Van Dyke Parks @ Barbican Hall

Boldly going forward because he can't find reverse


I'm gonna go out on a limb here: Despite a long line of critics swearing by Parks genius for over four decades, the Mississippi-born composer-songwriter-producer (you name it) super-surprising in my eyes he is not. He did, surely, break ground in the sixties - and he still is, by remaining so generously uncompromising, true to his instincts and music itself. Qualities so rare to find, as is his wide open mind nearing that of a genius; so apt to receive, elaborate and absorb any style or musical expression, from Afro-Carribean Calypso to vaudeville and psychedelia. Considering how that is so hard to apply gracefully in actual musical progression, his seamless eclecticism makes him the grand man that he is.
I am no Parks expert. I have hardly paid notice to his lyrics, the Beach Boys' long lost "treasure" Smile, famously tied to his name, gives me a rash at every sound, and his Disney-jolly music is hardly what I call home. Maybe the respected Britten Sinfonia, which accompanied him, assimilated Bluegrass with classical in such a way that managed to annihilate the combo's peculiar dynamics. I take it all into consideration...
Over time, I've kept my antennas in constant search of the beautiful and the radical; I have a hunger for the experimental weirdness any good old wacko can bring to the game. I unobtrusively welcome Parks persona and smile at the guy who shows me such great character, but my enthusiasm for the "groundbreaking" and the "surprising" fades after only a handful of songs. Once you get it it's gone; and there's no point repeating it unless it's just your style - or your life lacks character so badly that you listen agape with wonder that such thing exists.
I consider my feeling valid despite my partial ignorance of Parks' thick songbook. It was understandably hard for the audience of the time (that time being the already radical sixties) to grasp what he was going for. It's probably hard now to fathom such a carefree personality and nonchalant creative license - maybe harder than ever. Joanna Newsom's Ys, which he arranged, is one of my all-time favorites. Thanks to Parks' otherworldly vision (and Joanna's, naturally), it maniacally drew me in over and over again (and it still does, six years after its' release). But a lot of the time that Saturday night I felt like I was listening to the same song on repeat - and it wasn't good. He took all those different beats and turned them into one - his unique, melodic vision, we all agree on that. A remarkable thing, but after a while it doesn't fluctuate from A to Z.

I found admirable his ability to juggle melodies, his abundant spirit and charisma. We need people like him - they're so few!
His comments inbetween, were equally spirited: "I live in a country where 35% of the people believe in evolution. The rest think the world was created in 5 days - and it's not cute!".

Respect for his tribute to Randy Newman (Parks covered Vine Street on his debut solo album Song Cycle), Vic Chesnutt and the groovy Elvis Costello/Alain Toussaint duo - but yes, you couldn't tell whose song he was playing each time... Not much difference...
 Rising Guatemalan star Gaby Moreno offered a temperamental hand in the musical outcome, as did (less temperamentally) Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold and Grizzly Bear's Daniel Rossen. Together they delivered some memorable moments, without (again) breaking the norm.
The undoubted highlight was a luscious version of Death Don't Have No Mercy In This Land, a song with such deep soul, coloured in addition by Moreno's haunting blues vocals - it sent shivers down my spine. I found Moreno (who opened the show) altogether too easy-listening for my taste. But her strong, tangy voice shone bright in the context of a history-heavy blues song.
In the Barbican Hall there were a lot of empty seats, which translates to the fact that the audience probably prefers to listen to the artists Parks worked with, than the man himself. But he did get a standing ovation in the end. He deserves a place in the spotlight cause his work is undoubtedly beautiful and, without necessarily insisting on the earth-shatteringly experimental, its ease and diversity got us a long way. He sticks with this geeky character and preserves its integrity against all tremors (I wish there was a tremor!).
"Boldly going forward because we can't find reverse" is, according to Parks, the Liverpool taxi cab drivers' motto - one he has adopted and has been going by himself. His sound might not always sound forward, surprise, or even entertain me after a while, but I do know good music when I hear it.

