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Monthly Archives: June 2012

I love Jack White III. I’m not his biggest fan, I don’t hang on his every riff, I don’t gobble up his every track, production and side project, but I love him.

I say all this because the Lovely Janine and I saw him (and his all-boy band) on Thursday night last week at the Brixton Academy. I had a slightly odd reaction to the gig – I did enjoy it but found it a bit noisy and chaotic and I thought that some of the versions of the songs weren’t as good as their recorded counterparts. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days, so I thought I’d share these thoughts with you. Aren’t I thoughtful?

I first became aware of Jack White (I’ll drop the III from now on if you don’t mind – no sense being so formal) when someone gave me a copy of the mighty Elephant LP by his band The White Stripes. Unless you’ve been living under a stone since 2003, you’ll know the LP, or at least some of the songs. Bluesy, clever, loud, intricate, mesmerising and full of idiosyncrasies, it was recorded in London, using old equipment and without the use of computers (a recurring theme in the White Stripes universe), and was extremely successful and well received by critics and fans. It has aged well – I’m listening to it again at the moment – and is rightly regarded as something of a classic. For me, it helped get me back into guitar music again, after many years of being addicted to electronica. Ball and Biscuit is still my favourite track from the LP, although I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and Seven Nation Army run it close.

That might have been where I left Jack White if it hadn’t been for the Lovely Janine – who is a proper fan. She began to follow his career with some interest. She collected the older White Stripes LPs and, when the side projects began to take shape as the White Stripes came to a close, it was her who bought the albums and took me to the gigs.

I think the first gig featuring Jack (I think I’ll drop the White now too, it might seem over-familiar but I don’t think he’ll ever read this and be offended) that I saw was The Raconteurs at Bristol’s Colston Hall. It was shortly after their rather good first LP – Broken Boy Soldiers – was released and they actually didn’t have all that many songs. Jack filled the gaps with lots of wailing guitar solos and long improvisations which drove me to absolute distraction. The LP was good because it was solid and basic and no-frills, and the live noodling was absolute anathema to me.

Thank goodness then for the White Stripes headline set at the Leeds leg of the Wireless Festival in 2007. We braved the rain which plagued the day and the resultingly lacklustre support set from the Queens of the Stone Age and were rewarded by a break in the rain and a masterclass in stripped-back, bluesy rock from Jack and Meg. I think it was Meg’s primitive drumming, and Jack’s need to provide everything else (leaving less time for self-indulgent noodling) that made it so spectacular. The two of them filled the stage in a way that the 5 members of QOTSA had utterly failed to do an hour before, and it was absolutely amazing.

The second Raconteurs LP – Consolers of the Lonely – was as good as the first, nice and solid and relatively free of epic noodling. But this wasn’t enough for Big J (as I like to call him) and he formed yet another band called The Dead Weather with the lead singer of the Kills and released two LPs – Horehound and Sea of Cowards which I am not too fussed about. We saw the Dead Weather play at the O2 Academy in Bristol and they were OK. Jack was on drums for most of the night, although he did play lead guitar on a couple of tracks, causing the audience to go a little bit mental. Personally my night was made by The Creature with the Atom Brain who supported. They are a metal band from Belgium with beards and riffs and a whole pile of awesome.

So, given my varying reactions to J-Dubya’s (last one, promise) live shows and side-projects, why have I felt the need to write so much? Well, I think the music world needs more people like Jack White III. He’s eccentric, obsessed with the number 3, makes his roadies wear nice suits and trilby hats, has two complete bands (one male, one female) on his current tour and only decides which one he will play with on the day of the show, understands the role of story, image and performance in presenting his music, is obsessed with old technology, is slightly pompous but also quite aware of his own pomposity (look at the scathing quote from a bad review proudly posted across his website). He’s a genius, a showman, a historian, a focal point for other astonishing musicians and, when all’s said and done, an excellent songwriter.

Oh, and just a quick mention for his vinyl fetish! He runs Third Man Records, which has been instrumental in keeping vinyl alive outside the dance music scene (vinyl sales are increasing again at last, while CD sales keep falling). They have a long running series of excellent 7″ singles featuring artists as diverse as Seasick Steve, Laura Marling and Tom Jones. They play with the format, releasing coloured vinyl, vinyl with CDs pressed inside and even a vinyl record containing a coloured liquid in the centre which squidges around and makes beautiful patterns. He understands that vinyl feels good, looks good and, most importantly, sounds better.

So that’s why I love Jack White III so much. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m off to listen to Elephant again at speaker-damaging volume.

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My friend Andy bought me a ticket to see NoFX last night at the Academy in Bristol. I didn’t know an awful lot about them apart from that they are an American punk rock band. I am a bit ambivalent about American punk, which is often quite bouncy and full of energy, but which doesn’t really do much for me. I dutifully listened to and quite enjoyed a couple of their CDs before the gig in order to prepare myself. We did a certain amount of apple-based, liquid ‘preparation’ too.

This morning I am tired, slightly hung-over, bruised and battered, and there’s an extremely sweaty t-shirt lurking somewhere at home that needs a good wash. They were amazing live; all that bouncy energy worked its magic and I got involved in some heavyweight moshing. I should know better at my age, but bollocks to that!

