Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Gig Review: Darren Watson & Matt Langley - The Shoot Your Television Tour: St Peters Hall, Paekakariki, 26 June 2015

A tiny community hall in a small coastal village might seem like an unlikely venue for Darren Watson and Matt Langley to kickstart their nationwide Shoot Your Television tour. But last Friday night at Paekakariki's St Peters Hall it seemed like the most natural choice in the world. Indeed, even with the licensing restrictions which render the community trust-managed venue a BYO, everything was as near to perfect as these things can get on a chilly mid-winter evening.

I arrived shortly after the scheduled 8pm start time and was shocked to see the hall already close to full and buzzing to the vibe being created by "special guest" Bill Lake. A quick scout around the hall revealed a virtual who's who of local muso talent in the audience itself and I knew immediately we were in for a treat. There was no way Watson & co would be allowed to get away with anything less than the real deal with such a picky bunch of talented TV-forsaking-onlookers.

For the uninitiated, Bill Lake is something of a legend in local blues circles, a man Watson himself cites as a major influence, and an ideal curtain-raiser. It's around 20 years since I last saw Lake perform so it was wonderful to see him still doing the live thing as passionately as ever. His set - acoustic guitar, voice, and much self-deprecating humour - was a mix of the old and new stuff, one highlight being the old Windy City Strugglers' tune 'Can't Get Back'. Typically, Lake paid tribute to contemporaries like Arthur Baysting, Midge Marsden, and Rick Bryant - trailblazers all, and men cut from exactly the same cloth. His near flawless performance set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Next up we had folkie and self-confessed "Southern Troubadour" Matt Langley. Again it was very much the man/acoustic guitar template for the most part - save for Langley's "Bob Dylan" moments when harmonica became his default weapon of choice. I'll be honest, to my shame, I didn't know a lot about Langley's music, but that made no odds at all, given that many of the songs in his set were introduced as being "a new one".
Langley has a great voice; gentle, persuasive, fragile at times, silky smooth at others; one perfectly suited to the rather intimate surrounds on the night. So good, you could almost picture him as a crooner in another light ... or lifetime. There's no questioning his musical chops either, or the fact that he's clearly an immensely talented wordsmith, but as much as I became engrossed in his performance for long periods, I also found parts of it a bit too subdued. And there's not a lot of joy to be found in some of those lyrics.

But that's a minor quibble, specific to my own taste, and Langley certainly added plenty to the evening - during his own set and on the multiple occasions he joined Watson on stage during the final segment of the night. Like Lake, Langley also possesses a dry and offbeat sense of humour.
I have to confess by the time Watson came on in his "solo" guise I was feeling somewhat worse for wear after sharing perhaps a little too much of the BYO merlot (among other things) being consumed by the perpetually swaying Janis Joplin-wannabe sitting/standing next to me for much of the night. An otherwise complete stranger who somehow morphed into an impromptu gig-going companion ... proving that one of the upsides of community hall gigs is the overwhelming sense of community! (the sting in this particular tale/tail was her revelation that her day job involved drug and alcohol counselling) ...
The subsequent blur means it's a struggle to recall Watson's set-list in any great detail. He immediately stopped the room with his set opener, the title track from his St Hilda's Faithless Boy album. That much was very memorable. There were other songs from the St Hilda’s album, a damn fine version of ‘Crossroads’ (naturally enough), and several from his most recent outing, Introducing Darren Watson, including ‘Some Men’ and a quite lovely ‘Thought I’d Seen It All’. For the second half of his set, Watson was joined on stage (alongside Langley’s appearances) by partner and drummer extraordinaire Delia Shanly, whose touch and timing was a nice addition and gave those electric numbers a slightly fuller sound.   
Much to the crowd’s delight, we also got Watson’s two most recent singles, ‘Planet Key’, and ‘I Got Your Office Right Here’, which, unless I missed something important like belated shouts for an encore, closed the show.
I did leave the venue in something of a hurry as it turns out said Janis Joplin-wannabe lives a virtual stones’ throw from my own humble abode and she came fully equipped with her very own sober driver! … having clearly been adopted, the lift home provided the perfect end to an almost perfect Friday night.
The Shoot Your Television tour continues well into July … check the pic above for details of dates and venues. Whatever else you do, don’t miss it.

