Saturday, February 28, 2009

Comics Roundup 28/2/2008

Do you remember me saying that there were no comics worth buying last week? I spoke two soon, because last Sunday, after attending a concert in City Hall, I made my way to Forbidden Planet and bought two issues. Let us see what they were.

Captain America: Theater of War – America First! #1 (of 1), by Howard Chaykin and Edgar Delgado

Howard Chaykin wrote and drew this, with Edgar Delgado providing colours. I always think of Chaykin as one of the Big Names in comics, even if he has never really done that much that was that good. His one really big title was probably American Flagg, which seems to have been out of print almost since the moment it first appeared, if not before. One of the big problems with Chaykin is that he is a sleazebag, or at least the sexual politics his comics propagate are a bit antediluvian. What makes him more repellent is his tendency to cast himself as some kind of arch-liberal. In some ways he is, a leftover of that strand of the Sixties counter-culture that was all about chicks putting out for the guys. He is like some kind of leftist version of Peter Stringfellow.

Why, then, did I buy this? Basically because I like Chaykin art. It typically has a certain pizzazz, a kinetic quality that makes you overlook all the busty ladies and instead focus on the funny facial expressions or the tough guys punching each other out. The art is pretty good in this one, though by Chaykin's standards it seems a bit pedestrian. Or maybe that is the influence of the story, a fairly lame tale of Captain America (or a Captain America) in the 1950s, squaring off a Senator Joe McCarthy analogue who GASP turns out to be a Soviet spy (complete with shrine to Communism in his basement). How very original.

What really makes this book is two olde Captain America strips they include at the end. Neither of them are credited to anyone, but in one of them John Romita has sneaked his name into one of the illustrations, so he may have drawn them both. Anyway, in continuity terms they are both a bit confusing – I had always understood that at the end of the Second World War, while flying back from some important mission, the Captain's young sidekick Bucky had somehow fallen to his death (leading to many "How could I have let Bucky die!!!!" moments of self-doubt over the years) while the Cap himself had been frozen in ice until his re-emergence in the 1960s. These stories, however, have the Captain and Bucky squaring off against Communist spies in the early years of the Cold War. One sees the Red Skull, now an ally of international communism, seize the UN headquarters in New York, holding the delegates as hostages (including the ones from the USSR and its satellitese?). Fortunately Captain America and Bucky are on hand to beat the shite out of him.

The other story is my favourite. The Captain is drawn into helping "loyal Chinese Americans", a "pretty law-abiding group" that he never normally has to trouble with, because spies from Red China are trying to force them into communist spies – by threatening their family members still living behind the iron curtain. The main communist agent is a sinister figure known as The Man Without A Face (because no one ever sees his face), whose true identity is revealed as a terrible twist at the story's end. One thing I liked about this story is that it manages to be high in thrill power yet also presenting the communists as almost akin to real people with something approximating to a valid, if objectively wrong, world-view. That said, the artistic representation of the Chinese characters (particularly in terms of their colouring) suggests that the artists have read descriptions of Asian people but never actually seen any.

Four Eyes #2, by Joe Kelly, Max Fiumara, and Nestor Pereyra

Issue 1 of this came out so long ago that I assumed that subsequent issues must already have appeared but got such bad distribution that they never made it to these shores. But no, it is just that the people who produce this are slow workers. As you will recall, the strangely titled Four Eyes is set in New York during the Great Depression, but one where dragons seem to roam wild for no obvious reason. The main character is a little boy whose father was killed when stealing a dragon's young. At the end of the last issue he learned why his father died – he was stealing dragon babies for the city's secret underworld of dragon fight enthusiasts. In this issue he gets more involved in this twisted sport, hoping that by becoming a dragon hunter like his father he can avenge his father's death. Ultimately, I suppose, this is the usual kind of Depression narrative of desperation, only with dragons, but it has a certain resonance. I particularly like the oddly stylised art.

