The Teardrop Describes Itself

I woke up this morning with the band name “The Teardrop Explodes” stuck in my mind. I knew they were from the early eighties, but frustratingly, I couldn’t remember their music. Wikipedia came to the rescue. Their biggest hit, of course, was “Reward”:

As I was reading the article, the name “Alan Winstanley” jumped out at me. I recognized the name, but couldn’t figure out why it was so familiar. Reading his wikipedia page didn’t help in that regard, but it did show that he had produced the album Please Describe Yourself by Dogs Die In Hot Cars, one of my favourite albums from 2004, which is what I’ve been listening to this morning.

Metric at Paradiso, Tuesday 20 October 2015

I bought my ticket for this gig kind of by accident. Not literally, “oops, I just hit the BUY button.” It was more that I got so excited about seeing Metric live that I bought the ticket without looking too closely at my calendar. If I had, I would have seen that the date was the night after we (the whole family) were supposed to be seeing Imagine Dragons at the Forum in Copenhagen. That would have been a squeeze.

But… we didn’t end up going to Copenhagen in the end. (We will see Imagine Dragons at the Ziggo Dome in February instead.) So I could go after all!

But… then Fiona and her best friend at school wanted to go and see Fall Out Boy at the Heineken Music Hall on the very same night, and I thought I was going to have to accompany them.

But! I finally got in touch with Fiona’s friend’s parents on the day of the concert to confirm the arragments, and it turned out they were both going along, and they didn’t need anyone else on Team Grownup. So I could go to Metric after all!

I was supposed to be on part-time leave from work that week, but we were right in the middle of crazytime, and I ended up working the Monday and Tuesday. I tore myself loose from my keyboard in time to make it to the gig, but I missed the opening act (Léyya), which was a pity. I also arrived too late to get a good spot to see the stage. I ended up squeezed between a pillar and the bar, and spent most of the time stepping aside to let people past for drinks.

Set list:

  1. Lie Lie Lie
  2. Fortunes
  3. Youth Without Youth
  4. Help I’m Alive
  5. Too Bad so Sad
  6. Cascades (with everyone wearing funky LED glasses; super synthy!)
  7. Black Sheep (from the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack)
  8. Satellite Mind
  9. Collect Call
  10. Other Side
  11. I didn’t recognize this one, but suggests that it was Monster Hospital. I listened to the track when I got back home, and I still didn’t recognize it. I’ll take their word for it. But then, they also list Combat Baby at the end of the set, and I don’t remember the band playing that, either. Hmm.
  12. Synthetica
  13. Gold Guns Girls
  14. The Shade


  1. Nothing but Time
  2. Celebrate
  3. Gimme Sympathy
  4. Breathing underwater

I felt that the gig was good but not great. Maybe being constantly jostled for drinks every couple of minutes made me a bit cranky. The tour T-shirts were excellent, though.

Lindsey Stirling at 013 Tilburg, Tuesday 4 November 2014

Alex found Lindsey Stirling on YouTube back in 2012, and got the whole family listening to her infectious pop violin. She was touring in support of her first album, and for Christmas that year I got us tickets for her gig at 013 in Tilburg on 16th January 2013.

I don’t remember if it had been snowing that day itself, but the country was white and cold. Alex, Fiona, and I bundled into Turty late in the afternoon and drove around the Amsterdam ring to Breukelen, where we picked up Abi from the station. We stopped off for some food at a McDonalds on the way, and got to Tilburg in time for the concert, but not in time to catch the support act. The place was packed — unpleasantly so, I thought. We struggled to find a spot at the back of the hall with a moderately unobscured view.

The gig itself was great. Lindsey played all of the key songs from her album. She had a keyboard player and a drummer on stage with her, and the act was full of energy. Fiona had been to see the Barenaked Ladies at the Mountain Winery with us in 2010, but it was Alex’s first pop concert. We loved it and resolved to catch her whenever she played near us again.

That day was last Tuesday! The concert at 013 in Tilburg again (after originally having been scheduled for the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven). Not wanting to run the risk of Turty’s exhaust dropping off (again) on a long trip with a time-critical component, I hired us a bigger car for the drive this time. I picked it up at lunchtime, and we set off on the journey at about 17:30. Just as before, we circled Amsterdam and picked Abi up at Breukelen. No snow this time, just lots of traffic jams.

