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Ride. A band who promised so much. Four beautiful boys playing guitars like a thousand angels jamming in heaven. In those post-Smiths/post-Roses and pre-Blur/pre-Oasis days, they were kings. A handful of killer EPs, a classic debut (“Nowhere”), an even better sophmore album (“Going Blank Again”) and then … a slow fizzle into relative obscurity. A worthy, rootsy album which suddenly found them in awe of the then ascendant Oasis (“Carnival of Light”), and a fractured, final album (“Tarantula”) that was deleted on the day of release by Creation is one of the most ill-informed marketing gimmicks of all time.

Ride were never as arty or “cool” as labelmates My Bloody Valentine, but peaked just too early to coast on the early wave of Britpop. After their demise co-frontman Andy Bell went on to play bass with Oasis (surely a massive waste of a considerable talent) and Gardener briefly fronted the underwhelming Animalhouse before releasing a sole solo album back in 2005. A sadly inauspicious end to one of the best bands of the early 90s.

So, fast-forward to 2012 – twenty years since the release of “Going Blank Again” – and I find myself at the Kings Arms in Auckland, about to watch an older, wiser Mark Gardener play an acoustic set. An interesting proposition for an artist whose most celebrated work relied on swathes of fed-back guitar noise processed through an array of effects pedals. Would these songs even stand up in such a stripped-back setting?

Coming on at the gentlemanly time of 10:30, Gardener still looks the part. He’s still dapper and lean, with those trademark high cheekbones still in check. Nattily dressed in a suit jacket and rakishly perched fedora, he could easily have popped out of any film noir, looks more gumshoe than washed-out rock star. The set begins tentatively … a new song (cue groans from the audience) and a bunch of technical issues with the mics and effects, and I’m wondering whether the next hour will be an awkward one. Thankfully, Gardener deals with the PA issues like a true pro, and turns out he’s quite the affable chap. We’re all endeared to him, and when the Ride songs start coming think and fast, we’re eating out of his hand. “In a Different Place”, “Dreams Burn Down”, “Vapour Trail”, “Twisterella”, “Chrome Waves”, “Time Machine”, “From Time to Time” and a cover of Gram Parsons’ “A Song for You” … every one sounds incredible ringing out from Mark’s 12-string acoustic, and it’s amazing how pastoral and delicate those Ride songs are when stripped of their trademark reverb and effects. Only The Creation’s “How Does it Feel to Feel” falls a bit flat, and that was always the low point “Carnival of Light” anyway.

Finishing with the one-two punch of “Drive Blind” and the epic “Leave them All Behind” we’re all left wanting more. Mark promises to come back soon with a full band. I can’t wait …

Night of chill blue

After something of a gig drought recently, a couple of good gigs over the last few days.

Wednesday saw The Sami Sisters finally release their long-gestating debut album with a launch gig at the Kings Arms with support from Panther & The Zoo, who I’m liking more and more each time I see them. The Sami Sisters put on a typically great show – lots of banter, a bit disorganized, but with great songs and beautiful vocal harmonies. The Ed Cake-produed album sounds excellent on first listen, and I just hope the talented trio haven’t left it too late to capture the zeitgeist.

Last night saw The Chills and The Puddle return to Auckland for an excellent double-headline show. Although Martin was complaining of illness, and not looking terribly well, the band put on an excellent show, with one of the best set-lists I’ve seen, including two songs from the underrated Soft Bomb, Male Monster from the Id (one of the songs I associate from 7th form, 1992) and Soft Bomb itself. There were also a lot of songs from Brave Words (and very few from Submarine Bells) with an emphasis on the more melodic songs from the band’s back catalogue.

I doubt there’ll be many more opportunities for gig-going in the near future, as Vanessa is currently 34 weeks pregnant with twin girls. I’ll try to update when I can.

What with school being very stressful, Vanessa being more than six months pregnant and money being a little tight lately, most weekends have been spent inside. Other than the Princess Chelsea show a few months back there have been plenty of reasons not to lave the house.

