All entries for October 2004

October 28, 2004

Marah Gig – Friday 22nd October 2004

Writing about web page

I finally got around to writing about the Marah gig i went to see at the Borderline in on Manette St. in Soho last Friday. It seems I only decide to write these things late at night when i've not much else to do but can't be arsed going to sleep – ah well, no bugger is reading them anyway so I guess it doesn't matter that it was nearly a week ago.

I arrived with the only other Marah fan I know, Arran, during happy hour, and after hitting the Tetley's hard the night before, went for vodka and coke instead – bought a few as it was £2 a drink. The place was pretty small but very alt-country; could imagine places like this all over Tennessee – we guessed it held about 400, and as we were there early, took a prime spot behind a rail about 15 feet away from the stage. The support act, Adam Masterson, was excellent – I bought his album a while ago and liked it a lot, probably would have gone to see just him which was a bonus. It was just Masterson and an acoustic guitar, but he did a few songs I knew and one by the Band called Long Black Veil. He left after about half an hour, and this guy standing behind us (looked like Bill Nighy, sounded like Keith Richards) noticed that we knew some of the words – it turned out he was mates with Adam Masterson, and had met him in a pub about a year ago on Gram Parsons' anniversary – wasn't totally sure I believed him until Adam Masterson came out again and waved at him, clearly recognising him. The guy was pretty cool, in his fifties, we talked about the Clash for a bit, and he promised to stay for Marah, who he had never heard of.

When the band came on, they started with an obscure track from their first album called 'Night Time' which was amazing – after an acoustic set, it blew our ears away, and the band had massive energy, indicated by the fact that guitarist and singer brothers Serge and Dave Bielanko were already sweating buckets by the first chorus. Memories of what songs in what order are hazy, as often happens at gigs, but there were a couple of other loud ones, namely 'Soul', a great song from their not-so-great third album (thankfully it was the only one from that album they played all night). One of the best moments of the night was a country-rock tinged cover of Nina Simone's 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' – sounds like an odd idea I know but somehow it worked.

They were tight as a band, perhaps surprisingly given that this is a relatively new line up (circa 2002), but the musicianship of the rhythm section shone through, particularly the bass player, who switched to guitar or piano for certain songs, giving his bass to Dave. Most interesting was a slower, more soulful version of 'It's Only Money, Tyrone' from 'Kids In Philly', with the chorus 'Even if you don't want it, hey baby someday it comes back' performed a cappella with raw but note-perfect vocal harmonies. Same with 'Pizzeria', which required some instrumental re-shuffling to create the harmonized vocal backing sound of the verses. Even when Serge's guitar mysteriously packed in between songs, or when Dave's string broke during one of the last songs, the mishaps were treated with such professionalism and humour that it didn't matter – indeed, when Serge was without a guitar, Dave gave one of the finest live performances of a song ('Sure Thing' from the latest album) that I have ever seen.

Another good moment was their Vietnam vet/anti-war song, dedicated to 'Mr John Kerry and the Democratic campaign' – the guy on lap steel guitar, Mike 'Slo-Mo' Brenner, was amazing. 'Slo-Mo' himself sang another song then in Spanish, called 'Cuidado (Motherfucker)', which seemed to consist of a dirty, Stonesy riff, over which he shouted Cuidado and the audience shouted back 'MOTHERFUCKER'. Didn't really know what it meant but it was funny.

Anyway, this is a HUGE entry, there's so much more I could say – if ANYONE happens to read this and finds it intriguing, they're playing in london again at the 100 Club (not sure if I'm going but considering it they were that good) – this band are the saviours of rock n roll.

October 26, 2004

Summary – 'Oedipus The King' by Sophocles

Not rated

Oedipus The King

Plague in Thebes. Oedipus believes that the plague is a result of the gods’ displeasure at the murder of Laius, the previous king. Oedipus vows that he will stop at nothing to find Laius’ killer, and he asks the seer Teiresias to help him. Tieresias speaks in riddles and tells Oedipus that he is the cause of the plague and the killer of Laius, and forecasts great suffering for Oedipus. Oedipus rages at Teiresias, and when Creon suggests that Teiresias might have been worth listening to, Oedipus becomes even more angry, accusing Creon of trying to usurp him. The Chorus, too, tells Oedipus to be cautious.

In a conversation with his wife Jocasta, Oedipus asks questions about Laius, and with her answers, he begins to realise the truth. Horrified, he tells Jocasta that as a young man, the Oracle at Delphi had prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. A messenger arrives from Corinth to say that Polybus, Oedipus’ father, has died of natural causes. Oedipus feels better because he has not fulfilled the prophesy as his father has died of natural causes. However, the messenger tells him that Polybus was not in fact his natural father, but that he was found in the forest as a baby. The messenger says that the baby was given to him by a servant of Laius, and this servant is summoned to the royal palace.

