Mar 17, 2018

Grizzly Bear @ Sydney Opera House

Fashion and hype can be a terrible thing. Especially in the music world. The thought that an artist can be 'past their time' because of current trends is a useless and irrelevant idea. Grizzly Bear could fall into this trap. Around a decade ago they were the darlings of the music world. 'Veckatimest' was luminescent and follow up 'Shields' glowed as well. But then the band stood aside for a while. Last year they returned with 'Painted Ruins' and generally speaking it was very well received but there were choruses of 'we've moved on'. Well I believe true quality lasts. And in years to come Grizzly Bear will be revered and others hyped up will be in the dustbins of history.

So it was with great excitement that they returned to the Sydney Opera House last Monday night. It was a stark reminder of their greatness. Their sublime musicianship. Their incomparable harmonies and melodies. All five musicians displaying craft and intelligence. 'Painted Ruins' was well shown with 'Three Rings' being a certain standout. But it was a well rounded evening with the band reaching back to 'Knife' and 'On a Neck, On a Spit' and also giving us well received classics such as 'Two Weeks' and 'Sleeping Ute'. It was a rapturous crowd bedazzled by the beauty unfolding before us. By the time they closed the night with the simply glorious 'Sun in Your Eyes' it was a very grateful audience indeed.

Set List
Four Cypresses
Losing All Sense
Yet Again
Fine for Now
Ready, Able
Sleeping Ute
Mourning Sound
Glass Hillside
Two Weeks
On a Neck, On a Spit
Three Rings
While You Wait for the Others

Sun in Your Eyes

Feb 25, 2018

The National @ Sydney Opera House Forecourt

I am always a little surprised and bewildered at the level The National have reached. Not that they are playing football stadiums but they are playing large venues and winning major awards (even a Grammy!). Their music is subtle and deep but also a little sombre and introspective so it's pleasing to me that they have reached a fairly sizable audience. Wednesday night was the first of two back to back sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt. They played the same venue four years and whilst this show wasn't quite at that level it was naturally still a great night. A testament to the greatness that is The National.

In 2017 the band released their latest album in 'Sleep Well Beast' and whilst I really enjoyed it I thought it lacked the spark of their previous great work. Of course naturally they would play a fair chunk from the album, in fact they opened the night with four tunes from it. The one that received the greatest noise was 'The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness'. Later on 'Day I Die' would also go down a treat but it was older songs that were best received. Such as the euphoric 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' or the crowd rousing 'Conversation 16'. It was really exciting to see them reach down deep in their bag of tricks for old classics like 'Wasp Nest' and Secret Meeting'. By the time they finished up with 'Fake Empire' we were all totally in the hands of the band. Of course the encore was great although Matt Berninger's voice was getting a bit rough especially during the loudness that is 'Mr November'. When they finally closed with 'About Today' it was a satisfied crowd indeed.

Set List
Nobody Else Will Be There
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
Walk It Back
Guilty Party
Don't Swallow the Cap
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This Is The Last Time
Wasp Nest
Secret Meeting
Conversation 16
I'll Still Destroy You
Born to Beg
Secret Meeting
Slow Show
Carin at the Liquor Store
Day I Die
Fake Empire

Mr. November
Terrible Love
About Today

Feb 8, 2018

The War on Drugs @ Enmore Theatre

The War on Drugs are a virtuoso display of the wizardry of guitars. Their music is enormous but also full of smaller details. Each song is multi layered and progresses to a point of breaking beauty. It's not really immediate music but it must have struck a chord as their audience keeps growing. I guess that must be the result if you keep releasing such excellent music. Their last two albums are just truly superb, the latest one even winning a Grammy for Best Rock Album. So they now reached the level where they can sell out the Enmore Theatre two nights in a row. I attended the first night on Tuesday night and it was a spectacular night. The only slight drawback being that the set was fully loaded with the last two albums. But of course that's still a pretty great thing considering how great those two albums are. There is the euphoric burst of 'Holding On', the blasting hold of 'Under the Pressure', the boldness and enormity of 'An Ocean in Between the Waves' and the sheer beauty of 'Strangest Thing'. And then so much more. For example the acoustic beauty of 'In Reverse'. And so on and so on. It's quite gratifying to see such music find such an ecstatic audience.

