Live Review: Bill Murray & Jan Vogler in Wellington

Bill Murray Jan Volger
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Bill Murray and Jan Vogler – New Worlds Tour

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Wednesday 14 November 2018

Jan Vogler and Bill Murray met each other on a plane ride from Berlin to New York. A friendship formed, and soon the two decided to collaborate. Vogler, being a renowned cellist, and Murray a famous actor. The result is look into fine arts, with particular focus on classical music and American literature.

Joining the duo onstage Vogler’s wife, Mira Wang, on violin, and pianist Vanessa Perez. There was also a young man who turned the pages of Perez’s sheet music for her.

I’ve toured across America and some of Europe with the band Ranges during the past year, and have been trying to figure out how I could make a living doing something along those lines ever since.  I think I may have found the answer. Perez employs someone to turn the pages of her sheet music. I could do that! I can become a page turner! I’ll travel the world, hanging out with rock stars, living the dream. I’m willing to risk a few paper cuts for that kind of career!

Bill Murray Wellington

It’s a great concept – poetry and prose with powerful music for company. In the past I’ve extolled hardcore band La Dispute for trying this themselves (their Here, Hear EP’s fuse literature with experimental music). Sometimes Murray gave solo readings, sometimes the band played classical instrumental pieces, and sometimes they all came together, either for songs with Murray on vocals, or for literature with classical backing.

I’ll be honest, this is not my usual style of music. Other than the recent Rhian Sheehan show, the last time I saw a cello in a live context was in Portland, Oregon last year, where I saw cello quartet Apocalyptica play a set of Metallica covers. It was about as far removed from this event as you can imagine.

But although I seldom listen to chamber music, I can still appreciate the talent. As always, Michael Fowler Centre sounds incredible. And you could tell that the trio playing were masters of their craft. They plucked, bowed, strummed and played with great passion and dynamics.

Bill Murray Jan Volger Wellington

We also had some more modern numbers. A rousing short version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” had everyone in the auditorium joining in loudly. West Side Story, featured a few times (please picture a grown man singing “I Feel Pretty” and running about in excited circles.) Murray downed a tumbler of liquor, because launching into Tom Wait’s “The Piano Has Been Drinking”

As you’d expect, Murray was quite the character. He has someone managed to evolve beyond the image of the standard acting celebrity Internet forums share rumoured urban legends of him showing up to random parties uninvited, or taking over bars to serve tequila to all the patrons, regardless of what they order. Many stories end with Murray telling someone: “No one will ever believe you.”

It is also heavily rumoured that the contracted purchasing agreement between pharma cretin Martin Shkreli and the Wu Tang Clan specifies that Murray is legally allowed to burgle the exclusive copy of the Wu Tang album from Shkreli, should he choose to.

Of course, we are all familiar with Murray’s quirky film characters too. Which made me wonder whether we were seeing the true Murray tonight. Is it authentic, or is it an act?

Either way, he was thoroughly enjoyable. Drawing upon his acting talents, he adopted accent for some readings. And he was wickedly funny, both in dialogue and mannerisms. His singing ability was nothing to write home about – not bad, but not good either – but he injected such life into the performances that songs captivated regardless.

I’d love to sit down with Murray and Vogler to pick their brains, and see why they chose the pieces they did. What kind of narrative or message or theme did they want to share with us?

Bill Murray Jan Volger Wellington

The literature was interesting too. My favourite was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Dog”. Another highlight was an extended passage of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

Murray sat down to read (in a Southern hick accent) when one person approached the stage and left placed a small gift bag at his feet. Murray continued to read, but his fan clearly needed some attention. Ushers came down to sit with her, but she actually ran onto the stage and chased Murray later in the show.

At the end of the night, before the last song, someone from backstage came on with a bouquet of roses and handed them to Murray. Murray proceeded to run about the auditorium, pelting members of the audience with said roses. Usually offering someone flowers is a lovely gesture, but seeing a grown man attempting to hiff them up to those seated in the balconies was pure comedy. And our friend from earlier, who had left the gift onstage, received a rose for her efforts too.

