Review: Fuji Rock Festival 2018

Naeba Ski Resort, Japan, July 27-29, 2018

The Japanese invented Instant noodles, square watermelons and the Nintendo 64, but those things are nothing compared to their ultimate creation: Fuji Rock Festival. It’s a festival utopia… a festival that isn’t a fashion parade or about getting the most Instagram likes… just people listening to great music in stunning surroundings.

Nestled amongst the forests, creeks and mountains of Naeba ski resort in Niigata Prefecture (no snow as it’s the middle of Summer—speaking of which,  we were in Japan during their hottest day ever and nearly melted), this year’s festival had a hip-hop flavour with N*E*R*D, Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone on the line-up.

The big attraction though was Bob Dylan, performing his 101st show (!!!) in Japan. You’d think after that many concerts the Japanese would know how bad he is live and stay away in droves, but more about Bob and his crap live show later.

My wife and I had planned a trip around the festival and after a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and Tokyo we set off on the bullet train on Friday morning to arrive in time to see Years & Years take to the main Green Stage. At every festival there’s a band that exceeds your expectations and at Fuji Rock it was Years & Years. Singer Olly Alexander is a captivating frontman with a voice that hints at Justin Timberlake and eighties Michael Jackson. Their synthy dance pop songs are ludicrously catchy—the type you feel like you’ve known forever even when you’re hearing them for the first time.

Next up is Mac DeMarco. An Australian festival favourite, I’ve been out of the loop so I’m keen to catch-up and see what he’s all about. Every westerner at Fuji Rock seems to be in the Red Marquee as he emerges to the Star Wars opening theme. DeMarco’s live schtick is hard to describe… I guess you could call it manic slacker-dude playing dad-rock-meets-jangle-pop (he jokingly calls it “jizz jazz”). The super chill ‘Salad Days’ and ‘On the Level’ are highlights, but the most memorable song is the last one: a cover of sixties Japanese pop song ‘Sukiyaki’ (the only Japanese song to top the US charts), complete with cameo from a maraca-shaking, beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking Post Malone.

The first headliner of the festival is N*E*R*D, fronted by the seemingly ageless Pharrell Williams. Poor Pharrell is fighting a losing battle with his voice from the get go, and big parts of the set felt more like a live mix-tape of songs he’s produced and collaborated on over the years (the likes of ‘Drop it Like it’s Hot’, ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’), but they keep the energy levels high to close out the Green Stage.

Last for us on Day 1 is Post Malone, performing on the White Stage with just a DJ for company. ‘Better Now’ comes early in the set and gets a huge reaction, but with little else happening on stage the show largely rises and falls on Malone’s interactions with the crowd. A ‘shoey’ out of a random punter’s shoe gets a mixed response—applause from the Australians in the crowd, total confusion from nearly everyone else. Later, before ‘I Fall Apart’, a song about his ex, he gets the crowd to chant “fuck that bitch”, which just feels awkward in 2018. Malone isn’t a brilliant live performer, but he’s not a terrible one either and I’m fascinated by a bloke that gets ‘always tired’ tattooed on his face

Day 2 began with ex-Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr. Now that Morrissey has become a massive racist, Marr has become the de facto ‘good one’ from the Smiths. He has an early afternoon slot on the White Stage and plays a set of mostly solo songs before finishing with the Smiths’ ‘How Soon is Now?’ and ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Ia big Smiths fanthought it was great. My wifewho absolutely hates the Smithsthought it was boring. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all Johnny. I thought you were great.

I wanted to see Superorganism but one look at an overflowing Red Marquee and I knew it wasn’t going to happen, so instead we headed to the Green Stage to see Japanese band “マキシマム ザ ホルモン”(the program and video screens didn’t have an English translation so we had no idea who we were about to see). They turned out to be Japanese nu-metal / metalcore band, Maximum the Hormone. Not the type of thing I’d usually listen to, but it was actually heaps of fun and perfect for the mid-arvo slot. No idea what they were saying, but it was cool with the female drummer’s sunny pop vocals contrasting with the more hardcore-punk style of the two main vocalists.

Dubstep isn’t my thing either, but with half an hour to kill we waited around to see Skrillex. There was so much light and sound emanating out from the stage that it looked and sounded like a UFO crash-landing in the Naeba forest. I’d stop short of saying it was “good”, but it was impressive. Having said that (and I know I’m getting a bit “old man pointing at cloud” here…) how much of it was pre-programmed by a computer vs him actually doing anything? No idea, but it kept me entertained until it was time to go and see MGMT.

As much as I love them (Oracular Spectacular might be the album of the 2000s), MGMT don’t have a reputation for being very good live. With their very first song interrupted by screeching feedback and confused pauses, I start to think the reputation might be justified. But thankfully they get it together in time for a triumphant ‘Time to Pretend’, during which they actually did a good impersonation of a decent live band. All in all, after a shaky start, they were pretty good, although it was interesting to see the Japanese fans seemed far more excited to hear ‘Little Dark Ages’ than by ‘Electric Feel’ which gets gets hardly recognition. But anyway at this point I am also grateful to be undercover in the Red Marquee as a typhoon (seriously…) hits the festival.

