Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Thank god you're here

Has anyone been watching the excellent new TV show Thank God You're Here? It's on Wednesday nights at 7:30pm on Channel 10. It's a (fairly) original concept from Working Dog productions, the same geniuses behind Frontline, The Panel and All-Aussie Adventures.

Basically the premise behind the show is that a comedian is dressed in a costume and sent through a door into a scene that they know nothing about. Other comedians play the supporting characters in the room and it's their job to prompt the comedian into improvisation. Some examples include: being a politician as a press conference, an executive as a pie company looking to expand their pie line-up, and a captain on a space ship.

You may be wondering what this has to do with music, but I'm getting to that. You see, the theme song to the show is Come anytime by Aussie rockers Hoodoo Gurus. This really baffles me as a choice of theme song. You see, the Gurus also have a very well-known song called What's my scene. Now wouldn't that be a better choice of song? The show is about a comedian who doesn't know the scene that they are about to walk into. Could there be a more obvious choice of theme song?

I don't think it's a legal issue; surely if they could clear one song by the Hoodoo Gurus then another song would be okay. I'm fairly sure that EMI owns the rights to all their albums now. Anyway, I'm very curious as to why they went with this song. I guess Come anytime is kind've appropriate, but What's my scene would have been just perfect.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Augie March gig [13th May 2006 @ Hi Fi Bar]

[Photo courtesy of MarkP]

I'd like to make something clear from the outset -- I don't like the Hi Fi Bar. It's cramped, smoky, poorly ventilated and not very comfortable. It's probably one of my least favourite venues in Melbourne (the Forum would get the nod as my favourite).

As much as I would love this to turn into a bitch session about my enjoyment of gigs steadily degrading over the years (getting old and having to be back in time for Matlock), I'm not going to turn this into a "woe is me" posting. Let's stick to the content of this blog, which is the music.

This was probably the 8th or 9th time I have seen these legends live, and it probably won't be the last. My gig memory isn't so great, but I think it was about 4 years ago that I saw them last -- not long after they released previous album Strange bird.

This time around they were supported by Dan Kelly and the Alpha Males, which made the gig even more attractive to me. I have Dan Kelly's album The tabloid blues and find it quite enjoyable, even if it's not one of my absolute favourites. $23 to see 2 bands I like -- it doesn't get much better value than that kiddies.

Dan Kelly's set was an enjoyable one, covering several songs from The tabloid blues, current single Drunk on election night and a few songs I hadn't heard before. The highlight of the set was All on my lonesome where one of the band members played a theremin -- a truly stunning instrument. If you've never heard one of these live, you are missing out.

Now, on to the headliners. For those of you who haven't heard anything by Augie March, dig yourself out from under that rock where you are hidden and go out and buy one of their albums now. For the uninitiated I'd recommend their debut Sunset studies. That's where I started; while their newie Moo your bloody choir is their most accessible to date, I still don't think it's the best starting point. Work your way through their catalogue and follow their progression. It won't take long before you put them right up at the top of your "absolute favourite bands" list. And this isn't just hyperbole, it's the goddamn truth.

Their gig covered a good cross-section of their last two albums, though surprisingly they only included one song from their debut album, Here comes the night (no, they didn't even play Asleep in perfection!). Nothing from their two debut EPs either. Interestingly enough, all the Strange bird cuts came in a giant clump near the end of the gig; in no particular order: the Pogues-esque stomper This train will be taking no passengers, the haunting The night is a blackbird, rocker Song in the key of chance, the folky Sunstroke house (which really worked in the live setting) and epic Brundisium.

My personal gig highlight was Glenn's solo performance of Bottle baby, a truly stunning ballad from their last album. This song really pushes Glenn's fantastic vocals to centre stage, and his live interpretation definitely did it justice. Elsewhere, Glenn dedicated The baron of sentiment to his dog (who had been shot and apparently injured by an arsehole the previous night) and current single One crowded hour opened one of their several encores showing that the 'March clearly aren't gig top-loaders.

All in all, Augie March have never let me down and this gig was no exception. These guys deserve much more commercial success, but it's their lack of popularity which also makes them what they are. As soon as they start getting over-played on the radio, it will kill them. But at the same time they deserve to have lots of money thrown their way because they are so goddamn good. Isn't it ironic?

UPDATE: Here's some samples of their work if you are unfamiliar with the genius of Augie March. I have included a ballad, a more catchy pop song, and a rockier one just so you get a feel for their sound.

Augie March - Bottle Baby [Link Removed]
Augie March - The Offer [Link Removed]
Augie March - This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers [Link Removed]

Enjoy, and please let me know what you think!

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Friday, 12 May 2006

The Replacements

The Replacements are one of those great undiscovered rock bands. In a parallel universe they would have been bigger than Bon Jovi and Guns 'n' Roses. Instead, they have a cult following with a small fanbase who simply adore them.

Led by the charismatic Paul Westerberg, they released 7 albums in their 13 year reign from 1979 to 1991. Their widely-accepted career peak ran from 1984 to 1987 where they released their holy trilogy: Let it be, Tim and Pleased to meet me. Most of their other albums had moments of brilliance, but none were quite as good as those 3 albums.

Unfortunately, even the albums that made up that trilogy had their fair share of filler on them. I'm of the school of thought that the 'Mats (as they are affectionately known to their fans) never released a completely solid album. And while this is incredibly disappointing for me (being such a fan of the album format), they have left such an unforgettable legacy in their songs that you can't help but forgive the lads. In a way, it's all part of their charm -- you can't hold it against them for deciding to include a throwaway song like Gary's got a boner in amongst timeless tunes like Unsatisfied and Sixteen blue.

They played by their own rules, and they were all the better for it. Their film clip for Bastards of young was a black and white clip of a stereo playing the tune. Yes, you read that right. A still image of a stereo. Can you imagine any band getting away with that in the current era of cliched film clips, where record companies care more about style and image over musical substance? It just wouldn't happen anymore. Bands are simply brands nowadays, investments to record company shareholders. If they don't earn the moolah, they are sent on their merry way. The Replacements were a band who were clearly marketable, but they simply refused to let the possibility of worldwide success get in the way of their artistic vision. They kept it real throughout their whole career, and it paid off because they left us with a legacy of passionately real rock music. They are the antithesis of over-produced record company darlings like Creed, Nickleback and their ilk.

But there's more to these guys than just the music. Paul Westerberg is also the master of the witty lyric, and he has written many couplets that would make other lyrical geniuses like Elvis Costello proud. Here's a quote from Bastards of young from Tim:

The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please
If it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand them

Who can seriously say they cannot relate to this? How many times have you tried ever so hard to please someone that you have absolutely no respect for? Meanwhile neglecting those that you love, because you know (or at least you hope) they will always be there for you? Westerberg is up there with Tom Waits as one of the few real conveyors of human emotion through lyric.

I have recently come to the conclusion that the 'Mats are almost the ultimate mixtape band. As I said, they never released a masterpiece of an album. But they have so many brilliant songs tucked away on all of their albums that these songs need to be taken out of context and listened to as the microcosms of pop/rock perfection that they are. They are the first band that has inspired me to create and arrange a playlist on my iPod of their best moments.

Here's some of my favourite Replacements songs, one from each of their "career peak" albums. I think these songs cover a wide range of styles; Unsatisfied is emotion-driven rock at its finest (long before the unfortunate marketing term emo became overused), the aforementioned Bastards of young is one of their finest rock anthems and Skyway is an acoustic guitar standard that is almost unbearable in its beauty. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope it's the beginning of your love affair with the 'Mats.

The Replacements - Unsatisfied [Link Removed]
The Replacements - Bastards of young [Link Removed]
The Replacements - Skyway [Link Removed]

Let me know what you think!

UPDATE: Due to popular demand, AAC files have been replaced with MP3 ones. So you should now be able to listen to them through WinAmp, Media Player or whatever else you want to use. They will stay up for another week.

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

A change is gonna come

You may have noticed something different in one of my recent posts. Yes, for the first time ever I actually included a song to download in the post. I have been thinking about where this blog is going and I have decided to start including downloadable songs in future posts. After all, it's much easier to appreciate a song if you can actually hear it rather than read about it.

Because I will be hosting the files myself, links to the songs will be removed one week after the date of posting them. All songs will be in AAC (.m4a) format, as that is the format that I use on the iPod. You can listen to these in iTunes, or download a plugin like this one which will allow you to play them in WinAmp.

I have a few questions for you, dear reader:
  • Is this a good idea?
  • Do you think it's a good way to get into new music?
  • Will you download the songs I post here?
  • More importantly, will you listen to the songs I post here?
  • Will me posting songs make you more inclined to comment on this blog?
Please reply via the comments with answers to these questions; I appreciate any input.

