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June 30, 2008

Review: Robert Randolph @ Borderline

Robert Randolph & the Family Band did not fail to impress on Friday night. There was no support band so they arrived onstage at around 8:30, played a blistering 90 minute set then headed off to get some rest before the big Hard Rock Calling gig in Hyde Park the following afternoon.

The band were tight and funky, the songs they played ranging from their own compositions to the Doobie Brothers and even included an upbeat tribute to Bo Diddley, who died recently. Robert himself played both his trademark pedal steel guitar, often turbocharged using a wah pedal, giving him a Hendrix-like tone, and a couple of regular 6-string axes.

Three of us went, three of us loved the music, three of us would definitely see the band perform again...

...but not one of us is willing to ever set foot inside Borderline again. It's actually a testament to the quality of the music that we stayed past the first song. While the venue has air-conditioning, the powers that be chose to keep it turned off for the most part. It was so hot and humid in the basement bar that we all felt like we were going to die down there. The management seriously need to look at fixing the airflow in there. The music to one side, Friday night was a truly horrible experience.

To make matters worse, when I got up the following morning I found that after standing awkwardly in that heat for a couple of hours my back had gone out. To say that it wrecked my weekend would be an understatement as I could barely get around for the following two days. I'm still in quite a lot of pain today, thank you very much Mean Fiddler Group.

The only positive spin that I can put on it is that as I was couch-ridden I got to listen to Jason Mraz's new album a couple more times, which is growing on me slowly. I also discovered that I had Placebo's last release, "Meds", but hadn't got round to listening to it. I love Placebo. Balls-to-the-wall goth rock. "Meds" seems to be something of a departure in style (I need to listen to it again) but I have no doubt that in the fullness of time I'll like it.

June 25, 2008

Shiny Objects Of Desire, Part Deux

Okay, so I just saw this on fellow blogger, Sans Direction's site. You remember a while back I was talking about how much I love dobros?

Check this out! It looks like the love child of a steel body resonator and a Les Paul.

How shiny is that?!?! Check out the rest of their stuff, here.

The Fillmore Five World Tour

...or how to circumnavigate the globe from the comfort of your own living room.

Now that we have our home back to ourselves I took some time yesterday evening to reacquaint myself with my acoustic, Blackie. I have to say that she was sounding good. Vibrato was flowing freely, and, possibly due to the inevitable reduction in callus thickness from not playing recently, I felt like I could feel the guitar better. Often when I'm jamming I'll start off plucking notes from an Arabian sounding sextonic scale, which I've blogged about before, and last night was no exception. At some point I decided to head west, segueing into a North American minor blues pattern. Pretty soon I found myself adding in British Blues tonality of the major pentatonic colour notes, as favoured by Mr Eric Clapton. A hop, skip and an arpeggio later and I found myself back on the magic carpet ride of the sextonic. How many Air Guitar Miles did I earn for that trip, eh?

It's come time in the project to s**t or get off the pot, as Tim's Mom says. I've made a couple of potential contacts through the Partysounds website so I'm gonna drop them an email. After all, Summer's here and it's time for dancing in the street.

In other news, I've finally found time to listen to a couple of the albums I've bought recently. A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for his upcoming London show (July 7), I purchased Jason Mraz's "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things". On first listen most of the songs kind of washed over me, leaving no real clue as to the longevity of the album. Stylistically, it's a departure from his early work, following on from his previous offering, "Mr A-Z". The mixes are fuller, the vibe is more laid back. The funky white boy has brought in a horn section! There's a smidgen of Jack Johnson stylee island rhythm here and there. The overall vibe, though, is lounge jazz without the Mraz trademark street corner rappin'. For me, Jason was at his best when it was just him, his guitar and Toca Rivera on congas. It's always difficult to adjust to his more produced releases, but I'm still looking forward to seeing him live as that's really where the boy's character shines through.

