Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ken's Best of 2007

Ken’s Best of 2007


Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Led Zeppelin – Mothership

Only one real contender for me for my album of the year. Wilco’s new one is still by far my favourite Wilco album, and as they are by some distance, my favourite (current) band, it was no contest. Just a perfect album, leaving behind the slight excesses of its two fine but ambitious predecessors. This is much more rootsy, very country soul in style, with the White Album era Lennon fixation of the Ghost is Born album still in evidence. But it all comes down to the tunes really, and have Wilco ever given us a finer set? Highlights are hard to pick, but Hate it Here, Side with the Seeds, Impossible Germany spring to mind.
Bruces’ album is also excellent. Very breezy and catchy, despite some heavy lyrical concerns. Well produced as ever, and benefiting from a slightly more natural sound than The Rising. Pretty much four classics in a row now from the Boss (Rising, Devils & Dust, Seeger Sessions, Magic) – and apparently he’s currently writing for a solo album.
The only other album I’ve enjoyed almost as much is the Led Zep compilation. It just sounds so good. I don’t have anything new to say about the music itself really.
There were a lot of other decent new studio releases in 2007, all of which have great moments and are very enjoyable, but to a man, are either somewhat over rated, or a bit of a dip in form. These include;
Neil Young, Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams (his best since Gold admittedly), Plant/Krauss, Arcade Fire, Ray Davies.
The Amy Winehouse album is pretty good, and I haven’t heard the new Levon Helm yet.


Bob Dylan – Birmingham
Bruce Springsteen – Belfast
Wilco – Vicar Street 2nd night
REM – Olympia 4th night
Gillian Welch – Midlands Festival
Rolling Stones – Slane
Ray Davies – Vicar St
Camille O’Sullivan – Olympia
Patti Smith – Vicar St
The Waterboys – The Point

Another phenomenal year for gigs. Really hard to pick my favourite, but Dylan’s Modern Times jaunt reached a serious peak in Birmingham. Capping off a fine UK tour, with excellent renditions of the new songs and one of his best bands ever, a return to the old man playing guitar, and some great setlist choices (House of the Rising Son in Newcastle and Working Mans Blues in Birmingham).
But, Wilco came very close. I saw 3 – Shepherds Bush (1st night) and 2 unbelievable nights in Vicar Street, of which perhaps the 2nd was the best. Great setlists, Tweedy in fine form, and the best band of the last 15 years at their peak, touring their best album. What more could you ask for?
Well, how about Bruce and the E Street Band, at (arguably) a peak of their own. I caught the Belfast show, and if I see anything better in 2008, I’ll be very lucky. Funny, emotional, entertaining, swinging –all attributes of the Sessions Band a year earlier, but a more rocked-up E Street Band had all these too, in spades.
Lots of other good stuff too, that in an ordinary year would be gig of the year contenders – fine performances from Gillian and Dave, The Stones, REMs new adventures in the Olympia, a cracking Ray Davies set in Vicar St, and the bones of a musically fascinating new show from Camille in Bray and its continuation in the Olympia. Patti Smith played a blinder too and I also enjoyed Duke Special (boy is that guy talented?), Arctic Monkeys (almost as good as the hype), Manic Street Preachers, John Prine (despite sound problems) and the ever rollicking Old Crow Medicine Show. Classically, Sarah Chang with the English Chamber Orchestra was good and the only other thing I remember was a Sibelius symphony coupled with a very enjoyable performance of Elgar’s violin concerto.
Happy Days. Or, should I say, nights.