One reason to the leave the house waa Cut Off Your Hands’ first live show in ages. They’re a band I’ve always really loved seeing live, and You & I is one of my favourite New Zealand albums of all time – great songs, great production courtesy of Bernard Butler. (There’s a theme here.) In an act of supreme self-confidence, the band began by playing virtually all of their new album, Hollow, to an audience completely unfamiliar with the new songs, followed by a quick run through the ‘greatest hits’ in the second half of the set. The new songs sounded excellent on first listen – less abrasive and more melodic, with nice vocal harmonies. Their current press sheet mentions the influence of The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, and there’s certainly something very Postcard-y about new single You Should Do Better. 2011 has already seen the release of some excellent New Zealand albums, but this one could be the deal-breaker.

Cut Off Your Hands at the King's Arms

Music news travelled slowly in 1994. The Internet barely existed, and copies of English music weeklies like the NME and Melody Maker took weeks and sometimes months to arrive via surface mail. To find out the latest music news, I’d usually drive to the Magazinno in the Levene Extreme store in Newmarket about once a fortnight, which was one of the few places that stocked airfreighted magazines.

By the time I found out that Suede had split (via the Melody Maker) the news was probably already almost two months old. They’d been my favourite band for more than a year – I’d tracked down all their hard to find import singles, gleefully relishing each new b-side, and feeling excited about the direction they were moving in with the Stay Together single. (Laughably, I remember one of the weeklies referring to Brett’s spoken word tirade at the end of that song as being ‘a rap’.) That, I figured, was that. No more Suede. The article mentioned an unfinished album, but I assumed it’d never see the light of day. How many bands survive the departure of a principal songwriter and mercurial genius like Bernard Butler?

 

Walking home from university usually involved a cursory look in the windows of at least a couple of music stores and, one November afternoon, I discovered that Suede, my favourite band – a band I assumed no longer even existed – had a new album out. An album with a sickly green and enigmatic cover and one that, I would soon discover, contained some of the most compelling and beautiful music I had ever heard. Over the summer of 1994/1995 I played that album almost every day, against the backdrop of massive relationship angst and probably the worst part-time job I’d ever had. I felt trapped, sad and stuck and, clichés aside, that record was one of the few things that made life feel a little more bearable.

On October 12th, 2004, my friend Andrew and I decided to commemorate the release of Dog Man Star by playing it in its entirety as we drove around some of the North Shore’s grittier industrial bits at night. The next day, I wrote the following in my old LiveJournal account:

It’s funny to think back about when that album came out. I was 19, and just finishing up my second, hated year of architecture school. My musical diet at the time consisted almost entirely of the back catalogues of The Smiths and Morrissey and the first Suede album. I was 19, clumsy and shy, and working an awful job in a factory in South Auckland unloading boxes over the summer holidays. “Dog Man Star” spoke to me then, and still does, about escape … about leaving the city, of dreams, of celebrating the small things in a dead-end suburban existence. Other than Andrew, who I’d introduced to Suede a few months earlier, I knew no one else remotely interested in the band. In those pre-internet days of the early 90s there was no global community and no message boards to post on. It was just me, trying unsuccessfully to grow a floppy fringe, and a pile of tatty NMEs and Melody Makers in the cupboard.

Fast forward 10 years, and I still think it’s a flawless album. Brett’s lyrics were so brilliant then, a Council Estate Lord Byron, singing songs about housewives, lonely lives and rough sex. His voice sounded like the perfect cross between Bowie and Scott Walker, and like nothing I’d heard before. Bernard Butler’s guitar playing and song writing had reached their zenith, and the palpable tension between the two mercurial front men crackled with electric energy.

There’s little I can really add to those thoughts from seven years back. I still love the album, although I probably listen to it less than I used to. And, like the debut album, it’s just been reissued as a 2CD/DVD deluxe edition featuring all of the (absolutely spectacular) Butler-era b-sides, a bunch of four-track demos and some other obscurities. Of most interest are unedited versions of The Wild Ones and The Asphalt World – the new, seven-and-a-half minute version of The Wild Ones is particularly brilliant – transforming the ballad I’ve loved for so long into a slinkly, vaguely Neil Young-esque groove, giving an enticing glimpse as to how the album would have turned out had Butler not walked out. And then there’s We Believe in Showbiz – an unreleased song that has inexplicably never seen the light of day until now. For the die-hard Suede fan, these reissues are an absolute treasure trove.

