Feb 4, 2016

Beach House @ Sydney Opera House

To say of a band that they sound like no one else is I believe a major compliment. Of course that would entail them actually sounding good. Beach House complete both categories. And then some. Their driving melodic dream pop truly is unique. And no doubt a big factor in that judgement is the voice of Victoria Legrand. It's deep cannon of a voice. It has real strength and power and also a smattering of melancholy. Beach House are truly a force of nature.

Wednesday night they played the Sydney Opera House for the first time and it was special. Although louder than I expected. In fact early on it threw me a bit. Drums were featured very heavily and so was the guitar. This seemed to take away the nuances on beloved songs such as 'Walk in the Park'. But it did settle in or maybe I got used to it. So by the time new favourite 'All Your Yeahs' came around I was sold on the journey. This pulsating track showcased the band's strengths beautifully. Robust keyboards, hypnotic guitar and that Legrand voice. They soon followed with the exquisite 'Silver Soul' and we were off and running. '10 Mile Stereo' is always a live highlight and tonight was no letdown. It also was accompanied by a stellar light show, giving extra oomph to each song. I must say though that 'On the Sea' was a welcome respite from the almost sonic blast. This quiet beauty of a song came just at the right time. But the rest of the show flowed nicely, ending well with the superb 'Myth'. A short encore was rounded off by the doom laden 'Elegy to the Void' and thus completed a wonderful night. Not perfect though, as I missed the more subtle aspects of their music, but still a timely reminder of the talent Beach House possess.

Set List
Levitation
Walk in the Park
PPP
All Your Yeahs
Silver Soul
Space Song
10 Mile Stereo
On the Sea
One Thing
Wishes
Master of None
Beyond Love
Sparks
Myth

Saltwater
Elegy to the Void

Jan 24, 2016

Ryley Walker @ Famous Spiegeltent


Saturday evening at the Famous Spiegeltent was to be our last Sydney Festival event this year. And we always try to take in a Spiegeltent show as the atmosphere and lighting normally make for a special show. The best artist that was playing this venue this year I believe was Chicago guitarist Ryley Walker. And it turned out to be a good choice as his show was very enjoyable. A great display of soulful singing and expert guitar playing. It certainly was a good way to spend a Saturday.

Ryley Walker is an extremely talented guitarist whose finger picking style is fast and furious and very skillful. His music has edges of jazz and is very rhythmical. His singing is soulful and comforting. He was accompanied on stage by a double bass player who added the right touches. He played a variety of songs from his catalogue and included a Bert Jansch cover, a singer he sometimes compared to. He is also likened to Tim Buckley. Which I can see. But Ryley is definitely his own talent. Indeed, a man of great talent.

Set List
The Roundabout
Sullen Mind
Age Old Tale
I Feel Free
The Great and Undecided
Build Another Band (Bert Jansch cover)
Good Posture For Peace
Funny Thing She Said
Primrose Green

Jan 23, 2016

Joanna Newsom @ Sydney Opera House

It's hard to believe sometimes that Joanna Newsom is one of us. She seems to inhabit a world that we don't feel a part of. Her music is other worldly, ethereal and almost angelic. After a 5 year absence she returned to the Sydney Opera House on Thursday night as part of the Sydney Festival. This was the fourth time we had seen her and it was just as magical and wonderful as all the previous times. Of course the harp sets her apart but it so much more than that. There is the voice, it's certainly unique. But it also tender and strong and powerful. But it's more than that. Maybe it's the lyrics. They are complex and strange and beautiful. The music is complex and surprising. Maybe it's a combination of all of it. It certainly works and this show was just magical, filled with beautiful and tender moments.

The show was mainly made up from Joanna's newest album, the excellent 'Divers'. This song itself was a standout, but so were memorable songs such as 'Anecdotes' and 'Sapokanikan'. But perhaps the absolute highlight was the epic song of love in 'Emily'. This totally floored me. Her band was wonderful, so talented and adept at everything. Especially Ryan Francesconi who basically played everything. Also should mention the work of Pete Newsom, her brother, on drums. As closing song 'Baby Birch' lingered long in the mind I thought how lucky to have talents such as Newsom exist in the world.

Set List
Bridges and Balloons
Anecdotes
Soft as Chalk
Divers
Emily
Waltz of the 101st Lightborne
Have One On Me
Peach, Plum, Pear
Goose Eggs
Sapokanikan
Leaving the City
Cosmia
Time, as a Symptom

Go Long
Baby Birch

Jan 17, 2016

Best 50 Albums Of 2015

In my last review of 2015 I look back at my favourite albums. I would say that 2015 brought an array of great albums without any that one might like to be considered classics. Hip hop I think had a pretty great year. Of course Kendrick Lamar dominated discussions but we also received great albums from Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt. Some older acts returned with very solid albums such as Built to Spill, Wilco, Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket. Panda Bear reminded us why he such a musical genius and Titus Andronicus gave us an epic opus that took months to digest properly. Whilst Kurt Vile and Deerhunter showed that they are two of the more vital and creative acts going around at the moment. On the local scene I couldn't love Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett but I did love Dick Diver, Royal Headache and Gang of Youths. But one album gave me more pleasure than any other. Californian songsmith Mikal Cronin returned with his third album and it was an ecstatic triumph. It was ambitious, full of imagination and brimming with melody. I sincerely loved every song on the album. Therefore MCIII was my album of 2015.

1. MCIII-Mikal Cronin
2. The Most Lamentable Tragedy-Titus Andronicus
3. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper-Panda Bear
4. B'lieve I'm Going Down-Kurt Vile
5. I Love You, Honeybear-Father John Misty
6. Carrie & Lowell-Sufjan Stevens
7. Poison Season-Destroyer
8. Untethered Moon-Built to Spill
9. Sauna -Mount Eerie
10. Fading Frontier-Deerhunter
11. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress-Godspeed You! Black Emperor
12. Pickpocket's Locket-Frog Eyes
13. To Pimp a Butterfly-Kendrick Lamar
14. Mutilator Defeated at Last-Thee Oh Sees
15. Divers-Joanna Newsom
16. Acne/Ears-Roadside Graves
17. Depression Cherry-Beach House
18. Star Wars-Wilco
19. Gliss Riffer-Dan Deacon
20. Strangers to Ourselves-Modest Mouse
21. No Cities to Love-Sleater-Kinney
22. Summertime '06-Vince Staples
23. Melbourne, Florida-Dick Diver
24. Individ-The Dodos
25. Viet Cong-Viet Cong
26. Death Magic-HEALTH
27. High-Royal Headache
28. Thank Your Lucky Stars-Beach House
29. Sun Coming Down-Ought
30. Payola-Desaparecidos
31. Dumb Flesh-Blanck Mass
32. Ivy Tripp-Waxahatchee
33. Savage Hills Ballroom-Youth Lagoon
34. New Gold Mountain-New Gum Sarn
35. Many Moons-Martin Courtney
36. Teens of Style-Car Seat Headrest
37. Ones and Sixes-Low
38. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World-The Decemberists
39. Club Meds-Dan Mangan and Blacksmith
40. Goon-Tobias Jesso Jr
41. IF-Paul De Jong
42. II-Fuzz
43. Sound & Color-Alabama Shakes
44. The Positions-Gang of Youths
45. Return to the Moon-EL VY
46. We Are Undone-Two Gallants
47. Gunnera-Pfarmers
48. Primrose Green-Ryley Walker
49. The Waterfall-My Morning Jacket
50. Half Free-U.S. Girls

Jan 16, 2016

Dirty Three @ State Theatre

There is little doubt in my mind that Dirty Three are one of the greatest bands that this country has ever produced. Perhaps the greatest. They are unique. A mad man with electric charisma leading the way with a violin. For 26 years they have ruled. Dazzled. Stunned. Friday night at the State Theatre was the latest time that I have seen them live, one of many over the years. They never let me down. Or anyone else I would think. Greatness they are and greatness they gave.

