Jan 29, 2012

Eleanor Friedberger @ Famous Spiegeltent

Eleanor Friedberger was pleasant. Extremely pleasant. And that is not to slight her. I mean that in a nice way. She seems a gentle soul, giving and caring. Amiable. So an hour in her company in the Spiegeltent on a Saturday night on the second last night of the Sydney Festival was something that was totally and thoroughly enjoyable. Melodies and vocals that charmed and graced us all.

I have long been a Fiery Furnaces fan, even if recent albums were not quite at the dizzying levels of earlier work. Then last year Eleanor broke out and released a wonderful solo album, a favourite of 2011. So to see her live was hopefully going to be a treat. And it was. Despite a false start, amp problems, she gave us a small slice of American pop goodness. It was also a treat to hear many new songs, and covers, for the first time. Of course she played us tunes off  "Last Summer", with "Inn of The Seventh Ray" and "Scenes From Bensonhurst" being particular standouts. Of the newer songs, two of which might have played live for the first time, I really liked the opener "I Don't Want To Bother You" and "There are Other Boys Too". She also gave us a Texan themed cover section as well. There was a Buddy Holly cover, but the one I loved was the Spoon cover. This had me very excited. She also managed to throw in a couple of Fiery Furnaces songs including the impossibly melodic "Tropical Ice-Land" to close the night. A night that was just wonderful and full of happiness. And happiness is a good thing you know. Having said this I do realise that a lot of her songs are quite sad lyrically. But sadness makes me happy if you get my drift.

Set List
I Don't Want To Bother You
My Mistakes
Dearest (Buddy Holly cover)
I'll Never Be Happy Again
Early Earthquake
Lost At Sea (Fiery Furnaces song)
Dallas (Jimmie Dale Gilmore cover)
Inn Of The Seventh Ray
That Was When I Knew (I Was Wrong)
Trouble Comes Running (Spoon cover)
There Are Other Boys Too
Scenes From Bensonhurst
More of the Same?
I Won't Fall Apart On You Tonight
Echo Of Your Encore?
Stare At The Sun

Tropical Ice-Land (Fiery Furnaces song)

Jan 28, 2012

Kanye West @ Sydney Entertainment Centre

Well, then I touched him. There was that. But I will get to that later. It was big. It was brash. It was LOUD. It was fun. We weren't with 'our people'. But we were dazzled, enraptured. We were having fun. Big balls of flaming fun. As they say, haters gotta hate, but Kanye West is a unique and singular talent. As my love for anything hip hoppy had diminished since the days of De La Soul and Public Enemy I honestly never thought I would be at a show like this. At a packed Sydney Entertainment Centre. With people I have little in common with. Well, except maybe basketball. But Kayne is no ordinary artist. No ordinary man.

It was "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" that made me sit up and take notice. It was a grand statement. Greatness. Sure I knew "Gold Digger" and "Stronger". But it was the 2010 masterpiece that whetted my appetite to see him live. So when he announced a show in Sydney we thought 'Let's Go'. It was spectacular. From the moment Kanye arose in cherry picker surrounded by smoke belting out "Dark Fantasy" we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore. Add to this a throng of feathered dancers on stage and we were off. "Power" and "Jesus Walks" assaulted us and got everyone up and dancing. It was loud though. Not in a ear piercing Mogwai type. But in crunching, distorted type of way. It buried the vocals, taking the subtleties away. But I guess these sort of shows are not about the subtleties they are about the spectacular. And it was spectacular. Divided into three acts, Kanye orchestrated an event, a mesmeric piece of theatre. He was all over the place, prowling the stage and sometimes using the runway to incite the adoring crowd. I thought he might have back up singers or rappers. But it was just him on vocals. With a guitarist, a keyboard player and a DJ who gave us plenty of samples to round out the songs. The dancers would come and go for various songs, with costume changes each time. "Hell of a Life" was another highlight early, a stalking beast of power. I also enjoyed the mid section with "Love Lockdown" proving irresistible and "Heartless" seemed a fan favourite with a massive singalong. It was during "Touch the Sky" that Kanye decided to go on a trek into the crowd. Next thing I knew he was coming up the stairs and going right by me. Instinctively I just reached out a hand and touched him. Slightly surreal. "Gold Digger" followed and of course was huge fun. But it was act three that is blistered into my mind. A huge white sheet enveloped the stage (with the Chariots of Fire being played) and then it was lifted to reveal a group of ballerinas in black dresses. Kanye was centre stage on a platform. Then he rang out the opening piano parts of "Runaway". Then the song extended into a twenty minute jam with Kanye exposing his soul in a way that was true and effective. Then "Lost in the World" and "Hey Mama" brought the show home with perfect timing. It was two hours of spectacular fun. An experience that I am glad I went through. Talent walks. Talent talks.   

