(Planet Me)
Saturday, January 18, 2020
 
STAR WARS : THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

I woke up today, and I forgot that there was a new Star Wars film that came out a month ago. I didn’t think of it until I remembered I needed to write this. Well, I don’t need to. But I think I should.

And that’s no way a Star Wars film should make you feel. It should make you feel in awe at the imagination of the writer. It should make you feel surprised. And it should feel like that indescribable, slippery thing, that it is Star Wars. Whatever it is. And whatever this is, it isn’t quite Star Wars.

What’s wrong? Well, everything, and nothing at the same time. I mean, it’s kinda like Star Wars, and does lots of Star Wars things. But make no mistake about it, if George Lucas had directed it, right now the fandom would be stomping about with pitchforks about how this was worse than The Phantom Menace.

And oh, it’s worse than The Phantom Menace.

Here it is : the culmination of a story after 42 years, even though the story ended in 1983. There was no need for the Sequel Trilogy to exist, and what we do have is a creatively lukewarm set of largely redundant fanfiction reheatings of previous ideas that – amongst many other things – approve once-rejected designs and obscure toys.

The stakes are high for this : either this Sequel Trilogy is a carefully constructed conclusion, or a hollow and empty disappointment where they were clearly, Making This Shit Up As They Went Along.

It’s the latter. The fanservice in this film is embarrassingly craven and utterly insincere. It feels like every few minutes we’re slapped in the face with an unnecessary (and internally inconsistent, illogical) plot development that screams “REMEMBER THIS??? YOU DO!” in your face.

Everything The Last Jedi did well – the huge possibilities of random Force powers hiding inside anyone and / or everyone, the removal of the ‘Chosen One’ bloodline elements, the brave rejection of our expectations to show character developments – is spinelessly retconned into a nonsensical mishmash of comforting incoherence.

The problem here comes down to JJ Abrams style. He’s very good at planting mysteries. Very good at asking questions. But he has no answers. God speaks, but the sky is empty. “Who is more foolish? The fool? Or the fool that follows him?”. With thus, JJ looks like a narrative incompetent who not only has no story to tell, but no way of telling it.

Sure, the film has lots of great moments. But moments are just that : the narrative that stitches it all together is cowardly and small. I can’t explain without getting into the detail…

HERE BE SPOILERS!

It’s by no means as outright fucking dumb as Spectre, or Promethushit, or Star Trek : Into Bleakness. But by the standards of a well constructed narrative, The Rise of Skywalker is an abject failure. It's creative cowardice, designed by committee, bled of personality, and devoid of invention. There's no story to tell, and not only does it chicken out of every narratively solid but unpopular choice of the previous film, it actively works to undermine the choices with spineless fanservice.

If nothing else, there’s a scene about halfway through where we think a major character who has been in eight previous movies dies. It has powerful emotional weight : and we see that on the faces of the characters. But as an audience we are kept in suspense for two scenes, and about five minutes. And not only that, but the affected characters find out eventually the true fate. We – as viewers – should have found out the same time the characters did. Otherwise we have lazy, incompetent storytelling that doesn’t know how to tell a story correctly.

Characters have memory wipes. But you know, it’s not long later we find out there’s a backup memory they can access. There are no true stakes. Nothing is truly lost.

And then other characters appear because it’s time we saw them again for the first time in 40 years. Not because they need to be in the story. But because it’s slavish fanservice that doesn’t serve the plot – or the character. It’s THAT GUY! Remember him?

Remember her? Or him? Or Nien Nunb? Yes, he’s back for about two shots. And he doesn’t get to sit next to Lando again. Dammit. Or do that coolass laugh that makes him one of my favourite characters.

Oh look! It’s Wedge. Back for one shot. Blink and you will literally miss him.

Kelly Marie Tico expunged and on screen for a total of 76 seconds.

Nothing really changes. There are no stakes. Characters die, but they don’t. C3PO gets his memory wiped, but he doesn’t. Palpatine dies in a previous movie, but he’s back in this one thanks to “cloning” or something… ?

Palpatine. Oh, fuck the fuck off. His return is incoherently and unsatisfyingly explained with handwavium, and a huge amount of bullshit. It doesn’t make any sense that somehow, he was scooped up from the bottom of the Death Star after falling several miles, and flown away from it in the few short minutes before it blew up, and nursed back to health. Palpatine is dead. His return is the kind of nonsensical bollocks that JJ Abrams, and his often incompetent apprentice Damon Lindelof have excelled in. Never think about what makes sense or could happen, always, always do what is cool, man. By the way, here’s some Snokes-In-A-Jar so you think that Snoke was just a clone.

Palpatine should be a Force ghost, pulling strings and controlling puppets from beyond the grave in much the same way that Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Luke exist beyond the dead. And frankly, this film squandered the enormous potential for a Ghost Luke, and Ghost Palpatine, to have a battle.

And Rey being Palaptine’s Grand-daughter? Fuck The Fuck Off Some More. It completely castrates and devalues everything Rian Johnson worked hard to do ; to democratise and unravel The Force as no longer source of a feted bloodline but as a random and beautiful gift. (And, of course, if The Force is only fated to exist in select few familial bloodlines, how come there’s so many species that have immense Force powers?). Not only that, but somehow that Palps now wants to possess his own grand-daughter as a conduit for all the Sith? That doesn’t make sense. But nothing does anymore. Cool. Here’s some FORCE LIGHTNING, BITCHES!

And *that kiss*. It’s awful. Might as well have Spock and Kirk make out. It makes a nonsense of the characters and the rest of the two and a half films.

There’s also a fuckovalotof flashbacks that are inserted haphazardly to try and make sense of everything that’s going on.

As a technical exercise it’s a great bit of film-making, with plenty of mechanical showpieces of huge achievement. As a story being told, it’s woefully unsatisfactory. Plotwise, The Rise Of Skywalker is a bolognese made out of obligations, leftovers, and limited ingredients, turned into a skilfully created assemblage that doesn’t dramatically misses the mark.

This is a safe film, laboratory bred in sterile conditions, designed for demographics, resting on impossible coincidences and unconvincing plot developments. It’s not a coherent story, or a satisfying ending.

Fanfiction has never been so... squalid. It's poorly constructed, narrative gibberish, that is creatively useless and chickenshit.


Friday, December 13, 2019
 
THE TWILIGHT SAD – London Kentish Town Forum/Manchester Ritz/Edinburgh Usher Hall – 23-24-30 November 2019

These are exciting and incredible times to be a fan of this band. Anyone that knows me knows how I’ve attached myself to this band, and their ability to seemingly read my mind without even knowing it. Since this band came into my life, I’ve found new friends, and fellow idiots, who think that going halfway across the world to see a band is like, a completely normal thing to do. In fact, not doing so, would be a bit wrong.

Oh, you mean the word “tour” means the band travel and we don’t? Not the other way round? I always knew I was different from many other people.

I wax lyrical, and often about this band. But there’s a reason.

If words were enough, there would be no need for music. But the words in the music tell their own stories. Every song the band play right now connects viscerally, spiritually, to my life experiences. To who I am. To how I got here. To the mistakes I made on the way and the lessons I have learnt ; and the mistakes others made too. To explain why this band changed me, and my life, I have to tell you things you don’t know. I have to explain.

At one point, I was staring down the barrel of a big number. I was growing old. I was starting to feel hopeless : that I might never experience joy, or fall in love, or the euphoria that comes from an instant connection with a great band again. I was starting to think the future was going to be hopeless and joyless. Just an endless grind of work and bills and worry. The sun in my head wasn’t shining.

Age is a ceaseless enemy. You grow old, or you die. Life had ceased to be fun, in any way. It was an endless grind of struggle. Of health and age issues. Of receding hairlines vanishing faster than icecaps. Of pneumonia nearly killing me, and costing me a good smile. Of I, and people I love, being stricken with mystery illnesses and sicknesses. Of invisible monsters. Of unrewarding jobs and turbulent career periods. Of not quite having life working out as I hoped. Of feeling hope fade. Of starting to feel worn down by the world ; by the endless war waged upon me of bad work, hostile environments, and illness, and all the things that come with it. Of depression as a frankly natural response to a reality that just wouldn’t quit. That wouldn’t give me a break. Of not having enough to look forward to. Of people around me who were and are monsters wearing human faces. I felt that as I got older, life was starting to get smaller. I started to give up hope, and joy, and started to think the future would be a hopeless place. I needed to find spirit, to find joy, to find hope again. I was starting to lose hope that I would be happy in the long future. I was crushed by the endless moments. I felt the light me start to go out a few years ago : and this band, and my friends, helped me burn brightly again.

