Thursday, September 27, 2007

M Smith's Fear of Audience

You don't need to be a long-term Fall fan to know that any concert headed by Mark E Smith is as likely to explode in recrimination and argument as run smooth as clockwork.

Buy Totales Turns or Seminal Live (actually, scrub that - buy Totales Turns because Seminal Live is shockingly bad even by the standards of the Fall's often contractually obligated back catalogue). Put on a random track. It's an evens chance you'll hear MES shouting 'stop, stop - this is shit" rather than the expected sound of a professional band effortlessly going through their live paces.

So it's not like we shouldn't have been prepared for Von Sudenfed, earlier on this week at the Liquid Rooms here in Edinburgh.

Granted, the support band was truly awful (I'll spare their blushes and not name them, mainly because I have no idea what they were called), but that's par for virtually every gig I've ever been to. Doesn't mean the main act is going to be equally inept.

At around about nine, two of the Von Sudenfed collective wandered on stage, took their places behind a massive set of decks and speakers and began pumping out a bass line that made my heart shudder like jelly in a balloon. I think the track they were playing was 'Fledermaus Can't Get Enough' but if I'm being honest any sound these two made was just a backing track for Mark E's ranting lyrics in my mind. And there was no sign of him even five minutes into the first track - just the two DJ types (who looked suspiciously like Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller in Starsky and Hutch) dancing groovily behind their big machines.

At that point Smith walked on and it was easy to believe that this was showmanship, as he barked out something largely incomprehensible and headed to the far side of the stage, where he turned his back on the crowd in traditional Fall fashion.

Except he clearly didn't know the words (not a major problem since he was reading them off a handful of sheets of A4) and was pretty obviously half-jaked (not necessarily a problem - he's no Sinatra at the best of times and a bit of whisky-related lubrication might be no bad thing).

What was a problem though was that after singing half the song reasonably competently he appeared to start reading the lyrics to another song by mistake, then sauntered back across the stage and disappeared into the wings.

'Off for a fag," I said, but if so it was a long one since he didn't re-appear for about ten minutes, and even then only lasted another five before wandering off again. His voice was heard from offstage during 'Flooded' (much more strongly than had been the case when we could see him, leading to a slight suspicion that the DJs were playing a pre-recorded tape loop of the vocals) and he did come back on stage for the encore, but otherwise it was pretty poor, really.

The DJs battled on throughout, playing a handful of the songs from the album, but I didn't hear either of my personal favourites, 'German Fear of Osterriech', and 'The Rhinohead'.

The last two gigs I saw at the Liquid Rooms were Arthur Lee and Television - two acts well past their prime, but both capable, as they demonstrated, of a genuinely high quality live act. Mark E Smith on the other hand - a man who once routinely stopped the Fall mid-track if he thought the live playing wasn't up to scratch - was a shambling liability, contemptuous of the audience in a way you wouldn't have seen ten years ago.

There's a great track on the album called 'Family Feud' in which Smith repeatedly sings the tongue-in-cheek refrain "I am the great M E S". For all his faults as a performer, he's no less a lyricist than he ever was, and he will have been aware of irony of the other way to read the line - on this form Smith as a performer really is a mess.

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All washed down with some lashings of hot screwdriver...

Family lore has it that when I was a very small boy I was left one day in the tender care of my uncles Dode and James, who were painting my nana's front room. Apparently James, annoyed that I'd knocked his can of beer over or something, smacked me one across the head in retribution and turned to go and get another can from the kitchen.

At which point Dode stabbed him straight through the shoulder with a screwdriver, for 'hitting the bairn'.

It's a touching story, I think, which for some reason popped into my head as I watched Mark E Smith wander round the stage at the Von Sudenfed gig the other night*, so I thought I'd share it.


* Of which, more later.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Viva Las Vegas (Slight Return)

I'm off to Las Vegas for a week in the morning. There's no reason to tell you this other than a desire to appear terribly jet-setty.

I have Carter Beats the Devil and the last three NSAs to read, plus almost the complete David Bowie, the best of Yma Sumac and a handful of plays to listen to. And I'm still not sure if that's enough to distract me from the horror which is flying long distance.

Oh well - see you in a week...
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Monday, September 03, 2007

GoogleCrap: Customer Service from the World's Favourite L'il Multinational

It's a funny thing about Google. In the tendency to view the company as the corporate equivalent of Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity, people tend to forget that - like the beatified old Albanian herself - all is not necessarily as filled with sweetness and light as might appear on the surface.

Case in point. Google products are fine when all is working as it should. Gmail gives you enough storage space to retain as attachements all of your carefully selected collection of Playboy playmates and spoofs of the Mastercard Priceless adverts. The archive facility is simplicity itself and the threading of conversations soon becomes utterly intuitive. How the hell did I cope with Outlook you will end up asking yourself, as you compare Miss January 1974 with Miss June 2006 and ponder the improvements in female grooming products in the interim.

All well and great - but if the program stops working for whatever reason then, basically you're screwed. This week my gmail account on my home PC (but not anywhere else) started locking up over and over again. An ominous warning on the page that appeared in place of my gmail page was headed "Account Lockdown: Unusual Activity Detected", followed by a list of potential reasons, none of which applied to me.

Fortunately, there was a link to troubleshoot the problem.

Unfortunately, the link just led to a page with a couple of FAQ questions, none of which were relevant.

Fortunately though there was a 'Contact Us' link a the bottom of the page.

Unfortunately, that link didn't lead to an email form, but to another page with more generic and badly written FAQ pages, none of which were terribly relevant.

Fortunately...eh, well, if you use Google.com itself to search for this problem and are prepared to wade through the the multitude of other pages and posts bemoaning the exact same problem, you can find a URL which does point to a Google Technical Query form.

Unfortunately, when you carefully enter your problem and your details, giving as much info as possible to help Google solve the problem...

...they send you an email in reply which is just a cut and paste of the original "Account Lockdown: Unusual Activity Detected" page.

So you click on the troubleshoot link...

I still haven't had the problem addressed by Google, never mind fixed, and it seems I'm not the only one. Next time I must remember that Google is as much a faceless, corporate entity with zero concern for its customers as Microsoft, Disney or the Bush Government.

Any suggestions for a replacement webmail provider?

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