Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Joe Penhall's Landscape with Weapon at the National Theatre.

What Christine said. Except I don't even think it's a radio play... It's a debate about military technology - and an uninteresting and unbelievable one at that.

Oh, but he kept referencing Da Vinci, it must be smart! Blegh.

Dance Dance Russian Revolution!

Dance Boris Yeltsin, dance!
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
Was Boris Yeltsin the best dancing politician ever? Another of the serious questions I have considered of late over at the Guardian arts blog:
[I]n honour of the late president of Russia, I think we should all hit the clubs tonight, wait for a suitable song, and then do the Yeltsin:

You make a fist with your left hand
Another with your right
Then you take a shot of vodka
And move them up and down all night.
Rest in peace, big guy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

12 inches!?!

Anyone know where I can find a picture online of the old Globe and Mail size compared to the new size?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some thoughts on Feist.

Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
Back in Toronto, you were either an Emily Haines guy or a Leslie Feist guy. (Well, within that certain segment of the population for whom Broken Social Scene was an integral part of the scene, anyway.) I was an Emily Haines guy. See: I blogged about her here.

As for Feist, I didn’t really get the big deal with Let It Die. Sure, Mushaboom was alright, and I liked her cover of the Bee Gees Inside & Out, but otherwise there was just something about her voice that was unsatisfying. She sounded like - am I way off here? - a sober Cat Power who didn't smoke and was brought up in Calgary. Her voice was neither soulful enough, nor quirky enough to be that interesting. Sometimes it sounded wafer thin, weak frankly. And it was all too polite, too. (I won’t say too Canadian.) I thought Let It Die was middle-of-the-road – SFJ calls it “ready-made for hotel bars and furniture stores” - that had somehow been given the imprimatur of acceptability by the indie kids. (Not that I didn’t know many people who don’t give a damn about cool who loved it.)

So, why did I pay £15 to see Feist last night at the Shepherds Bush Empire? Well, there’s the buzz factor surrounding her new album, The Reminder. Then, there were those cool videos for new tracks 1234 and My Moon My Man. Then, there’s a certain part of me that right now doesn’t just tolerate things that are “too Canadian”, but yearns for them. After six months in London: Politeness? Yes, please!

So I’m at the concert last night, front row of the second balcony at the red velvet ocean that is the Shepherds Bush Empire, primed with the requisite two pints of beer and sipping my third (it was almost 9pm!), and then here comes Feist is out on stage and I’m skeptical and hopeful. She's surrounded by her men, five of them forming a star around her, on drums and keyboards and various wind instruments, notably a flugelhorn.

I think she opened with a tune called Honey Honey, but the second song, I Feel It All, is where I started to relax and enjoy and think there was something more to her than I had realized. I like the lyrics, too. Here:
I feel it all, I feel it all
I feel it all, I feel it all
The wings are wide, the wings are wide
Wild card in sight, wild card in sight

Oh I’ll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hope

Can I know more than I knew before
I know more than I knew before
I didn't rest, I didn't stop
Did we fight or did we talk

Oh I’ll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hope
Sigh. You know, sometimes it's just a small connection - the tiniest lyric fragment that speaks to you - that is all you need to get sucked into a show, be it a concert, a play or whathaveyou. Then, you pay attention a little harder, engage a little deeper than you otherwise would, hoping to get that thrill again, hoping there's another secret message for you.

It turns out that weakness I thought I detected in Feist's voice was just the illusion of weakness, by the by. That’s kind of her schtick – breakable, wobbly, but not actually so. It makes for slightly disingenuous stage banter, but adds to the music.

Live at least, she does all these interesting tricks with her voice, one of which is to use that wafer-thin quality she can have to slip notes and phrases through cracks and under doorways. And I know she has a huge full voice now, too, because she lets it out sometimes. Why not more? It’s a tease! She’s not polite, or shy; she’s coy. She's about less rather than more, texture over wowwy fireworks, intimacy over extravagence... (But she's feisty - and I don't just say that because of her name.)

If I have a problem with what I heard, it’s that too much of it sounds the same - when Feist does that thing where she pulls the rug out from under her voice too many times, it gets a bit predictable. But the new songs have a real quality to them, and I liked the old ones better delivered live than I did on the record (which is lost somewhere).

So, am I still a Haines guy? Probably, yeah, still a bit. Then again, why come down firmly either way... Thankfully, unlike so so so many other things in life, one doesn’t actually have to choose, does one?
Fact, Fiction, did I just dream that?

Just downloaded the first of the last episodes of The Sopranos - What? I'm not going to wait for it come to England - and there's this scene where Tony and Bobby meet up with a couple of "Canucks". They turn out to be French Canadians from Montreal, one of which want Tony to do him a favour by rubbing out his sister's boyfriend. The boyfriend, a musician, wants to take their child to Winnipeg.

Anyway, just really weird for me, because my father is a musician who moved to Winnipeg from Montreal - and wanted us to live with him there. (I spent my summers there, instead.) No one took out a hit on my pa, though, thankfully.

It's just such a strangely specific thing to see crop up in a drama.

Still love, love, love the Sopranos. That Monopoly game and the house stuck to Tony's cheek!

How many more episodes does that leave? I'm sad already...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Good news.

Feist is bringing Busby Berkeley back.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A thing you may know, but I didn't know, but now I know, and find somewhat interesting and will pass along, though, upon further reflection, maybe it's not actually that interesting after all.

Adam Sandler: Republican.
Today's articles of note.

- The friendship that dare not speak its name: Liza Frulla and Louise Beaudoin release a book about being BFF across the sovereigntist/federalist divide. Which actually isn't that unusual a thing, but I always like reading stories about such relationships, as they warm the cockles of my cold, cold heart. [In French, by the way.]

- Have I mentioned Nick Cohen on On the Fence, oops, I mean Off the Fence yet? He's my favourite columnist over here (so far: I have left so much of the UK media landscape unexplored; that's something I really need to get on). His column today on how the far fringes of the environmental movement are undermining the very important movement they supposedly support is classic Cohen, so here's the link.

Friday, April 13, 2007

My favourite band ever.

The Teenagers
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
The Teenagers.

At least for today.

Visit their MySpace page and listen to Starlett Johannson and Homecoming. If you have the same sense of humour as me, I apologise for the tears streaming down your face. If you don't: Oops, sorry. Me? No, I don't find that amusing at all. You're right.

Also, Scroobius Pip! (Click Thou Shalt Always Kill.) Awestastic!
The history of falling pianos.

Falling piano
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.

From Charlie Chaplin to Michel Gondry, it's always been funny, I write over on the Guardian Arts blog.

Update: Hey, it made Artsjournal - cool.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Headline of, possibly, the decade.

Dion says he does not feel fears

A-a-a-a-hahahahahahahahahahahaha... Oh, GlobeandMail.com.

My job... it ain't so bad

Pull Tiger Tail
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
For instance, yesterday I stood waiting for the elevator with Pull Tiger Tail. They had just finished recording the Guardian Music Weekly podcast with my colleagues, who informed them that I was Canadian.

Pull Tiger Tail's tour manager is a Canadian himself and has O Canada on his alarm clock, so the band was familiar with (and slightly annoyed by) my national anthem. Nevertheless, as we waited for the elevator, they broke into an acoustic guitar version of it, and I sang a line or two. When the lift finally arrived and we embarked I told them, "You know, in Canada, they play the national anthem in every elevator." (I regularly make up stuff like this here.) And so, as we descended to the basement, I got some more O Canada.

So, yes, my job ain't so bad, and the Pull Tiger Tail kids are very nice folks - especially Marcus, who chatted with me down Farringdon St. If you like the tunes on their MySpace page and want to see them in London, why not hit up the Camden Crawl on April 19th? The least I can do after the elevator ride is plug their show.

(Also, as you can see from this photo, they play Scrabble - do you need any other reason to go see them?)

In other Canadian/music news, I am pumped to go see Feist next Tuesday, especially after reading Sasha Frere-Jones's piece on her in the New Yorker.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What do we memorialize in a memorial?

Neue Wache
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
This is probably the best photo I've ever taken on holiday. It's kind of too good. Here we have the Neue Wache - the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny - and it looks like I'm selling you a new car.

And yet, that's somewhat appropriate. I was not terribly impressed by this memorial to be honest. Thing is, it's hard to take seriously – or somberly, at least – because of the way it has changed over the years.

The building used to be a guard house, but after World War I it housed a Memorial for the Fallen of the War.

After the next world war, the Soviets - it's on the Unter den Linden in East Berlin - rechristened it Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism, a name more suited to their propagandistic purposes. They buried an unknown soldier and a concentration camp victim inside.

After reunification in 1991, the Neue Wache was given its third name: Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny, a name that sounds, if anything, more Sovietesque than its last one. Under the central skylight was placed an enlarged version of Käthe Kollwitz's Mother with her Dead Son, a statue that only really moved me when I learned the story of Kollwitz losing her own soldier son when he was just 17 (and she had given him permission to join the army young after his father had refused).

So, today, we have all this memorial that has had all these names and all these purposes. It's to both the soliders and the victims of war, and apparently anyone who suffers under tyranny – an egalitarian, inclusive sentiment, but too non-specific and vague. You can't weep for all the pain in the world. How do you feel that? How do you pay your respects, and who are you paying your respects to?

The shifting nomenclature also makes you question the purposes of war memorials in general. To what extent did the manipulation of the sadness and pain and resentment over the German WWI war dead help Hitler come to power? And then, how absurd is a memorial to the victims of Fascism and Militarism erected by a tyrannical, militaristic regime?

