Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An appointment with the Boss

Two weeks ago Rich and I acheived a long held and discussed mutual ambition and went on a lightning quick road trip (along with Rich's brother) up to Auckland to finally see Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band live, after years of being a fan. Rather than try and review the concert, I'll let the Herald's excellent run-down do that. Instead I thought I'd just record a few notes and impressions.

-Wandering around downtown on a sunny afternoon with good friends noting every music shop is playing Springsteen, and spotting Brooooooooce fans is a great way to spend an afternoon pre-gig.

-Train is the best way to get to an event like this. No muss no fuss, and we didn't even have to pay for it, even if we were nowhere near as photogenic and bubbly as the people in the picture.


-I've been to Mt Smart stadium for so many concerts now it doesn't even feel like leaving home - I know it better than the stadium in Wellington even. It may have it's critics, but I really can't complain about it. Sunset on a summer's evening at a concert at Mt Smart is one of my favourite places to be.

-Some people just don't get the art of buying merch. Waiting until you are at the front of the queue before deciding on your purchase (after trying on every option) is not cool. Know your size, spend your time in the queue looking at the display items on the back wall of the cart, get there, get it and get out. Job done.

-Concentrating the bar in one large area might seem like a good idea, but is kind of shambolic in practice. Queueing 25 minutes for a (warm, overpriced) drink isn't fun.


-Being able to shed shoes and socks and chill out for a bit on some very nicely manicured turf is nice, although that ground is hard at this time of year - I'm glad I don't have to run around on it wearing football boots to earn a living. That and I'm shit at Rugby League.

-Mahlia Barnes was capable as a support act, even if not really my style, and let's face it no-one is there to see the opening act anyway.

-Second support act Jimmy Barnes doesn't sing so much as yell at the microphone until it does what he wants. Barnes' trademark rasp also appeared to be giving his sound engineer headaches judging by the levels. Still it was a good set, with a lot of old favourites from his solo stuff and Cold Chisel. It's often dismissed as bogan chic but the guy has actually written more than a few good songs in his time. I loved seeing "Flame Trees" and "Working Class Man" in particular, "believes in God and Elvis", and "who needs that sentimental bullshit anyway" from those songs being some of my favourite lyrics by anyone.


-The crowd doing mexican waves, and Bruce timing his walk out, alone with no fanfare, only an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, to exactly the moment the wave got to the stage and starting to sing this. Legendary moment.

-Covering Royals as the local song for this venue appears to have polarised people a bit - a lot of people hate the song choice and rendering, and a lot of people love it too. I'm in the latter camp. I thought it was a great choice, and here's why. Lorde is current, and in at least one way, comparable to Springsteen - both are from relatively humble backgrouds they have both been deemed the next big thing at some point in their lives. Some people have said "oh he should have done Crowded House, or Finn, or Dobbyn or Shihad or something" (usually the people to whom NZ music begins and ends with those artists), which would have been okay, but also cringey in a way (and I'm a fan of those artists too). It's been done already for one, and those artists are just not as relevant as Lorde is right now. And I liked Springsteen's rendering, and his lyrical changes - a good cover should sound like the artist wrote it themselves, and while not perfect, Springsteen managed that. Disclaimer: I like Lorde and Royals anyway.

-Seeing Tom Morello in this context is initially a bit wierd, but quickly becomes normal.

-The E-Street band is tight, and a buzz to watch. They may have done all this a thousand times before, but the exuberance and enjoyment is right there for all to see. Speaking of which, the three giant screens only showed what was on stage, which was great for those of us in the 200th row, but also good for focussing on the music rather than any stageshow gimmicks. This gig was all about the music. Even the slightly contrived moments, the rock and roll theatre stuff you're expecting still works because everyone involved is having such a good time.

-Compared to Barnes' at times patchy sound mix, Springsteen's was perfect.

-Bruce himself clearly knows and appreciates the art of audience interaction, even if he isn't familiar enough a performer here for the crowd to pick up some of his leads.


-The set and show itself was epic, three hours with only very short breaks, and Bruce himself sustaining the energy and performance like a guy half his age. It was just one big party. I know a few people who were less than enthusiastic about the E-Street Band being on this tour, and of a few who declared they wouldn't bother because it wasn't Bruce without the E-Street Band. It's a purist thing I guess. His most well known material is with that band, and if that's too commercial for you, meh. Playing the "Born in The USA" album in it's entirety seemed to justify the "commercial" critics (and while most successful, I'll admit it might not be his best or most representative album), but this was only the second time he has ever played NZ, and the first with E-Street. "USA" was a breakthrough album for him here, most of it never played here before, so why not play it, especially when there is an hour of other material either side of it in the set. It just added to the spectacle. There was only one two songs I really would have liked to see that weren't played, but I can't complain given all the others that were.

-The old story of seeing songs you've grown up with live for the first time played it's part. I've been listening to "The River" for thirty years, but never heard it with as much emotion as I did seeing it live. Likewise for some of the Born in the USA tracks, just for seeing Max Weinberg doing all that drumming I love on that album.

