Jan 30, 2008

Playground Weekender Festival

Last year I attended the very first Playground Weekender Festival and I had a wonderful time. A beautiful and unique setting only added to the music on offer. Seeing The Dears as the last day ended was one of my musical highlights of 2007. So, if you missed out last year make sure you make it this year. It is being held on the weekend of the 7-9 March at the same venue as last year. That being the delightful Del Rio River Resort on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, about 1.5 hours from Sydney. It really is a picturesque setting for a festival. Surrounded by splendid hills and trees there is ample space to just relax and chill out between musical acts. If you plan to stay there you will find plenty of options. Unfortunately the lovely cabins are sold out, but you can camp or use the caravan park on site. Plus there are some accommodation options in Wisemans Ferry. Wisemans Ferry is actually the starting point if you plan to come from Sydney. Just drive and park and wait for the ferry to take you to the Festival. Alternately there will be a coach service running from Central Station.

Now to the music. It really is an eclectic and varied lineup.
Something for everyone. Stay tuned for a second announcement soon.

Kruder and Dorfmeister
Ian Brown
Maximo Park
Ben Lee
Crazy Penis
Josh Pyke
The Wombats
Dappled Cities Fly
Blue Juice
Norman Jay
Belles Will Ring
The E.L.F.
LTJ Bukem
Kid Kenobi
The Seabellies
Ben Watt
...and many more...

Tickets are on sale here for a single day or the whole weekend.
However I have been given 2 double passes to attend the weekend by the promoter. To win one just answer the following question and email me at oceansneverlisten@gmail.com and I will have them sent out to 2 lucky winners. Hopefully these will go off straight away, so first in wins.

To any of my regular readers you probably are aware of my undying affection for Mr. Spencer Krug, so I will frame the question around him.

Name the five bands/projects that Spencer has or is involved with?

Jan 29, 2008

Andrew Bird (Solo) @ The Vanguard

The salad days are over. Sweet glorious times of magic and joy. Andrew Bird at the Vanguard last night was an exercise in January coming full circle. Having seen him twice earlier in the month it was a distinct pleasure to witness his majestical machinations one more time. This time in the lush and luxurious setting of the Vanguard. His performance this time around was in solo mode (apart from two surprise guests) and also his last one in Australia on his current tour. I just hope February can live up to what January has delivered.

A pleasing aspect of this show was that he once again produced a varied and electic set list. Once again he opened with "Why?" and "Action/Adventure" before geting to the heart of the matter. It was a particular pleasure to hear "Measuring Cups", although once again there was no "Fake Palindromes" or "MX Missiles". Not to worry, there was plenty of joy to be had. A momentary loss of his capo meant Mr Bird decided to pull out an old song in "The Confession", which he claims he hadn't played since 1998. What else has this man got hidden up his sleeves? Another new one to the ears was "Sectionate City", which appears on his recent EP "Soldier On". This was sheer pleasure. A further slight surprise was the playing of only 3 songs from "Armchair Apocrypha". For a recently acclaimed album I really just assumed he would lean heavily on that wonderful album. From that album he did play "Spare-ohs" where he was joined on stage by Holly Throsby. To close, another guest joined him. Darren Hanlon came on stage and played guitar on "Tables And Chairs", a wonderful choice to close the night. Well almost close. The encore featured Holly and Darren sing and play on "Tin Foil", a Handsome Family cover. Then followed another one from the vault in "Weather Systems", which featured stirring and vital violin. At the close of the night as I exited the venue, I felt a tinge of sadness. That such a month of momentous music had come to an end was a little sad. Such rapture, such pure joy was had. I will keep these memories for a lifetime.

I have more photos of Andrew at my Flickr.

Set List
Measuring Cups
The Confession
Scythian Empires
A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left
Sectionate City
Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
Spare-ohs (with Holly Throsby)
Tables And Chairs (with Darren Hanlon)

Tin Foil (with Holly & Darren)
Weather Systems

Jan 28, 2008

The Week Of Magic; Or How Sydney Was Captivated By Great Music; I Dedicate This To Britt Daniel

Expectations were extremely high for the week just past. Monumentally high. Out of this world high. To my utter delight, they were exceeded, and how. If Built to Spill, Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens and Low were a wonderful, sublime entree, this past week was the main course. Every night I felt magic in the air. I was in awe at the musicianship placed before me and all the lucky people out in force to witness this greatness. Here are a few memories from the past week I will treasure forever and ever.

  • The truly magnificent voice of Matt Berninger.
  • Will Butler behaving like a maniac, and loving it.
  • Joanna Newsom's smile.
  • Britt Daniel owning the stage. He is THE man.
  • The Dessners destroying their guitars.
  • "Baby, We'll Be Fine" (OMG)
  • The floor shaking during Arcade Fire.
  • Britt Daniel playing his guitar, especially to the side.
  • "Jonathon Fisk" (I was shaking)
  • Matt Berninger speaking, doing anything actually.
  • "Only Skin" (Did you get chills?)
  • Regine Chassagne's smile
  • Richard Reed Parry's everything.
  • "Rebellion (Lies)" (Will we ever forget this?)
  • Bryan Devendorf drumming
  • Matt Berninger climbing into the seats
  • Win Butler climbing into the crowd
  • Joanna playing new songs
  • Britt Daniel. Just him. The man.
  • The music. All of it, glorious, stunning music.
Oh, then there is still Andrew Bird tonight.

Jan 26, 2008

Joanna Newsom @ Sydney Opera House

In my opinion, if after witnessing a live performance from Joanna Newsom, you do not fall immediately in love with her, then I question if you have a heart. A true heart, full of the possibility of magic and spellbinding charm. In a world full of loud beats, discordant noise and boorish behaviour, Joanna Newsom stands out like a beacon. A beacon of infinite grace and endless delightfulness. Friday night at the Sydney Opera House was a night to touch the sky and feel the magnetism floating through the night air. I was bewitched and fascinated by a young woman who creates her own special brand of music.

This show was divided into two parts. Part one was a presentation of her wonderful 2006 album "Ys", where she was backed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Having seen these songs last year in solo mode, it was quite an experience to see the strings and woodwinds take each song to another level. Of course "Emily" opened and it was quite sublime. The audience listened intently, hanging on each and every word, before bursting into wild applause at the song's end. This continued for an hour, as the album played out. I was bewitched by her unique voice, which continues to grow in stature, and her amazing imagery. Her lyrics are really quite complex and eternally moving. Personal favourites were "Sawdust and Diamonds" (solo) and the stunning "Only Skin", which was powerful and incredibly moving. As well as the magnificent orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer, she was joined by road band members Neal Morgan (drums, vocals) and Ryan Francesconi (tamboura, banjo). Their deft and subtle touches were an special added touch to each song. Morgan's drumming was especially a standout.