Set List
Act One
H.A.M. (intro)
Jesus Walks
Can't Tell Me Nothing
Hell Of A Life
Flashing Lights
Good Life
Act Two
Love Lockdown
Say You Will
Run This Town (Jay-Z cover) (partial)
Homecoming (partial)
American Boy (Estelle cover)
Through The Wire
All Falls Down
We Will Rock You (Queen cover) (partial)
E.T. (Katy Perry cover)
Touch The Sky
Gold Digger
All Of The Lights
Act Three
Chariots of Fire
Lost In The World
Hey Mama

Jan 26, 2012


Five years ago today, Australia Day, I met my beautiful wife. To cut a long story short we had met through my blog. She commented on Modest Mouse and Mountain Goats gigs that we had both been to. Soon we were Last Fming and emailing. Then I had tickets to a great gig. Joanna Newsom, Andrew Bird and Bill Callahan on January 26, 2007. We met. We connected. We became gig buddies. We became friends. We became boy and girl friends. We bought a house together. We got married.

So it's now been 5 and a half years or so since I started my blog. As I have mentioned before I don't always have the time or dedication to update constantly. My passion is still high for all the things I love, but sometimes sitting in front of a keyboard and writing is not a priority, Conversely my wife used to have a blog, long started before mine. It was a life blog though, not just music. It was her thoughts and ideas, beautifully written. She ceased though, but lately she has the bug again. To write and express. About the things she loves. She loves music. The Mountain Goats, Wilco, Ani DiFranco, Sufjan Stevens, Frightened Rabbit, Arcade Fire. That sort of thing. She doesn't get Animal Collective, but I'm trying. She loves reading. Vonnegut, Safran Foer, Winterson, etc. She loves art. Whiteley, Klimt, Boyd, Degas, etc. She loves a good film and a good play. She will write here occasionally. Whenever she feels the urge. Could be weekly, could be monthly, could be yearly. She is my wife. She is Karen. 

Jan 22, 2012

Sam Amidon @ Famous Spiegeltent

Another night at the Sydney Festival, another enjoyable and rewarding evening. Sam Amidon was compelling, unique and slightly odd, but in a good way. In fact his generous and strange personality was something I will long remember from the night, even more than the music. Which was pretty damn great anyway. Spiegeltent experiences are always great and this was no different. January in Sydney makes you feel good to be alive.

You know I should read liner notes more often. I have the last two Sam Amidon albums and have enjoyed them immensely, but yesterday I was looking at the CDs more closely and noticed that basically all of the material were renditions of traditional folk songs. From Europe and America. I had originally believed that Sam was just tapping into ancient traditions, but he was actually bringing old tunes to life, giving them air and in turn airing them to modern audiences. He does it with immense care and craft. The man is uniquely talented. He was joined on stage by the equally talented and fellow Vermonter Chris Vatalaro who skilfully played guitar, drums and piano. But it was Sam who demanded our full attention. He started with the delightful banjo on “How Come The Blood”, his voice a tender vessel, occupying the middle ranges it was quite unique and effective in its deadpan way. Sam would also ply the acoustic guitar as he wended his way through the treasure trove of traditional folk. I particularly loved “I See The Sign” and "O Death". The only slight quibble is that being fairly simple arrangements the melodies don’t tend to stand out and can blend into one after another. But the best remedy was to close your eyes, immersing yourself in the music, pretending you are sitting on a back porch somewhere in the 1950s. Gorgeous. But as said it was Sam’s quixotic personality that shone through. I noticed early on that sometimes he would burst into a small, shy grin during a song. Sometimes if he missed a note, he would change the song and roar with a robust thrust. As if bored with what he was playing. In between songs he would break into banter that was both humorous and odd. Whether it about Kirsten Dunst and her face, or secret writing societies in Connecticut he kept us entertained. It certainly wasn’t the usual “Sydney’s a nice place to be in” chit chat. He even busted out a few push ups at the end of one song. So after a very entertaining hour he departed briefly before returning for more surprises. Firstly he brought out his violin and gave us a great rendering of “He Woke Up Maggie” and then we joined in singing with him the R. Kelly cover in “Relief”. I don’t even believe this was ironic appreciation, although perhaps it was hard to tell. A fun and surprising night, in more ways than one.

Set List
How Come That Blood
The Streets Of Derry
I See The Sign
Rain And Snow
O Death
Little Satchel
Wedding Dress
Pretty Fair Damsel

O Where Is My Little Darlin
Climbing High Mountains/Relief

Jan 21, 2012

A.A. Bondy @ Idolize Spiegeltent

Muted tones, rustic texture. Heart. Earnestness. Organic. Honest. Effective. Americana comes to Parramatta. With grace, charm and class. There is no doubt that Friday night in the company of A.A. Bondy exceeded all of my expectations to become what will undoubtedly be one of the shows of 2012.

Firstly it was a trip to Prince Alfred Park in Parramatta and a first visit to the Idolize Spiegeltent as part of the Sydney Festival. I think it's great that events like this are brought to the geographical heart of Sydney. May there be many more if they are of this quality. And quality it was. I have been a solid fan of New York (via Alabama) songwriter A.A. Bondy for quite a while. Through three albums he has delivered honest, touching, authentically great music culminating in 2011's wonderful "Believers". It was this album that most of the set was drawn from. In fact he played every song from that album.It was a little bit of a shaky start in that opener "The Heart Is Willing" suffered from a poor mix. The guitar was too loud and the vocals buried. But it settled from the majestic opening chords of "Skull and Bones". Stark and pared back this song floated through the small venue. "Surfer King" soon followed and was just as well received. These songs amply showed off Bondy's great strengths as a singer and writer. His voice is muted and under stated. His southern drawl held in check to let the emotion of the music shine through. His lyrics are quietly poetic too. Vignettes of broken lives and lives lived. When older tune "Mightiest Of Guns" came along and shone I knew this was a special night. Bondy is a great guitarist too, his fingers sliding up and down the fret, pulling power and subtlety with equal effect. Sometimes he would choke the life out of the instrument, sometimes he was as delicate as someone picking the teardrops from an eyelash. The band was in sync to, a nuanced drummer and two guitarists who knew how to fill in the gaps. To cement the night of Americana Bondy returned solo in the encore and performed a lilting rendition of "Killed Myself When I Was Young" and then followed with a moving Hank Williams cover, proving the singer to be a worthy addition to the great American tradition of singers like Oldham, Callahan and Molina. 

Set List
The Heart Is Willing
Down In The Fire (Lost Sea)
Skull and Bones
123 Dupuy Street
Surfer King
Mightiest Of Guns
A Slow Parade
The Twist
Rte 28/Believers
Scenes From A Circus
When The Devil's Loose

Killed Myself When I Was Young
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams cover)

Jan 20, 2012

PJ Harvey @ State Theatre

Lights dimmed. Smoke rose. Anticipation was high. A woman of slight stature, but great substance entered the stage. She wore long black flowing robes, feathers in her hair. Three men in Edwardian clothing joined her. She gripped us, she enclosed us. She was PJ Harvey.

Thursday night at the ornate State Theatre was a night of perfect moments. Of something all together unreal and special. Of time standing still, all of us knowing that this was indeed something special. You could say I have long been a casual fan of Ms Harvey. I owned the odd album and always enjoyed her music without delving fully into her full repertoire. I had seen her years ago at a Big Day Out, but never in her own individual setting. This then represented a great opportunity. Especially after falling under the spell of her latest opus in "Let England Shake". This album was a musical departure, epic and dark. Solemn and terrifyingly good. So the show encapsulated this. PJ played the entire album, all done with grace and class. She didn't rock the stage, but she certainly graced it. Her performance was almost theatrical. Armed with an autoharp, and sometimes guitar, she swayed and quietly danced. Moving lithely back into the dark after each song, sometimes with a subtle dance. "All And Everyone" was heartbreaking doom. "In The Dark Places" was glorious and sublime. "The Last Living Rose" rose and sank with superb class. My heart sighed during "On Battleship Hill" and my heart ached as she serenaded us with "England". It was however some songs from "White Chalk" that proved to be my absolute highlights. In the middle of the set she dropped in "The Devil" and "Dear Darkness" with devastating effect. Then the closer "Silence" sent us home with joy singing through our bodies. This was a unique show. Atmsophere was fairly dripping from the walls. The band was great in support too. PJ's performance was full of power, my god her voice, but also managed to be restrained and subtle. She is a very sensual creature, moving with elegance and comeliness. Inviting us, gratefully, into her complex world.
Set List
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
All And Everyone
The Big Guns Called Me Back
Written On The Forehead
In The Dark Places
The Devil
Dear Darkness
The Glorious Land
The Last Living Rose
Pocket Knife
Bitter Branches
On Battleship Hill
Down By The Water
C'mon Billy
Hanging In The Wire
The Colour Of The Earth

