Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Los Campesinos, You Say Party! We Say Die!, The Parenthetical Girls, The Plaza, Vancouver, June 1, 2008

gareth!Things are getting kinda ridiculous - it's been exactly a month since I updated this blog, and I've got a backlog of 11 shows to write about, all of which I have incredibly charming and wonderful things to write about (or not - does anyone really wanna read a clumsily assembled argument about why baseball is better than basketball, and therefore, rocknroll is better than dance music?).

But because I've run out of excuses, and because I've already seen the episode of Beauty and the Geek that I'm currently sitting in front of (and that is a show I could totally excel on), I should probably get the feet wet again. And you'll be pleased to know that democracy is, in fact dead, because despite asking for submissions on which show review to write first, I've gone with something completely different entirely.

Sunday night began with an excursion to see my favourite band of the past 9 months, Los Campesinos!. I've had a little bit of a Los Camps! problem since someone pointed my to their Myspace page in January 2007, and while I can see how you could find the male singer's voice annoying, and the glockenspiel-fueled wall of noise is a matter of personal taste, their boy/girl charm, lyrical wit, punctuational appropriateness and Pavement-referencing awesomeness had me hooked from the first, well, hook.

The attraction soon turned into an obsession, which this year saw me purchase two copies of their debut LP, Hold On Now, Youngster, one downloaded from iTunes, and another physical copy, just because I wanted the artwork (downloaded music is so aesthetically unsatisfying, even with the fancy graphics on my iPod). The record has been keeping me in oh-so-witty facebook statuses for the last 3 months (example - "G-there were conversations about which Breakfast Club you'd be - I'd be the one that dies A- no one dies G- well then what's the point?.”) and accompanying me on late night walks home, much to the chagrin of the unfortunate folk who live close enough to the granville street bridge to hear me singing as I walk across it at 4 in the morning.

So, like a 14-year old girl going to a Fall Out Boy show, I was lined up outside the Plaza just a tick after 7pm, with the other 14-year old girls, who probably also like Fall Out Boy (on that point I'm guessing, but the two bands aren't that far apart). Being an all ages show, I'd come prepared, by getting drunk much much earlier in the afternoon, which was a worthwhile endeavour, as there was nary a drink to be had in the Plaza (surely they could open the upstairs bar and just keep the kids out - not that I want to seem like a crotchety old drunk).

Supporting this evening, and on the rest of the tour (and who I suspect were unceremoniously bumped to a ridiculous 7.30pm time slot by the other support band) were The Parenthetical Girls, out of Portland, Or. Featuring a lead singer that resembled the guy from Criminal Minds that dresses nerdy on the show, but that you know is probably a male model in real life (IMDB check - turns out I was right), a moustachioed gentleman in a vaudevillian striped jacket, and a pretty wee thing playing keyboard, they kicked off with the singer wending his way through the crowd to sing the opening number. Like a less dancy Of Montreal (the comparison could possibly attributed to the singer's effeminate stage presence), they shimmied through a series of tunes, that I wish I'd been paying more attention to (there seemed to be an outstanding amount of instrument swapping), and had the audacity to claim that this was "the most punctuationally outstanding bill they'd been on", but I was slightly distracted by the fact that Gareth Campesinos was standing in front of me.

Like the aforementioned 14 year old girl, I was desperately wracking my brain for something, witty, charming, and knowledgeable to drop in to casual conversation, eliciting an invitation to come backstage and drink their contraband alcohol (part of me wanted to meet the band, but most of me was just getting really thirsty by this point). So, after 3 songs of such deliberation, the Parenthetical Girls finished, and it was my time. So I stepped up, and delivered my line:

"So, what time do you guys go on?"
"About 9.30"

After which he gave me a look that said "I pity you for being a clumsy fan-boy, but I also understand, because I've done that too".

After that, it was time to drink, so we nipped across the road for a quick pint, stopping first to purchase a t-shirt from the drummer, and then do a complete about face as I walked outside and the bassist was standing out there alone smoking. Did I stop, and invite her across the road for a drink, or say something witty? Nope. Instead I decided to stare at her for a couple of seconds, before turning around again to continue crossing the road.

After the interlude, we returned to the second headliner, You Say Party! We Say Die!, who are a Vancouver live staple, that I'm yet to have the pleasure of experiencing.

They began with a quick warm up stretch, and a quick bout of call and response (you say! we say!) and launched into a multi-instrument, high energy spree of pop songs. The dude with the emo haircut danced angularly, and I found myself shaking along, but I again found myself distracted. For the rest of Los Campesinos! had decided that next to me would be a great place to stand and watch the band. LC! and YSP!WSD! toured Europe together last year, and the two bands obviously hit it off, as the kids from Los Campesinos! had set up shop not far from the front of stage. Also, they had alcohol, although they weren't sharing. I stood on Aleksandra Campesinos' toe at one point, during a bout of overenthusiastic shimmying, and she apologized to me, which I thought was a nice touch.

Los Camps! were invited up on stage to play and sing along during one of YSP!'s final numbers, and between the two bands, there were about 12 people on stage, clapping hands and singing songs, and it looked and sounded pretty good. Next time I see You Say Party! We Say Die!, I'm going to have to make a point of paying more attention.

Los Campesinos! proper hit the stage next, and by this point I'd worked myself into a fairly feverish fit of anticipation. The drummer, who looks like a 16 year old child, stripped off his shirt within 15 seconds of being on stage, to reveal a 16 year old's body (not that I'm in any position to be casting aspersions on others' pectoral physique), and the other 6 members assumed their positions.They kicked off with the shouted 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 intro to "Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats", and a sizeable portion (which in vancouver, translates to roughly 30%) of the crowd start jiggling and pogoing in time. The primary strengths of the LC! sound are all quite nicely encapsulated in this one tune - from the off-key shout-singing of Gareth's verses, the sugary cooing of Aleksandra's choruses, and the wall of guitar/glockenspiel/violin sound in betwee, coupled with some wtf lyrics that sound much too intelligent for a 3 minute dance pop song ("Singing I see songs in shapes and colours/Like nuclear physics or pottery ovens").

After a few songs it became apparent that things weren't going too well on the sound front - half the stage couldn't hear anything through their monitors, which means they were pretty much playing blind, and there were a couple of mis-steps that were probably due to this. The singer quipped "when you go home and blog about this, make sure you mention that we couldn't hear ourselves". Consider it done.
Otherwise, pretty much every song on "Hold On Now, Youngster", got a showing, along with the International Tweexcore Underground. Their outstanding rendition of Pavement's Frontwards was prefaced with "hi we're Los Campesinos!, and this next song isn't one of ours, which is probably a good thing - it's by a band called Pavement". I wanted to grab the 14 year old kids by their collars and shout "Pavement are the best band in the universe, look them up, appreciate them, and then appreciate the fact that LC! took a middling EP b-side and turned it into an anthemic call to arms. So much style that it's wasted, indeed.

The main set finished up with a stirring rendition of "You Throw Parties! We Throw Knives!", featuring another on stage appearance from You Say Party! We Say Die!, before disappearing backstage. They got called back for an encore, and I thought they were going to rise to the occasion and forgo the obligatory, but they popped back for the bonus track off the record, "2007, the year punk rock broke my heart", which ends in a satisfying fortress of noise, which was an appopriate way to go out.
And then I was turfed onto the street, to find it was only 10pm, and I could still get home and to bed at a reasonable hour. Maybe all ages shows aren't that bad, after all.

I'm heading to Music Waste tomorrow, and I'm excited. I actually ended up at the opening night at Fake Jazz at the Cobalt, "Vancouver's Hardcore Bar". It was the weekly Fake Jazz, which is an experimental music showcase, and while Ejaculation Death Rattle is an outstanding name, detuned saxophones, violins, and miscellaneous knob twiddling from a dude in a cop moustache is not my cup of tea, at least not on a wednesday. At least there was a full house, and I knocked out a high score on the PacMan machine (crushing the hopes and dreams of the young man who highscored before me, who was pretty happy with his performance).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

something much more exciting than the democratic nomation race

So, life gets in the way of blog sometimes, and there's a live show backlog that would put Chinese Democracy to shame. In order to organize the trickle of these items into a meaningful order, I'm leaving it up to you, my faithful readers (yes, both of you) to request what you want first. Here's your options:

Daniel Johnston
Stephen Malkmus
The Kills
The Cure
The Decemberists (w/ Barack Obama)
Simian Mobile Disco
Queens of the Stone Age
Mars Volta
The Dirtbombs
The Von Bondies
Los Campesinos

Votes on the back of the postcard to the usual address (or for those of you who are into this new-fangled world-wide-internetweb, you can use the comments thread).


