Posts from 12th February 2003

Feb 03

THE VOLUMES — Live Performance, JHB, Sometime in late 2002

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I haven’t had much luck with live music. During high school, it proved cost-effective and adolescently satisfying to define my tastes, myself, against the blockbuster pick-of-the-late-90s alternasomething concerts (Live, anyone?) I didn’t attend. After a year and a half of American hiphop and r&b gorging, I found my way back to local ‘urban’ music. Just in time, it seems, to witness South Africa’s own burgeoning hiphop scene making noise in clubs, venues and radio playlists. (The dynamics between this stuff and Kwaito, I’m still thinking [and hopefully eventually posting] about). Soon enough a trusted acquaintance tells me there’s a good group playing in a small venue, and I think: ‘it’s high time I attended a gig‘.

So I handed over some money in return for The (unfortunately named IMHO) Volumes. Contents: a better-than-okay MC (the kind that syllable-stocks every line) backed by guitar, cello, flute and maybe zither. The secret weapon, though, was the drummer- all toothy grin and elastic arms, his Bez-ian charms betrayed only by his actual possession of chops. Weird? Well (In much-despised [x] + [y] terms), think The Roots’s Black Thought fronting A Silver Mt. Zion and you’re close. Put the word ‘world’ in there and make an instant value judgment and you’re closer.

Now, the nearest I’ve gotten to loving a jam record is Hot Shots II (do I get points for paraphrasing Tom in my first entry?), so you’ll not be surprised when I tell you I found the band least intriguing in Grateful Dead Prez (sorry) mode. The most affecting moment came when the live instrumentation was pared down to a slight, spectral keen while the MC waxed cold, lonely and rain-soaked about urban spiritual isolation in Joburg (I think). Another highlight I almost forgot while writing this: rapper invites a girl whose name I can’t recall at present (this was months ago foax!) to be the Kelly to his Nelly, and her jaw-droppingly gorgeous voice (I’m no Dan Perry, but I know good pipes when I hear ’em) just swallows up everything else happening in the room.

However, when it came to pointing out the bounce, The Volumes were somewhat less adept. The give-it-your-all encore saw some vigorously plucked bows, pounded guitar-fx pedals and even rapider rap, but it took a lot of encouragement for the audience to unseat themselves. I’m biased, I’ll admit it: Everything I Needed to Know about Dancing to Hip-hop I Learned from a Timbaland Banger. Sometimes, a little sadly perhaps, even the sweatiest kind of ambition can’t make up for a well-programmed drum. (I should note that I heard a snippet of their recorded output, and everyone who wasn’t the MC sounded all but deleted. There were even jungle breaks!)

So results of experiment no.1 in reconnecting with the concert experience? Nice, but I hoped this wasn’t as good as it got. I’d have to wait for the new year for my real revelation.


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Vindicated! I honestly never in my life thought I’d come across anyone else who liked ‘Calling America’ by ELO, which I heard once on the radio driving somewhere in a car when I was like, 12 or something. Years later, it was still in my head and I ended up removing a 7″ single of it from a university radio station. In this 1986 Chuck Eddy interview now archived on it turns out both he and Greil Marcus were mad for it too. Go figure.

Kelly Osbourne – More Than Life Itself

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Kelly Osbourne – More Than Life Itself

Shut Up is an album of loud rocking songs, no doubt about that, don’t mess with Kelly O, oh no! Track eleven is the one you really need to hear, a bombastic hard rock ballad, that could have been sung by the great Alice Cooper, it puts me in mind of his classics ‘I never cry’ and ‘Only women bleed’. Kelly sings her heart out, always ever so slightly slurred, over a pounding orchestral waltz-y rhythm. This is no soppy ballad about some two-bit guy, no, it’s clearly for her mum, and before you say anything – ‘and I don’t care if it sounds trite’. It’s a delight to hear such heartfelt sentiments.

The Village Voice Pazz And Jopp poll is up

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My very rushed comments didn’t make it in though my kewl ballot did – anyway here is what I said about The Streets!

First of all the idea was that Mike Skinner was reinventing UK Garage, but perhaps understandably a music built on confidence and front didn’t want an introspective joker as its spokesman. Then it turned out Skinner was reinventing UK Hip-Hop — but actually the Britrap underground is doing very well on its own, and his sarky, shaky flow is as much a step too far for British heads as it must be for some Americans. ‘We don’t give a frig about your friggin aerial / So stick it up your arse with your pirate material’, as MC Pitman kindly put it.

So Skinner’s out on his own, which is odd because Original Pirate Material is such a social record — the middle of the album is a terrific series of tracks about friendship. Lads getting drunk, getting lairy, sharing advice, getting into trouble, arguing and bullshitting their way through a very recognizable London. It’s a social record for the listener too — half my Spring and Summer seemed to be spent swapping Streets catchphrases with mates.

What Skinner’s really reinvented, I think, is a wonderful English tradition of kitchen-sink pop songwriting. The Kinks, for example, or Squeeze, or Madness — bands which, like The Streets, made pettiness a virtue and the everyday marvelous. Skinner’s particular strength is his eye for the banal — the fight in ‘Geezers Need Excitement’, for instance, which starts with someone throwing a chip in a kebab shop. (On one of the B-Sides he apologizes for sensationalizing this event!). The result is that on almost every track there’s a moment of recognition which leaves you grinning, or gasping. This record says everything to me about my life.