Archive for the ‘gig’ Category


Bob Dylan at the State Theatre of New South Wales

5 September 2014


Tonight was my seventh time seeing Bob Dylan play live. I continued my lucky streak of never seeing Bob on a really bad night. 

The man is a legend. He’s 73 years old, still writing great albums, and is reinventing old songs all the time.

Anyone hoping for greatest hits would be disappointed. He played for over 2 hours but until the encore produced only 3 songs written before 1997 (“She Belongs To Me”, “Tangled Up In Blue”, and “Simple Twist of Fate”). That’s OK, I’ve seen plenty of the classics before.

Songs like “Things Have Changed”, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”, and “Love Sick” pack a lot of punch with me. I was amazed that even recent songs like “Duquesne Whistle” have already been reworked into nearly unrecognizable versions. 

The band is perfect. There are, as always, no frills. It’s an otherworldly combination of loose and laser-sharp, of legendary music and classics that are only a year old. It’s every bit of blues, jazz, rock, country, and folk Americana music on one stage.

Highlights? Bob playing at a grand piano instead of the little keyboard he’s used in the past, and “High Water (For Charley Patton)”. The full setlist is here.

Thanks Bob.


Dave Hole at the Bridge Hotel

2 November 2013

I spent Halloween evening at the Bridge Hotel in Rozelle, Sydney, listening to the blues. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The Bridge is a no-frills place. It’s not sawdust-on-the-floors, but it’s not too far beyond that either. It’s a simple pub on one side and a small room with tables and a stage for music events on the other. The crowd the other night was, in the words of one of the performer, “small but select”. I and the two friends I went with would agree.

The first act was Canadian Charlie A’Court. I didn’t know until I looked him up, just before going into the room, that he’s actually a Nova Scotian like me. From Truro, in fact, so not far at all from where I grew up. Charlie’s got a powerful voice and plays a good acoustic guitar. He sounded great, and performed a good mix of blues, soft folk, and soul tunes.


The main event was Dave Hole, an Australian slide guitarist I’ve been keen to see since I heard him on an Alligator blues collection I picked up in the early ’90s. He hasn’t toured much in recent years, and this mini-tour around Oz is an acoustic one. He came on stage with a Dobro steel guitar; he was later joined by a drummer on snare and high hat, and a bass player, so not the stack of Marshalls he admitted he usually uses.

But no matter what sort of guitar he has in his hands, Dave Hole can play a slide guitar. He coaxes all those emotive slide sounds from his instrument, the wails and shouts, the glissandos of mourning.

And Dave plays from his guts. There’s no artifice about his performance. His singing isn’t polished. He makes an effort, and grimaces and gestures and shouts, but not in a put-on way. He just has the air of someone who’s self-taught, who loves the old roadhouse blues tunes, and who loves playing them.

By the end of the night it was perhaps getting to be a bit too much of the same sliding trills, over and over, for me. But then he ended with his version of “Purple Haze” and left me with a smile. Thanks Dave.


Lorde at the Metro Theatre

17 October 2013

I’m just back from seeing Lorde play the tiny Metro Theatre in Sydney.

The first act was Oliver Tank, a one-man electro-groove-folk act. I liked his mix of samples, synthetic beats, and easygoing vocals in a laid-back sort of way.

Before I talk about Lorde I feel that I should clarify something. Lorde – real name Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor – is (at the time of this post) a 16-year-old trip-pop singer and songwriter from New Zealand. She is very distinct from Lordi, the ludicrously-costumed hard rock band from Finland that won the Eurovision song contest in 2006. Just so there’s no confusion. Because there has been.


Now, back to Lorde. She was good. I mean, for someone who can really only have performed on stage a limited number of times, given her age, she was pretty good. Her show didn’t consist of anything flashy. She sang, one guy played drums, and another played synth and electronics. There were a few lights. There were a lot of recorded background vocals, since a lot of the songs have multiple vocal tracks. There wasn’t much opportunity for elaborate showmanship.

Lorde did a hunched over, herky-jerky dance throughout the show, and flicked her cascading set of hair a lot, but was an assured performer for one so young. It was only between songs, when the crowd went mental, that she sometimes seemed at a bit of a loss as to how to respond. No worries, she’s got a whole career in front of her to become polished (and jaded and cynical).

A word about that crowd: they were loud. I have been to hundreds of gigs. Really, a lot. Metal, rock, punk, Springsteen, everything. And I’ve never heard a crowd scream so loudly all around me as I heard tonight. After she played “Royals” I had to cover my ears. “Biting Down” also got a massive response. The piercing volume might have had something to do with the high proportion of females in the audience. Nevertheless it was a clear sign that the crowd absolutely loved her.

