Five Things: Wednesday, 11th June

Lorde, Shepherd’s Bush Empire
It would be an exaggeration to say that one song brought me here, but not by much. That pop masterwork and critique of consumer rapping, “Royals”, is actually joined on the album by other good songs, and they all translate to the stage in a club/dance music fashion, with sub-sonic bass, crashing beats and synth string pads. The lighting is simple but effective and she’s not afraid to be minimal – some songs have very little safety net going on musically behind her. As Kitty Empire said in The Observer, “tonight’s gig sometimes has the atmosphere of a rave in an art gallery”. And even though at times it feels like a PA rather than a proper concert, with the banked backing vocals all flown in by the keyboardist, it’s seventy minutes of really enjoyable noise. Yes, I’m too old to be here among the mid-twenty-something couples that surround me, but what the hell. I actually like gigs where I don’t have a slavish devotion to the music – when I saw Mos Def at the same venue I only really knew the brilliant “Quiet Dog” from the album he was promoting, but it was a terrific show.

Lorde

I was taken aback by how much the audience loved Lorde, howling like religious devotees every time she did her trademark hair toss, and screaming at the end of every song. She couldn’t stop saying how much playing the Empire meant to her (it’s certainly a change from playing to 50,000 people in Lisbon a few days earlier) and seemed genuinely delighted by the response. A nice cover of The Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party” quietens down the mood for a short spell but it soon vibes up again and by the time of “Team”, she’s added a gold cape and cannons fire paper squares (see above) in the air. Then she’s gone, no encore, with the crowd suddenly stilled, all hint of messianic fervor gone as they swarm out of the doors and on to the Green.

From a site Bob G recommends, two lovely 1977 photos
David Byrne, journalist Lisa Robinson, and Ramones manager Danny Fields in Paris, during the Talking Heads/Ramones European tour, 1977 and Iggy Pop photographed by Esther Friedman, The Idiot/Lust For Life era, West Berlin 1977.

Byrne-Iggy

Best Dancing Seen This Week
Sam Herring, Future Islands, “Seasons”, Letterman show. I’m essentially resistant to Future Islands brand of synth pop (I always listen to anything that Laura Barton mentions, but they left me cold). This, however, is kinda great. Patently sincere, equal parts Kevin Eldon, Joaquin Phoenix, and Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter, it elicited this excellent comment on YouTube: “Oh noes! he needs to stop!”

Starbuck
Very funny French Canadian film with a great central performance from Patrick Huard as David, father (by sperm donation) to 200 kids (remade as Delivery Man with Vince Vaughn for the US, apparently unsuccessfully). Recommended.
“David! What are you doing here? I spoke to the psychologist. He said he met you and you’re perfectly normal.”
“I told you so…”
“You’re not normal! I’ve known you 20 years. You’re not normal. How much did you lose in that scheme to import Cuban cigars?”
“The guy seemed like a legit businessman…”
“He walked around in a swimsuit! Who does business with a guy in a swimsuit? Make sure you mention you once paid $500 for one of Hall and Oates’ guitar picks.”
“When they die, it’ll be worth a fortune…”
“That won’t be for another 30 years! Besides, it’s Hall and Oates! They’d do a gig at a kids’ party for $500!”

Imelda May, Later
Catching up with a particularly drab edition of Later (Sharon Van Etten, Wild Beasts and Damien Jurado all vying for title of Dullest Four Minutes Of Music TV, 2014), headlined by Arcade Fire (David Byrne, get your lawyers! Sue Them!) the stand out for me was Imelda May, whose band of wonderfully-faced men created a lovingly noir-lit rockabilly blues to back her on “Gypsy In Me”. Darrell Higham’s guitar introduction was a thing of wonder, from the haunted feedback-and-whammy-bar start to the steely, rust-drenched trilling that set the stage for Imelda to strut upon. So often, this retro stuff just falls flat on its face, but she delivered a ramrod-straight performance that kept the tension up.

