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Lethal Weapon

Potentially forgettable buddy cop pic, elevated by a killer script and live wire performances.

Halliwell says: Extremely violent policier which caters to the Rambo crowd but has enough pizazz to recommend it to most classes.*


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1st Feb 2017

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When Harry Met Sally

Text-book rom-com that rebooted the genre and set the template for the next 3 decades.

Halliwell says: Over a period of 12 years, a couple meet occasionally to debate whether there can be friendship without sex between a man and a woman.***


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26th Dec 2016

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Steve Jobs

Electrifying script, captivating performances and effortless, accomplished direction. Outstanding.


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18th Sep 2016

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Black Mountain

Electric Ballroom, London

The Canadian heavy rockers bring the mecha robot smackdown at full volume


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14th Apr 2016

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Steve Jobs

Mesmerising biopic anchored by an electrifying script, transparent direction and great performances.


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3rd Feb 2016

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Toy Story 3

Note-perfect sentimentality from Pixar, perfectly capturing the joy and pain of childhood.


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30th Aug 2015

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Star Wars

Dated, clunky, clumsily directed nonsense - that still manages to capture the worlds imagination.

Halliwell says: Flash Gordon rides again, but with timing so impeccably right that the movie became a phenomenon and one of the top grossers of all time. In view of the hullabaloo, some disappointment may be felt with the actual experience of watching it... but it's certainly good harmless fun, put together with style and imagination.***


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7th Aug 2015

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3-10 to Yuma

Badass, emotional modern western - a perfect storm of plot, script, acting, direction and photography.


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31st Jul 2015

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Spoon

They Want My Soul

Richie Cunningham is back and even better than before. Instant classic with so many hits.


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31st Jul 2014

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Upstream Color

Spellbinding, hypnotic indie sci-fi. A hugely individual vision, masterfully assembled.


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25th Aug 2013

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Manhunter

Beneath the 80s trappings, the original Lektor pic still oozes tension, style and outstanding action.


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14th Jun 2013

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Witness

Brilliantly written and directed thriller that weaves through many classic tropes, plus carpentry.

Halliwell says: As much about the meeting of cultures as about cops and robbers, this is one of those lucky movies which works out well on all counts and shows that there are still craftsmen lurking in Hollywood.***


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28th Feb 2013

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Upstream Color

Brilliant, complex, layered humanist sci-fi. In a world of its own.


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21st Jan 2013

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Bad Santa

Unflinchingly depraved Xmas comedy, with a career-defining performance of Lebowski-esque proportions.


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27th Dec 2012

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Double Indemnity

Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler steer this tightly plotted femme fatale insurance scam noir classic.

Halliwell says: Archetypal film noir of the forties, brilliantly capturing the decayed Los Angeles atmosphere of a Chandler novel but using a simpler story and more substantial characters. The hero/villain was almost a new concept.****


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15th Oct 2012

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Alien

Tense, timeless sci-fi. Magnificently designed and executed and only mildly showing its 33 years.

Halliwell says: Deliberately scarifying and highly commercial shocker with little but its art direction to commend it to connoisseurs.*


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5th Jun 2012

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Married To The Mob

Tight, multi-layered comedy in Jonathan Demme's best film - and the antidote to 'Goodfellas'.

Halliwell says: Effervescent comedy-thriller that bubbles merrily along.**


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23rd Feb 2012

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Beginners

Assured, personal, touching, refreshing exploration of love and relationships from Mike Mills.


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29th Dec 2011

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Breaking Bad Season 4

This show just gets better and better, with S4 providing the tightest, most rivetting twists yet.


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26th Dec 2011

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Good Will Hunting

Gus Van Zandt's absorbing drama still holds up. Beautifully written, acted, shot and directed.


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17th Dec 2011

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This Is England '88

Another classy, confident, gut-wrenching slice of foreboding urban drama from Shane Meadows.


