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 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, and (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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Datsuns, The Dirtbombs, The Bellrays: The King's Arms, Auckland, New Zealand, 11/03/08

Holy Antipodes, Batman! A Year In Shows has just gone multicity, multinational, multihempishere. Your New Zealand correspondent is awfully glad to be here, and really likes that thing you’ve done with your hair.


Tuesday morning started with breakfast TV and radio lamenting the NZ High Court decision to overturn a Youth Court ruling to make the family of a teenage crime enthusiast pay his victims back, sparking all sorts of hell/handbasket commentary and tender eulogies for dear old common sense. By Tuesday night, it seemed to me that the freshly buried hand of Mr Sense, Snr had thrust itself back through the soil next to its headstone, and was ready to bust out the Thriller dance. For I was at the King’s Arms in Newton, Auckland, and the marvellous garden bar recently rhapsodised over in these very pages as a great place for an al fresco Lion Red pre-, between and post-bands had a whopping great stage in it. The KA has been around for a long time (their website says 1880 and who’d lie about something online?), but in the last few years has fallen foul of the residents of newly built apartment blocks in the nearby streets, who really wanted to live in the city so they could be part of the crackling atmosphere, but can you please turn the band down at the pub that created that atmosphere and long pre-dates my poxy leaky home? So to placate the council, who evidently decided the apartment grinches held right of way, the KA stuck a couple of shipping containers in their carpark to deaden the noise, and a year or two later replaced them with a hefty second wall. Given that the shows that caused the complaints were inside, it seemed to me that a garage rock (I can’t remember what Pitchfork wants me to call it these days) triple bill on a school night in the garden bar might be asking for trouble. But tonight Zombie Common Sense, with maggots crawling out of the holes in his sensible shoes, was lurching about groaning for brains, and if the best rnr venue in town wanted to put three loud bands on in its garden bar, then consequences and torpedoes would be damned.

When the Bellrays hit the stage at the very civilised time of 8pm, another possibility emerged. Maybe Mr & Mrs John Q Apartment couldn’t get a ticket, and had given the KA a heads-up that they didn’t want to miss the fun. Sometimes you come across a concept that seems so obviously a good idea it’s just amazing that no-one’s done it before, or at least that no-one does it more often. A couple of these hit at once: outdoor gigs on late summer evenings are a bloody good idea; and a singer with a juggernaut soul voice and a mighty afro fronting a tight, white nerdy rock band isn’t far behind in the simple genius stakes. It was 10 out of 10 until the sun set around 6 songs in, and too many slower numbers almost derailed things, but a few old chestnuts from Soul Revue 101 got hammered home again before the end: if in doubt, wear black; stage presence is table stakes; the more time your drummer’s mouth is grotesquely contorted, the better he is; and if there’s not a hummable hook, don’t bother. Sometimes we all need reminding.

The Dirtbombs were last here about four years ago, and while the word incendiary is fairly high up on the Words That Make You Look Like A Dick When Writing About Music list, they may well have been the reason Mr Apartment first got on the blower to his MP. In the same why-didn’t-we-think-of-that-before vein as outdoor gigs and the Bellrays, doubling up your bottom end is hardly rocket science, but four-ish years is long enough to forget just how cool two drum kits look side by side. And while saying so may amount to sacrilege on a site named after a Brighten the Corners lyric, if you’ve got two drummers, the second one oughta do a little more on stage than make toast. Like pound them really hard, just like the dude next door, while two basses, one clean and one running through the devil’s own effects pedal, get a fair old hammering. Four years is also long enough to forget what a hulking big guy Mick Collins seems on stage, more like Man of the Year Jerry Collins, even if his stature is slightly exaggerated by placement next to the fun-size hell-fuzz player. Mr Collins is also lucky enough to be one of the approximately 32 people on the planet who can wear dark glasses at night without looking like an idiot, and takes good advantage of this fact. If you’ve found you’re way to this blog, and you’re still reading, chances are you’re either a) really, really bored at work, b) my mum, or c) someone who doesn’t need me to tell them how excellent the Dirtbombs are live. And they were, although not quite as great as I remembered or expected: maybe it was the nagging feeling that they’re only at their very best as a covers band (albeit arguably the finest one around); or maybe I was just having a little sulk that they didn’t play “Cedar Point ‘76”.

The Datsuns have had a funny old life: from smallish town outsider obscurity in Cambridge to minor league student radio success in NZ; to all sorts of glorious, and gloriously ridiculous, hyperbole in the NME; to a critically panned sophomore slump (that’s actually pretty darn good in the main); to the low-key release of a mixed bag third record and relocation to the less fickle rock scene in Germany; then back to headline a high class triple bill at a great, but in the scheme of things, pretty small, venue back home. Full disclosure: I really rather like the Datsuns. I can’t claim to have been there from the very start, but I saw them play a fair few times in my varsity years, before the British press hailed them as Ritchie Blackmore’s illegitimate heirs and it all went a bit crazy. Along with the much-missed D4, they soundtracked some of the best bits of a really fun part of my life, and I have several crystal clear memories: the first time I saw them live, a bunch of Waikato longhairs throwing nutbar guitar solo shapes on top of picnic tables in the quad; buying the 7” “MF From Hell”/”Lady” from the band after a Shadows show and being highly stoked by the free badge; playing said record to my mum, prompting her to bring out Deep Purple in Rock for the first time in umpteen years; a horribly hungover (mine, not theirs) bFM Summer Series show in Albert Park where “Hong Kong Fury” did what two Panadol could not; and a few years later, making a three hour round trip in the dark and rain to see a Datsuns/D4 double header in Whangamata. You’ll have a band like this in your past too: insert “I saw them back before they were…” story above. So much for objective journalism, but I was pretty keen to hear how the Smoke and Mirrors tracks held up live, and the presence of newbies from the latest European recordings was strongly rumoured. First impressions weren’t great: namely, turn it up; get rid of the stupid beard, Dolf, you look like Jared Leto; and the filler tracks from the third record aren’t much better in 3D. As with all good friends who’ve been away for a while though, sometimes you just need time to get used to each other again. “Harmonic Generator” helped, as did its weird militant cousin “System Overload”. “Waiting For Your Time to Come”, fairly leaden Zeppelin on record, made a lot more sense in person, while “Stuck Here for Days”, another tune that fairly obviously fell off the back of a truck called LZIII, was given a life of its own by Christian Datsun’s Ginsu-2000 slide lines. Anyone left reading will be pleased to note that the noobs turned out well too: a couple of ragged, pacy numbers; a keyboard-driven oddity called “Paranoid People”; the clearly Guitar Hero Aotearoa-bound “Your Bones”; and best of all a big doomy Sabbath-covering-The Verve style number right at the end. To be honest though, nothing sounded as good as the early songs, even if “Maximum Heartbreak” does a pretty close approximation. Putting “MF From Hell” after Smoke and Mirrors’ average “Emperor’s New Clothes” is a bit like following The Ladykillers with No Country for Old Men: when you remind people how much you rule, your C+s don’t stand the comparison too well.

The night ended with a gentle reminder to Zombie Common Sense (you know, that guy I introduced about eight million words of waffle ago) that there are a few people lurking about with the zombie equivalents of silver bullets, wooden stakes and garlic (horrible duets with Paul McCartney made worse by Will.I.Am perhaps?). Dolf had promised one more oldie to close the night, but the band got the nod that curfew was up and they had to down tools. There were still forty minutes before the zombie became a pumpkin, but when you’ve had three solid performances by three great bands under a cloudless, starlit sky, even the undead know that sometimes you should just quit while you’re ahead.

(Reposted at,_The_Dirtbombs,_The_Bellrays:_The_King's_Arms,_Auckland,_New_Zealand,_11/03/08.utr)

Monday, March 10, 2008

2008 pitchfork lineup

ok, so it's not strictly a live review, but it was the best thing I did last year, and pitchfork don't even have the lineup on their site yet, so I thought I'd post this.

