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Gig review – Spoon, Metro Theatre, 14 February 2015

To see Spoon live is to witness a band in complete control of their music. They’re a finely tuned machine where every part, from Britt Daniel’s nasally but appealing voice to Jim Eno’s drumming, both brutal and precise, work together in perfect unison.

The Texans may be indie rock’s ultimate sneaky good band; they can probably walk the streets unrecognised and have never rode a wave of hype but they have quietly compiled a catalogue rated by Metacritic as the most critically acclaimed of the last decade.

Tonight’s Metro set is a tour de force demonstration of their lean, economical approach, crisp sound and unfailingly foot-tapping tunes. New songs like ‘Rainy Taxi’ and ‘Do You’ are as tightly coiled as a spring, while ‘Inside Out’ pairs a typically muscular rhythm to a twinkling keyboard melody to stunning effect.
It’s a good natured affair, ranging from the krautrock-leaning ‘The Ghost of You Lingers’ to the angular rhythms of ‘Don’t You Evah’ and an irresistibly funky ‘I Turn My Camera On’, complete with perfectly executed interlocking melodies.

Even the rare chaotic moments feel perfectly controlled – Alex Fischel’s bursts of keyboard noise during ‘Don’t Make Me a Target’ are like a master painter throwing a splash of paint over a canvas to complete the work.

As a nod to one of their favourite Australian bands, they make a spirited run at Eddie Current Suppression Ring’s ‘Memory Lane’ before ending with an emotionally charged ‘Black Like Me’ as well as Spoon classics ‘You Got Your Cherry Bomb’ and ‘The Underdog’, the latter beautifully understated.

On the final night of their Australian tour, there seems to be some indefinable extra spice to their performance, or maybe it’s just the infectious energy of a gun band visibly enjoying their work. Either way, it’s pretty hard to fault.

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Gig Review – ‘Far From Folsom’, Parramatta Gaol, 16 January 2015

A key work in the towering mythology of Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison remains the best distillation of his outlaw persona, a priceless document of his gallows humour, sympathy for underdogs and authoritative baritone.

But it’s perhaps in danger of becoming a record more referenced than played, so this recreation of the famed occasion – which saw Cash play an eclectic but brutally honest and often death-themed set to a crowd of inmates – seemed a brilliant concept.

Getting the venue right was key to recreating the palpable sense of occasion and dark magic of the original. And the cavernous Parramatta Gaol courtyard, bordered by imposing sandstone walls and coils of barbed wire, made for a mightily atmospheric backdrop.

The success of this night, however, really hinged on finding someone to recreate Cash’s gravelly, semi-spoken vocals and defiant charisma, and in Tex Perkins (recently named by Robert Forster as one of only six true rock stars Australia has produced) Far From Folsom could not have had a more perfect ring-in for the Man in Black.

From the bluesy, doom-laden storytelling in the famed titled track to the grimly funny death row countdown of ’25 Minutes to Go’, Perkins ripped into the work, completely comfortable in his assumed persona. As the night chilled and bugs buzzed around the gaol’s swooping searchlights, an appreciative crowd swayed to the heartbreak of ‘I Still Miss Someone’ and the straightforward but poignant ‘Give My Love to Rose’.

The record also takes in Cash’s easily forgotten sillier side, with the novelty song ‘Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog’ and the self-consciously ridiculous ‘Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart’ both providing moments of levity in a generally intense song cycle.

It would hardly have been an authentic tribute without a June Carter Cash figure – and Rachel Tidd filled those spurred shoes admirably on the stirring duet ‘Jackson’ and the self-mythologising ‘I Walk the Line’, the latter one of a handful of classic songs not on the record to appear in the setlist.

‘A Boy Named Sue’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ made welcome appearances as the night wore on, but the focus was mostly on the Folsom record and the seemingly simple but mightily powerful songs it contains.

This was a fitting tribute to an amazing time and place in both rock and country music history, and to a collection of songs perhaps best summed up by the words of songwriter Harlan Howard, whose ‘Busted’ and ‘The Wall’ are key tracks on the record: “three chords and the truth”.