The shepherd arrives and is reluctant to tell Oedipus the truth. When threatened, he says that the child was given to him by Laius and Jocasta, because they too knew of the prophecy, and told to kill it. The shepherd did not kill the baby but instead gave him to the messenger. The baby is identified as Oedipus by a scar.

Jocasta immediately commits suicide. Oedipus gouges out his own eyes. Creon brings Antigone and Ismene to Oedipus to comfort him. Oedipus cedes the throne to Creon and asks to be banished from Thebes.

Summary – 'The Trojan Women' by Euripides

Not rated

The Trojan Women

Play begins with Poseidon lamenting the death of his city, telling us that all the heroes of Troy are dead and now all that remains is for the Greeks to share out the women as spoils of war. Athene appears, telling Poseidon that she is angry with the Greeks for defiling her temple during the sacking of Troy, and the two gods make a pact to cause the Greeks sorrow on their voyages home.

Next we see Hecuba, widow of Priam, sitting in Agamemnon’s tent lamenting her fate. The Chorus are all women in the same situation, unknowing of where they are to be sent. Then the Greek herald, Talthybius, arrives and tells the women that they are all to be sent to different places – he tells Hecuba that Cassandra is to leave as Agamemnon’s concubine, but does not tell her the truth about the sacrifice of her other daughter, Polyxena, instead saying that she is an attendant at Achilles’ tomb. He tells Hecuba that she has been assigned to Odysseus. Cassandra is brought in, and she tells Hecuba not to mourn for her as she is going to bring doom upon the house of Atreus, and make sure that Agamemnon is killed.

Andromache, Hector’s widow, is next to arrive, with her infant son Astyanax. She tells Hecuba the truth about Polyxena’s death. Talthybius comes in and tells Andromache that Odysseus has decided to kill Astyanax, as the son of a great man such as Hector is too dangerous – he must be thrown off a cliff.

Menelaus then arrives, explaining that it was not for love of Helen that he started the war, but for a desire for revenge upon Paris. He expresses his desire to kill Helen, and Hecuba praises him. When Helen is brought in, she pleads with Menelaus to let her explain herself – Hecuba tells Menelaus to listen, but then she (Hecuba) will provide a rebuttal. Helen tells Menelaus that Aphrodite is to blame, not her, and that she tried to join the Greek army again when Paris was killed, but was prevented from doing so by the Trojans – she asks for pity and comfort, not revenge. Hecuba then takes her turn, saying that Helen loved Paris, and she switched sides during the war whenever one seemed to be on top. Menelaus agrees with Hecuba, and sends Helen back to Sparta on a different ship from his own, to face justice there.

Talthybius arrives with the body of Astyanax, explaining that Andromache has already been taken off by Neoptolemus, and so it is now Hecuba’s responsibility to bury the child. After she has lamented over the child and performed a few simple rites, the order is given for Troy to be burned and for Hecuba to be taken to Odysseus. Hecuba attempts to run into the fire but is prevented by Odysseus’ soldiers, and so Hecuba and the women of the Chorus get onto the ship away from the burning city.

Summary – 'Helen' by Euripides

Not rated


Play begins with Helen in Egypt, explaining that it was not her who Paris took off to Troy, but a replica made out of ether by Aphrodite – the real Helen was taken to Egypt by Hermes and given to King Proteus, a virtuous man. Helen explains that as long as Proteus lived she was safe, but now that he is dead, the new king (his son) Theoclymenus wants to marry her. Teucer, a Greek shipwrecked from Troy, enters, recognising Helen and, believing her story, tells her that he thinks Menelaus is dead. Helen, stricken with grief, determines to go to the prophetess Theonoe (Theoclymenus’ sister) to ask about her husband, vowing to kill herself if Teucer’s fears prove to be true.

Meanwhile, a ruined Menelaus lands in Egypt and goes to the house of an old woman to beg for food. The women tells him that, as a Greek, he will be killed if found by the king, and also tells him that Helen of Troy is on the island. Menelaus is confused, but assumes it to be a different Helen. Helen re-enters, cheered by Theonoe’s news that Menelaus is alive, and then she sees her husband. Menelaus at first does not believe her story, but a messenger arrives and tells Menelaus that ‘Helen’ has disappeared into thin air, and so Menelaus embraces his wife. Helen explains to Menelaus that if they are found by Theoclymenus they will be killed, and, as Theonoe already knows that he is on the island, their only chance is to beg her not to tell her brother. Theonoe enters and, moved by their speeches, tells them that she will keep quiet. Helen hatches a plan to tell Theoclymenus that Menelaus has been shipwrecked and that she needs a boat from him to give funeral offerings to the sea, as is the Greek custom. Theoclymenus, seeing that Helen will have to marry him afterwards, agrees, and, thinking Menelaus is a slave who survived the shipwreck, allows him to accompany her.

