Concert Review: the Mars Volta in Stockholm

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After work today I had dinner with my friends Asko & Eva and then went to the Cirkus concert venue to hear the Mars Volta. For those of you who have missed them, they’re a US psychedelic progressive rock outfit whose fourth album just entered the US top-10 at #3.

The band was an octet tonight: singer, lead guitar, drum kit, bass and keyboards, plus a rhythm guitarist who also played keyboard, a saxophonist who also played flute and percussion, and a percussionist who also played a keyboard. Yes, there were at least five keyboards on stage.

The set was about 2.5 hours long, covering all albums except the second one, I believe. I would have liked to hear some of the mutated merengue piano from that disc. The playing was intricate and energetic, extremely tightly rehearsed, with very good sound engineering, not too loud — but it was all a bit too much of a good thing for me. I kind of tuned out toward the end. Because really, though I love the Mars Volta, I would never listen to their intense albums for 2.5 hours without pause.

I was surprised to hear a song based on a barely modified version of the bass riff of Black Sabbath’s 1970 track “Hand of Doom”. Can anybody tell me what song that was?

The Mars Volta is one of this decade’s signature rock bands: effortlessly productive and wildly creative. With a multiracial lineup, lyrics in English and Spanish and surrealist imagery both in the lyrics and the visuals, they feel very much like heralds of the future of US rock music. Highly recommended in judicious doses!

Posted an hour and a half after the end of the gig.

Update 23 February: Kat points out that the song with the stolen Sabbath riff is “Goliath” from the Mars Volta’s latest album, Bedlam in Goliath.

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Scintillating Scotoma

i-9e69d772d6e415be3a209ba05381c102-ScintillatingScotoma3.jpgLast night I suffered a less than hour-long bout of scintillating scotoma. It’s a weird kind of snow crash in your visual cortex where part of your field of vision is replaced by sparkly geometric patterns. It happens to me once every few years and is sometimes associated with a headache, sort of migraine lite. The scotoma is quite disorientating, particularly when the affected bit is at the centre of whatever you’re looking at, like last night. I was probably a pitiful sight, squinting out of one corner of my eye at the laptop as I laboured half blindly to download the latest Escape Pod — I needed something to do when I retired to bed. After listening to the Neal Asher story, I got up and took some ibuprophene against the headache that followed the scotoma.

Inspired by Oliver Sachs’s essay “Stereo Sue”, I’ve recently taken up using a contact lens again after many years. Maybe the unfamiliar stereoscopic calculations have taken their toll on my brain. I have a good left eye and a near-sighted right one, so for most of my life my brain has just disregarded the blurry input from one eye and made do with the good signal. The minute I popped in a lens, everything came out in glorious 3D again. I’ve reached the point where objects extending toward me scare me when I’m not wearing a lens, since I can’t see exactly how far away they are the way I’ve recently learned to.

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Lucifer Over London

i-19aaa168a72796b846ffce341654bbde-current9308020312.jpgDear Reader, have you lately heard much merry folk rock with apocalyptic lyrics about the coming of the Antichrist over London?

My dear friend Asko is, among other things, a war gamer, a geocacher, an antiquarian amateur, a fiction writer and a musician. Hear him play the bass on releases by 90s stoner rock outfit Dear Mutant! (I have heard kickass stuff from the band’s final unreleased album sessions…) Asko recently recommended me a track by Current 93, a band I’d never heard of. Turns out it’s a huge body of recordings from the early 80s onward by occult Englishman David Tibet with various co-musicians. These people link the project to Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV etc.

The song Asko told me to start with is “Lucifer Over London”. I found a live recording from 1994, and as far as I can tell it wasn’t released in any studio version before that. A gothy distorted feedback-laden guitar first plays briefly with the intro to Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, then settles into a folky three-beats-to-the-bar groove, accented by a tambourine. And then David Tibet comes on, a wild-eyed seeker of cosmic truth, not without humorous distance to the dreamy lyrics, yet sounding dangerously prophetic and unhinged. “Current 93” is a concept out of Aleister “Evilest Guy” Crowley’s writings, and Tibet clearly half-believes in it all, Satanism, Christianity or both or none.

Allmusic lists 47 albums by this guy so far, generally giving them very high marks for quality and originality throughout. This is not a musician who bloomed early and then settled into complacency and increasing irrelevance: the reviews imply that he suffered a bit of a quality slump from about ’85 to ’95 (around the age of 30), releasing stellar stuff in great profusion before and after that period. And the excellent “Lucifer Over London” belongs to the slump! Looks well worth delving into, and deliciously underground.

The versions of the lyrics available on the web are much longer than the original and more or less corrupt. They indicate that a 2000 cover version by Greek death metallers Rotting Christ is more popular (or simply more easily available) than the original. I’ve put the lyrics below in line with the Current 93 track. (Isn’t it unbelievably metal for a death guitarist to be named Kostas Vassilakopoulos?)

Lucifer Over London
Lyrics by David Tibet

Twisted wings and clouds unfold
And the great taint of He who fell
Makes darkened shadows
Over pointed spires

Little children point and sing
Little children run and dance
Over there the setting sun
Over there the setting sun
Lucifer over London

Under that the silent stars
Under they the laughing world
Under that the silent skies
Balance sits

In western parts and piles spare spares
In his gabled room
Lucifer over London

All the little Christs I count
Laughing in the green green fields
Some of these angels have the face of Gods
Some of them the face of dogs
Lucifer over London

A golden seabird
Half dead with spray
Evil incense moons
The glint of dead fruits
The shining stars topple

And all this falls
Under his cloak
Lucifer over London

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Three Good Albums

Three good albums, listened to in the car when driving to & fro the Djurhamn dig.

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Silverbullit, Arclight (2004). This is dark and Gothamesque rock, sort of the Cure + the Stooges + Kraftwerk. The band searched high and low until they found a drummer who could and would play like a drum machine. One of the best Swedish records of the decade.

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Olivia Tremor Control, Black Foliage (1999). The Pet Sounds era Beach Boys discover musique concrète just as the water supply becomes heavily contaminated with mescaline. Completely otherworldly yet drenched in the sweetest vocal harmony.

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Skip Regan/Opia, Welcome To My Head (2000). Catchy and bluesy psychedelia with Lennon-soundalike guitar virtuoso Skip Regan singing about women and psychoactives. Available for free on-line from the talented stoner web developer himself.

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Swedish 1909 Cannabis Enthusiasm

i-fb875d597f1b7c4ec14c28626df4cbd7-victorianteadrinker.jpgThe excruciatingly witty and multi-talented David Nessle has been alerted by his erudite father to a long enthusiastic article about cannabis in the classic Swedish 1909 dictionary Nordisk Familjebok (uggleupplagan). This dictionary was in every home with any pretentions to literacy and social respectability. A stoner among the dictionary’s contributors, pharmacology professor Oskar Teodor Sandahl (1829-1894), has clearly done a lot of pot to be able to report the way he does (note that he mentions the munchies), and the editorial board has then felt it proper to devote an entire page to the subject. I translate:

Hashish. 1. H a s h i s h (Arab. herb, especially hemp, being the foremost of all herbs, due to its pleasurable, anaesthetic and calming properties, and finally preparations made of this herb), pharm. […]

[Description of how to make cannabis extract using butter and rose-petal oil] 3-4 g of such extract is ingested, usually in a small cup of black coffee, when one wishes to attain a pleasurable intoxication.