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16th Dec 2011

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Top Boy

Utterly outstanding, multi-stranded British urban drama. Beautifully shot, written and acted. Catch it on 4OD.


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6th Nov 2011

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Wilco

The Roundhouse, London

Wilco albums come and go, but the live act remains strong and steady - well aware which songs have stood the test of time and which have dropped off into back catalogue. New album and show opener "Art of Almost" immediately scored itself a position as today's song of the year, setting the scene for a heavy set that wasn't afraid to bring a couple of extra guitars off the bench when neccessary.

Possibly slightly more truncated in length than previous shows and light on Tweedy-stand-up, it was still plenty for my ageing body support system - and with another show tomorrow probably drawing back many of the beard-heavy crowd no-one is likely to be complaining.

Never, ever disappointing. Set list over at Wilco World.

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29th Oct 2011 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Aliens

The original grunts-in-space epic still stands ahead of the pack. Classic.

Halliwell says: Frightening but mechanical sequel with none of the half-assed poetry of the original.*


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15th Sep 2011

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The Skin I Live In

Cut me up, cut me down? Antonio Banderas returns to the Almodóvar fold for dark surgical menace.


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9th Sep 2011

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Le Carré's mole-hunt played w class. Oldman excels at bringing Smiley's culture to life.


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6th Sep 2011

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Platoon

Brilliant rites of passage movie that still stands as the definitive depiction of the war in Vietnam.

Halliwell says: Not badly done in the style of Bataan (plus brutality and gore). One would have thought it too late to do it at all, but the American public made it a box-office hit.**


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24th Jul 2011

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The Tree of Life

Ambitious, epic, unique view of life, big and small. Beautifully shot, acted, edited and soundtracked.


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9th Jul 2011

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The Secret in Their Eyes

Excellent Argentinian crime thriller about a retired cop haunted by an old case.


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12th Jun 2011

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How To Make It In America

Season 1

HBO

With Entourage winding down after an epic 7 (soon to be 8th and final) seasons, HBO have started to line up it's successor. While the no-money, Lower East Side vibe of aspiring fashion entrepreneurs Ben Epstein and Cam Calderon might seem like a million miles from the valet parking of Vincent Chase's Hollywood, there are many parallels with this East Coast cousin - following the same dreams of success and the high life, just jumping on board at an earlier stage.

Despite the opposing fortunes, lifestyle envy also plays a big part here and while the reality of always being a dollar short might not quite hold the everlasting appeal of having a dollar too much, always knowing the hippest parties and being on first-name terms with every door man in town is something many of us would have loved 15 years ago. Slow motion mixes with flash frame photography and well chosen music to beautifully capture the gritty, exciting world of opportunity of both the Lower East Side and the just-graduated student mentality.

How To Make It In America has that quick-fix vibe that gets you high in 25 minutes and leaves you wanting more. Well-rounded episodes that fly by, but the season arc stays strong and is filled out well with multiple story strands (including a career-best performance from Luis Guzman and Rasta Monsta) all staying as strong as each other, while still building the bigger picture of the show's overall themes and agenda.

Great stuff. Should be back for season 2 later on in 2011.

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1st Jun 2011 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Baraka

Spectacular 65mm film, beautifully restored, HD re-release of Ron Fricke's touching, hypnotic visual poem.


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14th Apr 2011

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Cop Land

Brilliant modern western, built around the basics of good story, good direction and great performances


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19th Mar 2011

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Animal Kingdom

For the third time - at Mrs CSF's request. Still film of the year so far. Masterful.


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27th Feb 2011

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Pulp Fiction

Tarantino's showy, overlong 2nd film highlights all of his swagger - signposting his later flaws.


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27th Feb 2011

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Animal Kingdom

Twice in a month - this Aussie crime thriller must be good.


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20th Jan 2011

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Animal Kingdom

Brilliant, brooding, Aussie underworld thriller. A great debut and the best film of 2011 ...so far.


