Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Holy Fuck, A Place To Bury Strangers, The Clips, Richards on Richards, Vancouver, February 25

Everything was coming up 'me' on Monday. For some reason I was in an unfathomably good mood, I had a relatively gentle day at work, and I'd newly discovered the joys of hypemachine (thanks for the assist, sis), which lets me listen to new Stephen Malkmus songs in a neverending loop, and around lunchtime the Sasquatch lineup was posted, and it was of supreme quality (The Cure, the Malk, Destroyer, Flight of the Conchords and Christmas on Mars, the most eagerly awaited piece of bad cinema this side of the next Rocky or Rambo remake).

Actually, I'm gonna digress here. If I was ever asked to compete on the television quiz show Mastermind, I think my area of specialist knowledge would probably be "Charming anecdotes about how nuts the Flaming Lips are" (that or "Jarvis Cocker's haircuts"). And one of my favourite Lips moments is from the Fearless Freaks movie, where they admit they had to halt scriptwriting for the film because they weren't sure if Stephen Drozd was going to kill himself with his heroin addiction or not - and as he played the lead character, that would have been a problem.

My other favourite thing about the Flaming Lips is that at special shows, they have a goddamn UFO, and they're bringing said UFO to Sasquatch. Given that the last time they played out there it was the most surreal experience of my life (doing a karaoke singalong of "War Pigs" at 2 in the morning after a torrential hailstorm while pouring fake blood on yourself is exactly why I wish Wayne Coyne was my dad (I don't really mean that, dad)).

But anyway, enough digression. It should be relatively clear that I was in a pretty good mood. So I returned home from work, and was contemplating my evening, when I decided on the spur of the moment that I was gonna go to the Holy Fuck/A Place to Bury Strangers show that I'd been loosely contemplating. And I'm remarkably glad I did.

I was surprised to note that I haven't actually been to Richards yet this year, which is a shame, because it's my favourite venue in town, and I normally end up sneaking along there about once every two weeks. It's got a pretty sweet upstairs area, where if you're early enough and smart enough, you can stand behind and above the band, and I've never waited more than 3 minutes for a drink at the little bar tucked in the back corner. It is a happy place.

I rolled in at 9.30ish to a surprisingly full Richards - I'm not hyperfamiliar with either of the headliners, but the venue was a good 2/3 full. I walked in to a band playing, so I ended up playing the good old-fashioned guessing game to deduce how far through the bill they were (tips for new players - see how many drum kits are still stored at the back of stage). In this case, there were two, which meant that I was watching the last half of the set by the Clips, who seemed a competent little shoegazey/stomp-pop - the one song that sticks in the memory had a neat little ooey-ooey-oo refrain. As I normally do during support bands (and lets face it, during headliners as well) I started scanning the faces of those around me - and noticed two things - that they were undeniably attentive (for a support band) and almost exclusively male, and in their late 20s or early 30s. I made a mental note to suggest that shows by art-noise bands were awesome places to meet your future husband, until I moved across the room, and found that the other side of the room was predominantly female. I don't really know where this anecdote is going, but for some reason (i.e. alcohol) I thought it was a fascinating point last night).

A Place To Bury Strangers (henceforth aPtBs - I love bands that you can acronymise) were not nearly as much like Joy Division as I had prepared myself for- all the stuff I've heard from them thus far has been characterized by the singers deep voice and clipped delivery, a la Mr Curtis (and possibly the fact that nearly everyone in the world seems to have a Joy Division obsession right about now). They sounded a little more like a more interesting, faster Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (and note that I'm a child of the mainstream (as much as I don't like to admit it), so while I imagine there's a bunch of bands that are much better comparisons, I'm gonna have to stick with what I know).

I believe there was dancing, and plenty of toe-tapping, the bassist had one of the prettiest Thunderbird basses I've seen in a while (actually, is there such a thing as a non-pretty thunderbird bass? It could quite possibly be one of the most aesthetically pleasing pieces of machinery ever) and aPtBS were a whole bunch of fun. But they had nothing on Holy Fuck, who are from Toronto and play instrumental electronic music, but there's nary a computer in sight. There was a sizeable delay while one of their mixers caught fire, and was replaced with a different one. The band were most apologetic, but once they got started, it was worth the wait.

With a stage setup that features a keyboard set up across from a mixing desk, with a drummer and bassist in the middle, the band play off each other right throughout, and they're obviously pretty excited to be up there playing, the smile doesn't leave their faces. There's a rotating cast of quirky assorted noisemaking devices, from a child's microphone, which delivered some incredibly distorted vocals reminiscent of the otherworldly squeaks in that Battles single that gets posted everywhere, to one of those keyboards with a tube that you blow into to generate the noise (which I last saw in the Los Campesinos! video for the International Tweexcore Underground.

