Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Vienna music update II/roundup

What happens when you hear the same nine or ten songs on the radio every morning? Among other things, the new James Blunt single has grown on me. I still think that Blunt is a sappy, unimaginative songwriter and performer, but he is damn good at filling a particular niche of weepy ballads beloved by little sisters and their moms. Also, the greatness of Alicia Keys' "No One" has finally been forcibly driven into me, no doubt because I heard it two or three times per day over the past two weeks.

The Cure concert on February 23rd was predictably great, in the best and worst possible sense of the phrase. On the positive side, the band ripped through a solid three-hour set packed with hits and rarities. They opened strong and seemed to tire out a bit toward the end of the main set, but that's a minor quibble because they came back blazing for the encores. They consistently sliced two or three minutes off of the long songs ("One Hundred Years", "Pictures of You", "End" ...), which started to get on my nerves. Nearly every time, I will gladly trade hearing uncut songs, yet fewer of them; to hearing a larger number of songs that are cut down in order to fit them all in. However, the Cure are settling into a comfortable rut, where they have gradually transformed into their own oldies band. The past fifteen years have been nearly purged from their history, and the once fresh "17 Seconds" encore has been beaten into the ground to the point where part of me wishes they'll get it over with as quickly as possible.

"Rave Up Records" is a scruffy (in the best possible way) shop near the Naschmarkt and one of Vienna's university campuses. They stock a healthy variety of music, and I was particularly impressed by their reggae (vinyl!!) and electronic sections. The latter section wasn't so large and was a bit disorganized, but the quality made up for it (there are plenty of hard-to-find gems to be found, but you have to dig a little). Prices were a bit high (although reasonable by Viennese standards -- it's an expensive city) and comparison shopping is recommended if you will be in another major music hub anytime soon. Local music was noticeably priced lower, with certain high-profile exceptions (i.e. Fennesz, but I guess they can get away with that, and I can't really blame them for it). I picked up Minit's "Now Right Here" and Pomassl's "Skeleton", these being a) hard-to-find CD's that aren't easily found in Toronto, let alone Tel Aviv, b) yet more reminders that I don't live in Berlin and cannot shop there regularly to buy CDs like these all the time, all of these being the types of thoughts I've had more regularly ever since I moved to Tel Aviv and rejoined the ranks of the music-buying living. Excess begets more excess, it really does.

"Substance"'s calling card is its vinyl section, particular for soul and techno. "Musik und so" has one of the most wonderfully bizarre collection of second hand CDs I've ever seen, with huge, largely uncategorized rock and electronic sections that are filled with zillions of Eastern European bands I've never heard of, and plenty of Western European and North American bands I'd thought I'd forgotten about. It also has a prodigiously huge collection of oldies, shlager (European pop), and jazz on vinyl. I bought a handful of second hand gems, including Arcana's "The Last Embrace" (wall-of-sound medieval goth) and Cluster's "Zuckerzeit" (a long overdue CD purchase for me).

The recently unearthed 1967 Velvet Underground bootleg is every bit as good as advertised, with the band firing on every proto-krautrock cylinder. This version of "Run Run Run" turns out to be one of the funkiest eight-minute stretches of their career, and "new" track "I'm not a Young Man Anymore" doesn't disappoint, rocking out in crunchy, amped-up Bo Diddley style that they perfected between albums two and three with three songs like "Foggy Motion" and "I Guess I'm Falling In Love". The biggest gem of the bunch is the reputed debut performance of "Sister Ray", which easily surpasses the studio (and many subsequent live) versions in its first half, rocking out the song's basic minimalist groove for ten whole minutes until the intensity grows positively eye-watering. If it continued on this way, I could probably listen to it forever, but instead they shifted gears toward the improvised section of the track. In this fledgling version they clearly didn't have a clear idea of where the song was going, so they meandered in circles with none of the chaotic explosiveness of the studio version until the track eventually bleeds away. That first half is something else though.

Somewhere deep in the Vienna woods, somebody drew the Sigur Ros logo on a random tree stump. Bewildering but pleasant, and a nice surprise on an otherwise predictable hike.

Centimeter II's music rotation, at least on the night I was there, was overflowing with not yet critically rehabilitated late-80's rock, such as Roxette and Cyndi Lauper's "I Drove All Night" (which I can't ever remember hearing in any bar, any city, at any time) (although I'm pretty sure I've heard Celine Dion's version in a bar at least once!)

I took a quick time out from the museums and cafes to catch "I'm Not There" at the English-language theatre near my hotel. Ten minutes in, as real Bob Dylan anecdotes and mythology were superbly weaved together with a fictionalized stories, I knew I was watching a great movie but wondered how they'd possibly be able to continue with this sort of content for two more hours. Even Cate Blanchett's sensational "Don't Look Back"-era Dylan got his point across about halfway through the movie. Thankfully, this wasn't a series of actors attempting various Dylan impressions, as only Blanchett was taxed with the unenviable task of apeing Dylan's vocal cadences and mannerisms, and pulling off all of the iconic lines. I didn't feel anything from the Gere character at all, and felt it badly detracted from the movie. Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who carries this storyline on her back and is the second best thing about the film after Blanchett) were also playing out a drama that felt detached from everything else in the movie, but that was clearly the point -- to cleanly drive a wedge between public Dylan and private Dylan.

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