Back on the Green Stage, I expected Day 2’s headliner Kendrick Lamar to be the standout performance of the festival, but in the end he was just… pretty good? Lamar is a blisteringly intense live rapper, and the dancers, pyrotechnics and kung-fu interludes are cool, but it’s just a smidgen too slick and too choreographed. It didn’t help we seemed to be standing in a spot where the sound seemed to ear-splittingly distort at times, so I should probably reserve judgement until next time. ‘King Kunta’ was epic though, and I am still furious that Rubens song beat it to #1 in the Hottest 100.

The passing typhoon had moved out to sea by Day 3, leaving behind just a few showers as we arrived to see Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals on the Green Stage. I’d been told by a few people that Paak is a ‘must see’, and they are absolutely right. Paak is a super-talented and charismatic performer who spends half the set singing from behind the drum-kit and the other half with a microphone in hand, fusing together hip-hop, funk, soul sounds. Playing mostly songs from latest album Malibu, it’s one of the stand-out performers of the weekend. Nevermind Kendrick, Anderson Paak is where it’s at.

Paak makes way for the next Green Stage act, Jack Johnson. Ten years ago I haaaaated Jack Johnson. Boring music for boring people I said, and even had this INSANE rule that I wouldn’t date anyone who likes him (no idea why I was single for so long hey?). The irony being my wife loves him. Anyway I have to admit he’s crept into the odd Sunday morning Spotify playlist in our household and seeing him live at Fuji Rock I finally ‘get’ him—it’s pleasant music to sit down on the grass and chill out to. And sometimes that’s what you want from music.

And now we come to the Day 3 headliner, Bob Dylan. I saw Dylan back in 2007 and he was terrible. He’s still terrible. His voice departed him sometime during the Reagan administration, leaving behind a raspy spoken-word mumble in its place. Granted, he sounds slightly better than last time I saw him, but only in the same way it’s ‘slightly better’ to be punched in the face once instead of twice. During the 90-minute set he says nothing, and doesn’t touch the guitar once. Instead, he alternates between sitting and standing behind the piano, tinkering away to barely decipherable versions of his songs, many of them re-arranged beyond recognition. It is not a good sign when it takes half the song to even realise he’s playing ‘Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright’ or ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’. No one expects crystal-clear vocals or Springsteen-like energy from a 77-year old Dylan, but some vague acknowledgement people are paying money to see him would be nice. He might be a legend, but this is just a sad waste of time. 

I need something to wake me up from the Dylan-coma, and Vampire Weekend are just what the doctor ordered. They walk on stage to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’, immediately blowing away the Dylan cobwebs. The New York indie-rockers sound like Paul Simon’s Graceland with better guitar as they run through a hit-friendly taking in their biggest songs to date. Indie anthem ‘A-Punk’ is an obvious highlight, as too is a cameo from Danielle from Haim who joins for the last two songs, one of them a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.  It’s unpolished and a bit rusty, but it’s a fun end to an enjoyable set as we rush off to catch CHRVCHES who are about to start on the White Stage.

The Scottish synth-pop group are the last act out on our Fuji Rock itinerary (The festival goes until 5AM each night but who the hell stays up until then? Not me, even if it means missing Sunday morning’s Avalanches DJ set), and have much of the Vampire Weekend crowd trying to squeeze in to see them. I’ve wanted to see CHRVCHES ever since their first album in 2014 so it’s good to finally see them. Two things stand out: one, Lauren Mayberry is very, very short,  and two, her voice is absolutely flawless. Every song sounds like an exact facsimile of the recorded versions. CHVRCHES sure know how to write a perfect pop song, and their catchy brand of synth-pop on songs like ‘Get Out’, ‘Gun’ and ‘Recover’ is the perfect way to end the weekend.

The next day we’re off to Osaka for the last few days of our Japan trip, taking with us memories of the best festival ever. The music was great, obviously (Years & Years and Anderson Paak were the standouts), but it was the atmosphere that made it—super relaxed with well-mannered festival-goers. It’s telling that the only annoying people in the crowd were westerners who had brought their shitty manners with them to Japan. It’s going to be hard to go to an Australian music festival ever again…

Fuji Rock Best & Worst

Best Act: Years & Years, Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals
Worst Act: Bob Dylan
Best Song: MGMT – Time to Pretend
Worst Song: Anything Bob Dylan performed
Best Cover: Mac DeMarco feat. Post Malone – Sukiyaki
Coolest Cameo: Danielle Haim with Vampire Weekend

Concert Review: Midnight Oil

Big Pineapple Complex, Sunshine Coast, October 14, 2017

I was too young to see Midnight Oil the first time around (they broke up in 2002), so when I heard they were playing at the Big Pineapple as part of their Great Circle reunion tourI was keen as a bean to grab a ticket. 

