Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On the Subject of Pockets

I went to Pocket Bar on the weekend, a cute new hole in the wall on the corner of Crown and Burton in Darlinghurst. They’ve got a good wine list and it’s all reasonably priced – my round of 3 drinks cost just over $20 – and during the day they serve boutique roaster Little Marionette’s coffee, which is easily as good as Sydney’s better known specialty roasters Single Origin and Campos. The staff look cool but aren’t too cool to be friendly, the vibe is chilled and comfortable (deep, plush couches and concrete floors) and in the evenings they have an entire menu of crepes. Tre bien, oui oui.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Pocket Rockets A-go-go

Charlie Thorpe a.k.a Dash

Amy Meredith's Christian Le Russo

Singing, dancing pocket-rockets were the M.O on Saturday night, when Amy Meredith supported Dash and Will in a night of good old fashioned sweaty fun. Indie music haven the Hopetoun was the perfect venue – the no bullshit vibe (no Diet Coke served here, or fresh lime for that matter. Yes, I asked. Yes, I live in the eastern suburbs) was fitting for Dash and Will’s bolshy, acerbic set and Amy Meredith front man Christian Lo Russo’s tongue in cheek stadium pop theatrics.

I walked in just in time to see Lo Russo take to the stage and launch into a surprisingly energetic, ambitious set. For such a small guy he throws himself every which way with such conviction and glee, and I couldn’t help but grin - anyone that ridiculous is, by default, amazing. The fact that he really can sing (his soaring top register is remarkable) and that these Sydney boys are a good-looking bunch of lads makes them easy marketing fodder. And the fact that they list Heart Break High as an influence and that Lo Russo’s equally height-challenged parents are his number one fans (in the crowd whooping, waving and singing all the words) makes them cool cats with tragic undertones, which really is the best kind of cool. One bone to pick before moving on: what’s with the band name? Look out for their as yet unnamed debut album due out soon, and if you haven’t seen them live already, get thee to a gig.

Charlie Thorpe (Dash) and Josie De Sousa-Reay (Will) are Josie and the Pussycats for the noughties. Brash, pouting De Sousa-Reay is no bigger than Kylie Minogue but has all the attitude of the Spice Girls put together, while Thorpe has a more mysterious, broody presence and the sweeter voice of the two, and they foil each other beautifully. Much of their music is based on strong vocal harmonies and call and response melodies and Thorpe’s delicious alto notes and wispy, girlish top notes add depth and range to De Sousa-Reay’s extroverted performance, which would otherwise run risk of seeming trite.

Playing a mix of old and new material, the Melbourne girls got the packed room moving in that indie-crowd-awkward-dancers-someone’s-elbow-is-in-my-back kind of a way, thrilling the keen beans at the front if the number of aforementioned elbows in my back is anything to go by. Current single Out of Control was a winner of course and their new song Didn’t Know (to be released on their new album Up In Something in August of this year) and a charming Easybeats cover were highlights.

Still only in their teens, Dash and Will probably have some growing up to do before they carve out a definitive niche in indie pop – they’re still uncomfortably close to The Veronicas’ territory – but they’re damn good fun in the meantime. A rocking gig, and two young bands that, with a bit of spit and polish, could definitely shine down the track.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remember the Time (when Michael Jackson was black)

For all the saccharine, sentimental tributes flying through cyberspace today you’d think Michael Jackson was in line for sainthood. If we’re honest, it was only yesterday half the world was calling him Wacko Jacko, and with good reason – hell, there’s even some who’ll be glad to see the back of him.

Prince of Bahrain Sheik Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who bankrolled MJ for 2 years as well as paying his legal fees of US$2.2 million from a 2005 molestation court case (he later sued MJ) springs to mind, as do the apparent victims of MJ’s penchant for playing sex games with children. To be fair, the molestation charges were never proven but while the judicial court system holds the defence innocent until proven guilty, the court of public opinion is not necessarily so gracious (or bound by technicalities). Considering the number of charges brought against him and the suspicious circumstances surrounding them (most notably the US$22 million out of court settlement with his first serious accuser), one can’t help but call to mind that old aphorism “there’s no smoke without a fire” (even if it is just an eency weency fire).

There’s also the bizarre relationship between MJ and ex-wife and mother of his eldest two children, Debbie Rowe, which involved two rounds of IVF, a quickie marriage, an equally quick divorce after Rowe found herself unable to bear any more children, and the mutli-million dollar payout she received in exchange for granting MJ full custody of the kids. Sure, the Rowe/MJ freak-show, his propensity to cross-dress on occasion, his hissy-fit meltdowns and obscene shopping sprees (memorably caught on film for Martin Bashir’s 2003 doco Living With Michael Jackson) do not sum up MJ’s legacy. But let’s not forget all his flaws and appalling behaviour in favour of granting the man demigod status.