Set List
In Chains
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Strangest Thing
Nothing to Find
Knocked Down
Accidentally Like a Martyr (Warren Zevon cover)
Red Eyes
Thinking of a Place
Holding On
Under the Pressure
In Reverse

Eyes to the Wind

Feb 6, 2018

Sydney Laneway Festival 2018

Sydney's Laneway Festival on Sunday was once again an enjoyable experience packed with great music and a friendly vibe. The food vendors have really gone up a notch and the spacious grounds make for a relaxed and fun time. For the first time since 2012 it wasn't totally sold out. Probably because the line up lacked a huge headliner but the programme was packed with quality and variation. Something for everyone for sure. My highlight was (Sandy) Alex G (pictured above). Alex G from Philadelphia released one of my favourite albums of 2017 and it was great to see him live for the first time. His brand of melodic and off kilter rock is quite infectious. I will be very interested to see where his career takes him. I didn't stay for the greatness of The War on Drugs as I am seeing them Tuesday night at the Enmore Theatre. But I did Australia's very own Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever who were wonderful. Their cascading and rollicking guitars with big melodies made for a great way to spend Sunday afternoon. Highly recommended to see them live.

The biggest surprise of the day for me were London's Wolf Alice. I have listened to some of their music but it didn't really appeal to me. A little to basic and A to B. But live they were ferocious and hugely impressive. Great power and huge builds and crashes. Their drummer and guitarists were great but it was singer Ellie Rowsell who really stole the show. What a talent she is. They truly completed a great day for me.

Feb 4, 2018

Best Albums Of 2017

2017 marked the return of Canada and one band in particular. That band was Wolf Parade, close to my most beloved band of all time. When they went on hiatus seven years ago I was pretty sad. Three albums and a slew of amazing live shows just didn't seem enough. But they were back and after an EP in 2016 they released a new album in 2017. 'Cry Cry Cry' would turn out to be my favourite album of the year. I can't say it was technically the best as the albums by Fleet Foxes and Kevin Morby were perhaps better but it was MY favourite and I just loved it. The boys were back and how! But Canada was back too. Some artists with a long time between drinks came back with stellar efforts. Feist, Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene in particular. Arcade Fire also returned but their album was a major disappointment. Not so Destroyer who delivered the goods yet again.

Ty Segall released yet another album and it was wonderful, whilst Father John Misty and The War on Drugs just pushed the envelope a little further. In the hip-hop field Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar really stood out from the pack. Locally The Smith Street Band released my favourite Australian album. Gang of Youths got all the hype but it was the boys from Melbourne that truly delivered.

1. Cry Cry Cry-Wolf Parade
2. Crack-Up-Fleet Foxes
3. City Music-Kevin Morby
4. Ty Segall-Ty Segall
5. A Deeper Understanding-The War On Drugs
6. Pure Comedy-Father John Misty
7. Stubborn Persistent Illusions-Do Make Say Think
8. Big Fish Theory-Vince Staples
9. Half-Light-Rostam
10. DAMN.-Kendrick Lamar
11. Ken-Destroyer
12. Luciferian Towers-Godspeed You! Black Emperor
13. Painted Ruins-Grizzly Bear
14. More Scared of You Than You are of Me-The Smith Street Band
15. Dirty Projectors-Dirty Projectors
16. Hot Thoughts-Spoon
17. Hug Of Thunder-Broken Social Scene
18. Capacity-Big Thief
19. The Wild-The Rural Alberta Advantage
20. Love Is Love-Woods
21. Pleasure-Feist
22. Infinite Worlds-Vagabon
23. Hang-Foxygen
24. Light Information-Chad VanGaalen
25. Sleep Well Beast-The National
26. A Crow Looked at Me-Mount Eerie
27. TFCF-Liars
28. Poor David's Almanack-David Rawlings
29. Rocket- (Sandy) Alex G
30. Life Without Sound-Cloud Nothings
31. Popular Manipulations-The Districts
32. Memory of a Cut Off Head-OCS
33. Coils-Ramona Falls
34. Orc-Oh Sees
35. Times Infinity Volume Two-The Dears
36. We All Want the Same Things-Craig Finn
37. Whiteout Conditions-The New Pornographers
38. Moh Lhean-Why?
39. Bad Posture-John Andrews & the Yawns
40. Out in the Storm-Waxahatchee
41. Go Farther In Lightness-Gang of Youths
42. Rock n Roll Consciousness-Thurston Moore
43. In Mind-Real Estate
44. Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm-Will Johnson
45. No Shape-Perfume Genius
46. The Tourist-Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
47. Everything Now-Arcade Fire
48. Last Place-Grandaddy
49. Hard Love-Strand of Oaks
50. World Eater-Blanck Mass

Feb 3, 2018

Father John Misty @ Enmore Theatre

Father John Misty, otherwise known as Josh Tillman, is the consummate performer. Engaging, passionate, funny and a voice as pure as you would find. And even though this would be the sixth time that I have seen him live I don't think I would ever tire of seeing him live. He is just that good!

