Broken Social Scene, Kings Arms Tavern, August 6, 2010

August 9, 2010

I experienced a broken social scene before I even got to see the band Broken Social Scene play on Friday night.

A good friend’s girlfriend has been a big fan for some time. He’s currently off overseas and suggested I might want to go along so she wouldn’t have to go alone. I wasn’t that familiar with their work (except the odd stuff I’ve caught on 95BFM), but she was indirectly responsible for me getting into a bunch of indy rock bands over the past couple of years, so I was keen.

Then my good friend and his girlfriend went and broke up a couple of days before the concert. Ah, fuck.

But hey, I’d paid $50 for the ticket she was holding for me and why let other people’s relationship woes get in the way of more important issues, like rocking and rolling. So yeah, still went. And we’re all grown-ups, so it was all fine.

And the music was also all fine.

Local three-piece Dictaphone Blues were the opening act. They’ve generated some hype over the past year and they’re certainly talented musicians. Even if the front man did have a pink guitar, which I guess he must have borrowed from his little sister or something, but at least he treated it with suitable disrespect. He’d also jump onto a keyboard regularly to add a touch of electronica. Seems everyone has a keyboard these days. Their specialty for harmonics was a fitting lead-in to the Canadian indy rockers who followed.

As someone who knew little of Broken Social Scene, there was a little WTF moment as two drummers and four guitar players took the stage. That presence later swelled to 11 on stage at once as horn players, keyboards and singer chicks joined in.

It initially reminded me of another Canadian band, The Arcade Fire, whom I saw perform with a band of 12, each belting out the song as if they were the front man. But even then you still knew who was really in charge.

It was performance of a different kind with the Broken Social Scene, though. The lead vocal duties were interchangeable, with singing rights changing up to three times during songs, and even instrumental duties would be swapped between numbers.

It was an unconventional happy head-trip.

Their songs are centered around a strong harmony, although I still can’t get the infectious melodies of Texico Bitches and Forced to Love out of my head.

The band members interacted well with the crowd and even indulged a couple of the requests being shouted at them. They were near the end of a long tour, but were in an obliging mood.

Founding member Kevin Drew even tried a brief bout of crowd-walking, and singing from down among the masses, before thinking better of it and heading back to the stage.

I like The Kings Arms as a venue, but it was its usual oversold self. I’ve been a number of times, and, as someone who usually hates crowds, have always found myself amazed at how laid back and unaggressive the indy rock fans are, despite everyone being in a constant mosh pit.
Unfortunately that amazement was about to end with this gig, after I had to go get rid of a couple of pints half-way through a rare ballad.

As I came back a couple of minutes later and was trying to make my way back to where I originally was, I immediately started getting pushed by some drunk who was convinced that I was trying to force my way in front of him in order to block his view with my tallness. I accidentally stood on some chick’s foot in the process. Got sworn at for that. Got pushed again. After the fourth time (why don’t I ever simply retaliate after the first?) I pushed him back. And then, weirdness. He suddenly changed his mind and wanted to be my friend. Started telling me that that song they were now playing wasn’t as good as how it was played on youtube. That it was an anthem that was meant to be played in a cathedral, or something.

I just smiled and nodded to humour him. And then the other founding member, Brendan Canning apologized to the crowd for that performance sucking and not being played as good as usual.
Wow. Drunken pushy guy actually knew his stuff. I wouldn’t have known any different.

I never made it back to where I was originally. Just stayed there for the rest of the night. Blocking short peoples’ views. Sorry.

Broken Social Scene finished off with an encore of a couple of songs and then Drew hung back to talk to the audience. He offered up a crowd singalong, but the best anyone could suggest was the Exponent’s Why Does Love Do This To Me?, and Drew didn’t know that one.
So instead he jumped onto the drums (he plays drums as well?!) and was joined on stage by some of the other band members who engaged in a loose extended jam. Which was cool, but for me it was a jam too far and reminded me of, dare I say, Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey. I was tired OK goddammit and it was past my bedtime. But I expect others loved it and lapped it up.

Still went home with plenty of BSS goodness ringning in my ears, though.


Album Review: Bud Buckley, Sitting on the Wind (EP)

March 26, 2010

American singer-songwriter Bud Buckley’s latest release proves that nuns know nothing.

When he was a kid in Catholic school, Buckley was put down and made to believe that he was musically marginal, but the late bloomer – who grew up to be a teacher himself, and was encouraged to persevere by his students when he tried guitar as a teaching gimmick – has proved the nuns wrong. He’s learned a thing or two about music along the way. Learned it is his calling. And he even got a little revenge on the nuns on his first album, with a composite character song called Sister Mary Confusing. He’s now making up for lost time, releasing his third CD and is starting to get airplay through North America.

