Monthly Archives: May 2013

MUSIC – May 22nd – Birds of Tokyo @ Hi-Fi Bar

I was a late call up for this gig and to be honest I was quite glad as I was quite keen to see these ARIA award winners play live. They have featured on the Australian airwaves quite heavily of late, with some “radio friendly” tunes, but largely they really are a fair way off their archetypal sound. Having developed a more commercially acceptable sound, their songs have morphed rapidly from the alternative to the mainstream in deluge proportions.

The Hi-Fi Bar is a strange venue, being underground and with an amphitheatre type set-up. Because it’s below ground level, mobile phone reception is especially limited, which, in a music venue, of course can only be a good thing. However, tonight’s gig is sponsored by mobile phone company HTC who are keen to show off their brand new wares… So with zero reception, I think someone in marketing may well get their arse kicked for not doing their research!!!!

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I have been to the Hi-Fi Bar many times now but tonight it is full to bursting, which surprises me no end. There is no hope nor no point in bothering to get a drink – a) the queue at the bar is stagnant as there is all of 3 people trying to cater for close to 1000 people and b) even if you got a pint in, you would struggle to even raise your hands to your mouth it is so packed with punters.

The first thing that you cannot help but notice as you walk in, is that HTC have furnished the crowd with glowsticks – fluoro green glowsticks. This may well be acceptable at a rave or dance party, but not at a rock gig (marketing people take note – do your research!!!). People are still fascinated by freebies though, no matter how stupid they look or how irrelevant the thing is – as long as it’s free.

Birds of Tokyo are what I refer to as a “bop and rock” type band. The kind of music that you dance to whilst standing still and kind of nod your head and sway at the knees at the same time. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t want to make you actually exert copious amounts of energy dancing to them. Put it this way – no-one was thrown out for crowd surfing. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation really. Even as a punk rocker I actually like quite a bit of their stuff. They start off quite agreeably. But even I am massively surprised when they pull out a Pink Floyd inspired track called The Gap. I was relatively blown away. I have added in this clip of their live version from a show earlier in the year.

The show is quite good as performances go. However, there is a real lack of crowd engagement throughout which detracts from the night. The show could have done with a sing-a-long and there are a couple of opportunities to sneak one in. There also seems to be the use of the auto-tune on the vocals at some points, as well as some backing track guitar support. I stress that “there seems to be” – I am no muso or technician and this is what I could make out, and I could be completely wrong. I am not criticising by any means – it’s their music and they can make and perform it any way they want – just an observation on my part. What I am sure about though is the injection of the 1980’s electro snare drum in some tracks – I did love that – very Grandmaster Flash! The bass guitarist is a wannabe front man too – he was loving life just a little too much for a bass player!

What brought Birds of Tokyo to prominence is a track called Plans. Just before they performed this, a hot pink bra was thrown on stage. I’m not 100% sure if this Tom Jones style offering is characteristic of their normal crowd, but even this was a fairly non-plus event for the band! Plans has been used on everything from TV soaps to promoting Supercar racing in Australia. It is a fantastic tune and no doubt it has lined the band’s pockets handsomely, but has suffered from saturation, although it’s strange how time flies as it’s now been around for over 2 years and you still manage to hear it most days. Here’s the clip from the show.

As I looked around the crowd during the gig, I saw people really getting into the songs, and I mean really getting into them. Singing along at the top of their voices, doing the exaggerated “bop and rock” (with hand/hands in the air) and generally having a more exciting time than the rest of us. I did actually notice one girl who was quite animated even do some actions that acted out the lyrics at one stage which I thought was a little over the top. What I did notice was that these overly-enthusiastic crowd members were predominantly women, and then it struck me. Birds of Tokyo are the flag bearers for chick-rock, but not in a Suzi Quatro, Lita Ford or Courtney Love sort of way. Essentially they are non-offensive, not too hard core and with enough ballady anthemic efforts to keep feminine interest levels high. The boys are not unattractive and for many guys they would be non-threatening, kind of like Andy Murray to the tennis world – you know he’s there and he’s quite good, he’s just no Rafael Nadal!

Not since the Bay City Rollers has this genre been so prevalent. So, if at the next Birds of Tokyo show, the boys come out wearing matching tartan trimmed stagewear, or tight shorts and a headband, watch out world!!!

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RUGBY UNION – May 17th – Melbourne Rebels vs Stormers

In the previous 43 games of the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby existence, they had never beaten a South African team (or are they officially franchises now?). I had seen 6 of these games – 5 of which they had either won or lost by less than 3 points (more often losing obviously!). On the whole the Rebels are a competitive outfit but their total of 9 wins out 43 games isn’t going to win any silverware. The Stormers have been perennial winners, and even had the best record in the whole competition last season. I think we all feared the worst.