Stop taking me over

1993. My first year at Architecture School at the University of Auckland. 18, clumsy and shy. Seven years of private schooling had given me a fairly skewed view of the world, and University was the first time I’d really ventured too far from my white/churchy/North Shore roots. (Although it certainly seemed that there were a disproportionately large number of other ex-private school students at architecture school, so it’s not like I stuck out too far.) There were new social circles, a few new friends, new routines and a gobsmackingly large amount of reading to be done. It was tiring and intense and, other than the typical emotional/romantic anxieties that effect the average 18 year old boy, mostly fairly enjoyable. I learnt about Modernism and Postmodernism, found out who Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier were, and discovered that I really didn’t want to be an architect. If I was going to name the defining event of 1993, though, it wouldn’t be any of the above. It would be the release of Suede’s debut album.

I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with The Smiths in 1992, and by the beginning of ’93 was a card-carrying Moz-disciple. Bequiffed and sideburned and wearing Dr Martens, I found myself at odds with the prevailing fashion/musical scene of the time, which mostly revolved around the (then) holy trinity of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (although no song was quite as ubiquitous in early 1993 as Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’) and the wearing of plaid shirts and army pants. Whilst I quite liked Nirvana (but that’s another story/blog post) I’d given Pearl Jam a cursory listen but couldn’t really abide the warbling vocals/sludgy guitar sounds/lack of melodies, and really disliked the ‘Chilli Peppers. Having listened to The Smiths’ and Morrissey’s albums constantly for almost a year, I was really looking for something new. But that certainly wasn’t to be found on BFM, the university’s radio station, which had sacrificed itself on the alter of grunge and was playing ‘the Seattle sound’ non-stop.

Some time in the late autumn, my friend Tsering (probably the world’s only Tibetan Goth, ever) organised for a bunch of friends to come over for a Smiths/Cure night. She’d scored a VHS tape of a bunch of Smiths TV appearances, and we all gathered ’round to watch fascinating archival footage on a grainy, bleeding fourth generation videocassette. Sometime late that night, once The Smiths tape had finished and been heartily discussed, she put on a tape of some things she’d taped off TV. At this point I’d heard of Suede – they’d been mentioned in a review of the then-current Jesus Jones album Peverse, and described as a ‘retro’ band (at this time, ‘retro’ was a fairly new thing – I guess the 80s had been all about ‘the new’ and the 1970s were still considered ‘the decade that taste forgot’) so I’d kinda written them off as some kind of pub-rock revival thing. However, a few seconds into hearing Animal Nitrate, I knew I’d found my new band. The singer looked absolutely, fascinatingly androgynous, and the guitarist flounced around like a proper rock start. Having not really listened to Bowie or any other 70s glam, it sounded absolutely fresh and exciting and like nothing I’d ever heard before. The following Monday I walked down to Marbecks on my way home from University, and bought the album on cassette.

I have no idea how many times I listened to that album over the next few months, but it was probably at least once a day. It was the perfect album for a gloomy Auckland winter, and at 46 minutes, almost the exact length of the bus ride from Glenfield to the Auckland CBD. If I put it on as I hopped on the bus, I could be fairly certain of hearing the fade out of The Next Life as the bus pulled in to Victoria Street. There are still parts of the North Shore that I associate with particular bits of songs from this record, and even though Glenfield was a million miles from ‘all the love and poison of London’, the bus route through the industrial heart of the Shore probably wasn’t all that different from Brett Anderson’s ‘satellite town’ of Haywards Heath. At least, that’s what I told myself.

18 years later, it’s still one of my all-time favourite albums, and, in my opinion, one of the best, most fully-formed debut albums of all time. It has also just been reissued in a 2CD/DVD deluxe edition, with all the relevant b-sides, a clutch of previously unreleased demos, some rarities and two concerts worth of live footage. It’s a wonderful package – the band have curated their past lovingly, warts and all. I really hope there’s some 18 year out there, listening to it on the bus as it takes him to university.

Like seemingly everyone else on the internet, I’ve been doing the 30 day music challenge on Facebook. For posterity, here are all my entries in one place.

Day 01 – Your favourite song.
Comet Gain – You Can Hide Your Love Forever

I’ve been an obsessive music listener for more than 20 years. There’s no “one song” I could name as my favourite song, but this has been my most listened-to song from the last couple of years, by one of my favourite bands, Comet Gain. (It is also the song after which this blog was named, obviously.)

Day 02 – Your least favorite song
The Smiths – Death at One’s Elbow

There are millions of horrible songs out there, but the songs I hate the most are the bland ones by bands like Matchbox 20 and the feelers. However, here’s my least favorite song by my favorite band, ‘Death at One’s Elbow’ from the otherwise flawless ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’. It is, I think, the one weak song in The Smiths’ otherwise peerless canon.

Day 03 – A song that makes you happy
Bright Eyes – I Woke Up with This Song in My Head This Morning

This is a great song about the thrill/joy of loving music. I often wake up with ‘I Woke Up with This Song in My Head This Morning’ in my head.

Day 04 – A song that makes you sad
Okkervil River – Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel

Of all the tragic stories in the history of rock, the story of Jobriath/John Wayne Campbell/Cole Berlin is one of the saddest. The fact that Okkervil River wrote such a beautiful song about him at least partly rights some of the injustices he suffered at the hands of the music business. It’s a shame he never got to hear it.

Day 05 – A song that reminds you of someone
The Decemberists – 16 Military Wives

My wife hates The Decemberists – mostly because of Colin Meloy’s voice. (Ironic, because he’s the musician I most resemble physically.) So this song reminds me that, in order to keep the peace with my wife, I can only play The Decemberists in the car, on headphones, or when she’s out of the house. Or to annoy her.

Day 06 – A song that reminds of you of somewhere
Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

I heard this in UK the first time it was played on the radio, on a bus from London to Dover. A few days later I was in Barcelona, walking Las Ramblas. But not with real intent.

Day 07 – A song that reminds you of a certain event
Elbow – Newborn

This song is inextricably linked to the death of my grandmother in 2001. I bought Elbow’s “Asleep in the Back” a few days before she went into hospital, and was listening to it in my car on the way to the hospital the night she died. This is a song about growing old, and still reminds me of her.

Day 08 – A song that you know all the words to
Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone

Probably the song I’ve listened to the most number of times. When I was 16 there was a period of about six months when I listened to ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (on tape) twice a day.

Day 09 – A song that you can dance to
Orange Juice – Rip It Up

I have no rhythm. But dancing to this song at Rachel Block and Patrick Connolly’s wedding in Virginia last year was one of the highlights of my life. (Also – one of only a tiny handful of songs that elicits the comment “nice sax solo” from me.)

Day 10 – A song that makes you fall asleep
The Bats – The Looming Past

Not in a boring way though. I often find it difficult to fall asleep, and listening to quiet music on headphones is usually the only thing that’ll calm me down and get me sleepy. This is a song I always come back to on sleepless nights – it’s calming and melodic, and it’s nice to know Robert Scott occasionally finds himself unable to sleep too.

Day 11 – A song from your favorite band
The Go-Betweens – Twin Layers of Lightning

I’m always torn over whether The Smiths or The Go-Betweens are my favorite band. I discovered The Go-Betweens in my early 20s, at a point in my life where I thought I was too old to be having band obsessions. The Smiths speak to my adolescent self but The Go-Betweens seem more “grown up”.

Day 12 – A song from a band you hate
The Police – Message in a Bottle*

I hate Sting and The Police. It’s possibly slightly irrational, but a twat with a mullet singing in a fake Jamaican accent just makes me want to wretch.
* Can be substituted for any other Police or String song.

Day 13 – A song that is a guilty pleasure
Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman

I don’t really have ‘guilty pleasures’. I likes what I likes. I know, however, that for a lot of people this song is unmitigated cheese. I, however, think it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written and recorded.

Day 14 – A song that no one would expect you to love
Dexys Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen

A lot of people* are perplexed by my love of Dexys. It breaks my heart that they’re considered a “one hit wonder” in NZ. Sure, this song may be a staple school discos, but’s also the light at the end of a dark tunnel on the wonderfully misunderstood album “Too-Rye-Aye”, moving the listener from desperation to joy. Redemptive stuff.

