The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


July 2005

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

The Brian Wilson touring extravaganza, which just five years ago was a but a pipe dream for a few hardcore fans, has turned into an all-embracing and slick production that belies the still apparent fragility of its star.

Wilson�s reputation for perfectionism is reflected in the ten piece band whose multi-instrumental dexterity and vocal strength is the key to the brilliance of the show. By contrast, Wilson, though singing well, appears disconnected from both the end of tour high-jinks of the musicians and the adulation of the audience.

While it would be impossible to find any comparable artist performing to anything like the same level, any disappointment comes from the song selection rather than the execution. Having milked his master works, �Pet Sounds� and �Smile� on his previous tours, they provide mere interludes here – though the staggering version of �Heroes and Villains� and an equally impressive �God Only Knows� reprise these shows.

For the most part, it is a trawl through his earliest songs, with albums like �All Summer Long,� �Surfer Girl� and �Summer Days and Summer Nights� from the pre-Pet Sounds, early and mid-sixties era well represented.

Included are a most out-of-season Christmas song, �Little Saint Nick,� recently re-recorded, but originally from 1963, and excellent renditions of �Then I Kissed Her� and �In My Room.� There are some other miscalculations: the encore of �Johnny B Goode� is laboured and �Marcella� is the only occasion where it becomes over-wrought.

However, it is the closing song, �Love and Mercy� which really encapsulates Wilson�s enduring skill as a pop composer. Supplemented by support band, The Magic Numbers, the thirteen piece harmonies augment what is the most touchingly human of lyrics from the pen of an often impenetrable person.


An American take on T in the Park

Taken from Filter magazine – includes particularly lucid description:

“At T in the Park everyone sits around on inflatable chairs drinking pint after pint of cheap beer. The bands are more of a means to an end. The reason the festival sells out is because it is basically something big happening in their back yard and everyone wants in.

As a result the place is not full of indie kids and music fans, but is instead, it is overrun by a breed of people that are known as �neds� here in Scotland and as �chavs� in England. They like to show the world how tough they are by wearing light pink shirts or running around at a hot music festival until the sun burns them to the colour of cotton candy.

Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann

Soft rock, middle-aged rock bliss after the excess of T in the Park: Aimee Mann at Carling Academy, 14th July!

Aimee Mann has been making records for nearly two decades, her first exposure in this country being as the big-haired lead vocalist in Til Tuesday, who apart from the occasional play on the Jonathan King’s ‘Entertainment USA,’ made little or no impact on these shores.

Initial American success was followed by a lengthy wilderness period when the band split and her solo record deal went sour only to be salvaged by penning the soundtrack to the film, ‘Magnolia’. Subsequently, Mann has existed on the fringes of the mainstream, never achieving the level of sales her brilliantly crafted, catchy songs deserve.

This could be down to her sheer lack of adherence to fashion. She describes her most recent album, ‘The Forgotten Arm,’ as a “concept album set in 1972.” This is not just lyrically: the musical texture harks back to the early seventies’ soft rock of Bread, Supertramp and Fleetwood Mac.

She works her way through it, inserting fragments from her back catalogue – with ‘Save Me’ and ‘Driving Sideways’ from ‘Magnolia’ the standouts – before an extended encore that takes requests including ‘(At The Other End of) the Telescope’ and ‘Fourth of July,’ two of the best examples of her craft.

The band is largely unobtrusive and Mann plays guitars, bass and keyboards at various points. However, it is the attention to detail in the lyrics and the warmth of Mann�s voice, which is made for the rich harmonies provided, that elevate the show way beyond the dull middle of the road rock it could become in less capable hands.

Mann�s stock in trade is not singer-songwriter angst, but the kind of narrative songwriting and character building that places her closer to Dylan and Springsteen than any of her more obvious contemporaries. That good.

T in the Park

T in the Park

In principle, I hate rock festivals. However, I have attended T in the Park every year since it began in 1994. This is partly because of being able to go home to my own bed, but also because the festival has had enough to recommend it. The site is excellent (especially compared to its origins in Hamilton) and over the years there have been some real coups – Nick and Kylie, Keanu Reeves, Massive Attack, The Roots, Sonic Youth, Bjork and the Beastie Boys spring to mind.

The problem is the ‘rock’ part of rock festival, and T in the Park, this year more than ever has lots of ‘rock.’ Proper stadium filling rock from America (Foo Fighters, Green Day), the post-Live 8 generation of one-size fits all and offends no-one rock (The Killers, Keane, Travis, Razorlight) and lots of frankly hopeless rock clogging up the tents. Stand up The Paddingtons, Art Brut and the rest of you – you know who you are.

So why has T in the Park become the least adventurous of the U.K. festivals having started out as the most innovative? Two reasons spring to mind. The first is simply to do with the trends in the live music market over the last ten years. In essence the equation is bigger bands + bigger audiences + bigger ticket prices = bigger payments for artists and bigger profits for promoters. As a result, concert promotion is now a much less hazardous proposition (at this level) than it was when Stuart Clumpas launched the festival (and made a loss) in Year 1. Conservatism pays.

The second reason is more specific and to do with demographics. Tennents sell a lot of lager in Scotland. T in the Park is a genius marketing idea, where they are able to monopolise lager sales in a town on 70 000 people for two days, with no middleman costs at all. Lager sells mainly to males of a certain age, and it would be folly to change this demographic by encouraging a different type of audience.

The outcome is depressing: a huge majority of male fronted, white guitar bands, with the only variation being in the degree of senisitivity, on the stages, groups of incoherently pissed blokes wearing home-made matching t-shirts on drinking/ stage weekends.

Some of these, of course, are to be expected – but in spite of all the carefully choreographed media releases from the sponsors willingly devoured by almost all the media, it is perhaps time both the sponsors and the organisers reflected on the missed opportunities. Next year there is no Glastonbury, and T in the Park has claimed that it wants to fill the role. To avoid a crushing anti-climax for those coming from south of the border for the first time, a more inclusive, multi-cultural approach is imperative.

It is hardly co-incidental that this yar’s most remarkable peformances came from the furthest travelled (Rilo Kiley and The Dears were both outstanding, Snoop Dogg priceless), the most refreshingly upbeat (The Go! Team), the unheralded geniuses (Super Furry Animals, James Murphy of LCD Soundsytem) and those who harked back to an era when guitar music still held open worlds of possibility. In this context, even the (relatively) geriatric northern trio of New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and Ian Brown sounded light years ahead of their ancestors filling much of the rest of the bill.

By my calculations, the organisers have �1.75 million sitting in the bank in advance sales for next year’s event, and a nice amount of interest accumulating on a daily basis. Along with the other – and for how much longer will the rip-off culture of festivals be tolerated – proceeds from this year this can be viewed as a blank cheque to take risks. Think – announce a Merzbow tent and 25 000 would still have to attend! Of course this is not the point (and crowd-pleasers are an important part of any festival bill), but my fear is that the advance sales serve to impose more restrictions on the organisers. Taken as a ringing endorsement it merely encourages the safety first approach – having parted with your �65 now, don’t complain while you are sitting next year listening to David Gray and Texas rounding off another triumphant year.

Some other views:

The Independent
The Guardian
The Times

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