Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Split Enz gig [11th June 2006 @ Rod Laver Arena]

Kiwi legends Split Enz formed in 1972, had a cult following in the 70's, a bit more success in the 80's, and broke up in 1985. Neil Finn (who joined the band at the time of their 1977 album Dizrythmia) and Paul Hester (who played on the last Split Enz album See 'ya round) formed Crowded House with Nick Seymour, and the rest is history. Split Enz have had various re-formations since their "official" breakup (notably for the Enzso album and its inevitable sequel in the late 90's), but this was the first time they had really toured as a unit since their heyday. Although, for a band that has had so many lineup changes over the years, using the word unit is a bit ambiguous.

The particular Enz incarnation who were touring this year were the True Colours lineup from 1980, which was their most commercially successful album: it spawned their biggest hit I got you which gave them a bit of international success. This lineup was made up of Tim Finn (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Neil Finn (guitar, piano, vocals), Noel Crombie (percussion), Malcolm Green (drums), Nigel Griggs (bass) and Eddie Rayner (keyboards).

The gig was at Rod Laver Arena, a huge stadium in Melbourne which is suited more for sporting events than intimate musical gigs. So while the gig definitely lacked intimacy (especially in contrast to the Belle & Sebastian gig the night before), they made up for it by putting on a spectacular show.

Opening with the new-wave hit Shark attack (from True colours), they played an exciting setlist which covered most of their hits, with a few rarities thrown in to satisfy the dedicated fans. The biggest surprise of the night was an epic performance of Jamboree, the closing song from their Dizrythmia. Tim Finn introduced the song as one "written by Phil Judd", who was a core member and songwriter of the earlier Enz lineup before he left after their second album; also prompting the band to abandon a lot of the art-rock sound that Judd brought to the group and opt for a more pop/new wave sound.

One of the gig highlights for me was their performance of Matinee idyll. It started out being a fairly true-to-the-original version, before Tim asked Eddie Rayner poetically "won't you please, play the bridge on the ivories?" and then left the stage. For the next few minutes, Eddie played those ivories like a man possessed, before cult favourite percussionist Noel Crombie took centre stage to play the spoon solo from The woman who loves you, the superb epic closing cut from their 2nd album Second thoughts. It was a truly memorable gig moment, and a real crowd-pleaser.

Other highlights included a great version of Pioneer / Six months in a leaky boat, and a rockier version of early single Bold as brass, preluded by a bizarre skit where a member of the audience was spanked on the bottom with a towel. They closed with a solid performance of their 1981 Corroboree hit History never repeats (one of their signature songs) before bowing to the applause of 12,000 fans who still wanted more. I'm guessing many of the more obsessive fans will be there again on Monday night, where the band will hopefully show that history does indeed repeat*.

A class act all around.


Here's a very poor quality video from the gig. Probably not worth the download ;-)

Split Enz - I Got You [Link Removed]

And here's some choice Split Enz cuts. My Mistake is one of their more popular (early) songs sung by Tim Finn, The Devil You Know is a later-period Neil Finn song (not unlike Crowded House in sound) and The woman who loves you is a very early and experimental Tim Finn song to give you a feel for their artier sound. And it has a kickass spoon solo from Noel Crombie!

Split Enz - My Mistake [Link Removed]
Split Enz - The Devil You Know [Link Removed]
Split Enz - The Woman Who Loves You [Link Removed]

All download links will stay up for a week.

*I'm aware that The Age used a similar "history repeats" pun in the closing line of their recent review. I'd just like to make it clear that this review was in draft status long before I even read that Age review, so I wasn't ripping them off.

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Belle & Sebastian gig [10th June 2006 @ The Forum]

[Photo courtesy of Mark]

I started my recent Augie March review by saying that I'm not a big fan of the Hi-Fi Bar as a venue. Well let me start this review by saying that the Forum is one of the best venues in Melbourne, if not the best. It's so beautiful and scenic; it has high ceilings, excellent ventilation and impressive acoustics. Even if you aren't enjoying the music, you can appreciate the impressive Roman style architecture or stare up at the "perfect night sky" blue ceiling. Yes, I love this venue; it truly makes others pale in comparison.

I last saw Glaswegian band Belle & Sebastian two years ago, at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. It was a sit-down gig, which obviously has its benefits (great for letting the legs rest) but also has some negative aspects (losing the intimacy and the "connection" with the band that you only get from standing up close). The Forum eschews ticketed standing vs. sitting segregation; instead you can gauge your mood and sit further back, or if you feel like it you can stand up and get closer to the stage. After a bit of debating in our group (Pete, Simone, Mark and myself) we decided to stand. It was a good decision.