Day 15 – A song that describes you
Denim – The Osmonds

I was born in 1975 – my earliest memories are of the very late 70s/early 1980s when everything was brown, orange and beige, and the people in my neighbourhood had either a) long stringy hair and mustaches, or b) dressed like Alan Partridge. This song channels all of those early childhood memories.

Day 16 – A song that you used to love but now hate
Genesis – Home by the Sea

I’ve pretty much liked the same (kind of) music since I was about 13, and discovered Dylan, R.E.M. and The Pet Shop Boys. However, around this time I also had a (thankfully brief) flirtation with Collins-era Genesis. I have no idea why the 13 year old me liked this song/band. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they really sucked.

Day 17 – A song that you hear often on the radio
The Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly

I never listen to the radio any more, but when I was at University in the early/mid 90s they used to hear this song on bfm all the time. I kinda thought they were a bit of a “joke band”, like They Might Be Giants or King Missle, so hearing The Soft Bulletin a few years later was an absolute revelation.

Day 18 – A song that you wish you heard on the radio
Suede – Beautiful Ones

Any of the songs from Suede’s ‘Coming Up’ sounded like sure-fire hits, so I could never understand why, in 1996, NZ radio was still in thrall to all this incredibly bland, post-grunge American rock like Hootie and the Blowfish, Matchbox 20 etc.

Day 19 – A song from your favorite album
Scott Walker – The Seventh Seal

I’m not sure I have a favorite album. There’s probably a short-list of 20 or so albums that squabble for that title in my mind. But Scott Walker’s ‘Scott 4’ is one I always come back to. Walker is my favorite singer, and this is the album where the voice, the lyrics and the production all came together perfectly.

Day 20 – A song that you listen to when you’re angry
British Sea Power – Carrion

I’m pretty even tempered, and don’t really get angry very often. But this is a great, pounding song that it’s great to shout along to should the need arise.

Day 21 – A song that you listen to when you’re happy
The Phoenix Foundation – Going Fishing

A great song for a road trip, or for dancing ’round the living room. Euphoric stuff.

Day 22 – A song that you listen to when you’re sad
Galaxie 500 – Tell Me

You could put almost any Galaxie 500 song in this category. There’s something beautifully melancholy about this band.

Day 23 – A song that you want to play at your wedding
Belle & Sebastian – My Wandering Days Are Over

I wanted to play this as the exit song for my wedding, but chickened out at the last moment. If I was doing it again, I’d probably stick to my guns.

Day 24 – A song that you want to play at your funeral
Neutral Milk Hotel – Two Headed Boy Pt. 2

I love this song so much. ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ is the most emotionally engaging album – I often choke up a little when I listen to it. I honestly believe that this is the most heartfelt song ever written. (In their infinite wisdom, EMI have blocked all studio versions of this song in NZ. So here’s a live version instead.)

Day 25 – A song that makes you laugh
The Magnetic Fields – The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side

I love Stephin Merritt’s droll sense of humour. I have no idea who the kids who made this homemade video are (church youth group maybe?) but it’s a cute tribute to a great song.

Day 26 – A song that you can play on an instrument
Pixies – Gigantic

My bass skills are pretty rudimentary, but I can play the baseline to Gigantic. Probably because it’s only about two notes. Kim Deal FTW.

Day 27 – A song that you wish you could play
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (live from “Rank”)

Johnny Marr. Not only one of the finest guitarists of all time, but also one of the most effortlessly cool. There’s no flashiness, no funny expressions, just an economy to his playing and his movements that leaves most other guitarists for dust.

Day 28 – A song that makes you feel guilty
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Guilty that turned down the opportunity to see Nirvana when they toured here in in 1992. On hindsight, a pretty dumb decision …

Day 29: A song from your childhood
SSgt. Barry Sadler – Ballad of the Green Beret

Yes. Actually. My dad had the 12″. It must be a Vietnam veteran thing.

Day 30 – Your favorite song at this time last year
The Divine Comedy – At the Indie Disco

I’m pretty sure this came out about this time last year – ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’ wasn’t the best Divine Comedy, but this is a lovely song and a cool video.

Transmission

In the (temporary) absence of anything about Monday’s amazing Sufjan Stevens show, watch this …

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