Lets remember the King of Pop as the man he was – damaged and flawed, tragically fragile, and blessed with the most extraordinary creative and musical giftings that the world’s seen since, ah, around about 1971. Oh and a shit hot dancer . . . favourite ever MJ video below, how good is the breakdown half way through.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pony Up! gideeyup up down under

Montreal cuties Pony Up! were in town this week to promote their sophomore album Stay Gold, follow up to the hugely popular Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes. According to bassist Lisa Smith, Aussies are Pony Up’s #1 fans – still in the ranks of the ‘almost famous’ in their native Canada and some parts of Europe, the Ponies really took off here when Triple J put the instantly recognisably ditty The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die) on high rotation – and so it was surprising then that the band didn’t look happier to be here when they played at Oxford Art Factory on Thursday night.

Performing to a decent (though hardly sold out) crowd, Pony Up! turned out a solid but somewhat lacklustre set that felt more like a rehearsal than a show, only seeming to warm up just in time for the encore. The fact that the two lead singers, Laura Wills and Jess Moundroukas, were stuck behind their instruments (guitar and keys) the whole time probably didn’t help, but save for a bit of jumping up and down and skirt twirling on Laura’s part, the lack of personality, banter and enthusiasm onstage made the foursome come across borderline apathetic.

That said, the Ponies’ new songs are everything indie pop should be – hooky, hummable, and downright fun. A slightly rockier, darker edge showed that the band has grown up with this new album, and it was in the moodier songs that they shone, particularly Laura, whose voice has more depth than one might have thought from the first album. Perhaps the smartest thing about Pony Up’s music is that they follow the K.I.S.S rule of keeping it simple (stupid) and so their songs are easy – easy to listen to, easy to sing, easy to like – and in pop, that’s a good thing.

Supporting Pony Up! was Ben Fletcher’s Sydney based outfit The Devoted Few, whose sound is more thoughtful rock than the Ponies’ effervescent pop and fit the bill nicely (although incidentally the line up choice probably had more to do with the fact that the two bands share the same management, Laughing Outlaw). Fletcher is a pleasure to watch, so thoroughly absorbed in the heartfelt, melodic music that he makes, and the rest of the band does a great job of supporting him whilst letting him be the main attraction. Their layered sound was also well suited to the venue - Oxford Art has not a bad little sound system – and it was nice to be able to hear all the nuances of the performance. Special mention must be made of the guitarist bearing an uncanny resemblance to John Lennon for being particularly aesthetically pleasing in a John Lennon kind of way.

Hopefully for Pony Up! Thursday night’s gig was a temporary flat-line on the chart. The songs are there, as are the heckling groupies (“Can I be in your band?”), all they need next tour is a live show that lives up to the energy and spark of their albums.

Pony Up!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Trespass

A moonlight stroll in Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens last night took an unexpected turn with the appearance of a couple of law-enforcing, burley Rangers in a golf buggy. My protestation that we had no idea it was an offence to be there after dark was to no avail - not surprising I suppose, given that we jumped the fence to get in. Snaps to Nat and Kenneth the Rangers for doing their jobs with vigour and integrity (although less vigour would have sufficed) and for their considerate offer to escort us to our gate of preference after they'd screwed us with a fine.

Kenneth and Nat the Burley Rangers, Me the Trespasser

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ken Lee

This Bulgarian Idol contestant wins the prize for most un-researched, fly-by-the-seat-of-one's-pants interpretation of a popular song. Bloody brilliant.

"Ken Leeeee, tulibu dibu dauchoo . . ."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Call

I recently saw the play The Call (presented by the Griffin Theatre Company), which is loosely based on the life and times of Al Qaeda recruit David Hicks. Set in a small country town, The Call depicts the journey of the protagonist, Gary, from his drug addled, hoonish youth, to his limp attempts at marriage and fatherhood, and finally to his surprising conversion to Islam. Gary aches for purpose in his life and, after failing to find meaning in his day to day country town life, responds to an inner sense of being called to Islam, immersing himself in ritual and prayer. The effect of Gary’s conversion is largely negative – he isolates himself socially, abandons his family in his search for enlightenment and discards old friendships with a self-righteous ruthlessness – and the play closes with a symbolic suggestion that Gary is no closer to finding true purpose than he was at the opening of the play.

Playwright Patricia Cornelius does not appear to be commenting on the religion of Islam so much as posing the question of whether our secular, ‘self’ orientated Western society is failing to meet our deepest human need of a greater sense of purpose. Gary muses that “to believe so completely in something that it’s worth dying for, that’s all a man could want for”, and it has to be said that religion, on the most part, offers this. It could be argued that the principle driver in Western society is the pursuit of happiness (in the form of physical wellbeing, financial security, and hedonistic excess to name a few) and that even many a philanthropist is motivated just as much by his desire to feel good about himself as he is by genuine concern for others. What then, for those who find that the pursuit of happiness does not, in itself, fulfill them?

