Category: Music

Britney Spears: The Cabaret – February 18, The Reginald

Britney Spears, once a juggernaut of pop music, now has little more than ironic value in many circles. Tell someone that you’re going to see something called Britney Spears: The Cabaret and they’re going to look at you strangely and ask “why?”. There’s still a draw for old fans (that is, largely women roughly the same age as Spears herself), and she still sells, but the incredibly public life led by Britney has rendered her a modern curio.

 

Britney Spears: The Cabaret is not a tribute to Spears as such, but rather an examination of a fragile personality that has been buffeted from all sides and repeatedly pushed to breaking point and back again. As Spears, Christie Whelan begins her act tongue in cheek, eventually affecting a complete nervous breakdown in front of the audience.

It’s something special.

Roxette Live 2012 – February 16, Sydney Entertainment Centre

 

Roxette are touring the world; they have been for coming on a year now. They sold out the 13,000 seat Sydney Entertainment Centre twice, and a third show was added to their Sydney bill. Yet not everyone “gets” Roxette. The Australian press are largely dismissive, if not openly bitchy, about the prospect of their existence in the first place, not to mention their continued existence, their sheer nerve at remaining a functional band some 26 years after their formation (with two generous hiatuses in between).

 

There are people who were in the audience last night, there to relive the barely recollected glory of their misspent youth, who possibly never really connected with the band beyond a vague familiarity with their work on the radio. These are the people who do not know that, rather like Blondie, Roxette is the name of the band.

These same people also don’t understand that time marches on for everyone, and not just them; that a fifty three year old cancer survivor can’t reasonably expected to look exactly the same as she did in her mid twenties.

 

But that’s enough frustration; there clearly were people at the concert who cared deeply about Roxette, who had a natural affinity for one of the all time greatest albums, Joyride, who understood that some things remain good, no matter how many years they’ve been removed from their point of origin.

 

Roxette was not perfect last night, but for many of us this was something that we’ve waited all of our lives for, ever since Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo teamed up to save Samantha Mathis from Dennis Hopper. Last night was a watershed, a rite of passage. I would not say that it was a religious experience, but there are some things that you simply have to do. To deny your fate would be foolish.

 

Opening their twenty one song set with “Dressed For Success”, Per and Marie set a precedent: this was no Charm School tour; they were going to primarily play what the audience wanted to hear. Given their predilection for big songs that they expect the audience to provide the choruses of, this was a wise choice. The opening triple whammy continued with “Sleeping In My Car”, which is still grammatically dubious after all these years, and “The Big L.”, delivered here without the whips that the audience may have been expecting.

 

The territory got rather rockier for the audience members whose final years of high school were not punctuated by rabid hunts for every last piece of Roxette ephemera, people unfamiliar with the 1999 album Have A Nice Day. “Wish I Could Fly” remains a good song, but a strange choice for the first ballad of the evening. As the later ballads proved to largely be show stoppers

 

The awkwardness began when the Charm School songs kicked in. Charm School is not a bad album, but it has nothing in particular to set itself apart like, for instance, Room Service’s superlative “The Centre of the Heart”, which failed to get a look-in last night. Charm School is serviceable, but it’s not an album to hang a tour on. To me, Roxette are more than just a “novelty”, but I understand that you can’t pack stadiums on the basis of a relatively obscure album from a band that many people in your country haven’t heard of for anywhere between ten and seventeen years. Not everyone is as obsessive as me.

 

The night changed significantly when Per announced that he was going to take us to Hollywood, and bam: “It Must Have Been Love”. 13,000 people sung the chorus in unison before the instrumentation kicked in properly and the song remains as strong now as ever it was. Would anyone remember Julia Roberts’ Pygmalion effort had she not parted ways with Richard Gere to these sorrowful strains initially written as a German Christmas single for the 1987 season? (Possibly.)

 

“Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” continued to get the audience going, and then we were in for a rare and strange treat: “Crash! Boom! Bang!” with Per on prime vocals. I’ve listened to a fair few Roxette demos in my time, and it’s always strange to listen to Marie songs sung by Per with the gender inverted. For the first time in my hearing, this song sounded natural coming from his mouth (although “when you’ve found your girl make sure she’s for real” still seems wrong), and as a duet it was surprisingly effective.

 

This bled into the first ending: the triumphantly infectious “How Do You Do!” segued directly into “Dangerous”, and then we had no choice but to join the “Joyride”. It was a good ending, except … it obviously wasn’t.

A night of Roxette with no “Heart” songs? This will never do! “Spending My Time” is as good as it ever was, and “The Look” became the second cap on the night – this version emphasising Per’s reliance on The Beatles for inspiration, as the ridiculous “na na na nas” nearly became a parody of “Hey Jude”.

