Thursday 22 October 2009

Bob Dylan at the O2, London - April 2009

Back in April, I got offered a ticket to see Bob Dylan at the O2 in London (formerly the Millenium Dome)

I was interested to see the Dome and Bob Dylan.

Getting there was a bit of a pain as the Jubilee Line was shut, but I managed it and settled into my seat.

I wasn't that far from the stage, in the first raised row directly facing the stage, but it was pretty hard to make out details of people on the stage and, truth be known, I couldn't swear it WAS Bob Dylan on the stage, so God only knows how little those at the back of my section of seating or high up in 'the Gods' could see.

Bob's band looked very Blue Grass crossed with ZZ Top, but they seemed a competent bunch. Mr Dylan (Let's assume it was him) came on wearing a big white hat, but didn't acknowledge the crowd then or at any time during the concert. OK, maybe "Hello...errr....London!" is a bit a cliche, but I can't help thinking this distance contributed to my feeling about the whole evening.

The first song was, just about, recognisable as Maggie's Farm, but from the outset it felt like he wasn't really taking it seriously and was singing in a rather mannered way (a bit like a high pitched, nasal drunken slur) for his own amusement.

He continued on through the set, which a scan on the internet suggests was as below, in the same way.

Maggie's Farm
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Things Have Changed
Chimes of Freedom
Rollin' And Tumblin'
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
'Til I Fell In Love With You
Workingman's Blues #2
Highway 61 Revisited
Ballad Of Hollis Brown
Honest With Me
When the Deal Goes Down
Thunder On The Mountain
Like A Rolling Stone

All Along The Watchtower
Spirit On The Water
Blowin' In The Wind

One or two were quite good (Things have changed stuck in my mind as good as did Highway 61 revisited), but often the songs were barely recognisable (All Along the Watchtower is a favourite song of mine, but it was barely recognisable and Like a Rollin' Stone almost passed without me realising!) and the performance was either terrible or terribly mannered.

I've read a couple of reviews in the press about this event, one said pretty much what I have and the other said we were honoured to be in the presence of a God like genius.

Not being a Dylan fan, I felt a bit cheated (although I didn't really begrudge the face value I paid for the ticket) as if he'd had all the fun at our expense.

Some big screens and some acknowledgement of our presence would have made it feel that Bob wasn't just going through the motions up on stage, without really wanting to perform for the audience (which I suspect might have been exactly the case).

I certainly won't go and see Bob in concert again, but I can say I did.

Franz Ferdinand - Bournemouth 21st October 2009

Franz Ferdinand - are a Scottish indie band, four guys, three guitars and a drummer (with a few synths thrown in).

I'd liked their stuff since their first hit, "Take Me Out" and have bought their 3 albums, but I wouldn't describe myself as a die-hard fan.

I can't recall exactly how I discovered they were playing live at the Bournemouth Opera House (now re-re-renamed the O2 Academy), but I do remember being slightly shocked that such a 'big' group were playing the small, intimate venue and I decided it was too good a chance to miss.

My teenage daughter tagged along and we got there just in time to be soaked by a downpour as we queued to get in. We could've dodge the queue and stayed dry if I'd had my PAYG O2 mobile with me! Worth knowing if you have an O2 phone...

Whilst I don't think of myself as 'Old' just yet, I'm old enough that the Academy (as it was then) was my Saturday night stomping ground 25 years ago, but although it'd had a lick of paint and some trendy new lighting, the venue is little changed (I guess it's protected, being a Victorian music hall).

At 8PM the support act came on. MusicGoMusic are an LA group, fronted by a frighteningly thin (but quite charismatic) girl. Over to the left were two guitarists (one looking like a long-haired Garth Marenghi and the other like Gareth from 'The Office'!), a drummer at the back and to the right a bequiffed and besuited keyboardist.

To be honest, the sound balance wasn't great for MGM, with the singer's voice being drowned by the instruments, but what I could hear suggested they're worth a listen when they release their first material. Their overall sound was good for a crowd here to listen to Franz Ferdinand and they were, on the whole, well received.

After the usual roadie shenanigans, Franz Ferdinand came on around 9:15.

Straight into "No you Girls", they wasted no time producing a crowd pleasing set, ploughing through most of their hits and some lesser known tracks from all 3 albums.

No You Girls
Do You Want To
The Dark Of The Matinée
Tell Her Tonight
Can't Stop Feeling
Send Him Away
This Fire
Turn It On
Take Me Out

The sound was excellent for Franz Ferdinand, with Alex's distinctive voice clear over the instruments (although they clearly see themselves as musicians as their guitar breaks showed and I couldn't quibble).

Whilst their image in videos is sometimes a little distracted and bored, their live performance is anything but, it was raw, exciting and energetic.

After about 45 minutes they went off and we all awaited the usual 2 or 3 song encore.

Well, after 5 songs I stopped counting and by the time the drummer left the stage I couldn't take any more - The encore was as long as the main set!

Walk Away
Live Alone
Van Tango
Darts Of Pleasure
What She Came For
Lucid Dreams

I was convinced they were going to leave the stage after "What She Came For", because there was no question that "We got what we came for! No Doubt!".

In the end, they departed the stage one at a time after an interesting and extended version of Lucid Dreams.

I've seen a few bands over the years, but I can't honestly say I've seen a band that produced a more energetic, intimate or enjoyable set and the extended encore made me (and most of the rest of the audience I'd guess, by the happy faces as we filed out) feel as if we'd been privy to a rare treat!

If they're always this good, you owe it to yourself to go and see them!

To coin a phrase "You Could Have It So Much Better" with Franz Ferdinand

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Gran Turismo for PSP

Gran Turismo for the PSP has been promised since the handheld console was launched.

Indeed it's been slated for release on more than one occasion, only to fail to materialise, so it was with a little surprise that I opened my parcel from and realised I FINALLY held it in my hand.

First off, let me say that I've only very briefly played GT3 on a PS2 before, so I'm not a series fan. I don't have a clue what 'Career Mode' is and I suspect I wouldn't much like it to be honest (if it forces you to plough through level after level to reach the track and car you want to race).

So, what's GT for the PSP actually like?

After upgrading my PSP to version 5.5 firmware (which it insisted on doing and delivers a PS Network link from the main menu), the intro movie is a delight. The graphics are film quality and atmospheric and I wanted to play the game as soon as I'd watched them!

First car I was offered was, wait for it, a Renault Megane... mmmm....

The nice thing is that I was able to pick a wide variety of tracks and I plumped for one of my all time favourites, Laguna Seca in California.

Something GT games are famed for is the realistic handling of their cars and, sure enough, the Megane understeers wide if you fail to brake sufficiently into the corners.

Laguna Seca looks to be very accurately reproduced too (I've not driven the circuit, but I've walked around it and watched many in-car laps).

After easily beating the competition, I purchased a Mazda (I thought it was an RX8 - my daily drive - but it turned out to be a 7) and took on the Grune-Holle of the Nordschleife. The circuit is challenging and so, for me, are the controls. breaking isn't a natural action, switching over to the SQUARE button from the X on the right controller - perhaps being left handed exacerbates this - and the steering with the joystick controller is over sensitive, leading to a snaking action which leads to spins at speed on the Nurburgring's fastest sections. All that said, though, I'm sure hardcore console fans won't have problems with this.

Mentioning speed brings me to another positive of the game, the sensation of speed is great - I felt genuinely tense as the car started to snake and i lost control. I was only doing 140 mph or so, but it felt like 140 or more, unlike the rather sterile experience of some computer games.

There's certainly no slow frame refreshing here and the rendering of the woods surrounding the circuit is detailed enough to aid the sense of speed - I was impressed by this as some reviews had suggested that the background detail was poor to aid performance - So far, I've seen no examples of this.

I have seen the odd black rectangle passing by on the Nordschleife, but generally the detail is complete and high.

After a few plays I 'invested' in a Nissan GTR and the performance is notably higher than the RX7 (I had a high speed tank slappper on the long straight near the end of the circuit and I could feel myself getting tense!).

It was also noticable that the competition is tougher to beat as you edge up the classes (I'm up to class B on the ring and beating the competition by a second or two most races, although not without the odd off track excursion on most laps)

What's not so good?

Well, although there are lots of cars and it's clear what they're supposed to be, I found their graphical detail in game to be a little crude, although it's better on replay. It's certainly no match for GTR2 on a PC, for example.

Getting new cars depends on you 'buying' them from the 'dealers of the day' after winning money from race placing (you get money wherever you finish out of the 4 cars which feature in each race). Even if you have $1m, you can't just buy a Group C racer, until it's available from the dealership, which requires you dropping back to the menu, which starts a new 'day'.

Only having 4 cars on track at once doesn't bother me, nor does the lack of damage at this stage, but I can see how the latter might appeal when I'm more experienced with the game and it would've been nice to have it as a switchable feature.

What GT on the PSP is really good for is picking up and banging in a quick race on your favourite track(s) in your favourite car.

My use of the PSP is intermittent and, often, short, so the game works well in this mode, although hard-core GT gamers seem to have expected GT4 (or even 5!) on the PSP, which doesn't seem to be a practical solution (although attempts to deliver this might well explain the prolonged gestation period of the game).

I got GT PSP for just £18 on release and, for that price, it seems a great addition to PSP gaming.

Fire up the GTR, I'm off to the 'Ring again!

Friday 2 October 2009

Recent Music Purchases - Jack Penate and Friendly Fires

I recently bought a few new CDs.

Jack Penate - Matinee and Everything is New - I first came across Jack Penate whilst waiting for Franz Ferdinand to appear on the BBC's Glastonbury coverage - He was playing 'the John Peel Tent' and I found his live set lively and highly enjoyable with hints of ska and (as my daughter says) 'a Male Kate Nash'. Matinee is quite the latter, whilst Everything is new, his second album has more elements of the Ska feel and feels an altogether more polished and 'grown up' album. I'd recommend both, but if you buy only one, I'd pick Everything is New.

Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires - Stumbled across these guys on (where you can listen to whole albums online - surely someone's going to stomp on this soon?). I was especially taken with 'In the Hospital', which sounds like a Talking Heads track to me. It's a bit of a mixed bag, in my opinion, with some great tracks (Lovesick, Hospital, Paris and Skeleton Boy) and some that don't work so well (Jump in the Pool, for example), but on balance, it's more good than not so and I don't often skip any of the tracks. Intelligent dance music (not the incessant bass and drum of the likes of Basshunter), Friendly Fires will be a band I'll watch and listen to with interest.