Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Lines and Lines and Lines...

I love a list. I’m sure psychologists would have much to say about this, but I’m happy to admit it; I like lists. I like writing lists, reading lists, discussing lists and working through lists. I like shopping lists, things to do lists, favourite things lists, best of lists, worst of lists, lists of names for things, lists of types of things, lists about lists. I like lists.

We list lovers are easily derided; we are control freaks; we’re anal; we’re overly reductive; we don’t like complexity; we’re judgemental; we like things to be black or white; we like to hear other people’s opinions so we can form our own; we crave order. Maybe some of this is true – I admit that even as I write I’m highly tempted to use bullet points list these easy derisions in some kind of order. I won’t go that far but I think it’s fair to try and group lists into a few distinct types; Doing Lists, Preference Lists and what I like to think of as List Lists.

Doing Lists are not for everyone. I like them because my brain likes to wander like Pac-Man in his maze. I can happily spend my hours just floating around and picking up the flotsam and jetsam that come my way, but ultimately not getting anything done. Not everyone needs to plan their grocery shop to the nth degree or studiously plan their every working and waking hours. Good luck to those people I say, but please go about your loose and carefree existences quietly, I’m doing a quick inventory of my fridge and I’m not sure how many potatoes I need this week.

List Lists are the domain of the defiantly anal. They are for the encyclopaedic - the fact gatherers of this world. They are for trainspotters and collectors, for people who choose to remember the name of the fifteenth King of Denmark, the person who scored the most goals in the 2002-03 National Hockey League season and the name of the first woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a penguin. They are the Guinness Book of Records and the Encyclopaedia Britannica and they do well at trivia quizzes. In his book Diaries 1969–1979: The Python Years, Michael Palin admits that many of Monty Python’s most beloved sketches are just lists of things said in silly voices (the Cheese Shop and Dead Parrot sketches being the most famous examples). List Lists exist so that both the world we know and the world we don’t are archived ready for when we need them.

I am a fan of both of the above, but my feelings towards the Preference List are mixed – and herein lies the attraction. The Preference List is a multifarious beast; dough that can be moulded to any shape or a pair of shoes that goes with any outfit. It can act as a genuine affirmation of love or be coldly calculated to promote, sell or put down. At its simplest (and cutest) it can be a child deciding which of their favourite three toys to take on holiday. At its most commercial and dirty it’s the backslapping award ceremonies and end of year Best and Worst lists which (ahem) for better or worse, will come to define what we will remember of our times and signpost our generation’s tastes for future historians.

For the latter it’s important to stay focused on just whose preferences are being offered. Many lists are compiled (read dreamt up) by lazy journalists winding down for the Christmas holidays and in need of copy for their final issues of the year. Does anyone truly believe end of year polls telling us that the best film was the one that most people went to see, or the best music is the one that most people bought. It’s the Michael Jackson theory of biggest = best and it’s always wrong.

Tabloid press loves this kind of snapshot view, and given that its predominance over popular culture it’s no surprise when these five-to-midnight favourites correlate with the concurrent polls drawn from a popular vote via email and text messaging. Tabloid newspapers and magazines are confirming what their demographic wants to know – that their tastes are normal and their opinions correct.

For every broad brush summary though, there are the self-appointed ‘expert’ views. Magazines who can tell you with authority what is officially the best car, film, album, computer game, book or even (see Time magazine’s annual bizarre-fest) Person of the Year. Who cares if Joe/Jodie Public thinks Britney Spears made the best album of the year? Here, discerning reader is the real truth.

Except such magazines also have a mission. They want to be seen as the arbiters of taste and deliverers of the universal truth. It stems from the smug pointlessness of tasteful and highbrow list making – popular amongst middle-aged men as gloriously mocked in the film Hi-Fidelity. Unfortunately for people paid to be journalists that truth also needs to concur with the truths of their readers.

