It feels like a brave thing to hold your debut headline show in a city, without any proper support act. It also feels like a brave move to have your stage set-up consist of a three-piece band of electronic drums beat programmers and a solitary guitar, and a dozen lights or so. You’ve got to be one hell of a performer to combat such starkness, but fortunately for FKA twigs, she’s possibly the most charismatic popstar of the moment.

In waiting an hour and a half before the star of the show appeared, the Dancehouse  Theatre’s atmosphere was somewhere between an audience waiting for a play (a feeling helped by the theatrical red curtains) and a club where dancing was forbidden. It was so rammed with people, I was sweating more than Snoop Dogg going through customs. The choice of a hip-hop/trap mix from Mancunian DJ Juicy as pre-show entertainment was an strange one, given that - whilst sharing a few sonic similarities -  those genres are kind of at odds with the music FKA produces. As fellow Hitsvillian and companion for the evening Ivan noted, a more appropriate warm-up would’ve been Bjork’s discography. 

Eventually striding on stage in all white - tube top, oversized sleeveless shirt, baggy boxing shorts - and a gold body chain, twigs has a presence which defies her diminutive stature. Throughout the set, she moved with the swagger and confidence of a veteran, truly hypnotic. Her dance moves were beguiling, smooth without feeling overly choreographed (if choreographed at all), whilst the lighting helped set moods and tones perfectly. Musically, the whole show was on point, although it had no help from the rather lacklustre sound system more becoming of a high school talent show, than a professional pop concert. That said, nothing can really dint the power and quality of a one-two punch of “Papi Pacify” and “Two Weeks”, songs which verge on transcendent when heard performed in person.

Despite not exactly being an Alex Turner-esque master of between-songs banter, twigs had the crowd in the palm of her hand regardless. After admitting she never thought this would happen, she mentioned her first time playing Manchester was as a support for James Blake. The mention of the dub wunderkind’s name drew a single boo from the sea of cheers, which was met by an ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek “Boo? Don’t boo. James Blake is sick, bruv”. It’s this off-the-cuff charm which belies the slightly distant and removed air of FKA twigs’ music, and should hopefully see her remain a fixture of pop music for a long time to come. Should you get the chance, you positively need to see twigs live. You won’t regret it.

Most fans, including myself will agree that 24 should have ended sometime around May 2006, at the end of it’s stellar fifth season. The show was at an all-time high and delivered an exhillarating 24 episodes of high-octane, suspenseful action, choked to the fullest with twists, turns and deaths aplenty. Since that fifth season, the show has never really managed to recapture the same energy it had in this season, or the four preceding it, and it unfortunately went out with more of a whimper than a bang. When I had heard that they were bringing the show back for a one-off season, I was skeptical. The nail was already in the coffin and I don’t think any of us thought Live Another Day would feel like the good old days, but surprisingly, it turned out to be pretty awesome and without a shadow of a doubt a lot stronger than the show’s final three seasons. Thank the Lord, Jack really is back this time!

One of the smartest decisions made by the production team and FOX was to make Live Another Day just limited series of 12 episodes and brand it as a “ television special event”. With this considerably shortened season length, the show became immediately that much more enticing. For fans and newbies alike, it meant less of a commitment and more importantly, it made for a tighter story. With just 12 hours on the clock for Jack and co, it meant that there was a greater urgency to the season, and the episodes flew at a terrific pace with hardly a dull moment throughout.

The season takes place four years after Season 8. James Heller (Senator from Season 4) is now President of the United States and is negotiating a treaty with the British Prime Minister (played by the ever-brilliant Stephen Fry) in London. One of the freshest things about Live Another Day is the London setting. Although they certainly could have hired a few more genuinely British actors for the season, it still feels like a nice change of scenery from the LA/NY central seasons of the past. Our hero Jack Bauer is on the run and turns up to London to warn the President of a threat on his life. Fan favourite Chloe O’Brian is part of a hacker collective also situated in London and Jack enlists her help as always with s**t hits the fan.

