Wednesday, August 26, 2009

At The Cinema: Joy Division

I saw a preview for “Joy Division” while watching my DVD copy of Control for the first time. Naturally, I felt compelled to watch the documentary version of the dramatic version of the true story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Finally, it arrived in my Netflix queue. And it was so good, I kept it two nights, instead of my usual “watch it and return it” process.

Where the drama starring pretty young things was pretty bloody great, so too is the doc featuring the genuine articles.

We begin with a Marshall Berman quote (from All That Is Solid Melts Into Air), stark white text on a black screen: “To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and at the same time that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.” These words ring true of so many, undoubtedly, but for our purposes, they certainly apply to Ian Curtis. But this film, unlike Control, is not just about Ian Curtis.

It’s as much about the city of Manchester as it is about the musicians she spawned: a “story of a city” as they say in the opening seconds. Vintage photos and news footage shape the impression of Manchester in the 70s as a grim, grimy, desolate modern wilderness, caked with the soot of industry and left to ruin, with giant apartment blocks going up one after the next adding to the soulless feel. It’s no wonder one of the greatest post-punk bands (and so many great, yet moody bands) emerged from the crumbling city.

Interspersed with tales of Manchester are the threads of the Joy Division story. The Sex Pistols gig did indeed inspire Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner to start a band, which they called Warsaw. Ian was next to join, followed by drummer Stephen Morris. The band was renamed Joy Division after something Sumner read in World War II-related book House of Dolls. Hearing these stories come from the mouths of those who were there really gives life to the legend, and additional testimony is added from Very Important Persons in the saga of Joy Division like Tony Wilson and Ian’s Belgian gal pal Annik Honoree. There’s tons of vintage footage from Joy Division gigs and TV appearances to hit home just how good a band this was. All in all, “Joy Division” is a touching, visually-stunning, important film about the doomed pioneers of post-punk, and a valentine to the musical legacy of Manchester.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Live Review: My Bloody Valentine @ The National, July 30, 2009

I first listened to Loveless, the seminal My Bloody Valentine record (and shoegaze record, for that matter; not to mention one of the albums that changed my life) years and years after the initial release. At the time, I often lamented the notion that I took to be fact: That I would never, ever get to experience the blistering, scrambling fuzz of wanderlust that was the MBV live show. Heck, I considered myself beyond lucky to have seen MBV's own version of Brian Wilson, Kevin Shields, play with Primal Scream, back in 2000.

But last year, this formerly iron-clad idea about never seeing MBV live was gloriously proven false, as I was privvy to what I can only describe as an awe-inspiring performance to close 2008's edition of All Tomorrow's Parties. I'm fairly certain I spent most of their set with jaw agape and eyes glazed, wondering how such an unholy noise could sound so perfectly beautiful. When it was all over, I counted my lucky stars, happy beyond belief that I could cross "see My Bloody Valentine live" off my "do this before you're dead" list. I never would have imagined that I would see them again live, and in my own backyard no less. My Bloody Valentine in Richmond? Nonsense.

Turns out, it wasn't such a nonsensical thought.

Eschewing all the traditional stops for a band of their legendary stature, Shields and co. opted to play The National, a superb venue in its own right, but hardly of the standing of any number of venues up and down the East Coast (and, for that matter, the whole of the U.S.).

I don't know that I've ever seen The National so packed, nor a Richmond audience rendered so enraptured. Walking into the place to the strains of "When You Sleep" was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had, and as I collected my purple earplugs and read the signs cautioning me about the decibel levels and seizure-inducing strobes I felt like I was floating on a sea of splendid noise. Fairly early on, it was pretty obvious that there was something amiss with the sound of the vocals - despite the typical, mostly unintelligble muddle of MBV vocals, on this night they were at times flat-out inaudible. It wasn't enough to negate the performance by any means, but was noticeable all the same. Vocals aside, the band was glorious.

It was like being stuck in a time warp with no particular destination in sight, a lunatic whirl of feedback and distortion hell-bent on self-destruction but incapable of complete combustion. The best thing about My Bloody Valentine, in my humble opinion, is the effect they have: I feel, moreso than with just about any other band, that they can make time stop. I lost all concept of time, of space, of everything. When you're seeing MBV live, it's as though nothing else in the entire world matters. Their music is beyond hypnotic. Wave after wave of the crushing din crashes over you. It glows, it pulsates, it pulls you into places nothing else can. With MBV, I constantly think of the title of a Spacemen 3 album: Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To. Except, in this case, the music is the drug.

I kept mentally pinching myself to make sure I was awake, make sure this was all really happening. Who among the crowd didn't get a kick out of the false starts of "Only Shallow", and I think I might have even spied a smile on the face of Kevin Shields (though, to be fair, I was about as far from the stage as you can get). And there's just something indescribably wonderful about hearing songs like "To Here Knows When" in a place where you wouldn't have ever guessed you would.

I'll be a little controversial here and say that a) I felt like the set I saw at All Tomorrow's Parties was a smidgeon more impressive, and b) will agree with Laura, who said she felt like The Black Angels set we saw at SXSW was louder. Never before have I so strongly felt as though the sound of a band would literally knock me down the way The Black Angels nearly did. But it was quite probably the best show Richmond will see in 2009, and to paraphrase my friend Mark, it's My Bloody Valentine in Richmond. Be grateful. And grateful I am.

Zut Alors!: Free Rural Alberta Advantage Show in Brooklyn!

From what I understand, there is ALWAYS something going on in New York. New Yorkers might just be the most spoiled for choice folks in the US of A, given how much is going on there at any given moment.

Well, Brooklynites, this one's for you. Blog darlings The Rural Alberta Advantage are going to be playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight...for FREE. That's right, gratis, free of charge, no dinero required. They're currently on tour, but to my knowledge, this is their only free date. Soooooo I'd advise you partake of this free goodness. Because really, who doesn't love a free show?!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

LP Lust: Heatwave Edition

I don't know about where you are, but here in Richmond it's been hotter than a five-alarm fire lately. I have found that one of the best ways to beat the icky gross disgusting heat is buying records. No kidding, go ahead and try it.

This latest grouping of records comes from two different shopping sprees. The first was last Tuesday at Plan 9, during the Balkans/Carnivores instore (which, if you missed, shame on you). Thanks to that little trip, I am two records closer to my goal of having every Rolling Stones LP on vinyl. The grand total now sits at 11. The next group was purchased Friday, on my day off, at one of my favorite local thrift stores. Somehow I lucked out, finding quite a few gems after patiently rummaging through the racks and racks of show tunes and Chicago.

Here's the list of the latest entrants into my collection.

*Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble: Texas Flood
*The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones, Now!
*Martha & The Vandellas: Greatest Hits
*The Rolling Stones: England's Newest Hit Makers
*Carnivores: All Night Dead USA
*Laura Nyro: Laura Nyro
*Dionne Warwick: Valley of The Dolls
*Todd Rundgren: Todd
*The Wonder Stuff: It's Your Money I'm After Baby
*Tammy Wynette: D-I-V-O-R-C-E
*Rod Stewart: Smiler
*Deep Purple: Made In Japan
*The Swingle Sisters: Going Baroque