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The most realistic story ever told.

Category: gig (page 1 of 3)

Like Jurassic Park, but with instruments

Simon said “Do you fancy coming to the Deafheaven gig on March 13th?”.

Rather than bothering to look up Deafheaven videos or even the Wikipedia page to find out what sort of band they are, I’ve signed up enthusiastically on the spot.

It transpires that Black Metal isn’t really my thing.  How to describe this to someone who wasn’t there…

The 3 chaps with guitars appeared to be playing each other 2-bar snippets of their favourite songs, really fast, and all at once.

The fellow at the front seemed to be practicing his dinosaur impression.

The bloke at the back was making it his business to ensure that nobody got a wink of sleep by playing his drums as loud as was humanly possible.

As I stood there my eyes drifted over to the row of posters above the bar for various acts which had performed at Bristol’s rock institution The Fleece over the years.  And I couldn’t help thinking, “I wish it were 21 years ago”.

posters

“I’d much rather be watching Muse than standing here listening to this shit”.

Still, worth a go I suppose.  And, it’ll learn me to do my homework in future.

The final instalment of Owl Stretching Time

Monty Python.

I got to see Monty frigging Python perform, live (almost)*.  Twice.

pythonticket

Where to begin on a story like this?!

This really is the thing that started it all for me.

This really is the thing that started it all for me.

At the tender young age of about 10 whilst killing time in the Victorian town of Elmore my brother and I availed ourselves of about the only method we had at our disposal to pass the time – hiring videos from the video library at the shop up the road. We had several days to kill, and we watched a LOT of movies. And then, I spotted a title which I’d vaguely remembered hearing my cousin Aaron describe as being “the funniest thing ever”: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I remember being vaguely amused at the shennanigans whilst missing the point entirely, as kids often are/do. But I clearly remember seeing God declare the Quest which Arthur and his knights were to carry out, followed by an angelic trumpet fanfare – and I stopped the tape and implored my brother, “Did you see that?! Did they really just stick those trumpets up their bums?!”. Several attempts at rewinds later (the VHS machine wasn’t up to much) I confirmed that this was indeed the case, and began to hoot with delight as I realised that Monty Python were a different animal to comedy I’d seen before (in my vast 10 year old experience).

We all knew John Cleese from Fawlty Towers, but the rest of them weren’t very familiar – and then a couple of years later I saw Time Bandits, and behold some of the same faces popped up.

Ryan & I: two impressionable brains, crammed with bloody Python scripts.

Ryan & I: two impressionable brains, crammed with bloody Python scripts.

Year 7 at school came about and for music lesson where we were allowed to play a song we’d brought from home, while the rest of us were trotting out selections from Smash Hits magazine or our parents’ John Farnham records, Stefan turned up with “I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song On The Radio” from Python’s “The Final Ripoff” album. This was a turning point, and shortly borrowing Python albums from the South Australian State Library to try to soak up every bit of it I possibly could became a mainstay. Throguh highschool we’d memorise and quote swathes of the stuff at each other – Ryan and I having a particularly gruelling contest in Year 9 where the object was to see who could recite the largest chunk of The Final Ripoff album (double cassette) in sequence without missing any… I got halfway through Side 1 of Tape 2.

Monty Python references and silliness entered every facet of my growing up life – no event featuring dressing up as knights was complete without a group of solemnly moving monks belting themselves over the head with planks.

At my mate Alex’s birthday he’d hired the video of And Now For Something Completely Different, and his Mum rolled her eyes at the jubilant hooting and screeching at a bunch of 13 year olds on a bigger buzzhigh than had they been stuffing themselves with sugar.

When I went to the USA in 1996 to work at Summer Camp I was in WalMart buying some cassettes to entertain my on the long trainride across from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and discovered that the copy of Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album which I’d purchased contained the actual sketch which on Australian copies had been “omitted on legal advice”. NEW PYTHON! It wasn’t very good, but it was TREASURE!

Likewise, at the age of 18 or 19 the discovery of the fact that Monty Python had recorded a video of sketches performed phonetically in German for German TV (as the Pythons didn’t speak conversational German) it felt like admission to a secret club of sorts. The material from Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus was never going to be casually bounced about at a pub or campfire, but having seen it made us feel like scholars.

Long discussions were held about whether the version of a sketch from the TV series recording was better than the ANFSCD film, or the audio tapes, or even the Live At The Hollywood Bowl concert. And this was all well before the arrival of YouTube.

Upon moving to the UK I remained quietly optimistic that there might be a chance to stumble across a cast member or two – then success, as I went to a film screening featuring talk by Michael Palin. A couple of years later there was a world record attempt at getting the world’s largest coconut orchestra together – attended by Jones and Gilliam.

The back of a Pythonic bonce.

The back of a Pythonic bonce.

And lots of coconuts.

And lots of coconuts.

A while later there was an event at the Southbank Centre with Palin and Jones in conversation… and still John Cleese remained the elusive one… until he took the Alimony Tour around the country and we got to see him from the third row in Oxford! Eric Idle remained my last unbagged Python, although the best spot “in the wild” was seeing Terry Jones having a pint in Highgate one afternoon while I was waiting to meet my mate Dave.

And then the reunion show was announced – and, unintentionally, I got to go along twice.  When ticket sales were announced my mate Billy and I declared that it was our solemn mission to go to this show – then watched in horror as the first show sold out in 45 seconds.  And then the 5 further shows sold out within the hour.  And then by a mixture of dedication and fluke Billy managed to bag some tickets to the final night!  So imagine how delighted I was when m’chum Dan informed me that my birthday surprise was a ticket to the first night of the Monty Python shows.

From a life of Python, to actually having the chance to see them perform so many years later.

This is the thing about the Python reunion shows: the idea was for a bunch of 70+ year old giants of comedy to come together and perform material that they’d splurged out into the world 50 years previously. To re-live some of the moments and give the fans a chance to see their heroes, live, delivering the lines that come to our lips quicker than the national anthem, the lyrics of a Beatles song, or the Lord’s Prayer. And, unashamedly and transparently, to make a big pile of cash**.

The show was utterly, utterly wonderful.

lumberjack

Michael Palin’s career options.

I realised about 20 minutes into the first half as Terry Jones appeared to be reading some lines from a card that it must be a bit surreal for the Pythons, because though many of the fans had been living, breathing, and quoting this material for years that they themselves possibly hadn’t performed some of it since it was recorded for broadcast.

As predicted, the show was chiefly built of sketches involving people sitting around talking – with lengthy interspersed segments of video footage of some of the more nimble stuff of yesteryear (can’t imagine the lads getting through a performance of the Fish Slapping Dance, or the Batley Townswomen’s Guild Recreation of the Battle Of Pearl Harbour), and also a troupe of young, flexible & precise singers and dancers whose every arrival on stage made me think in a Kenny Everett voice “And now… HOT GOSSIP!”***.

hotgossip

And now… Hot Gossip!

gumbyflower

ARRANGE THEM IN A VASE, NICELY!

The selection of material for the evening was as gloriously hit and miss as the content of an average episode of the TV series: we were all delighted that classics like Four Yorkshiremen, The Lumberjack Song, Argument, and the Dead Parrot sketch were on the list. There was the mildly baffling inclusion of a fairly unenthralling Blackmail game show segment (including irrelevant “star” cameos by Stephen Fry and Mike Myers the nights I was there – as if MONTY FRIGGING PYTHON needed any star power to lift their game!), and an amusing but torturously long viking chorus to conclude the Spam sketch, the concluding non-event of a song of Christmas In Heaven (never their strongest piece, I felt), and the oddly popular but again I felt poorly executed Spanish Inquisition (although it was a treat seeing Terry Gilliam enter through the doors each time with a run and a great leap). The thing that really impressed me was the choices of some of the “lesser known” pieces, such as The Penultimate Supper****, or Gumby Flower Arranging (gleefully carried out by Terry Gilliam in Gumby getup).