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mobius Band, Black Kids, Cut Copy, Richards on Richards, Vancouver, April 29, 2008

Things have been kinda crazy of late, and there's a blog backlog of unprecedented proportions. I've been to a bunch of shows of late that I'm yet to write about, but sometimes necessity prevents doing things in chronological order. So with deep apologies to Daniel Johnston, Simian Mobile Disco, Stephen Malkmus and the Queens of the Stone Age, I hereby present a stirring account of my night out at the Black Kids et al.

To say I was excited about the show this evening would be an understatement. I still remember the first time I played a Black Kids song (which is not that much of a nostalgic stretch, given that it was less than 9 months ago), but I remember finding it somewhere on the internet while mid-conversation with a young lady. The title caught my attention to begin, but within a dozen bars the conversation had ceased due to my distraction and the sheer catchiness pumping out of the stereo. I don't believe the young lady in question was happy, but I didn't even notice.

Within a week or so I'd downloaded their Internet-only Wizard of Aaahs EP, and those 4 songs soon came to soundtrack my weekend. Hurricane Jane became my Friday afternoon, driving home from work, blow out, Not Gonna Teach was my pre-night-out anthem, and Underestimated my Charm was a Sunday morning hangover cure of the finest calibre.

News that they were to be playing as part of the post-Coachella caravan of quality music up the west coast was greated with great anticipation, so I was pretty excited to be rolling in to Richards at a gig-appropriate time on a Tuesday night.

First up were Brooklyn's the Mobius Band. Apart from the outstanding name, they're notable for a drummer with outstanding painfully contorted facial expressions (and it has already been noted in these very pages that this is an essential element of any successful live show), some interesting drum effects boxes, dual singers, one of which looked a little like a guy i used to know, and some laid back country/electronic Lucksmiths-esque pop songs of a relatively high standard. It didn't send me rushing for the merch table, but it could be worth investigating further. But to be honest, my affections were promised to another.

The Black Kids were up next, and they strolled out to a packed house and some cheers. The lead singer, Reggie, sports an impressive mop of curly hair, which probably doesn't suit his face shape, but looks goddamn impressive when shaken in time to a pop song. The two girls manning the keys/organ/electronic shimmy and shake while hunched over their instruments, while cooing Supremes-esque backing vocals into the mix, and the drummer and bassist are ice-cold, barely breaking a sweat as they hold down the bottom end.

It's always a risk going to see a band play when their recorded output amounts to 6 songs (of which one is a Sophie B. Hawkins cover), but the Black Kids weren't wanting for material. All 5 non-Sophie B tracks (alas, Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover didn't make an appearance this evening) were featured, and elicited head nods, mis-steps, and over-enthusiastic air-punching in the "DANCE DANCE DANCE DANCE" crescendo of "Not gonna teach" (or maybe that was just me).

Reggie has a cultured arrogance about him on stage, which is something I admire in all my pop-rock heroes, but the stars of the show are the two girls on the keys, who bop, hunched over their instruments, all the while grinning from ear to ear, as if they've just realized that they get to spend the rest of their summer, and possibly much further, playing upbeat pop songs to packed houses the continent (and world) over.

There were a bunch of new songs, that I've seen bootlegged on blogs across the 'web, but the most memorable was one called "I Wanna Be Your Limousine", which was introduced with the lead in "this is gonna be one of your monster jamz, yo", and shimmies all over with Prince-baiting glory.

So, the sound was rubbish, but I was still pretty stoked with my Black Kids experience. And I left with a most fetching "I'm not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance with you t-shirt".

After that, I was in excitement hangover, so I moved to the back of the room for Cut Copy. It pains the music perfectionist in me that I spent many years of my life being subjected to Australian music by default (and to be honest, enjoying most of it a great deal), but I'd never really heard of Cut Copy. I'm familiar with the school of Australian indie dance music, and I must admit I was expecting something a little different than what I got.

Which was New Order. I don't know if it's because most of the bands I see live have north american accents, and I've forgotten what a good antipodean singing voice sounds like, but all the rattling hi-hats, the nasal vocals, and the crazy kids jumping and bopping around made me feel like I was in Manchester in the mid-80s. Or at a rugby league stadium in the early 2000s, which was the last time I saw New Order.

I don't mean the comparison as a bad thing, and while certain elements may sound a little like them, their songs are completely different. Apparently Duran Duran were also playing that evening, and the band thanked us for choosing them over Simon leBon et al (although I'm told Duran Duran did a pretty impressive Kraftwerk tribute/takeoff).

Unfortunately, I'm a little short on Cut Copy details, but I do know that they finished the set off with kids dancing on the pillars at the front of the stage, and with my favourite rock and roll set closing move, which was the singer and keyboard player grabbing a spare drumstick and pounding away on the cymbals while the drummer kept time. I think the best example I've scene of this was at the Franz Ferdinand secret show in 2005, but this one comes a close second.

Righto, Daniel Johnston, Simian Mobile Disco, Queens of the Stone Age, Stephen Malkmus and hopefully Dirtbombs reviews to follow. Watch this space.

Monday, April 28, 2008

King Cannons, the Rebelles, Atsushi and the Moisties: The Thirsty Dog, Auckland: April 12, 2008

Shamefully, this was my first time at the Thirsty Dog. It won't be my last: anywhere with live music yet carpets this plush deserves a second visit. Squares that we are, we were a little early - I'm getting awfully confused in my old age about whether a rock gig that says it starts at 9:00 starts at 9:00 or at 11:45, and I've been burned a few times recently. Anyhow, there were cosy benches, a stereo with various Clash and Mescaleroes records on shuffle and a handy system where my coloured bits of paper can be exchanged for their bottles of cold beer, so passing the time was easy.

Atsushi and the Moisties have a memorably awful name and a handy brass section who like to dance when not musically employed. Atsushi himself wears a cow costume and plays a mean guitar; it was unclear whether the gentleman in the front row in a similar outfit was a Moisties associate or just a particularly dedicated fan. I've never quite decided how I feel about ska: I'm pretty confident there's only been one ska song ever written, and every ska band plays it eleven times each night (I'd wager the name Rudy in the title somewhere), but it's a pretty decent tune to hear a few times on a saturday night after a few beverages. Given the dancing horn section and the multiple bovines, vocals would have been one gimmick too many, but if you're after an instrumental ska band to open your night, you won't go too wrong with the Moisties.

I'd seen the Rebelles once before, as the post-game entertainment at a roller derby, which was about as perfect a venue for their three girl, one boy ramalama as you could get. Here, they blitzed through about 15 songs in around 20 minutes and still found time to incite a human pyramid in the front rows. Their singer's Kat Bjelland / Poly Styrene-styled voice is a powerful thing, and carrying on singing without missing a beat even when being tackled to the ground by your fans is pretty impressive. I'm not sure how the Rebelles would fare as headliners, given the brevity of the tunes and the intensity with which they are played, but if a short, sharp statement is what you want, they do a fine job.

The King Cannons sound is reggae bottom end with a punk sensibility, buttoned-up Ben Sherman style. The band is new to me, but they've been round long enough to have a record for sale behind the bar, and long enough to know just how to work a friendly crowd such as this. I'm trying awfully hard not to use the word skanking, but even someone as allergic to reggae as me was getting into the rhythm, and the Cannons' stage presence is undeniable. Faithfully covering "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" is a pretty decent way to get the non-believers on board too...

Taking advantage of free tickets (thanks, job) to the unfortunately deserted *mantis show at Rising Sun was a nice way to finish off the evening: following up a punk reggae act with a hip hop gig was almost too unusual for my poor little brain, but some comfortably familiar squid rings at the Burgerie, just like after every rock show ever, sorted me out just fine. Take note, indie kids - if you're worried you're expanding your musical horizons a little too much, greasy takeaways do a pretty good take-two-aspirins-and-call-me-in-the-morning job

Monday, April 21, 2008

Joe's Garage, The Roxy, April 12, 2008

Disclaimer - the post that follows has nothing to do with music or anything interesting. It's also woefully out of date, but I didn't want to push the excellent Wilco review below the fold.
In these uncertain times, it can be difficult to know which way is up, and which way is down (especially when you move to the other side of the world and find that the water in the toilet doesn't actually flush in the opposite direction - if I had a dollar for everyone I've tried to explain the coriolis effect to, and who hasn't been convinced until I took them to the bathroom and proved that I could make the water go down in different directions based on whether I used the hot or cold tap to fill the basin.)

So, in order to make sense of life, and to give myself a basis to construct my ideological framework around, there are 3 facts that I know irrefutably to be true, that I can fall back on in times of self-doubt and crisis. They are:

1. Pearl Jam suck more cock than you do.
2. Bacon improves any food it is combined with.
3. If you play Prince in any social situation that includes a dancefloor, that dancefloor will fill with people.

Or so I thought.

But Saturday night, at the Roxy, I saw the opposite of #3 occur, where Let's Go Crazy sent them running for the bar, the toilets, the smoking area, and the exits. As my entire DJ career was based around the fact that even after I'd bore people into submission with obscure Norwegian pop-tarts, I could still fill the floor with the Purple one, and it pained me to see the exodus.

It was at this point that I stopped, and thought, how did I get here?

Well, I have a little bit of a drinking problem. Mainly the problem is that I quite enjoy it, and I'm remarkably good at it. But sometimes it leads me to say and do things that I end up cringing about the next day. For example, I vaguely remember telling a random stranger on Friday night that, when you strip it down to its base elements, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is essentially no different than "The Macarena" (and no, I'm not going to link to it - nobody needs to endure that). No matter that it was part of an elaborately constructed argument about how a classic pop song is nothing more than a couple of melodic hooks, it was an entirely inappropriate conversational subject for a chance meeting with a random stranger, and a remarkably stupid thing to say. And who do I have to blame? Well, mostly myself, but Mr Alcohol also needs to take some responsibility.

This same problem saw me lined up outside the Roxy on Saturday night. The Roxy represents different things to different people, but among my circle of acquaintances it is the very epitome of the trainwreck that is most of the bars in the Granville Street corridor in downtown Vancouver. There's always a line outside, that never seems to move anywhere, and the people in that lineup always look like bridge-and-tunnel kids. Having said all that, I've never actually been inside. So, when the chance came up head out for a few drinks with a friend, and he mentioned that he had some other friends heading to the Roxy, I was initially apprehensive, but eventually curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to tag along.

The Roxy was much bigger than I'd imagined, and the stage was filled with an assortment of gentlemen that looked like their best years were behind them. The lead singer looked a little like the lead singer of the woefully underrated band Auckland band of the late 90's, Pash. (who in turn looks like the guy in the Something About Mary duo that's not Jonathan Richman).

They were halfway through a Cars cover (sadly, not My Best Friend's Girl) as we walked in. While it was kinda empty as we showed up (were it not for the swift action of a friend of a friend, we would have been stuck at the back of a remarkably long line, which is just wrong for 8.40pm on a Saturday night), it soon filled with a crowd that seemed to be entirely comprised either with single women in their late twenties to early thirties without any imagination, who couldn't think of anywhere else to go on their one night out this month, and kids from the burbs who were there to prey on the others.

The band were unashamedly competent, as most covers bands are, and probably better paid than 90% of all bands I normally see (with the possible exception of Radiohead - I heard a rumour they're getting paid $600,000 to pay the Outside Lands festival in San Fran this summer), but the members looked like they were once contemporaries with the bands they were covering (and that they hadn't changed their wardrobes since the mid 80s). They also have the worst band name I've ever heard.

The keyboardist did China Girl with the third-best Bowie voice I'd ever heard live (after Mr Christopher Burton, and the man himself, in that order), but I suspect he was grotesquely ugly, as they made him stand behind a pillar. Occasionally they dipped into regions of the classic rock playbook that I'm not a huge fan of airing (for some reason, I never got the attraction of Journey), but for the most part, it was most enjoyable (although this is coming from someone whose standing orders for his tombstone are "Here Lies Glenn, he knew how to dance to classic rock" - although "Here Lies Glenn, who was tragically murdered by pirates" is running a close second).

The portions of the night where the band took a break were less enjoyable, and were the scene of the aforementioned Prince abomination. Luckily by that time my attention had been distracted by copious amounts of alcohol, and an empty ice bucket, so it didn't really matter.

PS - I've got a backup of show reviews that's nearly 3 posts long - I'll try and get one a night out through this week, now that I'm no longer working 12 hour days (and drinking for a good portion of the other 12 hours in the day). Not that anyone cares.

PPS - the overall air of smug superiority that invariably weaves its way through this post, is more a quirk of my particular writing style, and not really how I feel about people that go to the Roxy, and bars just like it (every town has one) the world over. I just can't help the way I write.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wilco; Opera House, Wellington, NZ; Easter Monday

While the metal hordes who had descended upon Wellington like a late 80s coked-up Ozzy to a line of ants (just read The Dirt whydoncha) were so very conspicuous, it would have been hard to guess that Wilco were playing if you were unlucky enough not to have a ticket. No posters up around town, not even at the venue, and the stylishly nerdy crowd of Tweedy enthusiasts beating their way to the Opera House blended in pretty nicely with Monday night Welly. Check shirts, quality pullovers, sensible footwear and trendy specs are part of the uniform in NZ's best, smartest city, and staying under the radar isn't too tough after a weekend where leather vests and studded codpieces seemed strangely appropriate.

Miriam Clancy was first up: Doc Matrens, pregnant tum and a big voice that comfortably filled the hushed, seated venue. The Opera House was an excellent choice of venue: like the Ryan Adams shows last year, the choice of an all-seater seemed to be well-received by an audience who were more than happy to sit down, shut up and listen from the moment the curtain opened. A loud, solo voice in a quiet room always makes the hairs on my neck stand up, and "Girl About Town" and "The Game" were powerfully performed: the latter's unfaithful lover / game of cards metaphors come close to being overplayed, but when cheerfully dedicated to a chap in the audience, the "You cheated on me" chorus packs some punch.

I latched on to Wilco quite late in the piece. Friends dug them, but at the time of their early 00s Big Day Out appearance, I opted to see the D4 for the umpteenth time on the other stage (and lost both shoes in the process, but that's a very different story). I finally cottoned on though, and hungrily tucked into the back catalogue. I'd never seen them live however - I even lived in their home town of Chicago for a while and still couldn't swing it: they played the day I arrived, the day after I left and a couple of times when I was out of town. So this was big news in my world: I was pretty excited about KISS, Alice and what was once Ozzy, but this was something else again...

It began with a lot of cheering, some shy waves and "Sunken Treasure". That Tweedy-centric opener was a bit of a curveball: for the first forty five minutes or so it was the Nels Cline show. He was on seated slide duties for the first song, but soon became the dominant presence on stage. Six-foot-lots in blood red jeans, looking for all the world like Britt Daniel’s crazy European uncle, he jerkily punished his guitar, throwing angular shapes over cracking versions of “You Are My Face” and “Company in My Back”. After six or seven songs we hadn’t even got a hello from the singer, but this never seemed standoffish or rude, just a man happy to forget the niceties and keep playing songs with the best set of musicians he’s ever been involved with. By reputation he can be prickly and curt on-stage, but when the greetings finally came, it was clear this was a relaxed and confident Jeff Tweedy. A few off-hand jokes about the weekend’s metal shows followed, and later he would even stop “Red Eyed and Blue” mid-song for a pretty sharp Ozzy impression.

Sometimes bands who enjoy changing direction on record struggle to put together a coherent live set, with stylistic changes from disparate albums jarring when mixed together live. I had wondered (until Kicking Television at least) whether this would be the case with Wilco, given the various tangents their albums have taken. Like the live album though, this set came together seamlessly – with the pop heart of the more experimental album tracks like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” exposed, and the straighter tunes like “A Shot in the Arm” given a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-style roughing up.

