Everything

Roskilde Festival Review: Stella Donnelly, Sharon Van Etten, Søren Huss, Testament, July 4

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

20190704_134213

“Thank you for coming in here,” said Stella Donnelly at the outset of her early afternoon set on the Gloria Stage. “I was not expecting this many people and now I’m shitting my pants.”

While she may have been surprised and perhaps a bit intimidated by a larger crowd than expected, she ended up putting on a fantastic show regardless. In fact, her set ended up being the most memorable show out of the entire day’s lineup. Donnelly came across as charming and funny, both in her lyrics and her stage banter, while also dealing with serious issues in her songs. Highlights of her set included”You Owe Me,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” “Old Man” and “Seasons Greetings,” described by her as a song about spending Christmas Eve with racists. “Never done that intro before,” she added, wondering if it was perhaps a bit too harsh before ultimately deciding it was a “short and sweet” summation of the song. She ended things off by bringing her bandmates up to the front of the stage to sing along with her as she played a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” “I’ve got a special treat for you Roskilde,” she noted. “I’m gonna play it in tune. Didn’t do it at Glastonbury. Fuck ‘em.”

It’s not always the case that the first act up for the day ends up being the best thing you see all day, but it absolutely happened for me with Donnelly’s set on the most intimate stage at Roskilde. As it turns out, the intimate vibe and personal songwriting of Donnelly’s show set the tone for the day, with most of the best sets I saw coming from performers who could be classified as singer-songwriters.

Immediately after Donnelly, I wandered over to the Arena Stage to take in a set from Søren Huss, a well regarded Danish singer-songwriter best known for his time fronting ’90s Danish rock band Saybia. Of course, the fact that he sings in Danish and all his stage banter was in Danish meant I didn’t understand a damn word he said, but one doesn’t need to understand the language to appreciate the songcraft. Speaking of good songs, Sharon Van Etten’s got more than her fair share of those in her repertoire and she played a good number of them, from earlier numbers like “One Day” to newer songs like “Seventeen” and “Comeback Kid” off of her latest Remind Me Tomorrow. The most memorable moment in her set however, came in the form of someone else’s song – a cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds” that, as Van Etten pointed out, is sadly all too relevant today decades after it was first released.

20190704_163605

Of course my day wasn’t devoted entirely to singer-songwriters and one of the other highlights of the day came from the heavier end of the musical spectrum in the form of Testament’s thrash metal (not to be confused with Donnelly’s debut EP Thrush Metal). The Bay area thrashers ran through a fun set full of tracks from throughout their career, including “Practice What You Preach,” “Electric Crown” and “Low,” which, according to vocalist Chuck Billy, may have made its European live debut at this show. Since the band was playing on the 4th Of July, they played in front of a version of their logo that incorporated an American flag to acknowledge their country’s birthday. That wasn’t the only birthday being acknowledged during their show though – Billy also led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to the band’s tour manager Nick.

And while we’re on the topic of birthdays, here’s a gift for everyone, even if it’s not your birthday: a video of Stella Donnelly’s “Beware Of The Dog” recorded live at Roskilde. Enjoy!

Roskilde Festival Review: Bob Dylan, Christine and the Queens, Hatari, Fontaines DC, Jpegmafia, Ulver, July 3

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

20190703_211132

Not every festival has its own overarching theme, but Roskilde does, and the theme of this year’s Roskilde Festival (its 49th edition) was solidarity.

Inspired by young people around the world fighting to make the world a better place while also hearkening back to Roskilde’s origins in the ’70s youth movement, the Danish festival demonstrated that it’s about more than just a big party (though it is absolutely about that as well). This was reflected in the festival’s programming through the booking of several socially conscious artists such as Petrol Girls, Lankum, and Stella Donnelly and speakers like activist Saffiyah Khan as well as in the festival’s donations to various organizations such as Freemuse and Popkollo (selected as this year’s “orange donation” by Swedish rapper Silvana Imam who played the Orange stage on the first night of the fest).

In the words of spokeswoman Christina Bilde, “Roskilde Festival is a journey that lasts for eight days, a journey that can set you free and take you new places. We’re creating a space together where you can open up in a different way. The people you experience art or a talk with and the atmosphere you’re in, it’s something that combines to let you be inspired. You might not change your everyday life drastically afterwards, but if you’ve taken part actively, I believe that it inspires you to do things differently.”

That notion of bringing people together to share ideas and see things in new ways was evident in Christine And The Queens’ fantastic, energetic performance on the Arena stage with Chris speaking to the crowd about her shows being a safe space for anyone to be whoever they want to be. She later mentioned how it’s a safe space for her as well and that she often uses drama to become who she wants to be during the introduction to “iT.” That theme of reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be is a recurring one in Christine and The Queens’ work and it occurred to me that in a way, it’s something Chris has in common with another of the evening’s headliners – Bob Dylan.

I’m certainly not the first to say that Bob Dylan’s live shows in recent years can be a bit of a hit or miss affair, but the thing is, Bob Dylan has always been about subverting expectations. It’s been that way since he went electric at Newport and as Martin Scorsese’s recent Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story made clear, Dylan does what pleases him rather than just giving the audience what they want.

And while the experience of playing “name that tune” as the man croaks and growls his way through drastically revamped versions of the classics continues to be fairly standard for a Dylan concert, Dylan’s band is top notch and the constant tinkering with arrangements can sometimes yield great results, with “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Love Sick” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” standing out as particular highlights. Another highlight came when Dylan got up from behind his piano at the end of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, danced a sort of jig for a second, then posed like some kind of weird Elvis. It was kind of amazing. Having seen both great and well, not so great shows from Dylan, I went in with no expectations and the show turned out to be quite enjoyable. And judging by the smile on Dylan’s place, he seemed to be enjoying himself too. I’d wager that the always enthusiastic crowd at Roskilde probably played some part in his mood.

