2018 Concerts

Favourites: Thumpers and The Cool Quest.

Mixed Media, Sunday 17 January 2016

I finished watching season 1 of Jessica Jones on Netflix this week. I thought Daredevil was pretty dark and gritty, but Jessica Jones tops it handily. It takes as its core theme the question of how people live with themselves after bad things have happened to them, and after they themselves have done bad things. It mines classic noir tropes with an occasional twist of humour, but it’s rarely more than a wry smile. I was impressed by how un-stereotypically the character arcs of some of the supporting cast played out. Kilgrave is a sociopathic mind-controller, and the series never lets you forget the trail of devastation a villian like that will leave in his wake.

I loved it as a show in its own right, and I loved the tight integration with other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We live in a world of media franchises and crossovers. This week’s episode of the Imaginary Worlds podcast is about the Tommy Westphall universe spawned by the 1980s TV show St. Elsewhere. In the very last episode of St. Elsewhere it was revealed that the whole show had actually taken place in Tommy’s imagination. But because the show had been linked to many other shows through crossover appearances, does that imply that those other shows also took place in Tommy’s head?

It struck me as interesting how the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes use of real places like New York, and so can easily place shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones in a very realistic contemporary setting, whereas DC’s properties take place in fictional places like Metropolis, Gotham, and Star(ling) City. I wonder how this influences the writers and producers? I can see how audiences could make a stronger emotional connection with places they know, while writers and producers can take more liberties with imaginary cities.

Most of all, watching Jessica Jones made me want more shows like that. Specifically, I think it would be a perfect fit for Matt Fraction and David Aja’s down-to-earth interpretation of Hawkeye. Except…in Avengers: Age of Ultron Marvel decided to give Clint Barton a white-bread family out in the country. It would be hard now to place him in a run-down apartment in New York with a string of ex-wives to his name. Pity.

Last weekend I finally made time to listen to the Hamilton cast album. It’s excellent. Not something I’d listen to all day on repeat, but I’d definitely go and see the show, if tickets could be had for less than the price of a modest used car.

Something I could (and will) listen to all day is Bleached. They’re playing Bitterzoet in May, and it looks like my Indiestadpas should get me to see them for free, if I can figure out how to get on the guest list without signing up for Facebook.

Films:

  • I don’t remember how I came across it, but Spartan looked like something for me: Val Kilmer (whom I’ve always enjoyed watching since Thunderheart) and a shades-of-grey covert agent plot that doesn’t rely on stunts and explosions. It’s a very satisfying thriller, and I liked it a lot.
  • I missed Sicario in the cinema last year (most of my cinema time in 2015 was with Fiona), and I was looking forward to catching up with it. It’s far more than a conventional law-enforcement against drug dealers thriller. The world of borderless action against criminals who show themselves as capable of boundless ambition and cruelty is…disturbing. This is exactly what FBI agent Kate Macy (played by Emily Blunt) has to come to terms with. She has her eyes opened to a new world. Part of her is attracted to the idea of making a difference, and part of her is repulsed by the ease with which the supposed good guys can abandon the rule of law. She can’t unsee any of it, and she can’t unexperience the horrors to which she is exposed. Will it corrupt her, or will she stick to her principles? What is she willing to stand up for, and what is she willing to let slide? It’s an ambiguous, thoughtful, and powerful film.

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.

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

Encore:

  1. Where We’re Going
  2. Going Missing