Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Things to see and hear this weekend

12:23am 04 Mar 2015


I want to recommend a great gig for Wellingtonians - the annual Playspace Variety Show, a fundraiser for Newtown's Playspace daycare facility. Okay, so I have a kid - so I'll tell you right now he is not involved in the Playspace facility. We as a family are not involved. I just reckon this is going to be a great gig because it's the return of the Fabulous-Arabia band - Mike Fabulous and Lawrence Arabia. Their Unlimited Buffet record is a favourite and they've both done a lot of great work independently - Lawrence Arabia as, well, Lawrence Arabia and Mike Fabulous as, in particular, his Lord Echo aliasPlayspace Fundraiser

It's a funky live band - it just so happens that it's a good cause too, raising some funds for a daycare-type facility, helping the kids, the musicians of tomorrow...
Terror of the Deep is also on the bill - one of Wellington's best bands.

The gig is up at the San Fran this Friday night check out the Facebook page for details.

I'll certainly be checking a bit of this one out, I'm torn though - as Mogwai is also playing the capital on Friday night (James Cabaret). And they're a must-see in my book. In fact I never thought I'd get to see them - we were in San Francisco a couple of years ago and Mogwai was touring. I couldn't get to the show, figured that was my chance. So I'm pretty excited to have them in the city where I live. Helps that Rave Tapes, the band's most recent album was one of my favourites from last year - that got me right back into this group too.

And Friday also sees Jason Webley playing at Bodega. He's an amazing performer - I interviewed him just the other day, you'll be able to read that interview later tonight over at Off The Tracks.

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Right this blog! 2015

03:07pm 02 Mar 2015


It's time - once again - for you to Right This Blog! That means you get to write it - for one day. And in the process you get to correct it - you get to make this blog exactly how you want it; you get to write about whatever you want - so long as it relates to music.

We've been doing this a while now - once or twice a year (usually twice). So this is the first time for 2015 I'm opening the floor for a week of guest blogs. It gives you a break from me. And it - sorta - gives me a break from you. Although not quite, as I'll still be editing and posting the blog. And this time around we'll go back to me selecting the winners.

BlogIn previous years I've tried to open it up to audience votes, to selecting the winners based on number of green thumbs-up (ticks/likes) but there's always been problems with that - people rigging the vote. So I'll pick the winners this time around.

All you have to do today is mention your blog-post topic or title below. A few short words to indicate what you want to write about - maybe you've never seen your favourite band written about. That might be because they're not my favourite band. It might be because I've never heard of them. So use the forum to educate me, to share your passion with the audience here. Perhaps you want to have a bit of a moan - about a band or album or gig that you think was awful. You might want to plug your own band. You might want to revisit a classic album.

It's up to you.

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Just a voice, guitar and some songs

06:01am 02 Mar 2015


I've said this before - I'm sure we've talked about it here at least one other time, but hey - there aren't many people that can carry a set with just their voice, an acoustic guitar and their songs. So when you do see someone and you can sit (or stand) spellbound for 75 or 90 minutes - even 45-60 minutes - it's a real treat.

That was the case on Friday night seeing J Mascis.J Mascis

Sure, he has the gimmick of looping his rhythm guitar strum and then ripping out those ugly/beautiful screams of guitar-solo snippets, using a bevy of pedals. But it's not really about that. That's just J approximating the Dinosaur Jr sound, reinterpreting it for/as solo singer/songwriter. A sound that swims in his head.

What it's about is hearing those songs - that strange mumble-croon of a voice and enjoying the way that early-90s Dino J songs can sit alongside and rub shoulders with brand new songs in a set. And that it's possible to believe - much as you're hearing 30 years of material - that it could have all been written in a bedsit or a log cabin over a single weekend.

Mascis is no great engaging presence on stage either - in terms of banter or between-song moments. There's barely anything but the songs.  It is all about the playing, the sound, the songs.

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The best old and new live albums

05:00am 27 Feb 2015


I only heard Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous for the first time about a week ago. I'd never heard it. It's often discussed as a classic live album, it's also often pointed out that it's not really "live" - the drums are live but almost everything else on the album is studio-overdubbed."Live" and Dangerous

I don't have a huge problem with this - I'm a sucker for a great live album, those killer moments on records by Sam Butera and B.B. King and Buddy Rich and Donny Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield - and so many others. Sometimes the record you're listening to feels live, but isn't. Other times it's completely obvious that the record isn't (really) live - even though it's being presented as a live album.

In the case of the Thin Lizzy record I knew this anyway. But I had to (finally) hear it. Terrific record too, really sells the idea of them as a great live act - even if it had to be touched up/reconstructed. Same deal for me with The Eagles Live record. I shouldn't need to remind you that - as a rule - I loathe that band [somebody insert a link to that Big Lebowski quote or clip - if you must]. But I've always kinda dug that Eagles Live record. Even though the crowd noise is utterly absurd, it's like a wrestling match - and the tracks were so obviously resuscitated in the studio. It still feels like a great representation of a band playing its best songs in the best way. It's a business card. It might also be that I was young and stupid when I heard it (and now only have the one excuse).

Some live albums are sloppy and almost a shambles - even when stitched-back-together after (think of almost any Rolling Stones "live" album) - but there's some energy there, or some version of the energy that makes it work. I've always loved The Rolling Stones' Love You Live record. But I've never known why people are so excited about Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (though the reissued was worth checking since it included the opening sets by B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner).

But where are the great live albums of the last few years? Do they exist now in this YouTube/Soundcloud world?

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In Amanda Palmer's Book

07:36am 26 Feb 2015


You've got to watch (out for) Amanda Palmer fans. They'll sneak in with the humans. I've found that out a few times - I was pretty clear about not enjoying her solo work and then things got even worse for me when I reviewed a Dresden Dolls gig; Ms Palmer was not happy.

I actually didn't mind that first Dresden Dolls album at the time. I couldn't ever say I loved it - but it arrived seeming fresh, kinda interesting. I always hated that tagline "Brechtian punk cabaret" or whatever it was. But I liked the concept of just drums and piano with voice. I also thought the drummer was very good - as much a circus act as a music act, he seemed to provide the theatre-aspect as much or more than Palmer.

In hindsight that glaringly awful marketing tagline about being part-Brecht and part-punk and all-cabaret (or even part-cabaret) was probably the first warning that the best had arrived overnight in the form of a debut album by a then unknown band. And that it was all going to be downhill from there.

Palmer has a fulltime role playing herself, a version of herself that is expert in a form of unsubtle and effective guerrilla marketing - and that seems to lack any self-awareness.Front

Her success and her "art" - she's always talking about art, the role of the artist, the point of art in our lives, and always in inverted commas - is something I've never really understood. Her voice is abrasive, her tunes lack any real tunefulness and she's a ghastly extrovert - the very worst kind. Thinking about it now, I'm sure her success and her "art" has been a big part in the movement where people are encouraged to not say a bad word about anyone doing their thing - let's just leave everyone to it, anyone can make "art", anyone can do it. Everyone should be allowed to. No one should ever comment in a less than positive way about the person up there on the stage.

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