Category Archives: Music

Posts about music

Less Than a Week to Go

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I’m having a hard time believing that in just 5 more days we’ll be boarding a plane to Manila and Hong Kong will no longer be home. I’m excited about the move, of course, but also anxious to get it all over and done with.

It’s been difficult to finish off everything that I need to get done in what’s an increasingly short time while balancing that with seemingly never-ending demand in the office. Fortunately I’ll get back to Hong Kong at least every other month, so there will be other opportunities to get stuff done.

It’s mostly done though. I’m looking down my task list and see all that remains is the local gas company, one of the mobile providers (Three being slightly more of a pain to deal with than SmarTone or even PCCW, believe it or not) and my MPF.

On Friday I did my final clearance with the HK tax folks. That went kind of funny. I was unable to do any sort of calculation in my head of how much I might owe and I was afraid it could end up being six figures, which would have been inconvenient. On the other hand, I’d already paid my tax bill for the prior year at the beginning of the month, but I didn’t recall how much of it was for the prior year and how much for the year ahead. So after I submitted all of the forms and they asked me if I wanted to come back on Monday to settle the bill or wait for one hour, I chose one hour (my office is just a ten minute walk from Revenue Tower).

One hour later, the first sheet of paper the woman handed to me showed that I owed HK$139. “I love you,” I blurted out before I could even stop myself. But then, there were two more bills (for reasons that I won’t go into), each one higher than the one before, the final one in the low 5 figures. “I don’t love you any more,” I said. “Your choice,” she said.

I paid off the bills and then collected my release letters to give to my company and to the various banks that have my various MPF accounts (I was too lazy to ever consolidate them). The MPF money will take 30 days to collect.

Then Friday night we did our unofficial going away party. 5 or 6 hours hanging out at Joe Bananas (chosen because my wife used to work there and they’ve always been very nice to both of us). I wanted to get that done with because time will be very tight in the coming days. Just one or two more farewell lunches to go.

The movers are here Wednesday and Thursday; I’d say we’re more than half packed already. The dog gets picked up on Thursday and spends the night in a kennel while we spend our final night in a hotel. Then we have to be at the airport 6 AM Friday morning, get our dog checked through, get all of our other (probably excess) baggage checked through.

On the Manila side, we’ve already got a van arranged to pick up us, our dog and all of our luggage at the airport. We’ll be staying in a one bedroom serviced apartment right across the street from my office until we get the basics set up in the house – air conditioners, water heaters, bed, refrigerator, stove, car, etc. Hopefully I can get all of that done in less than a month.

Yikes. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Oh, last week Saturday, I shot my final show for Underground HK, Girls With Guitars #7, at Orange Peel in Lan Kwai Fong. Here’s a few shots:

This is Jules O’Brien:

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Here’s the lead singer from a group with a Chinese name that was doing what they described as “math rock”:

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This is a group called Muffy. They had their own theme song.

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Muffy’s guitarist was not a girl but he did have all the requisite rock star moves:

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And finally a group called After-After-Party, people I knew, a new configuration, doing what I can best describe as comedy punk rock.

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Definitely go check them out if you have the chance.

I’ll try to fit in one or two more posts before I take off.

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Music – The Stuff I Liked in 2014

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(UPDATE: Somewhere the proper version of this post has fallen in between the cracks. This one here is slightly different and closer to what I intended than the post that got published a week or so back. One thing I need to add, among others, is that I’ve finally gotten around to listening to War On Drugs and it’s fricking wonderful.)

And now for something completely different. I’d meant to do this post up all nice with album cover photos and affiliate links to Amazon that no one would click on, but with my move now less than 3 weeks away, I’ll never get to it. So here it is, raw.

I spent far less time listening to music in the past year than I probably should have, and much of that listening time was devoted to stuff that was familiar and comfortable rather than exploring the new.  So here’s my quirky list of new stuff, reissues, things I have marked as “spend more time listening to this” and other bits and bobs.

Adam Cohen – We Go Home – this past year I’ve been re-obsessed with all things Leonard Cohen. Adam is one of his kids and may not be as exceptional as his dad but works a similar vein and doesn’t insult your intelligence.

The Allman Brothers Band – The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings – great to get all of these complete sets and sounding so good, but one thing it makes clear is that they picked the right versions of these songs for the original release.

