Thursday, 25 August 2011

MUSIC REVIEW: The Burns Unit * * * * *

The Burns Unit - Wed 24 August 2011 -0250

The Burns Unit * * * * *
The Queens Hall, Edinburgh
24 Aug 2011, 8pm

Not all musical conglomerations can live up to the tagline of ‘supergroup’ however this is not at all the case with the Burns Unit. Tonight’s seated Queen’s Hall gig proves this Scottish/Canadian bunch is a super one for certain.

All accomplished artists in their own right, this ensemble of seven never abandon their own styles as they entwine to form a uniquely brilliant folk fusion. Mercury Prize nominee King Creosote, indie songstress Emma Pollock, multi-instrumentalist Kim Edgar, folkster Karine Polwart, pianist Michael Johnston, Caledonian artist Future Pilot AKA and drummer/producer Mattie Foulds are the extraordinary elements that make it all happen.

The evening unfolds as a free-for-all as the artists switch up song partners and instruments, Edgar particularly impressive moving from guitar to accordion to piano. Accordion-backed ballad Since We’ve Fallen Out is a tear-jerker delivered by Creosote and Polwart, spine-tinglingly soulful, and poker-face failures Pollock and Creosote get adorably playful with Tupperware Platter.

Keyboardist, Canadian and refreshingly upbeat emcee Johnston helps take a lead on a gleefully twee Closed for the Season, before the end draws near with a song that 3/7ths of them confess to be the One to take with them should the world end, and that song is, understandably, Simon & Garfunkel’s The Only Living Boy in New York.

Whether there’s two onstage or all of them, the thing that rules is harmony, and I can’t think of anything more super than that.

Monday, 22 August 2011

FRINGE REVIEW: Vive le Cabaret * * * * *

Vive le Cabaret is a rolling cabaret and so you won't get the same show twice, but it seems that one can rest assured that the team is dedicated to delivering top entertainment in extraordinary variety.

Des O'Connor is the charismatic host who more than wings it despite contending with a hoarse voice – a result of the festival taking its toll – and soon has the audience is wrapped around his finger.

The ladies love one act's take on the Diet Coke commercial, and instead of a construction site, this hot workman's office is a pole on which he steamily maneuvers himself around, and up, and down. Before Etta James' I Just Wanna Make Love to You ends, skin-loving oglers are not disappointed.

Other acts include the Kitsch Kats' choreographed journey through call centres the world over (Glasgow is a favourite), a razorblade-eating magician with a knack for reproducing lost condoms, an eye-catching X-ray hoola hooper, juggler Mat Ricardo's (really) wonderful world of trickery, and comedian Paul McCaffrey's jokes about train travel and self-indulgent storytellers, which have everyone doubled over.

A top surprise is Schlomo, a one-man machine who can seemingly do anything with his voice and proceeds to wittingly teach us how he masters it all. And best of all, a wine-sipping and lustrous Camille O'Sullivan, a Fringe favourite year-after-year, to say the least. Her captivating presence is felt at once, and her rapturous and raw a capella leaves us all breathless and wanting so much more.

One swiftlly passing hour, recommended for the Twitter generation whose attention span is just right for solid snippets of festive excellence.

Vive le Cabaret, The Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 Aug, 10.30pm

Sunday, 21 August 2011

MUSIC REVIEW: Kristen Hersh * * * * *

, Cabaret Voltaire, 18-19 Aug, 8.15pm
* * * * *

Just as her introduction tonight puts it, this is not a serious show, but it is a quiet one.

Kirsten Hersh, of 80s alt rock group Throwing Muses, emerges onstage dressed simply in a white T-shirt and looking years younger than 45. The murmurous crowd halt to a complete hush as lights disappear and the mixed-bag of an audience prepare to listen up.

This is a solo show, part music and part spoken word. Hersh plucks excerpts from her recent novel Paradoxical Undressing (called Rat Girl in the US), and occasionally her guitar, with each set of stories followed by a classic Kristen song inspired by the experience previously shared.