So right there is another one of those life lessons in ignoring critics. I have a friend with a similar story – a teacher embarrassed him when he was eager to illustrate a class project, to which the teacher replied: “No Clayton, we want someone who can actually draw.” He’s now a graphic artist.
Same sort of thing happened to me as a kid. I wanted to be a comic book illustrator, but my parents said forget about it, you’ll make no money out of that. But now …. Now … well, I don’t draw any more at all, actually. I think I’m getting off track.

The point is that these new Bud Buckley tracks show someone who has worked hard at his craft and the payoff is something pretty and sweet and something that is pretty goddamn sweet.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a fan of the acoustic rocker for few years now and he has generously shared his embryonic lyrical ideas and in-progress worktapes on his website. The boy who was told by nuns that he couldn’t sing or play very well is developing into quite the in-demand working musician.

His vocal delivery reaches a whole new level on this six song EP and his composition and composure give the lyrics dramatic space. He’s kept the talented recording crew and studio band that made his second album, It’s About Time, a success.

His specialty of delivering what are essentially catchy love songs continues. The opening track, Frozen Shadows, is listed as being about “toward the end of a love campaign”. Early rough versions of that song had a Hunter S Thompson influence, but it’s been reworked (although it’s still a dark song – “You’re too far gone to come back home”) and is one of the stand-outs.
Even the sly protest tracks (#2 – A Way, in this case) that his inner hippy likes to sneak in are love songs at a fundamental level.
Move Me, Sit on the Wind and Go If You Want To are some very sweet ballads.

I sometimes get nervous when I see artists redoing songs that I already think are great. Jacob’s Hurricane, which made its first appearance on his first album (Feel My Love) reappears here. This was the song that got me hooked on Bud in the first place. A friend sent me a collection of .mp3s she liked and somewhere among those hundred or so songs, on came Jacob’s Hurricane and I immediately stopped what I was doing and just listened. I initially thought I’d discovered some lost Dylan piece. This powerful love song was written during a hurricane (Buckley lives in Florida) and was inspired by a couple of friends. “Jake heard there’s a hurricane coming and he should run for his life. He said “I got bigger problems. Something’s coming for my wife.” What does losing your worldly possessions mean when you’re losing the love of your life. His most poignant songs deal with mortality and the physical death of love.

I needn’t have worried. The new version is great. Electric guitar is replaced with electric violin thanks to the talents of Deni Bonet, an outstanding singer-songwriter in her own right. Backing vocals are added by Beth Reineke. And hey, if Dylan can have multiple reworkings of his renditions, then why not Bud.

It’s also good to see Helen Avakian again acting as album producer. She was the guitar teacher who encouraged him to get into performing and songwriting and recording in the first place. Avakian is an award-winning singer/songwriter/guitarist (check out her album Vanishing Point), and provides acoustic guitar and backing vocals on this EP. She also co-wrote A Way and has a big influence in her role as a mentor.

The only complaint I have about Sitting on the Wind is that the economic realities of recording an indy CD mean that Buckley could only produce a six song EP this time. It leaves you wanting more. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, I guess.

#14: Don’t –

March 23, 2010

Combine chicken soup and technology.

I mean, chicken soup’s fine on its own. Technology is fine on its own.
But when the two meet, it always ends in heartbreak. Sort of similar to when toilet bowls and technology meet. Or when tumble dryers/washing machines and technology meet.

So to recap:

Work bag
+ chicken soup in container
– dodgy lid
+ digital dictaphone with hundreds of unbacked-up snippets of song ideas
= 😦

Lady Gaga, The Monster Ball Tour, Vector Arena, March 14th, 2010

March 16, 2010

Sure, I could distance myself and hide behind the old “I only got the tickets because they were a present for my wife for her birthday” line. Just like the time I bought that Justin Timberlake album for her because I secretly wanted to listen to it myself.

But I’m not afraid to admit that I like Lady Gaga. Heck I’d even like to love her. Long time. Unless those comments about her being a transvestite are true. In which case I’d probably have to think about it a little bit more first.

But I don’t need to second guess how much I loved her Monster Ball gig. It was more pop opera than rock concert and would easily have been at home on Broadway, or perhaps Old Soho, being part stage show, part fashion show. Part strip show.

It was seeing the video Bad Romance on TV turned me around on Lady Gaga. The song is a lesson in catchy 119 bpm composition and the video is a work of art in its own right. I wasn’t familiar with much of her work beyond that and her other hit singles, but it didn’t matter. This was as much of a visual experience as it was an aural one.

Part of that experience was crowd-watching and checking out those who had dressed up Gaga-style (mostly with blonde wigs and Bowie-lightning-bolts on their faces, although a couple of guys went as white Lycra-wrapped characters from her video).

