Tunin' the motor, like a weekend boater
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007
End Of The Road: SATURDAY
Fleeing some heinous MOR emo gak on the main stage early in the day and retreating into the woods in search of respite, the true beauty of End Of The Road is revealed to me for the first time as I stumble into a clearing and see before me a small, wooden, construction rather akin to a garden shed with the front wall removed and a small stage added. It contains an upright piano, a rug, and mock-up of a Victorian living room has been created on the back wall. Within this curious construction I recognise esteemed magazine editor Everett True, aka The Legend!. He is singing impassioned, desperately sad ballads with piano accompaniment to an audience of five curious passers-by and a toddler waving the remains of an ice cream.
Previous Legend! Performances I have witnessed have been delirious celebrations of non-musical, exhibitionistic chaos, and I have never before realised what a fine singing voice Mr. True possesses. His sombre tones hang heavy in the air, his songs simple and dignified enough to provoke silence and hidden tears from a drunken lynch mob. Amazing.
Head still spinning from this surreal encounter, it’s back to the circus tent to catch new Rough Trade signings My Brightest Diamond, who comprise a striking looking Canadian(?) lady and her two-man backing band. Her songs aren’t too bad, although rather too overwrought for my tastes. Y’know, Kate Bush sort of stuff. She’s got a great dramatic style on the guitar though, and there is much radical power-trio rocking out to enjoy, rather akin to PJ Harvey circa ‘Dry’. Yeah! After the set, I am enthusiastically informed that her album is “far more orchestral, less guitar”. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
My Brightest Diamond
Surprisingly, I’ve never seen Darren Hayman play live before, despite the best part of a decade’s love/hate relationship with the work of his band Hefner. So I can’t really comment re: whether he has always been this good on stage, but good he is, house(or tent?)-rockingly good in fact. Having drifted through a period of questionable lo-fi electronic messing about during and after the demise of Hefner, Darren is back on guitar here leading a five piece band incorporating fiddle and banjo, belting out such solo career highlights as ‘Gabriel At The Airport’ and ‘Porn Shoes’ with a boisterous brevity well befitting the three-sheets-to-the-wind urban folk spirit that Hayman’s best moments have always grasped at, complete with some startlingly red hot instrumental showdowns, perhaps reflections of Hayman and his bandmates’ new bluegrass side-project.
Whilst Hefner’s relentless pursuit of the grimmer aspects of 20-something relationship angst might have led us all down some pretty unsavoury avenues from time to time, few would deny Hayman’s status as a truly kick-ass songwriter, and witnessing him gradually ditching the hard-drinkin’, self-hatin’, girlfriend-cussin’ approach of old in favour of some defiantly 30-something Kinks-esque character studies in suburban boredom is, well, a pretty satisfying process, all things considered. Much the sort of thing that may prompt patronising broadsheet journos to harp on about “maturing”, “discovering a wider vision” etc, by way of deeming Hayman newly suitable for consideration by their ever-so-sensible readership. Mercifully though, the lusty enthusiasm kicked up by band and audience alike for an encore of ‘Hello Kitten’ and ‘Pull Yourself Together’ puts the kibosh on THAT line of thinking.
I may have spent a few years back there purposefully ignoring Hayman and Hefner, but hey, it seems now I’M a grisly mid-20s screw up, and…. suddenly I’m thinking that the whole ugly business makes perfect sense, and this show only confirms my suspicion. It feels good to have this man and his killer tunes and nasty, desperate, hilarious words back in my life.
Mp3 > Darren Hayman – Gabriel At The Airport
Sweden’s Frida Hyvonen presents an... interesting.. presence on stage. In lengthy gaps between songs, she takes time out to curse the crappy piano she has been assigned to play for us on, to tell odd, pointless anecdotes about Cormac McCarthy books and wanting to punch pregnant friends, to parade around the stage absent-mindedly posing for photographers, and, most enjoyably, to kick the crap out of the wooden penguins that have been lurking in the corner of the stage for the festival’s duration. Surprisingly, such behaviour comes across not as ostentatious, but as guileless and funny, treading a thin line between being entirely unself-conscious and being, well, MASSIVELY self-conscious. It’s hard to really get an angle on which side of this line Frida Hyvonen falls, but either way, she seems intent on doing as she pleases, regardless of mere on-lookers and their expectations.
The strange, fragmented energy of Frida’s persona is reflected in her songs, which stack up lyrical non-sequiturs with a perplexing dream logic and a fierce emotional intelligence, crow-barring the results into musical settings evenly divided between ‘icy’ and ‘jaunty’. Hyvonen’s eccentricities appear to lack any pre-planned theatrically, instead seeming as natural as breathing, and it’s hard not to get caught up in these puzzles of intriguing imagery and stiff, thudding piano chords.
Asking a friend what she made of all that, the concise verdict is “Tori Amos”. It’s a fair cop I suppose. The tyranny of global music crit comparison-law claims another victim. What can I say? I likes her songs.
Mp3 > Frida Hyvonen – The Modern
The ‘Local’ tent at End Of The Road (so-called who the hell knows why, as I doubt many gracing the stage are native to the middle of the Dorset countryside) is a wedding reception-sized marquee hidden in the darkened woods adjacent to the main stage, which plays host throughout the day and evening to open mic hopefuls, folkies of all descriptions and so on. It’s really rather lovely, and turns out to be home to one of the most unexpectedly moving moments of the whole weekend. Well several of them actually, but we'll do this one first;
So it is this tent that we find ourselves randomly wandering into next, for a sit down and to escape the cold as night falls. It seems we’re not the only ones with this idea as the place is absolutely packed out with people huddled in groups, chatting, sipping hot cider. Looking up briefly, we can see a small, pale woman with an incredibly sad look in her eye walk on stage and stand expectantly in front of the microphone. Consulting the festival programme, we reckon she’s probably Liz Green.
Liz Green starts clapping her hands and singing, quietly. It sounds like some kind of a-cappella gospel round kinda singing. Some people stop to listen, some people keep on chatting. Her voice catches in her throat, and her singing grinds to a halt. She kind of half-laughs, half-cries and admits that she’s “..absolutely shitting herself”, and steps back as if to leave the stage. The crowd make encouraging sounds, some general hushing is done, more people start listening, and the tent is silent. So Liz Green starts again, and some people clap along. For her second song, she picks up a guitar, and it’s very, very quiet. She admits she’s having “technical difficulties, by which I mean I forgot to plug it in..”, and everybody laughs.
So things get underway, and it soon becomes clear that Liz Green is brilliant. I mean, really brilliant. She sings in a voice that resembles a Northern English Karen Dalton. I could clumsily elaborate, but nuff said to anyone who’s spent quality time with Karen Dalton’s first record. It’s… it’s one of THOSE voices, y’know? Accompanied by tough, efficient finger-picking that foregoes the flourishes of British folk tradition in favour of sticking hard to the rhythmic lessons of Mississippi and Chicago, Liz Green’s songs are simple, beautiful, resigned blues that recall Holly Golightly or Billy Childish’s Chatham Singers, respectfully adapting the universality of black American blues to British climes, imbuing elemental tales of loves lost, grey lives, chances missed and time spent alone with humour and quiet dignity more poignant than any amount of thunderous emotional exhibitionism.
Once she hits her stride, Liz Green seems perfectly comfortable on stage too, seeing through problems with low volume, fireworks and bursts of feedback from the band sound-checking on the main stage with laughs and great, self-effacing ad-libs, fingers scarcely missing a note. A pal comes on stage to accompany her with finger-clicking and a bit of rudimentary accordion, then a few more friends come on to do some harmony vocals. For her final number, the self-explanatory “Goodbye Booze”, a guy hops on stage with some big placards outlining the lyrics, and the whole tent roars along to the ‘all-together-now’ chorus, before cheering up a storm and being rewarded with a few more runs through. Liz’ pals give her big hugs, and that’s that… just a beautiful, brave, triumphant performance that brings a tear to the eye.
A bit of subsequent internet research suggests that Liz Green is actually far from a stranger to playing to big audiences, having recorded a session for BBC Radio 6 and won some kind of talent contest that saw her open one of the big stages at Glastonbury this year! It’s a cheering thought to reflect that whoever was in charge of that contest actually picked someone with real talent, and it’s amusing to think of all the dull career-conscious rock bands scowling as humble Liz beat them to the prize. Would it be too much to hope that somebody quietly making undeniably beautiful, heartfelt music all on their own might actually get some success? Here’s hoping. Her debut single is out soon.
Mp3 > Liz Green – Midnight Blues
Now, those frequenting music websites, forums and the like in the past year or so, may have noticed a fellow called David Thomas Broughton has been picking up a considerable cult following. I listened to a few tracks by him a while back, and was fairly non-plussed as to his appeal. So what’s the deal, I enquire of a few trust-worthy sorts who have enthusiastically recommended I catch him at this festival. It’s hard to explain, they tell me, but for christ’s sake DON’T MISS HIM. So I don’t. And now I pass the same advice on to you, readers, should David Thomas Broughton ever stage an appearance within travelling distance of where you live. Seriously, this guy is something else.
I know before I even start that words won’t really convey the qualities of his live performance any more than studio recordings do, but nonetheless we must try, so here goes; David Thomas Broughton essentially uses loop pedals to build up repetitive webs of melodic acoustic guitar picking and other stock avant-folky sounds, over which he sings meandering songs comprised of odd, symbolist zen koans in a high, affected and purposeful voice, somewhat akin to Tim Buckley or Scott Walker. So far, so what you’re probably thinking, but, but… how can I put this? What immediately sets David Thomas Broughton apart is that he is HILARIOUS; members of the audience are doubled up with hysterics almost as soon as he starts singing, and it’s a very peculiar feeling that leaves me uneasy at first. DTB’s delivery obviously betrays a very serious and sad emotional intent, and, I mean, are we supposed to be laughing here? Are we actually being really cruel to this guy as he sings his sorrows? And yet, and yet, how can we help it when every stumble he takes, every pause to stare into space, every exaggerated hand gesture is just… so fucking ridiculously funny?
As the set goes on, as DTB strides and poses like a tranquilised rock idol, as he loops a rhythm track of his own startled coughing, as he slowly removes hi,s jacket with the solemnity of a bishop preparing for mass, as he staggers into the centre of the seated crowd trailing cables to do battle with a feedbacking practice amp, all the whle with a look of stony determination, it becomes clear that comic intent is definitely intended. Broughton moves with the charisma and clumsy grace of a classic physical comedian, and raises odd, unnameable feelings within spectators by vestige of that rare virtue: the ability to recognise that the funniest jokes are deadly serious, and that the most serious things in the world are funny, and to reflect this in his art at all times.
Admittedly, there are moments of are deathless self-indulgence within Broughton’s lengthy, ostensibly aimless set, as his reliance on looping technology sees him absent-mindedly wandering the stage and beyond, contemplating which object to make a funny noise on next as a single guitar figure drones away. But there are other moments – MANY other moments - which simultaneously manifest more kinds of spell-binding genius than could ever be named within my mere music crit vocabulary.
“What kind of apples, could make a pie this sweet?”, Broughton croons repeatedly, arching his back and perilously waving the neck of a guitar against the roof of the tent, lost on a sea of love. “You fool!” he answers himself, crouching as he switches instantly to a reproachful anger, “Can’t you see it’s the sugar??”
Well maybe you had to be there. True originality may be little more than a fading rumour in today’s oversaturated artistic landscape, but, well, ladies and gentlemen - David Thomas Broughton.
Mp3 > David Thomas Broughton - Ambiguity
Back to the Local tent, and if you scroll back up to my thoughts re: Liz Green and the adaption of blues into a British context, those observations apply doubly to one of my favourite new groups of the year, South London’s own Congregation. Probably most of the same adjectives too, so I’ll try not to repeat myself.
Benjamin Prosser is a shit-hot rhythm/slide guitarist, playing consummate electric blues and boogie that raises the spirits of Bukka White and John Lee Hooker, recalling just how propulsive, spine-chilling and flat-out awesome this sound was before the late-‘60s generation drove it headfirst into formalised, shrieking self-parody. Victoria Yeulet sings sweet, subtle and impossible to ignore, with the commanding authority of an Irma Thomas or a Bessie Smith. A bass drum thump and Victoria’s leg bells bring the mama-heartbeat. Basically, Congregation jam together some of the best elements of some of the best fucking music ever made, and bring it straight back to us in 2007, ragged and powerful in a way that never goes out of fashion. In a profound sense, it does the trick.
I still don’t have any Mp3s by Congregation, but check out the tunes on their Myspace, and try to tell me this is not some seriously fine stuff.
A remarkable change of pace next in the Local tent, as party-ready anti-folk fanboy kids throng to the front, and Zombie Zombie, Neman Herman Dune’s ‘other’ band start to set up. ZZ are a startling different prospect from either Herman Dune or anything else or the End Of The Road bill. Firstly, we’ve got Neman on hyperactive motorik drums, yelping wordless exhortations into a distorted/echoed mic and generally rocking the crowd, in the spirit of Brian Chippendale. Then we’ve got a dude in a hoodie and beer bottle glasses looking like he raised in a dank basement being forcefed Devo and The Residents. He is leaping back and forth like a man possessed behind a precarious, towering rig of analogue synth equipment, jerry-rigged casios, a theremin and a rack-mounted space echo unit that threatens to topple into the front row at any moment. Behind them, David Herman Dune adds to proceedings, coaxing shrieking feedback tones from his Gibson Thunderbird-shaped electric ukulele. Yes, it’s undead krautrock party-time as frothing at the mouth gallic lo-fi apostles drag Goblin, Neu!, John Carpenter, Ash-Ra Tempel, Kraftwerk and all your other fave analogue synth abusers from their graves and force them into a ghoulish St Vitus frug to the rhythms of a dayglo 21st century hipster disco party. It’s obvious, it’s dumb, it’s ill-considered and in it’s reckless application of necromantic science it shows little concern for the safety of anyone, but…. it utterly rules! I mean, obviously! Look at ‘em go! I bet you wish you’d thought to start this band first; given current cultural obsessions, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve conquered the world, or at least the sections of it that go to art college and wear orange, by this time next year.
Exhausted but too buzzing to go to sleep after a day so overloaded with oddball musical wonder, there little left to do after filing out into the darkened woods except stagger my way back across to the circus tent, where headliners British Sea Power are concluding what I assume must have been their set.
I don’t hear a note of music, but I do see a thick haze a smoke and flashing lights, Macbeth-like forest of moving greenery, a twelve foot high black bear stalking the stage, a small army of Knight Errant trying to subdue it with halberds and flowing banners, a solid wall of feedback, men sacrificing electric guitars with mic stands, possibly some maurading robots too, I’m not sure… Christ these guys get four times as ridiculous every time I see them, and I think I actually preferred them back when they were an austere, serious sort of band. But I mean, the smoke, the fighting, the bear… what’s there to do but applaud?
Now it really IS time for bed…
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I’ll admit I’m not generally an outdoor festival guy, and I’m also somewhat suspicious of the whole ‘summer-festival-as-easygoing-weekend-break’ concept that’s led to a glut of new festivals such as this one scattered across the British countryside, and the middle pages of the weekend broadsheets, in the past few years. So, although there were enough good names on the line-up and enough pals in attendance to persuade me to lay down the cash for a ticket to this one in the hope of some good times, between you and me, my hopes for full-scale awesomeness weren’t high.
Well if I wore a hat, I’d be eating it, because End Of The Road was an absolute blast. Undoubtedly the most fun and idyllic music-related weekend I’ve spent in a long, long time. The festival as a whole was extremely well-organised, with a small enough number of attendees to ensure comfort, personal space and decent facilities at all times, moderate crowds for even the most popular acts, manageable queues for food/toilets and, best of all, a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that equalled good fun and mutual respect for audience and performers alike.
Yeah, there were loads of kids and weekending families all over the place, but in a way this worked to the festival’s advantage, encouraging the young folks in attendance (and we’re mainly talking mild-mannered 20-somethings such as myself rather than rowdy teenagers) to behave nicely, not get too wasted or make a mess etc., which is fine by me.
The festival site itself is beautiful; genuinely remote from any human habitation and encompassing early morning vistas of mist-shrouded farmland, odd pagodas and architectural follies left over from the stately home era dotted around the place and a whole maze of secluded forest groves, perfect for stumbling through at any hour of the day or night in search of privacy, secret get-togethers and acoustic hoe-downs.
The festival is run without corporate sponsorship, and all food and merch outlets on site are small-scale enterprises of an organic/hippy variety, and generally of surprisingly good quality. Falafels, chi tea with brandy, stir fry, flapjacks, real ale etc. are all in steady supply, but if you’re looking for a snickers bar or a coke, well good luck. Nice!
The four music stages/tents are also set-up real nicely, generally running on schedule whilst allowing enough flexibility for last minute extra sets, jam-fests etc., and the organisers have made special effort to balance out the often dreary, family-friendly stuff on the main stage with a winning array of genuinely great performers and rocking bands filling out the rest of the line-up, allowing punters to randomly wander from one kick ass performance to another almost all day long. Sound quality on all stages it should be noted was EXCELLENT – hands down the best I’ve ever heard at a festival.
Even the weather was great – a brief spot of rain on the Friday, followed by the fading summer’s last day or two of blazing sunshine.
But enough blather. In short: End Of The Road was ACE.
The only major downer of the weekend was the thoroughly FUBAR coach service from Salisbury Station, which saw us arriving on site an hour behind schedule, and stranded in a muddy barn for two and a half hours after our planned time of departure on the Monday. I’m sure they’ll manage to sort things out a bit better for next year and no hard feelings, but still, word to the wise: take a car.
So this is the first of what will be three posts on End Of The Road I’m going to publish this week, and I’ll throw in some Mp3s of some particularly great songs that were performed during the weekend too. By which I mean previously recorded versions obviously, not bootlegs from the festival or anything. (Just thought I’d make that clear.) I also managed to take a few photos on a little disposable Kodak I borrowed, and I'll share some of those with you too.
End Of The Road : FRIDAY
Howe Gelb has been charged with selecting the acts playing the Big Top Stage (weird memories of childhood circus trips..) on Friday evening, and the first thing we catch after getting our own tent sorted out and having a nose around is John Doe. Yes THE John Doe, formerly of X.
These days John is rocking a persuasive take on country singer-songwriter tradition, one which is crucially still informed by the immediacy of punk rock. Telling big-screen tales of junkies, losers, rockers and the like, his songs are straight-up, open-hearted blasters knocked out with an intensity that occasionally recalls the Mountain Goats, particularly when he gives the c’n’w the heave-ho and switches to electric guitar, the froth of some chugging overdrive instantly rendering things a good 50% gnarlier. The current line-up of Giant Sand mosey on to accompany John toward the end of his set, and holy moly, do they ever rock it, stretching the songs out into thunderously righteous triple-guitar Crazy Horse jams of the kind old dudes do best. High fives all round! What a great way to start the festival! It’s this performance that seals the deal re: my decision to catch Giant Sand instead of Yo La Tengo in tonight’s headline slot clash.
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Scout Niblett. The first time I laid eyes on her was as a strange, shy girl coaxed on stage to sing a song by Herman Dune back in, ooh, 2002 I guess..? I subsequently caught her doing a few support slots on her own and found her performances utterly intolerable – grim, masochistic and self-indulgent in the extreme. Whilst I’ve subsequently had my attention focussed elsewhere though, Scout has gone on to become an underground heroine of sorts, picking up the enthusiastic support of just about every music writer/fan I respect, so…. maybe I could have been missing something? Let’s find out…
Well Scout is certainly a hell of a lot more confident and focused on stage these days, and the hulls of her deceptively simple, introspective songs are armoured with the spikes and barnacles of heavy usage picked up via touring, recording and surviving the criticism and indifference of dullards such as myself, and her performance carries the kind of spell-binding quality usually reserved for the card-carrying ‘greats’ of modern music. Distinctive enough to sidestep the more obvious Cat Power and PJ Harvey comparisons, her onstage presence recalls nothing so much as a female Kurt Cobain. Take that as you will, I doubt she could give a damn. The music she makes is non-negotiable self-expression, as close to the ground as the hearty fare the hippies are cooking up for tea outside. Seems I was indeed missing something. Oh, and I know it was posted on every blog going months ago, but I’m a bit behind, so: that song about the Dinosaur Egg = genius. (It sounded a lot more urgent that the version I’m about to post here, for the record.)
Mp3 > Scout Niblett – Dinosaur Egg (live)
After Ms Niblett’s reiteration of the ‘less is more’ principle, Robyn Hitchcock’s performance, accompanied by John Paul Jones on bass and mandolin, adds up to less than the sum of it’s parts. I mean, if I tell you that one of Britain’s great eccentric song-writers was up there banging through selections from his back catalogue, with the guy from Led Zeppelin rocking out on a stupidly over-sized acoustic bass, that there’s a woman playing the saw, and Howe Gelb over in the corner playing piano with his feet…. sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Alas, not so.
Hitchcock seems on poor form, his playing mechanical and his selection of material focussing on tunes that, for all of their intriguing post-Syd lyrical digressions, never really blossom into great songs. JPJ plays along competently enough, but it doesn’t seem as if the pair have practiced much in advance, and he’s too busy trying to stay in key to really live up to the expectations of his rock legend status, whilst Hitchcock’s between song banter seems pre-scripted, lacking any of his characteristic wit or spontaneity. It’s not a bad performance by any means, and there are some enjoyable moments where things gel quite nicely, but let’s just say that when my friend leans across to tell me “I think this guy’s a bit of a git”, well, I know Robyn Hitchcock isn’t a git, and maybe you know it too, but this particular appearance offers little evidence to support such a conclusion.
Robyn Hitchcock & John Paul Jones
Sadly, Giant Sand’s headlining jam-fest fares little better. After knocking out great, brooding takes on his trademark ‘Shiver’ and a couple of other ‘Sand classics, Howe Gelb deems it time to launch his own low-budget version of The Last Waltz and starts dragging guests on stage with the fervour of Moses leading the Israelites across the desert. Only with considerably less success. Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner shuffles around at the back of the stage for most of the set, dying on his arse with absolutely no idea what he’s supposed to be doing, and no use looking to Howe for guidance, as he looks like he doesn’t have much more of a clue. A young Arizona singing lady is wheeled out like a homecoming prom queen for a so-so stumble through a few lugubrious numbers before the actually-quite-great Jesse Sykes and her guitarist reluctantly come on to take part in the most shamefully shamble-assed take on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ immortal ‘Sin City’ ever attempted. “Well, that was better than the last time we did it!” says Howe… yeah dude, who knows, maybe the next time you inflict it on a paying crowd you’ll actually find the right chords and pay cursory attention to the melody. I mean, Christ, it’s a three chord Gram Parsons tune, and you’re a revered alt-country luminary - sort it out! But no time to dwell on such matters, because here comes Robyn Hitchcock again – oh my god, he’s singing “Kung Fu Fighting”! It should be noted that the rhythm section and guitarist of the resurrected Giant Sand are obviously fine musicians, and it is largely thanks to their efforts that this shit is kept somewhere in the region of ‘together’, despite their leader’s clowning around. Gelb announces it’s time to wrap things up, promising us a monster finale, as the band launch into a swinging “Who Do You Love” groove. Alright! Howe responds by spending a few minutes mucking about with his guitar cables, before reciting the lyrics to “Ring Of Fire” for no apparent reason. Then he starts singing “Hey Jude”, of all fucking things, and calls proceedings to a close.
It must be the nightmare of all musicians embarking on this kind of “hey let’s do the show right here!” style hoedown that the ‘all-the-one’ spirit and unexpected inspiration you’re expecting to manifest simply… won’t be there. I saw Howe Gelb play an absolutely stunning show a couple of years ago, alone with a piano, so I know he’s more than capable of pulling great music out of thin air, and you’d hope a damp squib of a show like tonight’s would provide a lesson to him: turning up on stage without the faintest idea what you’re going to do isn’t ALWAYS such a great idea. He’ll probably just keep right on doing it though, contrary bastard that he is.
Mp3 > Giant Sand – Shiver
Thursday, September 20, 2007
“THAT’S NOT WRITING, THAT'S TYPING”
Hi folks –
Rest assured I’m still doing my utmost to get one decent weblog post up here a week, and if you bear with me a few days, I’m currently working my way through a mammoth round-up of last weekend’s End Of The Road festival, ETA next Monday.
So much stuff I want to write about, so little time; I want to write a bit about Ian Svenonius’ “The Psychic Soviet”, and about Keiron Gillen’s “Phonogram” comic book, I want to finally get around the next couple of entries in my 1998 series, I want to do bits on The Mekons and The Germs, and it’s totally about time I recorded a new radio show…
It’s been bloody frustrating in work the last couple of days; I’ve mainly been on grunt work, stuffing envelopes and such, whilst desperately searching the net for interesting pages with lots of text on them to fend off boredom (being in work, music, videos and other multimedia stuff are off-limits, so it’s words all the way). As my brain is largely free to roam, I’ve been itching to get writing, but have sadly had to utilise both hands doing work.
So to keep you occupied whilst I get my act together, here are a few recent webzine/blog discoveries that have been getting me through the day;
Black To Comm ; A weblog off-shoot from the renowned rock n’ roll fundamentalist fanzine – much smart, free-flowing write on all manner of good random stuff to be found within.
Final Girl ; Now, as you know, I’m mostly into my weirdo ‘60s/’70s horror movies, and have some issues with ‘80s slasher flicks, but regardless, WHAT A GREAT BLOG.
Bleeding Skull ; Again, I have no ethical/artistic justification for a fascination with ultra-trashy video nasty era exploitation obscurities, but when a website like this offers a pathway straight to the belly of the beast, I…just…can’t… help myself…. And they feature a lot of really far-out older movies too, so drink deep weirdos.
Destination: Out ; First stop for anyone seeking an appreciation of free jazz and associated avenues of music and thought; peerless wordage, peerless music.
Jamie’s Runout Groove ; Frequently updated, no-nonsense music blog often featuring some real good stuff. His Neil Young discography strand makes great comfort reading for Neilophiles such as myself.
The Movie Binge ; My sole source of info on popular contemporary cinema, and I feel in good hands. I think they might have finished for this year though…? Oh well.
Stevie Chick ; Definitely one of the longstanding good guys in current music journalism, and he republishes a lot of his stuff on here, so.. good!
And finally, it’s a joy to discover that the inestimable Kid Millions has started blogging again on the Oneida website.
So – I’ll be back with you shortly, and in the meantime… surely you wouldn’t hit a guy who just shared one of the best pop records ever with you…?
The Ronettes – Do I Love You?
I guess Spector almost certainly done it and is going down, but man, 20 seconds into this and I’m hoping they take it easy on him…
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Well there’s all only so many times one can say such a thing before it lose all meaning, but man alive, Dead Meadow are GREAT. That’s the long and short of it really. (You can buy a print of this poster from Chris S.
Dead Meadow are a band I feel like approaching not with hyperbolic blog-crit, but via the kind of Wordless Rock Dude Awe Moment that, issued with appropriate solemnity, speaks with more than authority than a thousand over-analytical reviewers ever could…
“Dead fucking MEADOW, man..”
(Respectful silence and nodding of long-haired heads.)
Sadly, Dead Meadow rarely seem to achieve these moments of awe-recognition that they so richly deserve, often seeming instead to fall frustratingly between the cracks dividing current music/fashion cults. Too drugged and riff-heavy for run of the mill indie kids, yet too nuanced and starry-eyed (read: wimpy) for the metal/noise-heads, they nonetheless hold the fort of a certain unique position on the musical landscape, a fort wherein they stand guard over my personal conception of Thee Perfect Psychedelic Rock.
Whole swathes of the musical landscape are now of course occupied by those trading off various sub-genre-designated permutations of ‘churning riffage’, ‘heaviosity’ and the like, as stoner guitar-dude culture and unashamed ‘70s metal worship bleed carelessly across into indie-rock crit respectability, avant-noise envelope-pushing, ambient texture worship and god only knows what else. Chances are you could throw a brick somewhere in the vicinity of the Camden Underworld of an average evening and hit a member of some band who are - on a practical, measurable level - heavier, or slower, or gnarlier, or more intense, or more spaced out, or more bad-ass or whatever than Dead Meadow.
But….. who fucking cares, frankly. Guys the world over can decamp to the nearest desert with enough ampage to decimate a football stadium and grind out variations on ‘Iron Man’ till they’re blue of face and black of lungs, but it won’t achieve much. It’ll all sound a bit forced, a bit constipated, a bit pointless. It won’t change the essential fact that, every generation, the holy hand reaches down from on high and appoints one – maybe two, or three if we’re lucky – groups as custodians of The Riff.
Black Sabbath had it through most of the ‘70s, obviously.
Sleep and Electric Wizard were standing guard over some serious Riff during the ‘90s, if I’m any judge.
And now, Dead Meadow have The Riff. Scoff all you like metalheads, I don’t care, it’s fact.
The Riff is impossible to define in terms of the notes, guitar sounds etc. you’d imagine would be relevant to such discussion – try all you like, you won’t get it that way. The Riff is the reason why the first side of 2003’s definitive “Shivering King and Others” doesn’t sound like an album by a Lovecraft-referencing heavy psyche band, and instead sounds like PURE SEX. No fooling!
Summarised biogs often seem to peg Dead Meadow as a “70s retro” band, which must annoy the hell out of them. I can see where the label originates of course – a sanctified reverence for vintage equipment and recording techniques and a knowledge of how to use them properly to achieve the perfect expression of THAT particular expansive, slightly disembodied fuzzy-round-the-edges-with-the-bass-knob-on-max dusty vinyl guitar thrum, dredging up ancestral memory of a thousand suburban evenings with the joints aflame and the headphones on, in thrall to “Led Zep IV” and “Master Of Reality”. You know what I mean? But, god only knows, there was nobody around in the ’70s actually making records that sounded much like Dead Meadow! If there had been, their artifacts would be going for $thousands$, effortlessly eclipsing the killer rep of comparatively puny collector-cults like Flower Travellin’ Band or what have you.
Far from being a mere “retro” concern, ‘Meadow take a similar – if more consistently successful – approach to their musical heritage as bands like Oakley Hall and Espers; carefully internalizing the distinctive sounds and atmospheres of their deepest influences and blasting them back outward in new permutations to essentially create the music they think SHOULD have existed during their teenhood.
But Ok, I’m supposed to be talking about the gig here, so let’s get on with it:
Perfect, pre-meditated textures and general heftiness of sound are obviously a significant part of Dead Meadow’s collective whack, and as such I find myself demanding every ‘Meadow gig be a perfect, hermetically-sealed entity beyond the messy and inconsistent reality of yr average rock gig set-up. And predictably enough some element of the experience is usually found wanting; last time I caught a headline set from the band, in Nottingham back in… Christ, it must have been 2005 I think… their performance was superb, but proceedings were muffled throughout by shitty, jerry-rigged, TOO SMALL amps. I know, I know… but with a band like this, these things are paramount.
No such problems are in evidence at Cargo thankfully, as bassist Steve Kille plugs into the kind of Ampeg you could bury a gorilla in and Jason Simon fiddles with an elaborate set-up incorporating a full-size Orange cabinet and head, a Fender Twin, a vintage tape echo and some kind of electronic drone machine.
Things still aren’t perfect; the vocals are waaay low for one thing, and from my position at the front of the stage I think I’m getting a lot of direct blare from the guitar amps that’s drowning out the bass and drums to some extent, but shouldn’t really complain because oh my god, that guitar blare was PERFECTION. Simon has perhaps my favourite tone/sound/etc of any modern day guitarist, with sustained low-end fuzz-notes echoing in the air for mini-eternities, throwing out ghosts of overtones more rarefied and beautiful than anything you’d ever expect to hear beaten out of sweaty electric guitar strings, and his wah-wah divebombing conjuring THE exact audio equivalent of a pupil dilating in slow motion. And so forth.
Having my senses almost entirely consumed at close quarters by this guy’s blare for an hour was….. too fucking good. Like I was saying: Dead fuckin’ MEADOW, man.
(You can buy a print of this poster from Chris S.)
What else to say? Well there’s a hell of a lot more excitement to this band’s live incarnation than just waxing lyrical about guitar tone, and when they really hit their stride halfway through this set, I swear, Stephen McCarty is drumming like the ocean and Kille is bassing like the goddamn whale. Form is streeetching, fuzz is flying, groove is in the collective heart in the best possible heavy-rock-band way, and it’s only the lack of a second guitarist for Simon to bounce stuff off (whatever happened to that other guy who played on ‘Feathers’?) that stops the whole thing taking off into the kind of astral projectin’ improvisational nirvana so often promised by psychedelic rock, and so rarely delivered. It’s a great show!
The crowd is dense, sub-culturally diverse, enthusiastic, and it is MOVING, which is a real kick to see, because I didn’t think Dead Meadow were actually very popular in the world at large. Clearing the hair from my eyes for a minute or two, I can see a gang of girls on the other side of the stage, dancing. Not head-banging or mock-belly dancing or anything you might deem aesthetically appropriate, but locked into a slowed down, tranced out, joyful nightclub grind.
A gang of girls, dancing. To Dead Meadow. Who are playing in front of my face.
God I love being in the world.
Dead Meadow’s Peel Session, recorded March 2001:
Saturday, September 08, 2007
If the anonymous Peter who left a comment on my Chicks post is reading, I've uploaded the two EPs as a .zip file for you: link. And hey, drop me some info about your club night if you like, it sounds good!
(More 1998 girl-band goodies coming up shortly by the way, in case you thought I'd forgotten..)
Anyone who enjoys almost unbearably sweet, female-voiced lo-fi guitar-pop half as much as I do is encouraged to hurry, hurry, hurry over to this post on Jamie's Runout Groove and download some songs by the great, underrated and much missed Mary Lou Lord. Truly wonderful stuff.
I know I've always had a thing for song lyrics stuffed with gratuitous pop culture cross-referencing, but "His Indie World" is just..... too much, man! Perfection, pretty much.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Great cover or what? “You see child – that’s what a rock band looks like! They live in darkness! Stay away!”
I bought this record a few years back from Selectadisc in Nottingham. It’s an ‘exact replica’ style repressing of the original 1983 7”, put out for some reason by Munster Records of Germany.
I was on a new-student-loan record binge and it was on for 99p, so I mean… a conscious thought scarcely crossed my mind between seeing it on the racks and getting home to survey my purchases.
I was entirely ignorant of The Scientists, and Australian punk rock in general, at this point, and I think it only grabbed my attention thanks to a mis-heard line in The Minutemen’s “History Lesson Pt. 2”, the bit where D. Boon says something like “..our band The Scientists drucked, but I wasn’t bluuue..” (I still don’t know what he is actually saying). So for a second I thought that maybe, just maybe, it could be a record by this Scientists band that Boon and Watt were in… no doubt a brief look at the drop dead cool dudes on the cover put an end to such an assumption, but no matter, by that time it was in my hands along with all the other fine junk I was buying.
Needless to say, I still didn’t have a clue in hell who these Scientists were or what they wanted of me when I dropped the needle, but I knew from second # 1 that I was now the owner of a seriously MONSTROUS slab of rock n’ roll, and that made me happy and excited and tingley round the edges.
The Scientists – We Had Love
The b-side is a fine take on Captain Beefheart’s ‘Clear Spot’, which I don’t have a digital version of.
Now of course, I’m older and wiser and in possession of more astounding Rock Facts, so I know that Boon & Watt’s pre-Minutemen band was actually The Reactionaries, and I know all about the great and influential Scientists and their vision of savage, bad attitude swamp-rock.
In fact they’ve reformed of recent, and I caught about half of their set at All Tomorrow’s Parties last year. So I can report that although these days they have rather shorter hair and wear practical loafers alongside their flouncy shirts (and have probably bought some new bulbs for their practice space), they’re still hitting those Big Muff pedals for all they’re worth, Tony Thewlis is still an evil lead guitarist, and they’ve now got a female drummer who plays hunched over with hair across her face, looking like Sadako from Ring. So it’s all good. You can find out what they're up to or say "hi!" here.
Anyway, what got my thinking about scientists and music is that the great Grant Balfour has a new venture in the works – The Guild Of Scientific Troubadours – and if science and song-singing are your things, he invites you to join. The concept is simple: report on some interesting news from the world of science, then sing a song about it.
Being a general supporter of irrationalism, magic and mystery, science as such has never really been my ‘bag’, but nonetheless I hope to find some time to give it a go.
So ‘check it out’, as they say. It's Edutaining.
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