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Adaptation

In which we discuss the Scott Pilgrim movie, one case of a comic-to-film adaptation that keeps all the spirit of the comic it came from.


Back, back in the mists of time – well, in December 2007 – I posted a review of Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, the fourth, and at that point, the latest, book in the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Since then, of course, the world has moved on. In Spring 2009 the fifth book, Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe was published, with shiny metallic cover. We quickly bought it,* and I intended to write about it on here, but somehow other things kept coming along and SP5 never got its review.

Forward to this year, and publicity started to appear for Scott Pilgrim, the movie version. The sixth and final book, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, was published this summer. “I really must write on the blog about this one,” thought I, “before the film comes out.” But it didn’t happen. So, last weekend, we went to see the film, not sure if we would love it or hate it.

Quick recap for people who have never heard of Scott Pilgrim, never seen it, never read the books: Scott Pilgrim is a 20-something slacker geek with no job, in a rather bad band, who starts dreaming about a mysterious girl. She turns out to be a real girl, a delivery courier called Ramona who knows the secret of using people’s dreams as shortcuts between places in the real world. Scott immediately falls in love, but quickly discovers that her emotional baggage is somewhat more real than most people’s, as she has a whole league of Evil Exes she’s dated in the past, who Scott must defeat in video-game-style fights before he can win her heart. Now, read on…

Adaptations often get a bad press. What works well in one medium, after all, doesn’t always translate; but if an adaptation’s not faithful, it can end up pleasing nobody. Scott Pilgrim vs The World, though, is one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen, despite the fact it has to cut six books’ worth of action down into one single film. From the moment it started, with the same fonts onscreen as in the book, it was, I think, as close to the comic as any live-action adaptation could get. Lots had to be cut out, of course – the books are set over the course of a year, the film over a few weeks at most – and due to release schedules the last act is radically different to the final book; but, overall, the spirit of the books is captured extremely well. Some subplots were pruned entirely; some of the backstory was moved to an animated short; and some of the characters’ emotional lives are simplified or made less explicit;** none of it feels missing from the film, though. Moreover, the film uses a lot of the books’ stylistic quirks. Just like in the books, each new character gets a little black caption explaining who they are and what they’re up to. Just like the books, the film is full of cunning references and semi-hidden jokes. The film does a very good job, like the books, of portraying a realistic world in which, nevertheless, video-game events can happen.

There are a couple of places where you could argue that the film’s better than the books: in plot terms, there are two places where the story is told in a slightly better way.*** In general, though, I still prefer the books: a much fuller story, because there’s more space to tell it in. At some point, I should write an essay about the ending of the series, and what I think it says about life; that’s not for today, but it says something that the books can inspire me to consider something like that.

Some reviews of Scott Pilgrim vs The World have said that it’s “too hyperactive”. It is, definitely, a fast-moving film: that’s what you get when you compress that much shelf-space into one movie. Philip French, in the Observer, complained that at 1 hour 52 it’s “overlong” – maybe that was the effect of the various fight scenes, which do come close together. Myself, I found it both witty and touching; but I did worry that a newcomer, someone who’s never read the books, would have no clue what was going on at all.

In general, for both me and K, it’s the case that we can’t watch films too often. Once we’ve seen something, even a film we both love, it has to sit on the shelf for a few months before we can happily watch it again. As we walked out of the cinema after seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The Word, almost the first thing we did was: work out when we have some time free to go back and watch it again. If that isn’t a recommendation, I’m not sure what is.

* Coincidentally, the day I bought it was also the day I auditioned to go on Mastermind – I stopped off at Forbidden Planet on the way home.

