Jan 24, 2015

Dan Deacon @ Aurora Spiegeltent

He doesn't fit the bill of what a musician might look like. Dressed in a plain striped shirt, blue shorts, something resembling footy socks and New Balance runners, Dan Deacon sort of looks like the guy spinning music at the Dubbo RSL. But don't let the appearance fool you. The man is some sort of savant musical genius. If you haven't been to a Dan Deacon show, you must. If you have been you will know that there is nothing like one of his shows. They are part revival show, part dance contest, part full on rave and some comedy thrown in. Thursday night was a late one. A midnight show in the Aurora Spiegeltent. This venue proved perfect for Deacon to work his magic.

It is truly a one man show. Just Dan with his board of minitaurs and phasers sitting atop a beaten up old suitcase. But the sounds he generates fill the space with ease. Booming deep throbbing rhythms blending with luscious serene melodies make it impossible to resist the urge to dance. But if you don't feel like dancing then Dan will involve you. Dance contests, choreographed crowd dances. It's all there. Nothing new though if you have been to a Deacon show before. But who cares, it is so much fun and everyone buys in. Making it a truly communal event. A getting together of like minds and souls. Dancing our butts off to "Crystal Cat" or "Paddling Ghost". Some new tracks as well like "Feel The Lightning", which were received with glee, before closing with the epic "USA". Leaving us all totally satisfied and completely full of joy.

Jan 10, 2015

Wye Oak @ Aurora Spiegeltent

Friday night we had the pleasure of seeing Baltimore duo Wye Oak in the Aurora in Hyde Park as part of Sydney Festival. It was the duo's first show ever in Australia and what a night it was. Firstly this spiegeltent this year was Standing only which I think I preferred. It was nice to have the freedom of standing, especially for a rock show. Secondly, did I mention it was a great night? I have been a longtime Wye Oak fan and was excited too see them. They didn't let me down. I have to say though that their 2014 album "Shriek" I thought was a bit of a let down. They abandoned the strong guitar element and went strong on keyboard, giving off a poppier sound. Which did not resonate with me as their earlier records. But I returned to the record recently and it has grown on me. And hearing those songs live they grew just a bit more. Particularly songs like "The Tower" and "Despicable Animal". It was interesting too to see Jenn Wasner use a bass guitar as the lead instrument. She also plied keyboards and was well matched with the stirring drumming of Andy Stack. They are a good match and Wasner was very charming with her nervous, but very human, banter. On the older songs she took up the six string electric and some of those songs were just fantastic. Especially "Holy Holy" and "Plains". But the undoubted highlight was the guitar chugging "Take It In". This was an absolute show stealer. By the time they finished and then returned to give us "Civilian", we were in love with the band. Well,  I certainly was. This was definitely a Sydney Festival highlight.

Set List
The Tower
Holy Holy
Sick Talk
Despicable Animal
The Alter
That I Do
Take It In
I Know the Law
Logic of Color


Jan 9, 2015

Alela Diane @ City Recital Hall

Summer really isn't my thing. Too hot, too long. But one good thing about summer is the Sydney Festival. Close to three weeks of music, theatre, art and dance. The 2015 edition though wasn't as good as previous years I thought. But there were still a few events I bought tickets for. The first of which was Thursday night at the City Recital Hall. Californian songstress Alela Diane charmed us for over an hour. Her strong voice taking over the hall. Mostly just her and her acoustic guitar, with 4 songs joined by an Australian violinist. But it was mostly Alela, her guitar and a slew of great songs. She apologised for them being 'depressing'. But to me they speak of painful beauty, which is exactly how I like my music. She mainly adhered to her latest excellent album "About Farewell", which was fine by me. Really enjoyed songs such as "The Way We Fall", "Colorado Blue" and "Lost Land". But I was also happy to hear older great songs such as "Tired Feet" and "The Rifle". All in all, a lovely set and a good way to kick off 2015.

