Monday, December 21, 2009

Muscles interview (2009)

Many of dance music’s greatest forerunners are, let’s face it, more your skinny geeky-types. We think of lads happy to noodle away behind banks of sequences, hiding their fragile frames ala Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers. Yet in 2007, it was Muscles that was on everyone’s lips when the subject of hot new dance acts came up. The one-man producer/songwriter wiz Muscles, that is. Melbourne’s Chris Copolus (as they call him at home) and his debut album Guns Babes Lemonade – a meaty and moody set of filthy dance selections – rode the pig all through the summer of that year well into 2008, backed up by the hit single Ice Cream. Now after a low key year well spent mixing some new flavours, he’s getting ready to mount that hog again and show the weak how to win over a crowd at any worthwhile dance festival going this summer. 

“I like to go for a bike ride three times a week, but that’s all I really do to keep in any kind of shape.” Muscles tells me from his Melbourne home, when very briefly the subject of discipline and physical fitness comes up. “I’m pretty disciplined in terms of work, so when I’m not writing songs I’m looking up bands mySpace’s and stuff, because when I’m doing shows or festivals I like to know what the support acts are about.”

Working within such a fickle scene as what the dance one is, how willing would he be to alter his sound depending on what’s popular? “Not at all, really I mean, my first album wasn’t really that club/DJ friendly anyway, I see myself as more of a songwriter than a guy who just churns out tracks styled and ready for the clubs only to be forgotten in three months.” He continues, “I think the American Indie scene can be just as fickle, and maybe the UK, but I like Australia because I think we bank the best of everything from overseas.” Muscles has spent most of the year working towards the follow up to Guns Babes Lemonade. His approach has been to take his time after the rush of the debut, “In 2008 I stopped touring the last album and I’ve since built up a kind of work schedule for myself, writing and experimenting with new sounds and trying to get an album together where every song is completely different from the last. I’ve also been learning the guitar just to add a little background texture to the songs. I’m still at learning stage, but I wanna get really good, so I practice everyday.”

After such a massive debut and year of touring, I wonder how much has life changed for the country raised Victorian? “I have been doing some growing up in the last year and playing so many shows I think I’ve become a better singer as well.” He explains; “I’m doing more harmonising and getting better at writing melody now, which is something I didn’t really feel confident in doing on the first album.” He continues, “Although I feel like this new album is going to be a more mature one, at the same time I feel like I’m growing more immature as I get older, like I’m learning to be more playful and relaxed.” He laughs. “I’m 25 years old now, and I want to still be doing this for a long time yet. When the first album came out and I realised after how fast the time went, I decided to slow it down and enjoy the work and try to grow as an artist.”

Big success on a debut album can be a killer, so how does Muscles see his chance at living up to the rush of that first album? “Well I’m definitely a long term planner, so yeah I can see myself making music for a long time yet.” On the subject of totally moving away from the dance music field, he says; “I would only go that way if the songs were still memorable and I wasn’t alienating my audience. So at the moment I don’t want to stray too far from what I do as Muscles.”

Apart from preparing a new album due mid 2010, Muscles has embarked on DJing as new side project for the off-time between tours. As a career move though, he’s not convinced of the benefits; “The best thing about DJing is there’s no soundchecks or equipment you have to drag through the airport you just pack a bag and get on the plane, go to the venue have a few drinks and play a few tunes but singing live I compare to playing a game of soccer I guess. I’m exhorting lot more energy on stage and the buzz is so much greater. You can’t compare the two when it comes to the feeling you get.” A Muscles DJ setlist could incorporate anything from Daft Punk to ‘70s disco. He enjoys giving a nod to the his forgoers in dance, and when it comes to a little homage, he explains he pays his dues to the masters; “There are occasional references in my own work to old songs people might not pick up on, like Ice Cream for example, which went “Ice Cream’s gonna save the day again” and just by adding the word ‘again’ I was making a little reference to Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart. They’re obviously not anything alike musically, and I wasn’t making any comment about that song, but it was there in the back of my mind.” He adds, somewhat self-effacingly of his tear-away hit single; “Ice Cream felt like a bit of a fluke in that nobody could really figure out why everyone liked it so much, so with the second album I think it’ll be tricky picking a first single and working out what will be popular because I really didn’t know what people would make of me the first time around.”