Annie Lennox – Nostalgia – I was depressed thinking that after a gap of so many years, the best she could come back with was this album of 12 covers, most of which are songs that have been covered too many times already (Georgia on My Mind) or seem inappropriate for a wealthy white British woman to be singing (Strange Fruit). But I’ll say this – she sings the hell out of these songs.

Beck – Morning Phase – A sort of sequel to Sea Change, this album of quieter songs (with arrangements from his dad) really resonated with me. I’ve played this more than any Beck album since, well, since Sea Change

Black Keys – Turn Blue – a huge success but I didn’t care for this as much as its predecessor.

Bob Dylan and The Band – Basement Tapes Complete – Like so many others, I’ve obsessed over the Basement Tapes for decades. Now we get everything (so they say) and we get it with the mid-70s overdubs removed. Add to that the best packaging of the year. The challenge is to find time to edit this down to a playlist of my favorite tracks – or just go with the 2 CD version, which consists of the tracks that made up the original mid-70s release.

Brian Eno – Nerve Net – a whole series of expanded Eno reissues, this one is the highlight because the bonus disc is My Squelchy Life.

Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – Someday World/High Life – the first album sounded as if they were stuck in the 90s, the second a bit of an improvement.

Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes –  a patchwork and I find I’m no fan of XXX’s guitar work here.

Bryan Ferry – Avonmore. As good as any solo album he’s ever done. Ten originals, two covers and his cover of Robert Palmer’s John and Mary is worth hearing – several times.

Crosby Stills Nash & Young – CSNY 1974 – I know there are fans out there for this document of their 1974 tour but for me only the Neil Young stuff here still holds up. Everything else just seems to be dueling egos.

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots – This is his first proper “solo” album and it didn’t disappoint me.

David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed – the 3 CD deluxe edition is the best career retrospective from Bowie yet. It runs in reverse chronological order, starting with his new collaboration with Maria Schneider. I really like the James Murphy remix of Love is Lost.

Eric Clapton – The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale – I have very low expectations of any Clapton album. This one didn’t put me to sleep and did get me to dig out Cale’s records again.

FKA Twigs – LP1 – Everyone loves this. Guess I’ll go back and play it again.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Inside the Pleasuredome. I won’t try and defend my love for everything and anything ZTT. This 7 LP set seems to collect every possible permutation of FGTH’s first album, which I still play far too often.

Gary Clark Jr – Live – His debut album was all over the map, this is more focused. He’ll be a great guitarist one day and he’s got a terrific voice. This might have been better as a single disc though.

Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours. Retro ballads from a former member of …. Kind of early Scott Walker-ish. I played this a lot but it’s not consistent – the first few tracks are the best.

Howlin’ Wolf – The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs 1951-1962 – because every record collection should have this.

Jack White – Lazaretto – I never really got the White Stripes but I’ve always admired White as “authentic” – I only became a fan after the movie It Might Get Loud – and I like his two solo albums a lot more than the WS stuff.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager – I’ve only played this once so far but it sounded great and I need to get back to it.

Jessie J – Sweet Talker – I have no idea why, but Bang Bang is one of the few singles from 2014 that I like. I haven’t listened to the rest of the album though.

Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades of Blue – You can always count on Bonamassa to try something different and here there are more original songs and different backing musicians but in the end it’s not as good as his previous album, Dust Bowl.

John Hiatt – Terms of My Surrender – Hiatt’s got a real late-career renaissance going.

John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken – Mellencamp stays in his Okie folkie range and I played this more than his previous couple of albums.

Johnny Winter – True to the Blues – Nice to get a definitive Johnny Winter compilation, sad that he died this year.

King Crimson – The deluxe reissue overkill continued this year with 20+ disc sets for Starless and Red. My favorite era of Crimson but I just don’t have time for all of this so I’ve concentrated on the Steven Wilson remixes.

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence – In which she not only shows that the last album wasn’t a fluke, she improves upon it.

LCD Soundsystem – The Long Goodbye – great recording of their farewell concert. This is where I finally realized how good James Murphy has been for so long.