All this enthusiasm and quirkiness can obscure the fact that they play hip, danceable, electronic music, and after a couple of tracks the toe-tapping metamorphosed into full scale dancing - unheard of for Vancouver on a Monday night. For a moment, it felt like a Girl Talk show without the frat boys and retro samples. So after an hour of this, a dig at how bad their Calgary show was the previous evening (the second best way to endear yourself to a Vancouver crowd, is to tell them they're better than the crowd in Calgary - the best way? - compare it to Toronto) a delightfully brief, and enthustiastically filled pre-encore break, and you had one fucking good time. Nice work, sirs.

show of the year thus far. But they'll face some stiff competition from the Lips in May)

I had about a thousand things I wanted to add to this in my head last night, but I'm pretty sure that the drunk fairy came and took all my original thoughts away, and didn't even have the decency to leave me a quarter in return. bitch.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cassette, Ned Collette, Bachelorette, February 14, Whammy Bar, Auckland

This post was supposed to be a stirring account of the grand return of Auckland's least favourite hung-over country rock band, a 2-drummer/drunk-singer extravaganza of enthusiasm failing to overtake a complete and utter lack of talent.

Alas, it wasn't to be, and the Alpha Males weren't to be playing this evening. There was a show tentatively booked, but it fell through, and attempts to wrangle a second show at show notice were also unsuccessful. Which was a shame, because it may have also featured the international debut of the Nested Ifs, although, having never practised, I'm not sure if that would have been a good thing.

Incidentally, the reason the original show fell through was because it was booked for Valentines Day, and those organizing the show figured, albeit correctly, that most of our friends, who are generally coupled, would choose to have a romantic dinner somewhere and not come to our show. However, I think an opportunity was missed to get a whole bunch of single girls to come along and be charmed by our sonic prowess, because everyone knows that there's a certain type of girl to whom spending Valentines Day alone is the equivalent of hell on earth, and you know that if a girl does turn up to your show alone, that her boyfriend is either a) lazy or b) imaginary. We could have been the skinny, underfed, pasty indie rock equivalent of Manpower. or not - last time I stripped on stage it wasn't received well.

But instead, I found myself at Whammy Bar in St Kevin's Arcade watching Cassette et al. Admittedly, there's several things that Cassette have that Alpha Males don't - namely talent, good looks, good songs, fans, a hit EP and witty stage banter, so I'll have to concede that I wasn't too upset to be in the audience rather than on stage this evening. Tonight was my first trip to the Whammy Bar, when I was last in Auckland it was home to an exclusive dance club (which was actually kinda cool, for a dance club), which I know I've been to, but I must have been messed up last time I went there, as I remembered nothing about the interior). It's apparently affiliated with the excellent Wine Cellar, further down St Kevin's Arcade, where I spent an outstanding Tuesday evening at the Eavesdrop Listening Party (here's a concept someone needs to export to North America - you pay 4 dollars to the knowledgeable gentleman at the door, who hands you a pamphlet, which has reviews of 10-15 albums coming out in the recent past or the near future, and throughout the evening you listen to a selection of songs off those records, while lounging on couches and sipping outstanding wine, while being periodically given chances to win said records).

Anyway, the bar is a cosy little underground nook, with a small step of a stage, but plenty of seating and a neat little atmosphere. The standard assortment of rocknroll illuminati was in attendance, (the singer from the Reduction Agents and the bassist from TransAm were standing in my sphere of view) and at one point my sister pointed out Liam Finn's girlfriend. I was tempted to attempt to cut his lunch, just for being a precociously talented little goofball, but then I remembered that every time I've met him he's been lovely, and that the poor girl was far too intelligent to be fooled in to going for a guy like me.

and the female turnout was a little low-key - there was one lonely looking girl over in the corner, but I wasn't feeling particularly attractive with a spectacularly burnt and peeling nose, so I decided that pretending I wasn't interested was preferable to a extravagant crash and burn, so I thought I'd concentrate instead on the music.

Which, incidentally, was first rate. Opening was Bachelorette, who I thought were a jangly little 3 piece all girl outfit, but turned out to be one girl, some loops and electronica, and a couple of keyboards (I have no idea who the jangly 3 piece were), and she was entertaining, although mid-show banter isn't her strong point.

