Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kindle 3: Review

I keep reading books and not writing about them. Which isn’t really the idea, is it? They tend to be ebooks, so maybe it’s the fact that there are many unread books waiting behind the one in hand which is distracting, like so much online activity. I don’t want to moan about that too much, because there are great books I’ve come across that I probably wouldn’t have read on paper – Terry Castle’s The Professor (still hardback only: big, expensive), and recently Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader, which points in all sorts of unusual directions, as well as plenty of cannonical ones in interesting ways. I regret not reading Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles on paper, because it is so good, and I regret trying out Audur Ava Olafsdottir’s The Greenhouse and Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies electronically because they are not good enough. Which is not fair, probably. It is great having a library’s worth of free classics seconds away at any time (I’ve found that the Adelaide University Library site formats them pretty well – Gutenberg can be quite variable), and in theory it’s good to have the Kindle Store itself always on hand (leaving aside how clumsily Penguin do ebooks, and how much they overcharge) – but it discourages meandering, replacing it with impulse.

Above, anyway, are some second hand books I picked up yesterday. Very excited to be re-acquainted with Agaton Sax, about whom I had completely forgotten.

Update from the second book down: ‘The eagerness of pursuit overcomes the satisfaction to result from the accomplishment’. That’s it, exactly.

Update two: Mrs Bookworld has a more balanced (and more positive) take.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Throwing Muses, Oran Mor, Glasgow, 7th November

This is where I came in. That 2003 show seems a strange one to have written about, in retrospect, given that it was one of those occasions when you couldn’t actually hear the songs because they were so loud. That also happened when I saw Throwing Muses for the first time, in 1992. The opening chords to ‘Furious’ were fine, then the drums piled in and it was more or less a white-out for the duration. But I still treasure the memory of that ear-blasting: the dingy Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton, as un-glamourous a venue as you’ll find, offering up something outside glamour, mysterious, cold, real. Unrest were the support, and they were good, although I never followed up that lead. Other great gigs I saw there featured Madder Rose, The Sundays (Harriet with a cold, natch), Cocteau Twins, My Life Story (so Pop as to excite sneers, but all the more enjoyable for that), Buzzcocks, Primal Scream, Belly (smoke machine on full blast for ‘Trust in Me’). Not the most rockin’ list, possibly, but no-one else I’ve seen has deliberately blurred their sound in quite that way, not with controlled distortion but with PA overload. ‘A very emotional sound’, reckoned Andy, maybe that’s it. They did it again last night, but not too much; you could mostly make out tunes, if not words (not a problem if you know them all already). And this time the blur worked in their favour, an hour and a half passed in the blink of an eye.

They kicked off with ‘Soul Soldier’, of all the amazing ways they had at their disposal. Plunging straight into the storm. Then ‘Shimmer’ (I think I may actually come around to University one of these days), and relatively early on, ‘Hate My Way’. Balanced by ‘Vicky’s Box’ towards the end of the set. At the time my mind was paragraphs, which had gone by this morning, but the gist was ‘What is this?’, because the things those songs do to my insides are not within the gift of any other music. Chris objected afterwards that people had punched the air to ‘Hate My Way’, which I agree seems an inappropriately celebratory reaction. What’s to celebrate – the slide away from coping, the skirting of a suicidal impulse? Is it that the air punchers identify with those feelings and are glad that someone has found a way to make them as solid as song? Are they applauding Kristin’s struggle, or goading her into bleeding so they don’t have to? I guess it can help to wrap your troubles in songs, send them away. Another possibility, given that these concerts celebrate 25 years of Throwing Muses, is nostalgia for the hurt of adolescence or early adulthood – a time when they at least felt something. I say ‘they’, I mean ‘we’. Though I didn’t punch the air, I just stood still and cried, let the song pull me apart so I could be new again. It would have been a bit of a downer if everyone had done that. Kristin, it should be said, seemed to enjoy the big reaction, giggling in surprise during the opening lines. ‘That song is much less sad when it sounds like I have a lot of friends,’ she mused. ‘It’s supposed to be a loser’s song.’
Heckler: I bet you weren’t laughing when you wrote it.
Kristin: I don’t remember writing it but I bet I wasn’t.
Another heckler asked ‘Where’s Tanya?’, which must happen all the time, but Kristin had the put-down off pat: ‘I sold her’.

The set galloped past – ‘Tar Kissers’ (which reminded me, not for the first time, of The Modern Lovers’ ‘Egyptian Reggae’), ‘Limbo’, ‘Garoux des Larmes’, ‘Say Goodbye’. For encores we got ‘Fish’, ‘Pearl’, ‘Devil’s Roof’, ‘Mania’. At the end Mike turned around and didn’t say anything, but looked blissfully happy. We were a contented crowd, we got our fill of manic pop thrills. And although this was a greatest hits set to go with the current Anthology compilation (for sale, weirdly, on USB sticks at the merch stall – no CDs), we know this isn’t just about nostalgia, because of what’s coming next: a monster 38-track album of new material. Good grief, it takes me long enough to get to grips with 12 new Kristin songs at a time. But of course we’ll follow you, Throwing Muses, no matter how far. It is great to have you back.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Viv Albertine, The Creeping Ivies, Ghosts of Progress and Hookers for Jesus, at Beat Generator Live!, Dundee, 4th November

The main thing which puzzled me in advance of this show was Viv’s image. Naked on the poster, save for a rose-patterned guitar, she stared out narrowly, daring you to think, ‘bloody hell, aren’t you from 1977? How on earth do you look like that?’ The video for ‘The False Heart’, too, shows a woman who has conceded nothing to time – but maybe something to tastefulness, as its graceful, glacial clarity supports a light, scratchy guitar sound that once meshed with altogether meatier rhythms. The white room, a victim of interior design... but I’m talking as though taste is a bad thing, and as though The Slits never had any. Whereas actually Cut is one of the most gloriously tasteful records ever made, drawing much of its appeal from the morphing of the band’s sound from falling-down-the-stairs punk (you need the Peel Sessions for that), to clipped, playful reggae. Not even their contemporary Vic Godard re-worked his songs so radically (well, maybe ‘Chain Smoking’), and it is certainly the kind of overhaul which could have gone horribly wrong. But somehow, with The Slits, tastefulness went deep. I should have remembered that when wondering if ‘The False Heart’ wasn’t a little too calm. But then, it’s been a long time.