 

Five Things: Wednesday 19th March

Sammy Rimington, Martin Wheatley, Cuff Billett, Vic Pitt, Chris Barber, Kenny Milne, Camberley Cricket Club

Sammy&Chris

An unprepossessing room, but a great evening, with music ranging from New Orleans to St Louis and New York, via Hawaii (for Martin Wheatley’s cracking solo performance of “Laughing Rag”). Hadn’t seen Chris play for years, but nice to get a chance to thank him for his contributions to British & American music. And lovely to make the acquaintance of Martin, too modest to tell me that he was part of the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, but keen to share a love of Hawaiian guitarists in general and Roy Smeck, the “Wizard of the Strings”, in particular.

The Whistle Test 70s California Special
Two highlights (apart from the obvious ones, Little Feat’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Doctor” and James Taylor’s pellucid, almost weightless, guitar playing): JD Souther doing “Doolin-Dalton” with the accompaniment of a bass player who switched to piano for the bridge and coda, playing beautifully… just a shame that JD wasn’t handsome enough to join the Eagles. And Ry Cooder’s fantastic take on Sleepy John Estes “Goin’ To Brownsville” with quite the most violent mandolin playing ever committed to video.

Avicii, DJ, creator of the biggest hits on the planet, by Simon Mills, ES Magazine
“Bergling is on his computer. An Apple laptop screen illuminates the tired-looking but puckishly pretty-boy face (which Ralph Lauren chose to front its Denim & Supply jeans ads). His concentration is trance-like as his fingers move across the keyboard at the warp speed of a jonesing IT man. ‘Sorry. If you can wait a minute… I just have this tune in my head and I need to get it down before I forget.’ Avicii, who has worked with Madonna and Lenny Kravitz, the geeky Swede whom not even One Direction could knock off the number one spot last summer, is writing his next hit song. Right in front of me.

The melody coming from the mini speakers sounds plinky-plonky, almost puerile, but Bergling keeps trimming and honing, adding notes and beat-matching, turning the laptop to show me the Tetris visuals of the FL Studio programme. After five minutes, something approaching the top line of a hit emerges.
It’s impressive but somehow all too easy, too convenient to be what the old fart in me would call ‘real music’. ‘Listen,’ he says. ‘I don’t consider myself “a musician”. Yes, I can play guitar, I can play piano; in fact, I play almost every instrument. I was never good enough to perform with a band… but I always knew about melody. I could vision for how I wanted things to sound. And I don’t think you can say that what I do, what DJ producers do, is not “real music”… it’s electronic music. You are drawing the melodies, drawing the chord progressions. You are making music. Mozart wrote everything down on a piece of paper. DJs write on computers. I really don’t see any difference.’

There’s a pause. ‘I’m not comparing myself to Mozart, by the way…’

You just did.”

My New Favourite Blog: My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection
“Alex and I have lived together for 9 years. In those 9 years we have packed up, moved and unpacked his record collection 5 times. It’s about 15 boxes, about 1500 hundred records, “that includes the singles and stuff, which you’re also going to have to review.” Is what Alex just said to me from the other room.

This project was my idea, inspired by maybe one too many glasses of wine last weekend, when I was in charge of changing the music. So here we are. Alex’s taste in music could probably be best described as eclectic on the snobbier side. My taste in music has changed from the early beginnings of Disney musicals to Dave Matthews Band, to discovering the Pixies in college. I’ve never been ahead of the curve with music, but my taste could probably also be described as eclectic on the snobbier side too – just in a much more clueless way. Alex said reading a reaction from a person like me, rather than a person who knows about the history of what I might be listening to, who has been listening to the same stuff for decades and has the vocabulary to talk about it, will be funny, sincere and maybe even thought-provoking. Maybe? I don’t know, I guess we’ll see. Here are the rules I’ve set for my self. Start with the A’s. Listen to the entire thing even if I really hate it. And make sure to comment on the cover art. Are you with me? Let’s see how far I can go.”

Two excerpts: “There is an article by Ralph J. Gleason on the back cover of this album called Perspectives: The Death of Albert Ayler which is very good and making me wish I liked this music more. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. While I already knew that this type of jazz existed, this is probably my first time listening to an entire album of it all the way through and intentionally.”

“I really love these liner notes.  For the song “We all Love Peanut Butter” by the One Way Streets (which is also very good) it says: “One hot summer day in 1966, two mom-driven station wagons pulled up outside Sunrise Studios in Hamilton, Ohio and out piled 4 insane teens. While their moms set up a table on the lawn outside and played bridge and drank lemonade, the One Way Streets were inside the studio shredding their way through 2 songs they felt would create a major disturbance. As a finishing touch to their wild afternoon, they ripped off an eighty dollar mike on their way out the door and haven’t been heard of since.” Every single detail about that anecdote makes me very, very happy.”

