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St Vincent @ PS14

I already mentioned in passing, St. Vincent, the band-shaped solo project brand thing of the super-engaging Annie Clark, was by far the best act I saw at Primavera Sound 2014. It was also the act I was most looking forward to seeing going in, it’s always nice when those line up.

I guess I’m a super-fan. I first spotted Annie playing with Sufjan Stevens' touring band. I next encountered her playing solo support for the National, touring her first St. Vincent release, upon which occasion I bolted out of the auditorium by the third song, in order to make sure I got a copy of the CD she was plugging from the merch stall before she packed away. I saw another couple of shows in Bristol, with the full band, and bought all the records, including an interesting collaboration with David Byrne.

Last weekend, while idly browsing the Glastonbury live blog, I noticed that they’d just updated their description of the current iPlayer feeds to include St. Vincent streaming on the iPlayer from the park stage. I’d been avoiding the Glastonbury video feeds due to a combination of not being in the mood, and the dullness of the tv schedules, but I wasn’t going to miss out on this, so I whacked it on the TV. True to form, it was a great set, live, risky, and peppered with amusing crowd-surfing and hat theft. Even with a bit of sound problem, and some streaming glitches I enjoyed myself, and was amused to see my enthusiastic tweeting duly included in the Guardian live feed on the next page refresh.

That was a really good set”, I thought to myself, afterwards, “but it wasn’t nearly as exciting as the Barcelona one. True, that lacked crowd invasions, and nobody lost a hat, but the lighting, and the sound, and the staging, and the lack of daylight, and the crowd being really into it…A pity there’s no TV-broadcast quality stream of that night archived away somewhere”. 

Yes, I do really talk to myself like that sometimes. Especially when I’m pretending to transcribe my inner voice for a blog.

And then, I ran into this on Youtube.

 

Full set, multiple cameras, properly mixed sound, pretty good video quality. I have not yet watched it enough times to see if I can see myself ( front of house, stage left, VIP pen ) in the crowd, but I expect I will. 

posted Monday, July 7, 2014 at 15:39 by cms in internet, music, travels | No Comments »

St. Vincent Interview: I respect her enormously. Best thing at Primavera Sound 14 by miles.

2014-06-15 by cms in links, music

Sound Sculpture Deconstruction

They actually did it! And amazingly enough, close to my old gaff, down in Bexhill-on-sea, home town of Q, and one of my favourite buildings, the De La Warr Pavilion. In my day, I chiefly associate the De La Warr with local dance and dog shows, ropey touring comics, and humdrum seasonal panto. It seems to have fully reinvented itself in recent years, as an contemporary arts centre after a face lift from the usual lottery funding raffle committee.

The story leading here; Ceramic artist Keith Harrison, as part of his residency in London’s V&A museum last spring, created a "an experimental sculptural sound system” out of a ceramic tile sculpture, and invited Napalm Death to play a high volume live set through it, potentially involving the destruction of the sculpture through sonic assault.

So far, so awesome… It sold out quickly, and then the museum curators suddenly came to their senses/got cold feet and chickened out, as they realised they were about to stage a grindcore gig at volumes deliberately intended to destroy sculptures in their museum full of fragile objet’s d’Art, many of which are kept in darkened chambers as they’re too fragile to expose to strong light.

Aboo. So, I felt slightly better about missing out on tickets, and forgot all about it. 

I subsequently discover with glee, they relocated it to the De La Warr in November, and completed the show without any particular mishaps to life or property. The installation/gig was called Bustleholme, which is the name of a degraded housing estate outside Birmingham. The sculptural components of the installation, through which the band’s amplified output was channelled, were ceramic tile structures loosely based on the dimensions of the estate. In the words of Keith Harrison…

The Bustleholme estate in West Bromwich was where I was born and lived until I was 8. Located in the Black Country, the heavy industrial centre of the Midlands, three tower blocks depicted overlooked the estate and their vivid blue and yellow ceramic tiles are one of my earliest memories. Despite the subsequent poor reputation of the blocks, at that time in the late sixties and early seventies they symbolised the optimism of a radical approach to social housing rising out of an urban landscape of motorways, canals, polluted rivers and railway lines.

The quote is taken from a short interview with the sculptor and band over at the vinyl factory where there is a fascinating short documentary film about the whole event. More of this kind of thing, please.

posted Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 10:30 by cms in art, music | No Comments »

Useless bullshit: jwz doesn’t want to scrobble.