In a very competitive Melbourne market which is saturated with 9 Aussie Rules clubs, 2 Football teams, as well as a Championship winning Rugby League Team, the Rebels have made a decent fist of getting people to the game. Around 9 to 10,000 people showed up on a cold Friday night – how many actually paid to get in will remain a mystery to anyone though. There seemed to be a massive number of complimentary tickets floating around outside the ground, and there are a number of promotions offering freebies for the remainder of the season, which tells you that the club are desperately trying to get more bums on seats. Empty seats seem to be at a premium at the moment, but economic times are tougher than a Welsh spelling bee!

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The Rebels went 10-0 up early in the game, but the Stormers hit back with two tries of their own. The first of which came from poor tackling when the scrum half was tackled, not held, got back up, was knocked down again, and like the Chumbawumba song, got back up again and scored with a graceful swallow dive right next to the posts! The second try came when the Stormers monster number 4, broke through by steamrolling over a Rebel’s prop and the drawing the last defender and offloading perfectly for one of the best finishers in World rugby – the Cuban, Bryan Habana – to score near the posts. All this within the first 25 minutes! The Rebels blew a chance near half time to score another but sheer greed wasted the chance.

The Rebels were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time, and as they set up to kick for goal, the Stormers all huddled up. At this point the Rebel’s kicker toe poked the ball towards the corner for the winger to chase and score a try. Unfortunately for the Rebels, this is illegal as you have to make a genuine attempt at goal, but fortunately the referee asked them to take the kick again and they converted the kick. Even more fortunately, the referee was completely wrong as he should have awarded a scrum to the Stormers for the misdemeanour!!! 14-13 at half time.

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The Rebels looked a much better outfit, but surprised a few people by substituting the instrumental “Ginga Ninja” scrum half and replacing him with Wallaby Nic Phipps. He was involved with everything the Rebels created, although that could have been a trick of the light as you couldn’t really not notice him with that scon! Both teams tackled their guts out and there were some very hard hits throughout the 80 minutes.

Tries from two blokes totaling over 13ft between them kept the Rebels in touch but neither team were ever out of sight at any stage of the game, and when it was in the balance, only a late dubious penalty try awarded by a bloke that only watches the game on the telly that won them this game. It was a huge call and one that could have gone either way. The penalty try has largely disappeared from the game as referees opt to go with the less controversial decisions and rather sin-bin offenders rather than reward the attacking sides. Nic Phipps was held back as he hacked the ball towards the try line. He still had men to beat, and there must have been some doubt as whether he could outrun two international wingers to get to the ball, but he was infringed against and the rest is history.

The Stormers turned down at least 6 kickable penalties during the game which they will rue

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A penalty with the last kick of the game sealed the win and denied the Stormers a losing bonus point, which to be honest they probably deserved. As the final whistle (hooter nowadays) came the Rebels’ players celebrated as though they had just saved one of their relatives from death row such was their jubilation. The question is though, will it be enough to keep the punters coming back through the doors. Does the Melbourne public want excitement or winners??? Only time will tell, but I can tell you immediately, if you start losing, then as quick as they come, the quicker they will go!!!!

Super XVs

MELBOURNE REBELS 30 – 21 STORMERS

Melbourne Rebels celebrate

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MUSIC – March 28th – Paul Simon @ Rod Laver Arena

This was a rare chance to see a legend of the music industry. Ever since I was on holiday in the USA many years ago, on a wet Thursday afternoon when we were stuck inside, I just happened to come across his historic Central Park concert live on TV, and from that moment on I have always hankered to see him live.

I knew he was short, but not that short; diminutive is probably a compliment! Paul Simon was celebrating 50 years in the music industry, and he reminded the audience of this fact on a number of occasions. He is 71 now, and looked like your nutty uncle had dressed him for the occasion; in a pork pie hat and shiny suit. He delivers a 2 hour set to a packed Rod Laver Arena crowd. However, to me, there was a significant lack of inspirational banter between songs, considering his music is all about inspiration and emotion. I knew he was quirky, but he seemed incredibly reserved, and displayed an almost autistic presence.

Covering all aspects of his musical journey, he threw in a number of Simon and Garfunkel classics as well as a few from the African inspired Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints albums. Even a Beatles cover made the playlist – Here Comes The Sun – and the little man fittingly tributed Mr. Harrison on that one!

The band was as professional as you can get, complete with a percussion section to rival anyone else’s. At one stage there was even the donning of a washboard, but that was only one of a percussion plethora, including woodsticks, massive tom-toms & cymbals and the show also featured a triangle solo! Simon’s voice is as unique as it ever was but the band’s ability to deliver everything from folk to African rhythms and then seamlessly switch again from cajun, jazzy funk to bluesy, roots rock’n’roll. Even the non-musos amongst the crowd (ME!) knew that these players were at the height of their powers.

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Never one to follow the trends of music, Simon remains eclectic and let’s just say, different, but with that familiar sense of cosiness and nostalgia. The highlights were of course are The Obvious Child, Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes and unforgettably You Can Call Me Al, as the place erupted with everyone singing along. The African rhythms that Simon essentially made his own, were instrumental in getting the crowd on their feet. There were a number of older patrons standing up and boogying in the seats, it was that endemic. But there were also the poignant moments too with heartening renditions of the Simon & Garfunkel megahits, The Boxer and Sound of Silence; the latter done in darkness and without any band involvement. The Boxer ended the show in style.

