So darling share this wine with me, we’ll be together on the eve of World War 3

Friday night concert! I was sold on Things Of Stone And Wood – though my compradres were really going for the support act, Club Hoy.

It might be cruel to call TOSAW a one-hit wonder, though none of their efforts charted as well as Happy Birthday Helen. But the song was on an album called “The Yearning” (1993) which I really really liked back in the day… perhaps apart from the title track, which seemed overly earnest and solemn. I liked it so much I had both the album on CD, and the EP of the single. Listening to the album today, it’s still terrific.

Friday night’s concert was a full performance of “The Yearning”, a near 25th anniversary performance. I admit, the last two concerts I’d been to were similar setups: Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals, and Deborah Conway’s String Of Pearls.

A nostalgic Gen X-er and his money are easily parted.

Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

M and I made our way to Northcote and met up with Tony and Elizabeth. We found some dinner and as we chatted over some food, which gave Elizabeth and I a chance to hear Tony and M’s tale of being shushed for talking at a concert many moons ago by a fan of the support act. Don’t talk over Dave Graney!

A notice in the window of the Northcote Social Club gave us the running times of each act (and a song lyric on the sign above), and we opted for dessert over Rick Hart (sorry Rick).

We headed into the club at about 9:30 and found a spot close to the stage.

Club Hoy at the Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

Club Hoy came on, and were really good, despite two blokes behind us talking incessantly about the other concerts they’d been to (and presumably talked through).

After a few songs, another bloke trying intently to listen to the band turned around. “Shhhh!”

“Sorry mate”. They disappeared. I laughed and laughed (quietly). Thank you, defenders of support acts everywhere.

They finished up, and suddenly from nowhere, TOSAW fans filled the room, with the two biggest blokes in the place crowding out some of our view. Alas, Tony and Elizabeth bailed at this point to return home to their respective families before it got too late (it was about 10:30pm), which was a great pity because I think they missed a great show. (But I would say that; I accept I’m a Club Hoy newbie and a TOSAW fan.)

Things Of Stone And Wood, Northcote Social Club 24/3/2017

Lead singer Greg Arnold doesn’t look a day older – his long hair, beard and moustache probably help, and I was left wondering if he’s had them since 1993 or if he just grew everything out for the anniversary tour.

No matter. They rocked. It was a great show, with TOSAW tragics singing every word, but everyone present in the sold-out club seemed to enjoy it. And let’s face it, a good deal of what makes a great show is whether the crowd gets into it.

There was some nice band repartee as well. They seemed genuinely delighted to be there in front of such an appreciative crowd, and don’t seem to mind being known popularly just for Happy Birthday Helen (“it took us around the world”).

They answered something I’d long wondered: was The Yearning (track 7) meant to lead straight into Single Perfect Raindrop (track 8)? Why yes! But due to a miscalculation of sorts, on the cassette the effect was ruined, because you had to turn the tape over. No such problem on the CD.

After the 14 tracks of the album, they went on to play a few later songs, including one that sounded very familiar when I heard it: Wildflowers — which they remarked is unfortunately relevant again.

…as well as the B-side “She Will Survive”, with its very memorable lyrics about Jane Austen.

And then it was over. What a great show, and a great night out for $40.

If you remember them from back in the day, and have a chance to catch them (that show was sold out, but they’re on in Geelong this weekend), I can thoroughly recommend TOSAW.

Good riddance

Since I don’t have a transport-related post ready at the moment, here’s a quick one about music.

I’m loving the Sonos system. I’d been warned that buying extra speakers for it was addictive, and it’s true. I just got another Play:1. They’re the smallest of the range, but they still pack a punch. (All Sonos speakers are $50 off at the moment, until the end of the year… help me, I don’t need more, but may not be able to stop myself.)

But anyway…

I sometimes listen to Green Day at work when I’m trying to concentrate. It’s good for drowning out background noise.

I was remarking to my sons that “Time Of Your Life” is just about the only Green Day song you hear on many radio stations. It’s also perhaps the most un-Green Day like Green Day song.

They replied that they don’t like the song, it’s too overused, and too nice.

Nice? Ah… so I was able to tell them three things they perhaps didn’t know about the song, which might be reasons to like it.

1. It was used on the Seinfeld finale (well, the clipshow episode that aired with the finale). Even for millenials, Seinfeld is a hit, so that’s worth some brownie points.