The Piano

Jan 18, 2012

New Music From Dirty Three

It's been a long while, but the wait is nearly over. Seminal and legendary Australian three piece Dirty Three have a new album coming out. "Toward the Low Sun" will be released on February 28 on Drag City. Their first in seven years and their first on that label. Please listen to a track for preview below. So excited to see them again in February.

Toward the Low Sun Track Listing
1 Furnace Skies
2 Sometime I Forget You've Gone
3 Moon on the Land
4 Rising Below
5 The Pier
6 Rain Song
7 That Was Was
8 Ashen Snow
9 You Greet Her Ghost

MP3: Rising Below

Jan 12, 2012

Dan Deacon @ Keystone Festival Bar

This was fun with a capital F. Well, a capital Red F if you know what I mean. It's hard to put into words what a Dan Deacon show is like. The big man from Baltimore is all about community and joy. He is bulging with bodaciousness. He is bigger than life. He is love and happiness and connection and all of disciples are made to feel it.

Where to start? Well firstly this is now Dan Deacon and his Ensemble. Four very talented people from Baltimore including producer Chester Gwazda who played synth and keyboard. He also had another keyboardist and two drummers! Dan himself was up on stage with his huge mixing desk. So initially I thought the audience participation might be a thing of the past as he wasn't down in the crowd with his people. Which would have been fine as the music was plenty to take in and absorb. Huge epic symphonies and wonderful pop moments meshing together in an organic maelstrom. And the live drumming added a further touch to the music, pushing each song with robust thrusts. Opener "Get Older" was bombastic and huge and "Paddling Ghost" was whirlwind fun. Then new song "U.S.A." was a monster. A beast. But after about 20 minutes Dan involved the audience in all of the fun. First we formed a circle and two people at a time were invited to dance like crazy before tagging fresh people to join in. Somehow I ended up in the front of the circle and I was tagged to dance. Which I did. Huge fun. Then later on we formed a walkway with couples continually running and dancing up and down the lane. Soon we were forming a human tunnel which extended out into the Hyde Park Barracks courtyard. My absolute highlight though was when we formed a circle around Sophie (a close friend I presume) and shadowed her interpretive dance moves. As the band played the stratospheric "Of the Mountain". It was actually not only great fun, but quite emotionally affecting. A sublime moment. The band pushed on with the uplifting "Build Voice" and the super fun "The Crystal Cat". To then receive "Wham City" was simply more than we could have possibly asked for. So much fun. Such a connection to previous strangers. It's a great feeling to not only share but feel quite deeply a common experience. This was my first Sydney Festival experience in 2012 but Dan Deacon and his Ensemble have set the bar very high.

Set List
Get Older
Red F
Paddling Ghost
Trippy Green Skull
Of the Mountains
Build Voice
The Crystal Cat
Wham City

Jan 11, 2012

Andrew Bird Album Details

Andrew Bird will be releasing a new album on March 6. "Break It Yourself" is the name and it the musician's first on Mom and Pop Records. It was produced at Bird's barn/studio in western Illinois.
“We had our front of house engineer Neal Jensen bring his old Tascam 8-track tape machine and Yamaha board (nothing fancy) out to my barn,” Bird said about the recording.

“We rolled tape as we were learning the songs and to our surprise we started nailing the songs by the second take. I think we got a rough, unfussy honesty in this session.” Bird said the sessions for the album were a “mix of distilled, grounded songs and some wild soloing.” The band for the Break It Yourself session included long-term collaborator Martin Dosh on drums, Jeremy Ylvisaker on guitar and Mike Lewis on bass.

Break It Yourself Track Listing
1 Desperation Breeds...
2 Polynation
3 Danse Caribe
4 Give It Away
5 Eyeoneye
6 Lazy Projector
7 Near Death Experience Experience
8 Behind the Barn
9 Lusitania
10 Orpheo Looks Back
11 Sifters
12 Fatal Shore
13 Hole in the Ocean Floor
14 Belles

Jan 5, 2012

Beirut @ Sydney Opera House

It's the horns. Has to be the horns. We were swamped and drowned in them gloriously last night at the Sydney Opera House. A sublime show by the seriously talented Beirut. There were trumpets, trombones, french horns and a massive tuba. They all combined for a wildly exciting night.

