Wye Oak at Paradiso Noord, Friday 20 April 2018

Jenn Wasner – Wye Oak at Paradiso Noord

The shows I’ve been to so far this year have all been big productions (Imagine Dragons, Hamilton, Bastille) or have involved travel to get there (Thumpers, The Cool Quest, Gaz Coombes). This one on what I consider to be my home turf: Paradiso Noord at the Tolhuistuin, on the North bank of the IJ. It was a hot day, and I cycled there without a coat, and enjoyed a cold beer when I arrived super early. Early enough to grab a place right in front of the stage, in touching distance of Andy Stack’s drum kit, because I couldn’t stand to have another gig where someone squeezed in front of me and blocked my view. Selfish maybe, but I’m working on finding a way to live with myself.

I came to Wye Oak via Jenn Wasner’s side project Dungeonesse, which is super-synthy and upbeat as opposed to Wye Oak’s more earlier sombre indie/folk/rock-ish outings. But Dungeonesse heralded a change of direction for the duo, and their 2014 album Shriek was much more electronic, experimental, and filled with a kind of heavy beat-driven shimmering menace that is right in my wheelhouse (e.g. “Glory”). Their follow-up Tween in 2016 follows a similar path, but their new album The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs takes it to another level. The syncopations that Andy Stack lays down on tracks like “The Instrument” and “Symmetry” are intense. There are times when it feels like he’s playing for a different song entirely, but then the bass catches up, and Jenn’s vocals bring it all together on a soaring chorus.

To be honest, I hadn’t really been looking forward to opening act Suno Deko. I had listened to a few tracks on Spotify, and they hadn’t grabbed me. They felt too ethereal and abstract. But watching him live was a completely different matter: he loops together guitar and vocals in a thoroughly mesmerising ensemble — a style I first remember from seeing Zoë Keating play.

Suno Deko at Paradiso Noord

This was the first night of their tour, which was another reason to be excited about it. Jenn, Andy, and their bass player tuned up on stage themselves for a bit after Suno Deko before taking a break and then coming back on stage for their own set. The stage was simple, no fancy light show, and just a large backdrop featuring the iconic sand and sky from the new album.

Andy Stack – Wye Oak at Paradiso Noord

After a prelude of “(tuning)”, they launched into “The Instrument” and I was left agog watching Andy play. It’s a fast, driving song, but it’s really hard to sway and bop along to. Because I had the best spot on the floor I was able to watch him play all of these fabulous rhythms with metronome precision in fabulous close-up the whole time. For some songs he even casually plays a keyboard with his left hand, like “oh, no big deal”. When the gig was over, I went over to him at the merch stand and gushed my admiration like a total fanboy. Fortunately, he’s just as cool and unflappable off stage as he is behind the drums.

Andy Stack – Wye Oak at Paradiso Noord

Meanwhile, Jenn was switching between guitar and keyboard as she rendered beautiful vocals throughout, her face animated and alight with expression. When she was digging hard into the guitar solos, she reminded me a bit of Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable. Some songs they played just as a duo, with Jenn picking up the bass on “The Tower” and twanging aggressively through the solo parts. “Watching The Waiting”, a favourite of mine, she played in a slowed down version with barely any drum accompaniment at all. It was gorgeous.

Jenn Wasner – Wye Oak at Paradiso Noord

They didn’t play an encore. A few songs before the end of their set Jenn said they were just going to play a few more songs, and not bother with the whole leaving the stage, and coming back on again thing. I approve; it often feels a bit silly. They had already played “Civilian”, their best-known song, and they closed with “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs”, ending the show in up-tempo style. I loved the show, and hope I’ll get to see them again some time.

Set list:

  1. Tuning
  2. The Instrument
  3. Lifer
  4. It Was Not Natural
  5. Shriek
  6. Spiral
  7. Symmetry
  8. Say Hello
  9. Over And Over
  10. You Of All People
  11. Glory
  12. Holy Holy
  13. Hot As Day
  14. That I Do
  15. Watching The Waiting
  16. The Tower
  17. Civilian
  18. I Know It’s Real
  19. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
    1. Wye Oak 420 Hamsterdam. Jenn did comment on the coincidence of being in Amsterdam on this day in particular.