Led Zeppelin – the super deluxe reissues from Jimmy Page. Frankly I’m not knocked out by most of the bonus material. It leaves me wondering “is this really all there is?” But the remastered sound is splendid and the accompanying hardcover books in the super deluxe box set are nice to have.

Leonard Cohen – Live in Dublin – While this duplicates a lot of the Live in London set from four years ago, there are new songs and there’s still that great band, yielding truly definitive versions of many of his classic songs.

Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems – Worth the price of entry just for Almost Like the Blues, but plenty of other good new songs to listen to and ponder over.

Michael Bloomfield – From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Al Kooper put together this splendid retrospective, 3 CDs plus 1 DVD, with key tracks from Butterfield Blues Band, Electric Flag, Super Session and his solo work. One of the most important guitarists ever and yet all but forgotten. Anyone who loves electric blues guitar should have this in their collection.

Muddy Waters – The Complete Aristocrat & Chess Singles As & Bs 1947-1962 – just like the Howlin’ Wolf set mentioned above, essential.

Neil Young – Storytone – Sorry, I think he’s lost the plot. I share his environmental concerns but I think most of the song writing is far below his best.

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River – T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, one of the Mumfords and others put music to a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics from the 60s recently discovered in a trunk somewhere.  When I listen to it, I’m just too conscious that it’s Dylan throw-aways and while some of them are good all I can think of is, “Is this how Zimmy would have done it?”

Nils Lofgren – Face the Music – massive boxed set that makes the case that he’s not just a great guitarist and not just a great backing musician for Springsteen and Neil Young. Even if he never stepped on stage with anyone else, he’d still be worth following.

Pink Floyd – The Endless River – unreleased mostly instrumental studio jams from 20 years ago, remixed and edited, some new instruments added. It sounds like classic era Floyd but it meanders and is less than essential.

R.E.M. – A good year for them, big collections featuring both of their MTV Unplugged appearances and “rarities” from both the IRS and the Warner Bros days.

Robert Plant – Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar – I admire Plant so much for what he’s doing here. He’s still a great singer and the arrangements are inventive across the board. I just wish the songs were a little stronger.

Robert Wyatt – Different Every Time – fabulous two disc compilation that omits I’m a Believer and still seems close to definitive.

Robyn Hitchcock – The Ghost in You. Hitchcock used to be a major fave. I stopped listening to him a few years ago. This gorgeous album has me loving him all over again.

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams – This sounds like great mainstream classic rock and I think it will sound good for years to come.

Santana – Corazon – the big guest name approach yet again, but this time on a mostly Latino album, so it’s different enough and it works. I really love his take on Bob Marley’s Iron Lion Zion, featuring Ziggy Marley.

Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused – I should give this a listen.

St. Vincent – St. Vincent – I should give this a listen.

Swans – To Be Kind – A big noise, A huge fucking noise. I didn’t think I still liked this kind of challenging music but in this case, I still do.

Taylor Swift – 1989 – I’ve never listened to her before but gave it a couple of spins since it made so many year’s best lists. I’m not sure that I’d know it was her if I didn’t already know it’s her. All this Max Martin stuff sounds alike to me.

Tom Petty – Hypnotic Eye – Wow, did the media hype this album, a return to rocking 70s form for him, they said. Not really.

Tweedy – Sukirae – I should give this a listen.

U2 – Songs of Innocence. Rolling Stone magazine named this the best album of the year. I stopped paying attention to Rolling Stone’s album reviews years ago precisely because of stuff like that.

The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground 45th Anniversary Edition – Magnificent. Three very different mixes of the album. Two more CDs of live stuff and another CD with the scrapped 4th album (most of the tracks made it out over the years but they never sounded this good).

2014 was a good year for collectors as record companies continued to churn out massive box sets offering the complete output from a varied selection of artists. Often no-frills packaging and no bonus tracks but still a nice way to grab everything at once from everyone from Emmylou Harris to Rick James.

So not that much music on my list from new acts under the age of 30. I don’t listen to as much music as I’d like now because I don’t use music as background noise when I’m working or reading. When I listen to music, I listen to music. But my time for listening frequently occurs in venues where I want to hear something I already know I like – on the bus going home after a long day at work, as one example.

