Category Archives: music
It’s morning somewhere.
On the ’90s nostalgia train this week: trip hop & Ally McBeal, sundresses & biker boots. Sneaker Pimps’ 6 Underground launched me in to a Bond-esque orbit. It was really just the 405. Driving, driving, driving. Sunroof, Slurpee, Sunset. Imperial Highway, I-10, PCH, Santa Monica Bou-le-vard. K.C.R.W. The bubble of film school, where you could navel gaze, roller blade & delay, delay. I worked for a woman who Fed-Exed her Armani suit from Cannes to LA. Because she had vacation plans in Italy, after. I drove the box up through the Hollywood Hills & left it with her caretaker. Her pool was kidney-shaped.
AIDS was reality’s shadow. A friend of my cousin; he’d come to WeHo from Florida. He played me Mariah Carey for the first time. Vision of Love. And paid me well to sand & spackle the walls of a condo he bought, about a year before. The down payment came from money he’d embezzled from work. He never got caught. He just passed away.
Vision of Love is still my favorite Mariah song.
And 6 Underground is the business.
“And meanwhile the man was falling from space
And everyday I wore your face
Like an atmosphere around me
A satellite inside me”
How is this song NOT about David Bowie? I wonder every time I listen to it – “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” – the title track from Florence + The Machine’s latest album. I imagine young Florence Welch discovering Bowie as a teenager, sometime in the late ’90s, painting her face with a glittery lightning bolt (everyday I wore your face) and dancing around her bedroom, entranced.
But no, apparently this song is an ode to the California sky, influenced by Florence’s time in the U.S. and her increasing fascination with American music (whether Motown or Laurel Canyon).
The song is stunning, no matter what or who inspired it, and it’s been on constant rotation in my ears. I’m still in a little mourning for the great Starman, and feeling lately like logging on to Twitter or FB is just the daily equivalent of asking: who’s dead now? So songs of comfort and beauty feel quite necessary now.
Here’s a video version of not-quite-the-whole song, filmed (unsurprisingly) under a bright blue sky. The short video was directed by Tabitha Denholm & Vincent Haycock.
Have a good week, x
This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.
The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.
Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.
She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.
But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.
Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…
After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.
I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.
How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?
*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉
The lights dimmed in the chapel before the musicians stepped on to the altar. No central heat in chilly La Sainte-Chapelle, but we were warm enough in our coats and scarves, sitting close together on red-cushioned chairs. The ornate ceiling soared high above us, and stained-glass windows glowed like dreams, even in the darkness. How many shows have you been to in a sanctuary that was consecrated by the Pope’s legate in 1248? A place built by King Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of Jesus’s Cross. Holy Relics of the Passion. The devout French ruler acquired the artifacts because he “wished to affirm his devotion to God”. We kept our voices low, as you would.
The concert was called “Noel au temps de la renaissance”. Fancy Christmas carols. Performed by a quartet: soprano, violin, harpsichord and flute (the type held vertically not horizontally). The group chose pieces from a variety of composers – Corelli, Bach, Purcell, Monteverdi, Caccini – and also included traditional carols like ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘O Christmas Tree’. Half of the songs were instrumentals; the other half sung by a woman named Sophie Pattey. And all of it was beautiful.
At a performance like this in such a hallowed setting, you might expect sternness and gravity, a touch of snobbery. But the musicians were generous and lighthearted. Charles Limouse, who played flute, introduced each song in French and chatted a bit to the crowd. Though I couldn’t understand everything he said, it was clear his mood was warm and playful. The atmosphere felt neither remote nor – here comes that dreaded word for classical music – boring. And at the very end, Ms. Pattey, who had been singing in a variety of European languages, led the audience in two rounds of ‘Jingle Bells’, in English.
There’s nothing like singing carols to get me in the mood for Christmas. My collection of holiday music is extensive, and I look forward to listening to it from mid-December all the way through to New Year’s Day. But this season I experienced something different, something extraordinary.
Towards the end of the concert, Mr. Limouse stepped forward and began playing ‘Silent Night’. Solo flute. The familiar melody floated softly towards us, rising up then down then up again. Due to the chapel’s wonderful acoustics, the notes of the song carried to every corner of the room, clear and strong. Ms. Pattey then joined in, singing the lyrics in German. And in the dim and golden glow, in a place where a king and his family once worshipped in the presence of the reliques de la Passion du Christ, we were a captivated congregation. Motionless. Enthralled. Dare I say, close to holy.
We nourish our bodies with food, exercise, sex, sleep. We fill our ears and eyes with work emails, breaking news, status updates, binge TV, cat videos. For better or worse, I make no judgments, we swim in a stream of constant communication and entertainment. But how often do we get to experience stillness? A singular moment that goes right to our hearts and souls, filling us with a profound sense of possibility, hope, clarity. I believe the yogis and the life coaches and the trendsters call it mindfulness – there might even be an app – and I know the feeling is rare and elusive. I’m a little obsessed with such wonders, I guess, because they are so unexpected. Yet oftentimes these experiences, like a song in a chapel, can be the most nourishing and necessary sensations of all.
