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I just stumbled across this guy’s music today and I think he’s a pretty awesome lyricist.  I really like this song because it pretty much sums up everything that Christmas means to me.

My family and I don’t have a lot of money at the moment.  And as my first Christmas was at the age of 13, due to growing up in a religion that forbade it, we don’t have a lot of childhood sentimentality attached to the traditional forms of celebrating the holiday.  We don’t have a christmas tree, we don’t make a huge heavy roast, we don’t get stressed and put up with relatives we hate – we don’t even do presents.

What we do is eat homemade pizza and chocolate cake, drink pink bubbly with strawberries in the glass, spend time together, and laugh a lot.  This year we jumped in the sea, even though it was still freezing.  There was no Santa.  There was just us.  Us girls hanging out together and being grateful for each other.

That’s what Christmas means to me.  Family and drinking wine in the sun.  Long may the tradition continue.

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[Update 1 Dec 08: published here]

Having been promised an ‘electrifying stage show’ from ‘a performer unlike anyone else in Godzone’ by practically every events website in town, Sheba Williams had a lot to live up to when she took to the San Francisco Bathhouse stage on Saturday night (November 22nd, 2008) to support the debut of her self-titled first album.

However, it would have taken the most hardened cynic not to sense, as the pulsing drum beats were joined by guitar, trumpet, saxophone and bass, that something very special was about to happen.  And then, there she was, replete with headdress and various leotards throughout the night, commanding the stage with the graciousness of some majestic African queen.

Not just another singer behind a microphone, Sheba Williams is a writer, musician and performer extraordinaire.  Quite appropriately, she has coined her own genre to describe her music: ‘Calyptro’ – a sound unlike any other, a fusion of hip-hip, soul, funk, electro, afrobeat, and then some, calling on influences as varied as her Caribbean heritage, her Aotearoa upbringing,  and her extensive travels, ranging from Berlin to Kyoto to Shanghai.  This merges into an exotic and vivacious sound unable to be boxed into any particular place or time.  Standing in the San Francisco Bathhouse on Saturday, you could have been anywhere in the world, and were somehow being taken to a place quite beyond it.

For example, what Kiwi girl couldn’t sympathise when she prefaced her song ‘Shy Guy’ with the dedication “This is to all the Kiwi guys – so dear to my heart, so far from my ass”, before launching into her song about the reticence of Kiwi men in their (lack of) amorous advances.  But far from leaving it there as a witty little ditty, the song progressed into a tour de force of the world, the afro-Kiwi diva singing verses in Chinese, Korean and German.

With music that was like Fat Freddy’s mixed with Cabaret mixed with afro-carribean funk, and a stage performance that was a patchwork quilt of theatrics, dance, amazing instrumental solos, and uniquely Sheba monologues and stories from her travels, this really was something else – a true show, and one unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.  Did I mention those leotards?

While Sheba owned the stage like some kind of worldly African queen, she never let you forget that “My grandmother lives in Parnell, bitch!”  A Kiwi girl who grew up in ‘the KKKs: Khandallah, Karori and Kelburn’ and yet made belting out Chinese rock ‘n’ roll in a red silk cape and leopard print leotard into an art form.  A gracious regent of her avid crowd and minions, she ended the show by thanking pretty much everyone under the sun, and had seemed just as happy to gyrate her fantastic figure to the skilful funk of her superb supporting band or hand over the stage to the antics of her supporting dancing act, as she was to take the microphone herself with her powerful and playful vocals.  Later in the night she could be found cavorting in full costume at the back of Mighty Mighty, a royal gracing the masses.

Her debut album can be seen as a metaphor for herself, a wide-ranging collection of pieces into an eclectic whole.  It comes in two parts: the 12-track studio-recorded Black Album, and the White Album, consisting of a live performance recording, three music videos, and an excerpt from her as-yet unpublished book Shanghai Sheba and the China Monologues, some of which she has read on Radio New Zealand. 

This was a true performance by a true performer, a unique and yes, I would even say ‘electrifying’, experience.  I would go so far as to say that Sheba Williams is not just ‘unlike anyone else in Godzone,’ but that you would be hard-pressed to find any one comparable in the world.  A world and law unto herself, she really must be experienced to be fully appreciated – but until she graces a stage near you, you can just do as she suggested and ‘buy my CD, then rip it and give it to someone for Christmas.’  Really.  She’s cool with it.

Seeing her emerge from backstage at the end of the night, I couldn’t resist grabbing her attention to praise the awesomeness of her show.  Her response – to kiss me graciously on the cheek and then admonish ‘Don’t wash that off!’ – really summed up the whole experience:

Sheba, the down-to-earth diva.

www.myspace.com/shebawilliams

www.shebawilliams.com

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[update 19 Nov 08: this review has now been published here]

My first thought, on hearing that Auckland band Body Corporate would be playing their Wellington release gig for debut album Howlaround at The Adelaide, was: ‘well, that’s a little random’. The Adelaide is what I would tend to describe as a ‘seedy old man pub’ on the outskirts of Newtown, one of Wellington’s dodgiest suburbs (slowly becoming the height of contrary cool for the mere fact of its dodginess).

