Call me Russ L

Catch up catch up catch up

Posted in Combat Sports, Films, Food, Music, Stage by Russ L on 2 March, 2009

So it’s a catch-up post (as ever), stretching back for three months.

The Leonard Cohen gig on the 22nd of November was originally going to be written about in a post entitled “First we take Marston Green, then we take Berlin”. Not a particularly good title, obviously, but it amused me.

To the NEC arena (has/had it not quite finished changing its name to the LG Arena yet, or has/had it? Confused am [were] we) then, stopping en route for a nice drink in Oldbury’s The Railway Inn at this end. We intended to go to the Wetherspoons at Birmingham International but it was actually shut at half six. Blimey.

He might be older than the dirt in Methuselah’s garden, but Lenny Cohen is still hugely charismatic and (I’m told) very sexy in his double-breasted suit and customary hat. He looked a lot older in the brief spells for which the hat came off. Whilst he’s never been known for being the best technical singer (and makes light of that himself), his deep sonorous voice was amazing. Perfect in every way.

His band were fantastic, n’all. Alongside regular collaborator Sharon Robinson, The Webb Sisters were his other two backing singers. They did the standard (I mean ‘standard’ not ‘bad’) pop-stars-band quasi-gospel backing vox, but from a little bit of their own that they got to do towards the end it seems that their own milieu is a lot folkier. Variation, that’s what we like. His Spanish guitar fella was also really good, and definitely added something beyond just technical proficiency.

Highlights abounded. All of it was a highlight, in fact, but if forced to pick a few than I suppose I’d have to pick “Tower of Song” complete with cheap keyboard and attempts to make Sharon laugh, “Hallelujah” obviously (ooh topical) (well, less so now but it was when I first wrote that), “Thousand Kisses Deep” (one I didn’t know before this gig, but the spoken/recited vocals made it a lot better than the sung recorded version I’ve since heard), a bombastic “First We Take Manhattan”, and probably loads more.

This would have been within my top fifteen gigs ever, easily.

Onwards into December. Whenever my Balkan-gypsy-Hammerhorror-PapaLazaru-danceband faves The Destroyers play at big daytime events (Artsfest, Moseley Folk etc) they’re always enjoyed by lots of little kids who obviously can’t go to the night-time gigs (insert the usual rant from me and various other people here: if there are two bands in the local area who are capable of appealing into a wide variety of people then they’re The Destroyers and Modified Toy Orchestra, and the fact that the conventional music industry’s genre-based schema doesn’t have the ability to read this illustrates a lot of what’s wrong with it). They decided, therefore, to make a daytime children’s show: Tweedeleededeedee, Sir Ru Barb and The Green Wolf at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday the 6th of December. Lovely idea.

Sadly, it was a bit of a mess, although this was the first ever time it was performed there is plenty of chance to improve. We didn’t attend the singalong workshop type’o’thing that came beforehand, but the play itself had lots of nice ideas that seemed slightly badly done. My main advice would be Turn The Bleedin’ Microphones Up, ‘cos then it might be easier to hear what people are saying (also: persuade the dolly-bird/bit-of-fluff lady that the mic is more useful when spoken into, rather than held at waist level). I imagine it was mostly as a result of this communication breakdown that I found it quite difficult to follow at times. Some of the kids in attendance clearly absolutely loved it and were really getting into it/dancing in their seats, but quite a lot more just seemed to get bored and fractious (especially the little git behind us and his even worse parents). Obviously I don’t like kids to begin with and I do realise the foolishness of moaning about children at a children’s show, but I’m sure quite a few of them would have been a lot more attentive and happy if they’d been able to actually follow what was going on.

I hate saying this, because I really love The Destroyers and have a huge amount of goodwill towards anything they do. I’d also certainly never dispute the fact that this was a worthwhile thing to attempt. There were positives: there was some lovely music, I liked the animations, and the idea of a child been born as a mutant solar-powered sentient bicycle is rare genius. Rare, rare genius.

(Contrasting views exist, of course).

A mooch around Brum followed for a few hours, before heading over to The Old Joint Stock for pies. I very much recommend their pies in there.

