Monthly Archives: April 2016

High Rise

high rise kaleidoscope posterBefore watching this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise, all I knew of director Ben Wheatley was, by way of reputation, that he is the kind of filmmaker to not flinch away from things either visually or conceptually. After watching High Rise, I can certainly confirm that holds true.

Set in a near-future mid-1970s the film follows Laing (Tom Hiddleston) upon his arrival in a newly built, state of the art, high-rise apartment block through to an arguably abstract conclusion that is hinted at in the film’s opening scene. In this scene we see a blood stained Hiddleston stalking the corridors of the flat-block and apparently relaxing on his balcony despite the suggested chaos surrounding him.

While I’m not familiar with the book I am, again, aware of Ballard by reputation and his science fiction based explorations of the extremes of human nature and generally negative changes in ongoing human society. Wheatley’s High Rise fits this perfectly and Hiddleston is the eye of this particular storm.

While the film does tell a story it is at times fairly lose with jumps in events occurring with seemingly no rhyme or reason but serving to develop what is its main aspect, an atmosphere of sheer unease that pervades everything.

Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston

At first things seem relatively naturalistic as we meet Laing and various of his neighbours from the upper-middle class Charlotte (Sienna Miller), to the more working class Wilder (Luke Evans) and his family to the tower’s architect, Royal, (Jeremy Irons) who suitably lives in the penthouse with his distant wife and a horse.

This class divide is something that runs through the whole film and, while it clearly comes from a place reflecting its original 1970s setting, it still rings true now, especially as it looks at how the supposed upper classes use those ‘beneath’ them to distract from what they are doing and how decadent and corrupt they are. That is to simplify things a bit, but Wheatley paints a condensed picture of this real world dynamic excellently.

The way the uneasy atmosphere develops pulls in all aspects of the film from the script and performance to music, design and editing reminding me in many ways of how Stanley Kubrick would use the film as a whole giving the sense that everything that we experience is intentionally there and not left to chance.

Luke Evans

Luke Evans

Particularly impressive here is the soundtrack that switches from various covers of ABBA (including an amazing version of SOS from Portishead) to deep soundscapes that do a great job of unsettling the viewer as the film escalates.

Along with Hiddleston’s Laing, Evan’s Wilder is a cornerstone of the film and gives a performance that starts out like something from a 70s cop show and grows into something brutally visceral, acting as something of a counterpoint to Laing.

Aside from the bigger names High Rise features a host of recognizable performers some of whom stand out by being almost a part of the unsettling atmosphere as much as they are characters in their own right. In particular Reece Shearsmith’s sadistic dentist Steele (like Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors but with a serious bureaucratic coldness) and Louis Suc as Charlotte’s son Toby who appears to have more of an idea of what’s going on than anyone else.

High Rise

The High Rise

As its goes on it becomes clear that High Rise is speaking in abstract terms as well as naturalistic ones and led to me questioning the source of the mania developing amongst the tower block’s inhabitants.

Like all the best unsettling films this is never wholly explained but various things are hinted at that left me wondering not just what the source would be but what that means in a wider sense away from the movie.

In the end High Rise is a lesson in just how to deliver an uncompromising vision in film in the most complete way I’ve seen in quite some time. It is at once brutal, visceral, disturbing and thought-provoking and has proved to me what everyone else seems to already know, that Wheatley (and his filmmaking partner Amy Jump) are possibly the best all round filmmakers working in Britain today.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam

Gilliamesque book coverOf all the men who made up Monty Python the one who certainly most struck me as most interesting was Terry Gilliam. Known for his work on the animations that linked their sketches (along with often being ‘the other one’ in the sketches) he has gone on to be a revered filmmaker in his own right, including making one of my all time favourites, Brazil, but he is one of the few people in the public eye and in his 70s of whom you hear little beyond his work.

Well after reading Gilliamesque, his autobiography, it’s clear why as he remains, in his own way, a very down to earth soul.

The main gist of the book is exactly what you’d expect, charting Gilliam’s life from his youth in Minnesota and California through formative experiences at university (surprisingly on a religious scholarship) and onto his work for various publications before achieving wider notoriety with the Pythons and beyond.

As with the best memoirs it is very easy to fall into reading this in Gilliam’s own voice and it sheds a lot of light on his life while never straying into any kind of sensationalism or slagging that, given his relationship with Hollywood over the years, one imagines could precipitate.

Terry GilliamDivided loosely into the stages of his life revolving around his career it offers insights on all sides of thing while leaving enough mystery to maintain one of the things that makes Gilliam’s work so appealing – quite how all of this fantastic imagery and spirit is contained within one person.

So we get nice stories about the interplay of the Pythons, what it was like meeting and working with Hunter S. Thompson and how it feels having a film literally washed away from you on the set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and figuratively on The Brothers Grimm and we get glimpses into his personal life and astonishingly active mental condition.

While Gilliam’s story is fascinating and engaging what makes this book quite so special is its presentation. At a ‘coffee table’ kind of size it is itself a Gilliamesque work of art, from the almost Joker like repeated ‘Me Me Me…’ around the sides to the new and archive artwork on nearly every page this is as much a visual story as a written one.

Along with the words this charts his life from early drawings and sketches to the airbrush work for magazines that led into the cut and paste animation style of Monty Python and on into the exquisite, eccentric, design work of his films from Jabberwocky and Time Bandits up to The Zero Theorem.

