Real yanks don’t like trains

August 30, 2013

Residents of the United States really don’t like travelling by train, reports The Economist. Stats abound to prove how different US train travel is from elsewhere:

When you adjust for population, the disparity is even more shocking: per capita, the Japanese, the Swiss, the French, the Danes, the Russians, the Austrians, the Ukrainians, the Belarussians and the Belgians all accounted for more than 1,000 passenger-kilometres by rail in 2011; Americans accounted for 80. Amtrak carries 31m passengers per year. Mozambique’s railways carried 108m passengers in 2011.

Aside from the obvious explanation (America is just so darn big) there are a number more interesting, including most of the track being owned by freight companies, meaning passenger trains get second class status, often delayed by their freighty competitors for trackspace. And, inevitably, train travel has become political, with President Obama backing investment in high speed, thus making opposition to rail the natural Republican stance.

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Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Colston Hall, Bristol

June 2, 2013

I’m writing this on the last train back to Swindon having seen musical/lyrical hero Elvis Costello and his Imposters at the Colston Hall in Bristol (although unfortunately having had to leave before the encore, thanks to a train timetable that seems expressly designed to make gig-going as impractical as possible). So in the spirit of semi-live blogging, here are a quick three personal takeaways. In no particular order, the gig was…

Fun – and this was, I’ll admit, something of a surprise. Not that I wasn’t expecting an enjoyable evening – I was – but I hadn’t expected Elvis himself to be having so much fun. You see: without much concrete evidence (aside from all those songs of bitterness and heartbreak of course) I’d formed an image of the man behind those famous specs as a pretty tortured fellow. And yet here he was as literal ringmaster of a stage bedecked with circus-themed props including a strengthometer, massive spinning songwheel and caged dancing showgirl. Inviting audience members up to grip the wheel and spin, thereby choosing the next song for the band to play whilst – on two occasions – gyrating alongside the sequinned dancer in her cage. The audience members that is, not Elvis (I didn’t mean he was having quite that much fun). And in amidst the songs chatting away about their origins, about Bristol, and about the rules of the whole spinning thing.

Strong – the Imposters are a four piece, with Elvis on vocals and sole guitar (and the other three on drums, bass and keys respectively) but make a pretty colossal racket. Steve Nieve pounds piano, then Hammond, then synth; often all within the space of one song. And as other bloggers have noted Elvis’ guitar work is blistering, but delicate and dextrous as well, when playing folkier acoustic numbers. Which brings me to number three…

Fresh – this gig really brought home to me how well Elvis’ more recent material (everything from 2004’s rootsy return to form The Delivery Man onwards, say) stands up against Classic Costello. And in fact my one critique of the set is that the band’s volume and apparent over-familiarity with the older tunes – Alison, Oliver’s Army and so on – rendered these segments a little blastingly indistinguishable, with one footstomping 70s/80s anthem blurring into the next. The more modern songs on the other hand were subtler, often beautiful: Bedlam, A Slow Drag With Josephine, and Jimmie Standing In The Rain (the last two from the excellent 2010 album National Ransom) were knockout.


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