Pies aside, the pub also has a theatre. We were there that evening for a stage version of Poe’s “Masque Of The Red Death”, courtesy of The Happiness Patrol. This, I thought, was really good. A two-hander (with the audience and a row of mannequin dolls representing the assembled throng), with Philip Hoyman as a silent servant (who managed to say a lot without saying anything), and Gareth Nichols as an incredibly intense Prince Prospero (a great performance – he kept up a large amount vicious paranoia very effectively for a long time). Unlike the story it centred around Prospero’s neurotic contempt for those he thought he was saving, but the whole thing still had a very eerie air, especially the way the different coloured rooms were represented by bathing the set with lights.

It was veeeeeery hot in there, though. Between the air temperature and all the talk of plague and disease I actually started to come over a bit queasy at the start.

(Other folks write here, here, and here).

To J.B’s for the first time in an age on Tuesday the 9th, and it’s as much of a funny ol’ place as ever. It has what is probably the lowest level of soullessness that a 1,000 capacity pop music venue is ever reasonably likely to have, but gigs there tend to be pretty damn expensive on the door and they never seem to advertise much outside of their own website. It’s unsurprising that the turnout for this Municipal Waste gig was poorer than it might have been elsewhere (I recall a lot more people going to see The Waste at the much smaller Flapper the two times that Gazberg put them on there a few years ago).

Ah well. Iron Lung were the tour support, a two piece (drums/vox and guitar) playing a pretty effective style of violent grind with some slow bits and enjoying their first time in ‘Doodley’ (a mispronunciation that seemed to really upset one heckler, even though his own voice sounded scouse). The sound was absolutely perfect for them and really let their stop/start-on-a-sixpence dynamics shine through, whilst the drummer was a nutter but an endearing one. I really enjoyed them for most of their set, although they did go on for a bit longer than might have been the optimum.

Municipal Waste were massive fun (as always) with their “exactly like DRI but no-one seems to mind, least of all me” thrash metal/hardcore crossover business. They don’t take themselves completely seriously,which is always a good thing. The highlights were predictable – “Thrashin’ Of The Christ”, “Terror Shark” and a rendition of “Municipal Waste IGFYU” after having persuaded most of the audience to get up onto the stage. Their re-titling of “I Wanna Kill The President” as “I Wanna Chill With The President” suggests that they’re not 100% living in the past. Maybe.

(Singer Tony described this gig as “a weird ass show” in a recent interview).

Christmas happened next, obviously. Christmas is lovely.

I don’t like Going To The Pictures. I’m a lot better with films in general than I was a couple of years ago, but I’d still much rather watch one at home and I definitely don’t subscribe to the ‘bigger screen is better’ theory. It’ll pass as a general outing now and again (as long as there’s a sufficiently long gap between ‘now’ and ‘again’), though, and so on Saturday the 10th we went to The Electric Cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire. Florence has since decided she feels the same way about picture-houses and so all is well, but we’d both acknowledge that The Electric is a lot better than most. So very loud, though! That can’t be necessary. The fillum itself was ace, I thought; fast-paced and exciting but still thoughtful, with a happy/fairly sentimental ending but not shying away from displaying the horribleness where necessary.

My first gig of the new year took place on Thursday the 22nd of Jan, going to see Buzzcocks at The Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton. Also there was Other Stuff not suited to the maintenance of sanguine temperament, but never mind that.

We went in The Ponderosa first, which was lovely and somewhere I’ll definitely go again. The Lurkers were our supporting artistes for the evening: very Ramones-ish, although perhaps a tiny bit (just a tiny bit) more Oi. Nothing at all new, but I enjoyed them. I especially liked “Come And Reminisce If You Think You’re Old Enough”. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Speaking of which… nah, only joking, Buzzcocks were fantastic. You can see the years on Pete Shelley though. They were playing the first two albums in full on this tour (that seems to be becoming increasingly common nowadays) alongside other odds and ends came in the encore (although we did have to leave before the end), and they sound as fresh as ever. The big yet intelligent pop hooks which we all know and love weren’t lost in translation as they gave it a surprising amount of welly. Predictably, the bits I found to be highlights were my favourites anyway – “On Our Own”, “Sixteen”, “Fallen In Love”, and… probably some others, I dunno. Lovely fun.

On Saturday the 24th we headed to the Crescent Theatre for Of Mice And Men, courtesy of their own theatre company. The Crescent can be bloody annoying at times. The bar/stairs/corridor were packed with people beforehand, as people hoping to attend the events in both the main room and the smaller one (where this was) walk in every possible direction in small spaces. At least the interval times seem to be staggered on this occasion, unlike the last time I went.