We got to the centre of Tilburg just before 20:00, parked, and queued to get in. The place was packed again. We tried to get in to the downstairs area, but couldn’t even squeeze through the doors. A friendly usher told us that there was still space up on the balcony. It was better up there, but the sight lines weren’t great. We bought merch, lots of merch. We caught the second half of Mike Tompkins’s opening set, which was energetic and nicely produced, but not quite my thing.

Lindsey Stirling came on at 21:00, and the difference from last year was clear straight away. She still had the same keyboard player and drummer, but she was joined on stage by two dancers for many of the songs. The set was more elaborate, the lighting better, and the choreography was more elaborate. In the pauses between songs, she seemed more self-assured. Her second album, Shatter Me, came out earlier this year, and so she had more material to choose from. Everything was bigger, brighter, and more polished. Fiona was utterly entranced. Alex was somewhat pained by the sheer volume of the music, but enjoyed it too.

Lindsey Stirling at 013 Tilburg

(I confirmed my suspicions that the iPhone 4’s low-light performance isn’t as good as the Nexus 4. And the Nexus 4 is not that great.) Long drive back afterwards, and we didn’t get home until after midnight. Alex and Fiona had brought neck pillows and duvets with them, so they curled up in their seats and slept some. I was up early the next day to get the car back before 08:00. Very worthwhile trip.

Mixed Media, Sunday 5 October 2014

(Disclaimer: I received a promotional copy of Exo from Tor Books.)

I love Steven Gould’s Jumper series. Jumper itself is a classic “what if?” story about Davy Rice, who discovers that he can teleport himself to places he can see, or has been to before. Reflex takes Davy and his wife Millie into much darker territory when a shadowy organization kidnaps Davy and tortures him into working for them. In Impulse the story follows Davy and Millie’s daughter Cent as she comes to terms with her own abilities while trying to fit into a new school.

All of the books take a classic science-fictional exploratory approach to teleportation: they take the fact of it as given and explore the consequences, reactions, and workarounds using smart, likeable protagonists who are propelled into unexpected adventures. They’re brilliant. To say I was excited about Exo is an understatement.

It doesn’t disappoint. In Impulse Cent figured out that teleportation implies control over her velocity, and she learned how to fly using ballistic speed boosts. In Exo she takes the next logical step: can she reach space if she boosts upwards fast enough? How can she survive in a vacuum? And what will she do when she gets there?

The four classical types of narrative conflict are “man against man”, “man against society”, “man against nature”, and “man against self.” Exo introduces a fifth: woman against expectations. (I suppose it’s a variant of man against society, but it sounds better.)

Cent, as a young woman, spends the first half of the book butting up against, and systematically battering down, all the misapprehensions, underestimations, and objections the world throws at her in her quest to build her own space programme. It’s glorious. The second half gets a bit engineer-y with a lot of technical details, and the action sub-plot involving the mysterious Daarkon Group feels rushed. It still left me with goosebumps, and a burning desire to find out where the series will go next.


In the last few weeks I’ve been mostly listening to the new Aphex Twin album Syro, and A New House by Deacon Blue.

Deacon Blue - A New House

Deacon Blue’s last two albums didn’t move me very much, but A New House is a fantastic return to form – their best since Fellow Hoodlums. It’s fresh and upbeat, full of catchy hooks and big choruses: a great pop album. Unfortunately all of their UK gigs I could conceivably get to for the rest of the year seem to be sold out. I’d love to see them live.

Finally, in last week’s New Music Monday at work, one of m’colleagues dropped Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” into the playlist, and I’ve been kinda obsessed by that as well. I downloaded her album Red yesterday, which has been gaining me approving nods from Fiona. We listened to it this afternoon as we were making some stuffed felt Minecraft plush heads together.