The stories are hauntingly autobiographical, fragile and poetic, witty and wonderful. We journey through a life filled with mental illness and spilling over with music. We awake with her in the middle of the night when songs overtake her, and sit with a pregnant Kristen on the side of a bathtub while she plays guitar. We watch with heavy hearts as she illustrates an evening that ends with a slit wrist and mental health professionals, and we’re paralyzed as she recounts getting hit by a car and watching her own blood spill into a drain, her own foot unaccounted for.

Every story is remarkably entwined with humour, keeping it light-hearted also with accounts of her college years with Betty Hutton, an old Hollywood starlet who loved advising Kristen on showbiz, as well as her time spent living among some really hilarious hippies. She even derives a lot of laughs from the more stark stories, the way one must when life is otherwise simply too heavy.

I’m not sure what time all of it ended but it was far too soon, and I could have stood to have my soul stroked for at least another hour. Buying. Her book. Now.

FRINGE REVIEW: Lloyd Langford: The Cold Hard Facts of Life * * * *

Lloyd Langford: The Cold Hard Facts of Life, The Stand V, 4-28 Aug, 10.05pm

You know it’s been a good show when you hear the words ‘Good night everyone’ and it hits you with great disappointment, and a bit of disbelief, that it’s already over.

So was the case with Lloyd Langford, a Welsh funnyman whose perpetual grin is infectious indeed. His drunken audience is no obstacle as he hilariously interacts with them, and he even gets some good jokes out of the sirens heard outside the venue as well as the ever-developing story on his cold sores.

The non-improv stuff is funny, too, and I am still telling people the one about his first day of work at a factory. Too good. Highly recommended as one of those surprise shows that knock you dead in the funnybone and turn an otherwise-boring weeknight into a moment that keeps you smiling for days.

FRINGE REVIEW: Daniel Sloss - The Joker * * *


Spiegeltent @ Assembly, 11-29 Aug, 7.35pm

We get to know a lot about Daniel Sloss in The Joker, his latest tag-line in a so-far trilogy of song-titled shows.

The 20-years-young Scottish comedian loathes vegetarians, admittedly mistakes sticks for snakes, is certain that old people ‘f*cking hate’ him and has recently split up with the star of quite a chunk of his material, his girlfriend.

The race to ‘who will win the break-up’ gets a good, loud applause, and it’s clear that Sloss, so comfortable in his skin and on this main stage, will scarcely be lost for more laughs without his other half. The self-proclaimed ‘smug c*nt’ with a ‘prick haircut’ is actually amiable as can be, and ‘tis an all-smiles experience to walk with him to the shop counter to buy tampons, and sit in his kitchen as he ‘comes out’ (as a comedian) to his family. Hilarious.

Hard to believe that comedy that seems perfected into something so effortless and unruffled is the product of such a young ‘un, and there’s a Speigeltent full of fans tonight that are surely anticipating future family- and lady-related scenarios for next year’s song.

FRINGE REVIEW: Carey Marx * * * *

Carey Marx - Laziness and Stuff, Gilded Balloon, 9-28 Aug, 10.15pm

When you’re approaching the end of a fest-frenzied day of getting crammed into balmy little venues, when you’ve got big headaches and even bigger expectations, this is the man who will step up and bitch about the things that piss us off all the time. And we like it.

A tired and hard-to-please audience isn’t a very popular one but Marx rises above it and makes us laugh, in spite of ourselves, at stupid rules (bolted hotel windows? ‘air is free!’) and lazy comics (‘the clitoris isn’t that hard to find!’). Within minutes we’re sucked out of our shells into a world where we abandon all modesty and happily entertain the hilarity of his ‘amazing' floating testicles and their capability to decide what’s for dinner.

The highlight of the hour has to be the recap of that annoying conversation we have all heard some girl mouth over her mobile (sexist or just a fact?), or the moment when you realise the person walking in front of you has stopped walking for no distinguishable reason seemingly but to ignite in you just a little more rage.