Opening with The state I am in from their debut album Tigermilk, the band let loose on an impressive two-hour set which covered a good cross-section of their ten-year catalogue (although they notably didn't include any songs from their two least critically acclaimed albums Fold your hands child... and Storytelling). They played most of the songs from their new album The life pursuit, including current singles The blues are still blue and White collar boy, the latter of which frontman Stuart Murdoch used as an opportunity to introduce all the members of the band.

There were some surprise entries in the setlist: early (and uncharacteristic) Tigermilk cut Electronic renaissance being the biggest surprise; others from left-field included stand-alone single Dog on wheels and underrated B-side The loneliness of a middle distance runner. It was great to see the band playing some obscure fan favourites, although being such a cult band means that "obscure fan favourite" will differ widely between fans (much to the disappointment of a couple who were yelling out for My wandering days are over, but never got their wish.)

Stuart Murdoch is a very charismatic frontman, with Stevie Jackson being his loyal Peter Sellers lookalike side-kick. Stuart joked between songs and he kept the banter up with the audience, ensuring that the gig had a personal connection rather than simply a musical one. When Stuart and Stevie invited a couple of ladies on stage to be involved in the "love-triangle" of Jonathan David (or "love-trapezium" as Stevie so eloquantly put it), the whole room erupted in laughter. They are the kind of guys you would like to hang out and have a few drinks with, and it just goes to show how much more there is to a performance than the music. Their fans were also very well-behaved; although there was the smell of ganja in the air, there was a lot less of a "dickhead element" than most gigs from recent memory and there was lots of room to move (surprising considering it was a sellout gig).

They ended their first set with Judy and the dream of horses, before going off stage and coming back for their only encore. At this moment Stuart decided to jump up on the side balcony, pose for a little while with the statues (much to the cheers of the audience) before jumping down and playing a completely surprising cover of Jump by Van Halen with the rest of the band. It was one of those classic "gig moments" which sealed the already fantastic deal for me.

Here's a quick shot of Stuart in action (courtesy of Mark again):

They ended the encore set (and gig) with early classic Get me away from here, I'm dying. For the first time in ages, these were not the words I was thinking as I left the venue at the early finish time of 11pm. My love affair with live music is back on. How long will it last? Watch this space.


Here's a short video from the gig:

Belle & Sebastian - Dog On Wheels [Link Removed]

And here's some choice Belle & Sebastian cuts:

Belle & Sebastian - Seeing Other People [Link Removed]
Belle & Sebastian - Dirty Dream Number Two [Link Removed]
Belle & Sebastian - Another Sunny Day [Link Removed]

All download links will stay up for a week.

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Thursday, 8 June 2006

The "Timmy" marathon

No, I am not talking about the disabled kid from South Park. I'm talking about this dude, the lead singer of seminal Aussie act You Am I:

Every now and then, I decide to run a marathon on my iPod. This is where I put the iPod on shuffle, select an artist, and let it run through their whole discography (or as much of their discography that I have). I did this in lieu of purchasing their new album Convicts, which I will probably not be doing now after both Pete and Dean gave it their thumbs-down.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience. I'd like to share some of the observations that I had while listening to their entire discography in shuffle, as the randomization of it all made me notice things that I wouldn't normally notice if I was only listening to their albums the natural way.

My own private gig

The experience felt like my own little personal gig, although instead of it going for 2 hours, it went for a few days! And there wasn't the chance that they weren't going to play one of my favourite songs, because I'd get to hear all their songs!

Pete and I have this game which we play at gigs where we try and guess the opening and closing songs. I bet you are dying to know what the opening and closing cuts of my "gig" were. No? Well I'm going to tell you anyway. The opener was City lights from Deliverance, and the closer was One trick tony from the same album. Neither particularly seem suited for those positions in a gig.

It was getting exciting as I neared the end of the marathon, trying to work out what songs haven't been played. Some cuts were held back to late in the marathon - Berlin chair didn't make an appearance until track 77 (out of 88). Heavy heart was track 71. Good mornin' didn't play until track 83.

Hourly, Daily is da bomb

I knew this before, but this marathon simply reinforced it - Hourly, daily is a fantastic album. Every time a cut from this album came up, it brought a smile to my face -- such songwriting perfection. What's great about this album is how brilliantly it works as a whole, but even when hearing a song out of context you can appreciate it just as much. For those who aren't familiar with this album, it's a suburban concept album. You could say it's You Am I's answer to Blur's The great escape, but oh-so-much better.

The sound of Hi Fi Way

I have always considered their second album Hi Fi Way to be a slightly less polished (and rockier) version of Hourly, Daily. But hearing Hi Fi Way and their debut Sound As Ever side-by-side, I'd say that the sound of Hi Fi Way is more similar in sound to their debut. While their debut is fairly average (except for a few choice cuts like Berlin chair), Hi Fi Way ups the songwriting stakes immensely and adds some much needed melodies to the mix.