Having said that, as the rain tumbled down all Saturday, watching Netflix and staying dry inside started to become more appealing. Rain and outdoor concerts mix together about as well as Pauline Hanson and Halal Snack Packs, and as I drove up the Bruce Highway I didn’t know whether to expect a ‘raining at Glastonbury’ vibe or more of an Apocalypse Now-style muddy hell.

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Luckily it was the former. I hadn’t seen a concert at the Big Pineapple before, but walking into the venue it was immediately impressive. A huge, outdoor festival-style amphitheatre, with a big stage down the front which the band had had emblazoned with an extract from the UN Declaration of Human Rights:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Not your typical rock concert!

Midnight Oil have invited different support acts to each leg of the tour, and with Jebediah and the Living End the Sunshine Coast crowd had lucked in (Brisbane got just one support act: the Jezebels).

I am not as familiar as I should be with Jebediah, but the Aussie alt-rock icons had the crowd rocking before the Living End came out and made me realise I’ve probably been unfair to them.

I think because they turn up at the opening of a garage door (is it just me or does it seem like they play literally every festival ever?) I’ve become almost immune to their existence. Seeing them in a field with half of the Sunshine Coast head-banging to ‘Prisoner of Society’ was a reminder how good they are live.

It was seriously bloody wet by the time the Oils took the stage. They began with the crunching industrial riffs of ‘Redneck Wonderland’, with frontman Peter Garrett cutting the shapes he’s famous for (fun fact: the Big Pineapple sits in an electorate where 23% of people once voted for One Nation. Redneck wonderland indeed..).

It was absolutely pissing down, and a near slip slowed Garrett’s dancing a little, but he still got right out amongst it in the rain, telling the crowd that “the more it rains the more we’ll stay to play our set” – or go down to the pub to finish it if the electrics fail.

The first half of the set was mostly album cuts and minor hits, with highlights including ‘On the Borderline’, ‘Dreamworld’ (“this one’s for you, the Queensland song!”), and ‘When the Generals Talk’. Garrett sounded note perfect on them all. It could just as easily have been  1997 as 2017.

The band came to the front of the stage for an acoustic set (highlight for me: ‘Short Memory’) before finishing the main set with ‘Read About it’,  ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘Forgotten Years’. Before ‘Blue Sky Mine’ came a little spiel about stopping the Adani coal mine:  “Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand, and say I love my country that much I’m gonna stick my neck out for it.”

Garrett’s political career might be over, but Midnight Oil are still very much activists. As well as Adani, there was talk of the Great Barrier Reef, the Traveston Crossing Dam (the construction of which Garrett blocked as Federal Environment Minister), anti-Abbott and Hanson ad-libbing, and at one point, a giant ‘Yes’ for Marriage Equality logo on the big screens.

(Side note: I saw Macklemore play ‘Same Love’ at the NRL Grand Final in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, and no one booed. Or if they did, it was drowned out by cheers. Same deal with the ‘Yes’ logos at Midnight Oil. It you can promote marriage equality at a Rugby League match or in a field outside Nambour without being howled down, then the argument’s already been won. Sorry Tony).

After ‘Forgotten Years’, droves of people had started to make a dash to the car park (always amazes me how many clueless people leave before encores – come on people, they aren’t going to reform and it play ‘Beds are Burning’!). I hope they turned around when the band returned to play an encore with a trio of their biggest hits: ‘King of the Mountain’, ‘Beds are Burning’,  and ‘Power and the Passion’.

During ‘Power and the Passion’, Hirst launched into his trademark drum solo, thumping a rusty corrugated iron water tank that the band have been dragging around on tour.

Corrugated iron, torrential spring rain, the Big Pineapple, the Oils… you couldn’t get more Aussie if you tried!

 

Setlist

Redneck Wonderland
Lucky Country
Sleep
Back on the Borderline
Safety Chain Blues
Dreamworld
Truganini
No Time for Games
My Country
When the Generals Talk
Short Memory
US Forces
Kosciusko
Only the Strong
Read About It
The Dead Heart
Blue Sky Mine
Forgotten Years
King of the Mountain
Beds Are Burning
Power and the Passion

Concert Review: Kanye West

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, September 15, 2014

“I am this generation’s Rolling Stones. I am this generation’s U2”

What would a Kanye West show be without grandiose outbursts of egomania? Self-importance and delusions of grandeur are woven into the Yeezy DNA. But somewhere wrapped up in that overblown hyperbole, there is a kernel of truth. As last night’s show at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre showed, Kanye West is a rock and roll mega-star.

To the strains of the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars, West appeared from beneath the stage surrounded by red smoke before launching straight into his opening track, the industrial-metal flavoured ‘Black Skinhead’. From there, he embarked on a career-spanning journey that took in cuts from all seven of his albums to date – from 2004’s College Dropout through to last year’s critically acclaimed Yeezus.

