Saturday, 25 December 2010
Monday, 13 December 2010
Growing up I used to watch a lot of old music shows on TV with my mum. Whenever artists like David Bowie, Neil Young or the Faces were shown performing in their seventies pomp, she was rather fond of saying the phrase ‘I was there, I was that soldier.’
I’ve had a few such moments of my own in the 20 or so years I’ve been watching live music, but it’s been a while since I had an ‘I was there’ concert. Thanks then to the Gorillaz for providing one of those moments at the Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night.
I think I sufficiently articulated my excitement about the opportunity to see Damon Albarn play live again back in August when this concert was announced. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much of an ensemble performance Gorillaz were capable of offering. When artists talk about guest collaborators and huge numbers of musicians on stage it’s rarely a precursor to great music – more a sign of big budgets and prog-tastic ostentatiousness.
Then again, most ensemble casts don’t include half of The Clash. There is something indescribably thrilling about the sight of Paul Simonon and Mick Jones prowling the stage wearing matching naval uniforms and handling their guitars like rifles. The vision of them standing like Russian guards, flanking Albarn as he stood poised with his melodica for the intro to Clint Eastwood was worth the entrance fee alone, let alone their incredible musical contribution. The Clash were amongst London’s first celebrity champions of reggae and Simonon’s bass makes a smooth arc from the Clash’s Guns of Brixton to Gorillaz’ first dub-influenced single Tomorrow Comes Today – whose vibrations shook the huge tennis arena.
Those familiar with the Gorillaz albums will know the calibre of their other collaborators, many of whom were present either on screen (Snoop Dogg resplendent in naval gangster chic) or in the flesh. De La Soul’s contribution to the party was far larger than their two recorded offerings suggest. As warm up band they go down in history as the only hip hop act to ever actually make me put my arms in the air (like I did not care) and as part of the show their exuberance and clearly reciprocated affection for Albarn was uplifting.
Turns from Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, the Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown, Bashy and Kano bring the Gorillaz songs to life whilst contributions of a string section (who knew cellos, sailor caps and LBDs was such a sexy get-up?), Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (like the Muppets band but with more energy) and members of the Syrian National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music provide the necessary tools to craft the hugely diverse songs Gorillaz have produced in their ten years together. From dub to hip hop, rock to pop, soul to gospel, techno to rap and kiddy choir, there are elements of everything in the show, with Albarn’s enthusiasm and ability unbounding for them all.
The show was so heavy on hits that it seems unfair to highlight individual tracks but Glitter Freeze, Stylo, 19-2000, Feel Good Inc and Dirty Harry nearly blew the roof off, Punk offered a welcome sight of 1992 era Albarn doing his knee-tuck in leap for 90 seconds, On Melancholy Hill made me cry – and finishing with the church-choir singalong of Demon Days was just lush.
Gorillaz are often derided amongst musos for their cartoon origins, as if comic books somehow infantilise and devalue the music. I suspect such critics haven’t seen Gorillaz live, where Jamie Hewlett’s blend of the macabre and the beautiful creates something funny and frequently poignant (the sight of a windmill-powered flying island being attacked and grounded by sinister helicopter gunships during El Mañana a case in point). The graphic evolution of Murdoc, Russel, 2D and Noodle – with a slightly naff but amazingly detailed computer animation of the band in their dressing room punctuating the night – is also fascinating, especially watching the simplicity of the original video to Clint Eastwood.
Regardless of my own predilection towards all things Albarn, it’s hard not to feel pleased for the lad. Tonight’s show is a collaboration – and one that only works when all the players work together - but it is also a testament to the boy from Blur’s talents. From what was presumably a very stoned pre-Millennium night in Hewlett’s flat he has assembled his own version of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party - a globe straddling, multi-headed genre shagging colossus that is too brilliant to ignore and too smart to disappear up its own arse. If, as is rumoured, Gorillaz calls it quite after the end of this tour - and after they release one last album online on Christmas Day – it’ll be the right thing to do. Still at least I’ll be able to tell my mum I was there. For once, I was that soldier.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Friday, 12 November 2010
Part of my really likes this picture but I think it's the part that remembers what I could see with my eyes rather than what the camera was able to capture. For the record this is Stereolab's Laeticia Sadier playing a tambourine in profile at the Billboard in Melbourne (flutter flutter).
