DeLorean Suite at Dolan’s

406666_10151290025349660_1161085633_nI went to see Limerick band, DeLorean Suite, launch their debut album in Dolan’s recently. It’s a belated review but ‘better late than never’…it’s my blogging motto after all!

DeLorean Suite ticks a lot of boxes—combining soul and R n B on one hand with electronica and dance on the other. The album, Two Lives, is a demonstration of that effortless melting pot and their live performances epitomise their funky, laidback sound.

After an atmospheric warm-up slot from support act, dREA, DeLorean Suite took the stage before an enthusiastic crowd and a packed upstairs in the Dock Road venue.

The core of the group is Jenny McMahon on vocals with Tony Roche on percussion and Graham Conway on keys/production although several prominent guests collaborated on the album including legendary bass player, Chuck Rainey and two members of Beyonce’s touring band, Divinity Roxx (bass) and Kat Rodriguez (saxophone).

The set kicked off with ‘Slow Divide’ and set the scene for the great live energy, leading into ‘By your side’ with its samba-style drums. Songs like ‘Random Touch’ bring electronica to the fore while the star of the show was undoubtedly the catchy ‘Deep Love’. The anthemic number, well known from their previous EP, urged on the crowd.

45159_10151286373909660_1130859526_nIf I had to compare McMahon’s voice to another singer, Sade would spring to mind although it has a contemporary pop aspect to it as well. As for the sound, it wouldn’t be out of place among acts like Moloko or Goldfrapp. It has a soulful quality but the beats and pulsating repetition means that many songs are potential club floor fillers.

The next song, ‘All or nothing’, was more uplifting than the title suggested and that was quickly followed by ‘Two Lives’—the album’s title track with subtle jazz elements and obviously a song very close to McMahon’s heart. The set built up to a lively conclusion with ‘Landslide’, ‘Alone’ (with its lovely brass and strings) and ‘Running Away’. DeLorean Suite brought the house down with an excellent version of ‘Deep Love’ in the encore.

The band has garnered rave reviews for Two Lives from the likes of Hotpress, The Ticket in The Irish Times and various radio outlets. I saw the band a few years back and they seem to be growing in confidence so hopefully, they will tour more widely in the near future.

The album is now available on iTunes as well as in CD format and for more information, see DeLorean Suite’s Facebook page.

Unfringed review: Chimaera

I saw the show, Chimaera, on October 21 as part of the Unfringed Festival.

Chimaera is “an advanced interactive dance/music performance environment” created by composer, Enda Grennan and dance artist, Angie Smalis. It incorporated dance, music and visuals in a complex combination made possible by the Microsoft Kinect sensor for game consoles.

The Kinect is a little gadget that uses a motion sensor detector to transform gamers’ movements into a visual on-screen. In Chimaera, this system was adapted so that when the dancer makes a particular movement, a particular sound came out of the speakers and a particular visual was projected onto the white cubes of the set.

The software design was very impressive; not only was it set up to make sounds when she moved a certain way but she could also control what speaker the sound came out of. The visuals by Patrick Cusack were intricate wave and web-like creations in monochrome and colour with varying speeds etc.

Angie Smalis has vast experience in dancing and choreography. Her sustained performance for roughly an hour obviously packed with skill and stamina. All in white, she moved ghost-like—using every space in the set. Grennan, similarly, is a lecturer in Electroacoustic Composition and Interactive Music Programming and his multi-channel tape works have been performed nationally and internationally. These are people at the top of their respective fields and their collaboration is a unique duet.

Now to the bad news; I didn’t like it. First of all, there was no context and it is hard to evaluate something in a vacuum. I’m not sure if the title had a meaning. A chimaera was, in Greek mythology, “a monstrous fire-breathing female creature…composed of the parts of three animals: a lion, a serpent and a goat”. I got no impression of fire, fierceness or zoomorphism so maybe there was no reason for choosing that title bar the fact that Ms Smalis is from Greece? I spoke to the dancer afterward and she said she was not trying to communicate any specific idea to the audience. She had total freedom to improvise so every show was different.