Plus, let’s face it, the dominant popular music remains hip hop, and as near as I can tell the dominant lyrical theme in hip hop remains “I’m so great” and “I’m so rich” and that doesn’t hold any interest for me. The indie and alternative rock bands mostly strike me as either too derivative or too discordant.

I get it. My tastes are becoming more mainstream as I get older. I used to thrill to new releases with song titles that read like calculus. Now I simply don’t want to work that hard.

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My Best Photos of 2014

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The numbers aren’t good. If we’re talking sheer quantity, in 2012 I shot 18,455 photos, 12,031 in 2013 and just 7,228 in 2014. I put the blame on a full time job, a really long daily commute and a few personal issues – not the least of which was fracturing an ankle and doing major damage to an elbow in a fall in September. All of this added up to shooting far less than I would have liked. Also 2014 was the year in which I totally walked away from trying to do any kind of street photography – I just saw so many horrendously bad examples of street photos on various groups on Facebook that it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Even so, I did come away from the year having shot a few fun events and having some images I quite like. So here’s my year in photography.

In January the band Operator had a CD launch party at Backstage in Central. They were supported by Bank Job and The Sleeves.

 

 

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Also in January I had a chance to shoot with Hong Kong model Yumi at PASM. Recently she seems to be having some success as a DJ.

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In February one of my photos of Hong Kong singer Faye Wan (taken late 2013) was displayed in a photo exhibition in Soho.

 

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I had this idea for a year-long photo project, Hong Kong Women With Tattoos – or Hong Kong Ink, perhaps? It ended up being far more time consuming than I had expected and I was also having trouble finding women with larger tattoos to model for me. I shot Hui in March and this was a fun shoot.

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At the end of March, there was a festival of local bands called Friday Night Rocks timed to coincide with the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.This show featured a large variety of terrific Hong Kong bands along with one band from Korea. Below – Hey Joe Trio, Shotgun Politics, Galaxy Express (2), Dr. Eggs.

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In April, also for my tattoo project, I shot Ines in the studio. A strong woman with a great story.

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Also in April, guitar great Robben Ford played a show in Shatin and I was able to get a “three songs, no flash” pass for that.

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At the end of August, I attended Hong Kong’s 2nd International Tattoo Convention.

 

 

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Just last week, I shot some of the bands appearing at the Wanch at a memorial concert for Hong Kong singer/songwriter Sue Shearman. Sue died from cancer at a crazy young age and the evening was called Well Fuck You Cancer and once again highlighted the amazing diversity of the independent music scene in Hong Kong. Below – Dark Himaya (2), Kestrels and Kites.

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So there you have it. I’m hoping that my move to Manila in 2015 will provide more opportunities for shooting. I won’t have a studio affiliation there as I do in Hong Kong but I’m hoping to meet many of the local photographers and to find some clubs that present some unique local bands.

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Clockenflap’s Just 3 Weeks Away

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Clockenflap is Hong Kong’s biggest annual music festival and it’s just three weeks away.  The dates are November 28th through the 30th. It all happens at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

This is just a partial listing of the bands scheduled to appear this year – The Flaming Lips (will they bring along Miley Cyrus?), Mogwai, Tenacious D, Kool & the Gang, Chvrches, Nitin Sawhney, the Lemonheads, Travis, Nightmares on Wax, the Raveonettes, LTJ Bukem, DJ Jazzy Jeff and a host of other international acts, as well as somewhere around 50 local Hong Kong bands, including Noughts and Exes, Shepherds the Weak, the Stray Katz.

They’ve also got a special “family area,” screenings of BAFTA short films, a cabaret tent, all sorts of food and merch options, interactive art installations and an official after party at the nearby W Hotel.

Tickets cost $510 (Friday only), $680 (Saturday or Sunday only) and $1,280 (all three days) in advance, slightly higher at the door. There are also “premium” tickets that get you things like a shorter line for entry and access to a lounge. You can buy tickets in advance here.

 

I’ve got a fractured ankle so I probably won’t be going but I am sure it will be a fantastic event.

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CDs for Sale

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I’ve been collecting CDs for 30 years and music for most of my life but now it’s time to start clearing things out. I’m selling off more than 2,600 CDs and I’m asking just HK$20 each for more than half of them. I’ve got almost any genre you can imagine (except for death metal and polka) – rock, jazz, folk, classical, soundtrack, comedy, blues, reggae, world, even a bit of local pop.

