Big Big Train

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Who says prog is dead? In fact it’s undergoing somewhat of a resurgence, and there is no better modern exponent than the band Big Big Train, whose music I’ve been greatly enjoying lately. For those young’uns who only listen to muzak cobbled together from drum machines and auto-tuned vocals, check out the bizarre spectacle of real musicians playing real instruments! And then be further astounded by the fact that this is the first time these musicians have toured live together.

Oh, and that’s the incredible Dave Gregory, ex-XTC, on guitar.


The Future Eaters at the Three Weeds

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Prior to The Telltales, one of the bands I played in was called The Future Eaters. We released one CD that sank without trace (not that we promoted it that much). Here we are playing a song called Pop Song to a virtually non-existent crowd at The Three Weeds, Rozelle, Sydney, on a Sunday afternoon on the 11th February, 2000.


The Complete Telltales on iTunes

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It’s been a long time coming, but finally the entire Telltales music catalogue is on iTunes, downloadable at the click of a button. If you missed any the first time around, click the links below to buy the three albums: The Telltales, Haymaking and Under the Waterline. And thanks, from The Telltales.

Under the Waterline

UNDER THE WATERLINE

“With a production budget like Coldplay, the bittersweet ache of a song like Words, from this third album by local artists The Telltales, could give the Poms a run for their money.” Michael Smith, Drum Media, 18 Jul 2008

Under the Waterline - The Telltales

Haymaking

HAYMAKING

“Great melodies, intelligent playing, thoughtful arrangements and insightful lyrics—what more could you ask for in a pop record?” Michael Smith, Drum Media, 16 Mar 2005

Haymaking - The Telltales

Debut

THE TELLTALES

“… pure, heartfelt pop melodies delivered without a hint of anger or angst, simple songs of love and loss, pain and freedom … a beautifully balanced collection of songs, intelligently arranged, subtly performed by a quartet that knows how to hold back … This is very much a body of work, working in perfect harmony as such.” Michael Smith, Drum Media, 22 Jul 2003

The Telltales - The Telltales


The Telltales at the Exchange Hotel

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Another old Telltales video—this one of a semi-acoustic performance at the Exchange Hotel, Balmain, Sydney, in August 2005. As noisy drummer I was relegated to filming duties. It’s a shame that we took so little live footage of this band, but this is a nice snapshot of its quieter side.

The songs are My Father’s Things, Cornflower Girl, Absolve You, The Phone Call, Christmas Day, I’m No Fool, Flying Juice, I Won’t Be There, Memory, and It’s Over.


The Telltales Absolve You

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Long, long overdue, I finally uploaded the first Telltales single to YouTube, which for some strange reason was never done at the time. Absolve You was the first and only ‘single’ off our 2003 debut CD, The Telltales. You can find out more about The Telltales, currently in hiatus after three CDs of damn good songs, at the band’s website.


Chrissy Amphlett, R.I.P.

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One of the loudest, most powerful concerts I ever saw as an 80s teenager was The Divinyls. A fantastic band, great songs and some of the best melodic guitar breaks in Australian music history—but most of all, a lead singer with a charisma and talent that blew everyone away. As a kid, growing up on Kate Bush and New Wave bands, at first Chrissy Amphlett scared and confused me, with her strange jerky moves, her eyes hidden behind that low fringe, the pout, and the weird juxtaposition of schoolgirl outfit and blatantly grown-up, aggressive sexuality (something that had a particularly strong effect when I was in school myself, I can tell you). But she absolutely fuckin’ rocked in a way that changed all the rules. RIP, Chrissy.


Mick Karn 24 Jul 1958 – 4 Jan 2011

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Mick Karn, bass player with the unique New Wave band Japan, passed away two days ago. Japan was one of the many exciting and interesting bands that I grew up listening to. There’s a bit in the film clip above at 2:24, where the drummer Steve Jansen looks at the camera, and to me that was the absolute definition of early 80s cool. And as a drummer in a band myself, I aspired to the kind of precise, effortless, and original drumming that has always characterised Jansen’s style.

One of the highlights of our set at the time was a rendition of Gentlemen Take Polaroids that segued into The Cure’s Fire in Cairo. I loved playing this Japan song.

Karn was a pioneer on the bass—he was no slouch on the saxophone and bassoon either—and while it’s quite incredible that he was self-taught and never learned to read music, perhaps that was responsible for his unique style. His sinuous fretless bass playing has been emulated far more than he ever received the credit for. Just listen to this bass line, how it manages to burble away in its own little world, and yet underpin and ground the entire atmosphere of the song.

80s music is often ridiculed for the fashions and the sugary pop, but from my perspective, a musician in my late teens and early twenties, it was a very exciting time for music. My band members and I would alternately laugh at, abuse and be annoyed by the ever-present Top 40 garbage, but at the same time there was an incredibly wide range of very original music available if you digged a little deeper. Early Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins, XTC, The Smiths—not to mention Australian bands like Hunters & Collectors, The Church, Midnight Oil, The Go-Betweens … all in their early heyday and striking out in completely original new directions.

