Dr Martin is in

One man and a guitar. It’s too much power, really. At least, it is when the man is Jeff Martin.

His leonine presence filled the boudoir-style stage of the intimate, first-floor Troubadour tonight. Just him, a couple of acoustic guitars, effects pedals, stomp box. And that voice…

He was feeling the music tonight, I thought. He was in the zone, touched by an encounter with unexpected love on a previous visit, still haunted perhaps by his gigs down in Victoria where the pain and loss of the bushfires have clearly affected him. He dedicated The Kingdom to the fire victims, and paid respect to the Queensland flood victims, too, with the eco-friendly Line in the Sand.

The medleys came plentifully, my favourite the mix of Requiem and Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt — poignant, given we heard Trent Reznor close his emotive headlining gig at Soundwave with that song only on Saturday, a probable farewell, as it turns out. Schade.

With Martin, there’s blues and world music and a touch of pop and good old rock. It’s head-nodding, hand-clapping, joyful, cathartic stuff, drawing on Tea Party material (opener The Bazaar, Save Me, Sister Awake et al) as well as his solo and now Armada work, with crafty dollops of covers thrown in. And some of it resonates, all the way to the heart.

The inclusion of a line from Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart was particularly affecting. There were others, but that’s between the doctor and me.

Martin returns with his Armada compatriots in May. We saw them at the end of last year and were impressed. But tonight, now that was special, just we happy few and the man and his guitar, and the chords he played.

Nine Inch Nails as therapy

Music’s an amazing force, isn’t it? You just have to attend a gig to see it in action. All those hands raised, voices singing along, the rapture … the occasional tool jumping on people around him.

So it was a few hours ago when we staked our claim to a path of grass five from the front row at Soundwave, awaiting headliners Nine Inch Nails to bring the festival at Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds to its close. Us and a few thousand others.

I’ve lost my taste for festivals, I have to admit. The crowds, the heat, the chaos, my unhealthy appetite for dagwood dogs … but this was NIN, and in the absence of a sideshow, what’s a fan to do?

Some bands are worth the discomfort. Some songwriters have a knack for hitting that spot deep inside, just so. For me, it’s Ian Curtis, Jeff Martin (touring Oz in Feb and May), Trent Reznor. Add a dollop of Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration album and you’ve pretty much got the Nahrung soundtrack, right there. Or at least, my therapy.

Because that’s what music can do, right? It takes us away, it holds up a mirror, it provides insight and catharsis and, at worst, pleasant distraction.

At Soundwave, there were little bits of Nahrung therapy session all over the place. The Joy Division t-shirts in a market stall (2 for $55, cheers for that — Unknown Pleasures and Love Will Tear Us Apart, thanks for asking), a lone Tea Party T-shirt on a punter (Interzone Mantras, a curious choice), Italian soft-metal outfit Lacuna Coil providing a pretty darn good cover of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence (was Cristina the only rock chick on stage today? Anyone?), and of course — NIN.

NIN. Main man Trent Reznor, helped create the industrial genre with his mix of rock, metal, angst and electronica. Brilliant lyricist, musician, performer. And tonight, he was at the top of his game.

The rock pigs might have been disappointed. We got a good dose of latest album The Slip, then head-banging fave March of the Pigs, and then a divergence into somewhat unfamiliar terrain: music NOT to mosh to. Music to think about, to feel, without a fist raised in the air. Reznor said it had been a hard week, that the band had drawn up a set list of songs they wanted to play. It was NIN as therapy for NIN. Wicked. And we all got the treatment.

I didn’t recognise all the tunes, the instrumental might have been off the Slip or Ghosts, some songs might have been b-sides or from Broken or The Fragile with which I’m only passingly familiar — Bad Fan Boy.

There were hard rockin’ classics — Terrible Lie, Hand that Feeds, Head Like A Hole — and more recent rip-snorters from Year Zero.

The lighting was superb, of course, we expect nothing less from NIN, and the recently constituted live band (NIN being Reznor) — guitarist Robin Finck, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Ilan Rubin — were more than up to the task. (I interviewed Johnsen, best known for playing with Beck and helping Macy Gray pen some hits, ahead of the tour; you can read it here.)

Johnsen, for instance, got to play cello, guitar and sampler thingy; Finck backed up on keys and xylophone thingy; Rubin had two drum kits to play with, one with electric pads.

And Reznor was impassioned, feeling his words, humble before the crowd, grateful. Buffed, black shirt and jeans saturated on a humid Brisbane night under the dizzying array of stage lights, he put his heart into it and we gave ours back.

I was particularly impressed at his decision to close the evening with Hurt. People called for an encore but I disagreed; it was the perfect end to a remarkable session.

