Friday, April 05, 2013

Robert Plant - Sydney Entertainment Centre

Last week the offer of a couple of tickets to Robert Plant at the Entertainment Centre came my way.  As the only Led Zeppelin song I know is that stairway one (an neither honestly have I been all that grabbed by his recent excursions into Americana which is more in my wheelhouse) so I didn’t jump at the chance.  That is until I later read that his touring band the Sensational Space Shifters included Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara.  The albums they have put out as a duo have made my year end favourites list over the last couple of years and once I ascertained they weren’t doing any JuJu sideshows I backtracked on my ambivalence and went.   

While I’ve explored many of the musical byways of the 70s – even if just out of curiosity and context seeking – Zeppelin isn’t one of them, I don’t actively dislike what I’ve heard but it edges out of my primary interests, just that other side of hard rock.   So seeing Plant put me in a unique position (for me) of seeing a major act, with the word “legendary” frequently and justifiably prefixing their name, in a large venue .... but about whom I was completely neutral.  I just don’t fork out that kind of money for anything less than my personal icons, and I reflected before the show that usually at that point outside the Entertainment Centre I am a mass of anxiety and excitement and a million adrenaline fuelled expectations and thoughts (if I’m not already inside camped on the rail.)    This was a whole different experience – big name, big venue but also a detachment and the height of my emotion was mild curiosity.   

I was seated on the stage right side rise, about a third of the way up and about in line with the last row of the seats on the floor.   Those big sheds always look smaller when you’re in them than you imagine so the view was fine, and the big screens were there as usual for closer detail.   One thing it gave me a good view of was the “gold reserve” floor seating which is my natural habitat. Even though they were wearing an array of Zeppelin shirts instead of Dylan or Bruce ones, it was sort of like having an out of body view of myself.  Baby I've been here before. I've seen this room and I've walked this floor – I surfed the night on their second hand electricity in a certain kinship.   Of course everyone was sitting with many desperate to stand, but kept in the seat by the gravity of our prevailing concert etiquette.   On recognising an opening rift (foreign to me but obviously meaningful to long time fans) a few would leap half up fists pumping before sinking back down again. I could see the seat area rippling with people bouncing in their chairs as much as they dared, like the meniscus on a glass of water arcing but not quite breaking.    Obviously there are excellent reasons people do not want to stand and many are not able to do so which should be respected but it’s clear to me the seated front section at rock shows works neither for the fans in general or, importantly, for the artists.  Plant made a few sarcastic comments about people sitting passively as did Bruce the week before (and he had a standing GA pit – night two in Sydney’s riff on “bums” and “asses” versus “arses” was particularly hilarious. Wish it was on YouTube.)  When Dylan played Centennial Park a number of years back I clearly recall Chuggy coming out, ciggie in hand, to yell at the people sitting on the grass in front of stage to go back to their seats  and Bob wouldn’t come out until they did – which is how you know he was bullshitting since Bob has made it known he likes people up the front rather than having to send his performance out into a cavernous void.    The encore brought everyone forward and the difference in atmosphere was noticeable.    I did have a bit of a detached feeling of observing but I had that same feeling a bit when I was in the nosebleeds for Leonard Cohen,  I think I’m just made to be down the front and the further away the less I’m acted on by the forces from the stage and around me.

Juldeh didn’t come out to join the band until the third song and I was concerned he was sick or something, but came on stage for some songs and off for some (surely they can find a triangle for him to play or something like Clarence did when he wasn’t needed on sax ....)  When he was there I loved his contributions, of course his interaction with Justin Adams was immaculate but it also gelled with the rest of the band and with Plant.       

Songs are like your neighbourhood, when you first move in and walk the streets the joint looks totally different than after you’ve lived there a few months or years and so since I was hearing most of songs for the first time I can’t pick out much about them individually except to say I enjoyed them and the band is definitely hot. He basically still has the voice.  It was very rock oriented naturally, but with a good smattering of slower, more acoustic numbers.   Unsurprisingly the ones that stood out to me (and still do a week later)  were the two blues covers which I certainly did know, “Spoonful” and “Fixin’ to Die” – the latter with particularly fantastic work from Justin Adams.   

He made a comment about it being “spot the tune” and that and other reviews have made clear how he has twisted and rearranged the original Zep tunes quite radically from the originals. He namechecked Bob Dylan here as someone else who makes the audience play spot the tune.  He then said however that Bob doesn’t take the piss out of himself like Plant does on which point I do disagree. An example is available from this show in fact.  The band was announced on stage by a voice over the PA listing all RP’s legendary achievements and status (six time Grammy winner etc etc) which I noted at the time was similar in structure to the intro Bob has had for years ( “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the 60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the 70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen — Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!” ) but much more earnest.  Dylan’s is definitely a piss take, of himself and of the Random Dylan Cliche Generator media that follows him(1). Planty’s intro, in contrast, played very straight to me.  So for all your rakish English lord gone to seed charm Robert you are behind the other Robert in the piss take stakes, I’m afraid.

Another thing that occurred to me was how seldom I see acts where the lead singer is not also playing guitar (or banjo or mandolin, or accordion, sometimes piano. Occasionally something else. Or it’s the kind of music, like jazz, where the vocalist can get away with just swaying a bit in ways golden gods of rock may not).   My first thought about was how awkward it seemed, reminded me of trying to find something to do with your hands when public speaking, and how the mike twirling and whatnot was faintly silly. My second thought immediately thereafter was probably Robert Plant popularised or perfected that kind of stagecraft in the first place and its all the imitations since that have made it cliché.   So I enjoyed it without irony.   

So a very enjoyable night and a little more of my musical mindmap filled out.

(1) It's actually a direct quote from a newspaper article about him Bob has just lifted straight to mock. Comedy gold!!

Monday, January 07, 2013

More Favourites 2012

Without fail every year I leave off my Favourites list one of my favourites. This year it was Ray Wylie Hubbard whose The Grifter’s Hymnal definitely deserved its place in the original post. Sorry, Ray. ;-(

Here are some others .....

Dr John came up with his best album in years, Locked Down.

Gregory Porter seems to have really broken through with his second album, Be Good.

"Birmingham" - Shovels & Rope.  I haven't heard the album this is off yet (though it made a lot of year end lists) but I do love this song.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Books 2012

I got a Kindle late in 2011 and it really gave a shot in the arm to my reading rate, that and re-engaging with Goodreads.  I still read a lot of paper books (indeed some I only want to read on paper, particularly nonfiction as fiddling with leaping forward and back to look at endnotes is somewhat of a pain on the basic Kindle.  It’s a lot easier though on the iPad where you can just touch the number and have it pop up without need to leave the page) but for the most part the mental drift to seeing e-books as an acceptable choice, in fact my first choice in most cases has been completed.    I’m kicking off 2013 by revisiting my childhood with a slew of Star Trek novels, cherrypicking the ones I remember reading and reading as a kid because they focused on my favourite character (McCoy) and as many as I can find from this i09 list of essentials.  

Here are some of the highlights.

Naturally (naturally if you are a sad politics junkie anyways) in a US presidential year I read a few on related topics.  Two essentials here, one from 2012 and one 20 years old.    The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era by TIME mag’s Michael Grunwald  about the Recovery Act  (stimulus package).  The subtitle makes it sound a bit fanboi-ish but from following him on Twitter I’d say Grunwald would see himself as a “centrist” rather than a liberal (and perhaps a further to the right on some economic questions, for instance when the issue of ending public broadcasting  funding came up during the campaign, he was for it) – but he just happens  to accept evidence-based economic and climate change policy, and finds Obama’s much maligned stimulus package to have been an impressive achievement in both areas.   Detailed in the behind the scene DC machinations and the weeds of how you actually deliver such a huge outlay without excessive waste and corruption but he’s a magazine writer by trade so easy to read and to the point.   Can we have something similar about the Australian stimulus experience, please?       