After the ship has set sail, a messenger tells Theoclymenus that Menelaus and Helen have escaped thanks to Menelaus’ crew overpowering his Egyptians. Theoclymenus, realising that Theonoe has lied to him, vows to kill his sister, but he is prevented from doing so by the Dioscori (the deified Castor and Polydeuces), who explain that Theonoe was just performing the will of Hera. Theoclymenus accepts that Fate took Helen away from him just as Fate had brought her to him.

Summary – 'Orestes' by Euripides

Not rated


Play begins with Electra telling us of Orestes’ killing of Clytemnestra, his subsequent descent into madness and the fact that today is the day that the people of Argos vote on whether or not Orestes and Electra should be stoned to death. She also tells us that Helen has arrived in Argos and is hidden in the palace with her daughter Hermione, and Menelaus is on his way. Helen then asks Electra to go and place an offering upon Clytemnestra’s grave, but Electra refuses and so Hermione is sent. Orestes has a fit of madness but is nursed by Electra. Menelaus enters and has a long conversation with Orestes (interrupted by Tyndareos, Clytemnestra’s father, who expresses his disgust for Orestes), who begs Menelaus to repay his debt to Agamemnon by helping him fight his way out of his predicament. Menelaus refuses to use violence, saying instead that he will try to reason with Aegisthus’ friends who have seized power and are trying to sway the vote. As he leaves, Orestes calls him a coward. Pylades then enters, who vows to share whatever fate is handed to Orestes, and the two of them decide to go to the vote to try and put across their side of the story.

A messenger then comes to Electra to tell her that they have been found guilty and are to be executed. Orestes and Electra decide to kill themselves rather than be killed, buy Pylades has a plan. He reasons that if they kill the unpopular Helen, their crimes will be forgotten, and revenge will also have been taken on the traitor Menelaus. They will take Hermione hostage and threaten to kill her if Menelaus tries to avenge his wife. Electra keeps a look-out, and we hear Helen’s screams from inside – Hermione comes back from Clytemnestra’s grave, and Orestes captures her. A Phrygian slave runs out of the palace, chased by Orestes – Orestes captures him and threatens to kill him, but spares his life. When Menelaus enters, Orestes tells him that when he had tried to kill Helen, she disappeared. Orestes tells Menelaus to make them change the verdict otherwise he will kill Hermione. Menelaus refuses and calls the citizens to arms against Orestes. The god Apollo then appears – he tells Menelaus to be quiet and that Helen has been deified by Zeus, so he must find another wife. He exiles Orestes from Argos for one year, after which he must stand trial for the murder of his mother and be absolved. He tells Electra to marry Pylades, and predicts many years of happiness for them. Finally, he instructs Menelaus to return to Sparta and abandon any designs he has upon the Argive throne. Menelaus and Orestes, in obedience to Apollo, call a truce.

Summary – 'Antigone' by Sophocles

Not rated


In recent civil war, Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of Oedipus and Jocasta, kill each other on opposing sides. Eteocles is given a hero’s burial, but since Polynices was attacking Thebes, Creon, their uncle and the King, decrees that his body is not to be touched and left to rot without burial. Antigone, their sister and Creon’s niece, vows to bury the body of her brother against Creon’s wishes, and asks her sister Ismene to help her – Ismene refuses through fear of the king.

A sentry tells Creon that Antigone has buried Polynices, and Creon summons Antigone to explain herself. Antigone is defiant and refuses to apologise for her actions, embracing the death penalty instead. Ismene also takes responsibility for Antigone’s actions, and tells Creon that she too is willing to die, but Antigone tells Creon that Ismene is innocent. Creon’s son, Haemon, who is betrothed to Antigone, tries to reason with his father, but he only makes Creon more angry. Teiresias then attempts to tell Creon that his actions will lead to his ultimate ruin, but Creon accuses him of trying to usurp him.

Eventually, Teiresias convinces Creon to lift Antigone’s death sentence, but it is too late. Antigone has already been executed, and Haemon has committed suicide. Eurydice, the queen, then kills herself because of Haemon. Creon realises what he has done, and stricken with guilt, abdicates a broken man.