** A spoilertastic summary of some of the missing bits: Knives Chau’s character is much more developed in the books, and her father takes up a vendetta against Scott at one point, chasing after him with a samurai sword which can cut a tram in two. Scott does try to get a job in the books, if not a career, and there’s much more in the way of band politics too. Emotionally, the most important missing part is: Scott, when trying to escape from Knives’ father, accidentally goes inside Ramona’s head and discovers that in her mind at least, her relationship with Gideon, the ultimate Evil Ex, was a BDSM-style master-slave affair. This isn’t just the payoff to a pun set up right from the start, but is very important in the final end-of-series battle, where it’s also explained that it was Gideon who created the ability to enter someone else’s dreams. All this is only touched on very lightly in the film, hinted at by Ramona’s behaviour “below” Gideon in the Chaos Club scenes; her inability to resist his commands is nothing to do with her own desires, but the result of a microchip he implanted in her head. And that’s enough of the spoilers.

*** Spoilers again: the defeat of Todd, the third Evil Ex is directly caused by Scott in the film; in the book, it’s a bit of a deus ex machina. It’s set up earlier, so not a complete bolt from the blue, but Scott doesn’t really have much involvement with it. Secondly, the treatment of Scott’s extra life is handled better in the film, in that he has to “replay” the previous few scenes a second time, but knows how to handle them better; in the book he returns to consciousness straight after the dream/afterlife sequence with Ramona. You can, of course, find examples of video games that work in either way, but I preferred the film version.

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Brute Force And Ignorance

In which an Ikea Antonius takes rather more effort than normal


Hurrah! A week after it was ordered, our connection to the Internet is all jumpered up and working again. We are connected to the outside world; it’s just a shame that there’s all that unpacking and sorting out to do still.

Talking of unpacking and sorting out: well, it’s not just that. We have new rooms, different storage, so there’s new furniture to buy and arrange. Because of this, my hands are now rather sore-feeling. Not because of the furniture in general, though: because of one particular thing that was slightly harder than normal.

I always thought I was quite good with Ikea furniture. Give me a LACK table or a LERBERG shelf unit, and I can slot it together in minutes. The other day, we put together a HELMER filing cabinet with no problems at all, even despite the metal-bending skills required. So, I thought an ANTONIUS system shelf unit would be a doddle, particularly as we were trying to create the simplest type of ANTONIUS there is, a small rack of shelves to fit under the kitchen worktop.

The thing itself, when you take it out of the packaging, is indeed simple. Two side frames, rectangular, made of rectangular-section steel tube uprights joined with U-section drawer runners. Four bars, made of the same stuff, which join the two sides together. Each bar ends in a pair of Zamak* corner pieces. The product web page should make it clear. The assembly instructions are just as simple: hammer each of the corner pieces at the end of each bar into the ends of the uprights, then screw the feet on.

So, nothing particularly tricky. I find some chunks of wood to stand it on so I don’t wreck the floor, and pick up one side and one of the bars. I try it as a push-fit: it doesn’t go. Not really surprising: after all, you want it to be a nice tight fit so the thing stays together. So, I bash it with the hammer. Nothing apparently happens, other than a loud bang.

I look carefully at the work. A bit of paint has chipped off the inside of the upright, but other than that, nothing has moved. The Zamak connector has a half-inch-deep block of metal that has to be hammered inside the tubular upright, but it isn’t going anywhere. I give it a few more (loud) bangs, and take another look. The connector has budged maybe a millimetre or so, and the paint is a bit more chipped.

Maybe that paint on the inside is getting in the way a bit. I hunt around in the tool-cupboard, and find a needle file and a file handle. A few strokes with that, on the inside edge of the upright, should get rid of the errant paint. Bash bash bash, again. Still barely any movement. I give it another good hard stare, and I can see where the edge of the upright has started to cut into the connecting block, and shave metal off its edge.

To cut a long story short, then: to get the thing together took much more work with a flat file. Each of the 8 Zamak blocks needed each side filing down to get the thing vaguely close to fitting together; I didn’t take measurements,** but I’d say each block needed to be taken down by about a quarter of a millimetre overall in each direction. With only a little needle file, that took some time to do; and without a proper workbench, I jabbed my fingers and hands a few times in the process. Eventually, I’d filed off enough metal that the connectors could be hammered home. It still took considerable hammering to do it, and they’re very firmly in there; I have no idea how it was supposed to fit out-of-the-box.

