LIVE REVIEW: LOOKING THROUGH A GLASS ONION – JOHN LENNON IN WORDS & MUSIC BY JOHN WATERS (28.01.2014)

GLASSONION

 

Tribute bands can be a dime a dozen and little more than a glorified radio or stereo. But then there are acts like John Waters. He has been performing his John Lennon tribute since 1992 and has also done a six-month stint in London’s West End with the show. And it’s easy to see why it continues to appeal, because Waters really gets at the essence – the heart and soul of Lennon – through an excellent mix of personal anecdotes and the music, of course.

Waters is no stranger to the stage and screen, having performed on Play School for almost 20 years and racking up over four decades in the entertainment business. He is one of those rare triple threats in that he can sing, dance and act and as he proved at the Opera House, he can also play some fine acoustic guitar. (The first ever audience Waters faced was as a singer and bass guitar player in The Riots, a London-based blues band in the sixties. It is unsurprising that some of the arrangements of Lennon’s Beatles songs and solo material were also given the blues treatment).

The show began with Lennon’s childhood in working class Liverpool with the pieces, “Overture – Scouser’s Lament” and “Liverpool Lullaby”. They were sung and performed on the piano by Stewart D’Arrietta and were a throwback to when Lennon was raised by his Aunt Mimi. John Waters then entered the stage for a mind-blowing, “A Day In The Life”. The first obvious thing was that Looking Through A Glass Onion was not about flashy costumes. Waters was dressed in a black leather jacket and dark jeans throughout, making him resemble Lennon during his early Hamburg days rather than when he was well-known as an international pop star.

There was virtually no backdrop, save for a psychedelic piece which was really only used for “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. Instead, the focus was on the songs, some played in full and others just excerpts (which meant they were never really given the opportunity to overstay their welcome). They were interwoven with Lennon’s story with the lighting also modified to add to the storytelling effect. Waters tried to keep the narration chronological but some of it was changed around for greater, artistic effect and the set list was ordered so that the songs fit a theme and event rather than focusing too heavily on when it was written.

Waters was convincing as Lennon, as he spoke in a perfect Scouser accent and delivered anecdotes with the same wit and wisdom as the Great Beatle himself. As Lennon, he was self-deprecating and funny, with talk of wearing the same underpants as everyone else, despite the fame and comparisons to songwriters like Bob Dylan. Waters also captured John Lennon’s singing voice beautifully, at times doing the raw and raspy blues snarl of his early recordings through to the melodic and smooth tones of his later pop songs.

“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” signalled Lennon’s departure away from writing gobbledegook numbers. “Working Class Hero” built on this, especially when Waters described the guitar as the ultimate street-fighting weapon. This rendition was faster and was almost like a honky-tonk tune that seemed more layered, than the rough, stripped-back original.

The show touched on Lennon’s initial meeting with Paul McCartney, The Beatles’ fame and their acrimonious break-up (it’s one that Lennon said was beaten up by the press). There was the controversial incident when Lennon said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus and their amazing love song which followed, “All You Need Is Love”. A lot of material was covered about the man who appealed to people’s pop sensibilities and who was once considered a radical (his political activities with Yoko Ono and other activists resulted in his being watched by the F.B.I). Lennon was ultimately a chameleon and Waters put it best when he said that if every song of Lennon’s had been a specific reflection of his character, he’d have something like 27 personalities!

D’Arrietta was excellent in his accompanist role. He used a stomp box to give some power to the blues arrangement of “Revolution”, he strummed an autoharp to take us to the Maharishi’s India and he did a broody version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the piano. “The Ballad Of John & Yoko” was played in much the same manner as the original (at least insofar as the number of personnel on hand). “Jealous Guy” was absolutely sublime and gorgeous, especially as it was described around Lennon’s lost weekend with May Pang. Similarly, “Beautiful Boy” was heartfelt and a lullaby to the son that he and Yoko never though they’d be able to have.

John Lennon was often thought of as a pop star, writer, musician, activist, guru and teacher and Looking Through A Glass Onion captured ever single facet of the jewel that was his short but rich life. The show went for almost two hours with an interval and it received a warm applause from the audience, as they were touched by Waters’ portrayal of Lennon, especially the humour, craziness, intelligence and emotion. The finale was the unsurprising but rousing “Imagine”, a minimalist version that started off in darkness and slowly saw the two performers’ faces being illuminated. It was a good way to sum up this intimate and highly personal evening. Waters and D’Arrietta had pulled back the curtain on Lennon’s life and allowed us a glimpse at his body, mind and spirit and allowed it all to shine on in a grand, pop symphony.