Or better still, go here to Watson's website and follow the appropriate links.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fresh Cuts for NZ Musician June/July 2015

The latest issue of NZ Musician hit the streets this week, and the June/July issue is the first for a while where I haven’t contributed a feature. But I did manage to review the Carb on Carb debut album for the magazine, and had a couple of other reviews published online ...

This Pale Fire – Dusk EP

There’s almost something endearingly old-school about the music of This Pale Fire. For all of the production wizardry and new-school sheen found on this debut EP release there’s a real sense that the halcyon singer/songwriter days of yore sit right at the heart of these Corban Koschak-penned compositions. Or at the very least it’s a crossover of sorts; a stripped back old-school acoustic vibe blending effortlessly with varying degrees of post-millennium, post-pubescent angst. Released digitally in late 2014, the EP also stands as the final work to come out of Auckland’s now defunct Studio 203, where it was immaculately produced by Nikhil Mokkapati. As studio farewells go, it’s a great way to sign off. As opening gambits and introductions go, it’s something quite special. Dusk comprises six tracks – seven if you include Cymbol 303’s remix of the sublime 'Unfamiliar' – each one a beautifully realised indie pop gem. For the most part, the words, voice and acoustic guitar of Koschak are the key elements, but it’s when the band – Kyle Wetton (electric guitars and bass), Nick Douch (drums), and Josh Steyn-Ross (keys) – comes to life, that we discover Koschak’s finely-honed pop instincts at their most effective. The haunting break up post-mortem 'Stormy Weather' is perhaps the prime example of that, but the track that really exposes Koschak as a pop composer of rare talent is 'Unfamiliar', which builds from its acoustic base with the layering of cello and keys on top of a heart-wrenching set of lyrics, before it peaks and fades out with an air of thoroughly exhausted resignation. This is delicate, brittle, heartfelt stuff, and a quite startling debut.
Whatever else there is to love about Carb on Carb’s self-titled debut album, there’s something refreshing and uncomplicated about cramming 10 energetic indie pop tunes into a set lasting little more than 27 minutes. Like some kind of reverse-White Stripes chameleon, with a distinctly Kiwi twist in the tail, the Auckland-based duo of Nicole Gaffney (guitar/vocals) and James Stuteley (drums/vocals) have been making music as Carb on Carb since 2011. After a couple of earlier EP releases and the hugely challenging experience of touring across Asia, this first full album was recorded and produced by James Goldsmith at Munki Studios and The Blue Room in Wellington, before being mastered in Chicago by Carl Saff. It’s maybe no coincidence then that the album is brimming with strong ’90s US college radio reference points. The music comes across as being a little chaotic and ramshackle in parts, and the album’s main themes veer towards the personal – with perennials like relationships, growing up, girl power, and life in Auckland, all appearing in metaphorical bold type across the lyric sheet. More generally, Carb on Carb somehow manage to merge an inherent sense of DIY fun with a slightly darker edge, and the duo’s wider indie aesthetic is never better realised than with Gaffney’s cover art, which complements everything they manage to achieve sonically. A short, sharp, thoroughly invigorating set of songs packaged up with big lashings of down-to-earth charm.
Quite aside from it being some sort of conditioned reflex response thing that a few of my intellectual superiors (fruitlessly) went to great lengths to try to explain to me, The Dinner Bell Theory is also the name of Colin Selby’s Auckland-based musical project. And, according to the CD inlay of his latest release, Selby’s support cast includes "heaps of cool people". Not the least of those is vocalist and main partner in crime Laka Selby, whose dulcet tones set things off nicely across the six self-produced tracks. A few of these tunes have had prior exposure on platforms like The Audience and Reverbnation, but that sense of familiarity does little to dilute the impact of hearing them all as a complete set. The formula according to Selby is simple yet effective; clever and mostly light-hearted lyrics are framed by country-infused power pop tunes, with a certain carefree swagger throughout. From the opening chords of the rousing starter 'There’ll Come A Time', right on through to the surf-rock referencing closer 'Zombie Song (Corporate Anthem)', the Home-Kill EP fair bristles with tight catchy hooks and self-assured energy. And even if this release achieves nothing else, it presents a compelling argument for The Dinner Bell Theory as a must-see live proposition.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dix remembers Bruno on AudioCulture ...

I quite often use everythingsgonegreen to link to my own work published elsewhere but very rarely do I feel the need to blog or re-publish the work of another author. Sometimes though I come across a piece of writing so compelling I feel I have to share it. Whether it’s something I think will be of specific interest to regular readers of this blog, or just something I wish to link to purely for my own future ease of access.

