Saturday, October 31, 2009
Preface: I pretty much started this blog as my own kind of Happiness Project and the plan was for each post to be positive, to make me (and hopefully you guys) feel inspired about something. Generally something film or music-related but for those of you that have hung in there for a while, we know it can be a bit tangential. Particularly since someone discovered NY.
Anyway, I went to a gig last night that left me feeling so cross I hope you don't mind me venting here (I'll make it up to you with a Where the Wild Things Are review and some James Gandolfini adoration).
Just to give you a bit of context: The headlining act was a band called Caspian (think Explosions in the Sky but not as tinkly) who I really like. Their album, The Four Trees, is fantastic and its frequent itunes rotation has elevated the band into my last.fm top 10. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about seeing them live. The second thing you need to know is my boy had just arrived back from Europe and was tired to the point of delirium but still agreed to come with me because I assured him it would be worth the trek/sleep-deprivation.
The gig was in a pretty cool artist warehouse, much like Serial Space or Lanfranchis in Chippendale before Sydney started closing down all its music venues (The Hopetoun, WTF?) You know, your standard unlicensed and illegal fire hazard. The bands performed in a backroom about 10mx10m wide with surprisingly good acoustics. From here it takes a downwards turn.
We arrived at 10:30pm and there were still two bands to go before Caspian (this would have been fine had those bands demonstrated anything like, I don't know, dynamic range?) so we waited them out. This genre of music can be incredible. It can be complex, nuanced and ideally take you on an emotional journey. Or it can be noise with a few idiosyncratic guitar chord progressions. Not only did every band fall into the Noise category on this particular evening, but every band also brought all their own gear (drum kits, amps etc) which meant there was a 45min wait between noise assaults as each band packed up and the next band set up. AND when they finally did play, every band did this ridiculous head banging, lunging back and forward "significantly" as they thrashed at their guitars. Puhleease!
The thing is, in indie-rock Sydney, we don't see bands who play this genre very often and when we do, it is often bands of exceptional calibre, usually international. It actually never occurred to me that there could be substandard post-rock. Last night was totally substandard and even Caspian (when they finally came on at 1am) opted for Loud over Engaging, with a side of lunging, favouring their latest album, Tertia. Two songs in I thought, if the next song's not "Moksha" we're out of here. Amazingly it was but by the time it was over I was still pretty cross and my boy had been awake for close to 24 hours so we went home.
Unfortunately the boy has always been skeptical of this genre and I spent the whole trip home trying to dissuade him from his position that it is self-indulgent wankery that all sounds the same. Not true (and he secretly knows this being a Sigur Ros fan). When it is good it can be sublime. But last night's post-cock-rock experience has made me want to stay away from the genre for a while.
Sorry Post-Rock, it's not you it's... no, it is you.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Everything is possible again.
This is what a friend wrote to Jonathan Safran Foer upon hearing that Foer had had a baby.
I'm sure a move overseas is nothing compared to having a child but this is exactly how I feel right now. I am so happy, sometimes I feel like my heart is going to burst.
I even got a job! Just for a week or so but I am stoked. Why, hello US dollars, welcome to my brand new Chase banking account. Not only is the place I'm working awesome and located three blocks away, it has the most incredible "treats" cupboard I have ever had the pleasure of working with. And because I am new to the country I feel it's only right to familiarise myself with all these new brands. Integrating into the melting pot and all that...
There is one man and one film for this post really. After all, I am sure that this man and J.D. Salinger are the reason I am even here.
All writer's block should feel this good.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The other night my friend and I popped along to the CMJ Brooklyn Vegan Showcase at the Williamsburg Hall of Music. For those newbies like me, CMJ is an college radio industry music publication that hosts an annual music festival/showcase. It preceded South by Southwest but has since been kind of usurped by it. I tell you, you American kids are so lucky to have college radio! What a treat. I almost wish I was 20 again.
WHOM is a terrific venue too. For Sydney-based readers - it is like the Gaelic Club but not dingy and your feet don't stick to the floor.
We arrived mid-band and have no idea what these guys are called but my friend and I got a bit distracted and started playing "The Simile Game". (By the way, Dave has tweeted our summations on his page so if you want a the more succinct and witty version, best to swing by @dneus. I contemplated just copying and pasting his tweets here).
(Band 1) Anonymous - Charming lead singer but like The Whitlams' Tim Freedman trying to be Nick Cave when his band just wanted to play Custard. Plus every song had exactly the same guitar riff. They even managed to work it into the opening of their cover of "Summertime".
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel - these guys were actually great. We decided the lead singer was like Bon Iver, as played in a bio-pic by Phillip Seymour Hoffman but with a country twang. Which sounded far better than it might seem on paper. This was polished and fun country-infused rock with a side of double bass.
Laura Marling - here is where my friend and I parted ways on our similes. I had never heard this girl before and was unexpectedly captivated. To me she was like a blonde Julianne Moore with the voice of Beth Orton and probably an extensive Joni Mitchell collection. I found her so lovely I am considering upping my "lady quota" by adding her to my itunes library. Dave was less impressed and got irritated by the constant rhyming couplets: water, daughter, slaughter etc. To him, she was like Beth Orton as spoofed by Flight of the Conchords.
We also came to blows over which was the most kick-arse musical instrument accompaniment. Laura had a cello and that for me is always a winner. Dave disagreed and argued instead for the banjo.
The Antlers - To be fair, just as they started I got my uh-oh-time-to-go-home hiccups (always happens after three beers) and so missed the first few songs to go deal with this issue. But apart from some quite delicious high-hat action, this band did nothing for me and I don't know what all the fuss is about. Dave was initially optimistic and thought they were like TV on the Radio (if TVOTR were white college kids) but eventually concluded they were like: when your night starts on a high because a mate arrives with booze aplenty. But then you plateau & don't leave the house. Thus was the The Antlers' set
Fanfarlo - this was the band we ultimately came to see and the musically/geographically polygamous 5-piece did not disappoint. The most accurate simile is the one that has been doing the music press rounds: like Arcade Fire meets Beirut. In fact, perhaps a little too Arcade Fire sometimes. But then, why should Arcade Fire have copyright over xylophones? These guys were terrific with a clean sound and very sweet energy and will hopefully one day develop Arcade Fire's infectiously energetic stage antics too.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Pt 3: Brief Reflections and Continuation of the NY Adoration Theme / The Not-So-Sober part
(Feel free to skip this post and stick with the tunes in the CMJ Showcase post that will follow)
A friend of mine said when he came to NY he remembers walking up the stairs from Grand Central Station and being scared that NY wouldn't like him. Turns out it did and he liked it back. Very much.
It never occurred to me that NY might not like me, after all, I was so in love with it. And then, much like having a crush on a real-life person, it dawned on me that maybe NY was just politely tolerating me because I was so smitten with it but wasn't committed to anything long-term. However, and again this is true of real life, I think persistence is the key. Just hang in there and it/they will hopefully grow to like your company. I'm hoping NY decides it likes my company enough to give me a job (Steven? Marty? Didn't anyone tell you I'm here??) and we can stay.
I have a few different Sydney friends in town at the moment which is awesome but on the whole don't really know anyone or anything and yet still feel completely at home. Everyone I have mentioned this to has had the same feeling. I wonder if it's because no-one in NY is actually from NY? It's populated by people who moved here to embrace it and fuel its incredible energy.
Last Saturday night kind of sealed things for me. I'm not a big party girl. Case in point: before the Sunset Rubdown gig, I was getting ready at home and thought: "I can't wait to go to the gig". This was immediately followed by the thought: "And when it's over I can't wait to come home with a slice of pizza from the place on the corner, have a glass of wine and watch the Family Guy marathon".
Paris Hilton has nothing on me.
