29 May, 2008

Great Gigs II: Joe Walsh at the Prospect Hill, 1985

You can’t go past a guitar player who tries to do something a bit special with almost every note. You know the type. They’re said to play like it’s an attack on both the notes and the instrument. Think Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. But I’m not so sure the metaphor fits. I think it’s more about an individual player’s feel. Intangible, I know, but what did you expect me to say? Je ne sais qua?
I’d first heard of Joe Walsh in early 1973 when his hit Rocky Mountain Way got airplay on 3XY. The talk-box was a strange new effect and his slide guitar playing was outstanding, with a delightfully dirty sound and plenty of sustain, artfully combining country and blues influences.

His album titles were witty (eg So What?; But Seriously, Folks; There Goes The Neighbourhood) and tracks from the live You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind were regularly shown on rock clip TV shows like Flashez and WROK in the mid-70s. It was here that I was able to see Walsh in full flight.I mentioned that he’s the kind of player who puts everything into just about every note (by that I mean slight bends and the odd harmonic scream) but between notes he slid along the fretboard, going waow and whoo to punctuate his solos that really made my hair stand up on end. Here was a player who knew how to use the more “noisy” elements of rock guitar technique beautifully.

When I heard early in 1976 that he was to replace Bernie Leadon in the Eagles, I immediately thought their share price was raised considerably. No disrespect to Leadon, who was a fine singer-songwriter-guitarist, but up until Hotel California the Eagles had struck me as a group manipulating the easily-impressed (and easily depressed!) sensitive teenager market with contrived country-rock she-done-me-wrong songs. They still retained this element of their persona after Walsh joined, but it was just, I don’t know, better? And he and Don Felder really knew how to blend their similar styles. More fraternal guitar twins than identical. Kinda like Keith Richard and Ron Wood, but more accomplished.
At Kew’s Prospect Hill Hotel in 1985, legendary journeyman guitarist Waddy Wachtel supplied the counterpoint that Felder had provided on the Eagles recordings. Wachtel could play too. This was a Joe Walsh solo gig, but this American band (he had toured with the Party Boys* earlier that year. I saw them at Billboard) were just a hot outfit. Don’t you just love an eminent artist who doesn’t feel the need to be the big shot on stage?

They did all of his classic songs, from the early James Gang days, his solo career, and the Eagles. One particular highlight was a pumped-up Life In The Fast Lane, not an easy song to do live and believe me I would have understood if they’d left that one off the set list.

But for this admitted worshipper, Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl was the sour cream on the burrito. The original is the kick-ass opening song on Young’s 1968 Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere album, but Walsh and his hired guns took it to a new level while still remaining faithful to the original.

It was a pretty blokey crowd of unashamed Joe Walsh fans that night as I recall and we were all just transfixed.

Isn’t it great when you see an admired artist perform and expectations are both matched and exceeded?

*The Party Boys were a band that served as a perpetual fun side-project for prominent Australian rock musicians and the occasional overseas guest artist. Their membership was fluid and if memory serves, at different times included: John Swann; Marc Hunter; Kevin Borich; David Briggs; Shirley Strachan; and many others.

18 May, 2008

Classic TV I: Flight of the Conchords

Last Sunday, I read a fairly tepid review of Flight of the Conchords in the Sunday Age. Thinking it might be okay but not really expecting a cack-fest of any great magnitude, I tuned in about ten minutes into the first episode and laughed helplessly for the remainder.

Flight of the Conchords stars New Zealand musical-comedy duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement as a New Zealand folk duo trying to hit the big time in the Big Apple. They have an unbelievably incompetent manager, desperately sell possessions to a pawnbroker who doesn’t like them but who is still their best friend in New York, and a lone female fan who they find repulsive.Inner monologues and dialogue between characters are often rendered in songs, frequently in the form of full-on music videos, a little bit like the Monkees TV show. There’re also many funny references to the Aussie-Kiwi dichotomy, which probably parallels the US-Canada relationship in some ways, I’d imagine. Read an interview with Bret McKenzie here.

Anyway, I’m about to watch episode two of this terrific 12 episode HBO series in just a few minutes. It screens on Channel 10 at 10:10pm. In Melbourne, anyway. Check local guides for details.

You can visit the official HBO website here; check out the BBC take on it here; and read a few slabs of dialogue here.

I found it piss-your-pants funny and littered with brilliant musical and visual gags.

So much of commercial TV is a complete fucking wasteland. And no, I’m not going to add the almost-obligatory “these days” to that assessment. Because let's face it, it’s ever been thus. But Flight of the Conchords is great TV, not just a cut above most of everything else that’s on at the moment.