Terry Gilliam

Gilliam in 1970

While most of the subjects only have short parts (there’s a lot to fit in) it means the book flies along but is none the less engaging and interesting and in combination with the artwork makes it a must for any fan of Gilliam’s work or, really, anyone with an interest in his artistic style. The fact it also charts a life that could only have happened in the second half of the twentieth century just adds an extra layer and, at times, gives it a tone a kin to the work of the Beat writers of the 1950s.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

NXT Greatest Matches blu-rayOver the last four years NXT, WWE’s ‘super-indie’ (to quote Jim Smallman of Progress Wrestling and the Tuesday Night Jaw podcast), has gone from being a training ground for stars of the future to one of the most respected and interesting wrestling brands or promotions in its own right.

Taking a lot of the conventions of the independent wrestling scene and marrying it to WWE’s big budget look and highly formatted approach has created something different to both, that now not only allows new WWE performers to learn their craft but is providing a new route for already established indie stars to transition to the somewhat different ‘WWE style’ of wrestling and (whisper it) sports entertainment.

With all that in mind WWE have put out a DVD/Blu-ray collection of highlight matches charting NXT’s development from the crowning of their first champion in August 2012 to their Takeover: Respect event in October 2015. Most sets like this WWE release would be described as a mixed bag, but here is a solid collection of more than 8 hours at least good and predominantly pretty great matches, as has become NXT’s stock in trade.

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

The first disc charts the brands evolution from internet based show watched by a handful through the arrival of the WWE Network and up beginnings of NXT’s evolution into its own entity.

So we see a few matches from Seth Rollins that show just why he was to become the star he now he is. His championship match with Big E Langston may be the better of the two here but the tournament final for the first championship with Jinder Mahal is, of course, the more historically significant.

With this we also see Bray Wyatt, before he made it to the ‘main roster’, in a match with Chris Jericho that is again interesting. Notable in these early matches is the commentary team led by ‘JR’ Jim Ross and often featuring William Regal, that is exceptional and really serves to elevate and highlight all the performers strong points – if only the commentary on Monday Night Raw and the monthly WWE specials would do the same!

One of the most talked about early NXT matches, that set the reputation not only for the brand but for one its stars who came in from the indies is included, as Sami Zayn (who some say previously performed under a mask as El Generico) goes to war with Antonio Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that is fantastic.

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

Zayn is the performer who’s path most tracks alongside NXT’s so we see him develop with his journey to the NXT championship in a classic against Adrian Neville and the renewal of his storied feud with Kevin Owens in a brutal show stealer. As I write this Zayn’s time in NXT has recently culminated with a match destined for Volume 2 of this collection (should it happen) as he tore the house down in Dallas against a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.

Alongside the story of Sami Zayn we get potentially the even more influential story of NXT, its Women’s Division. While WWE was still mostly focusing on models ‘wrestling’ under the banner Divas, NXT was breaking this mold with some of the best female wrestlers in the world, including one as their lead trainer, leading to the revolution of the form that has come to the main shows at with the return of the WWE Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania 32.

Here we get the beginnings of this with Paige and Emma clashing for the NXT Women’s Championship followed by the emergence of the ‘Four Horsewomen of NXT’ Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley (the last of which is essentially a female Sami Zayn within NXT).

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

Disc one features classics pitting Charlotte against Natalya Neidhart and the Horsewomen squaring off in a Fatal-4-Way match for the championship, before on the second disc we see the Sasha Banks and Bayley feud highlighted with their show stealing performance from Takeover: Brooklyn that even eclipsed that night’s main event between indie heroes Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set sees NXT grow into an internationally touring brand as we see the Florida based show move out to the Arnold Classic sports expo, Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, Beast in the East in Tokyo and Takeover: Brooklyn.

With this the third generation of stars come to the fore with Owens and Balor squaring off in a Japanese classic, Hideo Itami showing his credentials in San Jose and the aforementioned face off between Sasha Banks and Bayley in Brooklyn.

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

As well as the string of great matches we get an insight into the show from not only the wrestlers but the man leading the show, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and heir apparent to the WWE as a whole, Triple H, aka Paul Levesque.

These are an interesting set of largely out of character talking heads that shed a light on the organic approach taken to NXT’s development and the apparent surprise and genuine appreciation for its growing popularity.

Notable here as well is the respect shown to the late Dusty Rhodes who seemed to steer the NXT ship in its early days and lay a lot of the groundwork for what it is now. As a parting gift from The American Dream, they don’t come much better or more suitable given his long-held hard-working, common man character.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

The Blu-ray comes with five bonus matches which, while more curios than essentials, are all at least very good and its nice to see CM Punk and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero) featured given their less than great relationships with WWE today and the chance to see Corey Graves in the ring before his concussion issues is also appreciated.

While many of the matches contained here are available on the WWE Network, what this collection does, and does well, is present a potted history of NXT and its best moments in one easy to find place. Along with that are the early matches not currently available elsewhere which make this a real must own for fans of the brand, and especially fans of British wrestler William Regal as his last televised match (a stormer with Antonio Cesaro) is also included.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Robert J. Hunter, Tadhg Daly and Gregory Harrison – The Fermain Tavern – 16/04/16

The Robert J. Hunter Band

The Robert J. Hunter Band

Following The Recks’ mini-tour of the Channel Islands last summer, Stoked Music once again organised a series of events last weekend to help Jersey’s Tadhg Daly promote the release of his and his bands debut EP, Taghazout, and give Robert J. Hunter and his band a chance to make their Jersey debut and play an (almost) hometown show.

After packing out the Havanna in Jersey on Friday with support from Kilig & Fernweh, Robert and Tadhg’s bands made their way over to The Fermain Tavern in Guernsey on Saturday with Gregory Harrison opening the show.

