The Heavy at Melkweg The Max, Saturday 21 May 2016

Hot and sweaty, shouty and jumpy.

I was a warm day, and I wanted to stretch my legs. I walked to NDSM and took the ferry to Westerdoksdijk (not Tasmanstraat any more). Walking along the Wesetrdoksdijk, I caught some views of the buildings on the IJdok that I hadn’t seen before. I’ve passed them on the water often enough, but I’d never stopped to look at the buildings from this angle before:

I walked to the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and caught a tram the rest of the way to Leidseplein. JPNSGRLS (pronounced “Japanese Girls”, yet consisting of four dudes from Vancouver, Canada) were on stage already. I bought myself a cold beer and found a good spot to watch. I hardly ever drink a beer at concerts these days, but the circumstances of a nice walk on a warm day were perfect for a cold pilsje. It was good. JPNSGRLS were good, too. I hadn’t listened to any of their music before, but they played well and got the crowd on their side with a batch of solid rock beats.

The Heavy were a completely different matter. They tore it up, and the crowd went wild for them. Unlike my last two concerts at Melkweg (Halsey and Melanie Martinez) I was down on the floor, just a couple of heads back from the jumping and moshing, but still in the middle of the hands and arms and clapping and shouting. The band opened with “Can’t Play Dead”, then three tracks from their new album Hurt and The Merciless. Front man Kelvin Swaby complimented the audience on how we were joining in on the new songs. “What’ll happen if we play something you know even better?” he mused, and launched into “Short Change Hero.”

The whole gig was like that — a mix of new songs and old favourites, with the crowd loving all of them. I had listened to the new album a few times, but what struck me at the concert was that those songs are made to be played live, with an audience joining in at key moments. The recorded versions are good, but they really come into their own when Swaby asks a thousand people to howl like a wolf when he waves his old-fashinoned silver mike during “Big Bad Wolf”, or shout “up!” when he points his arm skywards Usain Bolt-style during the chorus of “Turn Up”.

Set list:

  1. Can’t Play Dead
  2. The Apology
  3. Not The One
  4. Miss California
  5. Short Change Hero
  6. Nobody’s Hero
  7. The Big Bad Wolf
  8. Curse Me Good
  9. Same Ol’
  10. Since You Been Gone
  11. Last Confession
  12. Turn Up
  13. What Happened To The Love?

Encore

  1. Slave To The Love
  2. What Makes A Good Man?
  3. How You Like Me Now

After the gig I emerged into the warm Amsterdam evening. The café tables of the Leidseplein were crowded, and the air was full of dozens of languages. I bought a slice of pizza and wandered back up the Leidsestraat and the Spuistraat back to the station, soaking in the summery atmosphere. Friday evening after the Bleached gig I took the ferry across to Buikslotermeerplein by the Eye, and Abi drove me home. Yesterday I waited around for a bus, listening to The Glorious Dead on my headphones, and watched river traffic pass by under the watchful gaze of the newly opened Adam Toren. Its various lookout bars and restaurants opened last weekend. The top of the building is illuminated and looks fabulous. Must visit it soon.

Bleached at Bitterzoet, Friday 20 May 2016

My first time ever at Bitterzoet in Amsterdam! I had a ticket to see Wintersleep there in September of 2012, but for some reason I didn’t go along. I don’t remember why not. Looking back at blog posts from around that time, I don’t see any events that would have obviously clashed. I do, however, see a Frightened Rabbit gig that I have no memory of attending. None. This is weird. I was speaking to a friend just last week about how I would love to see Frightened Rabbit live some time. Seeing that I just wrote down a set list for the gig doesn’t help. Did I really see them, or did I just copy the set list from somewhere else? This is exactly why I spend time writing on my blog. The writing process fixes things in my memory much more strongly. Attaching even poor quality photographs snapped at a gig gives me something more to hang on to.

So: Bitterzoet! It’s a cool little venue (capacity 350) that from the outside looks just like any other bar or restaurant on the street. But inside you down some narrow stairs, turn some corners, come back up some narrow stairs, and it feels like you’ve been spelunking and have arrived in a cavern in the centre of some massive rock formation. There’s a small stage at the far end, a raised area to the rear (for the Merch stand), and a small balcony up to the left. Red stained glass windows portraying lascivious and devilish scenes are illuminated from behind, but obviously not with actual daylight.

