Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Love life, love live music

What a wonderful weekend of musical entertainment it was. On Saturday I enjoyed the best of English folk music and on Sunday some of the best American Metal.

Show of Hands played the final date of their autumn tour at the local arts centre, supported by an excellent exponent of American folk music, one Mr Slaid Cleaves (google that name) and his friend Michael O'Connor. Cleaves took us through a predictable and slightly samey but highly enjoyable support set that showcased some of his crowd-pleasing tracks and prompted something of a rush for his CDs during the interval. Some of the songs, or at least the stories behind the songs, dated back to the 1860's and gave us a brief glimpse into the underbelly of American life. As with all folk music this was social history told in the musical form and as such it proved to be a highly enjoyable introduction to his work and to the American folk-music experience. Any open-minded music fans who like to kick back with a drink and let the world drift by but still want to hear intelligence and passion will enjoy Cleaves as the soundtrack to their lazy afternoon.

Show of Hands came perilously close to playing the gig of the year and I think the only reason they were relegated to third place was because I knew very few of their songs before I got there and couldn't sing along. Until the gig, their breakthrough classic "Country Life" was the only one of their songs I could recognise and is so good that it counted as my folk favourite even though I'd had the pleasure of seeing Roy Harper (supported by his son Nick) and the great Irishman Christy Moore. However, when they pounded out a storming rendition of their 'patriotic' classic "Roots" the pinnacle of English folk was reached. Never before had I heard a song that stirred such depth of feeling and, as much as I hate to say something so potentially blinkered and pompous, made me feel truly English. As mentioned above, folk music is social history sung to us rather than written in books and this song makes the point: "Without our stories or our songs how will we know where we come from?" Now the reasons for their cult following are blindingly clear and as we left the gig I was skimming the tour dates to find out when I could next see them. Check their website for dates near you and get ready to enjoy a great evening of live music.

Moving up the motorway to Birmingham and the NEC, we have an evening with the incomparable Marilyn Manson. This was my third MM experience and it came close to being the best, easily outstripping the Alexander Palace gig where a poor choice of venue (only 1 entrance!) and even poorer choice of support (even the brief appearance of Iggy Pop couldn't save Peaches's set) and equalling the London Arena gig where support came in the capable hands of Disturbed. In the NEC we were treated to Turbonegro's huge nod towards NWOBHM and the overblown stage posturing that goes so well with that style of music. Having lauded Birmingham for inventing NWOBHM and the devil (yes, they really credited Brum for creating the epitome of evil) they launched into their standout track of the night "City of Satan" and verily the crowd did enjoy themselves.

When MM hit the stage after a relatively short interval and sound check he started with the first track ("If I was your vampire") of the new album ("Eat me, drink me") just to ease us slowly into the set and then got everyone singing along as the band powered through "Disposable Teens" and "Mobscene". A relatively simple stage set-up and light show allowed the band to showcase the music itself and if anyone left disappointed it was only because a full 2-hour blast of Marilyn Manson live is just enough to leave you hungry for yet more. Every studio album was visited at least once, including Portrait of an American Family and even Smells Like Children. There were a couple of 2-3 minute breaks for costume changes and to allow for one or two large props to be added to the stage for particular songs, which ended up meaning the traditional encore didn't happen. That, for me, was a thoroughly pleasant change: no daft charade where the band says goodnight and leaves the stage for 2-5 minutes while the crowd chant and stamp until they reappear for a 'spontaneous' rendition of a few more songs. With a touch of crowd-pleasing brilliance, they finished the set with "The Beautiful People". When the last bar of the song was over, the stage lights went out and within a few seconds the house lights came on. How great is that? Here's a brilliant, stomping song that ends sharply (no fade-out) and then you're done. Wham bam thank you Ma'am, the set's over; go home! If only they could have played for another hour or had a post-gig club set like Prince does that would have rounded off a truly fantastic night.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

From Leona Lewis to The Pogues without a pause for station identification

That's how the music on the radio has gone today. Thankfully one of my colleagues is out of the office so I've been able to turn her radio off - two of them listen to the same station via their PCs and the sound comes through with a half-second delay on one of them so not only do you hear the same song but it's not even in sync. This really doesn't help when the song itself is dire enough to be inducive to suicide by itself.

Add to that the usual lovely work issues that we're still getting it in the neck from various angles due to problems which we didn't create in the first place and I for one have had enough. I used to think that by applying myself with a high level of dedication and efficiency I could be instrumental in getting everything running properly in here. Experience has now told me that I don't stand a chance where I am and even if the unthinkable did happen and I got a higher-level job it'd just be the same old story but with longer hours and more meetings. I really do think that so much administrative work is completely unnecessary and is done just to keep people in a job. It may not be that it was designed that way, I don't think the work anyone in here does was created just for the sake of giving them something to do (although that is true in some minor cases) it's more that someone higher up, usually in a different department/organisation decided they wanted something done a particular way and that caused enough of a ripple effect that people had to be employed to process additional information just to keep that one person/group happy.

I remember reading some of Jung's travel writing, specifically the part where he visits bits of Africa and is amazed at the difference in the way people live there. According to his observations, most Europeans spend so much of their lives living in their heads (being fussy about detail, doing tedious work that's nevertheless mind-centred rather than physical, over-thinking everything due to being trained that way by the prevailing culture, etc.) that we've lost a lot of our vitality. It's this vitality which he found very evident in the Africans he came into contact with during his travels and here we are nearly 100 years later and the same is as true today as it was then. We can grin smugly about how far we've come with our technological improvements, social welfare and the overall improvement in the material quality of life but we've lost something too. We've lost that part of ourselves that links us to the natural world. Science killed superstition, which sounds all well and good, but superstition was actually created by our own psyche trying to make sense of the suprasensible world through the physical world. You cut off that link and we're floating around in our own heads feeling detached and displaced, looking for meaning. Well, some are looking for meaning, the rest are happy to fill the gap with noise in the form of drugs, alcohol, increasingly elaborate and ever more shallow forms of entertainment (see any reality TV show for an example) and an unnatural attachment to lifestyle (as though the way your house is decorated and/or the food you cook/eat defines you as a person). A lot of those who are searching for meaning shun the traditional organised religions due to their generally dogmatic approach, exclusivity issues and their overall bad press, so there are countless faceless masses defining themselves as 'spiritual' because they bought an over-priced dreamcatcher from the local hippy tat shop and like reading books by Paulo Coelho.

Ugh, here I am wasting more time complaining when all I need to do is muster up the energy to get off my over-analytical arse and do something completely different. That, of course, will have to wait until the silly season is over and I can (possibly) afford to do a job that pays less but is more fulfilling. I've already moved out of London and now it seems my 'downshift' will have to include a double de-clutch in order for something to really start happening. Until then, it's back to the day job.

Keep your eye on the door, a tsunami of tedious paperwork is about to wash our intelligence down the drain.