Saturday, July 6, 2013

Considerably More Than Three 7"s Clash

Alas, no tunes by Culture in this batch (given the sorry state of second hand reggae vinyl sales in New Zealand) but, whilst fastidiously saving* for a house, I’ve been trying my best not to buy records.

(*This is all relative. I am mindful of how incredibly fortunate we are to have been able to save more than $30k for a house deposit in a year without any major impedance to our lifestyle. We are part of a tiny minority that is able to afford a property in the capital city in which we live, I really don’t have any idea how those less fortunate can get by).

Anyways, I’ve been trying to show some restraint but a couple of things have come up from regular sources that needed to be snapped up. As always, I then selected a few more to accompany to make up the numbers for postage.

The original. I’ve wanted this for ages and already have the 1969 (known as the ‘heavy metal’ version, by some release. I’ve got a real soft-spot for ‘Nuggets’ type of garage rock material and this is a classic of the oeuvre.

My old man fancied himself as a bit of a folkie (my parents met during the late 1960’s ‘new wave of English folk’ at the Hanging Lamp folk club in Richmond) and absolutely despised Donovan, whom he saw as totally generic and totally commercial. He’s got a bit of a point, but the B-Side of this has a really good break that I’m going to sample.

Mine for a dollar, really bought for my Mum. (Seeing as I’ve subsequently bought a job lot of 7”s from another vendor and have a second, unplayed copy, I might actually get round to sending this one). It’s late 70’s, which is when CSN went a bit pear shaped (the LP’s became much less consistent and largely written with outside help. One assumes because of all the gak that was being consumed). This is nice though and featured on a live video that my Mum and Dad used to watch in my teens ad infinitum.

My Dad had a copy of ‘Boogie With Canned Heat’ that I used to rinse as a teenager. One of my most coveted guitars was a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top with P-90’s, largely because it’s what Blind Owl played. It wasn’t a massive surprise to learn later than most of Canned Heat succumbed to drink and drug related illness. Listen to that LP – they sound wasted.

Another one of my Father's favourites (and consequently something that I heard a great deal whilst growing up). Added interest because of the 'Big Lebowski' connection.

Once we’re into the new house, I’m going to sort out my 7” storage into proper bins. One for soul, one for funk, one for reggae etc. This is a classic. I know my Mum (a proper soul fanatic) would be jealous.

I really bought this because I absolutely love ‘Indian Ropeman’, with Julie Driscoll. This is still pretty funky. I used to work at a Northern Soul/Freakbeat weekly club night and I’ve seen ‘Indian Ropeman’ tear a dancefloor a fresh one on several occasions. That Hammond is heavy

It’s early seventies and on Reprise. I’m sort of in love with Emmylou Harris, despite the tawdry 80’s mainstream country stuff. I had an old girlfriend whom generally had absolutely terrible music taste, whom perversely loved ‘Wrecking Ball’ (written for Harris by Neil Young and featuring him on backing vocals). A weird one, that.

Possibly the worst name for a single, ever… I’ve never really got into The Allman Brothers, but really should.

 ARETHA FRANKLIN ‘NATURAL WOMAN’Obviously Aretha’s the original diva, but this is kinda special to me based on the fact that it’s written by Carol King (with her then husband Gerry Goffin). King’s ‘Tapestry’ LP was one of the real sounds of my childhood.
I’ve bought a couple of early Baez LP’s of late and really need to get into them. She’s got that classic, pure folk voice (along with Judy Collins). I’ve not actually heard her do this, but The Band are another favourite.

Holland’s Shocking Blue are probably best known for their global smash, ‘Venus’. Nirvana’s cover of ‘Love Buzz’ later influenced me to insist that my 90’s band cover ‘Lava’ by The B-52’s in similar fuzzed-up style. This is really quite danceable and goes well with the BRIAN AUGER tune mentioned above. Sweet!

I mentioned ‘Gloria’ by The Shadows of Knight being ‘Nuggets’esque. Well, this is actually off of Nuggets. I LOVE this tune. Such a find and I think I paid some ridiculously small sum ($3, maybe) for it. 

Diggin' In Melbourne

Diggin’ in Melbourne

So, I’ve been away in Melbourne for the best part of a week, ostensibly to watch Black Sabbath – whom originally booked an Australian tour with no New Zealand dates. I therefore organised to go and see them in Melbourne, with an old friend coming down from New South Wales (thirteen hours on the bus) to see them with me.

