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.

NZ Music Awards: Playing it strange

06:55am 21 Nov 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I couldn't even be outraged by last night's music awards. They were just boring. Some really awkward moments, the hosting and the guest presenters embarrassing - Willy Moon and Natalia Kills surely made X-Factor producers proud.

They'll soon be mentoring pop-star hopefuls and yet Moon backed up his inability to make anything remotely musical with a smugly inarticulate shambles of an effort at detached cool. He's the poster-child for all that is wrong in this you-can-make-it-if-you-really-Tweet world.

But still, that was no reason to get wound up. It was just a chump acting a chump but sure he's the champ. That's been his angle from day one.

And Lorde was paid further lip service - meaning Neil Finn can now slip away gracefully from having to seem like the New Zealand Music Kingpin. There's a new Overlord/e. Finn must be a little bit chuffed. He can semi-retire. And finally relax.

This year it was slightly encouraging to see some mild backlash, a few musicians pointing out their frustration at not being paid to play at the awards (were the technical crew and presenters doing it just for the exposure too?) And at, in some cases, having to pay to even attend (whereas the likes of Sally Ridge and sprog walk in free). The Red Carpet Pre-Show continues to be the most ludicrous farce - people still struggling to make rent some weeks given the limo treatment and dressed up like a million (borrowed) bucks only to have nothing - nothing - to say.

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Go see Bunnies on Ponies

06:24am 20 Nov 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Over the last week or so a few more great gigs for next year have been announced - J Mascis is coming again, and New Zealand is set to see its first visit from King Missile. There's a rolling summer tour from Andrew Fagan, celebrating 30 years of music (and a new EP) and Sharon Van Etten is playing here too (though that clashes with WOMAD weekend). There are plenty of announcements pouring out currently - and sure to be some good shows. But that's all next year.

This week, if you're in Wellington, you have the chance to see Bunnies on Ponies at the San Fran with Glass Vaults opening. This Friday, November 21. Glass Vaults

It's this week's cheap-and-affordable must-see gig. (Click on that link above for ticket prices/info).

Glass Vaults has been making spectral, lovely, quietly soaring music across the last four or five years, so far captured on a handful of singles and EPs - a full-length album on the way. They're always worth seeing.

Bunnies on Ponies is a band featuring Sam Scott (of The Phoenix Foundation) with Tom Callwood (also from PF) and Craig Terris. The brand new Bunnies on Ponies album is excellent - it'll have you harking back to all the great grunge-er music of 20 years ago. It's filled with summer-fun anthems.

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The world's worst tribute album

08:59am 19 Nov 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I'm pretty sure the world doesn't need any more covers of songs by The Beatles. There are a handful of decent ones - a couple of transcendent ones - and far too many mediocre ones. But the world's worst tribute album has just been released - called "The Art of McCartney"; you had every right to hate it before you even heard it, that stupid title and an album-cover pitch telling you that it features "the world's greatest artists" should have been enough to send you over the edge. Did you know that Jamie Cullum was one of the world's greatest artists? I thought he was just the orange-boy for Harry Connick Jr (who takes a break from being an actor and reality TV judge to be here too - making Cullum's appearance somehow further redundant).The Art of McCartney

The problems with this tribute album are many - they run deep, from McCartney's nearly talentless son James appearing through sad attempts from Paul's contemporaries, people like Brian Wilson and Barry Gibb, Roger Daltry and Smokey Robinson. And Cat Stevens should be wanting another name change after what he does to The Long And Winding Road, in some sort of musical witness-protection scheme, though he's not the witness only the perpetrator of the crime.

And the finished efforts fall into two camps - boring retreads, po-faced earnestness in a same-as-the-original arrangement but served-up as overdriven bar-room rocker and then the truly dire. That's the gamut this runs.

You find yourself applauding people like Steve Miller and Dr John and Allen Toussaint for simply not embarrassing themselves - hardly a ringing endorsement. And then, by association, they have embarrassed themselves. For this is surely the world's worst tribute album.

Terrible chiefly because it did not need to happen - it seemingly serves no purpose.

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Guest Blog: Appreciation

01:45am 18 Nov 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

My thanks to all the Right This Blog! entrants for this round - a very solid group I thought. With just the one obvious dud. Did you have a favourite? Here's another guest blog - the last for a while. Matthew Kelly wrote to me and asked if I would consider running something that he might write about attending the recent Jimmy Eat World concert. I told him to send it to me and I'd consider it. This is a very fine piece of writing. I hope you enjoy it.

Jimmy Eat World are not the best band in the world. They do not produce the greatest music I have ever heard. They are not the most adventurous or talented or important band, and certainly not an act likely to rate highly with self-identified "serious" music fans like myself, many of whom are unable to forgive the band for the blatantly commercial pop rock of The Middle or being inadvertently responsible for the 'emo' scene that gave us My Chemical Romance et al.

Yet when they announced that they would play here in Auckland, I bought a ticket the moment they were released. On the day of the gig two weekends back, I turned up early and was the second person on the floor, taking a spot at the crash barrier below the lead microphone from which I did not move for over three hours.

Through JEW's entire 24 song set I sang and danced and got emotional, and early on in the night during Work when frontman Jim Adkins took his hands off his guitar to sing unaccompanied, I reached out my arm and was high fived. At the end of the show, drummer Zach Lind came down to the audience and handed one of his sticks to me, and another to the girl next to me who had been the first person on the floor, the band's way of recognising the devoted.

Someone standing behind me, perhaps not realising what they were doing, grabbed the stick from my hand and raced off into the crowd. No big deal right, it's just a silly stick of wood, and I'm 33 years old. But I think it's at least possible that I wouldn't be 33 years old if not for JEW, so I stalked the guy down and found him talking to some friends outside the Powerstation. I confronted him non-violently, saying the stick had been given to me.

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Guest Blog: The upside of down

10:15pm 16 Nov 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

This week the inmates are running the asylum - it's another round of Right This Blog! And here's Sludgie with The upside of down -  is trying to understand why depressing music is sometimes just the right tonic.

I have often wondered why I am drawn to sad, and some would even say depressing songs and music.  I know I am not the only one as there are so many such songs to choose from.  In fact if I am in a real funk I will reach for something with a title like Looking Up (for the next thing that brings me down) rather than Walking on Sunshine. The latter while a great song would never cheer me up - I would only ever play it at a party.  Many people are drawn to country, soul and the blues and if the music is so depressing why does listening to them not lead to rafts of suicide?Sad Records

There is of course the myth around Gloomy Sunday, the Hungarian Suicide Song - that if you listened to the song you would commit suicide.  This even spawned a movie of the same name that became Christchurch's longest running movie.  I have never been quite sure what that tells us about the people of Christchurch.

In this blog I am going to try and explore the phenomena I experience, how alone I am in it and then share some of my favourite downer songs in the hope of cheering you all up.

To get started I headed down to the local Google library and let my fingers do the walking to some more research. Then Simon also posted a link on Facebook so I was able to follow a new trail and get some more insights. 

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