-Closing the show as it began, alone with a guitar and harmonica to perform "Thunder Road" was a perfect coda.

-And then it was all over. The lights come up and it's time to go. I've seen it a bunch of times, and it never fails to impress just how quickly a big crowd can disperse after the show.



-And after that, the familiar walk down the road in industrial south Auckland to wherever your ride is:

-It was awesome.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013


Long time between posts, but I haven't missed a Christmas post yet with this thing.

After a Christmas Day full of contentment we made our now traditional trip to the beach in the evening. It's a tough gig but someone's got to do it.



Happy Christmas wherever you are!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Laughing at ignorance

I found myself revisiting this picture the other day. I took this when I was thirteen, in a British Airways 747 high over the Arctic on the way from London to Los Angeles on my first overseas trip in January 1990. I was fascinated to notice the contrails from the engines were forming so close to the aircraft that they could be seen from inside, rather than trailing behind a little. Besides being a cool process to watch, it was also a great indicator of just how fast we were travelling, something you don't often get in an airliner. So I took a photo.


At top left is the port horizontal stabiliser of the 747. The contrail from the port inboard engine is in the bottom third of the frame, with a gap between it and the outboard trail above. It's indistinct and imperfect, but it's one of my favourite old photos. That was a cool experience.

Many years later, a particular conspiracy theory involving contrails would arise and catch my attention, as it confluences a few interests of mine. Basically the "Chemtrail" theory as it's known asserts that the trails you can see in the sky aren't the normal by-product of humidity and engine exhaust or aerodynamic processes, but some kind of secret evil plot to spray chemicals from altitude and affect the masses below, via depopulation, weather control, or whatever particular flavour of un-sense is being propagated that day.

Beyond the fact that on the scale alleged it's logistically impossible, technically implausible, and scientifically idiotic (among a host of reasons for it's utter improbability), the people that promote it are usually utterly uninformed about the finer details of aviation, meteorology and chemistry. If they were informed they probably wouldn't fall for this crap, but there you go. While the unfounded nonsense being promoted and sold as fact and 'truth' (and if you question the 'truth', you're either asleep, a sheeple, or a shill) is annoying to someone who actually knows what they are looking at, and the threats made by some of them against contrailing aircraft and pilots are actually unnerving, occasionally (well more than occasionally), there is some amusement to be had. Usually because the chemtrailers are so unaware, and aren't actually knowledgeable in the subjects they lecture on, not only are some of their "revelations" and speculations hilariously inaccurate (I've seen them ponder for days over the role of a "mysterious" aircraft seen on google earth that was visibly unflyable to name but one example. It was a grounded airframe used as a training aid), they are also easily pranked.

This video frequently does the rounds as 'evidence'. It's a USAF KC-10 aerial refuelling tanker, being videoed from another KC-10, allegedly "spraying" evil chemtrails while the pilots openly discuss it. Note the manipulation when the "stills" are taken and elsewhere.


Unfortunately for the chemtrail argument the original video was shot and posted specifically to satirise chemtrailers. And they fell for it, and continue to do so en masse. See if you can spot the differences:

The trail is an aerodynamic contrail, formed by an interaction of pressure, temperature and humidity as the aircraft passes through the air. The trail varies as the immediate local conditions do. It's a well known and understood phenomenon obvious to anyone who knows about it. Chemtrailers don't. There are no "nozzles" on the wings. What was identified as such are housings for mechanisms that raise and lower the flaps (and anyone can look up a diagram of a DC or KC-10 and verify this for themselves). There is a theory that because the maker of the conspiracy version isn't a native english speaker, the sarcastic tone of the commentary may not have been noticed. You can make your own mind up on that one.

If those promoting the chemtrail theory were actually expert in aircraft anatomy, aerodynamics, weather and science like they think they are, and presented it with properly derived evidence, verifiable and obtained through validated methods they might have more credibility. But they aren't, and they don't have any. As well as the wrongness of what they promote, I'm also fascinated by the disconnect that means all of the rational evidence that they are wrong is not only uninvestigated and ignored, but routinely dismissed as "disinfo". Like followers of many scientifically illiterate conspiracy theories, it's adherents are choosing to be ignorant. In a world where basic scientific literacy and critical thinking skills are getting more and more important to have (in my view at least), that's just depressing.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

So a week ago, it's Friday afternoon, and I'm at my desk, the aftershocks from last month's quakes have pretty much died away and things have been feeling normal in that regard for a little bit, when this bad boy happens, and suddenly I'm under my desk waiting for it to stop. Which seemed to take ages. This was the first of the recent series I have felt somewhere other than at home, and away from the bedrock of that locale it was a lot more intense. That was the first time I've ever for real jumped under a desk or table in an earthquake. And I'd do it a couple more times that afternoon as more aftershocks came through. Not fun.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Perspective

So driving home after a stressful day, with a lot on my mind, and I look in the passenger seat and my two year old is sitting there singing "Wheels on the bus" complete with hand and arm movements, happy with not a care in the world, and this song starts playing on the radio, and suddenly everything's cool. It will be spring soon :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

12 Things I hate about X-Factor

Note: this was written a few days ago, when it was slightly more current, but Ruaumoko had other ideas.