I'd highly recommend getting yourself to Chicago between the 18th and 20th of July for:


Pitchfork Music Festival and All Tomorrow's Parties Present: "Don't Look Back" - featuring Public Enemy performing "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back"


Animal Collective, !!!, Vampire Weekend, Dizzee Rascal, No Age, Atlas Sound, Fleet Foxes


Spiritualized, M. Ward, Boris, Extra Golden, El Guincho

and some of the most fun you'll ever have at a festival. Hipster basketball, anyone? and the three days will cost you less than $70. genius.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Finding Friday, The Bourbon, Vancouver

I had bold plans to have a quiet night in tonight, curled up with some text commentary of test cricket (my dream job is to write wry, funny, and charming text commentary of cricket matches, much like the folk on cricinfo do), my copy of the new LC! record
(which proves that if you drown pretty much anything in enough glockenspiel, you can make it sound wonderful - and it's got enough snappy one liners to keep me in facebook statuses for a month), and hunting the internet for news of a Pavement reunion (an enterprise that is always positive - even if you don't find any concrete news, you can take solace in the fact that everyone involved realizes that it would probably be an unmitigated disaster (I mean, they kinda sucked live while they were together orginally), and probably shouldn't happen). So I dropped in to the record store on the way home, picked up their last Dirtbombs ticket (and thus begins the countdown to the greatest live garage rock band in the universe), and a sixer of Colt 45 (8% and still only $11 a six pack? how do they stay in business), and went home to settle in on the couch.

But then I get home, and my boss IMs me to tell me to go get drunk, and expense it, and because I have the willpower and spine of a sea cucumber, I find myself at the Bourbon in Gastown, watching Finding Friday.

When I used to spend a lot of time in suburban pubs, I'd be amazed at the musicianship of the covers bands that played there. They could snap out note-perfect renditions of remarkably mundane MOR rock and roll songs (there was one that had a singer that looked a lot like the guy from Creed, and even seemed to cut his hair at roughly the same time as the Creed guy - I think this covers band also used to employ a front-of-stage rotating fan to blow the singer's hair back while he sang), and I always wondered why you'd spend all that time getting that good at your instruments only to waste it by playing junky songs to a shitty crowd. As soon as I was good enough not to be totally embarrassed playing in public (and whether I've actually reached that level is still up for debate), I wanted to get out there and play our own stuff, hoping that one day we'd put together a pop-gem that was even a small fraction as good as I wanna hold your hand. Admittedly, in a covers band I imagine you get paid, people actually come to watch, and I imagine there's a certain type of suburban girl that finds that attractive, all three of which didn't really happen for my band. But at least I got to dream.

Having said that, Finding Friday aren't a covers band. But I think if they decided to go that way, they'd make a damn good one. There was probably more musical talent on stage than at the last 5 indie shows I went to put together, the singer has a great soulful voice, and the rest of the band is tight, sharp, and not unattractive. Their songs are standard fare, but not without hooks, even if the rhythm section does occasionally get a little bit of a RHCP funk thing happening, and there was one point where something about the wahwah pedal made me think I could have sworn I was listening to the Doobie Brothers. This is not a good thing. And if I were them, I'd shelve the midset banter about their new lighting rig, and the constant requests to buy their t-shirts - Matchbox 20 tried the corporate thing, and look where it got them - playing second fiddle to Alanis Morrissette.

Regardless, they're not going to change the world (but then again, neither is Bono), or teach you how to talk to the girl in the stripes, but once I got over my rockandroll snobbery, I had a cracking time. There's worse ways to spend a Friday night than dancing to a competent rock and roll band in the company of an appreciative crowd with some good friends.

Post-show the DJ started off by announcing that he was going to play a mixture of stuff, which normally means he'll play both "progressive" and "commercial" house music, but this dude was bananas. Everything from the Stones, to Daft Punk, to C and C Music Factory (it's always good to dust off my running man, it was getting a little rusty). The enjoyment level was aided by the fact that I was talking to and dancing with the cutest blond girl I've seen in Vancouver (albeit without fruition - any other short girls in black dresses with librarian glasses can post their phone numbers in the comments thread), and I finally got back home to resume my quiet night in at around 3 in the morning (although I walked home just so I could listen to the LC! record again on my ipod - if anyone lives under or near granville bridge, and heard someone shouting "nothing says I miss you like poetry cut in your door with a stanley knife", "every sentence began and ended with ellipsis" or "when the smaller picture's the same as the bigger picture, you know that you're fucked", that was just me. Sorry.)

And luv, I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance with you.