What it Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Ben Cramer was published in 1993 but remains relevant, and a cracking and somewhat quite profound read – plus I got it in a Kindle sale for $1.99 and its over a 1000 pages long so pixel for pixel  The book follows the 1987/88 D and R primaries through the lives of contenders Joe Biden, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, George H.W Bush, Gary Hart and Dick Gephardt.  They are listed in the order of how interesting I found them; although the copyright page was more interesting than Gephardt. This isn’t a criticism of Cramer, you can only work with what you’ve got.  It’s not your usual insidery, exhaustive, journalistic account of the race – a key part of the Democrat story that year,  the surging candidacy of Jesse Jackson for instance is barely mentioned as, as Cramer explains in the forward, he couldn’t get the access to the Rev which would have allowed the story to be told on an equal footing with the rest.  It is deeply subjective and presents the candidates as they see themselves attempting to answer the perplexing question: what kind of person voluntarily puts themselves through the miserable trauma that is running for President of the United States?

Other 5 stars in nonfiction (from this year where noted): Nine Lives (2012) by Dan Baum following a range of New Orleans residents from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 through to Katrina,  The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount by Gershom Gorenberg,  Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (2012) by Rachel Maddow , Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre by Heather Cox-Richardson (one of the best books on the American West I’ve read  because of how it carefully ties events on the ground to economic forces and distant political machinations back East),  Columbine by Dave Cullen (upsetting as you’d imagine but necessary and definitive)  and The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon (2012) by William M. Adler.  

The Nordic invasion in crime fiction rather let me down in 2012.  After loving his first book, I eagerly awaited the next Jussi Adler-Olsen translation from Danish to drop, but  Disgrace was a disappointment.  (And the much vaunted Snowman by Jo Nesbo was rather kind of ... not good?)  Luckily, North African crime stepped up to the plate in the form of The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal (who writes “literary fiction” by his birth name Jamal Mahjoub) Makana is a former homicide detective in Khartoum now living as a refugee at the bottom of society in Cairo. One day one of Egypt's richest men hires him to find a missing person and so Makana is plunged into a world of gangsters, shady businessmen, wannabe film stars and all manner of social, political and personal corruption. It is not written in a hardboiled style at all (there is quite a bit of humour) but the story has definite modern noir overtones, kind of "'Chinatown' in Cairo." Makana himself has demons and there are flashbacks to the situation in Sudan that lead to personal tragedy and then exile.  I'm not an expert on Egypt by any means but I worked there for a few months and have taken an interest in reading about it, and I thought aspects of the place were beautifully evoked in the writing and characters. It's not just "generic exotic location" but specific and knowing.  The Golden Scales is set in 1998 and I gather is to be a series taking us up to the present day so I look forward to the return of Makana in another book.  

I loved Wolf Hall and have Bringing up the Bodies queued up to go but so has everyone else, so I’ll instead plug my other favourite novel I read this year:   Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka.  You don’t have to be a cricket fan to enjoy this book, although some of the biggest laughs for me came from the more geeky references but you don’t have to be which should be stressed because the cricket-averse might then not read this wonderful book.      It may even give a shot to your interest in the current Lankan tour, although I imagine the protagonist W.G Karunasena would have some choice words about the brittle performance of his team.

NB: I got those GIFs off tumblr from people who took them off people who took them off people so I don't have anyone to originally credit, soz.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favourite Albums 2012

Wait what? Where is your proper blog?  My beautiful is borked right now.  I have finally reached the end of my tolerance for the soul destroying suckhole which is Movable Type maintenance so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it long term.   Meantime, Blogspot is still a thing who knew so I’m back IN EXILE at my old digs.

The Unrankable

Leonard Cohen -  Old Ideas & Bob Dylan - Tempest
There are a handful of artists whose new albums are not product to be ranked and dissected and assessed, they are new chapters -- scenes,  really -- in the unfolding of my life and do not require any further justification.  Even if they were objectively terrible albums (they are not!) it would be almost irrelevant 'cos me and Len and me and Bob, we are way beyond that, you know?   That said Old Ideas is truly superb and as good as Tempest is, I still think Bob's towering creative achievement of the year is probably that wild Mikal Gilmore Rolling Stone interview. A bravura performance, indeed.