The (ahem) Modfather, Paul Weller shows his appreciation with a whistle at the Enmore in Sydney. Note enormous hand in foreground that looks like one of those sponge ones you get at the cricket.
And to wrap up for today, a rather uninspired picture of the world's most inspiring band - Super Furry Animals. For the record there were many magnificent photo opportunities throughout this gig, not least a space helmetted Gruff Rhys singing Slow Life into a vocoder. Sadly those pictures were so bad they didn't even make it past the bus ride home.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
The glowing blurred blob above is Mr Neil Young, performing one of his indeterminedly long and painful guitar solos at the Melbourne Big Day Out, 2009. The more observant amongst you will note that is a b flat minor chord he's playing. Maybe.
Whilst it's not immediately obvious, this is the mighty Spandau Ballet performing at the Rod Laver Arena earlier this year (you can read my review here). The figure on the big screen (and bottom left on the stage) is former Eastender Martin Kemp, the ballet's bass player. Be grateful this picture was taken before the encore when both Kemp brothers emerged shirtless and wearing leather waistcoats and I did a little sick in my mouth.
Supporting the Ballet that day were Tears for Fears. This scintillating picture captures band members Roland Orzabol and Kurt Smith seemingly being abducted by aliens.
In late 2008 my friend's mum scored some free front row tickets to see Def Leppard at the Rod Laver Arena. Sadly she didn't have anyone to go with. When it comes to bands from Sheffield I may be more Jarvis than Joe Cocker but I do love the first side of Hysteria enough to recognise a gift horse when I see one. Not wanting to waste this unexpected opportunity, I thrust my enormous lense into the sweaty middle-aged rock action.
Lest we be allowed to forget (for it was enshrined in popular song) the drummer from Def Leppard only has one arm. That doesn't stop Rick Allen (for 'tis he) from bringing the noise, and with this many drums around him you can see why.
Rock lesson # 2. No black tshirt = no shirt at all.
Join us again tomorrow for more works unlikely to be hung up in any gallery or museum soon.
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
A case in point is the camera. Weighing in at a hefty 2.0 megapixels and with a shutter button that had to be pressed so hard that any picture not taken in bright sunshine adopted a distinctive blur you'd think I wouldn't ever have bothered using it. Yet many was the time I found myself caught up in post-sunset events thinking 'I must capture this moment forever. Unleash the trusty box brownie phone and let us make photographic magic.'
By way of a tribute to my ex-phone I'll like to share some of our finest concert moments together. Over the next few days I intend to blow your mind with scenes that will actually make you feel you are there - providing by there you mean in the very back row of a 100,000-seater stadium and high on ketamine. I'd like to dedicate this exhibition to the great Kevin Cummins, former NME photographic stalwart and whose works adorned my teenage bedroom walls (and beyond). Kevin, if you need me you know where I am...
They really were that fuzzy.
No really, I promise it is him.
Don't let the relative clarity of this shot fool you to believe the
pictures improved over time - every single light in the venue was on when I took it.
replete with Mexican day of the dead person. He was aces.
Monday, 8 November 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
There's been a lot of coverage of the hidden delights of Sydney Road in the local press this year, probably as more and more journalists are forced away from the increasingly expensive inner city and head towards the 'burbs. It's true that there are a great many outlets on the main road north out of melbourne, covering a wide range of cuisines and an even broader range of quality. Always reliable however is Tabet's - a lebanese bakery with an exceptionally cheap yet delicious range of bready cheesey products. Both the haloumi pies (essentially a lebanese pastie) and spinach and cheese pies are amazing and for just $2.80 you can eat like royalty even on a budget. Heartily recommended smothered in Masterfoods Hot Chilli sauce.
Having done the pilgrimage to actual SLC and been hassled by actual Salford lads I am pleased to report that this relatively new cafe in Port Melbourne was far more welcoming. The decor inside this industrial setting is an homage to cycling, and there were several old racing bikes and jerseys around the place - as well as a Huddersfield Town banner. Sadly I'm unable to provide much comment on the highly interesting and varied dinner menu as we only went for breakfast. I am happy to report though that the coffee, eggs and homemade baked beans were top drawer and the Northern Breakfast (replete with black pudding) looked good enough to turn Morrissey himself back to meat.