Maybe the connector castings didn’t shrink as much as the mould-makers expected. Maybe the thing was designed with Swedish sub-arctic temperatures in mind, not a hot English June evening; and I’d have had more luck if I’d left the sides in the sun for a few hours and put the crossbars in the freezer. Maybe I just had one of a bad batch. I was still rather disappointed, though. As I said, I’m used to Ikea furniture fitting together Just So; I wasn’t expecting to have to start filing down castings to make them a reasonable fit.

* Or Mazak, if you prefer to call it that.

** I haven’t seen my vernier calipers since the house-move-before-last.

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Eternal Youth

In which we go to the cinema


A trip to the cinema the other week, to see Let The Right One In,* the Swedish vampire movie which has been going down very well lately. As I haven’t seen any Swedish films since I was a student, as usual I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Raw meatballs? Home-assembly furniture dripping with blood? Bat-haunted forests with man-eating elk?

The film’s trailers implied action, as vampire films tend to do. Fast pace, fast cutting, sudden surprises and sharp shocks. Anyone who went along because of the trailer, though, would have been rather disappointed. There were long, slow scenes; quiet snowy landscapes, thoughtful looks, reflection.** The film was crisp as snow and sharp as a gooseberry. Most of the deaths were slow and brutal; young men being slaughtered like pork, for example. The cuts were offscreen, as were the vampire’s flights; but the trickling blood and fluttering wings were heard loud and clear.

The long shots of wintry landscapes and quiet thought slowly built up into a touching story, a touching story of childish love. Peter Pan seen from another angle, almost. The 12-year-old protagonist’s tender life was mapped out in front of us in a wide hidden circle; and as he disappeared out of sight at the end, over the horizon in a railway carriage, the storyling was tightly coiled to a perfect closure. Perfect for the audience, in any case.

The film had a delicate, scarcely-mentioned 1970s setting. None of the heavy-handed period truncheoning of, say, Life On Mars. No overt references at all, just a subtle landscape of brown furniture, smoking and leather jackets. It was carefully observed, and carefully understated.

These vampires weren’t fashionable vampires, as per Anne Rice or Being Human. They weren’t strong, or powerful, and they didn’t have enough self-control to contemplate any sort of world domination. The human characters, or some of them at least, were far more cruel, far more sadistic and destructive, whether by design or accident. The vampires were, on the other hand, realistic, or at least as realistic as a vampire might be. Realistic, inhuman animal creatures, undead but nevertheless made from flesh and blood. I’ve never seen vampires before that were quite so real and quite so believable. Let The Right One In is, you could say, vampire cinema verité, and it is a beautiful, cold and haunting film. There is, apparently, an American remake on the way. I live in fear, not from a vampire plunging in the night, but that the original Swedish version might end up forgotten.

* or Låt den rätte komma in if you speak Swedish.

** although not of the vampires, of course.

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Sound and music

In which we go to see The Boy Least Likely To


As soon as we get home, we’re out again. To a gig, at the Louisiana, to see The Boy Least Likely To, hard at work promoting their new album that’s just been released. We were slightly confused when we arrived, to see that according to the posters the gig was on Monday, March 24th, and we’d turned up on a Tuesday. After checking our calendars, we went in. Inside, there’s not much room in the Louisiana. It’s quite a cosy place, so cosy that we quickly spotted that a good chunk of the pub was taken up by support band The School tucking into their tea.

The first band that came on were The Fox And The Bramble, an electric/acoustic duo who dashed about the stage swapping instruments, and made slightly-twee twinkly sounds with children’s toys. I spent a while wondering which one was Fox and which Bramble; the internet says the name comes from Aesop, though.