Hate Is A Strong Word, Tim Chipping, Holy Moly, Thursday 13th March
“Just when you thought New Zealand singing teenager Lorde could do no wrong, she goes and upsets reggae fans. Lorde somewhat confusingly wrote on her blog: “I hate Reggae, Reggae makes me feel like am late for something.” She’s not welcome at the offices of newspaper The Jamaica Star. Their resident gossip columnist has put the “Royals” singer firmly in her place, roots-style. Writing in the paper’s Roun’ Up section, columnist Keisha says: “International artiste Lorde say she hate reggae music. Everybody nuh haffi like everything but HATE is a very strong word. Lorde, you always look like smeagol from Lord of the Rings. You always look like you a have seizure when you deh pon stage a try move you crawny body. If you need fi HATE anything, you need fi HATE you age paper. A nuh our fault say you a 17 and look like 3 million. A nuh our fault say you caan sing live. Gwaan from ya, Miss One Hit Wonder.”

Would anyone mind if we spent the rest of the day saying gwaan from ya?”

Five Things Photo Extra

Bob&Manny

Five Things: Wednesday 22nd January

c.c. Phil Spector, John Eastman
Dave sends this great letter from Paul McCartney to Alan Klein.

Klein

Lorde, Everybody Wants To Rule The World
From the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. Things I don’t like about this version: The way Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor sings the word Rule. Things I do like: Everything else.

“Hey, Supe, pick up on this, man… all highway patrol sections. Suspect vehicle: 1970 Dodge Challenger, white in colour!”
Vanishing Point: It’s got night, neon and narcotics, and that wonderful ingredient of Seventies movies: it looks like it’s shot by a photojournalist. Beautiful stills of road vistas, strip towns, old lined faces, the angles of gas stations and wells. It sounds fantastic, the throb of a muscle car engine on heat haze roads, or cutting arcs in the Nevada Desert to tremolo’d guitar. Banjos frail and sirens wail. It’s got Cleavon Little, two years before Blazing Saddles, playing a blind DJ in full flight (The Big Bopper was the model, and Littles’s performance undoubtedly an influence on Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam). It’s got Delaney & Bonnie as a Christian rock band at a desert festival. It’s got implacable Barry Newman, here reminiscent of James Gandolfini. It’s got a race with a customised E-Type Jag, soundtracked by squalling guitars and hi-hats… For two-thirds it’s a great film (the flashbacks and hallucinations, not so much). If you liked Two Lane Blacktop and Serpico, check it out.

Dallas Buyers club trailer, Empire Leicester Square
In the smallest cinema known to man – around twenty seats – and at a bizarre angle to the way-too-close screen, we see two trailers using music to different effect. The Monuments Men, a film set in the Second World War, features crashing r’n’b/hip hop to try to convince a younger audience that George Clooney and Matt Damon are worth taking a punt on even if, hey, it’s all old-fashioned looking and about saving paintings. The Dallas Buyers Club, on the other hand, goes for the stamp of authenticity (if not accuracy – it’s set in 1985), using the raw emotion of the Alabama Shakes “You Ain’t Alone” to spill between cuts of Matthew McConaughey giving what looks like his best performance yet. And, dammit, it works.

‘Blue Moon’ in Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen’s music editor must wince every time they start a new film. “Shall I go and get the King Oliver, Mr Allen?” This anachronistic schtick, classic jazz in the present day, got old about twenty years ago – now it’s just bizarre, a stylistic tic that means nothing. Yes, I get that Jasmine is a character out of time, Blanche Dubois in a Bernie Madoff world, played by Cate B, acting with a capital A. But bleating on about “Blue Moon” – playing when she met her beau – to a succession of uninterested people is just weird. Added to which, I can’t get the image of Woody Allen sitting in his room writing a character who leaves his wife for a teenage au pair out of my head.

Five Things Extra: A Few Of My Favourite Things

Words and Music, Box, Cox & Roberts
Found when moving, ukulele sheet music. Ghost Riders on the trail of the Lonesome Pine, before fetching up in Woodstock…

Across

Michael Douglas as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra, the single most vivid Hollywood performance of last year.
“Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I’m with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, and for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, and for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening.”

