The Naked And Famous at Tivoli Vredenburg, Friday 10 February 2017

They’re not a particularly dynamic or interactive band on stage, but it was nice to hear them play their songs. I particularly liked them playing “The Source” and “The Sun”, because I hadn’t expected them to break out downbeat tracks like that in a concert. Their rendition of “No Way” was a surprise. On the recording the slow and quiet verses are punctuated by interludes of heavy drums and guitars. On stage, they held the drums and guitars at bay for the first of those waves, leaving only a modest piano dropping individual notes. When the drums and guitars did come in on the next pass, they crashed down like waves in a storm.

Another thing I hadn’t expected was the extent to which Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith share centre stage. Whenever I think of The Naked And Famous, it’s Alisa’s voice I hear. But Thom sings on a lot more of their songs than I had given him credit for.

Set list:

  1. The Water Beneath You
  2. Higher
  3. All Of This
  4. Punching In A Dream
  5. Golden Girl/Roilling Waves
  6. The Source/The Sun
  7. I Kill Giants
  8. Losing Our Control
  9. A Stillness
  10. Hearts Like Ours
  11. No Way
  12. Laid Low
  13. Girls Like You
  14. Young Blood

Encore:

  1. Last Forever
  2. Rotten

Sabaton at AFAS Live, Sunday 29 January 2017

Just as I don’t go to many hip-hop gigs, I don’t go to many metal gigs, either. In fact…I can’t think of any. The closest I’ve got to metal is Rush, and which is hard rock, but not metal. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect at a Sabaton gig, other than some very loud music about war and heroic violence. Fiona is into them, and had played me some of their songs, but my response is kinda “meh”.

Since we were last there to see The Lumineers in November, the Heineken Music Hall has rebranded itself as AFAS Live (sponsored by AFAS software). The vibe around the venue was excellent, and the merch stand had more T-shirts than you could shake a stick at. I wonder if this is a cultural thing for metal concerts? I’d say that about half of the people in the audience were wearing Sabaton gear of some kind — a far greater percentage of people than I normally see wearing a band’s merch. I suggested that Fiona should have been wearing her black lipstick, and she rolled her eyes at me.

I’ve taken Fiona to a few concerts over the last couple of years, but this was the first time I felt felt like a stereotypical Concert Dad. The mood in the crowd was happy, but I felt cautious about being too close to the front and centre in case we got caught in a mosh. I tensed up whenever a half-empty plastic beer cup would fly overhead and shower us with malty rain. I don’t think Fiona felt entirely at ease, either.

The first opening act, Twilight Force was an over-the-top power-metal excursion into epic fantasy, and we both loved them. The second opener was Accept, who played for a whole hour. We left the hall after a few songs, though, because they were really loud and also kinda boring. By the time Sabaton finally came on at 21:30, we had already been standing around for about two and a half hours, and we were starting to feel tired. (Again, is this a metal thing, having multiple warm-up acts that play really long sets?) We listened for an hour, but left before the end. Fiona was exhausted, as was I. This was one of the loudest gigs I have ever been to. Even without standing directly in front of a speaker stack, and even though we were both wearing ear plugs, my ears were gummy and ringing as we left the venue.

One advantage of leaving early is that we had no delay in exiting the car park under the Arena, which is usually a massive bottleneck.

Overall: I think they put on a great show. The set dressing was amazing, and the band were having tons of fun romping around on stage and feeding off the energy of the adoring crowd. I don’t think I would go again, because their actual music still leaves me cold. But if you enjoy Sabaton, I’m sure you would love seeing them live.

Mixed media, Saturday 28 January 2017

What can we do?

The Planetary Omnibus edition is a huge book – it literally weighs 2.5kg, and is hard to read in bed. You need to be sitting down at a table to let the pages sprad open comfortably. But it’s really good. I read my first Warren Ellis book — volume 1 of Transmetropolitan — a few years ago, and I’ve slowly been catching up on his work. His recent series Trees and Injection are firm favourites, and now I’m digging back into older stuff. (I still need to finish the whole Transmetropolitan run.)

The Planetary Omnibus contains the whole 27-issue run of the series, and three one-shot specials at the end. The story follows Elijah Snow as he gets drafted into “Planetary,” a global organization dedicated to uncovering the secret history of the 20th century. That secret history contains monsters, superheroes, and fictional characters, all warped beyond the point of familiarity, but not quite beyond the point of recognition. As I read through the book’s hundreds of pages, I found myself constantly having flashes of insight, flipping back to earlier chapters, and going “Ohhhhh!” as I saw that the hooks had been planted right from the beginning. It’s an amazingly rich and dense work, with artwork from John Cassaday that matches the story and characters beautifully. The series was published intermittently from 1998 to 2009, and keeping a story like that together over such a long timespan is a terrific feat.

Also read:

  • Vision vol 2: Little Better Than A Beast concludes Tom King’s run on Vision. He ends it in just as dark and disturbing a way as it started. Volume 2 doesn’t feel quite as strong, though. It’s pretty hard to top the emotional gut-punches he delivered in Volume 1. Highly recommended overall, though.
  • Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! vol 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow has one Civil War II issue with some far-ranging consequences for the story (Patsy’s best friend She-Hulk has been in a huge fight that put her in a coma), but for the most part stays lightweight and fun while it deals with smaller-scale personal issues of friendship and relationships.
  • I wanted to read The Immortal Iron Fist (The Complete Collection, volume 1) because it’s Matt Fraction, but at the same time I was apprehensive, because of the troubling race issues around the character of Danny Rand: a white American guy as the hero and saviour of an ancient mystical oriental heritage. It avoids the matter of race for the most part. When unavoidable, it focuses on Danny as just an outsider, and chooses to bury most of the hard questions with his predecessor Orson Randall. I still enjoyed it. The story twists and turns and takes some stops in the history of the Iron Fist along the way. David Aja’s art is also a pleasure.

Films:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: I had avoided this for a while because I thought it would be quite artificial and mannered. It is, up to a point, but the film pricks its own balloon so often that it’s obvious the artifice is a vehicle for perfectly executed comedy. Ralph Fiennes is amazing, and the whole thing is just magical.
  • The Legend of Barney Thomson is the opposite. The story takes place in present-day Glasgow, but the characters live in an highly mannered, out-of-time bubble. The dark humour never really struck home, which made the artifice just seem misjudged.
  • Crimson Peak was okay. As the lead character Edith Cushing explains, it’s not really a ghost story. It just has ghosts in it. The ghosts are a metaphor for the past.
  • Now You See Me 2 has one amazing scene (with the four horsemen passing a playing card between themselves to smuggle a microchip out of a highly secured room), and a lot of filler.
  • Sing reveals a lot of its funniest moments in the trailer. The film itself is populated by stereotypes, and I found it very hard to warm to the irresponsible Koala. It’s simple and sweet, though, and everyone gets a chance to overcome their troubles and get their time in the spotlight.
  • Arq is a tense little time travel thriller. It’s shot in a single location, with a tiny cast. The characters play out the same couple of hours again and again, each time with more of them being aware that they’re inside a time loop, and revealing different aspects of the conspiracy they’re embedded in. I liked it.

At Dave’s suggestion, I bought Doom (2016) for the PS4 over the Christmas holiday, and finished it last week. I don’t tend to play many first-person shooters, but I loved it. The action is fast and unsubtle, favouring running around and spraying demons with as much firepower as you can, rather than on carefully hoarding resources. It’s pure videogame fun. I was also impressed by how well it played on the PS4 with a console controller instead of a keyboard and mouse. I don’t think I’ll be trying my hand at the online multiplayer, though. Judging by how quickly Alex was able to zip through Rune Challenges that took me dozens of run-throughs to succeed at, I’d get slaughtered. Repeatedly.

I’ve been listening to as much of English electro-pop band Dive In as I can find on Spotify. It isn’t much, but what there is is excellent. They remind me of the Studio Killers, with a twist of The Naked and Famous. I had come across their song “Let Go” way back in 2013 already, around the time I discovered the Studio Killers as well. The new version of the song on Spotify is mostly the same, but with a few extra guitar licks in the middle. I still love it. Terribly weak music video, though. (Sorry chaps.)

Noord Holland Saturday afternoon

Spijkerboor

Yesterday was cold and clear. Abi and I went out for a drive in the afternoon, intending to have a cup of coffee and a slice of applie pie at the café ‘t Heerenhuis in Spijkerboor, but it was closed. Instead, we drove on to Purmerend. We parked nearby the amazing Melkwegbrug, and crossed it both ways. Then we had our warm drinks and apple pie in a small brasserie in the town centre.

Melkwegbrug

Microblogging

After being in “maintenance” mode for a couple of years, App.net is shutting down completely. I quite liked the service and their ambitious ideas for enabling more than just a 140-character stream. I had a paid subscription for a while, but ultimately it didn’t pan out. The network effects never took hold, and it ended up as too small a niche to be self-sustaining.

So I’m intrigued to see Manton Reece trying to do something new in this same space. He is running a kickstarter for an “indie microblogging” service (micro.blog), and a book to go along with it. From what I can tell, it’s a re-thinking of classic blogging tools and RSS for the modern era. RSS readers were great, but nowadays people expect the simplicity of clean-looking apps and a simpler, more socially-oriented timeline. This looks like it might provide a solution along those lines, while still being rooted in the open web, and holding on to its distributed nature.

Homestly, I’ll be surprised if the service turns into a long-term sustainable venture. The niche of people who care if their social network is a walled garden or built on open standards is tiny, and shrinking. But I’m still going to back it, because I’m one of them.