The wide mix of the set was as good as it gets, which mirrored the age deviation in the crowd – all ages from kiddlies to gerries filled the auditorium. It was upbeat, it was stirring and it was downright heartrending at times. It was a pleasure to see the Little Master at work, although if you say that in Australia it would refer more to the venue next door (MCG) rather than Paul Simon! Perhaps it will be the last time Australia gets to see the Little Man of Music perform on these shores and in that respect I am duly glad I was there to catch him.

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AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL – May 12th – AFL – Melbourne Demons vs Gold Coast Suns

Let’s paint a picture here. Melbourne and Gold Coast are ranked just above the worst team in the whole competition. This is not a top of the table clash by any means, however it should have been competitive and both teams should be giving their all to try and win. Gold Coast are only in the 3rd year of their existence. Melbourne Football Club invented the game, or more precisely the rules of the game, in 1859! Gold Coast had only won 8 games out of the 50 they had played since their inception. Melbourne have won 12 Premierships!

I didn’t really think there would be a big crowd. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) holds just over 100,000 and for the second week in a row I found myself in huge stadium with not many people in it! Just over 13,000 people turned up to witness a dismal display, which is less than half of their home average from 2012. It was the worst crowd for Melbourne since 2003 apparently! What is even more surprising is that they have 31,727 season ticket holders (or members), which means that 18,500 actually paid up front and couldn’t be bothered to show up!

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The great things about small crowds are mostly all positive (well for me anyway!). Sure there is a lack of atmosphere and the sight of 90,000 empty seats are pretty disconcerting, but for the neutral you can park fairly close to the ground, you can sit in basically any seat you want and you don’t have to queue for food and drink. Sitting wherever you like generally results in me occupying the front row so I can see and hear the players up close. The thuds of the tackles, the players’ calls and the referees chat all adds to the experience. What is also entertaining is the comments from the crowd. You can hear quite clearly the good, the bad and the ugly, and being passionate home fans watching a dismal performance, it got VERY ugly!

Australian Rules Football (AFL) has some unique quirks. It is the only sport where you can play on after the whistle is blown, and it is the only sport in the world where you get points for missing! I took this video in the hope they might kick a goal – which is worth 6 points if the ball is kicked through the centre goalposts and only 1 point if it misses to the side and goes through the smaller posts.

What you might notice on the clip is the seagulls. They are a menace and congregate in droves on the field away from the play. When play switches sides, sometimes players can get lost in the proverbial “flock of seagulls”. The MCG sometimes brings in a Golden Eagle to patrol the stadium during the bigger games which keeps the gulls away. The problem is that they are not just there for the grass, they are there to scavenge food scraps from the seating areas. Even I was in danger at one stage!

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You also have to worry when there are more seagulls watching the game than paying spectators!

The game itself was as one sided as it could be early on. Melbourne didn’t even kick a goal in the first quarter and found themselves 35-2 down at the 1st quarter break. Gold Coast looked quicker, stronger and far more committed to the cause than Melbourne. They also had more space than a tramp that had just soiled himself, although late in the third quarter when a Melbourne player did get close enough, it was only to lay a cheap elbow to an unprotected player. No doubt he will earn a couple of weeks holiday for that. The Gold Coast player may also miss a few weeks too with a sore head!

To be honest there were very few standout moments. Even after the half time break, they conceded a free kick BEFORE the game restarted. Just before the bounce for the 3rd quarter a cheap shot by the Melbourne defender saw a free kick awarded and duly converted it into 6 points, before the clock had started ticking!!!

Melbourne did win the 4th quarter 20-18, but Gold Coast had already lost 3 players to injury and were working only with a 1 man rotation throughout. When Melbourne had the ball the Gold Coast pressured and harried them into errors and turnovers, which are the keys to successful teams in Aussie Rules. As the team walked off after the game they were greeted by a hoard of angry fans at their tunnel showing their displeasure (I’m making this a lot cleaner that the actual events that occurred!) For am embattled coach, this could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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When your fans start waving the white flag you know that the future is rockier than a gravel driveway! Their capacity to play as individuals and not as a cohesive unit and their lack of fight is plain for all to see. I know as a fan you have to support through thick and thin, but if I was one of the 18,500 that didn’t show, I’d probably stay away too!

AFL

MELBOURNE DEMONS            7.12.54

GOLD COAST SUNS                  16.18.114

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MUSIC – April 29th – Black Sabbath @ Rod Laver Arena

As we walked in the door, the support act had just finished and the baying crowd were chanting “Ozzy, Ozzy” desperate for the forefathers of heavy metal to take the stage. Black Sabbath have sold an unbelievable 100 million albums, none of which could be considered mainstream. The first thing you notice is that the auditorium is absolutely packed. You wouldn’t have been able to move on the floor, or should I say geriatric mosh pit! There was a lot of black on display and if you actually had any hair, it was quite long. The 70s heavy metal era was alive and well in Melbourne, for two nights only!