And by turning it into such a non-specific memorial in 1991, were Germans avoiding the big questions about responsibility by lumping all “victims” of war in together? (During the Cold War, all the former Nazis were always on the other side of wall from you...) And isn’t it just a memorial to Germany’s war dead disguised behind all this other stuff because they’re too embarrassed or nervous to have a memorial for fallen Nazis (who were brothers, fathers, sons, too, lest we forget)?

It’s wishy-washy. The memorial is everything and nothing and it's ambiguity verged on the sinister for me. (Which, from another perspective, makes it one of the more memorable and interesting memorials I've ever visited.)

In other parts of the city, Germans have faced up to the big questions in a way that really is admirable. The new Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is really incredible - a field of concrete slabs that you walk through and immerse yourself in. It's thought-provoking and you have to engage with it directly on a personal level. It is, without a doubt, the most brilliantly conceived memorial I have ever visited.

But it's impossible to take a picture of it that does it justice. So, there you go. Take this photo for what it is worth.
Miranda July...

...still cool. But did she name her book of stories after the (unfortunate) Israeli Ministry of Tourism slogan?
Email dialogue of the day.

Lindsay: While sitting, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.
Now draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.
Your foot will change direction.
Give up hope.

Kelly: I do think we have free will. Otherwise, I'm just cursed, no? And yet, I would be off the hook for all the trubble I cause if your theory was incorrect...
I got the foot/6 thing going after a bit.

Lindsay: I wholly believe in free will.

Kelly: But do you freely believe in free will?

Lindsay: Yes, I freely believe in free will - just like others have no choice but to not believe in it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Who are these people?

Who are these people?
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
Hey... Hi! Sprechen sie Englisch? Great! Yeah, it's my birthday -- woooooo! - yeah, you know, first time. No. Canadian. That's okay, get that all the time. Besides, Americans are liked here, no? "Tear down this wall!" "Ich bin ein Berliner!" Checkpoint Charlie! Eine Kleine nachtmusik! Yeah, no, that's my flatmate - what, no what is that? I'm sure it'll come out. Zwie beers! Do you want one? Shoe-ni-gun, mein herr! Fünf beers. What? Yeah, I know that's five, I just prefer to say Fünf to vier. Fünf, there it is! Fünf, there it is! Ha, ha... So, Willy Brandt? What was he like? Nah, you're too young. The chancellor, man. Willllllly Brandt. Come on! Have you not seen Michael Frayn's Democracy? Man, it's a great play - they should really mount it here, in German or something. You know, we could open up a small theatre in the back here and do it for tourists, like that could be great, really, don't you think. Here, hold on, Colin! Take a picture of the future owners of the Berliner Ensemble II - hey, yeah, we're going to stage all night plays and then serve Brecht-fast in the mornings! Like Berty Brecht, dude, Brecht. Threepenny Opera, dudes, Mother Courage and her Children, art is a hammer, not a mirror, you know -- what the... Are you even from Germany? What were your names again? Holy fuck! I love this song: Peaches! She's Canadian! SIS! IUD! Stay in school! ‘Cause it's the best!

Let's dance!

Fünf the pain away!
Fünf the pain away!
Fünf the pain away!
Fünf the pain away!

Ich bin allergisch gegen Nüsse!

Erdnuss Flips
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
These popular snacks may look like your regular, run-of-the-mill cheesies, but Erdnuss-Flips are in fact peanut puffs. Sneaky Germans!

You let your guard down for one second and suddenly you're at the Krankenhaus on a Saturday night in Berlin. On the upside, you get to see a part of the city that most tourists do not, get to use your rudimentary German/sign language communication skills in a thrilling situation, and get to assess the public health care system in Germany first-hand...

On the subject of the latter, I can only say that it was very efficient - as you'd expect - but also much, much hotter than the health care systems in Canada or England.

Remember the hot nurse from the ostalgie comedy Goodbye Lenin! (Worth a rental if you haven't seen it.) Well, all the doctors and nurses were worthy of a co-starring role in a romantic comedy. I seriously considered asking my main doctor what she was doing after her shift, but a) do not know how to say that in German, and b) she was injecting various anti-histamines into my bloodstream, so it probably was the inappropriate moment to do so.

Anyway, danke, danke, danke for the fine, swift treatment Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin! More on my weekend trip blogged soon...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Off to Berlin!