[…] Truly wonderful are in many cases the effects of hashish, but they vary according to individual and dosage. After the ingestion one’s head always becomes heavy, sometimes with headache, a sensation of warmth is felt and vertigo and a ringing in the ears. One’s pupils dilate, and long-sightedness ensues. During hashish intoxication, many report that objects appear enormously elongated, as if they had no end: a road you wander seems endless, and your goal constantly slips away into the distance. Painted pictures appear stereoscopic or seem to take corporeal form and begin to move, so that they appear to free themselves living from the canvas. Sensoric acuity is dulled, while the poisoned person’s impressions appear exceptionally vivid. Usually a subjective sense of heightened intensity and power in one’s mental faculties is felt, along with a highly cheerful air, a considerable impulse to laughter, and indeed irrepressable eruptions of loud laughter, without apparent reason, but usually inspired by bizarre visions or more correctly illusions. Under the influence of a strongly heightened imagination, the shapes and colours of these illusions often become exceptionally sumptuous and engrossing. (Even more glorious colours are summoned by a poison in certain cacti, see C a c t a c a e). One’s consciousness is sometimes entirely intact, at other times more or less fogged, so that no memory of events during intoxication remains afterwards. One’s sense of time becomes highly skewed: everything appears hasty and fleeting, but minutes nevertheless feel like hours. The ground disappears under your feet, you experience a not unpleasant sense of floating in the air, and you fly through wide expanses of space. In many is seen, however, a great inertia in their movements, an uncertain gait and trembling hands, while others display an impetuous tendency to noisemaking, raving and destruction, everything under at least partial consciousness.

With time, a tendency to calm and sleepiness makes itself felt. Usually, however, the hashish intoxication does not cause sleep directly, but only makes the following night’s sleep uncommonly deep, with or without remarkable dreams. In everyone does hashish stimulate a considerable heightening of the appetite afterwards; otherwise there are no or no notable side effects. Hashish does not cause constipation.

[Stuff about fakirs and assassins, speculation about how the drug’s effects arise.]

People who use hashish often and in large doses can of course damage themselves seriously with it. Particularly, some are said to become insane, while death from hashish poisoning is very rare. Compared to opium, hashish is far less dangerous; in particular, it lacks opium’s damaging effects on the digestive tract and general state of nourishment.

Professor Sandahl’s article appears to have been re-printed with some revisions from the late-19th century edition of the dictionary. Sandahl was into altie treatments and ran a “Medico-Pneumatic Clinic” in Stockholm from 1860 to 1882, where patients sat in sheet-iron cupboards and breathed “condensed air” to cure their ailments. I wonder if the stoner professor sent medical marijuana smoke into those curative cupboards.

Funnily, I find that O.T. Sandahl owned a property on Baggensstäket’s Skogsö shore, not far from the battlefield of 1719 where I have helped with metal detecting. “Despite being for many years one of the capital’s most sought-after practicioners, the prominent and exceptionally friendly physician found time to write many dissertations, travel books etc. His beautiful plantations at Stäket were famous.”

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Subway Conversation

From Tor yesterday (and I translate):

A short while ago I sat down in the subway beside a sixtyish lady, opened my backpack and got out a book titled From Frege to Gödel. A conversation ensued.

“Oh my, that’s a thick book! Is it maths?”

(Tor sighs silently and pulls out his ear plugs.)

“Yes, mathematical logic.”

“It’s like a brick!”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to read it from cover to cover, it’s an antholo…”

“Have you read Wittgenstein’s Taractus?”

“The Tractatus? Well, bits and…”

“When I am on the operating table, under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, Bertrand Russell keeps me company.”

But by then we were already in the Old Town, where the friendly lady was getting off.

Lulubird, Shoot the Doorbell Off My Head

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Here are the lyrics to a really great of Montreal song off their heavily beatlesque 2001 album Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies.

Penelope
By Kevin Barnes

Penelope, shoot the apple off my head
I need to go to the store to get some sleep.
Because I’ve run out of sleep.

The row boat came so David stopped arguing
with a mime and waved his arms like wheat.
But when he tried to speak the Prince of Plum fell through the
roof of his mouth and handed David an envelope

Inside was a letter that read ‘Sir, you were given this
envelope by mistake please disregard it’

Nicolynn, shoot the candle off my head
I need to go to the store to get some beets.
To rub all over my feet.

Andy’s joke reminded Gerard that his
sloth balloon was owned by Turkish moths.
Gerard’s Lebanese boss had sent him out on business
giving his word that he would keep it looked in the safe

But it was all deceit ’cause once he had the sloth balloon
he traded it to the moths for a lithograph of “Lady Lamenting On A Lawn Chair”.