 

They left again. Still no “Heart” songs? I was damn near ready to demand my money back (and here is where I point out that it has cost me marginally less to see Roxette twice than it is costing me to see Lady Gaga once). So of course Per and Marie returned for the final time and implored: “Listen To Your Heart”. Draping themselves in an Australian flag, they performed “Church Of Your Heart” and disappeared, asking us to stop by again soon, maybe tomorrow. Little did they know I have the tickets and the friends to go with them.

 

 

Roxette are obviously no longer spring chickens. This is a simple fact. Marie had to reeducate herself to almost Liza Minnelli levels after particularly strenuous chemotherapy, and sometimes this strain translates to her stage persona. At times she seemed uncertain of lyrics (as Per warned before “Perfect Day” started: “sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t”), and was obviously frustrated by the fact. “Crash! Boom! Bang!” in particular no longer features the line “and the pain stays the same”, here substituted for the repeated “it has always been the same”. Her heavenly backing vocals are no longer so easily provided, and the Have A Nice Day song “7Twenty7” is somewhat lost on stage without them. It is of course worth noting that the stage – a literal arena, in this case – is different and less controlled than a studio environment.

 

Despite the obvious and understandable effects of age and a successful battle with a debilitating illness, Marie still managed to mostly triumph – there were more than enough moments of pure magic and excitement for one night. Per, for his part, is full of boundless energy – and he has always been the more outspoken member of the band versus Marie’s wallflower personality borne of her less confident English.

 

Most of the people were in the audience last night because they had a reason to be there; Roxette does not fare well under the watchful gaze of a cynic: you can’t attend one of these concerts ironically, because Per and Marie are so earnest and sincere that to roll your eyes at Roxette would be to deny your own heart.

 

Certainly I would have loved to have seen Roxette in 1995, but I was ten then, and was not yet on my way to memorising all of the lyrics in my sleep before I even properly knew what they meant. Turns out “Sleeping In My Car” is not actually about sleeping in a car. If you were ever a fan, Roxette are still as worthy of your time now as they ever were. If you’ve forged a genuine connection to Roxette across the years – or even just the weeks – there’s still every reason to love and support them.

 

I will admit, I’m going to be doing this all over again tonight, but I’m sure that these are two nights that I will never have cause to regret.

Kylie Minogue returns in All the Lovers: is she a replicant?

It has been written into Australian law that I have to love Kylie Minogue. I have absolutely no say in the matter. There is no point in fighting what is my ultimate destiny: to lay down my life in duty to Kylie. After the mixed response to X (“The worst thing she’s ever done”/”The best thing she’s done since Light Years“/”Body Language kind of sucked, didn’t it?”), Kylie returns on July 5 with Aphrodite. Today she released the video for the lead single, “All The Lovers”:

I don’t really know what I think of the song or the video. People who know more about me think that “All The Lovers” could become an anthemic dance floor hit, but I’m not sure about that. I spend so little time on dance floors that my opinion is largely irrelevant on that count. The song sounds pretty middle of the range. I’ve listened to it a few times now, and I know some people were instantly blown away. I know that when the album comes out I will probably listen to it endlessly and pick the choicest songs for my “Mostly Awesome” playlist, before it becomes the occasional curio.

As to the video itself: well, it’s a pansexual orgy or something. Everyone removes their clothes, forms a pyramid, puts Kylie on top. There’s a giant inflatable elephant, and a horse galloping through streets frozen in time. If only it were a unicorn. If only I could see what Kylie has seen with my eyes.

MGMT’s “Kids”: Nightmares for All

A while back, I got interested in MGMT. They programmed an episode of Rage, and included their own video for “Electric Feel” – both tribal and beautiful. So now they’ve come out with “Kids”, featuring a one minute prologue followed by five nightmarish minutes of a child tormented by monsters.
It’s interesting, if you like their sort of music (which, according to Wikipedia, can be classed as “Indie Rock”, “Synthpop” “Dance-punk” and “Psychedelic Pop”, suggesting they’ve got no idea what it is either). The director is also apparently part of the team who made Where The Wild Things Are:

I take Joanna Newsom’s appearance as the inattentive mother of this child to be a tacit endorsement of MGMT’s efforts. It also goes to show that a lot of the time I have to wonder what “the deal” is with music videos. The ones that grab my attention probably don’t actually “mean” anything, but they engage the eyes and, if I enjoy the music, I look into it further. My way of life isn’t exactly conducive to stumbling across videos, but they can strike in the most unexpected of places and ways.

What I’m trying to say here is that when I heard Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat” at a law firm’s reception, my life was changed. No, really. (Not really). It would perhaps be more accurate to say that I still remember the first time I consciously came upon Scissor Sisters, and that was one of many pebbles that started an avalanche that irrevocably changed the way I live today.

The works of Lady Gaga could possibly justify a PhD thesis by this point, and I might get to them later. For now I should make it clear that the child in the video is crying, but he was totally cool with the monsters. Apparently they’re tears of fatigue or something, so I guess baby labour camps are tough work.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Farewell, 2008

No one wants to end 2008 on Bedtime Stories! So let’s celebrate the good times, and never stop believin’!

Thank you, Petra Haden. As an egg, you taught me more about life than any human ever has. See you all next year!

There’s nothing quite like a light show

In honour of my graduation tomorrow, and the discovery of everything that is good and bad about the internet, I present Rock-afire Explosion‘s “cover” of Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”:

Yeah, uh … yeah. Strangely hypnotic and also, of course, terrifying. Thanks(?) to Bob Mackey for this knowledge.

Believe it or not, this is not simply laziness in place of something real (laziness is not posting anything for the majority of a month). I think that this video represents what the internet is designed for: sometimes you see something so simply, incredibly weird that it has to be passed along. A lot of the things that I look at on the internet are “discovered” by other people; I lead a second or third hand existence on the computer because I don’t have the patience to sift through all of the noise to get to the crux of the matter. Most of the time, I don’t even see what other people have brought to my attention.
Youtube, to me, represents time, and while I can devote hours to a video game, a movie, a TV series, somehow giving just five or six minutes to a video on the internet seems just like so much effort. Still, singing bears with soulless eyes can somehow pierce me to the core.

Happy Birthday, Kylie!

Today is Kylie Minogue’s 40th birthday! Kylie is one of Australia’s biggest icon, and also quite big in the UK and in wider Europe. She recently tried once again to crack America, but it looks like it ain’t going to happen. The abysmal single they chose to lead with for America can’t have helped at all (one of the two dullest tracks on X? What a novel idea!)

Anyway, I have come to praise Kylie, not to bury her. Still going strong after both having beaten up cancer and featuring in the first live action Street Fighter movie, I continue to wish Kylie all the best. She dang near changed my life at the end of 2006 when I went and saw her with Liz, so my salutations cannot be warm enough.

Kylie is indeed an Australian icon, although she’s also the subject of much derision. If you’re a man and you say you like Kylie, that means you’re gay. I resent the insinuation, although we all know how that worked out for my best friend in high school and myself. I would say that I don’t know any girls who like Kylie, although that would be a blatant lie because so many from my office went and saw her last time she was out. The thing is, “everyone” loves Kylie but it’s hard exactly to see who this “everyone” is because, apart from some gay dudes it’s mostly a guerilla love. Her songs are catchy, her videos are entertaining (Rutger Hauer!), and she is insanely personable. It’s not hard to understand how someone could fall for a woman as simultaneously chameleonic and familiar as Our Kylie. Let the celebrations commence!

We’ll start with some vintage Kylie, in the form of “Better the Devil You Know”:

Then we’ll continue with a tribute from the Japanese duo WINK, with their cover of Kylie’s SAW classic “Turn It Into Love”. The narrative of this video has been the subject of debate amongst academics for all of several months!

Now a detour to her duet with Nick Cave, “Where the Wild Roses Grow”. Cave was attracted to Kylie thanks to “Better the Devil You Know”, which he claimed to have some of the saddest lyrics he’d ever heard. One of these days I’ll find the proper quote: the point is that pop music can sugar coat totally depressing messages, and can lead poppettes into performing songs about their murders at the hands of moustachioed lotharios.

Now we move on to modern Kylie, with one of several singles from her latest album X, “In My Arms”:

Oop, what’s this? Why, it’s Kylie with David Tennant in the Doctor Who 2007 Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned”!

Here’s to 40 more years singing, Kylie! You can have a little break after that.

Joanna Newsom – Sydney Opera House, January 25th 2008

Many, many years ago, in 2004, I was made aware of the most intriguing song: “Peach, Plum, Pear”. Joanna Newsom’s voice on this song was nothing short of intriguing. At the time it was something like masochism. Because my friends hate me, they bought me her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender.

Joke was on them: I listened to it most thoroughly, and learned to love Joanna. Her bite-sized songs were whimsical, sounded most pleasant, and you could acclimatise yourself to the voice. I think that she understands that herself, but it hasn’t stopped an army of support. In late 2005, I went and saw Joanna play the Metro. She cracked out some new songs which would go on to be recorded on Ys. I will admit here and now that I got lost in these songs, which is particularly easy considering that they’re each about twelve minutes long.
I bought Ys when it came out and it sounds beautiful but I honestly cannot tell you what any of it means.

Which brings us to Friday night, after almost four years of adventure: Joanna Newsom plays the Sydney Opera House, with the support of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Joanna began the show with Ys. Like … she literally played the album, start to finish, with some cursory nods to her band and to the orchestra. The lights were low and, frankly, the effect was somewhat soporiffic to someone who had been on his feet with work all week. I didn’t fall asleep, and I did enjoy what I was listening to, but Ys gives me a strong disconnect. I can’t follow the songs, they just seem to amble along with references to monkeys, bears, meteorites and meteoroids.

