Friday, October 19, 2012

The Something Rain, and the Somewhat Extreme Winds

As usual, this post, ostensibly about a concert I attended, morphed into something longer than intended, but it did allow me to fold in some information a few people have requested from me about getting access to music from international sources.
Tindersticks au Toulouse (2)
About twenty years ago when I was working in downtown Sydney, I’d often wander into Red Eye Records, the largest import music store to see what had arrived that week. Pinned to the wall near the new-release section were long handwritten, typed or more latterly dot-matrix printed lists of the arrivals from London, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York, Tokyo which I would skim for familiar names.

[Here’s the long sidebar you can skip over]
There was no internet to alert you to new releases, or to say “your recent purchases indicate you may like this” or even to look up what artists had already released.  Unless you had direct recommendations from friends overseas, or an (expensive) subscription to foreign music papers, you just got whatever the music companies decided to release in Australia, often a year or more after their original release in the Northern Hemisphere.

In some ways the internet has mitigated this “tyranny of distance”. I can subscribe to newsfeeds of well-written music album and concert reviews from musicOMH, Pitchfork, or The Guardian who cover a multitude of genres, and preview most of the interesting ones via YouTube, Spotify or SoundCloud (my latest discovery – Josephine Oniyama). On the other hand the internet has seen off most of the bricks-and-mortar stores who can neither supply a deep catalogue nor the instant satisfaction of a downloaded purchase direct to your listening devices. The monolithic online stores like iTunes and Amazon have solved part of the supply issues but not all or for all.

If you’re in Australia then you have no access to music downloads from any of the Amazon stores (all in the northern hemisphere) unless you use a proxy account. Neither do you have access to the large iTunes or Spotify catalogues in the USA and UK, just the smaller list that the labels have almost whimsically decided they will allow to be sold elsewhere. Quite a lot of the European and North American artists that I like simply do not make their music available for sale in Australia, unless they manage their own distribution through their own websites, small labels  or platforms like BandCamp.

Even here in France, where music is released later than in most of Europe, you’re stuck with the domestic online stores – admittedly with the compensation of access to Qobuz which has a pretty good interface and gives you the option of buying  uncompressed CD-quality versions of tracks or even studio-masters.
Tindersticks au Toulouse (3)
Very few Australian releases make it to overseas online stores and almost certainly to nearly zero of the remaining distributors with a street presence. While I have an account with iTunes Australia, its terms actually mean it is illegal for me to buy from them while my feet are on foreign soil! It’s not actually blocked by iTunes but if you follow the labels’ demands to restrict legal sales of their artists’ products, it’s just one more obstacle to purchase. When I go back to Australia, I will find music by French artists at least as difficult to purchase.

[End of ranty sidebar].

Tindersticks au BikiniOne day in Red Eye, I heard a song being played that had me stuck between wanting to stand there listening to it finish and racing to the counter to buy it. That was my first encounter with the British group Tindersticks. The song was Tiny Tears, from their second album, later used in the first season of The Sopranos. I’ve stuck with them through many studio and live albums releases, EPs, solo projects, film-scores, and compilations.

The only time Tindersticks have toured Australia I believe to be in 2002, when I was still living in Seattle, and my last time in Europe 2005-7 was the exact period when the band seemed to have disappeared into a cloud of solo projects. Their concert appearance in Toulouse, at the end of what is quite a comprehensive tour of France for a non-local band, was definitely something I have not only been anticipating since buying the tickets in May, but for the 17 years since Tiny Tears.


The day began with a beautiful sunrise. We didn’t go to Toulouse until mid-afternoon, by which time a very strong wind was blowing. After some delays we got to the venue Le Bikini about 8, by which time there was truly a gale blowing and large broken branches to dodge on every road.
Le Bikini, ToulouseThe supporting act was solo artist Thomas Belhom who was drummer for Tindersticks at one point. He, as his label says is “a singer, percussionist and songwriter who draws beautiful landscapes of sounds”. That he definitely is, and I liked quite a lot of what I heard, but I wouldn’t say it was an ideal act for a standing-only venue. His half-hour set reminded me, in tone and execution of a an Edinburgh Festival concert given by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins and may have benefited from some kind of complementary visuals – not to mention from the audience being able to sprawl in more comfort.

Tindersticks came on promptly at 9.30pm, took over the stage and didn’t let go till the end of their second encore at about 11pm. The set was very tight without much direct audience interaction - a language issue? or simply getting down to business?
Tindersticks au Toulouse (4)  Tindersticks au Toulouse (1)
I loved the live reworkings of a number of pieces, but was a little bemused by them doing the same song This Fire of Autumn twice, about forty minutes apart, albeit in quite different arrangements – neither of them being the disco version. Was this intentional?

A small highlight of the show was one song when Dave Boulter’s organ was joined not only by guitarist Neil Fraser on keyboards but also the lead singer Stuart Staples using a small melodica – the instrument that gave me the first foothold towards learning the piano.

Even with no Tiny Tears (which they may be a bit sick of after years of touring), I was really happy with the concert. Next please, a re-visit to Australia with string and horn section, perhaps at the Sydney Opera House?
Tindersticks au Toulouse (5)

At the close of the concert, the winds outside had not abated, and the roads were even more treacherous. As I entered the main ring-road, carefully watching for cars on my left, Gustav alerted me to a large branch that had crashed onto the merge lane from our right. Luckily we were able to stop without anyone rear-ending us, and back out of it with the hazard lights on.  There was lots more junk on the roads, some of it rolling around, which didn’t seem to inspire many drivers to slow down and avoid collisions with that or with other cars in the course of avoiding it.

We spent a car-shuddering hour on our journey before the violentes intempéries (as described by my insurer in an email today) had dissipated. Apparently the wind was gusting up to 125kph throughout the region. There was no damage at the farm, but I did have a mental image of Munson pinned against our terrace wall by flying recliner chairs. Fortunately he was quite safe and happy to see us when we reached home around 1am.
Le Bikini: light deflected by wind gusts

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