Feb 29, 2008

Broken Social Scene @ Manning Bar

Two years ago I had a remarkable experience. A night of unbridled joy. Broken Social Scene at the Metro was a three hour set of epic proportions. So my expectations for their return to Australia were quite high. Last night, they returned and played a two hour, energetic, passionate show at the Manning Bar. And yet, it was a disappointment. For one reason, the sound. No matter how great a band is, and Broken Social Scene are a great band, if they sound like they are playing through a meat grinder it can only harm the experience. To say the least. Firstly, what would the lineup be? Was it a Kevin Drew show or a BSS show. Would we see 10, 12 or even 18 members. Well we received 6, plus a special guest, and this presented a problem too. For although the six are core members and phenomenally gifted musicians, it meant a guitar heavy show. There was a distinct lack of lightness to the night. Only Charles Spearin on a lone trumpet provided any brass, and no strings or few female vocals meant I felt bludgeoned rather then caressed. This could have been avoided with even a reasonable sound mix, as BSS always bring the guitar barrage. But normally you can hear the space between the strings, the light touches.

So, the band tried their hardest. Kevin Drew entered the stage and introduced every one in the band, one by one. What great talents they are. Charles Spearin, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, Justin Peroff and new member Sam Goldberg. Kevin is a great mood setter. Directly communicating with the audience, he states categorically that this will be a great night if we all invest heavily. Then he announces a special guest, Feist. Crowd goes nuts and they launch into "KC Accidental". I should be on cloud nine, but the sound is making me grind my teeth. The drums are pounding my chest, but in a bad way. The bass is way too low, the vocals are barely there and the guitar just sounds crunchy. This continued for a few songs, even in my dearly loved "Cause=Time". Feist took the vocals on "Fucked Up Kid" and she was gesticulating about the vocals. After this song the band took a short break to clear up the mess. Full credit to them for caring. They soon returned and fired into "Fire Eye'd Boy". The vocals were markedly improved but I thought the music was still a sludge. It all felt a little heavy handed too. Their wall of sound works perfectly, but only when the sound is crystal clear. The band ploughed on and only the force of the songs and their sheer vivacity made the music listenable. Andrew Whiteman, his first tour with the band in over a year, took the reins on "Looks Just The Sun" then Brendan Canning played a new song from his upcoming album. "Water in Hell". I really liked it, its feeling was very Pavement. Kevin then played another new one. He said it was about a town in Mexico. I think it was called "Tempus Flight?". I enjoyed it too. The song brought a very random moment as well. Two guys near me pulled out a Mexican flag and waved it wildly. I wondered, do they take a Mexican flag to all shows in the hope that some one mentions their country or did they have some inside information? Who knows.

Well, the show continued. To a frenetic and funnily enough satisfying ending. Feist took the lead on "Almost Crimes" and she belted it out. The sheer energy of this song overcoming the sound issues. The band was really flowing now. Kevin Drew became more and more chatty. Directly communicating with the audience as only he can. He got up close and personal during "Major Label Debut", even borrowing an audience members' glasses. As the song subsided the band left the stage, leaving Kevin alone with his guitar. He started to slowly release the chords on "It's All Gonna Break", playing slowly but surely. He was joined by Spearin and Canning for an eerily beautiful rendition. Then the band rejoined and they launched fully into the song. Reminding all that were there, what an incredibly talented band this is. There was a night of greatness somewhere out there, I could feel it and want it. I just couldn't hear it.

Set List
KC Accidental
Stars And Sons
Farewell To The Pressure Kids
Fucked Up Kid

Fire Eye'd Boy
7/4 (Shoreline)
Backed Out On The Cocks
Looks Just Like The Sun
Frightening Lives
Water In Hell (new Brendan Canning song)
Tepotzlan (new song, I believe this to be the title)
Almost Crimes
Major Label Debut (Fast)
It's All Gonna Break

I posted some more photos at my Flickr.
I managed to get a few nice ones, despite the atrocious lighting. For half the night the band was cloaked in near darkness or extremely bright lights were shone directly at the audience. Just a word of advice. The audience prefers to see the band and still leave the venue with their eyesight intact.

Feb 28, 2008

Okkervil River @ Manning Bar

Seriously. It just has to stop. For the good of my health. This year of live music keeps getting better and better. Not only am I sleep deprived, but emotionally I am drained. If I seem to be in a constant state of hyperbole, then forgive me. But this stretch of live magic ain't over yet and it seriously keeps getting better. I have seen the sheer magic of Sufjan Stevens, the bulldozer that is Win Butler. The smoldering majesty of Matt Berninger and the intensity that lives inside Britt Daniel. Even the whirlwind that is Torquil Campbell. But...but. Will Sheff. I bow to you, I dips my lid. You are the man. I will need a thesaurus as big as Texas to even attempt to describe how much passion you display on stage. I will try, but believe me I was humbled Wednesday night at the Manning Bar. Your presence is a present. A gift to all that were there. A bright, burning gift of the power of song and the explosive qualities that only the best music can offer. This was my third time of seeing Okkervil River, but I could see them a million times and I would never tire. Never tire of the sheer overload of ecstasy felt at one of their shows. Rapture, sweet rapture. And to think it wasn't even sold out.

