Tag Archives: 2013

Rocks In The Attic #806: Various Artists – ‘Inside Llewyn Davis (O.S.T.)’ (2013)

RITA#806“What does the ‘N’ stand for?”

Inside Llewyn Davis is another latter day gem from the Coen brothers. Coming straight off the success of 2010 western remake True Grit, this film finds them exploring the pre-folk explosion music scene in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.

Oscar Isaac plays the titular character, a down-on-his-luck folk singer earning just enough to keep him going from couch to couch, while he chases a lucky break. The Coens paint a painfully bleak picture of New York heading into winter, as life and responsibility begin to take their toll on Llewyn.

RITA#806aThe soundtrack, produced by the Coens with T. Bone Burnett, is, as usual, superb. The starting point for the character of Llewyn Davis is Dave Van Ronk, a contemporary of Bob Dylan, and so the soundtrack features several songs associated with Van Ronk, many of which are performed by Isaac. The cover of Davis’ poorly selling solo album, the Inside Llewyn Davis from the title, is a direct replica of Van Ronk’s album Inside Dave Van Ronk, minus the peeking cat, and the film strikes just the right balance of Davis just missing out on stardom as Van Ronk did. Right place, wrong time.

It has been reported that the Coens view the music of Inside Llewyn Davis as a direct descendant of the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It’s not hard to hear this connection: there’s definitely a country folk / travelling tale ethos in the songwriting; pure folk from the well, before folk-rock muddied the water. The music is so beautiful, and well performed, that it’s almost heartbreaking to see a despondent Davis catch a glimpse of Dylan in the film’s closing scene. The folk music world is about to turn on its axis, and Llewyn Davis, like Dave Van Ronk, is not going to be at the forefront of the charge.

I’m a huge fan of True Grit and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, but Inside Llewyn Davis is definitely my favourite of the Coens’ output from this decade. Hail, Caesar! didn’t do anything for me, and we’re unlikely to see another film from them until their adaption of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Coen-alumn / spouse Frances McDormand, which is only in pre-production at the time of writing.

RITA#806bIt is the bleak and gloomy atmosphere of Inside Llewyn Davis that resonates with me the most. This onslaught of misery only lets up for a brief couple of minutes when Davis is contracted to play and sing on a studio session – the side-splitting novelty song Please Mr. Kennedy – alongside Justin Timberlake’s effervescent Jim Berkey and Adam Driver’s no-nonsense Al Cody. It’s the film’s rare moment of illumination, and potentially a lucky break for our protagonist, but his circumstances dictate that he takes a one-off payment for the work, thereby writing off any chances of receiving any of the song’s eventual royalties.

Like a lot of the Coens’ work, the film has a weird streak running through it: the elusive ginger cat echoes the peeling wallpaper of Barton Fink or the pencil-strewn anxiety of Jerry Lundegaard’s falsified loan form in Fargo; a small obsession that ultimately means nothing. And perhaps most interesting of all, the Coens’ mastery of character and narrative expertly maneuvers an unseen character in the film: the cruel hand of fate that leads Llewyn Davis in one direction and opens the door to somebody else.

Hit: Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac

Hidden Gem: Please Mr. Kennedy – Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac & Adam Driver

RITA#806c

Rocks In The Attic #307: Lorde – ‘Pure Heroine’ (2013)

RITA#307Last Wednesday night I stood on Auckland’s waterfront and watched a homecoming gig by a 17-year old New Zealander who had just won two Grammys in Los Angeles a couple of days before. As far as expecting to see things like this happen again, I think seeing Halley’s Comet before we’re next due to would be more likely.

Without consciously meaning for it to be, Lorde’s Pure Heroine has been the soundtrack of my summer – just like Tame Impala’s Lonerism was the soundtrack of my winter last year. I’d like to think I’d rate her without all the hype, but then again I can’t imagine I would have heard any of her music without it.