Summary – 'The Oresteia' by Aeschylus

Not rated

The Oresteia

1. Agamemnon
Agamemnon returns from Troy. Clytemnestra, his wife, pretends to welcome him home, but, angry at his sacrifice of their daughter Iphegenia, as well as the fact that he has brought Cassandra back with him as his slave, she kills him with her lover Aegisthus, and they take the throne.

2. Choephori (The Libation Bearers)
Orestes and Pylades mourning at the grave of Agamemnon. They vow with Electra to kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Orestes and Pylades, disguised as Phocians, request an audience with Clytemnestra. Orestes kills Aegisthus first, then his mother. The Furies pursue Orestes.

3. Eumenides
Apollo tells Orestes to flee the Furies, and acknowledges that it was he who made Orestes kill his mother. The Ghost of Clytemnestra pleads with the Furies to continue to go after Orestes. The Furies argue with Apollo over whether or not Orestes was right to kill his mother. Athena joins the debate, and it goes to trial at the Acropolis. After much debate, the vote is split 50/50, and Athena comes down on the side of Orestes, ensuring his pardon, then pacifies the remaining angry Furies, transforming them into Eumenides (Kind Ones).

Ghosts In The Machine (if by Machine you mean Seneca and Shakespeare)

Ok well just finished meeting with Hugh today – once again, the discussion about my dissertation topic left me wanting to go in a different direction with it, but for the first time I feel like there might be a topic within the genre of Greek/Roman/Renaissance revenge tragedy that I could talk about in depth – that is, the use of ghosts.

I noticed when reading three different Seneca plays, Thyestes, Agamemnon and Octavia that all three feature a ghost bent on revenge who speaks in the exact same way each time - he mentions the Classical vision of Hell (usually namechecking Ixion on his wheel and Sisyphus and that bloody rock), and how he has been wrenched from Hell only to face a world which is equally hellish. Then I considered Hamlet, and his father's ghost, who says 'I could a tale unfold whose lightest word/Would harrow up thy soul...' - there are clear parellels here. As far as the Greek is concerned, there are fewer examples of ghosts appearing on stage (the only ones really are in Euripides Hecuba and Clytemnestra in Aeschylus' Eumenides), but the idea of the spirit of a dead relative/loved one holding sway over the living characters is one that is more common – in Sophocles, Antigone is willing to die to preserve her brother's memory, and in the final Oedipus play, the site of the great hero's burial is considered sacred and protecting because of the powers of his spirit.

This week's task, then, is probably to read up as much as I can on ghosts, the spirit and the power of death in tragedy – should be a barrel of laughs eh.

October 21, 2004

Post To Wire – Richmond Fontaine – Album Review

4 out of 5 stars

Once again, I found this band through the free CD in Uncut magazine (yes, that's where I get all my music from, I'm a bit of a slave to it) – the majestic ballad 'Polaroid' seemed the perfect successor to the excellent alt-country bands of the late '90's – Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and Wilco.

Although there is not much that is groundbreaking musically about this album (many of the songs consist of that much-favoured alt-country turnaround of G, G/F#, Em, D C or variants), within its genre it is a gem. Devastatingly simple but effective songs like 'Barely Losing', 'Through' and 'Two Broken Hearts' are simply too charming to disregard.

Throughout this album, letters and postcards read out by singer Willy Vlautin and set to music break up the more conventional songs, charting the progress across America of a down-and-out loser named Walter who has run away from home because everyone there is 'pissed' at him – but everything he does on the lam seems to go wrong, which is at the same time a source of humour and sadness – a theme that is present throughout the album – for example; 'Dear Pete, I'm flat broke in Barstow, California, and let me tell you, it's one rough place. You remember that girl I told you about, well I caught her with a guy in the back of this bar called The Cats. The guy ended up kicking the shit out of me and even broke my right hand, and now I don't even have a room to stay in.'

The highlight of the album for me, however, is the title track, a wonderfully hopeful duet between Vlautin and guest vocalist Deborah Kelly about a relationship that is in trouble but clearly worth salvaging – 'If everyone screws up, and I know that we both do/Doesn't it make sense, me with you?'

The band exploits the simple (rather cliched) chord structures of the songs to their full potential, and manage to create something that sounds fresh and new, and Willy Vlautin's knackered-sounding, vulnerable vocals are the perfect foil for the bittersweet lyrics. If you're a fan of alt-country music, this album is probably this years best within the genre – if you are not, try it out anyway.

Marah – 20,000 Streets Under The Sky – Album Review

5 out of 5 stars

Ma-who now? I can almost guarantee you will not have heard of this thirty-something Philadelphia quintet with a sound like early Springsteen and a mission to save rock ‘n’ roll from the vapid, menopausal whining of Coldplay and Keane and the pale, heroin-addled NME bullshit of The Libertines and their clones.