Mojo magazine is a good case in point. Despite offering articles that are on the whole well written, researched and informed, their annual awards ceremony is one of the most embarrassing events in the music calendar. Presented as the thinking person’s BRIT Awards with wit and taste, it is really nothing more than an excuse for the writers and editors of the magazine to rub shoulders with the people they will never be. You can almost hear the writers’ glee as they get their pictures taken with Paul McCartney or Led Zeppelin being presented with an award that they have both invented and allocated. Cast an eye over recent ‘winners
and suddenly even the BRIT awards seem vaguely relevant. At least they only have one lifetime achievement award. Mojo has ten (depending upon your interpretation of Outstanding Contribution to Music, Icon Award, Hero Award, Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Award, Special Award, Legend Award, Classic Album Award, Inspiration Award , Les Paul Award (!), and the Maverick Award) with 90% voted for by the Mojo staffers. For the record, Mojo also publishes a few end of year Best of lists and then follows it up with a readers’ list just so you have a few more lists to digest.

So yes, most lists are pointless and made by wankers. And still, despite myself, I love lists. I think this is because even though we live in an age where wiki-power of knowledge about absolutely everything is but a click away for our own investigation and exploration, we still need reference points. The infinite possibilities offered by the internet are overwhelming to most of us. Lists are like handrails to hold onto as popular culture rushes by us. They let us take stock of what everyone else is saying and give us a chance to blindly agree or furiously argue. They give us a foundation on which to build our views, and a starting point from which to explore.

Lists also offer hope for the fence sitters of this world. We live in a sound-bite world and who are you if you don’t have a sound for people to bite? Maybe it’s just the company I keep but most people I know would rather Sellotape their mouths shut than divulge their honest innermost likes and dislikes.

Whilst there will always be a few hip and arch people who can rattle off an uber-cool list of their favourite things (regardless of whether they have actually read, heard or seen any of them) ask most people to name their favourite anything and they will um and ah for an age. They’ll have a ponder about who is going to hear the answer, maybe recall an established and well respected list that they’ve read, and try and find a nice piece of smooth safe ground on which to gently land their inoffensive opinion. They will tie themselves in knots trying to say the right thing, not miss something obvious out, seem informed and of course make sure they don’t look different. This is because on some level we all need reassurance that our views and tastes are OK.

The Guilty Pleasures compilation series – in which people basically admit to liking the music they grew up with, naff or not – plays directly with this phenomenon. It says ‘sod what the learned people tell you is best, it’s what you like that counts.’ I like this approach - apart from the fact that it’s called Guilty Pleasures and therefore perpetuates the feeling that even though you like it, it’s still wrong.

This is taken to the next level by the author and music writer Garry Mulholland who has taken the vain and yet hugely entertaining step of issuing two books which amount to little more than lists of his favourite singles (This is Uncool: the 500 Greatest Singles since Punk and Disco) and albums (Fear of Music: the 261 Greatest Albums since Punk and Disco) with a lovely turn of phrase to tell you why. Had I a list of List Makers, Mulholland would be #1. This may be to do with the fact that I greatly agree with many of his opinions, but I think it’s mostly because he is unapologetic about what he loves and talks with great devotion about why. Free of any editorial restrictions he has written two perfect diatribes about all that he holds dear. What more can you ask of a list? Honourable mention also to OMG Lists
which, despite the terrible name, offers a weird and wonderful collection of lists that you probably won’t think you need to read, but will enjoy anyway.

Lists don’t matter, of course. They are just other people’s opinions. Or maybe a group of people’s opinions all squished together and put together in numerical or alphabetical or biggest or smallest or best-est or worst-est order. They don’t make something any more wonderful, nor do they make anything any more true. They are just other people’s thoughts all neatly lined up in a row, ready for you to embrace or kick over. Just remember - paid journalists aside - someone had to climb off the fence to make that list so if you’re going to kick, have the courtesy of climbing down yourself first.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Whilst You Were Sleeping

I've quit my job and we're just about to move cities. It's a big change and suddenly my senses with regards to the mundane events of everyday life have become heightened. Despite remaining very keen to go, there are lots of 'this will be the last time I...' type thoughts going through my head, particularly when I'm on my own on the same route to the work that I've travelled for over six years.

I doubt I'm alone in the world when I say that this journey is simultaneously an isolating and a communal experience. There's a whole bunch of us all going in the same direction, day after day. We travel independently but en masse. We know each others faces, work outfits, bus stops and newspapers but will never know each other’s names. I've often thought of breaking through the paper wall and saying hello to a fellow traveller. But then what happens on days when I don't want to talk to people or say hello and just want to sit quietly in my little bubble. It's always enough to keep me in my shell.

Despite the six years of repetition, this journey (usually undertaken half-asleep) seems to throw up something interesting every day - people yawning, people immaculate, people trying to sign me up for a cause, people selling flashing pens and badges and other charity paraphernalia, people giving away breakfast cereal and cough sweets, tourists asking for directions, people asking for change, people crying, people drunk, people making like they are in Europe and drinking short blacks with cigarettes, people angry at buses to the point of physical abuse.

Today on the way to work I saw a group of folks chasing a duck through the streets of Sydney. They were all trying to make sure the duck (who had no intention of flying back the way he came into the city) didn't wander into the busy road and get squished. One guy from the council had a box with air holes ready prepared. People stopped and stared but there wasn't really anything to see; just a duck wandering up a busy city street like the rest of us, and a lot of people shielding the road. You take these things in your stride at 7am. I didn't stay long to watch in case it all turned bad. I didn’t want to write in here about how a duck got run over... it wouldn't have made for a happy ending for anyone, least of all the duck. So instead let's all pretend that he (or she) made it safely back to where they lived and some guy with a box had a nice story to tell his kids this evening.

The duck incident happened in the same place as another 7am surprise a few months ago when I was surrounded by 30 people in yellow babygro costumes all laughing and cheering. Like I said, some days I'm in my shell and some days I'm out. If they'd caught me on another day I'd probably have been annoyed, but that day I was out with the sunshine and their enthusiasm and cheer amongst the surly ipod-ers and mobile-phone talkers made me city made me laugh. They were raising money for cancer research and let me take their picture for a couple of bucks. I think I wanted the picture to remind myself that some of the stuff that happens in life isn't a dream. Here's the picture - it still makes me smile.

Now, I've got 7 days to find out the name of all those people on my bus before they're gone forever.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Ha-Ha Her

I'm a bit of a tragic for falling in love with women on TV. When I was 12 I had a special page in my Garfield diary that listed girls who I fancied off the telly. I'm sure Kylie Minogue would be delighted to hear that she's the only lady listed who'd still make my 2008 list. If I had one. Which I don't. Actually, I still do I suppose - it's just in my head now so people can't prove how sad I am. However, now that I've confessed I'll take this opportunity to share with you my undying love (for now) for Saturday Night Live's finest, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.

Funny is, of course, very sexy. Funny always ranks high on women's lists for what constitutes the perfect man. For men it often sits lower in the list behind some quite technical limitations on size of various parts of the anatomy. Many men still persist with the stupid assumption that women can't be funny. I've never been interested in this idea, often espoused in the eighties and nineties and mostly (from what I could see) based on the fact that there are more famous male comedians than females. This is a bit like saying Coldplay are better than Lambchop cos they've sold more records. Sort of. But anyway thankfully we live in slightly more enlightened times and TV executives, tour promoters and the general public are seemingly now more willing to give female writers and performers a chance to do their thing and be seen.

To the credit of the people behind Saturday Night Live, broadcast direct from New York for over 25 years, there has always been a strong female presence amongst the writers and actors; from the first season's Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner through Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo to the noughties genius of Rachel Dratch, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and of course Fey and Poehler. It may be true that the SNL gals are traditionally outnumbered by the guys, but the notion that they are outshone is one of the past. The problem of course has been that post-SNL far too few women then go onto the same stellar recognition as the post SNL men. This is likely based on a lack of decent scripts with varied and interesting roles to harness their talents actually getting funded (see Alex Remington's take on this

Tina Fey (left) and Amy Poehler from SNL's Weekend Update

The good news is that in the absence of a helping hand from the industry Poehler and particularly Fey have made their own DIY move from small to silver screen. Whilst in the role of head-writer at SNL, Tina Fey wrote the script and starred in Mean Girls - a teenage comedy (with a sisterhood twist) that was surprisingly watchable given its high-school setting. Now she's done it again with Baby Mama, a Fey-scripted Amy-Tina vehicle. The idea of watching a romantic comedy about a successful businesswoman trying to conceive through surrogacy makes my fingers twitch angrily as I type, but I quite enjoyed the experience.

It's all down to Tina and Amy of course and another chance to see what made them special as the first female co-anchors on Weekend Update. Fey's Sexy Librarian (now given greater prominence due to her uncanny Sarah Palin impressions) and Poehler's cheeky faux-dumb blonde are both flimsy covers for the wealth of talent which lit up SNL for years. Fey is now more famous for the excellent 30 Rock (she writes, she stars, she produces, she rocks!) whilst ongoing scene-stealing by Poehler in Baby Mama and SNL-linked Blades of Glory, will hopefully lead to increased prominence and a pathway for the likes of Wiig and Dratch et al. And I love them. Did I mention that? I do. A lot.

Gratuitous List Time
Away from the world of SNL the small-screen continues to prove what everyone knows anyway; that women can be as sick, violent, painfully embarrassing and bloody hilarious as any man. With no pretence to completion (my mum would be horrified that I’m not eulogising Victoria Wood) here are some of my favourite ladies of comedy…

Despite being virtually anonymous since 2000, Caroline Aherne remains peerless as a writer (and actor) of so-true-it's-painful comedy. As Mrs Merton she set a standard that Graham Norton has been ripping off for years whilst The Royle Family deserves repeated viewings and will probably outlast most its contemporaries in people's affections. And speaking of which, at least poor Cheryl (the Royle's dumpy and put-upon next door neighbour) gives and gets the last laugh through the genius of Jessica Hynes (Stevenson as-was) as the dippy and delightful Daisy Steiner in Spaced, co-written with Simon Pegg.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Morwenna Banks - from Absolutely to her work with Reeves and Mortimer and Steve Coogan. As a character actress she’s pretty hard to beat and blends like Maybelline foundation into any crazy world she inhabits. Julia Davis' Nighty Night and Amy Sedaris' Strangers with Candy are deliciously warped and well worth your attention and even if I don't love Catherine Tate as much as everyone else seems to (I preferred her straight-ish acting in Doctor Who) her characters are as spot on as anything in the over-praised Little Britain.

The ladies of the much under-appreciated Big Train (including Tate, Davis and Thick of It star Rebecca Front along with Amelia Bullimore, Doon Mackichan and Gina McKee) deserve special mentions in any comedy encyclopaedia for an array of scene-stealing supports in some of the best comedies of the past 15 years. A similar tip of the hat to Olivia Coleman for bringing out her inner Maggie Philbin on Look Around You and for making Mark and Jez seem even more inhumane on Peep Show (speaking of which I am in completely in love with Isy Suttie's Dobby and hope she'll be back for Series 6. Meanwhile Suttie is touring her own musical comedy act - let's hope she makes it to Australia some day).

Part of me would like to praise Gina Riley and Jane Turner's Kath and Kim but I'm still mad at them for making too many series with diminishing returns. I'll get over it. I will mention Jane Kennedy though for outstanding contribution to Australian comedy, especially as uber-bitch Brooke Vandenberg in Frontline.

Finally, a special mention to Julie Kavner for ongoing excellence as Marjorie "Marge" Simpson (née Bouvier) on the Simpsons. What would the show be without Marge's honest but misguided attempts at moral guidance, relentless love of her family and addiction to gambling in all its forms?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

How High?

News that the Charlatans are about to visit Australia for the first time in their 19 year history will probably raise more eyebrows than blood pressures, but I must admit it's got me excited. I didn't think we'd ever see them over here - so much so that I changed a flight last November so I could see them in Manchester. Sometimes seeing one of your favourite bands is like catching up with friends from your past - a good chance to reminisce and comment on who has put on a bit of weight.

That night in Manchester [their spiritual if not their actual home] the Charlatans were a lean mean shadow-boxing machine; I was blown away. It's not just the oft talked about tragedy that has kept the band together long after their contemporaries have gone. This is a band of mates, and importantly a band who can really play. Two decades of touring together has left them tight as a coiled spring and backed by a catalogue of songs as diverse as Tim Burgess' singing styles they played a show that's still ringing in my ears nine months later. The set was nicely diverse and touched on a bit of every album (and yes, they played indie-chestnut The Only One I Know if that's what you want to know).

I'll admit (if it's not obvious) I have a huge soft spot for the Charlatans (I once got to hang out with Rob Collins after a gig about a year before he was killed, and a nicer genius you'll never meet) but latest album You Cross My Path is a genuine return to form after their last two patchy efforts. Combine that with a chance to hear One to Another and Weirdo live, as well as one of the greatest set-closers in rock history in Sproston Green and you've got a pretty good night out.

There's currently only two gigs scheduled (November 13 at Melbourne's Queensbridge Hotel and the next night at Sydney's Forum) - so get in quick for tickets. Satisfaction guaranteed...

Thursday, 29 May 2008


I feel like the Sergeant in Hong Kong Phooey as I write, out of breath and full of "ooh! Ooh! OOH!" Work has been lousy of late so I went on a music shopping spree. Thankfully I seem to have pulled five plums out of the pie. Allons-y:

Last of the Shadow Puppets - Age of the Understatement
Finally the boy Turner catches my eye. I love the idea of the Arctic Monkeys and I'm delighted that a young band utterly lacking in pretension and still marvelously gifted have been taken to the world's bosom. It's just that the odd single aside they've never really won my heart. Maybe its no surprise that a deliberate move to emulate Scott Walker was all it took, but The Age of the Understatement is more than that. On first lesson I was picking up Lee Mavers, Serge Gainsbourg, Walker (especially the "cute-cute-in-a-stupid-ass way" of Jackie), Ennio Morricone and former flavours of the decade the Coral. I'm sure there's even more in there for when I go back. Great haircuts and jackets too.

The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
Oh yes yes yes. Ludicrously described by the NME as the future of British Music (yawn - somebody buy some more superlatives) this is another case of make your own way through the hype. Like knowingly arch and fantastic pop records that make you want to sing on the bus? Would you rather be on the dance floor than being chatted up by blokes in Ralph Lauren shirts? Then you'll like the Ting Tings. Someone told me they were on an i-Pod advert so it's safe to say they don't need my endorsement or advertising, but pop doesn't come this well formed very often and they should be celebrated. Coming across like a female-voiced Franz Ferdinand (Shut Up And Let Me Go is like Take Me Out crossed with Chic and covered by Blondie) Katie White is the big sister you want to have/be. It's like they have hit that mark that bands like Kenickie and (sorry about this) Shampoo aimed for to varying degrees of success. I haven't read any interviews or seen them live so they might be w*nkers (something you could never say about the Kenicks) but for now I'm just going to enjoy.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Devil Dirt
The world of boy-girl cooler-than-thou call-and-response is not new, as we know. I'm talking gravel-voiced battle hardened men waltzing with beautiful angelic ingénues here as opposed to your standard male-female duet. Everyone seems agreed that Nancy (Sinatra) & Lee (Hazelwood) kicked this thing off in the English speaking world (Serge Gainsbourg dead-panned against a host of Gallic beauties throughout his life, including his daughter). Despite his current status I always thought that Johnny Cash and June Carter's duets were a little wholesome to qualify. Johnny Thunders and Patty Paladin's 1988 Copy Cats offered a mixed bag of nuts, Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham (Luna alumni) showed they can write a good tune but not lyrics, Jarvis did a so-so turn with Lush at the height of Britpop and of course Nick Cave famously bludgeoned Kylie to death on Murder Ballads. But until Campbell and Lanegan's 2005 Ballad of The Broken Seas, N&L were still the quality benchmark for this kind of thing. The acclaim and sales of that album alone probably prompted this reunion but is it worth it? The western-shirted Campbell on the front cover of Sunday at Devil Dirt seems older and wiser than the Sixties-style coquette she portrayed on the cover of BOTBS. Yet for the first few tracks, such is her lack of aural presence, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was a Lanegan solo effort, with Isobel hiding from her moody beau in the shadows or worse in the kitchen. Things get more collaborative (and saucy) on Come on Over (Turn Me On) which is Agent Provocateur to Belle and Sebastian's M&S knickers version of sexy and does a solo turn on Shotgun Blues but overall despite at least co-writing every song Campbell seems content to play wispy second fiddle to Lanegan's best Leonard Cohen impression. So is this a bad thing? Not at all. It's a great late night album, ladened with smoky Americana and genuine beauty. I guess I just like Isobel's voice more than she does...

Neon Neon - Stainless Style
No great surprises here. Mint Custard likes Super Furry Animals-related project shocker. But still hats off to the indomitable Gruff Rhys for what is his third great album in 18 months and represents another 180 degree change of style. This time he's reunited with American producer Boom Bip (check out their track Do's and Don'ts from 2005's Blue Eyed in the Red Room) to make a concept album about John Delorean, the mogul behind the Delorean Motor Company which is basically only famous to most of us for making the car in Back to the Future. If you shivered in horror reading that then don't fret pet; the album is a tight mix of pop, eighties tinged synth rock and bleeps and beats. It's got some strong cameos including the Pharcyde's Fat Lip (recently heard on the Chemical Brothers' Salmon Dance - but don't hold that against him) and Har Mar Superstar. It also features some funny references with lines like "You'll see my reflection in Michael Douglas's mirror sunglasses." My favourite story about the album is from when they debuted at SXSW last year, Gruff introduced the song Raquel with "this is a song about what would have happened if Delorean had had an affair with Raquel Welch. Which he didn't." Gruff Rhys - international treasure.

Robert Forster - The Evangelist
I once played Grant McLennan at Space Invaders after a gig at the Metro in Sydney. I was kicking his arse on the early levels until he called his friend over to join us. McLennan deliberately used his friend to distract me and ended up winning the game. He was really nice about it though... lovely bloke. Robert Forster doesn't mention this incident on his new album but he does take time to write some beautiful songs about his late-partner and mate who died of a heart attack two years ago. The first thing about putting the album on was just what a great thing it is to hear Robert's voice again. He has a presence (if not a sound) like Johnny Cash; sage yet warm, not a perfect singer but that's what makes him perfect. His voice fills this album and the hurt shared by Go-Betweens fans the world over feels slightly soothed. It's all great but given the context it's hard to avoid focussing on the songs that seems specifically about McLennan; It Ain't Easy and From Ghost Town. The latter is (ahem) haunting and gorgeous and whether Grant-directed or not, lyrics like 'what we made for a thousand years it will not fade' just choke you. It Ain't Easy has a jaunty breezy melody (written by McLennan) on top of which Forster has painted a bright and bold portrait of his friend of whom he says "And a river ran, and a train ran, and a dream ran through everything that he did" which seems to evoke every Go-Betweens song recorded in just 17 words. Mourn the loss, yes, but celebrate those still here. Ace.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Roisin Doll

Roisin Murphy, Metro Theatre

Is Roisin Murphy the best pop star in the world? I suppose it depends what you're after, but after seeing her performance last Wednesday at the Metro I came away thinking that maybe she might damn well be just that. Certainly it's hard to think of someone who's the more complete article (no Irish pun intended). Comparisons with Debbie Harry are obvious but consider their pre-fame indie/punk backgrounds, their similar ages when Blondie were at their peak (Roisin is almost 35), and a shared understanding that a knowing wink here and a coy look there can send the crowd into (ahem) rapture and the comparisons are not unfair. Murphy clearly has an intuitive visual sense which, combined with various charity shop chic costume changes evoked other consummate stars in their peak as diverse as Jarvis, George Michael and Adam Ant.

The truth is Roisin Murphy is captivating over two hours - her performance arch, theatrical, silly, flirty, cold, funny, carnal, brilliant but above all honest. She is capable of being all these things and somehow you know that she's the type of person who always gets the pints in and probably even buys crisps and peanuts for everyone at her table. Which is something that you probably couldn't say about Madonna, Rhianna, Britney or Kylie. Maybe Gwen would...

Her songs - tragically - are not completely worthy of her; some meander a little too long, others too tied to the yawn of the noughties, electro. I have no bones with stars who go solo and want to play their own stuff (apart from a bad experience with Sting in 1995 but really I should have known better) so I'm slightly ashamed to report that my favourite moment of the night was the only Moloko song she played - a glorious rendering of Forever More slowed down and sung with her two backing singers against a Roy Lichtenstein homage backdrop. She does have some marvelous music moments of her own - a Teutonic wig out in Overpowered, the Erasure- meets- Kylie camp of Movie Star, a kind of sexy global warming warning in Dear Miami, a cool-as-f *ck reworking of The Truth, a collaboration with Handsome Boy Modeling School from 2000 - but through it all I couldn't escape the feeling that the real thrill was just being in the same room as Roisin herself. A little like Pulp and the early Manic Street Preachers sometimes it's the effort and feeling that you're amongst good people that we applaud rather than the life-changing music. But don't let that stop you applauding.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Silver Sounds

LCD Soundsystem, shall I compare thee to some other bands this summer's day? Thou art more lovely than quite a few bands that I've heard....