Taylor Swift - Red

Maxïmo Park at Melkweg, Amsterdam, 11 February 2014

Maxïmo Park at Melkweg, Amsterdam, 11 February 2014

I’ve loved Maxïmo Park since their stunning debut album A Certain Trigger in 2005. I had heard thay are great live, and I was sorely disappointed to have missed them when they played Utrecht on their National Health tour in 2012. (I had actually–giddy with excitement–bought a ticket before I realized that I was going to be in Scotland with the kids for their autumn break that week.) But yesterday evening I finally caught them at Melkweg in Amsterdam. For the second time today, I’ll note:

Holy. Shit.

As usual, I got to the Melkweg way early. (Since missing the first ten minutes of The Tragically Hip in Glasgow a few years ago because I’d foolishly thought that 20:00 on the ticket meant I still had plenty of time, I don’t trust venue schedules any more.) At 19:50 the place was practically deserted. The balconies were blocked off, too, which probably meant there was going to be a relatively low turnout. (Melkweg has a capacity of about 1500.) On the plus side, this meant I was easily able to bag myself a great spot close to the stage and up one step, to help me see over the heads of the inevitably tall Dutchies. Also, right in front of one of the massive speaker stacks. Yuss.

His Clancyness came on at 20:00 and played a nice set. More people arrived, and at 21:00 the lights went down and the sound came up. A haunting electronic drone, throbbing with promise, building and breaking in complexity, played over a blue-lit stage for about five minutes while the sound guys stage left made final adjustments, and finally covered up the glowing apple logos on their MacBook Pros.

The the band came on and launched into Give, Get, Take, the opening song from the new album Too Much Information. Paul Smith was dressed in a natty checked suit, white shirt, Doc Martens, and his trademark hat. Right from the start he was electric, dancing around the stage, posing, jumping, and shaking his hips. His voice was so pure and clear, and so like the recordings that I wondered if he was miming, but no: his live delivery is just extraordinary. The first four tracks they played were all loud and hard and fast to get the audience moving.

Sometimes hearing a favourite song live for the first time can be a disappointment. But when they played The National Health, it was just as powerful as I’d hoped. Locking eyes with the audience, shaking his finger for sharp emphasis, Paul Smith put so much power and emotion behind the words that it made me shiver.

Unfortunately the middle part of the set was plagued by technical issues. Lukas Wooller’s keyboard died during A Fortnight’s Time, and even the replacement keyboard didn’t work straight away. It took him and the techs a good twenty minutes to get sound out of it again. In the meantime, Smith was very apologetic, asking the audience for suggestions of songs they could play that didn’t involve a keyboard. Graffiti was a popular shouted choice, and they shuffled the set list around to accomodate the disruption. I’m sure it would have been even better with keyboards, but Graffiti was never going to be anything but a huge crowd-pleaser.

It was interesting to see a very different Paul Smith during those unrehearsed, slightly panicked moments after each song ended, wondering if the keyboard was ready yet. When he’s singing, he’s mesmerizing; when he’s thanking the audience between songs, he’s charming. But in the face of equipment malfunction he seemed shy and vulnerable. He’s a brilliant performer, but not a natural raconteur. (Puns about “sourcy” behaviour backstage notwithstanding.)

Her Name Was Audre was a great little guitar-and-drums punk tune to end the interruption, and things were properly back on track for I Recognise The Light, a funny track from the new album that I hadn’t properly appreciated until then. The sound quality at Melkweg was fantastic yesterday evening, with the vocals definitely leading the mix. As well as bopping up and down, I spent a lot of time listening to the lyrics, and hearing and interpreting them in a different context. I usually listen to music as a background to other activities, but at a concert I’m right there, doing only that: listening. I didn’t used to like Write This Down much, but the live performance completely changed my perception of it. Likewise, I hadn’t found anything special in Drinking Martinis from Too Much Information until the live experience transformed it for me.

Smith introduced By The Monument by saying that they were playing it at the request of Emma who had contacted them, at which point the woman standing next to me went into a squealing fit of utter delight. I can only assume she was Emma. The Undercurrents, another of my favourites from The National Health was glorious. Girls Who Play Guitars had the crowd in a frenzy. And finally, Midnight On The Hill, one of the most emotional tracks on the new album, gave them a truly shining exit.