You can see the entire list here. Or you can send an email to hongkietown at gmail dot com for the most updated version.

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God Only Knows

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Completely unrelated to my previous post!

The BBC has unveiled a new web site called BBC Music, and to draw attention to it they’ve released a video of a newly recorded all-star version of the Beach Boys’ classic “God Only Knows,” credited to The Impossible Orchestra.

godonlyknowsSo who is in this? In semi-random order:

  • Dave Grohl
  • Alison Balsom
  • Lorde
  • Pharrell Williams
  • Zane Lowe
  • Sam Smith
  • Paloma Faith
  • Eliza Carthy
  • Nicola Benedetti
  • Chris Martin
  • Jaz Dhami
  • Martin James Bartlett
  • Danielle de Niese
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Florence Welch
  • Lauren Laverne
  • Brian Wilson
  • Jake Bugg
  • Katie Derham
  • Gareth Malone
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Chrissie Hynde
  • One Direction
  • Emeli Sande
  • Elton John
  • Baaba Maal
  • Ethan Johns
  • Jools Holland
  • Jamie Cullum
  • Brian May
  • Tees Valley Youth Choir
  • BBC Concert Orchestra

It’s both lovely and odd at the same time. Lovely, well, because God Only Knows is a great song. Bizarre because of the “something for everyone” approach combined with a 2:59 running time, most of the people listed above are shown for just two seconds each singing the title line. (Brian May is shown in front of a huge stack of amps playing just four notes on the guitar.) The video is nicely done and it’s certainly worth seeing once.

Here’s the link to it at the BBC Music website. And here’s the link to it on Youtube, in case the embed below doesn’t work.

 

 

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Leonard Cohen Speaks the Truth

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Leonard Cohen has a new album out. Popular Problems. I’ve listened to it twice and it lives up to the tremendous expectations I have of every new Cohen album.  Coming just two years after his last album, he also claims that the next album is already half-written. He’s 80 years old now and seemingly not wasting any time.

Anyway, I was reading the review on Pitchfork (7.6 out of 10, which seems about right) and there’s this quote from Cohen in which he’s talking about a lesson he learned from his Zen master (who died in 2014 at the age of 107) and which struck me as seriously fucking true:

“Roshi said something nice to me one time,” he started. “He said that the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. Which means that this hero that you’re trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life—this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they’re not heroic defeats; they’re ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die—I can’t invest any more in this heroic position.'”

I just love the way he starts off that story. “Roshi said something nice to me” followed by something that could be taken as astonishingly depressing. But it could also be pure optimism – because if something is wrong, how can you fix it unless you know what it is?

Here’s the lyrics to one of the new songs on the album, Almost Like the Blues. I think the second verse is killer. And then the third verse is even better.

I saw some people starving
There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning
They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic
It was almost like the blues

I have to die a little
Between each murderous thought
And when I’m finished thinking
I have to die a lot
There’s torture and there’s killing
And there’s all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing
Lord, it’s almost like the blues

So I let my heart get frozen
To keep away the rot
My father said I’m chosen
My mother said I’m not
I listened to their story
Of the Gypsies and the Jews
It was good, it wasn’t boring
It was almost like the blues

There is no G-d in Heaven
And there is no Hell below
So says the great professor
Of all there is to know
But I’ve had the invitation
That a sinner can’t refuse
And it’s almost like salvation
It’s almost like the blues

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Orange Peel

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Orange Peel is a new music bar located at 38-44 D’Aguilar Street (2nd floor) in Lan Kwai Fong. A good friend is one of the co-owners, so I was invited to their soft opening last night. A lot of the people from Peel Fresco in Soho are involved with this bar, so if you’ve been to PF, you have some idea of what to expect from OP. They’re going for a more adult crowd with a line-up of mostly jazz and they’ve got a sommelier on staff so expect a good choice of wines to go with the music. There’s a kitchen there but I don’t know what kind of food is planned.

Since I was in “party mode” last night, I wasn’t going to drag a lot of heavy equipment with me, just my Sony RX100 Mark III. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind the camera, but I did manage to grab a couple of quick shots here and there.

