Colbert lives out all our Pearl Jam fantasies

Stephen Colbert said it himself. “What an honour! You don’t get to that everyday.”

‘That’ is getting to stand alongside the great Eddie Vedder on stage with his awesome band, Pearl Jam, and rock out like a mofo to their cover of choice, Rockin The Free World, originally done, of course, by Neil Young.

Just watching this will fill you with joy. I guarantee it. You can thank me later.

Pearl Jam were in New York as part of the excellent Global Citizen Festival, which aims to end global poverty by the year 2030 in conjunction with the United Nations. It’s a noble cause, and certainly a realistic if we all do our part.

You can find out more about that at our sister blog Foraggio Photographic here. Do it. Become a Global Citizen and make a mark. Rock the free world for yourself, and feel as good as Colbert did on stage here.

My year in live music – 2014

Happy 2014 with music

It was another packed live music schedule in 2014 for me. All up, almost 30 dates, including three festivals and a multitude of artists. Here is my top five, a summary of the next best, and the full list of gigs attended.

No.1 Elbow

Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW, 26 October

A simple equation here: one of my favourite bands of all time plays one of my favourite venues of all time. How could it fail to impress me? Answer: it didn’t. In fact it brought me close to tears a number of times. This show was breathtaking. I’ve seen Elbow in every conceivable setting, from small club to festival, but the majestic Sydney Opera House could be the ideal venue for one of Britain’s best musical exports. The pace of the show was perfect, Charge kicking things off just enough to get toes tapping, with The Bones Of You doing much the same. The Night Will Always Win showcased Guy Garvey’s stunning vocals like never before, highlighting a central core of down-tempo loveliness to melt the toughest of hearts. The Birds acted as the first stanza of a build-up to a tremendous crescendo, including Grounds For Divorce and, of course, another unforgettable encore of One Day Like This.

I cannot put into words the brilliance of this show. It’s an absolute lifetime highlight, a memory that will always burn bright and never be a fading ember.

No.2 Austin City Limits

Zilker Park, Austin TX, 11-12 October

I wrote at the time about my affection for this weekend. Austin City Limits proved to be one of the best music festivals I’ve ever attended. I saw so many bands I couldn’t list them all here, but highlights included Poliça from side of stage (thanks Craig), a blissful Broken Bells set, the best Phantogram performance I’ve witnessed with Sarah Barthel sexier than ever, an introduction to the insanely infection Avett Brothers, running from Skrillex to Eminem and struggling to believe I was on planet Earth, A supercharged Lorde set and, of course, another flawless Pearl Jam show to close an epic weekend. There was more, but all you need to know was this festival was the dog’s nuts. Even the security staff were cool, the beer was amazing, and Austin’s convoy of fabulous food trucks kept the energy levels tip-top.

No.3 Gladiator and Sydney Symphony

Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW, 3 April

Ever since seeing a documentary about John Williams conducting a live performance of E.T‘s score for the movie’s 25th anniversary, I’ve always wanted to watch a film with the soundtrack performed live while I view. This was my opportunity, and it was a quite magical experience. Gladiator is a flick I hold dear to my heart, and in large part owed to the sublime score crafted by Hans Zimmer. To hear it – and indeed see it – played out before my eyes while the film loomed over the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was an emotional experience. The detail of every scene popped that little but more as a result, every intricate note  and the finale, which always makes me tear up,  had me a blubbering mess. I was touched deeply by this one, and reminded once again of the special place music has in my soul.

No.4 Lady Gaga

Allphones Arena, Sydney NSW, 31 August

Not since my teens have I really touched the uber-pop stadium artists, but a birthday surprise for my better half took me back into that territory. It was a place I enjoyed as a kid, seeing Madonna several times at Wembley Stadium among others. Lady Gaga was every bit as impressive and memorable, but perhaps more talented in the music stakes. Madonna writes a great tune, performs it brilliantly, but is a flawed singer. Gaga, on the other hand, has sensational vocal chops and the theatre she creates is enormous. The dance floor crowd, which included us, was afforded the opportunity to roam around and under the stage to view from multiple angles, and the air of happiness and hope Gaga created was wonderful. Do What You Want was a hip-grinding riot while Gypsy was an utterly uplifting and triumphant finale, and the band, as most in this genre tend to be, was a collection of absolutely superb musicians. This show as an unexpected joy to behold in every way.

No.5 Asgeir

Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW, 23 July

We fell in love with Asgeir Trausti thanks to a guy in a bar in Iceland in 2012. We watched a YouTube clip of him and were beguiled by his unique voice and songwriting. Upon the English release of his album In The Silence, the rest of the world cottoned on to his unwavering talent. Seeing him perform in English was a treat. He has the voice of an angel, silencing the normal hubbub of the Metro Theatre. It was mesmerising, beautiful, heart-breaking, absorbing. A flawless performance by a man that is somehow still just 22 years of age.