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I have to say that I am only there to witness the freakshow that is Ozzy Osbourne and not the music itself. When the sirens started wailing and a shadowy figure could be seen behind the curtain, the crowd thrust their metal horns to the sky and roared for the appearance of the “Prince of Darkness”. Ozzy’s appearance on stage is part pantomime, part doddery old man and part vocal virtuouso. He still has the long black hair, he still wears the thick black mascara, but he can’t hide the effects of his age and a hard, hard life (the majority being self-inflicted). He continuously waddles and shuffles around the stage like he had an imaginary zimmer frame, and after every song he doused himself in a bucket of water – I’m still not 100% sure whether that is to stop him falling asleep during the gig or not! His chat between songs is limited to a series of cuckoo chirps, “I can’t fookin’ hear ya”‘s, which alternate with “Make some fookin’ noise” or generally even worse, some incomprehensible mumblings that only Ozzy knows what was said.

Despite this however, as the show progressed I am increasingly impressed with the band and their sound. The rumbling rifts are awesome, Ozzy starts off and hits his marks and the guitarmanship (is that a word? it is now!) of the old boys supporting him is spot on. I did notice the use of finger condoms though – probably the most obvious signs of old age kicking in – the skin takes longer to heal nowadays doesn’t it? The drummer was something else too – no doubt he has earned his bodybuilder physique through sheer hard graft on the skins! He also played what could well be the best heavy hitting drum solo I have ever witnessed. This was the highlight of the show for me – 10 minutes of solid rhythm rapture!

There was a major lull in proceedings half way through when they did some new material and Ozzy kind of lost his way, which kind of took the wind from their sails a bit. There was literally no interaction between the band members which I thought was quite strange too. You could tell that the metalheads in the pit had lost their fervour around this point, but after the drum solo they got it back together again and brought the gig home strongly.

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The couple of tracks I knew beforehand were Iron Man and Paranoid. Iron Man came straight after the band had a break during the drum solo and the wailing guitar rifts that intro the track seemed to spark the crowd into life again. Paranoid was always going to be the encore, as I doubt any Sabbath fan would have been far from pleased if they had left that one out. It was a fitting end though to an epic performance and considering their previous lifestyles, their ages and of course their lack of touring together, the end product left no-one wanting or feeling short changed. Would the majority of punters go again? They probably did, just two nights later!!!!!

I did take video with my phone, not sure of the quality though – I was a long way back!

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FOOTBALL – May 5th – Newport County v Wrexham @ Wembley

I live in Melbourne, some 10,500 miles away from Newport/London. When Newport County made the final of the FA Trophy last year I told my family that it was a once in a lifetime chance to see Newport at Wembley, seeing as we’d been rubbish for the best part of a 100 years. Less than a year on, I found myself having to justify what was a once in a lifetime experience, was now becoming an annual event! If it happens again next year, god knows what will happen…..

Anyhow, I left on Friday afternoon, arrived in London on Saturday morning and then left the UK on Monday evening. I travelled 21,000 miles for 2 ½ days in London – was it worth it? You bet it was! However, I’m not sure I am entirely the right person to write an objective report on this one, but I will try to get across some of the emotion from the day.

I remarked to a number of my friends and accomplices after the game that this was one of the best days of my life. Most of us had endured the majority of the non-league days through thick and thin and to be at the hallowed turf of Wembley for a chance to become a league club, 25 years after losing that status was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. The fact that our opponents were also a Welsh club making it the first ever all-Welsh final to be played made it even more encapsulating.

Newport County play in the 5th tier of English football and their average attendances over the past 3 years have gone from 1600 to 2400. We are a pretty small time club. In the 3 years that Newport and Wrexham had been in the Conference together, Newport had never beaten them. Even with that statistic in mind, I was confident that we could do it. And not just a quiet, subliminal confidence either. I even had a £20 bet at 10/1 that we would win 2-0!!!!

Wembley Stadium holds 90,000 people. It is a very impressive sight, but with only 16,000 people inside, it is a pretty vacuous place, although both sets of fans sang and chanted constantly throughout the game willing their teams on.

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I have to say that the atmosphere generated in the Newport end was phenomenal. What is a somewhat new tradition, mainly due to the Welsh clubs being as far from the pinnacle of English football as you could get until a few years ago, when a Welsh club plays ay Wembley, the Welsh National Anthem is sung before the game. With both teams being Welsh, this was a truly magical feeling hearing Land of My Fathers being belted out. I missed the 1999 rugby season when Wales played their home games at Wembley when the Millennium Stadium was being built, and I can only imagine the sound 4 times as many Welshmen would have made back then.

We then had to sit through the British (English) National Anthem too which seemed a tad pointless given it was two Welsh teams, but there you go.