Pans Labyrinth
I’m Not There
Lives of Others
The Counterfeiters
Bourne Supremacy

I didn’t see too many this year, so this is pretty much my top few, in order. I think I need to see some comedies in 2008!
Atonement more than surpassed my expectations, and easily lived up to the book. Fine performances from Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, not to mention the young Irish girl, Soirse Ronan, this is a measured quiet film to watch again and again.
I can’t overstate how good I thought Pans Labyrinth was. But it’s easily my favourite fantasy film of the last few years, not to mention my favourite Spanish civil war film! If you missed it, get the dvd. Guillermo del Toro is extremely creative; it was an awful pity he turned down the Narnia film.
I’m Not There is also very creative. Definitely an arthouse film, this is not going to trouble the multiplexes. Not all of it works, but no argument that the music does as it is impeccably placed and ties it all together, where the lack of narrative doesn’t. The 6 Bob Dylans don’t all work either, but Cate is sublime (is there anything or anyone this actress can’t play?). Heath Ledger also good. Visually, it is a fascinating film, well edited and for anyone with an interest in Dylan or the 1960s it’s worth a look.
Lives of Others was stunning. Low key and well scripted and acted. A very sad film, it tells a great story and tells it very well.
Stardust is a superb fantasy, extremely entertaining.
The Counterfeiters is another good German language film. Not as good as Lives of Others though. But, it’s a nice quirky take on a little known yet true concentration camp story from WW2.
The Bourne Supremacy was better than the 2nd one and almost as good as the 1st one. As good as thriller as you’ll see. Even better than last year’s back on form Bond film.
Apocalypto was also a thriller of sorts, kind of a period chase movie, set in the jungle, and highly enjoyable.
The Golden Compass was a decent effort, much better than the reviews said, the young girl lead was especially good.


Nothing too extraordinary for me this year.
A nice new run of Uncle Vanya in the Gate, the Brian Friel adaptation. Catherine Walker really impressed in this one.
Anna Karenina was also very good earlier in the year, bookended by a terrific version of Philadelphia Here I come in early December by 2nd Age Theatre company.
Having exhausted the likes of Wilde and Maugham in recent years, the Gate’s summer show in 2007 was Noel Cowards Private Lives, which was as funny as expected. The standout in this was a fantastic comic performance by Stephen Brennan.
I suppose the most notable thing I saw this year was Long Days Journey into Night in the Gaiety as part of the theatre festival. Notable not only for the excruciating length at 4.5 hours, it is a riveting play as you watch this family fall apart. James Cromwell was as good as I had hoped.


Theme Time

Really only one thing – Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, which continues to amaze and amuse. Nice to see it syndicated on Irish radio, Sunday nights’ on Phantom 105.2
I also enjoyed the JK Ensemble, Jazz Alley and Green Room Cinema show on Lyric FM. Pretty much everything on Lyric is good. I must be getting old.



One thing – Harrington winning the British Open. Very emotional, and not just for him. 1947 was a long time ago.



The best exhibition I saw was the down and dirty yet moving Hogarth in the Tate, closely followed by his more polished contemporary Canaletto, in Dulwich. Very enjoyable too was the exhibition at The Queens Gallery in Buckingham Palace. The old lady certainly has an art collection to be proud of – e.g. some fantastic Caravaggios. I also enjoyed the current Polish one at our own National Gallery, as it had 6 or 7 paintings that I really liked.


My Boy Jack
Room with a View
The Ruby in the Smoke

TV was pretty good this year. Not much good comedy (Extras and Peep Show is about all that springs to mind). Some great period dramas. I thought Cranford was going to be too twee, but it turned out to be in parts, hilarious and heart breaking. Best acting of the year by far.
My Boy Jack was a near perfect 2 hour TV film about Kipling’s son going to the trenches in WW1. The standout performances I thought were actually David Haig and Carey Mulligan, rather than the slightly over feted Kim Catrall and Daniel Radcliffe.
Room with a View was a more than decent new version, with a great breakthrough performance by Elaine Cassidy from Co Wicklow.
Ruby in the Smoke was a drama packed adaptation of a Philip Pullman period yarn.
The final few episodes of the Sopranos maintained the high level of the programme at it’s best. Personally, I liked the ending.
I saw some of the new Poliakoff dramas, and enjoyed them to different extents. My favourite one was the very original Capturing Mary. Ruth Wilson was amazing as usual. Ditto Maggie Smith, and I never knew David Walliams was such a good actor.
Other things worth a mention were;
Extras, Old Curiosity Shop (although it was a bit underwhelming) and Life on Mars.


Again, I seem to get bogged down in newspapers, music mags and old stuff. I hope to read more fiction in 2008. But here are some things I enjoyed in 2007;

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – one of my favourite books now for sure, a wide ranging story, but its depiction of the misery of the trenches is the strongest part.

Atonement by Ian McEwan - best to read it before the film, a fine book.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – also known as the Golden Compass, very enjoyable fantasy fare.

I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for the first time recently, a surprising page-turner, very atmospheric.

A new Agatha Christie biography by Laura Thompson is pretty good.

..and I’m halfway through the very inventive Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

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