At the end of the first act, Joanna said that she would be bidding farewell to the orchestra and that the second half would be her older stuff. I was filled with a palpable excitement, while at the same time feeling like a terrible person: revelling in the safer stuff? What kind of fan am I!

So, cue the second half of the show: lights are brighter! It’s just Joanna Newsom and her band: one fellow on drums and backing vocals, Neal Morgan, and another alternating between the banjo and tambura, Ryan Francesconi. It was hard not to notice that Neal Morgan was not wearing any shoes – and so, at this juncture, Joanna decided that she would connect to the audience.
“Just before we came onto the stage tonight,” she told us, “And I mean, we were just waiting outside the door, Neal cut his foot on some glass. It was in his shoe. He told the conductor about it, and the conductor said ‘Oh! You found my shard.’ ‘Yeah, sorry I bled on it.’ It was great.”
That’s the sort of stuff I go to a show for. Joanna Newsom was finally at home with us, rather than having to endure the stiff formality of working with an orchestra, and we were well rewarded: “Bridges and Balloons” was our first treat. As we progressed, she played “Peach, Plum, Pear”, which sounded entirely different when performed with the aid of a drum, seeming more like an epic adventure than whatever it was on the original album. “Peach, Plum, Pear” is an intriguing song, but even to this day certain parts of the recording itself leave me wondering precisely what was being thought.

There was a song, “Colleen”, from the elusive Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP, which was definitely pleasant to the sound. Joanna herself was unwilling to name the EP because she thinks that the name sounds silly now – as many things do when you say them too much. In between songs, she also commented on the damper that Neal was using for his drum – a shirt that read “OBAMA ’08”. He told us that he had been informed that, if Obama gets in, he will be “the first world citizen to be President of the United States”. The audience cheered this, but you could tell that we weren’t really sure how to take it. Did Jet, for instance, play in the US wearing “KEVIN ’07” shirts? My friend Rowan informs me that Joanna said in the Saturday show that this had caused quite the controversy, which I suppose must have happened back stage. Still, the Saturday people got to observe the shirt.

We were treated to two nameless new songs as well, and the ultimate song for the band total – which I shamefully cannot recall off the top of my head – had Joanna telling us afterwards that a certain chord is broken in her mind, and that it’s one upon which Neal relies for an “epic harmony”. He says that she hates him for it and she would have to pay him $10 afterwards, like James Brown. A beautiful rendition of “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” capped off the night, but that would not be the end of it! No, Joanna came back on, with Neal and Ryan, and launched into … “Inflammatory Writ”! You read that right. Back when I saw her in 2005, Joanna took requests in her encore. She was asked to play “Inflammatory Writ”, but she hilariously could not remember all of the words. I had read in an interview that she needs to play the music to sing the words, and that they kind of guide each other.
To compound this, “Inflammatory Writ” is a piano song. She doesn’t normally play it on a harp.
What followed was her playing the song, and periodically forgetting a part, and then playing the part leading up to it again, while the audience called out the lyrics to her. It greatly endeared me to her on that evening. To hear Joanna playing “Inflammatory Writ”, note and word perfect, to truly call quits to the night, was a moment of perfection that saw me leaving the Opera House with a smile on my face and a song on my lips.

Should we go outside?

Yes, it’s another entry about ads! I wouldn’t mention it, but it combines several of my loves: Joanna Newsom, The Chaser, and balls of wool.

Frequently when I go to the movies, I’m being told to visit other states. I’ve gone to the movies, people! I don’t want to go visit Melbourne or become an accountant! (seriously, there’s one recurring ad which is essentially “Become an accountant. See the world”)

Yet there has never been a more compelling reason to visit Victoria than the fact that they give you a giant ball of wool with which to navigate:

I was struck not only by the novelty of featuring Joanna Newsom’s intricate and mesmerising vocals in an ad, but also the very careful editing that features none of her more interesting vocal gymnastics. She’s a controversial figure, is our Joanna.
The idea of traipsing about a city with a ball of wool is intriguing indeed, and exactly the sort of thing you’d use in an Ad Road Test:

Disaster city.

(If you’re wondering what Sprout and the Bean sounds like in its entirety, below is its music video. Sometimes I give until it hurts.

Joanna Newsom isn’t to everyone’s tastes.)

Scissor Sisters – She’s My Man

Welp, Scissor Sisters have released their new video, which in Alex town means it’s time to drop everything and put them up. Oh yeah.

What more is there to say apart from the obvious? Ana Matronic is divine. Damned Scissor Sisters, too good for their own good.