The six members of Okkervil River walked on stage. All of them were to play an integral part in this night of majesty. Professional and versatile to the extreme, they provide a wonderful framework for Will Sheff to do his thing. Compared to Mr Sheff, they are relatively understated. Well except for Travis Nelsen who plays his drums with a pure unbridled joy. Scott Brackett is a vital component too, with his trumpet skills a pure joy. Whilst Brian Cassidy is superb, sliding from guitar to pedal steel to mandolin with consummate skill and ease. But Will is definitely the centrepiece, more about him in a moment. As seems common at recent shows the band opened with "The President's Dead" and "Black", both fun songs which certainly put everyone in a good mood. Then perhaps the only moment when I was distracted. "A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene" is probably my least favourite song off "The Stage Names", so I am bemused why this song seems to be a live staple. But it was unadulterated glory after this. Beginning with the pairing of "A Girl in Port" and "Plus Ones", both sublime renditions, only heightened by the moments when Will whispers into the microphone and my adoring ear. If this almost stopped my heart, then "A Stone" killed it with tenderness. With only bare backing by Cassidy and Brackett, Will Sheff slowly but surely creaked into the mic. The venue was in dead silence, only beating hearts could be heard and moist eyes could be seen. The highlight, of this night, or any other. But wait, there was more, much more. "So Come, I Am Waiting" tore shreds as Will started slowly before the whole band rejoined him for an epic finish. Then the last four songs were just triumph coupled with elation. Power linked with passion. "John Allyn Smith Sails" had me singing "I want to come home" and "For Real" was preceded by a furious build up that lifted the roof. This band can be subtle as a feather or swing like a wrecking ball when needed. To close with "Unless It's Kicks" was a simple exercise in fun, smiles were written that will be never be erased. A short pause was followed by two encores. The first featured two older songs, well received as we don't get the chance to hear this material enough these days. Then Will strummed "Title Track" solo, enough to make a grown man cry, followed by the mighty "Westfall". A song destined to never grow old, we were asked to sing "Evil don't look like anything" and we responded with full throated roar. Then it was over, sadly. A night to never forget. Will Sheff is a marvel. Such passion, such emotion, such expression. Such...life. He wrote the songs, he lives and breathes them. He is them. Hearts beating, smiles shining, bones aching, minds thinking, feet moving, legs wilting, souls stirring, fingers gripping, arms embracing. Tongue torn out and balls removed...What gives this mess some grace unless it's fiction. Fiction? No. Just truth.

Set List
The President's Dead
A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene
The Latest Toughs
A Girl In Port
Plus Ones
You Can't Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man
A Stone
So Come Back, I Am Waiting
John Allyn Smith Sails
Our Live Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
For Real
Unless It's Kicks

It Ends With A Fall
Okkervil River Song

Title Track

More photos of this night at Flickr.

Feb 27, 2008

Stars @ Spectrum

"Live Through This and You Won't Look Back" sang Stars of Montreal. Sydney responded with much love and affection. No, huge love and affection. Love, affection and enormous respect. For a band that gave its all and then some. Passion, joy and utter glee were floating through Spectrum on a rainy Tuesday night in Sydney. When it was announced that Stars would be playing the tiny Spectrum venue on their first trip to Sydney I was two things. Surprised and delighted. Surprised because I thought they would play a larger venue. Delighted because they chose not to. There is something to be said for a small, intimate venue. It absolutely heightens the experience, giving you that immediate, personal connection that you rarely get in a larger venue. And connection is the word. For this band made a connection I have rarely seen bettered. They touched our hearts, our minds and our souls.

I have all of the albums so far produced by Stars. But I will admit, that even though I am definitely a fan, I am not totally in love with each and every song in their repertoire. However, after seeing them live, I think my opinion might have changed. There is a magical quality to their music. It is always delightful, totally infectious and above all, there is a direct and deadly connection to the heart. This band plays with great swirling masses of emotion. Symbolic of this were the flowers strewn all over the stage. Roses adorned the microphone stands and through out the night, the band propelled the flowers into the adoring crowd. I am sure there would many happy people going home with such a personal souvenir. And this was definitely a personal experience. I mean, the music was great enough on its own, but Stars make sure that each audience member willing to invest in their experience goes home with a swelling heart and a glowing smile. Despite some sound problems, Torquil was forever fiddling with his ear piece, the band was extremely tight. All six played their part and did it superbly. I guess the only downside of a small venue like this is that sometimes there are technical issues, but the band overcame them with ease. That is primarily thanks to the skill and ambition of the two prime singers. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Whilst Torquil doesn't possess an amazing voice, live he sings with such passion and directness that you can't help not be moved by it. And Amy, oh Amy. Her voice is quite angelic and just a sheer beauty. To hear her sing "Elevator Love Letter" second song in was a definite highlight. As was "Window Bird", one of my favourite tracks from their latest album. Other standouts on the night were the delicious "Personal", a terribly moving song, "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", a show stopper if ever there was one and the closer "In Our Bedroom After The War", a slow burning song that veers near sentimentality but manages to become epic due to the passion of Torquil. And that was key to tonight. This band makes you believe in their music. I would say even if you were a casual fan going in, you would walk out a definite convert. After a short break they returned to play a gorgeous "Calendar Girl" and then closed with a surprise. A superb rendition of The Smiths' classic "This Charming Man". Then they departed, having given their all. To an adoring audience, who will remember this night for a long time.