Tastefulness has always been at the heart of Hookers for Jesus’ modus operandi, in much the same way that political correctness is at the heart of Ricky Gervais’. With the air of one not quite being able to keep a secret, Graeme told me to look out for something on his guitar, and I squinted and looked for stickers, saw nothing. Then they took to the stage and he picked it up... it has a fox’s tail! Oh my God! This is the most glamorous thing I have ever seen. It swayed from the end of the guitar as he moved, and indeed, he seemed to be moving the guitar more than usual in order to extract maximum slinkiness. Afterwards I asked him if fox hunting wasn’t a bit un-punk? ‘I am the fox’, he explained. A new version of ‘Drifting into Unthank’ was unveiled, taking it into operatic territory, with an extended intro of gloomy sound effects, and a choral preset adding gravitas / hilarity. Andy introduced them, once more, as the cabaret before the main bands, and it’s a role they fit perfectly. My favourite moment this time was their cover of The Meteors’ ‘My Daddy is a Vampire’, complete with echo effect and stupid / exhilarating vocalisations. Pure dumb fun.

Ghosts of Progress? They started up OK, with their quirky drums / guitar / singing by the same person setup (the drums operated by pedals attached to a board), but then the singing when it arrived was too Kurt Cobain, an immediate turn-off for me. Plus I thought we were in for a more angular slalom on the basis of the first (instrumental) song, and it didn’t quite materialise. The Creeping Ivies were really good though, turning in a set of short rock ’n’ roll songs, the singer in leopard print leggings which went on for miles, topped with a T-shirt reading ‘Bo Diddley is Jesus’; the drummer in a sharp suit, swinging his hips as he walloped two drums and a cymbal. They covered a Cramps song and appeared to have several big tunes of their own, I want to hear more.

Viv Albertine doesn’t believe in love, only in ‘what I can see and what I can touch’. Fortunately she believes in these plenty. She bought candles for the tables to give the room ambience, and after a brief explanation that she may have grown up a bit (which people don’t like punks to do), but probably not much, she kicked off with a one-chord, semi-chanted song setting out this agenda. Just her with that nimble, scratchy guitar, no longer pristine as on the YouTube clip, and if not actually falling down the stairs then certainly rolling down a slope. Free in the air, urgent, dynamic, unconstrained by tepid 4/4 concerns, because in the beginning there was rhythm, and it didn’t sound like a metronome. Over this the words came thick and fast, petulant, bold. A list of things which are real (wood, concrete) one of and things which aren’t (love, God). Almost child-like (I half expected Santa Claus to feature on one list or the other), but tough and adult at the same time. ‘Never Come’ was introduced with an explanation that her ex-boyfriend could never come, the stop-start structure of the song perhaps mimicking the lack of, um, fluidity. Most impressive of all was the final song, which Viv described as comprising the last four years of her life squashed into four minutes. It whirled around, punning and switching words and phrases, drawing a picture of domesticity gone wrong (courgette quiche was in there somewhere, I think), building to a frantic thump thump thump rhythm with ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Fuck Fuck Fuck’ alternately sung staccato, really breathtaking, claustrophobic. It reminded me of Throwing Muses’ ‘Vicky’s Box’, with its bitter pun ‘Home is where the heart lies / The hard lies’, and the frantic build up, ‘Home is a rage / Feels like a cage’. There are precious few songs which can do this, and we really had no right to expect someone who was brilliant thirty years ago to be able to come back and be this fresh, this raw, this compressed, this bursting. An absolute triumph.

P.S. I missed out the best slogan of the evening – ‘Couples are creepy / Couples are creepy / Couples are creepy’. And in fact here it is (via Dylan Drummond):


Throw money at Viv here, so she can get her album pressed (there is an EP to buy too):

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Twelve quid for the lot, we pay fuck all*

You’ll be quite aware that this blog is barely fast enough to catch reflection by the shadow of its tail; anticipation ought to be well beyond its reach. So thanks to the prompts from Andy and Mark re: two upcoming Dundee events, yours to attend for £8 and £3.99 respectively – or £12 all in, just quote ‘La Terrasse’. This Friday Viv Albertine of The Slits comes to town (I feel that sentence should flash in gold or something), which is obviously massively exciting just for that, but also here is one of her solo songs which is really nice too. Hookers for Jesus make a rare outing in support, and they have yet to be anything but unmissable. The Saturday-but-one following that sees an extravaganza from the mighty Wildhouse, in which they lock horns with Edinburgh School for the Deaf, which should be Noisy and Irreverent, and pretty damn Velvet Underground. Loads of other bands I haven’t heard pitch in too. Names are a slight improvement on last time, but Gropetown is still fairly awful.

Full details are on Facebook:

Viv Albertine / The Creeping Ivies / Ghosts of Progress / Hookers for Jesus (4th November, Beat Generator Live!)

Pensioner / The Wildhouse / Kaddish / Cosmic Dead / Edinburgh School for the Deaf / Min Diesel / Bucky Rage / The Shit Hawks / Gropetown (12th November, Balcony Bar)

* Mock punk bravado, you will actually need to pay twelve quid.

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