Donald Fagen, Subterranean in Gestation, Eminent Hipsters
“I must have been about 8 years old when my father, like so many second-generation American dads, decided to get his family the hell out of the city and make a run at upward mobility in the suburbs. After a couple of false starts, we finally settled into a ranch-style home nestled among hundreds of its near-identical brothers in Kendall Park, N.J., a typical housing development circa 1957. The development was not very fully developed. I was not amused. Sawdust still hung in the air. To walk out of the sliding glass doors onto the slab of concrete that was the patio and gaze across an ocean of mud at one’s doppelganger neighbors was, well, awesome. My parents, gazing out the window of  the kitchen of the future, delighted in the open space, the gently curving streets and the streamlined look of the cream Olds Dynamic 88 all cosy in its carport. But for me, a subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness, it was a prison. I’d been framed and sentenced me to a long stretch at hard labor in Squaresville.”

Fascinating stuff about The Boswell Sisters (check out “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”) and Henry Mancini, and I’m only a third of the way in.

Favourite Songs Of The Year
Lorde, “Royals”
Synth bass. Beats. No other instruments, just a punchy lead and great backing vox. A top melody. And pop-star skewering lyrics to die for:
“I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh/I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies/And I’m not proud of my address/In a torn-up town, no postcode envy…
But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom/blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece/jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash…”
followed by her curtly dismissive: “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.” Thrilling.

Dan Penn, Zero Willpower
The Muscle Shoals documentary made me listen again to Dan Penn’s Do Right Man from 1994. Writer of “Dark End Of The Street” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” among others, the album was recorded in the Shoals and features many of the town’s greats. This track was always a favourite, and listening again to the perfectly weighted rhythm section of Roger Hawkins and David Hood – like the suspension on a bridge – to the stately horns and organ, to the helicopter-like tremolo of Reggie Young’s guitar, I’m struck by its perfection. Nobody plays more than the song needs, or less than it deserves.

Robbie Fulks, “That’s Where I’m From”
Bob Dylan said in 1990, There’s enough songs in the world. The world don’t need any more songs…  and I knew what he meant. Bob weakened his case, of course, by writing “Love Sick”, “High Water (For Charley Patton)” and “Sugar Baby” a few years later. In some genres, you may as well give up, modern Country, especially. As the Country mainstream does the thing it does every decade or so and flirts with AOR, and the alt-end just gets more singer-songwritery (i.e. like smooth-sounding versions of Lucinda Williams) I didn’t expect to find a new Fulks album so moving. Do I need another acoustic bluegrass ’n’ country album? Well, yes. Especially one recorded in three days by Steve Albini in Chicago. Ken Tucker, writing for npr, puts it perfectly: “With Gone Away Backward, Fulks has made an album that feints in the direction of nostalgia while grappling very much with the here and now. Even for a singer-songwriter known for his clever twists and turns, it’s a considerable achievement. It partakes of folk, country, bluegrass and honky-tonk even as the shape of the songs and the content of the lyrics close off much chance of any one of these genres claiming the music as its own.”

Fulks had recorded “That’s Where I’m From…” a few years back in a more traditional arrangement with a full band and pedal steel, and it’s interesting to compare and see how much deeper the song’s become, supported this time round with a couple of guitars, bass and mandolin. A sound that’s totally naked – you could be sitting in a room with them. Every note perfectly placed. And a lyric that summons the fantastic ‘Cosmopolitan Country’ of the late 60s, of Tom T Hall and Tammy and George, as it limns the thoughts of a man far from his past:
“Back in the driveway/The end of the workday/How fast that world disappears
A fresh lawn, a pine tree/A neighbor just like me/Who’s worked all his life to get here…”
And he thinks back on…
“Dad doing battle/With dirt hard as gravel/And summers the crops never came
We’d shoot down a pheasant in flight/And sing songs about Jesus all night…”
And the chorus kicks in…
“That’s where I’m from/Where time passes slower/That’s where I’m from/Where it’s yes ma’am and no sir
You can’t tell I’m country/Just you look closer/It’s deep in my blood
A white collar, a necktie/That’s where I’ve come/Half-naked in the moonshine/That’s where I’m from…”
Then, after a glorious interlude of guitar interplay, the killer couplet: “If you’ve ever heard Hank Williams sing/Then, brother, you know the whole blessed thing…”

Five Things: Wednesday 2nd October

Lick The Stamp, Jack!

