Posts Tagged ‘music’

film: still the boss (springsteen and i)

23 August 2013

Springsteen and I is a brilliantly unusual rock documentary made from films taken by fans of themselves talking about themselves and Bruce. They include a Danish groundskeeper who speaks with the twang of the American South, suburban mums, factory workers, former teenyboppers, musicians, a girl graduate truck driver, and one long-suffering man who turns out to be a fan’s husband. As they speak, it becomes apparent that Springsteen attracts the nicest fans. Or perhaps he creates the fans, with his perfect pitch for the stories of working people, his image of flawed but striving decency, his random acts of generosity and his readiness to pierce the big-music bubble and touch people, hug them, jam with them? The Grateful Dead could be argued to have created their fans, and Lady Gaga is obviously trying to create hers.

The historical concert footage is riveting, particularly the long chronological montage of “Born to Run,” his signature song, which comes across like “63 Up.” At the release of the album of the same name in 1975, Springsteen was acclaimed as the next Dylan and the resemblance is clear in the earliest clips. He went more wholeheartedly than Dylan into guitar rock, blues, country and soul, though he still drinks at the well of the archival American folk sound to refresh himself. Rather than trying to come up with all the bits and pieces himself, he assembled rock’s premier big band, the E Street Band, who embellished the songs with superior riffs and solos, particularly for keyboard and saxophone. Springsteen also learned to sing. Next to Paul McCartney, who gamely joined him for a three-set of oldies in his Hyde Park concert last year (included in the showing as a “Cinema Only Extra”), he seemed tanned, rested and ready to run a doomed Democratic campaign for President, with Max Weinberg as campaign manager. And he could get the votes. Those of us who’d never seen him live left the cinema thinking: Where have I been all his life? It is the nature of rockumentaries to promote and they succeed, as this one does, when you aren’t conscious of it till after the credits. (July 21, IFTT)

this was new york

22 February 2013

When ironic hipsters were earnest.

Some new lyrics might be in order:

Everybody knows that the data’s strip-mined
Everybody knows that the wires are tapped
Everybody knows that an ad will follow
Everybody knows that your steps are mapped


Original song by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, for you millennials.

music: mama’s chicken gumbo

12 February 2013

The Yiddish Twist Orchestra is not klezmer, though you might think so from the name. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, other than a topnotch band that delighted its audience by fluently quoting everything from the Dayenu to West Side Story to the Benny Hill theme during a Monday night show at the Apex in Bury St. Edmund. The rings in its Venn diagram include swing, jazz, Latin, cabaret, Middle Eastern, Vegas lounge, early rock’n’roll, Eurovision, trance, and okay, klezmer (though in a brighter key than usual [1]).

The group led by guitarist Ben Mandelson and Nord keyboardist Robin Harris project confidence from the first notes – even if you don’t know what they’re going to do, they do and so you can relax, except for the mental reference engine. (Los Lobos. Dizzy Gillespie. Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Jerry Lee Lewis. Nat Newborn and Lounge Lions.) Visually, they’re an ironic retro act, a callback to LP sleeves with guys in sharp suits plying their shiny horns in front of a richly colored drape.


Singer Natty Bo, the man in the leopardskin cap, delivered mambo and Yiddish themed songs like “Mazel” in a voice that channeled Louis Prima. He got the audience on their feet and, in the climax of the show, threw bagels at them. A little of that kind of humor goes a long way (see: Red Elvises) and his appearances were judiciously metered. The horn and rhythm players varied in their appetite for solos and improvisation, but the sound was tight and the music on their stands was the main clue that some may have been sitting in for absent regulars.

The promotional flyer claims the London-based band is reviving “der shvitz,” a relic of Britain’s postwar globalization that “crossed the Atlantic in diluted form as the Twist.” Is this a hoax? Probably. Does it matter? No. Yiddish Twist are good enough to do without genre as justification for their music.

Full disclosure: My ticket was free from the promoter as I took the place of a student reviewer. I would have considered the £12.50 entry a bargain anyway. Also, I got a bagel.

Car-free in Suffolk: You can get to Bury about 40 minutes from Ipswich by train and the schedule runs until 10:19 pm going north and 11:30 pm or midnight going south. Cost is £8.10 in each direction. The X14-X15 bus may be cheaper, but runs seldom. Taxi from station to Apex was £3.50.

