Friday, December 11, 2009

Get ya Finger out

Powderfinger has the ability to polarise the music-listening public, that's for sure. Some think they are the greatest stayers in Oz rock history, and they have a point. Others gleefully point out that they've "always found them boring" which, while classic Tall Poppy syndrome and rather dismissive of the huge impact of this band, also holds a ring of truth to it.

I have, at various times, passionately argued both sides of the equation: Double Allergic was a defining album for Australian mainstream rock; Internationalist and Odyssey Number 5 were aberrations of style over substance; Vulture Street was a welcomed return to form in the shape of leather jackets and a bit of 'tude; Bernie's solo effort was a watershed piece and a stylistic cornerstone for acoustic soloists; Dream Days and the new album, Golden Rule, showed brief moments of inspiration, but were generally yawn-worthy. Like many other rock-pigs of my ilk and age, I've seen the Fingaaah in a multitude of settings from crusty pub gigs (Backroom at the Great Northern was a genuine musical journey, as was the Rec Club at JCU in the Ville) through to the raucous stadiums (first Splendour ranks as one of the best). While I wasn't exactly champing at the bit to see them at the Q150 finale concert, it was to be the Tiger's first foray in all things Finger-related, and FKN CUSTARD WERE REFORMING FOR 1 NIGHT ONLY! Yeah it coulda been pretty spesh, come to think of it.

Custarrrrrro blasted through a 50 minute back-catalogue set and brought back so many memories of early uni and early Brisbane gigs, parties and events that it was almost like watching a sepia-tinged movie of my life in my mind's eye. It was everything you would have wanted and have no doubt missed from the genius which is Custard on a good night - even Dave's continual big-upping of each and every guitar "solo" by excitedly re-introducing the guitarist ("Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Matthew Robert Strong!") was endearing and sweet. The dudes were loving it, it seemed and it was one of those great moments in Brisbane music history. But then came the Finger.

This night was all about Powderfinger and a big WTF? regarding where it's head has gone (apart from "up it's own arsehole", as has been suggested). I missed the past couple of tours due to general tiredness of the formula that had become the Finger curse. The last time I saw them was probably at a Big Day Out, and I think I was a billion times more interested in the grease-sodden "hamburger" I'd chosen for sustenance than the supposed rock show from Straya's biggest band going on before me. Not a worry, I reasoned most bands have their cycles and I just resigned myself to waiting for theirs to come back around.

It was in this vein that I was sort of keen to catch them to see if they'd hit their straps again... but all the worst fears were confirmed within just 3 songs. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong: was it the general monotone sound, devoid of peaks, squalls, snarls and general signs of life? Partly. Was it the band's insistence on focusing almost exclusively on its "smash hit" numbers at the expense of some its songs of genuine skill and poise? Sure. Was it their almost pathological need to turn every number into a building epic complete with false finishes and ubiquitous drum-crashing finales? Definitely. Was it the massive and perfectly timed lighting rig which seemed mostly trained on the audience and partly in existence just so people could go "fuck, look how many lights they have, wouldya"? Yep. It was all of those things, but it was also more.

It was the very clear vibe from the band that this was not who they really were, or even wanted to be. The Finger members have worked very hard on their personal PR and have managed to paint this gorgeous picture of themselves as the Mr Everyman. The bloke next door. The good guy coming first, for a change. And that's cool, because I have no doubt that's who they are in real life. But then they get on stage, and they build this pretense of rock stardom, of a mysticism, aura and style which just doesn't sit right. And being the blokey-blokes they are, they are painfully self-aware of this fakery, fearing the inevitable piss-take from their band mates should one be deemed too much of a "dickhead". Which is cool in a way - keeps them grounded, yadda yadda yadda. But this internal code and self-censoring doesn't allow for fully expressed creativity and, thus, the band were stiff as boards, barring Bernard's awkward one-hand-on-hip, one-hand-in-the-air posing. The between-song banter varied between non-existent, through hollow measures of thanks and enquiries along the lines of "how you all doin'?", to bizarre screamed call and responses which came out of nowhere and added nothing to the proceedings. The final insult came with a truly embarrassing round of Happy Birthday to "Queensland" (it was the state's birthday celebration, but this was presented more as a chore, rather than as a fun or poignant moment). This led into the train-wreck of a run home of massive numbers which were given a generous pedestrian treatment - almost to the point of self-parody. The only saving grace was the encore of Bless My Soul, which deserved its epic-ness (for the upteenth time) and a cover of the Go Betweens' Streets of Your Town, with all the bands on the bill joining them on-stage.

This was, quite clearly, a band all too aware of where it sits within the musical landscape. And, like it's audience, it appears doesn't quite know if it wants to still get into it, or just to finally let it rest.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top 10 Albums 2009

Am I so egotistical to think that anyone cares what was my personal Top 10 new music for 2009? Well yes, I am. And whaddyagunnadoaboutit? The thought germinated after reading a few of the "best of the decade" lists, like this great one from eMusic, and also reflecting on how my tastes may have changed after getting back into music as slightly more than just a hobby this year.

So, here's my pick of 2009:

We Were Promised Jetpacks These Four Walls

I have to admit the seriously great name drew me in. I now do some of my online music transactions through the above-mentioned eMusic, on a monthly flat-fee subscription basis. I get 30 downloads every month for about $14 AU (fluctuating slightly with the US exchange rate). The site is tops and provides a vast number of sorting and collating tools which can help the decision making process. I go in there every month with one, maybe two, albums in mind. Other times, I just pick a mood or style or era or feel, filter it and see what comes up - which happened here and they lobbed this Scottish post-punk, indie foursome into my Pod. It's just the right mix of crunch, hook, anger and Scotts which is keeping the fire in the ears alight.