After a 30 minute interval, Joanna returned in a new dress. Oh, by the way, her first dress was a gorgeous flowing black number. Sans orchestra, but rejoined by Morgan and Francesconi, she proceeded to play a combination of older numbers and two brand new songs. All of which was deliriously good and received with rapturous applause. I was particularly happy to hear the crushingly tender "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie", whilst the two new songs were a delight upon first hearing. Both are untitled and unfinished. The first was an almost folky number, whilst the second was a soft and tender ballad. Bring on album number 3. Joanna talked quite a bit more in the second stanza, her child like innocence in full display as she uttered sweet and short stories that utterly charmed the audience. There is so much more to Joanna Newsom then just her charm and innocence however. She is a bold and daring songwriter, who extracts enormous sounds from her harp, whilst her voice is a unique and sublime instrument. But I believe the obvious awe she gains from the world is what makes her special. Much like Sufjan Stevens she inhabits a world where magic is not only witnessed, but is remarkably common.

I have some photos of the night at my Flickr.

Set List
Monkey & Bear
Sawdust & Diamonds*
Only Skin
-With Sydney Symphony Orchestra except *

Bridges And Balloons
The Book Of Right-On
Peach, Plum, Pear
(New Song)
Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie
(New Song)-solo

Inflammatory Writ

Jan 25, 2008

Spoon @ Annandale Hotel

As if this week of magic could get any better. Well, it did. Because of one man and one band. That man is Britt Daniel (a god) and that band is Spoon. After inhabiting Art Deco theatres and ancient tents and recital halls it was nice to feel the sticky floor of a sweaty pub again. Spoon won't win the battle of pyrotechnics but they will always nearly win the battle of music. This is because, in my opinion, if they aren't the greatest band on Earth, they are well and truly in the discussion. Tight and uncompromising, swaggering and stylish. Impeccable tunes of wit and drama, melody and rhythm just bounced off the faded walls of the Annandale. On this Thursday night in Sydney, Britt Daniel was the man and we were his faithful minions.

I have seen this remarkable band twice before, but I could never, ever tire of them. Their finely textured and stridently rhythmical songs are as delicious as dark chocolate. Greatness never seemed so effortless. I squealed like a 5yo when they opened with "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case". This song is so under rated. It saunters and stalks like an animal. The buildup is intense, before exploding into the memorable chorus. I was set, I was there, the band had me. I was easy prey. "Don't Make Me A Target" followed and nothing else mattered. I knew the path, it would be a whirlwind journey through their venerable back catalogue. The band barely paused, storming through the set, hardly talking. Just playing and playing, expertly, definitively. "The Beast And Dragon, Adored" was a monster, its anthemic chorus bouncing off the walls. Oh, happy night! I was glad they brought out "Me And The Bean" again, a personal favourite and they tackled "The Ghost Of You Lingers", which I thought would be a difficult task live. It sounds like a perfect studio song to me, but live they added some bass and drums and it was very effective. A big surprise of the night was pulling out three songs from "A Series Of Sneaks". Displaying their older style of abrasive, frenetic rock it was welcome display of their heritage. To close with "Quincy Punk Episode" was a real shocker, but it shows that this band doesn't do things by the numbers, a pleasant development. Having said that, it then shocked me that there was no "Sister Jack" or "The Way We Give By". Normally they are given set list inclusions, but my disappointment was only slight as there was so much goodness on display. This was clearly evident in the 4 song closing block. "I Summon You" was all heartache and tender beauty, as was "Black Like Me" (Britt on acoustic). "The Underdog" was one of a few songs to feature a local brass section and it went down a treat. But the standout, for me, was the razor sharp ferocity of "Jonathon Fisk". It pounded and crashed the stage, like a hurricane. Stunning. Before you knew it the band was finished, then quickly returning for a 3 song encore including another favourite in "Rhthm & Soul". It was over, too quickly, too quickly. I needed more.

As stated, this band is very special to me. It is totally about the music. All of the band members know exactly what they have to do. They are the bedrock, supplying the foundation for Britt Daniel to work his magic. And magic it was. The man can do no wrong. Dressed impeccably, his distinctly husky voice is a serious weapon. Full of passion and soul, its intensity can never be under sold. His guitar work is quite remarkable too. Unique in its own way, his supple fingers extract every nuance of sound needed. This is where the Spoon sound lives, that pliable, tangible stroking of the guitar, pushing the rhythms to all the right places. Truly glorious. This night was an experience. The sound wasn't perfect, but I never quibble about these things. Because witnessing live music is much more then that. It is experiencing that feeling of music you love, seeing a favourite singer or band in front of your eyes. Enjoying that time with like minded people who want exactly the same thing. The same gift of life. And to top it all off, Britt Daniel smiled at me. For like 5 seconds, but I swear this is true. Truly, I wouldn't lie.

I have more photos at my Flickr.

Set List
My Little Japanese Cigarette Case
Don't Make Me A Target
Stay Don't Go
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
The Beast And Dragon, Adored
Me And The Bean
The Ghost Of You Lingers
The Delicate Place
The Minor Tough
Don't You Evah
Finer Feelings
Metal Detektor
I Turn My Camera On
They Never Got You
I Summon You
The Underdog
Jonathon Fisk
Black Like Me

Small Stakes
Rhthm & Soul
Quincy Punk Episode

Jan 24, 2008

The National @ City Recital Hall (Third Night)

The National @ City Recital Hall

I have a new thought, something that is going to improve my life immeasurably. I think I will listen to "About Today" once a day for the rest of my life. You see, I saw a band called The National last night, for the second time in three days. They are good, quite good. No, scratch that, they are great. Smoldering great. Even though they played nearly exactly the set list, I did not care. For many reasons, but closing with "About Today" is the premium one. This soaring, heart shattering, earth moving song is monstrously good. But to hear it live is another matter all together. It becomes its own little symphony as it slowly but surely wraps and twists itself around my heart. At first it is barely a murmur, a tremble, a soft and pleading violin. Then subtle guitar chords echo through my mind. Then, wait for it, here comes the voice. That treacle like, burning ember of a voice in Matt Berninger. He whispers "Today you were far away and I didn't ask you why. What could I say. I was far away. You just walked away and I just watched you. What could I say." As I try to compose myself, he then tells me "How close am I to losing you". Well, I am losing it at this point. The mournful violin is building with intensity and the guitars are reaching their crescendo. Then the vocals stop, then it all breaks loose. Guitars crash into violins at an inhuman rate. Padma cuts his instrument in half and the Dessners snap chords till their fingers bleed. Then it slows down and I catch my breath. Then they are gone, into the night. Breathless, I am. Stunned but eternally content. And all with my head resting on the shoulder of a loved one, what more could I ask for.

As stated, the night was nearly a replica of Monday night, so I won't go into describing each song again. Suffice to say, "Apartment Story" and "Baby, We'll Be Fine" were sublime moments again and I was ecstatic to hear "Daughters Of The Soho Riots" for the first time. So tender, so soft. I feel so grateful to have seen this band twice. To see the Dessners destroy and massage their guitars, to hear Mr. Devendorf's exquisite drumming and to hear the incomparable voice of Matt Berninger. Privileged, delighted, content. Please come back again and next time I seriously need to hear "Mr November" in a pub, the Annandale will do.