NoFX – Radio

So, since I last did one of these I’ve watched Prometheus (which got a whole blog entry all to itself), Kick Ass, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Alien.

I’d forgotten how good Kick Ass is. It was one of those films that came out of the blue, was irreverent, funny, wince-inducing and knowing without being smug, predictable or shambolic. It holds up well to repeat viewings and it was fun to note how quickly Chloe Moretz has grown up since the film was made.

I’d been looking forward to Martha Marcy May Marlene since missing it when it was on theatrical release, and I wasn’t disappointed. Very indie in feel, it has a superb central performance from Elizabeth Olson as Martha and explores ideas of cultism, abuse, family and broken relationships. It was creepy, chilling and heartbreaking in equal measure and I would very much recommend you see it without knowing too much more about it than that.

I watched Alien when we got home from watching Prometheus and it really brought home how astonishing Alien was and is. The design still looks astonishingly timeless, with the possible exception of the haircuts (although if I’d been in space that long I think I’d have a 70s style beard and barnet too), and the film is a stripped-down masterclass in tension and horror. The spaceship feels like a real environment – something I particularly noted this time was the oily scrape as the hatches in the air conditioning ducts were opened and closed – and the characters are built up carefully for the first hour of the film before anything really happens, making the impact when things do start to happen much greater. Prometheus was a bit too sterile, too un-real, too futuristic to convince in the way the Nostromo and its crew do. If you haven’t watched it recently, I highly recommend that you treat yourself and do so.

So, the Lovely Janine and I went to see Ridley Scott’s eagerly-awaited Prometheus over the bank holiday and I felt the need to write about it. Before I start though, I’d better just say I am a sci-fi lover but not any kind of expert or authority*. This is just my personal reaction to, and thoughts about, the film. I won’t bother explaining the plot, you can find details of that in plenty of places should you want them.

Firstly I should say that I liked it and that I liked it quite a lot. It’s worth seeing in the cinema, although I can’t see what 3D might bring to it, so go and see it in 2D. The following is also worth getting out of the way – it’s not perfect, it’s not Alien and it’s not the best film of the year so far.

Right then…

It’s nice to see someone having a stab at making a proper, ‘hard’ sci-fi film. It deals in big ideas and with difficult questions and it does so with plenty of action and intrigue, all the while looking amazing. When you look back over the sci-fi from the past few years (Duncan Jones’s Moon aside), it’s not inspiring stuff – lots of dumb comic book sci-fi like Transformers and Battleships, dreary, pompous nonsense like John Carter of Mars and light, “don’t-think-to-hard-or-it-falls-apart” eye-candy like In Time or The Adjustment Bureau. So, simply in terms of ambition, Prometheus is a breath of fresh air, especially from a big-budget, a-list, eagerly anticipated film like this.

It’s also beautiful to look at, well-acted, skilfully edited, nicely paced and links in well with the existing Alien universe (there are numerous nice little nods to the original film and the associated mythology). Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace are all excellent in their respective roles. For the first hour and a bit and for the last 20 minutes of the I was engrossed, immersed and involved.

So, what was it that left me feeling a little disappointed? I think it might be that it falls between two ideal end results. Either they should have aimed for a stripped-out action film a bit like Aliens, or made it a bit longer, lost some of the action, cranked up the tension, alienated the teenage Friday-nighters and piled on the high-brow, thinky stuff. Either way, they should have halved the number of characters, giving the remaining ones like Rafe Spall and Sean Harris’s scientists and the under-used, oddly accented Idris Elba’s ship’s captain more to do and say. There’s a section of about 20 minutes when the film goes into freefall, all pointless gun battles and running-and-shouting bits that don’t really make sense or move the narrative on. Oh, and shut up with the fucking incidental music too, it’s sometimes nice to have no music at all for more than a few seconds.

Funnily enough, I think that even though I told myself not to expect too much, not to compare it to Alien and not to pay attention to the hype, I think that’s what I did. I wanted it to be perfect and I wanted it to be the best film of the year so far – it is neither.

So, it reached for the stars and fell a bit short… at least it tried though. I’d rather see something ambitious but flawed than something safe but dull. I just hope the next in this series of prequels can do better and live up to the promises made by this first installment.

* I prefer the Steven Soderbergh version of Solaris to the Russian original, and I still haven’t got around to watching Metropolis!

Who says pop music should be bland, background music? I know a lot of it is, but that’s not the point. Surely the point of pop music is to confuse, alienate, annoy and exasperate people like your parents. Sure, lots of people have to like it, or it wouldn’t be popular music. But if everyone liked it then wouldn’t it just be be easy listening?

I have recently become a little bit obsessed with a record called 212 by a charming young lady called Azealia Banks. According to Wikipedia, she’s from Harlem and, as one of the YouTube comments below the video so eloquently puts it “There is currently not enough soap on this planet to wash her mouth out.”

This is what more pop music should be like. Swaggering, funky, cocksure, in-your-face and full to the brim with next level swearing! You might not be hearing this on the radio any time soon…

Azealia Banks – 212 (feat. Lazy Jay)