Friday, 22 October 2010
The past few months have been a quiet time for the Mint Custard Book Club (membership one and counting, slowly). After ripping through A Streetcar Named Desire I got bogged down in Cloudstreet. This is less a reflection on Tim Winton’s Miles Franklin Award winning masterpiece than on the fact that I scored myself a free iPhone. Instead of bettering myself by diligently sticking to my mission to read at least one piece of literature a month, I’ve been distracted by the gaudy thrills of mobile internet, Angry Birds and pseudo-Scrabble, Words with Friends.
Yes, a mere three years after the launch of the iPhone I’ve finally caught up with technology. I say only because despite assurances from gadget enthusiasts that just six months can be a lifetime when it comes to technology, up til now I have spent my life separated from modernity by a continual seven year buffer of which phones are just a minor detail.
Much of this spans back to childhood and a general lack of gadgetry in our house. We got our first video - a VHS Ferguson Videostar – in 1987. It was my grandparent’s old one, donated to us because even Grandad wouldn’t be seen dead with a top loader by then. We had a hi-fi, one of those housed in an MDF wood-effect cabinet and sealed behind a darkened glass door, but it was a strictly tapes and records affair. 1985 may have seen Dire Straits become first band to sell a million copies of an album on compact disc but it was 1992 before I got around to buying my first CD player. Add another ten years to those two dates for DVDs and you can see a bit of a trend.
Despite their circumstances mum and dad always did their best to get us all what we wanted. Unable to afford the Atari 2600 games console I wanted they got me Astro Wars, a single game table top space shoot-em-up they probably couldn’t afford either and which I clocked several hundred times. I still have it and, in keeping with my temporal techno buffer, I eventually got my 2600 and a sackful of games for my eighteenth birthday in 1993. Mum got it on the cheap from a local second-hand shop inundated with Ataris thanks to Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Again, still have it and still love it. I bought Raiders of the Lost Ark for it last week.
Games consoles have become a bit of a yardstick for my gadget delay. Despite spending the entire summer of 1996 playing Worms on my friends’ PlayStation, it was 2003 - three years after the launch of PS2 - before someone took pity on us and gave us their old one. Having never seen a PS2 in action our old machine was still a revelation, and even better, the games were ridiculously cheap. A similar thing happened in 2008 when a kindly soul gave us a Nintendo GameCube. Leaping several years into the future in a single bound we were amazed by the graphics and game play – happily ignorant that kids of all ages were in similar thrall to the Nintendo Wii. I look forward to getting one… in 2015.
After slagging off mobile phone users for several years I got my first mobile in 2003. It was (naturally) a hand-me down from Mrs Custard, and even that had been given to her by a friend. I left it at home a lot and got told off for not answering it when people rang, but I did like the primitive version of Snake which kept me busy on the bus. I kept it for three years, updating to yet another pre-loved phone in exchange for a six pack of beer. It had a dodgy joystick and perhaps the worst camera ever made, but it did have a great mini-golf game. I finally signed a proper contract in 2008 and was given a free phone for my troubles. It had a rather pointless Walkman feature which didn’t let you use your own headphones, but the mini-golf had better graphics and the at least the camera worked. I felt modern, even though most of my friends had long since moved on to iPhone.
Anyway so finally, after so long at apogee of technological innovation here I am, at its artificially beating heart. For once in my life I can look people in the eye without shame, without a shrug of ‘ahdunno’ when discussing matters telecommunicational. I may have forgotten how to read a book but I can feel the same sense of smugness and self-satisfaction that I am more cutting edge than the general populous. I speak the language of Gates and Jobs. I - with my iPhone 3G - am of the moment. I am now. I am 2010. I am… sorry... hang on... there’s a what? When? Oh balls…
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
First up we have Kanga Poo. We would like to dedicate this to the memory of not one but two of the Poo family who perished at Woody's tiny jaws. The first friendly yellow marsupial met its maker literally overnight, its back ripped open along what we assumed was a dodgy workshop-sewn seam and Woody triumphant with a plastic squeaker in his mouth. We took the unprecendented move of returning Kanga Poo to the shop on the basis of poor seamstressness, noting that we only had a Jack Russell, not a rottweiler-velociraptor cross.
Sure enough within three days Woody (who it must be said greatly enjoyed playing with Kanga during their short time together) had once again ripped open Kanga Two's spine, removed the squeaker and decorated his bed in white fluff. Rest in Pieces, Kanga.
Second up we have Annabel Crab, a small squeaky crustacean with threaded wool instead of a shell and big googly eyes that lasted about 48 hours. We think Woody ate them. Despite this Annabel fared quite well for a while. That was until Woody realised that he could unpick her shell row by row by standing on her back and yanking with his teeth. By the time the fourth row was gone Woody had enough wool to form a lassoo and Annabel's stuffing was stuffed.
On behalf of ourselves and Woody we'd like to take a moment to thank these two loyal, short-lived servants to the cause. Nice one guys. You (temporarily) rocked.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
In this hung-parliament world of uncertainty and doubt, it’s nice to know that there are some things you can rely on to get you through another day. For me it’s knowing that Gruff Rhys – the world’s favourite softly spoken, curly-locked Welsh gentleman genius – has a new single out. It is, naturally, fricken awesome and even better it can be yours for free. Simply head off to gruffrhys.com (cannily renamed recently as The Gruffington Post), leave an email address and soon your ears will be swimming in Gruff’s delightful Shark Ridden Waters.
The track is taken from his upcoming (and as yet unnamed) third solo album. It comes at the end of yet another crazy-busy year for Mr Rhys, a man who is starting to make Billy Childish look a bit idle. Lesser folks might still be resting on the rather spectacular laurels of Super Furry Animals’ 2009 epic masterpiece Dark Days/Light Years. Other folks however are not Gruff Rhys who has been involved in a plethora of projects in a year he also marked his 40th birthday.
After collaborating with Gorillaz on their Plastic Beach album (including the as-yet unreleased Leviathan, described by Gruff as a ‘three o'clock in the morning, speeding down the autobahn evading West German police-type track.’) he teamed up with Tony Da Gatorra, ‘a Brazilian TV and VCR repairman and musical freedom fighter.’ Together they produced The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness, an experimental, mostly live album built around the sound of the gatorra, a homemade drum machine/guitar invented by its namesake. It’s about as far from Gruff’s harmonic style as it’s possible to get so won’t make everyone happy, but it does sound like they’re having a lot of fun. The duo did a few small gigs in the UK this year to promote the album, clips of which you can see on Gruff’s website here...
Gruff met Da Gatorra whilst in South America as part of his other big project for the year, the documentary movie Separado! Described by the blurb as ‘Star Trek meets Buena Vista Social Club in a psychedelic western musical’ the film follows Gruff on ‘a pan continental road trip in search of his long lost Patagonian uncle’.
In an apparently true series of events that sound like the plot of Back to the Future III, a controversial horse race in 1880 led to an unresolved death and a split amongst Gruff’s ancestors, some of whom joined the wave of Welsh expatriates to Patagonia. Gruff undertakes a tour of ‘theatres, nightclubs and desert teahouses of Wales, Brazil and the Argentine Andes as he discovers what became of his family, the Welsh Diaspora and its musical legacy.’ There's unlikely to be an Australian release anytime soon which is a shame as having and watched the trailer with a robot helmeted Guff singing into a vocoder to a crowd of bemused families and scenes of the gatorra in action it looks like it'd be right up my alley.
Whilst we all wait for the DVD, watch the trailer for yourself and find out more about possible cinema screenings in your area at separado.co.uk. For everything else Gruff, including your free copy of his new single, get yourself over to www.gruffrhys.com. Believe me, Shark Ridden Waters is everything you’re hoping it will be. For other reliable (and up to date) Gruff and Super Furry news, remember to check out SFA Goodness (http://sfagoodness.blogspot.com/) or www.superfurry.org. That should be enough to keep you going until the next SFA album which knowing them will probably arrive as a triple album before Christmas. Maybe. Hwyl!
Sunday, 17 October 2010
After taking the tube for years I was horrified to discover I have been being watched this whole time by robot koalas. I hope you appreciate that I missed my stop and added 20 minutes on to my journey home in order to capture this picture for you. Apologies for low quality.