Melanie Martinez released her new album Portals earlier this year, and it’s brilliant. Weird, but brilliant. Like her first two albums it has a unifying theme, but this one takes a left turn. On Cry Baby and K-12 she adopted a child-like persona, and many of the songs on those albums are written from the point of view of that persona. The obvious evolution for Portals would have been for the Cry Baby character to grow further into adulthood, but nope! Instead she metamorphoses into a four-eyed winged nymph-like woodland fantasy creature. Not only does the whole album adopt this theme, but Melanie herself has done all the supporting publicity and performances for the album in character, in full prosthetics and costume. And for the Portals tour – which is much grander in scale than her previous tours – she is doing all the concerts in character and costume as well. The commitment is impressive.
Fiona is the one who first introduced me to Melanie Martinez’s music. We saw her together at Melkweg in 2016. Fiona almost saw her again on the 2019 K-12 tour, but Fiona was suffering heavily from back pain and after queuing for hours found that they couldn’t face the whole concert. This time round Fiona is living in Scotland, and I lined up one of my work trips so that I was around on for Melanie Martinez’s night at the OwO Hydro. (We had other Dundee stuff to do that week as well; it was busy.)
I had rented a car for the work trip, so we were able to drive to Glasgow. We had bought tickets through a pre-sale promotion, and had allocated seats, so we didn’t need to be there super early to queue up. Still we got there relatively early – just after 19:00 – because it was the first time either of us had been there, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Parking was easy, and somehow our tickets funnelled us through a very short queue at the doors. We located our seats on the ground, at the back of the main standing area, and then queued up for merch. (Decent merch; I got a nice poster.)
As an arena venue, the Hydro seems to have its booths and catering set up fairly nicely. It’s still an arena, though. Even the good seats we had were still miles away from the stage. The merch queue was long, and we got back to our seats just before the opening act started. UPSAHL played some fine energetic pop. In the break after her performance we popped out to get some drinks, expecting that it would take 30 or 40 minutes to get the stage ready, but it turned out to be much faster than that. The lights went down just after we got seated again, and the main event kicked off.
As on her previous tours, Melanie Martinez played through the whole Portals album in order, so we knew what to expect in that sense. But the stage setup and set dressing was much more elaborate than on previous tours. The stage was decorated with a woodland theme, with dangling clusters of leaves and giant light-up mushrooms at either side. Between songs the crew would quickly add and remove props. For the song “SPIDER WEB” they lowered a giant rope web like a curtain to match the theme. A video wall behind the stage played animations to match each song. It was big and elaborate and wonderful.
The band on stage consisted of a drummer, guitarist, keboard player, and bassist. The keyboard player also used a live theremin during some of the songs. Not something you see every day! At the front of the stage, Melanie Martinez was accompanied by four dancers. They put on a strutting, cartwheeling, elegantly choreographed, and hugely confident show.
It was great to watch, despite the two people “seated” in front of us spending the whole show standing up and doing their best to block our view. You booked seats! The people in front of you weren’t standing up and blocking your view! If you wanted to go and join the floor audience closer to the stage, the ramp down was right there. (The two people next to us got up and left during the short break before the encore, so we were able to sneak a couple of seats along and get an unobstructed view for the last three songs.)
Also, someone right behind us was filming the whole show on their smartphone, with the LED flash turned on the whole time, which did nothing to illuminate the stage but did illuminate the HEADS of the two people STANDING in front of us, and bathing us in enough reflected light to mess with my night vision, which is bad enough as it is. We could see literally hundreds of people doing the same thing: holding up their smartphone WITH THE LIGHT ON to film the entire concert. 99% Invisible did an episode about music cassette tapes and the culture of people taping Grateful Dead concerts just last week. I understand the impulse to capture the moment and keep memories of a concert, and I’m sure there are people behind me who get annoyed when I hold up my phone to take still photos. I don’t generally want to tell people how they should enjoy a concert, but paying upwards of €50 for the experience and then spending the whole evening getting fatigued arms from holding up your phone the whole time seems…wrong. But if you’re going to do it, please at least learn how to turn off the fucking light so you don’t blind everyone around you.
- TUNNEL VISION
- FAIRY SOIRÉE
- LIGHT SHOWER
- SPIDER WEB
- BATTLE OF THE LARYNX
- THE CONTORTIONIST
- MOON CYCLE
At the end of “MILK OF THE SIREN” one of the dancers brought out a trans flag for Melanie to hold up, and the video wall behind her showed a FREE PALESTINE CEASEFIRE NOW message with a giant QR code link to ceasefiretoday.com.
Our ground floor seats meant that when the music was done we were able to make a very fast exit from the arena and get back to our car before everyone else. Unfortunately we then found ourselves lost in a maze of road closures and road works, and Fiona had to navigate us along surface streets to Robroyston, where we stopped for some McDonalds before the drive back to Dundee. It was after 1am before we got back. Long evening, but worth it.
Aside: this was my first concert outing with my new phone, an iPhone 15 Pro. When it comes to taking photos of the stage: not very impressive. I’d hoped for better. On the other hand: terrible conditions for a tiny camera! (We’ll see what it’ll be like in upcoming gigs, if I can get a bit closer to the stage.) But my colleague Graham was also at the show, and he showed me some of the pictures he’d taken with his Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (with 10x optical zoom) and they were just astonishingly better. The lesson I’m taking from this is: arena venues are terrible.
I have to admit that I wasn’t super looking forward to this gig. I had bought my ticket months ago when they went on sale, and because Ticketmaster had blocked resale through their site, the cost was already sunk. The venue was the Ziggo Dome, which is not my favourite. I’ve been feeling burned out and exhausted lately, and a whole evening of Ziggo Dome including travel there and back was not appealing. I’d enjoyed the lead singles from In Times New Roman, but I didn’t feel the rest of the album was their strongest material.
On the other hand, I pretty much always enjoy seeing live music when I get there, and my principle that “you should always take the opportunity to see your favourite band live because you never know when they’ll split up, or die” still holds. I’ve been into the Queens since Rated R in the early 2000s, and so many of their songs are keystones of my playlists when I feel like something hard and heavy. So over the last week I spent some more time with the new album, and got myself a bit more in the mood by reading reviews of their recent North-American gigs, exploring the tour’s set lists on setlist.fm, and discovering that they have a long tradition of high quality, limited edition, venue-specific tour posters.
I’m nothing if not a merch fiend, so I made sure that I got to the Ziggo dome when doors opened. Indeed, the merch was very good. I bought a poster by artist David D’Andrea and a T-shirt, stashed them in a locker, and went and sat myself down for the next four and a half hours. It was still super early, and I’ve never seen the Ziggo dome so empty.
British band Deep Tan came on at 19:15 and played a hypnotic half hour set. After a short break, Australian punks The Chats speed-ran twenty songs in thirty minutes, each one exactly the same as the last. The baby mosh pit in front of the stage seemed to enjoy it, but it seemed awfully bland to me.
The Queens of the Stone Age started their set a little later than expected at 21:20. They opened with some strong crowd-pleasers, and played more songs from the new album than I’d expected based on their North-American set lists. The band were in good form, but the crowd felt lukewarm. Maybe the energy would have been better down on the floor, but up high the mood felt a bit distant. The biggest reception was for their thundering fan favourites like “No-One Knows”, “My God Is The Sun”, and “Little Sister”. “Better Living Through Chemistry” was a hypnotic slow burn to start with, followed by a colossal crashing wall of guitars to end the brooding pause in the middle of the song. Worth putting up with the Ziggo Dome to hear some of my favourite songs live and up close like that? Yes.
A new thing I tried at this gig was to use my Apple Airpods Pro (second generation) as hearing protection instead of the usual foam earplugs I bring with me. The “transparency mode” feature of the Airpods is better than anything else I’ve tried, and in household or office situations it sounds almost like I’m not wearing anything at all. In high noise situations the transparency mode applies a cap on loudness, but does it in a smart way, such that the music still sounds clear rather than muffled. It’s still loud, but not deafening. Throughout the gig I tried listening with the pods in and out, with transparency mode and noise cancelling, and processing off entirely. Transparency mode is definitely a winner.
