Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Here is a picture of SWA. Enjoy!

I did it: I saw the Stooges. I braved the sea of shirtless assholes (some draped in Australian flags!) and witnessed The Greatest Band There Ever Was (just about) in all their 3/4-line-up reunion glory. Was it worth it it? Was it worth $140? It's hard to answer that; I can only say I certainly don't feel cheated.

My experience with music festivals is limited. I do not care to share my musical experiences with thousands of others, nor do I care for the long slog of musical offerings which such festivals offer. I've been to the Meredith Music Festival twice in my life: 1995 (rained out, tent collapsed, got waaay too drunk way too early and passed out); 2003 (had a blast, paced myself like a Zen master and drank for a whopping 17 hours straight, caught Radio Birdman headlining); and attended the woefully under-populated Livid festival in 2004 (got free tickets, enjoyed the awesome live glory of Turbonegro and slept through the Hellacopters, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and two-dozen other lame bands).

Big Day Out? Never been interested. Given the fact that this was a case of Very Special Circumstances (the Stooges were not playing any side shows of their own), it had to be done. I will never do it again, and that's not because I had a bad time - I certainly didn't - but because the Big Day Out is a dreadful way to witness a band you may be truly interested in seeing. Too many people, queues a mile long if you actually wish to get reasonably close to the performer in question, and a sound system which literally drifts in and out with the breeze. Until the organisers manage to convince the 1981 5-piece line-up of the 'Flag to reunite for a series of shows, I won't be attending again any time soon.

OK, OK... enough whining... the band: that's Iggy, the Ashton brothers and senor Mike Watt(!!!) on bass. The gig, by any normal standards, was not mind-blowing. I've seen a few old geezers the last few years: Wire, Love and Neil Young, and all three rate as undoubtedly some of the finest live music I've ever witnessed. But the Stooges... they were great, it was terrific to see them finally in the flesh, to hear the originators (as opposed to the 2,000 Stooges covers I've endured played by locals the last 18 years of gig-going) belt out the hits for the masses and to simply be a part of it. Iggy yelped and screamed, hammed it up (I hope) with a few Spinal Tap-esque quips ("We played Brisbane, it was OK; we played Sydney, it was cool; but Meeelboouurne?!!!..." [cue screaming crowd]), humped his speakers and did the well-worn trick of inviting a sea of fans on stage (oh, the humanity...); both Ashtons played like they were embalmed or just came out of a coma but hit the skins and plucked the strings amiably; and Mike Watt proved to be a real highlight (yeah, aw shucks, I'm a fan, 'k?) with his head-down/patrol-the-stage-like-an-animal schtick, but musically it lacked that indefinable oomph which tells you that THIS BAND KICKS SOME FUCKIN' ASS.

It was competent, workman-like and gave the crowd what it wanted, but it never superseded such expectations. It played it safely and I'm not upset by that, but I was hoping Iggy would pull a rabbit out of his hat and, I don't know, throw some shit around, shoot up, pull his pants down, molest a crowd member, cause or inflict a serious injury or even resort to that timeless classic of rock lore: drag the jar of peanut butter out. He did none of those things. It came mighty close with the final, encore rendition of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" when the band started to finally, really let go and Iggy dove into the audience to be quickly mauled, but then the band shut up shop, said their farewells and it was over.

I'm not disappointed; it was a great show, my adrenalin got a-pumpin' and my legs got a-shakin' and if I drop dead tomorrow I can at least say I did something worthwhile with my life, but I didn't go home and change my religion or spin Funhouse 'til the early hours of the morning. Given a smaller, indoor venue it mighta blown the roof off, but in a large field on a sunny, warm and putridly humid day, surrounded by a sea of clueless yo-yos gawking at the spectacle with likely not a hint of any understanding of who in fact they were actually witnessing, it didn't do anything special that a hundred other really great rock bands could do. From the Stooges, I expect more than that!

For the record, the only other acts I managed to see all day were the Beasts of Bourbon (who were flat and lifeless), about 20 minutes of Franz Ferdinand (who were really quite good, I must say. A pop band with smarts who don't come across smug, they're inoffensive fluff I can handle) and roughly two minutes of Hank Rollins The Spoken Word Behemoth. The moment I heard the beginnings of what promised to be a tiring and tiresome anti-Bush rant (nice sentiments, but I've heard it all before) I was outta there. I'll paraphrase a friend who sat through his set: "Rollins is now exactly like that drunken guy you always get stuck talking to down at the pub who bores the tits off you with old stories about the Ramones, Slayer, the Stooges and endless touring yarns... except Rollins is sober, on stage, has a microphone and an audience and gets paid thousands of dollars to do it".

