Archive | June, 2016

Television live: a hefty helping of Marquee Moon, but hold the noodles

14 Jun

marquee_moon_album_coverTelevision’s Marquee Moon was one of the formative albums of my university days: its different musical parts interlocking with the precision of a Swiss watch, it was nominally part of the New York punk scene yet boasted virtuoso musicianship and guitar solos. And the lyrics! Mostly elliptical fever dreams from some bad trip, but with a smart sense of humour: “I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo”.

At a hot and sweaty Brixton Electric on Sunday night, I discovered I was not alone. Right from the jaunty opening track, where on the chorus the audience spontaneously shouted “Prove It!” as one, you knew you were among like minds.

Television ripped through their main hits, including every song on Marquee Moon, all at a slightly faster pace better suited for live play. Elevation and See No Evil were particular stand-outs, with Verlaine’s skittering guitar as fresh as it was 39 years ago. Just as the Chinese have a whole different musical system from ours, it’s always seemed as though Verlaine was literally off the scale – playing a series of (mostly minor) notes that bear no resemblance to the conventional octave.

Some of his solos seemed adapted and improvised on the night, which keeps it fresh, but the downside of this became apparent during a ponderous instrumental segment towards the end that had many people heading for the smoking patio.

This wasn’t mere guitar noodling. This was Tom Verlaine heading to his local Noodle Bar and ordering every item on the menu. Oodles of noodles. With a sheet of doodles to go.

But all was forgiven with the thrilling climax: Marquee Moon itself. Again, played a little faster, lacking some of the usual tight control (brilliant drummer Billy Ficca did seem a little sloppy at times), it nevertheless all came together during the final slow guitar instrumental, where the backing builds and builds into a giant wall of sound, with Verlaine adding a slight change to the final chord sequence that achieves an even more satisfying resolution.

“Prove it!” the audience had shouted at the outset. By the end, Television had nothing left to prove.

Television play tonight (June 12) at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea

In praise of Shane Black: Nice Guys finish first

9 Jun
nice guys

Double act: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in Shane Black’s Nice Guys

Nice Guys is flat-out one of the funnest films I’ve seen in yonks, and good enough to “do a Tarantino” – in other words, resurrect failing careers. Russell Crowe, as a bear-like, punch-happy enforcer who dreams of becoming a more respectable private eye, hasn’t made such a great fist of a part in years; Ryan Gosling, as the private eye who’s not half as smart as his teenage daughter, displays a gratifying flair for comedy after a string of overly po-faced films.

Set in the ‘70s, it’s the thriller-comedy that rare Paul Thomas Anderson misfire Inherent Vice wishes it was: funny, smart, stylish and very odd – in the best possible way. The central hedonistic party scene alone would be worth the price of your ticket.

But then, if you’ve been following the career of Shane Black, this should come as no surprise.

Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon at the age of 23. Have defined the action movie for a decade to come, he then set about attempting to demolish it: The Last Action Hero was, as I described it to a Time Out colleague following a screening in 1993, “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career suicide note”. Brilliant and post-modern, it mercilessly took the piss out of the regular Arnie action audience. It also contains what is still my favourite line in movie history, during the imagined trailer for a Hamlet played by Arnie: “To be… or not to be.” Pause. Clicks open a Zippo to light cigar. “Not to be.” The whole castle of Elsinore explodes in flames.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) ended Black’s career for a while. It was a lot of fun, but it, too, bombed (relative to its massive budget), perhaps because audiences were still not yet ready for a woman (Geena Davis) in a lead action role. Black made his comeback as writer and director in 2005 with the modestly budgeted neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was well received even if it didn’t set the box-office alight. But it starred Robert Downey Jr., which was key to Black writing and directing Iron Man 3, which grossed more than a billion dollars. If you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil the reveal, but the secret behind Ben Kingsley’s villainous The Mandarin is pure Shane Black.

So now Black is back, with the next Predator on his slate as well as Marvel’s Doc Savage. He’s had a dizzying rise – his script for The Long Kiss Goodnight netted him $4 million – and a precipitous fall. He’s still only 54. Long may he reign.