Friday, February 27, 2015

Guest Post/Gig Review: Peter Hook & The Light at Bodega, Wellington, 26 February 2015

Michel Rowland … typewriter monkey at ‘This is Gothic Rock’, figurehead at Splintered In Her Head, host of ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’, and all-round after-party superhero, was out and about … on a Thursday night of all things. The words below all belong to Michel, while the pix come courtesy of the artful eye of James Black (humble thanks to both):

Peter Hook & The Light at Bodega was brilliant. The lasting impression I had from seeing the band play 'Unknown Pleasures' live in 2010 was reinforced last night - Hooky's a fantastic showman - warm, funny, highly energetic and great to watch.

A horde of sweaty 40-50-somethings packed Bodega (interspersed with the occasional scrawny hipster, scuttling between the gaps), transforming the venue's medium-sized dancefloor into a heaving mass, and effortlessly bringing with them a vitality and enthusiasm that would put many-a-crowd half their age to shame. Hook and his band thoroughly capitalised on that energy and reciprocated by the bucket load.

He's not just a great performer, but an excellent singer, which doesn't rate a mention as often as it should. As audacious as it may be to say, there are moments when Hook's voice brings echoes of Ian Curtis' back to life. It would be difficult to imagine why he wasn't elected as Curtis' replacement in New Order, were it not so impractical for that band's full-time bassist to also have to double as the singer. But here, in The Light, with his son Jack handling the bulk of bass duties and allowing Hook to front the band and focus on melodic lead bass parts, there are points in the set when it's no great stretch to imagine what New Order might have sounded like with Curtis.

The constants on the tour are the two New Order album sets, whereas the opening Joy Division set and encores have varied most nights of the Aus/NZ tour. Being more of a Joy Division fan, I was mildly disappointed by a slightly shorter opening set for Wellington, but loved that they focused on songs like Atmosphere and Twenty Four Hours rather than the more predictable dancefloor hits.

The encores, which included soaring renditions of Temptation and True Faith, more than compensated for the shorter opening set and absence of obvious crowd-pleasers, climaxing with a triumphant Love Will Tear Us Apart, which hasn't been a regular on the tour - I think only Melbourne and Wellington so far. It felt as though the Wellington crowd had earned it.

An older friend commented that he'd had some reservations before coming along, about "the whole pimping out the back catalog thing". I've heard that sentiment more than a few times, and I get it; nothing wrong with a healthy dose of cynicism where questions of artistic integrity are concerned. At 40, I'm probably a youngster in the eyes of many friends who still remember when Joy Division were a current band; having only discovered a lot of seminal bands of that era retrospectively must of course give me a very different perspective on being able to see shows like this nowadays.

Notwithstanding, I think there are artists who've reached a point in their respective careers where they are more than entitled to earn a living from touring their own musical legacies, shared or otherwise. Where Peter Hook & The Light are concerned, the songs are delivered with a palpable sense of passion and sincerity - you just know that he loves what he's doing, which is one of the most enjoyable aspects of seeing the band.

Great show, fun night. Loved it.

Michel also stars in Disjecta Membra … (Bandcamp link here)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Classic Album Review: The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow (1984)

I can’t believe that everythingsgonegreen has been coughing and spluttering its way around cyberspace for four full years now and to date there’s been no mention of The Smiths! That makes no sense at all … so here’s a little something I wrote some time ago for another site …

