November 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Grizzly Bear is an anomaly and I mean that in a really good way. The band from New York gets called indie rock but given how its music confounds and transgresses the rules of so much that is stereotypical about rock, that label does it a disservice and blinkers the sparkling music it makes.
There were times last night when Grizzly Bear sounded a bit like the Fleet Foxes, or 70s progressive rock, or abstractly jazzy with elements of Kurt Weill thrown in. But none of these tangential references are really remotely accurate. Grizzly Bear sound like Grizzly Bear and there’s no one else around who can come close to what these guys are doing.
Many bands have gifted and talented singers – think Radiohead, The National, Vampire Weekend, Beach House, Lawrence Arabia, Phoenix Foundation – but how many have an embarrassment of riches like Grizzly Bear with three fine vocalists interchanging and harmonising?
They are multi-instrumentalists too, adding textures with flute, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, lap steel and piano. It is rock music that sounds like nothing and everything, a hypnotic pop sensitivity that shifts from swagger to dreaminess in a heartbeat, and there’s nothing else to do but surrender to the swelling drama of the music.
I had a deep feeling the band would make its weirdly idiosyncratic albums sound even better on stage and that’s exactly how it happened. Grizzly Bear is a different animal live – so adept at changing the mood and feeling of a song. Heard in the flesh, the music is taut and elastic and it sounded pristine in a venue that celebrates its 100 anniversary next year. Seeing artists play at the State Opera House sells itself but when it happens to be musicians of this kind of calibre, the whole experience becomes exquisite.
so yeah Wellington, we are loving your city. We likely wont be back for some years so I hope you all make it tonight. Gonna be fun! 🙂—
Grizzly Bear (@grizzlybear) November 20, 2012
Grizzly Bear last night played songs mainly from its most recent albums, Shields and Veckatimest. Songs like Two Weeks, Ready Able, Yet Again, Gun Shy, Half Gate swooped and soared while A Simple Answer came chugging out majestically, showing just why these guys are currently so highly cherished by fans and critics everywhere.
Part of the anomaly that is Grizzly Bear is that it sounds like a cult indie band but one that smashed the charts when its second to last album, Veckatimest, soared to eighth on the Billboard 200 charts in 2009.
Grizzly Bear is so hot right now. There’s a rare chemistry at work here – not the kind that creates an explosion but the kind that makes rare, swirling colours. It was such an extraordinary treat to see the band play Wellington for its first time. It helps that Grizzly Bear comes across as a band of friends who are enjoying a long moment in the sun and as long as that moment lasts, there’s so much to love about these five guys from Brooklyn.
I took some video. The first one (Yet Again) is only 17 seconds long because one of attendant Nazis rushed over to tell me to stop. The second one (Two Weeks) was done guerilla-style and it shows but at least the sound is clear.
November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
When Radiohead beamed down in Auckland for only the second time, not everyone went home happy. I say beamed because there’s something increasingly ‘otherworldly’ about the band – especially if you factor in its newer recordings and singer Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser and his Atoms for Peace side project.
But judging by the comments from some punters to the NZ Herald review of the concert, contemporary Radiohead got the thumbs down from those wanting a Radiohead nostalgia trip.
Those fans had come to see the OK Computer era band and were not prepared for a show skewed towards the more recent end of the group’s career (with the emphasis on the King Of Limbs album) and which carried its past musical baggage very lightly.
But for the rest of us with expectations of just being able to see one of the seminal alternative music acts to straddle the end of one millennium and the beginning of another, it was a glorious and illuminating experience.
Radiohead may not have brought many of the old songs that made first made it famous, songs like Creep, High and Dry and Karma Police, but the group did bring two hours of Radiohead’s futuristic dystopian world view. It was brutal and uncompromising at times but worth every second.
Radiohead are more interested in being history makers, than repeating history.
Backed by a gorgeous and, at times, hallucinatory epilepsy inducing light show, Radiohead began the programme in a rush, slowed down in places, crashed through more of the band’s later songs with a relentless sonic aggression that ended on a ringing high.
If you didn’t know the lyrics, it was easy to imagine music about worlds spinning out of control and collapsing stars.
Someone posted the group’s set list on Twitter (via @christype) and although I haven’t verified it, it does match the list that the NZ Herald published in its online review. The highlights included Lotus Flower, Weird Fish, Ideoteque, Separator, two newish songs – Identikit and Supercollider – and one old favourite, Paranoid Android.