Throughout his performance Harrison seemed more relaxed than I have previously seen which made for a much more engaging performance of his already great songs. While still not a gregarious stage presence he engaged most in the small audience who had turned out early purely through his music which built more and more as the set went on.

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

Demons, the lead track from his recently released EP, rounded off the set and was, if anything, even more impressive than in the past with its mix of dark, enthralling lyrics delivered in Greg’s signature rich tone, and some astonishing acoustic guitar playing.

Reversing the line up from the previous night Tadhg Daly and his band were up next and started out with a few of the more alternative-acoustic songs that first made their mark on local audiences. Highlight amongst these was the comparatively sprawling single, Learn To Live, that is an impressive piece of work, particularly live.

The rest of the set drew on newer material that has a more indie blues vibe with hints of 70s rock thrown in. Highlights of this include lead track from the Taghazout EP, Control Yourself, and the set closer that saw the band let loose somewhat and play with a real passion and conviction.

Tadhg Daly

Tadhg Daly

Elsewhere, though the songs and playing was certainly all good, a combination of distant delivery, repeated pleas for the growing audience to dance and lengthy breaks between tracks, sapped the set of the energy it really needed.

As the Robert J. Hunter band took to the stage, the now reasonable (if not huge) audience came forward and it was clear who they’d come to see, and thankfully the band didn’t disappoint.

From the off they played with a real power and vitality that has, if anything, grown even more since I last saw them combining great playing and some cracking songs with a real sense of performance and some snappy outfits.

The Robert J. Hunter Band

The Robert J. Hunter Band

While James Le Huray and Greg Sheffield (on bass and drums respectively) certainly play and perform well, Hunter himself has really come into his own as a frontman, aping the likes of Wilko Johnson with his moves, while his voice is better than ever and his playing is just flat-out impressive.

Across the set the band’s songs had a real dynamic so there were rhythm and blues stompers, ballads, funk and some really deep and dark stuff on offer that kept the crowd interested and involved throughout and packed to the front by the end.

Rounding off the set with a storming encore and with the crowd still calling for more if this turns out to be the band’s only performance in the islands this year (as they suggested it might) it was certainly one worth seeing and demonstrated their continued growth that surely is going to be hard to ignore as they continue to spread their wings.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Robyn Sherwell – Self-titled

Robyn Sherwell album coverAfter five years work Robyn Sherwell released her debut album as the culmination of a UK tour in late March 2016.

In 2015 Sherwell gained mainstream recognition following the release of her Islander EP, including sessions with Jo Wiley on BBC Radio 2, an appearance on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury and her take on Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide being used on the trailer to the movie Suffragette.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 16th April 2016:

Robyn Sherwell review scan - 16:04:16

Tagged , , , ,

The Electric Shakes – Stereotypical Girls

The Electric Shakes - Stereotypical GirlsThere are some bands for whom the expression ‘more of the same’ would be a bad thing, then there are bands like Motorhead, AC/DC and, you can add to that list, The Electric Shakes as they release the follow-up to their self-titled debut album, three track single, Stereotypical Girls.

Ok, so it’s not entirely true that it’s exactly more of the same but, much like the other bands mentioned above, The Electric Shakes deliver straight forward rock ‘n’ roll with their own spin, in this case a 60s garage vibe tinged with a 70s punk spirit.

Lead track Stereotypical Girls takes a knowing look at the sort of young ladies you see out on the town of a weekend and rings remarkably true. Really though, like all three tracks, what really makes the song is the driving garage rock that is full of groove and beat and I would defy anyone to not, at the very least, nod their head as it plays.

All three tracks are staples of the band’s live set but on record They Won’t Believe Us and Turn It Over Now do feel strongly like B-sides, though they keep the head nodding action going strong even if they are slightly less engaging than the opener.

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

Recorded by Ed Deegan at Gizzard Studios, his classic vintage style suits the band’s sound and manages to evoke the same styles as their music while capturing a hint of their live energy.

While Stereotypical Girls isn’t quite as strong a release as their debut it shows The Electric Shakes doing what they do best and if you even get a vague idea that this might be for you after a listen, I’d recommend catching the band live as that is where they really excel and you can hear these songs as they were meant to be.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Various Artists – Jonah Beats

Jonah Beats album coverA few weeks ago I published my review of the Jonah Beats mini-festival that happened on the first weekend of March at the Vale Castle, along with the launch of the compilation album that was put together to coincide with it all raising money for the Helping Jonah – Helping Others charity.

Well, here now is my review of that album featuring a host of Guernsey and Guernsey related artists spanning genres from folk to doom metal and pretty much everything in between.

You can get the album physically at The Golden Lion or Kendall Guitars in Guernsey or listen and download through Bandcamp.

The review was first published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 9th April 2016.

Jonah Beats CD review scan 09:04:16

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tadhg Daly – Taghazout

Tadhg Daly - TaghazoutOver the last few years I’ve followed singer-songwriter Tadhg Daly and his band (originally called The Five Mile Road, in reference to their home island’s famous surf spot) from their origins in Jersey as a grunge and alt-folk tinged indie band through the release of their debut single Learn To Live in 2014 and now onto the release of their first EP, Taghazout.

The EP has two rather distinct sides to it with the first and third tracks and the second and fourth sharing a similar feeling.

Lower The Sound opens the record in brooding fashion, building both structurally and emotionally from groovy organ sounds to acoustic and electric guitars and finally the full band with a reverb heavy electric guitar solo soaring over it all. Third track, Don’t Tell Me, shares many similarities to this showing the darker, more introspective, side of Tadhg’s style.