P.S. For all you avid record collectors (this vinyl-sucker writer included), Bella Union just reissued three staple VDP albums - Song Cycle, Clang of the Yankee Reaper and Discover America, on CD and vinyl.

Review - and a picture of the full band by Danai Molocha

Bits and pieces from the Shepherd's Bush Empire

Michael Kiwanuka: Tell me a soul tale
Michael Kiwanuka, Jake Bugg 23/05/12 I've been fairly taken by this new music soul of British neo-soul music ever since I heard Tell Me A Tale - the opener of his beautiful debut Home Again. The title track itself, I discovered later, is equally moving. If Kiwanuka cites Bill Withers and Otis Redding as influences, I can see rays of their warmth in his voice; touches of soul substance that don't allow you to doubt the stories he's recounting. You have to feel - and you're ultimately happy that you do, even if you start to feel "lost again, lost again...". The delivery of those songs was equally genuine on stage - though I have to admit that, far from an avid soul fan, I hardly paid attention to much else (altogether a bit understated for my taste). I do enjoy seeing musicians like Kiwanuka get the merit they deserve once in a while - as opposed to the usual loud (on the outside much more than the inside) one-hit wonder rockers we usually see and hear. Opening for him was Nottingham's up-and-coming singer-songwriter Jake Bugg, whose love of Bob Dylan I discerned pretty much on the first few notes. I've been seeing him all over music publications and websites since, but I can't say that personally I was as taken. The guy did show some promise, and he's still young (hardly 19)...
The Offspring: Come out and play
The Offspring 06/06/12 I had seen the band live a few years ago, and even though I had been happy to relive my wild teenage nights, I hadn't ended up that excited after their performance. I generally find The Offspring something between Green Day's attention-grabbing (well, they try their best!) pop punk and NOFX's more underground punk credibility (I'll get back to this later); the mainstream band punks could dance to without feeling they joined a naughty frat boy party (which is the Green Day case, and it's a foul feeling indeed...). Beyond my expectations, I had great fun at their second Empire gig. Ignition, which that night celebrated its' 20th anniversary and was performed in its' entirety, is a great light punk album - and I've just added it to my "listen to more thoroughly" list (probably along with a few other clueless people). The band was in great form, ultra lively and fun, and it quickly managed to inebriate us with their lasting punk rock anthems - and a bit of Days Go By, their brand new album. Some crowd-surfing there, which security tried to diminish, and a few sing-a-longs, expectedly at the encore's "Self Esteem" and "Come Out And Play", made great memories (I was at work, but I gave it my best). Awesome night!
NOFX: I don't have great things to say about their music, but that's one thing we agree on
 NOFX, The Varukers 16/06/12 If NOFX have more underground credibility than The Offspring and their MTV/major label ilk, they definitely don't have as much as The Varukers: The hardcore punk bombs that opened for them and, as far as I'm concerned, were the real attraction to the show. Heavy, authentic (even though they played a London Empire), wild - they're my kind of band. The headliners, however, were the ones that super-excited the audience, which crowd-surfed constantly, completely defying security this time. Much appreciated - but that fact aside, their whoopee, childish punk rock put me off anything they had to say. In all honesty, I haven't bothered much with their lyrics, I don't even know if I'm missing any important messages between the lines. Maybe I am. But just the sound (and attitude) of silly punk kids partying doesn't really do it for me. Like they're 15 and they sneak out the window while their parents are asleep. I like punks consciously rule-breaking, hardcore in their sound and mindset and, ideally, heavily political.  If I'm to get in a silly mood, I'll listen to The Offspring, who might be less underground, but even they keep a more grown-up profile in comparison. That's as whoopee as I can get.

Review by Danai Molocha, photography found here and there...

