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.

What's the best festival set you've ever seen?

01:28am 03 Jun 2015


I'm sure we've talked around this before - but anyway, here goes again...

Caught up with this article from Consequence of Sound about the best festival set and got to thinking a bit about that myself. I'm not really much of a fan of festivals, but I've been to a few, and seen some pretty great acts - and individual sets. There have been times where one name has been the reason I've gone (such as Neil Young headlining The Big Day Out) and then you usually find that another act either steals the thunder or at least really nails a magical set, makes a name for themselves, or reminds you of the possibilities of festivals (My Morning Jacket was like an opening act for Neil Young, just a few hours early, and I mean that in the best possible way).

That ill-fated Sweetwaters reunion still had a few great sets - even if Elvis Costello was too angry to play a decent headlining spot (and also he was all wrong for the occasion, or his then-configuration was, just Costello and pianist Steve Nieve, fine in a theatre, but not open-air).

I'm no huge UB40 fan (first album, maybe the first two at a pinch...) but their set at that Sweetwaters debacle was fantastic. I'd been tipped off that they were a great live band, and I've since seen them a couple of other times, occupational hazard. But they were certainly a great act on that night up at Sweetwaters. Ditto Neil & Tim Finn, and this was when the Finn reunions and collaborations weren't as numerous, an element of surprise was part of the magic there. Flaming

I'd also have to mention Nine Inch Nails at another of the Big Day Outs I attended. For the same reason that usually wins me over at a festival - that being when an act you're interested in but not there to see in the main really delivers. I was enough of a NIN fan to want to see them, but it wasn't the hook that lured me to the BDO that year. I think it was probably anything else even. But that set convinced me, sold me fully, won me over. There was an intensity about it.

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The song is gone. Straight away.

12:27am 02 Jun 2015


Okay, last Thursday night I'd just written up Friday's blog about happy-happy songs - since I'd just (finally) found a Sonny Day vinyl. And then on Friday morning the car was packed and me and my wee buddy Oscar were heading back to Wellington after a couple of days away visiting family.

We're heading out, barely a half-hour into the journey when I notice a noise that's not right at all. I pause the stereo - and Oscar's calling out for his tunes to be turned back up - and I hear this weird clunk. And though the tyre doesn't seem flat I figure I better slow and pull to the side. 

As I slow down and pull to the side the car starts to make some weird noises, there's no smoke or anything like that but when I get out the tyre starts hissing. So it's a call to roadside assistance to help with changing the wheel. Hopefully just a flat. But not something that's easy to do when it's just me and the three year old in the car.

So we wait and then the guy arrives - and just as he's set to get the jack in place and go at the wheel he pops back up with the bad news. A bolt had come loose - the wheel was about to drop off completely, part of the brake has broken inside the wheel.

Seems it was a pretty good idea to pull over when I did.

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What song makes you happiest?

12:24am 29 May 2015


Can you name a song - one song - that makes you the happiest? One song that, no matter when and how you hear it, snippet or the whole thing, always gives you joy. One song you essentially never get sick of - could always hear, any day of the week, any context. Have you got a song like that?

Almost anything by Stevie Wonder or Trini Lopez or Prince or The Beastie Boys can put a smile on my dial and/or a wiggle in my stride.

And then there are so many other one-off favourites - songs like Ain't Too Proud To Beg, which, if push came to shove, might be my all-time favourite by anyone.

But a song I would say I can never get sick of - you could challenge me to play it 100 times in a row, no issue, I could loop it for days - is Saving Up by Sonny Day.

Sonny Day I first heard it back on the radio around the time of its release, I remember the video clip too. A great time for New Zealand music, the early/mid-80s; and I was just absorbing this stuff as a young kid. I loved it.

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It's jazz time again!

09:56am 28 May 2015


Despite not being on the best terms with Wellington's Jazz Police jazz is one of my great loves - as a reviewer that means, unfortunately, you sometimes have to say that something didn't live up to the hype, or didn't deliver on the night.

And local jazz fans and players don't like that - because they want their discount tickets to as many international acts as possible; if you say the guy or girl on the night didn't deliver it might mean we don't get as many shows.It's Jazz Time!

Anyway, it's very much jazz time once again - the Wellington Jazz Festival, featuring local and international guests, kicks into gear next week. Click on that link to see the highlights of a long weekend of jazz and jazz-derived music. Many of the bars in Wellington have DJs and live acts, the Lighthouse Cinema is playing jazz-themed films. And the Opera House will host a handful of international names - as well as a fascinating collision of styles/worlds when The Rodger Fox Big Band and Michael Houstoun perform together on stage (I'm really looking forward to that one).

It's almost always jazz time in my house - the bulk of my record collection is jazz or jazz-related. I got to funk and soul and hip-hop through jazz. I got to psychedelic rock's extremes and noise and improv and some minimalist/soundscape music through jazz.

When I started listening to jazz it was the traditional stuff, big band and trad-jazz and big, bold and brassy stuff. I was young - and this music was exciting. And loud. And it was fascinating to me that you could hear jazz louder and more intense than whatever heavy metal you cared to name; that it was also nimble-fingered and there were so many types of jazz within this "one" kind of music.

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Fans that heckle?

11:46pm 26 May 2015


I went to see SJD play the other night, fantastic gig. He had a terrific band - and Saint John Divine is an amazing album. There's that back-catalogue too.

Sean Donnelly continues to plug away and never repeats himself, writing songs every bit as good - and then a little bit better - than the standard names that always get lined up and paraded around as New Zealand's very best songwriters. And, live, there's this energy, the band percolates - serving the songs always. But there are moments where charming pop song and cosmic space-jam are space so closely together than no one even notices the morph until after it's happened.

Terrific stuff. But, and I mentioned this in my review of the gig, just wanted to stretch it out here as a talking-point, topic for the day, there were some almighty dickheads in that audience. Weird, because, the venue was jam-packed (I've never seen it so full) and there was a nice vibe - in certain spots.

But up the front, and I couldn't be bothered to be there for too long, didn't want the gig ruined for me, people were actually heckling the artist. Who pays the door charge to hurl abuse? Even if it's intended as "funny" - and whatever is funny about "play something we know" at a gig you've paid to attend, or worse, "play some Metallica" is beyond me. (But then, I wouldn't even want to yell "play some Metallica" at a Metallica gig because, well, you've always got to hope...)

You get the feeling these people would toss it off like a politician caught doing something they shouldn't - "banter, mere banter".You Suck

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