Over the summer season, Muscles is on the bill for three major dance events in Melbourne including one on New Years Eve during which time he plans to test some new songs out live, but what in hindsight is his greatest live gig to date? “I’m banned from playing The Forum in Sydney.” He states triumphantly, “I went to do another tour and was going to play The Forum again but the promoter said no, it was too crazy last time. The fans went absolutely crazy and, I dunno maybe something got damaged or the noise was too much, but whatever it was they didn’t want a repeat of it.” He laughs.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Les Claypool live in Melbourne 2009 (review)

Venue: The Forum

Note to self: Never try and write a concert review straight after the event. A series of superlatives and expletives does not make for good reading, it’s true but describing Les Claypool in concert presents many challenges. Claypool is to the bass what Don Burke is to gardening, David Lynch is to weird and Neil Armstrong is to moon landings. His unhinged music delivered with such stone-faced conviction, has the unerring ability to make me laugh  hysterically. Not that Les is trying hard to be funny; he is more or less just stringing together phrases and sounds that compliment each other so as to push the music forward. His first concern is the bass and making that sucker rumble, his second here at The Forum tonight is keeping this seemingly unplanned racket running like a cohesive show.

The San Franciscan ‘king of stoner rock’ is joined on stage by two drummers, a cellist and his collection of basses including an electric up-right. The band, all in Richard Nixon Halloween masks and tuxedos look as though they’re seconds away from pulling m16s out of violin cases and robbing the first few rows. Les is one well dressed man too, in his tailored shirt, vest and fedora. It’s his behavior on stage though that’s really worth noting. While his band continues an onslaught of rubbery drum and bass heavy music, Claypool takes his time in setting up the mood for each song. After an ear-splitting intro set, he walks off stage while the two percussionists battle it out for a few minutes playing off one another on dueling kits. This spectacle is then interrupted by a pig’s face peering out from the side of the stage; the crowd start yelling and leaping like frogs at this sight. Les sheepishly is stalking back out on to the stage posing every few steps with a violin bow in hand as though he’s on an imaginary catwalk. He finally comes to rest at the up-right electric bass recently set up by the roadie.

Those in the audience, who remember Les in the Primus video Mr Krinkle dressed in a pig suit playing the cello, began cheering for what felt like an inevitable set up for a much adored Primus number. I was pretty sure that Les would’ve dropped Primus songs from the set but now as he begins dragging the bow along those strings and Mr Krinkle creeks out, it’s momentarily thrilling. The song however isn’t to last, it’s only a teaser for those who bought and played near to death Primus’s Pork Soda album. Instead he is soon hammering the cello to the just as impressive Tooth. This diversion is too much for some fans though and cat calls (no pun intended) for Tommy the Cat grow louder and louder. Unseen dude behind me; “Play the song that made you famous, you douche!” Les responds; “If I had my way, I’d play Tommy The Cat, every night for all eternity, just for you.” It was the only possible retort, and coming from a very tall man in a pig mask with a voice that’s more nose than throat, is also piss funny.