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I'm off to see the Stooges today at the Big Day Out festival. Wish me luck - I may need it. I am not a music festival kinda guy, and the thought of being surrounded by thousands of clueless beer monsters "moshing it up" on a stinkingly warm and humid day is starting to put knots in my stomach. Why do I put myself through this kinda crap? One reason: the Stooges. You lads better put on quite a show. In a desperate attempt to "get my money's worth", and if all goes to plan, I will get there at roughly 5 PM and also witness the following: Henry Rollins' spoken word performance (haven't seen the guy perform in any capacity for 15 years; despite all the embarrassments and career lows, I still have a sentimental attachment to the guy somewhere in the back of my brain. Blame Black Flag for that); Beasts of Bourbon (never really been a fan, but as a live unit they can nail it); Franz Ferdinand (I know one or two songs and figure they'll be fun to see in the flesh); Mars Volta (asshole-rock to the max, dude, though having heard a couple of tracks from their debut a couple of years back, I was surprised to find that I didn't instantly want to hit the streets on a random killing spree... in fact, the bogus King Crimson/Fela Kuti/Ornette/early Santana vibes almost sounded good. I'm going to take a peak). I'll get back to you in a couple of days.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

LUIGI ARCHETTI/BO WIGET - Low Tide Digitals II CD (Rune Grammofon)
XASTHUR/NORTT - Split CD (Southern Lord)
Two very different recordings currently doing the rounds at home, work and in the car. Archetti and Wiget, an Italian/Swiss duo who make a racket w/ cello, guitar and electronics, are back with a sophomore CD on one of the planet's most interesting contemporary labels, Norway's Rune Grammofon. Read their web site and you'll see a plethora of fascinating reviews w/ an assortment of blowhards throwing names around like LaMonte Young, AMM, Arvo Part, Fripp/Eno and even Sonic Youth (dunno where that comparison comes from). I'd like to join that gang of blowhards, please. This is a fairly stunning recording, eclectic and spacious without ever getting too lightweight. I was a sucker for this kinda nonsense back in the mid '90s. Lo and behold, I even owned a few Oval records before good sense got the better of me and I suddenly realised that their albums possessed all the excitement of drying paint. "Avant-electronica" and its associated brethren bit the big one by last decade's end for the very reason that most such movements do: the law of diminishing returns. Nowadays I could care less for most music which flies under that banner, but what makes Archetti/Wiget rise above the pack is their rich, analogue sense of warmth and Frippian guitar mangling. In lesser hands, this'd be a mess, but like the critics say, if you're partial to a bit of No Pussyfooting meets AMM ca. Generative Themes, this CD is as good as can be done in the mid-noughties.

Nortt. Xasthur. Catchy fuckin' names, huh? This was released last year and has actually sat around me place for a good 6 months but has been rediscovered of late in my search for some kick-ass party music for the car. This recording will kick your ass, though you can't party to it. Xasthur and Nortt are both contemporary one-man-band practitioners of doom 'n' gloom no-fi Black Metal, from California and Denmark, respectively. No lightning-paced blastbeat shit here; no song paces itself faster than a mile a day. This... is... sloooow. I'll be darned if I could pick either "band" apart - both Nortt and Xasthur may as well be the same guy - but putting aside all apparent common sense and good taste, this is a recording I receive great enjoyment from. Monotonous piano lines abound, a ridiculously grotty and fuzzed-out guitar sound crunches its way throughout the whole platter and the vocals sound like they're slowly being vomited out. I get a distinct feeling that, being almost 34 years old, the vast bulk of the general public would agree that I shouldn't be listening to this kind of stuff. I'm too old. The music is garbage. It's infantile and moronic. I guess I just can't help myself. Killer!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

AMON DUUL 2 - Yeti 2LP / Dance of the Lemmings 2LP
's funny how sudden access to CD versions of two albums you've had sitting in your collection on vinyl for over ten years can immediately spawn a belated appreciation of music you probably should've given a better listen to a decade back. Does that make sense? I've had both of these monsters on vinyl collecting dust in the spare room for longer than I'd care to think, but since I've recently had access to the CD versions on the Repertoire label lying around at work, I've been giving them a good digital hiding during the day and finally pulled the vinyl copies out at home for another spin. Whhaaatt was I thinking dismissing the likes of Yeti and ...Lemmings??

"... a record I would consider one of the 10 best in the history of rock music, easily" - Jimmy Johnson reviewing Yeti, Forced Exposure catalogue #11, December-February '94/'95*

I wonder what Jimmy thinks of that statement now. I mean, really, was he just trying to sell the thing? Probably, and for that I can't fault him. I was all prepared to send off and purchase the darn thing when I stumbled across cheap second-hand LP copies of both out at some dorky suburban record barn soon thereafter. A handful of spins back home left me thoroughly unconvinced of their greatness. With the likes of Can, Faust and Guru Guru's monstrous UFO at my disposal, the likes of AD 2 couldn't compete. Most of all, they could never compete with the jawdropping greatness of Amon Duul 1.

Far more primitive than their brother/sister group, AD 1 were born from the same commune which spawned both outfits, though their deliciously unmusical racket, sounding like a Godz/Shaggs hybrid playing White Light/White Heat on repeat, was a godsend for a noise-hungered audio-douchebag like myself caught in the no-man's-land of dull indie rock which was the mid '90s. Funnily enough, I've got no-one to thank but this guy for getting me into them! Fugedabout Julian Cope, his Krautrocksampler tome gives AD 1 a serious bumrush, a slight on his thinking I still find hard to fathom. Psychedelic Underground, Collapsing and Disaster: three albums I'll stake my life on. All bought on CD 'round '96 or so (when they were first reissued; you can forget about ever finding vinyl copies of these Down Under. We Aussies simply didn't buy this stuff the first time around, and if we did we either hung onto them like gold or accidentally burnt them all in bong/incense/candle-fuelled house fires), their brilliance pushed AD 2's works further into irrelevance.

Until now, that is. Yeti and ...Lemmings, from 1970 and '71, respectively, have the Krautrock 101 pedigree down pat: double LP musical "excursions"; crazy, full-colour gatefold sleeves featuring all manner of drug-tinged images; a mixture of brief(ish), fully-realised songs and stoned improvisations to round things out. Again, I don't mean to contradict popular opinion for the sheer hell of it, but for my two cents, Dance of the Lemmings (which Cope hates!) is the stronger of the two. Yeti has the Hawkwind/Sabbath-style heaviness to its great advantage (and like Jimmy later noted in his review, the overbearing vocal bleed and guitar fuzz on "Eye-Shaking King" is a moment of brilliance), though the unrelenting thud of the guitars can get monotonous at times. ...Lemmings, on the other hand, which drifts closer towards acid-folk territory with a menu of chintzy special effects and electronic phasing at its disposal, allows the songs some room to breathe.

The entire second disc kills me. Dig those song titles, hippie: "The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church", "Chewinggum Telegram", "Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight" and "Toxicological Whispering". Many a good folk has made the Velvets reference in regards to Amon Duul 2. Me, I don't hear it, at least not much of it. There's the very occassional White Light-style guitar chug, though if I was to throw a few names around - and you know I must - the cards I'd lay on the table would be early Hawkwind, Roxy Music (another band constantly compared to VU: I simply don't hear the comparison)'s first two LPs, the same for Pink Floyd and maybe even a little bit of Anthem of the Sun-era 'Dead. For the most part, however, both Yeti and ...Lemmings sound only like Amon Duul 2, and that's a fine thing. Phallus Dei (yes, the first; maybe another time), Yeti, Dance of the Lemmings: it's nice to know you again.

* - Why in the fuck do I know this quote? Why is this catalogue still sitting around my house? I'll ask my shrink.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Let's see if I can spout any wisdom regarding this pile of releases sitting next to my stereo. Double time, let's go!

THE NECKS - Mosquito / See Through 2CD (Fish Of Milk)
Aussie trio's 2004 effort, another double with two tracks at 61 minutes a-piece. Can't get enough of these guys of late, and I'm kicking myself for ignoring them for the first half of the decade, since they're now leaps and bounds ahead of what they were as a unit 10 years back (and they were fine back then, by the way). "See Through" is a minimalist track - and I mean MINIMAL: there are several portions of total silence which last almost 5 minutes - that's based around a rumbling wall of piano keys and metallic percussion. Think Don Cherry's Orient masterpiece as played by Harold Budd. No, really, give it a try. "Mosquito" is a strange mix of repetitive electric piano, assorted percussive jitters (sounds like clay pots or something, your guess is as good as mine) and a slowly evolving bass line which, by the half-hour mark, all starts to gel and make sense. The Necks take time to grasp, but when they nail it, as they have to perfection over their last 4-5 outings, they're a world-beating combination.