May 2016 bring you moments such as these.
Thank you for reading therockmom.
P.S. here’s a playlist, similar to the concert at La Sainte-Chapelle. Enjoy.
It’s been a few days but I’m still buzzed from my Clockenflap experience. Kil Sun Moon, Rachael Yamagata, The Skatalites, Clean Bandit, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Swervedriver, cold beer, good food, best friends, EO and YO having a blast. And I haven’t even mentioned Sunday night! Oh Lord.
But before I get to that thrilling climax, let me tell you about a group of très intéressant folks I met at the festival. I spotted them as soon as I arrived on Saturday. Dressed all in black, they stood looking out at the harbor away from the crowds before wandering over to the Yamagata show. There they sat on the ground, passing around bottles of Smirnoff and playfully photo-bombing the family snap occurring in front of them. They seemed to inhabit their own little galaxy of urban style, as if they had landed in Hong Kong from another, cooler (and colder) clime: the West Village, Rue Bichat, Shoreditch, a Fellini sound stage?
Maybe I don’t get out much (truth: I don’t), but this foursome exuded a confidence and panache I don’t see very often in HK. Yet they didn’t strike me as posers. Who were they?
So I asked.
Ashley, Anthony, Carmen and their shy friend all grew up in Hong Kong and range in age from mid-20s to early 30s. The chatty ones were best friends Anthony and Ashley who met at Clockenflap two years. Anthony runs his own clothing store specializing in Korean and European fashion while Ashley is a graphic designer interested in branding and typography. The duo said their coordinated look was not actually inspired by Paris but it was designed for impact. As Anthony explained, “Maybe it’s too hot and no one will wear a long coat today so you think we will look more outstanding.”
When I asked what’s been the reaction so far to their collective chic, Anthony laughed and said people wonder, “Do you feel hot today?”
Style knows no pain (or heatstroke).
In a town where business dress rules, you’ve got to admire the modish quartet – celebrating, enjoying and perpetuating the long relationship between music and fashion. And by the way, Yamagata was also dressed in all black so they were in good company.
I saw a lot of great bands over the weekend, and judging by their comments, they had a fun time here too. Many acts were Hong Kong newbies, and they seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the dramatic setting as well as the enthusiastic crowds. The festival was incredibly well-organized, and the staff super friendly. I mean, if the beer sellers are still smiling at 9pm on Sunday night then you know some positive vibes are permeating the Clockenflap grounds. My only complaint was that I couldn’t be in two places at once!
But as the sun set on Sunday evening, there was only one place I wanted to be: as close to the front as possible at the Harbourflap stage. That’s where Nile Rodgers and his talented, airtight band were tearing through dozens (and I do mean dozens) of songs that he wrote, co-wrote, produced, played on and/or infused with his magic disco touch. A collection of hits and acts that span four decades: CHIC, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk. Rodgers spoke of surviving cancer and realizing every day is a gift, and he was generous in praising his bandmates. When he introduced the last song, ‘Good Times’, he said the tune always inspired a disco party on stage. And then he brought out Unsung Heroes, a Hong Kong domestic worker choir, to dance, sing and take selfies with him and his band. It was a party, absolutely.
I had a half hour to grab a beer and a box of Vietnamese noodles before the last act of the weekend, New Order, took the stage. My day had started at 5:30 in the morning, and my knees were aching from a.m. hiking on DB and p.m. dancing to CHIC. But I didn’t want to go home early because hey! how many times will I get to see New Order? My hardcore-fan friends made their way to the front, but I moved over to the left with another friend, strategically close to the exit, and on a set of stairs where I could rest my weary legs. The location afforded us a view of the stage, the crowd and the entire HK Island skyline across the harbor. The pano function on my phone camera just couldn’t do justice to the surreal and wondrous night.
When New Order gifted us with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Blue Monday’, we ascended to another plane of existence – somewhere between the suburban innocence of the ‘80s and the vibrant metropolis that is Hong Kong, 2015.
I haven’t witnessed this much ecstatic mopey-head dancing since prom night.
Thanks Clockenflap and see you again next year!
It’s the little things, you know? Like finding real (not UHT) cream in the grocery store, on sale. Or the smile on EO’s face after she touches the wall and sees her time in the 100fly. Or the fact that YO will still hold my hand.
This week I’m adding to that list the fricking awesome song “Giant Peach” by North London band, Wolf Alice.
Long live guitar rock is the first thing I want to say about this tune. “Giant Peach” begins with an extended, driving intro before lead singer, Ellie Roswell, spins images of the push/pull connection to her hometown. She says: What the hell keeps me here / In a dark old town another door through / It don’t seem so clear / And changin’ feels like fear. The song plays like equal parts meat and potatoes rock and psychedelic jam – all guitars and drums – all the while building to Roswell’s climactic lyrics and a squalling heavy metal meltdown. In the video’s finale, there’s even a nod to the band’s Spinal Tap brethren as the smoke machine spews out of control and the costumes scream ‘Stonehenge’!