Madame Xanadu #8, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley, & Richard Friend

This is from this week. You will recall that this title covers the adventures of an immortal sorceress, with each couple of issues moving her on a few centuries. Last time she found herself in Whitechapel during the murders of Jack The Ripper. And like I said last time, the ghost of From Hell hangs heavily over any attempts to do the Ripper in comics, particularly if like that work you are trying to hang a layer of metaphysical bollocks over the brutal killings of a maniac. This particular episode is entertaining enough, but it does look like they are also falling into that other great cliché of Ripperology – did you know that while the Ripper was murdering prostitutes in East London, over in Austria ADOLF HITLER was being conceived? I wonder what other highly original OMG WTF moments this title has to give us.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dublin Fringe Theatre Festival 2008

Dublin's Fringe Theatre Festival of 2008 finished ages ago, like last August or something, so now is a good time to post considered responses to what I saw at it. I typically make it to almost nothing in this every year, despite my official claims to wuv the theatre. This year, though, I saw three things.

The first one was The Darkroom, written by Neil Watkins, directed by Karl Shiels, and performed in the Players Theatre in Trinity College. It began with Karl Shiels (famous as Dublin's scariest actor) making a voiceover announcement.

"Please turn off all mobile phones and pagers.




Even though I knew that I had left my phone at home this had me quivering in terror lest someone would ring me.

The programme billed Darkroom as a play about washed up retired superheroes, implying that it would be some kind of HIV/AIDS parable. Sadly, there were no former supers present in this play, as it was actually a series of vignettes set in the seedier end of Dublin's gay scene. It also had loads of songs in it, though not the kind your granny would like. One was called 'Suddenly Semen', about a woman realising that she has been impregnated by her HIV positive rapist, while 'Under Ratzi' discussed how the current Pope is much sexier than the old. A lot of it seemed like maybe it was just being transgressive for the sake of it, though you had to admire the craft. There was a lot to like about this, play, but I feel that I am not really the target audience for this kind of thing, and I did feel a bit out of place in my Nightwing costume.

And then next day at lunchtime in the Project Cube I saw A Distinct Glimpse, a collaboration between singer Natasha Lohan, dancer Megan Kennedy, lighting designer Aedin Cosgrove, and my old friend and quaffing partner Gavin Kostick. This didn't really do it for me – all the individual elements seemed excellent, but I didn't really get what they were doing together. I did like when the dancer started climbing through the audience and lying on people, and pondered yet again whether dance is just an excuse for perving, given the extent to which contemplation of the human form's perfection seems to be such a big part of it.

Gavin Kostick does seem to own the Fringe, though. Last year he deservedly won the Spirit of the Fringe award for a production where he recited almost all of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. This year he was doing this A Distinct Glimpse as well as writing an open air performance of a play about The Wars of the Roses (missed by your correspondent because I, eh, wrote down the wrong month in my diary) and some other things. He also did Heart of Darkness again in the Real Dublin Theatre Festival. Busy man.

The last thing I saw was Moonflight by some crazy German guys. This was another devised piece, and seemed to be all about the moon – travelling to it studying it, and its contemplation. It featured music (both recorded and played) as well as movement that bordered on dance, together with the reciting of various things about the moon (Galileo's retraction, some other sciencey stuff about it, Neil Armstrong climbing down the Lunar Module ladder, etc.). Some of it was meant to be funny, some of it wasn't, and it was all done very straightfacedly. I liked it a lot. Given how in broad terms (music, movement, talking) it was not that unlike A Distinct Glimpse, I thought a bit about whether there were any objective criteria that led to me liking one more than another. Ultimately I think not, except maybe that you can always rely on the Germans.

The musical pieces in this were all moon based and broadly German, so they did what I think was that one by Schoenberg and also various versions of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (including a pop-jazz music version with lyrics, bizarre). Moonlight Sonata is a very beautiful piece of music, but once a winking Bill Bailey came to mind I found it very hard to keep a straight face while they were playing it.

