Nights Out

Jason Isbell show - a curate's egg

Where: 
Meeniyan Hall,country Victoria
When: 
20 April 2014
Comment: 
A lot of international acts take time out from the city grind to play this quaint venue.Support act Tift Merritt has a voice that rings as true as a bellbird but alas no songs for mine.It's all vocal decoration and not enough basic melody, verse chorus, Couldn't remember one tune. I nkew Jason's stuff from the Truckers but didn't have the new album. I'd heard a show on interent radio from Newport which was good but had also read the "boring comments on this site. But I had a good seat and some red wine in me prpepared to enjoy.The first six or so songs were overly loud rock one tempo dirges. Some of our group were waiting for the end from them. It got better when he switched to acoustic guitar and featured the new album. Some songs were worth the price of admission alone. He seemed awkward and ill at ease but his voice was superb and the lyrics worth paying attention to. A word on Amanda Swires the violinist and his wife. In a band dressed in lumpen denim ..see comments
The audience: 
Mix of country regulars and city people coming down for the show
Food & drink: 
pizza and local red
It made me think: 
Still can't figure out why this show didn't do it for me.I've now got the latest album and it's great. A mate saw the city show and loved it. Too loud? The mix? His seeming diffidence..or was it detachment? Whatever the reason I was disappointed.

Buddy Guy -what was I thinking?

Where: 
Palais, Melbourne
When: 
Monday 21 April 2014
Comment: 
My first blues concert was Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in 1974 and I've been a hard core blues fan ever since.Took my son along to introduce him to the blues.I was more interested in the support acts Charlie Musselwhite (excellent) and James Cotton (sedentary and sedate - clearly health means not up to it). Buddy came on scorching with Damn Right and 5 Long Years.That razor sharp steel sound he gets on the Fender is unmistakeable and the voice,at over 70, is remarkable.But, as has been the case for far too many years, never finished one song, wandering off to the next too early, throwing in gimmicks and that bracket of imitating John Lee, BB, Albert and Eric. I kept thinking,please Buddy, just one whole song played straight with some clean slow soulful picking instead of shredding the guitar with those frenzied solos. I got to wondering whether he can play clean ,straight and slow anymore.Sure he does a few bars but heck I've never seen him do it proper, live for years.
The audience: 
Predominantly older male. Lot of rusted on Buddy fans who lapped up his schtick.
Food & drink: 
Bowl of Japanese noodles and a beer.
It made me think: 
Next time I will just go and see Charlie Musselwhite in a bar, he still plays it like it should be played.It will be cheaper and I can have a beer too. Damn right I got the blues.

St Paul and the Broken Bones

Where: 
The Wonder Ballroom, Portland
When: 
20/4/2014
Comment: 
There's a moment that, according to the band, they look forward to at each new venue - the audience reaction when singer Paul Janeway opens his mouth. Indeed they anticipate it, opening tonight with an instrumental prior to him even coming out on stage. The band are arse-clenchingly tight, steeped in the deep Southern Soul of their native Brimingham, Alabama roots, and I'm in no way exaggerating when I say that the lead singer could go toe to toe with Cooke and Redding. The crowd was laughing at just how unbelievably good he was, everything covered from a gravelly roar to an intimate purr. No mere tribute act, though (I think they played two covers) they write original songs which would be pastiche in the hands of a lesser band. Despite my total unfamiliarity with the material, the horns give it a classic Muscle Shoals feel and it's joyous, infectious and impossible to ignore. I find myself bored at most gigs after an hour or so, but this concert could have been twice as long.
The audience: 
Smiling, dancing and cheering every new vocal high. Make yourself one of them when they play the UK this year.
Food & drink: 
Ninkasi IPA at $4 a pint, and the usual burgers. Very reasonable.
It made me think: 
It made me think that I just saw perhaps the best live band on tour at the moment. I don't think they will be huge as the music isn't to the current taste, but they will have a fearsome reputation as a live act.

