Saturday, July 20th

{ONE} LOVING LISBON

Fado – everywhere in the Alfama, Barrio Alto and Chiado districts [click to enlarge]

If you haven’t booked a summer break, here’s a suggestion. There’s a fascinating looking bill at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon from 1-11 August, featuring performances by Marc Ribot, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mary Halvorson and more, working around a theme of resistance and protest. We spent a few days there last week and, with Melody Gardot’s “Amalia” floating beside us, we walked the hills and docks of this most livable city. It’s super-friendly, the food and wine terrific, and the slightly crumbling Southern European vibe is still intact from my last visit 20 years ago.

{TWO} RAPPER BENCH NEWS!

From Popbitch: “A new Eastside/Westside hip-hop beef is emerging – but this time it’s between East Sussex and West Sussex. As we mentioned at the start of the year, a resident of Newhaven, managed to raise £1,500 after getting permission from the local council to erect a park bench in tribute to the late NWA rapper, Eazy-E. Now it looks as if rap fans in Lancing, West Sussex, are firing back. Having flouted council regulations, they have installed an unlicensed memorial plaque to Tupac Shakur on a bench at the Monks Recreation Ground. In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to stoke up tensions, they’ve also scrawled the words “Fuck You, Newhaven” underneath it. It has since been removed, but quite how the proposed renaming of Worthing Pier to “Wu-Tang” Pier will go down is currently anyone’s guess.”

{THREE} GUITARSLINGERS

A Blabber & Smoke interview with Glasgow guitar player Tom Rafferty had this excellently annotated list of his favourite guitarists and his favourite instrumental albums:
Here are ten guitarists who have lifted me up:
Marc Ribot – always surprising, always a left turn, a singular hand
James Williamson – slamming raw power
Tom Verlaine – liquidity
Ry Cooder – floating, yet gritty
Sonny Sharrock (especially Ask The Ages) – rage
Jimmy Reed – swinging sincerity, great heart
Hubert Sumlin – righteous blues
Pops Staples – The Shimmering King, with the deftest touch
Robert Quine – skronk and fury
Earl Hooker – astonishing twang and slide
As for a favourite guitar instrumental album, it’s almost impossible, but here’s a few:
Raybeats – It’s Only A Movie
Link Wray & The Wraymen – Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble (the one with the blue cover, on Charly)
David Torn – What Means Solid, Traveller?
Jon & the Nightriders – Live At The Whisky A Go Go
Earl Hooker – The Genius of Earl Hooker

{FOUR} FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH BOB

Having watched endless programmes recently where manicured presenters sit in fake rural environments (folksy sets of hay bales, picnic sets, log cabins, looking at you, Glastonbury) I was primed for gushing introductions and dreadful links at Bob ’n’ Neil, but they were notable by their absence. By the time we got to Hyde Park, we were 65,000 strong, but there was still enough space to lay down a picnic blanket. It’s essentially a lovely day out in the park, only minus the ability to buy a drink, unless you queue for 45 minutes. Yep, no food or drink was allowed in – obviously, we sneaked a hipflask of Bob’s Heaven’s Door bourbon in – which would be fine if the queues were short. Having missed Boy Azooga on the undercard, I was interested to see how Laura Marling fared. So we found a place at the base of Delay 7, a huge video screen with in-sync speakers where both the sound and vision were good and settled in.

“Master Hunter”, kicked off her set, and featured great rolling drums, a “Ballad of Hollis Brown” feel and a cheeky “It Ain’t me Babe” reference, but it was hard for her to involve the crowd, who were woozily distracted by the bucolic weather and the carnivalesque atmosphere, by the Artisan Pizza and the Coffee Caravans. They only really responded for the final two songs, both from the excellent Semper Femina, “Nothing, Not Really” and “Wild Fire”. It was fun to watch the British Sign Language signers in the corner of the screen work with Laura’s rather sophisticated lyric style. Their remit includes making the beat of each song apparent through their body language – they were certainly going to find both words and beat easier with Neil.

Signer, Neil, Old Black, picnic blanket

I remember Rob Fitzpatrick writing in Word magazine, about Young’s Americana album: “If you remove the comfort blanket of (in this case entirely unwanted) hero worship for a moment – and I love Neil Young dearly – what you’re left with is a record that no one in their right mind could possibly want to play more than once or twice. There is a great deal to be said for recording quickly and intuitively, but not much for bashing through everything once and then calling it a day.” Well, that’s kind of what Neil does now. He’s found a clodhopping bunch to back him up who make Crazy Horse look like a fine-tooled, precision outfit – the band with possibly the worst name in Rock History: Promise of the Real. Really. Promise of the Real. Who came up with that?

Opening with three identically-paced songs with identical chords (that’ll be our old favourites C, G and D) “Mansion on the Hill”, “Over and Over” (that could have been the afternoon’s motto) and “Country Home”, he then went into “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, and some semblance of melody and structure came to bear. I thought I’d have no problem with a set-list that included this, “Alabama”, “Words”, and “Walk On” but I did. The problem was that everything was leaden. The band were no match for the sifty strangeness of a song such as “I’ve Been Waiting for You”, flattening out the melodies, and on the Harvest selections, two guitarists attempted to replace late steel player Ben Keith and failed. I mean, I lived through pub rock, and it was way better than this. He also played possibly two of his worst songs (“Throw Your Hatred Down” and “Piece of Crap” – don’t tempt me).

As Neil churned out solo after solo on “Old Black” – his faithful ’53 Les Paul – all I could think of was Bill Bailey’s riff on The Edge, where he reveals simplistic note patterns beneath the layers of effects pedals. But Neil was there to worship the guitar as a holy relic and played solos on virtually every song. I mean, he’s very good at his thing, but this performance struck me as indulgent and lazy. At some point during a never-ending “Rocking in the Free World”, I was praying for a power cut. At that point, I could have signed it in BSL… Jesus, it was the song that never died. We were, indeed, “rocking” in some world, I’m just not sure how free it actually is at the moment.

“One time in London I’d gone out for a walk / Past a place called Hyde Park where people talk / ’Bout all kinds of different gods, they have their point of view / To anyone passing by, that’s who they’re talking to…” – Bob Dylan, “T.V. Talkin’ Song”, not one of his finest hours.

A rare shot of four-fifths of Bob Dylan and His Band

Bob came on, and the video screen director had his orders: never don’t have Bob in the frame. And as Bob was behind a piano, this meant the entire show was watched in a static shot, unless he sashayed to centre stage to rock out a little or play some harp. We didn’t see Charlie Sexton or George Recili until the fifth song, a cracking “Can’t Wait”. From the off (“Ballad of a Thin Man”) the band were concentrating on Bob’s hands, especially Donnie Herron, perched high behind him, on pedal and lap steels, whose hair was – literally –blowing in the wind. Occasionally, bassist Tony Garnier would lean into shot, staring at the piano keyboard. At first, Bob sang reasonably straight, but it didn’t take long for the rather mannered swallowing and biting of words to start. I thought it slightly unfair on a less Bob-centric crowd than would be at his own shows and felt it especially on a guttural “Make You Feel My Love”, presumably added to the setlist to claim it back from Ms Adkins. Bob either was smiling a lot or grimacing, it was hard to tell, but our friend Bob got it spot-on when asked how he found him, answering, “Puckish”.

Throughout, the band delivered the usual impeccable standard of musicianship, although soloing was kept to a minimum because Bob was obviously enjoying playing the piano too much to leave many gaps. There was a demented music-box version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, and a baffling “Like a Rolling Stone”, close to the waltz-time of his first studio demo of the song in 1965. His latter-day blues obsession also led to a string of rather dull roadhouse blues – “Pay in Blood”, “Early Roman Kings” “Honest With Me”, “Thunder on the Mountain” – which lost some of the audience energy. But it was pretty enjoyable, with a sweet acoustic trio performance of “Girl from the North Country”, a thrilling and febrile “Love Sick”, and a bolero-beat “Gotta Serve Somebody”. We cracked out the bourbon and toasted Bob’s health, and his minstrel’s journey, still travelling the world at 78.

{FIVE} VIDEO OF THE WEEK: BRITTANY HOWARD, “STAY HIGH”.