2. On the album recording, if you listen carefully from the beginning, you’ll hear Billie Joe starts playing, hit a couple of wrong notes, then utter an expletive before starting again.

3. It’s not called “Time Of Your Life”. Its full name is actually: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, which puts a completely different spin on it. Indeed, Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it in anger when his girlfriend broke up with him and moved overseas.

Does this make it unsuitable for end of school celebrations and funerals and the like? Probably not. Wikipedia: To the band’s surprise, the song became a hit at prom dances. … Billie Joe Armstrong remarked that, in retrospect, the lyrics make sense when viewed that way. “The people that you grew up and braved the trials of high school with will always hold a special place. Through all the BS of high school you hope that your friends had the time of their life, and that’s what the song is talking about”.

Also amusing: the song’s style is quite unlike the rest of the Nimrod album. Songfacts says: The song was such a sonic departure for the band that record stores reported a high rate of returns from customers who purchased the Nimrod album expecting similar songs.

But in any case, my sons decided they had a new-found respect for the song.

The lesson here? Sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem at first glance.

Multi-room music (and Star Wars)

Star Wars episode seven is officially out today on DVD and Blu-ray, but I managed to buy it yesterday — some shops with a name starting with Big and ending in W jumped the gun, as did some with the initials J and B, apparently, though the large W establishment is selling it for $23 (on Blu-ray), which seemed like a pretty good price.

It had been available on iTunes and other digital services for some days, but I wanted the higher picture and sound quality of Blu-Rey. (iTunes can give me HD via my old iPad Mini, but I’ve found it actually drops frames during playback. Not so good.)

It sounds mucho-impressive on the Yamaha surround sound setup that I got in 2014, which I’m very very happy with. This unit does an awesome job with movies and TV, which was always the priority for me — that’s basically why I didn’t go with Sonos at the time; the cost for 5.1 would be about three times what I paid (thus unaffordable for me) and it is limited; for instance it doesn’t support DTS.

Back to the music

But this post is mostly about music.

The Yamaha unit can play my music collection via the network or just off a USB plugged into the front, and it sounds great. It also does online radio (via the vTuner service), which is very neat. I bought a separate Pure Flow One radio (digital/FM) for the kitchen, which also does online radio. Yay, BBC 6 Music!

The only thing my equipment doesn’t do is multi-room music, which systems like Sonos excel at. Yes, I can play BBC 6 in both rooms, but it’s not in sync, which would be handy in a smallish house where the living areas are all within earshot.

So yes, I still have Sonos envy. I regularly see it in action at M+J’s house, and recently I was over at another friend’s house and they have it too. Very nice.

What’s interesting is the emergence of the Google Chromecast Audio, a cousin to the original Google Chromecast (which is used for TVs). GCA, as I’ll call it for short, costs A$59 and brings Sonos-like features to old (active) speakers, and as of a December software update, this includes multi-room capabilities.

So GCA is a bit like a poor man’s Sonos Connect, which retails for A$549, providing much of the functionality at about a tenth the price… well, kind of, sort of.

But there are also other systems now available — more jumping on the Sonos bandwagon every few months it seems. So comparing them, we have (and I’m particularly interested in how much it costs to connect to older equipment):

  • Sonos — the one to beat. Pricey, but very mature technology; they’ve been in this game longer than anybody else. Connection (Sonos Connect): $549, speakers from $299.
  • Pure Jongo — cheaper than Sonos, but more obscure in Australia. Their technology is called “Caskeid” (pronounced Cascade) and apparently Onkyo has licenced it. Connection (Jongo A2) $149, speakers from $199.
  • Denon’s Heos — same price range as Sonos, but the controller app gets poor reviews. Connection (Heos Link) $599 (it’s an amplifier as well, so more of an equivalent to the $749 Sonos Connect Amp), speakers from $379.
  • Yamaha’s MusicCast — compatible with latest model Yamaha receivers, but not mine. Limited range of products otherwise, from $349. Interestingly, this review implies all of the components can connect to old equipment, but looking more deeply, it appears this means only if that equipment supports Bluetooth, which my 2-year-old receiver doesn’t. The newer version of the same receiver (RX-V479) has MusicCast built in.
  • Samsung Sound — has a connection to old equipment called the “Multiroom Link mate” for $449, speakers from $299.
  • Panasonic has equipment using the Qualcomm Allplay standard, which theoretically other manufacturers can all use… but Panasonic seem to be the only ones available in Australia, apart from the near-no-name brand Laser (which I’ve seen in Officeworks of all places) and one Medion product (sold by Aldi… occasionally). Panasonic’sConnection $279, speakers from $379.
  • Harmon Kardon Omni+ — connector $229, speakers from $329. Seems to be getting poor reviews.
  • Bose Soundtouch. The only connection option is the $799 amplifier (similar to the Sonos Connect Amp). Speakers from $299.