Bitterziet stained glass

Bleached came on a bit late, at about 21:20: Jennifer and Jessica Clavin on guitars, Micayla Grace on bass, and a male drummer at the back. They explained they were late because they’d had to drive eight hours to get there, but that didn’t stop them from playing a tight set, full of short, spiky, punchy songs with lots of hair tossing and woo-woos. The small size of the venue gave them the freedom to come down off the stage and play and dance in amongst the audience several times during the show. It felt like the perfect venue to see them at. (Does that explain the quantity of photographers? There were four dudes wielding expensive camera kit right at the front of the stage, taking pictures throughout.)

Set list:

  1. Trying To Lose Myself Again
  2. Keep On Keeping On
  3. Dazed
  4. Wednesday Night Melody
  5. Sleepwalking
  6. Searching Through The Past
  7. Sour Candy
  8. Electric Chair
  9. Wasted On You
  10. Think of You
  11. ? Didn’t recognize this one
  12. Dead In Your Head

Encore:

  1. Next Stop

The Joy Formidable at the Liquid Room, Monday 9 May 2016

My first time ever at the Liquid Room in Edinburgh! (I didn’t go to many gigs while we lived there.) When I saw that The Joy Formidable didn’t have any European dates planned for their tour (yet?), I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to plan a trip to coincide with their appearance in Edinburgh.

So, comparing the Liquid Room to venues near Amsterdam, I think that it’s probably closest to the Tolhuistuin in size and shape. It feels a lot denser, though, because of the narrow staircases and corridors you have to follow to get into the main room. The biggest different was the sound: it was cranked up much louder than at any comparable venue I’ve been to here in the Netherlands. As in, painfully loud. Local band Man of Moon played the opening set, and I had to put in my earbuds to stop the sharp jabbing pain. I think they turned it down a few decibels for the Joy Formidable, but it was still teeth-jarringly loud and distorted.

Man of Moon

I had a great spot for the first half of the show, just a few heads back from the stage. I was reveling in the ability to actually see over those heads when a group of half a dozen drunk twenty-somethings squeezed past with full pint cups and cans of beer and starting a head-banging session right on front of me, and sloshing beer all around. I don’t begrudge them a good time, but showing up late and forcing their way to the front of the crowd is not cool. I had a choice of staying behind them and getting soaked in beer, or moving. I moved to the side of the crowd, and put up with a worse (but drier) view for the rest of the show. When the band left the stage, Matt Thomas threw away his drum sticks (Vic Firth 2Bs), and one of them landed right in front of me. So there’s that.

Just as when I saw them in 2013, they played a blinding set. They wring the absolute most from each song, and then keep on going. They give so much more than reproductions of the recordings.

As the crowd was breaking up, I spotted my colleague Mike V. who was over in Edinburgh from New York for the week. I made my stop at the amazing merch stand (seriously — one of the best I’ve ever seen), and then we went round the corner to the Bow Bar for a drink.

The Joy Formidable merch stand, run by The MerchFox

Set list:

  1. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade
  2. I Don’t Want To See You Like This
  3. Passerby
  4. Wolf’s Law
  5. The Last Thing On My Mind
  6. Ostrich
  7. Cradle
  8. Liana
  9. The Leopard And The Lung

Encore:

  1. The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie
  2. ? (I didn’t recognize this one)
  3. Whirring

Walk to Fort bij Spijkerboor, Thursday 5 May 2016

5th May was Liberation Day in the Netherlands, and a public holiday. The Fort at Spijkerboor, part of the Amsterdam Defence Line, was open for the day. It was a beautiful day. I took the morning to walk there, and met Abi and her parents for lunch and a tour of the fort.

WW2 monument near Jisp – the propeller of an Allied bomber that crashed in a field nearby
Café/restaurant ‘t Heerenhuis on the Starnmeerdijk

Shutdown strategies

The Toast is shutting down. I’m not a part of the Toast community, but I’ve enjoyed many articles there over the last three years. The website will continue to exist, but they won’t be adding any new content.

Hi.co is shutting down. Their shutdown stategy is much more elaborate. They plan to use an ion-etching process to “print” a tiny copy of the entire site on a set of nickel plates. Using an optical microscope, the content of these plates should be readable for thousands of years. They also intend to keep the site’s archives online under a different top-level domain (hitotoki.org) and sell the more valuable domain hi.co to cover some of the costs.

