The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Short Cuts

04

A comment ("...back in the days when it meant something to him...") left by the reader 'Wazza' on my first blog entry has got me thinking. It was in reference to Robbie Williams and seemed to suggest that Williams' heart is no longer in his music, that somehow he'd lost his muse. Williams' rise was certainly a dramatic one - from making it massive by proving his old mates wrong, by having 250,000 people chant his name. Maybe now Williams is suffering from the Rules of being a Celebrity in the Modern Age that dictate that he cannot stay on a pedestal that high. He has to fall. Maybe that fall has everything to do with his manic depressive nature but, personally, Williams has, in recent years, become a much more interesting artist (though both Williams' record company and would probably disagree based on the quite dismal performance of his 2006 release, Rudebox). It seems to me that the music now means more to Williams than his audience.

"...back in the days when it meant something...". Another interpretation of Wazza's comment applies to the quite extraordinary number of 40+ year old rock stars who are returning to their old stomping grounds in the hope of rejuvenating both their lives and their music. The Who's Endless Wire was a tired rehash of Tommy except the main protaganist wasn't a deaf, dumb and blind boy but Townsend himself explaining away his rather unusual websurfing activities. The beauty of the Stooges was that their thrillingly ugly slabs of sound raged against their perceived lack of respect. Now their first release in over 30 years, the Weirdness,  sounds cleansed, anodyne and should never have been allowed to happen.

Cave's GrindermanThe Pixies have reformed. The Police are reforming... and are guaranteed to make huge amounts of money from their impending world tour. Indeed Pixies legend Black Francis has clearly stated that he is in this game for the filthy lucre (and let's not even talk about that Sex Pistol's reunion embarrassment). Does the music still mean something to them?

Not that this drive to recreate the glory years can be a totally negative thing.... The elder statesman of literate Aussie rock, Nick Cave, has regressed on his latest release, Grinderman, to the clanking, discordant days of the Birthday Party. And rather thrilling it is too with its dirty laughs (No Pussy Blues) and garage beats. Indeed the original press release for the band describes them rather perfectly - "Foul-mouthed, noisy, hairy, and damn well old enough to know better."

Grinderman stands out because, whilst it is a nod to the past, it doesn't pander to the past. Cave is 50 years old this year and he sounds it. But you can hear his heart is still in it. And he kinda sounds like the Stooges...

There are some bands that I would love to see reform, for purely selfish reasons of course. REM (the original Bill Berry lineup), the Band, Midnight Oil. Any other suggestions? 


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22

Have you had a musical experience that, over time, has festered in your mind until you reach a point where what you feel now is much more intense than what you felt at the time?

 

Well, let’s talk about Damien Rice’s show at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, last month. Having had mixed Rice live experiences in the past, I was wary of his mood. On occasion, he can be a storyteller, an engager. On others he can be sullen and dismissive. But seldom, if ever, has an artist shown such disregard for his audience as Rice did that night in Sydney. He was surly, he turned his back to us. He refused completely to engage. His band played with a kind of cautious acceptance, reverentially bowing their heads at the appropriate times as if to let him know that they understand. The show only sparked to life when the band played a glorious Cold Water in near total darkness. How pleasurable it was to not have to look at him! When Rice had left the stage, Vivienne Long gently taunted him by pretending that he was the devil. The tension lifted, albeit briefly. He returned for the encore, a still prickly yet warmer set of songs that teased the audience by hinting at how good the show could have been.

 

           Separated at birth, according to Vivienne Long...

Now weeks later, when I reflect on the show  I feel a kind of bilious frustration. I’ll never see him again, I threaten. He’s lost me this time, I moan. Surely he knew that there were paying customers out there who would go home unsatisfied. This clearly wilful antagonism has got me thinking about what constitutes a great gig. I filtered through the live experiences that have stayed with me through the years. Is there a common theme? The Flaming Lips at Hammersmith Apollo, Sufjan Stevens (download some live Sufjan tracks here) at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Stones in the Olympic Stadium Barcelona, Solomon Burke at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Eels at the Metro Sydney, Gillian Welch Shepherd's Bush. Great gigs, great songs played with exuberance and not a little showmanship. Ray laMontagne, Richard Swift, Antony Hegarty – performers crippled by shyness and depression yet capable of transcending their vices to connect and thrill. Then there's Sleepy Jackson, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Ryan Adams - live performers of huge potential let down by egotism and negativity. Yet still those were memorable gigs, for the wrong reasons of course.

 

Rice can polarise an audience (like Adams) – the same show can inspire reverence and despair in equal measure, as can be seen by trawling the message boards of his website. My feeling is that he loves his songs, not his audience. He expects his audience to expend significant effort to listen - his band's reverential poses challenge us to bow our heads, to copy their body language, to succumb. He doesn’t want to earn our approval or acclaim. He doesn't seem to care. Indifference or perceived slights by his paying fans are met with overt resentment and not a little anger. Possibly this anger (immaturity?) is what drives him.

What is clear is that this challenging Irish performer can be even more intriguing on the nights he misses than on those he hits.


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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.