The world won’t get me. It won’t change me. It won’t take the shine out of me. I live on my terms these days – and not anyone elses. I live tall and won’t die on my knees.

And I fell in love with a band again. And The Twilight Sad are the first band I have fallen that hard, that deep, in love with since 1992. This band gave me a hope for the future ; that growing old need not be dimming lights in my heart, and that great music, great art, and greatness can come to me at whatever age. My life genuinely changed. I hope where before I did not.

If the cliché is that all art is autobiography, perhaps what is worth mentioning is that is not always said whose autobiography that is. Sometimes the autobiography belongs to others. These songs tell the story of my life, in ways that articulate what I cannot always do myself. The songs speak to but also, for, me. These songs are the story of moments of my life.

Over the three shows – their biggest headlining shows yet – in London, Manchester, and Edinburgh, the band triumph. At the shows, there is a remarkable (and lovely) lack of talkers. Most London gigs are blighted by yapping idiots who are there to talk loudly to their friends whilst a band plays in the background. Not tonight. Tonight it seems, everyone here is here for the band : not themselves.

After a spirited support from Man Of Moon – who sound far bigger than just two guys on stage – it’s time for The Twilight Sad. Already. I’ve been waiting for these gigs for so long, and yet, suddenly they’re here, and I’m with countless friends. [Genuinely, I tried to count how many people I knew here, and gave up at about 70]. 18 months of touring has expanded these songs with a fluid, confident knowledge. The band simply lock into the rhythm of the songs and power through, channelling some kind of invisible emotion that hovers over the crowd, and communicate through sound. To me, it’s sort of an exorcism of feeling… an expression of closely held secrets in public… a way of rebalancing the feelings I often have to keep hidden behind humour and deflection, because we still have to live, breathe, go to work, eat.

And for the last time until who knows when, The Twilight Sad are in Edinburgh, opening with “10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs”, there’s the pull back/tension/push release of the songs as they build, build, and explode. The songs are a divining rod of sentiment.

Even this song, the most clear kicking of the stupid mindgames of fumbling relationships there is. We’ve all used sex as a replacement for love – and if you haven’t, you’re lucky – and it’s all in this song. And when you’re just one of many in this day and age Being exclusive seems an obsolete concept these days. The lyrics may be drawn from observation and imagination, but they exist, and people have lived these lives. I see my life, my situations, moments I have lived, in every song.

Do they understand you?
Do they call out your name?
And do they even miss you?
All these boys look the same
All these boys look the same.

Can I explain what these words mean to me? They mean stupid boys who don’t understand, who don’t care who it is, as long as it is someone, anyone, there, and my mind swirls images of all of this, of intimacy, of bodies, hands, arms, and that he doesn’t know her name, can’t say her name, doesn’t know enough about her to miss her, and these parts that fit together, they’re interchangeable. It’s a complex unravelling of a thousand things, of things I have seen in other people, of the times I was just meat to keep someone warm, when there was no connection : where it was intimate without there being intimacy. Why can’t you remember me?

I’ve changed. I’ve learnt. I’ve made mistakes, and learnt from them. Not everyone does. But I was there. It happened. It cannot be undone.

And as with everything, underneath and on top of all this, is a cacophony of noise, of dynamics, of swirling rhythms, precise, powerful drums, and at the heart of it all is the human diving rod of James Graham who seems inhabited by the music, channelling the sound from the atmosphere and directing it back.

Why can’t you remember me?
Why can’t you remember me?

With barely a pause, a howl of feedback, and we’re back to “Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting” which returns to the set after a nine month absence. It’s a dense, hard song built on the sound of betrayal. Like many Sad songs, there’s a kernel of truism at the heart of it : “Take good care of yourself, take good care of friends”, surrounded by betrayal and brutal infidelity.

I caught you kissing on the backstairs.

Again, there’s autobiography in this song. I’ve been cheated by people I trust. I caught them kissing, and not just kissing, – but not on the backstairs. I wanted to kill him. I didn’t, because murder is bad. But I know that feeling. I wish I didn’t. And yet somehow, in his eyes, the problem wasn’t what he did – it was how I reacted to this betrayal. That it was her fault, not his, because a man in possession of a dick can’t think for themselves? And it’s not fair.

Because even now, I know I’m not the one who caused that. Don’t try to gaslight me. I know the truth. And if its not just once, it’s a pattern of behaviour. It’s who you are. The problem isn’t how I respond to what you do, it’s what you do that is the problem.

And it all comes back but it never went away. It happened. I can’t pretend it didn’t. Those feelings come back. But they don’t stay. The feelings pass through and fly into the atmosphere, and with every gig, every song, I carry less of the weight of life and more of the joy. Another thousand Sad gigs and I might be cured.

And I’m not alone – I think most of the crowd have had these depressingly familiar tales of hurt and heart and loss and love and life itself. There’s a unity, and community in the songs, and a community of people, who recognise in each other a sense of fighting the same battles, each unique, each similar in its own way, and that somehow by being together we take good care of our friends.

I’ve been waiting for you.

Third song, and again, from what is, to me, the best album of the decade, is “VTr”. It’s propulsive beast on a compelling rhythm, haunted by a droning, threatening guitar, and lyrics that… well, you get the picture. To me, who experiences a form of depression – or, as my therapist says, a natural response to a difficult set of circumstances I never chose to live, it feels like I share my own head with an invisible monster who lives inside me, who we never chose, and who we can only see - like staring at a black hole – through detective work.

There’s a monster inside of you. It’s a cathartic sense unlike anything else I’ve ever quite experienced. It’s an affirmation, a recognition, and an exorcism you can dance to. And he won’t leave me alone.

Living with a black dog is hard. It’s invisible. You can only tell its there by the trails it leaves : and even though I’ve thought I’ve conquered it on occasion, what I now realise is that it’s not a war I won, but the battle of my life. If I win each battle, I get to live. If I don’t, I don’t. I’ve won every battle so far, and I’m going to keep fighting. But it’s the defining battle of – and for – my life. I have to win.

Fourth song, back into the set after a year away from the stage, is Don’t Move. Taken from the claustrophobic, and intense, No One Can Ever Know, it’s a propulsive song built on a complex geography of sex and passion. I want you, more than you can ever know. No One Can Ever Know. And they know, even if no one else does. There’s a goddamn novel in that song to me, and I can’t explain, so you’ll just have to trust me. You fit around me, paired off in the violence… and there’s a huge sense of sex as a form of consensual, passionate violence without the threat or hurt.

The placement of the songs creates a narrative inbetween them, the common themes that bleed through and across the songs, of sex, lust, love trust, and then there’s also the nearest thing to a “hit” (at least, in terms of instant audience reaction) is Last January. The thing with this band is that they don’t write hits, they just write great songs and haven’t released a bad one yet.

Last January is a song – like most Sad songs, the title has next to nothing to do with the lyrics – that sits on the common theme. This time around it’s around the human connection between mates, and sometimes around how what the heart wants is wrong but it wants it anyway. The idea of someone we build up in our mind isn’t quite who that person is, but the idea of you is what we fall for. We’ve all kissed the wrong person. We’ve all sat on the right side of the wrong car.

This isn’t you that I came here for.
This isn’t you that I waited for.

The song builds to a crescendo. The sound burrows away like the most beautiful army of angry wasps. It feels like flushing through the soul with a cleansing detox of noise. It’s everything I ever wanted from music. I look behind me. And somehow, this band are playing to nearly 3,000 people. There’s a sense of being amongst my people. It’s beautiful.

The cunt sits at his desk, and he’s plotting away. Now they’re sitting around the table, and talking behind your back.

