Friday 28 June 2013

Post no. 700: Bruce Springsteen at Ricoh Arena 20/07/13

One week ago I was in the fair city of Coventry to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band bring the 2013 leg of their Wrecking Ball Tour to the Ricoh Arena. It was the first time I'd seen Broooooce and the gang since Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park back in 2009, so I was more than ready to do the E Street Shuffle...
The three-hour set started in a low-key fashion as Bruce sang a solo acoustic version of Steinbeck-esque anthem The Ghost Of Tom Joad before bringing the full might of the newly-expanded E Streeters to bear on a lovely Long Walk Home and a glorious charge through My Love Will Not Let You Down  -  definitely not playing it safe by giving us "hits", but instead just damn good songs. The loose Wrecking Ball theme of "hard times come and hard times go" was reflected in a venomous version of Seeds, a blue-collar anthem from way back in the '80s which still resonates today with its tale of working people facing economic realities. The more things change...
After mass crowd singalongs to the evergreen Hungry Heart and an absolutely spine-tingling take on The River, Bruce announced the band were going to play the Born To Run album from start to finish and dedicated it to their "great friend" the actor James Gandolfini who had died that day...

Above is Mr. Gandolfini in his most famous role as Tony Soprano, with E Street guitarist "Miami" Steve Van Zandt ( with amazing hairpiece! ) as Silvio Dante. I watched the first couple of seasons of The Sopranos then kind of lost track of it and always wished I'd persevered. I'll have to invest in some box-sets and catch up. On the way to the venue that night I had seen a massive video screen outside the Coventry Transport Museum, showing a BBC News tribute to James Gandolfini, and was expecting there to be some mention of him at the gig. The romantic film noir rock 'n' soul of Born To Run was the perfect choice...
I have to admit I had tears in my eyes as those first, haunting harmonica notes of Thunder Road echoed around the arena. ( I'm such a pushover! ) BTR is not only my favourite Bruce album, but my favourite album, full-stop. ( For further dribblings on the subject see my long-lost 15 Albums blog. ) Suffice it to say, I was in hog's heaven for the next 40 minutes or so as the modern E Street Band did a brilliant job of replicating the sound of 1975  -  especially Jake Clemons who treated us to a wonderful rendition of his late uncle's beautiful sax solo from Jungleland. And Springsteen's vocals were out of this world. He's still got it, alright!

( Picture above courtesy of )
Before you get the impression this was all a bit too worthy, let me tell you that the E Street brothers and sisters rocked out for all they were worth. The greatly-expanded collective now incorporates elements of folk, soul and gospel into Bruce's music, bringing the party to the people. And Bruce himself? Well, he's still the most energetic, committed and passionate frontman in rock 'n' roll, giving 100% every time. The sign request in the photo above from one of Bruce's many forays into the crowd says it all, really. Bruce and his band can and do play anything and everything in their ongoing mission to give their audience the best night... every night. And I'm sure the three women, one 9-year old boy and one guy called Evan who was looking for a "man hug" from Bruce all agreed as they were dragged onto the stage for their moments in the spotlight :-)

After playing big hits ( Dancing In The Dark, Born In The USA ), future classics
( Shackled And Drawn, Death To my Hometown ) and the obligatory soul cover version ( Raise Your Hand ) Bruce ended the three-hour set with the Pogues-folk/punk stomper American Land, a wild and raucous conclusion to another awesome set from the greatest rock 'n' roll band on Earth. Long may they run...

( Also courtesy of, here's the full set-list... )
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Long Walk Home
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Two Hearts
Long Time Comin'
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
Hungry Heart
The River
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River
Pay Me My Money Down
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Lonesome Day
* * *
We Are Alive
Born in the U.S.A.
Bobby Jean
Dancing in the Dark
Raise Your Hand
American Land

Sunday 23 June 2013

Street Art in unlikely places

I'd expect to find street art in big cities like London or Bristol ( the home of the mysterious, controversial Banksy ) but sometimes you can run across some examples in the most unusual spots. The witty piece above is actually stencilled on the wall of Brixham fish market  -  "Let them eat fish" indeed! Clearly based on one of Banksy's most famous pieces, it may not be the work of the great man himself... but it's pretty cool.
The above ( also from Brixham ) seems to be a debate on the age-old "What is Art?" question  -  "There's a thin line between street art and shit art!"

And then there's "a shave and a haircut..."
The pic above obviously doesn't count as street art... but I just like it. It's from a tiny vegetarian cafe down a Brixham back alley. Where else would you find an alley cat?
The last two images are actually by Banksy himself. Whilst in Coventry on Thursday and Friday for the Springsteen gig ( review to follow, of course ) Sarah and I had a look around the city's Herbert Art Gallery. The Banksy pieces were part of an exhibition called Caught In The Crossfire: Artistic Responses To Conflict, Peace And Reconciliation. Sounds heavy, doesn't it? Well, er, it was. But there was some powerful artwork on display and it was worth a look... even if it wasn't exactly fun.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

"When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band..."

It's two years to the day since the world lost the Big Man, Clarence Clemons. This larger-than-life character was the iconic, legendary saxophone player from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band  -  but you knew that already, didn't you...?

I've learnt today from the incomparable Springsteen fansite, Backstreets, that New Jersey councillors have agreed to making January 11th ( Clemons' birthday ) the official Clarence Clemons Day. Which is pretty cool...

I'm going to see Brooooooooooooce and friends in Coventry on Thursday, the first time I've seen them in 4 years. Really looking forward to it! Interestingly, Bruce has recently acquired a habit of playing old albums in their entirety during the band's 3-hour sets. They played all of Darkness On The Edge Of Town at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and all of Born In The USA at Milan's Stadio San Siro on the 3rd of June. Whether they'll do this again in Coventry is anyone's guess but it's fun to speculate. Personally, I'd love to see / hear Bruce's second album The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle performed as a piece. It's a beautifully sequenced album ( a bit of a lost art, that ) which just flows and would be ideal for the newly-expanded E Street Band, horn section and all. You never know...

Soundtrack: some bloke from New Jersey :-)

Monday 17 June 2013

Old Movie Of The Week: The Apartment ( 1960 )

 "That's how it crumbles... cookie-wise."

C.C. Baxter ( Jack Lemmon ) is an insurance clerk, working for a large firm in New York, only one of thousands... as he helpfully tells us in this movie's opening voice-over. But C.C. is heading to the top: he soon becomes an executive with his own corner office and keys to the executive washroom. We soon come to realise he's not doing all this on merit alone. He has an "arrangement" with his bosses...

C.C. is renting out his apartment to his superiors so they can have affairs with their secretaries or one-night stands, while he walks the cold streets and naps on park benches, waiting for a chance to get a few hours sleep in his own bed... before going back to work. Juggling the complicated schedule of these office lotharios takes up all of C.C's time and effort, until he begins to fall for sparky elevator operator, Miss Kublick and dreams of a way out. But she has problems of her own...
The Apartment is a sparkling, witty and wise comedy/drama courtesy of the master, Billy Wilder. It has a wonderful script by the director and I.A.L Diamond  -  the team behind the previous year's all-time classic Some Like It Hot. ( In fact there's a lovely little reference to Marilyn in this movie, which might be a dig from the long-suffering film-makers at Ms. Monroe's legendary difficulties in the previous film. ) And, even though it's mostly studio-bound, there's plenty of crisp black and white photography and well-realised sets, from regimented offices to smoky bars.

Jack Lemmon gives a delightful performance here, pulling off the tricky role of a basically well-meaning man trapped in a seedy situation. His character benefits materially from renting out his apartment but realises that he is losing his credibility, reputation and privacy. It's a quietly satisfying moment when he finally tells his boss, Fred MacMurray to stick his job... in a polite way...
Shirley MacLaine is an actress I've never had a lot of time for... but in this movie she's a revelation. Chirpy and sweet on the surface, but with a real vulnerability underneath, she's especially good in her scenes with Fred MacMurray  -  when she realises that this ex-lover will never leave his wife and family for her, it's heart-breaking. I have to say she's also very cute... which is not something I expected to ever say about Ms. MacLaine.

I really enjoyed The Apartment. It veers from sophisticated, adult comedy to serious drama
( Miss Kublick's attempted suicide ) and back again without breaking a sweat. There's also room for Jack Lemmon to show his mastery of physical comedy: who ever knew that straining spaghetti through a tennis racquet was the mark of a good cook? Oh, and the movie has a killer final line...
"Shut up and deal..."

( I'm cheating slightly here, calling this Old Movie Of The Week. Sarah and I actually saw this eight days ago at Gloucester's Guildhall Arts Centre. With all the various goings on around these 'ere parts in the last week, this has been my first real chance to sit down and write a review. But it's not like I've seen any film to beat this over the past week... )

Sunday 9 June 2013

Iain Banks

 I've just heard ( via the BBC ) the very sad news that the wonderful Iain (M) Banks has passed away today at the age of 59. Mr. Banks had announced back in April that he had terminal gall bladder cancer and wasn't expected to live longer than a year. Unfortunately, his remaining time turned out to be a lot shorter. Although expected, his death is still a deeply sad piece of news to hear and I wish my condolences to all his family and friends. As I've said before, I am a great fan of his work and the two novels he signed for me many years ago ( Excession and The Bridge ) are greatly prized possessions.
I will have to write more about what Mr. Banks' work means to me at a later date. I'm constantly aware that I've written nothing about my reading habits in many months. I do still read books... albeit slowly :-) In fact I finally got round to reading the great man's first Culture novel Consider Phlebas a few months back. It was quite a tough read but ultimately rewarding and filled with amazingly vivid images and huge SF ideas. I will definitely have to drag the old "reading update" posts out of limbo... sooner rather than later...

I knew this event, when it came, would hit me hard but it feels even worse because it comes as a sad end to a bloody difficult day here in the Shire. We woke up this morning to find that someone had broken into our house in the night ( while we were all asleep! ) and stolen a load of items including two mobile phones, a laptop, a camera and Sarah's handbag. To cap it all, the bastards took Sarah's car too :-(
Luckily no-one was hurt, but the feeling that your home has been invaded is a horrible one indeed.
Of course, this all pales into insignificance when compared to how Iain Banks' family must be feeling today... but it's still been a very upsetting day.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

The English Riviera

Just a few photos from our holiday down in Torbay last week. First a couple of glimpses of Torquay's harbour and marina...
And here's Sarah getting her feet wet in the harbour. This was just a few minutes after a teenage lad fell off the edge of the harbour wall and into the water behind where Sarah's standing. He fell about 10 feet but, luckily enough, the water was deep enough that he didn't hurt himself... although he was a bit shaken, obviously...
Below are a few shots of Brixham ( where we were staying ), starting with the lovely Fishcombe Cove which was less than 5 minutes' walk from our chalet...

And here's James on board Brixham harbour's replica of Francis Drake's Golden Hind. Avast there, ye land-lubbers...!

We also had a trip on the Dart Valley Steam Railway, from the nearby Goodrington station, along the banks of the beautiful Dart river to Kingswear, and then onto the ferry across the river to Dartmouth. Here's the train pulling into the station and then steaming past Goodrington Sands and its row of beach huts...
And here are James and I, about to catch the ferry...
A couple more shots of Brixham, starting with the beach next to the breakwater, where I saw a seal one evening, literally only 6 feet out in the water, posing for onlookers. No photos, unfortunately...

And a couple of lovely beach shots to finish...
Soundtrack: Revolver by The Beatles

Sunday 2 June 2013

Doctor Who: The Name Of The Doctor review... and some thoughts on departing Time Lords

Typical. Just as I was finally getting round to my splintered-in-time, two-weeks'-late Series 7 finale review... Matt Smith only goes and drops the bombshell that he will be leaving the show after this year's Christmas Special. I had anticipated him leaving after the 50th Anniversary Special because it would have seemed an appropriate time to go, but he was talking in interviews about coming back at Christmas... so it seemed like he was in for the long haul. But maybe not...

With two Specials yet to come to mark the end of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure, this isn't the time to get all maudlin about his departure. ( Unlike Matt in the photo above! ) I'll just say for now that I've loved his take on the Doctor ( with only a few minor reservations ) and the way he brought a lightness and eccentricity back to the part after the intensity of Eccleston and the Mockneyisms of Tennant. It's been obvious for some time that Smith's star has been in the ascendant ( heading to Hollywood to work with Ryan Gosling being the most obvious sign ) and the show obviously couldn't contain him much longer. I wish him all the best and I'm confident that the Who production team will find a suitably dazzling replacement. They haven't let us down so far.
( All this also begs the question  -  Will Steven Moffatt leave with "his" Doctor? It's obviously a possibility and again leaves the showrunner's role open for speculation. Not that I particularly want The Moff to leave  -  even though his time on the show hasn't been as groundbreaking as I'd hoped  -  but the thought of fresh blood in the Whoniverse is always exciting. )

So... The Name Of The Doctor : was it worth the wait / hype?
Actually, I'd say yes. Although the Doctor's name turned out to be a plot point and was not eventually revealed ( did we really think it would be? ) I didn't mind Moffatt's misdirection... although maybe the episode should have been titled In The Name Of The Doctor, which would have been more appropriate.
The whole episode had a suitably funereal feel as the Great Intelligence and his blank-faced Whispermen spirited the Doctor and his friends away to Trenzalore, the one place in the universe the Doctor must never go. Here, in a landscape devastated by conflict, we discovered the Doctor's final resting place and also his greatest secret.

Although, as with many of The Moff's scripts, the story didn't make huge amounts of sense it was heavily atmospheric with fine performances and some lovely nods to the show's past. The idea that the Doctor's tomb was his own deceased Tardis was a fitting, if grim, concept and Matt Smith totally sold the idea of the Doctor facing his own mortality with fear and bravery. The supporting cast all did sterling work, especially Alex Kingston ( in her final appearance? ) as a ghostly, computer-generated River Song. Strax, of course, got the few laughs in a necessarily sombre script. ( "Conference call...!")
The mystery of how Clara keeps popping up in the Doctor's life was finally solved, although this "closed-loop" kind of time paradox is one of those aforementioned moments that don't bear much scrutiny beyond the emotional impact.
Of course, the BIG moment was the appearance of John Hurt ( "as the Doctor" ) in the closing seconds of the episode. This was a hugely exciting moment, paving the way for the 50th Anniversary Special in November. Are we to expect that Hurt's Doctor is some kind of interim regeneration, maybe between the Eighth and the Ninth... and the one that pressed the button to end the Time War? Or is there more to him than that? Maybe he's the Valeyard? There are sure to be many twists and turns to come. However it pans out, November can't come soon enough...

Four Out Of Five Bow Ties. ( Or Impossible Girls )


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