Dirty Three @ Cargo

Fiddler kind of goof


The moment I saw Warren Ellis scratching his violin like the devil, drawing a menacing backdrop at a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds extravaganza, I got hooked.
Seeing then Dirty Three themselves (altogether in large doses, at the Dirty Three-curated All Tomorrow's Parties, in April 2007), my devotion was sealed in wax.
The man is rad.

Guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White provide exemplar support. They're like the paragon of bands, the way so seamlessly and unassumingly compliment one another.
Ellis, that wicked devil, is anything but unassuming, of course - from the casual jokes about Bono's hemorrhoids ("...then Sunday Bloody Sunday would take up a whole new meaning"), to his constant screams and banging of his boots, dancing like a puppet whose master's gone astray.
And what a vision it all is.

Their 8th album Toward the Low Sun only has a few months on the record store shelves.

Their material, from their 1995 debut Sad & Dangerous to this year's Sun, has been consistently assailing us with instrumental madness, which often starts slow and soothing before it disappears into a whirlwind of improvisation and sinister experimentalism. At times the band get carried away with the peaceful violin melodies, going on and on a lot longer than they should (this gig is no exception); but then comes another goofy punch-line, another kick, another sonic perversity. In a much more limited, intimate venue than ATP's array of stages, this Cargo gig gives, admittedly, more space to serenity.  But this, too - make no mistake - involves a generous well of fun.

They open with Rain Song and Furnace Skies (from their latest release), then Everything's Fucked (from Dirty Three), Sea Above, Sky Below (from Ocean Songs), Some Summers They Drop Like Flies (from Whatever You Love, You Are), all adding up to a career-spanning panorama of the trio's work; and we really appreciate that. Their indulgence in improvisations don't leave much time for a great number of songs, but the Three make sure they make space for some old crowd favorites.

Warren here and there swaps the violin with the keyboards. If you only read that and the song titles, you'll most certainly take him for a sentimental bastard. And he is - just add a lot of acerbic humor, irony, strength, and a helluva lot of distortion.
He and the band give an amazing performance once more - and it's righteously sold out.
If you like Dirty Three, this is one show you shouldn't miss. Make sure next time you get in before that last ticket goes out. 

Review and photography by Danai Molocha

Field Day @ Victoria Park

 For whom the Bells toll



It was 3 o'clock in a broody Saturday afternoon when I braved the crowds that clogged the festival entrance.
Within 15 minutes, unexpectedly, I was already standing opposite the Eat Your Own Ears main stage, locking my feet at an ideal spot that would secure me perfect views of the Liars' noise party. The sun was out, finally- both literally and metaphorically.

The above trio's latest offering WIXIW goes surprisingly mellow and electronic hinting here and there at their usual sinister experimentalism, which we have so learned to trust over the years. Both musically and aesthetically (starting from their smart... cultured I'd say outfits) the band has grown up, no matter how ironically they go about it. They've certainly come a long way from their Lycra leotard and clown costume days, which doesn't necessarily mark an improvement in my eyes; (I loved those outfits! And the unhinged craze that went with them). It is certainly an evolution.
Liar 1
Less erratic on record and on stage nowadays (or maybe just this day?...), they do still draw a clear, consistent line with the past:
They willingly bow to their animalistic, and simultaneously urban, no-isy/no-wavy impulses - loud or ambient, contemplative or downright brutal. They do, in places, go Neatherdal in this gig too, and when they do it's cathartic.

