May 04, 2005

On the streets where the multitudes screamed & cried my name out for a song

I got my ticket for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on the 20th. Seems appropriate to come to Australia and see him in his home town (OK so he’s from Wangaratta which is north of here, but Melbourne is the major city of Victoria). There was talk in the newspapers of naming a street after him.

Nick Cave always strikes me as someone who’s set out consciously to create an archetypal identity for himself – his songs are always very calculated and refined. He describes himself nowadays as someone who gets up in the morning, puts on a suit, goes to the office and writes songs from 9 to 5. His albums are consistently good rather than great, though he definitely has his moments of greatness (‘The Mercy Seat’, ‘New Morning’, ‘Stagger Lee’, ‘Darker with the Day’). He does have a much higher strike rate than most long-term rock artists though; I don’t think he’s made a totally bad album yet (Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Lou Reed have done some abysmal crap), and let’s not forget that the Birthday Party were one of the all-time great bands.

I’d still rate Fugazi at Victoria University in 1997 as the greatest gig I’ve seen, though by this point that’s maybe an unassailable memory; I may have got to the point of remembering the remembering of it rather than the thing itself. And maybe my age was a factor; I might be less impressionable now. Still high on my wish-list to see though: The Fall, Tom Waits, John Zorn, The Dirty Three, the Boredoms, Fushitsusha, and the improvised music greats Derek Bailey and Cecil Taylor (both in their mid-70s, so gives a sense of urgency for me to get over to Europe, where they’re more likely to play, before they die). Albums are one thing but seeing a live performance is where you really understand & appreciate an artist.

It occurs to me that I never did get around to writing about seeing Sonic Youth and the Dead C on my trip to Auckland mid last year. It was the second time I’d seen Sonic Youth, the first was 1998. The two gigs were quite different – in 1998 they did a lot more stretched out jamming, while in 2004 it was a fairly straight pop/rock set (by their standards). I had been hoping they’d do some of the Goodbye 20th Century stuff they’d been challenging/alienating audiences across Europe with a year or two before, but instead they’d gone through that phase and were into playing songs off the new Sonic Nurse album. Not their best album but the important thing is that they played a good gig. I could tell right from the start when Lee Ranaldo walked on stage with his nose deep in a book until he got to his guitar – that was stylish. The first song had a deep, warm enveloping dub-like groove. Thurston Moore jumped around a lot more than 1998, Steve Shelley had actually lost weight, and Kim Gordon danced and played trumpet. They seemed to be having a good time playing, which automatically translates to the music and the audience.

As for the Dead C, they made a lot more sense on stage than on the albums. The albums have some interesting sonic textures but the problem is the leaden overall vibe, dreary and depressed sounding. And I like the guitars but Robbie Yeats’ drumming is just unlistenable. But on stage he’s a great drummer, propelling the whole thing autistically forward. Chris Knox was there and told me the Dead C are his favourite comedy band. I could see what he meant – as well as their sound they dressed all in grey and moved slowly. The only colour on stage was a bowl of fruit sitting on top of one of the amps. Bruce Russell’s stooped, potbellied, utterly deadpan, don’t-give-a-shit appearance was hilarious. And Michael Morley’s anti-singing like a stroke victim was the next step beyond Mark E. Smith. The way they only get around to playing gigs in their home country NZ once every five years or so becomes part of the joke.

I spent some time in Dunedin in October 2004 and got to jam with Clayton Noone and some of his bandmates. The whole Dunedin aesthetic was totally different from the Wellington ‘Happy' scene. I could have fit in quite happily, and was definitely tempted to move there for a while (though I did return to Wellington to do the Fringe Festival show, which was a good decision in retrospect). In Wellington the ‘out’ players tend to be professional musicians with jazz degrees and high-quality instruments; in Dunedin they have cheapshit guitars with strings missing, big ancient amps and things are held together with gaffer tape.

Not sure what all this means for me in Melbourne, 2005. By switching from guitar to banjo I’ve obviously got a whole new set of cultural signifiers to play with (no I can’t play the theme from Deliverance). I’ll need to get a pickup to play electric, and I’ll probably try and somehow combine it with my dictaphone and laptop. The only thing missing is that I haven’t written a song in ages. I’ve developed some kind of amnesia around that. Maybe like Nick Cave I need to treat it as a job…

Posted by fiffdimension at May 4, 2005 05:19 PM | TrackBack
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