Saturday, May 24, 2008

Geek rock: Laura Veirs at the Bowery Ballroom

I just can't seem to escape the geek connection lately. Ever since I started wearing glasses, my world view seems to have shifted somewhat (and not just because distant buildings/trees/signs are uncomfortably sharp now).

I think I admire Laura all the more for her ever-present specs. In fact, it was a picture of her in said specs on the cover of Year of Meteors which first attracted my attention at the Highgate library. Unlike 95% of young female artist cover shots, it was not sexy, not overly styled, and she was not smiling, just gazing straight out, a strange combination of reserved and defiant - serious but with a trace of a mocking smile. I took it home and what sealed the deal for me was 1. the sound, original, pure, captivating and slightly melancholy (if I had to categorise it, I would say indie folk) and 2. the lyrical themes of night skies, literature, swimming, mermen, caves and mountains.

Alone on stage at the lovely Bowery Ballroom, just one girl with her guitar and reverb pedal, Ms. Veirs did not disappoint. The most surprising thing was her strong and sure presence on the stage. She did say towards the end of the night that she was feeling especially relaxed and happy; like she was doing a lap of luck-xury, which she went on to explain was what she and her tour-mate did every time they got a hotel with a pool, to bring luck for the evening's performance.

She played a good selection of recent and older songs (I only know the stuff from her last two albums), as well as a couple of covers and an ode to Obama that sounded so heavenly, she almost changed my mind.

Oh-bah-mah-a-ah, Oh-bah-mah-a-ah, isn't he handsome? Isn't he smart?

A few people in the crowd felt compelled to call out Hilary's name afterwards. There is such a blatant popularity contest going on over here, but Obama seems to be winning in the public profile category.

For the encore, Laura came out with her support act in tow, Liam Finn (who was a tad disappointing with his self-indulgent racket-making), and they joined forces for a rousing version of Galaxies. With Liam restrained from his earlier freak-out and restricted to back up vocals and drums, it was a heavenly way to end a night which made me feel smug to have discovered such a cool artist whose sensibilities are so in tune with my own.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Female superheroes: established and new

I just found out that Pamela Bone, former associate editor for The Age newspaper and one of my writing heroes, passed away recently after a long but dignified battle with cancer. I used to read Pamela's column avidly, and I went to pains to track down her book about growing up in Australia over the past 100 years, Up We Grew, when I visited Melbourne a few years back. Like many other Australians, I was saddened at the news of her diagnosis and hoped that she would make a full recovery.

The integrity, clarity and calm steadiness that characterised Pamela's writing were incredibly inspiring to me. There is an art to talking about complex moral issues in a way that anyone can understand; one that is inclusive as well as insightful.

I actually emailed her once after reading one of those stories that shakes you out of your complacency; sending a link to the distressing article which concerned a woman who had been raped and killed as punshiment for a crime committed by her brother in the Middle East. With anger still coursing through my fingers, I wrote of the betrayal I felt over a generation of young women wanting to distance themselves from the label "feminist". I didn't expect a response - after all, she was a busy career and family woman, prominent in the Australian media, who must have been overwhelmed by mail every day - I just needed to share my immediate sense of outrage.

I was touched when she emailed back a few days later, to thank me and encourage me. She went on to write this moving piece about some of the atrocities being perpetrated on women.

It is strange that someone whom I never met could have had such a profound impact on my life, but I realise now that whenever I write a serious piece, I always have Pamela at the back of my mind, casting her calm, clear-sighted eyes over my prose. A person - a woman - of resilient character and great moral clarity, who conveyed her message with a subtle and succinct style, she remains a lifelong hero.

* * *

Tina Fey is my new geek-girl crush. Previously it has been the hilarious Dooce, Daisy from Spaced, and Iranian/French graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi.

I know it's a bit of a 180 on my part, but I have come around - 30 Rock is just so funny, so clever, and so sharply written. And Tina is just so geektastic in those specs. Every interview I have read with her, she manages to say something so outrageously funny it makes me laugh out loud.

Gotta love a quirky funny woman, especially if she is successful and fearless and cute and not of the man-hating variety.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Flight of the Conchords at NYC Town Hall

So, against the wishes of my mum and her boss and all the lovely people who have my best interests at heart, I went along to the Flight of the Conchords gig last night. How could I not? I have been obsessing about these boys since a little article in the Guardian tv guide piqued my interest many months ago. Seeing them was the thing I was most excited about doing during my time in New York. In fact, there are those who have suggested that my entire motivation for coming to New York was to see Bret and Jemaine in all their sexy, beardy, low-key, funkalicious glory. That may or may not be true, I'm not prepared to comment.

And anyway, I already missed out on Feist, whom I had tickets to see last week. Damned appendicitis, derailing my 3-month non-stop NY fun-fest.

The crowd was mostly made up of blokes, interestingly, in pairs or small clusters, who were dressed like their heroes - lots of checked shirts, retro t-shirts and quirky glasses. Geek chic, which is the new look I am rockin' in my specs (the need for which I really can't deny any longer), was the overall vibe. One girl even yelled out a request for the "Binary Solo!" - now if that girl is not at one with her geekiness, I don't know who is. It was basically a big love-in really, with various female audience members shouting out their adoration for one or the other of the pair throughout the night. At one point Bret felt there was too much attention being paid to him, and not enought to Jemaine, so he got all the blokes in the hall to yell out "I love you Jemaine." And they did!

This is a new era, people, one where a heterosexual guy can tell a heterosexual guy that he thinks his booty is fly.* But still not one where it's ok for a bloke to cry.

It was a very lovely, friendly atmosphere, with Bret and Jemaine their typically laidback, understated, unpresuming selves - Bret so much so that at one point he made a little tent from his guitar cases and laid down after professing to feeling a little bit tired. Jemaine brought his mike over and attended to him like a gentle uncle with a nephew worn out from all the excitement of the day.

The duo ("we're a band, if you can have a one-man-band and a band with 3 people, we are definitely a band") played some well-loved songs from the TV show - Rhymenocerous probably got the biggest reaction, but Robots was also a crowd-pleaser - as well as some very cool new stuff, with lots of laidback observations in between. As with many of their songs (apart from the odd theme song or heavenly daydream), there were lots of slightly love-lorn odes about girl problems. There was one in which Jemaine does a roll-call of all his ex-girlfriends and what went wrong ("Flo had to go, Stephanie pulled a Persephone"), before asking whose idea it was for all his ex-girlfriends to get together and form a choir. They finished with a slightly tragic story of a local tour guide and the object of his affections.

I think the 'chords are part of a new wave of comedy. Low-key, sweet and very funny in a very gentle way, marked by a more imaginative and fantastical sense of creativity than the previous cocaine-fuelled ego-maniacs and world-weary cynics of yore. Bravo, boys.

*Jemaine proceeded to explain that "putting a wig on you" is some kind of jive talk which shows your respect for the other person, as in "I dig you brother! I put a wig on you! I put a big blonde wig right on you!"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I see a boundary, I eat a boundary

A few more "firsts" to add to my ever-expanding list:

1. First time dialling "911". Or any national emergency number for that matter. But 911 is the coolest, right?

2. First time in an ambulance (no sirens! Dammit).

3. First time in an ER. I was the only female patient on the ward, strangely.

4. First time on morphine (I do NOT recommend it. Two nights later: horrific nightmares/visions when I closed my eyes.)

5. First CAT scan.

6. First appendectomy.

Alright God, I promise to stop having such a damn good time if you could just see your way clear to letting me have some good health now. I think I've earnt it.
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