Looking Through A Glass Onion Sydney set list (NB: this list only contains the original Lennon and Beatles songs performed):
1. A Day In The Life
2. Glass Onion
3. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
4. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
5. Working Class Hero
6. How Do You Sleep?
7. Norwegian Wood
8. All You Need Is Love
9. I’m So Tired
10. Revolution
11. Sexy Sadie
12. Come Together
13. Strawberry Fields Forever
———–
14. Help!
15. Nowhere Man
16. Julia
17. Mother
18. Woman
19. The Ballad Of John & Yoko
20. Crippled Inside
21. How?
22. God
23. Jealous Guy
24. Watching The Wheels
25. Beautiful Boy
26. Isolation
27. Imagine

Originally published on 30 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/sydney/review/john-lennon-looking-through-a-glass-onion-by-john-waters-28-01-14

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BOOK REVIEW: SUNITI NAMJOSHI – SUKI

suki

 

Suniti Namjoshi is a distinctive voice in lesbian, feminist literature, having written over 30 titles including The Fabulous Feminist and Feminist Fables. But her latest book, Suki, looks at a different sort of relationship. It is a lightly fictionalised memoir that explores the deep and complex bond between an Indian woman and her cat as they live together in the English countryside.

Suki is a chatty, lilac Burmese whose name means “happy” in Sanskrit. She is often temperamental and obstinate but despite having quarrels with her owner, S, is still one bright and intelligent feline. S in this case is Namjoshi who writes about her job and bumptious cat and the pair end up having lots of different conversations.

By giving Suki the qualities of a human woman, Namjoshi straddles the lines between human realism (Suki’s character is sketched so well, she could be saying all of these things) and a fantasy fable. The pair have some very interesting debates about life, love, death, meditation, philosophy and other topics, including other animals. The former content and heavier subject matter means at times this book shares qualities with Tuesdays with Morrie.

This biography is structured in two parts, the first is “Memoir”, which focuses exclusively on Suki’s life (all 4083 days of it) and the aftermath of her death. The secondpart, “The Vipassana Trek” is about how Namjoshi deals with the loss, through a meditative journey that is not unlike the lead in Eat, Pray, Love. In the latter part, Namjoshi introduces strange new characters, including an entire menagerie of animals. But this material isn’t as strong as the first part, with the real gold being the exchanges between her and Suki.

Suki is a warm and highly relatable tale that is well-paced and thoughtful. There are also some quaint pictures woven in amongst the symbolic writing and metaphors. Ultimately, this helps create a contemporary and intelligent story that will appeal equally to your heart and your head.

 

Originally published on 27 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.lotl.com/gay-lesbian-giveaways-aus-nz/tickets/Suki-by-Suniti-Namjoshi/

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BOOK REVIEW: JOSIAH HOWARD – CHER – STRONG ENOUGH

cher book

Cher is the ultimate show queen and the mother of re-invention. The Grammy, Emmy and Oscar winner has released over 80 singles and has sold in excess of 100 million records. She has been a darling of the stage and screen and the book, Cher – Strong Enough looks predominantly at one chapter in this chameleon entertainer’s life.

Despite the book being named after her biggest hit (1999’s “Strong Enough”) the focus of Josiah Howard’s biography is on her eponymous, 1975 variety programme. “Cher” would come shortly after the demise of her marriage and professional relationship to Sonny Bono. He wrote and sang with Cher on their break-out hit, “I Got You Babe”and stared in the couple’s own variety series from 1971-74.

Howard is no stranger to writing about the arts and has previously written a book on film and a Donna Summer biography. He also wrote the biography about Cher which was used in the program for her Las Vegas residency. In Cher – Strong Enough it is obvious that Howard is a big fan of Cher’s. He first watched her in the seventies and details the television series at length.

At times this biography feels more like an episode guide as Howard lists the show’s guest stars: Elton John, Bette Midler, Tina Turner, Steve Martin, David Bowie, The Jacksons and Bill Cosby, to name a few.It couples this with anecdotes and stories alongside descriptions of Cher’s many monologues, sketches and the musical numbers that featured on the show.

Some of the segments that were filmed at the time made it to the cutting room floor (this was due to overzealous censors and the fact that more footage was filmed each week than the hour-long programme required). It is most interesting to read about these lost segments and about the gorgeous costumes she wore.These were designed by Bob Mackie who has won numerous awards for his creations.

It is also interesting to consider what was happening to Cher during the mid-70s. At the time she faced the end of two high-profile relationships (with Bono and music mogul, David Geffen). There were lawsuits left, right and centre (including a bitter custody battle for her daughter, Chastity). And Cher was also forced to give a testimonial in front of a grand jury for a murder case, all while filming a weekly variety programme, performing tours and recording albums.

