Sympathetic Stupid

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ha Fucking Ha: Dylan Moran, Lawrence Leung, Andrew McClelland

More funnies! And the money's rapidly running out...

(Aside: At the Festival Club on Saturday night, saw the sharp-like-spring-morning-air Kitson as MC - he's a very funny fellow. I've got a feeling he's sold out for the rest of eternity though. He introduced Michael Chamberlin who was very competent though not hilarious, and Demetri Martin who was good. I was a little turned off by the deadpan American accent, however. Everything's funnier in British. It's possible I'm a bigot.)

Tuesday night, Dylan Moran (from the frequently hilarious Black Books) at Hamer Hall. Big venue, sold out. So what did all those people get?

Well, he was pretty funny, but not side-splitting. Last show of a gruelling tour? Possibly. But it wasn't so much his solid delivery and timing, or his appealing rumpled persona, but the material itself. A lot of it seemed to be worked up during the tour; quite a few Oz and NZ specific gags which would paradoxically probably be funnier back in the UK. Amy (who's a fan of his old stuff) said that the jokes just weren't as good as the bits on DVD - one time he started one she knew, but slipped off into less funny territory.

Still, quite pleasant. A large part of the crowd seemed determined to laugh no matter what; a lady near us started cacking herself as soon as he walked on stage and barely stopped throughout. But anyway, he's not on any more so it's all moot.

For about half the price, much funnier was Lawrence Leung last night. You really should see him. Lawrence is a good performer, but a great writer - the show has a really good true narrative structure about his life's journey through puzzles. The segues between bits are seamless, with none of those jarring, stretched transitions that are so common. Add the faultless production and it makes for an easy watching experience.

So he draws you comfortably into his endearingly geeky world of puzzles, with the promise of solving a Rubik's cube (as shuffled by the audience, mind); but the puzzles are just the hook to get you into a more personal tale of love and relationships. There's plenty of gags and not too many flat spots - of course, not everything works, but the show moves quickly enough that if you miss one, there's another along in a minute. It helped that he had a responsive full house to play with, I guess. And there's a really nice sense of resolution at the end.

That's the best show I've seen so far.

Also last night, Andy McClelland, doing a show all about mix tapes. Andy's musical knowledge is obviously encyclopedic, and he's an enthusiastic, madcap, more-than-competent performer. But despite the subject being close to my heart, it didn't quite work for me. (Maybe because it's close to my heart, I had very high expectations.) Partly it was because of the room, a cavernous space at the bottom of Duckboard House, with a spot shining directly and uncomfortably into the performer's eyes, and the audience ringed around the stage. These combine to make it more impersonal than I'd like, especially when sitting, as we were, to the side of the stage. And it seemed an off night; a few empty seats, and a room full of drunk college kids made for a funny crowd vibe.

But these are most likely transient problems, and much of the show is good. Once again, it's a journey through his life with music merely as an excuse, though he cares deeply about it. My main concern is that non-music geeks, indeed, non-Melbourne music geeks, may miss much of it. A section on specifics of The Smiths may pass some by; a section on The Lucksmiths even more so. The safer gags are where he sticks to genres and feelings, like the hilarious hip-hop section, the bit about metal, or the "deep" monologue over Explosions in the Sky.

Certainly worth a look.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Faux Pas: Entropy Begins at Home

I reckon a lot of electronic music falls into the trap of doing too much. Every sample is honed and polished until it's gleaming and pointy like a new Lamborghini. But music has a purpose beyond superficially exciting safety and that's why Entropy Begins at Home is a great album.

Instead of chrome and steel, Faux Pas has built you a wooden table and stacked it with homemade tapas, slightly blurry through multiple pre-dinner jugs of sangria but with glorious smells heading straight for your tastebuds. Another review speaks of "organic instruments" and while I can't picture a flute tree or piano bush, I take his point - it's music created electronically but with a wholly natural feel. Take The New Underground for a start; while it begins with a sparse, mechanical beat with an 80s reverb snare, the track stops feeling in any way electronic when a violin leads us sneakily into an enormous, big-band brass sting, warming the ears like a good single-malt in the gullet.

Faux Pas has a great sense of how much is enough, never over-complicating the tracks or going too hard for too long. The opener, Tema de Cristina builds tantalisingly, beginning by playing with four elements of an interesting beat, adding assorted samples and dropping away to nothing; then in the last third of the track, when it's all but too late, he dishes a sawed double bass and the killer flute line that was, obviously now, foreshadowed from the start.

But before long enough it's gone again, and he leaves us wanting more, as throughout the album. Hermann's Hermans is a weightless meander through the clouds, guided by a strong yet capricious beat until joined by the smoothest soprano sax, in one of Coltrane's free moods. But again, it's gone all too soon. And Apra, which follows, functions as little more than an extended intro, despite its percussive strummed guitar and warm, crackly production seeming to deserve more. Just as it's building, the count takes us into Water into Wine, the longest track at close to seven minutes.

This is one of two tracks on the album that have yet to grab me - it's not a coincidence that the other is the second longest track, Dorothy's Finger. While the rest of the album seems to make its point and move on, these hang around a bit long for me (a forgivable sin also perpetrated by Handsomeboy Technique). Possibly it's also significant that both these tracks use underwhelming vocal samples where the other tracks prefer sublime instruments.

Like my current favourite track, Tim as a Brim, which reminds me of why I love Faux Pas's sample library. This time it's the raw beat breaking down into a funky as heck organ, and then, out of the blue, an almost Iberian horn section wanders in to close it off. This is another example of the itinerant Spanish feel that's the closest thing this album has to a theme, though it tends to appear only when you least expect it. This is the true big beat section of the album, as following is the bouncy For the Trees, combining a percussive strummed guitar with an enormous stomp beat.

I liked Faux Feels, the EP preceding this album, but Entropy Begins at Home is a step above and beyond the enjoyably kitschy Jethro Tull cover that was my pick of the EP. It's getting a lot of buzz around town, picked as album of the week on RRR and popping up on blogs all over the shop. Get it before you hear it coming out of car windows on Chapel St.

EDIT: And, just received, permission from Faux Pas himself to post a coupla samples! The first is from the website, the second is exclusive to me. Unless someone else posted it. But, once again, you gotta buy this album. Thanks Faux Pas!

[MP3] Faux Pas - Hermann's Hermans
[MP3 - 3.1MB] Faux Pas - Tim as a Brim

[BUY] Faux Pas Website

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ha Fucking Ha: Tim Minchin, Sam Simmons

It's indubitably comedic festivating time in ole Melbourne town.

Saw Tim Minchin first last night. He sold out, and with good reason, cause he's a very very competent cabaret performer. He's a great pianist and a decent singer, writing clever songs which mix intricate puns with irreverent taboo-busting punchlines. And he's got a good patter. Musical comedy is a dime-a-dozen at the moment but Minchin's one of the best performers out there.

But there is a bit of a caveat - I reckon this show's a little underdone. He's spent a lot of time overseas doing last year's show, a tour de force that picked up a few awards and lots of praise. So it's not surprising if he's got a bit of the Difficult Second Show syndrome. A couple of the songs fall a bit flat, some of the banter is a bit earnest or pointless and the rhythm of the whole thing is just a little off. But I'm being too harsh; don't write it off, as some of it is great - the "Fuck Off" song, while being pretty similar to TISM's BFW, is very funny, and I liked the Canvas Bag bit as well. And "If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out" (?) is side-splitting.

At $18 on a Tuesday you can't go too far wrong. But keep in mind that the kids like him so he will sell out consistently.

From the 400 (?) seat Hi-Fi to the Regent Room up in the Town Hall, holding not more than 50, for Sam Simmons.

Tales from the Erotic Cat is impossible to accurately describe, bouncing as it does from operatic tales of Sam's life to subliminal cats to talking ficuses to electric seagulls. It's a trip through Sam's brain without too much self-censorship, logic or causality. But it's done well; Sam has a good sense of timing and a solid feel for the ridiculous and absurd, and an endearingly goofy, energetic stage presence.

A really enjoyable show, for less than $20 every night of the week - don't go expecting anything too cerebral and you'll laugh your bum off.

PS: Also saw Ridiculusmus in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Malthouse on Saturday. Elanor liked it and so did I. Keywords: witty, smutty, polished.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sigur Rós + The Mountain Goats

A big gig week last week. Not so much in the Harmer/Kitson/Nicholas/DAAS sense of The Big Gig. Maybe that's more appropriate for this week, since it's Comedy Festival time and Lucy, Morgan, Jimeoin, Fleet, Lano & Woodley and Scared Weird Little Guys all have shows.

Tuesday night was Sigur Rós at the Palais. I dislike the Palais for rock gigs, mainly since Belle & Sebastian last year. It's cavernous and gives you the unpalatable choice of sitting up the top, with decent sound but a long way from the stage, or down the bottom, with questionable sound and possibly restricted view, though closer to the stage.

That said, it wasn't too bad for Sigur Rós. There's unlikely to be much dancing regardless, and my seat in the middle at the top was pretty good for sitting back and letting the music wash over you. Sound was fair though relatively quiet, and the light show was impressive from that distance, especially the opaque backlit curtain, which gave monstrous frantic silhouettes for a portion of the evening.

I like the band but am not their biggest fan; having loved Takk but not heard much before except bits of Ágætis Byrjun. I suspect I lacked enough context to really appreciate the intricate, deep and unconventional pieces, and those I did know were vaguely disappointing in the live setting. While pleased to hear my three highlights of the album, Glósóli, Hoppípolla and Sæglópur, they all seemed to lack a bit of power in the vast hall, with only (!) a string quartet backing the band. Yeah, I got goosebumps when the distortion hit in Glósóli, but they faded rapidly. And the backing string riff that carries Hoppípolla was thin without brass to garnish it. (Yeah, OK, maybe I did wish they were Broken Social Scene just for an instant.) And the big drums in Sæglópur seemed a pale imitation of the record.

So, yeah, they were good, but not wonderful. But that's for me. Sean at A Reminder gives a better review of the Sydney show (or two) from a true fan perspective. (Like him, I agree that the support were excellent.)

The other disappointing thing about Sigur Rós was the lack of audience connection. By Pat's reckoning, Jonsi spoke one word for the entire show - 'Takk' after the track of the same name. This always disappoints me. The Mountain Goats, at The Corner the next night, showed why.

I'm a bit of a Mountain Goats fan but, again, not a huge one. I've listened to The Sunset Tree and found it very good. I've listened to We Shall All be Healed and found it patchy. So while waiting through the always pleasant Mike Noga, and the manic, promising, yet ultimately unrefined Tucker Bs in support, I wasn't sure what to expect. Then the stage was cleared, leaving just two mikes. And for some reason I was prepared to be disappointed.

Design Your Own Container Garden (SAR?)
Dance Music (ST)
You or Your Memory (ST)
Ox Baker Triumphant (EP)
Alibi (EP)
Love Love Love (ST)
Tallahassee (T)
Up the Wolves (ST)
Jenny (AHWT)
Color in Your Cheeks (AHWT)
Dilaudid (ST) [guitar tacet]
I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone (S) (Billie Holiday) [a cappella, unamplified]
Song for Dennis Brown (ST)
Wait For You (EP)
Lion's Teeth (ST)
Shadow Song (CG)
This Year (ST)
See America Right (T)
Lonesome Surprise (NBP) [singalong]

I don't know that I've ever seen a musician so enthusiastic on stage as John Darnielle. With just him, on guitar and vocals, and Peter Hughes, on bass and backing vocals, there's a heap of stage to fill. He smiles infectiously and dances goofily and chats comfortably; despite the relative obscurity of the first track, the audience feel ready to go with him. Then, when the packed crowd choruses the opening line of Dance Music, his gobsmacked, heartfelt "you guys rock!" sucks us all in.