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7th Jan 2011

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Monsters

Masterfully handled low-budget sci-fi. Easily the best film I've seen in a while.


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11th Dec 2010

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Inception

(dir. Christopher Nolan)

What a relief it is to see something new. After all the endless sequels, franchise-extensions, remakes and reboots we've been lumbered with in recent years, you start to feel like no-one is going to bother coming up with anything new, which presents an odd problem: what are people going to remake in 20 years time?!

Anyhow, Inception delivers on its promise of mind-bending action. It's smart, coherent, tense, exciting, unpredictable and rich with emotional depth. Once the rules of the game are established early on - ex-military tech is now being used by corporate spies to steal secrets from people in their dreams you say? Oh, OK, fine! - the movie takes hold, dropping you off in its dream logic, throwing you around the world, dizzying you with some excellent special effects and not letting up until the final credits. Think Eternal Sunshine of The Ocean's 11 Mind, with a bonus dash of Matrix flash (before it got shit). 

Leonardo DiCaprio steps up to the promise he's been showing since The Departed, with another beefy role as the experienced dream warrior who gets hired to plant an idea, rather than steal a secret. It's like he's getting wider rather than older. Ellen "Juno" Page is a great addition to Nolan's tricksy world, adding a grounded, sarky teen level to the blockbuster antics. Tom Hardy's role moves a touch too far towards Action Dude from the cerebral, shady forger who's brought on board the team to impersonate people in dreams, but he's still great - surely a big lead role in a Hollywood film can't be far off for him? Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays DiCaprio's right hand man, another thoroughly watchable performance from him. Cillian Murphy makes a decent mark for them to target. Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine - two more Nolan veterans - add yet more weight. Marion Cotillard perhaps hams it up a little as the mysterious French femme fatale, but that's a minor niggle - and there's an argument to be made that it's an intentional device. 

Going in cold to a film like this is highly recommended - so we'll stop here; it's easily the film of the summer - and a strong contender for the year's best.

Check out the comic book prequel here.

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14th Jul 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Spartan

Cold ruthless action from an excellent Val Kilmer in David Mamet's dry thriller.


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11th Jul 2010

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Inception

Mind boggling thrills with a brain - thoroughly entertaining and original, with top notch performances.


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10th Jul 2010

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin

ICA, London

The ICA - a different kind of ambience to some of the gigs I've frequented of late.  What a cultured group of individuals are to be found snuggling in this cozy nook just up the road from her maj. OK, so no one jumps around when the band finish a number, but on the positive side I won't go home wearing half a pint of Red Bull like I did at Les Claypool on monday night. So the ICA gets a thumbs up from me (but not the person who'd written the graffiti in the Gents - it read "You Bourgeois Cunt". There you go Banksy, that's how you do it).

Anyway. I digress.

Nik Bartsch has a musical mission and it's all about the crosstalk of rhythms. Ronin is one of his two bands, (the other is called Mobile) both of which share material and some members. Referred to by the ICA as "Zen-Funk" , it's a Jazz textured Steve Reich style experiment in rhythmic interplay, perhaps even more accurately called Math-Jazz. Anyway, before you all get visions of Howard Moon doing that Jazz face, it's important to understand that this band has a solid groove. The band play figures or riffs, patterns and pulses, but no wig-out solos or smug chords. The drummer might be playing in a different time signature to the piano, but a third rhythmic strand from the percussionist might lock them together in a new weird way that somehow makes your feet move.

Using acoustic instruments, plus electric bass, and some deftly applied reverb and delay, the band introduce musical patterns gradually, letting them take root in your head before something else joins in. Woodwind player Shaa creates mighty rasps from a contrabass clarinet, and smooth round tones from an alto sax. Bartsch himself is a very active player for a minimalist - confining his minimalism to the notes and figures played, but constantly plunging into the guts of the piano to mute the strings, pluck them and strum them with a drum-stick. In fact the whole band have this approach - to get maximum variety of tonal sound from the repeating figures (and keeping it funky).

