from the desk of Colin Nicholls

Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 9)

In my dreams

The excitement is high here at the Lewis Carroll Amphitheater, with the Mome Raths due to hit the stage any minute. The opening act were all mimsy, and this crowd is now ready to OUTGRABE.

I missed the first act because I was at the bar ordering Snicker Snacks.


Sometimes I think it is a shame that HBO never made a second season of “Westworld”. It was a pretty good show… but on the other hand, can you imagine if they had made a second season that was needlessly complicated and confusing? Or, god forbid, a third season that was just… stupid? On the whole, I’m content with just the one season. The soundtrack work was superlative, though.. It might have been worth crappy sequel seasons just to hear that theme manipulated and massaged into new and interesting forms.

Imogen Heap, The Masonic, SF

Imogen Heap was in fine voice at The Masonic in San Francisco this weekend, but I have to deduct one point and give the show 9/10 for unexpected reasons.
First, here’s what didn’t bother me at all:

Technical Glitches – it’s a high-tech Heap show, there are always a couple of glitches, and they are always fun to see her gracefully negotiate them.

Technical monologues – Heap is a music tech nerd and this is what she does. Allowing her ebullient personality free rein to enthusiastically talking about her MiMu gloves and blockchain is part and parcel of a Heap concert.

Set List – Strictly speaking this was a joint Frou Frou / Heap concert and so including music from Guy Sigsworth‘s solo album is to be expected. Not to my taste, however your mileage may vary.

As I said, Imogen was in fine voice, with her fantastic range and tone in full display, except for a difficult first song (“Guitar Song”) where the vocal EQ seemed off and she was croaky and out of tune in some places, all of which might be blamed on the sound/monitoring folks getting their act together, along with perhaps missing out on that important cup of tea prior to going on stage (I’m guessing). Unfortunate, but a one-off: all the other songs were great vocally.

So why deduct a point?

1. Criminal under-use of the amazing Zoe Keating. Also, for the first half of the show I honestly couldn’t hear her cello contributions. Second half was better, someone turned her up in the mix. But still… more cello! More Zoe!

2. I couldn’t tell where the music was coming from! I am 100% confident this was not miming to backing tapes – that is not what I am talking about. What we were hearing was all being generated on stage, I’m sure. The problem is that this did not feel like a performance by a band of contributing musicians. Apart from the drummer (who rose to the challenge) it was almost impossible to determine who was playing what. I’m sure the woman playing the keytar was contributing in important ways but honestly, I couldn’t tell. Was she holding down the bass? Maybe.

I couldn’t tell what the guitarist was doing or contributing, apart from the odd moment. (Yes, good job on the Jeff Beck part on Say Goodnight and Go, by the way. Doesn’t make up for the rest of the concert, sorry.)

I think that Imogen’s mastery of the MiMu gloves are partly to blame. She effortlessly bounces samples and vocal treatments and loops around the aural space and looks like she’s merely dancing.

I think that when you’ve got a group of musicians on stage, however many there are, each member should be distinctively audible and contributing, in synergy, and this didn’t happen.

I’ve seen Imogen in concert twice before and never experienced this kind of disconnect between the band and the music, so I think it is a bug, not a feature, of this specific production.

That said, it was a good concert, and I have tons of respect for Imogen Heap and her creative journey. In the past I’ve flown to another city to see her live, and would do so again.

Imogen Heap does not owe us anything more, but she did hint about perhaps working on a new album for next year so I’m looking forward to that, if it happens.

YES – Fly From Here

A new album from Yes? After 10 years, this highly unlikely event has actually happened.

Famous for changing the line-up every other album, this release is no exception: Touring keyboardist Oliver Wakeman is out of the picture, replaced by… Geoff Downes? My goodness:

Cover art by Roger Dean? Check.
Extended compositions?   Check.
Produced by Trevor Horn? Check. 
Same line-up as the outstanding, excellent one-off 80’s album DRAMA ? Check.

The problem here is that this sets up inevitable disappointment. There’s just no way the album can live up to that standard.

And, indeed, it does not. This album displays a band that is creatively stretched, even with uber-producer Trevor Horn at the controls. 2/5 of the album is recycled Buggles material, and most of the rest of the album sounds like left-overs and filler.

Musically, these guys can still play. Even in their 60’s, Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) are a powerhouse, and the execution and production of the music is flawless.  But creatively, I’m not hearing the spark.

Even in the case of the stand-out track, the 20+ minute “We can Fly”, the actual musical arrangement decisions are, in my opinion, wrong. This is not an extended composition, with development and recapitulation, but three songs stuck together with some instrumental filler, and a lot of repetition. Even the climactic reprise at the end of the track is so much less than it should have been. This could have been solved by taking the vocal harmonic development from the end of the first song, and moving it to the end of the suite. That would have cut down on the lyrical repetition in the first section, and given the final reprise the kick it needs.

This is not the 80’s; and frankly, the band is not on top of their game. But why should they be? 30 years on, this is not the album it could have been. And yet, it is so much more than we could have dared to expect. Fans should (and will) rejoice in the first new Yes music in 10 years.

But clearly, the album title is a mistake. This should have been called “Pigs Can Fly”. 

Filter + The Police + Massive Attack = ?


I’m seriously grooving to this self-titled debut album. It’s got just the right fix of progressive yet commercial sensitivity, with interesting lyrics. Some of the songs run into each other – or perhaps they just have long introductions delineated with a track break. Stylistically it really does come off sounding like the less-heavy Filter mixed with Police-era Sting and a nice swathe of Massive Attack

Highly recommended. Give it a listen and escape from the typical.

Eulogy (Doctor Who Season 5.3)

I really hope the Daleks are dead for good, this time. I’d say, Let them die with dignity, but they lost that a long time ago. I mean, Serving Tea? What is this, Not the Nine O’Clock News?

I had such high hopes for this incarnation. Considering the travesty he replaces, I felt it could only be an improvement. But now it’s Spitfires In Space. Not even the “incredible” acting talents of Ian McNeice can save this episode. Yes, he let me down also.

The unending assault on the ears of the hideous soundtrack has rendered Doctor Who unlistenable as well as unwatchable, since about the third season.

Chris Eccleston was right to run from this show after only one season. While L was away a couple of weeks ago I rewatched a couple of episodes from Season One. It really did show promise. Alas.

Imogen Heap @ In the Venue, Salt Lake City, Nov 2009

What do you get if you cross Thomas Dolby with Suzanne Vega with a touch of Peter Gabriel? I've no idea but it might sound a bit like Imogen Heap.

Ms. Heap is a master (mistress?) of lyrique-concrète, sprinkling her songs with fragments of found conversation, and accompanying them with a tasty mix of high-tech synthesiser multi-tracked goodness and low-tech sampled household objects, tied up with competent acoustic piano and arrayed on a score of quirky harmonics and the best middle-eights in the pop music genre.

We were lucky enough to see her in concert on her recent U.S. mini-tour, in Salt Lake City.

It was totally awesome. There are many video clips of the concert on YouTube

Dollhouse (TV Series on Fox)

So now we've seen 4 episodes of Joss Whedon*'s new show, Whorehouse Dollhouse, and although I've read that early episodes were heavily influenced by the network, and that "after episode 5 things get more Whedon-y", I have my doubts.

It's no secret (in fact, it is the advertised premise of the show) that the Dollhouse is some kind of secret corporation where "actives" with no memories or personalities of their own, and no names but monikers of Alpha, Echo, Sierra, and Victor, are programmed for various escort services elite assignments with finely-tuned composite skill sets made up of the best parts of other, real-world experts. They go out, do the job, and then come back to base to be "wiped" of their experiences. And their services are very expensive. 

The show is a lot like Joe 90 combined with Make Me a Supermodel.

So far, when they are not being configured as a "date for hire", the Actives are out doing things that, well, surely could be done equally well (and more cost-effectively) by a real-world professional? (To come to think of it, there may well be companies that specialise in the date-for-hire thing as well.)

There's something wrong when the only people still writing about this
show after 4 episodes are discussing ways it could be rebooted into
something more interesting. I have my own ideas… perhaps everyone in the Dollhouse universe is an Active? There are no real-world people except those hidden way in the corporate headquarters?

Another thought: Wouldn't it be better if, instead of being wiped, the various personalities were backed up, and could be restored later (complete with memories of the assignments) in order to re-examine each assignment in a search for clues about the larger story arc. (Because you know there is one. It is Joss, after all.) Actually there is some clue that I might be close to the truth on this one, although given that it is purely the visual+sound effect of the wiping process, I could also be wrong.

On the other hand, there may be some future for this show as a kind of drinking game: A shot every time Echo (Eliza Dushku) gets her kit off, or otherwise mentions her breasts.

So, my one-sentence review has to be: Joss, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

* Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Serenity, and Firefly fame, say no more.

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