All up it was a great night. Some of it was a beautiful look into music and literature. Some parts were more shambolic. But it was all engaging and entertaining, and everyone left with cheery smiles, enraptured with the comedic spell Murray had cast.

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: David Byrne at TSB Arena, Wellington

David Byrne American Utpia
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David Byrne – American Utopia Tour

w/ Kimbra
TSB Arena, Wellington
Tuesday 13 November 2018

I’ve never seen TSB Arena set up with carpet tiles. I guess most of the time I’m watching rock bands and the bogans spill beer all over the floor, but still, it added a slight air of classiness to the night.

Kimbra seemed a suitable choice as opener tonight. Quirky, and very percussion-based, her unique brand of pop shares many commonalities with Byrne’s. Kimbra stood centre stage, fitted out in a glittery caped outfit that Rob Halford would be proud of. She was flanked by two other musos, mostly playing synth, but using a number of other instruments too. The mix sounded muddy, with excessive focus on the low-end, which sadly made Kimbra’s voice harder to hear. I didn’t enjoy it to start with, but towards the end of her set things started to improve.


On of the key figures in the CBGB’s scene – a New York club from whence the seeds of punk and new-wave grew – David Byrne came to prominence fronting Talking Heads, which in turn provided a springboard for his solo music career. Tonight drew heavily from his recent album American Utopia, with a few covers and Talking Heads numbers thrown in for good measure.

In a live setting there are bands that play music, and bands that put on a show. There was never any doubt that Byrne falls into the later category.

Byrne sat on a chair at a solitary desk situated centre stage. Stark lighting illuminated draped strings that hung around the perimeter of the stage, acting as curtains that could easily be passed through at any point. He held a fake brain up as a prop, pointing to different sections as he sung his song “Here”. Screens either side of the stage showed this from a bird’s-eye perspective, giving an oddly surreal feel.

He wore a crisp all-grey suit, with all three blazer buttons done up. But his bare feet and shock of thick white hair gave the impression of someone slightly eccentric. Although how small is the divide between eccentric and genius?

Some band members came on stage to join him, a couple backing singers, a keyboard player, guitar and bass. They all dressed uniform: barefoot in grey suits. This is when things started to get impressive. The music was captivating, but all the performers danced and moved around in sync. Hats off to the choreographer, and to the performers who had to memorize and execute the nearly two-hour long set most nights.

It was infectious too. The entire event was seated, with no general admission option, but you could see by the third song that a mass migration was well underway, with punters abandoning their allocated seats for dancing space within the aisles. It makes me wonder why they even bothered setting up chairs in the first place, knowing the kind of music Byrne would play.

There were 12 musicians in total. Some had distinct roles – like the singers and keyboardist, but many changed instruments depending on the song. And did I mention that they all moved about the stage? That’s right: no stationary drum sets, no keyboards on stands; everyone danced about the stage and played flawlessly while they were mobile. Byrne himself took to guitar on a few songs too.

I can’t even name all the instruments I saw. There were lots of drums and percussive instruments. The final song featured melodica solos. And it was all live. Byrne explained that although many people suspect backing tracks and samples, everything was coming from the 12 people onstage or in the wings. It was hard to believe, but he broke down one track, allowing us to see for ourselves as each musician began to join in sequentially.

The stage set-up changed slightly for each song. Usually it was all under stark white lighting, but they made use of spotlights and shadows to highlight certain elements. My favourite effect was a harsh floodlight at the front of the stage projecting shadows of the players against the rear wall. The musicians would march on and off stage at certain points, providing visual dynamics to match the wonderful music.

As you can guess, some of the songs that garnered the best reaction from the crowd were the bigger Talking Heads hits, such as “Once In A Lifetime”, “Road To Nowhere” and “Burning Down The House”. One of the best songs took me by surprise though.