I’m blessed to have seen the definitive (no really it was) stage version of OMAM at The Rep with Matthew Kelly (no really he was), and it didn’t really surprise me to find that this one wasn’t as good. That’s not to say it was bad, though. Everyone in it seemed a little bit wooden and there was plenty of stumbling over lines, but I don’t want to go over the top with that – the cast did a decent job if not spectacular job. The use of space was very good: Candy (the black character, you’ll recall), for example, was present on stage for most of the time but separated from the rest of the cast in an effective mirror of the way he (and everyone else) are isolated.

(Thoughts on taking some kiddies to see it can be found a few paragraphs down here).

Arriving at The Rainbow to see Gregor Samsa on Monday the 26th (I was lucky to find out about the gig. I’m so out of touch these days…), I saw more stuff packed onto the stage than you often see. It was quite the sight. Saw. See. Sight.

Dream Dreams The Dreamer was our sole support for the evening (gigs with only two acts on the bill seem to increasingly be the standard aroundabout now. I don’t like this tendency) and I really wanted to like him, since I never seem to get much out of that Esquilax circle of bands. Ah well. It started with slow chords and screams reminiscent of some less-distorted version of Khanate, before building up to a maelstrom of wrecked organ sounds, feedback and white noise. Fun as that sounds, it didn’t convey anything to me beyond “I Are Sirius Cat”.

I really enjoy Gregor Samsa’s recent album while it’s playing, but can never remember a note of it afterwards (or, indeed, its title – I’ve just had to look up the fact that it’s called “Rest”. It should be noted that neither of these things are particularly unusual for me, particularly the latter). I’m not sure whether going to see them thus makes more or less sense, given that live music is just a half-recalled moment in time. They sounded absolutely gorgeous, whichever way up. A more song-y/standardly postrock-y Sigur Ros is the overall impression they give on record but live they came across as a more song-y Efterklang, with a very lush sound built from a really effective combination of little subtle things and big broad strokes (that’ll be what all the instruments packing the stage were for. Ah right Ted). The small-ish crowd applauded very enthusiastically at the end.

On top of all that, any band with a Kafka reference for a name will automatically be good. I’m sick of having to tell you this.

To the Old Joint Stock Theatre on Friday the 30th, for a version of Look Back In Anger from BISPA/Birmingham Stage School Showbiz. The play itself was new to me, but I loved it. Most of all it was extremely funny, but also a very good depiction of frustration with staid and archetypal lives.

The performance didn’t seem as good as it perhaps might have been, though. The main and biggest problem was that it was too fast – they galloped through it with nary a pause between hastily delivered sentences. A bit of breathing space really might have helped. A bit more clear enunciation might have been nice, too, Luke Beard’s Alex (a performance influenced by John Cleese, one wonders?) in particular. They’re young, though, and I’m sure it’ll all come with experience (and I sincerely apologise for sounding so patronising with that). Let’s be positive: I did really like Davut-Sebastian Atterbury (what a name) as Colonel Redfern, and I definitely wouldn’t say they were outright bad on the whole. Whichever way up, they definitely sold me on the play. I’d like to see the film now, in fact.

(Reviewed here).

The afternoon of Sunday the 1st of Feb saw me going to a boxing card for the first time since June. Warrior Promotions and First Team had joined forces to promote this extravaganza, and sitting there beforehand waiting for things to start I found myself awash with sensations. Anticipation~! Of what was to come. Amusement~! At The Tower Ballroom’s seriously 70s décor. Dismay~! About the fact that someone had let Terry O’ Conner into the building, and if they’re silly enough to do that they’re probably also silly enough to let him referee some boxing matches.

I’d half-forgotten the “home boxer vs journeyman” nature of local cards. It’s not that I dislike watching those matches, necessarily, but given that it ain’t cheap to get in it’s not what you ideally want. Outside of two matches, the “..and his opponent…” corner didn’t win a single round all afternoon/evening. The two exceptions, happily, were really good fights: Rhys Davies took on Hastings Rasani in one of the best few four-rounders I’ve ever seen (toe-to-toe in an almost literal sense from start to finish. Given that this was only Rhys’ second pro fight it’s also worth saluting the brave matchmaking that led to this) and Tony Randell upset Max Maxwell in a gritty ten-rounder for the Midlands area middleweight title (that result surprised me, but not enough to cry robbery or anything like that. I thought Maxwell had edged it with busier and cleaner work, but I suppose Randell – who looked a hell of a lot better than he did last time I saw him – did land more hurtful-looking shots and he definitely had a big finish).

