Wednesday, April 30, 2008

tocotronic in potsdam

\Everything's gone green. First up some pics from the Sancoussi Park in Potsdam, a kinda Prussian Versailles with one large straight alley leading from one of the main gates to the "new" palace, lots of secret gardens and spaces on the sides, marble statues, palaces, an orangerie, a dragon house (with a nice cafe inside), a Chinese pavilion, and on that afternoon hardly anyone there. It had cleared up, the sun was out after a cloudy start of the day and we had it practically to ourselves, and everything had started blooming and sprouting. The dreamy park with its trippy corridors, terraces and alleyways, and statues everywhere, was a prelude to seeing the outstanding German band Tocotronic at the Waschhaus in Potsdam. They won't come to London as far as I can see, their wordy, part ironic part poetic stance doesn't seem to really translate outside non-German speaking countries. So I promised myself a trip to see them on home turf and combined it with  an overdue visit to Berlin and the many people I know there. 

The Waschhaus is an old industrial space on the edge of town that has just been expanded, and I think they couldn't quite cope with the crowds. The layout didn't help either, queues everywhere, and the toilets out of the main space through a lobby and up the stairs. It was really rammed, many people having made the trip down on the S Bahn from Berlin, and the bars were hopelessly jammed, so I didn't drink. But the gig was everything and more than I expected, starting with the wonderful and very mysterious B-side "Hi Fi Science Fiction" setting the tone for a nicely judged setlist that had some classic oldies, some more recent material and of course songs from their latest album "Kapitulation", including some pretty introspective and moody stuff apart from some of their greatest hits; as the last encore, instead of "Freiburg" which people were shouting for of course, we got the otherwordly "Ich habe Stimmen gehoert" plus lenghty guitar noise outro. I felt many of the weird subliminal messages in the songs were a lot more powerful live. Highlights were many but notable were "Luft" and "Explosion" from the last album, "Let There Be Rock" which I didn't think they'd play, "In Hoechsten Hoehen" (I filmed that but unfortunately the sound is cr@p), "Hi Freaks", "Ich bin viel zu lange mit Euch mitgegangen", "Jackpot" etc. It was very hot in there and the crowd was grand, cheering them on and really going with them, and not just the first two rows, the pit was big, it was very passionate towards the end, I guess this being the end of a short tour taking in more obscure places helped the sense of occasion. Really great to finally see them. Mr von Lowzow and co looked very pleased to be there too. I'm very much in love with them... 

p.s. they played the soundtrack for Fassbinders "Querelle" before they came on!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Breeders at Koko

One of our favourite T-shirts is a Breeders shirt that's now kinda old, well it's from their last album Title TK. We do love our indie T-shirts. When we went to Selfridges the other day we did a little swing through the mens fashion department, marvelled at the prices for the designer t-shirts, and I concluded that my favourite items of clothing are old t-shirts that carry some sort of message. But they shouldn't cost much, and there should be some sort of story behind them, or the memory of some gig. Once in the beautiful but curiously largely untouristy university town L'Aquila in the Abruzzo we hung out in a vaguely mixed student dive bar where they made us taste all the different varieties of local grappas (and ended up not charging us) when we got talking to this drunk young dude who was very much taken that we were from the big city in England and gave us the old Lonsdale (London) T-shirt he was wearing and I traded him an old white sun hat with the Lords cricket club logo that I found in Simon's house and that was far too big for his head. Anyway, that tattered grey Lonsdale T-shirt is one of my favourites as well, I still wear it, and I like the story behind it. Other T-shirts seem to have disappeared only to be discovered years later at the bottom of the drawer. Ok, my all time favourite is a handprinted GBV shirt with the artwork from the Vampire on Titus cover that we bought off Pete Jamison at my first "official" GBV show at the Garage back in '99. I still wear that all the time even though i should probably put it into a personal museum as it's almost starting to fall apart now. Fun.

The Breeders-shirt we got is blue and has an image of a blank cassette tape that is only slightly larger than lifelike, on it it says breeders in printed letters and handwritten on it "East Los Mix" referring to the revised lineup for the Title TK album featuring members of the LA punk band Fear and Kim Deals move to East L.A. for a while to record and revise the band. But more often than not I'm not even that aware I'm wearing a Breeders shirt, I just like the vibe of the image, the worn in look of it, and I'm not sure people read what it says too often when they check it out. It's nicely understated just like the Breeders themselves.

I can't say I'm obsessed by them but they've been sticking around quite nicely to my ears. That new album seems a bit slight and unsubstantial at first but it's nice enough, it retains their trademark breeziness, even updates it, and that's exactly what I thought of that Amps record when it came, it also peddled that lo fi sound and low key feel that seemed borrowed a bit from early GBV and has since become a bit of a favourite of mine. Some might say a new Pixies record would have been more interesting, and you know, maybe it will still happen. But sometimes in the middle of the big Pixies reunion tour the Breeders played two shows for the 25th anniversary of their 4AD label, and I managed to attend one of them, and it was pretty great, a retrospective affair, quite a few songs from the Amps record and other older Breeders material, and YES! "Shocker in Gloomtown", a slightly speeded up version, giddy bliss for a minute and a half. It's an old GBV song that the Breeders took under their wing, they used to play it all the time but I think up until these 4AD shows it wasn't in the set anymore. GBV have since taken it back and have performed it at almost every gig since those days. But now that GBV are no more and Bob doesn't come to London anymore either it's left to Kim Deal and the Breeders to bring the Gold Soundz of Dayton back to London town. Or something like that. I probably was the only crazy GBV fan in the room, waving my arms and singing those weird and weirdly uplifting lines of "emotional trash with helium balloons". Anyway, I thought maybe it was just a one-off for the anniversary shows.

Well, the first of two nights at Koko this week retained the retrospective setlist choices, so many happy returns really. The Mountain Battles material fits in nicely with the old stuff anyway. They start with Tipp City, one of the "hits" from the Amps record which sets the tone. About three songs in it's already time for "Shocker in Gloomtown" again. Yes, they kept it! For a split second I thought it was "Cannonball" (I just knew it was a song I knew and loved but couldn't place it for a few seconds, I was maybe a bit dizzy, right?) and wondered why they a) played it so early and b) why people weren't going nuts yet. I wish I could describe how it sounded cos it sounded a bit different than previously, maybe heavier, but still, as if sung by sirens, and, blink and you missed it, pure magic in my book.

There's a pleasing fuzziness in the room and in the music and that voice and the interplay of the twins voices, just like that old T-shirt that you keep wearing and you don't really know why, releasing early 90s memories, songs like "I just want to get along" that seemed a bit slight and throwaway at the time retaining a certain power, bringing you back to places you wouldn't have remembered otherwise. And they play all these songs it seems, some of them I'd almost forgotten but the trip down memory lane is quite a breezy, multicoloured affair, it's a fairly long, laid back and generous set. I've read mixed reviews of the gig but I felt happy and warm and enveloped by that voice and the fuzzy sounds throughout. The only time the happiness crashed a bit was when realizing that the beer prices definitely weren't from the 90s anymore. Koko's cheapest beer is now a can of Fosters for £ 3.70. Shocking, but it least it made me stop drinking as I'd run out of cash that I would have otherwise been tempted to make liquid, and I don't really like it when that takes over at gigs.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"Lost Highway", the opera! at the Young Vic...

"Lost Highway", the David Lynch film (and probably my favourite of all Lynchs films, if you'd press me), has a fantastic soundtrack in my opinion. It's really over the top but mostly works with the loopy, drastic, violent storylines of the film. If I remember it correctly Trent Reznor was in charge and NIN submitted "The Perfect Drug" which I believe is quite highly regarded by NIN fans, plus lots of moody/goth/industrial stuff, notably a couple of outrageously dumb and full on Rammstein songs which were quite dramatically placed within the film and probably helped their somewhat baffling soon-forthcoming rise to the goth/industrial superleague. At the time, in the context of the film, they sounded so alien and different, the way these curiously sung German words were placed over the film, they had no direct connection to it but it worked. Apparently the whole film crew loved them. I don't know. You could say the soundtrack has somewhat aged but again I think it works well still, even as a period piece, there is a nice early 90s/80s hangover vibe underlying a lot of LH, and that's at least in part due to the soundtrack. I've seen it so many times (probably about twenty times, maybe a bit less, maybe, um, more) I don't have much critical distance to it anymore and just submit to the ride, usually, it is a fun ride, but it's safe to say the music and visual style make it the most overtly "goth" of Lynch films. At least that's one aspect of the film, and maybe one that doesn't necessarily work for everyone. It was slated by the critics early on, though I must say I liked it straight away, it was so punchy and genuinely shocking on that first viewing. If I remember correctly it was one of those films (the other probably being Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me, which I also love) when a lot of people genuinely gave up on Lynch, too weird, too overtly violent, too random, just make it stop :-). Again, I don't know. The film has held up strong for me with repeated viewings. It's not that difficult to follow, the different strands do hang together, it kinda does make sense etc. You just have to submit to it and its dreamlike world, suspend disbelief, otherwise it probably doesn't really work. I don't know what that says about me...

I had heard the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek and the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth had staged an opera production of it in Germany a couple of years ago and was super excited just to hear about that. Are there any other stage adaptatins of Lynch films? It just seemed very interesting to have THAT film staged. And now the ENO had a London production in the smallish, in-the-round modern space of the Young Vic I just had to go....

In short, I think it's worth seeing, it brings the film to life and even adds things to it. Visually it's mainly successful in transferring the warped extreme visual language of the film onto a stage (with all its limitations), with a glass house hanging over the highway, surrounded by giant screens projecting the videos used in the film and other images. The glass house is both the LA house, the prison cell and the car in the last scene. The plot is somewhat shortened and it's now just 90 minutes long but otherwise it's very faithful and presents it in a more trimmed down form. The score is amazing, and that's why I mentioned the original soundtrack. I faintly heard a Lou Reed track that was also in the film played as a tape for a split second but it's mostly eerie, quite abstract, pulsating noisescapes played by an orchestra. Um, contemporary classical music, modern opera, are these the correct terms? First I didn't even notice it so much as I was focussing on seeing one of my favourite films transferred to the stage but as it progressed and built up the score became more noticeable and insistent. There is no opera singing to start with, the first few scenes are all spoken, but slowly it creeps in and it is so weird hearing lines from the film that already have a distinct hyper real quality (and that I know by heart, well some of them) sung in a weird, slightly hysterical, operatic way, as if played on a warped tape. And it's used quite sparsely but to dramatic effect, it adds to the disconcerting dreamlike atmosphere. It's really unusual to have a film like Lost Highway staged faithfully but as an opera, there are a lot of vaguely disturbing scenes that feature the same casual absurd violence and retain the overall tone of the film. Mostly worked. Go and see (well, it *is* expensive and only on til Thursday)!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Walking the foodmiles

walking the foodmiles, textures overload, will release the tension, paranoid interior panorama.
textured noise therapies write a sunday sermon on your senses. walking through the garden. release control factories. fear diseases. emptying images into a giant trash can. filtering out. blurry edge upsets wishlist generators. creepy edge, empty vessels. steer into the opposite direction. where are we now? ultrashades. when the planet wasn't in shock yet. mock battle retreats. watching tv again. trashing the planet like an old hotel room of the past. lounging in darkness. guilt survives the fact. deep taxis carry longing for the moment you slipped inside them....

(clicky )