I had expected them to close with “Psycho Killer”, on of the more iconic Talking Heads songs. Instead, they finished the night with an electrifying cover of called “Hell You Talmbout”. Byrne explained that he’d seen Janelle Monáe play it at the 2015 Women’s March, and had become completely taken with the song.

And I can see why. First of all, it made use of the many talented percussionists and drummers in the band, providing a compelling primal energy. Secondly, the political content provided a righteous anger to help everyone get fired up. And finally, it is repetitive, which helped everyone fall under the spell of the infectious groove. What an incredibly powerful song.

It was a sensational night. Fantastic music, impressive showmanship, great stage set up, brimming with fun energy, and completely original. Byrne demonstrated exactly why he’s managed to have such a long and critically acclaimed career. If you get the chance to see this show, do not miss it!

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Winter Dust – Sense By Erosion

Winter Dust Sense By Erosion cover
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I’m going to make a bold claim.

The 2015 EP Thresholds by Italian sextet Winter Dust is one of the best releases you’ll find in the world of post-rock.

I still remember when I first heard Winter Dust. It was during a walk to work on a frosty winter morning. I used to love that time of morning, and used those walks as an opportunity to get into a good frame of mind for the day ahead. It was especially cold. The grass on the park was coated in white crystals, and I blew jets of steam with every breath. I had headphones on and was listening through the new Open Language compilation that A Thousand Arms had recently released.

It was a good collection of songs. I already knew a handful of tracks, from the likes of Tides of Man, I/O, Ranges, We Lost The Sea and Dumbsaint. But many bands were new to me.

The one that stopped me in my tracks was “There”, by Winter Dust.

That night I logged onto Bandcamp and downloaded Thresholds as soon as I got home. Months later a vinyl copy arrived in the post [I believe the first order got lost in the post so they sent me another]. I love that EP so much.

And now we have a follow-up: Sense By Erosion.

It’s exactly what I wanted: Thresholds, but more. Intense emotion, anguished hardcore vocals, sublime instrumental passages and visceral dynamics.

The many Marco’s have exceeded themselves this time. (four of the band members have the same name, along with Fabio and Carlo). Some of them live in separate countries, so I can’t begin to fathom how they managed to write this masterpiece. Yes, the internet is amazing, but nothing can substitute human contact when you’re communicating and creating with each other.

Sense By Erosion starts of as many post-rock releases do: softly building up. The track “Quiet January” quietly loops on itself, building with intensity as dialogue plays in the background. Then, just as it built up, it then slowly decays in waves.

“Duration Of Gloom” continues the build up with a good groove, slowly growing. The playful melody that floats above the main riff is a nice use of treble. Then BAM, distortion and cathartic roaring. I always find it fascinating when foreign bands choose to sing in English. Then again, I can hardly tell what they’re saying unless I pay close attention anyway. These post-hardcore vocals are one of the marked improvements that Thresholds and Sense By Erosion have over Winter Dust’s earlier output, giving the music a huge injection of urgency and feeling.

This song has me sighing with delight. This is what I want: emotional, energetic music that kicks me right in the feels and leaves me winded. Just like with Thresholds, I feel so consumed and swept away by the music. It’s so engrossing: Hard hitting drums, tremolo guitar, and a raw undercurrent. Then, once you think it’s all over, a calm bridge to let you catch your breath and ease you into a false sense of security. Before BAM, back into the intensity. If you listen carefully during the soft outro, you’ll hear church bells faintly ringing in the distance.

If you can’t tell yet, I’m a big fan. Loud or quiet; heavy or soft; sung or instrumental, Winter Dust just nail the mood.

At first, “All My Friends Are Leaving Town” seems like a softer song, although it picks up later on. One passage features a weird reversed effect. Maybe they’ve subtly backmasked messages that brainwash me into loving the music?