One particularly striking Moonlight Sonata thing they did was have it play on a pre-programmed synthy keyboard, turned on its side so that the lighted keys were visible to the audience. There was something genuinely magical to watching the keys move on their own through the beautiful music.

Coming soon: A report on an actual play I saw in the Theatre Festival, all those months ago!

Moonlight Panda

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"We have ye now, Mr Jazdy!"

The Irish Times reports that the Gardaí, Ireland's police force, have cracked the case of a Mr Prawo Jazdy. This Polish gentlemen had travelled the length and breadth of the country, flagrantly disregarding traffic regulations to such an extent that he had notched up over 50 separate arrests but had never been brought to court. It turns out that "Prawo Jazdy" is actually the Polish for "driving license".
It is a mistake anyone could have made.

image source

Sunday, February 15, 2009

25 Favourite Albums

Following a Facebook tagging by "Scott", I have spent 15 minutes coming up with a list of my 25 favourite albums. What favourite records of mine have I left out? What favourite records would you come up with in 15 minutes?

Baader Meinhof "Baader Meinhof"
Belle & Sebastian "Tigermilk"
Belle & Sebastian "Dear Catastrophe Waitress"
The Beatles "The White Album"
Black Box Recorder "England Made Me"

Kate Bush "The Kick Inside"
Kate Bush "The Dreaming"
Serge Gainsbourg "Histoire de Melody Nelson"
Phillip Glass "Koyaanisqatsi"
Hawkwind "Spirit of the Age"

Kraftwerk "The Man Machine"
Van Morrison "Astral Weeks"
Morrissey "Bona Drag"
Morrissey "Vauxhall and I"
My Bloody Valentine "Isn't Anything"

New Order "Substance"
Public Enemy "It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back"
Public Image Ltd. "Metal Box"
Sisters of Mercy "Floodland"
The Smiths "Strangeways, Here We Come"

The Smiths "Hatful of Hollow"
Sonic Youth "Daydream Nation"
Spacemen 3 "Playing With Fire"
Toasted Heretic "Songs for Swinging Celibates"
The Velvet Underground "White Light/White Heat"

Comics Roundup 15/2/2008

Incognito #2, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

As you will recall, this title is about a former supervillain who has given evidence against his former boss and is now in a federal witness protection programme. After discovering that his powers had come back, he does what any sensible guy would do, and goes out punching people's faces in (only this time he is dishing it out to street thugs and petty criminals, on the basis that people will ask less questions about their jaws being broken). Unfortunately for him, his former boss (locked away in the sort of super high security hole that supervillains are guaranteed to escape from sooner or later) now knows he is active again, and has in consequence twigged who sold him down the river.

Brubaker and Phillips produce the noir-influenced crime title Criminal. Incognito is essentially a version of that, only with superpowers. This is a good thing, really. The storyline is following the same kind of trajectory – morally shady main character finds himself getting into ever deeper hot water thanks to unwise initial course of action, with no obvious sign of a way out. The one thing that might be a bit more problematic is Incognito's noir-lady character – she seems a bit too much like all the icy women characters that have graced the pages of Criminal. You could say perhaps that in portraying her (and her kind) so two-dimensionally that the creators of this title are just conforming to the forms of the genre, but that only draws attention to the genre's limitations.

For all that, I like this title a lot and can hardly wait for the next issue. I should also mention that this issue comes with an essay by Jess Nevins on the pulp character Doc Savage. I only really know Doc Savage from the knock-off version of him that appeared in Planetary, so it will be interesting to read more on this character

Batman #686, by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, with Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair

So Neil Gaiman… in the early to mid 1990s he was one of the giants of the comics world, with his Sandman title one of the most widely read comics of the era, especially popular with goths and moody types who like to dress in black. Then he largely gave up comics writing, to focus instead on the far more lucrative world of fantasy novels. This is one of his occasionally forays back into the world of comics writing.

You may recall my writing about the increasingly confusing Batman RIP story that Grant Morrison wrote last year. Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter-ego is still dead, and DC are having to fill in time while they decide whether to appoint someone else as the new Batman or to just suddenly reveal that Wayne is not actually dead after all (or has been resurrected, or cloned, or was able to bring a duplicate of himself in from a parallel universe, etc.). In this issue a load of Batman characters (good and bad) are turning up to pay their respects at an open casket funeral for the caped crusader (there in costume, not as Bruce Wayne). I got a sinking feeling once I twigged the basic premise – could this be something as turgid and unreadably bad as the last Sandman book*?

Fortunately, this is a bit lighter in tone. There are two basically two stories in this, one featuring the Catwoman and another Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred. They tell contradictory revisionist stories about the Dark Knight Detective. Alfred's story is the more striking, as in it he claims basically to have faked all of Batman's supervillain enemies as a way of keeping the troubled Bruce Wayne sane by giving him fellow costumed nutters to spar against.

So it's all alright, but I am not sure if I will bother with the second part of this story when it appears in Detective Comics #853.

*in which a succession of sadface characters pay their respects to the dead Lord of Dreams in a frankly embarrassing manner

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Animal Rescue 2: Koalas

While lots of people have tragically died in recent Australian bush fires, fire fighters have managed to rescue a traumatised Koala now named Sam. She is now in an animal rescue shelter, where she has been comforted by another rescued Koala named Bob.

Footage of Sam the Koala Bear being rescued

image source

Koala Bears are not actually real bears.

Animal Rescue 1: The Otter

Scottish postman Kenny Wilson found an abandoned baby otter on the side of the road while driving to a rally for Mini Cooper enthusiasts. He kept the cub warm in his mailbag, fed her on kitten milk and chicken soup, and then dropped her off to an animal rescue shelter the next day after letting her sleep in the family cat's temporarily vacant basket.

Mrs Jayne Wilson christened the baby otter Orla. The animal shelter in Arthurshiel reports that she is doing well, but eating £15 worth of salmon every day.

More words, pictures

Mulatu Astatqé – the synthijazz years

I recently deleted something from my iTunes library not because I was running out of disc space but because it was shite and I never wanted to hear it again. It was the synthijazz record by Mulatu Astatqé that I bought in the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa,. What was the last straw was realising that there is a version of 'Yèkèrmo Sèw' on it. 'Yèkèrmo Sèw' for me is the Ethiopian jazz track (perhaps because it is in the first track on Éthiopiques 4, my first in the series). Listening to Mulatu giving us a dreadful '80s jazz version of the track was like listening to him pissing on his musical legacy. Irene remarked archly that the sound of him literally pissing on his musical legacy would probably be more interesting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Yeats Noh Plays"

This is a record that Frank's APA pal David A. Simpson sent me… it looks old so I think he may have found it in a charity shop, It seems to have a short play by Yeats on each side – At the Hawk's Well and The Dreaming of the Bones. For a long time I have enjoyed it primarily as an artefact, but Rory Carr (another Frank's APA colleague) insisted that I listen to and review it.

Noh is this Japanese theatre style thing. While I have heard recordings of Japanese Noh plays, I am still not entirely clear on what the difference is between it and Kabuki, or indeed what its defining features are. I do now that W.B. Yeats was very interested in the form, and wrote a number of plays which are meant to be performed in the Noh style.

I listened to this record while writing about other things for Frank's APA, so the words being said by the actors largely washed over me. From the sound, it seemed like there was less music here than on the Japanese Noh recordings I have heard, but what music there was did sound kind of Japanese (in a flutey kind of way). The acting was funny, though – the actors sounded very actor-y, giving the kind of over-enunciated performances that I associate with slightly hammy stage actors. That might, however, be true to the way Noh is meant to work. Can anyone advise?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Theatre: "The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui"

A quick note on this… it is a play by Berthold Brecht, telling the story of Hitler's rise as though it were that of a Chicago mobster, performed before Chistmas in the Abbey, under the direction of Jimmy Fay. | saw this before, many years ago (also directed by Jimmy Fay), in a very different production. The play has more resonance now – as the economy tanks, there is that sense that maybe we are on the brink of an abyss like that which spawned Hitler. There was a definite feeling of uneasiness as the play begins with Chicago's Cauliflower Trust drawing a FAIL graph of their profits and realising that they face bankruptcy.