[1] A confession: I don’t like klezmer. I feel guilty about this, as if I’m failing to do my part for my own endangered species. Every couple of years I try again, find it too mournful and put on something more upbeat, like Billie Holiday.

pianists’ progress

18 September 2012

The Third Maj Lind International Piano Competition is going on in Helsinki this week and I watched one of the 10 preliminary heats, in which four or five alphabetically grouped contestants perform a 40-minute hexathlon: Bach prelude and fugue, Classical sonata, three Romantic etudes including Chopin, and a modern piece, usually placed as a break between the  heavy classical and romantic segments. The YLE competition website includes a videoblog by pianist Jukka Nykänen explaining what these required figures show about the contestants.

The four pianists on Sunday night were a mixed lot. Nino Bakradze, who studies at New England Conservatory, was correct and accomplished, with an interesting trump card: her left hand is her expressive instrument, and the right hand is the percussion accompaniment. That served her well in Beethoven and Stravinsky, which is minimalist and percussive anyway, and a handbell (alas not cowbell) themed modern piece by Gabunia; less well in the lyric romantics.

For Jamie Bergin, everything is expressive and he was the audience favorite. “His touch!” they were saying at intermission. His Bach sang, and his risk of Mozart for the classical sonata paid off as he was able to infuse the open chords and simple scales with color. I would bet he dilated tempos more than average and don’t know how the judges look on that. Everything else was uniformly good but hard to tell the composers apart.

Anni Collan played mostly hard and loud and staccato. Was she a harpsichord specialist? Making a statement? Getting through it in hope of playing her own composition in the semifinal? Hard to tell. Her style worked well in the Haydn sonata and the Chopin.

Christopher Devine obviously loves the Waldstein sonata and it is his showpiece. For the rest, I was experiencing piano fatigue, never having sat through a programme of this length before.  The semifinals, narrowed to 14 players, will require an hour’s playing, I hope in smaller groups than four.

In that heat, the contemporary selection will be revealing – options include pieces by Finnish composers Matthew Whittall or Maija Hynninen, a composition by the contestant, or an improvisation. The rest of the hour is a freestyle programme of the contestant’s choice including some Sibelius.  The contestants listed their choices for this stage going in, mostly the usual warhorses but there were a few risk-takers bidding to play Piazolla, Barber, Soler.  Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is surprisingly popular; I would think it’s too referential, like playing Peter and the Wolf, but okay. The final group of six will fight for gold silver and bronze with chamber music and concerto events. Listen here, or on YLE if in Finland.



R-talo piano

Three memorable gigs in Helsinki

5 September 2006

1. Tarharyhmä, ca. 1995. That was Maija Vilkkuna’s old band, an all-girl punk outfit that played everything double fast (if you have eMusic, look up Jenny Choi and the Third Shift, “My First Time” – that’s what they sounded like). My neighbor Paulina T. was in a Finnish class with Maija and we hung out with her in the lobby of Tavastia before the show. It was before anyone knew who she was; five years later she couldn’t walk into a classroom without everyone feeling the silent frisson of rockstar.

Between 1996 and 2003 I was doing the hardest part of my graduate work and didn’t really get out much.

2. Steel Wheels and J.M.K.E., ca. 2004. Two Soviet-era punk bands from Estonia, come to Senate Square to play at a celebration welcoming Estonia to the EU. J.M.K.E. is more famous but I mainly heard Steel Wheels, who I was told at the time were J.M.K.E., and who played an Estonian version of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” with the lead singer prancing around wrapped in a Union Jack in the Estonian colors.

3. The Lucksmiths, this evening. “… One for Steve … yes, Steve the Crocodile Hunter Irwin, dead today from a stingray barb through the heart … yeah, big fucking surprise… the guy wrestled snakes … only a matter of time, really … he went the way he wanted to go … actually, his first choice was an adder bite in the balls, stingray was only number two … we’d like to thank you all for coming out on a Monday night … Monday, what is this, don’t you guys have school tomorrow?”

No, I’m all done, thanks. But yes, I kind of do, in the sense of having things of no direct utility that I need to get up and do in order to have a better life later.

At some point this entry will have links and also a picture of the Lucksmiths fridge magnet which was as Anth said a bargain at 1€. The fuel to fly it here probably cost more than that.

20 June 2000

Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight has a web show, every Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 6 pm Eastern time. One more reason not to bother going back to New York.

PS 2015: Vin sounds a little slower these days but he is still going, currently here, and some of the audio archives on his Wikipedia page work. (RIP Pete Fornatale and Alison Steele, the other two late-night voices of my Manhattan years.) We are trying to perpetuate Vin’s spirit of eclectic, free-form radio on ICR Friday Breakfast.

PPS 2015: This great intro from Alison Steele must be heard. She did an original bit like that to start every show, usually shorter though.

12 May 2000

New voices in folk: Beth Amsel, November
Project. From Live 365  and Patrick.