Set List
The Night Starts Here
Elevator Love Letter
Soft Revolution
Window Bird
One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead)
The Ghost Of Genova Heights
Bitches In Tokyo
The Big Fight
Midnight Coward
Take Me To The Riot
Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
Ageless Beauty
In Our Bedroom After The War

Calendar Girl
This Charming Man

I missed part of the support act Plastic Palace Alice. But what I happened to catch was mightily impressive. This young Melbourne outfit looks to have a big future. Their strong melodic pop is augmented by strong keyboards. Having a similar sound to the main act, I really enjoyed their inventive approach. They are releasing their debut album "The Great Depression" on March 29.

I have more photos of the night at Flickr.

Feb 25, 2008

Take Me To The Riot-Stars

Tuesday night at Spectrum I see Stars for the very first time. Should be the start of an excellent week.

Feb 24, 2008

And In a Week of Looming Greatness, One Band Stood Above the Rest...Okkervil River

The Black Cab Sessions are a wonderful idea. One artist, one song, one take. In one cab. This is Okkervil River last September, performing the Big Star song "Big Black Car". I think Will Sheff must have a thing for Big Star, as they previously recorded "O, Dana" for their last Australian tour EP. Which leads me to this. This upcoming week is another smorgasboard of madness. In four successive nights I will be seeing Stars, Okkervil River, Broken Social Scene and Feist. I am terribly excited by all of these artists, but Okkervil River is definitely numero uno. I have seen them twice before, but I am even more excited for their Manning Bar show this week. In my previous post I extolled the songwriting talents of Dan Bejar. Well I regard Will Sheff just as highly. The man has it all. Songs of great feeling and melody. Achingly real lyrics, and that voice. Oh, that voice. Not exactly a pitch perfect voice, it is however a voice of incredible passion and earthiness. He makes you feel each and every note. As if he wrote the song just for you. So, I can't wait for this week. And I get to see all these artists again, and more, at the Laneway Festival on Sunday.

If you are not a member of the Okkervil River congregation yet, maybe these will help you. And you can still buy tickets for Wednesday!!!
MP3: The Velocity of Saul at The Time of His Conversion

Feb 23, 2008

Destroyer-Trouble In Dreams; Great Album? Most Definitely; Dan Bejar, Legend? YES!!!

"Of all contemporary songwriters, he's been the biggest influence and inspiration. Because he is pretentious, but in a way that makes it into a game where we all get to pretend to be so grand."-Will Sheff, no less. Quite a statement, and I have to agree with him. Dan Bejar is a truly unique talent, one to genuinely listen to in awe and with total respect. Destroyer return with a new album "Trouble In Dreams" on March 19 on Merge. My advanced listenings prove one thing. This is a truly great album. Probably the first great album of 2008. A complete work, full of the usual complexity, drama and beauty we expect from Destroyer. From the opening chords of "Blue Flower/Blue Flame" you will drawn into the world of Bejar. A world of ambiguity, bewilderment and sumptuous beauty. So many memorable songs to enjoy, but my current favourites are tracks 5 and 6. "My Favourite Year" and "Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of Night's Ape)". With the latter being a song of epic scope, with some of the most blindingly brilliant lyrics that I have ever heard. And for all of Bejar's skill in writing songs of great melody, it is his uniqueness as a lyricist that places him on a higher plane, I believe. His phrasing and extreme wit are unlike any songwriter that I have ever heard.

Please read these lyrics and stand back in awe.
Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of Night's Ape)

Caution, hot ashes
The girl says to her first kiss

They stuck eternity inside a bird’s fist just to watch it fly
Just to make it go
Just to let them slip away
Don’t ask me how I know
I just do

Night surgeon dons his robes
To take apart a fellow amateur
Well I’ve heard it once said
One gives what one gets
Oh I didn’t go out into this world
Just to get stung by rich mans hornets
Who amongst us has left these things undone
Who let these animals into my kingdom

A blind doe learns to work the rig
A once thin man turns into a pig
The endless groves where my soul pukes the night away
The problem as I see it
I was messed up
On a tangent I was wrong
They mix them strong
And I was partial to the feeling
It’s a terrible feast we’ve been stuffing our faces on
A terrible breeze from the east coming on
Bearing the scent of our one hundred first kills
You love her you leave her
You try to achieve
But the vision that she has from the start
I’ve got street despair carved into my heart
I’ve got street despair carved into my heart

My dear didn’t you hear
A chorus is a thing that bears repeating
And the problem as I see it is
Girls stay away from that shit

Saw you in Swan Lake you were great
Saw you down in Strathcona square devouring an AfterEight
Who cares I didn’t mean it
For your last encore
You sawed yourself in half
It was just you and your raft and this crummy requiem
Shooting rockets

Run or fly
At some point I had to ask why
I had to show you a world not tethered to disasters
But this would prove impossible
I snuck a look inside your skull and said
Don’t look now
But Gretchen’s seeing red again
The truth is a thing to coax out of it shell
The truth on this you and I are going to tangle
Off treacherous bliss off
First you come in all sweet
And then on tiger’s paws you retreat
Into a darken nether shadow region
Hey are they still serving that piss
Shooting rockets

And it’d be true what they say
Were they to say why yes I dig the scourge

It’s not that I quit
It’s not that my poems are shit
In the light of the privilege of dreams
Alive she cried once now alive she screams
Shooting rockets

Praise be the delightful muezzin tending his flock
Praise be those alabaster hands running amok on your body
They love you in spite of your lame scene