I have posted some photos to Flickr.
I have upgraded to Pro, so they should hopefully be a better quality.

Set List
Start A War
Mistaken For Strangers
Secret Meeting
Baby, We'll Be Fine
Slow Show
Green Gloves
Squalor Victoria
The Geese Of Beverly Road
Racing Like A Pro
Apartment Story
Daughters Of The Soho Riots
Fake Empire

Mr November
About Today

Jan 23, 2008

Arcade Fire @ Enmore Theatre

I did not attend a concert Tuesday night at the Enmore Theatre. No, it was something much more then that. This wasn't just a touring band playing much loved songs. It was a celebration of music, a time of rejoicing, of living, of breathing. Of experiencing. A smile appeared on my face from the opening strains of "Wake Up" and continued to get wider and wider until my face simply hurt. With pleasure, undeniable pleasure. That in a nutshell, is an Arcade Fire show. Please leave any cynicism at the door, just bring your heart and body, soul and mind, and have the time of your life. I certainly did, fun was the only option on this Tuesday night.

Arcade Fire, you had me at "Wake Up". This pounding, thumping, shuddering song that unites the Indie nation shattered the walls and lifted the roof. That is what I would call a good opener. What followed was an exercise in ecstasy, a show of strength, a display of delirium. If I gush, please forgive me. The planets have aligned this week, the stars are in place and my head is spinning. With joy, unbridled joy, endless exultation, sweet rapture. Oh, sweet rapture. The set list was close to perfect, in content and in order. I can't really complain. At all. So many highpoints, so many memories to take away with me. "No Cars Go" was a whirlwind, its momentous buildup just exploded into life, its violin passages crashing maniacally from the stage. "Haiti" was a sheer delight, Regine's singing soft and light, sweet and tender. The middle section was a welcome comedown after the frenetic start. "Neon Bible" was light and lilting and their cover of New Order's "Age of Consent" was charm personified. "Tunnels" then upped the ante. I think it was quite possibly the highlight of the night. Its anthemic qualities tore the venue apart. I think I lost my voice at this point. There was no let up after this. Full steam ahead to the finish. "Antichrist Television Blues" had the place heaving as Win Butler took a leap into the delirious crowd, whilst the two song knockout finish "Power Out" and "Rebellion (Lies") was explosive to say the least. As I was trying to snap photos the floor was literally shaking. Something I will never forget. Then the encore of "Intervention" and "Laika" was pitch perfect and a distinctly superlative way to finish the night.

If I could take one thing away from the night, amongst many, was feeling and seeing and hearing the tangible connection between the band and the crowd. There was so much love in the audience, people were living each and every song. Not just because they are such great songs, but because this band plays with so much life and energy. They throw themselves into every song, leaving nothing behind. And the happiness they derive is self evident. Arcade Fire actually have fun on stage, smiling and dancing, running and jumping, shouting and giving. Giving until they have nothing left to give. Win Butler holds the whole thing together. Call him the conductor if you like, Regine Chassagne saunters and struts, her smile totally infectious. Sarah Neufeld and Marika Anthony-Shaw are frenetic violinists, whilst Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara are consummate musicians, delivering the right note every time. But without doubt the glue guys are Will Butler and Richard Reed Parry. Parry is everywhere, playing all sorts of instruments and then sometimes playing the maniac. Speaking of maniacs, I do believe Will Butler is one. He just never stops, running everywhere at a suicidal pace and if not playing an instrument (expertly) he is banging on anything he can find. The man is an energiser bunny. This was a night to never forget, a night of hedonistic fun and unstoppable jubilation. It was a night that Sydney hugged the life out of Arcade Fire and Arcade Fire responded by squeezing the spirit out of all of us lucky enough to be there.

I have some more photos of the night at Flickr.
But there are much better ones here and here.

Set List
Wake Up
Keep The Car Running
Black Mirror
No Cars Go
Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
Neon Bible
Age Of Consent
Ocean Of Noise
Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Well And The Lighthouse
Headlights Look Like Diamonds
(Antichrist Television Blues)
Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)

Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)

Jan 22, 2008

The National @ City Recital Hall

Dark rooms. Red wine. Broken hearts. Soiled fingers. A Recital Hall? A band. The band. My thoughts. Their words. Hold you by the edges. Blue blazered. Rosy minded fuzz. Coke in my collar. Picking apples. We're the heirs to the glimmering world. A recital hall. Yes, my world glimmered on Monday night. Chiming guitars, shattering drums, soaring violin and a voice. That voice, the voice, inhabiting my space, our space. The National played the first of three nights at the City Recital Hall, as part of the Sydney Festival. I was unsure of this being the right venue, and perhaps it wasn't, more later. But the sounds, oh the sounds, soaring to the impossibly high ceiling, filling this venue with heart and passion till the beige walls bled a different colour.

"Boxer" has thankfully brought The National a bigger audience. Its dark tones and rich melodies have struck a chord with so many people. So it was certainly no disappointment to hear this great band lean heavily on this wonderful album. In fact, "Guest Room" was the only omission and "Start A War" was to become the perfect entree to a night of delicious music. The vigourous drumming of "Mistaken For Strangers" was the second indication that we were in the hands of greatness, before we got our first taste of "Alligator". "Secret Meeting" was languid and ferocious at the same time, something I believe this band is able to do quite effortlessly. Soon I was in Nirvana when "Baby, We'll Be Fine" lingered in the air. That song gave me chills in places where I thought chills could not live. After that the show flowed like no other. "Slow Show" was a glorious moment, "The Geese of Beverly Road" was slow burning heartache and "Abel" was a veritable hurricane, where Matt Berninger screamed the chorus until his innards bled. Naturally "Apartment Story" was another high of the night, whilst "Fake Empire" was a perfect finish as the band employed a small brass section to enormous effect.

If the night was already sitting on a higher plane, then the encore somehow raised the bar. "Gospel" soothed and swayed us, then "Mr November" stormed the barricades. As Matt howled and raged on stage, he then decided to climb down into the audience. Seeking a greater connection he then proceeded to place himself into the third row, which no doubt pleased some lucky fan. As we took a breather, they finally closed with the majestic "About Today" which was extended and twisted into a state of sublime beauty. Just magic. A band in unison and full flight. Bryce Dessner is a superb guitarist, hitting every chord with aplomb, whilst Bryan Devendorf is a drummer of unique skill, subtle and affirmative, he could do no wrong. Violinist Padma Newsome was a whirling dervish on stage, his weeping instrument extending and illuminating many of the songs on the night. Then there is the voice of Matt Berninger, deep and warm, luxurious and strident, it was thrilling to hear it live, those dark and mysterious words warbling through the air to my receptive ears.