The tour’s basically in support of Of Fungi & Foe Les’s new bag of weird which really doesn’t divert from his Primus roots at all, with the exception of no guitarist. Instead, Les’s band is working only with percussive instruments including vibraphone. The first four songs are from all over Claypool’s catalogue including the rarely exhibited Riddles Are Abound Tonight, a one-off release he did under the name Sausage. The many Primus fans here tonight are treated to a re-worked Southbound Pachyderm from 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl, but it’s the distinct lack of noted Primus tracks that has caused some unrest tonight. Personally, I’m contented just to see one of music’s great oddities perform and hear the true sensei of the bass. The current Claypool album is probably still too new for fans to have embraced yet, but given time many of the songs will surely become favourites of anyone who dug Primus. Songs such as Red State Girl could easily find approval of long-term fans with its seedy plot of sexual fantasies regarding dopey US senator, Sarah Palin. Plus anyone who didn’t enjoy the hillbilly-rave of newie Boonville Stomp must have been dead. In a round-a-bout way, Les explains Boonville is a kind of redneck anthem that can be applied to anywhere populated by the dentally challenged; “Launceston!” someone in the audience helpfully suggests.

Towards the business end of the show, Les has decided it’s time for another change and leaves the stage once again as the duelling drummers take their cue for a second battle. This time Claypool is gone for what seems like ages, until finally he waddles on stage stooped over almost dragging his knuckles along the floor, his head contained in a monkey mask. There’s a roar of laughter and cheer, so Les makes a second lap of the stage in ape-fashion. The commotion caused is as though a real primate had gotten loose and entered the room unexpectedly. Claypool finally straps on his big black bass, steps up to the second mic which is running through a voice vocoda, and starts barking indecipherable sounds into it like a circus ring master. He seems to be running through a medley now of Primus and solo tracks, including the much demanded Tommy The Cat. The band and Les are now working hard at tacking bits of songs together in some improvised jam. It becomes utterly hypnotic watching Claypool’s fingers blurring up and down the fret on his bass, while the band attack their instruments for an unforgettable finish.

There’s really nobody quite like Les Claypool, and it’s kind of a shame his back catalogue is bigger than the man himself. For my money at least, he’s still making some excellent music and has one hell of a band, but it seems some fans can’t move on with him. Sure a Primus show would have been great, but a nostalgia trip would’ve taken a lot less skill than what was on offer at this outstanding concert.


(Pics by myself and Fruitbat)

Click the link to see Les performing "Precipitation" from this show:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The B-52'S Live in Melbourne 2009 (review)

Venue: The Forum
Date: 03/12/09

The B-52’s have remained largely unaffected by any changing music trends what-so-ever for over thirty years. They are probably the most reliable band in terms of what they do, and always have done - just be their perpetually 'unfashionable' selves. In the late ‘70s when they first arrived with THAT song about crustaceans, nobody, especially the band themselves, thought they would last for very long. Muscling in to New York’s atrociously snobby punk and avante garde scene with two singers dressed as 1950’s go-go girls, and a moustached MC in ill-fitting garish trousers was probably a big joke to the band, but against all odds audiences were soon begging for more. Another probable 'joke' was having the equally ‘unfashionable’ Proclaimers open for them on this long awaited Australian tour. The only other possible reason might be that both band's success peaked in the late '80s, via irritatingly catchy singles, yet despite remaining together since, neither of the two acts equalled that particular commercial high again.

The Proclaimers as a live band actually work quite well. I wasn’t expecting much from the lads, but their mix of exuberance and daftness was a winning formula throughout the short set. Obviously nobody cared much what they played until the closing hit, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), but they warmed the place up brilliantly all the same. The B-52’s on the other hand, have at least have a dozen familiar songs to work with, yet all except for Love Shack and Rock Lobster, are essentially fan-only favourites, and not would you’d call ‘proper hits’. I guess I’m a fan in the sense I had a dream set list involving half album tracks and B-sides - none of which got played – but I have to wonder how bored these guys get playing the same set again and again. Still, none of the band looked as though they were just going through the motions; they long-ago earned their ‘best party band in the world’ title and aren’t planning on giving it up any time soon.