For my money she was good, not amazing, live. She  played for slightly over an hour but got through most of the songs on her EP and LP. A surprising omission was new ANZ hit “Team”, which I really like. Maybe they’re still figuring out how to do it live. Here it is for you:

And just to show you that she can sing live here’s Lorde and her band doing “Royals” for a radio show in the US:

Lorde has shown herself to be a phenomenally catchy songwriter. She’s on the road to be a good performer. I don’t see that there’s any stopping her.


Sugar Bowl Hokum at the Union Hotel

13 October 2013

The Union Hotel in Newtown is an excellent pub. They have lots of interesting beers, mostly local but with a few from overseas, and even a couple of hand-pumped ales. They have pool tables and a beer garden.  Something for everyone, really.

And this Sunday afternoon they had something that surpassed all of these: Sugar Bowl Hokum, a band that plays blues, jazz, and hokum tunes from the early 20th century. They were sweet and naughty and a lot of fun. I’d definitely catch them again.

Here’s a short clip of them playing Memphis Minnie’s “In My Girlish Days“.


Foals at the Enmore Theatre

30 September 2013

I saw UK dance-rock band Foals live once before in early 2008. I thought they were good then but not varied enough. But I’ve liked their new album enough that I decided to go see them again last night at the nearby Enmore Theatre.

The first act were up-and-coming Melbourne band Alpine. Their song “Gasoline” has been pretty popular on the radio here, and for good reason. They’ve got a poppy vibe from their two vocalists but some hefty rock crunch from the musicians. Live they were hi-energy fun in that Karen O/Yeah Yeah Yeahs way. I enjoyed their set a lot.

When Foals came out soon afterwards I was really pleased I’d decided to give them another chance because they’ve grown as a band and as performers. They now have three albums to draw on, and their last two have both included more of the crunch they employ live but also broadened their music. It’s still a fairly focused sound, with a lot of U2-ish bell-ringing guitars but eminently danceable rhythms. The crowd could not help but shake itself to each guitar-driven song.


My favourites last night were old track “Electric Bloom” and new tracks “Inhaler, “My Number” (this one, especially, delivered early on, set the boogie tone), and “Providence”. All demonstrated how the band uniquely combines staccato guitar riffs with high-hat grooves to make dance-floor-filling rock songs.

Lead singer Yannis Philippakis got into the spirit of things with two stages dives, one with his guitar (and his solo kept going). It looks like the previous night’s show got even wilder, though, as he did a crowd dive from the upper level. Don’t try this at home, kids.

And finally, because it’s a great song, here’s “My Number” for your ear pleasure.


Japandroids at Manning Bar

11 September 2013

I totally forgot: a week and a half ago I saw Canadian garage-rock duo Japandroids play at Sydney University’s Manning Bar.


They were rad. That is all. You really just have to experience it, and you’ll get the raw experience or you won’t.



Lloyd Spiegel at the Camelot Lounge

8 September 2013

I was looking at the upcoming gigs for Camelot Lounge and saw a listing for a blues guitar player named Lloyd Spiegel. That piqued my interest so I dug into it a little more. I found out that Lloyd has been named one of the 50 best Australian guitarists of all time.

Lloyd Spiegel

Lloyd Spiegel

Then I found this video:

Then I bought tickets to see Spiegel.

The gig was Friday night. We were ‘way up in the front so we could get a good view. Spiegel in no way looks like a rock star, though, or even a blues star for that matter. He’s a completely ordinary-looking bloke, the kind of guy you’d know from work or that installs your sink. He was dressed completely ordinarily.

But once he sat on that stool and lifted that acoustic guitar Lloyd let loose with a powerful – almost overpowering – blast of blues music. He can play. The only way to know is to see it live, like in that video above, or this one:

He played standards and his own songs, accompanied by drummer Tim Watkins. It felt free of artifice, and almost overwhelming in guitar proficiency.

Lloyd is a blues shouter, with a full-throated, powerful voice. There were few mellow tunes, though I really liked this one.

For fans of the blues, or acoustic guitar playing, Lloyd is an amazing Australian act.


Christa Hughes & Ben Fink at Camelot Lounge, plus LazyBones Lounge

13 July 2013

Camelot Lounge is one of the funkiest recent additions to Marrickville. It opened a year or two back, a music club in an old building in the very industrial space close to Sydenham train station, and the legitimate offspring of warehouse party outfit Qirkz. They focus on blues, jazz, folk, and world music in a small eclectic (and camel-centric) space. And it’s very close to where I live.

