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.

'Pretty good' week

10:58am 27 Nov 2015



This time last week I was on my way to Masterton. Not much of a place, but one of the best music venues I've been to in a while. King Street Live looks good, sounds good and feels just right - as soon as you step in there. Great people working there, people that love music; that care about it. And the best Green Room in the country.

I was there as part of this wee tour - and it was dream come true stuff really (I told you about it earlier this week, I know) so I don't want to repeat much at all. Just to say I was the fill-in drummer for the Spines. And this is one of my all-time favourite bands. I'm not sure many people get to play music with their favourite band, get to sit in, be part of their favourite should happen more often (some musicians are cursed to sit and make music they don't really like, then they make a living out of it, so they keep going...)Spines at Cabana

You can't make a living making music with the Spines. But it sure makes you feel alive.

Then it was off to Napier to play in another great venue - The Cabana. Best on-stage sound I've heard, best feel and space. And on the wall in the loos where the place is plastered with memorabilia we found evidence of the one other time the Spines played there. (I lived in Hawke's Bay at the time, would have just started primary school in fact...)

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Is old music the only good music?

11:42am 26 Nov 2015


It's a silly argument to make - only the oldies are the goodies - but there I was earlier this morning, asked to talk about this very point on Sean Plunket's RadioLIVE show. He'd taken his cue from a story in the Herald today talking about all of the big touring acts - Fleetwood Mac and Elton John and so on...(we covered those earlier in the week, I guess...)Old

So here you can hear my conversation with Sean Plunket around this.

I told him he was way off to think that only the old stuff was the good stuff. I told him that's based around a concept of live performance being the true test - and people deciding that new music is rubbish aren't doing the listening in the first place; they're not bothering. So the opinion is invalid.

Every year, and I preach this all the time, the list of brand new albums I love is longer (and stronger). I've started posting up monthly digests to list all of the rave reviews (click that link you can go to any of the ones across the last two years).

But I am a sucker for a good live show, for seeing evidence of skill, of craft - entertainment too, sure. But it has to be about the songs and the music. The live show is the chance to strut your stuff, to show people what you've got and how you got there and to (hopefully) give them what they want. And I love ticking off the list of bands, there are "classic" (young and old) acts I want to see. And sometimes, only sometimes, want to see again.

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The Top 10 ‘Nice Surprise’ albums of 2015

11:17am 25 Nov 2015


Every year I stick at reviewing because, well, you get some "nice surprises". It's those nice-surprise albums that keep you in the game, keep you hunting out more, hoping for more...What a Surprise!

These albums were all, on paper, unlikely to make my Top List (before I'd heard them). And though this isn't my Top 10 Albums of the Year most of these albums would be candidates on a longer list of Best Releases of 2015 (I say 'most' because, somewhat cheekily, I've included a record I played on - but it still fits the brief here: a nice surprise. I wasn't expected it be as good...)

So, you can click on each link to read the full review - but here are the Top 10 'Nice Surprise' albums I heard and reviewed in 2015.

Bob Dylan, Shadows In The Night - I'm a Bob Dylan fan, I think that's fairly obvious. But I haven't been that enamoured with his recent albums, so though I was of course interested in hearing Shadows - particularly given the concept - I wasn't expecting it to be the best Dylan album in nearly 20 years.

Pops Staples, Don't Lose This - A lot of alarm bells here: posthumous fix-job, Jeff Tweedy's involvement, the fact that Mavis Staples is having her can-do-no-wrong moment in the press...but Don't Lose This succeeds, pretty much where no posthumous touch-up record ever has. This feels as close to what might have happened in Pops' lifetime; it feels like a record he would have loved to hear. It sounds really good.

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Back On with The Offbeats

10:14am 24 Nov 2015


Wellington ska/punk band The Offbeats are back to celebrate their 20th Anniversary with a show atThe OffbeatsBodega in Wellington, next Wednesday, December 2 and an appearance at Auckland's 2015 Ska Festival at the Kings Arms, Saturday December 5.

I loved The Offbeats.

Always a great band to go see - and hear. They were fun. Lively. Energetic. It was a party. It always felt like a party. I saw them a bunch of times around Wellington in the first few years of their existence, the old Bodega, the Student Union...saw them as part of a stacked local bill, on their own, opening for internationals...saw them on purpose, saw them by mistake. Some nights you'd wander into the Bodge and they were on. You didn't know it beforehand, it wasn't the plan to go and see them but it was instantly a better night for being part of an Offbeats show.

OffbeatsYou always felt part of the show too. Such great energy.

The Offbeats threw in the towel a few years ago now but this version of the band features four original members and three others that have played with the band across the last decade. So this isn't just one guy parading around under an old band-name - as sometimes happens with reunions.

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Subbing Out/Subbing In...

11:57am 23 Nov 2015


Quite a few people have asked - through sincere emails and in that catty, pathetic way on Twitter - whether I was at/reviewing Elton John (in Wellington, Saturday night) and/or Fleetwood Mac (Auckland, Saturday and Sunday). I didn't attend either. I've seen both acts before and though it would have been good to see Fleetwood Mac (with Christine McVie back in the fold) it looks like it was largely the same show - no surprise. I bet it was fantastic. But I got to see them a few years back. No Christine. But still good.

Same deal with Elton really - saw him 10 years ago. It was very good. He wasn't going to beat that gig, with every chance that he wasn't as good, no chance at all that he could be better.

I like Elton John - the seventies stuff. And he's a great showman, I'm sure it was a fun gig still. But no need to see him.

I love Fleetwood Mac - I've told you all often enough, and all versions of the band, the blues group, the stadium beast that people seem to write off without ever (properly) listening to and the "lost" years in the early 1970s where members were continually drifting through.

It might have been nice to see Fleetwood Mac one more time, but it wasn't to be. Not for me.

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