Marx perhaps takes it too far with the fat jokes and the rabbi rape but, to his credit, asks if we’ll go there with him and, at this point, no one dares to mistrust his lead; we love that mischievous but smart path he’s led us down and choose to deal with our conscience later.

FRINGE REVIEW: Mark Dolan: Sharing Too Much * *

Mark Dolan: Sharing Too Much, Gilded Balloon, 10-26 Aug, 7pm.

It’s difficult to assess Mark Dolan as an unfunny man despite this largely unfunny performance.

His set is full of all the newsy headlines other comics in town are already getting their crack at (this week’s London, Harper Seven), or equally obvious and unamusing observational things, such as Argos’ resemblance to a bookie (it wasn’t that funny the first time I thought this), and Ryanair being a rip-off (huh, whoodathunkit).

These disappointing moments, devoid of belly laughs, monopolise the set but, thankfully, Dolan shines when interacting with the audience, proving that he can be a funny guy. He mistakes a 30-year-old woman for a 14-year-old girl who not only works for the Scottish prison service but (seriously) buys the methadone. He (and we) all have fun with this one, before he accuses a rising P.E. teacher of “basically studying to become a c*nt.”

Perhaps the less-than-radiant bits were uncommon struggles, but I’d rather save a few quid and hang out with any number of my overly-hilarious friends than spend cash on comedy that’s reliant on the punters to help him get a good chuckle.

FRINGE REVIEW: Pope Benedict: Bond Villain * *


The Green @ Pleasance Courtyard, 9-29 Aug, 8.45pm

Irish comedian Abie Philbin Bowman is a guy who has a lot of ideas about religion: the Catholics and Protestants, God, no God, and so on. It also seems that, unfortunately, he has more passion than jokes about it all.

Ideas, rage, religion, politics, economics, and philosophies are all interesting things to learn from and discuss, and are often great to get fired up about, and I feel that I do benefit in some ways from this hour spent believing that he genuinely wants to ‘expose the hypocrisy of religion’ and question the usefulness of ‘God’s customer support team.’ But enlightenment isn’t what we usually seek from a comedy show, is it?

Don’t get me wrong, Bowman arouses more than a few laughs from the congregation about the US Tea Party, what Obama should have been named, and yes, his wish for James Bond to come in and save the day against his obvious rival, Pope Benedict. But the humour takes a backseat to preaching of how our leaders are bastards and how God and money aren’t real and nothing has any power unless we enable it so. Interesting stuff that is deserving of humour to lighten the mood, but Bowman doesn’t deliver the doubled-over kind of kick one might have hoped for.

Alas, he leaves us with an anecdote that is so touching I can’t help but fight back a tearful emotion, and I leave a comedy show wondering what the hell just happened back there.

FRINGE REVIEW: Henry Paker-Cabin Fever * * * *

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Henry Paker packs a lot of hearty punches into one hour of imagining what cabin fever would result to if stuck inside a cave full of strangers inside Kilimanjaro.

But first, he marvels at the beautiful city of Edinburgh - except for the rain - and likens living here to dating the most gorgeous woman in the world, who has a bit of a dribble.

His impression of a stubborn Scot is hilariously impressive indeed, as is his of a Frenchman ordering a pasty, and he proves to truly be on his toes when undeterred by outside distractions, such as a loudly dumped bin bag of glasses (‘Kilimanjaro caterers’).

What nagging philosophical questions would arise in such a claustrophobic setting? Perhaps these: How annoying is the ‘insert’ button? And the caps lock? What emotions are meant to be evoked by the ‘?!’ within a text? Who ‘saves as draft?' (?!) How good and mysterious is the ‘dot dot dot?'

Many worthwhile explorations are made in finding the answers and it makes for one very enjoyable and swiftly passing hour.

