Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Man With The Four Way Hips

The Tom Tom Club were playing in Dublin. You may remember these people as being the two members of Talking Heads who are neither David Byrne nor Jerry Harrison – Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. I was undecided about going to this. On the one hand, the music the Tom Tom Club made back in the day is amazing – or at least their first album is. OK, so you do get a bit of lamer white guy getting down with Chris Frantz's vocal contributions (particularly in the live Tom Tom Club track on Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense), but you can't knock the toe-tapping nature of the music. The fear with things like this, though, is that seeing them many years after their heyday will mean you get a band that are a sad shadow of their former selves – tired oldarses going through the motions to top up their pension funds.

That kind of fear kept me from buying a ticket for the concert in advance. However, I had heard good reports on the grapevine about recent Tom Tom Club performances, and check on YouTube suggested that they still have it. So on the day itself I decided that I would go, and was lucky enough to meet someone on the way who had an extra complimentary ticket. So I got in for free – wahey.

I felt obliged to repay my generous friend by buying pints in the bar. This meant that we missed the support band. At the time, this did not concern me, as the rubbish support act at Richard Thomson (see later) had put me off whatever rubbish local act Vicar Street would serve up. However, I later heard a lot of good things about the support act from people who did see them, so I will quickly mention them. They were called Tieranniesaur* and featured a lot of boys and girls hitting things as well as playing more conventional instruments. They seemed to be both avant-garde and fun at the same time – an ideal support act for the Tom Tom Club, in other words.

While waiting for the Tom Tom Club to come on, I couldn't help but notice that the venue was not exactly full. And from talking to other people it seemed like hardly anyone had paid in, which could have proved that we were in for a concert of bored yappers. Yet it was also clear that everyone there was rather excited about seeing the band. The auditorium was filled with a sense of expectation from the people present, who all were hoping that this would be an exciting night out rather than an embarrassing example of a band pissing on their legacy.

And actually, yes, this was amazing. The band are as funky as ever. The line up now is Tina Weymouth on bass and vocals, Chris Frantz on drums and occasional "James-Brown!" vocals, another woman called Victoria Framm on vocals and occasional guitar, some young lad on keyboards, guitar, and percussion, and another young lad (who turned out to be the child of Weymouth and Frantz) on turntables. They played a load of different tunes, not all from the first album which meant that many of them were new to me – but all of them were tracks that you could not keep your feet still to. The place was soon full of people dancing their little socks off and smiling like lunatics.

I am going to have to investigate later Tom Tom Club albums, as the first one does not have what proved to be a complete stomper live – 'The Man With The Four Way Hips'. This led to some discussion – what would it mean to have four way hips? They would go forward and sideways – so that's two, but what are the third and fourth? The vertical axis might somehow be a third, so would the fourth way be an ability to move your hips through hyperspace?

Back to the concert - one thing I was really struck by was how uncompromisingly old the band were. OK, a lot of people are old, but they are usually a bit more restrained than this or else they are frighteningly made up and plastic surgeried. But Tina Weymoth and Victoria Framm were completely unrestrained and yet seemed largely untouched by masklike makeup or the surgeon's knife. And old people do not usually wear tiny dresses and funk out like they did. If you have ever seen Stop Making Sense you will be aware that 1980s Tina Weymouth was one of the great heart-throbs of New Wave – well she still has it, but in a mad for it older lady kind of way**. Chris Frantz, meanwhile, has greyer hair but generally looks surprisingly like he did back then, though he was giving it a bit less of the "James Brown! James Brown!" – maybe with the wisdom of age comes a certain self-consciousness. Which was a bit of a shame, as we were all looking forward to agreeing that the late Mr Brown is still the Godfather of Funk (y'all), and that this information would need to be checked out.

After the show I hung around for a drink or two. And then, in a stunning stroke of good fortune I was leaving the venue just as Tina Weymouth was. So I got to tell her that the show was amazing – which means that now I am her best friend in the world.

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Wordy Pandahood

* Their name comes from main member Annie Tierney, who was in almost famous Dublin band The Chicks, whose unreleased album was produced by the Royal Trux.

** I hope I am not coming across like the kind of gentleman who interviews Helen Mirren.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Trip to Cork, Part 3: Booty

How about quick reviews of two records I acquired in Cork? These two corkers were acquired in the Plugd record shop, now located in Triskel Arts Centre.

Oneida Absolute II

This is a recent album… by Oneida. It is the third of their Thank Your Parents triptych of releases. It is an unusual record, in that it features none of the rock freak out action that people have come to expect from the O. Instead, the tracks are pretty minimal, often featuring a bit of noodly electronica and odd soundscapey stuff. And it is only four tracks long. The opener, 'Pre Human' sounds the most Oneida-esque, like the kind of quiet song they might do before launching into something that would then roll over you like a train. The rest feature what sound like tone generators and odd random bursts of noise. Oddly, I think that what this at times sounds the most like is some of that Trio Scordatura-Ergodos stuff, though I am guessing this is more an example of parallel evolution rather than direct influence. Still, it conjures up the fascinating prospect of Bob Gilmore appearing with Oneida next time they play live.

Black Mountain Transmitter Black Goat of the Woods

On the cover we have a distorted picture of the sun shining through trees and a spectral figure of a person with the head of a goat. A sticker gives the name of the record and the title and then tells us this: "the soundtrack from some lost low budget horror movie, rediscovered on an old and faded VHS cassette found mouldering in a deserted house in the depths of the woods". How could I not buy this? And it turns out to basically do what it says on the tin, being a collection of ominous synthesiser sounds combined with strange creeping sound effects to give a feeling of terrible and inescapable doom.
That said, one thing makes this record different from the horror movie soundtracks it is trying to evoke. They would be divided up into lots of relatively short pieces, to be used at different stages of the film, but Black Goat of the Woods is one long track – a journey into the night from which there can be no turning back. "Searchers after horror haunt strange far places…"

the goat with a thousand young

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

more my other blog action

in an astonishing series of developments, I have posted for the second time in a couple of days on my other blog. If you want to read what I have to say on the Palestinian's bid for UN membership, click here

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Trip to Cork, Part 2: Kaleidoscope

After the show we drifted off to Callanans, a nice pub on the quays that has become one or our haunts in that city. One thing Cork is famous for is having two different mass produced local stouts, Beamish and Murphy's*. I started off with a pint of Beamish, the inferior of the two. While quaffing away I noticed an older gentleman in a baseball cap leaving, and realised that he was none other than Steve Reich. Now, why was Mr Reich down in Cork? For the simple reason that the Reich Effect, a festival devoted to music by, inspired by, or vaguely related to him, was taking place in that proud city. And indeed, even though he had taken his leave, the pub still had various members of the Crash Ensemble and the Dublin avant-garde classical music scene knocking around in it. I overheard a bit of barman chitchat about the composer, which went something like this:

Barman A: So that fella's well known?

Barman B: Oh yeah, he's a famous composer.

Barman A: Jaysus. And did he drink his Murphy's?

Barman B: He gave it a go.

The Reich Effect taking place while we were on our brief visit to Cork was convenient, and we arranged to attend the Kaleidoscope Caravan club night on the following evening. I may have mentioned this before – it is a Dublin club night run by Cliodhna Ryan and Kate Ellis (both of the Crash Ensemble and other things) where chamber music old and new is played in the intimate setting of the upstairs club space of the Odessa restaurant, where people can drink cocktails or more normal drinks in a relaxed fashion while listening to delightful music.

This kind of thing is self-evidently a good idea and so much the kind of thing I like that it is amazing that my attending their visit to Cork represented the first time I have ever made it to a Kaleidoscope event. My failure to make it to their Dublin events tends to stem from a combination of my own disorganisation, their nights clashing with nights I have to work late, and the small venue always being full of the Kaleidoscope performers' friends and relations by the time I try to get a ticket. But in Cork I had my beloved on the case, and she picked up tickets for us online.

Five pieces were played. First of all, we had a Bach sonata in G minor. This was introduced as being one of Bach's less performed pieces, which was odd as it sounded very Bach-like to me. But it did make me think that I really must further explore Bach's music, as there is an astonishing beauty to it and he does seem to deserve his reputation as one of the three greatest composers of all time.

After that we had a famous piece of Javan Gamelan arranged for western instruments by Ergodos superstar Garret Sholdice, which made for an intellectually interesting juxtaposition of styles. That was followed by a beautiful performance of Igor Stravinsky scored Russian peasant songs, sung unaccompanied by Michelle O'Rourke and other singers whose faces I recognise from this kind of event. A John Zorn piece saw cellist Jeffrey Ziegler of the Kronos Quartet joining the Irish performers, which led to excitable screaming from the young ladies in the crowd. My notes on this piece, however, contain the cryptic phrase "Fiddler on the roof?". The concert finished with White Man Sleeps, a Kevin Volans piece for sting quartet, for which my notes say "Pan-Pipes?".

After that we could have stayed for music DJed by Donal Dineen, but it had been a long evening and I was feeling a bit *tired*, so we slunk off back to bad. And that, pretty much, was that. It was an enjoyable evening, though there was the slight sense that all the other performers and audience members were on the most intimate terms.

*Dublin only has one.

Panda Caravan

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Friday, September 16, 2011

A Trip to Cork, Part 1b: Morrissey

And then Morrissey himself. He was looking well; I mean, obviously, he has filled out a bit, but he has developed an appealingly stocky look, vaguely reminiscent of some aging yet classy gangster. The rest of the band were decked out in t-shirts with pictures of James Dean and the text "James" followed by their surname.