Three more of the best

Highasakite at Oxford Art Factory was a delight, highlighted by some awesome wardrobe choices and an undeniably cool frontwoman in the gorgeous Ingrid Helene Håvik. Biffy Clyro blew the roof of The Factory Theatre and a topless Simon Neil gave the ladies enough heart palpitations to light up the New York power grid while perspiring to the extent that it’s a wonder a flood warning wasn’t issued by the local authorities. His energy levels are ridiculous. Howling Bells performance at Oxford Art Factory was something of a nostalgic trip back to my early days in Sydney. Waikiki was the band then, but Juanita and Joel Stein have matured significantly since then and created a new sound that was played out with gusto back in their hometown, from where they’ve been missing for some time having relocated to the UK. Come back again soon, please.

The full list

(Sydney venues unless otherwise stated)

January

6 – Bonobo – Metro Theatre

17 – Chi Udaka – Seymour Centre

26 – Big Day Out – Sydney Olympic Park (acts seen: The Naked And Famous, The Hives, Primus, The Lumineers, Arcade Fire, Pearl Jam)

February

2 – Laneway – Sydney College Of Arts (acts seen: Vance Joy, Frightened Rabbit, Run The Jewels, Daughter, Haim, Lorde, CHVRCHES, The Jezabels)

24 – Biffy Clyro – The Factory Theatre

March

5 – Phoenix – Hordern Pavilion

9 – Flying Lotus – Sydney Opera House

12 – Kate Miller-Heidke – Syemour Centre

April

3 – Gladiator and Sydney Symphony – Sydney Opera House

17 – Morcheeba – Metro Theatre

May

3 – Russian Circle – Manning Bar

13 – The Naked And Famous – Metro Theatre

25 – St Vincent – Sydney Opera House

July

19 – The Preatures – Metro Theatre

23 – Asgeir – Metro Theatre

24 – Phantogram – Metro Theatre

28 – Tune Yards – Oxford Arts Factory

August

31 – Lady Gaga – AllPhones Arena

September

5 – Biffy Clyro – Enmore Theatre

12 – Howling Bells – Oxford Art Factory

13 – Sci-Fi Classics – Sydney Opera House

18 – Highasakite – Oxford Art Factory

19 – Saskwatch – Manning Bar

October

11-12 – Austin City Limits, Zilker Park, Austin TX, USA (acts seen: Poliça, Interpol, Phantogram, The Avett Brothers, Lorde, Eminem, Skrillex, Broken Bells, Pearl Jam)

17 – Trombone Shorty And Orelans Avenue, The Belmont, Austin TX, USA

26 – Elbow – Sydney Opera House

30 – Cibo Matto – Oxford Art Factory

November

7 – The Les Murray Band – SBS Courtyard

A plea to Australian music festival organisers: It’s time to grow up

Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits (via Instagram / @foraggio)

Ah music festivals. You either love them, or you hate them. In Australia, I’m unfortunately starting to fall into the latter camp, thanks to a combination of rule-hungry authorities and the largely immature people they attract Down Under, most of whom seem more interested in getting drunk and stupid than they do listening to some great live music in the great outdoors.

I’ve been to a few festivals, and most recently attended Austin City Limits Music Festival which, after Iceland Airwaves, is arguably the best I’ve ever experienced. It runs across two weekends, featuring some great and diverse acts, and caters for a huge crowd of music lovers. Attendance in 2013 averaged 75,000 per day, and I suspect this year was no different, despite a rainy second Saturday that probably kept a few at home. Sunday, though, was rammed full.

But there were no crazy lines for food, toilets or drinks. Everything seemed to work really well. And from what I saw, there was very little trouble – no fights between shirtless teens fuelled with bravado after a couple of light beers and ready to punch on. There were no kids slumped over kerbs, wrapped in the consoling arms of their slightly less inebriated friends. Why this is even more amazing than you might expect is that on the ground, the presence of police and security was so minimal, I barely knew they were there.

At the entrance, a few cops on pushbikes made sure people got in OK. They helped with directions and “policed” the crowd, as they should. There were no dogs sniffing everyone for drugs. No surrounding of frightened kids, intimidating them with questions about their age, or some other nonsense. There was a bag check at the entrance, of course, but once inside, nothing of note to deter you from having a great time. Get inside and enjoy yourself was the general feeling from everyone.

And the whiff of weed was thick at every stage, but no cops or stewards came rushing through the crowds to eject those partaking in green-tinged pleasures, and it’s not even legal in Texas yet. Indeed, festival goers passed around their joints reasonably freely, stranger to stranger, striking up great chats in the process, with smiles and laughter the result, not insults and fists. Kids walked through the park with parents. Babies were carried in slings or backpacks, their little ears protected by mufflers. I saw enough prams in there to suggest a creche was running nearby, too. In fact, come to think of it, Austin Kiddie Limits is in there, providing fun for families away from the crowds as well. Kids under 10 get in free with a fully-paid adult. Genius!