Bastille (Reorchestrated) at TivoliVredenburg, Wednesday 18 April 2018

Bastille at TivoliVredenburg

I’ve been to TivoliVredenburg a couple of times before, but this was my first time in the “Grote Zaal”. It has a stage in the centre of the room, with steeply raked seating on all sides. When I booked our tickets (for Fiona and Abi and me — Alex wasn’t interested) it was clear that this was going to be a popular gig, because it sold out in minutes. But it was also on a school night, and there were going to be two support acts we didn’t know before the main event was scheduled at 21:00. We didn’t execute our Ziggo Protocol, but we didn’t show up super early to secure good seats, either. By the time we got there, the first opener (Charlie Barnes) was already on stage, and the only seats we could secure for the three of us in front of the stage were in the back row, tucked into a wedge between the wall and the ceiling.

I knew something was wrong with the sound straight away. It was harsh and unpleasant, and when Charlie Barnes spoke between songs I could barely make out his words. To Kill A King were the second opener, and it was even worse with them. High, snappy tones like the snare drums, cymbals cut through a wash of blurred guitars and vocals like gunshots. The applause between songs was even worse. It was like all the bass was being diffused before it reached to us, and all the treble was being concentrated and compressed into blasts of sound that I found physically painful.

Part-way through the set I left my seat to see if the sound was better elsewhere. I tried a few doors lower down in the auditorium, and to the back of the stage, where the view was worse and there were still spare seats. The sound was better but still not great. After To Kill A King left the stage I took my seat again in the hope that they’d been using a different sound system, and the engineers had been holding back the good stuff for the main event. Unfortunately, nope.

Abi had reassured me that it was OK if I wanted to move around and find a different seat, but I still felt reluctant to do so. But I also remembered a poor experience I had a few years ago seeing The New Pornographers at the Fox Theatre in Oakland when I didn’t move out of a bad seat, and didn’t enjoy the concert as much as I could have. Combined with the offensive acoustics, this pushed me into action. I left after a few songs, and found myself a spot slightly behind the stage with better sound, and a great view of Chris Wood on drums as well as the extra percussionist they had with them for this “Reorchestrated” tour.

The gig itself was fine. The extra musicians (horns, strings, percussion, choir) added depth and texture to the sings they played straight-up, and allowed them to deliver lovely alternative arrangements of others. However, this is the second time I’ve seen Bastille and not entirely enjoyed the experience. Hmm.

Set list:

  1. Pompeii
  2. Snakes
  3. Send Them Off
  4. Warmth
  5. Laughter Lines
  6. Blame
  7. The Anchor
  8. No Scrubs (TLC cover)
  9. Icarus
  10. Two Evils
  11. Flaws
  12. Glory
  13. Of The Night
  14. Cut Her Down (with Ralph Pelleymounter from To Kill A King — together they are the band Annie Oakley Hanging)
  15. These Streets
  16. Oblivion
  17. Things We Lost In The Fire
  18. I Know You (Craig David collab, minus Craig David)
  19. Fake it
  20. Laura Palmer
  21. Good Grief

Encore:

  1. Get Home
  2. World Gone Mad
  3. Weight of Living, Pt I

Hamilton!

In January of last year Abi booked us tickets to see Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. Last Saturday was our date!

We flew to Stansted on Friday evening, and had rooms at the Holiday Inn Express (nice breakfast) on Old Street in Shoreditch. On Saturday morning Alex and I took the tube to Finchley to pick up a copy of Sidereal Confluence from Leisure Games (a late birthday present). In the afternoon we met up with Abi and Fiona who had been raiding art supply shops in Shoreditch and had some lunch. Later on Alex and I took a leisurely walk through the city in the general direction of Victoria, taking the tube the last of the way when we realized we were pushed for time. Meanwhile, Abi and Fiona met up with James for some dog time. Around 17:30 we grabbed some food at McDonalds, and made our way to the theatre.