Ned Collette was a pointy-shoed, pointy-sideburned australian, but I'm not going to hold either of those three things against him. He played some gentle acoustic songs, that sounded a little like quiet, introspective Tim Rogers songs (I'm thinking the slow parts of "What Rhymes with Cars and Girls" or "The Luxury of Hysteria", and some countrified rocknroll stomp reminiscent of countrified Tim Rogers "Spit Polish", or "Dirty Ron". That's possibly a little oversimplistic as a description, but Ned had some snappy songs, a great laid-back stage presence, and sounded better with a backing band than on his own (but it's a rare performer that doesn't).

Cassette too have their laid back stage presence down. The band was formed around a couple of guys who played with some seminal Wellington rock/metal bands, (the letterbox lambs, and head like a hole, the latter of which you may be familiar with, and if you're not, you should be, for their cover of "summer nights" alone (which incidentally I sang at a school assembly when I was 15).

The stage show mostly consists of the drummer and the guitarist lofting verbal barbs at each other (more on that later), but Cassette specialise in low key dreamy pop songs. They released a six song EP called emo (they were emo before it even existed) a long long time ago, (2001, apparently) and put out a debut record last year. In between they've been living in Melbourne, and obviously playing a lot of shows, because they're super-comfortable passing the time live on stage. Their best songs, "nothing to do", "don't let anyone" and the new single that they play on the b (the greatest radio station in the universe) that I haven't caught the name of yet, were all in the offing tonight, and they were perfect for a small, low-key midweek gathering. The late hour (it was nearly 12.30 before they went on) made it seem even more appropriate, like a country balladeer playing in a southern honkytown long after all the respectable folk had gone home, and everyone was lying drunk in the corners.

The onstage banter was of the highest calibre, with most inter-song moments filled with some sort of anecdote. I'm a little regretful that I waited a week to write about this, as I've forgotten most of the best bits. one story involved their night in Taupo the night before, where a young local said "you guys dress like homos", to which they replied "i think the word you are looking for is "dandys". The crowning glory was after the last song, when there was some genuine cheering for an encore, and the drummer said "instead of a encore, how about we play that last one again, but a little bit faster". He then asked for a show of hands, and those who wanted the last song again narrowly outvoted those who wanted a different song, so they played it again, a little bit faster. it was genius.

Alright, you must excuse me, I need to go search the internet obsessively for a way to get hold of the new Los Campesinos album " Hold on now, youngster" (complete with the requisite comma) before its north america release date in a ridiculously 2 months time. The pitchfork review featured this line, if they weren't already my favourite band, they would be more so after this "they document it with an emotional vividness that should have Pete Wentz friending them in no time. (Even though he probably won't get most of their jokes.)" genius.

(reposted at http://www.undertheradar.co.nz/utr/liveReview/CID/9/N/Cassette,_Ned_Collette,_Bachelorette,_February_14,_Whammy_Bar,_Auckland.utr)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Ruby Suns, Kill Surf City, The Nudie Suits, The Kings Arms, Auckland, 8 Feb 2008

I no longer live in Auckland, New Zealand, a fact that frequently pains me. Especially when I come home to visit in the midst of a relatively bleak Vancouver winter, into a golden summer of sunshine, beaches, cricket and meat pies (all of which I'd experienced within 36 hours of touching down on NZ soil). I spent a great week catching up with old friends, but it wasn't until Friday night that I got to check in on another old chestnut, the Kings Arms.

The Kings Arms goes pretty close to being my favourite venue in the universe, not just because it is normally the best place in Auckland to see everything from local up and comers, to touring international bands that you'd actually want to see, but also because of its unique layout and antipodean charm.

Right at the front of the dancefloor, immediately to the right of the stage are a couple of glass doors which open out into an enormous, sprawling garden bar, with picnic tables and stools spread around a sumptuous lawn. There's nothing better than to wander out there between bands or before the show starts and enjoy a couple of drinks on a warm summer's evening. If you play your cards right, and undertake the correct pre-show maneouvering, you can snare a table where you can still see the stage (as long as nobody stands in front of you), which is a rare treat indeed.

The other neat thing about the Kings Arms is that the "backstage" area pretty much consists of a couple of office partition walls set up in a corner of the garden bar, but this less-than-resplendent green room means that bands often opt to just stand in the crowd and visit the bar with the regular folk during the support bands and after the show. New Zealand seems to have a weird attitude towards celebrity where any action that acknowledges fame is frowned upon. So Julian Casablancas from the Strokes could be standing at the bar next to you and all that anyone will do to recognize this fact is a barely impercetible nod in his direction (although there was the time when my good friend approached Meg White as she was leaving the bathroom to ask if she'd like to accompany him back to his place to watch Dazed and Confused - she politely indicated that while she respected it as a piece of cinema, she had other plans for the evening, and couldn't partake - she's a classy lady, that Meg.)