That said, I've had some pretty big nights in this town. It's because the bars are SO good and they're open so late. This particular big night saw me and some friends at a very nice cocktail bar which happened to have a tarot card reader in the front lounge. After a couple of wines and the strongest Manhattan I have had in my life I decided to plonk down my $20 and see where the cards thought I was at. (Note: I do not recommend tarot readings at the best of times but definitely not after drinking for three hours.) I don't remember much but the gist of the cards was all positive: this move is great; you have talent and creativity to share with people and you will find those who want it; you're totally free right now, embrace it and enjoy it etc. So that's all great. I couldn't think of much to ask but I have some things in the past I was curious about and mentioned this. Apparently the cards think the past is ready to be left behind.
Then I came home at 4:30am and it turned out the past had landed in my inbox in the most unexpected way. It was just so strange that everything coincided on this one night/morning. The email raised some questions that I'll probably never get answered but at the same time, maybe brought some closure to things. We'll see.
So I guess the point of the story is, if you find yourself at the Employees Only bar in the West Village, pay the $20 for the reading: the prophecy to actualisation turnover is phenomenal.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Let's get the gig reviews rolling shall we?
This is actually about gig number 5 but will do a quick summary of the others:
Phoenix (LA) - great gig but overwhelmed by beauty of the outdoor amphitheater venue and abundance of pot smoke. LA kids clearly like their grass.
Phoenix 2 (Las Vegas) - they were supporting The Killers and Phoenix proved once again they are one tight pop band and, because they were supporting, stuck to the upbeat crowd-pleasers. Incredible drummer who it turns out is actually just a session musician! How does a band/musical arrangement with such sophisticated drumming not have a drummer??
The Killers (Las Vegas) - we were actually only there for Phoenix and left after three Killers songs. They have a strange energy about them and their music is bland and samey and frankly does not live up to the promise of their first album's opening track.
Assorted Bands at Empty Bottle (Chicago) This venue is great and we just decided to turn up and see what was going on. They are renowned for eclectic lineups and this night did not disappoint. Jungle funk followed by ambient jazz with sitar and then topped off with death metal. We left in the death metal because we are too old for that kind of caper.
Bell X1 (New York) Disappointingly mid-tempo, middle-of-the-road pop. Was initially excited by all the instruments and laptops on stage and although they're a tight band, it was all a bit soft. Left half way through (you get three songs with me, sometimes five). Good supports though. Wild Light from upstate NY who sound like what the Killers might have sounded like as young enthusiastic 20-somethings. Best was the first support, David Hopkins, a singer/songwriter/guitarist who told the annoying talking people in the crowd (WHY do people go to a gig and talk all the way through??) to "shut the f*ck up or get out". Props to you, Dave.
And now Sunset Rubdown (Manhattan Centre Grand Ballroom)...
IS THERE ANYTHING MORE AWESOME THAT TWO DRUMKITS BEING PLAYED SIMULTANEOUSLY????
This was a great gig at a really interesting venue. I know nothing about this band other than I like Wolf Parade and this is the lead singer, Spencer Krug's, side-project. He has this great XTC way of throwing his voice, a voice that sounds like it belongs to someone much older than his years and he sounded terrific live. They were incredibly tight and discretely swapped instruments through-out the course of the night. The bassist went to the drums, the drummer went to guitar and keyboards, the guitarist went to bass, the xylophonist did a bit of everything else.
For anyone that might be a fan, I'm sorry I couldn't tell you a single song they played as I don't know any of them but the ones they played with two drum sets were far and away my favourites and I may or may not have developed a slight crush on the principle drummer. I love watching crowds go nuts when they hear the first few bars of their favourites. These guys have a pretty complex instrumentation for an indie rock band but bands from Canada seem to have a knack for that. And I think there is something to be said for a band that can win over an audience member who is not at all familiar with them. That's tough to do. Especially live, because you are at the mercy of the venue and its acoustics.
Actually I tell a lie. I just bought the album and so can look at the track names now. I am pretty sure this was the standout track for me on the night. Here are Sunset Rubdown with Black Swan...
Awesome drums hey? Epic track.
I decided to break this post up because there are really three parts to it. To help you skip to the bits you might find interesting: Pt 1 is general New York revelry in photo form; Pt 2 is a sort-of review of a Sunset Rubdown gig; and Pt 3 is more personal New York experiences - this may or not be interesting but what the heck.