Henry Paker - Cabin Fever, Pleasance Hut @ Pleasance Courtyard, 8-29 Aug, 8.30pm

FRINGE REVIEW: The W. Kamau Bell Curve - Ending Racism in About an Hour * * *


The W. Kamau Bell Curve - Ending Racism in About an Hour
Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Beneath, 3-29 Aug, 9.30pm
* * *

Perhaps ending racism in an hour is a bit ambitious but this ‘African-American’ certainly goes for it as he brings to light the shameless ways of the world; and it’s funny, ‘cause it’s true.

It’s arguably more honest than hilarious, although there are several times when the two do catch precisely the right balance. Other times, think Jon Stewart, crossed with Sesame Street.

Words that the media use to make us feel better are ridiculed like ‘Caucasian’, ‘minority’, and his favorite, ‘post-racial’ - which Bell reckons means ‘absolutely NOTHING.’ He begs whites to please stop asking to touch his hair, tries to convince one audience member that perhaps claiming ‘blacks love my husband’ is blatantly not the correct thing to say, and, quite logically, insists that when the world stops making sense, it’s simply time to die.

Very smart, and pretty funny, but not for someone who’s not quite up to the ethical challenges that arise - although that’s may also be the sort of person who would benefit from brand of humour.

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: 4 Poofs and a Piano * * * *

4 Poofs and a Piano - Business as Usual
Aug 3-28
Pleasance Courtyard - Pleasance One
* * * *

An audience intent on seeing a production featuring 4 Poofs and a Piano expects nothing less than a stage furnished with a furry, animal print-covered piano, fairy lights and a disco ball; and so the scene is set for one highly-homosexual hour.

The Poofs appear to the tune of 9-5, outfitted in heels, a tutu, fishnet stockings (nice legs there, honey) and leopard print pants (special treat for the front row) - this the first of several entertaining costume changes.

They keep all of the ladies laughing and the men amused with their diva-tasic antics and crude but commendable songs (blow up doll included) like Where Have All the Real Men Gone (“to Scotland!”), and I Love Porn (“in the morn”) - the latter of which is accompanied with some tap dancing because they “like porn on tap.” Obviously.

Another giggle-inducing number is done impromptu-style with suggestions from the crowd to compose a hit love song with the ingredients of elbows, passion and sleet, before the final medley of comically-amended showtunes (every showtune, ever) performed ever-so-fabulously with some fun pokes (no pun intended) to today’s brand of reality showbiz stars.

Good fun for all who appreciate some honest-to-goodness penis humour put to song, and don’t we all?

JAZZ REVIEW: Soul Rebels Brass Band * * * *

The Soul Rebels Brass Band * * * *
Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Fri 22 July 2011 10pm

An eight-piece brass ensemble straight from Louisiana bring their own savory brand of New Orleans jazz to the Spiegeltent tonight with the mission to ‘blow the roof off this tent.’ What seems to be the whitest audience they have probably ever performed to happily consent to stand up, put their hands up and ‘get ready to party’.

Splashed with more than a smidgen of soul, funk and blues, the Rebels also add a lot of hip hop to their songs including Don’t Stop (the groove) and a far superior version of I’ve Got the Power, and the crowd, despite their whiteness in both colour and dance, can’t help but get down.

It’s a refreshing display of talented, passionate guys who are obviously not at all rebellions of soul and it’s touching that they return their favoritism to the fans by announcing their new album will be released in the Britain first, ahead of the States, because ‘y’all love us the most in the UK.’

Aww, thanks y’all .

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Los Cardos, Edinburgh

Los Cardos

A huge hit now for many years in the US, Tex Mex done fast and well is making its much-welcomed way to Edinburgh, first with Illegal Jack's on Lothian Road, and indeed to Leith in the form of Los Cardos. Owner Neil has spent a lot of time across the pond (he's part Coloradan and his wife is the real deal) and found himself realising the potential of the burrito-to-go back in bonny Scotland. It was there, also, that he pondered the possibility of marrying the tastes of two countries with his signature haggis burrito. As an American in Scotland, I of course had to get to the bottom of this!