“Composition Of Gloom” is the second song with the word ‘gloom’ in the title. Funnily enough, the absence of vocals makes it feel like an interlude, despite the fact that one of the defining aspects of the post-rock genre is lack of singing. That, and the fact that it’s the shortest song.

Again, “Disharmony” is by no means weaker, but the lack of vocals is noticeable. Ironically enough, I found lead single “Cruel Jane” is one of the songs that makes the least impact for me, with the first half feeling soft and meandering. This is not to say these songs are bad, but they don’t offer as much oomph as the tracks from the first half of the record.

Their blurb on Bandcamp states “Our new album is ideally divided in two, the nervous part and the heartening part. It’s a record about leaving people, leaving places, parting ways, losing things.” This makes total sense. And I’m not sure what that says about me, that I prefer the nervous part, but as you can tell, I’m very much drawn to those songs.

It’s a shame that we don’t hear much piano in the mix throughout this album, but they make up for it with album closer “Stay”. After a tumultuous emotional ride, this is the touch of hope at the end of the album to send us on our way in good spirits, with a parting gift of ambient tranquility.

I simply love this album. I feel so strongly about it, but at the same time find it hard to articulate exactly why. I think the intense evocative nature of the music certainly resonates with me in a way that few others can. By taking the beauty of post-rock, the intensity of hardcore and the emotional aspects of emo, Winter Dust have fused their own sound that ticks all the right boxes for me.

Thresholds EP, was an underrated masterpiece. Sense of Erosion is the logical progression: taking all components of its predecessor, and building upon them to create something longer and more fully realised. I had high expectations of this album, and I’m delighted to say they’ve been met.

Winter Dust

Winter Dust links:

Bandcamp: https://winter-dust.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/winterdust

Twitter: https://twitter.com/winterdustmusic

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/winterdustmusic/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1wcxnlsMklfqJ_QurUuGVQ

Joseph James

Album Review: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto

Tenacious D Post-Apocalypto
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Tenacious D have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re misogynistic, juvenile and crude, but at the same time I do find some of their content funny, and they know how to rock. I guess the same could be said about Jack Black, who has had gold moments throughout his acting career (namely School of Rock), but mostly boasts lemons. He’s a slightly more reliable Adam Sandler, but I still have a soft spot for his work.

Post-Apocalypto is their fourth full length album. Like The Pick of Destiny, it is a soundtrack. It follows a YouTube webseries that has played out over the past month, featuring the songs and snippets of dialogue from the show.

Both Black and partner Kyle Gass are comedic actors, so writing funny songs with narrative suit their strengths. I’ve seen them play three times, and although it can feel slightly forced, the story arc that carries through their shows is fun, and allows them to play with theatrical flair.

The narrative for this record doesn’t quite work though. I still enjoy the skits from their first record, which were silly stand-alone pieces. But the skits on this new album are just snippets from the web series used to advance the story. This should help to provide context for those who haven’t watched the series, but there isn’t enough to fill in all the plot points of the story-line. I think they would have been wiser to have an all-or-nothing approach, and should have left the snippets out, instead of sprinkling an inadequate amount throughout.

Post-Apocalypto (the web series) was a painful watch. Like I’ve said, I’m a fan, so forced myself through it, but didn’t feel rewarded for my efforts. I hesitate to call it an animation, but more a selection of Black’s hand-drawn stills to give visual reference for the audio. It’s a sci-fi series that explored Tenacious D trying to survive in a (you guessed it) apocalyptic wasteland. Along the way they adopt a three-headed dog, battle genital monsters, fight Nazis and travel to space.

Tenacious D have always been crass, but I was shocked at the many gratuitous sex scenes. But then again, it’s exactly what I should have expected – it was just visual this time. It’s a political show too, with The D taking shots at Trump and Nazis. I guess the timing is appropriate, with approaching elections in America, but only time will tell how fast these political and pop culture references will date the album.