Now, the venue. The major plus was that the acoustics were great and the seats very comfortable. Of course many of The National's songs are suited to sitting down. But this is a rock band and sometimes you just need to stand up and jump around. Especially during "Mr November". I was screaming out the lyrics, but I felt too afraid to stand, and no one else did. I think sometimes if you place people in a venue like this and give them comfy seats, they feel almost obliged to sit. It certainly didn't detract from the magic of the night, just gave it a slightly odd feeling. I think the band felt it a little too. Used to playing in pubs or bars, they seemed quite thrilled and excited to be playing in a recital hall. After they embraced the idea, they seemed to play off it. Mentioning how well behaved the audience was, how they never thought "Abel" would be roared out in a recital hall. The talk was generally kept to a minimum, but what was uttered on stage was warm and pithy, small anecdotes to connect to the audience. Which they certainly did. It's just that sometimes you need to get up and shout to the top of your lungs. So next time you tour guys, please give us a different venue. Just for the experience, you know.

Support act was Clogs. They played for close to an hour and were very good. The classical four piece displayed their carefully constructed and arranged pieces with great aplomb. Of course this is Padma Newsome's band and his violin work here was naturally astounding. Bryce Dessner is also a member, with his deft and tender guitar work a definite highlight. Although their work is mostly instrumental, they did break out into song a couple of times. I would kindly suggest though, that whilst Padma is an amazing musician he doesn't hit all the notes that he tries to find.

The venue does not allow photography, but I managed to sneak a few shots towards the end of the show, which I posted at my Flickr.

Set List
Start A War
Mistaken For Strangers
Secret Meeting
Baby, We'll Be Fine
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
The Geese Of Beverly Road
Racing Like A Pro
Apartment Story
Green Gloves
Fake Empire

Mr November
About Today

Jan 20, 2008

Low @ Famous Spiegeltent

My last visit to the Famous Spiegeltent during the Sydney Festival turned out to be a rewarding and very satisfying one. As part of the Don't Look Back series, Minnesota trio Low played their 2001 album "Things We Lost in the Fire", in full. Now I am far from being a Low acolyte, in fact I only possess two albums. The afore mentioned, and their latest "Drums and Guns". So I was hoping that this would be a great experience, especially as I can understand the praise heaped on this wonderful album, but also aware that perhaps the music can be a little too slow at times. Thankfully, I received a wonderful experience. Floating melodies, atmospheric guitar chords and ominous tones filled the venerable venue as the rain beated down outside. Saturday night in Sydney once again had magic hanging in the air.

Of course we knew the set list (I have produced it below if anyone was unfamiliar with their work), but I think the opportunity to hear a great album from start to finish is a rare one, one to be relished. The gorgeous melody of "Sunflower" wafted through the air, a perfect start. An aspect of the night that was fulfilling was that I was gaining more and more from each song as I heard them in the live arena. Of course great songs like "Dinosaur Act" are well known, although it still sent a chill down the spine. But it was other songs that I maybe have overlooked that grew in stature. "Embrace" was a stalking, ominous beast with its slow drumming. "Like A Forest" was deliriously uplifting, whilst "In Metal" simply hummed with its sublime melody. However my two highlights were my favourite song, the impossibly tender "Laser Beam", where Mimi's voice stroked my heart, and "Whore". The power went out just before "Whore", so Matt switched to the grand piano situated off stage, whilst Alan and Mimi combined to sing acapella. A gorgeous moment. I should mention the 3 band members in full. Alan Sparhawk sings with great tenderness and heart, his guitar playing firm and authoritative. Mimi Parker drums over a simple kit, using brushes and mallets. And her voice, simply stunning, with its high pitch and great range. Matt Livingston sits quietly in between, dressed in a dapper suit, playing effective piano and bass guitar. Together, they produce an ethereal tapestry of slow and moving music. There were a couple of songs that tended to glide past you a bit and the band didn't speak much. They let their music do the talking, although it has been suggested that more stories told about the creation of the album would add to the night. I can see this point, but I still experienced a great night of music from Low, playing their classic album "Things We Lost In The Fire".

Set List (The last two songs are B Sides)
Dinosaur Act
Medicine Magazines
Laser Beam
Kind Of Girl
Like A Forest
In Metal
Don't Carry It All

Jan 19, 2008

Black Watch

Friday night in Sydney, another great night out with the Sydney Festival. This time, my first visit to the year old Carriageworks (pictured), a converted railway workshop, half way between Redfern and Newtown. Firstly, this is a magnificent setting for any type of performance. Old brick walls, exposed pipes lend a very authentic air to the whole space. Secondly, I witnessed a night of great theatre in Black Watch, presented by the National Theatre of Scotland.

Black Watch was an undulating piece of work, very often rising to great heights, then sometimes experiencing flat points. It produced moments of great artistic beauty and black humour, but also featured some sloppily written passages. However, for a play like this, the sum total was definitely greater then the parts, producing an enthralling night of theatre. The play featured 10 men, with heavy Scottish accents, who were all part of the 300 year old Black Watch regiment. This regiment has a long and illustrious history, but these men found their war experience in the political quagmire of Iraq. The story begins with the men back home in Scotland, being interviewed about their experiences in Iraq. There after, the action jumps between the interviews at home and their time in Iraq. I certainly found that the second half worked better then the first. There seemed to be too many scenes of the young men acting out their laddish ways. Whilst I was waiting for dark and disturbing stories of warfare, we were entreated to maybe one too many stories of male sexual conquests. However as the play gained momentum, I bought into the story more, as each character revealed more of themselves I felt a stronger connection. In fact, by the play's end I was quite devastated as tragedy strikes the regiment of men. I was also made quite strongly to feel the bond between each men in dire situations. The most pleasant surprise of the play was that it featured two aspects I wasn't quite expecting. Humour and music. The men's humour was extremely dark and ribald, leading to many scenes that were quite hilarious. Plus there are scenes where the men break into traditional Scottish song, which proved very moving and touching. Then to top it all off, the play was very physical. There were huge scenes of graceful and exquisitely choreographed movement, which sometimes broke into an almost balletic dance. Without doubt the best scene involved one where each of the men received a letter from home. Then gracefully they hand signed their replies back home, each in their own way. It is one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen on stage. One of the sure fire hits of the festival, this play was a surprise in many ways. Although uneven in parts, it delivered when it needed to, to great effect.

Jan 16, 2008

The Basilisk And The Reverend Glen-Lonesome Radio Heart

Lonesome Radio Heart. Say it quietly, three times. Sounds great doesn't it? Say it loudly if you will, because this band deserves a bigger audience. Their debut album is "The Basilisk And The Reverend Glen" and it is genuine, authentic music. Music grown from the soil, nurtured and cared for. Music full of earthy tones, dusty roads and life experience. This splendid album was originally released in 2006 as a solo project by lead singer and writer Paul Culp. Now he has a full band of 6 with him and hopefully after some more exposure their music will gain greater status. The current incarnation of the band came together in 2007 and includes three guitars (acoustic, noise and baritone), plus cello and drums. Based in Portland, Oregon their sound I think resembles that of fellow Portlanders Richmond Fontaine.