Rest in peace Mr. Karn.


Feist, Metro Theatre, Sydney

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I meant to post this ages ago but didn’t get around it, along with reviews of Suzanne Vega and Joe Jackson …
Enraptured, like many others I suppose, by Feist’s cheerful ditty 1234 when I saw it advertising the iPod, I went online and checked out some of her videos and was pleasantly surprised to discover a very individual and interesting singer songwriter. They’re becoming a rare breed in this age of cookie-cutter copycat American Idol alumni.

On my birthday my gorgeous girlfriend gave me her latest album and tickets to her Sydney show; a rare opportunity to see an artist live without knowing her material inside and out. It can be a refreshing thing to do, as then the artist’s music immediately takes on that extra dimension of the live experience, though of course it can be risky too.
Thankfully, Feist didn’t disappoint. From the opening bit of shadowplay projection where a lantern is plucked from a tree branch and she came tiptoeing on stage with the lantern in hand like a guilty elf, we were in for something just that little bit different. The show started with an interesting layered vocal track, a technique used effectively several times during the show where Feist sang into a microphone which then looped the vocal lines for instant three and four part harmony accompaniment.

Despite the twin distractions of a bunch of stupid noisy girls playing with their frackin’ mobile phones, and a strangely arctic temperature within the usually comfortable Metro, we enjoyed the show a lot. Though I would like to see her breaking out from the nice ballads a bit more with tracks like Sea Lion, which rocked with the help of scratchy, raw guitar work which brought the Velvet Underground to mind.

Here’s hoping she doesn’t disappear into obscurity. I think she’s been around for a while though and by the sound of the last album has plenty of ideas left yet.


Live Music Review: The Strokes

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The Strokes

I actually saw The Strokes almost a month ago, which shows how slack I’ve been updating the Hollow lately. This is the second time I’ve seen the band live, and it was interesting to compare the two gigs, which were both at the Hordern Pavilion, one of my favourite (and one of the oldest) venues in Sydney. One of the great things about the Hordern is a ticket entitles you to get in and stand around—no reserved seats, no jumped-up security telling you to sit down, just take your beer in and stake a place.

Anyway, I wish I’d reviewed that first gig here, because it was the best I’ve seen in years. It was the first visit of The Strokes to our shores, just after the release of their second album Room of Fire, and it was clear they were blown away by the audience reaction. There was an exciting, positive vibe, and I walked out drenched in sweat and grinning my head off (and feeling pretty good that I could still dance into a frenzy at a gig at the age of almost forty).

Of course, things have changed. Three albums in and The Strokes have almost become mainstream, and the crowd was a very different kettle of kids. Unfortunately we were standing next to a group of arseholes overfuelled on testosterone, and when the band kicked off with ‘Juicebox’ from the new album First Impressions of Earth we immediately felt as if we’d been thrown into the middle of a Hitler Youth rally. Fists and devil horn gestures (oh, come on) thrust into the sky as, purposely bashing into those around them, the dickheads who’d just discovered the band last week proceeded to ruin the night. My girl shot me a slightly panicked look so we allowed ourselves to be squirted back about twenty rows where things were a bit quieter, losing our friend in the process. He later told us he’d been fuming because one of these guys made some crack about his age. Yeah right, I bet that arsehole will still be going to gigs at my friend’s age.

But how were the band? Sure, they were as tight as ever, but unfortunately some of the magic has leached away. That youthful, enthusiastic edge has gone, no doubt battered into submission by the drudgery of thousands of gigs all over the world. The new album tries to move into new territory, but to me it’s almost as if the band has become a little ashamed of the feel-good nature of its earlier material. This is a shame, as not many bands these days are able to craft such perfect pop-rock, and it’s a skill they should be proud of. The material from the first two albums was still the best live, contrasting with parts of the new tracks that felt like they were just taking up space in between the choruses.

I may think twice about seeing the band next time they’re out here, but that first gig, at least, will always be remembered as one of the best I’ve been to. It’s a shame The Strokes can’t play with the enthusiasm of youth forever. Then again, they still have the potential to mature into something even better.


Dandys at the Gaelic

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DandysSaw The Dandy Warhols at the Gaelic Club on Saturday night. A vast improvement over the last time I saw them at the Enmore Theatre, the Gaelic being a small venue as opposed to theatre-sized, so we were only about ten heads from the front. The place was packed, the mix was good and the band was in fine form, and I was pleased they’d brought their trumpet player with them this time, which really added a lot to the sound.

Songs from the new album Odditorium went down well, but the real crowd-pleasers are still Boys Better, Bohemian Like You and Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth.
The Dandys seem far more suited to small venues like this one than concert halls. At the end of the concert Courtney—man that guy can strike a pose!—gave a long and heartfelt thankyou to the crowd (perhaps he was impressed by us all singing Happy Birthday to Peter Holmstrom), and then Zia came on to end the night with an cappella version of Joplin’s Mercedes Benz which of course everyone joined in on after the ‘everybody’! Great night. Next gig I’m really looking forward to? The Shins on Jan 9.


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