May 23, 2015

Sufjan Stevens @ Sydney Opera House

In the great scheme of things Sufjan Stevens sits somewhere near the top. His music is singular and transcendental. Plainly he is quite extraordinary, a celestial being. So any opportunity to see him live is one to be treasured and one not to be missed. Friday night in Sydney was the first of four consecutive nights at the Sydney Opera House as part of the annual Vivid Festival. This show would showcase material from his new and truly excellent album Carrie & Lowell. In fact he would play the whole album in full, if not in order. The album is deeply personal and totally amazing and live it was even better, if that is possible.

Augmented by video and a dazzling light show the music leaped off the stage and into our hearts. It was personal and monumental from song to song. Songs were fleshed out by the five piece band, adding extra touches that don't exist on the album. "Fourth of July" expanded and stunned. "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross" was impossibly beautiful, whilst the solo version of "All of Me Wants All of You" was near tear inducing. He hardly spoke, as the canvas of the music was drawn across us. When he finished he addressed the audience and spoke of life, death and purpose. It was actually quite profound and sometimes a little funny. Then he settled into a few older tunes with the sublime "Casimir Pulaski Day" being especially amazing. Then he returned to the final song from the new album. Holy Cow! "Blue Bucket of Gold" started tenderly on piano before it descended into a near ten minute storm of music that kept building and building until it near exploded. Stunning to say the least.

After a prolonged and ecstatic standing ovation the band returned for more, giving us more classics including a rousing and smile bearing "Chicago" to close the night. A night so special it will long in the memory. Thank you Sufjan for being you and gracing us with your presence. 

Set List
Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
Death With Dignity
Should Have Known Better
Drawn to the Blood
All of Me Wants All of You
John My Beloved
The Only Thing
Fourth of July
No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross
Carrie & Lowell
The Owl and the Tanager
In the Devil's Territory
Casimir Pulaski Day
Futile Devices
To Be Alone With You
Blue Bucket of Gold

Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
The Dress Looks Nice on You

Mar 8, 2015

The Felice Brothers @ Newtown Social Club

Over the last decade or so I have come to listen to a lot of American music. Most of the time it is my go to point when I listen to music. Which is naturally on a daily basis. There are probably many reasons. Foremost it is because of the quality. But probably the most important reason is an emotional one. American music fits my mindset and fills my heart. The traditions of folk and country and rock hit the hardest. For my listening ear, and this has to be totally subjective, it's the heartfelt lyric, the guitar lick, the violin plucked that make the happiest and the most nourished. The Felice Brothers tick all the boxes. I really hate that expression but it will do nicely here. Now they might not be the most talented band going, although they are pretty talented. But they reek honesty. They are filled with an authenticity that few match. And the best part when you see them live, as I did Saturday night at the Newtown Social Club, they give 100 per cent. Totally.

They also have a large catalogue and they mine it thoroughly. And they all sing, although Ian Felice is the main man. But it's a total team effort, which produces a great show. Guaranteed. I won't go deep into the highlights. But the show was worth it one three counts alone. The back to back stark beauty of "Omie Wise" and "Ruby Mae". James Felice leading the enthusiastic crowd on a sing along of "Whiskey In My Whiskey". Closing the show with a burning cover of the spitfire Neil Young song "Rockin' In The Free World". American Music! Have to love it!

Set List
Meadow Of A Dream
Saturday Night
Cherry Licorice
Dead Dog
Silver In The Shadow
Whiskey In My Whiskey
Honda Civic
The Big Surprise
Love Me Tenderly
Omie Wise (Doc Watson cover)
Ruby Mae
Frankie's Gun
Cus's Catskill Gym
Got What I Need
White Limo
Penn Station
The Mating of the Doves

Run Chicken Run
Lincoln Continental
Rockin' In The Free World (Neil Young cover)