There is no denying that Cher has lived one colourful and rich life but Strong Enough really only tells one part of this story. While there are on-set interviews with Cher, her guests and the show’s creators, it narrowly hones in one singular point (it is the time that Howard says Cher went from stardom to superstardom, as most people had thought she would fade into obscurity after her divorce to Bono). The book features excellent and sexy colour photographsfrom this period when Cher was at her most glamorous and beautiful. It’s a shame that the 40 years that followed have been condensed into a single chapter when other stuff (and arguably less important things) were covered here in such great detail.

Cher – Strong Enough is meticulously researched and a labour of love from Howard but its downside is that it is not the most complete or comprehensive Cher biography out there. It is certainly one that is most focused on the glittery rise and shine of her star-power. Ultimately, it’s an uneven look at the star’s wild ride as she faced the ups and downs of the Hollywood rollercoaster. It’s also one that will be enjoyed by fans of the artist who await the release of this TV series on DVD and to see what this sassy woman will do next.

Originally published on 27 January 2014 at the following websites: http://www.curvemag.com/Curve-Magazine/Web-Articles-2014/Cher-Strong-Enough-by-Josiah-Howard/

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LIVE REVIEW: BIG STAR’S THIRD TRIBUTE FEAT. TIM ROGERS, CAT POWER, EDWYN COLLINS, KURT VILE, KIM SALMON & DAVE FAULKNER @ ENMORE THEATRE (23.01.2014)

BIGSTARSTHIRD

Big Star were a cult band but their influence has been far-reaching. The likes of R.E.M., The Flaming Lips, Belle & Sebastian and The Replacements have all cited them as influences and their music has been covered by Placebo, Jeff Buckley, Yo La Tengo and Elliott Smith, to name a few. They are the little band that could and it is Jody Stephens, the group’s drummer and sole-surviving original member who is keeping their music alive with tribute nights like Big Star’s Third.

The concert was an Australian exclusive for Sydney Festival and has been previously performed in London, SXSW and a few dates in America. It’s not bad going for an album that was never “actually completed” (none of the members could agree on a definitive version of the record) and never released during the band’s active years. The group were barely even a unit when it was recorded with Stephens and front man, Alex Chilton (The Box Tops) collaborating in a sort of song-a-day project and they were unsure if the music was ever going to bear the “Big Star” tag.

The Big Star Third show commenced with a cover of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”. It is a number which Chilton considered was the theme and core for the album. It was then time to introduce the band: Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Chris Stamey (The dB’s), Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, Big Star), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), Charles Cleaver, Brett Harris, Skylar Gudasz, Django Haskins and a local string ensemble. They were joined by a revolving cast of vocalists which included: Tim Rogers, Kim Salmon (The Scientists), Edwyn Collins, Kurt Vile, Dave Faulkner and Chan Marshall (Cat Power).

“Kizza Me” was the first Big Star original to be performed. It was a big, rocking track but it was not really indicative of what was to come. In fact, nothing (save listening to the copies of the out-of-print record) could’ve prepared the audience for what was to follow. The Third album, also known as Sister Lovers has been described in a lot of ways. “An untidy masterpiece”, “frustrating”, “mysterious”, “brutally honest”, “beautiful”, “disturbing” and “extraordinary” are just some of the words that have been used. And yet for all of its jaggedness, it is underpinned by a haunting, visceral brilliance that shines (and truly sparkled) as it was performed live.

Big Star were influenced by the British Invasion bands of the time and Third could arguably be the group’s Sgt. Pepper’s.“O, Dana” was a very cheery pop song compared to Marshall’s sultry vixen take on “Nighttime”. “For You” meanwhile, was like a tapestry of sounds especially when you considered the full, orchestral backing while “Jesus Christ” appeared to go off on some odd tangent into the realm of tongue-in-cheek naughtiness.

“Take Care” is a cautionary tale and was a signpost of the darker elements to follow. But then the mood shifted yet again for the Dave Faulkner-lead “Big Black Car”. The latter was a dreamy affair that saw the Hoodoo Gurus front man dressed like a Beatle from the early sixties but with very modern, crisp vocals. The same cannot be said for Kurt Vile whose delivery in “Stroke It Noel” was left wanting (think: a mumbling, out of tune drawl).

The Lou Reed-penned, “Femme Fatale” was also another sad song but it said a lot about where Chilton’s head was during this time. It also contrasted with “Downs” as this one was more reminiscent of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen”. “Holocaust” again was something different and was often played by Chilton late at night at CBGBs and – like tonight – it saw the mood in the room shift to a blacker place.