Filmed in Decatur, Alabama and starring actor Terry Crews (fun fact: Crews considers his first job in the entertainment industry to be a stint as a courtroom sketch artist in Flint, Michigan). It’s a little bit of midsummer magic – my favourite moment comes at 2:15, as Crews mimes “I’m doing wonderful / just fine / thank you”, and the girls he drives past echo, “Thank you!”) in full-on Bobbie Gentry conversational mode.

Lars Gotrich on npr: How did Terry Crews come to appear in the video? Simple. Brittany Howard asked. “I got an email from the Brittany Howard, asking me to be a part of a song she wrote that was all about her dad and how special he was to the family. And she poured her heart out in this letter. I couldn’t believe it,” Terry Crews recalls. “Brittany was like, ‘We can shoot it in L.A.,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m coming to you, we’re going to Alabama. We’re going to where you grew up, to where your family is.”

{DESIGN CORNER} MULBERRY, BOND STREET

Rather lovely vernacular designs for fashion brand Mulberry’s curated and sponsored small gigs.

Comments

  1. Lloyd Clater says:

    Just a quick – that Stay High track is fucking great! Thanks x

    Lloyd Clater | Creative Studio 19 Dowlas Street | London SE5 7TA Phone | +44 (0)20 7277 3636 | Mobile +44 (0) 781 104 5559

    >

  2. For some reason I can’t “like” this post but thanks for mentioning Blabber’n’Smoke and Tom’s list. I’m sure he’ll be well chuffed.

  3. Hello Delay Tower 7. Greetings from Delay Tower 4. I think you were a bit harsh on Neil and you let Bob off too lightly, Martin. Sure the first 3 numbers by Neil were rather similar grunge affairs but then the main part of the set was very varied and contained some gems like Everybody Knows, Walk On, Winterlong, Heart of Gold, Hank to Hendrix etc. There’s not much scope for subtlety and nuance in Hyde Park and it was a crowd pleasing set. I was encouraged that the crowd wasn’t entirely full of old farts like me and that people half my age were singing along (they may all have been like my daughter – brainwashed by endless exposure to his music). And at least Neil spoke to the crowd and appeared to be having a good time. But, yes, he does a very unfortunate habit of winding up his shows with dross like the execrable Piece of Crap. Why does he do that?
    Bob, though – Christ. He’s a living legend and all that, and I realise you revere him, but it’s painful to hear songs I thought I liked being massacred. My wife failed to recognise When I paint My Masterpiece even after he’d sung the title line a couple of times. He sang Blowin’ in the Wind like he was taking the piss out of whichever poor sap wrote it. Maybe he was. I really liked Girl From the North Country. Overall, I kind of liked being there with Bob, feeling warmly disposed towards a genius who has earned the right to play his songs however he likes. But I could easily have left before the end and not regretted it.

    • In retrospect you’re probably right, Kevin. Too hard on Neil, too easy on Bob. And I think that you and Tony (other comment) are right – the “problem” with all legends is that they do what they want without much input from outside. I’ve wished for years that Bob was somehow more careful with his songs (which sort of happened around the Sinatra period a few years ago) but I’m with you on the just being there line, very nicely put.

  4. Tony Burger says:

    Thanks as ever for the post Martin. When I saw the Bob/Neil gig announced I thought ‘Not for me’. I’ve long been of the opinion that, as much as I have loved them both in the past, they have lost the plot to some extent. I think the problem is that neither of them has anyone exerting any quality control, nobody saying ‘That’s not very good, leave it in the vaults’. It has long been the case with Bob and I think the ‘Bootleg Series’ proves it – so often there are unreleased versions which are miles better than what was released originally. Neil just does what he wants and seeks bands that will do as he says, I seem to remember a quote where he himself recognised that Crazy Horse were not virtuoso musicians but he liked using them because they did what they were told. When it comes to guitar (particularly electric guitar) Richard Thompson (I think) got it right when he described Neil as the best bad guitarist in the world. So, it was no Hyde Park for me but put either/both of them in a 200 seat club with just an acoustic guitar and I might still find myself near the fron to the queue.

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