As it turns out, I was right – ‘random’ really is the best word to describe it. But that, however, is precisely the point, drummer Paul educated me (myself being newcomer to this whole alt-indie business). Preferring to steer clear of the mainstream masses and play just another standard bar like just another standard band, they purposely seek out the random backstreet pubs wherever they go – which, after their launch gigs in Auckland on Friday (November 14) and Wellington on Saturday (November 15), will soon be including some gigs in Australia and the South Island as well.

Well, random is certainly what they got. My friend and I arrived painfully early due to my chronic over-punctualness (really must work on the ‘fashionably late’ thing!), but there was a certain enjoyment to be found in watching The Adelaide metamorphose from old man pub to… well… old man pub with some devoted and swaying indie fans in it. The place is a strange breed of venue – it has the atmosphere of an old school English local where the village drunks go on a Sunday to shoot pool, have a nosh up and drown in beer – and yet, high above, the walls are scattered with gothic photography of girls crying blood with flesh-stained teeth. As my friend said, you kind of get the feeling that at midnight the place becomes some kind of vampire coven, ghouls crawling out of the walls to drink each others’ blood. Even the girl behind the bar sported the blue hair of anarchy and damn-the-man-ism, and we arrived to be greeted by a lot of pirate speak, before the barman admonished the punters to ‘leave the normal people alone’.

Being preceded by quality toe-tapping to fairly fun and vivacious Wellington band Cougar Cougar Cougar (who seem to be invariably described as a ‘dirty 3-piece rock ‘n’ roll act’), drummer Paul exited my barrage of questions to join his Body Corporate mates in playing a sweet but very short set for the oddly assorted ‘crowd’ that had accumulated. Trying to blend in to a crowd of at maximum about 14, each doing their own little unique sway in an audience about three meagre lines deep (highlights being Random Old Drunk Guy Who Hates The English and the chick with the Emilie Le Strange hair cut who proclaimed to all and sundry that her beer was ‘cumming’), I was reminded of two things. Firstly I couldn’t quite escape flashing images of the closing credits of that Simpsons episode where grungy audience members sway morosely to the Smashing Pumpkins. Secondly, I kind of had the feeling like I was hanging out at my mates’ place, watching a bunch of guys jam in the back of the garage and sharing a beer. Which I found myself enjoying rather much more than feeling like just another skirt on Courtenay Place.

Their all-too-brief set was followed by an all-too-lengthy one by Wellington indie-progressive-rock band Captain Sergeant Major, playing what Paul described to me as ‘math rock’. I dunno about that – all I know is there was a hell of a lot of long boring guitar and not much else. The drummer himself proclaimed somewhat indignantly after the first song “You all sat down! We made you all sit down!” Technically proficient certainly – but not exactly foot tapping or even hold-your-beer-and-sway inducing.  Just not my cup of tea, I guess.

When I told Paul that his band should have played longer, he told me that it’s best to be considerate when there is a band on after you. He had told me previously that the band was really just an excuse to have a good time with mates and play a bit of music. The debut album itself was released only on vinyl (complete with mp3 download voucher – as the 3 News article said “They may be romantic about the vinyl, but they are not stupid”), ensuring only a particular subset of people with a certain dedication to their music, and to music in general, as buyers. And finally I realised that, rather than some misplaced modesty or typical Kiwi tall-poppy-avoidance, perhaps this choice of album medium and release gig venue was exactly what they were after. Who wants hordes of meat-market teeny boppers wielding made-in-China CDs hoping to hear something just like the band that played last night, when you can carve out a little niche of truly dedicated fans and experiment a little? Sure, it means you’ll be playing about 4 songs to a ‘crowd’ of 14 in a seedy old man bar to release your album which most people don’t even have the mechanism to play (download notwithstanding). But it also means you’ll be playing whatever the hell you want to play however the hell you want to play it, and your fans will feel like they’re part of some special little club that includes you. It also helps when they buy you beer.

Somehow though, I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that they could back themselves just a little bit more. Maybe they don’t want to be music for the masses, but surely they could at least play more than 4 or 5 songs for those dedicated enough to brave The Adelaide and its resident Old Drunk Guy to see them perform. A good night – but one that left me feeling like I wanted more. Which, come to think of it, is probably not a bad result at all.

www.myspace.com/thebodycorp – Aussies and South Islanders keep an eye out early 2009 for the post-Christmas leg of their release ‘tour’!

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