully engagin heart and soul with the concert.  It is hard to compare this behemoth with the small scale of The National but there is no doubt that the previous night's gig, stately and sedate by comparison, meant far more to me as I knew and loved every song so completely.

However, would I go and see Arcade Fire again?  In a shot. Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The National anthems in Dublin

It just felt unfair, unjust, when I couldn’t, despite many efforts, get tickets for The National’s Dublin gigs in the venerable Olympia Theatre when they were announced back in September. Who were those who had got there ahead of me and what had they done to deserve it more than me? Had they pathetically chronicled their obsessions with ‘High violet’ here or here, for example? Did I not somehow deserve a ticket for such loyal on-line advocacy?  

But then fate took pity on me, and a friend in need offered me his ticket for the Saturday night, just five days before the gig, and I seized both ticket and opportunity gratefully, and travelled from Cork to Dublin through an unseasonably wintry landscape that morning.

I arrived eagerly early (I went on my own), both out of predictable excitement for them and interest in the support, Phosphorescent (of whom a review will follow in a later post - but they were really good).  The ticket was for standing space, so I got as close as I ould to the stage without having one of the mysterious VIP-style wristbands (who the hell are those lucky folks?), and savoured the difference to the last time I saw them in the same venue, when it felt like I was watching them from a Google Earth satellite (I discussed this gig here).  I did get see my favourite drummer (indeed, perhaps, favourite musician) Bryan Devendorf checking his own drums during the set-up (right). 

Anyway, the video clip below captures the moments after the houselights dimmed and I love the image of the mike stands on stage against the light, like the cranes that once adorned Dublin's skyline in pre-bust days (alas and alack).  Then they appeared and started unexpectedly (for me, last time they started with the far more upbeat 'Brainy') with 'Runaway', but a lovely stately version of it, and I really liked the screen, which showed a range of images mixed with footage of the band playing, and occasionally the audience.

They then moved pretty quickly into 'Anyone's ghost', which has really grown on me as one of their rate moments of 3-minute pop, veering pretty close to New Order territory:

Then, introduced by Aaron as 'a song from Alligator' came the wonderful 'Secret Meeting', the last minute of which (with the shouty chanting I regard as one of my favourite National moments of all):

What a great start!  At this point I was almost faint with sheer euphoria, and resolved not to obsessively film every song, but to actually just enjoy most of them in the actual now, as opposed to heated emotion recollected in later tranquility (and then uploaded to this blog!).  For this reason, I didn't get clips of 'England', 'Bloodbuzz Ohio', 'Lemonworld' (the elongated intro to which allowed Matt to pop off stage briefly), or several others (as mentioned below). 

I did put the iPhone to use a lot, though, and I think the rest of these clips are in approximate order from the gig, starting with 'Slow show', of which I now have another version to add to at least three distinct ones I already have (including the demo from 'Virginia' and the Daytrotter session) in which Aaron ignored the keyboard behind him to do the ending on the guitar instead:

Of course, I had to capture my beloved 'Apartment story', with an acousticish drum-free intro leading into quite a laidback (for The National) version which I really liked:

At some stage later came the below version of 'Sorrow' (in which the way Matt sings the line 'I don't wanna get over you' always packs an emotional punch for me):

To this point, I thought Matt seemed less self-conscious and nervous (and perhaps drunk) than in previous gigs and clips and reviews, and the banter at the start of 'Conversation 16' below is genuinely relaxed and funny:

A little later, the intensity ramped up several dozen notches with an insane version of 'Abel', towards the end of which Matt launched himself into the crowd for the first time (and kept singing well, God bless him!):

I actuallycan't remember what they finished the main set with (blame the emotional overload) but I will never forget the encore, when they came back with an incendiary trio of 'Mr November', 'Mistaken for strangers' and 'Terrible love'.  Part way through the latter, Matt took off crowd-surfing once again, and ended up mere feet from me (see evidence left!).
At this point, my iPhone memory was starting to cry for mercy (why didn't I temporarily purge the fecker in advance?), which is why another reason I didn't capture the above trio, but I did have enough for the last track, when Phosphorescent joined them on stage for 'Vanderlyle Cry Baby Geeks' (no singing from the band really needed, the crowd did most of the work!):

At some point, they welcomed Richard Reed Perry of Arcade Fire to the stage, where he joined them on backing vocals and sometimes guitar for several songs.  Matt welcomed him with a joke about him owning the distribution rights to their music, and then mumbled about that sounding better in his head.  There were also two horn players on stage, and while I have always been ambivalent about the contribution of horns to The National's music, on stage that night it actually really worked, and filled in detail around the songs and little subtle but noticeable embellishments that definitely contributed positively.

Overall, a really really great gig, from a perfect position, with great sound, a crowd that more than earned their right to have got their damned tickets ahead of me with their enthusiasm and evident equal obsession to mine (as amply proven in the singalong to 'Vanderlyle'), and simply some of my favourite music ever to relish.

The next night brought a very different concert with Arcade Fire (review of which, including the Vampire Weekend warm-up slot), and perhaps more spectacle and even more madness, but at the end of the day it will always come back to the songs and how much they mean to you, and for that reason I find it very hard to believe last Saturday night in the Olympia will ever be beaten. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Springsteen promises, and really delivers

No more excuses this time about the long silence since my last post; well, actually, lots of excuses, mainly revolving around a lot of travel, including the States and Iowa and Nebraska, which provides a perfectly apt lead-in to my first musical comment of this post, without further ado!


I don't have a large repository of location-appropriate musical anecdotes, so occasionally you just have to sieze the day and manufacture one, as I bemused two colleagues by playing 'Nebraska' by Springsteen at full blast from my iPhone as we crossed the Iowa-Nebraska border (no highway patrolmen to be seen, nor state troopers) on my great midwestern roadtrip (if a 3-hour drive from Ames, Iowa to Lincoln, Nebraska could be called that.  I must admit switching to Counting Crows as we passed on the highway by Omaha (and it was indeed somewhere in middle America) but then it was back to Bruce. 