2013-12-07 by cms in computers, internet, last.fm, links, music

Fretboard Heatmaps: This is a really neat idea, although it's a pity it has so few artists.

2013-05-29 by cms in links, music

EVH tells the story of "Beat It": "..Quincy has said he paid you in two six packs of beer.."

2012-12-04 by cms in links, music

Hey! Bo Diddley

In November 1955, Bo Diddley was booked to play live on the Ed Sullivan show, the middle America's favourite TV variety show. As legend has it, he was booked to play a single tune, but he misinterpreted his cue card, which had his name, followed by a song title, launched into his, perhaps slightly racy for the times, eponymous calling card – "Hey, Bo Diddley!", immediately following it with the song he was booked to play, the only slightly more sedate "Sixteen tons". They tore the roof off the house, and got themselves banned from the show. 

Here's a particularly rocking performance from 1965

That lady on the second rhythm guitar is known as The Duchess.

Not many musicians get to name their own beat. And in this case, it's a beat that refuses to die. Not many musicians can play it well, but that hasn't stopped them trying through the years. I put a playlist of the most egregious examples I could find up on spotify. There's some direct lifts, some re-interpretations, some slightly tenuous reaches, and hopefully some surprises. It's an editable playlist, so please feel to add any that you find.

 

I feel sure there ought to be a Spiritualized song in there, but for the life of me I can't find one from memory.

Once you get into the habit of spotting them, it's quite an addictive hobby. I find that I often only spot them a while after I've picked out a song as an earworm.

posted Monday, December 3, 2012 at 20:33 by cms in music | Comments Off

The Return Of The Thin White Duke

For the last few weeks I've been utterly immersed in a fairly exlusive relationship with David Bowie. He doesn't know anything about it,unless he makes a habit of checking out people's play counts on last.fm. It's just me and his back catalogue. This relationship is mostly played out in trains. On headphones, music fed from iTunes or Spotify. Complete albums at a time, played through in the correct running order, naturally.  As I listen my eyes are glued to an electronic book. A book about David Bowie and the same songs I'm almost obsessively listening to.

It began with the book, or perhaps I mean to say it awoke. A few weeks  ago, listening to Word Podcast 188, I heard about Peter Doggett's latest book. Commissioned as a sequel, or at least inspired by Ian MacDonald's influential song by song Beatles chronology: Revolution In The Head. I thought the idea was sound, if any classic rock canon could bear the load of similar scrutiny, it was probably Bowie. I noted the book on my 'to read' list, and the next time I found myself without an ongoing book, whilst waiting to depart St. Pancras International, having recently ended one book, I  bought the Kindle edition, via "Whispernet". I do most of my book reading on trains. I thought it would probably make an interesting read, despite knowing that I didn't really enjoy listening to Bowie's music.

It wasn't always that way. At some level I would still identify myself as a Bowie fan; albeit a heavily lapsed one.  We go way back together. His commercial peak as a pop star ( Let's Dance ) neatly coincides with the start of my interest in the pop charts. He still seemed a current, voguish music figure. The promo video was a new central focus of pop culture, and Bowie was of course one of the craftiest, most-prepared of the video pioneers.

Access to archive media was rare then, and fashion was forward-looking; any consciously retro styles were focused on the '50s.  I remember a classmate at boarding school, with the archetypal 'older brother with record collection' filling me in on the standard mythology. The multiple identities, snatches of song titles and character names and iconography all seemed unimaginable and distant. Fascinated by the scraps, I used my sense of wonder to fill in the gaps.

I remember the first time I saw a photo of Ziggy Stardust, years later.  It was in a newspaper colour supplement. There was a stock photo collage piece on 'The Many Faces of David Bowie'; probably already a cliche even then. Like anyone, I was knocked out just by the look of it. It was preposterous; somehow ridiculous and cool. A vision from the future, even 15 years out of date.

Bowie still pops up throughout the rest of the decade. He's still a face. Movie and soundtrack work. Labyrinth. Absolute Beginners. When the Wind Blows. I watch all of these at home on a VCR.

I pretend to study for 'A' levels, at the local sixth form college. A grim time for chart music, the fag end of the Stock Aitken Waterman years, just running up against the first twinklings of rave culture. There's a jukebox, with actual seven inch singles in. Most of them are by Rick Astley, or Sonia, or Michael Bolton. There's a 'Golden Oldies' section with maybe a dozen  records  over on the far right side. 'Ziggy Stardust' is one of them. I play it once or twice a day for weeks. After this, a little piece of me is always slightly disappointed each time I play an electric guitar and it doesn't sound very much like Ronson.