Prior to this show, I didn’t rate a number of the Sky Blue Sky tracks as highly as others in the back catalogue, but tunes like “Impossible Germany” and “Side With the Seeds” were made for this kind of setting, their lengthy instrumental parts showcasing the brilliant musicianship of the current line-up. Glenn Kotche’s drumming is a key part of the latter-day Wilco sound, but it looks fantastic too, all jazzy flicks and fencing with the ride. Bassist John Stirratt’s impeccable backing vocals were also prominent, but it was hard not to focus on Cline, his lanky, jerky style belying an incredible dexterity. Cline’s skills were easy to contrast with the public guitar solo-off or Zakk Wylde’s lone shredfest at Rock2Wgtn – here, the solos made absolute sense with the song, rather than being just an aimless pissing contest. The fingers may not have moved quite as supersonically over the frets as those in the Cake Tin, and he probably can’t play behind his head or with his teeth, but I know who I’d rather be on Guitar Hero, and he ain’t the guy with the black and white circles on his guitar.

It wasn’t all layers, textures and dueling guitars – the likes of “Reservations”, “How to Fight Loneliness” and a gorgeous version of Mermaid Avenue's “California Stars” helped keep the light and shade balance. Encore one brought us back to Being There, and the straight-ahead country rock of “Monday” and “I Got You” sounded almost crude in comparison to what had come before – great, potent songs, but easy to see why they are kept separate from the main set. Encore two, never in doubt for a crowd who had long since given up on the idea of a seated gig (and kudos to you, lady who started the dancing), had to be “Kidsmoke”, and we piled out into the night, deaf and grinning.

We walked home past the last few hangers on in souvenir metal tees, and I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for them: even without pyro or a dragon, they’d just missed easily the best show of the weekend. Maybe I just needed a bit more sleep, a bit less of a holiday diet and a couple of nights without a rock gig but a killer plan hit me: give Tweedy some fake blood and a flying fox to the back row and they’d be utterly unstoppable…

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, The Commodore, Vancouver, April 5

If there's one topic I'm not at all qualified to write about, it's local Vancouver bands. I've been in this town for less than 2 years, and for reasons beyond my control, I've only been gig-active for about a year. Having said that, the fact that so many touring bands come through town means I only occasionally end up seeing local bands in small venues.

In good old Auckland town, local bands are pretty much the only option you have, and luckily there's a bunch of good ones to see. In any given weekend you've got a choice of 4 or 5 excellent bands, that you listen to on the radio all week. The other perk is that there's about 100 people that go to shows and clubnights regularly, many of whom are in bands themselves, so you become intimately familiar with the love lives, habitual substance abuse, and tendencies for self-harm of the members of all your favourite bands.

It took me seven or eight years of gig attendance to obtain that level of familiarity with the scene and it's key players, and in Vancouver, I just don't possess the knowledge of the history of the scene to write with any real authority on the subject, when others cover it so much better than I can. Having said that, because I'm an obstinate ass, I'm going to try, regardless.

So after a most enjoyable art opening, where I got to see some fine people, some fine art, a couple of tasty beverages, and some parking lot frustration, we got to the Commodore just as Ladyhawk were kicking off their set.

When I first got to Vancouver, I was quite enamoured with the Commodore, it's a great space, and when you're as tall as I am, you can get a great view from anywhere. I've got friends that don't like it that much, and while it's not as intimate as somewhere like Richards, for a larger venue, it still has a great feel, and it's got 4 (count 'em) bars, which speaks to me in a way that few other venue features do.

As we walked in, the sold-out Commodore was pretty full. Since I last saw Ladyhawk I've been dabbling with some of their stuff, and I'm quite taken with it. I was reading a story in the local free streetmag on them while waiting for my burger this evening, and the story made much of their Neil Young grungey tendencies, which are certainly prevalent, but like the godfather of flannel, their songs also have the same melodic backbone that is such a feature of Young's material.

The band's set was snappy and sharp, and the bassist unleashed a waterfall of hair with such ferocity that I wager he was nursing a remarkably sore neck the next morning.

Right now is where I admit that I've never listened to a Black Mountain song all the way through before. While I like to listen to as much music as I can, I'm also (especially at this point in time) an impatient listener with the attention span of a gnat. If I haven't heard a pop hook in the first 90 seconds, I'll normally give up on it. As most Black Mountain embody the very definition of "slow-burning", that's normally where I tap out. I also like to go to shows where I'm not familiar with the band with an open mind - if I'm going to hear their stuff for the first time, I'd rather hear it live at the show, than indulge in a pre-show cram session to try and force myself to become familiar beforehand.

However, I appreciate that Black Mountain and their assorted offshoots/side projects have a long and storied history in the Vancouver musical landscape, and while I have assimilated an idea of what I was in store for from conversations with friends and magazines. Also, there was idle chatter (and it was incredibly idle) with a filmmaking friend about filming a Black Mountain video in my orange, sponge-painted kitchen.

So as Black Mountain walked out to a psychadelic light show and a wall of smoke (most of which seemed to be British Columbia's finest and generated by the crowd), I was a picture of curiosity. Black Mountain consist of a bearded guitarist with a penchant for Zeppelin licks, a keyboardist, who stands in a console surrounded by a keyboard, an organ, and a Moog, a drummer, and a cute female singer with a maracas, a floppy fringe, and a cute dress (and yes, I realize I used the "c" word twice in that sentence).

They specialise in dense, loud, dark jam rock that inspires communal synchronised head-nodding, and for the forty minutes or so of the band's set, I was having a pretty good time (although not nearly as good the guy who pumped his fists, enthusiastically through the entire show - I don't think there was a single beat that wasn't marked with a shake of this man's forearm). The crowd was incredibly stylish, the wall of tall people in front of me was proving my tall-person/musical taste hypothesis true, and the other outlandish claim I'd made earlier in the day was also proving true (which will remain undefined).

So, in short, Black Mountain were enjoyable, if a little prog for my taste. That was, until the encore. After a blissfully short pre-encore break, the band picked up tools again, and launched into a 12 minute bass jam, which was at least 11 minutes too long. When the singer in the band starts looking bored, and most of the audience is looking around for something else to do, you know it's probably time to start playing another instrument, or drop into a chorus of some fashion.

However, all told, my first Black Mountain experience was a good one, I think I'll just quietly slip out pre-encore next time. Which also has the advantage of making the coat-check line so much easier.

So I went home, and listened to a series of sub-2 minute pop songs, just to recalibrate, and I went to sleep satisfied with my weekend's activities.

PS - In pre-set conversation a friend and I were unable to name the 4th character in the village people lineup - we had the indian, the construction worker, and the policeman, but the fourth was eluding us. After asking the internet, it turns out there's six of them, and we missed the moustachioed motorcyclist, the GI and the cowboy.

The Satellite Nation, Whitfield, The Bourbon, Vancouver, April 4, 2008

I told myself I wasn't going to post about Friday night - both the band and the venue have been covered at length previously, and I didn't really feel like I had anything of note to add.

But then I sat down Sunday evening to put together a 3 hour presentation about the joys of Finite Element Analysis for evaluating stress in structures and products, which I'm giving in ten days time and still haven't really started, and decided that pretty much anything is an improvement on doing that. It seems like every time I'm under serious pressure to get anything done (exam times, during work crunch), I find ways of procrastinating and doing something completely different. For example, my house was never cleaner than it was during exam time, and during one particularly stressful period, I decided I'd take a day and a half out to teach myself how to do cryptic crosswords.

Anyway, Friday night it was back to the Bourbon for a second peek this year at The Satellite Nation, Vancouver's finest transplanted Australian modern rock band. We walked in to the final strains of the support, Whitfield, who were plodding their way through a number that sounded like Pablo Honey-era Radiohead. Turned out that it might have been just that, as their closing song was a Muse cover. Whitfield were notable for two things:

1. Their bassist played a Thunderbird. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I'm in love with said piece of machinery, so after seeing one in the hands of a mediocre local band, I thought that I may be able to get one for myself, just to keep on a stand in the corner of the room (all I know how to play on the bass is a series of Pavement songs, and the riff from Gigantic, and it doesn't seem right to play Pavement songs on that). However, after researching the cost, I realized that the bassist from Whitfield either has a) more money than sense, or b) a copy.

2. They employed one of the best set-closing manouvres I've seen for a little while. The singer finished the last verse, and walked off stage. The band continued to play another couple of bars, before the lead guitarist rang out a note, put his guitar down, and walked off, followed a couple of bars later by the bassist, and finally the drummer. It's obviously a move they stole from The Alpha Males international pop hit "Taken" (83 plays in 2 years, and counting) and it was great. However, the effect was diminished somewhat by the fact that they rushed back on stage to pack up their gear about 15 seconds after the drummer had walked off, while the sustain was still ringing out.

I bumped into the guitarist for The Satellite Nation before they went on stage, and found that it was his birthday, and that he'd been celebrating appropriately. The mark of a true rock star is the ability to play competent rockandroll despite being fall-down drunk, and the young man in question confirmed that he is part of that lofty pantheon already. The band were as tight as ever, and still look like they suit a much bigger stage. It says something both about the type and quality of their songs that the person standing next to me said to me "I've seen these guys 3 times, but I know most of the words to their songs". The songs follow a fairly set formula, but they don't skimp on the pop hooks, which makes it pretty fun to watch. These guys also do their best to look good on stage, and it makes a big difference, I'll never forget how underwhelmed I was when I saw a band in Vancouver wearing flannel shirts and sweatpants.

Again, post-show there was an appearance by the world's weirdest DJ (my favourite 3 song stretch went Justice>Beatles>Justin Timberlake), and dance floor silliness ensued. I vaguely remember trying to teach someone how to emulate my not-graceful-at-all spin, and also picking up an australian and jumping up and down, but that might be my imagination. It was that kind of night.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rock2Wgtn festival: Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, Alice Cooper, Poison, Whitesnake, Lordi: Cake Tin, Wellington, NZ: Easter weekend

Metal, eh? We've all loved it at some point in our lives: some passionately in teenage bedrooms feeling that no-one understands me better than these gloomy chaps in black; some fist-pumpingly in the car with the windows down and the stereo on full; some slurringly in drunken singalongs in skody bars with their new best mates; some ironically for the rich vein of so-bad-it's-good fashion and imagery. For many it's a vaguely embarassingly reminder of past musical taste, or a guilty pleasure to be revisited only on Singstar or Guitar Hero. For others though it's still what they live and breathe, and an awful lot of the Newzuld chapter were in Wellington over Easter for what was billed as the biggest ever concert in the shaky isles: two nights of metal mayhem in the Cake Tin (Westpac Stadium to its mum), with added special effects from Weta Workshops of Lord of the Rings fame.

Metal got it's claws into me at late primary school: Open Up and Say Aah!, Appetite for Destruction and New Jersey were the tapes to be swapping in the playground in late 80s Howick. It didn't last, however: though some of my friends made it past the Sunset Stripper sound and into Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, I veered off into grunge, then Britpop and then classic rock radio. This introduced me to Led Zep, Sabbath and KISS: I was already starting to develop a sense of snobbery towards anyone with a Master of Puppets t-shirt, but tapping into the source material seemed ok, and legitimised rocking out once in a while when no-one was looking. When I told workmates I was heading down to Wellington for the shows, I got a few quizzical comments: "I didn't know you were a bogan". The classic rock defence was an easy counter: these guys are part of rock history and they won't be round much longer. That wasn't the full story though: I was more than a little excited to get my horns out for "Detroit Rock City" and started making a list of Sabbath tunes I hoped Ozzy might throw in (my kingdom for “A National Acrobat”...)

Pretty quickly though, I felt like a bit of a tourist. On the plane down and wandering up Cuba Street, it was readily apparent who was in town for the show and who wasn't. I thought a pair of black jeans and an admittedly non-band black tee might get me in costume, but I was looking markedly Poindexter next to the sea of faded and ripped Blizzard of Ozz shirts, Symphony of Destruction patches sewn onto jackets, Zeppelin hoodies, Doc Martens and KISS face paint. Lock up your daughters, metal was in town.

The Cake Tin itself is probably the country's best sports ground: newer and with less history and character than other stadia, but a shining example of how to design, locate and build a bloody good rugby park. Even the most ardent supporter of Eden Park, the Basin or the 'Brook warms to the Cake Tin once they realise they can get a beer or go for a pee without queuing for an hour, and the concoursed walk to the ground builds up a cracking atmosphere. It was pretty cold in windy Welly but most of the crowd had only a black tee and a skinful of bourbon and coke to keep them warm. The t-shirt parade was great: about seven different KISS farewell tours; a surprising number of death and black metal shirts (surprising given that, stage shows and posturing aside, the songs of KISS, Alice Cooper and Lordi are about as heavy as the token rock track on a Pink album; the fact that three of the six bands are involved in grandma-friendly reality TV and another won the not very high cred Eurovision song contest doesn’t seem to faze the Entombed fans either); and a few fantastically obscure numbers (Yngwie Malmsteen, solo Sebastian Bach and the Jeff frickin' Healey Band). I'm pretty sure every second person went straight to the merch stand once they got in too: ticket sales were below expectations, but if the promoter was getting a cut of t-shirt sales he would have been doing just fine. Before the show proper was a radio contest public guitar solo-off: we didn't learn much other than that guitar soloing outside of a song is really, really dull. The chap who tried to do a Hendrix on the Newzuld national anthem got a few cheers, as did the dude playing behind his head, but far and away the biggest cheer was for the guy who dropped in the intro to "Thunderstruck" - at a metal show, in case of emergency break out the AC/DC.

Lordi were first up, and were pretty awful - it must have been a real slow year at Eurovision. The costumes were elaborate: stupid, but impressively so. The Dom Post reviewer rightly saw the resemblance between the drummer and a Gamorrean guard from Return of the Jedi, and the chubster vocalist was rocking the Fraggle Rock trash-heap with bonus wolf-head look. The tunes were terrible, but the crowd didn't seemed to mind, especially the bone-heads who couldn't wait for something better than lame klingon-metal to slam-dance too.

The between-band show was a little disappointing - the Weta Workshops dragon was pretty cool at first, all grand scale puppetry and laser beams (enough to make the slam-dancers start a "Holy shit! Holy shit!" chant), but was starting to wear a little thin by night two after its sixth identical outing. There were some fire dancers and zombie cheerleaders way off in the distance, and a few token local bands (the Valves, Symphony of Screams and Sonic Altar), who all tried hard to widespread indifference. Admirable effort to fill in the gaps between acts, but if there's a next year, then getting a few bigger Kiwi acts might be a better plan: Shihad or the Datsuns, or how about a reformed HLAH?

After Lordi's "Our songs are crap but hey, I'm wearing a monster outfit" shtick, it was up to Alice Cooper to show how them how putting on a show should be done. Decent tunes are pretty important: when you can bang out "No More Mister Nice Guy", "Under My Wheels" and "I'm Eighteen" up front, with your voice sounding even better than your golf game and a slick as hell backing band you've got a good start, but the crowd were here for the full package. And Alice jazzed it up with simple props (his cane, a stack of US dollar bills and strings of pearls to throw to the crowd) or much more elaborate ones. "Welcome to My Nightmare" kick-started a mini stage play, with Alice joined by ghoulish bride and monstrous baby: cue a couple of murders, a straitjacket and a public hanging. This was more like it, although the guy next to me was getting a little too into it. Just prior to Alice offing his bride he chanted "Kill the bitch! Kill the bitch!", and just before the vampire baby was dispatched he yelled "Kill the baby! Kill the baby!": he'd either seen this show before and wanted everyone to know, or was just a homicidal maniac. The real crowdpleaser, though, was "Poison". I was pretty fond of this tune when it came out, but I thought this was just because it sounded pretty badass to a ten year old. Seems like every else here was pretty keen on it too: cue one of the bigger mass singalongs of the weekend. They finished it up with "Elected", supported by his backup actors holding "Alice for President" placards: a cheesy but fitting end to a great set. No boa constrictor, no guillotine, alas, but we’ll still vote for you, Alice.

In between sets, the Jumbotron scanned around the various KISS costumes amongst the crowd. As you'd expect, there were plenty of Simmons and Stanley faces, but a surprising number of kids with Peter Criss facepaint, including solo gig-goers: if you're going with three mates and you draw the short straw, fair enough, but you guys chose to be the crappy one? I bet you think "Beth" isn't a stinker, either. The single best outfit was a rotund fella in full Simmons regalia, including a winged cape and a dangerous looking studded codpiece - where the heck do you buy one of those from in this day and age, and did they let him take it on the plane?

There are quite a few reasons to dislike KISS: they blueprinted the merch-heavy, business-first corporate rock that now dominates our airwaves, and without Gene Simmons there could never have been a Fred Durst. There are many more reasons to like them, though - particularly that KISS RULE! Alice Cooper was a tough act to follow, and in all honesty they didn't quite match him, but anyone who doesn't think cracking stage dressing, slick pyro, six inch platform heels, Paul Stanley flying on a wire over the crowd, Gene spitting blood and a hydraulic drum riser that blasts off upwards isn't cool should probably take themselves less seriously. Where Lordi's costumes and antics seemed a fairly transparent cover for a lack of decent songs, KISS have the tunes to support the fluff, plus they pretty much invented this gimmickry. But do they mean it? The great Tim Rogers has a tune on his second solo record called "Letter to Gene", where a younger Tim writes to the man whose moves he's practised countless times with a tennis racket in front of the mirror and asks: "Tell me Gene, is it just about the money?". You're right, Tim, it is, but I'm not sure that bothers me as much as you. The souvenir KISS t-shirts point out that it's 35 years since these boys started playing, and they must have played "Black Diamond" thousands of times, almost every one with the same cheery, cheesy "You're the best crowd we've ever played to" banter. It's clearly just about the money these days, and it probably always was. That doesn't stop "Detroit Rock City" being freaking awesome though (not even Stanley's worst-of-a-bad-bunch banter can stop it: "Wellington, you've been a great rock city. And here's a song about another rock city - it's called Detroit! Rock! City!"). So even though they are the original soulless money-grubbing corporate rock whores, KISS are choice. The rock snob in me shouldn't be having such a bloody great time, but maybe that's why metal has such enduring popularity: it's nice and easy to turn your brain off, punch your fist and sing along. As the lights go up and the PA blares "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" as we kick through the PET beer bottles to the exit, I almost start having warm and fuzzy thoughts about how nice a community this metal thing builds. At least until the skinhead dude walks past sporting a charming "Christian Scum Die Bleeding" shirt. Happy Easter to you too, bro.

Interlude: we spend Sunday at Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum and general centrepiece of Kiwi culture and learning. And it's packed to the gunnels with metalheads. Every second person seems to have an Iron Maiden patch sewn onto their stonewash denim jacket; there's a guy who looks like Lemmy studying the diorama on global fault lines; someone in a Reign in Blood tee is engrossed in the seabirds of the Pacific display. It's like we're in a strange parallel universe where bogan is the norm, and it's kinda cool...

Day two started with Poison, and if I were them, I’d have been more than a little miffed to be on the bill behind Whitesnake. They didn’t seem to mind though: indeed, the overwhelming vibe was that they were really grateful to be here. As Bret Michaels kept saying, in between thousands of thank yous and Happy Easters, they’re pretty stoked to have been allowed to do this for 20+ years. My gig buddies and I were talking pre-show about some of our favourite one-hit wonder metal songs, and “Cherry Pie” by Warrant came up. Apparently, Mr Warrant absolutely loathes that song – it was the moment they sold out, lost all relevance and became those “Cherry Pie” guys. Contrast that with Bret Michaels, who played “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” with a kind of reverence, recognizing it as the three and a half minutes that has paid for him to party round the world for two decades. He doesn’t care if that’s what they’re remembered for – it bought him a lot of expensive drinks and cheap women. Michaels’ enthusiasm was rather endearing, and his band’s easy-going, goofy stripper-metal was a lot more fun than I expected. Although they’ve ditched the poodle perms, mascara and frills, it’s pretty easy to see why they sold a lot of records to Middle America in the late 80s. It’s very different to the standard perception of metal as outsider music, somehow threatening, though: these are jock-friendly riffs for barbecues after football practice, songs about back seats and drive thrus, about as mainstream as it gets. As the spraytan-orange CC DeVille wailed the solo from “Every Rose”, and the dude in front of us in the leather vest with no shirt underneath hoisted his lighter, it may as well has been Iowa in 1989, and that felt alright. Thank you, Poison, and Happy Easter.

Whitesnake were utterly devoid of merit. Think of everything bad that the term cock rock suggests, and then take away the tunes. David Coverdale strutted about doing his fourth rate Percy Plant impression (little wonder Hammer of the Gods calls him David Coverversion) while a band dressed like the 1983 Slavia Prague third XI out on the town pounded out slick versions of cruddy hard rock that all seemed to have the word love in the title, in front of a banner that very cleverly had a white snake on it. “Here I Go Again” is an admittedly decent song, and inspired another mass singalong, but it just as a reminder of how completely execrable the rest of it was. Poison should have been even more pissed that they were on before these guys after watching an hour of that crap, but I expect they were either knee deep in whisky or politely thanking some groupies by this point.

I hoped Ozzy would be great, and lean heavily on the Sabb, but if I were a betting man it would have been a fiver on it being a total car crash. I didn’t expect a skit show though, so when the video screen played five minutes of clips from famous movies and TV shows with Ozzy spliced in being “hilarious”, it was a strange start. But then there he was, still doddering about like an old man but looking a bit more compos mentis than expected. He’s definitely no longer the Prince of Darkness though: when you see him lumbering around the stage in ill-advised trousers that suggest he may have the saggiest bottom in all of Los Angeles, doing above the head handclaps with a shit-eating grin, it seems rather unlikely that he’d be able to bite the head off a gingerbread man let alone a live bat. The crowd are going bananas, although not bananas enough for Mr Osbourne, who constantly told us we weren’t fucking loud enough. I must confess to not being that familiar with Ozzy’s solo stuff, although familiar enough to know that he was a fair way out of time and key on “Bark At the Moon”. In the main though, his voice wasn’t too bad, and he started hitting his stride on “Mr Crowley” and an amped up version of “War Pigs", complete with wild-eyed Ozzy on the Jumbotron. Then, just as we were getting warmed up, we were treated to a fifteen minute Zakk Wylde solo set (while Ozzy presumably went offstage to have his blood changed or something), which was more proficient but even less interesting than the radio contest from the day before – he should have thrown a few bars of "Back in Black" in to liven things up. The rest of the Cake Tin seemed pretty keen though, and were whipped into a fever by the encore versions of “Mama I’m Coming Home” and a slightly sketchy “Paranoid”. I was glad I’d seen Ozzy before his brain turns completely into soup, but unlike Alice Cooper, KISS and Poison, I think I was about 20 years too late to catch a great performance.

Wilco review to follow…

(reposted at http://www.undertheradar.co.nz/utr/liveReview/CID/7/N/Rock2wgtn.utr and NZ musician magazine)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vampire Weekend, YACHT, Richards on Richards, Vancouver, March 27

To say I was excited about the show tonight would be an understatement. Firstly, I'm a big YACHT fan, not so much because of his music (which is admittedly fun), but because of his positivity, energy and enthusiasm. It's almost like he's the Andrew WK of indiepop dance music (and you could totally imagine him stopping halfway through to tell the crowd that they're each awesome individuals, and that they can do anything they want, just like AWK. Incidentally, should you ever get the chance to see one of Andrew WK's motivational lectures, you should. They're awesome (and he uses that particular adjective about 10,000 times in an hour).

And I was curious about Vampire Weekend. If you own a computer, you've probably been able to chart the 3 month long narrative arc from obscure college band, through critically blog-acclaimed next-big-thing, to the inevitable backlash (made worse by the fact that they're good-looking, educated, upper west-side-living young men). All that notwithstanding, they've got a batch of crackingly interesting songs, but I'm always curious to see how newer bands that might not have too much experience playing lots of big live shows adapt to the shift in paradigm.

The show sold out tonight, and I was surprised at how quickly it did - when it was announced Vampire Weekend still hadn't released a record, but still tickets vanished within about 3 weeks - for notoriously apathetic Vancouver that's pretty quick - and I was wondering what sort of folk were going along. More on that later.

I also took my camera, so this post may be a little more visual than usual. I'm remarkably lazy when it comes to taking things with me when I go out - I hate having to carry things all night, so I'd rather freeze my ass off and walk to a show in the snow in a t-shirt than carry a jacket, and a camera is nearly always a bridge too far. I also take photos in a weird way - if I hold the button down on my camera it takes a photo every second, so I end up coming home with about about 400 photos, which if you view them fast enough represent a kind of stop motion account of the entire evening (although without sound), but mostly end up being out of frame, blurry, and too dark. Sometimes, I can pass them off as being intentionally arty (example below) but normally they just suck, like the one that leads this post.

Richards was starting to fill up as YACHT came on - I last saw Jona supporting Architecture in Helsinki last summer, and since then he's added his girlfriend to the live show - she sings and dances just as maniacally as he does.

The central premise of a YACHT show is that his songs are all lined up on his macbook - he hits play, and then sings and dances his way through them.