This is actually quite appropriate for reasons other than geographical, as I have also been listening to 'The Promise', the reissue of extra tracks recorded (mostly) around the time of 'Darkness on the edge of town' (an album I already really liked in its own right).  Having read first in Uncut about the whole box set reissue (see image below right), I was interested to check that out, by a €100+ price tag tested my real love for Bruce, and found it slightly lacking in these economically constrained times, so I downloaded the extra tracks CD from iTunes instead.

The PromiseThe Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3 CD/3 DVD)

Anyway, 'The promise' is just brilliant!  'Darkness' earned its name in mood, but 'The Promise' lives in the light, and is incredibly uplifting and melodic for the most part.  My 10-year-old opined that it sounded like Christmas music, and it actually almost does, in tone and spirit and chiminess (?), and shows where songs from recent albums I have loved like 'Your own worst enemy', 'Girls in their summer clothes' and 'Queen of the supermarket' got their DNA, except these newly excavated masterpieces were recorded over 30 years ago, by far younger men, and somehow that adds to the thrill for me.  Songs such as 'Gotta get that feeling', 'Outside looking in', 'Someday (we'll be together)' (these three in a wonderful row near the start), 'Save my love', 'Talk to me' and, in particular, 'The little things (my baby does)' are just pop perfection, and reveal a lightness of touch and mood that I just never associated with that era of Springsteen.  In fact, the ones I sort of knew are my least favourite ('Fire' and 'Because the night', the legendariness of the latter never having made an impact on me in others' hands).  However, 'Come on (let's go out tonight) (boy he was going throug a serious bracketed subtitle phase in the late 70s!) reworks (preworks?) one of my favourites from 'Darkness' ('Factory') very nicely, and I always love finding the musical antecedents of well known songs, where early drafts with different lyrics or twists appear on later compilations (I can think of great examples for the National ('Slow show') and the Jayhawks ('I'm gonna make you love me')).  Overall, a brilliant album, and well deserving of the comment I saw in one review that this truly is the great lost Springsteen album.

It was hard to find tracks from 'The promise' on Youtube, besides tracks uploaded to still photo or blank backgrounds, so I will just include a contemporaneous live clip of the great 'Racing in the streets':

Best ofIn a very different musical direction, I also downloaded 'The best of Suede'; firstly, it has to be said that when a band that have perhaps 5 studio albums to their name release a 35-track compilation, they may just be taking the piss to suggest this is their best, as surely one would have expected modesty to demand a slightly more winnowing choice of crucial cuts?

However, having said all that, I must admit that most of these songs are actually pretty damned great, and this is overall a great survey of the output of a great band.  I also must admit that I had almost forgotten how good they and their songs were, and had tended to retrospectively dismiss all bar 'Dog man star', but there are really really good songs scattered through this huge tracklist, and they unquestionably had that strange mix of their air of jaded glamour and epic drama married to great rock sensibilities and very good musicianship down to a tee.

I have wittered on about 'Dog man star' before (here), so I will include here two tracks from their later period, and start with 'Everything must flow' from 'Head music' (which I remember being somewhat bemused to find the now defunct Melody Maker picking as their album of that particular year); it appears second in the below set from 'Jools Holland':

I lso like this acoustic studio version of 'Saturday night' from 'Coming up':

Not moving quite as far as from Springsteen to Suede, but backtracking alphabetically, beings me to The National, who have released an extended version of 'High violet' (about which I almost had a coronary here), which iTunes kindly allowed me to download the extra tracks as an EP (although two of them, 'Sin eaters' and 'Walk off'', had previously somewhat underwhelmed me as bonus tracks on the download first time around).  Anyway, I honestly don't see all that much difference in the versions of 'Terrible love' and may soon have a playlist of live versions of 'England' alone, but I do like the MTV-unplugged style acoustic countryish version of 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' and really like 'Wake up your saints'.  The latter, to me, recaptures the playful spirit and lush instrumentalisation of 'So far around the bend' from 'Dark was the night' in a way that no track on 'High violet' really did, and I am pretty sure I can remember them playing this live in the Olympia in Dublin back in 2008 (they certainly did a song about saints, and when I heard 'Tall saint' some time later I was sure that was not it).  I found a live capture of it here:

There are other things going on musically right now, as the pre-1 December embargo on Christmas music passes (time to joyously hit 'Come on let's boogie to the elf dance' by Sufjan Stevens, surely the greatest unknown Christmas song of all), and I go to see Arcade Fire plus Vampire Weekend in Dublin on 5 December (woo-hoo!).  In addition, the first 'best of'' CD list has appeared, as Q magazine becomes I am sure only the first of many to put 'The suburbs', as their number one (Robert Plant as their number two, and 'High violet' around number 10), and such lists will surely become an obsession in coming weeks as in previous years.

In non-musical business, there has been lots of technology as I have waited in foolish anticipation for IOS4.2 to re-energise my iPad (it did!) and for Apple TV to to the same to my TV (it also did - damn you Steve Jobs!), books (on subjects from Ireland's wasters to HIV denial to the Large Hadron Collider), and TV (box sets of The Office and Firefly being worked through, and The Walking Dead being much enjoyed), if not many movies (a guilty enjoyment of 'Daybreakers' the exception).

However, it, like this post, is now late, and I think I will end this post, long enough as it is, here, and come back (honestly) soon to pick up the above threads.

That is, if Ireland hasn't been sold off by the IMF for scrap and spare parts by then.

Strange and worrying times indeed. Click Here to Read More..
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