And I just gotta say that How much is enough is a brilliant song and a great closing cut on that album.

Their path down the country road

Listening to their 2002 album Deliverance, you could almost mistake You Am I for a country-rock band. While Tim has definitely recorded a lot of country music as part of his solo work (his excellent solo album What rhymes with cars and girls being the best example), this sound did seem to come a little bit out of nowhere for the band. During the marathon, I discovered that he and the band started hinting at a country sound a lot earlier than Deliverance. Give another listen to the twang in Timmy's voice in End of the line (from Dress me slowly) and you will hear what I mean.

Their low points

I defended Deliverance when it came out, as some of my mates were bagging it a little bit. But there's no doubt that, together with Sound as ever, it represents the low-point of their catalogue (obviously I can't comment on Convicts, because I don't have it).

Having said that, there are some hidden gems on Deliverance that sound pretty great when listened to in isolation. Notably, Ribbons and bows is vintage You Am I and some of the ballads like The wrong side now are quite beautiful songs that make the most of Timmy's ailing vocal chords.

Timmy's vocals

And that's a great segue into the next discussion point, which is sure to be a controversial one. Even the biggest Timmy defenders will find it hard to deny that his voice has definitely degraded over the years, and not in a cool Tom Waits kinda way.

While most You Am I fans will point to Deliverance as the point at which his voice started to go downhill, I'd like to offer an alternate hypothesis. I think Timmy's voice started going a lot earlier, but the quality of the songwriting and the musical backing often shielded the listener from this. Exhibit A: Get up from Dress me slowly. Give a listen to this track, and try to separate his vocals from the rest of the mix. They aren't as good as they once were, are they? Luckily, it's a killer tune so you don't really care.

Change of sound over the years

I've already talked about their progression towards country-rock, now for a general overview of their evolution.

Sound as ever is generic garage rock. There's some great tunes that would hint at their future brilliance, like Berlin chair and Jaimme's got a gal. But I can honestly do without most of their debut album. Not many of the cuts gave me a what a song! feeling. And what's the deal with the penultimate track Off the field? Who is singing that song? Sure doesn't sound like Timmy.

Hi fi way really shows them carving out their niche in the Aussie rock circuit. The rockers have a purpose, ballads like Purple sneakers and Handwasher show that they have a lot more depth and that they aren't just one trick ponies. While this album has its fair share of brilliant moments, their best was yet to come.

Hourly, daily is where it all came together. The best ballads, the best rockers, classic pop songs. A suburban concept that weaved a thread throughout, making the album an experience rather than just a series of songs. This is the best place to start with the band.

They almost went back to their earlier sound on #4 record. It was definitely less polished than Hourly, daily but they also added horns here and there to make the sound a bit more interesting. It's probably their most standard rock record, with some of their most well-known songs like Heavy heart and Rumble thrown in for good measure. One thing that I really noticed in the marathon is that they are a lot of lesser known songs on this album that are really good -- Cream and the crock, Plans and Come home wit' me being some great examples.

Dress me slowly had them going back to the more polished sound of Hourly, daily. It's an incredibly solid album with one classic after another, and probably the only thing it lacks over that earlier album is flow and conceptual unity. But there's an abundance of excellent songs on this album, including some of my absolute favourites like Weeds and Damage.

Deliverance was a big step down. I've already talked a lot about this album, the one where the country sound was pushed to the front and you suddenly realised that they were quite a different band than the one you fell in love with. There are some great songs on this album, you just have to dig around to find them.

Perhaps Pete or Dean can reply with their comments on their new album Convicts, since I don't have this one.

Live shennanigans

My copy of #4 record has a bonus disc called Radio settee (Big Star fans will pick this as a tribute to their first 2 albums #1 record and Radio city). Often some of these lives cuts would show up in the mix, and there's some interesting covers on there that I hadn't noticed before. Fox on the run by 70's glam rockers The Sweet, Lookin' for a kiss by the New York Dolls and Live with me by the Rolling Stones. I actually have the New York Dolls album that has the original version of Lookin' for a kiss, so it was interesting to hear the You Am I version which I couldn't even remember existed.

It's all in the mix

The iPod has this feature called smart shuffle which is supposed to prevent tracks from the same album being played after each other when the iPod is in shuffle mode. After doing this marathon, I can honestly say that this shuffle ain't so smart.