IMG_3019
Kanye West performing in Brisbane last night

But unlike the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy shows, this time around there were no dancers, no extravagant backdrops, and no distractions. Just a lone DJ, a single musician, a giant vertical video wall and Kanye himself. Yeezus, his music, and his clique of 12,000 disciples.

It was a brave move. The stripped-back minimalist approach put him front and centre, and left him – and him alone – to win over the crowd. He won them over. Easily. More than that, he absolutely owned them. The crowd was spell-bound, pulsating with ferocious intensity to the likes of ‘Gold Digger’, ‘Stronger’ and ‘Runaway’. Credit where credit’s due – the man can work a crowd.

And of course, this being a Kanye West concert, there were the obligatory rants. I’ve witnessed Kanye rants (sermons?) before, but these were something else, with the media firmly in the cross-heirs (“#fuckthemedia”). Aiming fire at American talk show hosts such as Matt Lauer, he launched into a lengthy tirade, demanding that they “pick a new target” – after-all, he’s now a “married, Christian man”, a point he made three times. Noted, Kanye.

A beautiful dark twisted fantasy
Kanye’s beautiful dark twisted fantasy

Mr West is infamous for his rants – and in some ways rants and self-importance are what makes Kanye Kanye – but in another way they serve to detract from his musical genius. Put in this way, listening to the excellent ‘Jesus Walks’ live last night said a lot more to me about his talents than any rant ever would.

By the time the main set finished with ‘Bound 2’, the rants were over, leaving an incendiary couple of takes of ‘Blood on the Leaves’ (complete with circle pits in the crowd) and ‘Niggas in Paris’ to finish the show. And with that, the Kanye West show left Brisbane.

Setlist

Black Skinhead
I Don’t Like (Chief Keef cover)
Mercy
Cold
Can’t Tell Me Nothing
New Slaves
Power
Stronger
Heartless
Runaway
Run This Town
Clique
Diamonds from Sierra Leone
Jesus Walks
All Falls Down
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights
Good Life
Gold Digger
Bound 2
Blood on the Leaves
Blood on the Leaves
Niggas in Paris
Niggas in Paris

Concert Review: Arctic Monkeys

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, May 6, 2014

The first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys play was on their first Australian tour, eight years ago. That concert at the Arena can’t have lasted 45 minutes – they only played about 12 songs, barely stopping to breathe – but it was so frantic and so thrilling that it remains one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.

I was at the Tivoli a year later too, this time seeing the group support their follow-up album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. That concert reached the same stratospheric heights as the first, but by the next two (Perth Big Day Out 2009 and at the Riverstage in 2012), much of that spark had gone. They were not bad, but the energy and intensity, fuelled by songs about scummy men and topshop princesses, had gone firmly M.I.A.

Even though I absolutely dig their latest album, those less than stellar shows (as well as some recent comments by one of their overseas supporting acts criticising their live show), meant that I barely gave the concert a second’s thought until I walked through the Brisbane Entertainment Centre doors. After all, as the band themselves once said, anticipation has a habit to set you up ….

I’m happy to say that my lack of enthusiasm was misplaced. It’s official. Alex, Nick, Jamie and Matt have got their live mojo back. It might have taken 3 albums and 5 years, but they’ve finally been able to make that transition from thrilling 1,000 people in a tiny little club venue to captivating 10,000 in a cavernous arena like the BEC.

But before Arctic Monkeys, Perth’s Pond play a short support set. If you’ve not heard of Pond, they are like a ‘druggier Tame Impala’ – the Tame Impala connection coming as no surprise given Pond’s lineup includes two past or former Tame Impala members. Most of the under-18 crowd are still outside slurping on post-mix cokes, but those inside are treated to a set laden with Sabbath-riffs and ‘Lucy in the Sky’ psychedelia.

After a short break, those huge, almost hip-hop sounding beats of ‘Do I Wanna Know’ fill the Entertainment Centre as giant lit-up ‘A’ and ‘M’ letters pulsate in the background and the crowd erupts. Turner starts singing … Have you got colour in your cheeks? Do you ever get that fear that you can’t shift…. adding to the absolute cacophony of noise. Already – in literally seconds – it’s obvious this is a return to form. They’re here to put on a show – not just a faithful but somewhat bland re-creation of their music.

Arctic Monkeys
Get on your dancing shoes…

‘Do I Wanna Know’ is followed by ‘Snap Out of it’ and ‘Arabella’, two more from AM — songs from which are easily the best received all night. That isn’t all together surprising given that half the venue was probably still listening to  the Wiggles when What People Say… came out, but it’s also a reflection of just how popular AM is.

All in all, nine songs from AM get an airing, but that still leaves room for a career retrospective that recalls many of their career high-points.. … ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and ‘Brianstorm’ to name a couple, as well as that seminal Arctic Monkeys hit, ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’.

In addition to amping up their ‘show’ with an impressive lights and a big sound augmented by a fifth band member on keys and guitar, the other big improvement is Alex Turner’s revised stage persona. He’s being himself again. Gone are those generic cut and paste ‘Brisbane you’re the best’ lines, replaced by something somewhere between cripplingly shy and arrogant. Whatever it is, it feels genuine.