We live in darkness the light is a dream you see
Shooting rockets

MP3: Dark Leaves Form A Thread-Destroyer

Feb 22, 2008

Yellow Bird Project:New Wolf Parade T-Shirt

This is beautiful. Agree? What could be better then a Wolf Parade T-Shirt, designed by the band itself, with all proceeds going to charity. Thanks to the Montreal based Yellow Bird Project this wonderful artistic creation is available now for the grand total of $25. Wolf Parade have picked the Glass Casters Union as their charity of choice. This group makes limited edition glass ornaments, with all profits going back into their local community in the form of assistance for homeless and low income people. So not only do you get a fine specimen of art from the world's greatest band, that you can wear, but your money will be put to good use. Now, Spencer and Dan, about that new album...
Interpol @ Hordern Pavilion

The Hordern Pavilion sucks. Big time. When Interpol announced they were playing there, I was a little disappointed to say the least. Having seen them perform at the Metro and the Enmore Theatre, I was definitely not looking forward to a night at the barn. It's too big for a start and the flat hard floors mean that you are always struggling to see the stage properly. And I really love venues where you can feel intimate with the band, this is not one of them. To top it all off, they made me check my camera at the door. So this photo is my only memory of the night. I actually only own a Canon PowerShot S5 IS, which is a really great compact camera. Gets me nice shots and is easy to carry around. But apparently it is a "professional" camera and I was not allowed to bring it into the venue. I am totally befuddled by the whole camera and recording devices thing anyway. Who is the venue protecting? In most cases the artist could care less. I never sell my photos and even if I did, I can't see whose livelihood I am hurting. Plus there were lots of people around me taking photos that will never turn out, using their flash and generally being annoying. Go figure. Anyway, I am not a fan of this venue and seeing as most bands I like don't play there, I am probably unlikely to return.

So, was it a fun night otherwise. Yes, I had a good time. This band always puts on a tight show. Although not deviating from their recorded sound and hardly offering any stage banter, they ripped through a well chosen set. I was very happy that they chose to play songs from across their three albums, especially as I regard their latest album "Our Love to Admire" to be a fairly plodding affair with a few nondescript songs. The exceptions to this were the excellent opener "Pioneer To The Falls" and the eerie and quite beautiful "Lighthouse". But the 'oldies' had me going. Second up they roared into "Obstacle 1" and its pulsating guitar cut like a knife. This was followed by "C'mere" and "Narc", so it was most certainly a solid opening. I was really happy to hear "Hands Away", an old favourite, whilst "Evil" and "Not Even Jail" towards the end of the night were well received and deservedly so. The encore was another pleasant hark back to the first album, as all three are from that most celebrated debut. If I could give the venue some credit, the lighting was actually quite beautiful. The band were often bathed in glorious hues of blue and yellow, whilst the sound was also spot on. So even though the night started badly, I still ended up having a good time. Interpol are a thoroughly professional act, who have a superior repertoire of songs to play. That they play them with extreme skill is a credit to them. Next time though, I'm going to the Annandale.

Set List
Pioneer To The Falls
Obstacle 1
Pace Is The Trick
Say Hello To The Angels
Hands Away
No I In Threesome
Slow Hands
Rest My Chemistry
Heinrich Maneuver
Not Even Jail

Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down

Feb 20, 2008

In The Future-Black Mountain

Batten down the hatches. Things are about to get stormy. Real stormy. Prepare yourself for an aural assault. Black Mountain are back. And they want you. They want you feel the force of their music, their enormous force of music. Music that will swallow you up and spit you out. If you purchased their eponymous debut album, then this album is sure to please. It's a little more of the same, with an extra punch thrown in. If you like your music more on the softer side of life, then best steer clear.

The opening track "Stormy High" gets things going with the band's trademark crunching guitar sound. A swirling mass of a song, it packs a rhythmic punch, with Stephen McBean's woozy vocals front and centre. "Angels" continues in roughly the same vein with its almost blues like riffing, plus the angelic voice of Amber Webber joins the show. Then the sledgehammer hits. "Tyrants", eight minutes of a song impersonating a hurricane. It's an aural assault for a minute, before slowing to a stop, then slowly building as McBean and Webber trade vocals, before moving to an epic climax. The drumming on this song is enormous. The rest of the album doesn't contain too many surprises, but what Black Mountain do, they do very well. That is, big guitar chords, woozy melodies, an almost psychedelic atmosphere and outstanding vocals. "Stay Free" is however a quiet interlude, its acoustic strumming backing some delicious high pitched vocals, whilst "Queens Will Play" lets Amber Webber show off her weapon of a voice. Then nothing will prepare you for the sixteen minute epic that is "Bright Lights". A song of sonic force, it features ferocious guitar riffing and is sure to knock you off your feat. "In The Future" is a most impressive piece of music. There are sure to be more inventive albums this year and definitely ones that will back a bigger emotional punch. But I highly doubt that there will be one that rocks any harder then this one.

MP3: Tyrants-Black Mountain

Feb 19, 2008

Sonic Youth @ Enmore Theatre

There are good bands. There are average bands, lots. There are bad bands, even more. Then there are great bands, sometimes legendary bands. Sonic Youth are a legendary band. To say they have an intimidating reputation and a reservoir of credibility would be an understatement. So any opportunity to see them live should be appreciated and relished. To see them perform their classic 1988 opus "Daydream Nation" is a rare and treasured experience. Monday night at the Enmore Theatre was such an occasion. As part of the Don't Look Back series they performed "Daydream Nation" in full, front to back, note for note. It was a great experience, the band has lost none of their touch through the years, still as switched on and energetic as ever. Even if the night wasn't a total emotional experience full of awe and wonder, it certainly was a night of appreciation and respect. Respect for music that has influenced so many musicians that have followed in this iconic band's footsteps.