Recent reviews have compared Wolf Alice to ’90s bands like Hole and Garbage, which is just a simple way to say: this is a rock band with three guys and a female lead singer. Lazy! With their ear for melody and shred-tastic (yes, had to say that) guitars, I hear more similarities with Veruca Salt and another lupine band: Wolfmother.
Wolf Alice have released some EPs and their debut full-length, My Love Is Cool, is expected in June. Check them out when you can and have a good week!
“The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: Zayn has left the building.
UPDATE: just as I was about to post today, I read that Zayn Malik has left the One Direction Asia tour. The BBC is reporting Zayn “has returned to the UK after being signed off with stress.” I think most of the audience noticed on Wednesday night that he was a bit distracted. He was also struggling mightily with his earpiece for most of the show. YO and her friends said Zayn’s the ‘shy’ one. We were fortunate to hear him sing and wish him well.
And now back to our regularly scheduled blog:
Let’s disregard those two Moms dancing the Macarena as we waited for the concert to start. Let’s get right past the ridiculous amounts of money I paid for tickets and how I didn’t even get to sit with EO and YO (long story but yes that was me and two other mums, on our own). Let’s also forget how I didn’t make time for the beer line, and let’s move right on to the show, The Show, THE SHOW!
One Direction in Hong Kong, finally! Liam, Louis, Harry, Zayn, Niall and several thousand screaming girls, of all ages. Some boys, too.
EMOTICON interlude: 🙂 😀 😛 ❤ 😎
I’ve been waiting months and months to write about this show. What would the boys be like? Would the girls enjoy the spectacle? Would I know any songs other than those two hits from 2012?
Well, rockmom readers, it was a fun show. I’m glad I went. It was both entertaining and educational. Here’s what I learned:
1. Hong Kong’s live music venues truly suck. Truly. There is no getting around how inadequate the AsiaWorld Expo is. The sound system is muddy; the acoustics even worse; there is zero atmosphere and you get a choice of Starbucks and 7-11 for pre-show snackage. It’s embarrassing frankly and it made me realize we’ll never be able to boast of a homegrown live album that’s the equivalent of Cheap Trick At Budokan! or U2 Live at Red Rocks or (insert famous band) at The Royal Albert Hall. Never. Why can’t Asia’s Fricking World City do better for one of the globe’s most popular bands?
Someone hire the Clockenflap folks to fix this mess, STAT!
2. The bloom fades quickly on boy bands. This you already know, but still it was surprising and a little sad to see so many empty seats at the concert. We sat at the back and peered down on the standing-only floor area, which was only half, maybe two-thirds, full. Always looking on the bright side, the band kept saying how lovely it was to play such an ‘intimate’ venue after a mostly-stadium tour. But I’m wondering if they priced themselves out of the market. The audience was by and large expats, yet surely they have a local following?
3. Speaking of audience members, fully-grown, childless men can also be One Direction fans.
4. If you’re cute enough and sincere and have a nice voice, it doesn’t really matter that you have zero stage presence. Young girls still scream! I, on the other hand, wished those boys had been sent to the Jon Bon Jovi school of stagecraft. Own it, man! You’re a cowboy, on a steel horse you ride!
Is it a generational thing? A British quirk? (No, that can’t be because – Jagger.) I know 1D is proud of the fact that they don’t dance, but they could use some lessons in performing a song as opposed to just singing it. Zayn, Louis, even Harry – yeah, you three.
But having said that and because EO is going to be mad if I rag on them too much, shout out to Liam and Niall for cuteness and personality and guitar-playing and strong voices. Zayn, too, has a wonderful voice, probably the best of the group. But at this venue (which I won’t mention anymore, promise), their vocal gifts were by and large neutralized. Shame that.
5. And lastly, for the existential lesson, which says that the authentic human cannot exist without The Crowd* i.e. the being of others. Explaining every band ever. One Direction has carved out a huge following by presumably being themselves (authentic) – we sing well, we dress how we want, we don’t dance. We are the anti-boy band. The Crowd (tweens and teens) loves us for it.
And yet, as I sat there and my mind wandered during yet another song I didn’t recognize I couldn’t help but feel an existential angst for their futures. A certain inevitability looming on the horizon. Who’s going to end up on drugs or a reality show (not Dancing With The Stars of course)? Who’s going to show the world how talented he is by going solo? The next George Michael or Justin Timberlake? Who’s going to lose his hair? Or marry well (the Posh Spice playbook)? And who btw IS the Andrew Ridgeley** of the band (ahem, I’m afraid it’s my favorite, Louis) because there’s always an Andrew Ridgeley?
Maybe it’s the mom in me, but dammit I want those 1D boys to succeed! They seem really nice. I also want them to be charismatic performers and rethink the tattoos, but you can’t have everything.
Heck, I’m happy they’re still together.