Music 2007

 
ZEN ARCADE (fire)
 
On Attending Arcade Fire gig in The Olympia, January 2007
 
And finally it came to pass.  After the jostling for position; the seemingly endless wait; the anticipation; the build-up; the worries it might not live up to the hype; the great expectations – the moment had at last arrived.  Yes indeed, I was finally served a pint of Heineken in the Olympia bar.
 
And the gig?  In the words of Elvis Costello ‘Don’t start me talking, I could talk all night’.  But I’m being paid by the word so how about ‘extraordinary’, ‘immense’, ‘fantastic’, ‘mind-blowing’, ‘life-changing’, ‘awesome’, ‘supreme’?  ‘cos it was all this and more more more (how do you like it? how do you like it?)
 
The bean-counter beside me said we got 9 from the new album and 6 from ‘Funeral’.  Considering ‘Neon Bible’ is only in the shops 4 days a helluva’
lot of people must have spent 96 hours listening to it judging by the familiarity the songs were greeted with.  Of course there may have been a little bit of pre-release downloading from the worldwideinternetwebcomputer going on of course…..
 
The ‘Funeral’ songs were greeted with an intense lust not seen since Johnny Vegas spotted his first hot dinner.  Titles ain’t my forte (not sure what my forte is – in any sense) but ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, ‘Power Out’, ‘Crown Of Love’, ‘Tunnels’ were played.  At lunchtime I’m calling back to the Olympia to see if the roof is still on.  I very much doubt it.  Seats were for standing on; aisles were for dancing in; fists were punching the air like at a Black Panthers rally.  The 10 members of the band seemed genuinely overwhelmed with the insane crowd reaction.  I was just happy to roar ‘Theatre’ in a crowded fire.  Some night for one night.
 
Ralph Mexico
 
 
PRINCE: A GNOME OF TWO HALVES
 
On Attending Prince gig, o2 Arena, London, August 2007
 
 
If Prince was a football team he’d be Barcelona.  The audience was Wigan.  He held all the aces; we were waiting to be thrashed to within an inch of our lives by the brilliance of it all.  He took an early 3/0 lead – a glorious entrance as he was ascended from under the stage and played ‘Purple Rain’ in a bewilderingly awesome way; a thumping ‘Cream’ and then a fantastic ‘U Got The Look’ had our senses working overtime to produce credible superlatives.  He was dressed (quelle surprise) in purple.  The stage was in the middle and shaped like that symbol he’s been foisting around the place for yonks – y’know the squiggly thing.  If Mildred Fox was dancing the foxtrot with Pat Fox in Foxrock it couldn’t have been foxier than his twin backing dancers who threw shapes continually in a hyper-foxy way.  The main man didn’t do much full on dancing but still moved like jello on springs.  The lighting was ace; the horn section was tighter than Silas Marner and the sound was funky with a capital PH.
 
The first section of the show finished with some members of the audience been invited up to dance onstage.  The star was a tall geek in a white t-shirt and leather jacket who threw some truly terrible shapes.  Prince stopped the music and pointed out the dude and said we gotta’ give this man some space.  The dancer thought he was getting his cards so he shook hands with Prince and started to walk off but actually the plan was to get the dude to dance centre-stage.  ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’ was played as the lad shook more like a cobweb-covered oil-painting than a Polaroid picture.  Magnificent stuff.  Prince disappeared back down through the stage after 45 minutes and the gig was shaping up gloriously. 
 
The dome is a well impressive modern venue.  The seats are cinema-style complete with drink holders at the side.  No mad queues at the bar or in the toilets.  It was a million miles away from watching Satan’s Blunt Wheelbarrow in The Wicked Chicken with your runners glued to the floor in a concoction of urine, spit and beer.  It could have been a night at the opera; there were ads everywhere; the arena is hosting a tennis tournament next week.  All this progress(??) is I suppose, a Sign O’ The Times (boom-boom)….
 
Halfway to paradise; audience in the palm of his hand; three goals up; Prince proceeded to take his size five off the pedal.  He told us continually ‘I got too many hits for y’all’.  He told us ‘I could play ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ (huge audience cheers), I could play ‘Pop Life’ (crowd goes bananas).  Ok I’ll play this…’ and proceeded to play some long jam thing which gave ample time for the horn section to display their chops (and the backing dancers to display their moves) but was no ‘Girls & Boys’.  He gave us ‘Nothing Compares To U’ but let the audience sing most of it.  I paid to hear Prince sing – not the talentless Hackney scrubber who was bawling out the chorus directly behind me.  He gave us a pointless ‘I Feel For You’ purely ‘cos he wanted to remind us he’s written it.  Boy, could he play guitar – when he wanted to.  Mostly he didn’t bother slaying us with his artistry, instead was content to let some sax dude steal the limelight.  ‘Controversy’ went on for 10 minutes – 10 minutes too long.  I was (crime of crimes) starting to get bored at a Prince show.  His 3/0 lead was slipping…
 