I've just realised an alternative breakdown is by physical state:
Pt 1 sober; Pt 2 slightly sober; Pt 3 not at all sober.
Pt 1: New York - Photo Essay
Here are a couple of my favourite shots of the city so far...
Happy Bubble Man, bringing some joy to Broadway, Soho.
This is one very cool cat getting down at a roller skate disco in Central Park. This could never happen in Sydney - Australians are much too self-conscious to funk it up on skates in the serious way these guys did.
I have never heard buskers as good as the ones performing in NY. These guys were one of a couple of jazz bands playing in Central Park. This group was more bluegrass actually and all their songs had a "my-baby-done-gone-and-left-me and-now-I'm-sittin'-at-the-bottom-of-a-bottle-of-whiskey" kind of vibe. Very fun.
What collection would be complete without a view from the Top of The Rock?
It's magic up there.
Monday, October 5, 2009
(This is a photo from the roof of our current pad in Soho. Gorgeousness.)
What I love about NY (Manhattan especially) is how it feels both comfortable and familiar but also totally incredible at the same time. So awesome to be back. Doesn't feel like a year has passed that's for sure.
So it's all very exciting but lame as it might sound, I am kind of most excited about the gigs that are coming up. We've seen Phoenix twice and caught a local Chicago act at the Empty Bottle that was pretty good. Unfortunately, we have had some terrible timing music-wise. We missed Vincent Moon presenting his REM doco by ONE night in Minneapolis! (made more devastating by the fact I'm still harbouring secret dreams to cut music documentaries in Paris). We missed Mono playing in Chicago by 2 nights. Dammit. And they've already done NY. (But they are playing in Sydney in December and if you can see these guys do it! Then tell me everything)
The incredible thing about this town is that in Australia, the bands you like may come out eventually but it's kind of a big deal. They'll only come out as part of a world tour or if they're doing a big festival circuit. Take Sufjan at the Sydney Festival last year, Bon Iver this year... Massive press, headlining act, big bucks per ticket but so ludicrously exciting to have them in our town. (My prediction for Sydney Fest next year - I reckon it might be a band of the Grizzly variety. Anyone up for a wager?)
But here, you miss a band, give it a few months, maybe a year and they'll probably be back. Unbelievable.
My man is heading to Europe for a while so I am flying solo in NY. I thought I'd fill my time with some music (sure I could find a job, an apartment, make some friends, that sort of thing but why be practical when you can be frivolous?)
I revisited last.fm to keep track of the gigs I have coming up. Here's what the future holds...
Just looking at that lineup makes me giddy with excitement. Truth be told, if Do Make Say Think were the only band on the "Events" list, I would still be beside myself.
So let's get this blog back on the music/film track hey? Speaking of:
10 days til Where the Wild Things Are...
Saturday, October 3, 2009
There can only be one song for this post...
(Acoustic version. Loveliness.)
Thank goodness for the blog. We've done nearly 10 states in under three weeks. I've been too lazy to keep a journal (isn't it funny how on your first ever overseas adventures you document every outing, keep every ticket stub, every map... then as you travel more you're lucky to even jot down a list of the cities you've been to?) and so this little photo essay is also my journal for this trip.
I think last time we spoke we were here:
(Mesa Verde) Which has these amazing 1000 year old cliff dwellings...
Then we left...
And arrived here...
Where we drank these...
(I know it looks like the morning but I swear it was after 12pm)
Then said goodbye to The Mustang...
Caught a few of these...
Found Wally in Denver, Colorado...
On the way to Minnesota and Winsconsin...
Where, amazingly, we didn't run into this guy...
Before finally arriving here...
Chicago is one very cool town. Great bars and music venues.
And its people are very good-looking.
Speaking of good-looking... (and seamless segues) Big thanks to my man, Sam...
For being official trip photographer.
Be warned, the quality may decline when he leaves for Europe and I am left alone in NY, at the mercy of a Nokia phone camera.
Two days to NY.