I don’t know if there’s something to ‘get’ or ‘not get’ about the B-52’s, but I think it helps to remember they don’t bring any pretensions with them about being ‘legendary’ or ‘revered’. On the one occasion they tried to be a little modern or arty, (Good Stuff, 1992) it failed them. This one commercial low point nearly spelled the end of band until once again they regained the love of their fans by going back to just being “silly-old B-52’s”. Since that time, they have rarely stopped touring their ‘greatest hits’ show and tonight, that’s exactly what we’re getting. However, the one down fall of playing such well loved songs over and over again is the self-awareness on display. During Love Shack, Cindy even counts in the ‘Tin roof… Rusted’ part, cuing the audience to join her on those famous and often mis-quoted lyrics. It’s not necessary, we all would have sung it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, they stick to the early stuff with the occasional track from last years comeback album Funplex while totally avoiding Good Stuff – the only album to not feature Cindy Wilson. Also, they turn up the silly for us tonight, making sure Melbourne’s 19 year wait for their return is a memorable one. For example, guitarist Keith Strickland has turned up dressed as Slash from Guns N’ Roses, and in character uses his ‘disguise’ to strike mock-rock poses throughout the show. Kate and Cindy, looking like some disco/flower-power clash, are beautifully made-up working the shimmering glittery frocks, and of course, crowned with those famous beehive wigs. The love for these two singers is boundless as displayed by the amount of fans in their own variations of the two’s ample hair pieces. Special mentions also for the many gaudy suited and frocked fans brightening up the place and to the brave guy holding up a ‘Cindy: be my koala butt’ placade. What on earth must she have thought?

Sadly the one real downer was the girls had the unenviable task of covering for Fred Schneider, who looked either bored stiff or mad as hell at some unknown, earlier development. The usually cartoon-ish front man stood motionless for the majority of his time on stage not really looking at anybody or anything, just marking time in between his sporadic vocal duties. Schneider even exits the stage during the few songs he has no singing parts in such as Roam, presumably to cool off. In complete contrast to Fred, it’s Cindy Wilson who looks to be having the most fun. The blonde B-52 bops around the stage smiling and leading the audience in all the sing-a-long parts like some crazed primary school teacher on ecstasy. Kate Pierson’s no slacker either but holds a steadier pose at her mic, seemingly more intent on hitting the notes than working the room.

Kate’s voice still has that rare joyful but also rough’n’sexy quality, while Cindy operates at a slightly lower octave making for the ultimate complimentary duo. It’s those voices offset by Schneider’s camp ‘nonsense monologues’ that make the B-52’s so endearing. As much as I’m busting to see Fred get into the moment and go off, hearing Kate and Cindy duet makes up for his, or for that matter anyone’s rotten mood. Back to the set list though, and the remarkable clout of newer songs Pump and Love In The Year 3000 from 2008’s Funplex next to the bracket of post-punk classics 52 Girls, Quiche Lorraine and Party Out Of Bounds. No matter the band, after many years making music most eventually lose their edge or carry on trying hard to recreate their hits period; but The B-52’s can proudly stack anything from 2008 alongside their early ‘80s gems without a hint of desperation for old glories. But it’s with past success’s in mind that we come to the finale, the only way to go out; Rock Lobster. Just as the audience are going wild for it, the band themselves have taken this stand-alone classic to an increasingly unhinged level. The parade of sea creatures Fred shouts out to which the girls respond to with appropriate sounds, now incorporates submarines, banana lounges, coconut trees etc… leaving Kate and Cindy to improvise some hilarious noises in the process. The extra long version of Rock Lobster brings to a close over three decades of whacky tracks crammed into 1 and a half hours. Like all good things, it’s over way too soon and leaving the Forum tonight, feels just like going home from a party with 5000 close friends.


Meeting Kate Pierson (aaahhh!!!)


Private Idaho
Give Me Back My Man
Party Out Of Bounds
Love Shack
Quiche Lorraine
52 Girls
Love In The Year 3000
Planet Claire
Rock Lobster

Cindy going OFF on the bongos. What a live wire!

Click the link to see B-52's playing "Rock Lobster" live in Melbourne:

photos by me & Daniela Rodriguez