When I was watching I just saw Smalis performing contemporary dance while various electronic sounds played and visuals were projected. There was no speech. It was a multi-sensory experience and I searched for patterns etc in the work but after a few minutes, I was bored. The ‘music’ was too industrial for me; there was no rhythm or rhyme to it. And with the dancer controlling the sounds, there was none. This might have been nervewracking for the composer but it was a loss to the audience too because his power in the piece was diminished somewhat.

The show left me a little cold. I felt I was a witness to artists doing their thing but not brought in or included in the experience. Of course, if you are interested in the art of dance or electroacoustic music or computers etc, you would get more out of it.

I find pure dance works—without an element of theatre or some other dilution—very esoteric. They seem to be produced and enjoyed by a select few. Although the technology is exciting and the participants are highly skilled, I didn’t think Chimaera was accessible enough to a regular audience member.

Review: The Strypes at The Blind Pig

I went to see the young Cavan beat-group, The Strypes, in The Blind Pig on Thomas Street lately (Friday August 10). I saw them already this summer at the Westport Festival and was impressed enough to go along to see a full gig. I’ve also been threatening to check out the bar, which is one of Limerick’s newest live music venues.

The Strypes are a four piece band—all teenagers around 14/15—who play stormin blues and rock n roll covers. They look the part—Sixties haircuts, suits, drainpipe trousers etc. They stand out in a sea of bands sporting Aztec print vests and ironic facial hair (shakes head, facepalm). At this point, you could pigeonhole them as a gimmick BUT for the fact that this band is so talented. The Strypes play their instruments incredibly well and have the confidence and stage presence of a much older band.

The Blind Pig’s band area in the basement is very compact! It’s great because it’s up close and personal. But the crowd is also crammed in and you can imagine the heat, noise etc. The bar area is larger and you can listen to the band out there but the view is limited. On this occasion, the venue fitted the bill exactly because it resembles Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club, where a little band called The Beatles started out.

From the minute the set started, it was a good hour and a half of just song after song with little or no stopping for applause. The Strypes have an EP out called Young, Gifted and Blue. That gives a taste of the material they play by legends such as Bo Diddley, Eddie Holland, Slim Harpo, Billy Boy Arnold, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Bobby Troup et al. There is some tremendous guitar, percussion and harmonica playing required for this genre. You rarely get to hear that type of music played live but it’s a pleasure to see these guys do so in such a skilled and energetic way.

The Strypes are: Ross Farrelly, Josh McClorey, Pete O’Hanlon and Evan Walsh. I can’t single anyone out because they are so tight as a group but they all had their individual flashes of brilliance. They brought a youthful exuberance to the material too. The crowd really got into it and the atmosphere was electric.

Groups like The Yardbirds cut their teeth on covers in the same vein so The Strypes are in good company. Seemingly there is original material coming down the line as well so with any luck they will only get better with age. What really sprang to mind as I came out into the cool night, ears ringing, was that famous Jon Landau quote about Bruce Springsteen. He talks about seeing rock n roll past and roll n roll future rolled into one in the Boss. I think The Strypes have something special too. If they’re that good in their mid teens, a bright musical career beckons. I included a video below so you can see what I mean…

The Blind Pig has a packed music schedule. Check out their Facebook.

For more information on The Strypes see Facebook or their website.

Review: The Sweet Shop

I saw The Sweet Shop at Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy today (July 26). The title is appropriate for a play with a heady mix of tantalising sweetness and bitter regret.

The plot revolves around childhood friends, Michael and Cass, whose lives have taken different paths only to converge again in their hometown. Both have returned because of familial obligations—Michael to run his ailing father’s shop and Cass to care for her mother. When they meet, they are thrown into turmoil, reliving the past and looking toward an uncertain future.

Firstly, the original script by Maria Tivnan is the best one-act I’ve seen in a long time. The language ebbs and flows between the ordinary and the profound with ease. The two main characters ably communicate the thoughts of people trapped by circumstance and filial responsibility—an everyday occurrence that carries a complex range of emotions with it.

The plot shifts between past and present. The childhood scenes are energetic and the teenage memories suitably awkward. As adults, both actors convey the claustrophobia of small-town life as well as a fear of what the wider world holds. There is a real sense of regret in the piece; looming ‘What ifs?’ In all this, there were lighter moments, particularly in their younger guises.

