Friday, April 23, 2010

My Cultural Week

I'm back to "normal" of sorts, after a long period of recuperation, though like a footballer, I'm not quite match fit yet - that will take a few games to sort me out. I had bought a few tickets to have something to look forward to whilst I was unwell, and inevitably two of those concerts were this week.

It was my first time at Band on the Wall for a gig since it reopened, and you can see why there was so much time, effort and money spent on regenerating the venue. There's rarely such a connection between venue, bands and audience as you find there. That said, it's quirks are as much an irritant as they are charming. At a packed gig for Candi Staton, I'd arrived a little late, seeing the doors opened at 8pm assumed there would be a support or a long wait before she came on. I'll know for next time - so coming in at 8.45pm I missed the first couple of songs. Annoying though. The sound of the gig was great - she's got an amazing voice still, a brilliant stage persona that clearly has a new lease of life since she's been "rediscovered", songs to die for, and a top notch band who can equally do country, southern soul or funk with aplomb. As I say, the gig was packed, and the historical architecture of the building includes too intrusive poles that restrict views for a substantial part of the venue. If you want to see the band, get there early in other words. Though I wasn't quite in the mood for southern soul after my first day back at work, there's no denying that I was foot-tapping, hip-moving, and smiling by the end. I'd have paid the price of admission just to hear her sing her wonderful "I'd rather be an old man's sweetheart than a young man's fool", never mind "Young Hearts Run Free", "Suspicious Minds" and the rest.

My musical taste is nothing if its not diverse and though I attended Chris Cunningham on a whim, I was looking forward to the show. Another old venue - this time the Opera House, which has a crumbling grandeur similar to places of its type and age which I liked alot. I think we'll regret it when we've renovated all such places. A video maker turned perfomer, the Chris Cunningham Live show is a choreographed piece of live video mixing featuring three large screens and a deafening musical assemblage. Its been successfully shown at a number of "digital" arts events over the last year, and the good sized crowd was clearly relishing the opportunity to be next. First up were the band Beak>,  local support Lonelady unfortunately laid low by illness. My friends gave them little time before retiring to the bar, but I was quite impressed by their quiet austerity. A band featuring Portishead's Geoff Barrow, they are an immobile post-rock trio, fundamentally serious in their non-showy intent; but as a prelude, and in their own right, I enjoyed the dynamics, of their Can-lite pieces, more early 70s King Crimson (though without Fripp's pulsating guitar work) than another Mogwai. Nice. Cunningham's show began without much fanfare. A corruscating avalanche of images across three screens with a musical accompaniment that ran from video game bleeps to hard hat techno chunks, accompanied by occasional off screen lights and lasers. I hadn't known what to expect and was pretty transfixed for the whole hour. In it's way it was a predictable montage, of a horrorshow imagination that had clear David Lynch influences (Eraserhead, Dune), though also wouldn't have been that dissimilar to fans of "Freaks" and "Hollywood Babylon", whilst the whole show had a love of sounds and images that would otherwise be seen as distasteful or ugly that owes alot to experimentalists like Throbbing Gristle.

Yet, there's a unique sensibility to Cunningham's work as well, which could only be of the current time, it's fast edited viscerality being as much as spectacle as Cirque Du Soleil or "The Hurt Locker." The audience was quite young - young than me and Cunningham in the main - but I recognised the artistic sensibilities, and could only admire the confident execution. If there was a hollowness, then I think this reflects the work's origins - much of Cunningham's audio-visual gymnastics coming from an advertising/pop culture aesthetic. A video for "Windowlicker" by Aphex Twin, is, at the end of the day, just a video. The deafening techno was equally as bombastic, industrial in scale, but also a little meaningless. The show was exceptional in many ways, highly enjoyable, but also, in its own way, as predictable as a rock concert, playing the hits to an appreciative audience. I'm not saying I was expecting Polynesian dancers (though why not? one should always expect Polynesian dancers), but something a little more spontaneous would have lifted it a level. Was it a film? A gig? A recital? A performance? A little of all of these.


Last week I went to the cinema for the first time in ages, not because there was a "must see" film but because a friend asked if I wanted to go and see Ricky Gervais's and Stephen Merchant's "Cemetary Junction." I put aside my "All British films are Crap" prejudices and went along. Set in the 70s (for no apparent reason) once it decides that its not "Mean Streets" or "The Grimleys" - i.e. whether to be gritty realism or comedy kitsch - it actually turns into quite a heartwarming coming of age film. The misanthropy that seems there in Gervais's live work seems to disappear when he directs and writes. Gervais is a keen observer of British life, so the seventies setting seems a little lazy (T.Rex check, David Bowie check, Slade check, Elton John check) and more as a way of providing a bit of "knowing" distance than necessary to the plot; yet I think its probably the last time that you could easily delineate between the bosses, white collar and blue collar workers - and the easy stereotypes allow a simple story of 3 teenage friends deciding what to do with their life in a suburb of Reading to develop quietly and effectively.

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