Tin Machine are next along, the sheer contrariness of this scheme just delights me; although I never get to hear much of the music, there's a near media embargo on it. As I move through the 90s, with a gradually solidfying income, I fill out my CD collection with all the back catalogue. It gets solidly played until I've commited the bulk of it to heart.

I'm amused by the negative attitude to 'Drum and Bass Bowie' from the inkies, most of these still in thrall to the last few coughs of Britpop. I like the singles more than most others from that year.

Then it's spoiled. Glastonbury 2000 kills it. Against my better judgement, I trek down to the pyramid stage to watch Bowie's headline set. Stadium Rock is not my thing. I stand in the mud for a while, and I try to watch on the giant TV screens on the other side of the crowded field. It's too slick, too caberet, I'm completely disengaged and intensely disappointed. I leave them to it after half a dozen songs. Something feels quite broken. After that, I find it hard to listen to the old records in a more than academic way.

Nonetheless, now I'm reading the book, I put a playlist together that covers all the albums it discusses. I'm mostly reading on the train, and this means I'm mostly listening as I read. It's a peculiarly immersive way to listen to records. I tried it once before, with Scott Tennent's book about Slint's Spiderland. I read that on the Northern Line, with the album on rotation. Eventually it almost felt like I'd been present at those recording sessions.

It leaks into your ears, ambiently informing your reading. Occasionally mid-passage about the invention or arrangement of a song co-incides with the track playing everything pulls into focus across multiple senses. Berlin-period Bowie plays particularly well with rail transport, with it's stations and trains and mechanical sounds. Listening to Heroes, waiting platformside in the raw concrete trenches of Stratford International.

The book itself is a solid read. Bowie remains an unsurprisingly opaque presence, and some of the speculative interpretation on lyrics and motivation feels like a stretch. The musical analysis likewise falls falls a little short of the template established by 'Revolution In The Head', occasionally quite gratingly clunky (a 'sustained fourth' chord?). Luckily the framing works just as well. Imposing a narrative upon the chronological order of recordings creates an appreciation of it as one body of work. Considered so forensically, it's an astonishing thing. Much as with the previous book, what stands out just as markedly as the quality of the songs and recordings, is the rate of progress, and the rate of change. Here's a rough calendar of the recording dates of the albums covered within 'The Man Who Sold The World'.

I still find this list astonishing. Just five years separate the psych-folk/music-hall of Hunky Dory and the ambient alienation and hyper-stylised funk of Low. A further four years between that and the proto-industrial-cum-New Romantic Pop of Scary Monsters. It's a lot of terrain to cover in a decade, banging out over an album a year interspersed with global touring. For the sake of convenience, I have left out the live album releases.

A couple of other interesting points leapt out at me after reading. I realised my instinctive dating of 'Scary Monsters' is mistakenly late. 'Ashes to Ashes' has been so convincingly retconned as a New Romantic cornerstone, I have been unconsciously sticking it in the middle somewhere around '82-'83 amidst Culture Club and Duran and the Spandaus, and 'Come on Eileen'. The actual recording date puts it barely out of the 1970s, which means that dense, sound bricolage of such modern sounds was hand-stitched in the most analogue ways. Tony Visconti deserves even more of my respect.

The second thing I never before realised, was that the 'Art Bowie' period – the less overtly commercial works spanning from 'Station to Station' to 'Scary Monsters' does rather neatly line up with a management dispute. As I understand it, these records were produced under a settlement that meant a significant portion of royalties were due to a now estranged management organisation. Once this lapsed, he abruptly switched to the ultra-commercial, lucrative career arc prefaced by 'Let's Dance'. Which is of course, where we came in.

A final, unexpected triumph. As a side effect of the book and this entombment in the music. The joy came back. In sounding all the material out new depths, informed by fresh context, and with rested ears refreshed, I've rediscovered my original appreciation for this sequence of records. Pity my poor family.

The only fault I can find with this technique of marrying immersive listening with a scholarly reading is that it is intrinsically retrospective, and perhaps simply nostalgic, and reductive. It obviously requires you find an artist or a work that's had enough time to embed itself in it's surrounding culture, and can never be forward looking.

Best album from the set? I change my mind constantly, but think I most often settle upon 'Low'. There isn't a bad one, although I'll never consider 'Pin Ups' to be essential, and I think I might always find 'Lodger' a little underwhelming. Who's next for the treatment? I'm not sure. I notice there's a book about the rise and fall of Spacemen 3.

posted Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 20:50 by cms in history, music | Comments Off

Musical Differences

Five LPs I used to frequently listen to when I was a lad, that I frequently listen to now
  1. Green On Red : Here Come The Snakes
  2. Jane's Addiction : Ritual de lo Habitual
  3. Pixies : Bossanova
  4. Metallica : Master Of Puppets
  5. Depeche Mode : Music For The Masses
Five LPs I used to frequently listen to when I was a lad that I occasionally listen to now
  1. The Sisters Of Mercy : First And Last And Always
  2. Genesis : Nursery Cryme
  3. New Order : Substance
  4. Steve Vai : Passion And Warfare
  5. Frank Zappa : Joe's Garage
Five LPs I used to frequently listen to when I was a lad that I haven't played in a decade
  1. Marillion : Script for a Jester's Tear
  2. Simple Minds : Live – In The City Of Light
  3. Pink Floyd : The Wall
  4. Madonna : True Blue
  5. Red Hot Chili Peppers : Blood Sugar Sex Magik
posted Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:12 by cms in history, music | 1 Comment »

Holidays over

That's 2010 all done then. 2011 said alound still sounds implausibly futuristic to my ears. One more sign that you're an old man.

The 'holiday season' was surprisingly survivable. The nut roast didn't poison anybody. I doubled up the recipe quantities, and had exactly 50% left after dinner was done. The main problem I had was getting all the vegetables evenly done. There was much shuttling trays in and out of the oven, and from shelf to shelf, but everyone went away fed and uncomplaining, so I'm going to chalk that up as a success.

It turns out that having a 1 year old daughter is an excellent diversion around this time of year. Most of my time seems to have been spent chaperoning her around various relatives' houses, where she excelled in capturing the centre of attention. She's unsurprisingly done terribly well for presents. Typically, her favourite seems to be something inessential; a tiny gift teddy bear that was part of a seasonal book bundle.

I have a nice new coffee mug with a picture of Moominpapa on, of which I am already fond. Also notable, a comic strip book that frames the life and work of Bertrand Russell as an analogy to a classical greek tragedy. Better than it sounds, it's quite a fascinating piece.

2010 has been a pretty good year I'd say. Mostly full of Ada, who has grown from being a rather sickly baby whose inability to keep food onboard, or sleep to rule frazzled nerves, to a largely reflux-free, sleep-friendly and entirely enchanting toddler. I think my Ada high-point of the last year would be when I taught her to high-five people, whenever she was being carried at shoulder height. She's currently showing signs of becoming a precocious chatterbox. Other than that, there's been the career gear-change, moving to work for last.fm, which has been almost entirely awesome. The new job brought a house move to London, which took me through the stages of ambivalence, active dislike of the place, right through to my current state of mind, which is settled back into an easy enjoyment of the appeals of city living. The fly in the ointment there is the lingering unsold Bristol house, dealing with which is going to feature heavily in the new year, I suspect.

Usually, at this time of year, I'd do some sort of summary of the year in music. 2010 has been a year where I've been kept pretty out of touch, because I've simply been too busy with other things. So most of the new discoveries I've made have been anything but current. Like everyone else, I became briefly overexcited about Janelle in the middle of the year. Standouts would be finally getting around to listening to Spirit Of Eden, and falling for it predictably, discovering The Books and Field Music, and my most unusual acquisition Sia's 'Some people have real problems' album, which I wouldn't have expected to have been my thing, but really captivated me. Luckily last.fm did a chart thing of my annual listening(a subscriber-only feature).

Having an infant at home has really curtailed the gig-going, so I had to focus on quality, not quantity. I did Primavera again, and I don't seem to be tiring of that yet, I've already bought tickets for 2011. I saw an astonishing Dirty Projectors show at the Barbican, performing 'The Getty Address' completely, accompanied by Alarm Will Sound. I finally got to see the New Pornographers with Neko, which was good enough to keep a stupid grin on my face all the way through the first hour, even though I was coming down with a stupid cold. I think I'll probably get more opportunity to see things in 201, but surprisingly I'm not really complaining.

Here's to 2011. Still sounds wrong.


Suggested listening

posted Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 08:28 by cms in Ada, comics, cooking, music | Comments Off