30 May, 2012


The main part of this film is David Gilmour’s performance from the 2001 Meltdown festival which was curated by Robert Wyatt.  It was Gilmour’s first performance as a solo artist since the mid 80s.

The concert opens with Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and although it may seem like a rather predictable choice to open the show with, it possibly the most amazing performance of the song ever attempted.  Can you imagine a solo acoustic version of Shine On?  It’s nearly three minutes into the piece before some of the audience twig. 

Freed of the responsibility of being Mr Pink Floyd, this is where Gilmour gets to play what he wants how he wants, which includes Syd Barrett’s Terrapin, Fat Old Sun from Atom Heart Mother, the debut performance of Smile, which would later appear on the excellent On An Island album, and Bizet’s Je Crois Entendre Encore from The Pearl Fishers.  With a band that includes a ’cello, double bass and a 12-voice choir, even the more familiar songs like Wish You Were Here and Coming Back to Life sound new and fresh.

At the end of the set are three pieces from a later concert at the same venue – another Syd Barrett song, Dominoes, Breakthrough, performed by Richard Wright and another version of Comfortably Numb with Roger Waters’ vocal part performed by Bob Geldof (Robert Wyatt performed the same part in the previous set.)  On paper, getting Geldof to sing looks like a stroke of genius since Geldof played the character of Pink in the film of The Wall.  On stage though, it doesn’t quite work.  Both Geldof and Wyatt read the lyrics off a piece of paper and give the impression that they have never heard the song before, which is a pity because the sparse arrangement is really lovely.

The special features are a bit of a grab-bag, but all good stuff.  Possibly of most interest is a section called Spare Digits, which features solos from the main concert but each with a single close-up of Gilmour’s fingers.   Non-concert related extras are a performance of I Put a Spell on You with Jools Holland and Mica Paris from 1991, Don’t from the Leiber and Stoller tribute concert in 2001 and a beautiful version of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee) set to music by Michael Kamen.

Highlight:  Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Feature:  * * * *
Extras:  * * * * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1


27 May, 2012

IN THE FLESH - Roger Waters (2001)

Although not completely idle through the 90s, Roger Waters was mostly invisible after the release of Amused to Death, with most of that time spent working on Ca Ira.  Then in 1999, without anything to promote, he quietly began touring again.  In the Flesh is taken from the 2000 North American tour, filmed in Portland. 

These were relatively low budget and low key shows.  The stage didn’t even feature video screens, instead using simple projections to illustrate the songs. 

The show begins, appropriately enough with In The Flesh, with Waters standing aloof from the band on a riser behind the drum kit.  This would have been awful if it had continued that way but he comes down to join the rest of the band after the opening number and from that point on, Waters really does tear down the wall.  In the sleeve-notes of the accompanying album, Waters says that he wanted to reconnect with his audience in a way that he hadn’t attempted since the pre-Dark Side days and he achieves this admirably.

The setlist is predominantly arranged by album.  With the exception of the finale of Brain Damage/Eclipse and Comfortably Numb, songs from each album are played together, if not in the original album order.  It’s not a greatest hits show either.  There are two selections from The Final Cut, the entire first side of Animals and most of Wish You Were Here.  Solo material is saved for the second half of the show including a long and powerful selection from Amused to Death.  The encore is a new song, exclusive to this set, called Each Small Candle.

This arena show is about as intimate as any Pink Floyd-related show has ever been and is ever likely to be.  No flying pigs or exploding fighters here.  This is not to say that there isn’t some sense of theatre to the show but for the most part, the music is allowed to stand alone.  In the Flesh may be a rather obvious title for this concert, but it’s also most apt.

Extras are a 17-minute fly on the wall documentary or rehearsals and tour preparation, a photo gallery and band biographies.

Highlight:  Dogs
Feature:  * * * * ½
Extras:  * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1


22 May, 2012

Bring on Eurovision

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am actually looking forward to Eurovision this weekend.

Anyone who knows me, and most people who have read any of my work, will know that I am a music snob.  I make no excuses nor apologies for this.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the t-shirts or stickers that say things like “Life’s too short to drink bad coffee,” or bad wine or any number of similar sentiments.  I say life is too short to listen to bad music. 

Now, I am not the kind of snob who looks down upon people who do not share my tastes.  I don’t pity them or berate them for not listening to what I regard as good music.  If listening to music that I don’t like makes other people happy, then they are welcome to it, but I won’t be there with them.  Why should I waste one second my finite available time listening to One Dimension if I could be listening to Kate Bush? 

Eurovision has never bothered me as a music lover.  I’ve always considered it completely separate to anything to do with music.  It’s perfectly harmless trash.  My mother is an English and Literature teacher and she has always said it’s alright to read trash, so long as you know it’s trash.  I agree, and the same applies to music.  Fatboy Slim or Scissor Sisters have very little, if any, artistic value, but I love them anyway.  I may be a snob, but there’s nothing wrong with some good dumb fun now and then.

Typically, both participants and fans don’t pretend that Eurovision is any more than a bit of good dumb fun.  They don’t deny the trashiness, they revel in it.  While there is some pretence of taking the whole thing seriously, they know they’re not fooling anyone.

This stands in stark contrast to the manufactured reality masquerading as music shows in 2012.  Being known as a musical obsessive, I am sometimes asked if I watch Idol or X-Factor or The Voice or whatever other lamentable permutation of the same idea is popular that week.  If they are lucky, I usually respond by wondering aloud what I ever did to be treated with such disrespect.  Or, if I take pity on them, I might just say, “No, I prefer music.” 

Occasionally, a more foolhardy correspondent might try to make the idea appeal to me.
“Oh, but they’re doing a Beatles special next week.”
Yeah?  Really?  Is that supposed to impress me?
These shows are terrible enough when they’re murdering songs I don’t like – why on Earth would I want to hear what they do to songs I adore?
“One of them plays guitar and sang a song he wrote himself.”
I’m old enough to remember when playing instruments and writing songs was the least we could expect of musical artists. 

This particular brand of “reality” television has been around for over five years now.  Has no-one else noticed that the charts are not awash with series winners?  There are a couple of early winners and finalists still visible, but not many.  Who won [Where-ever]’s Got Talent last year?  Who won X-Factor in 2010?  You don’t know, do you?  Is this not a sign that these programs are not all they’re cracked up to be?  The instant obscurity of series winners is quite predictable if you think about it.  The sweet 17yo who steals everyone’s hearts with her version of Mariah Carey’s Hero is not going to connect with people the same way when she releases, Generic-Pop-Song-Written-by-Record-Company-Staff-Writers, is she?  And when we have Dannii Minogue judging others’ talent and advising them on how to be successful in the music business, doesn’t anyone stop to think that they might just be taking the piss?

An English band formed in the late 80s and apparently still going, called themselves Pop Will Eat Itself.  In 2012, pop has eaten itself, vomited itself back up and is licking up the curdled remains.  For the third time. 

All of this would almost be tolerable if it were presented as simple dumb fun, but it isn’t.  It’s presented as an actual musical talent quest and human drama.  It clearly fools enough people to make them ask actual music lovers if they watch the show.
The fact that an original artist like Kate Miller-Heidke has to agree to spend an hour being a fifth wheel on Q and A just to be able to perform her song on television, at a time when the schedules are riddled with high-budget programs claiming to be about music, shows that something is terribly wrong.

If nothing else, Eurovision doesn’t try to be anything is isn’t.  Well, it does try a bit, but not very hard.  Eurovision knows it’s nothing but camp, trashy fun and so does everyone who watches it.  There are no tears, no tantrums, no judges leaping about like they’ve witnessed something that will change the world, no tear-jerking back-stories.  There will be the fake tension of the vote count but everybody knows that nobody cares.

It’s trash and I know it.  And they know it.  Given the state of music television today, that’s actually rather refreshing.

11 May, 2012

The political equation

Barack Obama’s comment this week that he supports same-sex marriage caused a lot of people to use it to argue that Julia Gillard should do the same.  I found this rather embarrassing.  I don’t like arguments of convenience, even when I support the objective.  “Gillard support same-sex marriage cos Obama,” is not a valid argument. 

Obama’s point of view is not exactly a bold piece of leadership.  Since marriage in the U.S. is a state issue, short of an overreaching executive order, there is nothing Obama can do about it either way.  However, his opponent, Mitt Romney will now have pressure on him to make a statement.  He has recently said that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, which must be slightly uncomfortable, given that his grandfather believed that marriage was between a man and a dozen or so women. 

