Monday, 7 September 2009

Muse - The Den, Teignmouth, 04/09/09

It says a lot about Teignmouth that there literally are road signs pointing to 'out of town'. There's not a lot to do there, bar leave. It's a seaside town of 15,000, and is basically notable for nothing apart from being Muse's hometown. You see, Muse are Teignmouth's equivalent to The Beatles, in a sense; almost everyone has some kind of anecdote relating to them, some connection or other, mainly incredibly tenuous by nature.

This duo of gigs is, over the space of a weekend, pretty much doubling Teignmouth's population. They may not be much of a surprise to locals (my friends and I have been speculating and hearing vague rumours of something along these lines for years, as have many others, I'm sure) but they're certainly an event. There are 'welcome home Muse' signs and banners in almost every shop window - then again, events are fairly thin on the ground in Teignmouth. If it's a sense of occasion you're after, though, Muse are never the band to disappoint.

Soon-to-be-released new album, The Resistance, is due to be either the best or worst album of 2009, depending on who you listen to. Signs suggest that it could go either way. Lead single 'Uprising', tonight's opener, is fairly standard Muse on a mediocre day - average, with slightly spacey synths and a chanted chorus which was done far better on 'Knights of Cydonia'. 'United States of Eurasia', too, is pure, Queen-aping silliness. When Matt Bellamy suddenly breaks into a loud wail of "there can only be OOOOONE!" it's hard not to laugh, let alone take it seriously. Okay, I'll be honest - I actually did laugh. Out loud.

Then again, there are also 'Unnatural Selection' (lovely, yet featuring an outro which wouldn't sound out of place coming from Metallica) and 'Undisclosed Desires' ("I would wait a thousand years / just to see you smile again"). So it's not all bad news.

And, of course, there are the classics. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard amateur manglings of the opening riff to 'Plug In Baby', but when done properly, it's simply electrifying. 'Knights of Cydonia', too, is superb - a galloping romp through a surreal space-age spaghetti western, strange and sublime. 'New Born' thunders across the Teignmouth seafront, and 'Hysteria''s serpentine guitar solo sounds nervily incendiary.

Forget their half-baked conspiracy theory politics - Muse have always been at their best when they're getting personal. Which is exactly why tracks like 'Starlight' are, arguably, among their best. They have the capability to make even a huge crowd feel like a communally intimate experience, and that's certainly the case tonight. Mass-handclaps and singalongs may not be most commonly accompanied by massive green lasers, but that's the beauty of Muse when they're on top form.

Yes, they're often overblown, and more than infrequently silly, but it only adds to their awkward charm. Muse are a band who can consistently be relied upon for a live show which strives towards the epic. In Teignmouth terms this is most definitely an event, but for once this isn't a criticism; it feels like an event in the most genuine sense. A homecoming, yes, but to many it's much more than that.

Amusing much?:

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Let's be Frank

I originally carried out this interview at the end of last month for a freshers' magazine for Cardiff University Students' Union. I feel, though, that Turner was intelligently articulate enough, with enough interesting ideas, to warrant a re-print in transcript form, rather than as part of an article:

You’ve been touring an incredible amount recently - how’s that been going?

Touring is my favourite thing in the whole world, so I always get to the end of every year and look back at the number I’ve shows I’ve done and feel like I could have done more. I’ve just been out with The Offspring doing an arena tour in the States, which was pretty intense and weird.

You’ve done that tour with The Offspring; you’ve done a split EP with Jonah Matranga - do you find all this sort of thing a case of “pinch me!” or do you just get used to it?

I hope I never get too used to it. When I was out with The Offspring I ended up meeting the guys from Converge, who are one of my favourite bands of all-time, ever, so that was a big deal. And meeting Pennywise and The Offspring and that sort of thing - it’s always fun. It’s always cool. The Jonah thing is funny; I’ve known Jonah for a long time now, and I count him as a close friend, but I do occasionally have to pinch myself when we’re hanging out

Do you find that there is a different atmosphere when you’re playing your own headlining shows?

They’re different things but they’re challenging and rewarding in different ways. The satisfaction you can get from playing as a support act when you start with three-quarters of the crowd not really knowing who you are or giving a shit, and ending up with a sizeable chunk of them cheering - that’s a really, really good feeling. It’s kind of like: “I’m achieving something with my life!’ But headline shows, for me, it’s important to try and make sure people are going away thinking “it was the best gig I’ve ever been to.” It’s like the stakes are upped somewhat.

Do you find there’s a difference in general with playing different types of shows, for example different areas of the UK, or university towns?

A little, but I try to be quite egalitarian in my approach to the show. I want to play and do the best gig I can, regardless of who’s there and who’s watching.

You seem to be quite egalitarian, as well, in the way you approach your music in general. You seem to be making folk music in an almost ‘punk’ way, keeping yourself very open and accessible: is this a conscious decision, or just something which comes out of having spent a few years playing in Million Dead?

It’s a conscious decision. My favourite thing about punk rock was the kind of iconoclasm, you know? The idea of a rock star is illegitimate; there shouldn’t be a massive divide between people who listen to music and the people who play music, and if there i,s the music in question becomes boring and irrelevant. Also, the minute I finish playing a show, I’m just the same as everyone else at a gig, so if people want to get in touch, my email address is on the website and I hang out. The whole Led Zeppelin approach to musicians always grated with me slightly; it’s not how I was brought up by my mum, to put it that way.

Your lyrics also have quite an open-book quality about them. Is that something, again, that you try to keep?

I don’t get too analytic about songwriting and lyrics - I just try to write the best stuff that I can, however that comes out. A quality that I like in music that I listen to is honesty, and I guess that will come across in the stuff that I do, as well. It’s important for me to point out that I’m not quite one of those people who puts their entire life on the internet or whatever. There is very much a line between my personal life and what gets said in public. I have a secret enclave that’s left, which is actually my personal life. But I do think that you should write about what you know, and that’s how it comes out for me.

There seem to be quite a lot of literary influence at play in your lyrics, as well.

Well spotted, thankyou! I’m not particularly well-versed in poetry or anything like that, but I like reading Philip Larkin and T.S. Eliot, stuff like that.

Do you have specific influences shining through into your lyrics, and are they as important to you as musical influences?

Yeah, I’d say so. Aside from particularly Larkin, who I’m very interested in, there’s a lot of other lyricists who mean a lot to me personally, whether it’s Craig Finn from The Hold Steady or Bruce Springsteen or whatever. I’m a lyrics guy when I’m listening to music, so yeah, I pay a lot of attention to that kind of thing.

Do you think your influences have changed over time, or do you find they’re still the same as when you first started out solo or were playing with Million Dead?

Yeah, my influences change, partly just through hearing other music. I had this thing about two years ago where I suddenly ‘got’ Bob Dylan; it was really weird. I’d kinda not really got Bob Dylan before, and I woke up one morning and raced down to the breakfast table shouting “I’ve got Bob Dylan! I understand it now!” so I’m on a big Dylan trip right now, Things kind of move on - when I started playing solo stuff, I think Neil Young was the single biggest single influence for me on what I was trying to do, but that’s certainly changed over time. Springsteen’s loomed large in my music taste of times gone by.

I’m guessing you’re more settled with a backing band now, and your new single [The Road] seems quite band-driven - is that reflective of the new album as a whole?

Yeah, I think so. Yes, it does. In a way, what happened was on previous albums I played most of the instruments myself, apart from the drums, and then I’d go and teach them to the guys in my backing band, who are all much better musicians than me, and we would end up playing live version that sounded better than the recorded versions. It seemed pointless to do that again, not least because the lineup of people in my backing band stabilised about six months ago. It’s still my songs that are written in the same way, but this time round we’ve rehearsed them before going into the studio and then played them on the record. I think the record does sound a bit more band-orientated. The other thing I think is that whether you’re conscious of it or not, for me anyway, when you write a song there’s an imaginary room in your head which you’re gonna be playing it. On the first album the imaginary room in my head was a pub or a bar or something; for the second album it was maybe a club with like 200 people in it; now the last few shows I’ve been doing have been a bit bigger than that, so I think that naturally my inclination has been to try and have a bigger sound and to write bigger songs. Having said all that, every song on the new record can be played solo with just me and a guitar if the need arises, so that kind of dedication to the solo thing remains.

So when you’re writing a song, do you try and envision it played solo as well, or do you write it for a band?

I believe that songs are like bodies in the sense that they have a skeleton which is basically a chord sequence, a melody and a set of lyrics, and you can present that in a number of different ways. Certainly a good song should be versatile, you know, it should have that skeleton, that sort of soul, and you can dress it up in a number of different ways. So yeah, it’s important to me that songs can survive in different versions and I think it’s interesting and fun and artistically valid to mess around with songs and play them in different ways.

Is that skeleton something you look out for when you’re playing covers? You seem to have done a really diverse range of them - do you just go with what you like?