They were here as part of Sydney Festival and for close to two hours they assailed us with their stellar music. Their fluidity as an ensemble is such that they appear always in sync, even if they don't play as much together as they used to. Each movement travels among the trio, producing an electricity that is truly tangible. Mick Turner is the quiet achiever of the group, supplying the backbone of guitar. Jim White possesses the drum kit like few other. His range is off the charts, so subtle and yet so powerful. Then there is Warren Ellis. The man is truly a wonder. His movements, his violin playing, his everything. His stories are loopy, engaging, funny and quite often profound. He regales us with wit about drug taking in the 90s, meeting Christy Moore at a festival in Cork and the legitimacy of Rupert Murdoch's latest engagement. Then there is the music. Loud, epic, frenetic, gentle, subtle, moving. All great. But maybe the best was the sheer epicness of "Some Summers They Drop Like Flys". For me I am truly grateful that Dirty Three exist.

Set List
1000 Miles
Some Summers They Drop Like Flys
Sea Above, Sky Below
Indian Love Song
Everything's Fucked
Hope
Ember
Authentic Celestial Music
Lullaby for Christie
The Zither Player
Sue's Last Ride

Jan 15, 2016

Thee Oh Sees @ Newtown Social Club

Bodies flying. Arms flailing. This was old school rock for the new crowd. Thee Oh Sees are something special live. So much spirit and energy on stage. I had seen the band once before at a festival but this was the first time seeing them exclusively. Thursday night was the first of two sold out shows at the Newtown Social Club and it was an hour of sweat, passion and much joy. They went hard and then left. No encore. No fuss. Just 100 per cent effort.

Their set up is a bit unique. Two drummers front and centre, a bass player on the left and then main man John Dwyer on the right. Writhing at the microphone. Dancing with his guitar. Shrieking and hollering. The crowd lapped it up. There was moshing, crowd surfing. Even a bit of old fashioned stage diving. The band didn't care. They ploughed on. The music is quite rhythmical, with the heavy leaning on drums and bass. It's guaranteed to move you. Especially when they hit the deep groove of "Turned Out Light" and "Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster". It was made to drive you upwards. Physically and emotionally. In these days of cookie cutter music Thee Oh Sees are certainly holding the flame for the spirit of rock.

Set List (totally incomplete but I'm sure they played some of these)
I Come From the Mountain
Rogue Planet
The Dream
Tidal Wave
Turned Out Light
Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster
Dead Energy
Sticky Hulks
Withered Hand
Web
Contraption/Soul Desert
Carrion Crawler

Jan 10, 2016

The Flaming Lips @ The Sydney Domain


So a frog, a walrus and Santa Claus walk onto a stage. Sorry, that's not a beginning to a joke. It's a Flaming Lips show. Well, it's much more than that, but you get the idea. This veteran band have perfected the live show. They have been doing it for a number of years and there is a formula. You know what you will get. Large inflatables, confetti guns, blinding lights. Wayne Coyne taking to the crowd in a plastic bubble. But it doesn't matter. Because it just so much damn fun.

I believe The Flaming Lips were THE perfect band to kick off the Sydney Festival in style. Their free show in The Domain on Saturday night was an orgy of colour, light, happiness and joy. They rock hard, they make you dance, they make you cry, they make you laugh. Joy and happiness. In bucket loads. To hear a crowd sing along in full voice to 'Yoshimi' and 'Do You Realize??' is a magical experience. A testimony to the power of music. I think my favourite on the night though was the emotion charged 'Feeling Yourself Disintegrate'. What a supercharged emotional moment. And the band shows no signs of slowing down. At all. Led perfectly by the slightly kooky Wayne Coyne, a musical svengali who leads the crowd wherever he wants to. Long may these Oklahomans rule.