Individually the performances were engaging & delivered with impetus – Eric Idle probably did the heavy lifting for the evening with lots of musical input. Jones delivered his bumbling bluster albeit with less of the Welsh excitement and passion than he used to. Palin still plays nice guy as well as dispelling naivete from time to time. Gilliam is clearly the most energetic of the bunch and took great delight in capturing the few on-stage moments he could grab (never a main fixture of any of the sketches) with his trademark grotesque. And of course John Cleese… well. We’d often describe certain line delivery as “typically Cleesian”, which sort of summed up a combination of bewildered/incredulous and annoyed. As Cleese has aged (and gone through a few wringers, both psychological and matrimonial) his voice has taken on a more venomous, scratchy quality – and this added a certain dismissive testyness to some of his lines, which I enjoyed immensely. During the Whizzo Chocolate Assortment sketch, when Jones says “But what about our sales?”, Cleese (as Superintendant Praline) looks away as if there’s anything more interesting going on at the minute and declares “Fuck your sales.”. A brilliant Cleesian gem of a moment.

There wasn’t a great deal of full-ensemble work, but there were nice moments where performers worked together. By far the best chemistry was between Palin and Cleese in their Lion Taming, Argument, and Dead Parrot/Cheese Shop moments – the last particularly being a point of much ad-libbing as you know this IS a routine they’ve trotted out time after time: in a way a neat bookend to the opening Yorkshireman (Idle) remarking “Who’d have thought fifty years ago that we’d still be sitting here doing Monty Python?”.

We were evicted from our hole in the ground.

We were evicted from our hole in the ground.

The shows weren’t a complete re-hash of old material: many, if not most, of the songs had gotten a bit of a polishing (I don’t know for sure if this was Idle working alone), but I Like Chinese had some different verses, Every Sperm Is Sacred featured some new stuff (and made great use of the full-stage Hot Gossip group), and excitingly Isn’t It Awfully Nice To Have A Penis segued from Noel Cowardesque monologue into a 3-part chorus with the inclusion of 2 new verses about vaginas and bums. Progress indeed! Again, the only songs that really didn’t work brilliantly were the overly long Spam sequence (with a Python-bereft stage full of vikings singing pointlessly about how much they liked spam – the players in the sketch having now left stage) and the Christmas In Heaven closer.

The opening of the second half was a masterstroke, with a woodland creatures/faeries stage piece expectation being set which spun on a dime to become a full stage belter of Sit On My Face. And singing that at the top of one’s lungs along with 14,000 other people in a venue in London was definitely one of life’s rare treats.

sitonmyface

You should’ve seen the choreography…!

But for my money I think the highlight was the unexpected sight of Terry Gilliam in dinner jacket and y-fronts suspended from the ceiling singing “I’ve Got Two Legs”, before the amazingly visual treat of his stomach exploding and dangling guts. One of the world’s finest conceptual and creative directors, having a moment of delightful silly fun in front of a capacity crowd.

This man is one of the world's foremost arthouse film and opera directors.

This man is one of the world’s foremost arthouse film and opera directors.

I’m still not 100% sure how The Spanish Inquisition sketch segued into The Universe Song (perhaps one of the most Pythonesque bits of sketch linkage in the show, by virture of their having been a refrigerator on stage in one sketch which Eric Idle could enter to stage through for the song), but I definitely enjoyed the post-song video inclusion of Professor Brian Cox critiquing the numbers featured in the song, only to be mown down by the electric wheelchair of Professor Stephen Hawking. And on the final night an oddly positioned spotlight into one of the side-boxes revealed the presence of Professor Hawking at the gig! Let that thought settle in for a second – Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time, bought a ticket to the Monty Python gig.

In closing I’d refer to comments by people on how the whole thing was a sad, cynical, cash-grabbing unfunny waste of time: I think those people missed the point. This was never going to match the buzz of discovery as your 13 or 14 year old self discovers a new Python recording or film that you didn’t know about before. This was a group of – it’s not going too far to say it – Legends, coming together after many years of not working together to perform their comedy together for a final time. Monty Python isn’t about the last performance, it’s about the body of work they produced – and if that hasn’t been great, then why do so many thousands of people feel compelled to memorise and quote it at each other the world over? The sociopolitical landscape which informed the writing of their material has changed completely, as has the basis of the rest of the comedy industry: and yet these silly sketches still garner new devotees (as evidenced by the spectrum of ages at the O2 gigs).

In the documentary and in various interviews and statements various Pythons have said that this show would be the last time they would ever perform this stuff together – I guess now that they’re all over 70 (and each ridiculously busy on their own projects) it makes convergence far more challenging, and this was definitely a great celebratory high note to go out on*****.

Good work, lads.

groupbow

FOLLOWUP MATERIAL:

  • My album of photos on Flickr from the gig is here.  There’s a lot of shots of the video screens, but it was hard not to be drawn to them and we were sitting at the far end of the arena so getting closeups was a little challenging.
  • Wikipedia has its typically dynamic take on the sequence of the evening over at their entry entitled “Monty Python Live (Mostly)“.  Jeez, those guys know how to party.
  • There’s a very good documentary on YouTube about the leadup to this show with loads of interviews and behind the scenes material.  If you’ve got 45 mins to spare, I highly recommend it.
  • Thanks very, very much to Dan and to Billy for somehow managing to get these tickets.

* By which I mean almost all of Monty Python are alive – seeing Graham Chapman ceased being a viable option in 1989.

** According to a documentary I found later on YouTube the need for big piles of cash was in part brought about by a lawsuit involving royalties for the musical Spamalot between the Python team and a producer who worked on the original film of Holy Grail, and also Cleese’s divorce. The team had a meeting about what they should do financially and another producer friend of theirs kept saying, “One show at O2 and you could pay for all of that”.

*** later I’d learn that these dancers were indeed choreographed by Arlene Phillips, and so my Hot Gossip guess wasn’t too far wrong!

**** whilst never part of the Flying Circus TV series, this one has turned up in live shows from time to time and to me is one of the great showcases of excellence of timing (event though – as with many Python sketches – it lacks a cohesive ending). “The Last Supper was a significant event in the life of our Lord. The Penultimate Supper was not. Even if they had a conjuror and a Mariachi band!”. Brilliance.  On YouTube here.

***** And underlined somewhat conclusively by the showing of a titlecard at the end: Monty Python. 1969-2014.

The disappointment/poor research intersection

On Saturday night Liz & I went to Hammersmith Apollo to see an appearance by the currently touring film director, actor, comic book enthusiast and self-professed enthusiast of the sound of his own voice – Kevin Smith.  What was particularly appealing about this rare appearance was the accompaniment of long-time collaborator, friend and co-star, Jason Mewes.  The night was called “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old”, and the promo email highlighted phrases like “They now perform the cult storytelling podcast Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, which chronicles their early years and friendship as they grew up in Hollywood’s gaze”, or “Heading to the UK for the first time ever and reprising their much-loved roles as Jay and Silent Bob, this is what fans everywhere have been waiting for – An opportunity to see their heroes on stage doing what they love, telling stories”.

I guess we got off on the back foot because the ticket said 6:30pm on it, but when we arrived it turned out it was doors at 6:30, show at 8:30.  Not particularly out of character for Hammersmith Apollo – that’s how most band gigs work… however over the years I’ve learnt at my peril that comedy gigs at the Apollo generally start at the advertised time.  Not the end of the world, although it meant cancelling our plans for later in the night.