A little Easter/birthday trip. Any tips on the city gratefully received at jkelly@gmail.com. Any On the Fence readers in Germany want to grab a drink? Any On the Fence readers in Germany?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Trademark: Pet Shop Boys meet the Blue Man Group

Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
Our birthday resolutions (the royal our) include not giving in to things like fear (yes, we, the royal we, have posted the cat and started writing about things like our feelings now, I'm sorry), so when flatmate Colin texted at 8pm on a school night and suggested going to an electro night we thought, "Well, okay."
Not Everest, true, but it's a start, eschewing the internet for a Tuesday night adventure in Shoreditch, a part of the city I have not ventured into since... (Since what!?! The suspense!)
Once I arrive at Catch-22, a bar named after the Joseph Heller novel and completely free of ironic paradox but jam-packed with post-ironic hairdos, it becomes clear that the "electro night" is in fact a bunch of bands playing in a tiny room upstairs. We've (I've) missed most of them: all that is left is a band called Trademark.
Dressed in matching pinstripe suits with different-coloured pastel T-shirts underneath, Trademark are a synthpop group who will make you think you're "back in 1981, when scarily coiffed futurists roamed the streets and the icy plink-plonk of Messrs Yamaha and Casio ruled the waves." That's me quoting from Paul Lester's article about Trademark, which, I realised about halfway through the set, I edited about a month ago. Look at me, knowing stuff about things. (Their album Raise the Stakes is released on April 23 on iTunes, so maybe I saw them the last time they'll play for 25 or so people. Cachet!)
For me, a theatre-minded fellow rather than a music-minded one (which is to say I think about theatre, but just enjoy music without, you know, thinking), what struck me about Trademark was their performance-art, er, performance. Most of the music is pre-recorded and there were just a few knobs to twiddle, vocals to sing and keyboard chords to depress during their hour-long-ish set, so the boys went about striking poses and moving around wires that affected nothing, playing tape recorders that played nothing, and clicking IKEA desk lamps on and off to create atmosphere. It was, in a word, awestastic. I imagine this is what Berlin will be like next weekend: part Blue Man Group, part Pet Shop Boys.
The music is, well, why not listen to it at their MySpace page? Decent enough if you like the style, which I do, but, unfortunately, they played Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Round right after the show ended, so that's what I have in my head. Well-spent £3 though.
And that, bar the tube ride home with a tipsy flatmate, was my evening.
The last thing I feel I should say is, if you haven't watched Alanis Morissette's video/cover of My Humps yet, you have not lived a meaningful (memeingful?) life. (So NOW she learns what irony is.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Me in Brighton
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
Apparently, judging by this photo, I was constipated on Saturday. Anyway, waking up late, flatmate Colin said to me, "Fancy going to Brighton for tea, guv'nor?" or something like that. And I was all, "Sure, let me just grab my turtleneck first."

So we hoped on the Tube and then the train and arrived in sunny - not ironic, but genuinely sunny - Brighton, a south coast seaside resort town famous for, among other things, hippies, Fatboy Slim, Julie Burchill and attempts to assassinate Margaret Thatcher. Since there were only a couple of hours of sun left at this point, we headed straight to the stone beach, where I pulled out my camera and made like a tourist, which I thought was fair since that's what I essentially was.

Behind me (don't get too close; I'm constipated!), you'll see the pier, which includes a funfair. Colin and I went on the Bumper Cars, which are called Rumpum Stumpum or Rockem Sockem or something here in England. ("Mini Dodgems" the internet tells me.) I lost a significant number of 10p coins in one of those machines where you suspend your understanding of the laws of physics and drop coin after coin in deluded that an avalanche of coins will fall into the slot and make you rich. We did not eat donuts, or crepes, or donuts wrapped in crepes, but it all smelt delicious/terrible.

This beaching and funfairing was followed by some walking, or "tramping", or walking actually. The walking went on for several, gosh, maybe half a dozen blocks before we settled down for tea (aka dinner) at a restaurant called Your Average Forgettable Seaside Town Restaurant. I had the surf and turf and the prawns (aka shrimp) arrived with their heads on - those beady little black eyes staring at me! - and I had to rip them off like a character in Frank Miller graphic novel.

Delicious, really, once that was over with. Maybe more delicious because of it. (Ha, ha! I am a man, you SHRIMP.)

Next, it was to the pub and to the Carlsberg, which, Canadians, is a beer that you don't have to be over 30 to drink here. Then, there was a devious plan hatched to woo women. Then, the plan was thrown to the wayside and we (read: me) moaned about our past mistakes and regrets and how the good ones are all snatched up, an expression that seems rather vulgar in this context.

Then, there was a train to catch. And that was Brighton. I'm sure the later nightlife is fun, so perhaps this summer I'll go back and spend the night. This was my introduction and - believe it or not - my first time in England outside of London.

This has been a post for Sarah Marchildon and everyone else who asks me to post about England and less about, uh, whatever it is I post about in this post-cat-posting era of On the Fence.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Theatre has such a central role in the UK...

...that Tony Blair will be taking on a role in The Crucible at the Old Vic after he steps down as leader of New Labour.

See, that's why I moved to London: the centrality of the arts to society here. That, and the sense of humour.