Category Archives: Music

tooled up

Went out-of-country on Saturday, for the first time in about a year—day-trip to Copenhagen, on the occasion of TOOL playing the Royal Arena over there, and me having bought tickets way back in October last year or thenabouts.

I swore off arena shows after a disastrous and deeply disagreeable trip to see Deftones play what was then still called the Docklands Arena (now the O2, because branding eats everything in the end) in, I think, 2002? The trip was doomed at the outset, for reasons unrelated to the venue which I shall not discuss here, but the experience of the gig itself was memorably terrible, tantamount to having paid a three-figure sum to stand around in an echoing aircraft hangar with however many thousand other massive-trouser’d angst-nurturers, while at the far end a TV screen, so far distant it looked smaller than your phone screen would seem to you now if held at arms length, showed footage of what might possibly have been the band whose name graced the posters, but could equally have been anyone, given the tinny racket you could hear over the audience noise bore little resemblance to music, let alone their music specifically.

Yeah, didn’t enjoy it much.

But I’ve always wanted to see TOOL, and they’re never gonna play venues smaller than arenas, and this was the first time that I’ve lived in easy and affordable public-transport reach of a stadium at which a band I like that much were playing… so I figured fuck it, why not.

And y’know, it wasn’t bad at all?

I mean, I’ll always be a small-venue music fan, perhaps because I worked (and occasionally played) in such places for years: for me, a gig means being in a room where you and around four or five hundred other people can see the band with your own eyes from pretty much any point of vantage, hear at least some of the sound from the stage itself as well as through the PA…you know, the sort of place where you can smell the sweat of the performers (sometimes literally). And this was not that, not at all.

But it was a magnificent spectacle, sonically and visually. And the Royal Arena—perhaps because [insert cliches about Scandinavian design and architecture], but perhaps also or alternatively because [Roskilde]—is well laid-out, spacious, clean, modern, not at all a disagreeable or oppressive building to be in. It also helps hugely that the sense of being policed at every moment of the event, so familiar from even the smallest of UK venues in recent years, was almost completely absent: security searches on the way in were friendly to the point of being almost perfunctory, which helped get the queues through fast, and once you were through the turnstiles, that was pretty much it: you just wander off to your assigned section, see yourself to your seat, etc etc. Security did periodically ask people not to stand in the little entranceways to the seating tiers (and yeah, I was that guy, because after a day on foot in Copenhagen, it was actually better for my still bad-tempered foot for me to stand rather than to sit—counterintuitive, I know), but otherwise it was perhaps the most hands-off treatment I’ve had as the punter at a rock gig since, well, I don’t even know when. Possibly ever.

So, yeah—a good day out. Wouldn’t say I’m now a convert on arena shows, mind you: the prices are eyewatering, it’s not really “a gig” as I think of the term, and I wonder how much of the agreeableness is specific to that venue (and perhaps even to that particular date). But I would say that I’d be more likely to consider arena shows than I was before.

I would also say that TOOL are a fucking great band, but if you like them you already know that, and if you don’t, experience dictates that there’s no point in trying to convince you.

No photos from the show, because I didn’t want to be That That Guy—and I was quite pleased to note that hardly anyone in the crowd had their phones out at all. Instead, you have a picture from my wanderings in Christiania earlier in the day: a place which deserves to be written about in greater detail, while also a place that has been written about—brilliantly, badly, and every way in between—by (too) many writers before me, academic or otherwise. So I’ll save it for some other time, some other visit.

I’m a very different person today, with different priorities

Via Simon Reynolds, I learn that David Stubbs, one of the core Melody Maker writers during my brief stint as a regular reader thereof, has got a fancy new website. Based on this sample, it’ll be worth reading for guidance on how to age gracefully with regard to one’s publicly-aired opinions:

I’m not just embarrassed about certain things I wrote in the 1980s, and the 1990s but genuinely quite ashamed. I’m a very different person today, with different priorities. Back then, I was all about the primacy of aesthetics. They were almost a moral issue as for as I was concerned. I decried what I saw as the mediocre with a righteous, evangelical fervour, as if mediocrity, which I tended to equate with orthodoxy, were the biggest sin. Part of this was because I regarded bad music as a public affliction, to be endured involuntarily. It was unjust, I argued, that I had heard “Baby Jane” by Rod Stewart some 80 times in my life when I despised it more than any other song. Bad music warranted an excoriation beyond even that extended to, say, Jeffrey Archer novels – at least they weren’t read out over public tannoy systems.

But then perhaps it’s easier to cast such a collective disclaimer over your early body of work when it is largely lost to the crumbling memory-hole of the last days of cheap newsprint, than it is to do so in the internet age, when that ten-year-old tweet can be your ticket to being today’s Main Character? Ironic, really, that for all the claims of social media’s emphemerality, that’s where damnable material is most likely to be sourced, while many of the more solidly written online sources of just a decade ago have long since gone to link-rot.

That said, the same phenomenon has likely expunged a lot of my earliest and most misinformed writings—the ones I haven’t expunged on my own initiative—so perhaps I should stop mithering.

But no, one last point—it’s nice to see people building proper text-heavy websites again, and Stubbs’ looks like a great example, but bollocks to anyone who builds a site using WordPress or similar and then goes so far as to purposefully deactivate the RSS feed functionality. You’re not even hosting ads on the site, FFS; what have you got to lose by making it easier for me to know when you’ve written something new?

Kids these days, I don’t know.

weird shit is afoot on Spotify

I have no idea.

A friend I showed this to yesterday asked me if I’d listened to it, as it cropped up in my “trending albums for you” feed. I replied that of course I haven’t listened to it; I’m way too scared of banjaxxing my recommendation-algo profile by clicking through on something that shows every sign of being a deeply weird troll-spam move…

blues funeral

Mark Lanegan’s gone.

Hard pressed to pick a favourite tune, though Bubblegum is easily the album I’ve listened to most, so here’s one of the ones that’s always struck me as a masterpiece marriage of songwriting and delivery:

Sad to lose another of the singers that shaped my youth, but—as I remarked to L____ when she sent me the news last night—having heard his music and read his memoirs, I can’t help but feel it’s a miracle we had him around as long as we did. As he was always the first to admit, he was a difficult and self-destructive man who approached much of his life like it was a perpetual punch-up in a crack-house, damaging himself and many others along the way. But you look at the list of people who worked with him—people who were never going to be using his incredibly minor fame as a ladder or easy source of cash—and you read their testaments to his character, and you wonder who he might have been, if only his upbringing had been even half as fucked up as it was.

It was a strange thing, reading his memoir Sing Backwards & Weep after so many years of knowing little about him beyond his musical output. The power of Bubblegum, in particular, is in his articulation of the sorrow and self-loathing regret of the junkie’s downwards meander through life: the seeking only of some sort of understanding, knowing that redemption has long since been taken off the table. But in Sing Backwards, which is very matter-of-fact and warts-and-all, and never elides the man’s own agency in everything he did, that sense of regret seems almost entirely absent, except perhaps as motivation for the existence of the book itself. He describes how learning to write his own songs (the Screaming Trees stuff was mostly written by a bandmate, for whom Lanegan’s enduring contempt is another constant motif throughout: he can just about forgive, but he cannot forget) was the thing that kept him from just stepping straight over the line that heroin drew in the sand for that whole generation of musicians. I interpret that to mean that he found, in his art, a way to express all the things he couldn’t get out in any other way; I find it in equal parts fascinating and tragic that his prose writing, absent the structures of melody and harmony, couldn’t express it so fully.

Ah, well. We only get so long, and he got longer than he ever expected, or felt he deserved. His music will last, one hopes, for as long as there are ears to hear it.

Go easy, man. The fight is over.