Such is the widespread influence and enduring legacy of The Smiths it is often difficult to believe that the band released just four studio albums over the course of its five-year existence. While each of those albums is quite special in its own unique way – none more so than The Queen Is Dead, which remains the band’s masterpiece – the sense of majesty and awe surrounding The Smiths is often at odds with the band’s otherwise relatively short-lived achievements. Well, on the surface at least.
Scratch beneath that surface however and you soon discover why The Smiths were (and are) held in such high regard. The sheer genius of Morrissey’s lyrics (for the most part), the often controversial and socially/politically challenging nature of those very songs, plus the brilliance of Johnny Marr’s music/guitar – just for starters – would prove an irresistible formula long after the band hit its own self-imposed use-by date in 1987.
And then of course there are all of those compilation albums … something that undoubtedly added gloss to not only the band’s discography, but it’s almost flawless reputation.
Excluding the Singles Box Set or rare Japanese imports and albums of that ilk, I can count at least nine compilation albums (* see below) issued under the band’s name, the first (and best) of which was the excellent Hatful of Hollow, released just weeks after the self-titled debut.
Hatful of Hollow is essentially a collection of early BBC sessions (from 1983 and 1984), a few non-album singles, and an assortment of b-sides. Basically it is a kind of hodge-podge mix of early recordings; a key selling point being the different versions of not only those singles, but also the associated b-sides. Many hardcore fans of the band consider a number of these versions to be superior to those found elsewhere.

Highlights: ‘What Difference Does It Make’, the seminal ‘How Soon Is Now’ (believe it or not, originally a b-side), ‘Hand in Glove’, ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’, ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’, ‘Accept Yourself’, plus my own favourite, ‘Back To The Old House’ … and more!

* Nine compilation albums of The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen, Louder Than Bombs, Rank (the band’s only official live album), two volumes of The Best Of (1 & 2), Singles, The Very Best Of, and more recently, The Sound Of The Smiths … phew!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Gig Review: Eddie Izzard - Force Majeure - at Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, 15 February 2015

A “Force Majeure” is often used as a get-out clause in building or construction contracts. It’s considered something like an “act of God”, or something representative of an irresistible or “superior” force. I’m not really sure what it means in layman’s terms but it nonetheless seems like an appropriate handle for a self-proclaimed “action transvestite” to travel the world with. It all makes perfect sense, darling.

It was the Force Majeure tour that brought heel-wearing English comedian Eddie Izzard to Wellington for the fourth time last weekend. I was lucky enough to have caught his act on one other occasion, at the State Opera House, way back in 2003. His other visits to the capital came in 2000, as part of the Laugh! Festival, and more recently in 2011, when his Stripped tour brought him to the St James Theatre. I was at the MFC last Sunday night, alongside a near full house, which followed a sold out Saturday night show at the same venue.

I worried pre-gig that I'd watched too much Eddie Izzard concert footage over the years and I'd be a little too familiar with some of his material. That turned out to be an unfounded fear - there was a crossover of some themes, and one or two specific topics (cake, ice cream), but this was mostly all new material.

Knowing what to expect from Izzard may actually be an advantage - any newbie might be inclined to wonder if he'll ever get to the point or reveal the punchline, but Izzard's clever and seemingly random stream of consciousness rambling frequently offers up some of his best work. Sunday night was no exception.

Historical figures - ranging from the diverse old-timer likes of Genghis Khan and Charles 1 to relatively contemporary figures like Hitler and Maggie Thatcher - provided Izzard with plenty of quality material, each crossing over (to one extent or another) into the twin themes of politics and religion. And when it comes to comedy, subject matter seldom comes much richer than that.

There were elements of physical comedy in Izzard's act but mostly it was all about intelligent observational humour. There were short segments in French and German, reminders that Izzard is multilingual, and that he’s performed entire shows in those languages in the past.

I wasn’t surprised to hear Izzard confirm his intention to enter politics, with the race for the 2020 London mayoralty likely to present him with his initial fresh challenge in that sphere. He’s achieved just about everything there is to achieve as a performance artist, not only as a stand-up, but also through a wide range of television and film roles. His energy and thirst to “make a difference” (man) apparently knows no bounds.

Anybody who - as a complete novice - can run 43 marathons in 51 days (as Izzard did a few years back) to raise money for Comic Relief, demonstrates a level of determination most of us can only dream about. You might even conclude he’s driven by some kind of superior force …

So it was a pretty sweet couple of hours in Izzard’s company on Sunday night, even with the odd fluffed line and one or two relatively flat moments, knowing that at some point in the near future he’ll just as likely be lost to the stage forever.