After having about a year away from the setlist, “That Summer” is back. And there’s a story behind this song too. Somewhere in this world there’s a cunt sitting at his desk. I could name them. I can almost definitely tell you exactly which desk they’re sat at as well. He plotted away, and sat around a table, and talked behind my back. Plotting away. And in one specific case, designed terrible things to come to me. Not in the anonymously cruel way of a tidal wave, or a rainstorm. But in a very specific, targeted manner. Aimed directly and solely at me for who I was and what he felt I stood for. Because I was everything he despised. And he could hurt me. So he did. I was subject to a genuinely cruel conspiracy and he tried to threaten me, my family and my home. He tried to make me lose hope. To inflict misery, because he could. Some people enjoy power, and being able to exercise it. They think that for them to win, others must lose. Damaged people damage people. And I’m aware of everyone around me, but also, I need to vocalise what I wanted to to his face but couldn’t. I’m surrounded by 1,000 friends and strangers in Manchester, whilst Andy McFarlane creates the most beautiful noise with a guitar, and I’m venting about the cunt that sits at his desk, plotting away, talking behind my back. I let go. My anger and fury at being targeted for destruction, and the pointless battle I had to fight to survive. Because the cunt at his desk didn’t like me, he tried to destroy me. And failed. I’m still here.

There’s a brief pause in intensity for “The Arbor”. It’s not a song that connects with me ; not that there’s anything wrong with it. But it doesn’t touch me. I can’t wrap myself into the song.

“I’m not here today, Mr Coppolla. Today, I’m in Connecticut.”Hearts Of Darkness, 1991.

That line, from that documentary, about the difficult filming of Apocalypse Now, has always stayed with me. I’ve been in countless situations where I’ve told myself that I’m not here. This isn’t happening. It’s just temporary. It will pass. Whatever it is. That I’m somewhere else. I’m on a beach. I’m at a gig. I’m not here. I’ve been absent from whole chapters of my life : standing outside, looking in, as I’ve had to remind myself that it won’t be like this all the time, that whatever it is, I will survive. And that’s why I’m lost in the moment, arms aloft, yelling “I/M NOT HERE.”

Because many, many times of my life, I’ve not been there. If I survive this, I get to see that band in Turin. If I survive this, I get to kiss again. If I get through this, whatever it is, I survive. And right now, where I am, I don’t want to be there. I’m not here. It happened too many times. but IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME.

And then it’s “Sunday Day13”.

You hit me too many times.

You wouldn’t know how many times I’ve been assaulted by a ex-partner. Or the hospital visits. The thrown scalding kettles I avoided by instinct. The days off work. I do. Hopefully you won’t ever experience it. Life is much better now. But it wasn’t, once.

…Would you throw me out into the cold?

What does this mean? Would you know what it means to someone else? Would you know that for me, it brings flashbacks of pleading with a violent person not to spray me in the face with WD40 and thrown me out of a moving car in the depths of winter? I succeeded, but I should never have had to negotiate that.

Would you throw me out onto the road?...

Why would you know that, unless I told you? You wouldn’t. You’d just know I was some idiot in the crowd, bawling his eyes out like a bairn. How could, even over a decade later, such a song touch such a specific and raw memory?

You Hit Me Too Many Times. It won’t be like this all the time.

Being human is the art of forgetting. The art of not remembering the experiences that shaped us. Imagine how terrifying and painful perfect recall of everything would be : every memory, forever haunting us. I have to forget so many things just to function. People mistake my occasional cheerfulness for lacking gravitas, or being easy to manipulate. No. Just that every time you go down – or try to – I get up, and I keep getting up, and I’m going to keep being at it for as long as it takes. You aren’t going to dim my light. I’m going to burn like a thousand suns, and that means that I’m going to be an optimist, because that is my superpower.

I’m going to live – and die – on my feet, not on my knees. These shows are a form of spiritual purging for me ; a way of letting go of the weight of years of trauma. Because despite having friends, family and pets, these songs were also a constant in hard years.

And you have to remember, sure, we might have met in person, and I might have been more cheerful in the flesh, but those are the moments you don’t see. I don’t want you to see them. I never wanted me to see them. I’m moving on. But you can’t forget how you got where you are. It’s not the hours but The Hours. The years. The accumulated toll of life. And my life is no easier or harder than most. But it’s the only one I live, and I judge it by how hard I find it. It’s not a competition to see has, objectively, the hardest life. I’ve loved and lost, I’ve battled forces beyond my control, and I still feel that – no matter how amazing my life is now – that in another universe, when I got in the right side of the right car that everything could be easier.

This band make me remember how I got here, and make me forget what I have experienced.

You’re not coming back.

And then there’s “There’s A Girl In The Corner”. In London this sees my first ever crowd surfer at a Sad show. Surprisingly not a single, this song, a live staple since release, is propulsive, expansive, metronomic groove that coils and uncurls, seems to be about the end of a relationship, and for some of us, it is. She’s Not Coming Back From This. It’s about the exact moment when it becomes clear everything has gone too far, too deep, and there’s no way back. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know how lucky you are.

And then there’s the rarely played, but sublime “Seven Years Of Letters.”

In every song, there’s a story. There’s a fraction of my life. Even something as relatively buried and – to use a horrible word – a deep cut like “Auge Maschine” carries with me a thousand memories. I battled financial and physical assaults, then just went to work like nothing ever happened.

I can't believe you hit me And it'll never show

There’s also “Videograms”, which is a cross between Depeche Mode and The Cure, but also, more than that. It pulses on a determined repetitive beat, a minimal backing, a build and fall of music, alongside another tale of uncertainty, and gaslighting. Gaslighting is something that any abuser practices. “You made me do this”, and so on. As if somehow the perpetrator is too weak to control his own impulses, and is easily manipulatable as some kind of Action Man doll.

And I'm afraid to tell you when you're wrong
Because I'm not sure.

Gaslighters make you doubt what happened that you saw with your own eyes. They want to control the reality we all live in, so they can manipulate you to do their own bidding. Like a puppet told to drive.

In “Let’s Get Lost” he sings It’s just another heartache to me. God, I wish I’d had less of them. But as we grow old, we either grow up, or we don’t, We make mistakes and learn from them – or we don’t. And if we don’t we’re doomed to endlessly repeat the same cycles. The dog returns to its own vomit. Again, and again, and again.

I’m still yours, you know.

And saying goodbye is the hardest thing in the world.

I see it when you lie
Like a puppet told to drive
Will you come back? Come back."

The final part of the show is a triumphant and heartwrenching 4 song punch that is emotionally exhausting and builds to a precise, orgasmic crescendo. First song, from first album, “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” is the start of this ; and lyrically it sits on the basis of a ruined romantic night out. Of ruined plans, romantic gestures, and a million other things. But the bit that always gets me, always hurts, is the line where admist a cacophony of noise, he sings, clear as a bell Will you come back? Come back. A question, an instruction, a pleading. Come back. I think most of us have been there. Must of us have wanted one specific person to come back. It’s that line that always puts me over the edge.

Do you stay in at night because its more than you bear to show?

And then it’s “The Wrong Car”, which is possibly the single most important song there is for me. Everyone has loved and lost. I hoped the first princess I kissed would be my Queen, but that’s not how my life turned out. As it ended up, and not to be the Hugh Hefner of Sad Indie, every relationship before me has failed, and some of those princesses turned out to be frogs. And like everyone else on the planet, I’ve made mistakes, and not always treated people with the respect I – or they – deserved. And other people can say the same. The cliché is that Damaged People Damage People. But how does one become damaged? Is it nature, or nurture? Is it who you are, or who you respond to being brutalised in a brutal world? Are you who want to be, or who you have been forced to be? Or is there something else? How can you stay true when virtue seems to be seen as a weakness to be exploited by the evil and cruel?

In some respects, my heart wants to split itself into a thousand pieces, and live the alternate life of every option I ever had. Even though where I am now and the life I have is fucking amazing, part of me still wants to explore what could have happened if I had followed this path, or that path, or that path, with that person? And knowing that someone else lives a life that I could have once been part of, and that they are happy - and I am - on our separate paths, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. A door opened and a world existed beyond that door, and I never got to live that life. But I got to live this life, and I have spent all my life working on making this life as amazing as I can and often, it is. But this song captures all of that.

And there’s another life, where all of the heartache didn’t happen. Where hearts were never broken, where love lasted forever, and it was true. Where I never had to pick myself up from a broken heart several times, or being discarded like an empty packet by others. Where the only baggage I had to carry could fit onto a luggage rack.

Does your stomach still ache?
For the wife that he will take.
And I am always waiting.
To see you.

And there’s a million other stories from that line. It’s not just me, as a male, aching from the wife that was not mine but someone else’s : not that that is autobiography, but that everyone who I ever explored a life with but didn’t, that could have been chose someone else, they found someone else. Explored a different life with them. It could have been me. It wasn't. But it could have been.

