28/04/2010

GIG REVIEW: Gil Scott-Heron at the Warehouse, 28/4/10


They was callin' us militants when they was the ones with all the guns...











A long beat.








We stew for an hour or two, growing leany and questioning the man's dramaturgy (or sloth). It is a ex-firebrand beatpoetnovelist-protorapping-politico-bluesman I'm expecting, and such people are punctual, if indeed they are at all. You await a walking historical will, memories and testament of import falling from his tongue like ash.
What we get is better than any of that idolatry nonsense; who stotters on is a human being. A flatcapped, slyly charming, grandfatherly kind of Name.


He opens the night not with oratory; not with his old funked-down blues; not with his new, life-marinated trip-hop, but instead with 20 minutes of warm story-jokes about the volcano-airspace ("Only volcano that ever messed with me") but also effortless history lessons; he's playing a down-to-earth line, complaining about spelling, but there are flashes of the arch poet underneath - as when he conjugates Latin numbers to a beat, to make an etymological point about months.

What hasn't been well-emphasised in the reviews is how his voice has changed; it's now a fucking artwork in itself. Grizzled and basso, certainly, but so warm, convincing, delivered in such a fast and loose accent, he makes ordinary shit-shooting inimicable. I'd happily put on recordings of him reading tax law. This is true when he is rambling us through droll worldviews:
Everybody needs an ology, needs to form their ology to live by and spread. It's ok, though; there's more and more ologies these days, plenty for everybody. In the beginning there was only one - theology, 'the' and ology, cos 'the' is what you use when you only got one, after all... My ology is bluesology, which is simply the science of how things feel...
but especially when he finally sits to the keys and sets to the blues, a solo, haunting take of "Blue Collar". The cracks, belts and turnarounds are just it.


Live, rather than the lush soul of those thirty-year-past albums, his music is sparse, highly repetitive; his keyboard tone is lounge-glass-organ; his lyrics can be forced (as in "Work For Peace", with its eponymous refrain). But he sings as if he's never said the damn thing before: each time you're bludgeoned by his meaning, however prosaic it actually is.
The first quarter of the set is just him alone on keys, and to be honest it is this that gets me most; he holds us in place, insinuating his experience at us, all the acquisitions and far more frequent losses. It's so quiet that you can hear quite clearly the expensive rapid click of the photographers scuttling behind the Warehouse's utterly redundant crowd barrier, as well as an ordinarily drunk couple arguing stage right, sampling themselves into "Winter In America". He touches on hiphop in one interlude, and we are reminded of the magnate, the patron saint that he is to that particular newborn, hyperactive corpse. "I," he says, sucking in his breath sharply, "have been sampled. But I got Mr West back; we went and sampled him on the last one."
  • Kanye (whose "My Way Home" samples Gil's "Home Is Where the Hatred Is")

  • Tupac ("Ready 4 Whateva" ruining "1980")

  • De La Soul ("Area" vs "The Bottle")

  • Blackstar... ("Brown Skin Lady", vs "We Almost Lost Detroit")

  • and, Gil super endorsement, "I really like that kid Common"

Scott-Heron's a shaky-legged, slowed man by this stage, as rumours of his decline are pushing(these include suppositions of HIV, his acute self-destruction via drugs, his 'disappearance' for 16 years - this apparently meaning the fate of anyone halfway famous who doesn't speak to media types or sell work.) He brushes all aside with: "Since the new album, I have heard more dumb shit written about me than the cumulative of the rest of my life."
I'm going to draw a Johnny Cash parallel, see if you can stop me; the new album is akin to that renewal that JC managed (was managed to). I'm not sure if Gil ever reached Cash's County Fair-playing, shovel-release low of the 1980s, but still.



"During this time (that is, 1920s New Orleans)" Again; this man is steeped in history, so much so that he can describe eras that he didn't see without a hint of falseness. He frames a story of jazz as dance music and brothel music (a fusion of two existing styles, "jism" and "ass", but to which the refined likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie would not be held)


The air of the first four songs disappears entirely; we get the full band (impressive keys+vox soloist, bongos, harmonicist) out, and:




If you came here to enjoy yourselves, now's about the time to do it.


They explode into a full-on jazz-funk history lesson, "Is That Jazz?" For the long, six-minute breakdown he exhorts the harmonica solo, or just shuffles adorably on the spot, taking in his band. The keys solo is pyrotechnic, but again, I kind of long for him to speak to us, like he did, all that time before. (What? If he can pretend to have been present where he wasn't, why can't I?)







BIG GRANDOISE THREAD PULLING: This can, with your assent, be a truth about originality or integrity in music; it's not about what notes are played or what form is invented or whether you recognise what they're trying to do from something else. Instead maybe all that's needed is a basic distinctiveness, a quiet deuniversalising effort of style.




I'm hard to get to know
& near impossible to forget
.

11/04/2010

UNION TERRACE GARDENS


dreading the past – missing a future –
I can't reckon. I'm not right.
though I'll not purple over the verdure,
nor demonise serious men who'd grey it.

– though he will upend, undo
with his bare two hundred hands
(money makes Atlas of anyone).

a mistake to call this nature,
the grove's as architectural

as highrise municipal redwoods.

our pasture's no more natural than a God's acre sowed.
this place, brick-green & pillared in Ionian birch,
is a veneer merely of my animal haunt.
Isn't much nature to go around,

only these rare soft streets
we begrudge the intrusion of.
Natural Aberdeen resents the arboreal eyesore, will

correct the undersight
blip in granite graph.

Just, mere, only. Eyes do not quite die of green deficiency.

Repurposing our development
they entomb, at last, illusion,
unhook my love for semblance from
its pretences. (Civil botany.)

a queer serenity for now, the
usual dull immortality of large trees framed
fittingly by demolition.

no such thing as nature - for all
I live in granite beaverdam.

Sic transit flora.



01/04/2010

My World According To Pablo (#1)


"Sonic-Reducer: Who is Pablo and all the other people you're singing about? Are these real people?

Lars: That's our secret. One of several reasons for that is that we want to let people build their own worlds according to Pablo."


WHAT THEY ARE

Unapologetically cloying. I mean; it's Billie the Vision and the Dancers, the sweetest and most engrossing narrative pop music I've ever blundered upon. Over five albums (so far) we are wound round with their wryly giddy worldview, are gossiped into the conversational landscape of "Pablo Diablo" - a creature who is more or less an alter ego of lead singer/songwriter Lars.

It's bruised-joy and it's a shrewd sentimentality. It's the epitome of that inexplicable trend in Scandinavian pop music of carrying off even the most twee aesthetic.



WHAT THIS IS

Another one of my obsessive gushes. I should stop here if you don't care for critical overreading.

Does "twee" not imply "tasteless"? No matter: the verve in the lyrics counterbalances, you often simply won't believe what you're hearing, and it's there that they'll strike.

It's the first music in years that I unselfconsciously proselytize and obsess over. No hipsterism here: this is the kind of thing you want everyone to listen to once you're hooked. (An effort helped by the fact that they put up all of their albums for free download.) And, after reading the above, you've certainly already decided if you're going to click that.

I won't pretend that the convoluted tangle of names and anecdotes and passion plays are blatantly all of one narrative - most of the time the lyrics leave the speaker's identity vague, in fact - or that there's massive intentional symbolism or blah. Could be I'm just leaning into it, painting my agenda onto things barely implied in the work. But such is all the proper literary crit I ever read, so: onwards!





SONICS

--- SOUNDBITE: A Swedish Johnathan Richmond fronts Belle and Sebastian. On GHB.
  • Lars Lindquist - singer, tambourine, songwriting
  • Gustav Kronkvist - electric guitar, occasional songcred
  • Jon Lindquist - Drums
  • Silvio "Mono" Arismendi - bongos, cabasa, maracas, own face
  • Fia Janninge - Violin, backing vox, occasional lead vox
  • Frida Brattgard - Trumpet & accordion
  • Maria Carlsson - bass
  • On the first four albums, John Dunso was the acoustic guitarist, "ghost" vocals & second songwriter.
--- The characterising hook is the trumpet/guitar homophony. Something about it turns every other song into an earworm. See also the harmonica-trumpet refrains.

--- Subtle harmonies, blatant melodies. What else?

--- Alternately carnival and maudlin, picaresque ("Swedish Sin") and roman á clef (also "Swedish Sin").

--- Even at barest, arrangements bursting with bongo/cabasa/maraca/banjo/violin. Drums are barely there.

--- Where handclaps are, I am not; handclaps are implied where they are not.

--- Song getting all down? Wait for the horns to come and give the vocal line a hug.

--- On sustained, album-through listening, I find that they've really a very uniform sound - almost a handful of "types" redone, over and over.
- the wistful Celtic stringsy one
- accordion surf
- the brassy joy one
- the dual-guitar one
- the irrepressible surf one

Could call it "continuity" if you were a cheeky critic git.

--- The other vox are rarely strongly present (see "Stuttering Duckling" for mixed results), but John Dunso is almost constantly ghosting the lead, just on the edge of hearing. The electric guitar, too, is rarely foregrounded, but is always an addictive guest (see the bridges in "A Beautiful Night In Oslo").