William Elliott Whitmore Animals In The Dark

I often spend hours just dicking around on the computer at home, keeping myself entertained and amused and out of trouble. From time to time I crank up the radio player and dial in a genre to suit my mood. Earlier this year Americana took my fancy and a few songs streamed past before this earthy, guttural, gravelly vocal got me searching. I dialled up a few more Whitmore tunes, but dismissed him for weeks fearing it was just another white-middle-class-crooning-man-with-an-acoustic-and-a-tale-to-tell; which is often nice to get into, but more often than not falls flat pretty rapidly due to their general dislike of pushing musical boundaries or trying anything outside of the beaten path (like Jack Johnson, John Butler, even Ben Harper for a bit). He finally got sufficient grasp of my short-n-curlies to wangle his way into my Pod and heart with his deep-south stories and captivating delivery.

Them Crooked Vultures Them Crooked Vultures

I'm gunna lose so much cred here and suggest that I don't like Queens Of The Stone Age much. I like the Foo Fighters even less. Led Zeppelin have always been a touchstone, but I could hardly call them personal inspirations due to the generational differences. So why do I like this supergroup so much? Because it sounds like a couple of crusty rock demons (whom I can identify with) sitting in a jamming room and going: "Man, wouldn't it be fucking cool if we could jam with John Paul fucking Jones?". I like to fancy I can sense Josh and Dave's musical boners on full extension throughout some of these songs, and can almost hear the boyish whoops and hollers as the cymbals slowly fade on some of their rockier numbers. This is pure "fuck yeah!" rock and it gets the blood pumping.

Sarah Blasko As Day Follows Night

Sarah's always been on top of my list of cherished Aus acts. Her artistry has been a pleasure to watch develop from the poppy plaintive pseudo-electronica of her debut EP to this, her genuine heart-break opus which delves deep lyrically and musically. She's put her metaphorical balls on the line here with some pithy, vastly foreign sounds which hark from gypsy eclecticism and viking beats, accompanying some of the most intimate lyrics I've heard for some time. It helps that Blasko seems to have such a self-assured artistic vision, as this could just as easily be a massive train-wreck in given a half-assed treatment.

Pearl Jam Backspacer

Ok, so it's no surprise that the 9th studio effort from my skin brothers would be on this list. It almost wasn't, though. It came out while we were in Japan and flitting around Tokyo with little chance to really get into it. When I got home, one of the first things I did was whack this on the stereo and give it a whirl. And I was disappointed - massively. It just seemed more MOR than I was willing to accept. That was until the Tiger went out and I was able to truly crank the speakers and hear the crunch. It was then that I realised this effort had a massive bottom end and an energy which I haven't heard from them for a while. This was confirmed by the frantic, frenetic live show in Brisbane a couple of weeks back where the Tiger and I were able to feel the full force from the moshpit. If I wasn't sold on this album before, I am now. And I fear I've unleashed a fellow PJ maniac in the Tiger. Can't be a bad thing.

Mumford and Sons Sigh No More

I fell in love with these guys probably more for the way in which I discovered them - they literally stopped me in my tracks while I was faffing around the house one Saturday morning and old faithful Rage was keeping me company. Little Lion Man builds to this great emotive climax of acoustic guitars, stomp boxes, double basses and banjos which I have no hope of resisting. Nu-folk is generally greeted with a rather energetic yawn in this quarters, but something tells me this unit has changed the genre rule book with this effort.

Future Of The Left Travels With Myself And Another

A mate wouldn't shut the hell up about this band, so I tried them out. My mate Mick tends to stay pretty close to the screamier end of the rock spectrum and while I seriously value his opinion, I do realise we have slightly different tastes and so I generally tread with some caution. This one is straight from Mick's noise collection, and is made up of the remnants of Welsh trio McLusky. It's a decent mix of noise, screamery, post-punk-post-Britpop piss-taking which is backed by some great melodic hooks. I'm going to listen to Mick a bit more next year.

The Duckworth Lewis Method The Duckworth Lewis Method

I have no idea where this non-super super-group came into my consciousness. I think I saw them in a Rolling Stone magazine and found the image of 2 hairy musos shouldering Duncan Fearnley cricket bats just interesting enough to read on. It's a duo of 2 Irish underground pop heroes who found themselves so inspired by the up-coming Ashes series that they just had to record a cricket-themed record. It's gimmicky, it's funny in parts, but it's also a serious study in pop mastery.

The Black Crowes Before The Frost... Until The Freeze

There was a small article in a Rolling Stone about how this huge double album was made and it intrigued me. Just a year after their triumphant return, the hairy gods retreated to a barn in New York state and recorded a double album live in front of a studio audience. The feel is electric and energetic with the southern rock champions finding an irresistible groove and a certain dignity of age.

Ben Harper and Relentless7 White Lies For Dark Times

I turned away from Ben for a while as he plumbed the rich vein of ovary-friendly roots-pop. I even dismissed this effort early on as just another way for him to seem like he was reinventing without actually changing. That was until he accompanied me through Japan in his new outfit. It's an evocative collection which still has a strong mind's eye connection to a pretty darned special time in my life and, hence, it goes up on the top 10 list of the year.

And so that's what, where and why for my 2009 Top 10. I'd like to here your top albums for this year and also where you find out about them. I'm always keen to hear of new musical discovery options.