Whilst I made the wrong choice. And got in the right side of the wrong car.

It’s her, perhaps aching from the wife he took instead of her. It’s a million unlived lives of wonder in one single damn song. And when you can’t see them, when you ache for that, when they’ve gone and they're not coming back… I’m always waiting to see you.

Will you come back? Come back?

And none of this is true, and all of it is true, from a certain point of view. We’ve all done the wrong thing, and all tried to do it the right way, right from the day that I got a call when driving to my first wedding, and I knew somehow that I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life yet somehow, like the jumpers regret, the moment they fall from the bridge into the river, somehow I was stuck in a moment I couldn’t get out of.

Did you know that the majority of drowning/suicides from bridges exhibit muscle trauma consistent with some kind of primal instinct to survive during the drop? That 60% of bridge jumps into water don't die from impact, but drowning? Did you know I stood at the edge of Beachy Head in May 2007, and it took every inch of my soul to not leap?

And we’ve been wrong before.

And I’m always waiting to see you. Always waiting. As if somehow where your heart feels it belongs is somewhere it cannot belong. I never truly felt at home, anywhere, or anywhen. I know that feeling. That longing. Even when I have a place that my heart calls home, there’s always the sense that perhaps I didn’t take the best path I could have. That if I hadn’t got in the right side of the wrong car, many times before, that I’d be happier, healthier, richer than I am now.

And that song helps me access and exorcise emotions I have to, by necessity, keep hidden. I may joke about being British and not having any feelings, but how else do we keep going, keep eating, sleeping, and going to work? You just have to. You function, in the way that someone with a broken limb functions. You try your best.

My point of entry is the same way I leave.

And after that “Keep Yourself Warm”. I have written at length about this song, and how it feels. But more than that, every time it still hits me, still hurts me, still heals me. In the way that it does, there’s a whole narrative wrapped up in this song to me : the sense of abandon, the euphoria of stupid sex, the sense of inherent alienation inside that, the attempt at forced intimacy from both sides willing for more than there might actually be, and at the same time, there’s a huge sense of survivors guilt. I endured some traumatic experiences (traumatic to me, at least), I stared down the barrel of my own mortality, and I survived. Not everyone did. Not everyone else could. It’s all in this song : the sense of joy, the guilt, the fact that I lived and others didn’t. And that I came really close to succeeding in what my brother called my “Boring suicide anecdote.” Life at that time was unbearable, and I decided, I chose to live against the odds, because I wasn’t going to let the fuckers win. If I was ever going to go out of this life, it was my way, on my terms, at a time and manner of my own choosing. Not to be forced into it by others who wanted to destroy me. Others have definitely tried to destroy me using every method at their disposal up to, and including threatening my career, my family, and my home. The cunt sits at his desk, and he’s plotting away. And they didn’t succeed then. And they won’t succeed now. I’ve fought a lifetime of battles I never asked chose, never wanted, and wouldn’t leave me alone.

The flashing white light's been turned off
You don't know who's in your bed.

And that’s why I have emotions at gigs. There’s a huge sense of joy in The Twilight Sad, in the vibrant roar of their sound and in the recognition that no matter how dark the night can be, it won’t be like this all the time, and that there’s joy in life somewhere. Just sometimes it can’t be seen. And I made it to experience this. Joy, hope, and love, after what feels like a sustained and unwarranted attack on me from a world that rolls on impassively whether I am there or not. I survived. I’m not a victim : I’m a survivor, and it’s not my shame.

The last song of the night, the last song of the tour, the last song I know I will see the band play until who knows when, is “And She Will Darken The Memory.” . It’s a song that is probably the nearest I’ve ever heard to a swooping orgasm of sound – endlessly building and falling on a crescendo of riffs, before a final exhausted sigh, a pause, and a sweeping roaring race to the end.

In London, the band play so loud the PA breaks and descends into a roar of distortion. The band stop playing, laugh, and then carry on from the exact spot they stopped. James spins, rolls, climbs the speaker stacks, punches the air in a moment of euphoric release. In Edinburgh, there’s a whole room - the biggest headline show they’ve played – on its feet, lost in the moment, hypnotised maybe, the band and audience locked into a common suspension of reality and disbelief, becoming somehow more than the sum of the parts, specifically, James staring deep into the abyss, which stares back, and collectively, we somehow become something and more than that – we sway, try to catch the feelings with outstretched hands, or simply feel the noise deep inside ourselves. Every song tonight has told the story of at least some part of my life.

One by the one, the song grinds to a halt, the band leave the stage – Johnny raising his bass to recognise a moment of triumph – James collapses on the stage, and the band bring to an end a victorious year.

What do we do now? Where do we go? I’ve seen this band a surprising 18 times this year and now it has come to an end. I’ve made new friends, and chosen a family far less dysfunctional than my birth one. We look out for each other across oceans and timezones. We don’t see each other for ages, yet bump into each other randomly at bus stops 400 miles from home or on a train, as if no time has passed at all. It’s not just about seeing a band – no matter how good the band are – but about sharing these experiences with friends. And that – creating a connection and a communication between humans – is what the best art does ; making sense of the world around us, showing us a way of navigating life and helping us through. There’s no love too small.


Sunday, November 17, 2019
 
UNDERWORLD : “Drift : Series 1”

A year after being announced, and in 52 weekly instalments, the physical release of “Drift” by Underworld is finally here. It’s ambitious, occasionally boring, but never..uninspired.

The premise is straightforward : over a huge 7 CD and 1 Blu Ray box set, Underworld present every new and original track they released in a 12 month period : every Thursday they emailed out a link of a new song and normally a visual to accompany it. At this point the band fed on an insanely ambitious workload whilst also playing all over the world on a weekly basis. And hosting an art exhibition in Manchester which also birthed another album – part of which, in an alternate form, also appears here. It’s the kind of workload that would make Prince at his peak feel stretched.

Each album is present in the chronological order of release : as such, these feel like the haphazard compilations that they are and not structured albums with a standard flow and feel. For example, the third track on the first CD – a spoken word piece on the nature of Drift itself – would make a great introduction to the work, but we’re already a quarter of an hour in by the time it appears. The CD’s also contain several extra songs that weren’t quite finished in time but met the overall release date and thus, exist as new additions. And many of the songs have been remixed or rethought since they were first published. And finally, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the sheer size of all this.

It’s an immense project : 39 audio tracks, alongside 10 alternate versions on the “Sampler” disc, and 31 video tracks, weighting in at a total of ten and a half hours of music – of which six and a half hours come on CD.

The Blu Ray is a weighty accompaniment : over 4 hours and 31 songs from the set with all the matching visuals. Whereas the audio CDs have on occasion been revisited, re-edited, remixed or rethought slightly (“Soniamode” carries a new vocal and lyric, “Appleshine Continum” is edited to a mere 33 minutes instead of the 47 on the BR), the BR contains the original, as released at the time, video/audio mixes.

Sometimes the sheer girth of the release reflects this project for its strengths and weaknesses : there was no time to think, only feel, and to push the songs to a state where they had to, by definition be fresh and to let go of them as they barely become ready. The spontaneity, and the rapid tonal shifts, are an essential part of the projects success. There wasn’t chance to overthink it. (Though as alluded above, some versions were remixed or edited/changed for the box set release and the overall package does hint at a lack of one single overarching vision or theme). It’s almost a compendium of Underworld as is, ranging from the ambient and minimal, to the banging dancefloor thumper, or experimental jazz excursion in repetition in the frankly annoyingly long “Appleshine Continium”. It’s the world of Underworld, covering all their current styles and interests, in one enormous delivery of a frantic year of sound.

There’s a number of missing tracks in this set which will be made available to download with the 8 disc box set : normally re-recordings and reinterpretations of previously released songs in new forms. Since these haven’t yet been released to download, I can only speculate on what they are, but there were an extra 2 hours of extra mixes in those.

For less extravagant consumers, there’s a compelling hour in a 10 track ‘Sampler’ Edition – a Greatest Hits of the material – which boils the whole experiment down to a bite sized compilation of the most accessible selections in new edits and mixes. Some of the choices are a little odd, as some of the most poppy, fast, and straight forward tracks (such as “Dexters Chalk”, and “Another Silent Way”) are absent, but given that there’s so much material here, it seems odd to complain. There’s almost too much.