As with most 24 seasons, there are two main arcs. The first is about Margot Al-Harazi and her family of terrorists who have gained control of six US drones and intends to attack London in order to seek revenge for her husband’s death. This is where it becomes personal for President Heller (doesn’t it always for Presidents in 24?), because Margot blames him for the death and so she wants to assassinate him personally. It’s an exciting arc for sure, and Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley is particularly excellent as the cold-blooded Margot. Jack, with the help of Chloe, Heller’s daughter and Jack’s former lover, Audrey Raines, and CIA agent Kate Morgan, manages to save the President’s life and catch the terrorists, like he always does. What 24 always does so brilliantly is create more danger and more villains right where we think the day is saved, and that’s what happens here, too. As it turns out, there was a mole in the CIA (perhaps 24’s biggest cliche) and indeed Chloe’s partner (both hacking and seemingly romantic) has more or less been working for the bad guys too; even if he didn’t know it. A familiar face pops up in the final third of the season, Cheng Zhi and stirs up plenty of shit for Jack to deal with, kidnapping poor Audrey and maliciously bringing China and and the US to the brink of war.

The Al-Harazi plot feels like nothing compared to the scope of danger that is created when Zhi hits the scene. In the history of the show, there has been some ridiculously high stakes, but this one definitely deserves it’s place up there with the highest. For Jack, stopping Zhi is not only for the good of his country, but it’s also very, very personal. Zhi had both Jack and Audrey captured and tortured years before, and for Jack, revenge is  the only thing on his mind. In the season’s saddest and maybe even most shocking turn of events, Audrey is killed at the hands of Zhi’s henchmen and when Jack hears word of this, he goes into all-out commando mode. The finale is one of the best we’ve seen on 24, and the action in the second half of the episode is utterly exhilarating. It’s great to see Jack doing what he does best; kick ass, and he really does it in style. The technicality of these action scenes must be commended too. Again, it’s up there with the best action the show has ever produced. As expected, Jack finally captured Zhi, and after ensuring that the country is safe, he slices his head off with a sword. Badass. In one final twist (literally in the last five minutes of the episode), Chloe has been captured by the Russians, and Jack makes a trade with them; her life for his. It’s a brave, unselfish move by Jack, and we’ve come to expect nothing less than him. Now that Audrey is dead, Chloe really might be the only friend he has left, and as he flies off in that helicopter with the Russians, we wonder if we’ll ever hear from him again. If this really is it for Bauer, at least it’s good to see him go out on a high note. 

Despite a rocky enough start in the first couple of episodes, Live Another Day quickly found it’s footing, and with a lot of help from fan favourites (O’Brian, Audrey, Heller) and some genuinely great additions to the cast (Kate Morgan) it turned out to be a lot better than most of us had expected. The emotion, action and suspense were all there and despite some predictable plot twists (the mole), there were enough surprises and new ideas to make it feel fresh. Jack Bauer has survived another day, and I for one, am very grateful for that. 

Divine, the premier 300lbs drag icon of the 1970s and ‘80s, was certainly the most shock-inducing performer of his time. Now, almost three decades after his death, he’s at it again with his most surprising role of all: the subject of a sweet and sentimental documentary. After a release that basically was restricted to a few film festivals, Jeffrey Schwartz’s documentary I Am Divine has finally been released to the public via Netflix.

The documentary details how Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead, a chubby closeted teenager with a predictably bland high school sweetheart, evolved into the infamous flamboyant drag queen under the influences of LSD and Baltimore’s most famous weirdo-slash-director John Waters. Though one of the last to enter the scene, Divine was the central figure of Waters’ gang of freaks. The group, who came to be known as the Dreamlanders after Waters’ Dreamland Productions, consisted of some of the scummiest actors and filmmakers on the Eastern Seaboard. The most infamous of the group were Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, and Mary Vivian Pierce, all of whom appeared in interviews for the documentary except for Lochary, who died of a PCP overdose in 1977. 

Schwartz tracks Divine’s career from its earliest stage as the twisted star of Waters’ first few movies. The most notable is 1972’s Pink Flamingos, in which Divine plays Babs Johnson, a woman from suburban Baltimore who has been deemed “The Filthiest Person Alive”. It was a radical role that launched Divine into the public consciousness, inevitably drawing ire from the mainstream and admiration from the progressive underground. However, Divine came to detest his status as a cult icon. He had hoped to be known as a character actor, not a drag queen, and felt that his acting wasn’t getting the respect that he had wanted. It wasn’t until his role as Edna Turnblad in Waters’ first hit movie, the original Hairspray, that he had begun to be recognised for his talent rather than his shock value. 

Immediately after Hairspray, Divine was invited to guest star on the sitcom Married… With Children as the character Uncle Otto, which would have been his first major male role. Schwartz hints at the tragedy of Divine’s death in the first scene of the movie, but it doesn’t do much to soften the blow. The night before he was to begin shooting for the show, Divine died in his sleep of a heart attack at the age of 42. His friends and family lament how he barely got to enjoy his long sought-after success, providing a minor resolution to the Divine Tragedy.

Schwartz does a masterful job of telling Divine’s story while also chronicling its social context. He depicts the truly revolutionary nature of Divine and Waters’ work and how they constantly evolved with the political and cultural atmosphere in order to break the rules in new ways. However, the story targets a very specific audience. It has a very intimate tone, as much of it is based on the memories of Divine’s friends and family, so it most likely will only appeal to people who were already fans. But while it may not attract a wide audience, it provides a much-needed sense of closure to Divine’s followers who are still in mourning.

Song of the Day

This new one from Catfish and the Bottlemen just adds to the list of impressive singles they’re firing out recently that will continue through to the release of their debut record The Balcony in September.
This one’s Cocoon.

There’s something awfully familiar about Joe, David Gordon Green’s latest. The dead-end town. The multiracial workforce. The troubled boy and troubled father figures. The subplot revolving around a pet dog. But that’s not a bad thing. All of these elements can be found in Green’s incredible 2000 debut George Washington, a film that, for many of the filmmaker’s fans, was beginning to look like a distant memory. 

George Washington earned praise for its understated drama, mesmerising visuals and powerful performances from its young, multiracial cast. The young filmmaker even earned comparisons to lyrical auteur and fellow Texan Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven). Malick must have taken notice of these plaudits, serving as a producer on Green’s third effort, Undertow. Unlike his debut and sophomore films, however, Undertow received a lukewarm reception from critics. 

It was at this point that Green’s career took a remarkable U-turn. I don’t think I’ve seen one quite like it since. Green followed up the southern gothic tale Undertow with a move towards the mainstream, directing the entertaining stoner comedy Pineapple Express. A far cry from his earlier pictures, Pineapple Express was welcomed as an interesting change in pace, a successful display of the director’s versatility. Green always did have a goofy streak. It’s probably why he’s so good at directing young actors. However, the novelty of this new direction didn’t last.  

Until recently, Green has stuck with comedy, first making fantasy film parody Your Highness and then following that with childcare comedy The Sitter. Audiences and critics were left underwhelmed. But with Joe, it appears that Green has come full-circle and returned to the themes and ideas that preoccupied him in the first place. 

Joe tells the story of Gary (Tye Sheridan), a fifteen-year-old who has moved into town with his dirt-poor family, including his alcoholic father (Gary Poulter). Looking for work Gary stumbles upon a group of men poisoning trees. It’s here that he meets Joe (Nicolas Cage), the leader of the workforce, who offers him a job and an escape from his father. Their lives soon become intertwined. 

There’s a lot to recognise from Green’s earlier films, but Joe doesn’t feel like a lazy rehash of old material. It feels like a return to form. Older and wiser, Green takes one of the central themes of his debut, the difficult relationship between adolescent boys and their unstable father figures, and reconsiders it from a different perspective. Twelve-year-old Nasia’s cryptic narration that held together George Washington’s narrative is gone (it feels a little derivative of Linda Manz’s in Days Of Heaven, anyway). This time around Green sees things from a paternal point of view, mainly taking the form of Joe. 

Known for his manic performances, Cage plays this one with a little more restraint though the darker impulses that inflect his best work are always bubbling below the surface, erupting in sudden moments of brutal violence. The role balances Cage’s craziness with a subtlety that he is often guilty of lacking. The film’s finest turn, however, comes from first-timer Poulter who plays Wade, Gary’s abusive father. In a disturbing breakdown of the boundary between character and performer, Poulter, too, suffered from alcoholism and bouts of homelessness. Green’s casting crew found him sleeping rough on the streets of Austin, Texas. I’m undecided as to whether I think Poulter’s casting was inspired or exploitative. What is true is that he quite literally gives the role his all, lending the film a disturbing sense of unpredictability. 

Poulter’s face is a story in itself. The lines and crevices seem to tell of a lifetime of bad decisions, run-ins with the law, relationships damaged beyond repair. His wild white hair and unkempt beard make him the perverse double of Cage’s Joe, one long past redemption. Now more monster than man. It’s a chilling performance. 

Tragically, Poulter’s first role is also his last. In February of 2013, not long after the production of Joe was wrapped, he was found drowned in Lady Bird Lake, Austin, fallen victim to the demons that made his performance so harrowing. 