Stephens resembled the late Keith Moon (The Who) as he drummed in “You Can’t Have Me”. But it was the group as a whole who seemed to resemble Led Zeppelin the most. This was because heavier, fuzzed up guitar moments would then be offset by other times when the mood would lighten. The best comparison is possibly, “Stairway To Heaven”, as the listener was taken on a virtual merry-go-round of music and emotion that was a strange but ultimately rather fruitful experience.

After “Thank You Friends” had been played, this signalled the end of the magic carpet ride that was Big Star’s Third album. The band would then go on to play a full set of the group’s other cuts plus a few other surprises. But unfortunately, this was a let down when compared to the main feature because a lot of these numbers fit the same sort of mid-tempo mould and feel and they certainly weren’t as varied in terms of genre. This second set overstayed its welcome and at its very worse got to be an exercise in self-indulgence.

The concert was a hit and miss affair but the second half did manage a few highlights. Edwyn Collins gave a rousing performance for his sole number, a cover of The Box Tops’ “The Letter”. It would’ve been a tough one for the Scotsman to master but he was assisted by a good backing choir. Similarly, “December Gurls” was some amazing pop and “Till The End Of The Day” was as tight and as punchy as The Kinks’ original.

At close to two and a half hours, it is difficult to sum up the performance of Big Star’s Third. There were certainly moments where the show lived up to the album’s reviews of it being a weird and untidy masterpiece with beautiful, experimental and often haunting moments. But there were some slower points where things seemed to lack direction and overall purpose. One thing Jody Stephens wanted to do was honour and keep his band’s album alive and with such rich, cryptic and oblique material at their fingertips, this was no easy task. In short, it was a bold, erratic, raw and honest performance of a vehemently original band that continues to intrigue, mystify, frustrate and influence people to this day.

Big Star Third’s Sydney set list:
1. Nature Boy (originally performed by Nat King Cole)
2. Kizza Me
3. O, Dana
4. For You
5. Nighttime
6. Jesus Christ
7. Take Care
8. Big Black Car
9. Stroke It Noel
10. Blue Moon
11. Femme Fatal (originally performed by The Velvet Underground)
12. Downs
13. Dream Lover
14. Holocaust
15. You Can’t Have Me
16. Kanga Roo
17. Thank You Friends
18. Feel
19. Daisy Glaze
20. Thirteen
21. I’m In Love With A Girl
22. You & Your Sister
23. February’s Quiet
24. Back Of A Car
25. In The Street
26. There Was A Light
27. Way Out West
28. Morpha Too
29. Give Me Another Chance
30. I Am The Cosmos
31. Till The End Of The Day (originally performed by The Kinks)
32. September Gurls
33. The Letter (originally performed by The Box Tops)
34. When My Baby’s Beside Me

Originally published on 27 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/big-stars-third-tribute-feat-tim-rogers-cat-power-kurt-vile-kim-salmon-edwyn-collins-23-01-14

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LIVE REVIEW: KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS & SHINING BIRD @ PARADISO, TOWN HALL (22.01.2014)

Kurt Vile

There are people who court fame and celebrity and then there’s artists like Kurt Vile. The Philadelphia native is one unlikely musician because while he is great at writing colourful, psychedelic tunes, you do get the sense that he’d be much happier playing in a studio than to a sold-out, Sydney crowd. But just as many shoe gaze acts have proven, you don’t necessarily have to strut around like a peacock or be a showman to cause a stir in the audience.

The support for the evening was courtesy of indie pop, 6-piece, Shining Bird. They are fronted by Dane Taylor whose greatest asset is his deep, booming baritone. The combination of these vocals with a rather jangly, pop sound was at times reminiscent of Simple Minds and in particular, their hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. On “Skitzin”, the spotlight was moved away from Taylor and instead onto the fine guitar riffs created by Alastair Webster because these were the kind of things that would make The Edge jealous.

The large crowd seemed intrigued enough with the supports. They enjoyed the pitter-patter of the drums plus the harmonising and layered sounds of “Stare Into The Sun”, but this was a far cry from the lo-fi stylings of the star of the evening. “Keep Warm” was like a twinkling lullaby, while “Don’t Get Down” was introduced as a country ballad. The band received a warm enough reaction, particularly for their single, “Distant Dreaming”, but it was obvious who the people were really there to see.