Let me put some value to the pressure of this game in terms of reward. This is the proverbial million pound game. Tier 4 clubs (League 2) get £700,000 in television money during the season. The Tier 5 clubs (Conference) only get £65,000. Tier 4 clubs receive dramatically improved TV coverage which ultimately leads to increased sponsorship and advertising revenue. League 2 gates are on average two and half times more across the board than in the Conference. Gateshead for one game this season got less than 250 – there were some unfortunate circumstances behind that, but all the same it’s cringeworthy to say the least. The financial rewards alone make such a significant difference to the long term survival of small time clubs.

Wembley basically gets split across the middle for these kind of games. The blocks of fans dressed in the red of Wrexham and the amber of Newport stand out a mile. The game itself was quite nervy for the first half hour and Wrexham had the better chances but Newport’s defence was firm. The last 15 minutes of the first half was all Newport and we were unlucky not to go into half time one goal up when a clever free kick was volleyed into the Wrexham’s goalkeeper’s midrift when a yard either side of him would have been a goal.

Midway through the second half Wrexham besieged the Newport goal and missed a golden opportunity to take the lead, but former Premier Leaguer Ormerod missed the target when it was probably easier to score. Five minutes later came the turning point when Wrexham subbed off their best player – Dean Keates. It is alleged that Keates had received 54 pain killing injections in the past month and 17 in the week leading up to the game, just to be able to play. This really tells you how much these guys want to win this game. He obviously couldn’t take the pain any more, as Keates was by far one of the most influential on the ground. As he trudged off the field, in my mind right then, I knew any edge they may have had, was gone.

Newport had brought on subs of their own. Top Scorer Aaron O’Connor came on as well as Scott Donelly. Donelly hasn’t had much of a run in the team over the past month so it was a little surprising to see him come on. It proved to be a masterstroke as everything that Newport did for the rest of the game came through him and ultimately prove to be the winning touch. Late on Newport broke the deadlock when a long through ball beat the tiring legs of the aging defender and whippet Christian Jolley pounced and chipped home 4 minutes from time. In the 4th minute of injury time O’Connor rifled home to seal promotion and send the North Walians home empty handed again.

The celebrations were an amazing feeling. I saw people crying, I saw grown men hugging, I saw the people of Newport rejoicing in a club that had largely been forgotten by its public. The 25 year journey that was christened “Football with a Future” in 1989 had finally realized its original goal and brought league football back to the town (now a city).

Someone had to lose this game and suffer another season in the non-league wilderness – now I’m just thankful it was them and not us. The celebrations shown by the players, the management and most of all, the supporters showed what it meant. The Newport manager, Justin Edinburgh who won the FA Cup and League Cup (at Wembley) with Tottenham as a player hailed this as his greatest achievement in football.

There’s something about this club that people fall in love with. It’s easy to say that about most football clubs in Britain, but ask any player or former player and they will tell you that it is the best club they have ever been involved with – it’s just uncanny. The celebrations went long into the night and the thoughts of the 2013/14 season germinate in your mind. I never thought I would see this day, and to be honest nor did the majority of folk that follow the club. Many an alcoholic beverage was sunk in honour of the Men of Gwent/Amber Army and the joy they brought. I’m still in a state of disbelief really, and I doubt it will fully sink in until early August when we play our first game back in “The League”.

Next year we can look forward to playing Portsmouth who’s spectacular fall from grace from Premier League to League 2 in 3 years, perfectly mirrors the demise of Newport County in the late 80s. Let’s hope both clubs can stabilize in 2013/14. Let’s also hope that I might have something to travel back to again next season…. fingers crossed!

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Here’s some of the fans reactions. A good mate of mine comes on at 20 seconds and gives an interview that may well come back to haunt him in years to come!!!

CONFERENCE PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL

NEWPORT COUNTY 2 – 0 WREXHAM

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MUSIC – May 2nd – They Might Be Giants @ The Corner Hotel

Often referred to Stateside as “the best band you never saw”, this was the second of 3 sold out shows. Not bad for a band that has only had 1 real hit and a fingerful of recognizable tunes, and are mostly recognized for a theme tune to a short lived sit-com. With a back catalogue of over 1000 tracks, to try and keep everyone happy in a 2 hour set, complete with double encore and a puppet show interlude, was never going to be an easy task. There were rumours that they would be playing their most well known album, Flood, in full on this night but it didn’t happen – which is a shame, as it truly is one of my favourite opuses of all time. Not that TMBG’s other efforts aren’t, they’re just not quite as good!!

The Corner Hotel was again packed to the rafters, seemingly a more regular occurrence recently; which can only be a good thing for the live music scene. The two Johns (Flansburgh & Linnell) backed by the somewhat over promoted guitar whiz Dan Miller (I think it was an in-joke!) and the drum thrashing Marty Beller, delivered a somewhat eclectic  mix of a set, bursting with 28 tracks covering the complete span of the songbook for the band. The original 11:15pm finish time was eclipsed by a good 35 minutes, but Melbourne’s midweek midnight curfew still wasn’t in too much danger.