But aside from the fact that this is a huge and exhaustive compendium of a period of intense creativity, effectively you get 7 new Underworld albums in one go, alongside a huge volume of accompanying films. It’s ambitious, flawed, and absolutely fascinating to see. And it puts other, less exciting and creative bands to shame.


Thursday, November 07, 2019
 
EDITORS - "Black Gold"

I know I’m getting old, because I think of Editors as a new band even though they’ve been going at least 17 years : They’re on their sixth studio album, and, despite a lineup change a few years ago, have never really stopped ; never ceased creating, or playing live, or trying new things, and a career encompassing “Best Of” is a strange beast at the best of times.

Over the 17 years, Editors have grown up in public. And with history being what it is, especially with anyone who makes records for a living, it’s impossible to forget your past the way most people do : recordings being what they are, they are permanent and specifically designed to represent a moment in time, a feeling, an echo of what was. With a Greatest Hits, its designed to have immediate, perfect recall of something that, by definition should fade from existence to become a memory. And yet, there you are, the ghosts of your past, standing by you, reminding you of who you used to be, and the mistakes you made, and the victories you won.

“Black Gold”, taking its name from the slang to describe oil, or coffee, and of course, vinyl itself, follows the tradition of every previous Editors release : there’s a title track (or a track that mentions the title) that somehow embodies everything around it. What is curious is, unlike many similar releases, this one doesn’t tell the bands story chronologically, or in a way that might seem obvious : the big hits aren’t loaded up the front with any new material as an afterthought tacked onto the end – but lineups, eras, and styles are all interwoven around each other with the band as a single, cohesive entity made of different configurations ; but no matter what happens it all sounds like Editors, even when the past and present weave next to each other – and with only six songs from the bands first lineup out of 16, it’s no nostalgia trip : the songs are placed together in a narrative collage that creates more than the sum of its parts ; as well as adding three songs to the bands album work, with first-time-on-album appearances for Frankenstein, Upside Down and Black Gold.

This effectively then draw the common line through what has sometimes felt like two bands with the same name over the years : with two styles, the faster, more abrasive guitar led sound of the first two and a half albums, and the more pensive, epic, rich textures of the latter three and a half, bridging roughly the departure of Chris Urbanowicz and the addition of Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams, with songs all representing an enormous part of the bands work.

It would be strange to criticise what is not in this : though its by no means a complete Editors story, as some key singles are not represented here – and neither is the incredible band arrangement of “Nothing” that has still yet to be officially released. What it is both an advertisement for the band and the strength of their diverse, consistent body of work, and a new context for what has gone before. If the cliché is that a life is only lived forward and can only be understood backwards, then this is perhaps a way of making sense of what went before. And looking backwards (and yet also forwards) it also makes more sense now than it often did at the time, as you can hear the band growing into who they will become minute by minute.

Sadly, Editors seem to be overlooked in this day and age and I genuinely can’t understand why they’re not bigger as they’re so much better, and more essential, than so many of their contemporaries. Hopefully this will be the first step in overturning that.

If you’re canny, you can get a double (or triple) CD edition : the deluxe edition carries an extra disc of eight acoustic reinterpretations. These versions are essential, gorgeous rethinkings of the bands oeuvre – repeating just one song – “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” – from the first part, and adding seven extra songs ; including a few, non-obvious reworkings that make old songs feel new, having been taken down to their bones and remade. The version of “Blood” on here is particularly effective. Alongside the very under-rated “Two Hearted Spider”. The story of the band almost feels half-told without these extra songs.

Orders from the bands website also come with a third CD – “The Snowfield Demos” – being the first demo recordings from the band in 2003, with an array of songs that will eventually become Editors songs from the bands first flush of work ; b-sides, album tracks and singles alike, which brings us a complete compendium of their identities from the first sparks to the here and now. “Black Gold” is as good an introduction to the band as you can ever find : let your good heart lead you home.


Sunday, November 03, 2019
 
R.E.M. - "Monster" (25th Anniversary Reissue)

Can it really be 25 years already? So much has changed, and so little. That little orange box, the blue disc, the smudged gorgon face on the front – and the title that says everything and nothing at the same time. “Monster”.

I’ve long posited that “Monster” is R.E.M.’s most interesting, and possibly best album. If you don’t agree, close this web page now. Because I’m going to spend far too long telling you how this 48 minute slice of noise is one of the most important records in my life.

This reissue – a whopping six disc set with the studio album in original and alternate forms, alongside a disc of demos, a servicable live recording from Chicago, alongside a Blu Ray of 5.1 mixes, the 1996 concert film “Road Movie”, and promos – is perhaps more Monster than you might have ever thought likely. But it’s still not as much as it deserves, and, like every previous R.E.M. reissue, concentrates on new and unheard music : the multitude of B-sides that accompanied each album are not represented here. Which means no space for live recordings (though many made the previous “Automatic” boxset), compilation album appearances, or weird alternate mixes from red vinyl 7” singles.

The alternate version of the album is a refreshing and new approach – like meeting an old friend who has aged wonderfully, and in some ways I prefer it to the original. The version of “Let Me In” on here, all brittle and raw emotion and delicate textures – shows the beautiful heart underneath the albums skin and protective barnacles. It’s my favourite version of any R.E.M. song ever. It’s a refreshing take on songs you already know in ways you don’t.

Some of the alternate mixes are less successful, and for some reason, some of the finished mixes are hissy which is either a poor artistic choice, or simple sloppiness.

The demos also support the view that R.E.M. never dried up ; they were just very selective around what they released at this point. Almost all of the demo recordings could’ve been a contender for the album themselves – a couple at least were revisited for future albums, with embryonic versions of “The Final Straw” and “Until The Day Is Done” in the pack. R.E.M. didn’t write bad songs – they just didn’t finish every song they wrote, and there’s an abundance of songs that – had Stipe written vocals for – were at least as good as anything on most of their albums.

The final two live discs from Chicago in June 1995 are not an essential listen, but a curious recording of a relatively early show in the tour, and a fascinating snapshot of a night in the life of a band in transition, swinging between the outsized parody of a rock band R.E.M. knowingly were at that time, trying to force intimacy into huge rooms, as well as the considered and sensitive folk-rock act that they had just escaped being. It’s by no means a bad recording – just maybe not as precise with post-show overdubbing as many live recordings often are. This is R.E.M. as they were on that night.

But I have to explain to you. You have to know. Up to “Green” I was a huge R.E.M. fan. The release of “Out of Time” suddenly made this band everybody’s secret – and they were everywhere. That album, and “Automatic For The People”, are more exceptions in the bands work rather than the benchmark. Those two records were quiet, contemplative, the sound of a band making peace rather than making noise. I drifted from the band, admired them, not loved them.

And then with “Monster” they stole my heart again. For “Monster” was the sound of the band flexing its muscle again ; moving away from the sincere to something more complex. In “Monster” the band were grieving, and if you knew where to look and spoke the language, it was there and screaming from the rooftops. In the heart of “Monster” were hurt, sad, loving songs of loss and confusion, asking the permanent questions ; Who am I? Where do I go? What do I do next?

R.E.M. went from making art to asking questions : to exploring life, and how to live it, and somehow navigating the maze of age, success, identity, and the first world problems that come with it. You could argue this album could just as well be called “Paradise Syndrome”, but it’s all the same thing. Sometimes the Monster is what you see in the mirror.

And, given the circumstances the band were in, the music was the same as ever, but covered in scar tissue, obscured in effects pedals and stances, almost in fact, too sincere, too raw, in its original and open configuration, and the need to hide the songs in sound was a suit of armour to protect these brittle feelings and emotions from the pain of sunlight and visibility. You wore expectations like an armoured suit, uh-huh?

In many way, “Monster” is a vampire ; one that will die on contact with the atmosphere, and the effects pedals, the distorted vocals, the obscure words, the impenetrable whole shows that sometimes – this time – all of the affectations were in fact protection and masks. With it, R.E.M. were returning to a love they touched on but had never previously explicitly addressed, the obscure, the unseen, the independent aesthetic they always wore quietly that came from bands like Sonic Youth, Husker Du, The Go Betweens, Echo & The Bunnymen, Tad, Talking Heads, Nirvana… bands that came before and after them, then rode alongside them in culture and became part of the world they existed in. In “Monster” R.E.M. understood that you could often only speak absolute truth whilst wearing a mask, and given how many masks they had at this point, there was no record quite as honest as it.