I was extremely pleased to have Magic Ship debut album "LoveTel Motel" drop through my letterbox and to find that it's good. Really good, in fact. It's consistently rocks with an upbeat feel good groove. Right from track 1, Magic Ship kicks the door down with "Fly!", a definite crowd pleasing stomper. From there on in the tunes just keep getting stronger and stronger. The album peaks at song number 7 with the title track. The band keep the pedal to the metal for "Love & Glory", bringing it home with "Tumbling & Falling" and "Lifeboats For The Dead". It's a credit to the Magic Ship boys that as Colin Gillman's gruff vocals fade out on track 10 you're ready to hit 'play' and listen to the album over again. If you're looking to hear something new and fresh, go on, buy British! Buy the Magic Ship CD.

I still haven't touched a Tom Petty greatest hits album I bought along with the Jason Mraz CD. I've never really listened to Mr Petty's stuff before, but I have high expectations that I'll like it. We shall see!

June 24, 2008

A New Beginning

The in-laws came, the in-laws went. My toe-nails are no longer blue. Funny, but I'd gotten used to them over the past two weeks. Last night I figured that going down to our local pub in flip flops, sporting sparkly toes wouldn't be a particularly smart move. A dab of alcohol and a bit of elbow grease and my little piggies were au naturel again.

I started the new job yesterday, with this being my first day at the London office. Hurrah! Very short commute! The mighty Google tells me it's just over 3 miles door to door. I might even ditch public transport in favour of two-wheeled freedom in the very near future. If I managed to average 15 miles an hour then I could be home in less than quarter of an hour. I should try it and see, I guess.

Exciting times! We'll see how the increased spare time affects the progress of the project...

June 12, 2008

Postcards From The Edge...

...of consciousness!

I am so sleep-deprived right now it's not even funny. Last night I lay awake in bed, listening to my family trying to be quiet as they were preparing to watch a movie (sometime after midnight). I remember wondering how much sleep is necessary for a person to function normally. Since the in-laws arrived I think I've averaged around 5 hours a night. I'm alive, but I definitely wouldn't say I'm firing on all cylinders. Just now I found myself falling asleep whilst standing in the cafeteria lunch queue. Not good!

This is my penultimate day at my current job. The hourglass sands have almost run out and I'm very, very happy about it! I can't wait to start moving in another direction. I'm off work next week so hopefully I can catch up on shut-eye.

I've actually started losing track of things. A few days ago I lost my iPod (hence the lack of iPod DJing). Yesterday it inexplicably turned up in my work bag... which I swear I'd searched 3 or 4 times already, each time coming up empty-handed. More worryingly, I also lost my keys for the first time ever. Surprise, surprise, they turned up in my work bag, too. The moral of the story is that if I lose track of anything else, I should persevere with searching through my bag. The errant item will be in there somewhere.

Last night we took our niece plus both our mothers to see "The Sound of Music" at the London Palladium. I'm not a major musical fan, but I really did have a good time and I'd recommend the show to anyone (along with "Cabaret" and "Chicago").

The sets were great, Maria was fab and the seven diminutive offspring of Captain Von Trapp were so cute that you'd have had to be a pretty heartless stormtrooper to mow them down in cold blood with your machine gun. Not that that happened, of course. It's a family show, for gawd's sake!

There was some strangeness to it, though...

In a deliberate blurring of the line between reality and fiction, the girl who plays Maria, Summer Strallen, used to star in the UK soap opera "Hollyoaks". Not so strange, I hear you say. Many TV actors go on to tread the boards. Here's the thing, though: the character she played on TV, Summer Shaw, was trying to get into musical theatre and her small-screen role culminated in an audition with none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber, appearing in a cameo role. Next thing you know, she's 'high on a hill', consorting with the cast of 'Sister Act: The Prequel'. Coincidence? I think not!

I wasn't expecting the director to have re-imagined the ending. In the movie, the Von Trapps head for the hills and escape to freedom. In the stage version they unwittingly step aboard a flying saucer and are whisked off into outer space, presumably by lederhosen-loving aliens. One can only imagine their fate!