With a fellow American and burrito connoisseur as co-taste tester, Los Cardos had a tough audience but needn't worry about anything at all. The first sign of satisfaction came with the tortilla chips,which (for us) must be housemade, and they are. Their accompaniment was the housemade salsas, which are such proven successes that two of them (Medium Verde and Roastin' Red) are now bottled and available to enjoy in abundance en su casa.

Next up I had the soft taco trio (prices vary depending on what fillings you choose, up to £6 for 3). I chose a mix of fillings, my favorite of which was the carnitas: pulled pork that's slow-cooked, marinated in verde salsa and uber succulent. The vegetarian filling was a surefire hit with hot blackbeans, grilled peppers and onions plus all the fixings. And, of course, I had to further research their unique concept by quickly devouring a haggis-filled taco and found it wildly delicious and not at all something worth the apprehension I experienced beforehand. It just works.

Now, the burrito (Up to £6). Balmoral chicken anyone? Filled with both haggis and chicken, pinto and black beans, rice, sour cream, salsa and cheese, the bugger was enormous in both size and flavour and, si, mind-bogglingly great. The ‘red tractor chicken’ was grilled and marinated in their chili-citrus concoction. Yum. We both also noted the tasty, fresh soft tortilla - truly a special thing from our perspective.

Go onto to drool over the menu and get yourself the delights of Los Cardos delivered right to your door. (K Smith)

Los Cardos
281 Leith Walk
0131 555 6619

Opening Hours
Sun-Thurs 12-9pm
Fri and Sat 12-10pm
Festival hours will be later!

FILM REVIEW: Burning Ice

Burning Ice * * *


The hot button topic of our warming planet is tackled in a unique way in Burning Ice, as 45 artists and scientists join forces in an expedition to Greenland.

Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Martha Wainwright, Robyn Hitchcock, KT Tunstall and Ryuichi Sakomoto, to name but a few, are among the many brought together via Cape Farewell, an organisation whose mission is to inspire artists (musicians plus playwrights, comedians, photographers and more) so that the message of climate change somehow shines through in works they create in the future.

Jarvis Cocker watches icebergs crumble in front of him and sheds a tear, and KT Tunstall shows a scientific side with her obvious fascination for oceanography. They all learn from the locals how their land has dramatically changed in recent years, all the while creating impressive pieces - from jokes and songs to poetry and pictures.
The filming wraps up at the Latitude Festival, where the new material is debuted and Robyn Hitchcock signs off with There Goes the Ice - which, much like the documentary, is eerily beautiful.


Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Divide *

It’s that familiar apocalyptic theme again. An NYC setting? Check. Buildings blow, crash, and burn? Check. An agonising tale of survival? Check.

While the world around them explodes, nine people run to the basement of their apartment building where they are welded in by the space-suited army responsible for all of this, and this is where they remain for the entire film. Insanity ensues teemed with claustrophobia, hunger, and eventually mental and physical violence. There is torture, finger slicing, and several bodies are chopped up with an ax. A woman hemorrhages to death by means of repeated rapes, but not before her little girl is dramatically taken away by the perpetrators. The list goes on.

Where this film succeeds is in its bloody despair, but it’s done pointlessly, having no thought-provoking twists at all. Just one disturbing scene after another unfolds, with the gore miles easier to handle than the psychological decay that each individual experiences.

The only thing as appalling as what we (well apart from the few who simply walked out, and several more who kept their faces covered) witness, is the acting from almost all involved. It’s hard to say which offended people more.

Harrowing is done brilliantly by films everyday; this is not one of those films. Recommended to neither the squeamish nor the sane.

Wedding feature: Bluegrass, burlap and lace

Bluegrass, burlap and lace

Plans for the southern country wedding of the ages were well underway. Hundreds of mason jars were stacked away, awaiting their many purposes. Red velvet cake to be fashioned like tree trunks was chosen as the first dessert Mary and Andrew would share as Mr and Mrs Rylander. Oversized invitations likened to band posters and illustrating a heart-inscribed oak were stamped and sent to all of their biggest fans. And then, less than two months before the big day, the very thing their perfect wedding was themed around actually crushed their venue: a tree.

