Feb. 9th, 2009

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I went and watched Leonard Cohen play at Sandalford Winery on Saturday night. Despite being positioned so far from the stage that I could only really watch Cohen perform on the video screens (the stage was visible, but everything going on looked pretty indistinct from where I was), it still ended up being one of the best shows I've ever watched.

The support acts were Augie March and Paul Kelly. Augie only played for about 40 minutes, and were pleasant enough. I was hoping they'd play some of the old faves like "Heartbeat and Sails" or "Asleep in Perfection", but it was mostly newer material. Paul Kelly was fantastic, which was a minor revelation for me as I've never really bothered looking into his work too much. Great presence, friendly banter and fine musicianship. He was assisted by Dan Kelly on electric guitar, as well as on uke for one song. He did a uke solo that was a big crowd pleaser.

Leonard Cohen started around 7:30, and played through until well after 10, with only a quick 20 minute break in between. Not bad for a dude in his mid-seventies. He was extremely professional and charismatic, and despite sticking to an almost spoken word, bass/baritone style, his singing was really captivating. He put on a great, confident show, striking plenty of poses (he favoured the dramatic "down on one knee" look), skipping around the stage (really, he was impressively sprightly and energetic), and engaging with the audience with some friendly banter. Everyone had a chuckle when he said "Last time I stood on a stage I was 60 - I was just a kid back then with a headfull of crazy dreams." There were also cheers when he slipped a subtle name-drop into the lyrics of "Hallelujah", with "I did not come all this way - to Perth - to fool you". He played pretty much all his well-known songs, although there were only a few from his earlier material. My favourite "So Long Marianne" came at the beginning of the first encore, and was a big personal highlight. I also really enjoyed "First We Take Manhattan", "Hallelujah", "Sisters of Mercy", "I'm Your Man", "Tower of Song" and "Suzanne". The only noteworthy absences for me personally were "Avalanche" and "The Stranger Song", but no major complaints.

It's also worth noting that the band he had were exceptional. Cohen gave them plenty of recognition and time for soloing (even giving the backup singers a couple of songs on their own), making each of them really memorable in their own right. The ones that had the biggest impact on me were the sister-pair of backing singers (one of whom played the harp), who had absolutely gorgeous vocals and worked beautifully together, and the Spanish dude who played a 12-string instrument similar to a mandolin, with incredible skill and precision.

An amusing aside: the average age of the attendees must have been about 50. It was pretty classic watching them all get tipsy on wine throughout the evening, and all the couples started cuddling and dancing together during the later, more romantic tunes. It was cute and awfully sweet :)

I'm so glad I got the opportunity to watch this show. Cohen has been a favourite artist of mine for a few years now, and I figured he was one of those artists where I simply wasn't born early enough to ever get the chance. It was a truly moving performance, with a real feeling of "We probably won't get to do this again, so let's make it count this time." I think I'll remember it for the rest of my life.
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---#30---


Jill Scott - Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1
(soul, r&b)



Appealing and slinky contemporary soul/r&b that boasts a level of enjoyment and replay value that belies it's apparently simplistic sound. Scott's voice is lovely, expressive and very smooth, while the instrumentation and production is quite elegant, all graceful strings, soft percussion and subtle piano lines. A very pleasant surprise indeed.



---#29---


Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
(alt-country)



Having first heard Adams' more recent, scattershot efforts like Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights (which weren't bad, they just weren't that great either), I found myself really pleased with Heartbreaker. It's a well-balanced, constantly great album of alt-country tunes, all of which turn the genre's twangy cliches up just enough that it constantly rides on the good side of the line between lovable and outright cheesy. "Come Pick Me Up" is especially great - a "screw me over and I'll ask for more" anthem that's become a new personal favourite.



---#28---


Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
(post-rock)



The opening dozen minutes of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (aka "Storm" parts 1 and 2) is quite possibly the best stretch of music on any album released in 2000. The build up and crescendo of Part 1 and the soaring midsection of Part 2 are so uplifting, powerful and beautifully played that, even after dozens (probably hundreds) of listens, they send a huge shiver down my spine. The remainder of the album is a little overlong and unfocused, making it my least favourite effort in the Godspeed catalogue, but there's so many good bits hidden throughout it's near 2 hour runtime that it still stands head and shoulders above 95% of post-rock.



---#27---


Quasimoto - The Unseen
(experimental hip-hop)



With its pitch-shifted vocals, near-incomprehensible background murmurs, bountiful sampladelic weirdness and severely fractured structure, The Unseen, Madlib's debut under his Quasimoto alias, presents a brand of abstract hip-hop so liquid and hazy, it feels as though it must have been recorded direct from Quas' weed-fueled dreams.



---#26---


Tim Perkins and Alan Moore - The Highbury Working
(spoken-word, electronic, experimental-rock)



Comics madman Alan Moore rants his way through an impassioned spoken-word narrative of the secret, mystical history of London's Highbury area, backed by Perkins' boggy, noirish instrumentation. As a renowned author, Moore obviously has a way with words, and there's a certain delight to the way he delivers lines like "Highbury wasn't at Death's door, it was halfway down Death's passage, hanging up its coat." His voice seems like an awkward fit for a music album - his vocals more or less match the way he talks the rest of the time, as though he's speaking through a thick layer of mud while someone walks along his vocal chords - but it works, and as the story unfolds his delivery becomes increasingly intense. By the time the triumphant finale of "The Angel Highbury" hits, it's become downright thrilling.
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Like several of my friends, I've been trying to lose a bit of weight lately. My method has been to eat a relatively normal quantity of healthy food each day (pretty much the same sort of food I was eating before), but instead of having it as breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, I'm having breakfast and then basically "grazing" throughout the remainder of the day. I like this way of eating, as I feel satisfied all through the day, rather than getting really hungry right before meal times, and I also get to eat a wider variety of foods. Combined with a reasonable amount of swimming recently, it's been working well and I've lost some weight.

My current aim is to get under 90kg, at which point I'll decide if I want to lose some more. I started out in early-January, and my weight had typically fluctuated between 95 and 102kg for a few years before that. Anyway, I'm down to 92kg at the moment, which just happens to be the magic number that puts me back into the healthy weight bracket of the bmi. Woo!

Anyway, just thought I'd share that little milestone.

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