On Thursday Qirkz were giving away a couple of last-minute free tickets to that night’s show and I managed to snag one. So I grooved on down the road to see Christa Hughes and Ben Fink.


Christa comes from a musical family and performs a very cabaret-infused style of early blues and jazz. Her full-on burlesque theatricality added pizzazz to alt-rock group Machine Gun Fellatio, but she’s been performing on her own for about 8 years. Ben is a guitarist, composer, and singer who dabbles in several roots styles.

They played a set of songs that drew from early blues, back when there was little difference between that musical form and others like jazz and folk and gospel. Hughes’s powerful theatrical voice and flamboyant stage manner drew your attention, while Fink’s raw, understated playing gave it a rootsy grounding. They played standards like “Midnight Special” and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” (which, interestingly, morphed into Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song”, which of course references Howlin’ Wolf’s very different “Killing Floor” and Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues”). They also did a great version of Bessie Smith’s double-entendre-filled  “My Kitchen Man“.

That burlesque naughtiness spilled over into some of Christa and Ben’s originals too. “Pig Flu Blues” was a snorting, coughing ode to feeling miserable (and a run-in with the cops). And in a move sure to entertain all the kids whose parents had brought them along for the evening, Hughes bemoaned the emphasis on anal sex in modern adult entertainment with a tune called “Bring Back the Pussy in Porn”.

While I really like early blues the shrill pantomime of Christa’s performance wears thin on me after a while. I ducked out at the intermission, suitably entertained and not wanting to slip over into the point of diminishing returns.

On the way home I stopped into an even newer music venue in Marrickville, just two minutes from my front door, located in what I believe used to be a Vietnamese karaoke bar: LazyBones Lounge. This very cool, large, ultra-loungey upstairs room can only have been open a couple of weeks. Judging by the quality jam band, interesting decor, impressively stocked bar, no cover charge, and already-substantial crowd this place has got some legs. I’m looking forward to chilling out here in the near future.


Martha Wainwright at the Sydney Opera House

7 June 2013

It wasn’t part of the Vivid festival but I somehow found myself back at the Opera House yet again last night. This time it was to see Martha Wainwright. If you don’t know Martha’s background, or understand the source of her musical DNA, read this.


She was incredibly good. Her songs are very personal, with beautiful melodies. Most of her style comes from an acoustic singer-songwriter place. She did play several solo songs, but on the rest her backing band gave her enough scale and oomph to provide some dynamics.

More dynamics came from a couple of Edith Piaf songs in the middle of the set, as well as a guest slot she gave to Brighter Later (who didn’t get to open the night as the Opera House now frowns on this apparently). Plus she gave us her version of Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song”.

Martha is a great live performer: funny and engaging between songs, expressive and full of movement during them. Her vocals are very authentic, just raw enough but with control that comes from both talent and practice. There was banter with her husband (who’s in the band), jokes about brother Rufus, a stage visit from her kid (more show business DNA, it seems), and a discovery that performing lying down is quite comfortable.

Both her parents got appropriate nods: Martha closed her main set with her mother’s last song, the delicate “Proserpina” (the video is below), and finished the encore with a less delicate song about her dad.

She was wacky, endearing, and a musical force. It was an impressive evening.


Vivid Sydney: Sounds of the South at the Sydney Opera House

3 June 2013

Alan Lomax was a folklorist and collector of American field recordings. Any student of US roots music will know his name: the music and stories he collected in the ’40s and ’50s for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress was a driving force for the popularity of blues and folk music in the ’60s.

A collective of musicians from America (and one from Canada) played two concerts on the weekend as part of the Vivid festival that paid homage to the music that Lomax uncovered for us. That show was called Sounds of the South, and I caught the Sunday afternoon show.

The collective included Megafaun, Matthew E. White, jazz group Fight the Big Bull, Bon Iver frontman and founder Justin Vernon, and former Be Good Tanyas member Frazey Ford.



The assembled 13 musicians played a set of songs inspired by the Alan Lomax recordings. Almost none were straight covers; they were, instead, rocked-up, jazzed-up, or psyched-up. Almost all worked really well, resulting in blues-, gospel-, or folk-based tunes that showed how these themes have influenced modern music. They were exciting. There were multi-part harmonies. There were tales of sadness, and sung prayers of joy.

The middle section didn’t work for me. It got a little too free-form and discordant. I was constantly reminded of Spinal Tap’s jazz odyssey.

But most of it was really good. Vernon and Ford’s singing were highlights, as were all three brass players in Fight the Big Bull. They (mostly) found a great balance of homage and reinterpretation. And they encored with The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.

It was the sort of rare event that keeps me coming back to Vivid.

