Monday, January 3, 2011

Review of 2010

So, 2010 eh? - a year many people are glad to see the back of, especially in Ireland.
But economic meltdown notwithstanding, life goes on, especially music, films etc, and thank God (or whoever) for that.
So, here’s a rundown of some of the things I enjoyed most this year.


Bob Dylan x 4
Paul McCartney – RDS Arena Dublin
Leonard Cohen – Lissadell House Sligo
Waterboys x 2 – Abbey Theatre & Wexford Opera House
Wilco – Open House Festival Belfast
Ray Davies – Grand Canal Theatre
David Rawlings / Gillian Welch & Old Crow Medicine Show - Belfast
Crosby Stills & Nash – o2 Arena Dublin
Iron Maiden – o2 Arena Dublin
Redneck Manifesto – Roisin Dubh Galway

Not a vintage year, but not bad. I went to less gigs than usual, but seemed to choose well.. Saw 4 Dylan shows and all were all very enjoyable, especially Ljubliana (a boiling hot little gym hall) and Thomond Park Limerick (a drizzly breezy afternoon in a partially full big rugby stadium). It was a poor year for Dylan setlists, but great to see him more engaged and out at the front of the stage again.
Budgets only permitted one of the (ferociously expensive) Leonard concerts, but every word you read about how good and special these nights were in the grounds of Lissadell House (Sligo) was true. Never to be forgotten. Artist and band at the peak of their powers, oh, and some new songs too!
I’ve already reviewed the two Waterboys concerts I saw of Yeats poems put to music on this blog, so I won’t go over old ground, except to say it’s a much better idea than it sounds! Some of the best tunes Mike Scott has ever written, and really an amazing show both in concept and execution.
McCartney in the summer in the RDS was very good (he’s always good) but not quite as special as the smaller o2 arena show 6 months earlier. And he needs to change his banter.
Wilco in Belfast gave a suitably raucous and textured performance for their first ever appearance in Northern Ireland. They are still easily my favourite current band.
The gig the next night, David Rawlings/Gillian Welch and Old Crow Medicine Show was also enjoyable, but left one looking forward to the next proper Gillian album and tour.
Other enjoyable gigs included Crosby Stills and Nash (harmonically nice but not earth shattering) and Iron Maiden (call me old fashioned but it was marginally too loud and they played too many new songs!).
Redneck Manifesto in Galway (as part of a stag night!) was the pleasant surprise of the year.


Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town box set
Dylan in Mono and the Witmark Demos
John Lennon - Double Fantasy Stripped
Beatles Red & Blue albums
Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street remastered
Richard Thompson – Dream Attic
Blizten Trapper – Destroyer of the Void
Neil Young – Le Noise
Arcade Fire - Suburbs

A really bad year for albums I thought. I concede that 90% of what I listen to is old music, but given that I listen to a LOT of music, that still left me disappointed with this year’s 10%.
There are quite a few contemporary bands I keep an eye on – the likes of Arcade Fire, Blitzen Trapper, Grandaddy, Wilco, REM, Bon Ivor, Band of Horses, Megafaun, Artic Monkeys, Foals, to name a few– but only the first two of these released any decent new material it seems, in 2010.
Neil’s new album Le Noise was ok, still haven’t got my head around it to be honest, and I was never a fan of solo electric guitar albums!
Richard Thompson’s Dream Attic was good, and there’s ALWAYS 2 or 3 amazing songs on any RT album. Plus it was an interesting way to present an album with a live disc (only) of the main songs and an outtake disc.
John Lennon's Double Fantasy received the stripped (plus the regular album remastered) treatment, and in the main, was an improvement. Great to hear the vocals even more up-front.
Otherwise the two big releases of the year for me were Dylan in Mono (his 1st eight albums) and Springsteen’s Darkness re-release.
Our appetites for the Dylan set was whetted by the Beatles’ mono (and stereo) releases the year before, and while this was not as radical (or arguably as necessary), you can never have enough versions of Blonde on Blonde (!), and many of the songs on many of these seminal albums have benefited from the new mastering and the mono presentation. That said, I haven’t got overly excited about it – I probably need to listen to it more (on headphones). The Witmark Demos set was ok, nothing new or startling, but if you never had any of this material before, it would be worth picking up to hear how Dylan evolved from 1962 into 1964 or so.
However, my album of the year (if you can call it an album) is the Springsteen set.
Essentially it is a re-mastered Darkness on the Edge of Town (from 1978), which has always been my own favourite Bruce album and has never sounded good on CD before. Well, now it does!
Plus we have all the bonus material – starting with a 2 disc set of outtakes from Bruce’s entire period between Born to Run and Darkness. Don’t forget this was a 3 year period when he was legally prevented from releasing anything, and he wasn’t only writing dark anthems such as would appear on Darkness – he was also writing glorious pop songs, many of which appear on these discs. There are too many gems to mention amongst the poppier songs - but suffice to say we can now see how he got from Born to Run to The River. Oh, and there are a couple of anthemic songs too – a bigger band version of Racing in the Street and the unreleased The Promise – both incredible finds.
Finally, there are also 3 dvds in the set, with some great archive and contemporary material relating to this period.
The Beatles Red & Blue albums were nice to have, and of course, using last year's remastered versions, now sound amazing (mainly taking the stereo options I think), but are probably not essential, except to Beatles completists, or people like me who first fell in love with the band through the 1970s vinyl version of these albums, or perhaps of course to Beatles newbies?
Final album to mention positively is another remastered job - this time my favourite Rolling Stones album - Exile on Main Street, which like the Bruce album, always sounded a bit nasty and tinny on CD, so here it is in pristine nick, along with some great bonus material.