Okay, so that's probably not what the production designer intended, but it's what it looked like, dammit. The 'hill' was constructed as a large floating disc and, as the erstwhile gaggle of clean-cut Austrians supposedly headed towards the Swiss border, the set tilted and appeared to launch itself skyward, up, up and away, leaving the habit-bedecked, crooning sisters for spacedust.

Oh, on the way home I desperately tried to convince my 8-year old niece that nuns are really, really scary people. Nuns, Nazis... I get the two confused... Did I mention the sleep deprivation? She didn't buy it, sadly. That would be a cool phobia to grow up with. Hey, I never said I was a good uncle, did I?

Anyway... the only let-down in the show was that there were no puppets during the 'lonely goat' number. Why?! Why did you leave them out?!? The puppet show is integral to the plot, isn't it?

Ach, a minor blemish on an otherwise flawless show.

Moving on...

I just started reading Slash's semi-autobiography this morning. I say 'semi' as it's written both by Slash his-bad-assness-self and some other bitchin' dude (Anthony Bozza). Since Slash didn't pen it in its entirity I don't see how the bio can be considered 100% 'auto'. I'm up to Chapter 3 and so far it's reading a bit like Jonathan Lethem's "The Fortress of Solitude", only without the magic superhero ring. It's possible that the magic ring may feature later on, after the top-hatted-one quits shoplifting and takes up drugs instead. For now there's lots of big hair, delinquency and kleptomania. Watch this space for a more in-depth review!

Inbetween cat-naps I've been trying to get back into lyric writing mode. I had a couple of concept ideas that I thought I'd try to work up into something. So far they're lying on the beach like stranded dolphins...

I got one of the ideas after being unexpectedly caught in the sun on Saturday morning and ending up with a 'farmer's tan': burnt arms and face but pasty white everywhere else. I wasn't the only one. Tim proved once and for all that he really is a redneck from Missouri!


[I'll pay for that one later]

Erm... where was I... A.D.D. comes with lack of sleep...

Oh yes, FARMER'S TAN! That gave me the idea that if being loved by someone is like basking in their sunshine, that maybe if you don't allow yourself to be completely open to it that you'd get some kind of emotional farmer's tan. Everything would look good to other people, but when you're naked and vulnerable you'd end up obsessing about your tan lines. You see what I mean? No? Oh well, I told you it wasn't a great idea.

It occurs to me that many of the letters of ANGST are contained within the words MENTAL MASTURBATION. Granted, not all of them... I think the 'G' is missing, but somehow that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Eh? EH?!

The other song idea related to how you can be in a couple for a long time and then you see someone you inexplicably fancy the socks off. You have some kind of connection with them, either in physical or emotional terms. Rather than run off with them, though, you end up realising the value what you already have and you start to see your existing relationship in a different, more positive light. Kind of a rebirth kind of thing.

No? M'kay then...

June 11, 2008

The Magic Ship Has Landed!

Sounds like the Magic Ship album launch party was a stormer! Check out their website for a sample of their first live gig or if you're feeling greedy, go to Istvanski's site to download the official bootleg in its entirety.

Like what you hear? Don't waste time! Head over to Stone Island Records to buy the album!

June 10, 2008

Three Week Look Ahead

As regulars around here will have noticed, there's not really been much actual progress on The Project lately. I won't rehash all the stuff that's been going on, but suffice to say that the planets are starting to align and soon I should be ready for another big push.

July 1 is a major project milestone, so I think it's worth looking forward to that date to see what's on the horizon. As June passes into July, not only will the UK be celebrating the half-way mark of the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament (and moaning about how all our players were knocked out in the first round) but I'll be celebrating the mid-point of The Project. Exciting times! It's all downhill from here!

The in-laws will be with us for a couple more weeks. After we've had our farewell hugs and dried our tears they'll board the big shiny bird headed west and I'll start my new 'commuter-friendly' job, creating shedloads of free time. As soon as possible I'm hoping to hook up with some folks who messaged me recently via the Partysounds website. The plan is that we'll drink some beer, shake the tree and see what falls out.