Here’s an excellent video of one of the songs – performed a few years ago – that was one of the highlights the other night; Vernon singing Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “When You Get Home Please Write Me A Few of Your Lines”. It starts as a near-acoustic cover, then morphs into a jazz-rock groove.


Vivid Sydney: Gurrumul – His Life and Music at the Sydney Opera House

29 May 2013

Last night was my next Vivid Sydney show: Gurrumul.


I had only vaguely heard of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu when I saw his concert listed for Vivid. My better half suggested we go, so I got tickets and then learned more about him. Gurrumul is an Indigenous Australian musician who sings in the Yolngu language (he apparently knows very little English). He’s from an island off the coast of Arnhem Land. He was born blind. He sings the songs of his people, in their language, though sometimes performed in a Western folk-music way. He plays several instruments, but mostly guitar.

And he sings in a high, otherworldly voice that sends shivers down my spine.

Last night’s show was a world premiere: not only Gurrumul and his band, but with accompaniment by some of the Sydney Symphony. This created a lush, powerful swell behind the songs. Gurrumul’s beautiful singing came through every song, whether it was an Aboriginal chant, or an ancestral tale set to a folk-pop rhythm or a reggae tune. There were video segments of his family explaining what each song was about, which gave the audience context. His songs are not political; they’re expressions of his culture, so that context meant a lot.

Gurrumul reserved his voice entirely for his songs but for a quick thank you at the end. It was a very special show.

Here’s a small sample of a performance from a few years back, to give you a tiny idea of what he was like before he got big in 2008. It might be hard to imagine this with a symphony behind him, but it really worked.


Vivid Sydney: Kraftwerk The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at the Sydney Opera House

26 May 2013

Vivid Sydney is one of my favourite annual events in this city: a festival of music, lights, and ideas just as autumn turns into winter.

My first event this year was seeing electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk live. Their performance is called The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. In it they play two shows a night for four nights, with each performance focusing on playing live the entirety of one of their most influential albums (Autobahn (1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986), The Mix (1991) and Tour de France (2003)) followed by whatever hits are left over. They’ve done this in recent years in Germany, the USA and the UK, and now it’s Australia’s turn. Demand was so high people had to enter a lottery just to be able to get the chance to buy tickets.

A mate and I put in for two different nights, and I was lucky enough to get one. With my four ticket limit purchased, we saw them play Radio-Activity on Friday night, the second show on the first night.

Heineken at the 2008 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival - Day 2

Wow. It was far more engaging and interesting than you’d expect four middle-aged German guys standing behind podiums playing minimal electro could be.

Kraftwerk are called seminal for good reason. They practically introduced electronica to the public, or at least were certainly the first to make it popular. Despite it being minimal, repetitive, and half in German, it was fascinating. They always focused on themes, especially the way that technology is changing our lives, so there’s meaning there to grab hold of. And they created all the necessary pop elements with their device sounds, transforming machine noise to songs. Watching them play live was very much like watching Black Sabbath or The Stooges recently: I was awestruck to witness the artists who invented a musical form.

The songs were so cool, and sounded great in a theatre specially wired for 5.1 surround sound. Crisp audio precision and lush synth sounds filled the room, immersing us in the techno world of these visionaries. You could hear echoes of all the electronic music that’s been made ever since.

What made it extra-exciting was that the music was accompanied by a full-on big-screen 3D video presentation behind the band. Every song contained visual elements bursting out at the audience, as we wore Kraftwerk-logoed cardboard bi-colour glasses. Cars and spaceships and computers all whizzed around our heads. What a treat.

They first played all the tracks from Radio-Activity, an exploration of broadcast communications as it was in the mid-’70s. This album really got them going down the electro-robot music path, and I find it one of their darker and moody ones. It was excellent.

Then they rolled out just about every hit the assembled crowd could have asked for from across the rest of the albums that they’d play in their entirety on other nights, plus a few others. We got “Autobahn”, of course, plus “Trans-Europe Express”, “Spacelab”, “The Model”, “The Man Machine”, “Computer World”, “Numbers”,  “Musique Non-Stop”, and “Tour de France”.

But nothing surpassed the cold machine funk of “The Robots”. It was a super groove, electronic blip elements that you recognise immediately from having been sampled so much, and freaky 3D visuals. Listening to the track alone just isn’t the same, but here it is.

Kraftwerk themselves barely moved, and only really showed their humanity – a few words, bows, and smiles – at the end. But that’s all we wanted from them. These guys are true artists. I’m so glad that they’re still able to package an amazing and inventive performance.


Kaki King at the Basement

24 May 2013

Last weekend I managed to catch guitar goddess (there’s a rare phrase) Kaki King at the Basement. Although I’d run a half-marathon that morning I was determined to see this musical whiz live.