The encore begins with ‘One For the Road’ before a gorgeous rendition of’ I Wanna Be Yours’, complete with an ocean of audience mobile phone lights bobbing up and down (a spontaneous audience moment, or something that happens at every show? I don’t know. Very cool, though). Finally, Alex Turner steps up to the microphone and asks the question everyone has been waiting for… R U Mine? We R, but the PA goes out mid-song, and the crowd are left to carry the song as the band ‘mime’ along without any amplification. “Let’s try that again, shall we?” says Turner, and we get to be theirs once more.

Setlist

Do I Wanna Know?
Snap Out of It
Arabella
Brianstorm
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
Dancing Shoes
Library Pictures
Crying Lightning
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
Fireside
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
She’s Thunderstorms
No. 1 Party Anthem
Cornerstone
Knee Socks
Fluorescent Adolescent
505
Encore:
One for the Road
I Wanna Be Yours
R U Mine? (P.A cut out)
R U Mine? (re-played)

Album Review: Beady Eye – BE

Beady Eye - BEThe Beady Eye equation (Oasis – Noel = Beady Eye) is both a blessing and a curse for Liam Gallagher and his band of Oasis alumni. If Liam Gallagher turned up at the opening of a garage door he would make headlines, so there is no chance of a new Beady Eye going unnoticed. But equally anything released by Beady Eye comes under incredible scrutiny and inevitably gets compared to both Oasis past glories and brother Noel’s work with his High Flying Birds solo outfit.

Beady Eye’s debut album, 2011’s Different Gear, Still Speeding, was put together with the wreck of Oasis still smoldering. Pinned down by big singles in the shape of ‘The Roller’ and ‘Four Letter Word’, it was a capable but predictable slice of sixties-inspired rock music.

Two years down the road and Beady Eye are back for round two with new album, BE (“It’s BE. Be. Be who you are. Be whatever you fucking want to be. Be. Fucking bumble-bee” – Liam Gallagher). All the talk coming out of team Beady Eye in the lead-up to BE’s release has been about seizing second chances and branching out from the meat and potatoes of Different Gear, Still Speeding. It is a sentiment that shines through in the title of lead single, ‘Second Bite of the Apple’.

If ‘Second Bite of the Apple’ is indicative of Beady Eye’s second chance, they have clearly bitten off more than they can chew for it is a tepid and forgettable song that almost invites the listener to hit ‘skip’. It is one of the more forgettable songs to come out of the Gallagher stable –  that it sank like a stone to 112th in the UK Singles Charts says it all.

Somewhat fortunately though, it is a momentary lapse in judgement rather than a genuine yardstick of where Beady Eye are at, and those who persevere with the album will be relieved to hear track one, ‘Flick of the Finger’. A call to arms, a genuine statement of intent, it is dominated by Liam Gallagher swagger and bravado (“the future gets written today”) and notable for its driving horn section and spoken word passage from a Pakistani author’s book about 1960s revolutionary counter-culture. Who ever expected that on a Beady Eye album?

One criticism often leveled at Oasis was that their songs ‘all sounded the same’. While that is an unnecessarily harsh assessment, it is fair to say that Oasis albums rarely offered up much in the way of surprises (“Without a doubt” responded Liam when asked in a recent interview if Oasis lacked adventurousness). Therefore it is refreshing to hear that while there is no freestyle jazz or Christian power metal on BE, the band have demonstrated a willingness to experiment and push the boundaries.

Some of the credit for this must go to producer Dave Sitek, he of TV on the Radio fame (whose previous production credits include the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Foals). Sitek is not the type of name one would expect to pop up in the liner notes for an album by a band like Beady Eye, but his fingerprints are all over the record as he helps to bring together a sonic tapestry that pulls together horns, flutes, and spoken word samples around classic sixties inspired rock sounds.

Beady Eye - BE
Liam Gallagher has his Beady Eye on you

But copious sprinkles of Dave Sitek magic dust and Liam Gallagher swagger can’t paper over some of the deep songwriting cracks on BE. Save for a few shining lights, most of the songs just don’t stand up to repeat listening. Lyrics are the biggest problem, with too many infantile rhymes and too many words shoe-horned in by blunt force (“Shake my tree where’s the apple for me / Tickle my feet with the NME” from ‘Second Bite of the Apple’ is a particularly bad example). There are just not enough ear-worms on BE and your reviewer is left thinking that the group would be best served if they could outsource the song-writing to someone else. Someone like … Noel Gallagher?

Noel and Liam may move in entirely different circles these days (they have not spoken to each other properly since Oasis broke up in August 2009) but don’t expect to get through BE without encountering Noel. He’s not there in person, of course, but he’s there in spirit on the dad-joke titled ‘Don’t Brother Me’. Lyrically it’s all a bit simple (with lyrics like “Did you shoot your gun / You know I’m a man, I’ll do what I can”, long term Oasis fans may get a ‘Little James’ vibe), and it meanders on for far too long, but it is not as bad as the name may suggest.