According to Heck of a Guy this is the best version on video of "Going Home" performed by Len on the recent European/North American tour and I trust him.

& The Rest These are the first ones scribbled down as particularly memorable this year but there are other worthies which I may round up in a later post.

Le Fou  -- Zachary Richard     The veteran Cajun musician, poet and cultural activist has released his best album in years.  The songs are often socially charged, delivered via an infectious musical stew (some songs like "La musique des anges" are positively anthemic) and his warm voice.  It's basically entirely in French (I'm starting French beginner classes just after New Year at Alliance Française so check back to see if I hate it once I know what he's saying - joke!) but there are English translations on his site.  

Zachary Richard-Laisse le vent souffler. from CAR productions on Vimeo.

Hello Cruel World - Gretchen Peters   A really stunning album I reckon.  I have a fair few of her albums and I have always enjoyed them but this has really kicked things up to another level where the songs dig deeper than one expects with a real humanistic poetry all the way through, and which mesh perfectly with the beautifully executed music. 

Into the Bloodstream - Archie Roach
After a difficult couple of years for Archie by any measure - the death of Ruby Hunter and his own stroke - that this work is so full of life is a joy from a human and a music point of view.   The gospel choir running through works really well and Archie gets to show off a lot of range all through the record..
Speaking of Indigenous legends still gifting us with great music, Roger Knox has a record out early next year on a label that never puts a foot wrong, Bloodshot of Chicago.  I heard one track on a Bloodshot sampler and I simply cannot wait for it. 

El Gusto SoundtrackOrchestre El Gusto A few years ago I randomly discovered Algerian chaabi (literally “folk”) which blends North African, Arabic and Andalusian music.  At the time I read about the concerts being staged in Europe reuniting the Muslim and Jewish chaabi musicians whp played together mid-century until the war of independence meant the Pieds-Noirs (Algerians of European origin) largely left.   The wonderful documentary  which lead to – literally – putting the band back together showed at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year so I was excited to get to see it.   The soundtrack is fantastic, there’s something about that combination of styles which is irresistible, and being it is a real orchestra – like there are dozens of players on stage – the music has a real hard charging  force that carries you along.   FYI my favourite chaabi-style album is by Maurice le Medioni (who is in the film) and some Latin musicians called Descarga Oriental.

The Great Despiser - Joe Pug  Joe Pug is wonderful and adorable and I love him. This album is a semi-departure in that it has a full band behind it but the same calibre of songs full of beauty and humanity.
Ooh look, an official video. Fancy.

Boys and Girls - Alabama Shakes  Fantastic album of real deal rock n soul but I think they key to the Alabama Shakes might be seeing them live which happily I am scheduled to do in January when they play a (sold out) gig at the Metro.  I want to be Brittany Howard.

This One’s for Him - Various
Obligatory tribute album entry! Actually it's not obligatory since most of them are well meaning mediocrities, and while on this one also very little rises far above the originals in my mind (I admit I have an originalist prejudice for most songs) there is a comradely spirit about the project which envelopes me when I listen to it. And -- from the listener perspective -- the knowledge of long personal relationships between many of these people and Guy himself it manages to break out of the earnest sterility of most similar collections. Video is Suzy Bogguss "Instant Coffee Blues" - I'd say the best country song about a one night stand but honestly that's probably Tom T Hall "Tulsa Telephone Book", no?

Sing the Delta - Iris DeMent Geez it is just nice to have Iris back isn't it?

Everybody's Talkin' - Tedeschi Trucks Band  A live album double album. Smoking.

I Like to Keep Myself in Pain - Kelly Hogan File under instant classic, file under country-soul done right,  file under pour another merlot and turn down the lights and probably shed a tear.

Thankful n Thoughtful  - Bettye LaVette    “Everything is Broken” which opens this record is possibly the single entrant in my list of Dylan songs I actually think I prefer the cover of. I know.  For that truly historic achievement it needs to go here,  the rest is another highly satisfying slow burn soul powerhouse.   She definitively LaVetterises "Dirty Old Town". I expect it might be polarising but I dig it.  A link because they won't let me embed it grrrr. 