The encore was playful. The last track on Too Much Information is Where We’re Going, and it starts with a simple strummed guitar and the line: “I don’t know where we’re going.” Someone in the crowd shouted, “Going Missing!”, which was the obvious response. Paul Smith interrupted the song with a laugh and told us that we’d get there soon enough. Big roar of approciation. So they finished Where We’re Going, a delightful, simple song about uncertainty and anticipation, and then segued straight into their big finale, the much-loved Going Missing.

To everyone who told me that Maxïmo Park are a must-see live band: you were right. So awesomely right.

Set list:

  1. Give, Get, Take
  2. Our Velocity
  3. Signal and Sign
  4. The National Health
  5. Brain Cells
  6. Hips and Lips
  7. A Fortnight’s Time
  8. The Kids Are Sick Again
  9. Graffiti
  10. Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry
  11. Leave This Island
  12. Books From Boxes
  13. Her Name Was Audre
  14. I Recognise the Light
  15. My Bloody Mind
  16. Write This Down
  17. Drinking Martinis
  18. By The Monument
  19. The Undercurrents
  20. Girls Who Play Guitars
  21. Apply Some Pressure
  22. Midnight on the Hill


  1. Where We’re Going
  2. Going Missing

Neko Case at Paradiso, Amsterdam, 19 Sep 2009

Middle Cyclone album coverI was somewhat miffed when I discovered that Neko Case was playing Amsterdam in February this year by checking her web site a few days after the intended gig, and finding that she had had to cancel it because of an illness. On the one hand, I had missed seeing her; but on the other hand I would have missed seeing her anyway. Hmm.

Fortunately, her autumn tour brought her back to the Netherlands, where she played Paradiso on Saturday 19th September. Abi and I managed to wangle babysitting for the evening, so we could both go. It was a lovely Saturday, and we cycled in to town and had a burger at Burgermeester before the gig. We had a delightful evening, but as concerts go it wasn’t that great.

Although Neko was in fine voice, she looked tired and unhappy. Kelly Hogan, the second vocalist in the band, did all the talking between songs, occasionally throwing a line to Neko only to be rebuffed with a shrug. It was only towards the end of the set, when the end was in sight, that she even cracked a smile and started to engage a little with the audience. I know that she had had to cancel at least one gig earlier this tour because of illness (Edinburgh), so it’s possible she still wasn’t feeling right. However, the overall vibe I got from the stage was aloof and reluctant, which was disappointing.

Having said that, the actual performance was good. Neko’s voice is one of the modern wonders of the world, and Kelly Hogan’s provides a great accompaniment. The band was clearly comfortable playing together, and Jon Rauhause, hunched in intense concentration over his banjo and steel guitar, was a special treat.

They played through most of the new album Middle Cyclone and a helping of favourites from earlier albums. “Maybe Sparrow” was a definite crowd-pleaser early on, but the songs from Blacklisted were the ones I liked best, with “I Wish I Was The Moon” in the middle of the set being my personal highlight. It seemed to me that “The Train From Kansas City” right at the very end was where the band really seemed to shake loose and enjoy themselves the most. It’s just a pity that they didn’t light up earlier on.

Neko Case European Tour Fall 2009 Print

Set list:

  1. Things That Scare Me (BL)
  2. Maybe Sparrow (FCBTF)
  3. People Got A Lotta Nerve (MC)
  4. Fever (MC)
  5. Hold On, Hold On (FCBTF)
  6. I’m An Animal (MC)
  7. Middle Cyclone (MC)
  8. The Pharaohs (MC)
  9. Margaret vs. Pauline (FCBTF)
  10. Deep Red Bells (BL)
  11. I Wish I Was The Moon (BL)
  12. Polar Nettles (MC)
  13. Red Tide (MC)
  14. Prison Girls (MC)
  15. The Tigers Have Spoken (TTHS)
  16. Alimony (Harry Nilsson cover)
  17. That Teenage Feeling (FCBTF)
  18. This Tornado Loves You (MC)


  1. Vengeance Is Sleeping (MC)
  2. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth (MC)
  3. Train From Kansas City (TTHS)

MC = Middle Cyclone, FCBTF = Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, BL = Blacklisted, TTHS = The Tigers Have Spoken