Portrait mode: Alex near Blackfriars
Portrait mode: Fiona at Victoria Palace Theatre

The show was, as expected, great. We have been listening to the music for literally years now, but finally seeing it in person was something special. The original cast audio recording stands alone brilliantly, and you can follow the story and the characters and enjoy the songs perfectly without the visuals. But the choreography of the stage production is fabulous in its own right, and there are many nuances of the live performance that add more layers of humour and pathos to the experience. Highly recommended!

They don’t like you taking photographs of the performance. They didn’t seem to mind us taking selfies before the show, though.

On Sunday we were all tired, so we took it easy. Abi and Fiona took the tube to Tottenham Court Road while Alex and I walked there. We hung out in a Starbucks for most of the afternoon, sending out various expeditions to nearby shops for books (Foyles), videogames, and more art supplies. Late afternoon we picked up our bags from the hotel, and took the train back out to Stansted. Alex was teetering on the brink of a migraine as we manoeuvred our way through the airport’s nightmare hellscape departure maze. But with the aid of fluids, massive doses of painkiller, and an eye mask, we made it home — late, exhausted — without incident.

Quite a weekend.

Gaz Coombes at Rotown, Rotterdam, Thursday 12 April 2018

Gaz Coombes at Rotown

In advance of the release of his new album World’s Strongest Man full band tour in May, Gaz Coombes has been doing some small solo gigs around Europe. I caught him at Rotown in Rotterdam, which is the first time I’ve been there. I enjoyed the gig (no support, just Gaz on guitar and keyboard with some minimal backing loops), but I didn’t dig the venue. It’s small (250 capacity), which I like, and the sound was fine, but the sight lines to the stage were awful. It feels like a bar first, and a music venue second.

Set list:

  1. Oscillate
  2. Hot Fruit
  3. White Noise
  4. Buffalo
  5. Shit (I’ve Done It Again)
  6. One Of These Days
  7. Deep Pockets
  8. Oxygen Mask
  9. Seven Walls
  10. The Girl Who Fell To Earth
  11. 20/20
  12. Detroit

Encore:

  1. The Oaks
  2. Matador
  3. Moving (Supergrass)

Mixed media, Sunday 1 April 2018

The longer I let these pile up, the less I have to say about each one. This makes me sad, but I haven’t been in the mood for a lot of extensive blogging lately.

⭐ = would gladly re-watch/read/listen
💩 = AVOID AVOID AVOID
😕 = there’s something interesting there, but I have mixed feelings about it

Films:

