Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Deep Calming Breath...

Okay. Let’s all just calm down a minute. Let’s clear things up a little. Yesterday was a big day here.

First of all, I want to say thank you very, very much – Cadbury’s Roses ad thank you, in fact – to RTÉ 2FM’s Rick O’Shea, who gave the blog a mention on his show last night. In the interest of my own self promotion (shameless, I know), I e-mailed Rick yesterday with a link to the blog and mentioning that I had some gossip (lovingly linked from Black Cat Bone, a fan-site) about the possibility of Pearl Jam appearing at Slane Castle this year. Rick’s mention led to two things:

  1. The blog has had more hits since 10p.m. last night than it did in the entire three months previously.
  2. They’re linking to me from the official Pearl Jam forums!

Anyway, to quote Krusty the Clown, I heartily endorse this product! Rick’s show is on RTÉ 2FM from 10p.m. to midnight every weeknight, and is one of the best music shows on the radio. He’s on the web at www.rte.ie/2fm (and click on Rick). Shameless endorsement over.

Now, I’m going to repeat myself a little. I got the Pearl Jam tour dates from a fan site. Most of them don’t even seem to have been announced officially yet, and those that have, do not entirely tally with the official dates on pearljam.com. The venues and the order for the first leg are fine, but the dates are out by roughly three weeks. I would guess that this is a preliminary schedule that somehow got leaked, but honestly, that’s pure speculation. There is also the issue, as many people have pointed out that the Slane date is a Monday, and the Slane Concert is always a Saturday (except for Madonna’s date, which was moved to Sunday for religious reasons). I have contacted a few people this morning trying to clear up the Slane details, and as soon as I do, I’ll post something here. If this is going to be a recurring theme, I’ll probably set up a separate set of links to Slane/Pearl Jam posts in the sidebar.

For anyone new to this blog, by the way, the ‘iPod Top Ten’ is a randomly generated list. It’s the first ten songs generated by my iPod when I push ‘Shuffle Songs’ in the morning. Occasionally I might do a themed list of some of my favourite songs on there, but for the most part, it’s random. Back to Slane.

So reaction to the Pearl Jam rumours seems to be a little mixed. Some are saying they’re not the right band, some are saying Slane’s not the right venue, others are genuinely excited at the idea. Me? I’m excited. I loved Pearl Jam when I was in school and, though I think they’ve gotten a little preachy in recent years, I still think they’re one of the most solid rock acts around. I also think they’re a great act for Slane, and that Slane is a great venue – I know lots of people (including Bruce Springsteen, allegedly) disagree with me, but I love going there and I wish I’d done so more often (I’ve only been three times). So what do we need for a good Slane concert?

Let’s look at the requirements.

The Headline Act

  1. Three Album Minimum
    I can’t stress this enough. Nobody, but nobody should be headlining an all-day outdoor festival on the strength of their first album, no matter how brilliant it is. If you play all your songs, all your b-sides and a couple of covers and we’re still less than an hour in, you shouldn’t be headlining. End of discussion.
  2. Popularity is key
    I hate to be the one to say this, but coolness isn’t as big a factor as you might think. Slane is a unifying force in Irish rock. You should be at least as strong – if not more so – than the Oxegen headliners. 80,000 is the absolute minimum number of people who must like your music at some level. Ideally you should have had at least one wildly popular song – not necessarily in the charts, but everyone should at least have it on a mix-tape somewhere.
  3. You have to rock
    There’s a reason ‘rock’ is in italics there. A good 75% of your songs must be absolutely impossible to listen to while standing still. You’re playing to 80,000 people in a field on the side of a hill. Do you really want them to be looking for a place to sit? Didn’t think so. As rock journalist Everett True wrote – if you’re not dancing, it’s not music.
  4. One cigarette-lighter song
    Is there anything better than being at a big outdoor gig in the middle of summer, and just as the sun starts to set the lead singer does an acoustic version or one of their slower hits and even the non-smokers break out the zippos and start waving them? Or they light discarded paper Coke cups and wave them? Yes, I know it’s a cheesy, Bon Jovi and Journey Power Ballad Moment. Gives me the chills though.
  5. Sing ‘One’
    Ever since U2 released it, it’s practically been written into the contract that you have to do a cover version of ‘One’ when you play Slane. I still get tingly thinking about Axl and Slash doing it in ’92.
  6. Leave ‘em wanting more
    This one feels odd even as I’m writing it, but it’s true. And it’s related to point one. You shouldn’t have time to play every song, and ideally there should be at least one ‘famous’ song that people go home disappointed that you didn’t play. And that song should be different every night. Example – if you’re Bruce, you leave out ‘Thunder Road’ one night and play ‘Born To Run’, but the next night you play ‘Thunder Road’ and leave out ‘Born To Run’. There’s nothing more fun than looking for bootlegs of songs you missed from a particular tour.

The Support Acts
As there’s five or six support acts, there’s usually a way of categorising each one:

  1. The ‘cool’ band
    This is the band that at least a third of the audience claims they’re really here to see. Usually this will be someone on their second album who, when touring for their first played to about 15 people in Whelans before word of how great they are spread. More and more these days it will be someone wildly popular in the U.S. who are breaking through over here, or one of those crossover bands that everyone – regardless of whether or not the act fits with their ‘normal tastes’ – says they love.
  2. The ‘WTF?’ band
    If you haven’t figured it out, that stands for ‘What the [BLEEP]?’ This should be the audience’s reaction either when the band comes out and starts playing or, even better, as soon as they see them listed on the line-up. Usually they’ll be a band that normally plays completely different music to anyone else on the bill – traditional Irish, folk, teeny-pop. Thankfully they’re almost always on late enough that people are too drunk to notice.
  3. The wiley veteran
    This will often be a solo turn from someone who was in a big band in the 60’s or 70’s, or someone who was around then and is trying to make a comeback. Either way, it’s always good times to hear a murmur of "He’s still alive? Really?" rippling through the crowd.
  4. The local band
    This is always fun. Inevitably it’s someone with a huge local following and at least a couple of hundred fans who are clearly bitter that ‘their guys’ aren’t as big as the Rolling Stones, "as they so obviously deserve to be". Rumours will circulate that they were personally invited on the tour, which will inevitably be fuelled by the drummer from the headline act going on a local radio station and saying something like "We’ve been fans of [local band] for years now, and we’re excited they could join us today", all the while mispronouncing [local band]’s name.
  5. The new guys
    These guys are always on first. They’re normally new additions to the same label and have one, maybe two singles out and might be recording an album soon. Chances are they’re playing only to event staff and the people who arrived at nine o’clock that morning, and are clearly out of their depth in such a venue.

The surroundings

What can I say, really? Slane’s a beautiful place and I’d hate to have to clean up after 80,000 tired and drunken rock fans have befouled it and left on the specially chartered buses. In the venue itself, the requirements are obvious – one bar for every 15,000 people, random undercooked burgers and hotdogs, at least one stall offering disastrously unhygienic body piercings and the concession stands selling t-shirts that cost more than your ticket. Add all that to the ringing in your ear that remains three days and the jeans/shoes/t-shirt that you are never, ever going to get the mud off and you’ve got yourself some good times.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Slane and More...

***Quick note to anyone who's coming here from the RTE 2FM site (Thanks Rick!) - Please go to anothercoffee.blogspot.com without the rest of the stuff in the address to read the rest of the posts (and any future posts) and to see my iPod's Top Ten List, so that the first part of this post makes sense. On with the show...***

Slightly different iPod top ten today – I spent a little while over the weekend on iTunes and a bunch of other music download sites, and wound up with 18 new tracks for the ‘Pod. I also got around to putting some Ben Folds on there, and wondered why it had taken me until now.