Control Yourself and Without You I’m Alone, meanwhile, add a bluesy feel to the sound, stemming from the band’s past grungy tones. On these Daly seems to be channeling another Channel Islands’ export to the UK, Alderney’s Robert J. Hunter, in his vocal tones – albeit with his own, slightly more subtle, less all out anguished, twist.

Tadhg Daly

Tadhg Daly

All four tracks feel produced and polished to perfection and, in some ways, this is one of the downfalls of the EP. With this production style on songs of this nature, it feels they’ve lost something of the heart that I can hear in the lyrics or just below the surface within Daly’s performance.

On top of this the overlaying of backing vocals on each track, while at times well used, feels a little overdone, often overriding Daly’s own performance in a way that makes me wonder if there was a lack of confidence in the accessibility of his voice (something I can’t see at all).

As a whole Taghazout has something of the feel of a soundtrack to a hangover, or at least a Sunday morning feeling. With a slow building start leading to a mellow but brooding nature with deep thoughts overlaid on modern blues music that feels on the verge of emotionally breaking down though never quite stepping over that boundary. While it may not be perfect, as a first EP it showcases Tadhg Daly in a way that is at once accessible and hints at a deeper, darker, side to both his songwriting and performance.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

WrestleMania 32 – Dallas, Texas – 03/04/16

wrestlemania 32 logoSince I first started watching pro-wrestling in 1992, following the then WWF’s SummerSlam at Wembley (before this weekend their highest ever legitimate live attendance of around 80,000) the ‘sport’ has had its ups and downs.

WrestleMania 32 comes at something of a transitional time for the WWE in particular, but also comes when the company is arguably the biggest it’s ever been.

In 1993, for WrestleMania IX, the ‘show of shows’ was a three-hour long, pay-per-view event featuring a string of single and tag team matches and the odd celebrity appearance. Now, in 2016 WrestleMania 32 lasts, all told, the best part of a week if you include all the side events from the Axxess fan festival, to NXT Takeover and the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.

Meanwhile the main show itself is a seven-hour marathon, if you include the ‘Kickoff’ show, with matches, celebrities (in and out of the ring), musical performances and more all in front of (allegedly) 101,763 people.

Kickoff Show

Wrestlemania 32 kickoff panel

The kickoff panel

The pre-show itself was, for the most part, as expected with Renee Young (currently one of WWE’s finest presenting talents) chairing a panel of ‘legends’, Booker T, Lita and Corey Graves, discussing and hyping the matches to come.

Out of the ring the highlights of the pre-show came, somewhat predictably, from promo masters Paul Heyman and Kevin Owens.

Heyman’s slightly creepy, supremely arrogant ‘advocate’ character really came to the fore in an online Q&A segment, while Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owen made everyone in the upcoming seven man ladder match sound good while maintaining his not to be messed with, out their to win at all costs, persona.

WWE United States Championship
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback

Kalisto and Ryback

Kalisto and Ryback

Coming out in the face of a not even half full arena (reports suggest getting in was a slow process) defending champion Kalisto still got a decent recent and the match itself started out with some good big man/small man psychology between the two competitors.

As always it wasn’t long before Ryback was doing some dangerous looking throws on the much smaller luchadore before we cut to an advert for WrestleMania – this felt fairly pointless as everyone watching this match would be doing on a platform already showing the main show, anyway, back to the fight.

After some back and forth and nice moves from Kalisto, Ryback hit a brutal but nice looking running Michinoku Driver before a stalling vertical superplex got reversed for a near fall.

Ryback hits a Michinoku Driver

Ryback hits a Michinoku Driver

At this point new play-by-play man Mauro Ronallo mentioned that Kalisto’s tights were designed in tribute to Japanese legend Hayabusa, which was a nice touch and shows Ronallo’s ability to make even minor factors sound interesting and relevant.

The match ended with a nice little sequence involving Ryback hitting an exposed turnbuckle and falling into Kalisto’s Solida Del Sol finisher giving the champion the win.

While nothing special the match exceeded my expectations and was a solid start to the show with a feel-good finish with the Lucha Dragon retaining his title against all the odds.

Total Divas vs. Team B.A.D. & Blonde

Natalya and Paige hit the Hart Attack

Natalya and Paige hit the Hart Attack

Despite all the talk of the ‘Divas revolution’ since last summer this ’10 Diva tag team match’ felt like something of a throwback with a few able wrestlers teaming alongside glorified fashion models.

The match started out relatively flat until a nice Hart Attack from Paige and Natalya and Emma coming in against Paige and delivering a nice wheelbarrow suplex before the standard spot of everyone hitting their signature moves.

Here it became obvious that Lana (the ‘Ravishing Russian’) was only being trusted to hit a version of Rusev’s jumping superkick and Eva Marie, despite being put on the face team, was still receiving the levels of negative crowd response she always has.

I’m going to try to avoid so-called ‘political’ talk where possible, but the case of the hate for Eva from large sections of the crowd is representative of a problem, to which there are certainly two sides, seen across this show and, as a fan, I can’t help but feel I’m being driven away from the product by some of this.

A fitting send off for Brie Bella?

A fitting send off for Brie Bella?

Back to the match and things culminated in a much better sequence between a genuinely fired up Brie Bella and Naomi finishing in Naomi tapping out to the Yes Lock.

After the match Brie’s injured sister Nikki came out and the Total Divas team celebrated with Brie and Nikki in particular sharing a moment that maybe the pair’s swansong in the ring.