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ui is, of course, the star of this show. In some respects his performance echoes Chaplin in The Great Dictator, but in other ways he seems almost like a character in a Warner Brothers cartoon. He also communicates this sense of emotional neediness, almost as though his rise to power is driven by a need for love and respect. The physicality of his performance is also rather striking. In the early part of the play, he appears so curled up as to suggest a physical deformity to match his spiritual malaise. This is something of a staple in narrative fiction (viz. Ugly Stepsisters, Shakespeare's King Richard III, etc.) but is nevertheless somewhat distasteful, as those of us who are munters and yet sensitive and caring people will vouch. As the play rolls on, though, Ui uncurls. His apparent spinal deformity is merely psychological, and is healed as he achieve the power and respect he craves.

Like the previous production, the play does rather hinge on the relationship between Ui and Roma (with Roma being the analogue for SA leader and old Hitler ally Ernst Röhm). As in real life, Roma (played wonderfully by Aidan Kelly) changes from old ally to liability, and so he dies in a thuggish night of the long knives, with Ui turned against his old pal by his sinister new side-kick Givola/Goebbels (played by the equally sinister Karl Shiels). Although at one level it is one lot of thugs killing another, it still comes across as a miserable and even tragic event.

There was one odd thing about the end. The last line, delivered by the narrator* said something fairly anodyne about how this story is not just a work of history, with the womb that bore Hitler still being fertile. Apparently this is more usually rendered in English as "The bitch that bore him is still in heat", something much more visceral. I hope that as our economies collapse that people do not find themselves embracing new analogues of the past's failed ideologies.

One final thing - while checking something for this, I was reminded of the set. It was one of those bare-stage johnnies the avant garde theatre types love, except that they had cow carcasses hanging on hooks all around it. Nice.

This is my second stab at writing about this play; for the first, click here

* The narrator was played by the Ugandan actor George Seremba, who was himself once machine-gunned by the agents of one of his country's dictators.

Hit the Snow

Some pictures of the snow last week.

St. Stephen's Green, on way to work.

The hood, on way home.

And again.

More snow action

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hard Times on Wexford Street

image source

French Films

I saw two films in the somewhat recent French Film Festival here in Dublin. One was Le Capitaine Achab, a fllm telling the life story of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. It was an odd film… ultimately not that good, one would have to say, but beautifully shot. If ever a film could be carried by its art direction then this is it.

The other film was called Inju, la Bête dans l'Ombre*, directed by Barbet Schroeder. This seemed to be a French-Japanese team-up and was based on a short story by Edogowa Rampo (the guy who was such a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe that he took his name). In the film, this French crime writer finds himself ensnared in a battle of wills against Inju, a mysterious Japanese author who never allows himself to be photographed and who has only ever once been seen by anyone from his publishing house. It then bops along the way you would imagine – pervy voyeuristic sex, ironic reversals, confusions over identity, and so on. I liked it a lot, though the twist at the end was maybe a bit obvious – even with that it managed to maintain an enjoyable atmosphere of creepy suspense. It made me interested also in trying to track down some books by Edogowa Rampoi, though I fear they may be out of print in English.

*Inju, Creature in the Shadow

Friday, February 06, 2009

Where now for CSS?

Does the fact that I have heard nothing about the second CSS album mean that they have gone rubbish and no one likes them anymore?

SF Book Club: "Dune"

Book clubs, they are very popular these days. In theory, they sound like a great idea – reading a book, meeting with people, talking about the book. In practice, there are a couple of problems. Like the books, which tend to be from from the world of literary fiction, a genre I am not really that pushed about. The other problem with book clubs is their peculiar gender balance. Again, don't get me wrong. I love women, and I enjoy their company (and they enjoy mine), but when something is as dominated by women as the typical book club it feels like intruding for one such as me to attend.

So it was with some pleasure that I learned of the existence of a science fiction book club being run out of the Dublin's Central Library in the ILAC Centre, something that with one bound solves the problems attached to the more usual of its kind. Further investigation reveals that meets next on this coming Tuesday, and the book it will be covering is Frank Herbert's Dune. Dune is a big book, so there is no way a slow reader like me would be able to get through it by next Tuesday. Fortunately I have read it before, and will be able to skim it to refresh my sense of it.

I read a chapter at random this evening. It begins with this wonderful sentence:

On his seventeenth birthday, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen killed his one hundredth slave gladiator in the family games.

It calls to mind one of the great paradoxes of Dune - it kind of suffers from the bad guys being such pantomime villains, except that they are such total bad-asses that the book would lose some of its magic by their acquiring anything approximating to normal human sentiment or a rounded personality. The chapter also features that other great Dune thing – people sitting around having conversations where each party is trying to pull one over on the others. If Lord of the Rings is ultimately a book about long walks, Dune is a book about conversation.

The same is true of its sequels. I am one of those odd characters who has a certain respect for the subsequent Dune books, though it is a very long time since I read them. Maybe one day I will come back to you with a list of great later Dune book moments.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Comics Roundup 5/2/2008

Has it finally happened that I have begun to outgrow comics, or is there really not that much good stuff out there at the moment? You tell me. Anyway, here is this week's crop.

The Age of THE SENTRY #5

In the first story, the Sentry has to team up with The Guardians of the Galaxy to help a planet which is about to give birth. In the second, The Sentry is facing a world of hassle thanks to some well-meaning manipulators intent on improving his public image.

I love this title, as I mentioned previously it reminds me of Alan Moore's 1963 (still neither finished nor collected), with its arch take on the up-and-at-'em superhero comics of yesteryear. The title also has this odd edge to it, where The Sentry seems to lose his sense of what is real and what is not (and be drawn differently). Thus far he has always snapped out of it, but I cannot but suspect that the title is fated to change direction alarmingly when one of these reality breakdowns becomes permanent. Maybe this will happen next issue, when the narrator who is telling Sentry stories to his little boy threatens to reveal The Final Sentry Story. Dare you miss it?

EDIT: But where is Watchdog in this issue?

Bang! Tango #1, by Joe Kelly, Adrian Sibar, & Rodney Ramos

So this new title features some gangster type who fucks up and skips out of New York, moves to San Francisco, and there becomes a tango dancer. Or maybe he always was a tango dancer. Then his ex lover from New York tracks him down, not to get him back but to get his help in dealing with a little blackmail problem. And then the astonishing twist – the tango dancing mobster's ex-lover is a ladyboy. OMG. Eh… not really sure what to make of this, it seems somewhat interesting and has its moments, but in these troubled economic times a new title needs to be totally freaking awesome to get its second issue into Panda Mansions.

Agents of Atlas #1, by Jeff Parker, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, and Jana Schirmer

I regret buying this, it is one of those titles where you need a degree in shite mainstream comics continuity to understand how the characters relate to each other. There seem to be these guys who are a team of bad guys planning to do bad things. Or maybe they are good guys. I don't know. Still it does bring a certain nostalgic tear to my eye by featuring minor Spiderman villain Man Mountain Marko* as a one of the characters. One of the first US comics I ever saw was some Marvel UK reprint of a John Romita Spiderman strip introducing that very character – he was some low rent thug who fell foul of the webslinger because he was beating up some woman (Spiderman being against domestic violence). In this story he seems to have found employment with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Anyway, I won't be buying this again, even though it has a somewhat enjoyable Sentry-esque epilogue.