Frustratingly, Sabbath later confirmed NZ dates in advance of the Australian shows. I did consider going to the Auckland show (which coincided with both International Record Store Day, a Beastwars in-store and me actually being in Auckland for work) but eventually decided to save the money and hang on for Melbourne.

So, on arrival – suitably for my bogan mission - I get horrifically drunk on bourbon with my good friend (who I’ve not seen for three years); so much though that I’m so hungover that I’m not able to drink at Sabbath’s show.

Which is in the evening. So first, I go digging.

Northside Records, 236 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
I recently watched a documentary about crate digging in Melbourne which had a brief piece about Northside on it. Effectively, it’s a soul specialist – with a showing of other related genres. Based on the description on the documentary, I made a beeline to Northside and got stuck into their disco crates.

‘D’ Train “You’re The One For Me” Prelude 12” Single
I probably spent too much money on this, but hey – it’s on Prelude (as is ‘Keep On Movin’ by Musique, which cost me a dollar and is one of my favourite disco tunes). It’s a bit of bleepy post-disco goodness from 1981 and it’s phat.
Star City “I’m A Man” T.K. Disco 12” Single
Very camp, pop-disco. The B-Side is frankly, terrible but it’s such an attractive sleeve (still shrink wrapped and with the label inner), oh – and there’s a drum break on the A – so it’s in the bag. Next!
Candido “Dancin’ And Prancin/Jingo Breakdown” Suss’d 12” Single (Re-issued from Salsoul)
A noughties Joey Negro remix on the A isn’t what actually interested me in this one. It’s got the acapella’s for both tracks, which is a great start. Additionally, it’s got the original Shep Pettibone Dub Mix of “Jingo Breakdown”. Almost as interesting is the catalogue listing on the rear cover for all of this labels reissues of Salsoul tracks. I see that “You’re Just The Right Size” by Salsoul Orchestra (which I’ve loved since I heard Fabio play it when he was standing in for Gilles Petersen on Radio 1) was reissued. Interesting….

Karen Young “Hot Shot (Vocal)/Hot Shot (Instrumental)” West End 12” Single
A huge hit but a disco classic nonetheless. My visiting friend had just bought a record player and I was explaining my rules for digging. I’d actually already said that I was more than likely to buy anything that I found on Salsoul, Prelude, Casablanca and West End. I guess I had a lot to live up to.

Bettye LaVette “Doin’ The Best That I Can (Short Version)/Doin’ The Best That I Can” West End (Promo) 12” Single
Another proper smash – and it’s an original ’78 promo.

Julius Brown “Party (Vocal)/ Party (Instrumental)” West End 12” Single
No idea. It’s on West End and it was cheaper than the others, so I took a punt.

Donna Summer “Melody Of Love (Wanna Be Loved)” Casblanca 2 x 12” (Promo) Single Set
7 x stunning mixes including David Morales and “the incredible original jam”, according to the cover.

Dazz Band “Let It All Blow (Long Version)/Let It All Blow (Instrumental)” Gordy 12” Single

Later Motown (post 1980) can be a bit dodgy and I bought this on the basis that it was Gordy, expecting it to be earlier. (Which is stupid, incidentally, because it’s on 12” so would be what, ’76 at earliest). As it turns out, it’s actually quite electro and fast but will work later on in a mix alongside something like Xena’s “On The Upside” (

Brothers Johnson “Stomp” bw. L.T.D. “Back In Love Again” Unidisc Dance Classics 12” Single
Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, I know I have on 7” and I think I’ve got an LTD 7” in the ‘to be sold’ box. I wanted “Stomp” on 12” because it’ll be easier to mix. It’s actually a mid-price reissue (from A&M), but I’m not a purist.

After the disco, it was onto the LP’s, both old and new.

The New Rotary Connection “Hey, Love” Cadet Concept LP (Re-issue)
I wasn’t actually looking to buy any new LP’s during the dig but I saw this and jumped for it. “I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun” is one of my favourite songs of all time (it would actually jostle for top spot), so was a bit of a no-brainer. Alongside this on my must-buy list would be The Skullsnaps LP and 24-Carat Black – bagged in an instant.
Richie Havens “The End Of The Beginning” A&M LP
A couple of times since starting this blog, the world has lost artists whose work means a great deal to me. One of those losses was just last week, when I heard that the great man Richie Havens had passed away. I first heard Richie Havens (as I’m sure many did) whilst watching “Woodstock, though later grew to love more of his material. (To the extent that I even kinda like his version of the Beatles, “Lady Madonna” and I HATE that song). I saw this for $5 and despite being in pretty poor quality, felt I needed to rescue it.

