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wacknessPart homage to the nineties, part coming-of-age story, The Wackness is a little indie movie that has been getting great reviews, about a teenage boy who swaps marijuana for friendship and counselling sessions from a barely-holding-it-together psychiatrist while harbouring a crush on said psychiatrist’s step-daughter.To be honest, I didn’t get what all the fuss is about with this movie. It was kind of like a depressed Juno with way more grit and way less sweetness. It seems like Stephanie (the step-daughter) may equally have been talking to the movie’s writer/creator as to protagonist Luke Shapiro when she says:

“Know what your problem is, Shapiro? It’s that you just have this really shitty way of looking at things, ya know? I don’t have that problem. I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, ya know?”
This movie certainly seems to emphasise the wackness. But to me it was redeemed by a standout little moment towards the end as Luke is stepping into an elevator and savours the experience of one of life’s true wacknesses:

Luke Shapiro: Do me a favor, Steph?
Stephanie: Huh?
Luke Shapiro: Don’t say nothin, ok? Just stand there til I leave. I wanna remember this. I’ve never done it before.
Stephanie: Never done what?
Luke Shapiro: Had my heart broken.

Life might be wack a hell of a lot of the time. But if you can savour every little bit of it, wack and dope, then maybe you’re getting the point.

Word.

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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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Hear the word circus and what connotations immediately spring to mind?  If you’re anything like me, images of pathetic clowns pulling off tired slapstick jokes on a floor of sawdust spring to mind.  Sad, neglected animals being bossed about by rotund ringleaders under a red and white tent and children in spandex flying from rooftops.

Which was why I was intrigued by the tagline of Adagio, the most recent offering of Wellington’s Downstage Theatre:  seriously sophisticated circus.  Not to mention its rave reviews.  Circus?  Sophisticated?  Serious?  Critically acclaimed?  Devoid of dirt-smeared toffee apples and animal rights activists?

Having secured tickets to the final night of the extended season (November 1st, 2008) and having coaxed some long-suffering and equally culturally adventurous family members to accompany me (heaven forbid I not be acquainted with the individuals who sit silently next to me in a darkened theatre while I watch a show), it was with curious anticipation that I sat in Downstage’s slightly rickety stands, hearing the rain rattling furiously at the walls and wondering what was about to come.

Whatever I had expected, it wasn’t the delicate, playful and masterful piece of theatre which filled the next seventy minutes.  The word ‘adagio’ is actually a musical term which indicates the piece should be played ‘slow and stately’, which turned out to be a perfectly fitting title for this well-crafted piece of theatre.  Picture, if you can, finely interwoven threads of music, dance, theatre, incredible displays of acrobatic skill, and subtly cheeky comedy, all sewn imperceptibly into one another and pulled off with epicene charm and playful mastery.

Picture a circus in which the place of the traditional ‘clown’ is taken by a romance-novel writing mime and a Pacific Islander with talent as surprisingly large as his belly.  In which the ‘death-defying feats’ are replaced by elegant, almost sensual displays of acrobatic artistry.  And where else but here could you find rugby and ballet intertwined into something that is somehow equal parts amusing and beautiful?

Actually, no, scratch that.  There’s no way you could imagine it if you tried.  Adagio was quite simply unlike anything you’ve seen before.  It is a terrible shame the season has finished, otherwise I would be highly recommending all and sundry to see it and see it now!  I can only hope that this original creation has not been bestowed upon its last audience, and that its gentle sense of magic continues to whisper softly to the hearts of the rest of those lucky enough to have had the experience, as it does to mine.

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