They were followed by The School, as I mentioned. We’ve seen The School before, so we knew what to expect; but we were slightly disappointed. They didn’t seem as good as they did in November. The sound didn’t seem to be mixed quite right, with keyboard and vocals overpowering the rest of the band.

The Boy Least Likely To had sound troubles of their own. “Violin isn’t plugged in,” one of them shouted, after the first song. “Too much violin,” he shouted after the second. They are apparently only a duo normally, but on-stage they mysteriously expand to a full band, like one of those toys for dropping in water. I have to admit to not knowing very much about them; but the gig left me wanting to find out more.* Their frontman smiled broadly, and flicked balloons back and forth with the audience in a genial way, never missing a beat.

* they do have a blog, and they’ve already written about last night’s gig on it.

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Sound And Music

In which we are annoyed by an apparent mime


A busy weekend for us: we had visitors. Well, one visitor, Stu, who came down to explore and discover the city for himself.

Stu’s into electro, somewhat, so we found something on Saturday night that we thought he’d like. “We Live Here”, at the Arnolfini, a live art weekend featuring a gig on the Saturday night. Thinking it might be interesting, we packed into the gallery’s rather crowded bar to see what was going to happen.

Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed by the first act – in fact, by the first act’s first act, if you see what I mean. Magnús Scheving Magnus Spectrum,* a chap in an orange jumpsuit who bounced energetically around to laptop and keyboard-generated electrical noise, waving a Nintendo Wii controller as he did so, throwing himself about the performance space and almost into the audience. He shook his wrist, and the sound tremolo’d itself.

Now, if you search the net for Magnus Spectrum – which I did, to try to find out if he’s got a website** – you’ll find people saying that he uses the Wii controller as a synth, or as a midi controller, and so on. The Arnolfini’s own website says:

Magnus Spectrum makes physical noise music via Nintendo Wii controller and much leaping about

His Facebook page says: “he performs on synthesiser, using consumer goods as wireless controllers”.

So we stood watching him: me, K, and Stu, who is a big console-gaming fan. And Stu, being the expert, noticed something. According to him, at least, Magnus Spectrum’s Wii controller, with which he was apparently playing his synth, wasn’t actually switched on.***

I’d been a tad suspicious, just because, at some points, the chap appeared to be following the music, not quite on the beat; dancing on the beat is quite hard with arrhythmic music, after all. Stu, though, was adamant. Spectrum had performed once and stopped,**** and nobody else looked likely to be coming onstage any time soon; so we gave up and went for a drink at The Apple instead. Apologies to Freeze Puppy and Chew Magna, whose acts we missed, especially as Chew Magna do seem to be quite good.

Talking it over afterwards: there’s nothing wrong with playing electrical noise and bouncing around energetically to it like a loon. Magnus Spectrum’s dance style wasn’t too unlike my own empty-room crazed bouncing; and I’ve been known to wear orange jumpsuits in my time, too. There’s not even anything wrong with miming, in itself. We left because: there is something wrong with saying “I’m playing this live” when you’re not. Magnus Spectrum did, occasionally, nip over to his keyboard and press a chord. Stu might be wrong, and Magnus might have been using a slightly broken or modded Wii controller; or it might have been a cock-up of some sort. Overall, though, we ended up thinking that he was probably miming, at least as far as the Wii part went; so we decided there were better places to be.

* That isn’t some children’s-entertainment-based insult, by the way. I genuinely am having difficulty with the name “Magnus Spectrum”, because every time I try to think it, Scheving pops into my head instead.

** He’s got a Myspace page under his real name and a Facebook page as Magnus, if nothing else.

*** Stu knows enough about Wiis to know where the controller on-lamp is; he also knows enough to tell us that it was, apparently, an early model of Wii controller. Not that that matters, really.

**** After apparently accidentally shutting himself out of the building – the side door was set to let people out but not in again.

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Condiment Frenzy

In which we are delighted by music and storytelling


Since we moved here, we’ve been promising ourselves that we’ll get Out And About, go to lots of local events, be actively artistic, and so on. And, well, we haven’t quite managed it. We’re doing better than we used to; we go to more things than we ever did before we moved; but the calendar still isn’t quite as full as we’d like.

As I’ve said before, though, one of the things I love about this city is that it doesn’t take long before you hear about a good-looking event.* For example: we quickly popped into Boston Tea Party at the weekend for tea and cake,** only to spot a poster on the wall that we quite liked the sound of. A regular event called Folk Tales, at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf, on the last Wednesday of the month. So, we went along.

It turned out, as it happened, that one of the organisers of Folk Tales was one of the performers we saw on New Year’s Eve at the Cube; so we knew that things would probably turn out for the good. And any gig where the door-person, after taking your money, points you to the kitchen where you’re free to use the kettle, make yourself tea and help yourself to a biscuit,*** is going to be a good gig.

And, indeed, it was a good gig. Folk Tales is a mixture of folkish music and storytelling, as you might guess from the name; and the whole thing together made a rather good combination. I’m not really a fan of some “professional” storytelling, because I find it rather over-dramatic and stilted; I prefer a more naturalistic style of recounting. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy the storytelling as much as the music; but because of the mixture of performers, that wasn’t a problem. The storyteller closest to my taste – for that reason – was the aforementioned Jethro McDonald, who told us about a man who, after a kitchen accident, and ambulance delirium, became obsessed with falling. As I can just about remember a similar chunk of ambulance delirium myself, I could sympathise.

In-between the storytellers, came a selection of local musicians with a similar ambiance: quiet, thoughtful, and with stories to tell. My favourite was probably Shaun McCrindle, partly because of a coincidence: one of the stories in his songs was an anecdote in the David Crystal book I recently read and keep writing about; the others, though, both women playing ukeleles,**** sparkled just as much. Thoughtful songs, which raised wry smiles.

We’ll be going back to Folk Tales, and we’ll remember to get there early again next time, because the audience really had to pack themselves in tightly. We’re making sure we keep turning up in time to get a seat and a cup of tea; not to mention, making sure we can get in the door. If Folk Tales gets much more popular, people will be spilling out onto the quay outside. Understandably so, I’d say, because it’s a very good way to spend a weekday evening.

* and one of the other good things about this city is the converse: if you’re running an event, if you advertise, people will turn up. Putting random posters around the city does work.

** Why we say “let’s go for tea and cake” when we both rarely drink tea itself outside of the house is one of those eternal mysteries. I had coffee that day, for example, and K had hot chocolate; but we still referred to it as “tea and cake”.

*** Dark chocolate digestives, for the record. And we did indeed have tea, despite the previous footnote.

**** It wasn’t clear whether that was themed or coincidental, really.

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Being Humane

In which we watched Being Human


After the post last week, I felt we really should watch Being Human, the new BBC3 series set largely in Totterdown. We were, I have to say, pleasantly surprised.

I’m not going to summarise the plot here, other than: it’s a fantasy version of the classic sitcom plot. Three oddball characters who are stuck with each other – a vampire and a werewolf who are trying to appear human, who have managed to rent a haunted house.* If it is a sitcom, though, it’s the sort I’d like to write myself: the sort without very many jokes in.**

Some things were a little overused – the heavy heartbeat when Mitchell The Vampire’s blood-lust attacks came on; and the post-production effect used to make skies look darker and more interesting. Some of the mechanics of the worldbuilding don’t quite make sense, either.*** But, overall, the series was remarkably subtle and realistic. For something involving almost-immortal beasts, of course. Moreover, unlike the trailer, the characters, not the backdrop, were its main focus. It might have obviously-recognisable locations – the Totterdown house, the General Hospital, St Nick’s Market**** – and it might have bit-part actors with local accents; but so far, it could have been set anywhere. It didn’t rely on the location for anything.