After innumerable disappearances under the stage and re-entries to wild applause, he sat at a keyboard and started ‘Sign O’ The Times’.  Places erupted.  He stopped after 3 seconds and feigned walking away.  He sat down again and played a verse of ‘When Doves Cry’ and feigned walking away.  This happened about 5 times in a row.  It lost its lustre very soon.  We got a verse and chorus of ‘Little Red Corvette’, less than half of ‘Alphabet Street’, 10 seconds of ‘Raspberry Beret’, 2 minutes of ‘Lets Go Crazy’, 2 verses of ‘Strange Relationship’, most of ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’.  It went on – he’d play a bit of a song then stop it stone dead.  I never knew he had Attention Deficit Disorder.  It was foreplay gone out of control.  Even if he played a load of them as a medley ala James Brown in ‘Live At The Apollo’ it would have been better than this.  His greatest ballad ‘Sometime It Snows In April’ was wrapped up after a verse and chorus and by that stage we just expected that.  To compound it all he played a cover (a cover!!) of ‘Le Freak’ by Chic to finish.  For a guy with ‘so many hits’ this was bollo*ks.
 
Next Saturday The Rolling Stones play Slane.  We’ll get ‘Start Me Up’ to begin.  They’ll play about 15 hits, 5 lesser known numbers and end with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.  The punters will leave happy.  I know Prince is aiming for a different vibe but he was like a man who’d got the winning ticket for the lottery but was too lazy to go to the shop to cash it.  He gave us a free cd as we walked in (a gesture somewhat spoiled by the fact the same cd was given away free with The Daily Mail a few weeks ago) but didn’t play anything from it – not even ‘Chelsea’ and it being the opening day of the Premiership!!
 
If Prince was a football team he’s be Barcelona.  Real Madrid won the Spanish League last season.
 
Ralph Mexico
 
 
HAWLEYS ON MY MIND
 
On Attending Richard Hawley gig, Vicar Street 23/9/07
 
 
‘Sorry I’m late’ our hero began, ‘I was bursting for a piss.  I was told the toilet was upstairs but the stage manager said you can use the sink over there if you want.  I said to him ‘I’m not using that’.  He said ‘well, if its good enough for The Corrs…’  With a quick shout of ‘Let’s ballad’ the stardust was sprinkled. 
 
What followed was immense – a show with more highlights than a busy Saturday in Toni & Guy.  Innumerable moments that generated a swelling in the chest on a par with the singing of ‘La Marseilles’ in ‘Casablanca’ or when you smear ice-cream on your toes.
 
The rockabilly numbers were delivered straight from Sun Studios with Hawley giving his red Gibson a judicious twanging.  The ballads were as luxurious as soaking in a bath of rose-petals and cashmere while Caruso sings and Maggie Gyllenhall fans your brow with the wings of Honduran butterflies.  The between song patter added gloriously to the enjoyment.  It was so good I’ve transcibed the Top 5 Jokes (1- ‘M*sterbation’; 2- ‘Married for 17 years’; 3- ‘Giving up drinking’; 4- ‘Mensa Meeting’; 5- ‘Brain size’) to my Bebo Homepage. The codeword is Translucent Jellybabies.  At one stage, I palindrome I even considered waggishly requesting “‘Common People” but was scared off when Hawley put down another heckler with ‘Some people have a plant in the audience, I’ve got a vegetable’.
 
Picking the absolute pinnacle of the songs performed is akin to deciding which finger to let the Lebanese Justice For Polo Players Faction lop off as a ransom demand when you’re kidnapped after mistakenly getting a plane to Beirut instead of Bruges as planned.  I’d plump for ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ which gave me more goosebumps than at any stage since I performed emergency root canal treatment on Beatrice Dalle on the top of Table Mountain. 
 
Of course Hawley didn’t bring a string quartet with him to faithfully recreate the tender moments of ‘Coles Corner’ and ‘Ladys Bridge’ – he relied on keyboardish pre-recorded trickery.  He probably couldn’t afford to hire the extra musicians; I mean, have you seen the price of brylcreem and shiny silver suits these days?  Another tiny quibble would be that ‘The Ocean’ which finished the encores was a tad ‘epic’.  Epic being one of those to-be-avoided four-letter words like ‘twee’, ‘work and ‘Brit’. 
 
Still, It will enter the pantheon though as the best live show witnessed thus far in 2007 and that includes the Arcade Fire at the Olympia beano which sizzled like Georgia asphalt.  Surely the days of Hawley making a complete cult of himself are over.  All in one Crooners ‘n’ Comedians come no finer.
 
Ralph Mexico 
 
 
POLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON, YOUR BROTHER MICK IS A THIRSTY DOG
 
On Attending Mick Harvey gig, Crane Lane 19/9/07
 
 
To begin: a few words about the setting.  Crane Lane is unlike any other venue in Cork, nay Ireland.  The bar is a dead ringer for the Central Cafehaus in Vienna (no higher compliment) and the stage is a replica of a 1936 Berlin niteklub complete with red velvet curtains and just right lighting.  Youtube should provide cinematic evidence.
 
The support was an enigma.  An eight foot tall English geek who at times appeared to be a talentless clod; then he’d use one of my favourite words – ‘rarebird’ – in a song and later sing/speak a staggering piece about his brother being bullied for being gay which was gobsmacking.  He departed with me completely unsure of his worth.  Befuddlement in excelsis.
 
Mr Harvey had Rosie from Melbourne on upright bass; the support act on guitar in place of James Johnson from Gallon Drunk (who was missing for reasons referred to but left unexplained) and Thomas Bad Seed on drums.  Thomas is a complete and utter 100% legend.  ‘From Zurich via Berlin’ he was in a sharp suit and his only allowance for the sweltering heat was to loosen his tie and let it hang around his neck.  He seemed to use egg whisks instead of drum-sticks.  It was the best use of drum taps since Walt Whitman.  Orson Welles can add Thomas Wydler to the cuckoo clock on the list of great things neutral Switzerland has produced.
 
After a half dozen songs, Mick switched from guitar to keyboards.  He said how the previous 6 songs had been by Australian songwriters and so were the next three – ‘some kind of record’.  I knew none of them until he played ‘Live It Up’ by Mental As Anything.  He didn’t really play that of course.  Neither did he play anything by Cave or a certain songwriting duo from Brisbane.  They were pretty impressive tunes though.  I felt the fingerprints of Paul Kelly on more than one.  Some legendary lines were sung.  ‘One man’s fish is another man’s poisson’ being particularly memorable. 
 
Harvey said he felt like Elton John as he sat at the keyboard.  He treated us to the intro to ‘Crocodile Rock’.  When he was having trouble with his monitor he spoke to the sound engineer in German.  Achtung!  He gave us a smattering of between song jazz whereupon my drumming hero joined in (like all good drummers) without missing a beat.  After more than an hour he said he was finishing up ‘and getting off stage… if I could find the exit’.  Cue some sham yelling ‘there’s no way out’.  Instantly Mick replied ‘That’s what the songs have been about all night’.  Laughter.
 
The band couldn’t be bothered getting off stage so Mick said it was time for the encore and ‘at this point we usually play a few Serge Gainsbourg covers’ whereupon a couple at the front went ballistic.  ‘However’ Mick said ‘due to the absence of James Johnson’s organ-playing we won’t be doing any tonight’.  The front row couple started roaring at the prospect of a Serge Blanco night (spot the rugby reference!!) and tried to engage Mick in chat about how they’d help out.  He soon got bored and delivered a deathless version of ‘Black Seaweed’ that dripped impatience and bile.  Barely time to say ‘You didn’t really know that one did you?’ before he sated the pushy couple with a storming ‘Bonnie & Clyde’.  There ended the Serge Suite.  A crazy drinking song and then the best wine ‘til last….
 
Fielding a request for ‘New York, USA’ by saying ‘It’s a very big city alright’.  He explained how this Fred Neil song was probably written in Greenwich Village.  He sang ‘A Little Bit Of Rain’ and it was astounding.  Absolutely f****** astounding.  I know I’ve heard the song before, probably as a cover version and I’m awaiting enlightenment on where exactly I did hear it, but for now the memory of Mick Harvey’s version will suffice.  Once more with feeling – astounding.  Great night.  Thanks Mick.  And Thomas too, of course.
 