Jarlath Tivnan put in an intense performance as Michael, a lost soul who feels destined to be a disappointment because his father sees him as such. The weight of this self-fulfilling prophecy is palpable from the tense and poised way he speaks and moves on stage. Kate Murray was always endearing as she showed how Cass grew from happy-go-lucky youngster to a more introspective self. She exhibited a broad range from boundless enthusiasm to frustration.

They were both expressive and interacted well with each other. They played multiple other characters too. The Sweet Shop had a strong focus on physical acting, from dancing to rough and tumble childhood play. The set was sparse and the few props included oversized sweet shapes and boxes. A lot of scenes were created through the use of lighting and music—clever direction by Rob McFeely and Maria Tivnan.

By all accounts, Galway’s Fregoli is a prolific and promising young company. I like the fact that one of their intentions is to create short plays for a more engaging audience experience. Judging by the packed house today, I think a lot of people would connect on some level with The Sweet Shop because it swings between soaring happiness and deep sadness. And to quote the Frank Sinatra number, “that’s life”.

The play is on again tomorrow, Friday July 27 but it’s nearly sold out so to guarantee a seat you can reserve one at: http://lunchtheatre.eventbrite.ie/.

For more information see www.facebook.com/lunchtheatre or Twitter @lunchtheatre.

 

50 Shades of Grey=was it good for you?

It’s an erotic fiction novel turned literary phenomenon so what is it about 50 Shades of Grey? I was hearing so much about it, I bought a copy to see what has 20 million plus readers so hot and bothered. Far from the hilarious promise on the back that it will “obsess you, possess you and stay with you forever”; I hope not BTW. I thought the book was more like 50 shades of sh**e and an anti-climax of the worst kind…yes, ‘that’s what she said’.

WARNING! May contain explicit criticism of this book. I’m going to take this mo-fo apart like Lego.

Shady origins…

I probably don’t need to explain what this book is even about but here goes. 50 Shades of Grey is the first title of a trilogy by English writer, E.L. James. Its two central characters are Christian Grey, a millionaire businessman and Anastasia Steele, a college student/graduate. They meet when she interviews him for the college paper. Cue courtship etc. Then she discovers that his sexual interests revolve around BDSM (bondage/discipline/sado-masochism) but not only that, he wants her to sign a legal contract where she’ll be his ‘submissive’ and he’ll be her ‘dominant’—not just in the bedroom but for other activities and certain times.

It started out as a racy story on a fan fiction website. It was based on the romantic pairing from the teen vampire novels, the Twilight Saga—a kind of ‘What Edward and Bella did when they grew up…and found they were into leather’. The author got such a good response, she decided to take out the pesky supernatural elements but left in the moody anti-hero and the young woman who basically moons over him and makes excuses for him all the time.

The 50 Shades… books started as e-books but were so popular, she got a bona-fide publishing deal. They started selling like hot cakes. Erotic fiction isn’t a new genre but before now, it wasn’t as trendy. I heard the head of purchasing at Eason’s on the radio lately and she said they, as wholesalers and retailers, cannot keep it on the shelves because demand totally outweighs supply. The book has sold thousands of copies so far and Irish shops have ordered at least 70,000 more. The top selling book in a similar genre in Eason’s last year was barely into the hundreds. Even in Limerick, there is a 38 week waiting list in public libraries for it (true story). It is being credited with rejuvenating sex lives the world over. The movie rights have been sold for a fortune….blah, blah, blah

But that doesn’t mean the book is any good! The last such popular fiction phenomenon was Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. That gem has since become the most popular book to be donated to charity shops globally. Case in point.

Lofty aspirations and great marketing…

It has been dubbed “clit-erature” and “mummy porn”. The first is clever because the word ‘literature’ has highbrow, intellectual associations. ‘Pornography’ has more seedy connotations but putting ‘mummy’ in front of it softens the effect. I still think it’s patronising to pitch it as a bit of harmless fluff for bored housewives.

The blurb mentions “romantic” and “liberating”, which is laughable. 50 Shades is no Wuthering Heights people! It’s not a love story; it’s a sex story. It’s not insightful or illuminating so how is it liberating? The protagonist is literally and metaphorically tied up before being thoroughly f**ked. The Suffragettes are spinning in their graves right now. OMG, now thanks to this miracle book people can read erotic fiction out in the open because everyone else is doing it. What a step for women’s lib. NOT! E.L. James is no feminist icon. Save that for Simone De Beauvoir. She isn’t even a Virginia Woolf…unless Virginia pictured her “room of one’s own” as Christian’s “red room of pain” to which Ana refers all the time.