Set List
The Abandoned Hospital Ship
Fight Test
She Don't Use Jelly
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1
Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus With Needles
The Gold In the Mountain of Our Madness
Evil Is But a Shadow (Miley Cyrus cover)
Vein of Stars
The W.A.N.D.
Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
A Spoonful Weighs a Ton

Do You Realize??
Favourite Films Of 2015

2015 began with a bang. A true original. The wonderful Birdman. Directed by Alejandro Innaritu. It was a dazzling triumph. I actually thought it was too original and different to win Best Picture. But it did and deservedly so. 2015 also gave us a new Paul Thomas Anderson. Naturally I was very excited by this and despite some mixed reviews I fell in love. Again it was a true original. A wild ride that totally succeeded. Like recent years the box office was dominated by 'big' films, mostly comic book adaptations and the like. These do nothing for me but I will admit I did enjoy the new Star Wars film. The hype was over the top to say the least but I thought it was a smart and funny film that mostly satisfied. As we speak it has just become the highest grossest film of all time. On the smaller scale the most enjoyable film I saw all year was Mistress America. What a wonderful film that was. And I think the best film I saw in 2015 that flew under the radar a bit was definitely A Most Violent Year.

1. Birdman, directed by Alejandro Innaritu.
Birdman is astounding, brave and bold film making. But when the director is the masterful Inarritu you should expect nothing less. A dazzling film on many levels this is a story about lost souls, identity, celebrity and meaning in the world. Michael Keaton is superb as Riggan Thomson, a man searching for answers many years after reaching fame as 'Birdman'. His soul searching takes him to Broadway to star in and adapt Raymond Carver. All the while his inner voice of 'Birdman' is questioning his every move. He seeks answers but can't find them. Throw in a troubled relationship with his daughter and his battles with the ego of his star actor, the great Edward Norton, and you have a potent mix of regret and ambition. This is a sad, dark and funny film. It pokes holes in the modern film world obsessed with comic book adaptations and the world at large concerned with celebrity. To add to the mastery of the film is the sublime cinematography of Lubezki. He has combined with the director to construct the film as if it shot in one take. The effect is to thrillingly lead you on a non stop journey through the theatre, a theatre of dreams. Of fantasy. This wonderful films plays with big ideas. The fact that it totally succeeds is even more astounding.

2. Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Inherent Vice is a drug hazed, complex, at times confusing but ultimately richly textured look at early 70s California. The master director Paul Thomas Anderson has created a film that will confound audiences, perhaps astound them, most assuredly anger them. But if you let this film sink in and get under your skin you will find something quite remarkable. A film destined to be more loved over time but right now I love it. Based on the Thomas Pynchon novel, and I believe it is very faithful to it, we follow private eye Doc Sportello. A man who exists in a drug haze, but somehow manages to get the job done. His old girlfriend visits him with a urgent request. Soon we are plunged into a strange world of Nazis. FBI agents, musicians, shady deals and a whole lot more. A lot of it doesn't make sense. But I don't think that matters. It's more about characters and sense of place rather than conventional plot. It has a languid pace but never feels long. It is infused with sadness and loss. It is darkly funny and weirdly beautiful. The acting is first class, with Phoenix and Waterston especially great. Robert Elswit's photography creates the tone beautifully and the music, as would be expected, is timely and beautifully used. This film probably deserves multiple viewings. Not especially to understand the plot but to take note and appreciate all of the subtleties that a Paul Thomas Anderson film gives you. This probably isn't his greatest work, with his catalogue that would be awfully hard, but it is definitely his strangest and maybe his most mature work.

3. Leviathan, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.
Leviathan is aptly named as it is a huge film concerned with big ideas. This slow burning film is a parable for modern day Russia. It is concerned with fate, corruption, deceit and human frailty. It is dark and ultimately very sad. Set in remote northern Russia we meet Kolya a man trying to hold onto his life and land against a corrupt mayor and an uncaring town. Each turn in his life leads to more tragedy and bad luck. With superb performances, stunning photography and a stellar score this essential film shows a corrupt and desperate system that makes for forlorn and sad viewing.