Une Prophet
Let the Right One in / Let Me In
The Way Back
White Ribbon
The Road
Nowhere Boy
Robin Hood
Whatever Works

Not a bad year for films, but I feel like a bit of a fraud here because I missed quite a few of the year’s big films.
Out of what I DID see, some of my favourites were;
A Prophet – film of the year this one – a truly incendiary French prison drama, with some really good acting and storytelling.
White Ribbon – possibly from 2009, but I saw it early in the new year, a poetic take on village life in early 20th century Germany.
I saw BOTH of those child vampire films – Let the Right One in (in Swedish) and the American remake. Both were chilling, hard to say which was better really.
The Way Back was an underrated epic road journey film, which admittedly did lose it’s pacing a bit in the 2nd half. Catch it in the cinema though – a great LOOKING film.
Avatar was ok. Very nice to look at, so probably only worth seeing on a big screen, and just about the only film I’ve seen that really merits the 3D thing.
The new Narnia film (Voyage of the Dawntreader) really didn’t need to be in 3D, and like all of the Narnia films was a bit of a disappointment.
Robin Hood was pretty good. Hope they make another one.
Alice was a bit ho-hum. Helena Bonham Carter was the best thing about it.
Nowhere Boy was a decent biopic of the young John Lennon despite the lead actor not being very good.
The Road was a bit flat. Very depressing, so much so it made the Irish situation not seem so bad!
Whatever Works was a surprisingly enjoyable old style New York Woody Allen film – I think it was written ages ago, and I don’t think it even got properly released over here – I saw it in the Dublin film festival.


The Road
The Lovely Bones
Born to Run
Just a Little Run Around the World – Rosie Swale Pope
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks

This year I seem to have been reading more books about running and mountains (!), so again I didn’t get much fiction read (apart from a bit of old stuff)
The Road was pretty good, as was The Lovely Bones, in both cases apparently much better than their respective films (I haven’t seen the Lovely Bones)
I also read a few music books, but none were outstanding.
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks was a good insight in to how the Queen of Crime worked and put her plots together.
To pick 2 highlights of books I read about running – Born to Run was inspirational, but not as much as Just a Little Run Around the World, by a woman who did just that. It took her 5 years!


After the Dance
Chopin in Paris
Les Liasons Dangereux

I went to fewer plays than normal this year.
Chopin in Paris was a very enjoyable piece about, well, Chopin in Paris. Written by Miriam Gallagher, it featured a very good acting performance in the title role and some sensational piano playing!
Les Liasons Dangereux was a reasonable Gate adaptation of the famous French play.
Arcadia was awful I thought. Probably not a bad production, but maybe Tom Stoppard is just not for me.
However, one of the very best things I saw/did all year was After the Dance by Terence Rattigan. I’ve already reviewed it on my blog, but would like to say that ever since then the play has ‘grown on me’ a lot, so I’d like to ‘upgrade’ that review from ‘fairly positive’ to ‘exceedingly positive’. That’s the bloody problem with blogs, I guess!
Anyway, it has resonated with me a lot this play; the strength of the acting in particular (amazing cast), and a top notch production and writing. It’s set in the 30s (written in the 40s?), and I’d strongly recommend it if a good version comes back.


Downton Abbey
Any Human Heart
Upstairs Downstairs

The first three of the aforementioned were worth the price of my Sky subscription alone.
Downton Abbey has got a lot of column inches already but suffice to say it was worth all its good reviews, just a good old fashioned lush period drama with really good writing and production values. And don’t forget it was not a period adaptation, but a brand new story.
Any Human Heart was very different, but no less gripping. I was unsure about this one at the start, but it just seemed to get better and better (only until the last episode, which flagged slightly) as we sank further and further in to the life of this man traversing his way through the 20th century. It was funny, insightful, dark and gritty.
Sherlock was the best contemporary drama I saw this year, and yet was also somehow rooted in the late Victorian / Edwardian world of the original Conan Doyle books. However, if you don’t like period stuff, don’t let that put you off. This was a modern series in every sense, with some staggering acting and scripts. Perhaps it looked a little low budget, but I’m sure that’ll change in season 2, after the first season was such a hit.
The new Upstairs Downstairs was enjoyable, but suffered a bit in comparison with Downton Abbey. It was a bit claustrophic and one or two of the storylines didn’t seem to work. There was some good acting though, especially from the ever reliable Eileen Atkins.
Most other TV seemed to me to be rubbish, the occasional documentary notwithstanding. I seemed to tune in to radio more than TV in 2010. Although both radio and TV could be very depressing if you listened to too much Irish economic reportage (best to stick to Lyric and Nova!).. Hoping for better news coverage (and for better news) in 2011!
PS – I usually have a section on Art, but didn’t get to many exhibitions this year. I’d highly recommend the Metsu exhibition in Dublin though – finishes sometime in January I think.