While I’ve not always been their biggest fan, both had upped their game over the last year and it’s a shame to see them go, but, as ever a happy, healthy life should always be put above the damage that can be sustained in the wrestling ring.

Lita unveils the new Women's Championship

Lita unveils the new Women’s Championship

In a slightly related segment, that in many ways I hope will do away with matches like the one we’d just witnessed, WWE Hall of Famer Lita was in the ring to unveil the new WWE Women’s Championship belt which, it was announced, would be contested in the women’s match on the main show, replacing the Diva’s belt.

I’ll go into more detail later but this has been a change that’s been a long time coming and shows a lot more respect to the female wrestlers in WWE who over the last couple of years have reached impressive new highs, particularly following the lead of the Women’s Division in NXT.

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boys

The Dudleys and The Usos

The Dudleys and The Usos

Acting as the climax of what had felt like a fairly lackluster feud two teams of different eras clashed to round off the pre-show. The match started well with Bubba Ray Dudley in particular providing some highlights with his self commentated beat down on whichever of the Uso twins was in the ring. This is something Bubba has always excelled at and what has made this team one of the best bad guy duos of the last twenty years.

Unfortunately things didn’t go much further than that as, after a few superkicks (seemingly the only moves the Usos were allowed to do tonight) the match was over in barely five minutes. A post-match table spot looked good and popped the crowd for simply existing, but felt forced and what had been a feud without a lot of heat finished in the same way.

Dudleys go through the tables

Dudleys go through the tables

As the countdown clocked neared zero we got a final hype package for the night’s main event that actually did a decent job of making it a compelling story and, while it didn’t make me side with Roman Reigns, it got me more invested than I had been previously and set the scene well for what was to come. So now, after two hours of warm up, onto…

WrestleMania

After the customary America The Beautiful rendition, this year from Fifth Harmony (a girl group I’d never heard of and hope never to again, if I’m honest) we got a genuinely excellent opening video highlighting the history of WrestleMania that gave the event a genuine feel of heritage. Featured were Andre The Giant, Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Daniel Bryan giving a span of the modern era of wrestling and showing how tonight’s big matches fit in that context.

I love this kind of thing so was suitably hyped as we cut back to the arena and a ring surrounded by ladders so its time for…

WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust vs. The Miz vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara

Owens frog splashes Zayn

Owens frog splashes Zayn

Ziggler was out first to a big pop followed by Sami Zayn. His arrival and the crowd reaction was a genuine goosebump moment given his storied journey to the ‘grandest stage of them all’ and was matched only in this match by the reception afforded to Kevin Owens who has had a very similar path.

Throughout the match it was mostly the story of Zayn and Owens with things always seemingly defaulting back to the two facing off, though that’s not to say everyone else got their moments too.

As expected it was a spot-fest but all paid off well from Sami’s dive through the ladder to the outside to Ziggler’s ‘superkick party’, Stardust’s polka dot ladder (in tribute to his late father Dusty Rhodes), Owens’ huge frog splash and Zack Ryder’s even bigger ‘El-bro’ drop off the ladder.

The conclusion came when Sami and Owens fought themselves out of the match with a sick looking half-and-half suplex into a ladder that I worried had caused Owens a legitimate injury, before Zack Ryder provided the night’s first real shock by shoving Miz off the ladder and grabbing the belt to make a real WrestleMania moment.

Zack Ryder

Zack Ryder

Though clearly shocked, the crowd, who’d given Ryder a mixed response earlier, seemed to love it and, while I find it hard to see how this will fit into the bigger picture, I couldn’t be happier for Ryder who’s been one of the hardest working most overlooked performers for years, starting the night off on a feel-good high.

Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles

From fighting Shinsuke Nakamura (who debuted for NXT at Takeover the preceding Friday) at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January to debuting for the WWE at the Royal Rumble to now making his first appearance at WrestleMania, its been quite a year for ‘The Phenomenal One’ AJ Styles so far.

His feud with Chris Jericho has been going on since the Rumble and, while never white-hot, has had a nice build and both men are veterans and have had some good matches so, there was an expectation that this could be a show stealer.

Styles dives in a Jericho dropkick

Styles dives in a Jericho dropkick

Things started off with some good back and forth, albeit with a slightly slow pace, and as the match went on both guys hit their non-finishing signature spots and the crowd got hotter and hotter as this went on.

AJ provided the real high spots, as expected, with his springboard 450 splash, his selling on Jericho’s Codebreaker and his general style which nicely combines elements of the WWE style with things his time in Japan has added to that.

The end came, again as something of a surprise, as Jericho countered the Phenomenal Forearm into a Codebreaker leaving, for me, something of a sour taste to the match that I had assumed would be used to build Styles in the eyes of the more casual WWE fans.

That said the match as a whole was a good one and, if not an all out show stealer was one of the better offerings.

The New Day vs. The League of Nations

The New Day

The New Day

The last year has seen the WWE Tag Team Champions Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston, aka The New Day, grow and grow in popularity through a mix of comedy, in-ring skill and all round fun that makes the perfect package for WWE’s brand of sports entertainment.

So it was fitting that they were the first to receive a special entrance here as they emerged from a giant box of ‘Booty-Os’ cereal in Power Rangers style attire.

Suitably the somewhat lackluster heel faction, The League of Nations (who have the feel of four guys with nothing better to do rather than a real team) just walked to the ring as usual – though I will admit that they make a physically imposing line up.

Rusev superkicks Big E

Rusev superkicks Big E

The match itself was something of a scrappy six-man tag that felt odd given it included the tag team champions not defending on the biggest show of the year.