At a Big Day Out whose weak line-up was brutally exposed in Sydney by Bjork's last minute drop-out (rumours abounded that she had pulled out after getting booed in Brisbane) small pleasures were to be treasured. They were few and far between (P'nau's dancing fruit ensemble; at least half of Arcade Fire; Kate Nash's enthusiasm if not her songs; a nice couple of rants by Billy Bragg - post-modernised by him being framed on all sides of the stage by the sponsorship of a popular brand of
American shoe with minimal arch support) and it was quickly apparent that most people were only there for one band. I'm sure it must be a source of daily bemusement to the four members of Rage Against the Machine that their informed, principaled and politicized outpourings are essentially ignored by the majority of people who watch them who are far more interested in taking off their shirts, sweating and jumping up and down on people. Still, it would have been interesting to see an aerial shot of the Sydney Showgrounds as Arcade Fire finished their set about 30 metres from the Rage stage; at least 80% of the entire BDO crowd were there. However, even standing 1000 rows back and four songs in we were quickly covered in piss/beer, trod on a few times and had far too much contact with slimy-skinned imbeciles with Southern Cross tattoos.

This all turned out to be good though, because if this hadn't happened I don't think we'd have seen as much of LCD Soundsystem and wouldn't have been impressed enough to get a last minute ticket to see them the next day at the Enmore. And how we were impressed... yes they sound like a few other bands - but hey, they're all good bands. Who wouldn't want to see a group that pulls out the best of Joy Division, Talking Heads, Underworld, the Doors, David Bowie, Underground Lovers and New Order - but yet feel completely honest, fresh and modern? The band were a real revelation (apparently they feature a member of Arcade Fire on percussion) and Mr Murphy was as charming and self-depreciating as you'd expect from someone who has taken 15 years to 'make it'.

I know every poll and their dog has ranked Sound of Silver highly in the 2007 best ofs, and that the same happened in 2005 when they released LCD Soundsystem but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to get involved. Maybe too many people were harpiong on at me... but who knew that those songs would sound so good live? They played pretty-much all the new album and a hefty whack off their debut (I think), but in the end it didn't matter whether you knew the songs (most people there) or not (me) because they all worked and they all sounded perfect. People danced their bums off all night, euphoric and we all rose as one to concede to the inevitable promise/taunt - 'we're your friends tonight.' If you can see them, do.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Food of the Long White Cloud

Should you ever be in New Zealand and feeling hungered I can throughly recommend these little corners of joy:

Flying Burrito Brothers, Cuba Street, Wellington
Gram Parsons should rise from his grave for this Mexican which offers smarter than the average fare. Great choices (for vegetarians and omnivores alike), fresh and tangy tasting sauces and a cool hardcover drinks menu that reads like a 1850's bible on booze and voodoo.

Dexarelli's Pizza, Westport
Bloke from Dubbo who lives in New Zealand and runs a lovely authentic 1970's pub with the original beer pumps and has a pizza oven at the end of the bar. The clever bit? Pizzas are cheaper if you eat them in - so stay, have chat with the clientèle, play a few games and enjoy a brew with a tasty pizza.

Red Star Luxury Burgers, Wanaka

Wandered in on a random Tuesday arvo and found a normal looking take-away nicely decorated with old pulp fiction book covers and cool music in the background. Fantastic selection of burgers for all tastes and meat-eating persuasions which left a nice sauce moustache on both of us. Not too expensive either compared to the prices that were seemingly increasing the closer we got to Queenstown

Vespa Designs and Cafe, Queenstown
Hope I got this right; I didn't write it down at the time as I wandered away in a satisfied cheese-roll induced fog towards the mini-golf. Vespa is a cafe and design shop based in the oldest cottage in Queenstown down by Lake Wakatipu in the main town. It was here that we discovered the $2.50 joys of the cheese roll - a South Island speciality involving a slice of bread, a slice of cheese, some onion soup mix and a toastie machine. Three should fill you up for the morning - make sure you get the grainy bread. We enjoyed our cheesey comestibles and coffee inside a greenhouse, which isn't something you do everyday (unless you're a pensioner).

Champagne Cafe, Struthers Lane, Christchurch
The only place I've ever been decorated with wallpaper inside and outside. Lush little cupboardy kind of place hidden under the adjacent Yellow Cross pub but is far better for atmosphere and service. I'm not very good at indulging myself (or parting with money) but was glad I did here. Shared a highly likeable cheese platter which was topped up for free, washed down with a mandarin gin cocktail. La di da me. Nice though but...