‘til things are brighter,
Ralph Mexico
 
 
RO-RO-ROLLING STONES GENTLY DOWN IN SLANE
 
On Attending The Rolling Stones Concert, Slane 2007
 
 
On the bus from Parnell Square to Slane more people were applying anti-ageing wrinkle cream and adjusting their hearing aids than supping alcohol.  Three-quarters looked like they’d seen the Stones in Slane in ’82.  Half looked like they’d seen the Stones in the Adelphi in ’62.  A good dozen were totally blind.  A quiet journey.  Landed in Slane at 2.  Lashing rain.  Put on ponchos.  They never came off again.  Did ‘the walk’ to the venue.  Most definitely as long as I’d remembered it from REM in ’95.  Zimmer-frames stuck in mud everywhere.  Chair-lifts out of order.  No queues at bar.  Frankie Gavin doing his trad thing on stage.  Neither good or bad – just trad.  Still no queues at bar.  Mud completely covering runners and halfway up jeans.  My wellies were nice ‘n’ dry at home.  Less than 5,000 in venue.  Tinariwen had capes and traditional African tribal clothes.  Lovely, laidback, feelgood summer sounds.  Bit of sunshine at this stage.  The polythene bags we sat on were doing the job.  I love my poncho.  The Hold Steady.  Nice tunes (‘from Brooklyn , Noo Yaiwek’) as we trudged up the mudslide hill for food.  Lovely Thai noodles and curry.  Yum-yum.  Ice-cream cones for dessert.  Yum-yum-yum.  More beer.  Puddles around beer tent.  People trying to use pension books to buy wine.  Expected to see Junior Soprano and his nursing-home cronies at any stage.  Rain holding off ok.  Resumed seated position on bag.  Rain begins.  Brian Cowen’s grandmother offers me her Green shield stamps saving book for the poncho.  I laugh in her wet, craggy face.  Stand up as The Charlatans come on stage and rain stops.  ‘Can’t Get Out Bed’, ‘One To Another’, ‘The Only One I Know’ are superb.  Set is only 40 minutes though.  Tim Burgess has turned into Gary Numan.  Abandon bags and take up position for the Stones.  Stand at the barrier beside the golden circle.  Golden Circle extends for 80 yards.  Wait.  Bar closed.  Wait.  9pm.  Riff of ‘Start Me Up’ begins and we see Keef on big screen walking onstage playing it.  Whole band on 2 seconds later.  Mud monkeys behind us go crazyapesh*tbananas.  We mosh gladly back.  Mud now above knee height on my jeans.   Some filler from the Stones (‘You Got Me Rockin’, ‘Rough Justice’).  Jagger speaks Irish.  Sounds like Lenny Henry impersonating Mao Tse Tung.  ‘Dead Flowers’ with Jagger on acoustic is excellent, if a bit too fast.  Long, bluesy ‘Midnight Rambler’.  Lot of call-and-response from Mick.  He’s a strange cat.  Not cool or funky.  Helluva’ performer though.  Does more running around than someone should at 30 not to mind 64.  Plays a cover in honour of James Brown – ‘Crazy’.  Unbelievable singing by female backing singer.  Better set of pipes than Sherlock Holmes.  Mick introduces the band.  Ronnie gives it loads to the crowd.  Shouts out ‘Come on the Royals’.  Cork contingent beside us retort ‘F*** Off, Big Nose’.  Keef is fairly together.  He sings a few tunes.  Looks better than he did 4 years ago.  The old story that only cockroaches and Keith Richard would survive nucleur meltdown still applies.  Mick returns.  Long white coat.  Well, it was cold.  Very funky ‘Miss You’.  Halfway through the stage moves down a ramp into the audience.  We are 30 feet from Keith Richards.  They blast out ‘Satisfaction’.  ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’.  ‘Honky Tonk Women’.  Stage retreats back to where it came from.  ‘Paint It Black’.  An amazing ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ with the stage bathed in red.  Jagger up high on a catwalk.  Explosions of fire for ‘Pleased to meet you, Hope you guessed my name’.  David Grey playing ‘ Babylon ’ it was not.  ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was as ever, a gas, gas, gas.  Thanks and good night.  Applause.  Encore of ‘Brown Sugar’ that’s incendiary.  More applause.  Lots of bowing.  Keef has a rug on his shoulders for the chill.  Fireworks.  We begin the trudge up the hill.  Announcer at the top of the hill telling people ‘turn left for Navan, right for Dublin ’ is a bit of a card.  Starts chanting ‘Ring of Fire’ intro.  Chats up women through megaphone.  Dubs, eh?  Comedians.  Feet touch tarmac.  We’re on a road.  We can see the lights of Slane.  They’re freakin’ miles away.  Hit the village.  Cross the bridge.  Have a slash by a wall.  Walk towards buses.  And walk.  Jump a queue and push on bus.  Get a seat.  Dublin at 1.30.  Taxi at 1.45.  Wake up Monday at 1.45pm.  Bring on Electric Picnic.  More of the same.  Three days this time though.  It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it.
 
Ralph Mexico
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