The New Day got their popular spots in early, highlighted by the delightfully silly ‘Unicorn Stampede’ complete with trombone accompaniment before things descended into ‘chaos’ including a nasty looking jumping superkick from Rusev to Big E that the cameras all but missed.

The conclusion came when King Barrett interfered, hitting a Bullhammer from the outside and Sheamus connected with his Brogue Kick for the seemingly meaningless win. In all, this match would have been a good match on Raw, but at WrestleMania fell short, until…

The Unicorn Stampede

The Unicorn Stampede

After the match Barrett cut a promo suggesting no three-man team could beat the League of Nations at which point Shawn Michaels music hit and he came out dressed to fight (for the first time since his retirement several years ago), he was followed by Mick Foley in semi-Cactus Jack gear and then the glass smashed and the crowd erupted for Stone Cold Steve Austin.

While a bit random all three men have strong ties with Dallas wrestling being from Texas or having wrestled at the Sportatorium for WCCW in the late 80s and they proceeded to ‘open a can of whoop ass’ (to steal a phrase) on the League of Nations before celebrating with The New Day. Suitably Austin didn’t get involved in the dancing, instead hitting a stunner on Xavier Woods before the Hall of Fame trio shared some beers in classic Stone Cold style.

Austin with the Stunner on Woods

Austin with the Stunner on Woods

This segment was all good fun but led to the problem that WWE often has with these things that it has rendered any threat or power the League of Nations may have had null and void and they have now been bested by a trio of retired performers.

I could go on at length about this but I have to say I enjoyed the segment for what it was but worry it will continue to affect WWE’s already challenged weekly shows by rendering a set of potentially top class heels as a comedy side-show.

So, with the undercard now well and truly out-of-the-way (with one arguable exception), its time for the first of four matches that feel like main events.

No Holds Barred Street Fight
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose

Ambrose gets thrown

Ambrose gets thrown

While this looked like a huge mismatch, given Lesnar’s ‘beast’ status, the build to the match felt like it could give Ambrose a chance based on his history as a hardcore wrestler and the nice touch of getting endorsements and ‘weapons’ from some hardcore legends like Mick Foley and Terry Funk.

With that in mind most of the body of the match had a good back and forth feel; Lesnar looked dominant with his suplexes and MMA style knee strikes, while Ambrose found moments to use kendo sticks and steel chairs (and a well-timed low blow) to fight back.

A nice spot in the middle of the match saw Ambrose counter Brock’s F-5 finisher into a version of his Dirty Deeds DDT onto a steel chair, but ultimately Lesnar proved too much to overcome.

Ambrose canes Lesnar

Ambrose canes Lesnar

Despite 13 suplexes, a gimmick that grown tired over the last year and half, the end of the match felt a bit sudden and incomplete once again leaving an up and coming performer loosing out in a way that seems to kill the momentum of both the performer and stories involved.

Tellingly it was at this point in the night I first thought the whole show seemed to have a very odd sense of the booking with good matches being left on down points and, judging by reactions both in the stadium and online, I wasn’t alone in this thought.

Its become tradition that, the night before WrestleMania, WWE celebrates heroes of the past at its Hall of Fame induction ceremony, at this point in the show they were introduced in the stadium and, while a mixed set, it felt like a good year for the Hall of Fame.

Sting

Sting

Stan Hansen and The Fabulous Freebirds were there representing Texas (though quite why Freebird Michael Hayes was wearing a bum bag is beyond me) while Snoop Dogg felt like an actually fitting inductee in the ‘celebrity wing’.

The headliner though was Sting, who got a big reaction and its good to see him getting honour that many thought he wouldn’t given his long time refusal to work with WWE.

WWE Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch

Sasha Banks with Snoop Dogg

Sasha Banks with Snoop Dogg

With the earlier announcement that this match would be to crown a new Women’s Champion and see the retirement of the Diva’s Title what already felt like one of the most anticipated matches on the show, went up yet another level.

For years WWE has insisted on calling its male wrestlers Superstars and its female wrestlers Divas. Understandably that has always felt like something of a gender imbalance and, given the recent resurgence in actual legitimate feeling women’s wrestling in NXT and creeping onto the main WWE shows, this imbalance has felt all the more pronounced.

This change though seems to suggest that WWE is now going to take this side of its product more seriously and, I for one, am hugely excited about this given the quality of matches that have been taking place over the last year. All three competitors here have featured in those matches and made their WrestleMania debuts here, giving this a real feeling of a milestone that was reflected in both the performances given and the audience’s response to it.

Charlotte goes for a moonsault

Charlotte goes for a moonsault

Given her history it was great to see Becky Lynch come out to a decent reaction even though she was clearly the biggest underdog in this match. Sasha Banks got a real WrestleMania entrance with her cousin Snoop Dogg joining her while Charlotte, accompanied by her father Ric Flair, also made this feel like a big match with a new robe made from one of Ric’s old ones giving an extra boost to the legacy feel of the match.

The match itself is probably the best women’s match ever to take place at WrestleMania as it opened with a series of quick near falls that set a hell of a pace. Throughout all three competitors delivered some inventive stuff and, for the most part, all three were involved throughout, rather than the more standard WWE triple threat match approach of a series of one on one moments.

All three took impressive dives to the floor with Sasha’s being particularly impressive. She also delivered a great frog splash to Charlotte in tribute to Eddie Guerrero (who she also referenced in the design of her ring gear) and, along with a series of traded submission holds got a ‘This is wrestling’ chant from the crowd who grew more and more engaged as the match went on.