Cheapie wireless speakers

But here’s the interesting thing: some brands support Google Cast:

The catch? Google Cast on third party speakers doesn’t yet support multi-room. Google says:

We are working on adding Multi-room group playback support to all of our existing and upcoming audio devices with Google Cast built-in. This will allow you to group your Chromecast Audio devices and Google Cast speakers from different brands into one seamless experience. This feature will be rolled out to all Google Cast speakers throughout 2016.

I’d hate to fall victim to vapourware, so I think I’ll believe this when I see it.

Let’s face it, the technically best solution still seems to be Sonos. They’ve been in the game a long time, their tech is mature, and they’ve got a proven record for selling equipment that lasts, and is upgradeable over many years. If I want multi-room music, I could get a Sonos Connect and then gradually get a bunch of Sonos speakers for around the rest of the house. Cost for Connect plus a speaker is from about $850…

Or I could get a GCA for the Yamaha, another for the Pure Radio in the kitchen, costing $120, and then speakers with Google Cast for other rooms, if the promised upgrade comes through. Cost from about $370.

I’d also need to figure out where to serve local music from. I should check if my router has is NAS capable – some can happily serve up files on a USB stick plugged into the back.

GCA does have a possible flaw: it has problems with gapless music played from some sources… it seems MP3 or AAC format is okay but WAV or FLAC isn’t. (What’s gapless music? Playing consecutive tracks with no gap between them, so that songs that lead into one another like on side B of Abbey Road don’t have short silences between them. Wait, did I just say side B? Showing my age…)

Multi-room music is perhaps the ultimate in extravagant unnecessary lifestyle products for my home. I think I’ll hold off and see if Sonos decide to get a bit more price-competitive and bring the Connect down in price in response to Google Cast and/or see if Google Cast gets a firmware upgrade to properly handle gapless music, and to handle multi-room music on third-party speakers.

Has anybody gone down this road before me? What did you find?

Oh oh la la: Ocean Colour Scene live

Ocean Colour Scene played last night at Max Watt’s (formerly known as the HiFi bar — I assume the current name is a pun about loud music, rather than being named after a person).

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve wanted to see them play live for decades, but this is their first tour of Australia.

OCS

The tickets were a Christmas present from Marita. We got there about 8:15… there was no sign of the support act “El Mariachi” — perhaps they’d been and gone. OCS was expected at 9:15. I bought myself a t-shirt and a drink and we found a good spot to stand.

I’d been warned it was a hot stuffy venue, which might not be pleasant after a hot day in Melbourne, but lining the walls were numerous air conditioners, and despite it being a sold-out gig, the heat wasn’t oppressive… at least for the audience.

They were clearly feeling it on stage though. Frontman Simon Fowler seemed to be suffering more than most, but didn’t seem to let it affect his performance. His voice doesn’t seem to have lost any of its power in 20 years.

In fact the whole band performed really well. Holy crap that Steve Cradock can play a guitar (he also plays in Paul Weller’s band). Drummer Oscar Harrison let loose with a short drum solo — I think it was on the end of You’ve Got It Bad. Bass player Raymond Meade, who joined the band last year, was more low-key (as bass players often are), but was great too.

Ocean Colour Scene playing in Melbourne, 23/2/2016

While the band was terrific, the sound quality, I thought, wasn’t great. Maybe it was where we were standing, and/or my ears can’t handle the noise these days, but it seemed just a little too loud and distorted. Not that it stopped me enjoying it thoroughly, and singing my lungs out.

They started with their 1996 album Moseley Shoals in full. It was their second album, and their most successful — about half of the tracks ended up being included on their 2001 “best of” compilation, but even those that missed out are great — of those, I particularly like The Downstream, but I love some of the more well-known tracks such as The Circle, The Day We Caught The Train, and one I think is a masterpiece: One For The Road.

At the bar I’d overheard some English accents — it seemed a number of expats were in the audience, and whether they were Brits or locals, many people seemed to be singing along. Most of the songs are very singalongable.

Ocean Colour Scene - Melbourne set list (via "Cornton Thornholders" on Facebook)
Set list, via Facebook

After Moseley, they went on to some of their other songs, finishing up with Hundred Mile High City, with its killer riffs, which incredibly they seemed to play note-for-note, but faster than the original studio version.

A great night.

  • Review of the Perth concert
  • Guardian: Ocean Colour Scene: the band whose chief crime was being too normalThe Riverboat Song’s scalding riff – “It came from me being really pissed off one day,” says Cradock – still makes me lip-bite like David Brent and reach for my air Gibson. The Circle is a flat-out masterpiece, all the way from its feedback fade-in to its lovely, shredding outro. There’s depth, too: beyond encore favourite The Day We Caught the Train there’s the sorrowing One for the Road, the sweetly complex It’s My Shadow and Lining Your Pockets, with its pertinent lyrics about greed.

Hi fi part 2: the kitchen radio

After buying the new livingroom hi-fi, my thinking was I want a device for the kitchen that does DAB+ for digital radio (eg music such as Double-J without relying on the vagaries of the internet connection) and can also do AirPlay (eg for music from iTunes on the Mac).

Devices that do both DAB+ and AirPlay in one kitchen-sized unit seem to be extremely scarce. The only one I’ve found was sold by Panasonic back in 2012: the SC-HC57DB, which also plays CDs. You can’t buy these new now, but you can find them secondhand and refurbished. That particular model had mixed reviews.

Okay then, what about concentrating on DAB, but also with network access to stream music via protocols other than AirPlay?

Pure do some nice radios. I looked through reviews and compared models — whose names are very confusing. I particularly like the one done up as a Marshall amp… with a Volume knob that goes up to 11.

I went out looking for Pure radios in the shops at lunchtime.

Pure radio

The Pure web site has a store locator which they might as well shut down (at least temporarily), as its data is hopelessly inaccurate. It says Big W and Target stock their products. I couldn’t find any. (In fact Target has moved to their own in-house hi-fi gear. Hmmm yeah… probably not the ultimate in high fidelity. $99 Target soundbar, anybody?)

It says Myer and DJs stock them too. This seemed more likely, but neither had any on display. It listed a store called Volume in Melbourne Central, which has closed.

The store locator doesn’t list Dick Smith, yet they did have some of their radios on display at their Emporium store, and happily in a spot where you could play around and listen to them. JB Hifi is listed, and do have them, but only a couple of models. Ditto Harvey Norman.

After researching the various models, I ended up deciding on the Pure One Flow, which gets good reviews — What Hi-Fi gave it 5 stars and the only down side they listed in the summary was it was “not the sexiest-looking radio we’ve ever seen”.

Given the lack of retailers stocking it, I looked online — a mob called WebRadios in Melbourne, who mysteriously only sell four products, had the best price. It arrived within a day or two.

Pure One Flow radio

Pure appear to have some skilled designers in product development — taking a leaf from Apple’s book, even the box was beautiful.

Pure radio upgradingOnce plugged-in and running, the radio wanted to patch itself when it was fired up, which I found amusing. Once done, it’s worked well, and is excellent for music from the kitchen, though it can go loud enough to be heard from most of my small house. Mono, but a good quality sound (to my unqualified ear).

Because I’m a geek, I deliberately got a model with network capabilities, though I haven’t fully explored them yet — beyond controlling it with my mobile phone, including piping music into it from the phone, and testing out streaming from a couple of exotic overseas radio stations. Neato.

If I really desperately want AirPlay, it does have an input, so I can add an AirPort Express. What I find more appealing through is that, if I get severe Sonos-envy, it can be part of a Jongo network of synced speakers (Pure’s probably not-quite-as-advanced version of Sonos), which can link through to an existing stereo via the Jongo A2 adaptor.

All in all though, I’m liking this new radio.

The other thing I’ve discovered while looking through the digital radio broadcasts is that I probably prefer the dinosaur music on Triple M Classic to Double-J.