From my research a Basilisk is an Ancient European legendary animal, one that resembles a snake and can kill with a single glance. The Reverend Glen is a fictional character, who some of the stories are woven around. So put the two together and you get a rich tapestry of stories of life and death, love and hate. Drunken anthems and tales of outlaws. The first two tracks are reasonable, but nothing out of the ordinary. Just standard country rock. But when you arrive at track 3, "Forks and Pins" you realise that this album is quite a deal above the ordinary. Paul Culp's raspy voice intones a sombre tale of murder and destruction, a very impressive song. That is followed by the almost bluegrass like "Whiskey Mountain", a tale of Tennessee where all your troubles vanish away from the modern world. The next song is the centrepiece "Prunedale", a dark and stormy song with a incessant guitar line, very impressive. Other fine songs include the acoustic driven "Weasels and Beasts" with its fine harmonica and plaintive tone and the tender longing of "What Remains". Basically, this is a fine album full of many shades and styles. Dark and tempestuous, yet alternately upbeat and refreshing. Totally worth your time, a very sound investment for those seeking music with true heart and soul.

You can purchase this album from CD Baby.
MP3: Prunedale

Jan 15, 2008

Dear Matt; A Request

Dear Matt,

You don't know me, well I am pretty sure you don't, but I have a request. Next week in Sydney I am seeing your band for the first time and I have devised a set list that would make me very happy. Having said that I would be happy with anything you decide to play, but please indulge me. I am writing to you and not Aaron, Bryce, Scott or Bryan purely because you are the singer and I thought maybe you would have a little more pull in the band. As an aside, you are playing in a Recital Hall, so I hope the management encourages standing as I really don't think I could sit through an entire set. Plus I am seeing your band twice so maybe you could play this set list and then mix it up the other night. Oh, before I forget, I have just seen Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens in the past week and they were pretty wonderful, so you have a lot to live up to. Just saying, you know. Well, here is my required set list, carefully ordered.

Fake Empire
Baby, We'll Be Fine
Secret Meeting
American Mary
Mistaken For Strangers
Slow Show
Apartment Story
Start A War
All The Wine
The Perfect Song
Cardinal Song
Looking For Astronauts
About Today
City Middle

Squalor Victoria
Mr November


If you feel like a third encore, it's OK by me!

Yours in music,

PS. Do you know Spencer Krug or Dan Boeckner? Could you ask them to tour, please, if you do?

Jan 14, 2008

Sufjan Stevens @ State Theatre (Second Show); Or How I Fell In Love With A Man Of Song; Or How Brooklyn Connected With Sydney; Or Bless Great Music

When tickets for the Sydney Festival first went on sale back in November, I was pretty sure I needed to see Sufjan Stevens twice. But, what if his first show was good, but not memorable? What if the second show was a carbon copy of the first? What if all his stories were just repeated? You know, how silly was I. Basically, I can state this. Why didn't I buy tickets for all three nights? The man is a living treasure, a precious songbird warbling in the night, an exquisite jewel encrusted with diamonds of pure joy. Excuse me for rambling, but he was that good. By the way, the video above is from his Brisbane show on Thursday, the BQE Hula Hoop extravaganza.

Sunday night he started with "Sister", its dramatic interlude piercing the night air. Then when he started discussing the geographical certitudes of Michigan and launched into "The Upper Peninsula", I knew I had nothing to worry about. The night would be sublime and so it proved. Another surprise was him playing "The Avalanche". The album that it gives its name to is quite wonderful, so it was nice to hear a nod in that direction. Of course, great songs like "Chicago" and "Jacksonville" were aired again, duly appreciated. But I was thrilled to hear "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", a song delivered with such quivering emotion that I could feel my knees buckling. As he showed on Saturday night, Sufjan is quite a raconteur. His elaborate and elongated story of his visit to Bondi Beach, where he travelled with nail polish and sun block and ipod and a million other things was at once bewildering and eternally charming. That it turned into a story of plumbing the depths of the ocean to encounter a mythic wasp creature was a thing of epic hilarity. That it preceded a revelatory rendition of "The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!" was nothing short of astounding. After I picked my jaw off the plush carpet and focused on the matter at hand, I noticed he was playing "Barn Owl, Night Killer" (it went missing on Saturday, so it was good to hear on this night). "Abraham" was plucked from "Seven Swans"and Sufjan duly plucked his acoustic with tender fingers. I should mention here that I am far from being a believer in any form of greater being or any kind of organised religion. And it is well known that Sufjan is a devout Christian, no more evident then on "Seven Swans". However I feel that he is a pure spiritual being. No dogma or Hillsong hypocrisy. When he weaves his beliefs into a song, it is done with an honest heart and pure intent. In fact, I barely notice. He is telling his story, not telling me what my story should be. Humbly, that is my view anyway. On with the show. "Majesty, Snowbird" brought out the wings again and playing past the scheduled end time the band launched into "Chicago" to bring a well earned standing ovation. To say the encore finished perfectly with "Casimir Pulaski Day" is stating the starkly obvious. Sufjan pulling away from the microphone and creaking out a last dying verse will stay with me forever.

It would be a given to say that the band was in magnificent form again. The arrangements are quite complex and diverse, yet they never missed a note. They alternately lifted the roof and they also massaged the most tender of quiet moments. They followed Sufjan everywhere he went. To the highest notes and to the most touching of moments. As they left the stage, Sufjan grateful to the extreme, I thought life can be magical, music can be a gathering of people looking for the same thing. The stars can be aligned to place us somewhere momentous. Transcendental.

"And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid."

Set List
The Upper Peninsula
The Avalanche
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience But You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!'
Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
Barn Owl, Night Killer
Seven Swans
Majesty, Snowbird

BQE (4th Movement-Abridged)
Casimir Pulaski Day

Jan 13, 2008

Sufjan Stevens @ State Theatre

If only time could stand still. If only you could hold a moment so perfect, that you never let it go. If only life was expressed in such beauty all the time. If only all the ugliness in the world could be shunned for one glorious night. One glorious night, when a perfect being descends into your world and dazzles and bewitches like no other. Sufjan Stevens is one such perfect being. A talent of such immense proportions that from the opening second of his show on Saturday night at the State Theatre, you just knew, with crystal clear clarity, that this would be a night that would stay with you forever.

I had great expectations for Sufjan Stevens, but he met each and everyone. And then some. Playing for a solid hour and a half, plus a two song encore, he played a well chosen selection of songs from his catalogue. He did however play quite a few numbers from the deliriously tender "Seven Swans", and naturally a slew from his classic release "Come On Feel The Illinoise!". The band numbered ten, with five brass players, plus the talents of Annie Clark (St Vincent) and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) on guitar and vocals. "Seven Swans" opened the night and it was a thunderous version, slicing through the atmosphere of the venerable theatre like a knife. Without a second break he turned to the opening two songs from "Illinoise". So after 10 minutes of awe and wonder, we caught our breath. And Sufjan spoke. It turns out the man is charisma plus, full of wit and charm. He introduced "Detroit..." with a story and through the night he would give us other short anecdotes, as well as discussing his affection for Australia and its people. But it was never trite or cliched. He seemed genuinely interested in his audience, making sure that they experienced something special. Which they did. "Casimir Pulaski Day" stopped my heart cold. Such poetic beauty. And "Jacksonville" was a sheer delight, preceded by a story of how he wrote the song (too long to go into here). In the middle of the night, he played a portion of his recent "BQE" work, which was just gorgeous, as Sufjan sported a fluorescent hula hoop. The man does have a sense of humour.