I still remember being thrilled by the very first time the needle hit the vinyl many years ago on "Daydream Nation". Sonic Youth were revolutionary and evolutionary. Their core work of the late 80's and early 90's was a touchstone of Indie Rock. Always pushing the envelope they won my respect many years ago. I even managed to see them live a couple of times in the 90's. So even if I had lost touch over the last few years, as other artists and singers took my attention, I still remember those thrilling noises that emanated from the instruments of Sonic Youth. Especially "Teen Age Riot". Naturally this was the opener and it still sounded as fresh as ever, its guitar chords cutting a jagged edge through the night air. Then the album flowed, I actually forgot how long it was, as Thurston and Kim and Lee swapped vocal duties. Favourites were the Kim Gordon tunes "The Sprawl" and "Cross The Breeze". I also loved the infectious melody of "Total Trash" as well as the sprawling, explosive closer "Trilogy", an epic unto itself. As said, this band has aged extremely well. They aren't on no pension plan. Thurston Moore still wields the axe like few others. Playing the guitar on "Eric's Trip" with a drum stick was a sight to behold. They have been and still are an inventive guitar band. Although sometimes delving into moments of sheer noise, they would still manage to bring the song back to a listenable level. One odd note of the night was the total abscence of band chatter. I am assuming that they desired the experience to be total, as if any words would interrupt the flow. They did open up a bit in the encore, when they thanked the crowd and loosened up a little. Oh, two major highlights in the encore. Sans guitar, Kim Gordon danced up a storm and Mark Ibold (Pavement) joined the band on stage to play bass guitar. The lighting was also extremely subdued, the band spent most of the night in half shadow. Normally the Enmore lighting is excellent, so I can only assume it was an artistic decision. All in all, an enjoyable night in the company of legends. Even if it didn't make me gasp in awe, I certainly appreciated the display set before me.

I was also very happy to meet Sean and Angus. Great to finally meet you guys. I am sure I will see you at many future shows.

Set List (Obvious, but I note for historical purposes)
Teen Age Riot
Silver Rocket
The Sprawl
Cross The Breeze
Eric's Trip
Total Trash
Hey Joni
Rain King

Jams Run Free
Drunken Butterfly

Pink Steam

(I think I got the encores right, but I stand to be corrected)

Feb 17, 2008

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is an important piece of cinema. At times moving, always beautifully shot, it is most definitely a rewarding cinematic experience. The film is based on the book of the same name, the memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby, at the age of 42 in 1995, suffered what is commonly known as a stroke. However, his condition (Locked-in Syndrome), was even more severe. Paralysed from head to toe, he was speechless and basically motionless. His only movement was blinking. Thanks to the aid of some extremely dedicated therapists he was able to 'blink' out an entire book, using a system of letters and blinks. These events form the basis of this important and satisfying film.

Mathieu Amalric plays Bauby and his performance is quite unique and remarkable. For the first 30 minutes or so, his body is not revealed. We only see the world through his eyes, as he attempts to come to grips with the misfortune laid at his feet. We feel his frustration and anger as his life had been taken away from him. Openly cynical about the new communication method given to him, he finally embraces it as he realises it is his only choice. As he undertakes to 'write' his book we learn of his past life. As editor of Elle magazine he led a hedonistic lifestyle, with flash cars and fashion shoots. We meet his wife, they were separated, and his three children. We see the lifeblood that was taken away from him. This is a story of strong determination and the will of the human spirit. It is a reminder of how fragile life is and can be. It is at times, an emotional experience as we witness the barrier now placed between Bauby and those he loved and cherished. Beautifully directed with flair and artistry by Julian Schnabel, he learnt French to make the film, it is a richly rewarding ode to the spirit of life. My only quibble, although it is a true story so it was unavoidable, is that Bauby (pre the condition) seemed a vain and superficial character, one that was hard to warm to. Nonetheless this film is more about the tenuous grip we have on life and the determination we can muster in the face of adversity. Which makes it definitely a film to see.

Feb 16, 2008

Explosions In The Sky @ Manning Bar

Intense. Intense. Intense. Intense. Men pushing guitars to places unknown. Flying shards, of noise. Movement. Beauty. Spiritual. Beauty. Wailing. Inhaling. No end. A finish. A connection. The connection. Concentrated. Consuming. Powerful. Profound. Impassioned. Extraordinary. Peering into the abyss, seeing things not seen before. Feelings not felt before. Shaking. Smiling. Untold pleasures. Well, I tell these to you. I share these with you. Supreme. Unforgettable. Last night. Four men, thank you. My heart thanks you.