There are some processing artefacts: sometimes they have trouble keeping up with rapid loudness changes, and sometimes the processing in my left and right ears would be slightly different, leading to a wobbly flicker effect. But overall it sounded good in a way that gigs don’t when I’m wearing foam plugs, and at the end of the gig I had no ringing in my ears at all. I’ll be doing this more often from now on, and I’ll be interested to see if this gets even better in future generations of the Airpods.
Also: was I the only person in the whole crowd of 17,000 wearing a mask? Yes, I think I was.
- Regular John
- No One Knows
- Smooth Sailing
- My God Is The Sun
- Emotion Sickness
- I Sat By The Ocean
- Time & Place
- The Way You Used To Do
- Better Living Through Chemistry
- Sick Sick Sick
- Negative Space
- Make It Wit Chu
- Little Sister
- In The Fade
- Made To Parade
- Battery Acid
- Paper Machete
- Go With The Flow
- Gig review at LFL Magazine: Queens Of The Stone Age in Ziggo Dome (live-recensie)
Via Trung Phan’s SatPost newsletter, Brian Potter’s article “The Story of Titanium” is a great read about how Titanium metal’s use as a lighter alternative to steel is a relatively recent, and still quite expensive thing:
Titanium is also a story about the importance of serendipity in scientific discovery and technology advancement. Titanium’s biocompatibility, and its usefulness for medical implants, was discovered purely by chance. Studying biocompatibility led to another chance discovery, that of bone conduction of sound. Both of these discoveries led to the development of important medical technology, implants and hearing aids.
Finally, titanium is also a story about the critical role that manufacturing plays in technology development. The knowledge required to turn titanium into a practical technology came from the research lab, but it also came from the factory floor. Using titanium meant understanding its chemical properties, but it also meant figuring out how to forge it, weld it, press it, turn it into fasteners, design parts effectively with it, designing tools to machine it, and a million other shop floor discoveries that came from actually building things with the metal.
I’ve used an iPhone X since 2017, but 2023 is finally the year for an upgrade. (6 years is a good run for a phone.) The X is no longer compatible with the latest version of iOS, and although Apple still does provide some security updates for older phones, I’d prefer to be inside the standard support window.
Also, the battery is turning into a spicy pillow. It’s visibly bowed. (This is not the original battery. I got the battery replaced at our local phone repair shop, which kept it going for a few more years.) A couple of weeks ago I had to replace the battery in my Magic Trackpad 2 as well. (It’s a gooey mess inside that thing.) Abi describes my devices as being “pregnant. Pregnant with fire.”
The iPhone 15 Pro boasts of using a titanium frame, but the amount of titanium in the phone is actually relatively small (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_W73ouKtjU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNLEXAwpCsE). It’s a very strong material, lighter than steel, but potentially also more brittle, and as the article above describes it also has different properties when it comes to corrosion. Nevertheless, it’s pretty cool to have a frame that won’t melt until 1668°C. (The rest of the phone woud be slag by that point.)
The other thing about titanium that for some reason sticks in my mind is that there’s a massive factory just outside the port of Calais that makes the white pigment titanium dioxide. The company is called Tioxide. I remember seeing the brightly lit name of the factory when I was a kid, and we would take the channel crossing back from England to France, at the start of the long drive back up to the Netherlands. Just as the Little Chef diner just outside Dover is a marker in my mind for “we’re in Britain now”, so is Tioxide a sign for me that “I’m back on the continent.”
Three gigs in two weeks, wow, it’s been a while since I’ve been that active. There were a couple gigs I had to miss earlier in the summer because of circumstances (Maggie Rogers, The Heavy), but I’ve been catching up on activity.
Where 65daysofstatic was a gig, TWRP was a show. Alex has been a fan of theirs for years, and he’s the one who introduced me to their music. This is the first time I’ve seen them live, but I understand that this is what their shows are like: to match their costumed on-stage personas, they weave a scripted narrative between their songs, heavy on jokes and interaction with the audience.