I can guess how the series is going to go from here. The real test, I suppose, comes with: just how well the minor characters are treated. Will Herrick, or Lauren, become just as full a character as Mitchell? What about Annie’s fiance?***** We’ll watch it, because we’ll be intrigued to find out. And, of course, just in case, we spot anyone we know lurking in the background of a shot.

* A former grocery store on the corner of Windsor Terrace. It has pub-type glass in the front window, but as far as I can find out it was never actually a pub.

** This is a good thing; and we’re lucky that Being Human was made by the BBC’s Cardiff drama section, and not by the people responsible for the awful laugh-tracked sitcoms that pass for entertainment on BBC3.

*** Actually, Vampire Civil Wars are an interesting argument to overcome the usual objection to vampires: if they’re immortal, and all their victims became vampires, then why didn’t we get to an I Am Legend-type situation about three weeks after they first evolved? Not being up on vampire-based literature, I don’t know if anyone else has ever covered it. They must have, at some point.

**** We did both shout out “Pie shop!” when George The Werewolf ran through the market and past the Pieminister stall

***** It confirms something I’ve thought for a long time, incidentally: ghost stories really can be the saddest stories in the world.

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Reading list

In which we discuss books and the French Revolution


One thing about yesterday’s post: it gives you a good look at the state of one of our bookshelves. Not a good enough look to make out what most of the books are, though, unless they’re books with distinctive spines that you’re already familiar with – like Peter Ackroyds’s London, for example.

Over on top of that pile on the left, though, is a book I mentioned here a few months ago. Shortly after restarting the regular blogging cycle, I mused aloud as to whether I should restart the Books I Haven’t Read reviews, and predicted one book that might fall victim: Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down. It’s there on top of the pile, in the blue cover. And, I have to say, so far the prediction’s been right. But not because of the book itself; because there’s been too much else to read. Below it on the pile there’s Graves’ White Goddess, also mentioned as a potential Book I Haven’t Read. I still haven’t read it. Further up, though, there’s a biography of Robert Graves, which I picked up on a bookstall outside the Watershed cinema. I thought: if I’m going to write about The White Goddess, I need to know more about him to do it justice. Coming across the biography by chance, I bought it. I started to read it. I still haven’t finished it.

Elsewhere in the house there are many more books I haven’t finished reading. Amazingly, though, yesterday, I finished one, and it was a book I only made a start on a few weeks ago.* Fatal Purity, a biography of Maximilien “The Incorruptible” Robespierre, by Ruth Scurr. A shy, fastidious man, who I find very intriguing; someone who found himself trying to impose morals by whatever means necessary, because his cause was justified. He was shortsighted both literally and figuratively, and was a logical man who became trapped in his own logic. He was willing to execute his oldest friends, because he thought his cause, the Revolution, was more important.

I’m not sure I read the book properly, because it left me feeling I’d stepped through a lacuna at one point: I wasn’t sure at all how he went from being the people’s leader, to giving a speech that he apparently could see was to try to save his own life. One thing I definitely learned about, though, was Robespierre’s inability to ever, at all, admit that he had been wrong, even after his stance had changed, or when condemning people he had earlier supported. I’m still not entirely sure whether, for that, he should be applauded, or condemned himself.

* Because it was a Christmas present from K’s brother.

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Folk

In which we review Rachel Unthank and the Winterset


This weekend’s gig: Rachel Unthank and The Winterset, at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Theatre. “People ask us if ‘Unthank’ is our stage name,” said Rachel. “Who’d choose a name like ‘Unthank’?” Personally, it reminds me of Scotland;* but the Unthank family are Northumbrian. Rachel and her sister Becky share the major vocal parts, with a piano and another musician behind them.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of folk; but then, I don’t really agree with the concept of genre to start with. And, to start with, it was a little avant-garde: slow, not really rhythmic at all, but relying on the beauty of the sisters’ voices, the pianist darting from one end of the keyboard to the other and occasionally reaching inside the piano’s innards to pluck its strings directly. We were a little distracted by a woman just in front of us in the audience, who had decided that the quiet opening was the ideal time to take a loud phone call. “Don’t you shush me!” she said, harshly, to anybody who complained, as she pushed her way out of the row. “MY SON is more important than YOUR HEARING”. I was sorely tempted to mutter “Oh no he isn’t” sotto voce, but the rude bint would probably have tried to lamp me one. Fortunately, she was soon gone.

The gig continued, with songs getting a little more up-tempo, but always with the slight flexibility implied by the lack of percussion. If the band needed percussion, they provided it with their feet; but its lack gave them the freedom to explore, to work in free time without any constricting structures. They seemed to be able to soar at will with their voices; and Rachel stood with her hands spread and moving across her lap, as if she was consciously grasping the music with them and guiding herself.

I must have been enjoying it, because I even joined in with the audience participation sections, something I’m normally loath to do, and despite barely being able to carry a tune. Not that it matters when you’re in the middle of an audience; but still. After a rousing and catchy midwinter song** about the Allendale new year fire ceremony, they finished up with all four of the band, together a capella, singing a Shetland song with lyrics in Norn.*** I couldn’t make out the words from the sound, but the sound was beautiful enough to not need anything more.

* One of my favourite novels is Alasdair Gray’s classic Lanark, largely set in a city called Unthank.

** So catchy the chorus is still stuck in my head three days later.

*** The strand of the Nordic languages spoken in Shetland until the 19th century, similar to Faroese and some dialects of Norwegian

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Wall of sound

In which we go to a Death Cab gig


I wonder, sometimes, how much music reviewers know about the bands they review. Some, it’s obvious, are fans. Some are at least knowledgeable. But there must be some, surely, who turn up knowing nothing and leave knowing less.

We went to see Death Cab For Cutie play the other night. “Ah,” I thought, “I’ll write about them for the blog.” It’s the second time we’ve seen them this year, having seen them already a few months back at the Manchester Apollo. I even recognised some of their tunes. But, nevertheless, I still don’t feel qualified to have an opinion about them.

The stage felt slightly odd at Sunday’s gig. A big, wide stage, the band set themselves up at opposite corners of it, with a vast empty area in the middle through which their bass guitarist romped, jumping about wildly. We were pressed up against the front barrier, so I amused myself by watching the local photographers jumping about in pretty much the same way, grabbing photos before they had to leave. Nice cameras.* I wasn’t entirely sure one of them had chosen the right lens – it looked a bit slow for the job. But I was supposed to be listening to the music.

They’re not the best band if you want onstage banter. They launch straight from one song to the next without leaving any applause room, sometimes stopping briefly to change guitars. We learned: they think that British and American Pizza Hut branches are just as bad as each other.** We learned that the band learned: swimming in the harbour is not a good idea.*** And that, as far as banter went, was that.**** Their music, though, is good. They’re a tight band, even though they practically needed telescopes to see each other on stage. People don’t necessarily go for talk, do they? They go to listen to the music. Benjamin Gibbard danced about on the balls of his feet, a roadie in the wings paying out and reeling in his guitar lead as he went, to stop him tripping up on it; not knowing the music, I liked watching the little details like that. After the very full set – twenty-odd songs, including a 4-track encore, not just stuff from their current album – we went home filled up with feedback and our ears ringing.*****

*All Nikon. A D3, a D300, and a lower-end SLR, something like a D40 or D60.

** Or Pasta Hut, or whatever stupid name they’re calling it now. I’m not surprised they’re equally poor.

*** Possibly they saw the same thing as I saw the other day: the Big Issue seller whose pitch is on Pero’s Bridge, standing and pissing off the bridge into the water, about 10ft below.

**** unless you count the Barack Obama campaign sticker on one of Benjamin Gibbard’s guitars. If you don’t say much, even a single sticker can count as a statement.

***** although not painfully, like some bands I’ve mentioned in the past.

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