I remember seeing the first photo of her – a publicity photo in The Listener sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. She was just a cute girl (steady…) with nice hair, sat next to a dog and a couple of words about her being someone to watch out for. But the press is always full of next big things – if you always listened to journalists about these things, you’d be constantly let down.

Then all of a sudden, Royals is #1 in the US charts for nine weeks, and then at the top of the UK charts. The scary thing though was the sheer amount of whacky covers of the song that popped up on YouTube; and then of course New Zealand’s tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head and she starts to be shot down online and in the press. You’d think music critics (and musos in general) who usually champion New Zealand music would welcome her success, but no, they’re happier supporting the likes of Anika Moa and Dave Dobbyn. In New Zealand, it’s considered successful if you’re famous in New Zealand and New Zealand only.

On Wednesday night’s concert, she rolled out album-opener Tennis Court mid-set. It’s my favourite song on the album and every time I hear it, I always think the world’s got it wrong with Royals. Part of the success of that song must surely be the fact that it’s essentially a nursery rhyme – I mean, we can’t expect the American record-buying public to have sophisticated tastes, can we? Remember, this is the country that gave us Foreigner and Toto.

But for me, Tennis Court is where it’s at. In fact, I wouldn’t have bought the album had I not seen the awesome minimalist music video for that song. Royals may have alerted the world to Lorde, but Tennis Court shows that she can produce music that’s world-class. The rest of the album is pretty strong too. I wouldn’t say that Joel Little’s production sounds particularly cutting-edge; if anything, it sounds like early-2000s downbeat electronica out of the UK – think Zero 7; but the centrepiece is Lorde’s voice, and while she may not be as retro-sounding as Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Adele, there’s still something special about her.

One little thing I like about the production on the album is its cyclical beginning and end – with ‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk’ the first line on the album, and ‘Let ‘em talk’ the final line. I love that sort of thing, very Roger Waters at the end of The Wall – ‘Isn’t this where we came in?’

I guess we now have to sit back and see what Ella Yelich-O’Connor does next. I do agree that she’s currently the antidote to the Miley Cyruses and Katy Perrys of the world, so hopefully she’ll continue down that path and avoid the pitfalls of glamour and celebrity.

Hit: Royals

Hidden Gem: A World Alone

A Little South Of Sanity

It’s May in New Zealand. That means another summer’s worth of gigs is over. Since moving to this country five years ago, standout gigs have been few and far between – we’re a little off the beaten track for international acts – but this summer has yielded many, many fruit.

It makes sense for international acts to tour here during the summer. It means they have the best of both worlds. They get to tour Europe and the US during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and then they take a trip over the equator and make the most of our summer while touring here and Australia. Nice work – if you can find it!

weezerlive2012

Summer kicked off in January with a nostalgia trip back to 1994. Weezer were in town, playing the Vector Arena. I love Weezer’s debut album – the Blue Album. It’s always remained a favourite over the years, and even though I haven’t really appreciated anything else they’ve done – aside from the sublime Hash Pipe – the promise of that first album played in its entirety was just too much.

Local support band U.M.O. (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) have been receiving many plaudits over the past few months with the release of their second album, so I was looking forward to catching them. I wish I hadn’t. Whether they were plagued by bad sound, or whether they just can’t play live, I was disappointed to see them. A tuneless dirge.

A quick catch-up with some old friends, and then Weezer appeared to play their first set, a greatest hits set. I didn’t recognise half of the songs, but it didn’t matter. On his way around the arena – ‘connecting’ with the fans – I got to high-five Rivers Cuomo. That’s not something I get to do every day.

The intermission, before they came back on to play The Blue Album, provided a nice touch. The lights remained down, and a slideshow of early band photographs was shown on the big screen behind the stage. Narrated by a member of the road crew, it showed the band in their early days, in their respective bands before Weezer, through to the recording and subsequent promotion of their first album.

I haven’t seen any of the tours in the last decade or so where a band play one of their classic albums in its entirety. I always thought I’d see one by accident – at a festival or something like that – so I was glad that the first one I would see would be an album I love. It was great to see.