  • The Last Jedi: I liked this a lot in the cinema, because it took so many Star Wars tropes and subverted them with a contemporary twist. It has some fantastic action and amazing visuals. At the same time, I find it hard to disagree with some of the comments it has attracted regarding plot holes and character motivation. I’m curious to see how it will stand up over time.
  • Bright: Mediocre buddy cop movie; mediocre urban fantasy story. The plot dictated a certain setting, but as soon as you think about how the world got this way, and how this society actually works, it makes no sense.
  • The Adjustment Bureau: Has one very nifty chase sequence, but otherwise entirely forgettable.
  • Kingsman 2: Some cool action sequences, but lacks the freshness of the first movie.
  • The Hateful 8: Gorgeous cinematography, but too in love with its own dialogue.
  • Good Time: Excellent low-budget, down-to-earth, but high-tension crime drama about a robbery gone wrong. Robert Pattinson is stunningly good as small-time crook Connie Nikas who will do almost anything to help his brother, but whose plans are destined to blow up in his face. Harsh, but thoroughly engrossing.
  • Punisher: War Zone: I kinda like Ray Stevenson as the Punisher. He captures the look of the comic book character pretty well, and he brings a good deal of pathos to the role. But someone forgot to tell Dominic West that this wasn’t an early nineties Batman movie. His joker-esque portrayal of the villain Jigsaw is embarrassingly out of place.
  • Jumanji (2017): Fun!
  • Logan Lucky: Quirky little Soderbergh heist movie. Not a classic, and the plot is quite contrived. But it’s very entertaining.
  • Marauders: I couldn’t follow what was going on in this film. But I did like the casting of Dave Bautista as a huge, bulky, physical FBI agent who is also soft-spoken and intellectual. But…that was the only thing I liked about it.
  • 💩 The Cloverfield Paradox: Awful. It can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a hard-ish psychological sci-fi thriller like Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, or a supernatural cross-dimensional “the ship is alive!” horror flick like Event Horizon. In the end it gives up and throws up some giant monsters to hastily link it with the Cloverfield universe for branding purposes.
  • Black Panther: So good that I feel bad about the bits I didn’t like. Some of the CG action sequences felt floaty and unreal (characters landing from a great height lacking enough proper impact), and Killmonger deserved much more screen time than he was given. It is strongly hinted that he’s a rounded character strong convictions and a deep sense of purpose, but it isn’t shown adequately. In the end he feels more like Ronan The Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy, when I wanted him to be like the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Apparently director Ryan Coogler’s first cut of the film was four hours long, but it got cut down to 2:14 in the edit. I’m assuming that a lot of Killmonger got cut there. If you liked the music in Black Panther, it’s worth listening to Episode 131 of Song Exploder, in which composer Ludwig Göransson discusses how he produced it.
  • The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Very meh.
  • Easy A: Smart teen comedy, tight and witty.
  • Fantastic Mr Fox: Quirky, with Wes Anderson’s characteristic visual style in stop-motion form. But emotionally flat and uninvolving.
  • Get Out: Excellent. A deeply scary film that relies on constantly building tension instead of jump scares.
  • Atomic Blonde: This was much more of a classic East/West spy story than I had anticipated. It’s still primarily an action movie, but it’s subtler and grittier than the trailer promises. Charlize Theron is a super-cool heroine, and David Leitch’s direction is on point. The staircase shootout/fight scene that appears to be a single long take is brutal and breathlessly exciting.
  • American Made: not serious enough to be a drama, not outright funny enough to be a comedy. It shines a light on some of the ridiculous shenanigans that the CIA got up to in Central America in the 1970s and 80s, so it probably qualifies as political satire, too. But with a heavy emotional heart. It’s just a good film, you know? I enjoyed it a lot.

TV:

  • Parks and Recreation: I finally finished it! I was not expecting season 7 to pull a Fringe Season 5, and the first few episodes of that last season gave me pause. It worked out in the end, though. I feel ambivalent about how cruelly the show treats its more hapless and stereotypical characters (Jerry, Andy). It usually inverts the snideness to show how these two are actually the happiest characters in the whole show, but it often feels unnecessary. Still a great, classic piece of TV comedy, though.
  • 😕 Manhunt Unabomber: Was it the writers’ intention to make Theodore Kaszynski the most sympathetic character in the whole show? Paul Bettany’s performance as Kaszynksi was miles better than that of Sam Worthington as maverick FBI profiler Fitz who comes up with the insights to catch him. And Kaszynski’s world view and manifesto do contain warnings for this weird future we’ve ended up in. But was that really what the show was going for? Other than Fitz, the FBI are portrayed as blunt, dim, unpleasant, and short-sighted. Coming hot on the heels of the Netflix series Mindhunter from last year, this felt like a very poor imitation.
  • Agent Carter S2: Very good. Shame it got cancelled.
  • 😕 Arrow S3, S4, S5, S6: I have complex feelings about Arrow that probably arise from bingeing the show over a very short space of time. The character reversals come so often and so fast that it’s impossible to know where you’ll stand by the end of an episode. “They’re dead” vs “they’re alive again!”; “I’ll never trust them” vs “we have to trust them, it’s our only chance!”; “I’ll never kill again” vs “killing them is the only way!”; “People can never change their fundamental nature” vs “there is still some good in them, I know it!” The conclusion I’m coming to is that the showrunners are nihilists whose only certainty is that all promises will be broken and all good intentions will be subverted, and they want to explore this theme in exhaustive depth. Also, the show has managed to wear out my suspension of disbelief with regard to comic-book violence (aka mass murder). If you shoot an arrow in someone’s chest and they fall over and stop moving, they’re probably dead, not unconscious.
  • The Good Place S2: A bit more caper-y and less subtle than S1, but I still loved this.
  • Altered carbon: I found a lot to like here, but I don’t think it left a permanent mark on me as something I’d re-watch.
  • Star Trek Discovery S1: Variable. I mostly liked it.
  • Ugly Delicious: Starts as a conventional food show with a celebrity chef inviting people to visit interesting places and eat interesting food — with the twist that the food is not going to be fancy: it’s things like pizza, tacos, fried chicken. But as the series goes on, it turns into a much more interesting discussion of race, immigration, cultural appropriation and acceptance told through the medium of cooking. Quite worthwhile.
  • Jessica Jones S2: Excellent. Rich, complex characters dealing with a host of personal demons. The fact that it’s a “superhero” show is secondary most of the time, which is how I like it. Also, refreshingly few fight scenes.

