There are 134 posts in total.
psychemodo - flapper and firkin, 17/08/2003
- 2003-08-17, 01:15:05
it's been a long time since i've been to a gig at the flapper - about five years ago, when the band i used to engineer for ended its monday night residency. i couldn't have ended my flapper drought with a better night !
according to their website at www.phuncrecords.com, Psychemodo are a Midlands-based rock band... equally at home with plaintive melodies and kick-ass riffs. They have already been likened to bands as diverse as XTC, Ultrasound, The Flaming Lips and Foo Fighters. after last night's gig i'd be inclined to add 'the who' to the list of dignitaries (some of the sounds being a bit reminiscent of quadrophenia) & bar-room jazz to the list of skills.
psychemodo have been going for about a year, starting off mainly as a covers band, but they've been quietly working on some original material of their own for the last nine months, & this was its first outing - they well & truly proved themselves with it, & i look forward to hearing more. songs which are real stories & proper compositions rather than intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar-solo-on-the-fadeout - although they sound like neither, if you like what pulp or the divine comedy do you'll like psychemodo.
i tend to like my guitar bands loud & grungey rather than 'clean; i also like loud bands who also know when it's good to play quiet bits as well - & i got what i like for sure !
due to... 'technical difficulties' the traditional support band was replaced by a stand-up comedian (whose name i'm sorry to have forgotten). although you don't normally get cabaret with a rock band i thought the two complemented each other well; a couple of jokes i thought a bit risky, a couple of points where he'd forgotten where he was up to - but i'd rather comedians offend me so long as it's genuinely funny than have the kind of blandness you get in safer venues. rather than apologising for it i think the two should work together more often, & make a feature of it.
for a band who've only been together for a year, they are amazingly tight - starting & finishing together so you can hear the reverb & not having four clicks on the drum sticks is always more impressive than the alternative. sadly their drummer is set to emigrate early next year, so i hope they find somebody else as good to replace him soon.
one area it would be good for them to work on a bit more is stagecraft, though - as somebody once said once, "never apologise, never explain", & on stage doubly so. guitar strings always have the annoying habit of breaking in a gig & not in rehearsal, & guitars get out of tune as a matter of course - we in the audience like to hear the anecdotes whilst you fix it, but don't need to be made to think you've screwed up (especially when you haven't), so there's no need to make us think you have; the confidence shows through in the music, so carry it through everywhere else as well ! but all this takes is more gigging experience, which will come.
they've got a four track ep for sale on their website, & it's well worth the three quid. in short, a band who should be going places !
#birmingham #reviews #flapperIn group Birmingham
ghosts of the abyss - imax, millennium point, 17/08/2003
- 2003-08-17, 00:54:01
this was my first visit to millennium point, which considering it has been open for just over two years now is quite telling - but more on that later.
ghost of the abyss is a documentary by james cameron taking us back to the site of the rms titanic, scene of his 1997 oscar winning success, shot in imax 3d. if you've got any prejudices about any of those aspects of it - think again. 3d cinematography has come an awfully long way since those terrible films of the 50s where the red & green tinted aliens loomed into your lap, & imax as a cinema format is considerably more than 'just a big screen'.
the publicity blurb (& the somewhat cold-ridden announcer...) goes to great pains to tell you it "immerses you & pulls you right into the centre of the action". "yeah, right" was my admittedly cynical initial reaction, but that was blown away the instant the adverts finished & we moved into the trailers - it might sound like marketing guff, but it's actually genuinely true; you as an individual really are literally put right into the middle of things rather than a member of an audience watching them play out on a screen 50 feet away ! there's the inevitable cheesy 3d-for-the-sake-of-it effect of a robot arm grabbing menacingly three inches from your nose, but for the most part it is highly tasteful, the idea being to give you the experience of being a member of the dive crew yourself rather than being a bystander, whether exploring the ship's wreck or sat in the office round a table discussing the plan. do be warned though if you're somewhat claustrophobic - the scenes in the submersible emphasise just how little space there is inside in a way even an hour squatting in the cupboard under the stairs could not convey. there were actually one or two shots which were slightly uncomfortably close to you, which could just as well for the point they were making be a few feet further back.