Set List
Dry Grass and Shadows
Tired Feet
My Brambles
Hazel Street
The Way We Fall
Colorado Blue
Lost Land
Before The Leaving
About Farewell
Lady Devine
The Wind
The Rifle
Rose and Thorn

White As Diamonds
Oh My Mama

Jan 6, 2015

Best 50 Albums Of 2014

The album. In this age it's somewhat fighting for its survival. But there are still artists striving to give us the gift of music. The complete statement. The tapestry of heart and soul. I thought 2014 presented some great albums but probably only one that could be called a masterpiece. "Lost in the Dream" was a beautiful epic record of beauty and passion. It flowed and flowed and I never tired of it. Also 2014 proved that rock was not dead. The Men and Hallelujah the Hills gave us classic sounds of beautiful anger. Spoon returned with an album that was fresh and joyful, as good as anything that they have produced. There were some great solo albums too. Kevin Morby and Sharon Van Etten raised the bar again, showing there is joy in pain. And Ty Segall, the prolific one, tried his best to save rock and roll yet again. The best Australian album for me was clearly the new one from The Smith Street Band. They lit a fire under a tepid local scene. Interpol showed that they still had some gas in the tank. As did The New Pornographers. Albums by FKA Twigs and St Vincent were some of the ones that I couldn't get into. But luckily there were plenty that I could. Fight on music!

1. Lost in the Dream-The War on Drugs
2. They Want My Soul-Spoon
3. Still Life-Kevin Morby
4. Are We There-Sharon Van Etten
5. With Light and With Love-Woods
6. Tomorrow's Hits-The Men
7. Have You Ever Done Something Evil?-Hallelujah the Hills
8. Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything-Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra
9. ...And Star Power-Foxygen
10. Manipulator-Ty Segall
11. Sukierae-Tweedy
12. Black Hours-Hamilton Leithauser
13. Shrink Dust-Chad VanGaalen
14. HEAL-Strand of Oaks
15. Too Bright-Perfume Genius
16. Darlings-Kevin Drew
17. Axxa/Abraxas-Axxa/Abraxas
18. Brill Bruisers-The New Pornographers
19. Atlas-Real Estate
20. Familiars-The Antlers
21. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son-Damien Jurado
22. Mended With Gold-The Rural Alberta Advantage
23. Throw Me in the River-The Smith Street Band
24. At Best Cuckold-Avi Buffalo
25. Owl John-Owl John
26. Free Will-Bry Webb
27. Singer's Grave-Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
28. Take Pride in Your Long Odds-Centro-Matic
29. Love-Amen Dunes
30. Mess-Liars
31. The Cover of Hunter-Liam Betson
32. El Pintor-Interpol
33. Here and Nowhere Else-Cloud Nothings
34. Seeds-TV on the Radio
35. Drop-Thee Oh Sees
36. Favorite Waitress-The Felice Brothers
37. Liberation!-Peter Matthew Bauer
38. Whine of the Mystic-Nap Eyes
39. Close to the Glass-The Notwist
40. Island Intervals-Death Vessel
41. Only Run-Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
42. Lazaretto-Jack White
43. Exegesis-Alden Penner
44. Wigout at Jagbags-Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
45. Burn Your Fire For No Witness-Angel Olsen
46. More Than Any Other Day-Ought
47. Neuroplasticity-Cold Specks
48. Our of Hands We Go-O'Death
49. Benji-Sun Kil Moon
50. 9 Songs-Dub Thompson

Jan 3, 2015

Favourite Films Of 2014

I love film. I love the possibilities. A great film can make you cry, laugh and think. I think of all the mediums it is the strongest. A great film will stay with you forever. In 2014 I saw some great ones. But the one that I think was the strongest was the film that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It was a traditional, classic, heroic film. But this one was so much more than that. In the hands of Steve McQueen 12 Years a Slave rose to be something quite extraordinary. I loved it so much. Not far behind was the sublime Her and then later in the year the remarkable Boyhood. We might see the Richard Linklater film figure prominently in 2015 Oscar discussions. There were a multitude of other films I liked outside my top ten. Interstellar and Gone Girl were smart Hollywood fare from Christopher Nolan and David Fincher. The Rover was probably my favourite Australian film of 2014. Frank, Locke and The Skeleton Twins were all wonderful independent fare. So yes, 2014 was a pretty great year for film.

1. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen.
From the opening shot this film seeks perfection and in the end it achieves it. Powerful would be a huge understatement. The true story of Solomon Northup is a cinematic masterpiece. His epic story packs an emotional wallop thanks to an insightful script and the superb performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor. Add to this a mesmeric Michael Fassbender and a string of A Grade performers and you have a film of the very highest quality. Some scenes will be hard to watch and will leave you reeling, but this film is unflinching in its depiction of slavery. Throw in a subtle yet strong score and excellent cinematographt and you have something truly special. Steve McQueen can do no wrong as a director and in amongst all the suffering he manages poetry and beauty as well.

2. Her, directed by Spike Jonze.
Her is a modern miracle. Spike Jonze has written and directed a film of unique quality and sublime emotion. Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Theodore in a futuristic Los Angeles where he is struggling with a marriage breakup and trying to find a new relationship.He starts one with an Operating System and it is as real a relationship as any real life one. This intelligent film is a meditation on technology and its boundaries and the foibles of relationships. Everything is beautifully realised. From the production design to the score. Truly a sparkling original.

3. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater.
Boyhood is a remarkable film and a cinematic achievement like no other. It's impressive purely on a logistical level, but it is just as impressive in witnessing the growth of a boy to a young man. Richard Linklater crafted this film over 12 years, telling us of the story of Mason, growing up in Texas and seeing his family travails and teenage dramatics. It's a beautifully told story full of searing honesty and stark truth. It almost feels like a documentary in its feel and natural touch. Performances are all great and the score is nuanced and perfectly suited. It never felt long either as I settled into this family story full of heart and truth.

4. Winter Sleep, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Winter Sleep is an engrossing, complex masterpiece. It's masterful film making from the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Set in rural Anatolia in an approaching winter it is a patiently sublime film full of long scenes of dialogue. It is concerned with a rich man who is disconnected from his world and soon we find out also his wife. It is also concerned with our place in life and how we view our time here. It is fiercely intelligent, subtly directed and magnificently shot. It will demand your concentration but the payoff is immense.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson.
Wes Anderson has done it again. His style is unmistakeable and his craft is expert. He makes films that are uniquely his and this exquisite film is no exception. A stellar cast is led by Ralph Fiennes, who is superb as the concierge of the hotel in question in between the wars. This stylish and strangely funny film is a dark romp through the ages as we encounter many weird and wonderful characters and situations. Each shot by Anderson is framed to perfection and the production design is breathtakingly beautiful. A triumph whichever way you wish to look at it.

6. Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by The Coen Brothers.
The Coens are expert at crafting films of supreme originality and meticulous attention to detail. This film, although not perhaps their best, is excellent nonetheless and displays a fierce intelligence and a beating heart. Davis is a disillusioned folk singer in 1961 New York. We follow him for a week, lurching from couch to couch, with a cat in hand and basically pissing off every one he meets. Oscar Isaac is superb in the lead role. An unlikeable character, but I was still drawn into his world. Which is thanks to a great script and superb acting. Especially John Goodman who nearly steals the movie. This film is considered, slow paced, dark and eternally mysterious.

7. Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne.
Alexander Payne is a master at documenting the connections in human relationships. Especially families. In this beautifully realised film he has perhaps created his finest and most complete film yet. Nebraska is the story of Woody, a deluded old man who believes he has won a million dollars. His journey from Montana to Nebraska is beautifully captured, as is the sometimes fractured relationship he has with his wife and two sons and the extended family. This exquisite film is full of tenderness, pathos and charming humour. It is also magnificently shot in pristine black and white.

8. Calvary, directed by John Michael McDonagh.
Calvary is an exceptional film that succeeds on every level. It is dark, funny, moving and extremely thoughtful and smart. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the Irish priest forced to tackle his own mortality and his own life. Set over a week he encounters an array of intriguing and fascinating characters. The film manages to tackle many subjects. Faith chiefly, but it is an exquisite probe into humanity. All performances are superb and the writing is super smart and delving. A truly great film.

9. Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.
The core of this fine film is a searing and remarkable performance by Matthew McConaughey. Quite simply he dominates the screen in the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan man who contracts AIDS in 1985. McConaughey is superb in a humane and emotionally powerful performance. This subtly directed film reeks with humanity, honesty and authenticity as we track the life of a man trying to buy time and in turn helping so many more in acquiring drugs not available in the USA. This film also shines a lot on the policies of health and drug enforcement that make it a film not to be missed on many levels.

10. Two Days, One Night, directed by The Dardenne Brothers.
Marion Cotillard is a radiant screen presence. In this beautifully handled drama she is yet again. She plays Sandra who over one weekend has to plead to have her job back with her fellow workers. Basically she retains employment or they lose their bonus. It is a stark play on a moral dilemma that is never black and white. There is no good or evil, just dilemmas based on want, decency and trust. The Dardenne brothers make films suffused with real drama and dripping with compassion. This is no frills cinema that rings completely true.

Films to see in 2015-
Mr Turner
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
American Sniper
A Most Violent Year
Still Alice