People carried camping chairs inside, rugs, mats, chilling by the stages of their choosing. Groups had flag bearers to make them easy to spot from distance, flown on extendable posts that stretched high in the air. Beer was full strength, beyond full strength in the craft beer tent, where alcohol volumes in some of the tipples nudged the 9 per cent mark.

And when the music played, everyone seemed genuinely interested in it, sang along, commented to each other on the merits of what they were hearing, regardless of whether they knew you or not. No mindless chat about boyfriend trouble in your ear, but a respectful crowd, all there to listen and enjoy. Each stage even had a signer for the deaf, who danced and rocked on while also signing the lyrics of Pearl Jam’s powerful tunes, or Eminem’s angry raps. I’ve never seen that before, but it was brilliant.

As an experience, Austin City Limits was as pleasant as any I’ve encountered, musically or otherwise. This city’s reputation as the “live music capital of the world” has been deservedly earned, and more than 200 live venues in this relatively small place is testament to that. People here know their shit, and love it in equal measure, and they often can’t wait to share their love of it with anyone who will listen.

So why am I bringing this all up? With the summer festival season coming soon to Australia, I guess this is an appeal of sorts to authorities there perhaps to come here to Austin and learn how to run an outdoor music event properly, not in the amateurish fashion in which they do now.

Everything that is done at the entrance of Big Day Out, St Jerome’s Laneway, and other festivals I’ve been to in Australia, was pretty much not done at Austin City Limits. No dogs, no confiscation of chairs, flags or water bottles. No over-zealous ejections when joints were lit up. No drink tokens that never add up. Police helped people rather than looking to bust them for something trivial. Stewards did the same, and danced along when they could to the music.

Conversely, local authority thinking in Australia seems to dictate that if you remove the fun before it’s even started, everything will be all right. However, that tactic generally tends to put your average festival goer offside. It promotes the very thing it’s designed to avoid – trouble.

Kids try to sneak things in, get angry when they’re caught out, drink too much because they’re upset about being policed so tightly, bad elements turn up to exploit those kids further, and the whole thing generally turns to crap inside a fews hours. The music plays on in the background, but it’s almost a sideshow at times to the behaviour of the buffoons in attendance.

And I remember at Laneway this year umbrellas being confiscated at the entrance. And it was raining in Sydney. I mean seriously. What the hell? “Bring a poncho,” they tell you. Umbrellas do get in the way for other festival goers, admittedly, but you get my point. People wear Camelbacks at Austin. And guess what; they fill them with water!! Would never happen in Australia. Off your back and in the bin. You can also pass in and out of ACL five times in a day if you want. No pass outs of Australian festivals. Why?

It’s depressing when you know it can be done so much better. So come on, Australia. Why not practice the laid back attitude the world misguidedly things characterises our nation. Make festivals worth going to. Provide some venues for bands in Sydney particularly. Renovate pokie rooms into live venues. Toss out the machines and bring back the humans. Loosen the reins on us all. Let life be lived, rather than controlled.

It’s not going to hurt us. On the contrary, it’ll improve us greatly.

Mogwai returns, and so do I

Mogwai - Rave Tapes

Rave Tapes artwork.

Just got back from a fabulous fortnight in Sri Lanka, so sorry for the radio silence. Anyway, I’m excited to see so much new music coming out very soon. Arcade Fire has released its new album, Pearl Jam‘s latest record is also out and, today, I see Scottish post-rockers Mogwai also have a new album on the launchpad.

Remurdered surfaced this week, a cracking little slow-burner that will join nine other songs on the release. If the rest is remotely similar, we’re in for a great collection of tunes.  It’s not just noise, but blippy synths and pounding drums all the way. A great build and something a little different from the Glasgow guys.

The album is titled Rave Tapes and is slated for release in mid-January 2014.

Pearl Jam is back with a big bang

Pearl Jam - Mind Your Manners

Pearl Jam – Mind Your Manners cover art.

It’s been about four years since we last heard something new from Pearl Jam. That’s too long for a band of such prodigious talent. But let me say for the record, if the single from its upcoming album, Lighning Bolt, is anything to go by, the wait has been well and truly worth it.

That single, Mind Your Manners, leaps into your ears like possessed soul, and shakes you to your core. Try it out for yourself here.

If you’re a long-time fan of these grunge godfathers, you’ll be very happy to hear this track. It’s right back to their roots, full of fearsome energy and fire, and that deathly, angry growl in Eddie Vedder‘s vocals has returned, and how we’ve missed it.

It would be remiss of me not to comment on the drums, played since 1998, of course, by Matt Cameron. He really seems to have tipped the hat to the band’s first sticksman Dave Krusen on this track, which is a beautiful thing. It all sounds fantastic. Krusen’s work on Ten all those years ago is something that to this day I still marvel at. To hear the ghost of his playing on this new track is very, very awesome.

Lightning Bolt has a release date of 15 October this year, and is the band’s 10th long player. I don’t think I can wait that long, but I guess I’ll just have to. The excitement and anticipation might make it hard to sleep, though.