Please note that I do not condone music piracy in any form. So after listening to the songs, either delete them or buy them. If you like the songs I post, you can ask me for more information. Maybe the album that the song comes from is a great one, in which case I can recommend the whole album to you. Maybe it's the one good song off an average album, in which case I can recommend that you buy the song from iTunes (or your prefered online digital music retailer).

In honour of the title of this post, here's the classic Otis Redding song (actually a cover of a Sam Cooke tune). Enjoy!

Otis Redding - A change is gonna come [Link Removed]

UPDATE: For some reason both FireFox and IE change the extension of the file to .mpeg when trying to save the file. Please rename the file so it has a .m4a extension before trying to listen to it and I'll try to figure out what's going on.

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Sayonara Señor iTrip!

I just got back from JB Hi Fi where I had my perfectly functional Pioneer stereo head unit replaced with a Sony CDXGT150. Why would I do something so crazy? Because this Sony head unit has a feature that my old car stereo doesn't have, an auxiliary (line-in) connector. This means that I can finally farewell my iTrip (well, at least in the car).

So it's goodbye to the following:
  • No more iTrip falling out of the dock every time I drive over a bump too quickly (I have lost count of the number of times this has happened).
  • No more poor static-y sound quality, especially when I go through a suburb that's broadcasting a local radio station on the same frequency as the iTrip (88.2 MHz was my current setting).
  • No more switching between LX and DX modes on the iTrip in a lame attempt to improve the sound quality.
  • No more little "click" sound when the iPod goes from one track to the next (probably due to the iTrip broadcast being cut off for a fraction of a second). [Unfortunately, the segue issue is still there.]
  • No more having to make sure I pause the iPod before leaving the car. You see, the iPod has a cool feature where it pauses automatically when the earphones pop out (or in this case, the line-in connector). Since the iTrip was connected via the dock, I had to always ensure that I paused the iPod when I removed the iTrip.
  • No more using the volume control on the iPod while I'm driving only to realise that it has no effect on the volume broadcast via the iTrip (the volume control doesn't affect the output through the dock connector).
My debut album with the new improved "iPod on the go" was Hail to the thief. When opening track 2+2=5 got to the loud bit and the iPod was all cranked up, I was in pizza-faced paradise. The comparison in sound quality is ridiculous. Listening to AM radio was even better than listening to my music through the iTrip. Listening through the line-in connector is just like listening to a CD in the car. I miss this sound quality :-) In fact, I'd been so disappointed in the iTrip sound quality that for the past few months I have totally avoided listening to albums in the car and listened to podcasts instead (where sound quality isn't so important and the iTrip is more than suitable).

Some may argue that this was a waste of money. Well, maybe it was. After all, I could simply listen to CDs when I'm in the car and listen to the iPod everywhere else. But I'd still have the dilemma of deciding which CDs to carry with me. And this goes against the whole reason for buying the iPod in the first place, to centralize my music collection and be able to listen to what I want when I want. Which includes driving in my car.

So if you are still listening to your iPod in the car via an FM transmitter and sound quality is of paramount importance to you, then I highly recommend upgrading stereos. It may be one of those situations where you don't realise what you're missing out on until you hear how it should sound. And it's not excessively expensive, JB Hi Fi are currently selling the Sony model I bought for about $168.

And while this may have come off as a major anti-iTrip rant, I still think that the iTrip is an elegantly designed device that has its place. It's great when you are out and about with no other musical options than listening to the radio. In this case you truly can take your music everywhere. But in the places where you listen to music the most, you can definitely get better sound quality through other means.

Monday, 8 May 2006

RIP: Grant McLennan 1958-2006

I was very saddened to hear of the sudden death of Grant McLennan (founding member of the Go-Betweens) on the weekend at the age of 48.

I have been a fan of the Go-Betweens since about 2003, when I purchased their 2nd album Before Hollywood (a great recommendation from Pete). Since then, I have purchased all of their albums except for their debut Send me a lullaby which is quite hard to find. Their 1988 masterpiece 16 Lovers Lane is now one of my favourite albums of all time. Their last album Oceans apart made my top 10 albums of 2005 list. It's highly unlikely that Robert Forster will continue without him, so I guess it will also be their last album :-(

I'm so glad that I got to see them in concert in July last year. It's so easy to say "I'll see them next time they are around", and even easier to say that about a band who only have to come from Brisbane. I guess there's a lesson to be learnt -- if you really want to see a band, see them now! You never know what's around the corner.

Last night I listened to No reason to cry on my iPod, a Grant-sung song from Oceans Apart which is all the more poignant now.

Rest in peace, Grant. You will be sadly missed.

UPDATE: Song links removed.