She was freaky good. You’ve definitely got to be a guitar fan as she rarely sings but does incredible things to anything with strings. She’s a virtuoso and a collector of styles, using both melody and rhythm in her playing.

Here, just look at this:

Her songs – all performed solo with her on guitar – were formed around loops (though manual, organic ones, mostly). She finds jazz-inflected grooves and wraps a pop-rock song around them, building and swooping. King really is sort of on her own as a genre: thoughtful acoustic geek guitar, if I have to call it something.

She’s a geek because of her guitar obsession. Nearly everything she played was odd: the Ovation Adamas 1581-KK she designed, one she modified with an extra bridge so that each string can play two notes a fifth apart, a 12-string, a 7-string she has made to spec because she likes low-tuning, and one with Moog-designed transducers that induce feedback to the strings. She’s also a geek because she likes maths and stuff (she admitted she gets annoyed when New Agers ask her if her crop circle-design guitar is because of a belief in alien visitors when it’s because of her love of nerdy geometry enthusiasts).

She’s a mean axe-wielder after my own nerdy heart.


Black Sabbath at Allphones Arena

28 April 2013

In the continuing theme of “seeing musical legends before they die” a few mates and I got ourselves out to Olympic Park last night to see the first Black Sabbath tour of Australia since 1973.


The opening act was some NZ ’90s hard rock outfit called Shihad. We only caught their last song. Meh.

Then, because my mate Vince is charming as hell, he got all our nosebleed rooftop seats swapped for way-down lower-bowl right-beside-the-stage seats. Well done, Vince! A prompt start by Sabbath meant we missed the first few riffs of “War Pigs” as we moved, but we soon settled in.

Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tony Iommi.

Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tony Iommi.

What followed next was legendary metal with a bit of awkward farce thrown in.

I was really impressed by the band. Tony and Geezer still have it, completely. The guitar riffs were dark and epic. The bass was fuzzy and menacing. Original drummer Bill Ward declined to take part but Tommy Clufetos did the metal drummer thing to perfection, including a 7-minute strobe-powered solo.

Ozzy’s voice was better than I expected, mostly. He can still hit the notes, and he’s largely intelligible, and his tone fits the unsettling music just right, as it did on the albums all those decades ago.

I remind myself several times during the night that these guys invented this stuff. Countless generations of black T-shirt wearing metal bands and fans owe a massive debt to those arpeggio riffs, to those minor-keyed laments of alienation, to all those tempo changes. Black Sabbath came out 43 years ago. It was awesome to hear it played live by the guys who dreamt it up, and to hear them still being able to lay it down.

“Children of the Grave”, “N.I.B.”, Black Sabbath”, “Fairies Wear Boots”, and encore “Paranoid” were thrilling highlights to hear.

Downsides: Ozzy gets a little annoying. It’s fascinating to watch his shambolic shuffling about and fun to watch him throw buckets of water on the audience. He’s as energetic as any other mid-60s frontman out there (except Iggy) especially considering that he’s spent so many decades in a chemical fog. But it’s still tiring to hear him ask us to “Show me your fucking hands!” or “Go fucking crazy!” over and over and over again. His crowd banter is pretty limited and repetitive.

Also, he wasn’t on top form for “Electric Funeral” or, sadly, “Iron Man”. And the new songs, plus iffy mid-career tracks like “Dirty Women”, weren’t great. The show slumped in a few of these songs.

But overall the good was much bigger than the bad. I got to see musical legends do what they did, and what they still do, live. The show was fun and good-natured (metal shows I’ve attended are always the most friendly) and epic. We thrashed and sang and shook and fist-pumped and yelled. Dark, brooding riffery has been part of the musical landscape as long as I’ve been alive; I’m glad its creators got to show me how it’s done.

You can see a couple of videos from the crowd in the embedded YouTubes below. Rock on.



Bonnie Raitt at the Enmore Theatre

4 April 2013

Last night I saw another great artist doing sideshows after Byron Bay: Bonnie Raitt. It was a significant change from The Stooges.


The opening act was a substantial set from R&B legend Mavis Staples. And yes, anyone who started performing as a member of The Staples Singers family in 1950 is a legend. She and her tight band served up a whole bunch of gospel soul. It was polished but heartfelt, a classy old-school set of songs that appealed to pop as much as civil rights protests as much as God. Mavis can still holler. They did a stirring version of The Band’s “The Weight”, and pledged some love to the departed Levon Helm. And Bonnie Raitt even came out early to play “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” with Mavis and the band.