The question we all asked when David Hicks was first taken into custody was “how on earth did a regular Aussie guy from the burbs wind up training with a fundamental religious regime in the foothills of Afghanistan?” Cornelius has sketched a feasible explanation, offering the notion that, when a society neglects the common human need for a cause outside of oneself (or for a sense of being called to greatness, if you will) then in the absence of something to believe in, people may put their faith in the next best thing they can find, whether it be right, sane and productive – or not. It’s not a new concept; historians would no doubt identify this proposition as a key reason for countless fascist regimes getting off the ground; Charles Dickens illustrated it with searing insight in A Tale of Two Cities, his novel set during the French Revolution in which the hopeless and downtrodden lower classes, stirred and united by the common cause of fighting injustice, excuse their atrociously violent uprising as a justified reaction to the persecution they suffered at the hands of the nobles.

Cornelius leaves her audience with the impression that, although Gary may believe he has found his calling in life, he is no more enlightened than he was when we first met him, confused and aimless, in the opening scene. It’s interesting that, rather than offering a glib solution to the questions she has raised, Cornelius instead chooses to give a caution that we would do well not to let our disillusionment with our secular, self-focused society lead us to adopt a cause or beliefs out of rebellion, resentment, or na├»ve hopefulness. Ultimately the audience is left with the message that, in seeking, we should be mindful that the first answer to present itself may not be THE answer - after all, any cause or faith that does not stand up to careful scrutiny is hardly “worth dying for”.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thought Slide #2

The little fish swam till there was no swim left in her
but it was all for naught. Big fish always have little fish for breakfast,
it’s just the way things are.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cassette Kids: even indie pop-rockers need a little soul

Cassette Kids are a scene marketing dream. Cute blonde singer, sceno looks all round (all the boys are currently sporting mos), more onstage posing than their fans can poke their iPhones at, and a rocking set of catchy songs that elicits frenzied indie dancing action. They must be doing something right because this week they’re supporting Lily Allen on the Australian leg of her tour, a nice little career highlight right there.

I saw them play for the first time last week (At the Beachie. It’s becoming a habit - I’m cheap and I love free gigs) and it was a good show. I wonder though, is “good” good enough? They’re certainly competent musicians and the songs are solid. They’re great performers, particularly Kat Noorbergen (aforementioned cute blond singer) and they’ve got the look down, what with their Kicks and their Nudies and hair that’s been styled within an inch of its life to look un-styled. But, with all those boxes ticked, there still seems to be something missing. It’s like the glue, the feeling, is lacking and so all the parts don’t hold together properly and the whole is no greater than the sum of its parts.

Comparison to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is inevitable (Kat could be a blonder, younger Karen O) and it’s this comparison that probably best highlights what I’m angling at. Karen O and the YYYs have that rare commodity: the X-factor. Aside from being skilled musicians, they completely embody the sound they make – they way they move, look, dress, everything is coherent and the impact is fantastic. They’re not trying to be cool or different, they just are, and so we can’t help but tune in (even people who aren’t fans would most likely agree that they’re great at what they do and that Karen O is one cool cat).

Cassette Kids seem to be too wrapped up in the styling of being an indie cool band to really feel the music that they’re playing, and so for all their energy and enthusiasm onstage, they ring a little hollow. It’s the little things that all added up to give me that impression – the way the bass guitarist threw himself around the stage but only once in the whole set looked to the drummer to lock in with him; the way Kat yelped her high notes every single time as though what started as a unique vocal styling has become a fallback easy-way-out technique and so sounds stale after the first four or five songs; the way the only one on the stage whose body moved completely with the music was the guy on keys/samples, who I’m pretty sure also happens to be the only unofficial member of the band; the way the songs, though catchy, lack a sense of musicality and all sound similar on the first listen.

The band is entertaining enough and they’re definitely stacked near the top of the pile. They’ve got all the right bits and pieces in place to be deserving of their Sydney ‘It Band’ status, but if they want to join the big league they’re going to need some soul to hold it all together.

Cassette Kids at Beach Rd Hotel

Cassette Kids at Beach Rd Hotel

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bat for Lashes - New Video

If Luke Steele (aka Empire of the Sun and The Sleepy Jackson) was a hot girl he would be Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes). The new video for the first single off the Two Suns album, Pearl's Dream, is cooler than cool. If anyone else had done this video I would have scoffed but she owns it and I'm frothing over it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

as a wave comes into shore

How do I know You love me?

You see all that is good in me. You appreciate my complexity, comprehend my paradoxes, and You believe me when I say I want to be better. You hurt me now with piercing honesty to save me from blindness to my own human condition. And then You stick with me while I fall apart and love me back together again because You see what I can’t – the whole me.

And when You do, I trust You. As a wave comes into shore, I increase in assurance; I love, I turn towards You and You get the best of me.

(I love You because You loved me first.)