KPM Music Recorded Library “Wessex Tales and Elements” KPM Music LP
KPM is one of the most highly regarded Library music labels, beloved of alternative hip-hop producers. I’m ashamed to say that this is the first of theirs that I’ve bought, but I’m starting to produce again, so it’s likely to be the first of many.  I’ve just found out from DJ Babu (off Youtube, not personally) that he collect Telefunken, so I’m not alone there either.

In addition to their priced vinyl, there’s a load of crates of dollar records on the floor and (as usual) there was a couple of things that I left, that I really should have bought. (A Chic 12” with a medley/re-edit of about four or five of their tunes, which for some stupid reason I didn’t think was worth $1.00 at the time).

Izit “Say Yeah” Tongue & Groove 12” Single
Izit guitarist/mainstay and Tongue & Groove label owner Tony Colman is now much better known as label CEO of liquid-funk/drum & bass superlabel Hospital and as none too shabby DJ and Producer London Elektricity. Colman remixes here on the flips “Mustard Mix” and toughens up what is a pretty smooth acid-jazz track elsewhere. For a dollar, I’m happy to own it as part of a wider collection of his tunes.
Guru feat. N’Dea Davenport “Trust Me” Cooltempo 12” Single / Guru “Feel The Music” Cooltempo Promo 12”
Another one of those heroes, sadly silenced in recent years. $2 for 2 Guru Jazzmatazz 12”s is ridiculous. I absolutely loved the first Jazzmatazz LP (which I own on a Chrysalis LP) and thought that it was interesting to find the single released simply as Guru (although it does credit Donald Byrd playing on the flip, “Loungin”, which is also off that LP). I’ve not actually listened t0 Jazzmatazz Part 2, though I did buy it on CD about a fortnight ago. It’s all cyclical, man…

As we headed over the road from Northside, heading towards civilisation in search of a vegeburger, a copy of the Disco Demands compilation caught my eye - displayed in the window of a rather cool record store/bookshop.

The Searchers, 93 Smith St, Fitzroy
Whilst I’d already spent what I intended to for the day, I came away with a few more interesting pieces.

Master Boogies Song And Dance “When The Shit Hits The Fan (This Mix)/When The Shit Hits The Fan (That Mix)” West End Records
It was turning out to be a rather West End sort of day by this point.

Sly & The Family Stone “Dance To The Music (Medley)” T.D Records Inc. (Promo) 12” Single
Sly Medley taking in “Dance To The Music”, “Dancin”, “Music Lover” and a reprise of “Dance To The Music” over 9 minutes on the A and bonus beats and a couple of others on the flip. Of extremely dubious legality. Why I thought that this was worth $10 AUS, when ten minutes earlier I didn’t think the Chic one was worth $1? Me either.

Pavement “Slanted And Enchanted” Matador LP (Reissue)
Absolutely no connection to anything else I bought that day and scant connection to anything else I now own on vinyl. I saw that (later Pavement LP) “Wowee Zowee” was reissued recently and thought to myself, “If I see a copy of “Slanted” I shall buy it…” This came out when I was thirteen and was a hugely important LP for me at the time. I loved their even more aggressively lo-fi (singles and rarities collection) “Westings By Musket & Sextant” and the next LP chronologically, “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”. Is this the beginning of me going out and impulsively sourcing the important indie records of my youth? God, I hope not. (Yes).

Additionally, we also did happen across a tofu burger with sesame soy mayo from Huxtaburger (106 Smith St), which was really damn good.

So, onto the main event.
Black Sabbath with Shihad
Rod Laver Arena Melbourne
01st May 2013

We, along with it appeared the vast majority of others, timed our arrival at the Rod Laver Arena to coincide with the end of NZ’s formerly Melbourne resident Shihad’s set.

We saw the last song, which I can only say was as wildly average as anything else that I’ve heard by Shihad. 

They clearly didn’t put bums on seats, so why the hell Beastwars - an up and coming local (by that I mean Australasian) band didn’t get booked, I will never know.

So, after what can only be described in arena rock show terms as a lighting quick changeover, a curtain dropped onto the stage, the lights dimmed and a certain, slightly mumbled, slightly muffled, Birmingham accent could be heard. There was a huge roar of greeting as an air raid siren sounded and the opening notes of ‘War Pigs’ boomed out across the arena.

I’ve never been a ‘metaller’ per se, but it’s impossible to overstate the influence of Black Sabbath on music that I’ve loved in the past – be it Black Flag, Nirvana, Kyuss et al.

Seeing Black Sabbath (or at least ¾ of them – apparently Bill Ward was unwilling to accept the contract that they offered him) was a truly awesome experience.

Whilst it's a shame that he wasn't there, his replacement Tommy Clufetos is unbelievably, jaw-droppingly, now in my 'dream band line up-fantasy football league imaginary line-up-top trumps' band, amazing. 

The band (understandably) concentrated on their first four (pre-Ozzy departure) LP’s with a smattering of new tracks including a couple off their forthcoming “God Is Dead”. (Including the cloying “Loner”, which was the set’s lowest ebb).

Ozzy (whom it will be news to no one) was a bit up and down and was clearly unfamiliar with reading off an autocue for the new songs. That said, his between song banter was lovable (the “make some noise…. I can’t f**king hear you!” and throwing buckets of water over the audience was expected. The continual “cookoo” noises, less so) and he nailed the older songs.

In addition to the incredible opener, the band tore through virtually all of their best known favourites; “Snowblind”, “Children Of The Grave”, “Sweetleaf”, preceded by a meaty solo by Geezer Butler -“N.I.B”, “Black Sabbath”, “Iron Man”, a particularly thundering take on “Fairies Wear Boots” and then happily (and expectedly) “Paranoid”.

So, a couple of days later, we’ve gone for a wander into St. Kilda to check out the shops, when my friend encounters a set of (to him) inviting steps up to a little hippie clothes/jewellery shop. We head up and lo-and-behold they sell records.

Mainly new, mainly hipster afrobeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but with a few second hand pieces.

Richie Havens “Portfolio” LP

I think my Mum’s got this one. Again $5 and again rescued because of my grief that Richie recently passed away. One of music’s great, great voices silenced.

So, credit limit reached and breached and my chum still grubbing about in stacks of yack wool beanies, I give in and partake in a mug of chai, taken from a huge urn bubbling away on the counter.

Whilst I’m outside, I look through the window and see the record stand from the reverse. I notice some items that I didn’t notice on initial inspection. If there’s one thing that makes this collector excited, it’s 7” boxsets….

‘Riddimentary’ 6 x 7” Greensleeves Boxset (with sticker , badge and T-Shirt)
Holy Ini Kamoze – whilst the actual box is of terrible quality (it’s just a cardboard box, rather than something to display) the content of this Bonobo curated collection from 2011 is undeniable. $50 well spent. Okay, so I’ve really reached budget now.

So, back to Sabbath at the Rod Laver Arena.

I wake up the next morning with ears ringing and tell my girlfriend that Sabbath was everything I hoped it would be. I explain that there are now very few remaining bands of my bucket list.

Perhaps the only one remaining of that ‘Monsters of Rock’ designation is perhaps Aerosmith.

Similarly to my experience with Sabbath, Aerosmith have recently played in New Zealand. Bizarrely, they only played one show, right the way down in Dunedin (pop. 130k, positioned in the far south of the South Island of New Zealand and about $400 for a flight from where I reside in Wellington).

Based on my upcoming Melbourne trip and house purchase, I can’t afford to go. I notice at the Rod Laver Arena on my way in that there’s Aerosmith posters up. “Oh, they must have played recently on the same tour as the Dunedin show…” I tell myself.

We head into town on the tram on Thursday morning and I notice a billboard, again advertising Aerosmith on the Saturday night. The coming Saturday night.

Budget overruled – bucket list emergency.

Aerosmith with Dead Daisies
Rod Laver Arena Melbourne
04th May 2013

Okay, so we know that for the last ten years, Aerosmith have seen a backwards and forwards, to-and-fro conflict between Steven Tyler (pop hitmaker and celebrity) and Joe Perry (rock and blues purist and the reason, along with the blonde girl off ‘Fame’ that I picked up a guitar) between third-party provided hits and down and dirty rock & roll.

You would have thought however that whatever your motivation (be it huge success or musical integrity) that you’d have some interest in who your opening band is.

Then Dead Daisies are quite simply a bog standard, fairly decent bar band. The sort of thing that you’d expect to see at an IT companies Christmas party. Cool logo though.