Individual songs in the album collapsed and rose like wave – the cumulative effect of each song following the previous and preceding the following created a thematic wholeness, a narrative of joined pieces, and it felt like listening to a work of art where each piece was placed next to each other to create a link : from the opening, what-the-heck-is-thisery of “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” to the final, doomed “You”, the record asks all the right questions, and almost every song has a question in it : and this is both sonic and lyrical.

Clear in intent, once you unfogged the words, “Monster” is the sound of confusion, grief, and a search for identity in a world that expects you to keep functioning even if you can’t. There’s loss in every line, and the question keeps popping up : Where next? What do I do? What position should I wear?

It was never meant to be anything other than uneasy listening, reflecting the struggle of a life in the wrong shaped world, trying to it fit in, and be yourself at the same time, and sometimes the monster is You. To me, it speaks more openly and directly to me in ways no other R.E.M. album ever did ; and whilst it is – and was – very much a Marmite album, love it or hate it, it was the first time R.E.M. took to wearing masks and trying new viewpoints to express and explore ideas, taking a step back from who Stipe/Mills/Buck/Berry are and were, and who we thought they were, or who the world painted them to be, and instead made clear that who you are is as important as anything else.

It’s rewarding, difficult, and by no means ever an easy puzzle to solve, but “Monster” is a set of questions, and the answer – the monster - is you.


 
THE CURE - Curætion-25 / Anniversary : Live 2018

This enormous and weighty concert film set – the first official live Cure visual document since 2005, and the first live release to capture the current lineup – captures two very different nights in the life of the band marking their 40th birthday.

The package is divided into two very different sets : The first “Curætion-25” is a stealthy, indoor, moody thematic set of material, one from each album, first going forward through history from “Three Imaginary Boys” to “4:13 Dream”, alongside two unreleased songs, before winding backwards to the start, ending on “Boy’s Don’t Cry”. At the time it was never clear exactly what kind of show it would be, merely advertised as Robert Smith And Guests, and, with the possibility of ex-Cures and former collaborators, was swiftly dispensed with when the Cure themselves arrived. It’s a curiously bleak setlist, but also, thankfully a unique evening in the bands life captured forever on film : directed by Nick Wickham, it’s occasionally claustrophobic, sometimes bizarre, mixing film stocks, editing styles, aspect ratios and similar, as well as presenting for the first time ever official filmed live performances of many rarely performed songs such as “Other Voices”, “Bananafishbones”, “Like Cockatoos”, “Jupiter Crash”, “It’s Over” and others (discounting long deleted Japanese only VHS concert tapes). The sound is well presented on the Blu Ray – though the audio CD’s are mastered loud.

Naturally, on the night, I was stuck behind a nincompoop who was busy looking up his next Italian holiday because he was bored during “Disintegration” and was moaning by text that they hadn’t played “Lullaby” or “Just Like Heaven”. But the trick The Cure can always pull is to simultaneously make you feel alone in a crowd and surrounded by likeminded souls whilst you’re alone.

The first part of the set also featured two unreleased songs – “It Can Never Be The Same” and “Step Into The Light”. They’re more introspective, doomier and gloomier, than most Cure songs but a good way of getting new songs out there in public in the absence of a new studio album. The Cure only ever do things on their own terms and their own way ; sometimes this means people think the band difficult, but it just means that The Cure aren’t going to do what you want, but what they want ; and normally the two overlap.

Pack your bag of deep cuts. It’s been a long time since the band represented their enormous body of work this fairly or this equally : even 1996’s career-killing “Wild Mood Swings” gets two songs.

Like any band, The Cure have to balance themselves between the accomplished peddlers of wonderful misery and the beautiful pop machine they are, and unlike most shows, where more than half the set is nothing but hits, tonight the world’s best Cure tribute band are beautifully miserable. It’s been a long time, if ever, since they have performed many of these songs – and even songs from 2004’s “The Cure” sell the darker reaches of the bands work as worthy of reappraisal. Certainly “alt.end” and “Us And Them” feel better now than they were at the time of release.

We have to be wary of nostalgia in this respect. Some people want other lineups of the band, but like any relationship, you wouldn’t stay with the same people you knew when you were 14, would you? Generally not, anyway. I understand the need to want the band to keep the same lineup as the day you first heard them, because that was your version of the band, and the band meant something to you then, but surely part of the joy of this is.. growing older with the band through time? On the face of tonight, given a unique setlist and a powerful, uncompromising performance that rewarded the faithful with a trainspotter setlist, The Cure have a future in front of them as well as a glorious past. The Cure are undoubtedly Roberts lifework. But if you have to pour your life into your work, there’s few better things than that band.

At the heart of it, it was also one of the handful of shows the band where staples such as “Lullaby”, “Lovesong”, “Friday I’m In Love”, “Just Like Heaven” are not played : that hit of hands in the air ecstasy is two weeks from now at Hyde Park . The Cure have always walked a tightrope between the miserable stadium band and joyous pop, and, at the same time, been both constantly and equally. Curætion-25 isn’t, nor was it ever, presented as a Cure show, but an evening of oddities. The hits weren’t missed by people familiar with their work ; it showed just how good, and adept The Cure are, and were, at encompassing almost all emotions, and how they would still be one of the most important and reliable artists of their time without the pop hits.

There’s also little repetition between this and the second feature “Anniversary”. Filmed live at Hyde Park two weeks later by Tim Pope, these two concerts can only be viewed as complete when seen together as both sides of the coin : the former, the darker, more intense and smaller ; the latter a lighter, happier, more celebratory set, largely made of their best known and most loved songs. Tim Pope’s direction brings us full circle as the bands long time visual collaborator, it’s a joyous present of 40 years of pop hits and heartbreak. It acts as both a glorious finale and a summation of the bands many different styles and identities over the years, as well as a definitive document that captures who they are here and now at this point in their history. The bands performance is visually represented in a way that shows many times the cohesive unit the band now are, complete with subtle glances, smiles, and cuddles that show the bands unity through music.

As this was the bands 40th Anniversary Birthday Show, marking 40 years (is it really that long?) since their first appearance as The Cure at the Crawley Rocket in 1978, yet also serving as an effective, in-front-of-your-eyes greatest hits reprise of the finest moments of their lives. Whilst the past ten years have seen the band retreat from new releases thanks to a combination of inertia caused by a significant and painful lineup change in 2010, the end of their record contract, and a desire to focus on music and not marketing, The Cure still don’t feel like a touring museum of music. The lineup has remained basically solid for a quarter century with only Reeves Gabrels as a ‘new’ addition at a mere seven years in the band. As such, it’s a definitive Cure show ; though, frustratingly, lacking in anything post 1993, apart from the singular “The End Of The World”.

In technical terms, the band play a show as good as any I have seen. The songs are also dispatched with the deftness of touch, and precision you expect from The Cure. I’ve never seen a bad Cure gig but few have been as much fun. Some Cure gigs are really very very long indeed, and some feel even longer than that. The Cure rarely, if ever, leave you wanting more, and often play two shows in one, with a range of emotions, moving between one and the other fluidly. Tonight, thankfully, its pure, undiluted Cure, with little in the way of the moments where you can obviously feel the audience and band drifting apart. A celebration of everything this band has done and how far they have come and what we have won by having them.

Perhaps the biggest issue in this celebration is the sheer size of the night : it’s nearly the biggest crowd they have played to, and Robert Smith will never be Bono. If The Cure are playing to 800 or 80,000 people you get the same experience.

The band are solid, delivering almost all of their major songs in a ruthlessly efficient, passionate way, exchanging the sly glances and injokes that only a long established group can make. This band have grown up in public, and with each other, and part of the glory of this is seeing The Cure become old and still retaining the same qualities they had when much, much younger. By the time of the encore, the band play 10 hit singles in a row. Just when you think you’ve had enough, BAM!, comes another, and another, and another, and you get to the end and you still wonder why they didn’t play “Mint Car” or “Lets Go To Bed”, or “Lovecats”, or “Primary”. And then, as the band are playing “10.15 Saturday Night” – seven minutes late at 10.22, clockwatchers – it’s fairly clear to me that when I was younger, I made the right choices. I fell in love with the right bands. I bought the right records. I’m in a field, with loads of my friends, happily playing air guitar and singing out of tune, and knowing that these, these are the moments. I’ll never get to my death bed, and think, I saw too many gigs. I’ll get to my death bed and know that This was a life I was blessed to live.