--- No matter how twisted or broken-down the vocals get, the strings are always moral.






"STORY"
(Well, you try, eh?)

"Are you as perverted as we all guess you are?"
I can't give you a timeline or synopsis; the (quasi-fictional?) group is drawn in-passing, in an impressionistic way: these aren't concept albums. So I suppose by "story" I just mean cumulative lyrics. Just as well they're superlatively detailed, idiosyncratic, full of delightful non-Anglophone expressions and genuine intelligence (though undeniably syrupy, too.)


I've seen you around, I can tell that you a're just like me.
You'd rather watch reruns than deal with a bad spin-off called life.
I’ll put the kettle on,
Let’s not speak, talk ruins every conversation.
I’ve downloaded Dexter, come, there is room next to me.


I'll see you in hell cos we're both going to hell...
[To his Christian sister]

"Do you remember when my mum asked for suggestions for the coffeehouse?
You said "Coffeehouse Cunt", you said "Coffeehouse Cunt". I can't believe you said that."


Most of all they're deceptive; you won't see the sexual and/or deviant lines coming, such is the smiling energy they're delivered in.


"Can I tell them about the world war we've been through?
The world was the Hitler and we were the Jews."


Which, as any Eng-lit-fule know, is the same device Sylvia Plath used in "Daddy", ffs!

Beyond the helterskelter joyride of the first impression, there's balance and hurt to it all; Pablo details more and less obliquely about his past traumas, his general instability and the route he took to now. A friend dismissed them as "happy-clappy" and "sickly", but I can't get behind that; there's such a terrible amount about dominance, by one's exes and one's memories (ex-events, ex-self) and also of dependence and redemption, that I can only see it as richer than whatever "twee-pop" label anyone wishes to plug on it. It's not much of a stretch to call "Ask For More" melancholy!


One of the slickest moves is where the lead vocals switch character midsong, as in "Summercat" and "I Let Someone Else In". Gives the two perspectives of a relationship, usually Pablo's & Lilly's. Nowhere done better than in "No One Knows You", where the pair waking up on successive mornings are so close, so integrated that it seems perfectly natural for them to have the same voice (Lars').




DRAMATIS BILLIEAE


  • "Billie" - What else? The band's vision! (gruppe-geist, unifying ethic.) Billie's statement of intent is woven through all the music in one way or other; it's bruised hope. Political only in the sense that indifference is a fucking crime.
  • "Pablo Diablo" - a protagonist. A Swedish transvestite, hell-raising and leery and hurt. Unless clued in otherwise, I tend to assume that the voice of the song is Pablo.
  • "Lilly" - Pablo's love, on and off and mutually obsessive and off. [A3 *A11* B7, B9 *D1*] Sometimes sung in lead by Fia Janninge, other times simply by Lars.
  • "Lars Lindquist" - the actual lead singer and songwriter for the band, but who is explicitly focalised in a couple of songs. Sweeter and more sentimental than Pablo(?)
  • "Jessica" [B1, B7]
  • "Marcus" - counterpart to Jessica; Lily's rebound/ [B6]
  • "Susan" - Lars' Christian sister, barbed at [A2, A10, B1]
  • "Daniel" - [B9]
  • [Pablo's brother] - [B11]
  • "Jimmy & Joanne" - divorcing parents; represent ordinary negatives A2
  • "Freddy" A3
  • "Emma" A3
  • "Jenny" A6
  • "Janet & Jane" A9 - dreamt of when there's time to
  • "Johnny" A10 - has never looked alright
  • "Mono" - The Man From Argentina, [B3, C4]. Nickname of Silvio, their percussionist.
  • "Becky, Mia, Rose, Sebastian, John, Gwenno, Lisa, Mono, Fia, Bobby and Andy" - All isted in "A Beautiful Night In Oslo": The Pipettes except Joe Lean, and Billie the Vision except Lars and Gustav.




LYRICAL MOTIFS



  • "Casino stocks": instantiation of evil and hypocrisy
  • Sex in cars: instantiation of a consuming love
  • "Swear words": The Fall
  • "Leftcheek kiss": stable love, friending
  • Christianity: affected, convenience, reptilian love. Un-Billie.
  • "Petey got hurt": Consequences of mistakes
  • "Live At Budokan": The Grail? Comfort via music, via others.
  • "Tonight": The most common lyric of all; it's in every other song and many of the refrains. As if Pablo always fixates on the great idea he's had for later, or on examining what's happening now.