Pursued by a Bear »

  • Like the cut of the Fringe? Here’s an Absolut must-see selection

    July 30, 2012 @ 10:55 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    The Absolut Fringe festival is almost upon us, and you have until Wednesday to take advantage of early bird ticket prices – and do try to buy them early, as it puts money in the bank for performers and producers, and means they can potentially sleep and perhaps even eat at night.

    Grab a hard copy of the programme ASAP, which in a strange departure this year is almost completely readable. What happened to all that hot pink (well, okay, there’s still a good bit in there)? Or the unmanageable programme that was about A3 sized?

    Also, the calibre of what’s on offer this year seems very strong indeed. Need a few pointers? In no particular order, here are 11 – oh come on, 10 would be much too predictable and very un-Fringe. Get with the hot pink programme. (more…)

  • If you only do one thing this weekend . . . slap your thighs

    July 27, 2012 @ 1:53 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Street theatre: There’s been a lot of site-specific theatre in Ireland in recent years, and much of it has been of a very high calibre. But taking a show out on to the streets is a different type of theatrical high-wire act – Wonderland Productions seems more than up to the challenge, though, with its latest show, Sylvia’s Quest. The audience meet outside the Grand Social in Dublin, and are giving headphones, before the lead actor, Elitsa Dimova, appears as if from nowhere and leads them on a meandering dance of myth and memory through the twisting streets of Temple Bar and her own life, bouncing between work as a cleaner and her archaeological studies. Do try and keep up, it’s well worth the effort. (more…)

  • Live review: Dr John and the Lower 911

    July 26, 2012 @ 12:53 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    NOT CONTENT with releasing one of the albums of the year, Dr John also delivered one of the gigs of the year, with a terminal case of the blues.

    This is a show to savour from the opening bars, with Malcolm John Rebennack, or the doctor to you and me, strolling on stage in dapper New Orleans style, his walking stick festooned with voodoo charms, before rolling into Revolution from his latest, astonishing record Locked Down.

    He moves between organ and piano, the former for more recent material, the latter for his older work. While standing behind the organ, his voice occasionally sounds underpowered. He takes the odd detour on guitar to produce a squally, edgy solo or two. But when placed behind the low-slung power of his beloved grand piano, bearing a skull like a hood ornament, there is no denying who is the boss of this blues town.

    His band, the Lower 911, are excellent, with funky, brassy feints and guitar bursts above a rhythm section that never betrays the groove. New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary provides terrific support without ever stepping on the doctor’s elegantly clad toes.


    Cures what ails you

    Right Place, Wrong Time is pure, night-tripping funk. The crowd-pleasing Makin’ Whoopie is irresistible. Big Shot sounds like he and the band have been playing it for decades, and Locked Down takes no prisoners and pulls no punches. It is only in the encore that he strips it back to just vocal and piano for a tremulous, beautifully judged Blues All Over – he could play this Louisiana rhythm and blues beauty all night, and no one would leave their seats. And if there’s a better way to finish a show than with a rousing Such a Night, I’ve yet to hear it.

    Across town, an ageing queen of pop is doing her best to convince half a stadium that she is still relevant and inventive; in Vicar Street, the doctor is in the house, and he’s about to bring it down.

  • If you only do one thing this weekend . . . consult the doctor

    July 19, 2012 @ 6:48 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    The doctor is in: Frank Ocean’s latest release has critics climbing over themselves to call it album of the year – a sentiment I don’t disagree with (and here’s the evidence). But before Mr Ocean set about rewriting the rules of r’n’b and hip hop (no, really), there were two pacesetters earlier in the year setting out their very effective stalls.

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    Bobby Womack took plenty of people by surprise with his career rejuvenating and modestly titled album The Greatest Man in the Universe, and the other stunning piece of work came from another veteran that many people had long sent out to pasture in their minds – Dr John.

    With some help from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Dr John harked back to his earlier work as the Night Tripper on Locked Down. Spooky voodoo New Orleans vibes lurk in the shadows of this one, lending things a real sense of danger and unpredictability, while hip, bang up to the minute funk make the whole ensemble sound vital and essential. On Tuesday, he is bringing his live show to Dublin’s Vicar Street – and with a player as demanding as this leading from the front, expect a night of thunderous groove and the kind of playing that takes decades to perfect. Lock it in.

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    Culture clash: There’s a lot of quality on offer on the live-music front in the coming days, particularly for acts outside of the mainstream. Along with the above, there is a jazz triumvirate of Phronesis, Sligo Jazz Project and Oko to choose from. And tomorrow night, the Helix plays host to a cultural mash-up, with the home-grown class of Iarla Ó Lionáird and Steve Cooney trading musical phrases with Maori musicians Whirimako Black and Richard Nunns, and a 17-strong band to put things into the heavyweight category.

    Western style: Where to start with the Galway Arts Festival? Perhaps with the desperately affecting The Outgoing Tide, starring John Mahoney and Rondi Reed? Or maybe the absurd economics of Julian Gough’s The Great Goat Bubble? You could get a sense of perspective, or rather lose it altogether, with David Mach’s epic exhibition Precious Light, the centrepiece of the arts festival’s programme. Or maybe tackle Marina Abramovic’s autobiographical performance, produced in collaboration with videomaker Charles Atlas, in which the artist delivers a monologue that traces a concise personal chronology. An embarrassment of riches, but what else did you expect from the GAF?