Logo aside - I arrive at the venue and immediately think that the song that they’re playing sounds like ‘Stay With Me’ by the Faces. I sort out my merch (when else are you going to be able to buy a pack of Aerosmith badges) and head to my seat realising that they are actually playing ‘Stay With Me’ by the Faces.

After a forgettable original, they finish their set with The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’. They’re clearly as surprised as anyone else that they’re here and have a band photo taken with the (2/3 empty) arena as a backdrop. I remember that the bumf about them on the internet says that the singer's been on TV talent shows. It figures. 

So, I take my seat at the rear left of the Arena and immediately kick myself that the $30 saved by taking a bronze rather than silver seat was a bad choice.
Aerosmith’s stage has two massive risers at the sides and a pontoon reaching right out to the rear of the stalls. I wondered why stalls tickets were more expensive than seats for a change. Tyler’s going to be right out in amongst it.

Joe Perry + Ampeg Dan Armstrong. Gasp,

And that he is, from set opener ‘Same Old Song and Dance’ the (slightly creaky jointed) vocalist is at one with his audience. Yes, you’ve seen the microphone stand with the scarves on it and the humping the monitors a million times, but he’s still a totally captivating performer.

The audience (especially in the cheap seats) are a really weird mix. A load of very young, very straight looking couples (it is a Saturday night, after all) looking in each other’s eyes, singing ‘Crying’, ‘Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ and the other nineties mega-hits (‘Living On The Edge’ is accompanied by a really cheap looking video of Tyler and Joe Perry looking round a Sea Shepherd ship – one of the night’s weirdest moments), with trackpants-wearing bogan oldies losing their beans to the eighties material (‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘Janies Got A Gun’, a largely acappella ‘What It Takes’ and an absolutely blistering take on ‘Permanent Vacation’s ‘Ragdoll’ with Perry on lapsteel).

Weirdly, it appeared to be only me (at least from my section) who was familiar with their seventies (and in this muso’s opinion, never bettered) material.

I got the triple whammy though – the set ending with ‘Walk This Way’, a blackout (where you could see a grand piano being rolled out) before an “encore” (it was less than spontaneous) of ‘Dream On’ (complete with a piano top Joe Perry guitar solo) and ‘Sweet Emotion’ as a closer.

I once read a review of Aerosmith in Rolling Stone magazine that said something along the lines of ‘they’re at their best, when they’re being over the top’. Well, that just about covers it.

The only sad note for me was that Tom Hamilton was absent due to illness. One hopes that whatever’s troubling him is short lived.
The rest of my break went past in a blur of wine and cheese (check out “Fromagerie” if you’re ever in Melbourne) bar a quick pop into a book shop in St, Kilda, which, lo-and-behold, sold records, resulting in a Ltd. Edition Light In The Attic 7”.

Charles Bradley's a bit of a recent favourite and I'm really excited to see the forthcoming documentary about him.

Orange vinyl. Who can resist that?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

International Record Store Day - 20th April 2013

Where's Vinylology? I'm in there somewhere....
So, yesterday was International Record Store Day; an initiative which sees independent record stores the world over running in-store appearances from live acts, DJ's and offering a plethora of special pressings, limited editions and all sorts of exciting merchandise opportunities for dorks like me.

Unfortunately, Record Store Day also fell right in the middle of me buying a new house so a major splurge was not a possibility.

It also happened to occur on a day when I was working at an industry conference, meaning that I didn't have a great deal of time to devote to it. Happily however,  attendance at the conference did put me less than ten minutes walk from Auckland's Real Groovy store.

Knowing that I wasn't going to have a great deal of time (or a great deal of money) to devote to buying vinyl on Saturday, I was able to go to their late night opening on Friday (Thurs and Fri nights - open til 8.30) and have a fairly reasonable dig in their 'sale-price' bins (happily reduced from $3.00 to $2.00).

Xena 'On The Upside' bw 'On The Upside (Dub)' Streetwave 12" Single
I noticed this because it's on the same label (just two releases apart in the catalogue) as the stone-cold classic 'Al Naayfish' by Hashim, which I picked up in mint condition a couple of months ago.
Hashim: reference point

It's a great electro backed soul track, with an amazing opening melody - strangely reminiscent of Orbital. If it's not been heavily sampled, it should have been. I'm in the throes of starting to produce again after an eight year break, so it immediately inspired me to begin work on a re-edit. A major find for $2.00. (I'm definitely in the market for a double for DJ'ing as well).