although documentary has a strong pedigree in the cinema, somehow it's never really occurred to me as something to go to as an evening out to the pictures; even the excellent bowling for columbine was one i preferred to watch on dvd at home rather than going out to see.
this is where imax 3d comes into its own, because although you do indeed get the same pictures on your telly, such would be a poor fourth class substitute for literally being there. although critically aclaimed, james cameron took a fair amount of flack for mixing the the history of the titanic disaster up with a mere play, so with ghosts of the abyss he well & truly redresses the balance - this isn't a jolly jaunt down to the sea bed to get a few snaps, this is a proper scientific dive in order to research & document an historic archeological site, the detail is tremendous, with the stories & the heroism of the real people involved woven in to give you a hook to hang your coat off. & for those who still need a bit of drama in their cinema, there's even a real life search & rescue event near the end to keep you on the edge of your seat !
so, back to millennium point - people, you've really got to get your publicity act together a bit more in order to pursuade people to go down there, & i mean more than just lots of posters & hanging penants scattered over the place. i went down on both saturday & sunday afternoons, hot august days at the height of the tourist season, & the place was deserted - i would have expected it to have been heaving. of course, the location can't help, as you have to walk down into the less salubrious edge of the city centre to get there (& know exactly where to walk to). hopefully once the masshouse circus redevelopment is finished it will become more seemlessly part of the passing trade, but that's a long way off & still no guarantee - in the meantime you've got to not only tell people you exist but really emphasise just how people can benefit from going there in a more tangible way than 'it'll blow your mind'.
& to the people of birmingham - having an imax cinema in your town is very much a rare privilege which few people outside of capital cities get the benefit of, which you very much don't know what you've missed until you've experienced it. as the old cliche goes, use it or lose it !
#birmingham #reviews #MillenniumPointIn group Birmingham
grand union orchestra - the call of paradise - symphony hall, 11/11/2002
- 2002-11-11, 00:48:13
n a nutshell, far too many people missed what was definitely one of the best jazz-world concerts the city has seen for a good few years.
since those first experiments in the 60s, a number of people have worked on the fusion of different musical cultures in the small band setting, mostly with some success even if often a little derivative. the grand union orchestra have succeeded in doing so as a big band with a flair which in a just world would earn them at least a page in any half-decent history book on the development of contemporary music !
the work they are currently touring is 'the call of paradise' (by leader tony haynes), taking much of its vocal texts from various diverse religious sources. it describes itself as 'a kind of musical journey - but through emotions rather than a literal one', & as well as showing us how religion is linked to much of the world history's misery & violence also reminds us of its inspiration of so much beauty, using texts which speak of love & devotion as well as of warfare & hate - opening with a passage from the old testament's 'song of solomon' (or 'song of songs'); if you thought the bible had a bit of a downer on love & sex, think again & go & read that passage !
the music well knew when to do the 'fusion bit', & also when not to - the big band sound worked well, & in moving into the quieter, more straight-ahead sections the tabla was integral & essential - & if you didn't know otherwise, you could be forgiven for thinking that a saxophone is just as much a traditional indian instrument as the sitar, it blended so eloquently.
the second part of the concert was what a cynic might describe as 'the community music bit', with grand union being joined on stage by the birmingham conservatoire jazz orchestra, the vocal ensemble aa'shiq al-rasul performing qawali inspired by sufi mysticism, basil gabbidon & friends, & the babatunde live african drumming group.
throw your cynicism in the bin, because every one of these groups were worth a concert in their own right. each one of the groups showed us what they could do on their own, as well as the whole stage being united in performing together for a couple of pieces - which was remarkable enough even if you didn't stop to think about how little opportunity for full rehearsal together they must have all had. i was disappointed to not see any birmingham conservatoire staff in the audience - not only would it have been nice for them to have been supporting their students give an outstanding performance, but they might have learned something themselves from the experience...