Liars were the only gig I managed to see in full and with an unobstructed view. For what characterized more than anything this year's festival, was short time-slots and too many nomadic people getting in the way of any real moments you might have with the band of your choice. Just as you ran off Laneway and towards Bugged Out!, from Sleigh Bells to SBTRKT, the latter was already at his final beat-feast.
 And what a fucking good feast that was, by the way. People danced possessed, and it was contagious from the moment you got within earshot.
Liar 2
As for Sleigh Bells... I often find their studio recordings a salad of girl-screams and guitar-heavy riffs - and that's not very tasty. It's plain tiresome. But their live version turned me around. Not because they're so amazing or anything. They're good, but we've seen more impressive stuff. It's just that that's when they most make sense: Krauss's badass sex kitten voice and persona gives a very different twist to the testosterone-led attack at the back. It readjusts its rhythm and dynamics - though also quite often it gets lost in the rock maze (and you wonder why the f*** do they have her blubbering words we can't even hear). I didn't get swept away like the Brit crowd apparently did but, all in all, it was one of the most fun memories I had at this festival.
The Laneway stage also hosted the wildly popular Vaccines show, which I went to see out of curiosity. The rhythms were definitely Strokes, Young's vocals and appearance definitely Ramones (apparently that has been the word in the music circuit, but I had never thought of it till that very moment...). They were a pretty lively bunch, but too uncreative for me to stick around.
Liar 3
I don't generally get those music pyrotechnics that much more often than not brighten the British music sky, only to abruptly fall off and give way to the next explosion. So I just rushed off to the next one (and towards a stage with a less notoriously dodgy sound).
Before that, and back to the Eat Your Own Ears neighborhood some time earlier, Metronomy decisively added some color to the recipe. I had heard that people had been pretty disappointed at some of their previous performances; but they defied memory and went to see them, again.
This time, the verdict was unanimous.
The English trippy electro-popsters had rhythm, style, and they were in the mood for dancing. Oscar Cash (in the keyboards etc) often stole the show with his spanking moves, and Anna Prior (on the drums) with her glittery outfit. Heartbreaker, She Wants and of course, The Look dominated the field, giving the festival pulse in all sonic coolness.
Sleigh Bells
I got nearly one song out of Austra (who should have gone up on stage a lot sooner at Shacklewell Arms), under the thickening rain and among a burgeoning fanbase. Slightly hippy influences there, in the way the whole band somehow moved (they'd no doubt fit in a post-modern day Woodstock); but they nevertheless gave me the impression that, should I have stayed, they would've proven worthy of their spirited videos.
I got to like the small and unobtrusive Shacklewell Arms stage earlier when, on my way to Village Mentality, I caught The Men in action. The band was heavy and unpolished (at last!) in a hipsters' Ark. People didn't squash around them, but they were definitely my whoopee! discovery this Field Day (after last year's Darkstar, who drew me in so deep I still can't get over it). 
Thanks to Austra's delay, I barely got a decent spot for Mazzy Star, who were the main reason I eventually paid all that money. Under their typical veil of  dim lights and sepia shadows, Hope Sandoval, Roback and co came dressed in a hypnotic melange of rock melodies, with equally dreamy projections at the backdrop. Weighing more towards a psychedelic lullaby, rather than their often engrossing sensual intensity, the band lacked the draggy maelstrom of songs like Hair and Skin (or Mary of Silence, a personal favourite). But they did please the fans with the hit Fade Into You - one among very few of their most known songs.
An amazing paradigm of a rock heroine, that Sandoval. Despite her graceful, fragile-yet-strong, enigmatic beauty and shitloads of talent, she chooses to glow in the dark. Ι wish there were more like her...
Mazzy Star
As for any unmentioned highlights... Afrocubism entertained the crowds, but I'd go for last year's groovy-funky-jazzy Sun Ra Arkestra veterans any time; I could barely catch a few glimpses of Grimes, succeeding them at the Village Mentality stage, but I enjoyed it anyway. She wavers between an enthusiastic (maybe even clueless) teenager and a wicked beat-maker, but she suits the dancefloor alright; Zulu Winter were pop softies... hard on my punk sensibilities.
Finally, Beirut captured a lot of festival hearts. I have interviewed founder Zach Condon in the past and I fully respect his vision; but the result is a bit too folky for my psyche. They provided a really inspiring soundtrack to my race towards the rest of the acts, though!

Review and photography by Danai Molocha