Yeah, it’s the same thing. My main concern in life is songwriting. I’ve long ago accepted that I’m not some kind of super-progressive musicologist or anything like that: I just like good songs. My taste in music is basically defined around whether I think people write good songs, and I don’t really care what scenes or trappings or assumptions might come with any band; if they write good songs, I’m interested. I think Abba wrote good songs, I think Springsteen writes good songs - they way they’re presented is less important to me, and I think that playing covers is a good way of drawing out the skeletons of songs.

Are you going to be playing many covers on your UK tour this autumn?

Maybe one or two, but we’re at the stage now where I’ve got three - well, three-and-a-half, if you count The First Three Years - albums of my own material, so I think I’ll probably concentrate more on my own stuff.

Do you try to keep a mix in your setlist of older and newer stuff, or is it going to be more focussed on the new album?

I got to shows as much as the next person, and I know how annoying it is if you go and see a band that you love and they don’t play any old songs - it can be really disheartening, so I try and write a crowd-pleasing setlist. At the end of the day, I consider myself to be an entertainer above and beyond being an artist, and my job is to make sure that if people pay their money to come and see me that they have a really great night out. I don’t want to be one of these artists who’ll show up and play an entire set composed of b-sides or entirely new material. Obviously I want to play quite a lot off of the new album on this tour, because it’s more fresh and interesting to me, but I’m still obviously going to play ‘the hits’.

Finally, with regard to the new album, are there any particular lyrical themes which are coming through on it, or is it a mixed bag?

It has its offshoots, but the essential heart of the album came from Beans on Toast - my friend Jay, who’s an English folk singer. We were having a conversation about an older songs of mine called ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’, which is quite a pessimistic song; he was asking why I felt like like. as the song says, we’re all going to have to give up doing what we love in time and move on, and I didn’t really have an answer for him. That paranoia about what he’s said kind of spiralled out of control and became a whole album’s worth of lyrics. I guess the theme of the album is trying to grow old disgracefully and romantically and adventurously.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Tw-it tw-at

If you're a music journalist, watch out - Calvin Harris doesn't like you. In fact, he's pretty darn mad at you. Well, one of you. Which one of you isn't quite clear, but he's certainly not happy. He's posted about it on Twitter and everything - - so it must be a pretty big deal.

There are several things which spring to mind upon reading Harris's rant, which is spread across several tweets (damn that 140-character limit). Firstly - learn some punctuation, mate; you're making yourself an easy target here. Secondly - putting EVERYTHING IN CAPITALS does not give the impression of shouting; it merely looks like you accidentally hit capslock. A little goes a long way on the internet - bear that in mind.

More importantly, though - who does Harris think he is? He certainly seems to think that he ought to be immune from criticism. I can imagine that it must be irksome to spend "2 years of your life making a record. on your own. every single day, long hours, working to get it sounding right" and to then hear criticism of it, but that's ultimately what he's laid himself open to. If you put something out in the public domain, you're putting it out there to be criticised. There is no record that will be liked by everyone; no matter how good you think your album is, there will be people who disagree with you. Learn to live with it. Welcome to the real world, Calvin.

Okay, so "BECAUSE OF THE FUCKING RICH PEOPLES KIDS there are people who will like the album who wont get the album because they saw a shit review". Which 'RICH PEOPLES KIDS', exactly? I'd love to know who this mystery journalist is, who has slated Harris in such a fashion. Do we know for certain that their parents are genuinely affluent, even? If the commercial concerns of the artist are the prime concern of the reviewer, then there can be no honesty in the criticism; every artist wants to sell, so is this to say that every album should be reviewed in a positive fashion, even if it's not worthy of a good review?

I've not heard Ready for the Weekend yet, and, frankly, the main thing discouraging me from doing so is Harris himself and his attitude. Anybody who lies about their record being lost at an airport simply to buy themself more time needs a reality check - man up and 'fess up. But it's fine, because he gets all the girls, yeah?

Monday, 27 July 2009

iSpot a flaw in this plan

So, it's finally happened: Spotify have announced their plans to go mobile. It's been rumoured for ages, and now a teaser video has been released, outlining a proposed Spotify iPhone 'app'. It's pretty much a big deal.

Not owning an iPhone, I wasn't too excited when I first heard
about this. I've got an iPod Touch, so I can access the internet
wireless within the confines of my own home, or within any
other open access wireless zone, but that's by no means a
universal thing. If it needed internet access in order to stream
music, it was of no consequence to me, I reasoned. But that's
the awesome thing about this application in its current
prototype form: playlists can be selected for offline streaming.