There was a few minutes of waiting and watching her silhouette before the stage curtains went up and she launched into her opening song, Dance in the Dark, for her second Auckland appearance.

“This is our second date, New Zealand. So you know what that means: I can go down and suck your dick without feeling like a slut!”

Those parents who took their 8-year-olds along would have been left slapping their foreheads and questioning their own wisdom.
There was also a lot of Michael Jackson-esque self-touching from her and her backing dancers, which I guess was to be expected given his music was playing during the hour it took to set up her stage following the opening act.

The show revolved around a very basic storyline about getting her friends to the monster ball. Hardly an award-winning plot, but it did provide the vehicle to tie together the music, the moves, the moods and the costumes.

“Tonight, the freaks are all outside and we’ve locked the door!”
Cue squeals and screams of delight. The crowd was hers. Her show(wo)manship was tight. Like her costumes.

I lost count, but the newspapers say she had 16 changes. They were pretty amazing, although they did screw with the show’s momentum near the end as she got down to one garment per song.

But this show was also about the musician behind her larger-than-reality neo-glam persona. She first briefly showed her skills early when the hood of a car on stage was opened to reveal a piano, but she really got to reveal her chops and her musical range when she later slowed down to belt out the ballads of Brown Eyes and Speechless. She was on fire. And her piano literally was, as part of a special prop effect. I also noticed how her dance trade mark monster claw resembled the shape her hand makes during certain piano chords.

Did she make it to the Monster Ball? I guess so. She lost her friends along the way and got attacked by a large anglofish-type puppet monster but survived to follow-up Pokerface and Paparazzi with the perfect finale, Bad Romance.

Then it was time for the group bow, curtains down, lights on, show over, Gaga gone.

I was left on such a high that I didn’t even mind so much when I got to my car and discovered a $40 parking ticket thanks to a parking sign that was even more ambiguous than the lead singer of the opening act, Semi Precious Weapons. Actually, I liked their music. Weird. Camp. Dressed in drag. A fitting opening act, perhaps.

#13: Do –

February 18, 2010

Turn that frown upside down.

My baby boy has just started giggling.

It seems so long since my own life was all about shits and giggles…

#13: Don’t –

February 8, 2010

Let the door hit you on the way out.

Yeah, I know, i know …it is pretty funny watching a bird fly into a window or glass door and knock itself out.
But I was leaving a party on the weekend and mistook a plate glass panel next to an open door for the open door and I tried walking through the glass panel that I thought was the open door, but it wasn’t an open door, it was a plate glass window thing.
And I then realized that the only thing that hurts worse than full-on headbutting a plate glass window is the sting of the laughter of those who heard the crunch and witnessed you bounce off of what you thought was an open door.

And the only thing less funny than that was that I was carrying a baby in my arms at the time.

Still, probably wasn’t as bad as that time my friend severed her nose running through a ranchslider door. For the record, I don’t advise doing that either.

Big Day Out, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, January 15th, 2010

January 18, 2010

Biggest “Made My Big Day” Moment: Dancing with cute Kiwi muso chick Gin Wigmore to Groove Amarda in the boiler room at the end of the night. Well, technically I was dancing with her back. She just happened to be in front of me. But she did accidentally bump into me a few times (her backside touched my frontside), so that’s kinda like making out, or something, right?
It was a nice coincidence, seeing as I had been enjoying watching her on stage an hour or so earlier and found myself thinking: “Oneday, she will be mine. Oh, yes, She will be mine. (So long as my wife’s OK with that…)”

It’s an opportunity I could have easily missed had I freaked out and chickened out of forcing my way into the middle of the boiling supertop tent, which was already packed and spilling over with the converging crowds of the just-finished Muse and Head Like A Hole, who were now looking to end the night with some doof-doof.
It was cool seeing her go from being a performer up on stage to being a Groove Amarda groover down in the mosh just like the rest of us. The people trying take to pics of her while pretending to take pictures of the people around her reminded me that she wasn’t just like the rest of us.

Best Act I Never Saw: Bandicoot. A trio of Kiwi teens. Had never heard of them, so I checked them out on the interweb. Loved them. Wanted to see them. They were on from 10.30-11am. Gates didn’t open until 11am, though. WTF? I guess they got the role of the band that provides the ambient music and sound check while people are outside queuing. I really wanted to see them. Will have to see whether I can see them some other way this year.

First “Hairs-Raised-On-The-Back-Of-The-Neck” Moment: Catching Dimmer in the boiler room. I wasn’t planning to. I’ve been a fan of leadman Shayne Carter since the album Melt during his former Straitjacket Fits days became one of my favourites. But with so many acts on at once, the BDO is all about compromise as to what you catch and what you miss and I’d been fortunate to catch Dimmer opening for the Brian Jonestown Massacre a couple of years back. But then I happened to be passing and ended up with time to spare so popped in to catch the last of their songs. Their onslaught of rock noise blasted my ears and rib cage and drew me right up front for my first proper dance of the day. I’m still only just getting my hearing back.

Best “OK, You Do Rock” Experience: Ladyhawk. Saw her on the televised NZ music awards late last year and her performance was terrible. But I suspected the show’s sound engineering may have played a part in that so I knew I had to catch her live to decide. Her successful brand of retro rock really did rock. Was lucky enough to get up close and danced to her entire set. A guy from work didn’t enjoy her so much because he was stuck right at the back, but I guess proximity determines experience to a large degree.

The “Holy-Fuck-It’s-Bob-Dylan” Moment: Finn Andrews from The Veils.
Seeing The Veils play an awesome set at the Kings Arms Tavern in 2007 signaled my rebirth as a concert goer, so this was one of the bands I had to see again. Fought my way up close. Then it struck me that I’d never really noticed before just how much he looks like a young Bob Dylan. Or a young Jacob Dylan. So much intensity in his delivery. The band (or instruments) sounded a little off though and there seemed to be a little bit of Dylan-esque rekeying and retiming of songs. But I still loved it. And I do likes me a cute chick on bass.

Nicest Little W.T.F. Surprise: Dizzie Rascal. I like Dizzie Rascal, but again, I wasn’t intending to catch him. I couldn’t work out why he was on the main stage – surely he wasn’t a big enough act for it. Belonged in the Boiler Room tent. Boy was I fucking wrong. Walking down the arena stairs and being confronted with what seemed like an entire audience of tens of thousands of people up and dancing to Dizzie was a surreal experience. He went off. I’ve never seen so many people dance like that in one large space before. I gladly joined in and was thankful to catch his last three songs.

Biggest Disappointment: Lilly Allen. Dizzie Rascal did her a big disservice by being so orsum. She was a complete downer by comparison. We were all hyped-up and ready for something special and she took way too long to fire up. Sound set up for her stage also sucked. Still, I did like watching her perform.

The “Well, That’s OK Then” Moment: It was also annoying to see during Lilly Allen’s performance that a bunch of people had commandeered some wheelie rubbish bins and were using them to stand on to get a better view, which blocked the view of all the people behind. Normally I’d pull someone like that off their perch and beat them with an empty plastic beer bottle, but the people getting the better view were a bunch of cute chicks in short jeans shorts, so in this case I was happy to stand behind their behinds and say nothing.

Moment of Ewwwww: Getting to the secondary stage beer cage area about halfway through the day and discovering it had degenerated into a landfill. People had given up putting their rubbish in bins and the cleaners had given up trying to clean it. I joked about making beer angels in the piles of empty beer bottles, but I was definitely just joking.

Moment of Turning A Frown Upside Down: I really wanted to see Gin Wigmore perform. So I did. Loved her. One day, she will be mine. Oh yes, She will be mine. Then there was a rush over to the main stage to see Muse, a big stadium act I really wanted to see. But turns out so did everybody else. By time we got there pretty much every vantage point with a view of Muse was taken. My compadres and I did manage to secure some seats up in the nose bleeds in the eastern stand. I could see them performing and loved their song choice, but the acoustics where we were were so bad that after half an hour I decided I wanted to go see Head Like A Hole instead. I had tried to catch the reformed dirty hard rock Kiwi band last year but missed my chance with the lead singer accidentally putting an axe in his foot. Going into the Big Day Out I figured I’d have to miss them again because of the Muse clash. But I’m glad things worked out as they did because HLAH were fucking awesome. With almost everyone else at Muse, I managed to get right up front and do a lot of jumping up and down with all the Westies who were also there to see them. HLAH came pretty close to starting a riot, with the next act on (Fear Factory) doing a rude non-silent sound check during the HLAH set on the adjoining stage. Some gathering Fear Factory fans also started throwing plastic bottles at HLAH. It was entertaining to watch HLAH front man Booga Beazley throw insults back at them and Fear Factory, then initially refusing to give up the stage at the end of their set. When they did finally say good night, I got some dirty looks from a few Fear Factory fans as I was leaving, which was amusing because, seriously: hahahahahaaaaohyou’resotough.
Then it was off to the Boiler Room and some more Gin Wigmore.

Moment of Thank-God-For-Drugs: My back was screwed the whole week leading up to the Big Day Out. I’d put it out helping my cousin chase sheep around the countryside. (It’s a long story). I feared I’d need a walking stick or Zimmerframe to get around the BDO. But I washed a double dose of painkillers down with energy drinks before going in and managed to get through the day just fine. Probably helped in no small part from the second hand highs from all the weed being smoked. But anyway. I’m not getting too old for this shit.