And somehow, it’s been captured on film.


Wednesday, July 03, 2019
 
METALLICA / GHOST London Twickenham Stadium 20 June 2019

Sometimes it feels like Metallica are an arena rock band cruelly forced into playing stadiums. Twickenham stadium, like most huge, corporate megadomes, suffers from being absolutely bloody enormous. The only way to create intimacy in a venue that takes fives minutes to walk across is to project it on a huge screen. Is to be in a venue so big that the visuals don’t match the sounds because by the time you hear Lars hit the drums, the chap on the screen is half a word ahead sometimes.

And, as James Hetfield says, “It’s not cheap to see Metallica”. At an average ticket price of £100+ including fees, and premium tier seating and ‘golden circles’, it’s just another £10m grossing day at the office for this band. Of course, people wouldn’t keep seeing them, and they wouldn’t keep touring, if their fierce live reputation didn’t sell tickets for them. But sometimes, Metallica 2019-style are a very good tribute act to how good the band were live in 1989.

It seems bizarre that people seem quite happy to lay out £100+ a ticket to see a band they won’t pay £10 for their CD, but people are strange. Especially when their current – high – ticket prices are the result of market testing when they checked, and apparently nobody minds paying more. I mind. Even 15 years ago, when the band cost £17 to see. I guarantee you I don’t earn six times as much as I did then. I wish I did. Going to see Metallica costs the same as a holiday. It’s not a small sacrifice. And my thanks go to Robin, who found himself with a spare at short notice and helped me have a much needed big night out.

Support comes from the equally strange, and not exactly uneventful Ghost, who are clearly a solo act with the name of a band. And a backing band of seven people in masks that seem to act as their own frontmen whilst all playing the same song at the same time yet seemingly all being the lead in their own solo acts. It’s a strange and unusual experience. I’ve not seen a band seem so less like a band in my life. They’re good, but not great.

And then, with the learned punctuality of a multi million dollar business, The Metallica Express arrives at 8.00pm exactly, for exactly 2 hours and 20 minutes of entertainment. There’s a learned stagecraft in the night. There’s well rehearsed comments, jokes, and platitudes that sound like they’ve been said every night so far. There’s the predictable – and multiple – references to the Metallica Family, as if the band somehow split and reformed post rehab and therapy as a extremely well paying therapy session for the band [or for us].

There’s stadium karaoke – sing with me Twickenham – where the arrangements of the song would collapse without 72,000 subvocalists wordlessly intoning yeah yeah yeah yeah. There’s the sense of watching an enormous television surrounded by drunks. It’s great, crowd pleasing fun. But it’s Metallica as stadium rock.

I miss the edge. I miss the fire. It’s not to say Metallica aren’t great – and tonight they probably are – but they are playing like a very big, and much older, version of the band they used to. The set rests on the tried and true, with more than half the set being hits from the days that they didn’t do singles – and they are kind of like a very heavy Grateful Dead. A band that does not chase television or radio coverage, because they’re big enough by now already. The final third of the main set is comprised of exclusively early stuff that is received, much better, than anything else. There’s a run from “One”, to “Master of Puppets”, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Creeping Death” and “Seek And Destroy” that could have come from anytime in the past 32 years. Of course it is fantastic fun and a great big night out.

There’s a sense of something being held back through learned stagecraft and restraint. The hell-bent-for-leather sense of thirty years ago – the live fast, die young, and leave a great record – is missing. To compensate we have big screens, fires, inflatable band members, and rehearsed moves. The compelling, desperate edge that made their reputation is duller here with age and time and work. Nobody can be the same at twice their age than they were half their life ago, nor would I want them to. But what this is is a reminder of what they used to be, in some ways.

Stranded in the transport desert that is Twickenham, it’s not even dark, and the main set has barely crashed to a shuddering halt, before I see the people streaming to the exits. In fact, given the location of their previous gigs – being often in profitably-priced-to-hire-competitive-megadomes on the outskirts of town – I’ve managed to miss the end of more Metallica gigs than I haven’t recently. My choice is either to bail before they play “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman”, or to wait for two hours in a mile long queue to miss the last train home.

With the final leg of the three year tour coming to a close this summer, Metallica have become a furious, thrash version of The Rolling Stones : and in no way is that a criticism. They know what the crowd want – and they deliver it with a professional, dry efficiency that betrays a fluent, unconscious stagecraft and assumed knowledge. Like an ruthless joke machine that no longer finds their own material funny, Metallica are instead very, very good at what they do, as a professional cog in a huge multinational business that is in the business of selling T-shirts, beer cups, and action figures. Sometimes the music itself is just another product, and whilst Metallica were great fun and hugely enjoyable, they are no longer an amazingly good thrash metal band, but instead a great stadium rock show experience.

Hardwired
The Memory Remains
Ride The Lightning
Harvester of Sorrow
The Unforgiven
Here Comes Revenge
Moth Into Flame
Sad But True
No Leaf Clover
Killers
Frantic
One
Master Of Puppets
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Creeping Death
Seek And Destroy
-
Lords of Summer
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman


Monday, July 01, 2019
 
THE CURE / RIDE / THE TWILIGHT SAD / JUST MUSTARD - Dublin Malahide Castle, 08 June 2019

Sometimes it feels like The Cure are a tribute band. But their songs never age as such : they were always old, often decades older than their years, and, as the band sort-of approach old age, they seem to have finally caught up with the songs they wrote as young men. As a 15 year old listener, “Disintegration” – most of which is scattered through the night – felt like some kind of melancholy I couldn’t quite understand. Three decades later, those songs have become the sound of a modern life. The sound of a tired commute to a job. The sound of what it is to be this age. The sound of what it is to have had enough.

The Cure sometimes seemingly slide away from currency to being merely an enticing live proposition, and sometimes seem to fall victim to the same malaise as The Rolling Stones and Roxy Music – that is, not releasing new music and becoming a touring museum. In that respect, a Cure show is always a history lesson these days. But it’s never nostalgia as such : every show is firmly rooted in today and now, and the knowledge that it is the path of history that lead to here. And those songs seem to exist outside of time. A great song can be written last week, last century, or a millennium ago. What matters only is that it still speaks to you. A Cure show isn’t a time capsule to another century, but an experience that seem to cover most emotions that a life contains. Joy, tragedy, and the wild mood swings inbetween.

This, their first Dublin show in 27 years, is the opening stop on their summer festival jaunt : and over two and a half hours – a relative skimp by Cure standards, given some nights they play over four hours – they present a wide reaching overview of their entire body of work, from the deep depths of their more obscure albums, and bringing long-neglected songs back to the stage (“The Wendy Time” gets its first live performance in 27 years and only its sixth outing ever, alongside “Just One Kiss” returning from a 7 year holiday).

In some respects, I’m glad they play “Shake Dog Shake” and “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” in the first 15 minutes. Of the songs the band play regularly, they are my least favourite ; being simplistic, repetitive, and of relatively few sections with little variation.

With the most stable lineup they’ve had (7 years, and counting), The Cure have found a configuration that is playing some of the best shows of their lives. I’ve seen good Cure shows, legendary Cure shows, and bad Cure shows. Even the bad ones are better than some bands on their best night. It’s taken some time, but with the core lineup playing together for twenty five years, and relative newbie Reeves Gabrels (formerly David Bowie’s best guitarist) at only seven years in post, it’s a definitive version of the band tonight. Jason Cooper – the most under-rated drummer there is – effortlessly punctuates each song with a precise attack, alongside Roger O'Donnell on keys, and bass player Simon Gallup (who joined the band forty years ago) prowls the stage protectively. This Cure are as good as any other lineup. That is a hill I will fight you on. And win.

Support comes from Just Mustard, who remind me of no one so much as the long lost, now defunct Cranes, with unfriendly, obscure vocals, and a dense roar of sound. After that come The Twilight Sad – not only Robert Smiths favourite band (and Cure support act at many of their shows) – but also one of my favourite bands in the world. A short thirty minute set in daylight barely scratches the surface of possibilities for this band, but they stick to a compact and powerful, undiluted roar through their work. A truncated Sad show in daylight is by no means the best environment to catch them, but does provide a glimpse of their magic.