But anyway, I rolled up lateish on Friday night to catch the recently re-staffed (and pitchfork reviewed) Ruby Suns, and was impressed to see much of the Lil' Chief artistic roster at the front of the audience watching the Nudie Suits, which was a pleasant surprise, as I hadn't seen them billed for this show anywhere. Lil' Chief Records is an Auckland label that puts out releases from a number of local bands that specialize in a particular brand of sunny pop music, with bands like the Brunettes and the Reduction Agents the star attractions. They're a little DIY label that are doing some big things now, and there's almost an incestuous level of member sharing between the various bands, even though each group retains a unique sound and attitude. But everyone was there tonight, a quick head count revealed at least three Brunettes, a Tokey Tone, and a Reduction Agent.

The Nudie Suits, who opened tonight, are a great little 50s themed country rock band, fronted by Mark on guitar and Dionne on Hawaiian Steel guitar (and her sister, whose name I regrettably forget, on violin). They always look the part (but having encountered them at Foodtown Mt Eden (the rockandroll supermarket) I realised they always dress like that), and write witty charming country pop songs about suburban life and black comedians (a topic always close to my heart). Every Nudie Suits show is a good show, and this one was as charming and low key as ever.

The second band were Kill Surf City, who I haven't seen before (at least not that I remember), and I'll have to do them a disservice and admit that I ran in to an old friend in the garden bar between sets, and didn't end up catching too much of them. They seemed to play some perfectly serviceable laid back guitar rock, but I can't remember any particular high points or elements of interest, so I'll need to move along.

However, there are several points of interest about the Ruby Suns that are worth addressing. Like most of the New Zealand population, Ryan McPhun, (the singer and principal songwriter of the Ruby Suns) used to be the drummer in the Brunettes, and after leaving he put together a sunny eponymously-titled pop record, which had at least three pretty fancy songs on it, that used to remind of sunny summer evenings, until I used the CD as a coaster for a candle, and wrecked it. Last time I saw them, they were a six or seven piece multi-instrumental affair, but they always seemed a little bland live. This time, I was a little surprised to see that they'd stripped down to a three piece - Ryan plays the drums and the guitar, with backing guitars, bass and keys shared between the other two members. The guitar/drums combination is an interesting one that seems to be gaining some traction in NZ indie circles, I see Liam Finn (Son of Neil of Split Enz and Crowded House fame) runs a similar setup live (and I don't want to start any inter-band name calling by suggesting who started doing it first). Generally they'll start off on the drums and lay down the beat, and then loop that up using an effects pedal, and play the guitar over the top of it. It makes for some great visual chemistry, especially when they come back to the drums at various points in the song to add different elements to the loop, and I've decided that I've become a big fan of people playing the drums standing up.

Songs off the Ruby Suns new record, Sea Lion, (edit - which was recently Best New Music'd!) seem to have more of a tribal african/polynesian atmosphere to them (or it could have been the singers kaftan (and I realise that kaftan is possibly the wrong word, but it's far as my vocabulary extends, and I don't know if many of the reading audience will know what a muumuu is). The songs also sound a little more focused (at least in a live setting) and it turned out to be a pretty goddamn fun night, which was finished up with their current radio hit "Tane Mahuta", which is sung in Maori, and is about a large tree, of which I am acquainted. I was impressed to see that as soon as the band finished, someone put a record on, and the dancing started (I've been there on nights where people stand tapping their feet waiting for the bands to finish so that the real party can get started), but alas, I had commitments the next day that prevented me from partaking with the gusto I wished to.

I was also a little sad that those commitments prevented me coming back the next night to see James Milne (also ex-Brunette) play in three different bands (The Reduction Agents, Lawrence of Arabia, and Auckland's finest Paul McCartney and Wings covers band, The Disciples of Macca)
and I'm even sadder that I'll be back in Canada by the time the Datsuns and Dirtbombs play a show together. Imagine that - Cambridge's finest, who bleed garage rock when you cut them, and the Detroit collective that feature two bassists, two drummers, and a cross between Marvin Gaye and Iggy Pop on lead vocals. The afterparty for that one will go long into the wee hours, I'm sure.

