Big Star's Third at the Sydney Festival

Big Star is a band that I have written about before and you can get an idea about their story here.  If you haven't clicked through, they were a Memphis based band from the early 1970s who created three albums and, through a series of mishaps and bad business, were never distributed or promoted. Their three albums became a cult amongst musicians and musos.

In the last couple of years a series of one-off or limited run concerts have been taking place around the world where an all-star cast of musicians both local and international gather to perform Big Star’s third album, called Third or in some cases Sister Lovers. The base group of musicians who do these concerts are the only remaining founding member of Big Star, Jody Stephens, R.E.M’s Mike Mills, The dB’s Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter (Let’s Active).  

From the 2011 Concert in the USA, this is Brett Harris doing Kangaroo

Last night it was Australia's turn, as the Sydney Festival brought these musicians to the Enmore Theatre in Sydney to put on this concert for one night. The core group of musicians were joined by The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow, guest vocalists Skylar Gudasz, Brett Harris, Kurt Vile, Cat Power, Edwyn Collins, and Aussie singers Tim Rogers (You Am I), Kim Salmon (The Scientists) and Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus) along with a Sydney-based 12-piece ensemble of strings and brass.

This concert emphasised how important live music is. This tight knit group of musicians come together on stage and created a wonderful night full with big personalities, great songs, and moments of joy and sorrow that can only happen at a live show. All the guest vocalists did a fantastic job of evoking the original song and simultaneously making it their own. I for one, was very happy to see the music played live especially as we had the added bonus of most of the songs from the other two albums and some of the solo work of members of Big Star being played. If you want to sample some of Big Star's music listen to a couple of the clips below.

Thirteen off the album, #1 Record.

O My Soul from the album Radio City

Stroke It Noel off the album Third/Sister Lovers

In The Streets off the album, #1 Record 

Eclipse - Amadou and Mariam at the Sydney Festival

One of the many performances at the Sydney Festival this year is a series of concerts by Malian duo Amadou and Mariam. Titled Eclipse the concert is performed in pitch darkness giving the audience insight into how Amadou and Mariam experience their own music. The concert tells the story of how Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met as teenagers at the Bamako Institute for the Young Blind in the early 1970s, formed a band, got married, had children and became Grammy award winning artists. Amadou lost his sight at the age of 16 and Mariam at the age of 5, due to untreated measles. 

So, something completely different then as most concerts have elaborate stage performances to enhance the music. This was like putting on some headphones and listening to your favourite album in your bedroom which just happened to be filled with a few hundred people. That you could not see, but could hear breathing and shuffling in their seats to the music. 

The music is a mixture of afro pop and blues with great vocals and an infectious beat that will get you up and dancing. I first saw them at the Blues and Roots Festival in Byron Bay in the mid 2000s. Last year I really got into their 2004 album Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako) produced by world-Latin star Manu Chao. It is an infectious album invoking the sights and sounds of the West African city. Their eighth album Folila was released on 2 April 2012. Folia means music in Bambara and it features special guests such as Santigold, TV On The Radio and Bertrant Cantat. Here is a selection of their music.

 Dimanche à Bamako 

Welcome to Mali

Sydney Festival - Sing The Truth

The State Theatre in Sydney was home to Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright last night.  Three beautiful voices shaped and moulded songs from women who have inspired them – Billie Holiday, Odetta, Abbey Lincoln, Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill, Ani DiFranco and Miriam Makeba – and made them their own.

Developed from the one-off tribute to Nina Simone (Sydney Opera House, 2010), Sing The Truth now encompasses a wider source of music and songs, most notably Mamma Africa herself, Miriam Makeba.   Beninoise singer-songwriter Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, commonly known as Angélique Kidjo, has inherited the crown from Makeba.  She weaved three of Makeba’s hits through the line up giving the evening a sharp edge to the smooth jazz vocals of Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright.     

Lizz Wright is from a small town in Georgia (the US one not the Russian), and is the daughter of a minister and musical director of their Church.  Her gospel infused jazz and RnB vocals are deep and rich and her duet with Reeves soared as they gave the crowd a glimpse into a Southern gospel concert with an upbeat message on Canaan.

Dianne Reeves was born in Detroit and bred in Denver by a very musical family who introduced her to the music of jazz singers from Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan to Billie Holiday.  When she moved to Los Angeles her interest in Latin American music grew and she experimented with different kinds of vocal music.  She showed this vocal mastery last night with her rendition of Ani DiFranco’s 32 Flavours.  It was magnificent.

You cannot hold one of these singers above the other, the blending of their talents and voices with a fantastic backup band, gave us a truly beautiful evening of music that brought you with them into the songs and left the audience spellbound.

Sydney Festival - Sergio Leone on the Beach

Los Coronas was a great way to spend a Friday evening.  They started off the night at the Spiegeltent with a fantastic hour long set of Spanish influenced surf music.    Like a spaghetti western scored by Brian Wilson, the music is a mixture of genres that gets the dance floor jumping. 

Quentin Tarantino used this type of music in Pulp Fiction, putting Dick Dale's now-iconic rendition of Misirlou to play over the credits.  Los Coronas do a mean version of this song.  Check it out below.

Los Coronas was another hit it my gamble on new music that I am trying out during the Sydney Festival.

Sydney Festival - Angry Female Singer-Songwriters Who Sing Beautifully

This is the first time since I have been living here in Sydney that I have managed to get tickets to the very popular Speigeltent at the Sydney Festival.  This intimate music and theatre venue has a range of acts throughout the festival, and tonight I went to see Sharon Van Etten, a New Jersey native who played songs from her 2012 album, Tramp.  As she said tonight on stage, some songs came from a place of anger and some from a place of love.  What was very apparent was that she loved playing them all. 

I picked the concert without having heard her music before as part of an experiment to broaden my taste in music.  I  then went onto youtube to see what I got myself into.  Her songs are beautiful, if a bit in the same vein.  As a live performer, Van Etten has a stunning voice that builds atmosphere and layers of sound and is perfect for the venue.   It was a good concert on an extremely hot evening in Sydney, and I am happy with my choice.  Next up in my foray into new music is Los Coronos on Friday, back in the Speigeltent.

This clip below is from the US National Public Radio (NPR) Tiny Desk Concerts.  It shows you what I mean