20190703_232411

Perhaps the most unique and memorable performance of the first night though came from Iceland’s Hatari, an S&M themed industrial band who have their hearts set on destroying capitalism and who were somehow the unlikely entry for their homeland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Not too many bands take to the stage following a pre-recorded manifesto, but then again. there’s not too many anti-capitalist, S&M-themed industrial bands out there. There probably only needs to be the one – Hatari have that area covered and they do what they do quite well.

Other impressive performances on this evening came from acts across various genres who illustrated the diversity within the festival’s lineup. From the Fall-esque post-punk of Fontaines DC and the confrontational hip hop of Jpegmafia to the ever evolving Ulver (who have now morphed into some mutant form of electro-pop far from their black metal origins), each of them take a different approach to their music, but like Bob Dylan, Hatari, and Christine And The Queens, they all understand the importance of image and attitude in cultivating a certain mood in their live show.

Hot Docs Review: Kifaru (David Hambridge, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | Leave a comment

Kifaru_5

By 1971, the giant tortoise population on the Galapagos island of Pinta had been so decimated by a combination of poaching and invasive rodents (also brought on by humans), that only a single male tortoise was known to us. 40 years later when he finally died unceremoniously at the age of 101 inside a pen, Lonesome George was still the last known Pinta Island tortoise. And so, one of many millions of evolutionary experiments on our planet, though likely several million years in the making, came to an end.

In almost all ways, the story in Kifaru parallels that of Lonesome George in an eerily familiar trajectory. The northern white rhino population has been devastated by poachers looking to turn some outgrowth on the two-tonnes pachyderms into keratinaceous gold, by selling them to superstitious East Asian cretins who confuse toe-nails with miracle cures. While their wild brethren was dying, the handful of captive rhinos in zoos across the planet could not be coerced to reproduce successfully. Long-bloody-story-short, the last one known, named Sudan, died in March 2018, and this is the story of its last days. Told from the point of the view of Sudan’s three keepers, this film is more about the journey than the end. It could hardly be about anything else, when you knew the ending before it began.

One technical complaint that I have with the film is how unusual the camera work is for being constantly out of focus, consistently mis-placing the subject off the center of the frame, which was often very low to the ground. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to convey the point-of-view of Sudan, with rhino’s notoriously bad eyesight and and stocky build.

No one would be surprised at my confirmation that Kifaru is a plaintive film. But it is also a strangely dignified watch. You feel a righteous anger rising when tourists gleefully pay respect to the last of a species that, but for human disruption, would have continued to be successful. But it would simmer and leave behind shame when you realize that, despite your anger, we are failing to prevent the pulses of many other species from slipping away. As one of the keepers said ruefully: “black rhinos, there are still 5000 of them left…”, implying that we aren’t giving them the same protection as we are Sudan. I don’t argue against the logic that the last of its kind is precious – but how we got to the present hides a truly confounding mystery: what do we love to do when presented with a miracle cure? We study the living-daylights out of it and crucially, we make damn sure we have more. It’s what happened with chickens. Why then are there no Purdue rhino farms or Tyson pangolin hatcheries to keep the miracle well flowing?

The truth is painfully clear: deep-down, EVERYONE, both Sudan’s keepers and Chinese consumers, understands that toenail shavings in traditional medicine is nothing more than placebo. So, so many of us just don’t care, taking a note from a nihilist epitaph: “Nothing saved me. Nothing matters”. We will keep chugging along until the next sad passing, human or otherwise. The dignity and the testament of Sudan, is that Nature doesn’t care, either. Like any evolutionary experiment before or since, one day soon, it will be the last human on Earth struggling to stand on his/her two feet. And it may not mean anything more than that of the last northern white rhino. If we continue to be enslaved by this destructive logic, then we shall go to our deathbeds alone, never understanding how even a rhino could manage to die surrounded by those who know and appreciate his worth.

Kifaru will screen again at the times below. Witness. Or spend the time to do better.
Sunday, 4/28 10:00 AM
Friday, 5/3 4:00 PM

SXSW Review: Yola, March 13, Radio Day Stage

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Yola

Yola (Carter) has a gift with her voice. It is not only the volume and clarity with which she holds your attention. No, your 8th grade English teacher can do that. It’s the deep connection she has with the audience, and the layered delivery that allows her to pack much emotion into melodies that I would in all likelihood completely disregard had they been sent across the radio.

Working from her debut album, tracks like the eponymous “Walk Through Fire” and “It Ain’t Easier”, for example, are both classic country numbers in my book. If this were to go down as the only country set I visited at SXSW after a decade, then so be it. (But if anyone asks I would still staunchly, in a principled manner, deny ever having been). Coming from a background of gun-for-hire for other bands, Yola’s natural strengths in soul and country really do shine through. Here, hitting notes and harmonies, while important, are secondary to the electric feeling that builds up in the air. It’s like she and Dan Auerbach guard a box (or a cowboy hat) with magic dust and sprinkle it sparingly.

There are some gems in the songwriting as well. There is nothing more “real” than the lyrics which with I nearly laughed my fellow passengers’ heads off on the L:

Nobody moves the way you do
walking ’round the grocery store
Only you know what you’re looking for

What kind of sick and twisted person would double-entendre with your expectations in a longingly expressive love song? The British kind, of course. Other highlights for me were “Shady Grove”, “Still Gone”, and “Faraway Look”.

Check out the video for “Faraway Look” below: