Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Joe Scott's take on....Fenech Soler & Chew Lips "Live It Loud" at Lancaster Library

As a single, 26 year old man looking to take stock and assess where you are in your life, there won’t be many more thought-provoking & spotlight-shining situations than finding yourself shuffling around a library in an unfamiliar town , at nine o’clock on a Saturday night, pretending to leaf through a book chronicling 21st century pop-culture paintings, trying desperately to be blasé and ignore the fact that the vast majority of other attendees are sixth-form age . Once you realise that the only drinks on offer are cans of Fanta and that there’s a solid hour of electro-indie by a a group you’ve never heard of to get through before the band you came to see are on , this will only be magnified .

It is of course an acknowledged ‘funny age’ – as the oft-relayed list of luminaries who died aged 27 ( Kurt Cobain , Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, The Elephant Man...all producing some quality music before leaving us prematurley....except The Doors, obviously. bbdum-dum-tsh ) will attest - being unavoidably conflicted all-day-everyday between looking back & forward is such a constant headache that it makes you do weird things, make stupid plans and then (even whilst doing them) think “why?”.

On taking my place about ten feet from the stage, as an encapsulation of these divergent mental paths , this scenario really came into its own ; am I too young to be thinking “look at this tit’s haircut...and a scarf? Indoors?! Behave.” Or am I in fact too old to be thinking I can legitimately be interested enough to attend concerts by ‘up and coming’ bands and treat music as anything other than the soundtrack to badly done Sky Sports montages ?

Margaret Thatcher is once said to have twattishly remarked
“A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”
Which, aside from the hardly-worth-mentioning abhorrent self-preservation & look-after-yourself preference for greed-trophy,mines-bigger-than-yours, individualistic car travel over the well-intentioned, available-to-all (although invariably unreliable & , frankly , poor) community focused public transport is hardly the kind of rhetoric to inspire much clarity or pride in a person in that age bracket.

The omens augured ill when during a pre-gig drink we were interrupted by a 50 something hen-party dressed as French peasants and asked to donate underwear to fulfil one of their ‘only night out of the decade’ challenges. This is a hot-bed of hennery – as anyone who has been on a weekend train bound for Blackpool will verify ; the only more common passenger stereotype than ‘turkey-necked-over-tanned-horrors-in-risqué-T-Shirts’ is ‘ear-ringed-meff-sitting-drinking-Carling-pretending-to-be-heading-to-Blackpool-just-so-they-can-indulge-in-a-fleeting-bit-of-banter-with-hen-parties-and-say-“well, i might see you if you pop out later than luv!”’. And by these (admittedly base-level) standards the group we encountered were well mannered if somewhat barking up a tree containing the two people least likely to actually engage in such banter it would be possible to imagine.

Anyway. After a seemingly interminable awkward shuffle about the dark, sparsely populated library, the first band came on. Fenech Soler, valiantly flying the flag as surely the only band to fight out of Kings Cliffe, Northants .

Straightaway their enthusiasm and excitement at playing the gig won people over & , helped by the superb acoustics the unusaul venue offered, their set was overall a massive success. A difficult to nail down but always interesting sound, mixing – to my ears – bits of Michael Jackson, Klaxons, 13-era-Blur & M83 , played whilst dressed as MGMT going to fancy-dress party as Generation Terrorist-period Manics worked surprisingly well in such idiosyncratic surroundings (one fringe benefit of attending a gig where the average age comes in at 15 is that it affords a rare full view of the stage for a short-arse like myself), with the keyboards, synths & bass especially being on the mark. The stand-out tune was definitely ‘Lies’ although there was very little drop-off in quality throughout.

‘Battlefields’ too could be easily imagined “tearing up” dancefloors in indie clubs given enough plays and although the lyrics never really stretched the imagination very far & a couple of the songs could have done with a bit of pruning , with the strongest parts compacted & tightened to really harden them as sure hits, they should have a good chance of doing well for themselves.

The second act, Chew Lips, despite a fairly shocking name was the band (their song ‘seven’ in particular) who ‘inspired’ this venture & they entered the tiny stage after a thankfully brief change-over period. A similar sound (almost as if someone organising the event had put some thought into the pairing...) but immediately more confid
ent , cool & savvy , less naively excited & ebullient than the support , belying the fact that they have been garnering the sort of ‘credible’ heat that would usually make me massively sceptical , they barely paused in a classy, sexy & brilliantly-paced 40 minute demonstration of electro-pop.
To say that the singer ‘Tigs’ is the focus of attention when the trio are on stage
would be a bit like a scout singling out Matt Le Tissier as “one to watch” in Southampton’s early 90s line-ups. “Multi-instrumentalists” Will Sanderson and James Watkins certainly play their part in filling the perfectly judged Yeah Yeah Yeahs default backing setting with regular twists & enough-but-not-too-many electo flourishes to deserve not to be ignored but they may as well be two gargoyle book-ends to the stage robotically jabbing at a xylophone such is the relative command of the stage the singer takes. Photos don't really do justice to the level of “cant take your eyes off her” engendered as she strutted & intoned – managing a fairly difficult mixture of vulnerability & confidence & basically creating an irresistible vibe not unlike Scarlett Johansson playing Debbie Harry as a primly well-spoken bookish English hipster in sparkly denim hotpants. A winning look I think we can all agree, especially framed faded blue neon lights .

The extra quality on display was reflected in the more ambiguous & involving lyrics , which showed up particularly well in the more measured, glacial efforts – Play Together & Solo especially sounding as good as anything out there at the moment.

The new single Karen is more pop-orientated with the techno/electro dyed fleks hidden subtly in a head of glossy , sleek hair. The tune is better than that description , honestly ;
So, Chew Lips a band that deserve to really kick on and make an impact.

One positive way of answering the conundrum mentioned earlier when taking position pre-gig this is to resolve that , really, you’re never too young to adopt a sneeringly dismissive attitude to badly turned out people – and never too old to attribute unrealistic & unjustifiable importance to essentially disposable forms of entertainment.

And the bus was dead on time to take us back to Morecambe.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Joe Scott's take on ....West Beyrouth (À l'abri les enfants)

FACT is one of those places that I really can’t speak highly enough of - something to be celebrated , supported as much as possible & applauded for its determination to remain independent , unique and a defiant alternative to the generally repellent looking line-up at the Odeon. It is also somewhere i virtually never go.
If someone told me it was going to be closed down as part of a Movie Watching Standardisation Drive i would be appalled, but also feel very guilty & partly responsible for its demise through my lack of custom – similar to what’s happened with Six Music recently. “Ah, that’s terrible” I thought “......I really should have listened to it at some point in its eight year life-span”. Part of the reason for reticence to get involved in both is partly a nagging feeling that both I am seemingly so perfectly their target demographic that i subconsciously don’t want to give it to them too easily. This could be seen as admirably stubborn determination to avoid pigeon-holing and as doing my bit against the frightful, ever-creeping tentacles of marketing think-tank sorted and categorised people ...or could quite easily be viewed as petty, contrary tittery.
Either way, it’s too late for Six Music now – even if it wobbles through this problem it will be forever tainted by being ‘backed’ in its hour of need by a shockingly craven act of backsliding by the Tory MP voted Most Likely To Moonlight As A David Cameron Look-A-Like for Some Shabby Wool ‘Make Your Party Unique!’ Toting Outfit Based In Hereford , Ed Vaizey

And for obvious reasons any support for the ailing songs-i-already-own-but-now-interspersed-with-George-Lamb-conducting-a-‘fun’-phone-poll-between-each-one provider would be to tacitly align myself with a man who claimed expenses to pay the bill for “extensive furniture range includes painted, rattan, bamboo, sofas, beds, tables, chairs and armoires” purchased, sweetly enough, from an exclusive shop owned by Cameron’s mother-in-law (“that was a year ago! That’s not topical anymore! Forget about all that! We (probably) paid that all back anyway!!”).