Mar 4, 2015

Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks @ Newtown Social Club

I am currently reading a book on the classic Pavement album "Wowee Zowee". As a long term fan of the great American band it has stirred up a lot of memories and prompted me to binge listen to the greatness again. Of course the man responsible for the greatness was primarily Stephen Malkmus. Tuesday night he played a show in my neighbourhood. An intimate gig at the Newtown Social Club. He and the Jicks have toured Australia several times now and it is perhaps strange to think that this band have actually existed longer than Pavement. And they are a fine band in their own right with many great songs penned by Malkmus. Of course it's very hard to follow up the supremity of Pavement but they do a pretty great job. Naturally for many years Pavement tunes were not heard live. Which is fair enough. Create your own identity, move on, etc. But the last couple of years have seen Malkmus throw in a Pavement song, normally in the encore. Last night it was "Lions (Linden), a slightly obscure one to be sure, but still stamped with greatness.

The rest of the night was a free wheeling ride though the Jicks catalogue, pulling songs from nearly all of the albums. It was slightly shambolic, fractionally absurd, mightily great. Malkmus was in fine form, opening with the line 'Welcome to the comedy hour'. You get the feeling that he takes his craft very seriously but also that he likes to play around the edges, keep it loose and fun. Not worrying if mistakes are made, happy to keep the audience guessing. That is part of the allure I think. Besides the fact that Malkmus has written some of the finest music to grace this planet I love that he has this mystique, this unapproachable cool. Something you either have or you don't have. You can't manufacture it or buy it. It doesn't appeal to everyone, but it hits so hard with his true fans. Long may the reign of the Malk continue.

Set List
Cinnamon and Lesbians
No One Is (As I Are Be)
Rumble at the Rainbo
Hopscotch Willie
Power (new song)
Animal Midnight
Houston Hades
Out of Reaches
Baby C'mon

Lions (Linden) (Pavement cover)

Mar 2, 2015

Sharon Van Etten @ Factory Theatre

I am just a whole lot in love with Sharon Van Etten. Her talent levels are exceedingly high. Great songs with full depth and a voice that just won't quit make for great music and a great show. This was the case Sunday night at the Factory Theatre. Her 2014 album was clearly a favourite of mine, one of the best of the year. So I was very excited to hear these songs live. They did not let me down. Especially the beautifully rendered "Tarifa" and the powerful "Your Love Is Killing Me". The first time Sharon toured Australia it was a smaller affair. Just her, Heather Woods Broderick on keyboards and Doug Keith on guitar. This time around she had a drummer and a bass player. The bass player by the way was none other than Brad Cook of Megafaun fame. The whole band were great, adding extra power to the music. But it is Sharon who takes centre stage. Swapping from electric to acoustic her powerful voice is both strong and emotional. She even played three new songs. Two that are on an upcoming 7 inch single and one that she performed solo that has no title as yet. All were great, indicative of the talent that Ms Van Etten possesses. I was quite pleased to hear an older tune in "Don't Do It" which was great. I just wished she could have player for longer, especially as we didn't get to hear enough songs from her previous album in "Tramp". But what we received was great indeed. Songs of searing emotion delivered with heart and soul.

Set List
Afraid of Nothing
Taking Chances
Break Me
Nothing Will Change
Magic Chords
All Over Again
I Don't Want To Let You Down
(new song)
Tell Me
Your Love Is Killing Me

Don't Do It

Feb 27, 2015

Real Estate @ Oxford Art Factory

Real Estate aren't an exceptional live band, but they are an exceptional band. So, basically that means when you witness a Real Estate live show you will have a very good time. Because their music is just that good. But don't expect a huge amount of banter or high energy antics. These are musicians here to have a good time to be sure but they are primarily there to wash over you with glorious waves of guitar and sublime melodies. The band from New Jersey has made very good indeed. With three acclaimed albums under their belts they have a great catalogue to choose from. So despite them not playing "Out of Tune" it was a great night to be sure.