Glamourpuss #5, by Dave Sim

You know, the one where Mad Dave does funny detournements of fashion magazine images and then posts bits and bobs about the history of US newspaper comics. Maybe this is a duff issue or maybe the Glamourpuss premise is wearing a bit thin, but this did not really do it for me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Getting The Fever

I have finally seen Dengue Fever and they did not disappoint. Before talking about the band themselves, let me briefly mention the support act. They were a local act called The Hired Hands. I had not seen them before, but they were pretty entertaining. They had a slightly folky edge to them, or else a hint of early Belle & Sebastian (but not in a derivative way). In fact, they were like Los Campesinos would be if they did not suck. I hope to see them again in the future.

And so to Dengue Fever themselves. In general terms you probably get the idea with these fellows now. They were formed originally by two brothers who became fascinated by the Khmer Pop sounds of pre-1975 Cambodia. These fellows managed to recruit other musicians and, crucially, a Cambodian singer already well known on the Cambodian karaoke circuit. With her at the helm they started to play live and release records, originally doing mainly covers but increasingly moving towards doing their own tunes. In broad terms, the music has a surfy/psychey quality, while the vocals are often astronomically high yet boasting the semi-guttural cadences of the Khmer language.

Live, a couple of things strike about Dengue Fever. First off, they are an incredibly tight outfit. I had the idea that they would come across like the brothers and a load of pretty boy session players, but no. These seem to be a bunch of fellows who really love playing together and are really good at it. Excellent. There was a wonderful fluidity to how they moved around on stage. The other funny thing about them is that the fellow with the funny beard (the one of the brothers who sings the male parts on record) is incredibly tall. This makes for some bizarre stage interaction between him and the singer, who (like many Cambodians) is a bit short. The third thing that strikes about the band is that the singer is amazing – she is a total star, in fact, and I felt privileged to be seeing someone as incredible in a venue as small as the Sugar Club.

They played some songs from their recent Venus on Earth album, as well as others I did not recognise, presumably from their earlier works. I got the impression that most people present were not too familiar with their stuff on record (apart from the real fans), so you did get things like the band saying "The next song is called 'Shave Your Beard'" and getting no more reaction than usual. But people were present to have fun and enjoy good music, so no one was letting lack of familiarity stop them.

There is something wonderful about a band who really know how to play fronted by a total star and playing infectiously catchy tunes that make it impossible for you to sit still. I recommend catching Dengue Fever if they ever do a concert near you; you would be a fool to miss them.

They also brought CDs to sell, circumventing the Dengue Fever boycott operated by Dublin shops. So I now have all their albums. The other ones (Escape from the Dragon House and an untitled one) feature less songs in English and more covers than Venus on Earth. I would be hard pressed to say whether the band on record are showing an upward or downward trajectory. I mean, obviously there is a whole selling out to whitey aspect to recording songs in English (on the earlier albums, they have original songs but with vocals translated into Khmer), but I am not sure that I would like the sublime 'Tiger Phone Card' if I could not understand what they were singing.

One odd feature of the untitled album is its featuring a cover of Ethiopian jazzer Mulatu Astatqé's 'Yègellé Tezeta' (from vol.4 in the Éthiopiques series). They change the title to 'Ethanopium'. The sleevenotes do not advance a tendentious argument about the Khmer origins of Ethio-jazz.

You find some deadly pictures if you do a Google image search for "Dengue Fever"

random blog post by someone else on Dengue Fever and the Khmer Pop scene of the past

image source

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Cramps "Smell of Female"

My beloved got me this for Christmas. It is a live album by The Cramps, and I gather it is one of their "big" records. On a first couple of listens it does sound great, but it suffers a bit from not having the Cramps song I know on it. I also thought that maybe the kind of heavy fuzz backing you get on Cramps studio records was a bit missing here – you get the Poison Ivy lead guitar, but not so much of the wall of fuzz rhythm guitar. That's only a minor criticism, though.