Kurt Vile decided to open his set by declaring how great it was to be back in Sydney and that this was his ‘favourite continent’. There was very little between-song banter to follow as Vile was content to hide behind his long, luscious locks and let his guitars (acoustic and electric) and band, The Violators, do all the talking. In many ways his show was like Tame Impala, in that he created great moods, walls of sound and atmospherics but didn’t feel the need to pander to the audience.

Although Vile has written five solo albums (and he is a former member of the band, The War On Drugs), the focus of this evening was on his previous two albums, Wakin on a Pretty Daze and Smoke Ring for My Halo. The first song, “Wakin’ On A Pretty Day” had to be re-started by the band but this slacker chalked that up to it being his “first” show. (He’d also do a solo, midnight set for Sydney Festival). The first song was a melodic and expansive journey that passed the ten-minute mark. It also rambled like a hippie making a pilgrimage to the Haight-Ashbury.

“KV Crimes” made us all take a step back in time, to a more bluesy sound even though Vile’s vocals were closer to a Bob Dylanesque drawl. Then it was time for a lesson in understatement. It was a feeling that would prevail for much of the evening, while “On Tour” was simply an acoustic number that roamed along the countryside. It seemed like Vile’s sounds mostly fit into one of two categories. There was the full band sound with thundering energy and crashing noise that came across like a kind of organised cacophony while the other was light, airy and as gentle as a rose petal (the latter most evident when Vile played solo and acoustically on songs like “Peeping Tomboy” and “Too Much”).

The audience loved every minute of “Jesus Fever”. They joined in with Vile’s biting vocals before things turned into a strange and almost spiritual fate in “Girl Called Alex”. In “Goldtone”, Vile would sing about sounding as though he was stoned. And while this is a question that many people may have asked, the fact is that Vile doesn’t need the stuff. He is able to put people into a fuzzy daze of psychedelic rock and charm them with slow-burning ballads that take their influences from Neil Young and Pavement. His music is hypnotic enough to put even the biggest doubter under a spell.

The evening concluded with “Freak Train”, which was some fast-paced rock that reminded me of British India at times. The use of saxophone really added to the thudding drums, plodding bass and the overall feeling of a race car careening off course. The closing, “Too Hard” meanwhile, saw Vile revert back to his quiet, shy ways, as he wore his heart on his sleeve by singing a song to his love and wanting to right the wrongs of the past. The story was like a bunch of thoughtful, free associations wrapped up in a love letter of sorts.

In his concert, Kurt Vile and band had proven that the star was one rambling man who was able to keep this ship on-course. His numbers were heartbreaking at times and also filled with enough emotion and compelling tales to grab you by the scruff of your shirt and force you to sit up and listen. At times it was subtle, slow and understated, but this just made the rockier moments a bigger and brighter contrast.

Kurt Vile & The Violators’ Sydney set list:
1. Wakin’ On A Pretty Day
2. KV Crimes
3. On Tour
4. Jesus Fever
5. Girl Called Alex
6. Goldtone
7. Peeping Tomboy
8. Feel My Pain
9. Hunchback
10. Freak Train
——————————————-
11. Too Hard

 

Originally published on 24 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/kurt-vile-the-violators-shining-bird-sydney-town-hall-22-01-14

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ALBUM REVIEW: FEELINGS – BE KIND, UNWIND

feelings

Feelings has risen up like a phoenix out of the ashes of Philadelphia Grand Jury. The project was originally supposed to be the solo debut from The Philly Jays front man, Berkfinger (AKA Simon Berckelman). But emotions, relationships and indeed, feelings are quite complex things. So for some songs Berkfinger was joined by his old bandmates, MC Bad Genius (Joel Beeson) and Dan W Sweat (Dan Williams) along with other Aussie contemporaries like: Dave Rennick (Dappled Cities) and Michael Tomlinson (ex-Yves Klein Blue).

Be Kind, Unwind features 11 songs that clock in at just 27 minutes. And like Philadelphia Grand Jury’s work, it shows that Berkfinger stills has both a penchant and a craft for creating good, toe-tapping tunes. Berckelman has served as the producer here and this record is brimming with both creativity and ideas. At times it is like listening to an old jukebox or radio. It may also leave you scratching you head and wondering how this guy has managed to fit more hooks into it than a storeroom.

The fans looking for a complete sequel to Hope Is For The Hopeless will inevitably be disappointed. Because while this album uses rock ‘n’ roll, punk, garage rock and eighties pop as touch points, it is also a different beast. It is one that is more focused on maintaining a pretty pop sensibility than the snarling angst and attitude that typified the trio’s debut. But that said, this record is still energetic and light-hearted fun that would make you want to party, party.