I feel speechless. Last night at the Manning Bar was everything and more. Explosions in the Sky touched my heart like no other. How does music with no voice become as intense an emotional experience as one can ever feel? Well, if four men walk onto a stage and play, without a break, for well over an hour. Play with more inspiration and sensibility then any band I have ever seen, that just might be the answer. Munaf Rayani introduced the band and thanked every one for coming, with great empathy and heart. Then they played, and oh how they played. It became one big blur for me, I was riding wave after emotional wave. They pushed and pulled me to areas unknown. I can categorically state that I have never seen a band play with this sort of intensity before. But it wasn't brutal, it was almost spiritual. A bright, burning beauty. Four men seeking the light on the hill, spiralling upwards and onwards. Their instruments spoke, to us. With clarity and a crystal clear purpose. Perfection was the goal and it was achieved. Michael James took his place in the middle of the stage, his stance strong and definite. He swapped between bass and guitar. Swapping between gentle and kind, between murderous and defiant. Mark Smith was positioned on his right, staunch and unrelenting, a perfect counterpoint. Chris Hrasky sat at his drum kit, ready to support and deliver the killer blows. And in front of me was Munaf Rayani. If you ever desire to find out what sort of emotional grip music can place on you, then watch Munaf play. He is a soulful, spiritual creature. Swaying to the rhythms he is creating, sometimes kneeling to play, he feels each and every note. And we felt it, felt it in our bones. Felt it in our hearts. Felts it in the smiles, permanently creased on our faces. So many wonderful moments. Unforgettable ones. The bone shaking drums on "Welcome, Ghosts", the simultaneous shredding of guitars on "Memorial", the sheer audacity of "The Birth and Death of the Day" and the almost inhuman greatness of "The Only Moment We We Alone" which built climax upon climax till I was barely able to breathe. The four men placed their instruments down, spent, finished, exulted. No encore, no need, there was nothing left to give. Explosions in the Sky make the cynical uncynical, the unloving loving, the dispassionate passionate. The unrewarded, rewarded. Bliss.

Set List*
Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean
Welcome, Ghosts
With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept
The Birth and Death of the Day
It's Natural To Be Afraid
Catastrophe and the Cure
The Only Moment We Were Alone

*I had awful trouble keeping the set list in my mind. I am sure I have made mistakes in the content or order. My mind was melting down at times. Any corrections would be welcome.

Eluvium, from Portland provided support. Despite a short set and some chatter, his music was enthralling and moving. A most unassuming man, no chat what so ever, his music was certainly not unassuming. He played five pieces, switching between guitar and keyboards, with his Mac in support. My favourite was the almost hypnotic "Taken".

I have more photos of this special night at my Flickr.

Feb 14, 2008

Tonight, There Will Be Blood, Tomorrow, Explosions In The Sky; I Am On An Artistic High Right Now

This is my favourite scene from There Will Be Blood. I saw it for the second time tonight. I am convinced of one thing. This film is undeniably a masterpiece, one that will be considered an American classic. Students of film will be studying this celluloid gift in 50 years time. I believe it joins that lofty line of classic American films such as Citizen Kane, The Last Picture Show, Nashville, Raging Bull, The Thin Red Line. Films that have and will stand the test of time. Films of epic scope and grandeur. Films that make you understand why you go to the cinema. I noticed that at the end of this film, Paul Thomas Anderson made a dedication to the late Robert Altman. Obviously Anderson is an admirer of the great man's work, aren't we all, and there are many Altman moments on display in this film. Conversations starting whilst another scene is still going, long shots fixed on the action instead of cutaways and close ups. A strongly written script that relies on richly drawn characters and memorable lines. I was also even more taken with Jonny Greenwood's score this time around. Shrewdly used, it hits the right spot at all times, just adding to the tension and drama inherent in the film. There Will Be Blood is truly film making of the highest order. Engrossing, exciting, moving. Essential.

Tomorrow night at the Manning Bar I see Explosions In The Sky for the first time. To say I am excited would be a massive understatement. This band has had quite a grip on me for a considerable time. Their voiceless music somehow manages to imprint a massive emotional stamp on me. Their live reputation is quite formidable, so I await Friday night with massive anticipation.

MP3: Welcome, Ghosts-Explosions In The Sky

Feb 13, 2008

R.F. Maston and Things Californian; Other Things; And Today Is A Proud Day For All Australians

Allow me to do something I have meaning to do for a little while. Introduce you to R.F. Maston. He is a singer/songwriter from Thousand Oaks, California. Recently, December 15 2007 to be exact, he released his debut album "The Future". Let me state that it is quietly impressive. A thoughtful and considered piece of music, its charms and delights will win you over if you seek it out. "The Future" is entirely the work of one man. Maston recorded and mixed the entire album, playing every instrument along the way. It is an album of quietly intelligent pop, with focused lyrics and a genuine sense of the importance of melody. I particularly like the title track, which features some beautiful instrumentation and the singer's plaintive vocals. "Two Eyes" has a sauntering, luxurious feel, whilst "Mercury" is a dreamy pop number that impresses greatly. This is a very impressive debut, which hopefully will lead to a bigger audience for this fine singer.
MP3: The Future
MP3: Mercury

The Morning Benders also hail from California. Oakland to be exact. I previously writ large about their debut EP "Boarded Doors" which was full of sweet and intelligent pop. Now this four piece are soon set to release their debut album "Talking Through Tin Cans", which is coming out in May. I have a track for sneak preview, which sounds quite excellent.
MP3: Crosseyed-The Morning Benders

In April The Constantines will release their very first album on Arts and Crafts. Now the name and tracklisting can be revealed. "Kensington Heights" is the name and hopefully it will be as searing and energetic as previous releases.