A few weeks back the 20th anniversary of the death of iconic Kiwi actor and musician Bruno Lawrence passed without much fanfare. To New Zealanders of a certain generation - my own, those of us growing up in the 1970s and 1980s - Lawrence’s work was pretty much everywhere and he was an unsung local hero for many of us. Not only was he an inspiration as a musician, as the leading man behind Blerta or as the drummer for pub-rockers The Crocodiles, I believe his lead performances in movies such as ‘Smash Palace’ and ‘The Quiet Earth’ established Lawrence as New Zealand’s first genuinely world-class actor (alongside Sam Neill, perhaps).

As close as biographer Roger Booth was to Bruno Lawrence the man, I’ve always thought Booth’s ‘Bruno’ was a something of a bore to read, and it failed to do any real justice to Lawrence’s otherwise wildly entertaining life story. A couple of times I’ve tried to read it all the way through but Booth’s account is rather sterile, and each time I’ve faltered, putting the book aside, and opting to read something else (anything else) instead.
Finally though, over at AudioCulture, thanks to 'Stranded In Paradise' author John Dix, we have ‘I Remember Bruno’, published a week ago, a 4000-odd word offering/profile on Lawrence - and his friendship with Dix - that explores some of the less public, and rather more intimate or personal aspects of his life. It’s a wonderful piece of writing by someone who was obviously very close to Lawrence. Dix’s passion for his subject fair drips off the page. I recommend you click on the link below and have a read:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

… And None Of Them Received A Hero’s Welcome

The 30th anniversary of Paul Hardcastle’s seminal electro single ‘19’ was celebrated last month with the release of a pretty special deluxe edition. The package comes in the form of 14 tracks, and it includes remasters of the single’s original three mixes - ‘Extended’, ‘Destruction’, and ‘The Final Story’ - plus eleven newer and/or brand new remix versions.

A year-defining tune, in 1985 ‘19’ reached No.1 in at least a dozen countries. It topped the local (NZ) charts for four weeks. As an anti-war statement it did much to expose the perils of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to a wider public who otherwise wouldn’t have had much of a clue. It was also a standalone groundbreaking piece of music; something akin to the full horror of Apocolypse Now gate-crashing the global pop charts, its bleak “futility of war” documentary narrative given extra weight by the cut and paste feel of the sample-based electro underpinning it.

14 versions of one track may seem like an awful lot of very little, but a cross pollination of styles means that very little often goes an awfully long way. It’s a no-skip deal, from unrepentantly hard-edged electro remixes, to softer more reflective mixes like the very soulful ‘Inner Changes’ remix. The best thing here is the sublime ‘Nua’ remix, which mashes up Hardcastle’s work with Marvin Gaye’s 1971 anti-war anthem ‘What’s Going On’. The spit and polish job applied to the ever popular ‘Destruction Mix’ is another obvious highlight, while perhaps the biggest curiosity in the set is Hardcastle’s earliest home-produced demo version.
Despite having had a long career as a musician and producer, as a master of all things “chill”, and a big-selling purveyor of smooth jazz albums, Hardcastle hasn’t always been given enough credit for just how much of a game-changer ‘19’ was. While it’s never been talked about in the hushed tones of a ‘Blue Monday’, or a ‘Planet Rock’, or given chops for its wider sonic influence, ‘19’ remains an important artefact for innovative sample-based music simply because of the worldwide reach it achieved at the time.

The samples on ‘19’ are taken from an ABC television documentary called Vietnam Requiem, which was narrated by one Peter Thomas, who eventually received his fair share of the track’s royalties. I doubt the same can be said for the returned Vietnam vets whose interview dialogue was sequenced out of context. It’s great to see that proceeds from the sale of this latest release have been pledged to PTSD charity Talking2Minds.

Here’s that Marvin Gaye mash …


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

We All Die Alone In The End ...

I haven’t been able to blog much lately but I do want to share this. It’s a short film called ‘Let’s Play’ and it was made by the brother of a friend of mine (and a couple of his friends) specifically for the annual 48 Hours Film Festival (2015 edition). It won Best Original Song and Best Animation for the Wellington section of the awards. So far as four-minute films go, I think this one's pretty special …     

Credited to ‘LovelyBongoDrums’ the online blurb reads: “an animation about a young boy who uses the power of music to cope with family trauma. It’s also a film about a boy playing with himself – but not in a weird way. Enjoy!”