Rays of dark matter

I get my house back to myself tomorrow.  I am very happy about this.  I want the sort of company that compliments a room, not fills it.  Right now my lounge is full to the brim.

There has been a lot of live music the last week and very little time to write about it.  Also, there’s a whole heap of shizzat pushed up the front of my brain that I really should write about, but to be honest none of it is fun.  I’m going to try and catch up with Hell on the weekend, and being that we haven’t seen each other for a little while (properly, I mean, rather than in the throngs of prog rock) I’m sure I’ll get a chance to offload then.

I sorta started writing about Tool tonight but the motivation for it ran out after two sentences and all I want to do is write about Friday and Saturday night.  So that’s what I’m doing.  Tool will come, but not tonight.

On Friday I went to the Parade Theatre at NIDA to see Holly Throsby, Andrew Bird, Bill Callahan (ex Smog) and Joanna Newsom.  I have been a fan of Andrew Bird for some time, and to a lesser extent Holly Throsby, but I was not at all familiar with the music of Callahan and Newsom.

The vibe in the place was so different to gigs I’ve experienced recently – while there’s something to be said for low stages and sticky floors and standing room only, the vibe of the parade theatre suited the night perfectly.  The plush curtains and colours and the intimate structure of the balconies made it seem like you were about to experience something a little bit special.

Holly was a nice surprise for me.  I didn’t know she was on the bill (she was a late minute special addition) and as I hadn’t seen her live I was pretty stoked about that.  She sang a short, sweet set which contained among other things Under the Town, We’re All Good People But Why Don’t We Show It and a cover of the Brian Eno song By This River, during which Sarah Blasko came out and sang along.  This was a really nice surprise.  Holly, while being understated and very quiet, has a level of grace and peace about her.  Ben (who is more than a bit in love with her) was telling me this but now I understand what he means.

Seeing Andrew Bird, even just coming out onto stage to do sound check, made my heart go pitter pat.  I mean, the man is a musical wonder, and not completely unfortunate looking.  I have heard such amazing things about him live and I was really hoping he would live up to the hype.  I needn’t have worried – from the minute he stepped out and took off his shoes to the minute he left the stage shoes in hand, my heart soared.  There is just nothing like the music he makes out there, and lyrically he writes almost like a stream of consciousness – like it’s flowing from his brain, through his hands and his mouth, without a thought or a pause.  What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was his almost theatrical delivery of songs like Dear Dirty.  The guy literally had me, and could have taken me wherever he pleased.

The odd track I’ve heard by Smog never really grabbed me, and for some reason in my head I’d put (the now-called) Bill Callahan in the same category as Will Oldham and perhaps Leonard Cohen – music I’m fairly sure I’d dig if only I’d give them half a chance in the right half-light with the right bottle of wine and the right level of insomniatic madness.  The one thing that struck me about Callahan, besides his voice-of-the-deep and his pretty amazing story-telling, was his air of complete calm and control.  This is a man in charge of his own destiny with a mission and a story to tell.  I think my favourite track of the night was Rock Bottom Feeder – the lyrics of that song particularly really resonated with me for some reason.

You can also add me to the increasing list of Joanna Newsom fans.  As I said I wasn’t terribly familiar with her music, but I did get a hold of the Milk-Eyed Mender and Ys before I went on Friday and listened to them fairly solidly all week.  I was not at all sure what to think about Newsom from these studio albums – the music was divine, sure, and quite quickly it was obvious that lyrically she was very good, but her voice distracted me from most everything else going on in the music.  Even the harp.  I went on Friday, though, with no expectation, and given the love of this woman from people whose music taste I generally trust, I wasn’t at all concerned.

I was utterly and completely swept off my feet.  She’s so petite and delicate – put her next to that enormous harp and you have no idea how she’s going to create any sort of valid noise from it.  She sure does though, and watching her play that thing was an education of some sort for me – those willowy arms dragging the most glorious noise out of those strings with some sort of determined fierceness.  And her voice – holy crap.  The voice was almost an instinctual sound coming from deep within her.  Her voice and the harp worked so beautifully together and her songs, for me, took on a whole new life.  Highlights for me were Emily, which I was kinda staggered at, and This Side of the Blue – a beautiful song and one that first stood out to me when I heard the studio albums.