Even if you’re not generating any new content, running a website takes money. When we talk about “buying” and “owning” domain names, most of the time we’re talking about paying a company (domain registrar) to maintain a database entry for a domain name. As soon as you stop paying the registrar the annual fee, they stop maintaining the database entry, and the domain name goes up for auction. Likewise, most of the time, a website is hosted on servers run by another company, and that company expects to get paid every month to keep the server running. If a site owner stops paying the bills, the site will disappear within a very short time. (I suppose in that sense it’s no different that any other property.)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, mostly in the context of this here blog. If something happens to me, and I stop paying the bills for sunpig.com, this blog will vanish. If I’m dead, I won’t be around to care, but I can’t help feeling disappointed now that all of this content will just go away. It might still exist in a backup somewhere, but keeping digital content accessible requires ongoing effort and money. Back in 2002, Mark Pilgrim said, “Anything that is infinitely reproducible can survive.” (Ironically, that link points to Internet Archive, because in 2011 he chose to shut his own website down.) His argument is correct, but there’s a catch in the word “can”. Just because copyable digital content can surive, doesn’t mean that it will.

The Internet Archive does amazing not-for-profit work to digitally preserve large chunks of the internet, this site included. Will it still be around in 50 years? I hope so, and I’ve just donated to help make that happen. Also, since the beginning of this year, I’ve been gradually scanning mountains of old paper files cut down the space it takes up. But I still can’t escape the feeling that if I want to pass on a copy of everything I’ve written here on sunpig.com to Alex and Fiona…I should print it out.

Mixed media, Sunday 15 May 2016

Buckle up, this is a big one. Haven’t done one for a while.

Films:

  • Allegiant is a film that I watched.
  • Batman v. Superman is a two-and-a-half hour teaser trailer for next year’s Wonder Woman film. Like most good teaser trailers, it has good bits! To balance them out, it also has the worst Lex Luthor ever committed to screen. (I re-watched Man of Steel before going in to see BvS, and found it still stood up pretty well.)
  • Bridge of Spies is an excellent spy film without much spying. It’s all about the boundary between the spies and the rest of the world. Mark Rylance’s laconic “would it help?” is one of the best and most understated catch phrases of all time.
  • I remember the existence of the BBC version of Z for Zachariah from the eighties, but nothing more than that. The 2015 version is a slow character piece. The “Z” really does stand for “Zachariah”. It does not stand for Zombie. There are no zombies in this post-apocalyptic world. Pity. Zombies would have been more fun.
  • I found Escape Plan an enjoyable prison escape flick, although the climax relies too much on a giant shoot-out. Stallone and Schwarzenegger play smart and thoughtful characters who nonetheless get to flex their muscles just enough to satisfy the “action” quota. So many wasted supporting performances, though.
  • Kung Fu Panda 3: simple, easygoing fun.
  • I loved the cold war style paranoia that Captain America: The Winter Soldier did so well, and I had high hopes for Captain America: Civil War. It holds up. It’s a huge, sprawling piece of work, with plenty of edges and cracks that I’m still pondering. (Specifically, when and how did Steve find out about [REDACTED], the revelation of which leads to the final showdown.) I also like the amount of time that the heroes spend in ordinary street clothes instead of their costumes. It keeps the whole thing more grounded. Keeping Zemo entirely costume-free was a splendid decision.
  • Valley Uprising: documentary about the history of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley. Some very colourful characters on display, and some amazing climbing footage.
  • For Grace: the story of Curtis Duffy, one of America’s top chefs, and his obsessive drive to build his new restaurant from the ground up. Fascinating and emotional.
  • Super. Superheroes are often portrayed as disturbed characters, haunted by inner demons. Super just ignores the super powers. The absurdity of people dressing up in costumes to “fight crime” (what crime? how do you decide?) is sometimes played for laughs, and sometimes for discomfort. It’s an awkward film that nevertheless tries to have a solid, well-meaning heart. I appreciated it, but I didn’t like it.
  • Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay A collection of reminiscences and archive footage of Ricky Jay and the magicians who influenced him growing up. I adore anything with Ricky Jay in it.
  • Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants A recording of Ricky Jay’s 1996 stage show. I downloaded a low-def TV broadcast version from the internet, but even so it was never less than amazing.

Books and comics:

  • Arkwright is another Allen Steele love letter to space exploration and colonization. A multi-generational story of humans leaving earth for the stars, but concentrating on the very small-scale human stories that unfold along the way. (Promotional copy provided by MacMillan.)
  • Birthright vol 1 has a promising premise, but didn’t leave much of a mark on me. I don’t see myself hunting down vol 2.
  • Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 2 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson continues in the same vein as vol1. Fun and funny.
  • Powers vol 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Oeming is a cross between police detective fiction and superhero story. I liked it in the large, but the text is full of awful sentences and spelling mistakes that should have been caught during the editing process. The big picture has promise. Maybe once I’ve forgotten how much the mistakes annoyed me, I’ll go back for vol 2. (Note: I’m fully aware that this blog here is full of grammar and spelling mistakes. I hold professionally published material to a higher standard.)
  • Kaptara vol 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod is a weird, weird science fantasy adventure. I haven’t formed much of an attachment to the characters, but I’ll follow this to see just where it goes next.
  • Sex Criminals vol 3: Three The Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I’ve been following the comics as they’ve hit the stands. The last one in this story arc (issue #15) came out last month. Just as issue #14, I found it disappointing. There are a few outstanding panels, but it didn’t lead anywhere, except maybe to the beginning of the next story arc. I dont’ feel I know the characters any better at the end of the issue than at the beginning. Perhaps I should go back and read issues #11-15 in a single sitting and see if it’s more satisfying that way. I think I’ll hold off on getting single issues in the future.

TV:

  • Gravity Falls In the first season, the show makers introduce a splendid cast of quirky characters in a rich setting. In the second season, they actually wrap the story up, rather than letting it run on indefinitely. And the way it wraps up is just astonishing. For a TV show that is ostensibly for kids (made for Disney XD), the final episodes are utterly terrifying. If you’re familiar with the apocalyptic world that the Earth transforms into at the climax of F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary cycle: this is it. If it wasn’t balanced with hefty doses of comedy, and had all the sympathetic yet flawed characters we’ve grown to care about over the two seasons working together, it would be pure nightmare fuel. How the show blends all of this together into a satisfying and emotional conclusion is a masterpiece of TV writing. I can’t praise it highly enough.
  • Master of None. When we were out for a curry a few weeks ago, Alan talked about how he likes to watch comedy late in the evening, because it’s nice to go to sleep with a smile of your face. He recommended Master of None on Netflix, and it’s great.
  • House of Cards season 4. Abi and I watched the first three seasons last summer, and binged on season 4 almost as soon as it hit Netflix. The final shot of the last episode is like whoa O.O
  • Daredevil season 2. “Come for the Daredevil, stay for the Kingpin.” is what I said about the first season last year. For season two, it’s similar: come for the Daredevil, stay for Foggy and the Punisher. Anyone but Daredevil himself. Matt Murdoch is such a self-absorbed dick in this show. I have a worrying feeling that this is not deliberate, that the writers think they’re presenting a tortured soul rather than a bit of an asshole. We’ll see next season.
  • Arrow season 3 I enjoyed the wildly fluctuating alliances and breakneck pace of character development in the first two seasons, but season 3 is just a hot mess of people being awful to each other. What happened?
  • Criminal Minds season 9 is a show that I watched.
  • VideoGaiden season 4 The long-awaited return of a cult Scottish TV show about video games. Are Rab and Ryan really back, or are they stuck in a bizarre TV afterlife? I loved watching the old shows on late night TV, and these new episodes are great, too. Full of sometimes surreal and existential humour, and insightful musings about videogames.

Music:

65daysofstatic are making the music for the new videogame No Man’s Sky. Like the game, some of the the music will be procedurally generated, but they’re releasing two albums selected from it as well, Music for an Infinite Universe and Soundscapes. Due out on 17th June. They’ve put an early track up on Soundcloud already, and it’s delicious:

Third Coast Percussion have a new album of Steve Reich compositions. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I adore this:

Intermittently listening to Little Black Book by Groove Armada, Junk by M83, and Hitch by The Joy Formidable. Ritual Spirit by Massive Attack is a short EP, with some striking songs. “Voodoo in my Blood” is one of them:

Finally, Johnson & McAuley is a collaboration between Alexz Johnson and Bleu McAuley. I’ve been a fan of Bleu since 2003, but I hadn’t come across Alexz Johnson before. This collaboration features just six tracks, but two of them are among the finest power pop songs I’ve come across in recent years: “The Secrets You Keep”, which features delightful criss-crossing vocals, and “No More Fear”, which is a throwback to a certain style of mid-eighties funk that gets under my skin in the best possible way. (Reminds me a lot of “I Won’t Feel Bad” by Simply Red.)