This is their “International Business” tour, which is sponsored by “International Business Systems”. The crew wore blue IBS t-shirts, styled like the classic IBM logo. Of course, IBS can also mean irritable bowel syndrome, and they played on this double meaning with this throughout the act. The story line involved a new IBS prototype called GROBB (Good ROBot Boy), who turns evil (or at least very misguided) part-way through the show, and has to be defeated by lead singer Doctor Sung hacking into the mainframe. The masks that the band wear hide their expressions, but Doctor Sung makes up for it with his larger-than life antics on stage. It’s playful and terrific fun. The audience was 100% nerds, and totally on board for every second of it. The encore absolutely brought the house down.
In their music they often collaborate with other artists (Ninja Sex Party, Electric Six), but on stage Doctor Sung takes the vocal parts for himself with his talkbox. I was close to the stage, but way on the right, where I didn’t have a view of GROBB, but I did have a great view of the musicians themselves. In their recordings I hadn’t spotted quite how bass-led many of their songs are, but that came through very strongly on stage. Commander Meouch the bass player makes it all look easy.
Alex was there with his friends Rafael and Wim. I don’t think they’re as much fans as Alex is, but they all came out of the gig beaming, looking like they had a great time. Alex was positively bouncing off the walls. None of us particularly enjoyed the opening act (Jazz Emu), but the main event made up for it in spades. Very highly recommended!
Merch haul: an IBS t-shirt for me, as well as a tour poster and a couple of stickers. Alex got at least one t-shirt, probably more.
Set list (in collaboration with Alex and setlist.fm, because I didn’t recognize all the songs):
- Birth of the Blues (followed by introduction to GROBB)
- Bright Blue Sky
- Only The Best
- Typhoon Turnpike -> Hidden Potential
- Atomic Karate (with nunchuks)
- Summer Everyday
- Superior Moves
- Have You Heard?
- Head Up High
- Synthesize Her
- Starlight Brigade
- All Night Forever
Second time seeing 65 in two weeks! This time I was back on home turf. Alex came along as well. We had both been somewhat nonplussed after their 2018 Decomposition Theory gig at the same venue, but this would be more like a “classic” gig. (In hindsight, I actually enjoy listening to Replicr, the album that Decomposition Theory evolved into, and I like listening to the Wreckage Systems livestream. But it wasn’t what I’d been expecting going into the gig.)
Abi dropped us off at Tolhuistuin. Alex was suffering from a blocked ear, so he’d be experiencing the music partly in mono, and partly through the heavy bass vibrations. Neither of us was super excited about Sugar Horse as the support act, so we showed up late.
It was interesting to compare the two gigs so close together. Tolhuistuin is a larger venue than St. Luke’s. The sound quality was also much better here: not nearly so harsh, and with much greater separation and clarity of the instruments. I did have earplugs with me this time, but I didn’t need them squeezed in to their absolute maximum capacity.
The band seemed much more relaxed up on stage, which is perhaps not surprising. The St. Luke’s gig was the opening night of the tour, and the first time they’ve played a full tour for quite a while. The times I’ve seen them they’ve never interacted much with the audience, but they had a little bit more chat in Glasgow than in Amsterdam. The break between the two halves of the set was much longer. In Glasgow, they left the stage for just a couple of minutes, while in Amsterdam they took a full 15-minute break. Alex and I watched the first half from the balcony, but we had time to queue up for a drink at the bar, along with a hundred other people.
After the break we found a spot downstairs and watched the second half of the set from there. Just as in Glasgow, they played the whole of Wild Light in the first half, and a collection of bangers for the second half. They didn’t play “Supermoon” in Amsterdam, but they did leave the stage and come back for an encore of “I Swallowed Hard, Like I Understood”.
The crowd seemed warmer than in Glasgow, but maybe that was because there were just more people in the venue. And as at the Decomposition Theory show five years ago, there was a dude who shouted “Radio Protector” before they played it… and after it as well.
Merch haul: a grey Wild Light t-shirt for me (L is a good size, but I don’t think the vinyl printing on the front is going to last well) and a black Specialists t-shirt for Alex.
- Heat Death Infinity Splitter
- The Undertow
- Sleepwalk City
- Unmake the Wild Light
- Safe Passage
- Install a Break in the Heart That Clucks Time in Arabic
- Retreat! Retreat!
- Crash Tactics
- Radio Protector
- I Swallowed Hard, Like I Understood