Ride are penultimate on the bill, with an assortment of new, old, and very new songs from their upcoming album. I’m sure they work better in darkness, but they don’t connect with me. I like them, and they are more than capable of weaving a spell, but sunshine in a field is not their world.

And onto The Cure. These days, they play live because they want to, not because they need to, and have long become financially self-sustaining to the point that the bands existence is a luxury : every show and release is the result of it being an artistically right thing to do and not an act of commerce or profit. And, unlike some bands, there’s not really a sense that a Cure gig is Yet Another Day At The Office. There’s a sense that this band are creating a world of music and emotion, and inviting you to be part of it.

But, given that it’s the thirtieth anniversary of “Disintegration” – an album the band have just played five times at Sydney Opera House, alongside a large number of b-sides – there’s a sense of this night being, perhaps, a special show, or an event, which will see them play that album in full and in order. No such chance. As such, it’s a broad career retrospective that covers almost all of their work, with at least something from every album bar the most recent two. Which means that even the youngest song is 19 years old.

Nonetheless, I’ve seen The Cure a lot of times in a lot of places. And this show reminds me so much of a previous one that I actually think I might have seen them too much, if you can do such a thing. Or that some things never change. There’s distinct points where it feels just like Finsbury Park in 1993, right down to the weather, and where I am stood. Which is bizarre.

Most bizarre of all is during “Play For Today.” I have a sudden, violent and weird flashback to this exact moment, in this exact field, with the band playing this exact song, a feeling of having been here before, despite this never having happened before. And at this exact moment, it’s the rudest, and most unsociable Cure crowd I have experienced. After many of us have patiently waited most of the day, there’s a handful of rude, pushy, drunk men (well, mostly men), who seem to think it is their god-given divine privilege to stand exactly where you are, and push you out of the way, because that is What They Want To Do. And they’re drunk, of course. So get out of the way. I Want To Be At The Front. I Want To Be A Moron. I Want To Be Annoying.

And it spoils things. There’s no need to be so selfish, and no need to be so obviously annoying. No need at all. Is your pleasure worth so much you can piss off dozens of people? (It isn’t). We’re all here for the music that makes us forget the world, and makes us forget people like you.

And then after ten minutes he leaves when he realises they’re playing the Doom-And-Gloom part of the set (“Want”, “39”, “One Hundred Years”), and someone else, seemingly immediately barges in his place, then they leave, then two drunk people think they can just shove everyone else out of the way, before they realise they can’t. These seemingly infinite cavalcade of cuntery keeps up from “Inbetween Days” all the way to the last notes of “Boys Don’t Cry”.

It breaks the spell The Cure are working so hard to achieving, and one that, when it works, makes a Cure show like nothing else in the world. Where the band use music to vibrate the air in a way that somehow changes the way we feel. That’s the magic. Magic is something that can’t be seen or touched, but that changes what we feel in relation to the world around us. Despite all the stupidity, the band are still playing an essential, and cleansing set of songs that make the world make more sense. What more do you want from art than that?

Shake Dog Shake,
Burn,
From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea,
A Night Like This,
Pictures Like You,
High,
Just One Kiss,
Lovesong,
Just Like Heaven,
Last Dance,
Fascination Street,
Never Enough,
The Wendy Time,
The Walk,
Push,
Inbetween Days,
Play For Today,
A Forest,
Primary,
Want,
39,
One Hundred Years,
Lullaby,
The Caterpillar,
Doing The Unstuck,
Friday I’m In Love,
Close To Me,
Why Can’t I Be You?,
Boy’s Don’t Cry


Wednesday, May 08, 2019
 
NICK MASON’s SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS - London Camden Roundhouse 04 May 2019

With Pink Floyd now defunct (and half of the original lineup dead), and both David Gilmour and Roger Waters working in their own solo spheres, Nick Mason – the only member of Pink Floyd to play on every album and at every show – occupies the enviable status of being both the last man standing for this great band, and perhaps its most fervent cheerleader. At 75, it’s a strange time to be on your first solo tour, but Pink Floyd have never been the most conventional of bands.

In another universe, the Floyd would have carried on like The Stones, touring football stadiums every so often as an incredibly well paid job on the back of yet another greatest hits record, before one of them finally dropped dead in a hotel room in Copenhagen being almost as rich as God herself.

In this world, the Floyd simply took breaks and made solo material – inevitably one of them lasting 25 years, and then the band were no more. One can hardly accuse Mason of hurriedly exploiting the bands name for glory ; starting his first solo tour in his seventies, in theatres about 50 times smaller than the final Floyd tour, and ticket prices being at least half what you might expect from an original member of the band - having waited a diplomatic quarter century to do so, it feels like a faithful and proud reclaiming of the bands often overlooked early material. There’s a sense that this tour is the sole result of his phone never ringing, and Mason wanting to simply go and play drums on songs he loves with his friends. No song in tonights set is less than 47 years old. Frighteningly, none of these songs were recorded whilst I was alive. And I am in my lateish forties. Most of them were never played live by Pink Floyd since before I was born. And there’s no real reason I can think of why : most of it is staggeringly good, and clearly points to the melodic strengths of The Dark Side Of The Moon.

The early Pink Floyd – with Syd Barrett – is a band that ceased to exist fifty one years ago ; if you saw them then, there’s a slim chance you aren’t in your Seventies. And an even slimmer chance you remember any of it. The band Mason fronts is a convincing mixture of Floyd alumni – including their live bass player of over thirty years, Guy Pratt – alongside Gary Kemp and Lee Harris on guitars, and Dom Beken on keyboards; all of whom seem to be living out their childhood dreams that were forged by listening to Relics at school in the 70’s, and now get to play the songs with the bands original drummer. The Pink Floyd rhythm section of the past 30 or so years, performing the bands early material, on tour in small rooms, feels like fun. It’s the first tour that Mason has played without a second drummer / percussionist on stage since I was four years old. But it doesn’t show.

It feels like a fleeting glimpse of what may have happened then : every song is dispatched with a sonically pure, precise but faithful sound, with Mason pounding the drums in the way that demonstrates how whilst he always played to the benefit of the song and not his ego, his strength came in knowing when not to overplay the song. Material such as “Interstellar Overdrive” sounds muscular and powerful – the way the records never quite captured thanks to limited technology and rushed studio budgets.

The choice of songs is astute ; with a clear selection of strong material cherry picked from the first six studio albums – including three songs from the much overlooked ‘Obscured By Clouds’, including the brilliant, and pounding title track which slips effortlessly into “When You’re In”. There’s a medley of “If” and “Atom Heart Mother” which – if you close your eyes – could be any one of a million early 70’s live recordings. Alongside songs which, if you’d told me five years ago I’d be watching a founder member of Pink Floyd perform “Vegetable Man” or “The Nile Song”, I’d’ve told you to stop lying to me. The early Floyd material is – was – fiercely inventive and fun, but sporadically brilliant, and sometimes rubbish. Such was the life of a young, hardworking band who made an album every year whether they had written enough songs to justify it. By the time the set comes to a close, “See Emily Play”, “Bike” and “One Of These Days” reaches a thunderous ending, it feels like an authentic recreation of what Pink Floyd might have been like. The pensioner in a tie-dye shirt headbanging on the front row seems to agree.

Huge chunks of this are Mason fronting a tribute band to himself ; but also, if anyone has the right to play the early Floyd material live, it’s Nick Mason. Nobody else is doing it – as both other living members rarely, if ever play anything recorded earlier than 1973. And this bands material ends at 1972. Overall, it was an unexpected, revelatory treat that showed just how wrong anyone who writes off their early years is. A Saucerful Of Secrets feel like a glimpse into what these songs might once have been like and a vital restatement of the bands early work – making these songs live and breathe again on stage in a way almost all of us have not seen in our lifetimes. Miss it at your peril.

Interstellar Overdrive
Astronomy Domine
Lucifer Sam
Fearless
Obscured By Clouds
When You’re In
Remember A Day
Arnold Layne
Vegetable Man
If
Atom Heart Mother
If (pt 2)
The Nile Song
Green Is The Colour
Let There Be More Light
Childhood’s End
Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun
See Emily Play
Bike
One Of These Days

A Saucerful Of Secrets
Point Me At The Sky



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