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Gig review: Augie March, Sydney Opera House, 25 January 2015

It’s been a long five years since Augie March last graced our stages, an absence which only saw their distinctive, introspective brand of beauty grow in stature.

Playing as an eight piece with a three-piece brass section on some songs, there is plenty of their 2014 record Dumb Havens with ‘Definitive History’ and ‘After the Crack Up’ both making early appearances.

Another new track ‘Hobart Obit’ is classic Augie March, lush and lullaby-like but with something darker lurking beneath the ornate surface, while ‘Villa Adriana’ sees them riding waves of crashing soft/loud dynamics.

The older songs which increasingly dropped out of their repertoire before the extended hiatus are back in force as well and Sunset Studies classics ‘There is No Such Place’ and ‘The Hole in Your Roof’ were warmly received. ‘One Crowded Hour’, the song which won them the Hottest 100 but which they later tired of, was also played with a renewed vigour and flashes of the old magic.

Much of the night was a hushed affair with the lights down low and the ghostly likes of ‘Never Been Sad’ setting the tone. But they do have another gear and ‘This Train is Taking No Passengers’ proved a stirring reminder that when they want to, they can push the pedal to the floor as well as anyone.

Never a flawless live band, there’s still an endearing scrappiness to Augie March, complete with a couple of false starts, singer Glenn Richards’ frank admission of being terrified by the occasion and chatterbox drummer David William’s sardonic commentary on proceedings.

But we wouldn’t have it any other way. This wasn’t just a hugely welcome return, but also a reminder of the void their absence left.

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Gig Review: Broods, Metro Theatre, 22 November 2014

Playing to a packed Metro in their biggest Australian show to date, New Zealand siblings Broods seem almost overwhelmed by the level of support at times, but for the most part Broods are well and truly in control.

In a set which begins with single ‘Never Gonna Change’ and which features almost the entirety of moodily pretty debut record Evergreen, highlights include the washed out beauty of ‘Bridges’, which gets a huge visceral response, and an emotionally charged version of ‘Four Walls’ with just Georgia on stage.

Taking cues from the minimalism of countrywomen Lorde and the starkly beautiful spaciousness of the XX, these are songs of elegant restraint and immaculately recreated live. We’re also treated to an as yet unnamed new song, little more than a skittering beat and a torch song vocal, as well as convincingly dark versions of ‘Pretty Thing’ and ‘Coattails’ from their self-titled EP.

There’s a surprising detour in the encore, which sees them cover Tom Petty’s evergreen ‘Free Fallin’’ in languid style.They’re soon back on more familiar ground though with ‘Superstar’, before wrapping up with the thumping beats and gorgeously nostalgic melody of ‘Mother and Father’. Impressive as tonight was, there’s also a feeling that their best is yet to come and with Georgia and Caleb Nott barely out of their teens and just one album into their career, their potential seems almost limitless.

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Book Review: Us by David Nicholls (2014)

At an ungodly hour one morning, Connie tells Douglas the thought of the two of them alone in the house together without their son Albie is “like a Beckett play”. Douglas hasn’t seen any Beckett plays, but senses this is not a good thing.

The pair have been married for 21 years and have planned one last family trip to Europe before Albie leaves to study photography, but Connie’s decision to leave Douglas once the trip is done turns their holiday into an increasingly desperate one.

Nicholls’ previous novel was the 2009 phenomenon One Day, which sold five million copies. Us taps into that same sad/funny vein, though this time there’s a sole narrator, the strait-laced Douglas, an earnest scientist who views dinner parties as “a pitiless form of gladiatorial combat”. When he is corralled into one such event, however, he falls for Connie. She’s completely different from him – cultured, vivacious and charmingly free-spirited, though sometimes intolerant of anyone not charmingly free-spirited in the exact same way she is.
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Review: Hannah Gadsby ‘The Exhibitionist’, Sydney Opera House, 18/10/14