It was a fun show. There was regular banter, jokes (most of which incredibly corny) and as previously mentioned a hilarious puppet side-show featuring The Avatars of They (live from London) beamed onto the screens, and backed live by the band as they did “He’s Loco”. There is no rhythm or natural progression to the show which kind of suits the night. They jump around from album to album, from era to era which keeps the gig-goers engaged, as you never really knew what to expect.

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They did pull a major surprise when Birdhouse in Your Soul came only 3 tracks in, and in my opinion it was a little lackluster to say the least. It was short and badly delivered, so  I get the feeling that this monster worldwide hit may well be more of a burden 20 odd years on. They Might Be Giants play hundreds of gigs a year and I have no doubt that they play the song night after night after night, and it’s become not quite as “special” as it once was but in honour and loyalty to their fans, that it remains. I get the feeling they would rather fill their set with some other hidden gems, but I stress this is just my opinion. It didn’t really matter at the end of the day, as 90% of the crowd sing along at the top of their lungs anyhow!

One track that they didn’t do tonight was “Racist Friend”, which surprised me. It wasn’t really a hit anywhere but it has made its mark on the music industry, as I reckon I have seen 5 different bands cover this song over the years, spanning the USA, UK and Australia. I have only seen these guys a couple of times before and out of tonight’s 28 track set, I would say that probably only 5 or 6 I would have seen performed before – a great testament to their versatility and their huge back catalogue. Here’s a track that I wouldn’t have seen the light of day I filmed on my phone!

However, what truly disturbed me at the end of the gig was a considerable gaggle of older punters – that clearly should know better – vigourously queuing up for – wait for it – stickers! Yes, there were a plethora of people desperately chasing the bounty that was this:

TMBG sticker Corner

Of course, I got one too!!!!

The complete obliqueness and uniqueness of TMBG is endearing to say the least. Quirky, funny, different and what should be the epitome of the alternative genre, a TMBG show offers anyone and everyone something to take home. I can guarantee that every person that saw them live this time round will go again the next time they are in town. Fan engagement at its finest!!!

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SHORT TRACK SPEEDSKATING – Feb 25th – Junior World Championship @ Melbourne IceHouse

This is a strange one for me. I had never been to see the sport live and was astounded at the speed and intensity that doesn’t quite come across on the TV. Of course the Brits and Australians have a love affair with the sport, for vastly different reasons. Great Britain’s Wilf O’Reilly won the sport’s first ever Olympic medal, although it was only a demonstration sport in 1988. And in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the events of the 1000m final changed Australian vernacular forever, and created the synonym for being one of the luckiest blokes on the planet.

Steven Bradbury was in the top 10 in the world for the best part of a decade, but wasn’t quite in the running for a medal in the Olympics. Short track speedskating is a cutthroat affair. In rough terms, you lose, you’re out. You have to keep getting in the top 2 of your races to progress into the quarters, semis, final etc.

Bradbury was left behind in his semi final and was a good 10 metres behind coming into the final bend of the tight 125m track, when the 2nd place skater slid under the 3rd place, slipped and took both of them out of the race allowing Bradbury to nip though and earn a walk-up spot in the final. In the final itself, coming into the last lap Bradbury was again behind, even further this time, when the unthinkable happened.

This was Australia’s first ever gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Bradbury has gone down in Australian sporting history, but people are shortsighted to not see the years and years of hard work he had to put in to put himself in that position. Sure he got lucky, but the gold medal he won he saw as just reward for those sacrificial years of training and hard work.

Anyway, Melbourne seems a strange place to hold a world championship for a winter sport, especially  at the tail end of summer! I got there early to see the skaters warm up. I was a little concerned to see a rather portly Singapore skater kind of canter round in the warm up despite all the others going hell for leather, but in my mind I had given him some benefit of any doubt as it was after all only warm-up, and that one of the skaters from Chinese Taipei crashed into the boards, TWICE (remember, in warm-up!)

Any benefit of any doubt was quickly extinguished in the second race when my new found hero from Singapore was lapped in a 8 lap race which took a little under a 90 seconds. I hope he paid his own way to the Championships as any investment from the Singapore government is surely misguided! I am no skater, but I make no apologies for saying that any decent sportsperson with a week’s training would have beaten this bloke. Their women’s team, which was double the size of the male contingent in number, not girth, were no better either. In fact on a pro-rata basis they were even slower.

When it came to the kamakazi from Chinese Taipei, he was more competitive but not quite in the top echelon. At least he didn’t pummel himself into the boards during the races! At least one of the Chinese Taipei team was up there with the best and made the final.