Joe stands, then, not only as a reminder of the talent of its director and lead actor, but also as a glimpse of a talent that sadly never had the opportunity to flourish.

I’m the best rapper, definitely top five.
If these other rappers think they’re better, they’re f*cking not alive.
I cut their head off, that’s every rapper living.
That’s Kendrick. That’s Drake. That’s ScHoolboy. That’s everyone.
I don’t give a f*ck, I’ll kill n*ggas.

This n*gga think he Drake. Nah, I ain’t Drake.
I sing better, I do better, my sh*t wetter.

At a recent gig in Sydney, Donald “Childish “Troy Barnes” Gambino” Glover staked his claim for contemporary rap greatness. As much as we love Gambino, this ain’t exactly "Control" in terms of statements of intent.

The first How To Train Your Dragon is an animation classic. No one can dispute that. Adapted from a relatively obscure series of children’s novels, it was released in 2010 to near universal acclaim from audiences, garnering two Oscar nominations and becoming Dreamworks’ highest regarded film in a decade (stripping Chicken Run of the title), as well as the great honour of being one of the few films to ever make me cry (joining the illustrious company of My Dog Skip, The Road and The Elephant Man). Basically it’s bloody great and has a permanent place in my cinematic heart… but alas this fervent fandom probably set How To Train Your Dragon 2 up to fail.

That’s not to say it doesn’t retain some of the magic and wonder of its predecessor. The Viking/Dragon world is still as breathtakingly realised as last time, the score is once again excellent, the character design of the dragon hordes is some of the most imaginative you’re likely to see in a major studio picture, Toothless remains the most adorable creature ever committed to film, and the friendship between him and Hiccup is the most potent and reliable heartstring-puller around (there’s some extra emotional beats thrown in which prove incredibly effective - that blind dragon had me feeling things). But away from these already established elements, it feels quite a bit undercooked, with the plot jumping from point to point as if it’s not quite sure which one to commit to. You get all the important character beats built up from the first film as the sponge of this cake, but the story the script and the new characters are a pallid, unappetising icing on top, which barely covers the whole thing.

By now, everyone knows the big reveal, and if you don’t, you’re best looking away… Hiccup finds his long-lost mother Volka, presumed dead for his entire life, to be living on an isolated utopia as a Viking hippie, a Jane Goodall for dragons in the mist. The scene that serves as the introduction of Volka in her masked splendour is superb, and had it not been ruined by its constant use in trailers and TV spots, it would perhaps be one of my favourite scenes of the year. But her big reveal being spoiled is not the only disservice done to Volka. She unfortunately follows the increasing trend of strong female characters being used to further the male hero’s journey before being cast to the wayside. It’s happened so often recently, from The Lego Movie, to The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, to Star Trek Into Darkness, Oblivion and Edge Of Tomorrow; fascinating female characters are built up, given agency and their own arcs, only to become love interests, sex objects or existing solely to serve the male hero’s development and motivation; in this case, Volka exists to give Hiccup a few rote motivational speeches at key points, and that’s it. She even steps aside from a fight with the villain to let her estranged husband take him on, despite the film informing us she’s more than adequately handled various assaults over two decades on her own. It feels like a betrayal of what we’d expect and a complete waste of Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning talents on a disappointing character. You’d like to think if the filmmakers had followed their original plan of using Volka as a conflicted antagonist, she may have gotten a better shrift, but then you see how underdeveloped Drago Bludvist (a nominee for worst villain name of the year) turned out to be and you wonder if the grass would really be greener. 

Speaking of Drago, it’s a little off-putting that the first and only major character of colour seen in the franchise happens to be an unreasonable, maniacal, murderous, dragon-abusing warlord. Full credit to Djimon Honsou giving a good showing in the recording booth, but it’s just uncomfortable seeing an ambiguously brown antagonist (with a potentially interesting backstory unfortunately ignored) being fought off by a whiter-than-white-bread cast of good guys. Good guys like the now seemingly typecast Kit Harrington, who proves himself to be as dull and wooden an animated character as he does a flesh & blood one, although at least his Eret, Son Of Eret provides some laughs via his bulging biceps.