Stories, stories, stories. Ox Baker was an old-school US wrestler, Dennis Brown was the greatest reggae singer, Alibi is about a girl he once knew. Sure, he's told them a thousand times, but that just helps them work. The setlist is malleable - Up the Wolves comes from an audience request, and only after a minute or two working out the chords with Hughes (who actually seems to know the songs better than Darnielle). He mucks up Dilaudid a couple of times, then ignores the guitar and sings over Hughes' semi-improvised bass line. Then, having broken a string, we get a chat while Hughes changes it, then an unmiked a cappella version of the only song know to be written by Billie Holiday. Versatility.

Apparently we're the biggest audience he's ever played to, which I find kinda hard to believe since he's been around fifteen years. But certainly this was one of the most receptive crowds I've been in for a while. Well, OK, only since Broken Social Scene at the same venue; but it was a while before that. Good-natured and everyone seemed to leave the venue smiling. Yeah, they didn't play Pale Green Things, or anything from We Shall All be Healed (which probably required keys or drums), but everything we heard was excellent; almost spot on the record, but not mechanically so. And the all-in singalong in Lonesome Surprise was the cream on the cake.

I'd go to this gig again in a second, and will be chasing up some of the old albums I haven't heard. This was a real highlight.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Compendium Conundrum

I'm posting because Nick said I had to. I always do what Nick says.

He's got his Roskilde ticket which is very good. We're gonna see the likes of Animal Collective, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Sigur Ros, Morissey. Tool! (Looking forward to that album; ah, metal.) Who Made Who, Franz, Arctic Monkeys. Deftones, Coheed & Cambria, Lady Sovereign, Placebo, The Streets, Rufus Wainwright. Kanye. Dylan, Roger Waters.

Not to mention Guns 'n' Roses! Well, Axl, but possibly with Brain from Primus (a really good rock drummer), Finck from NIN, Tommy Stinson from The Replacements, Chris Pitman who played with Tool on Aenima.

Closer to home, seeing Sigur Ros Tuesday and the Mountain Goats on Wednesday. Which explains the surfeit of Mountain Goats tracks on (fanfare please) my playlist applet. Eyes right. That's it. I know it looks bad now but I might redesign and it might get better. Or not.

Yes, I know I have been and continue to be lazy. That's just the way it is right now. There's a girl. These things happen.

Not that I haven't been spending large proportions of my disposable income on CDs. One highlight has been the Because of Ghosts compilation "No More Reason, No More Doubt" (see half-finished post - oh, that's right, it was only half-finished). I've heard a bit of these guys on Delivery thanks to the erudite Owen McKern, but never seen them.

They're somewhere in the same galaxy as Sigur Ros, or the Dirty Three, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor; playing layered, adventurous music which completely avoids sounding pretentious despite its experimental tendencies. There's plenty of groove sense, with guitar lines alternately weaving through and soaring above some mercurial four-armed percussion and contrastingly solid bass. It reminds more than a little of fellow Melbourne band (the sadly defunct) Little General, though the production is more spiky; at least on this reissue of old stuff. They have a new album out real soon now, and they're playing with the respected Xiu Xiu next week. All fun.

Other recent stuff:
- At War with the Mystics: The Flaming Lips; no opinion at this point.
- Gravity Won't Get You High: The Grates; initial impression fun.
- Late Night Tales: Belle and Sebastian; impressively catholic as is the metier of the series.
- Skip to the End: Futureheads; I really like it.
- Drums and Wire: XTC; How did it take me so long to get to these guys? Helicopter's a classic. Nigel, Scissor Man, great. Ten Feet Tall, Chain of Command, Life Begins at the Hop - very little misses on this album. Magic.
- Between Last Night and Us: The Audreys; haven't listened heaps yet, but there's a lot to like in them.
- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood: Neko Case; not as impressive as Blacklisted at this point, too similar maybe?

On the list for the immediate future:
- 4: Gerling; I've loved them in the past so why shouldn't I still?
- Born Again in the USA: Loose Fur; I like most things Tweedy or Kotche.

Been on the radio a little bit as well. If you're doing nothing 2am Good Friday night, tune to RRR. Be drunk. We sound better that way.

Lastly, my bicycle and I are in love with an iRiver. Until the overlooked bus hits me right in the middle of Glosoli.