Sasha hits a frog splash

Sasha hits a frog splash

The match built expertly to its climax which was, arguably, slightly spoilt by an interference spot from Ric Flair, giving the in to Charlotte. While that was a bit of a shame there wasn’t a clean winner I hope this sets up a dedicated feud between Charlotte and Sasha that could really cement the reputation of the new championship in the coming months.

At this point in the show this match stood out head and shoulders as match of the night with both the build and most of the execution out shining anything that had come before.

Hell in a Cell
The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon

The Undertaker

The Undertaker

With what can only be described as a slightly confusing build involving the return of the McMahon family soap opera that was headlining WrestleMania more than a decade ago, there was an odd feeling going into this match. But, it being Undertaker at WrestleMania and a Hell in a Cell match promised spectacle if nothing else – and in that regard it delivered.

The first part of the match told a good story of Shane’s speed against Undertaker’s power with strikes making up the bulk of it but a few of the Deadman’s power moves coming into play as well.

Following a spell on the outside to hype the danger of the cell Shane locked in a triangle hold in the ring leading to a nice Undertaker comeback and a chokeslam on the steel stairs for the first real ‘extreme’ moment of the match.

Shane locks in the triangle hold

Shane locks in the triangle hold

From here on it was all a bit spot to spot, but they were good spots building to a clear climax. First Shane hit his Coast To Coast, Van Terminator, dropkick to Undertaker before getting driven through the cell wall. From there the duo fought outside the cell leading to Taker driving Shane through the ill-fated Spanish Announce Table to counter a sleeper hold.

At this point it struck me that the now long-held rule about shot to the head with ‘weapons’ seemed to have been waived for this match, but actually most of the shots looked safe, though it’s still uncomfortable to see given the now more well-known concussion issues in the ‘sport’, but this was soon forgotten as Shane scaled the outside wall of the cell.

Over the years Mick Foley’s falls from the cell have become the stuff of legend, as has Shane McMachon’s penchant for ridiculous falls and spots in his matches but, for me, in 2016, I think wrestling has really moved beyond this.

Shane takes a dive

Shane takes a dive

That said there was a sense of anticipation for something to happen here and, while I wouldn’t really have though it missing had it not happened what came next really was hugely impressive, if scary, and shows an impressive dedication on the part of Shane – though I’m not sure if it’s through bravery or a special kind of stupidity.

So, from the top of the now much taller cell, Shane McMahon leapt, the Undertaker moved, and Shane crashed through the second announce table in a truly spectacular moment.

Inevitably this lead to the end of the match in not short order via a final Tombstone Piledriver back in the ring giving the Undertaker the win.

While the match was a fine spectacle, much like the Ambrose/Lesnar street fight, it left the whole thing feeling a little off as all the work and momentum spent in building up to this was cut off in its prime leaving many holes and questions to still be answered and making for an odd way to seemingly end the feud as neither McMahon or the Undertaker are likely to be back in the ring anytime soon.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Shaq and Big Show

Shaq and Big Show

Having been a staple of the lower card for the last two years it was a bit odd to see this match moved up to here, though I assumed it was to act as a less intense moment between the Hell in a Cell and the main event – in that I was only partially correct.

A group of the usual lower-mid card suspects made their way to the ring before bigger names Mark Henry, Kane and Big Show headed to the ring, along with surprise entrant/nostalgia act Diamond Dallas Page (though they should have given him a little pyro for his ‘Bang!’ at least).

At this point though things took a turn for the surreal, and not in a good way, as Shaquille O’Neill headed to the ring and squared off with Big Show.

Diamond Dallas Page

Diamond Dallas Page

While I’ve no real problem with celebrities at WrestleMania, its part of the show, having them in the ring is always a stretch and something like this can’t help but remind me of some of the biggest mistakes WCW made during their decline.

Thankfully this didn’t last two long as, after a bit a stare down and ‘choke off’ the two were eliminated by everyone else.

From there it was largely a nothing match of random guys being eliminated with no sense of story until the very end where NXT’s Baron Corbin eliminated Kane to get the win.

While I’m no fan of Corbin, for various reasons that are in fact similar to issues I have with Roman Reigns, it was good to see a new performer get the win which will hopefully help to elevate their worth and create something new on the main roster.

Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin

As a heel who’s done pretty much all he can on NXT (except learn how to put on a good match) he could be useful on the currently heel light main roster if that’s what this signifies – for me Samoa Joe replacing Corbin would have made more sense here, but that’s just me.

Now we come to the part of the show that I had enjoyed least and have the most problem with…

The Rock, The Wyatts and the return

After a brief burst of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (we were told they were world-renowned…) The Rock made his much hyped but, to be honest, not especially wanted return by posing on the stage for an age then setting fire to his name with a flame thrower and heading to the ring.

The Rock

The Rock

It was at this point the feeling that WrestleMania may have jumped the shark set in.

From there we got the usual Rock promo work which, while impressive how he works the crowd, has now been going on for more than 15 years as a gimmick and so is very past its sell by date in my opinion.

After announcing the supposed attendance record of the event a crack of light (or darkness) emerged as Bray Wyatt and his ‘family’ made their way to the ring with a breath-taking shot of the arena filled with Bray’s ‘fireflies’. A back and forth ensued before The Rock stripped off to his wrestling gear (I’m glad he was prepared for this surprise interruption) and beat Erick Rowan in six seconds.

The Wyatts and The Rock

The Wyatts and The Rock

A beatdown looked set to ensue before no one’s favourite hero John Cena made his return and he and Rocky fought off the Wyatt’s once again completely killing any threat for yet another group of potentially excellent heels in the name of nonsensical nostalgia.

