Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Bands vs. DJs live

06:15am 14 Oct 2014


I'm sure we've had some version of this debate at some stage over the years - though I can't actually recall setting this up as a topic - but I want to pick up on some comments from a recent post about the Laneway line-up for 2015. In the thread there someone talks about Flying Lotus being an underwhelming live experience as it will simply be "a fellow pushing a few buttons on his laptop" and punters will be cheering "all that beat science out of a circuit board" and "his skills in pre-programming".

It was countered by another person providing the list of components that are used by Flying Lotus - and pointing out that there will obviously be a visual component, that many DJs/producers/beat-makers combine a set of pre-programmed/loop ideas with some live manipulation (via synths/midis/Ableton, sometimes even percussion or extra 'live' instrumentation) and the laptop button-pressing is only part of the experience.

Now even if the performer is simply standing there with a laptop and seemingly doing very little there can be something about experiencing particular music in a crowd, as part of a group of presumably like-minded people, or people all gathered at least because of an interest in that performer/producer. Or hopeful for something from the experience.

And, as was noted in these comments, stirring visuals often assist in the presentation of this music as a uniquely live experience.

It's true that sometimes the person in the audience has no idea what it actually takes to put on the show. It's true to that in many cases they do not care - the experience is about the energy, the vibe, the feel. This is true when talking about bands performing too, not just DJs.

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Marianne Faithfull's latest, a career highlight

06:22am 13 Oct 2014


I remember being a bit creeped out by the song Broken English when I was little kid, you'd hear it on the radio, and there was certainly something about it - I loved the hypnotic rhythm track. But the vocals - the delivery, what I could make out of the words - it was all a bit scary. A good kind of scary for the most part.Marianne

And then I got to know some of the story of Marianne Faithfull - or at least The History or Rock'n'Roll version, the Mrs Mick Jagger version, the stories from bios and documentaries concerning The Rolling Stones. It was also hard to believe she was the same person singing As Tears Go By. I guess, in so many ways, she wasn't at all the same person, but you know what I mean.

I couldn't tell you that I was any sort of Marianne Faithfull fanatic - but I loved that compilation, Faithfull. It was a perfect highlights set, a snapshot of a music career arguably on the fringes - a manufactured pop starlet, and then time off, a run through the jungle, the return from the wilderness - it backtracked from Broken English to As Tears Go By. You heard that wonderful anger in Why D'ya Do It? (my copy of the Broken English album has the song blanked-out and seven minutes of silence; the censored version) - and it was almost unsettling to then get to the angelic As Tears Go By after the rough journey through Tom Waits and Patti Smith covers.

Marianne Faithfull's music career has played second fiddle to the stories of her life, told brilliantly by her in her first memoir, backed up in a second memoir too - but the first one is the real dirt-dishing, wild-ride book. A wonderful rock'n'roll story.

I get the feeling that plenty of people think of her as some bit-part singer.

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The 2014 Digests (So Far...)

01:45pm 09 Oct 2014


I've been putting together digests of all the very best albums received and reviewed in each month of this year. It's startling just how much amazing music is out there - there's just no excuse or support for the idea that there's nothing decent happening anymore. The problem - if anything - is there's too much of a good thing.

Great albums come and then disappear - because you never heard about them, or you heard them but something else arrived straight away. And we're all training ourselves for an ADD-future, clickbaiting and switching. 2014

People love to suggest that there's no worth in the role of a reviewer anymore - there's no value. Well, in many ways I know there's no value. But I plough on, I wade through, I continue. Some days I'm not sure why. Other days I push past all of that and do my best to get down some version of the events my ears are hearing - and/or what they're not hearing but wish they were.

My reviews over at Off The Tracks are about my response to albums - as much as anything it's a listening diary, same here - a journal of music-related exploits and experiences.

So these monthly digests have reminded me of a lot of great music - in putting them together my aim was to remind others.

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When solo albums attack!

10:10am 09 Oct 2014


When I heard the news that Phil Rudd, AC/DC drummer, would be releasing a solo album - it seemed almost comical. The record couldn't be good right? Actually, click that link for my review; it's really not too bad. You'd have to like AC/DC, you'd have to be hoping for not too much beyond basic beer-drinking rock, but it certainly is not without its charms. Phil Rudd

I can't imagine any member of AC/DC doing better if offering a solo album - now, sure, that's tantamount to damning with faint praise, but I really thought the album was going to be a stinker, a cruel joke. And it's not. Rudd's a great drummer - basic, perfect for the band he plays with - but the songs have hooks and, again, probably damning with faint praise, but there are plenty of songs on the album that are better than anything his main gig has offered up in 20-30 years. Low bar, perhaps...but given I thought the only thing worse than this might be an album by Kevin Rudd I'd say the AC/DC tub-thumper's done good.

But here's something worrying - Steven Tyler is set to release a solo album. And one with a country-feel no less. Actually I'm sure that will mean less. And not in a less-is-more way.

I'm convinced that a lot of singers get it wrong and think they're the most important part of the group - the most interesting part. I wrote about that recently with regard to Jeff Tweedy's latest project.

But what I wanted to know today - what I thought we could set up as a topic - is the biggest disappointment you've felt when someone from a band you like has released a solo album. Particularly if it's a long time coming/seems so pointless as to come from nowhere - as is the case with this Tyler album.

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Some great shows this Friday

06:10am 08 Oct 2014


Some nights there's more than one great thing on - and it can be quite exciting trying to plan the evening, over-booking it almost, a wee venue-tourist flitting between the stages. This Friday there's a handful of great events on in Wellington alone. The Albemarle Happening

They're all worth seeing.

Check it out.

The Albermarle in Ghuznee Street is one of Wellington's classic historic buildings. Given that it's a piece of New Zealand heritage it obviously has no place here anymore and is scheduled for demolition.

This space will be the location for a one-off show this Friday night, a fundraiser/leaving party for the fabulous Orchestra of Spheres.

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