What interested Balabanoba was building complicated French machines
designed to better enjoy the Duchess, and she him.
He helps her in the stirrups then he straps himself in
They spend their days in heights of ecstasy. But wait —
Why then does she look so sad?
Why is her countenance so glum?
Does she tire of mechanical hands
or is she pining for the fair Prince of Plum?

Lulubird shoot the doorbell off my head
I need to go to the store to get some treats.
For Goethe, Becket and Keats.

The characters of the “Gay Parade” formed a boys choir
with Static and the Red King.
But whenever they sing all postal workers
simultaneously whisper to themselves the word “calendar”.
Calendar

Three Good Records

i-4b485ae2aa9c069a62d7e3c089805c94-coral.jpgThe Coral: Roots & Echoes (August 2007)
Power pop and cowboy rock: Lee Hazlewood (R.I.P.) meets Teenage Fanclub. Catchy!

i-b4476b2bf0098131aa98dfe58bce1f0c-ofmontreal.jpgof Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (January 2007)
My generation is releasing divorce records. Kevin Barnes has come a long way into disco zombie territory since his Sgt Pepper phase. Unbelievable vocal harmony over decadent plastic electronica.

i-05b7ea39373a1554ee7f0fbe165edbde-marsvolta.jpgThe Mars Volta: Amputechture (September 2006)
Intricate searing prog rock. These guys are serious, and seriously weird.

Turn On, Tune In LazyTown, Drop Out

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My kids have taken to watching LazyTown, this really druggy and garish kids’ show on Playhouse Disney. It’s got a lot of caricatured puppets of children with the hands of real people, but also three live actors, the main character played by a little girl in a pink wig. The live actors, particularly the tall fey lantern-jawed villain, ham up their performances mercilessly. Their interactions with the vacant-eyed puppets lend an extra dimension of unreality to the show, and when you add the fact that it’s all been dubbed into Swedish so the lip movements don’t synch, you’ve got a product way off the scale on the weirdometer. Bad trip. Baaad trip. Yet LazyTown’s intended message is about the virtues of sports and exercise!? It’ll have a whole generation huffing paint stripper, mark my words.

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Pugh & Co Rock Stockholm

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Last night to Tantogården in Stockholm, an outdoor concert venue a stone’s throw from the hospital where my son was born, to hear Pugh Rogefeldt. As the long-term Dear Reader may remember, Mr Rogefeldt released Ja dä ä dä, one of the first and still among the very best Swedish psychedelic rock albums ever, back in 1969 when he was 22. The evening promised not only songs from Ja dä ä dä, but those songs played by the same band as on the record, with Jojje Wadenius on solo guitar and Jan Carlsson on drums, with the addition of Ulf Jansson on bass. Pugh played rhythm guitar and sang.

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With two recent sexagenarians and a septuagenarian drummer, there was no guarantee that they would be any good. But, in the event, they rocked! Really good drumming and blues guitar, tightly rehearsed, excellently engineered. Of course, the live versions weren’t as psychedelic as the album tracks since much of that style depends on studio gimmickry, but straight blues and blues rock ain’t bad either. The low points were a few dirgy numbers from recent years, but they were counterbalanced by a charming solo set by Wadenius where he played his 70s children’s songs including “Kalles klätterträd”.

Looking at the audience, their mean age was of course far greater than at an Arctic Monkeys gig, but the spread was considerable and a splendid time was had by all. Near the stage two 6-y-o girls were sitting on their dads’ shoulders and making heavy metal hand signs. A summer rain dispersed the crowd after the last song, but we came away happy.


The guys are touring Sweden this summer. Here’s the gig list.

13/7 Trollhättan – Spikön
14/7 Stockholm – Tantogården
27/7 Gränna – Folkets park
28/7 Kristinehamn – Mastmagasinet
3/8 Köping – Ögir
4/8 Kalix
10/8 Simrishamn – Viarps gård
11/8 Falkenberg – Hwitan


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