4. Mistress America, directed by Noah Baumbach.
Noah Baumbach is a master film maker. He rarely fails to connect, His latest is close to his best yet and that is saying something. Greta Gerwig is luminescent as Brooke, 'Mistress America' a thirty something trying to find her place in the world. At times her character is self absorbed and even slightly obnoxious but Gerwig's shining personality and superb comic timing is such that you root for her and also fall for her. Her co-star, Lola Kirke, is equally great as Tracy who admires her and experiences her. This nuanced and delightful film has writing of the highest quality. It is wry, poignant, sharply observed. Scenes flow with such great timing it is quite astounding. It's a funny film but there are layers of meaning here. The music is great and New York shines as well as the important setting.

5. A Most Violent Year, directed by J.C. Chandor.
A Most Violent Year is probably the best film that most people didn't see this year. Set in New York in 1981 this is a slow burning, tense, dark and complex tale of ambition and consequences. It's a crime drama but it evokes classic films of the 70s. The most recent film that I could compare it to in tone would be The Yards. Abel and Anna are husband and wife who run an oil heating business. They skate pretty close to the edge of the law, but when their business is threatened by rivals they need to delve deeper into the darker side. So this superbly acted film becomes much more than a crime thriller, it's a morality tale and character study. Chastain and Isaac are superb in the lead roles, making for a richly crafted film.

6. Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller.
Anchored by great performances Foxcatcher is an intense, dark, chilling and truly suffocating experience. This slow burning film is quietly paced and doom breathes in almost every scene. The true story of Foxcatcher wrestling is set in the 80s as we follow Mark Schultz (an Olympic wrestling champion) taken under the wing of the extremely wealthy John Du Pont. Du Pont is a sociopath to be sure, a man of extreme awkwardness and chilling uncomfortableness. His issues are many and the centre of this film is the relationship between him and the boy-man Schultz. Wrestling is almost secondary in this probing examination of the male psyche. Steve Carell is just incredible in the lead role whilst Mark Ruffalo shows his skills again. Channing Tatum is serviceable I guess, but is carried by a superb script and skilled direction. This isn't easy viewing but it is close to essential.

7. Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Sicario is a doom laden, confronting beast of a film. Extremely impressive in all regards it is a powerful look at the drug wars along the Mexico/US border. Emily Blunt is superb as the FBI agent co opted into a task force run by Josh Brolin that is targeting a Mexican drug cartel. Denis Villeneuve expertly directs, creating an atmosphere that swings from dark and disturbing to epic beauty. The soundtrack just adds to the dark tones as we are taken on a pulsating ride of deceit, death and strange bedfellows. The only slight fault is that there is not much character development but this is mainly because they are conduits to the drama unfolding and the futility of the situation.

8. 99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani.
99 Homes is a gripping and intense film about the housing crisis in the USA. Set in Orlando, Florida we meet Rick, an ambitious and amoral real estate agent who makes profits off foreclosed homes. He evicts Dennis, an honest man struggling to find work and in the process loses his family home. Desperate for money he ends up working for Rick and his moral dilemma hits him squarely in the face. This powerful film is a searing indictment on the US capitalist system, how there is a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. It is tense and emotionally charged, with a fine script and superb performances from the two leads. Especially from Michael Shannon who burns a hole in the screen.

9. The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum.
The Imitation Game is a fine film on many levels. It's part war time thriller, part spy movie and partly an emotional journey. Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as Alan Turing, a war hero today but in his time not so much. Turing, the father of the computer, was a genius who was entrusted in World War II with breaking the German Enigma code. Which is filmed in thrilling fashion. Who knew Maths could be so exciting? But this film offers more. It peaks as look into the man, his demons and the unjust way he was treated by society.

10. Still Alice, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.
Watching someone disintegrate on screen will never be 'fun' viewing, but it can be extremely moving and richly rewarding. Still Alice is such a film thanks to the incredible performance of the singular actor Julianne Moore. Moore plays Alice, an extremely gifted Columbia professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. The film follows her path as her life falls apart, supported by her dedicated family. Moore tackles the role with nuance where needed and rage where required, giving us a great insight into her condition and also giving us a travel guide through human emotions and failings. It's inevitably sad but also strongly emotionally connected.

Films to see in 2016-