Probably the crucial thing about the entire scenario – which was my fault entirely – was that I’d missed the fact that what we were going to was a recording session of a podcast: a podcast by a bloke who unashamedly publishes 2 hour instalments of himself talking.  Optimistically I’d hoped that the evening might be a semi-structured storytelling journey, touching on some of the pair’s formative moments and behind-the-scenes material from some of my favourite films.  What actually happened was 2 friends sat at a desk and talked about their impressions of England, a few anecdotes from previous visits (mainly Jason Mewes detailing the time he had sex with a girl he knew), and various other trivial bits of chat.

Reading the above makes the whole thing sound like I sat there with a “just licked a cat’s arse” sour look on my face, which genuinely wasn’t the case – Mewes & Smith are great conversationalists and bounced off each other really well; Mewes’ characterisation of Jay in the films was essentially him playing his normal everyday self, and I could listen to them all day.  But in terms of “telling stories”, it was more “rambling on with anecdotes that occurred to them as they went” and added up to a fairly self-indulgent night of banter.  When Smith talked about smoking a blunt on his incredibly expensive hotel lobby overlooking Hyde Park and thinking “We should do a 6-part UK-style series where Jay & Silent Bob go to England and interact with figures from history”, there were 2 thoughts that were going through my brain:

1) That idea sounds like the kind of has-been tripe that we’d expect of (and criticise for) George Lucas, exploiting popular creative vehicles with non-ideas because they know they’ve got a paying audience who’ll lap up anything due to being so desperate for a further fix of the good stuff.

2) The reason he can probably justify staying in such an expensive hotel is because me and the other 2999 people in the room had paid £35 each to watch this.

Had the night been conducted in a more structured manner, say with pre-show Twitter Q&A or something, then it would’ve at least given Smith & Mewes a bit of direction and prompted a couple of stories which at least someone in the audience wanted to hear or know the answer to.

I noticed Bruce Dessau in the Evening Standard had reviewed the evening on their website, and predictably they attracted the following sort of useless reader comment:

In terms of putting on a show perfectly aimed at and centred towards their ‘actual fans’ the show was a huge success and everyone had a great time. If their humour and show content wasn’t to your liking then the answer is simple – don’t go to see them again.  The review above is pointless as those who are willing to pay good money to see the duo already know (inside out) the type of show and content they’ll witness.

And I think therein lies the problem – I’d describe myself as an “actual fan” of Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith: I’ve seen pretty much every film they’ve been in together since 1994, bought most of the DVDs, and generally discussed their output with impassioned enthusiasm on a fairly frequent basis.  I’ve already said that I don’t listen to their podcast out of choice because as amusing as they are, it’s fairly pointless and self-indulgent, and doesn’t give any sort of useful return on the time invested other than some deliciously inane giggling.  Ultimately it was my triumph of optimism over empirical analysis that made me think anything other than that this might be a podcast recording, and whilst it had plenty of nuggets of Smith/Mewes trademark thirtysomething-going-on-16 humour in it, it really wasn’t a £35 show.

Eedinborrow?

We’re back up in Edinburgh this year for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – this time Marty’s over from Australia, and he’s joined Liz, Billy, Myk, Kat & I in a nice centrally-placed apartment for a week of theatrical excess and mayhem.  So far we’ve seen (I suspect I’ll edit this list a few times in the next couple of days to add detail as I get time & inclination):

If there’s a link there, it’s to a review of that show I wrote for Whatsonstage.com

More detail to follow.

Not the cheapest place in the world to buy beer.

Just quickly, New York proved its awesomeness the other night by turning up an opportunity to go see improvisational maestro Bobby McFerrin play a gig at the Highline Ballroom as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival with a band he described as one of his personal favourites, The Yellowjackets.

Bit of an unusual gig – The Yellowjackets didn’t really do it for me so much, seeming a little bit too uptight and not “just going with the music”.  I can’t quantify that particularly well, but it’s a statement of taste, so I don’t really need to.  They’re probably very good, just not my cup of tea.  Bobby did a lot more “traditional singing” than I’ve ever seen him do before, and it was well over halfway in before he got into any vocal improv, at which point it felt like the room warmed up a bit.  It could also be that by then most of the people seated had finished eating their dinner.

Maybe it was the already restrained nature of the setup – there was a late gig by the same talent scheduled to start at 10pm – which took away the “anything can happen” feel that accompanies Bobby’s shows normally.  There was eventually some neat riffing about a funky Hammond groove and pleas to get a mirror ball working, and the finale of a really nice arrangement of Moondance left me with enough to walk out of the venue with a grin on.  A good gig, not a great one.  Like I said – it was probably just that I didn’t like The Yellowjackets so much.

Note: it appears that someone’s already uploaded a video from the gig featuring one of Bobby’s impro bits.  Nice.  Real nice.

Comedy Rush: Covering a lot of comedic ground in a very short space of time

60 comedians in 60 minutes sounds like a potentially ridiculous format for a gig, and if you thought that you’d be absolutely right.  However somebody cooked the concept up, and there’s clearly plenty of talent keen to get involved because when I went to Comedy Rush at the Shaftesbury Theatre it was the second night in the series.  Apparently revisiting an Edinburgh Fringe concept from 2001, the gargantuan lineup for each night was only hinted at with a few key names – it makes sense really, given the vagaries of the comedy booking landscape.  And as they only had 60 seconds each to deliver their piece, stature and circuit seniority didn’t necessarily guarantee excellence – but the overall effect was an lightning-paced ripper of a night.

MC Rob Rouse delayed proceedings to begin with by getting caught up in traffic on the way in, prompting the theatre manager – a velvet-jacketed old West End luvvie type – to come out and apologise to the punters for the wait (something he probably never had to do while Flashdance was in residence there).  Most people didn’t seem to mind too much however, and it have me a little extra time to take in the appointments of the building which I’d first seen on grainy VHS as the venue for the Comic Relief video from 1986 (with the biggest assembly of UK comedic talent I’d ever seen, back at the tender age of 12 or 13).

Rouse did a serviceable job of warming the crowd up with some material about parenthood and babies: he seemed a fairly safe observational type, although had a way with words that showed echoes of a much lesser Daniel Kitson.  At least he was inoffensive, and in a compere that’s a positive boon (as I’d learned from past awful nights held together by Dave Johns or Hardeep Singh-Kohli).  And it wasn’t long before we were away.

(before we get too far into it, there was no programme and each act was only announced once, so there’s a great chance that the names of half of these will be misspelled or just plain wrong)

It wasn’t looking great, as 4 Poofs And A Piano kicked off with a hybrid version of Bohemian Rhapsody and a peaen to bum sex, followed by Ellis Jameson getting off on a slow start to an obervational piece about living in Wales.  The manic Phil Nichol tipped the mood with a sustained 1 minute of cheering for Ellis Jameson, the Shaftesbury Theatre, Comedy Rush, some guy in the front row, and for the next act on – Nathan Caton.  The towering Caton took stage and delivered a piece about kids and prostitutes, and then passed over to Pat Monahan, who discussed how there’s a lot more hugging up North.

About this point in the gig it struck me that nearly every one of the 6 acts on had commenced with variations on “Hello, Shaftesbury Theatre, how are you?”, and it occurred to me that if we were going to be asked 60 times how we were it would a) grow tired very rapidly and b) probably not change remarkably in response (getting irritated notwithstanding).

Greg Goldstein asked us how we were, made some banter and then launched into his uncanny Louis Armstrong impression.  Pete Dobbing dispensed with jokes and instead mounted a straight-ladder one step at a time with Sexual Healing blaring out in the background.  Zoe Lyons made an excellent point about ugg boots, before Julio Simpson came out & said something about being in Afghanistan.

(you wonder if some of these notes were worth writing, really – but, after all, the acts were good enough to perform for a minute…)

Michael Legge dwelt on the incredulity of playing the Shaftesbury Theatre (a recurring theme for the evening) before getting off on to a nice angry rant about Joseph & His Technicolour Dreamcoat.  The Trap took stage and delivered a faultless 1 minute song called “I Never Knew” (and marked themselves out as a group I should check out soon), and were followed by Tom Price (who asked us how we were) and his set-let about beach weddings & Gollum.  Dougie Dunlop delivered a laid-back piece about age, but was quickly forgotten as a chap whose name I didn’t catch delivered a song about schizophrenia whilst accompanied by a miniature singing “Henry” vacuum cleaner.

There was definitely no shortage of random at this gig.

The ever-lovely Tiffany Stevenson acquitted herself tidily with her bit about body image, before another of my favourite events of the night – the entropic Paul Foot announced that he wasn’t Paul Foot, but a police inspector investigating a murder in the theatre, and that he intended to question each and every audience-member until the mystery was solved.  Seb Fletcher tried to channel Lee Evans with a mime of playing drums to a track, however it was as interesting as watching people lipsync songs on YouTube.  Stuart Goldsmith held up the “established circuit comics” end of the table with a piece about his 3 favourite practical jokes, and couldn’t be followed by Ginger & Black – the “almost” musical storytellers, whose electronic piano problems exposed the mercilessness of the 1-minute format.  Although once they got going I didn’t find them very amusing, so 1 minute was perfect.

Next, my notes say “Joel Gobits” and “Bathroom questions”.  I’ve no recollection of this whatsoever, but he did ask us how we were.  Adam Bloom fared better with some stuff on swearing followed by his 4 topical jokes.  Gareth Jones charged on stage wrapped head-to-toe in clingfilm and executed a fairly bewildering escape act.  Adrian Poynton managed a neat idea about God playing Guess Who using tombstones.  MC Rah came on draped in a Jamaican flag and shouted some unintelligible crap: Was it satire? Was it a character piece? No idea.  Was it tedious?  Oh yes.  Amazing how he managed to bore everyone in under a minute.

Rachel Parris meekly pushed out a piano-backed song about vomiting during your first kiss, and then Ronnie Barker lookalike John Moloney opened with a line about having been mistaken for a lesbian, and then was unable to get any further material out for the remaining 45 seconds because we were all laughing and clapping so much.  Lofty deep-voiced Tom Crane talked of his previous experience in choirs, before singing Jingle Bells at us in Spanish.

While I pondered whether the night would degenerate into people demonstrating their party tricks, David O’Bam(?) mimed a hybrid of ballet and boogie dancing, and Guy Pussey (??!) played saxophone to us as we eagerly leant forward for the eventually non-arriving punchline – not a comic, just a sax player.  Well-played, organisers.  Carey Marx prompted me to write “Very Tasteful Indeed”, followed by the mostly harmless Ricky Grover claiming that he hadn’t been booked – he just saw a queue snaking out of the stage door.  Seymour Mace attempted to hilariously stuff as many marshmallows in his mouth as possible but the audience saw through this and reacted with indifference.

At this point where I realise I’ve hit the 1100 word mark, the idea of writing this “quick” post seems to have proven ill-advised, but we’ve come this far, and only just reached the intermission.  And, much to the bewilderment/chagrin of the drinks-hungry punters, the interval too was 1 minute long.

The Evel Knievel Stunt Spectacular took stage as people filtered back in – riding back & forth across the stage on a tiny motorcycle whilst the stunt coordinator set up the requisite ramp, toy buses, and fireworks.  Excellent stuff.  Variety lives.  Peoh Hudson (??) adopted an Emo Phillips-like cadence to tell us about his time living in Dubai, then the wonderful Isy Suttie gave us the “Brit Awards down a well” treatment, which I didn’t feel worked as well in isolation.  Les Ball brought the gig into the realm of slapstick mime – thankfully only for a minute – and was followed by Ian Smith waxing fantastic about cats doing jury service.

Gruesome magicians Barry & Stuart subverted the artform using cheesewire and a polo mint and about 5 litres of blood, leaving Rob Deering and his loop box to pave the way for beardy outsider Stephen Carlin to deliver some of his Christmas material.  Alan Francis toyed with the non-sequitur of an eloquent tramp.  Josh Widdecombe, who asked us how we were, must have done something along the theme of “Loved & Lost” but I’ve no idea what it was, but what was memorable was The Amazing Mrawa (??) – hula hoop artiste extraordinaire.  Actually her tricks didn’t really go very far, but an energetic lady not wearing much made remarkable contrast to the parade of low-energy males, so she was well-received.

Jacob Edwards underlined how nervous he was about the gig, but left us with the new acronym “FMILF”.  McNeil & Pamphlion sang a clever meta-song about comedic song structure: I was a bit preoccupied trying to figure out where I’d seen one of them before.  Holly Bird (?) seemed to serve no purpose other than to give the “women aren’t funny” brigade a piece of ammunition, as she moved through the audience squawking about I don’t care what and forcefeeding some of us bananas and crisps.

The Scott Brothers gave a Hollywood Gossip report based on the brief flight of fancy that everyone there had second jobs in DIY/trade.  MC Rob Rouse took the stage to do a minute of his own material on the idea of him looking like a Geography teacher, but not before he’d asked us how we were.  The vinyl-clad & bulbous Miss Behave injected some uncertainty into the room before threading her tongue-piercing with a long-stemmed rose and making it twirl about.  James Redmond didn’t make enough of a lasting impression on me to recall what the note “paedo texts” might mean, but Scott Capurro lived up to the reputation I’d heard with his material on gay stereotypes in Abu Dhabi.

Geriatric Lady Agatha trundled to centre stage with her walking frame and loudly announced “I’VE GOT NO COLON!” before using her remaining 30 seconds to walk the rest of the way across the stage.  Will Andrews’ set revolved around facial distortion.  A group called The Neuroscientists (3 kids and maybe their dad?) demonstrated an optical illusion using rotating shapes – not comedy per se, but by this time the gig really had a feel of “let’s get in anyone who has a 1 minute act”.  Matt Kirshen talked about reindeer.  What about them?  I’ve no recollection at all.

The high point of the evening for me, it confuses me to say, was Frank Sanazi – to date the best, and only, Adolf Hitler-themed Frank Sinatra impersonator I’ve ever seen.  After enquiring of the audience by show of hands who had seen him before and who hadn’t he transitioned seamlessly into Sieg Heil With Me, and left me wondering whether I’ll ever tire of cheesy one-joke cover acts.  Seemingly not.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGSU04lacIM

Katy Brand performed a mediocre character piece about an overbearing female army recruiter, then in the biggest surprise (to me, at least) of the night, the normally bulletproof Andrew Maxwell delivered a one-joke idea about going to a Cockney Mosque, then spending the rest of his time revelling in the fact he was playing the Shaftesbury Theatre.  Colin Hoult was impressive with a character piece based on an FAQ about a bloke called Mike who referred to himself in the third person, and Charlie Baker continued the vaudevillian party tricks by doing a couple of jokes and launching into a tap dancing routine.

If it’s possible to have a headline act in a format that only allows the performers 1 minute, the broadcasting of catchphrase “To me! To you! To me! To you!” signalled the arrival of the Chuckle Brothers, which seemed to please the audience greatly – I don’t recall their material being amazing, but it didn’t really seem to matter in this instance as they glided on pure nostalgia value (and possibly got just over a minute allocated as a concession).

The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra finished the gig – Martin White conducting somehow whilst playing the accordion, and then played us out of the auditorium as the marathon-weary crowd shuffled towards the exits.

A truly bizarre evening, and though not one that I’d recommend on a regular basis, as a once (or, in this case, twice)-off it was excellent, and I would say that I enjoyed it more (certainly more consistently) than the Channel 4 Comedy Gala last year.  If there had been tickets available for the first night in the series, it would have been very intriguing to see how the more mainstream headline acts there handled the format (Rufus Hound, Robin Ince, Brendon Burns, Lucy Porter, Simon Munnery).

Hummanana hummanana hummanana hummanana. POODLE! POODLE!

Weird Al Yankovic is a comedy legend.  He released his first parody song in 1976, and has been steadily at it ever since.  Far from being mainstream, people claim not to know who he is and yet all seem to know a handful of his breakthrough songs.  And whilst touring nearly consistently as well, he seldom leaves the USA.  I was lucky enough to see him during his first trip to Australia in 2003, and on Monday night I had the privilege of watching his first ever concert in London, at HMV Forum at Kentish Town.

After a confusing series of emails and enquiries about what had happened to my presale tickets, and then reading some frankly alarming tweets about the size of the queue, I managed to sideslip the queue and get myself a downstairs position fairly close to the front.  Certainly not as close as our 3rd row seats at the Thebarton Theatre gig of ’03, but still not bad.  The gig kicked off with a bit of a stagger: the opening music stopping abruptly then restarting, Al & band taking the stage, and shouting “DRUM SOLO!”.  Chaotic, absurd, and not at all out of place.  Kicking off with Frank’s 2000 Inch TV seemed a strange place to start, but the crowd of Al fans clearly knew it (having had since Alapalooza’s release in 1993 to learn it).  The segue into the ballad You Don’t Love Me Anymore was equally sporadic, featuring another drum solo, and Al’s voice giving the impression that he might have a cold.  Still, the song was as beautiful and poignant as ever, and concluded with a proper rockstar guitar smash.

Something I can’t believe I’d completely forgotten from the last gig was that every song or 2 is hot-fingered with video clips on the big screen, re-living/celebrating some of Al’s appearances in popular media (The Simpsons, The Flintstones, feature films, and nearly every chat show you can care to name), along with his Al TV parodies of MTV interviews: always silly, but rarely subtle, I find in that format he has a tendency to oversell a joke a little.  Still, I thought it was a nice touch to see Al “interviewing” Robert Plant on screen at Kentish Town, where I’d seen Robert Plant and the Band Of Joy just a short while ago.

It would be interesting to see how Al and the band build a set list – doing his breakthrough hits seem like a bit of a no-brainer, for instance Smells Like Nirvana,  the sublime grunge parody which featured next (incl. violent gargling sequence).  Other slightly odder inclusions were “Skipper Dan” (a more recent song about a qualified actor working on a theme park ride), and later on, Whatever You Like.

Again, it seems a bit odd to have sections of an artist’s songs played at you on video screen over a black stage, but what any Al gig loses on this front it more than makes up for with the costume changes – I think I counted over a dozen in this show, and when Al took stage again he gave us his James Blunt parody, You’re Pitiful, then followed with extremely silly Devo worshipping piece Dare To Be Stupid.

I didn’t really know the song about Charles Nelson Reilly, because it too (like Skipper Dan and Whatever You Like) was from the Internet Leaks EP which I’ve not yet bought (plus didn’t hit my radar as I’m not a massive White Stripes enthusiast), however his wholehearted and enthusiastic leap into Canadian Idiot got me caught back up in things quickly enough.  My jaw dropped in envy at Al’s next wardrobe choice – a black & red zebra print suit, for Wanna B Ur Lovr, during which he left the stage and went amongst the audience (captured quite nicely by Tom Scott, the erstwhile piratical electoral candidate and geek of high renown) to sing his collection of incredibly cheesy pickup lines.

The gig zipped back and forth through the 80’s, 90’s and noughties, with the next one off the playlist being the Dire Straits parody from Al’s film, UHF (or for some reason as it was titled in Australia, The Vidiot From UHF), Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies.  I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched that film since its 1989 release, but the number is a) significant, and b) miniscule compared to the number of times Al must have played it.

Moving on apace we got Ode To A Superhero, Eat It, Jurassic Park, Another One Rides The Bus, Gump, Bedrock Anthem, a truncated Stuck In The Drive Thru, Craigslist, and then the crowd went ballistic for the Bad Hair Day’s cover track, Amish Paradise – a song which not only made a lot of my contemporaries pretend that they were into gangsta rap, but also had the faintest idea what Amish people were.  One chap slightly further back from me had obviously adopted the song as a personal anthem, as he’d come dressed in what you could only describe as an Amish costume.

If the massive video screen and costume changes weren’t enough by way of whizzy gizmo’s to look at, Al kicked it into gear with another rap parody, White & Nerdy, taking stage on a Segway.  Man, are those things hard to photograph.

As the near-compulsory pre-finale finale production number, Al reached back into the wellspring of Michael Jackson covers to perform his 1988 smash hit Fat, clad in implausible yet extremely craftily done fat suit, to a screamingly appreciative crowd.

Returning inevitably for the encore (be it inevitable from a concert staging, or a crowd appreciation point of view) the band were joined by a small garrison of stormtroopers and Darth Vader, to finish us off with the Don McLean tweaked masterpiece, The Saga Begins – the amazingly constructed retelling of the plot of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which Al pieced together from internet chatroom rumours and released before the film’s premiere screening, with prophetic accuracy.

And finally, bizarrely, The Kinks’ Lola parody from 1985, also in a Star Wars-y vein, Yoda.  Weirdly, I don’t recall Al singing this in 2003, however seems that it’s been a finale mainstay for quite some time, and has been augmented by an increasingly ornate sort of chant thing that Al & the band break into, not entirely unreminiscent of The Mighty Boosh’s “crimps”.

In summary, a strange gig indeed.  Given that the one in 2003 was partially to promote the release of Poodle Hat it makes sense that there were more songs off that album on the bill, but still, I think the gig would’ve easily stormed into LEGENDARYness if he’d pulled out Hardware Store, or Genius In France, or perhaps even Albuquerque?  Although I can see where you might leave an 11 minute song off your list if you’re not sure how the crowd’ll be.  One this that seemed odd by its absence though was any sort of polka medley.  Or the genius of Bob.  Argh.  So many amazing songs to pick from!!

One thing is for sure – Al remains a dedicated performer who gives it all and is grateful to his audience & fans, and that shows in the generosity of his performance.  And if I ever get a chance to meet him, I’m gonna say, “Thanks Al”.

If you were at all interested in seeing the rest of the photos I took at the gig, you would need to look at my Flickr set.

You can sleep when… well… you can sleep later, anyway.

One of the most vibrant and fun fixtures on the UK calendar is the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe experience, and this year I was once again lucky enough to have the opportunity to go up there land in my lap.  Certainly a massive aspect of its appeal is the similarity the atmosphere bears to the Adelaide Fringe, only it’s on what feels like a much larger scale.  A bunch of us went up in 2007 and had a thoroughly and comprehensively excellent time, and we hoped this to be in some way on par.  And so it truly was.

Getting there was what you would call fairly straighforward (aha, see what I did there?  TRAINS ONLY GO STRAIGHT FORWARD!), however once again Jason’s Law of Transport Hassle was observed, in that of the lengthy entirety of the train, only the carriage we were in had no working power supply and therefore no lights or aircon, and we (Anna, Paul the Dodgy Aussie, and the long-suffering HC) arrived in Scotland’s imposing capital a sweaty and disheveled gaggle.  Although a bloke on the train must’ve thought my sweaty visage too pathetic to ignore, and gave me his spare can of cider: clearly I looked like a man in need of a drink.

An easy and nevertheless enjoyable trap at the Fringe is to get caught up with going to see the shows of all the circuit standup comics, for whom Edinburgh is like the end of school concert where they put in a stellar effort for the month and try to attract the coveted 4 and 5 star reviews which guarantee an audience.  Thanks however to a crafty bit of Guardian reading and the expert advice of Anna’s uncle we managed to build an itinerary rich in variety and difference.

** It’s worth mentioning at this point that though I took a few photos, there’s none in here of any of the acts, because the venues are often quite small, and even without using flash, the red lights on the cameras are usually enough to either interrupt the talent, or throw their concentration.  And that’s just rude.  So, there’s unrelated photo malarkey instead.**

The shows we saw, in no particular order, were:

Poland 3 Iran 2 – a slide presentation & double-barrelled show and tell session in a sidestreet pub by an Iranian filmmaker and a Polish-British artist, intimating the close yet seemingly unlikely bonds between their two countries, via reminiscence about war, football, swimming, subbuteo and sticker books.

We were pretty sure that, despite the signage, this was NOT Mound Place.

John Hegley’s Morning Wordship – having only heard of Hegley via fairly Establishment channels I was expecting this to be fairly stuffy BBC middle-class-sanctioned wit.  However Hegley’s shambolic nature and genuine mock earnestness put him somewhere between Daniel Kitson and Tim Key for me.  He clearly has a strong fondness for his family home in Luton, and a protective fondness for people who wear glasses (addressing them conspiratorially as “The Wearers”).  And involving the audience in a pseudo beat poem song about Guillemots complete with wingflap hand movements, whilst simultaneously inviting audients to participate in a Guillemot-drawing contest is JUST the right kind of Sunday morning silliness for me. [John Hegley’s official site]

Barbershopera : Apocalypse, No! – The Barbershopera team once again hit the exact mark with another verbally dexterous, cheerfully silly tour-de-force in 4 part harmony: this time basing the work on an underconfident and under-numbered quartet of apocalyptic horsemen who somehow recruit a schoolteacher (War, Famine, Pestilence, and Beth) to help them bring about Armageddon.  Easily on par with their other shows & one which I’ll look out for in London. [Barbershopera site]

At this time of year, Edinburgh is absolutely covered in Fringe show posters. This year, we think Danny Bhoy and Pete Firman's posters were the most conspicuous.

Idiots of Ants: The Red Button – This was the first show we saw of the Fringe, and featured fresh faced sketch artistes Idiots of Ants working their way through a brace of humorous vignettes tied together with the plot device of a TV remote control.  Sketch comedy is a tricky genre of humour, and the jokes were well-presented if unmemorable.  In a world where “sketch comedy” is widely thought of as “make a scene out of 1 or 2 interesting/amusing things, then move on” it was an admirable job to drag each idea out to a decent length sketch. [Idiots of Ants]

The Invisible Atom – a one-man play, taking a journey through various economic and social machinations via the discovery of his own adoption.  A workmanlike performance with a few innovations which I enjoyed but it wouldn’t occur to me to recommend it.  The presentation varied nicely by means of a sort of “change of camera angle” effect the actor achieved through use of a sort of visual synecdoche.

From the reviews we read, Pete Jonas's show "Dark Side Of The Poon" was the worst at the Fringe, garnering a Zero Star review. Clearly a passing graffitist wasn't keen on it either.

The Late Late Show with Mikelangelo and Paul Zenon – a last-minute show decision at 11:45pm (“because we can“) found us in the crowd for a Fringe showcase with that air of “haven’t made it yet” aspiration and the sort of shabbiness that a “Late, Late” show tends to attract.  Baritone Aussie-Balkan crooner Mikelangelo hosted proceedings egocentrically with an almost “Elvira” vibe (think velvet curtains, candelabra, and skull-shaped mirror ball) with offsider comedy-magician Paul Zenon.  We witnessed various points on the entertainment spectrum, from 77 year old rapper & stripper Lynn Ruth Miller, to country-horror band Graveyard Train, acrobatics from Circus Trick Tease, very dexterous impressions from Anil Desai “The Impressions Guy”, and the highly excellent a-capella stylings of The Magnets, all accompanied with Zenon’s bullshit magic tricks.  I’m sure I’ll never forget the “balance a pint of cider in a snooker triangle, attach it to a dog lead, then swing it around my head, stop, then chug the pint”, even if only for the line: “Don’t panic people, we’ve done this trick 7 times now, and there’s only been 2 very minor injuries… the other 5 were pretty fucking serious, mind you”.

David Leddy’s Sub Rosa – a highly hyped “promenade performance” – walking from room to room in an atmospherically lit Masonic Lodge, as chapters of a creepy Victorian murder story were played out.  Subtly incorporating details from the building added to the unsettling story, and following the final gruesome chapter we suddenly found ourselves dumped out into a cobbled Edinburgh backstreet.  Definitely a lesson that good storytelling and atmosphere will beat special effects and showiness with no trouble, and this was justifiably one of the hot tickets of the Fringe. [David Leddy’s Sub Rosa]

The Pleasance Dome featured huge murals with caricatures of comedians. This one features a few of my favourites (click for large)

Brendon Burns: Love & God & Metaphysics & Shit – Brendon Burns is one of my favourite must-see comics, and not so much a comedy performer as a force of personality.  Comedian, after the court jester style – telling stories to make us thing about our own lives.  And in this show, despite being a seemingly self-focussed rambling affair, it tackles exactly what it claims to, with outspoken atheism being as much in the firing line as religion, and Brendon having a revelation or 2 about what’s important in life. [Brendon Burns’s MySpace]

Beautiful Burnout – I had real trouble with this one.  A play following the fortunes and motivations of a group of young boxers, giving an insight into the inside world of boxing with both a compassionate and a critical eye.  The performance, necessarily & appropriately, was very physical, with many of the training sequences being highly charged aerobics-style routines.  If anything, I was a bit lost: having no real touchstone with the rituals and ethos of boxing.  Many reviews I’ve since read similarly remarked that there was something missing from the show, but cited the physicality as a redeeming feature.  It’s also possible that that’s the exact reason it was lost on me.

At one point we had an Adelaide Moment, running into neurosciencing quiz-losing singer & actor Jonny Webb, and the mysterious rockclimbing prodigy Emma Clutterham. And friends.

The Ballad of Backbone Joe – The bleak, baritone-heavy pseudo-Americana turn of the century genre must be getting a bit of a workout in Australia at the moment, although this trio telling a Mark Twain/Coen Brothers/Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style story following a half-arsed caper murder invesigation in 1950’s rural New South Wales was extremely entertaining and made use of enough theatrical devices to cover for the fact that it wasn’t especially good at any one thing but was disarmingly fun enough to go along on the ride for. [Suitcase Royale]

Lunchtime show at Princes Gardens: Steven K Amos, with Clarke Peters, Rich Fulcher, Simon Evans, Showstoppers – on Saturday morning we had a bit of a break to mop up, and found ourselves in front of a venue advertising a showcase with Stephen K Amos and Clarke Peters, and as we were keen for a bit of the Lester Freamon action, we jumped right in there.  I really likes Amos as a compere/interviewer, and would be keen to see him doing more in this capacity.  Clarke Peters was there by virtue of his jukebox musical, Five Guys Named Moe – and with a showbiz history stretching back years he proved an engaging, fascinating and warm subject.  Rich Fulcher I find it harder to get along with.  He was promoting his show “Eleanor the Tour Whore”, and whilst I find most of what he gives as material a bit sad, I love hearing him talk about it, because it comes across as a very shambolic and piecemeal career:  I love that he feels like he’s getting away with something by doing it.  Showstoppers were a comedy musical improv troupe, who improvised a 2 song musical on a topic and style of our choice – I found it rudimentarily clever, but the problem with musical comedy for me is that the bar has to be so much higher for it to be worthwhile, and this felt clever, but not clever enough to be noteworthy.  The high point of the show for me was the standup of Simon Evans – I’ll definitely be looking for more of his social satire & smug sarcasm in future months.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rojJgcPBpSM

Five Guys Named Moe – Clarke Peters brought back his jukebox musical containing the music of Louis Jordan to Edinburgh, giving it a snappy re-tooling, and the piece about a man (Nomax) whose girlfriend has left him and the five titular Moes who come out of his radio to help him understand what’s happened and how to deal with it through the medium of singing and dancing at him.   My enthusiasm for this piece doesn’t seem rampant, however the problem here was mid-afternoon exhaustion, coupled with an overwhelmingly urgent bladder situation, meant that there was little or no chance of properly enjoying the latter end of the show.

Smoke & Mirrors – probably my least favourite show of the weekend.  This was an indulgent Edwardian circus-cabaret, featuring acrobatics, magic, singing, some surreal/absurd sideshow trappings, but ultimately nothing that really lit a fire under any of us.  Definitely style over substance.

Washing the knackerisation away with a whisky or 3.

Daniel Kitson: It’s Always Now Until It’s Later – by stark contrast, the best show of the weekend for me was Daniel Kitson’s latest theatrical masterpiece.  I know I’ve written at length before about the enthusiasm & respect I have for Kitson, but in this piece once again he proved what a master of storytelling, nuance, comedy and sentiment he is.  The stage was shrouded in darkness, illuminated dimly by a spray of hanging bare lightbulbs – each representing a moment in the life of either one of the two protagonists – Caroline Carpenter and William Rivington – and each shining bright as Kitson crossed the stage to talk about that moment, the time just before and just after that moment, and fascinatingly demonstrated that the intersection of two lives rich in detail can be as mundane and passing as it can be meaningful.  He’s a master of taking the ordinary and describing it in such a way that it becomes a thing of consideration and beauty, but also of the sort of sentence construction that Douglas Adams would be proud of (for example, near the beginning declaring that this story was about love, but it was “no more a love story than the Bible is a book about carpentry”).  As usual, at the conclusion of Kitson’s monologue I found myself clapping earnestly, hoping somehow that it might convey my enthusiasm to his ears and that he might come back out and continue weaving the spell.  But of course he didn’t – he’d shown us exactly as much as he meant to, and that was that. [Daniel Kitson]

Half a second earlier and this would be a picture of a sign on the sex shop door that said "Gone to Bank, back in 5". For some reason it was hilarious at the time. Though the store employee didn't think so.

And that was the story of Edinburgh this year!  Well, it doesn’t include my 3.5 hour delayed flight back on the Monday morning (thanks for NOTHING, BA!!), which made the getting up at 5am for the early flight all the more futile (JBS Transport Rule, exhibit B for this trip).  In addition, we ran into my favourite London Barista Mr Fabio Ferreira for a most excellent Cortado just when I needed it.  I also got to shake hands with Daniel Kitson, but didn’t hassle him for a photo – chiefly because I’d turned into a gibbering idiot.

On Sunday afternoon there was scope to catch up with Mr Billy Abbott for a burger & a couple of beers, which was a fine thing – our plans to do a remote-outpost mini whiskysquad session were scuppered by the fact there was just far too much else to do.

And – other than linking back to my Flickr set of Edinburgh images – that’s all I think I need to say for this year.  Roll on, 2011!!

Our hefty stack-o-tickets

Whooooooooa, we’re half way there… whooooaa-oooo, living on a prayer! We’ll turn 48 but still have amazing teeth and hair… whooooooa-oooa, etc.

Getting out to London’s former Millennium Dome – now ambiguously named “The O2”, like a selection of other venues around the continent – is always an exercise carried out with a sense of wistful resignation.  You know there’s nothing empirically good to do out there, and there’s the vague likelihood that it’ll be unecessarily difficult to get back again if everything doesn’t go EXACTLY to plan.  However it is one of London’s only 20,000+ seater venues, and they keep putting the big gigs on there.  So when one manages to score a pair of free tickets to see seminal mainstream rockers Bon Jovi, there’s little choice but to brave the Jubilee line and head down to the peninsula of North Greenwich.

During the inevitable pre-gig beer (because once inside the venue, you’re pretty much pinned down options-wise to paying £4.30 a pint for Beck’s Vier) Dave & I mused about the impact of Bon Jovi on our lives.  Personally the impact wasn’t huge, other than that 1987’s Slippery When Wet was the biggest album I remember from primary school, and the music of Bon Jovi -along with equally poodle-haired Scandinavian rockers Europe – shaped my early awareness of rock as a genre.  For Dave the main sentiment was that seing Bon Jovi 22 years ago was his first ever gig.  Though the hairstyles have shrunk over the years, it seemed that the band still sported amazing barnets.  Dave also pointed out that he’d read other accounts of the concert series (they were doing a 10-date run at the O2) and many reviewers had remarked on the amazingness not only of Jon boy’s hair, but also his teeth.  Pure Hollywood.  We briefly wondered what would happen if by some freak accident the Greenwich Meridian Laser hit JBJ in the gnashers – perhaps it would tear a hole in the fabric of space and time, or a the very least create a miniature black hole akin to that which people feared might spew forth from the Large Hadron Collider.

Anyway, upon taking our seats we realised that whilst the stage was in front of us, so too was the entirity of the O2 Arena.  We were – in fact – seated behind the band.

Awesome!

For my money (not that I paid any in this case) the only thing better than getting a ticket to see a band you passionately believed you loved as a 12 year old is to spend the whole gig staring at their backs and watching thousands of people in front of you going crazy.

Given that the band have been going for so long and recording more or less continuously it’s little surprise that there were a good deal of the songs I didn’t know.  Of course being that Slippery When Wet was their biggest hit to date it’s no surprise that I knew more of them than I thought I would.

Fairly early in the gig JBJ called out a guest artist to come perform with them.  He referred to Live 8, he referred to the enormous amount of charity work the man had done, and bizarrely if inevitably, he introduced the guest: Sir Bob Geldof.  Just exactly what Sir Bob had to do with Bon Jovi musically I still haven’t figured out, but it allowed us to gain exclusive photo footage of the back of a man who – after all these years – still isn’t fond of the earlier part of the week.

Despite being behind the stage (did I mention that we spent the night looking at the performers’ backs?), the creative use of mobile video screen blocks meant that we got a pretty good view of what was going on.  JBJ also occasionally faced the back & side crowds, addressing songs at us as well.  I wasn’t able to get any decent shots of this: presumably the glare from his amazing chompers was interfering with my camera’s ability to focus.

Probably the weirdest moment of the night was when the band launched into late 80’s hit Bad Medicine, then something happened and JBJ stopped the music, apologised to the crowd saying “that one was my fault”, then blended into some other song I didn’t know, then let out a familiar-sounding opening “WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAA-OH-OH-OOOOOOH-OHHHHH-OOOOH….”.  Dave & I looked at each other & said “Please tell me he’s not going to sing Shout?!”.  And then he broke into the familiar opening line, “You know you make me wanna SHOUT!”.  And so it became that we were looking at the back of the world’s most over-the-top cover band.

As expected they finished the encore with Wanted Dead Or Alive.  As they started playing, Dave looked at me dismayed, saying “Oh, they’re playing the wrong one”: we’d earlier had a discussion about how Wanted Dead Or Alive was essentially the same song as Blaze Of Glory, and the chances of them playing both were minimal.  But it turned out it was the right one, and Dave stood there beaming to himself.

And of course they finished with Livin’ On A Prayer, which we couldn’t see much of because they chose to join all the video screens together in a huge stage-wide block, and then fly it right in front of our faces.

So that was our trip to see Bon Jovi.  Dave’s closing remark was that the girls who were sitting next to us probably weren’t born the last time he’d seen this band.

The main thing I’ve been wondering since the gig is how much less I’d have been amused by the whole thing if I hadn’t scored free tickets.  Moot point I suppose, as I can’t think how there’d be a circumstance I’d have ever paid to see Bon Jovi.  Meh.

Anyway, if you’d like to see the back of the other band members, the Flickr set from the gig can be found here.

Now THAT’S how you do a charity gig!

They democratically organised the talent list alphabetically. Sort of.

I’ve previously waxed cynical about all-star comedy gigs for charities: a couple of the smaller ones have been fun, such as the MIND Comedy night at Leicester Square Theatre (although an element of the buzz there was because Daniel Kitson was on the bill), or the No Sweat! gig at the Cross Kings in Kings Cross (aside from the inept compering and the conspiracy theorist speaker, Andrew O’Neill, Stewart Lee and Josie Long really brought it home), and the mid-size ones were amusing enough (OrangAID was a fairly unspectacular bill with a useless compere in Dave Johns who was out-heckled by a Scandinavian audient, and the evening was prolonged by an ill-timed speech after Bill Bailey‘s set by the charity’s upper echelons), the large-scale all-singing, all-dancing ones (e.g. Channel 4 Comedy Gala, Teen Cancer Trust Albert Hall gig) fall way short of the mark.

But like an optimistic idiot I still keep buying tickets for all of them.

Thankfully however last night’s comedy showcase “Laughter/Pain” for UK human rights charity Reprieve was a masterclass in how to do one of these events.

As soon as the gig went up Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford-Smith, took stage and spoke a brief intro outlining what it is that the organisation does, highlighting a few campaign issues, and then yielded the mic straightaway to compere Alistair Barrie.  Deftly assessing the mood of the crowd, Barrie just got on with the job of channelling the acts onto the stage rather than engaging in the self-indulgent hype-creation routine that some comperes feel they have to do.  This crowd was definitely up for it: no lathering required.

One of the things Smith spoke about was the case of Guantanamo Bay’s Contraband Underpants.  Which dovetailed neatly with the availibility of the special run of Agent Provocateur prison-orange “Fair Trial My Arse” grundies.

First cab off the rank was energetic Hibernian ginger-maned joymonger, Ed Byrne.  Proving roundly that the story’s in the telling, Byrne set off on routines including his piece on cat adoption – I reckon this is the 3rd time I’ve heard this set, and yet it’s easy to look past this, as you get caught up in the enthusiasm & glee he brings to bear on stage.

My recollection of the exact batting order gets a little sketchy – should’ve written this damn thing yesterday! – however it’d be fair to say that the people sitting adjacent to me probably got less impressed with my reaction as the evening wore on, as I bubbled with excitement more & more as each subsequent comic took stage.

As Al Barrie said in the intro, “it’s not a London charity gig unless this guy’s on the bill” –  Robin Ince delivered his standard passionate, disorganised maelstrom of frustration, rage & incomprehension at the world, in the way that only he can.  Again, having followed a full quota of Ince gigs over Winter & Autumn I’d heard most of his canned anecdotes before, although Robin’s one of the hardest working comics on the circuit and you can always be guaranteed of a new direction or facet of his ire, as well as addressing of any number of topics that have drifted into his transom that day/week/month.  Relevantly he pulled out his material on Binyam Mohamed, and the Daily Express response to his release – quite admirable though that a comic was clued up enough on issues to include a pertinent case run by the very charity which the evening was in support of.

The disarming and talented Isy Suttie showed her versatile range of guitar-backed whimsy & vitriol, and demonstrated ably that she’s no one-trick pony.  I think the first time I’d seen her outside of a Peep Show context was duetting with the excellent Gavin Osborn, and her performance at Laughter/Pain cemented her status as an exponent of quality humour.  Am definitely keen to book on to a solo show of hers!

Supreme architect of erudite nonsense Andy Zaltzman stormed the stage with a truncated set orbiting his usual preserves of politics and sport.  Again, I’d seen the same set (more or less) recently whilst down at The Hob in Forest Hill, and at Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush,  and still Zaltzman carried it with aplomb.  It was probably fortunate for him that as a political comic, torture has been in the news, and his set on waterboarding was thus relevant to the aim of the night.  Whilst excellent, it would’ve been a little harder to justify that set at a gig like the Channel 4 Comedy gala (for Great Ormond Street Hospital).  The crowd didn’t seem to get into his set as much as some of the others, however if pressed for an explanation I’d put it down to the bill being so uniformly excellent that you’d be hard pressed to maintain 100% engagement for the duration of the gig.  Definitely a very strong performance from Big Z though, and as always I was tickled by his departure remarks: “If you’ve enjoyed this, listen to my podcast: The Bugle.  If you haven’t, then probably best not to, as it’s just more of the same”.

Phill Jupitus took stage in a fairly rare standup set – he had some nice solid material around parenthood, and I very much enjoyed his “this isn’t a comedy routine, this is just me getting indignant about the behaviour of my daughter’s boyfriend” mode.  Mid-set Jupitus surrendered the stage to perky a-capella bombshells The La De Dahs for a quick and tight number, before returning for an odd but fun rendition of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

Shappi Khorsandi brought home a safe but very capable set centred around the sorts of issues she faces as a half-Iranian woman in the UK, as well as a newly ensingled single mum.  She’d been slightly thrown off balance due to Al Barrie tipping us off that it was her birthday, and upon her taking stage being treated to an enthusiastic if mismatched Happy Birthday in 3 keys & 3 tempos from the audience.  She’s definitely a charismatic performer who’s comfortable on stage, and easily won the crowd.

The Actor Kevin Eldon showed up with a tight set of some of his musical numbers: whilst not attempting to display virtuosity on the guitar, Eldon’s a superb observer and intellectual, and his songs were all witty & clever in a non-higher-brow-than-thou way.  Again – having seen all of them before (I swear, I do stuff OTHER than stalking comedians!)  – he mustered a goodly amount of giggling with songs like “My CDs Jump”, and silly French number “Je Cherche La Femme”.

Dry raconteur Stewart Lee was the penultimate act, and whilst I loved his analysis of city-living fortysomethings who move to the countryside (and this being the 4th time I’ve seen that routine), it was clear that Lee’s an acquired taste, or maybe he suffered from the same comedy plateau timing issue that Zaltzman did.  Indeed some people felt that the routine dragged (such as this understandably biased individual on the Tim Minchin fan forum), however you could tell from the vibe of the crowd that they were largely disciples of the headline act, and probably saw Stewart Lee’s wry repetition as the last hurdle between them and getting their fix of bare-footed piano-based brilliance.

Tim Minchin finished the night off in style, and though being the cynic that I am I couldn’t help noting that the Minchin Hype Machine had had its handle well & truly cranked by his legion of wide-eyed fans, there is no denying that the man really brings it when he performs, and is quite deserving of the enthusiasm & fervour with which people seem to adopt him as a personal figure of worship.  He plays the piano like an angel, and yet you get the distinct feeling he’s the kind of angel who you wouldn’t want to fall asleep listening to due to the strong chance of waking up to find him teabagging you with a cheeky grin.  Starting out with his musical “gotcha” entitled “Prejudice”, he then came up with what I thought was a bit of a surprise, in “The Pope Song” – I agree with the sentiment completely, but wasn’t sure if it’d stand up to live performance because of its speed & complexity of diction: however, of course, he nailed it… and brought the house down.  Well, with the exception of one vocal fan in response to whose irritation at Tim’s intro to a song on feminism, he advised “Suck my balls!”.  So jaunty favourite “Confessions” was next, before the environmental and indeed general awareness-raising movement anthem “Canvas Bags” finished off the set.  And the crowd cheered.

In summary – an absolutely storming comedy night, featuring a top class field of UK (and Australian) talent, and a hands-down win for Reprieve UK.

In fact about the only thing wrong with the evening was that I’d bought 2 non-adjacent tickets, and in the spirit of fairness I’d offered ex-housemate Mike first random pick (he’s visiting from Adelaide, so it seemed fair), and he got the seat in stalls row K.  And even then, I was in central row C of the dress circle, so no massive complaints!

A truly superb evening.

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