Not that there is any suggestion that FACT is set to be arbitrarily closed, but it would be horrible to be put in that same position –so to pre-empt the possibility I have decided to try & go to anything that vaguely catches my fancy. First beneficiary of this was West Beyruth, the inaugural film of the My War run ( ‘12 March - 30 May, 2010: A radically personal look at conflict in the digital age’) . This is an Arabic/French language film , directed in 1998 by Ziad Doueiri , covering the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. It is not an area I had any knowledge or particular interest in beforehand but it was so brilliantly shot whilst hitting a perfect balance between black humour & genuine despair , irreverence & politicised fanaticism , fear of destruction & blithely carrying on with life despite the tumult going on all around , that it has probably instantly jumped into my all-time-top-ten.
There is barely a wasted scene across the two hours – with even the most trivial seeming parts carrying multiple subtexts .

The section played out in the bread-shop, where all the characters are shown to have been altered, corrupted and embittered to a horrible degree by the conflict & division pouring through the city is especially strong – two people who the main player Tarek has admired, respected & befriended in the past, flailing about in the dirt & flour in a scuffle guaranteed from the outset to achieve absolutely nothing is a fairly thorough microcosm of the entire backdrop. The confusion, Chinese-whispering and flux all over when the battles first break out is brilliantly relayed and subtly done , but the historical aspect was out-done i thought by the real killer feature which was the friendship that was played out by the two semi-narrators of the film , Tarek & Omar.

These two are schoolkids who relay events partly through home-video footage they make which veers from taking part in a rally protesting against a war victim death, to voyeurism of their uncle’s new girlfriend (“a right bit of lamb!”), to flares being set-off & bombs exploding back to buying candyfloss and arguing over a girl then culminating both sides in sneaking to a brothel by crossing an under-fire no-mans-land waving a bra as their only defence. Pure friendship - especially between slightly quirky, odd-couple characters – seems to be very rarely portrayed well but their camaraderie , arguments, ability to wind each other up & support for each other despite repeatedly letting each other down is absolutely on the money & utterly believable.
Amazingly, neither of them seem (according to imdb anyway) to have done anything since this and both stumbled into the parts (Rami Doueiri as Tarek is the younger brother of the Director & Mohammad Chamas as Omar was an orphan who turned up on set and caught everyone’s attention) . There must be some argument that the approach of being neither proper, fully-trained actors helped them play the roles so naturally but it doesn’t really matter – they’re both just brilliant.
All the other caharcters (Tarek’s parents, May, the girl who they both become friends with, the brothel owner , the school-teacher etc) are all played really well too & all have individual scenes which add to the movie as a whole & impact & influence the key players (Tarek’s mum going from a respectable, high flying lawyer to unemployed, degraded & obsessed with moving away) but is is these two who make the film outstanding and who you’re waiting to re-appear whenever tey’re off screen for any length of time.

If you are involved or an interested party in the basis for the film (as with the guy who did a short introduction in FACT, explaining why this was an important film for him and gave his reflections on escaping the conflict & watching the film as a kid & finding it funny without grasping the context – luckily this was only slightly undermined by a glitch in the sound-system which meant that this was incongruously sound-tracked by ‘Big Love’ by Fleetwood Mac. Tune, yes, but there’s a time & a place.....) then its not for me to say whether it works as a reconstruction of events or moods, but as a completely disconnected & blissfully ignorant viewer it 100% works on a enjoyable & credible level.

There’s no point going over every aspect of the film, technique used or recounting a lot of scenes (they’re virtually all brilliant) I cannot rate this film highly enough & would urge anyone to watch it if you get chance – as it will be too late to do anything with a clear conscience by the point you see a saddeningly reactionary Conservative-supported Facebook campaign calling for the reel of West Beyruth to be saved......