Tag Archives: hipsters

Camera Obscura @ Visions Festival, part 1 – The rant

I went to Hackney yesterday with Mel and Sara to the Visions Festival. We were only interested really in Camera Obscura’s show at St-John-at-Hackney, so ambled there late afternoon (the day started at 1pm officially), queued for wristbands, ambled up to the church, laughed at hipsters, and their haircuts and their clothes (one skinny guy at an ATM was wearing what can only be described as a circus strongman outfit. He had, natch, a waxed moustache), got some “street food” (burnt pizza for Mel and me; meatball sub for Sara), got in an unfeasibly large queue to get in the venue, and made our way in to watch the end of Jens Lekman’s opening set.

At first we went upstairs to sit, as it was going to be a long night (Lekman was on at 6.15; CO at 9.45). Possibly because of the shape of the room, the materials used in the building’s construction or the overhanging gallery, the sound up there was pretty bad. Tunes and chords were discernable, but words weren’t, so we headed downstairs to the main space to watch the Antlers.

The band – purveyors of heard-it-all-before post-rock: 8-minute songs that each have but two chords and all follow exactly the same dynamic contour, with a male falsetto vocalist that would love to be Jeff Buckley but isn’t even Jonathan Donahue – proved surprisingly popular. The room was full, the crowd was packed tight and were pretty attentive. When the band finished, the room all but emptied out.

Camera Obscura did not really draw a crowd themselves and were, in retospect, a bad fit for this venue and festival. Too old, too unhip, too bald, too fat, too tuneful, too cuddly – take your pick. Their time as anything other than a group for Belle & Sebastian fans to rally round in support of has evidently come and gone. A few hundred stragglers did make their way back in to see the group play, but a distressing amount of them were there in a not-really-got-anything-else-to-do kind of way and talked loudly and persistently through the set. Or played with their cell phones. Or danced in an attention-seeking, look-at-me dance fashion. I did ask two guys who were having a loud relationship crisis to pipe down, whereupon they seemed to leave (one of them had been standing with his back to the stage – no wonder Tracyanne Campbell looked pissed off for most of the set), but their place was immediately taken by five drunk students, including a couple of girls afflicted with conspicuous dancing disease, and there’s only so many times you can a) go to war, or b) move, within one band’s set and be paying more than scant attention to the music.

OK, so it was the end of a long, warm day, and people had been drinking. But really, that doesn’t excuse this kind of behaviour at a gig. Sure you’ve got a ticket; you’re entitled to be there. And sure, rock gigs have to be self-policing on the whole; there are no ushers (at least, not on the floor; there were a few on the gallery). But (“in my day” alert), I’m sure it wasn’t always this bad. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a worse crowd than last night’s, and it really did hamper our enjoyment of the show, to the point where I’d think long and hard about going to other one-day festivals for fear of dropping £30-£40 just for the opportunity to be infuriated by my fellow attendees.

That off my chest, I’ll be back later to talk about Camera Obscura themselves. Happy Sunday!

New Frontier – Donald Fagen

Note: The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build. D.F.

Fagen’s liner notes from The Nightfly

To the extent that he has an image, Donald Fagen’s will always be defined by the cover of his 1982 debut solo album The Nightfly – a super-cool late-’50s hipster miraculously still around in the present day, spinning jazz records and smoking endless cigarettes long into the night (the time on the clock to his right reads ten past four).

Fagen’s accidental memoir, Eminent Hipsters, suggests that he pretty much was the young man whose persona he adopts on The Nightfly: a precocious wannaBeat in love with the culture of jazz and outsiderdom; “sentenced to a long stretch at hard labour in Squaresville” but not yet the hip sophisticate he needed to be to fully escape it. The Nightfly is the work of a man approaching middle age, looking back on his younger self and the world he grew up in with fond affection. Compared to Steely Dan, Fagen’s old band, it’s almost cuddly.

True, it’s the creation of a well-read and impressively self-educated man who doesn’t mind making you work a bit (the video for New Frontier wisely doesn’t assume its audience will know who Tuesday Weld or Brubeck were, or what Ambush is, or how you might wear a French twist – note that the girl in the video does not have one), but the mood is friendly and warm. After the bitterly cynical and ultimately tragic Gaucho (the final Dan album, from 1980), The Nightfly is probably the only music Fagen could make without driving himself crazy.

New Frontier shows he’s still the incorrigible craftsman of old, though. There are beautiful little details all the way through it: the way the backing vocalists hang on the last word of every line, making each terminal word into a hook; Fagen’s hilarious enunciation of “wingding” (how many other lyricists would have chosen that word over the more prosaic “party”?); the guitar playing of Larry Carlton and Hugh McCracken; the little riff the backing vocalist in the right-hand channel does on “Brubeck”; the tone-cluster piano squonk just before the guitar solo; the contrast set up in the lyric between the bright optimistic future the singer imagines for himself (studying design overseas, of course) and the suburban nuclear paranoia he’s living in right now. Fagen is a guy with warm memories but a clear-eyed view of his atomic-age youth.

As he doubles down on what I hope is merely his crusty-old-geezer routine in his new Rolling Stone tour diary (his Eminent Hipsters tour diary is, while very funny, also very crusty), it’s refreshing to relisten to The Nightfly and certain songs off Aja (the title track, Deacon Blues, Josie) and hear a Donald Fagen that meets the world with neither a defiant snark nor a cane raised in the air.


The author’s own recently recorded work: