The soundtrack of this backward looking mode of the moment has been provided, of course, by David Bowie. The Bowie at the Beeb triple CD remains pure gold, for instance, though it calls to mind my first serious nine-to-five wage slavery of more than a decade ago. I'm building the nerve to trawl the previously untouchable Berlin series, and so forth.
I prevaricated about buying a copy of his new album The Next Day, but seeing as he couldn't help himself, I couldn't either; Apple is now 30% of $20 richer. I hope the remainder helps him not have another heart attack. The power rock-pop of (You Will) Set the World On Fire recalls the end-to-end near-perfection (heh, this is Bowie) of Scary Monsters (and Supercreeps). The rest, well, I'll get there one day.
There are piles of reviews. Pitchfork goes full retro and claims the canon of the great man was already complete. Kitty Empire (presumably her real name) draws the back pointers I am too lazy to. Sasha Frere-Jones talks it up, and rhapsodises about the lyrics; and if there's one thing I learnt from Pete R., that's precisely what you don't do.
Some weeks ago I shared a table at Yen's with a young bloke who works at Westpac (after a decade at Optus, I seem to recall). He mentioned that Sofar was a lark: nights where musicians play in someone's lounge room. I meant to go to the one last Sunday at a warehouse in St. Peters but was defeated by weariness. Tonight, well, it was the same again but I instead muttered some clichés and headed down to the Protohub "creative space" near Oxford Street to see what it's about.
Paying a $10 "donation" at the door made it feel more like a regular kind of band night, and moreover one without a bar; I brought a single beer, but would (should) have brought more if I hadn't taken Betty. (Motorcycle parking on Campbell St at Taylor Square is a bit tight.) I got there by the strongly-suggested time of 7:30pm ("please respect our musicians"), which was early enough to park myself on a couch next to a young couple from Copacabana, down for the night. The bands started quite a while later, after the mid- to late-20s hipster crowd settled in..
Brian Campeau, a Canadian bloke with a guitar, opened the night. He was OK. Jones Jnr. consisted of a singer and a DJ, and possibly a bloke with a laptop too, but I couldn't see. They did some kind of r'n'b / motown / reggae happy stuff. The Green Mohair Suits, featuring Brian Campeau on guitar and another four guys (banjo, mandolin, slide guitar, double bass) did perhaps a Barbershop quintet, reminding me too much of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The headline (so to speak) were the Blackchords (guitars, drums) from Melbourne. They were fine enough, but I can't remember what they did. Each got about 20 minutes.
Oxford St was very lively when I left at 10:30pm. I'd have stayed out if I wasn't toasted after a long week.
With Marc and Ben, I went to the Friday night edition of the Now Now Festival at the Red Rattler, which I'd been meaning to go to since I missed Robbo's gig there so many years ago. $15 for us students. I hoped to see Chris Abrahams do something interesting at the end of the night and was mildly disappointed. Simon Barker and Min Young Woo made some magnificent noise with their drumming. The audience abuse of the two guitarists got a bit much.
I went back on Sunday afternoon with Ben for the Splinter Orchestra, who make noise to space out to. It was at some other warehouse in Marrickville.
A while ago mrak told me the Dirty Three were playing towards the end of March, back when I was optimistic about wrapping up the writing by then. I hadn't heard about their new album Towards the Low Sun, released about a month prior to this, as they moved on from their old Anchor and Hope mob, whose mailing list has apparently died a silent death. The best tickets I could get were for a box on the left of the stage, roughly in line with where Ellis would be standing if he was that kind of guy.
As it happened mrak was busy with a demo of his Ninja Blocks project until late so Ang got stuck drinking with me at the dear old Opera House Bar. I feel I'm finally wrinkly enough to elbow my way through the suits and steal their barmaid. The gig itself will not go down in history as their best ever, partly due to some dodgy mixing but probably more due to rustiness of the band; it must be tough playing some decade old standards with guys who meet up so rarely. Who cares, I'll take what I can get; with those seats we got to see the Ellis/White noise machine up close.
After I scored the obligatory t-shirt and Ulterior Motives, and we met up with mrak's brother Chris at the bar. Shame it was a school night.
We stayed for the first half then headed back to Newtown for a drink. There's lots of new small slinky bars on King Street now (maybe there always was) so I guess the new booze laws must be working.
It's been a long time since I've seen The Maladies, possibly two and a half years. In that time they've released an album and gained some kind of broader notoriety. mrak was silently absent, and any attempt to shoulder his number-one fanboi duties were stymied by the mediocre acoustics at Spectrum, which is really just a dungeon with a bar; the Hopetoun Hotel it is not. The band was as tight as ever and rolled out a couple of noisy unreleased songs. The support bands suffered from both poor acoustics and terrible engineering.
I'm glad Jon told me about it, and it was good to see Albert and Sandy getting into it.
Jon invited me along to see this band that he's been talking up for a while now. They are a long way from Australian pub rock, and without ear-bleeding volume didn't manage to quell the crowd's conversations.
I'm not much of a fanboi, it's been out for a couple of weeks already. Apparently the Dirty Three are headlining the Meredith Festival, something I would have expected to hear about on their mailing list. Sniff. I guess I've got to hope they put something on in Sydney.
Old Shure e2cs die, replaced by Sennheiser CX300-IIs, news at 12.Thu, Jul 08, 2010./noise/music | Link
The old Shures have been failing for more than a year now; actually the wiring in the left driver came erratically unstuck quite early on, and more recently the right one is going the same way. It makes for a a less than pleasant listening experience.
I initially decided on some Klipsch S4s, which Techbuy has for about $100 delivered, based on a pile of reviews. However they wouldn't supply them for about three weeks, so I plumped for these middle-of-the-road Sennheisers instead. The Apple store was selling them for $70, but their store at Bondi didn't have any in stock, so I ended up at Hardly Normals where they had a huge pile of them for $59 each, the cheapest I saw anywhere.
Buying these kinds of earphones is a pain as none of the shops will let you try before you buy, putatively for hygiene reasons, and hardly anyone has several pairs of similar phones and writes a sensible comparison of them. Almost all online magazine reviews find something positive to say about what's under review, and owner's comments tend to be biased by their shopping experience, or what happened when it broke, or buyer's remorse or the avoidance thereof, or whatever.
All I'm going to say is these things produce muddier sound than the e2cs did; I think I could do without the bass booster.
mrak talked me into going to this, the tacked on second gig, after I passed on going with Jacob and Barb last night for pecuniary reasons. Cutely the tickets I got from the Opera House included a download of their new album Heligoland, whereas Ticketmaster wanted another $15 for their latterly-available ones. All I'm going to say is that it is less metallic than the preceding 100th Window and Danny the Dog soundtrack.
Martina Topley-Bird opened with an ethereal solo set. Awesome to see her.
As for the Massive, well yeah, I like their old stuff better than their new stuff, and I doubt there's anyone older than twenty who feels otherwise. The night was beautiful, the location perfect, but the music was missing something; as mrak observed, the canonical versions of their songs are on the albums, and production is a huge part of what they do. They rocked out a lot of their songs, with walls of sound that sometimes had the nuance that made them famous — Angel springs to mind — but often not. All of the vocalists were strong, including Martina on Teardrop and a fabulous Unfinished Sympathy featuring Deborah Miller. I expected them to close with Hymn of the Big Wheel, given the ambience and presence of Horrace Andy, but no. Mr Andy and the shrinking non-del Naja part of the group (now just Marshall) were criminally under-used. This group has concreted over its organic roots.
The stage was backed by an impressive display board running all sorts of things. Most incongruous to me was the monomaniacal focos on political issues, newspaper headlines, that sort of thing. I don't think of this band as political so much as personal, about the connections amongst people, not their divisions. Strangely, while their music casts long shadows over various parts of my life, I have never had much empathy for the core band members.
I saw these guys straight after they released Mezzanine back in 1998 with Jacob and many mutual friends. This gig just made me feel nostalgic.
This was a Sydney Festival gig, and as such it was pricey and sold out quickly. I went with Jon, who I hadn't seen since last year.
The novelty of the evening was that both bands would play a full album end-to-end. The Laughing Clowns did History Of Rock 'n' Roll Volume 1. I believe there is yet to be a second volume, though one can never fault Ed Kuepper's exuberance. Briefly, they are indeed some kind of experimental jazz/punk/whatever group, as their presumably self-written bio on Wikipedia says. The bass at the Enmore was cranked up a bit too much for me to get all the nuance, so I found them a bit incoherent.
Incidentally I recall Ed Kuepper mostly for his fabulously trashy mid-90s Wasn't I Pissed Off Today, on high rotation at JJJ at the time, and the ethereal All of these things from the same album. I'd bracket him with Dave Graney for vocals, and maybe Chris Abrahams for eclecticism: an all-Australian sub-star.
...but of course everyone came to see the Dirty Three do Ocean Songs, at presumably their only concert in Sydney this year. I missed them at last year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival, largely because the rest of the lineup looked thin. The 2006 gig at the Metro set my expectations ridiculously high, and I recall mrak and his brother Chris being similarly blown away.
I rate Ocean Songs as their best, but it is more ambient than rock, and the Enmore is not really up to any kind of nuance. (The Dirty Three have made three kinds of music: this ambient-ruminative soulful stuff that makes it clear they're from Melbourne, recovering from being Jeffed in the late 90s; the Saturday-afternoon-evening rock'n'roll of their hell raising years, the early-to-mid-90s of the classic Melbourne live-music pubs; and Cinder, presumably tunes for the twenty-first century diaspora.)
So they rocked it out, I can cope with that. Heck, I knew it would be thus. Warren Ellis gave a lot of schtick to the crowd in his ironic-Jesus manner, and totally butchered the opening Sirena by failing to switch out of Grinderman mode. It's a track you just can't rock out. He slowed down for the next few, getting it together with Jim White and Mick Turner for an Authentic Celestial Music that, even with the detail difficult to discern (damn that excessive bass, no! — crank up that violin) araldited the crowd to their seats.
The filler part of the album, roughly tracks five through eight, went over better than their studio counterparts, leading into the second peak of Deeper Waters, or as Ellis likes to call it, Epic. Clearly they play this one a lot more often than the rest, spinning it out to some ridiculous length with effortless aplomb. Many people left straight afterwards, not staying for Ends of the Earth or the possibility of an encore, which didn't eventuate anyway.
So a great gig. Ellis was in fine form, and Jim White's drumming was so animated, so energetic. Conversely Mick Turner was very laid back, and together they somehow made so much more coherent noise than they had any right to. As they always do.
I would carp about our "A Reserve" seats, right at the top of the stairs. We had a good view of the stage, between the continual stream of people walking in front of us. The no-loitering policy meant that the security people regularly intervened, somewhat destroying the rapture the band creates. I guess the Sydney Festival billing attracts a minority (of the crowd, but perhaps members of a wider majority) who have more money than sense, who aren't there for the music.
I wish they'd put out another album.
Albert and Sandy joined me on a foray to the ABC at 10pm to be part of the small audience for this live broadcast on ABC Classic FM's New Music Up Late with Julian Day. I don't remember having been inside the ABC's Ultimo facility before this.
The Splinter Orchestra's schtick is mostly unstructured improv, unattractive to the masses and hence rarely heard on mainstream radio: something more likely to be on 2SER at two in the morning. I found the ambience quite restful, albeit slightly industrially claustrophobic at times. Chris Abrahams was mutely on the piano. The gig can be found somewhere in the ABC's sprawling website, best of luck finding it.
We headed to the Clare afterwards, which was within twenty minutes of closing.
After happening upon Richard Tognetti's performance of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin at the Orange City Library a while ago, I was keen to buy the five CD collection of his other Bach efforts. I lucked out at Boomers Books in Orange where they were still flogging it for $50, whereas the online ABC shop now seems to want $90. It's good hacking music, albeit slightly too plaintive.
I read somewhere that Leonard Cohen had released a recording of one of the concerts of his current world tour. The tour itself now seems endless, and indeed will apparently involve more than one circumnavigation.
The set list for this gig in London is quite similar to what Pete R. and I got back in January. After a cursory listen on the laptop speakers, I am somewhat unimpressed; perhaps it took him six months to get bored enough to stop experimenting, or remember how the songs go. The schtick is almost identical, and there's nothing to complain about there, but I don't (yet) think this eclipses the live album of 1994. That had an indoors, sit-down feel, whereas this one almost makes one grateful that U2 wasn't warming up.
CDs are so cheap now, I got this for $18 at the JB Hi-Fi lurking in the basement of the Strand on Pitt St mall.
Back in November I blew a significant chunk of my first paycheck as a contractor on tickets to see the big man, one for me, one for Pete R.. It was a difficult calculation, for on the one hand we needed to be close enough to check that he really was breathing, and on the other not so close that we were surrounded by silvertailed boomers. The compromise was second-tier seats and it turned out well, though from what I heard we would've also been OK if we'd braved the Entertainment Centre version of the same.
We'd planned to head up around midday, thinking it'd take about two hours and there'd be plenty of time to swan about on the way. As it was we were lucky to get there by 5:30pm, midway through a set by Paul Kelly that was having a marginal impact on a beautiful summer's afternoon. An earlier stop at a pub in Cessnock had allowed us to gauge how congenial the locals were, and I could readily imagine the town going all Wayne McLennan later in the evening.
After fortuitously dumping the car at a crossroads about a kilometre up the road, we hoofed it past the vineyards and slipped past the affable security lady at the gates of Bimbadgen Estate. She had no cause to be so affable; indeed, it was as if she hadn't been briefed on the uptight tosh on the website: why no cheese knives or softdrink? Only unopened water? ... and yes, we're already resigned to fattening the promoter's pockets by forking out large for booze at the venue, so none of that either. Surely the steep ticket prices and Leonard Cohen himself already keep the riff-raff out; there was no need for the conditions of entry to read like those for visiting hours at Long Bay.
We settled down in our pews up the back of the seated area. Leonard Cohen appeared promptly and got straight into it. He played almost everything I wanted to hear in the first half, including a beautiful rendition of Anthem. (Ultimately he played the entirety of the playable from The Future, apart from my favourite Waiting for the Miracle. He emphasised its absence by referring to his long-time collaborator as the co-author of that tune. Perverse.) The crowd was huge and exploded on the thinest pretexts. The sun set, spraying red against a cirrus front, and nobody noticed.
Pete had wriggled his way through the wrinkles to the gold-plated section, and reappeared at the break. I was worried that he hadn't drank enough but he said he was OK. We both felt a bit sorry for those up the back, getting lost in those hopeless huge screens, as the wind had blown Paul Kelly's noise around. No-one seemed particularly put out though.
The hit list continued: The Future (with Leonard losing interest in anal sex, or perhaps taking Australians for Americans, preferring it casual, but happy enough to be the white man dancing), Chelsea Hotel, Famous Blue Raincoat, In My Secret Life and so forth. I was shocked — shocked, I tell you! — to hear a slightly-too-fast First We Take Manhattan, which I'd thought to be off limits since Joe Cocker's cover. They sentenced me to sixty days of boredom... indeed. I was hugely amused when he switched on the pre-programmed synth for Tower of Song, perhaps the musically lamest thing he's ever served up. Strangely the lyrics are quality and don't spoil the cheese.
There were a couple of bones thrown to the old fans, played quickly and resolutely, before returning to such general crowd pleasers as Democracy. At this point I realised I was going to also get dudded out of The Stranger Song, which I would've thought perfect for the times. Pete got right into The Gypsy's Wife.
The band was excellent, especially the Spanish guitarist and miscellaneous wind instrument bloke. The guitarists and keyboard player, backing vocalists, drummer... the sound mix was perfect. I hope someone is recording all these gigs and they release an update of the classic CD from 1994. In fact Leonard seemed sprightly enough to crank out another disc or two of original material on top of that.
Upon the fall of the last note, Pete and I did the runner back to the car and hightailed it back to Coogee. It was all so splendid that one almost wishes that his current manager is ripping him off so we can do it all again next year.
Bernie suggested I head over to the capital-A Arts precinct (over the Yarra, opposite the park, under the faux Eiffel tower) and check out this exhibition before I departed the fair city of Melbourne. It really is a testament to the ego of the boy from somewhere-near-Wangaratta, and I can't help but wish there was someone out front, dancing to Federation Square, just to lend some perspective. The coffee was OK but not a patch on my much-missed Trung Nguyên.
This followed on from last night's abortive attempt at watching the new Dirty Three doco, which I bought in the hope of it being an hour or two of Warren Ellis song introductions ("this is a song..."). Instead it is much the same as the Leonard Cohen effort, with the main man being the only interesting thing in the whole project. Warren Ellis looks the part but is stultifyingly sober throughout.
Lê Hoàng Minh is a member of the classical guitar quartet Guitar Trek, from Canberra. I didn't really get into the Spanish stuff but his set was great.
Who'd've thunk it? I just hope it's not another I'm Your Man, where "luminaries" share their uninsightful "insights". Their music speaks for itself.
Yep, fast times in Hồ Chí Minh City. After the right driver of my (model number lost to history) Sony earbuds died, with more urgency I went looking this afternoon for a pair of headphones that would do some kind of justice to the Dirty Three's Indian Love Song (there's some great dynamics at the start and towards the end) and fit into my pocket. Now, in Hồ Chí Minh City electronics comes in two kinds: authentic expensive stuff and cheap knock-offs. The range at the bottom is huge and uniformly crap, and if one wants something decent one has to fork out and moreover search damn hard.
So, after visiting twenty or more shops selling rubbish, including an abortive and attitude-souring trip out to the "electronics market" in District 10, I headed back to ezone on Tôn Thất Tùng in D1, an apparently unofficial Apple store. They sold me these Shures for $US90, a remarkably modest $US25 markup on Amazon's price. They didn't take Visa, so I had to find an ATM and hand them a brick of cash.
If anyone believes that a fully free market is the solution to the world's ills, then I suggest they come here and try to buy something at a reasonable price in a reasonable time frame. Given the weak state of IP, consumer protection and related laws, the usual signals (brand names, trademarks, price, shop location, etc.) are highly unreliable.
As for the headphones themselves, well, they fit so snugly into my ears that they will surely cause me to have an accident while walking the streets of this town. Conversely eating, drinking or even talking with them on is mildly unpleasant, as one's skull becomes (even more of) an echo chamber.