The quality may wear a bit thin of the course of the album, but there are some definite diamonds in the rough on BE. As well as the before-mentioned ‘Flick of the Finger’, other highlights come from ‘Iz Rite’ and ‘Start A New’. The former has a pulsating ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’-type groove masking jangly guitars reminiscent of the Byrds, while the latter has the sweetest Liam Gallagher vocals since ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ and is just waiting to soundtrack TV montages. Elsewhere, another standout comes from ‘Soul Love’ where Liam’s vocals come to the fore on a track with a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club versus Death in Vegas feel.

A two and a half star rating might give the impression that there is nothing worthwhile here, but that is not quite right. About half of BE is really good – it is just a shame that the other half is so forgettable. There is one sure-fire way to get the best out of this album – let your ears cherry pick the best bits, locate the skip button, discard the rest, and let BE be what you want it to be.

The Verdict
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Moving in the right direction but not quite there..
Best Songs: Flick of the Finger, Iz Rite, Soul Love, Start A New

[Concert Review] Paul Kelly & Neil Finn

Brisbane Convention Centre, February 27, 2013

Paul Kelly and Neil Finn. Together they’ve written some of our most ubiquitous music. Songs that have soundtracked contemporary Australia and New Zealand. Music for long car trips. Music for a hot summer’s day. Music for shopping centre playlists. Music for pub cover bands. Songs about breakups. Songs about infidelity. About life, about love, and about death. Songs about St Kilda and about Kings Cross. About Te Awamutu. Adelaide. Melbourne’s weather. Backpacking through Europe. Indigenous land rights. Seven worlds colliding. Doing all the dumb things.

Between them the pair have contributed 40-odd albums worth of material to our musical landscape. Albums like Gossip and Woodface. Under the Sun and True Colours. Albums which together tells us more about the fabric of Australia and New Zealand than the pages of any atlas or history book.

When Paul and Neil announced in November that they would tour Australia together – digging into their discographies and sharing their music – there was always going to be a crowded house where ever they went. Accordingly there is a sell-out crowd at Brisbane’s Convention Centre on a wet and muggy February evening for this show – their second and final on the Brisbane leg of the 20-show tour.

Maybe the Convention Centre is not very rock and roll (ushers with ball-permed hair and $18 parking never is… ) but it is the perfect venue for a concert like this. The sound is pristine and it is big enough to cater for a wide audience while still somehow feeling intimate. Brisbane would be all the better if big artists could be enticed to play two nights here rather than a single night at the much larger but frankly awful Entertainment Centre.

Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly’s powerful rendition of Into Temptation

Lisa Mitchell is the support act. The singer-songwriter’s voice is pleasant and ‘airy’ (even when she speaks it sounds like her voice is being carried by a gentle breeze) and the only hiccup comes from a false start to her biggest hit, ‘Coin Laundry’. She is a safe and inoffensive choice and there is polite applause as she finishes her set.

There is a short pause before the sound of cicadas fills the auditorium. Two bushmen emerge from the shadows holding lanterns and acoustic guitars. Their names are Paul Kelly and Neil Finn and they start strumming along to Paul’s ‘Don’t Stand so Close to the Window’

The hits start coming with the very next song, the Crowded House classic ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ (a song Paul has previously recorded with Angus Stone for the They Will Have their Way album). It’s at this point that the troubadours are joined by the best of the band – bassist Zoe Hauptmann, Paul’s nephew Dan Kelly on guitar, and Neil’s son Elroy Finn behind the drum-kit.

This family connection and the ‘songs around the campfire’ theme match the vibe of the evening. There are no big screens, no dazzling light shows. It’s just two blokes with guitars and a piano playing music and sharing stories and banter. Neil is the lighthearted witty one; Paul is the slightly mysterious straight man. They make a great double act and there are plenty of laughs.

It is hard to delineate 30 songs of one of the best concerts you will ever see into individual highlights but a high-point comes when Kelly takes the reins for Crowded House’s ‘Into Temptation’. He sings it on his own with Finn on piano. Kelly makes it his own, turning it into what seems like an autobiographical ballad. If you didn’t know any better you would think he wrote it himself.

Other highlights come from a pounding rendition of ‘Dumb Things’ (that boy Liam can drum) and an energetic take on ‘I Got You’ which has a couple of women in row 1 hauling men out of their seats to dance. The Crowdies’ ‘Don’t Dream (It’s Over)’ and ‘Fall at Your Feet’ become giant singalong anthems. The Christmas-from-prison ‘How to Make Gravy’ gets a rousing reception, as does the pub rock of ‘To Her Door’.

Actually, bugger it. There is no point picking out all of the highlights. I am just going to list the entire set. The whole show is highlight.