Bonnie was soon out for her own set, though. Most people know of Raitt through her easy-listening blues-pop hits since the early ’90s, though she had been recording – and critically acclaimed, if never commercially successful – for two decades before that. She’s a comfortable songwriter and performer, a competent bottleneck slide guitarist, and has a knack for introducing a variety of musical styles into her songs in a really approachable way.

All of these aspects came out on stage. She never missed a beat, even with some ostensible on-stage confusion as she changed the setlist. Everything just seemed cool and smooth, every guitar lick sounded great. Bonnie herself sounded and looked amazing (for any age, we agreed, not just the 63 years she actually is).

The close proximity to the previous night’s punk antics made some of it a little too smooth for me, maybe. But you can’t hate Raitt, nor chastise her overmuch for being classy and caring about tone. She is the anti-Iggy.

Of course she played “Have a Heart”, “Thing Called Love”, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, and “Something To Talk About”. I was surprised she didn’t do “Love Letter” or “Love Sneakin’ Up On You”, but those are pretty lightweight hits so nothing was lost.

Highlights for me were songs that can serve as near bookends: her 1974 version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” was beautiful, and her 2012 rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles” was spookily intense. You can watch live versions of both of these, from a show last year, below.

Note that “Million Miles” is one of two songs on her last release, Slipstream, that are covers from Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind album (the other being “Standing in the Doorway”). Good taste, Bonnie.

The blues – in one of its many and varied forms – lives on in Bonnie Raitt.


Iggy and the Stooges at the Hordern Pavilion

3 April 2013

I’m seeing some of the big acts in the country for the Byron Bay Bluesfest as they do sideshows here in Sydney. Last night was – at last – my chance to see the Godfathers of Punk, Iggy and the Stooges.


First up was Beasts of Bourbon. Tex Perkins is one of those musical gems that never really made it outside Australia. I’d never heard of him until I saw him in a Johnny Cash tribute here a few years ago. But last night I became a convert to the Beasts. It was primal pub rock with punk sensibilities. Tex’s growl, the insanely loud guitar drone, and verse after chorus of profane, nihilistic blues made some of the best stuff I’ve ever heard that came out of the ’80s. I’m sorry I missed it. They opened with “Chase the Dragon“, kept the pace with songs like “I Told You So” and the newer “I Don’t Care About Nothing Anymore“, and closed with the nutty “Let’s Get Funky“.

Then, The Stooges. I remember hearing whispers about these guys from my cousins as a kid. How they were the most insane band ever, how Iggy had been institutionalised. Later I heard their music and saw how they took rock to its next, necessary evolutionary step.

I saw it written this week that The Stooges were, in the late ’60s, the first rock ‘n’ roll band to be completely devoid of any of the R&B influence, and I think that’s exactly right. It’s raucous, dangerous, everything that’s rough and scary and confrontational about rock music and nothing that’s groovy. Iggy Pop is the frontman that Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison gave birth to. Altogether it had to spawn punk, and that gave popular rock music the shot it needed.

Last night they (and “they” has, other than Iggy and drummer Scott Asheton, changed a lot over the years) showed that The Stooges’ vision remains a pure one. And “primal” remained the word of the night. The band are all old guys but they rock hard enough that my ears are still ringing today. They provided the aggressive aural world in which Iggy Pop could writhe and taunt and scream and spit and do things that no 65-year-old ex-junkie should be able to do.

Raw Power” and “Gimme Danger” were fun and brutal and noisy and joyous. The three-song run of “Search and Destroy“, “1970” and “Fun House” with its usual stage-dancing crowd invitation was one of the most powerful live things I’ve witnessed. Closing the main set with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun” was brilliant. Even new song “Burn” was pretty cool.

Here’s the band playing “1970” a little more than a year ago. Primal energy, love it or hate it: see what I mean?

Iggy and the Stooges: does what it says on the tin.

Bonus video: Iggy Pop and Tom Waits try to out-cool each other in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”.


The Tallest Man On Earth at the Sydney Opera House

6 March 2013

Kristian Matsson is a singer-songwriter from Sweden who performs as The Tallest Man On Earth. He is, in fact, very small.

Irony aside, I enjoy TTMOE’s songs a lot. They’re quite troubadour folk-y, very Dylan-esque. His voice is heartfelt and unique, and it makes the songs feel ethereal. His lyrics turn some very clever phrases, and his instrumentation is simple yet accomplished. Matsson typically just sings and plays guitar, or occasionally piano, with no other accompaniment. The Dylan thing is really striking, especially when he includes lyrics about “boots of Spanish leather” and when you find out that his wife Amanda Bergman performs under the name Idiot Wind.

He had a show at the Opera House last night that I found out about late in the game. Luckily one became available at the last minute and I was able to sneak along.