Luckily the kid can dance, which makes the whole escapade a lot more exciting. Having said that, he's got three moves that he relies a little too heavily on:
a) sweeping his fringe dramatically from over his eyes (sadly, not captured on film),

b) gesturing with the microphone in time with the melody, as if playing a giant, aerial xylophone,

and c) a big sliding side-step to the right, sometimes preceded by a jump, for added effect (captured mid-slide to the right.

Jona's partner, and collaborator, Claire, looked like she was having a ball up there, and there was a nice little moment where he asked the crowd to thank her, not just for being fun on stage, but also for being a great person. They also ran a neat little skit where Claire told the story of how she met Jona at a club, complete with an R&B slow jam as a backing track. 'twas genius. (incidentally, my favourite part of the photo at the right is that you can see just how close the people on the upper level are to the band - it literally hovers out over the back left part of the stage).

Sadly, there was no mid-set question and answer session like last time, but he made up for it by jumping in to the crowd and dancing right where I was standing -twice!(is it wrong to become excited by a dude in a flannel shirt rubbing himself against you) - and once they finished up I was left looking around the crowd a little bewildered, in a mild state of post-excitement shock.

But what I saw was a little alarming (and be warned, it's gonna be nothing but unadulterated rock snobbery from this point forward). While I hadn't been looking, the crowd (or at least a sizeable swathe of the crowd near the front) had metamorphasised into a collection of ball-cap wearing, beer swilling, frat boys, and the female equivalent thereof (whatever that is called). There was nary a cardigan, plaid shirt or a pair of black-framed spectacles in sight. Don't get me wrong, I like beer and ballcaps as much as the next guy, but these looked like the kind of people that don't understand irony. I'm betting that some of them even comment on youtube videos.

It appears that these were the individuals that bought all those tickets 3 months ago. I dunno whether they got a special bus organized to ship them in from the 'burbs, but they were here in force tonight, and intent on having a big night.

The excellent from blown speakers compared Vampire Weekend to The Strokes - and there are a bunch of parallels, from their appearance of privilege, their snappy trousers, and the rapidity of their rise to fame. But there's also similarities in their mixed fan base. When the first Strokes record came out, they were immediately embraced by hipsters everywhere (and this was before my earnest acceptance of the internet - I still remember huddling around the television watching them with my flatmates on UK Top Of The Pops, reading the air-freighted (not surface freighted) NME, and getting a friend who was in the UK on vacation to bring me back a copy of the Modern Age EP), but afterwards they seemed to attract an extended crowd, that bought the record en masse about 9 months later. Where that process took nearly a year back in 2001, it looks like the entire process takes about 6 weeks in 2008.

(Incidentally, while I'm ranting about the Strokes, whichever record company executive decided that this abomination (which is only made partially cooler by the fact that it appeals to the particle physicist in me) -
-is better than this wonderful, Spinal Tap-referencing piece of pop cultural genius. Smell the Glove (fast forward to 4.00) indeed.
But anyway, rant over. Oh, apart from the fact that taking New York City Cops off the american version is equally retarded.

The final parallel between Vampire Weekend and the Strokes, that is pertinent to getting me back on track with this post, is that their songs are fantastic. Vampire Weekend were tight as all hell, and it's easy to get distracted by the internet hype, but at their core, they have a set of fantastic pop songs, with unique elements that give them a sound that's instantly identifiable as theirs (I know a lot is made of the african influence on their record, often by the band themselves, but I don't see it so much).

They ambled out full of smiles and preppy goodness - the lead singer Ezra wore a fetching v-neck sweater, that he didn't remove, despite the fact that it got pretty hot, and others in the band were visibly sweating (maybe he is some sort of genetic freak, he didn't appear to have ever needed to shave, either). They kicked off with the lead track off the record, Mansard Roof, and followed that up with a run through of the majority of the rest of the record (a recorded output that barely stretches to ten songs doesn't make for a whole lot of selection when putting a setlist together). They did play one new song, that didn't really suggest any bold new direction, as it fit the VW-template quite nicely.

Righto, this is far too long, and most people will have long since given up, or just skipped to the photos, so I'm going to finish this up in bullet point format.

  • During their second or third song (Walcott, maybe?) I was shocked to hear the crowd heartily singing along with the chorus, with a gusto I imagine they normally reserve for "Living on a Prayer". When the band did try and get some organized call-and-response happening during "One", the crowd were way ahead of him, shouting back the correct response before he'd even told him what it was).
  • There were people moshing. Somehow it didn't seem appropriate, but then again I've always been a bigger fan of dancing than flinging myself at my over-testosteroned friends (actually, that's totally a lie, I love moshing. I just think there's a time and a place) and the band looked a little weirded out. Luckily I'd moved to the back to be among the other old people, but I know a couple of my friends were lodged further forward, and didn't enjoy it so much.
  • The band announced that the next song was a little bit slower, and within seconds, three lighters were held aloft, completely without irony. I was waiting for someone to yell out for Free Bird, but nobody did (admittedly, there was a point in my life where I thought yelling "Free Bird" at indie pop shows was pretty much the wittiest thing possible)

  • Ezra has a fairly unique guitar playing posture, he looks something like a hunch-backed rabbit, caught wide-eyed in the headlights. He also only seems to play the bottom three strings on his guitar, but something I only really realized live was that he uses his voice in fairly unique ways, such as in "Oxford Comma", where the end of each line in the chorus features an abrupt increase in pitch.
  • My friend informed me she had a crush on the bassist, which I didn't quite get. I mean, he's not classically attractive, and he was standing 3 feet to the left of a floppy-fringed cutie, but then Wikipedia tells me that he's Scott Baio's nephew, so maybe there's a little bit of Charles in Charge that shines through.
But for all my whining and elitism, it was a pretty fun show. I guess one good thing about going to a show where the majority of the audience doesn't go to many shows, is just that it seems to be a bigger deal for everyone involved, and there's a lot more enthusiasm in the room. The band seemed genuinely excited to be there, although they need to hold back on the banter that panders to the home crowd - I think if they'd mentioned that the beach was beautiful one more time, I was going to bottle them.

The band went off for the obligatory pre-encore break, but at least had the decency to keep it brief, and crack a joke about it when they got back (sorry guys, we just had to grab some magazines from out the back). The campaign for an end to encores starts here. The encore was actually pretty special - Vampire Weekend are coming back to the area for a corporate behemoth of a festival in July, which also features Tom Petty, Jay-Z and Coldplay, and Ezra spoke about this, before claiming that Tom Petty was a huge influence on the band (at least 3 people around me asked if he was being serious - he wasn't), before dropping into the opening riff of American Girl. The rest of the band looked dumbfounded - this clearly wasn't rehearsed, but after their frontman told them what was what, they manfully ploughed their way through a verse and a chorus before seguing into Oxford Comma to round up. It was a nice, playful way to finish a good night.

So, my conscience is probably not gonna allow me to make it up to Pemberton for that festival (actually my conscience is making me feel bad because the Flaming Lips are playing within 200 miles of my location, and I'm not planning to go), but luckily I get to see Vampire Weekend the weekend before in a little city called Chicago (maybe you've heard of it?) where they're sharing a bill with a rather attractive gentleman called Jarvis Cocker (apparently he used to be in some band from the UK).

And one more photo to finish, because I can.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Born Ruffians, Said The Whale, The Media Club, Vancouver, March 26, 2008

It feels kinda weird to be writing about the show I went to last night, when all I can think about is the awesomeness that is going to be the YACHT show tonight. Last time I saw him was before Architecture, and it was outstanding - from the simple fact that all he does is hit play on his tape player and dance and sing, to the fact that he stopped the show halfway through for a Q and A session, it was a barrel of joy. Luckily, I don't believe my employers read this, because large swathes of my afternoon have been spent trying to dream up the perfect question to ask, should he do it again tonight.

But alas, I've got two hours to kill before dodgeball, so I should reflect upon the awesomeness that was the Born Ruffians last night.

In what seemed like a carbon copy of Monday night, I rolled into the Media Club at a gig-appropriate time, after force-feeding myself a couple more cans of Colt 45 (and while it still tastes like armpit, it does run at 8% alcohol, which eases the pain, and I now only have one can left, which makes me feel even better), and prepared myself to watch a shambling country rock band from Eastern Canada.