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/comedy/hannah-gadsby-the-exhibitionist-review-a-family-slideshow-you-wont-want-to-miss-20141019-1189h9.html

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Favourite FOFOP Episodes

The scruffy, uncompromised punk rock to commercial radio’s slick and bloated yacht pop, podcasts have provided a wealth of free and vital content in recent years, allowing comedians, broadcasters and just about anyone to put their thoughts on tape without the need for the middle man of radio management. One of the key podcasts is FOFOP (an earlier incarnation was called TOFOP), a series of rambling but often riotously funny conversations charting TV presenter/writer/ comedian Wil Anderson’s life as he moves to the US and decides to focus solely on comedy. As FOFOP passes the 100 episode milestone, here are some favourite epsidoes:

FOFOP 26: Snoop Dog

The most memorable appearance of ‘World’s Worst Co-Host’ Ramona, a French bulldog Anderson looks after, who almost pays the price for her curiosity in this excruciatingly funny tale. As with a lot of the best comedy, it flirts with tragedy and farce in roughly equal measure. Recorded just after the incident, this is a great piece of storytelling made all the better for Anderson and co-host Lindsay Webb’s still raw sense of relief and bemused disbelief.

FOFOP 67: Lil’ Bats

An ideal introduction to the winningly frivolous and pop-culture obsessed side of FOFOP, this is one of many episodes to feature comedy industry legend Justin Hamilton. The pair have an amazing rapport and an ability to hilariously riff on any topic, though their conversations almost inevitably return to a shared obsession, Batman. Here, they take on artisanal meth for hipsters, Robin Thicke and a range of other lengthy but inspired digressions. The best bit, however, is one of the podcast’s patented ‘gritty reboots’, this time a pitch for a pint-sized Gotham city crusader which is both an absurd concept and a better idea than many Hollywood studios have had lately. 

FONUS: An Unexpectedly Serious Conversation

A massive outlier in the reliably hilarious FOFOP back catalogue (and released as a bonus episode with the disclaimer that it won’t be for everyone), this is definitely the most sobering episode put to tape, but all the more memorable for its serious nature. Anderson and frequent guest Dave Anthony discuss the former’s shock as he deals with the news his sort-of-friend has been arrested for possessing child pornography. A thoughtful, disquieting look at how a crime affects a community, including those only tangentially involved.

FOFOP 53: Everyone Does It!

One of FOFOP’s best reflections on the intricacies and banalities of our obsession with celebrity culture, this hugely funny episode sees Anderson reunited with another JJJ alum, the hilarious and likeable Scott Dooley. The title here comes from an extended improvisation stemming from the most unlikely of starting points: an entry in the Daily Telegraph’s ‘celebrities spotted’ section where someone reported seeing Claudia Karvan using the bathroom in a Redfern café. What follows can only be described as inspired nonsense.

FOFOP 91: Foflanniversary

Recent FOFOP episodes have approached the more serious bent of off-shoot podcast Wilosophy and this chat, where Anderson recounts a massive surprise party thrown for him when he turned 40, is a joyous celebration of friendship and finding your niche in life. For long-time T-baggers, it’s also something of a payoff as Anderson had outlined the surprise party as his ultimate birthday present in an old TOFOP episode, only to forget about it as friends set about planning it in stealth. The laughs per minute quotient is probably not as high as a lot of other episodes, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the pure exuberance of this instalment.

 

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Book Review – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013)

“A happy man has no past” Dorrigo Evans thinks, ”while an unhappy man has nothing else.” The Narrow Road to the Deep North moves like liquid back and forth through his past and present, both of which are dominated by his experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Death Railway.

In his youth in Tasmania, he plays Australian Rules football, and he finds something transcendent in its mixture of toughness and grace: ”All his life had been journeying to this point when he had for a moment flown into the sun”.

Read the full review: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/pow-experience-casts-a-long-shadow-20131213-2zar8.html#ixzz2nX8QmA90

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Blondie & The Stranglers, Enmore Theatre, 6th December 2012

DANIEL HERBORN discovers that The Stranglers still have it and punk legends Blondie wouldn’t ever do anything as uncool as pandering to what their audience wants.