There is one moment that stands out above it all, though. A moment so memorable and special that no one who was there will ever forget it. After ‘Fall at Your Feet’ finishes, Paul points down at the front of the audience. Somehow amongst the choir of thousands of voices singing along he has heard something special. He asks who the amazing singer down the front is, and a few people jokingly put their hand up before a white-haired bloke in shorts and glasses emerges as the owner of the voice. Neil hands him a microphone and starts playing a few bars of the song on piano. The man opens his mouth and sings.

I’m really close tonight
And I feel like I’m moving inside her
Laying in the dark
And I think that I’m beginning to know her
Let it go, I’ll be there when you call

His voice is unbelievable and the room is stunned. No one expected that. You couldn’t have scripted it – it’s just a genuine moment, entirely organic in its origins.

The night comes to a close with Kelly and Finn singing together on the fifties pop of Buddy Holly’s ‘Words of Love’, a song the Beatles later recorded for Beatles for Sale. They’re not quite Lennon-McCartney but Kelly-Finn have reaffirmed their status in the pantheon of great songwriters.

Setlist (original artist in parenthesis)

Don’t Stand So Close to the Window (Paul Kelly)
Four Seasons in One Day (Crowded House)
Before Too Long (Paul Kelly)
She Will Have Her Way (Neil Finn cover)
For the Ages (Paul Kelly)
Not the Girl You Think You Are (Crowded House)
Sinner (Neil Finn)
Careless (Paul Kelly)
Leaps and Bounds (Paul Kelly)
Won’t Give In (The Finn Brothers)
New Found Year (Paul Kelly)
Into Temptation (Crowded House)
You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed (Paul Kelly)
They Thought I Was Asleep (Paul Kelly)
Private Universe (Crowded House)
One Step Ahead (Split Enz)
Dumb Things (Paul Kelly)
Deeper Water (Paul Kelly)
I Got You (Split Enz cover)
Better Be Home Soon (Crowded House)
How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly)
Distant Sun (Crowded House)
Wintercoat (Paul Kelly)
Fall At Your Feet (Crowded House)
To Her Door (Paul Kelly)
Don’t Dream It’s Over (Crowded House)
Love Is the Law (Paul Kelly)
Message to My Girl (Split Enz)
Words of Love (Buddy Holly)

[Concert Review] The Stone Roses

Brisbane Riverstage, March 1, 2013
Future Music Festival, Doomben Racecourse, March 2, 2013

That this review even exists is a borderline miracle. While Pink Floyd and Van Halen have shown that even the most acrimonious splits can heel in time (well, sort of..), the breakdown of the Stone Roses was so caustic that the prospect of the band ever talking to each other again – let alone performing together – seemed nigh on impossible.

After the success of their 1989 self-titled debut, the next few years saw the group descend into an ugly mess of drugs, legal battles and clashing egos. It would be half a decade before their next album, and by the time Second Coming finally dropped in ’94 Madchester was over and Britpop had arrived.

The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses play the Riverstage

In a world where Definitely Maybe existed, the Stone Roses were suddenly not as important. At the same time intraband relations were becoming increasingly toxic, and it would not be long before drummer Reni and guitarist John Squire would call it quits. Front man Ian Brown and bassist Mani would remain in a new lineup, but when the NME labelled a disastrous performance at the 1996 Reading Festival as the “eternal crucifixion”, the game was up and the band soon split.

Such was the toxicity of the break up that Squire and Brown did not exchange words for 15 years. In the ensuing years Squire would quit music to focus on his artwork, Brown would balance a modestly successful solo career with a stretch in prison, Mani would join Primal Scream and Reni would drop off the radar. None of it boded well for the reformation of the group.

Time has a funny way of bringing people together again though, and in 2011 Squire and Brown crossed paths at the funeral of Mani’s mother. Word the pair had reconciled got out, and it did not take long before rumours of a reunion to begin to circulate. Mani did his best to quash the speculation – “please fuck off and leave it alone – it isn’t true and it isn’t happening” – but the fuse had been lit. It was true, and it was happening, and in October 2011 the classic Roses lineup held a press conference to announce they were back to tour the world.

After massive homecoming gigs across the UK the tour spread to the European festival circuit, Dubai, New Zealand, and now Australia. The Stone Roses will play eight shows on Australian shores, two of them in Brisbane – one at Future Music Festival, and a sideshow the night before at the Riverstage.

The Riverstage show is the first Stone Roses concert in Australia since that ill-fated ’95 tour, and their first show in Brisbane since an appearance at the now demolished festival hall in October that year.

It has been a long time coming and there is a healthy – and largely British – Friday post-work crowd beginning to fill the venue as support act Zane Lowe begins his hour-long DJ set. He puts his heart and soul into it and it includes some inspired choices, but 6:30pm is far too early for a pumping DJ set and few are disappointed when he finishes.

The Stone Roses
A little greyer and wrinklier..

It is not long before the lights dim and the strains of the Supremes’ ‘Stoned Love’ fill the amphitheater. The band emerge from the shadows and launch into ‘I Wanna be Adored’, the opening track and first single from The Stone Roses. With every note 15-years of resentment fades away. None of that matters anymore, it is 2013 and the Stone Roses are together on stage in Brisbane playing one of their best songs. Hundreds of bucket hats bobble up and down in unison. No one ever expected this to happen.