    Northern soul: Further north, the Earagail Arts Festival still has Donegal in its grip. Stephen Brennan will be reading from Flann O’Brien’s classic The Third Policeman on Sunday, and there is still time to catch Fishamble’s The Wheelchair On My Face. On Friday, the excellent We Cut Corners with support from In Their Thousands will be packing out Voodoo in Letterkenny. But it’s the closing party that is the hot ticket. The twin engines of JD Twitch and JG Wilkes will be bringing their Optimo club to the northwest, with Scottish garage punk The Rosy Crucifixion sending things off in style on Sunday night. And then there’s the sensory processional feast of Puja from LUXe, featuring sculpture, aerial acrobatics, dancing fire, shadow play, illuminated installations, costume and music at Fort Dunree, Buncrana on Saturday.

  • How’s this for a jazz trio?

    July 17, 2012 @ 5:24 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    The next week or so sees a powerful trio of jazz performances across the country. So now is the perfect time to take a chance on some more challenging music.

    First off, on Friday, is the home-grown talent of Oko, featuring guitarist Shane Latimer, keyboardist Darragh O’Kelly (who also plays with Republic of Loose and Niwel Tsumbu), percussionist Shane O’Donovan (Dublin City Jazz Orchestra and Isotope regular) and turntablist DJackulate (North Strand Kontra Band). (more…)

  • If you only do one thing this weekend … see some stars

    July 13, 2012 @ 2:33 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Super stars: Will there be a better party anywhere else this weekend than Le Galaxie’s latest EP launch in the Button Factory? The electro pop rock and rollers did fine a job of stealing the show at Forbidden Fruit out from under the noses of some heavyweight contenders, and for this gig they’ve assembled a crack A team of Adultrock, Nanu Nanu, Ships and Sleep Thieves to get the job done, with DJs on hand to modify the van. Proceedings kick off at 9pm, and it’s tickets on the door, so head down early if you want to make sure of getting in. Rubber masks are welcome but not mandatory.

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    Hop to the hip: And, if you find a decent spot, you might as well stay put until Sunday night for the finest night of hip hop you’re likely to see in some time. Wu Tang Clan Legends sees Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Masta Killa and Gza taking to the stage to put their solo stuff about, before teaming up to unleash some Wu Tang classics on a very suspecting public. The Button Factory seems to be booking big acts into its relatively small space and charging slightly higher ticket prices – it’s an interesting policy, and for a line-up like this, it should be well worth the cash.

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  • One for the drummers … and why there’s no such thing as a musician who should’ve made it

    July 11, 2012 @ 9:19 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Last week, while half of Dublin was heading to the Phoenix Park to worship at the Stone Roses altar (a band whose charms continue to elude me), I was on my way to do the most musically nerdy thingy I’ve probably ever done – I was going to see Steely Dan and Sting’s drummer play a solo gig.

    The drummer in question is Keith Carlock. On the previous night, Carlock had played a packed show at Whelan’s with his band Rudder. On Thursday last, he was giving a drum workshop/masterclass/chat and play to a small crowd of about 140 rabid drummers – and me.

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    Carlock, for those of you unfamiliar with his work, is one of the finest drummers playing today. Steely Dan, a band notorious for their musical pickiness and complexity, used him for every track on their 2003 album Everything Must Go, which I think is the only time this has happened. He has been with them ever since.

    Carlock’s style never sacrifices the groove, and he seems to approach the kit not as a single instrument, but as a collection of instruments – imagine the tom toms as the more melodic instruments, the bass and floor toms as the more rhythmic, the snare creating the conversation between the two, the cymbals stepping in where you might expect brass. The effect is to create a kind of symphonic percusiveness, and one where, to use a hoary old cliché, he really makes the kit sing.

    The best part of this gig was the opening 20 minutes when Carlock simply got up and let rip, improvising grooves and beats that would knock you off your feet. From there he went into some more cerebral drum talk, talking in detail about technique and approach, and then a bit of colourful banter on his career. (He also spent a bit of time shilling for his sponsor Gretsch drums and, in fairness, the US Custom kit he was playing sounded rich, lush and packed with under- and overtones, especially on his loose-tuned bass drum.)

    What struck me about this gig, apart from Carlock’s astonishing playing, are a few aspects I’ve encountered at similar events and when dealing with people who are truly at the top of their game in music – people who are or are close to becoming masters of their art, thanks to countless hours spent in the practice room and the methodical and careful study of their peers and mentors.

    Firstly, Carlock’s total focus on the job. Carlock talked about heading to New York, not with a vague idea of making it or notions of where he would maybe like to go. He arrived with a specific plan, knowing exactly who he wanted to play with and where he wanted his career and his playing to go. The beauty of it is that it worked. Shortly after he arrive in New York he found himself playing with Wayne Krantz, and within a year he was gigging with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan – which is a bit like arriving to England clubless and within a year finding yourself playing Champion League football with Liverpool*.

    Secondly, there was a total lack of ego on display. Do not confuse this was bashfulness. There was no doubt in my mind that Carlock knows exactly how good he is – which does not preclude him from knowing there is always room for improvement. But he was friendly, open and honest and more than happy to sit there, shooting the breeze or playing for as long as we were willing to listen. Here is a man who spends most of his time playing with the best in the business to stadiums full of fans, and yet he can change gear to playing in front of a 100 or so just as committed fans without dropping his game, losing his generosity of spirit in the performance, or shoring up his ego with an entourage or an aloof manner.

    This kind of professionalism put me in mind of something I’ve heard from several musicians, some who have “made it” and some who are still struggling to pay the bills. Put crudely, there is no such thing as a brilliant musician who should have made it, but just didn’t get their break. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough, and if you also put in the work, the “break” – or, more accurately, the result of years of working, practising, playing and improving – will come along and look after itself.

    For musicians, that’s the challenge – matching the ambition with the ability and with the work ethic. And if you manage, like Keith Carlock, to avoid becoming a swaggering, 28-inch-rimmed Hummer of hubris along the way, you can call yourself a true professional.

    * The author reserves the right to dream of the (imminent) day when the ’Pool are back where we belong

  • Take a deep breath . . .

    July 6, 2012 @ 4:17 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    In a departure from the usual arty fare on offer, here is a piece on freediving in Ireland that I wrote for The Irish Times, as part of its Sligo supplement. Those allergic to outdoor activities and outstanding experiences should look away now.

    HOW LONG can you hold your breath? It’s the kind of question most people haven’t troubled themselves with since they were about seven, along with who in your class would win a race, and could you beat him in a fight? Right now though, the answer seems crucial. And the reason is Feargus Callagy. (more…)

  • If you only do one thing this weekend . . . get some vice into you

    July 5, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    New space: There was good news on the theatre front this week, with the reopening of TheatreUpstairs. After a two-year absence, the theatre has found a new home above Lanigan’s bar on Eden Quay, Dublin 2, under the stewardship of Karl Sheils. It is opening in style, with a premiere of a new Jimmy Murphy play, Perfidia, which runs until July 14th at 1pm lunchtime slots. The production is Peter Gaynor’s first foray into directing, and stars Roseanna Purcell and Una Kavanagh.

    While there, you can also check out Up, an exhibition of paintings by Helen McNulty. When most of us get on an aircraft, we pop in headphones or get stuck into a book. McNulty has spent the past 10 years of flying staring out the window, sketching and wondering, and these paintings are the result of that.


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  • The unquiet Americans

    July 3, 2012 @ 9:40 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Yee-haw! Tomorrow is American Independence Day, and the Light House cinema in Dublin is doing its bit to represent for the US of A by screening one of the finest cinematic creations ever to soar from the land of the free: Top Gun. The film is one of three showing this week (you’ve already missed Team America: World Police but there’s still time to catch Point Break), and the Gun is reputedly so American that if you cut it, it bleeds red, blue, stars and stripes. It is also the film that taught us that the the most manly of manly sports is beach volleyball. High five.

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    Lately, I’ve been given myself a higher than usual dose of American culture. I’m a late one to the party, admittedly, but is there a better American writer alive today than Don DeLillo? With Underworld, he’s currently climbing on to the same pedestal for me as James Ellroy (try American Tabloid for size if you haven’t already) and Raymond Chandler (start reading The Big Sleep and if you don’t immediately buy all his books, check for your pulse). I’m not convinced anyone can go toe to toe with Ernest Hemingway though.

    I’m also late enough to the Western party, though Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid would probably rank top of the pile. What I find fascinating is that, although most people would maintain the genre had little more to say, recent additions to the oeuvre have proved just as good as the best of what’s gone before – True Grit, There Will Be Blood and Unforgiven are plenty comfortable at the table with The Searchers, The Wild Bunch and High Noon.

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    I was intrigued recently by one meaningless statistic that cropped up in one of Vanity Fair’s regular polls. It asked readers who they would most like to compose a new US anthem, from a shortlist of seven. Madonna got 5 per cent, Jay-Z clocked just 8, John Williams came in at 10 per cent and Bob Dylan racked up 11 per cent. Stevie Wonder got 18 per cent, but Dolly Parton showed all of them who was boss with 19 per cent. She wasn’t, though, to be this selection of the nation’s favourite. Unsurprisingly, 22 per cent opted for Bruce Springsteen to put words and music to what it means to be born in the USA, and it’s hard to think of another songwriter who has had such a consistently illuminating take on what it means to be American – although I think Steve Earle can give him a run for his money when he’s at the top of his game. And you’d never bet against Johnny Cash.

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    When it comes to photography, has anyone matched Ansel Adams’s work at capturing the American landscape? And when it comes to the individual, few people better framed the American outsider than Diane Arbus.

    Ask what visual artists best encapsulate the US, and it’s probably modernists all the way: de Kooning, Pollock, and of course Warhol. For me, though, Mark Rothko’s bewildering work is one of the finest encapsulations of the sound and the fury, and the unknowable vastness of the US.

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