The blistering Phoenix Foundation burn up the Bedford

LogoOooh, I love a cheesy alliterative Sun-esque headline, and I also like very muchly Wellington band The Phoenix Foundation.

They played the Bedford last night as part of a nationwide tour to promote their new album Buffalo. The Phoenix Foundation confound the indie rock stereotype. Not  for them unfeasibly tight trousers, a sneer and dicky little neckties (yup, I am thinking of you Pluto). Instead they look like their mother, aided by a pudding bowl, cut their hair at the kitchen table and that they threw some skody old tie-dye t-shirts on mere seconds before galloping on-stage.  

Sartorial elegance may have eluded them but where they excel at are delivering intelligent, catchy tunes counter-balanced by moody “prog-rock”  epics. They played several tracks from the new album,  including  Bitte Bitte, Buffalo and Pot, and many more from previous albums  including Krisk from their Merry Kriskmass EP, Slightest shift in the weather and Hitchcock from Pegasus, and 40 years and Bleaching Sun from Happy Ending. The finale was a touching rendition of TVNZ’s Goodnight Kiwi song, wasted on a Scot such as me, but eliciting  happy, nostalgic little sighs from everyone else.

With a new line-up, introducing bass guitarist Tom Callwood, the band have recently recorded the soundtrack for Taika Waititi’s new movie Boy, having previously worked with him on the movie  Eagle Vs Shark.

If you want your kiwi folk rock, intelligent, emotionally potent and badly dressed,  listen to Phoenix Foundation!

You Live, You Die … So Much For That

CoverIf someone said to you “here’s a book about dying of cancer, genetic disorders, the American Health System and some crumbling relationships” you might just say “thanks, but no thanks”. But if they added that the book  So Much For That was written by Lionel Shriver (whom it just so happens you have to interview), everything would change.

Shriver writes sentences that come at you like a train aiming at a standing car on a level crossing. There is no escape. Not one for feng shui sparseness, this is dense writing where Shriver plucks at will from her enormous vocabulary to render characters so annoyingly human your palms tingle to slap them.

Female readers will probably develop a crush on Shep (I know I did), male readers will never want to see the words “penis” and “enlargement” in the same sentence ever again and Glynis – the feisty, unreasonable Glynis (to borrow one of Polchatnik’s annoying tautologies)- just is who she is.

It is a measure of Shriver’s talent that you learn a whole lot about stuff you never wanted to know in the first place and yet you do not even once think of skipping a paragraph. There are wonderful insights throughout the book, one of my favourites is : “concept is incidental, execution is all”, which drove me to stop fantasising about where to put the spring bulbs and instead get up and actually plant them. Not only that, for the first time ever I read the little tag that tells you how deep in the ground they should go.

Be warned, this is not a book for the squeamish. Unlike other books on tending to dying friends or family,  for example  Elizabeth Berg’s  Never Change, Shriver does not spare us even the most private indignities of it all. I wonder how this compares with other books on the topic of death and illness, I hope there are some readers out there who can share their expertise. In the case of So Much For That, there’s no refined turning of the gaze from what is ugly, painful, profoundly sad and very, very costly. The book’s  title lays bare  the financial implications and the hopelessness of it all in what must be the best title choice I have seen in a long long time, all thanks to Shriver’s husband Jeff.

Essentially this is a novel about love and sacrifice and after the freefall of this anxious read, Shriver finally relents and shoves a mattress under us. It’s not quite in the “make mine  extra fluffy” league, but I was oh so grateful for it.

Taonga Puoro

CoverRecently the Robert McDougall Art Gallery hosted a show by Brian Flintoff and Richard Nunns. These two men – introduced by none other than the esteemed Sir Tipene O’Regan – have spent the better part of their careers learning about traditional Māori musical instruments and the musical expression of pre-colonial Aotearoa.

We were treated to a retelling of the creation story complete with sound effects incorporated into beautiful and haunting songs sung by Ariana Tikao. Brian tells a good story. It starts with the separating of Sky Father Rangi – for whom tunes are named after – and Earth Mother Papatuanuku – who provides the heartbeat and rhythm. This is the work of their eldest son Tane, who then filled the new space with sounds, breath of the birds – haumanu, and things from which to make these sounds. This connection with the ‘cosmogony‘ (cor, what a word!) is why they are called singing treasures.

Richard and Brian have been hanging out for years and their hilarious banter gave some extra personal flavour to the storytelling.

The instruments themselves were amazing to hear and see. Carved and decorated whales teeth and bones, shells, hardwoods, soft stones, gourds, pounamu and even kelp are then blown, struck or swung to create sounds that mimic those made by nature. My favourite instrument is the ‘hue puruhau’. It is a gourd that when swung in a big circle, emulates the low boom of the male kakapo. Way cool!

And how about this for a true story… a flute with one hole, the pumotomoto, is played over the fontanelle of a new-born baby’s head to implant songs and information on tribal heritage directly into the child’s subconscious. Now that’s an idea.

The echo of the marbled art gallery chamber made the sounds and songs come alive. Another thing that really struck me was how eerie some of this was. If I was about to go for a walk in the woods at night, I’d be scared!

See the library website for more on Maori music: contemporary Maori music, waiata, kapa haka and more information on taoka puoro (traditional Maori music).

In this Radio NZ programme Richard Nunns plays the instruments and talks about them too.

Recent necrology, April 2010

CoverNecrology – a list of notable people who have died recently.