For all that this does not have the one Cramps song I know on it, it does have a song I remember hearing when the Cramps played Dubllin fifteen or more years ago. That was a memorable occasion, previously covered in the pages of that august publication Frank's APA. "Mark", "Gazelle Boy", "Juggling Joe" and I went to see them and had the most wonderful time. Afterwards we made our way to the Red Parrot, a well-known hostelry conveniently located near to the SFX venue. There we were ushered from the bar into the lounge (lest the bar's habitués kill us), and we enjoyed a lovely drink of some sort before heading into the city centre for a late night concert by Cast. Great days, Gay, great days.

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Theatre Fail

The Irish Times reports today that a number of smaller theatre companies are going to the wall after the Arts Council withdrew their subsidies. I will particularly miss Calypso, a group whose work tried to use drama as a way of engaging with and promoting issues. The two productions of theirs I saw (Gavin Kostick's The Asylum Ball and Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia) were both wonderfully inventive pieces of work. Issues-based drama suggests a certain turgid preachiness, but these works had a lightness and stylistic charm that meant that they could be enjoyed for their theatricality irrespective of the message they were meant to be communicating. I do not know if the same was true of Calypso's other productions, but I will miss seeing plays like the above two performed on the Dublin stage.

The world of the theatre must be facing a double squeeze right now. The downturn must mean that fewer people are willing to spend what can often be quite large sums of money on theatre tickets. Arts subsidies, meanwhile, are always an easy thing to cut when the state faces a collapse in its tax revenue. The Arts Council here have apparently decided to respond to cuts by disproportionately hurting the smaller companies (in some cases, as with Calypso, completely withdrawing their subsidies), with the rationale being that it is better in the long-run to keep Big Theatre going.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ananda Shankar "Sa-Ra-Ga Machan"

I got this as a Christmas present for my beloved. You maybe are familiar with that Ananda Shankar album that has 'Jumping Jack Flash' on it – the Rolling Stones classic pscyhed up by the simple expedient of adding sitar. It used to get played a lot at things like the Bowlie Weekender and nightclubs evoking that kind of atmosphere. This Ananda Shankar album seems a bit less novelty and a bit more like the kind of kewl 70s funk music heepsters like. However, the most initially striking tunes are the bonus tracks – Ananda Shankar doing sitar-tastic covers of some Elvis Presley songs 'Teddy Bear' is the unexpected total classic here, though 'His Latest Flame' also storming.

Dublin readers - note that Claddagh have several affordably priced Ananda Shankar CDs available, including this one

Trailer Trash

I saw part one of Steven Soderbergh's Che Guevara film last night, and recommend it highly. There were two trailers on before it:

The Reader
This stars Ralph Fiennes and lovely Kate Winslett. I think she has been nominated for awards and stuff for this film, in which she appears to deliver a "brave" performance (i.e. gets kit off). The trailer is ambiguous… this could be good, but one worrying sign is its being in some way brought to us by the same people that made the turgid and over-rated The Hours. The trailer also helpfully gives away the plot twist. I am not sure if I will actually go and see this.

This is my second time seeing this trailer; oddly, this time seems that bit more impressive. It is based on that book about the time David Frost interviewed Richard Nixon, after the latter had been forced by scandal to resign the presidency. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella play Frost and Nixon respectively, with Langella seeming to have turned himself into a simulacrum of the evil ex-president. The film looks like maybe it is portraying Frost as its hero, and not as the self-seeking careerist that many of his old associates seem to regard him. I might go and see this – it looks like it is good on period details and stuff, plus films about Nixon are always good for a laugh.

The Damned United
I saw this on the internet. It is the trailer for the film of David Peace's book, with Michael Sheen (again) playing Brian Clough and various other British stalwarts playing the other characters (and some Irish guy playing that grinning Irish bastard Johnny Giles). The trailer does not really look like the film will be that good. Ultimately, they seem to have taken a novel about despair, self-doubt, alcoholism, and failure, and created a feel-good film about chirpy chappies having a bit of a larf and overcoming adversity. I may nevertheless go and see this anyway.