The Rezillos/Spizz Energi/the Franceens

Where: 
Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
When: 
20 April 2014
Comment: 
You know what you will get from The Rezillos, and they gave us it. Loads of pop/rock fun and silly glasses. It suddenly occurred to me that they are the UK version of the B52s. I think Faye's vocals could have been loader, but the sound was good, the songs were fun and a very good time was had. Apparently they have a USA recording deal and there is a single in August, album later. New songs were the same style, but obviously not quite as totally wonderful as the old stuff. Spizz had aband of very good young kids, and were much better than I expected. Despite me feeling that Spizz was channeling Toyah. The Franceens are from York and clearly have been listening to the Hives, Pixies and grunge. Which is a good thing. We bought the CD and t-shirt. Wish them luck. Good night out.
The audience: 
The same people who were watching 30 years ago. But older. Good humoured apart from one idiot given the Franceens a hard time. 25% women! not one of whom seemed to have been dragged along.
Food & drink: 
Nice range of drinks, affordable prices. Gluten free beer available, which tells you something. Snacks.i stuck to Starpramen, but was tempted by the Red Stripe for old times sake.
It made me think: 
The bands probably play better than they did 30 years ago. But are the kids in the band the kids of the band? I feel old.

Roddy Woomble

Where: 
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham
When: 
15.4.14
Comment: 
Love his 1st solo LP, but hadn't kept up in the interim, so a tad uncertain what would unfold. I knew the venue, tho', thinking it would be suitably intimate and confessional. A Steve Tye provided support, abetted by a Jane Norman, together unfolding a mash of early John Martyn styles, but with Tracey Thorn instead of Bev. To watch, I feel. Then Mr Woomble shambled downstairs, with a bassist, acoustic guitarist and a jolly, smiling girl on fiddle and piano. No McCusker then, but I needn't have been upset, as she soon showed herself to be the star of the show, singing and beaming, as she took her violin to places unheard and unexpected, adding syncopation and synchrony to the melodies elsewhere. Mr W's burr of a voice and his buddycanyouspareadime chic was a little slow to warm, but once he hit tracks from his1st, the willing audience relaxed. An old Idlewild, a trad are and some John Prine broke the run of his slow pacers, with a fab set of tunes from fiddle and guitar after the break.
The audience: 
Cramped! 90 souls crushed on odd seats in the corner, middle and sides of a fairly poky wee room. Ages between 20s and 60s, largely familiar with his repertoire. Certainly the smallest room Roddy claimed ever to have played. Or practised in.
Food & drink: 
As a cafe it had actually closed for the night, bar it's bar, but it is virtually co-terminous with Fletchers Bar, next door, which is typical Kings Heath quirky. Food looked OK, but I drank (Doombar) only, having had a tiptop solo curry next door.
It made me think: 
Dunno what money the promoter makes, let alone the performers, but venues of this size are to be cherished. Jackie Leven, Clive Gregson, Iain Matthews have all played here, and it is ideal for a performer who likes to chat. Mr W didn't. Never mind.

Merzbow / Gustafsson / Pandi Trio

Where: 
Oval Space, Hackney
When: 
14th April 2014
Comment: 
Merzbow is prolific both as a solo artist and a keen collaborator, having released well over 300 albums. For tonight's gig he was performing as part of the Merzbow/Gustafsson/Pandi Trio. As the MGP Trio get down to the serious business of immanentising the eschaton with a solid 40 minutes of aural apocalypse, a huge electric storm of white noise slowly evolves as a continuous piece. The thunderous thrash drumming, shrieking electronics, subtle saxophone and looping feedback are all-enveloping - it feels like standing in a howling gale. Having your ears sandpapered by an avant-noise jet engine doesn't sound like much fun but it really is. Like Napalm Death but without the tunes, the blistering attack is literally stunning. The addition of a late-set single note sax solo against the tortured electronics was both a clarion call and a warning. A fantastic gig and an experience that I'd recommend. I left exhilarated and exhausted.
The audience: 
Youngish Hackney crowd. Suprisingly for 'difficult music', the gig was sold out and the place was packed. Oval Space is a great warehouse-style venue - excellent sound and lighting, sports hall sized, with a warren of rooms off the main space,
Food & drink: 
Lovely pub for food nearby (The Sebright Arms) and cans from the venue's bars.
It made me think: 
A serious, intense (and yes, enjoyable) experience. Like standing in the brain of a giant panicked metal alien.

Petulant Frenzy

Where: 
Lewisham Hotel Sydney Australia
When: 
Sunday April 14
Comment: 
"We play Zappa and we mean it" it says on their website. And they do, both - play it and mean it. I've seen this band many times over the years and they're great. They're not all musical virtuosi like FZ's bands were, but then they don't get 3 months paid rehearsal for a six month tour either. This lineup featured a new drummer, and in deference to him having to learn a whole repertoire the band in an act of generous democracy decided to learn an entirely new bunch of songs to keep him company. They kicked off with 'Florentine Pogen" and it was tight as. It's a big ensemble - 2 guitars, keyboard, percussion (mallets), bassoon, 2 saxes, trumpet, bass and drums. Plus the lead singer who is excellent. They even played a couple of tunes I didn't recognise. Or couldn't remember. Could've done without The Torture Never Stops but loved Wind Up Working In A Gas Station. More in comments
The audience: 
Lots of grey old folks like me, plenty of "younger people", 20s - 50s, and surprising number of women which was good
Food & drink: 
Pub Asain available, but I'd eaten a jolly nice paprika beef casserole before going out so I had a couple of glasses of Taylors 2013 Chardonnay @13. Cheaper options were available. It's a grungy inner-west pub after all.
It made me think: 
Once I would have had the time and energy to actually play in a band like that. I don't now, but I am so happy there are people that do.

Beefheart's Magic Band / Grandmothers of Invention

Where: 
Corner Hotel , Melbourne ,Australia
When: 
Frida April 11,2014
Comment: 
One was carrying the torch for the artist and his music , the other appeared to be milking his legacy. The core of the Grandmothers of Invention are sax player Bunk Gardner and keyboardist Don Preston from 60's early 70's Zappa. An awkward silence after the announcement sapping any energy is eventually followed by an execrable version of Call Any Vegetable. Don's singing makes Frank sound like Pavarotti.The stage patter is so lame and awkward you wonder whether they are chronically jet lagged, which they could be, as this is the first gig before they head to Byron.David Parlatto on bass is good as is young guitarist Max Kutner but overall this was lame. On the last song, Peaches en Regalia, Buck could only just play the notes. The Magic Band on the other hand were hot. Former drummer and musical transcriber for D.V.V. John Drumbo French sounds remarkably like Beefheart. Probably some processor to get that deep Howling Wolf type voice. See comments for more
The audience: 
Nerdy old audience with the curious young. 90% male.
Food & drink: 
Parma and a pot at the pub.
It made me think: 
Thank God for the annual Easter Byron blues fest as we'd never get to see this sort of band without it subsiding the whole tour.

David Sedaris

Where: 
Birmingham Town Hall
When: 
05/04/2014
Comment: 
I've been a huge fan of David Sedaris for about a decade, so this was always going to feel more like a victory lap than a question of "will I / won't I enjoy this?" It still surpassed my expectations though - only one of the 10 or so stories was familiar to me, the rest were pieces that he's working on right now. The stories covered topics as diverse as cows giving birth, trips with his gay partner to conservative Middle East countries, a rant on people who insist on pronouncing foreign places they've visited in the native tongue (eg Paris as 'Paree'), and how his genitals might sound if they could talk. An all too brief Q&A rounded things off - I'd have loved to have got a book signed afterwards, but judging by the queue, I'd have been waiting past midnight :-(
The audience: 
Literary audience so very well behaved. Older than your typical gig audience, polite applause, but not afraid to laugh heartily at some very ribald anecdotes (the type you'll never hear Sedaris read on the radio).
Food & drink: 
Pre-performance sandwich at Starbucks. I don't need to tell you what Starbucks is like.
It made me think: 
If you've not yet read or listened to David Sedaris, now's the time to dive in - the funniest writer working today by some distance.

Lloyd Cole

Where: 
The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
When: 
5 April 2014
Comment: 
I've been a fan since Rattlesnakes and checked in over the years but this was - to my surprise - the first time I've seen him live. Let me get this out of the way first - he looks irritatingly well for a man of 53. By which I mean better than me. The full head of hair helps. The bastard. Anyway, the gig itself. He came across exactly as I've always imagined he would, with an easy, self-deprecating charm. He was solo, which no doubt made a not-quite full Queen's Hall a paying proposition. The twangier parts of his back-catalogue were difficult to pull off on acoustic and he is not a top notch guitarist (and does not pretend to be). Some worked very well - Jennifer - others less so - Rattlesnakes. And yet, overall, it was brilliant, despite that limitation - and for two reasons. Firstly, the voice. It is a thing of wonder, as smooth and honeyed - if not more so - as in the mid-80s. Secondly, the songs. What a fantastic back catalogue to choose from - and he choose well.
The audience: 
Mainly couples of a certain age. One audience member - I'm guessing her name is Jennifer - made a spirited attempt to jump about during that song. Good on her. We were told not to clap along, as we were no good at it. I wish more people did that.
Food & drink: 
Over-priced glass of Merlot for me. Smuggled in ginger beer for Mrs Cakes.
It made me think: 
Somewhere in Mr Cole's attic is the audio equivalent of Dorian Gray's portrait. It sounds like Tom Waits covering Norwegian death metal.

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