Interviews with band members have made clear their fear of being trapped in a time warp, playing the same songs to audiences which expect a backward looking ride through the group’s considerable back catalogue, with an emphasis on OK Computer, the album that makes many critics best album lists.
There’s now a similar case to be made for King of Limbs as an artistic breakthrough album. There’s just such an evidently fierce intelligence and convention defying ethos about Radiohead that makes the band want to confound expectations. This show was less about the past and much more the present and the directions it is intent on pursuing.
Radiohead were awe-inspiring at the Vector Arena – a completely sold out show! – because my only real expectation was to see one of the epochal bands of a generation play live in the flesh. This beloved and artful super group thrilled because there were all the signs that its famous creativity shows little evidence of ebbing or slowing down.
Judging by the group’s thunderous, digitally enhanced sound and brilliantly hallucinatory stage design, Radiohead is intent on making light speed, as if it was in a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. Plot a course to the heart of the future. Twenty five years after its genesis, Radiohead remains a vital and creative tour de force. No complacency to see here, people, just a band whose artistic ambition continues to burn hard and fiercely. And it was a thing of wonder to see live.
Thanks to Ajay Murthy (@ajaystwtr) and @christype for the images used here. The videos below were taken on my Flip recorder. This review also appears on the Fantale FM website.
November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
To the annoyance of the government in Beijing, one of China’s best known political dissidents Ai Weiwei (艾未未) must seem to be everywhere at times. For examples; Ai Weiwei has a new blog, Ai Weiwei does a Gangnam Style parody video, Ai Weiwei has an awarding winning documentary made about his life, Ai Weiwei exhibits naked photos of himself and his friends, Ai Weiwei has retrospectives and new works shown in some of the world’s leading art galleries, and Ai Weiwei chats frequently on Twitter.
As long as the rebellious artist can – with the help of a legion of supporters and fans – remain connected to his online community (he is not allowed to leave China and it is a given that his every move is monitored), everyone with an interest in China can feel less pessimistic about the trajectory the country is taking in terms of tolerating political dissent and political activism.
But when Ai Weiwei is sued, threatened, beaten and imprisoned, we feel gloomy about direction the country is headed despite the Chinese internet growing into a whirlwind of pressure for dialogue, openness and transparency.
While there are other well-known Chinese political dissidents and prisoners such as the Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) who is currently jailed and the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) who is currently in the United States, Ai Weiwei is the one many of us China watchers pin our hopes to because he is the most visible to us. His art gives us a non sanctioned interpretation of modern China and most of us have seen or heard about his work in some form or another, like the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing or the porcelain sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in London. We can also follow his conversations on Twitter, even if they are blocked within China except to those who circumvent the Great Firewall by using VPNs and other censorship defying techniques.
After nearly three months imprisonment and a temporary ban imposed on Ai Weiwei by the government ended last year, the artist has again taken to this digital lifeline that assures us he is alive and well and continuing to live up to a society’s expectations of an artist to be a public conscience that speaks out, even if it angers the authorities.
On Twitter, Ai Weiwei (170,000 plus followers and over 80,000 tweets) is especially visible to me because I follow him on Twitter. He’s on my China list and he has even sent me a tweet. It was no small thrill to a star-struck fan that Ai Weiwei replied to me even if all he said was ‘eh’ or something close to that.
艾未未 Ai Weiwei (@aiww) October 14, 2012
In Chinese, what he said is wonderfully ambiguous. The Chinese character for ‘eh’ is a kind of a grunt used to show surprise or disapproval. Or it could be used to express agreement or assent in the way an English speaker might say uh-huh.
@aiww 老艾， 我看到您的tweets会让我练习读汉字。 我也要看您的never sorry 的电影。我觉得那不部电影很有意思！—
Charles Mabbett (@DocRaccoon) October 14, 2012
My Chinese is basic and I had tweeted him to say that I read his tweets as a way of practising Chinese and that I looked forward to seeing the Never Sorry documentary about him by the film maker, Alison Klayman. I hoped for a reply but I didn’t expect one. But the fact that I got one demonstrated for me how if Ai Weiwei is a cyclist, Twitter is his fluorescent yellow visibility jacket. It reassures us that he has this one freedom despite not being able to travel overseas and of being under constant surveillance.
This is why it is vitally important to follow Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on Twitter. It tells us that Ai Weiwei is continuing to do what Ai Weiwei does – whether the authorities approve or not. You will be joining legions of fans, supporters, activists and even critics who believe information should flow freely on the internet, despite the worst intentions of governments.