On the concert front, having started off the Summer 2008 run with Rufus Wainwright, we've got Robert Randolph lined up at the end of June, then Dolly Parton, Jason Mraz and Macy Gray in July. Still unconfirmed, but possible depending on other commitments are Little Feat (IndigO2, July 11) and Drive By Truckers (Electric Ballroom, August 4). Oh, and while I think about it, I've been getting a lot of hits lately from people looking for Oli Brown information and my review of his band's debut album "Open Road". I won't be able to make the show, but for those of you in London who can, Oli is supporting The Blue Oyster Cult at the Kentish Town Forum TOMORROW NIGHT (June 11). Go along and check him out!

So, for the next few weeks you, The Reader, can expect general banter, the occasional iPod DJ entry and general project water-treading. After that, though, watch out! It's full speed ahead!

June 9, 2008

Little Feat With Sparkly Blue Toenails

If your 8-year old niece is staying with you, never, NEVER fall asleep before she does. The lipstick kisses covering my face washed off the morning after. However, I'm stuck with sparkly blue toenails for at least the next two weeks. Changing at the gym is likely to be an interesting experience!

We had a fairly packed 'London' weekend, catching the Colonel's Review, which is the second rehearsal for the Trooping the Colour in preparation for the Queen's birthday celebrations.

We also sampled the delights of Borough Market, took a boat ride down the Thames and, of course, went for a ride on the London Eye. After a stroll along South Bank, checking out the street performers, we rounded off Sunday evening with a traditional roast dinner at a pub.

On the music front, I noticed an advertisement in a local rag for an upcoming Little Feat concert in London. The show takes place on July 11th at the IndigO2 in Greenwich, doors open 19:00. Interestingly the show is rated as 18+ or 16+ accompanied by an adult. Hooray! Adult music!

I used to really dig the quirkiness of Little Feat back in the day, but I've not heard anything from them in decades. Are they still any good? Is it the same band, or has everyone been replaced? Is it worth catching the show? All opinions and experiences welcome!

June 6, 2008

The Americans Are Coming, The Americans Are Coming!

Actually 'the Americans' (my mother-in-law and our niece) arrived yesterday afternoon. As all good houseguests should, they came bearing gifts: a couple of rather festive Fender-branded T's and a pair of Ray Bans, styling circa 1970... retro-chic straight out of Carrie Bradshaw's closet.

Now, I'm more of a Gibson meets Prada kinda guy, and green isn't really my colour, but y'know, I think I can work with this stuff!

Sometimes, being one half of a bi-national couple has its benefits. Family don't drop in every day, and when they do they bring cool pressies!

The flip side is that today I'm suffering from 'passive jetlag'. I may not have crossed time zones but my delightful-but-hyper 8-year old niece did... my required (or at least desired) 8 hours sleep was significantly shortened by her 6 hour time difference! So, it was a Fender T, retro Ray Ban, two coffee kind of morning, and I'm downing my third java boost with lunch.

Still, last night was a lot of fun. My niece loves the fact that 'Uncle Kenny' plays guitar and she tried to put together an impromptu concert. She even wrote a new song for the show, which had pretty damn good lyrics, considering the vintage of the source. A tale of forlorn longing and the loss of intimacy. I'm not kidding!

As she already knew the lyrics to "Proud Mary", remembering them from a road trip we took at the tail end of last year, I set to learning the chords and trying to remember the rhythm. Sadly, the show per se never actually got off the ground due to a scheduling conflict with din-dins. Dinner itself was less than nutritionally balanced and included a lot more chocolate than I'm used to.

Tonight is the debut gig and album launch party for Twickenham-based rockers Magic Ship. I was hoping to head over to Barnes to catch the gig, but with the arrival of the in-laws that doesn't seem likely. For any of you who are local and at a loose end I heartily advocate getting down to The White Hart to check out the band.

Trust me, you're going to like what you hear, you'll get to meet the band and, last but definitely not least, you'll be able to buy their hotly-anticipated debut album at a special reduced rate.

Oh, and while I think about it, I'd like to send out a special 'hello' to all the Rufus Wainwright fans who've stopped by over the last couple of days! I didn't realise that the boy had such a following! I've not had such a huge spike in my page hits since I mentioned having seen Pete Doherty walking down our street! The cynics amongst the blogging community will doubtless accuse me of milking the keywords 'Rufus Wainwright' and 'Pete Doherty' to boost my traffic, but, frankly, if that was the case then I'd have pointed out that I posted a 'review' of his 'Hampton Court' gig yesterday. Oops... I just did. Sorry...

I wonder what a duet between Pete Doherty and Rufus Wainwright would sound like... (okay, not really...)

June 4, 2008

Rufus Wainwright Live @ Hampton Court Palace

Last night we caught Rufus Wainwright's show, which is part of 2008's Hampton Court Palace Festival. The festival includes such esteemed artists as Jools Holland, Van Morrison, the Buena Vista Social Club... the list goes on. If you choose the VIP package then you're even treated to hospitality by Gordon Ramsey.

For those brave enough to weather the English summer, guests were invited to picnic in the stunning palace gardens. We weren't feeling brave, and since it poured right up until the show started, we made a good decision. As soon as we were asked to take our seats, though, the rain ceased and we were lucky enough not to get soaked despite the open-air seating.

For those familiar with the palace, at one time the favourite home of Henry VIII, the sound stage was set up in the first courtyard as you enter from the West Gate. For those unfamiliar, here's an aerial view, courtesy of Google Maps.

You've got to love Google Maps. The Festival setup is actually shown in the picture, with the blue covered section clearly visible. It's an intimite setting with surprisingly good acoustics.

Prior to the concert I only really knew Rufus from one song: the cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" which appears on the soundtrack of the movie "Shrek". A year ago we were treated to an impromptu recital of the song when he was pulled out of the audience at one of our favourite Christmas-time shows, Kiki & Herb.

I had expected a rather dour, seriously musical show, but in fact Rufus's personality shone through his playing, singing and audience patter and the evening turned out to be part concert and part camp cabaret. Rufus sang, Rufus played piano and Rufus even strummed on the guitar.

Even though I didn't know any of the songs, save the perfectly-timed encore of the aforementioned "Hallelujah", it wasn't a problem. The man has such a great voice that he could sing the phone book and still be captivating.

I normally find it hard to get into concerts when I don't know the material, but the performance was so good that I was hooked from the get-go.

June 3, 2008

Bo Diddley RIP

I really haven't been following the news lately, so it comes as no surprise to me that I'm a day late realising that Bo Diddley has passed away.

Another of the primal bluesmen gone.

I'm kicking myself that I didn't go to see B.B. King when he played in the UK recently. I was put off because he had Gary Moore playing with him. For whatever reason Mr Moore is a musician that I've just never been able to get into, and that put me off seeing B.B.

Dumb. Very dumb. Mistake!

Many years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Albert Collins play live, which was great... very funky, hard-core blues. His guitar tone was as sharp as a knife. The opening act was someone I'd not heard of: Mr John Hammond Jr... a white dude bashing out delta blues like he was born to it. Turns out he used to be one of Duane Allman's best friends.

Back to Bo! I'm not going to lie and say that I was a major fan, but I was definitely aware of his stuff from an early age. I remember I used to listen to a cassette tape of Mr D playing, full volume, burning around in my first car. Picture a blues-tinged version of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene from Wayne's World, right down to the little blue hatchback.

Songs that stick in my head: "Roadrunner", "Mona", "Who Do You Love", "Bo Diddley"... the list goes on. Bo was a pioneer of branding, deliberately creating a cult of personality around his stage presence. As soon as you heard the distinctive Bo Diddley shuffle or caught a glimpse of that outrageous rectangular guitar, you knew what was coming.

Imitated but never bettered, I give you... MR BO DIDDLEY!!!!!