Books:

The Twisted Path

  • ⭐ Sue Grafton – Y is for Yesterday: Another excellent addition to the series. Sad that with Sue Grafton’s death last year it will end here.
  • Erica Henderson & Ryan North – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 6: Who Run the World? Squirrels: Nice ongoing Squirrel Girl fun.
  • ⭐ Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen – Descender vol 1: Tin Stars Very good. Excellent art, intriguing world building. Will be buying more of this series.
  • Robin Sloan – Sourdough: A sweet, quirky, yet easygoing read that hits some of the same notes as Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore without feeling like a retread.
  • Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, Thomas Mauer – Copperhead vol 1: A New Sheriff in Town: Space western. Quite good.
  • Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire – Injection vol 3: Lovely art again, but the mystery feels recycled an unoriginal. It doesn’t bring more depth to the world like vols 1 and 2 did.
  • ⭐ Fiona Staples & Brain K. Vaughan – Saga vol 8: Heartache and humour. And Ghüs!
  • ⭐ Harry Connolly – The Twisted Path: A novella rather than a full book, but I was excited to get another episode in the Twenty Palaces series regardless. This one takes Ray and Annalise to the headquarters of the Twenty Palaces society in Portugal, where all is not what it seems. Tense and fast-paced urban fantasy.

Self-contained podcasts:

  • Containers: 8-part series by Alexis Madrigal about trade, transport, culture, and how the shipping container heralded a sea change in how our civilization deals with the distribution of goods.
  • Slow Burn: A Slate podcast covering the less famous stories and background from the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon. Aside from the obvious parallels with Donald Trump’s dealings, what struck me most was just how much time passed between the Watergate break-in and Nixon resigning.
  • A Very Fatal Murder: Very funny and pointed parody of podcasts in general, and true crime podcasts in particular.

Music:

I’ve got a ticket to see Garbage at the Barrowlands in Glasgow in September, but I’m actually more excited about seeing Honeyblood, who are sharing the bill with them. Alan pointed me in their direction a couple of years ago, and I love their stripped-down guitar + drums + vocals sound.

Spotify surfaced Frost* to me a few weeks ago. They’re described as “neo-prog”, which is fair. I dig it.

Over the last few months I’ve also been listening to a lot of Rival Consoles (the album Kid Velo in particular), Wye Oak (new album out soon; I’ll be seeing them live in a few weeks), and the dark vibes of Origin Pattern by Pixelife.

Games:

Over Christmas and January I played a lot of Elite: Dangerous, especially the community goals missions, but I haven’t put any time in since the new expansion came out in February. I bought the Frozen Wastes expansion pack for Horizon Zero Dawn, but immediately after installing it I felt compelled to go back and finish off all the side quests and missions that I hadn’t finished off in the original game before I started on the new content. Then I got a few missions into the new content and kinda drifted away.

I’m sure I’ll go back to HZD some time, but Alto’s Adventure is my life now. I can’t do anything else (including buying the sequel, Alto’s Odyssey) until I’ve finished it.

Alex is making fun of me. He doesn’t understand.