Highlight: Say It Ain’t So

A month later I saw a Beatle in the same venue. I’ve seen McCartney play before, but this was my chance to see Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. I’m a card-carrying Beatles obsessive but this was just the most bizarre mishmash of popular culture imaginable. This version of Ringo’s band included Steve Lukather (from Toto), Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie (from Santana) and Richard Page (from Mr. Mister).

Ringo

Aside from the inevitable Beatles songs associated with Ringo which, yes, sounded just as bad as they do on record, we were ‘treated’ to a couple of songs from his new album (2012). It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re faced with lyrics of such elegance as ‘This is an anthem, for peace and love / We’ve gotta keep trying, we can’t give up’.

The rest of the show was taken up with cover versions of the band member’s hits from their respective bands. So we had the likes of Rosanna, Africa and Hold The Line (courtesy of Steve Lukather), Broken Wings (courtesy of Richard Page) and Black Magic Woman (courtesy of Gregg Rolie). Thankfully, Ringo left the vocals to his bandmates for these ones. Bless him.

Highlight: I Saw The Light

Rodriguez

A month later we saw Sixto Rodriguez come back from the dead at the ASB Showgrounds. The last time I was there, I was watching two porn stars jelly-wrestling. There wasn’ any jelly-wrestling this time, thankfully, but it was great to see Rodriguez after finally watching Searching For Sugar Man last year. Given his condition (he had to be led out to the microphone as his eyesight isn’t the best), I don’t think I’ll get the chance to see this frail old man perform again.

Note to self: avoid gigs at the ASB Showgrounds in the future. It’s not a great venue for music with some seats at an almost 90° angle to the edge of the stage, and pillars blocking the view from some. I might go back for the jelly-wrestling though.

Highlight: Sugar Man

Fred

Four days after Rodriguez, I went to see Fred Wesley and the JBs at The Powerstation. It’s almost impossible to not get a good view of the band in The Powerstation, and this makes it my favourite Auckland venue hands-down. Being able to see the band is especially important when seeing Fred Wesley and his band, if only to see the looks on their faces when they glance around the stage. It looks as if they’ve just smelled something truly awful, as though they’re accusing each other of farting, but they’re simply congratulating each other for playing something unbelievably funky.

After dancing for two hours, I was absolutely shattered so on my way out, despite seeing Fred make a beeline for the merchandise booth (presumably to sign autographs), I went straight home. I regret that massively.

Highlight: Pass The Peas

Plant

Another regret came a few weeks later when we saw Robert Plant (supported by The Blind Boys Of Alabama), back in Vector Arena. I don’t regret seeing Plant – for the third time, after catching him twice at Glastonbury over the years – but I regret not paying more for my ticket. We were sat right at the back of the arena, next to the sound desk, and although we enjoyed the fantastic sound from being sat there, I should have bought better tickets. If tickets had been released earlier, I maybe would have bought premium seats, but as it was, it was one of the last shows announced for the summer, so funds had to stretch accordingly.

With an impressive band (The Sensational Space Shifters), including one of the guys from Massive Attack shaping the overall sound, Plant shone across nine Zeppelin songs. Some of them were ‘re-imaginings’ but the more acoustic ones like Going To California and show-opener Friends, from Led Zeppelin III, were right on the money.

Highlight: Friends

I returned to Vector Arena nine days later to see something I thought I’d never see in person: a reformed Black Sabbath. Unfortunately Bill Ward wasn’t present, but it was still great to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer; and the drummer they brought with them – Tommy Clufetos – was fantastic.

Shihad

I had celebrated Record Store Day earlier that day by buying Shihad’s debut record, Churn, on vinyl for the very first time, and so it was great to see them support Sabbath. I’ve always admired Shihad from afar, and it was interesting to see them play such a heavy set, in contrast to the more radio-friendly set I saw them play when they supported AC/CD at Western Springs a couple of years ago.

