Saturday, January 24, 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties - Today

You know it's a pretty eclectic day when a drunken yob, who probably recently sported a fauxhawk until he realised how "gay" it looked, flops down next to you during a transcendental set by Spiritualized (spilling his double-sized cup of Jaggermeister all down your shirt), grabs you by the arm and demands to know who's on next. You confirm it's The Saints, which makes him groan with delight, before he asks you "and then?". "Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds", you reply. Another orgasmic groan of delight escapes him, as he asks you the same questions again. And again. And then utters perhaps the most profound encapsulation of what the music festival All Tomorrow's Parties is all about: "It's not often you say The Saints are on next, followed by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, is it?". No, it's not. And so that was the sort of day this festival was all about as it aimed to throw up the amazing with the weird, the sublime with the trippy and the yob with the thinky muso type (that's me, by the way. Modest).

All Tomorrow's Parties is a UK-based festival which is distinctive in that it is curated by an invited artist. For Australia's first shot at it, the seminal Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds were given the top hosting duties - and boy did they pull out all the stops. The festival itself was actually a 3 event affair, with a weekend bill at Cockatoo Island for the Sydney Festival, followed the next weekend by a 2-day affair at the Mt Buller Ski Resort in Victoria and culminating in a one-day bill at Brisbane's Riverstage (as well as a smattering of 'side shows' at the Powerhouse).

Brisbane January heat bathed all early-comers in a lather of sweat, which $7.50 beers in small cheap plastic cups was in no way close to combating. The only respite, it turned out for the better, was down in front of the stage. And so, with bottled water, crappy beer and camera in hand, I set up camp on the barrier just in time to welcome American free jazz exponent James Blood Ulmer on to the stage.
A student of the limited "harmolodic" free jazz movement, Ulmer's set - a paired back stage with just himself, his gorgeous full-bodied electric guitar and a music stand - was a mix of muddy blues and deft, almost imperceptible finger picking. Combined with the nearly-70-year-old's gravel voiced missives about love, loss and hurricanes had the small audience begging for more.

The Necks, on the other hand, had the crowd (around me at least) scratching their heads at either the sheer lunacy or sheer brilliance they were witnessing. A Sydney jazz trio, The Necks are renowned for one thing only - improvisation. No two sets are the same with this band of consummate musicians and eclectic personalities - the term "set" is even a little misleading, with absolutely no breaks between movements. The band is improv personified and, depending on which side of the musical fence you sat on, it was either setting the tone for the following transcendental nature of the day, or was the "... worst thing I have ever seen in my life". The partial quote in the previous sentence can be attributed to the two 40-somethings next to me on the barrier who clearly came from side of the musical fence which did not tolerate this "noise" - and they were prepared to be vocal about it. And while I'm sure they had a point (heck, even I was hankering to hear a 4/4 or even the crack of a drumstick on snare about half-way through), the point of musicianship was clearly wasted on such a crowd. Oh well, better luck - and better venue - next time?

Next on stage was pretty much 1/3 of the reason for me taking the day off and paying for this ticket - Robert Forster. Better known in previous incarnations as one half of hugely influential (both on a world stage and for myself) Brisbane pop band The Go-Betweens, Robert had just released his first solo work since the untimely death of song-writing partner Grant MacLennan.
With songs both referencing and from Grant (who was close to an idol for me), I was keen to see how he would go without his mate. Setting up, it was clear Grant was to be present, but not obvious. Using almost the same back band as the most recent GBs line up (with the addition of a new drummer, and old drummer Glenn Thompson moving to keys/guitar), the gig started off well, despite the sun just peaking below the stage awning and on to the side of my face. With the first couple of numbers drawing from new album The Evangelist, I was hoping to get an emotion free ride, but as the first few chords of Surfing Magazines rang out, I knew it was not to be. Robert was at his best, with an almost vaudevillian stage persona, lauding and interacting with crowd members in his self-effacing, almost arrogant bouffant style. Tears streamed throughout the gig, especially through 16 Lover's Lane's historic "stolen song" Quiet Heart, which Robert took back in a beautiful way (it was written by Robert, but then Grant stole the lead vocals during the recording of this seminal album, which was not done in the GBs before then).

With Robert devoured by the hot afternoon sun, I bid farewell to the barrier and retreated up the now shady and person-speckled hillside of the Riverstage's steep amphitheatre. Settling on a patch of turf to take in some food and drink and get a full appreciation for the wall of sound which signalled the beginning of an hour of transcendental music which was Spiritualized. The hugely influential minimalist soundscape artist (Jason Pierce, who in various incarnations has called his bands Spaceman, Spaceman 3, J Spaceman and now Spiritualized) is the full extended version of what bands like Radiohead and Mercury Rev have been trying to achieve. At once intricate and hollow, it can change to a cacophonous racket in a heart-beat. On stage, Jason positioned himself perpendicular to the crowd, facing the other guitarist. Backed by two amazing African American soul/gospel singers, the songs took on an almost rapturous feel and by the end, it certainly felt like floating in space as the 2 guitars duelled in a Mogwai-esque reverberated finale. Highlights included the ethereal Come Together and the anthemic Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space. With the entire crowd enthralled (and most of the other artist on the bill, who had gathered at any vantage point they could to witness the event), Jason uttered his only address to the crowd - a "thank you" - and left the stage.

Next up was The Saints - a band I was cautiously anticipating. I was cautious for a number of reasons: mainly relating to being only 'familiar' with their music (ie - not a huge fan) and also a consciousness of the danger of believing the hype and mythology of bands such as these. And if there's one thing which Brisbane does very well is mythologise and exaggerate The Saints (anyone read Pig City? Anyone go to the Pig City gig?). Sadly, tonight my caution was well heeded. In an effort to further distance itself from other festivals, ATP also usually incorporates an element into each of its gigs whereby a seminal artist/band plays its seminal recording from start to finish, live. For the first Australian leg, it was being billed as The Saints playing its 1978 opus (I'm) Stranded to its former hometown audience. What actualised, however, was nothing short of a farcical caricature of The Saints and nothing like the playing of their seminal album. Sloppy and muddy bass and drums were drowned in Ed Kuepper's double Marshall stack axe-work, while court jester Chris Bailey went about severing all ties with normality as he pranced and shimmied around the stage like a deranged monkey. Kuepper, studiously hunched over his guitar, tried hard to work through the bullshit, but it was clear from the beginning that The Saints were no more. Again. And this was just one last insult and raised middle finger to the audience which probably held it on a higher pedestal than most. While I personally didn't feel all that strongly about, the looks on the faces of those around showed it all - a betrayal of the highest order.

And so with the sour taste still ringing in my ears, it was a massive 2-drum kit stage set and phenomenal lighting rig which pulled me back into "rock" mode, as Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds took to the stage. The immaculate suited Cave immediately set about prowling the stage through opener Lotus Eater and never stopped throughout the gig. The imposing figure cuts through the din and flash to present himself as pure artistic rock in all its glory. His forceful stanzas are accentuated by trade-marked high kicks as his prancing takes him to all sides of the stage. Highlights included newies Dig, Lazuras, Dig and More News From Nowhere, a drawling and dripping bass line reflecting the humidity of the night. It was reworkings of old classics, such as Tupelo, The Weeping Song and Red Right Hand which truly stuck out - not just for their inclusion in what was quickly becoming a "greatest hits" setlist, but also for the band's boldness in the sometimes dramatic re-arrangements. Bad Seed and Dirty Three frontman Warren Ellis proved an expected focal point, as he gyrated and pulsed through most numbers. His enigmatic performance was noticeable at all times, whether it be as he wielded his trusty violin or one of many quirky miniature guitars (called Mandocasters, apparently). As quickly as it began, however, with the encore of a sloppy Lyre of Orpheas and a tiring Stagger Lee rounding it out. All in all, a truly wonderful and eclectic day of music. And, as my new drunken friend pointed out, I can now say that I have seen The Saints opening for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. And the proteges showed them how it was meant to be done.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Banking Customer Service, huh?

Taking last Thursday off to go to a music festival, I thought I'd kill 2 birds with the one stone and visit Suncorp to close an account I no longer needed. Suncorp's flakey definition of Customer Service decided, however, that was not to be.

Walking into the office, I was greeted by a pleasant young gentleman who directed me to the tellers to conduct a final withdrawal and close the account. The sour-face mole on the teller promptly swiped my card and in the most resigned of tones explained that I could not close the account because it was "dormant". I was perplexed at this, as I had used this very same Visa Debit card over the weekend to buy some iTunes songs. But, apparently, that was the "sub" account and the "main" account had not been used ever, and so had gone to "sleep". I would need to transfer $1 from the "sub" account to the "main" (or "dom") account to "wake it up" and then transfer the $1 back out again.

"Ok, let's do that," I requested of the young lass, who was ever eager to serve me. By which I mean was ever eager to shoot daggers of contempt into my heart with every breath she took as I was obviously too daft as to not understand their quite simple business operations...

"Oh no, I can't do that.. You'll have to go over to that phone on the wall and call telephone banking to do that," was the obvious reply.

Perplexed, I trundled over to the phone, only to be requested by the automatic answering person to enter my phone banking password. As I had never used such a service, I had no such password. With no option on the system to talk to a human, I gave up on the phone menu merry-go-round and went back to the first kind gentleman to help me.

Seeing my perplexity, he kindly stepped in and guided me through a 9-minute phone wank in which I reset my phone password, transferred money from one account to another and back out again and in the process "waking up" the account. Great. Awesome. My 11 minutes so far in this branch were proving very productive.

He then lead me back to another teller to proceed with the final transaction and close the account. But still nothing - this time it was because I had used the account 5 days ago and there were still some Visa "authorities" pending. A good 15 minutes of pleading and trying to make them realise the stupidity of their systems, I was finally over the hilt of frustration when they told me I had to come back another day and close the account. Nope. No fucking way was that happening. Not on your fucking nelly was I doing that.

Luckily, the helpful and patient teller kept searching for ways to ensure I did not have to step foot back into one of their god-forsaken branches. Scoffing at the absolute stupidity of the course of action present, I finally relented, if only to stop myself from going postal.

Their suggested action? I was to take my card, and the forms they had already filled in, along with a self-addressed pre-paid envelope the young girl had given me, and write a letter requesting the account be closed. After being refused by Rebekah to pen the letter right there and then and cut out the postal middle man, I left in absolute dismay at the bank's complete inability to be logical and customer focused.

I always knew banking was a black science filled with bureaucratic bumbling, but this was just plain ridiculous! Surely no other business can behave in this openly hostile way to their customers?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Top 50 Artists 2008

1 Pearl Jam, played 784 times
2 Augie March, played 405
3 Jeff Lang, played 344 times
4 R.E.M., played 338 times
5 The Go-Betweens, played 328 times
6 The Frames, played 307 times
7 Paul Kelly, played 265 times
8 The Smashing Pumpkins, played 250 times
9 Powderfinger, played 238 times
10 Michael Franti & Spearhead, played 220 times
11 Ryan Adams, played 212 times
12 Something for Kate, played 191 times
13 Silverchair, played 188 times
13 Harry Manx, played 188 times
15 Midnight Oil, played 186 times
16 The Church, played 182 times
17 Led Zeppelin, played 157 times
18 David Gray, played 153 times
19 Eddie Vedder, played 150 times
20 Sarah Blasko, played 146 times
21 Rage Against the Machine, played 144 times
22 Bob Dylan, played 143 times
23 Kings of Leon, played 142 times
24 Bruce Springsteen, played 135 times
25 Red Hot Chili Peppers, played 134 times
26 Billy Bragg, played 132 times
27 Gomez, played 131 times
28 The Cat Empire, played 129 times
28 Salmonella Dub, played 129 times
30 Elvis Costello, played 125 times
31 AC/DC, played 124 times
32 Ben Lee, played 114 times
33 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, played 113 times
34 Archie Roach, played 111 times
34 Editors, played 111 times
36 Tim Rogers & Tex Perkins, played 109 times
37 The John Butler Trio, played 108 times
38 Pollyanna, played 104 times
39 Tamas Wells, played 102 times
39 Damien Rice, played 102 times
41 Jeff Martin, played 101 times
41 Elbow, played 101 times
43 The Tea Party, played 100 times
44 The Nightwatchman, played 97 times
44 The Killers, played 97 times
46 You Am I, played 96 times
47 The Roots, played 95 times
47 Clare Bowditch and The Feeding Set, played 94 times
49 Alex Lloyd, played 93 times
50 Bob Marley, played 93 times

This chart was taken from my profile and includes all songs played through my iPod and iTunes for the past 12 months until 31 Jan 08. Come and visit me there... better still, join up and compare musical chops!

Blog War Ends

Well, it seems the battle for blog supremacy has fizzled to a rather disappointing end. Much to the angst of many fellow bloggers around this fine land, jspace's recent dramatic demise has been sort of a blessing in disguise for me.

A few months back, in a moment of pure lunacy, I decided that my other 2 blogs were kinda crap and so it was time to start a new one: this time with a theme! Problem was that at the time, I had a couple of theme's swimming around in my head - the gentrification of the gorgeous suburb I lived in (which will eventually lead to me being squeezed out) and my psuedo-reviews of the gigs I go to see. So, with a brain-wave similar to that which leads someone to think that beginning a PhD is a "really good way to spend a few years", I decided to make 2 blogs.

Lo and behold, a few months down the track and all my good intentions got swept under the carpet and both blogs started getting fairly eagerly neglected. That was until a couple of weeks back when my source of many blog ideas, John Birmingham's Cheeseburger Gothic, suddenly went missing. Poof! Kapow. Gone. Just like that. Which also meant that my meager few blog entries had also gone, but more importantly, so did the growing sense of community and camaraderie with fellow jspacers.

It has meant that this is now my only blog site (and I don't propose to start more anytime soon!), and thank you if you found your way here through jspace - I was Albion Love Den, but also known as Blue Box to some. The abrupt disappearance of jspace has also kicked me in the butt and forced me back to the keyboard - so expect to see more of me in the coming months. I have a review of Augie March in the pipeline, as well as a wrap-up of the 2-odd days of my tenure at the Woodford Folk Festival. For now, however, is my list of Top 50 artists as decided by my charts on Now, this is not my list of greatest albums or artists or anything like that - simply top to bottom of the top 50 artists I listened to on my iPod on iTunes for the entire 12 months. You may be able to infer a few things about the type of person I am...