Adalita: singing with ghosts

adalita self-titled album

I’ve been spending a lot of time with ghosts lately. They’ve been surfacing from old photos – some, not that old – as I’ve been digitising my negatives. Loss, it’s like a sea creature, isn’t it; a kraken, rising up when you least expect it, wrapping its long, sticky tentacles of lost love and missed opportunity and abject failure, all those dark tendrils that curl around your heart, your mind, even your lungs. And squeeze. It’s hard enough to face in the privacy of your home, let alone taking it on the road and singing it to faceless masses. Masses who chat over the top of your hearteache, who pay lip service to your craft … no, I can’t imagine it.

Which is why I found Adalita’s solo show at Melbourne’s Toff of the Town so damn engaging. I’ve seen her rock out before at the helm of Magic Dirt – I think the last time, maybe the time before, her lead guitarist stabbed his guitar neck through the low ceiling insulation at Brisbane’s venerable sweat box, The Zoo. Great gig. Great emotion.

And last night at the Toff, it was all about emotion, and there’s no better way to explain it than by starting at the finish, the sole, perfunctory encore tune, anything but perfunctory here. Adalita and guitarist JP Shilo duetted while MD guitarist Raul Sanchez slowly wound up a buzzing guitar, its recurring rasp slowly drowning out the singers as they backed away from the mics, until it was only the guitar, discordant, chaotic, howling. The guitar was loss and the crowd applauded as silence fell, because they understood enough to know that when Adalita dedicated that song to Rowland S Howard and Dean Turner, it was a eulogy.

The ghosts… Howard, an Aussie music legend of Birthday Party fame who had a big hand in Shilo’s career, and MD bassist Turner both died in 2009. The latter co-produced Adalita’s self-titled solo album, which she’s touring now. As if stepping out from the shadow of a band isn’t enough pressure; isn’t enough vulnerability.

In the absence of her band, Adalita had PJ providing effects and support on guitar and violin. Sanchez stepped up for an atmospheric dual guitar instrumental, and support act Amaya Laucirica played drums for one and later a guitar duet for ‘Good Girl’.

It’s a line-up you’ll hear on Adalita’s album, which provided the set list for the evening. She has a great voice, Adalita, and it was grand to hear her playing with form, breaking up the rock song formula to turn songs into stories with changes of pace and volume. It was a short and sharp set, a little melancholy, a lot hungry, a solid chunk of Gibson-driven rockin’ with backing tracks and effects pedals filling out the sound where needed. But that encore: such a powerful ending for a gig on a tour that signifies a new start.

I should think the ghosts would be happy with that.

WE got to the Toff halfway through Spencer P Jones‘ support gig, and apparently halfway through an argument as well. The one-time Beast of Bourbon was hurling insults and guitar licks at a section of the crowd in a performance that straddled the line between performance poetry and song; there was a certain air of Johnny Cash-style maudlin in there, between the shots of tequila (was it?) and slurps of beer and fiery glances. For the record, Amaya Laucirica played first support.

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One Man Lord of the Rings: a melee of one in Melbourne

Charlie Ross is an affable Canadian who has been making a globe-trotting living with his one-man Star Wars trilogy show, and he has expanded his sights with the movie version of Lord of the Rings.

I caught his one-hour adaptation at Monash University’s Clayton Campus and what a madcap hour it was — with a water break at each movie change-over. The thing that makes the show so winning is the humour Ross injects, whether in-jokes, ad libs at the audience, references to other movies (such as ‘Elrond’, played by Hugo Weaving in the movies, uttering a “Mr Anderson” line in firm Matrix style) or comic physicality.

The hour passed in a whirl — Ross is very physical, spending almost as much time on the ground as on his feet — of vocal sound effects, movie lines and characterisations (his Gollum was wonderful, especially doing both Gollum and Smeagol at the same time). I got lost at times — I think he slipped into the superior extended versions at times — because it’s been a while, the cast is huge and the movies are massively long; I’d hate to think of anyone trying to follow without any familiarity with the movies at all.

It was interesting to note which characters really stood out in a propless, costumeless one-man performance: Legolas’s hair, Frodo’s whining, Denethor’s ugly table manners …

It’s been a few years since I saw Ross’s Star Wars show but I remember it being very easy to follow, probably due to my exposure to the ‘good trilogy’, as he calls it.

As an epilogue, Ross had a quick chat from the stage about his career to date: I should think there would’ve been a few jealous geeks in the audience who wished they’d thought of turning loving mimicry into a career, even if the franchise owners take their slab of the gross!

LOTR provided a fun night out with some great chuckles, and whetted the appetite for another viewing of Peter Jackson’s sensational trilogy.

Independent Literary Awards

Some recent writerly chat about the benefit of getting your book reviewed in the blogosphere, as opposed to trying to get mainstream media such as newspapers to show interest, has been given some extra pause for thought by the announcement of this year’s Independent Literary Awards. When I first saw the title, I thought it was awards for books published by independent publishers, but no, the independent refers to the judges themselves: bloggers. Bloggers with blogs concerned primarily with books. Readers, in fact. Avid ones. Not writers, not publishers or publicists, but the folks who we write books for. (Note: there is a conference coming up in Brisbane devoted entirely to readers.)

The beauty, and perhaps it’s a two-edged beauty, as with POD and e-pub, of the internet is that anyone can not only have an opinion, but they can voice it. And unlike newspapers, for instance, there are very few gatekeepers on an indie blog. Biased? Parochial? Slaveringly devoted? It’s all out there, and it’s up to the reader to read between the lines: why is this person saying this? Is it fair? Is it informative? I like to think that, in both blogs and publishing, the quality will rise to the surface. Call me naive.

This is the technological age where we see reviews being used, not just by readers wanting to pass judgement, but by those looking for political clout. We’ve seen this in an ugly form, where readers sacrifice the reputation and skill of writers to protest against the price of e-books — something over which the author has, unless self-publishing, got very little if any control. (cf the Jacqueline Howett debacle, covered neatly by Kirstyn McDermott here.)

Times, they are indeed a’changing…

But back to business: the Independent Literary Awards, now in its second year, shows a new flexing of muscle from the ranks of not just fandom, but a rising and genre-spanning sector of the publicity machine. And these guys are taking it seriously — the list of last year’s winners shows that with a worthy to-read list. It makes sense; literary discourse is increasingly moving online, where it can become not just an essay, but a discussion. Look at the number of podcasts nominated in recent Australian spec fic award shortlists, for instance (Alan Baxter provides a neat overview here). The ILAs are juried by lit-minded bloggers, and accept nominations (Sep-Dec 2011) only from their peers — you have to pass their muster as a lit blogger (‘independent’ from the publishing business) to be considered eligible to nominate. Guidelines are on the website. It’s a step towards recognition and professionalism in what is still, to some extent, frontier territory. Good luck to them!

Anywhere But Earth … T minus X and counting…

anywhere but earth short story anthology

Coeur de Lion has released the table of contents for its forthcoming anthology Anywhere But Earth, and wow, I’m very glad indeed to be in this one. Editor Keith Stevenson’s summary of my ‘Messiah on the Rock’: “Arse kicking atheists and messianic alien vampires”. Twenty-seven yarns all set somewhere that isn’t there — this is gonna be fun! This isn’t necessarily the final cover, and the anthology is due out late 2011.

Chronos Award voting opens

Victoria’s popular-vote awards for locals, the Chronos Awards, have opened. Details at this LJ site. The awards are to be presented at Continuum 7, in Melbourne at June. Continuum members are eligible to vote, and voting memberships are available for $5 if you aren’t attending the con.

It’s worth noting that the con is appealing for panellists if you’d like to get involved.

Books! King, Powers, After the Rain, Shaun Tan, the Man Booker International shortlist

After the rain

The news:

The Man Booker International shortlist (NOT the Man Booker, for a book, but rather for a lifetime achievement) features John Le Carre and Philip Pullman, and Aussie David Malouf is in the 13, too. I find it cool that Le Carre wants to stay out in the cold — he’s not competitive, it appears, and the organisers have politely declined his equally polite request to be withdrawn.

And FableCroft has opened pre-orders for After the Rain, which includes my cyberpunk homage to misspent RPG days. The story has been fine-tuned since it was included in FableCroft’s flood relief charity e-version. The physical release is due out for Easter.

And it would be remiss to fail to mention the ongoing Year of the Shaun Tan, with the Aussie artist adding the mortgage-killing Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award to this year’s Oscar. Huzzah!

And the reviews, briefly:

Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King, collecting four yarns all uniformly bleak. The opening novella, ‘1922’, is classic obsession/haunting stuff, I had a couple of wee niggles, but I can’t go past the man’s command of character and, in this collection, the economy of words and gorgeous phrasing. ‘Big Driver’ is an ugly tale where the ugliness is not just foreshadowed but announced — you’d think that’d kill the suspense, but it doesn’t. The short story ‘Fair Extension’ is probably the least engaging, a Faustian exercise in human bitterness with surprisingly few twists. And ‘A Good Marriage’ is another simply domestic bliss gone bad, an one way in which we can handle home-grown evil. Even when the story has a kind of happy ending, there are no real winners here: such an apt title. King at his best or even his mediocre is a great salve.

And the other novel to have travelled from the to-read pile to the finally read one is Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard, a fetching alternative reality in which the poets Byron, Keats and Shelley battled very literal demons. It’s clever and I can only imagine how much fun the author must’ve had digging up the poetic extracts to head each chapter, selecting not only for theme but to set the mood on the action to follow. It’s a pedestrian pace but well worth the stroll through this superbly imagined fantasy.