Never mind all that, though, the important bit: Ring Entrance (and, indeed, Name) Of The Day goes to Quinton Hillocks, who came down to the sound of Soulja Boy whilst wearing a superman cape.

(The BBN report on this card can be read here).

The 6th was the occasion for An Inspector Calls at The Rep, and it was really very good indeed – a reprise of the Stephen Daldry production that apparently was very well received some years ago, and in itself a subtly clever play with more obvious (but still worthwhile) stuff laid over the top. The scenery not only looked great but worked with well with the narrative: their big posh house in the centre functioning as the citadel that they the family are dragged out of as they are forced to think about the world outside of their own immediate gratification. At the end only Sheila and Eric end up outside, being the only two who have learned from the experience. Louis Hilyer’s performance as Inspector Goole was certainly very stylised (I would like to know what the stage directions in the script say in comparison to this), but the cast as a whole were very good (particularly Robin Whiting as Eric. I could imagine him in a lot of Coward/Wilde type things).

(Reviews a-plenty! Try here, there, here, there, here, elsewhere, everywhere, probably other places too…)

On Friday the 13th (ooh scary etc etc) we went to see the absolutely brilliant These Four Streets at The Rep Door. Based around the 2005 riot in Lozells in Birmingham (where the rumour of a rape escalated into argey bargey and resulted in a death), it was poignant but also funny and most of all humane. That it was of local interest also goes without saying. It took the form of a series of vignettes of local life, showing how little things can rise and create tension up to the point where only a spark is needed (whether it’s true or has any basis in reality or not). Some were one-offs and some had recurring characters, with the best being the old Jamaican grandmother comforting the runaway asian child and the genuinely tearjearking kid leaving pizza at his mate’s grave. The whole cast were really strong and showed range in delivering a variety of different characters, but a particular salute should go to Lorna Laidlaw. It’s still touring here and there, and is definitely worth seeing – if there’s anything from this whole post that I’d recommend then it’s this one. (EDIT: Alright, so I’d forgotten about Leonard Cohen when I typed that bit. He ain’t likely to tour in the immediate future, though, whereas I know “These Four Streets” is going to be around and about…)

(This initially seemed under-reviewed, but they’ve poured in since then. Try here, here, here, here, and here).

Woozle very kindly allowed me permission to go out on Saturday the 14th for “Priest Feast” (what a name for a tour. What a dream of a name), and so after being disabused of the notion that it was at the NIA (happily this happened before I set out) I headed off to the NEC/LG/Whatever-Have-You Arena. I am only vaguely familiar with Testament but I did enjoy their set a lot. I do at least know that the main thing you want when you go to see them is air guitar on the mic stand (I suppose that’s not actually air guitar. Stand guitar, if you will), and we got plenty. Great thrashing fun, anyway.

I saw Megadeth at only the second gig I ever attended way back in the September of 1997 (the sound was beyond dreadful but it didn’t bother me: my inexperienced self thought that maybe gigs were just like that at that sort of scale. Also: eleven and a half years ago. Ceiling Cat almighty), but that was then and this is now. They have done a lot of complete and utter tut in their time, but they stuck to the good stuff here and so all was great. “She-Wolf” was dedicated to all the She-Wolves on Valentines Day (aaaaw. How romantic), and the amazing one-two of “Symphony Of Destruction” and “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?” put a massive grin across my face. Dave Mustaine still has a very strange singing voice. He’s still also ginger. I’m sure we wouldn’t have him any other way.

How does one write about the Judas Priest live experience? I suppose the easiest way to sum it all up is that they were what you’d expect in a good way, rather than what you’d expect in a bad way. Thus: ace. Disconnected thoughts would include: Look at Rob Halford there, enjoying himself in his glittery coat; It was a bit of a disappointment that Halfo didn’t initially ride onto the stage on his Harley, but he did that for the encore so all was well. Didn’t hit anything, either; It’s worth noting that The Priest are the first act I’ve seen since Usher to use a hydraulic lift on stage: All (well, most) of your big singalong faves were played – Breaking The Law, Electric Eye, Rock Hard Ride Free, Another Thing Comin’; Painkiller was absolutely shredding; That first one they played from the new album (“I Am Nostradamus”?) sounded fun, too; Priest~!

Right, that’ll do us for the time being. There’s been a big London trip and another boxing do since then, but they can wait for the moment.