The Tallest Man On Earth. Photo from Sydney Opera House.

The Tallest Man On Earth. Photo from Sydney Opera House.

I found TTMOE live a more rewarding experience than I’d expected. It’s just Matsson with his voice and guitar, and a piano for one song. But he swings his tiny body all around the stage, strumming and spinning his legs and his guitar, ducking and diving. It’s a far more expressive use of the stage than just sitting and playing and singing. It endeared him to the crowd, as did his sips of tea (or of whatever was in that cup) and his assertion that Swedes are discouraged from feeling overly proud of anything.

He started strong with “King of Spain” but covered all his albums (highlights: “I Won’t Be Found” from Shallow Grave, “The Wild Hunt” from The Wild Hunt, and “1904” from There’s No Leaving Now). He sounded great live, clear and vibrant, and he put lots of dynamics – volume and tempo – into the performance. We got one last highlight at the end when Bergman came out and duetted much of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” inserted at the end of “The Wild Hunt”. So pretty.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so strong and spontaneous a standing ovation at the Opera House.


Sydney Festival: Osaka Monaurail at Town Hall

25 January 2013

Last night was another music event for this year’s Sydney Festival. Like last weekend’s Kashmere Stage Band show this one was all about funk and was held at the great performance space in Sydney’s Town Hall.

The first act was Saskwatch. They’re from Melbourne, and are a nine-piece funk and soul band. I’d heard them on the radio and they sounded OK; live they were a whole other deal. They laid down some pretty good grooves. But the absolute star of this band is singer Nkechi Anele. Oh. My. God. She was passionate and powerful. Her voice was so strong, her soul sound so intense. And she moved and danced like no performer I’ve ever seen. She was a non-stop dervish of hip-shaking sexiness. Her moves punctuated her singing which punctuated the band’s songs. Saskwatch are amazing. Watch and listen.


Then were the headliners: Osaka Monaurail. They’re a Japanese funk band, and they live and breathe it. Lead singer Ryo Nakata has run this band for 20 years, with a rotating cast of musicians, but this one – like all of them – becomes a full-on ’70s-era funk machine. If you closed your eyes you would be entirely forgiven for thinking you were at an early James Brown show. Nakata grunts and yells; the horn players spin their trumpets on their fingers like pistols; the guitar players come up for solos. They were seriously tight. And when Nakata was in full flow he could shimmy, sing, bounce his mic stand, and do the splits in his dapper suit right on cue.

We got a surprise visit from UK-born, Melbourne-based Shirley Davis, with whom Osaka Monaurail made a single. She was a burst of vocal energy and jazz into the proceedings, a nice change of pace.

The one down side of this set was that Nakata’s in-between-songs shtick, storytelling, and joking with the horn section would sometimes go on uncomfortably long. This did make a few crowd members restless. But when the band kicked back in they killed it, with a fun, genuine, soulful set.



Sydney Festival: Thunder Soul and the Kashmere Stage Band

21 January 2013

In the 1970’s a music teacher at Kashmere High School in Texas decided to inspire and challenge his music program kids. He did, and they became one of the most acclaimed funk bands in the US for a few years. They even travelled overseas to perform. I have some of their recordings and they are phenomenal.

In 2008 some of those band members reformed the band, to perform an inspirational concert for that music teacher that gave them so much. And someone else made a documentary about that, called Thunder Soul.

Last night, at Town Hall, Sydney Festival staged a great event: a showing of that documentary, followed by a concert of the still-reformed and touring Kashmere Stage Band. I was there.

The film was touching. It’s a great illustration of how a great teacher can make a great difference, how kids can rise to the occasion, how lessons stick with you through life, and how it’s better to thank people while they’re alive.

Kashmere Stage Band

Kashmere Stage Band

The concert immediately after was a whole lotta funk. They played some of the classic KSB songs like “Zero Point”, as well as funk classics that inspired them (a lot of Sly and James, obviously). They’re all middle-aged guys now, obviously, but they had a lot of fun making us sing and dance. They still had their synchronised horn moves, and the funky steps that set them apart as performers from the more staid high school bands of the ’70s.

Even after all these years you can’t fake the funk.


Illawarra Folk Festival

20 January 2013

I’d seen posters around for the Illawarra Folk Festival (caution: that link has a loud autoplay video, turn your volume down). I thought for quite a while about going but then decided against it. It was a bit of money, I’m more of a blues fan, and I’m seeing quite a lot of events this month already for Sydney Festival.

But then the good folks over at review site Yelp had a competition for weekend pass tickets. And I was able to take an extra day off from work this week because my employer has a policy of giving you a day off on the anniversary of your start date. So I entered the competition.

And I won. Hoo-RAH!

The festival was only about 80 minutes down the coast, so we booked a B&B for the weekend and headed out Friday morning. That day was the hottest in Sydney’s history, with the mercury hitting 45.8 degrees Celsius. It was only a couple of degrees cooler where we were, so we spent much of Friday at Austinmer beach. Mostly in the water.

But Friday afternoon and evening, all day Saturday, and half of Sunday we spent wandering the tents and sites of the Illawarra Folk Festival. This is the largest volunteer-run folk festival in Australia. It certainly has that “little festival” feel. The vibe was great. Everything was close together. It was easy to get to and park each day. None of the queues were too long. And show times kept pretty close to schedule.

Ruby Boots

The music acts ran a pretty big gamut, though all had some roots in folk. Most were Australian acts but a few were from overseas. I was as pleased with the quality of performers as I was with the laid-back festival atmosphere. Given its proximity to Sydney I would definitely visit this festival again.

Here’s a very brief run-down on the acts I saw at least a few songs from (in roughly the order I saw them).

Teifon & Gareth. Two 19-year-olds from NSW. Tangos, Irish reels, and lots of ukelele.

The Underscore Orkestra. Balkan/gypsy/swing band from the US. Lively and fun.

Karen Lynne Bluegrass Circle. A proper bluegrass outfit, no messin’ about.

Mike McClellan. A popular, long-running, award-winning Australian folk legend, apparently. Pleasant enough, but a little more genteel than I like.

Mzaza. Brisbane six-piece with French, Spanish, Turkish and other influences, and mostly sung in French. Loved the middle eastern instrumentation.

Vardos. Balkan string outfit, full of laments, laughs, and audience participation.

Shalani. This local girl is 10 years old. She sings others’ country songs, writes her own with her mom about the ocean, and is saving up to buy a pony. Sweet.

Fiona Boyes. HOT DAMN. One of the festival highlights. An Australian woman who plays like she was part of Muddy’s band. I’ve never heard anyone growl and yowl through Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin'” like that. Nor tell a story about how a Reverend Gary Davis song brought her and her partner together. Fiona is a wicked guitar player and had a huge performing personality, too. She is the real blues deal.

Big Erle. Rockin’ and rough-hewn blues-folk.

Dylan Hekimian. 18-year-old from Canberra. He plays a whip-fast acoustic guitar, with a whole lot of hand-slapping percussion against this guitar body. I took some video:

Gregory Page. Classy, jazz/blues/folk singer from the US. His stories and style and easy manner made for a charming, nostalgic set.

Mustered Courage. Really good bluegrass guys from Melbourne with great harmonies, and a fun cover of Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls”. Here’s one of their other songs:

Ruby Boots. Nice country blues from WA.

The Ballpoint Penguins. Comedy a capella trio made me laugh with songs about jellyfish, bottled water, kids who won’t move out, and wine. I’ve got a feeling my mom might have told me about these guys before.

Ray Marshall & the Bluegrass Deputies. Ray is genuine old-timey bluegrass with some local help.

The Lurkers. Bluegrass, but not as you’d care to know it. This was the only act I really didn’t like. I left after a song and a half.

Tommy Polden. 13-year-old local writes thoughtful little songs about monsters and other things that kids think about.

The Go Set. Wow! More a punk band than folk, but they’ve got bagpipes and a bodhrán. They made the big tent explode, and rocked hard and fast. The crowd loved the high energy. And they finished with a cover of the best rock song with bagpipes: AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”.

Paul Mbenna & Okapi Guitar Band. Paul was a singer in Tazania before moving to Australia a few years ago. Now performing with the Okapi Guitar band, Australia’s longest-running Afro-pop group, they made joyful, funky, jangly, danceable African grooves. And jokes in Swahili.

Jeff Lang. I missed his full band set on Saturday because the tent was overflowing, but caught his Sunday morning set with just him and his bassist. He was a virtuosic folk/blues guitar player, with some intense sounds.

Terry Serio’s Ministry of Truth. Gritty, eerie country songs of danger. I really liked his voice: very emotive.

Dom Flemons. Festival highlight. Incredible. Caught his last song or two the previous day, so ensured I caught his whole set this time, and decided to call it quits afterwards. Flemons is from the US, and is part of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. He is the real deal: steeped 100% in old-time hillbilly music, Appalachian banjo styles, early jazz, and every bit of roots Americana that informed everything that came after. He was engaging, and wide-eyed, and charming, and really pleased to be here. He blew me away. Check this out:

It was an amazing festival to see for free. Thanks again, Yelp.