1 Hard Feelings
2 Million Star Hotel
3 Trans Canada
4 Shower of Stones
5 Our Age
6 Time Can Be Overcome
7 Brother Run Them Down
8 Credit River
9 I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song
10 New King
11 Life Or Death
12 Do What You Can Do

MP3: Hard Feelings

I have to believe that Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" is quite possibly the finest album ever released. It is certainly my favourite. Mind bendingly original lyrics plus highly emotive vocals plus gorgeously overflowing melodies equals perfection in my book. Now Pitchfork have a couple of interesting pieces to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of this masterpiece.
A 1997 interview with Jeff Mangum.
The thoughts of today's artists on this timeless album.

Can I just conclude by saying that I think pride is a generally useless emotion. But I DID feel proud today after the events that occurred in our national capital. Thank you Kevin Rudd. Thank you for returning human decency to our government.

Feb 12, 2008

The Australian Music Prize 2007

Ruby Rabbit in Darlinghurst was the venue tonight for the announcement of the Australian Music Prize 2007 Shortlist. This prestigious award, worth $25,000 to the winner, is designed to reward the best Australian album of 2007. Best for musical quality, not commercial sales. A panel of twenty judges are selected from varying parts of the music industry and they trim an initial list of 190 albums down to the Shortlist of 10 announced tonight. Yumi Stynes was on hand to make the announcement and she interviewed Dave Faulkner, a judge, about the process involved. She also spoke to Adam Donovan from Augie March, who took out the prize last year with "Moo, You Bloody Choir". The initial winners of the prize were The Drones, with "Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By". Who will take about the prize for 2007. All will be revealed in March 13. Oh, New Buffalo and Bluejuice were on hand to play for the assembled throng.

AMP 2007 Shortlist

  • Places Like This-Architecture In Helsinki
  • Signal-Urthboy
  • Devils Elbow-The Mess Hall
  • Dystopia-Midnight Juggernauts
  • Last Ghost Train Home-Perry Keyes
  • Mirror Mirror-Dardanelles
  • Morning In The Bowl Of Night-Lisa Miller
  • Problems-Bluejuice
  • Somewhere, Anywhere-New Buffalo
  • Yes, U-Devastations
Who do you think will win? I am going for New Buffalo.
What do you think of the list? I appreciate that is quite eclectic and they have left off some big commercial successes. But, for me there are quite a few dull records here.
I would have picked some of the following-
Less Talk More Paper Scissors-The Paper Scissors
Cruel Guards-The Panics
The Submarine-Whitley

Feb 10, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Essential. Meaning, absolutely necessary, indispensable. So, if you love film and the very essence of the cinematic experience, There Will Be Blood is absolutely essential viewing. This celluloid masterpiece quite definitely and firmly places director Paul Thomas Anderson as the singularly most important auteur of his generation. The man has already directed two compelling and flawless films in "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia". His latest effort exists to confirm his already heady reputation. A complex, evocative and original piece of work, it features stunning direction, exquisite performances and imperative themes that will leave you stunned, enlightened and thoroughly entertained. A modern American masterpiece, a film that is a beacon of illuminated art and iridescent layers. A shining light that dazzles and sparkles like few others.

This stunning film is a first for Anderson on many levels. His first adapted screenplay, based on the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!". His first film away from his oft used San Fernando Valley. His first period piece film. Thankfully, he succeeds beyond even my highest expectations. From the opening scene to the dark and disturbing ending I was transfixed and absorbed in this story of ambition, power and the shortcomings of human behaviour. The story begins in New Mexico at the end of the 19th century. A silver prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) unexpectedly discovers oil. As the opening scene unfolds we are spared any dialogue, we are alone with Plainview in the mineshaft, alone with his efforts and exertions. It makes for a distinctly unique beginning to the film, one that draws you deep into the central character, one that takes a firm grip on your heart and soul and then refuses to let go. As Plainview discovers more oil, his wealth grows. The death of one of his men leads him to "adopting" a son in H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier). The story jumps forward a few years and the father and son are off to California to stake an oil claim in a small town named Little Boston. Plainview negotiates the oil rights with the Sunday family, whose ranch covers the prospective oil field. Their son is Eli (Paul Dano), a young and charismatic preacher who is more interested in building a church for his congregation then the ambition of Plainview. The story twists and turns several times after this and eventually finishes in the year 1927. I could give you a longer plot synopsis, but the sheer pleasure of a film like this is discovering the film's multiple qualities for yourself. The many subtleties and nuances are a delight for any cinema fan, its many complexities will have you ruminating for days. It is a considered and critical study of men with strong will and high ambition. Plainview is a potent character, his many strengths and weaknesses amply displayed by the great Lewis. He embodies the character, his presence is electric on screen. His winning the Academy Award for Best Acting virtually assured. He portrays Plainview with such overpowering physicality that you are barely able to take your eyes off him. A complex man, the central character was at once tender and trusting and also callous and starkly unforgiving. A metaphor for the expansion of American money and power, he becomes more destructive and vindictive as the film unfolds. Daniel Day Lewis is surrounded by a great cast, especially the impressive Dano who manages to hold his own in many crucial scenes. This film is overflowing with great scenes, some powerful and urgent, some tender and delicate. You will be overcome with the scenes that involve young H.W. after a regrettable episode. And the scenes in the church of Sunday become more darkly maniacal and comical as the film progresses.