This is great - perfect for songs that you go through phases of
listening to a lot for a week or two, but have only a temporary
attachment to. Basically, songs that you want to listen to, but
have no real inclination to own. This is what Spotify is great
for in its computer-based form. Before this, if you wanted to
hear a song that you didn't already have, you had to
download it, be it through legal channels or illegal ones. Now,
you just search for them on Spotify. Recent such songs for me
would include 'Touch Me' by The Doors, 'At the River' by
Groove Armada and an Italian song called 'Primavera
Anticipada' by Laura Pausini (don't even ask). But could a
mobile version of this service completely change how we listen
to music?

The current downfall of Spotify for me is that I like to feel that
I 'own' tracks, whether I've bought them or not. Which means
having the opportunity to listen to them on my iPod as well.
Much as the Spotify adverts irk me, I don't get annoyed enough
by them to warrant paying £9.99 per month simply to get rid of
them. But to be able to listen to anything I want (provided I've
cued it up beforehand) while away from the internet? That
might just cause me to reconsider. After all, £9.99 for a month's
worth of unlimited music really isn't a lot at all when you think
about it; it's equivalent to just one album.

Ultimately, though, it's probably not going to get approved by
Apple, is it? Let's be honest - why would it be, in the form
they're currently proposing? With an iPhone, you can
download tunes directly to the device from the iTunes store.
And each time you do so, that's a nice little 79p for Apple.
Why would you do this in addition to having the Spotify app?
Unless Spotify are paying Apple a fair amount of cash, it's
likely that Apple would lose a fair amount of revenue. I'd
love to see the app in its proposed form get released, and
soon, but I'm not too hopeful about it. Fingers crossed, eh?

My current playlist, featuring some rather shameful picks: summer playlist

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Morrissey, Brixton Academy, 19.08.09

Ah, Brixton, how cynical I was. After cancelled dates ('production reasons') in Italy just days previously, I was sceptical even as I made my way into the palatial Academy main room. I was still allowing room for doubt as the support hit the stage. Ultimately, though, I was wrong.

Support act Doll and the Kicks were entertaining, as far as it's possible to be when suffering the obligatory support act muddy sound quality. Pouting and pirouetting flirtatiously across the stage, frontwoman Doll certainly makes for an pleasantly diverting stage, and her seemingly strong vocals deserve more exposure than they receive tonight.

As one punter's t-shirt reads, however: 'It's Morrissey's town - we just live in it.' Indeed. The venue's not even selling meat at its one lonely food stall, lest the slightest whiff of scorched animal wafts across the vast arch of the ceiling and upsets him. And who could expect anything less from the famously bolshy vegetarian?

Tonight is everything you'd predict. The crowd conform to the expected demographic: at least 65-70% male; mainly pushing it to see the younger side of 27; polite, though not as introverted as might be imagined. And lapping it all up, obviously.

In some ways, the setlist very much plays it safe in this respect. It must be somewhat galling still be expected to trot out songs by a band which acrimoniously dissolved over 20 years ago, but tonight features no less than six Smiths songs - nearly a third of the set.

As said, it must be galling to have this expected from you after so long, but opening with 'This Charming Man' will always prove a popular gambit. And when, just a few songs in, the classic guitar distortion of 'How Soon is Now?''s opening riff kicks in, it's hard not to be taken aback. Boz Boorer may not be Johnny Marr, but it still sounds fucking majestic: it's really that simple. Sheer, bleak, rumbling majesty.

Boorer is certainly the backbone of the band, and makes it look effortless, from the jangle of 'Ask' to the climactic encore of 'First of the Gang to Die'. It's Morrissey's vocals, swooping and soaring around and above it, though, which really cause things to take flight, particularly on newer tracks such as 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' and 'When Last I Spoke to Carol'.

This favouring of new material over old is perhaps the sole disappointment. Yes, it's the 'Tour of Refusal', and so a focus on the Years of Refusal album is a given. Out of an 80-minute set, though, it would have been nice to hear some old Morrissey classics rather than an almost sole reliance upon the past half-decade or so. Yes, that's Morrissey classics rather than Smiths ones. I mean, 'Some Girls are Bigger than Others'? Rather than 'Everyday is Like Sunday' or 'Suedehead'? Really? When it comes to faults, this may be coming close to splitting hairs: setlist preferences are will never be anything other than subjective.

Like the crowd, Morrissey is exactly what you're expect: he flails the microphone cord around in a dramatic fashion first perfected decades back; he provides nigh-on nothing by way of between-song banter; he bows and preens incessantly, getting his chest out at the end of the show. Oh, and he doesn't disappoint.