I was listening to Ys again today.  It’s funny that now I have seen her live, and seen the symbiosis between her and her voice and that instrument, I now find the strings and additional instrumentation on the album distracting, not her voice at all.  I’m kinda craving hearing those tracks again, particularly Emily, with just her and the harp.

Wayne of Oceans Never Listen has again obliged with a set list.  He’s very nice like that.

It was actually a really special night – because it was a celebration for Spunk for their 200th album release, there seemed to be a bit of a feel of community about the night and the artists seemed really happy to be there.  Free posters and CDs are always awesome too.

Can I just say, too, that I love it when a crowd listens.  Like, really listens.  I feel like sometimes when I’m at a gig I’m the only one trying to really listen.  Neither of these gigs on the weekend was remotely like that – it helped to have company who was listening at least as much as I was, but the whole crowd at both venues seemed to be really hearing his lyrics, the subtle music changes, and the emotion floating around the room.  It really changes an overall live experience; for me at least.

Saturday night saw me at The Basement in Circular Quay to see Andrew Bird again do that thing he does.  I was pretty damn excited about this considering how much I enjoyed his set the previous night.  I’d never been to The Basement before (although I have no idea how I’ve dodged it ‘til now), but besides the distinct lack of seating other than booked seating it was actually okay.  The vibe was good, and you really felt like you were there to see live music.  Was it just me though or was the first set very, very loud?

Jack Ladder was fun to watch but for me not really outstanding.  The drummer in his band though?!  Holy hell could that guy play.  And I don’t mean beatingthehelloutoftheskins play – I mean intuitively using the instrument and feeling the sound.  He was great to watch and for me kinda stole the show.

Andrew again came out on to the stage to sound check, before walking on to start the set.  He kicked into the first instrumental track and was a few minutes in this time before losing one shoe at a time.  It’s really something else to watch him building his sound – one layer of violin, another layer of violin, yet another, and then a quick stage shuffle for him to pick up the guitar while seemingly simultaneously playing the xylophone and whistling into the mic.  He is so bumbling and almost clumsy in some ways while he’s on stage putting his songs together, but when he settles into the loops he’s woven and when he closes his eyes to settle into the whistling or the singing or the melody from the violin, a complete calmness takes over and there’s naught but him and the music.  I closed my eyes during that first track and was transported.

My favourite track of the night was without doubt Cataracts from the new album (due, as I mentioned last night, in March).  Hearing Skin Is, My was also great.  I live in the hope of one day hearing Fake Palindromes live, but maybe next time.  What he did play was most certainly enough.

He’s been cemented as one of my favourite artists and one that I’m massively excited to see what he’ll do next.  The transition from his earlier Bowl of Fire stuff to the Mysterious Production of Eggs is really something else and I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about the new album – from what I’ve heard it’s going to be glorious.

Wayne has posted a set list for this gig also (no thanks to my pathetic help when it came to remembering track names 🙂 ).  Here it is.

I’m not sure how the rest of the year is going to stack up to the absolute live music awesomeness I have already been privy to in 2007.  Hear that Augie March and Wilco?  You better bring it.

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4 Replies to “Rays of dark matter

  1. Wow it seems like everyone has had a music-filled week! Nice to see you have now become a Joanna fan. I saw Joanna twice last week and you really could wipe the smile off my face. It was insanely good.

  2. I meant couldn’t, not could. Dammit, I should read my comment before I click the submit button. I hate doing that.

  3. S’alright, last night I spelt Joanna Newsom’s name wrong on a comment, and there’s just no going back once you’ve hit that button 😉

    There are some great people touring right now. I think our summer always seems to be busy for international acts, and with all the festivals going on right now there’s side shows and what have you. I have SO enjoyed every single gig I’ve been to this year.

    And YES insanely good. I was blown away.

  4. […] There’s probably one word that aptly sums up that evening at the Parade Theatre – magic. It was honestly magical. The plush surroundings of the theatre were the perfect setting for the music of Newsom, which is in some ways not of this world. And it was the first time I’d experienced Mr Bird live – holy cow. It was a really special night for a lot of reasons and I wrote more about it here. […]

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