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They’ve clearly spent a lot on having proper acoustics for the music, and as you can see the place is large enough to fit a grand piano – not something you’ll often see in Lan Kwai Fong bars.

I don’t know when the official opening will be, but it looks as if they’ve got live music planned for every night this week. If you’re in the area, check them out. I see they’ve got some jazz, some blues and a bit of r ‘n b on the schedule and there’s been some discussion about nights featuring bands from HK’s indie rock scene.

I think it has probably been a year or longer since I last went to Lan Kwai Fong at night, especially a Saturday night. The first thing I noticed is how many old spots have been replaced with new ones. Maybe this is old news to you but I was really surprised to see some old favorites apparently long gone.

The second thing, no surprise, is that on a Saturday night at 11 PM, the streets are packed, and the quantity of gorgeous women to be seen remains mind-boggling. On the other hand, aside from myself, I’m not sure that I saw anyone else in the street who was over 30! Either the crowd is getting younger, or I’m getting older.

At one point I grabbed a quick kebab from a new (to me, anyway) spot called TavaQuick.

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I guess that guy is quite used to drunk people whipping out a camera while waiting for kebabs to be ready.

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New Old Music – Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton

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Near the top of my ridiculously long list of favorite albums is The Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East live double set, recorded and originally released in 1971.  It’s an album that I still play fairly regularly 43 years (gulp!) after its release.

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The Allmans had earlier released two studio albums that failed to catch a fire. This 2 LP, 7 song set is the album that put them over the top. There’s something about that 23 minute live version of Whipping Post that still excites me. Plus, it’s possible to listen to this album differently each time – focusing not just on Duane Allman’s astonishing guitar work but listening instead to Berry Oakley’s melodic bass lines or the interplay between drummers Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks.

In 1992, this was reissued on CD as The Fillmore Concerts with 5 additional tracks. The 2003 “Deluxe Edition” release changed the running order slightly and added a 13th track.

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This week, we finally get what I’ve been 40 years for, a 6 disc boxed set called The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. The box features 5 complete Allman Brothers Band concerts – early and late shows from March 12 and 13, 1971, as well as the Allman’s complete June 27th show the same year – the last show performed at the closing of the fabled Fillmore East.  While some of these tracks eventually turned up on Eat a Peach and various compilations, 23 of the 37 tracks here are previously unreleased. (Plus the original release of You Don’t Love Me was pieced together from two separate versions; here we get both original performances in their entirety.)

One can argue that the box is still not completely complete. They also played two sets on March 11th that are not included here. That’s because on that night they added a reportedly under-rehearsed and out-of-tune horn section. Producer Tom Dowd thought it sounded horrible and basically ordered the band to drop them for the following nights. We may be better off not hearing that. Or perhaps in another ten years there will be yet another release of these shows that reinstates that material as well.

At six hours and six minutes, there’s a lot of material to go through here, and I haven’t listened to all six discs yet. From what I’ve heard, I have no doubt that they picked the “right” versions for the original release. But the other performances ain’t exactly chopped liver either.

And that’s why this set is such an important document of a major band. They might have played similar set lists from show to show, but there’s a lot of variation in the performances. The Allmans were not just an incredibly tight unit but really into improvisation in ways rarely heard outside of jazz in that era. So you can listen to them as they come to forks in the road and take different turns each time. Rather than just having the 7 tracks we’ve known all these years, hearing these different versions side by side provides a truer picture of what made the original Allman Brothers Band so unique.

The set was produced by Bill Levenson – the man who helped invent the retrospective boxed set back in 1988 when he put together the Eric Clapton Crossroads boxed set. (I guess I should mention that I knew Bill back in the 80s and 90s and we remain friends today via Facebook.)

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Speaking of Eric Clapton, he’s got a new album out, and it’s the first Eric Clapton album in decades that I can wholeheartedly recommend. It’s credited to Eric Clapton & Friends and titled The Breeze – An Appreciation of J.J. Cale.71tNgqxL-dL._SL1032_

It’s no secret that Cale was a huge influence on Clapton. Clapton basically changed his career direction and musical style completely after being exposed to Cale’s music. Cale never sold a lot of records and has said that it was the royalties from Clapton’s covers of his songs After Midnight and Cocaine, among others, that kept him going.