If the show could possibly go up another level, it surely did. "The Predatory Wasp..." was a devastating rendition, enough to give goose bumps. This was followed by a couple of tender tunes from "Seven Swans" including "Sister" which was sublime. Then the band roared through "The Tallest Man..", with its chorus of "America, America" nearly lifting through the roof before closing with the unreleased "Majesty, Snowbird", where the whole band donned their majestic wings, adding that extra special touch to a magical night. A standing ovation was in order and the crowd duly obliged. Sufjan then returned for "The Dress Looks Nice On You" where he strummed an acoustic, before the night ended with "Chicago". A perfect ending. The night was a stunning success in every way. The brass section was majestic, filling the night with glorious sounds. Annie and Shara provided more then ample vocals and the arrangements were just superb, with each song being stretched and pulled to great effect. Raucous moments were placed next to whisper quiet moments, where Sufjan's angelic voice could be used with full purpose. Visually the show was stunning as well. Wearing matching uniforms of white pants and reflector jackets, the whole ensemble looked great. Plus the video installation was a treat for the eyes as well. And the setting was sumptuous to say the least. The State Theatre is a stunning venue, with its high golden ceilings and ornate art deco decorations. The sound was crystal clear and the lighting was spot on. My only complaint was that the theatre prevents any photography. So I don't have any visual memories of the night. But the images I witnessed will stay with me forever. The sounds, the beauty, the sheer heart breaking poetry. Sufjan Stevens is quite simply an immense talent, a sublime voice, a super talented musician who jumped from banjo to guitar to piano with sheer ease. A night locked in the memory, forever.

Set List
Seven Swans
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience But You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!'
Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
Casimir Pulaski Day
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands
BQE (4th Movement-Abridged)
The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
To Be Alone With You
The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders
Majesty, Snowbird

The Dress Looks Nice On You

Jan 10, 2008

2008, What To Look Forward To

Yes, well 2007 was an amazing year for music, I do believe. But we are now living the big 2008, so let's be optimistic and look forward to what is coming up. Yesterday I mentioned "Real Emotional Trash", the new album due in March from Stephen Malkmus. So, what else is due for release in the near future. I will mention a few albums I am looking forward to, although by no means is this list meant to be comprehensive.

First up. The incomparable Cat Power. Her second go at covers is due for release on January 19 on Matador. "Jukebox" contains covers of songs by Hank Williams, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Billie Holliday. Plus two original songs. Oh, don't forget those magnificent set of pipes are visiting Australia again in March. See details here.

"The Portrait is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty..." is the debut album from Hello, Blue Roses, which is Dan Bejar and Sydney Vermont. It is released on January on 22 on Locust Music. From what I have heard the music is quite ornate and ethereal.

Shadow Falls-Hello, Blue Roses

Evangelicals, from Oklahoma, return with a January release on Dead Oceans. "The Evening Descends" sees the band continue their tradition of fuzzed out pop and crazy melodies. The first song for release is really impressive, I believe.

MP3: Skeleton Man-Evangelicals

Chris Walla from Death Cab For Cutie releases his debut album in January on Barsuk. I have only heard the one song from "Field Manual", so It will be interesting to see how the rest of the album stacks up.

MP3: Sing Again-Chris Walla

Jagjaguwar release "In The Future" by Vancouver's Black Mountain on January 22. This band's sound is fierce and full of fury. Bound to be a highlight of 2008, no doubt. Their debut album was great.

MP3: Tyrants-Black Mountain

Jason Collett, sometime member of Broken Social Scene, will release his second album on Arts and Crafts in February. "Here's To Being Here" is certainly one to look forward to. What I have heard so far sounds promising.

MP3: Out of Time-Jason Collett

The Mountain Goats return in February with "Heretic Pride" on 4AD. This album I have heard in full and it is fantastic. A real return to form from John Darnielle. Favourite tracks so far include "Sax Rohmer #1", "San Bernardino", "Autoclave" "Craters on the Moon" and "Lovecraft in Brooklyn". This is going to be good, very good. How about another tour John?

MP3: Sax Rohmer #1-The Mountain Goats

One of the most written about albums in 2007 was "For Emma, Forever Ago" by Bon Iver. Then self released, it will be coming out on Jagjaguwar on February 19. Trust me, this album is stunning. If you don't own it, make sure you buy it.

MP3: Skinny Love-Bon Iver

Is Dan Bejar a genius? I think he is. A songwriter with few peers, his songs are full of amazing depth and luminous wit. Well, Destroyer is back in March with "Trouble in Dreams" on Merge. You just know this is going to great, yes indeed. Just check the back catalogue.

MP3: Foam Hands-Destroyer

Why? I can't describe this band's sound. It is a mesh of rap, folk, rock with unmistakable vocals. "Alopecia" will be released on Anticon on March 11. Please check this band out.

MP3: The Hollows-Why?

Born Ruffians are Canadian, so they have to be half good. Right? Yes, they are very good actually. Their debut album "Red, Yellow & Blue" will be released in March on Warp Records.

MP3: Hummingbird-Born Ruffians

Here are some other albums due after April. Sure to create excitement.

Attack & Release-The Black Keys
Skulls, Ship, Sheep-Colin Meloy
Broken Social Scene Presents...Brendan Canning
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea-The Silver Jews

Plus Death Cab For Cutie will definitely have a yet to be titled album due in May. Plus, plus, plus, we know Wolf Parade are currently mastering their new record. Lots of conjecture when it will released. Could be May, could be June. Stay tuned or write Subpop a nasty letter. It will the album of 2008. No doubt.

...and. This is huge. The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band will release a new album on Constellation Records on March 10. "13 Blues For Thirteen Moons" is their first release since 2005. Recorded at the legendary Hotel2Tango in Montreal and armed with a new drummer, this has the potential to be monumental.

Jan 9, 2008

Real Emotional Trash Album Cover

"Real Emotional Trash" is the fourth album from Stephen Malkmus (legend), with or without The Jicks, this one with. It will be released on March 4 on Matador. Here is the album cover. I think it's a bit garish, with the colours clashing and all. But as long as the music is great, I won't be too concerned. This album features Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney) as a full time drummer and from all reports the sound is sprawling and full of rollicking guitar jams. The first song "Baltimore" certainly indicates that. Come on Malkmus, bring the glory one more time.

MP3: Baltimore

Jan 8, 2008

Andrew Bird @ Famous Spiegeltent (Second Show, Monday Night)

Second time around can sometimes be even better. If Andrew Bird was great on Sunday night, he was truly sublime on Monday night. Was it the day's extra rest? Maybe it was the fact that the set list contained some extra gems. Enough to make a grown man weep, well almost. His show on Sunday night was heavily filled with songs from "Armchair Apocrypha" (which was wholly welcomed), last night was varied to the extreme. Covers, oldies and a brand new song had the crowd in the palm of his hand. I was surprised "Heretics" and "Cataracts" were both absent on each night. As well as classics like "Fake Palindromes" and "MX Missiles". But what we received was a joy to hear.

Early in the set he played "The Giant of Illinois" (The Handsome Family). This was truly majestic. Touching and tender. Throwing in "Lull" from "Weather Systems" was a stroke of genius. This achingly beautiful song was played with deft touch and great heart. He played a brand new song "Anonanimal" was was stirring and even a touch heavy. I was delighted to hear "Armchairs", an epic song which soared to new heights on stage. Then he finished with "The Happy Birthday Song", by which time I was floating on air. Monday night he arranged his set list to include an encore. Firstly he delivered the traditional blues number "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning", solo, before having the band back to close with "Masterfade". "You took my hand and led me down to watch a papillon parade. We let the kittens lick our hair and drank our chalky lemonade". Melting moment, indeed. I should have written more about the band last night. Superb and talented musicians, they are. Martin Dosh is a master of the drums, inventive and intuitive, he also played keyboards, inserting himself perfectly into every song. On bass was Jeremy Ylvisaker, who used an array of props to make his guitar sing. Including a butter knife, stunning. He has his own band too, Alpha Consumer. What a great night in the hands of a man who plays with intuition and great heart. Sometimes he stumbles slightly on the odd lyric or chord, but I believe this. It is his imperfections that make him so perfect.

Set List
The Giant of Illinois
Fiery Crash
Opposite Day
A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left
The Happy Birthday Song

Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

I have photos from both nights at my Flickr.

Jan 7, 2008

I'm Not There

I'm Not There is a unique creation, although perhaps not a great film. It is certainly full of magical moments, enough to make it an essential movie to see, whether you are a Dylan fan or not. Having said that, it will certainly help if you are an appreciator of Dylan's music or at least have a rudimentary knowledge of his life. If you somehow have missed the boat on the magnificence that is Dylan's music, but still appreciate the endless possibilities of the cinema screen, then you are sure to derive joy from this work.

Director Todd Haynes' has crafted a very personal and at times inspirational reflection on the life and songs of Bob Dylan. Light years from being a biopic, he has created six personas that reflect the life of Dylan, all of them carrying names other then that of the master songwriter. The strongest characterisation, and best acted, is Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn. Quinn represents Dylan at the height of his powers in 1965 and '66, the times of his controversial Newport appearance and his tempestuous tour of England. Filmed in beautiful Black and White, Blanchett is sublime in her portrayal of a man on the edge, at times cynical, alternately vulnerable. The scenes with a combative British journalist (Bruce Greenwood) are particularly revealing. My other favourite portrayal was Marcus Carl Franklin as "Woody Guthrie", who I thought represented all the influences and youth of Dylan, portrayed as young hobo singer riding the rails and soaking up the musical influences around him. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a "Dylan" of the early sixties, singing protest songs in New York. This part of the film is enacted in Mockumentary style, which is partially effective. If this seems a little confusing, stay with me. Heath Ledger plays Robbie Clark, a fiery and passionate actor who kicked off his career playing Rollins in a film. His portion of the story jumps between 1964 and 1975, as his marriage to an artist (Charlotte Gainsbourg) flounders through this period. This part of the film didn't always satisfy, as I found it hard to connect with the characters in full. Finally Richard Gere as "Billy the Kid" was uneven in its portrayal, but this section also produced stunning magic as he visits Riddle, a small carnival town, full of strange and mystical people. In one scene Jim James (My Morning Jacket) sings "Goin' to Apapulco" at a funeral. It is enough to melt your heart. I'm Not There is truly hard to sum up. It will mean many things to many people. Some parts are indecipherable and confusing. But that adds to the allure. It gives you a great sense of the feeling and life of Dylan, leaving your imagination to fill in the gaps. I think this could have been the director's purpose, his imagination is in full flow, so maybe the audience can go on the same journey. There are so many beautiful images and the soundtrack is glorious, so I am sure for those who enjoy the cinematic experience, it will be rewarding.

Jan 6, 2008

Andrew Bird @ Famous Spiegeltent

Well, it's finally here. The Sydney Festival, all set to make us warm and fuzzy in January. And what better place to start then in the Famous Spiegeltent. And the return of the eternally creative Andrew Bird. His first show in Australia this time around was a joy to behold. On a warm Sunday night, he charmed and wowed for an hour and a half, leaving me content and utterly delighted. Andrew Bird is truly a master creator. His efforts to play the violin, the guitar, whistle and sing always look like the work of some mad professor. But somehow he always manages to pull it off.

Andrew Bird's style is quite unique. He doesn't play songs on stage, he builds them brick by brick. Normally starting with a violin, he will invariably loop the sound, before picking up his guitar and launching into song. In fact he loops everything. His guitar, his whistling and sometimes even his voice. He sometimes alternates between seeming vague and then everything clicks and he is in total control. He even seemed to stop a couple of times, as he stumbled on a lyric. Although I wasn't sure if this was tiredness (he only arrived yesterday) or he was just imparting his self evident charm into a song. This time around he was joined on stage by the outstanding multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh and a skilled bass player. However Mr Bird is the subject of all eyes. Although a good and creative guitarist, his real strength is his violin playing. He plucks and plays with consummate expertise, creating a symphony of beautiful sound. Also, his voice is a major weapon. Soft and powerful in the same song, he ably brings out all the nuances inherent in his songwriting. Although the set list might appear brief, he actually had to shorten it because each song grows and lengthens as they gain new life on stage. He excluded "Heretics", but included a good number off "Armchair Apocrypha" including a stunning version of "Simple X" and a charming rendition of "Scythian Empires". I also enjoyed "Spare-ohs" which was preceded by a delightful story of how Andrew once had a coop of 26 chickens. "Fiery Crash" was also powerful and striking, whilst "Dark Matter" as a closer worked well, as this is a personal favourite. In all, a wonderful night of striking and immensely inventive music. Welcome back to Sydney, Mr Bird.

Set List
Fiery Crash
A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
Opposite Day
Simple X
Scythian Empires
Dark Matter

Jan 4, 2008

Built To Spill @ Metro Theatre

Five men walk onto a stage. Unobtrusively, the lead guitarist unpacks his suitcase full of pedals, tunes his guitar. His band mates follow suit. No fuss, no fanfare, no introduction. They start playing. "Traces", oh, it's Built to Spill. The crowd responds, hardcore fans appreciating and loving the fact that this is friggin' BUILT TO SPILL. First time in Australia. They need no strutting or preening. No display of rock attitood or fake performance designed to "entertain". For this is a rock band built on the hard rock of searing chords and dynamic riffs, underlying the high pitch harmonies of Doug Martsch. Oh, Doug Martsch. He is a legend and he proved it Thursday night at the Metro Theatre. Unequivocally. Damn straight.

Built to Spill were close to flawless. The band is so in sync with each other, that there is barely a whiff of recognition between the 5 men. They just play and play, laying layer upon layer on each track. Building something beautiful with each and every song. Brett Nelson and Scott Plouf are a dynamic rhythm section, knowing just where to place themselves on every moment of every song. Brett Netson and newish member Jim Roth provide guitar support to Doug, adding to the overall wall of sound. However Mr Martsch is so accomplished, so in control, so majestic that he could probably handle every lick himself. If you ever wish to see guitar playing at its zenith, watch Doug Martsch, he caresses and cajoles his guitar with supreme wizardry. Each song is a journey into classic chord changes, it was a privilege to see him at work. At times he just closes his eyes as he is living and breathing each moment, reaching down inside himself for that last drop of magic. Occasionally he will open his eyes, to peek at the audience, maybe just to check to see if they are still on the journey. He barely talks, just every now and then letting out a high pitched "thanks". Don't worry though, he was into it. But he is playing, not performing. Pure music, not a "show".

The set list. No complaints here. Of course I was hoping for "Car" and I wish they could have found some more tunes from their classic "Perfect From Now On". But just minor quibbles. They played 3 songs from "There's Nothing Wrong With Love" including a surprise "Reasons" which melted by heart. They pulled out the old classic "Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup" and gave us moments of pure inspiration from "Keep It Like A Secret". "The Plan" was stunning, "Sidewalk" was pure fun and "You Were Right" and "Carry the Zero" down right heart stopping. I could hear those songs from now until eternity. After an hour and a half of magic, they returned for a 15 minutes version of "Randy Described Eternity". Then it was over, a quick thanks and they disappeared into the night. If I see a better show in 2008, then I am in for a great year.

Set List
In The Morning
Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup
Goin' Against Your Mind
Third Uncle
The Plan
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
You Were Right
Big Dipper
Conventional Wisdom
Carry The Zero

Randy Described Eternity

More photos of the night at my Flickr.

Jan 2, 2008

It All Starts With Built To Spill...

This video is from a concert in July, 2007. The mighty Built To Spill covering Brian Eno's "Third Uncle". Apparently this song has become a fairly regular staple in their set lists. Oh, did I mention that I am going to see these legends on Thursday night at the Metro. I am seriously excited by this, as this band has for many years been my favourite of all time. Well, either them or Pavement or maybe Wolf Parade, given their pure genius. But it is between those three.

Here is a set list from their show at the Corner Hotel on Saturday night-
In The Morning
Center Of The Universe
Goin' Against Your Mind
Made Up Dreams
Third Uncle
Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup
Time Trap
Conventional Wisdom
Carry The Zero

E: Randy Describes Eternity

I was also thinking how the next few weeks have the potential to be seriously great. Just an unbelievable amount of amazing music. Hope to see you at one of these shows-

January 3-Built To Spill, Metro Theatre
January 6-Andrew Bird, Famous Spiegeltent
January 7-Andrew Bird, Famous Spiegeltent
January 12, Sufjan Stevens, State Theatre
January 13, Sufjan Stevens, State Theatre (Yes, I am going twice to these shows)
January 19, Low, Famous Spiegeltent
January 21, The National, City Recital Hall
January 22, Arcade Fire, Enmore Theatre
January 23, The National, City Recital Hall
January 24, Spoon, Annandale Hotel (This is the one I am most excited for)
January 25, Joanna Newsom, Sydney Opera House
February 15, Explosions in the Sky, Manning Bar (I will cry)
February 18, Sonic Youth, Enmore Theatre (Performing Daydream Nation)
February 21, Interpol, Hordern Pavillion
February 27, Okkervil River, Manning Bar (Holy Cow)
February 28, Broken Social Scene, Manning Bar
February 29, Feist, Metro Theatre
March 2, St Jerome's Laneway Festival
March 5, Beirut, Manning Bar
March 11, Iron & Wine, Manning Bar
March 18, Wilco, Enmore Theatre
March 29, Patty Griffin, Enmore Theatre

I really can't believe what I just typed!!!

Jan 1, 2008

No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men is a modern day masterpiece. Nearly flawless in execution, it is a classic thriller of epic proportions. The suspense and dread in this film are enough to make your veins pop. Superb acting, economical writing and deadly realistic situations combine to produce cinema that is menacing, meticulous and masterly. The Coens are back!

Joel and Ethan Coen are jewels in the crown of cinema. Classic films like "Miller's Crossing", "Barton Fink" and "Fargo" have left an indelible impression. So, after the misstep of "The Ladykillers" it is exciting to witness them back at the top of their game. In fact, it is entirely possible that this bleak and unrelenting film is their best work yet. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country For Old Men is set in rural Texas in 1980. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam Vet living in a trailer park with his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald). Hunting one day on a herd of Pronghorn, he comes across a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Dead bodies are strewn everywhere. After surveying the scene, he retrieves a suitcase filled with 2 million dollars in cash. Moss' great find soon becomes an enormous burden. The men who own the money naturally want it back and they use Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to achieve this task. However Chigurh decides to retrieve the money for himself. Chigurh is a relentless man, who would kill a person easily as taking a breath. The film becomes a game of deathly cat and mouse between Moss and Chigurh, with a trail of extreme destruction following them everywhere. The third main character is County Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a wisened, cynical man with a dry sense of humour. He finds himself always one step behind the action and a little exasperated by the trail of violence. The story line is never predictable, the characters surprising you through out the film. Although their characters arcs don't all fully resolve, the ending is pitch perfect. Although I was left with quite a few questions by the end, I was totally satisfied with the conclusions. They were so well written and performed that I couldn't have asked for any more.

See this film now. It is highly unlikely you will see a better film in 2008, unless it is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It has many great qualities. The acting is superb. Brolin is rough and rugged, Jones is perfect as the world weary Sheriff and Bardem is a pure revelation. I have never seen a more menacing and frightening character on screen. He is scary, but in a totally original way. This film had me closing my eyes many times. The suspense and tension is expertly crafted. In the genre of crime thrillers this film stands supreme. It is not a film of tenderness or inspiration, humour or beauty. It is about violent men carrying out violent acts. It is about the black and white struggle of good and evil. It is concerned with dire consequences when we make the wrong decisions. It is about crossing the line and dealing with the outcome. It is full of rich and intriguing characters who inhabit a world unknown to us. It is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, his stark and desolate landscapes perfectly matching the tone of the film. I can honestly say not a single frame is wasted. The rhythms, the push and pull of this sublime film are a sight to behold. I guarantee this is a cinematic experience not to be missed.