THE GUN CLUB - Miami CD (Sympathy)
Reissue of their Chris Stein-produced sophomore LP from 1982. The given verdict by all and sundry: great, but not quite as good as the debut. Their debut, for the record, took me almost 20 years to warm to. I kid you not. Heard it as a 14-year-old, poo-pooed it for 19 years, and now as a 33-year-old have warmly greeted it to my heart. I don't mean to be contradictory or simply go against accepted truths for the hell of it, but I'll state my opinion on Miami: this is better than Fire of Love. The much-maligned Stein production is much warmer and richer than the rather brittle-sounding debut; Pierce's voice has matured to a nice combination of a croon and a yelp; the presence of not one but two flat-out classics, "Brother and Sister" and "Texas Serenade" slays me; the mixture of styles present, from punkish power-pop to near-authentic country to outright Dr. John Gris-Gris rip-offs means but one thing: Miami has won me over in a week!

DNA - DNA On DNA CD (No More Records)
Jason Gross over at PSF does it again. Does what? Well, he slaps on the hat of Executive Producer and rips out another archival gem for the masses: the complete recorded works of NY's DNA. You know 'em already, so the question remains: how does this stuff stand up? On the whole, not bad at all. Noiseniks can beef about Eno's production on No New York 'til they drop; for me he achieved one great feat: he made a near unlistenable anti-music music phenomenon such as No Wave sound quite palatable. The tracks from No NY, featured here, are definitely the best pieces of music DNA ever recorded - total gonzoid skitter-jitter avant-rock which nervously juts in a thousand directions at once. The other studio stuff ain't bad either. When Pere Ubu's Tim Wright joined Arto and friends they really took off in a spastic post-punk direction not unlike Punchline-era Minutemen: short stabs of haiku rock which are over before they barely find a groove, songs constructing and deconstructing all under the minute mark. Some of the live stuff is a bit rough, but it rounds out a neat-o package complemented by Byron Coley liner notes. If you buy but one DNA CD this lifetime...

ILDJARN - Ildjarn Is Dead 2CD (label??)
Ildjarn... all the kids are talkin' about him. So best ask them who is he is. Me? Ain't got a clue. I think he's Norwegian, though that's just a stab in the dark. This deluxe packaging covers his material from the early- to mid-'90s and prompted one, obvious comment from a friend who first saw, then heard, this beautiful twofer at my place last week: looks like they blew all their money on the packaging and couldn't afford a proper studio for the recording! Err... ha! Well blow me down, that's pure fucking comic genius. Ladies and gents, this is Black Metal, good recording is for sissies, which is why the bulk of this sounds like a basement Flipper/Solger line-up from '82 with a vocalist vomiting his liver out. Awesome novel-sized matt black/grey fold out cover, more ridiculous lyrics and liner notes so nearly illegible you'll never read more than a line a day, and over 50 songs of no-fi no-talent-allowed genius. Lap it up, squares!

YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS - Colossal Youth CD (Les Disques du Crespuscule)
Sounds like a whole load of hoo-ha over nothing. Many years of big-noting set my expectations for the sun, whereas they should've stayed firmly on Earth. Their lost 'n' lonely LP from 25-odd years back, hailed as a masterpiece by every music geek and their dog, is one thing: OK. Doesn't grab me in a major way in the year 2006, that's for sure. Minimalist lo-fi indie pop which has been pilfered and plundered by everyone and anyone who ever wore Buddy Holly glasses and a cardigan (or released a platter on K records). Warning: Hole covered a song featured here. Maybe it'll grow on me...
Hey, what happened to December? I was supposed to spend the second half of the month kicking back and slacking off... Didn't work out that way at all. In the meantime, people have beaten me to the punch w/ their Best Of '05 lists all over the shop. Truth be told, I'm not too sure I could really come up w/ 10 absolutely KILLER releases from '05 which completely knocked my socks off, but I'll give it a try (in no particular order, of course)...

1) V/A - No New York LP/CD reissue (Lilith)
2) Various - Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement CD (Smithsonian/Folkways)
3) Food - Last Supper (Rune Grammofon)
4) Jesu - s/t CD (Hydra Head)
5) V/A - American Primitive II: Pre-War Revenants 1897-1939 2CD (Revenant)
6) The Ex - Singles. Period. CD (Touch and Go)
7) Ennio Morricone - Crime and Dissonance 2CD (Ipecac)
8) Sunn O))) - Black One CD (Southern Lord)
9) We Jam Econo - Minutemen doco film
10) Robert Wyatt and Friends - Theatre Royal Drury Lane Sunday 8th September 1974 CD(Hannibal/Rykodisc)

Am I missing something here? I try not to consider myself as hopelessly caught in the past, but most of these are reissues or unearthings of old titles thought lost forever. Tell me what I've missed out on, my ear is always kept to the ground.