Anyway, the eighteen tracks rounds out like this:

11. 'Lightning Crashes' – Live
12. 'Wuthering Heights' – Kate Bush
13. 'Chaiyya, Chaiyya' - Sukhwinder Singh, Sapna Awasthi featuring Panjabi MC
14. 'Friend Of The Devil' – The Grateful Dead
15. 'Cool Like That' – Digable Planets
16. 'Take On Me' – A Ha
17. '99 Luftballoons' - Nena
18. 'Death Cab For Cutie' – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

Random order will return next time.

I’m proud to be – as far as I can tell – the first Irish page to announce this: the Black Cat Bone website has revealed one of the bands to play Slane Castle this year. Drum roll please… Pearl Jam! The European tour dates have them pencilled in for Monday September 25th at Slane Castle. It’s hard to tell how official the list of dates is, The North American leg tallys with the official Pearl Jam site in terms of order, but not in terms of actual dates (the list seems to be off by about 20 days). There’s also no word on whether or not they’re the headliners, though they are a humongous band and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t be. Though of course, I remember way back at the height of their powers they played Slane in support of Neil Young. I guess time will tell. Anyway, you can see the full itinerary here… I’m also hearing rumours of Morrissey for Marley Park, but I can’t see anything worth talking about to back that up yet.

As some of you may have noticed it’s been a while since my last post. Mainly this is because I was sick for a week and spent much of the time watching DVDs of ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Veronica Mars’. I almost feel like writing to Josh Schwartz and apologising for dismissing ‘The O.C.’. When it first started I hated it and every ideal I thought it represented – I mean, as far as I was concerned it was just one more thing for South Dublin girls (and in some cases, guys) with more money than sense to try and emulate – especially seeing as ‘Friends’ was coming to an end. Then I was visiting a friend in hospital and saw an episode – he’d become addicted, since there was nothing else on – and kinda liked it. Then I was at home one Sunday and watched an episode with my sister. Now I’ve watched the first season on DVD and actually had to try and limit myself so that I could get other things done instead of just watching it all day. It’s well written, funny, darker than I expected and, well… easy on the eye. And for the most part, the music’s fantastic. Why is it that at parties in these shows the music is quirky and original, but in real life it’s the same old crap over and over again? Let’s add ‘a better soundtrack’ to the list of reasons why life should be more like TV. While we’re here, that list also includes 1) Special guest stars, 2) a do-over when you mess up your lines and 3) there’s no problem that can’t be solved in an hour, including commercials.

And talking of music, how about some love for Death Cab For Cutie? Again, I once dismissed these guys completely. This of course, was without having heard them. Now I’m telling anyone who’ll listen to go out and buy as many albums as they can. Honest to God, if you haven’t already you need to hear this band. In America last November they were all over the radio and MTV, and here the mention of them is greeted by blank stares and occasional giggling at their name. Today’s Irish Times has a review of the single, ‘Crooked Teeth’ (just a great song, by the way) but ends up dismissing them as a teen-angst bait. If you learn nothing else from this blog – and let’s face it, I haven’t exactly been edutainment – it’s this: Emo (translation: angsty rock) isn’t all bad! Go out and buy ‘Plans’ and ‘Transatlanticism’ and ‘Something About Airplanes’ right now. Go! I’ll wait. And get Fall Out Boy’s ‘From Under The Cork Tree’, Dashboard Confessional’s ‘A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’, Nada Surf’s ‘The Weight Is A Gift’ and Bright Eyes’ ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ while you’re at it.

Remember way, way, way, back when I was complaining about the lack of decent cop movies? Especially one with a charismatic bad guy? Rejoice, for the drought is at an end, thanks to Spike Lee’s new picture, ‘Inside Man’. It’s fantastic. Honest to God, I can’t recommend it enough. Apart from the fact that you can rarely go wrong with Denzel Washington, Clive Owen is so damn clever in the film that at some level you can’t help but root for him. And the Indian hip-hop theme music (see track 13, above) is strangely catchy. Which I’m pretty sure is a cue for someone to tell me that it’s neither Indian nor hip-hop. But still… throw in a bag of Natural Confectionery Co. Jelly Snakes and a Medium Coke and you’ve got two hours of good times, a plot twist and the urge to buy ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ on DVD. (Don’t say I never do anything for you).

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough for one day. Be back soon…

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Sound and The Fleury

When I read the words ‘NHL Legend To Join British League’ (or something like that) last September, I was sceptical. The lockout was just over, and during the cancelled season I’d heard that sentence many, many times – though the most ‘legendary’ player to arrive was Steve McKenna, a left wing who had spent the previous two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Don’t get me wrong – I was still kind of excited. I’m a huge Penguins fan and was happy just to see one of them play. Even got him to sign my game-day program. Still, I wasn’t expecting much. Then I read the story and couldn’t believe it. Theoren Fleury. And he was joining my local team (though local is a pretty relative term), The Belfast Giants.
Despite a desire to see a player of Fleury’s calibre play in person (if you’re reading this in an NHL city this is probably not a big deal to you, but work with me here), events have conspired to prevent me from getting there. Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s other commitments, sometimes it’s just bad luck - the six-week road swing so that the Odyssey Arena can host an extended run of ‘Mamma Mia’ hasn’t helped – I keep saying "next week I’ll go" or "I’ll definitely make it to a playoff game." The home playoff games are scheduled for March 31st and April 1st, and this is going to be too late.
Fleury was a name from when I started watching hockey. For my money it wouldn’t have gotten much more legendary, unless it was someone from the Penguins or Rangers of the early to mid nineties (the teams I probably paid most attention to), or one of the much, much older players who just refuses to stop, like ‘Tiger’ Williams or Marcel Dionne or one of the other guys on the Oldtimers tour. Fleury reminded me of a time when ‘Friends’ was funny and Eddie Vedder was taken seriously. ‘Wayne’s World’ was still on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and it was still ‘WWF’ not ‘WWE’. I’ve only just turned 28, but I still like a little nostalgia now and then.
I’m not going to lower myself to the substance abuse jokes. He’s had his problems, but Fleury’s an outstanding player. Drafted 166th overall by Calgary in 1987. The 2005/06 NHL Guide and Record Book lists him as the 50th All-Time Goal-Scoring Leader (though number 51, Teemu Selanne has probably overtaken him by now) with 455 career goals. 57 on the list of All-Time Assist Leaders (633) and 52 in All-Time Points (1088, but you could have done the math, right?). He has a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic Gold medal. By quite a margin he was to be one of the greatest players to pick up a stick in the Elite Ice Hockey League.
Unfortunately, Fleury knew this too. He has reminded officials both on and off the ice on many occasions that he is the "only star in the league" and should be protected by them. His numbers back up the ‘star’ claim – In 35 games he’s scored 22 goals and assisted on another 55. But his infamous volatility remains – he has also had 217 penalty minutes, more than half of which were for game misconducts. On more than one occasion this has been for threatening the officials.

The cracks started to show several weeks ago when, following being booed by a number of Coventry Blaze fans, he proceeded to verbally abuse the crowd. This already followed rumours of frequent and heated disagreements with player/coach Ed Courtenay (himself an NHL veteran, playing in 44 games in two seasons with the San Jose Sharks). Increasingly incendiary both on and off the ice, his tantrums were becoming a regular feature in the Odyssey Arena, and in road games.
Fleury’s Belfast career seems to have come to an end following last week’s game at the Basingstoke Bison. A simple two-minute penalty for elbowing saw him refuse to take his place in the penalty box, resulting in referee Mike Hicks bestowing a further ten-minute game misconduct. Already unhappy with what he perceived to be the officials’ lack of respect for him and with his own and his team’s performance in the game, the final straw came when, towards the end of the tilt Basingstoke scored an empty-net goal. A clearly frustrated Fleury collected the puck from the net and fired a shot at Hicks, missing his head by a matter of inches. For his trouble, Fleury was charged with another game misconduct and expelled from the game.
Fleury’s future with the league is not in doubt. He has said himself that he "will not return to this league ever again." The question remains his future as a professional hockey player – for all his apparent skill, would you ask a man who verbally assaults fans, fellow players and officials to play for your team? Maybe someone does. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see him play. But I’m not sorry he’s gone.