A Beirut show is great because the sum is greater than the parts. To be sure, this band has some great songs. But collectively they really matter. The combine for a knockdown effect. Played on their own they have lovely qualities, but in total they are a sumptuous feast to be gorged upon. Swallowed whole and digested with glee. It's also quite a ear change to connect with a band that isn't guitar centric.I mean I love my guitars, forever. But this was different. Of course there were drums. And an electric bass, but even this was used sparingly. Front and centre was a piano accordion, two trumpets and a trombone. Sometimes these were augmented by the french horn and the tuba. They all combined to create a symphony of brass. Triumphant and ecstatic. They would surge and lift at the end of every track, bringing smiles to all those lucky to be in attendance. Of course up front was lead man Zach Condon. He would swap between trumpet and a small traveler guitar, all the time serenading us with his warm and generous voice. His voice is an instrument in itself. Informative and encouraging. Of course there were songs that stood out from the crowd. Longtime favourite "Postcards From Italy" was delectable, whilst lesser known songs like "The Shrew" and "The Akara" were rollicking good fun. "A Sunday Smile" was gorgeous, as was new favourite "Goshen", which Zach performed on piano. Another definite highlight was the epic closer "The Gulag Orkestar", which was blazing cacophony of horns. Man, 2012 has started very well indeed.

Set List
Scenic World
The Shrew
Elephant Gun
Postcards From Italy
The Concubine
A Sunday Smile
East Harlem
Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)
Forks and Knives (La Fête)
The Akara
Port Of Call
After The Curtain
Santa Fe

The Penalty (Zach solo)
My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille
The Gulag Orkestar

Jan 2, 2012

Fleet Foxes @ Sydney Opera House

Iconic setting. Iconic band. Well, pretty much so. For in a few short years the Foxes of the swift variety have dug a hole in our heart and are here to stay. I think it's the voices. The majestic, soaring vocals that elevate us to a different place. A place of space and grace. A glorious summer night in Sydney was spent in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. The first of three sold out nights. Those lucky people going to nights two and three are in for an experience and a half. This was faultless.

The heavy double bass of Morgan Henderson signaled the beginning of "The Plains/Bitter Dancer" and we were instantly wrapped in their strong arms. What a start. "Mykonos" and "English House" were like old friends, kind and gentle ones that said hello and gave good company. "Battery Kinzie" was all drums and thrust, delightful in all aspects. And so it flowed. Vocals rang out, harmonies floated in air. Smiles were breaking out everywhere. Mine was a watermelon. The flutes called us to "Your Protector" and its stark beauty kicked me in the chest. Then a double punch. "White Winter Hymnal" segued with ease into "Ragged Wood". Exhilarating. But the next double was truly sublime. Most of the band cleared out and Robin Pecknold gently serenaded us with "Montezuma". "So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me..." Christian Wargo and J. Tillman gave considerable support with their superb harmonies. I think this is paramount as to why this Seattle band stands out from the pack. Besides them being superb and gifted musicians it is the harmonies. Oh, the harmonies. Voices gifted and sure. Clear and precise. Emotional and direct. Be still my beating heart. Oh, where was I? Oh yes, "Montezuma" led us to "He Doesn't Know Why". Glorious. The show rolled to an ecstatic finish with the rollicking "Grown Ocean" closing with perfection. An encore was gratefully accepted. Robin played a new song solo in "I Let You". There was stunned silence in the house. Closing the night with "Helplessness Blues" was perhaps predictable, but oh so great. Great. great, great. My only small complaint of the night was the fact that even though we were in a great room with amazing acoustics I really wanted to stand up and sing out loud. Maybe I could have, but there is a dread feeling of inhibition in venues like this. It can feel a little sterile at times. Small complaint though. Early days, but could be gig of the year!

Set List
The Plains/Bitter Dancer
English House
Battery Kinzie
Bedouin Dress
Sim Sala Bim
Your Protector
White Winter Hymnal
Ragged Wood
He Doesn't Know Why
The Shrine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Grown Ocean

I Let You (Robin solo)
Sun It Rises
Blue Ridge Mountains
Helplessness Blues