The band really seemed to enjoy themselves - they had a nice crisp sound and were warmly received by the crowd. Absolutely recommended - next time they visit, be sure to check 'em out.

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15th Mar 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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National Treasure

The National have previewed Terrible Love - the lead track off their new album High Violet (due May 11th) - on the Jimmy Fallon show. Pretty great lead-up to an album with a lot of expectation after Boxer, which we rudely only gave 4.5 stars.

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11th Mar 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

Million Dollar Baby

Superior, heart-breaking drama from Clint.


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10th Jan 2010

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Se7en

Now classic 90's thriller from David Fincher and Darius Khondji.


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2nd Jan 2010

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3.10 To Yuma

Top class western with Crowe and Bale on fine form.


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30th Nov 2009

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Redbelt

Superior drama from David Mamet. Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding. Tim Allen gets serious.


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20th Nov 2009

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Pixies

Brixton Academy, London

First a confession - this is the first time in my life I have ever seen the Pixies, and since I've been going to gigs for (oh dear) 30 years, I've missed many a golden opportunity, and the Pixies always figured high on the list of "ones I shoulda seen". Suddenly the opportunity miraculously arises as the Pixies undertake a tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the stone classic Doolittle album. I say stone classic since I don't think I'll hear many arguments to the contrary - an album packed with great pop songs, ferocious guitars, great lyrics and brilliant vocals (plus it's on a British label). With the band playing Doolittle in full tonight, I had a slight concern that I might be seeing something that reeked only of nostalgia and might be best left alone, but in the weeks coming up to the show I've found it hard to suppress my optimism - just really hoping that these worthy veterans would deliver the goods.

Of course, they DID deliver the goods. The Pixies are a band - and by that I mean they are a genuine example of the sum adding up to more than it's (considerable) parts. They play like a band, with that wonderful sense that they are all at home where they belong when they are doing this. This was the first of three nights in Brixton - a venue the Pixies have a long history with - and their name on the dome outside could not have looked more like it was meant to be there. Indoor gig and a crowd who felt like this was their very own special band coming back to see the fans that first embraced them. All of these things meant there was a happy vibe from both band and audience.

Starting up with Dancing The Manta Ray, they warmed themselves up by plundering the b-sides box and treating us to some rare gems - Kim Deal told us that they were playing some of these songs for "maybe the fifth time ever, tonight". Then, after maybe fifteen minutes Kim Deal plays the opening riff to Debaser and the party really starts. God, they sound great. Upstairs in the Academy the sound was pretty good although I'm told it was a bit muddier downstairs, while the visual elements of the show can't be faulted - great lighting and projections, tastefully done. Each track from Doolittle sounds teriffic and the band play them all with deserved enthusiasm. It's kind of surreal - there they are playing Here Comes Your Man and Monkey Gone To Heaven, Tame, Dead, No.13.... right through to Silver which was a bit of a highlight despite it's being the slowest song they played all night, but then to follow that closely with Into The White was a masterstroke. Back for encores (twice) which included more b-sides (UK Surf version of Wave Of Mutilation) and classics (U-Mass) and ending with Gigantic - the word best used to describe the smile on Deal's face the whole night.

I was not disappointed.

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7th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pearl Jam

O2, London

With relatively few UK gigs under their belts, it's always nice to have Pearl Jam in town. Assuming they aren't one of your most hated bands, of course.  As noted by the band, their first UK gig was at The Borderline in '92 - and they were often described as being 'full of energy'. Probably because they "only played eight songs" - a long way from tonight's three-hour-plus show in front of a packed house. So packed, that Eddie Vedder wisely hypnotized the crowd into taking a unified three steps back about four songs in, reminding everyone of why they were away from Europe for so long before.

With the band maturing gracefully, and the Ten reissue garnering such nostalgic praise, it's hard not to suspect that Pearl Jam may be winding things down somewhat. Tracks from imminent new release Backspacer didn't make much impact, while the set was packed with often overlooked tracks from the earliest (four) albums.

Surprise opener Release was a highlight, plus plenty of favourites from Vitalogy, the spine-tingling Footsteps, personal favourite Light Years - as well as obligatory singalongs Black and Betterman, plus the rousing encore of Crazy Mary.

While you might expect the enormodome proportions of the O2/Millenium Dome to make for a stale atmosphere, with the right band it makes for an exuberant party vibe. We're all here to see Pearl Jam, but with the beer stand so easy to get to you'd be foolish to pull the usual trick of backing up your toilet breaks to the end. And so evolves a new dilemma: where to take your break. With so many favourites flowing easily it's a tough descision, especially when unknown newer songs provoke a mass exodus/bigger queues. Like choosing which kid to throw out the boat first, I went with Rats, while BC chose lesser known b-side I Got ID and CJ bizarrely chose Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town. At least he was back quick.

If you hate them, you hate them, but if you love them you'll wish you had been there for a typically roof-raising performance from the definite 'grunge' (ha!) rockers.

Setlist:
Release
Animal
Corduroy
Why Go
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
Immortality
The Fixer
Even Flow
I Got I.D.
Rats (with a bit of Michael Jackson' Ben)
Got Some
Whipping
Light Years
Insignificance
Black
Life Wasted
Blood (with a bit of Atomic Dog)

Supersonic
Hail Hail
Footsteps
Love, Reign O'er Me
Do The Evolution
Alive

Better Man (with a bit of Save It For Later)
Crazy Mary
Leaving Here
Porch
Yellow Ledbetter

I've put the best part of the setlist into a Spotify playlist here.

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19th Aug 2009 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Lightning Dust

Infinite Light

Jagjaguwar

The Black Mountain Army are proving to be nothing if not consistent. Since releasing Black Mountain's barn-storming In The Future in 2008, the contributors have been working steadily through their alter egos - with Pinkmountaintops putting out the excellent Outside Love and now alumni Amber Webber and Joshua Wells releasing a second album under the Lightning Dust moniker. I'm expecting a breakthrough album from Blood Meridian next.

Webber's contribution to Black Mountain is not to be over-looked, with her sultry vocals pulling the band back from the brink of parody and adding a mournful sound to the mix. Her vocals also supplied some of the highlights on Outside Love - and she was sorely missed on the supporting tour. With Lightning Dust however, Webber is firmly centre stage - taking on the majority of the writing, as well as guitar and 95% of the vocals.

Where the self titled debut was spare and sultry, Infinite Light is a more filled out and polished affair - much like the latest albums from the previously mentioned strands - and that extra push pays out rich rewards. Where Lightning Dust occasionally strained or became just too sparse, Inifinte Light sweeps and soars, showing a much wider range. Opener Antonia Jane is a country-tinged affair, obligitary lead-free-download I Knew adds some catchy low-key disco electronics and is notable for Well's superb drumming, while the piano-led The Times even threatens to become a sing-a-long. There are mysterious synthesizers and luscious strings, which all add up to a strangely epic vibe - for what is still essentially a small, self-contained record. There's a consistency and clarity here that would make a perfect soundtrack, probably to a modern day western or double crossin' film noir.

That 5% of the vocals that Webber doesn't cover is where this album loses it's half star - momentarily slipping towards that musical theatre vibe as the male vocals intrude on Honest Man. So while the variations are welcome to a certain extent, it's still the mournful voice of Webber that scores the highlights here - leading us effortlessly through the swell of History, the pounding balladry of Wondering What Everyone Knows or the flawless closer Take It Home, which perfectly sums up everything good about this excellent band. Great drums, moody bass, strings that could go on forever and a soaring, epic vocal performance that will put shivers down your spine.

Unmissable.

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30th Jul 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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