1. The host. I'm not sure what look Dominic Bowden is going for, but if it is slick smug sarcastic insincerity, he's got it nailed. Oh, and the paaaaaussssinggg.

2. Moments like this:

Man, that Stevie Nicks dude wrote some great songs back in the day. . . If you are going to judge material, at least pay the courtesy of fecking knowing it.

3. The X-factor they are looking for isn't talent. It is marketability. In some of the few moments of actual honesty on it, the judges near constantly refer to their charges ability to sell records to the "market". They stop short of referring to the performers as "units", but it isn't far away. It's not about making music. more about making money. It has nothing to do with good music, nothing to do with learning and honing your craft, of doing all the hard and unsung work, and it's hard not to see it as insulting to the musicians and performers that have paid their dues. It's designed to create an instant disposable product for an audience that generally doesn't know any better musically. I wonder how many in the rent-a-crowd studio audience knew who The Manic Street Preachers were without having to be told. Probably too busy waving their elbows as directed to care.

4. The show itself like most of its kind is a disposable product, designed to do nothing more than generate revenue for it's sponsors. Both the show and the performers it produces are intended to be short lived , the details forgotten by next season so they can do it all again. Whoever wins it will be a figurehead for whatever campaigning follows the show. If they are really lucky they might have a career afterward.

5. It's not reality. It's insincere, scripted and contrived at every turn. "Look, here's one of our hopefuls at McDonalds. Who happen to be one of our sponsors! And look, they happen to be talking about the show! How lucky it was our camera crew was present to capture this spontaneous moment!"
Let alone all the banter, arrangement, song selection to favour or disfavour a performer and pretty much everything else.

6. It doesn't find artists. It creates disposable carbon copy performers, to fit in a narrow mould. When they let contestants write and perform their own material rather than soullessly butchering other people's in a sort of hyper karaoke I'll be much more interested.Which brings me to point 7.

7. Butchering actually good classic songs and turning them into two-minute cheese-fests.

8. The public voting system is dubious at best, since it doesn't appear to be transparent, and there seems to be nothing stopping the producers from just making up the numbers anyway. Even if it is legit, it further reduces the talent factor, by way of turning the thing into a popularity contest. Not to mention raking in the cash at $1 a text.

9. It promotes the fantasy that the NZ music market is big enough to sustain pop mega-stars for more than a few singles. Bowden can say "living the dream!" as often as he wants, that doesn't make it true.

10. "Taking it to the next level". Etc.

11. The hype. It's inescapable. Inescapable enough that I can mercifully write this without having to watch too much of the show itself.

12. It's just wrong. Hey, no-one said this had to be rational. Like all rant lists, the objectivity is all mine.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Well this is getting old

Hot on the heels of Friday's rocking and rolling, we have had today's memorable events.
This bad boy in the morning woke me from a doze to wonder if one of the girls was jumping on the bed (something it took about a second to realise couldn't be true), before waking up and heading to the doorframe to join the rest of the family.
Screengrab via Geonet.org.nz

Then right on tea-time it's bigger brother showed up.
Screengrab via Geonet.org.nz

I was just walking out the back-door to bring in the washing when it kicked off. I ran back in to fetch Sophie from the lounge (who at 2 seems impervious to the shakes so far), and paused in the lounge doorway to wait and see what was happening. A cry from upstairs revealed that Charlotte (who at 4 is not quite so ambivalent as her sister) had been woken from her nap and was most displeased at the house going all wobbly again. Fi had now appeared in an adjacent doorframe, so thrusting/throwing Sophie at her I ran upstairs to meet Charlotte coming down. Second babe in hand I went back down and waited for the shaking to stop. While our heartrates settled down, a plan was hatched to sort out who goes for what babe in future, and Charlotte instructed to wait for us in a safe place. Just in time for the aftershock about five minutes later

I've discovered that the big slab of peneplain my house sits on manages to insulate us from most things below a 5.0 or so in this sequence, so we've been spared most of the aftershocks, and the worst of the main shocks. The damage around the city though is of a kind I don't recall seeing here in my lifetime, with at least one person I know having their inner city apartment trashed, and the CBD closed for inspection until at least noon. The preliminary report from GNS gives a 1 in 3 chance of a similar size quake within the next week, and a 1 in 5 for the next 24 hours. That's not encouraging.

Post script: On pondering what the shakes actually feel like, and it feels obvious to say it, the big shakes have a palpably different feel to them. They aren't just little shakes writ large. They have more heft, more bass (the bass component is a wierd one to explain), more everything. The little ones tease with the possibility they may get bigger. The big ones leave no doubt they mean business.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nice Day for an Earthquake

And it was. Blue skies, sunshine, light winds.

And a shallow 5.7 out in Cook Strait. News link with awesome koiwoi ucksents here.

And after a friend of mine suggested this track on facebook, I'm shamelessly stealing it. Dodgy quality but one of my favourite videos in one of my favourite places (Te Mata Peak in the Hawkes Bay). Seems appropriate: