26th of October: Cleanout

Bit of a long one (finally cleared out my Pocket queue), and I’m not really in the mood, so I’ma get straight into it.

Song of the week is from the album Eric Clapton and B.B. King did – listened to it quite a bit this weekend and quite enjoyed wondering whether B.B. found Clapton’s constant guitar-wankery tiresome.

  • A lot on IS(IS/IL). Some bold proposals for countering them. An indictment of the “official” Syrian opposition. A reminder of ISIS’ precarious financial situation. A look at the symbolic meaning of the battle for Kobane. Surreal feature on the Americans in Irbil. Quite funny puncturing of IS’s mythology.
  • Similar to the post I wrote a while back about the UK’s report about Russia as a threat, the US have done one on China.
  • Interesting look at the last “fighting season” in Afghanistan before ISAF leaves.
  • I’m sharing this with a massive caveat. It’s a piece on strategy and tactics and military technology used in Israel’s latest assault on Gaza. It fails to even mention the fact that these highly-advanced techniques, fascinating as they are, were used on civilian populations etc. until, in passing, the end, which strikes me as problematic.
  • Wry look at the constructivism of Kissinger’s latest book.
  • Krugman comes out in defence of Obama – don’t agree with all of it but think he’s generally on point
  • Rebuttal of the “Russia was humiliated in the 1990s” argument
  • A favourable review of Owen Jones’ (rubbish-sounding) book – and a complete dismantling of his lazy use of numbers. Fair and balanced, me.
  • This is a bit heart-breaking, on the sort of necessities headteachers are having to fund for their pupils out of school budgets.
  • Aaron Bastani has a good critique of the TUC and their march the other week.
  • Excellent dismantling of the Conservatives’ economic narrative
  • Africa isn’t a country – Sudan is really far from Ebola
  • Paul Farmer writes on Ebola
  • This is a good analysis of the reaction to Renée Zellwegger’s appearance at [show] this week, though I must confess I was shocked by it too – time and ageing are terrifying.
  • Good piece on Roxane Gay and the unconventional model of black femininity she represents
  • Excessive gendering of schoolkids seems daft
  • Important on how damaging the stiff upper lip is
  • I got irritated at the BBC not mentioning any of the evil dictatoring Duvalier did when he died – this is good on the subject
  • Heartbreaking TNC interview with the mother of Jordan Davis
  • Daniel Drezner raises some interesting concerns about the future of the global economy
  • Are there any shades of grey to paedophilia?
  • Jay Ulfelder* reminds us that inertia is an under-studied factor in politics
  • Difficult-to-read interview with some of the girls who escaped the Boko Haram kidnappers. So much heartbreaking detail.
  • Speaking of hard-to-read, I did not expect this piece to be the punch in the gut it was, but it’s horrible. Still interesting on the cheap use of death as a plot device.
  • This piece pours cold water on Google’s self-driving cars, which is annoying because I’m hoping they’ll become a thing before I have to learn to drive myself around
  • Couple of good pieces on Gamergate (ugh) from Charlie Brooker and Gawker.
  • This is funny, on fictional characters who could have done with an abortion, though neglects to mention Kim from Scrubs, among others.
  • Spent about half an hour reading all of Hamilton Nolan’s fitness columns at Gawker. This one, on how to squat, is funny and also quite useful, but I could say the same about any – check out the archive.
  • Strange tale of an accidental nature reserve in Bucharest.
  • Clive Martin does one of his weird travel pieces in London (it’s in two parts)
  • Only a few days till 1989 drops – this profile/interview with Taylor Swift is quite lovely, if only for the detail that her motivation song is Kendrick’s Backseat Freestyle, the crudest song on that album.
  • Weirdly compelling on a man making a big bet on a game of Day-Z

*whose name I realised on my dissertation presentation this week I’ve been consistently spelling wrong, so sorry Jay!

Ten Hours in Middle-Earth

So I’ve finally completed a long-held ambition and watched all three Lord of the Rings films in one sitting. Moreover, that one sitting was in an IMAX cinema. Not 3D, thank God, but still, big screen, big sound. I was more destabilised than I had expected by it being the theatrical edition and not the extended – having been watching the EEs for close to ten years now, it’s perhaps no surprise that I didn’t recognise the film I was shown last night. However, I found some of the ways they sidestepped scenes interesting. Definitely prefer the extended editions, but last night, to be honest, I was quite relieved that it was the slimlined version – any more Treebeard scenes would have killed me.

Oh, did I mention? It was an all-nighter – midnight to eleven in the morning, what with the clock-change. To my eternal shame, I didn’t stay awake. It’s difficult to tell, since I “missed” scenes that just weren’t there, but I think I stayed awake through all of Fellowship, only had a few micro-sleeps in Towers, and slept through basically all of Dunharrow and the parting of Sam and Frodo in Return. Which, on balance, I can cope with.

Something that I don’t think becomes really clear without the massive cinema sound system is how much the film relies on the “swelling orchestral music-drop music-crunchy battle noises” pattern – to fantastic effect. I was looking forward to the Ride of the Rohirrim more than anything and I was not disappointed.