Ah, Trent. Doesn’t it make you feel better?

memento mori

My weekend was a no-news weekend. My head and my heart were elsewhere. So here’s the thing. I get to work this morning, pick up the paper. The cover is black. A real rip snorter of a Big News Day. The newsroom is in a lather. The TVs are turned up. Never a good sign. The paper was hours old, of course. The net gave me the figure. 120 dead, and climbing. It hit 131 before I logged off. It’ll go higher, they say. Possibly much higher.

I’ve been in shock most of the day. Maybe we all have. Even the politicians were lost for words. How the fuck do 131 people die from a bushfire in 2009?

It makes you want to check the calendar. Stick your head out the window and look for smoke.

This was, we’re told, the motherfucker of all bushfires, in all its fractured number. One quote that struck me, paraphrased: they had a 30m dead zone, gutters full of water and a wet roof, and he told me the kitchen just exploded.

The kitchen just exploded.

How do you deal with that? How much of a firebreak should you need to stop your kitchen from exploding?

My country is burning and we’re reeling because the damage is staggering. All we can do is count heads and hug each other, donate to those who survived with nothing and mourn those who lost it all.

Now, add in the floods that are devastating my home state. Nowhere near the loss of life, but the property damage is massive.

Floods in the north, fires in the south. And there’s more.

Five dead in a head-on, both cars aflame. Miraculously, one woman survived.

And a five-year-old gets taken by a crocodile. It’s almost surreal, isn’t it? Five, a crocodile, amid all this other horror and misery.

The country feels like one massive wound tonight, shell-shocked from its Big News Day.

Ready for the kicker? You won’t read about this in the paper. There won’t be a headline, an interview, not that I’m aware of. It wouldn’t rate on a Big News Day.

I’m looking at a MySpace page because I got sent a message. One of my MySpace Friends has died, peacefully, of a brain tumour. She was 26. Her page is bright, vibrant, filled with attitude and pictures of smiling young people and what I would count as an admirable taste in pop culture. I reckon I would’ve liked her, if we’d met, her and her friends swapping messages about gigs and other ordinary stuff we use to fill her lives. Twenty-six.

And it’s not over yet. Rain’s still falling up north, fires are still burning down south, the funerals haven’t started yet.

Front page, back page, MySpace page: doesn’t matter which, it’s a Big News Day. Every day is a Big News Day for someone, and maybe that’s the point I’m looking for here as I try to make sense of today.

Not what’s worth dying for but what’s worth living for. And making the most of it while we can. Because we just don’t know, do we?

Go safely, friends. There’s been more than enough news today.

Tron, Depeche Mode and Fox Klein (and SF stuff at the end)

What, I hear your cyberbrains muse, do those three things have in common? No, wait, that’s not you at all, it’s the rickety desk fan making that peg-leg rattle because it’s set on 2 and the little pin that stops it from rotating isn’t working quite right. But it’s a fair question, just the same.

Thursday. Another dull day at the sausage factory. Cut, paste, upload. Repeat. And then Sean Williams, bless his love of 80s electronic music, sent me this. It is essentially a trailer for Tron, set to one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs, Suffer Well. And done very nicely, too.

And where does the comedian Fox Klein fit in? Well, nowhere, except that he, and the two Coronas I had with dinner, were the highlight of the evening at the Sit Down Comedy Club. A charismatic comedian, offering a storyline or at least a consistent theme with moments of absolute cleverness, and lots of relationship/sex talk without resorting to smut.

Which goes to show how music, fantasy and a sense of humour will overcome 🙂

Meanwhile, check out this download from ABC Radio’s Book Show, featuring Aurealis Award winners Jonathan Strahan, Alison Goodman and KA Bedford talking about the importance of the awards, speculative fiction’s ability to compete for attention in the wider market place, and other stuff.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The old blog has been a bit quiet this past week, on account of my actually doing some effing writing (woohoo!). How to get the wheels running again after a long period of abstinence? Check this excellent tip from the most excellent Kim Wilkins — it works for me 🙂

Meanwhile, though, we did slip out to take in the latest Underworld movie, Rise of the Lycans. It’s a prequel, fleshing out the history flashbacked in the first movie (I promptly forgot everything about the second movie, it was that atrocious; not as bad as the second Highlander movie *shudder, we do not call it by its name* but still pretty naff — what was it with that helicopter scene??).

It was done well, for the most part, especially once it got going. Rhona Mitra played the part well, and looked enough like Kate Beckinsale in vampire mode, far moreso than the *blonde* actress they used in the first movie. Bill Nighy was his spitting best. The werewolves looked cool. But I was left with the feeling, why? What did this movie tell us that we didn’t know already, and that we really needed to know to have a better understanding of the other movies? Answer: not a lot. And for my money, not enough vampire action. But that’s probably just me.

If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about and have managed to read this far, check out the trailer.