Matt Mondanile and Martin Courtney are the core of Real Estate and it is them that makes the band so special. Their guitar interplay is a sight to behold, layers of melody washing back and forth producing often thrilling results. On songs like "The Bend" it was particularly exciting, especially when the breakdown on that song occurs. Or the epic sounds of "All The Same". My greatest excitement though was for the spectacularly great "Fake Blues". I wasn't the only one appreciating the sounds though. The crowd was very enthusiastic and it seemed like the band could feel it, with smiles breaking out on and off stage. So much so that the encore extended to five songs pushing the show past midnight. Not that anyone was complaining. When music is this good you really never want it to end. 

Set List
Had To Hear
Kinder Blumen
Green Aisles
Talking Backwards
The Bend
Fake Blues
Beneath The Dunes
It's Real
Beach Comber
All The Same

Younger Than Yesterday
Wonder Years
April's Song
In My Car

Feb 19, 2015

Perfume Genius @ Oxford Art Factory

Mike Hadreas has a story to tell and he tells it dramatically. Otherwise known as Perfume Genius he bleeds his emotions on stage, baring his soul and delivering his heart to all in attendance. That was the scene Thursday night at the Oxford Art Factory. Hadreas is an unusual performer. Seemingly very shy but also very bold. Wearing a dress, fishnet stockings and stilettos he prowls the stage belting out his strongly emotional songs. He stares into the distance, not really focusing on the crowd but more likely the job at hand. He can look uncomfortable at times but I think this just makes the performance even more real. There is a searing humanity to everything he produces. I guess this is what makes him so compelling. Last time he toured it was basically just him on his keyboards. This time around he was joined by drums, guitar and more keyboards. Which suited the more dramatic numbers from his latest release. Such as the popular "Queen" and the raging "Grid". My favourite though was probably the sublimely beautiful "Fool". There was still time though for quieter solo numbers such as the achingly beautiful "Dark Parts" and the lilting melody of "Learning". Somehow I wasn't enthused entering the venue for this show. I had a long day and was feeling a little tired. But the emotional shot in the arm of Perfume Genius was clearly just what I needed. 

Set List
My Body
Take Me Home
Dark Parts
Lookout, Lookout
Body's In Trouble
No Good
Sister Song
All Waters
Floating Spit
Rusty Chains

Mr. Peterson
All Along
Normal Song

Feb 15, 2015

Spoon @ Metro Theatre

Defining cool can be tricky. But the epitome of coolness is surely untouchable greatness. Which Spoon proved again Saturday night at the Metro Theatre. For well over a decade and more they have consistently given us great music and with a style that is undeniable. I can't think of another band that has done it for so long and with absolutely no drop off in quality. Animal Collective are perhaps the only other band in that discussion. And in Britt Daniel they have a front man who I think is the coolest man in rock in roll. It truly is the complete package. Something to treasure, behold and appreciate.

After a short break from activities Spoon returned with a new album last year in "They Want My Soul" and quite frankly it was as good as anything they have ever produced. So the prospect of seeing them live again was even more enticing. It is very rare to see a band or artist and know that anything they play will be great. Be it old material or brand new. But then Spoon isn't your average band. They just operate at a higher level than band most bands. Greatness was stamped on them at an early stage and it's not rubbing off anytime soon. So basically this was a show that was impossible to fault. Tracks from all eras hit home hard. Britt Daniel and his stylish ways led the way, orchestrating a band that was firing on all cylinders. If I could pick a chunk that really stood out though it was the glorious trifecta of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored", "Everything Hits at Once" and "Don't Make Me a Target". Rhythm and soul to the highest degree. Oh perfect glory. By the time the band came to the closer "The Underdog" were were awestruck and living in joyous rapture. It will be very hard to see a better show in 2015.

Set List
Rent I Pay
Small Stakes
Don't You Evah
Who Makes Your Money
My Mathematical Mind
The Ghost of You Lingers
Rainy Taxi
Do You
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
Everything Hits at Once
Don't Make Me a Target
I Summon You
Inside Out
I Turn My Camera On
Got Nuffin
Black Like Me

Memory Lane (Eddy Current Suppression Ring cover)
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
The Underdog