"I'm Dreaming" - Randy Newman  Randy didn't release an album this year but did make a song available for free download in time for the US election.  It makes me crack up regularly. It's interesting as per this interview that as it has come to pass he now has fans in the Toy Story-age demographic that he has to explain the satire in a way he didn't with, say, Good Old Boys.  The other thing Randy did this year was get elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2013.  I guess since he met me last year it was the last honour he didn't already have. Grats Randy!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Like a Rolling Stone

Wait what? Why am I here? is borked right now. I have finally reached the end of my tolerance for the soul destroying suckhole which is Movable Type maintenance so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it long term. Meantime, Blogger is still a thing who knew so I’m back IN EXILE at my old digs. This may all seem moot since I haven't posted in forever but I do have some Favourites of 2012 almost ready to go!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

There Won't Be Anymore

Not hereabouts at least. Blogger has served me well, I have no complaints with it and recommend it anyone. But I was feeling the need for a Daniel Craig-esque reboot of the franchise and so you now need to go here for the new site.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Until Now

I think I can honestly say that Jose Feliciano has never before been mentioned on this blog.

Got the Best of the Johnny Cash Show DVDs -- more later.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

That Time of Year

I'm not doing Tamworth this year ;-( but if I were I would probably try and catch Andy Baylor at the Southgate every single damn day. The place is just not the same without him.

Steve from Yesterday and Today will also be setting up at the Southgate, selling the best country collection this side of Nashville and probably the other side of it too.

Sunday Mix Tape

* I don't know why Willie Nelson is under R&B either.
* Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band is my new favourite blues record EVAH.
* Honeyboy Edwards they say is one of the last living connections to R. Johnson, having palsed around with him on the day he died.
* Danny O'Keefe wrote "So Long, Harry Truman" and also "Goodtime Charlie's Got the Blues." Never heard of him before this week but must put him on the list.
* That Little Richard album ("Little Richard is Back") is the one with Hendrix, before Jimi got the punt from the band. Little Richard pulls out some smoking soul on this album, particularly on this track where he also brings a bit of the crazy.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I did a quick 2007 Favourites at Hickory Wind. I neglected to mention Bishop Allen, The Broken String. Listen to the MP3 of Bullet and Big D to see why. Although that song is not actually on the album but it should have been.

This is what I said:

Upfront and Down Low -- Teddy Thompson. Can't add much more to my original review. Still holding up a few months later.

Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods -- Bill Kirchen. The way he masters and blends so many different styles is truly impressive as is the songwriting, singing and music. Something for everyone.

At My Age -- Nick Lowe. My first and last purchase from the Amazon MP3 store, before they rudely closed the loophole that allowed non-USAnians to get stuff. Funny, sad, terribly, terribly sexy loungey-country for grown-ups.

Ex Tempore -- Johnny Irion. To plagarise myself: "An intensely lovely collection of early Neil Young meets early Elton John with a cosmic American sheen."

Heartaches by the Number -- David Ball. Solid as a rock trad country covers plus one worthy original.

Magic -- Bruce Springsteen.
The real test of a Boss/E St. song is how it shakes out live but here's some lovely material to work with. Hooks galore.

Between Daylight and Dark -- Mary Gauthier. Reigning queen of southern gothic, rewards your time spent inside the songs.

Dwight Sings Buck -- Dwight Yoakam. Well, obviously. Makes it for "Close Up the Honky Tonks" alone, which is truly epic (naff video but) and my song of the year.

Silver Mountain -- Deadstring Brothers. Exactly the same as their last couple, which is cool 'cause I love their last couple.

Countrypolitan Favorites -- Southern Culture on the Skids
. Play it loud.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Recently #3

A very acceptable new record of honky tonk. The Mootster is joined by ex-Dwight svengali Pete Anderson on guitar and production.

Listen to:
The Man, The Myth.