You know you’ve got some pulling power when your support band has 23 Top 40 singles. That’s the UK track record of The Stranglers, who rose to fame (or more accurately, infamy) during the punk explosion. Influenced by that movement’s energy and spite without ever neatly fitting into it, The Stranglers were initially dismissed as bandwagon jumpers and misogynist yobs, yet their music has proven strangely enduring and its sense of strangeness remains undimmed.

Featuring a 74-year-old drummer and a ring-in lead singer, The Stranglers circa 2012 may be rubbish on paper, but they are dynamite in reality. Dressed all in black, like a uniform, they are a purposeful unit and Baz Warne makes a menacing, more than capable replacement for the original but long-departed frontman Hugh Cornwell.

The greatest hits set takes in the surging nostalgia of 1986 hit ‘Always The Sun’, a paranoid, clattering version of the controversial ‘Peaches’ and a funeral-march paced, pitch black cover of ‘Walk On By’.

A rare detour into new material comes in the form of ‘Mercury Rising’ which is a strong addition to their canon, featuring an almost spoken-word rave from Warne and some howling guitar work. They’re soon back to the classics though with ‘Golden Brown’, its instantly memorable harpsichord hook and haunting, lysergic rhythm making for a hypnotising highlight. Most bands never write a song this good.

In a tight, filler-free set their cover of The Kinks’ ‘All Day and All of the Night’ stands tall, before the title track of their best album ‘No More Heroes’ brings their set to a triumphant finish.

Recently Blondie’s Clem Burke told FL that “we were almost the perfect band”, a statement that at once seems outlandish, melancholy and difficult to refute. That sense of past perfection hangs over tonight’s set, in which the towering pop highlights and ongoing star power of Debbie Harry are the dominant themes.

Dressed in three-quarter length red pants, with a gold jacket, glitter-skull belt buckle and red-tinted ponytail, Debbie Harry looks equal parts glamorous and ridiculous, still every bit a rock star. For the first few songs, which include a raucously received ‘Hanging On The Telephone’, the delirium is such that it’s almost irrelevant what they sound like, the experience of being at a Blondie show being more important to a mainly middle-aged, often drunk audience hungry for nostalgia and familiarity.

“At one point Harry whips her sunglasses off, a gesture that gets a bigger response than some of the new songs. ”

Harry’s voice is still as refreshing and clear as cool water and she remains a charismatic figure. When a friend asks me a few songs in about Burke’s drum shield, I realise that I haven’t actually looked at the drummer, or any of the other members of the band at all, such is the dominance of Harry. At one point she whips her sunglasses off, a gesture that gets a bigger response than some of the new songs. Later, she hides at the back of the stage, apparently to let the others have a much-deserved share of the spotlight.

When the initial excitement wears off, new songs like ‘D-Day’ and ‘Wipe Off My Sweat’ prove to be perfectly serviceable pieces of dance pop, but fail to elicit much of a response. ‘What I Heard’- another track from last year’s largely ignored Panic of Girls – has a cruisy disco feel. It’s fine, but again finds the band at odds with its audience.

‘The Tide Is High’ fares better, a kind of easy listening reggae torch tune- virtually unknown in the pop world until Blondie covered it – it’s a shining example of a band making a song their own. ‘Atomic’, meanwhile, is huge and ‘Call Me’, featuring some choice keytar action, pulses with energy.

The strange pop of ‘Mother’ segues into an unlikely, but winning version of the Beastie Boys’ classic ‘No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn’, before the encore begins with a solid (if inessential) cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’. The endpoint and pinnacle is of course, ‘Heart of Glass’. A completely perfect slice of pop and a sunny, detached ode to romantic indifference (how many other pop songs have ever shrugged off infatuation as “a pain in the ass”?) Bringing a close to this uneven but enjoyable show, it’s a reminder that Blondie wouldn’t ever do anything as uncool as pandering to what their audience wants.

Originally appeared in: FasterLouder