I discovered Marah in 2001 upon the release of their second album, Kids In Philly. It was album of the month in Uncut magazine, and after having heard and liked the haunting Round Eye Blues on the free CD, I felt the album was worth buying. Kids In Philly immediately appealed to me with its raw guitar sound, ranging from the fast, Zeppelin-style blues hooks of The Catfisherman to the dirty, Keef-riffs of It's Only Money, Tyrone. Most of all, I was struck by the unusual, poetic lyrical style – any album with a song on it called My Heart Is The Bums On The Street is ok by me.

When they released their third album, Float Away With The Friday Night Gods, I was disappointed – the bassist and drummer had apparently been sacked, and it had been produced by the man behind Oasis, Owen Morris, and the result was an overblown, over-slick affair with only a couple of decent songs (Float Away, guest starring Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals, and Soul being well worth a listen). This felt like a bid for fame, a selling-out of everything that had been good about their previous album.

When 20,000 Streets Under The Sky came out in early 2004, then, I had become rather disillusioned with Marah – Kids In Philly was a fine album, for sure, but seemed to be a one-hit wonder. I bought it anyway, and it has barely been two feet away from my CD player since. A track-by-track analysis is perhaps the best way of portraying the genius of this album:

1. East – This sounds like it could have been one of the bonus tracks on Born To Run, and lyrically is as good as (maybe even better than) Springsteen ever wrote: 'This evening pigeons turn to bars of gold in the sun's last light/And across the river, Camden is a gilded kingdom on the verge of night'.

2. Freedom Park – I wasn't sure about this one the first time I heard it, but the contrast of the female backing vocalists singing 50's doo-wop with Serge Bielanko's buzz-saw guitar definitely makes for interesting listening. Another song, like East which is full of manic energy and aches to be turned up.

3. Feather Boa – The song opens out on the street, with a laid-back brass riff straight out of Little Italy, and then the Rolling Stones barge in and all hell breaks loose. Lyrically a very odd story, but expertly told – the song is about a transvestite prostitute on a street corner alone and afraid, who knows that '...some night, somehow somewhere/Somebody's gonna wish to end/The life of Feather Boa for no reason'.

4. Going Thru The Motions – Like Feather Boa, an up-tempo, ragged rocker that tries to hide the sadness and bitterness in the story of a dead-in-the-water relationship. I can see you laughing at the title. You child.

5. Sure Thing – Even though this song is so short (roughly 1 min 30 secs), it feels like a contender for the perfect three-minute pop song – a charming melody backing a bittersweet, hopeful lyric; 'Starting tonight, I'll be your sure thing, that's for sure'

6. Tame The Tiger – A smooth slice of 70's funk-rock which builds from the opening verse of just vocal/piano to a full-band climax.

7. Pigeon Heart – Singer David Bielanko dusts off his banjo here (not seen since Kids In Philly for this alt-country-flavoured anthem to freedom.

8. Soda – Perhaps the best song on the album, certainly lyrically – a mournful, melancholy Shakespearean tragedy about young lovers Hannah and Soda ('They call me Soda cos when I was a baby/My mother was so young Soda was all she gave me/It made me sickly, so that's why I shake/Like I'm scared or something but Hannah I ain't') and the problems they face in a world filled with hatred.

9. Pizzeria – At once a tribute to and a goodbye to the misspent youth of the author, when the local pizzeria where he worked growing up has suddenly turned into a Chinese restaurant. Strange, barbershop-quartet style verses give in to an infectious, rockier chorus. Okay, so the bass riff is nicked from a Prince song, but I like what they’ve done with it.

10. Body – Another incredibly complex lyrical exploration – the narrator is the ghost a dead gangster whose body is floating in the river, killed when a routine drug heist somehow goes wrong – a Scorsese movie in the making if I ever heard one.

11. 20,000 Streets Under The Sky – The album closes with an instrumental that manages to capture the mood of the street-smart songs that went before and is reminiscent of The Last Waltz by The Band.

Sure, Marah are slightly derivative – but who isn’t these days – and you have to admit, there is nobody around at the moment who combines the ragged beauty of Springsteen’s first two albums, the riffs and attitude of the Stones at their peak and the lyrics to rival even Dylan and Morrissey. Buy this album. It may just restore your faith in good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

Ok well that's it, I'm going to watch Marah (supported by Adam Masterson) on Friday 22nd October at the Borderline Club in Soho – no doubt will review the gig on my blog in the desperate hope of finding another fan.

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