I’ll be honest, despite being the main character and central to the whole franchise, Jay Baruchel really detracts from How 2. His nasally voice works in live-action, when he’s playing a slimy corporate PR as in Robocop, or a amiable stoned slacker, as in most other things; hell, even in the first film, this helped reinforce Hiccup’s youth, naiveté and inexperience. But now, the character is a “dragon master”, a swashbuckling adventurer and future chief of his clan, as well as being Neville Longbottom’d into a handsome young man, yet he still sounds like he’s on the receiving end of a dozen wedgies a day, and one scare away from wetting his riding britches. It’s frustrating that Baruchel’s range doesn’t extend to the more mature plot elements that the film broaches, albeit very clumsily in passing.

However, for these disappointing misses, there’s still a wave of hits and some of that original charm left over to keep the franchise afloat for the third instalment in two years time. And no doubt, that one will keep up the tradition and make me cry too.

Listen: Nai Harvest - Buttercups: The Sheffield lads just keep getting better. With a busy year of dropping the Hold Open My Head EP, and re-issuing their 2013 debut album Whatever, Nai Harvest have unveiled “Buttercups”, a new single taken from their upcoming Flower split EP with Playlounge (available from Dog Knights Productions). It’s yet another step away from the spindly emo which shaped their early stuff, moving towards a gloriously melodic and fuzzy alt-rock sound. It’s the kind of song to make you nostalgic for idyllic summer days on the beach with friends, which never really happened. A whole album of this would probably be the best rock record to come out of the UK in a long while, and the duo are certainly capable of it.

The UK has a tonne of pop-punk, post-hardcore and “real emo” bands to fill small venues with kids sing-shouting the lyrics. Seriously, it’s kind of “our thing”. Do you like Neck Deep, dude? Do you like my Honour Over Glory beanie? Its rad, mandude. Yeah, you get the picture.

Still, even though there is an entire wave of almost identical bands, every plaid-clad boy and girl shed a little tear when Basement broke up. Why, you ask? It probably had something to do with the heartfelt lyrics, which reflected a menagerie of problems associated with “growing up” (whatever that is; as emotionless review writing software programmed into Tumblr, I have experienced no such thing). The indie loving music snobs could dig ‘em, too, due to their fucking sweet guitar sound that seemed to take more from early alternative rock than any of their contemporaries, and the song-writing was a lot more subtle than many of the bands that they played with.  They, along with Title Fight, represented something I like to call “respectable pop-punk”. You know, stuff that ticks all of the pop-punk boxes, but is ok to like because The Needle Drop said it was cool. That kind of thing.

Of course, after being gone for only just under 2 years, the world rejoiced when they came back to life, announcing a tour, and this here EP. While it’s fair to mock the histrionics that surrounded their short departure and almost immediate return, it has to be said – it’s good to have them back.

They pick up almost immediately where they left off with their last album, Colourmeinkindness. The EP kicks off with a typically mid-paced track in “Summer’s Colour”. The song kicks off with fuzzed out Dinosaur Jr-ish guitars, before pleasant, chilled out vocals take control of the rest of the track. Overall, there’s nothing to be wowed about, and it’s a bit of a wonder why they chose this to be the opener, and the single that they released prior to this EP. Still, the familiarity in the sound gives you enough sentimentality to forgive them for the track’s averageness.

Things finally kick into gear with the slightly more upbeat “Jet”. The track bounces along on choppy guitars and cryptic and typically wistful lyrics, before pausing briefly to employ “oohs” taken directly from Brian Wilson’s songbook. It’s a track that certainly lives up to anything from their full-lengths, and serves as a reminder as why their song-writing stood out in a scene that was too happy to replicate the straight forward verse-chorus-verse format.

The final track is a cover of Suede’s “Animal Nitrate”, which is fairly disappointing given that we’ve just gone through a drought of Basement material, and even just one new jam would have been greatly appreciated. Luckily, the band tackle it with aplomb. They don’t change much from the original, but it still seems to fit seamlessly into the catalogue, thanks to the swirling melodies on the fuzzed out guitars and the unlucky-in-love lyrics.

Ultimately, while it’s always good to have the sound of new Basement in your life, with this three track EP containing on track that sounds like an average album cut, and another that is a cover of a Britpop song, it proves to be something of a disappointment. Hopefully this is just a stopgap before they release a full-length.

Sunday Song of the Day

Family of the Year are one of the loveliest bands around and that’s not up for debate. This track’s their new single (in the UK, it’s been out in the US for about 11 months) and it shows their more tender, human side.
Go on, sit out in the sun and listen to this when you feel relaxed.