“Square” was written by Berckelman and Beeson and boasts a real groove and blues-pop sound. The added saxophone also adds an additional twist before things are taken back to the more expected fuzzy guitars a là Straight Arrows in “One In A Million”. In the latter, Berkfinger shows off a newly-found falsetto as he pines for his girl.

Berkfinger’s different vocal delivery works best in “Intercourse” where he is also found doing his best Prince impersonation. The tune features its fair share of dance-pop moments loaded with sex, passion and lust and the high-pitched singing sounds an awful lot like the purple king. You probably could substitute this song for “Kiss” in the film, Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts sings in the bathtub- it would work! Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the woeful, “Good Juju In My Medicine”. This song sits somewhere between a forgotten part of the 80s and the John Steel Singers’ “Rainbow Kraut” but it is the lyrics that are the big letdown when you consider:

“I’ve got good juju in my medicine/You’re the holiest of holies but you’re never right, alright”.

Things do pick up, however, with the rock of “New York Summer”. There is also the slacker ballad filled with jangle, “Bring On The Night”. One thing is for certain, this album does take in a few different genres but it is linked by the fact that it seeks to provide a rollicking, good time by its end. It is overall, one fun and expansive adventure through time and sound.

In writing Be Kind, Unwind, Berkfinger said he wanted to step out of his comfort zone and retain more freedom. He has certainly achieved this by mining his record collection to create one extensive sound. But what does let him down is the lack of standout tracks that made Hope Is For The Hopeless so popular. In short, this one is cleaner and more polished but there will be many fans who will prefer to party on and get dirty with The Philly Jays’ first.

 

Originally published on 20 January 2014 at the following website: http://thedwarf.com.au/album_review/18202/be-kind-unwind

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FILM REVIEW: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

InsideLlewynDavis

 

It’s 1961 in Greenwich Village and in a short time this city will become a Mecca for folk troubadours. This all started when a young man called Robert Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan and became a legend. But Llewyn Davis’ life is taking a rather different route, it’s one that is as aimless and struggle-prone as it is filled with bad luck and biting cynicism.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest film to be written and directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen. Some comparisons have been drawn to their previous films, A Serious Man and O Brother, Where Art Thou? The latter comparison is because this film has folk music as a key feature and the former is because it is also an intense character study. The lead character was inspired by Dave Van Ronk, a little-known folk musician who was also found working through this same place and period.

Davis (Oscar Isaac) is an unlikeable, unkempt character who has a knack for upsetting and annoying people. He is a talented artist but he also can’t make a break. He is floundering in life and has to couch-surf and skive off the few friends he still has because he doesn’t even own a winter coat, much less a house. He has impregnated one ex-girlfriend and may have knocked up the wife, Jean (Carey Mulligan) of his best friend (Justin Timberlake). Mulligan unsurprisingly puts in an excellent performance as the fiery and hostile ex-fling and she puts it best when she says that everything Davis touches turns to shit.

Oscar Isaac has previously worked with Mulligan before, having played her ex-con husband in the film, Drive. Here, he is very believable as he plays a very different role; it’s one that is like the lead character in The Comedy crossed with Sixto Rodriguez, as he’s another folk musician who initially found fame and fortune to be rather elusive. In one scene Davis enters a men’s room and a piece of graffiti questions, “What are you doing?” And the answer is not very much.

The film is an understated character piece that is slow-paced and has a very scant plot. Apart from a recurring, running gag about a missing cat and some predictable observations about the dysfunctional relationships Davis has with his exes and family, there isn’t much more to this story than this particular freewheeling guy being in a “travelling band”.

The film’s biggest drawcard is its soundtrack. T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) are the musical producers and curators and they found some old folk standards that could be reinterpreted. The songs and cheeky lines in the script help lend the film a modern, almost hipster feel, with Davis himself saying that if it’s “never old” or “never new” then it’s a folk song. Oscar Isaac also does an excellent job of performing these folk numbers live. He does as good a job as Sam Riley and his supporting actors did when they played Joy Division in Anton Corbijn’s Control.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a bittersweet film, a bleak winter-song whose good dialogue prevents it from becoming too downbeat. The Cohen Brothers are like Woody Allen here in that they inject elements of the absurd and the ridiculous into their script and still make it feel honest, real and authentic. The movie is ultimately a love letter to understatement, from its underrated lead folkie to its pastel cinematography- the mood is sombre and the tone is sobering. Inside Llewyn Davis is an intimate look at an unlikeable artist who struggles through an inevitable and predictable series of disappointments.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Originally published on 15 January 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/01/15/film-review-inside-llewyn-davis-usa-2013/

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LIVE REVIEW: JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW @ THE METRO, SYDNEY (09.01.2014)

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James Vincent McMorrow’s show is less like a regular concert and more like a spiritual experience.