A tornado tried to ruffle the plans but only proved a mere obstacle the couple conquered, together. The perfect wooded, waterside wedding scene in the country was decided on with three weeks to spare, and the Clinton House Plantation in Clinton, SC is where the Rylander fairytale would continue on May 7th, 2011.

Their love story began with music, and so it was fitting that this play a central part of the wedding. They met two years back, he the owner of two thousand vinyls and bassist of a band, she an avid music enthusiast herself and admirer of aforementioned bassist. Their time wasn't quite right on the first few meetings but fate’s moment arrived at one of Andrew's gigs, on Mary's birthday. A whirlwind commenced and they agreed to wed only months later. Her birthday this year would be their first anniversary--her gift a dreamy engagement ring--and the love songs that soundtracked their relationship (Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Avett Brothers, Wilco) were already being arranged on CDs to give as wedding favors to their guests in a few short weeks.

In those weeks, Mary was fitted into a flowing, layered vision in ivory taffeta, and Andrew into a three-piece espresso brown vintage 70s Western ensemble. A do-it-yourself approach took shape to transform an already beautiful setting to something that this couple's dreams were made of. Sheets of burlap eventually took the form of wreaths hung about the gazebos. Craft paper programs bearing a Kinks lyric from their First Dance song ('Strangers on this road we are on, we are not two, we are one') were folded and stuffed with monogrammed hankies for guests’ “joyful tears.” Lavender, ivory, and green-hued hydrangeas were used in centerpieces, down the ceremony aisle, and inside the bridal bouquet. Rugged tree stumps were strategically arranged where mason jars filled with sweet tea lemonade would sit upon for the most southern of cocktail hours. Mason jar candles wrapped in lace dotted the grass surrounding the reception area and as the evening progressed, the illuminated jars transformed the space. More candle-filled mason jars sat across the water along a hill in the shape of an R, a detail that would prove a defining finishing touch when the sun had set, the bluegrass band plucked away, and guests glanced over to see this final awe-inspiring surprise.

Pulling perfection together required a lot of help from their family and friends. Two of the couple’s close friends officiated the ceremony, where the couple promised to be with each other “through alien invasion and zombie infinity and beyond.” The talented Mr Brad Grizzle, designed the stunningly illustrated invitations, and a poster identical to the invites that the guests signed during the reception - a detail that stood out to the couple as the perfect way to reflect upon a day that swept them off their feet. Brad also designed the compilation CDs that were hung along twine with clothes pins for friends and fam to take away with them at the end of the eve, and are (trust me) still being played on repeat as an endearing reminder that good love really, simply, boils down to lyrics like 'and well I'm always pretty happy just kicking back with you.'

Thursday, 18 August 2011

REVIEW: David Sedaris

David Sedaris, EICC, 16-20 Aug, 6.30pm.
* * * * *

Whether he’s reading story about a dog licking its nether-regions (Squirrel Seeks Elephant) or a youth sporting a Funky Motha Focka t-shirt (Standing By), Sedaris still manages to do so intelligently, and were it not for the farting airline stewards (aka ‘crop dusting’) and the infinite piles of sh*t rampant in China, you’d be fooled into thinking this talk was all a very civilised affair.

Sedaris demands to know why only he has ever led with a story on the poorific ordeals of the Orient, and elaborates on his findings there in terms of unappetising food, phlegm and other antics seen as fantastically odd through the eyes of a foreigner.

Much fun is poked at his home country in I’m Not Running for President, where he breaks many-a-balls involved in the circus that is American politics, and he summons more prolonged laughter with anecdotes on roadside North Carolina billboards and his own witty one-liner diary entries.

His memoirs have not lost their juvenile hilarity over the years and, thankfully, the 54-year-old author is still observing the behaviors around him with a detailed mockery that the self-indulgent pessimist in us all can only relish.