Kicking off proceedings were a band by the name of Said the Whale. For some reason I thought the name seemed familiar, but I figured it was just a consequence of seeing it on gig posters and concert listings around town. It was only halfway through that I realized that they'd spammed me on Myspace, and in a rare bout of charity, I'd accepted their friend request. I'm incredibly demanding when I scrutinize unsolicited friend requests, if your page layout is cluttered, for example, you're automatically out. But after a quick check of the internet on the iPod to confirm that they were in fact my myspace friends (how I settled arguments before the advent of mobile internet, I'll never know), I realized this was the first time I was seeing a band that had sent me an unsolicited friend request in real life, which kinda reinforces just how useful that particular marketing tactic is (and speaking of marketing - check this piece of capitalist genius). And not that anyone uses Myspace any more. Poor Tom.

The band themselves were actually pretty goddamn good - simple upbeat guitar pop, reminiscent of the good bits of Weezer songs, that warmed up the building crowd quite capably, even if the bassist did look a little too clean-cut to be in an indie pop band. But then again, they do come from Vancouver, where clean-cut is the rule.

The last time I saw Born Ruffians was as a warmup for a particularly dull Caribou show, and they were far and away the greatest element of that particular evening. I was impressed enough to buy their record on the way out, which never happens now that I'm old and cynical. and after listening to it at home, I was even inspired to purchase another copy to give to my sister for christmas - and if you realized the esteem I hold for my sister's musical taste you'd appreciate that this is high praise indeed.

In conversation with someone before the show, I mentioned that I was heading down, and they commented that they really liked the song with the yelping - which didn't really help me much. See, one of the key components of the Born Ruffians experience is the way that all three members join together in a staccato hey-hey-hey-ha-ha-ha yelping as both the central focus of many of the choruses and as backing vocals for the verses - think of the annoying shouty songs on Modest Mouse records that you end up skipping, but then imagine it being awesome. The only downside to this characteristic sound is that as it becomes the central focus of each song, they can take on a little bit of a sameness, especially in a live setting.

They're a 3 piece, guitar-drums-bass (and it broke my heart when the bassist broke a string two songs in on a gorgeous thunderbird bass, only to switch to a crappy old replacement rather than repair the string (which admittedly is always a pain for a bass), and the drummer sets down a swampy rock and roll stomp which sets off the rest of the band quite neatly.

For a band that specialise in 3 minute bursts of energy, they played for a generously long time, and it was nearly 12.30 before I ended up hitting the streets. If you're out and about, I'd highly recommend you pick up their record on Warp (?!), or do as I did, and fork out a tenner on their self titled EP, and you won't be sorry.

righto - the Jona Bechtolt excitement train leaves from here - talk soon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Plants and Animals, The Media Club, Vancouver

This blog has been a little neglected of late (though not as comprehensively neglected as my two other blogs, ayearinsex.blogspot.com and ayearinnutritiousbreakfasts.blogspot.com (and you can keep your idle speculation about which one of those gets updated most often to yourself, thankyou very much), mostly due to a nasty case of the end-of-winter lurgy. If it weren't for antipodean folk going to outstanding shows, this would be a paltry exercise in web-publishing (and don't think I don't expect a review of the Kiss/Alice Cooper/Wilco weekender - you know who you are).

So, in between watching Caddyshack (awesome), Caddyshack 2 (stick to the original) and the Breakfast Club (and practising my Emilio Estevez dance), and groaning on my deathbed, I've been nurturing the seeds of a desperate yearning to get out of the house and see some shows. And it's weeks like this one that make Vancouver a fantastic place to be - there's 5 shows I could conceivably see myself at over the next four nights, and I think I'll end up at least 3 of them for sure (and I'm so very very excited for YACHT on Thursday night - and the so-called-"Buzz" band he's playing with).

But all that enthusiasm was very nearly rent asunder by my first can of Colt 45. While I may have waxed lyrical in these very pages about the joys of said beverage previously, my initial excitement was tempered by the immediate realization that it is nigh on undrinkable. Even the faintest taste makes me gag, and I'm beginning to realize why the last time I drank it, they were giving it away for free in a Chicago nightclub (in other news, somehow I'm on Colt 45's mailing list, and they keep sending me mail asking me to submit stories of nights I've been retarded on their product, to be turned into comic format, a la this. I've definitely got a couple for them.). So after two cans (I could throw it away, but I'm yet to sink to the level where I can happily throw away alcohol), I was feeling sick to the stomach, but I washed it down with some whiskey, and merrily stepped out to the Media Club.

Support for the night was billed as No Gold, although I'm not sure if the band that showed up actually were - I swear I heard them introduce themselves as something else involving an acronym. I could have misheard, as the young man delivering the banter was mumbling, and while I got the impression that what he was saying was quite witty, and he'd been working on it for weeks, but I couldn't understand a word. Enunciate, young sir, enunciate. Anyway, what I can tell you about the mystery possibly-no-gold is that they sported at least one cardigan (my father called me (in an international toll-call, no less) to tell me there'd been a feature on the NZ national news about cardigans are hip again, only to hang up. My mother then called back ten minutes later to tell me that they'd actually won the lottery, and that my father was supposed to relate that information, but he was too excited about the cardigan thing, and forgot), engaged in plenty of instrument swapping, and belted out six or seven country-tinged shambling rock and roll numbers of varying degrees of quality. They employed one of my top 5 stage moves, of having the singer grab a drumstick and lock down a beat on the splash cymbal while the drummer played, so points need to be awarded there, but they also let some of the rhythm section wigouts play out a little too long, which saw those same points being removed.

I'll admit, as I often do, that I wasn't paying much attention to the support, as I was belting out conversational gold/previous untold levels of obnoxiousness. There's something about the media club that leads me to crystalline perception of the human condition, which I then relate to the unfortunate folk in my immediate vicinity. I decided this evening that the reason that tall men have much better taste in music than short men (I was one of the shorter folk at the MC, and I'm well above the national average - compared with being at the Bourbon a couple of weeks prior, where I stood head and shoulders above the other gentlemen (if you can call them that) in attendance) is that the short man's desire for acceptedness sees him jumping on any bandwagon that comes past, while the tall man's greater confidence means he has more inclination to go out on a limb and enjoy something a little riskier, but eventually more fulfilling. Or something like that.

I also decided that dying at 27 could be my ticket to rocknroll superstardom, a piece of news that any short folk reading this will be applauding heartily. Having said that, I do need to finish the two songs that may or may not become as universal as I Wanna Hold Your Hand, but I've got six months left to work that out. Incidentally, any ladies out there who have been holding yourselves back, you may also have only six months, so I'd go for it if I were you.

So after probably unknowingly making a dozen conversational faux-pas, as Plants and Animals came out, I was mentally sharpening my literary knives. I've been waiting to see a band that I definitively hate, or at the very least have bad facial hair, so I can rip them mercilessly to shreds. Everyone knows it's a thousand times more fun to write a rippingly bad review than a good one - for instance, this is still the best record review of all time.

And things were looking good for me. The band sport the kind of patchy facial hair beloved of French-Canadians everywhere, and the lead singer's plaintive Kings of Leon-esque wail had me eagerly thumbing my thesaurus for synonyms for 'apocryphal'.

But alas, my enthusiasm was short lived. As I was prepared to write them off as yet another country-rock MOR 3-piece, these Montreal natives showed me up. The KOL wail softened into a soulful tenor, and was joined in charming 3-part harmony by the other two members of the band. Some of the rowdier songs dispensed with the bass entirely, running a guitar-guitar-drums lineup to great effect, and at times the sheer noise being produced belies the limited lineup - at times it sounded like the Polyphonic Spree were up there, but the softer songs were executed with tenderness, thoughfulness and care, and provided both a neat contrast and a chance for a breather.

The encore came and went, and was enthusiastically requested, and they finished up with Bye Bye Bye, a song so good it deserves repeated listens from everyone reading this. The live version posted above differs considerably from the recorded version I've heard previously, which can get a little too Coldplay in parts. Firstly there's no piano, everything runs a little bit faster, and the harmonies are more shouted than sung. It sounds like a bastard child of the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Beach Boys, only to break down halfway through into Exile-era Stones, with the Flying Burrito Brothers loitering somewhere in the background. Seriously, it's that good, and everyone in the crowd left into the wintry (1 degree in March? are you serious?) night with a spring in the step. Good work, young sirs.