But something is not quite right. The sound mix is all wrong and the concert comes crashing to a halt barely 10 minutes into it. Early into the third song, ‘Sugar Spun Sister’, Brown bails out and the band abort the song while the irritated front man gestures to the sound technicians. He is not happy.

They restart the song from the beginning but the show’s momentum has taken a seismic hit. Even at the height of their powers the Stone Roses were not known for their live prowess, and there is an uncomfortable lull and a hint of audience chatter as they get back into it. For every success, Brown has a litany of live failures to his name (punching a fan in the face at the Tivoli a few years ago is a lowlight that springs to mind) and one could be forgiven for thinking this show was heading down that direction.

Fortunately it is not. ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ go some way towards pushing proceedings back in the right direction, and by the time they reach ‘Fool’s Gold’ they are back in the groove. The crowd is won over by a 15-minute guitar-drenched version of their magnum opus.

From there on every song is a winner. The gorgeous guitar licks of ‘Waterfall’ have barely stopped ringing out before the group segue into its backwards counterpart, ‘Don’t Stop’ in one of the night’s highlights. Next up is the delicious ‘Made of Stone’, the anthemic ‘This is the One’ and ‘Love Spreads’, which serves as a reminder that Second Coming was better than critics would have you believe.

The Stone Roses circa 2013 are not four Mancunians who hate each other. They are a cohesive band, and accordingly everyone gets a chance to shine. Mani’s bass dominates a powerful rendition of ‘She Bangs the Drums’, before Reni has his turn to bask in the glory. He only has to hit the drum skins for a second before the crowd realises what is happening. It is ‘I am the Resurrection’, the group’s traditional (and fitting) show closer which gives Squire one final chance to whip the crowd into a fretwork induced frenzy while Brown walks around shaking his tambourines and soaking up the moment.

There is none of the tacky encore business that bands are often guilty of these days and the crowd are left exactly as they should be – wanting more. After a shaky start and sound problems it has been a triumphant return to the stage in Brisbane.

Less than 24 hours later and the band are back on stage in Brisbane for their second show. This time the venue is Doomben Racecourse, host to the touring Future Music Festival. 100mm of rain has fallen in Brisbane over the course of the day and the venue is soaked. It seems like there is more water on the grounds of Doomben than there is in the Mersey River.

Future Music Festival is an event more synonymous with dance music and so the presence of the Stone Roses – sharing headline billing with the Prodigy and Avicii – is baffling. The majority of those in attendance have never heard of the Stone Roses, and there is only a thin crowd at the Mazda2 stage as the band come on to the stage. As the rain continues to tumble down it is possible to walk up as the show begins and get a spot barely twenty metres back.

The Stone Roses
The River Mersey? No, just a very wet Doomben

Last year the Stone Roses sold out Manchester’s Heaton Park three nights straight, playing in front of almost a quarter of a million punters. This is at the other end of the spectrum, and while it is hard to tell, there couldn’t be more than a couple of thousand people in attendance as the show gets underway. It must be one of the smallest crowds they’ve played in front of for a long time, but far from being annoyed (hello Richard Ashcroft) they embrace the opportunity and the trying conditions.

Maybe it is the English-esque weather, or maybe it is the absence of sound problems tonight (or maybe it is just because he is wearing a shirt with what looks like his own face on it?), but Ian seems happier than he did at the Riverstage.

For the festival slot the set list is trimmed down and a disappointing casualty is the second half of the ‘Waterfall’ / ‘Don’t Stop’ double act. That aside though, the elimination of some of the lesser known material and concentration on hits results in a slicker show.

Certainly the band seem to be enjoying it more as Ian plays up for the cameras and monkeys around the stage with a level of intensity higher than the previous night. As with the previous night his notoriously fickle live voice is in good form, and he has just the right mix of swagger and vocal ability to do the songs justice.

‘Fool’s Gold’ is again a massive highlight, as is an absolutely epic rendition of ‘I am the Resurrection’. It seems to go forever, but it doesn’t go long enough. As it finally finishes the curtain comes down on the Brisbane leg of the antipodean tour and there are hugs and smiles all round.

The resurrection is complete.

The Roses are back.

Setlist

Riverstage, March 1, 2013
I Wanna Be Adored
Mersey Paradise
(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister [abandoned due to sound issues]
(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister [started again – full song]
Sally Cinnamon
Ten Storey Love Song
Where Angels Play
Shoot You Down
Fools Gold
Waterfall
Don’t Stop
Made Of Stone
This Is the One
Love Spreads
She Bangs The Drums
I Am The Resurrection

Future Music Festival, March 2, 2013
I Wanna Be Adored
Shoot You Down
Waterfall
Fools Gold
Made Of Stone
This Is the One
Love Spreads
She Bangs The Drums
I Am The Resurrection