Morrissey - I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Misery business

I have always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with book-to-film adaptations. I'm a massive bookworm, so it's perhaps little surprise that I find myself unable to 'let go' of a book I love and take in a film adaptation on its own merit. I was quite excited, though, when I found out there was going to be a film of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper; I really did think that it could make an interesting premise for a film.

Ah, if only that heady optimism could have carried into the film itself. Within 10 minutes of the opening credits, I had seen young Kate with a profusely bleeding nose and vomiting blood, and had realised that this was very much not the film for me. I didn't want to be there; I continued not wanting to be there for the remaining 100 minutes until the end credits rolled and someone sat behind me turned to the person beside them and said: "I feel emotionally violated."

It's petty to spin the classic "but it wasn't faithful to the book" line, and indeed, much of the film is faithful to the book. One sister (Kate) has cancer and needs a kidney to save her life. Other sister (Anna) doesn't want to give up her kidney and so sues for medical emancipation. Court case, etc. But the book is very much focussed on said court case. The film is very much focussed on said cancer. I've heard My Sister's Keeper described as 'thought-provoking', but a more accurate phrase might be something to the gist of 'rape of the tear ducts'.

You'll probably cry. But you'll also resent those tears, as you will understand, even as they are being shed, how cynically and calculatedly they have been wrung from your eyes. Misery business indeed. Cancer isn't pretty, and the film doesn't shy from that - but my, it's certainly an unrelenting torrent of cinematic misery. I counted one joke; it was about cancer. There's a fragmentary feel at play, with lots of 'fade to black' moments, but nobody could accuse My Sister's Keeper of ever straying from its goal - it sets out early on its target of tears, and shamelessly and repeatedly goes in directly for the kill.

I was hoping that Abigail Breslin (Anna), after her amusingly sweet performance in Little Miss Sunshine, would at least ensure this would be to my taste, but she had a hopeless task ahead of her - rather than sprinkling sugar, the script pours on syrup. You almost wish that Kate would hurry up and get on with it - and yes, that does make you a bad person.

I've always denounced the Hollywood tradition of neatly tying up tales from books and tarting them up a bit in the cheerfulness stakes. This certainly bucked the trend, and I wished to God it hadn't. That's me shown, then.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

When the seagulls follow the trawler...

I'm just going to come straight out with it: football doesn't really appeal to me. Barring an oh-so-brief and oh-so-arbitrary childhood flirtation with Liverpool - I think I just liked red, and my older cousins had told me that Manchester United fans were only glory hunters - it has mostly just seemed to me to be a bunch of men in shorts, running up and down after a ball. I could explain to you the offside rule in theory, but not identify it in practice. It's safe to say that the communal bonding aspect of the beautiful game has bypassed me nigh-on entirely.

Good thing, then, that Looking for Eric isn't just a film about football. It is a film about football - and a poignantly nostalgic one at that - but it's also a film about many other things: love, fear, inspiration, hope and (whisper it) redemption. Oh, and Eric Cantona; he's more of a metaphor, though. Inner strength and all that.

The concept is an interesting one. A postman (named Eric, conveniently) is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he's left with nothing, not even the respect of his stepsons. One of whom is harbouring a gun for the local hardman. So he repeatedly hallucinates his hero, Eric Cantona, who helps him to work through it all and get himself back onto his feet.

Having someone, especially someone with as much cultural baggage behind him as Cantona, play a large cameo role - indeed, one which forms the driving force of the entire plot - is always risky. But here Loach pulls it off successfully, incorporating the audience's expectations of the footballer into the screenplay in an arch manner; it's funny, but always manages to fall the right side of ridiculous.

Part of this success also comes from the characterisation of the protagonist. Though ultimately flawed, Eric Bishop is easy to empathise with; he's both heartbroken and heartbreakingly human. Steve Evets occasionally plays him a little flat in tone, but for the most part he's not in the least difficult to emotionally invest in.

This is helped by Loach's realistic filming style, contrasting the absurdity of Cantona as a spiritual guide with the mundanity of everyday Manchester existence. The film's climax, while a little too drawn-out, is the perfect realisation of this - a hundred-odd pseudo-Cantonas storming the palatial house of a tyrannical gang-man in a show of fan solidarity.

Original and emotional, and somehow, incredibly, approaching believable: yet another triumph for Film4 Productions. It'd be hard for even a non-football fan to walk away from Looking for Eric unmoved.