the only niggles i had about the show was a sense of unbalance - the first half was much longer than the second half (indeed, the length of a full concert in itself); my feeling was 10 minutes could have been shaved off the main work & it would have still have said what it needed to say & made the programme more balanced. also, the end of the first half was a bit of an anticlimactic "oh, has it finished then ?" - the closing contemplative sitar could have been a few minutes longer to wind us down better, i thought, & maybe actually having the two halves of the show swapped around. but these really are niggles on an otherwise outstanding performance !
there were far too many empty seats in symphony hall for this concert - make sure you're there next time they tour, & in the meanwhile, go & buy the cd's from the website !
#birmingham #reviews #SymphonyHallIn group Birmingham
The Divine Comedy - Birmingham Academy, 30/09/2002
- 2002-09-30, 00:42:37
'courageous' is probably the best adjective to describe the divine comedy.
where many other successful british bands seem to be content to rest on their success & stick to a nice safe line-up playing the same nice safe songs in the same nice safe style, the divine comedy can always be guaranteed to take risks, to keep their listeners on their toes, & to rarely play safe neither with line-up, set list, nor sound.
indeed, i've always considered them to be very much just as much a "musician's & poet's" band as an "audience's" band - if you're a musician & you're neither inspired by them to keep at it nor so blown away you want to give up, you're not really a musician; & likewise, if you're a poet & aren't moved by neil hannon's lyrics, your very soul itself must have been stolen.
tdc's gig at the academy last night was, in the taking risks department, no exception. but.. erm... i'm sad to say it, but i don't think they shone as much as they should have done. sure, neil as lead singer rather than taking the traditional ego-position in the centre spent much of the gig at the side of the stage, simon played double bass rather than bass guitar for i think the whole gig, & rob had his drumkit on the opposite side rather than on a riser at the back - 'rock ensemble' might be a better description than 'rock band' !
i spent much of the evening with the nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. were the musicians themselves bored ? no, once i'd got closer to the stage i could see from their faces that they were surely enjoying themselves as much as they must have done the first time they played together. was i put off by the number of people behind me who spent most of the gig jabbering loudly rather than listening ? well yes, but that wasn't really it. was it the sound spoiling it ? true it didn't help; you could properly hear neither neil's conversation between songs, nor the lyrics of the songs themselves - which, for tdc, is much more fundamental to 'the point' than most bands. but that wasn't really the problem either.
they started off well - few bands can open a gig with a purely instrumental track ('here comes the flood') & get away with it, & they got away with. second up was 'national express' - the song so well known that all the 'missing' parts were filled in so well by the crowd that you wouldn't have realised it was just a quartet on stage ! 'charge' was so-so, but it was 'alfie' which i think worked the least well - it actually sounded more like a band doing a cover of a divine comedy song than tdc themselves. & 'sunrise', arguably one of the most moving songs there are, just completely fell flat due to being unable to make out a single word.
the poppy songs, such as 'national express', 'the happy goth', 'bernice bobs her hair' (which had ben folds, who was the support act, join in on drums), & 'a drinking song' did come over the best, but much of the rest was sadly lost in the crowd. ironically, i think perhaps the best performance came in the encore with neil & ben doing a duet of 'raindrops keep falling on my head' !
by the end i realised what was wrong - it was just the wrong venue for the band to show themselves off in. had they had an orchestral backing, symphony hall would have been the ideal location, but this line-up would probably have been lost in there too; really, with such an intimate ensemble, they really needed to have been playing in an intimate venue such as the adrian boult hall, or the midland arts centre theatre - but there you find the problem all successful 'thinking' bands get sooner or later, of outgrowing the size of venue they should play in purely because of the number of people who want to see them. "a great gig, struggling to get out" is perhaps the phrase which best sums up the night.
#birmingham #reviews #BirminghamAcademyIn group Birmingham