D.C. La Rue 'Do You Want The Real Thing' Single-Sided Casablanca 12" Promotional Single (Music From The Original Soundtrack Of "Thank God It's Friday" Collectors Gift Series)
Disco: you had me at "promotional copy - not for resale"
There's a few rules to crate digging (I'm actually in the middle of writing a beginners guide which will be coming to Vinylology soon) and this answers several of them. Random promo formats, OST's to films that you've never heard of, being on a favoured label (I've got heaps of tunes on Casablanca), buy anything more than ten minutes long; this has it all - plus it's got the BPM marked on it. (Oh, those heady days at the beginning of what they called 'New York style mixing'). I've never heard of the film; Wikipedia says that despite an Academy Award for Donna Summer on the soundtrack, it's dreadful. Having read an explanation of the plot  (several intertwining storylines revolving around a series of nightclub patrons) it seems perilously close to a treatment for a New York gangster/caper movie that I wrote called 'Saturday Mass', that was supposed to be set in the last days of the Paradise Garage. As it had clearly been done before, badly, I can only thank god that I didn't put more work into it. I used to take myself far too seriously as a younger man.

Chris Hillman 'Clear Sailin'' Asylum Records LP
The actual pop/rock sale section at Real Groovy was rather daunting considering my limited budget, (it's best not to know what's there if you can't buy it), so I stuck initially (before moving onto the 12" singles - as above) to the country and folk. There's some fairly smaltzy country material on here alongside some more appealing acoustic material. I'm a huge fan of Hillman's other work with The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas, so I'm sure that my enjoyment of what's here will grow.

Judy Collins 'Living' Elektra LP
Two Leonard Cohen songs, one Joni Mitchell and one Bob Dylan (plus a Collins original and some others that I don't recognise). I bought her LP 'Wildflower' in the Sally Army shop a while back.

Judy Collins 'Nightingale' Elektra LP
Well, it's on Elektra, a label with a very strong sixties folk back-catalogue that I will ultimately buy most of. I guess that when I'm in a Judy Collins mood - I'll have a few to choose from. I do feel slightly guilty for this one; they had two copies in the sale bins - one with a knackered cover, one with a tatty disk. I made up a mongrel with the best bits of both and bought that. I hang my head in shame.

All in all though, not a bad nights work for $10.00.

So, onto Record Store Day itself.
Beastwars' Matt Hyde
I was delighted to learn that Wellington sludge/stoner metal favourites Beastwars (my favourite NZ band, of course) were playing an in-store to promote their new LP, 'Blood Becomes Fire', which came out the previous day.

(My girlfriend had actually confirmed that my pre-order had been hand delivered on Friday).

So, I managed to drag myself away from my trade stand to see Beastwars, who as always - rocked it.

They played a selection of tracks off the new record, including 'Caul Of Time' and recent single 'Tower Of Skulls' B-Side, the creepy 'The Sleeper'.
Beastwars' Nato: also the $2.00 bins that I scoured the night before
My only gripe is that it wasn't longer. (I did actually have to leave and get back to the conference, so it's not even as if I would have been able to watch it).

I feel almost ashamed of saying this, but it was actually also the first in-store performance that I've been to.

Call myself a muso? Pff.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Paul Simon & Rufus Wainwright

Paul Simon + Special Guest, Rufus Wainwright (solo)
Vector Arena, Auckland
Mon 8 Apr 2013

Here's another one with a dream line-up. Rufus Wainwright's a bit of an acquired taste (with the Broadway musical/Judy Garland obsession, wearing a toga etc.) but capable of breath-taking songwriting. (His sister Martha's first LP is also very dear to me)
I've not seen him live before, so the opportunity to see him solo, with just him and a piano (apart from two songs on guitar) was a huge treat.

Wainwright is an incredible piano player and his playing on 'Who Are You New York' (a song that I've been listening to a lot lately) was a definite highlight, along with 'Montauk' (which I'm not ashamed to say brought tears to my eyes).

He told a story about meeting Jeff Buckley (during which he was heckled) and then performed 'Memphis Skyline', which is his tribute to him, quickly moving into his version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' (which was also covered by Buckley).

Despite being a majestic pianist, Wainwright's guitar playing is somewhat primitive. Despite that, his bashing along to his latest LP 'Out of the Game's title track provided an up-tempo treat in more maudlin (in a good way) set.