That is not meant to be a cheap shot against Mitt Romney for his faith and nor should he be expected to answer for the lifestyles of his ancestors.  The broader and more important point here is that the so-called “definition of marriage” has always been fluid and a deeply personal thing.  Government has no place defining marriage as anything. 

Now where are the libertarians when you need them?

There is a lesson that Julia Gillard can take from Obama though.  Obama is almost alone among Democrats in that he knows there are people who will always vote for him, he knows there are people who will never vote for him, and he knows there are people who want to vote for him under certain circumstances.  He also understands that there are people who are vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage, there are those who passionately support it, and a whole lot who really aren’t bothered either way.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of those demographics.  Let’s consider the faction that vehemently opposes same-sex marriage.  At the risk of stereotyping, I don’t believe there are whole lot of Obama voters in there to begin with, so he has nothing to worry about there.  The people who are always going to vote for him are most likely the ones most passionately in favour of same-sex marriage.  Obama’s biggest challenge is winning back those who were energised by the 2008 campaign and were left disillusioned by what happened afterwards.  This might just help towards that. 

So, is it a shameless vote grab?  Well, you have to remember that the point of democracy is to win votes and you do that by giving people the representation they want.  There is nothing wrong with trying to get people to vote for you.  It’s all a question of how you go about it, and if this a grab for votes, then it’s one that costs nothing and hurts no-one.

This brings us back to Julia Gillard.  With the exception of a slight blip during the Rudd years, the ALP has spent most of the last sixteen years trying to appeal to people who hate them.  It’s never going to work.  And in trying to appeal to Liberal voters, traditional Labor supporters have deserted them in droves in favour of the Greens.  Labor has blindly accepted the Liberals’ narrative that there must be a budget surplus at all costs and it’s only the loose coalition with Greens and independents that has forced Labor to be Labor during this parliament.

In Australia, as in the US, there are those who argue passionately for same-sex marriage, there are those who argue just as passionately against it and there are whole lot who really aren’t that fussed.  Then there are those who have no political or religious affiliation at all but follow the rule that was most succinctly put by Monty Python all those years ago: No Poofters!

How would these groups react to prime ministerial support of same-sex marriage?  Well, most of those who think it would be the end of civilisation as we know it are 2GB listeners who were never going to vote Labor anyway.  Most of those who aren’t bothered either way aren’t going to change their vote over it whichever way they swing.  Most of those who want it are probably split between Labor left, Greens and ex-Labor voters who have drifted to the Greens.  Union Labor people who are of the No Poofters persuasion will have to decide whether they want to start treating gays as people or whether they’d prefer Prime Minister Tony Abbott and WorkChoices 2.  The worst case scenario for Labor if they support marriage equality is that they lose a few old-Labor Catholics who will probably go back to the DLP.  It would also put pressure on the Liberal party to either agree with Labor or explain why the party of personal enterprise thinks that not everyone is equal under the law.

Where Gillard should follow Obama’s lead is not in supporting marriage equality just because Obama’s so cool, but to stop trying to appease people who hate her and see where the electoral benefits are.

07 May, 2012

Q and A and the Tim Robbins Rule

When Al Franken had a daily 3-hour radio show on the Air America network they had a rule on the program called the Tim Robbins Rule.  Basically, this meant that any guest who came on the show could only be there to talk about what they do.  That is, political analysis would come from politicians or commentators and if ever an actor came on the show (like Tim Robbins, for instance), then he would be there to talk about movies and not any political barrow he may be pushing.  In 2012, this might be renamed the George Clooney Rule, although it’s not as alliterative.

Q and A needs to consider a rule like this.  In some ways, Q and A is turning into The Panel, featuring people who are well known for other reasons talking about things they don’t know about.  I am sure Kate Miller-Heidke is a nice, thoughtful person but I don’t think she’s going to get many questions about her musical influences or what equipment she uses.  Mind you, I’d be very interested to hear the answers to those questions, but it wouldn’t make for the kind of verbal punch-up that Q and A regularly spoils for.
I wouldn’t want to see Graham Richardson programming Rage either.

I did not intend this to be bagging Kate Miller-Heidke.  She has written about her experiences HERE and it seems to have been a bungle on the part of producers, managers and publicists.  Gee, who knew they'd be talking about the budget this week?
I certainly feel for Kate and the fact that with all of the so-called music programs on air at the moment, the fact that a professional singer-songwriter has to go on Q and A to perform her original work says very bad things about Australian television.