The other thing I was half-looking forward to was hearing the soundtrack on loud speakers. Only half because so much of it can make me cry and I wasn’t keen on that. In the event, I was a tad disappointed – having gotten used to hearing it on its own, I had slightly forgotten how low it was in the mix sometimes. But I didn’t cry, so there’s that.

I also ingested about 1.375L of Blue Bolt (so like, all of the energy, and, for whatever reason, Vitamin B) and copious amounts of black coffee, which didn’t stop me falling asleep then but has kept me awake most of the day.

That’s cool, right? Spending a Saturday night in a cinema watching Lord of the Rings?

As if I cared.

Out and About in London: 06/02/2012: Gilby Clarke @ The Underworld, Camden

Gilby Clarke

Gilby Clarke today

My route to university on the days I don’t have a Travelcard takes me past the Undeworld, what I take to be quite a famous metal venue/nightclub with pop and indie nights (seriously.). Generally, I hardly spare it a glance, expecting the windows to be full of bands with names and posters that I can only hope are tongue-in-cheek. And, when I saw the poster of a dark-haired man with an angry face making the horns at the camera, I thought it was just another metal band. Then I saw the name – Gilby Clarke.

When Izzy Stradlin left Guns N’ Roses in 1991, Gilby Clarke replaced him on tour for three years. That’s about the extent of my familiarity with him – he makes frequent appearances in Slash’s autobiography around that period. Nonetheless, this was an opportunity to tick another Guns member off the list – two and counting. I think I might have listened to one or two songs of his before buying the tickets. I bought them well in advance however, and had time to Spotify his debut album Pawn Shop Guitars quite extensively, and thought it was a very solid album. Not only was it going to be a good night in terms of being within one degree of separation of Slash and Axl, but, it turned out, it was going to be a good gig anyway.

I’d never been to the Underworld as a music venue, only as a nightclub. However, it’s a great venue for rock – all black, in the basement, in a sort of pit, the stage not too high up. It certainly feels very intimate. Drinks were, as ever, a fortune. However, as they gave me a re-entry stamp, I was able to nip to Sainsbury’s, and then nip home to pick up my phone, only missing five minutes of one of the support acts. Just one of the many delights of living in Camden.

There were three support acts. The first one don’t appear on the website and I didn’t catch their name, but were quite standard pub-rock types. Quite enjoyable music, but little in the way of variation. And the singer was dressed as a pirate.

Next up, Guns 2 Roses, the band I missed a bit of – unfortunately, as they were fantastic. I’m always sceptical of Guns N’ Roses covers, as I feel Axl has one of those inimitable voices, and, sure enough, the singer wasn’t quite there at all times. Nonetheless, the band were really good, the singer had real energy (he had the Axl dances down pat) and this was when the room really started to come into its own. There was a really good atmosphere and lots of energy – I finally understand the point of tribute acts.  Only slight sticking point was the dancers during Paradise City, their closing song. Out of nowhere, they brought up a young blonde woman in little more than fishnets and underwear to dance sexily on stage. It was probably in character, not that the Guns attitude to women was anything to live by, but it just seemed quite cheap. Not that I mind cheap blondes (ahem) but even without putting on my feminist hat, it sat poorly with me.

Touring with Gilby are Swedish band Badmouth, who, to be honest, I thought were the weakest act of the night. Hard rock is a genre that invites cliché, and while usually I don’t mind, I found it grated here, perhaps because of the lack of anything particularly interesting about the band itself, the lead singer’s glorious hair aside. They also kept doing the “everybody clap” thing, which needs to die. It’s just an awkward idea, which will inevitably end up in out-of-time noise, with everyone unsure how long to keep clapping. It also demoralises the musician, I find – when you don’t get a response from the audience, it’s a downer, and it’s not pleasant to inflict that on a band.

Finally, at about ten, out swaggered Gilby. I hadn’t seen him for twenty years, so didn’t quite recognise him at first. The set-up was pretty amateurish, which I didn’t mind – having Gilby come out and fiddle with amplifiers and pedals for five minutes in plain sight was quite endearing. The broken snare drum later on was handled with similar professionalism, which one of the boring people behind me complained about, but again, quite endearing.

The music was fantastic – very tight playing. Gilby was the rhythm guitarist with Guns, but he has a really distinctive lead style, even on Guns covers, with plenty of attack. I can’t really comment too much on the setlist as I only knew his debut album, but it wasn’t monotonous like the first band, and had all my favourite songs on it, so I was pleased.

If only he had played to an empty room. I think the intimacy of club gigs when compared to stadiums and the like is a double-edged sword in some ways. You can’t heckle in a crowd of a hundred thousand.  The idiots who make requests for songs are far more obnoxious when they’re not diluted. And then there’s the unavoidables. Obnoxious people directly surrounding you. Mosh pits. The cameraphones. Moshpits. I seriously can’t describe how much I despise mosh pits. I missed a good portion of Tijuana Jail because I was busy not getting hit in the face, and then I lost my place near the front for the encore.

In conclusion, though, it was a great night. Now to seek out Velvet Revolver – three Guns with one stone!