The writing is poor. The sex—as in Hollywood films—has an enviable choreography to it but not even a token dose of realism. It might not be bad enough to win at the Literary Review’s ‘Bad Sex Awards’, which are handed out for unintentionally hilarious sex scenes in books. It still has some painfully cringeworthy lines i.e. “Some Boy Scout he must have been to learn this knot”. If she’s not praising this “beautiful man” she’s commenting on how shiny her inner Goddess is. There are too many to quote so you’ll just have to buy it or put your name on the long list at the library…if you really want to be handling that kind of book after so many other people.

It’s set in Seattle, Washington but just because it uses clumsy Americanisms like “Jeez” and “Holy Hell” doesn’t make it convincing. I lived in the US for four months and not once did I hear an American say “Shall I?” or “Oh, my” but yet many of the characters sound like they are related to Mary Poppins. Why couldn’t the author set it in England, where she’s from? The plot is ludicrous; it is a thin thread stringing sex scenes together. Overall, the level of suspension of disbelief required by 50 Shades of Grey is exhausting.

Whatever floats your boat!

I’m not one to judge the sexual preferences of other people (so long as they aren’t dangerous or illegal). I’m sure readers are drawn in by the fantasy involving a lot of hot sex/being pursued and showered with gifts by a desirable millionaire. It is every woman’s dream, y’know, because we’re that shallow. There are plenty of saucy passages describing risqué lovemaking in detail. BUT on the other hand, I find it bizarre that so many women are heaping praise on a book about a control freak who sees women as possessions. How many women would like their real-life boyfriend to order them around? Or tell them how to dress and when to exercise?

The central relationship in it is dysfunctional. Christian claims he wants to ‘free’ Ana sexually but really all he wants to do is satisfy his own desires. Ana is attracted to Christian but admits she’s inexperienced and vulnerable. She’s uncomfortable with a lot of the things he wants her to do sexually because they involve control and violence, however mild. She is afraid that he’ll get too enthusiastic to the point of physically hurting her.

Taking the sex out of the equation, he is jealous and domineering. He tracks her movements; won’t take no for an answer and orders her around. The guy wants her to sign a contract agreeing to do what he wants, when he wants. His bad childhood is referred to like that’s a valid explanation for everything and he says he’s just “made this way”. How convenient. She’s constantly conflicted emotionally and cries all the time since she met him. The eventual breaking point for her is when she asks him to do his worst. He does and she is utterly humiliated.

Emotional turmoil, confusion, debasement, hurt…are they positive feelings for you? They don’t turn me on (and I don’t think I’m alone). Still, reading about Ana and Christian’s escapades is spicing up dull sex lives everywhere seemingly. Answers on a postcard please?

The part where I finally “surrender myself to my grief”…

India Knight had an interesting piece in the June 24 edition of The Sunday Times arguing that the book was just porn by any other name. She said that the only difference between men watching an explicit DVD and women reading an explicit book was good marketing. Knight even said she preferred ‘real’ porn because it does exactly what it says on the tin with no ideas above its station. I don’t want to get into a discussion about porn in society but once it’s made with and viewed by consenting adults, I don’t really care.

We need to start questioning the idea of sexual texts in society. Topless Page 3 girls in the newspaper=acceptable; naked women in ‘top shelf’ magazines =acceptable; naked men in women’s magazines=acceptable; graphic sex in a feature film=acceptable; films that just feature sex and have titles like The Hand that Cradles my Rocks=unacceptable; sexy books/DVDs you buy in chain stores=acceptable; sexy books/DVDs you buy in shops with blacked out windows=unacceptable…and so on. The mass consumption of 50 Shades of Grey at least brings this debate more sharply into focus.

Well, I could go on all night…but that’s more Christian Grey’s talent. There are thousands of better books than 50 Shades of Meh. I admire her in the sense that she has been very successful in this ‘filthy book’ niche but I don’t plan on lining E.L. James’ pockets any further. I don’t see how this particular book has captured the imaginations of so many. It is an enigma as hard to decipher as Mr Grey himself. Ahem, did I mention how beautiful he is already?