Wednesday night at the Enmore Theatre was yet another magical show. Song after song of melody and beauty. This show was a little different from his show just last July. That show was very heavy on his latest album in 'Pure Comedy'. This show differed in starting out with a swag of great songs from his first two albums. Particularly happy with the choice of  'Only Son of the Ladiesman'. It wasn't until the tenth song that we heard a 'Pure Comedy' cut in the shape of the mesmeric 'Total Entertainment Forever'. All in all it was a great set list showing all of his skills as a performer, songwriter and singer. We even received an 'acceptance speech' for his Grammy Award for Best Packaging won during the week. As expected it was cutting and sarcastic and funny. Judging by some of the comments on the internet I think many people misread Josh Tillman. I just don't think they get satire. He is super intelligent and super caring. It's just all done through a layer of sarcasm and comedy. They mistake confidence for arrogance. I welcome it. It's what makes him such a magnetic performer. One never to be missed.

Set List
I Love You, Honeybear
Nancy From Now On
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2
The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.
Funtimes in Babylon
Strange Encounter
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
Total Entertainment Forever
Bored in the USA
Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
Ballad of the Dying Man
True Affection
I'm Writing a Novel
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Pure Comedy

When You're Smiling and Astride Me
Real Love Baby
So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain
Holy Shit
The Ideal Husband

Jan 28, 2018

Favourite Films of 2017

The best film I saw in 2017 was one I saw right near the beginning of the year. That film was the memorable and truly moving Moonlight. It was a beautiful, gentle, emotionally powerful film about coming of age and coming out. Great performances matched by stunning photography. It would go on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, a win truly deserved. Other films I was moved by were the beautifully observed Manchester By the Sea and A Ghost Story. And Blade Runner 2049 and Dunkirk proved that big budget films could also be emotionally strong and intelligent. My greatest joy in film last year would have to be 20th Century Women, a strong favourite of mine that I believe should have received more acclaim. Two other films that I totally enjoyed, but just missed out on my top ten, were Baby Driver and Get Out. 
1. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins.
Moonlight is subtle greatness and heartbreaking reality. It is tender, raw, emotional and completely essential. Trust me, this slow burn of a film is a solid and stark reminder of the reason cinema exists. Set in a poor housing estate area of Miami the film is told in three parts as we follow two young men at three stages of their lives. Chiron is picked on by bullies from a young age. His mother is addicted to drugs and he is already questioning his own sexuality. He is befriended by Juan, a drug dealer who tries to give him some direction in life. His best friend Kevin is his true ally. As Chiron and Kevin grow older we follow their struggles and their conflicts. Everything in this film is first rate. Acting is nuanced and heady, music is delicate and effective, cinematography is understated and yet glorious. It deals with finding a place in the world for yourself, overcoming your fears and standing up for yourself. It is incredibly subtle and this only makes the impact even greater. This film is grace and heart personified.

2. Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel to a masterpiece that holds its own in every single way possible. It is a visual masterpiece that is startling in its design and unique in its execution. It is unlike any film that you will see this year. The first Blade Runner was a Ridley Scott classic, a brave original that has stood the test of time. This sequel takes place in Los Angeles in 2049. The city has become even more doom laden, miles of grey skyscrapers beaten down by seemingly terminal rain. The city has been become a mixture of strange pleasure and stark desperation with replicants seemingly around every corner. Blade Runners are, in this edition, tracking down the previous replicants that have 'gone rogue' Ryan Gosling plays one of the very Blade Runners. His journey is deep into the heart of this society, encountering opposition at every turn and also discovering secrets about his very life. It's a long film that moves slowly but the visuals are so bewildering that it never overstays its welcome. Roger Deakins' cinematography is beyond perfection and Denis Villeneuve proves again that he is an extraordinary director. His use of sound is a trademark of his films and the sound here is outstanding as is the doom laden soundtrack. Gosling is superb as the stoic lead and there are very strong female performances at every turn. It is a complex dark film that is not one for a 'fun' afternoon at the cinema. At times the story is obtuse and convoluted but it's such an exactingly exhilarating ride that I was there for every single moment.
3. 20th Century Women, directed by Mike Mills.
20th Century Women is quite simply a very special film. It it teeming with humanity and honesty, filled with beautiful observation and endearing humour. Mike Mils has created a film that is warm and glowing, he is clearly in love with characters. Set in 1979 Santa Barbara it is clearly a strong portrayal of a group of women with different challenges and struggles and how they deal with them. The cast is uniformly excellent with Annette Bening especially strong as the central character Dorothea, a divorced mother trying to figure out the best way to raise her teenage son. Surrounded by other strong women this film is a very honest portrait of the female place in the world. Beautiful dialogue is matched by a great soundtrack that totally captures the times of the film. I wish more were like this, concentrating solely on the human drama of life. With great writing and acting this film pushes all the right buttons.

4. Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan.
Dunkirk is a supreme cinematic achievement, a spectacular film. Intense, relentless and powerful. Christopher Nolan has created a film that will hit you hard and often. The remarkable and true story of the the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 is told with clarity and high craft. It is certainly Nolan's take on the war genre, with focus on the stakes at hand rather then long drawn out character development. There are three strands to the film. Basically land, sea and air told in a non-linear fashion that works seamlessly. There is no fat on the film, we step straight into the action as every bullet, bomb and air raid is felt. It's about survival and anxiety and Nolan manages to have that feeling infused through out the film. We know the outcome through history and yet each second and minute is brimful of tension and drama. The lead actors are newcomers and they do a fine job and the cinematography is spectacular. But the true star is the flawless score by Hans Zimmer. Its syncopated beat just adds to the tension and drama, delivering consistently through out the film. Dunkirk is a fine addition to the canon of great war films.

5. Manchester By the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan.
Manchester by the Sea is exemplary cinema, an impressive masterclass in the skills of directing, writing and acting. It is sad, humane, emotional and totally devoid of artifice. It is essentially about dealing with grief and adapting to the changes life can wrought upon you. Casey Affleck is remarkable as the man who tragically loses his brother and is forced to look at his life and engage in his past. Set in seaside Massachusetts this is a slow burning film that hums sweetly with life's challenges and pitfalls. There aren't big moments but things occur naturally reflecting life rather than sensational film tropes. Kenneth Lonergan is expert at capturing the foibles of life with realistic and bittersweet dialogue. Aided by a superb cast this film resonates in a huge way.

6. I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck.
I Am Not Your Negro is a blast of angry poetic air that is important, withering and extremely timely. James Baldwin was one of last century's most important writers and this powerful documentary uses his words to brilliant effect. Baldwin was working on a book about his times with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers at the time of his death. Unfinished, the producers managed to gain access to his words which are narrated by Samuel L. Jackson over images of Baldwin and the times he lived in. There are snippets of Baldwin public speaking and appearances on talk shows to boost the drama of his words. It all comes together with devastating effect, providing illumination on Baldwin's recollections and also his thoughts on race relations. Baldwin was an important figure alive and his words live on to be just as important in today's world.

7. A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery.
A Ghost Story is small wondrous film that is a contemplative look at the process of grief. It moves slowly, but it is fascinating and most certainly unique. There is tragedy early in this film and the film examines the process thereafter for the young couple involved. Using a ghost figure in a white sheet might seem strange but it is subtly effective and very rewarding. As sad, it moves slowly with shots hanging on for minutes of inaction but there is so much subtext that it really hits hard emotionally. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are their great selves conveying great emotion with little dialogue. A beautiful score just adds to the merit of this unique film.

8. Song to Song, directed by Terrence Malick.
Terrence Malick is truly a singular film maker. He has made some of the most astonishing films in cinema history. He is a private man who would take huge amounts of time to bring his films to life. Malick still remains private but he is now churning out films quite regularly. With sporadic results to be sure with his two previous films being seriously flawed but still fascinating. His 'latest' film was actually made 4 years ago but it took a while to go through post production. I think it was worth the wait. It is a compelling cinematic event that whilst still flawed is an enraptured and stunning film. There is no one working in cinema like Malick. His film are about image, mood, feeling and not based on traditional narrative or movie structure. I can understand this is frustrating for some people but I believe if you let yourself go for the ride it's a heady trip. Song to Song is set against the Austin music scene and we follow four main characters who are entangled in love and regret. We drift through their relationships and their bitter regrets. The music scene becomes secondary to the emotions of the main characters. It is a film suffused with sad beauty and raw emotion. It is a film of incredible beauty and impeccable design. It is film that is ultimately critical of the hedonistic lifestyle and questions the very reason why we love and how we live. A regular theme in Malick's work. It exists to show beauty in life but also the sadness and despair. He might polarize audiences but cinema would be a different and emptier experience without him.

9. The Big Sick, directed by Michael Showalter.
The Big Sick is a rarity in today's cinema. A genuinely funny comedy that is clever and doesn't resort to cliche. It is a little joy of a film that is totally satisfying. Whip smart comedian Kumail Nanjiani has written a film with his true life wife based on their courtship with basically Kumail playing himself. It's a unique journey as he battles the conflicts of love and family traditions. The humour is smart and gentle and there is romance there as well. The cast is great especially Romano and Hunter as the parents of his love interest. It's refreshing to enjoy a comedy has doesn't resort to the lowest common denominator. A total pleasure of a film.

10. Land of Mine, directed by Martin Zandvliet.
Gripping, essential film that deals wonderfully with the brutality of war. Set in Denmark at the end of the Second World War we follow young German prisoners of war that are ordered to remove landmines from the Danish coastline. This film is superbly acted and expertly maintains tension and drama through out. There is redemption and pathos on show with great effect, resulting in a work of great art and tremendous heart.