Paul Simon is touring to commemorate 25 years since the release of his ground breaking (and controversial) solo LP 'Gracelands' and accordingly it provided the backbone of his set (opening with 'Gumboots', playing 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes' late in the main set, with 'Gracelands' coming in the encore). He represented his early eighties pre-Africa material with a very moving versions 'Still Crazy After All The Years' and 'Slip Sliding Away'.

As you'd imagine, whilst his solo songs were greeted with rapturous reception from the greying crowd (who clearly saw Rufus Wainwright as being a bit challenging), even greater reaction came from his airing of Simon & Garfunkel classics; 'Me & Julio, Down By The School Yard' came up as the second song, 'Only Living Boy In New York', Simon's solo rendition of 'Sound Of Silence' added a level of grown-up world-weariness, then at the end of the set, Wainwright returned to the stage to fill Art Garfunkel's vocal parts on an incredible rendition of 'The Boxer'.
Paul and Rufus - Boxing On...
Simon played for a good two hours, covered all bases and clearly demonstrated the strength of his entire back catalogue.

Wilco & Mavis Staples

Occasionally, as a fan of live music, you see a line-up that is top-to-bottom drool worthy. (A couple I remember some twenty years later - Sonic Youth toured the ‘Dirty’ LP in the UK with Pavement and Royal Trux. Rage Against The Machine toured their first LP with Tool and Wool (effectively Scream less Dave Grohl) – in both cases I was sadly too young to attend).

I think Wilco’s latest tour falls into this category, having the legendary Mavis Staples (ex-of The Staple Singers) as special guest.

Last year saw the release of Staples’ critically acclaimed ‘You Are Not Alone’ LP, which was produced (and largely written) by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

I bought the LP when it came out and was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good record – but it’s perhaps not as jaw-dropping as a Mojo review that I’d read of it. I’ve listened to it a couple of times since and it’s become a sort of background go-to.

That notwithstanding, I was very excited to see her live. I love the Staple Singers – both vocally and Pop’s guitar playing (famously on a 50’s Fender Jazzmaster – not unlike the one played by Nels Cline from Wilco).
Before Staples took to the stage, I realised how small her band is: one guitar, bass and drums with three backing singers. I’m actually taken aback that the LP (which sounds really full) is basically the same line up.
The smallest soul revue ever?
Staples took to the stage to rapturous applause - and then proceeded to absolutely blow the roof off.

Frankly, she was well worth the price of admission alone. Her set took in Staple Singers material (interestingly, as Mavis’ voice has deepened, she’s taken on her father, Pops Staples’ vocal parts), covers of popular tunes such as ‘The Weight’ by The Band and, towards the end – with the arrival of a familiar looking, slightly dishevelled man (Tweedy) playing a Gibson SJ-200, the title track from her last LP.
Moonlighting - Tweedy Style
Another late highlight was the Gospel call-and-response of The Staple Singers ‘I'll Take You There’.

As she finished, my girlfriend said that it had been one of her top ten gigs ever.

So, how do you follow that?

Well, Wilco are widely regarded as being one of the best live bands around today. (I will note that people do also say that about Muse, who are in my opinion simply abysmal, however).

In the late nineties, I largely listened to Alt-Country, before going on a ten year long dance music tip. Wilco’s classic ‘Being Here’ double LP was a record that I hammered at the time and am most familiar with.

It was however, rather reassuring that they opened with the LP’s opener ‘Misunderstood’. From there, they went into more experimental territory with ‘Art Of Almost’. A couple of tracks in and it became immediately evident – Wilco are as amazing live as people make out.

Other reviews tell me that ‘I Might’, ‘Via Chicago’, ‘Impossible Germany’, ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’, ‘Capitol City’ (which Tweedy said was included in the set in tribute to Wellington), ‘Born Alone’, ‘Walken’, ‘Handshake Drugs’, ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’, ‘A Shot in the Arm’, ‘Jesus, Etc’ all made an appearance, but for me (as a fair-weather Wilco fan) it was inclusion of my favourite ‘Being Here’ track, ‘Sunken Treasure’ that provided a highlight.

Wilco received two encores – the second of which was after the doors were opened and some of the crowd had left. They reappeared and launched into a blistering version of ‘Outtasite (Outta Mind)’, which had the remaining crowd in the balcony dancing in the aisles.

Top ten gigs ever? You betcha.