This is unequivocally a film to savour and discuss, one to see for a second time. Anderson has a unique eye for the great scene, his unusual and distinct framing is one to definitely appreciate. Shots linger and dissolve before your eyes, the pace could be unusually languid before bursting into full and vivid life. Beautifully shot by longtime contributor Robert Elswit, this film is one for the eyes as well as the mind. A new contributor to Anderson's films is Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. His score was unusual and at times eerie, but perfectly suited to the texture and tone of the film. For this is a film that is far from the madding crowd. It is a thought provoking, emotionally resonant take on the foibles and ambitions of man. The strengths and weaknesses of men with ambition and overwhelming greed. It is a film that slowly but surely takes you to another world. Not just of time and place, but of thoughts and emotions. See this film, breathe it in. Then see it again, without hesitation.

Feb 7, 2008

Animal Collective-Take Away Shows

The one and only Animal Collective on the streets of Paris for the Take Away Shows. Here they perform an old song "Another White Singer". Who knew witches' hats and shopping trolleys could make such music. Well in the hands of these men, anything is possible. Their music is a world unto themselves. Check out the site for another video, a new song, "Taste".

Feb 6, 2008

Jukebox-Cat Power

I would believe that any 'covers' record is only as strong as the material covered. Or at the very least, dependent on the artist doing the covering. Well Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, is a very strong artist to say the least. To say I love her voice deeply and strongly would be an understatement of epic proportions. Her sultry, emotive voice always strike a deep chord with me. So her second go around at a covers album was eagerly anticipated. However the material chosen for "Jukebox" is a true case of a mixed bag. Some songs soar while some only limp to the line. The saving grace however is that Marshall's voice is so blessedly great that even the lesser songs are still quite enjoyable. I look forward to seeing her in March, again.

Ironically for a covers project, my two favourite songs are Cat Power originals. "Metal Heart" is a reworking of the song that first appeared on "Moon Pix". As suits her more recent style, it is a bluesier number, featuring lovely piano. The other original is "Song To Bobby", her heartfelt and moving tribute to Bob Dylan. Her story of a long time admiration for the great man is sung with effortless and stirring soul, as only Chan can. On to the covers. Well, my favourite is actually a Dylan one. Chan's version of "I Believe In You" is a strutting blues number with a stalking and ominous guitar line. Other good choices are "Silver Stallion", which features gorgeous lap steel guitar and wonderful melody and the George Jackson penned "Aretha, Sing One For Me" which is a rollicking and joyous blues number. The Billie Holliday tune "Don't Explain" is also a standout, where the vocals are sultry and refined and the brush drumming and piano add that smoky feel just needed. "Woman Left Lonely" (popularized by Janis Joplin) also delights with its soulful demeanour. Some of the other choices I feel are only worthwhile to listen to the pipes of Ms. Marshall. "New York", "Lost Someone" (James Brown) and "Blue" (Joni Mitchell) failed to strike a major chord with me. The Dirty Delta Blues Band (including Jim White) that accompanies Cat Power do a fine job on this album. Their playing is naturally fluid and graceful, hitting all the right notes. And of course Chan Marshall does this as well. As she always does. It is just a case, in my opinion, that not all the material matches the artist covering it. Next time around, I am hoping for an album full of Cat Power originals.

MP3: Metal Heart
MP3: Song To Bobby

Feb 5, 2008

Sax Rohmer #1-The Mountain Goats

I had planned to write about something else tonight, but that little thing called work and life got in the way. So, I went with this instead. Following on the theme of The Mountain Goats, here is the brand new video for "Sax Rohmer #1". I love the white suits and the sprawling words are very hypnotic.

Feb 4, 2008

The Mountain Goats Tour Australia

Best show of 2007? (That didn't involve messrs Krug and Boeckner). Yeah, it was The Mountain Goats. Hands. Down. Their January show at the Metro was a pure musical experience, one to treasure forever a day. Now, they return. Which will be hot on the heels of their new album "Heretic Pride", due on February 19. Have you heard it yet? It is a splendid and enriching experience indeed. This tour will cover a fair bit of ground. Lucky us. Who will join me in the front row and shout "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me"?

Tour Dates (Tickets on sale February 15)
April 5-The Rosemount, Perth
April 6-Fowlers, Adelaide
April 8-Billboard, Melbourne
April 9-The Republic Bar, Hobart
April 11-The Cambridge, Newcastle
April 12-Manning Bar, Sydney
April 15-The Zoo, Brisbane
April 17-Lake Kawana Community Centre, Sunshine Coast

Feb 3, 2008

New Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit return on April 1 with their second release "Midnight Organ Fight". To be released on FatCat Records, it quickly follows their excellent debut "Sings The Grey", which was launched into the world at various times in 2006 and 2007. If you don't have that album, please buy it and then get ready for the new one. The Glaswegian trio are personality plus, exuding a warm and pop sensibility rarely seen these days. I heard "The Modern Leper" a year or so ago on their MySpace, so I glad to see that it has made its way onto their second release. A glorious slice of intelligent pop, I am sure it will impress greatly. Enough to dive into this band.

MP3: The Modern Leper-Frightened Rabbit

Feb 1, 2008

Ladyhawk:Let Me Be Fictional

Here is a short documentary from Vancouver's Ladyhawk, concerning the making of their forthcoming second album. "Shots" will be released on Jagjaguwar on March 4. Their sound is big and meaty and full of life, I am really looking forward to this release.

MP3: I Don't Always Know What You're Saying