Speaking of the wee hours, it was awfully refreshing to find myself still dancing to "Teenage Kicks" at 5am the next night, without being forced unceremoniously onto the streets, but that, I believe, is a story for another time.

EDIT - I just remembered a story from Saturday night that is tenuously relevant. While walking outside the casino, we ran in to a young man who looked suspiciously like Luke from the Phoenix Foundation (North American listeners may be familiar with them from the Eagle Vs Shark Soundtrack). So we asked him to wax my colleagues upper thigh, and he graciously obliged. Those New Zealand musicians are always happy to help out their fellow man.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Cave Singers, Fanshaw, The Media Club, Vancouver

This is exactly the sort of show where writing this sort of thing isn't the best idea in the universe. Don't get me wrong, it's not like The Cave Singers were bad - in fact - far from it. It's just that it was just a perfectly serviceable indie rock show at a club that I go to ten or twenty times a year. There's just nothing particularly interesting to construct a decent narrative about - nothing noteworthy happened, and there were no on-stage shenanigans worthy of conversion to web-sludge.

But then I find myself with 6 idle hours in the hell-hole of humanity that is LAX, and a cute blond girl in a dress sits down across the lounge from me, and tapping this out is the closest I get to this:

XKCD Journal

Although, maybe that's not the best idea in the world, because there's also this:


We'll see what happens. And my desire to talk to her has diminished now that she's pulled out a copy of Us magazine and is reading it as intently as if it's a Dostoyevsky novel.

Anyway, enough digression. Thursday night it was back to the Media Club to see the Cave Singers, upon the hearty recommendation of my sister, who promised to make my life hell if I didn't partake (and as I'm actually seeing her this week, she can actually make good on that threat this time).

I strolled in at what I thought was a reasonable time (9pm - I'll never figure out what time to get to shows in this town - I've turned up at 9pm before to be greeted by crowds of people leaving, talking about how good Magnolia Electric Co were.) to find that I was pretty much the only one there - apart from the band, who stuck out as they were the ones peering intently at the currency trying to figure out what denomination they were holding (when you're from Seattle, which is less than 2 hours from the border, shouldn't you know what it looks like? - I get enough crap when I'm in the states for having to read the denominations on the notes, and there, it's all the same colour). But luckily, I wasn't too early, as the room packed out within minutes, and my premature arrival meant I got a table.

Support for the evening was a band called Fanshaw. I'm reliably informed that they feature ex-members of various other Vancouver collectives (to paraphrase Karen "the bassist is in EVERYTHING") and they played a split show - the first half was a boy/girl guitar/voice Gram and Emmy-Lou-type thing (and you're gonna have to take my word for it when I tell you that I was planning to use that analogy before they dropped in to Love Hurts), and the second half featured a full band, playing some laid back country rock. I'd offer more, but apparently I've turned in to one of those people that talk all the way through shows, because I don't really remember actually watching too much of them. I hate myself right now.

Drat, blond girl just left, but another girl just sat down next to me with a copy of the national enquirer, which I can kinda see. On the negative side, she can also see this screen, so I probably shouldn't be writing this.

Anyway, the Cave Singers are a three piece, but I can't tell you what three pieces, and I'm resisting the temptation to look up on the internet to find out, because I was too far back to see on Thursday. However, I did notice that they play dreamy country pop, that was most engaging, and I can totally see why my sister is so into them. They're a little bit Grizzly Bear-ish, they have a genial stage presence (even if some of the banter fell flat, but sometimes, that's the best thing about banter) and they finished up with a good old-fashioned foot stomper, that sent everyone home on a positive note.

I bought a shirt off one of them afterwards (if someone (namely, me) was ever going to devise a mathematical formula to determine how much I might potentially like a band, selling your own merch would definitely need to be worth a lot of points) and they seemed like good dudes. There were a couple of people trying to get some dancing happening after the show (they're obviously new in town, because it won't happen in Vancouver - although I am 24 hours from Auckland, where the show itself is just something that has to be endured before the post-show dancing starts) and I was accosted by a drunk girl who berated me for my lack of knowledge about the violently fashionable record label advertised by my t-shirt, only to turn out to be wrong. (and I wikipediaed the second I got home just to prove to myself that Final Fantasy wasn't on Secretly Canadian, just so I could go to bed secure in the knowledge that I was, in fact, right)

right, I'm gonna go now - only 3 hours of airport hell to go. but I'm gonna pretend to write this a little longer, so I can finish the story I've been reading vicarously about how Jared from the subway ads' wife left him because "celebrity drove a wedge through their relationship". Awesome.