Here's several examples where 3 tracks in a row came from the same album:

Trike, Junk and Fox on the run (all from Radio Settee)
Mr milk, Moon shines on trubble and Tuesday (all from Hourly, Daily)
Cathy's clown, Gray and Jewels and bullets (all from Hi Fi Way)
Billy, Berlin chair and Mr Milk (all from Radio Settee)
Off the field, Who's leaving you now? and Coprolalia (all from Sound As Ever)

The marathon experience

Overall, this You Am I music marathon was a great experience. This is the second time I have done something like this (the first time being The Replacements, which inspired this post). I hope to do it again some time, with another band. But it has to be a band that doesn't have too many songs, otherwise it will take a week to get through them all. Less than 100 is a good number. Any suggestions?

Some samples

Finally, here's some samples of their work for those who haven't heard much of them. Thanks for reading!

You Am I - If We Can't Get It Together [Link Removed]
You Am I - How Much Is Enough [Link Removed]
You Am I - Weeds [Link Removed]

Appendix - Marathon set list

For the really bored ;-)

Track# Song Album
1 City Lights Deliverance
2 Nifty Lil' Number Like You Deliverance
3 Jaimme's Got a Gal Sound As Ever
4 Trainspottin' Sound As Ever
5 Damage Dress Me Slowly
6 Soldiers Hourly, Daily
7 Flag Fall $1.80 Hourly, Daily
8 Handwasher Hi Fi Way
9 The Cream And The Crock #4 Record
10 Who Put The Devil In You Deliverance
11 Deliverance Deliverance
12 Ordinary Sound As Ever
13 Weeds Dress Me Slowly
14 Heavy Comfort Hourly, Daily
15 What I Dont Know About You #4 Record
16 Doug Sahm Dress Me Slowly
17 Come Home Wit' Me #4 Record
18 Trike Radio Settee
19 Junk Radio Settee
20 Fox On The Run Radio Settee
21 Bring Some Sun Back Dress Me Slowly
22 Punkarella Hi Fi Way
23 Mr Milk Hourly, Daily
24 Moon Shines On Trubble Hourly, Daily
25 Tuesday Hourly, Daily
26 When You Know What You Want Deliverance
27 Judge Roy Dress Me Slowly
28 Billy #4 Record
29 Ain't Gone and Open Hi Fi Way
30 Minor Byrd Hi Fi Way
31 Everyone's to Blame Sound As Ever
32 Gone, Gone, Gone Dress Me Slowly
33 Guys, Girls, Guitars #4 Record
34 Who Takes Who Home? Hourly, Daily
35 Words For Sadness Deliverance
36 How Much Is Enough Hi Fi Way
37 Satisified Mind Dress Me Slowly
38 End O' The Line Dress Me Slowly
39 Ken (The Mother Nature's Son) Hi Fi Way
40 Kick A Hole In The Sky Dress Me Slowly
41 Ribbons And Bows Deliverance
42 Live With Me Radio Settee
43 Dead Letter Chorus Hourly, Daily
44 Heavy Heart #4 Record
45 Hourly, Daily Hourly, Daily
46 Someone Else's Home Hourly, Daily
47 Cathy's Clown Hi Fi Way
48 Gray Hi Fi Way
49 Jewels And Bullets Hi Fi Way
50 Watcha Doin' To Me Dress Me Slowly
51 Billy Radio Settee
52 Berlin Chair Radio Settee
53 Mr. Milk Radio Settee
54 Crash Deliverance
55 'Til The Clouds Roll Away Deliverance
56 Junk #4 Record
57 The Applecross Wing Commander Hi Fi Way
58 Purple Sneakers Hi Fi Way
59 Adam's Rib Sound As Ever
60 If We Can't Get It Together Hourly, Daily
61 Sugar Dress Me Slowly
62 Looking For A Kiss Radio Settee
63 Beautiful Girl Dress Me Slowly
64 Nuthin's Ever Gone Be The Same Again Deliverance
65 Top Of The Morn' And Slip Of The Day #4 Record
66 Forever and Easy Sound As Ever
67 Plans #4 Record
68 Rumble #4 Record
69 Sound As Ever Sound As Ever
70 Heavy Heart Radio Settee
71 Baby Clothes Hourly, Daily
72 Rosedale Sound As Ever
73 Fifteen #4 Record
74 ...And Vandalism #4 Record
75 The Wrong Side Now Deliverance
76 Berlin Chair Sound As Ever
77 Wally Raffles Hourly, Daily
78 Stray Hi Fi Way
79 Pizza Guy Hi Fi Way
80 Please Don't Ask Me To Smile Hourly, Daily
81 You Scare Me Sound As Ever
82 Good Mornin' Hourly, Daily
83 Get Up Dress Me Slowly
84 She Digs Her Hi Fi Way
85 Off the Field Sound As Ever
86 Who's Leaving You Now? Sound As Ever
87 Coprolalia Sound As Ever
88 One Trick Tony Deliverance

UPDATE: Song links removed.