The leading Australians were the unforgettably named Armstrong Lazenby and Pierre Boda. Boda made it to semi-final on the back of good home support, but ultimately was outgunned by the Asian powerhouses of China and Korea. Korea had a clean sweep of all 4 events on the day. Both the men’s and women’s individual 1000m and the 3000m relays. The relays are a strange beast to watch. 4 person teams rotate around the rink in a sea of skaters. When it comes to the changeovers, the new skater squats whilst on the move and the current skater literally gives them a shove from behind to get them up to speed. Its quite difficult to follow as there is a plethora of bodies on the ice all at once and the action is quite fast and furious and the laps come thick and fast.

This was a World Championship, all be it a junior one, but at the medal ceremony it was completely underwhelming to see what they actually were awarded with. Quite possibly the worst medals of all time.

stskating medals

Years ago, I met a Welsh girl that won an aerobics competition in Russia and the winners were given spare parts to Lada cars as their trophies. Needless to say, her trophy didn’t make it back to the Homeland. At least those were of some use I guess. The locals that day were obviously expecting  a home win!!!

JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP  – MENS 1000m

GOLD – SE YEONG PARK (KOREA)

SILVER – DEQUAN CHEN (CHINA)

BRONZE – HYO BEEN LEE (KOREA

JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – WOMENS 500m

GOLD – SUK HEE SHIM (KOREA)

SILVER – AGNE SEREIKAITE (LITHUANIA)

BRONZE – XUE WANG (CHINA)

JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – MENS 3000m RELAY

GOLD – KOREA

SILVER – CHINA

BRONZE – USA

JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS – WOMENS 3000m RELAY

GOLD – KOREA

SILVER – CHINA

BRONZE – RUSSIA

Number of Events

TBC

Number of Sports

TBC

Gigs (Bands: Headlines + Support)

TBC

MUSIC – Feb 10th – The Who @ The Hard Rock, Las Vegas

I am a sucker for seeing big name bands (note not glorified karaoke singers) perform. In an age where the punter generally knows ONLY the name of the lead singer or the “band” is the front-person the personalities of modern music are no longer. Take The Who for example. We knew Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend (we all even knew the funny spelling!), Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Queen are/were  Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. The Stones are Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts. Who is the bass player for Lady Gaga? Who plays drums for Carly Rae Jepson or Michael Buble? There are no characters any more, only man made creations that are limited in their creativity, both by their talent and their creators/management/TV station.

When I found out that The Who were going to be playing in Las Vegas, the same weekend I was in town, I moved heaven and earth to be there. Well, I made a phone call to Ticketek in the USA anyway, because fortunately they announced a second gig as the original date sold out! But I would have if the easier option hadn’t presented itself first!!

Only Daltry and Townshend are still of this world from the original line up, and on this tour they are re-creating the seminal Quadraphenia album in full, complete with new Daltry inspired backing movies and representations. It was really well done and added to the occasion perfectly. Daltry and Townshend have evolved with the times even if their music hasn’t had to. They put in a show, and it is a show. Sure Daltry cannot play in smoke affected rooms any more due to a reactionary throat issue – the only places left where this is a problem is Vegas and New Orleans – even though I am sure his lungs have seen more than their fair share of haziness, be it illicit or otherwise! But the voice, and the passion, is there for all to see.

perform at The Joint in Las Vegas, NV

Townshend still rocks as hard as any other axe slinger I have seen in years. The man is 67 and you can tell that he loves nothing more than banging out the rifts as often as he can. Although he refrains from smashing up his equipment now, which may be because he doesn’t quite have the endless supply of energy he used to or that he’s grown quite attached to that old Fender or Gibson of his! The band is well put together too. They are so tight and play their supporting roles brilliantly. Simon Townshend, son of Pete, plays secondary lead guitar (if there is such a thing – I love music, but am no muso) and I have no doubt he has been as much part of The Who as anyone else over the years – he also sings lead on Dirty Jobs, a sure sign of respect from the father figures.

Even Keith Moon and John Entwhistle play “live” during the show. The movie backdrops switch to live footage of Keith Moon on Bell Boy singing from his drumset. The movie footage is accompanied by the band in such a seamless way it is as if Moon is still there. The same with Entwhistle on his lengendary bass intro to 5:15. I have to say that Entwhistle was no doubt way ahead of his time in the way he plucked and slapped the bass guitar – he was awesomeness personified, and the complete opposite to the roles that bass players fulfill nowadays, normally shunted up at the back next to an amplifier, out of the way.

As the 17 tracks on Quadraphenia played out, the encore or second set contained the big ones, Who Are You, Baba O’Riley, My Generation and Pinball Wizard.

The gig finished quite poignantly with Daltry and Townshend doing an acoustic duet which quite literally blew the crowd away.

the who duet_n

It was an awesome experience, and the only thing I can say is, if you like your rock music and you get the opportunity, in what is rapidly becoming a smaller and smaller window, do it whatever the cost. The term legendary is thrown about willy-nilly, but what these guys have done and are still doing it, probably better now than back then, and can only be summed up in that one word.

Number of Events

TBC

Number of Sports

TBC

Gigs (Bands: Headlines + Support)

TBC

SNOOKER – Feb 14th – Welsh Open @ Newport Centre

Firstly I have to say I didn’t travel half way round the world specifically for Snooker’s Welsh Open. I just happened to be back in the old home town and it was taking place and never one to miss an opportunity I decided to kill an afternoon and go and have a look. I have been to snooker tournaments previously, and uncannily attended this event before, even if it was over 20 years ago – that was when the Newport Centre was vaguely new. I must say it hasn’t changed a bit since the last time I was there (probably not a good thing)!!

Newport has a reputation for not being the most culturally exotic place around. It was once described as the most violent town in Britain; people in Newport fall victim to more burglaries, robberies, sexual offences or incidents of violence than anyone else in the UK – nice hey??? And yet, Newportonians have a sense of pride in their hometown like no other place I have ever experienced. As I walked around the town – I still can’t call it a city – there were banners declaring itself as a rival to Melbourne as the sports capital of the world. Unfortunately, Newport has only 2 moderately successful rugby teams, a non-league football team and a world class golf course owned by a local billionaire. Its not exactly Grand Slam Tennis, Moto GP, Formula 1 and International Cricket somehow! Anyway, as long as the council have dreams and ambition, that’s the main thing. Having events like the snooker can only be positive. But, apparently the community is still in huge debt from staging golf’s Ryder Cup in 2010, as the economic benefits to the region have come nowhere near the projections made by our local billionaire!

Snooker, like darts, used to be a part of a working family’s upbringing, but that’s far from the case now. Before Pay TV, snooker was regularly discussed in pubs by men of all ages. The 1985 World Championship final still holds the ratings record for BBC2, and is the highest rating post-midnight broadcast of all time in the UK. At 12:19am, 18.5million people were watching as Dennis Taylor sank the final black, in the final frame to upset red-hot favourite Steve Davis (pun intended!). British sports lovers of the 35+ variety can still tell you where they were at that very moment. Snooker was as mainstream as football at that time.

IMAG0612

Two tables were being used at the same time, which at least kept your attention for the majority of the time. In the old days there was a big screen up between the tables so you couldn’t see what was going on over the other side. It seems a much more friendly set-up now. I guess the players are used to it and if they get distracted, that’s their problem!

The matches themselves were largely uneventful. Although Stuart Bingham’s brilliance saw him sneak by former Australian World Champion, Neil Robertson in a last frame thriller. When Robertson missed a tough pot at 55 points up, Bingham then weaved his way around the table to knock in the remaining 5 reds and colours, leaving him 26 to win with just the 6 colours left. Bingham magically drained tough shots on the blue, pink and black to win the deciding frame by a solitary point. That match was worth the admission money alone, and I was mightily impressed by the quality and skills on show. Even though Robertson won the world title in 2011, back in Australia, very few people would know who he was, even fewer would recognise him if they saw him in the street!

The majority of the crowd were there to see former world number 2, fellow Welshman Matthew Stevens. When Stevens was 2-1 up, he missed an easy shot which should have seen him go 3-1 up, but let Steven Maguire back in who duly cleared up. Maguire then went on to win the next 2 frames as well to progress to the next round. Stevens had a large contingent of friends and family in the crowd who became more and more dejected the worse Stevens played!

There were quite a few Asian faces in the crowd and they were on hand to watch Ding Junhai dispose of Mark Allen easily. Ding is a superstar in China, and he actually won this tournament last year apparently. It is amazing to witness the speed at which he plays. He raced through the first 3 frames and  finally clinched his match 4-2, which pleased his devoted followers immensely.

The other game was a straight forward win by current world number 2 Judd Trump over a lacklustre Andrew Higginson who to be totally honest looked totally disinterested in the whole affair. Newport will do that to you!!! I left the Centre at the same time as Mr. Higginson and I must say he was very matter of fact about how bad he was, which was refreshing to say the least!

Sport needs to be so much more nowadays than the event itself. Snooker is a sport that is traditionally played under a cloak of silence, broken only by the ripples of applause for a good shot or decent break. In the push for media coverage and fan engagement, all of a sudden, something happens to try and put itself on the map:

The Harlem Shake has overtaken Gangnam Style as the “in-thing” to be a part of. With the crowds at snooker events being typically doddery, you would have thought that a Harlem Shake would have been a lacklustre affair, but just check them out going crazy. Only in Newport!!!

The Welsh Open is a nice friendly event and gives the high proportion of unemployed dole recipients in the town something to do during the week. Long may it continue to give Newport’s profile a welcome boost in the far outreaches of Guangzhou Province and Basildon to try and get back some of that Ryder Cup money! Up the Port.

WELSH OPEN SNOOKER 2ND ROUND

STEPHEN MAGUIRE 4 – 2 MATTHEW STEVENS

STUART BINGHAM 4 – 3 NEIL ROBERTSON

JUDD TRUMP 4 – 1 ANDREW HIGGINSON

DING JUNHUI 4 – 2 MARK ALLEN

Number of Events

TBC

Number of Sports

TBC

Gigs (Bands: Headlines + Support)

TBC

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