J.J. Cale died in 2013 and Clapton decided to record this tribute to his idol. (Clapton said in a recent interview that he no longer writes new songs, he finds it too difficult and time consuming.)  A decision was made to not try to reinterpret any of the material but to stay relatively close to the original versions. To his credit, the album doesn’t include any of the Cale songs that Clapton previously had hits with (but apparently there were a lot more songs recorded and there might be a “volume 2,” much like Clapton’s Robert Johnson albums a decade ago).

The “& Friends” is a pretty stellar list. Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Don White, Derek Trucks, Albert Lee, David Lindley, Doyle Bramhall II and quite a few others. I think the most successful tracks on the album come from Mark Knopfler (Someday) and Willie Nelson (Songbird). Cale was clearly also a major influence for Knopfler and Nelson just effortlessly wears that Tulsa groove like a comfortable old pair of boots. Mayer does better than I would have expected but Tom Petty sounds uncomfortable.

To be honest, I’m a fan of Clapton from the days with the Yardbirds, Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie, Derek & the Dominoes.  Clapton’s first solo album (the self-titled album produced by Delaney Bramlett) was the only one of his solo albums that I ever really liked. I’ve always loved him as a musician but mostly I could take or leave the studio albums.

I think this may be the first Clapton album in at least 20 years that I’ve played more than twice and would recommend to anyone else.  And that might be more a tribute to the amazing songs that J.J. Cale wrote than anything else.

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Led Zeppelin Super Deluxe Editions Are Out

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Finally, after years of deluxe and super deluxe editions from so many artists, the deluxe and super deluxe editions of the Led Zeppelin albums are rolling out.  Just a few quick notes here for people who may not be aware of them.

First and most important – these are new remasters supervised by Jimmy Page. I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to them yet and haven’t compared them to previous editions but they definitely sound a bit spruced up.  You can buy these as deluxe edition 2 CD sets (or digital downloads) but I opted for the “super deluxe” editions, something that I rare do, because these are important albums to me.  These boxed sets are huge and heavy – I think each box weighs about 10 pounds. They’re selling for US$116 each on Amazon.

Last week saw the release of the first 3 albums. The others will come later this year.  Here’s what you get.

ledzep1

 

Led Zeppelin I

  • 72 page 12×12 hard cover book (photos, credits, article reprints, tour info, no new essays)
  • Reproduction of original press kit, including 2 8×10 glossy photos
  • Numbered edition 12×12 artwork of album cover
  • 2 CDs each packaged in cardboard sleeves
  • Bonus disc is complete concert Olympia, Paris, October 10, 1969
  • One vinyl LP (180g) of original album in original cover
  • Two vinyl LPs (180g) of the Paris concert
  • certificate with details to download FLAC tracks (zip file 1.8 gig)

ledzep2

Led Zeppelin II

  • 88 page hardcover book
  • numbered artwork
  • 2 CDs in cardboard sleeves
  • 180g vinyl of original album in original gatefold sleeve
  • 180g vinyl of bonus material
  • The 8 bonus tracks here include alternate mixes, rough mixes, backing tracks
  • Certificate for downloading FLAC tracks (zip file 1.6 gig)

Led Zeppelin III

ledzep3

  • 80 page hardcover book
  • numbered artwork
  • 2 CDs in cardboard sleeves – the sleeve for the original album duplicates the dye-cut cover w/ spinning artwork
  • 180g vinyl of original album in original gatefold sleeve, with dye-cut cover & spinning artwork
  • 180g vinyl of bonus material
  • The 9 bonus tracks here include rough mixes and backing tracks
  • Certificate for downloading FLAC tracks (zip file 1.8 gig)

For many of you, the regular deluxe editions should do just fine. The Paris concert and a lot of this studio outtake material has been available on bootlegs forever, though not at this quality. The real draw is the Jimmy Page remastering.

As for the albums themselves? I think Led Zepp II is the strongest of this batch. It’s album #4 that everyone wants, of course – for me Led Zep IV, House of the Holy and Physical Graffiti are my favorite LZ albums. As for albums 7 through 9, when they come out, I’m not so certain I’ll need to have the massive editions of those.

But I’ve been known to change my mind in the past.

 

 

 

 

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