Category: music


SIA’S SWINGING PARTY GIRL

My song and video of the year is Sia’s Chandelier. A fascination with the video came first. Part dance, part gymnastics, 11-year-old Maddie Zieger’s remarkable performance is more about cathartic emotional expression than classical ballet.

Like Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, it appears spontaneous even though it was meticulously choreographed by Ryan Heffington.

His own video about how he put these moves together is full of unconventional instructions like ‘wounded dog’ and ‘robot bird’. Zieger got the call after Sia saw her on Dance Moms‘ reality show – a fame academy-style TV show featuring aspiring starlets. stroppy coaches and pushy parents.

The song itself initially sounds like the type of formulaic pop song Rihanna or Beyoncé might perform, not so surprising since Sia Furler has written tunes for both these artists (Diamonds and Pretty Hurts respectively). Continue reading

FRANCO BATTIATO + JOE PATTI’S EXPERIMENTAL GROUP : LIVE AT NUOVO TEATRO CARISPORT, CESENA 31st OCTOBER 2014

Franco Battiato at Cesena

Franco Battiato is an elder statesman of Italian popular music with a distinguished career spanning more than four decades. His standing and popularity remain high in spite of, or perhaps because of,  remaining slightly aloof from popular trends.

Many of his songs are commercial enough to appeal readily to mainstream tastes yet he always manages to be one step removed from the brash commercialism of pop or rock marketing.

This was the first time I had seen him in concert and while he has an image of being a serious even remote figure, on stage he exudes a warmth and refreshing lack of pretentiousness.

Battiato has the look of a priest although not one of the hellfire breed as he’s more likely to preach on the healing power of love than to lecture us about the sins of the flesh.

Italians call him ‘il Maestro’ (the teacher) reflecting the strong element of didacticism in songs which are steeped in the kind of mystic imagery of the kind you’d expect to find in spiritual texts. Continue reading

true-detectiveHaving spent four days bingeing on the 8 episodes of HBO’s True Detective (season 1) I was left bemused by the weak finale but otherwise in awe of the faultless acting of this superbly sustained TV drama.

The contrasting personalities of homicide cops Martin ‘Marty’ Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin ‘Rust’ Spencer (Matthew McConaughey) create a genuine sense of tension.

The mismatched pair travel down the lost highways of Louisiana on the trail of a demonic cult and ritualistic murderers.

Their long running investigation takes them into the twisted underbelly of American life where superstition and old-time religion hold sway. The moody atmosphere is helped by a magnificent soundtrack of traditional blues, folk, alt-country and hard-driving rock overseen by the ever reliable T.Bone Burnett.

Brilliantly scripted by Nic Pizzolatto and stylishly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the power of the gothic drama is undermined by a ludicrously contrived happy ending which sheds false luminosity onto this journey into the heart of darkness. Continue reading

MARISSA NADLER LIVE AT HANA-BI, RAVENNA, ITALY. 27th September 2014

marissaBlack becomes Marissa Nadler. It suits her pale complexion and matches the atmosphere of her songs.

On stage, however she is not dark and gloomy but polite and unpretentious. Her much publicised stage fright is not evident. It helps that she is accompanied by cellist Janel Leppin who lends gravitas to the tunes.

This being a free concert at a beachside bar/club, there’s always a chance that you get an audience of sightseers rather than true fans but the small but appreciative crowd were on Marissa’s side from the outset.

Of the thirteen songs she played in a one hour set, only three were from her earlier records; the rest were all from her latest album, July. This song-cycle covers a year in her life, from one July to the next, and centre on an acrimonious break up.

Bleak settings in cheap motels and lost highways add to the forlorn mood. The bitterness and anger is controlled and directed towards moving on rather than wallowing in self pity. Continue reading

The fifth in a series of 13 book reviews from my pre-blogging years.

STEPPENWOLF by Hermann Hesse (1927)

steppenwolf The Steppenwolf of the title is Henry Holler, a tired intellectual living a solitary life in an attic flat in a cosy bourgeois home. He is 50 years old and weary of life to the point of contemplating suicide. The nephew of his landlady observes that “the root of his pessimism was not world contempt but self contempt”.

Holler thinks of himself as a kind of Jekyll & Hyde figure with the wolf in him representing the pleasures of the flesh. Despite his book learning he finds no enjoyment in the spiritual life and finds himself  “outside all social circles, beloved by none”.

In this desperate state he meets Hermine who is a member of a Magic Theatre advertised as being ‘For Madmen Only’. She teaches Holler to laugh, dance and enjoy sex without guilt.

Above all, she despises his patronizing attitude to those he regards as uneducated:  “You learned people and artists have, no doubt, all sorts of  superior things in your heads, but you’re human beings like the rest of us, and we too have our dreams and fancies”.

Through Pablo, who plays in the theatre company’s band, Holler learns that music is not something to be felt with the heart not something to analyse or philosophise over.

The moral of Hesse’s novel can be summed up by the criticism of what he calls the “never-ceasing machinery” of everyday life which can prevent people from being “the critics of their own lives and from recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead”.

What he advocates as an alternative is to “learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest”.  

I second that emotion.

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