Highlight: Factory

Black Sabbath.Auckland.logo.0420-13

Sabbath were every kind of awesome. Just hearing Ozzy’s voice for the first time while the stage was still shrouded in darkness was unbelievable. He might not be the best singer in the world, but his voice is unreal. I read somewhere recently that in the entire lyrics of the first Sabbath album, there are only two or three words that are longer than two syllables. Thankfully the guitar riffs are where it’s at with this band, rather than the wordplay, and it was really Tony Iommi who was the star of the show.

Highlight: War Pigs

A few days later, I flew down to Dunedin on my own (leaving a heavily pregnant wife at home with our 16-month old) to see Aerosmith. I don’t think I ever thought they would play in New Zealand, so I was ecstatic when I heard they’d announced a show, but then equally dismayed that their one and only show was to be in a city in the deep south of the country.

A cheap flight with Jetstar, and some cheap accommodation meant the trip wasn’t too expensive, but I didn’t account for how wilfully backwards they are down there. The airport is about half an hour’s drive out of the city, and there’s no public transport from one to the other. So the choice was a $70 taxi ride or a $30 shuttle minibus. Somebody is getting very rich off this arrangement.

It hardly stopped raining in Dunedin all the time I was down there. As soon as I reached my accommodation, I braved the rain to walk down to the local supermarket (going down the same hill that the steepest street in the world is on, just a few streets away). I instantly regretted my choice of footwear – a pair of old Adidas with a hole in one of the soles. Grr. I had to spend the next couple of days with plastic bags lining my right foot to keep it dry – to various shades of success.

FBS_ASmithNew

There’s a couple of rumours why Aerosmith chose to play somewhere so isolated. Either the promoter offered them big bucks to play there (and there only) – or the other thing I’ve heard is that Auckland doesn’t have an indoor venue big enough for one show (the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin has a roof, which my right foot was very thankful of) and they didn’t want to risk an outdoor show because of the weather at this time of year. I think the former seems the more likely. Elton John did exactly the same thing a couple of years ago, and avoided both Auckland and Wellington to play down there.

The thing is, Aerosmith undersold. The stadium’s capacity is 40,000 but they only sold 20,000 tickets – and according to some bloke from the Dunedin Hotel and Motel association, all the accommodation was booked up. So I don’t know where they expected people to stay the night, if the show had sold out?

Still, I’ll take the opportunity. My favourite band, and all that.

dead daisies

Some of the support bands left a lot to be desired. Local try-hards Diva Demolition kicked things off with a short set – short on melody. They were followed by arrogant cocks Head Like A Hole, whose only saving grace was a great cover of El Bosso’s I’m On Fire. The next band up was The Dead Daisies – whose truly awful name was rivalled only by their truly awful middle-of-the-road Dad rock.

Wolfmother

Finally, Wolfmother saved the day. I’d been a fan of their first album, but then they sort of drifted off my radar over the last couple of years. They bounced onto the stage like puppies with their huge hair, and played a set that really warmed the stadium up. Apparently this was to be the last Wolfmother show, with lead singer Andrew Stockdale intending to tour and release work under his own name going forward.

Highlight: Joker & The Thief

Half an hour later, Aerosmith took the stage. This was the fifth time I’ve seen them, and again the set was very different to the last time I saw them, indicating that they’re getting more and more comfortable playing their older material. The set list seemed to alternate between old songs and new (Geffen onwards) songs, which was nice to hear after the Geffen heavy sets they played the first three times I saw them.

Aerosmith

The highlight for me was No More No More, one of my favourite songs from Toys In The Attic, which I’d never seen them play live before; and their version of Come Together – again a song that I’ve never seen them play live, but know like the back of my hand from listening to their studio version countless times.

Highlight: Being this f**king close!

I walked back to my accommodation in the rain, with a wet right foot, a new Aerosmith t-shirt and ringing in my ears. Here’s to next summer!