Songs from across the great man's solo career were played. The likes of 'He teh frist of teh gang to die', 'Speedway' and 'Ouija Board, Ouija Board' all went down very well. He also played several songs by the Smiths. I suppose at one level he is as entitled to play them as anyone else, and it's not like Johnny Marr is doing anything with them. But I really wish he would leave them alone. It is not that his band cannot do them justice – the version of 'Meat Is Murder' that closed off the main set was storming – but playing Smiths tunes suggests a certain lack of confidence in his solo material. From across the long years since his old band broke up, Morrissey has any number of complete classics to play with. Even if it would have to be accepted that the Smiths songs are better than his solo ones (as part of the general rule that the music of the Smiths is better than all other music) it is a bit defeatist to be favouring them over his own tracks. It seems particularly unfortunate that he is no longer saving the divine 'Speedway' as an encore track.

Still, it was interesting that he played 'Meat Is Murder'. Vegetarianism has long been close to Morrissey's heart, but I think this Smiths classic is his only tune that deals with it as a subject. From media reporting of his public comments, it seems like he has become more hard-line in his views on the subject. As most people do not really care about the suffering of animals, rhetorical attempts by Morrissey to equate animal and human suffering have met with considerable hostility, even from people who are admirers of his music. I was struck by how one line of 'Meat Is Murder' was changed to "Do you care how animals die?". I suspect that from most people present the answer would have been "No".

That makes it sound like maybe this concert was somewhat combative, vegetarian Morrissey clashing with a meat-scoffing crowd of Corkonians. But no, it was all good fun, with Morrissey on flying form as he interacted with the crowd and putting some great comedy inflections into the lyrics of the songs. I particularly enjoyed watching him shaking hands with people in the front row and then recoiling with an aghast air as though a hand-shaker had been a bit over familiar.

And he played one cover version that I remember, Lou Reed's wonderful 'Satellite of Love'. The audience were not that excited by this, but I was thrilled. He changed the line 'I love to watch things on TV' to 'I hate to watch things on TV', which was nice.

Mmmm, maybe as I get older I am becoming more and more Morrissey-like in my views.

Late Night, Panda Street

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My other blog

you have probably forgotten about my other blog - I know I have. But amazingly, I have made a new post to it: Bahrain's Throne of Blood

Free Abdhulhadi al-Khawaja

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Trip to Cork, Part 1a: Before Morrissey

Cork City is the southern capital of Ireland and was recently visited by the Queen of England… and by me! I was not there with the Queen but with my beloved, which is probably the next best thing. And unlike the Queen, we stayed overnight in the city, availing of a tempting mid-week accommodation-dinner offer in Café Paradiso, Ireland's premier restaurant*. We had come down to Cork not just to stuff our faces but also to see some music. In particular we were there for a concert by Morrissey, whose Dublin concerts had sold out before we had been able to buy tickets for them.

The Mancunian sensation was playing in the Savoy, which appeared to be a converted theatre venue on Patrick's Street that also seemed to double up as a shopping centre. On the way in we were frisked and had our bags searched – with rumours abounding that the security staff were not looking for knives, drøgs, or firearms, but for meat, as there was a fear that some wag would think it hilarious to throw a string of sausages at the vegetarian star. We had no such offending items and were granted admission.

The venue was appealing – big but not too big and with a nice wide stage. And not long after our arrival came the support act, Doll & the Kicks. They were an interesting enough outfit, with an impressive lady frontperson. By "impressive" I am not just referring to her leopard print cat suit and somewhat gothic make-up, but to her general air of theatricality and ability to inject meaning into the delivery of her vocals (without descending into "We mean it, maaaaan" territory). The rest of the band were entertainingly rough looking, like they had all been working as stevedores before being press ganged into the band with unconvincing promises of rock and roll stardom. The sound was I suppose a somewhat rocky gothy mixture. I am somewhat sorry that I did not pick up a copy of their album after the show (which I could have acquired from Cat Suit Lady herself), but I am trying to get out of the habit of buying a record every time I see a band live.

After the support act we decided that a little drink was in order, so I popped off to the bar to get in two pints of the local ale. There was, sadly, some kind of bar staff problem, which meant that getting served took forever. However, I was still able to hear and see (in a mirror) the film footage that was being projected onto a screen behind the stage. This was mostly TV footage of bands and artists that Morrissey would be expected to like, either playing live or being interviewed. They seemed to have gone a bit beyond what I think of as the usual suspects for this kind of thing, and so had an amazing performance on German TV (complete with intro from local announcer guy) by Morrissey-favourites The New York Dolls. The raw power the band were exhibiting, coupled with the Shangri-Las countdown of "When I say I'm in love you'd best believe I'm in love L-U-V", made me appreciate this band in a way I never have before. Only thirty-five years too late. They also had some great footage from Johnny Thunders, Sparks and a hilarious piece in which an uncooperative and clearly somewhat *tired* Lou Reed struggles with an Australian TV interview. And also Edith Sitwell. And did John Betjeman make an appearance?

* a controversial comment. Café Paradiso is probably not the premier restaurant in Ireland for people who like stuffing their face with bits of dead animal, though it is the vegetarian restaurant that even meat people like.

Hatful of Panda

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