There was a lot of interesting stuff that could have gone down here keeping The Rock as a popular character while elevating Wyatt, but that didn’t happen rendering it a really hard section of the show to take while killing any momentum that had been building as we head into…

WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns

Triple H and Roman Reigns

Triple H and Roman Reigns

After the same hype package from the pre-show we cut back to arena to see Stephanie McMahon dressed as a kind of warrior queen, matching Triple H’s King Conan-esque look and introducing her husband and champion with a rallying call for The Authority.

While ridiculous it matches their characters but with all the previous craziness of the show just added to the fever dream feeling.

Triple H himself (entering first, something a champion shouldn’t do) came to ring in surprisingly regular fashion despite the various accompaniments, and still looks the part of a champion as only he can.

Roman Reigns on the other hand was greeted by a deafening chorus of boos as his specially elaborate entrance didn’t really work on TV and I can’t see how it would have done in the stadium as it was based on camera angles and fireworks outside the arena.

Spear through the barrier

Spear through the barrier

The match started in typical slow, Triple H style, which I like in this context but it was clear the crowd were not buying Reigns as their hero from the off so it was like watching a heel (Triple H) against a mega-heel (Reigns) making the whole thing imbalanced.

With a generally punch kick feel there were a few nice moves as the match went on including a swinging neckbreaker to Reigns off the one remaining announce table, a spear through the barricades to Triple H and a nice sequence of arm bars from Triple H on an apparently injured Reigns.

While last year’s main event between Reigns and Lesnar saw Roman actually get some momentum behind him, here he did nothing to try to win the crowd (not that I think anything would have been successful) and, as the much climaxed with a spear to Stephanie and an escape from a pin following a Pedigree even through the TV there seemed to be a hostile atmosphere.

Pedigree from Triple H

Pedigree from Triple H

Hitting a colossal spear Roman Reigns pinned Triple H for the three count to become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion leading to a celebration that showed suspiciously few shots of the crowd and featured extremely loud music and commentary even for a WWE show.

Reports from in the stadium suggest this was to try to mask the negative and angry reaction of the audience that left WrestleMania 32 on a strange note.

A lot could, and already is, being argued as the relatively merits and reasons for some of the choices made across the show, but, for me, a lot of poor booking decisions were made rendering this year’s show a hugely problematic one that left too many things in a state that made all the work put in before hand null or void or leaving the audience with a bad taste in their mouths.

Roman Reigns

Roman Reigns

That said the high points were high, topped off by the Women’s Championship match leaving WrestleMania 32 as a mid level show in the history of the event, but I look forward to looking back on it with some hindsight and see if anything changes.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Static Alice and Flashmob – The Vault – 02/04/16

Dom of Static Alice and Harry of Flashmob

Dom of Static Alice and Harry of Flashmob

Over the first weekend of April 2016 The Vault in St Peter Port was rocking to a varied but complementary set of sounds of Guernsey pop-rockers Static Alice and Jersey hard rockers Flashmob. Both bands have become mainstays of the annual Chaos weekend over the last couple of years with Flashmob in particular closing the 2015 festival with a highlight set so it was interesting to see them here, in a more intimate setting.

Static Alice started the night off and quickly had the crowd engaged and modestly dancing along. As the set went on this only grew and it wasn’t long until the area around the stage was packed and it is at times like this that Static Alice really come into their own.

While guitarist may have been as focused on his playing as his pedals as ever, despite being hidden under a ‘Morticia Adams wig’, bassist Scott Michel seemed to be feeding off the energy of the audience and put in one of his best performances because of it.

Of course though, Dom Ogier was the real centre of attention and equally seemed to be fuelled by the energy of the audience as the set went on and things got all the more energetic.

Static Alice

Static Alice

Added to Static Alice’s set tonight were a few new songs that take what they’ve been doing so far and polish it a little further but largely stick to the same formula building their impressive repertoire of songs.

Dotted throughout this were a few covers that just upped the energy even more until the band were called back for an encore.

For me the highlights of their set came with original song King Kong from their debut album The Ghost of Common Sense and their version of Don Henley’s (or The Atari’s) Boys Of Summer. The set closer and encore, AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, was the weakest song of the set, but none-the-less Static Alice put on a great show, helped by a very much ‘hometown’ crowd.

Flashmob

Flashmob

While not playing to their local crowd, it would be easy to mistake Flashmob as being from Guernsey with the level of support they received here.

From the off the band were a great fun hard rock band mixing their own songs with covers from the likes of AC/DC, Motley Crue and more (though a run at Ace of Spades in tribute to Lemmy was a low point, but thankfully came early on).

While Flashmob played with a stand in bass player tonight I don’t think anyone would have noticed had they not told us as the band all clicked together. Harry Sutton and Jay Du Heaume led the band from the front with a real knowing sense of performance and fun while the rest of the band back them up to the hilt and get in on the fun whenever possible.

Flashmob

Flashmob

While covers like Girls, Girls, Girls and an epic AC/DC medley (complete with Static Alice cameo) really got the crowd rocking their originals stood up well too with great hooks and use of backing vocals emulating the great songs of the style.

While never likely to tax the brain too far they built on the performance’s sense of fun, to quote Jay: “Flashmob, tackling really serious world problems like ‘F**k off, I’m busy!’”

After what seemed to be a suitable set closer in a metalled up version of The Timewarp from The Rocky Horror Show we got an extended encore featuring Velvet Revolver, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Judas Priest that rounded off a night of fun rock music in a great way.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,