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.

The best old and new live albums

05:00am 27 Feb 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

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

SIMON SWEETMAN

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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A chance to see Neneh Cherry

09:00am 25 Feb 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

Sometimes it's a great honour to interview someone - a favourite musician...other times it's just a job, no great excitement, you're part of the PR machine (well, you're always part of the PR machine - even when it's an honour, even if you are excited). But, like any job, you remember the highlights. Sure beats getting caught up in the dud-days, the bad experiences, the treadmill stuff.

So I've had my first best interview of 2015 - I chatted, recently, with Neneh Cherry.Neneh

This was exciting to me for many reasons. I love her music, including last year's "comeback", Blank Project. But also she's been part of some great music outside of her own career - helping to musically and financially arrange that brilliant first Massive Attack record. Even the stories of meeting Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman when she was young, or time spent with Rip Rig + Panic.

There was far too much to fit into a 15 minute conversation. But the chance to give it a go was both daunting and rewarding.

There I was at 11pm on the side of the road in my car, nervous, scribbling down whatever I could capture. Getting my version of the story.

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The continued hero worship of The Bogan Eric Clapton

06:10am 24 Feb 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

As well as last week's Ciara catastrophe I had rabid fans of Slash to deal with. I went to the Slash/Myles Kennedy gig last week. I wasn't expecting the show to be anything much, but at the same time you always hope it will be good. I was just realistic.

I've been a Guns N' Roses fan ever since hearing their classic debut album as an impressionable intermediate kid; I can remember being in trouble and having to write out the school rules as a punishment - I was given it as a weekend chore. I had to write the school rules out a dozen times in my bedroom, wasting a Sunday morning. The soundtrack to that was Appetite For Destruction. Its angst fuelled my pre-teen punishment. It was the perfect charge for this thankless, boring, demeaning task.

SlashI guess I had hoped that hearing a few of those songs by the guy that played the original guitar parts would be the charge to get me through the thankless, boring (not quite demeaning) task of reviewing Slash (and new band - Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators) but even the Appetite songs blurred into one. The standout of the gig was You Could Be Mine (from one of the Illusion albums).

The new material - from Slash's most recent album World on Fire - was as dull and lifeless as the performances on the record.

In my review of that album (link just above there) I mentioned my theory that Slash has become The Bogan Eric Clapton. Meaning, he's been given a free pass for the work that he did once, now many years ago.

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The Ciara catastrophe

06:43am 23 Feb 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

I went and saw Ciara on Thursday night. She was playing a gig in Porirua. I was surprised the show was even going ahead, it seemed to have minimal promotion - appearing on Facebook feeds just a couple of weeks ahead of the date. It was going to be yet another hip-hop/R'n'B gig announced and then cancelled. In the end it was something worse, something far more comical.

The night before she played a very short gig in Christchurch. The show was moved to an outdoor venue, her management demanded more money, a standoff - waiting for payment - meant she delayed the show, delivering just a 10-minute performance before a venue-curfew saw the pin being pulled.Ciara

In Porirua the local dance troupe had to improvise with an audience-participation bit to kill time. The best male dancer in the crowd won a kiss on the cheek from his pick of the dancers. The best female dancer from the audience won a $100 bar tab.

It was a modest turnout - the venue was maybe half-full. Not quite.

Ciara had been scheduled to appear at 9.30pm. It was an hour later when her DJ started the show. A few minutes of the DJ attempting to hype the crowd and then Ciara appeared full of "love" for "P-Town". She played her handful of pop/R'n'B singles from the last decade - most lasting just 90 seconds or so. Little song slivers. And at the end of each song-snapshot she talked about how "insane" it was to be receiving this much love. She was made to feel "right at home". She "couldn't believe it". It was "amazing". She was overwhelmed.

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