Friday, 12 October 2012

Play To Z: Fever To Tell to Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue

Hey there, pop fans. It's been a while since the last entry, but my slackness in writing has been matched by my slackness in listening, so I haven't got a huge breadth of material to wade through. Anyway, on with the show...

Some Observations

  I wasn't involved enough with the music scene to know of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as an up-and-coming band. I presume there were demos and EPs and buzz, but without all that preamble, it's remarkable listening to Fever To Tell and seeing just how fully formed they were when they truly "arrived". It helps, I'm sure, to have such a dynamic, iconic frontperson in Karen O, someone who truly embodies the band and so articulates their vision and aesthetic on another level, but still - their sound is right there, without hesitation or faltering steps. It's the kind of record that pushes open the double doors and walks into the room like it owns it.

  Electric Six are a curious beast, seemingly dedicated to recreating a period that I'm not sure ever existed. The belong in a universe where the porn-y sleaze of the 70s, the pulsing synths of the 80s and the freedom of sexual identity of the 90s all happened simultaneously, probably while John Waters was President. It's a credit to their purity of vision that one can vividly picture this parallel dimension when listening to them. I'm not sure I'd want to live in it, but I'd be happy to spend a wild weekend there.

  The Fountain was one of the most profound cinematic experiences I've had, and the astonishing soundtrack by Clint Mansell is a huge part of that. Like many great soundtracks, it takes a strong central theme and builds a score around explorations of that core melody. Mansell moves from heartbreaking to oppressive to terrifying to tragic to glorious apotheosis effortlessly, blending piano and string movements into a cohesive whole. The album reaches its climax with "Death Is The Road To Awe", which soundtracks the film's conclusion. It's a piece that punches straight through your chest. I heartily recommend both the film and soundtrack to everyone.

  Most of the music I own falls squarely into the "pop" category, or at least that's where you'd find it in HMV. Folk, world, jazz and classical don't get much of a show in my iTunes library, but one of the notable exceptions is George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. It sits in the sweet spot between jazz and classical, taking the pace and passion of the former and the structure and discipline of the latter. It's an incredibly evocative piece that cannot help but say "New York" to anyone who listens to it. The record I own containing it also has Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, the main theme from "An American In Paris" and Variations on "I Got Rhythm", a fantastic sampler of one of the great American composers.

You Gotta Hear 'Em Live

  While this little project may be a comprehensive look at all the music I own, it only tells half the story when it comes to my musical life. Gigs and live music are a big part of how we experience music, and I'm no different. I don't get to see as much as I'd like, due to Norwich's relative isolation from the rest of England and the attendant costs of live music, and I always feel guilty that I'm not more in tune with our local music scene, which seems pretty thriving. That said, I thought I'd take a break from analysing my records to go over my favourite gigs.

Those Dancing Days at XOYO, London - Some bands impress with their ability to take familiar songs and turn them into entirely new creatures when they perform them live. Those Dancing Days simply take their songs and make them more so. As a band they are tighter than tight, never putting a foot wrong, but rather than being soulless reproductions of the studio albums, the live atmosphere and electrifying passion of the band ramped the songs up to a whole other level.

The Go! Team at The Waterfront, Norwich - The Go! Team are one of those bands that work extremely well live, thanks to their catchy, cheerleader style songs that get the crowd moving with almost cult-like efficiency and the fact that every member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist, so they have a hilarious tendency to swap instruments between or even during songs. But what really made this gig was being beside my friend Jason, dancing from the second the band hit the stage until the last note hummed to a finish.

Eels at the Royal Festival Hall, London - Seeing the Eels at the Royal Festival Hall was an experience unlike any other gig before or since. We were seated, which can be the death knell at a gig, but worked wonderfully here. The night was billed as "An Evening with the Eels" and that's what it was - rather than a opening act, we watched a BBC4 documentary about Mark "E" Everett investigating his late father's scientific research (he developed the idea of parallel universes), and thanks to his easygoing, hypnotic stage presence and talent for storytelling, the audience was kept entranced the whole night.

Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park, London - Bruce Springsteen turned 60 the year I saw him, but you wouldn't know from the 3 1/2 hour long show he put on in Hyde Park, showing the kind of energy and charisma that only true rock stars have. Seeing such an iconic artist perform in the festival-like surroundings of the park in the midst of summer created a wonderful atmosphere, with every audience member singing along to the triumphant anthems but respectfully quiet during his more melancholic numbers.

Arcade Fire at Greek Theatre, Berkeley - The atmosphere at Hyde Park was great, but nothing will ever equal the amazing crowd at the Greek Theatre. The sense of camaraderie and shared joy amongst the concert-goers was infectious and all-consuming - the wave of positive energy filled up the venue even before Arcade Fire took to the stage. And when they did, they performed like men and women possessed, climbing the scaffolding while drumming, leading the crowd through megaphones and generally kicking every kind of musical ass. We were lucky enough to be perhaps three or four rows back from the front, roughly 10ft from the stage, and when the final surge forward happened as "Rebellion (Lies)" started playing, it wasn't the aggressive, macho shove I've experienced at other gigs, but somehow as inclusive and comforting as a friendly bear hug. It was a truly unique gig, and I doubt anything will ever match it.

Rediscovered Gem

"Submission" by Ash

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