The Irish troubadour’s last Australian performance to a sold out audience at The Metro in Sydney saw an atmosphere so respectful and silent you could almost hear a pin drop – in the moments when the crowd weren’t applauding or singing along, that is.

When McMorrow was here to promote his second album Post Tropical, he also entertained fans by playing a lot of songs from his well-received debut, Early In The Morning.

‘The Lakes’ opened the show rather softly and set the tone for the entire evening. McMorrow, on acoustic guitar, had just three musicians accompany him on a combination of drums, bass, keyboards, samplers, and backing vocals. Together the instruments brought his lush, folk tunes  to life while worlds of melodies and harmonies collided in full technicolor.

The performance was a stripped back and often quiet affair, but the audience were as engaged as a group witnessing a 20-piece band with all the trimmings (read: dancers, visuals, light show, and costume changes).

The Irish folkie was very chatty and remained caring and optimistic, asking how everyone was and commenting on how nice and great things generally were. More specifically, he spoke about playing at larger venues, performing with excellent musicians, and having lots of songs he wanted to sing. This was one sweet and charming man.

In ‘Hear The Noise That Moves So Soft And Low’, the crowd were treated to what could only be described as a choir of angels descending upon a campfire. The vocals were so fragile and lilting that they were almost like dew on a leaf in the early morning.

A change of pace followed with ‘Red Dust’. Electronic drums and a pulsating beat created a heady spin of vulnerability as McMorrow sang about desire and wanting someone to love and hold him.

The singer-songwriter certainly wears his heart on his sleeve, a factor that helps make his music so relatable and endearing.

There were songs about journeys (‘Glacier’) and a silly impromptu ditty before the band straddled the lines between a lovely, tender hush and a more playful, catchier beat.

The four-part harmonies in ‘Down The Burning Ropes’ were nothing short of amazing and showed why groups like The Beach Boys and Boy & Bear continue to capture attention. But, despite this, it was ‘We Don’t Eat’ that received the warmest reaction from punters on the night.

In ‘Cavalier’, McMorrow’s voice boasted the same kind of fragility that Jeff Buckley possessed when he covered ‘Hallelujah’.

It was a sterling ending that was somehow bettered with the encore of ‘And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop’ and a cover of Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’ which, despite not having been played much over the years, was utterly sublime.

Ultimately, McMorrow ticks all the right boxes. He can sing of a love as sweetly as Josh Pyke, be soulful like Dan Sultan, channel the odd bit of percussion akin to the Eels, and emanate a quiet reverence usually only reserved for greats such as Buckley.

It was a perfect day that saw the Metro romp through love, nostalgia, want, desire, and hope, with fictional but relatable characters. These musicians had the chops to hold their own and painted one glorious tapestry of indie folk.

Originally published on 13 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/shows/378032/james-vincent-mcmorrow.htm

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LIVE REVIEW: THE BEATLES BACK2BACK TRIBUTE @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (02.01.2014)

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The Beatles wrote the soundtrack to many people’s lives and it’s no surprise that the band continue to be loved and revered. Some Australian artists have previously tackled the Fab Four’s work with the Let It Be and White Album tours, which now leads us to Back2Back. It’s a concert that made its debut in Queensland in 2011 and whose latest instalment saw the Sydney Opera House awash with colour, melody and harmony.

Back2Back sees arguably The Beatles’ two best albums tackled by a 16-piece band and no less than five rock vocalists. The show sees Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road performed sequentially and in full plus old favourite, “Get Back”. It’s a mammoth production with visuals that are as deep as the sea of green (sorry, wrong album) and some layered, orchestral grandeur and old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll music that spans all the colours of the psychedelic rainbow.

The musical director for the night was Rex Goh, a talented guitarist who also doubled as the composer at times. Goh has studied and toured extensively and a beatific smile did not leave his face as he played his important role in paying tribute to these four ground-breaking men. The Liverpudlians had also had a huge influence on the five vocalists (some of whom were making their second appearance at such a tribute show) with Tim Morrison (Trial Kennedy, The Voice) even having the lyrics, “All you need is love” inked on his arm.

The rock vocalists all brought rather different approaches to the songs, which served well for such a varied collection of music. In the programme, Michael Dwyer was apt when he described the original tracks as being love songs and ones that were: silly, desperate, joyous, knowing and wondering and that they were great ones about money, power, sweet dreams, heavy karma, the sun, the sea and the end. Doug Parkinson had previously appeared on the Let It Be tour and brought his smoky, soulful baritone to the proceedings while Russell Morris was utterly convincing as he sang pop, rock ‘n’ roll and the blues.
At times some of the singers weren’t as strong as The Beatles, but these were some enormous shoes to fill. At the very least their stage presence wasn’t lacking with Jon Toogood (Shihad) bringing a real sense of fun and silliness to the occasion. He played the front man and the fool while Tim Morrison was the cheeky upstart during the occasionally whimsical, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. But it was Jack Jones AKA Irwin Thomas (Southern Sons, Electric Mary) who played and sang one of the evening’s highlights, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, which was so full of brooding passion you could’ve bottled it.

The 16-piece band did a stellar job of translating the songs for the stage. There were moments of orchestral wonder and colourful psychedelia as they straddled the lines between pop and art (mostly during Sgt. Pepper). The Beatles had grappled with the limitations of the concert and taking these studio records – ones layered to the nines with new, experimental sounds and technology – out on the road. But there were no such limitations at the Opera House and this revolutionary music was given a real chance to shine. The definitive album of the rock era and The Beatles’ final swansong were celebrated for all their grandeur, creativity and majesty and all with a sense of dignity, joy and fun.

“With a Little Help from My Friends” was faithful to the original while “Within You Without You” reached the lofty heights of spiritual mystery that made the original so perfect. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was sung by Jack Joneswho clasped his nose at times to recreate John Lennon’s more nasal delivery and while it looked a bit strange it sounded excellent. The vocalists and musicians all showed a good sense of camaraderie and a real chemistry, especially when they all came together over Lennon and McCartney.

Songs like “A Day In The Life” and the George Harrison-penned, “Something” (which Frank Sinatra described as the greatest love song of all time, no less) really crystallised what the Fab Four were all about. These also helped show why their legacy and influence continues to remain important to this very day. These were the real goose bump-inducing moments, which fans would continue to remember long after the curtain had fallen. Other numbers like “Come Together” and “Get Back” by comparison were all about making people dance (which they really did do during the latter). “Here Comes The Sun” meanwhile, was all about celebrating life and light before Abbey Road’s final pop symphony was played in full and left us with the final message: “The love you take is equal to the love you make”.

Beatles Back2Back was a real celebration of The Beatles by artists that clearly loved them and continue to be inspired by them. It was great to experience such complex songs live (it’s also a feat that the group themselves never actually accomplished) and it was nothing short of special and extraordinary. In short, it was a fun night of faithful music, delivered from and celebrated by true fans.

The Beatles Back2Back Sydney set list:
Act 1- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (sung by Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Jon Toogood and Tim Morrison)
2. With a Little Help from My Friends (sung by Doug Parkinson with Russell Morris and Tim Morrison)
3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (sung by Jack Jones)
4. Getting Better (sung by Tim Morrison with Russell Morris)
5. Fixing a Hole (sung by Doug Parkinson)
6. She’s Leaving Home (sung by Jack Jones)
7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (sung by Jon Toogood)
8. Within You Without You (sung by Russell Morris)
9. When I’m Sixty-Four (sung by Tim Morrison)
10. Lovely Rita (sung by Russell Morris)
11. Good Morning Good Morning (sung by Jon Toogood with Doug Parkinson)
12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (sung by Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Jon Toogood and Tim Morrison)
13. A Day in the Life (sung by Jon Toogood with Doug Parkinson)

Act 2- Abbey Road
14. Come Together (sung by Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Jon Toogood and Tim Morrison)
15. Something (sung by Tim Morrison)
16. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (sung by Jon Toogood)
17. Oh! Darling (sung by Russell Morris)
18. Octopus’s Garden (sung by Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Jon Toogood and Tim Morrison)
19. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (sung by Jack Jones)
20. Here Comes the Sun (sung by Russell Morris)
21. Because (sung by Doug Parkinson and Russell Morris)
22. You Never Give Me Your Money (sung by Tim Morrison)
23. Sun King (sung by Jack Jones)
24. Mean Mr. Mustard (sung by Jon Toogood)
25. Polythene Pam (sung by Jon Toogood)
26. She Came In Through the Bathroom Window (sung by Doug Parkinson and Tim Morrison)
27. Golden Slumbers (sung by Doug Parkinson)
28. Carry That Weight/The End (sung by Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Jon Toogood and Tim Morrison)
29. Her Majesty (sung by Jack Jones)

30. Get Back (sung by Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Jon Toogood and Tim Morrison)

 

Originally published on 3 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/the-beatles-back2back-tribute-opera-house-02-01-14

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