Cash-Charles

Seeing this just-released stamp of Ray, here paired with an earlier release of Johnny Cash, sent me back to a tape given to me by Bob Wray in Muscle Shoals. Bob (Member of the Third Great Rick Hall Rhythm Section, and a wonderful bassist) was playing on a Ray Charles album. Johnny Cash dropped by the studio and they started playing a Kris Kristofferson song that they both knew, “Why Me, Lord”. Bob described Ray getting so into it as he ripped out a solo on the old beige Wurlitzer that the piano started to jerk across the studio floor, almost crashing over. Just listen to Ray’s stubby intro, heightened by the bass drum, followed by the band dropping right in behind JC. Off the cuff and probably better than anything that made the album. [You can hear it on the music player at the right of the page]

There’s An Owl In The Background
Neil Brand interviewing Angelo Badalamenti about David Lynch in the wonderful Sound of Cinema: The Music that Made the Movies: One day in 1989 the pair sat down at Badalamenti’s piano and, in a single take, wrote the theme for a groundbreaking new television series. Badalamenti tells the story: David comes in and says, “Angelo!” – now we’re pals, you know – and he says, “We’re in a dark wood”, and I’m going like… [plays a pulsing two-chord pattern on the keyboard].

“No, Angelo, those are beautiful notes, but can you do ’em slower?”

“Oh, OK.” [It’s starting to feel closer to the theme we know].

“No, Angelo, slower”.

“David, if I play ’em any slower I’m gonna play in reverse”. (laughs) [He plays what is now recognisable as the opening to Twin Peaks].

“OK, Angelo, now there’s a girl named Laura Palmer, she’s a very troubled teenager and she’s in the dark woods, and she’s coming out from behind the trees. She’s very beautiful, too… give me something that’s her”. [The crepuscular sequence of climbing notes start].

“That’s it, Angelo, now let it build…”

“ ’Cause she’s coming closer, and she’s so troubled”. [Badalamenti plays a string pad behind the piano melody]

“And she’s got tears in her eyes, Angelo, it’s so sad, now reach a climax… that’s it, just keep it going, beautiful, beautiful. Now start coming down, but fall slowly, down, down, that’s it, that’s it, quietly. Now, Angelo, go back into the dark woods, and stay there. There’s an owl in the background…” [the strings disappear and fade].

“Angelo – you just wrote Twin Peaks…”

Later
Kanye West sings “Bound 2” with Charlie Wilson from The Gap Band. I remember when people protested at pop stars when they compared themselves to God or Christ, but I guess there’s so much stuff out there now that no-one bothers. Kanye’s crucified pose at the climax of this song was kind of stupid, but the song itself – fantastic. Built on the back of “Bound”, by the sensationally named Ponderosa Twins Plus One – taking just the intro – and samples of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s”, it’s a highlight track of Yeesus, and could, quite possibly, be your entry point to this great album. He seems a miserable bugger, though. Oh, and mention, too, of Lorde, New Zealand teen sensation! Precocious, or what? Mannered but mature, and a sure, sure sense of melody, pitching her sultry voice against a choir and a synth bass. Real Name: Ella Yelich-O’Connor. As of July 2013, a Year Twelve student at Takapuna Grammar School. God knows how good she could get to be.

Dig/Dead
The Artangel installation of Daniel Silver’s Dig at the old Odeon site on Grafton Way, just off Tottenham Court Road, is fantastic. This musical set of dancing figures, amidst the

DigDead“recovered’ statues of Freud and Darwin, caught my eye. As, later that day, did this bottle of Grateful Dead wine. Tasting notes will follow anon (apparently the Rolling Stones 40 Licks offering is not up to much, but the guy at Gerry’s told me this was a proper bottle of wine).

The Man With The Bullwhip Speaks, Finally
Sorry it’s more Bob stuff, but Rick emails me this fascinating story about Victor Maymudes, Dylan’s righthand man in the ’60s. This short film is part of a pitch, and his son is now working on a manuscript taken from hours of interviews done in 2000.

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