The songs are short. It makes sense, they fit within short episodes. And The D have plenty of short, furious songs with impact. But still, this entire album lasts half an hour, and that’s with skits padding it out. They could have at least fleshed out a few of the songs so that the album lasted longer. The title theme offers plenty of potential for extension, but feels incomplete as is.

And they’ve done their fair share of ballads in the past too, but almost all of the songs on this album are ballads, leaving me wondering what happened to the band that once won a Grammy for “Best Metal Performance”.

It’s not all bad though. Black’s voice acting shines through. You really feel for Terminator’s lament in “Robot” (despite the odd Arnie-esque accent). The redneck Nazi’s sound so thick that you really want to believe that they’re all really that dense.

“Hope” is arguably the best of the ballads, and most rousing. The D explore new musical horizons with “JB JR Rap”, rapped in a hoarse voice and complete with an autotuned section. To be honest, most of the album is Classic D, albeit shorter and less rocking.

The D have a long history with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Grohl has drummed on all of their records to date, and the trio have featured in a number of each other’s videos. The first time I saw The D live was opening for Foo Fighters at Western Springs in Auckland, where the crowd jumped up and down enough to trigger minor earthquakes [It sounds absurd, but it’s true!]. Black has also guest starred on one of Grohl’s Probot tracks, “The Warlock“.

As you’d expect, Grohl’s drumming is on point. He’s long been known as a powerhouse drummer since his Nirvana days, and has collaborated with such a range of rock royalty that it has almost become a meme. You can hear unmistakably in the title theme – a rehash of an old unreleased bridge (Rolling Thunder) that the band cut from their song “Rize of the Fenix” (off their last record). “Daddy Ding Dong” also has Grohl written all over it, one of the few stand-out rock of the soundtrack that venture into metal territory, as does “Woman Time”, with awesome Dio-esque vocals.

In short: Post-Apocalypto not a great album. Just as their other soundtrack, Pick of Destiny doesn’t compare well to the other albums, this one feels weak too. It is entirely in keeping with the Tenacious D brand, being puerile and budget, but doesn’t rock enough. Only the most loyal fans will appreciate it, and I doubt even they will revisit it after the initial listens. If you’re interested in it, at least watch the web-series so that you can hear the songs with context. I hope this isn’t the end of The D, but if they do release new music in the future, they’d be best to write without a constraining concept.

Tenacious D links:

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/tenaciousD

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tenaciousd/

Website: https://www.tenaciousd.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealTenaciousD

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tenacious/

 

EP Review: Suburban Dinosaur – Mountains

Suburban Dinosaur Mountains EP cover
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Suburban Dinosaur is the work of Gonçalo Trindade, a Portuguese guitarist living in Berlin. He deserves applause for his choice of his pseudonym, let alone his music. Suburban Dinosaur: isn’t that just the best name? Trindade is also prolific writer, with this latest EP, Mountains, being his third release so far this year.

Mountains features seven short, calming guitar tracks with light piano accompaniment. This is a slight deviation from some of Trindade’s usual output. His last release sits more within the realms of noise/drone, and I even found some earlier works jarring. But I prefer this ambient direction. Serene acoustic guitar never fails to nourish my soul, and this EP hits the spot just so. The songs feel relaxed, slightly sad and soothing.

These softly picked recordings are intimate enough to let you hear Trindade’s fingers as they slide along the strings. The sparse piano notes only add to the mood, sensitively used to enhance where needed.

Although the EP feels cohesive and boasts the same vibes throughout, there’s enough subtle differences to delineate between songs.  It’s not all entirely acoustic. Second track “Contritum Pecus” employs a delayed loop, almost like a heartbeat. “Heartstrings #1” stands out for its strumming, compared to the other tracks, which are fingerpicked. Whereas “Intertitle(s)” features only piano.

It’s a short EP, but beautiful all the same. Certainly a lovely 20 minutes of music worthy of adding to your collection.

Suburban Dinosaur links:

Bandcamp: https://suburbandinosaur.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SuburbanDinosaur/